Celebrating Daffodils

Every spring Tacoma and Pierce County pay tribute to the buttery yellow flower. Last week marked the beginning of the 81st Annual Daffodil Festival (wow, something older than me).

Sea Scout's Entry

The highlight of the event has to be the parade that goes through not just one town, but four separate towns. The traveling parade had more than 170 entries including floats, bands and mounted unit. Thousands of fresh-cut daffodils adorn the floats. As sometimes happens in the Pacific Northwest, it rained.

On Sunday, April 13, Tacoma celebrated boats and our waterways with a Marine Parade. More than 40 boats cruised in formation from the Tacoma Yacht Club to the Thea Foss Waterway.

Those are authentic mermaids on the front of the boat.

Unlike last weekend, the sun made a day-long appearance. The blue skies and white clouds framed the Olympic Mountains and Mt. Rainier. All were postcard crisp and clear.

People's Choice Winner - the pink octopus revolves and they played the Beatle's song about an octupus garden on the boat.

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My Favorite Trips of 2013

My friend and fellow travel writer, Sue Frause, wrote a summary of where she went in 2013 and what she recommended for the Examiner.com. I thought it was such a good idea that I’m doing it, too. All these trips came about because of writing assignments so most of my lodging and meals were complimentary, but that has not influenced my opinion. Here are some of the places I visited this year:

Alderbrook Resort & Spa (www.alderbrookresort.com)
Union, Washington

As I sat in the lobby by the blazing fire, I couldn’t help but think “what a great place to set a murder mystery.” Probably because I have read ones that have similar scenes. The setting in Union, Washington, is rural, yet serene. The lodge snuggles up against Hood Canal and the experience was almost surreal, it was so pleasant.

An Oregon reporter called Alderbrook the best lodge on the west side of Puget Sound. It’s outfitted with a wonderful spa, a gourmet restaurant and even has its own boat. If you want to rent a cottage, you can. They also have pet-friendly rooms. Whatever you choose to do, I hope you’ll have as memorable a time as I did.

White Pass
Washington

White Pass is one of our smaller places to engage in snow sports, but still beautiful with that crisp, clear mountain air and lots of snow. I attended the White Pass Winter Carnival with two other travel writers and wrote about it here for Northwest Travel Magazine. This event has been going on for years and even though I’m a native Washingtonian, I’d never heard of it before. The centerpiece of the event is a life-sized snow castle you can tour. At night a torchlight parade and fireworks light up the sky.

I also got to snowshoe for the first time on this trip. That’s now my new favorite snow sport. I’m not a skier or a snowboarder, but I do love just being in the mountains.

Sun Valley
Idaho

I had no idea what I’d been missing until this first visit. Sun Valley encompasses all my favorites in a compact little bundle – Lots of boutiques, many of which fall into the thrift category like the Gold Mine; all kinds of restaurants, snow and a Film Festival. Most of it is walkable, but if you’re tired or your destination seems a little far, the bus service is all free. Benches line the streets so you can sit and rest whenever you like.

I got to stay in the beautiful boutique hotel, Knob Hill Inn, a great location just on the edge of town. I woke up each morning to a panoramic view of the mountains. It was also next door to a cemetery, but Ernest Hemingway was buried there making that parcel of land another highlight of the trip.
Vancouver Island
British Columbia

Oh my gosh, I had no idea how gorgeous this locale could be. I’d only set foot in Victoria, the capitol, previously. This time, an individual press trip for a couple of stories I’d been assigned for Northwest Travel, had me taking the B.C. Ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo. Those vessels don’t have far to go to become cruise-ship size. They even have a gift shop onboard.

The first night I had the rare and unique pleasure of staying in one of the Free Spirit Spheres in Qualicum Beach. These spheres, suspended between trees, literally give you a taste of heaven because you’re right up there next to it. The next day I fell in love with the small seaside town of Cowichan Bay and returned there two more times on this trip.

On my last night I got to sleep in a very well furnished yurt at Merridale Ciderworks. It had a large clawfoot tub not that far from the bed. And the restaurant at Merridale had fantastic food and of course, very tasty cider. I’d return in a heartbeat.

More on my 2013 trips next time.

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Explore More Holiday Activities

All the gifts have been unwrapped, the tree is starting to shed and too much fattening food calls to us from the kitchen. It’s time to get out and enjoy some holiday offerings in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a list to get you started.


Stroll down Celebration Lane at The Bellevue Collection, where live toy soldiers rove streets, music fills the air and a dazzling light show illuminates the lane, until December 31.

While in Bellevue, explore Bellevue Botanical Garden’s Garden d’Lights, a nationally recognized holiday display with more than half a million lights illuminating a winter wonderland, until January 4.

For an educational experience outside the school setting, an 1860s sewing machine is featured at a new Fort Nisqually exhibit highlighting its revolutionary impact on the daily lives of women in those times.

“Turning Drudgery into a Pastime” is on display through April 5, 2014 and is included in the price of admission to the fort. For more information, call (253) 591-5339 or go online to FortNisqually.org.

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is a restoration of the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost on Puget Sound located in Point Defiance Park, Tacoma. Visitors experience life in Washington Territory during the Fur Trade era of the 1850s. Nine buildings are open to the public, including the Granary and the Factors House, both National Historic Landmarks, and a Visitor Center with Museum Store. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is a facility of Metro Parks Tacoma.

How About Some Snow Play?
Squeals and laughter fill the air as people of all ages have a blast on snow trails.
Join a park ranger to learn the art of snowshoeing and discover how plants, animals, and people adapt to the challenging winter conditions at Mount Rainier.
When: Update 12/20/13. First-come, first-served guided snowshoe walks will begin on December 24, 2013. Snow conditions permitting, the walks are generally offered on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, and daily during winter break from December 24 to January 1. After early January, walks are only offered on Saturdays and Sundays, and holidays. Walks start at 11:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. and meet inside the Jackson Visitor Center (near the information desk) in Paradise. Sign-ups begin 1 hour in advance of scheduled time.
Distance & Time: Snowshoe walks cover approximately 1.5 miles in 2 hours.
Group size: Snowshoe walks are limited to 25 people, eight years old or older, on a first-come, first-served basis. A sign-up sheet is available at the Jackson Visitor Center information desk one hour before each walk. All snowshoe walk participants must be present at sign-up.

Skiers, riders and foot passengers can all take a ride to the Crystal Mountain summit for captivating mountain views, a delectable meal at the Summit House and a great run down the slopes. Dogs allowed on the gondola, but not in the Summit House.

Don’t want to venture out just yet, then download the free interactive eCookbook from Visit Seattle, that highlights a range of talented chefs and signature Pacific Northwest cuisine. Fresh From Seattle features 26 recipes from 12 noteworthy local chefs, including acclaimed hotel chefs and award winners such as Tom Douglas, Maria Hines and Thierry Rautureau.

For more family fun check with my two favorite sites: Rubyslipperguide.com for the Eastside and SoundsFunMom.com for the South Sound.

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Farm Tour On Tap

Farm fresh produce and fall just seem to go together like
comfortable shoes. On October 5 and 6 thirteen Skagit Valley Farms invite you
to visit and discover where your food comes from. The Skagit Valley Festival of
Farms
runs from 10 a.m.-4p.m. each day with opportunities to  visit educational exhibits, take farm tours, view gardening demonstrations, taste mouth-watering samples, let your kids try farm activities and everyone can navigate corn mazes.
Best of all, the basic tour is FREE. Each stop may also have
prepared food or the produce, meat, dairy products, etc. that they are known
for available for purchase.

Here’s a brief preview of what you’ll discover on this tour.

At Taylor Shellfish on Chuckanut Drive in Bow, Wash.,
you’ll meet shellfish farmers, watch oyster shucking demonstrations, urge crabs
along in their own races, build a fairy house on the beach, see the world’s
only lighthouse made of oyster shells and taste steamed Manila clams or
barbequed Pacific oysters.

Stop by Samish Bay Cheese in Bow and taste the phenomenal Arugula Ladysmith cheese that Roger makes.

At Sakuma Bros. Farms in Burlington, take a tractor-pulled
wagon ride, find out what a raspberry machine is, take part in a pie eating
contest and sample fresh berries, chips and salsa made with locally grown
produce and honey from Belleville Honey Company.

Although the Tulip Festival has come and gone for this year, you can still find out all
about this beautiful flower at RoozenGaarde in Mount Vernon. Gather ideas from the experts on layouts and plantings that you can do in your own landscape. Let the
children try the scavenger hunt and before you leave, shop for bulbs and gardening tools.

Wineries, dairies, cattle ranches, produce farms and more complete the tour.

There’s so much to see you might want to spend the weekend.
I highly recommend Candlewood Suites in Burlington
as a comfortable option. Rooms have full kitchens so you can bring back your
bounty and eat it freshly cooked or store it in a full-size refrigerator.

 

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Have a Blast at Run of the River in Leavenworth

 

This beautiful, luxurious bed and breakfast has to be one of the few places where once you land, you never want to leave. We spent two nights there not long ago and met a guest at breakfast who spent her days reading, sewing and just enjoying all that Run of the River had to offer. She seemed reluctant to leave in the evening to go into town for dinner and to meet family members.

For enjoying the scenery, you have your choice of sitting on your deck or relaxing on deck chairs placed in the grass on the property. Then if you’re patient you’ll spot wildlife. We spent a good part of one evening watching a doe and her two fawns drink from the creek below our balcony. What a pleasure and change from the busyness and traffic congestion most of us experience at home.

 

The next morning we discovered at breakfast that other guests had seen a cougar, a bear and a raccoon picking cherries high up in a cherry tree.

The endless chi cha cha and chirping of various birds, the lush greenery and the creek that reflected mirror stillness all make you feel like you’ve landed in nature’s wonderland. Of course, every once in awhile you need sustenance.

 

That’s what the morning breakfasts provide. Five course meals that nobody can ever finish, but they are filled with healthy, local, tasty ingredients. Everything is made fresh in the morning from the blended fruit juices to the quiches. Then if you need an afternoon snack or a dessert after your dinner, you’ll find something sweet and delicious (and different everyday) in the dining area to take to your room.

 

Run of the River seems perfect for everyone – from those wanting to get away and relax to honeymooners from all over the globe (we met two from London).

Disclaimer:  Run of the River hosted my stay.

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Sunshine Mill Now Makes Wine

A couple of months ago I had the privilege of touring the Sunshine Mill Artisan Plaza and Winery in The Dalles, Oregon. Who would have thought a flour mill could have become a luxury wine tasting room and event venue. But it has. The cave-like dining area reminded me of a place where the Bachelorette might dine with one of her chosen men.

Why is this place called the Sunshine Mill?

If you’ve ever eaten Cheez-it crackers, those salty delights came from this very site when the flour mill was operational. Constructed of concrete and rebar, the Sunshine Flour Mill extended to a height of 125 feet, making it the tallest structure in The Dalles. For the most part the exterior remains the same to this day. Eventually cracker production decreased and the mill lost its viability. After closing shop, it stood unused until James and Molly Martin purchased it and converted it to a winery.  

The Martins named their winery, Quenett, which means steelhead. In a short amount of time, it has grown to be the second largest winery in Oregon. Quenett produces 2,500 cases of bottled wine and 125,000 cases of Copa Di Vino a year.

Are you a “Shark Tank” fan? If you watch this Friday night TV show, you may have seen James Martin. On two different occasions he appeared before the millionaires (the Sharks) asking for support for his invention of wine by the glass. Each plastic glass contains a serving of wine and is sealed with foil and a plastic cap. These can be purchased at the winery and in grocery stores. I brought some home and really wish I had more. (I just noticed on the website you can put in your zip code and find the nearest place to buy Copa Di Vino). Excuse me I need to go to the store. 

Copa Di Vino

These little gems make great picnic accompaniments plus the wine tastes divine. Martin’s Copa Di Vino (the wine by the glass) has become one of the fastest growing brands in America. And he turned down the deals the sharks offered him.

The long and cavernous wine tasting room has chandeliers made entirely from wine bottles, a comfy couch or two, tables and more to look at then you’ll find in any other winery. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re near The Dalles.

Keep an eye on Sunshine because plans have been set into motion to make the grain silos into a seven-story hotel. If you think James Martin has unrealistic dreams, check out the photo gallery for the Quaker Square Hotel in Akron, Ohio. Converting grain silos into lavish lodging has already been done.

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Kevin O’Brien’s Unspeakable

One of my favorite thriller writers has a new book out titled “Unspeakable.” In it, a child actor (Collin) realizes that when he’s hypnotized another person emerges, a very dark, sinister and dangerous boy who lived 50 years before. While Collin sleeps, his friends become murder victims. Could he have done it unknowingly? That lays the foundation for fires, stabbings and untold unpleasantries.

 

Once again O’Brien, who lives in Seattle, has made me sleep with the light on. And this book contains more than 500 pages so the bulb burnt out a couple of times. A silhouette was lurking in the shadows on many of these pages. And I heard creaks around the house long after everyone, including the dogs, were deep into their slumber.

 

But that’s what makes the suspense real and why I’m such a thriller fan and especially an O’Brien devotee. My friend wants him to write faster so we’ll have more to read. I don’t know if faster would be better, because now he pens some terrific stuff.

What I also found appealing about this book was the author’s accurate portrayal of the atmosphere in Seattle during the days of the World’s Fair in 1962. How could someone who isn’t old enough to remember Century 21 write such precise details of the culture we experienced then? I worked at the Fair and my coworker’s daughter had a date with Elvis Presley when he filmed his movie here. I may have dated “Wade” from Unspeakable, but escaped before I became a liability. You’ll have to read the book to find out about that reference.

I highly recommend you pick up this paperback original or put it on your Kindle or Nook. Feel the tension for yourself.

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Petting Farms

I drove my granddaughter, Kita, to her preschool field trip yesterday. As we made our way to Windwater Farm in Auburn, I decided to use our time together in the car as a teachable moment. I got what I deserved.

“What animals do you think you’ll see at the farm today?” I asked.

“Cows, horses, chickens and unicorns,” Kita answered confidently from the backseat. I laughed to myself and secretly wished I had her imagination.

When we first arrived at the farm, while one of the helpers was placing blanket-wrapped rabbits in the preschooler’s laps, I questioned the farm employee about the unicorns.

“Yes, we have three,” she said, expressionless. (I’m still looking for them.)

Kita feeding a guinea pig.

Kita wanted to feed the rabbits, but unfortunately when they were swaddled they didn’t have an appetite. So her bunny was replaced with a guinea pig that gnawed on the carrot she held to his mouth. She looked like she was holding a baby and wasn’t it just yesterday that she was the baby?

The kids fed goats, a pig (who was definitely not gluten-free – he preferred bread over carrots), sheep, a donkey and chickens (they ate corn). Since I’d done a cursory search of the farm’s website in the morning, I attempted to share my knowledge with Kita.

“They have chickens here that lay brown, white and green eggs,” I told her.

“Then, is their poop pink?” she asked, using her 4-year-old logic.

The highlight of the day came when Kita and her friend were lifted into the saddle of Dolly, the horse. The lady that had assured me about the unicorns led them around the pasture slowly and carefully. And Kita has now ridden her first horse. She beamed with pride over her accomplishment when she dismounted.

Kita, in pink and brown, on her first horse ride.

Unfortunately Windwater Farm is only open for field trips and private parties. But here is a list of other local farms where you can have similar experiences.

Farrel-McWhirter Park in Redmond

Fox Hollow Farm in Issaquah

Remlinger Farms in Carnation

City Goat Farm & Zoo in Spanaway

Old McDebbie’s Farm in Spanaway

Morris’s Shadow Mountain Stables in Auburn

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A Nod to Knob Hill in Ketchum, Idaho

In March I attended the beginning of the Sun Valley Film Festival for a writing assignment. Green Rubino, a public relations firm in Seattle, was kind enough to find me lodging at Knob Hill. Before my flight I checked out Knob Hill Inn on Tripadvisor.com. Almost every reviewer gave the hotel five stars. Everyone, but one gentleman who complained that it was next door to a cemetery. Those people won’t be partying and keep you up at night so I didn’t really understand his objection. Besides it’s a very historic cemetery where Ernest Hemingway is buried.

View from my hotel window in Sun Valley.

 

What a beautiful home away from home. The location, just outside downtown proper, made for quiet nights.

This boutique property houses 29 lovely rooms – all renovated in a chateau-style architecture last November. From the TVs to the bedding and even the custom furniture, everything matched the Sun Valley theme. And do you know how they got rid of the heavy European pieces purchased by the previous owner? They held a yard sale and sold it to the community.

 

And the staff – well if you wore socks, Knob Hill employees would knock them off with their superior service. They call it European charm. I call it rare and wonderful. From housekeeping to the front desk to the shuttle drivers, everyone went out of their way to make all the guests feel special. One afternoon while exploring the downtown shops I heard my name called. It was one of the hotel shuttle drivers asking me if I wanted a ride anywhere. 

I think Rick Steves was on to something when he referred to Idahoans as “freakishly friendly.”

Disclaimer:  Knob Hill hosted my stay.

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You’ll Never Get Closer to Elk: Oak Creek Feeding Station

At the beginning of March, two other travel writers, a VisitRainier employee and I experienced the feeding of the elk at Oak Creek Feeding Station, off Highway 12 near Naches in Eastern Washington (yes, it was a press trip). We got close enough to these four-legged giants to make eye contact.

 

This supplemental feeding program, began in 1945. It was adopted so that the elk wouldn’t venture into any of the agricultural areas nearby looking for food in the winter. Depending on the weather, feedings begin sometime in December and continue until March. If you visit in January or February, you’ll have the best chance of participating.

Everything is free – you just have to sign up and put your John Henry on a disclaimer. Then you can ride out into the field in a U.S. Army truck and witness the feeding of as many as 700 elk at a time. While you patiently wait your driver dispenses facts and figures about the program and cows and bulls snuffle and shift positions anticipating the upcoming buffet of hay. Then two other vehicles roll out and automatically start dispensing the bales while the regal animals jockey for position.

 

A bull can weigh up to 600 pounds, but they have no interest in the humans staring at them. They only want the food so you’re safe.

I have never witnessed anything like this and highly recommend it as a family outing.

Here’s a story my friend Carrie Uffindall wrote about it: 

Arrive before 1 p.m. to check in, visit the small museum and watch the elk head down the hill for lunch.

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