Archive for the ‘friends’ category

Remembering John

October 11th, 2010

Last weekend, Tom and I flew to Maryland for the funeral of one of his oldest friends, John Merrill.  As is often the case, the details are sad.  John was killed in a landslide while hiking in Colorado with his dog Oof.  His dog refused to leave John’s body when other hikers arrived on the scene of the accident, and ended up staying all night on the mountain with his beloved companion until the SAR folks were able to recover John’s body.  Oof has since been adopted by one of the SAR workers.   His wife was pregnant.

 

These are the details.  The facts reported over and over in the papers.  Somehow they seem so empty.   They say nothing about the intelligent, kind, complicated man that John was.  That there was so much more to his life than the way that he died.  I only knew John for a short time, but I will remember him as a funny, quirky guy who danced in his kilt at our wedding.  I will remember how much he loved show tunes.  I will remember how much he loved America, Guatemala, animals and wild places.  I will remember what a good friend he was to my husband. 

 

In the past three years I have lost two friends to the mountains.  People who do not hike or climb always ask, “Why were they there?  Why were they climbing?  Why were they hiking?”  And the simple truth, for me, and I believe for those who I have lost, is that we climb, and we hike, because we must.  It is a necessity of our lives.  To be out in the wild is where I find my peace.  It is where I find myself. 

As John’s mother said at his memorial, quoting her son, “I climb the mountains to get closer to God”.

We will miss you John, but we will always remember you in the high, wild and beautiful places in the world.

For more information: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16196657

Tom’s Blog post:  http://tomalphin.com/category/uncategorized

Photos: Don Mears Photography, Jane Merrill, Amy Alphin

Tom’s SURPRISE Party!

August 23rd, 2010

 

Tom and I had a wonderful time celebrating his birthday together, but I knew that he would want a party with all of his friends as well.  Several months ago, I contacted pretty much everyone we knew to see who would be interested and available to come to a surprise birthday party for Tom.  I also solicited ideas about where and when we should have the party. We decided on the weekend following his birthday,  and decided to have a big camping party.  In college, camping parties were a staple, and I figured it would be a nice throwback.  So I rallied the troops, roped some folks into helping out, and jumped into party planning mode with both feet.  It was not easy keeping the secret from Tom, and there were MANY logistical details to work out and coordinate, but with lots of help from friends, and some good luck from the weather gods, I was able to pull off the surprise. 

  

 

We ended up camping at Penrose Point State Park, which is south and west from Tacoma.  I reserved three campsites, and got as many people to come as possible.  Folks arrived around 4:00 to start setting up tents, food and of course, booze.  Tom and I arrived a little after 5:00, and everyone was there, waiting at the site, with party hats and noise makers.  He was totally surprised.  It was wonderful! 

 

We spent the evening with our friends, laughing, drinking, and grilling.  There was a dinosaur cake, cheese balls, snacks and many grillables.  There was a whole picnic table for drinks.  There was swimming in the ocean, and staying up late talking around the fire.  I was so glad that everything came together in the end, that so many of our friends were there to celebrate with Tom, and that he was, indeed surprised.  Thank you so much to all of our friends who helped out!  It was great!

Where have you BEEN?

July 27th, 2010

Oh wait, I’m the one who’s been MIA.  Sorry about that.  I wanted to come by and say hello, I really did, but things kept coming up, arriving, demanding my attention.  But never fear, I’ve got photographic evidence to prove it!  So here is the bitzcrieg version of the past few weeks, since apparently I don’t have time to expand on the individual topics.  (I still may, but we’ll see)

First there was our anniversary trip to eastern Washington.  Summer in Seattle doesn’t show up until July 5th, apparently, but we wanted SUNSHINE for our anniversary.  So we headed east of the Cascades to the Dry Falls, Grand Coulee Dam area. We toured the dam, did some hiking, drove through enchantingly green fields, watched the fireworks and had the Safeway 4th of July special dinner – 8 piece fried chicken and potatoes, complete with cokes, for under 10.00.  We’re just that classy.  The trip was really fun, and we did find the elusive day star.

 

 

The following weekend, we headed north to British Columbia and Vancouver Island for our friends Cory and Haiyan’s wedding.  They live in China, so getting to be there for their wedding was extra special.  They were married in a small ceremony on the beach in Parksville, BC.  At low tide, the beach stretches out for what seems like miles.  B, E, and little baby S were there too, and it was little S’s first time in the ocean.  She liked it until she tried to eat the seaweed.  The weather was deliciously warm, and we spent two days in the area soaking up the sun and spending time with good friends. 

 

     

 

A few days after Cory’s wedding, Tom’s parents arrived in Seattle!  We’ve had some great times with them, including taking the Theo Chocolate tour.  Oh wow, if you like chocolate, and live anywhere near here, you HAVE to go.  You learn about chocolate while EATING CHOCOLATE.  How can it get any better than this?   We have also enjoyed making yummy family dinners and taking a long weekend trip to San Juan Island.  (I will probably have more to say about this in a later post).  While at San Juan, we visited English and American Camps, a lavender farm, an alpaca farm, and had some lovely picnics.  Oh, and we stayed in an Airstream.  It rocked.

 

 

 

While the in-laws have been here, they have spent some time with Suz, the sister-in-law.  While those three were out gallivanting on the Olympic peninsula, Tom and I used the downtime to catch up on things around the house, and to take a GORGEOUS hike down to Mt. Rainier.  I’m totally out of shape due to lack of working out and an overabundance of homework, and was feeling totally intimidated by the hard hike Tom wanted to do.  Because he’s awesome, we agreed to go down to Mt. Rainier instead, and hike around the Paradise area.  It felt good to get out, as I have felt quite stifled by our busy schedule of late, and have not been coping well.  While all the activities we’ve been doing are fun, I feel spread incredibly thin.  It feels like I’m doing everything at once, but nothing well, and am not doing a great job of being present in the moment.  What can I say, I’m working on it.   And before this sounds too much like complaining, I want you to know, that I know how blessed I am in my life, and how lucky I am to have all that I do. 

 

Summer Camp For Grownups

June 24th, 2010

Last week, Mom and I set off for southern Utah.  That’s right, we went to the desert in the summer.  We were bound for Red Mountain Spa, a “fitness spa”, where we could basically play all day, meet nice and interesting people, and eat delicious food.  It was sweet.  And really hot.  But pretty much just sweet.  I arrived on Wednesday on a harrowing flight from Salt Lake where things were flying around INSIDE the plane, and I was failing miserably to stave off a panic attack.  “Don’t worry, it’s like this all the time”, assures the stewardess, which really makes me question her sanity.  But anyway, after finally arriving alive in St. George, I was greeted by a very nice man, and toted back to the spa with another guest, T, who would become one of our buddies for the week. 

 

Red Mountain is incredible.  It’s rust colored buildings blend in nicely with the red, browns, oranges and yellows of the surrounding desert landscape.  The resort its self backs up to Snow Canyon State Park, nestled within  soaring red rock outcroppings.  Gorgeous.  Around the resort, there are many species of native desert plants, (and some not so native, but pretty, so it’s ok), including the barrel cactus, which I had never seen before, but was very cool.  And spiky.  I had borrowed the 100mm Canon lens from friends back home and had a blast taking macro shots of all the interesting plants on the property. 

 

 

Every day is busy and full at the spa, but only as busy and full as you want it to be.  We began every morning with the guided hiking tours led by Jack and Jill, (yes, I’m serious).  Now, if you read this blog, you know that I hike a fair bit, and while I’m not in the shape I’d like to be right now, I still feel like I know what I’m doing in a pair of boots.  These hikes, especially the one where we went straight up the rock face, had me huffing.  I could give the litany of excuses: it was hot, there were no switchbacks, there was no shade, IT WAS HOT!  Honestly, though all of these things are true, and do have a real impact on performance, I think I just need to work out more.  So.  More cardio on the horizon.  Truly though, I loved the morning hikes.  They were my favorite part of the trip, especially since I got to hike with Mom!

 

 

We would arrive back from the hikes around 10, since the sun gets so intense after that.  There were any number of activities we could chose to do then, yoga, stretch, water aerobics, etc.  Each day, however, we went to cooking class!  Sous Chef Mike taught these one hour classes, and they were different every day.  We learned about different types of grains, green smoothies, drank Mormon Tea, and generally sat in awe of his awesome knife skills.  Seriously, I’m jealous.  I want to wield a knife like that.  Our places had little name tags for us every day too, making us feel very important.  Later in the week, I “worked” with Sous Chef Mike in the real kitchen when I was “Chef For the Day”.  Very cool. I sliced, (not as well as Sous Chef Mike), and diced and worked the GIANT immersion blender to puree soups.  It was rad.  I got to keep my chef’s coat.  It makes me feel special. 

 

 

Cooking class was followed by lunch, which was served buffet style.  We learned to eat cold soup, and Mom learned about hummus and flat bread.  What a wonderful thing.  We were also often joined by some of the friends we made, L, T, or B.  They couldn’t be more different from each other, but all are fabulous women, whom I hope to keep in touch with out here in the “real world”.  After lunch, we would either go to another fittness class, or take some lounge time by the pool, or ride our bikes up some killer hill in the gazillion degree heat to the local hippie-artist-coffee shop community, or get complementary makeovers.  We did all of those things.  The fittness and biking were hard, the lounging and makeovering were not.  Both were wonderful and left smiles on our, sometimes sweat streaked, faces.

   

In the evenings, it would cool off, and we would walk, or bike, to dinner, again often joined by friends.  We often sat at the “Community Table”, where anyone can join, or we created our own.  Mom and I are social creatures, and will talk to anyone.  This is how we make friends.   Dinner was usually a drawn out affair, with everyone sharing what they did that day, and planning for trips, classes and excursions for the next day.  Sometimes dinner was followed by something fun like Outdoor Yoga, a photography class, or Texas Hold ‘em.  Mom won of course, though she didn’t even know she was holding a straight. 

 

 

We had a wonderful time at Red Mountain.  It was great getting to reconnect with Mom, and meet lots of new and interesting people. I’d love to go back with Mom, or girlfriends.  It’s a beautiful place.

Backpacking to Eightmile Lake

June 13th, 2010

The sun came out!  School is out!  Classes are over for the quarter!  Did I mention the sun came out? Spring has been hanging on with both hands out here, but the gray skies finally cleared for a few days this weekend, so Tom, B, E and Little Baby S ventured out for the first backpack of the season.  We headed up to Eightmile Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness near the “Bavarian Village” of Leavenworth.  We wanted an “easy” trail to start with , because I, unlike Tom, have not been doing so much hiking recently.  I’ve mostly been eating, drinking, stressing out and not sleeping.  This does not equal optimal hiking shape.  I’m working on remedying this situation. 

We started a little late because Tom and I had gone out to see The Paperboys at the Tractor the night before, and decided to sleep in.  We hit the trail in the early afternoon, and man was it WARM!  Almost HOT even!  What a change!  My weak Seattle blood had a hard time with this, and I was quickly chugging water.  The trail is in great shape, and climbs steeply at first, but levels off after about a mile when you enter the wilderness boundary. Unfortunately, we saw several people blatantly disregarding the “no dogs” signs, which was disappointing. 

 

After a little more climbing, and even more sweating and water chugging on my part, we took a break at Little Eightmile Lake.  Little Baby S was totally fascinated by the moss on the tree and wanted to touch and eat it all.  The trail winds through boulder choked fields, and cool forests where the scent of sun-baked pine surrounded us.   

 

We made the final push up to Eightmile Lake, and found an amazing campsite right near the lake.  It had a sloping section of rock that lead out from the shaded campsite and we whiled away the rest of the afternoon and evening lounging in the lingering sun by the lake.  Across the lake from us was Eightmile Peak, (really original names going on here), which is still snow-covered.   Tom and B took a quick dip in the bracingly cold lake, while E and I decided we’d be content to simply rinse off.  There was a minute when E needed to do something quickly and handed Little S to Tom.  They had some bonding time, and Little S quickly discovered that pulling on Tom’s beard made a fabulous toy to pull on. (This is for you, Mom)

   

 After a yummy dinner, (freeze dried food never tasted so good), we set up camp, read a bit and headed to bed.  Luckily it wasn’t too cold, and we all slept well, even Little S!  The next morning, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast of not-too-stale lemon and cherry cake-bread.  NOM.  On our way out, we were able to get some nice views of Mount Stuart and some beautiful wildflowers that I’d not really appreciated on the way up, due to all the huffing, puffing and water chugging. 

 

It was a beautiful hike and it was wonderful to be there with friends.  I feel like summer is finally coming, with lots of new adventures to enjoy!

10 Years Ago

June 1st, 2010

Ten years ago:

Clinton was president.  Sepetember 11th was just the day after September 10th.  We survived the Y2K panic.  National unemployment was 4%.  American Beauty won Best Picture at the Oscars.   I lived in Virginia.  I was 17.  And I graduated from high school.  Dad was there too, along with the rest of my family.

And now I’m headed back.  Though it’s Virginia, not Dodge.  Headed back to 95 degree heat, Republicans, the James River, southern accents and white linen pants.  Yes, indeed, it’s my 10 year reunion y’all.  A time for folks to compare designer purses, talk about your 2.5 kids and try to look as skinny as possible.  Personally, I’m hoping for just the last one.  Though with the heat, I may just sweat off a few extra pounds before the reuion starts.

This 10 year thing has made me feel oddly introspective recently.  I wondered, what would my life look like in the snapshot form that often is used to describe one’s life at events such as these.  Here’s what I came up with:

 ”Oh yes, I’m recently married.  My husband and I live in a rich, suburban neighborhood.  I’m a teacher and he works in the software industry.  Look at my shiny new SUV and my huge diamond ring.  Isn’t my life awesome?  “

Oh yuck. Oh gag.  OH horrible sterotype we never wanted to be!  But as I started to panic about becoming a founding member of the Real Housewives of Seattle club,  and needing to find defences to all of these things whether for myself or for others, I took a moment to think about the depth, the real life, and the love that shape all of those statements above.

“Oh yes, I’m recently married, and he works in the software industry” – To my best friend, the man of my dreams, the one who I wouldn’t care if he worked at Wendy’s and lived in a van down by the river, I wouldn’t have anyone else. 

My husband and I live in rich, suburban neighborhood” - We live in a house which we affectionatly call the Dr. Seuss house because it’s so weird, funky, and quirky.  It used to have purple shutters ok?  Our neighborhood is also wildly diverse (as is most of Seattle); in fact we can walk to 6 different ethnic restaurants.

I’m a teacher” – At a bilingual school.  Where I get to practice French every day. 

Look at my huge diamond ring” – That was my husband’s great-grandmothers.  The diamond is set in a band that that same husband designed himself.  Did I mention he rocks?

“And  my shiny new SUV” – OK, so it is pretty sweet.  But it also has 4 wheel drive to take us to the mountains where we pretty much spend all of our free time. 

 

Isn’t my life awesome?” -  YOU BET YOUR ASS IT IS.

Hiking to Lake 22

May 27th, 2010

Oh wow, this happened a while ago.  In fact, I think it was the last time I’ve hiked…hmm.  We must remedy this.  Soon.  But it’s been raining, and there’ve been progress reports, and…and…   Anyways, we went up the Mountain Loop Highway with B, E and little baby S a few weeks ago. The trail was snow free until the last 1/2 mile or so.  We brought the snowshoes anyways though, because Tom’s training to climb Mt. Baker in a few weeks, and “needed the weight”.  Ah, my husband the pack mule.  The trail up was pleasant with several nice waterfalls along the way and some big, fuzzy trees; a Northwest speciality.

   

  

When we got to the lake, it was still mostly frozen and the ice was making these beautiful swirly patterns where it was starting to melt.  Lake 22 sits in a basin right behind Mt. Pilchuck, and the view of the mountain was quite stunning.  It was also VERY bright at the lake, and I found it very difficult to be without my sunglasses for even long enough to take photos.  Tom, however, forgot his sunglasses, so he took more photos.  And they turned out better.  Here’s one!

Lake 22 was my first adventure on the Mountain Loop Highway, and we will definitly be back soon!

Trip to Orcas Island

April 3rd, 2010

Two weekends ago, Tom and I went with Brendan, Ellie and Sierra up to Orcas Island, which is located in the San Juan Islands, northwest of Seattle.  You have to take the ferry to get there, and while the jury is still out as to whether my stomach likes the ferry or not, I do always enjoy looking at the mountains and the beautiful Puget Sound on the trip to the islands.  Spring camping has become somewhat of a tradition with this group.  Coincidentally, the first camping trip of spring is also usually associated with something important in the lives of the four of us.  For example, last year’s spring camping trip was when Brendan and Ellie told us they were pregnant with Sierra.  This year, it was Sierra’s first ever camping trip, something to be celebrated indeed.

After we arrived and set up camp, we decided to hike up Mount Constitution, which is the high point of the island, and I believe the high point of all of the San Juans.  The hike starts out very flat, and arcs around a lovely lake.  We cruised this part, stopping only to take pictures.  Once you leave the lake, however, the trail gets serious.  Quickly.  It climbs over a thousand feet in about a mile and a half, and quickly had us slowing down and breathing hard.  Tom is training for a mountaineering class, so he was carrying about 30 lbs of all of our water and stuff, and was working the hardest.

About three quarters of the way up the mountain, Sierra needed to eat, so Ellie took a break to nurse.  Since Tom’s training, he wanted to keep his pace and momentum, so we told him to go on ahead.  Remember how I mentioned that he had all the stuff?  Right. So about ten minutes after he leaves, Sierra decided that then would be a good time to have a total diaper blowout.  Not good.  So we sent Brendan scurrying off after Tom, and Ellie did her best to carry Sierra in a way that wouldn’t make her messier than she already was.  So now Ellie and I are alone with the baby, with no rain gear, diapers, blankets or anything and the wind starts to pick up.  And it’s about to rain.  This is not a good situation to be in, and we should have known better.  Luckily, before our situation could turn from bad to worse, we heard Tom and Brendan coming down the trail.  After a quick on-the-trail change of the diaper, we were off again.

We finally made it to the top, where there is a castle-esque look out tower that was built by the CCC .  From the top of the mountain, the view overlooks the sound, Mount Baker to the east, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the mountains of Canada to the north, and Anacortas and the Cascades to the south.  Beautiful.

Back at camp, the evening was uneventful, and quiet, even though the stove broke and Tom and Brendan had to improvise by cooking over a fire.  Sierra slept well, snug as a bug, though I think Ellie was a bit cold.  All in all, a successful weekend adventure in a beautiful place.

Skyline Ridge

February 27th, 2010

About two weeks ago, our friends Sam and Meghan moved to Seattle!  Yay!  They’ll be staying with us for a few weeks until they get jobs and lodging and stuff, and it’s been great to have them.  Last weekend, Meghan decided to be brave and accompany Tom  and I on her first ever snowshoeing adventure.  The weather was AMAZING, and we were able to get up Skyline Ridge with no difficulty.  The sun was shining, which, around here is the best kind of therapy.

We started out parking across from the Steven’s Pass ski resort, and headed up.  This trail climbs relentlessly, so I’m glad it’s short!  Once we broke the treeline, the views were great, and they just kept getting better the higher we went.  Eventually we reached Skyline Lake, which was completely snow-covered and frozen.  Not wanting to touch the pristine snow, (or text the ice), we followed the boot path around the lake, and continued up the (steep) path until we were high on the ridge.  With sweeping views to the south and west into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and more, we decided it was lunch time!

Tom wanted to venture up a little higher, but I was too chicken, so Meghan and I hung back at the lunch spot and took pictures.

Blue sky, snowcapped peaks, and sunshine.  Can’t ask for much more than that.

After lunch, we headed back down, with Meghan leading through the trees, back to the lake, and back down to the car.  It was a wonderful day, and I think Meghan has become a snowshoeing convert.  It was a nice mid-winter reminder about how much I love where we live.

Baby Girl!

November 25th, 2009


So two weeks ago, our good friends Brendan and Ellie welcomed their new baby girl into the world. It was wonderful to be able to share that experience with them. Sheryl, Tom and I were anxiously waiting in the hospital waiting room, literally dancing with anticipation , (ok Tom didn’t dance). We also brought Indian food for Brendan, and later Ellie, as they hadn’t had much to eat since Ellie went into labor. Finally, we got the call that the baby had arrived, “it” was a girl, and we’d be able to cuddle her shortly.

After we were allowed in, the new baby (as she didn’t have a name yet), needed to be checked out to count fingers and toes, and get a bath for the first time! Brendan did the honors.


The paparazzi was definitely out in force, especially after Sheryl’s husband showed up with yet another camera. At least she will be a well documented baby! Thank you, Brendan and Ellie for sharing the birth of your beautiful daughter with us! We can’t wait to take her hiking :)