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 🎄

 

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 😎

 

Thankful

Hello! Happy Thanksgiving!

Cornucopia featuring The Ugly Scarf (Thanksgiving theme).
Cornucopia featuring sugar pumpkins, balls of yarn, nuts and The Ugly Scarf.

Holidays and travel. One of my favorite pairings! Well… except for the higher costs generally associated with modes of transportation before-during-after said holiday, the increased traffic (human and machine), weather challenges and the ticking clock counting down to the when-and-where moments of a family gathering destination, frazzling nerves in the process. But it really is all worth it when you see the smile on Grandma’s face, hug your nieces and nephews in person, and identify–by scent–each and every wonderful food item in various stages of preparation, all for that main event: the Thanksgiving feast.

Getting there

Thanksgiving week is well known as one of the busiest travel holidays of the year, and one of the biggest foodie holidays of the year. And don’t forget traditions–the micro events taking place throughout the holiday that are counted on to be a part of the festivities. What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? Enjoying Christmas movies and parades, going shopping, playing (and watching!) football, and eating-eating-eating. All play a big part of many a family’s festivities.

Enjoying traditions

My favorite Thanksgiving traditions? The first that comes to mind: coffee walkies (going for a long walk, then rewarding ourselves with a latte). But here’s one that’s a little more heartfelt. It happens in the first few minutes when we sit down at the table. Taking turns, we say a few words or sentences, some of the things for which we are thankful.

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Being thankful

I am thankful for opportunities. The opportunity to share travel adventures–and good food and wine–with family and friends, the opportunity to write professionally, and a reminder to be grateful for the people in my life that keep me smiling, laughing, thinking (or rethinking) and willing to push myself a little (or sometimes a lot) because they believe in me. And I am thankful for you; I truly appreciate you choosing to read my blog.

So, to all of you from me, have a wonderful, joyous, precious Thanksgiving! I wish you safe and pleasant travels this holiday weekend, and fantastic adventures. J 🦃