Thursday, March 31, 2011

Big Mac Ice

10:30 AM EDT -- Today's post will be in  two parts. Right now (10:30 am) Ed and I are having breakfast at Bay View Inn which is located on a high bluff along the northern shore of Lake Michigan. We crossed the Big Mac around 9:30 and are now about 40 miles west of the Bridge on US-2. It is a Pure Michigan Day -- clear blue skies and you can see forever across the Straits of Mackinac. Right now I can see the three lighthouses -- Waugoshance, Gray's Reef, and White Shoal -- that are located in Lake Michigan just west of the Straits. Ice lines the shipping lanes under the Bridge and is plentiful on Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

6:15 pm EDT -- We arrived at the farm about an hour ago and are ready to have supper with Dad and the family. Heidi is here from Pennsylvania; Martha and Chloe from Tennessee; Ed and WJ (that's me) from Michigan; and Patrick and MB from Wisconsin. MB made a delicious supper of chili mac, bean salad and local ice cream for dessert. The conversation is animated and stimulating.

Earlier today we stopped at the Sugar Shack on US 2 in the Upper Peninsula to watch the cisterns fill up with sap from their 40 acres of maple trees. The trees are tapped and linked to the main sugar house via plastic tubing. The sap has been running about two weeks, we were told. We stocked up on UP maple syrup as gifts for my Dad and MB.

Later, in the afternoon, we pulled over along M-35 south of Escanaba to see the huge piles of ice along Green Bay. There were large ice floes in Lake Michigan at the top of the lake, but the biggest piles were along the western shores down toward Menomonie and Marinette.

We've made the drive through the Upper Peninsula lots of times. Today's scenery was spectacular. Ice floes, mirror smooth water, sunny skies -- truly a wonderful early spring day in northern Michigan.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Freighters and Ice

Huge chunks of ice formed frozen strands that shifted back and forth, in and out along the western shore of Lake Huron this weekend. The ice floes were clearly visible as far out into the lake as we could see.

From Cedar Bluff we watched a steady parade of Great Lakes vessels pass the lakehouse. Here is the Presque Isle, an integrated tug barge (ITB) headed north on Saturday, March 26. We spotted a saltie (ocean going vessel) loaded with wind turbine blades late on Friday. It, too, was headed north.

Imaaine the view from these ships as they pass through the vast ice formations that constantly shift on the surface of the lakes in late March. It must be cold walking the decks when one is out on a ship on the Great Lakes in early spring.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Tenacious Geranium

There is an incredible geranium blossoming in the south windows at the farmhouse. Probably at least three years old, this geranium just can't give up on life. It loves creating these soft pink blooms that paint our winter souls with summer colors.

This plant put out blossom after blossom for a second season last summer. I figured it might be almost done, but, no, this plant is an over achiever of all potted geraniums. Left to dry out during the fall in a very low light corner of the west entryway, the geranium responded to a good pruning and fresh watering in late December.

Here it is again, producing luscious buds and blooms that resemble pink clouds. I haven't had any luck with rooting cuttings from it yet, but I will continue to try since this amazing plant is working its way into my gardening heart. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sneak Preview: New Watercolor Banner

Photoshop CS4 and I have been getting to be better friends. Here is a sneak peek at one of the banners for the weekly emails that I send from the Graywood Designs website. The background is a watercolor wash of yellow and blue and green. That image was scanned and moved into Photoshop. I applied a brush technique called "azalea" using the teal blue color. Photoshop mixed in the white. A new font was chosen for the headline. Presto! A very spring looking banner for the top of our spring emails.

You can subscribe to this weekly email by going to

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Sunday, March 27, 2011

That's What Moms Are For

The stairs at the children's playhouse at the Bavarian Lodge were just what Hannah loved. She would take them two at a time if possible!

Her Mom caught her time and time again. That's what moms (and dads) are for. They catch us when we think it is okay to take two steps at a time.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Week: Lenten Rose

There is a Lenten Rose right outside the front door at Cedar Bluff. This plant has resided along the walk near the Japanese lantern in the roadside garden for several seasons. Our specimen, Helleborus "Ivory Prince," blossoms in early spring before the daffodils and tulips. By March, as the snow melts, the helleborus is sending up big fat burgundy buds that open into soft pink and mauve bending blooms. The photo shows the plant in blossom last year.

My sister Heidi -- Aunt Opera from Pennsylvania -- first drew my attention to this plant. Our Lenten Rose is about 12-14 inches in height during the summer. I admire the plant for its early blossoms. This year I've been watching five buds push out of the cold ground. Currently, due to our early spring snowstorm, the plant is under three feet of snow. The sun will melt the snow next week and this marvelous plant will almost be blooming. What a botanical wonder!

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Week: Foggy Bluff

Spring brings foggy days to the Thumb of Michigan. The contrast of a warm spring wind and cold water in Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron can bring fog to the county.

Today's photo shows a fog like that that occurred in March of 2006. The snow is gone, the ground is warming up, but the water is still cold. The result -- fog along the shoreline.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Week: Spring Greens

The First Week of Spring 2011 has been decidedly gray this year. Green. That's what I'm ready for.

Here are some of the green yarns from the Graywood Designs Studio Store. I love the color names. Split Pea. Clover. Celery. Wild Asparagus. Just right for this time of year when our spirits long to bend into another spring.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring Week: Turbines in Clouds

Wind turbines east of Ubly brush the clouds on Monday morning, March 21. Huron County is surrounded by water on three sides. To the west lies Saginaw Bay, to the north and east is Lake Huron. The topography is fairly flat on the west but the land rises into hilly ridges in the center of the county. Weather patterns moving off the lake or the bay bump into the ridges and drop moisture. Here the clouds are low enough for the blades to disappear as the  turbines turn.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Week: Sunshine ATC

It's Tuesday of the First Week of Spring and the National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning of sleet, ice and snow from 8 pm tonight through 8 pm tomorrow night. Yipes, sounds like this could be a genuine nor'easter sweeping down on Michigan's Thumb. Ed made the comment this weekend that the farmers won't be moving on the land until the sun warms the ground. So far, so cold -- that's the theme that Mother Nature is playing this week.

So, today's image is about sunshine. Here's an ATC that features a rubber stamp image that has color added via Tombow markers and watercolor pencils. The words -- "you are my sunshine, my only sunshine" should run through your mind as you comtemplate this ATC.

ATC Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Week: Malted Eggs in the Bunny Bowl

It has been a difficult task but I was willing from the start to take it on. I have now taste tested three brands of malted milk Easter egg candy. Here are the results so far:

#1 -- Whoppers malted milk eggs -- made by Hersheys. Small and pleasantly malty, these candy eggs have a chocolate shell that I could taste. About the size of a jelly bean, they went down easily. Purchased at a local Walgreen's. Tested by Ed and WJ.

#2 -- Brach's malted milk eggs -- Purchased in the grocery store in Pigeon, I liked the color of these eggs. They are much larger than the #1 product. The texture of the malted milk was pleasant, not powdery. I couldn't taste the chocolate coating. Was it there? Hmm, have to buy another bag to check. Tested by the GW staff, assisted by Tessa (who hid the rest of the bag from us!).

#3 -- Bulk bin malted milk eggs -- These came from the grocery store in Bad Axe where they were side by side with the Spring Yogurt Pretzels (those were really good!). The bulk bin eggs were the largest eggs that I taste tested. They lasted the shortest time in our household. Maybe they were just too big to stay around very long. Good tasting, just disappeared. Tested by WJ and Ed.

As you can tell, there isn't a lot of difference separating the rated candies. Buying them several weeks before Easter assures fresh stock. Just so you know, the candies shown above are the bulk bin large malteds. The Bunny Bowl comes out every spring and is a treasured gift from friends Dave and Jill Harmon.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Week: Spring Nest ATC

"If I ruled the world
E'ryday would be the first day of spring,
Every heart would have a new song to sing,
And we'd sing of the joy every morning would bring. . ."
-- from "If I Ruled The World"
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse from the musical, "Pickwick" (1963).

Today is the First Day of Spring and I've had the Tony Bennett/Celine Dion duet version of "If I ruled the world" playing in my head for several days already. Here in Michigan we will probably have a chilly First Day of Spring. On Saturday, as I'm writing, the temperature is 34 degrees in mid afternoon and my walk down the bluff at noon was cold and a bit snowy.

Today is Full Moon. Tomorrow is the Vernal Equinox, so that puts Easter Sunday way late this year since Easter is the First Sunday after the First Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. The moon will be especially big since the moon is at perigee, the closest that it will be to Earth in 2011. Astronomy Magazine's website says the Moon will be 221,565 miles from Earth's Center. (Hmm, consider that my Blazer just turned 245,000 miles on its original GM engine and that some frequent fliers log more than a million miles. Makes one think, doesn't it?)

Today is the start of the Willow Blog's Spring Week. There will be posts all week that relate to the theme of Spring. Some will be photos; some will be scans. I hope that my readers will enjoy the serendipity of this single theme.

The image above is an ATC (Artist Trading Card). The base is a white heavy paper cut 2 1/2" x 3 1/2," the same size as a baseball collector's card. I applied Derwent Inktense pencil, washed the color with water and sprayed the surface with Glimmer Mist. Two rubber stampings -- a bird in sepia and a nest using black -- were applied. Color was added with Tombow markers. When viewed in person, there is a slight glittery sheen to the artwork. Glitter and computer monitors don't go together, however!

Happy Spring, Willow Readers! May there be a blessing of something new for you in this season.

ATC Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 19, 2011

First Ship

The first ships of the 2011 shipping season began moving up lake along the Lake Huron shoreline today.  Pictured is the first ship that I've seen passing by Cedar Bluff this year. Notice the ice still present on the lake. The shipping season opens March 25. That's when the Soo Locks and Welland Canal will begin operation. Soon we will see the ocean going vessels (we call them salties) begin moving through the Great Lakes.

We sometimes see 10-15 ships a day during the summer months. The most that we've seen at one time is nine ships. That's quite a sight.

In reality, the Great Lakes are inland seas. We use the term "lake" so liberally. These five fresh water seas are huge bodies of water. It's hard to imagine what the Upper Midwest would be like without the Lakes!

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cotton Bowl

What knitter wouldn't want to pick up the needles and cast on something when seeing this bowl? I suppose that a woodworker or a carver gets that kind of urge when a great piece of board appears in front of him or her. Gardeners strolling through a nursery know the feeling of wanting to put their hands in the soil and get going. Farmers want to fire up the tractors this time of year.

It's the human condition to want to make something tangible. Quilters cut up fabric and carefully piece it into color and form. Sculptors bring shape and line from stone and marble. Cooks bring together color and taste and texture on one plate. An inventor fiddles and new products emerge.

The urge to create, to make something. How human. How humbling to be a creator, just for a moment.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Twitter Robin

The first robins of the spring were tweeting away in the big black walnut tree out by the driveway today. One stopped long enough to have his picture taken.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mantle Train

The Christmas train ended up on the mantle above the fireplace. When Max and Finny come again they can climb up the sturdy stepladder and lower the railroad setup to the floor.
What fun!
This post was uploaded to Blogger via a mobile linkup.

Wanda Hayes Eichler
Graywood Designs

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ice Bands Beyond the Shoal

White Rock Shoal has been ice and snow covered all winter. Today's photo looking north along Cedar Bluff yesterday shows a band of ice out beyond the shoal's edge. These wandering bands of ice move up and down the lake as the days warm. The shoal reaches out about three quarters of a mile; the ice bands visible in this photo are probably out two or three miles from shore.

Sometimes closer to shore, sometimes a thin white line out along the horizon, the ice bands will soon seem like winter leftovers as temperatures begin to warm and the great warm sun brings spring to the Great Lakes.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Monday, March 14, 2011

Timber Patterns

The massive wood timbers and pegs in the covered bridge in Frankenmuth, Michigan, form patterns of light and strength.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Sunday, March 13, 2011


A bundle of tulips from the grocery store brighten a corner of the living room on a March day.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shinkassen Tickets

Today's photo shows tickets to ride the high speed bullet train in Japan. We rode the Shinkassen in September 2008 when we visited Kyushu, the southern most island in Japan, on a trip to see Peter in theatre performances in Fukuoka.

The massive earthquake that struck Japan yesterday brings memories of the wonderful time that we had in Japan. My heart goes out to the people of Japan who have suffered unimaginable loss. The world mourns with you, Japan.

Previous posts written in September 2008 about Japan start HERE.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Field Study in Gray

Snow outlines the curved ridges of this field along Verona Road in Huron County.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dr. Dad

Today is Dr. Dad's birthday. Here he is, Dr. John Ryan Clark, PHD, with his two boys, Finn and Max. Taken last summer, this photo shows the threesome just as they are heading out for a nature hike at Cedar bluff.

Happy birthday, Dr. Dad!

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

ATC: Trust The Cow

From the 2010 ATC (Artist Trading Card) series called "Trust The Cow." This series is a humorous reminder to eat real food.

Artist trading cards are 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches and can be made of many different materials. I use stiff paper, rubber stamps, markers, watercolor pencils, glimmer mist and other artist supplies to make an ATC. The little hedgehog stamp on this card was purchsed in Fukuoka, Japan in September 2008. "

Some of us following Wisconsin politics in these early days of 2011 might change the ATC so that it reads "Trust the People, not the Governor." Then the little hedgehog would be saying, "I trust the People." Hmm, an activist hedgehog.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tattoo Boys

Peter and Finn had fun putting pirate tattoos on Finny's leg last weekend. Here they are on the kitchen floor waiting for the damp cloth to adhere the pirate's flag onto Finny's right leg.

I was going to label this post "Baby Boys" since Pete is my youngest child (baby of the family) and Finn is Liesl's baby. But, then I decided to call them Tattoo Boys. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ed's Orchids

Ed has been raising orchids in his upstairs office at Cedar Bluff. All three plants have come into bloom this month. The yellow orchid was Ed's birthday present from me two years ago. It came from McDonald's Food and Family Center in Bad Axe.

The center plant was an 80th birthday present for Ed's mom, Pauline Eichler. Given to her by Jim and Joanne Christner, the orchid came into Ed's guardianship when Mom moved to Country Gardens in May. This plant has blossomed several times for Pauline and is now putting on a show for Ed.

The third orchid also belongs to Pauline and is in Ed's care. We're pretty sure that it is one of the floral gifts that sister Beth has been sending to Mom.

We both are attracted to orchids and often stop to admire orchid displays in the grocery or big box stores. Usually they are priced $20-$30. That's not much to pay for those who are willing to water and watch over these gentle plants.


This is Ed's photo. He uses an Olympus point and shoot camera. Great job!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blazer Mileage Update

The 1997 Blazer is still ticking! Like the Energizer bunny, this marvel (well, maybe) of GM engineering is approaching 250,000 miles. Purchased in the fall of 1997, my Chevy Blazer (four door model built on Chevrolet's S-10 chassis) has made many, many trips to Houston for Quilt Markets and to Wisconsin to see my family.

I'm driving a Buick Rainier now, but The Blazer (Michigan State green) gets weekly use around our farm and Huron County as Ed uses it for lawn mowing and hauling chores in the summer. When the BNB (Big New Buick) needed body work recently, I drove The Blazer. Here's the mileage as of Friday, March 4, 2011.

You Go, Chevy Girl!

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mudroom Lineup

I. Ankle high boots with side zippers -- Love to wear these boots with long pants or jeans. These boots make me feel dressed up and young.

II. Golf shoes that tie -- Saddle shoe style, brown and white, my golf shoes are waiting for the first round of the spring. Maybe in April?

III. New Balance waterproof hiking boots -- Wintertime walking shoes, these boots have seen quite a few seasons. Sometimes I wear them for gardening and shoreline wading, too.

IV. Slipon Merrills -- Wouldn't be without these shoes for shoveling snow. They are klutzy and sturdy and warm.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Friday, March 4, 2011

Succulent Cactus

A member of the succulent family of plants, this echeveria is thriving in its original pot. Probably Echeveria (ech-eh-VER-ee-a) Agavoides "Ebony," the plant now has a long blossom stem with four buds. The leaves, which form a rosette, are pointed and stubby.

Left outside in the cold nights of Tucson's desert winter, this plant has developed red margins along its thick leaves. Maybe it is saying "put my red scarf around my neck before you put me out in the cold."

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Good Food: Cheddar Cornmeal Muffins

Here's a first for this blog -- an ode to cornmeal muffins. I use the recipe for Easy Corn Bread that is found on the back of the Quaker yellow cornmeal round box. It goes like this:

1 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 egg whites or 1 egg, beaten

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8 or 9 inch pan. Combine dry ingredients. Stir in milk, oil and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm. Makes 9 servings.

Okay, that's the basic recipe. Here's what I do to accomplish my Cheddar Cornmeal Muffins:

++ I make muffins, not cornbread, this way.

++ I use vintage muffin pans that my Dad and I found at an antique dealer's shop in Fond du Lac years ago. These are different than the pecan tassie size pans and well worth the search for them. Stamped "NU-BRITE," one pan makes nine muffins. So, two pans use this recipe and make 18 smallish muffins.

++ I use fresh buttermilk when I have it. Or stir 2-4 tablespoons of yogurt into the skim milk for some extra probiotic punch.

++ I use Magic Baking Powder which I buy in Canada. Magic BP doesn't use aluminum sulfate. It has monocalcium phosphate in it as well as bicarbonate of soda (baking powder) and cornstarch. Bob's Red Mill has a non aluminum baking powder, too.

++ I use CSA eggs whenever possible. Usually I use a whole egg that's been beaten with a fork so that the white and yolk are well mixed.

++ I use Pam spray -- the canola version, I think.

++ I use either canola oil or (our favorite) melted butter -- the fresher the butter, the better.

++ I use a skimpy 1/4 cup of sugar. Remember that by baking yourself, you are not taking in the corn sweetners used in most commercial baked goods.

++ I use coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese, about one cup, that is stirred in at the end of the mixing process. We like Wisconsin cheddar. Use sharp or extra sharp for flavor that you can find.

++ One more thing -- these muffins are good with a generous grinding of black pepper, probably a half teaspoon or more, right in the batter. Add with the dry ingredients.

These are good straight from the oven. You don't even need butter on them. A bit of homemade jam (raspberry suggested) is great. Freeze the leftovers. Microwave the frozen muffins for 30 seconds and they're great with strong coffee or your favorite tea.

Photo Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Bobcat ignoring Joanne's lovely cactus planter
 Big kitty. That's what the desert bobcat that strolls through our back patio looks like. On the morning of these photos he was preoccupied and even the sound of the digital camera would not break his concentration.

Leaving patio perch
Bunny? Ground squirrel? Pack rat? Mr. Bobcat had a tasty breakfast in mind.

I see the Bunny!
Beautifully marked with sleek fur, this cat is healthy and happy here in the Sonoran desert with the golfers and the bunnies. He has no Social Security worries; his mortgage is probably paid; he gets to eat well. Bobcat life is good.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Desert Snow

The mesquite tree bows in the wet February snow

Today's post highlights the wonderful desert snow that hit the southern part of Arizona on Sunday morning. Snow watches and warnings were posted on Thursday already; by Saturday the winds had picked up but the temperatures had been in the sixties and it was hard to imagine a snowstorm of the magnitude that was forecast.

Rain began around 2 am on Sunday morning. When I got up at 5am I couldn't hear the rain and knew that there might be snow. I got up, turned on the coffee pot and looked out the front door. Already I could tell that the mesquite tree in the front patio was bowing under the weight of the wet snow. At dawn the scope of the storm was apparent; a considerable amount of snow had fallen, blanketing the desert and the mountains with white wonder.

Northwest of Tucson -- Twin Peaks in Snow
"Ed, I'm going to walk up the street and get some shots of the mountains, " is what I told Ed around sunrise. I bundled up in jeans, hiking boots, gloves and a fleece. Armed with my Flip video camera and the point-and-shoot Sony, I headed up North Heritage Canyon Drive. When I got to the top of the hill I kept on going down the road, up onto the thirteenth and fourteenth holes of the golf course.

The views were stunning. I almost filled an entire 2 gigabyte memory card with bracketed shots. My walk lasted more than an hour. By noon, the snow had almost completely melted. Today (Monday) there was still a little snow on the distant mountainsides but most of the white had disappeared even from the mountains. When we golfed this afternoon there were lots of spongy wet areas on the course. The snow had melted and left wet turf behind.

It was a wonderful snow -- quite a reminder of the majesty of weather.

Copyright 2011
Wanda Hayes Eichler