Highlight of Spring

I know I have been neglectful of OurNWLife. I assure you that life does continue, but at a breakneck pace that allows little time for written introspection and online documentation of goings-on.

I’ll cut to the chase. The motivation for this post wasn’t to catch up on months of unshared adventures, but to simply proclaim joy over what has been the highlight of spring. A killdeer bird formed her nest in our front yard about a month ago and the eggs are beautiful. bird eggs 2

bird eggs 1

In fact, at last check two of the eggs had hatched into fluffy, awkward chicks. And that is a wonderful thing.


Jan/Feb Recap

A photo-based pondering on the progression of winter.

How is it possible that this:


And this:


And this:


were in JANUARY, the loudly-touted coldest month of winter, while this:


and this:


were in February, which, while still winter a winter month, should be more mild and transition-to-spring-ish.

Now, as a disclaimer (and as is already evident from the landscape in these photos), it should be mentioned that the January series of photos were taken in Arizona, while the February series were taken in Washington. BUT, regardless of actual location, these pictures do accurately capture our overall weather experience over the past two months. January was mild, affording us the unseasonable opportunity to revisit a favorite hike, while February was brutal with multiple days of snow, ice, and bitter winds. The first few days of March have been more of the same; a cold front slammed into Central Washington Friday night bringing wind gusts at 35 mph and well-below-freezing temperatures which all culminated today in 3 unwelcome inches of snow. 3 inches of snow that would have been heartily welcomed in December, when snow is considered cozy and festive, or in January, when snow is typically anticipated. However, it’s now March and this family of three is past ready for the arrival of Spring weather, hiking, camping, and (finally) getting our “vintage” hand-me-down family heirloom boat out on the water!

**Photo credit to my friend S.N.N. for all of these pictures, or at least credit to her camera. Thanks, S!

Olde Time Christmas gifts

Without question, having the free time to indulge in long-abandoned hobbies and interests has been one of the most excellent parts of my life since our big move to rural Nowhere.  In the past months I have enjoyed a bountiful renaissance of bread baking, reading marathons, gourmet cooking experiments, exploratory hiking, and craft projects.

With painting in particular, what began as a single-minded determination to create a homey environment/soothing retreat from the strange world around me morphed into an excellent “skill” for the creation of handmade Christmas presents. Full disclosure: I am not, by any stretch of anyone’s imagination (not even famously imaginative people like my good friend Walt D. or Lewis Carroll…have I made my point?), a naturally gifted artist. Which is why I deemed it appropriate to share these successes with you. The idea is not to celebrate my artistic prowess, but rather to demonstrate that, given ample time, motivation, and instructional online video clips anyone can create gift-worthy home decor. Here is my evidence:

Supplies laid out across the kitchen table--Trevor was very patient with the chaos created by these ongoing projects.

Supplies laid out across the kitchen table–Trevor was very patient with the chaos created by these ongoing projects.

1. Whimsical tree art inspired by a print from Pier One. My first attempt (which hangs in my own kitchen) was far less desirable than the second attempt (which I gifted to my mother for Christmas).

2. Dotted initial art inspired by my earlier phase with dots (DIY Dot Art) spouncers. Yes, “spouncers” is a real word, and an awesome tool.

3. Mt. Hood art, requested by my brother after he saw the tree art of my wall during his visit to our house at Thanksgiving. This was the by far most challenging project I have completed to date, as it was rather far outside my “dot-based art” comfort level.

Alex's mountain

I just love the value and sentimentality of handmade gifts, at Christmas and any time of the year. Not only do homemade presents help us to dodge some of the manufactured consumerism of the holidays, they are also incredibly satisfying gifts to give.

**Many thanks to the ever-patient recipients of these gifts, all of whom have texted or emailed me photos of their art because I was too overcome with holiday excitement to photograph my gifts before wrapping them up!

Hosting, holidays, and icy blue winds

As we enter our fifth month living in this strange new place I find myself giving pep talks (to myself) about how this town should, by now, be starting to feel like home. For Thanksgiving we hosted my parents, brother, husband’s parents, sister and brother in law, and two nieces at our little house (in a suburban development) on the prairie. It was rowdy! The experience very much opened my eyes to the tremendous amount of work that goes into hosting such family events and exponentially increased my appreciation for others’ gracious hosting over the years.

Flying on into the Christmas season, I found myself excited to deck our halls, festoon our house with classic lights, and bedazzle our first ever Christmas tree, but my excitement was tempered by a creeping sadness over the distance of family and friends during this season. I know that many people struggle with mixed emotions, or even downright down emotions, during the holidays, but this is the first year that I’ve personally experienced this yuletide melancholy. Thankfully, I survived those few weeks of holiday blues and as of last Thursday our seasonal schedule kicked off with a long weekend in Vegas with my in-laws!

While on the subject of adjusting to new things in new place, I would like to make space for a comment on our weather: it is cold. I realize that for many of you highs in the 20s and lows in the single digits is nothing out of the ordinary, but for me (and for the residents of this area, as I’m assured by those I consort with) our weather throughout the first several weeks of December was unseasonable, unwelcome, and intolerable! The low temperatures were made more wicked by a regular, and biting north wind. At this very moment the hinges on our garage door are screaming under the unrelenting pressure of those icy blue winds. (Bonus points to anyone who recognizes this lyric)

My husband and I braved this cold and wind (along with several hundred fellow townspeople) a few weeks ago to experience the annual lighted Christmas parade. I say that we were accompanied by several hundred others, not because there were so few people in attendance, but because the smart ones had all arrived downtown early enough to score front row window seats in restaurants along the parade route! Trevor and I were charmed by the festive semi trucks and tractors, but our favorite part was a pit stop along the street where a kind citizen had set up a sizable fire in a portable fire ring and was offering marshmallows and skewers to anyone who wished to warm themselves by his blaze while enjoying a roasted marshmallow. It’s obviously unnecessary for me to say that I partook most willingly.

Be sure to check back here after Christmas, as I have several DIY art projects (dot and otherwise) to share . These cannot be shared before Christmas for reasons obvious to anyone who practices home-made gift giving!

It grows on you.

“It grows on you.” I have heard this statement, or some variation of it, from countless locals over the past three months. I guess it’s only logical that the number one metaphor used to by people in this agriculture-centric town would be one using an agrarian comparison. What they mean by this farming comparison is that the town endears itself to newcomers over time. I cannot truthfully state that I have as of yet arrived at a place of full-grown attachment to this place, but our lives here are certainly growing more and more full. (And yes, these ‘grow’ word play puns were intended.)

view on my morning run

Trevor is now playing hockey on a men’s rec league two nights per week. Though it is uncomfortably cold at the outdoor rink (I am taking lessons from natives on how to keep warm–one woman brings a portable propane heater and sets it up in the stands!), it is a fun connection to the community here and we are hoping it will also be a good venue for meeting friend-potentials.

men's league hockey game

Notice the score; Trevor is on the “old man” team, which has now been whipped three times in a row by the team composed mainly of men in their late teens and early twenties!

As my search for out-of-home employment slowly moves forward I am finding that my time is steadily filling up, even without a job. I am now a dedicated member of three separate book clubs, an on-call volunteer at the church to prepare snacks for the after school tutoring program, and an accomplished baker of rustic and crusty bread (recipe from Simply So Good). And the walls of our home are filling with my burgeoning “art” projects.

crusty asiago-cheddar bread

We have also determined that Wenatchee is the most happening place around, and have embraced that town as our home base for cultural and commercial needs. Just last weekend, amidst a trip designed to meet the uninspiring dual purposes of dropping off our faulty boat motor for rehabilitation and collecting our finally repaired (and thankfully functional) vacuum cleaner, we discovered the most wonderful indoor market. Wandering among the trendy restaurants, artisan bakeries, and fresh local produce stands it felt like we had been magically transported to Pike Place or Fisherman’s Wharf. Needless to say, I was an instant fan, have already planned a friend meet-up lunch date there, and complained vociferously when it appeared that Trevor had consumed more than half of the INCREDIBLE maple bar we purchased to “share”.

That’s right. I’m ending another post on the topic of maple bars.

Dumpling deluge

Before I begin here, let me first make it clear that I did not grow up eating dumplings of any kind. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I finally caved in to my parents’ insistence that I would actually enjoy the potstickers they always ordered at our regular strip-mall Chinese food restaurant. They were right. I did like them. Potstickers became my introduction into the dumpling world, and were for many years the only exception to my “no weird squishy foods” rule.

After “growing up” and “moving out” I began experimenting with cooking, enjoying gourmet restaurants, and expanding my, initially very narrow, culinary horizons. Friends who know me well might still say I’m one of the “pickiest” (Isn’t that a negative-feeling word? I prefer the term “discriminating”) eaters they know, but those who have known me the longest are often astonished by the variety of foods that I eat, order, and even make at home.

Since moving to our small rural town I have more time than ever before to try new things in the kitchen. It’s one of the hobbies that gives structure and a sense of productivity to my days. And I recently noticed one curious food that has made three appearances on my home menu in the past few months: dumplings. I’d like to share them with you here, both because they were all AMAZING and because I feel this is a notable milestone in my journey as a food eater.

1. Ricotta-based gnocchi. I followed an extremely simple recipe from delicious days and used the homemade ricotta that I wrote about in My first cheese baby. The only reason that these delicious gnocchi will not become a weekly occurrence at our home is the eye-popping calorie count. I served them tossed in fresh, homemade pesto from the my herb garden and a side salad (a passing acknowledgement to the underwhelming nutritional value of the dinner).

Ingredients for the ricotta gnocchi.

Ingredients for the ricotta gnocchi.

I’m very sorry to report that there were no photos taken of the finished product. They were devoured before anyone could capture proof of their dainty, fluffy, pillowy beauty.

2. Chicken and dumpling soup. I adapted from Annie’s Eats lighter chicken and dumplings, making it still lighter by exchanging pan seared chicken breast for the thighs and wings, but following the dumpling portion of her recipe to a t (or to a Tb, depending on what was called for).

Soup dumplings may not be the prettiest things in the world, but they were scrumptious.

Soup dumplings may not be the prettiest things in the world, but they were scrumptious.

Annie approximates that this recipe will yield 8 servings, and I’m proud/ashamed to admit that my husband and I reduced that to 4, scarfing half of the recipe yield for dinner and the other half for lunch the next day. We just couldn’t keep out of it.

3. POTSTICKERS!!! I have long aspired to try my hand at creating a homemade version of the dumpling that opened my eyes to the great and wonderful world of dumplings, but they seemed very intimidating with all of the requisite rolling, filling, folding, and pleating. I came across this recipe online months ago and relegated it to waiting in my Pinterest food board. I finally found the inspiration and courage to give it a whirl last night. I admit, this was not a simple recipe. My first attempts at forming the pleated little delicacies were lumpy, bulging balls of dough. My first foray into cooking them resulted in smoking, black-bottomed hunks of carcinogens. But I persevered, and my perseverance was rewarded with authentic tasting and reasonably attractive looking potstickers. When Trevor first bit into one he exclaimed, in obvious surprise, “they taste just like potstickers!”.

In fact, I was so happy with the results of those potstickers that weren’t grotesquely misshapen or burnt that today I made another batch of dough and used the remaining filling to create a whole new fleet of these for the freezer. I’m very much looking forward to enjoying them straight from the freezer and into the frying pan without first having to endure an hour of folding and pleating!