a-MAiZE-ingly FUNd day!

Harvest time—‘tis the season to be

  1. shopping freshly picked—beautiful—fruits and veggies
  2. falling in love with the red, orange and yellow leaved trees
  3. Getting lost in Bob’s Corn giant 10-acre corn maze

A dear friend of mine, one of Bob’s Corn employees, says that she doesn’t go to work; she goes to play. Driving tractors, giving tours, picking corn and just being outside… it’s too much fun to be called work!

I just had to see this place for myself. Lucky for us, my family and I were able to time our visit to this farm with a very special occasion: the memorial 5K fun run, Adventures of a Lumberjack.

Located in the town of Snohomish, Bob’s Corn honors the memory of Alex, a former employee and local high school athlete, with this annual scholarship fund event.

The course

Because this was our first visit to Bob’s Corn, the 5K gave us an excellent opportunity to take a walking tour (of sorts) around the property.

The start-finish line was just outside the Country Store. Set up to be a little like an obstacle course, our path lead us between the farm’s buildings and around the corn fields, then across the street via an underpass.

Signs and guides were posted along the way, helping us continue on the designated route. Pumpkin patches, wooded trails and sunflower fields provided beautiful backdrops to our course. But the “obstacle” that actually gave me a bit of trouble was the one that got stuck in my hair… 🐝

In the end, my noggin took on three stingers. A friend helped dislodge the flyer still tangled in my ponytail, and the race EMT at the finish line, along with my daughter, removed the mini daggers from my scalp.

Just prior to the race, Alex’s former cross country coach let everyone know that—in the spirit of competition—Alex wouldn’t want the race to be too easy. So, while bees were not an intentional obstacle, they served as an interesting reminder to me that obstacles can pop up anywhere (and any time), falling in the category of “when you least expect it…” 🙃

The fields

  • Not just fields but walls of corn, eight feet tall!
  • Rows and rows and more rows of sunflowers, soaking up rays of light.
  • Or how about a 40-acre u-pick pumpkin patch featuring over 60 types of pumpkins to give your eyes a treat?

Along the race course, I couldn’t help stopping to take a photo or two (or more) of these gorgeous crops.

Also, there’s a fenced-in playground field for the little ones, and a big slide that could take adults. Nothing small about this place.

The store

Open mid-July to the end of October, the Country Store sells the farm’s fresh produce, fresh dairy products, fruit preserves and pickled eggs and veggies. So many different flavors!

Honey items, handmade soaps, tractor toys, even sweatshirts and T-shirts featuring the farm logo. Lots of other specialty items too.

Along with 13 ears of corn, we left with fresh eggs, pickled items, preserves, and yes, a tractor toy…

After the race, The Dancing Wick Candle Company sold their Lumberjack candles, featuring a scent designed especially for this 5K event. Such a wonderful fragrance! I picked up two.

I can see why my friend has so much fun working at Bob’s Corn. I’ve come to think of it as an agricultural playland.

Before the season ends, I’ll be back for Halloween pumpkins, more Country Store items (early holiday shopping!), and a walk through the infamous maze; but maybe this time I’ll wear a hat… 🐝🌽 😁

 

Advertisements

Scenic San Juan

How is it that a popular tourist destination at the height of tourist season can seem so…unpopulated? Welcome to the San Juans.

Enjoying a couple of three-day August weekends here gave me the chance to explore this archipelago’s namesake: the island of San Juan itself.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed prior visits to San Juan, as well as trips to Orcas and Lopez islands too, and I always reach the same conclusion. Once we leave the ferry, where does everyone go?

The town

Inches from the dock, Friday Harbor greets ferry passengers as they disembark, ready to take them into its many unique stores, restaurants, inns and other attractions. And so much can be accessed via colorful, well maintained shop allies.

Pedestrian friendly, even near the dock, this town takes walkable to a whole new level. Plenty of sidewalks and crosswalks accommodate visitors. And the drivers exhibit patience I usually witness only in Canada.

The beaches

When you’re ready to get outta town, you won’t have far to go. Just a few minutes from Friday Harbor, we found ourselves driving along the island’s byways through farmlands, forests and hilly terrain on our way to the not so distant shoreline.

San Juan island is home to several beachfront state and local parks, all very nicely maintained. But if you’re looking for one that features a few extras—like whale watching from rocky cliffs—Lime Kiln Point State Park topped our list.

Truth be told, the Orcas that happened to be swimming by just as we reached the cliffs were the highlight of our park visit. Watching the pod make its way through the channel, so close to the shore, was a treat I’ll remember forever. Lucky for us, we could hear some of their calls too, as well as hear—and see—their blowholes in action. A few of the whales even popped their heads out of the water for a bit, as if to sneak a peek at us too. Talk about cool!

Near the cliffs, we found lots of illustrations and information posted about the Orcas, which was helpful in understanding more about these magnificent marine mammals. Lime Kiln also features an interpretive center near its picturesque lighthouse, and a snack stand.

If you’re looking for a beach where you can feel the sand between your toes, well… we discovered one of those too: Jackson Beach Park. A long stretch of beach, driftwood and sand awaited our arrival. And for anyone who’d like to have a picnic complete with a bonfire, Jackson Beach provides the necessary amenities.

Cattle Point—part of San Juan Island’s National Historic Park—features a little of both: rocky cliffs, and sandy beaches. And trails too. Such a pretty place! It’s worth a stop, just for the scenery.

The activities

A little more inland, we found fields of purple at the Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Approaching the end of the season, their plants still offered plenty of color and fun photo ops. The gift shop and treats counter provided ample shopping and munching opportunities, and the looping video programs and attractive displays made learning all about lavender fun and fragrant.

The winner here for me was the deliciously different lavender ice cream sandwich. Locally made vanilla lavender icy goodness squished between two double chocolate cookies…YUM! 😋

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you’re in the mood for cuteness overload, check out the Krystal Acres Alpaca Country Store. Well, the cuteness is actually behind the store, roaming the fields. Alpacas—over 50 of them—didn’t seem to mind being photographed as they grazed, sauntered and otherwise enjoyed the day in their own mellow way. Some even seemed willing to strike a pose for our cameras!

Inside the store, we found beautiful wool garments (many imported from Peru), as well as yarn produced by our wooly photo models out back. As yarn is my weakness, I made a purchase. The yarn’s tags featured the photos and names of the Alpacas who provided the wool—how fun!

When we were ready for a sip of vino, we made our way to San Juan Vineyards. Under new management, this quiet, beautiful location features a brand new wine bar that runs the length of the historic school house—a structure featured on all their wine labels—with several stand up tables to accommodate many patrons.

After completing a wine tasting, my friends selected a bottle of their favorite. San Juan Vineyards also sells their wines on the ferries that service the islands; nice to see the success of their efforts expanding off the island.

Time to stretch our legs! The annual IslandRec 8.8k loop fun run celebrated its 41st year this month! And we were lucky enough to be a part of the event. Also lucky (for me), walking the route was perfectly acceptable. So I did, along with a friend who didn’t mind not competing for a placement ribbon…

A quiet yet well supervised course, water stations and event volunteers greeted us at almost every mile marker. And at the finish line, another annual event awaited our arrival: the San Juan County Fair.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I love fairs! The exhibits, the animals, the food—and the competitions. Like chicken races. Nothing more adorable than watching young handlers release their fierce competitors at the words “Ready, set, GO!” Equally adorable is watching said handlers chase down and recapture their feathered friends, post race. (Okay, maybe more amusing than adorable…)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The cuisine

Having a total of six days on San Juan allowed me the glorious opportunity to visit several eateries. Here’s a highlight of my favorites:

Vinney’s. When you’re in the mood for Italian food, this place tops my list—as in I wish it were closer to home! Excellent cuisine, great service and very popular with the locals. We dined here twice during one of my weekend trips.

The Cheesecake Café & Bakery. A dangerously delicious place. I enjoyed the ham & cheese croissants, lattes, and Nutella Rice Krispie treats. My friends enjoyed the cheesecakes—two of the many flavors, anyway. Tables available inside and out, in full view of the ferry dock, which just happens to be next door.

The Bean Café. Yummy lattes, cookies and more—just a very short walk from the dock. Seating inside and out, this location also features a TV displaying a live feed of the ferry dock; a noteworthy item for anyone timing an arrival or departure.

Blue Water Bar and Grill. When you’re up for seafood and wine, nachos and beer or something in between—all in full view of the dock—this is a great place to be.

McMillin’s. Located on the other end of the island in Roche Harbor, this place is worth the drive. An extensive menu and a wonderful view of its marina make it a great choice for an upscale lunch or an elegant evening.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Downriggers. Facing Friday Harbor’s marina, very near the ferry dock, this is one of my favorites for a nice evening out. Excellent food and service; and excellent views too! We enjoyed watching float planes land behind arriving ferries, as well as dining in a lively—but not too loud—atmosphere.

From lively restaurants to quiet beaches, from Orca whales to wooly Alpacas, we enjoyed every inch of San Juan Island. And with plenty of elbow room too.

So are you ready for an island getaway? Come check out San Juan. The Orcas just might wave hello. J 🐳

 

 

A lavender peninsula

Question: what do Sequim, Washington and the Provence region of France have in common? For starters, latitude. That’s what Sequim’s dairy farmers realized nearly 25 years ago.

Faced with retiring their declining dairy businesses for something more profitable, these farmers looked to the world for other commercial products they might cultivate. Their discovery? Sharing roughly the same latitude as Provence gave them the idea to try their hand at a very famous French crop: lavender.

Fast forward to today. This summer’s Sequim Lavender Festival celebrates its 22nd year. More than 30 lavender farms are now a thriving part of its community. Sooooo wonderfully picturesque!

There are many things to do and enjoy at this summer party. And the farms—visiting all festival activities (and fields) in one weekend would make one’s head spin, so we narrowed it down just a little. Also, we needed to allow for a bit of travel time…

The ferry

Located on the northern side of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Sequim is actually closer to Canada than it is to Seattle. Rather than stick to land and circle the Puget Sound, we decided to cut across the water via the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route. (For Washington State ferries, it is tourist season, so there’s usually a bit of a wait.)

We took our place in the queue, inching our car along every so often, until we passed the ticket booth. About an hour after docking at Kingston, we reached our destination.

The festival

Arriving at the Holiday Inn Express, lavender greeted us outside and in. The grounds were alive with lavender, and the lobby featured small bundles of the dried flower—free for the taking. Talk about aromatherapy!

The Sequim Lavender Street Fair—located at Carrie Blake Community Park—featured free parking, and over 150 craft and lavender booths. As for live shows, artists and other performers took to the stage, entertaining patrons throughout the day and into the evening.

Where to begin…? Our first full day at the festival, we made it a point to start early. This proved a wise decision, as the free parking lot filled quickly. We wove through the rows of food and craft vendors, circling back to those who spoke best to our interests. The sunshine was in a hurry to begin the day as well, reaching into the 80s by noon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Eager to see a lavender field or two, we soon turned our attention to the farm map. Our choice?

The farms

Offering free admission during the festival, 16 lavender farms opened their doors—and fields—to the public. (Three of the largest farms charged admission, but provided free shuttle service from the park to their fields.)

We decided against waiting for the shuttles, in part because we packed our city patience, but also because a few of the street fair vendors recommended one farm in particular: B&B Family Lavender Farm.

Rustic beauty awaited us, along with about 10,000 lavender plants. The fields were buzzing with more than just honey bees; u-pick customers, photographers, admirers and employees alike could be seen amongst the purple, pink and white flowers.

The gift shop was packed with patrons. Tours of their processing facility began every 15 minutes. I love tours! And free is a great price. As an added bonus, Bruce—one of the owners—was our guide.

Time for a pop quiz. How many lavender plants does it take to produce 5 ounces of oil? Approximately

  • 1 plant
  • 5 plants
  • 10 plants

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Answer: 10 plants. That’s quite a few lavender buds. Bruce let us know that at B&B Family Lavender Farm, each oil they produce features a single variety of lavender; they do not mix their oils.

Another bit of noteworthy trivia: only English varieties of lavender, like Angustifolia, are used for culinary purposes. French (and other) varieties are used primarily for fragrances or ornamental arrangements. There are approximately 47 known types of this versatile flower, so… what to cook with? When it comes to lavender, just remember this simple rule: the English can cook; the French can’t…

Switching gears a bit the next morning, we found a very colonial setting at the Washington Lavender Farm. Also home to the George Washington Inn—a gorgeous bed & breakfast overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca—this property greeted us with wild flowers, bright daisies, and lavender (of course), all serving as lovely decorations for the inn—a replica of Virginia’s (and the real George Washington’s) very own Mount Vernon estate.

And just in case we needed to brush up on our knowledge of America’s first elected president, George Washington historian Vern Frykholm (looking every bit the part) recanted just a few lessons learned by our famous American Revolutionary War’s commander in chief.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Noticing the sign reading “Cooking demonstration,” we made our way to the inn’s kitchen. Chris, one of the owners (and resident chef) walked us through how to make Blueberry Lemon Lavender Scones. Sharing her baking tips with us (like using a cheese grater for hard butter, or a pizza cutter for shaping scones), we marveled at how quickly—and deliciously—she assembled this wonderful and seasonal pastry.

The food

If ever you find yourself in the mood for a doughnut while awaiting the next Edmonds-Kingston ferry—and you have the ticket booth in your line of sight—you’re in luck! Top Pot Doughnuts & Coffee faces vehicles near the head of the line, ready to take your sweet-treat and caffeine order. Enjoy your selection there, or take it to go. (They also feature clean restrooms for their patrons. This can be a big deal if you’ve been in the ferry line for awhile…)

Adjacent to Sequim’s Holiday Inn Express, we discovered Black Bear Diner. One of a chain, this location has localized itself to be truly a part of the community. The newspaper menu talked about events in town, in addition to listing several tasty choices for our dinner. Their gift shop featured items crafted by local artists—and local lavender farms.

We dined there our first night, then placed a to-go order online with this diner our second night, just so we could enjoy dinner on our hotel’s rooftop terrace. The food was delicious both evenings, as well as reasonably priced.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our hotel stay included a daily breakfast—hot and cold items, as well as coffee, tea and juices. Perfect! We used the available food trays to tote our morning meal up to the terrace both days. (Averaging only 15 inches of rain per year, planning a rooftop meal in Sequim is a fairly safe bet.)

There was no shortage of food and beverage vendors at the festival itself: espresso, paella, burgers, lemonade—just to name a few—many advertising lavender enhanced menu items.

Heading home, we found Cup & Muffin near the Kingston ferry terminal. Yummy sandwiches and sweet treats—and coffee too. We placed a phone order to go, then picked up our lunch once we had secured our place in the Edmonds-bound ferry line.

As festivals go, Sequim’s Lavender Festival proved to be a wonderful choice. The people—volunteers, farmers, vendors and hospitality employees—all were proud of their town’s success: turning their farms into fragrant, profitably purple (and pink and white) businesses, while keeping their agricultural industry a very big part of the community.

We definitely want to return to this annual event. In fact, we’re already looking forward… J 🌞

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 🚣‍♀️

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 😎