JUNE 2016: Patrick and I and Patrick’s family go to the Pacific Northwest and I realize I can write a better P.N.W. story than Stephenie Meyer.

Rule #1: Place is Character. 

So, I went to Phoenix in high school ten years ago, then somehow just a few months ago ended up in the Pacific Northwest. So I’m Bella Swan now.

Twilight is still very much a guilty pleasure of mine. I enjoy the story when I don’t have to think too hard, mainly because the relationships between Bella, Jacob, and Edward are so fun and ridiculous and because, honestly, there was so much potential for a better story. I read recently that it was meant to be a stand alone novel, but I think I like it much better with the addition of EDWARD LEAVING! FUCK YEA! and Jacob and the werewolves #TEAMJACOB.

For fun, and because now I’ve actually experienced every place almost in the Twilight Saga, I rewatched the films and had fun thinking of alternate storylines. Say, for instance, Bella leaves Phoenix and ends up in Forks. She isn’t good at sports but likes reading, so she mainly keeps to herself (okay, that’s fine). But I think that while she broods for a bit and feels homesick, she starts to maybe explore the outdoors. Her dad, instead of a police officer, could be a lumberman, because you know, Forks is the timber capital of the P.N.W. Oh, wait, Stephenie Meyer DIDN’T mention that? Oh. Okay. Well, for those of you who are n00bs re: the P.N.W., its main source of economy is timber. Read the new book Eruption: The Untold Story of Mt. Saint Helens by Steve Olson for a description of how the timber industry and the Forest Service and local government collided during the months leading up to the fated eruption.

Anyway, one thing Stephenie Meyer also FAILED to mention was the dramatic landscape. She picks Forks because it’s the place vampires need to be to be out of the sun (unlike, say, the Amazon), but forgets to make the place a character. Instead, her website describes, “Isabella Swan’s move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn.” Except Forks isn’t boring at all, nor is the rest of the state around it. It’s mountainous, breathtaking, filled with evergreen trees stretching to the sky, taller than you’ve ever seen; mists cloaking the hills and mountains on rainy days; mountains which have been timbered look like ski slopes, their new-growth trees popping up to form canopies of different hues; cool and dry sea air rolling in from the Pacific, where Orca whale-watching is a main tourist enterprise; ferries leave Port Angeles regularly for Vancouver Island, British Columbia, which can be seen from the town; volcanoes like Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and Mount Saint Helens dot Washington State; just off the coast, the San Juan Fuca plate is being subducted under the North American, leading to earthquakes and occasional violent volcanic eruptions; when driving from Seattle to Port Angeles, we can’t forget about the Olympic National park, which boasts Hurricane Ridge (also visible from Port Angeles) and houses gorgeous jungles of evergreen trees, river canyons, and hiking galore. To live in Washington is to be an outdoorsman. You would be hiking in state and national parks, learning about wildlife, housing by lake or sea, manning boats, traveling perhaps to Victoria, just across the bay from Port Angeles for a day out.

How do I know this? I’ve been there. And done that.

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So shame on you, Stephenie, for making Washington State nothing more than a playscape for Bella & Edward to find fulfillment (in each other, not anything else). Perhaps Forks is “boring” because Bella the character doesn’t have a personality. We should fix that. She likes to read, but in the books it seems like she only enjoys classics, the types of books that you read for class. We’ll change that. Bella reads everything. She especially likes fantasy and adventure books because she is introverted and it’s an escape. Ergo, while she’s nervous about moving to Forks, she’s also slightly excited.

Rule #2: No Blank Slate Characters

My main issue with the character of Bella is that she’s so eager to be negative about Forks. In the first chapter alone, Bella explains that her mom “escaped” Forks with her. She was forced to spend every summer with her father until she “put her foot down” and they went to California instead (“California” is about as descriptive a place as “North America,” seeing as Cali sports Washington-like conditions in the north, L.A. and San Fran, all severely different). She is a martyr for going back to Forks to be with her father (???) because her mother makes a point to weakly say, “you don’t have to do this…” as Bella is walking on the plane. There’s no backstory and no reason. It’s simply necessary setup to get Bella to Forks. And Bella’s relationship to Phoenix doesn’t play a role, anyway; Bella could be born and raised in Forks and the Cullens show up as the “new kids” rather than the other way around. And the story would remain exactly the same. Also in the first chapter: Bella flies to Seattle (four hours) and then flies again to Port Angeles (1 hour), then drives another hour to Forks (as opposed to driving to Forks from Seattle, which would only take a little over 2 hours. In other words: the same amount of time). She laments that her dad buys her a car because she, a 16-year-old, was going to buy one herself, while simultaneously saying her dad shouldn’t have done that because she, a 16-year-old, can’t afford a mechanic, as if contemporary 16-year-olds who live with their parents don’t depend on said parents to provide for them. How Bella thought that her dad would buy her a truck and then hang her out to dry re: mechanic, I’ll never understand.

Some quotes about Forks:

No need to add that my being happy in Forks is an impossibility.

It was beautiful, of course; I couldn’t deny that. Everything was green: the trees, their trunks covered with moss, their branches hanging with a canopy of it, the ground covered with ferns. Even the air filtered down greenly through the leaves. It was too green – an alien planet.

I should also point out that Stephenie, upon her one visit to Forks (in which it was SUNNY as she explains on her website), wrote the book as if “Sun” is alien and it is only ever gloomy and brooding. And in Bella’s words, “horrible.” Bella is thus rendered translucent and sallow, looking “unhealthy” already upon arrival. OUCH.

So, alternate storyline: Margot (short for Margaret) flies to Washington from Phoenix to attend the University of Washington’s College of the Environment (the story would be much, much better if told from a college perspective). As described in the books, she’s well-read and doesn’t relate to people her age well. She has friends, though, but simply prioritizes the mysteries and discoveries of the world over small-town gossip and drama. However, she is likable — she has to have a few friends back home. Not many, because she can come off abrasive. Margot loves to read, and learn, and has an adventurous streak that comes off as curious because she’s introverted and serious. To save money on tuition, Margot has decided to live off-campus with her father just outside Seattle under the looming, over-14,000 ft. Mount Rainier and surrounded by gushing forests. Her adventures take her to Forks, La Push, and Port Angeles for a day out/ weekend in B.C. on Vancouver Island. She loves exploring the mountains with the College Outdoors Club and studying the unique geology and marine makeup of the place. She explores the Mount Saint Helens national monument and talks to people who are hiking the P.N.W. Crest Trail, deals with homeless backpacking/college students in Seattle — that’s a thing, and has like, a life.

Rule #3: Write a Love Story That’s Realistic, not a High School Romance that Automatically Leads to Marriage.

  1. College is a much better setting for obsessive love
  2. If we go by Stephenie’s rules, boy vampires are predators of vulnerable human girls who will do anything for them once they fall in love. Everything about vampires, as Stephenie mentions in Book 1, brings these young women in. Edward is “good” in the sense that once the girls start inevitably falling for him, he makes excuses to leave, even though his instinct is to allow them to get close in order to KILL THEM!
  3. Margot, being human, doesn’t understand much of this but starts to put the pieces together a la what made the first Twilight so delectable: that Edward is a VAMPIRE!
  4. Margot actually has some complicated feelings regarding the fact that Edward is a vampire. Being human, she can’t help but fall for him despite trying (and friends telling her) not to. There is no antagonistic vampires; I mean, they’re discussed, but the real antagonist is Edward himself, who tries to kill her at the end of a nice dinner with his family (forget that Jasper plotline!) There is no “your blood scent doesn’t bother me anymore”
  5. After some back and forth, Edward leaves, but Margot stays close with his family.
  6. Margot has other friends including some BOYZ from the REZ (La Push is the Quileute reservation in Washington). This is the point (and I’m schmusing Twilight and New Moon together) when Margot broods and tries to make new friends, including Jacob Black, and they bond over more substantial stuff than building…motorbikes. Because that implies the main female is just sitting looking pretty and using said boy for attention.
  7. Slow build-up of Jacob and her growing as friends, Jacob dealing with his girl issues, showing Margot the truth of what Edward is and how he’ll never change (see? SEE??? Parallels). End result: #TeamJacob. Also: werewolves.

I always liked the plot of New Moon aside from the terrible main characters Bella and Edward and how obvious it was that Stephenie should have abandoned her tragic love story for something more substantial and real. Of course Bella (Margot) will push her friends away and simultaneously try and get close to new ones. Of course her and Jacob will organically become close. Of course, she will also get stronger over time, not beg for Edward’s attention, attempt to cliff-jump, or lose her fucking mind.

The big “dilemma” for Edward and Bella’s relationship in Twilight is that Edward always feels afraid that he’s going to hurt her and also feels guilty for being a vampire. He also feels like he’s holding her back from a real life, so he leaves. Bella, instead of taking this as a blessing, is a nitwit who would rather be immortal because the guy she dated for several months is. I’d like to make this a more realistic love story where the main character wrestles with her feelings but isn’t steamrolled by them. She grows, rather than falls into a pit.

And oh yeah, the book is called Endless Afternoon™ because in the summertime in the Pacific Northwest, it doesn’t get dark till after about ten. It stays afternoon/evening for like, forever. Thus, Twilight Forever would also be an appropriate title.

And now, at last, here’s the Story of Our Vacation to the P.N.W.!

Weirdly enough, we went on vacation the same week that we went to Punta Cana last year for our couples’ retreat at an all-inclusive. Sadly, Chicago wasn’t in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, so we had no hockey to watch. The occasion? A surprise wedding anniversary party for family friends. Pat’s sister got married in July, 2015, and our friends came to visit for the wedding, begging us to fly out to Vancouver Island to their lake house and convince Pat’s dad to go as well. Apparently they’ve been trying to get him out there for years. Our friends, the Adams, have three sons about our age: Tanner, Cody, and Chance, so it would be fun for us young kids as well. The three boys planned the entire trip and it was our duty to simply arrive on schedule.

We began the journey with a drive to Bradley early on a Wednesday morning. We flew two hours to Chicago and then had about a two-hour layover until our four-and-a-half hour flight to Seattle from there. I passed the time (1) Reading (2) trying not to think about being hungry (3) playing a dice game called “Greedy” (also known as Farkle) (4) Leaning over Pat, who always takes the window seat, staring at the tallest mountains I’ve ever seen.


Yes, it is gray and misty when we land in Seattle.

We pick up the rental car and drive to our hotel where we will only stay until the next morning, just outside the SeaTac Airport (Seattle-Tacoma … “Tacoma” is the First Nations word for Mt. Rainier). Thursday is “Get to Victoria” day. In case you weren’t aware, flying to the West Coast means we went back in time three hours. So, after a day of travel, our day was extended. Awful. This meant staying overnight in Seattle was a necessity before commencing travel again.

The drive to Port Angeles from Seattle is roughly two hours. It was a fun little route which looked like a giant fishhook, starting off driving toward Tacoma and then horsehoeing upwards, thanks to the topography of WA including things like WATER and ISLANDS. I ran across the “Forks” sign just before getting into Port Angeles. We also stopped at a gas station which had a market/deli called Longhouse, and I ordered a Turkey Pesto, which was a turkey panini with red roasted peppers, artichokes, and pesto mayo, which was absolutely the most delicious thing in the world. We topped it off with kettle cooked chips.

As we crept along the corridor of the Olympic National Park, and got closer to Port Angles and Forks, things were decidedly more First Nations. Think totem poles, longhouses, log cabins, trailer parks, farms, and art that reminds you of the Arctic — Orcas, wolves, eagles, bears. The landscape from Seattle to Port Angeles was consistent — water on one side (above), mountains and tall trees on the other, and sometimes rolling landscapes or river canyons.

We stopped at a Walmart in Port Angeles, which reminded me of a Rhode Island beach town — a lot of tourist stuff, not a lot of substance, and a lot of close-set houses at first. We had to get to the ferry, so we headed toward the very edge of the coast. Port Angeles is tucked directly under some pretty steep mountains (called Hurricane Ridge) topped with snow. Some of the buildings are on steep hills under this ridge, so everything is kind of disjointed. Picture Vermont — it’s similar. The part of town nearest to the ferry is flat and full of shops. Restaurants, museums, art shops, hobby shops, new-age stuff, curiosities, and tourist stuff. The stores were totally empty and the shop owners kind of hovered around watching to see if we wanted anything, which we didn’t, because we were waiting to board the ferry. We walked round the block for a bit until our hour was up and cars could begin loading. It was supremely orderly and quick and within a few moments, we could exit the parking lot section and head upstairs to the decks. Due to wind and cold, Pat and I didn’t stay out for long. We played Greedy and tried to ignore the rocking of the ferry over whitecaps. We tried to spot orcas; didn’t.

 The ferry ride lasted just about an hour, and then it was back in our cars to unload and go through customs, since Vancouver Island is part of Canada. That took a short time and then we whipped around the corner and were at our hotel, the Swans.

Victoria is beautiful, clean, friendly, and full of orca art. We threw our stuff into our hotel “room,” which was setup like a mini-apartment / loft / condo. It was all very British and reminded me of my stay in England (“British” Columbia). There was a kitchen/living room and fireplace, as well as an upstairs with two bedrooms. I fell in love.

We decided to take a bus tour of the city. The double decker bus tickets ran for 24 hours (and it was now about 4:30 or 5 p.m.) and were hop-on, hop-off. From now on, this is how I will tour a new city. We took the full tour around the city to get familiar with each stop. The next day, we planned to pick a few stops. Since the buses stopped every hour, we could hop off, explore for an hour, and then continue on our way. The windy, chilly bus tour took us around neighborhoods and landmarks. We passed Tent City (the homeless community protesting outrageous housing prices/lack thereof), Craigdarroch Castle, Oak Bay neighborhood and marina, Empress Hotel, Beacon Hill Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, and many other places. The scenery was unbelievable; the attractions endless.


I remember specifically passing a small park in Oak Bay with a piece of artwork that my brother-in-law, Brett; Pat, and I really enjoyed: a silhouette of wolves chasing a stag (we made numerous Game of Thrones references). We made plans to lunch in Oak Bay the next afternoon after stopping in Beacon Hill Park. Oak Bay reminded me of a small English village, as my pictures will show. When we got to the Marina, we stopped in a small parking lot with a turnaround at an Orca sign. There, the announcer stated, when the weather was nice, we could see one of Washington’s Cascade volcanoes. Me, never having seen a volcano, was thrilled. I wanted to know which volcano, and where. Only later, after re-watching the documentary Blackfish for the third time, did I realize why that orca sign leading into the Oak Bay Marina was so striking: it used to be the sign for the entrance to Sealand of the Pacific, where Tilikum was first brought as a young whale and, in February 1991, where Keltie Byrne was killed.

 There are Orcas everywhere in Victoria; there’s whale watching, a hedge cut into the shape of mama and baby, and a painting on the side of a building, among other things.

One neat thing about our hotel, the Swans, is that besides being central to many of Victoria’s main attractions, it has its own brewery on site (The Swans Brewery) and its own bar/restaurant called the Brew Pub! We decided, why not, let’s eat right here for dinner. Even though the drinking age is 19 in Victoria, I got carded and felt mortified #jailbait. Some of Canadian hockey friends planned to meet us at the Swans, so we got started on drinks and food.

The appetizers? Some were great, some were meh. For instance, the nachos were subpar. But the poutine (puh-TEEN)? Fabulous. It was the best poutine I’d ever eaten. For those of you peasants who’ve never had it, try visiting a gastopub nearby… chances are that it’s one of the appetizers. At our local whisky/bourbon/cured meats gastropub in Farmington, which is called Cure, I had poutine for the first time. It’s basically french fries slathered in gravy over cheese curds. If that doesn’t sound delicious, don’t knock it ’till you try it. Pat, his sister, and I were HOOKED on the poutine in Victoria, which included PULLED PORK in the recipe. The gravy had a slightly spiced element which gave it a wonderful rich flavor, and the cheese curds had a mildly creamy taste the balance it all out. And obviously, french fries and pulled pork? Amazing. To round it out for appetizers, Pat and I ordered our personal favorite: fried pickles.

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While eating, I thoroughly enjoyed the First Nations wood carvings and art around the place. It gave me the feeling that I really was in another place. I also shot loving looks at Patrick, who though is adopted, knows he’s of Iroquois descent, according to the paperwork. Anything relatively Native American / First Nations reminds me of him.

The next morning, we took the bus tour a second time. We had several stops in mind. First, Fisherman’s Wharf: the home of the best seafood in Victoria and home to the floating house village. Seattle had this, too; floating house communities are private neighborhoods of house boats. The homeowners pay taxes like everyone else, depending on how much space their houseboat covers! It’s a different way of living and many people prefer it.

Well, the seafood and sushi places weren’t open yet (most lunchtime places open later than they do in the U.S.) but we were able to walk around the docks, look at the homes, and even spotted several playful harbor seals who were watching us land folks and waiting for snacks. Pat and I even ran across a cat! For those who don’t know us, we are cat people. And coincidentally, Pat and I find a cat at least once on any trip we take.

In Chicago, we played with Coach Q’s white cat. In Florida, we found a kitty right outside Pat’s house and also in Saint Augustine. Both were lounging on the curb of the road and wanted to play. We found two cats in Victoria: one was the huge, long-furred ginger tom and designated harbor kitty that I just mentioned. The other was a loving kitty living in Fan Tan Alley, which I’ll talk about later.

Our Canadian Hockey friend Torrie (he used to play for the Whalers) met us on his motorcycle and hung around at Fisherman’s Wharf until our bus arrived. The next stop was the expansive Beacon Hill Park with a free petting zoo, so of course we went. It was beautiful and included a Rose Garden, acres and acres of greenery, several ponds, and tons of ducks.

It was a much better day for riding the bus — the evening before, the wind was biting and cold and the clouds were gray. Today, the low ceiling was gone and the sky was blue. The sun shone and we enjoyed a summery day. According to locals, the weather in Victoria is mild — they don’t get much snow and enjoy a mild winter. The summers, too, aren’t too hot. That, combined with the beauty of the island, is why Victoria attracts retirees.

As we planned, we lunched in Oak Bay Village, on a very English street at a very English Pub called the Penny Farthing (a Penny Farthing, by the way, is a type of 1870s bicycle with a large front wheel). It was delicious, so so English, and did I mention delicious? The menu is self described as “modern British comfort food.” I was having throwbacks to the pubs of Bath and London, though of course this one wasn’t built in the 1300s. We ate a smorgasbord including a charcuterie board (fresh cheese, pickles & chutney, and cured meats) and cauliflower beignets for an appetizer. I believe I ordered a flat-iron steak with parmesan frites; the English-Canadian version of a French dinner. For those interested, the Penny Farthing DOES have poutine, but we didn’t try it there.

I also ordered a Strongbow cider to drink. I wasn’t interested in a beer at the moment.

Definitely the best or second-best meal of the trip!

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To Duncan … To Lake Cowichan

By the time our bus tour was over, it was time to clean up and leave for the surprise party. The plan was to meet Cody at a gas station and then follow him to the house, but we got stuck in horrible Victoria traffic which set us back a little bit. Our drive was from Victoria to the family’s lake house was on Lake Cowichan. We met Cody in a huge field under a mountain where the boys were busy constructing a sound stage. Cowichan is home to a huge country music concert called SunFest, and Cody’s father is the owner/creator. The stage faced backwards toward the mountain in order for sound to bounce off. The concert is huge and boasts tens of thousands of country fans each summer at the end of July.


Once it was time, Cody led the way and everyone attending the party followed in their cars. We drove down a steep, winding driveway to Cody’s neighbor’s house, which is next to theirs, and had to walk in the woods along the lake until we were directly underneath the Adams’ deck several stories up (the houses are built into a steep hill and the decks overlook the lake). Cody’s brother, Chance, led his parents out to the deck and as soon as they looked down, there was an uproar of “SURPRISE!” and shouts and tears. Judy and Greg, Cody’s parents, ran down to see us. “I can’t believe you’re here! I can’t believe it!” They cried, their tears aimed at Pat’s parents — whom, of course, they have been trying to get to visit for over 30 years.

And of course, we were all invited inside for some appetizers and drinks while the men got the grills going. Jackie and I walked down to the docks with our wine glasses and sat in Adirondack chairs overlooking the lake with Tanner’s wife, and later, Pat joined us. The conversation went in the direction of the timber industry, because everything around us was mountainous. Pat and I commented that our lake house in Moodus, CT was surrounded by flatness and that we didn’t have a timber industry — rather, I explained, Connecticut was full of quarries for rock, thanks to our rich supply of granite and brownstone in basalt mountains created by rifting millions of years ago. After dinner and more rounds of wine, poured by Cody’s fiancee, Alexa, Cody invited Pat and I to stay the night. Of course, we said yes — talking and drinking throughout the night. We talked again about Connecticut’s lack of timber industry and how the U.S. calls our native ancestors “Native Americans” while Canada goes for the more respectful “First Nations.” We discussed my career as an archivist and Alexa’s career as a lawyer. We played with Chance’s pet hedgehog and the Adams set up the guest room with an air mattress for us. Cody fed us canned cider, which made Pat and I go completely bonkers drunk. We star gazed using my sky finder app, and then somehow, we made it to sleep.

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The Hangover

The next day was hell. On the drive back to Victoria with the Adams, I suffered severely from Nausea, which has a special circle just waiting for it. There were a couple close calls. On the way, though, which made things (slightly) better, Greg and Judy recounted their adventure in Africa several years before …

Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a leopardess above the Serengeti

They actually summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. The experience was recounted in painstaking detail, from the guide’s feeding them bits of food and strict regiments and timing, to experiencing altitude sickness at the top (Greg said that they didn’t notice anything until they watched the videos and realized they were D-R-U-N-K), to watching the sunrise and heading all the way back down, to the severe temperature changes and vistas. Even though I was holding in barf all the way to Victoria, I was in awe.

Our last day in the city. We met up with our folks back at the Swans and took a walk to a nearby restaurant, simply called The Local. The sun was shining and we could see the boats in the bay, so we sat outside, under rows of hanging plants and lights. It was wonderful. I went simple with a pulled pork sandwich (with a side of poutine !!!) The poutine was sub par, but the pork was pretty good. It’s my habit never to finish anything unless I’m very hungry. I’ll typically eat a little more than half and be done. I’m also a savory eater. I like savory foods and I like to savor them — aka eat them slowly. More often than not, an appetizer makes a very good meal.

From there, we decided to Take a Walk along the marina. It was a hot day; the P.N.W. has dry heats. It feels like baking in an oven, where the oven is the sky. The snow-capped mountains looked great right about now.

I’m not a fish eater. I grew up in New England, home of CHOWDAH and lobstah and seafood because well, we’re on the sea. Lobster rolls overflowing with butter sauce, creamy tomato and clam chowder, beer battered filets fried to a crisp with lemon on the side, smoked and poached and grilled salmon, buckets of mussels and plates of oysters steeping in decadent sauces, with bread for dipping, crab legs ready to crack open on the side of a meaty steak… the list goes ON. It was hard to experience Victoria without being hyperaware that seafood was its main course. Though we missed prime time the day before, Fisherman’s Wharf boasted the best fish in Victoria, and there were small shacks lined up and down the docks with various menus of fish.

Here, on the wharf, Red Fish Blue Fish was the prime location for seafood fare. It’s famous. You don’t need to question its reputation; the upcycled cargo unit turned fish eatery had a line of hundreds down the dock. We walked down David Foster Way and up to the fish restaurant; looking at everyone’s grease-soaked newspaper and various pieces of seafood made my mouth water. I would have gobbled down tempura fried halibut, tuna, cod or salmon right then and there. Red Fish Blue Fish only sells locally caught, fresh fish, and they recycle everything.

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It was a short walk up the hill and further down the wharf to the Empress hotel, which I secretly nicknamed the Impress. Opened in 1908, it looks the part. The best description I have is that walking around in the Empress is like walking around first class on the Titanic. It is so, so Edwardian.

(No, that’s not a mistake — Queen Victoria’s reign ended upon her death in 1901.)

To escape the heat, we entered the hotel’s bar and found some cushy areas to lounge and ordered drinks. Pat and I, being still sick from canned cider, ordered water and I, lemonade, to help my stomach. We chit chatted for a while until it was time for the Adams to head home. I’ll leave some pictures because the best word I have for the hotel is impression. 

After our friends left, the remainder of the afternoon was spent at the souvenir shop so I could buy my gifts and shotglass (which I collect) before heading in for a nap. Pat did not want sushi for dinner, so I left for a short time with his parents, sister, and brother-in-law. While munching on edamame, almost 24 hours later, the canned cider caught up with me and I discreetly sprinted to the bathroom to empty my stomach about three times. “Why now?” I moaned. “Why now?”

Feeling much better, I was in a smiley mood on the way back to the hotel. We were in Chinatown, the largest and oldest in Canada. Amongst the curiosity shops and theaters sits Fan Tan Alley, a tiny street squeezed between rows of buildings; it’s the narrowest street in the world. And that’s where I ran into another friendly cat.

Pat was surprised to see me so happy. He was sitting at the bar by himself in Brew Pub, finishing up his dinner. We agreed never to drink that cider again.

Early the next morning, we were out of the hotel and saying goodbye to Victoria for the next part in our adventure: the ferry ride back to Port Angeles and two-hour car ride back to Seattle. We ate at a peculiar diner which boasted delicious omelettes, pancakes, bacon and standard breakfast fare, but with a Mexican theme (?). As usual, U.S. customs was irritating and rude. My book was open in my lap, as we had to wait over an hour to be “inspected” and have our passports checked, and the guy inspecting us looked right at me and told me to put my “distraction” away. My response, as usual: a dirty look. People NOT in a vehicle (i.e., family members waving each other off), were rudely ushered out of the parking lot. I guess Port Angeles is a hot button for terrorism.

On that sunny ferry ride back, Pat and I were able to enjoy the ocean scents and view. I pointed out, excitedly, what must have been the volcano our tour guide discussed on our first day at Oak Bay Marina: a perfectly conical white mountain. Thanks to my “Volcanoes” app, which tells me where all the volcanoes are in the world and which are active, I figured out it was Mount Baker.

My fixation after leaving the ferry and starting the drive back involved seeing how many volcanoes I could find, keeping one eye out for Mount Baker and any other Cascade volcanoes. Since the sun was out and the sky cloudless, there was a whole lot more to see. In the slideshow below, Mount Baker is visible across the bay, and the snow-capped range is Hurricane Ridge, right above Port Angeles. Mount Baker was still hanging out with us as we began the journey home. Its imposing visibility over hundreds of miles is testament to how powerful and large these mountains are.

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In the case of a good itinerary — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We took the exact route home and ate at the same exact place –Longhouse– for lunch during the ride. I even ordered the same exact sandwich! Why not, right? When you’re “picky” like me, you tend to eat in concentric circles, sometimes ordering the same exact few things and sometimes branching out if the list of ingredients is aligned with my likes.

As we cruised around the outside of the Olympic mountains/forest and headed back toward Seattle, I was shocked to see a new, huge sight. How could I have missed that before? I lamented. Surely the cloud cover/ceiling wasn’t SO low that it obscured the biggest, most important thing in a 50-mile radius?

“What’s that?” Everyone turned to me.

“Mount Rainier!” I shrieked. “It’s Mount Rainier! The most dangerous volcano in North America! It’s got more glaciers than any other Cascade mountain… combined. It could cause a lahar! We’re probably driving on lahar deposits right now! It could erupt anytime!”

No one clapped a hand over my mouth, which was fortunate as I wasn’t done freaking out over seeing the looming, imposing, probably smoking, 14,000-ft tallest volcano in the Cascade range and deadliest mountain in America.


It was huge, and we were still… (I checked my phone)… about two hours away from the volcano. I looked at my map, and back at the peak. It was massive. It was taller than the trees right in front of us, even two hours away. It was beautiful and conical and encapsulated with snow and ice. I was smitten.

The future that we hold is so unclear / But I’m not alive until you call

And I’ll bet the odds against it all

Save your advice cause I won’t hear / You might be right but I don’t care

There’s a million reasons why I should give you up

But the heart wants what it wants

No Tour of the P.N.W. is Complete Without Mentioning its Famous Volcanoes

I was born 11 years after the eruption of Mount St. Helens (May 18, 1980), so for me, there is no memory of a beautiful cone over Spirit Lake. There was only ever the historical event — the blasted trees, the bare ridgeline, the homeless elk, the series of photographs portraying the “uncapping” and landslide, and the ugly, deformed hole in the middle of a mountain that was once beautiful. At the time, an eruption at St. Helens seemed impossible — a volcanic eruption? Not in this day and age, and certainly not in the continental, populated United States.

Oh, also, if anyone ever tries to tell you that Disney’s Firebird Suite from Fantasia 2000 is NOT  based on the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, then that person is a lying liar.

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This is a modern fairytale / no happy ending / no wind in our sails

But I can’t imagine a life without / breathless moments / breaking me down

We arrived in Seattle in the late afternoon, still in the shadow of Mount Rainier. The mountain was two hours Northeast of the city. For perspective, Mount St. Helens is not far south of Rainier — perhaps 50 miles or so. An eruption from Rainier could certainly reach Seattle if the lahars were strong and traveled all the way to Puget Sound. “Lahar,” just FYI, is a volcanic mudflow — a mixture of boiling water, ash, mud, and whatever debris it picks up along the way — trees, cars, rocks, you name it. The mudflow is boiling hot and has the consistency of wet cement, but travels at hundreds of miles per hour. Thanks to Rainier’s generous amounts of glacier, all that ice and snow would come down the mountain like a lateral tornado, picking up and burying anything in its path. Lahars in Rainier’s past, such as the famous Oscelola mudflow (5600 YA) and Electron (500 YA) make up the floor of many of Washington’s river valleys, and towns such as Orting sit right on top of them.

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These pictures above show a satellite image of Mount Saint Helens today — the gray  riverbeds still choked from lahars and gray fan-shaped area destroyed from the lateral blast, along with a projected map of Mount Rainier and potential damages. Seattle is at the top of the purple area. And below, enjoy some pictures of actual lahar deposits and their destruction. Some are from the 1980 eruption, and some are older from Mount Rainier.

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The Seaport of Seattle

In other news, our hotel was pretty nice. Pat and I shared a room with Jackie and Brett. We decided to take a walk around the piers and find a place for dinner. One of our stops on the way was the big ferris wheel with bubbles for seats. It wasn’t as huge as the London Eye, but similar. We also walked through the Public Market, the first farmer’s market in America, essentially. Our bus tour guide the next day asked us to shout out what word (beginning with “I”) caused the growth of the Public Market. I screamed “IMMIGRATION” when it was actually “inflation,” but I was close, knowing that the influx of poor immigrants resulted in more local wares being sold.

The market was mostly closing down and emptying by the time we arrived. I happened to catch the red brick road just outside the market (the view is facing away from the Clock/Farmer’s Market” sign in a “quiet” moment, but actually the market was bustling with comings and goings, cars and bikes and live music. The market was inside a long, low building, and I could tell easily it was from the early 20th century/ late 19th century. There were metal pipes with numbers and lights hanging down over metal tables, alotting each seller only about two feet of space to set up their wares and signs. Empty buckets and trays of ice and the hot, stifling air filled with the stench of fish reminded me that it should have been called the “Public Fish Market” rather than a Farmers Market; the other big seller was flowers — fresh flowers that, by the time the late 80s-degree day was over, were wilting and on sale. There were crafts, clothes, and tents set up outside the market with people packing their clothing into plastic totes.

We headed along the Waterfront to the the Ferris Wheel.From there, we saw the entire city, waterfront, and mountains across Puget Sound, and of course, Mount Rainier (by this time, I was just calling it “Rainy”). Pat and I glanced down into the water and noted some monitoring equipment — we both agreed that it was likely they were monitoring gas changes and tremors from a potential eruption.

As we walked along the waterfront afterward, we noticed quickly that each Pier had a number and each building on that pier was also labeled with it. For instance, we decided to eat dinner at world-famous Ivar’s, located at Pier 54. Next to our classy table by the window, we could see the Bainbridge Island Ferry coming and going. Also right next to us was Seattle Fire Station 5. Formerly, the largest wooden pier in the world called the “Grand Trunk” was situated right next to the Fire Station. The pier burned down in 1914 after only being open for three years. In 1917, it was rebuilt until 1964, when it was dismantled. Fire Station #5 remained.

Ivar’s was a gigantic restaurant and Pat and I sat at the bar while waiting to get our table. Again, I was saddened that I didn’t like seafood and settled on a salad instead. Ivar’s was completely local seafood — King Chinook Salmon, Alaskan Halibut, Coho Salmon, prawns, scallops, oysters, and clams, steamed King Crab legs and Snow Crab legs, Cod (for fish n’ chips), and of course farm fresh chicken and sirloin. The prices are expensive, but the restaurant does not expect a tip. I ate a small piece of salmon off Brett’s plate and it melted in my mouth from sweetness. I like the idea of seafood, but not the food itself, typically. And, seeing the name “Alaska” on everything from boats to roads to planes reminded me just how close we were… not because it was close, but because it was closer than anywhere else I’d been. Despite the prevalence of the Alaskan Airlines, Seafood, and other things (like First Nations art), Anchorage is still a 42-hour drive from Seattle. That’s farther than a drive to Florida from Connecticut (20 hours)!


Day 2 in Seattle: it was June 6, the anniversary of D-Day as well as the anniversary of the Great Seattle Fire, which broke out June 6, 1889. What a coincidence!

We were spoiled by seeing Victoria first. Seattle, in comparison, had some nice features, but was just okay. And I should also say, Pat and I have now been to Chicago several times, so it was a bit dull in comparison to Chitown, too. I think part of the reason for that is that Victoria was so breathtaking and there is a rich history and a lot to do there; the other reason is that we only spent really a day and a half in Seattle, which probably wasn’t enough time to see everything there is.

In the morning, Pat’s dad and Brett left to do a Boeing Factory tour; it’s located just outside Seattle en route to the SeaTac airport. Pat’s mom, Jackie, Pat, and I found a couple neat places to spend our time until lunch: the Chihuly Glass Museum and EMP Museum, which were both right underneath the Space Needle (perfect). The Space Needle was a bit too touristy for us, so we took pictures of it instead.

A quick rundown of the Chihuly Museum: Not as Boring As It Sounds. Dale Chihuly is an American-born glassblower and sculptor, and he combined his talents to create some incredible works of art out of blown glass. After my time working at Tiffany, I began to understand how designers work and why their names are important; each featured designer at Tiffany had a trademark style and imagery he/she liked to use. Elsa Peretti featured soft lines like Chinese ink on rice paper to create beautiful pieces representing hearts, bottles, and sea creatures. Paloma Picasso used her world travels to inspire her pieces: geometric designs from Moroccan screens, notes scribbled on paper at boarding school, delicate leaves branching from Olive trees outside her vacation home. Frank Gehry featured simplified, abstract, curling shapes to represent everyday ideas, such as fish and leaves. Chihuly, meanwhile, liked the idea of gardens. His sculptures were rich and alive with color and movement, like eels in a bacterial bed at the bottom of the ocean, or a collection of shells on the beach. These glass sculptures, while represented in Seattle, were purchased and installed around the world, from a Citadel in Jerusalem to Mohegan Sun Casino back home in Connecticut. The sculptures were breathtaking, and even Pat and I appreciated them.

As soon as I saw the EMP museum, next door to Chihuly, I knew that it was designed by Frank Gehry. The museum was a fun assortment of pop culture associated with the senses. There was a Football exhibit where you could test out shouting commands to your team (Seattle Seahawks) over the roar of the (supposedly) loudest fans of any football team. Being the jerk I am, I took pictures of the signs saying “Go Hawks” and on Snapchat, added text saying they were the wrong Hawks (I hate football). A giant projection screen played music while showing visually the soundwaves as the song played. There was a video game room, where you could test different games and read about the “kind” of game it was, there were Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror rooms, which showcased the genre over time and examples in literature and film. These rooms included illustrations, original text, script, and props. It was all about the senses.

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One area, for instance, described that to build suspense in a horror film, scary sounds are a must. The combination of music and sound effects, not the visuals, are what make a film scary. Jack and Brett met up with us after their tour was finished just as we were finishing ours in the EMP Museum, so we ate lunch right there in the museum. Oh, and there was a poster for a screening for Fellowship of the Ring for the film’s 15th anniversary. What?

Like Victoria, we decided on a bus tour. However, it was the anniversary of D-Day. We needed something better than a regular bus. We needed an amphibious, 1940s-era DUKW boat tour. Luckily, there was a station right across the street. We bought our tickets and had about an hour to spare, so we visited a nearby sculpture park. Seattle has this funny law called the 1% law, which basically (in layman’s terms) states that when building in Seattle, 1% of the proposed budget must be spent on public art. That’s why you see a lot of random art pieces; oftentimes the company building something in Seattle will just commission a random artist to contribute.

Anyway, we passed by the Original Starbucks, Google, Tesla, and That Dress Shop from 50 Shades of Grey (and who can forget Seattle’s newborn vampire army from Eclipse?). We talked about public art, the Great Fire, and some other interesting Seattle features before driving into Lake Union (the backside of Seattle which divides the city in half) and putt-putting around. It was pretty weird to be in a floating bus, especially because I could reach out and touch the lake water if I wanted. Like Victoria, Seattle had floating homes. Some were literally house boats, while others were just houses on water; the people still had to pay taxes on the land underneath their houses. While we floated, I took pictures and waited for the discussion that would surely break out about that very tall mountain and iconic feature of Seattle’s skyline. I was not, I thought, the only person who knew about its proximity, what it was, and how dangerous it is?

Well, not one mention was made. We pulled our steaming, soaked bus back into the parking lot.

“I guess we’re not talking about the volcano today,” I commented to Pat as we exited the bus, in earshot of everyone around us. In response, Pat swore the tour guide was checking me out during the entire tour.

Oh by the way, that tree in my picture is actually made of metal. It’s one of the “public works of art” in the sculpture park.

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I guess University-of-Washington-land is across the lake. I was okay with not checking that out. We didn’t have enough days to spare, and, to be honest, I was not interested in looking at a big university. I’d rather go whale watching for orcas.

That evening, for fun, we took a monorail ride around the city for just a few dollars. It took us to the EMP museum and that whole area of museums, where we had been earlier in the day, and then back to a mall, where of course I bought a signature shotglass to say I’d been there. Dinner that night was at Tap House, a massive two-story restaurant with 160 beers on tap (yup!). Pat and I watched the hockey game, rooting for Pittsburgh, because Nick Boninno on the Penguins was originally from Farmington and played hockey with Pat before going to Avon Old Farms. Patrice ordered a flatbread pizza. On the menu, the Italian Flatbread stated it had “red sauce, fresh mozzarella, chopped Caesar salad, Parmesan,” which I was looking at too, but was confused — did they put Caesar salad on top of the flatbread? Why? Did they bake the salad? (ew!) The waiter confirmed that yes — the salad was put on top. But it was loaded on after the flatbread was cooked. The idea was to eat the salad off the flatbread.

Well, okay then, we figured. Pat tried it, and it was actually really good! I just ate a salad. I should have tried some of Tap House’s other staples — like their extraordinary collection of burgers. As we headed upstairs afterward, we noticed several large rooms probably meant for business meetings. Swell! I highly recommend it as a fun place to visit if you’re ever in Seattle.

I didn’t visit one library on our trip, which made me sad. But I suppose there’s always another time.

The next day, it was time to say goodbye. Jackie and Brett live in Texas, but were flying to California to see Jackie’s maid of honor, Caitlin, since they are both professors and have summers off. Meanwhile, I was gearing up to start the six-week, accelerated summer semester, which I was looking forward to. During the drive up to Port Angeles, my professor emailed the class stating that we’d be doing coding (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) and other fun digital technology stuff, and I was excited to get started.

We ordered sandwiches in the airport and I continued reading while we waited to board. On the trip home, we were flying about five hours to Baltimore and another hour to Hartford. Of course, we had about an hour in between landing in Baltimore and taking off again. I was not looking forward to the travel time. I love flying, but I don’t love having to be in and out of airports and planes all day, wondering where my next meal will come from.

As it happened, our flight leaving Baltimore was delayed, of course! We needed to wait for some people’s luggage to board (I mean, it was already 9 p.m. when we were boarding… it was ridiculous). Grumbles ensued. I listened to all three Lonely Forest albums with Pat during the flight back. The Lonely Forest is a band based out of a tiny town on Puget Sound. Their songs are very indie and pay heavy tribute to the P.N.W. atmosphere.

Check out my favorite song (you won’t regret it) with beautiful P.N.W. imagery. As you can tell, I’m a sucker for “Day in the Life” films and videos.

So, the flight home was long and stressful, and we pulled into our home after a long drive and dragged our suitcases in the door and greeted our kittens, who apparently were crying and crying for us, according to Logan, our friend who helped watch them.

But one thing made it better.

The entire trip, I lamented that I couldn’t get a “good” view of Rainier. I wanted to go to the National Park, but there wasn’t time. All I got was a lame view from the road, in between everyone else’s phones and the glare on the car window.

But thanks to our serendipitous choice to always sit with the windows on our right, we flew by Rainier, around Rainier, and I got some fabulous pictures of it, showing just how huge it is in comparison to the much smaller Cascades and Glacier National Park. And, of course, I was thrilled because I also got two other volcanoes in the background of my shot: Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.

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