Off on Safari!

Our Anniversary at Vision Quest Ranch

This September 11th marked our 23rd wedding anniversary! Who knew that twenty-three years ago we would still be putting up with each other? Ok, she puts up more with me than I do with her, but either way we are still happily together. To mark the event and celebrate our new family adventure to the Monterey Peninsula, I really wanted to do something extra special. Since neither of us are the material gift type, I looked for a unique experience. I found one!
Nestled in the Salinas Valley is an amazing, exotic, and wild experience awaiting us at Vision Quest Ranch. Vision Quest Ranch is also home to the newly remodeled Monterey Zoo. The ranch was formerly Wild Things Animal Rentals, Inc., which supplied trained animals for the movie industry. In 1994, law enforcement officer and animal enthusiast Charlie Sammut purchased the ranch and has been transforming it into one of the most unique and wonderful places in the region.

Today, Vision Quest Ranch hosts animal lovers for a one-of-a-kind overnight bed-and-breakfast safari adventure! As soon as I saw their website I knew Mish would be all in so I booked our stay. On our anniversary, I gave her an envelope with our reservation information. Her eyes gleamed wide as she read the brochure. By the look on her face, I knew I got the perfect gift. Unfortunately, we had to wait until November to go because the ranch fills quickly. The anticipation was almost too much for her.

Finally, the day arrived. We packed an over-night bag, pic-nick dinner, and bottle of Champagne and off we went on safari! I specifically reserved the Big Cat House bungalow because it offers the best views of the animals. We were given the magic code to drive through the secure gate and right up to our bungalow. From the outside, the bungalows look like unassuming giant canvas tents on wood decks. However, awaiting us inside was quite a surprise. Each of the eight bungalows are uniquely decorated in different animal themes and come with all of the comforts of a luxury hotel room, including large bathrooms, plush his and hers bathrobes, television, heated bed, complimentary snacks and beverages, and, of course, incredible vistas from the deck.

Mish quickly offloaded our gear and eagerly turned her attention, and camera, on the main event in front of us. Majestically strolling along in the open enclosure among the bungalows were four elephants. We watched them in awe as they casually went about their business completely unconcerned with us. No matter how many times we have seen elephants, they always impress us.

Later that evening, the keepers brought around an adorable capybara for us to ogle at. Next up was feeding the big cats. The keepers took us on a behind the scenes tour of the zoo and to feed the cats their dinner. The cats definitely enjoyed being fed a meal of raw ground meats and bones by adoring fans. Just when we thought that our safari could not get better, the keepers whisked us off to tuck the elephants in for the night with a bedtime snack of carrots.

The huge animals allowed us to pet their trunks and feel their tusks as they contently munched their snacks. One hungry elephant would not let anyone pass by without a toll of three carrots. Mish happily obliged by giving him her carrots and mine. I don’t think that I could have gotten my allotment of carrots from Mish anyway.

We went back to our bungalow completely overwhelmed and enthralled with the day. That night, we ate our pic-nick style dinner and toasted our incredible life together. Since we were married inside the San Diego Wild Animal Park, having an anniversary at Vision Quest Ranch seemed fitting. We went to sleep listening to the roar of a lion, hooting of an owl, yapping of coyotes, and laugh of a hyena. Despite the din, we slept fairly soundly. I think we both woke up occasionally when the lion let out a particularly loud roar to assert his kingship.

The following morning, we woke up eagerly anticipating breakfast. The breakfast itself was not very important, it was the fact that it was delivered by the elephants that mattered. As if to pay us back for our treats the night before, they returned the hospitality by giving us pastries and coffee. The keepers gave us some apples to thank the elephants with. Mish gave them my helping of apples too.

After breakfast, we strolled around the ranch to stretch our legs and look at more animals. As we passed along the main enclosure, an overly affection, and delusional, ostrich persisted in trying to court my wife with a mating dance. The large bird was obviously very confused. His dance was much more comical than alluring. Mish was impressed, just not in the way he intended.

We took a tour of the Monterey Zoo part of the ranch before we left. I got a chance to see the lion who woke us up. He didn’t seem concerned by our lack of sleep. We also watched some frisky tigers play with each other. When we went to move on, the big cat leapt up on the glass to play with Mish, at least I think it was a playful gesture.
Reluctantly, we finally left Vision Quest Ranch and headed home. Mish was so impressed by the facility that she bought a year family membership. I guess we will be returning shortly.

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Off on Another Family Adventure!

A New Adventure!

I apologize for not writing lately. Life got very chaotic for a while, but hopefully it has settled down. We are adjusting to a new normal.

After several rainy grey years in Western Washington State, we have moved, at least temporarily, to the sunny warm central coast of California. I remember 23 years ago, almost to the day, when Mishele and I honeymooned in San Francisco and drove down to Monterey. The area is still boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.

Here are some updates on our family. Elijah is now a junior in high school and trying to adapt to a new environment. Moving him mid-way through high school was a tough decision, but he is used to traveling the world. Aaron is now in his third year at the U.S. Naval Academy doing well. He came to visit us for two weeks over the summer break. He immediately became addicted to surfing, taco trucks, and cruising the coast. My truck was filled with sand when he left. Our four-footed fur-person, Albie, also is with us still. He seems to be adapting well, or at least not noticing at all (the couch, his food dish, and bed are all the same).

Mishele and I both are teaching at schools in the area, which is wonderful. We have not been in a school classroom in some time. I have been in higher education and the government and Mishele has been in online education. So, we are getting back into the rhythm of teaching. This first semester is especially rough as we adjust to new everything.

Fortunately, we are getting out and exploring our new surroundings. Monterey has many things to offer and is centrally located to San Francisco to the north, San Diego and Los Angeles to the south, the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, and the Pacific Ocean right on our western front door. As we experience new and exciting places I will post them here, so stay tuned!

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The Monterey Bay Peninsula

Sitting on the dock of the bay…

Otis Redding’s classic hit was playing in my head as we headed south on Interstate 5 for the San Francisco Bay area. We decided to take an impromptu road trip to Carmel, California, for a few days to check out the area and get relief from the cold and rain of Seattle. My wife, Mish, and I had visited before during our honeymoon, but our son, Elijah, had never been there before, so this was a new experience for him. We packed the car with clothes, snacks, and the dog, Albie, and off we went on another family adventure.

We left after work, so we got a late start. The plan was to drive as far as we wanted and then get a hotel somewhere in route. The next day we would drive the rest of the way in one long segment. Fortunately, I-5 is an easy drive. It runs from the Canadian border all the way south to the Mexican border. We made it as far as Salem, Oregon, and then called it a night.

The next day we got an early start and continued on our way to the Monterey Bay area without incident. Mish found us a nice Motel 6 in the heart of Monterey. It was no frills, but inexpensive, clean, and convenient. A good night’s rest, hot shower, and coffee and we were ready to explore!

Monterey Bay is an incredibly beautiful place. The bay is home to numerous species of birds, sea otters, seals, seal ions, dolphins, whales, fish, and more. Because of the plethora of marine life, commercial fishing was established at what is now the famous Cannery Row, one-time center of the sardine packing industry. Fishing collapsed in the 1950s, but the historical buildings remain. Today, instead of housing fish processing factories, they house quaint shops, restaurants, and the magnificent Monterey Bay Aquarium.

If you want a good historical lesson on the area, you can read John Steinbeck’s novels Cannery Row (1945) and Sweet Thursday (1954). Both were the basis for the 1982 movie Cannery Row, starring Nick Nolte and Debra Winger.

Other notable past and present residents of Monterey include: authors Jack London, Robert Luis Stevenson, and Josh Billings; musicians Paul Anka, Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, and Frank Zappa; actors Clint Eastwood, Betty White, Doris Day, and Joan Fontaine; comedian George Lopez; artist Salvador Dali; TV personality Tory Belleci of the Myth Busters; and businessman Charles Schwab.

In the morning we had a wonderful breakfast at the Old Monterey Café on Alvarado Street. The food was amazing! I was at a meeting and running behind, so I caught up with my family at the café. My wife pre-ordered for me a salmon omelet with a side of pancakes and fresh orange juice. Heaven! The service was exceptional too.

After refueling myself, I needed to walk around a bit. We headed next door to the quaint little village of Carmel-By-the Sea. Check-in next week for day-2 of our family travel.

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Spring in Washington State

Tip toe, through the tulips…

It’s that time of year again. We all start to quietly ask ourselves why we live here. The rain has not stopped since November and even us weather hardened Northwesterners are thinking of migrating south for sunnier climates. Everyone’s daily wardrobe consists of Gortex. Muddy shoes and pant bottoms have become the new fashion trends. Cabin fever set in weeks ago and has now reached critical temperature. To make matters worse, the clouds have obscured the once uplifting views of the mountains so everywhere you look is just depressing grey mist. The cold wet winter has dragged on and on with no end in sight. Not even a hot Starbuck’s mocha lifts spirits much. Just when you think that you cannot take the gloom anymore, from the rain-soaked ground a colorful sign of spring suddenly appears.

In Skagit Valley, about 60 miles north of Seattle, the tulips have returned! April brings showers, but also colorful fields of the flower to the region. Skagit Valley boasts the largest tulip growing area in the world outside of Holland. We can thank George Gibbs for this welcome sign of spring. In 1883 he planted the first five tulip bulbs as an experiment. So successful were the flowers that in 1905 the U.S. government ordered 15,000 bulbs from Holland for George to plant as a government agricultural study. The results were conclusive; tulips will grow quite well here. It appears flowers are not very nationalistic after all. Thus, the American tulip industry was born.

Soon people came from all over the area to witness the colorful fields of tulips. In 1984, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival officially began. Today, it is one of Washington State’s largest festivals, attracting over one million people over its 30 day run. The festival includes walking tours of the fields, bus tours around various fields, concerts, displays, the Mount Vernon Street Fair, and the Kiwanis Club Salmon Barbeque. The whole valley becomes gripped with tulip enthusiasm.

The largest tulip farm is Roozen Gaarde. Entrance to their fields and displays is $7.00 per person 15 years and older. The farm was founded by sixth generation tulip grower William Roozen, who immigrated to America from Holland in 1946 with the goal of establishing his own tulip business in Skagit Valley. The farm is impressive. It has several display gardens, a large gift shop, outdoor eatery, and, of course, the magnificent fields. Word of advice, wear mud proof boots. Also, be prepared for crowds and traffic. I recommend getting in and out early before the tour buses arrive.

Another must see at the festival is Tulip Town. It is also a $7.00 entrance fee. It is open 9:00am to 5:00pm seven days a week during the month of April. The town has flower displays, craft vendors, food, music, kites, and more tulip fields. No pets please (We left Albie to guard the house.). Be prepared to take lots of pictures. The vibrant colors make for amazing backgrounds for family or individual pictures. More artistic photographers create amazing pieces showcasing just the tulips in their natural beauty, like Mish.

If you don’t want all of the festivities with your flower viewing, there are many open tulip fields that are free to the public. You simply park your car on the side of the road and stroll into the field. To be honest, a tulip is a tulip. Even without the entourage that surrounds the pay to get in fields, the flowers are still singularly beautiful.

We strolled through the tulip festival for about three hours. By then, I was ready for a break. After all, a guy can only handle so much flower power. Our son, Elijah, went willingly along, but he too was ready to move on. We left the tulips behind feeling much more cheery and able to cope with the dreary weather knowing that it was coming to an end. Heading to the all you can eat buffet at the Tulalip Casino also helped boost Elijah and my spirits too.

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They are real!

The Mythical Moose

Not a moose, a racoon.

As crazy as it may sound, I was beginning to wonder if moose were real or just a clever Canadian joke on gullible Americans. Usually, I am not a conspiracy theorist (the American moon landings did happen and there was only one shooter on the grassy knoll), but my suspicion grew from years of never having actually seen a moose. For those of you that have followed our family adventures, you know that we love zoos. We have gone out of our way to visit as many zoos around the world as we can. Mish and I even got married in the San Diego Wild Animal Park (amazing, but true).

However, in all of our travels and years living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest (supposed moose country) I have never spied one, wild or captive. Being a science person, I naturally demand evidence of claims, especially if they are as fantastic as a creature like a moose.

Also not a moose, a wolf.

Moose are rumored to be up to 7 feet high at the shoulder and 1,500 pounds in weight! Their antlers can get over 6 feet across. They are solitary creatures that do not form herds, which, I have been told, is why they are very difficult to spot in the wild. You would think that something that big would stand out, seriously.

Still no moose, a beaver.

All my life I have been told stories of the mythical moose of Canada. I have seen many pictures of moose over the years and even stuffed and mounted ones on hunters’ walls as trophies. I have also seen pictures of unicorns, dragons, and Big Foot too. So, pictures don’t necessarily mean indisputable proof. There is a stuffed jack-o-lope and merman on display at the Ye Old Curiosity Shop in Seattle, but I am pretty sure that those are fakes (the mummy there is real though).

I have been repeatedly told by zoological moose experts that keeping moose in captivity is extremely difficult and dangerous. Ok, I have seen polar bears, giraffes, rhinoceros, elephants, lions, and a host of other amazing animals in captivity. How can a single moose be more difficult than any of them? I’ve even seen a platypus (and if any animal rightfully can be accused of being made up it’s a platypus)!

Nope, a bear, not a moose.

So, the thought that maybe moose were really a creature concocted by a few drunken Canadians over a camp fire while enjoying their Molson golden brew and poutine formulated in my paranoid American mind.

I could hear them laughing, “Hey, let’s play a joke on our southern neighbors, hey!”

“What kind of joke, hey?”

“We’ll take Jacque’s old stuffed dear head and sew some carved antlers on it and tell them it’s a giant mutant elk creature, hey”

“That’s a great idea, hey! They’ll come up looking for one and we’ll tell them moose are like Big Foot, hey, and hard to see so keep your eye out, hey!”

“Cool, pass me another Molson, hey.”

Admittedly, I have told our boys that moose are not real. Of course this has caused them some confusion and embarrassment in school. After all, I am probably the only dad that dared question the authenticity of the legendary moose. I was setting an example for them. I was standing by my scientific scrutiny and skepticism. My reasoning was sound. I was sure I was on the verge of finally uncovering the great Canadian hoax, until this weekend.

Fake moose.

On a cool drizzly Washington morning, we visited the Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville. There we boarded the caravan to tour the animals in their habitats. I was greatly enjoying the relaxed ride when the tour guide and driver unexpectedly announced, “Up ahead on the left you will see our resident moose males in the clearing.” What?! Moose?! Here?! I sprang up in my seat and anxiously looked out the window.

As we rounded a long curve in the road I beheld four large elk like creatures casually sitting in the grass and quietly defying my belief in their non-existence.

I went into complete sensory overload. My steadfast belief that those prankster Canadians had made up this extraordinary animal was shattered. All I could do was stare in amazement and disbelief. Meanwhile, our son, Elijah, pointed and laughed. He made sure to take lots of pictures of the moose for me. My wife just gave me that knowing smile and didn’t say a word (thankfully).

REAL MOOSE!

Now I wonder, maybe Big Foot is real too? Nah!

 

*I hope that our boys have not been too traumatized by the epic moose controversy. I will try not to talk about my alien conspiracy theories in the future until I have more information too.

 

** I also hope that my northern neighbors will forgive me doubting their honesty in regards to the whole moose mess thing. Sorry Canada.

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And the Winner is…

Election Anxiety

Now that the smoke has cleared and the dust settled, Americans are coming to terms with the 2016 presidential election. In what is probably the greatest political upset in U.S. history, Donald Trump bested Hillary Clinton. No matter which side you were rooting for the election result was a surprise for most people. I think that no one was more surprised than Trump himself. I cannot help but wonder if her really wanted it and was planning all along on not getting elected. Unfortunately for Clinton supports, he got it.

 

I remember living in England when the 2008 presidential election was going on. President George Bush was not widely liked in Europe and Barack Obama was seen as a hope for the future. I was amazed at how closely the Brits followed our election. They seemed to know more about the candidates than many Americans. Europeans in general felt like they had a huge stake in the results (which they do). When Obama won the election, they were genuinely overjoyed.

 

I wonder what people around the world are thinking now of America? From media reports, Trump does not appear to enamor other nations’ citizens as much as he has some segments of our population. I will admit, I was not on the Trump side. I am seriously concerned for my country and the world, but am trying to stay hopeful.

 

I would love to hear from fellow world travelers how people in your area of the world view the election. Please let us know. I think that we all have a little anxiety over the next four years.

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In Search of the Best Mocha Latte

God must love us because he gave us the coffee bean.

 

We Pacific Northwesterners love coffee. After all, Starbucks was founded here in Seattle in 1971. Thanks to our obsession with the delicious brew, there are now 23,000 Starbucks coffeehouses worldwide, with 560 in Washington State! Seattle boasts 142 alone. That is one for every 4,000 Seattle residents. That’s not even close to the most in one city. Seoul, South Korea, has a whopping 2,100! There is no doubt that coffee has evolved to more than a mere beverage, it is a cultural phenomenon. I definitely want (need) my mocha latte pick-me-up every day (sometimes more if I am having a rough day).

 

starbucks
I hold Starbucks in very high esteem and it is my go-to coffee of choice. However, I do love to taste test other types when we are out and about on a family adventure. I make sure that I stop into a new place every time we are out (strictly for scientific comparison of taste of course). Sometimes I am sadly disappointed by the quality of a mocha latte, but other times I find a true java delight. You need the perfect combination of great rich coffee, friendly barista, and relaxing ambiance for the maximum effect. Most people have their favorite spot. If you are headed our way and want to have a really good coffee experience, please stop into one of these cafés.

 

javareef
1. Java Reef – Seaside, Oregon (2674 Highway 101): Very whimsical décor with a drive-thru and outdoor seating. The owner and barista is very friendly and polite. The coffee is amazing! For the White coffee’s they roast their own Wabi Sabi White espresso blend, which is made from the finest Costa Rican coffee beans. Watch out, their white coffees can have as much as 3X the caffeine as regular dark roast! Their “Shark Attack” has some serious bite!  4 / 5 beans.  Check them out @ https://www.facebook.com/JavaReefCoffee/?ref=page_internal

 

rainshadowcoffee
2. Rainshadow Coffee Roasting Company – Sequim, Washington (157 W Cedar Street): Hand-picked coffees from around the world and roasted right on the premises. Their coffee is truly superb! The views of the Olympic Mountains from the café are spectacular also. 5 / 5 beans. Find them @ http://www.rainshadowcoffee.com/

 

moonstruckcafe
3. Moonstruck Chocolate Café – Portland, Oregon (6th and Alder Street): Combine my two favorite food groups, coffee and chocolate, and you have a winner! Moonstruck chocolates are simply amazing. When they blend their gourmet home-made chocolate into their rich coffee, they make a mocha latte of sheer perfection. I would drive all the way from Seattle to Portland for one (I just might…). 5 / 5 beans. Check them out @ http://www.moonstruckchocolate.com/category/cafes

 

chocmo
4. ChocMo – Poulsbo, Washington (19880 7th Ave NE): Founded by three high school seniors from Bainbridge as their senior project, it has taken off and surpassed their wildest dreams. The three friends started from making chocolate truffles in their mom’s kitchen to a successful gourmet café. Their mocha lattes (as well as all of their fine chocolate concoctions) are worth the drive. 5 / 5 beans. Be tempted @ http://www.chocmo.com.

 

cafeallegro
5. Café Allegro – Seattle, Washington (4214 University Way NE): It is possibly the oldest espresso shop in Seattle, believe it or not older than Starbucks!  The café is hidden in a small alley off of the main road, so it can be difficult to find. But it is worth the extra effort. The shop boasts good coffee in a historic setting next to the University of Washington, very hipster. 4 / 5 beans. Locate them @ http://seattleallegro.com/

 

Let us know your favorite coffee shop. I am always looking for a good cup of Joe when we travel. Cheers!

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Re-Visiting Wonderful Victoria, BC

Happy Anniversary!

Mishele and I just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary! Actually, we started dating 26 years ago. Amazingly, she has put up with me for that long.

 

We decided to treat ourselves to a short family adventure, but without the whole family (ie. no kids). We even left the dog, Albie, behind, which he is still sulking about. We went back to one of our favorite weekend get-away places, Victoria. I have posted about it before, but wanted to let everyone share in some fond memories.

 

Victoria, BC

We were very glad to see that this quaint little capital city nestled on the southern tip of Vancouver Island has only gotten better over time. Downtown is a treasure hunt of unique shops and upscale retailers with many tasty eateries. I recommend the Beaver Tail if you have a sweet tooth (602 Broughton Street).  Of course, The Empress is still impressive. We keep saying that the next time we are going to stay there. We stayed at the convenient, and more affordable, Harbor Towers, which is very nice. The staff was amazing and made us feel very welcome. Plus the view from our room was spectacular.

seal

We had a very delicious dinner at a wonderful Greek restaurant called Millos (716 Burdett Avenue). The atmosphere and food were both amazing. Later that evening, we took a romantic stroll along the water front to take in the magnificent scenery. Along the way Mishele bought some chopped-up herring from a vendor at Fisherman’s Wharf to feed an extremely eager harbor seal. They are like adorable puppies of the water. By his tame nature and round girth, I think he was well accustomed to animal loving tourists giving out free meals. I guess begging from sympathetic humans is easier than chasing down your own meal.

mishcurtisbutchart2

The next day we took the short bus ride to Butchart Gardens. They are an inspiration to any aspiring gardener and intimidating to the rest of us husbands who have to help their green-thumbed wives. Just meandering through the lush landscape is relaxing.

 

Unfortunately, the M.V. Coho only makes the run from Port Angeles, WA, to Victoria twice a day during the off season. So, we had to catch the last sailing or be stuck in Canada for another day. It was tempting…

 

Four our 23rd wedding anniversary we will have to go back to Europe!

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Keeping the Family Tradition

Congratulations Elijah!

Elijah
Elijah kept the family tradition alive by winning the 2016 Great Kilted Run in Seattle last Sunday! He took first place overall, not bad for 14 years old. His older brother, Aaron, won the same race back to back in 2012 and 2013. Elijah wants to win the race again to at least tie his brother. Ah, sibling rivalry.

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The Great Kilted Run 2016!

Calling all Highlanders!

All three of us

It’s back! After a two year hiatus, the Great Kilted Run has returned to Seattle. Start warming up, iron your kilt, and get in the Highlands spirit for August 28th! This unique 5K is held in Magnuson Park near Sandpoint just north of the University of Washington. The Wild Smithberrys have run this race three years in a row. Our oldest son, Aaron, won the race both in 2012 and 2013. This time, it is on his younger brother, Elijah, to uphold the family tradition.

Elijah with sword

For freedom!

 

The Great Kilted Run is a very fun experience. You can either run or walk the 5K course through beautiful Magnuson Park along Lake Washington. Everyone is highly encouraged to wear a kilt. If you do not own one, which I cannot believe, you can rent one at the race for $5.00 or make one. You could even start your own Tartan design!

Swords

Aaron on the right

 

The race starts with a mad 50 meter dash to three swords stabbed into the ground. Runners scramble to get one of the swords. If you do, however, you must carry it through the rest of the race holding it triumphantly. Think Braveheart, but with numbers on your chest.

Aaron award

To give Aaron his award, they had to drag everyone out of the beer garden where they planned on having the ceremony because he was under age! 

 

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Great-Kilted-Run-5K/57885169650

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