Category Archives: Family Life

Pizza Camp

Sharing life, love and lunch.

I love Pizza – Who Doesn’t!

By Teri Williams

 

 

 

 

Ok, so I don’t need to eat more carbs, and yes we have Hogstone Pizza in town. So why, you ask, do I crave to create the best ever pizza??? Last time I was in Darville’s Bookstore I found a book about pizza titled Pizza Camp by Joe Beddin. I love to read cookbooks, especially when they have humorous commentary and throw in common sense. After reading Joe’s recipe and constitution on how and what to use to make the best-ever pie I started planning and dreaming. So let the fun begin!

I have never had any luck with yeast. So the fact that Joe’s recipe for the dough does not include warm water and is put in the fridge for 24 hours gave me even more skepticism. However, I jumped in and made the first steps towards my crusty cheesy tomato dreams. Joe’s policy for making dough: “Turn your phone off and don’t speak, this is a time to listen, for new ideas, it’s not busy, be present. Making dough should be calming, meditative and a great time to think of new ideas about pizza and life.” I spent the time to enjoy the moment and think about what my garden would provide as toppings.

Book in hand, tools in place. This is the beginning, bring on the yeast.

Love it when your work looks like it does in the book!

After the dough was in a ball and had to rest for 30 minutes, I wandered through my garden and gave thanks for being here now on Orcas Island. Second round of kneading left the yeasty ball in the fridge for 24 hours. Until tomorrow …

Garlic drying in the sun. Going to learn to braid this summer!

Basil love

The sauce. I always thought you cooked up a batch of grandma’s secret tomato sauce and let it simmer for hours on the cooktop. No, Joe says they never cook the sauce in Naples. He recommends a nice fresh and bright tomato sauce, which comes with using the right tomatoes. So I read on. Joe uses Jersey Fresh crushed tomatoes in a can. A CAN!!! Ok, I can do this, FYI- I did go to Maple Rock Farm stand down the road and purchased fresh island grown tomatoes. Just in case. Continuing to read more from Pizza Camp, I learn the canned tomatoes, garlic and salt need to sit for a few hours in the fridge to meld flavors. I found canned tomatoes at Island Market from Italy – yes in a can.

Cheese will include fresh mozzarella and a hard cheese purchased at Roses Bakery. I think I will search for some local fresh goat cheese for the next time – Wendy Thomas, I’m headed out your way soon, girl.

Now what will I choose for toppings? Well I think a simple marguerita is a must. Just cheese and fresh basil – I can do this, and get a chance to go thank my garden once again for providing me with peace of mind and room for dreaming and creating good food. I wanted something a bit more for the second disc of saucy goodness, so I pulled some local pork out of the freezer. Pizza Camp shares many styles and types of toppings, one being Pizzeria Beddin’s Sausage – perfect!

Anticipation is a wonderful thing. I could not enjoy this pizza experience by myself so made a short last minute call to Cory, Monee and Eleanor to come to Gramma T’s back yard bbq pizza oven. I believe this can work with my cast-iron flat pan. Yes, why not. Too early in the game to order a wood fired pizza oven to be constructed in my patio (save these dreams for when I am making dough).

Ju DE VIE from tasting at Doe Bay Wine Company

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This was the hardest part and I have to say, I cheated and used my Grandma’s rolling pin. Need to do some recon on what is the trick to pushing, pulling and stretching the dough.

After Notes:

You need a pizza peel. I’ll save you the details on this, just believe me. And, do not grease your pan with olive oil. Avocado oil will stand the heat much better.

The two days of planning was a tasty success. I still love pizza and am already dreaming up the next PIZZA CAMP!

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What To Do on Orcas if Your Grama Does Not Take You to the Fireworks

By Teri Williams

You start on the mainland, bags packed and ready to go have some fun with Grama T and Grampa J. at their Orcas Farm. Since there are so many dirt roads on Orcas, Grama’s car is filthy, so we need to run it through a car wash. Be sure to make time for that and fueling up. In July, a stop at the berry stand is a priority, even if you’re riding in a dirty car and running on fumes, you still stop for berries. The car is loaded and headed to Lane 3 (or whatever lane they are using today for reservation holders). Those of us who have had many ferry rides remember the days when Lane 3 was for Orcas only.

One of the best things about having a Grama who lives on Orcas is that she probably is into everything and this year was no disappointment. Grama T is on the Board of Lahari, a non-profit that supports aging in your home. Lucky for us, she and Grampa were entered into the 4th of July Parade in Gramps’ old Model A. This Model A has parade history with long-time Islanders Wilma and Buck Ray, and is one of many “island rides” Gramps has collected. Lahari’s new program is Orcas Door to Door, and is designed to pick up and deliver seniors to appointments and events. Car loaded down with bling, off we went down North Beach Road through Eastsound, horn a-tootin! Orcas Island’s 4th of July Parade always ends the Mayoral Race where we elect our new Mayor for the year. This is a fundraiser for Children’s House and gets all ages out and involved in our local pets and politics. Congrats to Hudson, our new Mayor.

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Back at Grama’s house, we spent the remainder of the day playing in last year’s 4th of July Parade First Place float, the playhouse. There is always something going on here!

We also had a chance to check out next year’s parade entry – an old fire truck that was used at a private residence years ago for fire protection. I wonder what Grama and Gramps will dream up for next year’s parade entry. Collecting island memorabilia and sharing history is a big part of this island family life.

And, lucky for us Grampa knows the nice people at Island Hardware and Supply and he has a truck (well a few he’s collected). Grampa just called those people up to check on swimming pools, then came home with one for us! It is always hot on the 4th!

The last weekend in June, the Garden Club showcases local gardens and raises funds for projects and grants to island non-profits, including the “Farm to Cafeteria” garden at the public school, a seed library at the library, rain gardens in Eastsound Village, and many other wonderful projects. The Garden Club meets monthly and members have a wealth of knowledge and local know-how for growing flowers, vegetables, fruit and native plants. Grama T showed us how to pick peas and raspberries in her garden. Although not on the tour, she has many remedies for growing and eating. This year she has a few choice words for the raccoons who enjoyed all the Rainier cherries before Grampa could get out and protect the tree trunks.

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There’s always a good meal in Grama’s back patio with BBQ of local beef brisket, greens from the garden, roasted baby potatoes-carrots-leeks-garlic-broccoli, peas right out of the pod, raspberries and Roses’ bread. Desert was Lopez Island Creamery ice cream smothered in strawberries. Family, food, friends. Does not get better than that!

When the summer days get too hot, Grama always knows where the best beaches are on Orcas. This time she took us to Westsound near the Orcas Island Yacht Club. There are two docks located there, the OI Yacht Club’s and a County public dock. Grama and Gramps sometimes take their sailboat, the Blue Pearl, to Westsound and hang out on these docks – easy walking to the Westsound Café. Also, deep into Westsound is Massacre Bay where you are sure to get some wind. Today we just collected shells and searched for sea creatures. This beach is usually empty and is quite sizable at low tide. Clam digging and crabbing are my favorites. Hope we get to do that next time. Today we made friends.

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If you are going to visit your Grama be sure to tell her all about the island fun, family, friends and food that is happening for kids on Orcas!

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My Favorite Farmer’s Market

One of my favorite things about Summer on Orcas is the Farmer’s Market. We spend many of our Saturday’s at the Village Green socializing, eating, and playing. Some days we have beautiful blue skies, and other days we are convinced October came early, but regardless, it is always a good time.

I set out last weekend to get pictures of my top five favorite booths, but then quickly realized that there was no way I could narrow down my choices. I ended up running around chatting with everyone as I helped to man the Children’s House Mayor’s Race booth, as I often do. The result was a dead phone and no where near photos of all of the amazing vendors. I may have to make this a series of posts about our glorious market, which would be just fine by me.

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The “Talking Tree” I believe is what the local kids call this amazing tree at the entrance of the Village Green.

First things first. No trip to the Market would be complete without a trip to see Stephie. Our daughter LOVES Stephie. She is the local Face Paint Artist. She can make you a pirate, a panda, or as our daughter regularly requests, an Octopus.

Another favorite is Tai Carson of Rogue Soul Designs. She is a midwife-turned-jeweler and all-around great gal. Her jewelry is beautiful and she has a knack for hunting down fantastic fabrics as well. Someone snag up that green jade bracelet before I do!

The beautiful indigo you see behind Tai’s work is by miss Natalie Menacho. She is a peach. She not only makes amazing indigo dyed works such as hand bags, kitchen towels, napkins, and the like, but she also does branding, fine art, illustration and so on. She is a creative gal, and someone worth chatting with. Stop by her booth and say hello!

Another fan favorite in our family is the Lum Farm owned by Eric and Amy Lum. This spring they saved three baby lambs that were more than the mother Ewe could care for, and brought them not only to the Farmer’s Market but to my daughter’s toddler center. They are a wonderful community family, and a delightful addition to the Farmer’s Market.

One of the smallest booths at the Market has the most amazing things inside of it. Carla’s Art is all about Orcas. I dare you to step inside and not find something to fall in love with. She has notebooks, maps, cards, mugs, and more! She is a fascinating woman, and I am glad that she is sharing her work with the world.

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And last but not least (for this post) is Orcas Island Children’s House. They host the annual Honorary Mayor’s Race for our lovely island, where we shamelessly buy our candidate in to office! We elect local animals to govern the small town of Eastsound, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Children’s House is an island institution that offers a play-based learning center for waddlers, toddlers, and pre-schoolers. If you ever want to meet the sweetest, most generous, loving women in the world stop by the school or our booth this summer! If you would like to vote for Mayor, or support early education for our island kids in general, you can do so here!

 

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Dandelion … Friend or Foe?

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By Mandy Randolph

Oh the wondrous dandelion!

Colleen dandelion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring has sprung on Orcas Island and so have the dandelions! When I look out across the lush green spring grass and see it polka-dotted with the yellow flowers of the dandelion, I smile. Others see this scene and they shudder, and then make plans for attack.

Dandy kid

The dandelion is a flower! However,  with its rapid growth and  invasive nature, some people are hesitant to admit this and instead call them weeds.

Dandy Garden

I can understand why gardeners want to keep dandelions from growing in their sacred plots. The root grows strong and deep which makes it particularly difficult to remove. The seeds have the most amazing system for disbursement and can actually travel up to five miles!

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But did you know that every part of the dandelion is edible? Yes! It is true! The root can be chopped and roasted and made into a delicious, earthy tasting tea. The leaves can eaten fresh in salads or served sautéed. Dandelion pesto is another delicious way to enjoy this yummy plant. The yellow flowers can be used to brighten up your meal or battered and fried and served as fritters!

 

Dandelions are good for you too!

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Dandelions are fun!

How many of you picked your mother a bouquet straight from the yard as a young child?

dandy Johnny

Do you remember holding a dandelion under a friend’s chin to determine if they loved butter or not?

do you like butter?

 

Have you watched a child decorate their skin with the yellow pollen from a dandelion?

Ada

Ever make a dandelion chain to wear in your hair?

dandy-chain

 

Did you ever just lay in the sunny yellow spotted grass watching the bees happily move from flower to flower?

Finn dandy

Can you recall the hopefulness you felt wishing on a dandelion gone to seed?

Johnny wish

When you really stop to think about it, you will see that the dandelion is our friend, not a foe. So the next time you see a grassy patch full of yellow spots of sunshine, remember all the children and bees and how happy those flowers make them. And if you happen to be hungry… go ahead a have a snack!

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4 year old Mandy holding a bouquet of dandelions!

If you are looking to buy some land on Orcas Island where you can enjoy the simple pleasures of growing your own dandelions, give me a call. I’d be happy to show you some great dandelion patches.

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Orcas Island Snow Daze…

mandy-on-brick By Mandy Randolph

The sun rises over Eastsound Village on a snowy February morning.

Visitors to Orcas are always asking me if it ever snows here. The answer is, YES! Orcas snow is FUN snow! It doesn’t usually stick around very long, melting long before it loses it’s beauty.

What I love most about a snowy Orcas Island day is how it brings our small community even closer together. We all share in the wonder, the excitement, the worry, and usually the FUN of a snow day. An undeniable shared experience does wonders to make you feel connected to those around you.

Maybe my opinion is skewed. You see, teaching is my other other career. I’m sure everyone remembers the excitement of the announcement that school is closed for a snow day! I am one of the lucky ones that never has to go to work on a snow day. Maybe that explains why I love them so much.

The snow started early Friday morning. A snow day is fun, but a snow day at school with all of your friends is really fun! Shortly after lunch the snow started falling in flakes that were bigger than a child’s hand. We had to stop our lesson in Farm to Classroom and rush to the window to watch.

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The weekend brought more snow on Sunday night. This time there was enough snow for the Orcas Island Public School to call an official snow day! With more snow falling on Monday night the students received a second snow day on Tuesday. You could hear the cheers across the island.

My youngest son Johnny enjoyed the snow with his friends on Monday. Toddlers and snow make for a fun combination. We have had mild winters with no real memorable snow since these kiddos were born,  this was their first real Orcas snow day experience.

 

The big kids also know how to enjoy the snow. On Tuesday afternoon the sun was shining bright and the steep hills at Buck Park were calling. My son Jordan and his girlfriend Bethany had fun sledding the hills above the play fields where they will begin playing softball and baseball in just about a month!

Enough about my family. You are probably reading this to learn more about living on Orcas Island. Remember how I said the snow brings the community together with the shared experience? I loved seeing the pictures my fellow islanders were posting on social media during the snow days. I’ll share some of my favorites here.

Tom Tillman posted these pictures from his farm in Doe Bay. I think this driver may have been caught in the storm of ’87.

 

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Alexis Beckley captured this scene of the snow meeting the sea at West Beach on Monday morning. Her hashtag was #snowatsealevel #magical #pnw #luckytoliveonorcas.

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Lynn Cunningham shared this beautiful view of Rosario Resort from her living room on Monday morning.

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Cindy Ceteras captured this image from her dining room window in Eastsound. Cindy is enjoying her first winter on Orcas.

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Mary Ann Sircely uploaded this beautiful evening snow picture along with this hashtag #itneversnowsonorcasisland.

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The snow gives us clues as to what the local wildlife is up too. These bird prints were left outside my sliding glass door. It was fun to follow them and imagine the path of the little birdie that left them.bird-tracks

Deborah Jones posted this picture of the Raccoon tracks with this comment. “Raccoons circling the henhouse busted by the snow.”

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Tuesday morning brought this beautiful sunrise on the East side of the island. Teacher Anne Ford McGrath shared this picture along with every teacher’s favorite winter morning announcement, “Snow Day, No School!”

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Islander Camille Fleming was commuting off the island for work on Tuesday. Thankfully the Washington State Ferries still run on snow days. Her husband posted this comment, “Second snow day in a row. School cancelled. Flights cancelled. Roads are questionable. Glad the ocean isn’t frozen.”

snow-ferry

Southern transplant Liz Guerry posted this picture Tuesday morning with this comment, “Sun bathing in the PNW!

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Tuesday afternoon, islander and fellow teacher Nancy Walstrom captured this stunning snow scene from her deck at Buoy Bay. That is Mount Baker in the distance.

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Vicki Bartram, my mother,  posted this interesting shot of the sun rising in Olga, causing the trees to cast shadows over the snow covered yard.

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My partner in real estate, Beth Holmes, shared this photo of the sun setting on the west side of Orcas Tuesday night. These chairs demonstrate nicely the optimism of most islanders, winter is short so why put away the outdoor furniture!

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So there is the answer to the frequently asked question. Yes, Orcas Island gets snow and it is a WONDERFUL experience to have!

 

holleyrandolphmini-10 Mandy is an Associate Broker at T Williams Realty. She enjoys living with her family and friends on Orcas Island, Washington.

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A Free Festival of Trees!

mandy-on-brick

By Mandy Randolph

The sixth annual Festival of Trees is happening this month at Rosario Resort. Visitors can come to see the uniquely decorated trees in the main lobby of the resort’s mansion. The trees are decorated by local non profit organizations with ornaments that portray what each organization embodies. There is a pet themed tree from the Animal Protection Society, and tree of smiling children’s faces from The FunHouse, and a wild animal themed tree from Wolf Hollow. And of course the garden of wonders tree created by students in my class to represent the Orcas Island Farm to Cafeteria program. Each tree is a beautiful representation of the great things the non-profits in our community do to contribute to making this a wonderful place to live.

Every year for 6 years now my students in Farm to Classroom at Orcas Island Elementary School have created beautiful handmade ornaments to decorate our tree. This year is no exception! Our ornaments represent many of the topics that we have studied so far this year.

water-star

A magnified image of a frozen molecule of water serves as the star of our tree.

It is tradition for the kindergarten students to string the popcorn. A lesson involving proper use of needles, using caution for tender fingers, and methods for perfecting the long untangled strand. Some children approach the situation with caution and others with wild abandon. Even though the popcorn is days old (easier to string without breaking) the children still enjoy eating as much as they string.

Our third grade students used a photo paper called cyanotype that uses the sunlight to expose images. The children choose items from our garden and placed them on the paper in the sun. After 10 minutes they rinsed the paper in water and set the images.

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We have an interactive element to our tree this year. You can use one of the many magnifying glasses hanging on our tree to look into the tiny bottles filled with seeds hanging from the branches. You will find papers with glued on seeds clothespinned to the tree also. We have been busy saving seeds this fall and thought this would be a fun way to share some of our seed knowledge and excitement.

After studying apples this fall and learning that every apple has a star in it, we just had to include some dried apple slices with stars proudly displayed on our tree.

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Please come admire our hard work and place a vote for our tree if you feel compelled. You can buy tickets for $1 each and place them in the voting boxes of the trees of your choice. All of the proceeds go directly to the non-profits and you will be entered for prizes from Rosario Resort and Spa and Kenmore Air. Rosario will be hosting a special Open House this weekend December 9-11 daily between 12pm and 8pm. You can enjoy the trees as well as complimentary cookies and hot apple cider.

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If you can’t make it this weekend, the trees will be up through the New Year.

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Happy Holidays from my family to yours!

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Mandy and family… Johnny, Jordan and Zach.

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Saucy Cranberries

teri-williams-summer-cropBy Teri Williams

I am always looking for a new spin on a traditional holiday meal. While reading through my new Rodale’s Organic Life magazine, I came across this Pickled Cranberries recipe and seasonal Kale Salad. Pickling is super easy, with very few ingredients and results in a big flavor with many uses. I sealed several jars of the pickled cranberries and will give out as hostess gifts throughout the holiday season. And if you come to my house over the holiday season, you most likely will be served a fresh cranberry cocktail and a side of healthy kale salad!

Pickled Cranberries (makes 2.5 cups)
Note: Always use fresh organic cranberries.
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In a medium saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar and 1-1/2 cups of red wine vinegar. Tie 1/2 tsp. of coriander seeds and 1/2 tsp. peppercorns in a square of cheesecloth and add to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.

Add 10-12 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries and bring back to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until skins begin to split, 2-3 minutes. Let cool in saucepan, remove and discard spice sachet, and transfer cranberries and liquid to a jar. Refrigerate in sealed jar until ready to use. Pickled cranberries will keep for a few weeks; or process to seal according to canning practices.

2016-11-13-14-17-18The liquid can be strained to use in cocktails, and the pickled cranberries can be tossed into salads and stuffings.

My favorite easy hors d’oeuvre is as follows:

Slice baguette into 1/4-inch slices (may 2016-11-13-14-54-19toast or leave soft), top with your favorite ricotta cheese, place a dollop of pickled cranberries and finish with a drizzle of honey. A sweet, tart, smooth and tasty treat in minutes!

Kale and Wild Rice Salad

1/2 cup cooked wild rice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Fresh ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. liquid from pickled cranberries (see above recipe)fullsizerender
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch kale, stemmed and shredded into thin ribbons
1 cup pickled cranberries, drained
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped (can use walnuts)

In small bowl stir together shallot, mustard, pinch of salt, pepper and pickling liquid. Whisk in oil. Pour half the liquid, adding more as needed, and use your hands to massage into kale for 5 minutes.

To serve, lightly toss with rice, cranberries, cheese and nuts. Serve as a side dish or add chicken or salmon to create a colorful and satisfying main dish.

Happy and Healthy Holiday Wishes sent from my family to yours ~

 

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Summer Sailing with Grama T

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By Teri Williams

The summer of 2016 is flying by!! Squeezing in some family fun is a must and Grama T found some on her SV Blue Pearl. 30′ filled to the rails with kids and grandkids (9 total) for an overnight in Roche Harbor, San Juan Island. When you have this many on a boat meant to sleep two, you head to a dock with amenities and space. Roche is a great place where you will find activity for all ages. But the fun is being on the boat together. Had great wind, plenty of sunshine and enjoyed a crab dinner coming home. Life does not get better than this.

Where do you find your bliss?

Where do you find your bliss?

Deck hands taking a break

Deck hands taking a break

Beautiful day for kids to look for sea life

Beautiful day for kids to look for sea life

Fish on!!!

Fish on!!!

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Dad time

Dad time

Jammie time

Jammie time

Reading books at bedtime

Reading books at bedtime

Gramps J having fun

Gramps J having fun

Brother time

Brother time

Nap time

Nap time

Love these two!

Love these two!

Catching the wind, trimming the sails

Catching the wind, trimming the sails

Watching for whales

Watching for whales

Girls getting too much wind

Girls getting too much wind

Life is good

Life is good

Crabbing with Gramps J

Crabbing with Grampa J

All hands on deck

All hands on deck

Hope to see you out on the water enjoying family and the Salish Sea that surrounds us here on Orcas Island.

Grama T

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Celebrating Summer in the School Garden

A long and productive spring in the school garden led right up to the last day of school! What better way to celebrate and culminate another school year than with a pizza party in the garden?2016PizzaParty_SchoolGarden (11 of 17)

Orcas Island Elementary students each spend one hour a week working in the school garden in a class I teach called Farm to Classroom. At almost 8,000 square feet, the school garden requires individual attention from each of the 200 students. Some children take on assigned tasks such as weeding, hauling compost and planting.

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Harvesting strawberries and pulling weeds.

Other children take on projects of their own choosing. One class was dubbed “the diggers” for their love of digging!

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“The Diggers”

Another group of students took weekly responsibility for watering plants.

13499604_1783696268532929_564887034_oOne boy decided it was time to properly install the large stainless sink we salvaged from the old shop building before it was torn down. Each week he would lead a group in the many steps it took to put  the sink in its final resting place.

When the wood chips arrived, donated by Tim’s Tractor Service and delivered by Tim’s son James Segault of Island Climb Inc., the students ban together to move the massive mountain all around the garden. Throughout all of this garden work you can see real-world examples of children caring for the environment, working together, problem solving, communicating, using physical skills, and eating healthy. These are important life skills that no standardized test can ever measure.

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A delivery of wood chips for our paths from Tim’s Tractor Service and Island Climbing Inc.

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Working together to move a mountain of wood chips!

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Unloading a truck full of firewood. Many hands make for light work.

A cornerstone of the children’s time in the garden is the idea that you may only enjoy the fruits of your labor, after you labor! The last ten minutes of each class is dedicated to “harvest time”. During this time the children graze in the garden, eating fresh from the plants they have nurtured. This may be one of the most rewarding times for me as the teacher. It only seemed fitting to end our school year with a garden pizza party using our cob oven.

The pizza party couldn’t happen with out the help and generous donation of James Ferraris of Soul Flour Bakery, AKA The Pizza Man!  James makes the best pizza dough and knows how to bring each pizza out with the perfect amount of doneness.

The children are the real artists at this event. They are supplied pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. The rest is up to them! The toppings come from the plants they lovingly grew. Pizzas topped with strawberries, sorrel and mint are popular. Garlic scapes, borage flowers, rosemary and raspberries top others. There is no limit to the creations they come up with. After each pizza comes out of the oven the chef or chefs responsible tell their classmates what ingredients they used. Then the creators get the first slices and the other children sample after them. Pizza after pizza comes through in this way. The children turn into food critics, analyzing the combinations placed before them. The pizza is devoured and never are the usual pepperoni and sausage toppings missed.

Another remarkable year in the school garden has been completed. If you would like to see our garden please stop by and check it out. If you would like a tour of the garden, we will be on this year’s Orcas Island Garden Club tour June 25th and 26th.

Now that school is out, I’ll be spending the summer with family and friends, taking road trips, and helping people buy and sell real estate on this amazing Island I call home. I love summertime on Orcas Island!

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Johnny visiting Momma in the garden.

 

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Our First Day of Forest School

I sent my child into the forest with strangers and he came out more alive then ever!

Did you know that Orcas Island has a Forest School? Forest School is relatively new idea in America but has been successful and commonplace in many European countries for several decades. The Orcas Island Forest School offers a play-based, all- outdoor, nature immersed and child directed education. Children ages 2.5 to 6 years old learn and play together in a multi-age, outdoor setting.king of rock

When I first heard about the Forest School model I was instantly intrigued. My son Johnny wasn’t quite old enough and hadn’t fully potty trained so I had time to think it over. I teach at Orcas Island Public School where I created and teach a class called Farm to Classroom.  I consider myself and outdoor educator since my classes take place in our school garden for most of the school year. I have seen first hand how valuable it is for children to spend time immersed in nature. I have seen the excitement of discovery. The glow of rosy cheeks, flush from the warmth of the sun or the sting of the wind and how that translates to a mind fully engaged. I want more of this for all of our school children. Ultimately I knew this was what I wanted for my youngest child too. forest walker

I signed my son up for the morning session, two days a week. We talked about it. He seemed excited. We went on vacation and missed the open house day. We returned from vacation and tried to connect for a quick visit before the first day but life was hectic and it didn’t happen. I drove Johnny to see the forest site the evening before his first day. He seemed to be excited.

On the day of Forest School we wake up early and pack Johnny’s lunch, something he has never done before. He is excited to get dressed and wear his long-johns under his clothes. We fill his new backpack with extra clothes, a water bottle, and the packed lunch. We get in the car and drive down the hill and across the main road to the back entrance of Camp Orkila where the Forest School is held. As we drive through the woods Johnny says, “Mommy, the woods are dark.” He is right, they are. Next he tells me he is nervous, gulp. We arrive and park in front of the big red barn. We meet another little boy who is coming for his first day also. We walk over to meet one of the teachers who is waiting in the field near the forest edge. Johnny starts to cling. Then he wants me to hold him. When we get to the teacher he can no longer speak. Oh no! I start to really regret not going to the open house! I know he is going to be safe and have a great time, but he is not quite three years old and he doesn’t have the same perspective. All of the children arrive and it is time for them to walk together into the deep dark forest, leaving their parents behind. Johnny is clinging tightly now. He won’t let go, he won’t say goodbye. I give him a hug and a nudge. His new teacher reaches down and asks if Johnny needs a hand with his new backpack. They walk off into the forest together. I hold my breath. I watch. into the forestAt the edge of the forest he turns around and I wave. It is time for me to turn and walk back to the big red barn. As I do, I hear Johnny yell “momma” in that panicked voice that every parent fears.  I wave again but keep walking. I hear him yell again and this time he is crying. Oh my God, I have just sent my son into the woods with complete strangers and he thinks I am abandoning him! I am the worst mom in the world! The other mothers comfort me in the parking area. I can still hear my sweet little boy crying for me and it is ripping my heart out. I start to cry. One of the other moms walks into the forest to see if the teachers want me to come get Johnny. She returns to report that he was in  the arms of one of the teachers “snuggled like a bear cub”. He was whimpering, but showing interest in his surroundings. The other moms convince me to leave. The teachers have my number and I live just a two minute drive away. I drive away with tears in my eyes. I get home and look down at the forest below where I have just left my son, and I pray that I have made the right decision. Within a few minutes the phone rings, “Is this Johnny’s mom?” Oh no! My heart skips a beat. It is one of his teachers calling to tell me that Johnny has stopped crying and is currently exploring the forest with the other children. Yay!

Two very long hours later I return to the camp and walk into the forest to the meet Johnny at the covered area where they hang back packs and keep supplies. My heart is racing as I get closer. I can’t wait to wrap my arms around my sweet little boy. I can’t wait for him to see that I haven’t abandoned him. But he is nowhere to be seen? I see other kids. Where is Johnny? One of the teacher sees my face and kind of nods in the direction of some little Superman boots sticking out from behind the shelter. I hear some whispering and snickering. I know this game! “Where is Johnny?” I ask loudly. He comes running out with his arms wide open. His smile is huge and his cheeks are flushed. Sigh.

There is no time to ask the teachers how things went. Johnny is running into the forest leading me to his “favorite tree” and then off to his “favorite rock” and then shouting excitedly that he heard a wood pecker just like the one at our house.

We finally get back to pick up his backpack and say goodbye. As he emerges from the forest I see that he has put his backpack on his front. I realize that it is much too big and he tells me that if he wears it this way it doesn’t tip him over!emerging from the forest

He leads me to some rocks and we sit on the biggest rock to eat his lunch. He talks excitedly about his morning in the forest. He tells me he wants to come back again and again. Phew! I am not the worst mom in the world after all!

lunch rock

I am so excited that my youngest son has this opportunity. We have many amazing pre-school and school options on Orcas Island, all of them are unique and wonderful. I am grateful to live in a place that values the education and well-being of all our children. What a wonderful community to live in.

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Mandy lives with her family on Orcas Island where she teaches at the local Elementary School and sells real estate at T Williams Realty.

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