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Memoirs of a (sometimes) football fan

25 Sep

I did something the other evening which I hadn’t done in years. In fact, probably not since I’d graduated from high school.

I attended a high school football game. (Go Trojans!)

The last football game I attended in person was at my alma mater, the University of Oregon. (Go Ducks!) I didn’t go to a lot of games over my four years of college but from time to time I wandered across the Willamette River with my friends and we enjoyed rooting for our (then perpetually losing) team.

That was fun enough, but it’s a whole lot more fun to watch them winning these days on television. That way I can stay dry (it rains a lot in Eugene) and I can go to the bathroom without having to stand in line.

Back when I was in high school I didn’t attend too many games, either. I actually have some pretty good reasons for this. For one, I attended three different high schools, due to my father’s job.

I do remember going to one or two football games my 9th grade year at my school on Orcas Island, Washington. Forget about Friday Night Lights, our games were always played on Saturdays because the opposing teams had to take a ferry to get there and that added a huge amount of time to their traveling schedule. (Go Vikings!)

The next year I lived in Bend, Oregon, and there at Mountain View High School I attended just one game. I didn’t know very many people, and going to football games alone is no fun. (Go Cougars!)

Then I moved to West Berlin, Germany, and I was there for my last two years of high school. There, at Berlin American High School, I attended a handful of games (Go Bears!) but my best friend was the school mascot – which meant that she got to run around in a bear suit for the entire game – so I didn’t have her to sit next to and my other friends weren’t really into football so mostly I stayed home on Saturday afternoons. Yes, the games were on Saturdays there, too, also due to travel issues. It was kinda a big deal getting to and from West Berlin.

So all in all, being at any kind of football game was an anomaly for me. I do remember, way back in third grade, briefly considering becoming a football fan simply to improve my math scores. All the boys were really good at their 7 times tables whereas I hated and despised the 7 times tables and I knew that somehow their talent was involved with football scores.

I don’t really understand the sport of football. Ok…I don’t understand it at all other than I know that a First Down is a good thing and that field goals are sometimes worth one point and sometimes worth three, depending on if they’re accompanied by touchdowns or not. And I know that to get a touchdown the guy with the ball has to cross the end line without dropping the ball and somehow Mary, the Mother of Jesus is often involved.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve never attended a game here in Worthington prior to this year, but there it is. And the truth is, I enjoyed myself.

Does that mean I’ll be going to a lot more games from here on out?

Let’s not get crazy here. I mean, I enjoy hearing my son play tuba in the pep band, but I can only take so much sitting in the cold cheering for the home team before I zone out and begin wondering why some of the players have long black socks and some of the players don’t and wouldn’t they all be more aesthetically pleasing if they all matched and do they need to hire a fashion consultant to take care of this problem?

Apparently the snappy uniforms of the Oregon Ducks have rubbed off on me.

(Incidentally, I’m a little worried about the Ducks this year, what with losing Marcus Mariota and all. And even I know, deep down, that snappy uniforms or no, it takes more than that to win a football game.)

And to that I say: Happy Homecoming, Worthington!

My Orcas Island

3 Dec

Ok, so this is where I grew up. Can you understand my obsession?

The video is only 2 and a half minutes long. What better way to spend two minutes?!

BANG! THUMP! TWEEK!

11 Feb

It’s ten o’clock in the morning on a frigid Monday and I’m being lulled by the dulcet tones of my piano tuner man, hard at work in the living room. Such a lovely melody.

BANG! THUMP! TWEEK! BANG! Any little boy would be reprimanded for playing so badly.

I remember the tuning our piano got when we lived in West Berlin. We had some family friends come for Christmas, and we asked him to bring his piano-tuning kit. They lived in Saudi Arabia so it wasn’t a terribly long trip or a big deal to bring his tools – at least I don’t think it was!

He began tuning on a Sunday afternoon. BANG! THUMP! TWEEK! BANG!

The telephone rang.

It was our downstairs neighbor. We lived in an apartment building that had four two-story apartments in it so we only had three neighbors…and the one below us was MAD.

Ding-a-ling-a-ling! (Actually it sounded more like “buzz”…German phones sounded different than American phones!)

“Hello?” said my mother.

“Do you have a child visiting?” the down-stairs neighbor asked in English.

“Yes,” Mom replied, puzzled.

“Well, could you please ask him to cease banging on the piano? It is rest time in Germany. Sunday afternoons are rest time. Please stop him from banging.”*

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Mom replied, amused but controlling her laughter. “The boy is not banging on the piano. It is being tuned by his father.”

There was a silence on the other end while our neighbor – an artistically-minded individual – recovered her embarrassment and said, “Entschuldigung. I am so sorry.”

“And I,” said my mother, “apologize for interrupting your rest time. We should have realized.”

“Yes,” said the woman. “You should have. But it is okay.”

She might not have actually said those exact words. But she implied them.

I can’t help but smile at the memory.

When I was a kid, back on Orcas Island, our piano tuner was blind. This amazed and impressed me. My tuner down in the living room tells me that is becoming more and more common.

Six or seven years ago I began praying for a free piano. I’ve always labored under the impression that God cares about every part of my life, so why not? I didn’t ask for a new piano. I didn’t ask for a good piano. I just wanted something that my daughter could take piano lessons with. Something that would get her through a few years and that I, too, could play on from time to time if I could remember anything of my seven years of servitude torture lessons.

Not too long after I began praying, I got a piano. Free. From a friend, who had gotten it from a friend, who had gotten it who-knows-where. It’s an old upright. About 100 years old. Has a few keys that stick, and the bottom few bass notes ring in a strange way from an imperfect “fix” at some point in its life.

I put it on an inside wall, ‘cause I remembered that I’d heard at some point that that’s where pianos ought to go. For 3 ½ years my daughter took lessons on that old piano. I played it a couple times. Should do so more. Every so often over the years my daughter would say, “Can you get the piano tuned, Mom?”

And I’d say, “Yeah, sure. I can arrange that.”

And then I’d promptly forget all about it.

Well, about a month ago she came up to me – a nice smile on her face – and she said, “Mom? I know what I want for my birthday.”

“Oh?” I asked her, not wanting to admit to the fact that her birthday was approaching and I had no clue what to get her. “What?”

“I want the piano to be tuned.”

HOW COULD I SAY NO TO THAT?!!!

So I texted her piano teacher and asked for the name of her tuner. I called him…and he came a few days later. HORRAY!

When my daughter got home from school that day her little sister, Boo, (who had been home sick so she knew it had been tuned) suggested that Meep sit down and practice piano right away. (In her mind she wasn’t giving away the secret, just nudging her sister toward discovery.)

Meep sat down to play. She played through her favorite piece. There were no fireworks, no bright-eyed epiphanies (I love that word) but she did seem to play a little more carefully…and, just maybe, a small smile played about her lips. Then Boo said, “It got tuned!”

And Meep’s face lit up like Santa Claus had come and she jumped up and said, “Thank you, Mom!” And then she practiced longer than she ever had before in her life.

Our tuner, a friendly and talkative gray-haired gentleman, told me that he doubted it had been tuned more than once or twice in its life. He said something like, “Normally each key has to be moved about 10 degrees [I don’t know if the term he used was “degrees”, but it was something like that] but this one had to be moved 50!” Obviously, even to a piano-term-dense novice like me, even if I don’t remember his terms, I do recognize that 50 is a lot more than 10!

So now Meep is happy and she’s playing the piano even more beautifully than before and, $75 dollars later, I’m feeling good about it, too.

*There was one other time that she called us on a Sunday afternoon during rest time. I was hanging a picture and pounding a nail into the wall. “Hello?” “Hello. Do you hear a banging?” “No,” I replied honestly, looking at the hammer in my hand. “I do not hear a banging right now.” She was a martinet. An extremely nice martinet…except during rest time.

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.

School Bus Stories: Part 2

28 May

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I was in Kindergarten along about 1975, and the bus, as usual, was 3 or 4 kids deep per seat. We were almost the last bus stop, which meant my seating options were limited. The bus had already covered the entire east side of the island and the kids on board were eager to be off.

It was an old bus. The kind with no “cush” in the cushions. The kind where you felt every single bump on the road. The kind with a metal bar on the top back of each green seat as opposed to full vinyl covering, front and back.

So there I was, teetering on about 3 inches of seat, bouncing along at 30 miles per hour (the top speed limit on Orcas Island) when suddenly Mr. Faff had to slam on the brakes, right at the four-corner stop between North Beach Road and Mt. Baker Road.

I slammed forward and my mouth smashed on the metal bar of the seat in front of me. Teeth on steel. I tasted blood. I felt a broken tooth. I cried.

My two sisters – bless them – mopped me up the best they could with the napkins from their lunch sacks. I remember feeling so badly that they wouldn’t have any napkins that day. What if they spilled their milk? I was really quite worried about that.
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I also remember feeling quite excited that I got to miss school that day. I had to go to the dentist and he pulled the tooth which, thankfully, was a baby tooth anyway. I also remember that Mr. Faff (whose name has been changed though he’s been dead for years so it probably doesn’t matter) felt very badly about what had happened. He tried to comfort me in his quiet, awkward way. Did he remove his dentures to make me smile? I don’t remember. But it was kind of him, just the same.

I remember one other thing about Mr. Faff. Never, in all the years he drove the bus and cleaned the school, had we seen him out of his baseball cap and coveralls. Never…until, one day, my sister and I attended a funeral and, low and behold, down the aisle of the church came Mr. Faff. He was wearing a suit and his head was bare. My sister and I turned to each other, our eyes wide, amazed grins on our faces.

Who knew? He had hair!

Mount Saint Helens Exploded 33 Years Ago this Week – My Dad Was There the Next Day – And Here are Some of his Photos

14 May

0-StH-before-2-final-Dig

I remember the boom that Sunday morning, May 18th, 1980 – 33 years ago this week – as we were getting ready for church on Orcas Island, Washington. It was 8:32am – or however long it takes for sound to travel 300 miles. My oldest sister was off at college, my Dad was down in Oregon at work with the Air Force, and my other sister, our Mom, and I were slipping on our Sunday shoes and just about to head out the door when we heard it.

“Oh, they’re dynamiting on Buck Mountain,” Mom said dismissively.

But Jenny and I said, “No! It was Mount Saint Helens!”

“No,” Mom disagreed. “We couldn’t hear it this far away.”

“It was the mountain, Mom,” we said again. “Turn on the radio.”

Sure enough, Mount Saint Helens – which had been steaming and belching and threatening to explode for weeks – had finally blown her top. The mountain – the entire skyline of southern Washington State – was no longer the same. The north face of the mountain was gone.

And so were 57 people with her.

My father, LTC David K. Wendt, was a rescue helicopter pilot for the United States Air Force Reserve, based out of Portland, Oregon. Here’s what Dad had to say about May 18th:

“I was the duty officer that Sunday – in the RCC (Rescue Control Center) which was a madhouse!! We were getting calls from everybody – including the President of the United States (or the White House office, anyway, to set up a visit for President Carter.) I didn’t get to fly until Monday morning – when I found the Moore family. Lienau’s rescue was a week later.” (The following photographs will fill-out the stories of these people a little more.)

These are some of his photographs, taken over the next several days following the event on May 18th.

The cauldron!

The cauldron!

It's like a photo from you-know-where.

It’s like a photo from you-know-where.

These were trees.

These were trees. The explosion – firing at several hundred miles per hour – killed every living thing within a 230 square mile radius. All within a time period of 5-9 minutes. The orange smudge in this photo is a flare. (See links below to verify this information.)

Blasted trees on the surface of Spirit Lake.  Spirit Lake was made famous even before the explosion because of a long-time resident, Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate prior to the explosion they KNEW was coming.  His body was never found.

Blasted trees on the surface of Spirit Lake. Spirit Lake was made famous even before the explosion because of a long-time resident, Harry Truman, who refused to evacuate prior to the explosion they KNEW was coming. His body was never found.

Steam vents - filled with logs from the blast.

Steam vents – filled with logs from the blast.

Steaming waterfall.

Steaming waterfall.

38-StH steam portrait-Dig

35-Devis-lake-holes-Dig

Devis Valley

Devis Valley

A 200 foot hover, while a parajumper is hanging on the end of a 200 foot cable as he works to make a rescue.

A 200 foot hover, while a parajumper is hanging on the end of a 200 foot cable as he works to make a rescue.

Flying toward a lake on the mountain.

Flying toward a lake on the mountain.

Micheal Lienau, rescued by Dad and his crew.  They have kept in touch over the years.  He was a photographer for National Geographic.

Micheal Lienau, rescued by Dad and his crew. Several years ago they saw each other again as they were both asked to be a part of an NBC production on “Disaster Survival”. Here’s what Dad had to say about Lienau: “He made a video of the whole ordeal – saying how they looked back up the pass they’d come through and saw a volcano-blasted tree in the shape of a cross – just showing in the narrow slit of overcast volcanic cloud and the pass. He told the others with him – after seeing that cross – that he truly felt they were going to be saved – and a few minutes later we flew over the pass! I was hover-tracking them by their trail left in the ash and mud.” Otto Seiber, another guy rescued by Dad and his crew, was a filmmaker from Seattle, who went with his film crew to document the destruction on May 23rd. Their compasses freaked out in the volcanic atmosphere and they got themselves lost in a hurry. The mountain then erupted again on May 25th, and Dad and his team rescued them. 

Taken from another helicopter.

A helicopter-view of another Huey.

18a-Steam vents-3-Dig

Steam vents

Steam vents

They searched for the Moores - and they found them on the 19th.  Alive.

They searched for the Moores – and they found them. Alive. Mother, father, and two small children.

The Moores.

The Moores.

Heart Lake

Heart Lake

Reid Blackburn's car.  He was a photojournalist for a Washington newspaper as well as for National Geographic magazine.  His body was eventually recovered from his car.

Reid Blackburn’s car. He was a photojournalist for a Washington newspaper as well as for National Geographic magazine. His body was eventually recovered from the car.

Chemically-altered pools.  All sorts of weird stuff in that ash and lava!

Chemically-altered pools. All sorts of weird stuff in that ash and lava!

28-StH-lake-portrait-Dig

30-Cold Lake & reflection-Dig

40--StHelens-Dig

Dad didn't send me this photo - but I wanted to include it!  Details of the rescue of the Moores.  This is the nomination form that was turned in, nominating them for the Helicopter Heroism Award that year.

Dad didn’t send me this photo because he’s not one to brag – but I wanted to include it! Details of the rescue of the Moores. This is the nomination form that was turned in, nominating them for the Helicopter Heroism Award that year.

Amazing what the ash in the air will do to a sunset!

Amazing what the ash in the air will do to a sunset!

Forever changed.

Forever changed.

Here are several interesting links:

A very informative video put out by the USGS – the United States Geological Survey.

The USDA/FS site (United States Department of Agriculture / Forest Service)

Mount Saint Helens.com

A USGS summary of the event, including right before it and several years after it.

There are many, many more sites – I just choose a few which seemed especially good.

My Dad has had his photos used by the USGS, the Mt. St. Helens Interpretive Center, and this book, Fire Mountain. I have many reasons to be proud of my dad. The things he did during his Mount Saint Helens rescues are definitely some of them.

Copyright Notice: Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any material in this blog without written permission from the blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Copyright May 14, 2013 by Gretchen Anne O’Donnell and Col. David K. Wendt, USAFR

CRUNCH

7 May

As spring cleaning is in full swing, it seemed like a good time to tell you about the most fun volunteer cleaning job I ever had.

Not to be confused with the worst volunteer cleaning job I ever had. Which involved about 4 dozen empty-and-needing-to-be-refilled condiment bottles after a church-wide picnic at the huge church I attended in college. I was assigned to refill
the mustard bottles.

And I hate mustard.

But this particular job, done approximately 8 years earlier in my life, and which may seem like a job more fitting for the “worst volunteer job ever” title, was, actually, far more fun. Especially since I was about 14 and was doing it with a good friend.

My friend, Anne (who happened to be the pastor’s daughter), and I, were assigned to clean out the church steeple at Orcas Island Community Church, the church I grew up attending on Orcas Island, Washington.

Orcas Island Community Church: and its fun-filled steeple.

Orcas Island Community Church: and its fun-filled steeple.

It was a church clean-up day. Anne and I came mostly, I’m sure, because we wanted to hang out together, not necessarily because we felt called to serve. I mean, service was fine and all, but it was way more fun when done with a friend. I suppose, really, it still is.

I don’t know who was inspired to assign two young teens to this job, but whoever he or she was, must have been a genius. I remember hauling the huge wet/dry vacuum up two flights of stairs to the steeple door. I’d been in the tiny storage room at the bottom of the steeple before – let’s face it, I’d been in every nook and cranny of the church, including the baptismal pool – but I had never been UP the ladder that was found at the back of the wee room.

But now the way was open and I was thrilled. I don’t know how we got that vacuum up the ladder – I suppose that someone must have helped us – all I remember as we got to the top and stood INSIDE the steeple’s apex – were the flies.

All dead. And about two inches deep.

Crunch. Crunch, crunch. CRUNCH. With every step. Everytime we moved. Everywhere we looked. Dead flies.

Remember: I was 14…and not particularly squeamish.

IT WAS SO COOL!!!

It was not a long job, but we took as long with it as we could. We vacuumed. We pretended to be grossed out. We vacuumed some more. We peered out the slats of the steeple and yelled down to our friend in the parking lot below. He never did figure out where those voices calling his name were coming from. (Hopefully we didn’t drive him insane thinking that he was hearing voices inside his head.)

I love when church gives kids opportunities to serve. Especially when those jobs are age-appropriate. Somehow vacuuming up dead flies has never been as much fun since. Not sure why…

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