Crew-sing the cut

Welcome to boating season! In my corner of the world, this is a year-around activity (albeit not tremendously popular in the winter months), but as of the first Saturday in May, it’s official!

Watercraft of every size, shape, color and purpose take to the H2O in droves. Temporary structures sprout up along our lakes, rivers, sounds and oceans, offering you the chance to rent your vision of freedom on the waterways.

Time to celebrate! And what better way to honor the commencement of maritime activities then with a regatta? That’s exactly how Seattle floats—with The Windermere Cup.

Since 1987, Windermere Real Estate brings together racing crew teams from all over the world for a chance to take home The Windermere Cup trophy. While the visiting teams vary from year to year, the University of Washington Huskies represent the home team for this auspicious event.

Fans crowd the narrow land edges of the Arboretum and the Montlake Cut for a chance to witness the festivities. On the water, yacht club members and other boat owners line up along the race course for a first-hand unobstructed view of the athletes in action. And just where did we fit in?

The log booms

Two very long rows of logs floating end to end (anchored in place) served as the boundaries for the race course. These logs also served as the top of our parking spot, as we backed up to one such tree trunk and proceeded to tie up.

In general, the boating community is a friendly and helpful group. Appropriate since each ties up not only to the log boom, but to each other as well. Get-acquainted conversations spring with every tie-up. Those with dinghies assist in the tie-up process, along with shuttling their own guests to and from the shore.

Each boat load of fans throws their own bash, music drifting from almost every vessel. Think one long, thin tailgate party—or “sailgate” as referred to by one of our neighbors.

The races—back in the day

What do spoons, tulips, hatchets and collars have in common? Oars, of course! Specifically racing oars. From spoons to tulips—common boat oar styles of yesteryear, today’s crew teams use the hatchet style oar.

Adjustable collars on the hatchet oars (positioned near the handles) allow coaches to assess the current skill of the rower, then increase the degree of difficulty as the athlete improves. Moving the collar higher up the oar pushes the boat even farther with each stroke.

Training equipment and techniques today are sophisticated and high tech. Years ago, manual labor jobs often took the place of formal offseason conditioning for our crew teams. And then there’s the shells. No longer wooden, modern day racing craft are made of durable synthetic materials featuring built-in seams so the boats can be disassembled for easy transportation.

Since originating in England on the Thames circa 1600s, the evolution of crew racing to the elite and popular sport we know today is highlighted throughout our history by several distinct mile markers—more than the ever-changing boats, oars and exercise programs. One such mile marker occurred during the Great Depression on these very shores.

A few days after our log boom adventure, we enjoyed a walking tour (on land!) honoring The Boys in the Boat and their famous legacy that came to pass pre-WWII. Led by former Husky women’s crew member Melanie Barstow (the “Boys of 1936” tour creator), we traveled through time from the UW’s currentand very modernConibear Shellhouse to the original ASUW Shellhouse on the water’s edge of the Montlake Cut.

A former Naval facility built in 1918—now on the National Register of Historic Places—this humble structure had a dual purpose. It served as a launch and storage for the UW crew teams, and as a shop for the assembly of the world-famous Pocock Racing shells.

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George Pocock himself created his wooden boats under that roof. If these old floor boards could talk, they would be smiling as they told the very true story of how the Husky men’s varsity crew team came together (in a Pocock shell) to win the gold at the ‘36 Berlin Olympics.

The races—present day

Fast forward to modern times, and this year’s opening day contest. Pardon the reference, but this year’s races—22 total—were akin to singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”—one race right after the other.

Each lasted between 5 and 9 minutes—each a smooth yet sharp and speedy challenge on the water’s surface, and each marked with evidence of today’s tech and style: wireless headsets for the coxswain and rowers, sleek shells and the latest in lightweight uniforms. The winning teams crossed the finish line with no more than a second or two to spare, or considerably less.

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The parades

When you hear the word “parade,” what comes to mind? Marching bands, cheerleaders, dignitaries, athletes, police and firefighters—and decorated floats? This post crew racing event contained all of the above mentioned elements, moving between the log booms with all the pomp and circumstance of any parade you’ve witnessed on paved city streets.

One noteworthy variation: all watercraft came back through the same course. In other words, any floating parade craft passed by all onlookers twice. No worries if you missed waving at a particular participant; the start and finish line were one in the same.

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The course events ending, all boats proceeded to make their way home in whichever direction necessary. This created a common experience among all commuters: rush hour. Nothing like a little traffic jam to remind us we’re not alone when making our way down the many highways (and waterways) of life.

As we tootled along the no wake zone on our way back home, I wondered what thoughts crew racing fans had that year the UW crew team represented the USA in the ‘36 Summer Olympics. Hope, pride, excitement—my best guesses. Ears glued to their radios, voices harsh from yelling their enthusiasm as “the boys” crossed the finish line first—against all odds.

If only the boys knew their mile marker in the making—their very own and very famous moment in time—how much they continue to be celebrated. Their humble personas might be a bit overwhelmed.

But I think their pride in the continued success of crew racing at their old alma mater, and the celebration of this sport every first Saturday in May, would give them that “swing” feeling in and out of the racing shell, and the knowledge that it all was worth it—and still is. J 🚣‍♀️

 

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Where gardens grow

Regarding favorites—favorite garden nursery, favorite bistro, favorite spa, or favorite tea shop—you might picture locations you’ve happened upon during your travels that check off one or two of the above-mentioned categories. Quite recently, I was treated to a day in a place that features all four and more: Windmill Gardens.

You’ll find this five-acre village of classy, unpretentious mercantile in the town of Sumner, Washington. And once we entered the grounds, I couldn’t believe the discoveries we made at every turn.

Garden epic

Plants, flowers, trees, soils and seeds—high and low, plentiful and beautiful—occupying much of the acreage, spilling purposely from the long greenhouse-style buildings into the outside patios. Employees were busy keeping this popular shop tidy, assisting customers and ringing up purchases—and fielding questions.

As I wondered how far their living inventory needed to travel to reach this place, a cashier answered that very question to one of my friends. Only a few miles down the road, their production facilities—25 acres worth—grow all kinds of flowers and greenery.

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Just outside our parking spot, The Village connected the nursery with the smaller but very quaint tea shop, spa and other stores all the way to the courtyard, restaurant and windmill. Brightly colored flowers, plants and water features lead the way to each door.

Gadget unique

Not to be outdone by the greenery and floral displays, garden accessories of every size, shape and color were available for purchase. An impressive selection, to say the least. In need of garden boots, gloves, hats, mats, tools,clothing—fairy furniture? Running low on terrarium supplies? Metal figurines? Bird feeders—and bird baths? Signage? It’s all there.

Because the one thing missing from my backyard was a metal pink flamingo, I made my purchase while my other friend picked out some greenery for her backyard. (I did eye a water feature—maybe next time.)

Gourmet fare

Walking into Tea Madame was a delight to the senses, even before enjoying a free sample. Loose leaf blends sold here—many exclusive to this shop—are also the delicious subjects of this store’s tea tastings (classes). Sounds like flavorful fun to me! Jewelry and even chocolate joined the many different tea accessories on the shelves. It was tough to leave! Ah, but it was time for lunch at the Windmill Bistro.

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It’s difficult for me to pass up crab Mac-n-cheese, so I didn’t. But all of our entrees were flavorful and reasonably priced. This restaurant alone is definitely worthy of a return visit.

Upon learning that the Bistro is also available in the evenings for private events—and that it provides catering for celebrations taking place in the courtyard or adjacent building just outside—I began to make the connection…

Gala flare

Weddings, milestone anniversaries and birthdays, and other special events; I can see how all venues on site come into play to make this place nearly an all-inclusive locale.

Need a gazebo for your nuptials? Check! How about an on-site florist? Done! While the Bella Ragazza Spa & Salon pampers the bridal party, the beautiful grounds and whimsical windmill building accommodate your guests for an enchanting evening of festivities.

I always admire those who possess a green thumb. They have the ability to turn a patch of dirt into a garden, a vase of flowers into a bouquet—even an old appliance into a colorful planter. And now, after my visit to the Windmill Gardens, I’m willing to try just a bit harder to make my living spaces a little more alive. J 🌳

 

FAIR-ly unique fun

There’s a lot of newness this time of year—many discoveries (or rediscoveries) of things tucked away; things—and people—anticipating longer, warmer, sunnier days. And while all seasons have events worth celebrating, spring claims the colorful rebirth of our landscapes. And perhaps a bit more…

For me, tradition dictates my attendance at the state fair each and every fall. Not begrudgingly, I can assure you; I love our giant end-of-summer-beginning-of-autumn-harvest-food-music-fun-filled festive bash just as much as the well over one million annual attendees who visit this grand occasion. Since 1900, the city of Puyallup has played host to The Fair, and since 1990, the Spring Fair.

Hold up—a fair… in the spring? Okay, so it’s been around for almost 30 years now, but it took a bit for me to warm up to the idea. Realizing the parade is daring to pass me by, I purchased tickets online (at a discount for buying early), talked my daughter into spending one of her weekdays off with me, and hit the road, ready to compare spring to fall.

Machines

Upon arrival, my car and wallet were treated to free parking at the fairgrounds’ Blue parking lot; a nice perk for attending the Spring Fair on a weekday.

After clearing the gates and making our way through a familiar maze of structures—one of which sold us our ride tickets—we arrived at our family’s official first fair stop: the roller coaster. Making its debut in 1935 (rebuilt a few times since), The Coaster is our favorite way to kick off our day at the fair.

Meandering through the grounds, we witnessed a mix of things familiar with a dash or two of something new. Something different. Like a parade of monster trucks making their way to the grandstand bullpen. Larger-than-life, loud and knobby tires, these modes of transportation demanded the attention of all those in a hundred-yard radius. Not a planned event, mind you, as far as your traditional parade goes. But totally worth the price of admission!

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Critters

Picture your favorite local fair. What animals come to mind? Cows, horses, hogs, rabbits, chickens…reptiles, marsupials, tropical birds…wait—what? That’s what we uttered as we stumbled into an exhibit under the grandstand: Brad’s World Reptiles. Snapping turtles, albino cobras and alligators—oh my! Not your average petting zoo.

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Camped out between the carnival rides and the food stands, we discovered adorable and colorful critters from down under: kangaroos and wallabies, and multicolored birds that make decorated Easter eggs look plain—all part of the Aussie Kingdom.

To date, I’ve witnessed mostly conventional races: cars, horses, gunnysacks, three-legged… but now, I can chalk one up for unconventional: potbelly pigs. If you’re looking for cuteness overload, this is the event for you! Swifty Swine Productions packs its arena to standing-room-only capacity each and every showtime. Three races per show, these super cute potbellies tear up the sawdust track to reach the coveted prize: an Oreo cookie.

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Flavors

If there’s one rule for attending a fair, it’s this: bring your appetite. Everything from cotton candy to gyros is available, along with beverages galore. We narrowed down our selection to options at the baked potato/panini stand. I chose a traditional baked spud, with plenty of cheese, butter, sour cream and chives (leaving off the bacon bits—after the potbelly races, I just couldn’t…). 🐽

Before calling it a day, we picked up two bakers dozen bags of one fair tradition I will never go without: Fisher Scones. And because every scone deserves a worthy something-to-drink partner, we visited the Original House of Donuts stand for lattes. Oh, and because they jumped into our purchase, a few donuts too.

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Making our way to the new seating area just behind the grandstand, we enjoyed our treats in full view of the monster trucks, resting up for their big show. Also in the vicinity of the grandstand’s backyard, we found the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center. Something I’d never really noticed before, even in all the years I’ve been a state fair regular.

There was a class in progress, but not just because of the Spring Fair; this art center is open year around. It is the perfect combination of art reflecting the past, while looking to the future.

What local springtime events, fairs or festivals do you enjoy? Or are you warming up to the thought of attending? Take it from me, don’t let these opportunities—these parades—pass you by. The monster trucks, potbellies and scone makers will thank you. And you just might discover (for yourself) a new tradition. J 🎢

 

It’s winter!

Seasons greetings–happy Winter Solstice Day! Yes, today marks the first official day of winter, for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, which means

1. In terms of daylight, it’s the shortest day of the year.

Night and day

Here at latitude 47, solstice kicks off at 8:28 am Pacific Time, less than an hour after sunrise (7:54 am). Sunset happens at 4:19 pm. If you’re doing the math, then you know that means about 9.5 hours of daylight–barely enough to fit in a work day.

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At noon, the sun will be at its lowest point on the horizon–since the summer solstice–for this midday time slot, casting lengthy shadows. To be shadowless at this time, one would need to stand on the equator (a bucket list item of mine). And why is the sun so low?

Scientifically speaking, planet Earth is rotated to the point where the sun is directly facing the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. This leaves the North Pole completely–and literally–in the dark.

Of course, the opposite is true for our southern hemisphere friends. That means the people of Christchurch, New Zealand enjoyed an early sunrise–5:44 am–with sunset several hours later at 9:10 pm. Yes, that means over 15 hours of daylight!

Sun and seasons

Up for a little True False quiz? “Regarding its orbit, today (December 21) the Earth is farthest away from the sun.”

False!

2. This time of year, the Earth is closest to the sun.

Our seasons–winter, spring, summer, autumn (fall)–react to the slant of our planet in relation to the sun, not Earth’s distance from the sun.

How ‘bout one more True/False? “In the northern hemisphere, moss grows only on the north side of a tree.”

False!

3. In the northern hemisphere, moss grows mostly (not exclusively) on the north side of a tree.

Because the sun is shining from the south, shadows–and shade–occur on the north side of things, including trees. This creates cooler, more humid, conditions for surfaces, therefore allowing moss to grow without significant exposure to the sun and heat. However, these conditions can apply to surfaces that face south, west and east as well.

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Percentage-wise, during my recent walks, I found more north-facing mossy tree trunks than I did south-facing ones, but I found enough mossy surfaces with southern exposure to thwart the myth.

Daylight and night-lights

For anyone preferring daylight to the hours between sunset and sunrise, this can be a frustrating time of year. And for anyone preferring sunshine to any of the other weather-related elements, well, it can be doubly frustrating. But take heart! First of all, as of tomorrow, the days are getting longer.

Yes, day by day, sunrise will be earlier and sunset will be later, which means more daylight. And while the weather depends largely on where in the northern hemisphere you reside, your chances of sunny days increases too. Although not for a few months.

Hang in there! One great thing about darkness it that it allows for electric lights (and natural ones like the Aurora Borealis–also on my bucket list) to be not only visible, but enjoyable. The sharp contrast of the light to the dark can be mesmerizing.

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December is a month filled with holidays, traditions and festivals around the world, and notably marked with strings of lights, candle displays, and even fireworks. So, enjoy the show!

Rocks and history

And speaking of festivals, Stonehenge–one of the world’s oldest and most popular monuments–hosts quite the celebration of both winter and summer solstices. People from all over the globe trek to this remote, famous location in England to witness sunrise or sunset (or both), and to enjoy the festivities. These attendees honor the history, people and cultures of this very special place.

One last quiz question. Who built Stonehenge?

  1. Romans
  2. Neolithics
  3. Vikings
  4. Druids

Answer: B–the Neolithics! These early native people of England began construction of Stonehenge in 3000 BC. The Beaker and the Wessex peoples also contributed, completing construction in 2000 BC. The Druids often receive credit for building Stonehenge, but they did not become a part of this celebrated place until about 200 BC.

Our visit to Stonehenge took place one October afternoon, absent the festival goers. We enjoyed ample time (and elbow room) to walk the grounds and marvel at this amazing monument. The designated pathway creates a gentle circle around the stones that allows for excellent views from many angles. This circular structure is a beautiful combination of natural wonder and human engineering. And plain hard work. No hydraulic cranes doing the heavy lifting in the BC world.

A return visit to Stonehenge is on my bucket list, so it only makes sense for me to time it with a solstice event, and to be caught up in the celebration.

What celebrations do you have planned for this winter? What activities or hobbies do you enjoy when the days are shorter and the weather is cooler? Between now and springtime, I’m looking forward to taking a few short trips and planning several more. And along those lines, here is my new year’s resolution: to create my official bucket list. Stay tuned for that!

Whatever you choose to do over the next few months, even if it’s just to enjoy a little downtime, I wish you all the best in the new year. J 😎

 

My Eclipse Manners

Remember the eclipse? Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when it was still summer? The most recent solar eclipse visited North America August 21, traveling west to east, and wowing millions from coast to coast. Whether you made a point of witnessing the partial or total eclipse itself, or had something else going on that day, you probably still remember the excitement, anticipation and the outright craze leading up to that moment. Sort of like Christmas, but in August.

Eclipse viewing glasses
Eclipse viewing safety glasses

Destination: Salem

Normally I’m a planner, and would have booked a trip for such an event several months in advance. But I claim “too busy” as my excuse for not knowing. So when I finally looked up–in June–decided to go, and hunted for a place to stay, the area of sold out hotels and other assorted rentals matched up perfectly with the path of totality. From where I live, Salem, Oregon was the closest town in that path.

I found a room about 50 miles north near the Portland airport. Now that stretch of road between these two towns is busy on any given weekday, but this wasn’t going to be your average weekday. This would be your average Monday morning of commuters, plus about a million. Time to hit the road early. Like oh-dark-thirty. So we did.

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The entrance–we’re here!

Eclipse: the experience

Targeting Salem as our general destination, I narrowed the category of possible venues to wineries. After all, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is well known for its excellent pinots. And Salem—quite conveniently—finds itself in the heart of that valley. Several Salem wineries, sure enough, were hosting eclipse events, and I found one in particular that seemed delightfully different: Cubanisimo Vineyards. Having watched the movie Chef, the appeal of trying Cuban tapas was a big draw. Discovering a new winery would be fun. And having a vineyard as a backdrop for the eclipse? Perfect! So I purchased tickets via their website.

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We arrived just before breakfast, and were greeted by a friendly and helpful staff, and one of the most beautiful countryside venues I’ve ever seen. The sky was pre-dawn clear, revealing just enough light to find Mt. Hood, purple on the horizon. Watching the sunrise was the first celestial treat of the day, the mountains changing to blue, and the grapevines to their pre-harvest green. And the crisp morning air…well, you get the idea.We checked in at their tasting room terrace and received our eclipse viewing glasses, our commemorative wine glasses, and drink tickets to save for lunchtime.

Breakfast over, we grabbed our picnic blanket and made our way up the path to the lawn facing the mountains, found our spot and waited. At 9:18 am, the partial eclipse began—time for our viewing glasses! We watched the black moon drop down over the sun, changing the appearance of our star to shapes that resembled a wedged out wheel of cheese, a banana, and—ironically—a crescent moon. And then at 10:20 am, the ring: totality.

Our hillside crowd gasped in wonder as the blue color of our canopy changed from pale to midnight, complete with twinkling stars. Feeling the temperature drop as we removed our glasses for the two-minute window, the ring’s odd, almost artificial light cast interesting shadows on the ground. And it was the sharing of this rare experience that truly affected us all, uniting us in spontaneous conversations, skipping past formal introductions and other precursors to dialogue with total strangers. Everyone was happy. Excited. Moved. One.

While the eclipse slipped back into its partial stage and began heading east, our vineyard hillside crowd continued buzzing about what we all just witnessed as we made our way back to the terrace and tasting room in anticipation of the food and wine festivities. Seated at our tables, we laughed, talked and continued to marvel at the events of the sky, using our viewing glasses to steal another glance, until our moon and sun were no longer competing for visible space.

The salsa band played, we enjoyed our tapas and wine, and the vineyard’s owner made his way to each table of guests. Talking about the totality, he noted that it was one thing to see the eclipse, but quite another to feel it; feel the temperature actually drop, and experience the odd light on the ground and the suddenly starry sky. Our thoughts exactly.

Post event: the Oregon Trail

The euphoria lasted well into the afternoon, but was challenged from time to time as millions of people began making their way home together. Yes, at the same time. Traffic jams as far as the eye could see (and beyond) lasted well into the next day. Assuming you’ve experienced a rush hour or two or several, you might be able to relate to some of the common behaviors exhibited by other drivers: honking, shoulder driving, weaving, or trail blazing through someone’s property.

The sun, now unobstructed, heated the inside of our car despite the air conditioning. With our seats feeling less cushy and our playlist overplayed, a rest stop couldn’t come soon enough. What kept us from getting too crabby though was talking about the eclipse. The true wonder of it all. About how everyone was friendly toward each other, like the gas station attendant who let scores of desperate travelers use his washrooms, even though we weren’t all customers.

And then, on one of many side roads, we saw it: a covered wagon replica, marking the official end of the historic Oregon Trail. Whoa. Traveling cross country in that?! Suddenly our cluttered and toasty vehicle seemed quite luxurious. Protected from the elements (and bugs), we continued on our well paved road toward home, having all versions of GPS, highway signs and landmarks to get us there.

Sharing: My Eclipse Manners

If I learned anything from the eclipse, it was to remember my manners. To acknowledge people more, smile more, be more respectful to others and to Earth, and have a greater sense of awareness for the natural (and human made) wonders of our world. The two-minute totality was a great reminder to me that windows of appreciation can be very brief. Don’t waste them.

A close-up of wine grapes on the vine
Wine grapes nearing harvest time, Cubanisimo Vineyards

Will I seek out other wonders? You bet! Will I marvel at them? Most likely. But what will I take away from the experience? What impression will have a lasting affect on me? I look forward to letting you know.

Until then, I wish you safe and pleasant travels. And a smile. J 😊