More of the same

This is the upper set of steps before being redone. As you can see, you can barely see that there are steps. You can see the edges of two of them at the top middle of the picture.

This week there’s not much to tell. We had a few days of rainy weather, but it really didn’t rain very much, and now it’s beautiful out again. We know that probably won’t last long, but right now it’s lovely, cold in the mornings and warm in the afternoon, sunny skies. The trees have begun to turn, mostly yellow, but there’s not enough movement yet in that direction to show another picture. Looks like our friend’s visit will be timed just right for fall color. My sister tells me that here the colors aren’t as pronounced as back east, but they are better than Texas, where you just get a suggestion of color change. Next week it will be almost exactly a year ago that we arrived here, and the colors in the Gorge were pretty gorgeous.

Here is where the steps go from the lower drive down to the bottom of the orchard and the pond. This is the longest set of steps. They wind toward the right of the picture and about halfway, they turn toward the left.

Our contractors came back for a day last week to begin working on our final project. We have two sets of steps that are very dangerous, one up to the ridge above our house and one down from the lower drive to the bottom of the orchard and the pond. We decided to have the guys put in steps like the ones they installed from the upper to lower drive, only half the width, because these stairs are more foresty. They put most of the steps in last Thursday but got called to another job on Friday, and then it began raining. They might put one more step in when they come back, and they have to install the railings. Anyway, I took some before pictures and have one of the mid-stage.

Here are the partially finished lower steps without the railing. Now the wind and length are much more obvious.

I skillfully avoided doing some of the more unpleasant housework (like bathrooms) the last two weeks so that it will be done right before our guest’s visit. Perfect timing.

In art class I am drawing a ruined castle beside a lake. The lake shore is about halfway down on the picture, so that the castle also appears upside down in its reflection. I didn’t have much of a problem drawing the castle, but the reflection is driving me nuts. I feel deeply unsatisfied with it.

We had our second Game of Thrones night last Friday and my husband signed on for a third, so maybe we have him hooked! Socially, nothing else is going on except that my niece is already signing people up for their spooky birthday party for my three-year-old great nephew, whose birthday is right before Halloween. I’ll be wearing a costume for the first time in 20 years. We ran into my great nephew’s other grandmother at the grocery store yesterday, and she told me that she was happy to have finally found her Spongebob Squarepants costume, so she can wear that for the party. It’ll be something to see this slim, tidy woman in a Spongebob Squarepants costume. I think I’ve been drafted to carve about a bazillion pumpkins.

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Visitors and Mt. St. Helens

Our visit with my husband’s brother and his wife passed off nicely. They only stayed one night and were not interested in more driving, as they had driven down highway 97 to the Gorge and come down the Gorge and back up here. We found that an odd route, considering there were forest fires on both sides of the Gorge, past which they had to drive. They said they didn’t see any fire, just smoke. We showed them the house, did a lot of talking, found a restaurant to take them to dinner, and all had a sauna, and that was about it. When they left, they were planning to go back along the Gorge to Hood River, which would put them even closer to the fire in Oregon.

Last we heard, the fire on the Washington side was well contained, but they were saying that the Eagle Creek fire may never be fully contained because of the rugged terrain. However, starting Sunday, it is supposed to rain here for three or four days in a row, so maybe that will put both fires out. It is supposed to be the first substantial rain we have had all summer.

Our guide in his favorite place in the park

On Saturday, we had an outing with my friend from Portland to Mt. St. Helens. Her neighbor works as a part-time ranger there a couple weekends a month, and she was able to arrange a personal tour with him. He was quite a garrulous guy, but he had lots of interesting stories to tell about the eruption and about the park in general. He himself had a close call. He was at Spirit Lake helping remove some equipment from a boy scout camp, and he and the other people with him had decided to spend the night to finish the job even though the governor was not allowing anyone to stay overnight in the area. But a law enforcement officer came by and asked them to leave. The next morning was the eruption, and they would have been killed if they hadn’t gone home as requested.

Mt. St. Helens on a misty day, but it cleared up just for our visit. The eruption busted through the side of the mountain, removing the top and making that huge crater.

I have to admit that Mt. St. Helens wouldn’t have been my first choice of a place to visit, but it was fascinating. It was amazing to think that it only took three minutes for all the debris and gas from the eruption to go miles across the valley and up the other side, to where I was standing when I took the picture above. The before and after pictures are devastating, and the movies in the visitor center were informative and moving. This was a really interesting visit, and I recommend it to anyone who is in the area.

We almost cancelled our expedition because of smoke from the fires, but it cleared up the day before. However, the day we went it was misty. But the mist cleared for our visit, and it started raining just as we were leaving. Because of the fires, there were not many people at the monument that day.

At home, I have spent the last two days listing teapots on my Etsy store. The whole Etsy experience has been a lesson learned. I started out with some harlequin dolls from a collection I made in the 1980’s. I had offered the dolls to the little girls, but they find them creepy and always put them out in the hall when they sleep in the kids’ guest room. So, a few months ago, I looked at Etsy to see what it would take to list them.

I was just investigating opening a store, and before I knew it, I was actually opening one. They don’t really have a primer that tells you all the steps ahead of time, which was what I was looking for. I ran into trouble when it got to the shipping part. I could have just saved my listings and investigated the shipping later, but instead (don’t ever do this yourself), I guessed about the shipping. The program says “Let us estimate your shipping costs,” and I thought (duh!) that when it asked for the weight of the item, it meant the item itself, not the item with shipping materials. I stupidly thought they had a way of estimating the weight from the size of the box and the weight of the item. Of course, I had no boxes and I didn’t have the dolls packed, so I just weighed the dolls! Boy, was that dumb. I figured if I was off, I would only have to add a few dollars.

The error came out when I sold my first item, last week. It was my best doll, and I had it under-priced to begin with, I think (although I couldn’t find any as nice to compare it with). I packed it up in the only box I could find (the one containing my Indonesian puppets, whose bases I can’t find yet), printed the postage label, and took it to the post office. There I found that I owed $8 more on the postage. So, I made hardly any money on that doll. I also have a problem that to get boxes the correct size to ship the dolls, I have to order 25 of them! I only have a few more dolls to ship, so I hope that my husband will be able to make boxes for me out of other boxes. Oh, for the box store I used to go to in Austin, where you could get one of any size of box.

I have always planned to sell my teapot collection that I put together in the 1990’s, and that sale got me going again. So, the past few days, I got the right-sized box from Walmart and have been weighing each teapot with the packing materials on them, adding the weight of the box, unwrapping them and taking their pictures, and listing them. Some of the teapots are unusual enough that I wasn’t able to find comparisons, so I hope I have them priced right.

It has started to turn cooler here. The last two days have been cool and sunny, and finally the smoke has cleared out completely. Right now it is only 46 degrees out, and the high today will be 62. It will get warmer again next week, but I think fall is coming!

Oh dear. My niece just invited us a costume party for my great-nephew’s fourth birthday just before Halloween. I’m going to have to do some thinking. I haven’t dressed up for Halloween in about 20 years!

Fire, incoming guests, and an outing

The last few days we’ve been keeping an eye on the progress of a nearby forest fire. It started at Eagle Creek in Oregon, near the Columbia River Gorge, apparently by a 15-year-old shooting off illegal fireworks in the forest. It has displaced quite a few people in Oregon, although last I heard, no one had died and no structures have burned. But yesterday, it jumped the river into Washington. It is over in the next county, although I don’t think it is nearly as bad here as in Oregon. But they are evacuating some people on our side of the Gorge.

Our skies are so smoky this morning that we can barely see the sun, even though normally it would be a clear day.

Our skies have been really smoky as a result, and outside it smells like smoke. The air quality is very bad, and we have been avoiding doing work outside, although I had to go whack down the weeds in front of our address sign yesterday, because we are having guests who have never been here before and I realized you couldn’t read the number. There is ash all over our deck. I hope this is the worst we get from the fire and that everyone else’s houses are okay.

This is ash on the deck as of yesterday. Today it is worse.

At midnight the wind was supposed to change and the sky was supposed to clear out, but I could see no evidence of that when I got up. It was still hot out, too, and it was supposed to get cooler. But about an hour ago, I went outside and it was cooler, so I suppose the wind has finally shifted and the smoke will move out of the area. But since the wind is shifting from east winds to south winds, it will be blowing the ashes from the fire straight up into Washington, although not toward us anymore (we are northwest of the fire).

Just last Friday we saw some of the smoke on a little outing we took, although then it was not very bad, because the fire was still just on the Oregon side. We started out just going to the post office. But it was a nice day, although hot, and my husband decided we would take a little drive. First we headed straight east out of Yacolt, but after a while each of the roads we took ended up as private roads. One of the oddities of this area is that there are hundreds of private roads and roads that start out public often become private. It cramps your style when you are blindly exploring, as we like to do. So then, we decided to take Sunset Falls Road, which ends up in the Gifford National Forest, but only out as far as Dole Valley Road and then see what is on that road. Our ex-tenants live somewhere out on that road (they are my niece’s in-laws), so we wanted to see what the territory looked like.

It is much more remote than where we are. The road heads south, and we wound our way through mountains and a beautiful valley, presumably the Dole Valley, for hours. We thought we ended up in the Gifford National Forest, but looking at the map when we got home, I realized that it was the Yacolt State Forest. At some point in the forest, the road became just a narrow gravel road, and then it changed its name to L-1000. We passed a prison. It surprised us that there was a prison in what we thought was the national forest (but wasn’t).

Eventually, we got to a four-way intersection marked by signs on wooden stakes. One direction sounded like it pointed out destinations in the park. One sign said “Henderson,” and I had no idea where that was. It wasn’t even on our county map (which, since it was a map for bikers, helpfully had a huge legend covering the area of the county where we were) or the state map. The other sign said “Camas.” I knew where Camas was, on the Columbia River, because my sister and I visited it after art class one Wednesday. So, we decided to go to Camas, but it was still quite a drive to that nice little town. Camas has a scenic old town with lots of interesting shops, restaurants, and art galleries, so we stopped there for lunch at a Louisiana-style restaurant. The food was pretty good. There was some sort of art competition going on, because at just about every corner, there were artists working on canvasses. I know that there is a yearly art competition centered around areas of the Gorge, so maybe that was it. Finally, we drove home on the more normal route. When we got home, we found out we had been driving for about four hours.

Now, we are preparing for tomorrow’s arrival of my husband’s youngest brother and his wife. He was the brother who helped us drive our stuff up here from Texas. They are coming from British Columbia, where they live about an hour outside Vancouver (the more famous Vancouver). Although he was not eating a special diet when we moved last year, I find we need to locate somewhere where he can eat on a vegan, low-carb diet. That should be interesting.

For those who were worried about my brother, he is at home now. He did not have some of the more dangerous conditions they tested for, but he had to have his heart started twice to try to get it beating more regularly. Now, he will have to take medication every day and keep nitro glycerin pills near him at all times for the rest of his life. This is better than the alternative, I guess, but he is such an active guy who likes camping and kayaking and is in good physical health in other ways. He now has some blockage that makes him tire easily. Unfortunately, a bum ticker is part of our family heritage. My father died of a massive heart attack on the tennis court when he was 54, and his father died at the same age from the same thing (although not while playing tennis). My uncle was surprised that he made it to his 80’s. I guess this legacy has now made it down to one of my brothers.

 

Getting back to normal

We are back to our normal life this week after entertaining like mad last week. We had my middle brother (MB) and his wife here for Wednesday, then they moved over to my niece’s house so that my little brother (LB) and his family could stay at our house. Then MB and wife came back for the next night, after LB went home to Seattle. The house was noisy and full of people, but it was fun. We had nine people to dinner on Wednesday night and fifteen people to dinner on Thursday. When you consider that it’s usually just the two of us, that’s a lot of activity.

We are noisy when we get together. MB is quite the raconteur, and LB’s family of five is just plain outgoing (sort of a family trait—most of us are super extroverts, and then there’s me, the introvert). But LB has quite the knack of just coming in and making himself at home. When he and his family arrived, he came out on the deck and helped me grill the steaks (when he was young, he had a job as a chef at a fancy restaurant) and his wife started roasting cauliflower. MB also assisted with the steaks, only he had LB saying to him repeatedly, “Don’t cut it!” (He cuts into the meat to see if it is done. Apparently, you’re supposed to tap it.)

It’s a good thing everyone brought something, because I thought steak, big baked potatoes, and salad were enough. Then when I came back in from eating, hoping for more green beans that my niece brought, literally every bit of food was gone except for some of the steak. After dinner, LB’s oldest daughter, a lovely 16-year-old, started making cookies for dessert. My niece and her husband took their youngest home and left her daughter with us, so that she and her cousin, nine and ten, could spend some time together. The two little girls were no trouble at all.

And in the morning, LB got up and started making breakfast. That was a nice start to the day. Then we went over to pick raspberries at my niece’s house before they had to leave. That night, the rest of us went out to eat and finished the evening in my sister’s hot tub.

All in all, there was mostly just a lot of talking and story-telling, but that’s what family get-togethers are for. It was a shame that the week they were here was one of the hottest on record, one day being 105, but no one seemed to be uncomfortable. We just couldn’t go on any hikes, which is something we usually do.

The lower steps, ending up at the wolf pen. Yes, that thing in the bottom center of the picture is a step.

Then yesterday the guys were back out to work on the very last project that we are paying for, the outside steps from the top level of the house down to the lower drive. I don’t know if I reported a few weeks ago that I almost fell down those steps when the asphalt guys were working on the driveway. They were very dangerous. Some of them slanted, some were unsteady, and one was a step that was twice as high as the others. I forgot to take a picture of them to start with, so here is a picture of some other ones we have that are actually safer than the ones we replaced. These steps go from the lower drive down to the bottom of the orchard. See if they even look like steps to you. I have been weed whacking them, but I haven’t done it recently.

The steps at the bottom are new, and you can see what the old steps looked like at the top.

Since I forgot to take a before picture, I took the following picture while they were in progress. You can see that several steps are already inserted at the bottom of the picture, but the top of the steps give you an idea what they were like. The only ways besides these steps to get down from the upper level are to go back in the house and go down the stairs, or to walk all the way down the driveway to the lower drive and back up again.

Our nice new steps

Finally, here is a picture of the finished steps. They forgot we asked for a rail, so they will have to come back and provide one, but in the meantime, these steps are much safer. We have already been up and down them several times, whereas I used to avoid the other ones.

That pretty much takes care of the projects we are paying for, except for the sauna, and the electrician is coming out next week to install the new part. We still have lots more to get done around here, though. My husband says maybe we can have our contractors come back and do the lower steps later, but we have already used up more of our house sale money than I wanted to. I want to have some left over for emergencies. We have to take down the wallless shed so I can put up my garden boxes, so there will be some gardening related activities to report later. And my niece’s husband has some plans for some more rustic, but still safer, steps below.

But in the meantime, now that the major work on the house is done, I’ll have to figure out some other projects to work on.

The fourth and a deer stalker!

I probably mentioned that in the spring we saw some deer outside our living room window several times, but we haven’t seen them since. And the bunny that used to eat the grass in our driveway hasn’t been around since we asphalted the driveway, even though we have lots of nice grass around the driveway. So, we haven’t seen too much in the way of wildlife lately. But one morning I got up and my husband told me we had a window peeker. I was just getting alarmed when he explained that a deer had been standing at the window that morning looking in at him. We also have had curious hummingbirds hovering in front of the living room window as if they are looking in, not anywhere near the hummingbird feeders, but maybe they are seeing their reflections.

My husband and I didn’t expect to have plans for the fourth of July. I had asked my sister what her crew were doing, and she said they were thinking of going to the Fort Vancouver fireworks (which I have since learned are some of the biggest in the country). My husband doesn’t like fireworks, so absent an invitation, I figured we’d do what we usually do, stay home and do nothing. For years, I lived a 15-minute walk from where they shot off the fireworks in Austin. We could actually see the fireworks over the treetops from our living room (just barely, of course, and only the high ones). When I was single, I went down there and watched them, but since I’ve been married, not once.

However, my niece sent out a Facebook invitation. At the last minute, she decided she didn’t want to face the crowds, so they invited a bunch of friends for a potluck. I made beet and apple salad, to which I added some goat cheese. That turned out to be a delicious addition. And we brought a couple of watermelons.

We had a nice time, although it got fairly hot. When I first got there, my great-nephew, who is three, insisted I go watch him climb a tree. He was able to get up to the first branch. After I watched him once, we went to the garden and picked some strawberries. Then he told me I had to watch him climb it five times. Luckily, people began arriving at that point, which distracted him. A surprising number of people showed up, about six couples and their kids. I didn’t count the kids, but one family brought five of them, so there were a lot of them, ranging in age from about 16 to 3, racing all around the yard, going up into the tree house, walking the weasels, and having a great time.

We had a feast. There was a terrific amount of food for the number of people. Our watermelons didn’t even get opened up, so we brought one home and left the other for my sister and the kids.

And finally, my husband had to put up with fireworks, which are legal in Clark County. My niece doesn’t believe in disturbing the neighbors, even though they have been shooting off fireworks every evening since Friday, so ours were restrained. But they were pretty. Finally, though, her husband and my sister convinced her to let them shoot off a few of the big ones. My sister bought a package of them two years ago, and my niece has been too concerned about how loud they are to let them shoot them off. I think half the package is still there. They shot off four of them, the pretty kind that shoot way up into the air and then explode in colors.

So, we had a nice time.

On the house improvement side, no progress this week except that we got a bubble in our marmoleum. I am waiting for the flooring guy to call me back with a date for the guy to come back and fix it. And no word on the carpet. I will call them this week to see if it got shipped on time. That was supposed to happen on Friday.

We have stacked about twice as much firewood as I showed last time. Now we are waiting for the racks to arrive so that we can safely stack the rest. And, yay! my husband finished fastening the bookcases to the wall. I thought I was going to work on the books on Monday, but I feared I was coming down with something, so I spent most of the day in bed. I had a sore throat for four nights running, but now I believe it is some kind of allergy.

Fox on a stony, lichen-covered background

So, no pictures for you today, except this one of the fox I just finished drawing in art class. We have a new teacher, starting last week. We are still trying to decide if we like her or if we want to start looking for another class with our old teacher. We are complicated a little by the fact that we are planning to enroll my nine-year-old great niece in the class when school starts. She is partially home-schooled, and this will fulfill an art requirement, plus we thinks she will really like it. So, the Wednesday afternoon time slot is perfect for her and for my sister. I can go anytime.

I was a little perturbed by the new teacher in several ways. First, she had me change the approach my other teacher was having me take to indicate the lichen on the rocks. I was almost done with my picture at the beginning of class, and she made me rework quite a bit of it.┬áThis change in midstream made me feel as if the result was muddy. Then, she started talking to us about the way our original teacher had us prepare to do a picture, which she felt was unnecessary. I have to admit that when I first encountered it, I was surprised, but it results in a picture that is much neater. She has us drawn the major outlines of our picture onto tracing paper, where you can make as many mistakes as you want, and then lightly trace the outlines onto our paper. That way, your drawing is transferred without mistakes onto the paper, and you have guidelines to work with when you begin working in charcoal. Well, our new teacher doesn’t like this and is talking about “weaning us away from it.”

Finally, this is a small point, but I just realized that our old teacher always told us to sign our pictures before we spray them, and this one didn’t. My poor fox picture doesn’t have my signature, because I forgot. Ah well, maybe we’ll get used to her. She didn’t do what our old teacher did and ignore the new students until she got to them. On the other hand, she was more easily distracted, so that we didn’t get our turns for her attention strictly in order, like we are used to.

New Year in Washington

snow-lights
Snow on New Year’s Day

We have had an eventful holiday season, our first with family for several years. We spent Christmas Eve with my sister and my niece and her family. I made an English trifle dessert, my sister cooked ham, and my niece made veggies and salad. We had dinner, then later we all decorated Christmas cookies, even the three-year-old. We finished up with the kids opening a few presents. It was a lovely evening.

My husband and I spent Christmas day by ourselves as we usually do, just opening our presents and having a quiet dinner. So, that was nice, too.

Then we more or less went back to normal for the rest of the week, having no plans for New Year’s Eve. Well, we didn’t think we had plans, but then my youngest brother let my sister know that he and his family would be driving down from Seattle on New Year’s Eve. That morning, my husband and I had some errands in town, so we picked up a few things for the ravening hoards to eat, as we didn’t know the plans. There turned out not really to be any. We took all our food over to my niece’s house later in the day, and my brother and his family arrived in the late afternoon.

It began snowing shortly before they arrived, snowed all evening, and most of the next day. By morning, when I took the picture above, we had about four inches of snow. All in all, I think we got about six or seven. It was lovely stuff, soft and sticky. Later in the day, it got sunny for a while, so the snow was sparkling on the branches.

My brother and his wife ditched their kids the first night, so they were the first to inaugurate our new guest suite, which isn’t totally put together yet (the doors are off all the rooms) but is good enough since they were downstairs and we were upstairs. Coming back from my niece’s house around midnight, we weren’t sure we were going to make it up our steep driveway, and we had to make several attempts, so my brother started putting his chains on his tires around 1 AM after seeing the house and visiting for a while. We all (except my husband) stayed up until 3 AM, something I am no longer used to. My husband and I were up earlyish the next day, but they were not. A good time was had by all, at least until the next morning.

We woke to lots of beautiful snow. The kids stayed out almost all afternoon building snow men and snow igloos, having snowball fights, and sledding. The adults went in and out. I hit my nephew with a few snowballs, but unfortunately my choice was between warm but slippery Uggs or my waterproof, nonslip, but not that warm muck boots. I chose the muck boots and had to go inside after a while, so I sat by the fire with my sister.

The second night, my brother’s entire family came to stay. They can be quite the active group, so I was a little worried, but actually they were great. The kids got their Christmas presents from us, and then we all watched an old movie on TV and had popcorn. Later, my sister-in-law and her oldest daughter and I stayed up talking until about midnight, but everyone else went to bed when the movie was over.

It was such a nice holiday. My husband and I, as I keep saying, haven’t living among family for years, my husband since he moved down to Texas to be with me, and me since the 1980’s. So far, our nearness to our family has been perfect. We get support and company without anyone feeling like we’re imposing on them.

Happy New Year to you all.