Archive for March, 2010

Marine Life 101

Yesterday I dropped in down at Local Grown to share a new molten chocolate truffle cookie I’ve created with WEB.  With a few minutes to spare before the afternoon crowd came looking for their double espresso to get them through until it’s time to hit Toby’s, WEB ushered me outside and to the edge of the pier for a little Marine Life 101.  “Come see the starfish,” he said.   I’ve seen starfish before, but unlike Reagan’s view of the great redwoods, I found out yesterday if you’ve seen one, you have definitely not seen them all.

I’ve waded through tide pools along the coast of California, squealed with disgust as a I fell into a rocks full of anemones, and admired starfish, but they weren’t nuclear power plant meltdown size.  These starfish were 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea worthy.  The picture doesn’t begin to convey their enormity.  Hundreds and hundreds of starfish piled on top of each other, more clinging to the pilings.  Absolutely stunning in their beauty and numbers.   Bright orange, deep blue, shades of gray, green…they were all represented.

WEB gave me a quick starfish lesson on how they feed.  They bore into clams and mussels and suck the meat out.  But keeping all things in balance, the gulls eat the starfish…not the big ones; although I must admit I would have loved to have seen a gull try and fly away with a starfish the size of a Smithfield ham.  Marlin Perkins Wild Kingdom moment:  Just as WEB was explaining how the gulls eat the small starfish, a gull swooped down and picked up a starfish and flew onto the beach.  WEB told me that sometimes you’ll see a gull flying through the air with a starfish tucked half way down his throat with a couple of its “arms” holding onto the gull’s head trying to avoid the inevitable.  This gull was one smart bird.  He dropped the starfish on its back and proceeded to pinch its “arms” together until he  had three arms overhead and two below in a straight line.  And then he gulped a few times  until the starfish was in his gullet which, by the way, expands.  Now there’s a whole starfish in  his neck and you can see the tremendous bulge.  Being me, I’m jumping up and down, and asking WEB  questions such as:  What is the starfish thinking?  Is it trying to find its way back up the gull’s throat?   WEB and I don’t think alike so he didn’t have answers to my questions.

This photo represents just one section of the amazing starfish necklace:

This is not the perpetrator mentioned above, but he didn’t do anything to stop the carnage.  However, he had the perfect seat for enjoying the blue sky day here in Coupeville while Mt. Baker showed off for him in the distance.   I wouldn’t have given up that spot either.


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I’m working on borrowed time here.  Evidently, I’m not as mean as I had bragged; my throwing caution to the wind answer for why it seemed I was the only one in Coupeville who hadn’t succumbed to the cold going around.   Consider me part of the town.   However, being old school, I did go down to the shop and did my time at the beginning of the week, and I’m glad I did.  I met the most delightful woman.   She’s probably in her late 60’s to early 70’s and she’s teaching her grand kids, who moved to Tennessee, to play piano via web cam.  Is that cool or what?  Every Tuesday afternoon grandma sets up her station and the kids show up with their lessons.  Their piano is set up by their computer and the camera is set up so she can see their hands as they practice for her.  I’m always amazed when people (especially old people) start talking web cams, tags, links, skyping and, oh, let’s be honest, I don’t even know what the tech terms are.   I’m just getting used to the notion of blogging.

I was told some bloggers actually do research before posting info on great buys and travel tips, or describing in sumptuous detail a to die for wine or new restaurant they’ve experienced and why you’re going to love it too.   I’ve found some blogs where young mothers share the minute-by-minute ups and downs of parenting in the most intelligent, acerbic tones, with real time photos of  their perfect babies.  I was the kind of stay at home mom who mixed food coloring with vanilla pudding and after we “made art” all over the counter, then Nate and I ate it (with our hands).   Blog that you perfect moms.   And speaking of photos, bloggers post photographs that rival the likes of  Leibovitz .  It takes me a dozen attempts to get a photo in the spot intended (there’s only left, center and right to choose from), and then once it comes up on the screen larger than a micro chip, it’s the wrong photo.  Now it will take approximately 45 minutes to download the next photo.  Remember, I’m in the woods and my reception is about as reliable as Al Franken’s was on SNL when he wore that satellite dish on his head when reporting.

I don’t know how serious bloggers do it.   My blog is usually written at the end of the day or between the hours of one and four in the morning (don’t pay any attention to the clock or the date – don’t know how to change them), no research, no rewrites.  That sounds like work.    And boy, after six days in a house strewn with kleenex, nasal spray and cough syrup,  unable to work on the property or make my way into town to hang out at the coffee shop, don’t I sound like I’ve got a hoe handle up my…   I think I may have taken too much Children’s Benadryl.   However, I am a woman of my word and an all around perfectionist when it comes to martyrdom and because I promised you that I would tell you about the Stinging Nettles in my next post, I’m bound to either that promise, or burning at the stake.

Imagine the theme to Jaws (and you’ll have to imagine it because even if I had the right to do so, I wouldn’t know how to download it.)  Have you got it?  That’s the music that could be heard as the nettles and I regarded each other.  I had the advantage, having a brain and all, and so I used it to carefully walk around the patch, measuring it’s height, circumference, the way the wind was blowing, looking for shadows that might cause a depth perception problem (remember, I have eye floaters now).   I took my calculations and using math logic…if a patch of nettles is three feet high by four feet wide, and the wind is blowing at 3.4 mph, and the sun is at a 37 degree angle, how long it will take for me to get stung?  By my calculations, I had 15 minutes and 33.5 seconds to pull out that particular patch of evil before harm had its way with me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take into consideration that there was a ladybug resting on one of the leaves, which altered all of my mathematical calculations and cut my time frame of safety down to about, oh, three sec…   “Son of a B$(%!!”   Right through my new leather gloves, the ones that unfortunately, have just enough canvas cloth on top for a nettle to find its way through the fabric into my finger.   “You’re going down, you M*%(#F%)#!!er!”   Blinded by the pain, I was just about to take my trusty hoe and have my way with those sneaky bastards when I saw that ladybug look up at me.  I thought about the Sow Bug Family Circus.  I couldn’t do it.  So I decided to take her picture instead.  And that’s when I got stung on my arm in the very same spot that I got stung last  year when I first arrived on the island.  The very same spot.   Thanks to Ralph and his horror story about how Peggy hit a nest of hornets with her pitch fork and one stung her in the back of the neck rendering her paralyzed for the entire ride in the ambulance, I now carry a Benadryl Quick Dissolve Strip in my pocket.   I immediately placed one in my mouth.  A word about these strips.  They make your tongue feel numb and they act quickly, so, if you’re like me and you tend to get drowsy immediately upon taking such medicine, and you must lay yourself down right now because you are starting to fall asleep on the spot, make sure you’re not so close to a patch of nettles that they have their way with you while you are passed out or you will wake up next to Peggy in the ambulance with a face resembling a nobby gourd.

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As those of you who check in regularly know, the guys down at the coffee shop were adamant about me NOT having a chain saw, but good old Scott out there in California read and ignored that sentiment and sent me a battery operated chain saw for Christmas to tackle those pesky thick branches and small trunks that after nearly a year of hacking and sawing by hand have given me shoulders to rival Stallone’s at the height of his Rocky days.   Okay, I’ve kept the chain saw a secret from the boys, but today I confessed that I put it together and stoked it up for the first time on Saturday.  I’m still typing with ten fingers, but that may be because I didn’t actually cut any branches with it, I just wanted to see if the chain was going to fly off.   It didn’t.   And, yes, I had all my protective gear in place, which leads me to my next surprise.

Not long ago I told you how Ralph threw out the idea of a hard hat.  Ralph said it might save me from a broken neck if a heavy limb fell on my head, but then Don countered “Yeah, but your knees will never be the same if you survive.”  Naturally, this led to a discussion of life versus death after a tree falls on you.  And this is why it took so long for me to put my chainsaw together.   These guys are freakin’ me out.

And then comes the notice in my mail box that there’s another package for me at the Coupeville Post Office from Girly Lock.  I know what you’re thinking, but, I assure you, I wasn’t getting up in the middle of the night in some somnambulistic stupor ordering items that had to be delivered in plain brown paper.  And I told Ginger, down at the post office, the very same thing when she raised her eyebrows at the Girly Lock logo.   “Well, whatever it is, I hope you enjoy it,” Ginger said with a smile that told me a story was going to be making the rounds about town.    I’m going to download a picture of what was in the box.  I think it goes really well with the chainsaw.   This will take awhile so I’ll be starting  load of laundry.

Ta da!  My very own hard hat and Girly Lock tool belt.  The tool belt is black suede and I love the way it matches the black handle on the chainsaw.  It has many little pockets that I can keep my cell phone in (that’s a promise I had to make to the guys), my water bottle,  my Swiss Army knife, and my lip gloss.  I’m pretty sure that’s what my friend David of the Village People carries in his tool belt.

Thank you, Jan for my pink bubble gum hard hat and black suede tool belt.

I was going to tell you about the nettles, but I’m out of time.  Next time, I promise.

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Show Me Your Mussels

With the first big event of the season, the winter slumber here in Coupeville has come and gone.  Last year’s Mussel Fest suffered the slings and arrows of hail, snow, wind and rain; not so this year.  Yesterday’s sun was shining and the air was crisp; the perfect day for a festival; the perfect day for sitting out on the pier and watching The Mystic ferry people back and forth from the dock to the Penn Cove farming area where the mussels we’re famous for are produced – fresh from the sea, not a warehouse, as they say.

The out-of-towners were walking the streets by the thousands  yesterday; the air filled with the succulent scent of garlic and butter – two of the ingredients that seem to go hand-in-hand with mussels.  Restaurants are vying for the title of Best Mussel Chowder and tasting venues were set up at each restaurant.  For $7.00 you could sample at least a dozen versions of the “best.”   And as always, there was a free shuttle to get you to the edges of town to restaurants not located on Front Street.   We’ll know at the end of the festival on Sunday who will wear the crown until next year.

Where there are people in Coupeville, there are dogs.  The Mussel Fest is no exception.  I took a lot of shots of Portuguese Water dogs, Golden Retrievers, a Wire Haired Griffin, Poo Bear (one of my local favorites),  but Hazel makes it into my blog.  If you look at Hazel’s shadow closely, you’ll not see the shadow of an English Bulldog, you’ll see the shadow of our springtime friend who comes a hopping this time of year.  Look closely. 

Most of the time this is the kind of boat you’ll see tethered to the pier.

However, this weekend the big boys brought highfalutin boats like the one below into town.

Oh, I’ve gotta run.  There’s still another full day and I don’t want to miss it.  I hope wherever you are the sun is shining and you’re out having the time of your life.  Next post I’ll tell you about the Return of the Stinging Nettles.

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Get Down, Get Funky

Good friend Tess came all the way down from Cortes Island in B.C., Canada for a visit.  Anyone who has ever been to Cortes Island knows that in the time it takes to get from there to here, you could be in Europe – you pick the country.   Tess  has to take a forty-five minute ferry ride from her island to Quadra Island where she then takes another ferry ride to Vancouver Island; from there it’s about three and a half hours to get to Victoria.  After a healthy wait for the next flight out, it only takes an hour to get to Seattle, but add another two  hour wait at SeaTac until the shuttle heads to my island, tack on another two hours to get to Coupeville by shuttle and, as I said, you could be sitting on the Boulevard St. Germain with a steaming caffe.

Seeing that Tess went to all that trouble to get here, I felt I owed her a night on the town – Coupeville style.  At least according to Bev (fiddler extraordinaire) it was going to be a hoot – one way or the other.   Bev was headed towards Toby’s bar so she was getting her hoot on a little before the concert started.  We, on the other hand, had to run home and toss together a batch of cookies for the dessert potluck.  This all took place the same day I took Tess to America (the mainland), so I was still reeling from driving in traffic and roads with more than one lane in each direction.   After riding along with me, Tess now has a much better understanding of why I worry about getting lost – even with a pile of mapblasted, mapquested directions to guide me on my way wrong turns were made and backtracking required.   But, in the end, I found my way back to my island and an evening with Hugo’s Accordion Band .

After thorough research, Rick, curator of the museum here in Coupeville started out the evening.  “I know Hugo Helmer was German.”  The band gave Rick the buzzer!  Hugo was from Sweden, Rick.  He started the band in 1935 and taught most of the members of the existing band how to play.  When band members were asked questions about their time in the band, there were memories of being each others debate team partners in high school (over 60 years ago), marching during the war (too old now one gentleman offered – they ride in wagons when they perform at parades), stories about Hugo Helmer and his task master ways, lugging those accordions up the back stairs to the rehearsal room.

I must digress for a moment, or two.  When I was about seven years old, I wanted to take piano lessons; however, the door-to-door salesman convinced my mother that my hands were much too small to play piano and that I should take accordion lessons, which he just happened to be selling.  Being of Croatian descent, this was the answer to my mother’s prayer – the way some mother’s pray for a doctor or a lawyer in the family – my family would have its very own accordion star, maybe they’d put in their very own beer garden. I was small for my age, short to be exact, and so all you could see of me once the accordion was strapped to my chest was a portion of my head and my shoes.  I’ve been working on my property for almost a year now, throwing down hoes and iron rakes, pulling trees out, hauling debris, and I still don’t think I have the upper body strength to squeeze a full sized accordion, let alone as a seven year old kid.  However, I went down to Franklin Boulevard once a week lugging my accordion with me, and I went into one of those sound proof rooms with the creepy guy who tried to teach me how to play.  Playing the accordion is like trying to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time and I know all of those push buttons on the side aren’t necessary.   I tried.  I really did, but I just didn’t have that upper body strength or maybe I was adopted (something I secretly prayed was true) and no polka blood was running through me because I HATED the accordion.  As sorry as I was that he had to go through it, my dad saved my life when he had to have his tonsils removed and got very ill.   Had he come through his surgery without a hitch, I would have had to play Turtle Walk at a concert.   With my dad’s tragedy center stage, and my mom worried that she might become a single parent, and the cost of the hospital stay, it was a good time to suggest putting down the accordion once and for all.  When I told my mother I didn’t want to play the accordion any more she said “See, I knew you didn’t want to play the piano.”  Fifty-two years later, I’m still trying to figure that one out.

The slide show that ran behind the band during their performance was chock full of great photos from the 40’s when everyone was young.  The best story of the night came when Rick asked if there were any romances while on the road.  I don’t think there was a beat between the end of his question and the entire band turning to Stan.  The story goes that Stan’s old high school sweetheart showed up at a performance – a performance that Stan’s wife attended, too.   Fortunately, there was no groupie tug of war for Stan and his squeeze box.  By the end of the evening the three of them were sitting together and having a good time.  Out of the blue Stan (who hadn’t offered any details; relying on his band members) said “It was good to see her.”  The next song was Your Cheatin’ Heart with a solo by Adele.   Tess and I don’t remember the song being as mournful when Patsy Cline sang it, but then Patsy was a country girl and Adele is more yodellodellayhehoo.

After the dessert break, the band got down to business and played a tune that Hugo arranged – one that several of the old timers (groupies that followed the band down from Mt. Vernon) recognized; a tune that came with what I can only describe as the Hugo Helmer Wave that started with only the three groupies, but once Bev and I got hold of the idea we were jumping up right along with them, arms in the air shouting some clog clinking, polka party slogan.

One of the most charming moments of the evening for me was the recognition that some of these folks have been best friends for over sixty years.  I looked at Tess and said, “You know, I don’t know anyone from over sixty years ago in high school that I’m in touch with, or want to be in touch with.”  Tess looked at me with a “wait for it” look in her eyes.   And then it came to me!  I wasn’t born sixty years ago (yet), let alone in high school.   Music can have a dramatic effect on you.

Accordions Squeeze Back from Obscurity was one of the newspaper article headlines in the slide show.  Lucky for me, even luckier for Tess who came all that way to visit.  Come on up, over, down and I’ll take you out on the town, too.  This weekend is the Mussel Fest.   Let the shucking begin!

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