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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Danish Ghosts of Christmas Past

If you had looked through a window of our Tacoma home on Christmas day, it might have appeared that only three of us sat down for the holiday dinner this year, but appearances can deceive. Along with the company of my husband and his sister, I could feel the presence of some unseen, most welcome, delightfuland delightedguests: the ghosts of our Danish ancestors.

In fact, we had invited them with thoughts and family legends. Or perhaps the powerful allure of pickled herring, lingonberries, and other Danish delights drew them forth. In any case, I hope they show up again next year.

This Christmas my husband and I decided to introduce a new dinner menu into the sweet nostalgia of our typical American baby boomer traditions and memories. We did so to honor our shared Danish heritage and his Danish mother. She died this past September, well into her nineties and far too frail to navigate all the stairs in our home to enjoy a traditional dinner that might have been served in the Old Country. But I am quite sure she easily found her place in the empty chair to witness our feast in spirit.

The appetizers included pickled herring, excellent blue cheese, and the best salami I’ve ever had, all from Denmark of course, purchased by my sister-in-law at Scandinavian Specialties in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. We served these delicacies with amazing, flaky but non-crumbling 27-layer rye crackers from the island of Bornholm. It is part of Denmark but closer to Sweden. Members of my husband's family lived there for years, operating a watch shop, and the relatives we correspond with still keep a summer home on the island, about two hours from Copenhagen by boat.

For the main course, we served pork loin with its center pierced lengthwise and then stuffed with prunes and pieces of apple, alternating. The stuffed meat was browned in a heavy pan in hot butter and oil, then oven braised in white wine and cream, the latter being reduced and thickened for the gravy, with a bit of black current jam added in place of red current jelly we didn’t have.

We  served it with a relish of lingonberries and a side of boiled baby red potatoes tossed with real Danish butter (oh my!) and fresh parsley. Some of that same creamy butter melted over a bowl of ruby red beets to mingle with fresh grated ginger root. A traditional cucumber salad added a crisp and refreshing contrast to the richness of the meal. Before being seasoned with dill and served with tiny shrimp, the sliced cucumbers had been chilled in a vinegar and sugar brine for 24 hrs.

Dessert, (not shown) simply had to be the traditional rice pudding. I cooked the rice in milk and a little sugar, instead of water, and then stirred in vanilla, slivered almonds, and quite a lot of sherry, before folding in plenty of whipped heavy cream. Served in my grandparent’s ruby glass dishes (a gift from their 1912 wedding) it looked especially festive with raspberry sauce topping each portion.

Among the cookies on the platter, only the spritz were of a typical Scandinavian type, but Danes know how to keep an open mind. We had no aquavit on hand, but the refrigerator did hold some Danish Elephant brand beer we forgot to drink, probably because we felt overwhelmed by all that food before us, food we seemed genetically programmed to enjoy.

And one of the nicest aspects of the whole thing was that each person’s meal came in at slightly under 50,000 calories! Imagine that.

My Danish  great-grandfather worked hard as a blacksmith, walked long distances well into old age and I'm sure he had a good relationship with bacon, butter, and cream. He lived to be 97.  I don't want to push my luck, but I do share the pleasure he found in life, and in real Danish butter.

As the old year ends and the new year begins in this world filled with war, pollution, toxic chemicals, and other things to fear, remember to not let fear rule your life. Do the best you can toward bringing about a better tomorrow, against all odds. That's what our ancestors did when they bravely crossed the sea and faced many difficulties and dangers to have a new life in America, just like others still do today. No matter where your own ancestors came from, honor them and try to live with the same degree of courage, imagination, gratitude, and joy.

Next year, invite the ghosts of Christmas past into your hearts and homes. And thank them. They left you much more than some family recipes. They left you the example of their strong character. They left you a proud heritage and a country that values equality, mutual respect, and the idea that many different cultures have contributed to the America we all share. At least I hope it still does.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dance Adds to Holiday Joy, Even in Troubled Times

I made the mistake of listening to the news while driving the other day, and there went my "holly jolly" mood, melted like a snowflake on the exhaust pipe of a garbage truck. But not for long. This won't be the first Christmas with our country at war, or the economy in shambles, and tragedy and illness take no holidays. So what can we do when we feel so powerless to do anything?

It's simple: Make the conscious choice to be happy.

Look at these folks participating in the Killer Diller Weekend of swing dancing that took place in Seattle recently. The Northwest's tap dancer extraordinaire, Tim Hickey (wearing a dark suit and hat) isn't doing tap in this video, but he invites you to join in the fun right at the beginning when he looks at the camera and lifts his hat. Then watch for him to appear again on the left side of the screen with his swing dance talents on display. The band is Casey MacGill and his High Five.

Did you know that during the Great Depression a frenzy of dancing swept the nation? Right here in the Pacific Northwest, right now, opportunities to watch or participate in dance abound. As part of my campaign to encourage readers to BUY AMERICAN and BUY LOCAL when it comes to their Christmas shopping, what could be better than tickets to a live performance or a certificate for dance lessons? These gifts enrich lives and bring lasting joy. With that in mind, I offer some excellent suggestions for enjoying dance this holiday season, and beyond.
Toys with Clara & Drosselmeyer Gregory Peloquin, Dave Evans, Amy Dusek, Allison Zakharov,
Anastasia Suave, Lauren Trodahl       Photo by Maks Zakharov

Dance Theatre Northwest, Melanie Kirk-Stauffer, Artistic Director Presents
The Nutcracker
at Mount Tahoma High School Auditorium on Saturday, December 17th at 2:30 & 7:00 PM and on Sunday, December 18th at 4:00 PM. Tickets are available
or by calling 253-778-6534. Mount Tahoma is located at 4634 South 74th Street, Tacoma, WA 98409. Parking is free and the theatre is handicapped accessible.
ADMISSION: $21-$26 Adult $11-$13 Senior (over 60) ~ Child ~ Student
Dream Passes $45 Adult & $25 Seniors ~
Military Discounts and Group Rates also available

photo courtesy of Tim "Taps" Hickey, shown here

Old Time Holiday Show
350 Kirkland Ave • Kirkland, WA 98033

December 16, 7:00PM
December 17, 2:00PM, 7:00PM
December 18, 2:00PM
Tim Hickey and many other talented musicians and performers have a delightful evening planned for you. Enjoy a classic variety show with live music, singing, dancing, and more, all with a holiday theme. This annual favorite sells out quickly so order tickets here.

DANCE THEATRE NORTHWEST offers lessons in ballet, tap, and jazz dancing
But there are so many more. Naturally, Good Life Northwest has just the link you need, a directory of all of them.  Washington Dance Studios Directory

Now switch off the news, turn on the music, and start dancing!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tacoma Shop Owner Sets Example for the Nation

Today, the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginning of our country's involvement in World War II, we ought to be thinking about the strength of our nation. It is not what it used to be. If you are one of the millions of Americans joining the movement to help rebuild our economy and create job, by buying holiday gifts made only in the U.S.A., you should know about The Pacific Northwest Shop in Tacoma's Proctor Business District, whether or not you live in the area. This bustling business on the corner of 27th and Proctor could make you believe in prosperity again.

The last time I stopped in to do a little shopping, in addition to plenty of customers, owner Bill Evans had stacks of packages as high as his counter ready to ship to destinations all across the country, or possibly the world. "That's just from today," he told me. And the day was far from over.

This business success couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But the best part is that what is good for Evans, is also good for many others here in the Pacific Northwest. His sales certainly impact the 250 or so regional artists, artisans, small scale food producers, authors, vintners, and those who run cottage industries, all of whom supply his wares, and all of whom he knows personally. 
He hopes they, in turn, will spend their profits locally. Keeping money circulating in the Northwest economy puts a smile on his face, and mine too, especially when I find the perfect gift. That could be homemade soap, food items, art glass, books, pottery, jewelry, smoked salmon, Washinton State wine, or any of countless other high quality products he sells. You can see them all on his website, here.

Just as ABC News reported in a story this week, (watch the video here,) people all over the country are taking this Buy American movement seriously, with tangible results: newly created jobs. If we start to realize the impact of our choices and our collective power as millions of consumers, maybe things will turn around. We're a nation of strong, smart people, and change will come thanks to grassroots efforts. Let's all make it a point to buy American goods, thereby creating American jobs. It all starts in your own home town. Evans does his part with enthusiasm.

Long before "Buy American" became a slogan and a cause, Evans actively advocated not only this idea, but also the "Buy Local" movement.  But no matter what your motives, the goods he sells offer enough reason to shop there, regardless of where you live. In addition to the brisk mail order business he does through his website, where orders over $100 ship free, local shoppers can make their selections and have him ship the package for them.

So, does Evans have a trade secret? How does the Pacific Northwest Shop do so well in today's economy? The answer is simple, and it's no secret. In fact, he flaunts his philosophy to the world.

"Hey, did you see my sign in the window?" he asked me. Since I'd approached the building from the east, I had not, but I went outside and around the corner and there on the side facing 27th I saw the reasons for his success spelled out, along with the attitude of gratitude that attracts so many customers to his store.


You're welcome. And here's my thanks to retailers like Bill Evans and all of you who are choosing to BUY AMERICAN AND BUY LOCAL. I can't think of a better way to show your patriotism.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Vashon Island Art Studio Tour Continues Dec. 10-11

We all hope to have meaningful holidays, but beyond religious and cultural meaning, how about making your purchases more meaningful too? Your support of local artists, artisans, food producers, craftspeople, and the shop owners who sell their wares helps not only your home town but also our nation's economy. And you end up with better merchandise.

Welcome to the first in a series of posts about ways to BUY AMERICAN  AND BUY LOCAL when selecting gifts this year.

Pottery pitcher and tumblers by Liz Lewis, who also provided the photo.

Start the month of December in a delightful way with the Vashon Island Art Studio Tour, only a short ferry ride from either Seattle or Tacoma. Held every May and December, the self-guided tour takes place from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday this weekend and next, Dec. 3 - 4, and Dec. 10 - 11. It includes dozens of different studios to visit, some with more than one artist, selling things you would never find at a mall. Each one contains the essence of another human being's creative vision and interpretation of their world and its beauty.

Two views of a handmade bell by Gordon Barnett

Meet and speak with these artists. In some cases you will see them at work. Ask questions. When you can tell the recipients all about where their gifts came from, how, and by whom, they were made, those gifts become even more special.

I asked a few questions myself, of island potter Liz Lewis, who is promoting and participating in the tour.

"This Holiday Tour will be the biggest ever!" she said. "The Tour has been a regular event on Vashon for over 30 years, morphing from a potters' tour, to the Barnworks watercolor show, and then the combining of resources to produce an art tour that includes whoever is making art and wants to be involved. On Vashon, that's a lot of artists!" Indeed. You can take a look at an interactive map and links to individual artists on the event's website, here.

Lewis told me that the twice-a-year tours provide the framework for her production cycles, meaning she has a great selection to offer customers. "I love to present my pottery for sale directly from my studio," she said. "For one thing, it is direct and personal. And for another, it gives me great motivation to hose down the studio! I try to be available to do wheel demos during the Tour which makes the process come to life for visitors."

Vashon Island, less than 14 miles long and about three miles wide, remains a rural and peaceful place just minutes from the urban lifestyle of the mainland, the kind of place where a creative person can find the quiet and inspiration they seek. That might be why its population of not much over 10,000 people includes 1,500 individuals who dedicate their lives to the arts, in one form or another. You will find the quality and sophistication of their work equal to anything a big city can offer.

If you don't live nearby, you can plan your visit as a weekend getaway. Stay at one of several B&Bs, found through the link below. Hungry? No problem. The island offers many distinctive eateries that offer healthy, delicious food.

On behalf of all the artists, Lewis extended a welcoming invitation: "It is a fun excursion to come over to the island with a carload of friends to tour the many unique art studios, talk to the artists, and do some shopping." I never need an excuse to visit Vashon, but the Vashon Island Art Studio Tour would make a good one. Remember, the link gives you access to the sites of individual artists and views of their work.

Other helpful links--
Ferry Schedule:
Dining and Lodging on Vashon Island:

Copyright 2011 Candace J. Brown     All photos courtesy of the artists and not to be used without their permission.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another Sell Out Predicted for Vintage Fashion Show

Lorraine O'Neal knows there is truth in the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for." At 8 p.m. on Dec. 3, this Seattle swing dancer and vintage fashion expert will step up to the microphone in front of another packed house, even though she never imagined she would become a public speaker. But O'Neal's knowledge of her subject, along with natural charm, will carry her through as she addresses an eager audience at Seattle's historic Washington Hall, assembled for her 4th Annual Seattle Vintage Fashion Runway Show and Lecture. It features authentic men's and women's fashions from the 1920s through the 1950s.

This event, of her own creation, threatens to outgrow its venue and the logistics would overwhelm most people. But O'Neal tries to focus on what needs to be done instead of the shocking reality of how the little idea she had just a few years ago roared into a life of its own with as much gusto as the applause. The show sold out quickly in 2010 and surely will again, as one of the many delightful components of the Killer Diller Weekend swing dance festival, Dec. 2-4, organized by the Savoy Swing Club. It's also a history lesson.

Photo by Bobby Bonsey

Photo by Jared Lux
Not long ago, I met with O'Neal for coffee and conversation and to give her a gift. With a fun sense of fashion that never quits, she showed up in a bright red hand knit A-line dress from the '70s  that seemed made for her tall, slender frame. She set it off with patterned hosiery, and a white beret, causing a stranger to come over to our table just to say how great she looked.

Photo by Bobby Bonsey

My gift, which thrilled her, was a darling 1930s era lady's fitted suit with designer detailing, one of my own finds from an estate sale here in the Tacoma area. After hanging in a closet for decades, it will be modeled in the show. I'm trying to connect with the owner's family to let them know that their grandmother's spirit will walk again, on the runway. What she gave me in return was a serious case of her contagious enthusiasm and a new respect what it takes to do this. Later, I find out how the whole thing began.

Photo by Bobby Bonsey
"I started to get into vintage fashion when I started swing dancing in 1997," O'Neal told me, "but I definitely came from a fashionista family." Having entered the world of swing dancing, she found it populated by people who share a fascination with the past. "You get interested in the history of the time period, the history of the music, the history of the dance, and the history of the clothing. I started collecting the shoes and outfits of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s."

Photo by Jared Lux

About five years ago, O'Neal organized a vintage fashion PowerPoint presentation of styles from the 1920s through the 1940s. "I defined each era’s fashion," she said. "I talked about what was going on in the world and how that might have affected clothing in the time period, how the styles differentiated from the other eras, and how to find them in a vintage store." She gave an example; knowing when zippers first appeared in clothing helps in determining the age of a garment.

Photo by Bobby Bonsey

Photo by Bobby Bensey

Photo by Bobby Bonsey

 Order your tickets now, before it's too late, and join me in congratulating Lorraine O'Neal on her great success, as you can see others doing below.

Lorraine O'Neal enjoys the appreciation of guests at a past show. Photo by Bobby Bonsey

If you've ever had an interest in swing dancing, look into this fun scene. Here in Tacoma we have the Abbey Ballroom and Studio 6 Ballroom offering lessons.   Here's some video of last year's Killer Diller Weekend, followed by more information on both the festival and fashion show:

Killer DillerWeekend Dec 2 - Dec 4, 2011 -- a weekend focused on the lifestyle, dance, and music of the jazz era, with classes in swing dancing and jazz music. Each evening features live jazz music, dancing, and performances.

TICKETS: Purchase tickets at Brown Paper Tickets. $12 tickets. Seating is limited.

Event: Vintage Fashion Show #135800

WHEN: Dec 3rd, 8:00 – 9:00pm

WHERE: The Washington Hall, 153 14th Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98122 Central District, Seattle

MORE INFO: Join this Event on Facebook

If you would like more information about this event, OR WOULD LIKE TO BOOK A POWERPOINT PRESENTATION, please contact Lorraine O’Neal at e-mail address: or 206.257.3815

Friday, November 25, 2011

November Photo Tour of Point Defiance Park

Here in Tacoma on what some call "Black Friday," the clouds shared the sky with November sunshine, giving us a nice break from the rain. If you've had enough of shopping, traffic, and rushing to catch some elusive bargain, remember that in the background of our lives nature moves at its own perfect pace, whether or not you notice. But shouldn't you?

Come along for a breath of fresh air and some serenity through today's photo tour of our beloved local treasure: Point Defiance. Even though many readers know this place, those who don't live around here might enjoy the journey. We'll start out at the ferry landing and take a walk along the waterfront,  then back up through the woods. (Video included.)

Let's wander over to the boat house, just past Anthony's restaurant. It's a great place to enjoy all the action, especially during salmon season, when proud fishermen return with their catch. You can also watch the ferry on its way to Vashon Island and observe seagulls and other birds up close.

This video is best watched on YouTube. Just click on the YouTube logo.

No James Bond action in this video, but it offers what we too rarely take the time to do, and that is to pause long enough in our busy lives to quietly and patiently observe nature, in this case the behavior of seagulls. If you are reading this far from your Northwest home, here's a chance to watch them again and hear their haunting cries.

A long paved walkway tucked under the hill on the point's northern tip makes a lovely place to wander. Shady in the summer and sometimes downright cold in winter, it can be busy or bare. On this day, I enjoyed the solitude.

Bare tree trunks clustered here offer their own beauty.

This must be some kind of lichen.

We are approaching Owen Beach.

During the summer, Owen beach swarms with people, dogs, and cars. I like it best in the off season.

These old steps lead uphill from the beach to the road above.

Watch out for cars in the summer, but by November you might have the place to yourself.

The canopy of trees changes with the season. Few leaves remain.

              Ferns grow on tree trunks in the moist, shady environment of a Northwest forest.

Even the deer feel safe from traffic.

                 I followed them through the playground and then they disappeard over the fence.

The flower gardens have been put to bed for the winter and signs tells us that new plantings of bulbs hide deep under the mulch and soil, awaiting spring. However, even these plants now gone to seed offer their own beauty and remind us of the way nature's cycles go on without regard for mankind's folly.

As we officially enter the holiday season, I wish you happiness and peace.

Photos and text copyright 2011 Candace Brown

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dance Theatre Northwest Offers FREE Performance

Before the big Thanksgiving dinner, Black Friday, the parties, the gift wrapping, mailing, shopping, and all the other fun and frantic activities of the holiday season, take an evening to do something nice for yourself.  This Saturday, Nov. 19, enjoy a FREE ballet performance at Narrows Glen, located at 8201 Sixth Ave., in Tacoma, just south of the Narrows Bridge. Even the parking is free.

Once again, Dance Theatre Northwest and Narrows Glen retirement community invite the public to a FREE Holiday Show at 7 p.m. The performance will be preceded by a reception for family members and guests at 6:30 p.m., so come early to relax, visit, and look around. Narrows Glen is an elegant Tacoma senior community, offering independent living, assisted living and memory care. But anyone is welcome to come to this performance, and that means you.

This year, the program includes excerpts from "The Nutcracker" and features the talents of the company's acclaimed dancers, Katie Neumann, Chhay Mam, and Vadne Domeika, with Artistic Director Melanie Kirk-Stauffer narrating. Last winter, I had the good fortune to see the DTN production of this classic, which will return to the Mount Tahoma High School auditorium this Dec. 17-18. (Order tickets here.) I loved it, and hope to go again. If you've never seen "The Nutcracker" or want a sneak peek at DTN's version, here is your chance.

Melanie Kirk-Stauffer is the kind of person I like to write about on Good Life Northwest, because everything she does contributes to the good life in our community. In addition to this complimentary annual event, she brings additional free performance to schools and other venues. Please support Dance Theatre Northwest so this meaningful outreach can continue to enrich lives through the art of dance.
Questions? Call Dance Theatre Northwest at (253) 778-6534 or Narrows Glen at (253) 564-4770.

Here is a map to Narrows Glen:

View Larger Map

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Today's Intensely Blue Sky

I wonder if many other people in Tacoma noticed the deep blue of the sky on this cold November day. I took a break from working and wandered outside for some fresh air in the early afternoon. When I looked up, toward the east and facing away from the sun, the intensity of the sky's blue amazed me.

Of course I grabbed my camera. Now, at 4:30 p.m., as the sun drops behind the trees and both the dark and the chill deepen, I send you my little gift of this afternoon's glory, minus the relative warmth. It will probably freeze again tonight.

I hope you enjoy these photos, which I swear to you have not been altered in any way. They are straight out of my camera.