Thursday, January 5, 2012

Washington Trip Part 3--Christmas Fund Events

Marianne's Christmas cactus in full bloom in the kitchen
For many years Marianne and the family have been involved in the Skagit Valley Christmas Fund.  Marianne is on the board of directors so spends a lot of time on this project.  She has recruited me to help the last 2 years and it is a fun job.  This group gathers donations of toys, money and other items for children and young people for Christmas presents.  They advertise for families in need to sign up for help and have them call to register.

A view of part of the gifts that have been sorted.
   Meanwhile as the toys come into this big warehouse building at the fairgrounds the toys have to be sorted into age and gender appropriate sections.  Many of the toys come from Toys for Tots but also from many other generous donators.  When families call to register they are assigned a day and time to come pick up their gifts.  Then on a Saturday before Christmas there is a big Christmas party for the families.  As you can see there is a lot of work to be done and it involves a lot of volunteers!  Last year this fund served over 2000 families and over 5000 children!

Dolls for the little girls.
Last year I helped sort toys and was amazed at all the things that were donated but the people in charge were worried about how few things they had compared to years before.  This year I again got to help sort for an afternoon and there was even less but as you can see in the pictures, there is still a lot.
Gifts for teens.  Notice all the Snuggies!
  Part of the trouble is the poor economy in this part of Washington.  Less donations and more families in need equals smaller gift packages each year.   Meanwhile while I was sorting gifts there was a group of people taking phone registrations for families in English and Spanish.
Another view of the many gifts that have been donated.
Last year we came home before the real work started but we were there this year! Darcy, Brendin, Marianne and I all spent two evenings helping to bag the gifts for the families.  This is a very structured assembly line undertaking.  Labels are printed with the family number (no names allowed) and the gender and age of each child.  These are stuck on a big black garbage bag and then someone takes around the bag and places one toy or gift for each child in the bag.  They also had a large stash of caps, mittens, and scarves that ladies groups knit all year.

A table of games for the family
  The gift gatherers are allowed to place one item from this stash per child in the bag.  (these ran out about half way through the first night we were there.) and then one item from the stocking stuffer area per kid.

The gifts are bagged and ready to distribute.
   I was on the garbage bag prep line.  We shook out the garbage bags and placed the labels on them and then handed them to the bag fillers.  This process takes 3  two hour evenings plus one afternoon!  We worked the last 2 nights.  It is really hard not to throw in a couple extra things like they used to be able to do but it has to be strict so they don't run out of gifts.

  The first night I worked it was High School volunteer night.  It was very interesting because the FCCLA from Mount Vernon HS were there and I got to visit with some of the girls.  Darcy's Jr. ROTC also volunteered that night.  It was a lot of work but I met and got to visit with a few really cool kids and on the second night some great volunteers as we shook out the bags.  It was good exercise too.
Brendin celebrates another night of completed bagging.
A week or so later it was time to distribute the gifts to the families.  This is another very structured process.  Each family has a time to come in.  This goes on for 4 hours on two different nights.  We were signed up for the second night so I figured all the bags would be gone.  Brendin was assigned to assist with parking cars, Darcy stayed home because he had an early morning competition the next morning, Marianne worked on a computer and I got to help handing out the books.

The book area is getting filled up on sorting day!
 Each family received their bag of gifts and a voucher to buy groceries and then they got to choose one book per child before leaving.  The book area was set up with tables full of books for age groups.  There were lots of books--mostly from Scholastic Books(boxes of the same book in some cases).  I was supposed to monitor how many books they were taking and just keep the tables replenished.  For some kids it was like going to the library and they were collecting a whole pile of books and for others we tried to make them take one book!  We had a table with books in Spanish too but it didn't have as big a variety as the other tables and the infants table only had paperback books which many parents felt their child would just rip up but that was the only choice they had.  We worked 4 hours straight.  One husband and wife that were helping in the book place were all dressed up and had brought a large basket with suckers and candy canes to give each child as they left.  They worked for two hours each day.  They told me they had done this every year for many years.  At the end of this night there were still probably 50 or so bags left.  I guess some families arrange for late pick up during that last week before Christmas and collect them from the office.

Bob and I had to leave before the final event, the Christmas party.  They have cookies and punch, music and I think Santa is there too.  Anyway the whole thing is a huge undertaking with a lot of donations and volunteer work!  I believe there were even more families and children this year than last!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Recipe from Marianne for the Cold Season Plus Darcy's Annual Military Inspection

Darcy and Bob after the Inspection

Ready to be inspected. Darcy is under the arrow.

Today I am going to post a really good recipe when it is cold and blustery.  It is a really good one for when you have a bad cold too.  Almost as good as Mom's Chicken Noodle soup.  Pat asked to have it one night when he and I were both sick with colds and it tasted soooo good, I had to have the recipe.  Here it is:

Marianne's Hot and Sour Soup

2 quarts Chicken Stock or water & Better than Bullion
½ cup White Wine
¼ cup Rice Vinegar
¼ cup Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese Chili Garlic Sauce
3 Chicken breasts, cubed
1 heaping tablespoon grated Ginger
1 cup Shallots, sliced; or Onion, chopped
Green Onions, sliced for garnish

Throw everything in a pot except green onions and cook until chicken is done and onions are soft.    Add  green onions last few minutes.

Armed drill demonstration.  Darcy is in there somewhere!
 Sorry, no pictures of soup but here are some of Darcy's Jr ROTC Annual Military Inspection.

Washington Trip Part 2--the Christmas Tree Farm

Marianne checks out some of the trees for sale.
Every year starting right after Thanksgiving, Pat and Darcy spend their weekends up north of Burlington about 45 minutes in Deming, WA at the River's Edge Christmas Tree Farm.  They help the customers choose their tree, help them cut it down if they need it, carry it to the wagon and haul it up to their cars and then assist them in tying it down to their car.  Darcy has a side business of selling holly that he cuts from the tree in their yard in Burlington.

  Cutting Holly For Christmas

Last year I wrote about the holly so this year I will be writing about the tree farm.

A lovely setting for the farm.  You can see the trees off in the distance.
The Farm is owned by Larry and Bea Walton who are good friends of the Ailles family.  The farm is located along the Nooksack River and is quite beautiful with views of  Baker mountain near by and tall trees and woods plus the actual different pine trees growing for purchase for Christmas trees.

River's Edge Christmas Tree Farm

  Marianne, Bob, and I drove up one Saturday to visit the farm.  It was a sunny cool afternoon and business was brisk.  Marianne and I walked around the some of the property.  They used to have blues concerts
A tree that was marked by a customer.  They come cut it whenever they can come.  Some are even chosen the summer before.
 on this property in summer.  It has a nice big clearing in the woods and lots of space for camping.  The river is a short walk from the clearing and there is good fishing as well as some pretty scenery along this stretch of the river.  It is very peaceful in the clearing.  Larry has been thinking about making the area into a place for outdoor weddings and that would be a perfect sight to do it.

We walked down to the river and watched some fisherman and boats go by and then walked along the different plots of trees from very young, little ones to some very tall ones that were not chosen and have grown too big for houses.  We  visited with some of the customers and looked at the mountains in the background.  It is a lovely spot in very northern Washington, almost to the Canadian border.

The house and store are in the background.  Woods and mountains surround the area.

Larry and Bea are gracious hosts and seem to know how to take care of their customers.  Many people make it an all day outing and bring picnics with them to eat out in the Christmas trees!  It was nice to get out into the brisk sunshine and take a walk.  What a great time we had.

On the way home we stopped at another special place.  It is not too far from the farm, maybe 2 or 3 miles away.  It's called Everybody's Store and is well known in Northwestern Washington.  It is a little country store that carries a large variety of cheeses domestic and imported and a delicious selection of sausages as well.  They have all sorts of kinds of exotic groceries to buy.  We have made special trips up to this store just to get their sausages and their extra sharp cheddar cheese!  We always come away with 3 or 4 other types of cheese when we stop there.
Close to the woods and river.
It was a fun trip.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Our Visit to Washington Part 1

Sunset Nevada style as we drove along I-80 near Elko.
Well, after a 2 month hiatus I am back in business!  We went to Burlington, Washington to spend time with Marianne and her family in mid-November.    Here's what happened to keep me from my posts here at Meemo In the Mountains!

We left here in beautiful weather hoping to make it to JJ's house in Elko before winter weather hit.  We made it and immediately drove to Reno the next day with Ozzie, JJ and Brent to visit Erin who is going to University of Nevada there.  Erin had purchased tickets to the UNR vs Hawaii football game for all of us except Bob (who chose to stay at Circus, Circus where he could watch the game in the comfort of our room.).  We bundled up and drove to the game thinking we could park in the huge parking lot adjacent to the stadium.  Forget that!  No parking anywhere!  Ozzie finally said he'd join Bob and we could call him when the game was over unless he found a spot miraculously.  He dropped us off at a filling station across the street from the campus and we were off to the game.  Much to our surprise, Ozzie showed up at our seats almost the same time we did!  He had decided to fill up while he was at the station and happened to ask the proprietor if he could park next to the owner's pickup.  The guy said sure, nobody ever asks to park there and for $10 Ozzie could.  The game was fun and the home team won.

We spent the weekend visiting with Erin and the family she is living with and doing a little shopping, too.
Shopping in Reno.  This is a "Pine- Beetle Brown" Christmas Tree!  Yes they are actually selling these things!

I just HAD to take some pictures of these camouflage suits!  I think they are hilarious!

Child size one.  Halloween anyone?
Pretty pricey but I guess you would blend in....

  We got home Sunday night and planned to spend a little time in Elko visiting friends and family.  Marianne called as soon as we got back and let us know a big storm was coming and we better be on our way so we could get across the pass before it closed.

We left the next day and had lovely weather the whole way except for a little rain and snow on top of Snoqualmie Pass.  The next day it was closed due to heavy snow and low visibility as advertised!  Western Washington in November is not  what I consider a weather paradise.  It rains almost daily and although it is usually in the 40's and 50's, I freeze the whole time I am there due to the high humidity.  As it turned out, it did not rain every day and we even saw the sun in the afternoon several days, but I was still cold.  I wore 3 layers of clothes and even JJ's long johns that I forgot to return after the football game.  Even so, we had some fun adventures while we were there.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving Dinner with the whole family.  I got to hear Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet , An early TV celebrity pre-Food Channel) speak at Marianne's church on his faith, visited a newly opened church in the Mall, and visited the Christmas tree farm that Darcy and Pat work at every year.  I took some pictures up there which I will share along with pictures of the  other major projects we worked on while I was there.  In between I worked on embroidery I was donating to the silent auction Marianne was in charge of.

This is the first year we did the early, early morning Black Friday.  It was kind of rainy and we decided to stand in line to try for a TV at Best Buy.  They opened at midnight so we decided to get in line about 10PM to get the certificates for what we wanted.  We knew some people had been in line since Wednesday night!  But we wanted some things that we figured weren't as popular.  Brendin and Darcy volunteered to stand while we went back to the house until they got the tickets, if they got any.  The line was very long.

Meanwhile we looked up other TV sales, knowing we weren't going to get one at Best Buy and found one at Walmart, too.  It went on sale at midnight.  We should have gone right then but waited for a call from the boys.  They got some certificates and we picked them up and headed for Walmart. (the Best Buy tickets were good until 4 AM).  It wasn't quite 11 PM when we got to the parking lot, and it was a zoo!  Toys had gone on sale at 10 and people were coming out with carts heaped up like the Grinch's sleigh!  We could not find the line for the TVs right away and as we elbowed our way through the crowds it was beginning to look like we might not get a TV there either.  We finally saw the TVs and they were piled high to the ceiling so there was hope.  Then we found the line and discovered it went up and down the grocery aisles forever! (the TVs were in the produce department!) We finally found the end of the line in the pasta aisle and settled in.

  The people around us were a fun crowd and we joked around and had a good time.  Eventually an employee came around and said we were about 8 people from where they could guarantee us a TV.  We asked if they gave only one TV per person and they said yes.  What we didn't think of was that whole families were in line and each one could take a TV if they wanted it. 

I should have taken pictures in Walmart because it was an amazing sight, but I didn't .  We did not see any fights or grumpiness but there were lots of children out and about at midnight for sure.  Anyway the bell rang at midnight and slowly the line started to move.  We were in aisles so could not even see the TVs or how they were distributing them for about 1/2 hour but we could see people going to the checkout lines in the aisle behind us, some with 4 TVs on their cart.  Someone said that people sometimes get up to the cash register and can't pay for all of them and just leave them in the aisles. So Darcy went on a recon mission to see if he could find some abandoned ones but the check out lines were so long no TVs had made it to the front yet!  Well, obviously we didn't make it for this particular TV (we missed by about 15 people) but then they said they had lots more just a couple inches smaller one and a lower definition and they were knocking 30% more off of them for anyone who was still in line!  We should have gotten at least one for Bob and I but we didn't because we would have been in line for another couple hours in order to get out of there!

One of the lines at Best Buy at 2 AM Black Thursday.

  We went back to Best Buy and had to still stand in line outside to get in at 1 AM because they were monitoring the number of people who could be in the store at 1 time.  When we got in it was jam packed.  It was funny because it was like old home week with friends meeting up in the aisles and visiting at 2 AM.  The lines were long in this store too so we had Brendin and Shayla stand in line while we got our stuff and then joined them. We got home around 3 am!  It was a fun experience but I'm thinking once in a lifetime might just be enough!  We had to be up and over to Fred Meyers before 11 AM for the annual sock sale and then over to JoAnn's before noon for their annual sale.  No rest for the weary for sure!  At least we had leftovers from Thanksgiving so no cooking needed to be done!

I will continue my Washington adventures in my next post.