First Rhubarb: My excuse to dream up a new recipe

In coastal Alaska, it’s traditional to celebrate the season’s First Salmon, usually around May 15. Well, we live in coastal Alaska (and love salmon), but we celebrate another  “first”: The First Rhubarb. And such a momentous occasion deserves a new recipe, don’t you think?

Red rhubarb stalks

First Rhubarb! A cause for celebration.

It just so happens that for this season’s “first pick,” we had rhubarb-loving, B&B guests from the Carolinas staying with us. They told us a story about how a future daughter-in-law loved rhubarb and that the best way to make a good impression was to make a rhubarb custard pie.

“We hit every store in the area, dozens of them. No luck. We finally settled on a package of frozen rhubarb. It was better than nothing.

“The pie turned out okay, but there’s nothing like the real thing.”

In my opinion it’s unfortunate that anyone should live in a part of the world where you can’t grow rhubarb.

For this year’s celebration, we decided to share the first pick with our Carolina friends, by creating a new recipe: Whole wheat muffins with rhubarb, apples, fresh grated ginger, and teff. (More on teff later). As you’ll see, it’s actually two recipes: The first is a multi-purpose muffin mix and the second one is a variation on the theme.

Whole Wheat Muffin Mix

This is a fabulous mix–a kitchen staple–that I depend on for most of my muffin (sweet or savory) and quick bread recipes.

Rhubarb muffins in a muffin tin

A new recipe in an old muffin tin. Love it!

4 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups nonfat dry milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup baking powder
1 Tbl salt
1-1/2 cups butter or shortening

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Then using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter or shortening until the mixture is crumbly like coarse cornmeal. (Tip: It’s easier to cut shortening into half the amount of dry ingredients. Once the mixture is crumbly, add the rest of the dry stuff). Store mix in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Makes about 14 cups.

TO USE: Measure 4-1/2 cups mix into a bowl. Add 1-1/4 cups water and a beaten egg. For sweet muffins, add 4 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Makes 14-18 muffins.

To make Rhubarb-Apple Muffins: Add 4 tablespoons sugar to the batter then fold in 2 cups chopped rhubarb, 1 cup chopped apple (don’t bother peeling), and a healthy tablespoon of orange zest. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar before baking.

Rainbow appears over Kodiak, Alaska garden

Rainbow over the  garden in Kodiak, Alaska.

By the way, if you don’t know what teff is, make friends with it. As the traditional grain of Ethiopia, it’s gluten free, has a mild, nutty flavor and very nutritious. It’s great added to oatmeal, stews, pilaf or baked goods. Cooked whole grain teff is great on its own. You can add teff to veggie (and regular) burgers, cakes, rice, muffins, cookies and breads. Toasted, sprinkle it on yogurt and custard.

Thanks for visiting, and Happy rhubarbing!

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Family, photography and reflections of a water cloud

Portraits and landscapes make up the majority of images we see. They’re also the most difficult to take. Why is that? I have a theory.

Portraits are difficult because it’s not easy to capture the essence of a person in a single frame. And when it comes to interacting with our fellow humans, most of us struggle with boundary issues.

As for landscapes, composing your shot means trying to create some semblance of order out of the chaos in front of you, while visualizing a fresh image of the natural world. “Succeeding at this,” said photographer Galen Rowell, “gives our lives new meaning.” Trouble is, we have this silly habit of cramming as much as possible into the viewfinder that often leaves the final image gasping for air and the viewer scratching his or her head in confusion. More is not always better.

That’s where simplicity steps in. Ask an experienced photographer (notice I didn’t say ‘professional’) what the the secret to making a striking portrait or landscape is, and–if she’s worth her salt–she’ll say, “You need to keep it simple.”

photography-booksWe all want to make amazing images, but how to do it? Here’s what Bryan Peterson, author of Understanding Exposure and Learning to See Creatively (books that I use in my photography classes) says:

“Photographs that demand the most attention involve commonplace subjects composted in the simplest way. They’re powerful because they are limited to a single theme or idea.”

Be inspired: Get “Learning to See Creatively” and open to any page.

In my 30+ years of making photographs (somewhere in the world, there’s a picture of a young Marion wearing a polka dot dress and clutching a Kodak Brownie Instamatic camera), I’ve come to respect the power of the single theme and the magic of being receptive to chance encounters in nature. To be receptive begins with being calm and quiet. Only then can intuition come through.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 8.11.07 PM

Last night I was walking along a trail that connects the greenhouse to the garden beds on the other side of the yard. The trail, a depression in the lawn created by wheelbarrows and Muck boots, winds along the top of the cliff above the ocean.

I paused for a moment to look out over the water. My eyes rested on a white, corn-puff cloud reflecting in the blue water. The vivid quality of the reflection surprised me because it’s unusual for the water’s surface not to be dimpled by boat traffic, diving gulls, sea lions on patrol, kayakers, and breezes (yes, the gentle ones that spawned The Perfect Storm).

Without hesitation, I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket, composed the shot and pressed the shutter button. My decision to not include the shoreline in the background or trees in the foreground was intentional. I continued on my garden trapline, inspecting newly-planted marigold and kale seedlings.

clouds reflecting on the ocean

I was not alone on my little pilgrimage. From down the road, bald eagles shrieked and territorialized (is this a word?) from their spruce tree nest, their calls sounding more like squeaky doors than loaded threats. And from the base of our cliff, a group of passing sea lions let out great “puh-UFF” exhalations when they rose to the surface to breathe.

As I entered the front door, my phone buzzed with a message from my husband Marty, who was visiting his aunt a mile away. She’s fighting for her life, though from what illness, we do not know. Christian Scientists don’t speak of such things.

I sat on the bench, leaned back against the wall and pulled my iPhone from my tattered garden jacket. I scrolled to the water cloud photo. Just a cloud in a pool of blue. Simple shapes and color. A quiet calm, one that’s hard to describe, came over me. “It’ll be okay,” said The Voice.

~ Thanks for visiting.

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Green eggs and waffles: A recipe my grandmother would avoid

On a rainy Sunday morning, I had a waffle epiphany: If I can add kale to smoothies, why not add it to our favorite oat-bean waffle batter? After all, kale is king these days, having risen from lowly plate decoration to nutritional giant. I decided to give it a try.

Following the basic recipe, I tossed rolled oats, water, salt, sugar, a little oil, beans (soaked overnight) and several kale leaves into the Vitamix. I cranked the dial to 9. BrAAHHH.

Green waffle batter

It ain’t easy being green waffle batter. Have faith, though. The little dots are teff, a tiny grain from Ethiopia.

Okay, so the batter looked a bit too ferny, but the finished waffles were crunchy and tasty, with a slight nutty flavor. We topped them with maple syrup, homemade jam and dabs of peanut butter. I think going the savory route with sprinkles of parmesan cheese and smoked salmon would be equally yummy.

How to make award-winning (insert your smile here), green waffles:

To four cups of batter in a blender or food processor, add 2 or 3 kale leaves or a handful of spinach leaves. Blend until it looks good to you. Keep in mind, there is no leavening in this oat-bean waffle recipe, so over-blending is not an issue. But if you are adding greens to a normal waffle batter, then I suggest processing the kale separately, then folding it into the batter.

Gluten free waffles

To 4 cups of batter we added 2 or 3 kale leaves.

Like I said, be prepared for a batter that is quite green. You might want to hide the batter from squeamish kids and Doubting Thomases until the waffles are cooked. My husband Marty (usually a brave and adventurous eater) was dubious at first. “Well, that looks different.” But he came around.

Cook the waffles at the temperature and time suggested by your recipe (the oat-bean recipe calls for a full 8 minutes). As you can see here, the veggie waffle on the right is nicely toasted, ready for whatever topping strikes your fancy.

Waffle recipe with kale

Regular oat-bean waffle (no eggs or dairy) on the left. Green kale and spinach waffle on the right.

What’s the next waffle chapter?

Now that we’ve experimented with green waffles, I’m ready to try orange ones with this year’s fresh carrots. Stay tuned, and thanks for visiting.

carrots, harvest, Alaska, organic, gardening

Washing fresh carrots, just pulled from the garden.

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Pink ribbons at low tide: A pictorial week in Kodiak, Alaska

As I left the greenhouse and walked toward the house, I heard a loud puhhh-HUP behind me. I twisted around and took two steps toward the ocean, just in time to see an orca whale’s black, dorsal fin disappear below the surface.

I’m always humbled by gifts like this; surprise snippets of life. Like this morning: I looked up from doing dishes just in time to see the gibbous moon appear between puffy clouds. My hands paused in soapy water.

And so goes my life in Kodiak, Alaska. Here is the first of seven images I’d like to share from a week on the Emerald Isle…

Peaceful river

Speaking of moons and other celestial things, a photographer friend and I drove out the road on Sunday morning, my camera in the passenger seat, in search of whatever inspired us. We pulled over by the Olds River bridge and was stunned to see the water calm and unruffled.

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Dining with dolls

On Monday, I had a craving for borscht, so I stopped in to Monk’s Rock coffee shop. It’s a coffee shop and restaurant on one side and a gift store filled with orthodox books, icons, prayer ropes, you name it. While waiting for my order, I explored the quaint shop, stopping at this collection of Russian nesting dolls.

IMG_6141-russian-nesting-dollsOn asking permission

Coming back from the gym on Tuesday morning, I noticed the clouds were forming horizontal bands across the sky, announcing a cold front brewing. I’d always wanted to photograph this particular rock and tree (which reminded my of the Lone Cypress in Monterey, California, probably the most-photographed tree in the U.S.) but I needed permission from the property owner to cross their property onto the beach.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I’m not very good at doing such things but, gym clothes and all, I knocked on the door, talked with the guy-at-home and got a thumbs-up. So I dashed home for my camera and tripod. Midday, harsh shadows, not great light; but I shot it with black and white in mind.

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Trail sentry

Continuing on a tree theme, I love the Sitka spruce trees in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park. Any weather. Any time of year. They are like old friends as I walk the trails. Late one evening (it was getting dark) I was almost back to the trailhead when I passed this expressive tree. I turned around and set up my tripod. Back at my computer, I played with the texture and color in a program called Topaz Labs, giving it a painterly, impressionistic look.
KW2A6079-paint-tree

Good morning, moon!

A friend agreed to help with garden projects, so I agreed to pick her up. As she settled into the passenger seat, I noticed that the clouds were blushing with pinks and blues. “We need to take a detour first,” I said.

We drove about three miles to the end of the road, where a salmon stream flowed into the ocean. The frozen grass crunched under our feet as I walked in circles, evaluating the scene. “Look!” she said, “There’s the moon!”

Another one of those surprise snippets of life.

F45A0300-kodiak-moon

Food risers

The librarian at Kodiak College recently retired, so the staff put on a party to celebrate her next step in life. The food–from rhubarb tarts to dipped strawberries–was beautifully displayed on these risers made from spruce logs. I didn’t know what else to call them. Food risers? Toadstools? Supports? I’m open to suggestions.

Note: After posting these photos, a suggestion came in for the food risers: Sweet Seats! Perfect, isn’t it?

IMG_6150-library-foodLast, but not least, another morning adventure…

The blue hour

The tide was out, the sky was blue, and the sun was lighting up the clouds in an oh, so special way. You see, for centuries, artists have treasured this rich light, called the blue hour, a period of 45 minutes or so before sunrise and after sunset. On this morning, light reflecting in the tide pools created beautiful ribbons of pink and blue. (Based on the response I’ve gotten, I might have to make prints of this scene to sell in the art gallery we built in our Cliff House B&B).

F45A9985-sunrise-owen

Back to the killer whale sighting I told you about at the beginning. (You’ll have to read this to get the punch line).

Having watched the whale slip under water, I glowed in humbled awe for a few moments. Then my thoughts skipped to a comment a marine biologist friend made recently when I asked, “How was your day at the office, Kate?”

“Oh, I was out on the boat all day sampling whale scat. Now if you think whale breathe is bad [it’s very fishy, in case you wondered] then you aught to smell whale farts!”

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Is your lawn organic? (Think barefoot kids and wild salmon)

When spring arrives in Kodiak, Alaska, we’re normally coping with snow and ice. But this winter has been the warmest in 30 years. Hundreds of bald eagles have returned to town, on schedule, to feed on fish scraps, and commercial fishing boats are shuffling in and out of our harbors like a giant video game. But purple crocuses are already poking through the green lawn way ahead of schedule. Did I say green lawn? In Alaska? In March?

Purple crocus poke up through the lawn, Kodiak, Alaska

Weird but true. And that’s why I’m writing this post:

I want to share our favorite way to jumpstart a lawn and maintain it—without the use of chemicals.

Accomplishing this feat took some experimenting, though. Kodiak Island, after all, is a temperate rain forest by nature. The soil is very acidic, low in organic matter, and it’s mostly volcanic ash. The method is very easy and basic, and I’m sure it will work for your patch of green, too.

We started our lawn from seed on a base of peat moss, shredded kelp and compost. Our bed and breakfast guests and visitors touring our gardens are amazed how green it is. We work at keeping it healthy, so it can withstand heavy rain and snow, moisture-sucking northwest winds, freeze-thaw periods, and the pressure of many, many footprints.

Don’t tread on me

In the spring, it’s natural to grab a rake and start scraping twigs, branches, spruce cones, plastic toys, dog poop and other debris. Be gentle. Give it a light combing with a leaf rake, but step lightly when you do it. In other words, try to not walk on your grass too much. It’s one of the worst things you can do to a lawn—especially a soggy one. Wait until it has dried out a bit and the ground is not mushy.

At first the damage occurs underground where you can’t see it. Here’s what happens: when you walk on a soggy lawn, you squeeze out the air between the soil particles. In time this pressure creates a hard, compacted soil. Without these air “highways”, water and nutrients can’t reach the root zone. And then one day, something doesn’t look right and you wonder, “Why does my lawn look so pathetic?”

Turf grass thrives on the same kind of soil found in your garden: Rich, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter.

I don’t know about your situation, but perfect, well-drained soil doesn’t come naturally in Kodiak, so we have to create our own. So what you can do to help your lawn realize its greatest potential of being green and healthy?

tree-marion

It’s easy being green

Now the green part is easy, whether you use organic or chemical fertilizers. There are differences, though. Organic methods enrich the soil which improves root growth. Your lawn survives drought and extreme weather conditions better, it holds onto nutrients longer, and it becomes more sustainable itself. So eventually less maintenance is required.

One thing about organic lawn care I need to interject here: The way you mow your lawn makes a huge difference. Keep your mower blades sharp and leave your grass 3 inches longer. This improves your lawn’s health because the leaves of longer grass have more access to sunlight, which helps the grass grow thicker and create deeper roots.

Real green thumbs are not from chemicals

Chemical fertilizers on the other hand, might turn your grass an enticing, day-glo green, but it’s at a price. (All the promises on the packaging are lies). Chemical fertilizers wash away in heavy rains, and the toxic runoff ends up in lakes, streams, and oceans (we love our wild salmon folks). To say nothing of letting your pets and kids run around the lawn after you’ve applied a load of chemicals. Chemical fertilizers have been linked to cancer and poisonings, and since most Americans follow a “more is better” attitude (to the tune of 3 million tons per year), all that overfertilizing damages the soil and kills helpful microorganisms and fungi with toxic salt buildup.

With an organic lawn, you’re not simply putting down fertilizers four times a year; you’re initiating cultural practices to nurture life in the soil, and in turn, the soil sustains the grass.
~ Paul Tukey, author of  The Organic Lawn Care Manual

Healthy soil = healthy lawn

You may have guessed, I’m a cheerleader for organic lawn care. So here you go:

The one simple step every lawnkeeper should follow is to spread sifted organic matter on your lawn.

lawn-care-organic

We try to do this twice a year, when the lawn is relatively dry, but before a good rain or watering with a sprinkler. Recipe ideas (no exact science here) depend on what’s available in your location. For us in coastal Alaska, the list includes:

  • Spreading a combo of peat moss and compost, or
  • One part peat moss to  bags steer or cow manure, or
  • Straight finished compost plus sifted kelp, or
  • A manure-compost blend

Well-aged manure is like a good wine

You can also mix in soybean meal, cottonseed meal, well-aged manure (like a good wine!), finely shredded leaves and compost. Blend ingredients together in a wheelbarrow and dump it on the lawn. Yes, right on top. Shake it through a screen, toss it by the shovelful, or cast it about as if scattering feed to the chickens. After you apply the organic stuff, spread it around with a leaf rake with a combing, fluffing up action.

Okay, your lawn will look horrible (really bad) for a couple weeks, and the neighbors will probably think you’re crazy. But then something magic happens: new, green growth emerges and the brown stuff settles into the ground and disappears. Your lawn will be ten times healthier, you don’t have to worry about your kids running around barefoot, and the neighbors will stop whispering behind your back.

Thanks for visiting. And may you enjoy every minute when you’re out in nature.

Marion Owen, photographer, organic gardener, Kodiak Island, Alaska

Purple crocus poke up through the lawn, Kodiak, Alaska

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My favorite smartphone photo apps for travel

Florida Everglades by bike -- fat tire!

Bike riding, fat tire style, in the Florida Everglades.

Every winter, Marty and I exit Alaska in search of new hiking trails and a Vitamin D fix. This year was different. First, we traveled by land-yacht (RV), and second, I vowed to play with my iPhone’s photo apps. How did it go? Well, I perfected the art of grilling a PB&J sandwich in a one-fanny kitchen. And I dove into photography with Crayon-like enthusiasm–all helpful stuff for when you hit the road with a frying pan and a smartphone. I’ll show you what I mean…

An evening with giant cauliflowers

On a late afternoon in February, we drove into Joshua Tree National Park, a natural and geological stunner of a desert landscape. Heaps of boulders and cliffs rose from the high desert floor, parched from a 4-year drought. A dusting of snow, a ranger told us at the entrance gate, brought some relief in December. “But we could use more. You gotta love those Joshua trees, though. They just keep hanging on.”

Sunset was 30 minutes away, so while Marty managed the winding, 2-lane road, I searched the landscape for curvy horizons and shapely Joshua trees. “Let’s pull over by this grove,” I said. “Wow, they look like giant cauliflowers.”

I perched my tripod near a tree that felt grandfather-ish. (Joshua trees don’t have normal tree rings, so I guessed 100 years). It was the “blue hour”, a special time of day when the colors of sunrise and sunset share the sky with the blue dome of midday. I took a series of photos with my Big Camera and then pulled out my iPhone.

Here are the before and after shots, followed by the two basic steps to get there:

Before and after image using snapseed and Perfect Image app. photo tips, photography tips, photo apps, Instagram, Joshua Tree National Park, Arizona, National Parks

The left photo is the original image. Great potential here. After working with it in Snapseed, I looked at the dark base and thought, “What a fun place to put some text.”

Step 1: The Snapseed app

I began by processing the original photo (left) in Snapseed to saturate color and adjust contrast. Let me pause for a moment to say something about contrast: Even a little adjustment goes a long way.

Increasing the contrast of your photos is one of the most important steps before posting your images online.

There are an astounding 2.5 million apps but Snapseed (free) is one of the most popular photo editing apps available for iPhone and Android, offers a variety of powerful photo-correction tools and filters. To learn how to use the different features of this app, Google has an excellent Snapseed Help Center.

Below is the opening page of Snapseed as it appears on your iPhone or Android screen. The left side shows some of the photo editing options, the right side, a sample image before replacing it with your own.

Snapseed, app, photo editing, Nik, Google, android, iphone, photo app

The Snapseed home page showing some of the processing filter options.

After making adjustments in Snapseed, I saved the photo in my iPhone’s Photo Library. I could have stopped there, but I thought a mini-poster (with text) would  be fun to share on my Marion_Owen_Photography Instagram page.

Step 2: The Perfect Image app

Perfect Image, photo app, iTunes, photo processing, iPhone, Marion OwenTo create my mini-poster, I wanted to add text on top of, and below, the image.  So I re-opened the picture in another powerful app called Perfect Image, a free app available through iTunes. With it, you can add a gzillion special effects with ease.

One of the best things about these two apps is that they are non-destructive, which means when you save your picture after applying the effects you like, a new copy is made, leaving your original untouched. Another thing: you can share your masterpiece photo instantly on Facebook, Instagram, via e-mail, or messaging.

Black and white photos rock!

There’s no art more exquisite than a well-done black and white image. They sing with texture and tone in ways that color images can only dream of. As a former darkroom junkie, what can I say?

So take a look at these two examples. Both were processed in Snapseed in another 2-step process: First, I enhanced the clouds a bit to make them pop as if I used a polarizing filter. You can see the results in the left photo. Then I selected the Black and White filter, lightened the shadows a little and created the photo you see at right. Which one do you like best?

snapseed, polarizer, polarizing filter, photo tips, photography tips, photo apps, Instagram, Joshua Tree National Park, Arizona

See how changing the color image to black and white makes the clouds and textures in the rocks really pop?

Camels on Route 66?

RV-ing the right way means being flexible and open to surprises. Take Kingman, Arizona, for example. Straddling Route 66 (off Highway 40) in the western part of the state, Kingman is part tourist trap and part legit stopover. Back in 1859 though, Kingman was the twinkle in Lt. Edward Beale’s eye. While in the service of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, he was charged with two tasks: Survey for a wagon trail and test the feasibility of using camels as pack animals in the desert. Beale’s wagon trail eventually became a road and part of Route 66…

We arrived in Kingman on a sunny weekday, pulled into a local park and piled out of the RV to stretch our legs. Marty was craving Italian, so he took off in search of restaurant while I roamed around looking for potential sunrise shots. The next morning, I got up at 5 AM and drove to Mr. D’s Route 66 Diner. Some of the staff had just arrived and turned on the lights. Perfect.

Here’s another example of using Snapseed and Perfect Image together:

IMG_5542-route66-poster

I created a border and saturated the color using the HDR (High Dynamic Range) filter in Snapseed and then added the retro, “Get Your Kicks” in Perfect Image and placed it at the bottom. I really like the playfulness of the final photo.

In conclusion: Sharing what I learned

Firstly, cooking in a compact space was an easy adjustment for me, since every summer I prepare gourmet dinners for small groups aboard our 40-foot yacht in Kodiak, Alaska.

As for taking pictures, I said at the beginning that I dove into photography during this trip with Crayon-like enthusiasm. You see, I’ve faithfully used 35mm Canon gear for my professional work since the mid-1970s. But lately I sensed a subtle lack of fizz toward my photography, an art form  I’ve enjoyed since my parents gave me a Kodiak Brownie camera when I was eight. But hey, I don’t blame it on the lack of inspiring subjects though. I love to just get out and look (I can find cool stuff in a spruce forest or a junk yard).

Using the iPhone and experimenting with Snapseed and Perfect Image taught me something. No, more than that…it helped me out. I started using my Canon gear with a lighter step, a refreshed attitude. Isn’t that one of the reasons to hit the road?

Thanks for visiting. I’d love to hear about your adventures on the road.

IMG_4633-Florida-orange

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A New Year’s message from Helen Keller and friends

It’s 10:30 PM on December 31 in Kodiak, Alaska. Dogs are barking outside, thanks to fireworks. Yes, I’ve received invitations to parties, but I’m not going out tonight. Rather, I’m packing my camera gear for a road trip tomorrow. But first, I want to give you an invitation: To “keep on keeping on,” as a friend said the other day.

smily face, fence

I found this smiley face on a chainlink fence hear the boat harbor in Kodiak, Alaska. I must admit, it made me smile.

Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.

Helen Keller

 

It’s not that “today is the first day of the rest of my life,” but that now is all there is of my life.

Hugh Prather, author of Notes to Myself

 

For the New Year my greatest wish and prayer for you is that you cast aside wrong habits of thinking and doing. Don’t drag your bad habits into the New Year. You don’t have to carry them with you. Any minute you may have to drop your mortal package, and those habits will vanish. They don’t belong to you now. Don’t admit them! Leave behind all useless thoughts and past sorrows and bad habits. Start life anew!

Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi and founder of Self-Realization Fellowship

 

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 

God speaks to all individuals through what happens to them moment by moment.

J. P. DeCaussade

 

In your silence, God’s silence ceases.

Paramahansa Yogananda

 

Thanks for being there, and thanks for visiting.

New Year, sand, writing, surf, ocean

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Photo essay from Kodiak Island: Captain Santa and a Christmas tree made from bird deterrent tape

Thirty years ago, in December 1984, I moved from Seattle to Kodiak, Alaska. My Mom fretted. “When are you coming home?”

To describe island life, I wrote letters to family and friends, and slipped a photograph or two in the envelopes. Soon my summers were sprinkled with visitors, traveling North to see for themselves. “But what about the winters?” They asked.

To continue the tradition, may I share with you a visual smorgasbord from the past couple weeks. Mind you, we’ve had a snow-free winter so far, but my motto as a photographer (and cook, gardener, whatever) has always been: Do the best with what you’ve got. So, short and sweet, I hope you enjoy the images:

Let’s start with a dazzling Christmas tree that’s 30 feet tall. It’s made from a flagpole, lines, bird deterrent tape and flood lights…

Christmas, tree, Kodiak, Alaska, sunset, outdoors, light, sun

 

Didn’t you know? Captain Santa guides his reindeer from the pilothouse. If it gets foggy, he resorts to radar…

santa, claus, boat, costume

 

While on a late afternoon hike on Pillar Mountain, above the City of Kodiak, we were treated to this golden view of the airport and surrounding mountains…

kodiak, alaska, airport, mountains, winter

 

A sign of the times, or should I say, a reminder for all of us…

celebrate, sign, physical, therapy

At a Christmas potluck, we were greeted by beet crabs and broccoli coral. Yes, I live in a fishing community…
table, decorations, food, beets, broccoli, crab

During a visit to St. Innocent’s Academy, a local school for troubled youth, I noticed a collection of vacuum cleaners huddled in the corner. “Do you have any Santa hats?” I asked one of the students. Soon we had a chorus of vacuum cleaners signing, “Oreck Come All Ye Faithful!”…
Oreck, vacuum, Christmas, elves, tree

 

I found this chunk of kelp while walking along the beach on a frosty morning. (I came back later with buckets and loaded them up with shredded kelp for the compost)…

kelp, beach, ocean, frost, fertilizer

Our winter has been so mild, we still have carrots growing in the hoophouse. We mulch with spruce branches and kelp to keep the soil from freezing…

carrots, harvest, Alaska, organic, gardening

Kodiak Island is home to an amazing variety of birds and during the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, we’re often rated Number 1 or 2 in Alaska for number of species. Here is a long-tailed duck, spotted during this year’s count. A beautiful bird, isn’t it? The sun lighting up the mountains in the background casts this golden reflection on the water…

Oldsquaw, long-tailed duck, Kodiak, Alaska, Marion Owen, birds, waterfowl

If you’re still with me, I’d like to finish with a blessing, by Robert Louis Stevenson:

“Lord, we thank you for this place in which we dwell, for the love that unites us, for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect on the morrow; for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth.”

Amen.

See you in 2015!

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Snowflakes, Karma and God: When things don’t go as planned

Excited at the prospect of photographing snowflakes (one of my favorite winter activities), Marty and I booked flights to Anchorage, Alaska. Though it’s only a 60-minute flight north of Kodiak Island, it’s usually enough change in latitude–as Jimmy Buffet might say–to produce nice snow crystals. But this year was different.

When we arrived in Alaska’s biggest city, temps hovered around 30 degrees. Too warm. For good, single snowflakes, I needed a range between 0 and 15 degrees F. The forecast didn’t look good. I felt like a Prisoner of Weather. Fortunately, we had friends to visit, a Costco run to do, and Christmas gifts to buy. I put my snowflake gear away and picked up my regular camera. Here are some images from a couple photo-walks, plus a little serendipity I think you’ll enjoy…

My friend Kate is always up for a hike. She knew I craved snow, so we drove to Eagle River Nature Center where we found snow and ice-encrusted trails. Since the day was overcast and gray, I “thought” in black and white.

Cottonwood, trees, alaska, winter, landscape, snow

What seems like a tangle of branches is actually a beautiful cottonwood tree, enhanced by snow.

 

snow, bird house, alaska, landscape

I discovered this bird house, abandoned by the trail. It looked like a smiling Old Fisherman.

The next day, we drove out to Portage Glacier to see what we could find. That’s my motto. I love to go outdoors without an agenda. To be receptive to Nature’s gifts.

Ice bubbles, alaska, winter, photography, snow, ice, sculpture

Ice bubbles formed along a stream near Portage Glacier outside Anchorage, Alaska.

stream, ice, bubbles, snow, river

I could spend hours playing with ice formations along rivers, streams and ponds.

For years I’d heard about a fishing boat that once belonged to Joe Redington Sr., the father of the Iditarod sled dog race. It sits, abandoned in tide flats of Knik Arm. I thought, with a little snow on it, the old boat would make a good photo subject. I was not disappointed, and Kate and I were glad the ice was thick enough to hold our weight.

fishing, boat, Anchorage, Alaska, Knik

Abandoned fishing boat in the tidal mudflats near Knik Arm, Alaska.

Funny, the twists and turns of life. Here I was in Anchorage, hoping to photograph snowflakes. No such luck, but for those few days, I knew better than to whine and to take advantage of the hand that Nature dealt me.

I had to smile though, when I spotted this snowflake pendant around Kate’s neck. It was sort of a karmic joke, as if God was saying, “Do you think for a moment that I don’t know of your wants and needs? Behold, I created a snowflake for you.”

snowflake, silver, jewelry, necklace, photography

While talking with my friend Kate, I noticed this snowflake pendant around her neck. “It’s made from silver recovered from film processing.” How perfect was that?

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The language of wreaths: They’ll save you from lightning, but not love

If you’re off to a party, consider placing a wreath made of violets, roses, myrtle, parsley and ivy on top of your head. According to Pliny the Elder, a corona convivial was thought to counter the effects of intoxication.

The wreath has been utilized symbolically for many centuries, dating back to ancient Greece. Olympic champions hung their prize-winning wreaths inside their houses, and during thunder storms, Emperor Tiberius wore a laurel wreath on his head to protect him from lightning strikes. Today, wreaths can mean many things, from peace and victory, to faith and unrequited love.

wreath, Christmas, evergreens, circle, Alaska, cones, children, crafts

Shaun Skonberg, age 5, and his mom Kathy of Kodiak, Alaska, made this wreath together.

The language of wreaths

Until last week, I never really thought about the language of wreaths, beyond the one we hang on our door after Thanksgiving. Here’s my story…

In November, our little garden club in Kodiak, Alaska sponsors a Wreath Making Workshop. Nothing fancy mind you, for the dozen or so people that usually show up. Most years I’m out of town, but there I was, in St. Mary’s Church, preparing to wrestle with cedar twigs and wire.

I arrived early and set my pliers on a corner table to claim my spot. Within 15 minutes, 50 more people came though the door. Soon the tables were surrounded by people and covered with branches, spools of wire, pliers and Christmas decorations. The air was scented with cedar and pine, and charged with high expectations to create a showpiece worthy of the holidays.

Wreath making 101

Kate, one of the coordinators, helped put us at ease, “Making wreaths is a very forgiving skill.” Reaching into a box of evergreens, she pinched off a few twigs and held them up.

“You want to build your wreath with clumps of greens about the size of your hand. Pinch them together and then attach them to your wreath form using this spooled, green wire. Then make another clump and keep adding. “And don’t worry about making it perfect,” she added. “You’ll be amazed at how it all comes together beautifully.”

We bowed our heads and got to work. Soon my table-mates were sharing tools and swapping pine cones and ribbon.

New friends

“Are you Marion?” asked the lady across the table from me.

“Yes,” I said. “Can I help you?” As a garden writer and photography instructor, I’m used to being asked all kinds of questions.

“I’m Tasha. I just moved here from California. My husband’s in the Coast Guard. My friend Pamela said I should look you up. And I’ve been following your blog even before we moved.”

Wreath, making, Christmas, swag

Meet Tasha, my new friend, making a 6-foot swag.

Wow, what were the chances that I’d not only meet Tasha at a function I had never attended before, but I’d be standing right across the table from her?

What’s more, I knew Pamela from our Google+ connections. A twist of faith? Maybe, but then the word “wreath” is from an Old English term meaning “to twist.”

Give me simplicity, that I may live,
So live and like, that I may know Thy ways,
Know them and practise them: then shall I give
For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.
~ George Herbert (1593–1633), British poet

As the afternoon wore on, the room hummed like a beehive. The Christmas music, audible at first, was all but snuffed out as moms, friends, teachers, kids, Coast Guard spouses and long-time residents shared stories and glue guns. An impromptu bow-tying lesson took place in the corner by the kitchen.

cedar, branch, wreathThe inventory of evergreen boughs began to dwindle and it became obvious that cedar was the most popular green. “It smells good and it lasts a long time,” said garden club treasurer, Esther Waddell. “And if you keep your wreath outside, it can last until spring.

Esther admitted that the garden club doesn’t make much money hosting the workshop. “But that’s not the point. It’s just nice to see so many people from the community get together to make these amazing works of art. And it starts the Christmas season off in good spirits.”

Wreaths can mean many things

The good spirits continued later while I chatted with Esther over a cup of coffee. “We always seem to have a little extra greenery left over,” she said. “A few years ago, some kids gave their wreaths away to an elderly neighbor. It was all their idea.

“And last year, two young boys made a wreath for their grandmother who had cancer.”

“You know,” she added, “it just goes around like a circle.”

To learn more about wreaths, here is a great research paper called Wreath: Its Use and Meaning in Ancient Visual Culture.

Merry Christmas, and THANK YOU for stopping by…

You can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, as well as my Marion Owen Photography website.

cedar, branch, wreath

 

A few more bits about wreaths you might find interesting:

While wreaths in the U.S. are pretty much associated with Christmas, hung on front doors as a sign of welcome, in English-speaking countries wreaths are also used during the rest of the year as household ornaments. One example I particularly appreciate is the harvest wreath, a custom with ancient roots in Europe. In Ancient Greece, the harvest wreath was a sacred amulet, using wheat or other plants, woven together with red and white wool thread and then hung by the door year-round.

Today, we see wreaths, made from leaves and flowers, worn as crowns and used in memorials, weddings and funerals. In many Scandinavian countries, harvest wreaths are made of woven straw. In Poland, fruits and nuts are added to the wreath and then brought to a church for a blessing by a priest.

The use of evergreens has its own significance. For many, having greenery around during the winter months is a promissory symbol of the approaching light of spring, something we can all relate to. Green, the most predominant color in nature, is considered an emotionally positive color. It’s regarded as the color of balance and harmony, of growth, renewal and rebirth. Green is also said to renew and restore depleted energy. Who can argue with such an uplifting influence in the darkness of winter?

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