Christmas in September, 2017

Over the years, Christmas has been a very special celebration for our family. In 2017 Christmas came twice for the Walker family, once in September, and then again in December. In June, when we learned that Michael would be coming home in September, we decided to celebrate Christmas while we were all together.
Mike and Erla, September Christmas 2017Michael and Erla flew into SeaTac on Thursday and spent the night with Betsy in Seattle, then came over with everyone the next day. Betsy and JohnWe had Betsy and her friend, John; Michael and Erla (pronounced Erc-tla), whom he brought home to introduce to the family; and Renee and Adam and their two dogs, so it was a tight fit, but I think everyone had a good time. Everyone stayed for 2 nights. By the time they all left, Bob and I were both exhausted.


After everyone left, Michael called to see if we could meet him at Lake Chelan so we would have a little more time together before he had to fly back to Iceland. I found a very reasonable 2 bedroom condo right on the lake and we had a wonderful visit with them. We went to Leavenworth and Omhe Gardens.Omhe Gardens

Heat Wave

The first week of June has been unseasonably warm, even by Yakima standards, peaking at 105° for two days in a row. Established plants are wilting and emerging seedlings are stressed. However, our landscaping and gardens are designed to provide some added shelter from such weather extremes.

Building raised beds with drip irrigation for the garden.

Raised beds for the vegetable garden are enclosed behind 5 foot high cyclone fencing that has privacy slats added. We had to use heavy duty posts and space out the slats so the wind wouldn’t push the fence over.

Raised beds and drip irrigation are laid out inside the fenced garden area. Raised bed gardening has many advantages. We can create a micro climate to favor the crop in each bed by adding shade cloth over hoops or screened flat lids to cover the bed.


We have one area we call “the Conestoga.” It is a 24 x 12 foot planting area that we dug down into the ground, rather than raising it up. The area is framed 2 x 12 inch lumber, with five 4 x 4 inch posts down each side. Heavy gage wire fencing forms a high hoop over the width of the bed, then we covered the hoop with a specialty product we found in a commercial ag catalog. So far it has held up to the wind and provided shelter for crops that require warmer nights, i.e. tomatoes and melons.


Our greenhouse is an essential asset in our garden strategy. It is a season extender, allowing us to start seed flats earlier and keep crops in production in the cooler months of the year. Today the weather has moderated, with a high of 72° predicted.  I’m going to  go outside and enjoy the yard and garden while I can 🙂

After the Storm

IMG_0969Yesterday we experienced 35 mph winds, followed by rain and thunder that continued throughout the night. Fortunately, our home is sturdily built and suffered no storm damage. Our flowerbeds are a bit worse for the wear, but given a stretch of spring temperatures, they will recover.



Looking at the rock wall beyond the front porch pillar, you can see that the beautiful Iris are gone, victims of the storm.


These iris line the edge of our back yard. During the storm they were laid flat. Today they are upright again, but this year’s blooms are gone.


These are the rose hedges on each side of the driveway. Today they are battered and somewhat bedraggled, but they have bounced back before, and I expect they will soon be fully recovered. They were selected based on their reputation as tough survivors, and they have not disappointed.

May Garden Tour

cropped-img_08901.jpgToday the flowerbeds are a parade of color. Iris and roses are at the head of the parade, blooming with abandon. Most of our flowerbeds are raised and oriented to shelter the plants from the high winds and cold winter temperatures. Rock walls are used retain the soil and moderate the temperature extremes we can expect in this part of the country.

Raised beds faced with rock walls define the driveway.
Each side of the driveway is lined with a rose hedge, ‘Carefree Delight‘ on the east, and ‘Carefree Beauty’ on the west side, with the fenced garden just beyond.
Started from a clipping taken last August, this ‘Carefree Celebration‘ is already showing its colors.
This is ‘Angel Face,’ a floribunda introduced in 1968. I carried a bouquet of Angel Face roses when Bob & I married in 1984. Bob got me this rose bush to mark our 30th anniversary!


‘Coming Storm’, a tall bearded bi-color introduced in 2006.
‘Cafe Blue’, a tall bearded iris introduced in 2001
Rare Quality‘, a tall bearded plicata introduced in 1999

A Visit Down Under

In January of 2016 Bob and I started planning our trip to visit our son Mike in New Zealand. This journal is intended to be a daily record of where we went, the wonderful people we met,  and the amazing things we saw and did.

Much of our planning was done online. Our daughter Betsy was our travel agent, introducing us to  and, obtaining passports, and the advantages of TSA Precheck.  She also suggested the overall itinerary:

  1. Drive from Yakima to Seattle, where we would leave the truck and spend the night with Betsy.
  2. Fly from Seattle to Los Angeles,
  3. from Los Angeles to Brisbane, Australia,
  4. then on to Christchurch, New Zealand.
  5. Take the TransAlpine train across New Zealand to Greymouth, where  Mike would pick us up and take us to Fox Glacier, where he works as a glacier guide.

    This photo from the TranzAlpine website shows some of the dramatic landscape we passed through.
  6. Once we joined Mike our itinerary was dependent on the weather. Mike warned us we would have to be flexible if we wanted to dodge the abundant New Zealand rain, which meant we could only book our rooms one day in advance.  Fortunately, he was able to map  out a sunny path for us. Our daily posts will have more detail about our travels with Mike.
  7. After touring the South Island with us, Mike dropped us off at our B&B in Christchurch. He headed back to Fox Glacier and we spent 2 days site seeing Christchurch.
  8. From Christchurch we flew to Sydney, Australia, where we stayed for 2 days.
  9.  We flew from Sydney to Los Angeles
  10. then from Los Angeles to Seattle.
  11. Another night with Betsy, then home to Yakima.

Because our travels took us across so many time zones and the International Date Line, each day’s post will be identified  by its ordinal value, rather than by date.

Click on the map to see our travel schedule.NZTrip

First Day
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First Day

We set off from Yakima at about 8:30 am on March 8th. We were packed and ready, so there was no last minute dashing. The weather was clear and sunny as we headed out, but became overcast before we reached the summit of Snoqualmie Pass.

Earlier we had made plans to stop for lunch with a friend in Tacoma. Thanks to Google Navigator we made it to the rendezvous just a tad late. We caught up with Rocky, had a good lunch, and were back on the road by 1:30.

Betsy’s office building on ‘Cap Hill’ in Seattle.

We arrived in Seattle at 3:00. We visit Seattle infrequently, but every time we do we are unnerved by the traffic (which may explain the infrequent.)  Bob found a parking place directly in front of Betsy’s office building (pictured above) at 12th and Capitol Hill, and we spent a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon with our daughter, seeing her for the first time in her professional role.

The office



Her office is a high-ceilinged loft on the second floor  of a remodeled industrial building. There is a kitchen at one end of the space and a wall of windows at the other, with lots of room for desks and work spaces in between.  Betsy had to get ready for a meeting, so Bob and I set off to explore the neighborhood on foot. We made plans to meet Betsy_and_Bobup for dinner at the Capitol Hill Elysian. At 5:30 Adam and Renee Hendricksen and a friend of Betsy’s joined us for a marvelous dinner. After dinner Google Navigator came to our rescue once again as we picked our way from Capitol Hill to Betsy’s condo out past the U district. Sleep-over at Betsy’s.

Today’s miles: 150.

Overview         ⇔        Second Day


Second Day

Our first flight was from SEA to LAX.      956 miles in 2 3/4 hours.

March 9th, 2016. Today we start our airplane odyssey with Virgin Australia flight 6609: Seattle SEA 4:06pm to Los Angeles LAX 6:41pm. Betsy drove us to the airport in a pelting rain. I don’t understand how she could see to drive at all, let alone zig-and-zag through traffic like a pro. She got us there in one piece and on time.

In every airport we passed through we were either standing in long lines and waiting … and waiting … and waiting  …. or desperately running with our carry on baggage from one end of the terminal to the other. Not sure why, but that day the terminal was swamped with travelers waiting to be cleared for travel. Even with Pre-Flight clearance, it took more than 45 minutes to wind our way up to security clearance.

Once we got to the security check point we had to empty our things into sorted bins – electronics and keys in one, liquids (shampoo, cream rinse, etc.) in another, shoes and purse in another, and so on. While the bins and bags disappeared into a scanner the owners did the same, stepping one at a time into a contraption about the size of a phone booth. Having had the foresight not to wear any zippers or jewelry, I sailed through the scan. Bob kept having to repeat the exercise until he discovered all of the coins and other metal bits on his person.

While Bob was dancing in and out of the scanner, I went ahead to recover my baggage. Now it was my bag’s turn to be scanned again and again. Finally, a staff  member took me and my bag  over to a table and went through everything in my carry on. It turned out that my knitting needles were the problem. I had planned to knit on the long flights and had brought along a set of circular knitting needles, scissors, and a crochet hook. The set was advertised as approved for air travel.  A TSA agent came over and approved the set, and we were good to go.

Our flight to LAX was uneventful. We arrived about 7:00 pm. First order of business- scope out where we needed to be to catch the 11:00 pm flight to Brisbane. Delta staff directed us to Gate 52B. On the way to the gate we stopped for some dinner at a restaurant called Lemonade that featured what they called “Southern California Comfort Food.” They had a good variety of unusual salads and about 16 kinds of lemonade. Terrific meal.

After dinner we walked around a bit. LAX has lots of public art: mosaics, sculpture, unusual art installations, and murals everywhere.  When we arrived at Gate 52B  we were told we were in the wrong place. If we were going to Brisbane, we needed to go to the Tom Bradley International  Terminal (TBIT). They hustled us  down a ramp and onto a shuttle  that took us to TBIT where we sat down to people watch while we waited for our 11:05 pm flight. Evidently there had been a yoga convention in LA earlier that week. Bob and I were seated in the middle of a group of young women who were doing extreme yoga routines, surrounded by dazed travelers watching them bend in ways that just shouldn’t be possible.

At 10:30 pm they started loading our plane. This leg of the trip was on a Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ER that seats 361 passengers in a three-class configuration and is used on long-haul routes. There are 33 seats in Business Class, 40 seats in Premium Economy, and 288 seats in Economy Class, configured in rows of 9 with two aisles running the length of the aircraft. Way to close for comfort, though the service was good. The most uncomfortable thing about this 14 hour flight was the pervasive, unpleasant and inescapable smell of Vegemite, Australia’s national condiment. It came mixed in with the sausage,  the pastry, the eggs — the incredible, inedible Vegemite. Bob and I passed on the meal and settled down to try to sleep.

Thus ended the second day.

Today’ miles: 956          Total miles: 1,106

First Day       ⇔        Third Day

Third Day

Landed in Brisbane, Australia at about 7:30 (local time) and made a mad dash through the terminal to catch our connecting flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. Virgin Australia flight 124 from Brisbane took off at about  8:30 am and landed in Christchurch at 3:00 pm on March 11th. During the flight we met two sisters from Australia on their way to NZ as part of a tour group. Judy and Helen are twins. Judy assured us that she is not the evil twin. Our flight took nearly 4 hours, so we had time for an enjoyable visit with them.

When we left LAX it was around 11:00 pm on March 9th. As we crossed the Pacific time and dates got scrambled. When we got off the plane in Christchurch, New Zealand, our wrist watches and internal clocks told us it was 6:00 in the evening of Thursday, March 10th.  After spending  19 hours traveling we stepped off the airplane a day ahead of ourselves. It was 3:00 in the afternoon of March 11th in Christchurch.


We took a shuttle from the airport to the B&B we had booked. Addington B&B was a wonderful place to be after a long flight. The owner, Terre Kinto, is a natural host. He always seemed to know just how to solve traveler’s problems and how to make his guests feel relaxed and welcomed. We were only going to be staying overnight, but we made reservations to stay here again on our way back home. We highly recommend Addington Bed & Breakfast.

Today’s miles: 8,729     Total miles: 9,835

Second Day    ⇔    Fourth Day

Fourth Day

After a good night’s sleep we were up at 6:00 to pack and get ready for the train trip. Terre had breakfast ready along with a good cup of coffee. After breakfast he loaded our luggage in his car and delivered us to the train station.

Interior of KiwiRail train. They also had open air observation cars. One car was a cafe.

The KiwiRail cars were all very  modern and spacious, with many of the amenities of airline seats. I was surprised by the scenery. It was dry desert steppe on the east side and moist green forested hills on the west side of the Southern Alps, which run up the center of NZ like a spine.

NZ plants are recognizably different from those found in the Pacific Northwest of the US,  but similar in the biome niche they fill. For example, we saw forests of podocarp trees instead of firs. Seen from a train window, the landscape looks familiar, but still oddly different.


Got to Greymouth at about 12:30. We picked up our luggage and walked into town. Our first stop was a gadget store where we bought an adapter for our mobile charger. NZ wall plugs are 240. Then we wandered around a bit, trying to reach Mike. It started to rain and was getting cold, so we ducked into a restaurant. Mike arrived about 3:30. He looked so good! Hugs, hellos, a quick stop for groceries, and we started driving to Fox Glacier. Mike has an older silver Subaru wagon – right hand drive, of course. It took 2 1/2 hours of stunning scenery over winding two-lane roads to reach Fox Glacier, a small and very picturesque community of about 300 people.

Fox Glacier Guiding and the hobnail cafe

Fox3_hotelMike took us to the Heartland, where we were staying, then out to dinner at a wonderful place called The Last Kitchen.  Bob had a piece of fish that he raved about for the rest of our trip. I ordered a salad of roasted vegetables (delicious!) and Mike ordered venison steak. He told us that deer are farmed just like cattle in New Zealand.Fox004

Today’s travelsFox

Today’s miles:  257         Total miles: 10,092

Third Day   ⇔    Fifth Day