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Karen, me, Will, Ian, standing atop the Graduate Seattle Hotel, at The Mountaineering Club.

In the weeks before his visit from Rhode Island, I told Will what weather to expect over here in March: rain every day, temps in the 40s and 50s. This is what happened instead: the first three days it was in the 20s and snowed, and from then on skies were sunny as it slowly warmed up day after day till it was in the 70s under blue skies the day he left. Will still has no experience of a typical Pacific Northwest day.

But all the sun made for some spectacular touristing! Will and I went to Seattle for a weekend, to visit my brother, Ian, and his girlfriend, Karen.

Space Needle rises above the tracks of the monorail.

Kitties agree that they do not want to visit the Space Needle.

The first thing we had to do was visit the Space Needle. Last spring the whole top was encased in plywood, making it bulky and ugly. Ian told me that they were planning upgrades to include a glass floor. I had to see that, and Will was game. It took 45 minutes from the moment we first got in line to purchase a ticket, till the moment we entered an elevator – and this is in March!! Just imagine how crazy this place must be in the summertime. The good news is: On your ticket there is a time for when you must return to get into the elevator line. Just go do more touristing if the wait is going to be long.

More important than the glass floor are the new glass walls. Compare the photo of my friend Mads from our trip up the Needle in 2015, to the one of Will and me this month:

Mads in Seattle, March 2015

Will and me in Seattle, March 2019. Glass walls and glass benches!

So yes, those of you with the jitters just looking at the photos…those are valid feelings. Wow! It’s woozy-making to look out through the glass at a 520-foot drop to concrete below. But get a load of the width of the glass (which I’m sure is not merely glass, but a reinforced material of some kind). You can see the edges to the left of Will in the photo above. Up close it looked a couple inches thick and could hold us up easily. It was designed to withstand storms as much as people.

We looped the upper observation deck and got photos in every direction, even scrutinizing the nearby neighborhoods till we picked out Ian and Karen’s house! We went downstairs to the rotating restaurant, and there we found the glass floors. That is when my stomach really began doing flip flops.

Me on the new glass floors in the Space Needle.

Eeeeeyikes!! Will’s feet and my feet as we look directly below at the base of the tower holding us up.

Someone has a sense of humour: this daddy long legs mural is painted on the roof.

Termination point of the monorail is just outside, after passing through the Museum of Pop Culture.

We rode the monorail to the Pike Place Market and then returned early to meet Ian and Karen and go have dinner and drinks at a bar atop the Graduate Hotel, called The Mountaineering Club. A friend of theirs is the kitchen manager and gave them the heads up that it’s now open. On such a spectacular day, it was a perfect place for even more amazing views without buying a ticket or waiting 45 minutes. We chose the outdoor seating at first, and were provided with blankets to stay warm out there while we watched the sunset. Then we moved inside to eat our meal at themed tables holding old mountaineering equipment. I had the most delicious drink of my life called “We Put Nettles In This,” with Bolivian Brandy, Aloe Vera, Grapefruit Cordial, Suze, Lime, Celery Bitters, and Nettle Fizz.

After returning home, we met an old school friend of mine from Brandeis who recently moved to Seattle. We walked up to Kerry Park to gaze at the spectacular city lights, then we walked back down the hill to share coffee and a pastry and catch up on each other’s lives. It has been 12 years since I saw her last. Wow!

Looking toward the Space Needle from The Mountaineering Club.

The view from the 16th floor of the Graduate Hotel, at the Mountaineering Club.

Waiting for my friend at Caffe Vita, my fave Seattle coffee shop.

Brandeis Anthropology kids

Lamps decorate a restaurant front in Seattle.

The next day Ian took us to the Ballard Locks, which dates from 1917. While we waited for the boats to fill the lock between Puget Sound and Lake Union (and Lake Washington, on the other side of Lake Union), we spotted wildlife. We saw Seattle’s official city bird, the Great Blue Heron. Their most serious predator in the area is Bald Eagles, and the eagles do not like all the noise of the locks, the train, and the people, so they stay away and allow the herons to raise their young.

Kingfisher inside the empty lock.

We got tired of waiting and walked over to the fish ladders. This is an important route for salmon migrations, so the locks are designed to make it easy for fish to climb or descend the 26 feet between the fresh water lakes and salt water sound. There is a educational center that has been closed for a long time and not yet made ready for the public, so we were able to get up close to the glass viewing windows, but as you can see from the photo, we did not see any migrating salmon.

Great Blue Herons in a tree near Ballard Locks.

Seagulls at the locks, making their own racket.

Educational facility at the salmon ladder is not quite ready for the public until the glass is cleaned. The window on the right is opaque with green slime.

While we were viewing the fish ladder, the lock sent a load of boats out and we missed it! This time we stayed put until a group of small boats collected inside the lock and then we watched the water fill it up. When the gate opened and the boats were free to go, we left too.

Standing at the fish ladder site, looking back toward the main building of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, better known as the Ballard Locks.

Looking toward the train bridge.

We stood with 100 other people, watching the locks operate.

Next Ian took us to Gas Works Park. It is the site of a coal gasification plant that operated in the first half of the 20th century. Contaminated soil and groundwater were cleaned up when the former Seattle Gas Light Company site was made into a park. I absolutely love the look of the abandoned natural gas generator towers, and the other structures remaining. Much of the pump house and boiler house still contain original pumps, compressors, and piping and are open to children or adults who want to climb around or picnic, but the highest structures are fenced off.

Remnants of natural gas generator towers at Gas Works Park.

Will and Ian walk beside the generator towers.

Looking down onto the towers from the kite flying hill.

The view from Gas Works Park is outstanding.

To wrap up our wonderful weekend, Ian took us into the Queen Anne neighborhood to look at expensive houses and see the fabulous views their owners purchased. Lucky for us, the common people can come up and look any time we want, for free.

A gorgeous March day in Seattle.

While my kitchen, living room, and dining room are torn up for the remodel, I haven’t been able to enjoy Christmas in my own home. I mean…sort of. Tara came home from college and insisted we get a tree and decorate the TV room a little. It was good for my soul. I love Christmas and this remodel project has been underway since May and I am *so* frustrated that it’s still not done. Not even close to done. And my Christmas was all discombobulated because of it.

This is the TV room, crammed with furniture (and appliances – you can’t see the refrigerator, oven, and microwave to my left) from the kitchen and dining room. Note the desk to the right, that has become my new kitchen, with toaster, electric kettle, coffee and tea. And the bookcase piled with dishes.

It was a good time to go spend some Christmas holiday time with someone else. So Tara and I headed to Boise, Idaho, to visit my awesome brother Eli, his inspiring wife Addie, and their boys.

We set out early Friday morning. There were three mountain passes along the way, and the total trip would be 8 hours of driving. I wanted to have as much daylight as possible. We had coffee and granola bars and jumped into the Jeep. After two hours of driving, we were famished, and that was perfect because we had reached the town of The Dalles, Oregon. Home of our favourite breakfast stop in the region: Petite Provence.

Our favourite breakfast place is in a tiny town called The Dalles, along Interstate 84 in the Columbia River Gorge. Authentic, delicious, French fare at Petite Provence.

The weather Friday was promising. I checked the whole route and saw that no precipitation was expected that day. Still, I’m always nervous about micro-effects tucked away in the river gorge, or between mountain tops where the weather radar can’t see. We were lucky though, and the roads were in excellent shape all day. We arrived in Boise at dinner time, and met the family at a favourite restaurant close to their home. I think it has been four years since we saw them all. I could have sworn it’s been less time than that, but sadly, I think that’s how long it’s been.

We all went to my brother’s beautiful home and chatted while the very exciteable boys vied for our attention. I am touched that Eli & Addie have constantly talked to the boys about Aunt Sis (that’s me) and Cousin Tara so much, that the boys were genuinely excited to see us, even though they didn’t remember us at all.

Tara and me enjoying the hospitality in my brother’s home.

Addie is a genius at decorating, and making a home feel like Home. I can’t imagine the immense amount of work it must have taken to make their place so beautiful – like a magazine spread. There were tasteful, gorgeous Christmas touches in every single room: even the boys’ bathroom. The couch was heaped with fluffy soft Christmas blankets for curling up with – and we used them every chance we got! They doted on our every need, tried to anticipate needs we hadn’t thought of yet, and made us feel like showing up was the best thing that had happened to them in a month. I truly admire people who can do that. I am humbled by what beautiful people they are.

The next morning the boys were very eager to find what new thing had been done by their Elf on the Shelf, named Rocky. For those not familiar, many homes have an Elf on the Shelf ever since a book by that name was published in 2005. The story is that in order to help Santa know if children have been naughty or nice, the elf begins visiting their home every day, and flying back to the North Pole to report each night. The elf looks like a toy, but is alive, and holds very still during the daytime, when the children are around. Each morning, my brother’s boys get up and run around the house to find Rocky and discover what new thing has been left for them. Sometimes it’s mischief like moustaches drawn onto family photos in Mom’s lipstick. Sometimetimes it’s a treat or a project.

Eli watches as the boys mix the ingredients to grow candy canes. Forgive the grooming, we had all just climbed out of bed.

Saturday morning, Rocky left some materials and instructions for a project. There were two big bowls filled with sugar, and small bowls filled with gumdrops and M&Ms. There was an instruction card explaining that the recipe was to grow candy canes. The boys poured in the ingredients and mixed. Over the next couple of days, if they left the bowls alone, candy canes would grow in there.

Addie paints Tara’s toenails.

My fancy nails

We lounged for most of the day. The boys played a lot of video games and we grown ups drank mimosas and talked. Addie was excited to have an estrogen infusion into that bunch of testosterone, and brought out all her nail supplies and hair supplies. We did manicures and played with hair while Eli made holiday phone calls.

Tara and Addie

Nephew getting ready for Bingo night

Finally it was time for us to go to our evening events. My brother’s family has a Bingo night Christmas tradition that they were so excited to attend! The family got all dressed up in funny clothes. We were invited of course, but Tara and I had purchased tickets to see our friend Marcus Eaton perform. We had invited Eli & Addie, but they were going to have too much fun at Bingo night to give it up. So, we happily went our separate ways, all wishing the two events weren’t on exactly the same night.

Another fun thing for Tara and me was that our friend Andre had flown down to Boise from Seattle to see Marcus play as well. We managed to be seated at the same table. Tara hadn’t seen Andre or Marcus for years, so it was fun for them to all reconnect again. Because we are special friends of the artist, we were invited back stage to hang out in the green room with Marcus, Andre, and other friends before the show.

Marcus at the Sapphire Room, entertaining his hometown crowd.

Then we ate dinner in the lovely Sapphire Room of the Riverside Hotel in Boise, while we watched the show. Andre livestreamed the first hour and a half of the show for Marcus’ fans on facebook, but finally put his phone down when his arm got tired. Andre had brought his new guitar, a sister to Marcus’ guitar, to the show. The same luthier made the two guitars, using the same piece of wood. Andre loaned his guitar, tuned in a different key, and Marcus switched out during the show. Marcus also explained that Andre’s guitar is #1 in a series by the luthier, Roy McAlister, who has created the “Marcus Eaton edition.” So you too, can have one of these guitars.

Andre with his very special guitar.

Marcus sings a song from his upcoming album. You can see Andre’s guitar behind him.

Marcus has been writing songs long enough that he managed to fill the whole performance with exceptional ones – favourites for all of us. He also played a debut live version of one I’ve only seen in video (I’ll put the video at the bottom), and he played two brand new songs I had never heard. Some are so beloved that the audience was singing along. He dedicated one to Andre, and one to me. We all sang Happy Birthday to his mom, whose birthday is December 25th. Marcus brought his dad (another performer) up on stage and they did a song together.

Setlist:

  1. Shadow of a Bird
  2. Flying Through the Fire
  3. Step Aside (live debut)
  4. Black Pearl
  5. Better Way
  6. Barbie Song
  7. Handed Down
  8. Calm Beneath
  9. Drug
  10. Sunrise Lets You Down
  11. What’s the Difference
  12. Stir It Up (Bob Marley)
  13. Closer (live debut)
  14. Picture of Us
  15. Up and Over
  16. Lucky Me (featuring Steve Eaton)
  17. Fiona

After the show we went back to the green room with Marcus again. This time with his mom and sister too. They are a loving family and were so kind to us friends and fans.

On the way home we stopped to admire a house in my brother’s neighborhood. It’s astonishingly bright with Christmas lights. Tara noticed that the windows were covered in thick curtains, likely for both privacy and so the inhabitants can sleep at night.

Incredibly bedecked home near my brother’s house.

Christmas-O-Rama!

The house sits on a corner in an intersection, and every viewable angle is packed full of lights, including an arbor of lights over the sidewalk.

The next morning after coffee and cocoa, we left my brother’s house. The family had stayed the night at their friend’s house where they played Bingo, and told us they didn’t expect to get back home anytime soon. We were anxious to get started because of forecast snow. So we left a love note and off we went.

The snow didn’t begin till late morning, so I had Tara drive the first few hours. We stopped for gas and slid all over the road in the snow as we turned corners and slid to a stop at stop signs in the little town. After gassing up, I took over the driving.

A rest stop along the way.

A tiny snowman at the rest stop.

Closer to home it’s warmer, because of the marine influence along the Columbia River. So it was pouring rain for the latter part of the drive, making small lakes across the highway, and with high winds my Jeep was tossed about and spinning tires in the water. Yikes! But the rain had lightened up by the time we got home. Tara relaxed about an hour, got something to eat, filled their water bottle, and took off for another 2 1/2 hour drive home to Corvallis that night. Tara is house- and pet-sitting for friends and had to get back to check on all the critters. Long day, poor kid.

To my delight, the kid then turned around and drove all the way back home to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with me. My holiday turned out perfectly after all. ❤

My kitty Racecar stretches out on my legs, glad that I am home again.                       Me too, kitty, me too.

 

Entrance to Willamette Valley Vineyards

Lavender and vines along the entranceway to the hilltop facility.

My dragon spawn turned 21 recently. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the concept of this full-fledged adult being the same teeny wrinkly purple thing I brought home 21 years ago. I have realized that 21 years is not that many years. It’s nearly half my life, but dang, it went like a blink!

A small Tara with wooden sword at a Renaissance Faire

Tara and me at one of our first Faerieworlds festivals.

Our tradition, you may recall, is to go to The Enchanted Forest in Salem. I’ve had loads of fun with Tara and their awesome friends, visiting the theme park year after year and living out our childhoods with abandon on one brilliant July day. Right next door to Enchanted Forest is a winery that we had only spotted from the Interstate. This year, since Tara is of legal drinking age, their birthday idea was to visit the winery.

I called Willamette Valley Vineyards and explained it was a birthday visit and asked what a person might do there for fun, other than tasting wines. They suggested a tour, and I made a reservation.

Willamette Valley Vineyards is a first-class destination, which made this a serendipitous choice. Until we arrived, we had no idea what an enormous, visitor-centric place it is. Sadly, I neglected to get some photos of the main tasting room, but it’s huge and oh so beautiful. There are three bars with about 8 people tending, who can all help you with tasting a flight of wines, or purchasing, or eating lunch, or touring, or even booking a night’s stay because yes, this place also has guest lodging. I imagine it would be a wonderful stay.

The main buildings are at the top of a hill, and thus visitors are afforded incredible views in every direction. Just in case you want something even better than the view available in the dining and tasting rooms, there is a tower one can climb, which puts you another 50 feet up.

Tara celebrating their birthday in the tower.

View from the tower.

 

Molly and me, at our main gathering place during the tour.

The tour is also a tasting. We tasted 5 different wines, some award-winning, during the tour. Our guide, Suzanne Zupancic, put us at ease and made us feel like she was our friend right away. Suzanne led us through the different stages of wine production at Willamette Valley, to include the history of the vineyard’s existence, and the bottling station and of course the barrel storage. She told the story of the founder, Jim Bernau, who grew up knowing wines because his father was an attorney for the first vineyard in Oregon after prohibition. She explained how the winery is solar powered, doesn’t irrigate, and instead of typical pest control, partners with a raptor rescue organization to use owls to control the rodent population!

She explained some general concepts to help us in choosing a wine, such as when a wine is sweeter, there is generally less alcohol. Knowing this, a quick glance at the label can help you choose what you’ll like. She talked about Oregon’s famous pinot noirs, a thin-skinned grape that has caught the wine world’s attention. She taught us about cooperage, the craft of building wine barrels, and how to understand the labels on the outside of the barrels. She also explained why so many barrels are stained red. It’s because the wine slowly evaporates and the only way to maintain its integrity is to top off the wine frequently, and not allow any oxygen inside the barrels. Topping off tends to end up with a little bit of wine spill, that drips down the side and stains the barrel. She explained that Cabernet sauvignon and Merlot benefit from aging, but others do not.

Barrels of white wines.

A door leading from the red wine barrels section.

Me with as much wine nearby as I could ever wish for.

It’s not a flattering photo, because everyone is squinting in the bright sun.

Suzanne also told us about Bill Fuller, a legendary winemaker in Oregon. He left California’s Napa valley in 1973 to take advantage of the ideal geography in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. His Tualatin Vineyard 1980 Pinot Noir and 1981 Chardonnay took home “Best of Show” in both red and white categories at the 1984 London International Wine Fair, a feat unduplicated by any winemaker in the competition’s history. Bill Fuller’s winery merged with Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Mr. Fuller began working with Willamette Valley Vineyards in 2013.

She also explained about the remarkable geologic processes that made the Willamette Valley so rich for agriculture and particularly for grapes. The history includes a historic sea, volcanic processes, and the Missoula Floods. Tara, a geology major at Oregon State University, was interested in this portion of the tour.

Brynnen, Tara, me, Molly

After the hour and a half long tour, and five wines, we were all ready for some food! We ate from their gourmet menu and sat out on one of the many outdoor patios to eat it. We were joined by bees. Interestingly, the staff handed us fabric softener sheets to place on the table to keep the wasps away. It was a little effective. At lunch, I gave Tara a gift I had made of childhood photos through the years. Tara read the book outloud to all of us.

Tara opens up the memory book I made as a birthday gift.

Tara reading their birthday book to us.

Finally, we were ready to go and purchased some of our favourite wines from the day. I said goodbye to the kids who were all headed back to Corvallis.

High school Neal

A high school reunion was planned for this weekend. We canceled in order to attend Neal’s funeral instead.

Did you have a close group of friends in high school? I did. My school was very small: 7th grade through 12th grade all together on one side of the building, Kindergarten through 6th grade on the other side of the building. I think I remember a statistic that the high school side had 170 students total.

Because of the size, we all clung to each other, regardless of who was a Freshman, Sophomore, or Senior. The jocks and the nerds and the metal heads and the brains and the cheerleaders – we all hung out together. But I was lucky enough to have something special. Within that tight group, I had my own little friends group. It was sometimes larger, and sometimes smaller, but John, JR, Jess, and Neal seemed to be the core, and they welcomed me when I was around. We all had family struggles. We were all poor. We were all smart. These guys were my family and today, I credit them for the the creation of the young woman I became.

When other people let me down, these guys did not. There were times when I would spend the whole day with them, just to feel better, loved, accepted. I would leave my house in the middle of the night and go find them sometimes. I even lived with JR’s family for a while. Our love and acceptance of each other extended to our families, and because we loved Neal so much, we loved his mom and dad, Ruth and Perry.

Sunday, Jess left a message on my phone to ask if I would be attending Neal’s funeral. I thought to myself, “I only know one person named Neal.” Puzzled, I did a Google search Monday morning at work, and found out that Neal had died. I cried. Right there at work.

We are too young for this.

I asked for Friday off and drove to Boise to attend the funeral. There was no question that I had to be there for his family, and in honor of his memory.

Neal and I were not close, in one sense. We haven’t spoken in years. I checked up on him occasionally on facebook. I came across his hilarious stories in my archives (I was the high school paper editor and Neal contributed brilliantly comedic stores). I found old photos of Toe Jam performances, the band the guys formed so many years ago. But I guess I didn’t need to talk to him to feel him as part of me. Neal is family. So yeah, we were close in that sense.

I forgot about the time change, and arrived exactly one hour later for the service than what I planned for. I arrived in time to hear people talk about their memories of Neal, and I learned that I had lost an opportunity to share in the life of a good man by not visiting him in the intervening years. It sounds like he improved the longer he lived.

In the hallway at the church

Jess, JR, Katrina, Scott, and Doni. At a bar not too far from the church

And we had a reunion anyway, because we were there. John couldn’t make it, but JR, and Jess were there, and so many of us. The others, like me, had been welcomed back then into their awesome little clique whenever we wanted to join them. In a moment alone, all swollen with the emotions of seeing so many familiar faces again, the unbidden thought came that it would be so much more perfect if Neal was there. Then I remembered.

And Neal *was* there. But not as much as we wish he were.

Sunset over the Weiser River as I headed to Scott’s house for the night.

I stopped by the river to breathe a little by myself, after the funeral.

The next day I made the long drive back home. I appreciated the beauty of my old home state.

At a rest stop along the way, there were information signs about the Oregon Trail and difficulties pioneers experienced in making the month’s-long journey across the state of Oregon. How grateful I am that I could cross the state in 7 hours for my friend’s funeral.

Southern Idaho is all about agriculture.

Somehow, the desert here can still be beautiful.

Evening fishermen head home on the Snake River in front of the house that used to be my Pa's.

Evening fishermen head home on the Snake River in front of the house that used to be my Pa’s.

For awhile it seemed like paradise, this 5 acre plot of land on the banks of the Snake River, just southwest of Boise, Idaho. And when my Pa was younger, the upkeep was somewhat invigorating. But health problems mounted, and the work was never done. Morally defeating was the fact that tasks completed had to be re-completed every so often. Well pumps re-installed, soil Ph balance restored, railings repaired, deck boards replaced, dead trees and bushes re-planted with live ones. One huge blow was when an impressive three-tired retaining wall built of railroad ties (my father did everything himself), was partially destroyed when the above-ground pool (guaranteed not to fail) burst and flooded the hillside, washing out the retaining wall on its way to the river. Insurance refused to pay saying that this was flood damage and my father didn’t have flood insurance. Search as he might, Pa couldn’t find the original purchase receipt of the lifetime guaranteed pool, so that wasn’t replaced either.

I’ve blogged about this place before. Pa called it something like the “Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch,” or TRRR&RR for short. Right across the river is the Shoshone Indian Map Rock, and my post on that remarkable set of petroglyphs is one of my most popular.

Pa had already been wistfully talking about selling and moving someplace with trees, that was smaller and easier for him to take care of. Then, as I mentioned a few posts back, he married a Romanian woman and began trying to bring her to the US. After nearly a year it just wasn’t happening, so he gave up and decided to move to Romania. The beautiful house on the Snake River sold in a few months, and Pa began preparations to leave the country. The new owners graciously allowed him to stay on the property after it was sold, and he lived in a camp trailer while he continued to sort through what was left of years and years of possession-collecting.

A view off Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon

A view off Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon

Wildflowers in the heyday of Spring

Wildflowers (or onions?) in the heyday of Spring

I liked the variety of textures of the different plants here.

I liked the variety of textures of the different plants here.

Wild roses blooming

Wild roses blooming

In April I made the first trip over to help him pack. This second trip was in late May to continue helping him, by taking loads of donated items into the city’s equivalent of Goodwill, and packing the Jeep full of things he was donating to me. Also, importantly, to collect some cats. The Crazy Old Cat Man asked only that I take two. Still, it’s a traumatic thing for our dear Racecar kitty at home, who hates all other cats except herself. D and I brought home Thomas (14 years old) and Yeowler (4 years old), named for…yes, you guessed it. We will see how the summer goes, and then decide if new arrangements need to be made. So far, all three of them fight constantly, and it’s not peaceful when they are too close to each other.

Anyhow, I wanted to show some images from our trip over there, which was like a vacation and tons more fun than an 8-hour drive to Boise would imply. We stretched it to about 11 hours, with multiple stops along the way, and that’s what made it so fun.

First we took a side road that promised a viewpoint. I had been there years ago and vaguely remembered it as worth the look. This time we showed up in a profusion of desert wildflowers and we climbed around the mountain like a couple kids. D found something he thought might be wild onion, and we couldn’t decide. So I took a bite. It was pretty oniony. He thought I was crazy. 😉

Next we stopped for lunch in the little eastern Oregon town of Baker City. The day was an early season reprieve from the winter greys, and tourists were out in force, to the chagrin of unprepared staff in the few restaurants downtown. We stopped for only a pint at the Grand Geiser hotel, but the harried barmaid was pressed beyond her capacity. We left after 15 minutes with no hopes of getting a beer anytime soon, in hopes of easing her burden, and walked down the street to a little Mexican cafe and drank imported Mexican beer instead. Our waitress was the younger sister of another waitress, and had been called in to help.

We walked the streets and delighted in small town shop windows. I photographed the old painted advertising on the walls of several buildings.

Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

I'm a sucker for wall art, especially when it has this much character.

I’m a sucker for wall art, especially when it has this much character.

Stay at The Antlers!

Stay at The Antlers! It’s absolutely modern.

The valleys around Boise, Idaho are filled with crops. It’s an agricultural area that doesn’t just produce potatoes, though our state is famous for its potatoes. I remember when there was a big debate over changing our state license plates to say something other than “famous potatoes,” because it wasn’t the snappy image some residents wanted to present. Tradition prevailed, and Idaho remains famous for the root crop instead of diamond mines, suggested instead. You can find onions, sugar beets, corn, wheat, and much more out there. There is lots of sun and water in southern Idaho, which is what a breadbasket valley needs.

Once we arrived at Pa’s place, I called a friend of mine in the area. We grew up together in a tiny town farther north in Idaho, so he knows my dad and our memories go back 30 years. He came out to visit, so we all sat in the shade and watched the river and caught up on each others’ lives.

There wasn’t much left to pack and sort this time, since my Pa had dealt with nearly everything. Of the things left to sort through, I found an English sword I purchased for him a few years ago after hiring a company that researched the Trulove family name. They came up with what my brother had already discovered: our name is English, spelled Trewlove and a variety of other versions before settling down to the one we’ve got. We took turns playing with the sword.

D and I set up our tent on the front lawn of the house that now belonged to someone else. Pa was pleased with the Montana rancher who had purchased his place. I am pleased that passing the baton to a decent new owner will give my Pa some peace. It must be a little like handing your child off to a new caretaker, when you personally build a dry piece of desert into a home oasis and then sell it.

Fields of hops in the valley. The source of so much brewed goodness.

Fields of hops in the valley. The source of so much brewed goodness.

My friend J hands the sword off to D

My friend J hands the sword off to D

Taz is the only kitty who made it to Romania. I wonder what she thinks of Europe?

Taz is the only kitty who made it to Romania. I wonder what she thinks of Europe?

This quail perches on this particular pile of rocks nearly every night.

This quail perches on this particular pile of rocks nearly every night.

Another quail. So photogenic I can't help myself.

Another quail. So photogenic I can’t help myself.

A bird flies off clutching a fish in its claws. You can't see the fish in this photo...trust me it's there. ;)

A bird flies off clutching a fish in its claws. You can’t see the fish in this photo…trust me it’s there. 😉

Tent in the grass

Tent in the grass

Finally we were all out of steam and went our separate ways. D and I walked through the fields looking for the coyotes we heard that sounded very close. All we found were cows grazing quietly, unconcerned about the coy dogs. Have you ever heard that term? Coy dogs? We used to say that when I was a kid. Then we walked down to the river and I took some parting sunset shots.

Cows graze in the evening, as the hills turn purple.

Cows graze in the evening, as the hills turn purple.

Sun sets over the Snake

Sun sets over the Snake

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Racecar soaks up some sun and surveys her realm.

Racecar soaks up some sun and surveys her realm.

It’s officially Autumn and it’s the season when my kitty matches the environment. I call her my October-coloured cat. I think it’s a good time to introduce her officially. Up till now I have only casually mentioned her. With Tara gone to college, Miss Racecar is my only housemate.

When this kitty was a kitten, her name was Cookie. Tara named her after their favourite thing. In fact, Tara’s first word was cookie! Even before “Ma” or “Da,” Tara said “cook-” which was pretty close and I knew what it meant.

When Cookie got older she turned out to be a persistently rambunctious kitty, and was always racing around, galloping through the house or through the yard. She sprints up trees and leaps from trees to rooftops, and runs along the tops of fences. Tara said once about the cat, “She’s like a race car: either zooming or stopped.” And the name stuck.

This is how she helps me work.

This is how she helps me work.

More helping

More helping

Chasing a grape

Chasing a grape

Racecar is a barn cat, so we don’t know her exact birthday, but it was in 2006. That makes her a zooming, youthful, nine year old cat. I think she’s slowing a little, and prefers a nap in front of the woodstove to pretty much anything else.

I was worried about her move out here to the country, and she *was* scared at first. She climbed inside a hole in the fabric underneath the couch, and stayed there for days. When she was brave enough to climb out of the couch, she refused to leave the room. By the end of the first week, she would go outside onto the deck, but would run back into the house at the first frightening movement or sound.

My worries are gone now. She appears completely comfortable at the new place. She tolerates the chickens (who have an inexplicable interest in her, despite the predator vs. prey relationship they should be aware of), climbs the apple trees, and stalks through the grass in the farthest reaches of the property. Though Racecar has never been much of a hunter, she has always been a player. She is deeply committed to recreation, and would love for the rodents to play too. So far, she has brought us two moles and three mice. She tosses them around until they are spent. Then she gets bored and goes off to do something else.

Often, Racecar will be resting in the grass somewhere, and the chickens will get closer and closer, as though tempting fate.

Often, Racecar will be resting in the grass somewhere, and the chickens will get closer and closer, as though tempting fate.

Racecar prefers to be separated from the chickens. (You see my cardboard "fence" to keep them off the deck.)

This cat prefers to be separated from the chickens. (You see my cardboard “fence” to keep them off the deck.)

Racecar doesn’t eat what she hunts. In fact, she’s the pickiest eater I’ve seen. She will not eat tuna, or drink milk. She refuses fancy gourmet cat foods and will not touch cat food from a can. Racecar will accept only cheap, dry cat food. The cheapest generic brand is the only thing that will do. If I try to put something healthy into her dish, she will go hungry for days. However, she does eat ice cream. Tara has taught her to eat right off the spoon.

She’s my comfort now that Tara is gone. Racecar loves to prowl in the dark, till way past my bedtime. I leave the sliding glass door open just wide enough for her to fit through. Even though I am usually asleep when she comes in and jumps onto the bed to curl into a ball next to me, I feel even more at peace when I know she’s safely home. I guess a mom gets into the habit of worrying about somebody in the house.

I heard recently on the news that yet another study has been done to see if cats actually have affection for their humans. The conclusion is that cats do not love their people, but use them for warmth and food. Well, I don’t mind. I love my Racecar. As long as she’ll have me. 🙂

Cows graze in the weak afternoon sun of December in the Owyhee desert.

Cows graze in the weak afternoon sun of December in the Owyhee desert.

Is it beautiful, or is it ugly? I guess it depends on who is asked.

Is it beautiful, or is it ugly? I guess it depends on who is asked.

Tara and I managed to squish in a quick trip to Boise and still be home for Christmas. We had remarkably good December weather and driving through the passes between Pendleton and Baker City was safe and quick.

First stop was my brother and sister-in law’s house. My two nephews are at an age where a visitor enjoys a few minutes of available parent when they can get them. Last time I visited, A suggested, “Why don’t you two come stay the night sometime, and we will have a chance to talk after the boys go to bed?” It was a great idea, so when my brother E suggested we stay the night Sunday, I immediately accepted.

For those of you who have received my annual Christmas letter, you will have read that I also caught a show in Boise. I’ll post photos from the show later. My original intent was to bring A and E along and have hours of grown up time and show them my favourite musician. They couldn’t find a babysitter on that holiday weekend, so A sent E off with us because she is a selfless sweetheart.  I loved having all that time with my brother, and look forward to the day when I can spend the same quality time with my sister-in-law. Everyone had to get up early in the morning for work and daycare, so we had only a few minutes of evening and morning time. That will teach me to visit on Sunday night.

Anyway, for all my high hopes, I simply did not get enough time with them and the boys. I will have to go back! Tara and I soaked up their beautiful home and hospitality, and got the full story on Rocky, the shelf elf, who comes to live in the house every December so he can report to Santa on the boys’ activity. Each morning, Rocky shows up in a new place in the house, and my nephews run around and find what kind of mischief was wrought in the night. The morning we woke up there, Rocky had found a photo of my nephews and drew mustaches and glasses on them.

Warm rays of the sun strike the surface of the Snake River, creating a frosty winter mist.

Warm rays of the sun strike the surface of the Snake River, creating a frosty winter mist.

Morning light touches the river.

Morning light touches the river.

Mountains blush in the morning light.

Mountains blush at sunrise.

A duck lifts off from the Snake River.

An American Coot lifts off from the Snake River.

We crossed the Treasure Valley out to my Pa’s house on the Snake River. This is not my preferred country. My Pa just loves the Owyhee desert, but I find it barren and bereft. Out there for too long, I begin to take stock of assets for survival purposes…just in case. Still, as the photos show, I am an artist, and I cannot help but find extraordinary beauty around me no matter where I stand.

My Pa fed us some fabulous meals and we had the chance to tell stories and catch up. (Don’t you agree that it’s wonderful to visit a good cook?) It’s been a really hard year for my dad and it felt good for me to reconnect. I worry about him and it’s hard to be so far away sometimes. I hope he found the same comfort from our time there.

Dove waits for sunrise.

Dove waits for the warmth of the day.

We visited with all the kitties, one by one, as they gained the courage to get a little closer to us. I teased my dad, “I’ve heard of crazy old cat ladies, but you’re the first crazy old cat man I’ve known.” He does have a soft spot for cats, and a million acres for them to roam – albeit dangerous acres with raptors nearby. Tara and I watched a movie in the theatre downstairs. I believe it’s obligatory: if your host has a theatre, a movie must be watched.

Pa talked about the recent catastrophe of the outdoor pool bursting and exploding down the hillside, washing out retaining walls and the road down to the river. The timing is dreadful, because he was getting ready to sell the house. Now he has to sit and wait until insurance settlements are worked out. He reminded me of the bright side however, pointing out that the pool burst on the side away from the house, and went toward the river. Thus 15,000 gallons of water did not even approach the house, much less tear at the foundation the way it wrecked the retaining wall.

It’s our very last Christmas as Mom and high-schooler; who knows what the future will bring? It was important to us to be in our own home with our own beautiful tree and our own sweet Racecar kitty for Christmas. So we said goodbye to Grandpa/Pa and made the 8-hour drive home to Portland. On the way we passed this fabulously decrepit place beside I-84. I slowed down for Tara, who took all the following shots.

An abandoned factory of some kind, in an absolutely remote stretch of highway.

An abandoned factory of some kind, in an absolutely remote part of eastern Oregon.

How can something so wretched be so picturesque?

How can something so wretched be so picturesque?

A closer look shows what a cobbled-together quilt of structures it is.

A closer look shows what a cobbled-together quilt of structures it is.

Every level of scrutiny reveals more fascinating layers.

Every level of scrutiny reveals more fascinating layers.

Does the second floor of the hut truly jut away like that?

Does the second floor of the hut truly jut away like that?

Empty walls always cry out for graffiti.

Empty walls always cry out for graffiti.

Sentinels

Sentinels

I love that there are decorative touches to the smoke stacks.

I love that there are decorative touches to the smoke stacks.

Apartments and a restaurant at water's edge.

Apartments and a restaurant at water’s edge.

I purchased a 2-hour Friday Escape cruise on the Portland Spirit for Tara and me, and then she wasn’t able to make it. Tara had to go to an overnight training camp for Outdoor School counselors. She’ll be gone this coming week, serving as a camp counselor for Portland Public School 6th graders. Outdoor School is one of my favourite Portland traditions: 6th graders across the entire school system spend a week of school at camp. They eat there, sleep there, everything! The curriculum is all science-related, so kids learn about watersheds, and ecosystems, and soils. The high school counselors are used not only as temporary teachers, taking small groups onto the trails and the river beaches and teaching hands-on science, but also to help with things like making sure kids eat, and sleep, stay focused on learning, and don’t get too sad. For some kids, this is their first time away from family, first time sleeping in a place other than a house, and first time living in the woods. It can be very upsetting. Tara loves all of it: the teaching (her specialty is soils), the comforting, the excitement, enthusiasm, the songs around campfires at night.

Anyway….

I had 5 days to find a new date. I called about 10 girlfriends, and half of them couldn’t get care for their kids and the other half had stuff planned already. Two friends would be at weddings that same day, go figure. By the end of the week I was getting a little desperate. Thursday I was writing a Craigslist ad in my mind: “Come hang out with me on the river! No druggies, no lonely college boys, no creepy people.” Luckily, I received a phone call Thursday night.

“Hey, Crystal, I’m in town for a couple days. I’m hoping we can find time to get together,” said my Uncle Mike. Yay! I’m saved from the creepy people! Mike is my mom’s twin brother and I don’t see him enough.

It was a beautiful day and we talked non-stop out on the deck. The Portland Spirit has indoor seating, served a meal, had a live band, and the whole gamut. Mike and I hit the prow and found no reason to move for the next two hours, but the music from the band was piped out to us at least.

Perhaps because of the light, or the non-stop conversation, I am not happy with most of the photos I took. No biggie. The point was to hang out with Uncle Mike. After we docked, Mike and walked around downtown and stumbled onto a new Irish Pub. The weather was still amazing, so we found a table on the sidewalk and kept talking while they brought us food and drinks. The gathering darkness forced us to wrap it up.

This is actually the only photo I really like from the whole cruise. A new bridge is under construction, and this scene was part of the construction equipment.

This may be the only photo I like from the whole cruise, maybe the one at the top too. A new bridge is under construction, and this scene was part of the construction equipment.

I find sailboats romantic

I find sailboats romantic

An uncommon perspective of Portland downtown.

An uncommon perspective of Portland downtown.

In no time, we were south of the city in some rural-looking areas. This is Waverly Golf Course and the club house.

In no time, we were south of the city in some rural-looking areas. This is Waverly Golf Course and the club house.

Two of Portland's 12 bridges spanning the Willamette River and the Columbia River.

Two of Portland’s 12 bridges spanning the Willamette River and the Columbia River. Actually, on the left edge of the photo, you can see a third bridge.

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, and the famous submarine out front - part of the museum. Scenes from A Hunt For Red October were filmed in that tiny capsule.

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, and the famous submarine out front – part of the museum. Scenes from A Hunt For Red October were filmed in that tiny capsule.

Painting on glaze at a shop in Montavilla

This is me, painting on glaze at a shop in Montavilla

Sunday morning was a bad morning for me. Emotional, sad, blech. The kind of thing that takes the wind out of you. But I am blessed with a caring, perceptive, and loving daughter.

“Let’s go do pottery,” she said, seeing how sad I was.

There’s a great little shop within walking distance of the house, called Pottery Fun, that’s silly and simple and easy, and yes, fun. We walked into the brightly lit and colorful shop and were greeted instantly by a super friendly woman who put us at ease and told us how it worked. Tara had been there before a couple of times, but it was my first time.

Our table was filled with tools to use

Our table was filled with tools to use

Piece of cake. You pick a fired piece off a shelf. Each piece has the price on it. For that price, you can use any of their paints, stamps, and glazes, and you can take as long as you like to build your masterpiece. The firing is also included. There was a wall of glazes and we played with the coloured tiles for awhile, holding them together and choosing which combinations would look best. We chose two spots at a table near the windows, and were bathed with November sun the whole time we sat there. That was the first thing to lift my mood.

Tara's honeycomb mug with bees

Tara’s honeycomb mug with bees

I wanted something simple, and was thinking flower pot. Tara saw the bowl I chose and suggested fruit bowl instead. It may look better in my kitchen than full of dirt; we will just see. Tara has been treating herself to cold weather luxuries in the form of teas, cocoas, and butter beer (She taught herself to make it after discovering it’s a favourite drink at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry)(no, there’s no beer in it). To further luxuriate, she wanted a new mug.

She had a theme in mind for the mug too, and began trying to sketch out a honeycomb design, but faltered. The helpful ladies behind the counter looked up a honeycomb image and printed it out for her to use. Great service! She then painted on some bees and decorated some flowers for the staff to attach to the side.

The shape of my awesome bowl made me think a simple design would be best, so I didn’t crowd out the fabulous ridges with too much busy-ness. I chose a dark purple and a wine red, and blended them half and half, then used one of their handy applicators to swirl on some dark yellow spirals (the colour was “Pooh Bear”) all over it.

Tara used the same applicators to draw her design as well. It’s so nice not to have to buy all the tools, and just grab a brush, or sponge, or towel, or pencil that is available at the table.

It’s a perfect cheer-me-up shop. The atmosphere was peaceful and happy. There were two birthday parties in the back room while we were there. The second party included several Russian families so we heard their fascinating language filtering through the sounds of children laughing. At a table near us, dads and their kids were glazing menorahs. I was warmed by the sunshine on my shoulders and feeling good being creative.

My most favourite companion in the whole world sat right across from me.

Miss T shows me her honeycomb mug

Miss T shows me her honeycomb mug. (And yes, her T-shirt says “No.” and her hoodie says “Dork” so together they spell DONORK)

We will go pick them up tomorrow and see how the pieces turned out. I’m so eager to see them!

Mom at Christmastime in Coer d'Alene

Mom at Christmastime in Coer d’Alene

I miss my mom.

It’s been almost a year now since she died of cancer. The nasty black insidious mold creeping through her tiny body and taking hold everywhere before anyone knew what was going on.

I still have her last text messages on my phone. I finally found the strength to read through them today. Well, almost. I read through most of it, absorbing the awful meaning of the fumbled letters from her shaky fingers. I was at work and had to stop when the tears blurred the screen. I’ll share this desperately poignant and personal lingering bit of my mother with you.

December 1, 2011

Mom: I am thrilled with the Rosewater. (I bought some of her favourite perfume for her) Also I shake so bas in the morn I can hardly txt

Me: I was wondering about that – the texts.

Mom: sorry

Me: Pa sent the kindest email about how you need to know what a Legacy you’ve created. I will send it to you.

Me: Grandma Freda’s brother Dwight is a pastor, and he has been praying for you. He’s got an inside track to God, ha ha!!

December 2, 2011

Me: I had a great talk w your brother last night. He is perfect up there right now. (Mike parked his RV at a park in Bonners Ferry.) I am so glad he’s going to stay in Bonners for awhile.

December 3, 2011

Me: Good morning, Moma. I love you. Scrambling eggs and leftover ham for T before ballet.

Me: Are you available for a phone call?

Mom: Not yet.we R just loading laundry.I’ll call

Me: ok

December 4, 2011

Me: Good morning, my Moma!!

Mom: Gettingalot sicker.I may needU sooner. I’m trying to ignore but igs getter harder.I have to tons of xmascards, I already cant evenwrite tons of mistaaks

Me: Moma!! I can write cards for you!! I am so eager to help. Thank you for letting me know, i will talk to my boss.

Mom: Bruv (She called her twin brother Mike “Bruv”) will be livin in town,bet we can work out a plan!

Me: Yes, but you have no wireless Internet, so I may disintegrate with despair! Ha ha

Me: Is life possible without Internet?

Mom: Bruv is hooked to RVERTHING at motel!

Me: Ha ha! I’m sure. I can go visit him and check my email.

Mom: Boys here next week end,so mayby anyday after that

December 5, 2011

Me: Good morning, Moma. Miss T (my daughter) slept with me last night. She is the sweetest girl. We are so lucky to have her.

Mom: She is something that gets richer every year

Me: Yes, that’s true

Me: We dropped to 28 last night. 30 deg now

Mom: We R15. Di d U loose a maroony jacket?I found it in my closet

Me: I can’t think of any jacket I’m missing.

Mom: ok

Me: I have been thinking about how awesome your visit in June was. The food carts, naked bikers, clothes shopping, graduation dress.

Me: It was probably one of our best visits ever. How lucky we are.

Mom: Wow. That was such a suupper great time we had. amazng gift

December 6, 2011

Me: Just talked with my supervisor’s boss about leaving. I will come up there Saturday. I have enough vacation time to go through Jan 20.

Mom: I     was qoin t  o

December 7, 2011

Me: I put up the website today, and people have already donated $265 toward your medical bills! People are wonderful. 🙂

December 9, 2011

Me: I get to see you tomorrow, Moma! And you get to see your boys tonight.

And that’s it. As you can see, she lost the ability to text, and so I stopped trying. I sent two more messages in case she could look at her phone and read it.

I arrived December 10th and she was gone December 15th. She couldn’t really talk, but for a couple of days, she could tell what was going on, and I was able to make her smile once or twice.

Still can’t bring myself to clear my text messages. In fact, I still pull my phone out to send her texts. She’s that much a part of my life still. There are some moments when I can’t believe she’s gone. I know it’s a cliche. But this woman was so full of LIFE! How can she not be alive? And she was intermingled in my life in every way. I get angry sometimes that I don’t get any more of her. But mostly, I’m sad.

One of my many guises

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