Archive for the ‘life’ category

Mount St. Helens Weekend

August 2nd, 2011

So after all the traveling we’ve been doing this year, it has been very nice to be home, here in Washington, for a few weeks in a row.  Summer has been a bit stressful, which is evidenced by the lack of blogging, but things have calmed down a bit.  We’ve also had a very slow start to our summer this year.  We’ve dubbed it “The Spring That Wouldn’t End”.  As all of my East Coast friends have been melting into puddles in the extreme heat, we’ve been rocking jeans and hoodies ’till about last week.  ::sigh::

However, the sun has FINALLY decided to show up, and Tom and I fled to the mountains, as we often do.  Due to the aforementioned late spring, we also have a heavier snow pack than usual, and one that’s been hanging around for a while.  Now, growing up in Virginia, I never had to worry about things like “snow pack” effecting what I wanted to do on a summer weekend.  It’s summer, therefore there shouldn’t be snow, RIGHT?  Not so out here.  Summer arrives, and hikers patiently (or not) wait for their favorite hikes to melt out so we can get going again!  This year, that patience is wearing thing, as it is August, and many of the hikes we normally do in June still havn’t melted out.  So, we’ve been forced to look for other options.  We’ve done some pretty hikes in eastern Washington, on the other side of the Cascade range, which if you didn’t know, is basically a desert.  Last weekend, we opted to stay on the west side of the Cascades, however, and head down to the Mount St. Helens area to do some hiking or backpacking.

 

There is limited and very confusing information about backpacking in the Mount St. Helens area.  It is registered as a National Volcanic Monument, which would make one thing that it is run by the National Park Service.  Not so.  It’s run by the National Forest Service, which generally has much more limited information about backcountry conditions, permits, etc.  You really have to talk to a human to figure it all out, except it’s really hard to get a human on the phone.  Ok.  So we decided to go anyway, and check in at the Forest Service Ranger Station on the way.  They were very helpful, but very busy, with people asking for everything from good motorcycle routes to mushrooming permits (yes, apparently this is a thing).  We secured our backcountry permit, which allowed us to camp in the Mount Margret Backcountry around Mount St. Helens.  We were assured that the route we planned would be snow free and all would be well.  Yay!

We headed in towards Mt. St. Helens, and were soon greated by spectacular views.  The day was amazingly clear, and we had unobstructed views right into the crater.  I had never been so close to the volcano before, and it was pretty impressive to see the destruction it caused when it erupted.  The land in the blast zone near the volcano has been almost completely preserved so that researches can study the regeneration of the forest around an active volcano.  There are still stands of trees that were blasted flat by the eruption, laying where they fell over 30 years ago.  Spirit Lake, which lies right in the blast zone, is still filled with logs that were blasted into it all those years ago.  It’s quite a site to see.

 

Our planned route was up Norway Pass to Panhandle and Obscurity Lake and to camp at the lakes for the night.  We packed up our backpacks and headed out.  The trail is steep and exposed to the direct sun for most of the way up to Norway Pass.  As the day was clear, we had amazing views of the nearby Cascade volcanoes:  Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and even Mt. Hood off in Oregon.  It was quite a treat for folks who have been living in a cloud more than normal this year.  As we got up to Norway Pass and dropped down slightly , Mt. St. Helens came into view.  Woah.  We had views right into the crater.  There was definitely a moment where I thought about what would happen if the volcano decided to randomly erupt just then, but then rational thought regained purchase, and we moved on.

   

 

We continued to climb and soak up the sun and views until we go to Bear Pass, where the trail dropped over the north side of the ridge…right into a very steep snowfield.  We had not brought snow gear, so we needed to reassess.  Tom bushwacked down a bit past the snowfield where we could see the trail came out again to see if was passable further along.  He came back, reporting that there were two more steep snowfields that were probably not safe to cross.  We were slightly frustrated that we hauled up all of our backpacking gear to not be able to camp, but realized that sometimes you just have to turn around.  We spent some more time hanging out on the ridge, looking at the mountains and the wild flowers before we headed back down.

  

That night we camped at the Iron Creek NFS campground, which was huge, but nice.  I was feeling a bit pouty about being hot and dirty and not being able to backpack to a nice cool lake and just wanted to go home.  Tom convinced me that staying in the nice campground was preferable to a 3+ hour drive home at 7:30 at night, and he was right.  The next morning, we decided to hike up Goat Mountain, which is a short day hike near the volcano and our campground.  The trail is quite steep, gaining 1,600 feet in about 2 miles, but the forest is nice and cool.  Once we got to the ridge, we realized that the low lying clouds were pretty much obscuring all the views of the local mountains, but there were nice wildflowers to look at and the ridge was pleasant.  After the bugs found us though, it was all over.  After a quick stop at a lingering snowfield to cool down, we were off.  We headed down off the ridge and back to our car.

It was a great weekend, and I had a great time exploring a different part of the state.  We will be back!

China!

June 13th, 2011

Ok, so I know this has kinda turned into a travel blog, but you really don’t want to hear me moaning and complaining about our terrible weather, crappy hiking and not so great cooking these days.  See, I’m saving you from utter boredome really, by telling you, slowly, about our travel adventures.  I really do it all for you.  Right.

So we went to China!  Our friend Cory moved over to China like a billion years ago, (more like 5ish), and has been telling us forever that we need to come visit.  Now, Tom has always wanted to visit Asia, but I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited.  I mean, I wanted to see Cory, I kinda wanted to have had the experience, but I was convinced I was going to get sick, not want to eat the food and be totally overwhelmed by the language and spend most of the time wanting to come home.  There, I said it.  So when Tom and I started talking about where to go for my Spring Break this year, I was thinking Hawaii.  He was thinking China.  Hmm.  I was convinced it would be way too expensive, but I agreed, (after some coaxing), that we could check it out.  The flights were very reasonably priced, so even though I was very wary, we booked our tickets.  We were going to China.  Woah.  Now before you think that our last name has suddenly changed to Rockefeller, and we’re just going to spend all of our time jet-setting to exotic places like New Zealand and China, think again.  We were very lucky to have friends to stay with, and to have found super cheap tickets, otherwise this wouldn’t have been possible.

 

The flight was horrendously long, but not quite as horrendously long as the trip to New Zealand, so that was a win.  We flew Delta, and had these cool little TV screens that we could watch movies on, which made the flight much more enjoyable.  The time difference is wonky, since Beijing is on the other side of the international date line.  The difference from Seattle, as far as I could make it out, was 9 hours behind, but on the next day.  Does that make sense?  Good, me neither.  I just knew that it was weird, but we took melatonin and all was well.  Cory and his wonderful wife Haiyan picked us up from the airport and we all took a taxi back to their apartment.  Bless them, for they speak Chinese, and we would not have gotten through this trip without them.  We were starving after getting off the plane, so they took us to their neighborhood 24hour dim sum place, which happens to be 4 stories tall and covered in neon.  Now, remember the food fear I was experiencing?  Like, convinced I would starve fear?  Well, it all went away after the first bites of dim sum.  These are little dumplings of heaven and I miss them so!  We fell in love with this place and went back several times over our week stay.

Our first full day in Beijing was spent biking around the hutong alleyways that are near Cory and Haiyan’s apartment.  Most of Beijing used to be made up of these maze like corridors which are quite the rabbit warren, but many have been destroyed by the never ending construction machine that is Beijing.  Now, I enjoy the occasionally bike ride, but I’m not the world’s most confident biker.  I get scared, convinced I’m going to get hit by cars or fall over.  So when Cory announced that we would be biking on ROADS, with CARS (and all manner of other multi-wheeled vehicles), without HELMETS, I was a bit…um…terrified.  They put me on one of their small foldable bikes, (yes, that is a thing), and I just smiled and hoped for the best.  We rode for miles through the city, passing street vendors, yogurt shops, lakes, restaurants, temples and homes.  We visited the Drum Tower and ate at one of Cory and Haiyan’s favorite fish shops, which to this day is one of the best meals I have ever eaten.  Catfish in broth, fried mushrooms, green beans with chillis, oh my!  How was I ever worried about the food!  Amazing!  Eventually we were driven back inside by a sandstorm, and we headed home.

 

That night, we ate dinner out to celebrate Haiyan’s birthday.  We went to a restaurant called 99 yurts, which serves Mongolian style food.  There were about 15 of us around the table with two nested lazy susans to take care of the bounty of food they kept bringing.  The highlight of the meal, though, was when they brought in the main course.  Cory had ordered lamb for dinner, and by that I mean a WHOLE lamb.  Like with the feet.  It had been roasted and carved, and we were given one plastic glove and  a pair of chopsticks.  I wasn’t quite sure what the cultural etiquette was, but people just seemed to be digging in.  I have to say, this lamb was terrific. What an incredible cultural and culinary experience!  We went home that night incredibly exhausted and completely full.

We spent most of the next day sightseeing at the Summer Palace.  This was where the former emperors would go in the summer to cool off.  There is a large man made lake there, and several ornate temples and palaces on the grounds.  It was our clearest day in Beijing and the day with the best air quality, so it was a real treat.  We walked around the entire lake, a good few miles, before climbing the hundred or so steps to the tallest temple.  The cherry blossoms were blooming, and the sky was blue.  It was a beautiful sight.  One of the most interesting things that happened that day, was that Tom and I had our first experience with being a tourist attraction ourselves.  There is a lot of internal tourism in China, where people come from all over the country to see the sights in Beijing.  Some of them have never met a Western person before, and we were somewhat of a novelty.  People would pull Tom or I to the side, put their arms around us and point at a camera.  I have no idea how many strangers’ travel photos I am in.  It was kind of strange.

 

Later that evening, we took our first trip to the Lisa Tailor shop, where we were going to have some clothes made for us.  Tom ordered a suit, 4 shirts and a wool coat and I had a bathrobe and wool coat made.  It was really cool to pick out designs and fabrics, and know that the clothes would be made just for us!  What a fun experience.

 

Up next:  Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China!

 

 

 

New Zealand: Abel Tasman National Park

January 30th, 2011

 

We arrived in the South Island! We were in search of sun, and we found it!  There was much rejoicing!  After our change of plans to come to the South Island a day early, we also decided to go visit one of the national parks we had written off due to lack of time, Abel Tasman National Park.  It was also pretty much the sunniest place in the whole country that day as well, so we lucked out.  We left Picton in the morning, took a reasonably quick detour through Nelson and headed up the coast to Abel Tasman.  This national park is predominantly coastal, and the highlight of the park is the Coast Track, which is considered one of New Zealand’s “great walks”.  These “great walks” are several multi-day backpacks through some of the country’s most scenic natural areas.  We were able to complete the first day of the walk, camp on the beach overnight, and take a water taxi back to our starting point the next day. 

We started the hike in the afternoon, with the sun finally shining down on our very grateful heads.  My back was acting up in a major way, so Tom, being the gentleman/pack animal that he is, took most of the load for our overnight, leaving me only burdened with my camera bag and gigantic sun hat.  Honestly, the thing has it’s own zipcode.  The trail starts out crossing a tidal flat, then starts to gradually climb up onto the headlands overlooking the Marlborough Sounds.  The trail undulates up and down over the headlands, and turns inland and back towards the sea with the contours created by the many streams that cross the track.  Since the trail is so well traveled, it is in incredible shape, with very stout bridges and well maintained drainage systems for the *ahem* occasional rain shower.  We also saw some of the flora that is unique to New Zealand, such as the fern tree.  This plant is exactly what it claims to be.  It is a fern that grew up to be a tree.  They have enormous fronds and a woody trunk, but at the top, they’re all fern.  Weird.   

Since trail descriptions in New Zealand rarely include elevation gain, we were unsure how long it would take us to hike the 12km to the first hut along the walk.  We decided instead to camp at Akerston Bay, a small campsite about 8km along the trail.  In hindsight, there was no real elevation to speak of, and we completed our hike for the day quickly, but it simply gave us more time to enjoy our beautiful beachfront campsite.  The site has space for 3 tents, but luckily there were only one other French couple and ourselves there for the night.  Yay private beach!  Tom swam in the ocean, because when given a body of water, he will swim in it, no matter how cold, or lacking in fresh water to bathe the situation may be.  I puttered around oohing and ahhhing over our breathtaking surroundings. 

 

Eventually we retreated back up into the wooded area beside the beach to make dinner at the picnic table and let the other couple have some “beach time”.  They came wandering up a few minutes later though to ask if we were able to help them with their stove.  They had unknowingly purchased the wrong type of fuel canister for their type of stove, so we let them use ours to make their dinner once we were done.  After dinner, it had become completely dark, and we decided to go down to the beach and look at the stars.  Since we were so far from any major towns or cities, there was very little light pollution, and the stars where quite brilliant.  It was our first really clear night since arriving in New Zealand, so it was amazing to see how different the constellations were in the Southern Hemisphere.  We did see the Southern Cross, and sang the song as well. 

 The highlight of the evening walk, however, was while we were sitting in the darkness with headlamps off, looking at the stars, we heard a wet flapping sound coming from the ocean.  It continued and got closer.  I turned my headlamp on, just in time to see a little blue penguin scuttle up the little stream that runs from the woods to the ocean, and right into the woods themselves!  We visited a blue penguin colony later on the trip, and learned that this little guy probably had his nest in the rocks right inside the woods, and that he was returning to his nest for the night.  I really like penguins, and have never seen one in the wild, so it was a truly unique experience.  Tom tried to get a few photos, but the little penguin was a bit skittish, so they look more like Bigfoot photos than anything else.  Hopefully we didn’t traumatize the poor thing. 

The next morning, we hiked the last 2km to Anchorage, where the first hut of the walk is located.  We had arranged for our water taxi to pick us up at 1:30, but we arrived much earlier than anticipated.  We did a short hike from the hut up to an overlook and down to another small beach and back, but the weather was changing, and we were ready to get off the beach.  We hid up at the hut while showers rolled in and out, and Tom would rush down the beach every time a water taxi would come, to see if we could catch a ride back early.  Eventually, we were able to hitch a ride back with one of the earlier taxis.  The water was choppy, so I was focused on trying not to be sick, while Tom popped around taking photos.  We had to make a few stops on the way back, and he was eventually told to sit down by the driver.  There was a moment of hilarity when we arrived back at the boat ramp and the driver drove the boat up the ramp onto the boat trailer attached to a tractor.  The same driver then proceeded to hop out and drive the tractor pulling the boat down the street with us still in it.  Now, I’ve been in some strange transportation situations, but never have I ridden in a boat being pulled down the street by a tractor.  This was a new one for me.

 

 

 

We finally made it back to the water taxi outfitter and Tom fetched our rental car from the parking lot over by the trail head.  We weren’t too sunburnt, but the vitamin D certainly did us good.  We were now ready for the long drive down to Arthur’s Pass National Park for Christmas Eve!

New Zealand Days 1-3 : Planes, Cars, Glowworms and Mud

January 19th, 2011

OOOOk.  Are you ready?  I’m not sure I am.  Here we go.

Tom and I went to New Zealand over the Christmas holidays, and the question that inevitably is asked by everyone is, “How was your trip?”.   The answer I’ve been giving everyone is, “It was bipolar”.  When it was great, it was really really great, and when it was not so great, it was really really not so great.  There was rain, brilliant sunshine, a few torrential downpours, an earthquake, national flooding and blue skies.  We ate weird food like chicken flavoured chips, fancy McDonalds,  hokey pokey ice cream and lots of different Cadbury products.  We visited the mountains, the lakes, the glaciers and the beach.  We went to five different national parks and slept under the brilliant stars.  We saw the Southern Cross.  We experienced a wide range of emotions, from crushing disappointment to manic glee and everywhere in between.  In short, our trip to New Zealand is not one I will soon forget.

 

 

We left Seattle on Friday afternoon and flew down to LA with our two large backpacking packs, camera gear and “toy bags” for the plane.  The LA airport is it’s own special Hell.  The domestic terminals and the international terminals are not in the same building, and we had to shlep all of our belongings through two parking decks and across many busy streets to arrive in the international area.  It was also raining…I thought it never rained in LA??  After finally finding our correct gate and killing some time eating overpriced Burger King, we finally were ready to get on the plane.  We had a direct flight from LA to Auckland, New Zealand, so we were in it for the long haul.  The flight is every minute of 13 hours, which is a long time, if you were wondering.  We were in coach, which while being worlds better than flying coach domestically, was still the “low rent” district of the plane.  I was entertained by the safety video for Air New Zealand, which features their beloved national rugby team, the All Blacks.  They did serve us two full meals on the flight, (with complementary beverages, which were necessary after around hour 8…), and we had our own little screen thingys on the back of the seat in front of us which provided a nearly endless supply of movies.  Tom slept for most of the flight, and I spent most of the time trying to not to think about the vast expanse of open water thousands of feet below.

 

Another “program” on the tv screen was the “flight information” program which had a little icon of an airplane that you could watch creep slowly around the world from LA to Auckland.  After what seemed like days (which technically it was), the totally out of scale airplane icon arrived at New Zealand, and sure enough, there was LAND outside of our window!  Real LAND!  After getting off the plane we were processed through customs.  We had to declare our tent and our hiking boots for inspection due to strict regulations on soil contaminants being brought into the country.  As we were taking out our contraband, a man behind us in line says, “Do I have to declare these?”, and holds up two compressed fuel canisters.  Since these are so far against the normal rules of what you can bring on an airplane, they were of course seized immediately and the guy was taken aside for questioning, still looking baffled about what he had done wrong.  Luckily, our tent passed inspection, and we were ready to take on our rental car!  Don’t laugh too much at the pale person next to the car.  She lives in a world without sunshine in the winter months.

Tom drove on the left side of the road when we were in Ireland and the UK last summer, so I wasn’t to worried about his driving ability.  We plugged in our trusty GPS that we have dubbed, ”Penny”, and were off.  We decided to head south to our bed and breakfast where we would be staying for the next few nights.  Somersal Bed and Breakfast is a lovely little place with lushly landscaped gardens and incredibly kind hosts.  We were greeted with a warm smile and a cup of tea, which was nice, as it was raining, (you will sense a theme here).  They also had a few sheep, which everyone seems to have, and which also happened to be grazing right outside our window.  Quaint.  That night, we ventured  down to the local pub, where people kept wandering up to our table to chat, simply because we looked “new”.  The Kiwis, as the New Zealanders call themselves, were all very nice to us totally strung out and jet lagged foreigners.

The next morning, we feasted on a delicious breakfast prepared by our hosts, which was very similar to the “British” breakfasts we got at so many B&Bs in the UK, but there was bacon, so we weren’t complaining.  We then headed down to Wiatomo to visit the famed glowworm caves.  These caves are known for having millions of small, blueish pricks of light sprinkled along their ceilings.  These lights are the “worms”, which really aren’t worms at all, but larval stages of a type of fungal gnat.  Glowworms sounds better in the marketing material though.  There are many different outfitters who work in the area providing all manner of adventurous ways to experience the caves, but all we were really interested in seeing was the glowwoms themselves, so we opted for a more calm tour.  We booked with Spellbound Glowworm and Cave Tours, which gave us a three hour tour of two different caves, one wet, with the glowworms and one that was a drier, more traditional, limestone cave with all the formations that are typical to these types of caves.  Our guide was very knowlegable and gave us lots of details about the worms and caves.  In the glowworm cave, we walked for a bit and were able to see the strands the larve drop down to catch their pray who are drawn to their light.  We then boarded a rubber raft, turned out our lights, and our guide pulled us through the grotto hand over hand using a rope fixed overhead.  It was very peaceful in the dark with the little blue lights splayed out above us like so many strange and unfamiliar constilations in the night sky. 

 

The dry cave was also very interesting.  There were your traditional stalactites and mites and other beautiful limestone formations.  There were also several places where sinkholes had broken through into the cave, and the sky above was exposed.  These holes are dangerous traps for animals though, and there were the bones of a few unfortunate souls who misstepped.

Later that day, after we emerged into the land of light, (and rain), we headed up towards Rotorura to visit some of the active geo-thermal sites there.  We arrived too late to visit the Thermal Wonderland we had wanted to see, but were able to find the bubbling mud pools!  Let’s just say, you should be thankful these photos are not scratch and sniff.  The sulpher smell was nearly overpowering, as if a million eggs had all spoiled at once and you were forced to breathe it it.  Or as Ludo says in Labrinth  “SMELL BAD!!!”  The bubbling, burbling, squirt and  belching mud was pretty need though, even if it was noisy and smelly. 

 

 

Next up…Tongoriro National Park and Wellington!

Note:  The photo credits for many of these early photos go to Tom, as I was too jetlagged and crazy to take pictures…  

Note #2 :  These posts are long.  I am sorry. 

Note # 3 :  More photos can be found on my Picasa site or Tom’s Picasa site.

Visiting Lexington, Virginia

November 24th, 2010

So after we left Dad and Sharon in West Virginia, we headed east towards Lexington, Virginia, where Tom’s parents have recently bought a new house.  If you recall, Lexington was where Tom and I got married, so it’s always nice to visit and now we’ll be visiting there quite frequently!  Tom’s parents are still in the process of doing a total remodel on the house, so they are still staying at the family farm in Goshen, which is about a half hour outside Lexington, when they are working on the house in Lexington.  The new house is beautiful and I can’t wait to see it in its finished state.

We spent two days in the area.  The first day, we went with Tom’s parents over to Wade’s Mill, a historical flour mill which still grinds the flour using a water wheel.  Very cool.  We got to meet the folks who run the place and they let us take a peek around the mill.  I’d never really seen how flour was made, so it was an interesting process.  One that I still don’t really understand, but that’s why they do it and not me.  We spent the night at the farm, which is one of our favorite places in the world.  We’ve been going there throughout our entire relationship and it holds a special place in our hearts.  It’s also where we had our rehearsal dinner and we hadn’t been back since, so it was a nice place to spend a few days. 

 

 

 

The next morning, Tom and I went for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and did a hike up there as well.  The leaves were all changing and it was literally a riot of color along the ridges.  We hiked the Apple Orchard Falls Trail, which intersects the Appalachian Trail.  It is what I call an “inside out” hike, meaning you hike downhill to your destination and then back UPHILL to get back to your car.  This is not my favorite kind of hike.  However, I was distracted by the pretty leaves, the rich smells of the forest that are so different from our forests here in the Pacific Northwest and by the amazingly beautiful waterfalls.  So I didn’t mind the “inside out” characteristics of the hike.  Too much. 

 

After our hike, we continued to drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Buchanan, where we HAD to check out a swinging bridge that Tom remembered from his childhood.  Now, I should include that Tom’s memory of this bridge is not a pleasant one.  In fact, it terrified him.  Apparently there was much crying involved the last time he had to cross this swinging bridge.  When we arrivied at the bridge, I could see how it could be scary for a child.  The bridge does not meet the side of the road at a 90 degree angle as it should.  Instead, it does this weird slanting thing before it levels out.  Truly terrifying indeed.

We stayed at the farm again that night, and in the morning we wandered around Lexington for a bit and paid a visit to my favorite bookshop of all time, The Bookery.  Now, I have a thing for book stores in general, but this one is truely unique.  Jam packed, wall to wall, floor to ceiling BOOKS.  I mean everywhere.  It’s kind of amazing.  Its what I secretly wish my house looked like. 

Later that afternooon we headed down the road to visit Mom and Charles in Richmond….

Making Blackberry Jam

October 22nd, 2010

It all started when I thought it would be a good idea to buy a flat of blackberries.  They were a deal, and I was able to bargain (!) to get a lower price.  So then we were stuck with all.these.blackberries.   Right.  Not to be discouraged, I exclaimed “Let’s make jam!”  Tom and I have made jam before, and it’s usually a sticky, messy good time.  However, in the past, we have never had the quantities of berries that we were faced with this time.  This was going to require two batches of jam making to happen at the same time.  Now, this wouldn’t be a problem on a normal 4 burner stove, because you would have one burner for each pot of berry mixture, and one burner for steralizing your equipment and one burner for processing the jars.  Here’s the rub:  we only have two burners.  Oh, and this weird induction plug in thing that kinda acts as the third burner.  But no fourth.  Hm.

We started out by cleaning all the berries and crushing them, four cups at a time in one of our larger pots.  We added kind of a lot of sugar, but it’s tastier that way.  Then we boiled the mixture, finally adding pectin at the end.  Then we poured this liquid magma like stuff into jars that have been steralized, added the canning lids, and dropped them into a boiling water bath for processing.  The jars came out sealed like magic.  At least, this was how the first batch went.  Nice and smooth.

   

 

However, we had to start the process all over again with the second batch about midway through the first batch.  About the time that the boiling mess of blackberrysugar needs pectin and pouring, the other blackberrysugar mess needed to go on the stove.  There were not enough burners, and very few places to put things because once the jars and utensils are sterilized, we try to interact with them as little as possible.  It was a three ring circus of blackberry jam. 

We did get both batches finished and canned though, with only one jar that didn’t seal correctly, but that’s not too bad, because we’ll just use it!  Oh, and for “clean up” we may have wiped the left over jam out of the pot.  It might have been amazing.

 

 I like how cute the jars look all lined up.  If you’re good, you might end up getting of of these for Christmas! 

Cakespy

September 23rd, 2010

So I’ve been reading cakespy’s blog for a while and follow her twitter feed because I think her cupcake art is just way too cute for words.  I knew that her shop was in Seattle, but hadn’t found it yet.  As luck would have it, as Tom and I were walking around Capitol Hill looking for a new board game store, (because we’re THAT cool), and we found cakespy!!  It was one of those weird moments where my internet life met my real life and there was a warp in the space time continuum.  I may have giggled a lot.  Anyway, I went in and promptly gushed to the owner and fabulous artist,  Jessie Oleson, about how much I love her adorable prints of happy cupcakes.  Of course I bought one too!  And there was much rejoicing. 

 

Photos from cakespy

Visiting Victoria

September 20th, 2010

Over Labor Day weekend the weather forecast in the Cascades was for rain, as is the usual these days it seems.  Wanting to escape as much of the wet as possible, and still feel like we had a vacation, we turned our sites north.  To Canada that is.  We took the ferry up on Saturday morning under beautiful blue skies and landed in Sidney, just outside of Victoria around lunchtime.

 

We went directly to Goldstream Provincial Parkto make sure that we got a campsite for the night.  We decided to camp the first night, as the weather was supposed to be nice.  The campground was very pleasant, with wide sites and a beautiful forest, and our tent was right at home.

The afternoon was spent eating lunch, and wandering around the harbor side in downtown Victoria, looking at all the Britishish architecture.  We ducked inside the ivy-covered Empress Hotel, decided that the tea was way too outrageously expensive, and decided to visit the gift shop, and return for the free tour on Monday instead.

 

That evening, we headed over to Butchart Gardents, though we were unclear as to how the flowers would look at this sometimes awkward time between summer and fall.  I’m glad we went though, as the dahlias were in full bloom and stunning.  There was also a beautiful rose garden, Japanese garden, and manicured “sunken” garden.  It rained on us a bit, but the well trained workers at the Garden were quick to hand out adorable clear umbrellas to everyone.  Butchart Gardens is a very well oiled machine, with helpers always at the ready to hand out an umbrella, direct you to the nearest hot chocolate stand, or give away “blanket weights” for holding down your picnic blanket for the fireworks later in the evening.  The fireworks show was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and it left me wide eyed as a little girl, as fireworks often do. 

    

 

 

The following day we hiked up Mount  Finlayson, which was in the provincial park we camped in. The trail was noted as being “steep, rugged, and hard to follow”.  Since many trails in Washington are labeled as such, we didn’t figure it was much of a problem, so we weren’t really prepared when our “hike” tuned more into a Class III scramble!  After much huffing and puffing, we pulled ourselves up to the top and took in the view. 

Later in the afternoon, we checked into our hotel for the evening, The Oswego.   The room was nice, though it had a weird, pull-down, Murphy style bed.  After a short bike ride, we decided to check out a fish and chips place we had seen on our walk around the city the day before.  The shop is called Red Fish Blue Fish and is run out of what looks like a shipping crate and positioned right on the docks in the harbor.  We had thought it must be good to have such a large line the day before, and we were definitely proven right.  Everything we at was spectacularly tasty, especially the coconut curry fish chowder.  NOM. 

 

Our final day was filled with rain and tours.  We stared off touring The Empress, with an adorable tour guide named Margaret who was dressed in Victorian garb and an English accent.  So CUTE!   After visiting The Empress, we headed over to the Parliament buildings for their tour.  The architecture and art were quite impressive.

 

 

Later in the afternoon, it was back to the ferry we went, and back to Seattle.  It was wonderful to get away and finally visit Victoria. 

(Sorry for the long post, we did lots of stuff and I take lots of pictures.  Plus, brevity is overrated.)

Hiking to Blanca Lake

September 15th, 2010

Whee!  Sorry the posting has been “light” (read: nonexistent), it’s the beginning of the school year, and all that entails.  Which is mainly sleep deprivation, stress, and less exercise.  But oh well.  Let’s talk about this wonderful little hike instead.  Yee!  It was in August!!  Yikes, I’m behind.  Oh well.  I digress.

Ok.  Blanca Lake.  I had been wanting to do this hike for a while, as I was inspired by the beautiful photos of sea-glass green water surrounded by towering peaks.   Have I mentioned that I enjoy alpine lakes?  It also spans two seperate wilderness areas, which is  kind of cool.  The hike is steep, steep, steep, but oh so very worth it.  The first few miles climb relentlessly, but you’re surrounded by an ancient old growth forest which shrouds you from the sun, and is something pretty to look at whilst you huff and puff your way up.    There are also huckleberries and blueberries for your nibbling pleasure. 

 

Eventually the trail crests the ridge and there are some beautiful views of Glacier Peak in the distance.  As you can see, we didn’t have the clearest day, but our views weren’t so bad either. 

After ridge walking for far too brief a time, the trail descends, steeply again, towards Blanca.  The Washington Trails Association crews had been out the weekend before, and had done some spectacular work on this side of the trail.  Unfortunately, much more work is still needed.  In contrast to the well maintained, relatively smooth trail on the way up, this side is root-filled, rough, narrow, and did I mention steep?  First you encounter tiny Virgin Lake, then continue to descend towards Blanca. 

The lake is green.  And blue.  It doesn’t look real.  It’s kind of amazing.  We had lunch on the logjam halfway across the output of the lake for optimal viewing pleasure.  The weather was rolling in, so we didn’t stay long, but man, this place is gorgeous!  I can’t wait to come back on a sunny day to actually go swimming!  Tom swam, of course, but he always swims.    So the hike is steep, hard, and dirty, but the lake was more than worth the effort.

 

 

December 2010…

August 31st, 2010

picture source