An Ode to the Garage

by on Oct 1, 2014

Someone once asked me what my favorite room was in my house. I didn’t have to think twice before I answered.

“The garage,” I said.

My friend laughed. “What? The garage? You can’t be serious.”

“Totally serious,” I said.

After I was first married, many years ago, we didn’t have a garage. We lived in the back of an old house on the South Hill in Spokane—just a block west of St. John’s Cathedral, in fact. Parking required an elaborate dance with our neighbors (who lived in the front part of the house) because we all shared the same driveway.

Our cars were out in the weather no matter what, and I remember once we had to stand up my best friend during a cold snap. She’d been depending on us to pick her up at the airport when she got back from a trip to Russia, but it was nearly 20 below and neither of us could get our cars to start. Of course this was back before cell phones, so the best I could do was call the airport and have her paged to let her know she’d have to take a cab home. I still feel bad about that one.

Then Phil and I moved to Mattawa, and our cars sat out in a dirt driveway on a sheep farm. In the summer in the Central Washington desert, it’s not so bad to have your car outside (other than the fact you can get second-degree burns from touching the steering wheel). But in the winter—in the snow, and mud—now that’s a different story.

We bought a little house in Royal City after our twins were born, and that house didn’t have a garage either. I remember how much fun it was during the winter of 1996-1997 when we had something like 30 inches of snow on the ground—and on our cars. The tiny house we were living in actually had a garage at one time, but it had been walled in and turned into part of the house by the former owners. I remember silently cursing them whenever I loaded crabby, snowy preschoolers into their car seats during that long, miserable muddy winter.

Garage

You have to love the color.

When we moved to our second home in Royal, I finally got my garage.  I’d often take my cordless phone out there and sit on the back of my car whenever I was talking to someone, and I’d feel like the Queen of England. We didn’t have to stash our lawnmower on the side of the house any more—we had a garage to put it in. I didn’t have to scrape ice off my windshield or kick the snow off my boots whenever I got in my car. My kids had a place to stash their bikes and sleeping bags.

Even though I was a grown woman, and even though I was married with three kids, it took having a garage to make me feel like I was truly, finally and absolutely grown-up.

And then I got divorced, and I found myself living in the corner of a pole building on a ranch in Ellensburg a few winters ago–sans garage. My Honda sat out on a gravel driveway, and my (also recently-divorced) landlady spent the winter apologizing about how her ex-husband had never taught her how to plow their driveway with the tractor. I spent many dark months starting my car up 20 minutes early in the hopes I could melt enough of a hole in the windshield-ice to see through, and we both developed a kind of tricky timing move to get our cars out of her driveway and onto the highway–we’d gun our cars before we got to the steep part and hope nobody was coming so we could slide out onto the highway.

All houses need halfway places: places where you can put things out of the weather (like yourself) for a little while without being completely indoors. It’s a place you can enjoy the thrill of being outside while still being inside—you can watch the snow fall and thunderstorms rage from the safety of your own private three-sided room. (I feel the same way about grand front porches.)

Everyone needs a little buffer zone between the inside and outside world; a place where you can take care of business without worrying about a little dirt or dripping on the floor. It’s just a civilized way to live. No matter how many oily, dirty tools and half-used paint cans you have lying around, just having a garage lends any home an air of sophistication and elegance.

Now that I’m here in Yakima, I have a garage once again. We’ve just spent hours painting it and getting some handy storage things installed to corral our gardening tools and spare 2x4s. We’re planning on hosting a party out there soon for our family and friends, so I have lots of plans for decorating my favorite room, including the installation of some temporary curtains and giant tissue-paper flowers on the garage bay doors.

It’s going to be absolutely lovely—a little weird, yeah, but having a garage again deserves celebration. My little beat-up Civic and I are finally home.

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Yakima Valley Zonta Club Celebrates 60 Years

by on Sep 22, 2014

Not everyone has heard of the Yakima Valley Zonta Club, but that doesn’t bother local Zonta club members. They just keep doing what they’ve been doing here in Yakima for the last 60 years.

The international organization’s mission is to improve the lives of women, and local club members have been involved in everything from providing hot meals for emergency shelter residents to consulting with the Yakima Police Department about the “Asian Massage” parlors that have been in the news recently.

The current president of the local Zonta chapter, Candi Broadfoot, says that the group was also heavily involved in preventing a strip club from opening downtown two years ago. “Strip clubs are often a venue for (sex) trafficking,” Broadfoot explained.

Zonta members researched city ordinances from around the state and eventually wound up making an ordinance recommendation to Yakima’s City Council to prevent the adult club from opening, she said. “If we hadn’t done the research…we’d probably have a strip club here in Yakima, and probably more than one,” Broadfoot said.

Zonta members

Yakima Valley Zonta Club president Candi Broadfoot and former president Pat Reynolds are all smiles as they look at the list of nonprofits the club will be donating to for the 2014-2015 funding cycle.

The group also raises funds through a variety of activities to donate to local (as well as international) charities, and awards annual scholarships to local senior girls. At the last business meeting, members approved eight applications for over $20,000 in funds. For the 2014-2015 funding cycle, the local Zonta club will donate $3,000 to the Dispute Resolution Center (which offers mediation for female offenders); $1,500 to the Girl Scouts for self-confidence-building courses, $3,000 to the YWCA in Yakima for safe passage relocation assistance; $2,000 to the Sunrise Outreach Center; $2,500 to the Noah’s Ark Homeless Shelter; $2,239 to Safe Yakima Valley to fund part-time youth summer jobs; $1,020 to Rod’s House; and$905 to the Wellness House for wigs and other items for cancer patients.

Zonta, which means “honest and trustworthy” in the Sioux language, was started in 1919 in New York. Since then, the group has grown internationally—in fact, there are more clubs outside the United States than inside, Broadfoot said. The organization is nonsectarian and nonpartisan, and both women and men can be members.

Broadfoot, who has been a member of the club since 1995, said that she loves the camaraderie of the group. “I like coming together with all these bright people to make a difference,” she said.

President-elect Danielle Surkatty echoes that sentiment. “I enjoy the great people in the group, the fellowship, and the things we do,” she said.

Zonta 2

Juilette Humphreys (the granddaughter of Zonta member Julia Humphreys) visits with Alicia Ullom at the last business meeting.

Whistlin’ Jack Lodge owner Doug Williams hosted the local club recently for a dinner fundraiser that featured local author Susan LaRiviere. “The Zonta Club has allowed me to meet, and in some cases become mighty good friends with the Yakima Valley’s gracious and success-driven families,” Williams wrote in an email.

The biggest challenge of the group in the past few years—like many other service clubs in the Valley—has been declining membership, Broadfoot said. The club currently has 27 members, including one charter member, Kay Pfaff, who turned 90 years old this year…but in the past, they’ve had dozens more members. (You can read more about the history of Zonta in the Yakima Valley and their past projects here.)

“We’d love to have some more young people in the club,” Broadfoot said, noting that about half the membership is made up of retired women. “They have the energy and desire to make changes.” This year, the group will likely be focusing on increasing membership.

If you’d like to learn more about Zonta, you can check out their website here, and you can like them on Facebook here.

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Shame on the NFL – and Shame on Us

by on Sep 18, 2014

This past week at my house has been interesting, since my beau R. has been unable to contain himself about the NFL’s shenanigans as the teams and the league scramble to mete out punishments to players.

Let me first state for the record that I grew up watching football. I was raised in a suburb of Denver, so by default I’m a football fan (go Broncos!). I own a Seahawks t-shirt and was just as caught up in the hoopla around the Superbowl last year as anyone else…I was the one who taped the “12” flag to our front door.

But there are certain things about sports that make me queasy.

I used to publish a small community weekly in central Washington, which means that I’ve spent an unholy number of hours at high school sporting events, laying out teensy-tiny track and field stats in 5-point font, and keeping heaps of AA batteries on hand for our Nikon’s big speedlight.

One year, in May, our small high school happened to be sending quite a few kids to state to compete in track, softball and golf. But three of our star athletes who were expected to compete at state sports had been observed drinking during prom.

Even though I was the owner of the local paper, I was probably the last person in town to find out that the kids had been drinking. According to my source—a high-school employee of ours who had personally observed the goings-on–her three classmates had also been observed by at least a dozen other students and adults, including a school board member chaperoning the dance. Two of the drunk kids had been acting so obnoxiously that they’d been asked to leave a pre-prom party hosted at the home of a county commissioner.

So by the time all the scuttlebutt got to me two weeks later, I assumed our high school had already disciplined the kids. After all, it sounded like at least several high profile adults had observed what happened. And last, but not least, I knew that everyone knew the same three kids had been caught with booze before (most memorably the boy involved, who had escaped unscathed from an alcohol-related auto accident that had paralyzed a classmate a few months earlier).

I was working on an unrelated story at the time, and when I emailed our school district’s athletic director a question about test scores, I took the opportunity to ask about the three students and whether they were going to be able to play at state.

The AD immediately shot back an email saying he was starting an investigation. I was more than a little taken aback. An investigation? Didn’t the school already know what had happened?

As a result of my question, the three kids involved were suspended from state play. The AD made absolutely sure that everyone knew that “the newspaper” had been the one to bring the issue up with school administration. The softball coach (who wound up losing at state, probably in part to the benching of two of his star players), announced in front of all the players and parents at the final game that he was never going to provide the newspaper with sports stats again thanks to my “vindictive” actions.

Although I had a few parents quietly thank me for “speaking out” (including the football coach’s wife—who had known, along with her husband, about the kids drinking) nobody stood up for me in public. It was very difficult for me to graciously accept compliments from people who had known about the kids but had chosen to stay silent, since I had been made into the scapegoat. I even heard that one of the students involved blamed me personally for the loss of her college scholarship.

So, to recap: even though all three kids had been caught red-handed, even though all three kids were at-risk students who’d been in trouble before, none of the adults spoke up. I can’t even call what I did “speaking up” because I had assumed that it was old news and the situation had already been resolved.

Remind you of the situation with the NFL and the waffling about how to punish the Ray Rices and Adrian Petersons?

So I just can’t muster much surprise about the NFL’s hand-wringing over their crime-committing superstars. I’ve seen the exact same attitude in a small town, where the stakes were much, much lower. Of course no public school district would ever be able to throw millions of dollars around on advisory panels and attorneys to protect their athletes like the NFL does. But in the case of the three high school students I’m talking about, that wasn’t even necessary. After all, the entire town was willing to look the other way.

So yes, the NFL has a problem. But is it a problem limited to football? Baseball players are willing to poison themselves with steroids. Racehorse owners inject injured equines with painkillers before races. Cyclists like Lance Armstrong are so anxious to keep their doping a secret that they’ll throw everyone they know to the wolves before they admit it.

Those of us who’ve played and watched sports know how thrilling it can be to win. But that thrill must be tempered, no matter what the sport.

So before we vilify the NFL for slapping the wrists of the athletes who abuse women and children, we’d do well to take a closer look at the engine that drives this troubled bus.

We can wear the names of star players on our backs, hang their photos in our cubicles at work, and get swept up in team spirit all we want to. But athletes are just people, people who are just as flawed as the rest of us. They’re not special creatures who reside on another plane of existence, no matter how much money they make, how talented they are, or how many games they win.

There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to do just about anything, whether we’re talking about lowering the boom on some misbehaving kids, taking care of our parks, or building a school.

So maybe this is a good time for the village to examine our own attitude about sports, and about winning. Pro sports don’t exist in a vacuum; the games happen in front of an audience.

And that audience is us.

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Achieving Grapeness

by on Sep 17, 2014

One of the best things about our house is our back deck, which features two vigorous Concord grapevines. This time of year, when the grapes are getting ripe, the whole backyard smells like a giant popsicle.

There are some downsides to grapevine ownership, however, particularly when they hang over an entrance to your home and Concord grape juice gets tracked in onto the carpeting by the resident barbecue chef and felines alike.
Last year I had the bright idea of thinning the grape clusters early, when the “grapes” were just tiny green florets. This year, I forgot all about my bright idea. Now, I have a veritable Niagra Falls of grapes on the trellis above said deck. A grape drape, if you will.

Grape curtain

You have to admit it does look like a drape.

So I suggested making some grape juice this year, and enlisted one of my sons (fortunately, the one who likes to cook) to help me thin the herd. I didn’t want to can the juice or save gallons of it…I just wanted to enjoy some grapes without the seeds. (No matter how good Concords smell, they’re very difficult to eat “around” the seeds inside.)

So N. and I spent a very sticky half-hour picking about 20 pounds of grapes. Unlike my 6’5 kid, I had to stand on a kitchen chair, which was shortly covered with juice from falling/dropped (and stepped-on) grapes. Picking grapes (at least a lot of grapes) is a fairly disagreeable project, thanks in part to the numerous earwigs and spiders that make their home in grapevines and the complete lack of pruning/training on our vines (my idea of “training” the vines is to stuff them back up through the overhead trellis all summer long).

Spider

Lest you think I was exaggerating about the spider part.

N. pointed out that I should take my shoes off and pick barefoot (like he was doing) and just rinse my feet off afterward. I was reluctant (thanks to the aforementioned spiders and earwigs) but eventually gave in. After all, grape stompers do it barefoot, right?

N picking

This handsome devil is well-equipped for overhead grape-picking.

So eventually we culled our sticky, insect-laden box of grapes down to a large, sticky insect-laden mixing bowl of the best-looking grapes.

Rinsing in bowl

Washing the grapes…otherwise known as “drowning the earwigs.”

Next came the mashing. I wanted to use my wand blender, but I guessed it would pulverize the pesky seeds… Plus I could tell N. was totally up for the mashing. He had looked up two grape juice recipes and determined that the “mash” was supposed to cook for about ten minutes.

On the stove

“Why the cooking?” I asked. “To make sure all the earwigs are dead?”

“I think it’s supposed to pasteurize it,” N. said.

“Because pasteurized earwigs taste better than non-pasteurized earwigs,” I muttered.

“Mom, I rinsed these off. No earwigs.”

Using a bowl

N. figured out a bowl worked a lot better for pushing the mash through the strainer than the wooden spoon I’d picked out. On the plus side, my blah-looking wooden spoon has now been dyed an exciting purple color.

We noticed during the cooking process that the mash became much purpler as the skins broke down and lent their pigment to the juice. So maybe that’s why the recipes require cooking.

Next came the straining part. N. wound up using a clean bowl to press the mash through a fine sieve. As N had suspected, we didn’t wind up with much juice.

But what juice we got was beautiful and full-bodied, although the tannins from the skins (and the seeds, and probably a few stems) gave the juice a surprisingly dry mouth-feel, even after we added a little sugar. I was expecting the juice to taste like a stronger version of the Welches brand concentrate stuff I drank growing up, but our homemade juice tastes a lot more like virgin red wine than a kids’ drink.

Grape drink

Virgin wine” with a little “virgin” mint sprig. Professional food photographers don’t eat and drink what they’re taking pictures of. Good thing I’m not a professional. (The glass was originally a little fuller than this at the start of the shoot.)

My guess is that “real” grape juice makers may strain some of the seeds and skins out before they cook their mash. Winemakers often talk about the astringency of wine, which stems (ha ha, no pun intended) directly from the tannins…which bind to your saliva and “precipitate” it out. Mmmm. Pucker up.

So there you have it…if you’re the lucky owner of a grape drape, you might try making a little “virgin vino” this fall yourself.

N holding grapes

This may look like an artful photo, but what I was really trying to capture were the 17,000 or so earwigs living inside this one grape cluster. (There is a reason why this is N.’s hand and not the *ahem* more squeamish photographer’s.)

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The things we do for a good picture

by on Sep 12, 2014

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Photos by Jenny Dagdagan

The photos Jenny Dagdagan took of apple crumble for this edition are incredible. But once again, I’m reminded of how a finished product — whether it’s a photo, a story or an entire magazine — leaves the story of its making unsaid. So every once in a while, we like to give readers a peek “behind the scenes.”

The last time I wrote about a photo shoot, the subject was a death-defying (read: slightly steep) hike to capture images of rock climbers. Food shoots like this one, while not dangerous, can be just as nerve-wracking.

When friends learn I’m doing a food shoot, they usually talk about how lucky I am to be able to cook “on the job.” Let me tell you folks: the novelty wears off. First of all, food photography is a highly specialized field; photographers and stylists can spend thousands of dollars on courses that teach tricks on how to use lighting, textiles and raw ingredients to achieve that perfect shot. National magazines have national-sized budgets that can buy all manner of props and labor in the form of professional stylists. Yakima Magazine has me and Elly: cooks, stylists, buyers and cleaner-uppers. I’m thankful for my very able and talented photographers, who capture amazing photos of food with natural talent. What they do is exceptional.

Now for the cobbler. It looks pretty good, huh? Although the photos appear in the Sept/Oct edition of the magazine, they were taken on one of the hottest days in a ridiculously hot July (remember all the complaining we did six weeks ago?). We had postponed the shoot two weeks, hoping for a relief from those constant 100+ degree days, but relief didn’t come. To make things worse, the air conditioning in our “test kitchen” (my kitchen) had been running at half-mast, which when combined with ovens baking and a stove top on high, made for a nice balmy environment. Bring on the ice cream!

We started at 7 p.m., so the lighting would be slightly dim, but the cooking started much earlier, about 2 p.m. Now cooking a cobbler for a potluck or a dinner party — no problem. Cooking a cobbler (plus another, plus cobbler ice cream) for a photo shoot is an entirely different process. I don’t have the budget or the time for a do-over, so it needs to look pretty darn good the first time through. And if it doesn’t — then you just have to deal. We call it “make it pretty.” Often our photographers make something that’s so-so look incredible.

And sometimes they make it look magical. Like this shot that, due to the layout of the magazine as a whole, didn’t make it into the final product.

cobbler on the head

See how those lights sparkle in the background? Gorgeous, huh? What you can’t see is that the little Mason jar is actually balanced on top of a huge coffee table book … which is balanced on my head. And I am half kneeling, trying to keep perfectly still, sweating buckets, just so we could get those d&$! lights at the right level.

And then we didn’t use it.

After the work that goes into many of these photo shoots, I often wish the magazine could be triple its size to fit them all in. Chad Bremerman, a contributing photographer who’s been with the magazine since its inception, often jokes that he takes 200 pictures so I can use five. But no matter who’s taking the pictures, those five … man they’re good.

 

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