By Linda Wallace

Author's thoughts on the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I was relieved to see in the November 23 issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that we don’t have to worry about running out of cranberries during this year’s holiday season. An August hailstorm in Wisconsin destroyed millions of pounds of fruit, but representatives of the cranberry industry are reassuring consumers there will be plenty of cranberry sauce for Christmas. Wisconsin is expected to match or exceed its record 2005 output of 3.66 million barrels.

I was surprised to learn that Wisconsin leads the U.S. in cranberry production and has done so, as of this year, for 12 consecutive years--in fact, growing more cranberries than the next top four states combined. Massachusetts is second, New Jersey third, Oregon fourth and my own Washington state fifth with a forecasted160,000 barrels. One barrel equals 100 pounds of berries.
I visited the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Foundation in Long Beach, WA, in September of this year. I took the above photos there. The Foundation site includes a delightful little historical museum, a gift shop and year-round self-guided walking tours of their experimental fields. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m-5 p.m., April 1-December 15, and by appointment. The farm showcases different varieties of cranberries, irrigation systems and how crops are planted and cultivated. During October, visitors can also see the crop being harvested. I would love to go back sometime to see the flooded fields with their rafts of floating crimson berries. I’ll probably skip the gift shop on my next visit, though. The prices there are way too high for my penny-pinching consumer style. I was going to buy a jar of cranberry chutney, but when I saw the sticker price, I decided to stick with the cranberry compote that I make myself most every year.
Bog cranberry is a Washington native plant, Oxycoccus oxycoccos or Vaccinium microcarpum. I’m a Washington Native Plant Steward, so that makes the cranberry of particular interest to me. Another native cranberry is lingonberry or mountain cranberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea. Native Americans of the Northwest Coast highly prized cranberries. They usually cooked them and served them in oolichan (a small fish) grease or oil. Cranberries were also stored fresh in moss or by drying into cakes. The cakes were made by mashing the berries and either boiling them in boxes or allowing them to sit until thickened. The resulting jam was poured onto skunk-cabbage leaves within rectangular cedar-wood frames and dried on racks over an alder-wood fire. Other berries, salal being one of the most important, were made into cakes in the same fashion. Mixed-berry cakes were also common. The Cranberry Research Foundation Web site says, "…Native Americans combined crushed cranberries with dried deer meat and melted fat to make pemmican…," but my Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast field guide doesn’t mention pemmican, so maybe the Foundation is talking about aboriginal peoples of the East Coast.

The cranberries now grown commercially in Washington, however, are not native. In the 1870s, a Massachusetts visitor observed the native berries growing in the marshes and was impressed with the area's resemblance to Cape Cod. Convinced that the peat soil could be successfully adapted to the cultivation of cranberries, he brought in East Coast vines. The non-native vines also brought with them non-native pests, a common problem with introduced species. Pests and frost were only two of many problems faced by cranberry farmers over the years.

Cranberry farming began here more than 100 years ago. A partnership of 4 entrepreneurs purchased more than 1600 acres of Peninsula marshland between 1872 and 1877 for as little as $1 an acre. Many of those original bogs are still producing today, but now raw land suitable for cranberries costs over $5,000 an acre. Cranberry farming is definitely big business.

What I ultimately care about, though, is eating the berries. The Ocean Spray Web site has lots of recipes, along with a mildly amusing video on its home page of farmers in a flooded bog. Of the current 235 growers on the West Coast from British Columbia to Oregon, 99% are part of an Ocean Spray cooperative. In the what-a-hoot category, the Ocean Spray site offers a beverage recipe called the Lava Lamp. Apparently, if you put sweetened dried cranberries in champagne, the cranberries will begin to slowly float up and down in the glass.

I was planning on sharing my favorite cranberry recipe, Cranberry Keeping Cake, but after I located the grease-stained newspaper clipping dated December 4, 1991, and realized how long the ingredient list and directions are, I decided I don’t have the necessary motivation to type it all up. I’m still not that adept with my new scanner to just scan the recipe into the post. What’s interesting about this cake is, that though it’s ready to serve after a few days, it continues to improve for weeks and will keep in a cool pantry for at least 3 months. Perfect for mailing to far-flung friends and family for Christmas. I’m not sure what keeps the cake from molding, maybe all the spices: cinnamon, coriander, cardamom and cloves. And unlike the much-maligned fruitcake, this cake tastes delicious. But since I’m not giving you the recipe, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Widows Vacuuming

The morning after I posted my last blog, I walked to the ocean on Seola Beach Dr. It reminded me of how beautiful the world in general and Seattle in particular can be: sword ferns, snowberry, bigleaf maples, conifers and the sea. My husband and I are sure to have many more lovely days to share. Not that I expect his immediate demise, but you can’t help but think about death when your spouse has cancer, and you’re reading about mortality rates on cancer-related Web sites. My husband asked me to make a will for him, which started a new round of research. The Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General of Washington has useful information on their "Dealing with Death" page.

Every month or so I have dinner with a group of women I worked with when I was a Instructional Para-Educator for the Highline School District. That’s a fancy name for a teacher’s assistant. I feel very lucky to have been able to stay in touch after we were no longer working together. These are wonderfully supportive friends who laugh with abandon, enjoy good food at many different local restaurants and share important life events. They’ve admired my wedding and grandchildren photos, viewed my Web site,, and bought my books, Wings ePress, Inc.

Awhile ago, before the cancer diagnosis, my school-teaching group and I were having dinner, and I suddenly realized I was surrounded by widows. All of them had very different takes on their husbands’ deaths and their widowhood. One woman said she and her husband had always been "joined at the hip" and she missed him terribly. In fact, she didn’t think she should still be alive now that he was dead, and perhaps, if it weren’t for her children, she might have done something about that. Another woman said that she didn’t realize what she’d had until after it was gone. A third widow, a staunch supporter of getting on with your life, recommended taking a new lover as soon as possible. And finally, there was the friend who had coped by vacuuming. The photo is from treehugger. Yes, she said, vacuuming. Back and forth, back and forth, for days on end. She didn’t have to think, and her house was spotlessly clean.

These conversations were all before I knew my own husband has a life-threatening illness. Now I see, read and hear about cancer everywhere. I’m sure there must be some kind of psychological term for the phenomenon, but I don’t know what it is. When something becomes a part of your life, you see evidence of it everywhere. Like when you’re pregnant, you see ads for baby supplies; pregnant women on TV, in stores and on the street; newspaper articles on pregnancy, often with alarming statistics; novels with pregnant characters, etc., etc. Now I’m sensitive to cancer themes. In last night’s episode of "Gray’s Anatomy,", George’s father is diagnosed with metastasized esophageal cancer. As I watched, tears formed for the fake family even though I’ve shed few, as of yet, for my husband. I’ve been trying not to, though I suspect that’s not the most mentally healthy approach to grief and fear. I feel a surge of throat-tightening, moisture-forming, sob-threatening potential and push it away. For now, at least.

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Friday, November 10, 2006


My husband has liver cancer. We got the diagnosis October 4 after a preventative ultrasound revealed a 5.5 cm tumor. My husband has known he has hepatitis C since the early 1990s and that hep C can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer, but though blood tests for viral markers have been extremely high they have also been stable, so I suppose we have both become rather complacent about the scary possibilities. He had bypass surgery in 1995, and we’ve been more concerned about heart disease than liver problems.

I had intended for this blog to be about happy things, but it’s hard to think happy when you have cancer on your mind. To be more honest, I’d hoped a blog would help to connect readers to my Web site,, and my books, Wings ePress, Inc. Everyone says it works that way, but promoting my writing doesn’t seem so very important now, either.

My husband has lots of hard decisions to make. After an EKG, heart stress test, blood tests and a CT scan, the cardiologist and surgeons say he’s a candidate for liver resection, but they will have to remove the entire left lobe, and the surgery is very risky. Take too much liver and the results can include jaundice, fluid accumulation, mental confusion and coma. The survival rates are not great, either. My husband thought the surgeon said 30%. I’ve seen different figures on various Web sites, for instance, and the National Cancer Institute. According to the American Cancer Society, "The overall 5-year relative survival rate from liver cancer is about 9%."

Radiofrequency ablation is also an option, but it doesn’t cure the patient of the cancer. Radio waves "cook" the tumor. This is not my own highly technical medical term; it’s how the doctor described what happens. If the cancer is carbonized, I don’t understand why it isn’t gone for good. One of the many things I need to find out. One of the surgeons said my husband has 1 to 2 years to live if he does nothing. RFA might add 1 or 2 more years.

Definitely not happy thoughts. I’m gathering as much information as I can. There are many sites, including lots of blogs,, for one. I hope it proves true that knowledge is power. We are both feeling very helpless right now. A little power would be a very good thing.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Disc Golf

I’m miffed. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer didn’t include White Center's Lakewood Park in a list of parks that have disc golf courses. Blythe Lawrence wrote a nice piece on disc golf at Cornwall Park in Bellingham in the September 21 issue of the Intelligencer’s "1 Tank/1 Trip" feature in the Thursday "Getaways" section. Well, I think it’s a nice piece. She describes the game and her attempts to master it, but since I don’t play myself, I have no idea how accurate the information is. However, I felt like I could play after I read her article. And she does a good job of capturing the enthusiasm that is causing the sport to gain in popularity. You can even play the game online at The cartoon is from that site.

I love having a disc golf course in our local park. I’ve helped establish native plants at Lakewood, enjoyed picnics there, fed the geese bread at Hicks Lake (a definite no, no) and taken my grandchildren for bike rides on the paved paths, but for a long time I didn’t know the park also served another function. I’d never heard of disc golf before I discovered we have a course right here in White Center. I’d wondered about the purpose of the numerous metal poles encircled with wire baskets and festooned with chains. Bird sanctuary? Weather-reporting apparatus? Trash can? What? Oh, disc golf. How cool!

Not everyone shares my delight in the course. Dick Thurnau, the man I wrote about in my "Benches for Bumbershoot" blog, is conducting an on-going war with the golfers. He’s convinced they’re the culprits who leave behind piles of alcoholic beverage containers in and around the trash cans (strictly illegal) and damage the trees and native shrubs we’ve planted. He has a spiral notebook full of photos he’s taken of beer cans, wine bottles, broken tree limbs, stripped tree bark, concrete tee pads in spots he considers inappropriate and other violations. He’s a voluminous letter writer to political and park officials and often mentions the disc golfers as a problem. So, that makes the two of us have a problem because I want to support the golf course.

I see his point about the plants. In the P-I article, even though she enthuses about disc golfing as a whole, Ms. Lawrence also notes, "The scars of scores of discs were visible on tree trunks throughout Cornwall Park." I don’t know how to solve that problem, but I suspect not all of the damage documented by Dick in his photos was perpetrated by golfers.

I know Dick and I share the common goal of improving Lakewood Park even if we don’t always agree on how to do it. We’re both members of Friends of Hicks Lake, an organization formed for the purpose of improving the water quality of Lakewood Park’s small pond. Dick is by far the most active, and definitely the most vocal, member. I’m wondering if I can continue to belong to a group that, thanks to Dick’s letters, is probably seen as opposing disc golf at Lakewood Park, a view exactly opposite of my own. Sigh. How can anything ever get accomplished when even people of good will can’t agree on what should be done?

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