Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trimming the Tree

Now that all my family was home again, it was time to prepare for Christmas.  The first step was to put up the tree.  Since it was the week before Christmas when we were finally all back together, there was slim pickins' at the tree lots.  After tromping through a very muddy lot, we chose a nice noble fir.

Cody and Denise start with the lights
When we got the tree home and tried to set it up, we discovered one side of the tree was fuller than the other.  This gave the tree a lopsided appearance.  When placed in the tree stand, the tree didn't look like it was sitting straight up.  Roger fussed around with it for awhile, but we eventually settled on an alignment that looked relatively vertical. 

Finding that one dead bulb!
Then it was up to the attic to get out our many boxes of Christmas decorations.  Over the years, we've amassed quite a collection!  Roger unpacked the lights, and went to work finding the ones that still worked.

Denise shows her disapproval of my photographic documentation
Cody and Denise began winding strings of lights around the tree.  We've got a lot of lights, so they put on as many as the tree could hold.

Cody and Denise checking out another string of lights

It's a slow process to wind lights around a tree.  And you always have to check out the lights before you put them on the tree to be sure all the bulbs work!

The kids admire their lighting work
Finally, the tree was ablaze with lights. It looked really nice.  Next, it was time to add the ornaments.  We opened up our two big boxes full of balls, and other assorted decor.

Bear gets some decoration
It's fun to look through the decoration boxes.  We've got over 20 years of Christmas ornaments collected.  It brings back a lot of memories of Christmas's past.

Denise hangs a Christmas ball on the tree

Putting the various Christmas balls on the tree is always the fun part.  I remember when the kids were little the bottom portion of the tree was crammed with ornaments (up to their arm's reach) while the top was really sparse.

I got Roger to smile!

We can't get the tree decorated without a few mishaps.  This year, it was a couple of broken Christmas balls.  Luckily, it was nothing sentimental, and the vacuum cleaner was already out and ready.

The kids decorated me too
Much to the kid's displeasure, I did more photo-taking than actual ornament placing.

Cody searches for a good spot to place an ornament
I keep telling the kids that someday they'll be happy I took all these photos.  Of course, I'll probably be dead by the time it's finally appreciated!

Putting on the garland
After we'd crammed on as many ornaments as the tree could hold, Cody and Denise applied the finishing touch.  They wound a couple strands of silver garland around the tree.  Perfect!

The finished product
We surveyed our 2010 Christmas tree, and decided it was perfect! did appear lean a little bit, but Roger decided we were done with adjustments and left well alone.

The tree gave our house a nice foresty scent.  I just love the smell of a Christmas tree!  It really felt like Christmas now.  And with all of our decorations up, we finally looked ready.  Time to bring on the presents! 


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Two Great Ski Days

Storms hit Mt. Hood Monday through Wednesday and dumped a ton of snow.  Then the forecast called for Thursday and Friday to be clear, sunny days.  Denise was home from school, and Cody was due back on Friday.  New snow, good weather and people to ski with .... it was a sign.   I took both days off and headed for the mountain!

Mt. Hood view from Timberline parking lot
And what a good decision I made!  Thursday, Denise and I headed for Timberline Lodge.  We arrived to beautiful blue skies and a killer view of Mt. Hood from the parking lot.  It looked to be a very nice day.

Mt. Jefferson view from Timberline day lodge
I usually don't ski much at Timberline. It's a smaller ski area than Mt. Hood Meadows and not very challenging for me. When I do go to Timberline, I bring my tele skis.  But Denise likes to snowboard there, and I had a two-for-one lift ticket coupon.  Timberline does have a very nice day lodge (much nicer than Meadows) that serves great burgers.

Timberline Lodge and Mt. Hood
Denise brought one of her friends, so I left them to snowboard together and headed for the slopes.  I planned to meet my friends John and Randy (retired former co-workers) later in the morning.  But for now there were lots of nicely groomed corduroy runs ready for exploration. 

Wonderful white scene from the lift
I headed for the Jeff Flood lift, which is the newest high speed quad at Timberline.  I really hadn't skied much in this area, so decided today would be a good day to check it out.  Riding up the lift, I was treated to a beautiful view of the mountain, snow-flocked trees, and a bright blue sky.  Wow!

Nature's Christmas decoration
Up at the top of the lift, it was cold and a little windy.  But the views were wonderful!  The snow-covered trees looked as good as any flocked tree you could buy from a Christmas tree lot.  The sun lit the snow up and it sparkled.  Mother Nature does a pretty good job of decorating for Christmas.

John makin' a tele-turn
About mid-morning, I met up with John and Randy.  John showed me his new bright-red tele skis.  Randy had a new bright red helmet.  Both guys also had red jackets.  It wasn't going to be hard to find my companions on the slopes!

Randy flies down the hill
It was good to catch up with the guys.  I don't think I've skied with either John or Randy for at least two years.  We made lots of laps down the runs under the Jeff Flood lift.

Chairlift photo op
John likes to take photos as much as I do.  He had his camera out a lot.  And of course, when his camera came out, so did mine. It was such a beautiful day, we couldn't help it!

The men in red
I was having so much fun, lunchtime came before I knew it.  I told Denise I'd meet her in the lodge for lunch at 11:30.  At 11:15, I decided to do "just one more run."  That run took longer than anticipated, and I was a little late meeting up for lunch.  Ooops.  It is not good to keep a hungry daughter waiting!

Bottom of the Palmer Lift
After lunch, I tried to meet up again with John and Randy.  I couldn't reach either of them on their cell phones and skied a couple of the runs we'd done this morning, but no luck.  The Magic Mile lift was open, so I finally gave up and decided to check out the Mile.  Oh, it was a windy, cold ride to the top!  The views were great as always, but it was too frigid to linger.  I snapped a couple of photos and headed back down.

An ice-coated Palmer lift stretches up the mountain
I spent the rest of the afternoon revisiting my favorite runs.  My legs were getting tired, so the stops became more frequent.  I finally met up with Denise and her friend.  After checking out the gift shop, and finding Denise a new helmet, it was time to head home.  What an incredible day!  Good timing to play hooky from work.  I was already looking forward to tomorrow.

Cody at Mt. Hood Meadows
The next day it was Cody's turn to join me.  We headed for Mt. Hood Meadows.  Again, it was another clear, sunny day.  Mt. Hood looked like a giant mound of whipped cream with all the new snow.  We got more good views of the mountain from Meadows' parking lot.

Another beautiful day at Mt. Hood Meadows
Our companion on the first lift ride was more than happy to give us a snow conditions report.  He said that the Cascade lift and Heather Canyon had just opened today.  Apparently they'd been closed since the last storm.  There was lots of untracked fresh powder ready for the taking.  He recommended Silver Bowl into Heather Canyon as the best place for pow.

Good day sunshine
After a couple of warm-up runs, Cody and I decided to try Silver Bowl.  We rode the Cascade lift to the top of the ski area, and soaked in the views.  Then we traversed towards Heather Canyon.

Looking into Heather Canyon
By the time we arrived at the top of Silver Bowl, it was getting really tracked out.  Fresh pow doesn't last long!  Cody and I saw another slope a little ways away that was not quite as cut up.  We side hilled over to check it out.

Silver Bowl
There was enough untracked places on this slope to make a good run, so Cody and I headed down.  What wonderful snow!  It was knee-deep and fluffy.  The snow flew up above my shoulders as I made my turns.  However, this was my first deep powder skiing of the season, and I found out I'm a little rusty.  I wiped out a couple of times.  Luckily, the soft snow broke my falls, and no damage was done (except to my pride!).

Makin' turns down Apollo Run
After our awesome run down Silver Bowl, Cody and I decided to check out the snow under Shooting Star lift.  It was great!  Apollo Run was our favorite, and we made lots of laps.

Thumbs up for the day!
The weather was even better than the day before.  It was not as cold and windy, but cold enough to keep the snow powdery.  Almost perfect!  (We just needed a foot of fresh powder and then I'd give it a "10").

Still goin' strong on day two!

After tele skiing the day before, I gave my legs a break and used my new alpine skis.  After a day of tele, alpine skiing seemed so easy!  I was having lots of fun flying down the hill, bumping over moguls and carving through hidden powder stashes.

Hunched-over icy trees
Just like at Timberline, there were white snow and ice crusted trees.  Very cool to see.  I tried to capture their beauty as best I could.

Cody takes a breather
Cody and I spent most of the afternoon on Shooting Star's trails.  We liked the snow, and the terrain was the best.  After skiing all day yesterday, I held out better than expected.  My legs lasted until 3:00.  Then I took Cody over to the Stadium race course for one last run to the lodge.

King of the world!
I can't believe I lucked out with two sunny ski days in a row.  I had an absolute blast both days.  A good use of vacation and a great way to spend time with my kids.

When the sun is out, and the snow is fresh, there's no better place to be than Mt. Hood.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Holiday Half

Back in September, a local running store advertised a new half marathon race to be held in December called "The Holiday Half."   Runners were encouraged to dress up in Christmas-themed attire, there would be carolers every two miles, and the finisher's medal was in the shape of a bell.  It sounded like a lot of fun, so I signed up right away.

The starting line

After I ran my marathon in October, and rested for two weeks afterwards, I realized I needed to start training again to be able to run this half in December.  Ugh!  It was hard to get motivated.

But I persevered, running long runs on the weekends and soon December 12th arrived.  It had rained buckets the day before, but race day dawned warm and dry.

I decked myself out for this race

I love races with a theme.  It's fun to see people dress up for the occasion.  I'm not real creative, but managed to find some lovely red and green socks, dug out my red and green tech shirts, and donned a Santa hat.  I looked delightfully obnoxious!

I found out right away I'd overdressed.  My attire was chosen with the usual December cold and rainy weather in mind.  But race day was uncommonly warm (high 50s for temps). I heated up almost immediately.  The Santa hat made my head really warm.  And I didn't need a long sleeve shirt or long socks.  I ditched the Santa hat before mile 2, handing it to a little kid along the route.

Runners at mile 2
The race had a nice course.  We ran along North Greeley Avenue, past the University of Portland, and through the St. John's area.  We turned around at Pier Park, which I discovered was a lovely park full of large, beautiful fir trees.  The fun thing about the out-and-back courses is that you get to see the runners both in front of and behind you.  It's a great way to cheer on your fellow runners.  I had fun cheering the leaders, and complimenting people on their holiday costumes.  There wasn't a lot of carolers, but the race volunteers were fabulous.  There were two young men at one intersection singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," who were singing when I first passed them by, and still belting out the tunes on my return trip.

Me and Katy at the finish line
I follow a blog and facebook page dedicated to the "Run Like a Mother" book (or RLAM for short).  The blog sells fun shirts with mom-themed messages, such as my favorite:  "Badass mother runner."   I was hoping to encounter other RLAMers running the Holiday Half.  During the race, I saw a woman with a "Badass mother runner" shirt.  She passed me once and I called out a "hello" to my fellow RLAMer.  Around mile 8, I ran into her at an aid station.  We started talking, and I decided it would be fun to run with a companion, so I asked if I could join her.  The woman's name was Katy and I soon found out this amazing person was a mother to a very young (under 3) daughter and twin 7-month old sons.  Amongst all of her mommy duties, she finds time to run and train for a half marathon!  Wow! 

All smiles at the finish line
Katy ran at a slower pace than my usual, but I didn't mind.  After running for 8 miles by myself, I was happy for some company. I was running this race for fun after all!  We had a nice chat.  Conversation is a good distraction, and the last five miles slipped by quickly.  Katy was having a hard time, and I stuck with her and offered encouragement.  We hit a stiff headwind in the final mile, but soldiered on.  Soon, the finish line banner was in sight.  I sprinted across the timing mats, and then cheered Katy on to her finish.  She did a great job!  It felt really good to help a fellow runner.

  Meghan had a great costume!

Right before the finish line, a woman passed me wearing a candy cane striped dress.  I called out that I loved her costume, and as the person turned around I realized it was someone I knew!  The candy cane girl was Meghan from TriMet who I'd worked with on the I-205 light rail project.  Boy you never know who you're going to meet at a race!

My cool bell-shaped finisher's medal

I started this race with no goals other than to have fun.  I ran on a lovely course, enjoyed seeing the many runners in holiday costume, and was entertained by great volunteers.  I helped a fellow mother runner, and made a new friend.  And I received a cool finisher's medal that doubles as a real cowbell.  My time wasn't one of my best efforts, but the fun I had trumped any personal best I could've achieved.  

Did I have a good time?  Mission accomplished!  Can't wait to run this race again next year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Everyone's Home!

For the first two weeks of December, I was home alone with only the dog for company.  Roger had to travel to China for his work.  The kids were both away at their respective colleges.  It was a lonely couple of weeks.

Family puzzle time

But then - yahoo! - everyone came home.  First Denise on Friday.  Then Roger on Tuesday.  He got sick with a massive ear infection that delayed his return home by three days (his doc said absolutely no flying until his ear improved).  And then Cody surprised us when he came home one day early on Thursday.

Everyone set right to work helping Denise finish her really, really hard puzzle.  I had to take a photo of everyone gathered 'round the table, searching for the right puzzle piece.  In the above photo, you can see Cody and Denise trying to avoid being photographed by their mother!

It is wonderful to have my family home again. 


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Return to the Hood

I love winter.

I love snow.  I love the mountains.  I really, really, really, love skiing.  And - yahoo! - ski season is finally here!

Bluebird day!

Friday was my first ski day of the season.  I couldn't of picked a better day to be up on Hood.  It was a sunny, clear day.  There was hardly any wind.  And the snow wasn't too bad.  The only thing that would've made it perfect was a foot of fresh powder.  But, hey, I ski in the Cascades where true powder is hard to come by. (There's a reason our snow is nicknamed "Cascade concrete")

Views from Ridge Run

Skiing is my most favorite thing to do. I love it even more than running or hiking. What a wonderful feeling to be gliding down a run making perfect turns through the snow. It's as close to flying as you can be.

Sunshine and snow
Skiing gives one a chance to be out in mother nature during the cold winter months.  The snow-covered woods are so beautiful.  All the trees are flocked with a lovely white coating.  When the sun comes out, the snow sparkles like diamonds.

My assessment of the day
 I went up with my friend Kim. There was no school that day, so she brought her two kids and their friends. While Kim got everyone situated, I took a few runs. My first run was pure heaven. I'd forgotten how much I missed skiing over the summer. I was so happy, there were tears in my eyes!

Looking down the Stadium run

In the morning, I started with my telemark skis to practice my tele-turns.  Surprisingly, I didn't forget how to tele during the off-season.  After a run or two, things came back quickly.  My legs even felt stronger.  Must be all that running I did over the summer.

Ooooh.....freshly groomed corduroy
 After some warm up runs, I felt the need to test myself on something more difficult.  The racecourse (Stadium run) was open and groomed.  Usually it's closed for racing, so I had to go and try it.  Once I arrived at the top, I paused to admire the snow conditions.  The slope was perfectly groomed corduroy, and hardly anyone had made tracks on it.  I launched myself downhill, made a couple of shaky turns, and fell on my butt!  But I quickly recovered, and enjoyed the rest of my trip down.

How to do a tele-turn

After an hour, I met up with Kim and we took some runs together.  I got a new smaller (pocket-sized) camera for an early Christmas present, and today was the first time I'd tried it out.  I took some photos, and had Kim take a couple of me (I'm always the photographer, never the subject)  The sunny skies were very conducive to photography.

Kim laughs at my self-portrait attempt

And of course I tried to get a photo of both Kim and I.  Two longtime ski buddies!

Kim strikes a studly skier's pose
Kim and I skied, laughed, whooped and woo-hooed.  We had a good morning of skiing.  Everyone we met on the slopes and at the lifts was in a good mood.  Skiers and boarders are always in high spirits - we come to the mountain to play.  Contrast that to runners on the day of a race, who are always so serious. 

Mt. Hood, lookin' white and wonderful
By lunchtime, my legs were pooped.  So I switched my teles for alpine skis.  Kim's sister was selling a pair of Atomics, and I needed a new set of alpine skis (after six seasons, my old Solomon Screams were toast) so she brought the skis for me to try out.

Kim surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery
Well, it was love at first turn for those Atomics!  After a run, Kim took a photo of me with her iphone, and sent it to her sister with one word - "sold."

I attempt a sexy skier's pose
Those Atomics were a sparkly metallic green color.  I called them my "bling" skis!  I was feeling really sexy makin' turns down the mountain with those skis.

Top of the world view from the Cascade lift

Kim went in early to check on the kids, and I took a couple more runs by myself.  The Cascade lift was open, so I rode it to the very top of the ski area.  The views were wonderful.  You could see the tip of Mt. Jefferson protruding from a low cloud bank.  The afternoon sun was low in the sky giving nice light to the scene.  A good way to end a perfect day of skiing!

My ski season is off to a great start.  Thanks to La Nina, the mountain has lots of early season snow.  And I hear the snow's supposed to keep piling up.  It's gonna be a good year!