#19: Window Coverings

When we bought this house, all the windows were bare. The first thing we did was to buy a few paper blinds, just as a stopgap for privacy, but those turned out to be, well, less permanent than we had planned. Inertia is a thing with us.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Click on the photos for a closer look!

But paper wasn’t going to cut it, so when Becky heard an ad for Smith & Noble on her favorite podcast, she was immediately enamored. They’re not cheap, though, so we planned to install them in two phases. We ordered the first batch, and waited while they were custom made for us.

It turned out to be quite an adventure, but the results are amazing. The shutters really elevate the house, and we feel like fancier people with them in. Plus, they control light and heat really well, which helps us sleep at night. Stay tuned, we’ll probably be putting some of these into our new house, too!

#13: Hang Former Beach House Art

When we sold our beach house, we sold all the furniture with it. One of the only things we kept was the artwork from the walls; it’s all Becky’s photography, and has some personal meaning.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Click on the photos for a closer look!

Since then it’s mostly just been stacked against a wall, so we made it a priority this year to finally get it hung up. It’s amazing what hanging things on the wall can do to make a house feel like home.

#55: New Floors (Again)

When we bought this house, the flooring wasn’t good. The carpet was all original from when the house was built in 2002 (and had seen better days), and the hardwood was oak with a pinkish tinge. We had it replaced as part of moving in.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Click on the photos for a closer look!

However, we quickly discovered some problems with the dark-brown bamboo flooring we had chosen. First, it shows pug hair like nobody’s business. If you have a dog that sheds, don’t get dark-colored floors. Seems obvious, right?

The second problem was the material itself. Our back windows face west, so afternoon light floods in there, and warms up the floors. Some of the planks were shrinking, leaving gaps between them, and the surface finish was warping and wrinkling. We were not happy.

So we decided to replace them. Again. Part of the floor got covered by a really tough vinyl product, that still has the texture and look of grey barnwood, which is really beautiful. Other parts we covered in a nice, light, neutral carpet, pleasing to the toes.

We’re pretty happy with the result, even if it took a journey to get here.

#33: Deck Garden

Growing our own food has always been sort of a romantic calling for us. It just seems kind of magical that you can walk out back, pick something out of the ground, and make dinner out of it.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Click on the photos for a closer look!

Our house is on a slope, and if you walk out onto the deck from the kitchen it’s a two-story drop to the actual backyard. So we called for some help from Becky’s dad Ken, who came through in spectacular fashion: he built us three raised garden boxes! No more crawling around on our knees!

We filled all the tubs with dirt, planted a variety of herbs, several varieties of potato, and lots of tomatoes, and waited. After a while, we found that our tomato plants were bearing fruit, but there were never any ripe ones. Turns out we had a bird problem.

So I went to the hardware store, and came back with a load of PVC and some netting, andd made a canopy to keep the birds out.

It’s been a winding road, but we did get some food in the bargain. Everything is done for the season now, but over the summer we had many fine tomatoes, and a few potatoes. But the best part is, having solved all these problems, we now know what to do next year.

#64: Create a Sewing Area

When we wrote this list, we had intended for this to be a post about creating a sewing nook in our home, where Becky could tinker away with her projects to her heart’s content.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Here’s the full list. Click on the photos for a closer look!

Instead, Becky’s sister Sarah moved back into the area, and since they were spending more time together (and Sarah had way more room), they decided a two-station sewing corner in the Swenson craft room would be more appropriate.

Ever since then, magic happens there. These sisters work in tandem on some pretty impressive things, from intricate embroidery to full-size quilts to refashioning to last-minute alterations on Goodwill purchases to make Halloween costumes. It’s even kind of a tiny sewing school for all the kids!

#56: View a Solar Eclipse

The 2017 solar eclipse was a pretty big event, and since the moon’s shadow was passing just an hour south of us, we couldn’t in good conscience pass up a maybe-twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Here’s the full list. Click on the photos for a closer look!

The eclipse happened on a Monday, so Sunday afternoon we drove down to Becky’s brother’s house in Molalla, which was well within the totality. It was almost a full family reunion, with Sam and family also driving down from Vancouver, Ken and Sarah and family coming in from Washougal, and Andrew driving all alone from Sacramento!

We had dinner, and bunked down for the night. After a big family breakfast and some playtime, we started hyping everyone up. Sarah had scored some last-minute eclipse-viewing glasses, so the kids were all checking the moon’s progress throughout the morning. As the moment approached, gathered everyone in a prime viewing spot, where we had full view of the sun and the horizon.

It was spectacular. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. For a full minute, it was nighttime, except with this crazy sci-fi shape in the sky.

Seriously, if you ever get the chance to see one of these, don’t pass it up. It’s worth a few hours’ drive.

#89: Ben – Teach a Class

I enjoy teaching. So when Susan Conant from O’Reilly Media contact me about teaching a course on Python, I only had to make sure the dates weren’t already taken.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Here’s the full list. Click on the photos for a closer look!

Last year I recorded a course on this exact same topic, but since different people learn in different ways, it made sense to also present it as a live seminar. This also allows people to ask questions, which a pre-recorded session doesn’t.

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It was a lot of fun going through this process, and I love getting questions that I didn’t expect. A lot of the stuff I’m teaching is from personal experience, but sometimes a student will have a situation that is completely different from anything I’ve experienced. I’ve given this course three times, and I learn something new every time.

#59: Visit an Art Gallery

During our three days in the lovely hamlet of Castletownbere, County Cork, Ireland, we managed to a little gem of an art gallery: the Sarah Walker Gallery.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Here’s the full list. Click on the photos for a closer look!

It’s not easy to find. You have to walk down past the docks where the fishing boats are tied up, spot the unassuming blue banner, and dare to walk into the seemingly private space. But the reward is worth it.

We liked most of what we saw; it turns out this is exactly our style of art. Becky was quite taken with one painting, but we didn’t have (a) a way of getting it home and (b) €4500.

Highly recommended in the unlikely event you find yourself in Castletownbere.

#3: Long-Distance Hike – Part 4

This is a continuation of our Ireland hike; check out parts onetwo, and three.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Here’s the full list. Click on the photos for a closer look!

Day 7: Puxley Manor and Dunboy Castle (4.3mi, 2 hours 17 minutes)

Our planning session turns out to have been perfectly timed; the view out the window during breakfast is pretty dire. (Actually, we’re not sure if there was a communication breakdown or our host thought we weren’t eating enough, but we were served three breakfasts this day.) Today would ordinarily be a challenging day of hiking for us, and with that weather, well, let’s just say we’ve learned our lesson.

So we skip the cable car and Dursey Island, both of which would have been high points of the trip during nicer weather, and instead take our pre-paid cab ride back to Castletownbere. We’re packed into a 9-passenger van with other holiday hikers (including the Dutch couple we met yesterday!), most of which are doing exactly what we’re doing. After a harrowing ride at high speed on narrow roads, we are dropped off at our next night’s lodging around 10am, and the host is confused and surprised, but kind enough to let us stow our bags on short notice.

It’s much too early to check in, so we don our rain gear and set off for our destination for today: the grounds of old Dunboy Castle, the old seat of the O’Sullivan Bere clan (which is the source of many of the place names around here: Bere Island, Castletownbere, the Beara Peninsula, etc.). It’s about a mile on a semi-narrow road to the entrance gates, which are quite impressive. We followed the entrance road, and spotted a horse that was tangled in a wire fence. It took about 10 minutes to rescue the poor guy. Turns out horses are heavy.

Not long after, we spot our second ruin of the day. This is storied Puxley Mansion, built on land that Cromwell gifted the Puxleys after crushing Irish resistance in the Nine Years’ War. It was built into quite an estate during the copper mining boom, and then abandoned when tragedy struck the family and the copper dried up. It was burned to the ground by the IRA in 1921, and sat there growing moss for nearly a hundred years until a development company tried to turn it into a seven-star hotel. Then the 2008 crash hit, and it was abandoned once again. It’s thought to be cursed.

Tucked behind it is the even older ruin of Dunboy Castle itself, seat of the O’Sullivan Bere clan for generations. It’s little more than a squarish arrangement of grassy piles of rocks now, but there are plaques commemorating the 1602 siege where the English crushed the defending forces of Donal Cam O’Sullivan Bere. It is a sad place.

After that we high-tailed it back to town. We hadn’t packed a lunch today, knowing that we had already done most of the hiking around this area, and we had planned on spending the second half of the day in town. We went straight to The Tea Room, and it was just the thing. Hot, tasty tea, a bathroom, and lots of munchies for our empty stomachs.

We spent some time just strolling around the town center, made a quick stop at the Sarah Walker Gallery, and spotted a photography exhibit, with amazing portraits of town locals. Truly striking.

We made our way back to our B&B to finalize our checkin, drink some more tea, and arrange our transport back to Dublin the next day. We ambled back into town around 5 for supper, fantastic chowder at Murphy’s. Oh, and we absolutely had to stop in for a pint at McCarthy’s Bar, which is famous for being on the cover of McCarthy’s Bar (a book about bars named McCarthy’s, and no, I’m not making this up). It’s about the most quintessentially Irish pub I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking in. Highly recommended. We managed to watch a single episode of competitive baking TV before collapsing.

Day 8: Dublin

We rose early to eat breakfast and catch our “bus” (really just a big van) back to Cork. Becky is not given to bathroom emergencies, but she had to pee so bad that she asked the driver to stop about halfway there. He was very put out and unkind, and didn’t stop until we were 5 minutes from the Cork train station. Sheesh.

We had just enough time to buy tickets and hop on a train for Dublin. We weren’t so sleepy this time, and we were ready to explore by the time we got there. It turns out that Dublin’s train station stopped having luggage lockers a few years back, so the “official” way to stow your luggage for a few hours is to pay a local hostel (a 5 minute hike from the station) to look out for them. Unburdened, we set out to find out what Dublin is all about.

What we found was EPIC, a museum about the influence that Irish emigration has had on global culture. Ireland has a long history of being subjugated, to the point that many of its citizens decided to try their luck elsewhere. There’s a pretty good chance that you, dear reader, have some Irish ancestry. The museum is incredibly well done, and a joy to walk through.

We stopped for some pie and pints at a local pub, and tried out the claim we’ve heard that Guinness tastes different if it’s pulled within 10 miles of the brewery. We honestly couldn’t tell, but it hit the spot. After that we walked through Trinity College and the grounds of Dublin Castle, enjoying the sights and the people of the city. It really is a lovely place.

We managed to get a hotel room close to the airport, since our flight was early the next morning. We fetched our luggage and hailed a cab driver, who loved to talk about anything and everything. Upon reaching our airport hotel, we stopped being inspired to take photos. The exciting part of the journey was all behind us, and everything we were doing just seemed so pedestrian. We hopped on a plane the next morning, and spent 14 hours watching movies, and then tried to stay awake until bedtime PST.

Thus endeth the tale of our expedition to rural Ireland.

#3: Long Distance Hike – Part 3

This is a continuation of our Ireland hike; check out parts one and two.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2017 challenge. Here’s the full list. Click on the photos for a closer look!

Day 5: Castletownbere to Allihies (10.2mi, 6 hours 16 minutes)

We awoke around 7, took our showers, and packed up our now-dry laundry. Our host provided the usual tasty full Irish breakfast, we fetched our leftover sandwich from yesterday from the fridge, and we hit the road, walking the mile into Castletownbere for the fourth time.

Today was beautiful and sunny, and as we ascended up some hills we gradually stripped off layers. We had prepared the night before by surveying our potential routes – the official trail had us detouring up to the crest of a hill, and eventually meeting back up with the road we started on. We reached the turnoff for that detour, and it was just as we feared: a steep, boggy trail through a marsh. We stuck to the road, which was narrow but not busy. Along the way there was a Stonehenge-like formation of standing stones! The views along this road are gorgeous panoramas of Castltownbere and Bere Island.

About a half-mile after the official trail rejoined our on-road route, we turned onto a gravel track, and found a place to eat lunch. We spotted some strange plants with enormous, tough leaves, and sent a photo back home to Lucy.

Today’s main challenge was crossing over the pass to the other side of the island. This dirt track was the beginning of the ascent, and it continued on a footpath. It was pretty steep, and we took frequent breathers. We reached the top and took one last look eastward, from whence we came. It was amazing.

We continued through the pass, reaching the other side for a grand vista of where we were going – we’re pretty sure we can spot our inn from here. The dirt track started going downhill, and our pace slowed again as our knees started complaining.

There are lots of historical placards here regarding the area’s history in copper mining. It turns out this area played a large part in the industrial revolution, though the Irish were treated as subhuman for much of it. We stick our heads into an old pumphouse, where a steam engine would have pumped water out of the mine 500 feet below our feet.

We arrived in Allihies around 5pm, and the pre-supper pub crowd was starting to gather. Our B&B is charming and large, and we settle immediately into our room for the tea tray. We’re pretty hungry, though, so we head to the pub (two doors down) around 6, and get a table in the back.

We once again take our puddings home with us, stopped at the little neighborhood store for a small bottle of wine, and watch our shows and read until we can’t keep our eyes open, around 9pm. The biggest surprise of the day: Becky actually liked banoffee pie!

Day 6: Allihies to Garnish (6.2mi, 5 hours 7 minutes)

Today we were up and out late, since we had a stop planned. The Allihies Copper Mine Museum is small, but has a bunch of great exhibits that talk about the history, significance, and workings of a 19th-century copper mine.  We spent a fascinating hour there, and made sure to tour the gallery upstairs before moving on.

Our path today starts off by skirting a beach, which it turns out is made out of crushed silica, which was waste from the copper mine!

See that big hill in the last photo? Our goal today is to skirt the right edge of it, and get to the other side of the next one. The first leg has us skirting the ocean on the top of a cliff, crossing fields and pastures. We took our lunch on a pile of rocks overlooking the rocky coast.

From here it was up, up, up. The gentle slope of the road gave way to a steeper climb on a footpath. Once we got high enough, we spotted the Skellig Islands, which you probably know from a movie. We listened to Revisionist History (which we heartily recommend) as we climbed, and met a nice Dutch couple hiking the other way. We explained to them that Irish food wasn’t actually bad, and they showed a surprisingly strong interest in US politics.

Once we crested the hill, we could see our endpoint in the valley ahead. There’s no town, just a scattering of houses and restaurants. The main draw in this part of Ireland is the Dursey Island cable car, which we’re slated to ride tomorrow, so as we go back to road walking, we are passed by quite a few cars on their way to or from that attraction.

We arrive at our B&B, and are greeted by our host, who is supremely nice and accommodating. We’re accustomed to readjusting our plans every single night at this point, so when we see a weather forecast for the next day that looks startlingly like our first day, we take stock and re-plan.

Dinner is monkfish, meat stew, local beer, and cheesecake, and it is very welcome. We stay up way too late watching our shows and reading (my book just got really good).