Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hangin' Out at Haggen

Every grocery store has its own culture, its own personality. You can sense it from the minute you pull into the parking lot. As you get out of your car you notice whether people take the time to move their carts to the cart return or if they just empty them and leave them any old place. You look for the smiling young people in yellow rain slickers pushing 15 inter-locked shopping carts, like a caboose powering a train, returning them to the store's entrance. You pay attention to how it feels, looks, and smells when you go through the front door.

How's the store laid out? What's the first thing you see when you enter? Are the restrooms easy to find? (Well, that's important to some people.) Can you sit down for a cup of coffee with a friend?

All great questions. But the thing that matters the most is this: What about the people that work there? Are they warm and friendly? Do they make you feel welcome, even special? Do they like their job and do it with grace?

I've been hangin' out at Stanwood Haggen for more than ten years, now, and I've got to say, I love my store! I like their products; I like their service; I'm getting used to the new layout and am even starting to like it too! But mostly I like the people.

Those folks are my friends. They are efficient, but they are also customer-minded. They always take the time to interact with me by asking me questions or answering mine, by sharing a story or a joke, or by simply flashing me a smile. I know their kids; they know mine. I'm such a regular customer that some of them know me by my phone number! I don't remember even one unpleasant encounter with any staff person at Haggen in the past ten years.

The other day when I went to pick up a prescription the computer was acting up, so I waited longer than usual to get my order. While I sat I watched the pharmacy tech, Bridget, interact with customers. Later, when I went back to ask if I could take her picture, I commented that she was so warm and friendly with the people that I thought some were friends before she ever began to work there. "Actually," she said, "I didn't know any of these folks before I started working here." But the warmth and grace that flowed from her that day really impressed me.

That's the sense I get when I go into Haggen. Those folks like what they do and they like their customers. And we like them!

Thanks to all the staff at Stanwood Haggen who make it a pleasure to give you our money! (Hey, did I say that??)

Bridget and Gary in the pharmacy
Ninfa, at Orient Express
Dane and Wanda

Friday, January 24, 2014

Camano Fog

I was working on a blog post about 8:20 this morning and I got a phone call:

Tom - If you have any reason to be on the north end of Camano Island this morning, you ought to take the camera. It is clear and still and beautiful! It's the perfect time to get some pictures.

Me - How do you know?

Tom - I can see it from my office window. It is a gorgeous morning and the sun is at just the right place for some great pictures of Mt Baker.

Me - I'm on it! Thanks for telling me.

From Tom's office window he can scan the Cascade mountain range clear into Canada. If he could see Mt Baker from south Everett, surely I could from Camano Island.

I got ready, grabbed the camera and headed out the door. The sun, which had been shining nicely at home just blocks away was now obscured by fog. Then I remembered my trip onto the island for a 10:00 appointment a couple of days earlier. Stanwood had been sunny and bright, but the bridge to Camano looked like it had been swallowed up in a swirl of silver soup.

Ever the optimist, I drove onto the island and looked for the right turn that has, in the past, taken me to a great view of Mt Baker. I found the road, but I could not find the mountain through the fog.

This was not the kind of fog that settles down near the ground with hills and mountains rising up and the sky blue above it all. I saw that kind of fog the other day in the Skagit Valley along I5. It looked something like this:

This was the kind of fog that socks you in and makes it hard to see if there is oncoming traffic! As some parts of Camano are elevated a bit, I reasoned, maybe there would still be a few photo ops. So, I headed toward Arrowhead where I went south for several miles then turned east on Shumway. Here is what I saw:

You can't always have full sunshine. Sometimes there is fog, sometimes rain. You do best to be satisfied with what you get, and to be happy when you come across places where the sun occasionally shines through.

Still, the next time there is a promising day, I'm going to be sure Tom takes the camera to work and gets the perfect shot of Mt Baker with the sun rising in the east and glinting off the snow, just at the perfect angle!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Do They Make Those Wonderful Soba Noodles?

I heard a report on NPR about a woman in Los Angeles who is teaching how to make Japanese soba noodles. The ingredients are buckwheat flour and water -- that's all. It is difficult to find authentic soba noodles here in the US, we were told, and this woman wants to keep alive the art of making them.

Having lived in Japan for three years, and remembering soba noodles with some fondness, I thought I'd like to know more, and maybe even learn to make our own. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, to serve dinner guests (and family, of course) yaki soba or some other dish featuring these delicious, gluten-free noodles! So I turned to YouTube, where I found the following video.

After watching it, all I can say is, making soba is tough, exacting work, and I'll leave it to the experts. I guess I'll find an Asian market where I can buy authentic ready-made soba noodles and spend my time finding a good recipe and the proper fresh vegetables to put in the dish.

Here's to good food, lovingly made and served (even if you can't do it all by hand).

Monday, January 20, 2014

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas in Concert

We'd been waiting for months for the Alasdair Fraser/Natalie Haas concert. Ever since last May when we attended a Northwest Scottish Fiddler concert at the auditorium of the Everett Public Library and learned that they would be holding a workshop with Alasdair Fraser (fiddler) and Natalie Haas (cellist) as instructors, with a Sunday afternoon concert, we planned to go.

Then Tom got sick. It looked for a while like we'd have to miss the concert but, I am glad to report, he was well enough for us to go to Camp Casey on Whidbey Island yesterday to hear these amazing musicians and the participants of the weekend's workshop in concert.

Alasdair Fraser is Scottish through and through. He loves his culture and longs to see the Scottish dialect and way of life celebrated. He said that thirty years ago, the language and traditions of Scotland were out of vogue and many Scottish people felt confused and insignificant. But the Scottish ways are making a comeback, in part, I'm sure, because Alasdair Fraser and other musicians are sharing traditional Scottish fiddle music around the world.

Besides the annual fiddle workshop held at Camp Casey, Fraser also teaches in two fiddling schools/camps in California, one in Scotland and one in Spain! He plays internationally, in solo appearances and with various groups. He often tours with Natalie Haas.

Natalie Haas discovered the cello at age nine, and at eleven attended the Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School where she fell in love with Celtic music. She went on to study at Julliard and now teaches, performs and records. Natalie's broad range of styles came through in the concert and the music she and Alasdair make bursts with life and joy.

Many of the songs performed yesterday were written by Alasdair Fraser and appear on their newest recording, Abundance. One, "Glenfinnan Nights," was written on a five-hour car trip to the wedding of a friend, with Alasdair singing aloud the tune that was playing in his head and Natalie writing down the notes. They performed it at the wedding that afternoon! 

There was plenty of head bobbing and foot tapping during the concert, with a few yelps and whistles from the audience. I found it impossible to keep from grinning as I listened.

The concert concluded with the stage full of people, from young kids to retirees, who had attended the workshop, each playing along with Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. Before they began Alasdair invited us to dance. "Throw your chairs in the air and let's boogie!"

Though this video was filmed at another concert, this is one of the pieces they played yesterday. It's proof that you can indeed boogie to Scottish fiddle music!

(You can get more information about the Northwest Scottish Fiddlers on their website. We were told that they are looking for new members, especially cellists.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit

Of the fifteen Dickens novels listed here, I am familiar with about half. Some of the stories I read in high school. Studying Great Epectations with Mrs Dysart made such an impression on me that even today, when, for whatever reason, the book comes to mind, I still see the same mental image that I saw so many years ago -- old Miss Haversham, in her faded, tattered wedding dress, sitting in a dark room with her cobweb-covered wedding cake nearby, embittered over the man who had jilted her at the altar.

I asked my son if he read any Dickens in his high school English classes. No, he said, he never did. What a pity!

Most of my familiarity of Dickens novels, however, comes from seeing them in movie form. And that's how I met Amy Dorrit, by viewing an eight-hour mini-series, made for TV and produced by BBC and WGBH Boston. The story was originally published in 19 monthly installments of 32 pages each and two illustrations by Phiz, a famous English artist, appeared between 1855 and 1857. It is a work of satire on the shortcomings of the government and society of the period.* Much of it takes place in London's Marshalsea, the debtor's prison, where Dickens' own father had been imprisoned when Dickens was a child. In Little Dorrit, Amy's father had been at the Marshalsea for years and Amy herself was born and raised there.

But poverty is not the only state of the Dorrit family through the course of the story. They come into a great fortune, and we watch as each member of the family has his or her own response to that wealth.

Little Dorrit extends quite beyond the family to a host of characters who bring the story to life. I found every episode to be captivating and every actor to bring out the most absurd or nobel traits, as the case may be, of Dickens' memorable characters.

One thing this mini-series has inspired me to do is to read Little Dorrit or some other of Dickens' work. Apart from A Christmas Carol, I don't think I have opened one of his books since those days in high school.

Since writing the last sentence I've put two of his books on hold at the library, Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend. I'll let you know how the reading goes! In the meantime, if you have any Dickens favorites, let us know. And if you watch Little Dorrit, let us know what you think.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's All the Flap?

Why do birds fly in V-formation? Well, NPR offers us an answer by way of the following story and video: The Science Behind Flying in V Formation:NPR

Here's one more question about birds: What happens when you give a bird a guitar? You'll want to listen to this NPR story to find the not-so-scientific answer to this one!

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Mitten for the Smitten

We received a rather unusual Christmas gift from Tom's sister Carol. She lives at the family home in New York and she and Marilee, Tom and Carol's sister who lives in Washington for the school year but spends her summers in New York, are working their way through the untold number of treasures that fill the cupboards, drawers, and attics of the farmhouse.

We opened the gift and this is what we found: a Mitten for the Smitten, along with the attached card explaining how it works.

Judging from the artwork, this has been around for a while. I called Carol and she told me she got it for her parents in the early '90s, but it looks like something that was made long before she came across it. Dad and Mom identified themselves on the card, naming the heart-couple Lynda and Harold. The note on the bottom is Carol's greeting to Tom and me.

We had a little trouble figuring out how to get this mitten on! It was a tight fit, but we finally figured out how to get two hands inside with our thumbs each in the proper places and our fingers intertwined. But our un-mittened hands got cold when we wore it at the Lights of Christmas. I guess I need a pink mitten for my right hand and Tom needs a blue one for his left. Then we really could stay warm as we go out in style!

On our last night in Juneau we went out to dinner with my Peach, Allen, Ted and Gail. We got out the mitten and Peach and Allen tried it on. Cute, huh! Ted took the photo of Tom and me and called it "The Bunny" when he emailed it. What can I say? There's just not that much to do in Juneau on a winter's evening!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hymn of the Month -- Jesus Shall Reign

In 1719  Isaac Watts published his book, The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. He included in it songs based on most of the Psalms, including Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun, which identified Jesus as the king praised in Psalm 72.

It is a wonderful hymn, proclaiming the glory of Jesus as king of all. It is still a beloved hymn in the church today.

A modern hymn which also proclaims the glory of Jesus as king was written in 2003 by Peter Furler. It is He Reigns and is sung by the Newsboys. This song stirs my heart every time we sing it. Our world is in a mess -- wars, poverty, crises in families, communities, and nations. It can seem dark and frightening. Yet this song reminds us not only that Jesus shall reign, but that He reigns now! And our brothers and sisters around the world join us in worship of King Jesus!

If yo'd like to know more about Isaac Watts, click here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Yes You Can -- Impact Children for Eternity

Mom and I had just finished organizing the kitchen for the wedding and I needed to find a marking pen to identify our supplies. I wandered down the halls of the church in search of a pen and when I found a room with a light on, I knocked on the door. I heard "Come in," so I opened the door and entered another world!

In the center of the room were several trapezoid tables, put together in a circle. A larger table sat in the center of the circle. On it were baskets and trays of shells, rocks, a pine cone, a bird's nest, sea creatures and other specimens of nature. Each of the outside tables -- the trapezoids -- provided desk space for two children and each held two sets of Sunday School essentials: a Bible, a promise book, a cup with crayons, pencils and other school supplies, a stuffed animal, and a crown.

This is the second grade Sunday School classroom, and Myrlene Grant is the teacher. She spends most of her days at the church, preparing and praying for her weekly hour with her kids.

Myrlene has been teaching second grade for seven or eight years. I thought maybe she'd been a school teacher too, but she said she had just always loved kids. She raised three children of her own (she now has 12 grandkids too) and worked for the state as a home health aide. It's that love of kids that propels her and keeps her coming to the classroom most weekdays and teaching every Sunday.

Looking around at her very busy room, she told me, "Kids learn better when there is a lot to engage them, much more than in a sterile environment."

And there's plenty to engage kids in this room! Every nook and cranny is used to store or display visuals that will stir the minds of seven-year-olds as they gather each week to learn more about God as revealed in scripture, in creation, and in Christ. As it would soon be the second Sunday of Christmas, they would be talking about the wise men and, if time permitted, they'd be dressing up and carrying gifts of gold to the nursery, where they would find a baby swaddled and waiting for them.

Pat, who just married my niece Amy, has a girl in Miss Myrlene's classroom. "When we were talking about Mary and Joseph I said, 'It's so exciting when you're planning for a wedding. I'll bet Bella knows about that! But when there's a baby coming, suddenly you have a whole new set of concerns.

"'Did you know that Joseph had the right to take Mary into the middle of the street and have people throw stones at her until she died? He had a really big decision to make. What do you think he decided?'

"It was the end of the class, and I told them good-bye and we'll talk about this next week" she told me. "It was something for them to think about during the week. One boy left the classroom saying, 'I think Joseph had people throw stones at Mary.'"

Most of these kids have heard the stories of the Bible all their lives, Myrlene told me, so she tries to bring the stories to the kids in ways they can really grasp.

"Don't tell me you never fight with your brothers and sisters," she tells the kids. She isn't too interested in their "Sunday School answers," but wants them to learn to interact with the Bible in their daily lives.

She showed me the sign-in sheet. "Instead of having an attendance book,  I have the kids sign in. And each week I ask them a question related to the last week's lesson that they can answer as well. See these crowns?" she asked. "They each get a crown at the beginning of the year. The jewels represent each week that they come to class."

Besides learning the books of the Bible in the second grade (they will each receive a Bible at the end of the school year) and getting an overview of scripture throughout the year (that's why the creation items are on the center table just now. "We get to Abraham by Advent, and after that we do Noah's Ark and the room fills up with stuffed animals.") they focus on God's promises. That's where the promise books that are at each child's place come into play.

Each week they get a new worksheet or two to add to their promise books. They might fill in the blanks, or solve a puzzle, or draw a picture as a reminder of the scripture that they are studying.

And always, calling out to them from the whiteboard, are the truths of scripture that the children are being exposed to week after week. And as they leave the room, still they have God's Word to take with them.

Myrlene Grant's dedication to her task of teaching children about Jesus astounded me. "I'll be back tomorrow [Saturday] to finish up preparing for Sunday," she said. And she'd be back again on Monday to start replacing her Christmas decorations and her creation displays with Noah's Ark and visuals of other Old Testament stories.

What a rich blessing the second graders of Chapel by the Lake in Juneau receive from their year in Miss Myrlene's classroom. She is planting in them scripture and its practical application that will be a strong foundation for them for the rest of their lives. This dear woman, with no formal training but a deep love for kids and for the Lord, coupled with an attitude of availability, is impacting children for eternity.

Thank you, Myrlene, for your example.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Amy and Pat met at church. He was on the pastoral search committee, she led teams of kids on missions trips. They are a delightful couple who loves the Lord and each other, and it was a joy to see them married on Saturday.

Here are some pictures to give you a flavor of the wedding. Although I have a few photos scattered through this collection, most were taken by Tom on our new camera.

I got a good view from a second floor window of the photographer
getting pictures of the family

The aunties, receiving instructions on cake cutting.
(It's not as easy as it looks!)

Amy and her dad, Ted

Gail, mother of the bride

Sister Katilyn with her husband, Seth

Brother Nathan, center, with brother Matt and his wife, Rachel

College friends of Amy who flew in to celebrate with her

Sam and her family flew in from Missouri to participate in the wedding.
That included helping with set-up and clean-up.
Here they are, doing what little Drake likes best -- vacuuming!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Juneau in January

My niece Amy is marrying Patrick on Saturday so we are in Juneau for the wedding. There's snow on the ground and slush on the side streets; the skies are grey; temperatures are in the mid-30s. Sunrise yesterday was at 8:45, sunset, 3:19. A bit bleak, I know, but it is Juneau in January, after all.

So we were excited to see sun breaks in the early afternoon yesterday. We grabbed the cameras and headed to Auke Bay and Mendenhall Glacier, two of Juneau's most popular tourist spots.

Here's what they look like in January.

The marina at Auke Bay

Snow on the docks

Mendenhall Glacier, certainly smaller than it was when we were here 22 years ago

Tom captured the blue of the glacial ice

Raindrops and reflections on the water