SURPRISE! IT’S ANOTHER HOLIDAY AVALANCHE!

holiday avalancheLet me whisk you off to metaphor land. It’s snowing outside and has been for days. It’s time to take a look at the snow accumulation on the roof, so I head outside and step under the eaves. I extend a broom handle above me and jam it into the thick foamy protrusion hanging over the lip of the roof. Within a second I am engulfed in a frozen avalanche; left gasping for air from surprise and cold shock. Now let’s take that little fictional episode and say that the snowfall represents Thanksgiving, and the Siberian-style landslide is the approach to Christmas. Despite the same routines and expectations every year, the family winter holidays always result in a surprise crushing blow that leaves me frazzled and shaking stuff out of my ears for weeks afterward.

Preparations for visitors and their inherent tumult of food, bedding and activities; Christmas card photos, composition, addressing and sending; musical engagements like the kids’ school concerts and my band’s Christmas shows; presents and food shopping; family outings to ice skating, drummers, “Straight No Chaser” show, and botanical garden lights; various company and social parties…even writing this list makes my blood pressure rise, and I haven’t even started my craft beading projects yet or going to church! I can hear the roar of the avalanche in the distance, but my feet are stuck in the snow.holiday avalanche 2

Avert your eyes or skip ahead a couple paragraphs if you think I’m a generous and kind-hearted neighbor. I’d like you to preserve that positive impression you might have of me, and what I’m about to reveal will pulverize that illusion. Starting in early November I batten down the hatches on my social receptiveness and accordance. Over the years I’ve honed survival strategies intended to maximize my enjoyment of holiday sparkle and fun, but minimize my effort output. My first line of defense is to stop giving to as many places as possible. (Can you feel the Grinch squeezing his way in?) The holidays make me feel drained of energy, finances and creativity, so number one that gets flicked off my list is my Puget Sound Blood Center appointments. I literally feel drained, (of course) when I leave my pint of blood in the clinic’s plastic bags, so sorry car accident victims, you’re out of luck with regard to my B positive contribution from November through January. I don’t have much “being positive” to spare for 60 straight days, and I have to allocate it to other causes.

The next thing to go is excursions from the house with only a single intended stop. If I can’t pack in at least four errands in one trip, then I’m not using my iPhone apps wisely. And with all the new stores now open in the Highlands my shopping list of mascara, clogs, cranberries, candles and a screwdriver can get banged out in the blink of an eye. Sorry Santa, a visit to your lap gets lumped in with printer ink and an oil change.

You can now tune back in to hear how Big Giver Tami approaches the holidays meaningfully. Resources of time, talent and treasure are tapped more frequently in the last two months of the calendar year. I have to get creative with my treasure with all the gift shopping we do. Spreading out the financial squeeze, yet fully embracing the materialistic side of the season, I started my purchases in late September this year. As for talent, I just follow my skillful bandmates from one “Celtic Christmas” gig to the next, spreading cheer and sharing our joy of music with audiences across Seattle. (Shameless self-promotion here: be sure to pop by Blakely Hall Sunday, December 8 at 5:00pm to witness firsthand my bandmates’ genius on Irish instruments.) Finally, with regards to sharing time during the holidays, while there’s not much of it to spare, I try and keep everything meaningful and family focused. Being the Big Giver that I am, if I had to choose between doing the dinner dishes or lying under the Christmas tree looking up at the lights alongside one of my boys, I’m good with tackling caked-on food residue a few hours later. Let the avalanche spill all over me and shock me with chaos – it’s worth it!

What Happens in Whistler, Stays…in ESR?

photo[2]  This year marks the third running of the Whistler Relay – a replacement for the now-defunct Haney to Harrison relay. ESR’s “Hot Tamales” 40+ ladies masters’ team took the relocation in stride in 2011 and has proudly demonstrated each year to its northern neighbors how to cover the 50-mile distance with speed and finesse. In the spirit of being in hockey territory the “Hot Tamales” set a goal to get a “hat trick” third win in 2013. They did not disappoint. This spicy octet comprised of Julie Taylor, Molly Hurd, Larissa Uchiyama, Tami Curtis, Sue Maybee, Janet Howe and Lacey Leigh, ran circles around the figure-eight course in PR time of 6:53, coming home laden with beer mug trophies and gift certificates. With much to cheer about, the ladies’ spirits were only temporarily dampened by one minor mishap – an episode that will surely be rectified in 2014.

Joining the “Hot Tamales” on the Whistler Relay’s second year were the stalwart “Bashers” who dominated the 2012 competition in the Masters’ Men 50+ category. Determined to follow up their inaugural effort with another win, they stacked the team with speedsters Steve Roach, Scott Adsit, Van Gamble, Kent Byers, Cliff Johnston, Bob Wismer, Don Uchiyama and Phil McBride They made easy work of their adversaries this year, and also drove home with their cars laden with divisional awards. They will certainly be eyeing a hat trick in 2014. What will not be certain next year is the “Bashers’” one-minute triumph over the “Hot Tamales,” who now have all peppers gunning for a reclamation of dominance within the Canada-bound ESR teams.

Several “Hot Tamale” interview attempts were made to discern what happened on the fateful Leg 2, but the tamales are not talking despite being peppered with questions. All the “Bashers” know is that they entered Leg 2 trailing by nearly four minutes, and popped out of the woods at the Olympic park exchange nearly five minutes ahead. No accusations of foul play have been formally presented, neither Steve Roach nor Sue Maybee show signs of a mid-race brawl, and the rumors of Sue’s abduction by an alien have been dispelled. No one is talking about that fateful turn of events for the zesty ladies, but the gauntlet will dropped in 2014 to reassert their lead in the standings.

photo[3]When asked if the “Hot Tamales” considered their loss to the “Bashers” a disgrace to their reputation; a tarnish upon their clean record, spokeswoman Larissa Uchiyama answered defiantly, “What loss?” If ignorance is bliss, then both teams showed utter obtuseness at the after-race parties in town. In place of concluding the event at a single rented venue for the traditional dance and social, participants were issued a bracelet allowing them to partake in a pub-crawl style celebration in Whistler Village. The “Hot Tamales” and “Bashers” schooled “Buffalo Bill’s” guests with their fly dance moves, and then moved on to “Garfinkel’s” to display further longevity of distance runner energy. Locals will be talking for decades about the incredible stamina of legendary dancers Van Gamble and Cliff Johnston, not to mention the feisty and fast ladies in their company.

Whistler had better be prepared for an epic showdown next year between these two south-of-the-border ESR teams. Get the fire extinguishers ready! The “Hot Tamales” might try to light the “Bashers” on fire!

Goats, Gauntlets and Hippies

Our adventure begins!

If you’re reading this, our attempt to hike the Kalalau Trail on Kauai ended in one of two ways. First, I could be writing this from a plush hotel on PoipuBeach without a single mosquito bite or a sore muscle, meaning our endeavor failed and we didn’t get far on the hike. Second, I could be writing this from that same resort with purifying mai tai in hand, preparing to waddle over to the spa for my recuperative massage and mud bath. Also, if you’re reading this, it thankfully means I failed to meet my untimely and final demise while navigating the treacherous, narrow corridors of what National Geographic ranks as one of the World’s Best Hikes. Yes, the latter is a good failure.I’m happy to report we did not fall off a cliff and have the dramatic tumble posted on YouTube by the tourists in the boats bobbing below. Really, that wouldn’t have been much of an exaggeration. If the cameras of the Na Pali Coast tourists missed my plummet, one of the many helicopter passengers zooming by would have certainly captured the moment. The coastline may be wild and remote but it’s certainly not unpopular.

I also happily report that we accomplished our goal in completing the 22-mile hike along the mountainside of one of the most recognizable coastlines in the world. JurassicPark, South Pacific and FantasyIsland, to name a few films, have featured these stunning palis (peaks). Thanks to our Issaquah Alps training, my husband and I felt well-prepared traversing the constant inclines and declines. Plus, we managed to sneak in a glance at the scenery from time to time.

Part of the beauty of the Na Pali Coast is in the color contrasts. You have to remind yourself to look up every once in a while during the hike and take in the grandeur. It’s easy to be more engrossed in securing solid foot placement along the challenging trail than in admiring the breathtaking views. One minute you’ll be immersed in a wet mangrove tunnel inhaling the heavy, sweet scent of rotting lilikoi fruit, and the next minute you’ll be slipping on the dry, pulverized lava rocks that have the consistency of coarsely-ground salt and pepper. Within just an hour you’ll pass through white waterfalls within a green jungle, out onto red lava, down to turquoise waters and back onto black rocks. It’s a mesmerizing kaleidoscope. What’s even more mesmerizing is how the many feral goats manage to camouflage themselves in these various hues.

Did I just say goats? Yup. By the second day on the trail you could hear those gravity-defying buggers bleating from locations that seemed impossible. When I first heard the dull cries I thought the sound was echoing because it could not have possibly originated from the middle of the cliff ahead of me! Well, that was not the first time those goats would make an ass out of me. Sure enough, casually walking upon a three-inch ledge was a pack of goats roaming up a vertical bluff. In chronicling our training efforts I titled the last piece that described my introductory hiking poles experience, “Slope Goats”. Little did I know I would have the opportunity to see their four-legged incarnation demonstrating precision hiking technique in Kauai!

Goats living in an altered state of gravity.

My slope goats came in handy on the Kalalau Trail – or shall I say, a single slope goat. Since the trail becomes quite narrow after Mile Two there’s not much real estate for the planting and swinging of two trekking sticks. I found I was almost tripping myself up by planting a pole where a foot should have gone. Over half the time the trail can be navigated without an additional appendage. However, there are numerous occasions when you slow your steps and remark, “Jeepers, that’s steep!”, or “How’d that goat get down there?” There were also more flimsy segments of the trail where I’d have to transition from a casual one-handed pole plant to using the free hand for a rock-wall-assisted set of paces. Igneous rock makes for really good hand-holds.

In addition to the hiking pole steadying any wavering steps, I took consolation in the shrubs that lined the cliff below thinking “If I go cart wheeling over the edge, that cluster of orchids will catch me.” We had a security blanket of foliage for most of the hike including some Dr. Seuss-like Yucca plants that perched on the hillsides. Unfortunately, I’d have to retract my trusty slope goat for the legendary 50-yard segment of trail that comes at Mile Seven.

Mile Seven is “legendary” because I read a single blog about it, staring at the attached photo and video so much that I almost talked myself out of my plane ticket. A hiker had illustrated a portion of the trail that was devoid of a safety net of shrubs, was high enough above crashing waves to kill a person, and offered a paltry 8 inches of mildly horizontal walking width. Given those dimensions in my kitchen I can Twinkle-Toe my way from the sink to the fridge, backward, without wobbling. Just add a 25-lb. backpack, a looming cliff, and goats sending down tiny avalanches of rocks, and Twinkle-Toes turns into Hyperventilating-Henrietta.

The transition from using one hand to two hands on the adjacent cliff wall to steady myself was like going from simulation video game to jumping out of an airplane. The two are very similar but not at all alike. My heart thudded and I forgot to breathe while I muttered my mantra, “right hand, left hand, shuffle step, you are a solid slope goat, right hand…” To say I exercised caution is an understatement. I made like a ninny, a wuss, I stayed alive.

When the trail widened I sat down on a rock and admired my accomplishment. Fifty yards of treacherous passage. Conquered! Pulling me out of my euphoria was a pair of tan, flip-flopped feet walking around my rock throne. The owner of that flimsy footwear casually entered the Gauntlet of Death with one hand gently brushing the rock wall like browsing for a shirt in a closet. As soon as Mr. Blythe disappeared around the corner I spat, “Well he wasn’t carrying the weight of a backpack!” Blasted hippies!

To jerk us back to the task at hand the pea sized pellets raining down the bluff started to become more persistently close. My husband Glenn yelled, “Goats! Move!” We hustled as best we could, looking like a backpacker-version of Spy vs. Spy sneaking down a dark alley. Emerging from beyond the Goat Gauntlet we stopped to catch our breath again, and this time waved enthusiastically down to the tourist boats below to signal our triumph. It took them a while to realize we weren’t signaling for help and they responded with a few encouraging Woots. It’s probably impossible to tell from down in the bobbing boats whether the hikers on that passage are about to meet their maker or make a meal. It’s certainly more suspenseful and entertaining than Disneyland!

Welcoming us at KalalauBeach were other backpackers who had similarly avoided becoming featured YouTube videos. It was the Garden of Eden except occupied by many clothed-cousins of Adam and Eve. Sunset dinner on the beach while gazing up at the majestic palis was perfection. We inhaled our dessert of dehydrated raspberry cobbler that suggested it serves four. Four what? Maybe mice or Lilliputians.

Sunset dinner at Kalalau Beach

The next morning we dropped off an extra dehydrated dinner and a couple Starbucks Vias to the Minnesotan Christopher Atkins look-alike who was trying to see how long he could “live off the land” at Mile 11. Stories about this 18-year-old had trickled in from other hikers on the trail preceding our arrival, and I had built up in my head that he was some parasitic mooch. But my hostility abated after meeting this cherubic vision of youth with his tidy camp and carefree smile. I’d help him “live off the land”, but I also diabolically wondered what a hot cup of Seattle’s best jet fuel would do to him. I can’t imagine what a stiff cup of coffee would do to our naïve Minnesotan.

Taro pool

The return hike was even more spectacular since we got to see rock arches and landscape that wasn’t in our line of vision on the way out. I was grateful for all our planning and physical preparations. If you think you’re ready to hike this trail, read all the blogs about it. Don’t dwell too long on the one about the Gauntlet of Death though. Most people aren’t strung as tightly as I am. Pay attention to clothing choices, the water preparations, the face mops, the first aid kit contents, and bring an extra dehydrated meal for the teenage dreamer at the end of the trail. His PoipuBeach resort is at Mile 11.

Finding Middle Ground in MineCraft vs. Geocaching

Getting my pre-teens to go for a hike in the woods during the summertime is about as easy as teaching a cat to swim. The desire to walk amongst the towering Douglas firs is completely lost on my boys until we are actually immersed in the woods. Creating that desire to walk in the woods is like trying to play networked Halo Reach on 1990’s modem.

“Boys, get your shoes on! Let’s go find a Jeffrey pine! I hear its bark smells like vanilla!” I declare with singsong optimism.

A desperate voice replies, “Mom, can’t go right now. A griefer just threw my diamond pickaxe into the lava bed!”

“Well, perfect timing then!” I respond, instantly immersed in the cubist’s drama of Minecraft.

“No, not perfect timing! Couldn’t be worse. I have to go mining so I can get three more diamonds. Then I can make another pickaxe.”

“Wouldn’t you need diamonds to mine for diamonds?! And since you don’t have any diamonds…And won’t griefers assault you while you’re mining? Oh never mind! Just get your shoes on!” Close call there. I almost got sucked in to the drama of the Lego-esque video game that’s enslaved my children this summer. It causes them to speak in staccato about Tale of Kingdom mods, enchantments, and pumpkins as a renewable resource.

I continue my parry with what’s called an Equivalent Exchange, (see alchemy-based mod that adds the mother of all end-game items) and assert, “How about we find that Geocache at Beaver Lake!” After twenty more minutes of static and grief about griefers we’re standing at the baseball diamonds in Sammamish; a party of two disgruntled gamers and an overenthusiastic mom ready for some nature action.

I whip out my iPhone version some-number-with-a-G-thrown-in-for-good-measure and launch my Geocache app. If only they had this scavenger hunt game in the early 80’s! It’s so much more engaging than running around town fulfilling a list that calls for three clothes pins, two cocktail napkins and a discarded movie ticket. It’s after five minutes of a death grip on my mobile that I come to my senses and pass this GPS device to one of my offspring so it looks like we’re out here for their inquisitive engagement and not mine.

We close in on our target, an Eagle Scout submission to the game of hunting hidden “treasure”, tracked with waypoints provided in the smart phone application. I am breathing down the neck of my 12-year-old who is holding the phone compass-style to determine which direction we’re supposed to be going.

Trying not to be a helicopter mom…or maybe AH-64 Apache mom, I inquire casually, “Are you sure the cache is within 20 feet of us?”

“Yes mom, the phone ‘bing-bonged’ which means we’re really close.” This statement accompanied by exasperated eye-rolling and a quick burst of expelled breath.

“What were the clues again? Something about the roots of a spruce…” I ask, powering through with determination.

“Mom, I already read it three times. It’s next to a tree or something.” (Sheesh.)

“Tree. Next to. Okay. Where?”

Meanwhile my 10-year-old doesn’t even feign interest in the quest and lags back up on the trail while we tromp around “off-roading” a few feet from the trail. Doesn’t he know there’s treasure and untold wealth in the form of triumph and accomplishment if we find this Geocache? Fame, (amongst cache subscribers), fortune, (of the non-tangible moral victory sort) and satisfaction, (that I got my kids to stomp around in the woods for a couple hours), are the mission on this quest.

How does this stand up to Minecraft? From my perspective we’ve got the classic modern parenting battle of outdoors activity vs. indoors sedentary moss growth, physical challenges vs. feeble fingers clicking mouse and keyboard, extrinsic stimulation vs. multi-pack add-ons. Sadly, my offspring doesn’t see my opposition to spending countless hours building castles, riding virtual roller coasters and descending into the ear-popping depths of a mining underworld. For them, this video game is a transcendent experience that transports them beyond banality.

You may ask, “Why Geocaching?” when a non-diluted form of beauty is out there, ready for full immersion. Sammamish and Issaquah are rife with trails ready for aimless wandering. Why would I bother with this dumbed-down nature pursuit that involves the use of electronics and a hidden box as the mission? What’s so great about unveiling a waterproof notebook and plastic trinkets? Well, in the attempt to extract fully-immersed gamers from their online obsession, I’ll take any carrot I can get my hands on.

I’m willing to compromise with this middle ground – any situation involving dirt, trees and trails is better than keyboard, chair and glowing computer monitor. But, what’s wrong with nature for nature’s sake? Nothing. It simply requires an attentive receptiveness to appreciate the breeze’s effects on the maples, and the shady calm that surrounds pink bleeding hearts that protrude beneath evergreens. It takes some people years to tune in to the great subtlety that is the forest. I don’t mind if my children begin that journey with iPhone in hand and hidden Tupperware as their quarry.