We decided to do something different for summer vacation this year: instead of visiting family in Utah, we drove to a place we’d never been before: Glacier National Park, and it’s Canadian sister-park, Waterton Lakes National Park.
Mostly, the desire was to go to a place that was a shorter drive away — only 9 hours away! Instead of 12! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Also, it had been a very long time since we’d had a just-our-family trip, instead of an extended-family trip. Not that there’s anything wrong with extended-family trips, but it’s nice to mix things up a bit.
I also can’t remember a time that I devoted a whole week to exploring a national park. Even our trips to Yellowstone were rarely more than 4-5 days, not a whole week. What a luxury!
Because of that, I’ve decided to write about our adventures by region, instead of chronologically. We visited certain parts of the park multiple times, and it just makes sense to write about it that way.
The Going to the Sun Road
This is the main road that runs through Glacier, and is deservedly famous. I can’t imagine how it was built, twisting and turning across high cliffs through the mountains! But I also couldn’t stop taking pictures, either. Everyone in the car rolled their eyes at how I kept taking pictures out the window.
To complete the glorious experience, I brought along a CD of music I thought matched the landscape perfectly: Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, also known as the “Emperor” concerto. And what a perfect match it is — many times it seemed as if the music was perfectly timed for when we’d zoom around a curve and a huge new peak would swoop into view. In fact, click here and you can listen to the concerto on YouTube while you continue to read this post. It’s magnificent.
At first, the kids whined about listening to classical music in the car — but soon it was also obvious to them that this was a landscape/musical match made in heaven. After the first time listening through, the kids loved it so much, that they insisted we listen to it every time we drove on Going to the Sun Road. “Beethoven, Beethoven, Beethoven!” they’d chant.
They even played “air orchestra” in the back seat.
We ended up listening to the entire album (which also has the 4th concerto) about eight times. Everyone in the family kept humming the different themes while we hiked and picnicked around the park. You’d think everyone would get tired of it, but no — those melodies are infinitely refreshing. Can’t get enough.
Once we drove through just as the sun was coming up the sides of the valley. Check out the sunbeams. I took a dozen out-the-window photos that morning.
Another time we drove back at sunset. Beethoven, perfect timing as always, was on one of the slow second movements. Eleanor took all the out-the-window pictures this time.
Moments in between all the picture taking was spent knitting. I made wonderful progress with my shawl while we drove around. Brian didn’t initially understand how I could possibly tear my eyes away from the beautiful scenery for a second, but I replied that people vacation in different ways — and I have faint childhood memories of my mom working on cross-stitch while my dad drove us around Yellowstone.
This, along with Two Medicine, is one of the quieter sections of the park. We visited it early in the week when we didn’t have a clear idea of what the park would be like or what to expect. So, we kept things easygoing.
A picnic, and then a nature hike around Josephine Lake.
We saw a deer in the woods . . .
. . . and a moose cow with her calf on the side of the road.
But the biggest shock was when we had three bear sightings over the space of two hours! (Granted, Brian was the only member of the family who saw the first bear, but we still count it.)
All of these bears were seen on the roadsides, so we weren’t too alarmed. The second bear was a black bear who stood up twice (I looked away both times and missed it, rats!).
But the last bear sighting was very special . . . it was a mama grizzly, and there were two cubs in the tall grass with her. You can’t see them in this picture, unfortunately, but as I watched the cubs jumped around, and I saw their fuzzy bear heads pop out of the grass. I’ve never seen cubs in the wild, and I literally jumped for joy on the side of the road.
Seeing bears was a cause for celebration. The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn had wonderful ice cream: vanilla-blackberry soft serve swirl. You could have all you could fit in a cup for $2.50. Num!
We also spent time checking out the Many Glacier Hotel, which is one of the grand old “parkitecture” lodges of the parks system. I love this funky set of staircases:
It has a “Swiss chalet” theme (okaaay) so the bellhops all wore leiderhosen. My heart goes out to them. True heroes. I’m wondering if the women employees were required to wear dirndls once upon a time . . .
Another quiet corner of the park. Our picnic game was strong with this place. What a view!
We decided to take the kids boating on Two Medicine Lake, which was extraordinary. We gave in to Eleanor’s requests to use a two-person kayak, and Eleanor and I headed off together. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. She and I chatted and talked and referenced the rowing scene from Ben Hur. We went so far, so fast! Probably 2/3rds of the way across the lake.
The rest of the fam was in a big canoe together. Brian says his ride was less than optimal. Ehhhhh, sorry my love! You are a hero!
Afterwards we indulged in more vanilla-blackberry soft serve (it’s also carried by the Two Medicine general store, nummmmm).
Then we took a quick hike up to see a waterfall. The waterfall itself was kind of dismal (it was more like a series of rapids far below us. I didn’t want anyone to get too close to the edge of the cliff to look) but the view was still spectacular.
We also stopped to see Running Eagle Falls, which are stunning. The story of the woman the falls are named after is also incredible — a real person, a female warrior, not a legend. Awesome.
Waterton Falls National Park
Remember all those pictures I took of Going to the Sun Road at sunrise? Yeah, that was the day we decided to drive to Canada, to see the sister-park across the border. Waterton Lakes is managed in conjunction with Glacier, as an international peace park. Thanks to Canada celebrating 150 years of nation-hood, all national parks admission in the country is free this year! Thanks, Canada!
Waterton Lakes has such a different feel from the American park — there’s a town right in the middle of the park! Almost all of the buildings there have European architectural styles, like a tiny Cotswald village in the middle of the Canadian Rockies.
Again, our picnic game was strong with this trip. Cameron Lake is gorgeous. Lots of great rock-skipping potential. Too bad we didn’t have time to use the paddleboats! The lake straddles the U.S./Canada border, so yes — the mountain peak you see is in Glacier.
(I would also like to point out that the Cameron Lake parking lot is where I saw an honest-to-goodness French-speaking biker gang. Thanks, Canada!)
The reason we didn’t have time for paddleboats is because of this:
A real boat ride down Upper Waterton Lake! Almost all the lakes in Waterton-Glacier have these lovely wooden boat tours, and while they all look great, the Canadian one looked the most interesting.
Our boat is the “oldest continuously operating wooden boat in Canada,” and we had a very windy excursion on the deck. The views were spectacular.
My favorite part was when our guide pointed out the famous “no touching zone,” the gap of felled trees showing where the border is.
The other side of the lake, Goat Haunt, is in Glacier. We could walk around the shoreline for a few minutes, but if we wanted to hike further into Glacier, we’d need to show our passports. Maybe if we come back someday, we’ll do that. It’s called “the back door to Glacier,” and a great way to hike away from the crowds.
After our boat ride we loaded up on ice cream and Kinder Surprise eggs in Waterton (the kids were THRILLED about the eggs. They found ones with Zootopia characters) and of course Wunderbars for me. We discovered Kit Kat flavored ice cream for Jeff which was something of a revelation — Canadian chocolate is delish.
Well stocked with treats, we headed up to the Prince of Wales hotel. That place really knows how to exploit a good view.
The girls and I wistfully gazed at the high tea service, but we were full of sweets already (and tea time was almost over). Next time, girls, I promise!
And yes, the employees here wear tartan plaid kilts instead of leiderhosen. Which seems marginally better, I suppose.
Our boat guide recommended taking a drive up to Red Rock Canyon, so we decided to check it out with the remainder of our afternoon.
Holy cow! A slot canyon! This was not what we expected! Brian wanted to take the big kids upstream to explore the canyon, so I agreed to stay with Katie while she played in the water.
Which she did for about three minutes. Then she insisted we go catch up to everyone else.
Katie is often the Family Whiner on hikes right now, but since this hike was her idea, she was marvellously full of pluck and determination. “Come on, Mom, we can do it!” she cried. “God is making this easier for us!” Even though I was terrified that Katie would fall and drown — or, more likely, that I would drop my phone and/or roll my ankles — we caught up to everyone else unscathed, save our feet turning purple from the cold water.
I will never, ever hike the Zion Narrows, if this is what it’s like. My toes were freezing! But I will admit the hike was incredibly fun. Clambering over rocks is like solving a puzzle, which I enjoy.
Wet and exhausted, we planned to cook hot dogs for dinner in the trailhead picnic area, only to have a French-speaking gentleman ask if we had matches to spare so he could light his camping stove.
Turns out we only had one match left in the box. We gave it to the guy and bought hamburgers in Waterton. Good luck to that gentleman — I hope he caught the flame on the first try!
On our way out of the park, we stopped and took a gander at the bison wandering around a paddock.
And yeah, we saw another bear on the side of the road. That’s Bear #6 for the trip.
Hilarious moment: on our way back to the U.S. we drove through the clear-cut forest border, and the kids yelled “no touching! no touching! no touching! no touching!”
St. Mary is on the eastern edge of the park, the closest side to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation just beyond the park border. The park has made an effort to ensure that all presentations or exhibits about native peoples are created by and for native peoples. As such, there was a performance of dance by local members of the Blackfeet at the St. Mary visitor’s center on Wednesday evening. We drove there first thing in the morning to get our tickets.
Then we had the afternoon to fill up any way we wanted while waiting for evening to come. We had a picnic lunch at an old ranger’s cabin from 1912. It was locked up, but had a fun porch for hanging out.
Afterwards we took a short hike around St. Mary Lake to Baring Falls.
The wildflowers were gorgeous! But since this hike was at a low elevation, it was kind of hot and dusty. Katie wasn’t a fan.
But the waterfall was lovely. It was fun place to climb around and explore. I was paranoid that all the kids would get soaked, but we were just fine.
After the hike, we had a picnic lunch at the Rising Sun picnic area, and let the kids pretend-play in the woods for a while. They chose “Ewok Village” as their play scenario.
After hitting up the Rising Sun general store for ice cream, we headed back to the visitor’s center for the dance performance.
It was so cool — not only because the dancers were incredibly talented, but also because they were local people. The host for the evening was kind of a chatterbox talker, but everything he had to say was so candid (“I’m going to dance first because this dance getup is hot” . . . later he totally embarrassed his granddaughter by telling everyone what a great athlete she is) that it painted a great picture of who these people are and how they are working to preserve their heritage. Many of the performers are teachers at the Blackfeet immersion-language school on the rez.
Afterwards the performers and their families sold handmade doodads to tourists in the parking lot (“hey, it’s tourist season,” said the host. “Gotta do what we can to survive, right?”). I usually don’t bother with souvenirs at national parks (photographs are all I need) but this was different, since I was purchasing something directly from the local person who made it. Eleanor got a tiny replica painted tipi with a night-light inside (it’s in her shadow box now) and Katie got a beaded keychain thing.
Funny story about St. Mary: in the afternoon, while we had our picnic lunch, Brian put his and Jeff’s spare shoes on top of the van to dry off in the sun, since they were still damp from the slot-canyon hike the day before. After the hike to Baring Falls, I took care to ensure the shoes came down and were safely packed away before we drove off.
So imagine my surprise when, on the drive back home from the dance performance, we see a shoe in the middle of the road that looked a lot like Brian’s.
Yeah, turns out that Brian put the shoes back on top of the car during dinner, but didn’t tell me about it, and then totally forgot about it himself.
We turned the car around, searched, and were able to find both of Brian’s shoes, but Jeff’s? No idea. We drove back and forth along the road between the picnic area and the visitor center, and no sign of his shoes. Fortunately, they were spares a little too small for Jeff, but did we leave shoes behind in a national park? Hopefully someone else found them and picked them up.
This is by far the most crowded part of the park. According to the rangers, park attendance went up 30% in 2016, and 2017 is likely to break that record. The park’s infrastructure simply can’t handle that many people. Even though there is a shuttle system to help reduce parking, it was nearly useless as the filled-up shuttle buses skip over hikers stranded at trailheads. We attempted to use the shuttle to get to Logan Pass, but discovered that the shuttle wait would be two and a half hours to board.
(That was the morning we decided to drive to Two Medicine instead.)
Hence the parking lot at the Logan Pass visitor center is usually packed all day. In most seasons, said the rangers, you’re fine for parking if you arrive before noon, but this year you needed to show up by 9:00 a.m. or you’re stuck. Some rangers spoke of fistfights breaking out in the Logan Pass parking lot.
So we avoided the place altogether during the day, because we know one simple secret about national parks: everyone goes home at 5:00 p.m.
Yeah. The place is empty by six.
So for our big day of hiking in Logan Pass, we woke up early and raced all the tourists for a parking spot by the Avalanche Lake trailhead (one of the most popular hikes in the park). Even with getting up at dawn, we had to park in the down-the-road overflow area, but still. A spot. Hooray.
And it was totally worth it because the hike was gorgeous. Beautiful forest, rivers cascading over boulders, the works.
A pristine mountain lake at the end! Perfect for making mud pies, according to Katie.
And then . . .ANOTHER BEAR.
This is probably the best bear sighting I’ve ever had. A small grizzly emerged on the far side of the lake, then slowly walked along the shoreline, allowing everyone there a nice long look. It was really fun to watch the bear climb up and over all the logs. About twenty full minutes of bear watching. Holy cow. (that was Bear #7, if you’re counting.)
We kept our car in its spot during lunch, choosing to walk our food to the picnic area across the road from the trailhead.
The Avalanche Picnic Area has a just-right river for wading and skipping rocks.
In fact, we liked it so much that we returned there later that evening for dinner, too.
Finally, it was late enough to go up to the Logan Pass parking lot. The reason why this place is so popular? It’s the trailhead for the most iconic hike in the entire park: The Hidden Lake Overlook trail.
I admit that I was skeptical of all the hoops we needed to jump through to make this hike happen, but whoa, was it worth it.
This place is gorgeous. And since we didn’t begin until evening, there weren’t very many people.
The challenging part of the hike was walking across a series of snowfields. It wasn’t very cold, but it was slippery. Fortunately we were all lucky and nobody had any serious falls. More than anything, it made us feel like we had really “done” Glacier.
Another perk of going in the evening: mountain goats! We saw so many of them next to the trail that we stopped being flabbergasted at them. Just regular gasted.
The trail down to Hidden Lake was closed (too many bears) but that’s okay. The overlook was worth it. This is one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen, period. The lavender-and-evergreen mountains, with the silver lake at the bottom? Lines of indigo ridges disappearing into the sunset? Take me there, any time any day.
Eleanor and I chatted all the way down, experimenting with my camera’s panorama setting. The sunset was spectacular.
It was so spectacular that Eleanor insisted on photographing it on the drive down the mountainside. The CD player automatically flicked on as we pulled out of the parking lot, and who was playing? Beethoven’s 5th concerto. The slow 2nd movement. Perfectly timed with the sunset. I kid you not.
Apgar and Lake McDonald
This the part of the park closest to where we were staying, so we often by while coming and going.
The big attraction for the visitor center was the ranger-led stargazing parties in the evening. They had big telescopes set up so we could have close-up views of Jupiter and Saturn, as well as various nebulas and galaxies. Brian and the kids were so excited they began singing Uncle Peter’s song “Ganymede,” while waiting in line for the next scope.
I spent a lot of time experimenting with the slow shutter speed on my phone camera, taking pictures of the night sky. It was really challenging! The pictures below are the ones that turned out. One of them is from the night we spent stargazing at Logan Pass — there was no astronomy program there, we just spontaneously stopped on the way home to look at stars.
Apgar Village is also home to the Nature Center, which hosts a lot of ranger programs the kids attended to earn their Junior Ranger badges.
Pluuuuuuuus there is pretty good ice cream at the general store.
We spent our last day in the park in Apgar, and asked the kids what activity they enjoyed so much they wanted a repeat. The vote went to kayaking, so onto Lake McDonald we went!
Well . . . everyone but Jeff, who had no interest in going on the water again. We have him a little cash for an ice cream cone, and he had a ball hanging out on the beach by himself. (A much happier teenage boy when we rowed back.)
This time around, Eleanor and William were rowing buddies, while Brian and I took Katie in a canoe. Confession: being in the canoe made me extremely nervous about tipping into the water and losing my phone, and hence all my Glacier photos. Brian, on the other hand, told me later that he loved rowing with a competent adult instead of children. Either way, after an hour of rowing I asked to be taken back to shore with Katie. Since Wim and E. hadn’t returned, Brian went back out in a kayak to help them navigate their way back to shore.
After lunch on the lakeshore, we took a detour to the western section of the park that very few people visit: the Camas Road. (Funny story: this road was built in order to prevent a dam project from flooding/destroying Glacier NP in the 1940s. Once the dam was cancelled, road construction halted. That’s why there’s a really nice road there.)
There was nobody in this part of the park, which was a shame because there were some lovely overlooks that would be perfect for watching wildlife at dusk.
But we were headed out to the Camas Creek Entrance of the park to hike along the “Forests and Fire Nature Trail.”
We all felt a little skittish about this trail, since there was nobody else there, and the trailhead sign was atypically empty (a sign with nothing on it). So everyone was a little nervous when we began. Would this trail loop around as we’d been promised by our park map? Or was it a different trail altogether? Were we about to get lost? Pudding!
It was also very hot and dusty, similar to the St. Mary lake hike but without the scenic benefits of a lake. A sign told us that park visitors are allowed to harvest huckleberries (a pint per visitor, per day!) but we didn’t find any.
But it all turned out okay, and we headed out of the park in early enough to enjoy some swimming back at our base camp.
“Base Camp” in Columbia Falls
It was nice to return to “civilization” for our last evening on vacation. We rented a condo that was part of a vacation resort, and the swimming pool was right next door! We gave the kids a nice long swim on the first day we arrived (well . . . Jeff abstained. He came shopping with me instead, and we spent way too long flipping through magazines).
I took the littles swimming on our last evening as well, while Brian and Jeff played Magic and then fetched us dinner from the local Dairy Queen. After spending the day kayaking, hiking, and swimming, those burgers tasted a-ma-zing.
At bedtime we finished up the read-aloud book I’d brought for the trip, The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber. So nice to have everything all checked off and tidy for our return trip. I felt we did everything we wanted, but just little enough that I’m totally craving more. Maybe we’ll have to return to Glacier sometime in the future — who knows?
Last week we were a bunch of homebodies, so this week I decided to make up for it with a series of adventures.
The tricky thing is getting my kids up early enough so we can all get our practicing done before heading on the road. Since my two oldest have morphed into teenagers, it’s a challenge. I miss having breakfast with everyone at the same time, but nowadays the kitchen is a revolving door of mealtimes. I keep finding plates of half-eaten bagels in random places all over the house.
But we did manage to go strawberry picking. It was a perfect sunny day for it (as opposed to last year, when we paid for rainwater along with our berries). You could smell the ripening berries in the air! I loved it.
I managed to limit our picking to only 11 lbs. this time around. (And yes, this once again coincided with the arrival of the 25 lb. cherry box Bro. Soumpholphakdy brought us.)
The kids were all cheerful pickers this year. Katie spent her time searching for “The Queen of the Strawberries,” defined as “the biggest berry of all.” When she determined that she’d found the Queen, she then went on a search for the Princess, Prince and even Baby of the Strawberries. Which was darn adorable.
Eleven pounds was just right for making strawberry pie, jam, and enough frozen berries for all the smoothies I want.
BUT — I admit that if I hadn’t gotten my dates mixed up, I’m not sure if I would have gone berry picking that day. For some reason, I had it in mind that July 4th was a Wednesday, not a Tuesday this year. So I thought I had an extra day to cook and process the berries before the holiday. Whoops!
So I was busy cooking barbecue sauce and pressure-cooking ribs alongside the strawberry pie.
This was one of the most delicious cookouts I’ve ever made. Babyback BBQ ribs, pan-fried corn, amazing salads (family and friends brought those). Strawberry pie for dessert, along with this cool dessert-drink I found in a cookbook: cherry sorbet floats made with lemon-thyme lemonade.
We considered going to the UW hospital to watch the Seattle fireworks out the big windows, but that didn’t seem very July 4th-ish to me. So we went to the same park in Edmonds that we went to last year. It’s juuuuust the right distance away from the show to still hear the popping sounds and a bit of music, but not so loudly that it scares Katie.
The next day we were rewarded for doing chores by going to St. Edwards State Park, where the giant “super playground” is.
But we have a problem with Jeff. He’s in that in-between phase where he towers over other kids, but still young enough that he likes to play. He planned on participating with the other kids, but when he saw that there were a bunch of day-camp groups on the playground, he decided to sit and read a book instead.
Fortunately, I also brought along my book, Issac the Alchemist by Mary Losure. Jeff asked about it (fascinating biography of Issac Newton) and soon I was reading chapter after chapter of it out loud to him. But I still felt sad that he wasn’t playing with the other kids anymore.
In fact, on the following day, I decided to take everyone to the outdoor pool in Edmonds, and Jeff said he’d rather stay home and get his math home-study done. Jeff is incredible about getting his math home-study done without complaining, and often without me prompting him to do it.
But it was still a bummer to leave him behind. In the meanwhile, can I say how impressed I was that Eleanor passed off the swim test with the lifeguard on the first try? William didn’t, so Eleanor was sweet enough to stay in the shallow end so he wouldn’t be lonely with Katie.
(I stayed on a lanai chair and read a book. Heaven.)
FINALLY, on Friday I decided to coordinate our adventure with friends, and we met up with buddies at Lake Sammamish State Park. My friend Melinda, who lives in Bellevue, had talked up the beautiful new playground as an excellent destination for summer play.
I agree with her wholeheartedly (even though she, funnily enough, couldn’t make it what with being on vacation and all). The playground is adorable and beautiful. There’s one of the biggest zip lines I’ve seen on a playground, and the play-houses have little details like tiny fireplaces molded into the wall.
Again, Jeff didn’t quite know what to do with himself, but he enjoyed helping littler kids take rides on the zipline, pushing the merry-go-round as fast as he could manage, and then dozing on the big round accessible swing.
After a picnic lunch, we hit the beach!
What a great spot! The water is so much warmer than Puget Sound, and this swimming beach is nice and shallow. My friends and I waded a bit, then stretched out on the sand to doze and chat while the kids splashed together. As a bonus, the bathhouse is new, with nice clean restrooms for changing clothes. (I brought my swimsuit, but didn’t bother changing once I saw how shallow the water was.)
I know I’ve mentioned before how much I love Jetty Island, but I think I like the beach at Lake Sammamish even more. This summer I can’t muster the energy to plan a Jetty trip. The hassle of dealing with the ferry reservation system, how competitive it is to get tickets, how there’s always the chance you’ll be stranded on-island until evening, and how if the tide is out the water is so far away, drives me crazy. Plus, there’s only one bathroom on Jetty, and it’s on the opposite side of the island from the beach, so bleh.
I think the lake will be our go-to spot from now on.
To cap off Adventure Week, the whole family went on a day trip to Tacoma on Saturday.
I’m always telling my friends that Tacoma is a surprisingly fun place to go. In the past, we’ve visited the Museum of Glass and its amazing furnace/workshop, but this time we headed to Point Defiance Park.
First, we had a picnic at Owen Beach . . .
. . . and then we went to the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. On the drive south, the kids didn’t quite understand where we were going, and so whined a bit, but when we pulled into the parking lot, Jeff eagerly sat up straight.
“THIS is where we’re going? A HISTORY MUSEUM??”
It made me laugh, because I couldn’t figure out why Mr. History Face wasn’t excited about it before. But he bounded out of the car with glee once he realized where we were.
Fort Nisqually is a recreation of the British trading post that was around in the early 19th century (I think the 1830s were its heyday). It specialized in the fur trade, and shut down when Washington was later signed off as part of the U.S.
All the usual great history stuff was there: the general store (with a surprising amount of real fur pelts to touch), the carpenter’s yard, the blacksmith shop, an archaeological dig, the kitchen garden, and some women weaving/stitching on the porch of the head officer’s house.
Jeff was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a military aspect to the museum. (“Where’s the armory?” he kept asking) but it was a trading post, not an army post, so there wasn’t much in way of guns or cannons. Sorry, Jeff!
After the museum (Katie wore out quickly, and I had to drag everyone else away from their checkers games) we discovered an old-fashioned soda fountain a little ways down the road from the park.
It has swivel stools and everything! You can order a phosphate and an egg cream! They make sodas by spraying soda water into glasses of syrup!!
I was too chicken to try the egg cream or phosphate, but we all wanted to try different ice cream floats.
Katie: chocolate ice cream cone with sprinkles
William: strawberry soda with strawberry ice cream
Eleanor: Chocolate soda with chocolate ice cream
Jeff: Chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream (for the record, chocolate soda is blecchhhh)
Me: Cherry Coke with chocolate ice cream
Brian: Sassparilla soda with vanilla ice cream
So refreshing! We had a little extra time before our final destination, so we decided to swing by the Brown & Haley factory store, i.e. the Almond Roca store.
This was all about Brian, folks. Almond Roca is his favorite candy (just like his dad) and there was a certain light in his eye when he realized he could pick up bags of factory seconds for $.99 cents. (Also, Elvis was once in that building. There’s a plaque on the wall and everything. Just so you know.)
For the end of our day, I wanted to try something very new: a place called Tinkertopia, which is an art supply shop/studio for kids . . . but all of the supplies are recycled materials. It’s run by two artists, one of whom is a former preschool teacher, so it’s incredibly well-organized.
For $7 a kid, they were allowed to spend 90 minutes using anything in the store to build anything they wanted. There were drills, saws, glue guns, wood bits, reams of tape and stickers, baskets of pipe cleaners and staplers, fabric scraps, piles of paper, every kind of plastic doo dad imaginable, and a whole wall of Ellison paper-cutting dies. (My first library job had an Ellison die-cutting machine, and I still miss it.)
Jeff was skeptical until he realized he could use a hacksaw, and promptly got to work making a broadsword out of a mailing tube. It has a handle that slips out of the hilt and becomes a poisoned dagger!
Eleanor was a bit at a loss for ideas at first but eventually decided to make a little elephant statue. The head is on a bolt, so it can turn from side to side. So cute!
William didn’t have anything in mind, but simply started building and adding things at random. He made what he calls a “puppet thing.” There’s a handle on one end that makes the pipe cleaners on the other end retract in and out of the tube.
He then spent his remaining time making a cat “that shoots cuteness lazers,” which Brian and I think is also an apt description of William himself.
Finally, Katie! She’s the one who dove into building right from the get-go, making a bird sitting in a nest. But then she wanted to build something else, and roped me into helping her.
We decide to make a “stuffie fairy doll” — meaning a soft stuffed fabric toy — which was challenging, because while there were a lot of tools available in the studio, a sewing machine wasn’t one of them. I glued together a folded square of fabric, stuffed it, and glued it shut. Katie then found a string of sequin ribbon to cinch around the square to give it some head-torso definition. Katie drew on a face, and I glued on felt arms and legs. Katie found glittery ribbon, which I glued on as wings. And so on. Katie would find some spangly, sparkly thing to be part of the fairy ensemble, and I’d figure out a way to glue it on.
The gold star on the fairy’s tummy is a “wishing star” (Katie made an earnest wish that “she and the fairy would be best friends forever” before we glued it on.)
I honestly had a lot of fun adding more and more little details to the doll, like the silver crown, or the yellow sash, even if the ideas had to be negotiated with a six-year-old.
When the dolly was finished, we even had time to make accessories. Katie asked for a pet, so we fished some fake fur out of the fabric scraps bin and glued it to a cork for a doggie pet. A plastic Easter Egg half became a doggy bed, and a scrap of felt a blanket. Katie even found a bin of Christmas lightbulbs and chose one to be the “shot” that the dog will get when he goes to the vet.
While Katie picked out medicine, I hastily slapped together a matching silver crown for Katie to wear home.
And yes, I did fall asleep on the way home, why do you ask?
My 40th birthday came and went this week. I wanted to do something on the big side (or at least bigger side) to celebrate.
Four decades! It seems more impressive than it feels.
So, I decided to throw my friends and their kids a dance party. This was a bit of a big swing for me. I’ve held many, many gatherings over they years, and I don’t think I’ve felt quite as much anxiety as I have over this one. What if nobody danced? What if everyone just stood around and stared at each other? Or worse, stood around and stared at me while I danced awkwardly by myself?
But fortunately, none of that happened, although I danced pretty much every single song in a row in order to try and keep things happening. It went pretty well, if I do say so myself.
Plus, I also had a keg of gourmet root beer on hand so people could have all the floats they wanted. (It held 20 liters. When the party was over, we drained the leftovers into empty bottles and found that the crowd drank 15, wow.)
I made my own playlist using YouTube videos, which we streamed onto our television via the Chromecast. The disco light from Eleanor’s birthday party was back on the ceiling, and, well . . .
It looks pretty awesome, right? I was lucky enough to have a passel of extroverts show up, so all the old warhorse dance moves got pulled out. A conga line, the Macarena, Electric Slide, and even the horse-riding bits for Gangnam Style.
(By the way, there is nothing in this world like standing next to your stake president and his wife in the middle of your dance party and seeing their faces as they dance to the Gangnam Style music video for the very first time.)
Tips for next time: when I made my playlist, I kind of randomly threw together a bunch of songs that were all danceable, some well known, others not. If I were to do this again, I’d choose only the familiar songs. My guests felt more comfortable dancing to the songs they already knew.
No matter how much I love “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” by the Wombats, it caused pretty much everybody to come to a standstill and scratch their heads. “What’s this song?”
Also, sometimes the music video for a song was so outlandish that it proved a big distraction. On the other hand, if a video included the lyrics to a song, it often inspired everyone to sing along.
All the old dusty classics made everyone very happy. The groans and cheers of pleasure when “Livin’ on a Prayer” came up on the playlist was worth every penny. Soon people took turns trying to guess which decade the next song would be from.
If I were to do it again, I’d add things like the Bunny Hop or the Chicken Dance. They are corny, but are a great way for people who don’t feel confident about dancing to join in and feel like they are part of the group.
(Oh! We should have done the Virginia Reel!)
At the end of the set, everyone was, ah, shall we say . . .glowing . . . and likely slept very well that night. We had to open every single window and door on the first floor. At its peak, there were 35 people dancing at my house.
Anyway, it was a wonderful way to kick off what has become the best days of my life. Seriously — I no longer suffer the social awkwardness and anxiety of my twenties, or the lingering depression (and lack of autonomy caused by rearing toddlers) of my thirties. I have so many friends it astounds me! And an incredible family who is pretty darn fine if I do say so myself. I have the freedom to spend my time on the work and projects that I choose, and to go where I wish. A big house full of too many “books, socks, and the little wheels off things” (as Shirley Jackson would say). The luxury of time to exercise and have a healthy body. I get to live in an interesting city in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. How on earth did I get here?
Here’s to hoping the next few years are just as fine as this one.
MY BIRTHDAY PLAYLIST, FOR THE HISTORICAL RECORD:
September – Earth Wind & Fire
Rock the Casbah – The Clash
Rock With You – Michael Jackson
YMCA – The Village People
Twist & Shout – The Beatles
Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Stevie Wonder
L-O-V-E – Nat King Cole
Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
Love Shack – The B-52s
Let’s Dance to Joy Division – The Wombats
Stayin’ Alive – The Bee Gees
Flypaper – k-os
Concrete and Clay – Unit 4+2
Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra
Shout – The Isley Brothers
Canned Heat – Jamiroquai
Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake
Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
Elenore – The Turtles
Love Train – The O’Jays
Istanbul – They Might Be Giants
Dancing in the Streets – Martha and the Vandellas
Around the World/Harder Better Faster Stronger – Daft Punk
Ganymede – Peter Shirts (This is Peter’s parody of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz)
Come on Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) – Dead or Alive
I Want You Back – The Jackson 5
The Twist – Chubby Checker
You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
Gangnam Style – Psy
Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party – Courtney Barnett* (at this point, I had learned my lesson about obscure songs and skipped this one. All other songs with * were ones we skipped, mainly for time because it was past 9:00 p.m. at this point, and little kids needed to get to bed)
December, 1963 – The Four Seasons
Get Down Tonight – (KC & The Sunshine Band)
Desire – U2*
Low Rider – War*
A Mi Manera – Gypsy Kings*
Buddy Holly – Weezer
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Celebration – Kool & the Gang*
What Does the Fox Say? – Ylvis (this was not part of the original playlist, but Jeff begged me to put it in)
Golden Years – David Bowie (The last song we played that night. It’s my favorite pop song, and I wanted to end with it)
Remainder of Playlist (but which we did not play that night)
Mony Mony – Billy Idol
Brick House – The Commodores
Shining Star – Earth Wind & Fire
One More Time – Daft Punk
Modern Love – David Bowie
Fell in Love With a Girl – The White Stripes
Respect – Aretha Franklin
What I Like About You – The Romantics
(Don’t worry about these songs at the end, we didn’t ever really think we’d play them, it was a just-in-case measure.)
My sweet Ellabelle had her 6th grade graduation this week.
Which means she attended the last day of school in nice Sunday clothes.
Which means she looked like this while doing safety patrol:
It’s hard to believe that she’s all done with elementary school — no, scratch that. It’s actually quite easy to believe since we’ve been thinking about it for months now, what with middle school tours and choosing electives for next year. (The photos below are from the 6th grade band concert a few weeks ago.)
(Eleanor the Bored Percussionist Strikes Again!)
What really blew my mind is realizing that William will be in 5th grade next year. 5th! But he’s still in 1st grade, I could have sworn that was so!
The graduation ceremony was the same format as Jeff’s, only the pop song choice was far more appropriate for kids to sing (“Count on Me” by Bruno Mars).
Brian couldn’t make it to this one, so I brought her flowers from Trader Joe’s to compensate. She was tickled as pink as the roses.
Eleanor is looking more and more grown-up. I wasn’t able to attend her modern dance performance (that was the weekend I was in California) but the pictures from dress rehearsal were posted a few days ago, and they look so elegant and cool.
The graduation ceremony ended an hour before school ended, so Eleanor and I hoofed it over to Costco to pick up movie theater tickets and a pizza for lunch (annnnnd some books. Because Eleanor made me do it).
When the other kids came home, we snarfed down pizza, then headed over to Menchie’s for frozen yogurt (our standard last-day activity), then headed to the movies to watch Captain Underpants.
The day was topped off with the choosing of the Summer Cereals. William claimed Lucky Charms this year, and Eleanor was nearly distraught because that’s usually her choice. She eventually settled on Cocoa Puffs, a fine cereal in the mascot-with-no-pants tradition.
In other news, Jeff was awarded the Most Outstanding Digital Technology Student award at the middle school’s evening awards ceremony. Which was great for Jeff (his teacher is wonderful for thinking of him) but also meant Brian and I had to sit through a 90 minute evening award ceremony. Thank heavens I brought my knitting.
William finished his school year with a food truck simulation, which he found very interesting and talked about every day for weeks. His food truck is called “Taco Cat,” and he even made a paper model of it. He and Eleanor took some red yarn and had a ribbon cutting ceremony to declare it officially “open,” which just about made me die from cuteness.
On the last day of school, William also brought home the note that Brian and I wrote him back at the beginning of the school year. His teacher told me that he kept it on top of his desk all year long and read it every day. Sweet boy.
William also got to attend the Summer Library kickoff party, where the Emerald City Admirals came to teach quidditch to the kids, which he loved.
We also observed Father’s Day a few weeks ago. In addition to giving him the latest draft of my book, I also gave him many flavors of tiny pie slices, brought from my annual book club’s trip to the Back Door Bakery down in Olympia.
In other words, the end of the school year has treated us well.
Oh wait — can’t end without an official first day/last day comparison photo!
Although . . . that doesn’t quite capture the true spirit of the last day of school, does it?
The nicest treat happened this past month: my female friends from college organized a women’s getaway weekend in Southern California.
We picked out a date waaaaay back in August, then reserved a beach cottage in January. After the requisite bumps in the planning process (and a zillion e-mails) we all arrived in San Diego.
Our first evening there was sunny and festive.
BUUUUUUUT the following day was filled with what I have been informed is called “the June Gloom.” Ergh. This was kind of disappointing, but I wasn’t planning to go in the water much anyway (I didn’t bring my contacts, so I had to keep my face above water).
And THEN Julia fell and hurt her hand which was still healing from a previous break. (Nooooo!)
(AnnaJune spent time braiding Julia’s hair to look awesome, which I hoped helped her feel better.)
AND THEN the beach was taken over by a creepy pro-Trump “March Against Sharia” that made my stomach turn. (Even after a counter-protest showed up.)
But the idea was to hang out and talk and eat junk food, and we accomplished that with élan.
Every time I get together with the Plethora I am startled by what a different person I’ve become since I finished college. I love these people; they are like family. But to tell the truth they are also like family in the respect that, if I met some of them today for the first time, I’m not sure how close we’d be as friends, if at all. I’m wouldn’t be surprised if they felt the same way. Perhaps that’s why it’s important to reconnect with the people who knew you when you were young.
That’s a gift, isn’t it? To be friends with someone who you may never have taken the time to introduce yourself to if life hadn’t done it for you. I did have a lovely time and I hope we can do it again in the future (perhaps in Chicago? We ruminated over it in an attempt to lure East Coasties to join in).
ANYWAY — the other big news with me is that I finished Draft #3 of my novel in time for Father’s Day. Reading my book is what Brian wanted for his present, and I had a fair amount of hoofing at the last minute to meet the deadline. But meet it I did, and now I have the pleasure of watching Brian read it every night at bedtime, and he even chuckles at the parts that are funny and sometimes he stays up after I’ve turned off the light because he finds it interesting enough to not want to stop and it is the sexiest thing imaginable.
The only downside is the cringing truth that this draft took far too long to finish. I’m working at about 1/2 the speed which I ought, and it grates on me. I want to keep working over the summer, but I don’t know how that’s going to shake out now that the kids are out of school. (Especially considering that I need to keep practicing piano every day!)
I did give myself a victory lap this week — the last week before school ended — and spent time not writing and going out to lunch with friends and visiting the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the science museum. (All by myself! I got to spend as much time as I wanted reading each and every informative plaque. Most startling information gleaned: the weapons the statues carried indicated that the Qin empire had discovered mass production and interchangeable parts a good 1800 years before Europeans did.)
Summer is now upon us, and I’m looking forward to lots of fun adventures with the kids, and experimenting with ice cream. Here’s to hoping I can find a happy balance and enjoy the sunshine days!
She’s very aware that kindergarten is almost finished, especially since her teachers at school refer to her class as “almost first graders.” This past Friday she brought home a June calendar from school, and wanted me to circle “the day I will be a first grader” (aka the last day of school)
Since we have to arrive at school early for Safety Patrol, Katie and I have begun a habit of hanging out in the car and doing reading lessons while waiting for school to start. She’s moving very well through my Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading book, and I read picture books to her as well. A few weeks ago I found a complete boxed set of Cicely Barker’s “Flower Fairy” books, and Katie loves them. She’s convinced that all the fairies in the books are real.
Two weeks ago we watched The Dark Crystal for Old Movie Sunday, and she spent time turning our living room into a theater, complete with paper tickets (separate tickets for entering and exiting the theater), a rope across the entry, and a speech that she gave before the screening (“welcome to the movie theater. The exits are here and here . . .”)
Last week we had a string of rain-free weather, which Katie is not used to dealing with. When she saw the weather forecast in the newspaper, she began to cry. “I am so tired of sunny!”
Seriously, when I took them to the Strawberry Festival during the 2nd week of May, she and William hid in my shadow to get out of the sun
Katie is desperate for her siblings’ attention lately. This usually ends up with temper tantrums and lots of crying. She and William often get in fights, and I don’t know how to prevent them.
The Edmonds Musicianship Festival was the third week of May, and it was Katie’s first time participating. She did great — white and blue ribbons on her performances, and she got her face painted like a fox afterwards. Hooray!
The year has wrapped up for Katie’s Daisy Girl Scout troop. It looks like we’re still going to have a troop next year, hooray! We finished the year with a visit from a group of Junior Girl Scouts (4th/5th graders) who came to teach our Daisies all about outdoor safety as part of their Bronze Award. I was majorly impressed by all the work the Juniors did, and our Daisies loved it!
Wim just finished a six-week after school robotics course. It made carpooling miserable (I would drive E. to dance early, then drive back and get Wim, take him home, then go back and pick up E. then go home again . . . uuuuuugh, it was two hours of driving but it was only temporary) but it made him light up like nothing else. He chattered about it the whole way home. They finished the class with a “robot Olympics.”
He just read Hatchet, since he observed how much Eleanor loved it (right now it’s her favorite book ever). But he doesn’t seem as absorbed by the story as she was. I’ll tell him “time to read,” and he’ll set a timer for 30 minutes, read for exactly that amount of time, and stop. Now he’s moved on to A Wrinkle in Time.
He is still doing that Kissing Equilibrium thing, where he must kiss me the exact number of times that I kiss him. Drives me kind of crazy, but it’s also endearing.
We finally forced him to cut his hair. He really dislikes haircuts and if it were up to him, he’d let it grow down to his waist, I’m sure. When we asked him why he disliked it, he said it was because he liked how we could all run our fingers through his big floppy locks.
He got double blue ribbons for his solo performances at the Musicianship Festival. William is very self-motivated at his piano practice, so I’m not surprised at all that he did well. I don’t know if he has any great love of playing the instrument — like reading, he practices exactly what is required, and no more.
A while ago I read some parenting advice that said, “if you deposit time with your preteens, you can withdraw it from your teenagers,” and it’s very true. Unfortunately William is so quiet that he gets overlooked too often. Lately I’ve been making a point of taking him with me on my Tuesday night library visits. It’s nice having him to chat with on the way there and back.
Often he asks the most wonderful questions, like “if you chop up ice small enough, will it turn into water?” I replied that the friction from the blade would melt the ice first. “What if that didn’t matter, if the ice stayed at freezing temperatures?” I said that the you’d end up with very small ice crystals, not water. “What if you split the water molecules?” he went on. Love the way he thinks.
Eleanor spent the week before Memorial Day weekend at Camp Orkila with all the other 6th graders from her school. She loved this trip SO MUCH — for days beforehand, she talked nonstop about counting down the days to camp, how she got to meet her counselors ahead of time, how we needed to drop everything and pack her bags right now (this was a week before camp started). She loved camp to pieces. The thing she looked forward to the most was taking a ride on a giant tree swing, and she was able to finagle two rides on the swing. Nice!
Elle has really become a sweet wonderful person lately. She’s working hard at getting along with everyone in the family, and I love that she’s maturing this way. On Wednesdays I have to drive her up to Lynnwood for her dance class, and chatting with her in the car is one of the best parts of the week.
She’s excited about finishing up elementary school and moving on to middle school next year. This Wednesday is her final band concert. I hope she doesn’t get too weepy during the “moving up” ceremony at the end of the school year.
YW is treating her nicely (“kids don’t sit on the floor to watch church movies like in Primary”) and she’s looking forward to Girl’s Camp this summer. There was even a High Adventure trip this past weekend for the YW, but she didn’t attend because she had the final concert with Seattle Children’s Chorus. She was not happy about that decision — she really wanted to go camp and hike the Dungeness Spit — but I think there’s a lesson to be learned about sticking to something you’ve already committed to and not dropping out just because something better comes along. Plus, she’s up for promotion to Arioso this year, and we don’t want to risk messing that up.
Back in the fall, Eleanor submitted a music composition to the PTA Reflections contest, and we just got it returned to her this past week. She was a finalist at the state level competition! Wow!! Her piano teacher, Frances (who helped her write the piece), is over the moon.
We’ve had a bit of discouragement with Jeff lately — a few weeks ago, we were informed by the school that he needs to retake pre-algebra next year. This was a big blow to Brian and I, since we work so hard to help him with math. It’s such a different track from the race-to-the-top way we did high school.
He remains the most enthusiastic reader of the four kids. William and Eleanor enjoy reading, but Jeff is the first one to actively seek out his book if it’s one he enjoys. Right now he’s tearing through Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series, which is one of my most favorites ever, and it brings me so much joy.
Magic: the Gathering is still his favorite hobby. I worry that he’s going to miss the Magic club once school is out. I can’t convince him to invite any of his club mates over to our house to play during the summer. He mentioned once that he’s concerned about how the other kids swear a lot, and even though I said that wouldn’t be a concern, he’s still not interested. But he does want to start going to Magic Nights at the local game pub. One of these days I need to take him to the game pub in Bothell that specializes in Magic and is decorated to look like the Green Dragon from Lord of the Rings. (It’s adorable.)
Last night I left Jeff in charge of the kids while Brian and I were out. “Turn off the screens and do something else for an hour,” I ordered before I left. When I returned home, there was a cool cardboard fort on the dining room table. I thought it was something the kids worked on together, but no — Jeff ordered his siblings outside, then made the fort by himself. Although Katie was allowed to come in and scribble red marker on the floor as “blood puddles.”
He’s still singing with the Seattle Children’s Chorus, although we were asked by the directors to find him voice lessons. So for the last few months he’s been taking voice with a retired music professor who lives in our neighborhood. I think Jeff enjoys them — he’s always very engaged during his lessons, even if he initially fought with me over practicing voice at home. I’ve noticed improvements already. Brian is over the moon; he listens in on the lessons and makes mental notes so he can improve his own singing. Nowadays Jeff has settled in to the habit of coming home from school, practicing piano (on the organ, which he prefers) and then doing voice with me. He sits beside me on the piano while we do duet exercises, with one arm around my shoulders. It is the best.
Last week, Jeff came home sweating buckets, so I suggested he stop wearing his insulated jacket all the time. This made him a little upset and concerned.
JEFF: Mom, is all this heat caused by global warming?
ME: [looks outside at thermometer] It’s 77 degrees.
JEFF: So that’s global warming, right?
ME: Um . . . global warming is happening, but this specific temperature is caused by the fact that it is the first week of June.
JEFF: So it’s going to STAY this hot??
Later that night, I found William rummaging through his drawers in a panic, saying “It’s going to be EIGHTY TWO DEGREES tomorrow, Mom,” looking for shorts like he’s preparing for Armageddon.
The Sainted Grandparents decided to take my children to Vancouver Island for spring break, and so Brian and I decided to have a mini-adventure of our own. Brian couldn’t take the whole week off, and since our van went to the island with the kids, we decided to take a trip to Vancouver, B.C. by train. We’ve lived here for 4 1/2 years — it was high time we visited the last of the three Cascadia cities.
It’s always been one of my travel dreams to take a romantic getaway via train. Our Cascades Amtrak wasn’t the Orient Express, but it did well enough.
That is, until we got stuck on the tracks just outside the city, waiting for over an hour for a freight train to pass us. We didn’t get to the station until midnight, ugh. Thank heavens we had a box of Samoas to munch on while waiting.
Also, our bed and breakfast had a magnificent breakfast to make up for it.
The B&B was close to Stanley Park, so we spent the morning strolling through it, exploring little gardens and flower displays on our way to the Vancouver Aquarium.
I’ve heard for years that the aquarium is one of the best in the world, and I agree. It is an incredibly well kept facility, with tons of remarkable animals to coo over. My favorites were a tank of translucent jellyfish, each the diameter of a nickel.
For lunch, our guidebook recommended a Japanese izakayas restaurant called Guu With Garlic. Izakayas are like Japanese pubs, with lots of interesting dishes.
After that culinary adventure, we rented bikes and rode the circumference of the Stanley Park seawall. I love riding bicycles and hardly ever find time to do so, so this was a real treat for me.
Afterwards, we continued following the bike paths up towards the convention center, where we found a wonderful gelato place. We had the toasted pecan gelato — drizzled with maple syrup! — a flavor that had recently won the “best new flavor” award at the Florence Gelato Festival.
That night we decided to have our “fancy meal” of the trip at a restaurant called Forage. Since it shares a name and cuisine type with our favorite (now defunct) restaurant in SLC, we were hopeful for some delicious interesting food.
Well . . . it was interesting. And good, but not knock-your-socks-off delicious. RIP, Salt Lake Forage. You are a difficult restaurant to replace.
Day Two was another unexpectedly sunny day, so we hopped onboard the free shuttle bus to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
It totally fulfilled all my childhood fantasies of living in an Ewok Village, or the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse.
Plus, I got to hug Mountie Bear! Awww, I could cuddle him all day.
The shuttle bus took us back into town, and we popped into another restaurant the guidebook recommended, a Korean place that offered a lunch deal where you could get 15-odd tiny dishes, including things like spicy squid salad and some kind of rice jelly salad. Our guidebook listed “Eating Asian Food” as the #3 thing to do in the “Vancouver’s Top Ten” list, and I heartily agree. So many food adventures to be had!
That afternoon we took a tour through Roedde House, one of the rare historic homes that allows you to walk into all the rooms (no velvet ropes, no plastic walls blocking off doorways) and better yet, touch all the things. We got to look through a stereoscope, crank the breadmaking machine, and Brian even got me to play around on the 1890s Steinway upright in the sitting room. Since the museum hosts chamber music performances, the piano was marvellously in tune and very fun to play.
That evening we took an aquabus — the world’s most adorable watercraft — over to Granville Island, which is kind of like the Vancouver equivalent of Pike Place Market.
There was a restaurant there that specialized in Canadian dishes made with locally sourced food. SO MANY CARBS, I mean just look at them all:
Day Three began with trying out a donut from Tim Hortons. It was okay. Filled with Nutella! Eh.
We took a taxi over to the University of British Columbia to explore the UBC Botanical Gardens. So many things were blooming! It was a wonderful time of year to be there.
Afterwards we hiked up the road to the Japanese Memorial Garden. It had begun to sprinkle a bit by this time, so we didn’t stay long.
Just around the corner was the Museum of Anthropology, which has one of the best collections of First Nations art and artifacts in the world.
The carved totems were beautiful, but my favorite thing was this:
A bear arm-wrestling a moose! What’s not to love?
Our guidebook recommended exploring the Kitsilano neighborhood (which reminded us of Ballard/Fremont). We had lunch at a quirky retro diner with a lot of crazy stuff all over the walls and gigantic milkshakes.
Afterwards we checked out a local record store (It was officially Record Store Day! I bought a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours).
Nearby was Wanderlust famous travel bookstore/supply store. Brian thought it a tad silly to be in a travel store while visiting another country.
We unfortunately decided to walk home from Kitsilano, which was a terrible idea because the rain came down hard and drenched us completely. We decided to lounge about in our hotel (we had left the B&B the day before) for a few hours before embarking on our dinner adventure.
And what an adventure it was! For the heck of it, we decided to try our luck at Bao Bei, a “Chinese brasserie” described as delicious and trendy in our guidebook. And it doesn’t take reservations.
We showed up at 8:30, hoping to be at the tail end of the dinner rush. We were told a table wouldn’t be ready for 90 minutes.
Well, we had just had a late afternoon nap, and didn’t have any kids with us, so . . . why not wait? Pudding!
We decided to explore Chinatown while waiting. This turned out to be less than wonderful.
Yes, we tracked down the Jimi Hendrix shrine (after several dead ends). I would have taken a picture, but the shrine was closed for the day.
We saw the Chinatown Gate and the Millennial Gate. . .
. . . and the “World’s Narrowest Building,” which is a thing. . . .
. . . and walked through many, many raucous groups of people who smelled like booze and marijuana (some of whom were fighting), and an odd, sketchy city block that had a gathering of fifty-odd homeless people. Is it a city policy for them to gather all on one street for the night?
We eventually found our way to a grocery and pharmacy that was open late, and spent time buying up Canada-only junk food for our kiddos. Yes, even the Kraft Dinner. Same inside — but the box looks so different from ours!
Finally, finally our table at Bao Bei was ready. We were supposed to order a lot of little dishes. They were yummy, but not wander-through-90-minutes-of-ganja-clouds yummy. We were definitely the oldest people in the restaurant. Haven’t had that experience in a while.
I had to be a bit assertive to get a taxi home. Thank heavens Canadians are polite even when a little drunk. (“Oh, I’m sorry, was that your taxi?” “Um. Yes.”)
Day Four: We decided to check out some of the interesting downtown stuff we’d glimpsed while taxiing around before.
I loved seeing the Vancouver Public Library. I’d read about their Multilingual Collection in grad school (although, come to think of it, the Toronto one is supposedly even bigger).
The library was designed by the same architecture firm that did SLC’s main library, so the layout was oddly familiar.
I was enchanted to see this complete set of brand-new recording studios, open to anyone with a library card. There was also a bank of computers reserved just for working on creative projects (like Photoshop, web design, etc.).
After the library we headed down the street to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which has no permanent collection — it’s three floors of gallery space for temporary exhibits of contemporary art. Our favorite was the main gallery, featuring masterworks by First Nations artist Susan Point.
We then headed back to the gelato place we’d visited on Day One, and took a stroll down the convention center’s “Canadian Trail,”
visited the skyscraper that was once “the tallest building in the British Empire” . . .
. . . and ended up in Yaletown for a big lunch/dinner.
And yes . . . then we had gelato one more time before leaving town. (It turns out the gelato place had two branches! We couldn’t pass on that!)
Everything was set for meeting our 5:30 train back home. We lucked out and got a double-decker touring train this time. Even more romantic than before, and we didn’t get stuck waiting for a freighter this time!
Vancouver was beautiful — on the water like Seattle, but with the mountains up-close, like Salt Lake. There’s a citywide ban on billboards and other big advertisements, so the city felt clean and serene. I loved it! Thanks for the fun times, B.C.!