Funhouse Commons: Enriching the Children (and families) of Orcas Island

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IMG_3330_bwBy Marlis K. Sandwith

When I was living on San Juan Island, and my oldest son was still a small one, I had a little case of Orcas Island Envy. The source of my envy? Orcas had the Funhouse. At that time I knew the Funhouse to be an island-size version of a children’s museum, or even a science center. It was also a place where teens could gather on weekend nights, and they reportedly had an awesome sound/recording studio, plus a very established and successful mentoring program…all created and built by the community.

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When I finally moved to Orcas Island, I had a second child, and a third on the way. Our first experiences  at the Funhouse were through the Music Together classes offered by Mary Wachter.  After my third was born, we continued classes, and my new baby girl would lie on a blanket in the middle of the circle, while the little ones and their grownups danced and sang and played music around her. My oldest son participated in running club for a season, a few teen nights here and there, and we’ve enjoyed visiting just to play a while on numerous occasions.

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Over the years, the Funhouse has changed, morphed and adapted to the community’s needs, and continues to do so even today. In 2001, their board and staff determined that they should expand their role in the community by opening up their facility, their resources and their programs to everyone. The name was formally changed to the Funhouse Commons, which is the short name for The Children’s Discovery Foundation of Orcas Island, Washington.

This past year, my family has used Funhouse Commons quite a lot. My middle son, Finn, is 7 years old. He is a very passionate and unique individual. He is smart and funny and witty, and has a near encyclopedic knowledge of a large number of animal species. However, his biggest challenge lies in the social realm. Luckily, he has had great teachers and staff at the public school the past few years to help him work through this challenge and gain new skills.

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What’s more, several months ago he began attending Funhouse Commons after school for a Pokemon club hosted there by a high schooler. After a while, Finn begged to go there a few afternoons per week, as they offer a highly used after school program. My schedule didn’t require him to be in the program, but since he was so excited about it, we tried it out, and I’m so glad we did.  I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the staff there this year. They show me time and again that they take their jobs as seriously as any teacher, and they make every effort to truly know my son, and to give him new social skills while he is in their care. Funhouse Commons is not just a childcare program for Finn; it is an extension of school, an enrichment program, and in many ways it functions a lot like the closely-knit neighborhood in which I grew up playing. For all of this, I am so grateful.

Another claim to fame of Funhouse Commons is the Annual Funhouse Science Fair, in which Finn participated this year, and it was truly inspiring to see over 100 island kids from Orcas and neighboring islands participate, plus many exhibits from community members.

I could go on and on about my appreciation for this magical place and all the many programs they offer and ways in which they contribute to our sweet community, but instead I will leave you with some photos of the Funhouse that might invite you to stop by and visit next time you’re on Orcas Island. Enjoy!

P.S. COMING UP ON JULY 4TH: THE ANNUAL EAT AND RUN 5K RUN! You can run, walk, and there is even a 1K run/walk for kids! I’ll be there helping, so please REGISTER HERE and stop by to say hello! This is a great way for the whole family to have fun while supporting such an important part of our community.

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Entryway & coatroom lets you know you are in a fun place!

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Funhouse Commons is currently undergoing an interior makeover to brighten up their huge space. This means cool pops of color in different alcoves and learning spaces.

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The Climbing Wall with cool sculptures above. Art is everywhere at the Funhouse Commons!

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The Art Yurt!

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My daughter Ada, dragging big brother Finn away from Funhouse Commons after his first day of Summer day camp. You can see he is not going willingly!

Raising kids on Orcas Island is pretty wonderful. If you want to know more about what it’s really like, I specialize in working with families. My other career was in education (you can read more about my background HERE), so I’m happy to talk schools as well.

Happy Summer!

~Marlis, Broker/Associate TWilliams Realty

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Beauty from the Trash Bin: the Refined Art of Recycling

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerPosted by Sandi Friel The Exchange Recycled Art Show on Orcas Island

Orcas Island draws many gifted, resourceful, environmentally conscious people to our little community. So events like the yearly display of art made entirely of recycled items, naturally fit the creative island vibe. The 15th annual A.R.T. (Appropriate Recycling Technology) Show kicked off last Friday at Enzo’s Café in downtown Eastsound. Aficionados gathered in the gallery/eatery raved about both the quality of the artwork and fresh pizza spread.

The 2015 Recycled Art Show on Orcas Island

Opening night at the 2015 Recycled Art Show at Enzo’s Cafe

The show’s serious side is that it’s also serving as a fundraiser to help re-build The Exchange, our sorely missed local reuse center, which we lost to an accidental fire in 2013. According to the Orcas Recycling Services team, construction plans and permits are progressing nicely, and the new Exchange is slated to reopen later this year.

Recycled Art - white wolf by Alise Antonio

A white wolf created by recycled-materials artist Elise Antonio

Past A.R.T. shows have included lots of items found at the Exchange itself. But with the Exchange temporarily out of commission, folks were encouraged to make use of what they have lying around the house. A majority of this year’s best pieces were created by recycled-materials artist Elise Antonio, from Seattle. Over the past year she’s experimented with cardboard, paper grocery bags and recycled wood. Elise uses nature as her inspiration, and I loved her white wolf!

Undersea scene - by recycled-materials artist Alise Antonio

An undersea scene, also by Elise Antonio

Other pieces were created using discarded toys and bits of what most people would consider trash. While I can’t draw, paint or carve, I have plenty of raw materials like this around the property just waiting to be recycled into something… Maybe attacking my junk drawer with a glue gun and some inspiration could create art!

Have you created anything artistic out of ordinary trash? Plan to enter it in next year’s Recycled Art Show!

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Green Goddess

teri_cropI have no patience for waiting on the greens in the garden to mature, so with a little help from my local farmer John at Maple Rock Farm, I learned to create and use some of the bounty early.

I have never been good at following recipes and measuring. Everything is done by eyeballing, more liquid or greens can be added to get consistency desired.

Parsley- Walnut Pesto

IMG_0583Fill your blender with 2 cups of chopped parsley, 1 cup chopped walnuts, 3-5 cloves of garlic.

Pour in ½ cup of good olive oil (I used Olivar De La Luna organic extra virgin). Begin blending, add more olive oil as the paste begins to pureé. You do not want it so thick you cannot get it out of the blender, but it should not be too runny.

Use a spoon and scoop into ice cube tray and freeze.IMG_0584

Once cubes are frozen solid, place the tray in a pan of hot water for a few minutes to loosen cubes of pesto, then place them on a cookie sheet to freeze hard again, then store in a container in the freezer.

When you want pesto, place a cube (or several) in a bowl and thaw to room temperature. Add hot or cold pasta and mix.

Grate parmesan cheese over pasta and mix. Do not add cheese before freezing, (it will turn into globs when heated).

Green Garlic Paste

IMG_0743Early summer-late spring, cut the garlic scape off of last year’s garlic you planted in the fall. These can be chopped and put into dressings, sauces and salads, but I like to make a garlic paste that is versatile and keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Fill blender half full of chopped garlic scapes, add ¼ cup of good olive oil and begin blending. You will add more olive oil as the combo begins to blend into a chunky paste.

 

IMG_0748This paste does not get smooth but will have texture.

Add more oil, or scapes, until you get a consistency of soft paste (if it is too thick you will not get out of the blender). Place green garlic paste in a mason jar with lid and keep in the refrigerator.

I use this as a rub on chicken; add to tomato paste-balsamic vinegar-olive oil as a marinade for beef; add to good olive oil-balsamic vinegar and salt/pepper as a salad dressing; stir into pasta; add to any dish you would add garlic to.

 

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Five Things I Love About Shaw Island

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerPosted by Sandi Friel

I admit: I lived in the San Juans for years before ever having set foot on 7.7-square-mile Shaw Island, the smallest of our ferried islands. My first introductory trip was back in 2011 when I posted a blog about missing the ferry back to Orcas. It was a whirlwind visit that showed me a few Shaw “scenes” but didn’t really give me its flavor.

That changed recently when I was invited to list a property for sale on Shaw. In getting to know the property owners and speaking to a few other residents, I’ve since become more familiar (and enamored) with this quirky island that 240 people call home. Here are a few aspects that now come to mind when I think of Shaw:

  1. Shaw Island General Store

    The tiny General Store at the ferry landing, open May through through September

    It’s quiet. Really quiet. If you really want to get away from it all, Shaw is the place for you. The fact that there are no restaurants, hotels or even a grocery store (except in the summer) keeps residents down to a minimum and tourism almost non-existent. It’s a minimalist lifestyle focused on the necessities and simple pleasures of life.

  2. 303 Copper Hill Lane, Shaw Island

    The quiet life of Shaw Island within reach: This cedar cabin on 5 acres is listed at just $299k. MLS 765069

    Remote yet connected. I’m told that the seclusion is what privacy-craving residents love most about Shaw, yet the close sense of community is also tops on their list. To get an idea of how cohesive and active this island is, visit their community website: http://shawislanders.org/

  3. Fiercely independent Shaw Islanders do their own thing. When the state wanted uniform green metal street signs posted, Shaw said ‘no thank you.’ Instead, Shaw roads are discreetly marked with rustic hand-carved wooden signs.

    Shaw Island School

    The historic Shaw Island school uses a personalized and modern approach to teaching, outfitting its students with laptops and ipads and treating them to hands-on learning and fun field trips. Learn more at http://www.shawislandschool.org/

  4. Over the years, devoted residents have created — and continue to create — unique community hubs to serve the island, Shaw style. From the all-volunteer library and log-cabin museum, to the historic little red school (longest continuing operating school in the state) and the active Community Center, energetic islanders have crafted a robust social fabric on this tiny island.
  5. This gorgeous sandy beach is part of 60-acre Shaw Island County Park, one of the nicest in the San Juans.

    This gorgeous sandy beach is part of 60-acre Shaw Island County Park, one of the nicest in the San Juans.

    The pristine south-facing County beach is a gem. Located on protected Indian Cove, the wide sandy beach leads to shallow waters that warm up enough in the summer for a brisk swim. Last time I visited, a pacific white-sided dolphin was breaching! There are also rustic campsites, so you can enjoy the beach in the moonlight.

If Shaw sounds like the type of getaway lifestyle you’re looking for, contact me! I’d love an excuse to go back over to this special island and show you around.

 

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There’s No Place Like Home

I have been dreaming all winter long of sailing off into the sunset down south in Bahamian waters. Good friends, clear-warm water and a life style to relax in and warm my soul. However, to my surprise, I found myself feeling empty. I could not put my finger on it until I was on the ferry returning to Orcas and rounded the corner at Shaw Island; the Orcas ferry landing came into sight. I missed my island life!

I’ve always had a “welcome home” feeling when getting back on island from a short trip to the mainland, but this trip took me away for three weeks. Returning, I found myself deep in amazement of life right here on this island. Life gets too busy. I had not taken the time to slow down, look around and be thankful. I had been taking my island life for granted, and in fact, had some angst about life not fulfilling my every desire. It was always right in front of me………. If I had just slowed down to look around and see how my life was filled with treasure. I did not have to sail so far away to find what was in my own back yard. Growing my own fresh food, the land around me filled with nature and family memories, work and friendships that challenge and fulfill my soul. I am so glad to be back home and will never again go looking outside my own backyard searching for my heart’s smile. Enjoy today, Teri

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Birdfest on Orcas

teri_cropBy Teri Williams

Spring is my favorite time of the year for so many reasons.

I’m back in my garden, seeds are sprouting, flowers are blooming, and birds are nesting and singing.

From hummingbirds zipping around my garden to eagles nesting across the valley, we have a huge variety of birds to appreciate.

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Get your birding book out and enjoy learning about these little chirpers! This photo was found Googling birds in the San Juan Islands.

And Orcas celebrates our feathered friends with a little help from the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the annual Birdfest, a celebration of birds! This year, the Orcas Island Birdfest runs for four days: Thursday, April 30 through Sunday, May 2.

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Sharp Shined Hawk

 

The schedule is packed with bird walks and nature tours, workshops, a fine art exhibition and scientific symposium, all focusing on the wonder of birds and grassroots solutions for maintaining healthy populations.

Even if you are not a “birder,” this is an unforgettable experience showcasing the natural splendor of the San Juan Islands.

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Hooded Mergansers at Otter’s Pond, ready to have ducklings in a month.

Grab your binoculars, pack your Birding in the San Juan Islands by Mark G. Lewis, put your hiking boots on and get ready for some local color and sound.

Wood peckers are easy to spot

Pileated woodpeckers are easy to spot.

Visit www.otterspond.com for a list of birds you can see on Orcas Island.

For information about the 2015 Birdfest and a complete calendar of events, visit  OrcasIslandBirdFest.com.

Happy Birding!

 

 

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The Incredible Edible Stinging Nettle!

122 By Mandy Randolph

Springtime on Orcas Island means nettle time! Some people only consider nettles to be those pesky weeds that cause an irritating sting when brushed up against. My students at Orcas Island Elementary School know otherwise… they know that nettles are nutritious, tasty, and free!

A fresh nettle patch growing on Orcas Island.

A fresh nettle patch growing on Orcas Island.

Nettles are low in calories, but pack in a whopping amount of iron, calcium, vitamin K, and fiber. It has long been believed that ingesting nettles can combat the symptoms of hay fever and seasonal allergies. Try drinking two cups of nettle tea a day just prior to and during your allergy season and see for yourself! You do need to be careful when gathering your nettles. Wear long sleeves and pants. Use gloves and clippers to harvest. You can take the sting away from your nettles by drying them in the sun or simply by rinsing and soaking the nettles in water. The most certain way to take away all sting is to boil briefly.

A box full of freshly harvested stinging nettles.

A box full of freshly harvested stinging nettles.

After harvesting your nettles and before eating them, you could take some time to investigate them with a magnifying glass!

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Farm to Classroom students investigating stinging nettles with magnifying glasses.

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You can enjoy nettles in many ways, in soup, tea, sauces, and stir fry. We decided to make a nettle pasta dish in Farm to Classroom last week. Here is how we made our nettle pasta.

Stinging nettle pasta!

Stinging nettle pasta!

Start by mincing garlic and sautéing it in some olive oil. 20150312_113039

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Bring a pot of water to boil and add nettles to boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Remove the nettles with a slotted spoon and chop them. Add your pasta to the same water you boiled the nettles in.

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Add the chopped nettles to your garlic and sauté. Add a few pinches of sea salt if you’d like.

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Add the cooked pasta and mix thoroughly until combined.

Fresh stinging nettle pasta.

Fresh stinging nettle pasta.

Enjoy warm or cold!

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Here is an easy way to store your extra nettles for use later. Boil, chop, squeeze out excess water and form into a ball. Freeze the nettle balls on a baking sheet and transfer to a Ziploc bag once frozen. Then you can toss a nettle ball into soup, smoothies, sauces, scrambled eggs and omelets, you name it!

A batch of "nettle balls" before they went into the freezer.

A batch of “nettle balls” before they went into the freezer.

Go ahead and try some stinging nettles. My students enjoyed them, and you may too!

Happy students enjoying stinging nettle pasta. Seconds please!

Happy students enjoying stinging nettle pasta. Seconds please!

Eat your nettles!

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Just a Simple Farm Girl

teri_cropBy Teri Williams

Sometimes I stray too far from the barn, but a day at Coffelt Farm Stand brings me right back to what really is important, family, farming and friendships.

 

Local berries make a sweet colorful gift and reminds me of kitchen time with grandma

Local berries make a sweet colorful gift and reminds me of kitchen time with grandma.

My grandparents had a dairy farm complete with chickens, horses and bottle fed calves. Grandma’s garden filled canning jars and the cellar was filled with pears, apples and plums from the orchard. These are fond memories deep in my soul. I spent many summers picking berries with grandma, never wanting to eat any so my bucket would be as full as hers. Jams and pies were  yummy results. I still remember when grandma left the pie making to me for a family gathering. Her shared crust secrets and faith in me still show in my pies today.

Grandma T's garden shares ready to eat sweet peas and the promise of greens for a meal

Grandma T’s garden shares ready to eat sweet peas and the promise of greens for a meal.

Wanting to get out of the city, I moved to Orcas Island 27 years ago with 3 sons and a desire to find my roots again. The boys are grown and raising their own families now.  It is my garden and orchard they will remember in their hearts and souls, as well as the many trips to local Orcas Island farms.

In my garden, each year I look forward to planting new things, talking to other farmers about their favorite seeds and sharing tricks to invite worms to feed the soil.  I have starts from Sid Coffelt, plum trees from my great grandma’s orchard, tomatoes from John Cadden, garlic from Mary Ann Sircely, raspberry bushes from my mom, Arlene Carlson and blueberry shrubs from Faith Deeds garden. There is much heart and soul in my garden and I dance with joy thinking about the harvest with my grand kids!!!

Brand new lambs and a proud mom

Brand new lambs and a proud mom.

The Coffelt Farm, located in Crow Valley, Orcas Island, gives tours to school children in the spring time when new born run the barn yard. This spring the farm welcomed several new piglets, lambs and a couple of calves.

Orcas Island School children enjoy a day on the farm learning about all the animals and what it means to be a farmer

Orcas Island School children enjoy a day on the farm learning about all the animals and what it means to be a farmer.

This farm girl says get busy, visit a farm, offer some volunteer time in a garden, share an afternoon canning the harvest, spend time with your grandma, bring a friend and create a memory to nourish the soul.

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Baby Boom for the San Juan Islands

Sandi FrielPosted by Sandi Friel

Orca babies, that is! This winter we’ve had three calves born to our resident pods of killer whales. Two of the calves were born to J-Pod, the group that spends the most time around the San Juan Islands. The third baby belongs to L-Pod, the largest of our three pods of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW).

Every new addition to our local pods is awesome news, because this population has been in trouble. The Southern Residents were listed under the Endangered Species Act back in 2005, but the population has continued to decline and there haven’t been any surviving calves born since 2012. So these three blushing babies (whale calves are born with a pink hue on their white parts) are most welcome.

Christmas orca calf J50

Newborn J50 with her mom, J16, and big brother, J26. Photo courtesy of Center for Whale Research.

The first calf to show up, J50, was just the Christmas present all our local orca fans were wishing for. This little one was born right around December 25th in the protected waters of East Sound. (You might remember Teri’s post reporting a sighting of the new calf during her Christmas cruise.) Making the present even better for JPod is that J50 (it’s a tough ocean out there, so baby orcas aren’t given their human nicknames until they survive a full winter) is a little girl, and this population needs all the future mommies it can get. J50’s mom is Slick (J16), who is over 40 years old!

There’s definite girl power in orca pods, as our residents live in matriarchal societies. Each pod is made up of smaller matrilineal lines led by a mother, grandmother or, as is the case with Jpod, by a great-grandmother. In J-pod, that’s J2, Granny, the best-known wild whale in the world, who researchers believe is around 104 years old!

killer whale baby J51 and mom J19

Baby J51 alongside mom. Photo courtesy of Center for Whale Research.

The next baby in this recent boom is J51, born early February somewhere in the Straight of Juan de Fuca to 36-year-old Shachi, aka J19. As of this writing, J51 hasn’t rolled over yet to give researchers a look at its belly to be able to tell if it’s a boy or girl.

And just this week, on February 23, a new L-pod calf, L121, was seen off the Oregon coast happily swimming alongside its mom, 20-year-old Calypso (L94).

L121 with mom L94

L121 spotted by NOAA Fisheries this week off of the Columbia River. NOAA’s research ship is in the background.

Three babies within just a few months is a huge deal here. The whales only give birth about once every five years, and out of our current population of 80 (a near record low), there are only a few reproductive-age males, and several of our reproductive-age females had not been having calves. Late in 2014, disaster struck the Southern Residents when Rhapsody, J32, a 20-year-old female just coming into her prime breeding years, died from a problem pregnancy.

In addition to the new calves for the Southern Residents, there has also been a baby spotted with one of the Transient pods of orcas that frequents our local waters. Though it’s tough for casual observers to tell the Residents and Transients apart—they’re all huge black-and-white members of the dolphin family—there are actually marked differences between the two types of orcas.

Orca whale spy hopping off Henry Island

My husband took this lucky “spy hop” shot from our boat last year when we were drifting off Henry Island and the orcas swam up to check us out.

Resident orcas live in much larger groups than Transients—if you’re out on the water and see more than four or five orcas together, you’re almost certainly seeing Residents, who sometimes even form Superpods when J, K and L all get together to socialize. A small group of whales seen around the San Juans could also just be one family of Residents swimming together away from the rest of the pod, but if you see them acting very stealthy then it’s more likely you’re seeing Transients.

The reason the two types of killer whales act and group differently is because they’ve evolved remarkably different cultures. Transients travel in small, stealthy groups because they’re always trying to sneak up on marine mammals like seals. Usually the only time you’ll ever see Transients leaping out of the water and doing celebratory fin slaps and tail lobs is after they’ve had a successful hunt. Fortunately for them, if there’s one animal we have plenty of in the Salish Sea it’s harbor seals, so the Transients have pretty easy hunting.

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Endangered Chinook salmon, favored fish of our Resident Orcas. Photo NOAA

Our Residents are not so lucky. They’ve evolved to eat fish, and in particular, to specialize in hunting big, fat Chinook salmon. The salmon aren’t as smart as seals, so the Residents are able to talk to each other a lot more (each pod even has its own dialect of orca language). They can also splash around more at the surface because they don’t have to worry about the fish jumping out of the water and climbing up on rocks like seals can. So salmon are easier to hunt, but that’s just the good news. The bad news is that Chinook populations have their own troubles—so much so that they’re also listed as endangered. Each one of our Resident orcas needs to catch between 100-300 pounds of sushi a day just to stay healthy, and every year there are less fish around.

Challenges in finding food is likely the main reason our Southern Resident Killer Whale population hasn’t bounced back. Scientists believe there used to be around 200 Resident orcas frequenting the Salish Sea, but that was before a bunch of them were kidnapped for aquariums. And before that, they were even hunted and considered nuisances known as Devil Fish.

So for our iconic and well-loved group of Resident orcas to suddenly jump in number from 77 to 80 is big news. Seeing wild orcas is one of the many reasons why living in the San Juan Islands is such a special privilege. We’ll all be pulling for these new babies to thrive, since they’re carrying the hope that we’ll continue to have the honor of sharing the Salish Sea with these beautiful and complex creatures for many years to come.

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Winter Football On Orcas

Kelly Koral, our Land Use Consultant, Property Manager and #12 FAN

Kelly Koral, our newest #12 FAN

By Kelly Koral

Winters can be long and gray but as Sandi Friel posted a bit ago, we get our sunshine as well. I truly enjoy all seasons here but winter is near and dear to me. That’s when I can work on my quilts without feeling guilty about yard work. I can spend hours in the kitchen cooking comfort food without overheating the house. And best of all……. FOOTBALL!!

I told WH (that’s Wonderful Husband) just the other day that I will actually be a bit  sad to see warmer, sunnier weather come along because it will mean football is over for another season.

This year not only on Orcas but the entire Northwest is absolutely besotted with the Seahawks. Everywhere you go on island the green and blue is flying. Windows are painted, flags are waving and almost every email is signed with “Go Hawks!”

This year not only on Orcas but the entire Northwest is absolutely besotted with the Seahawks. Everywhere you go on island the green and blue is flying. Windows are painted, flags are waving and almost every email is signed with “Go Hawks!”

In our small community we always gather around each other for hard times and bad times.It is absolutely wonderful to come together for something that is so fun and exciting.

 

Kelly Koral and friends in Eastsound getting ready for the BIG game !!!!

Kelly Koral and friends in Eastsound getting ready for the BIG GAME !!!!This year not only on Orcas but the entire Northwest is absolutely besotted with the Seahawks. Everywhere you go on island the green and blue is flying. Windows are painted, flags are waving and almost every email is signed with “Go Hawks!”

 

Ada Sandwith, wearing her new, Teri-Williams-made Seahawks tutu!

Ada Sandwith, wearing her new, Teri-Williams-made Seahawks tutu!

Local color from "locals" on Orcas Island

Local color from “locals” on Orcas Island

Good food, game day fun and plenty of cold beer to cheer on the Seahawks!

Good food, game day fun and plenty of cold beer to cheer on the Seahawks!

 

Today all the channels are a buzz with football lore, old players telling stories, sharing memories, reliving that last winning play, checking out uniforms, trash talking the other team, mouth watering for those wings, looking for your old ball in the closet, setting out your blue and green tutu to make a fashion statement, face paint, calling all your rowdy friends……. and that is just what is happening in my living room! Game On!!!! Gotta go :)

 

 

Check out T Williams Realty Facebook page for all the before, during and after game stories and pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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