Category Archives: Snapshots from a Happy Life

Velvety Dog Ears

My touch obsession is velvety dog ears.

I love texture and touch everything. I walk along touching things.  I am very particular about the feel of my clothes. I sew and part of the therapeutic benefit of sewing is touching the fabric. There are many wonderful textures in the world.

But some dogs have the most velvety ears and I can’t keep my hands off of them. My niece Dory was one of these dogs. Sadly, she  recently passed along to that tide flat in the sky where someone is always ready to throw the bumper for her and she never gets too stiff and cold to keep swimming after it. (I hope this is what dogs go on to after this life anyway.)

In memory of Dory:

Labrador Retrievers have especially velvety ears. The good thing about this rather strange obsession is that most dogs don’t mind having their ears rubbed, even by a stranger. Yes I have been known to rub the ears of dogs I meet walking down the sidewalk. Dogs seem to like me. They somehow sense that I am the kind of doggie auntie who likes to rub ears and sometimes has a treat or two in my pocket (clean up bags too). I try not to freak out their people  too much.

I don’t know when I started rubbing dog ears. My childhood partner in crime was a black lab named Misty.I was very young when Misty came into my life so the obsession may have started back when we were both puppies.

This post is a response to the Daily Post prompt: The Power of Touch.


Horizontal Lines

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge: Week 6 Horizontal Lines and the Horizon.

I noticed after reading Cee’s Essay and reviewing a lot of the pictures I have taken that I often wind up with my horizon in the middle. I wanted to take some experimental pictures but it has been pouring and the horizon isn’t visible so I am playing with old photos.

This picture was taken last spring when the sky was funny. The sunlight reflecting on the water formed a strong horizontal line.


I did an experiment with the series below. The first picture is the original, which has the horizon near the middle, the other two are the same picture cropped so the horizon is low and high. Of the three the better picture is probably the one where the horizon is low, in large part because the beach is so dark that you cannot really see it well and yet it is kind of busy.

In the pictures below I thought that the dead tree formed a strong horizontal. I like the middle picture in this series as well, the bird is in a good position and there is enough of the tree it is perched on.

I think the two pictures below have strong horizontal lines, but they are a bit unconventional: the strings of lights in the first one and the steps and roof lines in the second.

I mostly use Adobe Lightroom, which allows me to straighten the horizon and also to rotate pictures to remove distortion from taking them with the camera tilted. A free, easy to use program for Windows that allows one to straighten a picture, and do a fair bit of other editing,  is Fotor.



Double check the calendar.

You return home to discover a huge flower bouquet waiting for you, no card attached. Who is it from — and why did they send it to you?

This happened to me…in a way.

KSM-20151011-Roses-04-500pxI live in Seattle, most years in mid-October we start to trend cold and wet. I returned from a two week trip on October 29th and my roses were blooming. They are supposed to be going dormant. Orange roses in the front yard and yellow in the back, fall colored roses smiling in the sun. Clear breathable air. Sometimes I really love my home!

I fear these buds are doomed as it has gotten chilly. But it was a nice welcome home from my faithful, yet too often neglected garden. So flowers but no admirer. Oh well you can’t have it all.

The cat was glad to see me, especially when I turned on the gas fireplace.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Secret Admirers.”

Up on my feet, down on my seat

Part of a series of posts about my experiences on a trip to China in October 2015. The series of posts related to this can be seen on my page “Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye”.

As I have mentioned a few times, I am a planner. I like to know where I am going and have an idea of what to expect. This post is about going, rather blindly, along with the flow.

Our trip was planned by others, and the plan changed more than once, to the point where we went to bed the night before only knowing that someone was to pick us up at 8 am the next morning. James didn’t know which of the people he knew were going to be picking us up, and we didn’t know where we were going.

Sunny posing for a picture taken by her dad.
Sunny posing for a picture taken by her dad.

It turned out to be the family of one of his students, a little cutie named Sunny. He knew her parents and had been to Mount Tai with them and some others last summer.

In the car we learned that we were going to a national park called Yishan and it would take about two hours of driving to get there.  It was not until I got home and was able to plot the GPS data from the pictures I took that I was able to figure out where Yishan is: southwest of Weifang, almost as far south as Qingdao but to the west of it.

Entrance to Yishan National Park, Weifang, Shandong Province.
Here we are.

Although Yishan is not oriented to westerners many of the signs have English explanations. I used photos I took of the signs and sights to piece together a better idea of what I saw than I had at the time I was seeing it.

Yishan National Park in Shandong: hotel under construction.
Hotel under construction.

Yi Shan as a national park struck me as new. The entrance, visible in the picture through the windshield was fairly new and there was a lot of construction going on, including what looked like a large hotel pretty far up the mountain. That could be a very nice place to stay when it is done.  The views will be terrific. I wonder how hard the beds will be. Even though the park buildings are new there are temples and features that are very old.

You take a shuttle bus up from the main entrance area to the start of a series of stairways, to the Jade Emperor Pavilion at the summit of Yi Shan.

Yishan National Park in Shandong: View looking to the top from the bus stop.
You walk up from here. View looking to the top from the bus stop.

On the way up I noticed that people had put stones in the trees. I asked our host and, after consulting his cell phone, he said that they are for blessings.

The walk up and the summit had nice views out in many directions. It was over cast and just a bit hazy, much less hazy than it had been the previous weekend at Tai Shan. Apparently, when it is very clear you can see to the sea from the top of Yishan. It wasn’t very clear but the views were nice.

The Jade Emperor Pavilion at the top is a charming temple. Less majestic in scale than many but it has many ornate details and is well maintained.

I am not sure what is the significance of this rock, but it was the place to get your picture taken.

My son and I at "the rock".
My son and I at “the rock”.

You then slide down a granite slide on your backside. This is not my type of activity, but I could see that it would take all day to walk back down all the stairs we had climbed. So I tied on my seat cover donned my gloves and sat down. I didn’t go very fast for fear of losing control. The way to control your speed is to push your feet against the sides of the slide. Even though I wouldn’t have signed up for the experience it was an efficient way to get down and I would probably go a little faster next time. It was fun once I started to get the hang of it.

On the bus ride down there were two stops: Marvellous Waterfall

and Yishan DongzhenTemple.

At the Dongzhen temple they did a reenactment of an imperial rite.

The main temple is quite new, in fact they were still painting the entrance gate red, but there are some very old trees, an altar and a bixi (giant stone tortoise with a stele on its back) that are very old.

An explanation…sort of.

This sign explains a bit, but after trying to find information online and reading the signs, I couldn’t totally figure out what was what beyond that the altar, some trees and the bixi are quite ancient and that the temple, in fact the whole site is a sort of seaside Mount Tai and that some emperors came here either in addition to or instead of there. The Dongzhen temple is analogous to the Dai Miao in Tai’an.

Regardless of my lack of understanding, it was a great day enjoying the scenery and culture in China. Stuff I couldn’t have planned since I knew nothing about their existence and wouldn’t have dared to try if I knew about it ahead of time.

Jade Emperor Pavilion


Jade Emperor Pavilion, Yi Shan National Park,
Jade Emperor Pavilion, Yi Shan National Park, Shandong, China


In my opinion no one does ornate like the Chinese. It seems like every inch of some of the temples and buildings you see would be a framed work of art anywhere else. An example of this is the Jade Emperor Pavilion on top of Yi Shan, which is a national park just southwest of Weifang in the Shandong province.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Ornate.”

Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye-Part 4

Part of a series of posts about my experiences on a trip to China in October 2015. The series of posts related to this can be seen on my page “Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye”.

Continued from Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye-Part 3

Train tickets safely tucked in my neck pouch, we began to ascend Mount Tai.

Mount Tai, a block uplift formation, rises somewhat abruptly from a plain. It has been a center of worship for time out of mind.  Both as a location for and as the subject of worship. The origins of its significance are related to it forming a physical connection between the earth and the sky.

It is a place where myth, legend, mystery and history intermingle.

It reminds me of the “old magic” that is referred to in literature such as the Lord of the Rings, Narnia, the Dark is Rising series and other fantasy genre books. One almost expects that one of the nearby peaks, barely visible through the haze, might house an oriental version of Hogwarts.

But when you start up the thing you most notice is the stairs.

Mount Tai is well known for stairs. Many sources give step counts, 6660 to 7000 is the most common range.

As we climbed up the stairs I had to “stop to take pictures” pretty often, especially on long steep stretches. A few times I got lectured by my son that I shouldn’t stop except on landings, because he was afraid I would topple over. What he didn’t realize was that the stopping was in part needed to preventing the toppling. The scenery was okay, it would have been better had it been less hazy. Few pictures I took were all that great. If the air had been a bit clearer the fall colors and mountain scenery would have been “just like a Chinese painting”.

As we started up the dominant traffic was folks coming down. I wondered how many of them had come on the train with us. There were people of all sorts coming down, young and old, hale and ones that were being assisted, a fair number of folks were limping a bit or seemed like their feet were hurting. As the morning wore on the downhill traffic slowed to a trickle and, while it was never a wilderness experience, it wasn’t crowded any more. It took us about 4 hours to reach the Midway Gate to Heaven (Zhong Tian Men).

Travelers who don’t need to “stop to take pictures” as much as I do will do this in about half the time. After lunch we assessed the situation and decided that

  1. I was already dragging, and it would be after dark before we reached the top.
  2. We had packs on that affected our (especially my) balance. James was talking about carrying both packs and staying behind me in case I fell as we went up the steepest part, which was very, very steep (his concern warmed my heart , but the plan seemed like it would set up a domino effect more than it would prevent a disaster).
  3. It was pretty hazy so visibility wasn’t terrific, we weren’t going to miss any spectacular views.
  4. We wouldn’t have any time or energy to explore at the summit if we continued up on foot.

So we took the cable way.

Just ike a Chinese painting, with a modern touch!
Just ike a Chinese painting, with a modern touch!

In some ways this follows the tradition of emperors, who were carried up on litters then got off to walk through the South Gate to Heaven, reputed to be the way to immortality. The emperors probably walked a shorter distance than we did coming downhill from the cable way to the gate.

Guess what you did after going through the gate?

More stairs!

Our hotel was just below the Jade Emperor Summit, about a half a mile up stairs from the gate! Boy was I glad we weren’t going through that gate well after dark to learn that we still had a fair ways to go!

We explored until dark.

The Shenqi Hotel, which calls itself a three star hotel, was comparable to the hard sleeper on the train. The beds were a little wider and we didn’t have to climb up to them, but the room was barely large enough for the two beds and a modest walkway between them.  We had kind of a scary incident when we realized that our door did not lock. The maid for the floor came over locked the door with her key then took our key away to fix it while we were out doing the exploring that resulted in the gallery above. That meant that our belongings were in a locked room for which we didn’t have a key…we weren’t sure if that was an improvement over the previous foray when, unbeknownst to us, it wasn’t locked at all.

When we got back she had made the key work, but an alarm went off every time you shut the door…a loud one. It always took several tries before the door would stay shut quietly.

The towels were threadbare, the shower cubicle moldy  and the toilet made a little noise when flushed but nothing actually disappeared. We were told that hot water would be available for showers from 8 to 11 pm.

In spite of hard beds, alarming door and cold water wash up,  we were so tired we slept through the hot shower window. We were awakened by the call for folks to go out for sunrise. We bundled up and trundled out.

To be continued…

Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye-Riveting Conclusion

Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye-Part 3

Part of a series of posts about my experiences on a trip to China in October 2015. The series of posts related to this can be seen on my page “Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye”.

Continued from Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye Part 2

In the middle of the night I received an email saying “no we really couldn’t get you train tickets.”

These little quests do matter: four and a half hours in a smoky hard sleeper at the beginning of a trip is fun, especially when followed by a night in a comfortable bed. Very different from the same train ride late on a day when one got up to watch the sun rise, then spent the day on one’s feet with a pack on, arriving just a few hours before one has to go to work.

So before we started exploring we found the office that sold train tickets…padlocked.  Inquiring at the tourist information office next door we learned little except that she seemed surprised that it wasn’t open. She kept coaching her son in math during the interaction, which went a bit like this:

“You want train tickets? That is next door. What is three plus four?”

“They aren’t open? They should be. If you think six is the answer to three plus four you will not do well.”

We decided to try a little later since she seemed surprised that it wasn’t open yet. Our planned route changed not a bit:

Tourist map of Taishan.
Tourist map of Taishan.

We used the hour to explore Dai Miao. It is a Taoist temple to the God of Taishan. It is very old and includes a small palace for the emperor to stay at when visiting the mountain to perform key rituals. It is a large area with a lot of interesting things to see. Too many to try an capture in pixels in an hour or so. Here are a few that caught my eye.

From Dai Miao, just like emperors, Confucius, and even Chairman Mao we began our journey up Mount Tai.

First stop: train ticket office.

Buying train tickets. Young woman ogling my son.
Buying train tickets.

With the much desired fast train tickets in our possession, leaving at a very civilized 4:30 pm, which would allow us to both enjoy a leisurely morning on Tai Shan and arrive in Weifang at 6:20 pm, with plenty of time for hot showers, uniform washing, and a good night’s sleep, we approached the mountain with an “it’s all good” attitude. Surely, if we could get train tickets we could do anything?

You guessed it: to be continued.

Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye-Part 4