COFFEE-wine-CHOCOLATE-bread

Where do vintage typewriters and old metal classroom chairs meet up with handcrafted lattes? It all blends smoothly at VoxxCoffee.

When does a risotto vendor stand next to a hot sauce vendor who’s next to a winemaker sharing a table with a chocolatier? Why, at Enumclaw’s Wine & Chocolate Festival of course!

What do a mountain and a loaf of bread have in common? When you add the name Crystal at the Black Diamond Bakery, everything.

And how did all these items manage to come together? Let’s just say we had a very busy Groundhog Day…

Seattle grounds

Meeting up with friends at a coffee shop is a time honored tradition. Lucky for us latte fanatics living in the Emerald City, such establishments are just about everywhere. Near Lake Union, in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood, one of my favorites has to be Voxx. It was the perfect place for us to start our day.

Entering Voxx and discovering the fun retro décor in sync with the vintage pop music, I can’t help but imagine stepping back in time to the 1970s, and finding myself at a coffee shop geared toward office professionals.

After placing our food and beverage orders, we pushed two tables together near a cushy bench, then grabbed a couple of classroom chairs. Soon, we proceeded to enjoy a vicious game of Exploding Kittens while visiting and noshing on our delectable Voxx treats.

Fueled up on great food and java, we hit the road and headed south, eventually trading in the cityscape for a very rural countryside.

Enumclaw shows

Near the base of Mount Rainier rests a small town that knows a thing or two about how to gather crowds—and entertain them. With wine. And chocolate! And as we soon discovered, a whole lot more. The Enumclaw Events Center played host to the town’s 11th annual Wine & Chocolate Festival.

A friend working the event tipped us off to this yearly celebration that takes place the first weekend in February. Since both wine and chocolate are easy sells for us, we eagerly purchased tickets online.

Knowing just a little about Enumclaw’s country charm and small town size, I was curious about what we’d find. As it turns out, plenty: two ginormous tents, over a hundred booths, a wine store, and a whole bunch of vendors. And live music! Two different stages—one in each tent—and food, and crafts, and people! Hundreds of patrons milling about, wine glasses in hand, taking it all in.

The wine vendors (23 in all) were salt-and-peppered throughout the event, in some cases sharing their booths—pairing up—with food vendors. For instance, Patterson Cellars teamed up with Seattle Chocolates and JCOCO, making for a very popular stop. Thoroughly loving both products, we purchased two bottles of Patterson’s Due Anni, and two bars of JCOCO’s dark chocolate flavors: Boharat Middle Eastern Spice, and Arabica Espresso. Amazing!

Before leaving the tents, our little group also managed to purchase risotto, hot sauce, ceramics and (of course) more wine and chocolate. And we’re already looking forward to next year…

Black Diamond treasures

A few dozen years ago when I was a youngster, my friend’s mom would take us to a favorite bakery of ours as a special treat. The trick though, was to arrive before they sold out of their signature item: Crystal Mountain Bread.

Since 1902, the Black Diamond Bakery has faithfully served its patrons this famous loaf, along with countless other delicious treats. They’ve even added a restaurant! Ready for a sit down meal, we left Enumclaw for the short drive to Black Diamond to give my bakery’s dinner menu a try.

Lots of stick-to-your-ribs menu options. Cool! Finding Yankee Pot Roast on the menu, I was set. From start to finish, out table of companions enjoyed each delicious bite. Just for fun, we rounded out our meal sharing two slices of pie for dessert. Great service and wonderful food. Our server even added our bakery purchases to our dinner tab so we only had one transaction! Truly a yummy experience.

Next door to the bakery, there’s a store that offers some very savory take-home treats: Smokehouse and More. Before piling into our car, we stopped by for a few things. The smell alone will draw you in! We left with a small supply of smoked chicken sausage.

A few months ago, I was passing through Black Diamond, of course making time for a quick bakery stop, when I noticed another neighbor on Railroad Avenue: the Black Diamond Museum. Deciding to hang out a bit longer, I paid the museum a visit.

Showcasing its mining history in an old train station, I was impressed with the care and cleverness with which these early 1900s artifacts and personal belongings were displayed. One discovery I made should be no surprise: that it was immigrants who took to the world of coal. Over the course of several decades, it was their efforts in the mines below that ultimately forged the lives and livelihoods of the town and their families above.

Those of you who enjoy the cult movie “Groundhog Day” know that Phil Connors was not terribly happy about reliving this holiday day over and over again. But for me and my carload of companions, we’d be just fine with a repeat of today’s collection of wonderful events. J 🚙

 

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Leavenworth: welcoming Christmas

For those of us residing in the Northern Hemisphere, December 21 marks the beginning of winter—a new season—time to celebrate! But. This crisp solstice day leads with the latest sunrise and ends with earliest sunset of any other day on the calendar. So…. how best to be festive at the darkest time of year? Why, with millions of holiday lights, of course!

Nestled in a place of only 2000 residents, the small Bavarian themed town of Leavenworth, Washington plays host to thousands of visitors at its annual Christmas Lighting Festival. For over 50 years, people in search of an invitingly quaint village celebration—set against a snow covered mountain backdrop—come here in droves. Why? This year, we decided to find out for ourselves…

To and from

Parking at such an event can be a bit of a challenge. Wintery weather conditions can make the drive equally challenging. Clipper Vacations to the rescue! Booking our day trip online a few weeks earlier, I selected a charter bus pick-up point just a few miles from our house.

Boarding the bus, each of us received a breakfast goodie bag, a bottle of water and even some cookies for the ride home (assuming the afternoon treats aren’t consumed a little earlier…). Free Wi-Fi allowed our merry group of travelers to “stay connected,” while the TV monitors played a Christmas movie for those willing to look up from their conversations or electronic devices—or away from the increasingly snowy mountain pass scenery outside.

Food and drink

One thing about Leavenworth you’ll discover quickly: the Bavarian style facades, signage and decorations begin to welcome you to the town waaaaaay before you arrive at its center. You won’t wonder if you’re there yet; you’ll know. And as soon as we knew we’d arrived, our taste buds woke up.

So… what to enjoy first? Having snacked during our morning drive, we weren’t starving, but we were up for a little warmth. Vendors set up near the gazebo caught our eyes (and noses), so we made our way there. The winner? Mulled wine!

Glühwein—German mulled wine to be more specific—produced by Washington State’s own WooHoo Winery—was the featured holiday beverage of the day. We entered the alcohol tent and made our purchase. Good stuff! Hot and delicious, it needed no additional spices.

All toasty and ready for the afternoon, we meandered through the streets while doing a little window shopping. Admiring the décor and noting our desired must-visit list of businesses for the day, we found our lunch place: Visconti’s Italian Restaurant. Not that there wasn’t enough Bavarian food stands around, but we’ve been to Visconti’s a few years prior and we’re eager to come back.

Enjoying the great food, service and atmosphere, we were happy to have our return visit exceed our expectations. Also, seated at a table with a view of the street helped us feel connected to the outside festivities.

Downstairs, the restaurant’s walk-in gelato shop, Viadolce, happily handed out samples of their traditional and dairy-free icy goodness. My husband opted for lemon. And yes, I snuck a bite. Yum!

Holding out for a dessert in cookie form, and very ready for my latte, we queued up for entry into our next shop stop: The Gingerbread Factory. The fragrance and appearance in this store is holiday heaven! Plenty of festive décor and souvenirs strategically placed along the path to the bakery counter made shopping all too easy…

Lucky for me, I was in line behind a former Gingerbread Factory employee who gave me an excellent recommendation: the Gingerbread Soft Ice cookie. Thank you, kind stranger! It was the perfect accompaniment to my latte, made by their skillful baristas.

Shop and marvel

Food and beverage stands and stores weren’t the only places enjoying long lines of excited patrons. Many clothing, trinket and specialty shops featured lines curving along the sidewalks for several yards. Everyone maintained good spirits, but this factor did help us determine a few “maybe next time” merchants.

We did, however, manage the queue for one fun store: A Matter of Taste. Lots of funky flavorful stocking stuffers for us to buy. We also made it back to the Glühwein tent to purchase a few bottles of WooHoo’s Red Spiced Wine to take home. And then, it was time to find a perch somewhere around the festival’s main event: the tree lighting ceremony!

Just after dusk, the many visitors began to position themselves all around the gazebo and park that make up the town square. We found an excellent locale kitty-corner to the soon-to-be-very-festive trees.

First the surrounding buildings—the instant illumination of their facades brought a collective cheer from the crowd. And a few minutes later… lights, camera, action! The true height of the town square’s ginormous evergreens was revealed in beautiful, bright strands of white and colorful miniature bulbs. Thousands of them! An impressive sight to behold.

Making our way back to the motor coach, purchases in tow and new memories gelling in our noggins, we were already planning a return visit.

Welcoming this chilly, dark season with Leavenworth’s fantastic festival certainly left us with warm and happy smiles on our faces. And the lights gave us a strong reminder that lighting even one candle can break the darkness in a very cheerful way. J 🎄

 

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… 🐝🌽 😁

 

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 🌞

 

Heralds of spring

Three weeks into the season, spring continues to announce its arrival. Blossoms, flowers, birds and bees—and baby critters—continue to pop up on a daily basis. The number of sunlit hours is ever increasing, and the air has a newfound freshness.

It’s always fun to visit places that showcase Mother Nature’s spring seasonal masterpieces. And Skagit Valley sets the stage beautifully: fields of sunny daffodils and colorful tulips amidst April showers, all against a stunning backdrop of snow capped mountains.

Sharing the spotlight with this jeweled valley is the charming town of La Conner. About 60 miles north of Seattle, you’ll find this small city between Skagit Bay—part of Puget Sound—and fields upon fields of flowers, along with farms and acres of produce. And although the floral festivities span just two months (two very beautiful months), La Conner entertains tourists year-around.

Hotel to intel

Cutting a path between Skagit Bay and Padilla Bay flows the Swinomish Channel. And along this waterway you’ll find the La Conner Channel Lodge. Between the water and 1st Street, this hotel has a great location—just steps away from shopping, dining, wine tasting and lots more.

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The hotel itself has a comfortable rustic lobby, complete with fireplace, and live piano music in the evenings. It really is quite lovely! We also enjoyed their continental breakfast—available to all their guests—each morning of our stay. And when we finished our morning meal, it was time to venture out. But where to first?

Strolling along La Conner’s sidewalks is a great first step to finding an activity or two (or ten). And from the Channel Passage walkway, we could see the picturesque symbol of this city: Rainbow Bridge.

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The town’s beautiful wooden signage appearing above several shops, galleries and eateries—along with several sandwich boards—are all eye catching and inviting. Planning ahead, I did my share of online research, but sometimes I just want to ask a real life person a question.

The La Conner Visitors Center is staffed with La Conner residents who can answer LOTS of touristy questions. Like knowing if the daffodils and tulips are really in bloom before making the six-mile trek to the fields. (Hint #1: the online map of the fields updates daily, letting you know exactly which fields are showtime ready.)

By the way, do you know the history behind the town’s name? Time for a pop quiz!

La Conner is named after:

A) Connersville, Indiana—the hometown of the first non-native American settlers

B) an Irish family crest belonging to the first farming family of Skagit Valley

C) Louisa Anne Conner, the first non-native woman to settle in Skagit Valley

The answer? C! Louisa and her husband John came to Skagit Valley in 1870, settling along the banks of the Swinomish Channel. Mrs. Conner’s legacy also includes raising funds—via canoe—for construction of Sacred Heart Church, which resides on Douglas Street.

International to local

Up for shopping? You’ve come to the right place. La Conner’s stores feature soooooooo many quality one-of-a-kind finds, along with beautiful imported treasures. Time to call out a handful.

Walking into Sempre Italiano reminded me of a Tuscan shop we enjoyed on a somewhat recent trip to Orvieto, Italy. Beautiful and functional pottery featuring colors as bright as the tulip fields! We’ve made a few purchases from this store in the last year, and continue to enjoy each item.

Across the street from this nod to Italy, you’ll find Africa Mama. Everything about this shop is playful and fun. I mean, how many stores display signs on their art that read “Play me!” or “Take a picture with me!”? My guess is not many.

If you’re running low on Polish pottery, step into the Olive Shoppe Ginger Grater. Each mug, plate or bowl is its own work of art. Lots of other kitchen gadgets to be found too. Such a fun store!

Not to be outdone by these aforementioned imports, several neighboring shops feature truly local art and other regional goodies. For example, The Wood Merchant offers creations by US artists—everything from tables to earrings. (And yes, I purchased some earrings…)

Also noteworthy, galleries salt-and-peppered throughout this hamlet show off the amazing works of all those who call this corner of the world home. And if you’re looking for something a little different in the art-display category, then I suggest a stop at MoNA: Museum of Northwest Art. For the price of a modest donation (that’s right—no admission fee), I enjoyed the paintings of Robert McCauley whose works are currently on display at MoNA.

Floral to flavorful

But—I think it’s safe to say that the main attraction this time of year is…? The flowers. Rows upon rows of gorgeous daffodils and tulips blanketing several acres of this fertile valley. Roughly 100,000 people visit these colorfully vibrant fields every spring, and the headcount is growing.

Not sure exactly where to begin tiptoeing through the floral acreage? RoozenGaarde Display Gardens is my recommendation. Not only is parking included in the nominal price of admission, the gardens themselves are something out of fairytales.

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The gift shops and food stands are in step with any self respecting festival (the main gift shop is open year around), and two vast fields—a daffodil and a tulip each—are accessible just beyond the display gardens. (Hint #2: wear footwear appropriate for muddy puddles and soggy walkways.)

With all our out-and-about activities, working up an appetite was no problem. La Conner is quite the foodie town. So many dining and beverage options! I’ll happily highlight just a few we enjoyed.

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The Calico Cupboard serves up absolutely deliciously hearty breakfast and lunch dishes in addition to very tasty pastries, with several coffee, tea, cocoa and other beverages to wash it all down. Lots of regional influence goes into their menu options, not to mention a heavy dose of yum. My favorite? Brussels Sprout Hash. They have table service (sign-in sheet at the door) and a to-go counter. The tougher choice will be what to eat…

If you’re looking for a coffee place, head to Stompin Grounds Coffee Co. Excellent coffee and treats, including ice cream—and ice cream drinks! Also there are cozy places to sit for a bit and enjoy your beverage, inside the shop or out.

Ready for a little wine tasting? There are a handful of wine establishments in town, but my favorite—hands down—is Skagit Cellars. Featuring regionally grown grapes (Columbia Valley, Washington State) bottled in the nearby town of Burlington, this wine is worth the trip all by itself.

We’ve enjoyed a few wine tastings here in the last year, and always leave with a few bottles. In fact, I have yet to sample a Skagit Cellars varietal I don’t like. (Heads up; their tasting room is open Saturday-Sunday only.)

Time for lunch or dinner? Nell Thorn is an excellent choice. The menu focuses on seafood, but has lots of delicious options for everyone. Excellent service too.

When nothing but Italian cuisine will hit the spot, make your way to La Terrazza. Pasta, pizza, meat dishes and more, all made and served just right.

Both Nell Thorn and La Terrazza had no problem accommodating our large party of eight. Whew!

Hungry for a good barbecue place? Okay, how ‘bout a great barbecue place? Then it’s time for Whitey’s BBQ. Across the street from our hotel, it was an easy stop for a cup of chili, sliders, cornbread—and a jar or two (or three) of their deee-licious barbecue sauces: Original, Orange Blossom and Spicy Apple—all so good I could drink them!

La Conner definitely has the shopaholic foodie in you covered.

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My uncle always says, “Flowers are for the moment.” Spring offers so many beautiful moments to enjoy, especially in Skagit Valley. So keep an eye on the Bloom Map, grab your camera and enjoy! I’m glad we did. 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 😎