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Barnstorming (without an airplane)

7 Jan

I love a good barn. The older the better. So I asked someone I know if he’d be willing to let me explore and photograph his lovely, old specimen of barnishness. Happily, he said yes, and even though the hunters didn’t appreciate that I had taken over “their” space, I spent a good half hour or so exploring the lovely old weathered barn where once cows and sheep and horses (and at least one homeless man) lived. Now it’s home to barn swallows and mice and dust motes.

And the ghosts of chickens past.

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Seasonal Writing

3 Dec

This year I took on a seasonal task that I have avoided for the past few years. No, I never stopped shopping, (though my husband probably wishes I had) nor have I quit baking, decorating, or watching Dr. Seuss’ version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. What I’ve avoided is writing the Christmas Program for my church.

I have written our program a few times in the past, but for the past several years we’ve bought our scripts. Buying a pre-fab script is not a bad thing, but every year we have to tweak it for our particular setting and group of kids and by the time I’m done doing that, I might as well have spent the time writing it from the beginning.

Last year's whole cast.

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So this year I did. It was a blast sitting at my keyboard with the list of kids in our church and my page of hand-written notes, taken when inspiration hit one afternoon in October. I laughed out loud as I gave the silliest part to our silliest boy. I grinned as I pictured one girl performing a line I wrote just for her. I was inspired by their personalities.

In the past when I have written programs people have said to me that I ought to try and get them published, but I never have. Maybe this year I will. I’ll see if I can find the other old scripts (since the old computers they were written on are long gone) and I’ll spend a little time looking them over, rewriting, and rethinking.

At least I will if I get my butt in gear to actually pursue this idea. It will take some research into proper style, publishers, etc, but it will be worth it if it pays off in the end, yes? I give you all permission to bug me in a couple months and ask me if I’ve done anything about it yet!

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In the mean time, rehearsals are about to begin for our December 22nd performance. I know that my patience will be tried over the next few weeks and I will ask myself yet again why I ever agreed to direct this pageant – the writing is easy compare to directing – but I know that I too, will love, love, love seeing the kids that night, belting out the songs and shouting out their lines.

I adore Christmas pageants. Here’s my favorite photo of my favorite bored little angel a few years back.

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My Summer, in Photos…

8 Oct

Ok, so I still have many photos from both Orcas Island as well as from Duluth, Minnesota to post, but today you’re getting more of a grab bag. A few pictures from around home. A few from a weekend spent swimming with the fishes in Rochester, MN. A few that show the season. Enjoy!

Sunset from our back yard.

Sunset from our back yard.

We're still burning piles of dead trees from the ice storm in April.  It's been a huge process.

We’re still burning piles of dead trees from the ice storm in April. It’s been a huge process.

Two sisters enjoying the rain.

Two sisters enjoying the rain.

There was a barn fire not too far from us.  We stood in our yard and took a few photos.

There was a barn fire not too far from us. We stood in our yard and took a few photos.

The fire trucks were rushing past our house.

The fire trucks were rushing past our house.

Fun in the sun.

Fun in the sun.

I've spent many an evening sorting through old Martha Stewart magazines, dating from 1997.  Yes, I literally hurt my back moving the things.

I’ve spent many an evening sorting through old Martha Stewart magazines, dating from 1997. Yes, I literally hurt my back moving the things.

My son's day - if not his year - was made in the ferry line on the 4th of July when we saw this Delorean pull to a stop two lanes over from us.  Everyone and their dog started taking photos.  The lovely couple had come from a 4th of July parade where they show the car, all decked out like in Back to the Future.  My son got to sit in it and even pull the door closed.  He was in heaven.

My son’s day – if not his year – was made in the ferry line on the 4th of July when we saw this Delorean pull to a stop two lanes over from us. Everyone and their dog started taking photos. The lovely couple had come from a 4th of July parade where they show the car, all decked out like in Back to the Future. My son got to sit in it and even pull the door closed. He was in heaven.

The crops have gone from this...

The crops have gone from this…

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...to this...

…to this…

...to this.

…to this.

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Meep tried so hard to catch a fish with her hands.  She got pretty close!

Meep tried so hard to catch a fish with her hands. She got pretty close!

If anyone can tell me what kind of fish these are, I'd appreciate it!

If anyone can tell me what kind of fish these are, I’d appreciate it!


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The Beaches of San Juan County – Part 2

27 Aug
The Deer Harbor Marina.

The Deer Harbor Marina.

The second San Juan County beach I’m featuring is at the Deer Harbor Marina on Orcas Island. The kids and I went there with a friend of mine who still lives on the island (and who will feature in an upcoming post) when she suggested that we might enjoy visiting there. It isn’t all that far from the beach in my last post, but it is hugely different in feel – which you’ll notice from the very first photo! This is a public beach (there are very few on Orcas) and actually, land-owners own beach rights only to the high-tide mark – below that all beaches are open to the public.

So…I give you a sandy/muddy beach – entirely different from the stony, broken-shelled beach where we clammed. No clam chowder recipes this week, but this is definitely a recipe for having a great time on the beach!!

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Love this.  Sand and mud - excellent at massaging one's feet!

Love this. Sand and mud – excellent at massaging one’s feet!

NOT the same beach as the one we clammed at - totally, 100% different.  From a beach that would chop your feet up to a beach that, while slightly slimy, is soft and mushy!!

NOT the same beach as the one we clammed at – totally, 100% different. From a beach that would chop your feet up to a beach that, while slightly slimy, is soft and mushy!!

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At first I thought these were seagull tracks...but they were so large...and then I saw a heron...and figured they must be from him.

At first I thought these were seagull tracks…but they were so large…and then I saw a heron…and figured they must be from him.

Great Blue Heron - he flew about 15 feet away and then landed again.

Great Blue Heron – he flew about 15 feet away and then landed again.

Boo had fun playing by herself while her siblings took a walk further down the shore.

Boo had fun playing by herself while her siblings took a walk further down the shore.

Barnacles and mussels.  You can eat the mussels, but they're pretty tiny.

Barnacles and mussels. You can eat the mussels, but they’re pretty tiny.

A very old oyster, still stuck on the rock - isn't it cool?

A very old oyster, still stuck on the rock – isn’t it cool?

Another Hairy Chiton - I found 3 or 4 on this beach - so cool!

Another Hairy Chiton – I found 3 or 4 on this beach – so cool!

I adore tide pools!  So many wonderful things to find therein!!

I adore tide pools! So many wonderful things to find therein!!

The marina at low tide.

The marina at low tide.

I posted this picture last week, but I really love it and this is the beach where I took the photo.

I posted this picture last week, but I really love it and this is the beach where I took the photo.

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The Beaches of San Juan County – Part 1

20 Aug

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Okay, so to be truly “The Beaches of San Juan County” I’d need to have a much better sampling of various islands, plus I’m including one beach from Island County as well, but while we were on vacation, we visited a total of 8 beaches, and I loved every minute of it!  Most of the beaches were on Orcas Island, but one was on another island, a much smaller and rather secretive island, which I am not going to name but which will feature – nameless – in an upcoming post!

This was the beachiest trip that I’d been on for years! I have too many pictures to make this just one post – in fact, it will have to be even more than two.

Truly, I love beaches. Not the movie – though I liked that okay, much to my husband’s bewilderment – but the places. The physical, rocky, shores of the ocean.

Note I said “rocky”. I’m not as much of a fan of sandy shores.

I found, on our recent vacation on Orcas Island, Washington, that even though I grew up there, I’d forgotten – or, more likely, never spend much time thinking about the fact – that not all beaches are created the same. I mean, I knew about the basic difference in a sandy beach vrs. a rocky/stony beach, but it had been so many years since I’d been on any other sort of beach, that I’d forgotten that such a thing existed.

The first beach for your perusal today is a private beach on Orcas where we went (with permission!) to dig clams. And I’ll even give you my sister’s recipe for clam chowder that was absolutely the best I’ve ever had in my life.

No, not a beach you want to walk barefoot on!!  You'd be cut to ribbons.  Even my flipflops suffered a bit.  The entire beach is like this - broken shells, barnacles, and yes, a few pieces of beach glass.  But, apparently, the clams like it!

No, not a beach you want to walk barefoot on!! You’d be cut to ribbons. Even my flipflops suffered a bit. The entire beach is like this – broken shells, barnacles, and yes, a few pieces of beach glass. But, apparently, the clams like it!

Basically the same, only an underwater shot.  It's clear water, isn't it?  That is, until you dig in on a clam search, then it's murky - for a few minutes.  It was a wonderful beach to go wading on, as you could see so much - many Dungeness and rock crabs (the big ones came out as the tide came in) and hermit crabs.

Basically the same, only an underwater shot. It’s clear water, isn’t it? That is, until you dig in on a clam search, then it’s murky – for a few minutes. It was a wonderful beach to go wading on, as you could see so much – many Dungeness and rock crabs (the big ones came out as the tide came in) and hermit crabs.

This beach was actually a cove, and for the whole half-circle the water was wonderful - and not even very cold, it was such a sunny and warm day.

This beach was actually a cove, and for the whole half-circle the water was wonderful – and not even very cold, it was such a sunny and warm day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #1: Nope.  Not a clam.  An oyster.  Back into the water it goes.  Yes, oysters are marvelous to eat, but not what we were after that day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #1: Nope. Not a clam. An oyster. Back into the water it goes. Yes, oysters are marvelous to eat, but not what we were after that day.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #2: The tasty, delicious Butter Clams!  It's not a fast or easy way to get one's dinner, but it's worth it in the end.  The pioneers on Orcas often supplemented their diets with clams - often to the point where their primary protein WAS clams.  Can only imagine the time and effort that took.

The tasty, delicious Butter Clams! It’s not a fast or easy way to get one’s dinner, but it’s worth it in the end. The pioneers on Orcas often supplemented their diets with clams – often to the point where their primary protein WAS clams. Can only imagine the time and effort that took.

My sister, my nephew and his family, oh, and Boo.

My sister, my nephew and his family, oh, and Boo.

My two favorite Minnesota boys hard at work.

My two favorite Minnesota boys hard at work.

Even Boo got in on the hard work - for a while, anyway.

Even Boo got in on the hard work – for a while, anyway.

Sometimes it's a group effort!

Sometimes it’s a group effort!

You have to dig quite deep to get to the good stuff.

You have to dig quite deep to get to the good stuff.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #3: This is not a shellfish!  At first I thought, "Oh, a rock that looks just like an egg!"  And then I picked it up only to discover that it was an egg.  A seagull?  Not sure, but it did not make it into our take-home treasure box!!

Shellfish Identification Lesson #3: This is not a shellfish! At first I thought, “Oh, a rock that looks just like an egg!” And then I picked it up only to discover that it was an egg. A seagull? Not sure, but it did not make it into our take-home treasure box!!

The youngest member of our expedition did not enjoy herself as much as the rest of us.  Her Uncle Sailboat King kept her occupied for a LONG time, further up the beach.

The youngest member of our expedition did not enjoy herself as much as the rest of us. Her Uncle Sailboat King kept her occupied for a LONG time, further up the beach.

Baby starfish?  Or just naturally that small always?  Not sure.

Baby starfish? Or just naturally that small always? Not sure.

Shellfish Identificatino Lesson #4: A Hairy Chiton, a mollusk - though not an edible one.  At least, I assume it's a shellfish.  I'm no expert, so don't quote me for a research paper on this!  There's a teeny Limpit clinging to the rock, showing just beneath the hairs on his upper center.

Shellfish Identificatino Lesson #4: A Hairy Chiton, a mollusk – though not an edible one. At least, I assume it’s a shellfish. I’m no expert, so don’t quote me for a research paper on this! There’s a teeny Limpit in the hairs on his upper left.

Very gritty mud.

Very gritty mud.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #5: This is a Cockle...yes, it's a clam, and yes, I understand that it's tasty, but apparently they're a pain in the rear end to clean...so, we ditched all the cockles we dug up.  Which, sadly, was rather a lot.

Shellfish Identification Lesson #5: This is a Cockle…yes, it’s a clam, and yes, I understand that it’s tasty, but apparently they’re a pain in the rear end to clean…so, we ditched all the cockles we dug up. Which, sadly, was rather a lot.

Sorry that this isn't a better picture.  Guess where we found this guy?  INSIDE OF A CLAM!  He must have gotten in when he was tiny and then could never get out - or chose not to.  He was practically shell less and albino and fat and he couldn't really walk too well.  We let him go into the water, but I have a feeling that his life was not going to be a long one.  Fascinating, though...

Sorry that this isn’t a better picture. Guess where we found this guy? INSIDE OF A CLAM! He must have gotten in when he was tiny and then could never get out – or chose not to. He was practically shell less and albino and fat and he couldn’t really walk too well. We let him go into the water, but I have a feeling that his life was not going to be a long one. Fascinating, though…

A beach is a perfect place for a wee boy to get wet and explore and have a marvelous time!!

A beach is a perfect place for a wee boy to get wet and explore and have a marvelous time!!

AND NOW, WHAT YOUR MOUTH IS WATERING FOR: MY SISTER’S RECIPE FOR FABULOUS CLAM CHOWDER! (Is it as good with canned/jarred clams? Probably not, to be honest, but if you like chowder, why not give it a try?!!)

Here’s the e-mail I got from my Island-Living Sister:

My recipe for clam chowder -

Bring enough shovels! Dig clams! (Butter and/or Horse clams) Remove from shells, leaving the empties on the beach. Clean, making sure to slice the neck in half lengthwise down both valves to rinse it all out, keeping what liquid there is from the clams and grind! (You will not have all the liquor from the clams when you clean them on the beach.) Set aside.

I do it all in one big pot so you get the bacon stuck-on bits to later end up in the chowder.

Brown bacon, lots, remove to a paper towel to drain

Onion, chopped, added to the bacon grease until tender, remove to drain if you like

3 or 4 potatoes, diced to the size you want to eat. Put in the large pot. Add back in the onions if you took them out. Add your clam liquor if you have any. Cover with enough water to cover potatoes and onions. Bring to a boil until potatoes are almost done.

Add clams, 2 cups or more, or a couple of cans if you can’t dig your own clams!

Add 2 cans evaporated milk, or more if making quite a lot

Salt and pepper

Heat to almost a boil, and it should be done.

I, GRETCHEN, HAVE ONE CAVEAT TO ADD: IF YOU ARE CLEANING YOUR OWN CLAMS, YOU MUST HAVE A STRONG STOMACH! The smell is rather strong…and it’s all a little overwhelmingly beachy!! BUT…it does NOT taste like the beach at all. It’s marvelous!!!!!!!

MANY THANKS TO MY SISTER FOR ALL HER HARD CLEANING AND GRINDING AND COOKING WORK SO THAT WE COULD ALL ENJOY SUCH A WONDERFUL MEAL!!!!!!!!!!! My brother-in-law made fresh bread for us, too, which was also fantastic! I just wish I’d taken a picture of the finished product. I was so excited to eat that it never occurred to me!!!

PS – Be careful if you are ever clamming and/or oystering (is that a word?!) to check first on something called Red Tide, a potential lethal algae bloom in the water that effects shellfish and the people who eat them! Sadly, my nephew’s wedding this coming weekend was supposed to include 400 oysters…but, due to Red Tide, will include zero. So sad!!!

Orcas Island Photos!

13 Aug

I’ve got a lot of photos for you today. These are mostly water-related pictures, taken on or around Orcas Island, Washington, where I grew up. We spent about two weeks there in July. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!

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Just around the corner from the ferry dock on Orcas.  I've always loved this view.

Just around the corner from the ferry dock on Orcas. I’ve always loved this view.

I love sail boats.

I love sail boats.

Mt. Baker, taken from North Beach.  This was the view from our living room when I was growing up.

Mt. Baker, taken from North Beach. This was the view from our living room when I was growing up.

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Low Tide.

Low Tide.

Mt. Baker and part of the Cascade Mountains, as taken from the ferry boat en route to Anacortes...and back to reality after two weeks of a wonderful vacation.

Mt. Baker and part of the Cascade Mountains, as taken from the ferry boat en route to Anacortes…and back to reality after two weeks of a wonderful vacation.

I May Live on the Prairie…But my Heart is on the Beach

4 Jun

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So I’ve been thinking about Orcas Island lately, and it dawned on me that I never posted a whole lot of photos that I took there last summer. There are many things I love about Orcas, but the beach and the view of the ocean is definitely one of the biggest.

So – I give you a typical Orcas Island beach, filled with stones and tide pools, seaweed and shells – except that this one is even better in that it has a cave and a waterfall. I adore this place.

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What is it that I love, you ask? The salty tang in the air. The polished driftwood, worn down by days in the briny sea, so smooth it’s splinter-free. The limpets and hermit crabs, sea anemones and tiny Dungeness crabs that inhabit the tide pool worlds. I even love the barnacles that mark the high-tide line along the rocky cliffs (if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll see this in one photo). Even I must admit, however, that don’t like falling on the barnacles and getting my knees all bloody – I’ve done that plenty in my day. I love the stony beaches of Orcas Island – no sandy beaches for me, thank you very much! (There are a few sandy beaches on the island, but not many.) I love the tide, rolling ever onward – or outward – free of human concern and worry, simply obeying the order of the moon. In and out, in and out, in and out, twice a day forever and ever, amen.

I love the order of the tides…and the disorder of the shore.

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I remember that I loved the way my feet inside my socks inside my wet Keds (wet because a kid can never go to the beach and remain dry) would squelch all the way up the beach and along the dirt road to my house, 90 feet above the crashing waves. By the time I reached home, my socks would be all smushed beneath my feet and my toes would be raisiny and cold and I didn’t care one bit.

I loved the “Whoosh” of the Orca whales breeching off the shore – the giant exhale of their breath which we could hear from our deck and we’d come running to watch the pod pass by. How could a person not love that?

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I loved the screech of the seagulls as they dive-bombed the Bald eagles – and the patience of the eagle as he put up with it. And then, with a sudden swoop from his cliff-top perch, the eagle would leave the old, dead snag and drop to the ocean, coming up with a fish in his talons to grace his family’s table.

I loved the splash of the ocean’s spray against our windows in mighty winter storms – even that high above the sea, we’d have salt on our panes to wipe away in the following days. I loved the constant company of the waves – lulling or roaring, it was never silent in our yard because the ocean was our constant guest.

Our constant guest: and yet, really, it was we who were the guests, we who were the brief interlude between other people, other guests, other visitors to that ocean-side spot, where smoking mountains greeted us across the water on clear mornings, reminding us that we were not in charge of anything – not really. We were merely caretakers for a short time, of that little piece of magic that was ours. That little piece of Orcas I called home.

This is me, in the empty field next to our house.  That's Mt. Baker in the background and yes, it would steam and belch smoke sometimes.  My father took this photo and called it, "Bouquet for Mommy".

This is me, in the empty field next to our house. That’s Mt. Baker in the background and yes, it would steam and belch smoke sometimes. My father took this photo and called it, “Bouquet for Mommy”.

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Old bones of a giant squid?  Nope.  Just tree roots.

Old bones of a giant squid? Nope. Just tree roots.

The tide was coming in - all of the tide pools were filling up and I was close to being stranded!  Not really - I'm smarter than that.

The tide was coming in – all of the tide pools were filling up and I was close to being stranded! Not really – I’m smarter than that.

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The islands off in the distance are Matia, Sucia and the tiny one is Puffin.  Matia and Sucia are entirely parks.

The islands off in the distance are Matia, Sucia and the tiny one is Puffin. Matia and Sucia are entirely parks. Did you notice the high-tide mark of the barnacles?

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I love driftwood.

I love driftwood, all scoured by salt and sea.

Tanker and tug boat

Tanker and tug boat

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High tide line.

High tide line.

Told you there was a cave.

Told you there was a cave.

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Bull kelp.

Bull kelp.

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Behold the bounty in my daughters' hands.

Behold the bounty in my daughters’ hands.

Beach glass, collected over the years, now holds a place of honor in land-locked Minnesota.

Beach glass, collected over the years, now holds a place of honor in land-locked Minnesota.

A few nostalgic photos of our actual beach – just up the shore from the photos above. :-)

I believe my sister threw in a large rock so as to splash me and get me even more wet than I already was.  All part of the beachy fun!

I believe my sister threw in a large rock so as to splash me and get me even more wet than I already was. All part of the beachy fun!

My grandma, cooking burgers on our beach - probably 1972 or 3.

My grandma, cooking burgers on our beach – probably 1972 or 3.

The walk home from the beach was along this road. I have always had a fondness for forgotten dirt roads.

There was an old orchard at the end of the road.  Yum!  I'm the smallest one, holding my grandma's hand.

The dirt road, coming up from the beach. There was an old orchard at the end of the road. Yum! I’m the smallest one, holding my grandma’s hand.

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