Les deux Palouse

I dedicate this blog post to Pat, one of my very best friends, who just lost her courageous battle with cancer. She has been–and always will be–my inspiration in my writings, travels and parenting, and so much more. In her words, “If you can take the trip, don’t wait. See the world. Go…” I will–I promise. J 

There’s something about rolling hills and endless fields of grain under a beautiful blue sky that just gives off good vibes. French-Canadian fur traders of yesteryear referred to the area where the borders of Washington and Idaho meet up as “pelouse”—land with short and thick grass.

While the fur traders’ primary reason for visiting this land of rounded grassy mini mountains was, well, furry, The Palouse of today is all about growing food. And fun. And for two college towns, thriving economies.

On a recent road trip to this happening place, my daughter and I experienced for ourselves how this landlocked corner of the Pacific Northwest is anything but square…

Lodge-ical

Every fun road trip deserves a hip motor inn on its route. For us, that meant the newly renovated Monarch Motel. Friendly helpful staff, comfy clean rooms, and funky décor (like fuzzy orange throw pillows!) made this boutique hotel the perfect home base for our Palouse adventure.

And its location can’t be beat—walking distance to everything in downtown Moscow. Gotta love that! Just a few steps to stores, restaurants and one very swank farmers market…

Eventful

True to its name, the Moscow Farmers Market sells local seasonal produce—super fresh and very colorful. But this Saturday-only, May-October event isn’t just about fruits and veggies; nope. It’s all about pizazz…

We entered the market at one end of the closed-off road where a local band played upbeat tunes for all passers by. Walking with our friends, we encountered another band playing at a city park, surrounded by market vendors and patrons. No shortage of music here!

Selling everything from painted rocks to fresh cut flowers to yummy kabobs, this street party has it all. I even tried Egyptian food for the first time ever! A dish known as Koshari—and it was goooooood…

Not to be outdone by Moscow, Pullman was hosting its own event that same weekend: the National Lentil Festival. Yes, that’s right—this little legume has its very own annual party. Farmers in The Palouse grow and harvest about one quarter of the lentils (and other pulse crops) for the United States. Because of that stat, this town throws one heck of a summer celebration.

From the downtown parade to the ginormous vat of lentil chili, we found ourselves in good company. Ever present vendors selling their wares, alongside food booths, activities, cooking demos, and of course, lentils. My daughter opted for a bowl of the featured chili dish, while I (still full from my Egyptian brunch) acquired small bags of the dried take-home ready-to-cook variety.

Flavorful

In the mood for fried garbanzos, pasta and funky drinks our first night out, we stepped into Nectar. Just across the street from our hotel meant an easy walk back to our room, once we were ready to sleep off our long drive + food coma.

And we had this wonderful restaurant to thank for our recently remodeled roadside inn; Nectar owns the Monarch, offering its dining patrons who are overnight guests a 10% discount on all meals.

There’s a long list of fantastic food and beverage places we enjoyed here in this small town. Here’s the short version:

Bloom for brunch, serving me one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had to date. It’s not-so-secret ingredient? Cougar Gold cheddar.

Maialina for pizza—and not just any pizza! Unique is one word I would use to describe their menu; superb is another I’ll use to describe the flavors. Seriously good…

Hunga Dunga. Aside from the unusual name, this brew house has a delicious, ever-changing menu. I enjoyed a brisket sandwich on a pretzel bun. Stick-to-your-ribs gooooood…

The Breakfast Club. Fun decor, serving large portions, they’re not afraid to feed you the good stuff here.

Café Artista. Gotta have my java! Also One World Café. Gotta have more java… Both offer great coffee drinks very close to our temporary Moscow residence.

And in Pullman, our friends’ java joint of choice? Café Moro. Excellent coffee, and conveniently located on the same corner as our Lentil Festival parade perch…

Last, but not least: Colter’s Creek wine tasting room. What an upbeat place! Also within walking distance to our hotel, I really enjoyed my Chardonnay—made locally from their Lewis-Clark Valley vines.

Educational

Taking our legs for a walk is an easy thing to do in a college town. Just head for the campus. University of Idaho (established 1889) features an arboretum and botanical garden, and very convenient walking paths. It’s the one place where Vandals are accepted—in the form of their team mascot…

Over in Pullman, the Washington State University Cougars (established 1890) are busy making cheese. Really-really-really excellently yummy cheese! This commercial product made on campus at the WSU Creamery date stamps each can of deliciousness with the student employee’s first name too. Quite a nice personal touch.

Artful

From street décor to metal works to galleries to culinary masterpieces, there is no shortage of amazing art in The Palouse. In search of souvenirs, we managed to find a good concentration of all things artful at Essential Works Art Gallery. It was their sandwich board that drew me in: “Chocolate—Open” …yup…

The representation of local and regional artists was amazing. Before leaving the store, I purchased glass earrings, wine bottle ornaments, specialty coffee beans (after sampling the brewed version), and of course chocolate. Hope I didn’t forget anything…

Sustainable

Investing in its future, this beautiful corner of the world is all about sustainability. Along with recycle bins, I enjoyed discovering repurposed buildings and reminders painted on the street, asking to care about what drains to the streams. Before heading home, our friends took us to one last stop: The Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute.

In addition to providing us with beautiful walking trails, this local non-profit organization educates young students and adults alike in ways to care for our crops as well as the land, streams and animals. Important knowledge to share regarding The Palouse of tomorrow.

Heading back home, we enjoyed seeing the beautiful rolling hills one more time as our car followed the highway’s many curves. What a gorgeously fun place! But knowing that the locals are looking out for the land’s future gives me a good vibe for The Palouse of today. J 🌾

 

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Portland’s rosy glow

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s Juliet makes an interesting point when talking about her Romeo. After all, we don’t choose where we’re born—or to whom. And names are something someone chooses for us—or for something—like cities. Take Portland…

Now known as the “City of Roses,” this Oregon town was named by its founding fathers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove on a coin toss. Each wanted to honor their East Coast home towns. Pettygrove won the toss. This means the West Coast almost had a Boston.

Nicknames, on the other hand, are something we have a say in, or something we earn as the result of an event. Portland’s rosy nickname comes from Episcopal Church convention visitors—waaaaay back in 1888—enjoying the gardening skills of the newly formed Portland Rose Society. And now? Time to bring you up to speed on my recent adventures to Almost-Boston…

Rails

Wanting to opt out of a Friday night traffic jam via the freeway, my husband suggested we take the train. Great idea! He booked our tickets on the Amtrak Cascades Seattle-to-Portland route. We boarded at Seattle’s King Street Station, then sat back and watched the scenery while noshing on items from the dining car.

From Portland’s Union Street Station, we took an Uber to the Courtyard Portland City Center, our hotel for the weekend. After checking in, we headed to our room and closed our eyes for the night.

Saturday morning’s light of day revealed a wonderful convenience to our weekend residence: the MAX Yellow Line’s pick-up stop just across the street. Portland’s light rail system made our travels around town super easy, and at very reasonable rates. But one other discovery I made across the street lead to some additional—very rosy—activities for the day…

Roses

What caught my eye, exactly? Colorful roses in beautiful bunches, decorating an antique cart and wooden bench outside the Geranium Lake Florist—just waiting for customers like me to happen by. The gorgeous display did its job, drawing me closer for a better look. So pretty and fragrant! I couldn’t leave without making a purchase.

Inside the shop, Chris very kindly wrapped my selection—what instantly became a gift for my daughter—and asked if we were in town for the festival. Naively, I asked, “What festival…?”

After I let him know we were participating in a 5K event later that day, he let me know that Portland’s Festival of Roses was taking place all weekend. In fact, the Rose Parade was happening one block away. Wait-what? Right now?!

Collecting my family members, we headed up the street to the parade route, and found our vantage point. In addition to cleverly decorated, rose covered floats, we enjoyed the performances of local high school and alumni marching bands, and parade-waved back at dressed up dignitaries, costumed business people, and of course, the royal court.

Soon after, it was time to patronize local businesses by doing a little shopping. Clothes, shoes, souvenirs, and a city block of books…

Books

Some stores are like giant magnets, pulling you through their doors and lining up your purchases with amazing efficiency. Others fold you into their walls, displays and shelves, giving you lots and lots to peruse while you lose all track of time. And then there’s Powell’s City of Books. Inside its many floors, the world’s largest used and new bookstore manages to accomplish all these shopping options.

Traversing this travel destination’s many nooks and crannies requires stamina. Looking to boost our energy levels, we meandered our way between the bookcases to the World Cup Café. The coffee drinks and baked goods are excellent! And the tables are great for reviewing books while enjoying your chosen treats. This combination makes the café a veeeeeery popular section of the store, any time of day.

Lucky for us, my daughter applied her NYC skills for spotting available seating, and we soon had a place at a shared table. Freshly energized, we continued our bookstore shopping until our time pieces reminded us we needed to get going…

Bites

I’m sure you’re familiar with the word brunch (breakfast-lunch); maybe less so with the word linner (lunch-dinner). Well, you can have them both, along with breakfast, lunch, dinner or nightcaps—at The Original Dinerant.

An upscale diner-restaurant combo attached to our hotel, this eatery quickly became an addition to our list of favorites. Along with great food and excellent service, The Original has a vibe with a pep all its own. Locals and hotel guests alike packed this place.

For our brunch time meal, all of us chose one of the signature house dishes: chicken and waffles. This southern dish features an Oregon spin: the addition of Tillamook cheddar, along with fresh jalapeños, tossed into the waffle batter. Out of this world! The chicken was crispy, flavorful fall-off-the-bone stuff; sooooooo goooooooood!

For our weekend linner option, we went with a friend’s recommendation to try out the iconic Jake’s Famous Crawfish Restaurant. A mainstay in Portland since 1892, this locale has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’re looking to sample seafood fresh from the Pacific, you’ll find it here, along with many other delicious options.

It’s a great place to celebrate special occasions too. Warm, friendly, professional service, along with excellent food in a fine dining atmosphere, we vowed we would return dressed at little more formal than we were. You see, we’d already prepped for our 5K. And it was time to head to the race…

Bubbles

Aquariums. Dishes. Bathtubs. Champagne. All see their fair share of bubbles. Sprinklers experience kids running through them, and cannons usually fire ginormously heavy objects, aimed at destroying a target of some sort. So…how is it these items come together? At the FoamGlow 5K of course!

These sudsy run-or-walk events, benefiting various children’s charities, are a blast to experience. Nothing like wading through mountains of foaming bubbles cascading down on your head to put a smile on your glowing face.

Taking MAX to the 5K’s location (Portland International Raceway), we arrived a little early to pick up our registration packets. The crowd gathered as the pre-party began, just before sundown. All of us enjoyed the cannon fire of colorful bubbles raining suds onto our noggins. Many participants accessorized their white T-shirts, adding a little bling or glow paint to their 5K gear.

Once the race began, black lights illuminated the waves of people as they ran or walked by. The foaming stations assured all that the opportunity for head-to-toe bubble coverage was possible. Too fun! Crossing the finish line, we happily received our medals of participatory honor…

While taking MAX back to our hotel, we realized there was just enough time before The Original closed to have a nightcap. Bellies up to the bar, we enjoyed a fancy Bloody Mary, a whiskey on the rocks—or rather one big rock—and for me, my first boozy shake. Yummy stuff!

I always enjoy weekend trips to the City of Roses. Forever something new to discover and something tried and true to revisit. If you plan to spend a little time in Almost-Boston, be sure to try the chicken and waffles, then pick up a bunch of roses. And a good book or two…J🌹

 

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 🚙

 

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 💐