Sunday, May 19, 2019

Swan Stitch-a-Long, part 12

Hi everyone! Another three weeks, and -- there's progress! I was happy with the last session's results, having gotten most of the background done, and finally started stitching one swan head:

My goals for this stretch were to get the background and the necks, heads, and wings of the two swans stitched. I didn't do all of that, but I did do a lot! Much of the background is done, both heads and necks are done.

And much of the wings are done, including the longest of the longstitch sections:

I was really worried about those -- the stitch length is really long, and I didn't feel like there was enough coverage with one stitch each, but two stitches each was too bulky -- so I settled for an informal one stitch, two stitch, one stitch, two stitch "pattern" and they filled in pretty well. And I've decided that I like the slightly unkept look -- I'm choosing to see it as "texture" in the feathers.

The background is really close, but I was enjoying filling in the swans. So I've gone from this:

to this:

I'm going to wrap that up first, and then get back to the swan bodies!

Left swan needs slightly more work than right swan:

But because I finished the heads and necks and wingtips, I was able to roll the canvas in the frame -- that's almost like a mini finish, right?

Still so much to do, but despite the imminent arrival of family from across the pond, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get the blue background done, the longstitching in the wings and tail feathers, and maybe even one of the swans done? We'll see!

In the meantime, check out what my fellow stitchers have accomplished on their amazing projects -- you're sure to be inspired!

Avis, Claire, Gun, Carole, Sue, Constanze, Debbierose, Christina, Kathy, Margaret, Cindy, Helen, LindaHeidi, Jackie, Hayley, Megan, CatherineDeborah, Connie, Clare, Mary MargaretRenee, Jenny, Carmela, Jocelyn, and Sharon.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

100 things in 1001 days -- 501 day check-in

Today marks the halfway point in my 101 things in 1001 days project. And, well, I'm not sure how things are going.

At the top level, I've completed 25 of the 101 things, which seems like I am WAY behind. Here's what I've completed so far:

Adventure Time
1. climb Mt. St. Helens - September 2018
5. go snowshoeing - January 2019
6. go to a country I haven’t visited before - China, November 2018
9. try stand-up paddle boarding

Always Be Learning
10. 2018: 1 sketch each week – Sketchy Sundays
16. take pottery class / learn to throw on the wheel
21. take ukulele lessons - January - February 2019

22. about us page
23. about us widget

36. read Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”
38. read Darwin’s “Voyages of the Beagle” 
42. read Joyce’s “Ulysses” March 9 – June 16, 2018

Craftacular – 33 monthly projects:
46. Africa scrapbook
52. DanAlex baby blanket
54.finish 2017 temperature afghan (weaving in ends and crocheting a border)
55. fox needlepoint part 1, flowers
56. fox needlepoint part 2, fox
57. fox needlepoint part 3, leaves
58. fox needlepoint part 4, background
59. Halloween banner
60. Joy cross stitch – Mom
61. Joy cross stitch - Sue
71. swan needlepoint, part 2 – necks and heads
73. swan needlepoint, part 4 - plants

House Proud:
100. stain patio

In addition, I'm working on several other tasks:

Always Be Learning
- get GA-certified (at least, take all the free training possible)  -- I went to a 2-day GA training course; I should take the certification courses and get this done. Maybe in June.
- complete the Rosetta Stone Spanish software -- I did a bunch of Spanish earlier this year; maybe adjust this to the Japanese course I'm working through?
- try 5 different vegan cheese recipes -- I've made 2 different vegan cheeses, just three recipes to research and try


- blog 150 times -- as of today, including this post, I'm at 96 posts, so I'm well on my way
comment on 100 different blogs -- I've commented on over 50 blogs so far, so that's been a good experience. I need to participate in more blog hops / link ups to give me more things to say!

- read Dickens – 5 novels of my choice -- I've read 2 so far, but am bogged down in War & Peace land right now!
- read Macauley’s “A History of England” -- this is proving more difficult than expected -- but it will be my focus in 2020

Craftacular – 33 monthly projects:
- camel seat – design and stitch a top -- I've started a 2019 temperature project for this, it's on hold while I finish the Swan project. We'll see how it builds out!
- pillows – make up raven, fox, hare, and swan cushions! -- raven, fox, and hare are complete; I'm still stitching swan but expect to wrap that up in 2019.
- swan needlepoint, part 1 - wings -- wings are nearly done; should have them complete in the next few days!
- swan needlepoint, part 3 - bodies -- bodies are also close, will definitely wrap up in the next three weeks
- swan needlepoint, part 5 - background -- also close -- though I'm going to include the borders in this, so they'll be the last part to complete


- finish 50-states project, run in 14 new states -- very little progress, though I have run in one new state as well as the "bonus" of the District of Columbia. Will I get one or two more in 2019? We'll see!


- get Thames Path photos scanned -- discovered that I already had these digitized, so now I just need to organize them as they're really disorganized right now.

Some of the areas I wanted to focus on have had ZERO or only ONE COMPLETIONS; notably GOHIO and Fitnecessity; hopefully I can motivate myself to get to work.

You can see the whole list of 101 things in 1001 days here, and I welcome any encouragement you can offer!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Adventure 11/50 : Japanese whisky tasting

Full disclosure: I know nothing about Japanese whisky. But, apparently, I'm not alone.

We went to a Japanese whisky tasting class at the Barrel Thief a couple of weeks ago and really didn't know what to expect, so we arrived a little early and took a comfy 2-top table at the back, and waited. Over the course of the next two hours we would taste 6 different whiskies and learn about the history of whisky in Japan.

the well-stocked bar at the Barrel Thief
As he poured our first half-ounce taste, instructor Christopher Gronbeck told us that Japanese whisky is still pretty mysterious in the U.S., despite growing popularity. There was a bump of interest, of course, after 2003's Lost in Translation.

"For relaxing times, make it Suntory time."

That was the first time I had ever heard of Suntory, and to be honest I had often wondered whether it was any good, or whether that was part of the joke. So it made sense to start with Suntory Toki. Toki means "time", or more specifically, "a collection of time". It's the mildest, simplest whisky we would be tasting that night, and, unsurprisingly, it was one of my favorites.

Suntory marks the beginning of commercial distilling of whisky in Japan. In 1918 Masataka Taketsuru, son of a family with a history of sake brewing, was sent to Scotland to study organic chemistry and learn how to make whisky. Returning to Japan a few years later -- and with a Scottish wife -- he went to work for the distillery that would become the Yamazaki Distillery, one of three owned by Suntory.

There are only eight commercial distilleries in Japan; of the five not owned by Suntory, Nikka owns two. The largest distillery in the world is Fujigotemba, which is owned by Kirin. But for comparison, there are more whiskey distilleries in Seattle than there are in all of Japan.

But the range of whiskies is still vast -- Suntory has 60 bottlings out of the Yamazaki distillery alone. Single malt whisky -- that is, made from malted barley -- is much less popular than blended whisky in Japan. (Just like here.) But the most coveted whisky is single malt.

Suntory Toki is made of a blend from all three distilleries owned by Suntory, and features two malts and one grain. There's no year on the bottle, so they can mix ages and grains. And because Suntory is a company, not a distillery, this whisky is just labelled as "Suntory" rather than naming a distillery. There are no rules in Japanese whisky like there are with Scotch whisky or American bourbon.

Some Japanese whisky is "teaspoon whisky" -- you may be drinking whisky from Scotland imported to Japan with a little Japanese whiskey added and relabeled as Japanese.

Suntory Toki is 80 proof, which is on the milder side. In Japan it's often served in a cocktail, or 50/50 with water over ice -- a very common way to drink whisky in Japan. I liked Suntory Toki because it was mild, and not fancy. It also happens to be easily available in the U.S. Overall I gave it 7.5/10

Our next pour was Eigashima Akashi, which is a "sourced whiskey" -- mainly imported Scotch whisky, "finished" in Japan by Eigashima, also known as the "White Oak" distillery. Japan didn't have the agricultural base to make enough whisky, so sometimes the grain or even malted grain is sourced from abroad.

Akashi is a blended whisky, probably corn and barley. Given its amber color, Christopher speculates that it probably spent some time in a sherry cask. This one tastes sweet and rich -- which is probably due to the sherry.

In the 1980s the market for whisky dropped -- people started drinking vodka and vodka-based cocktails. Whisky distilleries cut production, and many went out of business. But in 2003 Japanese whisky started winning awards, which raised their profile. The Yamazaki 12-Year was named Best Single Malt and won the gold medal at a big international competition. (Sadly, it's really difficult to get Yamazaki 12-Year, so we weren't able to taste it.) To make an aged single malt you have to make a big investment of time -- three years to create the whisky, plus the 12 years (or more) to age it.

In 2015 Jim Murray rated the Yamazaki Sherry Cask the best whisky in the world -- 97.5 points out of 100 -- in his Whisky Bible. Because of that, there are a growing number of Japanese whiskies available in the U.S. market.

The third pour was the Mars Iwai Tradition, a blended whisky from a small distillery. They make a couple of different "Iwai" whiskies; Tradition is the higher-end version of the family. Christopher said he's not sure how much of this is Scottish, but Mars does a lot of distilling so it may be a more even blend. This whisky had a spicy finish, and a lot of sherry influence.

In Scotland it's a law that whisky must be aged a minimum of three years. In Japan it's a tradition, and another way that Japan models their whisky industry on Scotland. I think it's interesting that Japan is the third largest whisky producing company in the world, behind Scotland and the US. Even so, Japan is only producing 5% of the world's whisky.

Neither of us were particularly fond of the Mars Iwai Tradition. I gave it a mere 6.5/10, while Wil commented "it tastes of wood" and gave it 3/6.

Next up was my favorite of the night: Nikka Coffey Grain. Why "Coffey"?

In 1830, Aeneas Coffey patented a distillation device that could continuously distill spirit. It was an adaptation of existing columnar stills, but allowed a greater portion of the spirit vapors to recirculate. The result, saith Wikipedia, was more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at a higher alcohol content.

The Nikka Coffey Grain is a grain whisky, primarily corn, but it's actually distilled in Japan at the Nikka Distillery, using two Coffey stills at the Miyagikyo distillery, which were imported from Scotland to Japan in 1963. The whisky has a sweet edge, and a buttery mouth feel. I gave this 9/10; Wil gave it 5/6. I'm already sad to discover that this is going to be a difficult bottle to acquire.

The fourth whisky was Matsui Kurayoshi, a single malt whisky.

This is an 8-year that they are probably getting from Scotland and then finishing / aging it in Japan, as this isn't from one of the eight working Japanese distilleries. The Kurayoshi is 48% alcohol, but not very "bitey" due to the sherry finish. It's very aromatic, probably because it's been aged longer than the other whiskies we tried that night. It's slightly peaty, but almost certainly because it came that way from Scotland, but aged in sherry casks in Japan. I gave it 8/10.

Matsui isn't really a brand -- the mane is very close to the name of a fancy distillery that closed decades ago. There are a lot of coveted whiskies from closed distilleries that one can still buy... for very high prices.

Our final whisky was the Yamazaki 12-Year, from the oldest distillery in Japan. (Full disclosure, it's not *really* the oldest distillery; but it is the oldest whisky distillery in Japan. Many other things are distilled in Japan.) This is an authentic Japanese whisky -- distilled and aged in Japan -- and it tasted like a really nice whisky from northern Scotland. Christopher said something about "heady brioche notes" and it made me laugh. This was Wil's favorite, and tied for the top spot on my list though a smidge behind. I gave it 9/10, Wil 6/6. Sadly, at $275/bottle, I'm not sure we'll have it again.

Thanks to Christopher Gronbeck, the Barrel Thief, and North Seattle College for a fun evening!

Friday, May 3, 2019


There’s an old saying in the running community:


Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish is much greater than Did Not Start. In other words, it’s better to come in dead last than not to finish at all, but both are way better than not even starting.

And last Sunday I Did Not Start. And it has shaken me up a bit.

Now, I have Not Started a couple of races before – a local 5K on a morning with terrible weather, that same local 5K in a different year because I just didn’t fancy it. And I guess there was a 12K that got cancelled due to snow on the course, but that probably doesn’t count because we got ourselves to the start line. But this was different – a half marathon that I had registered for and even traveled for … albeit only 2.5 hours of driving in my own state.

Because I wanted to see the lilacs, we decided to combine it with running the Blooms to Brews Half Marathon – a super cute race that has always been on my local race list, but I have never run. So I signed us up, booked a room in town, and made plans.

As we walked around the lilac gardens on Saturday morning, I got a sharp pain in my right foot, under the ankle bone. I get that sometimes – usually after wearing non-supportive shoes or going barefoot for too long. See, I pronate like crazy. Ever go to a running shop and had yourself videotaped running on a treadmill? It’s almost sickening to watch my foot completely collapse, stride after stride. As such, I run with really supportive shoes, and spend most of my days wearing supportive shoes, too. (I’m standing at my desk wearing Dansko clogs right now.) And, usually, if I treat my feet right, they don’t bug me too much. Still not sure why my foot was hurting so much – perhaps the long drive, which is a lot of repetitive foot motion?

Anyway, I winced and limped around the garden, and Wil said, “You probably shouldn’t run on that.” But, being stubborn and determined, I said, “We’ll see.”

We went to packet pickup and saw their cute start / finish area taking shape. Cute, gender-specific tank tops. Beautiful customized bibs. A sticker! A souvenir edition of the local paper dedicated to the race! A run past lilacs and tulip fields in full bloom! Beer from local breweries at the finish line! This race is a beauty, and it breaks my heart not to have run it.

As we meandered slowly around the town on Saturday, we couldn’t help but notice that every business in town had a poster for the race in the window, and even our hotel had race flyers at the front desk. I love when I see a town really embrace a local event.

We took it easy on Saturday night, having dinner at the Fat Moose before going back to the room.

I took a hot bath and rubbed my foot, hoping it would feel fine in the morning. The start was a very civilized 7:30, so we decided to make a game time decision.

In the morning I got up walked across the room … limping. Not exactly how I hoped to start the day. Wil said, “I support whatever you want to do.” I wondered if it would be possible to drop down to a 5K, since we were already there … but then realized that was nearly as silly. Now, if a new state was hanging in the balance, it would be a different story, but the grown up, smart thing to do was to back out. So we got up, had breakfast, and took the long way home.

It made me really sad – still does, nearly a week later – even though I know it was the right thing to do. I’ve just looked at my lifetime list of races and it would have been my 99th half marathon. Maybe I’m resisting hitting 100? I don’t have any races on the calendar, either.

I mean, is this it? I don’t think so – I do still want to finish my 50 States project, but … when? There’s so much else to do, so many other places to go.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Adventure 10/50 : the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

Lilacs are my favorite flower. Always have been. And for years – ever since I heard about it – I’ve wanted to visit the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens during Lilac Days. 2019 was the year!

We drove down early Saturday morning, arriving at the gardens about 10:30 – a long drive. Happily the skies were blue as we paid our $5 and went in.

Hulda Klager came to the United States with her family in 1865 when she was 2 years old. The family moved to Woodland, Washington, in 1877, where they purchased farmland and built a home. The lilac gardens are on that original farm and feature the Victorian farmhouse where she grew up and later lived as an adult.

Klager farmhouse image courtesy Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens

She began to hybridize lilacs in 1905 and had created 14 new varieties by 1910. She had created so many new lilacs by 1920 that she began opening her house and garden each spring to other lilac lovers. But in 1948 her farm was flooded, destroying nearly all her plants. But at the age of 83 she started rebuilding her garden, and many people who had purchased her lilacs over the years sent her starts so she could replace her plants. Two years after the flood she re-opened her gardens for Lilac Week, and continued doing so until her death in 1960.

After she died, the Woodland Federated Garden Club and the newly formed Hulda Klager Lilac Society helped save the property. The volunteers of the HKLS restored the garden, farmhouse, and other buildings on the property and now operate the garden year round.

The garden also includes a gift shop housed in the old carriage barn, and a potting shed selling lilacs. The gift shop and lilac sales only happens during the lilac bloom. And boy, is that gift shop an explosion of purple!!! Somehow I managed not to buy anything – even the cute pre-cut quilt kits.

gift shop image courtesy Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens
But the main attraction, of course, is the lilacs themselves. To be honest, I somehow expected to see acres and acres of lilacs – a forest of lilacs. But there were still dozens and dozens of mature lilacs, and dozens of varieties. I knew that there were dark purple, medium purple, and white lilacs, but didn’t realize that there were pink lilacs, lilacs with striped petals, and really blue lilacs. I also didn’t know that lilacs bloom at different times; on our visit the early- and mid-season lilacs were putting on a show.

After walking around, sniffing lots of lilacs, and giggling at people doing mini photo shoots, we settled into a pair of Adirondack chairs in the sunshine and just relaxed for a while.

It’s a long drive to go see the lilacs from Seattle – and even though I love them, I don’t know that I would do it again unless I could combine it with something else taking me south. But if you live closer, or happen to be passing through between late April and mid May, it’s definitely worth a visit!

As an added bonus, btw, a tulip farm called the Holland America Flower Gardens is just a couple of miles down the road with a small demonstration field and gift shop. It's no Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, but it was a nice surprise.


Fun to see this "confetti" planting, with so many different types of tulips planted together.

Finally, we saw these signs all over the area and while we're still not sure what they mean, they made for a good photo op: