Gardening Update, 3 Months Later!

A few nights ago we hosted a party at our house. This was a reunion for our yoga retreat friends. You may remember that my husband and I went to Santiago, Mexico back in January to attend a yoga retreat lead by my hubby’s favorite yoga instructor. We had an amazing time snorkeling, sight seeing, eating and, of course, doing lots of yoga! I created several posts which you can see here, here and here. 

In fact we had such a great time that we have already signed up to go again in January of 2018! Our hosts who are americans living in Mexico, Bill and Susan, were visiting in Seattle this month and we couldn’t resist the urge to get “the band” back together again. We offered our home for the 20 or so folks who attended either the first retreat week with us or were part of the second week group. Since I was responsible for the desserts you might expect that this is a food related blog post. I did post an Instagram picture of my little sugary creations.


top left: Lemon meringue flower tarts, top right: Berry white chocolate mousse cookie cups, bottom left: Peanut butter chocolate fudge, bottom right: Salt caramel cheesecake bites. I also made some appetizers and potato herb dinner rolls.

But this post is not about the food! Everyone who came to our house that night had never been here before. We saw our home through new eyes which is always a delight. It is so easy to take what you have for granted when you view it day in and day out. But our guests were so complementary about our home and, in particular, our garden and backyard that I began to take notice myself. I realized it has been awhile since my last garden post in which I shared the status of the new spring plantings and planter boxes that I hung along the fence line. So, here we go WARNING: lots of pictures!

We have three of these large pots, one on the deck and two on the patio below. I chose coleus plants and sweet potato vines, in varying colors for each pot.

This is one of the two on the patio. The hummingbirds love this red plant (don’t remember what it’s called!)

The hydrangeas are doing particularly well this year. They line the stairway down the side of our home and lead into the patio.









Do you remember what the planter boxes looked like back in April? Ya, me neither! Here they are.

old photo

And now….





What a difference in just three months! I also put two other planters (which I did not build but purchased and painted) on the adjacent side of the fence line. They also filled in nicely.



In fact, the entire garden has filled in!


This is a pathway (that leads nowhere really) from the side of our patio.



Same pathway as viewed from above

These plantings fall under the category of “trying to attract more hummingbirds”. It does seem to be working as we now have two fighting over territory of the yard.








Other plants were chosen for their color or uniqueness.



love this purple color




This is a banana leaf plant and will be huge in August


Others were selected to help with weed control, to serve as ground cover, but I still wanted variety and color.


The garden really has come a long way. I am happy with the overall look, but will still be tweaking things here and there. After the third growing season I can see that some plants need to be thinned, or removed all together. Of course there is the constant weeding! I am going to try to remember to take a step back and enjoy the surrounding and attempt to avoid the tunnel vision I often acquire when I work in the yard. After all, the point is to enjoy the fruits of our labors and not just look for more flaws, right!

We also recieved a lovely bouquet of flowers from one of our guests, so I would like to leave you with some pretty images of lilies and dahlias.





Thanks for reading this far! Enjoy the summer while it lasts and I wish you all good fortune!

A family vacation that really rocked!


This is my daughter and I sitting on top of Red Wall in Smith Rocks State Park. We just finished the 3 pitch climb of Super Slab. What a view!

My husband and I are truly blessed to have these amazing kids who also happen to be very athletic and, apparently, fearless. Our son, Ryan, is only 21 but has been a rock instructor since he was 14. He recently began to acquire AMGA certifications and is now a professional guide. He is also a classically trained clarinetist, not sure how these two worlds will knit together yet, but as his parents have zero musical talent, we have chosen to join his climbing world.

This was the first trip to Smith for the parentals (as our daughter Alex calls us) but the kids have been numerous times. We stayed in a motel in Redmond Oregon, about 10 minutes from the park. We had never been to Central Oregon before and were impressed with its beauty. We live in Redmond Washington so the drive is about 6 hours, give or take. Warning: Lots of pictures in this post!

We were greeted by these yellow bellied marmots, which are like rabbits there.

Our first day in was all about Red Wall, and climbing a route called Super Slab. We had a small hike for the approach, but when you are carrying gear, ropes, a camera and its 70+°F, the hike is harder! It was mostly uphill of course!


Our daughter at the very top of the last pitch


A view of the wall as we approached


Our trusty guide!


Ryan did most of the leading and set the rope for me. Alex lead up for Dennis.



Once we finished all three pitches it was time to enjoy the view and some snacks


The views were spectacular!


I do like being as high as the birds


This is the crooked river which runs through the entire park




You can see why this is called the Red Wall




Ryan was probably a mountain goat in a former life!

We rappelled down, reorganized the gear and headed off to another climb that the kids felt the parentals could handle. Ryan also had a project that he had been working on, that was impressive!

We made our way over to a route called “5 gallon Buckets” because the holds are huge-perfect for my husband and me! This was only rated a 5.8 but it was longer than most of our lead climbs, so the decision was made that I would lead up, set the anchor then hubby would top rope it. This was my first outdoor lead climb!


me leading 1

Yep, that’s me up there!

me leading 4

me leading 3

The good news is that I got it done in one take! Then my husband climbed it and we all headed over to Ryan’s project- A very intimidating 11.c climb named “heresy”. It is only 4 bolts and the anchor and it is intense!

We did have a short wait in line while other climbers were on the wall so I took some shots of the surroundings.





There are climbers all over this rock like ants!


A number of climbers here as well


There were humans hanging all over the place!

Then it was Ryan’s turn to climb!



He got it in one try! At this point we were all tired and it had been a full day! We hiked out (no small thing) and drug ourselves to dinner in town. I was asleep by 9pm.

The next day was also to be a big one-the Marsupial Traverse which was a whopping 10 pitches total. We got up and out the door and were at the park by 9:30am. We had a nice long hike out to the site. Since this climb was longer and required more gear, I did not take my canon with me, just an iPhone, so less pictures this time!


This was one of the views on the way into the canyon


This is what we would look like in a few hours! I caught this group doing the traverse before we did!

Along the way, Alex decided to try a quick climb before we all started the traverse. She got up ok, but stuck on the way down (the rope drag was too much for her size). Fortunately, little brother knew what to do and brought her down safely!

The traverse took all day, as I said before we started at 9:30am and we finished the final, 200 foot rappel at 5:45pm. Another long day, but so worth it!


My hubby fighting his way up!

a and d

Amazing views from up here-notice my husband hunkered down and tied in at all times! He is not super excited about the height!


He is feeling a little safer here!


This climber is on an adjacent spire waiting to rappel


Look how joyful Ryan is! This is his “happy place” several hundred feet above the ground! 

We had an amazing time at Smith and will definitely do it again! The parentals did mange to get one half marathon training run done while the kids went for one last climb before we all piled in the car for the long ride home. We were dirty, tired, sun burned and very happy!

Working on my photography at the beach


This weekend I spent with me, myself and I. My husband went to Spokane to run in the Bloomsday event. This is a huge race that he does with his coworkers. They leave early on Saturday morning for the 1 hour flight and head straight to a golf course where they proceed to drink all day and, somehow, play a round or two. They spend the night and get up early to join the 30,000 other folks for the annual 12K (7.5 mile) run, have lunch, drink some more beverages and then fly home Sunday night. That meant that I was on my own to run a 9 mile training run so I figured that after I ran I would take off to the Washington coast and work on my photography skills (such that they are!).

I left for the shore at 1pm on Saturday and arrived at 4pm. I was staying at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino on, you guessed it, Quinault Beach. I dropped off my bag and immediately headed out to the shoreline.


As I exited the hotel, I took a shot before I entered the beach


These images were from the shore, looking back at the resort. The sky was amazing!



The property had a private boardwalk to enter the beach


It was windy, and cold to be sure, but the sun was shining.


The tide was out quite a ways and the beach was covered with jellyfish.


There were a few seagulls out and about. This one is the same as the bird in the picture that is found at the start of the post.


I really love the cloud cover. Part of our photography class is playing with the white balance. We are learning how to shoot in cloudy and bright conditions. I played around with this function to get this image.


Another area of focus in the class is depth analysis. Here I tried to capture the different growth levels of the plant both above and below the surface of the water.


I switched to my zoom lens to get a little closer to the waves and this seagull.


By now I was quite cold and ready to head inside for some hot coffee. Sunset was at 8:34 and I had just enough time to settle into my room, have dinner and get back out to the shore with my tripod in tow.

It was extremely windy and the sand was really blowing along. I tried to capture the feeling of movement by using a longer exposure setting. What do you think? Can you see the sand moving?


I will keep working on that!

These next shots were on aperture priority setting, and the white balance was set to cloudy to make the colors more visible. I should also say that I did not use any filters.




I decided to swing around and look at the clouds in the east as well.


Moving back to the west again, I tried positioning the sun in different fields of view.


That was a long as I could stand the cold! I went back to my room and had a hot bath, read a good book and had a great night’s sleep!

The next morning I went for a long walk on the beach sans camera. I just wanted to absorb the beauty, breath in the salty air and stretch my sore muscles-they were definitely feeling that 9 mile run the day before! With my soul refreshed I packed up, checked out and went 5 miles down the road to the city of Ocean Shores. This was a completely different experience! Where Quinault Beach was quiet and mostly deserted, Ocean Shores was crazy, populated and chaotic. There were cars on the beach driving around, horse trailers set up for tourists to ride on and motorized bicycles buzzing around. Why would anyone want to drive all the way to the shore to then drive on the beach! What happened to listening to the waves, feeling the sand in your toes and getting away from it all? I didn’t get it!

There were some standard sights that you usually get at the beach, such as people flying kites.


And the ocean here looked a lot like the last beach, but the clouds were not as impressive today. At least it was warmer, and I did appreciate that.


The birds here were insane. Maybe it was because there were so many people around who left their food unattended. The flocks were massive and the small birds were wicked fast. I decided to try to capture some the fast moving objects by moving into shutter priority mode and set it to 800. I can’t tell you how many shots I snapped trying to get a sharp image, but I got a few to my surprise!


I was getting a headache trying to catch the little birds so I turned my attention to the slower, gulls. I managed to get a couple good ones.



Then, out of nowhere one of the flocks turned right at me!


They veered off at the last second, thankfully!


That was enough for me-I am not really all that comfortable around birds. Especially when there are so many of them. I decided to pack it in for the weekend. I made one last stop for lunch before the long ride home in Sunday traffic.



This granola with greek yogurt and berries was delicious! I had a great, albeit short trip and had a lot of fun with my camera. Next time I think I will skip the touristy beach and just hang out on the calm, serene shoreline. Minus the deadly attack birds!

Spring Planting and a Photography Assignment

It has been quite awhile since I posted in this category. The biggest stumbling block has been our erratic weather that is the norm this time of year. If we manage to get a day without rain I have to choose between running and yard work, often running wins that debate. But, lately we have managed to eek out a few days with not just dry weather, but some sun to go along with it! Spring is slowly trying to make its way into the Pacific Northwest, so I have finally been able to weed, clean and plant in the yard.

This time last year I custom built planter boxes for our fence line. I described how I made them from small palettes in a previous post, these were stored under our house during the winter.  Now it was time to pull them out, check for damages and fill them up!


The repairs were minor for the most part, a few staples and some cleaning were all that was required. I am fortunate enough to live near some beautiful nurseries, one of which is Flower World in nearby Snohomish County. The selection is enormous and the prices are really good, compared to other nurseries in this area. Which is really important because I need 72 plants to fill these four containers! I also have several large pots that require several annuals each-you can see how the price tag goes up really fast! You can see one of those pots on my home page. So, Flower World was my first stop.

flower world

This would be enough for a great start!

When it comes to organizing the plants I have to really pay attention to the height the plants will be in a few months. I try to put the tallest along the top rows, middle and low growers on the second and bottom tier, and some trailing varieties in the corners of the lowest portion. Of course, I try to mix up the colors, but that doesn’t always go as planned.

I started by lining them all up and sorting into height categories, then figured out how to divide the colors among the four planters.

I plant them at the fence, so that they can be lifted into place as they get fairly heavy when full of plants, soil and water.








Everyone is fairly small now but in a few months the boxes will be full and, hopefully, colorful.

So, what about that photography assignment? Well, I have been taking a digital photography class at a nearby college, in their continuing education program. It is 7 weeks and we have completed the third class now. We have had a number of assignments designed to help us learn the various functions of our cameras, I am really learning a lot! One of the biggest lessons for me is how to use the aperture priority function for more control over my compositions. Another big help has been the white balance function, which is usually set on cloudy around here! Our instructor assigned us the task of taking 15 photos of our backyard, and has challenged us to take a different perspective. So, I decided to photograph the fence line where these planters are mounted. Sort of a “squirrel’s view” of the fence when they run along the top, which they do often!




In a few weeks I am heading to the Washington coast to take some landscape shots, complete with tripod. This should be interesting!

Food Photography: An online course from Craftsy


At the beginning of the year I stated that I wanted to improve my photography skills, meaning I wanted to actually have some! I began to use my extremely old digital camera instead of my cell phone camera and signed up for Blogging University, which was offered through WordPress. The assignments were great for me as they got me thinking more about framing my shots and photographic composition in general. Since the class was through WordPress it also acted as a guide and informed me about some of the features supported by this platform. In short, I learned quite a bit about the operation of my camera and the (very) basics of photo editing. My husband then surprised my with a new Canon DSLR camera for Valentine’s Day. Now there is so much more to learn!

My new camera has infinitely more ability and intricacies. I have been using it on our travels and have seen a huge improvement in my photography, in general. My posts about the Hearst castle and the Botanical Garden in Arizona are some examples from my new camera.  I love the quality of the pictures but am now more aware of my lack of knowledge about photography as a whole. So, to start my new, much longer and steeper learning curve off right, I decided to take more classes. I have identified two major issues for myself. The first is understanding the camera’s features and using the ISO, F -stop and manual focus abilities correctly. I feel that I need an actual hands on class with an expert for the proper instruction, so I have enrolled in a digital photography class which will begin next month. The second concern which I would like to improve upon is in the specific context of food photography. is a great resource for recipes, online shopping and online classes. I have purchased several of their courses in the past and have always been happy with the information they have provided. The specific class I viewed this time was Food Photography, from plate to photo with Andrew Scrivani. There were seven lessons each focusing on a different aspect from how the camera functions, to lighting, and finally food styling.

Lighting is a tough tackle for me. My kitchen is beautiful and I wouldn’t change a thing but  there are overhead, strong lights and the granite counters are shinny, as are the stainless steel appliances. There are a lot of reflective surfaces that do not lend themselves to great pictures, so I made a few purchases to help redirect the light. The instructor advised using a black background to absorb light and white, or silver surfaces to remove shadows, or create ones where they are needed. I also purchased a light diffuser to help with the direct, east facing daylight that enters from the right of the photo below.


I also bought a few clamps to hold up the boards


When it came to the food styling portion of the class, I found that there were many ideas that I could incorporate in my “emerging” style. I really liked Scrivani’s style as well and found that I was drawn to many of the natural elements he presented. My current collection though is too shiny or reflective for the camera, so I took inventory and bought a few items as well.


I like these fabrics and hope they will keep the shin down on my counters. The wood palettes are in keeping with my other natural elements

I then turned my eye to plates, glasses and any other items I thought I might want to incorporate in the future.


I was trying to get a mix of colors, but remain in the muted tones. The glasses I found at Value Village and remind me of the ones my grandmother had when I was young.

I tried to take a couple different angles, to see how the light played off of all the pieces.


3/4 light from the right side


This is the top view with the light perpendicular from the right.

Overall, I am please with these pieces and found the information from the Craftsy class extremely helpful. Tomorrow I will see how it all fits together with an actual recipe. I will be making the cinnamon roll cookies from Sally’s bake along challenge, wish me luck!

Botany and Brunch in Phoenix!

I have mentioned before that we lived in the high desert for six years in Southern California. We were incredibly busy during that time and I really didn’t have the luxury of wandering the desert and looking at the flora or fauna. Now that the kids are grown and on their own we decided to revisit the desert through calmer, more leisurely eyes. We went to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix Arizona yesterday. I wasn’t sure what would be worth seeing since it is winter, but there were plenty of blooms and impressive succulents to make the trip a success. There is no way to capture the entirety of the ecosystem that would do it justice, so I tried to focus on plants that are unique or dramatic in some way.  And, no I don’t know the names of any of them! I am a molecular biologist not a botanist. I can extract their DNA but that is the extent of my plant based knowledge.

The park is divided into 5 distinct loops, or trails and each has a main theme. Desert plants found around the world, those that are used for food or medicine, ideas for succulents in your landscaping at home, desert wildflowers and a vista loop with uniques perspectives and views.  I guess I will just jump in!





















There were several sculptures and water features in the various gardens as well.











This sun dial was on time












These seed pods were horseshoe shaped















Remember when I mentioned fauna?


This bird appeared to be nesting on the ground. You cannot see from this angle, but its wings were spread out as if it was roosting.


We were told that some birds will hollow out a portion of the larger cacti to nest in or for protection.


Do you see both birds?

Remember when I mentioned the trail with the great views?






We were finally done and on our way out of the gardens when a couple other interesting sites popped up!


Touch down, Seahawks!




These last two pictures are of Dale Chihuly Glass sculptures that mark the entrance/exit to the park-just beautiful!


We spent a couple hours hiking around the park and we were good and hungry. We headed over to the Biltmore Resort for Sunday Brunch, which was being served in their Wright’s Restaurant.img_0509

This was quite the spread! Included in the price of the brunch was this all you can eat buffet that included the mussels, shrimp, crab claws, smoked salmon and capers that you see above. What you do not see is the rest of the cold buffet and the dessert bar, both of which were extensive! Additionally there were hot items made to order (also included in the cost of the brunch). I chose the chipotle maple glazed pork with farrow, golden raisins, grilled broccolini and sunny side up egg.


As good as this was, it was nothing compared to my second choice! Blue corn pancakes with jalapeño, lime and mexican creme. Beyond delicious!


Another amazing taste was from the cold buffet. I had a smoked salmon bowl, with pickled vegetables, mandarin orange and salmon roe.


Of course I had to leave some room for dessert. There were many great options but I took only two small bites to sample. A salted caramel cheesecake and the raspberry chocolate macaron, and coffee of course!


Both desserts were outstanding! Now that we were replenished from our morning, my husband and I set out to check out the Biltmore Resort grounds.




The resort had an 18 hole putting course that we had fun practicing on. I didn’t too bad that day!


We could have played a game of chess on this giant outdoor chess board, but golf was our first choice.

Then we saw the pool! This is hard to forget-just stunning and so inviting!





We finally wrapped up a very busy and incredibly fun day! If you are in Phoenix you are going to want to hit up the Desert Botanical Gardens and Wright’s Restaurant at the Arizona Biltmore Resort!

A few last beautiful images!





Blogging University, Late Assignments!

Ok, so I have been a bad student, which is quite embarrassing for someone who has been teaching for 20+ years! I will now play the role of many of my former students and offer the following lame excuses. I have been focusing on exercise and spending a lot of time in the rock climbing gym and yoga studio, my son had two of his wisdom teeth removed which took a little time, my daughter took the GRE on Friday and we went to celebrate the good returns, and I attended a women’s workshop with a friend and learned some great new tips for blogging. All excuses are valid and true so now I need to catch up!

I am double dipping on some of these shots as they fit a couple different assignment criteria. The first missed assignment was titled “Bliss”, but did not specify who’s bliss was to be recorded. I went with our cat Monti who’s entire life appears to be one big vacation!



See what I mean? Life’s rough! This is just one of her favorite nap sites in the house.

The next assignment was to interpret the theme of “connections”. I grabbed my camera and a lot of layers, since it was 26°F, and headed to one of my favorite running paths.

Bridges are a symbol of connecting and these two are ones I pass as I am running along the slough. I also feel connected to nature in this area, even when it is cold and most intelligent life forms are looking for shelter.


This picture reflects the cold, barren feeling of the day


But I was not alone for long-these ducks are accustomed to humans feeding them at all times of the day and came running! 

This is where I start cheating (sort of). One assignment challenged us to zoom in on subjects to work on close ups, and the ducks where cooperative that day so I took a number of different shots for this purpose while I was documenting connections.


Not too far from this area is a small park with several sculptures. I decided to try my luck with the assignment that covered perspective and the concept of “point of view”. I am short so I often feel like I am looking up at everything. So, I began experimenting with upward angle shots.


This is a large glass sculpture outside of our city hall building


This view is from beneath one of the spires


A close up shot of one of the segments of the sculpture with the building in the background


The view from beneath that same segment

Just to the left of the city hall building is a smaller sculpture and I lay down on the very cold ground (people walking their dogs must have thought I was crazy) to take these images.


 A tree branch against the winter sky


The view through this cylindrical sculpture

Now that stage two hypothermia had set in I decided to head home and warm up! The next morning I was up early and saw the moon setting over our neighborhood. I used this opportunity to take a photo of something “big” and “lonely” which both define the  moon.


So now I am only a couple days behind with this course! More pictures to post soon and the final wrap up of the class.