Our Christmas wish for you

The house is decorated for Christmas. Red and white poinsettias brighten the corners of the rooms, and a forest of small trees has magically sprung up throughout the house, decorated in tiny ornaments of glass and wood and ceramic. The top of the Mission oak cabinet is a playground for antique toys and collectible teddy bears. The cats are mesmerized by twinkling lights and shiny glass ornaments. The wood box is full, and the cold weather means we can enjoy a fire every evening. The house is filled with the sights and smells of the holiday season.

The riot of fall color, one of the best I can remember, is now a river of leaves on the trails and in my pastures. The gardens are sleeping. The cats spend most of their time in front of the woodstove (and so do we). The short days give us more time to spend together at home, instead of always busy with outside projects & chores.

For me, Christmas is a time to reflect, to think, to dream. A time to give thanks for all that's good in life. To think of friends, past and present, who helped make us the people we are today. To embrace our family, and remember family who are no longer with us. To spend time with the people we love, because life's short and those moments are priceless.

Dave & I wish you the best that life has to offer. We hope that 2011 was a spectacular year for you, and that 2012 will be even better.


All you need is one...

We've been talking about having a Cab Franc tasting and Italian feast with our good friends, Jim & Julie. Since we're all off for an extended holiday over Christmas and New Year's, that seemed like the perfect time. But before we knew it, our schedules got booked up. Always happens! But we did manage to find two days in common, and before they vanished like the rest, we snapped up January 1st for a gathering at the farm. Julie apologized for the suddenly full schedule and lack of free days, but I told her "No worries… all we need is one."

It will be a seriously fun evening of good red wine, lasagne, and sourdough bread with 25-year-old Balsamic vinegar and Italian olive oil for dipping. And a chocolate something for dessert... chocolate is required with red wine.

Stay tuned for our tasting notes in the new year.


The best Christmas card… ever

Val’s latest watercolor is of the ice skating party Dave & I held at Pennylane Farm in February 1989. She and Tom used it for their Christmas cards this year, and when I opened it up and saw the figures skating on the pond, I almost burst into tears. Val took all the different photos from that day, and combined them into one painting. All the figures are so recognizable... Dave with Storm, and me in my dad's long green sweater and jeans, Val pulling Tiffany on a sled, and Sarah standing with Tom, who is wearing his favorite captain's hat. Grandma Ruth in her fur coat is sitting by the campfire, on the rustic bench that Dave built just that morning. It’s a wonderful painting, with unmistakable Valerie style. The card is proudly displayed in the house, and once the holidays are over, I'll cut a mat & frame it. We're looking forward to seeing the full-size painting.

This skating party was one of the best times we've ever had at the farm. And to give a bit of perspective (and history) behind the painting, here's what I wrote in my journal back in 1989:

February 2
Today the weather was so bad all the schools, including Green River, were closed. So I was at home. I kept looking out the windows, thinking how unbelievable the weather was. Windy, snowy, cold—the temperature, with wind chill factored in, went as low as -25°. I went out as little as I could get away with. I checked on the dog and horses every few hours, brought in firewood, and tried to keep the house warm. I had to chop a hole in the ice at the shallow end of the pond so the horses could get water. The ice where I chopped through was more than an inch thick; I wonder how the large pond is doing?

February 4
It was 4° when we got up. This is the coldest it's been seen since we moved home from the Tri-Cities in 1984. Green River is still closed, the third day in a row. Mid morning, Dave went down to check the pond to see if it’s thick enough to skate on. He took his skates with him, and a rope that he tied to the little tree on the shore, just in case. I took pictures from the house; it’s cold out there!

February 5
It stayed cold and clear overnight, and first thing this morning, Dave took Stormy and a broom down to the pond, swept off the ice, then played with the dog. Storm would have been a great sled dog; he had no trouble pulling Dave back and forth across the pond. I took my turn on skates, using the broom for balance until I got my skating legs back. Then I went to the house and called our families. Everyone is coming, except for Martin (other plans), and Laurie & Bob (they have 12 little boys coming to their house for a birthday party). Tom and Val and their girls came all the way from Whidbey Island. 

I chose a simple menu for dinner: homemade soup (my favorite beef barley vegetable, and clam chowder), plenty of sourdough bread, green salad, and lots of Cabernet Sauvignon. While I got the soup started, Dave fired up the tractor and loaded the bucket with firewood, boards for a bench, and lawn chairs. He started a campfire down by the pond, built a long bench, and set up chairs. While he did that, I picked up Dave's grandmother and mother, and brought them back to the farm. Everyone else arrived not long after.

Sometime the spur of the moment gatherings are the most fun! It was cold, but the sun was out and we skated all afternoon. We don’t have enough skates for everyone, so we took turns. In the afternoon I skated in a turtleneck and sweater, but as soon as it got dark I needed my down coat, down mittens, and a wool hat. After dinner we skated by firelight and a couple of strategically placed Coleman lanterns, and watched the stars.


Christmas memories... wrapping presents

My dad was a master of secrecy where gifts were concerned. We were always told which closets were off limits for the duration—between purchase and wrapping, which could be the entire month!
Dad loved to wrap gifts, and he was a perfectionist. Raw edges were folded before taped, corners were square, every crease was pressed down to lay flat (I learned this from him, something my husband complains about to this day. He overtightens every single screw and bolt he handles, and I over-crease paper. Both faults to forgive, but that's another blog).

Best of all, though, were the bows. His were made by hand, none of those stick-on bows for this man. He bought cloth ribbon especially made for gift wrapping, gathered wraps of ribbon in his hand, snipped the centers, tied them with narrow ribbon, then pulled the loops out, one at a time, toward the middle, with a twist to keep them in place. He taught me this skill, too… came in handy for all those Girl Scout holiday fundraisers.

My dad was a bit of a tease, too. Every day after school, we'd run home and check under the tree. Sometimes there was a package from an aunt or uncle, and we'd get to open the box together and lay out the brightly wrapped packages under the tree. Sometimes there were new packages from Mom & Dad. But often (way too often for us), the packages would be completely anonymous.

One memorable year, every single present under the tree was without a tag. Mom and Dad must have gotten a good laugh out of the sight of their three girls, lying down under the tree, inspecting the packages and trying to figure out who they were intended for. I remember that we tried all sorts of schemes to try and figure it out. Finally we sorted things into piles by package size, and if there were three, we were pretty sure one was for each of us.

Sorting presents was another favorite pastime for us. The packages were as carefully arranged under the tree, as the ornaments were arranged from the branches. We'd sort them by color.. red and green and white and silver, each in their own carefully arranged pile. We sort them by the name on the tag… one pile of presents for Kathie, one for Laurie, one for me. Then we'd mix them all up and start over.

One year, a few days before Christmas, I snuck out to the living room in the dead of night and opened up every single one of my presents. I did, I really did. I was consumed with the need to know, but to this day I wish I hadn't done it, because it spoiled the magic of opening gifts on Christmas morning.


Arctic cold

At noon, I walked 1.4 miles in the brr-r-r cold.  They weren’t kidding when they said that we’d get a return of the arctic air this week: another 26° morning. I checked weather.com; it’s supposed to stay cold and sunny the rest of the week, not reaching much more than 41° during the day. Sunday will start an even colder trend, with chance of snow showers on Sunday, and 5-8° temp spread between day & night temps. As long as it stays sunny, that’s fine with me. I can still walk during the day, and keep wearing my favorite sweaters!


Memories of Christmas trees

One of my strongest childhood memories about the Christmas season is picking out the perfect tree. I know that everyone does this. You visit several lots, hold up and inspect a multitude of trees, inspecting it from all sides to make sure it's "the one." But finding the perfect tree was a really big deal in our house. It had to be an Alpine or Noble fir. Their narrow build was perfect for the space in our living room, in front of the wall of windows that soared from floor to the highest beam. And it could be as tall as it wanted: our vaulted ceilings would take a 20 foot tree (but we never found one that tall).

As important as the Christmas tree was, it seemed hard to get out there and find the tree early in December. Every year there was some reason or another to wait until the last minute (or maybe we were just a family of procrastinators). I remember one memorable year when I was in high school, when my dad & I went out on Christmas Eve to pick out a tree. There weren't many to choose from, but we finally found a Noble that fit the bill… and we liked it in spite of the crooked trunk. Not just a bend or a wow. The entire trunk had so many angles, it was as if the tree couldn't decide which way was up, and kept changing directions as it grew. But the tree stood straight and proud in the stand, and for years my Mom remembered that tree as one of her favorites.

Decorating the tree was an all-day task. While the tree soaked in a bucket of water, Dad would get out the boxes of ornaments and strands of lights from the storeroom off the living room. While we kids untangled the box of wire ornament hangers, Dad would untangle the strands of lights and test them to make sure all the bulbs worked. He never put them away with a burned-out bulb, and always grumbled when he found dead bulbs the next year. It was one of life's mysteries that we never figured out. So he'd send us off to search for the box of spare bulbs, and eventually find it buried in a box of ornaments.

Once the lights were untangled and connected together, he'd start to string them, starting at the top of the tree and working his way to the end. He had his own particular style: lots of lights, so every branch would twinkle, and never ever drape the wires where you could see them. So it took a couple of hours to light up the tree. While he strung lights, Mom would keep us busy decorating sugar cookies at the dining room table, a plan designed to keep three little girls out from under my dad's feet.

Then finally, it was our turn. We got out all the boxes of ornaments, spread them out on the floor, and unwrapped the special ornaments from cocoons of tissue paper or kleenex. These were set carefully out of harm's way, and each was ooohed and aaahed over as they were unwrapped. The striped bells. The fuzzy Santa Clauses with bendable legs that wrapped around a branch. The small painted china bells. The spun glass angel and St. Nick, that went at the top of the tree. The burgundy and silver mushrooms. The clear snowflakes, decorated with bits of gold glitter placed by tiny hands. And all the ornaments that my dad made: balls covered with spun threads, decorated with ribbon and lace and sequins, each one different.

We hung all the favorites first. Everything that was special for some reason went on the tree first, and was carefully placed, scrutinized, and adjusted until it was perfect. Then we filled in with colored glass balls, so the tree sparkled and glowed with rich colors.

Each year my sisters & I claimed one branch as our own, and got to decorate the whole branch. There were always minor squabbles over who got to have what special ornaments for "their branch." My theme was different each year. One year I brought out my tiny horse collection, and turned the branch into Santa's stable.

I can still remember lying on my back next to my sisters, and looking up through the branches at the ornaments that turned a tree into a beautiful expression of one family's love of Christmas. The memories of decorating those long-ago trees with my sisters, my mom and dad, are ones I will always cherish.


Hoar frost

Dave was up by 6:30; I fell back asleep and didn’t get up until nearly 8:00. I drifted in and out, heard the sound of the door on the woodstove as he loaded the firebox with wood. And later, the smell of fresh brewed coffee when it drifted down the hall from the kitchen. That’s when I stretched one last time, and rolled out of bed. I shrugged into sweats and a t-shirt, padded out to the kitchen for a mug, then settled down in my chair by the fire.

Dave asked what my plans were for the day; I didn’t really have anything (except for a walk on the trail, if it ever warms up). When I asked him, he said, “Let’s do something fun!” But we ended up not leaving the house all day. It’s cold again, with hard frost making the pastures and trees white. Beautiful. I was curious about the root for this word, so looked it up.

Hoar frost refers to the white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form on cold clear nights when heat losses into the open skies cause objects to become colder than the surrounding air. The name “hoar” comes from the Old English, and means a sign of old age: the frost makes trees and bushes look like elderly white hair.


First of December

And here we are… the first day of the last month of the eleventh year of this century. It’s Greg’s birthday. The first significant drop in gas prices this year: 10¢ overnight. The first visible signs of frost on the roads. The second coldest day @ 29°. And only 12 more work days this year.


Our token Halloween

Dave sent me an e-mail before he left Everett, to inquire whether we should have a bag of candy, just in case. I had to laugh—every year at the farm, we buy the one token bag of peanut butter cups or Snickers, just in case it’s the year that some brave kid comes up the long private drive and knocks on our door. It hasn’t happened since, oh, about 1987, when our next-door neighbors had young kids. Once they grew and moved away to college, we never got any more visitors on Halloween. Not even from the Gambill family at the end of the road, when Joe’s grandkids got old enough for trick-or-treating (his daughter and her family live with him). Can’t blame the kids… I’m sure they’d rather get a ride to a nice housing development somewhere, and really score some candy!

So after we made some mini-Boboli pizzas for dinner and opened a bottle of red, we each had a couple of mini Snickers bars for dessert, in honor of Halloween.


Sunday drives

I did some research today on the best ways to stretch & mount watercolor paper before painting, and it got me thinking again about Dad, his painting, and exploring the backroads. All those Sunday afternoon drives, three little girls in the back of a light blue station wagon, then a black 1956 Bel Air. A window apiece, kneeling on the bench seat to gaze out the back window. Sunset Highway to Issaquah salmon; Maple Valley Highway and Aqua Barn horses, enormous maples lining the road. It was different then, farms and fields so close to our home, we were in the country before we knew it.

As a horse-crazy girl, these drives were heaven. Dreaming about the house I wished we lived in, one surrounded by green pastures, with a horse in the pasture and a cozy barn in the back.

I have to wonder if my dad drove these back roads with an artist’s eye, looking for the next subject for his brushes and paints…  just as I’m beginning to. Some of his paintings we recognize… we were there when he painted the shore birds and the wind-swept trees at Beachside state park, the Admiralty Head lighthouse at Fort Casey, and the missing mountain at Tipsoo Lake. But where did he paint the rustic red shack by the railroad crossing sign? Or the grey house surrounded by maples in autumn colors? We will never know.

And what about those regular Sunday afternoon drives? Was this the entertainment they could afford, a family of five on an architect’s salary? Or did everyone drive out into the country in those days? There were no stores open on Sunday, no malls, no grocery stores. Just nature… with open arms.


Watercolor books part 2 (or is it 3?)

Reading through about 20 watercolor techniques books has given me a pretty good idea of the basics I need to practice and learn. Now I'm learning that not everyone takes the same approach once they get past the basic techniques—washes, wet-in-wet, wet on dry.

For instance, I only saw the concept of doing an underwash in a few of the books. That’s the best way to color reserved areas of a scene, so when you paint over them, the color shows through. For example, a leaf with light green veins. Instead of masking the veins, then painting the light green, it’s easier to do the light green in a wash, then mask it, then paint the dark areas. And the concept of glazing: very thin washes of color repeated many, many times until the color is built up to the painter's satisfaction.

Then there are the endless discussions of what colors to buy. There's a lot of agreement on certain colors, and much disagreement on what colors should always be blended, never used straight from the tube. Greens, for instance. I've seen fascinating chapters on blending greens from the most unlikely colors, pages of tables that show the slight variations possible. This is one topic I'm itching to explore for myself.

The different approaches to painting skies are fascinating. In one of the last books I read, the painter always uses a sepia wash on the sky before he lays in the blues, and his skies are beautiful. Others reserve areas for white clouds dry and wet around them, to reserve the white. Some paint the entire sky in a blue wash, and use paper towels to blot out the white clouds. I’m anxious to try out all the techniques, and decide what works best for me.

Once I get comfortable with how to paint, I can think more about what to paint. Many of the books have practice material, from brush strokes to using sponges and other tools to get different looks. Quite a few have sketches or templates you can use, and instructions on using different techniques to paint them.

I’m trying to be systematic about this... everyone says that watercolor is the most difficult to master, so until I learn the basics I will ignore the little voice in my head that wants me to jump into the deep end of the pool, and start painting.


Searching for geocaching streaks

No, not streaks in my windows (although there are always plenty of those). I've been bitten by the geocaching streak phenomenon and am on the hunt to find another we can do this year, maybe over the long Christmas break.

A geocaching streak is where someone (or a group) find backroads where they can place a cache every 500 feet (the minimum distance allowed by GC.com). They're fun to find, and if you're trying to build up your numbers, or trying to reach a new milestone, a streak is a great way to accomplish this. So while we watched Bones (these are re-runs for me), I opened up the laptop and took a look. One likely place was just north of Seattle, a ton of caches in little lines, but these turned out to be trails. Bummer. They'll be fun to do next summer, but not what I'm looking for. I spotted a short string between Raymond and the turn to Long Beach, but only 20+ caches. Not worth the drive.

But I hit paydirt when I scrolled east along the Columbia Gorge. Not one series, but 6 of them, all around Hood River. The Cook Underwood trail on the Washington side of the river looks fun; these are some of our favorite roads for the MX-5, and there are 133 caches in the streak. All the caches are on one side of the road, and all are 1.5/1.5 to make them quick.

On the Oregon side, there are five series. The longest are the Westside (100 caches and counting), and the Eastside (another 100 caches). Three shorter streaks have 30, 40, and 25 caches. The group that set up these streaks are adding more caches all the time, so by the time we make it to Hood River, we may need to take vacation to get them all... and we're looking forward to doing jus that!


Choosing wine over oysters

It was a tough choice, but we made it. Shelton Oyster Fest with one group of friends, or take Jim & Ruth to DeLille Cellars with us. We chose the latter. We haven't seen Jim & Ruth for too long, and knew they'd love the wines at DeLille. As part of our wine club membership, once a quarter we get a wine tasting for four, and knew we wanted to share it with them.

It was a fun afternoon. We got all caught up on their house plans, the plans for the house at Benson Lake, and of course, work at “the place.” Ruth is still planning to retire end of January.

Because I-405 is closed in Bellevue (they’re connecting the new SR-520 on-ramps this weekend), we took the back way through Issaquah, Redmond, and came into Woodinville from the south. Perfect, since our first stop is at DeLille Cellars. Jim & Ruth haven’t been here before, and they really enjoyed the wine, especially the reds (we thought they would!). We stayed an hour, talking and sampling, then headed to DiStefano. We have wine to pick up, and ended up staying until after closing. We looked around the cellar room where they have tastings and dinners, admired the riddling rack table on the new patio. I’d love to have one; with a glass top it would make a great coffee table. Either flat or as a wall display, wouldn't it be a great way to display my shell collection?

We spent most of our time sitting around a table on the patio, enjoying the sun (although it’s chilly today) and working through the wines. They’re having a fund-raising event tonight, and were busy getting set up for it. They said we were welcome to stay and enjoy ourselves, but eventually we had to leave. We were getting hungry anyway, and chose an Italian restaurant just east of town. We had a reservation for 7:00,  and were early, so we sat in the bar and kept right on talking until our table was ready. Dinner was excellent, a bit pricey, but the good Italian restaurants always seem to be. We would definitely come back here.


Missing my dad

Last weekend I bought a few watercolor brushes and paints, thinking I’d start to play around with learning the techniques. And when I asked about a case for storing brushes, the clerk showed me a matchstick mat with a cotton lining, individual stitched pockets for brushes, and an elastic tie to hold it closed after rolling it up. And I realized the purpose for the rolled up matchstick placemat that we found with Dad's painting things.

I keep trying to remember more about his art and painting, but the memories are faint. How carefully he packed the army day pack with his supplies, everything in its proper place with no room to spare. Using an old drafting board to mount his paper, instead of a new lightweight masonite board. The way he carefully attached a piece of kraft paper to hang down and protect the painting in progress. I wish I’d paid more attention to how he mixed paints, and the colors he kept in his kit, and what brush types and sizes he had. I wish I’d realized how expensive paper and paints and brushes were, and that maybe the reason he didn’t paint more was because the money went to raising his daughters.

It was during my high-school years that he got involved with Allied Arts, helping to set up their art shows, serving on the board, and submitting paintings. Two of the paintings that my sister has, the shore birds and Tipsoo Lake, I remember winning awards at Allied Arts shows. One of the shows was in the brick bank building in Old Burien, and during the evening, one of Dad’s friends drew a pencil portrait of me (which I disliked, because it was pre-contacts and I didn’t think to remove my glasses). I can’t remember what happened to this sketch; hopefully I have it tucked away somewhere.

My strongest memory of my dad painting is sitting with him while he painted the lighthouse on Whidbey Island, which to this day I persist in calling the Fort Casey lighthouse, not the Admiralty Head lighthouse. This painting is hanging in my living room. I also remember spending an afternoon with Dad and Laurie, sketching a scene along a river (can’t remember where). He said we needed to draw the scene first, then we could paint it. I never made it past the drawing stage.

It’s nice to know that the places he painted live on in those paintings, even though we don’t remember where some of them were. The grey farmhouse that hangs in my bedroom and the red building next to the railroad tracks are surely gone forever, but the lighthouse will always be there. The scenery pictures take me to those places whenver I see them. The shore birds, the windswept trees will always be Beachside State Park. I never visit Tipsoo Lake without thinking about that painting and the missing mountain, and how realistic it is... most of the year, the mountain hides behind the clouds.

I know he was proud of each of us, and loved us, but do you think he was ever disappointed that none of us followed in his footsteps and became artists? Between us we learned so many other art forms, and he was right there with us: sewing, stained glass, batik, photography. I think he would have loved quilting... choosing colors and design and making it all come together would have been right up his alley.

I miss him.

The art of watercolor

A definite bonus of my research into the art of watercolor is getting a better understanding of what Dad went through in order to paint. He painted before the days of nylon packs and lightweight easels, all the multitude of handy bags and carrying straps to make things easier. And his preference for painting out of doors involved a lot of gear: the drafting board, the china plate for mixing paints, the canteen of water. Plus his paints, brushes, towels, paper towels, a folding stool. Everything lugged miles down the beach, or up and down steep hills to get to the perfect spot. I have memories of watching him carefully pack everything into a small canvas pack, each piece in its designated spot with not a bit of space left over.

I have the drafting board, the canvas pack, the army canteen, the stool, the small metal storage box, and the heavy divided plate from Seattle College, before it became Seattle University. The two small brushes didn’t survive the years, but one was a sable brush and must have been treasured. I also have a china palette made for the home studio, a monogrammed weight used to keep his sketches from blowing away, a rectangular plate with round depressions to hold a squeeze of paint, and shallow oblong depressions for mixing. It's crazed and stained. His collection of paints is the most precious to me, because it tells me what colors he preferred to use for his landscape work. Surprisingly, most of the paints are still pliable and could be used.

To my recollection, he never painted at home. Our small house was too small, perhaps... and once there were three small girls running around, there was no safe haven for an artist.



I’m reading the best book, by Northwest author Molly Wizenberg. It's called "A Homemade Life," and it's the title that grabbed my attention as I walked into my neighborhood library. The author also has a blog, called Orangette, which has become a daily read (and is bookmarked here on my own blog).

The book is a funny memoir interspersed with recipes, and I hadn't even finished reading it when I bought my own copy (and a couple more for gifts). The book lives on the table next to my bed, and I read a chapter every night before turning out the light. I can hardly wait to try out some of the recipes. Don't these sound scrumptous?
  • Dutch Baby pancakes with lemon and sugar
  • Roasted eggplant ratatouille
  • Blueberry-raspberry pound cake (also good with blackberries)
  • Coconut macaroons with chocolate ganache
  • Slow-roasted tomato pesto
I do believe my mouth is watering...


Keeping up with blackberries… or trying to

I'm picking blackberries daily right now. They're later than usual, and it's a bumper crop.

From the latest batch I made a free-form pie sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. It was a bit juicy, so it needs modification (maybe more cornstarch in with the berries). Glad I baked the pie inside a ceramic pie plate and not on a cookie sheet as recommended! I scooped servings into bowls and topped each with vanilla bean ice cream... yummy.

The berries are amazing this year. For once we didn’t get a lot of rain, so the fruit is big and dense and has lots of flavor. I made a pie last weekend, and will make another one tonight (probably will freeze it). I’d like to pick enough to freeze several pie’s worth, so we can have blackberry pie this winter.

This afternoon I picked more blackberries and found yet another thing I love about my new refrigerator: the lower pull-out baskets in the freezer are the perfect size to hold cookie sheets full of berries for freezing. How cool is that?

I watered plants, sprayed the volunteer blackberries with Roundup, and scoped out the new “berry” bed next to the chicken coop. I’ll have lots of room for the blueberries, the gooseberry, and the rhubarb with room to spare. Maybe I’ll reserve a long strip next to the coop for raspberries… I’ll have a trellis built by next spring when I can dig plants at Laurie’s.


Blond cats

James is our big American Shorthair cat, and contrary to what you may think, James is a girl cat. When James wandered into our lives, I was listening to the country singer, Jamie O'Neill. Since both had hair with lots of shades of blond, I named our new cat Jamie. It was inevitably shortened to James, but she also answers to Blondie to or Blond Cat.

As long as you rub her tummy when she asks, this cat is content. Here she is, interrupting a session of folding clothes by putting herself smack in the middle, and making sure she's the center of attention. Cats do this so very well...


My favorite farm stand

If you're ever in Kent, be sure to visit Carpenito Bros. It's by far my favorite flower & produce market. Just drive north on Central until you see small mountains of fresh bark, and you'll know you're in the right spot.

In the spring, the place is packed with nursery starts of flowers and vegetables and herbs. In summer, it transitions to a fresh produce market. Most of the fresh veggies come from their own farm, south of town. The place is packed most days, but especially in August when the fresh corn arrives from the farm. They haul it through town on tractor-pulled trailers (John Deere, of course!), which is a sight to see.

My favorite time is the transition zone between the end of flower season and when the fruits & vegetables start to arrive. The hanging planters are spectacular.

I took my sister and brother-in-law there today. We were stocking up for their visit, but first we spent a half hour walking around the flower side of the market.


At least it wasn't a zip line…

It took a couple of days to be good and incapacitated, but once I was and begged off work, I learned I wasn't alone.

I got some chores done on Saturday, then pulled the same muscle in my back that I did last weekend. Bummer. It twinged the rest of the day, but no real bad pain; still I took it easy. Sunday, the big chore was mowing the grass in the morning. It was a gorgeous day, dead quiet in the neighborhood, and the mowing went pretty well. I didn’t prune the fencelines, so had to do some creative ducking. That and 2.5 hours of bouncing over the rough lawn (especially the areas that used to be horse pasture), and I was crippled when I finally finished. The grass looks really good, though! I took a long hot shower, then met the Mayer clan for lunch at Anthony's, then sat with the heating pad in the evening.

On Monday, the blasted back was even worse. It was interesting even getting out of bed, and pulling on clothes wiped me out and sent me to the sofa and the heating pad turned on high. Getting to work was not even an option. Thank goodness I have a boss with chronic recurring back pain; he’ll understand. So I sent off a message, and as I expected, Sean replied in favor of staying home... with a side note that I found highly entertaining:  "Oh man, that sucks… I know all about back pain. You and Glenn, jeez... he is also out today due to a bad back & neck, although it sounds like his was self-induced thinking he was 20 years younger and doing a ‘zip line’!"

A zip line?! It sounds like Glenn had a lot more fun than me, right up until the point he hurt his back, that is!


Books for a country farmhouse (or cabin)

My day-to-day life always seems to include researching something. Sometimes it’s because I want to learn more; sometimes I’m looking for ideas to use in my own life (or house or cabin). This list was made because of my plans to work on the interior design of our cabin, and is a blend of Cottage, Lodge, and Adirondack style.

Our county-wide library system (which in 2011 was declared to be the busiest & the biggest in the country), is an amazing resource for just about anything you want to research. With a little help from the Amazon "look inside" feature, I narrowed my list to these titles, and reserved them from the library. A few, like the Arts & Crafts Cabin, I've read before. This time I may add a couple of titles to the home library.

  • Aged To Perfection: Adding Rustic Charm To Your Modern Home… (Linsley)
  • Arts & Crafts Cabin (Obomsawin)
  • Cabin Fever: Rustic Style Comes Home (Carley)
  • The Cabin: Inspiration for the Classic American Getaway (Mulfinger)
  • Cabinology: A Handbook To Your Private Hideaway (Mulfinger)
  • Cottage: America’s Favorite Home Inside and Out (Connolly)
  • Cottage Style: Ideas & Projects For Your World (Farris)
  • Cottages: The New Style (Trulove)
  • Easy Cottage Style: Comfortable Interiors For Country Living (Bauwens)
  • Farmhouse Book: Tradition, Style, and Experience (Larkin)
  • Found Style: Vintage Ideas For Modern Living (Butler)
  • New Cottage Style: Decorating Ideas For Casual, Comfortable, Living
  • New Country Style (Grigg)
  • Rustic Revisited: Innovative Design For Cabin, Camp, and Lodge (O’leary)
  • Shortcuts To Decorating Country Style (Atkins)
I spent a couple of weeks going through this big stack of books, enjoying the eclectic mix of styles, and seeing how others have incorporated country elements into both old and modern homes and cabins. When I was through, I bought Arts & Crafts Cabin and Cottage Style. But there are a couple of others that I'll add to the library, when we're ready to tackle some bigger remodeling jobs (one day), or when it's time to build our retirement home.


Rustic lighting for a lakeside cabin

Inspired by our visit to our friend's cabin, today I went looking for decorating ideas that would work with our own lakeside cabin. On the Cabela's website, I found the perfect lamps: they’re the same style as the porch lights we installed above the front and back doors. These Grand River Lodge lamps come in three styles: table, floor, and pendant.

For some time now, I’ve been mentally rearranging the furniture in the great room (if you can use that term for a wide-open but small cabin layout). There's a cozy area in front of the woodstove where I keep the Adirondack chairs, and have often thought that the area would be perfect for a cozy upholstered chair and a floor lamp. If I swap the fridge and shelf unit, it would work perfectly. I love sitting there on cold days; so do the kitties. If we move the futon to the second floor, we can make a cozy sitting area there (and an extra bed), and the Adirondack chairs would be a great addition to the living room.

After much e-mail conversation about lamps, we decided to get four table lamps, two for the living room and two for our bedside tables. And we'll get a pair of pendant lamps to hang over the 1950's formica table; Dave will need to do some wiring but says it will be easy to do. Finally, we'll be able to get rid of the ugly fluorescent fixture that hangs there now.


Easy weed control

A satisfying weekend, digging in the dirt (once it warmed up). On Friday, I finished my new corner sitting area: hauled away the branches, leveled the dirt and raked it into the low corner, dumped ant bait on the burgeoning ant hill… grrr.

To control weeds, I used a technique that also works great for establishing new flower beds on top of a patch of lawn: cover the area with layers of cardboard, stake them in place (or hold down with rocks), and top with a thick layer of bark. I've been bringing home boxes from work the past couple of months; nice to have a free source of materials. I used the U-shape pins sold with landscape fabric to hold them in place so they won’t slide around, then sprayed the cardboard with water. This helps them start to break down. It took the 8 bags of bark I bought this week, plus a 9th, to cover the cardboard.

The corner is now finished, and I love the way it looks. I’ll look for a small side table to go between the Adirondack chairs, something big enough to hold a lamp and glasses. I can see myself sitting out here in the evening, reading and sipping a glass of wine, relaxing after a day at work. And it will be a perfect spot for an intimate talk with a friend, a place to escape a noisy party on the patio.

The other task for Friday was digging the lemon balm out of the last 1/3 of the flowerbed, and planted hollyhocks in about half the bed. Besides the salmon pink double that Marion gave me, I also have a dark red/black single, plus rose red and white (both double). Enough to fill the whole bed, and by next year, it should be a solid hedge of hollyhocks.
On Saturday, I finished my other major chore in the yard today: scraping up the former bark pile that became a small garden, right on top of the concrete parking pad! Between the lemon balm, pasture daisies, and a few other perennials. I had quite the little volunteer garden growing there, but it was time to reclaim my parking spot!

I spread half the rich, loamy soil in the flower border, then planted the rest of the hollyhocks, fertilized them, and spread bark, then hosed the dirt off the driveway. I decided to leave one small lemon balm plant at the end of the border, but will chop the roots occasionally to keep it under control. It’s fragrant, and makes a great filler for flower arrangements.



I inherited yet another weekly project status meeting today... that makes four status meetings every week, plus three staff meetings. Oh joy. It’s a wonder any of us get any work done.

When I mentioned it to Dave, he had this to say:  "Symmetry is reached when you spend all your time providing status on work that you didn’t have time to do."


Our girl

Our “girl,” the excessively nice German Shepherd that lives next door, walked out to say hello when I got the mail, as she always does. She’s moving very slowly today, and I shed a few tears as I drove up the driveway. I love this dog, and will miss her very much when she passes. Wish I could remember how old she is (and her name; it's Japanese and never sticks with me). I'll ask Jim next time I see him.

I still remember the time I brought Fallon to the riding ring to groom and lunge her, and the dog ran up the driveway, barking. Fallon freaked out, snapped her halter, and ran around the paddock like an idiot. She wouldn't calm down, so I just sat down on the huge boulder in the ring, and waited her out. It was 30 minutes before I could calm her down and catch her. I found that halter a few weeks ago, when I emptied out my tack trunk and cleaned all the strap goods. I must have saved it for the brass nameplate.

This picture was taken on our patio in a long-ago May, when the rhododendrons were in full bloom. Fallon had just had a bath and grooming, and you can see her dappled coat.


Green Turtle

We decided to drive through Gig Harbor today, and see if any restaurant caught our eye. Because of a street fair, Anthony’s in the middle of the harbor drive was out. But right next to the Tides was a guy holding a big arrow sign for the Green Turtle restaurant, we followed the arrow to check it out, and grabbed the last parking spot. Was it a sign? Is this the best food in town? We decided to give it a try.

Seating was out on a deck overlooking the harbor and a small marina. Looks good so far. We ordered a bottle of Kendall Jackson 2009 Chardonnay, which was yummy. The air was silky and warm, the view was to die for, and sitting outdoors was exactly what we wanted on this beautiful day. Everything was great so far. This isn’t an inexpensive fish & chips restaurant; most of the entrees were mid-$20 range. But we were craving seafood, and ordered tuna (Dave) and scallops & prawns (me). And we shared.

The food was really, really good. But the whole experience was fabulous, so we will definitely be back.


Herons and Eagles

They're not as abundant as in Alaska, but there's a great place to watch eagles and shore birds that's a lot closer to home. Just up the road from Seabeck, a wonderful tiny village on the shores of Hood Canal, is a small inlet that's a mud flat during low tide. And it's a magnet for birds, who come in at tide change to fish.

We were there last Saturday, out for an afternoon of geocaching. When we spotted two photographers with massive telephoto lenses, we pulled over to see what they were watching.

While I pulled out my camera, two juvenile eagles flew right over Dave's head. There were 6 adults flying the currents, and another half dozen sitting at water's edge. The herons were the bravest, though... one landed right near the bridge, and walked across the stream to look for lunch. These are probably my favorite bird. There's a heron rookery near my home, and I love to watch them build their nests in the spring. And if we're lucky, herons will visit our small pond and fish for frogs.

There's lots of room to pull over on the shoulder on both sides of the road. The bridge is narrow and sits at road level. Still, a fellow geocacher said that he recently stood there to watch eagles, and saw an eagle fly underneath the bridge toward the water, swooped down to grab a fish, and kept right on flying out over the Canal. Wouldn't that be a sight to see!


Delete on closing...

This morning I noticed that Outlook wasn't warning me about emptying my Deleted Items folder when it shut down (the setting was probably reset by a Microsoft update pushed down by IT). When I looked at the folder, there were 1300 files in it!

So I stopped by Greg’s office to tell him I broke my own record for deleted items, and he looked puzzled. When I explained, he turned to his computer and checked his own Deleted Items file. He  said, "Geeez," and just laughed... his folder had more than 8000 deleted files in it!

I appreciate the security and efficiency updates that our IT group is able to do for us these days, but sometimes the oddest things get changed in the process. I shared the story with Davey (he's in California again), saying that I need to go look for the location of that magic toggle switch, and get it reset!

His response was a subject-only message: Tools, Options, Other, check “Empty the Deleted Items folder on exiting.”

That is so very, very Dave!


Speed planting

Twenty-one containers all cleared out and topped off with fresh potting soil, all I need is plants. I went in search of all my favorites this morning: lobelia, geraniums, sweet alyssum, petunias, verbena, nicotiana, sweet William, yellow and pink and red lilies, million bells for hanging baskets, plus new lavendar and rosemary to replace some that died over the winter. And another hollyhock for the new border, still in the planning stage.

Two hours and 134 plants later, all my containers are full and fertilized and watered. Only 65 plants to go... I may have gotten just a little carried away, but the gardens and patio are going to look great this year!


Weed Wars

Today was an amazingly beautiful day in my little piece of Washington heaven. The sun was bright, the skies were blue, and it was 60 degrees by 11:30 am. The perfect day to spend in the yard.

The past few weeks I've been clearing out weeds and pruning and spreading bark a few hours at a time, but today was the first full day we both spent outdoors, cleaning up after winter. Dave mowed our acre+ lawn (with only one hiccup: a broken belt on the riding mower that required a trip to the parts store). While he made repairs, I walked through the orchard & pasture areas that we've incorporated into our lawn, and pruned the low-hanging branches of four massive cedar and fir trees. Their branches had grown to nearly touch the ground, which makes it a challenge to mow.

My own gardening task for the day was to finish a new outdoor sitting area in a former garden near the house. A winter storm brought a huge branch down onto the fence that suppported a 35-year-old wisteria, destroying the fence & posts, and damaging the plant. A couple of weeks ago I removed the fence and cut back the wisteria, and gave it a quirky replacement: a two-rail horse jump, using standards I built myself, and rails from our lake property that I scaled and sanded. I love the look. It reminds me of my years as a horse owner and rider, and the reason we bought this property.

Today I needed to find some large rocks for a rockery, and while pruning the cedar trees, spotted a few granite rocks under one of the trees. As I pulled up the first two, I realized that there was a big pile of them, buried under years of needles and soil buildup. Cool! I loaded up the wheelbarrow and hauled them back to the garden, built the small rockery, then backfilled and leveled the ground. It's ready for mulch.

Tomorrow, if the weather holds, I'll tackle a lemon balm hedge that's run amok and crowded out some prize plants: poppies, garden phlox, and peony. These will get a new home in the new border by the sitting area.


Washington's heritage barns

A friend's mother just bought a place in Ellensburg.
Her house is fairly modern, but it’s on an old Ellensburg homestead with two big barns, both dating to pre-1910. We got a tour of the place in January, and I sent Bernie the link to the Washington heritage barn registry. He’s spent the past 5 months clearing out the first barn, and identifying the work that needs to be done. He’d like to make sure the barns are preserved, and hopefully he can convince his mom.

We’ve seen so many historic barns fall into ruin around here, and it’s sad. The huge barn on our road was ignored for years, and it finally started to fall in on itself about 4 years ago. But a lot of the original barns from the Suise Creek settlement (Finnish settlement from 1900-1920 that includes our little farm) still stand. I hope to find the time to research the properties, then photograph the houses and barns. Maybe at least that way, they'll be preserved through photography.


Severe weather alert

When the local news stations say this, I'm skeptical. But when the national weather service says it, I pay attention. The wind is howling, the clouds are blowing east, with bright patches of blue sky quickly covered with dark grey clouds tinged with pink from the sunrise. Beautiful here in the valley, but it's snowing at my house, according to weather.com.

All morning long on Wednesday, we watched the weather stream past the windows, changing all the time. At lunchtime, it was 40 degrees and windy. By 12:05, the wind died down and instantly the clouds settled in. Amy says it's snowing hard in Tacoma, with silver-dollar flakes. Maybe Kent is the eye of the storm, and everything is turning white around us… we'll see when we leave work today and try to get home!

On Thursday, I woke to snow. So I decided to work from home today. When I sent e-mail to my boss, he replied that he was currently sitting behind a spun-out truck, and that I should definitely work from home. It was really cold today; barely above 25 by noon, and only made it to freezing during the day. I didn't venture out all day, didn't even walk down to the mailbox.

All the outlying school districts are closed; many of them are on winter break so it’s not a big deal. I was hoping Flow would close down today, but no luck. It’s beautiful outside, the trees are covered and it looks like Christmas all over again! Forecast is for more snow today, icy cold overnight and clear tomorrow. Rain returns Saturday. Looks like the cabin got a lot of snow; still snowing there.

We’ve got 3-4 inches of snow, and it’s cold so the snow is staying around. It’s supposed to drop to 18 degrees overnight; that’s at the airport, so it will be colder here in the foothills. No new snow today, but there’s been a snow cloud hovering over North Mason county most of the morning. Hope our chimney doesn’t leak like it did last winter.


10 kisses

Dave left for Irvine, CA this morning. It's the first trip of many this year; he'll be part of the flight test team for an aircraft project. He actually sounded pretty happy about doing something different than his normal job; he's especially looking forward to getting his hands dirty, turning wrenches and handling the assemblies.

So while he's turning wrenches, I'll be looking for ways to keep my days full, so I won't miss him so much. I'll be posting an ongoing list of lessons learned, I'm sure. Last weekend, I learned how to charge a car battery; the MX-5 was dead as a doornail.

My litmus test of how excited he is about this trip? I got ten goodbye kisses!


Old car, renewed

Dave's uncle called tonight to chat about his latest project: a complete, from the tires up restoration of a classic 1955 Chevy BelAir. And not just any car--this is the car he bought when he got out of the army in the early 1960's, the car he gave to Dave when he was in high school. It was his first car, and he spent countless hours under the hood and under the chassis, making it run perfectly. When we got together, it was the car he drove in the winter; the rest of the year he drove a 1967 MGB roadster.

When we got married and moved to Tri-Cities, the car came with us. It lived in the garage, and we took it out occasionally. But it wasn't "us" by that time, so when we visited Uncle Tom one fall, we hauled the car to Colorado and gave it back to him.

The car sat in the yard for a few decades, then Tom decided to pour some bucks into it, and restore it back to its original beauty. For the past year, he's torn it down to bare metal, and everything--from sheet metal to upholstery to glass--has been renewed or replaced.

This summer, Dave will fly to Colorado, and he and his uncle will drive it back to the Northwest... the ultimate road trip. I'm going to search out a classic car show for him to take it to... what better way to celebrate all the effort than by showing it off to people who understand what it takes to bring a classic car back to life.


Another funky fabric

Brenda sent a link to the fabrics that will be used in this year's Quilt Shop Hop. Sigh…  another funky fabric. The main fabric is a dark blue, small floral that's OK. But I'm not fond of the border fabric's cartoon-like design. I like the coordinating fabrics, though… might add a few of these to my stash.

Do you think the fabric designers ever thinks about how people might use the quilt? Or (heaven forbid) ask the loyal Shop Hop followers what their preferences are? My take is that after putting in hundreds of hours to make the quilt, I want something I can use on a bed, or hang on my wall. Would you put this quilt on your bed, full of “I’m going to the shop hop!” cartoons? Not me…

2005 Fabric
Fabrics in past years have been all over the map. My favorites (still) are from 2004 and 2005, beautiful florals in completely different color schemes. My least favorite have been the novelty fabrics, with the worst yet from this year. I appreciate the need for variety, so each year's finished quilt is different from the others. But I'll be skipping the event this year.


Cemetery walkers

Through a series of geocaches, I've learned a bit about cemetery walkers. These are folks who have an interest in the old historic cemeteries, and volunteer their time to record information from headstones and post it to an online website. It's something I'd like to look into doing when I retire.

Today I located the Meridian cemetery; it's out Kent-Kangley just east of Lake Meridian, behind the Edline funeral home. I never even knew it was there, but always knew there had to be a community that bore the name—both the Kent-Meridian road and the Kent-Meridian high school took their names from the two communities, but Meridian never became a town in its own right.


Tap, tap, tap

We love the Whistle Stop Tavern, which had been in downtown Renton since the early 1900s in a building next to the tracks and kitty-corner from the old train station. When they lost their lease a few years ago, they  moved to the other side of the tracks in the same neighborhood, within spitting distance (for the very talented in that sport). They negotiated and were able to keep the massive carved oak bar, in use since the beginning of the tavern. The cherry wood bar traveled to the Alaska Gold Rush and back before finding a home in the original tavern.

As much as we loved the original bar, we like the new digs much better. Bigger and brighter, more seating, better parking, and enough room for a separate bar area, which allows them to have a separate restaurant section, too. The adult-only bar area is intimate, surrounded by a chest-high wall that's topped with tap handles. More than you’ve probably seen anywhere else, and from all our favorite microbreweries.

The food is good, and there's a long and varied selection of brews available (which changes frequently, keeping it fun to come back to). I wish it was closer to home; it would be the perfect neighorhood bar.



A cold, clear day. An historic city center. A line around the block. It’s Winterhop in Ellensburg, Washington. Now you might not think of sampling tasty cold beer in the middle of winter, especially in blustery, cold, January in this windy Washington town. But microbrewers from around the Northwest gather here the third weekend of January, and so do avid beer afficianados from said region, eager to sample brews and keep warm by walking briskly through town, from venue to venue.

My favorite stop is the local furniture store, where you can sit in comfy chairs in the big display windows and watch people walk by. I also loved the brick-walled shop around the corner from the newspaper office.  That's where we found Boundary Bay, a favorite brewery from Bellingham. I bought a hoodie sweatshirt that will come in very handy for chilly evenings on the deck at the cabin.

Our last stop was the echoing expanse of the former newspaper office and press room. just around the corner on the main drag through town. It’s a loud, echoing cavern of a room, and it still smells a bit like printer’s ink. Being a former newspaper reporter, I like that. The town still has a newspaper, but it’s printed in the larger town of Yakima, over the Umtanum Range to the south.

AfterHop has become as much a tradition as the beer festival itself. Bernie & Linda provided a big pan of lasagne plus a green salad. Andy & Dave both ordered pizza from Papa Murphy's, which we picked up on the way back to the house. Tonight was a blur of food and beer and music and a lot of talking, and we had a great time. Late in the evening I came upstairs for ice water, and heard someone playing the piano. I stood in the dark dining room and listened to James play. I think this is the first time I've ever heard anyone play Linda's piano. He plays beautifully; would love to hear him tackle George Winston… what he played was in that style, but I didn't recognize it.

Eventually I had to call it quits, and headed downstairs to the guest room. It was very quiet in the basement… except for the door opening and hastily closing in the wee hours, with a whispered "sorry." Someone got lost on the way to the bathroom!


It's not over yet

Snow is on the way… again. I plan to work through lunch, as the snow is expected to start by late afternoon.  Dave sent me the Weather.com precipitation map; I've got it up on my laptop and am watching the areas of snow, rain, and ice move around.

It's getting colder; the area of rain is almost gone. It's all mixed snow & rain south of Puyallup, and snow east toward Mt. Rainier. Looks like it’s circling the farm, getting ready to pounce…  I keep watching the sun moving across the sky, and it’s grey and cold, but no snow yet.  But by At 8:30, our HR department had already sent out a note about the snow forecast, and what to do if they close down due to inclement weather. Didn't even know we had an actual policy.

I've set aside a couple of projects to take home. I can edit the hard copy of the spares catalog, and keep working on the M-127 draft (printed it today). Both need a lot of editing and formatting, perfect tasks to do at home.

By 7:00 the snow was starting to fall at the farm, and it snowed hard until about midnight. At 12:30 the snow stopped, and it was beautiful outside.


Shouldn't remakes be better?

Cold, rainy, snowy (for a while), didn't leave the house today. I cleaned the kitchen, made a double batch of cookies (will take some to Ellensburg this weekend), read my library books, and didn't do much else. We watched a couple of movies this afternoon; a Demi Moore movie about an author who loses her young son and moves to a remote village in Scotland, and the latest Netflix movie, a pointless remake of Predator. I didn't like the original, and although this one had better special effects, it still didn't have a plot. I don't see the point in remaking something if you can't improve it. Seems like a waste of effort to me.


Taking a year off

Last year was so hectic for both of us, we decided to take a year off from the Miata club and catch up on other interests. But it was nice to get a note from some new friends in the club, wondering where we've been, and making sure we're OK.

Even though my focus last year was solely on our big regional event, Backroads to Bavaria, and didn't even host any other events, it really wore me out. Planning an event like this (people coming from all over the west, multiple events throughout the weekend, two banquets, drives, getting Mazda sponsorship, and directing a committee) is a BIG job. I was burned out, and didn't even realize it. Then Dave's work took him out of state for much of the year, and any spare time I had evaporated.

My only regret at taking a low profile is missing our friends in the club, and strengthening friendships with a few particular members that we really "clicked" with. That, and not getting my garage queen out of hibernation more often!


Rude awakening

The first day back at work after a long holiday break is always tough. But today was especially hard. After 18 straight days to call my own, I just wasn't ready to give up that freedom. And I wasn't alone in my thinking... several people told me today that they felt disjointed, not ready to go back to the grind of working for someone else. I overhead one guy say that the time off with family made him think long and hard about his priorities in life. I hope that 2011 will be a year of renewed optimism and enthusiasm for everyone I know and love. I am hoping for the same for myself as well.


Sunkist Lemon Aid Kit

After the successful use of my little Sunkist zesting tool at the Limoncello party, I went searching for it on the Internet. I found several of the zesting graters for sale (for about $20... yikes!), but none of the other pieces.

I finally found a 1976 advertisement for the Sunkist "Lemon Aid" set, which probably came from Sunset magazine. This would have been the timeframe when I got my set, which included the zesting grater, 2 "Snacker" tools, a spout that you screw into the fruit so you can squeeze the juice without using a reamer, a 2-piece reamer, and a recipe booklet... all for $2.00. More than 30 years later, I still have (and use) this cool little kit.

Budding writer

The young daughter of a friend is trying her hand at writing, and has asked for advice. I admire her approach—she just sat down one day and started writing a fantasy fiction tale aimed at the teenage reader. That takes courage, something we tend to lose as we get older and more experienced in how the world works. I've been a technical writer for 20+ years now, supporting various companies with product documentation. I've written software manuals, but my first love is hardware… I love getting my hands dirty and figuring out exactly how to take things apart and put them back together. And I love working with the mechanics and techs, the guys who do the building and testing and the day-to-day work in the shop. But I'm not a fiction writer... not yet, anyway.

Tracey is looking for clues on how to actually get a work of fiction published, as she's quickly getting to the end of her tale, and is anxious to figure out how to get her book out there. She's found that there's a ton of information on the Internet, but it's a tangled forest of often-conflicting information, and she'd rather talk to people who have been there. I've not attempted to publish anything I've written, outside of my professional work, but have researched the subject. I hope my advice will help her come up with a plan.

She's also writing a blog, which showcases her crochet design work. This girl is talented! She loves animation of any kind, and can look at a cartoon character and figure out how to create it in yarn. Never having mastered crocheting (sewing and quilting are more my speed), I think her work is very impressive. You can check it out here:  http://mostlynerdycrochet.blogspot.com/


Limoncello party

For the first time in about a decade, we actually went to a New Year's Eve party last night. Our friends, Jim & Julie, invited an assortment of friends and family to come over and make Limoncello, an Italian liqueur made (essentially) from Everclear, lemon peels (with no pith), and sugar.

Dave got kudos for making long, narrow strips of peel, and everyone loved the truly antique zesting tool that I brought. It's part of a set of zesting & juicing tools I got free from Sunkist, probably around 1979. This little zester can score the fruit and peel off the skin, and was the perfect tool for scraping any remaining pith from the lemon strips. Karen loved it so much, she was on her smart phone halfway through the zesting process, trying to find one on eBay.

Our reward for helping with all the zesting was a tasting of last year's effort, which was wonderful. We'll be coming back in a few weeks for a bottling party, and will get our own bottle to take home!

Thanks, Jim & Julie... we had a great time!