Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Death Challenge Post: August 2010

Interested in joining the Challenge? Anyone is welcome to join in at any time. See the sign up post HERE.

This is the round up post for the 8th month of the In Death Reading Challenge. Congratulations to everyone who has kept up with the one book per month challenge and to everyone who has almost kept up, too! I happen to know this second part deserves recognition too because I personally fall in this category myself! LOL!

I can't believe today is the last day of August already. Oh! Which reminds me... Happy Birthday, Brandy!!! ;) I don't know about all of you, but this month flew by for me. August is typically my most productive reading month of the year, but I've only read six books this month! I was so hoping that my seventh book was going to be Betrayal In Death, but it's not going to happen by midnight tonight. Maybe by Friday.
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Link up any In Death posts you made this month here. If you made a post on your blog whether it be a review or commentary, please grab the link to your post and enter in the Mr. Linky below along with your name so we can find each other's latest In Death posts easily.

If you're just keeping a running list of the books as you read them, grab the link to your list post and enter in the Mr. Linky so we can recognize your success this month.

If you're reading or rereading without documenting it on your blog, let me know in the comments which book(s) you read in this month. This will also help me keep track of who's eligible for the challenge giveaway in August.

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In the meantime, if you've read your In Death Challenge book for this month and the previous three months, you're eligible to be in my challenge giveaway! I'll wait until Friday for everyone to come by and link up before randomly drawing the winner of a $5 gift card to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. If you don't have one of those coffee shops in your area, we'll work something else out.

To qualify for the giveaway, you must do or have done the following:

1. Be signed up for the In Death Reading Challenge in this post HERE either with Mr.Linky or in the comments if you do not have your own blog.

2. Have read FOUR In Death novels between May 1, 2010 and August 31, 2010. Actually, let's make that by September 3, 2010 to allow any stragglers to catch up.

3. Have documented the In Death novels you have read for the challenge by:

Maintaining a running list somewhere on your blog ...
Posting reviews or commentary on your blog ...
Having notified me which book(s) you read in comments on any of the In Death Challenge posts ...
Any combination of the above.

Pretty simple. You read four In Death books, leave me proof, and voila! You're in the drawing.

I'll select a winner on September 4, 2010.

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Betrayal In Death by J.D. Robb
Book 13

... still reading ...

September 5, 2010
Edited to add: I finally finished Betrayal in Death and while it is not a favorite, it was still very good. The crime fiction mystery turned out to be pretty good. It was one of those mysteries in which you know who the murderer is--in this case an elusive assassin, but it takes time for all the pieces to come together and all his connections to various people and plots are made. As always, the relationship developments really pull the story together and are what makes me anxious to get to the next book.

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I'm going for the easy way out here this month by asking which In Death book or books are your favorite in this series so far. Feel free to share why it's your favorite--just don't be too specific that results in revealing any spoilers about plot or characters.

I know this is kind of a lame question because I don't even like answering it! I've liked all the books so far, but I guess in different ways for different reasons. I think Naked In Death (Book 1) will always be one of my favorites because it was the first one and I loved the way Eve and Roarke tripped their way through the very beginnings of a personal relationship. I also liked Judgement In Death (Book 12) because I thought the crime fiction plot and the personal relationship plots were equally exciting and suspenseful.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Authors By The Alphabet {Online} Book Club

As if a dozen {literally} reading challenges weren't enough for me, I went ahead and joined an online book club! Don't laugh! I know I'm already kind of way in over my head with a leaning tower of TBR books, a list of books I want to loot from the library, and yet more books that are on my wish list that haven't even been released yet. So why not add more reading to the mix by joining a book club? You're laughing, aren't you? The thing is, I think this online book club will help broaden my reading horizons because the participants take turns selecting the book to be read each month and it looks like everyone has slightly different reading preferences.

Here's how it works:

The Authors By The Alphabet Book Club is being hosted by Paula at Tome's Devotee book blog.

Each month we'll read one book, selected based on authors last names, working our way through the alphabet A through Z.

Participants will take turns each month proposing a couple of books by authors whose last names start with whatever letter of the alphabet we're up to for the next month's book selection. The group will have a chance to voice their preferences, but the participant who chose the books will have the final say in which one we'll read.

In the last few days of each month, Paula will make a post for the book club with some questions or comments or whatever so we can engage in some good discussions.

Sounds fun, doesn't it?
The book club pilots in September and our first book will be The Godmother by Carrie Adams.

If you think you'd like to join, visit Paula at Authors By The Alphabet Book Club and sign up!

Come on and join the fun!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Look who's all grown up!

Sounds like a segue to some photos of my daughters, but it's not! Sorry to disappoint, although I am hoping to get some first day of school photos next week. It'll be a miracle if they cooperate.

The one I'm talking about being all grown up is the baby deer that spent the day in the flowerbed between my driveway and house, about five feet from my side door earlier in the spring. Do you remember that? I posted about the fawn back on May 4. Oh my goodness it was so small that day... like the size of a cat, but with a long neck and big ears and spots on its back.

Turns out a friend who had been jogging down the street past my house early that day, saw the baby deer run with wobbly legs across the street into my yard. We all wondered if it had been reunited with its mother. Several weeks after that day, I spotted a mother deer with not one, but two baby deer in our neighborhood very early one morning. I liked to think one of those babies was the fawn that had been in our yard back in May. Since then, we've seen a whole lot of evidence that these deer were thriving... coming to the gourmet organic buffet in the form of MY YARD!

This afternoon, I spotted this young deer in my yard munching on the liriope (monkey grass) that is blooming with dainty little lavender colored flowers right now in my front yard landscape:
I think it is one of the two fawns I saw that early morning with the doe and quite possibly the fawn who spent several hours in the shade of the ornamental grasses in my perennial garden.

What do you think?

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Although I didn't get to everything on my to do list this weekend, I actually had quite a productive weekend. I can't usually claim that. LOL.

I went out riding [bike] both Saturday and today. My husband and I usually ride together on Saturdays, but he wasn't feeling so great, so I rode by myself then. Sunday I usually go to spin class, but there are no classes at my gym from today through Labor Day, so I met up with two friends from the gym who are experienced riders and you know what? I was able to keep up with them just fine. It's not like we were competing or training or anything like that, but still, it was nice to be at comparable skill levels. We'll be riding together again over the next ten days or so until classes start up again--including tomorrow morning. : )

Saturday night I was up to my elbows in basil and garlic as I turned five big bunches of organic basil that I special ordered through my co-op into several jars of pesto! I plan on sharing my recipe for pesto this week.

Today I took my youngest shopping and then cleaned and organized her room and closets. Both daunting tasks to take on in one day. I think I deserve a medal. LOL. I actually got a lot of hugs and even a few kisses out of her, which trust me... is HUGE coming from her these days. We managed to get her two new pairs of sneakers (one for her gym locker and one to wear whenever), jeggings (jean leggings... all the rage this year), and four shirts. You'd think we would have come home with a full wardrobe for the time we spent shopping, but the clothes out there were so ... "meh" and she's pretty picky on top of that.

We also shopped for a new comforter set for her bed. She's been in her "new" room since we moved back in the house after the addition over a year ago and we never updated her bedding. In fact, she's been using a hand-me-down set from her sister for years, so it was about time she got her very own stuff. Finding the right set was near impossible. Again, she's very picky. And to make matters worse, we found the perfect comforter set for my teen about a month ago and of course, my youngest wants the same set. Her sister said no go, so I felt I should honor that and insist that the younger one pick out something different. So after a few hours, she found something and we got it set up on her bed and to help make it stick... I helped her clean and organize her room from top to bottom. Okay, well I cleaned and organized her room and she laid on her "new" bed and watched me. For an hour and then she went downstairs to watch TV. LOL. We also went through all of her clothes and hand me downs from my teen... picking out what still fits her and making piles of the rest to give away to my college friend who has three girls younger than my youngest. What a task, but we did it! I feel so accomplished.

What I didn't get around to doing this weekend was to make peach jam and a peach kuchen with the dozen or more peaches I have from my co-op, save the seeds of some flowering annuals in my yard before I yank them up--they're looking pretty weedy AND read this month's In Death book for the challenge. I think I read 30 pages or so yesterday, and nothing today. I can't believe there's only two more days left of August!

What were you up to this weekend?

I hope you were having fun and had time to relax and enjoy these last few lazy days of summer.


Friday, August 27, 2010

In which she conquers Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages! Let it be known that I have finally conquered the tome that has taken residency upon my nightstand for more than three years that is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!

{bowing to my audience}

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Yes, it is true.

I finally finished reading the seventh and final Harry Potter book yesterday morning.

I don't know what happened that I couldn't bring myself to just read this book. Perhaps I just didn't want the series to end. Or I outgrew the trials and tribulations of the witches and wizards of Hogwarts. Maybe I was simply intimidated by the 759 pages. Whether it be one or all of those reasons... Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows became my Big Book Challenge for 2010. And I conquered it. Yes!

No book review, but I do have a few comments. Six cents worth. ^_^

If you have not yet read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, please read the rest of this post at your own risk. I do not reveal anything too specific, but there are little tiny bits that should be avoided by true "spoilerphobics."

One. The book was great. Really, really great. At least once I got past the first 280 pages or so. It's not that the first 280 pages were't decent, but I thought this first part kind of dragged. Maybe it could have been compressed into a more abbreviated and exciting version of what it was. Maybe I just had to get over my hang up for not reading the book for three years before I started enjoying it. Who knows. The good news is that it started to pick up from there for me, and by the time I got to Chapter Nineteen titled "The Silver Doe" at page 363, things really took off and I was truly captivated by the story and didn't want to put it down.

Two. I love that Chapter Nineteen. I loved it when I first read it because it was classic Harry, Ron & Hermoine and held so much magic--both wizard and human. I loved it even more much later in the book when we find out who and what the Silver Doe represented. Oh my gosh did that make me cry. I'm such a die hard romantic. I told my girls how much I loved that and they were like, "What? Who? I forgot that part." And I was like, "WHAT?!? How could you forget that part?" Perhaps that's the difference between a grown up and a kid reading the Harry Potter books. ^_^

Three. On deaths. Many of them. Oh my. I was warned about the loss of life in this last book, and quite honestly, they had to be there for this series to have an authentic ending. The Boy Who Lived finally battles Lord Voldemort, the most evil wizard to have ever lived. People are going to die. Yet... yet... Gaaaahhh! So sad.

Four. On Horcruxes, Hallows and wandlore. Bloody Brillliant!!!! These three elements came together in such brilliance. Just... fantastic.

Five. Griphook. Grrrrr! >_<

Six. Scorpius? Really? Really? ROFLOLOLOLOL! I don't know why, but I find that insanely funny.

I'd like to commend my daughters--my teen who read this book more than three years ago, and my tween who has read this book 2-3 times within the last year-- for never ever having spilled a single solitary spoiler in front of me all these years!! Wow, they're good!

Do you read the Harry Potter books?

If you've read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, how did you like this last

Monday, August 23, 2010

Weekend of Celebrations

This past weekend was one fun and special celebration after another!

First, my husband and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary on Saturday, August 21, 2010! Wow, time sure flies when you're having fun! Or to use the words of my husband, it doesn't feel like a day over eighteen years! LOL Kidding. Um, right, honey? You were kidding, right? Aww, yeah. He was kidding. ^_^

So how did we spend our day celebrating? We did our usual Saturday morning bike ride up through the reservation in the morning, I took a really long nap on the sofa in the afternoon while he watched football (soccer), and then later we went out to dinner for Thai food ... alone! We had a really nice time eating our favorite foods and talking {without interruption!} or having to clean up the dishes! All thanks to our teenage daughter who held down the fort at home watching over her younger sister and her grandfather. ^_^

Speaking of anniversaries... and biking... Sunday was the one year anniversary for me and my road bike. Okay, so this is kind of a dorky thing to acknowledge or even remember, I admit it. But I've been having fun keeping track of my rides in a log, plus I have an odometer on my cyclocomputer on my bike. It currently says 561 miles and according to my records, I rode 74 miles before my husband installed the cyclocomputer last fall, which means I've ridden nearly 635 miles in the last year! So cool!

That's equivalent to the approximate distance from my town in NJ to places like Myrtle Beach, SC... or Lexington, KY ... or Dayton, OH ... or Detroit, MI ... or even further than Quebec, QC, Canada! So if you live near one of those places I could have ridden my bike all the way to you.

Of course, it would have taken me a year to get there. LOL! ^_^

Here is a photo of me fixing the first of three flat tires I got this summer.

At least I discovered this one before I got very far and didn't have to change it on the side of a busy road. My husband secretly took the picture back in June when he came out of the house to go to work thinking I was at least halfway through my ride already, only to find me sitting in the driveway, my eyes full of tears, fixing the flat. Apparently he thought I was pretty cute all teary eyed tackling the flat all by myself without having come in to ask for his help. And maybe for the fact that I was following instructions how to change a bike flat from a YouTube video on my iPhone that I kept pausing and playing as I got through each step, since I kind of forgot some of the steps. I seem to recall it was a particularly emotional day for me that day, but hey, some days a girl's just gotta cry over spilt milk or flat tires or whatever, right? ^_^

This is me on my bike in the driveway taken by my daughter: Much happier.

I digress. I can't think of a better way to celebrate this little one year milestone with my biking career than to have had a really awesome ride on Saturday. We tried a slightly new route on our normal loop through the local wildlife reservation that included a different hill to climb. I was worried that morning that I wouldn't be able to do it without stopping, but I did it!!! The climb wasn't quite as steep as I thought it would have been based on my perspective from the car or from having ridden it downhill with my friend Ellen last week, but it was long. Every time I climbed my way around a bend, I anticipated the top, but ended up feeling "uh oh" every time there was more climbing to do, thinking to myself, "Can I do it?" Finally, there was one last bend to the top and I was really happy that I did it all in one swoop without having to stop. Phew!

Checking our stats on my cyclocomputer at the end of our ride, I was super charged to learn that we averaged 15.1 mph for the ride, which is really good considering it is a mountain loop. Prior to this ride, we were averaging 14.5 mph for the nearly same loop. I really pushed myself and worked hard on this ride, but what a great improvement! I hope this is my new pace!

Finally, yesterday my husband and I had another evening out alone to attend a friend's wedding. The groom is in my husband's triweekly soccer gang. This was the first time I met the bride. The ceremony was lovely and the reception was a lot of fun. With all that eating and dancing, how could it not? The bride and groom looked so happy together and it was clear they were having such a great time at the reception. In ways that I can't quite pinpoint, their wedding reminded me a lot of our wedding almost exactly seventeen years ago. Or maybe it's just because this wedding took place on the same weekend as ours did all those years ago, that it made me reflect so much about our own. No matter the case, it was wonderful to be a part of this couple's special day and I relished the warm feelings and memories it brought me about our special day.

Special thanks to my dear friend Claudia who took me dress shopping two weeks ago, finding me a sexy evening dress that I love for $50 that was originally $168. Score! Plus she lent me her sassy black strappy heels and sparkly, artsy earrings and matching necklace.

Somehow, the evening escaped us without a full length photo, but here we are at the wedding last night:

This weekend of celebrations was another valuable reminder that Life is good.

I hope you had a great weekend, too. Anything exciting going on?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Library Loot XXIV

Library Loot is a weekly blog event that encourages bloggers to share what books they borrowed from the library that week. To participate, simply make your Library Loot post on your blog and link it using the Mr. Linky link at Marg's blog Reading Adventures or Claire's blog The Captive Reader. This week's link up is at ??

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, Book 2
Young Adult

I'm looking forward to reading this sequel to Shiver as soon as I finish reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. woohoo! =)

My friend and fellow young adult reader, Leslie just finished reading Linger and posted a review yesterday. Visit her at Leslie's Psyche and check it out.

Linger is the only book I looted from my library this week.

"Just one?" you ask?

To use the sentiments of my friend orannia, I feel like I've been held captive by my holds list at the library and I need to loosen the restraints a bit. At my library, new books--which are books that my library has purchased within the last year-- are lent out for only 14 days at a time and cannot be renewed if someone else is waiting on it. Makes sense and two weeks is a reasonable amount of time to read a novel. But lately, I feel like I've been scrambling to get a book read and returned by its due date, and right now I feel like I need a break from that pressure!

I think this hostage-to-my-holds list situation developed ever since I signed up to receive the Wowbrary newsletter from my library. In case you haven't heard of it before, Wowbrary is a nonprofit library service that sends patrons a weekly newsletter listing all the newest media that their public library is getting that week. My library's newsletter is emailed to me on Saturdays and I always spend a few minutes checking out what new books, movies and music are coming in. If I see something I want to read, I can click Borrow right in the newsletter and it directs my to my library's card catalog and I can get on the hold list for the book before it's even on the shelf. As you can imagine, it's very easy to get ahead of yourself by putting holds on all the latest and greatest acquisitions at your library and in no time, you're held captive by your holds list!

To find out if your public library offers Wowbrary, go to www.wowbrary.org.

Want to see a sample newsletter? Here's the latest Wowbrary for New York Public Library (Branches).

How do you find out about the latest books your library acquires?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Organic Goodness at its peak!

It's been a while since I've posted a picture of the goodness I've brought home in a recent co-op share. We're in the height of the local season here in New Jersey so our box is overflowing with a colorful variety of healthful fruits and vegetables. Just look at the rainbow laid out on my dining room table!

From left to right, starting at the top, we have...
corn and yellow onions
yellow, purple and orange carrots, cucumbers, yellow squash, eggplant, and butterhead lettuce
apples, nectarines and peaches
bananas, green bell peppers, yellow heirloom tomatoes, red tomatoes and collard greens

I have to admit that I sometimes get overwhelmed with all this bounty and can't figure out what to cook first. I got this share on Thursday morning and so far all I've eaten is one peach that was out of this world delicious and half of one of those big red tomatoes. Confession: I made myself a BLT sandwich for lunch today. It was a reduced guilt BLT, though, as I used only one and a half slices of bacon, reduced fat mayonnaise and plenty of thick, juicy slices of tomato. Amazingly, the sandwich came in at only 200 calories! I might just have another one tomorrow. ;)

So I'm looking for some inspiration!

I'd love to hear what favorite dish you'd prepare with one or more of these vegetables.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Score, a Fail and a Sputter

I'm talking about three of my 2010 reading challenges. As you may surmise from the title of this post, I have completed one of them, I'm quitting another and I am trying to rise to the occasion and dive into a third.


I recently completed "The Mini" Support Your Library Challenge having borrowed and read 25 books since January 1, 2010. I've probably read much more if I included the cookbooks and gardening books I've borrowed over the months, too, but I don't always read those cover to cover, so I chose to only apply my fiction books toward the challenge. Here's the list of fiction books I've currently read since January 1, 2010.

1. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
2. Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts
3. Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris
4. Shakespeare's Champion by Charlaine Harris
5. A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh
6. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
7. The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech
8. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
9. Shakespeare's Christmas by Charlaine Harris
10. Shakespeare's Trollop by Charlaine Harris
11. Shakespeare's Counselor by Charlaine Harris
12. Four to Score by Janet Evanovich
13. Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder
14. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
15. Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart
16. The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
17. Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs
18. Beastly by Alex Flinn
19. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
20. My Soul to Save by Rachel Vincent
21. Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts
22. Lover Mine by J.R. Ward
23. Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
24. Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield
25. A Fantasy Medley edited by Yanni Kuznia;
stories by Robin Hobb, Kelley Armstrong, C.E. Murphy and Kate Elliott

26. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
27. Looking for Alaska by John Green
. . . .

I'll continue to maintain a list of the fiction I borrow and read from my library HERE for the remainder of the year.

FAIL! :(

At the other end of my reading challenge success--or failure as the case may be, I have decided to give up on the Lynsay Sands Argeneau Family Series Reading Challenge hosted by Amy J of My Overstuffed Bookshelves. I read the first two or three books in this series a couple of years ago, having borrowed the first seven or more books from my friend Tracy and joined this challenge with hopes of picking up the rest and catching up in the series once and for all. But unfortunately, this series just isn't calling to me with as much verve as other series I have on the leaning tower of TBR. If I had more time and was a faster reader, I'd definitely stick it out, but I have a hard enough time keeping up with the series I'm passionate about, let alone the ones I simply like well enough. So I've decided to admit defeat and bid the Argeneau Family goodbye.


In the meantime, I am gearing up to tackle my Big Book for my 2010 Big Book Challenge hosted by my dear friend orannia. The challenge is to read ONE novel over 500 pages that you have been putting off purely because of its inhibitive length. Curiously, I have read three books over 500 pages already in 2010, but not the one I challenged myself with. :/

Big Books read:

1. Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl .... 554 pages
2. Lover Avenged by J.R. Ward .... 642 pages
3. Lover Mine by J.R. Ward .... 528 pages

My personal Big Book Challenge, however, is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling as it has been sitting on my nightstand for nearly two years. Now... it is time. I promised my 11 year old daughter that I would read it this month. I will read it this month. I will.

Have you been keeping up with your reading challenges?

Have you given up on any?

Have you read a big book (500+ pages) lately?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Our Pacific Northwest Road Trip

You may want to grab a cup of coffee or tea and get comfortable. I tried to be brief, I really did. I'm just not very good at it.

For the accelerated version of our trip, just scroll through the post for the photos.

For the full length version, sit back and start reading! :)

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This vacation was so long overdue for our family as it was our first vacation since taking my elderly father-in-law into our care nearly three and a half years ago. While my husband and I have had a night here and there away from home over the years, it has never been together at the same time as one of us has always had to be home caring for his dad. For this trip, we arranged to have him stay in a nursing home for the week we were away, which, while was a stressful and expensive feat in itself, was a long overdue and much deserved reprieve for us.

My husband had already been in Portland for several days for a conference, so we gratefully fell into his arms upon our arrival. Okay, that was mostly me... but the girls were also happy to see him and Yay! We were finally on vacation. By the time we got our rental car, got to the hotel, showered and crashed, I think I had been awake for nearly 24 hours straight. We slept in a little late the following morning and then got out and about to explore the city of Portland--all four of us with our own camera in hand. We literally have nearly 5000 photos from this six and a half day trip between us.


Downtown Portland
Pioneer Courthouse National Historic Site
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Historic Columbia River Highway
Multnomah Falls, et al.
Mt. Hood, et al.

We walked throughout downtown Portland near Portland State University and then walked to Pioneer Square where we toured The Pioneer Courthouse, the oldest federal building in the Pacific Northwest and now a National Historic Site. It's still operational, too. After a quick lunch, we headed just outside Portland and across the river into Washington State to Fort Vancouver.

The girls outside Fort Vancouver.

Established in the early 1800s, this historic site was the headquarters and trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company and also a business and governmental interest of Great Britain's in competition with the US. We took a self guided walking tour of the Fort through the gardens, several buildings and the three story bastion. Our visit also included a period-authentic blacksmith demonstration and a brief lecture in the fur warehouse about the hunting, processing, shipping and trading of furs.

Oh how I wish I had a vegetable & flower garden like this one just outside the walls of the fort.

Pretty pink hollyhocks and blue skies.

The Bastion (the look out tower).

We then got in the car and headed south back into Oregon in the general direction of Mt. Hood. We didn't have time to go all the way to the recreation area of the mountain to drive or hike around (next time!), but we did want to get to some kind of scenic lookout with nice views of the mountain for photo opportunities. So we just start driving south on I-84 toward Mt. Hood and I start googling "where to go for scenic views of Mt. Hood" on my iPhone. I'm not kidding. This is how we go places sometimes. In the meantime, we see a sign for "Scenic Route" so we take the exit and we're off exploring. We're so adventurous. ;)

The scenic route turns out to be the Historic Columbia River Highway, which is just the kind of route we were looking for as it winds along the Columbia River Gorge and National Scenic Area. Perfect! Along this route, we stopped a several viewpoints, including the Women's Forum Overlook where I took this photo of the Columbia River and Crown Point Overlook that you can see slightly below and off to the right of our vantage point in this photo here:

A few miles down the road and we were at the Crown Point Overlook and Vista House (the white building on the bluff in the photo above), where we stopped for more photos. Continuing on in search of a vista of Mt. Hood, we stopped at some beautiful waterfalls that cascade into the Columbia River Gorge. I believe this photo is Wakeehnah Falls.

Shortly after, we came to the more famous Multnomah Falls.

My husband & daughters on the footbridge spanning the midsection of the falls.

The stop at Multnomah Falls had a small visitor center at the base, so after enjoying the views of the falls and having taken a ton of photos, we went into the little gift shop to inquire about where to go to get a good view of Mt. Hood for a some photos. We figured the locals would know, but you know, they couldn't come up with any suggestions! We kind of laughed over the fact that when you live near some landmark that draws tourists, you tend to take it for granted and don't really know how to advise tourists to go about exploring the area. (I admit I am sometimes like that with NYC attractions and I have lived within 25 miles of downtown Manhattan my whole life!) We walked away, prepared to continue on our own. A few minutes later, the woman from the gift shop came back to us because she had a light bulb moment and directed us to the top of Larch Mountain where she promised we would have views of not just Mt. Hood, but of all FIVE nearby mountains from the same spot! We headed back the way we came, going west on the Columbia River Highway, on the lookout for a small street sign for Larch Mountain Road and was told to follow it a few miles to the top. We find Larch Mountain Road and a few miles was more like 15 miles of a lonely winding road with nothing but forests to be seen. Which was beautiful and peaceful, but to this suburban girl, it was kind of eerie to lose her cell signal and see no other cars or people or buildings or signs of any kind for miles. I really started to think we were lost and should turn around because the road kept going on and on and if this was such a great lookout spot, why are there NO signs saying so? It's got to be wrong. My husband is more patient with these kinds of things and calmly insisted we just kept going a little bit longer. So we continue on. And on. And finally get to the end of the road and it's a small parking lot:

We climbed out of the car and it was COLD! The car's computer indicated an outside temperature of 50 F (10 C). It was invigorating to say the least as we were in shorts and t shirts in 80 F (27 F) just a half hour prior, but I loved it! The girls put on their hooded sweatshirts, which they had reluctantly brought with them that morning when I insisted that they do at breakfast.

We started climbing up this path to where we were promised spectacular views. I have to say, I was in my element. Even before we got to the lookout spot, I was thrilled to be where I was on this trail. There's just something so exhilarating to be in a forest like this. I don't know how to describe it, but it's both majestic and awe-inspiring but humble and peaceful at the same time. It's almost eerily quiet, even when you speak, but it still feels so big and vast. I loved that it was so chilly that we could see our breath in puffs. And it smelled fantastic-- of cool, clean air, pine and earth.

Within minutes we were at the top at this little lookout on a bed of rocks, a simple chain link fence between us and the forests below and spectacular views of five majestic mountains beyond. I actually did a little online investigating just now and learned that this spot is called Sherrard Viewpoint Picnic Area and is at an elevation of 4,055' on Larch Mountain. Just as promised we had spectacular views of the five area mountains:
Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft, 97 miles away),
Mt. St. Helens (8363 ft., 46 miles away),
Mt. Adams (12,307 ft., 54 miles away),
Mt. Hood (11,235 ft., 22 miles away) and
Mt. Jefferson (10,497 ft., 62 miles away).

As we stood there in awe, clouds were rushing past just below our viewpoint, giving us views of the mountain tops poking out above the cloud line. One or two of the mountains could be seen clear as day, a few others were mostly hidden by the clouds, so I'm not 100% sure which photo belongs to which mountain. Which is a darn shame. I'll just have to go back some time and figure it all out. Which wouldn't be a hardship since this little spot proved to be one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.

I think this is Mt. Adams.

This one I'm 99.99% sure is Mt. Hood.

And I'm pretty sure this is Mt. St. Helens(?).


After getting our fill of the views, we headed back into Portland for a very late dinner. We dined at Jake's Grill (611 Southwest 10th Avenue, Portland, OR) where we had a very delicious meal. Of course, when it's late and you're famished, everything probably tastes great, but I did thoroughly enjoy my entree of Alaskan Wild Sockeye and Halibut Penne Pasta with mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and basil pesto cream. For dessert we shared a blueberry white chocolate cheesecake. So delicious.


Passport Office
Waterfront & Pike's Place Market
Morton, WA

Our original plans after Portland, involved making our way north to Seattle, WA over the course of two days stopping one day at Mt. St. Helens and one day at Mt. Rainier, but due to a passport oversight on our part and a lack of appointment availability back home in NYC, Philadelphia or Connecticut before we left), we had an appointment in Seattle the following morning to renew my passport and secure passports for the girls as well, so we could travel to Canada at the end of our trip. So instead of going to the mountains, we got up early the next morning and headed directly to Seattle. We initiated our passport request and then had a couple of hours to explore Seattle before we had to go back and pick up our passports.

We had lunch at the Metropolitan Grill (820 2nd Avenue, Seattle, WA) where I had the very delicious Chicken Waldorf Salad made with chopped romaine, herb grilled chicken breast, two different kinds of apples, celery, jicama, candied walnuts all topped with a creamy citrus vinaigrette. Oh my gosh, it was so good.

After lunch, we took a walk along the waterfront and to Pike's Market for a short time.

After picking up our passports, we considered canceling our motel reservation in Morton, WA, the little mountain town between Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens and just staying in Seattle for the night, but we had trouble finding a vacancy in Seattle at such short notice and we would have still had to pay for our original reservation in Morton since we were passed the 24 hour cancellation period. So we decided to just stick with our original plan, suck it up and drive back the two and a half hours south again to our motel in Morton, WA. So that's what we did. The girls fell asleep in the car and my husband and I took in the scenic sights and talked. :)

White Pass Scenic Byway
Mount St. Helens National Monument

Because of the unscheduled trip into Seattle to take care of the passports, we now only had one day to do either Mt. St. Helens or Mt. Rainier and still stay on schedule with our original itinerary and hotel reservations. After debating how best to spend our one day in these forests between Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, we decided to be spontaneous and change our hotel reservations around so we could do both mountains over two days like we originally planned. Fortunately, everything worked out and we were able to book a second night in Morton and cancel our reservation in Seattle without penalty.

That morning we drove along part of the White Pass Scenic Byway that follows the rivers as they wind between the volcanic mountains of Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams with side trips along the way. We did Side Trip Loop 1, which is the Mt. St. Helens Johnston Ridge Loop and then the next day Side Trip Loop 3, which is the Mt. Rainier Loop.

We stopped first at the Mt. St. Helens visitor's center and museum where we learned about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980, studying the timeline from mid March of that year through mid September or so. The changes to the terrain as a result of the eruption were amazing to see. The destruction of the trees and all other vegetation are to be expected, but the valleys, hills, rivers, streams and even the lakes changed so dramatically that even the park rangers and residents no longer recognized the area. Rivers and lakes that were there for hundreds of years were gone in a moments notice, and new ones were born. A stark reminder of our ever changing planet.

My husband and daughters about 20 miles from Johnston Ridge at Mt. St. Helens.

View of Mt. St. Helens about 3 miles from Johnston Ridge Observation point. See that arrow in the lower right hand corner? I happened to be standing next to a couple with binoculars when I took this photo and the man was trying to point our a herd of elk to his wife.

So I paid attention and zoomed in that region for this photo:

You can click on the photo to enlarge it for a better look at the elk in the middle of the photo. There are at least four that can be seen clearly.

It helps give perspective to the vastness of this region and the sheer size of these volcanic mountains, doesn't it?

One of my favorite shots of Mt. St. Helens with wildflowers in the foreground.

Here's a neat picture of Mt. St. Helens on the left and Mt. Rainier in the distance on the left. A foreshadowing of what's to come the next day. ;)

Mount Rainier National Park

The next day we drove to Mt. Rainier National Park. This was probably my favorite day of the entire trip. I love National Parks. I love mountains. I love waterfalls. I love spectacular views. I love hiking. I love snow. I love warm sunny days with cool breezes. I love blue skies. I love having fun with my family. I got all of these in one wonderful day. : )

We visited Mt. Rainier via the southwestern side to Paradise. Most of the views of Mt. Rainier in my photos are of the Nisqually glacier area of the mountain.

On the start of our ascent on the Skyline Trail to Glacier Vista. My husband is giving my youngest a little boost already.

Hiking in the snow.

The girls took a break from hiking for a little snowball fight while my husband and I climbed up a little higher. He's on the left in the foreground, and the girls are the two figures kind of in the middle of the photo by that first big rock. You can see what I'm pretty sure is Mt. St. Helens in the background, just above the girls where the mountains meet the sky.

My youngest descending Mt. Rainier:

If you click on the photo to see it full size, you can see Mt. Adams along the skyline straight above where my daughter is standing. If you follow the skyline to the right, you can see Mt. Saint Helens just at the edge of the photograph.

After lunch, we hiked some easier trails for more views of the mountain. I like this one with the stream in the foreground and the peak of Mt. Rainier in the background.

I have dozens of photos of waterfalls within the park, but here are two of my favorites.

Narada Falls because of the magnificent rainbow:

Christine Falls because of the name. ; )

This is the upper part of Christine falls. Towards the top is a footbridge for hikers along the Comet Falls trail that is barely visible in this picture.

This is the lower part of Christine falls as seen from the base. I was walking across the bridge when I took the photo of the upper part of the falls. Note the car driving across the bridge. It helps give you perspective of the magnitude of the ravine and the power of this waterfall.

We took one last easy hike around Longmire meadow, and then my family dragged a very reluctant me out of the park late that afternoon. Oh, they were having fun, too, but I could just keep hiking and hiking and hiking ....

It was wise to leave when we did, though, because we now had a long drive ahead of us to our hotel in Vancouver that night since we shuffled our plans around the day before. Since we short changed our stay in Seattle, we decided to stop there on the way for dinner. I did some googling for Thai restaurants on my iphone, picked a restaurant and mapped out our route. The restaurant I chose was Ayutthaya Thai Cuisine (727 E. Pike Street, Seattle, WA) which was very, very good. On our way out of the city, we drove past the Seattle Space needle for some quick pictures and then headed for Vancouver with our shiny new passports in hand. ;)


Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
Stanley Park
Granville Island

Our first morning in Vancouver we headed out to the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. It is pedestrian bridge that connects hiking trails from both sides of the Lynn Canyon. The narrow, wobbly bridge is 160 ft. (50 m) above the canyon floor. I wanted to hike some more there, but got vetoed. LOL.

My oldest pretending not to be nervous.

My gorgeous family.

We headed back toward the heart of the city and landed ourselves in Stanley Park. Stanley Park is a large city park with a lot of recreational opportunities as well as some fun sight seeing things. We drove the loop around the park, stopping here and there for different views and fun things. Like ice cream! That's the Lions Gate Bridge in the background.

"Salmon Crossing?" Really mom?

Why can't I get them to pose like this at home?

Totem poles.

One thing that I really love and admire about the Vancouver area is the awareness and respect for the First Nations or Native peoples of the region.

Later that afternoon, we drove to Granville Island, which isn't really an island, but more like a penninsula of land in False Creek in downtown Vancouver. The entrance to Granville Island is underneath the southern end of the Granville Street Bridge, which was so cool. This parcel of land used to be an old factory district that was updated, improved and renovated into a chic shopping and cultural district. There is a small art and design University there, lots of eclectic shops and a big farmer's market showcasing produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods and chocolates. We hung out here for awhile, grabbed dinner and then called it a night.

Museum of Anthropology at BCU
Thai Spice Restaurant (address)
Horseshoe Bay
Scenic Drive to Whistler/Blackcomb

The next morning, we headed to the Museum of Anthropology at BCU (British Columbia University). I couldn't believe it, but we were the first ones there and it wasn't even open yet. That has never happened to us before. LOL. We walked around the outside of the museum to see the outdoor exhibits outside the museum.

Inside, we marveled at the beautiful artifacts of the First Nation people of Canada.

A sculpture by artist Bill Reid depicting the discovery of man.

We learned a lot about the native cultures, their beliefs, customs, art and histories. There was a temporary exhibit called Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures at the time that was insightful and thought provoking. There were several contributing artists, but my favorite was probably the one titled "Becoming Rivers" by Gu Xiong that used literally hundreds of small white boats flowing from outside into the museum to symbolize the physical and personal rivers that every one of us needs to cross to bridge the cultures of our world.

We left the museum and grabbed a late lunch at a restaurant called Thai Spice (1485 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C., Canada) for another great meal. I think my girls are fast becoming professional Pad Se Ew and Pineapple Fried Rice critics. ; )

Years ago--before we were even married-- my husband and I went on a ski vacation to Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, so he really wanted to take the drive up there to check it out again and maybe see Olympic Park. So we started out on the scenic drive and no sooner got out of Vancouver that we realized we needed coffee to wake up a bit for the drive. We winded our way down along the water and stopped in Horseshoe Bay... a small scenic town that serves as a port for ferries to the islands, including to Victoria.

We had a relaxing cup of coffee at a little coffee house called The Lookout overlooking the bay before heading back to the scenic drive to Whistler. The views along the highway were really so beautiful. The waterways, the majestic, snow topped mountains. So rugged and beautiful. We drove around Whistler and Blackcomb, my husband and I reminiscing about our ski vacation years ago. It was pretty sweet, actually. : )

We returned to Vancouver that evening, grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to the hotel for our last night's sleep in Vancouver.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

On our last day, we had only the morning to do some last minute fun before heading to the airport for home. We found the perfect little activity to do in a few hours and that was to visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown. (I love that you know you're in Chinatown in Vancouver because all the street lamps are painted red and many of them have gold dragons on them). This garden was such a delight. It is the very first, full size Chinese scholar garden ever built outside of China.

One of the most impressive things about this garden is that everything used to build this garden came directly from China. Everything is authentic (except for the modern plumbing and minimal electricity) AND get this... the garden was designed and built using the tools, resources, and methods used during the Ming Dynasty. If you ever find yourself at this garden, definitely take the tour. It isn't too long and the guide had SO much fascinating information to share that was not in any brochure there.

After that, we raced to the airport to make our international flight in time. A slight delay because we got randomly selected for a comprehensive search and then I had some fresh cherries with me that I was honest enough to report to customs. We cleared everything fine and made it to our gate with five minutes to spare before boarding. Phew! My husband was totally calm throughout this, but it was a little too close for comfort for me.

We arrived home safe and sound late that night and grateful for our own bathrooms and beds.

Book brought on vacation: Judgment In Death by J.D. Robb
Pages read: 25

Two flights clear across the continent and I read all of 25 pages.

On the flight home, I read a little, but also watched a movie. I watched Paper Man, a 2009 film starring Jeff Daniels, Emma Stone, Lisa Kudrow and Ryan Reynolds about a washed-up writer who forms an unlikely friendship with a teenager. I describe it as a midlife crisis meets teenage coming of age story that tugs at your heartstrings no matter what your age. I was funny and moving ... mostly moving... and ended well. I loved it.

And that my friends, is how you take a Pacific Northwest Road Trip in six and a half days.

The End. :)