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.

Fun at the Fair

I hadn’t planned to write a post today but then I remembered that the Northwest Washington Fair opens today in the little town of Lynden, just 15 miles north of Bellingham.  It’s a great little fair, not so big that you can’t get to all the things you want to see, do or eat in an afternoon or evening’s time, not so small that there’s not enough for everyone in the family.

The Northwest Washington Fair draws people young and old, big and small, like these two little brotherly cowpokes.

I wrote once before about the fair (Fair Enough) in 2013.  I have fond memories of taking my three sons there when they were young. In fact, we went to the fair even before we moved to Bellingham, as visitors from Los Angeles up for a summer vacation.

I didn’t make it to last summer’s fair but plan to be there this year with a friend with whom I’ve gone before. When I went two summers ago, it was with my cousin from Los Angeles and my niece from Kansas in town for a wedding. The fair just happened to coincide with the wedding dates so the three of us took an evening and headed up for some fair fun.

Among the popular exhibits are the handmade quilts.

The fair draws people from all over the North Puget Sound area, Lower Mainland B.C. in Canada and far-flung visitors, such as my family, here for vacation, family visits or events. Just the drive from Bellingham to Lynden sets the tone as I take a back road through the rolling farmland set against the majestic Mount Baker to the east. In the air are the rich, earthy smells wafting from the farms so that 20-some minutes later when you pull into the parking lot at the Lynden fairgrounds, you’re already in “fair mode.”

As night falls, the candy-colored lights of the carnival rights brighten the fairgrounds.

I like to go in the early evening and stay into the night to see the shift from the day crowd to the evening fairgoers, a lot of whom become young, high-school age couples as the night starts to set in and the multi-colored lights of the carnival begin to shine.

The beautiful horses at the fair are one of my favorite stops.

In the large barns too, where the livestock exhibits of cows, horses, goats, sheep and pigs are installed, the activity changes as the animals finish up their dinner then start to settle in for the night. Groups of young 4-H’ers sit on their camp chairs after feeding their entries to talk, laugh, share stories and answer questions from curious viewers. I especially love the horse barn where the mighty Percheron and Belgian equines tower over the humans strolling through. It’s humbling just to stand next to, but not too close, to these hefty beasts.

Then there’s the goats, another favorite stop for me. I love watching these mostly friendly little kids clamoring over one another, crowding out each other to check out the people trying to pet them or tussling over a leftover tidbit of food. I’m easily entertained by their playful interaction.

There’s nothing like BBQ hot and sizzling from the fire at the fair.

Don’t forget the food, things you really shouldn’t eat but always do at the fair:  gi-normous ice cream “moo-wiches” from the dairy women’s booth, corndogs smothered in relish and mustard sold by the Boy Scouts, meat that’s been slowly cooked over an open-pit from a local BBQ-cook or corn on the cob lathered in butter from the Young Life church group,

A baker squeezes whipped cream on the traditional tasty Dutch treat, poffertjes ,is one of the fair’s food highlights. B

And poffertjes!  As the town of Lynden was settled by Dutch pioneers, much of that heritage is still found there not only in their places of worship and traditions (they have an annual Christmas parade with Sinterklaus) but in the food.  Poffertjes is a delicious Dutch dessert that’s a puffy pancake sweetened with powder sugar. Fairgoers can sample one of these tasty treats but expect to wait in line as the bakery booth queue is always one of the longest at the fair.

I’ve not even mentioned all the crafts exhibits, or the small animals or the small stages of entertainment by largely local performers. Whew! There’s so much to do.  But if you plan your time well, you can usually manage to take it all in before wearily, but happily and well-fed, heading back to the car for the short ride home. I’ll be there this year, my camera in hand because it’s one of my favorite places to photograph  So if you  go, look for me. If you can’t make it this year, I hope you’ll set aside a trip to go another time because it truly is one of our country’s best summer traditions.

Beautiful Music in My Own Backyard

Summers in the Puget Sound area, where I live, don’t officially start, weather-wise, until July 13, according to local meteorologists.  But in Bellingham, summers begin when the musicians from around the country arrive for the Bellingham Festival of Music.  That happened last week.

The Bellingham Festival of Music begins its summer season with a picnic for the musicians at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.
The Bellingham Festival of Music begins its summer season with a picnic for the musicians at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

The Festival, now in its 23rd season from July 1-17, is one of the things that I look forward to every summer. In fact, the Festival is one of the amenities that attracted us and ultimately convinced us to move to Bellingham. It must be a draw for the musicians too as every summer, 44 musicians from major orchestras across the U.S. and Canada (plus additional players as needed) assemble here to play two weeks worth of some of the most beautiful music in the world.  We like to think that they are also playing in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

It all begins with a welcoming picnic for the musicians, conductor Micheal Palmer, the chorus members, sponsors and the families who host the musicians in their homes during their stay.  This year’s picnic took place at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal which offers a terrific view of the Bay and Bellingham. It’s an ideal spot for returning and new musicians to meet this year’s Festival board members, local sponsors and the home hosts.

Janet Lightner,co-owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, served brews with her sister, Vicki, at the Festival of Music picnic.
Janet Lightner, co-owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, served brews with her sister, Vicki, at the Festival of Music picnic.

The potluck picnic, provided by the Festival Board member and volunteers, is tasty and plentiful.  Following appetizers and drinks, with local prize-winning microbrewery Boundary Bay serving up some of its finest beers, the picnickers head off to the buffet table and dinner. Afterwards, this year’s Board Chair, Karen Berry, officially opened the season by introducing maestro Michael Palmer who, in turn, introduced this year’s team of musicians.

Thumbs Up
Festival musicians Marci Gurnow and Christian Colberg give the buffet table a thumbs up at the opening picnic for the Bellingham Festival of Music.

Section by section, starting with the first violins of course, the musicians took their turn at the podium to share with the evening’s guests their answers to the question: “What was your most embarrassing moment as a musician?” There were some great ones: insects falling onto instruments and being flung into the audience, missed cues, parts of bassoons falling out during performances, women’s undergarments landing on violin scrolls during a Tom Jones’ show, auditions that turned out well despite mishaps and being encouraged to pursue other professions.  It all made for some entertaining anecdotes.

Many of the Festival’s musicians have been coming to Bellingham for years.  They have become a ‘family’ in the sense that they know one another’s spouses and children, have forged long-lasting friendships with their home hosts and share in the joys and sadness of one another’s lives. Last summer, one of the musicians stayed beyond the Festival dates in order to have her wedding in Bellingham. This year, a group from the orchestra is throwing a baby shower for an expectant father who’s playing here while his wife, nearing her due date, remained at home.

Bellingham Fesitval of Music Chair Karen Berry welcomes the musicians and guests at the opening picnic.
Bellingham Festival of Music Chair Karen Berry welcomes the musicians and guests at the opening picnic.
Maestro MIchael Palmer takes the podium to introduce the Festival musicians.
Maestro MIchael Palmer takes the podium to introduce the Festival musicians.

This long-term bonding has, over the years, made the orchestra tighter when they play together onstage. At least that’s my belief having now gone to concerts for the past 20 years. Although together for only a short time, with rehearsals only days ahead of each concert, they meld into a solid sound.  I have often found myself astounded to be sitting in my own backyard–nearly literally as the concert hall at Western Washington University where they play is within walking distance–and listening to world-class performances.

Principal bassist from the Seattle Symphony Jordan Anderson shares his ‘most embarrassing moment’ at the Bellingham Festival of Music picnic.

For Festival goers, the concerts are a bargain with ticket prices topping at $45 for premiere seating in a small, intimate performance hall of just 650 seats. I recall the many years that I lived in Los Angeles and

was a subscriber to the L.A.Philharmonic. Travel time from our home was 45 minutes at least, depending upon traffic, bargain tickets were usually no less than $45 and in the top tiers of the 3,000 seat hall, plus parking costs and don’t forget money for the babysitter. Granted, I no longer need to pay a babysitter, but all the other costs of hearing live classical music and experiencing outstanding performances in as beautiful a natural setting as you’ll ever find make the Bellingham Festival of Music an incredible deal. Especially for us locals.

Donna Lively Clark from the Festival orchestra's viola section tells the picnic guests how much she enjoys the shopping when she comes to play.
Donna Lively Clark from the Festival orchestra’s viola section tells the picnic guests how much she enjoys the shopping when she comes to play.

If you don’t live in the immediate area, you can spend the week vacationing and enjoying the classical music concerts at night and any one number of activities during the day–strolling the art galleries and shops, tipping a few brews on the ‘Tap Trail,” hiking or biking on one of our many trails, playing golf on one of 22 courses here, fishing, kayaking or sailing on the Bay. I can’t think of a place I’d rather be.


Summer Means Seriously Good Music at Bellingham Festival

Summer means a lot of things to a lot of people. A time to vacation, a time to spend long days lounging in the sun, a time to kick back and enjoy the outdoors, and a time to take in some top-notch music in some surprising places.  That’s right, music festivals seem to be synonymous with summer.  No matter your tastes in music, you can pretty much find a festival for it.  I live in one of those places.  In fact, the Bellingham Festival of Music was one of the reasons my husband and I chose to move to this Northwest Washington city. At the time that we were considering relocation, we were astonished to discover this community, located just a few miles from the Canadian border, where, for two weeks in July, you could pick a performance with world-class classical playing in concert halls that seated no more than 500 people.  It reminded me of so many small European cities where music is part of not only the culture, but fabric of daily life.

We have long since become huge fans of the Bellingham Festival of Music,, and set aside those two weeks every year to attend at least some, if not all, the concerts.  The festival has evolved through the years, as good ones do.  It struggled a few years ago to survive financially, but thanks to a dedicated board of directors and loyal followers, the festival emerged stronger than ever.

Conductor Michael Palmer leads the Bellingham Festival of Music orcehstra in its 21st season now underway.
Conductor Michael Palmer leads the Bellingham Festival of Music orchestra in its 21st season now underway.

The festival orchestra, under the baton of conductor Michael Palmer, is like a finely tuned instrument. Many of the members have now played together for years here so that instincts nearly take over when it comes to anticipating what both the conductor and the music demand. It is no wonder. Among their number are principal players from major orchestras across the country, who, for two weeks, alight in Bellingham to enjoy the incredible summer weather in a spectacular natural setting while performing classical music for an appreciative, yet discerning, audiences from Bellingham and the neighboring cities of Seattle and Vancouver B.C.

Oboist Joe Robinson
Oboist Joe Robinson plays at a private home event as part of the 2013 Bellingham Festival of Music. The event was a fund-raiser and farewell party for Robinson who was principal oboist for the festival’s orchestra until the end of the 2013 season.

Thanks to the festival, I’ve heard some memorable music in what I’d describe as ‘intimate’ settings for the musicians onstage.  Performances such as the with international opera star Josie Perez singing the title role in a staged version of Carmen in the 1,500-seat Mount Baker Theatre which sold out that concert.  Or the recital in nearby Mount Vernon’s 300-seat McIntyre Hall–acoustically designed by those who also did Seattle’s renown Benaroya Hall–by then principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic, Joe Robinson. Or the chamber music concert at Mount Baker’s ski lodge staged against he snow-capped mountains.

Last night, the Music Festival kicked off its 21st season with another first-class  program including  Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor with soloist Stefan Jackiw.  This was Jackiw’s third time at the festival.   This 29-year-old violinist quickly became a festival favorite after making his initial appearance in 2010.  His international acclaim has soared as well with the Washington Post music writer describing him as possessing “talent that’s off the scale.” That talent clearly apparent at last evening’s performance as the handsome young man, of Korean and German parents, gave concert-goers yet another stunning musical memory.

Violinist Stefan Jakiw first appeared with the Bellingham Festival of Music Orchestra in 2010.
Violinist Stefan Jackiw’ first appeared with the Bellingham Festival of Music Orchestra in 2010.

This year, I’m especially excited about the upcoming performances this week by an up and coming young string quartet that is winning both recognition and awards all over the world. And, the violist is a locally grown young man named Jeremy Berry.  Known as the Calidore String Quartet,, this musical foursome got its start at Los Angeles’ Colburn Conservatory of Music where Jeremy had gone to continue his musical studies after graduating from the Julliard School of  Music.  Together the quartet, that also includes violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan and cellist Estelle Choi, are charming and impressing audiences and collecting grand prizes at prestigious chamber music competitions such as the Fishoff, Coleman, Chesapeake, and Yellow Springs. They are well on their way to becoming one of the next outstanding chamber music groups and it’s a treat to have them on the schedule at the Bellingham Festival of Music.

The Calidore String Quartet visits the Pacific Northwest to perform with the Bellingham Festival of Music orchestra in a concert at Western Washington University. The quartet will also play in recital during the music festival's 2014 summer season.
The Calidore String Quartet visits the Pacific Northwest to perform with the Bellingham Festival of Music orchestra in a concert at Western Washington University. The quartet will also play in recital during the music festival’s 2014 summer season.

On Tuesday, July 8, they will join the Festival Orchestra onstage to perform Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Op. 47. This is a technically difficult piece, particularly for the quartet’s violinist (the composer was himself a violinist). It will give the Calidore a chance to show just how well they can handle what has become a solid part of the chamber orchestra repertoire. That performance will be followed on Thursday, July 10 with a recital by the Calidore.  The evening’s line-up includes Beethoven’s string quartet, Op. 18, No. 1; Tenebrae by contemporary Argentine-born composer Osvaldo Golijov, and Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, known as “Death and the Maiden,” after the composer’s earlier song on which the second movement is based. Both concerts will take place in Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center. Tickets are still available.

While this is the Quartet’s first solo artist appearance with the Festival, they have played in Bellingham previously as part of  ‘Play it Forward’, a collaborative program by the Bellingham Music Festival and the Whatcom Symphony during which musicians perform and play in area schools. The Calidore String Quartet  blew away audiences with their performances so much so that the Festival engaged them for this year’s summer schedule.

The  Festival also sponsors a Welcome Home series  in the spring that features young musicians who are currently studying music performance at a major university or conservatory of music. It gives young musicians an opportunity to perform, enriches the Bellingham community and helps start a career.

In addition, the Festival sponsors ‘master classes’ with guest artists and principal players from the festival orchestra with university-level music students.  The classes are free and open to the public and provide yet one more opportunity to experience classical music in a special, intimate way. A few years ago, I sat in on a master class with piano virtuoso Leon Fleischer. He was so generous, enlightening and understanding in his interaction with the students who played for him that day.

With last night’s concert, the Bellingham Music Festival is off to another great start of creating yet more memorable musical performances. For those of us who live here, it is an extraordinary opportunity to hear world-class music right in our neighborhood.  For those of you who don’t, it’s worth planning a visit to our little part of the world.