Sunday, August 27, 2006

Good Music, Good Friends, and Good Wine...

The weather has been wonderful this weekend--perfct for our annual nieghborhood block party last night. That's where all the neighbors pull their BBQs out into the street, set up picnic tables and chairs, bring a salad or dessert to share, toss their meat on the grill and settle down for a nice long visit.

We had fewer folks than in years past. Some people were gone, others aren't comfortable with the concept, and it seems like the new people who move in can't quite believe that these types of functions still really happen and just don't come. (But they can been seen peering out of their windows at us. We hold out hope that they'll get brave and join us some other summer--we're truly a nice bunch of people, and pretty accepting of all types.)

Tonght we're heading out with two other couples on our street to the San Michelle Winery for a free concert (Jesse Cook) and wine tasting that they put on each year for members of their wine club. We joined many years ago because we love the winery and their wine. And because we wanted to provide them with ongoing support. We've shared our tickets with these neighbors over the years when we were unable to go, and they all loved the experience so much that they joined also.

It's really a fun time, kind of a magical "end of summer" experience. Everyone spreads out a blanket, and brings a picnic. They have wine tasting and prizes. The music is typically something that most people will enjoy, and it's fun to see everyone enjoying themselves as they typically end up dancing in the grass in the darkening evening. There are beautiful balloons (the kind people take rides in) that drift overhead as the sun sets, and it's a lovely time. Here's hoping that your "end of summer" weekends are just as wonderful...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Four Days Of Bliss (and really good food!)

I had the amazing opportunity to attend a four-day nature retreat called "Drawing the Details" at the North Cascades Learning Center in the upper Skagit Valley. What a remarkable place. If any of you are even close to local, you should take a look at this place on the web and see if any of their classes and/or other opportunities appeal to you.

The institute has been around for over 20 years, but only recently opened this marvelous facility. It's all sustainably designed, from the use of Forest Sustainable Wood, to the native plants, and the locally grown, organic food provided by a truly talented chef. The staff is warm and welcoming, and our instructer was so skilled and knowledgable. The class was four days long and focused on drawing nature as each individual saw it. Our group was made up of such interesting people with a wide variety of backgrounds, from a science teacher who wanted to use drawing in her biology classes, to substance abuse counselors, musicians, artists, and "just regular folks" like me, who only wanted to improve their skills enough to make their sketches recognizable!

Here are a couple sketches from my notebook. This is a little Rue plant I did along the North Cascades highway.

This is a b/w sketch of a leaf (unidentified due to its dried nature!)

We had a wonderful time, and I learned a lot. Obviously, it's going to take many more hours for me to become as proficient as I'd like to be, but it was fun to get started and to see how much all of us improved in four short days.

Here's a photo of the building where I stayed. This doesn't due it justice, because it was evening and the light was bad. It truly was a beautiful building.

This was our "common room" where a lot of books were read, wine was enjoyed, and lots of great conversation took place.

Isn't this view great? This was at their dock, where some of the group left each evening for one of their canoe rides around Diablo Lake.

Monday, August 14, 2006

What I Did On Vacation...

I spent last week with my Mother visiting family in Iowa. Both of my parents hail from there, and it had been a long time since I'd visited...too long.

Although I took some heat about visiting in August (pun intended), the weather was beautiful and so was the state. I could not get over the lovely rolling hills green with corn and soybeans. The farms scattered among these hills were like pictures, and the driving along the isolated country roads was sublime--no traffic, no road rage, no problems.

The air was electric with the sounds of insects. At times it was almost deafening; but how lovely. There was a pulse there, a pulse of light, of sound, and of energy from growing things.

The people were nice too. We went to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins, both on my mother's and my father's sides of the family. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed their company so very much. One of our traditions is visting the local Maid-Rite place. This is a eatery that specializes in hamburgers without the patty. That's right...loose spiced hamburger.They are actually good, but they can be messy to eat. As far as I know, they are an Iowa institution and not available elsewhere. I'm sure that franchise opportunities exist in your area!

We stayed at a great place with a waterpark for the kids. My cousin's son, age 9 appreciated this very much. And luckily, the Maid-Rite was right next door!


We ran across this lovely victorian home across from church on Sunday. It sits on a lot the size of a city block. How I'd love to see the inside! We had to take a picture of it.


Here we are--the lovely ladies! (My cousin, who is quite lovely indeed, was taking the photo so is missing, alas.) My mother, me and my aunt (my mother's sister, who I know will be happy to remain anon.)


Finally, I HAD to share this with you. My aunt (shown above) was responsible for single-handedly creating this library from scratch. She started with a shelf of books in a closet. After 16 years of hard work, and countless volunteer hours, her town now has this wonderful library. They have a fantastic assortment of books, videos, and thanks to Microsoft, they even have computers. The shelves were handmade by a local man, and it's all so fresh and beautiful! I know that the local children use it a lot and it gives them a wonderful place to spend their spare time.

My aunt is a private person, and doesn't like a lot of fuss--but guess what? She's one of my heros!

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