Exploring the Pacific Northwest in the Springtime - Part I

We booked plane tickets for our April trip to Washington state in late January. We were eager to see Alexander and India for the first time since the day after they got married last July! We couldn't wait for them to show us the rugged, foggy grandeur of the Pacific Northwest, as they have quickly fallen in love with it. And I was quietly looking forward to seeing how they were creating a life together (with their dog) so far from where they both grew up. What I hadn't known when booking those plane tickets in January, was how ill I would be with pneumonia in late-March up until our departure on April 18th.

Traveling when you're sick, or with someone who is sick, alters the trip and creates its own unique type of travel experience. Sometimes, it causes us to slow down, prioritize, and yield to the importance of flexibility over itinerary. Other times, I think we look back and realize that those travel moments encourage us in our present to marvel at our strength and resilience. And still other times, I think the big lesson in traveling ill is to be found in the kindness we are shown by others. I will definitely always remember this trip for the last reason -- for Dave and Julia dragging my luggage through the airport, to Alexander and India altering plans to include more drives, and everyone's sympathetic understanding as I caught naps my weary body needed on every car ride, every ferry ride, and all the moments in between.

Our first full day in the Pacific Northwest found us traveling by car, train, and foot. We caught the ferry out of Anacrotes, to San Juan Island. Don't you love ferries? We think ferry travel is just THE best! And this ferry had all the essential elements that make a ferry crossing pleasurable: vintage vibes, a cafeteria (popcorn---yay!), comfortable seats, jigsaw puzzles for working on together during the crossing, friendly fellow passengers, and dogs. Dogs and small children make ferry rides ever so much more fun! AND the views of the pine tree-studded, fog shrouded small islands we passed kept us hopping up from our puzzles and snacks to marvel at the beauty of each one.

We docked at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island (the largest of the San Juan Islands), and after purchasing some huckleberry jam and huckleberry syrup and everyone refueling on coffee or hot chocolate, we headed out to our first destination, Cattle Point Lighthouse. I have not yet been to coastal England, but I have a sense that this area might be very much what it looks and feels like there. We meandered (me, very slowly) along the footpath through the tall, waving grasses to our lighthouse destination. As an avid walker who hadn't been able to venture outside our home for nearly a month, I must say that feeling the solid earth beneath my feet and the wind in my hair, and to feel well enough to stand on the edge of a cliff and soak in the beauty of it all, was positively therapeutic. We walked up and down the paths, studied the stark lighthouse (c. 1935), marveled at the driftwood logs tossed upon the rocky shore, and felt immensely grateful to be together.

Our next stop was another lighthouse, Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Even though both lighthouses exist on the same island, the terrain around them could not be more different. This lighthouse (c. 1919) was found by following a defined path through the woods and past gnarled trees. We wish we'd packed a picnic, as there were tables strategically placed along the path to take in the sweeping views of the water. This is a good viewing area for Orca whales, but although we kept our eyes out for them, we saw none. We think we were a little early in the season for whale watching--its season running in the San Juan Islands area from May through October.

After returning to Anacrotes on the ferry, we drove a short ways to Deception Pass. The view from the enormously tall bridge was spectacular! The nearly mint-green water below sparkled in the late afternoon sunshine. We spied a seal in the water! By driving across the bridge and entering Deception Pass State Park, we were able to access the rocky beach we had viewed from the bridge. Now it was our turn to look ant-size to the people above. As I sat on a driftwood log, everyone else took turns skipping stones on the water and clambering about the rocks.

Day two's highlight was attending the Roozengaarde Tulip Festival in Vernon, Washington. It was a Saturday AND the day before Easter, so throngs of people had come to enjoy the seasonal display of acres upon acres of color-coded tulips waving in the breeze. We wandered among the rows, amazed at the variety that could be found in one flower. I enjoyed watching the field's workers picking armloads of tulips--their presence reminding me that beauty comes often through hard work. Most of the fields are planted in rows upon rows of tulips. Nearer the entrance were stylized gardens full of tulips, other bulbs and blooms, and flowering trees. And there were display areas with the more rare varieties carefully labeled. I made a note of several varieties, including some that were perfectly enormous, which I'd like to try growing.

Some miscellaneous travel tips and/or observations from our first two days in the PNW:

- Coffee can truly be found everywhere.
- Make advance reservations for ferries out of Anacortes.
- Pack a warm scarf, wool sweaters, and coats as it's cooler than you'd expect it to be in April.
- Go to the Roozengaarde Tulip Festival on a weekday.
- Pack a picnic to walk the trail to Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island.
- We never saw any mosquitoes or ticks.
- Pet all the friendly dogs on the ferries!

Part II of this PNW travel memoir will include: Canada, mountains, and Sasquatch.

Spring Birthday Celebration

Bethany's birthday celebration day was one of the first really lovely spring days that we've had. The skies were brilliantly blue with puffy, white clouds whooshing past, a lovely breeze, and the faint promise of warming temperatures ahead. Since she loves spring so much, I was very grateful the day was such a beautiful one!

A birthday party in the midst of illness is challenging, but we all pitched in together to make it happen. I did the easy tasks: marinating the chicken, arranging the flowers (click here for that post), and setting the table. This was a one-dish meal served in our wobbly-edged pasta bowls we love so much (click here), so we used dinner plates as chargers.

Tall goblets were for the adults and short glasses for the little ones. I kept the color palette very neutral, so the spring flowers would stand out as a bright pop of color. I assembled a vase full of the same blooms for the birthday girl to take home with her.

It felt wonderful to all be together again! Even though they don't live far away, their family went through one bout of illness after another all winter, people have traveled, and I've been sick, so it had been nearly three months since we've all been gathered at our home.

Carson and the kids were overjoyed to see each other again! I love it when kids and dogs are happily running and playing and everyone's chattering in the kitchen!

Julia and Dave did all the cooking. Bethany requested one of our family favorites, Half Baked Harvest's 20 Minute Grilled Jerk Chicken with Mango-Nectarine Salsa over Coconut Rice. It's a flavor explosion of sweet, savory, and spicy -- SO fresh! Click here for the chicken recipe. And click here for the rice recipe contained within a different chicken recipe. The rice recipe may, quite possibly, change your life!

We all feel like this is the "start of the season" for this meal. We'll enjoy it from now through the summer, and undoubtedly conclude its fresh, spring-summery goodness with it being requested for Julia's birthday celebration in September.

After dinner, it was present opening time. Bethany was thrilled with more white pieces for her kitchen from her sister.

And Dave, as a labor of love, made a "Little Free Library" for our author daughter. It was made to match their own home, and he spent many nights and weekends constructing it and cutting all the clapboards and shingles down to scale. Someday soon he will mount it in their yard, she'll register it with the "Little Free Library" (click here for more information), and she'll fill it with worthwhile books for other to enjoy.

Birthday cake time! Twenty-eight candles for our kindhearted, endlessly creative, nurturing daughter who blesses our family daily with her love and care!

If you missed the cake recipe, for our favorite, decadently rich, chocolate cake, click here.

Julia's Chocolate Cake

Whenever there's a birthday celebration in our family, I ask, "What type of cake would you like?" Honestly, asking that question is a mere matter of politeness, because we all know that the answer is a simple one -- Julia's chocolate cake. It's (just one) of her "signature recipes". And we all ask for it. Without fail. Every birthday. There are reasons for that.

Recently in our family, we were discussing the essential qualities of a good chocolate cake. First and foremost, it actually has to taste like chocolate. As obvious as that sounds, think of all the times you've eaten a flavorless chocolate cake. A good chocolate cake should not disappoint your taste buds by its flavor being overpowered by the frosting. The two should complement each other and yet hold their own -- like a good marriage. The cake should be decadently rich in chocolate flavor.

Another essential quality is that the cake be moist. As the narrow tines of your fork pierce the frosting and descend into the cake, the cake should not crumble like a sand castle poked with a stick. Rather, its rich, chocolate goodness should cling to itself and be capable of holding together all the way to your mouth.

Julia's Chocolate Cake will not disappoint! In fact, I'm pretty confident it will have your family and friends requesting it for their birthdays too! The original source of this recipe (nearly a decade ago) is unfortunately unknown to us, so if you know it, please do leave a comment and I'll happily give credit where it is due. But for now, here's the recipe for THE BEST chocolate cake:


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
3/4 c. cocoa powder
2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
3/4 c. brewed coffee
1 1/4 c. milk
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract

Sift together dry ingredients in mixer bowl. Add oil, coffee, and milk; mix at medium speed for one minute. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 2 more minutes. (Batter will be thin.)

Pour into two, greased and floured, 9-inch round cake pans (or two, 8-in. round cake pans and six muffin cups).

Bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cakes for 10 minutes before removing from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.

Frost with your favorite frosting.
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