Church Celebrates 150 Years of Service to a Community

In 1857, there were just 13 log houses in the newly founded town of Fremont, Neb., located along the banks of the Elkhorn and Platt Rivers.  The Mormons had made the same place a stopover on their way from Missouri to Salt Lake City. Today, a plaque in Fremont’s Barnard Park commemorates where the Mormon pioneers once made camp.

By 1866, the Union Pacific Railroad had come to Fremont, soon to become a railway hub.  Three years later, a small group of people met together to organize a church, the First Baptist Church of Fremont. That church celebrated its 150th anniversary yesterday.  Two years ago, my brother Richard became its minister.

Fremont’s First Baptist Church is located on the edge of the downtown where it has stood since it was built in 1901.

He and his wife, Nola, moved to Fremont, a lively town of approximately 27,000.  My brother has settled into his new position, learning about the members of his new congregation and community.  Since its founding, the church has played an important role in Fremont,  such as aiding those who need help whose homes were damaged by the flood waters this spring.

The church sanctuary of the Fremont Baptist Church has a simple beauty .

I made a trip earlier this summer to visit my brother and his wife there and to see their new home and church. Their home is situated next door to the red brick church built in 1901.   The church is a Romanesque revival style architecture. Its solid exterior exemplifies the kind of church buildings that dot small Midwestern towns.  They were the center of  activity, where townsfolk gathered for social events as well as to attend services on Sunday.  They were places, and still are, where families of like faiths, beliefs and values congregated and came together to help one another through tough times as well as good. They were where lives were celebrated through baptisms, weddings and funerals.

The back door to the church is right around the corner from the front door of the church parsonage. One evening, I joined my sister-in-law when she invited to give me a tour of the church. I followed her through the church’s back door when she went to feed the baby chicks, waiting for her nightly arrival, that were peeping hungrily in their temporary cardboard box coop in the church’s youth classroom.  The chicks had been living and growing there since Easter and were soon to be relocated to the farm of one of the church members.

The evening light coming through the church windows cast a warmth over the rows of empty pews in the darkened sanctuary.

We headed up the back stairs into the church and passed into the sanctuary.  The sanctuary was empty, dim and quiet when we entered.  Strong, simple dark timber beams supported the steep pitched high ceiling.  From these beams hung long lantern-like lamps that beautifully lit the interior with a soft white light  when my sister-in-law switched them on.  Behind the altar and the the choir pews at the front of the aspe was a large blue stained glass window.  The blue glass of the arched window was deep and tranquil.  Lining either side of the sanctuary were golden crisscross leaded windows through which the evening light cast a warm glow over the rows of the dark wooden pews.  The mood was reverent and peaceful. It indeed felt like this place, at this moment truly offered sanctuary from the troubles of the outside world.

On Sundays, my brother takes his place at the pulpit to speak to his Sunday congregation. The services are projected on the screen behind him as well as recorded and posted on the church website and linked to its Facebook page where people can tune in and watch it later.

On Sunday, when I attended my brother’s church service, the sanctuary had come alive as people came in to find their seats in the pews in preparation for the 9:30 a.m. traditional service. (A more contemporary and casual worship takes place at 11 a.m. in church’s Family Center located adjacent to the main building.)  The church members greeted one another by name and welcomed me as they introduced themselves before the service started. It was a reminder that the church is not the building, as fine a structure as this one is,  but the people within. Like those first Fremont residents who had come together 150 years ago to start their church, the current members carry on their work to keep their church alive.

My brother talks with members of his congregation prior to his Sunday morning service.

My brother, as its pastor, now leads this group of faithful members to continue its outreach into the community and to serve its greater mission of providing a place where people can come together to freely worship and commune with one another.  Besides its regular services, the church provides assistance to the  families and staff of Fremont’s Washington Elementary School, where many children from the town’s Hispanic population attend school.  It provides birthday cupcakes at the LifeHouse homeless shelter. Two Alcoholics Anonymous groups meet at the church as does a woodworking hobby club.  During the downtown’s annual Halloween Hysteria, it served free hot dogs to hungry costumed characters and their parents last year.  At the town’s John C. Fremont Days in July, it set up to sell 50-cent hot dogs and soda to celebrants and offered crafts activities to the kids.  It also began a ‘Big Truck Day’ a couple years ago and invited local companies and utilities to park some of its over-sized trucks on the church parking lot where delighted youngsters and their parents could get a close-up look at these gigantic vehicles.

But its biggest role and challenge this past year was in orchestrating and providing local disaster relief efforts to the hundreds of people living in and around Fremont whose homes and belongings were damaged or destroyed when the rivers flooded caused the town to be cut off from outside help for several days.  When the water began to recede, the church still continued to deliver and distribute much-needed donated basic supplies, such as diapers, mops and cleaning products, food, socks and water to those most impacted by the crises.  Together with members from their community, they coordinated efforts to help the flood victims get back in their houses and back on their feet.

It’s a role that my brother sees as an important part of his church’s work and mission. “We can’t do a lot of stuff, ” he told a local newspaper reporter, “but we can help fill in the gaps here and there.

“We want to be known as a church that’s a blessing to its community,” he adds.  I’m sure the original founders of his church, 150 years ago, would have agreed.

 

 

 

Destination Moon Draws Visitors into Its Orbit

Anyone who was a kid or older in 1969 is likely to know exactly where they were when astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made history with the first moon landing.  Most of the world was glued to a television set or, in some cases, a radio, to watch and listen that day as Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon’s surface.

Like many Americans, I was fascinated by the “space exploration race.” The astronauts were national heroes who captured the imaginations and dreams of millions. I remember how excited I was to hear astronaut Gordon Cooper, who flew in the last Mercury mission, address the Professional Photographers of America at a convention in Chicago.  He was the size of my finger from my balcony seat but his presence filled the vast auditorium.

Taken with my Brownie camera, Mercury and Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper speaks to photographers assembled at the Professional Photographers of America convention in Chicago. The image is grainy. My arrow indicates Cooper.

My brothers and I launched rocket after rocket into space from our Cape Canaveral set.  We transformed the shower stall in one of our bathrooms into a space capsule to simulate adventures to the stars.  The “astronaut” lay with their back on the shower floor, feet up against the shower wall and communicated via walkie-talkie radio to mission control located just outside the bathroom door.  We flew many imaginary missions to and from the outer reaches of our galaxy on those Saturday afternoons.

In junior high school, I was selected, maybe because I was a reporter on the school newspaper, to take part in a special science assembly with a guest speaker.  I don’t recall  who the presenter was but I was asked to don a spacesuit, crawl into a mock-up Mercury capsule while sitting onstage and clicking a switch every few seconds that turned on and off a red light atop the capsule.  The demonstration pointed out how easy and quickly we can lose our sense of time.  I didn’t do well as a test subject but I was thrilled at putting on that spacesuit and being an astronaut  for the experiment.

Years later, when working for TIME Magazine, I joined the entire Los Angeles bureau at Edwards Air Force Base to watch one of the Discovery Space Shuttles land.  (Story for another blog post.)

A view of the Columbia command module through the hatch window. The hatch has been removed from the capsule so that visitors can see its inside design. The lever on the left was added as an escape measure after the tragedy that killed the three Apollo astronauts of 1967.

So naturally, when I learned that Seattle’s Museum of Flight was presenting the exhibit, Destination Moon in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I was determined to go.  The exhibit, which opened in April and will close Sept. 2, is its only West Coast appearance.  While relatively small in size, the exhibit displays 20 artifacts from the Smithsonian, many of them from that historic moon landing mission, as well as several other objects from the Seattle museum’s own extensive collection.

The Saturn V rocket’s F-1 engines were the most powerful ever built. These components were salvaged from the ocean floor and are now part of the museum’s permanent collection.

My husband and I entered at our assigned time yesterday and wound our way through the items, stopping to read each description.  Among the artifacts are a restored console from NASA’s mission control.  The buttons and monitors look primitive compared to today’s computer systems.  I chuckled overhearing one young man explaining to his young female companion that the rotary dials on the panel weren’t for phoning “your grandmother.”

My husband who is six-foot, four-inches tall stands next to one of the spacesuits on display at the Destination Moon exhibit. You can see for yourself the difference in size. He never would have qualified for an astronaut!

I was also struck by the various ‘spacesuits’ on view and the smallness of their size.  Although the personas of these early space pioneers were gigantic, in reality, they were not large men.  Most, if not all, had been fighter pilots, and physically had to fit into the tight, compact cockpits of both the fighter planes and the cramped quarters of the early space capsules.  Some of the suits resembled expensive homemade costumes, and, in some ways they were.  For instance, ordinary blue rickrack was stitched to finish off the suits’ hose attachment openings.  This little touch must have made some of the women who sewed them smile.

You can see here a detail of the decorative rickrack used to trim the head opening of the spacesuit. The exhibit lighting made it next to impossible to photography objects in the display cases without reflection.

Also fascinating are the mangled F-1 engine sections of the Saturn V rocket, the only parts to ever have been recovered.  The components were found and lifted from the bottom of the Atlantic a few years ago in a project financed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.  After  restoration at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, the surviving pieces were sent to Seattle’s museum and the Smithsonian where they will remain on permanent display after the Destination Moon exhibit closes.

Of course the centerpiece of the Seattle exhibit is the conical-shaped Columbia command module from the Apollo 11 mission.  Again most striking is its size, so small compared to the enormous space shuttles used today.  It’s mind-boggling how three men traveled to the moon and back in this compact capsule.  I missed the 3-D interactive tour of the capsule’s interior but just being within arm’s reach of this historic vessel was overpowering.

The Columbia command module was the centerpiece of the exhibit. In the background you can see the video of the rescue of the astronauts from the space capsule after landing in the ocean.

So too were the gloves and helmet with its gold visor worn by Aldrin and that reflected Armstrong’s image in the now iconic photo of Armstrong standing on the moon. I attempted to preserve the moment with a photo reflecting back my own image.  Mine didn’t turn out nearly as well as Aldrin’s. Amazing too is the fact that on that mission, and others, the astronauts used Hasselblad cameras and film as digital cameras were yet to be invented. (More about the equipment used can be found here. )

The famous gold visor and gloves of astronaut Buzz Aldrin worn on the moon are displayed in the exhibit.

One of the moon “rocks” returned by the Apollo astronauts can also be seen in the exhibit.  Surprising to me was how many people simply passed by without stopping to wonder at how far away this rough, gray, volcanic-looking stone came to end up here on earth.  Perhaps this is an indication too at how much we now take for granted travel into space.

The moon rock on display in Seattle came a long ways to be seen.

At the time of the Apollo missions, space exploration was still an incredible phenomena.  According to the exhibit information, NASA’s space program at its height employed 400,000 people.  It embodied the vision, ingenuity and skills of people at all levels.  It gave Americans a unifying reason to be proud of its country at a time when the VietNam War was tearing them apart.  And it gave the world a challenge that remains relevant today–to create a single event that can bring people together for the greater good.  It was indeed a small step for man but a giant leap for mankind.

Outside the exhibit, visitors, like myself, can take their own ‘moon’ photo as did Neil Armstrong.

Baker City Booming with Life

“What’s there to see in Baker City?” a friend asked when told that my husband, Michael, and I had stopped there on a recent (and rare) road trip.

“The town!” Michael declared emphatically,

Indeed, we turned off the highway at Baker City, Ore. for a lunch break and ended up spending an unplanned three hours in the town of 10,000. Most people stop here to visit the town’s excellent National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretative Center located just five miles east of Baker City or the Baker Heritage Museum found just off the highway as you enter the main section of town.   Both are good museums and offer a glimpse into pioneer life for those who came through here during the gold rush of he 1860s.  For many, Baker City was one of the last stopping points before traversing the Cascade Mountains that separate Eastern and Western Oregon.

Welcome to Baker City! The sign denoting the town’s historic center.

Some are now crossing back to settle in Baker City.  Like the architect from Portland (and a graduate of Kansas State University) who has retired in Baker City because it’s a ‘real town, with a walk-able downtown and doesn’t live behind walls.”  Larry and his wife now own one of the many historic buildings in downtown Baker City and have been restoring it for new tenants.

As Larry pointed out, Baker City is almost an anomaly these days in America in that this town, with a fabulous view of the snow-capped Cascades, is a fully preserved and functioning small town.  It’s what people who visit Disneyland’s Main Street expect, except that it’s not fabricated.

The Baker City trolley runs through downtown.

The buildings that line Baker City’s Main Street have been there since the late 1800s when Baker City was known as the “Queen City of the Mines.”  At the time, the town’s population exceeded that of either Spokane or Boise.  Miners, cowboys, ranchers and gamblers were drawn to its dance halls and five saloons.  Those who needed a place to stay could pick from any one of the town’s ten hotels.

The Geiser Grand is open for guests and on the National Historic Register.

One of the grandest of these, the Geiser Grand, is still in business and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  During our self-guided walking tour of the town, my husband and I wandered in to the lobby of this corner hotel to be greeted with  a decor reminiscent of its glorious days past.  The hotel was only reopened and restored in 1997 after having been shuttered for nearly 30 years.  Today, the front desk clerk says the hotel is a favorite choice of government and business people who come to town.  The hotel offers tours of its interior once a day at 2 p.m. but unfortunately one wasn’t available the day we visited.

In the 1890s the Geiser Grand was a grand place to stay.

I learned from the bartender on duty at the hotel that the people of Baker City made a conscious decision ten to 15 years ago, not to permit the big box discount stores to build in town.  The nearest one of these you’ll find is an hour’s drive away in either Le Grand or Ontario.  As Larry, the architect, explained, Le Grand is Eastern Oregon’s center for the Arts; Ontario is for the shopping and Baker City is all business.

The stores and shops in Baker City’s downtown appear to be thriving and cater to those who live there, not just tourists.  There’s a fabric store, a toy store, a stationers, a couple bookstores, a home store, legal and financial offices, a radiator repair shop, a jeweler’s, a women’s clothing boutique, an eye clinic and a movie theatre–the kind of places you’d expect to find in any American small town not that long ago.  If you’re hungry, as we were, there are plenty of tempting cafes, bakeries, breweries and restaurants from which to choose for whatever suits your appetite.

One of several restaurants and cafes in downtown Baker City is Charley’s Deli.

Don’t miss the town’s Crossroads Carnegie Art Center housed in what was once it’s public library.  In fact, we started our tour of town there.  Formerly a Carnegie Library, designed in the classic colonial style typical of so many Carnegie Libraries, the building was constructed entirely of “black speckled stone” quarried from the area, according to a docent I met there.  The interior was similar, if not exactly, as the one I remembered from my hometown.  The stacks have been removed to create an open gallery for rotating art exhibits, one of which was hanging when we visited.  Downstairs, once occupied by the children’s library, is now an art studio and small space for lectures and special presentations.  It’s well worth spending some time.

The 110-year-old Carnegie Library now serves as the town’s art center.

One of Baker City’s biggest events was brought to our attention by Larry, the architect. The Great Salt Lick , an art auction that occurs the third week of September, benefits Parkinson’s Disease research.  It’s an event befitting the agricultural and ranching center and goes towards a good cause.  Local ranchers and others scour the fields looking for the most creatively licked salt blocks by elk, deer, cows, horses, etc. The blocks are then named, poems are written about them and both are displayed for the auction.  There’s even a sculpture downtown now commemorating this truly unique art form.

The Baker bull sculptre stands on Main Street outside one of the local art galleries.

We stopped for lunch and ended up spending a little more than three enjoyable hours, strolling through downtown, looking at the building, talking with locals and finally finishing with a tasty late lunch at the Lone Pine Cafe on Main. I’d recommend it.

Driving out of town, I spotted what I thought was the official post office, again nearly an exact copy of the same post office in my hometown. But it turned out the building was now private offices; the official post office has moved up the street into a newer, less impressive structure. That was the only disappointment during our brief visit to Baker City.  I’d happily drop in again, eat, visit the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center and maybe even spend the night because Baker City’s an authentic step into the past that’s living in the present.

The old post office was a near duplicate of that in m own hometown.

 

Believe It or Not, Tulip Fields and Festival Top Unbelievable List

A blog that I follow, Culture Trip, popped up in my e-mail the other day with an article entitled:  15 Unbelievable Places You Probably Never Knew Existed in America . Of course I couldn’t resist the challenge to check it out.  As it turned out, I actually was aware of several of them and had visited four.  To my amusement, topping the list was “Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington.”

The Skagit Valley tulip fields attract photographers, professional and amateurs alike, because of the beautiful settings it provides/

Amusing to me because the tulip fields lie just 20 miles to the south of where I live and have been the subject of my own blog twice.  (Tourists and Locals Love Tulip Time and A Trip to Skagit Valley’s Tulip Farms)  I had already planned to make my re-entry this week to my blog  about the tulip festival (after an absence due to my preoccupation with my duties as Executive Director for CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival) .  The idea was prompted by a notice that this weekend would be the last for the tulip festival this year.  It’s always a little sad to learn that those beautiful flowers will be clipped and harvested starting tomorrow bringing an end to another display of fields of color.

Visitors are asked to stay out of the fields and park only in designated areas.

I’m sure those who live in the immediate area are a little happy and relieved to see the month-long event come to a close as literally thousands of people are drawn to see the brilliant blooms causing residents to post ‘no parking’ signs along their property and take alternate routes to avoid the traffic back ups leading to and from the nearby freeway.  For visitors, finding a place to park along the roadways becomes a challenge if you opt not to pay the fee asked by those with the lots.  But it all seems worth the time and money spent to admire the planted ribbons of color and masterful landscaped gardens of the various growers.

Mount Baker rises in the distance with bulbs of bright red in the foreground .

Among the most popular of these farm stops is the RoozenGaarde owned by Washington Bulb Company.  The company flourished under the ownership of William Roozen, a Dutch emigrant who purchased the business in 1955 from its original founders and the first bulb growers in the area, Joe Berger and Cornelius Roozekrans. Today, the Washington Bulb Company is the largest tulip-grower in the country with  350 acres of tulips and 70 million cut flowers shipped throughout the U.S. annually.

In addition, the company also plants 500 acres of daffodils (not nearly as much a draw as the tulips), 150 acres of iris and 600 acres of wheat (no one goes to see that.)

Boxfuls of tulips are cut from the fields and shipped throughout the country.

Someone, I can’t recall who, once told me that the tulips cultivated in the Skagit Valley when harvested are shipped to Holland where they are propagated then returned to the U.S.  and marketed as “Dutch” tulips. Whether or not this is true or just legend I don’t know and haven’t, as a good journalist should, followed up to ask company officials.

The flowers were late this year due to an unusually longer cold spell of weather and didn’t come into full flourish until mid-April.  The festival itself, begun in 1984 by the town of Mount Vernon, starts April 1st, regardless.  What began as a three-day event now is a month-long celebration that includes not only self-guided visits to the fields, but a parade, a ‘tulip’ run,’ concerts and a street fair.

Photographing the tulips looking skyward, the cup-like blooms remind me of colorful balloons on strong green strands.

I’ve not seen the figures but I can only imagine what the economic impact of this highly attended annual festival has on the town and the surrounding area as people make the trek from all over the state and British Columbia just to take in the splendorous display by nature and the bulb farmers. Kind of nice to know that in this day and age of virtual reality and high-tech devices that people can still find such enjoyment and pleasure in what nature has to offer.

I didn’t make the trip down to the fields this year, opting instead to satisfy myself with the tulips growing in my own garden.  But it’s likely I will, as in years, past, go again along with the thousands of others because the beauty of the tulip fields of Skagit Valley is still compelling no matter how many times you’ve seen them.

An Illustrating Lunch in a Little Museum

“Can meet for quick lunch at 1:30.  You need to pick place.”  The text from my son, Tim, came in at 11:30 a.m.  I had just enough time to change clothes, walk to the subway and travel from where I was staying in Brooklyn to 63rd and Park in Manhattan where my son was working for the day.

Fortunately I had a little extra time because I accidentally round myself on the wrong train. Luckily, I soon discovered my mistake and was able to get off and switch to another train that delivered me within blocks of my destination.

I walked from the station up Lexington Avenue looking for a restaurant where my son and I might meet to eat.  At 62nd I turned to head over to Park Avenue and then up towards 63rd Avenue.  I saw the building where my son was working but no restaurants or cafes.  So I started back towards Lexington.  I hadn’t quite gotten to Lexington when a sign on a wall caught my eye.  “Maurice Sendak Exhibition and Sale,” it read. The poster featured an illustration I recognized from the Sendak’s classic children’s book, “In the Night Kitchen.”

The main gallery for the Museum of Illustrators is open to the public and free of charge.

Curious, I opened the red door, stepped inside 128 E. 63rd and found myself at the Museum of Illustration.  The museum, founded in 1981, is the home of the Society of Illustrators, established in 1901 to promote the art of illustration.  Its membership has included such illustrious artists as N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell, among others.  The five-story townhouse was purchased in 1939 by the society for its headquarters and over several years was renovated to create offices for the society, two galleries and a bookstore on its lower floors for special exhibitions and programs and on the third floor a lounge and library for its membership. In the 1960s, that space was converted into a handsome bar and a cozy but airy dining room that, I discovered, is open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. for lunch.

Among the works on display at the museum were illustrations from Sendak’s “The Night Kitchen.”

It was an ideal spot for my lunch with my son and sent him a message to join me there. In the meantime, I walked into the main gallery where the works of illustrator Maurice Sendak were on display.  Sendak is regarded by many as “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century,” according to the New York Times. “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Night  Kitchen” were two of the best read books on my sons shelf when they were growing up so it was a treat to see Sendak’s original sketches, watercolors and ink drawings in this special exhibition. More than one hundred pieces hung on the walls representing some of Sendaks’ rarest work from his books, theatre designs and commercial assignments.  Incredibly, all of them were for sale but at prices beyond my pocketbook.

I hadn’t quite finished viewing the entire exhibit when my son came in. Given his limited 30-minute time for lunch, we went directly upstairs to the bistro, took a table and quickly ordered.  I chose the Cobb salad which was fresh and delicious and reasonable.  Halfway through my meal, Tim received an alert on his phone from a friend.

The bistro serves food for lunchers with illustrators’ works on the walls.

“Where’s your meeting?” he asked referring to my appointment that afternoon.  I told him. “You’re not going there,” he said firmly.  The area, he explained, had been placed on ‘lock down’ when pipe bombs, delivered to various locations throughout the city, had been discovered.

Some of Sendak’s rarest works, such as this sketch, were displayed in the museum’s special exhibit.

With my meeting postponed, I suddenly had two free hours. I decided since I was already there, and somewhere safe, to spend the afternoon at the museum and its relaxing bistro. I went back to the Sendak exhibit and finished looking at the Sendak exhibit.  Then I worked my way up the artwork hanging on the stairway wall to the narrow halls of the second floor where illustrations by the members and now in the society’s permanent collection of 2,500 were

The bold, black and white art from comics such as The Vault of Horror was displayed on the museum’s bistro walls. There’s a bit of humor, along with horror in this illustration of a detached arm hanging onto a subway holder.

displayed.   Magazine illustrations, comic books drawings and cartoons was included.

I returned to the third floor bistro so I could have a closer look at the Norman Rockwell mural that permanently hangs over the bar in the lounge and the illustrations from Mad Magazine and E.C. Comics in the Tales from the Crypt special exhibit. A number of the bold, strongly stylized black and white comic book illustrations came from horror titles, appropriate since Halloween was just around the corner.  Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt were among the comic book titles represented.  The illustrations were detailed, gory and violent in some.  Their graphic-ness disturbed some when they first appeared but their creators were also pointing out hypocrisy, prejudice and inhumanity.  More than 70 pen and ink drawings from the 1950s by some of the genres most celebrated comic artists were on view. I took my time examining each and reading the extensive commentary written by the curator Rob Pistella.

The red canopy of the museum welcomes visitors to the home of the Society of Illustrators.

The afternoon went by quickly.  Before I knew it, it was time for me to leave for my appointment rescheduled from earlier that day.  My plans had taken a sudden turn and given me the unexpected time to spend in this little unassuming New York museum.  In future trips, I’ll check the museum’s calendar and gladly return to the bistro for another lunch.

 

Tour de Whatcom is Tour de Force

Bellingham is a town that loves its bicycles but even more of them than usual could be found all over the surrounding streets and roads this last Saturday when hundreds of cyclists pedaled between 22 to 100 miles in the Tour de Whatcom.  The popular charity biking event is in its 13th year and this year benefited the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition.

The back of a cyclists racing jersey says it all.

It’s a colorful display of bicycles and cyclists as they whip across county roads, past lakes, through farm country, by rivers and along beaches with views of snow-capped Mount Baker rising in the distance all the way. The tour started and ended at the award-winning Boundary Bay Brewery in downtown Bellingham located directly across from the Bellingham Farmers’ Market which was also in full swing yesterday.  In fact, that’s why I was there. I spent two hours yesterday distributing postcards to people to promote the upcoming July 26th outdoor adventure film evening–Sports Shorts–being presented by CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival at Fairhaven’s Village Green.

The aluminum arch of the Tour de Whatcom’s finish line spanned across the street from the Farmers’ Market Railroad Depot buildings.

Afterwards, I wandered over the market and Boundary Bay for a closer look at the activity.  Boundary Bay’s beer garden was filling up with cyclists who had just come in and were thirsty and hungry.  Outside, a long line of cyclists strung down the street as they checked in their bikes into the secured bike parking lot set up in the street. Other muscle-weary cyclists were receiving  rubdowns under the purple canopy of the Massage Envy tent.  And some, as did my friend Audrey who rode the 22-mile route in the tour, mingled with the marketgoers to have a bite of lunch there.

Following a long ride, the massage tent was a popular place.

The entire place was bubbling with bikers, beer and booths full of farm fresh food and crafts.  It brought back memories for me of the summer my family and I spent a month in Bellingham prior to deciding to move here permanently.

We had rented a house from friends (long before VRBO or Air BnB existed) for the month of August. It gave us a chance to explore the area and experience it as if we lived here.  One Saturday, we strolled down to the historic Fairhaven area where we discovered a road bike race was about to get underway.  At that time, the race–the Old Fairhaven Bicycle Race–began on Fairhaven’s main street and the course tracked up and down the hilly Fairhaven area to eventually finish a little further down the street from where it started.

Cyclists line up in the Fairhaven Bicycle Race.

We nabbed a ringside seat with two of our sons at an outdoor table in front of the Colophon Cafe. The Colophon was favorite spot with my sons because of its ice cream counter where big scoops of the cold dairy delight were heaped on top of waffle cones for a dollar or so. The boys ordered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my husband and I had bowls of clam chowder.  We ate and watched as the nearly 20 riders whizzed around the corners.  Other race watchers stood behind or sat upon the hay bales that had been places along the street for the purpose of blocking off the streets and marking the course.  It was truly a fun afternoon and one that I’ve long remembered.  The photos I took that day preserve the day not only for me but for my sons who have long since grown up.

Racers round the corner while competing in the Old Fairhaven Bicycle Race.
Sporting his new helmet, my son readies to take off on his own bike ride. Notice the training wheels on the rear.

That was the same summer too, that my oldest son, Matthew, learned to ride a bike.  Neither I nor my husband recall now where we got the bike, but unlike in Los Angeles where we lived, the sidewalks of Bellingham’s South Hill proved a great place for him to hop on and take off.  He wasn’t a particularly coordinated kid when it came to physical activities but once he figured out how the chain drive of the bike worked, riding it was no problem.  He returned to L.A. ready to ride with his friends and we returned to L.A. convinced, in part by community events like the bike race, that we wanted to make Bellingham our new home.

Lummi Nation’s Stommish Celebrates Veterans and Traditions

Americans think of Veteran’s Day as occurring on November 11 but tribal members of Lummi Nation honored the service, bravery and commitment of their veterans this past weekend during the tribe’s 72nd annual Stommish celebration.  It’s a three-day event that takes place on Lummi Nation’s Stommish Grounds located just a 30-minute drive north of Bellingham.  The waterfront festival is open to everyone and draws people from throughout the region.

Stommish means ‘warrior’ in the Halkomelem language, the language of the Lummi and Cowichan tribal people. It began in 1946 when tribal members Edith and Victor Jones planned a community celebration to honor and welcome home their two sons, Bill and Stanley Solomon, from World War II. Of the 720 Lummi members in 1946, 104 served in the armed forces and 101 of them returned safely home to return to their Lummi way of life.  Today, the event has become an annual festival that not only recognizes those veterans, but also one that traditional dancing, games, food and canoe races.   Stommish starts, however, with an opening ceremony during which the veterans who are introduced to the assembled crowd.

Afterwards, celebrants line the beach along the stretch of Hale’s Passage to watch as teams of canoers compete.  The sleek, cedar canoes are paddled by teams of twos and sixes, with some racers as young a 10-years-old, down one length of the course and back again while those onshore cheer them on.  The boats are beautiful on the blue water and bright summer sun.  The paddlers are strong and at the race’s end dripping with sweat from the effort.

Teams compete in the cedar canoe race in the waters where tribal ancestors have paddled for generations.

In another section of the grounds people participate and watch the traditional Sal Hal Bone Game. Sal Hal is an old Native American Pacific Coast guessing and gambling game.  It involves teams of players who face each and must correctly guess which hand holds the unmarked bone.  Correct guesses or losses are tallied with a set of sticks.  The team or person with the most sticks at the end of the game wins and collects the money that has been wagered.  The game is accompanied by traditional song and instruments performed by the team hiding the bones in their hands. It all makes for good-spirited fun and, for the winning teams, a pocketful of cash.

A set of sticks is used to keep track of the wins and losses of the team guessing during the traditional Sla Hal Bone Game.
A tribal dancer performs.

No celebration is complete without dancing. Lummi tribal members wearing traditional costumes performed a number of dances for those who gathered around an artificial grass carpet.  Dancers of all ages entertained while those of us on the sidelines watched or,  during one number, joined in as participants.

Throughout the day, people feast on a variety of food sold by the different vendors set up on the Stommish Grounds. The most popular of all, however, was the delicious $10 salmon filet plate served with side dishes and the large, fresh cooked crab so tasty, juicy and caught right from the bay beyond the festival grounds.  People, like me, enjoyed the seafood while viewing the canoe races taking place.

Fresh cooked crab caught right from the waters beyond the Stommish Grounds was a treat for hungry attendees.

Under the canopies of booths set up around the grounds, people demonstrated and sold Native American arts, handicrafts and souvenirs. Handcrafted woven reed hats, made in the traditional way and skirted style, was one of the many items for sale. Bold, geometric Native designs decorated the t-shirts  and hooded sweatshirts that could also be purchased.  Cruising through the various tents provided an opportunity for a little holiday or birthday gift shopping.  I did both!

The day’s activities also included an old-fashioned Princess and Warrior crowning, a cute baby contest, oldest Veteran recognition and a small carnival with rides for kids.  It’s a festival full of family oriented fun that, judging by those attending this past weekend, was enjoyed by everyone.

Stommish starts at noon and lasts well late into the long summer day.  Campers, both in tents and recreational vehicles, are packed tightly into the designated overnight area on the grounds. Parking can be challenging so car-pooling is a good idea.  The event was a great way to spend a summer weekend day with the friends and families of this Native Nation, to become familiar with this proud tribe’s traditions and to join tribal members in saluting and thanking those who served in the United States military and returned. Hy’ shqe! (Thank you!)

A child checks out the curious but probably significant arrangement of found items placed on the floor of the beach shelter.

You can view more of my Stommish day images in my blog portfolio.

 

 

Culinary Matriarch Commanded Legendary NOLA Restaurant

Ella Brennan was a  giant among restaurateurs in New Orleans as was her reputation for establishing and running one of this country’s most renowned culinary institutions, Commander’s PalaceShe died this past week at age 92 leaving her daughter, Ti, and niece, Lally, to carry on the reputation of operating  the prestigious restaurant located on the corner of Washington and Coliseum in the  Garden District of New Orleans.

Whether you arrive by carriage or car, Commander’s Palace is ready to serve you.

Indeed, Commander’s has become part of my own tradition since my husband and I  started going to New Orleans 17 years ago.  We originally went to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  We’ve returned year after year for a winter-break.  Usually, we only stay a week, but it’s been enough time for us to become very familiar with the city and its outlying area, to make some very good friends and to sample lots of good food all over the city in its too many to mention restaurants.

The mosaic seal in the lobby at Commander’s Palace notes the year it was established.

Every year, however, Commander’s is at the top of our list as the way we start our visit.  It has become our personal tradition to make the Garden District restaurant our first stop for Sunday jazz brunch.  Without brunch at Commander’s I honestly don’t know how to begin our trip.  There have been a couple of years when I failed to phone early enough (a month in advance is advised) to book our table and no reservation was available.  Fortunately, Jimmy, the reservation agent who I’ve come to know over the years, told me to call back a few days before our given Sunday because often there will be an opening.  When I did, as I had to do this year, we’ve managed to get in.  I have been so thankful for this accommodation on these times that I now take a little box of chocolates for Jimmy in gratitude.

Ti Martin, one of the restaurant owners, right, in a photo with me during one of my visits.

What makes Commander’s so special is not only the delicious Creole-style food served on its menu (recently updated by current executive chef Tory McPhail who hails from nearby Ferndale, WA.), but its impeccable service, lovely surroundings, fun, relaxing atmosphere, the jazz music played while you eat and Southern hospitality shown by its owners, Ella, her sister Dottie, and the aforementioned Ti and Lally.  Whenever Ti and Lally are in-house, they tend to alternate shifts, they make it a point to walk through their dining rooms to greet and check on their customers, whether or not they know them.

Birthdays celebrants at Commander’s are presented with a chef’s hat along with your dessert, like this bread pudding soufflé.

I’ve had wonderful conversations with them both over the years, had the chance to introduce them to friends who’ve joined us for the meal and to tell them time and again how much I love their restaurant.  I have celebrated anniversaries, birthdays and Carnival with friends and family there, just as many New Orleanians do.  I’ve seen parties of grandmothers, mothers and daughters who’ve come in after church, all wearing a single strand of pearls, to celebrate a special occasion.  I’ve enjoyed overhearing excited chats by tables of tourists experiencing Commanders for the first time.  And I’ve had the immense pleasure of taking my own friends and family their for their first meal.

Ella Brennan’s restaurant is more than just a place to eat fine food, it’s a place where these sort of traditions are established and carried on by generations of patrons, for whom, like myself, life or a visit in New Orleans is unheard of without Commander’s.

Reopening after Hurricane Katrina, Commander’s hung out its ‘Now Hiring’ sign. My friend, Mary Lou and I were among the first diners that year.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, leaving considerable damage to Commander’s as well as the rest of the Garden District, largely due to the high force winds, people wondered if Commander’s would re-open.  For the Brennan ladies in charge, there apparently was no question.  They took the disaster as an opportunity to rebuild and renovate. It took them more than a year.

I walked by the winter after the storm to find it all boarded up.  But then I returned the following year when it was back in business, listened to Lally as she described to me the full extent of the restoration and relished in the fact that it, like New Orleans, was resilient and determined to get back on its feet, despite a lack of support from some in government.  That was the year that I talked with the group of women sitting at the table next to me, heard their ‘storm stories’ and learned that their Episcopal church had been the recipient of recovery funds from the Episcopalian diocese in Washington state.  Their gratitude was touching.

Typically, I ask for a table in the dining area overlooking Commander’s tree-covered courtyard because I feel more like a ‘local’ there and enjoy sitting at eye-level with the big, gnarly branches of the Southern oak that stretches over it.  The chairs are cushioned and tables are arranged with plenty of room between for the jazz trios that play during brunch (one usually cruises downstairs while a second plays upstairs) to maneuver their instruments, including a stand-up bass, between to play requests. Every now and then, diners are coaxed into a joining a ‘second line’to wave their napkins as they wind through the dining room.

Brunch guests join the restaurant’s jazz trio in an impromptu second line parade through the dining room.

The menu is extensive and all of it tasty.  I tend to order the breakfast entrees, rather than the luncheon selections, whenever we go but had the pecan-crusted gulf fish this year instead of my favorite Cochon de Lait Eggs Benedict.  Of course you must order a ‘starter’ to begin–the turtle soup is always popular as is the gumbo but I usually opt for a seasonal salad, quite often topped with fresh, local strawberries.  I always save room for dessert because Commander’s creole bread pudding soufflé with whiskey cream sauce is not to be missed!  It’s a once a year splurge that I’m not willing to pass up.  And to drink, a Bloody Mary or Mimosa followed by chicory coffee for those, unlike me, who consume coffee.

Commander’s courtyard and the trumpet on break during a Sunday brunch.

While the food is wonderful, it’s the little touches that make the meal even more memorable–fresh, crusty French bread laid on the table in a wrapped white linen napkin nearly as soon as you sit down; bus boys and girls who refill your water the instant the level drops much below two-thirds of a glass; the simultaneous serving of each course by the black and white attired wait staff; the cheery, welcome by the maitre d’ the minute you step in the door and of course the personal table visits by the owners.

After eating, I enjoy strolling through the rest of the restaurant, including a stop in the spacious and sparkling clean kitchen (the swinging doors leading into it are labeled “Yes” and “No”) where you can watch the amazing cook staff in action.  There is even a table in the kitchen where diners can sit and watch the show if you reserve it.

Diners are welcome and can even eat in the kitchen where you can watch the cook staff in action.

If it’s Carnival season, as it was this year when I was in town, you’re invited to go watch the parades moving along St. Charles Street just a few blocks away and welcome to return to Commander’s for the toilet should the need arise.  Or, if not, we wander through the historic neighborhood, admiring the elegant, old homes there, which include Miss Brennan’s herself located right next door to the restaurant.  If someone is with us who has never visited the city before, we walk through the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, across the street, the oldest city-operated cemetery where the tombs are above-ground and the statuary and inscriptions represent New Orleans’ rich history.

The elegant dining room on the main floor of Commander’s Palace as viewed through the glass window in the restaurant’s lobby.

For me, Commander’s is the consummate culinary experience with outstanding food, unsurpassed service and Southern hospitality at its finest. These are the qualities that Ella Brennan insisted be carried out in her beloved restaurant. They are standards to which other eating establishments throughout the U.S. have aspired to achieve as a result. Whether or not you’ve ever been to Commander’s it’s possible that you’ve eaten somewhere that has been influenced by her example.

If you’ve not yet been to the New Orleans restaurant, I hope you’ll consider making it part of your visit when you go.  But be forewarned, it still maintains a dress code that is enforced although it’s been relaxed some in recent years.  I guarantee it will be a culinary experience you’ll not forget and it might become, as it has for us, a new tradition.

 

 

Picture Yourself Paddling

One of my great pleasures about living in the Pacific Northwest is the past time of paddling in my kayak.  It’s an activity that I took up many years ago now after moving to this area upon the encouragement of a friend.

When you live in the Puget Sound and Samish Sea area, you are surrounded by water.  I can’t imagine not taking advantage of the recreational opportunities to be enjoy the natural beauty of being on the water.  As I don’t own a sail or motor boat, kayaking is the way I do it.

These two geese were just taking off when I caught them with my camera. Wildlife in motion often produces more dramatic images than those that are still and lifeless.

For me, paddling provides time away from the distractions on land. There are no cell phones, no computers, no televisions, nothing to draw your attention from the task at hand, which is how it should be whenever you’re out there on the water.  Not paying attention to the currents, the wind, the waves and the weather can run you into trouble faster than you realize.

The reflection of light on the water always draws my eye. It’s always different and fascinating, truly a ‘watercolor.’

I often carry a camera in my boat with me, usually one of my point and shoots so that I don’t risk damaging my single-lens reflex digital cameras.  I’ve never invested in a watertight case for my SLRs, something that is on my equipment ‘wish list.’ Usually, I tuck my little compact camera safely inside my life vest (never go out without one) where I can yank it quickly out if I see something I want to try to capture.

One of the tricks of shooting on the water, especially in a kayak, is how to stay in place, bobbing up and down, in order to get the shot.  It’s not easy. That’s particularly true if you’re trying to photograph wildlife on the shore. Without a super long lens, I must quietly slip up close to whatever it is I want to photograph until I think I’m in a good range. Trust me, this is not the way the National Geographic shooters do it but it works for me most of the time. I’ve become pretty adept at handling my paddles.

The oyster catcher is one of a pair that makes their home on the island in Chuckanut Bay. This Oyster Catcher wasn’t disturbed by my efforts to photograph is against the evening sky so I managed to nab a nice profile of it surveying its nesting domain.

I like going out just before sunset. The water is generally smoother then, the light not so glaring and the colors can be stunning.  Early morning is a good time too, especially if there are nice clouds.

Even though I tend to paddle in the same waters here in my area, I never lack material to photograph.  The water, the shore, the sky seldom look the same. One day there’s a seal, the next there’s not. Some summers the oyster catchers are there with a new brood, sometimes they’re scare.  Sometimes that sunset you anticipate never materializes, sometimes it’s so saturate in color that you’d swear someone has “photoshopped” it onto the sky.

Paddling together on the water at sunset during the season of luminescence. It’s an especially magical time.

And never, never do I go out alone. That’s just asking for problems, no matter how expert a kayaker you are.  A paddle partner also gives me someone else to photograph against the vast, open scene.  My paddle partners have become quite accustomed to serving as models for my photographic expeditions.

Only two of the many photographs I’ve made while paddling appear in the show at Stone’s Throw Brewery, up through April.  I’ve shared with you here a few of the others.  Seeing these images in print, however, offers quite a different experience than viewing them here on-line so I hope that if you’re in the area you’ll stop by and have a look.

This is one of my friends with whom I frequently paddle, Its’ the same paddler as the one seen in the large print on display now at Stone’s Throw Brewery. I hope you’ll see it.

 

The Whitney Preserves the Darker Side of Southern U.S. History

We’re in the final days of Black History Month here in the U.S.  I don’t want it to end without writing about a  new destination I visited earlier this month while in New Orleans.

The last day of my annual retreat to New Orleans was spent visiting one of the many plantations open to tourists and school groups on what is known as River Road, the two-lane highway that winds north along the Mississippi on the opposite bank from the Crescent City. As the National Park Service says: “Although other states have their own River Roads, perhaps none is more evocative or famous than Louisiana’s. Here, the very name inspires a vision of white pillared houses standing amid lush gardens and trees dripping with Spanish moss.”

The Antioch Baptist Church is the first stop on the tour of The Whitney Plantation.

While that is true, River Road also represents a much darker, less charming story of our country’s history that is seldom told during the tours of these showy homes and that is the story of those who actually built these splendid structures, who worked the fields that stretched behind and who lived an existence of enslavement fearing that any day they could be sold off to another “master” and forced to leave their family.  Except at one of these historic plantations, the story of slavery is its entire focus.

Opened in 2014, the Whitney Plantation is one of the newer properties for public and educational tours.  During the many years that I have been going to New Orleans for a winter break, I have visited nearly all, if not all, the other plantation properties.  They have been interesting, to be sure, and wonderful places to photograph.  Last year, I went out the Destrehan Plantation, located just 22 miles west of downtown New Orleans.  I took my son, who had never visited a plantation, there this year.

The heads of the slaves executed for participating in the Slave Rebellion of 1811 were placed on stakes along River Road as warning to other slaves. These clay sculpture heads honor those executed in The Whitney’s Field of Angels.

Destrehan makes a point of talking and including some individual stories of the enslaved in its tours, unlike other plantations. To be honest, I had never heard about the Slave Revolt of 1811 until I visited Destrehan. It certainly wasn’t in any of the history books I had read in school.  I wrote a piece for this blog about Destrehan last year.  The plantation is one I’d highly recommend to you.

The Whitney, however, is solely dedicated to preserving the memory and history of the enslaved. The stories you’ll hear on your tour are not storybook sweet nor romanticized.  Life for those who were chained and brought to this country like cattle, or less, in the filthy holds of ships, was never romantic.  The Whitney seeks to basically tell it like it truly was, as accurately as possible, without sparing words for the way these hard-working, brutalized and largely disrespected people were treated by those who considered them as nothing but property found on their list of valuable belongings.

Cheryl, our Whitney docent and tour guide, takes the history of the plantation personally as she talks before the Wall of Honor.

As Cheryl, my guide for the tour who lives and grew up in the area, said:  “For me, this is not history, it’s personal.”  She quite likely had ancestors who were slaves, if not on the Whitney, somewhere else.  Her words and descriptions of what slave life was like were full of emotional fact.  And as she herself said: “Sometimes hard to hear or read.” Like the fact that no slave escaped the punishment of the slave driver’s rawhide whip. Even pregnant slaves who “misbehaved” were forced to lie face down, with he ground below dug out to accommodate their swollen belly, to receive their lashings.

In the Whitney’s museum you learn about Louisiana slave history.

The visit starts in the Whitney’s small museum while waiting for your tour time which start hourly from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There you’ll read a little history about their journey from the Ivory to Gulf Coast, view the timeline of slavery throughout history worldwide and gain a little perspective as to how slavery in the U.S. contributed to this country’s disgraceful history.

Outside, on the plantation grounds, you’re first stop is at the picturesque Antioch Baptist Church, for many years the only African-American church in the area. The church was donated and moved to The Whitney from another location on the east bank.

The life-size clay sculptures of Woodrow Nash pay tribute to the children of Whitney.

Inside you’ll find beautiful, life-size clay sculptures of the children of the Whitney, created by artist Woodrow Nash.   Their individual stories and pictures are found on the laminated lanyards given to you when you begin the tour for you take home as a memento of the visit here.

There’s also a stop at The Wall of Honor and Field of Angels where those lived and died in slavery are remembered.  The original 22 cabins once that once housed the 61 slaves of the Haydel plantation, as it was then known, were torn down in the late 1970s. The ones that stand on the property today were moved there from other plantations.

The slaves lived a sparse hard life in cabins, such as this, on the plantation.

The “Big House”  is one of the earliest and finest examples Creole style plantation homes in Louisiana and is one of the best preserved.   Somewhat more modest than others found on River Road, it is, however, architecturally and historically significant. It provides visitors with a glimpse of how the plantation owner’s family enjoyed the comforts of life while those they depended upon to provide it lived in simple, crowded wooden quarters within view of the back gallery.

A family touring the Whitney poses for a photo outside the Big House.

The centerpiece on the property is the rusty-brown box-car shaped slave jail placed directly in line with the Big House. More like a cage, the ‘jail’ originally stood elsewhere and held slaves waiting to go on the auction block.  Step inside and you feel a chill of those who once were shackled and confined here.

The rusty iron doors of the slave jail locked in many an enslaved person before being moved to The Whitney’s property.

Walking around the Whitney was one of the most moving and educational experiences I’ve had in my years of going to the area.  I highly recommend it for anyone who’s headed there.  And if you’re not, take a few minutes to read more about The Whitney and its efforts to provide an honest historical perspective of slavery in the U.S. South. It’s sure to be  a story that sticks with you.