Holiday Traditions

My earliest memory of an actual Christmas tradition in our family was that of the annual Christmas Tree Hunt. There may have been years where we purchased a tree from one of the many vendors around town—we would likely have bought ours from the guys set up on the church parking lot— but buying a tree was rare for us.

The hillsides and mountains around Reno where I grew up were covered with any number of trees. The Sierra Nevada mountains had pine trees, though little in the way of the traditional conical-shaped Douglas fir or noble fir. Those showed up in the parking lots around town, shipped down from Oregon. The ponderosa pines and sugar pines in the Sierra were a scraggly lot in their smaller sizes, though beautiful and stately once they were grown. But a five to six foot ponderosa pine had few branches from which to hang ornaments. 

Our Christmas tree hunt generally focused on the smaller hills to the south of town, an easy hour-long trip to the hills outside Virginia City. There we could find the tree my Dad favored: Nevada’s pinion pine. The pinion pine is a squat, rather bushy style of tree. Very aromatic, quite a bit of pitch which would often be hard to clean off your hands, and lots of pine cones. 

But because most of the trees we found ran towards the beachball shape, it would take a lot of trekking the hills until we found one that was suitable. Never mind if there were bare spots, those could be filled in later with strategically placed branches, cut and reattached with a bit of wire. 

When I married, one of the holiday traditions I wanted to continue with my family was that of the Christmas Tree Hunt. My wife was onboard, and my son enjoyed the trips out to Ticonderoga Farm in Chantilly, especially the year it snowed. Most years the weather was warm and the hunt for a beautiful scotch pine didn’t take long. Acres of trees grown in well-tended rows took some of the “adventure of the hunt” out of the experience, but sipping hot chocolate around the fire pit while we waited for the tree to be bagged with netting more than made up for lost adventure.

Years later I finally broke down and we purchased a prelit artificial tree. We spray it with some winter scent (this year it is “Snowy Night”) hoping to enjoy some of that fresh-cut smell. Not the same, but it’s nice. I saw cars and trucks on the road coming back from Middleburg over the weekend, each one with a nice plump tree strapped to their roof. We just bought a new, prelit tree last year when we downsized to a townhouse. So we won’t be taking part in the Annual Tree Hunt any time soon. And truthfully, I think my days of wandering around the hills looking for that perfect tree are over.

I did plant a small spruce in the yard last year. Who knows but in a few years, it might be large enough to string a few outdoor lights on. But I’m not giving up my Balsam Hill tree. After all, it’s prelit.

What I Want You to Know

This year, well actually tomorrow, our first granddaughter turns thirteen. I have taken so many pictures of her over the years, many on my iPad or sitting in frames around the house, that I’m having a hard time seeing her as the young woman she is becoming. I see her, but really I see That Little Two-year-old in the ladybug costume at Halloween. Or the child in the pink hoodie and purple straw hat, holding a flower she had just picked from the yard. Sometimes I see the young girl in shorts and a helmet sitting on a pony, unsure if she wants down or to keep on riding. 

Living in such close proximity we’ve had the extraordinary blessing of being able to see her and her sister regularly. Growing up, my grandparents lived in another state. We saw them only occasionally for holidays, or perhaps when they passed thru town pulling their travel trailer behind the big Oldsmobile on their way to my aunt and uncle’s home in Oregon for the summer. Our visits were always brief, the years passed quickly seemingly marked by the exchange of school pictures we sent them annually. 

My wife and son got to meet my grandmother only once. We arrived at my aunt and uncle’s home in time to join in a birthday celebration for Grandma. She was 98 that year and though her eyesight was failing, still her health and spirits were good. The excitement of opening gifts, cake and ice cream, meeting my family and talking more than she was used to must have been taxing on her. She soon retired to her small room to rest. It was the last time we would see her. She died two years later, just days shy of turning 100.

Oh, I love my new hat!

All that to say, what time we had spent with grandparents over the years wasn’t spent in reminiscing or talking about the past. Other than what could be gleaned from a few black and white photos, I know very little about the lives of my grandparents. 

So I was encouraged when my wife Deb picked up a special gift for our granddaughter. It’s in the form of a journal, really a collection of letters that you write, to be opened at a later date. It’s called “Letters to My Grandchild,” with the clever subtitle “A Paper Time Capsule.”

There are twelve prepackaged envelopes in booklet form. Nicely packaged, beautiful graphics and stickers remind one of those special airmail envelopes from generations ago. Clever titles like “The best advice anyone ever gave me,” or “It may surprise you to learn that…” are great topics for discussion starters. There are envelopes that focus on the past (“One positive change I have seen in the world”) and there are ones that allow a glimpse into the future (“My wishes for you are”).

Over a recent weekend getaway, Deb and I sat down to fill them out, each of us writing a short couple of paragraphs to seal up for the future. For one title, “Here is a special story about our family,” we’ve included the story about our drive through Florida during Hurricane Frances-2004. Not one of my better decisions, but the story of a rescue by strangers will hopefully be encouraging to her. 

The teen years can be challenging for everyone—the teen, her parents and siblings, and even grandparents who have a rough time seeing the person of today and not the small child of our memories. It’s important to recognize and see the person standing before us and not the imagined child from the photo albums if we are to be allies and mentors. Watching them grow up, we have been blessed to live in close proximity to our young extended family— Lord knows I can’t see myself pulling a 22 ft. trailer cross country to visit grandchildren!

The Long Reach of Memory

I was on Facebook the other day, scrolling past political arguments, pictures of cute dogs, homes being made ready for the holidays. It’s funny how you can be brought up short, suddenly frozen in the moment by an image from your past.

It was a photo of a barn in Washoe Valley not far from where I had grown up in Reno. The barn was red, not an uncommon color, the steeply pitched roofline common for the area’s barns which were designed to hold bales of hay thru the winter. It’s nestled up against the mountains and set off by striking gold leafed trees, made even more pronounced by the early dusting of snow. A small fence can be seen in the foreground. (Photo by Sharon Voss, from Facebook group “Only in Nevada”)

I had seen similar barns on a recent vacation in central Virginia. Similar, but not the same. A beautiful horse barn on the Montpelier mansion property had caught my attention and we stopped to get a few pictures of it and the unusual green color of the siding. The barn shape reminded me of buildings I had seen out West, not at all like the many dairy barns we have here in Loudoun County. 

Later that day we found our way to the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards, our home base for the weekend as we explored the area and vineyards near Charlottesville VA. As we settled in, the afternoon sun was spectacular on the trees and really set off the red siding of the farm equipment structure across the lawn from us. Trees with brilliant tones of gold and orange contrasted with dark limbs. A white fence lead the eye through the idyllic composition. Again, the scene was oddly familiar. 


My stepmother Dorathy and my Dad both passed away within weeks of one another in 2007. He was 81 and had slowly succumbed to the effects of Alzheimer’s. She had predeceased him by a mere three weeks, a victim of respiratory failure. She would have been 97 this year on the 18th of November. We flew out for their memorial service, and later gathered with my brothers and their wives to go through what remained of my folks’ belongings at the home they had lived in for 38 years. I brought back a painting of the Sierra Nevada mountains that I had grown up enjoying. As a young artist it had been a goal of mine to be able to paint as well. There were other paintings of their’s but those must must have gone into storage. 

When I saw the photo on Facebook of the Washoe Valley barn, it all fell into place. The barns we had seen on our recent vacation, and then the photo of the Nevada barn, all reminded me of a painting which had hung in my parents’ home for years. A red barn. Set against the mountains. Trees in autumn, a rail fence. Though strangely enough, a lake curiously close to the barn reflecting the scene. 

And as I remembered it all, the painting had been done by Maxine Peters, my stepmother’s sister, of a red barn in Washoe Valley back in the 1960s. She loved the site but had painted it with Washoe Lake (or perhaps a pond) coming right up to the barn in order to maximize the color in the scene. An artist’s vision had altered the landscape to create something that only existed in her mind, but which had lived on for years in our home. She had some repute as a genre painter, exhibiting at local galleries and art shows, and we were quite proud to have one of her paintings hanging in the living room. 

Dad and Dorathy at the Lake cabin

They are a tricky thing, memories. There are times when I feel I have completely forgotten everything that happened before last week. When I talk with my 92-year-old mother, I am always surprised at how much she can still recall of her childhood. I’ve relied on photos of people and events to jog my memory, and that only recently. I’ve become the family photographer and archivist in part to ward off the eventual dimming of memory. We often say in jest, “if I didn’t take a picture, it didn’t happen.” Some truth to that, though as I found out this week, it can be surprising how long the reach of memory can be.

Zoom Hacks

By now, I think we all know what is working for us on Zoom. Or at least we know what hasn’t worked for us. I opened a Zoom account March 18 to lead our Wednesday night small group Bible study as an online discussion group. What I thought would last for a few weeks, at the most a month or two, has continued on thru October with no plans for stopping any time in the immediate future.

At first we used our iPad propped up on a few books on a table as our only device to log in and connect with friends. That worked fine until I knocked it over a few times reaching for my coffee. So that has lead us to a continual improvement mode and our own list of Zoom Hacks.

  1. Tripod: We bought a Joby iPad holder to attach the iPad to my camera tripod. Now we were always in the frame without looking for a stack of books to prop up the iPad.
  2. Lighting: The lighting in our living room is nice, but not what you would consider studio quality. Quite often we were silhouettes against the lighter background, or you couldn’t see us at all. I found an inexpensive LED studio umbrella light on Amazon that has worked great. It’s lightweight and is easily stored when not in use.
  3. Webcam and Microphone: the iPad worked great for a time but when we hosted a meeting for friends IRL and online, we needed a better solution than the iPad’s built in camera and microphone. A recommendation from a friend out in Oregon (who also demonstrated his for me) lead to purchasing a webcam with two microphones suitable for picking up the voices from people spread out in a classroom.
  4. External Speaker: the tinny sound from our Mac book wasn’t adequate for the folks in our classroom to hear the comments from our online participants. So we bought a portable Bluetooth speaker. Great sound, small investment.
  5. Lazy Susan Turntable: With a large group sitting six feet apart, it was impossible for the camera to pick up everyone. So we placed the web cam on a small tripod and set it on a turntable in the middle of the table. Now we just spin it around towards whoever is speaking. Problem solved.


If this keeps up for much longer, I’m sure we will come up with a few more improvements to our portable home Zoom Kit. The biggest improvement has been the best hack of all. 

It only took one Zoom meting for us to realize that I am terrible at multitasking. I would forget to admit people who were in the meeting room, or forget to read the comments in the chat room while we were meeting. So from that first meeting, my wife has graciously served as our online host while I lead the discussion. She monitors the online participants, replies to messages in the chat room, and operates our swivel camera/microphone setup ensuring that the online participants can at least see who is speaking and not getting a view of the ceiling or the back wall of the classroom. AND participates in the discussion, proving to be a great multitasker!

We have accepted the idea that some routines just won’t be going back to the old normal. And that’s OK. In the past, if you couldn’t be physically present for a meeting, a study or group discussion, Too Bad. Your Loss. Now we are seeing even greater participation, often from members who are on travel, logging in to take part and offer their voice to the discussion. Modern technology has offered more, affordable ways to stay in touch than ever before. Whether a cellphone or a laptop, and iPad or a desktop computer, it’s easy to stay connected and not miss out. Not quite like being in the room, but close.


Here is a list of the products we found helpful; you can find them all on Amazon.

  • DOSS SoundBox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speakers
  • Victure Webcam with Dual Microphones, 1080P Full HD Streaming Webcam for PC, MAC, Desktop & Laptop
  • JOBY GripTight PRO Mount for Tablets
  • ESDDI Softbox Lighting Kit Photo Studio Light

Holidays on Zoom

Really? Are we actually thinking of doing our upcoming holidays on Zoom? 

For years, like many families I’m sure, we have spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with extended family. Whether potluck buffet-style or sit down dinner for a few, we have enjoyed Thanksgiving in a group setting, too many people around a small table. 

Small or large, Thanksgiving means turkey, except when it doesn’t.
What do you serve for the holiday?

Though one year’s Thanksgiving main course ended up with an oven fire, and an overzealous use of the fire  extinguisher (sheepishly raises hand), we all have memories of holiday meals that didn’t go quite as planned. Our Hallmark-movie-Martha-Stewart-Instagram-perfect table setting might not have made the cover of Southern Living Magazine. Our signature dessert might have suffered irreparable harm on its way to the table or an excitable dog might have crashed the side table. Every family has a holiday memory that, years later has grown with the telling.

My brother shocked me one year with the confession that his wife had cooked two turkeys. And a ham. Along with the usual panoply of side dishes. And rice and kimchi. As a Korean-American, cooking an American-style Thanksgiving dinner had been a new experience for her. But like everything else she sets her hand to, she excelled at it. Why so much food? Dave said that he never knows how many have been invited, or who all eventually shows up. But it’s always a crowd.

Which brings us back to this year’s holiday preparations. We just finished celebrating my Mother’s 92nd birthday over Zoom with the family last month. We’ve attended church online for months now and attended countless Zoom meetings, studies, and social events. We’ve even become somewhat proficient at hosting live Bible study with members participating in person and online.

But I’m not sure if I’m ready to wave a turkey leg at family members sitting across from us at a table, toasting with a glass of wine, sharing that second slice of pie…on Zoom. I know the CDC has offered guidelines for attending and hosting holiday events (see here). But I do know, like those early Americans celebrating their first holiday of Thanksgiving, that we will be thankful for our many blessings, regardless of who shows up. And for the record, I have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Just for emergencies. You do want to be prepared.

It’s a Yurt

Shortly after we were married, we tried camping in a tent. Sleeping bags on an air mattress. Cook stove. Bathroom and showers a short walk thru the woods. Needless to say, we didn’t do it again. Sometime later, my son and I slept out in the tent one night on our deck; years later, I can’t remember if we stayed the entire night. I think we gave the tent away.

Through the years we’ve tried a number of different destinations to celebrate our anniversary. Whether a cruise or a resort, the brief two or three days in January we’ve spent have been a great opportunity to get away during one of the less-traveled seasons, and an opportunity to try new adventures.

The first time we stayed at the Savage River Lodge in the mountains of western Maryland, it was at the recommendation of friends. The log cabins were advertised as luxury accommodations and a welcome “unplugged” getaway (no TVs). King-size beds, luxe linens, breakfast muffins and juice delivered in a basket to our door in the morning, all wonderful. It seemed we had the best of both worlds, a camping experience without the sleeping bag. Or having to erect a tent on uneven rocky ground. And the snow that fell that January evening before we left was gorgeous, ensuring that we would return to this hidden gem.

It was several years later, and a different season, that we were finally able to try the Lodge again. Only this time we reserved a yurt. 

A yurt. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted to try it. A vague recollection of a long forgotten movie, horsemen riding across the steppes, round…tents? 

Our yurt awaits.

But a yurt at Savage River Lodge, well that held the promise of comfortable bedding, an indoor bathroom with hot showers, and would certainly not be like our earlier tent experience.

Our yurt was made by Pacific Yurts of Oregon. And SRL has taken the experience up quite a notch: hard wood flooring with radiant heat, a tiled floor bathroom featuring on demand hot water shower, a gas log fire place along with a portable air conditioner for climate control, and luxury micro-fiber bed linens which were incredibly soft. We walked in and were simply amazed. 

At 30 foot diameter, these open floor plan “tents” are seemingly immense. A high ceiling without a center tent pole helps to create a more spacious and open feel than the two story cabins on the property. French doors open onto a private deck with seating and a view of the forest. Our enclave consisted of four yurts (eight in total) set in an open glade of ferns, across from another four yurts set further back from the road.

A short walk up to the Lodge revealed several seating areas on the patio and deck surrounded by flowers and views of deer in the meadow below. We found a seat at the fire pit in the evening and met several of the other guests. All of us were impressed with our hosts’ commitment to striving for an eco-friendly resort: 65% of the electricity used is supplied by 325 solar panels on the property.

When I spoke with owner Mike Dreisbach, one of the things that stood out to me was his commitment to repurposing and using local sources. He mentioned that the timber frames and lumber for their Cornucopia Cafe in Grantsville MD used materials from a 130-year-old barn. The huge boulders that were being placed in the current landscaping project are sourced from a quarry nearby.

If you are interested in any of their other green initiatives, or considering where you might “go green” in your own home, they have a list on their website here.

The tent experience was certainly unlike any other I have ever had. Hardly a tent, our “glamping weekend” has me thinking of similar ideas for weekend getaways. We’ve stayed at a lighthouse in Puerto Rico, a seaside cottage and a mountain lodge; perhaps a treehouse might be our next experience. We are looking forward to trying something else in the New Year. What about you? trying something different this coming year?

Living Between the Rocks

The Summer of COVID has brought uncountable change to our lives. Weddings, graduations, reunions, church services, movie theater closings, bars and restaurants pivoting to curbside pickup: our daily routines have been upended in ways too numerous to catalog. While news reports continue to make note of the ever increasing numbers of “test positives”, the shear number of lives lost these past six months has gone past shocking. We become less sensitive, perhaps, to the backbeat of daily reminders of the fragility, and temporal nature of our lives.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

phrase [PHRASE after verb] If you are caught between a rock and a hard place, you are in a difficult situation where you have to choose between two equally unpleasant courses of action.

I’ve challenged myself to get out and walk the neighborhood these last few months of summer. The road back from my knee surgery has been a slow one, and I’m reconciled to the thought that I will likely never run a 10 kilometer race again. But I hope to gradually build up to walking six miles a day.

The last visit with my surgeon, I proudly reported that I was up to walking 3-4 miles during the week, in one half to three quarter mile increments. Chest puffed out, I was pretty proud of my accomplishment. I had set a goal of eventually walking a mile, and finally I achieved it. 

But that larger goal still lies before me. Like some great rock in the distance, the challenge of moving towards it motivates me to continue.  If I could walk one mile, would it be possible to increase that to maybe, one and a half? Perhaps even…two miles? 

I’ve been living between these two rocks: behind me, the misplaced fear of slow deterioration, ahead the unachievable goal of remembered youthful accomplishment. However, I’m finding exploring our new neighborhood at my admittedly slower pace, has given me a greater appreciation for the world around me and my place in it.

Along the walking paths in our neighborhood we continue to find painted rocks, small stones of encouragement left for walkers to discover. My granddaughter and I have left a few of our own creations as well. 

There seemed to be more rocks discovered during the first few weeks of our quarantine. Lately, not so many, perhaps a jewel-toned design or a smiley face left in the notch of a tree, but now usually nothing on my daily walk. 

This past week I found three, likely by the same artist, rock-solid encouragement as we walk the path before us. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Those are trustworthy rocks. 

Looking Back At 50

Wooster High School Home of the Colts

June 4, 1970—It was a Thursday and the celebration that evening would be at the Centennial Coliseum, built in 1965 and the go-to venue for Reno’s large gatherings. Concerts, square dancing conventions, and high school graduations all made use of the Coliseum’s cavernous spaces.

But just a month before, on May 4 at Kent State in Ohio, the National Guard was called out to control student demonstrations. By the end of the day, four students were dead and nine others were wounded, marking the first time that students in the US had been killed during an anti-war rally. It was a shocking introduction to adulthood for us graduates.

Reno calls itself “The Biggest Little City in the World.” We might have been small, but by no means were we unaffected by events that were occurring at the end of the 60s. Looking back 50 years, I’m still surprised at what all we had seen, or participated in, during our years at Wooster High School. It’s as if our time in high school had been marked with confrontation and upheaval that we were too young to even recognize, though with lasting effects.

Summer of Love, dancing in the park. Image from Goldenstate.is

Express Yourself

Most of my graduating class entered school in the fall of 1967 not realizing the depth of change our country would soon embark upon. 1967 has been remembered as the “Summer of Love.” San Francisco, especially the Haight-Ashbury District, became the center of a special moment in time. Hippies and the 60’s provide plenty of material for retro parities today, and many of us look back on those embroidered bell bottoms, beaded necklaces and tie-dyed tshirts with a certain nostalgia now, I suppose. The love didn’t last long.

Our Junior Year—August 1968 the evening television was filled with video of protests in Chicago surrounding the Democratic Convention. Thousands of anti-war demonstrators took to the streets in what was to become a common occurrence. The next year, on October 15, 1969 the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam saw students from local high schools as well as the University of Nevada join thousands of others in cities across the US, many of us protesting for the first time.

Walking on the Moon

Our time in school was not just marked by protest or social upheaval. There were other events that drew us together, celebrating triumph and accomplishment. On July 20, 1969, the world watched as Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon, fulfilling a promise President Kennedy had made in 1961 to safely land an American on the surface of the moon before the end of the decade. To this day, I can’t think of that moment without hearing Sting and the Police singing, “Walking on the moon.”

Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Mission Commander, works at the Lunar Module (LM). Image taken at Tranquility Base during the Apollo 11 Mission. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/16685088

Draft Day

Perhaps the single greatest event of our high school years, at least for the men, occurred in December 1969. A lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1 at Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Dates and numbers were called out and posted on a large board. You can watch the CBS video on YouTube here. “Mayberry RFD” was preempted to show the lottery and I’m sure many of us would rather have been watching it. A Wooster graduate whose birthday fell on September 14, number 001, was the first draftee from Reno. (https://www.sss.gov/history-and-records/vietnam-lotteries/). Not compelling reality TV by today’s standards, but it certainly had our attention.

Earth Day, April 22, 1970

Though there was plenty to divide us, many of us were brought together when we participated in the first Earth Day. On April 22 protests, rallies, and activities across America helped to bring awareness to and spearhead change in environmental practices. The Earth day website notes that “By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act,  the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.”

Having the voting age lowered to 18 by President Nixon in 1970 had huge repercussions. “To close his statement on the Voting Rights Act (of 1965) Amendments, RN turned back to the issue of the 18-year-old vote. Anticipating that the court test would rule the provision in question unconstitutional, President Nixon called for an immediate constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18. In July 1971, Congress passed the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which set the minimum voting age for all Federal, State, and local elections at eighteen years of age.” Nixon Foundation

I’m not sure if there is one singular event or act that could summarize our three years in school. Certainly the deaths of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy shocked all of us and brought an awareness to politics and the civil rights movement that had not existed in our young lives before then. Weekends spent attending, or playing in football games, high school dances, first cars and rock concerts are seemingly shared by every graduating class, each generation. But missing out on your prom and graduation ceremony this year? Well I think that’s one that will go down in the books.

Home Made

John Landis Mason invented the Mason Jar on November 30, 1858. In 1884, Ball Corporation began manufacturing glass home-canning jars, the product that established Ball as a household name and licensed Mason’s design.

I didn’t grow up in a household where we canned fruits and vegetables. Living in the suburbs, our garden only had a few tomato plants, a few green vegetables and the occasional zucchini plant. It was our small version of a Victory Garden but it never produced much more than we could eat that summer.

However, my Dad’s sister and her family always had a huge garden and they canned as much as possible. Back during the late 50’s and on into the 60s, I remember visiting the cousins “on the ranch”  and helping pick blackberries, cherries, apples, and a variety of smaller vegetables that they would preserve. I have great memories of helping cook apples for apple butter, making watermelon pickles, and helping prepare the jars and lids for canning. It was a lot of work and the large country kitchen was full of small helpers, my cousins and I each with an assigned task.

I think it was that sense of sharing in a generations-old activity that encouraged me to try canning with my granddaughter. 

What is America’s favorite flavor? According to data based on the U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS), 163.97 million Americans consumed strawberry jams, jellies and preserves in 2019. So strawberry jam was on our list to try.

Nearly 128 million consumed grape jams or jellies. Raspberry, blackberry, and apricot round out the top five flavors, though considerably farther behind (50; 38; and 33 million). So we bought fresh strawberries from the market and a gallon jug of Welch’s grape juice to make strawberry jam and grape jelly. 

If you haven’t tried your hand at home made preserves, it’s surprising how much time is involved in preparing utensils, boiling water, sterilizing bottles and lids, cutting up fruit, measuring sugar and many other little tasks. While I got our little production underway, Cadence cut up the strawberries we had purchased.

Our assembly line worked pretty smoothly, the kitchen was filled with the smell of ripe strawberries, and the introduction to an element of frontier living went better than I could have hoped. We’ve got enough bottled preserves to last us through the winter, and though we never did make the pickles I had promised her, there is still time to try this summer.

While searching online for recipes and where to purchase mason jars, I was really surprised to see the many creative uses for mason jars that people have been inspired to share. The website freshpreserving in particular, had a lot of fun DIY projects for jars. The locking ring and lid are particular features of the mason jar. However, the website masonjars marketplace has an array of accessories to replace the traditional lid with pour spout lids, dispensor pumps, or spray tops to make reusable glass storage ware.

The wedding industry doesn’t seem to have slowed down in their love of rustic, DIY presentation and the mason jar has a proud position at the table as well as in lighting and other creative uses. And whatever your style, Etsy has it covered with over 51,000 entries alone for “mason jar decor.” That’s a pretty good heritage for John Mason and his glass container patent for the “Improvement In Screw-Neck Bottles.” It was the first hermetically re-sealable glass jar (US 22186A). His improvements, coupled with a rubber washer, transformed the capabilities of the home canning industry and solidified Mason’s place in history. (masonjars.com/history)

Mason jar wine glasses, a little bit country.
Wedding decor with firefly lighting and themed drink ware.
Rustic mason jar bird feeder.

Smells Like Home

Recently we remodeled the guest bathroom. It started out as quick fix to a leaking faucet, but as so often happens, the project expanded a bit in scope. Mission creep that ended up with new tile, vanity and bathroom fixtures. But I digress.

The new bathroom design took a decided turn towards modern farmhouse, but it did allow us to feature a couple of letterpress prints we had purchased years before on a vacation out west. Dutch Door printers had created an American states series, “Birds and Blooms of the 50 States”. Each print featured that state’s bird surrounded by the state flower. We purchased both a print of Virginia and of Nevada (my home state) but hadn’t displayed them before. The completed guest bath was perfect: lots of black, grey and white were the perfect backdrop for Virginia’s state bird—the cardinal, and dogwood blossoms.

Nevada was a bit harder to incorporate in our decor. How to feature the mountain bluebird and artemisia, known commonly as sagebrush? But when my niece sent me a cutting of sagebrush from Reno, we had everything we needed. When I opened the box, the aroma of desert sage was incredible.

There are other smells, scents that immediately remind me of home. The sharp aroma of pine trees or wood smoke draws me back to summer evenings and fire crackling in the wood stove in our cabin at Lake Tahoe. A newly mown lawn invariably reminds me of fields of alfalfa; my cousins and I are riding on a flatbed trailer wrestling with bales of hay. 

With all of their bittersweet memories, I suppose there is nothing to compare with the smell of morning coffee and the heavy presence of bacon frying, filling the house with the promise of fried eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast. My Dad always rose early, always made the coffee first, and loved his San Francisco sourdough bread. 

I suppose one could make an argument for fresh-from-the-oven apple pie, or even the sweet scent of chocolate chip cookies baking. The aromas of baking are captivating and stay with us for a lifetime. But for me they hardly compare with some of the pungent flavors of the desert. Even after years of living in another state, stepping off a plane after we had landed in Reno and walking across the tarmac to the main terminal (long before the modern passenger boarding bridge), the hot, dry wind always carried with it the smell of sagebrush. Home again.