Christmas Day 2009

Today was one of the best Christmas days I can remember... ever. For the past 20 years, Dave & I have taken the ferry to Vashon Island to spend the day with my sister and her family. It began as a way to be together in the aftermath of our parents' death in 1989, just a couple of weeks before Christmas. But it turned into so much more. We watched our nieces and nephew grow up. We played games and listened to piano and violin recitals, watched the kids play basketball, looked at photographs of vacations and shared our own.

This morning, Dave & I drove right onto the boat, with seconds to spare. Good omen. The mountain was a huge silhouette on the skyline, with the rising sun an even larger silhouette right next to it. And since we caught an earlier boat than planned, we got to drive around a bit and do a bit of geocaching, sliding around on frosty (and beautiful) back roads, and enjoying the bright sunshine.

This year we have two homes to visit: first to Anna & Jeromy's house for gifts & breakfast, then later to my sister's house for dinner. Anna and her family moved back to the island last June, when Laurie & Bob moved into the old family farmhouse on the other side of the island. When we got to Anna's, the whole clan was gathered. My sister greeted us at the door, with Bob right behind. The family room was in chaos--that perfect Christmas morning scene when small children are opening their gifts. We waded right in, hugged as many of our family as we could get hold of, and watched the fun.

We both loved our hand-made gifts: quilted coasters and bed warmers, Christmas cookies made by Callie & Ella (with help from Auntie Caroline). We also made our gifts this year: we've been collecting wine corks from the wineries we visit, and made trivets using picture frames:

Callie loved her green hoodie with the silver heart, and Ella's pink sweater with the argyle hearts seemed like a hit (harder to tell with an almost-2-year-old). I'm sure Anna will post photos of the girls in all their new clothes; they got some really cute things!

We played a very short game of Phase 10; Jeromy kept winning hand after hand by getting dealt the exact cards he needed... (Make a note: I think he's the guy to buy lottery tickets or pick the winning horse.)

When we'd opened every last thing and munched our way through all the breakfast pastries, Bob headed for home to start working on dinner, and Laurie suggested we go look for the geocache that's nearby. We took her geocaching with us before, but it was a first for everyone else. So we loaded up the cars and headed out. The cache was near the beach and a small lagoon; Callie made short work of finding it, and Anna think that geocaching would be fun and educational for the whole family.

The last time we saw the old farm, the efforts were all on the historic barn--clearing it out, then stabilizing the foundation and structure. Then Laurie & Bob turned their efforts to the house. It needed a major overhaul, too. I can imagine lots of evenings spent sketching possible floor plans, rerouting the traffic flow with new doors, deciding where to add windows, and what trees to take down to let light in. We were amazed at the transformation. They took out walls, rebuilt the kitchen, installed oak floors and a new woodstove, and painted everything. The kitchen is open to the living room and dining room, and the light oak floor unifies the three areas. With the shrubbery and trees cut back, the dining room window floods the rooms with light, and the large space is perfect for a large family to gather at the table. The rooms are light and and inviting and completely perfect. Two huge bedrooms will become guest room and bathroom, bedroom and storeroom, with space for a new stairway to the attic rooms. Jeromy did the beautiful tile and lots of other tasks; how great to have a contractor in the family!

We got so wrapped up in the tour and talking about the possibilities, we almost ran out of light for a walk around the Fisher Pond. Everyone was keen on trying for more geocaches, and we knew there were three on the trail. We had a great time, and think we've made some new converts to the sport!

Back at the farm, Bob & Jeromy nearly had dinner ready for us and the place smelled wonderful! Callie & I chopped vegetables and lettuce for a salad, and she helped Anna carry food to the buffet. Laurie opened a bottle of wine, we chose our places, helped ourselves to food, and dug in. What a feast! We followed dinner with Christmas cookies and baked Brie with sliced pears, then a game of Apples to Apples that had us all in stitches.

I think I'm the luckiest sister, sister-in-law, aunt, and great-aunt on the planet... I have a wonderful family.

It was finally time to leave to catch our ferry. I always hate to leave Vashon, but today was worse than usual. I really didn't want to leave, and will be back... soon!


I'm Done!

It's 4:00. The presents are finished, the wrapping is done, and everything is in a box for tomorrow. (No photos until tomorrow; don't want to spoil the surprise!) It's time for a glass of wine, some unwinding, and a lot of anticipation for tomorrow. I love Christmas!

'twas the morning before Christmas...

Pre-Christmas tip #37: If you have to do some grocery shopping on the day before Christmas, drag yourself out of bed early and get to the store while everyone else is still in bed. The only other people in the store will be the stock crew, and a handful of other like-minded people. Your family might think you're nuts (my husband and sister did!), but it's worth every minute of lost sleep.

I woke up at 4:30, looked at the clock, and went back to sleep. The second time I woke it was 6:00, and realized I was dreaming about my job... yikes! No way of going back to sleep after that nightm... I mean dream.

I crawled into my clothes, whispered "see you later" to Dave, and headed out the door. I slid down the front steps, scraped ice off the car windows, did my shopping in an almost-empty store, and was back home again by 6:45. How cool is that??


Seeds, turkeys, and a lot of rain

This morning we took TrueRed out of the garage and into the monsoons of Kent, and headed north. We met up with friends in Stanwood, then took the back roads to La Conner, one of our favorite little towns in the Skagit Valley. La Conner (or LaConner, depending on which signs you believe) is a fishing village located where the Skagit River joins Puget Sound. Getting there involves driving through dairy and farmland, which is green and wet this time of year.

I love this area for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of all the old farmhouses and barns. My own small farmhouse is charming, but I confess to drooling over all the foursquare houses of the Skagit Valley. Huge, 2+ storied homes with Victorian millwork, surrounded by pastures... my idea of the perfect place to live. The snow geese and swans make this their home in the winter, and we saw plenty of both today (plus a few bald eagles).

Anyway... back to La Conner. Lunch was our main reason for braving the weather today, and our goal was a small cafe called Seeds. The building was originally a seed company; now it's a bistro with great food and atmosphere. Because of the awful weather, we had our choice of parking... not usually the case here. We walked, shopped, talked, and enjoyed the afternoon.

As we left town, we stopped at the crosswalk... for a group of 10 turkeys to cross the road. No kidding... they walked through town, along the sidewalk in front of the inn, and I couldn't resist hopping out in the pouring rain to snap their photo. An interesting end to a pretty nice day!


Boeing's future takes flight

Thanks to a very cool live webcam on the Boeing website, we were able to share in the excitement of the first flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It took off from Paine Field in Everett, flew for several hours, then landed to much fanfare at Boeing Field in Seattle.

I made a few screenshots as I watched the webcam; it was especially cool to see the chase planes take off at the same time, right next to the huge passenger jet. You can just make them out here, as the three planes head west toward the Olympic Mountains.

Congratulations to everyone who made this jetliner possible... you should be very proud!


Is it skating time?

It's been quite a few years since our frozen (and snow-free) pond coincided with a weekend, but this looks like the perfect weekend for ice skating. Our pond is small, but fun for 2 or 3 people at a time.

We used to have skating parties at the farm. We'd call up family and friends, and Dave would build a bonfire on the shore, and haul down chairs and a big stack of wood. I'd make bread and salad and a huge pot of soup for apres-skating. We'd have so much fun, we'd skate long after dark with the light from the bonfire, and a few well-placed lanterns. Those who had skates would bring them, and over the years we'd buy thrift-store skates, until we had a pretty good assortment of sizes.

These pictures are from 1989, the best year we've had for skating. It stayed cold and clear for several weeks, and we skated every night after work, and on the weekends. This is me skating with our niece, Sarah. This was also the year that Grandma Ruth came to watch, warmly dressed in a full-length mink coat!


I'm running out of adjectives...

Didn't think it would get colder than yesterday, but it did... it was a frigid 12° at 5:15 when I left for work. Brrr.....


It's 14°

It's western Washington, not eastern Washington. It's not supposed to be this cold...


It's Winter When...

No matter what the calendar says, it's winter when the daytime high is in the teens, when gloves and a warm hat don't keep my fingers and head warm, when a 3/4 mile walk around the building leaves me numb, when the bright sunshine has zero warmth but I still need sunglasses, when the birds are too cold to leave their nests to eat, when soup and sourdough bread are my number one choice for dinner, when the white wine stays in the cellar in favor of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, and when my cats sleep so close to the woodstove they're in danger of combustion. The calendar says autumn... I say it's already winter!


Giving Thanks

For life and love, for family and friends... I'm thankful every single day. But on this special day, it seems fitting to also collect my thoughts and give thanks for the things that make my life complete.

So, here goes: For my dear husband of nearly 35 years, for good health and prosperity, for sisters (and sisters-in-law), for the most beautiful place on earth to call home, for old friends (and new friends), for the wee red car in the garage and loads of twisty roads to drive it on, for a huge family of four generations to keep me young, for towering trees and blue water, for nearby mountains covered in snow, for a tiny old cabin at the side of a lake, for the company of cats who love unconditionally (as long as you feed them), for hardwood floors and antique china, for nieces & great-nieces & nephews & great-nephews, for a laptop computer so I can write this blog, for good wine and a cellar to keep it in, for chocolate, for the orchards and pastures that surround my home, for rediscovered family, for long brown hair, for trails to walk on, for scenic beauty to photograph, for a wonderful old farmhouse to come home to every night. I'm sure there's more... I may need to keep updating this!


Dude... learn to drive!

I headed out in the dark this morning, pausing at the end of my private road and looking both ways on the county road. Usually I have the road to myself, but when I saw lots of pairs of headlights, I slammed on my brakes just as a Mazda Miata passed my driveway (and 3 other cars) in a no-passing zone.

There's a reason for the double yellow no-passing zone here--there are many, many blind side roads and driveways, and it's not safe to pass here. And if you're a tiny sports car, you need to be extra careful.

If I'd pulled out just 5 seconds sooner, I would have hit him head-on, or he would have run off the road to miss me. And trust me... he'd have lost either contest. A choice between a heavy SUV and a 6-foot drop off into the trees is no choice at all.

I hope I scared the hell out of him, and he'll drive more carefully. I also hope he doesn't belong to my Miata club.


Twenty Years

Today was Flow's celebration of employees who have reached significant service dates. In the (more affluent) past, these were held monthly, with breakfast pastries and coffee, and a chance for each manager to thank people individually. This year, they decided to hold a single celebration for everyone.

I admit to being skeptical at this approach, but it was amazing. The three who celebrated 20 years with Flow all came from Engineering, and it was pretty cool standing in front of the crowd with Kate and Sean, whom I've known and worked with for all of those 20 years. The manager who thanked us was from Manufacturing, and to have someone completely unfamiliar with my individual contributions stand up and thank me was unexpected, and very satisfying. When he told everyone that if they needed to know anything about our products, way back into the 1980s, they should come and talk to me and people applauded, well... I don't think my current boss could have done as well.

After the celebration, I stood and talked with another Flow old-timer. He celebrated 25 years today, and we both took note of those who are no longer here. A lot of our friends and fellow workers have moved on, or retired, or have been told they're no longer needed. As I found comfort in knowing that others value my contributions to the company, I also was saddened by the loss of so many Flow friends.


The ocean in winter

We spent the weekend at Pacific Beach, with four of our close friends from our Miata club. The Miatas got to go, too... and we even got some top-down driving. The forecast for the coast was for rain, high winds, thunder and lightning, and some potential flooding caused by high tides. Nice time to be on top of a 100 ft. bluff!

We walked the beach, looked (in vain) for sand dollars and glass floats, Dave flew one of his stunt kites, and I took loads of photos. We checked out a cool new community, which looks like an Eastern seacoast town full of interesting architecture. And we enjoyed the fireplace in our cottage, ate wonderful food, sampled a lot of wine, and played Phase 10 and 31 into the wee hours.

On the way home yesterday, we drove down the Ocean Shores peninsula and walked on the beach along the harbor. Then we drove around the harbor to check out the Westport Winery, where we learned that we missed the flood by a day... on Saturday the seas were so high, they crashed over the bar and washed into town.


Losing faith

I learned something new yesterday. Loss of faith in another person, especially someone you trust and like, is devastating. It's hard to believe that I've not crossed paths with this particular hardship in the past. Maybe I have in some slight way, but never like this.

This loss of faith occurred when I learned that this friend would stoop to anything to win an election--lie about past accomplishments, slam candidates running against his 'dream team,' and present incorrect information as the truth, which convinced people to vote in a certain way. He crossed an ethical line, violating the club's bylaws by interfering with an election. Does he care? Not so you'd notice. No remorse (not even when he got caught in this underhanded, unethical behavior halfway through election day).

This disrespectful and unethical conduct was directed toward people who considered him a friend. That's bad enough. But this man is a teacher. What do you suppose he teaches his 5th graders about the election process? Do whatever it takes to win, don't worry who you hurt or what lies you tell, don't worry that you're breaking rules. Win, win, win... that's the important thing. Would you want your kids to learn from this kind of person?


Could it flood?

It's hard to wrap my brain around the thought that the Green River could flood my town. But problems at the flood control dam up in the mountains have everyone very concerned. The Army Corps of Engineers is working on repairs, but in the meantime, everyone in the valley is building defenses. At lunch today I wandered down to the river for a look at the walls going up along the dike.

Other than minor flooding from time to time, this river hasn't flooded since I was a kid, before the dam was built. Back then, the river flooded every year. Farmers in the valley owned rowboats for getting around during the rainy season. Kids missed school, because the buses couldn't pick them up. We lived on the hills, so floods to us were more a novelty than a life-changing event.


In the Wee Hours

Every morning as I drive west toward work, my paths cross with a slight Asian man, out for his early morning walk. Sometimes we're traveling the same direction, but most often, he is on his way back home as I am leaving mine.

Every weekday for more than 20 years, I've seen him. His hair, once black, is now grey and heading towards white. His posture is a bit stooped, and he walks quickly, no matter what the weather.

Every day, I wonder if he sees my Explorer, and whether he recognizes me as I recognize him. If I took a different route, would he notice my absence?


Horse of a different color

These are two examples of a type of art that really appeals to me: creating something recognizable from completely unrelated bits and pieces. I'm always on the lookout for these critters on our travels. The first horse (and my favorite) is on Front Street in Issaquah, Washington. The other is in the railway square in Laramie, Wyoming. This galloping steed has a Wyoming motorcycle license plate on his rump, a nice touch.


Dead Trees & Outhouses

This weekend was the great lumberjacking adventure at the lake. About a year ago, we noticed two side-by-side fir trees, standing dead, about 30 feet from the cabin. Since the trees were about 80 feet tall, this was of some concern. Also of concern were proximity to our neighbor's cabin, to the old outhouse (which was to become a target), and to a metal shed.

Hmmm... this requires the skill and expertise of friend Bernie.

Over the summer, we plotted, measured, sighted uphill and down, and came up with a plan. The downhill tree was easy: a clear path to fall into, no worries about landing on either cabin. We cabled it off, cleared an escape path, notched the tree and backcut, then stood back and watched it come down.

What we didn't expect was that the old outhouse would actually survive: the tree rocked the outhouse off its foundation, then snapped in two and flipped over, end for end. It was quite a sight!

The other tree was a bit more challenging. Safest for both cabins was to have it fall uphill, but it meant attaching cables so we could pull it uphill from two locations and guide it into the chosen alley. Dave & Greg manned the comealongs; Bernie notched the tree, and they ratcheted it slowly until it started to fall. That part worked fine, except that the tree didn't break at the notch--it broke right at ground level. Hmmm... more rotten than we realized.

(You can see the backcut on the tree, about 2 feet above the ground. And the photo is misleading: the tree isn't leaning over the woodshed, it's about 4 feet the other side of it.)

The tree hung up temporarily in a cluster of firs; we reconnected the cables and snubbed it slowly forward, and snap! it broke in two. The lower half fell forward with a whoomp, the upper half fell straight down end first, and collapsed back on top of the lower trunk, folding up in a neat package.

Not exactly as planned, it was better! Easy to cut up the tree, without having to bushwhack through a patch of dense brush to do it.

Once we had lunch and a tasty beverage, we came back outside to dispose of the branches and cut up the trees into firewood lengths. But the real fun was breaking up the old outhouse.

Now, this was no ordinary outhouse. It hadn't been used since indoor plumbing was put into the cabin, but it was once the retreat of the man who built the cabin back in the 1960s. It was painted white inside, had a carpeted floor, a padded seat, a magazine rack, and electric lights! Still, we had no use for it, so out came the sledgehammers.

The happy lumberjacks, with their trophy: the outhouse door.


Milk has more calories in California...

I was at my local Subway today, getting a sandwich for lunch. While I waited my turn, I read the nutrition poster. It's an occupational hazard for a technical writer, reading everything in sight (and if truth be told, looking for errors).

Today I zeroed in on the listing for 'white' milk (all milk is inheritently white, unless it's chocolate. Saying it's white is non-value added.) Then I noticed the calories:  'white' milk has 160* calories, except in California. What? Why?? Footnote: in California, milk has 190 calories.

Now I'm intrigued. Does California milk have some super-duper quality, some special processing that makes it richer and better while still retaining just 1% butterfat? We keep seeing commercials about cows wanting to go to California... maybe it's related. Or, is it just that the container is bigger in California?

If you buy 'white' milk at Subway in California, I'd love to know why the calorie count is higher there. Let me know...


Back on the trail

Yesterday I met a friend for a walk on the Soos Creek Trail. We hadn't seen each other for a while, so as we walked, we got caught up on family and vacations and her kids. Before we knew it, we'd walked 4.5 miles! It was a beautiful day, but you can sure tell it's autumn. It was 48 degrees when we started out, and 62 degrees when we got back to our cars.

So, thinking that this could be a great jump-start to a renewed habit, I headed out this morning for another walk. I took a shorter route today (I was sore after yesterday), but I walked the horse trail, which has great hills for conditioning.


Do bats ever go out of season?

This morning as I got my usual cup of coffee in the lunchroom, one of the shop guys said, "Hey look, Lissa's almost back in season!" I was tired, and admit it took me a second to realize what the heck he was talking about. He was talking about my Starbuck's travel mug, which is silver with lots of flying black bats all over it. I laughed, someone else commented about Halloween coming up, and that was that.

But it occurs to me that bats are universal, multi-seasonal creatures. The one time we had an unwelcome visitor in our house was in the spring. In summer, they dive-bomb us when we sit outside on the deck. We celebrate them in fall, as a symbol of Halloween, but they're night creatures, and all winter long I move about before daylight, and after dark.

Doesn't this make my favorite coffee mug in style, year round?


Farmhouse Violets

I've attempted to grow African violets before, with little succes. My house is full of windows, but none suitable on what I was told was the "right" side: the east. (Except in the basement, and I can't trust my cats that much!). But when I found these cute pottery flower pots, perfectly sized for violets, I decided to try again. To my surprise, they lived happily in the north windows of my kitchen, all summer long.

Now I'm on the hunt for the third pot in this series made by Shawnee in the last century... in sunny yellow with the same green saucer.


Main Street USA

They're new, the bright sandwich boards on street corners throughout Kent. These are reminders that Kent isn't just Kent Station, the fancy new shopping district on the north edge of town. To me, they're reminders that Kent is one of the lucky historic towns that still retains its original downtown. Follow the arrows and you'll discover tree-lined streets, corner benches, murals, and brick storefronts with restaurants and shops and antique stores.

As you walk the streets of Downtown Kent, you'll also discover hidden parks: we have a beautiful Japanese garden, a rose garden, and numerous pocket parks. My favorites are two brilliant green parks along the railroad tracks, across from the original train depot. I try to spend my lunch hours here. In all seasons, there are small things to enjoy. Roses in bloom, leaves turning fall colors, ducks and their babies enjoying the pond.

Like most towns these days, Kent is ringed by strip malls and freeways, fast food and car dealerships. It's sometimes hard to see past these distractions. But if you look closely, and take the time to follow the signs, you won't be disappointed.


Cheshire Moon

Rising in the east, over our little valley, and facing our bedroom windows... one of the prettiest sights you'll ever see: A bright sliver of a Cheshire moon, with a following star, in the dark blue sky of pre-dawn.


Hedge Wars

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. One of the previous owners of our house decided to plant a hedge of arborvitae shrubs along the pasture fence, screening the lawn from the pasture. Great idea, as long as you keep it pruned. They didn't. When we bought the place, pasture animals had eaten everything within reach, so the hedge was "bald" for about 3 feet above the fence, then green for another six+ feet above that. Funny-looking is an understatement. (I have a photo around here somewhere; if I find it, I'll scan and include it.)

One of the first things we did was take the chain saw to the hedge, and cut it down right at fence height (about 4.5 ft). Then we kept the green growth trimmed. It turned into a really nice hedge.

That, unfortunately, didn't last. (I now appreciate the trouble with hedges, believe me!) When our hedge gets too tall, it cuts off the light to our basement windows, and we lose our beautiful view across the pasture and the valley.

So. Time to fix the problem. This week I've got an extra hour each afternoon, and decided to spend it pruning. Just split the hedge into thirds, and tackle one third each day. The first day, no worries. I've kept this stretch pretty well pruned, so the trunks were small in diameter and easy to cut. One small pile of shrubs for the burn pile. The second day could have been worse. The middle section of hedge had grown unchecked for a decade. It was lush from the ground to about 15 feet in the air. Hmmm... need to bring out the big gun: the Saws-All. (I don't use the chain saw; too much to handle.) But this slick motorized reciprocating saw cut through the trunks like butter (well, maybe frozen butter), and was easy to handle. Only one mishap: a trunk that bounced off the ladder, did a 180, and landed on my forearm. Sore, but no bones broken.

Tonight, the last third of the hedge comes down. There's daylight in my daylight basement again, and I've got my view back. Life is good.


September... my favorite month

I've always loved autumn. Maybe it's because my birthday is in September, so I grew up with a sense of anticipation about the end of summer, the beginning of autumn. But there have been some other great "firsts" in September. It was when I "test drove" my first horse, a Thoroughbred named Deelee, and brought him home. My first three-day event was also in September a few years later, at Donida Farm in Auburn. But best of all, September was when we bought our little farm, where we live to this day.

I love how fall smells, that crispness to the air, especially in the morning, that you can literally drink in with each breath. Starting in mid-August, I test the air every day as I walk out of the house, and the smell of fall brings a smile to my face.

We're getting ready for winter now. I've been doing the fall pruning, and picking the last of the apples and plums. We've brought home truckloads of firewood from the cabin, and it's stacked in the barn. Soon Dave will clean chimneys, and we'll be ready to light the woodstove. I'm looking forward to packing away the shorts and tank tops, and bringing out my favorite sweaters and jackets. I'm also looking forward to having more time for indoor things, like quilting and sewing.

We're lucky to live in a place that has four distinct seasons, each with its own rhythm and beauty. Autumn in the Northwest brings shorter days, but it also brings color to the woods as the leaves turn red and orange and yellow, thick carpets of leaves to kick as I walk the trail, and more time to spend with friends and family.

Oh, and in case you were wondering... the umbrella lives just inside the front door, all year round.


Once We Were Mountain Bikers

Not that long ago, actually. We miss it, but have spent the past few years zoom-zooming in our MX-5 Miata, four wheels instead of two. We'll get back to it eventually...

These photos are from our second Moab trip, in 2005. We spent a week there with a group of friends, seven days of riding the slickrock and having a blast!


A table full of goodness

On my way home, I stopped at Carpenito Bros. for some fresh veggies for the long weekend. All this bounty cost a mere $20. I couldn't resist turning everything out onto the kitchen table and taking a photo.

Corn, celery, red peppers, garlic, red onions, Walla Walla sweet onions, pears, yellow and green zucchini, basil, Romaine, radishes, broccoli, and flat parsley.

Phone Charger

I spent my lunch hour sitting by the Asian garden in Kent, which is between the railroad tracks and the library. It's a peaceful spot, with the chance to do some people-watching while I eat. Often there's a group of kids who should be in school, taking up all the seats. Whenever this group is there, the Kent police always seem to show up. They smile, say hello, and innocently "police" the grounds, picking up trash. The kids just melt away without a word.

Today must have been Food Bank day. Lots of people walked through the park, towing wheeled shopping carts or lugging bags of food. One young couple paused to rest on a bench; the man pulled out a cell phone charger, plugged it into a weather-tight outlet at the base of a rock, and left his phone there to charge while he enjoyed the park. I don't think it would have occurred to me to look to my local park for charging my electronics, but why not?


Wine Tasting

It's no secret that the Woodinville area has become a destination for wine lovers. We've been coming here since the mid-1980s (maybe earlier) when the only winery was Chateau Ste. Michelle. Today there are 4o wineries, each with their own style and appeal. I admit to loving the experience of traveling through the vineyards, stopping by to visit each winery in turn, surrounded by the fruit that makes wineries (and wine) possible.

But something's changed here in the past few years. Wineries have figured out how to provide the winery experience, and great wines, without the vineyards closeby. And if this formula works in Woodinville, why not Covington? Or Maple Valley?

Our Fall wine club shipment is ready to pick up at at DiStefano, one of our favorite wineries in Woodinville. It's a family business, as so many of them are. We love their reds, and also their Sauvignon Blanc. New this summer is an outdoor patio built up on pavers, with tables made from old riddling racks. It's a great place to sit and enjoy our samples.

Today we brought home a treasure: an oak wine barrel that's outlived its usefulness as a storage container for wine. It will have a new life--the base of a table in our wine cellar.

Afterwards, we headed for another favorite, Matthews Cellars. It's a small winery, with a wonderful country location in the Woodinville valley. The people are friendly, the wine is excellent, and we love being able to wander around in the cellar room, inhaling the grape-infused air.

Apple Red

Or, "In Search of Corn." Take your pick of titles. After a morning of gardening, potting plants, sweeping, ironing, laundry, it was time for the great corn and apple search. Dave gently inquired whether I was going to the farm stand in Enumclaw, the last best place for the perfect ear of corn. Hadn't thought of going so far, but I was heading for the library, which was halfway there. So why not?

This sounded like a great chance to take the wee MX-5 for a spin in the country. I quickly revised my route to include Thomas Road to Auburn-Black Diamond Road, which got me to Green Valley, which is probably the perfect sports car road (if there aren't any Sunday drivers in front of me). Today is a beautiful top-down day, not too hot. As I turned onto Green Valley, I spotted a huge sign advertising a produce stand, right there in the valley. Perfect! I'll get corn and apples, and whatever else they have that looks good (baby yellow potatoes, rhubarb for a pie, garlic), then drive the rest of my favorite road.

Multi-tasking was never so fun!


Moving target

Outside my kitchen window is a big camellia bush. It's covered with bright magenta blooms in early spring, and the rest of the year, it provides shelter and food for a variety of birds. The chickadees are especially entertaining. Hung from a branch is a small feeder, which I made from a round Glad container, hung by pale green ribbons (my sister's design).

Today, there's a group of young birds trying to figure out how exactly to get to the seed. The small feeder moves whenever birds feet touch it, a bit of a moving landing pad. Plus the three ribbons are close together, so they can't just fly in and land.

I watched one bird hop from branch to branch, trying to get to the food without actually having to touch the feeder. He gave the closest leaf a couple of jabs, then flew off in disgust.

But by the time I finished washing the dishes, they'd figured it out.

Rocking Chairs

I love rocking chairs. The Windsor-style chair that was always in my parent's house, for as long as I can remember, stood squeezed into the corner by the woodstove, and was my favorite place to sit in the winter. I bought my own, much more modern (and not nearly as well made) at a yard sale just before my marriage. It was more upright and not very comfortable, but I still have the chair. It's now in the cabin. A decade or so later, I found a perfect white wicker rocker, creaky and comfortable, at a yard sale for $5.00. It's also at the cabin, dueling rockers in the upstairs loft bedroom.

When we started traveling in the MX-5 Miata was when we first ate at Cracker Barrel restaurants (which for some inexplicable reason have never spawned stores into Washington). I love the rocking chairs at the Cracker Barrel. Each time we have breakfast at one of these charming restaurants, I threaten to bring home a couple of chairs. Since the nearest restaurant is in Boise, Dave knows he's safe. We're usually in a loaded Explorer heading off on a road trip, or we're in the MX-5 (can you picture the wee roadster with a rocking chair lashed on the trunk?) This trip, we flew to Denver. Sigh… no rocking chairs for the deck at the cabin.

But wait… you can order them online. And shipping is a mere $15 per chair. All you have to do is assemble them. Easy for a guy who builds furniture! Maybe those chairs will grace my deck after all!



Suzie is my aunt's oldest child, born 6 years ahead of me. I can only imagine the delight of my aunt and my mom when I was born on the same day as Suzie. Probably similar to my delight, when I met William, my cousin Mike's grandson, a vibrant redhead who threw his arms around my knees and shouted "Hi!" when he first laid eyes on me. William was also born on "our" birthday. I love this photo of the three of us!


Farm stands

I love the fresh produce stands that crop up all over in the summer. On the weekends, you can find small roadside stands selling fresh fruit from Eastern Washington. Lots of neighboring towns have a Saturday market, where you can buy produce, crafts, and fresh flowers. Once the stands open up, I don't buy fresh produce anywhere else until the weather turns cold.

Yesterday we stopped at a farm stand in Enumclaw to get fresh-picked corn. This semi-permanent stand boasts fresh-picked corn, produce of all types, fruit from Eastern Washington, and homemade fudge. The stand is surrounded by produce gardens, and the corn fields are a stone's throw away. While I chose my tomatoes from an outside table, two employees were picking produce to replenish the tables. Another stand I like is near Covington. It's on a side road and not visible from the main road, and it's entirely self-serve. They post the prices, you choose what you want, and leave money in the jar. It's a great place for local tomatoes and zucchini.

My favorite produce stand is Carpenito Brothers, which has been in Kent for decades. In summer, I stop there on my way home from work to buy fresh corn, potatoes, and produce. Their corn fields are on the other side of town, and several times a day they haul in corn by the trailer-load, towed behind a John Deere tractor, right through the heart of town.

But Carpenito isn't just a produce stand. In the spring, it's the place for annuals and perennials, and beautiful baskets for Mothers Day. Their towering hills of bark and topsoil are a Kent landmark. In fall, you'll find pumpkins, squash, and chrysanthemums of every color. In winter, they sell Christmas trees and wreaths. They close down only in the early months, then the cycle begins all over again.



Whew... finally finished logging my cache finds from our recent vacation to Colorado (and New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming). Caching is a big part of our lives, especially when we go on vacation. I can still hear Dave saying, "If we rent a car and do this loop road trip, we can add 8 more states to our caching map." Hey, why not? And while we're at it, let's try and do an earth cache in each state, too. So in addition to a conference in Denver, spending lots of time with my cousins, and sightseeing, we also managed to put 2500 miles on a rental car, and travel through 6 states I've never set foot in before. Is this a great hobby, or what?


I love blackberries. Crumble, slump, cobbler, pie, cheesecake, jam... It's a good thing I like the fruit, because my little farm is fertile ground for the thorny brambles. Blackberries grow rampant in the Pacific Northwest, as anyone who lives here can attest. (I'm always amused to get gardening catalogs from the East Coast and Midwest, and see various types of blackberry vines for sale. Come here, and you can have all the plants you want for free.)

I spend 10 months of the year digging blackberry plants out of my flower beds, pulling the vines out of the trees and shrubs, and trying every method known to man to kill them off. But come August, no one touches my vines. In August, and for the next two months, the tiny green berries swell and turn dark purple. Each evening before dinner, I walk out the door, container in hand, and in a few minutes my bowl is overflowing with ripe fruit, warm from the sun. Doesn't get much better than this.


Quail in the Cedar

For the past few months, we've been seeing quail on our place. We'd see the male, or the female, but rarely would see them together. First, we'd see them in the barn. Eventually, they moved into the wild patio garden, just 20 feet from our front steps. Last night when I drove in the driveway after work, I stopped dead at the sight of both adult quail, surrounded by a dozen of the tiniest baby quail you've ever seen. They were flitting here and there, and the parents' heads were snapping back and forth, trying to keep them in sight (a tough job, as they're only about 2 inches tall, and disappeared in the grass). I pulled out the cell phone and called Dave, who was already home. He crept out the front door and along the back of the garage, and we both watched the miracle of baby quail.

Tomorrow I'll take my camera and zoom lens, and if lucky, will post photos.


Monday Morning Came Early

Should be a song title (maybe it is, but I can't think of one). I stayed up too late last night, and 4:30 came very rudely (although waking up to Carbon Leaf wasn't half bad). First day back after a grand 2-week vacation means only one thing: slogging my way through about 350 e-mail messages. I'll come up for air around noon...


Back home, and the place is a mess!

I've caught up on e-mail, work e-mail, and unpacked my suitcase. Laundry is piled on the floor; I'll get to it eventually. I posted my upcoming events on the Club Miata website. Still need to log the geocaches we found on our 8-state tour, and download the 600 or so photos I took. But it feels good to just sit and relax, so that will probably be my goal for the rest of today.

On the Subject of Mountain Height

According to one website, Colorado boasts 637 peaks over 13,000 feet, and 58 peaks over 14,000 feet. The natives refer to them as 13ers and 14ers, and there's actually a book for each, with photos of each peak, and a checklist where you can keep track of the ones you've visited. That's pretty cool.

But I still think Washington's Mt. Rainier is the more impressive. At 14,410 feet, it towers above the nearby Cascade mountain range, and is snow-covered year-round. What really sets it apart, though, is that it rises from close to sea level, and is taller than anything else around it.

In the Rockies, these 13ers and 14ers rise from at least a mile in elevation, so they don't have the same impact as the massive snow-covered peaks of the Cascade range, from Shasta in California, Hood in Oregon, and the four peaks in Washington: Baker, Rainier, Adams, and St. Helens.

The Rockies are impressive, don't get me wrong. The sheer number of peaks is impressive! And I think it's cool that you can actually hike these mountain peaks (and even drive to the top of a fair number of them). Which makes the mountains accessible to all, not just to mountain climbers.


Rocky Mountain moose

Good luck charm? I'm thinking Dave's gift of a moose pin brought us luck. Not long after we headed south, out of the park, we saw a couple of people standing on the side of the road, with cameras pointed toward the trees.
We (and everyone else) slammed on the brakes, and in about two seconds, we realized they'd spotted a huge cow moose, grazing in this small meadow. Dave pulled over, pushed me out, and I walked carefully to the shoulder, trying not to move too quickly. I got about a dozen photos before she got spooked by being watched and trotted off to the trees.
I walked back to the car with a big grin on my face. I love the moose, and we've rarely seen one in the wild. The road was a traffic jam. A ranger was walking up the road telling people to move on. Some people had simply stopped right in the middle of the road, so anxious to get a look at wildlife. Dave said the ranger was just telling those people to move… now.


Cheyenne's art boots

Seattle has its pigs (you have to live here to understand… well, actually, I live here and don't understand). Cheyenne, WY has cowboy boots.

You'll most likely find the significance a lot more understandable, what with Wyoming's huge ranching industry, not to mention its place in the history of the Wild, Wild West. We passed through town recently, and the boots are one thing that jumped out at me. Although I didn't have time to search out all of them, I did get photos of a few that are at the Depot Square. The boots are well over my 5'5" height, and each is colorful, and different.

There are 18 of these 8-ft. tall boots throughout the Cheyenne area, five of them at the Cheyenne Depot Square (two of them are shown here). They were part of a 2004 public art fundraising campaign, and if you want to do a boot scavenger hunt and look for all of them, you can pick up a map at the museum.

Steaks By State

The title is Dave's idea. We figured since we were traveling through the heart of cattle country, we should sample steaks where they truly know how to cook them. So starting with Texas, we had steak each night (except for SD; it wasn't on the menu), finishing up with Wyoming. In each place, we queried the concierge (or facsimile thereof) about the absolutely best steak to be found in their town, and took their advice. If you're a vegetarian, just plug your ears or move to another blog entry.

In Amarillo, my strip steak was absolutely lean, with nothing to trim off, and was probably the perfect steak when you considered everything: it was perfectly cooked, there was no waste, it was melt-in-your mouth tender, and full of flavor.

In Dodge City, I tried the Kansis City strip steak. Of the four steaks, this one had the most flavor, and it tasted like it was rubbed and marinated before it went on the fire. It was also a huge steak, not the 12 oz. advertised. I had to take about half of it "home." (It was good cold the next morning.)

In Nebraska, I tried my old standby cut of steak, top sirloin. It was good, but the strip steaks were definitely a cut above.

In Wyoming, I went back to the NY strip. My Wyoming steak was not as flavorful as the one I had in Dodge City, Kansas (my dad's birthplace), but was the most tender of the three (it was also the most rare).

What I've learned:
  • The best steaks are tender and juicy, so from now on I will always order medium rare
  • New York (or Kansas City) strip steaks are the most flavorful

Table Mountain Ranch

Today was as fun as a treasure hunt! Our goal: to find the ranch my grandmother's family once owned. We grew up on stories of the ranch, which spanned the Wyoming-Colorado border between Laramie and Virginia Dale. For fans of the Mary O'Hara books: My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming, this is the same area where these books were set. My favorite books as a horse-crazy kid.

In the family genealogy was a photocopy of a brochure advertising the ranch, which told the approximate location and milestones where the original entrance was. What we didn't know is that the ranch is intact today, the same as it was in the 1940s when it went out of the family.

Imagine my surprise (and delight) when we found the Pioneer Trail marker mentioned in the brochure, and right next to it, a dirt road heading into the hills with this sign. Wow! I took a lot of pictures, to share with the rest of the family. As far we we know, no one of our generation has set foot on the ranch. We were brave and drove in, and asked permission to drive around.

This is the main cluster of ranch buildings, where the ranch manager lives; looking generally southwest. The main ranch house is about 3 miles north of this spot. Near the big house is this water tank, probably the original water tank built for the log ranch house. The log house burned in the 1940s; it looks like the house was rebuilt on the original rock foundation.

Virginia Dale

I've always wondered about the history behind the name of this town. It's in north central Colorado, close to the Wyoming border, and (I believe) was the nearest "town" to the ranch my family once owned.

Established in 1862, Virginia Dale was a home station on the Overland Trail, meaning that passengers could disembark, get a meal, and stay overnight in a hotel if the stage was delayed by weather or nightfall. Thirty to fifty horses were kept at the station which was located in a pleasant, grassy glade (or dale) along a clear bubbling stream, later named Dale Creek. Station manager Jack Slade probably named the post after his wife Virginia. Slade was an excellent stage manager as long as he stayed sober. Many stories credit him with outrageous actions from shooting up a saloon in LaPorte for serving his stage drivers whiskey to robbing the stage of $60,000 in gold which disappeared. Slade was fired as stage manager in November 1892 after a drunken shooting spree at nearby Fort Halleck and left with his wife for Virginia City, Montana where he was hanged in early 1894 by angry miners.

Preserving houses through photographs

I always have a strong urge to photograph old houses. Farmhouses in the country, city houses in a historic neighborhood, all styles and sizes. In the back of my mind, I've thought about taking my photos home, and one day either sketching the houses, or painting them.

But it occurs to me that perhaps my desire is really to capture them forever in photographs, so they'll never disappear. Or is this the outward sign of a genetic link to my father, who was an architect, and loved buildings of all kinds.

Laramie, Wyoming has several historic building tours, both residential and commercial. We took the time to check out a couple of them; Dave says we found the best two houses in town. Look at the details on this house. Beautiful, isn't it?


Big Sky Wyoming

On the home stretch, still with much to add and photos to share. Today's highlights included checking out a wild horse ranch, my third day of a flaming allergy attack (juniper, most likely), we both took a ton of photos, and we saw wildlife from eagles to coyotes to bison. Wyoming is home to more grazing horses than I've ever seen (and believe me, I look for them!). Wyoming is also home to a branch of the family tree, who grew up on horseback, thanks to the family's cattle ranching business.


What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I'm looking forward to posting photos to go with the blogs I've started while on vacation. I have a lot of writing to do, too... keeping a pencil & paper journal, which I'll pull from when I have more time at the computer. Today we saw old (mid-1800s) cemeteries, saw a woman hop off a motorcycle in full leathers and walk up to a huge bison to take a photo, walked through caverns 24 stories below ground, and saw America's most famous National Memorial. Much more soon...


Signs, Signs...

I've been collecting state signs as we travel, welcome signs if I can find them, state highway signs, too. I figure these will be great to introduce each day's photos in my Shutterfly site. But in Valentine, Nebraska I saw the best signs. Their street signs were red, with white lettering. How cool is that?

Nebraska Sand Dunes

Neither of us really knew what to expect of Nebraska, but assumed it would be much the same as Oklahoma and Kansas. Boy, were we wrong. Western Nebraska is drop-dead gorgeous. And from a couple of confirmed Northwesterners, used to mountains and salt water in our vistas, that's saying a lot.

Of course, we didn't expect ancient sand dunes in Nebraska, either. But the rolling hills covered with prairie grass are the legacy of the ancient seas that once covered this land, and they're beautiful. I snapped a lot of photos out the window, to remind me as I wrote my journal. We kept looking for a good place to stop, and finally found a scenic overlook for the Dismal River, and a short walk up the hill brought us to great views of the hills, with the Dismal River winding through. There were even a couple of groups of kids floating down on inner tubes. We spent too much time there, but loved it. Took lots of photos, then drove down to the river level, and waited for the kids to float by. Loved the cooler wedged into its own inner tube!

We spent time driving the back roads, found a very old cemetery, flocks of wild turkeys, and a waterfall (tallest in Nebraska as it turns out). The water is frigid cold, about 57 degrees, which didn't stop a pack of teenagers from wading right in and standing underneath it. Girls posing for boys, and vice versa. A bit of a dare going on here, but it probably felt good in the 95 degree air temperature!

Heading back to Valentine, we had to stop to photograph a Nebraska state road sign, then noticed that Valentine was underneath the biggest thundercloud we've ever seen. The occasional lightning bolt shot out of it, and you could see it was raining… somewhere. As we drove toward it, it loomed bigger and bigger. We can't do this at home—our thunderstorms fetch up against the Cascades, and there are no roads there.

We checked into our hotel, got directions to the only restaurant that's open on a Sunday evening. Steak Number 3 is on the menu, but we were mesmerized by the severe storm warning on the TV, in a scrolling banner across the bottom of the screen. It was warning people about the severe thunderstorm, and to get indoors immediately. "If you can hear thunder, you're in range of being struck by lightning." Yikes!!

The thunderstorm blew through about 17 miles south of Valentine, NB, with torrential rain, quarter-sized hailstones, and lightning. Not far, actually, from our idyllic scenic overlook, and those kids floating down the Dismal River.


Looking for Corn

I was promised fields of corn, stretching to the horizon on both sides of the highway. Flat we found. The Texas panhandle has a lot of flat. There are also huge arroyos and canyons, called breaks, where the Canadian River has cut through the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain. This land is as flat as any surface in the world, according to our Lake Meridith/Alibates Flint Quarries brochure.

One you get closer to Oklahoma, there's a lot of corn, and a lot of dirt. Looks like a wheat crop was recently harvested, and they're ready for the next crop. But circle irrigation has changed the wall-to-wall corn image forever. You get corn on both sides of the road, but only a short stretch of it, before the wall of corn curves away from you.

It's also hot, very hot. It was 98 degrees before noon on this fine August day.

Getting Out Of Dodge

Today, Dave asked me, quite innocently, "Is this THE Dodge City?" We hadn't originally planned to divert to see it, but when he found out my dad was born there, he changed our route. I'm sure glad he did. It's a pretty cool town.

He also started saying, "Get out of Dodge" whenever we were leaving one place and heading another direction, whether we were walking or driving, walking out of a building or into it, whatever. It got to be pretty funny.

Today we drove from Amarillo to Dodge City, in 100 degree+ heat. I've never been in Kansas before, and after dinner at a local steakhouse, we had fun exploring the town where my dad was born. Much of the hill above town is still home to turn of the century homes, and most of the streets are paved with brick. The town I grew up in had brick streets, but the city fathers asphalted over the top of them. Not Dodge City. Blocks and blocks of gorgeous brick. I loved it.

We drove the hill several times, exploring. We saw old brick schools, and some beautiful churches. My favorite structures were the 1881 stone home that is now the historical museum, and the original Carnegie (library?) that is now an art museum. I especially loved the rotunda, and all the stained glass windows. I took a lot of pictures.

My dad's family moved to Denver when he was five, so he never went to school here. Beautiful schoolhouse, isn't it?

"Boot Hill" was an obvious attempt to draw in the tourists, but since it was closed, we got free use of the parking lot. Cool! I took photos of the old church, and the guardian bunny rabbit.

Across the street (brick, of course!) was an old train depot and steam engine, which Dave made a beeline for. He explained the configuration of the engine to me, a Prairie Class engine with large wheels suited for speed over flat terrain (but not for hill climbing, which is why we don't have these in Washington). We made one more drive through the brick streets, took photos of the wonderful bronze statue of Wyatt Earp, then headed west toward Garden City. We drove straight into the sunset, heading west toward Mountain Time.

I read somewhere, I think at breakfast the next day, that this statue was done by a local woman artist who didn't begin sculpting until she was in her early 80's. Look at the way his coat is flipping aside as he's pivoting and reaching for his six shooter.

Alibates Flint

At dinner last night, we scrolled through the list of nearby attractions on Jeepers, our Garmin GPS. And that's how we learned about the Alibates Flint Quarries.

This unique flint attracted people to the dry and windswept plains of the Texas Panhandle as long ago as 12,000 years. Before the Great Lakes even formed, Indians of the Ice Age Clovis Culture used Alibates flint for spear points to hunt Imperial Mammoth.

Now, isn't that an image to grab your imagination? So we plotted our course, and first thing this morning, headed out. And this was definitely one of the more interesting things we did on vacation: visiting this one-of-a-kind site where Native Americans of many tribes came to harvest their flint, later used to fashion arrowheads, spear heads, scrapers.

Lake Meridith and the fling quarries are pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, and when we arrived at the national park site, there was no one there. Hmmm... we drove to the end of the road, and enjoyed meeting a Box turtle on our way back. This time, there was someone at the visitor center. As the man unlocked the door, we asked about a tour. Lucky for us (since you had to book tours in advance), he was there to meet a couple of men who'd booked a tour, and let us tag along.

If you're ever near Amarillo, I highly recommend taking a couple of hours and doing this nature walk. It's pretty amazing, walking in the footsteps of so many who've been here over the centuries. We got to handle the different colors of flint and see several different pits where they dug down below the limestone cap rock to access the thick layers of agatized dolomite. The ground is littered with discarded bits of flint, gorgeously colored, from pale striped to purple, to reds and greens. We were told it's unique in the world.

In this photo, the red piece is a bit smaller than my fist, about 3 inches across.

They have one ranger on staff who has learned the fine art of crafting arrowheads and spear points from this flint. He can sit and chat with people on his tours, while striking out an arrowhead, right in front of their eyes. That would be cool to see!

Only in Texas

I suspect I could use this title for a great many observations about the great state of Texas, but since we barely scratched the surface (Amarillo, then north through the panhandle), I figure I'm off the hook.

One thing I noticed is that in Texas, road numbers in the four digits mean it's a farm road, and there are different sign designs depending on whether it's a farm road or state road. Interesting, if you care about such things...

Another thing? You can get a great steak in Texas... more in a future blog.