Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Clouds and half a moon

I got bogged down in the usual things--work, television, too many Solitaire games on-line and haven't finished up my backpacking tale.  What is new is that I am taking an on-line creative writing class which is giving me a fair bit of homework.  I haven't had to do homework in quite a few years although I do have to do continuing education, take occasional exams for licensure and bring work home.  Somehow homework feels different.  I may get around to sharing some of the assignments here, or maybe not.

Crescent Moon

This week's highlight had to have been the eclipse of the moon on Sunday night so I am digressing from backpacking to post a few pictures.  I didn't expect it to me much of an event and thought I'd be one of the eccentric few going to the lake to view it, and was surprised by the feel of community out there.  The numbers were nearly comparable to the local crowd out viewing the (fairly distant) Fourth of July fireworks.

Bloody Moon

We were fortunate to catch a break in the clouds for the first half of the show and the clouds closed on us around the time the moon should have been peeking out again which made a good excuse to go home and not stay out too late.  It was a wonderful experience, sadly not soon to be experienced.   As far as celestial events go, next August 9-13 should be the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.  I should make a plan to find a dark mountain somewhere to watch that one.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rainier Hike, Day 3

Backpacking is hard work but life on the trail is, in some other ways, so simple.  You get up at dawn, go to sleep at dark.  You walk all day, then do a few chores, set up camp, filter water, cook dinner (which basically involves boiling water and stirring) and go to sleep.  Some nights sleep feels optional.  No matter how good the mat, the ground is always hard and the tent is always small.  Every time you turn, your mat crinkles, like sleeping on the waterproof mattress and pillow in a hospital. Each night spent in bear territory seems to involve some listening to the nightly noises outside.  Yes, the food might be hanging on a pole a few yards from the tent but who knows what a curious or hungry bear might decide to investigate?  The chapstick I forgot to hang?  Bits of dinner I spilled on my jacket?  My first night I found a cough drop in a pocket after I had crawled into my sleeping bag. Lazy me, I unzipped my tent and threw it as far as I could away from the me hoping a cute squirrel would dine on it.  Are there backpackers who don't develop a bit of a bear phobia?
Yellowstone Cliffs
Day three dawned chilly but sunny with a beautiful view of the Yellowstone Cliffs.  The night before I hadn't noticed the cave on the cliff side.  Maybe that was where the bears sleep when they aren't raiding camp sites.  Breakfast includes coffee thanks to Starbucks which makes a pretty good instant coffee and also an instant mocha that means I don't have to carry powdered milk.  After some oatmeal, we packed up and hit the trail, going in opposite directions. My son takes the high road, hiking further up the trail to see a few sights;  I head back down the hill again toward our next campground.  I don't move nearly as fast as he does and I was worried about my knees.
Some 30 years ago I backpacked on Isle Royale, my last major hike until a few years ago, and developed some significant knee pain.  I wound up using a stick to lean on for the duration of that hike.  Unfortunately the same phenomenon reappeared a few years ago while day hiking.  The trigger seems to be downhill stretches and with some internet research I concluded that I have iliotibial band syndrome which is merely an inflamed tendon.  I had worried that I was looking at knee surgery but fortunately this seems less serious.  Less happily, it hurts a lot.  After two episodes of the problem in the past 5 years I decided that I will try to train a bit harder and see if that does the trick.  So I've been working on it with Pilates, stretching, walking up and down stairs with my backpack on, using hiking poles and wearing a funny looking knee stabilizer, and this past trip it seems to have worked.  Over 2000 feet of downhill walking with backpack and my knee was fine!
Trees and more trees
For quite a while it was trees and more trees.  The forest passed by with no view of a beginning or end.  To mark time there were those 21 or so switchbacks and not much else.  At least I knew the hill had a bottom as I had been there the day before.  They were only slightly less tedious on the way down than on the way up.  It was hard not to feel a slight sens of mourning losing all the elevation I had gained with so much effort just the day before.
A Zee in the Trail
Well, this post is getting long and I need to get moving.  Stay tuned for day 3-1/2.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Hiking Mount Rainier Day 2

Where to
 Our next day's hiking was determined primarily by available camp sites. Instead of a reasonable, read easy, route we took a detour up part of the trail named the Northern Loop. The total mileage wasn't all that bad but there was a small matter of a hill to go up. After departing camp, we crossed the Carbon River on a suspension bridge. How they ever got this built in the wilderness I don't know--I guessed dropping metal parts from a helicopter--but maybe it was better than having to build a new bridge after every spring flood. In fact, farther downstream, the trail had to take a detour after it was washed out in a flood a few years ago. The bridge doesn't look too intimidating until you get on it. Looking down at rock and glacier-fed river from a swaying platform that was missing a few wooden slats is scarier than it looked. There is a warning for only one person to be on the bridge at a time. I wasn't off yet when the next person started across and I can tell you the bridge started jumping and swaying a bit.
Sorta, Kinda, Scary Bridge
That safely past, we took a short detour toward Carbon River Glacier. Wikipedia tells me the glacier ends at 3500 feet of elevation and is the lowest glacier in the 48 states. It is also the largest outside of Alaska by most methods of counting. Like most glaciers the world over, it too is receding faster than a middle-aged man's hairline. I didn't hike to the glacier itself--there was a sign warning us not to since no one needs to be beaned by falling rocks or fall in a river. More honestly, I was saving my energy for the rest of the day's hiking. My son and I parted for a couple of hours so he could hike up the trail a bit and I could plod along toward camp. By the way, the gray stuff below the mountain is the glacier. No pearly whites at the tail end of a living glacier. Rainier and Carbon Glacier
One advantage to hiking alone is that I could stop a bit more often, as often as my energy would allow, for photos. My enthusiasm for photography certainly waned as I encountered the one and only hill of the day. After going nearly entirely downhill for a few miles, we hit the turn off to our campsite. To get from the Carbon River to Yellowstone Cliffs was a mere couple of miles. All those miles were uphill. I didn't count on the way up, but on the way back down the next day (an exercise in frustration--who wants to hike up a mountain merely to hike down it again the next day?) I counted 21 switchbacks. Ugh. Trails like these made me grateful for the three meals we had already eaten since starting out.
Most of the trail was heavily wooded. No views, a few pretty wildflowers and some interesting mushrooms and a small snake were the highlights of the trek until I finally could shed my pack. Cool Shrooms
We were the second party in a two site campground when a large party of older men moved in. No, they didn't have a reservation but they were tapped out and could go no farther. They were nice guys and some of them were significantly older than me (and I felt ancient at times on the trail). We weren't the campground police so we were happy to share our patch of trees and swap tales for a moment. I was amused when several of them set up camp right underneath the bear pole (used to suspend all our communal food to keep the bears out).  It was some small consolation that if bears visited our camp, they'd know it first and alert us. The other campers where a father-daughter pair (she was in her 30's) which mirrored our mother-son pair nicely.   Sunset at Yellowstone Cliffs
 Stats for the day: 23,380 steps, 9.60 miles, 184 floor-equivalents. Hike beginning and end points are approximations.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Empty nesting--the first month

The Mountain is Out When the going gets tough, the tough go. . . backpacking. To begin the story, in late August we dropped my younger son off at college somewhere in Washington State (that is his story to tell, not mine ). As I was in dire fear of returning to an empty house, no offense to my husband, two cats, uncounted fish and two turtles (but they live outside in the summer), I immediately took off backpacking with my older son. Washington state was seemingly at risk of burning down due to some major forest fires and we had to dig a little deep to find a place to go that actually wasn't burning, wasn't lost in lung-crippling haze and made sense for a three night hike. We came up with Mount Rainier National Park which is an amazing place by any standard. It was, however, a choice with complications, since backcountry permits are hard to come by and require advance reservation or showing up at a ranger station first come-first served. The latter plan worked for us although getting to the station by 8:30 AM was challenging for my son who likes to sleep in. Finding available camp sites was a bit hit or miss. In fact after we picked our itinerary, with me stating over and over--I can't hike 10 miles in one day--we lost a site as the ranger was filling in our information. The itinerary we picked was challenging, in fact a bit more challenging than I realized as there was far more elevation loss and gain each day than I anticipated. I don't hike quickly and at 54 my knees aren't great but I try hard. On the Mountain Our first day we hiked from Mowich Lake through Spray Park to Cataract Campground. When planning this trip we didn't realize we were hiking over a relatively high pass. Mowich Lake is at a reasonable 4929 feet and our first campground was at a similar elevation. The bad news is that we had to gain 2500 feet in elevation and then lose about the same. So much for my knees! In hindsight, I also carried too much water, and of course all our food that first day. Certainly, at times fatigue hampered my enjoyment of the view and there were moments I worried we wouldn't make camp before dark. View from the Trail Seeing Spray Park again was a memory-laden milestone. We hiked there when I was a child and it is a place I will always love. However, back in the day, the wilderness was less populated and the rules were laxer or non-existent. We were able to camp in Spray Park and wander at will, checking out the flowers and small ponds that are everywhere early in the season. Now you are prohibited from leaving the trail due to risk of damage to the fragile meadows and there is no camping in the meadow area. Looking Back So we raced through, scoped out the views (which are amazing), huffed and puffed our way up a ridge and then down again to Cataract Campground. After Spray Park there were very few hikers on the trail and we largely had the place to ourselves. I lumbered or stumbled in to Cataract at around 7 PM with plenty of light to spare and we set up camp. There was only one other party there, a group of women around my age who seemed to have some sort of backpacking reunion going. We commiserated about the toilets (nastiest I have ever seen and an advertisement for holding it for a few days), they shared some excess food with us and we got camp set up, ate and slept. The camp was heavily wooded, no views to be had but quiet except for a snoring neighbor--sigh, isn't that why you go to the woods, to get away from all that?--but it was home for a night. I sure miss campfires! Getting up in the morning and boiling water over a camp stove is not as nice a way to beat off the morning chill.
I end day 1 with my Fitbit stats: 25141 steps, 10.33 miles and the equivalent of 200 floors of stairs (which is equal to 2000 feet elevation gain)--I would quibble with the stats in that, by the map, I did a bit more elevation and a bit less in total miles--I'd bet my stride length goes down with a backpack and difficult terrain. Nonetheless, my good intentions of walking less than 10 miles on relatively easy terrain didn't quite make it. Fortunately, I did, make it that is. Day two to follow or check out more photos on Flickr.

Monday, March 16, 2015

In a Cat's Eye

In a Cat's Eye My cat kindly agreed to let me try out my new camera on her. If you look closely I'm reflected in there. For Photo Sunday: Cat.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gees, Geez!

ABC Wednesday is doing the letter G.

G is for Geese.
Flying Feces Factories

G is for Graphics Card.
Graphics Card

G is for Ginger Growing.
Ginger Sprouting

Saturday, February 21, 2015

White for Winter

No Emergency Thematic photograph #326 is White for Winter. No shortage of whitish photos this winter but compared to last year this has been relatively manageable. Some schools(not my son's school) were closed one day last week for cold as wind chills were 20 below zero but honestly, just north of the border it is cold like this half the winter and they make it to school. I think our tolerance for adverse conditions has diminished the past few years. I wonder if we can blame the news media for turning every storm into an apocalypse or Armageddon. Admittedly, I can whine with the best of them, but then I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Seattle which has a much more temperate climate. I am not phased much by earthquakes but I don't do well with cold. Since for now I am staying in Chicago, I'll just have to take advantage of the photo ops. On the River

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Feet for Photo Sunday

Big Foot and Little Foot
This is a detail of an outdoor installation called Agora by Polish sculptor, Magdalena Abakanowicz.  The piece is a  series of legs of rusty iron which I find reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's story of the pants with nobody inside them. To quote Seuss:
     Then I was deep within the woods
     When, suddenly, I spied them.
     I saw a pair of pale green pants
     With nobody inside them!
OK, so the legs are rust colored not green but take a look at a less detailed view. Agora For Photo Sunday: Feet

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

F is for...

Blue Fire Escape

Fire Escape

Fear of Falling

Falling Ice

Three Foxes
Three foxes reading?

For ABC Wednesday and brought to you by the letter F.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Eye Spy

Optometrist office at night E is for Eye Chart seen in Optometrist's office in Mont-de-Marsan, France. This summer I took a solo road trip through France and one night I got a bit lost returning to my hotel after dinner. This office caught my eye (pun intended). For ABC Wednesday, the letter E.

Faces on a Wall

Mail Slots Photo Friday for this week is "faces". These mail slots are from a central post office in San Sebastian, Spain. I went there in search of interesting stamps to put on my mail and found, as seems all too common in Europe that most stamps are sold out of vending machines. I fear the collecting of interesting stamps will be lost far too soon. Mail slots like these will become as obsolete as working phone booths.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Just another wintry day in Chicago

Slush, Falling Ice and Fog
Slush, ice falling from buildings and fog--what more could one ask for?  Sometimes it seems Chicagoans' favorite team sport is discussing the weather. For Photo Friday, Weather.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Clashing Colors

Clashing Colors The theme for Photo Sunday is: Pink. I believe these flowers are even called pinks. I used to try to color coordinate my garden but I found that the colors never seemed to stand out much. I feel more comfortable with the clashing colors more recently. These are from my garden this past summer. We have had a thaw this weekend which has meant that we can amuse ourselves listening to our house drop large chunks of snow. Fortunately we are set back from the street so they are no risk to anyone. Despite the thaw, I crave some summer sunshine of which the above photo is a cruel reminder. Many of our busier streets are posted with caution signs due to falling snow. Yesterday I overheard a pedestrian say she had a near miss with a chunk of ice. Falling Ice

Friday, February 06, 2015

Lake Effect

Lake Effect A plain sky but the lake is up to something. For Sky Watch Friday

All fenced in

Iron and Ice I have been playing with a number of photo memes of late.  It keeps me on my toes processing my photos which tend to languish on my computer and never see the light of day.  It has also been helping me keep my feeble resolution to revive this blog.  I just discovered the photo meme Good Fences which rounds up photos of, obviously, fences. I could see that week after week it would be challenging to find interesting shots of fences, but in winter snow fences become a work of minor sculpture and I have some shots already. Long Suffering Tree This tree is showing a lot of signs of wear. Chicago weather and a neighboring elementary school probably account for a lot of the damage. Waves of White Waves of snow on garden edging.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Memories of Spain

Especialitats Ramos
   Courtesy of my husband's business travel, my family spent a week in Spain last summer. This wasn't nearly long enough to do the country justice but we did spend 3 days in Barcelona. One of the days we raced through the Boqueria (open air market)--sadly no time to really shop--and only time for a few hasty photos. Besides, I hate spending long periods of time setting up photos in crowds. It always feels intrusive to the other people around who may not want their picture taken (at least that is how I would feel in their shoes) and I feel like such a tourist under these circumstances. It is ironic that I cringe at looking like a tourist even while being one.
   I don't eat pork so I never sampled the sausages. Not eating pork in Spain can make life complicated. For one it is served constantly. For another there are so many names for pork products and my Spanish is not refined enough to always know what I might be ordering. Tapas bars in Milan were even more complicated since ordering may involve pointing at a plate and shouting over the noisy crowd.
   I looked up "fuet" and found it means "whip" referencing the shape of the sausage. There is one outlier sausage in the row called "xorico" which it turns out is Catalan for "chorizo." That probably should have been obvious but wasn't to me. The store in the photo was established in 1939 according to its web site. Amusingly they are also on Facebook. Talk about combining the old with the new. I'm sure it is a good business practice. I am posting this for Thematic Photograph: Edible.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Bookstore at night

Bookstore on a Snowy Night This week's theme for Photo Thursday is Light. This bookstore window is quite striking on a snowy night. It's a good store too.

The Stone Diaries

Written in Stone

Here is my second book review of the month. I just finished The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields which won the Pulitzer Prize for 1995. Sometimes I think prize-winning books are overrated and this novel doesn't alter that opinion. The Stone Diaries follows the life of one woman, Daisy Goodwill, from before her birth to her death. It does so through some varied and occasionally odd narrative technique. At times, the narrator is Daisy Goodwill herself. In other places, members of her family and friends speak to the reader or history unfolds through letters, newspaper clippings and other written documents. Early in the book I found the narration jarring and distancing from the main characters. Later I felt more emotionally involved but there were times that I was pressed to keep reading. The title of the book seems to illustrate one central theme, that of stone as metaphor for life. The men in the first half of the book are quarry workers and Daisy's mother, a foundling, is given the last name Stone at the orphanage where she is raised. Near death, Daisy even imagines herself turned to stone. For much of the second half of the novel, stone is abandoned for plants and flowers, perhaps a riff on the name Daisy as names are important in this novel. The last paragraph of the novel is a discussion of what flowers should have been chosen for Daisy's funeral. I gave the novel three stars not two, even though I was bored of it at times, because it seemed to pick up in the second half and because there is some undoubtedly beautiful language. The author writes of Daisy's father's religious conversion: "He had thought himself alone in the world, but in fact he is a child of this solid staring rainbow, and of the persevering forms of light and shadow, of substance and ephemera. A child of the earth." Later in the novel, Shields eloquently describes Daisy's depression: "Now, at the age of fifty-nine, sadness flows through every cell of her body, yet leaves her curiously untouched. She knows how memory gets smoothed down with time, everything flattened by the iron of acceptance and rejection. . . ." Writing like this gives the novel moments of greatness but not enough for a Pulitzer, in my humble opinion.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Gear Up

Theme for PhotoSunday is gear.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book Club of Two

The past few years I have had the pleasure of getting to know my older son as a fellow adult. While we still have the occasional parent-child tension that will probably never entirely go away, it is turning into a fun relationship for both of us.  I am trying to take up backpacking again which is the subject of another post, and the photo here is from my most recent foray into the mountains around Seattle. 
Another recent source of bonding is that my son has become a reader.  Although he liked to read when younger he was too often distracted by school and computer games to put in much time.  A year or two ago he suddenly and surprisingly, to me, got the reading bug and more recently still, we have begun to exchange books.  His tastes are varied and he is consciously trying to educate himself so he is seeking recommendations from me and some of his friends.  I am overjoyed since I haven't had a fellow reader in the family to chat about books with for some time.
Over the holidays my son sent me a copy of Cry, the Beloved Country which he had read and liked.  I challenged him to share book reviews with me on Goodreads just for fun and here is the text of my first review:

This is a book often assigned in high school but I managed to miss it at the time. My son read it recently and shared a copy with me so I made up for lost time. Cry, the Beloved Country is a beautiful and highly readable book. Most people probably know that it is about race, injustice and inequality in South Africa. Equally though it is about love for one's homeland, the kindness of strangers, the importance of family ties and hope for change in difficult times. "Wise men write many books, in words too hard to understand. But this, the purpose of our lives, the end of all our struggle, is beyond all human wisdom," writes Paton. I judge Paton well worth reading and his novel contains considerable human wisdom.

I hope more reviews will follow, along with the usual photos and miscellaneous rambling.  Happy reading.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Elephant Car Wash

Elephant Car Wash
A great sign seen in Seattle, Washington.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Monkey Puzzle Tree

Monkey Puzzle Tree

Very old tree seen on University of Washington campus where we had a college tour for my younger son.  I love the French common name (learned from Wikipedia) which is desespoir des singes (monkeys' despair).  It could also be a monkey's delight for it looks like it might be fun to climb, if prickly.

For Thursday Challenge: Trees

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Doing Something New and Scary

My older son is in town. He is currently living and working in Seattle and since he moved there he has taken up bouldering. This is like rock climbing but without ropes or other equipment and in his case, he only does this at a gym. This makes me happy because the floors are deeply padded and I don't need to worry about him breaking his neck falling off a rock somewhere. Last year during a trip to Seattle he talked me into trying it. As a kid, I was always clambering up a rock or tree somewhere although I never had any climbing experience and when climbing walls became popular I thought it would be fun to try. I never got the chance so I was willing to give bouldering a try. What I discovered was that it is hard. No surprise there perhaps but no matter how deep the padding on the floor it proved quite difficult for me to get over the fear of falling even on the easy routes. At the place in Seattle the very easiest routes (which are marked by colored plastic hand holds) are not that much harder than climbing a ladder. Sadly, I found it hard to go much farther than that. It is very hard on my arms and upper body which are not all that strong and my hand grip is not the best either. I have since been twice more with hardly any more skill or less fear. Most recently I went here in Chicago. That was two days ago and even typing hurts! I still have not overcome my fear of falling whatsoever. It makes me think how rarely we deal with actual fear of harm (as opposed to stress, fear of failure, performance anxiety, etc which are more common in modern life). I feel quite chicken but am also proud of myself for trying. At 53, being daring comes harder. My son took the pictures and his hands were shaky from fatigue or hunger so one of them came out pretty blurred but I wanted the living proof I did this.

Me on a Climbing Wall

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tree Reflected

Tree, Reflected For Weekend Reflections

Thaw Day

Blue Skies and Skyline We had our snow days earlier this month and now is the January thaw. The past two days we've had highs in the 40's and a sort of vague spring fever hits us when this happens. I managed a walk on the lake, skirting mud, slush puddles and snow to get these photos. The skies were just stunning. Lake Michigan and Chicago Skyline Shades of Blue, Chicago

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Red Rake

Playing at macros. For Thursday Challenge: Red Red Rake

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bad weather makes for interesting photos

Looking on the bright side in January gloom: Purple Umbrella