It's all about focus

I enjoy the transition to winter each year, the chance to scale down my daily life. Inward vs. outward. Inside vs. outside. Small steps, not long walks. Roomscapes instead of landscapes.

My summertime pursuits always seem to be large-scale. Weeding flowerbeds. Planting patio containers. Mowing an acre of grass. Pruning fruit trees. Waging war on the blackberries. In winter I can enjoy the weather outside, but focus on things like cooking, quilting, reading, writing. Build a fire, and the whole house feels cozier. Put on a pot of stew, and the whole house smells yummy. Small things, big results.

One thing in my life that makes the transition from season to season is photography. Whatever the season or weather, my lens is turned to the world outside the four walls of my little farmhouse. Just at home, there's plenty to focus on. The towering wall of cedar trees behind the tiny well house, which protects the original hand-dug well for the farm. The birds that enjoy free food, year round. The flower gardens, the orchard in full bloom. In years past, horses galloping in the pasture. Broad views across our narrow valley, beautiful with its green pastures and trees that change with the seasons, never boring.

My camera is always close by, and when I leave the house, it's always with me. You just never know what you might find. I spent part of the Christmas break sorting through my photo archive, and realized how many pictures were just happenstance, being in the right place at the right time. Like the kids playing in the town fountain plaza on a 100 degree day. Or the Merlin that's currently in my blog header, sitting in a branch just a few feet away. The herons flying across the road in front of me, each carrying a branch for nest building. The local truck farm full of tractors and pickers, with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Each day is a new chance to see something remarkable, and I can hardly wait to see what I'll find.


My kind of down time

Today is one of those winter days I just love...

It's chilly and grey and rainy. Even with the blinds open to the outdoors, there isn't much light coming in. The neighbors are trying to burn limbs and brush from last week's storm; all they're doing is filling up our country neighborhood with dense smoke, making it even more gloomy. It's too soon to start any serious clean-up efforts. I'll wait for a warmer, drier day.

We still have snow on the ground, and under the thick layers of downed fir and cedar branches there's a thick layer of ice. Not solid ice, this is the chunks of ice that fell out of the trees as the branches broke and came crashing down. This morning I made a quick survey of my herb garden and perennials near the house, and with each step I could hear the crunch of ice underfoot. So far, my gardens seem to be in pretty good shape. All the small branches and fir tips piled up around the plants, protecting them from the big limbs that came down on Thursday afternoon.

Since I can't work outside, I'm doing my version of nesting... making my home cozier and warmer, better organized for winter, and full of good smells from the kitchen. Progress so far:
  • Brought home an armful of new cookbooks from the library to read through
  • Cleaned the house, in my endless attempt to keep ahead of dust from the woodstove
  • Started a batch of barbecued ribs cooking in the Dutch oven. The house smells yummy!
  • Sorted through my photographs of last week's storm
  • Lit a fire in the woodstove, to keep the gloomy outdoors at bay
  • Started the new Lee Child book, Running Blind


Photographs of Winter

I've gradually been going through my photographs of last week's snow and ice storms.  I'm also looking through my photo archives, looking for older photos of the same views, to show the contrast between the farm today, and how it looked before it was shattered by the storm. When I can, I'll upload more.

This view shows the end of the orchard, the pasture fence, and two birch trees brought to the ground by ice. The tree arching over from the right was actually laying on the ground during the height of the ice storm. It arched over the roof, over another birch three, and the fence before coming to rest on the ground. The tall trees in the center are three 100 ft. cottonwoods that grown by the pond, about 200 ft. from where I was standing. Limbs that came down out of these trees were the size of small trees, 6-7 in. diameter and 30 ft. long.


Snow day

I got up a couple of times during the night, checking on snowfall... nada. Very disappointed. But when I got up at 5:00, it was snowing, and we had another couple of inches to add to the snow already on the ground. And at 5:15, it was official: the inclement weather message was up at work: closed for the day. Yeah! Think today I'll take a walk through the back roads near our house, and take some photos.

I took this picture one around 8:45, still almost dark because of the heavy snow. It looks out on the original well house for the farm, built to match the main house. We already have nearly 5 inches of snow.

Just after 10:00 am, I snapped this one of Phoebe. It looks out on our well house, but all her attention was on the birds fighting for their chance at the bird feeder, and at the seeds I'd scattered on top of the crusty snow (both just out of sight of the camera). You can see how hard it's snowing.


Storm of the century? Wait and see...

We both worked from home today; thought we may as well, since we came home from work yesterday, prepared to do just that. We watched it snow, rain, sleet, blow all day long; even saw a couple of snow plows on our country road (or was it the same plow, twice?) It's a huge beast; glad the county has a chance to try out its paces in a real storm.

Anyway, it's 2:45, and the sun is out! Still, we're on storm alert. All day long, the weather channel has been updating the story with superlatives: Major Northwest snowstorm. An enormous snowstorm.  As much as 8-12 inches possible in lower elevations. Major, potentially historic, winter storm. Earlier in the day, they actually used the word "Epic."

What really got my attention, though, was when the National Weather Service started to compare this storm to the November 1985 storm and snowfall. That was the winter we moved to our small horse farm, and we had snow on the ground... a lot of snow... from November until after into January. Our well froze up, and we had to haul water from my mother-in-law's house. I melted snow on the stove, so the horses would have water to drink. The nearest plowed road was 3 miles away, so getting to work or to the grocery store was a major effort (and pain in the neck) involving tire chains and tarps as bookends on each end of the drive.

When the sun is shining into my home office and there's plenty of blue sky to the west, it's pretty hard to believe that major snow is coming. I remind myself that our winter weather comes from the north, not from the west. Still, I'm prepared to take the experts' word for it. We should know later in the day, if snow starts to fall and this time, doesn't stop. I'll keep you posted. And if the snow does stack up, I'll post photos. Because there's nothing more beautiful than the farm in winter.

We don't typically get a lot of snow around here, and the historical list of single-day snow totals is pretty impressive. These are the 10 biggest totals; I've listed them by year.
  • Jan 13, 1950  20 in. & Jan 26, 1950  10 in.  Before my time. This must have been quite a January... two separate storms dropping 30 in. of snow, just two weeks apart
  • Feb 28, 1962  7 in.
  • Dec 23, 1965  8.9 in.  I remember this one... this much snow, just two days before Christmas, was incredible!
My first year of high school... look at these three storms: within a month, 3 record-breaking days
  • Dec 31, 1968  9.3 in. 
  • Jan 27, 1969  14.9 in. 
  • Jan 29, 1969  7 in.

  • Jan 25, 1972 7.9 in.  My first year of college
  • Dec 26, 1974 8.8 in.  My sister and her fiance flew home from Australia to get married, and we woke in the wee hours to find all this snow and ice, and Peter missing. He'd gone out walking through the neighborhood; he'd never seen so much snow at one time.
  • Nov 21, 1985  7.8 in  On the farm, melting snow for horses to drink, and trying to stay warm
  • Nov 27, 1985  7.6 in. | Ditto



I spent an hour or so today, searching through my photo archive for pictures for my blog header, then cropping them to the right size and aspect ratio. My intention is to change the photo as the seasons progress, and I will... but I couldn't resist putting up this little guy for a while.

Merlins are small birds of prey that have quite happily adapted to life near suburbia. I spotted this one completely by accident. I was in Bellevue for an appointment, and just as I finished backing into a parking spot, I turned my head to the left, and there he was, about 8 feet away. I pulled out my camera and snapped two pictures before he flew away.

Since he won't be in the header for long (he'll be back this fall), I've included the picture here.

Back-to-back books

I haven't done this for a long time, at least not with fiction. Two days, two novels. And still found time to write about 20 blog entries, take a walk on the trail, bring in firewood, and cook. I was just in tune with the fiction universe for some reason.

On Friday I read the first novel from Australian writer, Kate Morton. It's called The House At Riverton, and is set in England, beginning at the turn of the last century. It's the third book I've read of Morton's, and I love the mix of history and family saga, ala The Forsyte Saga and the best of R.F. Delderfield. But instead of a long tale spanning a century, Morton tells the story through the eyes of a 98-year-old woman, a former housemaid of the English country house. For a first book, it's pretty darn good, with fascinating characters and a talent for rich description of surroundings and events. If I'd read this one first, I would definitely have signed on to read the rest of her books (which are even better). Her other books are The Forgotten Garden (my favorite) and The Distant Hours.

On Saturday I read the newest Jack Reacher novel from Lee Child, called The Affair. It's also the oldest in terms of telling the tale of how Reacher became the wandering, problem-solving rescuer he is in all the subsequent books. I have always loved this character, and couldn't put the book down.

On a side note, I just learned that one of the Reacher books will be a movie starring Tom Cruise... what were they thinking? One reason Reacher is the intimidating guy he is, is because he's 6'6" and over 200 pounds. And they pick the smallest actor in Hollywood to play him?

Oh, well... don't let this stop you from reading the books. I recommend starting with The Affair, a prequel that is set 6 months before the first book in the series. Then read the rest in order of publication, starting with The Killing Floor.


Tucker barn

I've always loved old barns, in any shape or size (or condition). It's sad that this piece of our history is vanishing, and and because of this, I spend a fair amount of time take photographs of barns when I come across them. I was thrilled when my sister told me about Washington's Heritage Barn project. The barn on their small farm on Vashon Island, built c. 1910, was accepted into the registry in round one of this project to identify and help preserve barns in Washington state..

My sister has collected photos and paintings of their unique barn. I think this is a fairly early photo of the barn with an open run-in shed to the left, and before the milking building was added:

The scene in this painting looks similar to the barn of today. Somewhere along the line, the shed was enclosed, and a large milking building was added.

The Green River valley was once full of barns: dairy barns, hay barns, horse barns, hop barns. Most of them are gone now. Dave and I used to take drives through the valley just to photograph the barns, and we especially loved the hop barns. There's still a small barn of this type, with a center tower) in Fall City if you're interested. It's across the river from town; just cross the bridge and head toward Duvall, and you'll see it on the left.

If you're curious about the heritage barn project in Washington State and want to learn more, you can check it out here:  http://www.dahp.wa.gov/heritage-barn-register

The site has links to various publications, including an annual report of the barns accepted into the registry. The Round One document probably has the most barns listed, along with photos, and is fascinating to read: http://www.dahp.wa.gov/sites/default/files/RoundOneBarns.pdf

This document has photos of different barns, rooflines, and outbuildings, sort of a key to help you identify different types of barns:   http://www.dahp.wa.gov/sites/default/files/HeritageBarnRegister_Types.pdf


18 days

It's tough going back to work after more than 2 weeks off. It was a mostly wonderful 18 days of family, friends, good food, wine tasting, sleeping in to 6:00 am, cuddling with Davey, cooking, reading, and watching movies. The not-so-wonderful days were spent with a rotten cold, sore throat, and laryngitis. But the down time was good, even if I didn't feel great all of the time.

My wish list for the holiday break was long, and because of my cold, I didn't make much progress…