Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Black Walnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire?

During my trip to Maryland in October, I spent a morning picking up many black walnuts that had littered the ground in parts of our yard. I did it because our prolific trees provide us with a vast expanse of walnut seedlings each spring. We mow them down, or I pull them out by their roots, but they return each year. In an effort to be proactive, I gathered all the nuts before they could turn into weeds. I was faced with a beautiful day, an energetic body, and a lack of patience.

Christmas means kiflings (a family cookie tradition), and kiflings mean walnuts. I am reminded that there is more to a walnut than the mere possibility that it will germinate and become a weed. There is the concept that we could actually eat it. (Well, Peter can’t because of his nut allergy, but the rest of us can.) I have looked online and found a little bit about how to harvest and crack them, a little about how to cook with them, and a little about how the emerging market for black walnuts in China could mean we are living on a potential walnut mine! As a bonus, I discovered that eating them actually promotes weight loss because they are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.

My goal for next year is to discover a little bit more by September so I can actually make a decent attempt at harvesting, cracking, storing, cooking, and eating our own black walnuts. (Since 65% of the wild harvest comes from Missouri, I’m counting on my Missouri friends and family to help me out here.) It seems a waste to let a bounty of food go to the squirrels every year. If you’re not up for grape stomping, but you still want to help us discover new ways of living next fall, drop by for the black walnut harvest. If you’re up for both, we may still be able to accommodate you. Each fall in several states, cities host a Black Walnut Festival. Are there any adventurous explorers out there who would like to accompany me to Ohio, West Virginia, or Missouri?

Next year at this time, stop by our house and join us for some roasted walnuts...or whatever we come up with. I can’t guarantee that you’ll find Jack Frost, yuletide choirs, or folks dressed up like Eskimos, but I can guarantee wine, warmth, food, and friendship.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Piano Moving Day

Today we sold our piano to a terrific young family (the Songs!) that is excited about learning and exploring a new passion. Our baby grand piano was purchased nine years ago when we were in the same stage of life. Our oldest was taking piano lessons, and we had hopes that our other two children would also learn. As it turns out, the oldest was a fine pianist, but her passion was in choir. Our middle child found her passion in the theater, and our youngest is still in search of his passion. Regardless, the piano was not it, and it is time to sell it and move on.

Our oldest is unhappy about us selling the piano. She has fond memories of playing it and using it to help her sing. She has many friends who are proficient at it and would play it when they visited our house. (Thank you, Tania, for your many beautiful serenades!) But now our oldest lives on the East Coast in a dorm that has its own grand piano. I suspect she has never played it. I also suspect she wouldn’t play ours if we moved it.

We only briefly considered moving the piano with us to Maryland. For one thing, Peter and I don’t play it. And although we might occasionally have visitors who do, we weren’t convinced that it was worth the space that it would take up. Also, a piano prefers a climate controlled environment. Our house in Maryland is anything but climate controlled. Temperature and humidity swing like a pendulum, wreaking havoc on a wooden instrument’s tuning and tone. No, we just couldn’t do that with a good conscience.

We have the memories that life with a piano afforded us. Now it’s time for this reliable and beautiful instrument to meet a new family and provide them with many years of memories and beauty. It wasn’t built to stand as a piece of furniture or as a monument to times past. It was built to be played and enjoyed in the moment by appreciative hands and ears and smiling faces. Merry Christmas to the Song children. May you have many happy memories ahead of you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One Thousand Gifts

My women’s Bible study is currently reading One Thousand Gifts by Anne Voskamp. The premise of the book (from what I can tell) is to give thanks (eucharisteo) for all that we have by noticing the little things that make life wonderful. The author was challenged to start a list of 1,000 things that she is thankful for. She surpasses 1,000 and keeps on going.

My Bible study has chosen to follow in her footsteps and also find thanks in the little things. I have chosen, however, to delay starting my list until I move to Maryland. It’s not that I’m not thankful for all that is Seattle and Bellevue. It’s that I’d probably be too thankful and focused on all that I’m about to give up.

I don’t want to create some wimpering list of what I’m leaving behind. I want to be thankful for everything wherever I am. Since I’m sure that will be a bigger struggle just after a major move, that’s what I intend to do. I’m going to be actively searching for all that is wonderful and makes life worth living in my new environment. And, no, I’m not giving myself a deadline. If it takes me a long time to hit a thousand, then that’s what it takes.

If I were to start today, my first entry would be the smell of pumpkin scones baking. It would be followed by the smile on my daughter's face when she walks through the door and discovers the scones. Moments like those make me thankful that I can enjoy them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Quick Lesson in Winemaking

Earlier I described the process by which we stomped some of our wine grapes to start turning grapes into wine. Here is where I’ll describe the next step of the process. This is highly simplified, but it’s about my speed. If you want more information, Gerald is your guy.

The white varietal, Marsanne, wasn’t stomped. Instead, Gerald and Uncle Pete pressed it until all the juices ran out. We aren’t interested in saving skins or seeds because we don’t want the tannins in the wine. Also, white skins do nothing for the color. As you can see by the photo, we are left with all the skins, stems, and seeds which are pressed tightly into a “pumice cake” when we are done. It is discarded in the compost bin.

The juice from the reds is left soaking in the skins and seeds which adds color and tannins. Sometimes the fermentation is started immediately, and sometimes it is delayed for a couple of days. Regardless, the mixtures are stirred twice a day to keep the skins and seeds in contact with the juice. They tend to float and dry out in a cap floating on the surface.

Once fermentation is started, we have to test the juice for specific gravity at least daily. Gerald pointed out a slim glass pipette for me to use. I spent over an hour trying to test the different juices because the seeds and skins kept clogging the tube. Peter suggested a much larger plastic pipette the next day. It was faster, but still took a long time. Finally, I was super frustrated at the amount of time and effort this was taking me every night. I wanted to quit the whole thing! That’s when my ever-calm husband provided me with the strainer and cup that moved me from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century and saved my remaining sanity. I still think there’s a better way, but I’ll leave that to an engineer to figure out.

While we were away in the Northeast, Gerald was able to press off the juices of the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. The resulting pumice cakes likely looked a lot like a purple or brown version of the photo above. Now the wines sit in carboys as they continue to slowly age in a cold room (50 degrees?) for a long time. I’m not sure what else happens, but I’m sure Gerald tinkers with it now and then. It will probably be bottled next summer.

Here is how the winemaker defines himself. Not only is timing important (harvest early or late, ferment right away or wait), but so is temperature (warm fermentation or cold), the yeast used (many, many choices). Does he want a single varietal wine or a blend? Does he want light tannins or strong ones? Red or rosé? Carbonated or flat? What other features does he prefer in a wine? The same berry can produce very different wines depending on how it is processed after it is harvested. Gerald tests different ways of doing each of these things to help him decide on the best way to make wine using our grapes. It’s a dynamic process, and we have a lot of variability from year to year.

We have homemade wines from our vineyard on both coasts. Join us for a glass or two!

Class dismissed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Sense of Peace

I have returned from my two weeks in Maryland with Peter. He remains there for another two weeks while I take care of life in Bellevue.

This was an unusual trip in that Peter and I were both in Maryland and we weren’t being rushed from activity to activity like so often happens when I visit. Instead, we got to taste what life will be like next year when it’s just the two of us. Sure, I hope to have a job and other factors will come into play, but it was a good rehearsal. It helped that some of our belongings were shipped on this trip, so we are starting to have familiar pieces of our life around us.

I’m happy to say that I feel deeply and confidently that all will be fine. I’ve fretted and complained and balked about moving, but it’s going to be okay. We have plenty to keep us busy at the farm and at the house, we have family nearby, and we have each other. At the risk of sounding mushy, that’s the best part. Even after over 20 years of marriage, we can happily spend lots of time together.

I’ve also started reading After the Boxes Are Unpacked: Moving on After Moving In by Susan Miller. The author moved 13 times in 18 years and has much wisdom to impart for amateurs like me. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, and I now look forward to moving to Maryland with Peter.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My First Real Crush

Crushed: Mourvedre, Tinta Çao, Touriga naҫional, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo (by Julia)
Pressed but not crushed: Marsanne

Though I stomped grapes one other time in a small metal bucket, Saturday was my first real crush. The two experiences were quite different. We started the morning at 7:30 in the vineyard harvesting the grapes. Some rows were easier to work with than others. As a newbie, I chose to stick with the easier work. I found the big bunches and snipped, expecting the clusters to fall heavy into my hand to be placed in the plastic lug for collection. Sometimes that happened, but more often some of the grape stems were wrapped around the support wire and needed to be unwrapped or otherwise freed from the trellis. I also found that some clusters were actually multiple clusters that had grown together. There might have been two or even three stems that needed to be snipped before the cluster was free. It wasn’t hard, but it was more tedious that my simple mind expected.
We hauled the lugs to our house where the men set up the stomping system while the women prepared the spa and began soaking our legs in the chlorinated water. I felt like it was a very important part of the pre-cleaning process. Also, the air was in the low 60s and the spa was 101. I won’t pretend that we didn’t enjoy the warmth.

Once the bathtub-sized tub was set up, the grapes were weighed and poured into the tub, it was time for the women to get to work. (I’m not going to hide the very obvious division of labor here.) Three of us would finish cleaning our feet and legs and then climb into the tub. The idea is to stomp all the grapes in the tub in order to free the juices from the berries. We only stomp the red wine. White wine doesn’t have the skins and seeds mixed with it. The process is chilly, slippery, and stimulating. The entire cluster is in the tub: berries and stems. The stems provide an invigorating sole massage while we stomped on the berries.

Gerald provided attendees with wine tastings using previous vintages of the varietal that we were currently crushing. That was a nice touch, but not one that I really took advantage of. First, stomping is slippery, so my hands were preoccupied holding the edges of the tub like gunnels of a canoe. Second, I’m really not supposed to drink wine because it can trigger migraines. Third, I wasn’t ready to add alcohol to my already uncoordinated body. There’s nothing classy about falling down in a tub of grapes. I am proud to say that I never did. It’s all due to my upper body strength as my arms kept me upright while me feet took off in their own direction.
If you think stomping grapes is all fun and frolic, let me introduce you to the workout benefits. First, stomping is similar to walking up a set of stairs (very shallow stairs, perhaps). That up and down movement works the legs while the shoulders and arms sustain the body weight during aforementioned coordination issues. The last part of the stomp is to lift up all the crushed clusters and run them through a coarse screen to separate the stems from the rest of the crush. It involves a lot of bending and massaging in a way that is similar to kneading bread. Trust me, it works the shoulders. As proof of the workout, I had an enormous appetite on Saturday night. On Sunday, my body ached in ways I didn’t expect. (My hands hurt from stomping grapes? Yes, they were holding tight to the sides of the tub for extended amounts of time.)

After each stomping session, the women hosed off the grapes skins and detritus and headed back to the spa. There’s nothing like warm water to ease the muscles. The men processed the crush and cleaned up the stomping area.

If you would like to participate in a future crush, send me a note. Crushes can occur between the end of August and the end of October, weather permitting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Checking In

It’s been awhile since I last blogged because, well, life got in the way. Mostly, I’ve been taking care of my family – and other families. I have also completed four quilts, one of which is headed to Maryland right now. Peter has been to Maryland twice since that last blog (he was here for the earthquake and Hurricane Irene), and now I’ve joined him for a trip of two weeks.

As early October rolled around, I rented a Relocube from ABF. I was able to fill it (with the help of Allison’s male friends) with furniture and belongings that we don’t need to keep in Bellevue any longer. There are some desks, chairs, bookcases, china, and lots of Erin’s stuff. I even managed to get the Dogloo thrown in at the top.

The cube takes about a week to get from Bellevue to Charlotte Hall, so we anticipate its arrival on Friday of this week. You could say that the move is finally becoming real to me. We still have plenty of stuff left in Bellevue, but having some of our belongings in Charlotte Hall will start to make it feel more like ours. The house is currently furnished with second-hand goods, and it doesn’t really feel like our home.

I’ve worked a little in the yard earlier this week and seen all the trees that came down in Hurricane Irene. I also picked up a bunch of black walnuts and osage oranges, risking my life in the process. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but not overly so. As I was picking up these fruits, others were dropping around me. I really don’t want to describe what it feels like to have a 10” diameter fruit fall on me. I was tempted to wear a bike helmet during the 30 minutes I was picking up black walnuts. They are less likely to knock me out, but I still think they can cause a good bruise.

I’ll write plenty more in the next couple of weeks. This entry is more to let you know that we’re still alive and slowly working on the moving process.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What I Look Forward To In Maryland

I promised in an earlier post that I would list what I look forward to about moving to Maryland. This is difficult because I haven’t lived there although I grew up about an hour away. Give me 18 years, and I’ll have a list to battle the Bellevue list (I hope). The items are in no particular order.

I am looking forward to:
• Randy’s BBQ in Hughesville.
• Finding a job. (Earlier today I searched both the DC and Seattle markets for the exact same position. DC listed 75 possibilities; Seattle listed 3.)
• Renovating our house. I really look forward to making it functional for how we live today rather than living with a floor plan that worked 130 years ago.
• Lightning bugs.
• Thunder storms. I was terrified of them when I was little, but now I kind of like them. The Northwest has tiny little storms with a couple of booms and then they’re done. The East has real whoppers that can scare you half to death! It’s good to get the adrenaline pumping now and then.
• Warm weather and sun starting in spring and lasting until fall.
• Snow that is quickly plowed on relatively flat streets.
• Volunteering less. I have volunteered an extreme amount over many years, and it’s time for a break. People in Bellevue have learned that I don’t usually say no. People in Maryland may not learn that one about me. Frankly, I might not even have the time to volunteer.
• Spending significantly more time with my husband since we’ll be more likely to be on the same coast. In 2010, Peter was in Maryland 31% of the year. It’s looking like it will be 36% this year.
• Not having to vote for the fire district or the port authority commissioners. Really, how can I possibly know who is the most qualified?
• A short line at public offices. Since we are rural, our licensing lines aren’t three hours long, and our post office lines are almost non-existent.
• Seeing my family more often. I have four brothers and 10 Thomason nieces and nephews. When they travel, they are more likely to head east rather than west.
• Kayaking on Macintosh Run which is the river alongside the winery. Next door to the winery is a kayak rental company.
• Audiobooks. While I don’t look forward to a long commute, I’ll likely have one. That will allow me lots of time to listen to audiobooks.
• Learning new skills as a chicken farmer. I like the idea of trying to be responsible for at least some of my own food. I don’t know how it will go, but I’m willing to give it a try.
• Reuniting with my dog. He’s currently on loan to my parents until we make our final move. I miss him terribly.
• The sounds of crickets, cicadas, and frogs. Also, the bird population is different. I like the sounds of my youth.
• The pure adventure of it all. I moved to Bellevue when my firstborn was a week old. We had new jobs, a new child, a new community, and not a single friend within 1000 miles. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, but I embraced the opportunity and made it through with a grin on my face. It’s time to do the same thing in reverse.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shipping Maryland Wine

Maryland wineries have been fighting some archaic alcohol laws within the state. The state is making headway, but what appears to be an easy fix on the surface is never quite so straight forward at its root.

During the last legislative session, Maryland lawmakers agreed to lift the 78-year ban on shipping wine to or from the state. The ban not only prevented residents from receiving wine shipments, it also prevented wineries from the ability to ship their wine to wine competitions. From a purely economic standpoint, the state had much to lose. The ability of Maryland wines to place well in large wine competitions could only enhance Maryland wine sales and, in the process, tax coffers.

The ban was lifted as of July 1. In my simple mind, I expected that everyone would suddenly be able to ship whatever they wanted however they wanted. If only. First, the United States Postal Service does not allow shipping of alcohol ever. So my first thought of simply mailing a box of our wine to ourselves in Washington needed to be revised. Maybe I’d have to use UPS.

Next, the new law requires a permit in order to ship wine. For wineries to ship to a residence in Maryland, they must pay $200 for a permit. Individuals are not allowed to ship wine themselves. Retail wine-of-the-month clubs also remain banned.

Finally, each state to which the wine is shipped may also require a shipper’s permit. For Washington, the winery would be required to pay $200 per year to ship to individual residences. Since the Washington market for Port of Leonardtown wine isn’t likely to be much larger than Peter and me, securing a permit seems to be out of the question. (If you’re interested in learning more, the Wine Institute hosts an excellent website with information about all the states.

Instead, I will continue to hand carry my Port of Leonardtown wine in my checked luggage each time I return to Seattle. I also won’t promise a bottle of Maryland wine to any of my friends anymore. If you want it, you’ll have to meet me in Maryland.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why We Have a Vineyard in Maryland

I can’t tell you how many times people in Washington have asked me why we have a vineyard in Maryland. If you’re not aware, you need to understand that Washington produces some world class wines. How many world class wines have you heard about from Maryland? Hopefully, Port of Leonardtown will be one. Maryland isn’t recognized for much in the Northwest. Even their famous blue crabs can’t measure up to our Dungeness crabs. The question is a fair one.

My husband’s grandfather bought about 240 acres in Mechanicsville, Maryland, in the 1940s. The land was originally part of a much larger tract known as “Long Looked For, Come At Last.” For many years, the land was rented out to area farmers who grew primarily tobacco, eventually growing corn, barley, Christmas trees, and a few other crops. Tobacco is a labor-intensive crop that is hard on the soil, and it was a relief to not have it growing anymore. With the demise of the American tobacco industry, the family was at a loss about what to do with the land. They brainstormed about a number of different ideas until one idea seemed to stand out from the rest.

Peter’s brother began thinking that a vineyard was the way to go. The rest of the family was skeptical, but Gerald spent hours researching the process and felt strongly that we should give it a try. The family agreed to plant one acre and see what happened. In 2004, we planted 25 vines each of nine different varietals. (Sangiovese, Shiraz, Mourvedre, Touriga Naҫional, Tinta Çao, Viognier, Marsanne, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc)The family learned about planting, spraying, pests, weather, microclimates, harvesting, and making wine.

Since then, we have added five other varietals (Nebbiola, Barbera, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Albariño) and placed most of them into production rows. We are also among the founding members of the Southern Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative which runs the Port of Leonardtown Winery. (Don’t get me started about calling this “wine growers.” I seem to be the only one who cares that we grow grapes not wine.) My understanding is that the co-op currently has 10 member vineyards who volunteer their time doing all aspects of work at the winery.

In 2005, we bought our house in Charlotte Hall. Family members were traveling every week from as far away as Leesburg, Virginia, to work the vineyard, but they had no place to stay the night. The house on the farm is a four room clapboard house that really can’t accommodate multiple families. The house we found is three miles away and was originally built as a home and a dorm to a nearby school. It currently is configured with eight bedrooms and five baths. We now have family around every weekend and often even more than that.

What began as an idea for a hobby to keep the farm going has evolved into a growing family business that will probably remain with us well into retirement.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Gloves are Off

I’m a medical technologist. I love learning about the human body and the conditions that can challenge it. I especially love immunology and how the body fights to protect itself. I am a strong supporter of many vaccines and have kept my kids’ immunizations up to date their entire lives.

So now I embarrassingly admit to one of my many shortcomings. I was out in the yard working hard cleaning up buried trash and hauling away sticks and branches to the burn pile when I suddenly realized that I was a hypocrite. Let me first explain that I hate wearing work gloves. Hate it! I know they are useful in helping prevent blisters and cuts and what not, but I really don’t like to wear them. I also don’t like tetanus shots. They hurt like hell for three days and basically make that arm unusable during that time. I know all about the benefits of preventative medicine, but it hasn't swayed me to visit my doctor. You know where this is headed.

I was hauling stuff and scratching up my hands and arms when I suddenly realized that I haven’t had a tetanus booster in over 13 years. It’s one thing to be hanging out in Bellevue grooming my yard or sitting in an office volunteering somewhere and be out of date. It’s an entirely different thing to be working without physical or immunological protection in an overgrown yard full of dangerous items that are just waiting for their chance to get me.

Did I mention that my healthcare provider is 3,000 miles away for the next two weeks? The reality is that I would get a booster if I made my way to an emergency room with a deep wound. I know that. I also know how many times in my life I have intentionally ignored wounds.

Maybe I’m being a little paranoid about all this. After all, I haven’t worked in a lab in many years and my tetanus knowledge is a little, uh, rusty.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I Love Seattle/Bellevue

My parents recently drove to the Northwest for my daughter’s graduation. Though Mom had visited Seattle several times, this was Dad’s first trip to this part of the country. After introducing Dad to all I love about this area, I can more easily articulate some of the things I’ll miss by leaving. Here’s a sample:

• Driving across the floating bridge with waves and white caps on one side and pure calm on the other.
• Walking up and down hills in downtown Seattle and understanding why one inch of snow paralyzes this steep city. (People continue to insist that we are wimps compared to drivers in such flat cities as Denver and Chicago.)
• Viewing the bubblegum wall in Post Alley. I can’t imagine such a place in staid, stuffy Washington, DC.
• Watching the ferries. I don’t take the ferries very often because I don’t have a real need to reach the Kitsap or Olympic Peninsulas (or any of the many islands in between). I do enjoy watching the peaceful behemoths sail across Puget Sound. When I am on a ferry, I truly love the views of Seattle that I am always treated to.
• Knowing that we not only have many sidewalks and paths but knowing that they are well used.
• Living within a 10-15 minute walk of the post office, bank, grocery, restaurants, parks, schools, and a community-centered shopping center.
• Knowing how rain may bug us in extremely cloudy years like this one, but it doesn’t paralyze us. We still go out and play baseball and other sports, shop, and participate in outdoor activities.
• Believing that people here are far less inclined to be concerned about “what the neighbors think.” They are more concerned about their neighbors. This is a very outward-focused community.
• Living in a diverse community. Bellevue Schools host children with over 80 different first languages. My kids are friends with lots and lots of other kids who were either born in another country or whose parents were born in another country. People around here don’t think in terms of color or ethnicity. Everyone is accepted.
• Serving in our community. Unlike some churches who focus inward and sustain their own, our church focuses outward to help sustain and enhance the community through many different organizations. It doesn’t proselytize or condemn; it loves. I love that.
• Receiving care at Group Health. We’ve been part of this HMO our entire time here, and I don’t have a single regret. After two births, 8 collective surgeries, 12 collective broken bones (11 to one individual), and numerous other visits, I have rarely had a poor experience. When I left DC, I was only too happy to leave my previous health care provider behind.
• Shopping at Pike Place Market. Dad asked me in advance why I love it. All I could think of was how can’t I? The sights, the smells, the local artisans, the flavors, the views all excite me. If I could afford the parking, I would go there all the time.
• Getting through the downtown core. Bellevue is more accessible and pedestrian friendly than any East Coast city I know of. We have parks and shops and businesses all together in a relaxed atmosphere. Dad compared downtown Bellevue to Tysons Corner, VA, but Tysons raises my blood pressure every time I consider navigating through it.
• Teaching our kids. Bellevue schools are consistently ranked among the top in the nation. I’ve been active in the education community here for many years. I don’t know that my interest would be well-received in Southern Maryland.
• Reading the news. In Seattle, our news has a lot of local flavor. DC news was all political. International news was also local news because everything that happens in DC affects the whole world. Around here, the local issues and events make the headlines when WTO stays away.
• Riding public transportation. Our high schoolers take the Metro bus instead of school busses. It allows them to learn how to use public transportation, and it frees them to use it when it is convenient for them. The bus drives by Interlake every 30 minutes. Other routes are also close by. A transit station is a ½ mile from the school.
• Standing next to Bill Gates. Okay, this only happened once while standing in line for tickets at a movie theater. My point is that you can easily stand next to some super rich person and not even realize it. People here aren’t pretentious and often don’t want to be known as anyone special. The ones I know are among the nicest and most sincere people I have had the pleasure to meet.
• Smelling the flowers. Sure, everywhere has flowers, but ours are bigger, brighter, and smellier. It’s all the rain that does it. No rhododendron in Charlotte Hall is so big that it gets confused with a tree.
• Seeing the mountains. True, we don’t get to see them very often. When they do appear, however, it’s beautiful beyond my inarticulate tongue. I often see the Olympics to the west when the clouds break just before sunset. The Cascades are just east of us with a sentry of peaks from the Canadian border to the Oregon border and beyond. From Bellevue and Seattle, we can see Mount Rainier looming large when the clouds break. On a really special day, we can see Mount Baker standing guard at the Canadian border. Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens appear as we drive south on I-5 heading toward Portland. My name is Lyrel, and I’m addicted to mountains.

I’ll stop here, though I could continue on and on. For balance, I will post another blog soon with all the reasons why I’ll enjoy moving to Charlotte Hall.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Smooth Move

So how does one go about moving across country? In our case, v e r y slowly. Since we plan to maintain a presence in Bellevue, our move is not as simple as packing everything we own into a few hundred boxes and then simply vacating the city. And since our house in Maryland is already furnished, albeit with a lot of other people’s cast offs, we don’t have the pressure to fill it with our own cast offs.

Our older daughter just graduated and our younger daughter graduates in about a year. As the older one moves off to college, we will begin the process of fixing up our house to put it on the market about the time our younger one graduates. Much of that time, we’ll only have two people in the house, so the process should be fairly smooth. The hitch is that there will still be times when all five of us will be in Bellevue together, so we can’t move too much too quickly eg. beds, kitchen tables. Among those items that must not move yet are our vast collection of VHS/DVDs and our two cats.

We have lived in this house for 16 years. We aren’t pack rats, but we have still accumulated too much stuff! I’ve been going through drawers and cabinets trying to determine what and how much we have. I’m going to try to consume all the consumables and give away much of the forgotten wares.

We have measured every piece of furniture that we own in Bellevue, and we are working on a plan to determine where it will all go. Our favorite sectional sofa won’t fit in Maryland, so it goes to the unpurchased condo. Our old desk is not needed in Maryland, so it will go on Craigslist. Our old china cabinet that is an antique family heirloom will find a new home in my brother’s house near St. Louis. Our daughter is going to college in Massachusetts, but we haven’t determined where her stuff will go. And on and on it goes.

We still have to figure out how to physically get everything that’s moving from here to there. I looked at movable containers. We load them, they ship them, we unload them at the other end. We are also considering buying a new truck then renting a trailer to move our own containers across country. It will take several trips, but it allows us to move items as we are ready and when we have the time. If we get a cellular internet card, we might even be able to work while we move. And since I have three brothers who live between here and there, we can even vary our route each time to see family along the way.

First things first, though. Sort, pitch, sell, save, decide. There is no easy way to do this other than to jump in and start doing it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's Time for a Lesson

This morning I was woken up by Peter's buzzing phone at 5:15 from an East Coast caller. His call was an honest mistake because he thought he was calling Peter in Maryland. It brought to mind, however, how many calls we have received at early hours from people who either can’t figure out the time difference or don’t care. I have heard people tell me time and again that they can never remember if the West Coast is ahead by three hours or behind by three hours. Answer: we are BEHIND by three hours.
East Coast - 3 = West Coast. Always.

Even the most academically challenged student can tell you that the sun rises in the east. That means that when it peaks into your window on the East Coast, we on the West Coast are still in darkness. I, for one, am still asleep. I also don’t take well to being woken up at 4 am by someone who is calling early even for the East Coast. And then, when the time difference is recognized, the caller continues to chat. So let’s learn a few things here.

The sun appears to be coming to the East Coast from Europe or the Atlantic. It will visit us later because we are a little behind. That’s why time zones were invented. Not everyone can be in the sun at the same time. Countries like China may think they make things easier by only having one time zone, but think of the consequences of a very early or very late sunrise/sunset. Time zones are a good thing. And before you start whining about how difficult it is, be thankful that we don’t have ½ hour or ¼ hour time zones like some places in the world.

Do what you need to do to keep it straight. Here are a few ideas: the East Coast was settled first and gets the sun first, the left coast is the last coast, and, if all else fails, I’m sure there’s an app for that. To help you get started, go to

If you’re still in doubt, wait until a time of day where adding or subtracting three hours won’t make much difference and then call.

Friday, May 13, 2011

APB: We Need Some Sun!

The Seattle Times reported today that we have gone 191 days without hitting 70 degrees. We already have the coldest spring on record this year and some of the coldest highs. A low pressure system up in Alaska is headed our way and is expected to hang around for awhile. It makes me want to move to Maryland where temps have already hit the 80s this year.

I love Seattle weather most years. But this is the second year in a row that we've been denied a warm spring. Last June, my daughter and I drove to a family event in Colorado via the Grand Canyon just so we could thaw out some. I currently have a trip to Maryland planned for next month. I look forward to ditching my wool, if only for a week.

So why do I love Seattle weather so much? Let me explain what a normal year looks like. In the winter, we get rain most days and temps in the 40s. It's dreary and bleak, but we rarely get snow or ice. Our roads are very steep and ice can shut us down. Mornings are often foggy and clear up just in time for us to witness the sunset around 4 pm. If we want snow, we can drive to one of the ski areas as close as 45 minutes away.

All of that winter rain usually provides us with a lush spring that sends allergy sufferers heading indoors. I, however, am not such a sufferer. I relish being surrounded by the sights and smells of plants in bloom. My mood gets a much-needed boost, and everyone benefits from that!

In the summer, our highs are in the 80s (only rarely in the 90s) with low humidity. Our lows are usually in the 50s. We rarely get rain between July 4 and Labor Day or later. The view of the Olympics and Cascades can't be beat because they are to our west and our east. Looking south, Mount Rainier looms over us like a protective sovereign. To the north, we can see Mount Baker near the Canadian Border. And driving south along I-5, even Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams give impressive views. The sun sets at 9:10 pm with a twilight lasting well past 10 pm. Of course, that means that dawn begins around 4 am with birds chirping their little hearts out.

In the fall, we don't have the breath-stopping colors of Virginia, but we do okay. We have so many evergreens that the oranges, yellows, and reds don't get lost in the background. They really stand out. We also don't have to spend hours raking our yards.

But these last 18 or so months have been a let down. It's been cooler and wetter than normal. The globe may be warmer elsewhere, but the climate change here isn't in the hotter and drier direction. Maryland, by contrast, does appear to be getting hotter and drier. That may not bode well in the long run for the grape crop, but it will do wonders for my psyche.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Just Call Me Eva

In a recent email, Gerald asked me if he could call me Eva. Then he included these lyrics:

Green acres is the place for me.
Farm livin' is the life for me.
Land spreadin' out so far and wide.
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

New York is where I'd rather stay.
I get allergic smelling hay.
I just adore a penthouse view.
Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.

...The chores.
...The stores.
...Fresh air.
...Times Square!

You are my wife.
Good bye, city life.
Green Acres we are there.

Inspired (and laughing heartily), I ordered a copy of Green Acres: Farm Favorites from Erin witnessed Peter watching an episode and went downstairs to where Allison and I were sitting. She said, “Dad is watching a DVD about you guys.” “Our wedding video?” I asked? “No, it’s about a place called Green Acres.”

Peter and I have had a fun time watching the early shows and relating to so much that is there. Granted, everything on the show is an extreme (no Manhattan penthouse for me!), but we still understand the sentiment.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Amish Primer

One of the fun and interesting things about where we live in Maryland is that we have a community of Amish who live nearby. A few summers ago, I took the time to read several books about the Amish to try to educate myself about their chosen lifestyle. I’d like to share a few things about that here.

First, the Amish do not pronounce the name of their faith as you do. You probably say Ah-mish. They say A-mish as in the letter A and then mish. (I don’t know if this is specific to Southern Maryland or if it’s more widespread.)

Though they are well known for shunning the public electric grid, the Amish do use electricity. They tend to generate it themselves either with a wind generator or diesel, but they don’t believe that electricity use is bad. Being on the public grid is bad.

You also probably know that the Amish don’t have phones in their homes. They do, however, have them by the side of the street. They also have them in their offices. When we visited an Amish furniture builder in Indiana after Loring’s wedding in 1999, we asked him about his fax machine. He said he can’t compete without using such tools. Most local churches have agreed that their members may use such worldly goods in order to maintain businesses that are dependent upon the non-Amish world.

Amish teenagers are every bit as rebellious as “English” teens. (The Amish refer to the non-Amish as English or Plain.) I read a book called Rumspringa (It’s in Maryland if you want to read it.) which describes the life of an Amish teen. Basically, they are allowed the freedom to do what they want between the time that they complete 8th grade and the time that they confirm their membership in the church. That time frame is known as rumspringa. Confirmation usually occurs by age 21.

During rumspringa, teens often become very much like English teens. They may smoke, drink, do drugs, drive, have sex, dress fashionably, hold jobs in the English community, or otherwise behave the way many other American teens behave. They do not, however, attend school. Though many mothers agonize over all the heathen activities that their children may be participating in, some parents seem to welcome it. They prefer that those kids sow their wild oats, reflect on their poor choices, and then opt to formally join the church and adhere to all its rules. As in any society, there are those who choose not to join. The Amish community is never happy about those who make that choice, but they accept it.

The Amish do not accept any person who has committed to the church and then reneges on their commitment. Those people are shunned and forbidden from any communication with any member of the church. I read about people who refused to even sell goods to a shunned person. They look right through them and act as if they do not exist. They return letters to the sender and won’t take phone calls from their own shunned children or siblings.

The Amish community also doesn’t permit education beyond 8th grade. Anything more than that is considered worldly and one who requests it is considered pretentious. I have read about people who have left the community to become doctors, lawyers, and other college educated professionals. Though they aren’t exactly shunned, they are not welcomed, either. They don’t mind the existence of such people, but they mind when those people come from their own blood lines.

In Charlotte Hall, the Amish have a market where they sell their goods on a daily to weekly basis. It’s just down the street from our house at the library. Wednesdays and Saturdays are the big days. If you want fresh butter, you’d better arrive early. They also sell baked goods, fresh produce (not necessarily organic), jams, and a few carpentry and textile items. I have not seen a quilt for sale there, but they do sell them at a yearly auction in November. Hope and I visited the auction a couple of years ago. Maybe I’ll write a separate essay about that.

In some communities, the Amish are known for not being particularly friendly to their English neighbors. I have not found this to be the case in Charlotte Hall. They smile and speak to us easily at the market. Family members have hired them for various types of work and found them to be highly skilled and friendly.

The Amish in Southern Maryland have been there since 1940 and came from Lancaster. They are fluent in both English and Pennsylvania Dutch (a Swiss German dialect).

Though not all Amish use buggies, ours do! They are gray and have headlights and turn signals which may be mandated by the state to help improve safety. Some of the roads are extra wide in order to accommodate buggies on the shoulder. Sometimes, you just have to trust your luck to get around them. It’s fun to lie in bed at night and listen to the clip clop of the horses hooves as they go by on the road.

There is a lot more to share, but it will have to wait. This is enough to whet your appetites about one of the fun aspects of living in Charlotte Hall.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It Really Bugs Me

Growing up in Virginia, I have many memories of bugs. I’m pretty sure I single handedly sustained the local mosquito population. The summers were full of lightning bugs, gnats, and flies. Dad’s house had plenty of crickets and Mom’s had these weird little creatures that I have never identified. Driving down the highway, we regularly provided insect population controls with our windshields.

When we moved to the Northwest, we were astonished that our first apartment didn’t even have screens on the windows. Think of all the bugs that would come in! Actually, there really aren’t many bugs out here. You can drive from Canada to the California line and never have to clean your windshield – or even have it cross your mind. Mosquitos exist, but they don’t seem as blood thirsty here as they are in other locations. Sadly, we have no lightning bugs at all, and I don’t recall hearing any crickets. We must have something, though, because we still have plenty of spiders. It’s a quandary.

Let’s return to the East Coast now, this time in Southern Maryland. Our home is a safe haven for any creepy crawly that desires it. If they wander outside, they risk being eaten by birds, bats, frogs, snakes, or probably a variety of other animals. Inside is another story. While our window screens keep out all the predators, they have holes large enough to welcome the prey. We have extended families of bees, wasps, those weird bugs that Mom used to have, centipedes, silver fish, and spiders.

Word got out that we were insect-friendly, so now we also have our own stink bug hostel. They’re everywhere, but they seem to especially appreciate the family room in the late afternoon. That’s the one room that most consistently has warmth and light. Personally, I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing the best a stink bug has to offer, but I hear it’s a real treat! They don’t bite or sting or do any unfriendly activities that creep out many people, but they do tend to land in freshly picked grapes. Word on the street is that you don’t want to drink wine made with crushed stink bugs.

And have you heard the hype about bed bugs? Some people are terribly allergic to them. Some of those people spend a lot of time in our house. That’s when we had to draw the line. After working one summer in the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticides, Hazard Evaluation Division, Toxicology Branch, I decided that pesticide use was tenuous at best. I don’t trust a single safety claim that any company asserts about its products. I’ve seen the raw data and also seen how it can be twisted to appear safe. (That was probably when I started morphing into a liberal.) So you can imagine my dismay when I was faced with the idea of spraying lots of pesticides into the air in our house. While it may be effective at killing the beasts, it also coats everything else and intentionally leaves a toxic residue. No, thank you.

Have you heard we own a pool? Did you know that pools use a lot of diatomaceous earth (DE)? Did you know that DE is a physical pesticide that insects don’t tend to become resistant to and humans can safely live around (if they don’t inhale it)? It turns out that DE is a bed bug’s worst enemy. It creates microscopic tears in the bug’s exoskeleton (or your lungs) causing the bug to dry out from the inside. Yuck. But yippee! We believe that we have largely (entirely?) eliminated the bed bug issue in our house by raiding our pool supply of DE and generously sprinkling it on all carpets, crevices, window sills, and anywhere else we could think of.

If only someone would go back through the house and vacuum up all the dead bugs.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Petherbridge is Falling Down

I made a brief visit to Maryland about a week ago. During that time, Peter and I walked through the house together. He was trying to point out to me many of the major areas that need work even before we can afford a remodel. It seems that the ceiling plaster is falling in places and many of the walls don’t seem to have adequate support in the foundation. And the foundation itself is a study in styles. We know that part of the house is built on a slab, part is over a simple lumber framework that used to be a breezeway, part is over a foundation of rock, and part is over a foundation of timber. We also have sections of the crawl space that we haven’t yet been able to access. All this is to say that the house is settling at different rates in different places. As such, the floors and the walls are struggling to stick together.

If you’ve been following the verbal saga over the years, then you are aware that we replaced the roof in 2007 because we found areas that contained up to five layers of roofing. No homes are built to hold that kind of weight, and a 130 year old house is no exception! The walls have already shown signs of caving in under the pressure. We believe the new roof has alleviated that concern, but we have been unable to straighten out those walls.

Peter explained the different ways he intends to shore up the walls and ceilings so that the house will be able to hold the additional furniture that we will be moving from Bellevue. Our first container will be arriving in Maryland in June. It will have the large table saw and all the other power tools to allow Peter to add support. The other items only include furniture that will be used on the first floor.

I haven’t even mentioned how we have little insulation in the house. We may pull down some inside walls to add insulation before next winter. The living room would be easy to do since the walls are made of paneling. And then there’s the old electric system and the old plumbing and the old furnace and heating and ….

A part of me prefers that we “do it right” the first time, but that isn’t practical for us. With Erin going to college and Allison close on her heels, we simply can’t do it that way right now. Instead, our focus is to prevent any further deterioration until we can afford to actually improve what’s there.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Background and Introduction

My husband and I grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. About the time our first child was born, we moved to the suburbs of Seattle. Now our three children are nearly out of the house, and we are embarking on a slow move to rural Maryland. The move involves a change from a 1/3 acre home with shopping, parks, schools, and public transportation all within an easy walk to a nearly 2 acre home within an easy drive of grocery stores but a half hour drive from any other shopping or activities.

Nearby is my in-law’s 240 acre farm where they now have an 8 acre vineyard. No one actually lives on the farm, so most weekends, our 6000 sq. ft. house welcomes members of the extended family who have driven down from Virginia to work on the vineyard. My husband is also there about 1/3 of his time. He is a regular coast-to-coast commuter. (He does his paying job by working remotely when he is in Maryland.)

The challenge for us is going to be a mental and physical adjustment from living in an urban environment to a rural one. We currently have grandiose plans to extensively remodel the 1880 farmhouse, raise backyard chickens, brew our own beer, and grow a large garden. This is all going to be done as we adjust to being empty nesters, we work the vineyard (while maintaining my husband’s demanding day job), and we actively work to help grow our local winery cooperative.

We bought the Maryland house in 2005 and have been slowly acclimating ourselves to the new digs. We expect to call that address “home” by fall of 2012.

Reader be forewarned: some journal entries will likely be more like articles, but some might be boring statements of issues that we have encountered or need to tackle. I’m not always able to write interesting passages, but I do want to record the adjustments. I do hope to backfill with some of the more colorful adventures we have had since we purchased the house in 2005.