The Wild West

“Wide, open spaces.” “Riding off into the sunset.” “Go west, young man.” When you hear these old familiar phrases, what comes to mind? For me—rugged terrain, dusty trails, ghost towns, saloons, wooden facades, careworn faces, tumbleweeds…and land. Lots of land, as far as the eye can see. Over the last couple of centuries, the quest to defend or claim the land “out west” has flavored our history books, stage and TV shows, and of course the silver screen.

Legends—part truth, part romance—helped immortalize the historical events that shaped this southwest corner of today’s United States. My recent visit to southern Arizona gave me a chance to see for myself how this desert way of life preserves some of its past in the present..

Whimsical history

Ever heard of the O.K. Corral—or Boothill? Well, a shootout near one lead to a few burials at the other, all in the city of Tombstone, “The town too tough to die.” A three-hour drive south of Phoenix placed us squarely back in time—1881 to be more specific. Our first stop: the Boothill Graveyard.

It’s first official name was the Tombstone Cemetery, giving a final resting place to many of the town’s early inhabitants. From 1878 until the late 1880s, law abiding citizens and criminals alike were buried here until a new cemetery opened in a different part of town. Very soon, the incoming population of what became known as “the old cemetery” slowed down considerably.

After decades of neglect, tremendous effort on the part of many local individuals and historians brought this burial site back to life (so to speak), replacing what was left of the old wooden markers with stone lookalikes. The name Boothill, most likely a product of the early western cinemas, stuck.

Walking the cemetery, plot guidebooks in hand, we learned a bit about how and why some of Boothill’s occupants met their demise. The harsh terrain surrounding this place was a grave reminder to me of just how tough day-to-day living could be, all those years ago.

Our guidebook indicated a few slightly familiar names located in Row 2: the Clantons and the McLaurys. Three of them died October 26, 1881—shot to death—in a vacant lot just behind a rather famous landmark: the O.K. Corral.

In 1877, Tombstone became a boomtown, thanks to its founder Ed Schieffelin and his discovery of silver. Even in the days before cell phones and social media, news traveled fast—that is, when instantaneous potential wealth was at stake.

Prospectors and other opportunists arrived by the hundreds, ready to seek their fortune. And this eclectic collection of people, massed in such a concentrated area, experienced their fare share of trouble. Enter, stage left, a trio of brothers: the McLaurys and the Clantons—the cowboys, and the Earps, along with one Doc Holliday—the law.

Weeks of heated arguments between the two sides culminated in a gunfight that somehow became famous. The location: a vacant lot behind the O.K. Corral. After just 30 seconds, Frank & Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were dead. We timed our visit just right…

Entering the O.K. Corral’s arena, we purchased tickets that also included a 24-minute multimedia presentation of the town’s history, along with a live outdoor stage re-enactment of the gunfight. We climbed into the grandstands and took our seats, awaiting an infamous fight.

As instructed by “the law,” we cheered for Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil & Morgan, and Doc Holliday. And booed “cowboys” Frank & Tom McLaury, and Billy & Ike Clanton. Before the first bullet flew, Ike managed to run to safety, but the rest of his clan were not so lucky.

Post “gunfight,” we enjoyed the theatre and the museum grounds, as well as walking around Tombstone, visiting its many shops and other attractions. We even stopped by their local newspaper office—now a museum too—with plenty of printed history and items to peruse.

Leaving town, we had a newfound appreciation for our automobile, giving us the opportunity to ride off—comfortably—into the sunset…

Wild beauty

Have you ever seen a saguaro cactus? As in up close? Found only in the Sonoran Desert, this monumental symbol of the Southwest can grow to over 40 feet tall and live close to 200 years. Scottsdale’s Pinnacle Peak Park fast became my favorite way to walk among these beautiful giants.

Entering the trail head, we began our climb toward the peak. Expertly maintained, the path wove us through a terrain featuring several different cactus types, along with many other desert dwelling plants and shrubbery. The trail also provided our mini hike with rock formations, informational placards—and one stunning view after another!

But, for me, the stars of the show were the saguaro. Striking in every way, their stillness was almost statue like. Given their height, they could very well dominate their surroundings—only they didn’t. Instead, saguaros were living in harmony with their trail neighbors—flora and fauna alike.

Western eatery

Whenever I’m in this part of the world, I use my internal divining rod of hunger (and my phone’s GPS) to locate the nearest In-N-Out Burger. This restaurant chain of fresh deliciousness has fed hungry burger fanatics “out west” since 1948. And—yippee!—there’s one in Scottsdale!

It’s a simple menu too: just three combo meals offered, but served up perfectly every time by a truly friendly and professional staff. And their eateries are always clean, inside and out. My go-to order: Combo #2 Cheeseburger, fries and a drink—usually iced tea for me… as always, it hit the spot.

There’s something magical about Arizona’s wide open spaces. The rugged beauty, the wild history and the sheer grit people needed (all those years ago) just to survive. Be it silver, lots of land or other opportunities, I wonder—in the 1800s—what did the residents think of their surroundings? If only the old saguaro could talk… J 🌵

 

 

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Fins in Phoenix

If anyone would have told me I’d find some of the world’s largest known sea creatures in Arizona, I would’ve said that’s quite a fish story. But I was set straight one soggy afternoon when an outdoor baseball game gave us a rain check, leaving us to visit more indoor options. Like water…

While this corner of the world is well known for hot sunny days, it is—after all—part of a desert. So the nights can be chilly. And when it rains, it pours. A rainy March day in the Phoenix area means spring training is benched, leaving baseball fans to seek out other activities. For me, visiting family, I was in good hands. Their plan B? The OdySea Aquarium.

Flippers & fins

Because we weren’t the only sports enthusiasts seeking an indoor something-to-do, there was a bit of a line for tickets. But we didn’t queue up for long. The booth was fully staffed, and ready for our spontaneous purchase. When we entered, the first thing to greet us was a monster fish.

Suspended from the lobby ceiling, this monster gazes upon all who dare enter its domain. Kind of hard to miss. Making our way to the escalator, we climbed up a floor to begin our visit with other giants, as well as sturgeons, piranhas, paddlefish and rays.

As we made our way around the tanks, I noticed superhero themed information cards at several viewpoints. Up to this point, I’d never compared an Archer Fish to The Green Arrow. Rather clever! And then there’s the sharks. Wow. Teeth. Lots. And some intensely cold hard stares…

I love sea turtles. And freshwater ones. And I most definitely appreciate the rescue efforts being made on their behalf. In other tanks, it was fun to watch the Asian Small-clawed Otters in action, as well as the sea lions and penguin clans. Soooo adorable!

Fur & feathers

Serving as ambassadors to their water based buddies, some tropical birds have made a home for themselves in OdySea. Attempting a staring contest with the macaws proved futile; they won. The shyness of the cockatoo was adorable, but the toucan had no problem showing off.

Sometimes it’s tough to see a critter who’s snoozing, but the super cute two-toed sloth was kind enough to take his nap in a basket near the glass wall. What an excellent vantage point! There’s something about an uber fuzzy sleeping ball of fluff that made every passerby utter “Awwwwwww!”

We continued our visit to each window, easily navigating our way around. We soon found ourselves at the dive tank, and watched a few brave visitors—wearing ginormous dive helmets—interact with some very curious fish.

The escalator took us back downstairs to the larger exhibits, such as OdySea’s Voyager rotating theatre, where we could see the bigger critters like sharks, sea turtles and sea lions do their thing.

Having enjoyed the last tank, we headed through the gift shop to the exit. My favorite exhibit? The jellyfish. So gracefully elegant…

Fun & flavors

Our aquatic visit over, we met friends at a very “green” themed locale: Irish Wolfhound Pub. Arriving just in time for the Irish folk band’s opening number, we enjoyed dinner from the game room—but within earshot of the band—allowing us to hear our own lively conversations.

I chose the Irish Wolfhound Burger, which included one of my favorite cheeses: Irish Cheddar. My drink of choice? An Irish coffee. Not your typical burger beverage, but delicious nonetheless.

Even though our day in the Phoenix area didn’t include an afternoon at the ballpark, or a game-delectable hot dog, it did include an excellent plan B combo: a wonderful aquarium visit and a yummy (cheesy!) burger. And just a few puddles in the parking lot… J 🦈

 

My Big Apple favorites

Dining out? Facing a googolplex of options? Italian, French, Korean, Slavic, American, and so on…? Enjoying a ginormous park in the middle of a vast metropolis? Perhaps discovering a quaint, beautifully maintained zoo (or two) inside the park? You just might be in New York City.

Home to hundreds of restaurants and scores of parks, NYC’s theatre district showcases dozens of on-and-off Broadway productions. Finding yourself in The Big Apple also means plenty of bars, pubs and fancy cafes where one can enjoy a favorite coffee or nightcap, or a fancy new boozy beverage.

So many options! Only your available moments limit your choices. Let me share with you a few of my favorite discoveries…

A ghost

Open year around, the Central Park Zoo is home to some very special critters. Like playful sea lions. Fancy peacocks. And the elusive snow leopard. Referred to as a “ghost cat” in the 2013 movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, this beautiful hunter seemed in sync with its wintery surroundings.

Visiting the zoo in early March meant cold weather for us, but also smaller crowds. Bundling up, we were able to visit each group of animals with ease, having great vantage points at every stop.

When we were ready to warm up a bit, we ducked into the Tropic Zone. Adjusting to the immediate climate change by removing our coat-glove-scarf combos, we discovered the occupants to be just as welcoming as the temperature. They seemed just as curious about us as we were about them.

A legend

Still inside Central Park—just outside the Tisch Children’s Zoo—stands a very special statue: Balto. Famous for leading his sled team in the final 53 mile stretch of snow-blinding wild Alaska wilderness (destination Nome) January 1925, this Siberian Husky and his pack won the hearts of people all over the world. Their cargo? Medicine, desperately needed to battle a diphtheria outbreak.

Their successful impossible mission inspired New Yorkers to commission this statue that very same year; a beautiful monument to all the sled teams—all the people and dogs who saved the lives of Nome’s children. Having enjoyed the 1995 animated movie “Balto” that featured a cameo of this statue, it was exciting for me to see it in person.

A queen

In step with our winter theme, we headed for the St. James theatre and Disney’s production of “Frozen” on Broadway. Having enjoyed Disney’s movie version—and its cruise line musical version—we were curious; how would it transition to this world famous entertainment capital? Answer: beautifully!

Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, and all their friends took to the stage, sharing their story in both familiar and new ways. Similar to Disney’s at-sea production, this bold version adds new songs, and tells the tale in a way that appeals to Frozen fanatics without leaving any Frozen newbies in the cold. We absolutely loved it.

A plate

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many an afternoon tea, but the Russian Tea Room provided a unique first for me: caviar atop a mini pancake. Delicious! Another first: sour cherries to flavor the tea. Also delicious! RTR has treated NYC restaurant patrons for almost one hundred years. We truly enjoyed wonderful food and fantastic service in this beautifully appointed room.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a plate of linguini and a glass of vino to sing my soul to sleep. Biricchino Italian Restaurant—definitely a Chelsea neighborhood gem—features flavorfully fresh ingredients woven into pasta perfection. Lots of other amazing dishes too, but my favorite is the linguini with clams…ahhhhh…

And sometimes there’s nothing better than simplicity. A simple menu, a perfect cut of beef and a side of crispy French fries. And in this case, the fries really are French. Entering Le Relais de Venise and glancing at the paintings, you might think for a moment that Italian is the cuisine. Even the name might suggest so, but it’s only a nod to a street in Paris. The menu is set; the server asks only how you’d like your meat prepared.

Enjoying our green salads with a glass of beautiful French wine, and awaiting the main course, we began to relax in this place of clean and simple elegance. The price is no nonsense too; very reasonable. Wonderful food and excellent service, Le Relais de Venise is a fun place for me to revisit every time I’m in The Big Apple.

In search of something hot and nourishing one chilly evening, we headed out for a big bowl of soup. Thankfully we found our savory broth at Miss Korea. Just a block from the Hyatt Herald Square—our very comfy hotel—we didn’t wait long for a table, despite the restaurant’s obvious popularity.

Each of us ordered the beef bone broth. Soooooo gooooood! That, along with delicious house barley tea and fresh sides; we ate like royalty.

When you’re in the mood for something sweet—a ginormous something sweet—I suggest paying a visit to Levain Bakery. Lots of delectable goodies, and coffee drinks too, but you owe it to yourself to try their signature item: the chocolate chip cookie. Quite possibly the biggest chocolate chip cookies in the city, this bakery doesn’t just go for size; it goes for quality too.

The line is always out the door here, no matter the weather, so be sure to pack your patience as you wait for your turn at the counter. It will be worth the wait. Trust me.

In addition to purchasing one cookie each to enjoy right away, we picked up a dozen to share with friends and family back home. And by some miracle, two chairs freed up at their small dining counter just as we made our purchase, allowing us to enjoy the atmosphere (as well as our lattes and cookies) as we awaited our pink box of take-home goodies.

A drink

When it’s time for a spirited beverage (before, during or after dinner), I recommend Crimson and Rye. There are tables available, but our preference is to take a seat at the semicircular bar. We love to watch the mixologists in action as we nosh on bar food while enjoying our libations. This visit, I chose an Irish Coffee. Yummy stuff!

As you might have guessed, narrowing my favorites list for NYC was not easy. Not a bad problem to have… J 🍪

 

NYCity High Line

I love New York! In the city that never sleeps, it’s rather easy to find food, entertainment, attractions and activities that speak to all people and budgets.

It can be overwhelming, given all the choices, but if you’re willing to humor yourself with a mere sample of what NYC has to offer, you’ll be just fine.

Lots of transportation choices too for getting around, but my favorite way is to walk. Simply put, I can see more of the town (while I bank more steps to my FitBit).

On a recent March trip to the Big Apple, my travel companion and I challenged ourselves to reach all our city destinations on foot. A bit of a lofty dare, given winter was in no hurry to leave. But one route in particular made our Chelsea District adventures a pleasure: an elevated path known as The High Line.

The walkway

From our hotel—the perfectly placed Hyatt Regent Square—we headed west along W 30th Street. Picking up an access stairwell at 10th Avenue, we soon found ourselves at one of the most beautiful urban walkways I’ve ever seen.

Repurposing an old elevated railway line, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York created a uniquely clever public park—one that showcases a bit of its history along with some very modern urban art.

The scenery

The view from the walkway features a few key signature NYC skyline items, such as the Empire State Building and the Hudson River. But this long-and-lean park also grants one-of-a-kind views that highlight artistically painted buildings (and some “unofficial” art) we encountered along the way.

Not to be outdone by objects outside the park, The High Line is home to many cleverly displayed works of art created just for the walkway. Beautiful in their own right, all artwork inside this public space complimented the surroundings perfectly, without being distracting.

The factory

Ever heard of the National Biscuit Company? Perhaps if I shortened its name: Nabisco. That’s right—from the 1890s to the 1950s, Oreos, Premium Saltine Crackers and other iconic baked goods were manufactured here at this location.

In the 1990s, this factory site was given a facelift, and Chelsea Market was born. Exiting The High Line at W 17th Street, we entered the old brick building ready to explore.

Similar to The High Line in shape, Chelsea Market stretches the long way between 9th and 10th streets, running parallel between W 15th and 16th. Much of the old brick walls and concrete flooring that once housed flour and giant bakery equipment now hold exciting specialty shops and fun restaurants.

Walking through the market, I loved discovering showcases of local and factory history. But what really caught my eye was how one piece of old plumbing was turned into an indoor urban waterfall. Pretty cool! Also cool: seeing old Nabisco ads—painted onto the brick—as active participants of the market’s décor.

We grabbed matcha green tea lattes (and pastries!) at Chalait, then headed back to The High Line. Finding a bench in the sun, we enjoyed our well earned treats.

Returning to Chelsea Market the following three days via our new favorite walkway, we enjoyed brunching at Friedmans Lunch. And shopping! We visited many stores and stands, making purchases at Artists and Fleas, Pearl River Mart and Chelsea Wine Vault.

Inclement weather can limit access to The High Line—something we discovered one icy morning—but the park’s crew works hard to keep the walkway open, and the stairwells and elevators in good condition, maintaining safety for its patrons.

Now that spring is in the air, walking outside is a little more comfortable. So if you find yourself in NYC this season, and fancy a stroll with a view, head to The High Line. My new favorite urban walk. J 👣

 

Brewing a nation

Along the Oregon Coast, nestled around the Yaquina Bay, sits the picturesque town of Newport. Any time of year, you’ll find plenty of activities to do here, indoors and out. And plenty of fantastically fresh—very delicious—seafood to enjoy as well.

But with every great plate of Dungeness crab or mouthwatering wild caught halibut you’ll savor, you owe it to yourself to pair your dining experience with another favorite local item: an ale from Rogue.

Doing things a little differently than most, Rogue Ales & Spirits has built quite a name for itself, winning countless awards since 1988. I mean that literally. I couldn’t count them. Their giant ceiling mounted scroll of awards no longer keeps track of Rogue’s most recently acquired honors—their success and popularity are that strong. And growing. Just how did I come by this bit of knowledge? By taking a recent tour of this would-be rebel nation…

Micro

Microbrew is a word that first entered our language in the mid 1980s. Simply put, it’s a beer produced in limited amounts, focusing more on quality rather than quantity. But what really makes a particular microbrew special is a combination of unique ingredients that result in a one-of-a-kind flavor —something truly delicious when paired with food, or enjoyed by itself.

Walking the production floor with Aaron (our tour guide), we quickly picked up on Rogue’s wildly inventive approach to crafting its prize-winning microbrew recipes. And an even wilder approach to naming themfor example, Rogue Yellow Snow Pilsner. No joke. (And it took silver in last year’s World Beer Championship.)

Food… all their menus feature absolutely fantastic pub grub. Prior to our tour, we enjoyed a beer flight and a basket of Pub Pretzels & Dips. Yummy stuff! The mustard dip—spiked with Rogue IPA—was my favorite.

Macro

Looking at the bigger picture, Rogue has expanded to include three locations in Newport, three in Portland, one in Astoria (where it all began for them) and one “up north” in Issaquah, Washington. They distribute their craft brews to all 50 states and to 54 different countries. Their bottling machine fills 300 bottles per minute, which helps keep up with the demand for more…

In the mood for a shot of whiskey? Or maybe a shot of gin? Rogue expanded their production in 2003 to include their own varieties of whiskey and gin—award winning, of course. Most impressive.

But what really impressed me is this company’s commitment to the local community. Take, for example, Newport’s skate park. When the staff at Rogue learned that local skateboard aficionados were making due with an abandoned swimming pool, this local brewery sponsored a construction project to build a real skate park. City park officials joined the party, and now skateboarders have a pretty cool place to roll.

Since 1989, Rogue’s community involvement has become extensive and far reaching. Back in the day, encouraged by local prominent business woman “Mo” Niemi, Rogue feeds the local fishing employees year round, especially between fishing seasons.

Mo was also Rogue’s first landlord, agreeing to rent out a small inn and bar to the up-and-coming brewer, provided they 1) continue to care for the local fishing community, and 2) hang a photo of her choice in every one of their bars. Only after agreeing to her terms did they discover that her photo of choice featured Mo herself sitting naked in a bathtub…

Looking to their future, Rogue—in conjunction with Oregon State University—takes on summer interns, many of who become full time employees after graduation. Sales from their Hot Tub Scholarship Lager help fund the Jack Joyce Scholarship (named after Rogue’s founder), which in turn helps OSU Fermentation Science students manage the costs of their education.

Solo

Their own farms. Growing and harvesting everything from hops to honey, Rogue’s Oregon farms produce flavorful local ingredients for their beverage—and pub grub—items. Honey is a key ingredient in Rogue sodas. I enjoyed sampling their root beer during the tour so much, I ended up purchasing two bottles. And I don’t drink soda!

Their own cooper. Yes, Rogue makes their aging barrels onsite, using—you guessed it—their own Oregon wood. Rogue’s own Rolling Thunder, established 2015, produces all of the barrels used for their brews and spirits. Just another commitment to quality that truly sets them apart from other similar brewers.

It’s own nation… almost. No, really! They tried! But that story is best heard during the tour…

If ever you find yourself in this beautiful region known as the Oregon Coast, I recommend making the drive to Rogue. Unique in every way, their brews, spirits and food are worth experiencing. I’m very glad we did. Cheers! J 🍻🥨

 

Surreal snow daze

Snowmageddon. Snowpocalypse. Snowzilla. What comes to mind when you hear these words? For us snow storm novices living in the Puget Sound area, this snowy vocabulary list exists only in headlines covering winter events east of the Cascades, somewhere in the Midwest or waaaaay over in the New England states. Up ‘til now.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we never wake up to a blanket of white fluff every now and then. We usually experience a snow shower or two every winter—something that might wreak havoc for commuters, businesses and schools for maybe one or two days. But then things warm up enough to make the snowy evidence all go away on its own. Up ‘til now.

Punxsutawney Phil owes us an explanation. Predicting an early spring for 2019, this season forecasting varmint could not have been more wrong. For us, it all began the very next day after his prediction…

Snow

“It’s snowing!” The afternoon of February 3 saw the first wave of flurries. By the next morning, we had a few inches of powder on the ground; too dry to make a decent snowball, but perfect for skiing. Or in my case, making snow angels. It was also just enough for the local schools to close. The neighbor kids and I had fun creating heavenly representations on my driveway.

As the week progressed, the temperature stayed below freezing, so the snow remained. Then came the updated weather forecast: more cold and snowy weather was on the way for week’s end—and well into the following week. Whaaaaat? Seriously? Should we stock up on stuff? I suppose… but first, let’s go sledding!

With the second storm’s accumulation adding a few more inches of snow to the ground, the entire block of neighbors—kids and adults alike—took to the local ad hoc sledding hill. The sunshine made an appearance too, adding to the beauty of the surrounding winter wonderland.

Ice

Do you know winter storms have names? I had no idea! But I soon became familiar with the effects of Winter Storm Lucian, February 3-4, Winter Storm Maya, February 7-8 and Winter Storm Nadia, February 11-12. All three of these snowy siblings took turns paying our lowlands a visit (and leaving something behind) before moving onto other regions.

While the sun dared to make an occasional appearance and the temperatures remained low, icicles and other frozen water features began to dot the rooflines and landscapes. Beautiful but dangerous, icy dagger-like formations and slippery street—and sidewalk—surfaces created challenges for anyone needing to be out-and-about.

Because heavy snow and ice are rare events for us, there’s not a lot of plowing equipment and deicer available to help keep people moving. So most of us hunkered down. Then things got crazy…

Trees—really-really-really tall cedar, fir and pine trees, along with several old, large deciduous trees, couldn’t take the excessive weight of the snow and began dropping branches—or simply falling down altogether. Power lines came down too, adding to the dangerous conditions. Local landscapes became unrecognizable. Events were cancelled. Many schools and businesses remained closed, or operated with whatever staff was available.

Slush

After the third snow storm finished gracing us with its presence, the temps stayed low. Realizing we were in it for the long haul, people began making more of an effort to return to normal routines.

The National Guard helped free people in East King County—the area hardest hit with snow. Plows finished up clearing the main roads and moved onto the side streets. Cars abandoned during one of the storms were being collected, power crews were reconnecting lines, and landscapers were removing downed trees and branches. And eventually the snow began to melt. Slowly…

Rain

Wacky weather has a funny way of uniting people. Everyone I encountered during my attempts to walk or drive through the icy-snowy-slushy piles of leftover weather shared a smile with me; many businesses were extra friendly and helpful. Like the city maintenance crew member who gave pedestrian me a ride passed a downed power line, or the mail carrier who had to deliver on foot (because the snow and ice was plowed 3’ high and wide in front of our mailbox).

Seattle is well known for its rainfall, but we haven’t seen much of it lately. And more would definitely help melt the lingering lovely towers of icy slush camping out on my neighborhood sidewalks. Oh well. All in good time, I suppose.

Neighbors helped neighbors and strangers helped strangers. The local newspapers have featured many heartwarming snowmageddon stories. It is nice to see crazy weather bringing out the best in people. I might even forgive Punxsutawney Phil. After all, he had a 50/50 chance… 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 🚙