Tuesday, October 23, 2018

All in the name of jam

"I want to make Loganberry jam this year," my husband Paul stated on an early spring day as we drove along a winding, country road on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. We were returning home from a weekend getaway and had just passed a worn, but colorful sign proclaiming "Graysmarsh Farm, U-Pick Blueberries, Loganberries, Blackberries, Raspberries and Strawberries." "Alright," I said. "Let's choose a Saturday this summer and come back over and pick some berries.

Spring quickly gave way to a very warm summer and before we knew it, we were halfway through July. Paul tried to contact Graysmarsh Farm to inquire about the ripeness of their Loganberries but all he reached was their answering service. He left multiple messages but a speedy response was not forthcoming. So, with one hot day following another, we decided to take the plunge and have a "Berry Date" which Paul assured me would be "berry, berry nice". (And there better be a spider on the ceiling with all the eye rolling that just produced.) 

Our Berry Date took a bit of planning. We live on Whidbey island, which means to get to the Olympic Peninsula we have to take a ferry. This particular ferry is so well travelled that you need to make a reservation to travel on it and woe to those unlucky folks who just show up and want to hop on, cause ---it ain't happening. Paul dutifully made the reservations and on the appointed day we drove on and sailed across. After we disembarked, we had about a forty minute drive to reach the farm. It was a lovely, warm day. As we drew closer, tall poplar trees with dense shrubs at their base lined the road obscuring everything beyond them. At a break in the trees, there was a slim gravel road with a sign confirming that we had reached Graysmarsh Farm. We turned up the drive and the farm's fields stretched out in front and on the sides of us. To our right lay acres of lavender, just beyond peak bloom but still stunning and on our left was the parking area with row after row of berry vines.

We turned into the parking lot and, judging by the amount of cars already there, we weren't the only ones with a hankering for berries. Beyond the cars was a small wooden stand occupied by two teenage girls. A large flatbed trailer was parked along side of the stand with stacks of 3 gallon plastic buckets. We walked up to the stand and one of the girls said "Would you like to pick berries?" "Yes, Loganberries," Paul replied. "Okay," she said. "Go ahead and take a couple of plastic buckets and head down that path," indicating a grassy farm road bisecting two berry fields. "The loganberries are the first rows on the right."

We wandered down the path with our buckets bypassing the first few loganberry rows, figuring most people would choose them first and therefore they would be over-picked. We entered the fourth row and began to pick the ripe berries. The Loganberry is a hybrid of blackberry and raspberry. It was accidentally created in Santa Cruz, California by the American judge and horticulturist, James Harvey Logan in 1881. The fruit resembles an elongated blackberry in shape but is dark red in color. They are more fragile than blackberries, which we discovered as we continued to pick. Rather than coming away as a whole berry once grasped by our fingers, many of the berries "exploded" in juicy fashion.  Soon our hands, from the tips of our fingers to our wrists, were stained a deep blood red.

It was perfect picking weather. "This is quite relaxing," I thought as each berry dropped into my bucket. I could hear the murmur of other voices of people picking in the rows beyond ours. The sun warmed our backs but before it got too hot, a cool breeze occasionally blew off the Puget Sound bringing with it the sweet smell of the berries over the fields. Before too long I noticed my bucket was beginning to have some heft to it. "How many berries do you need for your jam?" I asked Paul. "Around six pounds," came the reply. "Well, I think I have at least that amount," I said. After comparing amounts, we agreed to pick some more just to make sure as we worked our way back toward the fruit stand to weigh and pay for our harvest. As we reached the end of the row, I glanced down into my bucket and noticed my jumble of berries was fast becoming a mushy heap. "Oh well," I thought, "we're going to make them into jam anyway."

Both girls looked at me in horror, before pointing to a flat, electric scale. I placed it gingerly on top as the juice continued to flow out and onto the counter. "No, no lift it up --lift it up!" one of them cried. "The juice will wreck the electrical connection!"

We walked up to the stand and I hoisted my bucket up onto the wooden counter. "We're ready to weigh and pay for our berries," I announced. "You have to pour the berries into one of those cardboard flats so we can get our buckets back. We'll weigh them and then you can use the flats to take your berries home," one of the girls explained. She indicated a stack of shallow, corrugated cardboard boxes, about the size and shape of an empty kitchen drawer, piled on the flatbed trailer where we found the plastic buckets. I walked over to the flatbed, grabbed a box and dumped my load of berries into it. It soon became apparent that the boxes were not leak-proof as berry juice quickly seeped out the edges of the box. I lifted my box leaving a pool of blood red liquid behind and carried it over to the counter. "Okay," I said holding my dripping box, "where do you want me to put it?" Both girls looked at me in horror, before pointing to a flat, electric scale. I placed it gingerly on top as the blood red juice continued to flow out and onto the counter. "No, no, lift it up--lift it up!" one of them cried. "The juice will wreck the electrical connection!" I lifted the box clear and returned the contents to the plastic bucket. Paul slopped his in as well. We ended up weighing the whole mess in one of the buckets.

We knew there was no way we were going to get those berries home in the cardboard boxes without destroying the carpet in our car, so we offered to purchase one of the buckets. The girls waved away our attempts to pay additional money for the container. "Just go ahead and take it," one of them said as they mopped up the juice on their counter. (Clearly, they wanted no more to do with us and our drippy berries.) We safely stowed the berries in the trunk of the car in our new free plastic bucket. As we drove away, we marveled at how unprepared they seemed to be in regards to handling overripe, oozy berries. "Come on.  They work at a berry farm after all!" remarked Paul. "By the way," I asked, "Did we get at least 6 pounds for you to make your jam recipe?" "Oh yeah I think we have enough," he replied. "We picked over 21 pounds!" 

 Bovine Buddies

14x11 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2018
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid: https://ebay.to/2NTw2e7
Bovine Buddies - auction ends on Sunday, October 28th at 9:00am PST. 
Three friends in a field enjoying an early Autumn day on a Whidbey island farm.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Everyone should have an Uncle Jay

Paul needed to pick up some items from our local sporting goods store. As I wandered around the store while he shopped, I found myself in front of a large display of camping items. "Well, it's that time of year," I thought. It brought to mind a memorable camping trip back in the late 70's. It was shortly after my family and I had relocated from New Jersey to the small logging town of Chester in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California. It was our first summer there and four of our close childhood friends Jimmy, Chuck, Jeff, and Holly came to visit for two weeks.

While they were in Chester we embarked on an overnight camping trip to Willow Lake. Willow Lake is a little known body of water tucked away on forestry land about ten miles from town. To reach it one has to navigate a network of logging roads that gradually deteriorated until what remained was a two-lane track, strewn with good-sized rocks. The only way to proceed was either on foot, by horseback, dirt bike or a four wheel drive vehicle with ample clearance.

Jimmy, Jeff and Chuck along with my sisters, Susan, Sheri and Sally rode in the back of our Ford pickup with my Uncle Jay driving (who along with his wife Gloria also lived in Chester) and my Mother (Jay's sister) guiding. Holly and I rode horseback (using my horse Deuce and borrowing our friend's horse Roanie). Holly and I started out first as it would take us longer to reach the lake. After about a two hour ride, we arrived to find camp set up and the rest of the kids exploring the lake. By camp, I mean ground cloths had been laid out with our sleeping bags placed on top. There was no need for tents because it rarely rained in the Sierra's in the summer and the high altitude helped keep mosquitos at bay.

Uncle Jay and my Mom set up their camp cots in the remains of an old cabin about twenty feet from where we had laid our bedrolls. From their vantage point they had an excellent view of us and the lake beyond.

After unsaddling the horses, we tied them to trees with full hay nets (brought in the truck with the other provisions) and buckets of water. We then hiked down to the lake to join the other kids.

Willow Lake, in addition to being a pristine, secluded body of water, had a quaking bog.

Interesting Stuff About Quaking Bogs:
A quaking bog is a form of bog occurring in wetter parts of valley bogs and raised bogs, and sometimes around the edges of acidic lakes. The bog vegetation, mostly sphagnum moss anchored by sedges, forms a floating mat approximately a foot and a half thick, on the surface of the water or on top of very wet peat. White spruces are also common in this bog regime. Walking on the surface causes it to move – larger movements may cause visible ripples on the surface, or they may even make trees sway. In the absence of disturbance from waves, the bog mat may eventually cover entire bays, or even entire small lakes. Bogs at the edges of lakes may become detached and form floating islands. Source: Wikipedia

We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking and bouncing on the squishy surface of the bog, occasionally leaping into the cool snow melt derived lake. By the end of the day we were happy, tired, and hungry. Uncle Jay and Mom cooked us a delicious supper which we eat around a campfire. Darkness began to fall and Holly and I checked on the horses. We found them contently dozing at the end of their tethers. We refilled their hay nets, should they want a late night snack, and checked their water buckets before heading back to the campfire. Soon, one by one, we crawled into our sleeping bags.

It was a beautiful, clear evening. The inky, black sky was pin-pricked with a million stars. We joked and laughed softly for a while but soon became silent as we fell towards sleep. The air began to fill with nocturnal sounds: crickets chirping, frogs with a few scattered croaks then more as they began their nightly conversation. The horses snorted quietly and chewed their hay. Then, nearby, came a quick rustle in the brambles. The frogs ceased their discussion. "Did you hear that?" Jeff asked. "I didn't hear anything," my sister Susan replied. We all lay there listening. Nothing. The frogs began their tentative dialogue. We settled once more.

Another, more pronounced, crackle in the bushes broke the silence. "I heard it!" I said. "Me too!" said Chuck. "Maybe it's a bear or coyote," offered Susan. "I don't think so," said Holly. "The horses would be throwing a fit."
In a close packed group, we inched toward the source of the sounds, our flashlights trained on the bush.
We lay back once more, all of us listening hard. Silence. This time even the frogs stayed quiet. Then another crinkle of leaves much more rigorous. "It came from over there," stated Jeff pointing towards a shadowy, bush shape. "Let's check it out," said Chuck. Flashlights illuminated, their beams flickering around the forest as we rose from our sleeping bags. In a close-packed group, we inched toward the source of the sounds, our flashlights trained on the bush. "I think I see something!" exclaimed Jimmy. "Where?" said Jeff as we were almost upon the shaggy clump. Then the bush erupted, as if it were a live thing, shaking back and forth while rattling. We all leapt back and it was then that one of the beams caught a flash of metal and plastic fishing line. From up in the cabin foundation we heard the booming laugh of Uncle Jay.

While we were at the lake earlier in the day, he had rigged up a coffee can with a few rocks in it and hung it in the bush. Then, he ran some fishing line from the bush back to his camp spot and waited for night to fall and the fun to begin. He had played us like an expert fisherman, luring us to his trap with the perfectly timed rustlings. We all had a good laugh, giving Jay his due for having so cleverly fooled us, then we headed back to our sleeping bags.

We were awoken the next morning by an emphatic lowing. Where was it coming from? Had Uncle Jay pulled another fast one? We lifted our heads and looked around. We were surrounded by a hairy forest of legs. Evidently, we had placed our sleeping bags smack in the middle of a range cattle route. About a dozen cows stood around gazing at us inquisitively. After some more indignant mooing, they wandered on their way. This time it wasn't Uncle Jay's joke but he enjoyed our predicament all the same. He got another good laugh with no fishing line or coffee can required.

14x11 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2018
Prairie Sunset - auction ends on Sunday, August 12th at 9:00am PST. 
A dramatic sunset on beautiful Ebey’s Prairie on Whidbey island in Washington state.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

How not to wash a dog

"Mom, how can I earn some money?" my son Spencer, then 13, asked one Saturday morning. When you're a parent and your child comes to you with that question, you immediately think "chores." At least I do. It was a cold and rainy day in early spring. Even though we live on three acres, there's not many projects to do outside at that time of the year, especially in the typical Pacific Northwest weather. That left indoor jobs. Cleaning up around the house was a possibility but, though I love my son, vacuuming and dusting were not his forte. I was just about to suggest that he ask his father, when our dog Zelda strolled into the kitchen.

Fate had supplied the answer. "How about giving Zelda a bath?" I suggested. "Don't you think it's too cold outside to wash her?" he replied. As it just so happened, I had recently read about a clever way to wash your dog inside in your bathtub. "You can bath her in the upstairs tub," I said. Seeing the potential problems of convincing a reluctant 70 lb. dog to bathe, he asked "How do I get her in the tub and keep her there?" "Peanut butter," I replied smugly.

The article, that I read, claimed that the solution to a stress-free, in-home dog washing experience was peanut butter. Apparently, all you had to do was smear peanut butter onto the tub walls. You then lead the dog into the bathroom, where upon the dog is met with the tantalizing smell of the delectable spread. The dog then jumps into the tub on her own accord and happily spends the entire bathing time licking the peanut butter off the tub walls. The actually bathing part will be easy. You'll end up with a clean pup as well as clean tub walls. The article also mentioned you may want to wipe the tub walls down with a damp sponge but, depending on how fastidious your dog is, this may not be necessary.

I explained this all to Spencer, who listened politely with his mouth slightly agape. But money was money and he was game to give it a try.

Using spatulas, I helped Spencer smear peanut butter on the two tile walls just above the tub and on the upper part of the tub. We then gathered up a stack of old towels and the pet shampoo. We filled the tub with six inches of warm water and I told Spencer, "Okay, go get the dog." He soon returned with a wary Zelda. I helped him get her into the tub and then left him to his work closing the door behind me.  After all, I WAS paying HIM to wash the dog.

Down in the kitchen, I heard muffled sounds coming from the bathroom above, with the occasional command "Zelda, hold still!" After about ten minutes, the door banged open and out shot a very wet dog who ran down into the dining room and shook for all she was worth. She repeated the process in the living room before finishing by rolling vigorously on the wool area rug.

I went upstairs to the bathroom and was greeted by a very wet and disgruntled Spencer. The room itself was a spectacular mess. Most of the peanut butter remained where it was spread only now it was covered in dog hair. In fact, the whole room: floor, walls, mirrors and cabinets was wet and covered in dog hair.

It took us both about an hour to make the bathroom presentable again. Spencer, bless his heart, had the good graces not to berate his mother on the absolutely batty idea of using peanut butter as a dog washing aid. Initially, we had negotiated a $5 fee but I paid him $10. He had earned it.

Wyoming Horse Pasture
14x11 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2018
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid: http://ebay.to/1GkcXfG
Wyoming Horse Pasture - auction ends on Sunday, May 13th at 9:00am PST. 
This painting is based on an image a Facebook friend posted of the horse pasture at their ranch in Wyoming. She mentioned that it was a good place to grow up and by the looks of it I wouldn’t doubt it for a moment.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Of Forks and Trees

"We had another tree come down in the backyard," said my husband, Paul, when I arrived home one Thursday evening. "Did it hit anything?" Not an unusual question since three weeks earlier a sixty foot Hemlock came down during a windstorm and took out a section of our fence.

Although those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest don't experience hurricanes or tornadoes, we do get our share of windstorms due to the cool water to the west. During the late fall/winter seasons low pressure centers make landfall along our coastline, bringing with them strong winds (40 to 60 mph). Living on Whidbey Island can be quite exciting when the days get shorter and the winds start to howl.

Now before you think "why the heck are you living in a place where large trees drop all around you," we make sure the trees are well clear of our house and when the wind blows mostly all we get is tree litter. This is not the actual toppling of complete trees but rather large branches, leaves, and pinecones. This necessitates lots of outdoor exercise afterwards, raking and bending all while listening to bald eagles chattering overhead. Not a bad way to spend a day and, in these times of sitting in front of a computer for far too long, you feel like you really earned your lunch.

But, occasionally we still have an entire tree come down. In the case of the sixty foot Hemlock, we could tell what happened. The ground was overly soft due to recent heavy rains and the tree being on the edge of our small pasture simply toppled over roots and all. Using his chainsaw, Paul made quick work of the tree and I was the cleanup crew. Very soon our backyard was clean and orderly and the wood was donated to the local Lions Club. That is until that Thursday evening when another large tree (around 40 feet in length) apparently fell over.

The tree in question.

"The problem is," Paul explained "I'm not sure where it came from. I can't find a stump." Since it was too dark to see anything, we waited until the next morning to check out the tree. Paul was right (he loves it when I say that), there was no stump anywhere. In cases like these, when the answer can't be found on the ground, we knew the next best place to look is up because maybe we weren't dealing with an entire tree but part of a tree. And sure enough that provided the answer. "We've got a 'cake fork' tree that has lost one of it's tines," I remarked. At some point in this tree's life, many years ago, the top had been sheared off, probably during one of Whidbey's frequent windstorms. The loss of it's top wasn't enough to kill the tree and it sprouted three new branches to replace the top it lost.

Mystery solved!
In the image above, the pink circle shows where the tree "tine" broke off. The orange arrows indicate the other two tines and the blue arrow shows what caused the damage. It looks like the top from another tree fell on the top this tree snapping off the middle "tine." And guess what, soon we will have another cake fork tree. 

Paul disputes my assertion that there is something such as a "cake fork" tree. But I know I've heard it somewhere. Admittedly, after much "Googlizing" I could find nothing to support my claim, officially. But I did find the tree image below, which when paired with the image of the cake fork to the left, nicely illustrates my point. 

Bonus Cake Fork Trivia* The cake fork was typically designed to be used with the right hand, while the left hand holds the plate. The left tine is wider so it can act like a knife to cut cake when it is pressed down on the plate. Left-handed cake forks have the right side widened instead. Credit: Wikipedia

So our mystery was solved. My only problem now is I've got a hankering for some cake.

Shadow Girls
10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
BUY THIS PAINTING AT AUCTION Click on this link to bid: http://ebay.to/1GkcXfG
Shadow Girls - auction ends on Sunday, February 4th at 9:00am PST. 

These girls (hens) are enjoying the warm late spring sunshine as they scamper about looking for tasty things to eat. Something to look forward to during the dark days of winter.