Now That’s a Big F#%$ing Tree! (Or, Those are Some Tiny People!)

This is me throwing down the gauntlet at Evergreen Lodge: “I need a trail that is halfway between here and Yosemite Valley, that won’t be packed even though it’s June, and isn’t too hard or too easy.”

Their recommendation, without hesitation, was the Merced Sequoia grove accessed from the Highway 120 entrance to the park. “A smaller grove,” they said, “but it is the least traveled Sequoia trail in the park.”

Bingo! We had a winner. Zelda, the rest of the fam and I set a date to commune with some of the oldest living things on earth on a 3 mile round trip jaunt on what we here in the Pacific Northwest would call a loggin’ road.

These mighty trees did not disappoint. So much so, in fact, that we quickly realized it was impossible to truly capture the scale of this mammoth flora without wee little folks in our photographs for comparison. For instance, in the picture above left, you don’t really process how big the trees are until you notice the positively ant-like Zelda and Deborah at the foot of a mighty Sequoia on the left.

Their bark was a vibrant shade of rusty orange and it felt almost like a padded coconut, fibery and airy at the same time.

All in all, a fantastic outing…well, except for the fact that this hike was 100 percent uphill on the way home. We were sweaty and hot…but still happy to have had such a solitary experience in the Merced Grove.

Thelma & Louise, Butch & Sundance, and now, Mich & Zelda!

What was to be a family vacation to Yosemite, in part to attend a family reunion, ended up becoming a mother-daughter adventure instead.

How? Why?

Well, Zoe’s school put together an 11th hour Chinese exchange program for students…and their departure date? Right smack dab in the middle of our reunion. Which meant that half of the Offermann/Reeves family now needed to stay home, so Tom could put Zoe on a plane for Shanghai with 14 other middle schoolers last weekend.

Meanwhile, Zelda and I took off for Sacramento, where we spent the night before meeting up with my Mum, Dad, Brother and Sister-in-law for a family caravan to Yosemite.

Condensed highlights of the drive to Yosemite:

  • We got separated several times.
  • I lost the new camera Tom had purchased the day I departed on my trip.
  • I had to stop and call every place I had been in Sacramento onward to try and locate camera. I was unsuccessful.
  • I found the camera…in the car…in a place Zelda and I had looked about a thousand times. Oopsy.
  • We ate lunch in a Costco parking lot in Manteca outside my parents’ cute little Casita. (pictured above)
  • We had to navigate without GPS toward the end. (How did I live without my turn-by-turn voice navigation on my telephone?)

Never a dull moment.

Finally though, we made it to the Evergreen Lodge, which is near the Hetch Hetchy entrance to the park. We loved it there. Even though it was high season, Evergreen and surrounding attractions were blissfully remote and quiet without the hullabaloo found in Yosemite Valley. In short, the perfect spot to enjoy a major national park in June.

I think one of my favorite moments was Zelda making herself at home in her room. All she needed were her books on the nightstand and her stuffed animal on the bed, and she was good to go! My little traveler.

Making Your Own Longboard — It Doesn’t Get Any Cooler Than That!

Zoe likes to build things. Hence our excitement that her public middle school has managed to retain something resembling a shop class.

(A minor miracle in these days of endless budget cuts. Next thing you know, they’ll be bringing back slate and chalk for all the kiddos.)

The teacher is pretty hands off, letting the kids do what they want — from building worlds in Minecraft, to using GarageBand to put together a soundtrack, to creating three dimensional models of real buildings in Google Sketchup for budding architects, to making wooden nameplates. (I picture them creating signs such as “This is my room, stay out!”)

The real action, and the gory stories, are with the power tools though. Zoe loves to tell the one about a kid hopping on the power equipment when a substitute teacher was leading the class (supposedly happened years ago), and getting injured. I’m not sure if it’s true, but the potential for grievous bodily harm is apparently irresistible when you are in 7th grade, and they all love to complain about subsequent band saw and sanding restrictions when substitutes are in residence.

A sampling of Zoe’s work this semester:

  • A bird house for my Dad’s 70th birthday! Pictured below.
  • A toy wooden car…sort of an old fashioned dragster.
  • A desk jockey for her, and a desk jockey for me (gift for Mother’s Day). An example of the jockey is pictured below. She heated, bent and sanded the plastic so it was smooth; cut, beveled, sanded and finished the wooden base; and then attached all the accoutrement!
  • A freaking awesome longboard. I think this is the whole reason she was excited about taking the class in the first place. And, we had to sign a waiver of liability in order for her to make just the skate deck!

After Zoe made the board, she raced home and immediately ordered trucks and fat longboard wheels. When they came in, she grabbed the drill, installed it all, and took it outside…only to discover she put the trucks on backward. If she leaned the board to the left, it would turn right, and vice versa! It was hilarious watching her try to ride it anyway. (Talk about exercising your brain.)

She eventually gave up on her backward board, took another pass at truck installation, and voila, she had a fully functional, fantastically fearsome, longboard.

Tea, Timers, Starfish & Coffee

Sometimes, the old fashioned way just feels better.

Tom and I have developed a bit of a tea habit. We like white teas, and green teas, and black teas, and ginger teas. (Although I am lazy about loose leaf. I tend to buy high quality bagged tea, such as Mighty Leaf and Tea Forte.)

We like tea pots too. The small Japanese tea pot. The smaller Chinese tea pot. The big dragon-themed tea pot that I inherited from my Grandmother (which has the faces in the cups, I posted about earlier).

What we don’t like is boiling our water, steeping our tea…and then forgetting about it. For some reason, we just don’t use our watch timers, or our electronic kitchen timer that sits right by the stove.

I’m not sure why, but digital just doesn’t seem to jibe with the process of making and sipping and appreciating tea.

So there we were, middle-aged farts with the short-term memory of fruit flies (we like to blame this on the children) who were letting their tea over steep…sometimes for half an hour!

What to do?

Tom found the perfect solution in my Christmas present last year: an old-fashioned, totally retro, bright yellow mechanical timer. We all love it, and somehow, it seems to fit perfectly with the ceremony that is tea drinking.

As an added bonus, the sound of the timer reminds us all of the bell that rings at the beginning of Starfish and Coffee, by Prince.

Perfect, since it’s one of our favorite family songs!

Three Bunnies and a Bald Eagle

Tom and I had a lovely taste of two things yesterday: spring, and unexpectedly being child-free for much of the afternoon and evening!

We took advantage of this windfall and hoofed our old asses out to Sauvie Island for a stroll along the Oak Island Nature Trail, which takes visitors around the peninsula of the same name.

It was dusk by the time we finished, the light was incredible, and I was lamenting the fact that I hadn’t thought to bring my camera. We could see Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood as if they were a mere few feet away, but unfortunately I only had my less than stellar phone to try to capture the moment. The picture on the upper left is the best I could do, with Adams and St. Helens reflected in the still waters. We basked in this truly stupendous view for awhile. (click to enlarge)

Our highly underdeveloped bird watching skills really paid off, as we were able to spy a GIGANTIC bald eagle surveying its domain high in a tree just off the trail. I’ve seen a lot of osprey, but not yet a bald eagle at that distance. It was enormous, and amazing. Later, as we rounded the point, we came to an area where the branches were literally festooned with large nests, and then, standing apart from them all, was what appeared to be a freaking tree house. Being natural…well…naturalists, we figured that must be the home of the bald eagle, and a palace it was. (Second picture below shows the nest if you enlarge.)

In communing with Gaea, we enjoyed the refuge meets farm view (bottom left) and the wild grasses (bottom right). On our walk, we also spotted three bunnies hopping down the trail, across the trail, and into the bushes.

I love Portland, that such amenities are nearby. That it is relatively bug free, so I don’t have to slather myself in insect repellent. And, that as a community, the public and private sector are dedicated to the preservation of our natural environment.

Happy Earth Day!

More on Home Homework

We consider it to be good news that Zoe’s entry into middle school has brought with it a dramatic decrease in the types of projects that require Tom and I to be engaged parents. (Please see the edible Portland Bridge project or the edible map of Oregon.)

We aren’t out of the woods yet, though. Zelda is still in fifth grade, and so far this school year, we have had two large poster projects. (Thankfully, nothing edible and no projects with plants that get sent home, but for which we don’t have a spot.)

The two posters she worked on this year are pictured here (click to enlarge and enjoy them in all of their glory)! The first one probably taught Zelda the most, which was the Comet showcase. She launched into that particular poster by creating a forest green border without considering any other layout or design decisions, which she grew to regret later. For this poster, everything had to be done by hand.

I made her sketch out a layout and design for each element, and then we worked on them together. She traced, stenciled, ink blocked, drew, glued, pasteled, and wrote her way through this poster pretty successfully. Even managing to incorporate the green into the title. She particularly liked the purple stenciled border in the bottom right.

Her second project was to create a movie poster for a biography of Jackie Kennedy’s life. This time, she was much more prepared. Out of the gate, she came up with a layout and theme that were very good and that we followed pretty darn closely.

She was a little freaked out about separating Jackie’s visage into four sections, but in the end, decided that it brought attention to her face, which was the point. She warned me though, “Mom, all the other kids are going to ask why her face is in squares.” Sure enough, when she toted the poster to school, her fellow fifth graders, trying to bring order to their visual universe, asked Zelda why she didn’t glue the pieces together without gaps.

The good news with these two projects? No leftover licorice…and we didn’t have to eat any of it!

No, These Turtles are not Humping!

I had the most fantastic surprise in the mail yesterday! Four gorgeous, fabulous smelling turtle soaps, lovingly handcrafted by my aunt Leslie.

She is an incredibly talented and generous woman who thought the Zs and I would enjoy a little handmade Shea Butter and Aloe Vera soap.

Leslie, you were right! We do enjoy! We are enjoying!

For the record, I would like to say that the Zs practically got in a wrestling match in their excitement over which soap to claim for their bathroom. And, Leslie, you will be happy to know that living with 3 women has rubbed off on Tom, and he appreciates a non-drying hand soap as much as the next guy!

I also wanted to get a plug in for my aunt’s Etsy store. She makes some of the most gorgeous wooden crafts. Her cutting boards with inlaid turquoise–a great Mother’s Day gift.

Thanks Leslie for making my week!!

Stop…I mean Start…the Presses!

In Portland, we have a wonderful store, if you adore paper arts and letterpress. It’s called Oblation Paper and Press. I was lucky enough to take a letterpress class there a while ago, working with those incredible old machines and wooden letter blocks (I made a postcard-sized thank you card that said “Danke”).

Anyhow, our current downsized lifestyle, which I adore, does not really include room for a turn-of-the-century, gigantic, zillion pound letterpress machine! (Maybe when the Zs depart…) So, I didn’t think playing with letterpress would be in my future.

Then, Tom gifted me with the crafter-sized QuicKutz Epic 6 letterpress and die cutter this Christmas.

Before even using it, I have to say that I enjoyed reading all of the reviews. I traveled back in time, via the Interwebs, to the moment of its launch to see what reactions were when it first came out. The outraged posts on the part of professional letterpress artists about this innocuous little machine surprised the heck out of me. I am not sure what they found so threatening. I would think it would only expand people’s appreciation for, and understanding of, this incredible art.

The consumer reviews were definitely entertaining. My personal favorite was the complaint that to use it, you would continue to have to purchase supplies. Does a tube of paint came with an inexhaustible supply of canvas? Of course not. Think of it this way, you are buying a tool with a minimum amount of supplies to get started. Also, many complained, “I got it out of the box and it didn’t work perfectly on the first print.”

Welcome to letterpress!

When I took my class at Oblation, the pros had to use a ton of tricks and tweaks to get great results. Every machine had its own personality. Don’t expect home letterpress to be any different.

There are some good posts about modifying the machine, and about other’s experiences with it, including this one from Boxcar, here from Paper Crave, and lastly Viva la Blogette’s review.

Mine own first pass reactions after spending a few hours with the machine several weeks ago are below. Above is a photo of some of the results I got with the Epic 6 during that time.

  1. I was able to get passable results pretty quickly out of the box, particularly with the finer letters and lines.

  2. The plates that are included are uber low quality. When I opened the box, several of the stock images were dramatically warped and completely unusable.

  3. The brayer that was included worked fine for me, particularly on narrow text. In fact, for this, I preferred it to the fancier 6″ one I purchased on the recommendations above. I am curious to order plates from Boxcar though, and use the larger brayer with some guides. This will be the key to good results with larger inked areas, which are hard to coat evenly with the smaller brayer.

  4. I had no problem with cracking plates, as others did. But, I didn’t print any large runs. Also, I didn’t press boundaries in terms of increasing the impression depth.

  5. Watching a video or two beforehand is definitely helpful.

  6. You will definitely want more color than the solo black tube included with the kit, so buy an array of ink ahead of time if you can!

  7. Make sure you have lots of time to play the first time you take it out of the box. It’s addictive!

Summer Vacay at Lake Pond-uh-ray

Yee Haw! First Offermann/Reeves family rodeo. Bonner County Fair. Hiking. Swimming in Lake Pend Oreille every day. Skate boarding. Bike Riding.

While I do believe there is no greater sign of blog lameness than to post about a summer vacation the following January, I am going to move ahead anyway.

We took a no Internet, no stress, no frenetic traveling approach to our summer vacation plans last year. Our goal was to carve out some time where we had no schedule and no worries. We chose Sandpoint, ID as our destination. Big enough to have grocery stores and some entertainment, but small enough to feel isolated and away from the city! And really, there is no more beautiful setting; Sandpoint is a city sandwiched between mountains and a gigantic deep lake. Bliss! (In the interest of full disclosure, there there was one spot in the house we rented, where for brief moments, I could piggy back on a neighbor’s WiFi signal. But it was so intermittent and unsatisfying, that I gave up trying.)

We were lucky enough to be able to attend the Bonner Country Rodeo. The barrel racing falls were a bit stressful, as was the steer wrestling..and bull riding…heck, who am I kidding, we found it all enthrallingly, entertainingly stressful. Even the wee tots getting run over by their mounts in the bareback sheep races caused us to hold our breath!

Mom, Dad, Ian and Deborah came to visit us for a bit and we dropped by the Bonner County Fair. Now, it would be hard to top the Tillamook County Fair, which is simply the greatest fair in all of the United States. But, this small rideless fair was a delight. We perused livestock, 4H cake decorating, and various crafts, cooking, and canning. Some of which are pictured below.

A favorite, and incomprehensible, activity we engaged in while everyone was visiting was to dredge up large rocks from the lake bottom, swim them out to the ladderless dock, and then place them atop the planks. At one point, we had stacked so many upon one edge, the dock had a decided list. The Zs would do this until they were literally ready to drop with exhaustion. (Rocks on the dock photo below courtesy of Deborah…by courtesy, I mean that I stole it off of Facebook!)

Then a wedding party arrived and our rocks disappeared…we think perhaps it made a poor backdrop for their photos.

Gentlemen, Pick Your Cereal!

One of the Offermann/Reeves favorite vacation rituals is to go on a carb and sugar binge upon the occasion of our first trip to the grocery store in a new town. On this inaugural shopping expedition, we each get to choose our own “special” cereal. This was the case a few days ago, when the family found itself standing in front of a huge American wall o’cereal in Sandpoint, ID.

The amazing variety of choices not usually open to the Zs completely paralyzed them. They totally panicked.

Zoe and Zelda couldn’t decide whether or not to try something new and risk hating it, or to go with something they had eaten before and enjoyed. In the end, they chose to strike out in a bold, new direction, which I admired. Zoe got Captain Crunch, and Zelda, the Cookie Crisp.

The results? Disastrous.

Zelda found the artificial cookie flavor of her choice to be awful and Zoe hated the way the Captain Crunch made her milk taste. (By the way, I can attest that Captain Crunch still chews up the roof of your mouth the same way it did when you were a kid!) They quickly abandoned their selections and were soon begging for some of our Corn Pops and Honey Smacks!

Mmm Hmmm, who knows how to pick some cereal?