Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time

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Four Nights In Tofino

When I first read a magazine piece on Tofino, I knew I had to go there. Big beaches to walk, good food, a casual atmosphere, fishing, and surfing if you have more balance and coordination than I do.  Occasionally, Tofino would rise to the top of my list after seeing another article or a mention from a friend.

Then two years ago, we had a housesit on Vancouver Island and a stretch of good weather. I looked up the distance from the house in Parksville and decided that if we got an early start, we could go out and back in one day; a sort of recon mission for a future trip. So we loaded up our petsit charge, a lovely springer spaniel, put on our beach walking shoes, grabbed drinks and snacks and headed Vancouver Island Housesit January2015 (316).jpgout.

What followed was a five hour round trip on some narrow, twisty roads through beautiful forest, a five mile walk on a beach that seemed to go on forever, and a great lunch overlooking the town and water.

As I drove us back, hubby and pup both sound asleep, I vowed to come back when we could spend more time.

Fast forward to this January and the opportunity to return to Vancouver Island to care for the springer wonderdog came around. This time, we planned for an extra bit of time at the end of the sit to make a run to Tofino. I had read much about the Wickaninnish Inn over the years and had thought to spoil ourselves with a couple nights there but found it closes in January for annual cleaning and maintenance. There are many other options for lodging in Tofino, from budget to luxury, but I couldn’t pass up a Rewards member deal at the Best Western Tin Wis Resort so I booked two nights.

The drive out to Tofino runs through Port Alberni and along Sproat Lake, then becomes narrower as it cuts through the rainforest before dumping you out at the coast. It is a 2.5 hour drive on a good day and our day just that, sunny and temperate. As we went, I marked a few places I wanted to pull over for photos on our way back. Once at the coast, a left turn will take you into Ucluelet and a right turn will take you to Tofino, taking you through the Pacific Rim park and passing many beaches along the way.

We found the Tin Wis, a native phrase for “calm waters”, without too much trouble. It sits right on Mackenzie Beach and is more of a motel style in that the “hallways” are open to the elements facing the parking.  This also means every room faces the beach. We snagged a room on the second floor, which had us carrying our suitcases up two flights of stairs as there is no elevator, but also gave us an elevated view of the beach from our balcony.

After settling in, we drove into Tofino for lunch. It’s a short 2-3 mile drive. A recommendation from a bartender in Vancouver sent us to the Wolf and the Fog. They have a smallish bar area downstairs for lunch and a larger restaurant upstairs for dinner. Hubby ordered the burger and a brew on tap.  I had a shrimp po-boy with big prawns lightly battered and stuffed in a roll with amazing Asian-inspired slaw.

I washed it down with one of their specialty cocktails, a Cedar Sour made with cedar-infused rye.  It was quite unique with a definite woody flavor that left a bit of a tannic dryness in my mouth.


After lunch, we strolled through town, poking into the shops carrying trinkets, clothes suited to the area, and of course, surfing equipment.

Needing more steps to walk off the lunch, we headed back to the hotel, changed into our beach shoes, and walked out on Mackenzie Beach. It’s a nice curved. sandy beach, small by Tofino standards but big anywhere else.

We walked from end to end, exploring the tide pools in the rocks at either end.


Back in the hotel, we decided that dinner wasn’t in the cards after our big lunch so we spent the evening enjoying the sunset and a glass of wine on our balcony.

Mackenzie Beach Sunset (4)

The next morning, we decided breakfast would be a good idea before we set out for the day. The restaurant at the hotel is nicely appointed and it has a sunroom/patio area that looked to be quite nice for summertime use. The food was basic but done well and the service was decent. Then it was off to the beach – but which one? We chose Long Beach where we had walked two years before. And it is long – stretching off into the distance in either direction from the parking area. We walked and walked and finally decided we should turn back while we still had the energy for the return trip.

Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and decided to head to The Schooner for dinner. We 20150128_121614.jpghad been here for lunch on our first trip and it also came recommended by the Vancouver bartender. It’s upstairs and has a lovely view of the Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. We started with a sampler of oysters – classic Rockafeller, Robatta with miso, ginger and lime, and my favorite, Nami Nori, which are fried and finished with honey wasabi mayo and tobiko. Then we shared Halibut Bawden Bay stuffed with shrimp, crab and brie. Good thing we split the meal!

The next morning, we headed into Ucluelet, about 35 miles from Tofino. Much of it is built on black rock so there aren’t beaches to walk but I was more interested in the Amphritite lighthouse and its section of the Wild Pacific Trail. It did not disappoint. The lighthouse is a short downhill walk from the parking area and the trail perches on the rocks above beautiful blue green ocean.

The walk is pretty flat with just a little up and down, mostly dirt, and has several places to stop for a break or a picture.  We could have walked much more on the Wild Pacific Trail but we had some other things to explore.


Back in Uke, as Ucluelet is known, we stopped by Pina, a print shop that specializes in Pacific Northwest inspired designs. We had stopped in their boutique in Tofino and admired the designs but when the gal there said we could have them custom made at the Uke store for the same price, we knew we must stop there. Soon we were leaving with our first souvenirs – two hooded sweatshirts (we wear a lot of hoodies in Alaska) with designs on the front and sleeves that we’d chosen from books of many. Not only did we have a memento of our trip but these became our new “dress hoodies”, a concept from Alaska where you have a hoodie or two that are worthy of a casual evening out.

We had to check out Wickaninnish Beach on our way back.   It’s a bit of a drive in from the highway which ends in several parking areas.  A short walk through the trees brings you to a relatively steep beach popular with surfers.

Even in January, they are donning wetsuits in the parking lot.  We were fortunate to catch several of them showing off their skills.  Wickanninish Beach Surfers (29)

We also saw a pair of eagles on the sand and upon further investigation, found they were making a meal of a dead seal that had washed up.

Dead critters aside, this is a big beach with plenty of room to walk.  There is also Kwistis Visitor Centre at the south end of the beach but we spent too long on the beach and missed it.  Next time!

We arrived home just in time for sunset on Mackenzie Beach – best observed with a glass of wine in hand as we had discovered on our first night here.

Mackenzie Beach Sunset (1)

Are you surprised that we headed out to the beach again the next day?  This time we headed to Incinerator Rock at the north end of Long Beach. We walked north and the beach curved around a point and we were able to check out the tidepools around a little “island” on the way.  It was definitely the quieter end of the beach.

Long Beach - Tofino (12)

Back at the parking area, we watched others climb up Incinerator Rock for a picture.  Then we zipped back towards town so we could get lunch at the last of our recommended spots.  Tacofino has their original taco truck (they are also in Vancouver and Victoria) at back of a complex that includes Chocolate Tofino and Wildside Grill.  Hubby got a huge basket of ling cod and chips from Wildside and I got fish tacos  and a bowl of tortilla soup for us to share from Tacofino – both excellent choices that we enjoyed at the outdoor tables next to Tacofino.  Of course before we left, we had to grab some chocolates at Chocolate Tofino and promise ourselves we’d make it back for their gelato.  (Sadly, we never did as they close quite early so weren’t open when the dessert craving hit)

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For our final night’s dinner, we headed to Long Beach Lodge.  This resort consists of individual cabins lining the road to the lodge which sits above a small but popular surfing beach.  The lodge is beautiful – very open, northwest decor, with a nice view.  The bartender did a great job at making gin fizzes (a rare find these days) and then we shared our way through the menu.  We started with Venison Carpaccio – smoked venison & foraged salad with cherries & local Tofino coffee oil.  Then we shared a 22-day aged rib eye that was cooked to perfection and finished with a giant French macaron for dessert. It was the perfect ending to a fabulous trip.


As you can tell, we had extended our stay by a couple of days since we were having so much beach and foodie fun but we decided would leave Friday and drive into Victoria for the weekend.  We awoke to muffled surf sounds and looking out the window, saw that a couple inches of snow had fallen.


It was coming down hard but we had reservations in town and we are, after all, Alaskans with a 4WD truck so we packed up and checked out.  By this time, there were 5-6 inches and still coming down.  The desk clerk said she’d seen the RCMP Mountie rig in the ditch that morning and urged me to take coffee and snacks for the long drive.  And it was long – 5.5 hours long – with the first 3.5 hours at 25-35 miles an hour as we wended our way along that narrow road with 4-12 inches of wet snow packing into ice.  Needless to say, those spots I marked for pictures were passed by.  It was a relief to turn our keys over to the valet at the Magnolia Hotel with instructions to park the truck for three days.

As we settled in, the memory of the long drive fading in the glow of the fireplace, we looked back at our little runaway to the outer coast.  Tofino and Ucluelet are small places but their backyard is huge and we have enough things left undone that I can imagine a return trip is likely in the cards!


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How to (Almost) Enjoy a SeaTac Layover

I’ve spent my fair share of time in airports over the years, ranging from London’s Heathrow to the little King Salmon airport in western Alaska.  Honestly, I don’t really mind spending a bit of time in airports, likely because I don’t like tight connections where I’m forced to run, say from one end of Chicago’s O’Hare to the other.  I prefer a more relaxed pace (and maybe a stop at Garrett’s Popcorn in said O’Hare).  I fill my layovers with walking, poking in shops, grabbing a bite, or just some quiet reading.  Knowing I have a little cushion for the inevitable issues that arise makes it easier to go with the flow and enjoy the journey.

Recently, hubby gave me a brief synopsis of an article on how to spend a layover in Seattle-Tacoma airport, better known as SeaTac.  I was surprised the number one takeaway was “don’t miss Ivar’s”.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Ivar’s chowder and we usually share a cup when we riding the Washington State Ferry but there is so much more to SeaTac.

Seattle-Tacoma is a hub for Alaska Airlines – the only airline who flies to my hometown of Juneau.  People flying out of Southeast Alaska must pass through either Anchorage International or SeaTac and like me, most head through Seattle as it has the most options for onward travel.  Many times, Seattle and its surrounding area are not just a stop but the destination for work or a little R&R.  Suffice to say Southeast folks are familiar with SeaTac.  We have a saying…”You know you’re at the right gate when you recognize your fellow Alaskans.”

So just how do I fill my time at SeaTac?  The answer largely depends on how much time I have.  The last time we came through, we allowed plenty of time to get our bags checked and through security.  We were leaving on a Monday morning which is typically very busy and near spring break so it felt like we might have a bit of double jeopardy.  I’d checked us in online the night before and printed our bag tags at the hotel business center.  When we got to the airport, we were directed by an Alaska Airlines agent to a line that had – wait for it – no other people in it!  A few minutes later, we were headed to the security checkpoint where our TSA PreCheck status sped us through the process and dumped us out at the Pacific Marketplace.  This beautiful hall with its soaring ceiling and floor to roof windows is an excellent place to start your layover.

We had almost two hours to fill so we headed to our favorite eatery, Anthony’s, a Pacific Northwest chain specializing in seafood.  No matter where you find them, the food is consistent, fresh and yummy.  Now I’ve got three favorites at Anthony’s in SeaTac, depending on the time of day.  Need a quick bite? They offer all kinds of appetizers but I usually grab some oysters on the half shell and a glass of champagne.  Lunch or supper time?  They have some amazing fish dishes but I’m partial to the Anthony’s Cobb Salad with all the usual trimmings plus bay shrimp and an unexpected but delicious bit of mango.  But on this trip, given it was morning, we decided to share a Northwest Scramble with smoked salmon, green onions and cream cheese.  Served with a lovely piece of blueberry coffee cake with cinnamon butter and the bloody mary and mimosa we ordered, it was the wonderful way to start our trip home.  A couple of tips about Anthony’s – they can get busy but when the wait seems long, see if there is bar seating.  And if you have a choice, grab a table in the back next to those big windows. You’ll be rewarded with a little bit more quiet and a view of the comings and goings of the airline formerly known as Horizon, the regional arm of Alaska Airlines.

Need to walk off that meal?  Take a stroll around the hall and check out the options for your next layover.  There are several options in the food court, including Ivar’s, where you can grab a quick bite, a cup of coffee (because you are in Seattle after all) or a magazine. And what’s that catching your eye with all manner of items in their window display?  That would be Fireworks, a store chock full of things you won’t find anywhere else.  Ok – so this is where hubby takes a seat outside, not so patiently waiting for me, while I check out the earrings, scarves, kid toys, and many other items before making a purchase for a friend back home.  Word to the wise – Fireworks has a new store over at the N gates and it is much less crowded but still full of wonderful treasures. In fact, their selection was a little different and I made yet another purchase of our grandkids-by-proxy over there.

And very near Fireworks is another favorite stop of mine, Vino Volo.  If I’m not hungry or don’t want the full on restaurant experience, I’ll head here for a bit of quiet time.  It’s a small wine bar with a great selection of wines and available flights for those who want to sample, like me.  They also have a small food menu if you want a little nosh with your glass.  What I love about Vino Volo is the comfortable seating and relaxed atmosphere.  You could almost forget you are at an airport.  And if you like, they’ll help you pick out a bottle of wine to stuff in your carryon for your next destination, a last minute hostess gift perhaps?  My best Vino Volo tip is download their app and join the loyalty program for some coupons and specials and to find them at other airports.

There are so many other places to spend your layover – get a manicure at Butter on the C concourse before stopping into Beecher’s for some Seattle cheesy goodness or grabbing something for the plane at Uwajimaya.  Got some serious time to spend?  Consider a day pass at Alaska Airlines’ Board Room, currently still on the D concourse but their new one is now open over at the N gates.  $45 will get you a quiet, comfy place to recharge yourself and your electronics, complimentary snacks and beverages, a sparkling clean restroom, and concierge service that will help you keep tabs on your stuff and your next flight.

So next time your plans take you through SeaTac, plan a little extra time to check out the many options there.  And when you get to the gate filled with a sea of down parkas and hooded sweatshirts being worn by people squinting at the sunshine, look for me – that’s the flight to Juneau.

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The Day We Saw the Cherries

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – as an Alaska girl, nothing impresses me more than seeing where food, produce specifically, comes from. In Juneau, with the exception of fresh seafood, most of our food is barged or flown in. Lately, there is more interest in vegetable gardening to supplement the veggies we can buy at the store, at least during our short growing season.

At our house, we divided our space into the front garden of flowers and shrubs and the back which houses our teeny greenhouse of tomatoes, raised beds of greens and root veggies, an herb garden, and tubs of potatoes. This year, we were thrilled with the apples ripening on our very small tree in the backyard. Hubby was concerned the bears might discover them but so far, they’ve not found their way.
All this to say that when we travel, I love finding local produce and products but true happiness is being able to wander through an orchard when the fruit is ripening. We are fortunate to have family friends with orchards in Omak, Washington, who let us stop by on our travels and take the time to explain the process of getting from tree to table. This year, we decided to housesit in the summer – a rare event for us as we prefer to be home fishing and tending our own gardens –so we made a point to include a visit our friends during cherry season. omak-cherry-orchards-8

Cherries are a precious commodity in Juneau. They are one of the more expensive fruits we buy and have a very limited season. It’s a happy day when we see our favorite, Rainier cherries, at the store. To see them growing on trees, to be able to pick and eat them right there was truly amazing.omak-cherry-orchards-48

Walking among the cherry trees was just as wonderful as walking through the apple and pear orchards – even if it was 95 degrees which is way too hot for a Juneau girl.  I love seeing the ladders that seem to beckon you to climb up and pick.


Some things I learned about cherries:

  • There are so many different kinds of cherries that never make it to our stores or even to the roadside markets – I love them all!
  • They use helicopters to dry the cherries after a rain. It’s a very dangerous job as the helicopter fly very low. You can imagine how very expensive it is for the orchard owner and of course, that cost is directly translated to the price of cherries in the market.
  • Cherries are placed into bins similar to those used for apples but much smaller and the bins are hauled by tractors, just like the apples are.


  • If you’re lucky, you have a guy with one of these trucks that backs right over the row of stacked cherry bins and picks them up all at once and off they go.

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  • The bruises on unpicked cherries can be caused by wind causing the fruit to bump into other. I know people who have ready access to cherries are put off by this but frankly, lifelong Alaskans are less picky about their produce. I had no problem picking that bruised fruit and popping it straight in my mouth.
  • A rain before harvest can cause the cherries to split at the stem; another blemish that makes them less marketable.
  • Bruised or blemished fruit could be made into juice, etc. but the cost of picking is so much more than the price they sell for so they are frequently left on the trees.

Neglected fruit makes me sad! So we quickly accepted the invitation and took our little bag to the orchards and rescued a few pounds for our trip up the AlCan Highway home.

Nothing beats a hot summer day spitting cherry pits out the window!  Now how am I going to get a cherry tree into the backyard?

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Housesitting Perks – A Room with a View

When you housesit, you look at pictures of the home and discuss it with the homeowners but you never really know the whole arrangement until you are there, settling in for the duration of the owner’s vacation. One somewhat regular housesit for us is on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, Washington. It comes with a funny cat who is rather standoffish initially but wants attention on her schedule – when she jumps up on her bench to be petted and brushed and when the sun is coming up and she thinks it time for breakfast! It also comes with a lovely lagoon front property which is just two blocks off the ocean and huge windows to immerse yourself in the view.

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I truly enjoy watching the world go by on that lagoon with a cup of tea or a glass of wine in hand. There’s the neighbors coming up from their Seattle home for the weekend. It takes them just 45 minutes to run up in their shiny new boat; much faster than driving up and catching the ferry across to the island. The folks across the way got their big catamaran underway for a couple days so we were able to watch him maneuver in and out of his berth in that big craft, a mighty impressive feat. There’s a guy up the way who sets crab pots near the ocean entrance giving us our own ideas about crab fishing. And there are several folks who gets their exercise paddling the lagoon in kayaks.
And then there is the wildlife. In our Juneau, Alaska home, we see all manner of wildlife – eagles nesting behind our house, deer browsing alongside the highway, an occasional coyote behind the local grocery store, whales feeding when we are out fishing, and bears underneath our bedroom window in the middle of the night. Nonetheless, a wildlife sighting is still occasion to stop everything. The first thing you notice on Whidbey is the plethora of deer. They are everywhere and have little fear.


This momma and her fawns were usually found lunching across the street and paid no attention when we stopped the truck for a picture.


We saw lots of ducks in the lagoon but this lady mallard came most days to wander on the patio in search of birdseed the doves left behind.


Then there was this great blue heron who came almost every day to try his fishing luck from the docks in the lagoon.


On this day, he was having a bad feather day!


But he managed to get them under control


Ever wonder what they look like underneath?


He did a pretty good job of sneaking up on his prey and darting his beak into the water for dinner.


His dinner looks a little startled!


And then there was the day hubby came in the house saying “Get your camera quick”. Turns out there were otters on the dock.


Not only did they wait for me to get the camera but it almost seems they are posing for the pictures.


So to our homeowners whom we now call friends, thank you so much for sharing your room with a view with us!

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Klondike Highway – A Surprise at the Robinson Flag Stop

On our last day of our summer roadtrip, we were headed from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Skagway, Alaska on the Klondike Highway.  It’s one of my favorite drives and one I’ve made many times.  There is so much wonderful scenery and historic significance from the Gold Rush.  It still feels almost novel to me because I remember when this highway didn’t exist. There was so much talk around building the road and what a treacherous mountain pass it would be but the economics of transporting ore by road made it feasible.

Before the road was built, there was a railroad that traveled the entire distance – the White Pass Yukon Route, a narrow gauge railroad.  It now runs only as far as Lake Bennett for tourists and and to pick up hikers following the Gold Rush route on the Chilkoot Trail.  Mom and I took the train the year before I graduated from high school and as it happened, the year before the road was built. But the story of the train is for another day.

Inevitably on our roadtrips, we make our first stop not long after we’ve gotten underway – a symptom of drinking lots of water and coffee while we are packing up the truck to head out!  On this day, our morning rest stop was at the site of the Robinson Flag Station, a whistle stop on the original railroad line.  It closed in 1983 after the train quit running the full distance into Whitehorse.   It was a nice day and I grabbed my camera to walk the short easy trail.

I saw this little guy not steps from our truck.  It’s a gray jay but we just call them camp robbers, a name well deserved as they are always on the lookout for food and will steal anything they can find in your camp.  All About Birds by Cornell University calls them “deceptively cute”.


There are some great signs about the history of the area and I walked slowly along reading each of them.  There is also a lot of discarded stuff,  various remnants of the flag station here and there, including this old stove about halfway down the trail.


I emerged from the brush next to the railroad tracks and was rewarded with this view of the original building.


I thought I might be able to get a good picture from the railroad tracks and once up there, I turned west but the view was mostly of an overgrown rail line.  Still hopeful for a good picture, I turned around to look down the tracks towards the east and there it was:


I was surprised to see him and from this look on his face, apparently he was surprised to see me too.  How long had he been watching me?  Fortunately, the bear wasn’t too close and he wasn’t moving at all – just standing there staring at me.  I zoomed in and snapped a couple more pictures before backing off the tracks and heading down the trail towards the truck.


I hollered for hubby to let him know there was a bear in the area and at first he thought I meant a black bear which we see all the time both at home and on the highway, in fact we saw a baker’s dozen alongside the highway in just two hours a couple nights before.


When I told him it was a brown bear,  we had to walk back to the tracks so he could see it for himself.  Surprisingly, it was standing in the very same place and looked back at us again before ambling off into the brush.


We’d been talking just the day before about all the wildlife we’ve seen on our recent Alcan Highway drives and realized one thing we had yet to see was a brownie.  They are pretty rare in Juneau proper so we only see them when we are outside of town or traveling.

Happy we’d seen some wildlife, we returned to the truck and got back on the road.  Not too far along, we came across these two.


Not as exciting as a brownie, but a couple of nice deer who thoughtfully posed for my pictures.  What a great end to another fabulous drive on the Alaska Canada Highway!

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Adventures in Housesitting – South Whidbey Island


First things first – an apology for how lax I’ve been at writing.  I need a bit of peace for the thoughts to flow out my fingers and I’ve found that rarely happens until later in the evening when we are traveling and by then the activities of the day are usually making my eyelids a bit heavy.  When we get home, we are moving a mile a minute catching up on chores and diving into projects.  All that to say, I’ll try to do better because I’ve so much to share from our adventures.  So here’s the first….

We already know Whidbey Island so scoring a housesit there was a little like coming home, especially for Cabana Boy who spent much of his youth there. His parents had property in Coupeville where his dad and his wife still live.  When I saw the housesit ad on Trusted Housesitters for somewhere in Greenbank, I knew we had to apply.  Looking through the ad, it appeared the home was on the water so I scrambled to get our application in – if you know me, you know I’m all about being near saltwater – having my morning coffee with that salty smell surrounding me is pure bliss!  When I got the acceptance from the homeowners, we did a little celebration dance (thank goodness no one was watching that!) and called Dad to let him know we were coming. Despite the fact that we’ve already done this, he asked the same question…”so you don’t know these people?”  Everyone is always surprised by this; that we housesit for people we don’t know.  And it is a big leap of faith for them and for us but we always hope to meet new people, experience new places and maybe make new friends.

The trip down to Whidbey is a story for another time.  Suffice to say, we packed up our truck, grabbed the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Haines, and drove down the Alaska Canada and Cassiar Highways.  We arrived on Whidbey the day before our homeowners left and made our way to their home in the Lagoon Point neighborhood on the south end of the island.  While they headed to Europe, we were in charge of their lovely home on the lagoon – actually a manmade ocean estuary – two blocks back from the ocean, their sailboat docked out front, and their lovely kitty, Rachel.  We toured the house, went over their housesitter list and started making friends with Rachel who was a bit standoffish to start.  The next morning, we retrieved their car from the shuttle stop and settled in.  It could not have been a more beautiful day to try out the patio and watch the boats, birds, and people.

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Rachel was a breeze.  She let herself in and out through a window, exhibiting full disdain for the cat door.  When she was ready to be petted, she would jump up on a little bench and wait for her human servants to brush her.  If you didn’t respond quickly enough, she would come for you and lead you to the bench.  She wasn’t the kind to sit on your lap but she would walk around us – on the floor, on the sofa back, on the patio.  But two nights in, I awoke to find her on the bed, staring at me.  I began to pet her, she began to purr, and it wasn’t long before we were both asleep.  When I awoke, she was gone.  It was a pattern to be repeated many times during the stay.

Our first trip together was to Whidbey and we’ve returned so many times but we’d always been near the upper end of the island.  We decided we had to take advantage of our time to not only revisit our old favorites but also to explore new ones.  Since South Whidbey State Park was just a couple minutes up the road, we started there.  It has a campground, walking trails and beach access.  We stopped at the kiosk to buy an annual Discovery Pass, good in any Washington State Park for twelve months from the date of issue (day passes are also available).   After looking at the trail map, we took the trail to the beach, winding through the tall trees, the beautiful fall leaves, ferns and mosses.  It’s a bit of a walk and downhill so the uphill portion awaits your return to the car but it’s well worth it.  The walk itself is so lovely but when it dumps you out on the beach, it’s the icing on the cake.  The beach is sandy, long and on our first visit, fairly narrow because of the high tide.  There were people fishing both from the shore and from nearby boats.  We walked at least a mile down the beach, alternating between watching the water and the sand in front of our feet, looking for beach treasures.  Even the hike back uphill didn’t seem too bad after the peace and quiet of the beach.



Another day found us revisiting Ebey’s Landing mid-island for another beach walk.  The beach is part of the larger National Historic Reserve.  Many people walk the bluff trail many feet above the ocean for the beautiful views but I can never wait that long to get to the beach.  And it’s a big beach, taking you far into the distance – far enough that we started our standard beach walk conversation.  CB – “I’m about done.”  Me – “just a little bit more.”  CB – “we have to walk all the way back too.”  Me – “how about just to that rock/log/point?”   Eventually, he wins and we walk back to the truck…me lagging well behind!  You can also make a loop of both the bluff and the beach.  Ebey’s beach is littered with driftwood and well used by locals for both walking and fishing.  And yet, its big enough that even when the tiny parking lot is busy, it’s not too far into the walk before you are mostly alone.  The day we went was windy and the surf pounded the shore making for a lovely walk.

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And no trip to Whidbey is complete without a visit to Fort Casey which looks out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  On our first visit to Fort Casey, the entire Fort was open and you could explore all the rooms through the bunkers and buildings.  It was a test of my trust when he took me through “The Switchboard”, a narrow passageway that runs around the outside of a room in one of the buildings.  In the dark!  Where there could have been spiders!  Yep, that’s love there!  Even though its all closed up, its still a great place to visit and you are almost guaranteed to see deer and rabbits frolicking as you walk up to Admiralty Head Lighthouse and peer over the bluff to the water below.

Fort Casey (8)
Lest you think that this was all about beaches, I assure you we managed to fit in a few other activities.  We spent part of a day wandering around Langley, a small artist type community on the south island overlooking the water.  The main street is lined with shops, restaurants and a wine tasting room. We visited Prima Bistro, a French inspired restaurant where I had a tough time deciding which of the lovely items to try off their menu.  Fresh clams?  Penn Cove Mussels?  Cheese and Charcuterie?  All that went by the wayside when I saw my favorite – Croque Madame with house made bread, Parisian ham, gruyere cheese, a fried egg, and béchamel.  With a cool drink, it made a lovely brunch!  CB had to have the Fish Frites (fish and chips for those who do not parle francais) served with a caper remoulade and fennel slaw.  He declared it was the best fish and chips he’d had in some time which is saying something – he’s a bit of a Fish Frites hound.

Prima Bistro

We walked off our meal visiting some of the shops and made our way up to Callahan’s Firehouse – a glass blowing studio in, what else, an old firehouse.  If you go, ask to see what’s in the back – where they keep lots more inventory of hand blown glass.  I did not leave empty handed.  We also stopped at Ott and Murphy Wines for a lovely spot of red wine and on our way home, at Blooms Winery tasting room. I’ve always enjoyed their space in the historic Bayview Corner Cash Store where they have art, gift items, some lovely bites, and usually live music on Sunday afternoons.

One Saturday, we met with a friend, formerly from Juneau, at the farmers market near Langley just off the main highway that traverses the island – not far from Blooms.  It was one of the last for the season but we managed to fill our shopping bag with fresh veggies and bread and held firm resolve against the lovely pies and pastries.  Looking for a place to sit and catch up, we drove south on the island, following our friend as she turned off the main highway and drove some ways through the forest until we arrived at Mulkiteo Coffee Company where they not only roast the coffee but they have a lovely little café with both inside and outer seating (maybe you want to sit on a horse saddle stool?), a nice menu including breakfast served all day.  It was a lovely place to sip coffee and catch up!

And no trip would be complete without a visit to Coupeville – well, actually it was three visits.  We had to go to the farmers market where we were able to pick up baked goods, fresh veggies, and a lovely pair of earrings for mom-in-law, all while debating an order from one of the food trucks parked among the stands.  20151003_095013Our second visit was a day that started and ended at the Knead and Feed.  We had to have a pastry from the upstairs bakery to fortify us for wandering through the shops that line this little town on Penn Cove and ducked back into the downstairs café for a light lunch later.  And since we are, after all, us, we had to drop in for a little tasting at the Vail Wine Shop where they have both reds and whites open so you can sample before you buy, which of course we did!  Our last trip is a tradition for as long as I can remember – lunch at Toby’s Tavern with Dad and his wife.  As with so many buildings, Toby’s has some history.  The back bar was originally brought around the horn and took up residence in Fort Worden in the officers’ club sometime around 1900.  It moved to Fort Casey and then to the Central Hotel in Coupeville.  After a fire at the hotel, the back bar moved to Toby’s.

We also took some time to meet with friends of our homeowners, who we actually made contact with through the Trusted Housesitters site.  As petsitters, they handle daily visits when people are traveling but were interested in meeting us to recommend for those folks who want someone to stay in their home.  We had a lovely visit and exchanged information.  As of this writing, we have one new contact and are about to embark on a new housesit because of these connections.  And Rachel?  Well, we decided we will actually leave Juneau in the summer (I know – no Alaskan leaves in the summer but there you have it!) so we can visit with her again.

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Growing up in Juneau, Alaska meant very little locally produced food. We have the proteins mostly covered – my family hunted moose and caribou in Alaska’s interior – dad’s idea of a vacation – and we hunt deer in the fall and do some occasional grouse hunting.  Then too  there is the incredible bounty from the sea – all varieties of salmon, halibut, cod, clams, crab and shrimp – for which we are eternally grateful.

But when all is said and done, there’s not a lot of land available between the mountains and the sea for farming.There was a dairy in town long before I was born but the land became the town’s first shopping mall accompanied by a variety of businesses stretching south along…you can guess this…Old Dairy Road. I was in my 20s before I saw an apple hanging on a tree, a sight that thrills me to this day. (See my prior post on apple orchards.)


Cabana Boy loves radishes (!) and laments that we can’t buy anything but plain red radishes that are usually on the old side.  A local produce manager tells us radishes, in particular their leaves, don’t keep very well as they are shipped north in a refrigerated van so they don’t even try. Back in the day, we ate “boat eggs”, shipped in by barge and weeks old.

Things have become much better recently for finding locally made foods.  We live near the Alaskan Brewery which has grown their distribution throughout the western states but still retains the craft brewery vibe and awesome seasonal brews.  We can smell Heritage coffee roasting their beans when the wind is right.The Wild Oven and Silverbow Bakery provide fresh baked breads to local restaurants and there are some artisan foods available at markets held periodically.  But fresh produce is limited to what we grow in our backyard, including a huge quantity of rhubarb, and what can be purchased at the end of the short growing season from the folks who have overflow from their plots in the community garden or greenhouses scattered here and there in Juneau and neighboring (and by that I mean a 4 hour ferry ride away) towns.

So when we travel, we love to visit farmers markets, local seafood producers, cheese shops, dairies and of course, wineries.  Our first search in a new area is to find places where we can buy locally produced food and our recent foray to Vancouver Island was no exception. The homeowner left us Creekmore Coffee, roasted just up the road from her home.  From there, we checked out every supermarket, natural food market, little food shops we saw on our drives, and the Qualicum Farmer’s Market which was the only one open in the winter.

The farmer’s market produced some green onions, squash, and carrots, a loaf of bread, and some whiskey bacon.  Also available was locally roasted coffee, some meats, and various jams and jellies.  We branched out into other food emporiums and this is what we found.

Island Farms – Dairy products of all varieties, including the critical half and half for my morning coffee.  This is a corporate dairy but they do make their Island sold products in Victoria from local dairy milk and are readily available in most markets.

Avalon Dairy – Not actually on the Island but rather in Burnaby in the Fraser Valley, I found their half and half in Naked Naturals, a natural foods store.  They had me at certified organic and of course the cute signature glass bottle didn’t hurt.

Fanny Bay Oysters – Lovely little briny oysters harvested from right off the beach near their processing facility.  Nuff said!

French Creek Seafoods – down in the French Creek Marina, these guys have lots of different fish and shellfish, including lots of local stuff but it wasn’t fishing season so most things were frozen.   On the list for a return visit.

MooBerry Winery – located on a farm between Parksville and Qualicum, they produce some wonderful fruit wines including apple, blueberry and my favorite, raspberry.  Drink it as a after dinner sip or mix a little with champagne for a delightful treat.

Little Qualicum Cheeseworks – in the MooBerry tasting room, you can also watch them make cheese and sample some until you find your favorite.  I love them all but their brie is especially yummy and I discovered spiced cheese, a lovely white cheese speckled with cumin, which I believe is related to dutch Leyden cheese.

Hillier’s Gourmet Foods – a lovely discovery on our very first day during a drive to Port Alberni, thanks to their sign which was visible from the road.  We knew we’d hit the jackpot when a local lady insisted this was the “best bacon on the island”. So we bought a half dozen slices, along with some sausages, and were delighted by the different seasonings, Ukrainian inspired perhaps.  We ended up going back for more and a nice steak for dinner one Saturday night.

Island SodaWorks – naturally fermented probiotic low sugar sodas made in Errington. Yes…soda.  I rarely drink soda as I don’t like sweet drinks but these are light, not too sweet and so refreshing.  We found them at Unicorn Farm and bought all the flavors but my favorite is the Ginger Salal.   I hear the Skookum Tonic is wonderful if you are a gin and tonic fan. And did I mention the weekend tacos?

Tree Island – the piece de resistance in my mind, I found their yogurt in Naked Naturals and realized my search for locally made yogurt may be over, at least on the island. I have raved about some local yogurt Mom and I had in Scotland and have been searching for a similar experience ever since.  These folks came very close.  We were delighted by the vanilla bean specks in the Cream Top Vanilla,  their lightly flavored Lemon, and the unique Chai spiced. Even Cabana Boy, never a yogurt lover, succumbed to their charms.


There were so many other food experiences and I’m sure a summer visit will produce many more local fruits and veggies but I felt we made a successful start.  Now if we could convince their liquor stores to carry a better selection of Okanagan wine!