Friday, January 31, 2014

Cross-country skiing -- snow day #2

The ski class had its second snow outing last week.  There had not been any new snow during the week.  Originally each outing was supposed to be at a different place but with no new snow and not much snow at all it was decided that we would go back to Stevens Nordic Center again because it is at a higher elevation than some of the other choices and did have a little old snow anyway.  The existing snow is groomed by one of these monster machines that grinds up the hard pack snow and puts new tracks in for cross-country skiing.

The snow-cat

Even with the grooming the snow is now pretty old and very hard and icy hence falling down is most unpleasant.  And falls did happen several times again.  All beginners fall down so I was prepared for that eventuality.  Some progress was made but not as much as hoped.  After lunch I was tired and fell a couple of times right away, unfortunately landing on a previous sore place and had to call it a day.  In two weeks we go again, this time to a “back country” or ungroomed area where we will have to make our own tracks in the snow.  My main goal was to be able to do a snowplow and learn how to slow down and stop on an incline.  I thought I had only done this twice and was feeling discouraged about the lack of progress but Bob had been taking pictures and proved to me that I had actually managed a snowplow and stop several times. 

My very patient instructor G demonstrates how to do a snowplow while I watch her.  We are skiing in the tracks so it is necessary to lift a ski out of the track and then make the snowplow.  That means putting all the weight on one leg while going ever faster down the hill before the plow is completed and the slowing starts.  It is very easy to lose balance and tip over.

Proof that I can do it!  My rental skis do not have metal edges.  The metal edges are supposed to help a lot with the snowplow when going down and with the herringbone and sidestep when going up a hill.  G could force the metal edges of her skis into the hillside when going up in the sidestep while my skis could not anchor into the hillside properly without the metal edges and just kept slipping downward.  That equals another fall.  All the cross-country skis have what looks like fish scales in the middle (camber) to aid in traction so it is possible to “stomp bugs” and walk up slight inclines with skis on, however, if the hill gets too steep it means using either the sidestep or the herringbone (looks almost opposite to the snowplow with the skis pointed outward instead of inward).  We tried both methods.  

The practice area had a very gentle slope but it was enough to feel like whizzing down pretty fast. 

After falling and landing twice in the same place I am no longer exactly smiling but as you can see from the pictures I am skiing after a fashion.  I am looking forward to the next snow outing.  The rental fees were beginning to add up and when we saw a good deal on buying equipment we went for it.  The bindings are being mounted but my own skis, poles, boots and bindings should be ready to try out by the third outing.  The new skis will have metal edges and it has been snowing in the mountains so it is hoped that the third outing will be a wonderful event.

This week the group had four people again but not all the same folks as the week before.  I was very inspired by one woman who is not as old as I but probably the closest to my age.  She is currently undergoing chemotherapy and not letting that stop her.  Another younger woman had had several knee surgeries and had a brace on her leg but she continued to stick with it too.  The only man in the group had fallen almost as many times as I had the week before.  He was doing great by lunchtime but like me elected to quit shortly after lunch.  The leader of the class is very kind and acknowledged that beginners often get tired, urged us not to give up, and promised that we could do as much or as little as we were comfortable with. 

Look at this—two ski passes!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 127

Narbonne, Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Usually I have several postcards ready and waiting for a few weeks ahead.  This week I thought I’d take one from the stack and move it forward.  My oldest grandson is currently serving an LDS mission in southern France (the France Lyon Mission).  At the present time he is living in Narbonne, France and sent this postcard with views of the city and the shield or coat of arms at the lower right corner.  I wanted to know a little more about the city and thought perhaps some of his cousins would like to see where he is and learn a little about this area of France too, hence today’s postcard choice.

Narbonne is in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France and is just a little over 500 US miles from Paris and about 9 miles from the Mediterranean Sea.  It is a very old city once called Colonia Narbo Martius established in 118 BC on the first Roman road in Gaul.  It was a major city during the time of the Romans and for many hundreds of years afterward as it was an important crossroads connecting Italy and Spain and leading toward the Atlantic Ocean through Toulouse and Bordeaux.  Julius Caesar gave land in the area to survivors of his Legio X Equestris.  At one time it became the capital of southern Gaul.  For 40 years during the 700s it was part of the Emirate of Cordoba.  Then in 759 Pepin the Short conquered the city and took it from the Muslims.  About this same time prominent Jews from Baghdad were encouraged to settle in Narbonne to establish a major Jewish learning center for Western Europe.  Because of this Narbonne was frequently mentioned in connection with its Talmudic scholars.

The city experienced a general decline beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries.   By the 14th century Narbonne was no longer a major route to the sea due in part to a huge river flood in 1320, silt accumulation and the Aude River eventually changing its course.  A series of events beginning with the raid of Edward, the Black Prince in the early 1340s and the subsequent devastation that brought was followed by the Black Death or bubonic plague of 1348/1349 that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.  

The upper middle picture on the postcard shows the Narbonne Cathedral of St. Justus and St. Pastor.  This cathedral was an ambitious project that was never completed as the misfortunes of the city, illness and war took their tolls.  It was interesting to note that if the cathedral had been completed as designed part of the city wall would have needed to be demolished.  It is still one of the tallest cathedrals in France and although it is no longer the seat of a bishop or archbishop it remains a primary place of worship for Roman Catholics with the choir, side chapels, sacristy, and courtyard still intact.

Beginning in the 16th century the people of Narbonne began to re-establish access to the sea via the Aude River by building the Canal de la Robine.  The canal runs through the center of the city and a portion of the canal can be seen in the lower left picture on the card. 

Narbonne is famous for its rosemary flower honey that was popular among the Romans. 

For more information about Narbonne, see:

I write to my grandson often but know that his time to respond is very limited.  His main letter writing is to his parents who then post his letters on a blog.  I was, therefore, very surprised and pleased to get the postcard.  He writes wonderful letters and often includes photographs.  To read his letters from Narbonne, see:

Just a note about the stamp on the card--France is known as a fashion center with many famous clothing designers.  The stamp shows the mannequins or dressmaker’s models used when sewing garments.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Arches at Pacific Science Center
Another interesting and fun thing to do at the Pacific Science Center is visit the permanent Tropical Butterfly House.  Separated from the rest of the Science Center by double doors is a large tropical room with gorgeous flowers, pools, running water, and hundreds of beautiful butterflies. 

Before entering the tropical room the attendant explains how fragile the butterflies are and how careful visitors must be not to step on them or brush them away if they land on one’s clothes or hair.  Instead visitors are asked to have an attendant inside the room help if necessary.  One woman wearing a flowered shirt had several butterflies land on her.  When I stood next to her a butterfly landed on my hair staying for just a few seconds before flying away.  Most of the butterflies would land just briefly on the flowers or leaves and then fly off.  It was difficult to get clear photos since they didn’t stay still very long. 

Two laminated sheets with pictures were available so it was possible to identify most of the butterflies and flowers by name should one wish to do so.  I will try to label the photos below but remember I am not a butterfly expert and am just using the laminated sheets as a guide for identification.  When leaving the room we were cautioned not to open the outside door until the inside door was completely shut so that the butterflies wouldn’t fly out into the main science center. 

This pretty pale yellow/white and black colored one is a Rice Paper or Paper Kite butterfly.  It is native to Southeast Asia.

 “Lacewing” from Southeast Asia and named for this lacy pattern on the underside of the wings.

Common Swallowtails (above & below) from Southeast Asia

I was fortunate to get this one with the wings open and the wings closed.  It comes from Central America; the common name is the Owl Butterfly.  The design on the backside of the wings does indeed look like a big owl’s eye.

There are a couple of butterflies that look like this one below.  They are called Longwings and can eat pollen so they are able to live longer than some other butterflies.  They taste terrible to birds that recognize them by their colors and avoid eating them.  Most Longwings come from the southern United States, Central or South America.  


A Large Tiger from Central America?  It could be  another one of the Longwings.

This I think is the Large Tiger

Zebra – a Longwing, these also taste noxious to birds that avoid them


?  The color is wrong for a Swallowtail but it came closest to that on the chart.  Here is another one below.

??  Lots of people were taking pictures of this one.   It does not in the least resemble anything on the identification cards.

For information about the Pacific Science Center, see:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Model Railroad Show

Once a year the Pacific Science Center in Seattle hosts a model railroad exhibit for just a few days.  This year the exhibit was held this past weekend so we decided to go and see what it was like.  Since Monday was a holiday and the last day of the show there were many, many children as well as adults resulting in very crowded conditions.  The trains were spread out in four different buildings with plenty of hands-on stations for children to play with the wooden trains and also places to operate the controls for the electric trains.  Paper conductor hats were being handed out to any and all guests not just the children. 

Some of the trains had head and taillights, made puffing and clacking rail sounds as they whizzed around the elaborate track systems.  Tiny little villages, bridges, lakes, tunnels, trees, people, cars and trucks all to scale added to the magic.  The trains had official logos such as Union Pacific, Burlington Northern and Amtrak.  The scales went from T (very large) to N (very small).  The O scale is the size most people begin with when they start collecting model trains and is the size of the Lionel train sets that are well known.  A large board with examples of track size was displayed by one of the N scale train layouts.

Display board showing the various scale sizes

One display was made of Playmobile parts, a popular plastic children’s toy, and used the largest scale except for the small train outside that was big enough for people to ride in.

Outdoor train that children could take for a ride

Another display was a real working area and allowed the visitor to see all the tools, controls, and paints etc. It was a smaller scale with very detailed rail cars and engines. 

One large room contained a huge display with several trains that passed each other; places to stack waiting cars while another train went by, buildings and tiny people to scale.  Some children were lucky enough to get to use the controls for the trains on this set.

This set even had the local Sounder light rail train with the Seahawk emblem on the engine.

The Hogwarts Express train from Harry Potter

The room was dark and this train had headlights = night train.  The engine is a Great Northern 4-8-4 Mountain steam locomotive.  The 4-8-4 was one of the largest locomotives of the steam era.

Someone asked if the engines were weighted to prevent derailments.  The answer, all the cars and engines are weighted to prevent accidents as the trains go around the corners. 

This is a Shay engine on a round table or engine terminal.  Shays were used for logging and were designed to take sharp curves and go up steep grades.  

Last but not least is a pink castle with toys trains from the Thomas the Tank Engine TV series.

It was great fun and an event we may try to see next year, on a less crowded day

Thursday, January 23, 2014

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 126

Kvinesdal, Vest Agder, Norway

The postcard this week shows a view of Utsikten, Kvinesdal, Vest Agder, Norway and was sent to me by Odd Svanstrøm in 1983.  Arne Normann who took approximately 300,000 pictures of Scandinavian scenes between 1940 and 1990 took the photograph.   Several postcards shared previously have been Normann cards. 

Kvinesdal is located in southern Norway and is a long narrow area that spans a distance from the coast to the mountains and has a number of small villages scattered along the way.   Some of the ancestors of Mikal Alfsen Roland Hornnes came from this general area, as did some ancestors of Didrik Thompson.  It is a beautiful scenic place as is typical of Norway in general.  A large number of Norwegians left for America from this region in the mid 1800s to the early 1900s and some later returned or their descendents returned to live here.  Today about ten percent of the population is made up of American citizens.  Each year a festival is held in local villages to remember the people who left Norway for America. 

The name Kvinesdal comes from the Old Norse name of the river Hvin (now Kvina) and dal meaning valley.  Between 1900 and 1917 the community was called Liknes.  The coat of arms shown below from Wikipedia depicts the confluence of the two rivers Kvina and Litleåna and was granted to the community in 1985.

The Kvina River is known for its salmon and fishing is a popular sport here. 

I thought it was interesting that a number of characters from the Saga Period or Viking Era (700 to 1000) called Kvinesdal their home.  One was the Skald Tjodolv the Frode (a poet and historian-genealogist) who composed a historic poem for king Harold Fairhair (850-932) known as the first king of Norway.  About 300 years later Snorri Sturlusson the famous Icelandic poet and historian, compiler of sagas combined this poem into the Heimskringle

Early painting showing King Harold Fairhair

In more recent times Kvinesdal is known as the home of one of Norway’s artists, Kristian Marcelius Førland (1891-1978).  He was best known for his portraits and landscape paintings.  Førland’s home in Utsikten is now a museum.   Beginning in 2006 there have been summer Rock music concerts held in Kvinesdal.  

The stamp on the postcard was issued in 1982 and is called the "circle" stamp.  If I have translated it correctly, the stamp was issued to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Norwegian graphic arts association.

For additional information, see:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cross-country skiing--snow day #1

I do not usually post things with pictures of myself but this is a momentous event—I am taking cross-country skiing lessons!  This post is mostly for my grandchildren to show them you can learn do anything even when you get to be as old as a grandmother.

Here we are at Steven’s Pass Nordic Center getting ready for the first day on the snow, which turned out to be more like ice due to the weather conditions and lack of snow.  I am wearing multiple layers and look a little heavier than normal because of it.  But when I fall down there will be extra padding and all day I will be warm and happy instead of cold and miserable.  The backpacks are to put the extra clothes in if we get too hot skiing and have to remove a layer.  Cross-country is an aerobic sport and it is pretty easy to heat up with the exercise.  We were repeatedly cautioned about snow blindness (wear sunglasses even when it is overcast) and sunburn (use sunscreen if it is overcast). 

The small lodge is located on the eastern side of the pass not far from the summit where the alpine skiing takes place.  That lodge is much bigger, attracts many more people, and is quite a bit more expensive.  

The Nordic Center parking lot was solid ice and very slippery.   Several people fell in the lot even before they put on skis.  The beginners, such as I, were able to use the small inside lunchroom where it was warm.  The intermediate and advanced students and teachers ate lunch outside. 

Before we put on the skis we did a few stretching exercises.  Our instructors made pretend falls and illustrated how we should get up if we fell.   One thing we learned to do was called “dead bug” and it involved putting our legs up in the air to untangle the skis before we tried to get up.  Note:   we are standing on solid ice.

For these lessons all my equipment is rented, boots, poles & skis.  But I was lucky, everything fit and seemed to be the correct size so when I purchase my own set I will know what to look for.

Putting on the skis was not too difficult.  The boots have a metal bar that slips onto pins in the bindings attached to the skis.  Cross-country or Nordic skis are narrow and about the same height as the skier.  The heel of the boot is free and lifts up, as the strides alternate a little like skating.  To undo the binding we learned how to use the pole to poke the point into the release button on the ski.  That way we did not have to bend down and risk a fall in order to take off the skis.

We started without poles first.  I am still trying to find my center of gravity and not fall down!  The idea is to look ahead and let the skis glide in the tracks.  That is harder to do than it sounds as the natural inclination is to look at the track and lean back if the skis start to go too fast.  That adds up to a fall.  Things I need to really work on improving.  The falls are not very pleasant.

Ooops, but I do fall down; seven or eight times by the end of the day.   Look at my hat tassel.

It was easier with the poles but I still fell down now and then.  The best thing was that I had G as my instructor and had lots of one on one.  She was terrific and I hope she will help me next week too.

Bob took pictures and gave encouragement.  It was wonderful to have him there.  G took this photo of the two of us.  (He already knows how to ski so he doesn’t need the lessons.)

ski rack

There were 33 people in our complete class but we were divided into much smaller groups based on ability, experience, and age (I think).  That meant the group I was in had only 4 students and two instructors.  Perfect for a beginner.  We stacked our skis and poles in this device when waiting to get started and also at lunchtime.  The skis all looked alike to me so I had to remember where we put ours by the place rather than the appearance.  

Packing up boots, skis, poles

My very first ski pass!  I am ridiculously pleased to have this pass . . .