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Making Small Pies Under Montana’s Big Sky


My Trip to Wonderful

My friend Jean lives in Columbia Falls, Montana, and started “Sunday Market” in her community as way to bring people together, have fun, and inspire folks to create, grow, and sell things and services for added income. Jean gets stuff done! Several mountain ranges and one time zone away, I marveled at Jean’s hard work and hometown dream to make an outdoor market happen, so of course I wanted to go see her and experience the market for myself. The summer flew by and I finally had an opportunity to head over and help her make pies for the final Sunday Market of the season.

montana RV camper
Columbia Falls Four Seasons, 5-Star Accommodations: Home Sweet Home for a few days…just keep an eye out for bears. 😉

Pie-Making Prowess

Jean is THE pie lady of Columbia Falls, a well-deserved and deliciously divine title for a woman who can make your mouth water merely by reciting a recipe or recounting her pie wares. Since I fancy myself as I’m a bit of a pie guy, I wanted to help her bake, see her place, and check out her small town and market in the shadow of Glacier National Park.

Jean, the pie lady of Columbia Falls, Montana giving the people what they want: personal-size peach pies! She calls them Cutie-Pies!

Prying Myself Off the Island

I must confess that leaving my farm and my island is like prying a barnacle off of a pier. For me, travel takes a bit of planning and managing the home-front; first, I need to find a capable and engaged soul to watch the farm, water the orchard and greenhouse, caretake the house, and parcel oodles of hugs, kisses, and butt rubs on my Buddy. Of all those things, loving Buddy is the main event. Fortunately the stars aligned, clouds opened up, and the angels sang. House-sitter and now friend Susan came into my life through a recommendation and was immediately smitten with Buddy and the farm (in that order). Job filled. Buddy spoiled. Tom happy. If I had stayed a few days longer in Montana, I fear Buddy would have traded me in for his kind, caring and fun-loving new pal. (Thank you Susan, Buddy is still raving about you!)

Susan texted me Buddy updates and pics. Here’s a snapshot of the mayor joyriding around the island with his favorite nanny.

Baking My Way to Sunday Market

Jean started Sunday Market in Columbia Falls: spearheading and organizing the weekly summer event by getting permits; finding and organizing vendors; and basically getting the word out and making it happen. When I asked if I could come help her, she said, “of course!” So off I went to join my sister in pies for an intense and wonderful weekend of baking and laughing and sampling.

Blackberry Cutie-Pies! Let the pie-making begin! Note to self, next time bring an apron.

The Journey Begins Long Before the Airport

One of the jokes of living on an island with limited ferry service is that it takes longer to get to the airport than it does to fly to your destination. Flying east from Seattle to Kalispell, Montana takes about an hour and a half. Gaming late ferries, dicey parking options, unrelenting traffic and circuitous security lines usually takes at least four hours from island doorstep to Sea-Tac departure gate. Sometimes you feel like Indiana Jones in sweaty pursuit of a fabled destination–minus the poison darts and rolling boulders.

mini peach pies
I may have to bestow another title on Jean: Queen of Crimping!

Making Pies, Cakes, Cookies and Scones!

We started prepping pastries on Friday, the day I got there, but only after a fine Montana steak at the Night Owl restaurant. Saturday morning started with a frothy cup of espresso and a lumberjack breakfast. Then, I awaited my baking orders. Jean is a model of efficiency and organization, so it was a pleasure to be part of her kitchen operation. And besides, she’s excellent company.

homemade poptarts
Jeans made two types of “pop tarts” for this Sunday Market, one with fruit (strawberry shown above) and another with savory fillings, such as cream cheese, gruyere, scallions and chopped parsley.

In a regular Santa’s workshop, these elves measured, mixed, kneaded, chopped, rolled, crimped, baked, cooled, portioned, and packed up some of the tastiest baked goods in the valley. We rewarded our efforts and full day of baking fun with a tasty Italian dinner in nearby Whitefish–a fancier version of Montana.

The starting lineup: Jean’s cutie-pies. Fillings included: blackberry, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, peach, pecan, cherry, and triple berry.

Big (and Little) Pie Country

On Sunday, a little after 7 a.m., we blocked off 6th Street West, in front of City Hall and the library, and begin to set up the market. So what did we sell at Jean’s booth, Prairie Girl Farms? From local farmers, we offered fresh corn, tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, squash, onions and plums. And on the pastry side, our marathon Saturday bake-a-rama produced Cutie-pies, Montana-shaped sugar cookies, Plum-Almond Cake, Shaker Lemon pie by the slice, Big Mountain peanut-butter cookies, Strawberry jam pop tarts, savory cheese pop tarts, cherry-lemon yogurt cake, and scones. And I’m delighted to say, we sold out of everything. I’ll be featuring some recipes and how-tos in the coming months on the blog, starting out with the pop tarts, which you can make and freeze for later, too.

shaker lemon pie unbaked
Oven-ready Shaker lemon pie!

Jean’s Sweet-on-all-levels Homestead

Jean Flynn is one of the most creative, skilled and energetic people I know. She conjures magic always and has transformed her homestead into a welcoming place of delight and hospitality. During the summer, she rents out her home on VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and lives in a teeny-tiny house on the property. The half-tent platform (shown below), one of her dreamy spots on the property, beckoned this baker for several quick breaks between bake times.

napping tent montana
Montana Shangri-La: Jean built this dreamy open platform tent for summer reading and napping and wiling away the day between chores.

Amazing Jean

Jean is also an interior designer and maker of amazing textile products like custom window treatments, slipcovers and pillows. Here’s her site: jeanflynninteriors.com. She also makes Jeanie’s Beanies, wonderful beanies (as seen on the dashing chap below) made from cashmere sweaters she finds at thrift shops. But that is just a small thread of the quilt that has been Jean’s life. Here’s a fun article about her that gives you an idea of her creative chops: https://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/Stage-presence-Jean-Flynn-decorated-her-Seattle-2677246.php#photo-2150355

I am sporting one of Jean’s cool caps, Jeanie Beanies, one way to keep my little bald spot toasty, comfy and styling on a chilly Montana morning.

A Big Sky Thank You to the Hostess With the Mostess

It’s rare that I tear myself away from my island hideout, but my trip to wonderful to see and help Jean was a delicious respite and reconnection. And Jean tells me a pie shop may be in the works, so I’ll keep you posted. No one should be without pie. So thank you Jean for the best time and the most baking fun this man has had in a while! I love your slice of pie heaven, and I reveled at having been a part of the activities that make it and you so special.

cup of joe frothy

My Favorite Welcome-Home Committee of One

I love being missed as much as I love the reunion!
Safe travels my friends wherever the winds and waves take you!

Buddy the Bulldog: Vashon’s New Mayor

Vashon Washington: Strawberry Festival parade. Tom Conway and Buddy candidate for Vashon Mayor (Photo courtesy of https://donnelly-austin.com/)

Buddy the bulldog, my favorite sidekick and huggable fur-ball was elected Unofficial Mayor of Vashon Island for the 2022 Strawberry Festival. Buddy rested up after the car parade and a grueling, albeit thoroughly enjoyable, weekend of hitting the pavement, pressing paws, and feeling the support of his beloved community. Running as the Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP) candidate, Buddy shared stories and brought to light how this wonderful organization helps pets and pet owners on Vashon Island, from providing pet food subsidies and forever-home placement for rescued animals, to facilitating searches for lost dogs and cats.

Vashon Washington: Strawberry Festival parade. Tom Conway and Buddy candidate for Vashon Mayor ready to ride in style! (Photo courtesy of https://donnelly-austin.com/)

Buddy’s Big Thank You

Buddy and I would like to thank everyone who supported his campaign from butt rubs (Buddy’s) to kind words, and to charitable VIPP donations. We both marveled at the warmth and joy of our community, all from the passenger seat of a dreamy Porsche parade car. (Hopefully, good sport and vehicle owner Peter will be able to remove dog hair and dander without use of industrial solvents and commercial vacuums.)

Bulldog in a truck
Mayor Buddy sitting tall in the saddle for the Sunday Car Parade.

Strawberry Festival Parade Photos

Take a look at our spirited hometown parade: https://seattlerefined.com/lifestyle/photos-sweet-return-of-the-vashon-island-strawberry-festival-2022

After the Campaign…

Mayor Buddy playing it cool under an equally cool vintage Diamond truck after the car parade on Sunday.
Buddy Bulldog Apache Truck
Buddy enjoying the shade after his victory lap and grateful for cool temperatures both Saturday and Sunday of the festival.
Buddy making friends, and looking back on a great Vashon Island Strawberry Festival.

Thank You All for Your Support

Check out Buddy’s kind-hearted friends at Vashon Island Pet Protectors: www.vipp.org

http://www.vipp.orgVashon Island Pet Protectors: Our Heroes

Bulldog Buddy for Mayor


Buddy (my bulldog) rarely talks politics, but he’s making an exception as he tosses his collar in the ring to run for Vashon’s Unofficial Mayor during our upcoming Strawberry Festival. What’s his party affiliation? That would be Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP)! Near-and-dear to Buddy’s heart, this non-profit works tirelessly for the welfare of the island’s animals.

VIPP’s Mission Statement

Vashon Island Pet Protectors, established in 1984, works each day to improve the quality of life for companion animals on Vashon Island. Affectionately known Island wide as ‘VIPP,” Vashon Island Pet Protectors is a no-kill and non-profit 501c3 animal rescue organization run by compassionate and animal loving volunteers. In so many ways, VIPP offers the best possible resource for people and animals to make a connection on Vashon Island.

VIPP provides shelter, food and medical care to lost, abandoned and/or relinquished dogs and cats who are waiting for loving and forever new homes. VIPP is a no-kill organization. No dog or cat has ever been euthanized except on the recommendation of a veterinarian to spare it suffering. Our foster families and volunteers have made this enviable record possible.

Vote Early, Vote Often

Every dollar you donate counts as a vote, e.g. $10 = 10 votes; and the proceeds go to VIPP as a fundraising platform for the charity. The dog with the most votes wins the coveted title of Unofficial Vashon Mayor. Don’t tell Buddy, but he really believes he’s always been the unofficial mayor of Vashon Island, and that neither term limits nor elections apply to him. Voting ends Saturday July 16, 2022 at noon. The winner will be announced that evening.

bulldog buddy on the table
Buddy likes to see his constituents eye to eye…even if from the kitchen table.

How to Vote

Online: Just go to www.vipp.org, and the online donation form is front and center right below Buddy’s statesman-like mug.

Local Voting Boxes at the following locations:

Thanks for donating to Buddy’s campaign where proceeds go to Vashon Island Pet Protectors.

Buddy getting ready to walk the campaign trail.

Rhubarb Pie As It’s Meant to Be: Delicious!

Delicious Rhubarb Pie Recipe

Ah Rhubarb, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Let me begin and end with one way: rhubarb pie. Sure, I make jams, jellies, and compotes with the ruby-red stalk, but pie is where it truly shines. The combo of tartness and sweetness wrapped in buttery crusty goodness makes rhubarb pie a springtime treat like no other. And for the sake of my friends who might pop a gasket over adulterating the rhubarb, I never add strawberries or other fruits to the filling. I’m a rhubarb purist at heart.

fresh rhubarb for pie
The spring garden’s most vibrant star…chop, chop!

My Rhubarb pie recipe is relatively simple, and specifically delicious. The recipe always works, always elicits moans, groans, and worthy praise from dessert lovers around my table. Over the years, I’ve streamlined the recipe even more by making it a galette, which is simply rolling out the dough to an even thickness, placing it round and ready into a pie plate, adding the filling, and folding over excess dough to make a top crust. Oh and I do gild this lily with one other culinary trick: custard. Not a lot, just enough to coat the rhubarb and envelope it in a dreamy, creamy silkened coating of sublime texture and flavor. Prepare to smack your lips with the following rhubarb pie recipe, but first some photographs of the steps to get there.

Any pie dough will work. I use the King Arthur Baking Company’s double crust recipe, so I can make one pie and freeze the remaining dough for another pie day. Roll out the dough to an even thickness; rough edges are fine, if not preferred.

Slump the dough in a 9″ pie plate, gently press down dough into pie plate. Compress, don’t stretch.

It’s all about the overhang, note the excess pie dough destined to do a back flip onto the top of the pie.

rhubarb pie filling

As for the rhubarb pie filling, I first dust the rhubarb with cornstarch, then sugar.

rhubarb pie custard

Next up the magic of custard: cream and egg (whole milk and half and half work fine, too).

Combine simple ingredients to create a memorable pie.

mixed custard pie

Mixing up the cream and egg to add to the rhubarb mixture.

A custard slurry creates a silky-smooth binder for the rhubarb pie filling and complements the herb’s noteworthy tartness.

Once rhubarb is tucked away in the pie dough, pour custard solution over it but be careful not to overfill.

Rhubarb on top, with custard filling the bottom of the pie shell.

Once the rhubarb and custard fill the pie, gently fold the excess pie dough back on itself to make a partial top crust.

Rhubarb Custard Pie

Serving Size:
2 hours
Easy Peasy


  • Your favorite pie dough recipe. (For me, King Arthur Flour Pie Dough Recipe)
  • 5 Cups Rhubarb, cut bite size
  • 2 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 Cup half and half (Okay to substitute whole milk and cream)


  1. PREHEAT – oven to 400° F
  2. DOUGH – Roll out pie dough into even-thickness disc that is larger than a 9-inch pie plate. You want it to overhang the sides and touch the counter.
  3. RHUBARB-CUSTARD FILLING – Chopped fresh rhubarb into bite-size pieces (I like diagonally cut.)
  4. Place chopped rhubarb in a bowl, and mix with corn starch until fully coated.
  5. Add sugar and salt to mixture and thoroughly combine.
  6. Let mixture sit room temperature for 15 minutes, then stir again to create a syrupy slurry.
  7. In a separate bowl, beat egg, then add half and half and mix thoroughly.
  8. Pour mixture onto rhubarb to coat and stir well.
  9. ASSEMBLY – Add rhubarb to dough-covered pie plate, tap down lightly to flatten fruit.
  10. Pour remaining custard from rhubarb bowl into pie plate. Custard should only come up half way.
  11. Gently fold the dough over toward the middle of the pie to create a galette top.
  12. Brush top dough with milk, and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar for a golden brown baked finish.
  13. Bake 25 minutes, then rotate pie 180°
  14. Reduce temp to 375° and bake another 20 minutes.
  15. Rotate pie again and bake for another 20 minutes
  16. When custard thickens and bubbles, remove from oven and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Bon Appétit and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Related Links:

Grow Organics: How to Grow Rhubarb

Washington State University: Rhubarb Growing Guide

Taste of Home: Rhubarb Recipes

Epicurious: 41 Rhubarb Recipes

Vashon Vision: Future Found in a File Cabinet


Cleaning House, Finding Treasures

Ah, the new year, a time to fall in line with my better self and ponder the things I plan to do, change, rectify and/or discard in my life. Nothing too heady here; I’m thinking clean closets, no second helpings, walking more and talking less.

One of my first endeavors included cleaning out and removing two file cabinets from my upstairs linen closet alcove. Initially, I was counting on eight gliding drawers of storage space to keep the documental detritus of my life locked and loaded for easy retrieval. Instead, the behemoths acted more like steel sarcophaguses where entombed papers and “collectibles” awaited an afterlife never realized.

In one file cabinet, under a pancake-stack of CDs, rested a zipped-up leather portfolio cocooning a bunch of forgotten writings, cards, and photographs—seemingly, mementos I held in higher esteem than the neighboring discographies of 80’s greatest hits and funk legends. Inside the portfolio, I found a document titled Homework: Vashon Vision.

I read the first few lines (head-tilt and curious puppy-face on full display). After feather-dusting the cobwebs from my head and shaking a few bread crumbs out of my ears, I remembered Vashon Vision was an exercise to write down what I wanted my life to look like, that is, prodding pen, paper, and intent to speak to my future self. The homework assignment from twenty years ago was part of a life-coach curriculum I was participating in with a friend of mine, Kathy, who was seeking her certification in the field. I was her willing student and she my steadfast, whip-smart mentor.

At the time I wrote Vashon Vision, I was living in Seattle commuting to a corporate job that I feared did not see the magic in me, nor I in it. In my heart, I wanted something else, a day without meetings, posturing or feeling less-than. I also wrestled with the reality that Seattle had outgrown me. My sweet little Green Lake neighborhood was being roused from its century-old sleep by the pin-pricks of “progress” and development. After the little brick house next door to me was torn down only to be replaced a spec-box four times its size, I thought I needed to figure out my next move to escape such urban encroachment and loss of place. How did I see myself in the coming years and just what would a good day look like to me?

My sweet little Green Lake cottage before the neighborhood’s building boom.

The following excerpts are from that writing assignment, where I waxed on about what a move to my favorite Puget Sound island and imaginary farmhouse would look like.

HOMEWORK: Vashon Vision (circa 2003)

“A rooster crows and the lone wale of a ferry horn follows, cutting through the morning fog and silence alike. The warmth and stillness of being in bed makes it difficult to leave such a blanketed embrace, that is until the snorts and gurgles of a sleeping bulldog morph into a full-blown snore — my cue to rise and shine. Downstairs, my ears are keen to another morning sound: the welcoming call of a programmable coffee pot—first rumblings, then escaping steam, drip, drip, drip, then the aroma escapes the confines of this little appliance and finds its way right to my nose.

First coffee on the front porch stairs, as the morning is young (so says this early riser). I wonder what the day will bring—routine, surprise, contentment, a little angst, a little intrigue? I lock on the sight of deer drifting through the tall grass, and I let them linger long enough to stare at me and me at them. As they graze my garden, I think it’s time to shoo them off, knowing they’ll be back by evening when my attention is elsewhere. Maggie wedges her wrinkled mug through the unlatched door and senses adventure mere yards away. A quick piddle in her favorite spot, then off to expedite the deer’s departure and save me the trouble.

My old farmhouse casts a spell of cozy familiarity, of earlier times, of forgotten history. It has stood in its place for a long time, when roads were mud and timber king, when letters were hand-scripted on paper stiff, when the mosquito fleet of Puget Sound dodged flotillas of schooners and masted giants. I know not the history seen through the windows of my house, but my imagination finds no limits to that which I have not experienced, but hold in my heart. I see the mistress of the house retrieving sheets off the clothing lines as a storm approaches, along with a young man carrying a smile and a weighty bushel of fresh-picked apples, his cheeks blushing with the same color found in the basket. Children clamor down the stairs to intercept his windfall. Minutes later, all run for the porch as clouds like the burgeoning bushel can hold their contents no longer.

My daydream takes me to work at hand, some simple chores: feed the chickens, thin some apple tree branches and ponder the story I’m writing. My toes cannot escape the slap of wet grass saddled with dew. The dawn is young and the sun has yet to fully join us. Maggie acts as scout, cutting through the meadow like a stealthy, invisible, tigress. She leads me to the berry patch for breakfast pickings.

After breakfast, I go to my study, to a desk reserved for writing. My study is a small room, well-appointed but not too cluttered (very wishful thinking), and with a view of the garden and the changing cloudscapes skirting the tree line. I have another desk in another room, but it’s reserved for the daily duties of paying bills, and maintaining one’s paper-trail life. And yes, it’s quite cluttered.

I have several projects going, one a freelance piece, another an essay on gardening, and one an evolving story begging to be a book. I hum a song in my head and try to pen the lyrics before the melody evaporates and leaves me in silence. I remember enough to tuck the words away for another day when more music seeks refuge in my head, or I seek refuge in the music.

I write throughout the morning, but not without taking breaks to hug Maggie, drink more coffee and take a clip around the garden again. A neighbor stops by for fresh eggs, rewarding me with a half-pint of honey for my hen’s efforts. We catch up. We laugh. We wave goodbye.

I finish the afternoon writing and rewriting. As shadows lengthen, the sun’s arch towards the Olympic range reminds me it’s time to take a walk before dusk—time to rediscover that the inspiration in words comes from the inspiration in life.”

My first spring on Vashon, where aspiration met sylvan reality.

How Time Flies…

Posts like these are a little awkward for me. I’ll be the first to say there are no magic waves-of-the-wand to make things happen; but based on my own experience, I think any time I focus on what I do want, I find myself on a better path to understanding and realizing my direction. Writing down my perfect day got me started. Course corrections and awareness led me further to find my beloved farm and the solid touchstones of friends and family. Twenty years later my dream found a place to park.

peach palace vashon
2004: Home Sweet Home right before I moved in.
2022: original siding exposed, new paint makes her shine!

Island Life: Words to Live By…

This “Hiway Haiku” of mine is right at home on Vashon Island, just like me.

A Recipe for Bread and for Life


A friend of mine recently returned from a Zen Retreat at a German monastery, and told me about a delicious German whole-wheat rye bread he had enjoyed there. Now on quirky little Vashon, no one would bat an eye at that sentence, albeit some would be disappointed there was no mention of a unicorn.

Chris also produced a photo for me to drool over. Bread never looked so good. The rounded little sandwich bread revealed seeds, and nuts as if stones, pebbles, and boulders on a rough mountain road; and a dense constitution that provided nary a space for errant air bubbles or problematic holes so common with other breads. (Are you listening sourdough?)

Chris produced this photo for me to swoon over, and I did.

I listened intently as my pal (a man of thoughtful and artistic ways) shared his fascinating journey of retreat and discovery, from slices of life and to slices of bread–and both sounded delicious.

Now back to the bread. I love the few German breads I’ve tasted. They had a weight, texture, and density that made tongue, tooth, and tastebud sing. After a little research, I read that Germany is considered the bread capital of Europe. Apparently, there are more than 3,200 officially recognized types of bread in Germany according to the “German Institute of Bread.” (Check out the related reading at the end of the post.)

In lieu of placing a bowl of water in the oven for moisture, I baked the loaf in a lidded cast iron casserole pan. When the bread rose during baking and was firm, I removed the lid, and let further baking time make for a crustier top. I used a “meat” thermometer to test the internal temperature of the bread. When 190° F was reached, I removed the bread from the oven to cool.

Thanks to a continuing stream of dreamy bread photos dancing in my head, I was bent on making the seeded whole-wheat rye bread my friend had extolled the virtues of on his recent pilgrimage. So my recipe search began and eventually led me to the All Tastes German website to a bread called “Körnerbrot.”

Recipe: German Whole-Wheat Rye Bread With Seeds and Nuts

I thought this was a great recipe (linked in title), and I also made a couple changes based on my baking and eating preferences. They are as follows:

  1. I still used two cups rye, but I added one more cup of the whole wheat flour for a total of four cups, for a less sticky dough.
  2. I made and kneaded the bread only using a stand mixer with a dough hook. I only kneaded the bread briefly to shape into a large loaf. Another time I made two loaves from the same recipe using bread pans.
  3. I added more nuts/seeds: 1/2 Cup walnuts, 1/2 Cup pumpkin seeds, 1/2 cup sunflower seeds.
  4. I baked the loaf in a large covered casserole dish and removed the lid once it had fully risen and was firm in the oven.
  5. I used a cooking thermometer to test the bread doneness. When 190° F was reached, I removed the loaf.
  6. I did not add any water to the oven.

Discovering the culinary gifts of other cultures through cooking and baking will always yield delicious results both on the palate and in the experience. So bake on my friends and don’t forget the olive oil and the butter.

What’s your favorite bread to bake?

Related Reading

Farmhouse Finery: New Paint, New Chapter

The old gal beams in her new livery of fresh paint and celebratory colors, and I couldn’t be happier. My near two-decade delay to restore and paint my farmhouse exterior was well worth the wait. This past week, on one of the few days when Pacific Northwest torrents relented and the sun appeared, my masterful painter (and now friend) Wade looked up from the porch post he was painting and said, “Well Tom, I think I’m done.” I replied, “for the day?” And he smiled and said, no, “Done, done.” (Cue my happy dance; no cameras please.)

We (make that Wade) started painting the house mid-September, and I knew he’d be at the mercy of the weather for the months to come. I trusted Wade and knew there was no way to rush this process, nor did I want to; but that meant I’d have to put on my big-boy pants and be patient and not bug Wade about some arbitrary timeline I’d conjured up. Let the artist do his thing. The house would be done when the house was done. Two months later the house was done.

I tried to keep out of Wade’s way, but Buddy felt the need to supervise when the sun was out.

Prior to the paint job, my beloved farmhouse had faded into the landscape like a clapboard chameleon, blending with watercolor swaths of Northwest forests and overcast skies. Fronted by a colossal century-old maple, she only revealed her bold new profile after the loss of leaves from said maple. Epic November wind storms ensured a dramatic finale, clearing the view for all to see from her splendid perch on a country corner and gentle hill. She beamed like a kid in new clothes on the first day of school. She was ready to rise and shine!

Let me round up some photos of her new look for the next century; and also take a moment to thank all of you for congenially going along with me on this journey, and offering words of encouragement and support.

Tah-Dah…The Big Reveal!

North Side of House

West Side of House

Northwest Corner of House

The More Weathered South Side.

1888 Front Door

If home is where the heart is, ours (me, Buddy, and the house) beats with gratitude and appreciation for your witness and kind words. Thank you from the bottom of our brightly colored, freshly painted hearts.

Buddy ponders: friend, foe or color inspiration. Western Tanager sculpted by my friend Michael Zitka

Related Stories:

Tom Lives Here, No Doubt About It

Home Sweet Home: Out With Old, In With the New

Tom Lives Here, No Doubt About It


Paint Colors to Call Home

I’ve waited 17 years to paint my house, not for lack of wanting, but more for having an understanding of what I needed to do by myself and with limited funds. I drafted an outline of priorities for house upgrades and gentle restoration, and I pretty much stuck to it. Placing no timelines on any project’s completion, I got the job done when I got the job done, just chipping away as free time and affordability allowed. I was happy to live under this roof no matter what the state of repair.

First Things First

As any homeowner will attest, to-do lists are roadmaps drawn with detours, delays, and unforeseen exits. I learned from restoring my house in Seattle that one should not pursue the pretty in a project before focusing on functionality and repair. It’s nice to apply wainscoting, but not if the plumbing and electrical systems behind it are suffering from old age and neglect. So beginning in 2004, I targeted the big stuff first : foundation issues, water-in-the-basement woes, anemic heat sources, aging roof shingles, curious chimney configurations, and feeble porch boards. Yep, I took on the hole in the foundation before lining up paint chips and light fixtures. And may I add my dear homestead has been the most charming of subjects throughout: patient and forgiving. So here it is 2021, and the paint is finally on the brush! My painter Wade is up to the challenge, and I eagerly cheer him on daily (minus the pompoms and cartwheels). He’s so good, I’ve started calling him Leonardo.

Pondering Paint Colors

Wade, master painter and man of the hour…day… decade…at my house.

I’ve never been afraid of color. I relish how color can conjure up a feeling of enthusiasm, warmth, delight and comfort within me. Months went by before the actual painting started, and after I had tested enough sample colors to coat my house two times over, I chose the colors — colors infused in the harvests of late summer, early autumn: peaches, peppers, plums and pears, with side a order of marigold and nasturtium.

Doubting Thomas

When it comes to color, I live out loud, but sometimes I succumbed to self-doubt and friends with good intentions but strong opinions. As a result, I began to stray from my original plan of summer-sweet colors into a new territory of tone-on-tone tastefulness. I started to doubt myself, thinking I should really go all classic white. When I told my friend Lynnanne that I had changed my mind tabling bright colors for a more pallid palette, she responded with disappointment, “Oh, I really love your original paint choices.” So did I, really. Perhaps I was under the spell of an HGTV episode or the quiet beauty of understatement. Hmmm, I needed to rethink this. There’s no doubt a quieter color scheme would be lovely, but was that me?

Getting gussied up in seasonal colors…

A Little Help From My Friend

Within a half-hour of Lynanne's visit, I received this text from her: 

"Hope this doesn’t sound too hokey but when I envision your house and you in it I see a bright, cheerful white or cream body with trim accents of color like sunshine, morning glories, pumpkins, grapes...

When I drive up your driveway and I see your lovely old gal perched on the hill it will say Tom lives here…no doubt about it !
Everyone has their opinion…no doubt about that! Me as well, but I did love your first choice of colors. 

Hard to decide, but whatever you do will pay homage to a grand old farmhouse with years of history and stories to tell. ❤️

My dear friend was right (she's an artist after all), and thanks to her generous and heartfelt note, I snapped out of it and how! Back to Plan A: Bring on the joyful colors! 

Colors Inspired by Nature

I didn’t pick my trim colors; the orchard, garden and kitchen did. The wonderful color combinations of red-oranges, golden glows and sunny yellows already lived here. Why not celebrate such vibrance daily, with each walk up the lane, with each view from the orchard, with each swing in the hammock. Here are some of the show-stopping hues Mother Nature let me borrow.

Nature’s Colors Trim the House

Here’s a sampling of the paint job in progress… I’ll post more detailed photos when the house is all painted and gussied up! (This will likely be a couple more weeks.)

Original front door, east side
The first coats of paint…
North side porch windows
Everything old is new again…south side of the house

Home Sweet Home: New Paint, New Life


Painting and Patience

Seventeen years ago I drove up a gravel drive to behold the house destined to become my new home. Imperfectly perfect, the pioneer beauty imbued an elegant simplicity wrought a century ago, and still stood proud even with the injustices of layered “improvements” that fell short of her grace and dignity.

After I moved in, I knew it would take awhile to paint the house but I had no idea that nearly two decades would pass before this striking muse in a dirty dress would be granted a wardrobe change. As my Seattle fixer taught me, first things first though; electrical, plumbing, foundation, and structural work would have to precede any desire to create my own aesthetic movement and mark on the exterior. Patience became my learned virtue.

Vashon farmhouse the peach palace
The “Peach Palace” in 2004 replete with a tarp-wrapped chimney, and sided with 50s asbestos shingles.

The House and I: Primed for Painting

My esteemed housepainter has begun this epic transformation, and I believe an “Alleluia!” is in order. (Feel free to throw in a couple amens, too!) After I hired an abatement company to remove fifties siding, my friend Jeff and I patched holes, replaced compromised boards, and added new corner trim, which was removed earlier when the asbestos tiles were installed in the fifties. Jeff, the star of this trim-work team, was meticulous and climbed ladders–my kind of skill set! As for me, well, think panda on a pole; I know better. Grounded grunt work is my game with a soupçon of finesse when needed. Oh, and I can fetch a tool like no one’s Golden Retriever.

A Fine Friend Captures a Fine House

Let me share with you some before-painting photos revealing the original presence of form, functionality and beauty hidden behind sheathing for over sixty years. My talented friend Kent Phelan photographed my favorite perch before her big paint job, using his epic large-format Deardorff wood-box camera. His imagery is nothing less than time travel. Thank you Kent!

Northwest side
Photo credit: Kent Phelan, Deardorff 5×7 HP5 @ 160
cold pantry
My cold air pantry, just a screen between the elements and my indoor larder.
Photo credit: Kent Phelan, Deardorff 5×7 HP5 @ 160
farmhouse porch
My summer haunt: breakfast, lunch and dinner on the wicker table; and power naps on the perfect porch sofa.
Photo credit: Kent Phelan Tall Clover Farm Deardorff 5×7 HP5 @ 160
West side of house: mudroom and upper floor guarded by my always growing collection of potted plants.
Photo credit: Kent Phelan, Deardorff 5×7 HP5 @ 160
South and weather side of the house. Window repair is also on the list. Photo credit: Kent Phelan, Deardorff 5×7 HP5 @ 160

House Paint Colors

The hot topic with any house painting is of course house colors. I can assure you I’ve chewed on this decision with the fervor of Buddy on a bone. I’ve changed my mind so many times, I quit answering inquiries with any specificity or conviction, instead mumbling “Ummm, yeah, I’m really close.” I could only handle so many puzzled looks chased by a “ummm, interesting choice.” Which brings us to the timely question now, “So Tom, what color did you choose?” I will say, the answer will come in another post, with before-and-after pictures, but for now I wish to showcase the austere beauty of my sweet pioneer home in a natural pre-paint state. And besides, I may change my mind tomorrow when we actually order and buy the paint. 

Preparation and Anticipation

Here are a few other photographs as we start to prime; and stay tuned for our debutante’s big day and re-introduction post.

house paint primed
Original shiplap siding shines…
The eighteen foot unsupported beam finally bolstered by adding two matching chamfered posts. Matching brackets will be added once made.
Facing north, sporting a new coat of primer…

Thanks for sharing my love of old houses, and I look forward to revealing the painting progress in the weeks to come. And based on Pacific Northwest autumn weather patterns, I may have to extend that estimate of completion. It’s okay; I’m in it for the long haul.

Time to Remove the Siding


Curing a Bad Case of Shingles…House Shingles

In 2004, my very patient realtor led me up a gravel lane to a hilltop setting of monumental trees encircling a sleeping beauty of a homestead. Painted in the color of my favorite stone fruit, the farmhouse radiated grace under, around and through her wavy-glass windows. She was imperfectly perfect. For I wasn’t seeking perfection, just joy, the kind of joy revealed in the everyday moments of simply being in a place called home. Lived-in, well-loved, the house glowed as luminously as the unconventional hue of her siding. Her patina as a gathering place was unmistakeable. Sure, the “Peach Palace” (as she’s locally known) had issues; not a problem, so did I. So what if the seller’s disclosure form could shim a short-legged table, I was game, but more importantly, I was smitten beyond my own expectations.

When I told a friend of all my plans to restore the house, he responded with a raised eyebrow, a chuckle, and a query, “Tom just how long do you plan on living?” (I paid him no mind.) Since then, I’ve chipped away at a multitude of major and minor projects; checked off a thousand items on a hundred to-do lists; envisioned a myriad of outcomes; and shrugged at deadlines. And through it all, I told myself to be patient, do the job right, and don’t spend money you don’t have.

Today I wish to share my complete and utter joy with you for something I’ve waited 17 years to do: to remove the 1950’s asbestos shingles that clad the house and masked the charm of the original features. Every time I drove up my lane, sat on the porch, returned from the orchard, or closed up the chickens for the evening, I would lovingly gaze at my “Peach Palace” and promise her to one day to rid her of that unfortunate livery, and to restore her original siding, for beneath the asbestos-infused squares was century-old fir siding.

danner farmhouse vashon island
Early photos (provided by my friend Gary) show a handsome house clad in fir ship lap with a v-groove.

Friends, I have kept my promise to this serene place, and the results truly brought tears to my eyes. Grace restore, Tom elated. (Remember, I’d waited almost two decades to do this, fearful I could never have afforded remediation. Finally, I could.) Let me share the journey with some before-and-after photographs so you can see what I mean. The house is smiling. I’m smiling, and I suspect you’ll be smiling, too.

2004: Photographs of the “Peach Palace”

The original porch rails had the tensile strength of stacked sugar cubes, so they were removed, and will return anew, once I rebuild them, but for now no tipsy guests allowed on the porch. 😉

2021: Siding Removal Day

2021: The After Photos

Before-and-After Comparison Photos

(Slide mid-photo arrow to compare.)
North side house
Years apart: Fourth of July meets first of May.

So what now? Ah, prepping and painting, my friends! Hopefully this will take place in August, and as for colors, I’m pondering. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts on what happy hues to grace her.

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