Twenty-three degrees

It was chilly cold when I got up this morning, fed the cat, and put the kettle on for tea. The house was quiet and so was the morning outside my windows. I laid a fire in the wood stove, fixed my tea, and settled down with the Tom Clancy I've been trying to finish, Command Authority. The sun came up on a glittery, frosty world... the day will be a beautiful one.

I think a drive into the foothills will be on my list today... this may be my last chance to take out the MX-5 this winter, so I should take advantage of a drive on the back roads and some time with my camera.

It's New Year's Eve... how did we get to the last day of the year so quickly?


Books for December

When the new Diana Gabaldon showed up, I dropped everything to read it. At 800+ pages and a long list of people who wanted it, I wouldn't be able to renew it.

Then back to Laura Lippmann:  After I'm Gone, Girl in the Green Raincoat, The Most Dangerous Thing, I'd Know You Anywhere

And a quick and fun book by Rosie Genova, Murder and Marinara

The beginning of the month, I picked up a few Photoshop Elements guides to go through. The end of the month, still haven't gotten through them. But there's always January.


Just one word... 2014

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.
Marcel Proust

At the beginning of 2014, I decided to play along with a challenge from one of my favorite blog writers: to pick a word to live by during the year. I gave it much thought, and since there was a new dSLR to play with, road trips on the horizon, and maybe a trip to the U.K., I chose "Discover."  To pay extra attention to all that's new and unique in the world around me. To look at familiar places and brand new ones with new perspective, always making sure to look through the lens of my camera.

The U.K. trip didn't happen, but in its place we took a long road trip to western Colorado to visit family, and got to know "the kids" in a new way, as adults. And we discovered a new part of Idaho, with a spectacular backdrop of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons... and learned to fly fish on two of the West's best rivers.

Time with family, with friends, on the road in my MX-5 roadster, on the river in waders with my fly rod in my hand.

The year could not have been much better.



It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.

My sister's house was filled with stars for Christmas
Golden stars on the trees, that let the light shine through
Paper stars hanging from mossy branches, one for each day of December
Stars in the eyes of each child who gathered there, from two to sixty five

Dreams were shared here. Dreams and memories, laughter and love.


On Christmas day...

We packed up James and headed for the ferry, hitting the sweet spot between two boats with just 20 minutes between them. The sun was out (but the mountain wasn't).

When we got to my sister's house, James made a beeline for her favorite hideout.

Ella showed off her Christmas gifts, including a book and paper dolls based on the Nutcracker. She was in the island production of the ballet a couple of weeks ago.

Caroline showed me the stuffed animals that Anna made for the two girls.

Then Ella posed with her bunny.

We made towers and houses and barns with the magnetic building blocks.

We talked and laughed and shared, then opened stockings. We took turns scratching off our lottery tickets (my brother-in-law gives them to everyone, and it's become one of our favorite traditions). Vivian won on 4 of 5 blackjack lines! (But not on this ticket... this was mine, which sadly didn't win.)

Ella kept trying to bribe me to let her open her present, but we made her wait until everyone was there to see. I thought she'd burst, but finally her exhausted mom got up from a much-needed nap, and the fun began.

We made canning jars of cookie mix and soup, lemon-sugar hand scrub for the girls, and dry salmon rubs for the boys. And a few silicone kitchen tools, like small collapsible funnels and spatulas.

For the little girls, I made matching games using scraps of quilting fabric and felt. Twenty pairs of tiles make for a pretty challenging game, but when they're older and feeling very clever, they can mix their tiles together and have forty pairs to match up. 

I was amused to watch Ella rip her bag open without unfastening the top, and spill the tiles onto the floor. Vivian asked her mom unfasten the top, then she very carefully shook the bag until the ribbon-wrapped stack of tiles slid out. They're so different, these lovely little girls.

A game was set up immediately on the floor in the bathroom, and games continued all evening long, with creative Ella coming up with all sorts of ways to play the game.

James spent all day sleeping in a basket on the windowsill in the bathroom; my sister's cats came in to check on her, use her litter box, and check out her food. Pip climbed into one of the baskets and kept her company for a while. James kept trying to squeeze into the small basket; I kept telling her she didn't fit, but she wouldn't listen. At least she didn't sleep behind the toilet all day.

My sister and I headed for the kitchen to start dinner, interrupted only once in a rather spectacular way: Vivian's tummy rebelling against snacks and treats and a spinning game. Since dad has the flu, we were all afraid she'd also come down with it, so Anna changed her clothes, and took her home. Viv was pretty quiet, poor thing. But I managed to coax a smile out of her.

We finally headed for bed about 12:30, still wide-awake but giving in anyway.

It was a wonderful day. I hope your Christmas day was amazing, too.


Christmas eve...

Come gather around at the table
In the spirit of family and friends
And we'll all join hands
And remember the moment
'Til the season comes round again

One night, holy and bright
Shining with love from our hearts
By a warm fire, let's lift our heads high
And be thankful we're here
'Til this time next year

May the new year be blessed with good tidings
Til the next time I see you again
And we'll all join hands
And remember this moment
And we'll love and we'll laugh
In the time that we have
'Til the season comes round again

exc. "Til the Season Comes Round AgainRandy Goodrum, John Barlow Jarvis


Wrapping Christmas

As much fun as it is to choose (or make) Christmas gifts, designing the packaging and trims and tags is just as much fun for me. Really.

I figure I learned this from my dad. The gifts he gave were works of art, maybe because he was both an architect and an artist, and there's a bit of both skills required. You should have seen the wedding presents he wrapped. Gorgeous.

But not on Christmas. With three daughters and not a lot of free time, it was more about wrapping paper to hide what was inside, and not so much about the perfect ribbon. The gifts intended for others were gorgeous, but we never minded. And some of his skill rubbed off on us. Not a lot. But some.

For my own family, I don't wrap anymore. Instead, our gifts go inside the 12 boxes that nest together for storage, and stack up as a gorgeous tower for the holiday season. I get half, and D gets the other half. Easy.

But I follow in my dad's footsteps when it comes to wrapping gifts for everyone else. Fun. Really.


In the bleak midwinter

When the December days turn cold and dark and icy, I always think of this Christmas song. It is, and always has been, my favorite. The melody is haunting, and the lyrics are perfect as we hover on the brink of winter. 

A lot of musicians have made this song their own, including James Taylor and Sarah MacLachlan and Shawn Colvin. But my favorite version is the one on Windham Hill's Winter Solstice III, sung by Pierce Pettis. It is absolutely, perfectly beautiful.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.
In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.
What then can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
And if I were a wise man, I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give him, I will give my heart.

The lyrics come from a poem by English poet Christina Rossetti,
written prior to 1872. It was set to music by Gustav Holst,
and became part of the English hymnal in 1906.


Jump-starting Christmas

The highlight of the week was the gathering of my husband's family, to celebrate the Christmas season. Our assignments were simple: bring food and drink, and a wrapped gift for our first Secret Santa gift exchange.

Smoked salmon and pea salad, chicken pot pie and vegetables, sourdough bread and artichoke dip, cheese and meat and olives. A table full of goodness, plus a table of chocolate and sour-cream lemon goodies... fortunately located in a separate room. Our Cultura Merlot and Darby red stood side-by-side with whites from Ste. Michelle and reds from 14 Hands.

The girls were given the camera and instructions to photograph everyone and everything, so the rest of us could pair up and talk, and try to catch up on our busy lives.

I especially loved my time with my niece, Jessica. She's finished with her master's degree in library science, and started down the path toward a new career. She also has a new hometown and a new job, and it was fun to catch up with her, and get better acquainted with her boyfriend, Kidron.

Our youngest niece, Emily, kicked off the gift exchange, which was hilarious. First we had to sort out the rules, because everyone had their own ideas of how a Secret Santa should work. Then we all drew a number. Emily picked first, and as each of us got a turn, we wondered why we never did this before now.

I think I ended up with the best gift, this nifty little Jackery battery. Just charge it via an AC adapter with a USB connector (or a laptop), and it will add ten hours of life to a smart phone. It's small enough to slip into a pocket or purse, and will give me some peace of mind when I'm out all day with my camera.

They say timing is everything, and it sure was true for me. In three quick turns, it was won by Ken, claimed by Bruce, and retired by me. Since the gift had been claimed twice, no one could take it from me.


Feed me...

Yesterday I filled the feeders, after ignoring them for more than a week (my bad). Then I watched. From the bathroom window. And from the kitchen. And I waited.

Today as I did dishes and watched out the windows, a tiny sparrow flew from the snowberry bush to the feeder that hangs nearest the orchard fence, the one that Jeromy and Ella made for Christmas a couple of years ago. He landed and set it swinging, and flew off right away. But he was back, with his friends.



"Vision is a way of seeing and representing the world through our own eyes. It is something we acquire in the course of our own photographic journey rather than copying from others. We learn how others see by studying their work and up to a point, imitating it. But if we are to develop our own vision and style, we must look at ourselves and how we view the world."   – Nigel Baker

I am fairly certain that I'm not the only photographer who looks at websites and blogs, at photograph hosting websites like Flickr and Instagram and Shutterfly. I am intensely curious about the work of other photographers, sometimes to the point of spending hours looking at photographs, to see what caught their interest, and how their imagination... and skill... led them to take that particular image. The hunt for inspiration can easily fill a rainy winter day, when my camera stays on the shelf, waiting for a break in the weather.

Mostly I search for beautiful landscapes, which have always been my passion. When I find an image that really speaks to me, I dissect it. What is the angle of view? Was the photographer standing high above or were they making a belly shot? Where was the light coming from? Was it morning light, or the last few hours of evening? What about the composition appeals to me? If I was standing on that spot, what would I change? And I take that knowledge into the field and put it into use.

In the process of learning from others, I've learned the most important trick of all:  to use my lens to help me find the photograph. So many times I've thought a view was boring, then looked at the same landscape through the lens, and found a beautiful photograph.

This works especially well for smaller views. A single branch or leaf, a raindrop glistening on the edge of a flower, a rim of frost on a cluster of leaves. Then learning to shoot these close-ups with a blurred background, to make the image pop. I've learned so much about macro photography from some of my favorite bloggers.

Setting up vignettes of small items to photograph isn't really my thing, but sometimes I come across some really good ideas and think, I would never have thought of doing that. Like using an old book as a prop to hold some small interesting item. The book provides a lot of texture that enhances the main point of the photograph... and I think it makes the photograph more memorable.

So take a few minutes and explore. Your photography will be the better for it.


Comfort food...

Winter brings it out in me, the need to be in the kitchen, stirring pots of soup and pasta sauce on the stove. Warm food for weekday meals in the coming weeks. I think it's a memory activity, from the couple of years we had a huge garden and the tomato harvest numbered in the thousands. And eggplant and cabbage, lettuce and snap peas, carrots and celery... the perfect ingredients for soups and big cast-iron pots of vegetables and lots and lots of pasta sauce.

Today that garden, if I were to plant one, would also include Brussels sprouts and beans and onions and garlic. And it would still have tomatoes... lots and lots of tomatoes.

In some ways I miss having a garden. But as long as there are farm stands, I can still cook with produce picked the same day, from a farm just down the road. And that's almost as good.


Canning jar pincushion

Christmas can complicate blog posting... when I'm making something intended for a gift. I get anxious to share... but have to be patient until after the gift-giving is done.

There are a lot of very good tutorials on the web for turning a basic canning jar into a handy pincushion, so I won't do a step-by-step tutorial here. Instead, these are the changes I made when putting my own stamp on the final design.

I used quilting cotton fabric, because I have a lot of scraps to choose from. I think using sturdy but reasonably thin fabric is best. If you build up too much thickness between lid and jar, you may have problems getting it to engage the threads when screwing it on the jar.

I had a small piece of this sewing-themed fabric tucked away in my scrap bins. I thought it was the perfect choice for my first attempt. Cut the fabric about 1-1/2-in. larger than the jar ring.

Baste the edge using large but evenly spaced stitches. This is important: if you plan to leave any of the gathered fabric visible, even stitches will create gathers that are about the same size.

Start with a small handful of batting. Pull up gathering thread slightly, put batting inside, then insert the lid with porcelain side out. Pull gathering thread tighter, and see if there's enough stuffing. Play with this; you want the fabric to be tight and the stuffing even.

When you're happy with the amount of batting, pull up the gathering thread, and stitch completely around the opening again. This will even out the gathers, and make it possible to get it snugged up tightly. Knot the thread. Hint:  don't try to pull tight against just one row of gathering threads; you may break the thread and be back to square one.

I wanted the underside of the lid to look cute, so I cut a circle of felt slightly smaller than the lid (mine ended up a bit too small). With the small quilted jars I used, the bottom of the jar was the perfect size for a template. Just make sure to trim the felt so it won't be on top of the glass rim.

Mark the center of the felt, then sew a cute button in the center.

Run a bead of glue around the inside of the rim, then push the cushion through the ring. Do this before you glue the felt circle in place: you'll need to hold the felt to the fabric until it starts to set, and the ring gives you a good holding place for your fingers, while you use your thumbs to push against the felt.

The last step is to glue the felt circle in place, then screw the lid onto jar. This will hold everything in place while the glue dries.

That's it... you're done.  Put a few pins into the top, fill the jar with pins, and make another one. And another. And...


Moments... Friendship

This week, rain came in waves punctuated with blue skies. I sneaked away for a walk on the trail.

It was the only walk I got this week. Instead, it was a week to spend time with friends, catching up on our lives. On a rainy Wednesday I met an old friend for breakfast, which we didn't eat... we were too busy talking. Hours later we'd done a pretty good job of catching up, with much left to say the next time we get together.

Slowly, the farmhouse is getting decorated for Christmas. There are poinsettias in the kitchen and living room and bathroom... white and red, beautiful. There is a forest of small trees on the cabinet in the living room, bright with lights and ornaments. Anna's garland hangs on the antique sideboard in the kitchen, the first piece of furniture we bought when we married, the piece that has shared our lives since we were "we," traveling from house to house, town to town, year to year. The house will be magical for a few weeks.

After a monster windstorm hit too close to home, we drove out to check the cabin, then spent the afternoon with friends. Their new home glows on the edge of the lake, and we watched the late afternoon light paint the sky, slowing turning to black lit by stars.

My homemade Christmas is nearly completed, and I spent the afternoon in my farm kitchen, cleaning, organizing, decorating. I wanted to bake cookies in the worst way. Soon, there will be oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar. But not yet.

My new silicone mug cover keeps my tea hot longer, and will also keep James out of my water glass.


She eats...

And she sleeps.

That's my cat.


The road less traveled

The window was small yesterday, that time between breakfast and sunshine, and the late morning rain. I waited too long, and my walk was cut short. It is my favorite walk, and I'm thankful every time that this piece of heaven is right in my neighborhood.

The woods are so green, in spite of it nearly being winter, with leaves on the ground. The mild days have encouraged the grass to grow, and it's bright green, the color of spring.

I took a walking stick with me today, in case the trail was muddy. It's the perfect walking stick for hiking, finished half natural with bark intact, half rubbed with a piece of beach glass until silky smooth. The stick came from the beach near Neah Bay, nibbled off by a busy beaver, and I love that one end still has the teeth marks.

The horse trail was wet and full of leaves, and the springs were running strong. But the trail is still pretty dry, so no wet feet yet.