Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New knees and Christmas trees!

For the first time in 34 years, we actually bought our Christmas tree this year! Over the years, we've always been able to cut one down on our property .... or from one of our friendly neighbor's property. It usually has stood 9-10 feet tall tucked into the SouthEast corner of our living room. This year we opted for a 3 foot tall potted Deodar Cedar that will be planted out in the garden, or grace one of our decks later in the year. The reason?...  my husband, Fred, had his left knee replaced on Dec 13th, and we knew that he would have trouble taking a big tree down! I do miss our usual big tree, but it sure was a snap to decorate the small one ... and I love the new pot! The emphasis is now on all the smaller ornaments that are usually overshadowed by the bigger ones.

Fred is quite an active guy and rather inpatient to have this recovery process get moving!  A few times a day he needs to be hooked up to a motion machine that continually bends and unbends his knee, and must learn to get around for the first few weeks using a walker and then a cane. Pain meds help, but make him sleepy...and sleeping makes the joint stiff! This is mighty hard for someone who goes out and bikes 50-100 miles at a time whenever he feels like it. So we are adjusting a bit this month.

Activities Christmas day will revolve around some new schedules as well. We actually have two 'new knees' in the family ! Saskia Rosemary Engstrom was born on November 18th ( one of the reasons I've been less focused on the internet, my blog and work in general!) Saskia is the first child of my oldest son, Eric, and his wife Becca, who live in Portland. We look forward to seeing them, as well as our younger son Brent, his wife, Jenn, and their 9 year old son, Brayden, here on Christmas day. How lucky we are to have them living so close !
New knees are wonderful! Saskia's are the tiniest, and the softest that I've ever felt! Fred's is man-made and a modern miracle! After three arthroscopic surgeries and not much left of the knee joint, he decided that if he wanted to continue being active, he needed to have a new one. By Spring he should be back on his bike, as well as more comfortable walking, and hopefully skiing ( in moderation?)

So  'Merry Christmas' and a 'happy New Year'....and we hope that, in 2011, we can be as content as little Saskia appears!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The magic of trees....and baskets

Baskets have always fascinated me for their textural and other artistic qualities. When we first moved to Oregon in the early 1970's I took a class in pine needle basketry and made numerous small baskets from the long needles of the few Ponderosa Pine that we had on our property. I also tried my hand at weaving melon-shaped baskets using some of our grapevines.

Recently I attended a two day workshop on weaving cedar bark baskets in the tradition of the Haida Indians. Instructor Nancy Olson brought gorgeous strips of yellow and red cedar bark that she had personally gathered in the forests of Alaska. It was beautiful stuff! After soaking in basins of water, the bark strips felt like soft leather. For inspiration, she also brought many examples of baskets that she has woven over the many shapes and sizes!

Getting started involved making decisions about color and form. The baskets would be small in order for us to have time in the two day period to finish. Some of the bark strips had been dyed black for accents, but other materials, such as Maidenhair fern, and Bear grass, were available. Beads, shells, bones, feathers, and other ornamentation could be added once the basket weaving
was completed.
My two baskets ready to take home! I can't wait to try weaving a few more. The design possibilities are endless! One of my favorites among the many examples that Nancy brought to the workshop was a soft textured basket in green and pale yellow.  

With 12 acres on the edge of a rain forest.... that includes many cedar, fir, and walnut trees, I plan to do a bit of careful harvesting... next Spring when the sap starts running ( the best time to harvest) We just finished a very late grape harvest, the leaves of the vineyard have turned yellow below the row of one hundred year old black walnut is a beautiful time to witness nature at it's best. My beloved trees will again give back...and I can dream of sitting by the fire weaving their glowing bark strips into something magical.

I think my basket collection will be growing!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

And the months go whizzing by......

August, September and October have been a blur of activity.... making it very hard to know where to pick up the thread! I'll try to post more often and fill in some of the details before I forget them entirely!

In early October we traveled back East for a 50th High School Reunion in Lancaster, PA., and visited with college friends in St.Michael's, Md. Located on the Chesapeake Bay, it's a very picturesque town with a great boat and maritime museum. I took the opportunity to sketch some of the wonderful historic buildings, trying to use some of the color techniques that I had learned from Tia at the sketch symposium. We also enjoyed a sail on a big old working oyster / sailboat ... on a beautifully warm, Fall day.

They enjoy displaying pumpkins and flowers in a big way back there!

There are also terrific examples of 'gingerbread' detailing on many of the buildings .... which unfortunately, didn't get the attention they deserved on my quick sketches!

The boat had lots of character, and was the perfect place to be on such a great Fall day.

Our sail both began and ended in front of the historic Maritime Museum lookout.

Back home in Oregon, we celebrated with our son, Brent, as he took over ownership of Veloce Bicycles, a great neighborhood bike shop in Portland. We wish him well in his new venture!

 We also watched helplessly as the birds came in to feast on our grapes! It appears that this might be the first year since we planted our vineyard back in 1984 that we are unable to harvest. The sugars have just not gotten high enough and the seasonal rains are closing in. There is, at this point, only a small chance that we'll have enough sunshine and warmth for them to ripen. This is the price we pay for being at a higher elevation than our neighboring vineyards. Everyone, it seems, was 2-3 weeks late in harvesting due to our wetter and cooler Summer. Perhaps that pot of gold will appear in some other form?

And, of course we welcomed back our BIG pup, Lucca, who spent an exciting week in doggie camp while we were gone, and now, at 6 months old, weighs 60 pounds! He already out-weighs our grandson, Brayden. has it's ups and downs, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sketching Nirvana and Weaving Frenzy

Just spent three very full days sketching in Portland with 80 'Urban Sketchers' from all over the world who met here for the 1st Annual International Sketching Symposium! It was fabulous....based at the the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland's Pearl District, we roamed the streets with sketchbooks in hand, heard lectures from instructors from as far away as Singapore, Barcelona, and Naples, and were saturated with inspirational camaraderie. My first sketch was in pen and ink, but by the end of the three days I had loosened up and was working in ink and watercolor. It was such fun to sketch with other people and to see all the myriad styles and techniques.... what a group of talented people! I am still on overload.

I now have half a dozen sketch books, pens, and watercolors that were given to all the participants from the generous symposium sponsors. Can't wait to try out all of the new materials ! I'm also anxious to go back down to Portland to sketch with the local Urban Sketch group... but life here at Cloudrest tends to get in the way! (my vegie garden, the vineyard, the new puppy, etc)

This sketch of the college was done by Susanne Cabrera, one of the many talented people at the July symposium. It was interesting that many of the sketchers knew each other from the Internet after visiting each others blogs for years ... like pen pals who finally meet, the excitement of actually being able to sit down and sketch with that person who you admired, and who lived across the world, was palpable.

Each day we broke into small groups of 10-15 and went out with the various instructors to draw around the city. On the last afternoon, Tia, from Singapore, took our group, 'Urban Color',  to the Saturday Market on the PSU campus. Needless to say, we all hated to see it end!

Earlier in the month I took a 2 day workshop at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology out on the Oregon coast.  Fred and Lucca came and we rented a cabin on Cascade Head, where we were surrounded by Fir and Sitka Spruce and a view of the ocean....a recipe for relaxation! This was a two day weaving class, and I had the experience of working on a small table loom. My final product was a 6 foot long table runner, which I barely had time to finish! Of course, now I have to find time for more weaving .....

Three of us in the class decided to paint the warp threads for our projects, which created different effects depending on what color yarns were used for the weft. The blue yarn I chose was unravelled (frogged) from a silk-wool sweater! Lots of recycled materials were used.

So now that Summer is speeding by.... it makes me wish for a few more days in the week. Our puppy, Lucca, definitely brought warm days and a wagging tail with him! Besides nearly tripling his weight since we brought him home in late June, ( from 11.5 lbs to 29 lbs) he is investigating nearly every crevice and twig on the property. He especially seems to like going to the concerts at Oak Knoll Winery, and playing with our grandson, Brayden. He recently was introduced to Baxter, their Brindle Boxer and the two of them got along great.

 Can't beat that for a happy ending ! What will August bring?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Can the puppy find Summer?

It's July and the grass is still wet! June broke all records for one of our coolest and wettest on record.

It was also the month that we welcomed a new puppy into the family! His name is Lucca and he just turned 9 weeks old. He is one of the reasons that I haven't posted for awhile. We've been pretty busy with our new baby. Having had two Labs, two Rottweilers, and numerous cats over the past 40 years, we found ourselves missing our furry creatures. ( the visiting deer just aren't the same!)

We could certainly do without the 4 AM 'potty 'trips', and our temporary lack of freedom .... but we know it will be worth it. This little guy tugs at the heart in seconds. He also seems to love exploring our property and being underfoot at all times. Thank goodness he naps! We are fully prepared this time around with crate, toys, play area, kennel....and have even begun fencing in the entire 12 acres to keep him in and the deer out.

He's great at helping to pick up all those nasty sticks around the place, and loves to help me weed the garden. He also has developed a taste for spinach leaves  ( and anything else that is green and moving) My husband Fred built a great outdoor kennel for him next to the barn/ shop the two can spend time together listening to the jazz station on the radio while 'tinkering'! They've definitely bonded.

We've been working on some of the basic commands like 'Sit', 'Down', and 'Come'. Having lots of treats and patience helps. The biggest hurdle seems to be walking with a leash ( and wearing that darn collar)
We have a long gravel driveway and it can take quite awhile getting up to the mailbox when there are so many distractions along the way. A long stick dangled in front of his nose sometimes does the trick. Or better yet, When Fred starts driving the tractor up the hill,Lucca breaks into a fast trot! Imagine my surprise when I came walking down the driveway the other morning to find Lucca on Fred's lap having his first tractor ride!

He's still afraid of things like the lawn mower or the noise from the chain saw. Living in the country can be pretty overwhelming for a small puppy! Once he has his booster shot next week we'll start introducing him to some other dogs and doing more socialization. The last time we actually had a puppy was over 20 years ago when we had our first Rottweiler, Lance. He spent most of his time outside but came into the house in the evenings, and was with us most of the day. Dante became our second Rott, when we inherited him from our son when the dog was a year old. Both dogs were gentle to the point of letting our cat sleep on top of them!

Living in the country can be a messy business, especially when there are lots of trees, and plants to play with, not to mention piles of leaves and needles that accumulate under our fir grove. I also look forward to the day when he is grown up and we can give him more freedom to run up and down the vineyard rows!
The challenge will be to train him to only dig up the weeds! Tending the garden with Lucca is a new adventure, especially when I see him pulling on a daisy stem, trying to catch the water as it drips out of the watering can ( yes, we actually had a week of sunshine near the end of the month and I  had to water!), or gently tugging on a newly planted pepper plant.
After beginning the month of July with cool temps and two days of rain or perhaps it was drizzle (Portland is the only place I know of where there are so many names for precipitation : showers, light mist, downpour, steady drizzle)  they are now predicting temps in the 90's for next week. Summer may actually arrive in time for the Fourth of July!
I will be content to enjoy my new puppy and what's left of my garden! It's a 'Garden of Eden', where everything is a temptation!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stormy weather...and wine tasting

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally when all of the local wineries open up their tasting rooms and vineyards to tasting and tours. Just 20 miles from the center of Portland there are more than 50 established wineries and over 1,500 acres of vineyards! ( making our small 5 acre Pinot Gris block appear insignificant) It is also the time of year when our weather is unsettled...and in the throws of switching from our wet Winter and Spring to our dry endless Summer. This year the rains and cool weather have continued into June.

Needless to say, we rarely have the time to go and explore other vineyards. Along with friends, Barb and Roger, we headed out to visit three of our favorite fellow winemakers. First stop was at Beran Vineyards, just a few miles down the road from us. Surrounded by bright red clover fields and old walnut orchards, the rolling vineyard rows glowed with strips of bright green new foliage...looking much like our own. Bud break occurred back in early May, about two weeks late, and the leaves have been slow to emerge.

Bill and his wife Sharon have a small operation, but make wonderful Pinot Noir. The old farm, antique barn and winery are all just recently up for sale, and they are hoping to stay in the area on a smaller parcel of land. This is a reminder that having a vineyard or winery may sound romantic, but it involves a tremendous amount of work. We toasted to their future retirement years, where drinking the wine, not tending the vines will prevail!

Our next stop was the Italian inspired Alloro Winery, owned by our friend David. My husband Fred goes by the vineyards weekly on his bike rides and we have always admired the buildings and plantings, which remind us of the places we've visited in Tuscany. The winery buildings and his recently built house are all done in stucco and stone, surrounded by herb plantings, and punctuated by large Italian cypress. There is a gorgeous patio with a stone fireplace and a formal herb garden with olive trees! My idea of paradise. Looking across the valley towards our hillside, the numerous cypress that he has planted at the edges of his vineyard blocks give a unique perspective to the landscape.
His tasting room is not open on a regular basis, so it is always a great opportunity to sample the wines and compare notes and vintages. Walking out into the vineyard we find the family dog has disappeared half way down a mole hole and is frantically digging in an attempt to catch the critter. The is a favorite activity for vineyard dogs! We had a labrador once who dug so deep that only his rear end was showing, making it hard to extricate himself from a near vertical position!

Besides the lab, a lovely butterscotch colored Italian breed stood patiently waiting by the tasting room door.

Many of the vineyards have copies of a book on vineyard dogs which has pictures and information on the numerous breeds and deeds of these valuable creatures. I have fond memories of our Labs and Rottweilers who spent many hours with us working in the vineyard ( and who especially enjoyed chasing deer and digging for gophers and moles!)

As a designer I have admired the small herb garden that Alloro has created next to the winery. Clipped hedges, a central fountain, and a four squared design of lavender, roses and olive sets the mood. Now if only we could get the sun to shine, the picture would be complete! At this time of year it has a habit in Oregon to tease us with short, eratic appearances. Better to come back in August.

Our final stop was at Willakenzie Estate Winery, located west of our Chehalem ridge. Founded by the Frenchman, Bernard LaCroute, and a Cornell classmate of mine, Ronnie LaCroute, the winery and vineyards are in a breathtaking location. The Estate was named after the soil type of the area. After tasting some of their new releases we go out into the vineyard with their assistant winemaker, Michael, to have a closer look. They are one of many wineries in Oregon who believe in sustainable viticulture, and organic farming practices. Out in the field Austrian Pea plants and grasses grow between the rows ( I grab a few for sketching back home!), a herd of long horned cattle grazes on the slope next to the vineyard blocks, and banks of solar panels are observed in the distance.

One of my favorite spots at Willakenzie is on the flat garden terrace located between the two production buildings. Brilliant green grass and white flowering shrubs lend a formality and elegance to the space. A large new stone terrace is being added that will bring you even closer to the sloped vineyard blocks, and open up additional views.

Having dodged raindrops and marveled at dramatic skies and sunlit hillsides, we reluctantly headed for home with our token wineglasses in hand. Not much will get done during the rest of the day!

Mt. Hood offers up a final show as the sun paints the tip and lower slopes with it's last fading light, and shadows break across the lower slopes. A perfect ending to a perfect day!