This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Easter With Evie

Easter morning with Evie was anything but a sure thing. She had been feeling sick for several days, throwing up, not eating and a general malaise.

We drove down to Seattle anyway because, well, we just miss opportunities to go see her and her mommy and daddy.

After stopping at a couple of boating stores, we headed over to the house about 3:00. Evie and her parents were all taking naps so we let ourselves in and sat, quietly waiting for them to stir.

Evie is always slow to wake up. She needs some quiet time to shake off sleep. She's also been a little shy around us when we first arrive the last few times. I always wonder what she must think happens to us when we go away and then reappear every few weeks.

Her mom and dad decided to go out to dinner that night so we took care of Evie. By the time they left, Evie was fine and waved bye to them happily. We had a great time playing before it was bedtime. She went down easily, being very tired.

But in the middle of the night she began to cry. We figured her mom and dad would come down and take care of her, but as time went on no one came downstairs. We finally went into her room when we heard her say, Clean UP! We gathered her up to find her covered in vomit and very unhappy. We comforted her and got her into new jammies. I stripped her bed and remade it. We had also gone upstairs and knocked on mom and dad's door to wake them. Turns out the baby monitor had pooped out and they didn't hear all the commotion downstairs. They got Evie settled down only to have her throw up again. It was a long night for all of us.

Easter Sunday, dad had gone off to play the organ at church. I'm sure he was in no mood for the gig but he had to go. The rest of us were able to sleep in a bit late. Evie woke up a bit more out of it than usual but soon snapped out of it and seemed more herself.

When dad got home we handed Evie her Easter basket with a puzzle, some Peeps and a Cadbury egg.

Mom went out to hide the decorated Easter eggs in the back garden. Evie had a ball finding the eggs and then hid them herself and fund most of them before looking interest and going in the house. Mom and dad prepared a delicious Sunday roast, a tradition in their home and in most British homes--roast beef, gravy, Yorkshire puddings and parsnips. Yum!

We decided to stay the night again in case Evie needed to stay home the next day, normally a school day. As it turned out she was feeling pretty good though still not eating much. So we said our good byes and waved as she and her mom drove off to school.

We headed home stopping off at a favorite breakfast spot before heading home. Beth's Cafe has been open since 1954, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and it looks like it. It is truly a "joint" in the old style use of the word. Famous for their 12-egg omelettes and all you can eat hash browns, this is a place you have to try when out on Aurora (old Hiway 99) Avenue.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

From My Window

I live on a mountain, really a hill, in northwest Washington state. A hill that looks out towards the Cascade Mountains and Mount Baker.

As I sit writing these entires, I sit at my desk overlooking tall fir trees swaying in the spring breeze. The quiet street below is lined with lovely flowering plum trees covered withpink blossoms dancing in the wind like pink popcorn popping as they dance trying to hold onto their blossoms for a few more fleeting days each spring. Then there are the fluffy dark clouds scudding by bringing the threat of rain and, all too often, the reality of rain so common here. There are the promising blue openings that tease us with a bit of sunshine only to disappear when more clouds glide into view.

Other days the clouds sink in amongst the trees like puffy bits of fluffy cotton balls, clinging for dear life and painting a stunning view I never get tired of.

There is nothing quite so beautiful and or as eerie sounding as the wind blowing through pine trees. You know what I mean if you've ever heard that distinctive sound that makes the hair on tha back of my neck stand up, especially on the darkest night or when the full moon peeks from behind a cloud or between the branches.

Not everyone is happy living up
here in the northwest. Too, rainy, too, cloudy, too, cold too much of the time. But this place became home as soon as I laid eyes on it some 20 years ago. No other place has the same peaceful, fulfilling calming effect on my soul. I have traveled to six continents and explored many countries on most of those unique, far off places. Many of them have had a deep and emotional impact on me as I explored them and met their people. Then there is your home town. I spent my growing up years in central California. They say you are always drawn back to home. That there is no place like home.

But here is home for me and no other place has the same draw for me. When I leave it, I am always glad when I return, can't wait to return. In fact, I have no deep interest in traveling to other places that take me far from here, as I felt most of my life.

Now, it is my quiet home on the hill and the comfort of my Key of Sea sitting in the harbor to the west, that give me the most satisfaction. For those who can't wait to head off to warmer climates, Florida or Arizona, winter birding in the warm southern sunshine, I say, go. But here on my hill I see and feel the seasons. The smells, the sights and sounds of each--fall, with its colorful foliage and crisp evening air, the snow fall in winter, the riot of color from spring flowers and the short, stunningly brilliant summers.

Oh, ummm, excuse me, but the view outside my window is calling me. Bellingham.....   

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tree Down!

So, after 20+ years of watching this fir tree grow from a 15 foot baby to a 50 foot giant and watching as the root system spread across the ground, I finally had to call in a tree guy. He showed up and recommended that I let him feather the tree. That entailed having one of his guys climb the tree and remove enough of the branches to allow it to more easily withstand the windy conditions we get up here on the hill several times a winter.

I hoped that the feathering would do the trick but two years later the roots running across the ground were pulling up further above the ground and was getting more nervous about what could potentially happen if we left the tree alone much longer.

I called several tree experts in to take a look and give us a bid on taking it down. All seemed to agree that removing it would be a good idea. Their bids to remove it varied wildly.

This fir tree towers above our home, the hot tub and has spread out to crowd out a beautiful dogwood. So, I was not much concerned with its demise. Leslie, on the other hand, has the philosophy that we should leave everythng alone. After a discussion though she has begun to defer more to my thoughts on this so this time it was easier to convince her the fir needed to be removed.

We got bids from three outfits here in town. The bids varied from $1,000 to $1,700. In this case I wanted the roots crawling across the ground removed and the stump ground so we could plant new grass. Stump ginding adds several hundred
dollars to the price of the job so, in the past, we have left the trunks. In the other cases the trunks were out of the way and didn't make a difference aesthetically. This stump would.

This morning, the crew showed up and made fast work of the tree. It's kind of sad when you think about how long it took for that tree to grow and the beautiy it added to our yard. But, if it had fallen it would have cost far more to repair the house, which is where it most certainly would have landed.

The branches went first as the tree climber ascended to the top. These were hustled off by the crew to a grinder parked out in the driveway. This kind of work doesn't even attract any gawkers around here. So many nasty, dirty cottonwoods have been taken down in the neighborhood as well as other species due to rot and or the danger of falling, that no one pays much attention.

The tree was down and carted away in about an hour leaving only the stump and roots to be grinded up. The chipper and sounds of chain saws ended and the take down team drove off to the next job.

Sometime later in the afternoon, a single guy drove up in his truck towing the stump grinder, a pretty massive device that looked out of some medieval torture chamber.

The goal was to grind out all the roots running along the ground and to grind the main stump down about 18". We'd come along after a few weeks and fill in the holes with new top soil and reseed with a new lawn.

The biggest issue aestetically is the gapping hole the absence of the tree leaves for the neighbors to peek in on us in the hot tub. So we plan to plant a tree or two later on. But these must not be of a species that grows anywhere near the height of that fir. We thought of a couple of dogwoods similar in height to the ones we already have in the yard but ones of differing colors. That'll be a ways off. Maybe in a year or two when the lawn is well established and the stump has settled down. Anyway, the project is done. Happy day!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Spring and The First Mow

It happenss every year about this time. I head out to the barn out back, unlock the double doors, swing them out and peer into the darkness at my John Deere riding tractor.  I love that tractor. The green and yellow paint, the very idea of owning a John Deere tractor even though it's really a riding mower, makes me smile.

When we bought this place my one caveat was that we would have to buy a riding mower. The steepness of the landscape and the size of the lawn made it all but a necessity. But, even I thought a John Deere brand tractor was a bit pricey when I compared it to a Sears Craftsman mower. So, I went with the Craftsman, and then a few years later after that one began to literally fall apart, I bought another one. After a few years that one. too, began falling apart. Enough!

I headed out to Washington Tractors up in Lynden where I new they had a great selection of John Deere equipment and took a look around. Sure enough there was my new tractor!

Well, maybe I was aiming a bit high. Maybe something a bit smaller would
do. After my daydream of all the cool stuff I could do with that first tractor, I shook it off and wandered over to the area on the lot where riding mowers were on display. I compared the different models and their price tags and settled on that little beauty whose green and yellow backside was staring out at me from the barn door.

I always reach out and give the top of the seat a little stroke before I do anything else. It's also where I hang my ear protectors, A few years too late to protect me from hearing loss, but at least the tractor won't be responsible for any further damage.

As the tractor hasn't been started since last October, the next thing I try and do, usually doesn't work--starting the engine. Inevitably, the battery has gone dead requiring me to connect up the Craftsman device I have in the barn that does still work after 20 years--the battery charger. I pull back the hood and connect the red and black wires to the associated battery leads and turn on the charger. A few hours of this treatment and the tractor is more reasonable about starting. A few cranks until the fuel is running through the lines and she fires up. A puff of smoke comes out the front end and after turning the throttle from choke to run the tractor is ready to back out into the spring sunshine.

The first mowing of the year is usually done with the blades at a higher level as the lawn has become lush and long after all the rain. A second swath at a lower level will usually get the lawn about the right height.

The biggest problem with the first mowing is all the leaves and branches and twigs that lie all over the yard as a result of the sometimes fierce wind storms we can get. I can mow over a lot of it, mulching it as I go. But, there is always enough that can't be mowed to fill the back of the pick-up truck, often a couple of times. Some of that is clippings we have created as a result of new branches that pop out from exisitng plants and trees and out over areas they are not welcome. Blackberries are the biggest offenders and they are a huge pain to get at, always resulting in scratched up arms and hands, blood oozing as if I'd had a fight with a cat. It never seems to matter whether I wear a long-sleeved shirt and leather gloves, I'm still a mess.

And so it goes. Another trip around the sun. Spring has sprung. Daffodils are blooming, camilias, too. The flowering plums are a riot of pink color up and down our street.  The tulips won't be far behind and then we'll leap into those short precious summer months when the sun is up at 6 in the morning and doesn't set until well after 9 PM. Then, as is the way of the far pacific northwest, the days will begin to shorten until the sun comes up later and later and sets by 4.

Happy spring everyone. Enjoy it while it lasts. I know we will.

Shakedown Cruise

We left the harbor on what was predicted to be a maybe go, maybe stay kind of day on Thursday, March 30 from our slip in the Squalicum marina. As it turned out it would be a glorious day full of sunshine and a light breeze. In short, a perfect spring day for cruising.

Our Key of Sea had only recently had its spring maintenance completed--fresh oil, fuel filters, new coolant, battery fluids checked and a general check up.The engines were prronounced in great shape. With the waste tank cleaned and the fresh water tank fresh and topped off, we started the engines at about 1:00 in the afternoon and pointed the bow to the south for the 2 and a quarter hour cruise to the Cap Sante marina in Anacortes.

Snagboat W.T. Preston on the Anacortes waterfront.
This marina is a favorite of ours. It is well managed, with plenty of slips available at reasonable prices. The shore power system is so easy to plug into, the exact opposite of our home port where skills as an acrobat would be very handy to get yourself plugged in. The biggest attraction at Cap Sante is its proximity to so many services, amenities and attractions. 

View from Cap SantePark
Two major grocery stores are within an easy walk, as are several restaurants. Every kind of boat repair and maintenance service is right there in the harbor. The entire main street of the town, Commercial Street, is only a block walk away. It is lined with restaurants, antique shops--a shoppers delight. Add to that a couple of unique attractions including the historic snagboat, W.T. Preston and a hike up to Cap Sante Park with its amazing view of the marina and in all directions.

We arrived in the marina about 3:15 and edged into our prearranged slip, C28. It was a bit of a rough landing. Two other boaters nearby came running to help get us finally into our spot. We tied up and began settling in. Aside from a couple of other boats, we were really alone on the dock. The rest of those attending the rendezvous wouldn't arrive until the next day.

Our cruise south to Anacortes had been sunny so I'd decided to run things from the flybridge. Unsure of the weather the following day, I decided to close things up up top. I covered the captain's chair with its canvas cover and then pulled the main canvas over the entire bridge to protect it from the wind and rain in the forecast.

We hadn't paid our moorage or power fees so we walked up to the marina office. The reciept included a discount for marina customers at Anthony's so we headed over for lunch. 

Crowd for dinner Saturday
After a great night's sleep we prepared for the boats arriving from our squadron as well as those from Friday Harbor's squadron and from the Bellingham Yacht Club. Boats began trickling in by around noon. By 5:00 most of the boats had arrived and the dock was pretty full. Docktails began down at the party barge at 6 and the evening was spent visiting with friends and making new ones.

Saurday morning dawned with overcast, windy skies and the threat of rain. Most folks seemed to hole up on their boats. Our friends Erik Senuty and Ione Adams were heading into town for a walk and some breakfast and invited us along. We wound up at Adrift, a great restaurant. Then wandered town before heading back to the boats.

Joe and Carol Young performed
Dinner that evening was a chicken BBQ and potluck on the party barge, There was a great spread of goodies from the boaters and the evening was filled with the music of Joe and Carol Young, well-known Bellinghamster musicians, who played music classic rock and folk songs most of which the crowd could sing along with.

Sunday morning we packed up and bugged out earlier than most of the others as we needed to get Leslie back to B'ham for a couple of music department events. We were unsure of the weather for Sunday but it wound up quite lovely for the cruise home. Not much sun but no rain and flat calm seas. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring Break Roadtrip 2017

Just back from a week-long trip down to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. We generally attend nearly every year to take in as many shows as we can. We hadn't been in a couple of years so we decided it would be our Spring Break destination. We've been attending this Festival since the mid 80's when we took our daughter for the first time.

On our way down we made an overnight stop to visit the fam in Seattle. Any excuse to see our granddaughter, Evie. Nick cooked us one of his famous Sunday Roasts which was a whole roasted chicken and potatoes the way his grandmother taught him to make them. I can't tell you exactly how he does it but they are amazing. He also makes a gravy to pour over everything and a veg on the side. Great dinner!

I was playing with Evie when she spotted my ipad and I shared a bunch of photos of her. I described each one as we went along. When we got to one of her hand on top of mine, which is one of my very favorite photos, I explained that it was her hand on top of mine. She reached her hand out and gently placed it on top of mine like in the photo. It was a definitely an Ahhhhh moment.

The next morning (Monday) we headed south for Ashland. There are no shows on Monday so it is a good travel day to arrive there and then get a good night's sleep before taking in a show the next day. We have stayed in the same Choice Hotel in south Medford for many years. Inexpensive but well maintained. It is in a great location, too. Right behind the Harry and David's outlet store and next to old Highway 99 which we use to drive the 10ish miles into the heart of Ashland.

When we arrived Monday late afternoon, we decided to have dinner at Mexican restaurant we'd discovered on-line. It was the number 1 rated Mexican place in town so we headed over. El Molcajete Mexican Grill turned out to be on the same street as our hotel so it was a quick drive over. Very good food. Good enough that we went back again before leaving for home at the end of our stay. When you sit down they sere you the usual chips and salsa but also sit a plate of frijoles in front of you.

Our first show was Julius Caesar. It was a disappointment. We have not been very impressed with a lot of the Shakespeare productions in Ashland for quite a few years. Actually, about the time the new artistic director arrived. I'm not sure if it is poor directing or poor acting or both but the acting just seems uninspired, as if the actors had no idea how to deliver a Shakespearean line. Which was odd considering the next show we saw.

Day 2 we spent the day stopping by some of our must do places in the Medford and Ashland area. We always walk over to the Harry and David's store and always find some great bargains, too. A stop at the Rouge Valley Creamery in Central Point as well as Lille Belle Farms Chocolate which is right next door to the creamery are aslo a must. The creamery is famous for its bleu cheeses and Lillie Belle its handmade chocolates. Often times we can buy the Rouge Valley Blues at the Harry and David's store cheaper so we always check there first.

On this trip we also discovered that the Dagoba Chocolate factory is in Ashland, so we made a stop there and stocked up. Great sampling there, too.

That evening we attended Shakespeare in Love which was brilliantly acted! It followed the film pretty closely with a few adjustments for the stage, but it was so good.

Our final show was Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles. This adaptation of Euripedes' Medea follows an immigrant Mexican family across the border and then as they attempt to adapt to life in America with some tragic consequences. It was superb!

Heaven On Earth
So, two out of three ain't bad. We rejoined as members while there which gives certain priviledges including use of the member's lounge and a chance to purchase tickets early each year. It also allowed us to return our tickets to the fourth play we'd intended to see but decided to head towards home early because we wanted to get back for a concert Kate was doing with Choral Arts NW.

Heading north, we made a pit stop ata place we'd only recenty read about in a travel magazine. The Heaven On Earth Bakery in Azalea, Oregon could easily be missed if you aren't looking for it and quite frankly, the place is pretty dumpy. But the baked goods are very yummy!

We stopped in Albany for the night for two reasons, so we'd have a shorter drive the next day to Seattle, and to eat at Novak's Hungarian Restaurant!
We've been making stops here for many years following the restaurant to three different locations. It is currently in downtown Albany, in a great old building. Perfect for the old world style food they serve. We highly recommend it.

Finally, arrived in Seattle after a hellish drive through several stop and go sections of I-5 which all turned out to be accidents. We stoped at Fred Meyer to put up dinner fixings--a whole chicken, an onion, carrots and yams to make a roast.

Had a fun afternoon playing with Evie while dinner cooked, then headed to Everett where Kate's concert was happening. Enjoyed the concert despite it being 3 hours long. It was a Passion written by a local composer who had been commisioned by the choir to write it. It was based on the writtings of Rudyard Kipling whose son was killed during WWI. Very moving in places. Sad, but it was nice to be able to be there to support Kate in something she loves to do.

As the concert wasn't over until 11:00, we didn't arrive home until well after midnight. We poured ourselves into bed and slept very well after a very long, happy day.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dinghy Issues

Shortly after purchasing the Key of Sea I lowered the dinghy that came with it and climbed aboard to take it out for a trial run. However, stepping into the little boat it became immediately apparent that this dinghy was not going to meet our needs. With only me in it there was almost no freeboard (the distance between the water line and the gunwhale). Scary. 
We started looking around and found  a reasonably priced new dinghy down in Anacortes, WA and bought it. It was around $1,000 (a boat buck) and seemed like a good deal. 
Quillback rockfish
Fast forward 6 years later to our 3 week cruise to Canada. I took the dinghy out several times on my own to go fishing. I caught a ton of these rock fish species called Quillbacks. Great fun to catch and when I'd get into a good spot they'd be on my line almost constantly. Two problems with them though. One, they are a proteced species in a lot of places meaning you can't catch them. That's a problem if your fishing and you catch them. So, I tossed a lot of fish back. Second, take a look at the photo of the fish I posted here. Notice those spiny looking fins? Well, they ARE spines. Sharp spines. Now imagine my bringing the fish into the dinghy and wrestling with the fish long enough to get the hook out without causing too much damage to the critter or me. The fish is flopping around on the floor of the dinghy, those spines bouncing off the floor. Now for the bad news. The floor of our dingy is inflatable and made of rubber. It didn't take long before I noticed the damage done. Suddenly the air in the floor of our dinghy was leaking out at a pretty fast rate.

That dinghy is our life boat should we need to leave The Key of Sea in an emergency. With the floor constantly going flat, we had ourselves a big problem. Fortunately we didn't need it for the rest of the cruise. BUT!!!

When we returned home I found a repair place in Anacortes and took the floor, which is removable, down to their shop. A couple of hundred dollars later the floor was "fixed" and I reinstalled it. It kept inflated pretty well needing refilling about once or twice a year.

Fast forward to today. When I visited the boat a few days ago I noticed the floor was entirely flat. So I took it out and brought it home to check it out.

Our current dinghy a Mercury 310
I like to lay things across the spa cover out back because it gives me a large flat space about waist high to spread things out and get a good look at them. So I took the floor out to my shop and inflated it with my compressor. Then put on top of the spa cover. I grabbed a spray bottle I'd filled with water and dish soap and started spraying soapy water across the surface of the floor. It didn't take long to see tiny bubbles beginning to form in spots here and there, even along the seams. Tiny, very tiny.What effect this has on the inflation of the floor is apparent. The solution? Probably a new dinghy.

But what to purchase? Certainly not one with an inflatable floor.

Inflatable dinghies are the biggest sellers. They are light weight, inexpensive and hold a lot of people and or weight when compared to most other options on the market. But even the inflatables come in a wide range of models.

The least expensive are the inflatable floor versions. I now see why.  Then there are the RIBs or Rigid Inflatable Boat. These have the inflatable side tubes you are familir with if you've seen the famous Zodiak boats. But, they're hulls, the bottom of the boat inside and out are made of a rigid material, either fiberglass or aluminum. The fiberglas is usually less expensive than the metal hull. You also have the option of a single or double floor, the double floor being more expensive but more stout and heavier.

So, 3 days later, the inflated dinghy floor is still holding its pressure. So I'm thinking 1) the dinghy still has some life in it and 2) I will try and get another season or 2 out of it. Good news, for now.

The Honda 2 hp outboard that fits on that dinghy is in the shop right now as it wouldn't start when I last tried. A call the shop this morning which yielded the news that it was only one of 20 other 2 hp motors in the shop and that it would probably be another couple of weeks before it would be looked at. I suspect the slow turn around is due to the local charter fleet, which has almost all Honda 2 hp motors on their dinghies and has probably got all of them in for seasonal

This little fellow just barely works on our 10+ foot dinghy and I am in the market for a higher horse power engine. Maybe next season. It does the job of getting us to and from shore when we anchor out and works when I want to wander off a ways from the boat to do some fishing. Its two basic flaws are that, due to it being only 2 hp, the dinghy is more difficult to control at lower RPMs. So, when I am approaching the big boat to connect to the davit system, I usually have to make a couple of runs at it. At low RPMs the dingy just starts heading off on its own. Secondly, the motor only has an internal fuel tank. The small tank is okay for most applications but if you are heading off too far afield, you may find yourself running out of fuel. The dinghy has oars that work fine but rowing back to the boat in wind or waves or if you motored too far from the boat, well, it's just not
1 gal, fuel tank
much fun.

So we have begun taking a one gallon tank of fuel with us in case we run low. I also always make sure to top off the internal tank after returning to the boat and checking the tank before we leave to make sure we start out with a full tank.

Honda generator
We found out recently (a couple of years ago now) that the fuel most ffolks are using in their cars has ethanol in it and ethanol is BAD for small engines. So, we've located a couple of service stations in town that sell ethanol-free fuel and make sure that is all that goes into that little gas can. Using the ethanol fuel apparently has a negative effect on delicate systems inside the engine so my outboard motor and the Honda generator aboard are only fed this special and a bit pricier fuel. As a result we should have fewer mechanical issues and the devices should last much longer.