Friday, April 9, 2021


 I love the way the English language sometimes creates a link between two things that make sense...the word "season" being one of them. I think seasons are to the planet what seasonings are to food. You know, the way thyme, oregano, and parsley turn plain spaghetti sauce into your grandmother's secret recipe? That's what seasons do, here on earth. Your backyard becomes more than your backyard at the first sign of color, whether it's the pastels of spring, the rich greens of summer or the warm amber tones of autumn.

As far as planetary seasonings go, spring is one of my favorites. In this area, after a winter full of gray, it's nice to see these kind of outrageous pops of color everywhere. I don't know if it was pioneers planting along the old wagon trails and homesteads (that's the rumor among the locals), or ODOT, or guerrilla gardeners did it, but the medians of the highways, the fields, and dirt curbs are all exploding right now with bright yellow daffodils, scattered about here, there and everywhere, all blooming right now. 

It makes even the most mundane drive up Interstate 5 pleasant, especially when you throw in the blossoms from all the trees which adorn the sides of the roadways as well. The seasonings of the season indeed.

There's something innately hopeful about planting daffodils by the side of the road -- or planting anything, really --  trees, vegetables, or even the act of having kids. It's betting on the future; something that certainly isn't easy in these times of ours but probably has never been a 100 percent guaranteed success at any point in history, really.

 Planting is an act which says, "I believe there will be a future good enough for this plant to survive." Having kids is the same. I have no idea what kind of mindset or lives the babies being born today will have. But the fact that they exist says that, yes, there is still hope in the world. Hope for daffodils and hope that someone will be around to see them. I like that. 

We've added our own dash to hope to the mix recently, in planting a collection of mature trees in our property: five new sunset maples, five pines, two white birches, four dwarf Japanese maples, and a Kelly's Gold Maple out front, to replace the one that died in the ice storm in February. These trees were professionally rescued from a neighborhood vineyard using a giant tree spade. It was sad that wine grape expansion on the property meant they had to go. But the vineyard's loss is our gain. 

I'm not sure they'll all make it, or what their long term prognosis will look like, as it's early on and they must survive this summer, which may be difficult for a newly transplanted 15 year-old tree. If they do well they will likely outlive me, which is nice to know. They will require a HUGE amount of watering this summer due to their size of their rootballs (we needed a tractor with a backhoe to plant them) but like any other future-based activity, it's a prospect full of hopes, dreams and maybe just a little insanity.

Someday I hope to sit in their shade with a cool glass of something alcoholic at the end of a nice day and listen to their leaves in the wind. Will they make it? We don't know right now, but like all planting projects at their start, we're optimistic and a little dreamy about it. It was the same with our kids, and look how well that turned out. Sometimes optimism proves true, so let's hope it's the same here. 

Like anything in life, whether it's planting trees, a garden, or a family, it's the act of starting something new that creates the seasoning in our own lives -- a little kick of spice or a surprise burst of flavor which makes the mundane new again. The hillsides by the highway look sweet and inviting, and our back pasture beckons with the promise of future shade. That's how things look today, anyway. I'll take it. 

And so to all of you, may your spring be colorful, your food flavorful and your garden plentiful! Happy spring. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Weighting... One Year On

 Oregon locked down exactly one year ago today. We had plans to go to a spacious venue to see an Irish band that night as I remember, but of course that never happened, along with a myriad of other things -- weddings, graduations....funerals.

All along, we knew the world would still be there once we turned a corner and vaccinations were available, so the trick became to avoid the virus for as long as possible. And we did. Perhaps you did, too.

The actual day of lockdown, we took a long hike up to an area known as "God's Thumb" on the coast. We had no idea the state and federal park systems would also shut down for several months and hiking would not be on the table as an activity after that day, so I'm very glad we went when we did. 

And now, it's time to get back out there. I have a list of six wonderful hikes on my to-do list. Except I'm not sure I would be able to make it up a mountain today; certainly not God's Thumb. Because as it turns out, after having 12 months in lockdown, I've discovered I quite enjoy sitting on my ass and doing nothing. And now I have the ass to prove it. 

And so, that has to change now, so that I can get back out into the world in roughly the same shape and size I was when I left it.

I've gained seven pounds during the pandemic; enough that I can feel the additional weight through my midsection and behind, but thankfully not enough that my clothes don't fit anymore. But if Our Pandemic Year was about limitedness, Our Recovery Year needs to be about making up for lost time. More gatherings with friends. More travel. And more hiking for heaven's sake!

And so I'm embarking on that most dreaded of things -- a diet. Even though I'd promised myself I would never be an old lady on a diet, I'm going to make an exception in light of this extraordinary year, and try and get back not only to the weight that was on the scale in March 2020, but also my STAMINA. And not for watching Netflix. For hiking mountains.

I'm NOT going to be posting a lot of boring diet updates (you're welcome), but in writing it here I'm hoping to hold myself accountable to Summer 2021 in some way; to say, "I'll meet you on the mountain," and be able to make it up there without needing a call from the paramedics or to be flung to the wayside, sitting under a shady tree while everyone else scrambles on to the top.

I will admit that during this rough year I comforted myself with too much food and too many cocktails. Epic cocktails, true. I don't blame myself for this, instead, I give myself credit for playing by the rules, keeping distance and at first, disinfecting everything that came into our house, including us. Our discipline may have saved us.

But the time has come to begin planning on emerging from that, and I've decided that in order to walk through that door back into Life As We Knew It, you must first actually fit through the door. Bah Bump Bump. A little diet humor for you there.

So here I go. Without blame or shame, just wanting to get up that mountain again. Happy Diet Season to everyone who needs or wants it!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Off the grid: The 2021 Ice Storm

I'm sure you've all been hearing about the terrible power outages in Texas, which have left millions without water or power. Less reported on was the ice storm that hit the Willamette Valley here in Oregon at about the same time, which has left several dead, hundreds of thousands without power/water, and many homes destroyed or damaged. 

And just like all the history that's happened over the last year, we were front and center stage for it. I'm happy to report that after six days with no power and water, and 13 with no internet service, we are finally back online, both literally and metaphorically. Clothes and bodies are washed properly, dishes are sanitized, and online business can again be done.

Deadly beauty.

The ice storm started on February 12. We were expecting snow, but instead, sleet began falling that morning, and by 10 a.m., our power was out. Sleet is strange stuff, not rain, but not snow. It's like hail, but not really. Over the day it continued, and through the night as well.

We pride ourselves on being prepared, but we were totally under-prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. The first day wasn't too bad; we used our generator, discovered our gas fireplace has a battery back-up built in for ignition, and used a good portion of the water we'd put aside for not only drinking, but also flushing toilets, washing ourselves (fill a pot and take it into the bathtub with you) and doing dishes. We never dreamed the power would be out for so long, but in hindsight, we should have been more prepared in case it was.

One of our two generators.

That night we stood outside as the sleet continued to fall and the ice build. We heard something that sounded like firecrackers about every 30 seconds or so, some extremely loud, others not so much. It was the sound of tree limbs of all sizes splitting under the weight of the ice and then crashing to the ground, all over the neighborhood and forest that surrounds us. It was eerie, fascinating and absolutely heartbreaking, all at the same time.

Dramatic death.

The next morning (Valentine's Day), we went outside to inspect the damage. Our favorite tree in our front yard, a Box Elder with amazing fall colors, had not survived -- it split three ways down the center, a dramatic death if ever I've seen one. Other trees had large limbs on the ground or were bent over, weighed down with ice, but had survived. It was stunning, but it was deadly. So we spent most of Valentine's Day cleaning up the property, and going out to find more gas for the generator and more drinking water. We had already resorted to making a camp latrine for our other business, to save on water. We were now at Day Three

Camp Latrine: Where what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. Like life.

This went on for the next few days. We hooked up our old antenna to the television, which in turn was hooked up to the generator. Watching the news, we discovered that a half-million people  in Oregon had lost power (some of whom have still not been restored). on Day Four we finally took advantage all of the rain (the sleet stopped after Day Two) to begin harvesting rainwater off our shop roof into some waiting ice chests. We were able to flush toilets again at that point, and boil it for all other uses, too. I've never been so thankful to live somewhere with abundant rain.

MacGyver'ed water catchment system!

Fallen tree in the orchard.

On Day Six the lights came on! The heater fired up, everything with outage alarms began beeping, and we almost wept with joy. The house went from a brisk 59 degrees to a toasty 68 within a few hours. We still didn't have any internet, but did have our phones, so just continued burning our data allotment until internet was finally restored yesterday. 

Our lovely Deodar cedar suffered some damage...

as did our arbor vitae trees. 

We've learned a lot through this. First is that you can never have enough water put up. We were on a well, so with no power we had no water, but many, many thousands of residents in city limits had no water either, as the generators which run the municipal water systems could not keep up with demand using only generator power. At that point, finding water in the store was like finding gold. We'll be putting in a special surge protector which will allow us to run our well off one of our generators, and will also be purchasing two 500 gallon storage tanks to keep rainwater on hand at all times. What if this had happened in summer? Water is literally life, which means water storage is mandatory.

We also learned what we did right: We had plenty of easy to prepare food put up. We had emergency flashlights, which charge in your wall until the power goes off and you need them (they also serve as emergency lights if it happens at night). We had the gas fireplace, which can run even when power is off, and we knew how to make water catchment systems and camp latrines. All that earthquake preparedness finally paid off in some ways. And in other ways, it was a very real dress rehearsal for The Big One, when they say you would be prepared to be on your own for a minimum of two weeks. We just did half that, and found some holes in our plans. But they won't be holes for long. 

I'm not sure why it is the fates determined Oregon needed to live through a historic wildfire and a historic ice storm in the same year, but so be it. We're comforted by the fact that our normal lives are back and that spring is on the way.

We're also thankful that, as inconvenient as this ice storm was, our home was not damaged in any way, and we were put on notice to get better prepared for next time. 

Sometimes minor disasters are gifts in disguise, if you can learn from them.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Snowgaritas and a shot

We had our first snowfall of the year today. There is always something magical about snow; growing up in Southern California, the most we ever saw was an occasional thick frost, white and crisp to the touch, but never anything actually falling from the sky. Generally by morning -- about the time the 405 would start backing up and the first celebrities would be showing up at their cosmetic sugeon's offices, it would all be melted anyway. 

In Los Angeles, better to dream of monster waves or mudslides, even earthquakes. Really, anything but snow. SoCal snow is as elusive as the pink unicorn. 

But since moving here to Oregon, the snow arrives every year, usually sometime after Christmas but before Easter. That's right, no white Christmases for us for some reason, but plenty of white President's Days or St. Paddy's Days. So I always keep my snow/winter decor up through at least February. And never take my duck boots out until after Christmas.

Because of my upbringing in sunny Los Angeles, I don't think I will ever be able to treat snow as an ordinary thing. As soon as the weather experts begin talking about it, I get excited. The snow we saw today did not disappoint; it started around lunchtime and went until 3 pm or so. At 4 pm we took a walk then came home, made some tacos and I gathered some fresh snow up to make some snowgaritas, which are like margaritas but using snow instead of blender ice. That's my own idea, but I don't understand why it's not a staple in places like Wisconsin, where an abundance of snow should make these as much a tradition as Taco Tuesdays. Why not?

Before this first snowfall, we were able to squeeze in one more trip to Silver Falls State Park after some particularly heavy rains, when we figured the falls would be at their peak. It did not disappoint. The lighting was just right.

I also, happily, am now halfway on the way to being fully vaccinated; I got my first dose of the Pfeizer vaccine last week. Words can't express the relief I feel to know I'm on my way to being a lot safer as I head back to work. Oregon is vaccinating its teachers first, and so since I'll be heading back to the classroom to help in the work of getting our students back to where they need to be in 2021, I was able to get my shot. No side effects other than a sore arm, and it will be great to work alongside students knowing it's safe to do so. I know we'll be masking and social distancing for awhile still, but this is a start towards getting life back to normal again. 

In the spirit of a happier 2021, I've also decided to bring my growing skills inside, finding two growing plants that seem literally impossible to kill. The first is a live moss bowl, filled with tiny ferns, lichen, and a few other mossy plants. And the second are air plants, which according to friends only need a once-weekly dunk in a jug of water for 10 minutes or so. So far, so good!

And "so far, so good," pretty much sums up my feelings about 2021 so far.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

End of the year

So where does the end of 2020 find you? If you're like me, i.e., counting yourself lucky right now, you're basically in the same place as you were for most of the year: You're staying in, limiting trips out in public, while your social life consists mainly of texts and Zoom calls with friends and family and the occasional brief chat with the checker at the grocery store.

I've started thinking of how 2020 has changed me, and while much of the year was a bit of a rough ride, I've actually found a new-found acceptance of the way things are and the limits life is currently demanding of us all. That's the last stage in the Kubler-Ross cycle of grief, right? As Americans, we're taught from birth to fight, to hold off acquiescing, or accepting anything other than total victory. Fighting and rebelling seems a part of our national culture, our DNA, and has been from the get-go. But as life teaches us, often the only escape is ultimately through surrender and acceptance. And so it is with 2020.

I've lowered my expectations for every day, and it's been very freeing, honestly. What I don't get to today gets put off until tomorrow -- or whatever day I feel like doing it (within reason). I think one of the biggest changes is that I don't beat myself up over things not getting done. Things like the kitchen taking seven months (and counting) to complete, or the times I've turned the car around in a store parking lot and left when I realized it meant the store was more crowded than I was comfortable with, have all trained me to not get too wrapped around the axle when something I'l planned on doesn't happen whenI thought it would. 

Health cooperating, there's always tomorrow. Or the day after. I guess sometimes learning to live with less even means less expectations of oneself, which is kind of a surprise bonus gift bestowed during a difficult time.

Big Ag and I have also settled into a lovely little routine of him going upstairs to his new home office to work during the day, and me staying downstairs and doing chores. We often take a walk at lunch now. And after adjusting to being around each other almost 24/7, we have hit a groove where that no longer feels like too much. It took awhile-- we both value our independent time spent doing our own thing -- but 2020 changed us and made us better able to spend large chunks of time together.  Probably good practice for retirement.

As the year passed we saw more and more friends become ill, and more and more friends' parents went into hospital and actually died from COVID. That's the generation that's been hit the hardest -- the one right above ours. But you know, even with that, we've also seen life go on in positive ways, too. Babies being born. Zoom weddings and baby showers. 

2021 will be a year of shifting back to "normal," assuming we don't face any COVID or other health challenges. With our baskets now largely empty of the things we did before -- concerts, brunches, vacations and events -- all of us will start putting things back into those baskets as the year progresses. I don't know about you, but I'm going to be a lot more circumspect as far as what goes back in. Maybe not in terms of types of activities, but in terms of their amounts. Less may be more from now on. I've come to enjoy the weeks when I have nothing whatsoever scheduled except whatever I choose to creatively do around our property. I hope I don't relinquish that time too quickly or easily in favor of just being busy and occupied.

So wherever you are, I hope you are healthy, happy and prepared to finish the crazy ride 2020 has been, as we move towards brighter days. Stay well, and I hope whatever ends up in your basket for 2021 is both meaningful and nourishing, both physically and emotionally. 

Happy New Year!

Hoping 2021 is less of an odd duck than 2020 was. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Bend there, done that

While my sinuses are not equipped to live there full time, I do love the high desert. Even in California, I often found myself torn if offered the choice between a day at the ocean or the desert. It's no different in Oregon, where beauty resides on both sides of the Cascades.

We spent the day in Bend last week and enjoyed the gorgeous fall colors. I think my favorite thing about Oregon is the autumn season. It starts in late August and is still going strong at the end of October. And despite getting a lot less rainfall than we in the Willamette Valley do, Bend still has plenty of colorful autumn trees!

The Three Sisters as seen from the east.

Black Butte, made famous by Bend's own Deschutes Brewery's Black Butte Porter

And just some lovely fall color in the park near Mirror Pond

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Requiem for a forest

 Last week we decided we needed a mental health day and drove to Bend for the day. I'll post some photos we took in Bend in a few days, but I wanted to first post some photos of the areas we drove through which were burned by the Beachie Creek Fire from last month (the one which had us on evacuation notice). It has been described as a "once-in-a-century" fire, burning about 200,000 acres. As we drove through, we saw tree stumps and areas of forest still smoldering, even after four inches of rain and six weeks of time. 

I'm glad I got to see this beautiful forest before it burned, because my guess is that it's going to be many years before it looks even close to what it did before, if ever. I heard a news report the other night that said a fire like this takes the forest it burns about 150 years to recover. So I won't be seeing it, obviously.

The strangest thing was the way the fire checkerboarded across the landscape -- taking this house, this tree, and sparing that one, so randomly. At the higher elevations near the peak of the Cascade range, the destruction was much more complete -- not a fern, a pine cone or a tree remaining.

Here are a few shots of the destruction:

You can see the destruction, all the way to the top of the mountains.

Here you see more of a checkerboard pattern, with some trees left alive.

Still smoldering, six weeks later.

Miles and miles of it. So sad.