Looking Forward to Spring

TulipsHave the he gloomy gray days of winter got you down? Spring will be here in a few months and all the colors of the rainbow will be popping up in the fields and yards everywhere under a sunny blue sky.  Plan your trip now for a drive into the countryside to see a Northwest tulip farm and enjoy the wonder of nature.

Southern Cobbler Recipe


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I’ve used this recipe for peaches, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, rhubarb and strawberries, and even for a mixture of fruits when cleaning out the freezer.  I think frozen fruit works just as well as fresh but be careful with your peaches as all varieties don’t cook the same.   If you try this with cherries, include a teaspoon of almond extract to the fruit when it starts to boil.  Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream are always a compliment.

Touring Seattle and Pacific Northwest

What are you going to do when you’re in Seattle with a few days before you head out on a cruise or return home after sailing to Alaska?  This is a common question for many and fortunately has several answers depending on your budget and personal preferences.  There are many options close to Seattle and there are other exciting options just across the state border in Oregon.  Follow the hyperlinks within the discussion below for detailed information as you plan your visit and when you find your way around the Northwest.

If a waterfall is what you’re looking for, it’s an hour or less drive out of Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls.  Don’t miss Pike Place Market if you’re in the downtown area.  The first Starbucks is just across the street.  You’ll find numerous shops with unique and hard to find items, plus you might be lucky enough to see a fish fly above the crowd.  If you like planes or cars, plan a visit to the Museum of Flight just south of downtown or the Car Museum in Takoma which is just a little further south of town.

Travel into the Cascade Mountain Range to see Mount Rainier or Mount St. Helens.  Mt. Rainier is seen from Seattle and can be reached in only a couple of hours.  I recommend the Ashford, WA entrance which leads to the Paradise section of the park where you’ll find outstanding views and fresh air.  If you have more time to travel out of Seattle, you’ll want to visit the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mt. St. Helens.  Yes, it’s still active but taking a rest for now.  The latest report (Spring 2014) is that a mass of molten material is growing beneath the mountain.  The eruption of 1980 is an incredible story and one worth checking out in person.  Check out my previous post on Mount St. Helens for some photos.

If you want to experience the Pacific Coast, head over to Ruby Beach in the Olympic National Park.  It’s over a 3 hour drive through Olympia, WA.  Lodging in the park is extremely costly or unavailable.  In about the same amount of time you can get to Astoria, Oregon which is filled with history and beauty, if it’s not foggy.  Just south of Astoria is the incredible North Oregon Coast.  On a clear day the coast with its rocks, sea lions, and huge crashing white waves are an amazing sight.  One of my favorite locations is Ecola State Park located just north of Cannon Beach famous for its haystack rock.

The Cascade Mountains and the Northwest coast are truly spectacular, but equally in grandeur is the Columbia River Gorge.  Start out in Vancouver, Washington, at the actual location of Fort Vancouver established before the Northwest was part of the United States.  Next swing around to I-84 via I-205 and venture east.  The Vista House at Crown Point should be your first stop.  Then stay on the scenic path and stop at all the waterfalls.  Multnomah Falls is the most popular and offers food, information, and restrooms.  One option is to get back on I-84 and cross over to Washington State at Cascade Locks.  Be sure to stop at the base of the bridge in Cascade Locks ( Bridge of The Gods) to look at the river and get some pictures of the bridge.  When you cross over, you can check out the city of Stevenson just to the east about five minutes, or you can head back toward Vancouver.  See my previous post on Stevenson for more on the city.  On your way back to Vancouver you’ll see Beacon Rock State Park.  This is interesting from an historical and geological point of view.  The rock is actually the core of a volcano that was referenced by Lewis and Clark.  You can climb to the top and get some incredible views of the area.  Continuing east you’ll come to the city of Washougal where you’ll see the Pendleton Woolen Mill along Hwy 14.  Stop here if you want a tour of the mill or want to purchase some merchandise from the most famous maker of wool blankets.

If you have even more time to explore the Columbia River Gorge, don’t turn off at Cascade Locks and keep traveling east toward Hood River.  The little town of Hood River is well known for its apples, cherries, berries, and other fruit crops that are available beginning in June.  You’ll see the flyers for the Hood River Fruit Loop at all the information stations in the Gorge.  Continuing east will bring you to The Dalles, Oregon.   Stop at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center to learn about the Columbia River and Native Americans that lived off the river until the politicians demanded electricity for every American.  This farther end of the gorge is unlike the area around Multnomah Falls.  Here in The Dalles you’ll find more arid conditions that add to the experience.

Regardless of the path you choose when you set foot out of Seattle you won’t be disappointed.  Just be sure to check for alerts on the web sites of where you’re headed.  Summer is also known as road construction time so check the ODOT and WSDOT sites before you get on the road.  Enjoy your time with nature in the Northwest and remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Did it Actually Happen?

The past week was anything but dull.  Pope Benedict XVI resigned, a meteorite hit Russia with the force of an atomic bomb, and the soap opera like story of the renegade ex-cop Dorner came to an end.  Things that we thought could never happen did actually happen and what we thought only happens in the movies did actually happen as well.  I’m starting to really believe that anything can happen!

Some interesting posts this week on the internet.

One activity that truly helped to make life more interesting was visiting Chinatown in Portland today.  Teams of Lion Dancers made their way around to restaurants and businesses to bring blessings for the new year.  The dances are complete with drums, cymbals, and firecrackers.  You can’t help but get excited with all the energy produced by these loud and colorful exhibitions.  Below are some pictures.  Enjoy!

Lion Dance Team

Chinese New Year 2013 Portland

Chinese New Year 2013 Lion Dance Team

Chinese New Year 2013 Lion Dance Team

Portland Chinese Gardens New Year 2013 Celebrations

Portland Chinese Gardens New Year 2013 Celebrations

Oregon Wine Country

Exploring the Oregon wine country is a memorable experience.  The vineyards, fruit, wine casks, comfortable patios, and that smell of wine is not easily forgotten.  We’ve visited a many in the Southern Willamette Valley and some just Southwest of Portland.  Wine tasting is available any time of year.  Summer touring is fun but the grapes are harvested in the fall and that’s really interesting to watch.  Ripe fruit makes for a better picture than the cluster of tiny green balls that you’ll see in the summer.  Unfortunately it’s getting hard to find a winery that offers free wine tasting.  Something tells me that most of them could use some help in marketing their products.  During a recent trip my wife some friends tasted at a couple of locations and purchased 3 bottles.  The prices were on the high side so we had to put on the brakes.  We’re still enjoying the wine now that we’re home and hope to go back to explore more vineyards in the near future.  They’re peaceful and relaxing even before you begin tasting.  If you’re visiting Western Oregon, even with kids, one or two vineyards should be on your list of activities.   They’re not far from the cities along I-5 and they’re usually not far apart.

Flower Pot Purse

Big-Ass Sandwiches Portland

Our weekend guests from down South wanted to see downtown Portland and if possible visit the Big-Ass Sandwich restaurant.  You might have heard about this restaurant on the Food Network or on YouTube.  They make really big sandwiches stuffed with a tasty bunch of french fries.  They also create a long-ass line of customers that wrap around the corner.  Fortunately it was an incredibly beautiful day so the hour and fifteen minutes to place our order was not a killer.  It gave us plenty of time to talk and people watch, and oh yes there were people to watch.  Of course the girls sat across the street in the shade at another restaurant where they ordered and ate lunch while we made our way slowly toward the trailer.  I really expected the girl taking our order to rush us through the process, but she actually was very calm and worked with us to make the right choice.  After waiting another 15 minutes to receive our order, we walked it down to the Saturday Market.   Carefully unwrapping our Big-Ass Sandwiches we caught the fries that started to fall, inhaled the aroma, laid our eyes on the bun, and finally embarked on our first bite.  Yes, it was a Big-Ass Sandwich by name and by size.  Was it worth the wait?  It certainly was not for the food, but yes for the experience?  The trip downtown gave our guests the unique Portland experience.  A Food Network highlighted restaurant, a super long line winding out of Voodoo Doughnuts, pierced and tattooed citizens, dog walkers, street entertainers, inner city survivalists, and there we even tourists.

My Big-Ass Ham Sandwich