2014: A Look Back

Moving forward, looking ahead.

2014 is over. It was a good year for me. Not my best, but certainly one that finished on a very positive note. A year I can look back on and be proud of what I learned and accomplished, a year that marks the successful end of a long and bitter battle to keep what’s rightfully mine.

The Journal

Penny on the Porch
Penny the Tiny Dog lounges in the morning sun on the wrap-around porch of the house we spent the winter in.

I kept a journal for much of the year. I started it on January 1, 2014, when I was housesitting for a neighbor who was gone for the winter. He had a wonderful home and I was fortunate to be able to spend nearly three months in its comfort. Having the space to entertain friends helped me build stronger bonds with people I’ve met since relocating permanently here in Central Washington State in late May of 2013. And it was a hell of a lot warmer than my RV would have been.

This was the first time I kept a journal for any length of time. You might argue that this blog is a journal — and it is, to a certain extent. But while my blog posts cover a wide range of topics and often go into wordy detailed descriptions, my journal is brief. I wrote in it every morning throughout the spring, set it aside during the summer, and then opened it again in the fall. I wrote my last entry in the 2014 edition this morning and will start my 2015 book tomorrow.

Each entry is limited to one double-sided page, forcing me to keep things brief. I often refer to blog posts for more detail. My journal entries include a lot of thoughts and feelings that I don’t include in my very public blog. 2014 took up 1-1/3 blank books. Red ones — I really do like red. 2015’s first book will be black because that’s the color I found on sale.

The benefit of this and other journals I’ve kept in the past: I can go back and refer to them to see what was going on during a specific time in my life. This is especially important these days, when I’m trying so hard to discard painful memories from my wasband’s betrayal and the very bitter divorce that followed it. Writing things down gets them on paper and out of my head. Later, when I’m fully healed, I can go back and revisit them with the 20-20 vision of hindsight.

I’ll consult that journal as I write up this year in review.

Travel

I didn’t do much traveling in 2014, although I really enjoyed the few trips I took.

The big trip was to California’s Central Valley. For the second year in a row, I had a frost control contract with the helicopter. Unlike the 2013 contract the 2014 contract paid a much higher standby fee but required me to live in the area with the helicopter. So just as I’d moved the helicopter and my RV seasonally to Washington state for cherry drying when I lived in Arizona, in February 2014, I moved the helicopter and my RV to the Sacramento area of California for frost control.

Hamming it Up
Penny and I, hanging out at George’s hangar at the airport.

I made some new friends down there — it’s amazing how easy it is to make friends when you’re alone and don’t have to humor a companion who doesn’t seem interested in meeting anyone new. George, a fellow pilot, and Becky, who managed the airport where Penny and I lived, became part of my life for the two months I was there. George and I spent a lot of time flying both his gyroplane and my helicopter. We took my helicopter out to San Carlos Airport for a test flight in an Enstrom 480 and a visit to the Hiller Aviation Museum, where we got a great private tour.

Maria and George in the Cockpit
Here I am with George, sitting in the cockpit of a 747 on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum.

Hot Air Balloon
The hot air balloon flight comped to me by the pilot was one of the highlights of the trip. I hope to return the favor this spring when I go back.

Other things I did in California: during February, March, and April: hot air balloon flight over the Central Valley, wine tasting with visiting Washington friends in Napa Valley, several “joy flying” flights over Napa Valley and the Sutter Buttes, whale watching at Point Reyes, a visit to Muir Woods, kayaking with the members of the Sacramento Paddle Pushers group in the American River, paddling at Lake Solano, and a visit to the food truck extravaganza in downtown Woodland. I also got to see my friend Rod, who lives in Georgetown, and Shirley, who lives in Carmichael. I really like the area I stayed in and hope that this year’s contract lets me base the helicopter at the same airport.

Penny on the Kayak
Penny keeps watch in the kayak’s bow as we head back down the American River in Sacramento with new friends. Not sure why I didn’t blog about this trip; I have tons of photos to share.

I went to the Santa Barbara area of California three times in 2014 to record courses for Lynda.com. In February, I took Penny with me and recorded Up and Running with Twitter, a brand new version of my extremely popular Twitter course. I went back in May, without Penny, to record Word 2013 Power Shortcuts and Up & Running with Meetup. I returned yet again in October to record Word 2013: Creating Long Documents. The first time, I stayed at a hotel in Carpinteria that I didn’t particularly care for. But on the next two trips, I stayed at my preferred hotel on the harbor at Ventura in my “usual room” with harbor view and jacuzzi tub. I really enjoy my trips to Lynda. I work extra hard while I’m there so I finish early and get to enjoy a day at the beach.

Harbor View
The view from my usual room in Ventura isn’t too shabby.

I got to visit the San Juan Islands twice this year. The first time was for a week-long vacation at my friend Steve’s house on Lopez Island. I blogged extensively about that great trip. The second time was for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with my friend Bob at Friday Harbor, which I also blogged about. I really like the islands but could never full-time live on that side of the Cascades: too much dreary weather. I was lucky at Lopez Island; the weather was very good all week.

My final trip of the year was my annual Christmas trip to Winthrop for cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley. I haven’t blogged about that trip yet but I hope to find time to do so. The Winthrop/Mazama area is the largest cross-country ski area in the country, with hundreds of miles of groomed trails. I feel extremely fortunate to have such a great place to ski only 100 miles from my home.

Off to go Skiing
Penny and I went skiing over the Christmas holiday for the second year in a row.

Trips planned for 2015 include Arizona and California this spring. My autumn and winter travel schedules are still up in the air.

The Big Project

Backhoe
Jeff of Parkway Excavating rolled down my driveway on April 24 to begin prepping the building pad.

When I returned to Washington after frost season, I started the biggest project of my life: the construction of my new home. Earth work on my lot began in April and construction began soon afterward, continuing through the end of June. The building, which would house all of my possessions — including my helicopter, RV, Jeep, Honda car, and Ford truck, jet boat, motorcycle, and ATV — is a pole building I designed with the assistance of the good folks at Western Ranch Buildings in East Wenatchee. With a total of about 4,000 square feet, 1,200 of which is dedicated to living space, it features a four-car garage, an RV garage big enough for my helicopter and fifth wheel RV, a shop area, comfortable one-bedroom home, and a wrap around deck with windows to take in the amazing views of the Wenatchee Valley.

Roofing
They began roofing the building on June 10.

Electrician
Yes, this is me dressed up for electrical work: toolbelt, kneepads, and warm clothes. Heat is on but without insulation, the building still gets pretty chilly.

Because I was paying cash for the building and because I was interested in saving as much money as possible, I became not only the building’s designer but also the general contractor and electrician. (I was going to do the plumbing, too, but a local plumber offered me a deal that was too good to pass up.) Because my flying work is seasonal and my writing work is flexible, I had no real trouble getting the work done. I did pause in the autumn after getting the framing and roof insulation done, but decided in November to forego a lengthy trip to California and Arizona for the winter months and go full throttle to finish it up as quickly as possible.

What’s done? The building’s entire shell, including concrete floor is done. All doors and windows are installed. My vehicles, including my helicopter RV, are safely tucked inside for the winter. My shop and RV have all utility services. The living space is framed, the furnace and air handler for my HVAC system are installed and running, the ceiling has its first layer of insulation. The electrical system in the garage and living space are about 80% done.

What’s coming up? The plumber comes next week and, if all goes well with the wiring, I’ll get through the inspections needed to close up the walls by January 15. Then I’ll get the insulation and drywall done and the main space painted. The floors go in next. My appliances, custom kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, freestanding soaking tub, glass block shower walls, and many light sconces are on order and will begin arriving as soon as next week. Cabinets will be installed in mid February, appliances at February month-end, and countertops sometime before the middle of March. In the meantime, I’ll put down my deck and the rails around it. At this point, there’s a very real possibility that I’ll be able to move into my new home by March month-end.

If you’ve never built your own home, you likely have no idea what a joy and trial it is. This is, by far, the most challenging thing I’ve ever attempted. It’s a real pleasure — despite the occasional difficulties — to be able to make my own decisions on every aspect of the project without having to wait for a risk adverse, indecisive, and, frankly, cheap partner to weigh in with his decisions. And I cannot begin to describe how rewarding it is to look around what I’m building and know that it came from my mind, my heart, and my hard work.

I’ll continue to blog about the project throughout the coming year.

Other Accomplishments, Activities, New Hobbies

I got the year off to a slow start, not really doing much of anything new. I guess the biggest deal in the spring was learning to fly a gyroplane and soloing in about 7 hours. George taught me in his little Magni M-16 Gyroplane and it was a blast.

Solo Flight
George snapped this photo of me as I taxied off the runway after my first solo flight.

In the spring, when I returned from California, I built a chicken coop and, with the help of some friends, built a secure chicken yard for my flock of six hens. They laid eggs — about three dozen a week! — starting in October and only just slowed down production for the winter. I also had the opportunity to help out at a chicken slaughter.

For the first time in at least 10 years I had a vegetable garden. I planted Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, melons, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, corn, and herbs. Most of my garden occupied pots and raised garden planters I made out of pallets.

I also kept up with my beekeeping activities. I caught a swarm again this year and assisted another beekeeper on a swarm capture. By the end of the season, I had seven hives and had harvested another 3 gallons of honey. I also began selling honey in boutique packaging at local wineries. And I took a mead-making course and put up my first gallon of mead.

Pendant
Here’s one of my upcycled pendants, created from clear and blue wine bottle glass.

At the end of the summer, I purchased a very small kiln and began doing warm glass projects that upcycled wine bottles into Christmas tree ornaments and jewelry. I began making some of these items available for sale online.

I also stayed pretty active locally during the year, going on multiple hikes, boat trips, paddling trips, and Jeep trips with friends. I took over a Meetup group I belonged to and met a bunch of great people on activities with the group.

Friends

I didn’t realize how many good friends I’d made in the area until I had my moving party on June 28. I sent out invitations in email and on paper and on Facebook and Twitter. The party would be two parts: a moving party that started at my hangar and a pot luck barbecue at my mostly completed home. I honestly didn’t expect more than maybe 20 people to show up with only handful for the move. If I got my furniture moved, I’d be thrilled — I could always fetch the boxes myself.

But the attendance — especially at the hangar — blew me away. At least two dozen people showed up there with pickup trucks. One even brought a large horse trailer. Within 2 hours everything in the hangar was loaded up and we were on our way across the river to Malaga. They unloaded even quicker — almost before I realized what was happening. Then they brought out their pot luck dishes and we partied. I think the final party attendance was close to 50.

My social life here in Washington is amazing. If I wanted to, I could do something with friends every day or evening. Wine tasting, boating and paddling, hiking, Jeeping, dinner, movies, parties — there’s no end to it. On some days, I have to choose between activities or squeeze multiple activities with different people into my day. I’ve never been so active with other people. I love it — especially since these are all great, friendly, generous people who like me for who I am.

And yes, I’m dating, too. But not much, and that’s by choice. I’m extremely picky about starting a relationship with a man. I’d rather live life alone than live it with the wrong man again.

Flying Work (and Play)

In addition to the very lucrative frost contract I had in California in early spring, I had my best cherry drying season ever. In 2014, during the “crunch period” of mid June to mid July, I had three other pilots working with me to cover the acreage I was under contract for. I think we did a remarkably good job providing service for my clients in the Quincy and Wenatchee areas. There wasn’t quite as much rain as there was in 2013, but with more acreage to cover — almost 350 acres at one point! — the standby pay made our dedication to staying in the area worthwhile.

I did some charter work during the season, including a winter video shoot for one client that included air-to-air footage of the historic Miss Veedol airplane and an interesting dawn shoot over the Wenatchee Symphony Orchestra playing at Ohme Gardens. The Miss Veedol footage was only part of the aerial footage shot from my helicopter that appeared in the first We Are Wenatchee video. I also did two amazing Seattle video shoots — at sunset and dawn the following day — as well as a video flight up the Duwamish Waterway and Green River to its source near the base of Mt. Rainier. It’s flights like these that make me so glad I became a helicopter pilot.

We are Wenatchee from Voortex Productions on Vimeo.

Although one of my big charter clients wound up opening its own flight department with a leased helicopter and full-time pilot, I still did a bunch of charter work for them, flying management team members to various orchards throughout Central Washington State — and even to Seattle. They’ll continue to use my services on an as-needed basis during the busy season, as long as it doesn’t conflict with my cherry drying work.

Other interesting flights include a handful of wine tasting flights, a flight to the Slate Peak communication facility, a pollination flight, and two Santa flights. And, of course, I can’t forget my flight to and from Lopez Island and the flight around the San Juan Islands I took with my friend Steve. Or those Napa Valley flights. Or the flight for a hamburger at Blustery’s Drive In in Vantage.

Landing Zone Closeup
There was still snow atop Slate Peak in May 2014.

Writing Work

Although writing accounts for only a small part of my income these days, I did do a significant amount of writing work. In addition to the four video courses I authored for Lynda.com (mentioned earlier), I also began writing articles for Lynda.com’s blog.

I also made a new writing contact. Beginning in January 2015, my articles about flying helicopters will begin appearing on AOPA’s Hover Power blog. You’ll find my bio on the About the Authors page there. I’m extremely pleased to be writing about helicopters for an audience beyond blog readers.

As for my blog, it’s readership has pretty much doubled over the past year. I now consistently get between 1,000 and 2,000 page hits each day with visitors from all over the world.

My divorce book, which I blogged about back in April 2013 — has it been that long? — is still being written. I can’t finish it until the divorce bullshit is finally over.

The Divorce Bullshit

A lot of people don’t realize that even though my divorce was finalized in July 2013, it wasn’t over. Not only did my wasband appeal the judge’s decision, but he refused to comply with court orders regarding refinancing our house, which he received in the settlement, and paying me what he owed me. So legal action dragged on throughout the end of 2013 and into much of 2014.

My poor wasband — and yes, I do pity him a lot more than I probably should — got a lot of bad advice from friends and family members. If he’d accepted my very generous original settlement offer — proposed back in November or December of 2012 — he could have saved well over $100K in legal fees and could have kept the house for about 1/5 of its market value, including most of the furniture and other items I would have left behind. And we both could have gotten on with our lives with a minimum of bad feelings. But he took that bad advice, which gave him the idea that he had some sort of legal claim over the business I’d begun building long before we were married and all the assets that went with it. Even when the judge decided he didn’t, more bad advice convinced him to appeal. The appeals court, which handed down its decision just before Thanksgiving, agreed entirely with the original judge. In other words, he lost the appeal.

The result: more than two years of our lives wasted, a life-long friendship shattered with a lot of bad feelings, and more money than I’d like to think about thrown away on legal fees. He could have gotten rid of me — and kept the paid-for house! — for $50K. Instead, it’ll wind up costing him over $200K (including legal fees) and he has to sell the house to pay me. That’s gotta hurt.

My only consolation is that his stupidity and greed cost him far more than it cost me. I’ll recover from the financial setback of the legal battle, mostly because I know how to live within my means and I have substantial retirement investments. My home will be fully paid for within a few years, leaving me as debt-free and financially secure as I was before this all started.

Of course, I’ll actually be far better off than before this started because I won’t be dragged down emotionally by a lying loser incapable of making decisions or taking measured risks to move forward in life.

Solstice
Here’s the note I burned on the yule log at a solstice party — I want to leave this burden behind forever.

And that’s what 2014 has shown me: the 29-year relationship with the man I loved was holding me back, preventing me from moving forward to achieve lifestyle goals and dreams. I thought I shared goals with the man I loved but in the end it was all a lie — he just pretended during those last few years to be on the same page with me to keep the status quo he so loved. He sucked away my self-esteem by blaming me for our dismal social life and making me feel unwelcome in the home he claimed to want to share with me. It wasn’t until he freed me that I regained the self-esteem he’d sucked out of me and I began to move forward with life again.

I’ve accomplished more in 2014 than I had since I married in 2006. I achieved more goals, I made more friends, I learned more things. I stopped waiting for a partner to run out of excuses to hold us back and I began living life again. And believe me, living life alone sure beats the hell out of living life chained to a sad sack old man.

I only wish I’d made the break sooner, before we were married, before he lost his mind and soul. It would have been nice to remain friends with someone I really cared about.

In the meantime, I’m waiting for the house to be sold by a court-appointed master so I can get paid and do my best to put this this nightmare behind me.

After I finish my divorce book.

Looking Forward

2015 promises to be a great year. I have my big construction project to finish up, more writing work ahead of me, and a healthy helicopter charter business to nurture and built. I have more friends than I’ve ever had in my life — good, reliable friends eager to get together for all kinds of fun and even help me make my dreams realities. I have hobbies and interests to keep me busy and plenty of free time to explore them. Best of all, I’m living in a magnificent place that’s full of beauty and life and opportunities for outdoor activities.

Tail Shot
Isn’t it beautiful here?

I’m alive and loving life again.

Happy New Year.

Thanksgiving at Friday Harbor

New friends and great food on a busy weekend.

Since I live so far from family, I’ve gotten into the habit of spending Thanksgiving with friends. Although I got four Thanksgiving invitations this year — thanks, everyone! — I accepted the one I got first, well over a month ago: to accompany my friend Bob to Friday Harbor for Thanksgiving at his friends’ home.

The Trip Out

Friday Harbor is on San Juan Island at the very northwest corner of Washington State. It’s so far north, in fact, that it’s north of the lower end of Canada’s Vancouver Island. Getting there requires a 3-hour drive to Anacortes followed by a 1+-hour ferry ride — and that’s if Route 2 through Stevens Pass is clear and open. If Stevens is closed, add another hour to get through Blewett and Snowqualmie passes on Route 97 and I-90. Back in August, when I spent a week with a friend out at Lopez Island, I’d elected to take the helicopter out to avoid the long drive. But in winter, that didn’t seem like a reasonable possibility given the usual low clouds over the Cascades and real possibility of bad weather so I didn’t even suggest it.

San Juan Island on Map
San Juan Island is the farthest west island on this map, which also shows the mainland to the east. The black line you can see in the left top and bottom of this image is the U.S.-Canada Border.

Penny and I packed up on Wednesday and spent the night at Bob’s house. We were making an early start to catch the 8:30 ferry out of Anacortes and Bob wanted to leave at 4 AM. It was my job to keep track of the conditions in the passes so we could pick an appropriate route. WADOT offers a wealth of information about its highways and passes on its Website, including up-to-the-minute pass information and webcams. Fortunately Stevens looked good so we headed out the most direct route in Bob’s pickup. Although I’d offered to take my 4WD pickup on the trip — its tires had less than 5,000 miles on them — Bob had prepped his 2WD pickup with a set up studded snow tires, just in case weather turned bad along the drive.

Penny and Bob’s dog, Skip, settled down in the back seat for the long drive. There was no one on the road. Well, no one going our direction, anyway. We did pass a few cars coming east on Route 2. The road was clear and dry and other than a few foggy areas, easy to drive. Crossing Stevens Pass was a non event and we headed down the west side, still in the dark. The days here are short this time of year and it wasn’t until we got near I-5 that it started getting light.

We stopped for coffee at one of Washington’s ubiquitous drive-up coffee stands — honestly, how do coffee-drinking people live without these? While I chatted with the girl at the window — who was working a 6:10 AM on Thanksgiving Day, mind you — Bob took the dogs for a quick walk. Before leaving, I thanked the girl for being there and gave her a big tip to really show my appreciation. The eggnog latte was good and hot.

We stopped at Safeway in Anacortes before getting on the ferry queue. We’d brought along the fixings for quiche — 15 eggs from my chickens, along with chopped ham and scallions from Bob’s fridge — but needed a pie crust, cheese, and half-and-half. I ran in to get all these things while Bob waited with the dogs. I also bought a small Poinsettia for our hosts. I hate going anywhere empty handed — not that we were going empty-handed. In addition to our quiche ingredients, I’d brought 2 bottles of wine, a bottle of local hard cider, and a jar of honey and Bob had brought 6 bottles of Martinelli’s sparkling cider in two flavors. We had a cooler and a box full of goodies in addition to our luggage.

Inside the Ferry
Inside the ferry to Friday Harbor.

The wait for the ferry wasn’t long, but we did have time to get out and stretch our legs with the dogs one more time. Then we loaded up with the rest of the cars, winding up in the middle of the main deck on the Elwha. We hung around in the truck for a while, then went upstairs to take in the view of the islands as we sailed past. By then, it was fully light out, but overcast. The ferry boat moved along at a good clip and I used Google Maps on my phone to identify the islands as we zipped past them.

Another Ferry
Our ferry boat wasn’t the only one on the water that gray morning.

Ferry View
A look back down the deck of the ferry.

Thanksgiving Day with Friends

The ferry was an express that stopped at Friday Harbor and Sidney, B.C. only. We got into Friday Harbor just before 10 AM. From there, it was a short drive to Liz and Brad’s house on 20 acres. I think they were surprised to see us so early. Liz was just putting in the turkey.

The Pond
The pond behind Liz and Brad’s house shortly after Penny chased away all the ducks.

Bob and Skip
Bob and Skip pose for a photo at American Camp. Skip seems more interested in what Penny is doing than the camera.

After quick introductions, we established that Bob was hungry and Liz and Brad had already eaten. So Bob and I headed back out to find some breakfast in town. We wound up at a bustling local market, which was just the kind of upscale small supermarket I love, and ate breakfast sandwiches on the tailgate of Bob’s truck. Then we drove around the island to kill some time. We wound up taking a walk out at a place called American Camp, the site of an almost-war back in the 1800s. It was a good opportunity for the dogs to run around. By that time, the sky had cleared and it was becoming a beautiful day. We got as far south as the lighthouse I’d flown over back in August before heading back to the house.

The Turkey
The turkey tasted as yummy as it looked here.

Back at Liz and Brad’s house, we relaxed while the turkey cooked. Liz and I popped open that bottle of hard cider and drank almost all of it before the other guests began arriving. And there were a lot of guests. Soon the house was crowded with adults and young people drinking cider and wine and munching on crab dip, salmon spread, and hummus, chatting and having a good time.

Party Time
I took a break to snap this photo, not realizing that only half the guests had arrived at this point.

Brad carved the turkey and Liz set up a buffet line at her kitchen island. Soon, 15 of us were sitting at a pair of tables put together on an angle to fit in the dining room. The food was great — as you’d expect a Thanksgiving dinner to be — and there was a ton of it. Fortunately, I was boxed into my seat so I couldn’t easily get up for seconds. I made up for that by trying both the homemade cheese cake and apple pie for dessert.

Cleanup went quickly with so many people helping and about half of us went into the living room to watch the football game. The local team, the Seattle Seahawks, were playing the San Francisco 49ers — the perfect game for a Washington crowd. The game had started about a half hour before and Brad had DVRed it so he could fast-forward through all the commercials. I settled down on the floor with Penny on my lap. But since I’d been up since 2:30 AM — thanks to Penny needing to take a pee at Bob’s house — I was exhausted and fell asleep. I missed most of the game but woke up at the end to find the Seahawks victorious again.

The guests left in small groups after that. Soon it was just Liz, Brad, Bob, and me. We cleaned up a bit more, then retired to sleeping quarters. Penny and I were staying in the “craft room,” which was where Liz does her quilting and Brad builds large scale radio controlled airplanes that he flies on a grass strip in his back yard. The walls of the room were covered with quilts and Brad’s photos of wildlife and airplanes.

Craft Room
One of Brad’s projects in the craft room.

Black Friday — without Shopping

I slept reasonably well, waking up only once to wonder where I was. Hearing noise outside my room, I put on my slippers to join Liz while Penny went looking for and eventually found Skip. Soon Liz and Bob and I were drinking coffee while I was whipping up two quiches — one with cheddar and the other with mozzarella. I was horrified to see that I’d bought fat-free half-and-half — I mean, what’s the point, right? — but that quiche turned out just as good as the one I made with Liz’s regular half-and-half. The three of us polished off a whole quiche. Brad missed out; he had to go to work.

Afterwards, we dressed and went out for a drive in Bob’s car. It was cloudy again and cool. Liz took us to see the lavender farm, which was closed, and a handful of parks. Then we drove up to the top of a ridge where some private developer had tried (and failed) to sell 20-acre parcels that were virtually unbuildable for $210K+ each. The land now belonged to the San Juan County Land Bank, which buys up land in the area to prevent development. In the future, it would be a park with trails. We drove through Roche Harbor, where I’d flown in by helicopter for dinner with my friend Don years ago, and then headed back to Friday Harbor.

Back in town, we met up with Liz’s son Chris, his wife Kelly, and their two kids at a local holiday market. There were about 30 artists and other vendors there, selling their wares. It was refreshing to attend one of these that wasn’t full of the same southwestern stuff I’d seen over and over in Arizona when I lived there. I bought a beeswax lip balm and some locally sun-dried sea salt. I was sorely tempted by some wall sculptures, but held back by my new rule: No buying anything for my home until it’s done.

Afterwards, we went with Chris and Kelly to a house Chris and his partner are refurbishing. (Chris is a carpenter.) Originally built in the 1940s, it’s a small place with a lawn that goes down to the harbor and has the added luxury of its own boat dock. With lots of trees on its end-of-road lot, it was a pleasant location. They’d gutted the house and rebuilt it from the inside out. Although they’d been working on it for about 16 months, they were still at least a few months from completion. I looked around and got some ideas for wood trim around my windows and flooring. The countertop material, PaperStone, was amazing and I will definitely check it out for my own kitchen countertops.

From there we went back to Roche Harbor to look at another house that Brad is overseeing the construction of. This was an upscale home, 3800 square feet, with vaulted ceilings, sweeping staircases, and lots of extras. Pretty amazing for a 2-bedroom home. The two projects — Chris’s and Brad’s — couldn’t be any more different. Here, I took mental notes on the great room’s ceiling, which was tongue-and-groove cedar planks, and bathroom tile work. I also liked the track lighting, which I’d already decided to use in my hallway, which would double as a photo gallery. The home’s owner was there, fiddling around with his computer and the various light switches that made up his smart home system. Although I plan to include some smart home accessories in my place, I don’t expect to do it to the extent that he did.

Loft Ladder
I shot this photo of the ladder to the loft in Chris’s house so I could remember some of its details. My home also has a loft — mostly for storage — and I’ve been thinking of how it could be easily reached from below.

We headed back to Liz’s house and took it easy for a while, just chatting in the kitchen over tea. Later, when Brad got home from work, we headed out to Chris’s house for a taco dinner. His family lives in an expanded cabin at the end of a long, steep dirt road. We arrived and departed after nightfall, so I didn’t get a chance to really see it. But it was cosy inside, with an eat-in kitchen, sunken living room, and wood-burning fireplace. After dinner, I got so comfortable on the sofa that I almost fell asleep again.

The Trip Home

We were up at 5 on Saturday, packing up for the trip home. Bob wanted to get on the 8 AM ferry and we’d been advised to get the car on line by 6:45 at the latest. We headed out there and got the first spot in lane 3, then walked up to The Hungry Clam, which was already almost full by then. Apparently, the place exists for ferry traffic meals. Liz and Brad joined us for a big farewell breakfast.

Outside, it was very cold and very windy. There were whitecaps on the harbor. We paid the bill just as the ferry rounded the corner and headed into the dock. We said our goodbyes with a lot of hugs and promises by Liz and Brad to come see us on “the dry side,” then hurried down to the truck. Poor Penny and Skip needed a lot of hugging and rubbing to warm up!

Because the second car in line 1 was empty and there was a truck in line 2, the ferry loaders waved us aboard as the second car on the boat. This positioned us right at the front — although they didn’t load us all the way to the line. (It later became apparent why they didn’t have us drive up closer to the edge.) Ahead of us, the water was more than a little choppy and the wind was mostly blowing right in. I got out to take a photo closer to the edge and thought I was going to get blown away.

Choppy Water
I got got right up to the pedestrian rope to take this shot. It was wicked windy and cold!

We stayed in the car for the whole trip, mostly so we could periodically start it and warm it back up for the dogs. I was glad we did. The water got progressively rougher as we got closer to Anacortes. About 30 minutes out, a loudspeaker warned of the rough ride ahead. The boat rolled in the waves and we could clearly hear waves breaking across its side. Occasionally, the front end would dip down just enough to send a wave of water onto the deck. One wave came so far into the boat that it splashed the hood of the truck. There was water sloshing around all over the deck. Several of the chocks the loaders had placed around the front tires of the cars at the head of the lines got loose and washed back and forth. I think a few might have gone overboard.


This minute-long video gives you an idea of what we experienced. A larger wave than these washed over the hood of our truck, which was at least 50 feet back from the bow. You can see Mount Baker in the distance throughout much of this video.

After hearing about so many ferry accidents overseas, I admit that I was more than a little nervous — especially when the captain kept cutting power to slow us down more and more. But then we got closer to Anacortes and the water calmed a bit. Soon we were pulling into the dock and the crew was moving the ramp into position. I was very glad when Bob steered us off the boat and onto dry land.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of our homeward bound adventure. All morning long, I’d been checking conditions in the passes. Stevens Pass, our preferred route, was reporting 24° with compact snow on the roadway and snow falling. Restrictions were “traction tires advised, oversized vehicles prohibited.” But things were worse at Snowqualmie: falling snow, areas of low visibility, and chains required. It looked as if Stevens would be our route.

All around us was fresh snow that had likely fallen overnight. It was beautiful to see — I don’t think they usually get much snow on the Seattle side of the mountains. There were a lot of cars on the road, too, but not enough to make what I’d consider “traffic.” We got on Route 2 eastbound and stopped at the Sultan Bakery for some baked goods to snack on along the way. One more stop at a park-and-ride nearby for the dogs to take a break. Then back on the road for our climb up into the mountains.

Soon it was snowing on us. The road looked remarkably as it had in the webcam photos I’d studied all morning on my phone: covered with snow with just patches of pavement showing through. Bob’s studded snow tires came in handy as we followed the other cars up the mountain. Snow fell all around us. I was glad Bob was driving. I absolutely detest highway driving in the snow.

Snow on Highway 2
Snow on Highway 2 on our way to Stevens pass and beyond.

We were both very surprised to see most of the cars turn into Stevens Pass ski resort, which I didn’t realize was open. The road was worse on the west side of the pass, but soon cleared up, although snow continued to fall past Coles Corner. By the time we got to Leavenworth, it was mostly sunny — a beautiful day with fresh snow on the ground and in trees. There was less snow in Wenatchee and, when Bob dropped me off at home, I estimated only about an inch of fresh stuff at my place.

I’d had a wonderful weekend away with Bob and his friends. Not only had I met some great new people, but I’d come away with a lot of new ideas for finishing my home. It was well worth the drive — and the adventure that had gone with it.