Jerry and Terry Holder are annual favourites because they are so much fun on stage, they’re lovely people, and we love their music.

I went to my third backyard music and barbecue yesterday at Roy and Lucy McAlister’s home. Remember how enchanted I was the first time? It’s like that every time. Roy McAlister is a luthier, and consequently knows a lot of musicians. He and Lucy host a gathering every summer at their home, where they invite neighbors, celebrities, local stars, old friends and brand new friends to take the stage and perform for all of us lucky people who are invited. The music is always exceptional. The people who show up – every single soul – are always exceptional.

Damp but optimistic audience.

We’ve had an unusually hot and dry summer here along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Day after day of temperatures in the 90s have finally dried out the earth to dust and much of the greenery has yellowed. So in between two solid weeks of clear blue skies and 90-degree temps, there was one day – a single day – of rain in the forecast. Any other day we would be cheering for the much-needed rain, but instead we remarked about the bad timing. And then… we appreciated the rain a little bit anyway, because we live here and have made peace with rain.

It intermittently poured, then broke up and splashed sun on us – teasing us and getting our hopes up – then started pouring again, for hours. We fretted about the electronic equipment under plastic sheets, hoping nothing would get ruined, hoping there would be a way to have an outside concert eventually. And yes, around 6pm the clouds began to break apart in earnest. By 7pm it had cleared up for good and people moved permanently out of the house. We sat on wet lawn chairs and got ready to be delighted.

A series of fabulous musicians took the stage!

This photo is from 2017, since I didn’t take any good perspective photos this year. Behind the stage you can see the glowing windows of Roy’s shop.

Steve Hawkins was gracious enough to start off the night with some beautiful songs. One song was interrupted by low-flying aircraft, and he calmly took it in stride and incorporated the demonstration into the show. Now there’s a performer for you.

Rick Ruskin is another familiar friend and performer. His ease with his guitar made the audience forget it was a show and just get caught up in the music.

Roy McAlister, left, introduces Andre Ranieri and Diana Brown. It was their first time on stage and Andre impressed us with his lead guitar while Diana wowed us with her vocals.

Andre has been a beloved friend for years.  We met through a mutual friend and musician, Marcus Eaton. In fact, it’s because of Andre that I received my first invite to McAlapalooza in 2015. Andre plays with Diana, and so she made the journey from the TriCities to be here tonight. I loved her of course.

Peter Jacobsen used his guitar to accompany his outstanding voice.

Christine Gill and John Resch knocked our socks off with their great songs! John played a guitar he built himself.

Christine and John get a second photo because this one was too good to leave out. They are such a loving, open, humble, and generous couple. I begged them to come and play again next time.

Pianist and singer, Grace, a McAlister family friend. This young woman’s talent will take her places. (and look how much fun she’s having)

Our hostess Lucy took the stage to introduce Save the Bees, a new act and immediate favourite once they began belting out brilliant harmonies.

This is where the guitar magic happens.

Andre plays his new guitar.

As I watched Save the Bees, Andre gestured to me from the other side of the lawn to follow him and John Resch up the hill to Roy’s shop. When I arrived he announced, “This is my new guitar.” We admired the nearly-finished instrument (missing accessories like a pick guard and strap button) that Roy has been making for him. It’s a sister to Marcus Eaton’s guitar, that stirred up so much excitement in 2015. Andre humbly handed it to John, who tuned it and played a few pieces, and then Andre finally got to hold his new baby.

Diana showed up a little later and played it too, Jerry and Terry Holder stopped in to watch the delight settling over Andre. Terry showed us her mostly-built ukulele that Roy is making. Then Andre played while Diana sang, and I was a quiet, wide-eyed witness to musicians simply reveling in the joy of making music.

Jerry backs up Terry who wrote a new song while teaching herself to play the ukulele.

I had been stuffing myself with food all evening. That’s one of the fun things about McAlapalooza: guests trickle in from 3 to 8, and everybody brings something: salads, blueberry tarts, roast potatoes, noodles, fresh vegetables, cake, and artichoke dip. The grill was fired up and then chicken and sausage appeared. Every time I walked into the house, a new dish had found a place on the table and I had to sample it. It was late, and dark, and I was tired and full of delicious food and wine. I missed the final act, James Anaya, and climbed into the Jeep and set the GPS for home.

Pretty little elderberry tree by the creek. I took this photo last night, right before I headed for bed.

Exactly 24 hours later. Can you see the massive tree that has fallen across the creek?

So. Much. Stuff. Happened. Last night.

Except sleep. Sleep did not happen much.

The evening was fine until I got a text from someone who pissed me off. And I could not stop thinking about it. I was mad, mad, mad. I went to bed and stared fiercely at the shadowy ceiling while I tried not to worry about the 6:30 am alarm that would be coming soon.

My cat Racecar likes to sleep on my neck. It’s hard to breathe, but she’s soft and warm and she’s my comfort blanket. Except last night it was 87 degrees and neither one of us could get comfortable. I had opened the sliding glass porch door a little, and the window, but there was no cross breeze. Racecar walked across my throat, stepping on a boob now and then, back and forth, back and forth, but could not pick a satisfactory place to curl up on my neck. Too hot. She finally found a place at the foot of the bed and it suited us both fine.

Even with my comfort blanket down at the foot of the bed, the damp sheets, and no cross breeze, I finally fell asleep, who knows when. But I do know it was 11:47 when I heard a “mrrroowr! meeeooowww!” from a strange cat that woke me out of a dead sleep. It had managed to squeeze through the opening in the sliding glass door and got all the way to the kitchen to eat my cat’s food, and then couldn’t find it’s way out. I started yelling and it found the door and skeedaddled. Racecar, worthless cat, was still curled up at the foot of the bed, clearly not defending me from foes.

Then I was awake again.

Ugh. It was so hot. Against my better judgement, I went to the other side of the room and opened the door to the back yard. And opened the glass door wider, trying to bring the outside air in. I figured the strange cat probably wouldn’t come back. I tossed and turned for at least another hour. I was hot and mad, trying to sleep. You know how you silently yell at yourself, “go to sleep NOW!” Then I started wondering what that fluttering sound was. Such a soft, pretty sound. Probably a moth. Fluttering around and around the room.

Racecar got up and started following it around the room. “Good girl,” I thought in my fogginess. “Eat the moth so I can sleep.” Flutter flutter. Moth wings have a sort of fur on them, which must be making that lovely sound. Then there was a quiet “eeeek” on one of its passes over my head. Funny, it reminded me of a bat. Racecar started jumping as the moth swooped close.

Actually the flutter was pretty loud. That must be a damned big moth. I picked up my phone and turned on the flashlight app and shined it up to the ceiling so that I could see into the blackness…a BAT swooping around my bedroom! Shadows from my phone covered half the room. Wing shadows, probably teeth shadows, but I didn’t hang around to look. Obviously it came in through one of the wide open doors and now couldn’t find it’s way out.

A bat! A Bat! In my bedroom!  I slunk off the bed, crouched, arms over my head, and duck-walked to the door to the living room. Once out, I closed the door behind me. The bat could find it’s way out of my bedroom eventually, but I needed to sleep in a bat-free zone.

I checked to make sure kitty had come out of the bedroom with me, then padded down the hall in bare feet to Tara’s room, and climbed into bed, pretty much awake.

I took deep, slow breaths, calming myself, thinking some more about the 6:30 am alarm. Still mad about that text message, planning all the clever mean things I would text back in the morning. Tara’s room was a little cooler, and the bed is comfortable. My eyes began to close and I began to drift off.

thump I hear from the living room. Thump thump…bump. CRASH! What the?? I sat up and listened. Whack-bump! thud.

Jeeze Louise! I got up and walked into the living room in the dark and found Racecar leaping from the furniture into the air, trying to get the BAT that had followed us out of the bedroom! I ducked.

I wouldn’t even walk through the living room. I went out the front door of the house, outside in my bare feet, around the house to the deck, opened the living room sliding door so the bat could get out, then through the sliding door into my bedroom again, and dropped to the still-damp sheets. Is this for real?

Fully, fully awake. I checked my phone. 2:12 am. I went to the bathroom and swallowed a sleeping pill. I had to work in the morning. Sleep was critical. It worked after another 45 minutes, and I finally fell asleep after composing a perfect text response in my mind.

In four minutes, the alarm went off. “Like hell,” I mumbled. Turned off the alarm and went promptly back to sleep, only to be awakened immediately by cluck, cluck, cluck…brrrrr cluck? Clearly chicken sounds, and clearly too close. “Arrrggghhh!” I said to no one, looked at my phone, which said 6:33. I heard it again, cluck cluck?

I got up and opened the door to the living room, crept in while crouched, eyes at the ceiling. No bat. But there, in the living room, was one of the Hussies. Of course this would be the morning Tawny got loose, and of course she came up on the deck and found all the doors open, and came on in. Because, she’s a chicken. Chickens are dumb, and annoying. I love them, but it’s an honest relationship.

“Come on, chick! chick!” I called, and dumb, happy Tawny followed me out the door, across the porch, down the steps, across the grass, and to the chicken pen. I’m Momma Chicken to her.

Back in the house, I checked for poop (none! yay!), and resigned myself to starting up the work day.

As I settled in at the computer in my home office, I heard CCCRRRREEEERRRR….CCRAAAACCKK! BOOM!

I ran outside, and saw that a huge Alder in my back yard had just fallen. No wind. No storm. It just…gave up and fell. An enormous tree that now lies in the creek. Just last night I had stood there, captivated by glowing evening light on the elderberry bush beside it. That must have been an omen, the light on the bush. Earth was saying to me, “Pay attention and enjoy this moment of peace. Because… well… you know.”

It was pitch black through my nighttime adventures, and I couldn’t get a photo, not that I was even thinking of it. I told a few people today, I’m gonna write a blog post about it, and Allie Brosh will do the illustration. Sadly, I don’t know Allie personally. So I had to do the illustration myself a-la-Hyperbole and A Half.  This is me, crouching behind my bed, arm up as protection against the bat:

In lieu of Allie Brosh.

Here’s another photo of the downed tree. You still can’t get sense of how big the tree is by looking at the photo, but it’s a little better.

All those sideways branches=one tree

 

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.

This is the best I can do for a “before” photo. The shed is on the left side.

There was an old lean-to shed built up against the side of the house. I didn’t like the looks of it or the location, and had been telling people for years that I wanted it torn down. As with so many other things around here, Josh took care of it.

One problem was that the shed also contained my well. So the tear down had to be careful, and there also had to be a plan for a reconstructed pumphouse, to continue to protect the well.

The demolition went quickly. Turns out, the wood on the far side – away from the house – was completely rotten from both the wood sitting on the wet dirt for many winters, but also from a nasty termite infestation. There were also years of rats nests in the roof. The roof had actually caved in over the top of the well. I am *so* glad that disaster is no longer attached to my house, because the termites would certainly have made their way over.

Roof is coming off.

More deconstruction. That’s the old well-house there behind plywood in the corner.

Walls gone. Roof down. See the pile of bricks there at the side of the house? Those are what I used to build the front walk.

The old, rotten pumphouse.

Josh was carefully saving the good materials.

Here’s the water tank for the well, connected to an old broken water softener, and pipes and electrical wires all over the place.

Ready for reconstruction of the pumphouse.

In early June we could still burn, so this is what happened to the rotten wood.

With barely a day to absorb the missing shed, Josh got to work on the rest. Someone at some point had installed a water softener next to the well. It’s a good idea. The water here is hard, meaning there is a high mineral content. It’s also high in iron and sulfur, so it has a mild rotten egg smell – yuck. But after three years I’m mostly used to it. The water softener was broken and taking up space. It had not been functioning in the three years I lived here. The benefits to having a functioning water softener are to minimize mineral buildup in pipes and to make showers nicer on the skin. But they also require maintenance, which I am not interested in. A reliable new one would cost a couple thousand dollars. I told Josh to get rid of it.

Without the water softener, the pipes had to be re-routed. That was done in a day.

Then he built a pumphouse entirely out of recycled materials. I asked for a roof over the back for a place to store my trash and recycling bins. Since he was in there anyway, he put a spigot on the outside of the pumphouse, which is wonderful because I didn’t have water on this side of the house and had to buy a 100 foot hose to drag over here. Then he installed an outside outlet and some flood lights. This guy can do anything, I’m telling you.

New pumphouse. You can also see the ground torn up, where he ran the drainage for the French drain from my driveway.

View from the back, with my trash and recycling bins.

Now I needed a space to store all my equipment that had previously been stored in the shed. I pointed out the place where I wanted it built. Josh thinks about it for a couple hours, jots a materials list down on a piece of paper. I handed him my credit card and off he went to Home Depot. In no time, the place was going up.

New shop going up.

He built these doors from scratch. He adjusted the bottom to follow the slope of the land.

They open onto a bed of river rock. I can just drive my riding lawnmower into it! Sooooo cooooooll!

Tar paper up to provide a little insulation in the winter.

This is the location. On the other side of my house, and completely detached.

The roof was the hardest part. He built it steep for upstairs storage.

More roof work.

Some of the roof pieces are clear, so there is a skylight.

Inside, he built me a work bench. He picked up the windows at Habitat for Humanity, for $5 each.

Stairs up to the storage area.

This is the storage area above the lawnmower parking area.

Lawnmower has a new home.

Evening sun lighting up the shop.

Getting closer to done!

This is my view from the deck now. It’s ready to be used.

Isn’t it beautiful?

On a whim, he thought maybe the soil previously in the shed might be good for a garden. Josh planted tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, and onions here. We’ve been harvesting the onions and cucumbers already, and the peppers are just about ready.

I built a new attractive front walk and steps to replace the ugly concrete slabs.

Ever since Josh has been living here, things are getting done at a breakneck pace. I almost need a moment simply to absorb the changes.

New front door with glass to let in light.

Tara called him my Work Gremlin at one point. I came home from the office one day and the deck was stained. I glanced out my window from my home office one morning, and noticed a new, handmade bird house mounted on a tree. He cleaned the roof, repaired the gutters, then installed leaf guards. He borrowed a leaf blower and cleaned up the leaves, and heaped them all on the burn pile. He rakes, and power hoses, and organizes. He consistently takes the small push mower and mows the grass where there is no room for the riding lawn mower. Sometimes I ask for things, sometimes they simply appear. Josh isn’t able to pay me rent, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s paid up.

In my quest to bring more light to my cave-like living room, I purchased a new front door with decorative glass in it. I was quoted hundreds of dollars for the store to send someone out and install it. Josh said he could do it, and within an hour from when I brought the door home, it was installed.

I complained one day about my sloping drive into the garage. I said I had been thinking that a French drain might be a good way to address the problem of all the mud and rainwater and snow that slides down the slope into my garage. He said, “That’s a good idea.” And in a couple of days, it was done. While he was at it, he also installed new weather stripping on the bottom of the garage door, and a rain barrier to the concrete floor, so it’s much better protected inside. Then he found some of the spare house paint, and painted the outside of the garage door that had been weathered down to bare wood. All the work on the garage door disrupted the open/close mechanism, because the size of the opening had changed. I found a YouTube video that addressed my brand of garage door opener, got a stool and got up on tiptoes, and reprogrammed my garage door. With this guy around, I have to do *something* to show for myself.

In front of the garage door, a drain is installed. Now, water that runs down the hill will fall into the drain, then run through an underground pipe into the yard.

Behind the French drain, you can see the red curved bricks that make a border around my front garden. The front garden has changed somewhat. I don’t have many good photos from what it was on day one. Funny how consistently I have not photographed the “before” scenes, so that even I have a hard time remembering what it used to look like. Here are a couple:

This was in February 2016. You can see there is almost nothing planted in the garden. (also no French drain!)

This photo taken in May 2018.

I’ve always hated the concrete walks in front of the porch. I asked Josh one day to take the sledgehammer and bust them up so I could haul them away. It didn’t take him long to discover that these walks are six to eight inches thick! Whoever decided to pour such massive slabs of rock? ugh what a pain. Somehow, he got them broken into three huge pieces and drug them out of there, chained to his truck. Somehow, none of my plants were destroyed. That’s the real miracle.

Since I moved in there has been a pile of bricks on the side of the house that are left over from when the previous owner built the rock fireplace inside the house. I had the idea of using those bricks somehow to make a more attractive walk. Josh showed me how to mix concrete, and soon I was up to my elbows in it and having a blast. He built some forms for me to make steps, and then left me to do everything else.

Steps are poured, and river rocks laid down before concrete is poured on the walk.

Looking from the porch toward the driveway. Isn’t this a hundred times better? I’m so proud of myself for building this beautiful walk on my very first attempt at using concrete.

Just wait till I tell you about the new pump house and new shop!

View of chicken pen and coop from my bedroom window. Look at that pretty little spike deer.

Remember the Hussies? My chickens are still with me. Only three remain (Lacey was hit by a car, and I ate Gimpy), and I love them as much as I ever did. It was high time I demonstrated this.

A friend of mine needed a place to stay and he is not able to pay but is the handiest of handy men. I live alone in a three-bedroom home on a big property and work full time so I don’t have extra time left over to take care of my big property. Obviously, this was a situation that could help both of us.

Josh moved in the end of March and started helping me. (You may remember Josh from our hike last October) The list of improvements ranges from finally having a towel rack installed in my master bathroom to constructing new buildings on the property! One big change is that my chicken Hussies finally have a decent home.

At the beginning of March, I began some work before Josh showed up. I hired some professionals and had a new chicken house built. My poor hussies have been living in a tiny chicken house designed for chicks. For two years they huddled in that tiny house and roosted and nested in the same space.

Original chicken house, soon after I moved here.

The beginnings of the new house lit up by morning sunlight, while the old house remains. You can pick it out behind the workman in blue.

Walls go up.

Roof and siding on.

One of the first things Josh did when he arrived was to finish the chicken house. He installed roosts and nesting boxes. Installed moisture-repellent flooring for easy cleaning. Covered the walls with tar paper (again, for easier cleaning). He painted it. Josh had the idea to cut a little hole in the side and install the old ramp from their little house, so there is a special chicken-sized access door. Now they have a chicken palace, and they roost on the opposite side of the room from where they nest (translation: no more poop on the eggs).

Brand new chicken palace.

Roosts, chicken, pellets, and poop

I can walk right inside! Open the window, fill their feeder, marvel at what a mess they make.

Eggs in the nesting boxes.

Newly painted.

Stay tuned for updates on the landscaping, the pump house, the upcoming kitchen remodel… and more.

Section of my most recent painting.

I took one oil painting class in 2006. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking I would like to paint again. Finally I dug out my old paints, threw away the hardened tubes, made a new palette, fixed a shelf in the spare room to hold my canvas, and slowly tried to teach myself to use oils again.

I am so happy when I’m painting.

In 2005 I needed a job and it was convenient to find work on campus, where I was studying as a non-traditional undergrad. Yes, 35 years old and pursuing a Bachelors degree. I had modeled at a community college in California before I moved to Boston, so I inquired at the Art Department. Sure enough, they wanted another model. So I posed for figure painting classes for a couple of professors as needed, but most often for Professor Wardwell. After a year of modeling, I liked Joe Wardwell and I liked the way he taught. I liked the music he played during class time.

When a slot opened up in my schedule in 2006, I took Art 101, and was exposed – in a different way! – to oil painting.

Professor Wardwell started us off with black and white. So when I began painting last year, I started in black and white too. I wanted to remember what the paint felt like, how to capture light and shadows again. For my very first image, I chose a Japanese land mine that I pulled from a shelf. It’s a simple shape.

WWII Japanese ceramic land mine. It’s designed to be filled and thrown by hand.

Here’s my work space in the spare room.

And my first painting, nice and simple, 11 years after my only painting class in my life.

I am always drawn to nature. So when I was walking through my property and found a newly broken branch with leaves on it, I brought the branch to the house and began painting. It shriveled up in two days and I had to finish the shadowing with my imagination. It got a little frivolous, but I had fun.

Leaves partially realistic.

Stumped with what else to paint, I actually turned to my left and began painting the spare bed next to me. I had recently had a guest in the room, and the slightly rumpled pillows were interesting to me. The crazy 4-armed lamp arced over it and out of the image. The old cast-iron hospital bed frame (from my mother) showed through.

Spare bed, slept in and somewhat tidied.

At this point I felt like I could move to colour.

Every now and then I get to stay at my brother’s house in Washington. Ian and Karen live in an amazing spot in Seattle. The view from the spare bedroom at their house is a clear shot of the Space Needle. I took a photo and loved the way the colours worked. I decided long ago that one day I would paint that photo, and now was the time.

The photo I took from Ian and Karen’s spare bedroom.

I started out slowly, and took a very very long time to finish the painting.

Here’s my first day’s work

My workspace. I pulled the photo up on my iPad to reference while I painted.

I added some orange and yellow

More detail. I was excited to finish the Space Needle.

I had so much fun with the brick wall.

Ian and Karen told me they would be coming south to spend the weekend with me while Karen attended some training in Portland. I had to grab the painting and finish it up! I added my signature and a couple touch ups. My idea all along had been to give it as a gift to Ian, and now was the perfect time.

They showed up on Eid al-Fitr, so I did a quick Google search to see how people celebrate Eid. The first three steps were all about praying. Since I’m atheist I skipped those. But then there was gift-giving and food. I made a wonderful lamb stew and couscous, and honey-walnut cookies for dessert. I had the perfect gift to give.

Final version of the painting. It was sort of dry by the time Ian and Karen took it home with them.

I recall being so pleased that I remembered to get a shot of this scene. Now I’m not sure why…

While in Myanmar in February, and on the trip home, I kept jotting things in the Notes app in my phone. I wanted to be sure and remember to mention them in my blog. I have waited so long that several of the notes don’t mean much to me anymore. What a loss.

But most of the photos I collected into a special folder, and the notes in my phone still remind me of thoughts that never made it into a blog post. Here are my notes, in the order I found them in my phone, which is the order they popped into my head:

  1. shower in toilet. Yes, this was a first for me, but I am told by friends it’s not that unusual. In Myanmar, at a hostel and at one of our hotels, the shower and toilet were the same room. I can’t imagine why. Real estate, you are thinking, and that would make sense, except that the places where this happened were not short on space and the rooms themselves were quite large. In our hotel toilet/shower, the space was as huge as a bedroom, and yet there is the shower head, mounted directly over the toilet, when it could have at least been installed on the other side of the room. There are the distinct disadvantages, such as soaking the toilet paper, filling the wastepaper basket, and dousing the toilet and sink every day so that water spots and soap scum need to be scrubbed off each day. What are the advantages?

    This elaborate box on side of house may hold a shrine? Other houses had a simple rectangle with no adornment.

  2. box thing on house. My guess is that it is a place for a shrine since many many homes had them, they were often decorated, and always in the exact same place on a house. My anthropologist mind tells me there is a ritual/spiritual/cultural reason to place the box in the same place on every home. The box is always on the right front corner of the house as you are facing the house, no matter what cardinal direction the house faces. I tried so many times to describe this to people so I could ask what it was for, but I failed to get anyone to understand. On my last day in Myanmar I remembered to get a photo, so at least YOU know what I’m talking about.
  3. power out. I’ll have to consider this one for awhile. No idea.
  4. chair conversation at restaurant. I remember the restaurant in Mandalay. But I simply cannot remember the context or the content.
  5. 1729 steps. I think this was not a story, but simply to remember how many steps there were from the street to the top of Mandalay Hill.
  6. Rohingya. I did already mention our conversation about the Rohingya with our trekking guide Hein. In a situation that reminds me of Palestinians, the Rohingya have lived in what is now western Myanmar for centuries, but are denied citizenship by the government. Recently, they have been slaughtered and their villages burned, for …apparently for …existing? Hearing about the brutality inflicted against this group of indigenous people by their own government, I expected the Myanmar military to be a constant presence, like police in Egypt. But for the most part, Margaret and I never saw military or police, and the whole country felt absolutely laid back and good-natured. I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that the criminal authorities responsible for mind-blowing violence are relatives of the loving, open, friendly people we met.
  7. honking. Erm, not sure what I wanted to say about this.
  8. recycling. Again, I don’t recall what was on my mind.

    Betel juice spit onto the U Bein Bridge. Betel nut is everywhere, like tobacco.

  9. crepe. For some reason, across the country the primary material chosen for napkins to use while eating is crepe paper. In the US we use it for decoration (think multi-coloured streamers at parties and dances). In Myanmar it was always a grey-blue colour and the rolls were placed at tables for you to tear off a piece and sop up grease from your sticky fingers and mouth. Except…yeah…it’s the worst possible material. Crepe falls apart instantly, and gets stuck to you rather than assists with cleaning. Honestly. Where did this idea come from and why is it so universally accepted?
  10. longyi is the sarong. I’d been calling the wrap worn by men and women a sarong, because I couldn’t remember the name of it. I finally looked it up.  A longyi is a hoop of fabric that is long enough to go from your waist to your toes. To wear it, you step inside the hoop, pull it up, and fold and tuck the fabric in. The tension holds it in place. Nearly everyone wears them in Myanmar. They are versatile. I saw a street person relieve herself in public for example, by loosening the tucked fabric, simultaneously squatting and pulling the fabric up around her shoulders, and doing her business behind the screen. When finished, she stood again, dropping the fabric back to her waist, and securing it once more. On Inle Lake, I saw a woman bathing out on the dock in front of the house using the same method of privacy. The longyi was up around her shoulders and she scooped water up inside the fabric and washed. No one passing by in a boat saw any skin but that on her face and feet.

    This piece of Thanaka wood and grinding stone were made available for my use at our hotel in Bagan. It is used as a cosmetic and sunscreen. One wets the stone with water, then takes the log in both hands and grind it in circles on the stone, till enough powder has been mixed with the water to make a lotion, as you see here. Use your fingers to scoop it up and spread it across your face. It is refreshingly cool for an hour or so, even in the sun. Then it dries up and flakes off.

  11. mingalaba. It turns out this greeting is relatively new (1960s), and introduced intentionally to replace the traditional English greeting by schoolchildren to their teacher each morning. Everyone happily calls Mingalaba! I guess it translates to “blessings upon you,” or “auspiciousness to you.” It can be used to say hello, or goodbye, but we only noticed it being used to say hello. Maybe because they knew we were tourists and would get confused. Ha!
  12. sewers under sidewalks. This one does make sense to me in terms of real estate. Waste water in cities is channeled away in narrow canals beside streets. Large, flat bricks with holes in them are placed over the sewage canals in order to use the space as a sidewalk and also to ventilate the sewage. It’s an efficient use of space and somehow both pedestrian-friendly and distinctly not. Yangon was not the only place I’ve seen this system, but it was certainly the stinkiest city I’ve ever been in.

    I have seen this sign in other countries before, but it still cracks me up. You know the sign was created after enough people fell off – or into – toilets that a demand for instructions was created.

  13. breast feeding. Possibly a remnant of a more isolated, often rural environment only recently opening up to the misplaced scorn of outsiders, women comfortably breast-fed their babies in public spaces. I am a huge fan of this, after having been a mother and became personally aware of how many challenges there are for parents with babies in public spaces where others believe that all the realities of babies (crying, diapers, feeding) must be hidden. So glad to see the open smiling faces of mothers proudly feeding their babies as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Hint: it is.)
  14. bus food stops. Arggh! So, so, so very annoying. Every single – I mean EVERY single bus ride we took in Myanmar included a mandatory stop at a roadside eatery. This means mandatory bus evacuation. Even if the bus is late. Even in the friggin middle of the night when you just took a sleeping pill to try and sleep on the bus despite the discomfort and the noise, yes, even then you have to drag yourself up out of slumber, put on your shoes, and stumble out into brilliantly-lit fluorescent highway stop with noise, people, and smells to which you are not accustomed. Your extreme squinting from the light is not intentional and only a reflex but since it matches your mood you allow the grimace to remain. Then you sit on a curb and shiver and grumble for half an hour to 40 minutes until the bus driver reopens the bus and lets you get back on.
  15. Buddha’s hair. All the pagodas and stupas have relics. A couple of times the relic was believed to be a hair, or multiple hairs from the head of the Buddha. It made me laugh at first because I always imagine the Buddha as bald. Once drawn to my attention, I realized all the Buddhas in Myanmar have hair. I guess the young Buddha was gifting his hairs out as sacred relics, and then eventually made himself bald. But …since it’s the Buddha… both the generosity to the point of baldness and the acceptance of an altered image seem to fit.

That’s all my notes, and the random photos that I also kept for some reason. I am hoping that some of the forgotten things will come back to me now that I’m thinking about them again. If so, I’ll come back here and edit.

We live close to the Pacific Ocean, so that destination had to be on our itinerary.

For our last day of mini road trips, my friend Vladimir and I headed to the coast. Isn’t it wonderful how many different kinds of experiences we were able to have in only five days of travel? Almost each day began at our own doorsteps. It is like living in Paradise.

Vlad is new in the area and doesn’t have a car, so we made a plan to do a week’s worth of mini-road trips so he could see where he lives. Since I have the car, I got to plan the trip. Monday we went to Mt. St. Helens to see what the volcano looks like 38 years after an eruption (hint: it’s beautiful). Tuesday we drove into east central Oregon to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to explore desert geology and the history of that particular region which holds an exceptional collection of Cenozoic Era fossils. There were many places to explore in that region, and it is a four-hour drive away, so we stayed the night out there. That allowed us to hike and find fossils for two days. Thursday we drove out to the most commanding volcano in the region because of its proximity and its beauty: Mt. Hood.

Friday morning we drove out highway 30 in hopes of catching a ferry across the Columbia River. I have not taken the ferry before and thought it would be fun. Since I live on highway 30 and Vlad hadn’t been to my house in about a year (because he has no car), we stopped by “real quick like” and see the latest changes at my farm. It was a fun visit, Racecar said hi to Vlad, and off we went.

But it was 5 minutes too late, and we arrived at the dock in time to see the ferry tenders locking the gate and the ferry departing. Bummer.

I had the idea of making a loop, so I thought we could reverse direction and if things worked out ok, we could just catch a return ferry from the Washington side into Oregon on our way back.

It was a short drive to Astoria from there, but it was midday and we were already hungry. We decided to eat first before anything else. While at the Hotel Condon, we spoke with other guests who raved about the fish&chips place across from the Astoria Maritime Museum. That was as good a reason as any to go find it.

A line of people faithfully waits to buy food served from a Columbia Bowpicker.

The Bowpicker was easy to find as our friends had described it: in the shape of a boat, with a line stretching down the block. Turns out, the eatery occupies an actual converted gillnet boat, which makes it a great tourist draw. By the size of the line, I was anticipating the best fish&chips of my life. There are four menu items, but three are merely a variation on a single menu item. 1) whole order (5 pieces w/fries) 2) half order (3p w/fries) 3) fish only 4) fries only.

The line to buy fish for lunch did indeed stretch quite a distance. I appreciated the information sign to entertain me for a few minutes:

    You are standing next to what was known as the Columbia River Bowpicker. These boats were 28 feet in length. They were planked with Port Orford Cedar, oak frames, and Douglas fir cabin and deck. These boats evolved from double-ended boats from the 1870s that used sails as their power source.

By the 1920s, all boats were powered by 6 to 10 hp single piston engines. By the 1940s and 1950s these boats became the modern version you see here; square stern and powered by V8 marine engines. During this period, there were hundreds of these boats anywhere on the Columbia River.

The Bowpickers fished for salmon and sturgeon on the Columbia and other waters of the Northwest. They employed long floating gillnets, hundreds of feet in length, that were retrieved from the bow of the boat. The fish were then picked out of the net. Thus the name Bowpicker.

Peep into the kitchen

Lunch! Note persistent seagull in background.

We finally got our meal of fresh Albacore tuna and thick slabs of potatoes. We tasted them while fighting off a pigeon and a seagull. I’d give the meal a B+. Definitely fresh. Clearly real fish steaks. Cooked at the proper temperature, so not greasy at all. The batter was too bready and seemed heavy, and not very flavorful.

Satiated, we took off for the Astoria Column. We traveled in to Astoria from the east, so were still miles from the beach itself. I know, it’s not original, but for anyone who has never been here, it’s a must-see to get your first views of the ocean from the column and its astounding vantage.

City of Astoria in the foreground, bridge across the mouth of the Columbia River, Cape Disappointment in the background.

We crossed the bridge of another tributary river (just out of sight to the left of the image above), and went to Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens was once part of a military defense installation at the mouth of the Columbia River. The fort saw service for 84 years, from the Civil War to World War II. Today it is a park with multiple camping options and fun stuff for day visitors.

The remains of the old fort are still here (in fact, we saw military remnants at many stops in the area today), and visitors are allowed to climb all over them at our own risk. “Caution: beware of unprotected drops and open pits.” haha. We poked around, trying to identify what each structure was for.

Standing atop what’s left of the main Fort Stevens structure. There are many small bunkers scattered in this area. The trees are newly grown and when the Fort was in use, it had a clear view of the Pacific Ocean.

The original earthen fort, completed in 1865 to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Confederate gun boats and the British Navy during the Civil War, was named for Union Army Major General Isaac I. Stevens, first territorial governor of Washington, who died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly. The post later served as Oregon’s only coastal defense fort during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.  The fort has the distinction of being the only military fort in the United States to be fired upon by an enemy during time of war since the War of 1812, when it was attacked by a Japanese submarine on June 21, 1942. ~https://oregonstateparks.org/

Next stop was finally the beach itself. We parked and walked out onto the sand, being drawn to a shipwreck, as many people are. The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran ashore October 25, 1906, on the Oregon coast en route to the Columbia River. It has been slowly decomposing and generations have returned to walk around it and climb upon it at low tide.

I love that I captured the boy in mid-leap. The kite also adds to the scene.

The Peter Iredale ran aground October 25, 1906. Now it’s a playground for boys in uniform.

Beach at Fort Stevens.

Looking north along the beach we could actually see the jetty at Cape Disappointment, in Washington.

Vlad and I walked up the beach a spell, spotting fishing vessels on the horizon, enjoying the smells and sounds of the sea, then turned back to the Jeep. It felt strange getting to the beach and then leaving. But this was not a beach trip and rather a Let’s-get-a-look-at-the-land trip.

We crossed the magnificent Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington state (that’s the one you see in the photo above). The southern part of the bridge is extremely high to enable free passage of any kind of ship up the river. And we do get everything in Portland: enormous tourist cruise ships, tall-masted sailing ships, Navy ships, and every kind of ship and barge for commerce. The bridge has no means of opening or lifting, and rather is built very high, which is exciting for motorists! It is just over 4 miles (6.55 km) to cross the river.

On the Washington side we turned immediately for Cape Disappointment, named when an explorer had tried and tried to find the mouth of the Columbia River and was forced to admit defeat. Ironically, at the mouth of the very river.

My Discover Pass came in handy one more time this week. I purchased it in October to park at the trailhead when I hiked the Enchantments. Anyone who lives around here and does some exploring in Washington state should have one. They’re $10 for a day pass, but only $40 for a year. Many of the parking lots to recreational areas require one, so it pays for itself easily if you get out of the house. We had free admission to Mt. St. Helens observatory, and now free parking at Cape Disappointment.

We hiked the first trail lined with informational signs about weather in the region. For two people with a weather background, the signs are interesting for different reasons than most people I imagine. Personally, I like to see how weather is explained for the layperson. But also, knowing weather, I skim through all the facts and see what is impressive based on my own knowledge. For example, coastal wind speeds can exceed the minimum requirement for hurricane wind speeds. That’s a fun perspective.

The end of the informational weather trail.

Trail to North Head lighthouse. Can you see it, smack in the center of the photo?

This is a view of the jetty looking south from Cape Disappointment. The mountains in the distance are Oregon.

North Head Lighthouse.

I then gave up my plans to head along the smaller road in Washington and catch the ferry back to Oregon. We had been out all day. We had been out all week, actually. My vote was to cross the bridge back to highway 30 and head home by the quickest route. Vlad agreed.

All in all it was a successful week of exploration. I hope my friend now feels more keenly his place on this particular spot of the Pacific Northwest.

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