This is Peanut. He was sort of freaked out about the Nikon, but not so freaked out that he was going to pass up a peanut.

This is Peanut. He was sort of freaked out about the Nikon, but not so freaked out that he was going to pass up a peanut.

Quick note today. I just managed to snap this photo and wanted to show it to you.

The squirrels and I have a complex relationship of both attraction and conflict. I’ve trained two of them to eat from my hand: Peanut, the fat red one. And Mushroom, the silver and white one. They are both males, which proves I haven’t lost my appeal at 45. Yes, if I am handing out food, the boys will still be putty in my hands! Peanut is so greedy, he will put his tiny squirrel fingers on my fingers to pull my hand to him and get that peanut faster.

The problem with our relationship is that they also believe that the bird feeders are for them too. Peanut will pull the lid off the larger feeder and curl up inside it, and munch seeds. Mushroom has a sweet tooth, and prefers the hummingbird feeder. He will put one of the plastic flower tubes in his mouth, tip the feeder, and gulp, gulp, gulp.

I can see them from my work desk at home, and I come busting out of the house, yelling, “Get off the hummingbird feeder you brat! And you! Quit spilling cracked corn all over the grass!”

They hop a couple feet away and look at me, “Did you bring peanuts?”

My cousin called me the Squirrel Whisperer. I’ve been asked if I have taught them to pick up lentils and fold laundry yet, like in a Disney film. Not YET.

A, T, and Tara on the right, on the gorgeous Oregon State University campus

A, T, and Tara on the right, together making the Oregon State University campus even more attractive. ;-)

Colleges have been on our minds for awhile, but the pitch and volume are increasing. We’re mostly past the application period, as deadlines for most colleges and universities have come and gone. Still in the nail-biting period of not having heard from any of them whether Tara has been accepted.

I said “we’re,” and it’s a little inappropriate to say it was a joint effort, as Tara has done most of the work. However, Mom has done a bucketload of essay support and editing, which involves not only the writing part, and having to recall the exact date of ACT testing and volunteer work at the Buddhist temple, but the morale and emotional support of keeping a freaked out teen full of hormones from totally wigging out and having a nervous breakdown after the 27th time of clicking word count and finding that the essay is still 12 words over the limit. It has been a super great exercise for me in being an editor, in that when I manage to keep my suggestions out of it, Tara has written some unbelievably good stuff. Really good. As in, I’m wondering if the people in Admissions who read Tara’s essays are going to believe that all I did was point out run-on sentences and changes in tense. How good are teen writers these days? Well, if Admissions will only condescend to an interview, they’ll find out in 2 minutes that Tara is as eloquent and wise beyond their years as the essays seem to imply.

In Boston, over Halloween, we checked out my Alma mater, Brandeis University, as well as UMass Boston and Harvard when our friends showed us around the other campuses. “Why do you guys want me to go to school in Boston?” Tara asked of R. He replied with a smile, “Because if you go to school here, we get your mother.” It’s nice to be loved.

My brother in Seattle has been pestering me for a year to get Tara up there to visit the University of Washington campus, particularly since it’s a school that offers an environmental program that Tara is interested in. It’ll be our next stop for sure, along with Western Washington University, right next door to UW.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

While Tara initially insisted that no Oregon or California school would even be considered, due to the proximity to parents coinciding with a deep and abiding desire to get away from parents….we discovered that one of the best Forestry programs in the whole world is 1 1/2 hours south, in Corvallis, Oregon at Oregon State University. Tara has wanted to study Forestry since about 5th grade. After some agonizing over the implications of being in the same state as Mom, Tara gave in and applied. Once that hurdle was crossed, the applications to Portland State University, University of Oregon, UC Davis, Humboldt State University (in the same town Tara’s dad lives in California) and Stanford followed. I’m relieved that the potential for in-state tuition now exists. I consider it absolutely unfair that I have to contemplate helping Tara with student loans while I’m still paying my own. And trust me, FAFSA does not give a flying pig about whether parents are paying student loans, when calculating the expected family contribution.

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn't get a little excited about this?

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn’t get a little excited about this?

Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

After telling other parents which schools Tara applied to, a comment I’ve heard frequently is something along the lines of, “Wow, Tara must be brilliant to be able to apply to those schools!” I know what they’re thinking, and no, my kid does not have straight A’s. Tara gets pretty good grades – that’s the best I can say about it. The thing is, colleges and universities – particularly the very best ones – do NOT want carbon copies of straight-A automatons filling their Freshman classes.

I was the first person in my family to get a college degree, and I figured out why that is a big deal. Because I know things that I can teach Tara that my parents were not able to teach me. For one thing, there is absolutely no reason to limit yourself when thinking about college. Someone pushed me until I learned that lesson, so I was able to do it for my own child. What schools actually want is to know how a potential student will contribute to their college. So the ability to get good grades is definitely important, but so are creativity, involvement, motivation, diversity of perspective. This is what I was able to tell my kid: you are more than your grades, and yes, these colleges know that and they are dying to see it in your applications.

It took nudging and some psychological gymnastics, but I got Tara to apply to tons of schools covering a wide range of school cultures and reputations and donor levels and numbers of (and lack of) famous alumni. Public and Private. Easily affordable and ridiculously expensive. And now my kid is out there in the world. I got Tara to visualize being the kind of student who could apply to Stanford, and have a decent chance of being considered. Now THAT was my goal. Academic program and Financial package are the two main things that should determine where Tara goes to school. “Am I good enough?” cannot be one of the factors.

In my opinion, any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.

Any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.

Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as nearby Universities always are.

Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as neighboring Universities always are.

President’s Day I took my kid and besties A and T down to visit the OSU campus. We showed up with 535 other registered visitors that day and we filled the auditorium for the 8:30 am welcome. We were then shuttled off to a briefing just for students interested in the College of Forestry, and heard that OSU is ranked 7th in the world for Agriculture and Forestry studies. We learned that there is an 11,500 acre demonstration forest a few miles away that is considered part of the campus, and that students attend many classes there learning silviculture and preservation and identification and a hundred other things.

Oregon State University has a gorgeous campus. Tara got pretty excited about the six-story library, so we went inside and took an elevator to the sixth -and silent!- floor to look around. Apparently there are some Nobel prizes displayed in the library, but we were already getting ready to head to the next campus when we heard about them, so we did not go back and look.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.

Pink blossoms didn't show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.

Pink blossoms didn’t show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.

UO does a better job with branding. The signature "O" is everywhere.

UO does a better job with branding. The signature “O” is everywhere.

Thirty minutes down I-5 is the University of Oregon – home of the Ducks. We were not registered to visit here, so there was no planned itinerary. We just walked around and soaked up the atmosphere, and there’s something to be said for that. Kids were sprawled everywhere in the warm sunshine. Groups sat all over the grass, laughing and studying. There were pick-up basketball games, frisbee, and hackey sack. Music was playing. It was definitely a place a kid would want to spend 4 years. It made the focused and subdued OSU students seem rather uninteresting, I have to say.

I was glad for the big Jeep being large enough to haul the kids in comfort. They wanted to sit together in the back seat, so we filled the front passenger seat with jackets and backpacks and gluten-free snacks and maps and college brochures. Sometimes….yes, sometimes I’m ok with fitting the image of a suburban Mom.

Basketball game in the courtyard.

Basketball game in the courtyard.

Very cool glass building at UO.

Very cool glass building at UO.

University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.

University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.

Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

I need to be outside to feel completely right. Breathing fresh air brings me peace. I wish I could live outside – except for the dirt, ha! During the warm months I open up half the windows in the house, and they stay open -morning, noon and night- till November when I am forced to shut up the house again.

So it follows that in winter I tend to go a little stir crazy when the weather keeps me indoors too long.

Lucky for me, I do not live in New England right now, and going outside is pretty much a breeze. Wednesday the temps were in the 50s with fog and only a slight chance of drizzle. I picked a show-stopper of a trail to add some Zing! to my winter, and off I went. Well, I had a late start because first thing that morning I toured a home for sale in Estacada. I liked it so much I made an offer, and then heard it had sold 15 minutes earlier. Dang!

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The Eagle Creek Trail is one of the most popular in the Columbia River Gorge because the trailhead is an easy 45 minutes from Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, and also because it packs a lot of scenic beauty into a few short miles on a super easy trail. For these reasons, in warmer months the parking spaces at the trailhead are typically jammed, and cars line the sides of the road all the way out to the Interstate. I thought perhaps the middle of the day Wednesday, in February, would mean an empty trail but I was wrong. There were about 25 vehicles parked when we arrived.

Guidebooks caution that it’s not a good trail for children and dogs, and that everyone should use care. Much of the trail was actually blasted out of the side of a cliff above sheer drops into the creek. In 2009, two people died on this trail, one due to a 100-foot fall.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff. The cable is there to hold on to.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

My philosophy is that there is potential danger all around us at all times, and that a trail is actually safer than a sidewalk. As long as I dress right, bring extra gear, water, food, etc., and in this particular case if I stay on the trail, I am confident that it will be a safe hike. Using our smarts will keep many of us alive. You’d think that would mean after 7 million years of natural selection our human population would be filled with only brilliant individuals, but somehow…that is not the case. :)

From the trailhead, it’s a 12-mile hike to Tunnel Falls, which I have never seen because I have never hiked that far. There are spectacular sights along the entire trail, but so far I have only hiked in 2 miles to Punchbowl Falls and then returned. There is so much to see in such a short distance that I use the trail for day hikes when I don’t have much time to invest.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

In the winter, there are waterfalls. And waterfalls, and waterfalls! They are astonishingly high, crashing down on both sides of the creek every few hundred feet or so. In some places you have no choice but to get wet because the trail hugs the cliff, and the falls spill down the cliffs. At one point near the beginning of the trail, a waterfall arcs over the top of the trail and you walk beneath it. (By the way, this is why Tunnel Falls has it’s name) The falls are so common that despite many of them being remarkable enough to warrant a postcard if they were solitary waterfalls in some other place…HERE most of them are not even named.

Lower Punchbowl Falls is a fun place to play in the water in the summer, and one can walk out into the creek and get a great view of the big falls. On this trip, it was too chilly to even consider going into the water for a view. It was lovely, and we watched others play around with each other and with their dogs. Despite the dog and child warnings, many people brought their dogs and children – and I’m glad. This is a place that really should be experienced by all.

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there's just a guy taking pictures of his girl. :-)

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there’s just a guy taking pictures of his girl. :-)

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail...

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail…

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I'm standing is the one at the top of this post - jaw-droppingly gorgeous.)

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I’m standing is the one at the top of this post –  the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Punchbowl Falls.)

Heading back to the trailhead along these truly remarkable and beautiful cliffs.

The rocks, trees, and cliffs are adorned with luscious moss.

Tara with the TARDIS blanket and hot cocoa, and the good things jar.

Tara with the TARDIS blanket and hot cocoa, and the good things jar.

A year ago I read a blog post from a friend who had a “good things jar.” (A quick browser search shows that many bloggers have touched this topic before my friend and I.) All year long, when there were notable events or thoughts or accomplishments, it was written onto a piece of paper and put into the jar. The post I read was about the day my friend pulled all those notes out of the jar and read over them.

Our jar

Our jar

I was so inspired by the idea, I put together my own good things jar!

I chose one of the large, old-fashioned jars my mother had given me. She was in love with anything old, and particularly loved the old canning jars with glass tops instead of the new metal ones we use today. This jar remains fully functional, with the metal ring still able to tightly hold the glass top. If I were to replace the hardened seal with a new rubber seal, it might be good as new.

Tara chose a piece of artwork, a block print made in art class, to decorate the jar. We screwed on the metal ring lid and then rested the glass piece on top. That way, any time a good thing needed to be added, it was easy-peasy to lift the glass, drop in the note, and put the glass disc back into place. Tara cut up a small pile of scrap paper and put the blanks on the shelf next to the jar. (I have to make things easy for myself – good intentions are not enough to keep me motivated for a whole year!)

Our pile of good things

Our pile of good things

Tara and I both added to it all year long. Though we never discussed this in advance, an unspoken agreement grew that we never told each other what we had included, and we never looked into the jar during the year. On New Year’s Day 2015, we pulled out the jar and sat on the floor in the living room, and took turns removing the pieces of paper, one by one. We read the papers we selected out loud to each other, even if the other person had written the note, and then spent a moment remembering the event that caused us to write what we did. Sometimes we didn’t remember. Sometimes we disagreed today (with 20/20 hindsight) that the thing we wrote was a good thing after all.

"My ballet has drastically improved. I am skilled and beautiful."

“My ballet has drastically improved. I am skilled and beautiful.”

Some of Tara’s:

  1. (written on part of a score sheet) “games with Mom, particularly Scrabble”
  2. “living in an open-minded home” & “welcoming online communities”
  3. “Daddy got a house”
  4. “The kind of lonely where you know exactly when you’ll feel better.”
  5. “the ability to forgive and be forgiven”
  6. “henna”
  7. “Dungeons & Dragons” (new group meets at our house Sunday evenings)
"I'm glad we have health insurance and that Tara is healthy." We have only had health insurance for a couple of years - previously couldn't afford it. This note after talking with a pediatric cardiologist about the state of Tara's heart. Yikes.

“I’m glad we have health insurance and that Tara is healthy.” We have only had health insurance for a couple of years – previously couldn’t afford it. This note after talking with a pediatric cardiologist about the state of Tara’s heart. Yikes.

Some of mine:

  1. “I had a wonderful conversation with Javie this week.” My sort of father-in-law, my ex-boyfriend’s dad, was in the hospital. We visited for a long time, I went on a walk in the halls of the hospital with him, he told me Navy stories, we laughed and cried, and he told me he wasn’t scared. He died two days later.
  2. “identifying birds in my back yard” I’ve become a total bird geek.
  3. “Thanksgiving. I am grateful that Dennis is the father of my child. I am grateful that we shared this holiday together.” Dennis could not afford a hotel room, so he stayed with me.
  4. “Tara and I trust each other.” & “Tara and I have a great relationship.”
  5. “Arno (ex-boyfriend) and I are perfect when we’re not afraid.” Aren’t we all?
  6. “The AC is not cranked at my workplace anymore!” Now that I work at home, climate control is all mine.
  7. “Every time something expensive happens, I can afford it. (Malware on computer.)” Yeah, I’m still recovering from the trauma of financial ruin in 2007-2009. Makes me grateful every time I have the money I need. As it should be.

We both wrote about how much we love the cat, ha ha! I wrote multiple times about daffodils and my ability to recover from setbacks. Tara wrote multiple times about having a best friend, and about macaroni and cheese.

Powell's is a local famous bookstore. If you have ever been there, you will agree.

Powell’s is a local bookstore. If you’ve been there, you’ll agree it’s a good thing.

"the ability to forgive and be forgiven"

“the ability to forgive and be forgiven”

In the beginning, I thought it would be a nudge to help us remember to think of the good things in our lives, day to day. And I was right. Every time I’m in the kitchen and see the good things jar, I ask myself, “Is something so good right now I need to record it?” Now that we’ve gone through the whole process, I see that there is also value in looking back and reevaluating each thing with a different perspective. I also got to know more about the secret life inside my child’s head, and I am more in love with Tara than ever before.

Obviously, the jar is already back in its place, waiting for new slips of paper in 2015.

The tea house

The Tower of Cosmic Reflection tea house

Right in the middle of Chinatown (but of course), Portland boasts the lovely Lan Su Chinese Garden. There is bounty for the senses in this carefully arranged space. Occupying the land of one city block, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, and that makes the experience even more remarkable when you step inside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This is a view of the gardens from the street outside.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

This authentic Chinese garden is so well designed that it is restorative simply to be there.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

A boat rests in a clump of vegetation, and shelters fish in its shadows.

Portland’s sister city is Suzhou, famous for its gardens. Sounds from the word Portland and Suzhou were taken to form the name Lan (orchid) Su (arise/awaken), so the name of the garden can be poetically interpreted as Garden of Awakening Orchids. It was completed in 2000 by professional artisans from Suzhou in only 10 months, using materials that came primarily from China (including all that rock – wow!).

It’s surprising how much of the city outside disappears once inside the garden.

From the scholar's courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

From the scholar’s courtyard I could see camellias and tall buildings.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

The drip tiles display five bats representing the five blessings of long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing.

We arrived just as a tour was beginning, so we followed the group on stone-paved paths beneath covered walkways  and through courtyards and buildings. When the tour was over we continued to wander wherever our fancy took us.

After some time the sky darkened and the rain fell harder, and we stepped into the tea house. We were able to select from a large menu of teas which was brought to us in a tea service. After we were shown how to properly use the tea service, we were left to enjoy it. Tara ordered a moon cake, and we shared that. The sweetened bean paste reminded me of the bean paste desserts I had in Japan.

The inscription above the moon door reads "Listen to the Fragrance," encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The inscription above the moon door reads “Listen to the Fragrance,” encouraging us to use our senses in new ways.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

The stone tiles are particularly remarkable throughout the garden. The pattern changes to suit each section.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

Tara practiced calligraphy with water on a stone.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

A skyscraper towers above the Hall of Brocade Clouds.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Sunbeam casts winter shadows.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Attention to detail is rich in every part of the garden, including the insides of the buildings, constructed to represent the types of structures found in the actual garden of a wealthy family.

Our tea service.

Our tea service.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

This musician played for everyone in the tea house.

It was a good way to share the day with with my child, and I’m so glad I have a teenager who was actually excited to come here and couldn’t wait to eat a bean cake. Tara is so very different than who I was at age 17, and I am in awe of that wonderful person.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

Tara poses with the lion at the entrance to the garden.

DSC_0074

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about the terrorist murders in France beginning January 7 and ending with 17 people dead in that country, not to mention the additional deaths spreading out from that epicenter, such as those in Niger. I grieve the loss of life, the radicalization of youths, the culture of fear growing among Jews, the culture of intolerance growing among those of religious faith. My head is filled with distress and questions.

Nusrat Qadir, vice president of the U.S. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said, “The culprits behind this atrocity have violated every Islamic tenet of compassion, justice, and peace.”

I assume many of you have traveled the gamut of reactions, as I have. Ten days later I am stuck clinging to this pendulum ball, arcing back and forth between believing that every voice should be protected, no matter how heinous the message…and believing that there are clearly lines that should be drawn so that we aren’t complicit in future violence.

I keep tripping over the concept of where the line should be drawn. In one news broadcast someone asked, “Why is it acceptable to ridicule religion, when it is clearly not acceptable to ridicule homosexuals, or blacks?” I am still thinking about this argument; wondering if it’s a valid question. On the one hand, satirical cartoons are not saying religion is 100% wrong, or that Islam is all bad; but rather that there are amusing ways to look at religions from an outsider’s perspective. And to me this action is tremendously valuable: force us to ask questions, to look through a different lens, to constantly challenge our own convictions. If a cartoon is uncomfortable, that means it’s illuminating something important.

On the other hand, the unintelligent among us (and the mouton are in the majority, I fear) will embrace the cartoon’s validation of their intolerant views of Islam.

Tara and I discussed this at some length this morning. We asked of each other: If it’s clearly going to offend someone, isn’t it common decency not to engage in that action? Should we not expect an unpleasant reaction? Even the Pope said if his friend were to insult his mother, the friend should expect to get punched!  If aspects of Islam subscribe to the belief that any representation of a life form is akin to a human trying to replicate God’s act of creation and is thus reprehensible, then can’t we agree that any drawing of the prophet Muhammad should be banned? I tried to imagine what kind of cartoon would offend me, and I imagined one portraying women as too stupid to understand a situation. (I cringe at the memory of I Can’t Do The Sum, sung by Annette Funicello in Babes In Toyland.) Wouldn’t this satirical cartoon depicting a female simpleton set the equality movement back a step? The answer is “yes.” And yet to react with hostility, threats, arrest, violence….that would clearly be the response of someone terribly insecure and too sensitive to be taken seriously.

Only a short time ago I was in agreement when it was announced that no showing of the movie The Interview would occur, in order to protect the public from possible terrorist attack from North Korea. It made sense: when warned about danger, avoid the danger. President Obama criticized Sony Pictures’ decision, indicating that it was giving the terrorists what they wanted. I thought my President was being reckless. But what has happened since then is that the scenario has now been carried to its conclusion: people in France were killed for their artistic expression that involved ridiculing a beloved leader. And now I see where I was wrong. I was thinking in too limited of a context. As a spoiled American I have a hard time imagining a world in which I could be prosecuted for publicly expressing my opinions. Hell, I have my own blog!

My limited context was that I stopped at the pinnacle of offense, Kim Jong-un and Muhammad, subconsciously assuming the lines of offensiveness would be drawn right at their feet. But you and I both know that if we were allowed to choose which cartoons to place off limits, the battle would begin afresh, with each contingent arguing that their own perspective of what defines “offensive” would the one to use in determining which cartoons were acceptable.

And I’m tripping at that same place again, of where to draw the line. Where to say “ok, that is going too far.” That line cannot be drawn. I have to concur with Evelyn Beatrice Hall, Voltaire, and the ACLU, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

“The supposed right of intolerance is absurd and barbaric. It is the right of the tiger; nay, it is far worse, for tigers do but tear in order to have food, while we rend each other for paragraphs.” -Voltaire

We cannot agree to stifle our voices when threatened. Put simply, that is in opposition to the very values of freedom for which France and the United States are most famous.

***

…I’d like to credit this post to someone else. I asked permission to re-blog MM’s post from Multifarious meanderings, and she graciously agreed. Then I thought I’d jot a quick sentence or two for introduction. And look what the heck happened! I swear I cannot keep my mouth shut even in the most volatile of situations. Thank you MM, for being the reason I have spent the last few days deep in contemplation about a situation that is not a French problem but a global problem.

Please click here and read her eloquent and evocative post, written from the perspective of someone much closer to the epicenter.

Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake

Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake

In December I hiked to Mirror Lake and Tom Dick and Harry Mountain for the first time. Though the whole region was sunny that day, there was a little microclimate engulfing our local volcano, Mt. Hood. Snow actually fell during the hike. At the summit of the mountain, I was told that it is typically one of the best views around. Instead of vistas, I entertained myself with close-range snow and fog shots as the weak sunlight made half-hearted attempts to break through and did not succeed. You can read that blog post here if you like.

I went back last week. And this time I found what I had been promised: incredible views!

Looking across the lake up to the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, my next destination.

Looking across the lake up to the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain, my next destination.

Trying to capture the iceberg blue in the shadows, but it doesn't show up.

Trying to capture the iceberg blue in the shadows, but it doesn’t show up.

The snow at this point was easy to walk through.

The snow at this point was easy to walk through.

First I had to get there. While the trail was clear in December, this time it was snow-covered from beginning to end. The popularity of this particular trail helped me, since I was able to follow tracks all the way to the summit. My timing was excellent because of the old snow and the weather. I wore only my regular hiking boots that I’ve been wearing for a decade, but the snow was frozen enough that I was able to walk along the top of it.  The day was warm enough that the top inch of snow was soft, so I got some traction, and most of the time I wasn’t in danger of sliding down the mountain on the frozen snow. (did you notice how I used the word ‘most?’)

I walked all around the lovely Mirror Lake. I was glad I decided to hit the lake first and catch some sun. By the time I left the mountain, it was deep in shadow due to our short winter days.

Only a few inches deep at the trailhead, the snow on the trail above the lake was at least two feet deep, possibly three feet deep as it reached Tom Dick and Harry mountain. Others before me had used snow shoes, and I saw ski tracks beside the trail as well.

As I neared the summit, the trail was hard to find because wind had swept away most of the tracks. But I could see the rocks at the top, dry in the sunshine and calling me up. The snow was not as hard there, possibly because of the warmth of the day. My boots punched through and I sank above my knees every third step. Hiking in snow is a fabulous workout! I highly recommend it. You work your legs and your butt, you gulp in that fresh mountain air, your pay-off is an amazing view, and your cool down is to head back down the trail again.

After a last gasping (like I said: it’s a workout) push through the snow, I made it to the top!

The glorious sun had baked the rocks dry at the top.

The glorious sun had baked the rocks dry at the top.

The south side of Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake.

The south side of Mt. Hood rises above Mirror Lake.

I expected to see Mt. Hood, and there it was, right in front of me and gloriously snow-covered. The bright blue of that much snow is a sight that always stirs me. Reminiscent of the first blue glaciers I ever saw, the summer when I was 16 and went to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Soldotna, Alaska. Despite the fact that I’ve learned to expect that kind of blue, it is still a wonderful sight.

What I did not expect to see was a whole string of volcanoes. Mt. Jefferson to the south, and Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams. And since this day was spectacular for miles and miles, I could clearly see Mt. Rainier from all the way up in Seattle! That is a view of FIVE volcanoes from one spot. I think it’s my record.

I had no one to share my enthusiasm with, since it was a Wednesday afternoon and the trail was empty. But I had cell reception on top of Tom Dick and Harry, so I sent a few selfies to Tara and to my friends at work.

I had not hiked far. In the bottom left, you can see the curve of the highway. That spot is just a few feet from where I parked the Jeep.

I had not hiked far. In the bottom left, you can see the curve of the highway. That spot is just a few feet from where I parked the Jeep.

Here's the money shot! Click the image so you can see them all, left to right: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood. (Picture me jumping up and down with glee)

Here’s the money shot! Click the image so you can see them all, left to right: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood. (Picture me jumping up and down with glee)

I included a shot of this ridgeline in the December post. It looks different this time, with all the sunshine!

I included a shot of this ridgeline in the December post. Different this time, with all the sunshine!

Mt. Jefferson to the south, beyond hazy azure hills.

Mt. Jefferson to the south, beyond hazy indigo hills.

I passed the lake on the way back down, and caught the evening light.

I passed the lake on the way back down, and caught the evening light.

One last look back up at the mountain where I had stood in the sunshine. Then it was time to go Into The Woods, and head back to the Jeep.

One last look back up at the mountain where I had stood in the sunshine. Then it was time to go Into The Woods, and head back to the Jeep.

Start the New Year right with GINORMOUS earrings!

Start the New Year right with GINORMOUS earrings!

I have been delinquent on making New Year’s Resolutions the past two years. As I’ve written before, I don’t do resolutions, but rather New Year’s Fantasies. They are less like obligations and more like awesome potential if I play my cards right. It’s akin to what I saw recently going on over at Bucket List Publications.

My New Year’s lists are a way to remind myself of what’s important. When I make a list of fantasies, it often reveals what is not there, so I can add it. Does that make sense? I don’t want it to be all filled up with activities, because I need to remember to slow down and enjoy my people. I don’t want it to be filled with career goals and paying down debt, without including quality time with Tara and a few good hikes. It’s also a way to embrace my ambitious nature, and give myself permission to be driven and to look forward to amazing adventures and phenomenal self-growth, because that is simply what makes me Crystal.

Another way my tradition is different from resolutions is that I try to make my list around my birthday (January 9th) instead of the first of the year. My birthday reminds me that I’m older (45 this year!) and that lists like this are actually important. If I am granted a typical lifespan, then I’m already more than halfway through it, and that puts me into a little bit of a panic. So much left to do!

Fantasies for 2015

  1. Buy a house.
  2. Visit my brother and his girlfriend in Seattle right away, and tour the University of Washington campus.
  3. Finish the Japan photobook. I am *still* not done. It’s absolutely inexcusable, I know.
  4. Paint something in oils. I need to stop thinking of art as a luxury and make it a priority.
  5. Write more on my Shemya book. I was going gangbusters till pulling up the memories from all those years ago brought up a particularly terrible and traumatic memory. I’ve been in therapy since then and it is making an enormous difference in my life. I think I can dig back into my old life again without meeting an emotional roadblock.
  6. Have a fabulous coast road trip to Canada with M in March.
  7. Have a Disneyland trip in June that is so awesome it totally wipes out the horrible Disneyland memories from last March (I focused on the good stuff in my blog, but now you know the rest of the story).
  8. Be more assertive. As a parent, as a partner, as an employee. I need to be much better at speaking up for myself.
  9. Continue cultivating friends. 2014 was a great year for building healthy friendships and critiquing unhealthy friendships.
  10. Get better at referring to my transgendered teen in gender neutral pronouns, which is *so hard* to do. More on this later…another enormous life-changing event I haven’t told you about yet.
  11. Plan and pay for my trip to Sri Lanka, January 2016. M is from Sri Lanka and has been begging R and me to go there with him. We finally agreed on early January, so logistics must be completed in 2015.
  12. Come up with a way to manage the blogosphere. Those of you who post every single day, sometimes more than once a day, offer me an excellent opportunity to learn better time management. Also, you keep me in awe. “How on Earth….?”
  13. Put out the rest of my raccoon stickers.

Ok, I think that’s a good list. Here is an awesome one from 2011: “Laugh more.” In 2009 I included this long rant. It obviously touched a nerve when I wrote it. And…it remains relevant:

Stay open to what the Universe provides for me. Stop trying to bully my way through. Stop trying to control the direction. Stop trying to control the definition of my success, and my path toward it. Give it up. Have some peace. Accept help from others. Be graceful in acknowledging my ignorance, while maintaining my strength and confidence and power and beauty.

Here’s hoping that most of your 2015 fantasies come true!

A photojournal of the final days of one tree’s life:

My phone captured Mt. Hood peeking above the tree farm trees.

My phone captured Mt. Hood peeking above the tree farm trees.

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Tara is testing the tree height to see if it will be right for our living room.

Stringing lights and scattering needles everywhere. (I'm still finding them!)

Getting ready to string lights and scatter needles everywhere. (I’m still finding them!)

Glass ball received as a gift from Mom years ago.

Glass ball received as a gift from Mom years ago.

Cloth origami crane from my trip to Japan.

Cloth origami crane from my trip to Japan.

Gift time! Tara's holding a T-shirt with the pattern of the Portland International Airport carpet.

Gift time! Tara’s holding a T-shirt with the pattern of the Portland International Airport carpet.

Gifts gone, and it looks a little empty beneath that tree. I love how the lights reflect off the floor.

Gifts gone, and it looks a little empty beneath that tree. I love how the lights reflect off the floor. (Yes, yes, it’s a ginormous TV. I didn’t buy it, it’s actually a hand-me-down.)

Goodbye tree. You are still beautiful. Thank you for being in our home.

Goodbye tree. You are still beautiful. Thank you for being in our home.

My neighbor across the street has a friend with goats, and the goats just love to eat Christmas trees. So… that’s where the tree will go next.

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Portland lights sparkle off the Willametter River at the end of 2014.

I stood in the middle of the Hawthorne Bridge last night and took lots of blurry photos. I don’t know if it was the vibrating bridge that shook a little more each time a car pounded past me, or the dry cold air blasting into my face that had me in tears the entire time. No, seriously, ha ha. Tears streaming down my face from the cold wind in my eyes. Almost funny enough to keep me from being annoyed.

When I arrived in my fancy Jeep, the two dashboard screens read: 27 degrees. My first thought was, “oh, that’s chilly!” My second thought was, “and that’s about…60 degrees warmer than my buddies in Burlington!” That morning on facebook, one of my forecaster friends (remember I was a forecaster in my past life?) had posted a National Weather Service temperature map of Vermont, showing 30 degrees below zero in Burlington and 50 below out in the Northeast Kingdom.

(I mumbled my sincere thanks to the Universe for not having to live through Vermont winters anymore.)

I parked under the I-5 overpass where it meets the Hawthorne Bridge on the East side of the river and returned an enthusiastic “Hi,” and “I’m doing great!” in answer to the homeless man walking briskly past in Carhartt overalls, asking how I was that evening. He seemed very cheerful despite the weather. I walked past two dozen tents and another dozen sleeping bags under the bridge before I came to the ramp that led me up top. Under the I-5 overpass is a good place to sleep. It’s large and sheltered and dry and clean. 27 degrees while taking nighttime photos is one thing, 27 degrees and trying to sleep in a tent is a different thing. A woman sat outside her tent in a hat and fingerless gloves, with a cigarette and the blue screen of her phone lighting up her face.

When I was done collecting all those blurry and colorful photos for you, I returned to where I had parked and took the Jeep farther under the overpass till I could find the right street to pull me to the surface of the city. It feels underground there, where the multiple bridges across the river intersect with the huge I-5 bridge and beneath all of it are restaurants, and warehouses, and parking lots and office space. And tents, and tents, and tents, all along the streets beside the river.

I waited for a passing train beside a pretty sweet spot on a concrete slab bound on four sides and just big enough for two tents covered in tarps, two outside sleeping bags, and a large tricycle with a basket on the front. The spot was directly at the base of a staircase leading to the bridge, so the space didn’t feel so trapped. There were three young men and a young woman talking and laughing beside the tents, and hopping around in the cold, slapping their hands together. Everything about their spot seemed perfect except for the train, about 12 feet away, shrieking and rumbling along the tracks. The red flashing lights and warning bell: “clang, clang, clang” the whole time. Really loud. They must be going deaf if they live there.

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The Willamette River, Morrison Bridge with the blue and green lights, Moda Center (home of the Trail Blazers) in red, and the identical towers of the Oregon Convention Center on the right.

I guess what struck me – what I’m trying to say here – is that I saw people living their lives. I wasn’t squashed as much as usual beneath the burden of privilege next to a person at a bad place in their life. I felt instantly guilty at first, when I climbed back into the car and it was still warm from the heater, but the feeling didn’t last long. Mostly I looked at all the tent-dwellers and felt interested in their lives. I’m sure that must be terribly arrogant, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like, for one rare night, I was able to see the humanity and the community and the emotions of a group of people who are usually closed to me. I saw that the unusual cold was drawing some of them together like shared events do, and making some of them more animated than usual. And I felt lucky to be a part of this city, with all its citizens.

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