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Quick Stop between Santa Fe and Pine Top

It’s mostly a long, lonely, two-lane, no-shoulder road to Pine Top, Arizona, in the White Mountains after leaving Albuquerque. Beautiful and desolate. And then these beautiful cliffs with mesas above start showing up. “This looks like Zane Gray country” I told Terri. Reminds me of “The Hole in the Rock Gang”. Maybe I meant Hole-in- the-wall.

Then we started skirting between the cliffs and massive lava flows. Could this be El Malpais? In Douglas Preston’s book Cities of Gold, he retraces Coronado’s epic trek to discover the Seven Cities of Gold. Historians had always thought that he had skirted El Malpais, thousands of square miles of razor-sharp lava, but Preston thought otherwise. By shear luck, he met a Native American who showed him a secret entrance to a hidden trail through this area. Check out his book at https://www.prestonchild.com/books/preston/gold/

It was so fun and amazing to actually be at this historic place! Then I saw a sign for Scenic Bluffs Overlook on a dirt, washboard road. Luckily, it was only a mile or so away. Once we got there, we found our favorite, a nice chunk of slick rock that begged to be explored.

Photo’s don’t adequately capture the scope and beauty of this place. Please try and enlarge these for a better image. Besides the immense view, these bluffs also had several tinajas, or water pockets that can save water for days or even weeks. Besides providing water for local wildlife, they often have their own unique ecosystem that comes to life after a rainfall. But El Malpais had more to offer.

You may have guessed from previous posts that we love the natural stone arches of the Southwest. so when I saw a sign for a short walk to an arch, I had to go check it out. Totally worth it! As we were close to leaving the park, I found another sign that may tempt me to return to this very remote area. Okay, you get to see it twice, but now you k ow why 😂.

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Snippets of Santa Fe

We come up with various numbers when we try and determine how many times we’ve been to Santa Fe. Somewhere between 6 and 12 😂. It’s charm is irresistible.

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On the Road to Santa Fe

This is the first time we’ve come to Santa Fe via Moab, so this longggg stretch of road was all new to us. We typically listen to audiobooks when we have hours in the car, but was one lonely highway with no cell service, so we were forced to just watch the scenery. And what’s a blog about road trips without some photos of the road?

Fortunately, we were able to restore ourselves a bit at the Plaza at Santa Fe, including some live music in the square.

Oops, forgot to take any Instagram-worthy photos of the square, so these will have to do.

What could be better? Being joined by family to share the adventure!

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Moab Slickrock and Alternate Arches

We got a tip from SUWA (Southern Utah Wilderness Association) about some hikes near Moab that weren’t in the National Park. One had multiple water crossings, for which we weren’t prepared. The other one had two areas with challenges for someone with vertigo. We decided to check that one out.

Lots of wildflowers on the way up gave us enough reason to stop and catch our breath. And the rock formations are always so intriguing!

Then we got our first glimpse of Bow tie and Corona Arch, which spurred us on. But first challenge: ascend a near vertical wall with the help of a chain to cling to, and then climb a steel ladder to get over a truly vertical face. Facing her fears, Terri was able to get past both hurdles!

Went off trail a bit to check out the hanging garden at Bow Tie Arch. Plants spring up wherever water passes through occasionally. God’s own little garden!

We made it! So much fun, so much beauty, and such a feeling of accomplishment.

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Moab, with a Side of Arches

Taking a day off from driving, and hit the town like tourists. Up one side of the street, and down the other. Mostly not tempted by the t-shirts and trinkets, but Terri found a great outfit that will be perfect for the trip, and a cool, small, artistic cross inlaid with turquoise. Stopped for lunch at Spokes on Center, and it was great! Highly recommended.

We weren’t going to go to Arches National Park – it’s so crowded nowadays that you have to have reservations to get in! Unless you arrive after 4:00pm. So that’s what we did. We’ve been there a couple of times, so we just headed out to get in a nice little hike.

Somehow we missed the trailhead for the hike we wanted, and ended up at Devil’s Garden, so that’s what we did to see how far we could get. First up, Landscape Arch.

That’s where the easier, packed trail stopped, and the dust-like sand started, but we kept on going, with the trail eventually turning into gravel and even some slick rock .

The trail eventually turned into a scramble that seemed easy a few years ago, but seemed like a good place to turn around. Just another gorgeous day at Arches.

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Eden to Moab

What a glorious morning for the next leg of our road trip! When we were here before. We drove all around to explore these beautiful mountains, and discovered several ski areas that had been used when Utah hosted the Winter Olympics.

The road back to Ogden was much less harrowing than the drive up. Still, almost never a shoulder to pull out and snap a photo or two. Terri grabbed a couple of shots of this huge and beautiful waterfall.

I’m a sucker for old, and especially abandoned buildings, so when I saw this off the highway coming into Helper, Utah, we took a side road to check it out. The town got its name from where freight trains traveling west stopped to add four or five extra locomotives to make it over the mountain pass. Located across the “street” from this building was a very old motel that apparently had been on the old highway, and is now a private “residence”.

Arriving at Moab, we checked in, loaded up our two tons of gear (we travel heavy), opened the door to our room … only to find it hadn’t been cleaned yet. They gave us a new “upgraded” room with a view. From here we can see “The Notch” and to the left, the LaSal Mountains. We try to ignore the industrial building right in front of us.

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McCall to Eden, Utah

Today was always going to be just a driving day. An easy 250 miles, no more than five hours. So we were surprised when the GPS said it was going to be six and a half hours. What? We rechecked, and yep, somehow I had misconstrued the trip. So, off we went.

Leaving McCall, we soon started following the Payette River. Starting off as a decent stream, it soon turns into a turbulent, boisterous river. The road is a twisting, sinuous, treacherous and incredibly scenic drive. By the time I found a safe place to pull over and snap a photo, it had mellowed out.

About an hour south of Boise, we ran into one heck of a storm. We used to watch Storm Chasers, and I thought the cloud formations resembled a tornadic system. Sheet lightning, cloud-to-cloud lightning, and LOTS of cloud-to-ground lightning. And hail. And then a huge, crazy blast of wind that made the previous 30-40 mph gusts seem like whispers. Finally, after several harrowing minutes, we were through the worst of it.

Finally, after heading east from Provo, we find an extremely steep, twisty, narrow road with no shoulders and few barriers to a cliff like drop off. With a final sigh of relief, we pulled into our parking spot to find the welcoming committee literally on our doorstep. Gobbling their displeasure, they ambled off to greener pastures.

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Exploring McCall, Idaho

“Want to walk to town?” “Sure!” So we headed out on the one mile walk, starting off on the Wooley boardwalk. Built over a wetland, it offers interpretive signage about the importance of these areas.

We had noticed that it looked like there was ice on the lake, so we turned to the north of town to a small park we saw. Yep, the lake was almost completely covered with ice! It gets so thick they have pickup truck races on it midwinter.

The park is located on the previous site of a lumber mill, the last of 6 in this area. It burned down; they salvaged just a few items that are now featured in the park. This photo shows a sculpture of an old “wigwam” burner, with one of the mills old steam whistles on top.

The town itself is cute, if touristy, but fun to check out. The food photo is at Bistro 45, highly recommended. There is also a great brewery we love! Hope you got a bit of a taste of McCall!

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Insects Against Violence

Editor’s Note: I woke up about 2:30 AM the other day, with the phrase “Insects Against Violence” in my head. Slowly, something like a manifesto emerged. The following doesn’t quite do it justice, as there may have been some data errors in the transmission I received.

Insects Against Violence

No one has it worse than us. We get smacked by rolled up newspapers (well, back when they were still a thing); stepped on accidentally or stomped on purposefully; zapped by beautiful blue lights, sprayed with that can of poison in your hand, or even by low-flying planes and helicopters. Baited, trapped, netted, drowned and burned. And don’t get me started on vehicle windshields! Our only revenge is when you try and scrape us off your windows after our guts have been spilled and dried.

Okay, some of us may pack a small defensive sting, others may have developed a taste for human blood, and others have strangely found people food appetizing – especially yellow jackets at an outdoor grill, or ants following the sweet scent of sugar to your kitchen, even some grub buddies curled up in your flour. Still, after all we do for you, and you can’t spare us a micro-gram of food?

Sure, there may be 10 quintillion of us compared to only 8 billion humans, but just look at the size difference! And look at all we do for you – over 75% of all flowering plants and 75% of the crops you harvest to eat exist only because some of us are pollinators. Wipe us out, and most of you will starve! Not to mention the $15 billion in crops.

That’s the pretty picture, bees buzzing around beautiful flowers. But what about the garbageman bugs? You think all those leaves and dog poo you didn’t pick up just evaporate? Nosiree bug! We’re there, hard at work, breaking them down and turning them into food and soil. But that’s not all – and I’m dead serious – but all them dead bodies, yours, your pets and the dead skunk in the middle of the road – would still be there, taking up space if it weren’t for all our hard work. I think we deserve some kind of environmental award, don’t you?

If you are getting sick of all this, rejoice! Insect therapy – just from bee venom – is being studied for Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gout, Osteoarthritis, Bursitis, Tendinitis, MS, Fibromyalgia, and more. And surgical maggots have been used for centuries to get rid of dead cells around wounds. Some cultures even used big biting ants as stitches!

Maybe all this talk about insects have left a bad taste in your mouth. Great news! The Giant Water Bug tastes exactly like a salty, fruity, flowery Jolly Rancher. Sweet! Got the munchies? Dry-toasted crickets taste like sunflower seeds, and Katydids like toasted avocado. There are actually over 1,400 edible insects, so if you’re looking for payback for us snacking on your food, well here’s your opportunity for revenge.

So, what do you think. We can live without you, but you probably can’t live without us. Can we declare a truce? I mean, we’re all stuck on this little rock, just trying to get by. Join the movement, Insects Against Violence. Yep, we accept human supporters.

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Blue Jeans Blues

I went to put on a pair of my favorite jeans the other day, and as I pulled them up, one of my fingers slipped through a hole by the back pocket. What the heck? This was one of my newer pair, probably only 10 years old or so! My old pairs, 20 or more years old, I keep for painting and yard work. I was stunned. And bummed, only 10 years old, and headed for recycling. I guess they don’t make them like they used to.

And then I had to laugh to myself, thinking about how most of the jeans sold today look like they’ve been through a paper shredder. Curmudgeon alert! I had always thought that jeans were supposed to cover you up and keep you warm in the winter, but not so much anymore.

We didn’t have much money growing up. I was the oldest of five siblings; one of our grandpas took a liking to me (there’s actually a lot more to that story, maybe some day …) and each year right before school started, a large box would come in the mail for me. There would be new underwear, sock, shirts – and new jeans! How I’d love to get them, and see the blue denim, unbleached by sun and wash; feel the almost uncomfortable stiffness of the unworn fabric.

And then, of course, I’d ruin them. I don’t know exactly how as I look back, but I was an active kid. “Playing cars” on my knees, inside with my friends when it was raining, outside on the sidewalk when it was sunny. Hiding in neighbors bushes in the dark playing Kick the Can. Building extremely rustic versions of the beautiful Soap Box Derby cars whose races I got to see once or twice. The “ brakes” even worked occasionally. Climbing small trees. Working with my buddies to build an underground clubhouse in one of their back yards. I don’t know how deep we got, but when we stood up in the hole, I remember the top being over our heads, maybe. Once we got that deep, we started tunneling sideways until we could excavate a room big enough to hold 4-6 of us. And then my friends neighbor, who also happened to be their insurance agent, discovered our secret, and we had to fill in the hole.

I remember getting dressed for church, and grabbing my skateboard, my mom warning me … but I went out to my neighbors steepish driveway, skated down, hit a rock and launched, landing on my hands and … knees. I will admit I was always distraught when I got a hole – okay, holes, in the knees of my blue jeans. While I may not have been weeping, I’m pretty sure I was wailing to my mom that I couldn’t possibly wear those old jeans to school. Like I said, we didn’t have much money, and with five kids, new blue jeans weren’t in the budget. Plus my younger brother could wear out a pair of shoes in weeks, and replacing those seemed to be a higher priority.

Back in the day, some evil genius came up with the idea to extend the life of jeans with holes by using an iron-on patch. Even worse, the patches were the same color as NEW blue jeans, not the worn and faded ones that developed holes, so the patch stood out like a sore thumb. So obvious, and so tacky, so gauche. I hated them with every ounce of my skinny little body.

Fifty years later (okay, maybe more like 60 or so), I’ll bet they don’t even make those patches any more. Now, anyone under 50 years old would be embarrassed to wear jeans WITHOUT holes! As I pondered this, I had to laugh to myself. Not only had I been a trendsetter decades before, but I put the holes in my jeans myself!Nowadays, people pay other people big bucks to wear their jeans out for them! As I ruminated on that thought for a moment, I realized it’s because (glittering generality alert) no one actually plays anymore. Everyone is on their phones, texting and posting to social media. Or playing violent games on their devices. None of that involves getting on your knees and interacting face-to-face with another human being.

So now I’m in the market for a new pair of jeans. Without holes. And made with environmentally friendly dye. That only cost twice as much as my previously favorite brand. Then the songs start going through my head. (Click the links to listen). Blue Jeans Blues by ZZ Top. I Put My Old Blue Jeans On by Keith Urban. Not so much, but still apropos, Forever In Blue Jeans by Neil Diamond. And I start cruising the internet, looking for what may well be my last pair of new blue jeans. And if you see me wearing them with holes in them, you know I made those holes all by myself.

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Fade to Gray

Late summer concert at Bertlesen Winery with old friends and new acquaintances

“They” say summer starts on June 21st, and ends on September 21st (approximately). Up here in the far northwestern corner of the USA, summer always starts on the first day AFTER the 4th of July holiday, and ends on the first day after the Labor Day weekend. This year it was clear summer ended on September 1st in the northernmost parts of Washington that have a land border with Canada.

It’s been a great summer. Recent summers have either been ruined for outdoor activities by wildfire smoke, or dangerously scorching hot. Yeah, several days this year were uncomfortably hot when our portable A/C units couldn’t quite keep us as cool as we’d like, and the absolute dearth of rain has us casting worrisome eyes on our iconic cedar trees that rely on regular replenishment of surface ground water. Nonetheless, IMHO, this was one of the best summers we’ve had in years.

Picnics, hikes in the North Cascades, private tasting events at wineries with our wine club, having people over again, trips to the ocean, happy hours in our gazebo in our backyard, outdoor concerts, get-togethers with friends, Little League Baseball games, soccer games, harvesting tomatoes fresh off our vines, and many more moments filled with sunlit moments of love, laughter and joy. But now I can hear summer singing to me:

“The autumn leaves are falling all around, time I was on my way

Thanks to you, I’m much obliged for such a pleasant stay.

But now it’s time for me to go, the autumn moon lights my way;

For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it’s headed my way.

Ah, sometimes I grow so tired …”

Ramble on by Led Zepplin

The hanging baskets are gone, desiccated by the strong summer sun, as is the pear tomato vine. Other blooms have come and gone, the lawn a brittle brown. The sun, sinking south towards austral summer is blocked by our house in our backyard; a strip of brightness still teases the flower bed, all else is in shade. The other day we had a fall-like “gray-to-the-ground” day when we lived inside a cloud with 99.9% humidity that made with windshield wipers wake from their slumber and wipe away the water. Soon the long, wet Gray will be our reality until next spring.

Fall. The very name reminds us of an unplanned and unexpected dialogue with gravity that results in an intimate encounter with the earth. Whereupon we spend some time in introspection about the immediate preceding events. And so it is for me as we enter this season, and as I am in the late Fall of my life. Where am I now? How did I get here? What’s next?

In the end, I am filled with gratitude. Gratitude for my sweet wife, our cozy little home with its pretty little flower beds in one of the most varied and beautiful places in America, if not the world. Grateful for family and friends, new and old who share portions of their lives with us. Grateful for the gift of joy as I encounter the beauty of Creation. Grateful for new opportunities to learn how to better give and receive love. And grateful for each and every one of YOU who take the time to read these meanderings!

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Part Three, Willamette Valley

Many years ago, after unintentionally grounding my white-water raft on the Middle Fork of the Salmon river, I wanted to buy the person who helped me get unstuck a nice bottle of wine, so I asked him what his favorite was. He said Pinot Noir, but to please not get him any as he was a bit particular about that wine. I did anyway, and am now so embarrassed. I had to start checking that wine out to find out why he thought it was the best of all wines, which eventually, after years of painstaking research, made it my favorite as well. Luckily, it turned out that the Willamette Valley is one of the best places in the world to grow Pinot Noir, with some amazing winemakers. I made pilgrimages there for at least a decade around Thanksgiving time for their wine-tasting festival.

A few years ago, friends sent us a bottle of an interesting olive oil, very rich and as flavorful as anything we had in Italy, or tasted in olive oil stores. Surprise, it was from Durant Farms in the Willamette Valley! We decided if we ever got the chance, we’d stop in and check it out; it turned out to be an easy drive from the coast to Portland, our next stop. And when we looked them up, they also have a winery that specializes in Pinot Noir (rubs hands together gleefully).

Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegar’s galore to choose from!

The olive oil shop is in a cute, rustic building; there was a large tent/canopy outside the entrance where the tasting station was located (we still appreciate, and prefer, being outdoors for activities like this). We had a hard time deciding, but finally selected our two favorites, and moved inside to pay … that’s when Terri became entranced by the multitudes of desirable items. Some time later, we left with our olive oil and six new, handmade water glasses, plus a few bottles of their oil for our friends who had introduced us to this great place.

Right next door was the winery. Their website said that reservations were required for tasting, but my motto is always “Don’t ask, don’t get,” so I asked, and we got! They had an even larger event tent set up, with comfortable seating and fire pits and heaters on posts. Did I mention it had been raining, and was a bit cool? Well, it was perfect under the shelter. So, we ordered a tasting flight, then checked out their small bites offerings. We ordered a small baguette, sliced, with olive oil, maybe some herbs, and black salt. Oh. My. Goodness. It was sooo good, we ordered a bottle of the wine we liked the best, and another serving of the bread, sat in our chairs overlooking hills and valleys, farms, fields and vineyards in the Willamette Valley, and reveled in our decadence.

On to Portland! Had a nice visit with our twin grandsons and son-in-law, Frank. He has been doing pottery on and off for many years, and we have been the lucky recipients of some of his work that we use constantly. He recently built a shed/workshop to fashion and store his creations, and has a good-sized kiln in the garage. Once again, we left with several treasures we love and use. Interested? Please check out the link to his shop, Smalltimestonewear on Etsy.

Full Disclosure: Due to our obsessive diligence dealing with COVID, Terri and I are Very High Maintenance. We are incredibly fortunate to have friends like John and Jeannie, who went to extreme lengths to set up Cafe’ D in their garage for us. It was super cool and so much fun, complete with tablecloths and candles. So great to be able to reconnect with fabulous friends!

Okay, next up a great visit with daughter Kalise. Normally not a subject for the blog, but here’s what was really cool. We met up at the Portlandia Sculpture, then headed down to the walk along the Willamette waterfront, south to the Tillicum Crossing Bridge. Embarrassingly, I had never really noticed this bridge before. Heading north on I-5 where a view might be possible I’m navigating the Twilliger Curves, notorious for being accident alley, and requiring merging, lane changes, and crazy drivers, requiring two hands and both eyes to get on to the Marquam Bridge.

Anyhow, this bridge is pretty unique, as the only traffic it carries is pedestrians, bicyclists, buses and light rail. Crossing it provides great views both up and down the river. Once over the bridge is an excellent pedestrian walkway, which we took past the Oregon Museum of Science and History (a great place to visit, especially with kids), up and over the Hawthorne Bridge (the oldest operating vertical lift bridge in the USA), back along the waterfront and then up to Portland State University and the famous Portland Park Blocks. A tree-studded green oasis in the middle of the city, it is home to an incredible Farmers Market on Saturday’s, live music, playgrounds, and a quiet, restful place to meet with friends. Lots of memories for both of us there, from my childhood, to both of us spending some time in the halls and classrooms of PSU. Back to Portlandia, and a sad see-you-later to my daughter.

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Part Two, Exploring the Oregon Coast

Can anyone actually have a favorite place at the Oregon Coast? By and large, it is all incredibly beautiful and scenic from border to border, and virtually all of it accessible to the public – a situation unique in the USA. One of Oregon’s early governors got a law passed that made the beaches public property, up to the high-tide line; later, many areas were made into state parks, with great views, camping, and historical significance. Here is a great map of the coastline.

For us, the area between Lincoln City and Newport is exceptional, so when we got a chance to grab our time-share condo at Depoe Bay, we jumped at it! When we checked in, we were thrilled to find we had a fabulous view of Pirate Cove. There was a full-blown storm raging, a far cry from the warm and sunny days we had spent in Bend. The rain lashed our sliding glass door overlooking the cove; the wind blew hard and strong, and the waves splashed and crashed against the rocky cliffs surrounding the tiny bay. Every once in a while, a wave would over-top the cliff; I’m guessing it must have been 50′ tall. In short, a perfect day to stay warm and dry inside with a book, a glass of wine, and epic ocean watching.

But wait, there’s more! From our condo deck, we could also see a large, flattish rocky area on the south side of Pirate Cove, with several sea lions laying about; on the north side, a rocky promontory was the nesting and resting place for literally thousands of sea birds! We could see them flying out to fish, then return and (we had to use a little imagination due to the distance) feed their young. South side, there was also a rough trail outside our door that snaked along the rough rocky headlands, taking us to the place where we had seen the gigantic waves crashing high above the cliff. Beautiful, minuscule flowers lined the path while distant views kept drawing our eyes out to sea.

The next day the storm was gone, so we headed out towards Newport, hoping Terri could get her sea lion fix down at the docks. But we were easily distracted, and stopped at nearly every tiny little pull-out and side road that hinted at a view. And were we rewarded! Three times we got to see the whales spouts from a mother and a calf as they swam southward. What a treat! And we found a new-to-us park,Yakina Head Outstanding Natural Area, home to the Yakina Lighthouse, magnificent tide pools, and fabulous bird-watching opportunities. This area was reclaimed from a mining operation in the very early 1900’s that basically blew up a mountain and shipped it to California for building purposes. You can see before and after photos at an interpretive display.

We also stopped at Otter Crest State Park with some of the best ocean views ever, and the Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area where, besides great views, we watched a surfing competition in the bay below. Oh, and grabbed some great ice cream in the tiny nearby settlement! (Good luck finding parking there!)

Mom and calf before they got kicked off the float by the male

We always love to do at least three things in Newport; walk the waterfront, look for the sea lions, and eat at Local Ocean. Unfortunately, we saw no outdoor dining options at Local Ocean, which always has amazing seafood meals. So, the sun was coming out, and we walked the working waterfront. Then we saw people staring at something on one of the docks, so we checked it out … sea lions! Only two, but hey! After getting as close as safely possible, we kept walking, and then came to the main dock where we’ve seen them before, and there were about a dozen of them! We watched their antics for awhile – the big bull sea lions do NOT want to share their portion of the dock. There are always more sea lions than spaces, so females or younger ones are always trying to climb on board, eliciting an aggressive response from the male.

Just the best view of the sea lions!

I noticed that even though it was a bit cool outside, people were dining on an outdoor deck overlooking the sea lion show below, so we headed over to the Saltwater Restaurant, and were able to grab a prime seat. So much fun, and the perfect way to wrap up our stay on the coast. Next stop, the Willamette Valley and Portland.

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Highlights from Oregon Part One of Three

Full disclosure, I’ve lived in and (mostly) loved Washington almost 50 years. But, I was born and raised in Oregon, and lived there until my early 20’s. There are many very special places there, and we recently got to visit three of them. We could have taken I-5; surprisingly the back roads are not only more scenic, but faster! Hence, we cut over from I-5 to catch I-90, and then jumped onto SR97. We stopped at Trevari Cellars south of Yakima for lunch. All they have is sparkling wine, but boy is it good. And just look at that lunch! Not to mention views of Rainier and Adams on a clear day.

After passing through Yakima, you encounter Wapato and Toppenish, blink-of-an-eye agricultural towns, then it’s nothing but hills and valleys for miles and miles. Peaceful, tranquil and beautiful.

Amber waves of … grain? … grass? See the video on my Instagram account

Many miles later comes Goldendale; a steady descent to the Columbia River Gorge is imminent, and the views start to open up. Soon you cross the once-mighty Columbia; heads-up! This is pretty much the last gas (etc) stop for maybe 75 or more miles! We get pretty good mileage, so I thought we had plenty of gas, and blithely passed a chance to refuel. We quickly started climbing out of the gorge, but had to stop at this hillside covered with grain that were literally “amber waves of grain” being gently massaged by the wind. Breathtaking and mesmerizing, we had to stop and watch for awhile.

Soon there were miles and miles of miles and miles. While the earth-bound scenery was great, the stunner was the cloudscapes, huge and imposing, light and dark, beautiful and threatening. My gas gauge started sending me threatening notes … “Fuel Low!” Surely a town would show up soon? And one did – Shaniko. Four buildings and what purported to be a gas station, with pumps from the 1960’s still apparently operational. I just couldn’t do it. Culver? Nope. Terrebonne? Nope. Finally, Redmond. Under normal circumstances, Safeway gas would be my last choice, but it looked like an oasis in a desert at that moment. On to Bend, and my sibling reunion.

The whole crew!

So, this whole sibling thing gets complicated. I’ll spare you all the rabbit trails of how the original five sibs became seven, and then nine; at this gathering the first five and final two step-brothers (and for those so equipped, spouses or spousal equivalents) were all there. Sister Susan and husband John moved there shortly after their retirement, and own a large and lovely home overlooking the Deschutes River. All but four of us stayed there.

I’ve traveled the West for years, and have never come across a city or town like Bend. It’s high desert, pine and juniper country, with a backdrop of multiple volcanic giants. Mt. Bachelor is well known to skiers, but the Three Sisters steal the show, and are beloved by hikers and climbers. The South Sister (10, 354′), while challenging, is not a technical climb; John and I did it for his 60th birthday. Just down the road from them is Cascade Lakes Highway (formerly known as Century Drive, so-named because it offers access to 100 lakes in a semi-alpine setting.) Camping and canoeing can’t be beat here!

Looks like fun, but it’s a workout!

The city of Bend is built right on the Deschutes River. The downtown is vibrant and delightful, with lots of great shops and restaurants. The Old Mill District is pretty snazzy, right on the river with – again – tons of shopping and fabulous restaurants, PLUS paved trails along the river (rent a two or four person quadricycle for fun and exercise), or rent inner tubes to float the river. Kayakers can run challenging man-made rapids as well. We went to dinner at Monkless Brewing, at the far north of the Old Mill District, with a view of the river. The food and beer were really good.

Dinner at Monkless Brewing. Great views, really great beer, and good food.

Oh, did I mention beer? Right now, Bend has 22, yes, 22 breweries! One day, I’m going to have to return and really check some of these out. Finally, there are tons of hiking trails all around, We did the Upper Falls – Lava Island hike, which was beautiful, and suitable for almost all abilities. The adventurous can also white-water raft the Deschutes. All of this just scratches the surface of things to do and places to go in the Bend area, but it’s time to head to the Oregon Coast.

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We make it to Murphys!

It’s Monday, and the crowds are gone in Murphys. There are parking spots on Main Street; this is a tourist destination, so many businesses take Monday and Tuesday off. But the sun is shining, and it’s a glorious day, and we are even in shorts! Off we go.

All smiles at Tanner Vineyards!

First off is Tanner Vineyards. We discovered this gem years ago, and are both heads-over-heels in love with it. We are hoping that they have some wine left after the crowds at the wine festival in Murphys this last weekend. The door has an Open sign, so we are hopeful. Christie greets us as we walk in, and shows us a tasting menu, which looks really promising. 

We start off with a 2020 Jaqueline Rose; typically, both Terri and I love Rose’ for summer sipping on hot summer days on the patio, but this one leaves us both underwhelmed. We quickly move on to their T Brut Sparkling, and are blown away. It’s the best sparkling wine I have tasted the entire trip. Made from French Colombard and Chardonnay grapes, it is full of flavor, rich and full-bodied for a sparkling wine. And it does seem to have maybe a wee bit more sugar, which fits nicely with the grapes.

Next is their 2019 Med Red, with 70% Mourvedre, 15% Barbera and 15% Petite Sirah. Oh.My.Gosh. Giant and juicy with mildly tannic fruits and a great mouthfeel. A bit spicy with dark berry and a loooong finish. Why do they call it Med Red? Because this will definitely go with tomato-based dishes from the Mediterranean, from pasta to pizza. 

On to a 2019 Barbera. Oh so rich and luscious! Their notes say Strawberry Preserves; I almost got cherry cough syrup, but in a good way. Some wines just don’t show up for me unless they are paired with food, which always makes both the food and the wine sing together. This wine, for me, is exceptional just by itself, and would need big and bold food to stand up to the massive flavors. 

We finish with a 2018 Reserve Petite Sirah. We’ve tasted a LOT of Petite Sirah on this trip, and found several we loved. We found this one to be true to the grape, with balanced but reticent fruit, and a very light body with a shorter finish. Oh well, saved me a bit of $$ there. We made our purchase, and had them hold it while we continued to check out Murphys, including a couple of recommendations Christie made for us.

The old Murphys Hotel is right next to Tanner, which another couple who was tasting recommended for lunch; since our favorite restaurant was closed, we decided to give it a try. This historic charmer was built in 1855, and is still going strong today. Who stayed here in the past? Mark Twain (he got around), Horatio Alger, General U.S. Grant, Black Bart, Susan B. Anthony, John Jacob Astor and J.P. Morgan. While it suffered some damage in the Great Fire of 1859, the damage was minimal as it was built of stone, and had steel fire doors.

Murphys Hotel has a large outdoor dining area shaded by large trees, and an old horse-drawn covered surrey used to transport guests as a focal point. Terri had a Portabella sandwich with roasted red pepper, and I had a Southwest Chicken wrap. They were both quite good, and it was an enjoyable place to dine. Thus fortified, we headed back out.

Next up, Newsome-Harlow Cellars. The building itself has kind of an odd layout, as the storefront is set back from the street by maybe 50’. This creates a kind of narrow courtyard perfect for outdoor tasting. We meet River, a delightful young woman who is a wonderful ambassador for this winery. She starts us off with a 2021 Sauvignon Blanc “The drinking water of Murphys” according to their tasting sheet. Terri liked it a lot; enough to buy a bottle. The 2021 Rose’ of Sangiovese was okay, but didn’t quite meet the mark to buy a bottle. Ditto with the 2019 Derailed, a Cab-Mer blend that was a bit tannic, with the fruit somewhere in the background.

What’s this? A Carignane? (Or is that a Carignan?) No matter, it wasn’t on the tasting list, but what a wine! Typically this is a blending wine – in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or tasted it as a single varietal. I found it really hard to categorize what I was tasting, finally settling on red apple peel. Terri gave me a quizzical look – “I get nutmeg” she said. We both found it very appealing, a revelatory look at an overlooked grape, nicely produced with just the right amount of fruit with smooth tannin’s playing a supportive role in the background. 

The big – and I mean big – surprise was the 2019 Foothill Zin. Seriously, it was every bit as good as what we had tasted in Sonoma. My notes say “Fruit – not too big, not small. Spice, well integrated with tannin’s. Bargain – like $45 Sonoma.” For only $25? Even with ALL the Zin we bought earlier, I could not pass this up.

On to the 2019 Sirah. Nice! Really great fruit, great body and spice with a hint of earthy herbs on the finish. We finished up with a 2019 Petite Sirah. Hmm,all I said was “Maybe a bit young, with promise to get better as tannin’s decline.” Well, that was fun! 

Christie had recommended a couple of other wineries – Jazz, known for their Pinot Noir, and Broll. Unfortunately, Jazz was closed, and Broll – well, the interesting thing is that it appears their wines appeal to a substantial number of people, just not us.

Last but not least, the smell of fresh waffle cones lured us into an ice cream shop, where we forced ourselves to limit our purchases to two scoops each. So good, and a perfect way to wrap up our visit. And cut! What a fun day, wandering this charming  town, reading the historical plaques, checking out small shops, eating good food and tasting great wine. Murphys, we will return!

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When a door closes…

Ohh, so this is why there were thousands in Murphys!

We were SO excited to return to the small town of Murphys, CA. A charming main street with lots of buildings dating from the gold rush era filled with history and fun shops … oh yeah, and a tasting room or two. As soon as we pulled into town, we noticed throngs of people on the streets, crowds along the sidewalks. Parking is always a bit of a challenge, but we knew there was a multi-acre parking lot a few blocks away from Main Street – which was over capacity. Regretfully, we decided that the weekend was not the best time to come.

We headed south of town, and quickly found Locke Vineyards, which looked quite inviting. They had done a great job on the landscape with lots of lavender plants and a vineyard, and the tasting room fit the locale perfectly. While the wines weren’t a great match for our palates, our hostess was a wealth of information about other wineries and nearby points of interest.

Brice Station Winery

Her first recommendation was Brice Winery and Quyle Kilns pottery studio and workshop.

Brice Winery has quite a unique tasting “room”. In a subsequent conversation with the property owner Pamela Quyle (see below), it turns out that this was originally a bomb/radiation shelter her dad had built back in the late 50’s to early 60’s. She later put on a new front and a shake roof. The wines were generally unremarkable; the Cabernet Sauvignon was okay, and I got the $15 tasting fee waived by buying a bottle, so I called that a win.

The Quyle Kilns pottery studio was quite interesting. We met Pamela, whose parents moved to the family property in 1954. They started the first company in the USA to actually produce clay that could be shipped to potters, due to a technological breakthrough – plastic bags! The bags were originally intended for a turkey farmer to ship his birds. Quyle was the largest clay producing company in America for years; Pamela took over the business from her parents, but had to shut the clay business down a few months ago due to near-zero demand due to COVID. 

Producing the clay is quite the process. First they would travel to the western foot of the Sierra Nevada range where clay had washed down from the mountains over the eons to collect in gigantic deposits. They’d bring the raw clay back to their ranch/farm, and process it to remove sticks, small rocks and vegetative matter by adding water to make a slurry, then using a press that produces 1,000 pounds per square inch to push the slurry through fabric filters to manufacture a clean product. They made four different blends by mixing several clay’s together to make a perfect product for potters.

Quyle Kilns now is the home to several artists, as well as students and instructors, with a large showroom. I bought a mug as a memento of this trip, and Terri got four cool dessert bowls. Next up – Red Apple Fruit Stand.

The Red Apple Fruit Stand

Which we passed by at about 60mph, and had to turn around to get back to. Describing it as dilapidated funky may be just a shade too kind. Nonetheless, it came highly recommended, and we wanted to bring a pie to Martha and Uncle Don the next day; we decided to try a 5” blueberry pie for a taste test. Well, it WAS good, so after much deliberation, we passed up the apple pie for a strawberry/rhubarb pie. (Note: it turned out that apple pie was his favorite, but none of us left any on the plate on our visit).

Adventures completed for the day, we returned to the condo for happy hour on the deck, satisfied that once again we’d found a way to turn lemons into lemonade. Or had we found a window when a door had closed? Cheers!

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To Healdsburg (Part 3) and Beyond!

We had one main mission today – to taste wine at Pezzi-King in Healdsburg. We plugged it into our maps app, which finally loaded once we were nearly there. But when we arrived, it was nowhere to be found. We drove around and around, and not a clue, so I went on the website, and discovered that a reservation was required to taste – pay in advance, please – and that it was actually in a building we had passed, but without a name on the front. Oh, and no reservations were available for the rest of the day. So we booked on for Wednesday, our last day in Sonoma, and cruised into town, looking for Williamson Wines, recommended by friends.

On the way, we saw Longboard Wines, so we took a longshot, and stopped in. They had a small, pleasant tasting area out front, and a large event-type area inside with the casks of wine making 30 foot tall walls on three sides. There were several wines to try; none were bad, but none of them were able to get my wallet out for anything but the tasting fee. On to Williamson Winery.

Street-side tasting areas built over parking spots are the norm in Healdsburg; we were happy  this one had a roof, as a brief shower passed over us. Angie was quite knowledgeable about the wines, and the winemaker, Bill Williamson. Holding three degrees, he started and later sold a software company in Australia, then moved to San Francisco to start another very successful one. He owns at least 10 vineyards throughout the Sonoma – Mendocino area, at least two restaurants, plus dinners for 10 guests available at his home (he has four top chefs working for him). And, he has a line of cheeses and condiments, which are paired with the wines we tasted.

First off, Tickled Pink, a delicious Rose’ blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot! This was paired with a cheddar cheese with a Beet and Horseradish Mustard; spectacular! We are coming home with a bottle of each. From there we went to Pinot Noir; I must admit, with all the wineries offering this grape, I’ve been very disappointed that none came close to meeting my expectations, including theirs, the Rapture. The cheese pairing was great, though. Onto two Red Bordeaux style wines; the Allure and the Entice, paired with a gouda. They were both good, but the Entice DID entice me to get a bottle. Finally, the Indulge, a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon, with a Gouda and pepper and bacon jam. Terri HAD to have a jar of that to bring home!

We had so much fun there that we took Angie’s suggestion, and booked a late lunch at their restaurant tasting room for Wednesday. We can’t wait! Then I asked Angie to recommend just one winery we couldn’t miss no more than 10 miles away, and she recommended Ferrari-Carano. It will probably end up being the highlight of our trip here. 

The ‘tasting room” turned out to be a gigantic, Italian style villa with wonderful gardens, and expansive views of hills laden with vineyards basking in the sun. The tasting was done on a very large patio complete with boxwood shrubbery carving out individual areas for tables. Reservations were required, and we didn’t have one, but fate smiled kindly on us, and we were able to be seated at a small table tucked up next to the villa, with great views wherever we looked.

We were immediately given a taste of Fume’ Blanc as we were seated, which I quite enjoyed. Eventually we were greeted by Harry, a slight, unassuming man with a bit of a speech impediment. We started off with a Chardonnay which was better than average. I moved on to reds; a 2018 Middle Ranch Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. Yes! THIS was the Pinot I’d been looking for the entire trip! Harry appreciated my approval of the wine, noting that most others were looking for an entirely different expression of this grape. Couldn’t pass it up.

View from the tasting patio

Next on the list was a 2018 Merlot from Sonoma County. While it was just a bit light for me, I commented on the nice structure and some potential for aging. Harry told us that one Merlot he bought for $32 is now worth at least $1,000! At one time he had owned over 600 cases of wine; When he “liquidated” his holdings due to a dissolution, the net proceeds were over $100,000

On to the 2016 Tressor Bordeaux Blend, also from Sonoma County. A very non-traditional Bordeaux, 71% Cab Sauv, 10% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Very, nice, could not pass it up. Our last taste was a Cabernet Sauvignon; good, but we left some for the next visitors.

But this was about so much more than just the wine. The setting was idyllic, sunny, comfortable temperature, amazing views, spoiled only for a short time by a narcissistic Instagram influencer putting on a bit of a show for her photographer/partner. As we left, Harry looked me in the eye and gave me the most interesting compliment. “You know more about wine than you think you do.”

Then, just for fun, right before we got home, we stopped off at Russian River Brewing and tried a Belgian Quad (a double Doppel Bock?) and a Stout. Being in California, I’m thinking that the Stout had gone on a diet; not as stout as I like a Stout. The Belgian was 9.5% and wonderful. Terri let me have a sip.

Up next: tasting at Pezzi-King and a late lunch at Williamson Winery.

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Best Laid Plans Take a Detour

The plan was beautiful in its simplicity. Drive out to Guerneville, then drive back, stopping at a few wineries we’d spot along the way. What could go wrong? Well, first the day got off to a slow start – somehow, I slept in until 8:30, which is super-rare. Then Terri took the time to make us a fabulous breakfast of Avocado Toast with a fruit salad, which was really tasty and filling, but more time-consuming than our typical granola and yogurt. Oh well, both are great, let’s head out!

Oops, then there’s the whole WiFi/cell phone coverage issue. The good news is that we get free WiFi here, but only for two devices. We chose Terri’s iPad, and the laptop so we can connect to the TV and stream shows instead of the usual garbage, plus I can work on my blog. The downside is that the cell coverage here looks good on paper, but connecting to the internet on the phones ranges between sluggish and nearly non-existent. I could NOT pull up the route to Guerneville at all. No worries, I had a basic idea of how to get there, so we headed out. 

Dinner is served!

And within a few minutes were completely distracted by a flock of Turkey Vultures on a wide shoulder of the road holding a conclave. We had to pull over! They didn’t budge, even though we were pretty close. Terri took a video, then I had to get out, change the lens on my camera for a nice close-up shot, and then take my own video. We walked a few steps the other way towards a creek where we’d seen another vulture, and discovered another carcass, cleaned up to the bones. Several minutes later, we drove away, and came to an intersection.

And turned the wrong way, waiting for the route to load on the phone. And discovered Sebastapol. Did I mention all the wineries we passed on the way? But I was on a mission to get to Guerneville, maybe because it was such a cool name, or because on a map it looked to be in the Russian River area, which is widely known for their great grapes. Only a half an hour away (which is how long it should have taken us in the first place). 

The roads out here are very narrow, generally with zero shoulders, overhung with oak trees, and twisty as a corkscrew. With someone behind you who typically drives them 10-20 mph over the limit. Hidden driveways abound, making me wonder how many times residents have been hit trying to get on the road. Suddenly I see a sign that says “Russian River Winery” as I fly past. I want to stop! Luckily, there is a small junction, a dirt road to a local cemetery, so I pull in and turn around.

As we drive down the winery driveway, we spot what looks to be a building built 150 years ago, but then we see other rustic, but newer ones as well. We enter the main building … but no one is there. There is a sign that points to Wine Tasting, which ends up in an odd place. A woman appears “Can  I help you?” “Wine tasting?” I ask with lifted eyebrows. “Over there” across a courtyard, and a completely separate area. Nick comes out to show us to a table; we find one out of a cool breeze that even has a heater, and settle in.

We are happy to see they have an onsite restaurant, as it is now past lunchtime. We order a Focaccia Bread; they customize the toppings to our preferences, and we dig in, accompanied by tastes of their wines. Oh, and I HAD to wander around the grounds, taking photos of several vintage vehicles and the huge trees (Redwoods?) that dotted their grounds. Their wines were interesting. The first Pinot Noir I tried had a distinct taste of dill pickle, not exactly pleasing to my palate. The next one was much better, but then Nick brought out the Petite Sirah, and it knocked my socks off, and I had to get a bottle. Somehow we learned that they had also made a sparkling wine from Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. What? That’s crazy – but it was only $20, so we took a flier, buying it taste untested. 

Okay, on to Guerneville! The roads now became overhung with coastal Redwoods, up and down, narrower and even twistier. When we finally pulled into Guerneville, we were agape. It was as if we had passed through a portal, and been transported into the late 1950’s. And it started raining. We took off, and soon came to Korbel Winery, established in 1862. Full of anticipation we entered. A staff person eventually approached, only to inform us we were 20 minutes too late to try any of their wines, as they were closing soon. We did stop at their deli, and picked up some sweet treats, as well as two micro bottles of their champagne-style wine. That was the last winery we saw on our way home, except for the ones we hunted down in Windsor that were closed.

Well, we had wanted to explore, and explore we did! The day ended up nothing like we had planned or anticipated, but it was full of opportunities to let ourselves absorb what life offered on that one unique day. Maybe we didn’t get want we wanted, but we got what we needed.

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The Game of “Cutting Trees”

I just listened to a podcast featuring C. Chi Nguyen, as heard on the Ezra Klein Show, that was fun, interesting and transformative (listen HERE). It talked about how governments and businesses strip out details and nuances on topics/issues/programs/actions, and reduces them to quantifiable numbers, such as grades, profit margins, clicks, etc. He goes on to say that when we play that game, then the game plays us, and we start to measure ourselves by how many “likes” we get, how many steps we take, what were your sales, and on and on. 

Orientation at the start of the hike

A short time ago, I took a short hike with 29 other people to a place called “Unit 2 Upper Rutzatz” that was recently slated to be clear-cut of all but a very few, very large trees. The Center for Responsible Forestry surveyed the area, and found it was a “Legacy Forest’; one that had been logged by white settlers around 1880, and subsequently regrew into a mixed species forest with trees now over 4 feet in diameter, and 200 feet high. It is also a watershed first least two forks of the Nooksack River that merge just downhill. 

Onward and upward!

The Center for Responsible Forestry (C4RF) mobilized their members, local residents, and members of other interested groups like the Mount Baker Group of the Sierra Club in writing letters to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to try and save this biologically rich and diverse area.

So, the DNR sees this as its game; how many board feet of lumber can they get from cutting the trees down, and how much money can they get by selling the rights to cut the trees? They DO have to abide by some rules in this game; how many trees over 4’ in diameter are there? Not many, but they must be saved. How many Cedar trees are there? Are there protected species there?

Made it to the end of the road

But this is a multi-player game, and environmentalists can play as well. How many letters opposing the sale can we get? How much testimony before the DNR committee will be heard? (And DNR changed the rules; only one hour of public input instead of two, and only two minutes per person, down from three. Announced on the day of the meeting). How many articles can we help get written? In the Upper Rutzatz game, enough public opinion was generated to get the DNR to postpone the sale from March to April. We will see what April brings.

And then we took our hike to Section 2. Here is a quote from C. Thi Nugyen that spoke to me:

“And games are toxic for me when we just get hyper-narrowed on the point system and we never think about the larger outcome of the point system. We never think about what our life is like or what the activity is like under that point system. We never think about what follows from it. The big worry with the impact of highly gamified external systems is it encourages us not to step into a game and [then] step back from it and think about the richness of the activity and whether it was worth it. What I’m worried about is those cases when the point system blocks out everything else from your universe and you don’t see any of the other stuff.”

C. Chi Nguyen as heard on the Ezra Klein Show

Our group walked about two miles up a steep logging road to reach the contested area. We saw a couple of trees with blue rings spray-painted around them: I asked Alex, one of the group leaders, what they were for. “Those are the trees that will be saved,” he said. Presumably they will be one of the eight trees per acre they are required to leave due to the rules of the game. Everything else will be cut down to ground level. 

Once we made it to the top, we found a small clearing where we sat and drank in the stillness of the forest, and in our minds’ eyes, compared this organically mixed-species regrown woods to the tree-factory feeling of a monoculture forest. As we sat there – men and women, boys and girls, and happy cavorting dogs – we were learning about this Legacy Forest, and others like it, and the benefits of preserving it.  A group of mountain bikers passed through; it was obvious we weren’t the only ones who saw the beauty and restorative properties in this area. 

Learning in and from the forest

Immersed in regrown nature, we found ourselves unplugged from the “Game of Cutting Trees” and let our thoughts and spirits wander amongst the Douglas Fir, Cedar, Hemlock, Broadleaf Maple, ferns, Oregon Grape and other plants. We were “thinking about the richness of the experience (of hiking and being in the woods) and whether it was worth it.” And it was, and our lives were enriched by it.

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The Cask (Bottle) of Amontillado

Starting in my youth (and even nowadays), I’d find an author I liked, and I’d read everything the author wrote. I started off with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries, then moved on to Edgar Allen Poe. One of his most famous and fascinating short stories is “The Cask of Amontillado,” where he lures an already intoxicated “friend” who has deeply wronged him to the cellars deep beneath his grand home on the premise he has located a rare cask of Amontillado wine. He gets him even drunker, chains him up in an alcove, then builds a new wall, sealing him there forever.

So, I’ve always had a curiosity about this wine for ages. Terri and I were out grocery shopping the other day, and I saw a bottle of authentic  Amontillado from Spain, and thought “Hey, now’s our chance to try this!” So, with much anticipation, we bought the bottle and brought it home. Amontillado is a type of Sherry; there are seven different types: manzanilla, fino, amontillado, oloroso, palo cortado, cream and Pedro Ximenez. Some Sherry’s are aperitifs, to be enjoyed before a meal; others are served with food; and others are served as a dessert wine. 

Years ago, we stayed at an awesome Bed and Breakfast in northern California, and they offered a wine in the evening we quite enjoyed. We had thought it was a Port, but later found out it was a Sherry. We’ve been searching for it for years, and had hoped that this Amontillado was THE one.

We opened the bottle with great anticipation, swirled the wine, and appreciated the nose redolent of almonds. We tasted it, and Whoa, Charlie! This was NOT the wine we had hoped for; I normally like dry wines, but this bordered on astriginent. Terri took three sips, and was done. I stuck with it and finished the small pour, but it didn’t seem to improve. Sadly, it looks like this bottle is going to be (another) bottle of Sherry used for cooking.

Have you had a different experience with Sherry? Let me know! (But if you invite us over for a tasting of a rare Amontillado in your basement, we will probably decline).

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2021 – Not As Bad As I Thought…

I was throwing a private little pity-party for myself on Christmas Eve. Plans to travel to Portland and the Seattle area to see friends, our kids, grand-kids, sisters, nieces and nephews had to be cancelled once again. “This year REALLY sucks,” I thought, “and next year is starting to also look really sucky.” The emergence of Omicron as an incredibly contagious variant of Coronavirus AND getting over 18” of snow and near-zero temperatures really cast a pall of doom over my thoughts and feelings.

But on New Years Day, I started working on a post to our Skagit Friends of Wine group. I began scrolling through photos of 2021, and it was like “Wow! We did all that?” Local low-land hikes in January, snowshoeing in Leavenworth in February, Skagit daffodils in March, Long Beach and Astoria in April. May saw us take a 4000 mile road trip, and fulfill a bucket-list desire to see Mesa Verde as well as explore around Taos, NM, Durango, CO and St. George, UT. (Not interested in recaps? This is a great place to skip to the end).

Then in June, Terri posted “Do You Like to Drink Wine?” on NextDoor, and Skagit Friends of Wine was born. We hosted eight events open to all members at various local wineries, wine cellars and restaurants with up to 20 people at the outside only venues. In the process, we made several new friends, and met up with several of them for hikes, meals and other gatherings. 

We got to explore the Olympic Peninsula in July with my sister from Colorado, do a favorite hike at Mt Baker, and attend a grandson’s Little League games. August saw us meeting up with a high school friend of Terri’s, have domino’s and dinner with a daughter and granddaughter, see an outdoor concert with friends, and spend time with our daughter and twin grandson’s from Portland while they were visiting here. Our big adventure in September was a visit to Orcas Island, staying in a cozy cabin at Deer Harbor. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to explore the San Juan Islands, it is pretty awesome. Moran State Park alone would take over a week to see everything.

October turned out to be a pleasant fall month; we got our booster vaccination, and we were out and about meeting with our SFoW group, hiking, walking, dining on outdoor patios, and generally taking advantage of the last few nice days before the Long Wet Gray. November lived up to its reputation of being cold and wet, but we still got out here and there; a visit to Terri’s sister and BIL in Port Townsend, helping on some projects to restore the late 1870’s home they bought, and then celebrating my 70th birthday (okay, a couple of years late) with friends at a bistro with a heated, outdoor patio. 

December! Baking cookies with Granddaughter Grace, our last SFoW event at Lantz Cellars, complete with hand-tossed pizza baked in a wood-fired pizza oven, celebrating our anniversary at Birch Bay – and the weather even cooperated! Then, a first in years, a White Christmas, and another dinner and Mexican Train Domino night with Jenn and Grace. Then more snow, cancelling the trips mentioned above. The snow stayed another day, and the day after that, and the day after that, and … still snow on the ground today, January4!

Hmm, it wasn’t my intention to list the highlights of the year, but what a year it was. The continuing lock downs, then a vaccine! The world starts to open up again, only to have the football pulled away just as we went to kick it. Laying on the ground, the wind knocked out of us, it was easy for me to focus on what we had just lost, not all we had been able to do in 2021. All in all, it was definitely a better year than I thought. 2022? Who knows? It’s anybody’s guess what kind of yo-yo ride it will be, with ups and downs in so many aspects of our lives. The good news is that if you truly live each and every day, it just might turn out better than expected – or remembered. 

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That’s What niH Said!

Introducing niH, the gender-free personal pronoun

It started out as a nice, quiet dinner with another couple at a local bistro. Somehow the conversation turned to the increasing difficulties of which personal pronoun is preferred by any random person. Zoom (and probably many others) have even added the option for you to state which pronoun you desire others to use when conversing with or about you. As we continue to experience increasing levels of genderless clothing and hairstyles and lifestyles, it rapidly becomes apparent that he/his, she/hers, etc, is an antiquated form of speech. 

During the dinner, I proposed an entirely gender-free personal pronoun – the word niH. As a symbol of non-conformity, the last letter will be capitalized, as well as give a clue as to the pronunciation of this word. As an added benefit, the word is so amorphous it lends itself to a wide variety of situations, and is very flexible in usage. “That waitperson is great. niH really does a good job!” “niH said it’s time to go now.” “Whose turn is it? Oh, it’s niHs.” 

In the course of the conversation, a question arose: “What is the plural of niH?” Hmmm, that made me think … so, is there a plural of (using oldspeak) she? Well, I guess a gathering of she-persons would be women. Using that as a guideline, it seems like niHen (both “men” and “women” end in “en”) would make the most sense. 

Now, there is no way I can make this go viral by myself. I need a strong team I can depend on, and so I am founding the Royal Order of the Knights of niH. This may ring a bell for some of you; to see the Monty Python inspiration for the Knights of niH, check it out HERE. We will recognize each other by wearing a very small shrubbery – like a spring of Thyme – pinned to the lapel. 

So, now go and spread the word – niH, niH, niH!

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Dealing with a Tunnel Vision

New friends at SFoW Chili Feed

A couple of weeks ago we were at our last larger Skagit Friends of Wine gathering for the year, and I related to one of our friends an image that had taken over my thoughts. We had a wonderful spring and summer and early fall, but now the days are rapidly getting shorter, the temperatures colder, and the rains heavier and more frequent. And with the Delta variant running rampant, our storm warning flags were flapping crazily in the winds of change, warning of extreme danger. Time to retreat to the castle, fill the moat, and pull up the drawbridge. The image that came to my mind was of a tunnel that I was being compelled to enter; a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end, and no end in sight. “That’s DARK”, my friend said and gave me a … look. 

It had been so wonderful to emerge from our hibernation, albeit slowly and cautiously, after we got our vaccination. We took our 4,000 mile road trip detailed here. Terri started our wine-tasting group Skagit Friends of Wine with the goal of making new friends, and boy, did it succeed! And we met lots of new people, like us, looking for friends, and we connected and formed a new little community. It truly felt bad to have to revert to our self-imposed exile in an effort to keep ourselves safe and healthy. Then, to top it off, we found out that whatever level of immunity we had gotten from the vaccine was waning.

Found the silver lining!

But then, a crack in the clouds appeared. In real life, when a small hole appears in the omnipresent cloud cover in the PNW, many of us locals call it a Blue Hole, and it brings an moment of joy. The first Blue Hole was being able to get a booster shot for our vaccine, which should buy us an extra three to six months of enhanced protection. YAY! And then we read that the chances of a vaccinated person getting COVID from a breakthrough case from another vaccinated person were super low. Another yay! That opens up a whole new realm of possibilities to get together with friends over the winter. But wait, there’s more! Both King and Jefferson Counties are now mandating proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test for indoor dining. What? We have not dined indoors at a  restaurant since late February, 2020, and now (in those counties) we can? Suddenly that tunnel is looking pretty short and well-lit.

And then for the icing on the cake, opportunities came up for us to spend a week at the Oregon coast soon, and several days in Leavenworth in February for snowshoeing and (possibly) cross-country skiing. And maybe – just maybe – even an early spring trip to Sonoma. Yeah, not holding my breath on that one, but you never know.

My vision of that long, black tunnel had given me tunnel vision about the future. But right at this exact moment, as I am writing this, the sun is breaking out from the clouds, spreading its joyous light to my eyes and my heart. My tunnel vision has been replaced by Blue Holes, popping up unexpectedly here and there. Here’s hoping that you are experiencing our own personal “Blue Holes” and moments of joy during these crazy times.

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My Aging Eyes!

or … My Eyes Age … Yours?

Sorry about the bad puns

You may be aware that my Instagram account name is Adventures In Aging, which was what this blog was supposed to be all about. My goal is to be fully aware, and fully alive to every moment I have left is this beautiful, crazy world. And with that, here’s my latest adventure.

I’ve been blessed with super-sharp vision and awareness my whole life, getting down to the 20/15 line on the eye exam charts. Having said that, I’ve worn glasses for decades, but primarily because I was selling glasses, and that made me more relatable to those who needed to buy them. And, like everyone else in the world, when I hit my mid-40’s I needed them to be able to read and work on the computer, and a wee bit of correction for distance, which still enabled me to see 20/15. 

Then about three weeks ago as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed some bright flashes of light in the outer periphery of my right eye. I knew right away what it was – a Posterior Vitreous Detachment. My wife had just had one a couple of weeks before, and I was aware of them from my years working for optometrists. Generally not an alarming situation, but disconcerting, as well as being unhappy with the new, large, circular and very visible floater in my eye. 

So, to be on the safe side, I went in, got my eye dilated and checked out by the doctor. Nothing to be concerned about, but if you notice anything “off”, come back in; sometimes the vitreous will continue to pull away from the retina, and need to be “welded” back on with laser surgery. Bill, you got almost all the letters on the 20/25 line, not bad for a guy your age with developing cataracts. 20/25? Really? That’s a HUGE change from the 20/15 last year!

So, it’s about time for my annual eye exam; I called and the first available appointment is a whole month away! So now I’m in limbo – is my vision loss in both eyes, or just the one with the PVD? Is the loss due to the PVD, cataracts, or some combination? I can definitely tell my vision is NOT what i’m used to, and it sucks, and I have no idea if it will improve with time, new glasses and/or (when it’s time) with cataract surgery.

So, up, up and away on a new Adventure in Aging! Stay tuned …

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FIRE! Smoke! and Music?

As I was going to bed the other night after another day of being shut inside the house due to smoke from wildfires, the lyrics to an old song came to my mind:

“When all the breathin’ air is gone; when the sun is just a bright spot in the night time …” Out in the County, by Three Dog Night (click to listen)

I’m quite sensitive to smoke, due to an asthma-type condition, so we have a good-sized, highly effective air purifier, plus a 20’ box fan with a furnace filter bungee-corded to the back. Looking outside, not only were our nearby hills invisible, but even the houses just across the street were hazy. We had to cancel plans to get together with friends today. BUT. Our little town has not burned to the ground. We have not had to evacuate our home, and flee for our lives. We’ve not even been under an evacuation alert (although after last year, we do have a bugout box packed, and near the car in the garage). 

Anyhow, with the tune becoming an earworm, it made me remember when I first became environmentally aware, a couple of years before this song in 1970, about how even then the science forecast our situation today. Then I was reminded about another song:

How can we dance

When our earth is turning

How do we sleep

While our beds are burning

The time has come

To say fair’s fair

To pay the rent

Now to pay our share

“Beds are Burning” by Midnight Oil, 1987 (click to listen)

I love the imagery of the lyrics; wasting our time in trivial pursuits every day, sleeping like babies while where we sleep – the earth – is burning more ferociously than ever. And we may need to make some sacrifices to save what’s left of our world. But then I saw a rabbit trail, and off I went!

Songs about fire, smoke and …

“Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown “Fire, I bring you to burn…” yeah, once we started, we just couldn’t stop.

“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple “Smoke on the water, fire in the sky…”

“Light My Fire” by the Doors “Come on baby, light my fire …” 

“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor “Well I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain …”

“Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele “Well I set fire to the rain …”

“Ashes, the Rain and I” by the James Gang “Ashes to ashes, the rain’s turning colder

Finding tomorrow, the ashes, the rain and I”

Okay, now it’s your turn! What are your favorite songs about smoke, fire and ashes? Are you dealing with smoke? How are you coping with it?

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Finding Friends of Wine

MANY years ago, I got an “award” from my workplace for being “The Idea Guy.” My brain has a hard time shutting off, and it keeps coming up with ideas, some of which are actually viable. Two or three years ago, I had an idea to start a local wine-tasting group that would travel near and far to enjoy the camaraderie of tasting wines together. For whatever reason, it never came to fruition. 

This June, as we emerged from a year and a half from self-imposed exile from society, we realized that with our close friends having moved away, we really wanted to find some new people to be friends with. We half-heartedly tossed around a few ideas that quickly died on the vine. Then, on June 22, Terri posted this on the Nextdoor Neighbor app:

Do you like wine? My husband and I are tossing around the idea of getting a group going for people who enjoy socializing over a glass of wine. We are thinking that outings tasting at local wineries, backyard gatherings, “blind” tastings, establishing new friendships, etc would be fun. Does this sound interesting to anyone else?”

Glacial erratic at Skagit Crest Vineyard
Chuck and Donna detailing all the work a vineyard takes to produce great fruit.

It did. She had 32 “neighbors” from Skagit County reply that they loved the idea … including a local winemaker who volunteered to host a tasting at his vineyard and winery. Working with Chuck and his wife Donna from Skagit Crest Winery, we came up with a plan to host around 20 people at their winery. We would taste all 11 of their wines, and they would provide a charcuterie “plate” (actually a huge table overflowing with food) for a minimal charge. We set a date, and went to work to see how this might play out in real life.

First thing we did was to either directly reply to everyone who had liked or commented on Terri’s post, or private message them asking for their email addresses, and we got 17 responses (about 32 people). We sent an invitation to the tasting to each of them, and ended up with pretty much maxing the facility out. 

Our charcuterie “plate”

And it all came together and worked. The site was incredible, with views across the Skagit Valley to the Salish Sea and Olympics. The winery building had been transformed into an elegant setting, replete with stainless steel fermenting tanks, cases of wine, and linen covered tables. Our hosts started by taking us to their vineyard, and detailing the incredible amount of work it takes to grow great grapes to make fabulous wine. I was surprised to see that half of their vines were planted to Pinot Noir, not a varietal seen often this far north and west. We moved back to the winery, where they shared their story about how the winery came to be, the wines they make, and the medals their wine has won. Then the tasting commenced, and I was impressed by nearly every one of their wines. 

But the primary reason for this gathering was to meet people and potentially make new friends. We quite enjoyed the two couples at our table, and it appeared that there was good conversation going on at the other tables as well. Once the tasting was complete, most of the attendees stayed to buy some wine, and several of us took advantage of the offer to buy a glass of wine and move to the patio for more conversation and views of the valley. We were the first to arrive, and the last to leave, thrilled by the apparent success of our first event.

How will this all end up? Who knows, but we already have almost totally filled up our next event, and have more in the works – one of which will be an evening cruise on the Salish Sea on a 70’ yacht one of our members has offered for the group to use. And maybe – just maybe – we will find another couple or two who are also looking to become great friends.

Skagit Friends of Wine at Skagit Crest Winery. (Five members at the event not shown)

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Travelogue with Photos and Cursory Explanations Continued

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings At some point, the ancestral pueblo peoples moved from the mesa tops to below in sheltered alcoves. Most likely it was for protection, as the Ute and Navajo peoples started encroaching on their territory. These were very defensible spaces, but I can’t begin to imagine how much work it was to build them. Huge stones were shaped and brought up the cliff faces, then big timbers had to be hoisted somehow. After they were built, they still had to descend using ladders and tricky footholds carved into the rock to grow their crops, hunt, and bring up water.

Mesa Verde Cliff-top Ruins A thousand years ago the ancestral people had a thriving culture. Kivas were the hub of the community; specific clans held religious rituals that kept the world in working order. The Hopi believe that this is the fourth world; they had been preserved from prior destruction’s in various ways. Most recently, they emerged from being sheltered underground by the Ant People through a Sipapu, which is represented by one of the holes in the floor of the kiva.

Desert Gardens Fall in red rock country has its beauty, but for me, I’ll take the spring. This is tough country in which to survive, much less thrive.

Snow Canyon State Park This was supposed to have been Zion National Park, but it’s so popular, no one goes there anymore. We drove through Zion, and identified off-the beaten-path opportunities for next time, but just couldn’t face the hot, crowded shuttles leading to crowded attractions. So, we checked out opportunities near our condo in St. George, UT, and found a promising lead. Checking it out, it was the perfect way to end the exploration part of our road trip. Red rock galore! We found a promising hike, but someone (probably a local, not wanting to share with outsiders) removed the cemented in cairns that marked the most confusing part of the trail. No worries, next trip we will allow more time – I’m positive we can route-find on our own to the connecting trail.

Well, that’s it! Like so much in life, the trip didn’t always go as planned or as we initially hoped, but it was a beautiful, wonderful trip. And now we’ve gotten to share it with you!

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Travelogue with Photos and Cursory Explanations

I’ve been struggling for a month on whether or not to write this post, as it seems quite gratuitous and self-congratulatory. However, a few of you who follow me on Instagram wanted more details and photos, so let’s go. PS: My first time trying this format. Unfortunately, landscape photos (like the missing sandhill cranes) can only be viewed correctly by clicking into the photo. Sorry

Days 1 & 2. Drive 10 hours to McCall, Idaho. Nestled by Payette Lake in a valley ringed with mountains filled with small ski resorts, the small downtown seems to have more ATV’s and pickup trucks than pedestrians. Our top picks: Ponderosa State Park, Salmon River Brewery and Bistro 45.

Days 3 & 4. McCall, Idaho to Wolf Creek (Eden, Utah). The road from McCall to Boise is spectacular following a twisty, turny stream that carves a steep canyon as it grows into a river. Leaving Boise, follow I-84 to Ogden, then turn left and climb through another crazy road to Eden. Again, there are several ski areas here; I’m guessing that they were all part of the Winter Olympics that were held in Utah years ago. We were right by Powder Ridge Ski Resort. It looks like they bulldozed the entire mountain, built lifts and a day lodge and restaurant at the very top, then built dozens (hundreds?) of luxury second homes all around. Snowbasin, on the other hand, is stunningly beautiful with verdant forests leading up to jagged, snow-covered peaks. Mountain bike paradise, and decent hiking. Dining out? Pizza, Mexican food or sandwiches. No beer allowed without a food order (this IS Utah…).

Days 5 & 6. Wolf Creek to Durango, CO, 425 miles, about 7 hours. We love the whole Moab area, but were on a mission to make it to Durango, but what a confusing route! At one point, I felt certain we actually driving in a circle, but we finally made it! Only had one full day in Durango at this point, due to last minute changes … well, if you read my last post, you know. We had fun just relaxing, enjoying the downtown, and being tourists.

Days 7, 8 & 9. Durango to Taos, New Mexico, 200 miles about 4 hours. Seriously, read my post about Maps vs. GPS. Short version; we had no idea the map app route would take us over the top of a 10,584’ mountain. Once in Taos, we tried to make contact with a friend we had made years ago at the Taos Pueblo, but it was closed to visitors due to COVID. I left a message at the guardhouse; later, Carpio contacted us, and we met him for coffee and a two-and-a-half hour conversation. He is a born storyteller, and had at least a years worth to share.

Sadly, Carpio lost his beautiful daughter Coral about a year ago. He is still trying to get her death properly investigated, but law enforcement generally does not have a good track record when it comes to indigenous females. He shared many other stories – his romance with a young Helen Mirren, detailed in her book “In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures “. The time when he worked with Peter Fonda while they were filming Easy Rider at Taos. Meeting Neil Young, and appearing in his movie Human Highway. And so much more. Can’t wait to read HIS autobiography!

Oh yeah, we also checked out the Earthships, dirt roads on the Taos Plateau, had one lousy New Mexican dinner, and one fabulous one, then left.

Day 10. Taos to Durango, back over Jawbone Mountain. A special section just for the drive over Jawbone. On the way back, I was determined to try and stop to capture some photographs of old line shacks and ranches we had seen on the way to Taos. When I was young, I read every book Zane Grey had written. For some reason, the small shacks cowboys spent the night in as they rode the huge ranches checking fences (and for rustlers) captured my imagination. It was a treat to see a few of these along the road, which had probably just been a narrow trail in bygone years. This place gets its own photo gallery.

Days 11 & 12. Mesa Verde planning pitfalls for Mesa Verde were detailed in “What I learned on our 4,000 mile road trip.” Regardless of our disappointment, Mesa Verde lived up to the expectations of being on our bucket lists for 50 years. If you are also entranced by the Pueblo/cliff dwelling culture, check out “Book of the Hopi” by Frank Waters, and “House of Rain” by Craig Childs. In addition to being able to see multiple sites, we got in a great desert hike which even included a small cliff structure/dwelling and pictographs.

You made it this far? Amazing! This has been quite a process for me, and as I was reviewing all the photos of this fabulous trip I haven’t touched, I’ve decided to split it into two parts. Still to come … cliff dwellings, mesa-top ruins, stunning desert flora and landscape, PLUS, at no extra charge, the red rock country of Snow Canyon near St. George, Utah.

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What I learned on our 4,000 mile road trip

Does it get any more Southwest than this?
Ruins at Mesa Verde

I love planning ahead (this post talks about that a bit). I literally have pages of planning for this trip, and thought I had all the details covered. BUT, I missed a few very important details. First, we had hoped to join a guided tour of at least one of the pueblo dwellings at Mesa Verde. About a week too late, I discovered that two of the four possibilities would not even be open to tours until the end of May, after our departure. And for the two left, there was a very narrow window of opportunity to book, which we missed by about a week. On top of that, although I knew we would need to catch a shuttle to get into the main part of Zion National Park, those tickets also needed to be booked before I discovered that. LESSON 1: Research every last detail well in advance of your departure to avoid disappointment.

Late in the planning game, I found out two things: one of our planned destinations was much farther away from Mesa Verde than was really practical, and somehow I had a two-night gap in our overnight accommodations. So I coined a new motto: When your plans change, change your plans. So, I was able to put in a patchwork of stays, which ended up taking us to Taos for a couple of days (the results of that may find their way into a whole new post), and we added St. George to our itinerary. We had planned to visit Zion Valley, but the logistics just didn’t work out. Instead, acting on a tip from my sister Jae, we headed to Snow Canyon State Park, and enjoyed hiking the red rock country on slick rock, a joy beyond expressing for us. LESSON 2: Be flexible, and see what other opportunities arise when something doesn’t work out as planned.

Exploring dirt roads on Taos Mesa

Some of our best experiences were not of the grand vistas and big iconic names of the west, but in places only the locals may be aware of. For us, Ponderosa State Park, the dirt roads of Taos Mesa, hiking in the Snow Basin area, deer and cougar prints on Powder Mountain, and slickrock hiking in Snow Canyon showed us beauty we would have missed by going for the Big Attraction. Then, taking time for the tiny – plants with a bloom the size of my little fingernail blooming in the most inhospitable looking places. Watching tiny lizards slither quickly across hot desert sands. Spotting tiny bluebirds swiftly sailing the skies. Discovering microbreweries making exceptional beer: McCall Brewing, Steamworks Brewing Company, and Taos Mesa Brewing (BTW, they all sell “Crowlers” to go [a canned growler], but be warned they vary in size. I was stunned to get three 32 ounce crowlers from Taos Brewing when I expected 16 ounce). LESSON 3: Think “hidden”, think local, think small.

CHIRP. Unfortunately, I have a slight hearing loss, so I have to be right on top of most small birds to hear their call. But I’m not talking about that kind of chirp. We discovered this app/website that has tons of audio books we download onto my phone, and listen to when the miles get long. We were often in the car for 8 – 10 hour days, for multiple days this trip. Having a good mystery (or your choice of genres) to listen to can ease the tedium facing even the best of relationships. And they are really affordable, especially compared to Amazon! Check it out! LESSON 4: Avoid boredom with audiobooks.

Lunch stop near Eden, Utah

Yes, I’m trying to get away from my previous vacation mantra of “Drive as far as you can, as fast as you can to get to (and from) your destination”. BUT. Stopping at a restaurant or fast food place for lunch on a road trip adds significantly to the overall drive time, adds significant expense, and brings in a ton of calories and sodium. Instead, we found a fabric lunch box with compartments for slim ice packs, and we pack a very small, basic meal. We choose to be very simple; flour tortillas with peanut butter, a sliced apple, and sometimes mozzarella cheese sticks for variety. Quick to make, easy to pack, easy to eat on the road, and economical. Not to mention flexible! We also often take this lunch out when we are exploring, find a spot to park with a fabulous view, and have our lunch in the car. LESSON 5: Pack a lunch.

I have no idea why it took me sooo long to figure this one out. This trip I packed our laptop and an HDMI cord. After the business of our vacation day, I power up the laptop, connect it to WIFI (either at the location, or via my Personal hotspot on my phone), connect the laptop to the TV with my HDMI cord, pull up Xfinity or Amazon prime, and watch our favorite shows instead of the junk available on the in-house choices. What a difference! LESSON 6: Bring your laptop and an HDMI cord!

Lunch at Steamworks Brewing in Durango, Colorado

It is all-to-easy for me to pack every single day with enough activities for two days for most people. While that maximized the sum total of sights seen and boxes checked, I would often come home needing a vacation from my vacation. So, we intentionally scheduled very light days here and there, allowing us time to sit on the patio/deck and just relax, enjoying our surroundings. It’s only taken me 50 years to figure this out; hopefully, if you’re like me,  you may now be inspired to slow it down a bit, and enjoy this sweet moment in time we call “life’. LESSON 7: Plan to Slow it down a notch.

Well gang, guess that’s about it for now. Our Worldmark timeshare condos come with a fully-equipped kitchen, so we are just about ready to go inside and cook a delicious, nutritional and low-cost dinner. What travel tips do you have you’d like to share?

Happy hikers on slickrock at Snow Canyon State park, Utah

PS: To make reservations for tours of Mesa Verde, and other National Park attractions, go to Recreation.gov. As of late May, reservations were not needed for the Zion Shuttle, and the fee was removed. Some essential trail markers had been removed from the slickrock at Snow Canyon in a very essential spot. You may be able to route-find using a trail map; carry 2-4 quarts of water per person plus an electrolyte replacement drink for safety, and wear a hat. Even (especially?) in the hot desert sun, lightweight long pants and a breathable long-sleeve shirt works better than sunscreen.

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My Love/Hate GPS Relationship

The (cloudy) view from 10, 525′

My love/hate relationship with GPS really came into focus recently. The maps/GPS app on my phone did a great job of finding the fastest route between Durango, CO and Taos, NM. We crossed some really spectacular country, and I wasn’t surprised when we started climbing, as there are all kinds of mountains in this area. I kept expecting to come to a mountain pass, then head downhill into Taos. Instead, we kept climbing, climbing and climbing. I had my wife pull up the Altimeter app on my phone … 7,000 feet … 8,000 feet … 9,000 feet … 10,000 feet … and finally, at literally the top of a mountain, 10, 525 feet! Even with clouds all around us, the views stretched out for miles and miles. It was stunning, but also totally unexpected.

Once we got to our destination, I took a closer look at the route on the map, and there was zero clue as to what driving this route entailed. Then I pulled out an actual map for the area (Indian Country Guide Map by AAA), and discovered we had summited Jawbone Mountain! As I continued to look at the paper map, I saw so much interesting information about the country that we had missed by not checking it out beforehand.

At home I have a good-sized storage bin that holds literally dozens, if not hundreds of maps from places I’ve gone. They range from a map of the Western States to topographical maps of trails  that cover only a few square miles. I have maps with yellow highter that have routes of road trips I planned that covered half a dozen or more states. I’d sit down with these maps, exploring in my mind’s eye the whys and wheres of a trip – incredible scenery, access to backcountry, historic points of interest, or just something intriguing on the map. And somehow or other, without the aid of a GPS in my car or on my phone, I made it to every place I wanted to visit. Conversely, my GPS has occasionally taken me miles from where I expected … and I have read multiple stories about people who got well and truly lost – and even perished – by trusting their GPS in their car.

In the cold, wet and gray days of winter in the Pacific Northwest, I would spend hours pouring over the maps, reading guidebooks, planning campsites, hikes, explorations. I’d make lists of everything needed to make the trip a success. I could almost see the distant vistas, and feel the summer heat on my back. It was my tofur – two for the price of one, living one vacation in my mind as I planned it, then when I was actually seeing my plans unfold in real life. Looking up the route I had taken this time on a map showed me how much I was missing by using the ubiquitous technology available at our fingertips today. I still have a few days left on this road trip. My maps are coming out, and I can’t wait to see what I find.

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When plans change, make new plans!

Our goal was to go to the Taos Pueblo and find Carpio. However, the Pueblo was closed due to COVID, so we made a new plan … right on the spot, when we saw a sign pointing down a dirt road to Taos Mesa. Looked like miles and miles of flat sagebrush desert, but hey! Let’s check it out!

Sagebrush desert with thunderstorms pounding distant peaks
Roads branched off in every direction. Which one to take?
Looked on my map app, found a road that would take us across a bridge on the Rio Grande, and then back to Taos from the north.
What the app didn’t say was that the basically one-lane dirt road would steeply drop down a cliff with no guardrails.
Carefully observing the sketchy route, my copilot filed an alternate fight plan, and we returned the way we came.
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Walk with me … in Astoria!

Astoria! This was the first city in Oregon, founded in 1811, and was the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark famously spent a miserable winter here in 1805-1806.They had hoped to hitch a ride home on one of the ships that would brave the treacherous Columbia River bar to trade with the Native American tribes, but ended up hiking all the way home across America. 

Abandoned cannery and piers with ships at anchor

Despite the terrible winter, Astoria soon became a thriving commercial hub, first for fur trading, and then for lumber mills, fishing and canneries. Unfortunately, in America, nothing succeeds like excess, and soon the fur trade collapsed, the best timber was gone, and the salmon nearly wiped out. Mills closed, canneries shut down, and the railroad left town. At the same time, ship traffic on the mighty Columbia increased, and continues to play a significant role in town.

Today Astoria continues to reinvent itself, and is a fabulous destination to spend a few days and explore. Besides the short walks I will take you on today, you can also visit Fort Clatsop, a reconstruction of the fort where Lewis and Clark and company stayed, and Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens was built in 1863-64 to protect the entrance to the Columbia River from the British as a result of the “Pig War.” It was an active military base until 1947, and is well worth the visit.

One of our favorite places to walk in Astoria is the Astoria Riverwalk. All total, we have probably done about four miles of the total length of six miles. It runs along the route of the former Astoria Trolley, built in the 1880’s, which ran from Astoria to Seaside. There is an interesting mix of sights to see: the Columbia River Maritime Museum, with a retired floating lighthouse ship, and a retired Bar Pilot ship. 

Walking along the shoreline you will see the bridge that now links Astoria with Washington State, ships at anchor waiting to go upriver and be loaded with wheat from the inland empires of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and abandoned canneries slowly collapsing near the shores. 

You will also see many thriving businesses, waterfront hotels, and various oddities. Hungry? I recommend the Astoria Brewing Company, with decent waterfront views. You can read my review here (look for William G.). The city of Astoria has resurrected the old trolley line, and a vintage trolley car runs during the summer months (Covid permitting).

The Flavel House, the best preserved example of Queen Anne architecture in Oregon
Historic Uptown Home

From downtown, it is an easy walk (well, more or less, Astoria is quite hilly) to the uptown residential area. While downtown burned twice, many of the great turn-of-the-century homes on the hill escaped, and you can see them today. First and foremost is the Flavel House, built in 1884-85 for Captain George Flavel, a Columbia Bar Pilot. The Columbia River was known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific”; the river deposited tons of sand and silt collected on its way to the ocean onto ever-shifting sandbars that wrecked many vessels attempting to reach Portland. It became common practice (and is now required) for local captains familiar with the frequent changes of the main channel to safely guide ships across the bar to a safe harbor in Astoria. Captain Flavel made an excellent living at this, and with his real estate investments. You can tour this magnificent home when you visit.

As you have figured out, Terri and I love to walk small, historic cities like Astoria to see what we can find, and we were not disappointed here. There is a significant number of historic homes; click here for a short video I took showing a few homes that remind me of San Francisco’s famous “Painted Ladies” homes. 

Not least, but last for this post is a bit of a cheat; we drove here. The Astor Column (since renamed the Astoria Column) was built by a grandson of John Jacob Astor, who basically started the fur trade in Oregon. A mural spirals up the 125 foot column depicting the history of Oregon. Pre-Covid you could walk up the 164 steps to the top for an incredible view of surrounding territory. Still, the view from the 30 acre park is pretty impressive. This is a can’t miss on your visit to Astoria!

Questions? Comments? You can reach me at adventuresinaging@gmail.com

Still reading? Here is a short video of a super-crazy street we found in Astoria. Don’t drive here!

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A Moment for Reflection

FFF(c) Day! Freedom From Fear (coronavirus)

Scenes from World War I were playing on my screen recently. Soldiers were huddled in the trenches, with incoming artillery shells, mortar rounds and sniper fire. It was a constant battle just to remove the dead and injured from the live fire while shrapnel, mud, and debris rained all around them. Everyone wondered if they’d actually make it home alive, not to mention arrive physically unscathed. Unfortunately, many of those who arrived with bodies intact turned out to have “shell shock”, or what we now term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

It is estimated that 40 million people died worldwide in that war; so far, “only” about 2 million people have died from the quiet war of coronavirus. Without the explosions and bloody deaths as stark reminders of this war, many people saw little or no risk, and pretty much continued their lives as they had before they had to wear a mask to get their groceries. But for some of us – those with compromised immune systems or other pre-existing conditions – this felt like an invisible war that was being raged right next to us, and we retreated to our foxholes, shelters we shared with only those who lived in our homes. Anyone else could be an undercover agent carrying Covid-19; trust no one, no matter how much you love or miss them. It was a fast, brutal and stark reordering of priorities. 

Every trip outside the home became an exercise in warfare and spycraft. Need to fill the gas tank? Find a deserted pump island. Oh no, here comes someone! Do they have a mask? Which way is the wind blowing? How close are they going to get? Want to take a walk and get some exercise? Oops, not there, look at all the cars in the parking lot. How many people are on that trail? Nope, let’s find a deserted neighborhood. Groceries? Order online, drive to the store, open the back hatch, put on a mask. What? Why are they trying to approach my window, I stated NO CONTACT! Get the groceries home, wipe down everything with disinfecting wipes, then wipe down the counter. 

Order surgical masks, cloth masks, vented masks (oops, can’t wear that; glasses won’t fog, but my outgoing breath isn’t filtered, and that’s not cool). Order more masks. Get filters for masks. Order surgical gloves. Get an air purifier for household air (seemed like a good idea at the time, will come in handy during smoke season). Search and search for hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray and wipes. Order more masks, maybe these will work better. Take a chance and meet at a “social distance” with friends outdoors. On the way home, discuss whether I got closer than 6 – 10’ during the visit, and if so, how great was the risk of exposure.

One day – March 367th – get in line, and spend nearly two hours way too close to strangers, and get a shot in the arm that may be a first step in getting invisible body armor against this invisible assassin. Three weeks later, go back – where is everybody? – and get the second shot. Tomorrow, March 381st, marks FFF(c) day. We’ve been sent home from the front with a fully functioning body! But. We felt the tiniest shadow of what PTSD might feel like.

Long discussions. What can we REALLY do now? Who can we see safely? What does that look like? What does the CDC say? Hmm, lots of data there, and not a little confusing. Are they saying that to keep us safe, or the people we are with? What does 95% effective mean? Wait, now it’s “only” 90%? What about the variants, are we safe there? I feel like maybe a person emerging from a storm shelter after a tornado has just passed by, wondering if it’s safe to come out. Or maybe like a turtle who retreated to his shell because of an apparent threat, blinking his eyes, and slowly extending his head to take a look around. It’s going to take some time to stop examining every action outside of the cocoon we have built around our home. 

Grass “Pondering” its reflection

We went a little crazy yesterday. We went to Costco … during the Senior Citizen hours to avoid crowds. We actually went a couple of months ago, double-masked, with our tight little list, only getting exactly what we needed, not going down any aisle with another person in it, and rushing out as soon as possible. This time – okay, still double masked – we go up and down dearly every aisle in the store. And yes, we found a few things we didn’t know we needed until we saw them. 

We raced home (I was going to say zoomed, but that word has been co-opted by a now-ubiquitous app), put the groceries away, put on our hiking clothes, and headed out to Whistle Lake to hike a real trail! We took our masks, but only masked up if we saw others who were wearing a mask. It felt so good to not have to find a spot on the trail where we could be six feet or more off the trail, and not struggling to quickly put our masks on before they got too close. We even had two 5 minute friendships, the first in over a year! 

On the deck at Anthony’s

And then (drum roll), Terri suggested we head in to Anacortes, and maybe find a restaurant with an outdoor patio where we could have a glass of wine. And we did! Anthony’s had two patios open, and the one in the sun didn’t even have anyone else on it. We ordered one of our favorite appetizers, Calamari, and a glass of wine, and marveled at where we were, and what we were doing. 

Our guard is still up a bit. Still leery about being too close to unvaccinated people, dining inside a restaurant, and returning to in-person church services, to name a few. But now there is sooo much more we can do than we’ve able for the past year, it’s almost intoxicating. We’ve missed so very much this last year, and we ache to see our kids, grandkids and friends, but we survived. American could end up with three-quarters of a million dead before there is a near-zero risk of contracting covid, and our hearts break for those who have lost family and friends, and for those whose bodies will never fully recover from this disease. Yes, we took extreme measures; now all those sacrifices will begin to pay off as we reintegrate with society. The storm clouds are clearing, and we emerge, ready to build again.

This fish literally jumped out of the water onto the bank while we were eating lunch. We felt a bit like a fish out of water ourselves on FFF(c) day. I flipped him back in the water – he stared at me for a moment, then swam away.

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Three great meals to start your week

Menu Planning 3/21/2021 with Bill and Terri

It’s not that we haven’t eaten since my last cooking post in January. And it’s not that I haven’t had time to write, what with covidisolation and all. I guess I’ve just gotten used to living in the spin cycle, watching the world go round and round outside my little glass window. In the immortal (hah!) words of Pink Floyd, I may have gotten comfortably numb in my cozy cocoon. Thankfully, some very kind words from a friend (Thanks, Donna!) prompted me to look back on some great meals we’ve had that I’d love to share with you. In fact, there are so many, I’m going to break this into two posts. First, let’s look at recipes with fowl as the protein. I’ll start with some photos to tease you; the recipes will follow after the pictures.

Sheet-pan Mediterranean Chicken, Brussels Sprouts and Gnocchi
Chili with Chipotle and Chocolate – looks messy, but best chili ever!
French Onion Meatloaf

This is a fast, fabulous one-dish meal that is sure to impress guests or that special someone. I may have added a couple of extra dried herbs, but this is great as-is.

Here is yet another one-dish meal that is quick, pretty easy, with stupendous depth of flavor. My only pet peeve here is … who sells ground turkey in 1.25 pound packages? We just use one pound, and it works out great. We are blown away every time we eat this – which we can do often, as it makes eight servings, or four great meals. We always have to have tortilla chips with this, add a beer, and what more can you ask for?

We have only make meatloaf a couple of times over the past 15 years, but one thing is certain – this is the ONLY recipe we will ever use again, and we will use it often going forward. And once again, it fits in perfectly with our Planned-over Menu and Recipes. I can attest that this also makes a mouth-watering meatloaf sandwich!

French Onion Meatloaf
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Three totally FREE days at Arches National Park?

See how my sister did it in this Guest Post

One of the things I was interested in when I started this blog a bit over two years ago was how to travel on a budget. My sister Jae, who lives in Colorado, just got back from a three day trip to Arches National Park, and the only money she spent was for gas to get there and back. How? I asked her to share her secrets, and here they are. (By the way, you can follow her AMAZING cat on Instagram at Punkin Trip McFluffyPants).

As I embarked on my trip to Arches National park, my trailer in tow, I could feel the excitement and anticipation building. I was last there two years ago, to the day, and I vividly remember beautiful hikes and breathtaking scenery. Those of you who have been to the Utah desert in Spring or Fall know that it feels very transformational and healing. Who doesn’t need more of that right now?

Punkin Trip McFluffypants loves to hike and explore!

I was especially eager to preview the changes recently made to my converted cargo trailer, which include the addition of a very large viewing window. And of course, enjoy outdoor time with my best friend, Punkin Trip McFluffypants.

My campsite, booked six months ago after several weeks of daily attempts to secure a site, did not disappoint. The ever-changing view out the back of my trailer and from anywhere on the campsite was soul-satisfying. I was joined by two slightly outrageous camping friends, which help round out the perfect trip.

How can you not smile with views like this?

The first morning resoundingly confirmed my choice of windows. Seeing dawn break over an amazing view from the comfort of my warm bed, knowing it was well below freezing outside was a real treat.

There are a plethora of hikes available right from the campground, and for those like me, who prefer to avoid other people when in nature, it was not that hard to do this time of year. Hiking the most popular routes in off-hours and the less popular primitive trails during peak hours did the trick. I’m always surprised how few people are up and around in campgrounds before 10 am. Me, I’m like a kid at Christmas, I can’t wait to get outside and explore.

Clever use of the small space!

The trip was extremely satisfying in every way, from the startling silence in the campground itself to the shockingly vivid sunsets. As I packed up to go, with a huge smile across my face, relishing the last little bit of my view, I realized it had also been surprisingly cost-effective. With a Senior Parks pass, the entrance to Arches was free and the campsite half price. My kind friends each contributed $25 which more than covered the $37.50 site cost for 3 nights. I make and bring all my own food, and since I’m vegan, I don’t have meat costs. I brought a bottle of wine that was gifted to me last Christmas. Moab has turned into an unpleasant overgrown bulging Metropolis (I’ve heard, I have no interest in going there now), so I didn’t spend a penny on this trip.

Jae, leaving with a smile on her face.

I drove 450 miles, with my truck averaging 16 miles to the gallon (yay!!!). With gas at $2.55 a gallon, I used about 29 gallons of gas for a fuel cost of $74. With the “profit” from the campsite contributions, my net cost was $61.50, plus groceries, for three nights stay in an incredible location.

I am on a tight budget, but I believe in taking full advantage of what nature has to offer, so it’s nice to know how affordable a wonderful getaway can be. You still at home? Get out there! 

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On the Trail to Porpoise Point

Just when I was getting bored, I got a new local trail recommendation (Thanks, Kim H.!) The trail to Porpoise Point is in Sares Point Park, south of Anacortes on Rosario Road. I’ll bet I’ve driven past it half a dozen times. This time, I had a reason to stop. The rain had stopped for one day in a row, so it was time to get out and stretch our legs.

The trail starts out level and well maintained in a second-growth forest, soon coming across Fox Pond (in my ignorance, I thought it was a wetland). There are all kinds of tempting side trails that we will be compelled to return to later and explore, but today we are on a mission – reports are that porpoises and seals are often seen off of Porpoise Point, so we resist rabbit trail temptations for now. We took the Madrone Trail down.

Apparently, Yellow Jackets can be a problem in non-winter months, but it sounds like they can be avoided by taking the Porpoise Trail instead of the Madrone Trail. (Tip: download the AllTrails or Hiking Project App, and you will be able to see exactly where you are). Soon the well-maintained trail devolves into a suggestion of an occasionally-used track, filled with roots, rocks, rivulets and steepish descents.  The trail ends up dropping 416’ from the trailhead – what it lacks in length, it makes up in steepness.

Porpoise Rock comes into view before long, but it is a bit of a winding way to get there safely. Any place else, this small outcropping would have been crowded with hikers drinking in the expansive view, from Allen Island and Burrows Island to the Olympics. But this Saturday(!) in the middle of winter, we had it completely to ourselves, drinking in the views while eating our lunch. Sadly, no seals or porpoises for us today, but that just gives us an excuse to return.

We took the Porpoise Point Trail back, and were rewarded with sunlight streaming through the trees, illuminating the beautiful and abundant ferns lining our path. We also came across two huge Cedar trees, which had apparently been felled 50ish years ago by a windstorm … but their root system was relatively intact, so they sent up branches to the skies above, becoming trees in their own right. And the roots! Absolutely massive, unique, and a testament to resilience. 

Short and sweet, this was a fun trail. And the offshoot to Sares Head looks to offer even more expansive views on our next foray to this little gem. But hey, let’s keep this our little secret, okay?

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Walk with me … in Anacortes

Entrance to the Historic Downtown area

If you are at all familiar with my Instagram account Adventures In Graying, you will know we have a particular affection for Anacortes, WA. Located on Fidalgo Island, it is surrounded by the Salish Sea on three sides, and the LaConner Channel on the fourth, is blessed with great beauty, and a lifestyle devoid of big box stores. Like other seaport locations in Washington State (especially Port Townsend), it had grand dreams of becoming the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, or of a new railroad crossing the North Cascades, the Seattle and Northern Railroad. 

It was first settled by railroad surveyor Amos Bowman in 1877; he named the city which was incorporated in 1891 after his wife, Anne Curtis. Land speculation ran rampant through 1890, with fabulous homes being built, along with a robust downtown. There was a huge crash in 1891 when the development company went broke. Many left town, but fishermen and loggers (among others) moved in, and thrived for decades.

One of the historic brick buildings in downtown. Every garbage can in the downtown and marina area has a label from salmon that was canned there

Today many of the original buildings survive downtown, the stately homes have been restored, the fish canneries are almost all gone or melting back into the earth, and the last lumber mill burned to the ground years ago. This historic area is where we decided to go and get our walking exercise in recently, and we loved it so much, we have to share.

The aptly named Majestic Inn. Seriously, a must-stop for a quick lunch, Happy Hour or fine dining dinner!

You know you have reached the historic part of downtown when you see their proud arch. Still very vibrant in this challenging time, this is a great place to spend a day checking out the mom and pop shops, fabulous restaurants, and the famous Anacortes Arts Festival (hopefully returning in 2021). Several blocks of the main street are cordoned off, filled with all types of arts and crafts, along with food vendors, and live music with a wine and beer garden. But I digress. One must-stop is the Majestic Inn, built in 1890, and beautifully restored. They have both fine dining, and a cozy, intimate bar with a great selection of wines, beers and appetizers.

Just a couple of blocks west takes you to the historic neighborhood. I am absolutely captivated by the mix of Victorian, Craftsman, and other turn-of-the-century architecture. 

Sticking closer to the water, you will see the last remains of what had once been known as the Salmon Canning Capital of the World. There are still two (although appearances would say 1 ½) working fish processing plants left here. History says that this may have been the first place where Washington fishermen headed off to Alaska in the 1890’s to catch crab.

There are also a couple of micro parks along the water – really, walking this neighborhood is the only way to find them. They offer beautiful views of the Guemes Channel.

And this is but one small area in Anacortes! I haven’t even mentioned Washington Park, or Cap Sante Park and the marina area, or the Community Forest Lands! Maybe next time.

A photo may be worth a thousand words, but an in-person visit is worth a thousand photos.

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Today Is Tomorrow

And the next day, and the next, and the next…

It was 315 days ago we started what we termed “Extreme Social Distancing.” No shopping, grocery or otherwise, no church, no friends over for meals, no trips to see grandkids, avoiding like the plague anyplace where we might come within 6’ of another human being. Laughably, my blog post on March 12 – that fateful first day – wonders if this new life will last six to 12 weeks. Ten months later, with a strangled vaccination roll-out and new, easier to catch, maybe more deadly coronavirus variants popping up like mushrooms after a fall rain, we are being told it could be another ten months before we can feel somewhat safe in the company of anyone other than those living in our house; yep, just Terri and I.

Mount Baker at eventide from Cap Sante, Anacortes, WA

We do all our grocery shopping online, roll up to Fred Meyer, the back of our rig is opened, bags deposited, the door closed, and off we go. That will typically be the highlight of that day. If the weather isn’t horrible, we have a couple of choices; drive to Anacortes, where we walk in a ritzy neighborhood with views of the Salish Sea where we are the only walkers on the sidewalks. Head to Little Mountain Park, where one of the many trails has few, if any hikers, or out to LaConner. We drive to the very end of the marina area, walk the sidewalks along the shoreline until we get to the cute, touristy town with closed shops and empty sidewalks. 

Once in a while we will head to Whidbey Island during the week and find a deserted beach to walk, or sit with a meager lunch and ponder the timelessness of the wind and waves. Or we may try and find a backroad in our tri-county area we haven’t been on yet, running out of options there.

As we were nearly home driving back from one of our micro-excursions, we looked at each other, and I asked Terri “What do you want to do tomorrow?” And we both laughed. “Today IS Tomorrow” we said. Our yesterdays, todays and tomorrows are becoming indistinguishable from each other. There are no sharp calendar edges on our months, only the slow shape-shifting of seasons. 

Occasionally punctuation marks seem to appear out of nowhere. Friends moving away, a few very social-distance encounters with a couple friends and family. A short road trip to a condo where we will continue the extreme social distancing, but with a view other than our four walls for a few days. News of hard times for family members, reports of illnesses and death of friends family members. Astoundingly disturbing news from the other Washington. They all come in fast, hit hard, and dissipate like morning fog. 

Maybe like you, I want to live a life with meaning. The visceral knowledge that we are like the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire singes my days. Days like dry tinder, flashing into flame, but with no wood to make a meaningful fire. Incense carrying my prayers that I may play my part in the plan, to make at least a bit of a difference in a world crying for justice and mercy. 

So I scratch and peck, send a text here, make a call there, write a letter to the ethereous internet, jump on a Zoom with anyone willing to share time with us, or join a meeting where they have to let me in. A flash in the pan, a speck of gold dust, reminding me of the richness of relationships now reduced to electrons on a screen, and a yearning in the heart. 

The light of my life!

Hold on, we just have to hold on. Hold on to what we have, to the munificent blessings a mere glance reveals. Hold on to the investment of time spent in extreme social distancing that has kept us safe so far. Hold on to the lottery-like promise of a vaccine that could maybe possibly hopefully who knows begin an emergence into a new normal. If you have met me in person, you know I am a hugger. Know now that my hugs will be a bit tighter, a bit longer the next time we meet. Know that my tears will probably flow when I see you in person. Know that my heart aches and yearns for that time to come soon. I have hope. I am clinging to a hope for a better, brighter day for you and me on this glorious world. And, speaking for myself, one way or the other, I am confident and cling to the hope I have in the next world. 

May there be Peace, and let it begin with me.

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Cooking Up A Storm

Tossed and turned by life and weather; nevertheless we persisted in cooking

The tidal wave of unprecedented events in 2020 threatened to completely overwhelm us in December, so we retreated to the kitchen and cooked up our own storm of wonderful meals, topped off with a fabulous scallop dish on Christmas Day. When I’m in the kitchen, I’m focused on the task at hand; sadness, anger, loneliness, wistfulness – all shrink to to nothingness while slicing, dicing, chopping, mixing, searing, sauteing, baking, boiling, plating, and finally, eating. Maybe the title for this blog should be “Cooking As Therapy?” Here are four of my favorite therapy sessions from last month. (Recipes follow the photos and commentary).

So yummy AND nutritious!

Seared Cod with bacon, braised fennel and kale. Well, for many reasons we chose to use turkey bacon instead of pork. The only downside is that no fat renders from the turkey bacon, so we replace the bacon drippings with a little extra olive oil. The only other change we made was to use standard size bell peppers, so the presentation is off a bit, but the taste remains the same. As you can see, we also added some roasted Brussels Sprouts, which paired well with the meal.

Invite someone special to share this meal!

Mediterranean-Style Stuffed Chicken. Tres’ Elegante! The picture does not do it justice, but this meal is on our shortlist of “Company Worthy” recipes. This is one of the few recipes I don’t mess with, and follow to the T. The make-or-break point is the tapenade. It is a bit tough to find in stores, but easy to make ahead. Here is a recipe from Alton Brown that is very similar to my homemade one. We used farro instead of rice, and served with rainbow chard for a perfect accompaniment.

It can be a bit tricky to slice the chicken breast just right to stuff the zucchini and tapenade, so take your time to get it right. Have fun and enjoy!

Just wow. You’ll think you are in Italy!

White Bean Soup with Tomato and Shrimp. Based on Italian puttanesca recipes, this is one delicious mouthful! It does have a bit of heat from the chili powder and crushed red pepper (not enough for us, so we are generous with the chili powder, and double the crushed red pepper), so be forewarned. The only other change I made was to add a generous portion of Penzy’s Tuscan Sunset, a mix of dried basil, oregano, red bell pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black pepper and anise seed. Don’t tell anyone, but this is my secret ingredient to add tons of flavor to a whole host of recipes. Seriously, if you haven’t ordered yours yet, you are missing out … and they have no idea I’m recommending this .

Be sure to pair this with a loaf of crusty artisan bread to soak up all the flavorful broth!

The secret here is in the sear

Grilled Scallops with Pea Pesto over Angel Hair Pasta is the pièce de résistance from our adventures in the kitchen for December 2020. We tried to get frozen scallops from our local supermarket, but they were out … then I remembered seeing a fish shack (actually MUCH nicer than it sounds) on a main highway not too far from us. I called them, and they had fresh, wild-harvested mussels from the North Atlantic. They were a bit pricey, but, hey, this was for our Christmas dinner. They were oh so worth it!

Our grill was stowed away for the winter, so we used our tried-and-true basic black cast-iron fry pan. The secret to cooking mussels is to have the pan screaming hot, almost scary hot. Put them in the pan, and watch them slightly change color/texture until there is 3/16th inch of sear on the bottom (or so) ; ) . Turn them just once to sear on the other side, then be prepared to serve immediately, so do this last. The only other tip is to use a very high quality olive oil, it really makes a difference. Once again, this is a dinner you can be proud to serve anyone!

Well, I feel better already after this therapy session, don’t you? Let’s hope and pray 2021 is a bit more gentle with us than 2020. And if not, just head to the kitchen and cook those blues away!

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The Battle of New Year’s Eve

I should have known that my New Year’s Eve plans would go off the rails a bit when after multiple tries, I couldn’t get any fennel for a fabulous mussels in white wine sauce recipe I wanted to make.

It had felt like I’d been waging my own private two-front war against the pandemic; one physical and the other mental. The physical battle has been tough, on each and every one of us. So many have lost this battle. All that the survivors will have will be memories of their loved ones lost in this great war. Most of the rest of us have sacrificed coveted times with mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandkids and friends. So many are still in the trenches, fighting for us, trying to keep us alive, no matter how safe we thought we were being, or even if we thought it couldn’t happen to us. 

Many of us have sacrificed vacations, anniversaries, honeymoons, funerals, graduations, travel plans. We’ve given up dining out, shopping in stores, going out to the movies, going to church, five-minute friendships with strangers, and a thousand other common, ordinary things we took for granted. And that’s just the physical side.

On the mental side, we are fighting an invisible enemy, lurking anywhere, just waiting for a lax moment to ambush us. For us, extreme isolation seemed to be the safest way to keep each other alive and healthy. Several times it has felt like we were in a newer version of the movie Blast from the Past. We occasionally emerge from our bunker, and drive around old haunts, marveling at new construction springing from the ground like mushrooms after a rain, or with pangs of nostalgia as we see places we loved that will only return in our memories. Then we return to our bunker, close the hatch behind us, cross another day off the calendar, and wait for a day in the hazy future when we will emerge into a world that has been changed forever.

Fighting an invisible enemy takes its toll. Isolation takes its toll. I want to attack, fight and defeat this enemy, but all I can do is hide. My fight or flight response has been maxed out every day for nearly a year, and I’m tired of running from a particle too small to be seen by the human eye. As I lay awake on New Year’s Eve Eve, my mind, addled by sleeplessness, decided to declare a personal war against the virus on New Year’s Eve. I’d show it! I won’t be cowed! I’m going to make that whole day a huge party, and win this battle it has been waging against me in my own mind. Along the way, there was a distinct possibility that this battle may involve a bit of consumption of my favorite anesthetic to salve the wounds I had borne.

The day started off with my making our favorite frittata, maybe the best ever using chipotle flavored olive oil. I was going to serve Mimosas along with it, but my practical, Scotch side made a rare appearance, and convinced me that the bottle of bubbly would probably go flat before we finished it. The fritatta was fabulous, but now my plans were off track a bit. 

Several days earlier, I had a brainstorm, and ordered a Smoked Gouda from Fred Meyer, and three of my favorite cheeses from The Cheesemonger’s Shop in Leavenworth, WA; a Kerrygold Aged Cheddar from Ireland, a Blue Stilton from England, and Humbolt Fog from Cypress Grove in Arcata, California. Along with that we had some Rosemary Crackers, Artisanal Rosemary Bread from Avenue Bakery, a Limited Release Olio Nuovo  Extra Virgin Olive Oil form Durant Olive Mill in Dayton, Oregon (a gift from our friends Gary and Linda), Hummus with veggies, and Honeycrisp Apples for lunch … while we watched Shrek. True confession, I’d never seen it before, but Terri loves it and wanted me to see it. Why not? Having fun was a big part of the battle in my brain. Oh, and we shared a VERY nice bottle of Sonoma Zinfandel, a perfect accompaniment to this repast.

Next up, a great video reunion with our great friends Don and Trish, who just moved into their new house in Texas. Laughter, tears and wine flowed as we caught up with each other, their absence and distance a part of this new reality. Two hours whisked by like a brightly burning meteor lighting the sky and disappearing. 

Well, it was too late to make dinner now (and it wasn’t going to be the fabulous Mussels in White Wine), so we found some of our frozen “Planned Overs”, turned on the TV to watch “Bosch”, our latest Prime binge, with a tiny splash of bourbon. Looking back on the day, and on my private battle, I figured I had fought well against a huge opposing force. I had not totally won, but neither had I lost; I was satisfied to call it a draw, head to bed, and rest to fight another day in a new year.

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I Am Leery…

Not Timothy Leary, He’s Dead. (With apologies to the Moody Blues)

Occasionally I get an opportunity to fill out surveys. I got an easy one the other day – it asked me how many miles I had driven in a 24 hour period, starting at 3:00AM the previous day. That was easy; I just put a zero in every box. In fact, due to the steady rains setting in and other factors, I haven’t left the house except to pick up our mail in four days. 

View from Little Mountain

It did get me to thinking, though, about how constrained our activities have become. Basically we get out to pick up groceries that someone else has picked out for us from the list we send them; we get out to do nearby hikes or walks, and occasionally we get out to just to drive around, and see if we can find a road we’ve not been down before. We are pretty leery of doing much else, especially now that the numbers of coronavirus are increasing exponentially all around us. 

Like many others, we were super excited to hear about the efficacy of the vaccines that are in the pipeline. We can finally start to dream about doing more, and expanding our horizons! Visiting grandkids, friends and family, shopping (especially at Costco), movies, dining out, wine tasting, returning to our favorite places, travel – oh my! We can’t wait for the vaccine … but we have to. We are optimistically thinking that we may be inoculated by April. But then Mr. Leery started knocking. 

First of all, 95% effective sounds pretty great, especially when the flu vaccine is generally about 60%. But if you had a 5% chance of winning a $1million lottery, you’d buy a ticket every day, and might win twice a year. The good news is that I’m guessing we will be in the first 30% of people that get the vaccine, so that’s good! On the other hand, it’s projected that 50% of the population won’t get a vaccine, so that means even though we may have a high level of protection this spring, 70% of America will still be getting infected, and trying to infect us. 

We’d love to go to a movie, but there we are, cooped up in a room filled with strangers, and always – ALWAYS – someone coughing their lungs out, floating their aerosolized pathogens while they eat their popcorn and drink their Coke. I’m pretty leery about that. 

And, Oh! How we miss dining out and Happy Hour! Oh, but wait – there we are again, in a room of strangers having unprotected gastronomy, blissfully sharing their exhalations of joy with us. Yeah, maybe not.  (Korean Study: Infected after 5 minutes from 20 feet away)

We are hoping to fly to Texas to see friends there. Yeah, “they” say flying is safe, but we’ve all seen videos of passengers who refuse to mask up, and they are serving food again on flights, so everyone’s mask will be off in that cramped aluminum coffin hurtling through space for hours and hours. That pretty much takes leery to the limit.

So, our joy at the great news of the vaccines has been tempered a bit by a healthy dose of reality. When will we be leery-less? Maybe when everyone who wants a vaccine has had both shots, even though the rest of the nation will still be playing hot potato with Covid-19. Maybe when they stop reporting hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus, and mass shootings become the story of the day again. In the meantime, we’ll do what we can with what we have. Words with Friends, anyone? Or online Hearts while Zooming? Or…

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Three Winners and an Also-Ran

The avocado, jalapeno slices and sour cream really makes this meal a flavor bomb!

It’s not that we haven’t eaten since my last menu planning post, but we actually found a number of things to fill our days and steal our time. Hope you’ve had great days and fabulous food in the meantime, especially for Thanksgiving! This post brings you two of our all-time favorites, a brand-new favorite, and an also-ran that should work well for lunches. 

One-Pot Chicken Thighs with Rice, Black Beans and Chilis. Most of these meals are cooked in a single pot, or on a sheet pan, which makes clean-up easier – especially helpful during these crazy times. We like to have a bowl of Juanita’s Tortilla Corn Chips alongside this dish for extra texture.

Brown Sugar Salmon with Maple Mustard Dill Sauce. How does this look for an easy-but-fancy dinner? Not only is salmon a very healthy protein choice, it’s also very flavorful. Costco has Wild Sockeye Salmon in perfect serving sizes, individually wrapped in their freezer section. The Maple/Dill Sauce really puts this recipe over the top.

To make the Smashed Potatoes, use small potatoes, microwave until nearly done. Use a measuring cup to smash the potatoes; coat with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and put in a fry pan (a little butter there will make them extra crispy). Cook until golden crunchy, flip once.

Oh boy, Sumac Chicken! Can’t wait to dig in!

Sumac Chicken with Carrots and Cauliflower remains one of our all-time favorites. Very little prep, lots of great flavor, and easy clean-up. If you haven’t gotten your Sumac from Penzy’s yet, you are missing out on a unique and wonderful flavor.

While this dish can stand on its own, a green salad would add freshness to the meal that would be a nice complement.

Note extra spices in recipe margin
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Finding An Inordinate Amount of Joy

I read an explanation once of why time seems to go by so much faster the older we get. When we are young, a huge part of what we experience is brand new, and it takes a substantial amount of time for our brains to process experiences and new knowledge. In our twilight years, the data banks in our heads are pretty full, and everything is neatly filed away (although access may be somewhat limited.)  The gaps between new and very unique memorable moments increases, so as we look back on the previous day/week/month/year, those gaps are skipped over, compressing that time frame, and making it appear to go by very quickly.

Then the pandemic enters the picture, and for those of us who have chosen to self-isolate out of a sense of self-preservation, the opportunity for memorable moments has shrunken to a mere shadow of its former presence. Memories of the Year of Covid will look dramatically different to young school-age children than they will to senior citizens such as myself. Their painful memories of being separated from friends and peers will have a lasting impact on their lives; in a few years, when seniors are asked what they did in 2020, I’m betting most of us will get a blank look on our face as we try to remember how we filled the days that seemed to flash by like a quickly forgotten nonsensical dream. 

Mushrooms hard at work on the forest floor

So what does all of this have to do with Finding An Inordinate Amount of Joy? As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things Terri and I both enjoy doing is getting out and hiking or walking. We have three places we return to again and again, primarily due to the fact we rarely encounter others who may be leaving a trail of shed virus behind them. Some time ago, on one of our walks, we found an unmarked social trail that took us through some coastal woods with views to the Salish Sea. It was slightly overgrown with thorny wild roses and other brush, so one time I took our garden shears to make the walk there a bit less likely to shred cloth or skin, and noticed someone else had also trimmed back a few obstacles along the way. Finding this hidden gem brought a huge smile to our faces as we revelled in this tiny slice of hidden beauty. 

Our hidden gem of a trail

Then, a few days ago, we were walking in a nearby area,  and came across several fresh blooms of wild mushrooms. I’ve always found fungal growth fascinating; I bet I have dozens if not hundreds of photos of the unique expressions of this life form in my archives. And yet, I still can’t resist taking even more photos, which I can’t resist posting here and on my Photos page of my blog.

There was even a solitary swan slowly swimming!

We continued walking;  looking through some woods (on public-ish property), I told Terri “I wonder what’s back there?” We went around an obstacle that had blocked our view, and Voila! another hidden gem of a social trail! Ever curious, we checked out this boot-beaten track as it wound through Fir and Madrona, through wild roses and brambles, first revealing a hidden lake, then salt-water shoreline. But wait, there was more! So we kept on, this way and that, under branches and over fallen trees until we came to the end, with a surprise finish. I’m not naming the area to try and keep the trail from being closed by having too many visitors, but I can’t resist showing a photo of where we ended up. If you come, here, please respect the area, and let’s keep it our little secret. 

Salish Sea from our hidden trail

It only took us 10 minutes to walk this little trail to the very end, but I had an ear-to-ear grin on my face every moment I was on it. While I could tell that my unknown friend with his/her clippers had been here as well, for the moment it was a brand-new discovery that just belonged to Terri and I. A new memory was being made, new territory explored, and a freshness was breathed into 2020. Our huge smiles lingered as we walked the 30 minutes back to the car, and we felt An Inordinate Amount of Joy in our tiny little discovery. Here’s hoping YOU are able to get out, explore, be curious, and find your own little moment of Inordinate Joy.

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Playing by the Rules

And discoveries near Discovery Bay

I’m not sure exactly why or when, but at some point in my life, I guess I decided to play by the rules. I never even really noticed, or thought about it until one day when my sister-in-law Lauren made the observation, “Bill, you are a Boy Scout.” I may have been waiting for a Walk signal to cross the street on an otherwise deserted road. I pondered all the implications for a few moments, and said “Yeah, you are probably right.”

It can have beneficial impacts, though, as when new and important rules suddenly come out of the blue, such as Wear A Mask, Stay 6 Feet Apart, Wash Your Hands (More) Often and such as that. For a while it included Disinfect Every Item brought into the house from the grocery store, Quarantine The Mail and delivery boxes for at least two days and Don’t Talk to Strangers. Other rules that still stand: Don’t Eat Inside Restaurants, Don’t Go Inside Grocery Stores and Don’t Travel (very far). So far, so good – we remain coronavirus free!

Ahh, Discovery Bay!

Well, as I reported in Seniors Stuck Inside Escape! we determined we could travel to our time-share condos where each unit has an outside door so we don’t have to share elevators or hallways. We kept it all in-state, with stays in Chelan, Leavenworth, Ocean Shores and Discovery Bay (near Sequim). These stays have definitely helped us maintain the wee bit of sanity we have left in our golden years.

It only looked abandoned…

We recently just returned from three nights at Discovery Bay. While there we will often walk north on Old Gardner Road for our daily exercise. This time we decided to walk south; the northern route is almost abandoned, but the south route has a center line and no shoulders, so we were a bit apprehensive, but ran – or rather, walked – the risk. Towards the end of our walk, I noticed some unusual shapes in a sparsely wooded field, and moved closer to check it out. It turned out to be an old, but still in current use, cemetery! If you’ve followed me on Instagram, or read some previous posts, you will understand that we had to take at least a half an hour to explore this hidden gem. Besides finding several tombstones with a 1918 date of death that brought the past smack dab right up to the present situation, we found a marker with the earliest date of birth we have ever seen – “Grandma” Julie Ann Jacobs, born 1792, died 1826. 

Historic wooden Railroad Bridge Park is part of the Discovery Trail, 130 miles long from Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean at LaPush.

From there we headed to Sequim. We’ve driven through it many times, but never actually stopped to check it out. After driving through the tiny but cute downtown area, I decided to see if we could find our way to view the Straits of Georgia that divided Washington State from Vancouver Island. Taking random roads I hoped might lead us in the general direction, I spotted a sign for Railroad Bridge Park, which led us to an abandoned railroad bridge built out of wood, first in 1915, then rebuilt in 1930. At 740’ long, it is the longest truss bridge built of wood. It appears the Dungeness River is a bit fickle, as but a trickle was passing under the wooden portion of the bridge when we were there.

Dungeness Spit with lighthouse in the distance; Vancouver Island in the distance

Leaving there, I consulted the map, and found the micro village of Dungeness which promised the views of Georgia Strait I had been looking for. After winding this way and that we found a sliver of a park, and walked to the shore. It turned out that we were actually almost totally separated from the Strait by Dungeness Spit, a five-mile long skinny sand dune with a lighthouse and wildlife preserve at the end. And we COULD have seen Vancouver Island if it hadn’t been totally covered with clouds. 

Fun fact about Sequim – it gets about 16” of rain per year, or less than half of what Western Washington does, so it is a bit of a mecca for retirees who love the Wet Side, but crave a bit less dampness. So, we decided to check out senior accommodations whilst we were in the area, and found brand-new 55+ condos and  a senior manufactured home park, which happened to have a double rainbow right over the unit that was for sale that we were looking at! A sign? 

Just a sliver of the huge and varied Fort Flagler Historic State Park

We had also heard about Port Ludlow, just south of Port Townsend, that was supposed to be a haven for seniors, so we headed out the next day to check it out. It turned out to be very, very tiny, quite cute on a small bay. It looks to get even more rain than Seattle. Next. So, we headed out to Indian Island and Fort Flagler on Morrowstone Island. Basically all but the road on the south shore of Indian Island belongs to the Navy for a munitions base, where submarines from the base at Bremerton stop to pick up fresh nuclear missiles on their way out of town. 

Exploring one of the smaller gun emplacements

Fort Flagler is a huge jewel of a park, built around 1890, and manned during WWI, WWII and the Korean War. Part of the Triangle of Fire with Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and Fort Worden by Port Townsend, each fort had multiple big gun emplacements strategically placed to defend the entrance to Puget Sound from enemy warships. Each one is a state park, and each offers a unique glimpse into the role they played in our nation’s defense.  Fort Flagler is the most remote, but oh so worth the effort to get there. It has 1,451 acres with over 3 ½ miles of shoreline and fabulous views. 

Let’s explore!

Almost all of the original buildings still remain; the homes the officers lived in have been restored, and are available to rent, as are larger facilities for big groups. The barracks look exactly like the ones I stayed in during basic training at Fort Lewis 50 years ago. There is also a great campground with amazing views to the north of Port Townsend and Whidbey island. You can wander through all the old gun emplacements, and try and imagine what life was like in the concrete bunkers filled with high explosives. A number of interpretive plaques give some insight as to the history and use of various sites. We saw a good chunk of the park while we were there, but are already looking forward to going back in the spring. For a quick video of one of the beach areas, click HERE.

With the sun already approaching the horizon at 3:30 in this northern latitude, we set our sights for Happy Hour at our home base back at Discovery Bay. We had had an amazing two full days full of discovery, beauty and history, and had done it safely during this pandemic that has upended the world. Infections are shooting up in Washington like a rocket being launched at Cape Canaveral, and it looks like a good time to retreat to the safety of our cozy little home for awhile. Thankszooming, anyone? Stay safe, and take good care of yourself and each other; this too shall pass.

PS Something new! For more photos of this trip, please click HERE or on the Photo link at the top of the blog. Thanks!

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The Long, Wet Gray

Or Putting the flower beds to bed

“Baby, let your light shine down”

Something remarkable happened a couple of days ago … I saw and talked with six of my neighbors while I was putting up our Christmas lights! What makes this so remarkable is that it was early November, and most of us have retreated to our caves to hibernate for the next six months, so sightings of neighbors is a rare happenstance.

Up in the Northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest, we “joke” that we have two seasons – the Long, Wet Gray (LWG) starting as early as mid-October and lasting until mid-May, and Partly Sunny. Oh sure, we can get a couple of weeks that passes for Spring, and maybe a bit more that can seem like Fall, but when the LWG arrives, everyone knows it. On Solstice this year, the sun will rise unseen behind a thick veil of clouds at 8:01 AM, then quickly set at 4:16 PM, although the light begins to seriously dim about 3:30.

“Rose, rose, rose,rose – will I ever see thee bloom?”

We were able to participate in an annual ritual this year that occasionally gets rained out – Putting the Flower Beds to Bed. Once the first frost hits, we know the LWG will soon follow. The flowers, once so vibrant and lush are brown and drooping back to the soil from whence they sprang. I’m sure there is a fabulous metaphor here as we pull up the withered annuals, and cut back the perennials to within a few inches of their life. The rose bushes seem the most dramatic to me, once a colander of glossy green leaves spouting beautiful red blooms, wafting an intoxicating and heavenly scent, now reduced to a few short and forbidding thorny vestiges like a glimpse of the weeks and months to follow.

Silent and empty, hunkered down for the winter

I admit we put off putting the gardens to bed a bit this year. Like so many of you, we have severely  limited our life primarily to our tiny little corner of the world, finding an inordinate amount of joy and comfort from the shelter of our gazebo as we gazed out to the most prolific display of mesmerizing beauty our little flower beds may have ever produced. The brightness of the blooms and the baffling beauty of Hummingbirds eliminated the shadows on our souls cast by the dark spell of a microscopic seed planted in humankind all across this world. What a marvelous medicine it was!

I remember when I was young, going to bed, sitting up and reading, totally caught up in whatever book had caught my fancy. But then my mom would come up and say, “Okay, it’s time to turn off the lights and go to sleep!” Sometimes she would give me a few more minutes if I was persuasive enough; otherwise, I’d turn off the lights, wait a few moments, and then break out the flashlight and read under the covers as long as I dared or until I finished the book. While those days have long since passed, it’s as if Mother Nature has come to me – to us – and said  “Okay, it’s time to turn off the lights and go to sleep!” The blooms are gone, the bears have gone to den, and we are tucked into a blanket of clouds. “To sleep, perchance to dream” to borrow a line from the bard. 

May start a new tradition…

But, like that little boy, I will not go gently into that good night. I love a line from a Bruce Cockburn song – “Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight,” and that will be my touchstone during the Long, Wet Gray. I lighted up our Christmas lights the day I put them up on November 10th instead of waiting until Thanksgiving per tradition. Yesterday Terri and I did something we’ve NEVER done before – we went through the drive-through at Dairy Queen and got two Blizzards! And … those of you who know us well will be SHOCKED .. we are making plans to pick up some kind of a fast-food meal at a drive-through to eat in the car as we find a place of beauty and tranquility to savor an uncommon moment. And who knows what other wild and crazy norms we may bend as we kick at the darkness? What about you? What will you do this winter that is uncommon? Whatever it is, stay safe, ‘cause we’d really like to see you when we emerge from the dual hibernation of winter and pandemic.

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Cooking with Bill and Terri #5 – Champions of Breakfast

I had pancakes for breakfast this morning. For the first time in a few years. Growing up, we’d often have pancakes for breakfast, made with Krusteaz mix, a tradition I faithfully carried on up until a couple of years back when I discovered how much sodium pancake mix has. I decided to try and make changes to my diet reduce my blood pressure without medication; sadly, the pancakes had to go as two small pancakes had a whopping 530mg of sodium! Since then, I’ve been searching for a palatable low-sodium pancake mix, alas, without success.

SO happy I get to have pancakes again!

Last week whilst perusing our home-made cookbook for upcoming meals, I found an egg-free pancake recipe our daughter Jenn had given us that we could use for our granddaughter. We never actually got around to trying it. Looking at it, I noticed it didn’t call for any salt. It turns out that baking powder DOES contain sodium, but not much, so – for the first time in my life, I made home-made pancakes … and they were good! I’m excited about adding pancakes back into my breakfast repertoire!

The stoves at Mt. Tabor were built from volcanic rock taken from the site, but otherwise looked almost identical to this.

All of which brought up childhood memories of breakfast. One of my favorites was going to Mount Tabor Park in Portland, Oregon for Easter Breakfast. Back then they had the outdoor stone stoves, which have disappeared without photographic evidence. I was able to find a photo very similar to the ones at Mt. Tabor of one at Lassen. We’d build a fire, wait for the thick steel plate to heat up, then cook pancakes, bacon and eggs in the cast iron fry pan and griddle we would bring. We would also have big family breakfast gatherings at parks on the scenic highway through the Columbia Gorge.

So, the title of this post notwithstanding, I was a Cheerios guy, not a Wheaties person. My dad, hailing from Canada, loved a porridge mix called Sonny Boy, and would bring some home after every trip back. I remember his dad actually grinding and making his own porridge. As a young lad, I never developed a taste for those rough cereals. My brother’s wife Becky has a great memory of her grandfather getting up by 5:30am every morning, making homemade oatmeal, and homemade biscuits with honey butter. 

The original Elmer’s Pancake and Steak House near 82nd Street in Portland

What I DID like, and one thing we all looked forward to was breakfast at Elmer’s. Strawberry Waffles with tons of whipped cream, oh my gosh! Many years later, after my mom passed, our dad met a wonderful woman who became the glue for our family; they announced their engagement over breakfast at Elmer’s!

Since then, we have found some incredibly good recipes for breakfast, which I will share on the Menu Planning and Recipes page here on my blog. So, I’d LOVE to hear what your favorite breakfast memories or recipes are. Please share! In the meantime, Let’s Get Cooking!

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Cooking with Bill and Terri #4.2- Pots and Pans Follow-up!

Thanks for all the comments on what I thought would be my most boring post ever about pots and pans! Here’s a couple of interesting things that were brought to our attention we want to share with you.

Meatloaf pan, ready to start cooking.

Bruce and Kathy from British Columbia shared this great find with us: a meatloaf pan! I never even knew such a thing existed, but this is pure genius! Who amongst us hasn’t struggled to get meatloaf out of the pan after cooking, only to mess up several portions. No more!

Check out all this deliciousness! Photos courtesy of Bruce and Kathy.

So, I recently learned a lot about Dutch ovens. Pre-17th century, the Dutch were the best makers of pots and pans in the world, using copper and brass. Then an Englishman thought cast iron would work, and be much more affordable … but to make it work, he had to use the “Dutch process” to cast them, so they’ve been known as Dutch ovens ever since.

It also turns out that if you want to get really picky, Dutch ovens are made of uncoated cast iron. The French devised a way to coat them with enamel, making them much easier to clean, and became known as French ovens (I never knew this). Here is a great article from Allrecipies on “What is a Dutch Oven” with lots more information, tips, and recipes.

We love both these pans, for very different reasons.

So, last time, as to not totally bore you to death, I didn’t say much about fry pans. Haha, sorry, but yes, there’s more! Besides the Swiss Zyliss non-stick, we also have an uncoated cast iron fry pan (another Christmas gift from Terri to me), and a little, inexpensive copper coated fry/saute pan. After a very bad experience with the failure of a non-stick PFOA (teflon-type) fry pan, we went looking for alternatives. I was VERY skepical because of how little the copper-coated pan cost, but it has been a winner. It is amazingly fast and easy to clean, and the coating still appears to be very durable. Here is a link to a video on USA Today about the differences between cast-iron and stainless steel fry pans, and when to use each one for best results.

So now I’m even more curious – do you have a unique pan you absolutely love? Come on and share with the rest of us!

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Cooking with Bill and Terri #4 – “NEVER buy this for me for Christmas!”

One of our first purchases together was a set of hard anodized Calphalon Cookware. We wanted something durable, well-made, and high quality that would outlast us. The investment in having the right assortment of sizes continues to pay great dividends as we find ourselves in the kitchen even more, due to the pandemic. 

This is a critical tool for any kitchen!

We have cooked for others in their homes a few times, and one of our biggest challenges has been the lack of pots and pans needed to perfectly prepare the meal. We have continued to add to our collection over the years, with some pieces absolutely worth every penny spent.

Several years back, we had our eyes on a classic Le Creuset dutch oven. When I naively asked Terri if that’s what she wanted for Christmas, she said “NEVER buy things for the kitchen for me for Christmas!” Message received, loud and clear. So I said, hey buy it for me for Christmas then, and she did. We have used it over and over again for countless soups, stews and specialty meals, and it is always a joy to get it out of the cupboard and onto the stove. We know a good meal is in the making!

Zyliss fry pan with Frittata. Best non-stick ever!

I used to think that I was one of very few men in America who would willingly go into a kitchen store with his wife, but it’s been amazing to see how many men do most of the cooking when we watch reality TV shows on people buying homes across the USA. When we are in the fabulous little town of LaConner, we always stop in at The Ginger Grater and Olive Shoppe to see what’s new. One time we stumbled across this fry pan made by Zyliss, and bought it based on the owner’s glowing recommendation. It has been a terrific workhorse for us. It has a non-PFOA nonstick coating that is better than every other non-stick pan we’ve had, including one from Colophon. It heats evenly, and cleans super-easy every time.

Stove-top to oven, this does it all.

We are fortunate to have a Le Creuset store in an outlet center near us … we popped in one day, and found a pan we just could not resist. The closest thing I can find on their website is a “Cassadou,” but ours is wider, and not as deep. After the Zyliss fry pan above, this may be our most-used pan. No crowding here when cooking up a big batch of chicken, or the Tuscan Chicken with Garbanzo Beans

Beautiful AND practical, this brings joy and comfort food right to the table.

We were wandering around Whidbey Island doing an artist studio tour one year, and came across this beautiful ceramic cookpot. It is basically on display on the open bottom shelf of our sideboard. We haven’t used it as much as I thought we would, but it sure adds beauty to our eating area – and Terri just found a recipe for Vegetarian Butternut Squash Chili with Black Beans that just cries out to be cooked in this pot.

Well, Congratulations! You actually read this all the way to the end! Pots and pans aren’t a very exciting topic, but having the right tools for the job at your disposal can make all the difference in your cooking experience. Now, let’s get cooking!