Even for those who shun tradition and ritual the rest of the year, Christmas is one time we often return to the security of its fold. Holiday traditions resonate with the imprimatur of time; they become a part of our identity, writing out family history and reflecting cultural heritage.
As we seek to put our own stamp on tradition and imbue celebrations with our own sense of style, the irresistible variety of both savory and sweet homemade edible gifts one can lovingly prepare becomes a noteworthy concept. Many in the islands feel that homemade gifts are the best, and edible gifts are the best of all! It is easy to become highly domestic at this time of year as many of the visible tokens of celebration are, in fact, projects that are both relaxing and pleasurable.
It may be wonderful jellies or jams, aromatic breads, cookies and candies, special dressings for salads, a seasoned salt, sugar flavored with vanilla beans, or vinegars seasoned with berries or herbs. There are butters, sauces, condiments, liqueurs, spiced nuts, and cakes. You are limited only by your imagination
A good part of just about anything is the presentation. It is a visual sort of thing. However simple or small the gift, beautiful wrapping makes it just that more special; the packing becomes part of the present. A velvet sack, a simple box, or basket can be both wrapping and gift. Hard to wrap items can be sheathed in fabric, tucked into baskets, or encased in netting.
Why not combine your food gift with another gift? Offer cookies in a jar or seasoned salt in its own shaker. Place a loaf of bread on a breadboard or set muffins in a basket lined with a holiday gift towel. Tie a unique spreader around a crock of apple butter. Give a gift certificate for ice cream with a jar of homemade chocolate sauce!
The heart of Christmas is giving. We may bemoan the commercialism of the holidays, but generosity still underlies the essence of the season. We recognize the pleasure in choosing a gift we hope will delight the recipient and take joy in bestowing it. Homemade gifts are invested with thoughtfulness. Perhaps both making and giving is the true spirit of the season…
Given that our team works all the islands in the San Juan archipelago, we are often on the inter-island ferry. Sometimes when showing property on one of the outer islands, we pause to ponder just how extraordinary this commute really is, yet how very typical of island life. We view this commute as a mini road trip – an adventure!
When you live and work in these dreamy green islands, the inter-island ferry really can be a fun thing and especially in the off season. There are many familiar faces and actually, most of us know each other as we often ride this boat for work.
Once boarded and underway, one by one, we make our way upstairs to the passenger deck where groups of islanders are discussing the topic of the day and solo riders are engrossed with their laptops or reading or just staring at the breathtaking scenery that we never quite seem to take for granted. There are jigsaw puzzles for our entertainment pleasure and indeed, many become obsessed with these going back to them over and over to do just one more piece of the puzzle. There are women in the ladies room applying make-up and sometimes even drying their hair. Every so often there are scheduled meetings in progress as this is an efficient manner in which to gather participants from all the islands in one central location.
On a recent trip from Lopez back to Friday Harbor at the end of the day, one of our team members had reason to return a call to a client in southern California while gliding by Flat Point. The client was sitting in traffic on I-5 in Los Angeles grumbling about the congestion. Our team member almost felt guilty when explaining that she was commuting by ferry on a dazzling Winter day…
The word barn derives from combining the word barley with the Old English ern, which meant place of. For centuries the word was bern; it has been barn since the Late Middle Ages. Over the centuries a barn’s uses have expanded way beyond barley storage. Today, a barn can also be a place of tools and seedling, cars and carpentry, hay and animals, play and puttering. Or, once you clean them up, sheathe them, and add a few comforts for creatures of a very different kind, barns can actually make great houses.
Renovating a barn to a living space may not be all that complicated, but creating modern homes from fallow barns involves a lot more than just hauling out the rusty junk, brushing aside some cobwebs and cow manure, and hanging drywall. Still, despite their often derelict condition, there is truly a romance to these rustic structures that makes one yearn to reinvent them as habitable homes.
It is not difficult to see why old barns inspire the imagination. The high-peaked timber shaped beams and the rich patina of centuries-old boards have a quintessentially American feeling, connecting us to our pioneer roots. The appeal of soaring spaces.
Whether you plan to use your barn to keep animals, make a work-shop, or just add storage space for the stuff that has been accumulating in your yard, one general-purpose design can fit many of these varied uses.
An elaborate and rather rigid system for building structures has evolved in our society. All of us who would build are almost obliged to adopt this system as our own. The more obedient to the system we become, the less variety is available, the less creativity is expressed, the less we are able to change with changing times.
Break from the system — use your brains and not your billfolds to create structures that are affordable, individual, and even safer and more efficient than the mass-produced mundanities of the established construction industry.
Take one old barn and call it home!
Lopez Island is truly a magical place, eliciting in many an almost ethereal response to its sheer beauty, its substance, and its peace. It is a different way of life: the pace is slower, the world quieter, the people approachable. Many from near and far have discovered Lopez and found it irresistible.
A rural patchwork quilt of fields and pastures, interrupted by sections of velvety forest rolling down to the edge of the sea, with its quiet pace, reminiscent of days gone by, Lopez boasts a well-developed sense of community. To understand the present, you need to understand the past – understand the island’s history.
In the beginning, Northwest Coastal Indians spent Winters in cedar-planked loghouses and used the warmer months for hunting, fishing, and cultivating/gathering plants. Later people came to Lopez for a variety of reasons – prospectors returning from various gold rushes and passing through the islands, relatives and friends of residents, respondents to advertising – those hoping for a better life.
As people moved to the islands, three main communities formed: Port Stanley, Richardson, and Lopez Village. These communities all boasted steamer service, a store, and a post office. A smaller area known as Mud Bay also had a post office and a school. People were, by necessity, self-sufficient. Survival depended upon community; they bartered and shared. And now, as then, the best way to make a living on Lopez is to wrest it from the land or from the sea.
The story of Lopez is the story of community. Living self-reliant lives while helping friends, neighbors, and newcomers. Lopezians created a unique community character that abides today. It is this which has shaped the island’s history, far more powerfully and significantly than we may realize. The island continues to echo those early times.
The secret weapon for living life on an island is a well organized pantry. A planned reserve of foodstuffs and sundries for everyday life, a pantry saves time, money, and stress. Tap the pantry for unexpected meals and reduce trips to the mainland or even the grocery store. Stock it with frugal finds to lower grocery costs. Set aside supplies for unexpected entertaining. This is the place for those fun specialty items to add that festive touch transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary! Properly managed, the pantry is an integral part of island living.
You may be thinking you don’t have a pantry. Sure you do! It may not be what one would traditionally envision as a pantry and it may be a closet, shelving in the garage, or even a large trunk, but a pantry it is! Don’t confuse storage space with the reality of the pantry principle. Certainly it is helpful to have designated cabinet space for pantry goods, but that is not a pantry. Think of the pantry as a reservoir of consumable goods which may be stored most anywhere in your home. The goal of establishing and maintaining a pantry is actually two-fold: convenience and protection against unexpected events. A well-planned pantry means you will never run out of commonly used products. Even the smallest home can include a pantry. A pantry is not a place – it is an attitude!
Disorganized pantries slow an otherwise productive person. They can be a nightmare if not meticulously organized and maintained. Putting away groceries could take twice as long as necessary, not to mention trying to find ingredients to prepare a meal when circumstances may not be ideal.
When stocking your pantry, keep in mind what you use on a regular basis. Efficiency is the issue here and simplicity is key, but organization is critical. Keeping your recipe repertoire in mind, decide which items you really need, then embellish your basics with some homemade treats. You will be glad you did later!
With the holidays fast approaching, you may be expecting guests in your home perhaps just for a meal or a party or – maybe for a lengthy stay. We all know our homes are never cleaner than when we are expecting guests, but you might want to consider taking it to the next level, preparing your home to avoid any annoying disturbances.
Let’s start with the refrigerator. Even if your thermostat is set to under 40°, it may not be cold enough to keep the contents safely chilled if your condenser coils are dirty. Located at the back or bottom of the appliance, unplug the refrigerator and clean the coils with a coil brush (available at hardware stores).
You also might want to prevent clogs by cleaning the P trap under the kitchen sink. Place a bucket under the trap, unscrew the nuts at both ends to remove it, and dump out the contents. Wash out the trap in another sink, then reattach it.
While you are at it, you might want to clean the grinder in the garbage disposal. Dump two cups of ice and one cup of coarse salt down the drain, fill the sink halfway with cold water, and run the disposal until the water is gone. If there is an odor, throw in some lemon peels to freshen it up.
Okay, now for the oven. Get rid of excess grease by mixing water with baking soda to create a paste. Spread it on interior oven surfaces, let it sit overnight, then wipe it clean. This is less toxic than commercial cleaners and as for self-cleaning ovens, you really shouldn’t use the self-cleaning cycle right before doing a lot of cooking.
Are you ready now?
As we ease into November, October and the true Winter months descend, many opt to tackle indoor project with a cozy fire in the fireplace or gear up for some serious skiing in the snow-covered mountains. This is definitely not the case for many Pacific Northwest sailors who have rallied to the islands for over thirty years to participate in one last weekend of racing. Round the County race has established itself as the most successful races in the area. Hosted by the Orcas Island Yacht Club and Friday Harbor Sailing Club, the event invites racers to the islands the second weekend of November for a two-day race around the islands.
November can bring some pretty steady winds, the scenery is amazing, and the Saturday evening festivities at Roche Harbor are not to be missed. Indeed, this race has become one of the most popular events in the Pacific Northwest. With limited moorage at Roche Harbor Marina, the number of entries is limited to the first 100 registered boats. This is not typical and makes the Round the County race special to be sure.
The course essentially goes around San Juan County alternating direction from year to year – even-numbered years the course is clockwise and odd-numbered years are counter-clockwise. The start is always in Rosario Strait at Lydia Shoal.
It is really spectacular to follow the Round the County race from shore and especially this year as they head north Saturday with Lopez and San Juan Island to starboard. Many on Lopez are known to watch as well as on San Juan staring at Cattle Point and up the West Side. Some opt to take their boat out to follow the race and some even fly over!
Obviously there are no guarantees about the weather, but definitely worth bundling up to watch. Don’t forget your binoculars – or, your camera!