30 December 2006

Decorating Cookies

While Loren and Amy were visiting, one of the big activities was baking and decorating sugar cookies. Corinne has accumulated a huge number of cookie cutters, food colorings, pastry tips & bags, and other decorating accessories, and this was the perfect time to put them to use!

The decorating did not go without incident, however. There was, shall we say, an accident...

Between the four of us, we baked and decorated several dozen cookies. Considering that only Loren is a professional artist (CleverMill.com, BlastMyMusic.com, etc.), I think we did pretty well. The finished products were both beautiful and delicious! It was almost a shame to eat them. But of course we did.

- Mike (& Corinne)

28 December 2006

NJ to Seattle to Trout Lake

Our East/West flight for the holidays this year was out of Seattle (rather than Portland), so we got an opportunity on the return trip to spend a brief time in Seattle visiting Corinne's family before heading back to our own homestead. Despite only being in town for 1.5 days, we managed to see quite a few people over dinner and breakfast.


Before too long, it was time for us to make the drive back home. But we were fortunate to have with us Corinne's brother Loren and his girlfriend Amy, who were visiting from Tulsa and decided to spend a few days with us in Trout Lake.

We took the Eastern route from Seattle to the Gorge, which despite being slightly longer distance-wise is much more scenic and predictable - no traffic!

As long as Snoqualmie and Satus Passes are both clear of snow/ice, it's definitely the way to go. We left a little later than we had planned, so we didn't get home before dark, but watching the sun set over the plains is beautiful.

Loren and Amy only stayed for a few days before heading back up to Seattle with Leif on New Years Eve, but we enjoyed their brief visit. We had fun exploring our property and the river; preparing delicious meals; drinking hot chocolate around the fire; baking and decorating sugar cookies (see next post...); and playing Nintendo. After all, what holiday would be complete without Dr. Mario and Super Smash Brothers?

- Mike (& Corinne)

27 December 2006

Christmas with the Twins

For the Christmas, Corinne and I are still doing the alternating year thing; one year we spend Christmas with my family, and the following year we swap and spend time with hers. This year happened to be a Daly Christmas year, so we hopped on a plane and spent a week in NJ.

But this was no ordinary year - this was our twin nieces' first Christmas! At four months old, Katya and Nadija aren't quite old enough to really enjoy the holiday, but they sure are old enough to monopolize it! Neither is mobile yet; you always know where they are, because you put them there. But they are really great kids, and aside from Katya's occasional scream-fest for no good reason, they are generally happy just to be with people.

There's no question - Drew and Michelle certainly have their hands full with those two. So when Drew asked if we would watch them for a night when we were visiting while he and Michelle took a night "off" to go to dinner with friends and spend some time by themselves, we were more than happy to help. It also gave us more of an opportunity to get to know them better (as much as you can know a 4 month old). We had a good time taking them for a walk around the neighborhood, which the warm weather afforded us. And somehow, thanks to Grandma and Grandad, we never had to change a diaper!

Aside from the kids, the holidays this year were actually pretty relaxing. We spent lots of time with family, but managed to avoid the trap of too much traveling which historically has resulted in the type of vacations that you need to take a vacation from. The weather on the East Coast was unseasonably warm, and the lack of snow was actually a bit disappointing. To us it doesn't quite feel like the holidays without a bit of the white stuff.

So it was back to the West Coast with us, taking with us the bounty of the Christmas haul, including: a homemade "sock monster" from my Aunt Anita, seen in the photo at right; a FoodSaver vacuum sealer for all of that great summer produce; a pair of log tongs (hey, we're tree farmers!); a book on animal tracks, so we can identify who is roaming our property (and eating our garden); and several calories derived from my cousin Beverly's homemade fruitcake, whose ingredients were purported to cost $70!

That reminds me... I promised to post our "Favorite Recipes of 2006"!

- Mike (& Corinne)

15 December 2006

Three Days Without Power

As if recent flooding wasn't enough, Mother Nature decided to throw another big storm our way, this time with high winds in addition to the rain. The storm came in on Thursday, and we had repeated brown-outs for about an hour before we lost power altogether at 9:30pm. So, we brought out the candles, oil lamps and flashlights and read for a few hours before setting the kitchen timer as an alarm clock and heading to bed.

The next morning the power was still out, but there was still enough hot water for both of us to have hot showers. While our heating system is propane-based, even the propane furnace requires electricity for the igniter, so heat was out. Thankfully the house is pretty well insulated and the outdoor temperature was fairly warm (30s), so the house temperature was still in the lower 60s in the morning. Before heading to work we thought it would be wise to check the "emergency hotline" number to determine whether the office was even open; we didn't know the extent of the outage. Picking up our home phone, we discovered that there was no dial-tone; we figured ice must have downed a telephone pole. So we then turned to our cellphone, only to discover that it, too, was out; the local cell tower must also be without power! So not only did we not have a way to see if work was open, we had no way to contact anyone. Without power or heat at home, we decided to head towards work anyway.

On our way to work, we ran into our next obstacle: road closed. Highway 141, the main North/South road between Trout Lake and the Columbia River, was closed for about 5 miles, and those 5 miles just happened to be right about where our house is. We later discovered that a large number of trees and power poles came down on the road along this section of the road. As luck would have it, there was a detour in place around the closure; if any other section of road was affected, there would be no detours available. So we took the detour and continued on to work.

Photo courtesy of White Salmon Enterprise
Arriving at work, we encountered our final obstacle: all of White Salmon, where our office is, was without power. Trees dropped large branches or just snapped in half, like the one on the left. The neighboring town of Bingen, however was not affected. Since Insitu actually occupies seven different buildings throughout White Salmon and Bingen, we head down to the main office in Bingen, found the first open work areas, and did what we could to be productive.

After a short and reasonably unproductive day at work, we headed into Portland with some friends to a previously scheduled dinner and Messiah sing-along. By the time we got home that night, it was after midnight, and by this point the house was in the 50s. We got a fire going in the woodstove (the fire Gods were smiling upon us that night - it started quickly and on the first attempt). By this point we had heard local news reports that stated the "PUD (Public Utility District) had no estimates for restoring power to Trout Lake", so we prepared for the long haul. In order to keep the fire going through the night, we estimated that we would have to add wood every 2 hours, so we set the alarm on our Palm for 2 hours and went to bed.

5.5 hours later, we woke up to a cold woodstove. (Apparently, the Palm isn't loud enough to awake us.) But the fire Gods were again with us, and we soon had another roaring fire going. By this time all water was cold, and the house was 52. We cooked some oatmeal on the stove and heated up as much hot water as we could. Our company holiday party was scheduled for that night, so we coordinated with a friend in Hood River (who did have power) to shower and change beforehand. (By this time our landline phone was back, but the cellphone was still out.) But as luck would have it, at 3pm Saturday afternoon the power was restored and all could return to normal.

It's a good thing we didn't live in the next town north, which is 15 miles away; the estimate for restoring their power was upwards of another 3-4 days! We may live in the country, but there are people who live in even more remote locations than we do! In fact, the power in Trout Lake was restored earlier than to most of Corinne's family living in Seattle. I guess we "country folk" have more experience with power outages (although it probably also helps that we have several orders of magnitude fewer people.)

- Mike (& Corinne)

03 December 2006

Decorating the Tree

On the last day of Loren's visit, after we had most of the lights on, we spent several fun hours drinking eggnog, listening to our favorite holiday tunes, and adorning our tree with ornaments.

Getting ornaments to the top of the tree turned out to be fairly tricky - the ladder only goes so far, and you have to watch out for those guide wires so as not to bring the whole tree crashing down. Through the careful use of a light bulb changer on a 16' extension pole, we managed to get enough ornaments up to the top so that it looks balanced with the bottom.

We love our tree!

- Mike (& Corinne)

02 December 2006

Cutting Another Christmas Tree

Our tree stands were originally intended to be a Christmas tree farm. In fact, we still occasionally get mail addressed to Trout Lake Tree Farm. Of course, our trees are much too large for the average home; 20+ year old trees with 12 to 18 inches of growth each year just won't fit. (We have toyed with the idea of selling/giving trees to malls, churches, etc. who might have the space for such a tree.) But since we have to thin our trees anyway in order to give the ones that remain more space to grow, we invited our friends Dave, Jen and their daughter Ella drove out to our place to cut themselves a Christmas tree. Uh, what I mean is they came out to help us thin our stands to improve commercial harvest. That's what I meant.

We thought that the top of one of our trees could make a nice Christmas tree, so we started by felling a Douglas Fir. The tricky part, though, is that it is hard to see the top 10' of a 25 foot tree. Once we had it on the ground, it wasn't quite what they were looking for. We did some more looking and found a nice Grand Fir that needed to be thinned and fit the bill nicely. So the Douglas Fir became firewood, of course.

We're not sure how common we want this practice of allowing others to cut their Christmas trees from our place to become. Selecting a tree suitable for presentation AND also needing to be thinned requires some thought and searching; but most importantly, it requires us to be there. But at least this once it was fun!

- Mike (& Corinne)

01 December 2006

Winter Wonderland

At 1700' elevation, Trout Lake gets a significant amount of snow each year. On the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, we were blanketed with about a foot of new snow! While the majority of our visitors had left by this point, Leif and Loren were still here to frolic in the snow with us.

Our first activity was the ever-popular snow angels. Loren started us off by falling backwards into the snow, but apparently he over-estimated the cushioning factor of the snow. He spent the next several minutes just lying in the snow, recovering.

The snow was the perfect consistency for packing, so our next activity was making snow "forts". Loren and I each built a snow wall to protect from the onslaught of the other, then proceeded to hurl snowballs at each other, like when we were kids. Corinne worked as an independent contractor, helping both of us build our respective forts, while Leif was a sniper whose only protection was his stealth.
Watch and listen to a video of the battle here.

And of course, we just HAD to build a snowman. But not just any snowman - we were out to build the biggest snowman we could. The snow was so perfect for it that it didn't take long to construct a base with about a 4 foot diameter. The mid-section required 3 people in order to successfully hoist it upon the base, followed soon after by the head.

We were quickly losing the light, so we rushed to add the stick arms, charcoal eyes, mouth and buttons, carrot nose, scarf, cowboy hat and snowboarding gloves. All hail our 9 foot snowman overlords!

The setting sun over our snow-laden trees provides a beautiful sight to end a fun-filled weekend.

- Mike (& Corinne)

Lighting the Tree

We started with 3 strings of lights, but with a 16'+ tree we knew that wouldn't be enough. It took 3 different trips to the store to finally have enough lights to illuminate the tree to our liking.

This tree has 12 strings of lights on it. That's right - 1200 individual lights. Hopefully it won't impact our electric bill too much.!

- Mike (& Corinne)