Sunday, March 28, 2021

Gnomes, Art, and Garden Treasures: Walking Seattle Neighborhoods


Since I've been walking my corner of Seattle much more in the last year, I'm discovering a whimsical side of my city.

Lately I've started approaching my walks as a treasure hunt. I look closely in yards and gardens I pass for the quirky, the art, and of course the ubiquitous gnomes. 

Seattleites love their gardens. With 75 percent of its residential land zoned for single-family homes (which BTW is now controversial with our growing population and affordability issues), there are a lot of sweet, tiny, and spacious yards to pass.

While some zoning is switching from single family to more dense development, with a loss of landscaping, plenty of yards and gardens persist, for now.

For starters, I'm seeing a lot more painted rocks, some with messages of encouragement, placed carefully in rockeries, parking strips, and even drainage swales.

And then there are little surprises sometimes when you look down at the ground.

Fence art and decorative gates are one of my favorite things to spot. I love that this niche is giving some artists work. The gorgeous sunflower gate below appears to be hand-carved.

One corner home/yard I passed last week was full of Easter eggs scattered about and hanging from trees, along with various other bits of garden art, like an old sink repurposed as a (dried up) frog pond. They even had a little machine set up on steps beside the sidewalk that pumps out bubbles as you pass by. 

I think I would like whomever lives there.

After gnomes and Buddhas, frogs (or toads?) are pretty popular, like this chill guy and the pensive one below. He called me to stop and contemplate for a moment.

And yes, the gnomes. They call a bunch of crows a murder of crows. Do you know what a group of gnomes is called? (I don't, but I could easily make something up. A gaggle? A nonsense? Ah, some commenters below says it's a donsey of gnomes).

My personal taste trends toward the Asian, which I find charming, a bit mysterious, and serene.

My Buddha, created by a Zen Master

This unique sculpture caught my eye yesterday. It looks like these three fish are swimming toward Puget Sound from up on the side of a modern box-style home.

While the rush is on here to convert smaller houses with bigger yards to tear-down/rebuild big box houses (or apartments) with very little yard, I value the green spaces, the messy yards, the tidy yards, and the shrubs and trees that provide habitat for birds and urban wildlife. 

And I especially appreciate those who take the care and time to add their own quirky, artistic touches to their landscape. I think I need to start looking for a home gnome to stash in my yard.

Not my gnome.

How about you? Do you have a yard with any unique art? Any gnomes or toads or decorative touches? Would love to hear in a comment below!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Covid Food Chronicles

Over a year has passed now since the first Covid-19 case was detected in my state (Washington), which was also the first recorded in the United States. I don't know about you, but I haven't eaten a meal inside a restaurant since March 12, 2020.

There's been a lot of cooking going on. 

I've also gotten numerous takeout meals to support some of my local, independent cafes, bakeshops, and restaurants as best I can. But the cooking has increased.

I know that I'm fortunate to have a home and enough money to eat healthfully and well, albeit not extravagantly. I recognized in my impoverished, liberal arts graduate twenties that one didn't need to be wealthy to eat just as well as someone of great affluence. (Can you say fresh from the garden? Or my friend Becky's caramel chocolate brownies?)

Initially, everything was closed during the first lockdown last March, with no takeout food at all. Out came my cookbooks, and I tried a classic Better Homes & Gardens American comfort food dish: tuna noodle casserole. I did what I could to lighten it up a bit (low-fat milk, less cheese, more veggies). 

My friend Matt, who was parked in my guest room for the first 3 months of the pandemic, raved about it, so it was a repeat dish. 

Since no bakeries were open and I was cooking for someone else much taller and hungrier, I tried baking my "Mock Croc" spicy chocolate chip cookies. Given that my oven only had one setting (way too hot) before it died in May, I was lucky to not burn every cookie.They tasted better than they looked.

Since then, the bakeshops/bakeries reopened for takeout. I've left most of the baking to the pros except for the huckleberry galette I made from berries I picked in the mountains last fall.

While cooking for two, I cooked more elaborate dishes than I normally would. This roasted chicken (from local Stokesberry Sustainable Farms) for Easter Sunday was as good as anything at a fancy restaurant, IMHO.

And stewed spring rhubarb with yogurt and homemade granola was my staple breakfast for over a month.

For the first few months of the pandemic, our farmers markets were not allowed to open here in Seattle. Some farmers came anyway and set up stalls on the street, so I snuck out there too to buy spring local veggies. By summer the farmers markets were able to reopen. I feel safer shopping outdoors and supporting our local farmers anyway.

With the months-long closure of Golden Gardens Park last spring, food vendor Miri's, a tiny cafe in the park's historic bathhouse, lost most of their business, so I've ordered their home delivery. They offer excellent Mediterranean fare and mini Dutch pancakes called poffertjes.

In late spring and summer, my vegetable garden kicked into full gear. (Last year more people took up gardening since most of us stuck closer to home. Did you?) 

There's nothing quite so splendid to eat as a salad or veggies freshly harvested from your own garden. Here west of the Cascade Mountains, we do battle with slugs and snails who also love the fresh greens, but still, we manage.


By late June, my raspberries began bursting out a bumper crop. There's really nothing as splendid as eating freshly picked raspberries. Besides plucking and eating them to excess, I made freezer jam and froze several bags to use for smoothies.

Later in the summer, a few heads of cabbage in my garden survived the relentless attack of the slugs. Smaller heads of just-harvested cabbage are surprisingly tender.

Spring and summer were about the garden, but with fall came soup season. I could live on salad and good, flavorful soup. I have a rotation of soup recipes, and added a few this past year. A lemony split pea (below) is a new favorite.

And it hasn't been all garden fresh and homemade. A classic Seattle burger chain is  just 2.5 blocks from my home, the closest place to get food. A couple times in the last year I've gotten their so-so cheeseburger and locally made ice cream scoops (maple walnut is my fave). (We all indulge sometimes, right? No?)

During the dark winter months, my afternoon ritual of fika has become increasingly important to me. Perhaps because of my Scandinavian ancestry, I've embraced this Swedish tradition, loosely defined as a coffee and cake break (for me tea and a cookie).

I suspect the pandemic plays a role in my need for this ritual, but these 10 minutes or so each afternoon while I sip fine tea out of my grandmother's china and nibble a baked treat are a balm, a mini-vacation from the day's stresses. I blend silver and jasmine pearl teas in a teapot and then reheat the cookie (usually a buckwheat fig bar, but in the shot above a madeleine) to just crispy. 

There have been hits and misses as I work my way through new recipes and revive old favorites. I've rediscovered old cookbooks I stopped using years ago. I've gotten a few new ones. 

Some sources I've used a lot are Deborah Madison's cookbooks (mostly vegetarian classics), Danielle Walker's Eat What You Love (paleo forward), Terry Walter's Clean Food books, farm-to-table Dishing up the Dirt by farmer Andrea Bemis, the 1980s classic Silver Palate by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, and various magazines like Eating Well and Bon Appetit.  Plus numerous websites.

 I didn't get on the sourdough baking bandwagon that was a craze early in the pandemic. But I've expanded my repertoire, saved $$ on eating out, occasionally indulged in too many sweets, eaten healthfully, and generally enjoyed eating better.

How about you? Have you been cooking more the last year? Trying new foods? Would love to hear in a comment below!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  



Friday, January 8, 2021

Tashi & Me: Feline Love and Loss


On December 30, 2020 delivered a final insult with the loss of my cat Tashi. Here's my tribute to this formerly feral girlfriend.

It all started back in 2007, when I noticed several black and white cats suddenly hanging around my yard. 

One tuxedo cat of the bunch caught my eye. During a downpour one afternoon, I saw it perched delicately and resolutely atop a fence post outside my kitchen window, seemingly oblivious to the drenching rain.

Reasoning that if they were well fed, they wouldn't hunt and kill birds (I was wrong), I started leaving dishes of food out for the feral cats on my back patio. 

One day while sitting on my back steps, I noticed that little tuxedo cat was willing to come feed within a foot of where I sat. When her head was down in the dish, I slowly reached out my hand and gently scratched the top of her head. She didn't flinch!

So began years of Tashi slowly moving inside and becoming my loving, funny, feisty pet. 

The gaze.

When I say years, I mean years of slowly building her trust. By 2009 she would come inside and sit on the corner of my sofa. But only if the backdoor was open, and I was sitting silently on the other corner. I could give her pets and scratches, and when she decided it was time to retreat, boom, she was gone.

After a couple more years, she was comfortable being in my house (she made a beeline to the heat vent in the living room) and would even would do sleepovers on the couch. But I could never go outside, pick her up, and bring her inside. Nope. It was all on her terms.

Tashi not coming inside at night when I called her.

By 2013, she was decidedly my pet, and we had our routines. She became my alarm clock, set a little too early, when she jumped on my bed each morning asking for pets and breakfast. She was very bossy to the other feral cats (there were about nine at the peak) and let them know my house and I were her property.

Getting comfortable.

I knew I was in deep when I went away for a long weekend (my neighbor would leave food out for the cats), and I got worried sick when I heard there was a cold snap with night temps down to 13 degrees in Seattle. I did a web search and read that domestic cats can die with prolonged exposure to that cold.

But of course Tashi was okay when I got home, and she gratefully came inside and found her way to a heat vent, then my bed.

By 2016, I kept her inside when I went away for a week and paid to have someone come in to feed her and give her meds. As the vet said, better an angry cat than a dead cat. By this time I was aware there were coyotes in the 'hood.

Just like people, the longer you're with an animal, the more the layers of their personality peel back. Tashi had many layers. She had street smarts, but was caught more than once swatting and chasing huge racoons quadruple her size. She was affectionate, trained me to serve her purposes, and made me laugh out loud the more talkative and chirpy she became. She HATED getting pilled and let you know loudly.

 As she had more health issues the last few years (chronic kidney failure, common in older cats), Tashi finally settled down and became mostly an indoor cat. She showed her affection with lots of head butts and face rubs and kitty kisses. She sought my company, followed me down to my office, and slept on a pillow beside my desk while I worked.

After a couple hospitalizations with pancreatitis (most expensive pet ever) a couple years ago, I didn't think she'd last through 2018. But she bounced back.  Wow this little cat was a fighter.

She knew tabletops weren't for cats. Did she care?

Tashi had a pretty good 2019 after a series of urinary tract infections. She gained back weight, and we managed to stay away from the vet for over 6 months. Meanwhile, she had finally become comfortable with a few friends who spent time in my home too. 

But in 2020 the infections returned, one after the other. She bounced back, but not as strongly with each one. The antibiotics started being less effective. 

In October I received a package from a good friend that now has extra special meaning. Suezy had commissioned our mutual artist friend Don to paint a retablo (in traditional New Mexican folk art style) of St. Tashi, Patron Saint of the Catless.

So that's why Suezy had asked me for photos of Tashi!

"St. Tashi" by Don Sandoval

So the beauty of this gift is that now my Tashi is my patron saint! This is of course tongue in cheek, but still, it gives me comfort. Because this complicated, sweet feline spent 13 years burrowing deep into my heart. 

And me? I sadly don't have any decent photos of Tashi and me together. But I leave you with this little clip below, with me calling and trying to cajole her to come inside. She basically did what she wanted to do. Fortunately for me, for years that was being my entertaining, insistent, cuddly companion.

Have you lost a beloved pet in the last year, or perhaps adopted a new pet? Would love to hear in a comment below. And think about donating to the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  



Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020, A Year Outdoors in Photos


What a long and strange year 2020 has been. How many of us foresaw our world changing so dramatically?

This afternoon I thought of how different last holiday season was compared to 2020. In 2019, there were dinners out with family and friends, a getaway to a bustling seaside town, a few parties, and shopping and walking in crowds. 

Between the pandemic, racial justice protests turned violent, devastating wildfires, crazy political and cultural divisions, and the loss of a friend and a beloved pet, well, I'm glad to see 2020 take leave. It was an intense year.

But the good times were equally intense in contrast. Everybody seemed to take my #getoutside motto to heart. I didn't stray more than 80 miles from Seattle all year, but I still managed to see and discover plenty of beauty outdoors. Here's a sampling of a northwest Washington year in photos.

After a shoulder injury on my first and only day skiing of the season, I began the first of many weekly plunges in Puget Sound in late January. While it's always a shock to hit that cold water, it also generates a sense of exhilarating euphoria. Cold water swimming can help you feel instantly more alive and energized.

The first plunge. Puget Sound.

Ah February. When we still went out for meals with friends outside our household, went to parties, and were just vaguely aware of a new virus in China. Early in the month, I went to Port Townsend and had a wonderful brunch while sitting across the table from my aunt and a friend. Looking back, it seems so carefree. 
Each February I go down to a park near my home to find the delicate snowdrops that bloom in the forest, an early sign of spring.
Snowdrops in Carkeek

And then it all hit the fan. Thus began a spring of long walks and bike rides exploring my corner of Seattle. I didn't leave the city or fill my car's gas tank for over 2 months. A good friend was parked in my guest room from November 2019 until June, so it was nice to have a companion to walk home with in the dark after some outstanding sunsets at sea's edge.

Salish Sea sunset, Olympic Mountains beyond

Unlike many, I actually lost weight in the first few months of the pandemic from all those walks, bike rides, and not eating out. A bike ride to see the sunrise on a chilly Easter morning was extra special.

Lake Union predawn
With May came the full lushness of a western Washington spring. Looking back at my hundreds of photos, I took almost daily walks down to a forested park near my home. It was a pleasure to see the forest unfurl and ripen with the richness of the season on a regular basis. There were also more sunset bike rides.

Golden Gardens sunset

Come June, we seemed to "flatten the curve" a bit, and I left Seattle for some hiking and drives for the first time since February. I must say, while it was good to drive less, it was also wonderful to do a "real" hike through a healthy forest in the Cascade foothills.
Mountains to Sound Greenway
With the fullness of summer, I pulled out my sea kayak for more kayaking than I've done in several years. Plus it's one of the best sports for distancing. Some friends and I had a brilliant day paddling to some small islands up in Skagit Bay.

Skagit Bay

It was wonderful getting out more than earlier in the year. Late August hiking with a friend and her daughter was another highlight.

Mt. Rainer in the distance from Mason Lake Trail

Our prime outdoors season was abruptly halted Labor Day with shockingly heavy wildfire smoke. Half the Northwest seemed to go up in flames at the same time. It was truly distressing. Things cleared up by the end of the month, and I enjoyed a brilliant fall hike with the Alpine Trails Book Club. We spent some time in the stretch of huckleberry shrubs packed with berries ready for picking.

Scarlet huckleberries in the foreground, Tonga Ridge 

I always say October is my favorite month. This year it lived up to that again, with some marvelous fall hikes over near Leavenworth and Ingalls Pass, farther east than I strayed all year.

Mt. Stuart

While Thanksgiving dinner was quiet and solo, a first, I got in some good long walks and hikes over the holiday weekend. This year, my connections with friends and family were all outside.

Mt. Si

As I write this, the month and year are almost over. It has been a tough holiday season without my usual events and connections. But I've done some nice hikes with friends. And there's always something indefinably clarifying and uplifting about a ferry ride across Puget Sound. 

Bainbridge ferry

So to wrap up, I'm still processing 2020. It was just too big to neatly tie up. Our world has shifted. 
Looking back, I really did get out a lot. Probably as much as any year from summer onward. The sea and mountains draw me out, as always.

How about you? Did you get outdoors more in 2020?

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.