#1 Favourite Thing

24 07 2015

You may not have realized, but I didn’t mention what my favorite #1 thing that we experienced on San Juan Island was on my last post.  And if Alpacas made #2 on my list (and really, how cute were they – you can’t get much better than that!)…..

You also may not have realized that I never did go back to the topic of whale watching….

Now, before I get to the big reveal, let me set the scene.

During my research for our family trip to the San Juan’s, one thing was clear.  I wanted to see whales.  Ideally more than one.  But definitely Orca whales in the wild, while not on a whale watching tour.

Luckily for me, San Juan Island has Lime Kiln Point State Park, otherwise known as ‘Whale Watch Park‘.  It is a 36 acre day use park set on the west side of San Juan Island and is considered to be one of the best places in the world to view whales from shore.  So, this stop was what the entire trip was built around.

The San Juan Islands are home to 3 resident pods of Orca Whales.  J-Pod, K-Pod and L-Pod.  Individually, each pod has more than 20 members, and as a total more than 80 whales.  Great odds that we would be able to see these whales in the wild.  Especially since they are known to hang out together and intermingle.  The males visit other pods to mate, but they always go back to mama.  Orca whales exist in a matriarchal society.

On it’s own, the park is beautiful and a great place to stop for a picnic lunch.  Too bad we were too impatient, and also had our heart (and stomach’s) set on lunching at Madrona Bar & Grill at Roche Harbor.  So we had to settle for taking in the views while munching on granola bars.

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Just like on the ferry boat, we looked as hard as we could.  We scoured the horizon and I had my camera poised for action.


Then I started watching the other people around us doing the same thing.  Until I finally saw someone pointing.  I whipped my head around and I swear I saw a flash of black and white.  It was an Orca!  I swear….it was an Orca.

The family was a little skeptical, until I started doubting myself as well.

And then we saw a dorsal fin breach.  I was redeemed.

Until I zoomed in and compared what was on the camera with what was on the informational chart.  There’s no way that fin belongs to an Orca.  Instead, it appears that what I saw was a Minke Whale.  The second smallest of the baleen whales, and black/gray/purple in colour on the body and white underneath.  So I guess that’s why I thought I saw a flash of black and white.  Because I did.

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We watched for a while longer.  People started to get bored and wandered off to explore the lighthouse.  Finally, our stomachs started talking, no, demanding – that if this is all we were going to see than there were other things that we need to be moving onto.  Like food.  Like crab mac and cheese and clam chowder, sitting on the deck while watching harbor seals in the marina.  Ok, well maybe my stomach wasn’t demanding to watch harbor seals, but my stomach and my mind were in agreement.  Time to move on.

We made our way back to the parking lot.  Thinking about lunch, but already planning on when we could come back to really whale watch.  Maybe we double back and come back after lunch, or maybe we have to plan a whole other trip back another time.

THEN WAIT.  We ran into a kindhearted stranger who was rushing to her car to grab jackets for her and her husband.  WHALES!  There are reports that K Pod is coming around the point!  WHAT????

I ran.  Screw the crab mac and cheese (that incidentally, did end up being delicious).  I want to see whales.  So we went crashing back down the path, and I got a little excited and kind of went off roading and careened full steam into some bushes before I got redirected to the more civilized and correct path to walk down.

People were lined up on the rocky point by the Lighthouse.  Waiting.  Watching.

My camera was poised, my muscles tense.

Jonathan was manning the binoculars and yells out, ‘They’re coming!! They’re coming! There’s so many of them!’ 

We looked out to the water, and just barely you could see some white waters waves – a little bigger than white caps, coming around the point.  But it could just as easily have been ferry waves that were heading towards the shore.

But then the whale watching boats start to appear and here comes the whales!

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I was so focused on trying to take photos, I felt stressed and excited and nervous and exhilarated, all at the same time.  I heard laughing and cheering.  Ooohs and Aaahhs.  There they are.  Over there.  Now that one.  Look at that!

I was so zoomed in I had to look away and up to make sure that I wasn’t so focused on the macro that I was missing leaps and breaches.

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But these whales were on the move.  They came in fast and furious – porpoising in groups of 2, 3, 4 at a time.

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They came tearing past us for what seemed like forever, but probably was more like 5 minutes.  We saw this resident pod of whales, as we stood on the rocks, closer than we ever would have on a whale watching tour (unless they actually came up to the boat and swam under us like you see on the youtube videos).

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Finally, the last of the pod disappeared around the lighthouse, ready for their next audience at the other end of the park.  It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.  And it would be hard to compete with.

It took a while before I could stop watching for the whales, running back down the trail to see if I could catch up with them (never going to happen).  Throughout the rest of the trip, whenever there was a silent moment, one of us would say, ‘those whales’ and we would all relive the experience.  THE Best experience ever.

Which makes me think that I’ve ruined myself for future whale sightings.  I’m spoiled and unless I see a full breach and backflip, nothing is going to top this experience.

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Off to the Islands….

22 07 2015

San Juans.  That is.

Much to the surprise of many of our Seattleite-friends, I have never visited the San Juan Islands.  It’s almost the equivalent of telling the locals that you’ve never been to Alaska – what???  You wouldn’t think that not seeing Alaska was out of the ordinary, but it appears that Alaska is a pretty common trip out here.  And that too, is a place I have yet to visit.

For this maiden voyage to the San Juan Islands we decided to make it a family affair.  With the 5 of us stuffed into the FJ we started our journey on a grey, drizzly Saturday – typically common for the Pacific NorthWest but after the summer we’ve been having it was not the type of weather I wanted or was expecting for my little family vacation.  But we eased our way to Anacortes, WA – 1.5 hours north of Seattle and our first stop on our 4 day adventure.

After enjoying lunch at Gere-a-Deli‘s in downtown historic Anacortes, with giant portions of traditional deli sandwiches and fluffy slabs of cheesecake and tasty spiced oat cake, we eased our way to Mount Erie.  Luckily for us there was a road up to the summit because after the lunch that we had, we were in no shape for a hike, or perhaps because of our shape, maybe we should have hiked….

At an elevation of 1300 feet, the summit at Mt. Erie is the highest point of Fidalgo Island and offers views of the San Juan Islands.

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Great opportunity for photos with the best view points near the antennas.  And if the scenic overlook isn’t good enough, you can always climb a tree like Nathan to get your shot.

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Apparently this is a destination spot for rock climbers as well and hikers and view-gawkers are warned not to drop anything over the viewpoints.

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Day 1 of Family Vacation: San Juan Islands edition.  Unexpected Viewpoints.  Check.

All Aboard!

15 07 2015

It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden a train other than Amtrak.  And it’s a whole different feeling to be riding a train for the enjoyment of the ride rather than for where it’s going to take you.  When I’m on an Amtrak train, usually I’m trying to decide how much time I have to fit in a quality nap.  Don’t want to fall asleep before they do their first rounds, but don’t want to leave it too late that I wake up and arrive groggy at my final destination.  Tough decisions I know.

Well, it appears that when I am riding scenic train rides, what I have to worry about is staying inside the car and not dropping anything and losing it halfway into the train ride.  Well, unfortunately for my polarized filter lens, I did not manage to succeed here.  And although it had me still hanging out the window on the way back, searching the train route for my missing lens, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the ride…..or taking photos.

We spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon enjoying the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad tour, a steam train which took us from Elbe, WA to Mineral, WA, through the forest and foothills south of Mt. Rainier.

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Train Ride

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Like any seasoned traveler and sightseer, I made sure to make friends with a few people before boarding the train, to ensure that I had the best seat in house.

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Unfortunately THIS seat was taken

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But when the majority of riders were enclosed in A/C-cooled cars with views dulled by glass, I led my family to the front of the train to the open-air car, with plenty of fresh air wafting through the openings and plenty of room to hang out the window.  The only rule – don’t grab onto any tree branches.

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The green landscape set against blue skies were wonderful to look at, but the real gem of the ride was the view of Mt. Rainier as we crossed over the Upper Nisqually River.

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Overall, a great a way to spend a Sunday afternoon, get out of the city and buy some sun-warmed Rainier cherries from the roadside fruit stand.  

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Just a Little Bird Watching

23 06 2015

You just never know when wildlife is going to appear at your window.  Recently there have been videos bouncing around with orca whale sightings in Burrard Inlet – which have made me SUPER jealous.  One day I hope to be in the right place at the right time.

In the meantime, I shall pack the camera on random errands….just in case.

And although I do not have any whale sightings to report, we did manage to have quite the bird watching day recently.

First we enjoyed the sights of a sleepy Saturday morning aboard the Southworth ferry.
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And although we had only planned to run some errands in Port Orchard and have lunch in Poulsbo, we took a little detour to Seabeck to enjoy the views.

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We caught a Sea Gull enjoying some lunch…

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And a Great Blue Heron that looks like she’s curtsying for an unseen audience…

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And then we were WOW’d by a Bald Eagle sitting on a telephone pole, like he was overseeing his pride lands.

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I am still impressed at how big these eagles are.  You can’t really tell when they’re circling up in the sky.  But, when this eagle started getting harassed by the crows and took to the skies for a little bit of size intimidation…well it’s pretty obvious he’s just a little bigger than the crow.

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I’d be pretty intimidated if this was coming at me – talons first.

Fields of Gold

14 05 2015

Tulip Festival?  Yeah, that’s exactly what a 16 year old boy wants to do

I detected just a hint of sarcasm when my friend Kyle said this to me after I spoke of our detour plans to cap off our West Coast Spring Break adventures.

Heading back to Seattle after spending a night in Vancouver – it just made perfect sense to stop in at the Skagit Tulip Festival…especially on a week day.

The festival runs April 1 – 30 and hundreds of thousands of people visit each year to take in the immense colour story that takes place.  But, mother nature has a way of marching to the beat of her own drum and there was talk of an early bloom in March.  So since we were passing by anyway, we took a shot and although we were a little early in the season for the rows upon rows of colourful tulip fields, we did get to experience the fields of gold filled with daffodils standing tall….without the weekend crowds.

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Well, Kyle was pretty much spot on.  After an initial nod of appreciation to the seemingly unending yellow fields, Jonathan followed me around the planters filled with early tulips and hyacinth and watched as I crouched down low to get up close and personal with these perennials and tried to capture shots of the buzzing bees busy pollinating up a storm.

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He thought maybe he’d have a little more luck of some sort of entertainment tagging along with Nathan, but those hopes were short lived – as soon as we crossed back onto US soil Nathan’s phone was back ‘online’ and without the fear of exorbitant roaming fees, he was back to work and could be seen ‘enjoying’ the view weaving through daffodil fields aimlessly while talking on his phone.

Jonathan found himself drawn back to me and my honey bee stalking.  After some frustrating moments trying to capture my bees with a camera with no auto focus, I gave up, manual focus requires the guaranteed stillness of plants.  But even that isn’t guaranteed – one stiff breeze, or even a gentle sway, and everything starts to get a little fuzzy.

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Well, there’s only so long you can drag a teenager around in the flower beds, so we headed out for lunch in La Conner – chowder and fish and chips by the waterfront – something a little more exciting than flowers to our ‘foodie in training’.  Well, another visit during peak tulip season is in order, but perhaps we’ll leave the 16 year old at home.

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Transitioning: Summer to Fall

8 10 2014

Now that green is starting to ease into yellow, orange and red and a crispness is starting to add a little snap to the air, I’m starting to reminisce on my summer moments.


Maybe I was ‘living in the moment’ and really living in the experience rather than thinking about how I was going to re-tell the story.  Or maybe I was too busy trying to pack as much activity into the warm weather as possible that I rushed through one activity in search of the next.  Either way, Fall is approaching, and with the changing of the leaves brings just enough transition that it’s made me pause in place and gather photos from the summer.

Everyone goes through the transition from Summer to Fall.  Preparation for hibernation perhaps?  The excitement to bring back over-sized sweaters, cuddly scarves and of course those Fall boots!  I have a love-hate relationship with said boots.  I spend my days admiring the different boots that I see prancing down the street – chocolate brown, black, wedge heel, flat stomping boots, sleek and stylish high-heeled boots.  Needless to say, I have boot envy.  I see everyone looking fantastic in their fall boots – really the perfect accessory for fall outfits.  But whenever I find myself on the hunt for the perfect boots I end up frustrated and sad because, after all, I carry my height in my torso.  I have short legs and athletic calves.  The worst combination!  Which essentially means that boots don’t fit me – even the ones with extended calf sizes 😦

But enough about the boots.  I find myself on a tangent as meandering as the paths I hope to stroll through this Fall – stomping through all of the fallen leaves and hearing that satisfying ‘crunch crunch crunch‘ as I walk.

Finally I’m looking back at what took place this summer – a summer that took Seattle by surprise with day after day of 80+ degree weather.

Seattle Sights:


The Great Wheel

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Kayaking around Alki

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Making Discoveries!


Alki Sunsets


Great Friends…


And Ferry Boats.


Mt. Rainier Sunsets

Exploring the ‘wilderness’ of Port Orchard:

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Whirlwind Work Trips in Chicago:


Chicago Art


Chicago Architecture

Home (Vancouver):

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Vancouver Icon – ‘Canada Place’

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Sunsets at Vancouver Harbour

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Deer Lake Park

Food – delicious, beautiful, tasty morsels of goodness!


Neapolitan Style Pizza


Farmer Fresh Artisanal Snack Plates


Chocolate Covered Figs

It feels like the summer was over in a blink but at the same time, with so many consecutive days of sunshine, it seemed like it was gorgeous day after gorgeous day – which puts a lot of pressure on a person.  Especially a person from the Pacific Northwest, where you cannot take sunshine for granted and on each sunny day you feel pressure to kick yourself out of bed and DO something.  Anything really.  You’ve got to head straight to those walking/running paths, be in or on the water, be at the farmers market every weekend, and eat and drink on every patio you come across.  By the time Fall arrives you’re just exhausted from all of those sunny days and secretly wishing for a rainy day so you don’t have to feel so guilty for spending a day inside watching movies (or a How I met your mother/Orange is the new black/House of Cards marathon).  

LOVED summer.  LOVE summer.  But (as I look right and left and duck my head) I’m kind of ready for Fall.  I’m sure in a month, when Seattle descends into its Grey season and there are more rainy days than not rainy days, I will take back those words – but for now, after over 40 days of 80+ degree weather this summer – I’m ready for an excuse to have a lazy day.

Two Different Ways to Spend January 1, 2014

21 01 2014

I can’t really tell you a lot about this next adventure.  Truthfully, when Nathan said, ‘do you want to go hike up that mountain to the flag pole?  It’s about a 5 hour return trip,’ I thought to myself…..I could go on a hike and start this New Year off right by hiking on January 1st OR I could enjoy the last day of Arizona sunshine and soak up some sun while I’m reading a book in the backyard…… Tough choice, kind of….but not really.

So, I opted to spend a day reading in the sun and getting tan lines on January 1, 2014.

Nathan and Jonathan went hiking up this:


There’s not exactly a path – just old waterfall trails where they had to scale up large boulders and skid down slippery shale rocks.  But the views were worth it.

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Every year a group of Hillcrest Bay folks take on the challenge of the hike and put a new flag up.  I have to say, seeing the flag whipping in the wind from down below, it looks a lot more professional than the reality of the flag pole from the top.  They hadn’t gotten to the 2014 trip yet…





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They almost made it through unscathed.  But then came the attack of the prickly pear.

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It took them 4 hours to climb up and walk a round-about way back down.  In that time, I read a book, ate Christmas leftovers and soaked up the sun to get a shade or two darker.  Who had the better day?