Saturday, January 30, 2010

McNary Dam and the Pacific Salmon Visitor Information Center

My birthday was a week ago, and on the way from Pendleton to Tri-Cities, WA to enjoy a celebratory day with the family, we decided to stop at the McNary Dam Visitors' Center, just off I-82 at the Oregon, Washington border, or the Columbia River. For those of you who don't know, there are a series of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and this is one of them. Since it is winter time, there were no employees present at the center and the fish ladder viewing room was, sadly, closed. The Pacific Salmon Visitors Center was open though and we were able to view the exhibits, as well as climb up to the top of the viewing platform to see the river and dam. There is also a short movie to view in a small theater that we got to enjoy, as well as a fish sorting room, although no one was working the day we visited.

All in all though it's an excellent (and totally free) place to stop and view the dam and to learn about the Columbia River, it's dams, and the efforts to protect the fish that now must navigate the river through man-made ladders and barges. Yes, that's right, barges. As the young fish leave the headwaters, there are screens along the turbines that divert the small fish through huge pipes over the dam into waiting barges that take them downstream. Many fish die during the process. It's of course a very controversial process and reminds me that renewable "green" energy comes at a high cost.

I must admit though, that the whole concept of making energy from running water fascinates me. I even found out that there's an event February 20th at the Bonneville Dam, Great Electrifying Event that I'm hoping to drag the family to.

I can't mention salmon on my blog without mentioning my friend, Jeannine, a fish biologist who let me tag along with her many years ago to help her do fisheries research. She's really the person who introduced me to the underwater world of fish. I also spent a few afternoons working with another fish biologist when I was working at the BLM finding fish "redds", or nests that the fish dig out in stream beds to lay their eggs. It's amazing to see these and to think of all the work these fish performed to reproduce.

I also have to mention that there's a current exhibit at the local Tamastslikt Museum, near Pendlton about the Pacific Salmon, "A Litany of Salmon", that's there from now until April 18th. I plan on going to see it soon, and hope to make it to a book signing and lecture there if I can on Feb. 13th.

Below are a few pictures I took of the dam. Enjoy!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Milton-Freewater and beyond

The weather here has taken an unusual swing to the warmer end of the thermometer lately, and I got the itch to do some more exploring. So a few days ago, I loaded up into my 2-wheel-drive sedan that has no tire studs at all, and headed up into the mountains, hoping the pavement would be bare. I had tire chains with me just in case, water, food and a cell phone and had no intention of going off the highway. I just wanted to see some trees! So I headed up Hwy 11 North out of Pendleton, then took Hwy 204 East from Weston, Oregon up into the mountains, in search of trees!

The first thing I noticed in the town of Weston was the big "Smith Frozen Foods" company building, as in (former) Senator Gordon Smith. I was wondering where this was. Now I know. As I headed up the highway, I noticed many snowplow road markers and snow drift fences that were noticeably without snow. I've heard that we're well below our normal snow pack this winter, and it certainly seems to be the case! I passed several houses and roads until I started seeing trees, and even more before I saw some snow. Near the "Tollgate area", I snapped this picture. There is some snow up there, but not much. I didn't have a lot of time, plus in shady spots the road started getting just a wee bit icy. That was enough to get me to turn around and head back down.

Descending, I got some excellent views of the surrounding area, including a view of Milton-Freewater, and a view of the "wind turbine farms" to the West. Once I got back to Hwy 11, I headed North to the small town of Milton-Freewater. I was in pursuit of a farm and ranch store, Bordertown Feed and Supply, that had been recommended to me by someone in Pendleton. It's a small store, on the North end of town on Hwy 11. I drove past it a few times before I found it, but was very pleasantly surprised when I walked in. They had the dog supplies and medication that I was looking for, plus so much more! I must admit that I know nothing about horses and ranching, but they had so many beautiful saddles and tack, shoes and supplies that I can start to understand the appeal of owning and using horses.

I headed just a bit further down the highway to investigate a place I'd seen before, "Clay in Motion". This is a huge pottery studio that makes and sells a large selection of beautiful pottery. They also have an art gallery and coffee shop on location. I really enjoyed browsing their selection, and even bought a few early birthday presents.

Milton-Freewater seems to be best known, though, for it's agriculture, including it's wine grapes. It's part of the "Walla Walla Wine Appellation", a wine region that's well known for it's outstanding wines. I'm dying to go wine tasting in this area someday soon. There are also numerous fruit orchards that I plan to come back to in the spring to see all of the beautiful blossoms...

On the way back South through town, I decided to follow a few signs that led me to the older part of town, as well as to their park and aquatic center. Of course the pool is closed, but I got a view of it through the gate. I think I'm going to have to bring the kids here this summer. All through Milton-Freewater there are statues of frogs in different attire and poses. According to the city website, there are over 40 frogs scattered throughout town. It seems as though the town has adopted the frog as it's "brand", or mascot. Very cute! My mom would love this place, as she has always loved frogs, and has quite a collection of them... I'll leave you with a few pictures I took of some of the many frog statues. Enjoy!

Friday, January 15, 2010

I love vote-by-mail

It's special-election time here in Oregon. Voters are voting for 2 special tax measures. Chris and I are now official Oregon voters, and received our ballots in the mail last week. They've already been filled out and mailed back, in their special privacy envelopes. I'd post a picture, but I'm not sure if that's legal... So I'll post instead a picture of me with my 2 boys, when they were 3 days old and 23 months.

This is probably why I love vote-by-mail the best. As a mother of babies and small children, it's so incredibly easy to vote! You can do it after they're asleep, and don't have to pile them into car seats and try to chaperon them while filling out a ballot. I know many elderly voters who also echo the appreciation of the ease of voting here. As a former shift worker, it was also hard to vote at times, and I know there were times that my husband worked such a long day that he missed the polling hours completely.

I know, from living in Michigan that there's a real sense of civic duty that you feel when you vote at a polling station, and as a kid, I absolutely loved the ballot machines and curtains that we had in Louisiana. I'm also tickled at remembering Oregon's old method that involved the infamous "chads". I also know that there's no perfect system, and vote by mail is no exception. But vote-by-mail is still my favorite method. It makes it so incredibly easy and accessible to so many who have special needs.

For my fellow Oregonians, get those ballots in the mail!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grief and Haiti

As some of you know, I lost my father in May 2008 suddenly to a pulmonary embolism. In coming to terms with my grief, I've done a lot of crying, talking, and yes, blogging. Hearing the awful news late last night about the earthquake in Haiti, and this morning seeing such horrifying images on TV made my grief come bubbling right back up to the surface. These times... Dad's birthday, seeing my son play his clarinet, spending Christmas without him, and yes, witnessing others painful sudden separation from their loved ones always takes me by surprise, kicks me in the stomach and leaves me down for days.

Yet I feel so fortunate to be left standing and to have the rest of my life continues around me "normally". Such is not the case in Haiti. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like there.

Our family, at my oldest son's prompting, gave money to UNICEF this Christmas to help less fortunate children in other parts of the world. We let him pick the cause, and he chose to help pay for vaccinations. This morning I knew I wanted to make a donation, and seeing the urgent plea from UNICEF in my in-box after the usual school-day morning routine was done made it easy to give a donation. I don't have a lot to give, but if each of us gives a little, it'll add up to a lot. I thought I'd try to make it easy for anyone reading this to help. Here's a link to a few aid agencies:


American Red Cross

Mercy Corps


Monday, January 11, 2010


Sometimes it's best to pick up where you are, rather than where you left off.

Such is the case with my blog!

It's been a while, but rather than trying to catch you up on all of our terrific travels, domestic disasters, dental deals and holiday happiness, I'll just wish you a Happy New Year, and pick up where I am...

I decided to show and tell my quilting today, since lately it has been consuming my free time! Recently, while visiting my friend, Jen, in Southern Oregon, I picked up a few new quilt patterns. Once I shared them with Jen, she brought out her stash and we busted it (or at least tried to). We spent a whole day together cutting, ironing, and sewing the fabrics together to make us each 2 separate, but very similar quilts, in almost half the time. I had so much fun stitching and bitching together. I finished the quilt top (and back) once I got home, and have already started another quilt, and have another all planned out. I had previously made "name pillows" for all of my nieces, nephew and my boys for Christmas.

I guess after having my sewing stuff all packed away for so long, once I got it out again, it was like opening Pandora's Box... Well, the cat's out of the bag, and there's no stopping me now.

It helps that it's winter. With the freezing rain we had over the week-end, and icy roads I just haven't felt much like doing anything that involves driving or being outside. So I sew!!

Sewing with Jen reminded me that women(and a few men) have been quilting together for many, many years. It's really a great way to share ideas, creativity, skills, and talent. It's easy to gab away while doing it, and best of all, you end up with a beautiful useful item that you made with your hands (and the hands of your friend, in this case). Unlike so much of the housework I do, quilting is a permanent testament to the work I do that doesn't get "undone" shortly after I do it, as dishes and laundry do. Working with another person's "stash" was really a fun way for me to get out of my "quilting comfort zone". I mean, with 2 boys, I probably have more pink in this quilt than I have in my entire stash!! But it was fun to play with flowers and pink. This quilt will also always be a reminder of a fun day spent with my friend. Here's a picture of my/our quilt all ready for its batting and pinning together.

Probably my favorite part of quilting is the planning. This involves everything from shopping for fabric to seeing how the fabric colors play with each other, trying to match that with a pattern and trying to imagine the outcome. Here's a quilt I have planned out to sew next:

Once the plan is made, the cutting and sewing begin. Rotary cutters and cutting mats have revolutionized this act, and made it so much easier. I can't even imagine not having my rotary cutter. Much like a pizza cutter, it makes cutting out fabric a breeze, and the rulers and grids make measuring a snap too! Once the pieces are cut out, you begin sewing the quilt blocks together. Here's a stack of quilt blocks waiting to be sewn together into a quilt top:

Many quilters choose to stop at that step and to send their tops off to a long-arm quilter who uses a special sewing machine to do the actual quilting together of the quilt top, batting and bottom. It's much easier for them to do a large quilt than it is to try to stuff extra fabric through a regular sewing machine's "neck", or "arm". But it costs money, and after we moved to Michigan, I decided to try to learn how to do the quilting myself to save that money. I've been trying out "free-motion quilting" on my own machine now for a little over a year. My on-line quilting buddies have helped a lot with words of encouragement and advice, and several quilt store owners have also helped instruct me and get me going. My quilting "buddy" in Michigan also encouraged me. Surprisingly, I found that I really like quilting my own quilts together. As with many things, often the intimidation of taking on a new skill is worse than the actual learning curve required. Here's a quilt I've started on, and hope to finish soon:

Lastly comes putting the binding onto the quilt to hide the raw edges. I'm afraid it's my least favorite part of quilting, not due to it's difficulty as much as its tedious factor. But once that's done, the quilt is ready to be used, or given away as a special gift. My nieces (and nephew) have all been recipients of my quilts, as I've learned, much by trial and error. My 2 sons also each have 2 quilts now. Other family members have also received quilts, and they're on our bed and walls too. I really admire those quilters who donate their labors of love to charitable causes. I have yet to do this!!

I hope to continue quilting for many years to come. That's another wonderful thing about this hobby.... it can be done over the course of a life time. The skills can also be passed along generation to generation. My grandma, aunt and mom all taught me, and I've helped my youngest son start and almost finish his first quilt. If I can only get myself to help him finish that binding on his, it'll be done!

So what about you? What is your favorite hobby?