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Posts Tagged ‘Seattle’

The Darkest Day

The end of December is a time for celebration. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Agnostic, Hindu, or even an atheist, there is something about the lengthening of daylight that should put all of us in a good mood. This year, December 21st was the shortest day of the year. Each day from the 22nd of December until the Summer solstice, days will get longer.  While religious traditions are held near and dear to our hearts, what is often forgotten is that many of these celebrations are truly “festivals of light”,  and are celebrated during this time of year because they are historically tied to the winter solstice. 

Many people believe that the reason Emperor Constantine chose December 24-25 to commemorate the birth of Christ was because it fell at the same time as the Roman Feast of Sol Invictus (the Undefeated Sun). Sol Invictus had been considered the most important Roman god for the previous 200 years. The twenty-four days of Advent leading up to Christmas, in which a new candle is lit every Sunday, is further evidence of this connection. Being the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine had a strong desire to unify his empire. Its seems that one way he tried to do this is by combining both pagan and Christian traditions. (*fingers crossed* an evangelical doesn’t hunt me down and kill me for posting this!)

Hanukkah, which involves lighting a new candle every night, and Diwali are also feasts of light around the time of winter solstice.

In Mexico and Central America there are various feasts of light that involve bonfires. In one Guatemalan  festival, “Burning the Devil”, huge bonfires are built on December 12th to drive away the devil (the dark). There are several versions of these festivals throughout Central America. (Although I did read that they are curbing some of those festivals to help with climate change!)

In Sweden, on the morning of December 13th (the 13th was the solstice in an older Christian calendar), St. Lucia’s Day, a young woman is chosen as the light queen. She wears a white dress and wreath of lighted candles in her hair. And in Holland, on November 11th, children carry lanterns from house to house, singing songs in honor of St. Martin – who gave a poor man his half of his clothes on a dark and stormy night.

How does your family celebrate this time of year??? If you are interested in learing more about how other cultures celebrate this time of year, I found this interesting site

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The only thing better than growing your own produce is eating it in the off-season after you have preserved it! However, to say that I grew these fabulous peaches and tomatoes would be far from the truth. In fact, the only thing I grow every season are herbs and tomatoes. It is sad, but it is the truth. What’s even sadder is that the tomato plants that I did plant, were actually scorched by the Seattle sun this year (yes, Seattle does have sun) and produced a mere 5 tomatoes.  Each year I tell myself I will figure out a way to grow more vegetables. In Florida, my homes had lots of space and sun, so it was quite natural that one could plant some seeds and watch a bunch of things grow very easily. In Seattle, it is quite a different story. First of all, the ground is not warm enough to start many of your early spring seedlings, so you either need a greenhouse, or a place in your home with a lot of counter space and growing lights. I have neither. I did manage to fill the few windowsills that we have out of reach from tiny toddler hands with some seedlings in those plastic little “greenhouses” you can buy from the garden store. They did very well, but unfortunately, I lacked space to actually plant many of them once it got warm enough. Part of the problem is that we are still renting. It really hard to be inspired to dedicate the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into planning and in my case, creating a garden space that could very easily only last me one season. (Who knows how long we will live here) The second issue is, in order to really grow a great garden here, it would require that I plant in the easement or dig up a bunch of plants already in the front, which our landlord may not be too happy about. But what about the community garden you ask??? Well, it looks like I am not the only one with space areas in Seattle! I signed up for the P-Patch Program when I moved here and am STILL on the waiting list. Needless to say, I relied on the farmers at the local markets to supply me all of produce seen in these pictures. And it was actually fun!! I spoke with a least a half-dozen farmers, and in the process learned more than I ever thought I could know about tomatoes and peaches.  

Peaches come in earlier than tomatoes so they were first on my list to preserve. I decided to dry them, so I could have a quick, delicious snack for the cold winter months ahead. They turned out as delicious as I thought they would. The only problem is that they only lasted me until late summer! While drying is easy and fun, it takes a looooonnnnggg time and there is really not that much space in the dehydrators. I know you can always use the oven, but who wants a hot kitchen with no air-conditioning in the summer???

Tomatoes were next on this list. I really wanted to can them, but had no dishwasher and really didn’t want to undergo such as task alone. Luckily, one of my good friends M is a canning pro (ok, well perhaps not a pro, but a seasoned veteran!). My job would be to hunt down some local, organic tomatoes at a good price (not as easy as you think) and her job was to host the all day event. I tracked down a farmer, Richard Ness, who owns the Kittnas Valley Greenhouse in Ellensburg, WA. I was able to purchase 60 pounds of the most beautiful tomatoes at the market for a really great price. I forgot to take a picture until the very end, so here was shot of the ones with spots. Out of 60 pounds these were the only ones with blemishes.  

Overall, I think both project went very well. We only messed up one batch of tomatoes by adding a little too much water, but the rest of the batches came out perfect. If you are thinking of doing some canning next season, I dont think it is really necessary to add any water at all. The tomatoes are really juicy enough. The ones we canned without water, came out perfect!

Our last project of the year will be apples. I have already picked up 20 pounds of Cameo apples from Kurt Tonnemaker and am planning to can lots of apple butter and sauce this weekend. Look for some pictures later this weekend on my Flickr page.

Thinking about canning, but not sure you are ready to jump into tens of pounds of produce?? Well then I have a perfect recommendation for you. I just picked up Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan and it is truly a gem for anyone interested in trying it out.

Happy Canning!

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If you are like me and have a fruit tree in your backyard, reaping the harvest can be both exciting, and well… a major pain in the ass. Don’t get me wrong, I love waking up every morning to fresh tree-ripened plums, but the 85% of the harvest that I can’t eat or give away fast enough is quickly becoming a nuisance. Trying to keep Liam from eating the worm-infested, rotten ones is a challenge all on its own. After an afternoon spent trying to pick up and salvage as many as I can, it was time to call the “gleaners”. What’s exactly is a gleaner you ask? Well, from the content in this paragraph, I am pretty sure you figured it out. While the more traditional definition of a gleaner is someone who goes in after the harvest and picks what’s left, a more modern definition describes humanitarian organizations that pick fruit and veggies that would otherwise go unused, and donate it to food banks and other organizations getting food out to those who need it.

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As people become more aware of thier connection to food in thier local communities, small scale gleaning projects are popping up all over the country. One such organization in Seattle is Solid-Ground.  While the scope of this organization is much larger than an annual tree harvest, it is just one of the services they provide that helps meet their larger goal to provide shelter, food, home care, transportation and other basic services to families and individuals in need throughout King County. By asking people to simply donate thier fruit that would otherwise go unused, they are able to help out a lot of families in the area who can’t afford local, organic produce. Being on the giving end, you end up with a much cleaner yard and on the recieving, a much healthier life. It’s a win-win for everyone involved and the community as a whole.

Another similar project in Los Angeles had taken gleaning to whole new level. Fallen Fruit, a lovalvore-activist art project, has taken on the large task of mapping out all the city’s public fruit trees. They believe that “fruit is a resource that should be commonly shared, like shells from the beach or mushrooms from the forest.” If you live in the area, you can simply log on to their website, check out where the local trees are, grab your basket, and start picking. Fallen Fruit is also involved in many other guerrilla-gardening projects and urge residents to plant food in as many public spaces as they can.

If you are sitting home right now with a fruit tree bursting at the seams with its bounty, find a local organization to help! If you find that you don’t have one, you can always pick the fruit yourself and drop it off at your local food bank. Even if you can only pick a bag full, if it will help one less person in your city go hungry, its worth it.

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Animal Farm

A few weeks ago, Liam and I took a short trip up to Everett, WA to spend some much-needed time with friends. While we were there, my friend G introduced us to this vast toddler mecca that is Forest Park. Not only is there a 16-sprinkler water park for the kids to play in, the park also hosts a donation-only animal farm, a swim center, four-five playsets, and sports facilities! I think there is even more to do there, but that is what I was able to gather in the two hours that I spent there. What an amazing resource for the city of Everett! The best part about it was how happy it made Liam to be there. I have never seen him have so much fun in one location. A must-do for any mama in the Seattle area.

These goats were at the door ready to greet us when we arrived.DSC_0620

I think these two were Liam’s favorite. Watching him get the chance to play with such friendly little animals gave me somwhat of a glimpse into the future for a time that we may have a few of these little guys running around…..goats that is.  DSC_0623

 

The farm included rabbits, goats, sheep, ponies, horses, geese, ducks, pigs, chickens, and one baby calf. I have never seen anything cuter in my life.DSC_0636

After spending a good amount of time with the animals, we ventured over to the waterpark across the parking lot. The expressions on his face say it all. DSC_0650

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I can still hear him laughing…DSC_0664

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After almost two weeks since the return of our family camping trip, I am finally beginning to feel the return of our daily rhythms. While I am still catching up on what was a living room full of dirty clothes and blankets, waking and naptime have returned to their regular times, weekly chores are getting done, and I am finding myself with a little bit of free time once again. Whew!

However hectic it was to return from the trip, I must say, it is always worth it. Besides a few setbacks, our trip couldn’t have been more perfect. Although initially setting out for Glacier National Park, our plans were abruptly changed when two nights before departure, I decide to check the weather. Outlook did not look good. Freak weather rolled into the park, creating thunderstorms, highs of 50 and lows of 27 (not your ideal camping weather I must say). While the thunderstorms were certainly no reason to change plans, sleeping in a tent with 27 degrees was. I don’t even like to sleep in my HOUSE at 27 degrees! Although disappointed, we turned to the internet in search of a no-too-far locale where we could spend the week camping. It didn’t take us too long to find what seemed to be a perfect site inside Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Nestled in between Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, we found a remote campground located on the lower falls of the Lewis River; the Lower Falls Recreation Area to be exact.  The next morning, we got in the car and headed south about three and a half hours. While there were only 40 sites at the campground, when we arrived on a Monday afternoon, there were plenty of sites to choose from. The sites were large and private. Easily able to hold five tents. The only visible sight of your neighbors was a flicker of their campfire and the falls were loud enough to be heard form all parts of the campground. The so-called “no-smell” composing toilets were close, yet far enough not to smell them. Perfect!

Here is a shot taken when we arrived. It took us some time to set up camp and scout out the place, so we decided to just relax and hang out by the river above the falls. DSC_0237

 

The next morning, we woke up (parents of toddler’s lingo for “woken up”) early and started out on what we thought was a hike down south to Big Creek Falls. However, an hour into the hike, we realized we went the wrong way and decided just to make the best of it. After about 5 miles of hiking, we decided to rest up on a bluff at the highest point on the trail. At that point, Liam was ready to turn around. What a beautiful sight though. (For pictures sake, I think I need to invest in a graduated density filter so that I can capture both the foreground and the sky without the sky being so overexposed… the list never ends). DSC_0270

The next day, was a big day. We decided to take a little road trip (about 25 miles) to get closer to Mt. St Helens and to explore the Indian Wilderness. First stop: Mt. St Helens.  Here she is in all her glory. Absolutely breathtaking!DSC_0286

 

Second stop: The Trail of Two Forests. Very cool. It is basically a location in Mt. St Helens where the lava had started to cool. Because if this, the lava didn’t completely wipe out the forest, but instead went around the trees. When it cooled completely, and the trees eventually died, it left huge holes and lava tubes (for the dead trees on the ground) where the trees once stood. There were also caves from where the lava cooled and eventually the cracked. I will be posting more pics of this on my Flickr page as it was truly one of the highlights of the trip. DSC_0308

 

Here is a 30 foot lave tube that I crawled through. It was dark, cold, and scary. You never think you’re afraid of closed spaces until you climb in a lave tube. DSC_0315

Next stop: Indian Heaven Wilderness. This hike is supposed to be a haven for huckleberries in late July and August. Offering some amazing views of Mt Adams and Mt. Hood, it is one of the best hikes in Washington. However, I so wish I was warned about the first mile and a half of some serious incline. I guess the huckleberries and the vistas are your reward 🙂 Here is a view of Mt Adams. DSC_0320

 

From this vista, you could see both Adams and Hood. However, my camera lens was not wide enough (and probably never will be after looking at the price of the lens) to capture both peaks. Below is Mt Hood. DSC_0317

 

The next day we decided to take it easy and do a 3 1/2 mile hike up to the Upper Falls of the Lewis River. Although almost losing our dog over a waterfall (the most panic stricken 10 minutes of my life), we managed to resuce her and make it up to the upper falls for a nice lunch. DSC_0483

After almost a week of eating really healthy, sustainable snacks and meals, we decided to stay longer and needed to restock at the local general store. As you can imagine, word of the food revolution has not spread to Cougar. Although I will say that there’s something to be said about eating canned green beans off a camp stove. Washed down with some diabetes-inducing homemade marshmallows, you feel like your…. well….. CAMPING! DSC_0515

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A few weeks ago, my neighbor informed me of some visitors we have in the Arboretum and I could not wait to meet them! I took Liam to their usual hang out spot before dark and we got to meet these beautiful adolescent barred owls. How amazing is it that these little guys are hanging out less than a five minute walk from our house!

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 They let us get really close. In fact, one of them was right over my head for the first ten minutes I was there and I had no idea! This species of owl are quite large and their wingspan is amazing. They were fascinated by Liam and were following his every move. I wasn’t able to find the parents, but I could sure hear them. There is a slight sound difference between the parents and the adolescents. These guys are getting ready for a good night’s hunt. The one below was the first I spotted when I arrived.

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As I was posting these, I did notice that the pics are a little blurry. I was shooting with a brand new telephoto lens that unfortunately does not have the VR I need for shooting them in low light. The one with VR cost about 300 dollars more! Being the pro that I am not, I could have changed the aperature and produced a much clearer shot. Next time I will just bring my tripod. Here’s another shot I took that may be a bit clearer.

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There’s something so tranquil about large bodies of water. I am not sure if it is the thought of them extending on for miles, wondering what is on the other side, or the simplicity of the sound. Its mystique drew me to the writings of  Thoreau, Emerson, and other Transcendentilists.  On really nice days, or days that we need some serenity, I take Liam and Dylan there and the three of us just relax. There’s no place quite like Seattle in the summer. 

On our way…..

On Our Way

gotta hold his hand….Hold My Hand

we finally arrive…at the pond

These toes were just too cute not to captureDSC_0054

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