Island ‘wow factors’ at play

Nancy Gould-Hilliard
Around the Island

Teacher-Finally-in-Space: Seven astronauts return to Earth today after delivering supplies to the International Space Station, taking four walks in space and completing the mission of the ill-fated Challenger 21 years ago to put a teacher in space. Barbara Morgan, former Idaho elementary teacher turned astronaut now in her 50s, blasted off on the Space Shuttle Endeavour Aug. 8.

Mercer Island’s Fran Call, one of Washington’s two teacher-in-space candidates when NASA started the program in 1985, and 62 of her classmates were in Florida to watch Morgan “fulfill a dream we all once had.” Call also has visited Morgan in McCall, Idaho on cross country ski trips.

“Barbara was a Phi Beta Kappa at Stanford and lived in a log cabin, a nice mix!” says Call. “Teachers are communicators of facts, ideas, attitudes and perspectives. Barbara is a natural.” Morgan delivered a couple lessons from space during the two-week trip, despite feeling “upside down most of the time.”

Call recently walked in the Summer Celebration Parade and looks as fit as she was 35 years ago when she led groups of teens on daily runs around the island and on summer bicycle trips across the continent. The Cyclemates and the outdoor fitness class Fran created for middle school students emphasized preparation, determination and endurance, and were unique in the state then.

“While my interests now are securely bound to planet Earth,” she adds, “adventure and challenge still occupy my thoughts and activities. Far better to wear out than to rust out. It’s great fun finding people who share those thoughts!”

The Stitchers: On a recent Wednesday evening, 10 women and one guy quietly chatted and tatted in the library meeting room for three hours, focusing their magnifying glasses and lamps on counted cross-stitch projects. For 12 years they’ve met once a month at Mercer Island Library to stitch and socialize.

It all started with Mercer Island’s Pat Evans and classes at her former Bellevue shop. “We just didn’t want to give up our group when she closed,” said Connie Porter, former Journal American ad-taker. Richard Buchmiller, a stitcher from North Bend, is preparing his Puyallup Fair entry — an ocean scene that consumed 2,000 hours of cross-eyed cross stitching. Another stitcher crotchets a child’s sweater while others work on samplers, book marks, and art pieces.

“I sit and stitch six hours a day,” says Buchmiller. “So this group gives me a chance to become social again.”

Mercer Island’s Sixth Annual Fig Festival went off with gusto last weekend at Chuck and Judie Wischman’s with as many as 20 neighbors donning crowns of fig leaves and celebrating everything fig.

It all began with the Wischmans’ four-decade-old tree that produces enough figs for all neighbors to make a dish, and then some. The bacchanalian feast has included such dishes as grilled figs, gorgonzola cheese and honey with crustini; fig fettuccini; fig sausage; figs focaccia; salmon cooked in fig leaves; pork tenderloin with fig sauce, ginger-fig jam; crepes with fig syrup; dried figs with rosemary and goat cheese, and fig ice cream.

“We started this when figs weren’t so fashionable and we needed to put our fig harvest to good use,” says Judie. Current books “Fig Heaven” and “Girl in the Fig,” bring popular fig fare to the table. However, the nutritious fruit has been used for centuries as a natural sweetener, high in sugar, potassium, iron, fiber and plant calcium. The Wischmans show us not to confine our idea of figs to Newtons and ‘Figgie pudding,’ but to add “fig fun.”

Megan Hamp, a Mercer Island teen, is one of 10 finalists in the Safety Scholars Video Contest, vying for one of three $5,000 college scholarships given by Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire. The contest promotes safe driving to combat car crashes, which claim the lives of more 16- to 21-year-olds than any other cause. Megan, her brother, Jason, and friend Janet Summerfelt portray teen driver fairies and the results of those who speed, text message or drowse while driving. Watch Hamp’s video at

Virtual Home Looky-loos: Mercer Island real estate has been getting press lately. The Times-PI has included it in the most expensive homes on the market — $37 million — and its cheapest being a $299,000 studio condo. Coldwell Banker’s new virtual tour device also was touted by CNN Money. One Island home listed at $3+ million with 5,702 square-feet and designed by architect Rick Jones, has attracted 3,500 viewers, according to broker, Suzanne Lane. Not all are prospective buyers of course, many are curious looky-loos. See this new wave of home marketing at

BowWOW! Cellar 46 wine bar and restaurant is offering “Dog Days of Summer” — both for you and Fido Sundays and Mondays from 3-5 p.m. They invite you to bring your dogs to the patio for a plated meal and after-dinner tray, while you sample wine and appetizers. Such dog-themed wines as “Three-Legged Red” and “Chateau La Paws” will be served to humans. In partnership with All the Best Pet Care, the proceeds from the dog menu will go to Old Dog Haven in Arlington, where senior dogs find assisted living, hospice or other homes.

Marketing manager Donna Burger says she got the idea in Kansas City, where upscale restaurants and clients enjoy such luxury for their pooches.

To contact Nancy Hilliard, e-mail her at

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