Summer Solstice

This is one of my favorite days of the year.  Nothing will beat spending it circled around a bonfire in Alaska but tonight’s sunset did not disappoint!

Summer Solstice over the Cascades
The sun setting over Mt. Jefferson, part of the Oregon Cascade Mountain Range.

 

Thank You, Mrs. Hansen

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Lightning overCascade Range

I was prepping some photos I caught of a recent thunderstorm for friends and I came across this photo.  I had somehow missed it while I was going through the hundreds of photos I took that night.

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I was practicing both shooting at night and capturing lightning – neither task is easy for me.  In a perfect world, I would have already attended several photo and camera classes by now.  In reality, I took a term of photo journalism in the eighth grade with my dad’s old Olympus.  Back then we used black and white film and processed it ourselves in the red lit darkroom after school.

While the photo is far from perfect, there is something about it that reminded me of those old days.  Perhaps it was the anticipation of not knowing whether I actually got  the shot – or just a blurry mess – until I pulled it out of the camera.  I’m not sure.

What I am certain of is that I’m grateful our photo journalism teacher took the time and made the effort to teach us some camera and photo composition basics.  She turned her hobby into an amazing class and taught us to look for beauty in places we wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find it.  So, thank you, Mrs. Hansen, from Pilot Butte Junior High School circa 1984.

Lightning in Central Oregon

Me, Martha Stewart and Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

If you know me, you know I’m a big Martha Stewart fan.  I love that she’s a bit fussy and a perfectionist that doesn’t apologize for who she is or what she does.  She’s a stickler for etiquette and tradition.  She’s uncomfortably honest and, frankly, the woman works her tail off.  She built an empire, went to prison, lost her empire, rebuilt her life and never seemed to skip a beat.  I admire that strength.  I respect that stubborn streak.  I’m in awe of that self-perseverance.

I use to record her daily show.  I would watch an episode after a long night of work in the ER when I came home in the morning just before I went to sleep.  It got my mind off of work and I’d usually pick up a really helpful tip or two.  She’s also overwhelmingly entertaining, though I’m still not 100% certain it was completely intentional.  I could relax, giggle and learn a few things, but there was something about my connection that went a little deeper than the obvious.

I grew up in a subdivision on just under an acre of property.  We had dogs, chickens and cats – but the 2 chickens belonged to my sister and other than dropping food scraps into their pen on occasion, I knew nothing about them.  I grew up, moved into an apartment in town and lived within a mile of the hospital I worked.  I practically shared a parking lot with Costco and a grocery store was at the end of my street.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that daily living was easy – but it most certainly was convenient.

Then I got married and we built a home on a 160 acre farm in rural America.  Life changed.  I had cows and farm equipment and irrigation water.  We raised hay.  We had dial-up Internet that dropped the signal when a bird landed on the phone line.  I went from being an independent, single woman; tucked away in a 720 sq ft apartment where everything I could possibly need was within a 10 minute drive – to being a new wife, in an empty oversized house, on a huge piece of land, almost 15 miles away from the nearest Starbuck’s.

It was a bit overwhelming to say the least.  I was very fortunate and grateful but this new life was also very intimidating.  It came with a long “To Do” list and most of it I had to teach myself.  If you’ve ever had to do that before, you know it meant making mistakes until I got it right.  I can’t tell you how many lessons I learned the hard way.  I was young in my nursing career, too.  Nothing was familiar and feelings of inadequacy crept into my world almost daily.  I think I spent a solid 10 years second guessing myself about nearly everything.

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That’s where watching Martha’s program came in.

Martha Stewart had a mystical way of making me feel a little less overwhelmed.  She had a farm, an impeccable garden, cooked formal meals for long guest lists, ran her own businesses, did crafts, hosted events, filmed a daily show and still found time to show up at over the top events, shows and new restaurant openings.  She reminded me that if one woman could manage all of those things at the same time, I could handle juggling the few things I had going on in comparison.  She had teams of people helping her.  I stopped feeling the need to “do it all on my own” and I got much more comfortable asking for help.  It’s a bit silly that I could get all of that from a stranger on the TV, but it worked and when you’re in the trenches, you use what works.

Martha taught me how to raise chickens, cook chicken noodle soup from scratch, bake some of the best brownies I’ve ever made, roast a badass turkey, clarify butter, prepare my own yogurt and grow a garden that I could be proud of.  She shared tips on creating an inviting home, making a pretty bed and how to keep those towels crisp and absorbent (for the love of cotton, do NOT use fabric softener on towels!).

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I miss Martha but I still catch her on her blog from time to time.  We’ve been on the farm nearly 15 years now, so I’ve figured out a few more things than I knew in the beginning.  What was once foreign is now familiar and less overwhelming.  I let Martha stick to perfectionism and I do the best I can but don’t get hung up on the details that fall apart at the last minute.

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I was hoping to catch a glimpse of her during our New York visit but she was working on a project upstate.  It’s just as well.  I can almost imagine how the awkward introduction would go.  I’d embarrass myself by professing my admiration and she would smile her appropriate smile and uncomfortably thank me for my support in a stiff Martha-esque manner.  I’d feel like a freak and spend the plane ride home wondering why I couldn’t have said something more intelligent.

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So that’s my Martha story.  It came to mind today after I finally nailed a recipe for her Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting.  Of course, I tweaked a few things – less jam, more egg whites — my hens’ eggs are medium sized – so I adjust recipes for them.  I used the buttercream to frost my mom’s birthday cupcakes and it was probably a little too rich to top the cupcakes with as much as I used but it got decent reviews from some tough critics.  My nephews said it tasted like a strawberry milkshake but was a bit too fluffy for their liking.  I think it would be a perfect addition to a strawberry shortcake parfait cup.

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream combines egg whites, sugar and butter.  The strawberry comes from a scoop of strawberry jam.

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You start by whisking the sugar and eggs in a mixing bowl heated over boiling water to heat the mixture to about 160 degrees – then remove it from heat and whisk it to form stiff peaks.  Keep beating until mixture cools, then add tablespoon ny tablespoon of butter.

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After about 6 minutes, the mixture comes together.  Add the vanilla and strawberry jam and you’re done.

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The perk to this frosting is that it’s not quite as sweet as tradition buttercream frosting, and it’s much lighter, so piping it is a quick and easy task.  It holds it’s shape well, hardening when stored at cool temperatures, but it softens quickly at room temps.

I used:

6 medium egg whites

1 1/4 cup sugar

3 butter cubes

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 large scoop of strawberry jam

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The link to Martha’s recipe with perfect pics and instructions is below:

Martha Stewart’s Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting Recipe

The Yearly Storming of the Castle

So a big ol’ fat field mouse crawled out from under the cabinets and plopped down on the kitchen floor the other night.

This is a fact, friends. Every single year, the mice attempt to storm the castle to make it their own and each year, I fight back, with everything I’ve got, to keep them out.

Let there be no mistake.  It – is – a – war.

Rodents vs Humans.

And if you so much as give an inch — in moves their family, and cousin’s family and babies — so many babies!!!  So NO!!! We do NOT take pity, we don’t seek out humane and ethical treatment of animals – and we don’t share our thoughts or methods with PETA. This is MY house. They have 160 acres to go build their own house.  They cross the threshold of MY house and the battle is on!

In years past, a breach of the household barrier by rodents has caused me to scream in a voice that doesn’t even sound like my own then vapor lock as I continue to scream but no sound actually is produced. This year, when my fat little friend, plopped her not so stealthy self down in front of me — I just looked at her and said, “Oh no – not this year!” She froze, momentarily, then hopped back up beneath the cabinets as if to say, “These are not the drones you seek,” but it was too late. I most definitely saw her.  And that meant war.

I quietly slipped down the hall to the shop where I keep my rodent arsenal.  See – I’m getting better at this farm thing.  Snap traps, bait traps, sticky traps, poison blocks — what do you need? I’ve got at least one of everything. Old ones, new ones, outdoor and indoor varieties — I’m not admitting to contraband, but let’s just say I may even have a few things we can’t mention online.  Ironically, the old fashion broom proved to be the most damaging in years past – not to the rodent – but to the wood floor, wall and glass in the French doors.  Oh, and it smashed a humidifier to a million pieces in the process but the mouse escaped without injury.  We’ve upgraded equipment and trained since those rookie days.

Like a rodent killing Ninja, I proceeded to set a mine field of various traps from the kitchen sink to the pantry, in the pantry, under the furniture, in the cabinets, along the walls, beneath the doors — if there was a space — there was now a lethal rodent snare.

It’s been a week and nothing.  The humanitarian in me (it’s there – just deeply buried beneath rodent despise), was relieved.  The rodent killer and mouse hater wasn’t.  I know that where you see one, there are really twenty and that’s just gross.

But tonight I heard the tribal call of an animal caught in a trap. It was a big guy and he was thrashing about, making a mess and wreaking havoc as he attempted to rid himself of the trap.  I walked into the kitchen to find a hopping, yelling husband with his foot stuck in a giant sticky trap, glue strands extending from one counter to the other.

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It’s not exactly what I expected but it sure made me laugh.  A little dish soap, oil based lotion, bath water rinse and he was free.  Frankly, I’m just happy it wasn’t his pinky toe in a snap trap that caught him.  Either way, this species has always been catch and release – so I let him go – but I think he’s going to hang out awhile and I’m happy about that.

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The mice, on the other hand, I expect to fight this battle with until next fall, when they go underground and hibernate.  This is a farm.  This is what we do.

Seriously?

They can’t all be good days.  Some days are crazy, upside-down, if-it-can-go-wrong-it-will-go-wrong type of days.  Some days can get so bad, in fact, that I literally check the sky for a vortex of bad luck spinning above my head.  Yesterday was definitely one of those days.

I had a day full of tasks to get done within a tight schedule.  If things went right, my day would look like it had been professionally choreographed.  Pick up Nephew #3, dentist, lunch, swimming lessons, errands, pick up Nephew #4, pick up Nephew #2, finish planting the garden, have the boys plant their own flower baskets while we talked warmly about their days, get dinner started, drop the kids off at their respected homes and get home to finish the last of the laundry and get dinner on the table just in time to sit down and catch up with my husband about his day.  Maybe there would even be a pretty sunset and nightcap to wrap the day up.

I was right on schedule and getting ready to walk out the door when I remembered that I had left my purse in my other vehicle.  I walked into the garage, opened the Jeep door and THIS happens – make sure your volume is down before pushing play on this 4 second insight:

No, I’m not joking.

Horn blaring, wipers beating and wiper fluid squirting all over the garage; the Jeep was clearly melting down in its own version of a temper tantrum.  I went inside, grabbed the keys and hopped into the driver’s seat still getting sprayed to see if starting the motor would suspend the assault.  No luck.  The obnoxiously loud horn was vibrating my brain.

I threw open the hood, grabbed pliers and detached the battery cables.  Thank goodness.  Silence.  There was no time to do anything but shake off the dripping wiper fluid from my face and leave to go pick up my nephew from school for his dentist appointment – because now I was ten minutes behind schedule!

I got down my driveway and noticed that the Bluetooth didn’t sync to my cell.  Whatever!  I don’t have time for this!  I’ll worry about that later.   My nephew was waiting in the office for me when I arrived and we slid into the dentist office just in the nick of time.  Phew!

While waiting for my nephew, I reached for my iPhone to update my calendar.  I got 10 seconds of screen time and then the ever annoying black screen.  Perfect.  If you don’t own an iPhone 6s, you may not be aware of the recent battery issues that came with an IOS upgrade a few months ago.  Battery life jumps from 97% to 30% to dead at varied rates now.  Sometimes it takes 8 hours, others it takes 7 minutes.  Apple denies my particular phone has one of the defective batteries included in a recall but suggests I get it fixed because the battery is, in fact, defective.  Wrap your brain around THAT notice.

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No worries, I keep a charger in the car.  The dentist appointment went well and we headed out for lunch.  I even got Nephew #3 to the local pool in time to meet his class for swimming lessons and squeezed enough juice into my phone between stops to get a couple photos for his mom.

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The local pool may be kept at barely 80 degrees but the indoor building temps climbed much higher.  By the time lessons were over, I both felt and looked like I had just spent an hour in a 120 degree sauna.  We headed to the local big box garden department for a few seed packs, potting soil and garden stakes.  By the time we were done, I felt faint.  There wasn’t enough cold air in the world to cool me off.  We stopped at Sonic for slushies to both cool off and surprise the boys with after school treats.  We had about 15 minutes before Nephew #4 was out of school and – Beep!!! It looked like my phone had charged enough to work again because my hands-free was signaling an incoming call.

It was my sister-in-law, calling to confirm that I was, in fact, picking up her boys because she’d gotten calls from both schools that nobody had arrived to get them.  Oh, crap!!!  Early release.  On Wednesdays, they get out an hour early!  Dang it.  I forgot!

I can’t begin to tell you how terrible of a feeling it is to know you’ve let not one, but TWO, of your little nephews – one with special needs – sitting in the school office for nearly an hour, waiting for you.  It’s heart-wrenching.  They both acted like it was no biggie – but I know it was just to make me feel better.  I let them down and I knew it.

We did get the garden seeded but not before thunder rumbled in the background – also not before the little guy filled his pull-up.  We took a break to get him in clean pants when I discovered one of the worst red and blistered diaper rashes I’ve ever seen on the little guy.  Forget planting.  I ran a bath for him in hopes of getting whatever had caused that horrible rash off his sensitive skin.  I patted him dry and slathered him with Butt Paste.  He said it didn’t hurt but how could something like that not hurt?

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By now, it was already 7:30pm.  Dinner was still frozen solid in the freezer, laundry was still piled in the hamper and I realized, I forgot to feed the children even a snack.  They’d been helping me with heavy loads of dirt and gardening on nothing more than a sugar-filled slushie.  Epic auntie fail!  

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It was too late to right my wrongs without ruining their supper.  I packed up the starving, dirty boys — and the one clean kid — just in time for my husband to walk in the door and ask me why the garage floor was puddled with wiper fluid.  I shook my head apologetically and simply said, “Just save me some vodka,” and took off for town again to drop the littles off at home with barely enough time to eat before their bedtimes.

I got home, poured a drink, explained to my husband about the demonically possessed Jeep and turned to the Internet for guidance on what the heck went wrong.  Apparently — the horn, wiper and fluid squirting thing is a known issue with 2007 and 2008 Jeep Wranglers.  It has to do with the Totally Integrated Power Manager – (TIPM).  The 2007’s were updated in a vehicle wide recall.  Guess what – the 2008 model has the same issue but isn’t covered in the recall.  Perfect – it’s the theme of the day.

Just before midnight my phone had enough of a charge to explode with messages and voice mails from both the boys’ school to let me know the kids were waiting in the office — as if to remind me exactly what a messed up day it had really been.

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Then our non-functioning, unplugged-but-not-unwired, security system let out a shrill alarm at about 3 AM.

Seriously.

I want an electro-magnetic, spiritual cleansing.

The Great Blueberry Massacre

Just off my grandmother’s porch were the best 3 blueberry bushes in the world.  Every summer, she’d pick pint after pint of the sweet, purple orbs.  If we planned our summer vacations right and got lucky enough, we even got to help.  She’d freeze them by the quart and we’d celebrate all year with blueberry pancakes.

I know at least 3 out of 4 of Grandma’s grandkids have bushes planted in their own backyards now.  Whether it’s because we can’t quite let go of our sweet memories or simply for the love of blueberries, I’m not sure.  I planted mine almost 3 years ago and they did okay but not great.  Our soil is super alkaline and they like acidic soil.  We got hit with an early fall deep freeze down into the negative thirties and hit again with similar temps in late spring.  Frankly, I was just thrilled they survived.

The following summer, I expected the bushes to thrive.  I adjusted the pH of the soil, I fertilized with the recommended type and proper amount of organic fertilizer.  I watered appropriately.  I did everything right yet — my blueberries looked more like twigs than bushes.  Twigs with 6 tiny leaves.  I couldn’t tell if they weren’t growing or if something was eating them at the same rate they were growing.

The leaves kind of grew in sparingly over summer and I was thrilled to finally get a chance to eat all 4 ripe blueberries.

Last winter we set records for consecutive days with snow on the ground but our temps were fairly moderate.  I knew this year was the year for blueberries!  I got a wind spinner as the leaves began to fill out in late April.  It took less than a week for a deer to get its head stuck in it and tear it to shreds.  I planted marigolds around the bushes to deter the bugs.  It took them a week to freeze and die — but my blueberry plants were still coming in strong — at least until they weren’t.

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I began to notice that leaves were disappearing.  At first I thought I was seeing things, but no, a second check the next day showed about 1/3rd of the foliage present as the day before.  Deer?  Bugs?  Bunnies?  I bought more marigolds to ward off evil plant munching bugs and it’s when I went out the next morning that it all began making perfect sense.  Right in front of me, no farther than six feet away, sat a not-so-little gray cottontail, gorging on my blueberry limbs for breakfast.  It just sat and stared at me as if to say, “Um, yah.  Great blueberry bushes, we could use a few more for the – you know – ever expanding family.”  It wasn’t until I waved my arms and yelled that it finally ran for the sagebrush.

I looked for mesh plant covers and found some, but at $28 a piece, I knew I could find something better.  I really didn’t want to build a fence because I still needed access to weed and mulch and add coffee grounds but I really wasn’t keen on spending nearly $90 to protect them either.  What to do, what to do?  Hmmm…

Then it came to me.  In a different department, they carry a similar mesh, pop-up deal but they don’t call it a plant cover, they call it a laundry bin, and instead of $28 – they are available 2 for $8.  Take THAT you mutant bunnies!  I still might need to cut the tops to provide less shade but for now it’s working great and giving my blueberry bushes a chance to recover from the deer and bunny assaults.  The bunnies have since taken their frustrations out on my marigolds and eaten them down to nubs but at least they haven’t figured out how to get to the blueberry bush leaves — not YET, anyway.

And yes, that pole is all that’s left of my pretty, new, windspinner.  Thanks, Bambi.

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It may be too late to get blueberries off the plants this year – but I feel good about next year.

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Not sure the peanut gallery agrees, though.  These guys look less than thrilled about the new yard decor.

“If You Build It, They Might Come”

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning with a hazy cloud cover and moderate outdoor temps, perfect dirt digging weather.  Alas, I sit inside, large coffee cup in hand, to catch up on writing — because I’m so stinkin’ sore from yesterday that I won’t be able to move more than my typing finger until the Aleve kicks in.

I get these ideas.  I like to call them great ideas, myself – and they usually are – well, at least until proven otherwise, like the time I got the goats (shudder), BUT that’s a story for another day…  Anyway, back to my latest great idea.  Pumpkins.  Let’s grow pumpkins!

Every year for the past 13ish years, we coordinate schedules among siblings, charge the camera batteries, withdraw a small fortune from the ATM, pack up the children and head to the local pumpkin patch where we spend 75% of the day, standing in long lines, listening to screaming kids and cranky parents, so we can catch that one perfect but elusive moment that everyone is happy, smiling and all looking at the camera at the same time, in an animal painted wagon train or atop an equally thrilled pony.  The photos are priceless.

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Then we hunt down a wagon or wheelbarrow, head out to the actual pumpkin patch to find Halloween pumpkins that costs enough to drain the last few twenty dollar bills from a wallet.  It’s tradition.  We don’t buck tradition — right?  Hmmm…  What if we tried?  What if – maybe – we did (gulp) something new next year?

It was at this spot my great idea came together.  What if I grew pumpkins out on the farm for my niece, nephews and a handful of local kids to come pick out next fall?  We could stack hay bales for them to play on, borrow a friend’s pony and take them for ATV rides.  Caramel corn is east to make.  Is it possible to create a spot so great that the children decide they want to skip the long lines at the local pumpkin patch?!  Is it too big of a dream?!!

IMG_5532It’s impossible to know whether or not something will work without trying, so this year – I got serious about it.  In early spring , I started a variety of pumpkin seedlings indoors.  I moved them outside a few weeks ago to harden them off and acclimate them to Central Oregon wind and weather.  Then yesterday, I prepped the soil, got them in the ground and covered.

While it takes about 3 seconds to type that line, the actual amount of physical labor that went into just soil prep was brutal.  This is why I can’t move today.  I spent 5 hours (FIVE – did you read that?!  FIVE long, body-jolting, blister-forming, sweat-stinging-my-eyeball hours!) rototilling hard packed, lightly rock-filled, sod bound earth into something more workable and pumpkin root ready.

Theory is that all soil needs amended.  So I lugged several heavy bags of compost and manure out to the want-to-be pumpkin patch and tilled it in until it was well mixed.  The nerd, um, scientist in me, will be able to see if the theory is true because I was about 8 feet short on soil amendments, so we will be doing a side by side pumpkin development study.

In the process, I dug up a frog.  Well, it’s a toad, actually.  I thought it was the biggest tree frog I’d ever seen, so, like any decent human, I returned it to its branch.  And then it fell out.  I decided that it probably wasn’t a tree frog.  It got misidentified as the nasty invasive American Bullfrog and spent a night receiving death threats on my Facebook page (that might be an exaggeration) until I decided to read up and educate myself about both the dreaded bullfrog (sorry, nobody likes you, it seems) and other native species present in my local region.  I am now 100% certain, my little friend was none other than the Great Basin Spadefoot Toad.  Phew.  Environmental disaster avoided.  I’m pretty sure he survived because I saw him hop off as I stood guard over the dogs so they wouldn’t eat him.

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Back to pumpkins, now we wait.  Will they get enough water?  Will the bunnies, dogs, deer or bugs get the plants first?  Our forecast changed from a week of overnight lows in the 40-50’s to suddenly just above freezing once  the tender seedlings were planted.  Will the tunnel cover keep them safe from frost?  I don’t know – and even if all things go well, will these pumpkins be enough to woo the children from wanting to go to their favorite pumpkin patch this fall?  One can only hope and dream.

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Okay, I can straighten my legs with only a moderate amount of groaning.  It’s time to go to work on the garden boxes.  Please pray for no snakes.  I just don’t think I have what it takes for a snake-sighting in me today.

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The Time I Ordered Ladybugs

I caught a glimpse of this little friend while I was out digging in the dirt today.  It reminded me of a few years back when I ordered over 1000 ladybugs online to clean up some of the bug issues I was having on my almond trees.

IMG_1609My first mistake was ordering them anytime close to a holiday weekend.  We live just far enough away from town to make any errand impossible to get done in less than an hour, so Amazon Prime is usually my best plan B.  I was so excited when I found live ladybugs listed.  I ordered them and waited.

Well, not all orders ship via UPS or FedEx.  Every once in a while, Amazon ships via the USPS.  It just so happens that the Postal Service has a policy not to deliver anything marked “live” to your doorstep.  Instead, they leave a note in your mail receptical that you have a package waiting for you at the post office for pick-up containing some form of “live” creatures.  Unfortunately, for the ladybugs, this notice was left in a mailbox that was checked only when I knew to expect something by mail.  It wasn’t until the ladybugs were already late to arrive that I found the notice.  To make matters worse, I found it exactly at 5:05pm the Friday before the 4th of July weekend.  It wasn’t looking good at all for these thousand ladybugs, already more than a week out from the original ship date.

Bright and early Tuesday morning, I arrived to retrieve my padded envelope, (Seriously.  They were flat packed!) and was pleasantly surprised to see that many had survived.  I rushed home, dipped a sponge in watered down honey, hydrated the little bugs and sugared them up.  Several had died but most didn’t.  I couldn’t wait to turn them loose on the trees.

I waited a day, per the instructions, made a sugar water spray, also per instructions, liberally sprayed some limbs and opened the bag of ladybugs, hanging it from the sugary limbs.

It took about 60 minutes for the ants to find the sugary branches.  Now I had aphid and ant problems and the ladybugs seemed to basically disappear.  I saw some in the branches but not the hundreds I expected.  It looked more like 50.  To add insult to injury, the Terminix guy arrived for the quarterly bug spray about 90 minutes after I released the ladybugs.  Any that were hiding near the perimeter of the house had just been handed a death sentence.

I made myself feel better by telling myself that had they stayed on the trees, they would have been fine.  This twist of fate was on them, not me, and I was fine with that – at least until the sun began setting and the Swallows made their nightly flight through the garden.  It was horrifying.  Aphids eat tender tree leaves, ladybugs eat aphids and Swallows eat ladybugs.  It was a ladybug massacre and other than shooing away the birds, all I could do was watch and think, “What have I done?”

Needless to say, that was my last ladybug purchase.  It also should explain why I get so excited to see a red speckle appear on a tree branch from time to time.  It gives me hope that maybe 1 or 2 survived.

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A New Blog, kinda…

It’s been a crazy-busy month and it seems like every time I get one step ahead, something happens and I’m suddenly 2 days behind schedule.  I was looking forward to a few blank squares on the calendar when – Ka-choo!!!  The rhinovirus seems to have other plans.  Big fat bummer…

So instead of digging in the dirt and getting my garden started, I’m sitting on the couch wrapped up in a blanky and cycling through tissues quicker than a two year old can unroll paper towels.  It’s okay.  I have some computer clean up to catch up on.  Which brings me to my point:

I moved my dormant blog from Blogger over to WordPress and well – here I am.  Blogger and my iStuff weren’t getting along any longer.  I like writing, I like sharing — but if it means going upstairs, firing up ol’ Bessie and learning Windows 10, I’m out.  I like easy.

There are some things I love about WordPress – like the fact it took 30 seconds and 2 clicks to move over my entire blog and did you see that photo gallery? There are a few things that make me beat my head against a wall.  Should I confess it took me 2 whole days to add a simple Pinterest button to the site?

It still needs a few tweaks and there are some updates waiting in the wings, but for now – it think it works.  I think…  Where is a computer savvy 12 year old when you need one?

New York City

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We couldn’t believe it when they announced our names as raffle winners of the grand prize vacation at a holiday fundraiser last December — a long weekend in New York City!!!  We added a night, upgraded some flight choices, packed our bags and headed out.  My husband had been to New York, but it was my first trip and I was so thankful for Winspire, the booking agency, to help me get the trip booked.

Flying across the country is never fun but we were able to fly out of Redmond to Portland and then non-stop to Newark via our favorite Alaska Airline with a seat upgrade.  We landed just as a thunderstorm cleared, the clouds parted and my first glimpse of New York City was beneath a beautiful rainbow.  I could hardly believe my eyes.

We took a taxi from Newark to Manhattan.  I felt like we were in a movie scene.  Our driver was a native New Yorker who talked aloud to other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.  “Be nice!” he’d holler through a closed window to other vehicles.  We caught the 5 pm rush.  By the time we got to our hotel, we were ready for a drink.

IMG_5206It’s called the Eleanor Roosevelt Cosmo and it is a concoction of ruby red absolute, homemade vanilla syrup, a squeeze of fruit and a quick shake with fresh rosemary. Perfect after a 3am alarm clock squeal, bumpy flight, 2 hour tarmac delay for lightening storms that ironically peaked just as we were circling Newark to land. (Actually, barkeep, can you make that a double?)  I’m so grateful for both a great pilot and a career that keeps me home.

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We got our bearings set and ventured off to dinner at Remi, a great Italian restaurant  with handmade pasta and the best tomato sauce I’ve ever tasted.  Tomato sauce is tomato sauce, right?  Not anymore.  Visions of sun ripened heritage tomatoes came to mind when the sauce hit my tongue.  Yes, it was THAT good.

When they say NYC has it’s own vibe – I never thought to take it literally, until now. There is so much energy colliding at one time, in one place, that Manhattan literally vibrates. If you pay close attention, you can actually feel the rhythmic movement of taxis, stop lights, subways and pedestrians like a pulse. It is pretty cool to step off the beaten path, tuck into a great people watching place, make friends with the locals and watch the story unfold all around you.

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I was expecting Portland’s “weird” with Seattle’s in-your-face “your political opinion must match mine or you are wrong and a bad person” ready-to-protest-at-any-moment vibe with San Francisco’s “you’re probably going to see things you’ve never seen before” city flare — NYC was none of those things.

IMG_5218Manhattan was fast and focused. It was a blend of ideas and cultures and comradely. People were polite, pleasant and if you stepped in their path, they never stopped; just simply moved around you. The food was phenomenal, the architecture and history were things my eyes couldn’t get enough of and oddly enough, the politics constantly taking place all around us is one of the things that intrigued me the most.

My two least favorite topics (politics and history) got bumped to my top 5 favorite things about NYC.

IMG_5217Philly Cheesesteak Sliders and a brewski – let the adventure get started! I decided to chronicle the adventure via restaurant pics for 3 reasons – so I can remember all the incredible places I’ve been (names run together later) also so Jeff doesn’t abandon me someplace midtown when he hits his photo limit and lastly – because SERIOUSLY – isn’t NYC all about the 5-star food and drinks, anyway?!

Learning how to walk down a sidewalk all over again and — hello, beautiful! Manhattan takes it up a level. FYI: Horse noses ALWAYS have the right-of-way.

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Friday, we hopped a double decker sightseeing bus (Thanks for the advice, Tiffany!) and got a guided tour of the sights. I’m so glad we did this! We had a bird’s eye view, someone that knew the history and important sites to point out and it helped us decide what the important places we wanted to visit and which places we were cool just seeing from the bus.

I think the best part of the day IMG_1543was driving past the United Nations at 16:45-17:00 when political diplomats were leaving the building, some via police escorts. To be so close to the minds literally shaping world policies in real time was exciting, especially at a moment in time when the meetings were splashing across every tv across the USA.

The second best part was being able to see the historic architecture without having to fight for sidewalk space. (One does NOT simply STOP on a NYC sidewalk. Period.)

By the end of our first full day in NYC, I had already accrued nearly 30,000 steps. The bus was such a nice break!

While IMG_1340some NYC sights seemed smaller in real life than they do in films and photos, The Bull on Wall Street was actually quite a bit larger in person than on film!

Forty+ microbrews on tap? Yes, please!  IMG_1544The trendy Three Monkeys bar was full of young business grads just getting started in this big, wild world.  In an odd way, it reminded me of Stuft Pizza in Bend circa 1990-something.  Different people, but the same dream filled vibe.

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It was a 2 for 1 bucket list winner for me when Cirque Du Soleil hit Broadway with a show of their own! And it did not disappoint. GThe theatrics and aerials were jaw-dropping! I loved that we could sip our cocktails and snack during the show, too. It had a fun, relaxed, easy to laugh and enjoy vibe that made it one of my top NYC memories!

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Holey Cream was wildly recommended all over Pinterest pages and NYC Foodie blogs. What’s not to love? Donuts, icing AND ice cream? Stand back – I’ve been low carb for 96 days just to be able to splurge, guilt-free, on sugar-filled and delectable treats during this trip.

IIMG_1546 was giddy when I learned they were merely 4 blocks from the hotel aaaaaannnnnnnnddddd open until 1:30am. It sounded like a perfect post-Paramour stop to make on the walk back to the hotel. Well, the closer we got, the fewer people we saw, the dimmer the lights got, the taxi traffic disappeared, the blocks got longer and by the time we arrived, Jeff was ready to call 911 for a ride back to civilization.

Holey Cream itself is little more than a hole in the wall, with dirty, smeared windows and obnoxious, bright colored, paint-chipped walls. Actually, maybe it’s less of a hole and more of a tunnel. There’s standing room only and not much, it’s an isle the width of a door that travels down a bakery/ice cream case. That’s it. Certainly nothing fancy. In fact, it was clear by the look on Jeff’s face, (the one that says “my wife is f-ing crazy”), it was downright sketchy.

But I was committed so — yes, I ordered myself a donut ice cream sandwich. Yes, it was to die for! (Yes, Jeff, pun intended.) 😂 And yes – I ate the whole entire thing and enjoyed every single bite.

A NYC moonrise and a lesson I learned: “This is New York City. Stop looking with your eyes for a perfectly composed photo and start to see things through the energy they resonate.”

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I took myself for a walk Saturday morning because I wanted to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Building started in 1858 and frankly, it’s just a cool sight to see something that survived being surrounded by mostly modern skyscrapers.

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En route, however, the side street was partially blocked outside Radio City Music Hall for the cast viewing of latest Fast and Furious movie, “Fate of the Furious” – with an expected star list way too long for me to remember.

Cool – but not as cool as the next street that was blocked off for a NYC Tartan Day Parade complete with bagpipes, more horses (of course) and lots of Celtic pride!

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We, the USA, had just bombed Syria. I was within 10 blocks of the United Nations Building where Nikki Haley, our US Ambassador, was both kicking ass and taking names. I was also a stone’s throw from the USA President’s humble abode.

So when they began clearing streets and putting up barricades, I’m not going to lie — I got a little nervous. The live TV footage of NYC being reduced to ruble on 9-11-2001 will forever be burned into my memory.

Nothing made me happier than to discover, this wasn’t a security exercise at all – it was a NYC parade and party celebrating it’s Celtic roots and pride with a tartan parade! And beer! And bagpipes! And jovial Scottish men in kilts!

No better reason in the world to grab a pint and help them celebrate!

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After the parade, I took myself for a little walk down the street to Macy’s.
Nine stories and a full city block? Yep – stand back. I got this!

They were still ice skating at Rockefeller Center. It seems so much bigger in movies.

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Tucked away in O’Brian’s Pub, across the street from Church of Saint Mary the IMG_1550Virgin, in a hot spot upstairs known as, “The Sin Bin” — celebrating my newly discovered Irish heritage with a pint of house ale, listening to ACDC and totally ready to “fuhgeddaboudit”!!!

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(Sigh)
I have a confession.
We left Phantom of the Opera at intermission.

I know, part of me felt terrible. I’d wanted to see it for sooooo many years – and I IMG_1552thought I’d LOVE opera. I mean, that’s MAD talent, right? I just didn’t expect it to be so – well – loud. And I didn’t think the constant, dark, minor chords of the background organ music would be so – grating. Honestly, it was like the “Great Goat Idea” all over again. A great idea gone bad. It was too much for these tender eardrums to truly enjoy. So I talked an all too knowing Jeff, into leaving. He laughed. He’d spent 4 years attending Ashland plays while going to Southern Oregon and knew exactly what to expect. Again, not unlike the whole goat debacle of 2015, he knew.

I thought the actors were amazing. Our seats were great – possibly TOO great, with perfect acoustics- and I still believe opera singers have freakish talent. I even thought the take-home sippy cup for adult beverages was nothing short of genius. I also thought, no, I KNEW we could find a NY corner to tuck into, order some good food, hear some good music and share some (comparatively) quiet time together.

Again – not unlike the goats – now I know. I’m just not an opera girl. Who knew? I mean, besides Jeff…

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Just to give you an idea of the energy this city has, this is Times Square late Saturday night – still packed, still moving, still making plans on what to do later that night. The nightshifter in me thinks it’s pretty awesome that dry cleaners and bakeries stay open until the wee hours of the night — even the garbage trucks do 24 hour days!

IMG_1553Magnolia Bakery is famous for their banana pudding. Sadly, the last tub sold to the person in front of me. I wasn’t disappointed because how many world renowned bakeries stay open until midnight?! I was happy just to be there and slip in just before closing. We had no problem finding something to enjoy!

Why don’t I have any great pics of Central Park, you ask? Especially since we hit it on the PERFECT day? It was impossible to hold the camera at eye level and not catch an eye to eye portrait of a stranger 2 feet away or a perfectly framed photo of the back of their head.

I had to tap out. At least on the sidewalks, there is a general acceptance of one’s pace and direction by where they position themselves. Central Park was a chaotic, free-for-all of seemingly directionless wandering. I likened it to giant flock of starlings flying out of sync, colliding, bumping, falling, squawking – you get the idea.

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So I stuck to the sidewalk, near the carriage horses, and imagined my friend, Polly, coming to all of their rescue and setting them free to run on the grass because I know if she ever makes it to NYC – she’ll be all over that!

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It was a beautiful day in NYC!  We ditched the hop on bus and took ourselves for a walk.  We stopped in for a bite to eat and enjoyed our chat with our server, Will, who ironically spent some time growing up in Portland and had even been to Bend. Central Park was packed but the weather was perfect!

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Sitting down for dinner and I looked up to see a familiar face, but from where, I wondered? NYC is a long way from home … and then Boom! It hit me – holy catfish, that’s Ralph Lauren!!! And yes, I learned that even while the man is eating, his thoughts are all about fashion, as he explained to his dinner guest what the right pair of earrings can do for an outfit.

(To paraphrase the great fashion icon — if you are going with a dark, low shoulder, black lace dress, or top with jeans, understated but gothic, black/metal chandelier earrings make it go from “nothing” to “stunning” – it changes the focal point and settles the eye on a flattering line. Did I mention he was kind, gracious and understated as well? I’m still a little star struck!)

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It didn’t seem like an unreasonable amount of sushi UNTIL the humongous lobster arrived. This Oregon girl had NO idea Maine lobsters were completely different than Pacific lobsters. (It turns out that ours are more related to crayfish than actual lobsters – yes, I was in such disbelief, I Googled it.)

This bad boy was considered “on the smaller side” by wait staff as it was closer to the 2.5lb weight group as opposed to the “big ones” averaging 3.5lbs.

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The nightly walk back to the hotel. We arrived on a Thursday and I couldn’t help but notice all of the heels, booties and fashion statements in the form of shoes pounding the sidewalk at an aerobic pace. By Sunday, the pace had slowed to a walk and most footwear took the shape of casual and well padded sneakers.

By the way, to get in to see Saturday Night Live, tickets come out in October for the following year on a first come, first serve basis in case you ever wanted to see a live show. The Tonight Show is a bit easier but still requires a bunch of luck and about 8 weeks of forethought – or the patience to stand in a first come, first serve cancellation line where you get 1 ticket per person and if you leave the line to use the restroom, you lose your place. Though I know any ER nurse has the ability to outlast most in a line like that — I had other things to do!

IMG_1559The Hilton Midtown was perfect for us. We could walk to Broadway shows, Times Square, Central Park, The Rockefeller Center and to the places we couldn’t walk, we used the Hop On Hop Off sightseeing bus.

Our stay was nearly perfect. Saturday night we awoke to a ruckus. It sounded like a frat party on steroids was taking place. It began again at about 6am. Imagine my surprise when I opened the hotel room door to give them a “shhhh” to find a hall literally full of both high school kids and teachers. It got quiet again for about an hour and then the trumpet came out, followed by the trombone and – what the heck? Was that a tuba?!

Apparently, a local high school band had moved in next door. Hilton management quickly and graciously moved us to a much quieter floor with a handful of upgrades to compensate us for our troubles which were really no trouble at all. We had a good giggle over it.IMG_1560

I like to walk NYC during the daylight hours. I love to watch NYC at night. It was an amazing trip.

Something I’ve learned about myself is that I’m not a great tourist. I don’t like to squeeze into tour lines or go to crowded places. Trinket souvenirs and places that sell them make me crazy. Places created for tourists make me cringe. It’s just not my thing.

I like to find nooks and crannies to duck into and get the feel of the place. I like to hear what the locals are chatting about. I want to eat at local, authentic restaurants that aren’t national chains. (My one exception is Starbucks.) I like to walk my own path and see the sights that mean something to me. I want to smell the flowers, feel the weather and just be.

As crowded and as busy as Manhattan was – we managed to find spots that felt like our own.

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It’s with a heavy heart that I come to these last few photos.

I once heard that it takes only two generations to disappear and fade away. History books can be edited, photos can be destroyed and no one is left to account for what once was.

I couldn’t go to the memorial with Jeff on this morning. The tour bus came within 2 blocks of it the afternoon prior and I found myself already choking back the tears. So on this day, Jeff went alone. He’d stood on top of one of the original World Trade Center Towers as a young man and it was important for him to return. So he did and I think he did a great job taking photos.

Rest in peace fellow Americans, police officers, fire fighters and EMS crew members. I will never forget watching the live images of you rushing into collapsing buildings to save strangers. I hope stories of your heroism never fade away.

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From the Scottish accent of the waitress at the pub down the street, to chatting with a young man about what his life in NYC is like, to discussing restaurant ownership with a retiree who went back to work as a waiter for something to do, to the taxi driver who spent 45 minutes wagging his finger at other cars telling them to “be nice” — we enjoyed getting to know some of the faces that are a part of this city. It turns out we are all more alike than different in the the end.

Our biggest take-away from the trip? We think spaces are getting tight and traffic is getting insane in Central Oregon. Spend a few days in NYC and it feels almost like a ghost town on return.

And as quick as our trip began, it was over.  I don’t know that I would have ever got to see NYC had we not won a trip – and man-o-man would I have ever been missing out!  A great big thank you goes out to St. Thomas who made this all possible for us.  What an amazing trip!!!

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