Archive | December 2017

Good Riddance 2017!

 
To say 2017 sucked is a bit of an overstatement.  But only slightly…  A wee bit…  A smidge…
 
I learned a few things…  I learned that some people truly go to incredible lengths to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.  I already knew that of course, but 2017 brought it into laser sharp focus in more ways than one.
 
I also learned about enabling.  My divorce was final in June, but it was an incredibly long and bumpy road to get there.  I had originally hoped to remain on good terms with my ex, but his and his family’s behavior made that impossible.  For the sake of my well-being I cut ties completely, and have not regretted that choice.  Because no one should tolerate what he dished my way.
 
This blog is generally my happy place, and I know it may appear that I have a pretty blessed life, but it seems disingenuous to remain completely silent about the struggles I have endured this year.  I DO have a REALLY, BLESSED LIFE, but there are also the hard, ugly, raw wounds that every life has.  I don’t have any intention to turn this blog into a rehash of my life’s low points, but I also want to be real and truthful about the fact that my life, just like any life, has some low points.  So if my sharing this little bit here helps someone feel like they are not alone, then maybe I can feel that I did some good. 
 
I have learned that life is too short to put up with being mistreated.  Again, I knew this before, but 2017 kept that in razor sharp focus.  Just because someone “says” that they love you does not mean they will behave in a loving way, and it may mean that they just want you to let your guard down so they can slip that knife between your shoulder blades…  Life is too short to continue to swim in your mistakes.  Move on.  Cut your losses.  It’s hard, but there is something better coming once you do. 
 
So with that, let’s move on to the rest of my year…
  1. Oliver is still chugging along in his old man way, after having two surgeries to remove his fibro-sarcoma.  So far, after the second, massive surgery, it doesn’t seem to be coming back.  He is on supplemental fluids a few times a week and holding his own. 
  2. I snowshoed with a girlfriend a couple of times at Mount Baker last winter, and had a fabulous time!
  3. I’m not convinced this item belongs in the “good in my life” section, but here it is anyway.  I did my 9th Half-Marathon, a grueling 13.1 Whidbey Island Half Marathon experience up huge hills and sections of frigid, battering winds.  I had been extremely ill the week leading up to the race, and between mile 9 and 11, when I was dizzy and cramping and felt like death warmed over, I seriously considering stopping.  But I did keep going and did finish, although we’ll just keep that finish time quiet for now… 
  4.  I took a trip to Hawaii in May for a week, and enjoyed it thoroughly.  Sun, warmth, and fun with a combo of relaxing and sightseeing!
  5.  I did a long weekend in Walla Walla for Memorial Day weekend, and did some relaxing, wine tasting, exploring and we ate some pretty darned good food! 
  6.  I spent the Independence Day long weekend at the Hood Canal with friends, exploring the area, visiting Olympic National Park, hiking, collecting sand dollars (don’t worry, they are already dead), eating my fill of BBQ oysters and sunning myself on the deck.  OH, and there was ice cream!
  7.  I did a road trip in late July/early August with my brother and his family.  We went to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Craters of the Moon.  We ended our 12-day spin with a few days in Sisters, Oregon, seeing the High Desert Museum and the Dee Wright Observatory. 
  8.  I did a lot of hiking this year, and hiked several “new to me” hikes here in my neck of the woods.  I hiked Oyster Dome, Pine and Cedar Lakes, Sauk Mountain, Monte Cristo, Mount Si, the Stimpson Preserve, Ape Cave, the Big Four Ice Caves, Lake Ann and Fragrance Lake. 
  9.  My girlfriend Shelley and I, along with her son, took a trip down to Portland in August to go to Antiques Roadshow again!  The experience, for a second time, did not disappoint!  We detoured on the way down to hike Ape Cave.  While we were there, we went to the Portland Saturday market, the Kennedy School for dinner, and visited the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum (that’s a mouthful!) in Everett, WA on the way home.
  10.  Oscar died in September after suffering from acute kidney failure. I miss him…
  11.  I took a trip over Veteran’s Day Weekend to Annapolis and Washington D.C.  I visited the Naval Academy Museum, saw a play, went to the National Mall and the Museum of Natural History, and visited Ford’s Theatre and the Peterson House.  All of these sites in D.C. have been on my bucket list for a long time!  I only barely scratched the surface, and really need to get back to D.C. again for a week or two to feel like I have gotten anywhere near my fill.
 
Posts to come on a lot of this – as I keep trying to get caught up! 
 
2017 was one of the hardest years of my life – a continuation of a rough 2016.  But I’m out of that dark tunnel now and things are getting so much better!  2018 is going to be a good year!  Happy New Year to all of you!
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2017 Big Four Ice Caves Hike

Friday, September 1, 2017

My last summer hike was to the Big Four Ice Caves, outside of Granite Falls. I had one last summer Friday off at the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, so my girlfriend Katie and I took her kids to see the caves.

They are named the Big Four Ice Caves, not because there are four caves, as the number and composition of the caves changes every year; rather they are named for the Big Four Mountain.  The mountain is apparently named that because of the large “4” shaped snow patch visible on the east face of the mountain.  There is debate about whether the “4” forms anymore, but you can see an old photo of it here (scroll down a bit).

The trail starts with a paved path through the woods; you can turn right to head to a grassy field with a picnic area. There used to be an old hotel there, but only the chimney remains. Of course, I didn’t find that out until after – I would have checked it out had I known!

The trail continues over a large aluminum bridge over the Stillaguamish River; it was built after multiple floods kept wiping out the footbridge and the trail. After crossing the bridge, the trail gets a little tougher, heading up the hill, but it is still easy enough for even little kids. The trail is gravel and boardwalk and winds through the forest. The kids enjoyed checking out the stumps and the rocks and the sticks and the mushrooms and the flowers and the pine needles and the moss and… Well, you get the idea…

The Stillaguamish River – that’s a mouthful!

 

Me on one of the footbridges

The trail comes out of the woods and we were surrounded by whispy white seed pods being carried through the air. A flower was going to seed and releasing all its pods to float on the wind; it was neat to just watch them being carried along. Bonus: the kids loved it!

At this point you can see Big Four Mountain looming above, with its steep granite face. We teased the kids and let them know that we were climbing to the top of the mountain!

We came around one last corner on the trail and saw the caves; they are a fascinating sight! These caves are formed by avalanche snow and ice that slides down the Big Four Mountain each winter and accumulates here.  The caves are made from a huge slab of ice that generally remains year round at the base of the mountain, because it is in the shade. The melting ice creates caves beneath the ice pack.  Of course, the fact that they are melting also makes it extremely unstable.

The surrounding mountains

 

Big Four Ice Caves

A word of caution here: it is NOT safe to enter the caves, or even go close to them. At least half a dozen people have died here in the last decade, including an 11-year-old girl named Grace Tam who was crushed in 2011 when a giant slab of ice destabilized and rolled down the top of the cave, crushing her as her family looked on. She was standing outside of the cave.  There is no cell service here, and help is a one mile hike down the mountain and a 15 mile drive to reach an area with cell reception.

Of course, we saw lots of people standing right outside the cave, in the cave, and even walking around on top of the cave. Not only adults, but adults with their small children and their dogs. It would be hard to say they hadn’t seen the signs explaining the danger, which are numerous, so we’ll just have to chalk it up to the, “it won’t happen to me mentality.” And it probably won’t, until it does…

Darwin Award Contenders

 

At least no one died while we were there…

We stayed a safe distance back, and sat on the rocks and enjoyed a picnic with the kids. We talked with them about why we didn’t go any closer, and talked about how other people get to make other choices, and how sometimes those choices have risks. There was a slight mishap with some dropped gum (not mine!) and we decided to make our way back to the car to find some food!

A robin at the caves

The entire hike is 2.2 miles round trip, with a 220 foot elevation gain, so it is easy enough for small children and those who are less physically fit.  Even though it’s easy, the destination is impressive!

On the way back, we did a very brief stop at a mining tunnel that was carved into the mountain around the turn of the last century. A man dug it himself looking for mineral laden ore, although I’m not sure what he was mining for. Like many mining claims, I can’t imagine it was long lived or profitable, but it did make for an interesting pit stop to see a tunnel dug into the mountain…

The mining tunnel

We finished our day with lunch and a beer at RAM – always delicious and a worthwhile stop!

Hawaiʻi 2017: Swimming with Dolphins

Day 5, Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday morning I had plans to go snorkeling with an old friend who lives full-time in Hawai’i.  Who knew it would turn into a bucket list experience of a lifetime!

We went to Two Steps Beach, right near the National Historical Park I had visited on my first day.  We walked out over the lava rocks and found the spot to get into the water.  From shore, we could see that there were dolphins out in the water!  A man near us told us that they had been there all morning, but we didn’t want to chance it, so we got in the water right away and swam out past the reef to where the dolphins were.  It was pretty deep water there, but so clear that you could see all the way to the bottom.

The dolphins were swimming in a big circle, they would swim near us and then go on their way to complete their circle.  They would swim really close, and then swim away and disappear for awhile as we tread water.  There were a few dozen dolphins, including calves!  A couple of them would jump high out of the water and spin in the air, clearly happy and playing.  There was another that was slapping his tail on the water.

There were maybe 20-25 people who had swum far enough out to be so close.  You had to be a strong swimmer, as we were a ways out and the bottom was far below.  At one point, one of the dolphins jumped out of the water only about 10 feet from Jay!  It was an amazing experience.  The dolphins were coming so close to us with each pass; they were obviously very curious about us.

This was easily one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I could see their eyes, as well as the bite that one had on his side from a cookiecutter shark (also known as a cigar shark).  I watched the baby dolphins swimming next to their mamas.

Jay and I stayed out there for awhile, until I started to get a bit cold in the water.  We swam back into the reef, and watched the fish that were swimming  among the coral.  We saw puffer fish, trigger fish, and lots of other tropical fish.  Sadly, we didn’t see any turtles swimming.

When it was time to go in, we swam back to the same spot, where there is a little shelf under the water to stand on to get out.  If you go, just remember to keep your feet flat because there are holes in the lava rocks with sea urchins in them!  Don’t curl your toes!

Of course I wish that I had photos, but the memories that are in my mind will last a lifetime.  Since I don’t have my own, please enjoy these photos from Wikipedia of Spinner Dolphins and Cookiecutter sharks.

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I am so grateful that Jay took me to this spot – I swam with dolphins!  In the wild!  Amazing!

Merry Christmas

The tradition of releasing Chinese paper lanterns is mysterious, but scholars generally agree that the first paper lanterns were created and launched about 2,000 years ago. They gradually became part of a festival tradition, and people write wishes on the lantern before lighting them and releasing them into the sky, where they float for a few minutes before burning out and returning to the ground.

I spent Independence Day weekend this year down at the Hood Canal with friends and we released our paper lanterns into the sky after dark one evening.  I can’t tell you what my wish was, as I’m still waiting for it to come true…

This photo of my friend Brandon releasing a lantern is one of my favorite photos of the year.  It reminds me of my new beginning; my chance to this time have my wishes come true.

To you and yours, Merry Christmas.

 

Art Brut 2011 Blanc de Blancs

As it is just a few days before Christmas, I wanted to treat myself, so I got a lobster tail and cooked it up alongside a medley of baked vegetables.  And what goes better with seafood than sparkling wine!

The ART BRUT 2011 Blanc de Blancs is a sparkling wine made in the methode Champenoise style by winemaker Chris Berg at Roots Wine Company.  It is named after the art genre Art Brut, also known as Outsider Art, Raw Art or Visionary Art.  It is a Blanc de Blancs, made from 100-percent Chardonnay sourced from the Sienna Ridge Estate in Red Hills.

Art Brut 2011 Blanc de Blancs – Roots Wine Company

Upon first opening the wine, there was a heavy taste of yeast and I worried that I had waited too long, but it settled down after about a half hour.  It is delicious – with just a bit of tartness balanced with the creamy Chardonnay light butter flavors.  The bubbles had mellowed after years in the bottle, but it still had enough to give that sparkling wine effervescence.  It paired very well with the lobster too!

I don’t remember the price I paid, but I think this wine was about $30.  I purchased it at the Bubbles Fest sparkling wine festival hosted by Anne Amie Winery in the Willamette Valley a few years back. It’s an awesome wine event, if you have the chance to go!

If you are a fan of charitable giving with your wine drinking, you will be pleased to know that a portion of the profits from all sales of ART BRUT wines were donated to the American Art Therapy Association.  Plus, it has horses on the bottle, and that is always a positive (even if they are heavily stylized)!

This wine is sold out, and I’m not sure that the winery is making sparkling wine anymore; all the sparkling wines on their website are from 2010 and 2011 and seem to be sold out.  Perhaps it is a wine I’ll never have again, and that’s too bad!

Happy Holidays – I hope you are all well…