Wednesday, October 30, 2013


We have been blessed with many, many days of glorious sunshine. Now, the weather is turning, and we are starting to feel the cold settle into our bones when we're outside. So we crank up the wood stove and permanently settle there. Schoolwork happens accompanied by its cheerful fire, and so does every meal of the day. Lots of knitting happens there, too. Carving of pumpkins is lit up by its flames, and the making and eating of popcorn is warmed up by it.

Drying Gouda cheese, pumpkins, and Kai supervising the popcorn making

These past sunny weeks have been filled with frantic outside activities. We knew the rains would return, so we squeezed every ounce of fun from our outdoor time. We went to our secret place by the Skagit River, where dead salmon piled up and stank to high heaven. That didn't stop us, though, oh no. We are used to the aroma of fall by the river. The boys “fished” for salmon, which grossed me out because of their dead compadres right in front of our eyes (and noses), but the boys were engrossed in trying to catch them. I watched them while knitting socks and cuddling with Eva.

Steve and Lukas.  Shirtless at the end of October!
Mama knits, while Kai is fishing in the background

The sand on the beach is great for learning how to write. The other day, Eva and I hung out by the Nooksack River, and out of the blue, Eva wrote the letter “H” in the sand with a stick. She has never done this before, and I freaked out with enthusiastic praise. Eva kept writing dozens of H's in the sand, incredibly proud of her accomplishment. Kai and Lukas taught her how to write “i”, so now she knows how to write “Hi”.

Eva learns to write her first letter...
... and is really happy about it.  In the background: Mount Baker.
Another activity before the rains start involved lots of digging. We are finally adding on a small room to our house, which makes me very happy. It will serve as an office/extra bedroom/extra storage, just in time for Gramma and Grampa who will be visiting on Thanksgiving. The whole family helped to dig, and I am amazed how much Kai and Lukas can work nowadays. I mean, they are actually HELPING instead of just being in the way (like a certain little girl I know)!
The other day, the boys went outside after home schooling, and when I went out to check on them, they were digging, all by themselves.  They knew the ditch had to be deeper, so they went to work.  Great, huh?

I will leave you with an image of Eva and her best friend, snapped on a walk.  They are sitting on their throne.  May you be as happy as these little girls this week!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Letting go... like the salmon

In our neck of the woods, fall is characterized by typical autumn scenes: leaves turning bright red, kids picking apples, hiking on crunchy leaves. But then there are the not-so standard experiences, like hiking on crunchy leaves while stepping on rotting salmon, a smell of which I cannot describe to you. The other day, I took the kids down to Diobsud Creek, and as I set my foot down to step on the river rocks, I realized I was just about to step on a big dead salmon blooming with white mold. I jumped very, very high into the air and let out a very, very loud scream. Eva got really scared by this, and I felt guilty about making her into a prissy girl who screams and jumps onto a chair when she sees a mouse (or a rotting salmon). That day, you couldn't take a step without smooshing a salmon underfoot, even quite a ways from the creek (after an eagle dropped one, or a bear or raccoon pulled one away from shore).  The salmon that are not quite dead, but almost, are the hardest ones to run into. They weakly lie on their sides, sluggishly opening and closing their mouths, moving their fins slightly. Every now and then they jerk up their heads and splash, as if they are remembering the days of their youth, when they fought against strong currents and traveled thousands of miles to find their birthplace, so they could spawn and die there.

I wonder: do they suffer? Do they freak out hearing the cries of bald eagles and seagulls waiting to feast on their bodies as their lives slowly, slowly drain away? Or are they resigned to their ancient fate of becoming food and fertilizer, maybe even relieved that their hard work is finally over?

This salmon is still alive, although already quite rotten.  She paddled up to were I sat, locking eyes with mine. It was eery and beautiful, and I cried a little.  It was like she was trying to give me a message: "Stop struggling so much.  Just go with the flow."
This one was arranged like a still life painting - in a very dry riverbed, and looking quite fresh.
And this one is one of the specimen that stinks up the air.  You do not want to step on it, believe me.
We've been loving this fall.  The sun has been shining her heart out for two straight weeks, and our days are gloriously filled with picking apples from a friend's orchard, and kiwis from our own kiwi plants.  They are the small, non-fuzzy ones, where you eat the skin and all.  They are like sweet little explosions of flavor and Vitamin C in your mouth, and I let the kids eat as many as they want.  We also love going for walks through the woods to the various rivers and creeks in the neighborhood.  It helps to have little fairies accompanying us, in the form of Eva and her friend Vija, who hangs out with us a lot.  Sometimes, when I watch them frolic in the mossy woods, with the sun lighting their blond hair like halos, I wonder if this is real.  This life of ours, centered on nature, love, friendship, the freedom to explore and just be.  Am I really sitting in the sun by the river, with these beautiful children busily collecting leaves and rocks, while I am knitting in the sunshine?  Why, yes, it's real, and I am holding on to these precious moments of grace, to store them up and file them away in my heart for emergencies, like a bad PMS day, or a day when the effort of home schooling and keeping the house from falling apart threatens to pull me down.

Ahem... is that Eve in the garden of Eden, tempting us with an apple?

Our kiwis.

They like to hold hands when they walk through the woods.
Unless Eva decides she wants to run ahead...

I leave you with some images from our fall:
Robin Hood, visiting us at Lukas' birthday party to play with the kids...
A flaming tree, capturing my heart...
More goat milk soap being made at my house and sold in my Etsy store... (in case you are looking for Christmas presents, ahem).
Kai and Lukas rough housing on the rope swing under the Big Leaf Maple tree.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Return of the Primitive

I haven't told ya'll about Steve's new undertaking. He has a brand spanking new Etsy shop called ReturnOfThePrimitive. My man has been making traditional wooden long bows for several years, and he has gotten really good at it. He also has been teaching others how to make bows, and from the feedback of his students, he's a damn good teacher. I've observed him teaching, and I agree.

Being a type A German overachiever, I have encouraged Steve to produce bows and to sell them. I even made us a website, which still boggles my mind, since me and computers are usually not on particularly good terms. But I was really motivated to make a website to showcase all our different ventures, and it has paid off phenomenally. People actually find us! People sign up for cheese making classes and bow making classes, and some people even have bought bows off the website!

One of Steve's own adult bows.
One of Steve's own kids' bows.

I've had my own fiber related Etsy shop (not fiber as in eating your vegetables type of thing, but fiber as in wool and such) for years, so I decided to open an on-line Etsy store for Steve. In his shop ReturnOfThePrimitive, he now sells his bows for adults and kids and accepts custom orders. He also sells things made by our friend Greg: flint knapped arrowhead necklaces, flint knapped knives, and knife holders, all really gorgeous (and priced way too low, if you ask me).
I don't like to use my blog for promotion, but I'll do it for my husband, who is very marketing-adverse and hates computers. So here's the deal: If you want to order anything from his Etsy shop (ahem, click here), you can use the coupon code PRIMITIVE for your order. You'll get 15 percent off your purchase! And you'll get to boost Steve's and Greg's morale, so they can crank out more of their beautiful wares!
Here are some examples of Greg's art:

Look at these gorgeous salmon vertebrae!

More salmon bones made into beads!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

We did it! We DID it!

We did it! My ten year old son Kai and I rode over two Cascade mountain passes on our bicycles today. We did 40 miles in six hours, which is a pretty bad hourly average and should tell you how HARD this ride was!

The first 17 miles were all UP, with an elevation gain of 3,300 feet. That's three thousand three hundred feet. It took us four hours to struggle up to Washington pass.
What I really want to know is this: Has any ten year old kid done this ride, ever? I really want to know. I am competitive that way. I kept cheering Kai on, “I don't know any ten year old who could do this!”
Kai functioned as my cheerleader in turn.

Me: “My butt hurts.”
Kai: “Just think of the ride down once we're up on the pass.”
Me: “My thighs are really cramping up. Are your thighs hurting?”
Kai: “Yes, Mom, but just think of the ride down once we're up on the pass.”
Me: “Kai, you are doing so awesome!”
Kai throws me a cold, sideway glance and remarks, “I don't FEEL awesome.”
Me: “Now that you mention it: me neither. Wanna take a break?”

Climbing, climbing...
It was cold. Our whole family left the house at 7:20am to have Steve drive us over the pass to Mazama, stock up with sandwiches and treats at the marvelous Mazama store, and then have Kai and me start our ride at 9:10am. Steve, Lukas and Eva would function as the support team and meet us every couple of hours to check in with us, cheer us on, rub our sore legs, and carry extra water, food and clothes.
I started out the ride with several layers of clothing, which I quickly shedded. My saddlebags felt pretty heavy with all these extra pounds of wool. But the ride climbed quickly once we left Mazama, and although we could see each others' steam emanating from our huffing breaths in the cold air, we got warm quickly. There were dips in temperature when we rode close to the creek in the shade, which drained our reserves, I think.
The weird thing is that I rode over the pass a couple of years ago, only in the other direction, leaving our house in Marblemount and arriving in Winthrop eight hours later. That ride was in the summer and added up to over 85 miles, but it seemed much, much easier than what we did today. I wonder if it was because of the cold. Or maybe I'm just getting old. Plus, I didn't train at all for this. No bike rides, no runs, not much exercise.

More climbing, climbing...
We're not there yet, but we are enjoying the view!
Muscles are burning, but he gives me a thumbs up.
The last two miles before reaching the pass felt murderous. We both hit a wall, with our muscles burning. By the time we reached the pass, elevation 5,476 feet (or 1, 669 meters for my Germany family), we scared some tourists because we screamed so loudly. Victory!
We ate lunch up there, with gorgeous views of snow covered mountains and vibrant fall colors, and also copious amounts of chocolate.

Yep, that's the two miles before the pass.  Steve took the picture.  I don't think you can see us there, since we were probably laying in a ditch somewhere...
The last hair pin turn.
Here we are!  When Kai saw this picture, he said, "I look like I got stabbed by a knife."

The cool thing about riding from East to West (as opposed to the other way I did a couple of years ago) is that you get all the hard stuff out of the way, and then you get to ride DOWN for a loooong time.  We battled a strong headwind that threw leaves and pieces of debris into our eyes, but it was fun anyway.  Except when you reach the bottom and then have to climb all the way up to Rainy Pass, elevation 4,875 feet (or 1,486 meters). By the time we were done with that one, all we wanted is to pass out on the road.

Here's the fun part: Coasting down:

Here's the hard part: Climbing up yet another pass:

We're pooped.
We are really pooped.  This picture is not staged.
After Rainy Pass, it all went down hill from there. Literally. We didn't have to pedal very hard at all, just sit on our bikes, coast down, shift our sore butts in the saddle, snot and spittle and tears from the wind splattering every which way.  It was fun, in a painful sort of way, and very scenic. Except it got colder and colder, since we weren't working our bodies much, and since the afternoon sun hid behind the mountains.  Plus, when I stopped to take a picture, my camera/smartphone wasn't there, and I was convinced I had lost it up on Rainy pass.  So my obsessive-compulsive, anxious little mind kept fretting about if and how we would find it, and then I got angry at Steve for not suggesting to meet up with the van earlier so we could start our search for the camera sooner.  Instead of enjoying the effortless ride down the pass, I sat frozen on my bike, imagining all kinds of ways my camera would be lost forever, and how some weirdo would access all my pictures and e-mail and Facebook and...
... And then we found Steve at Canyon Creek Parking lot many miles later, and he told me he had the camera/smartphone, since he had taken pictures of us collapsed on the road.  Here are Kai and me smiling for one last shot.
And you know what?  It was all worth it!  Bonding with Kai during the ride, spending time in nature, enjoying the fall colors, exercise, and all the chocolate I got to eat!
And Steve, Lukas and Eva got to do some bonding as well: sledding, eating treats, and making Andy Goldsworthy sculptures by the river.  

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