30 September 2014

The "Last Great Place" in the World {Yaak, Montana}

Scott and I have had a lot going on lately tending to some family matters in Coeur d'Alene, so we haven't been able to get out and about as much as we would normally like. So, when we go the chance to escape for a day, we jumped up and down with excitement like two little puppies playing tug-of-war with your expensive shoes which you just bought the day before. Maybe you can relate to that?

We've been back in the States long enough now to have been completely re-indoctrinated into the belief that burning fossil fuels and driving our car long distances for no apparent reason is a noble and patriotic pursuit. {It probably helps that gas is so much cheaper here then when we lived in Scotland and New Zealand.} So, armed with a full tank of gas and maps of Idaho and Montana, off we went. First stop - a big, greasy breakfast. Because if you're going to sit in a car for over 12 hours and engage in as little physical activity as possible, then you should make sure you consume as many calories as you possibly can before setting out. 

After unbuttoning my pants just a little bit to make room for all the pancakes I ate, we headed off through Sandpoint and Bonner's Ferry towards the Idaho and Montana border and made our way to Yaak in northwest Montana. Yaak is known as the "last great place", at least according to the people of Yaak. It is pretty remote and rugged with most of the land owned by the Forest Service. The few people who live out this way probably like the fact that it is a remote and rugged place. It helps to keep the outsiders away. I imagine many of them live off the grid and would prefer as little interference from government in their lives as possible. 

To get to Yaak from North Idaho, take Highway 2 across the border to Highway 508 and follow the river. Be sure to stop at the Yaak Falls and take in the views. By the way, yaak means "arrow" in the language of the Kootenai Indians.

While you're there, watch out for bears. A friend of Scott's loaned us some bear spray for our travels, just in case. He told us that he has seen tourists spray the stuff all over them like mosquito repellant. I'm scared of bears, but not that much.

After the falls, keep heading up the road. When you arrive in the town of Yaak (it is a "don't blink or you'll miss it" kind of place), you'll want to stop and have cold drink. You have a choice between the Dirty Shame Saloon or the Yaak River Tavern & Mercantile. While the Dirty Shame Saloon was tempting (after all, it does have a 24/7 shower and laundromat for hunters available), we ended up heading over to the Yaak River Tavern because it sits along the Yaak River. I like it when an establishment has a straightforward name that tells you exactly what to expect - like views of the Yaak River.

I love how they serve beer in mason jars at the Yaak River Tavern. I had an IPA (as I usually do) and Scott tried some of the Irish Death. I thought the beer was great, he thought it was just so-so. But we both agreed that the views of the Yaak River were fabulous.

This cute little fellow came up to say hi and hang out. 

The days have been gorgeous lately. Very little rain with the sun shining shining brightly practically every day. I was glad I wore my camouflage hat to keep the sun out of my eyes. With hunting season open, I was also hoping it would help me blend in and look more like a local. But I think the fact that I kept staring at the camouflage covers on the bar stools and the taxidermy on the walls kind of gave me away. Scott saw a real, live moose the other day on the side of the road. The only kind I ever seem to see are on walls.

After you've finished your beer, there isn't too much more to explore in Yaak, but you'll want to check out the community hall, which was built by residents in 1925. Log construction is very popular in this part of the States. 

After that, make sure you stop at the Boyd Hill Cemetery. Boyd was an early trapper and prospector and the first person to be buried at this site. I love exploring old cemeteries and I've seen quite a few in my day, but this one has to be one of the most interesting I've ever run across. It isn't one of those formal sort of places with expanses of mowed lawns and tidy, uniform graves that you normally run across. While there are some more traditional headstones set among the pine trees, there are also a number of homemade markers and many of the grave sites are quirky and individualistic, which probably reflects the type of folks who live in the area.


I like this one for "Piss Fir Jim". Notice the fir trees and the chainsaw? Although he had a short life, I bet it was an interesting one.

Yaak might be a bit off the beaten track, but it sure is one of the last great places in the world. You should try to get there before everyone else finds out about it.

We made it to the last great place in the world on 18 September 2014.

Linked up to Travel Tuesday with Bonnie  CamilaJessi, and Amy

25 September 2014

Sailing On Other People’s Boats

Panhandle Marina on Lake Coeur d'Alene in North Idaho
What’s a boy to do when he doesn’t have a sailboat of his own? 

A - Pout.

B - Look longingly on YachtWorld every morning at all the pretty sailboats for sale and pout some more.

C - Con someone into letting you sail on their boat. 

D - All of the above.

We’re currently between sailboats, so Scott has been doing A and B a lot lately. Fortunately, he also has been doing C – conning other people into letting him sail on their boats. That’s actually how he got into this whole sailing thing in the first place. Years ago, while we were living in Scotland, Scott emailed a friend about an archaeology conference and his friend emailed back saying he couldn't go because he was helping another friend move his boat from Mallorca to the Algarve. Scott emailed back saying "bon voyage" and mentioned that if his friend ever needed more crew to let him know. As luck would have it, one of the guys had to pull out and they had an extra ticket, so Scott jumped at the chance to go.

After that trip, all Scott could dream about was owning his own sailboat one day. My dreams were a little different - eating cookies and playing with cute little kittens. Scott began a brainwashing campaign to convince me that I too wanted to own and live on a sailboat. But as anyone who has tried to brainwash their partner before knows, these things take time. So in the meantime, Scott has managed to con various people into letting him go cruising and racing on their boats. It has been great experience for him and he’s learned so much about sailing which sure has come in handy when we owned our own boat in New Zealand. 

It’s actually easier then you might think to go sailing on other people’s boats, whether it is helping someone move their cruising boat or crewing on a racing boat. Here are a few thoughts from Scott in case you too want to sail on other people’s boats. 

1 - Search the internet for local yacht clubs. 

Don't be shy. Go ahead and contact local yacht clubs, ideally by phone rather than email, and ask about opportunities to crew on other people's boats. Even if that particular yacht club can't help you out, they may be able to give you tips about who else might be looking for crew. 

2 - Show up at racing.

Even if you aren't on a boat, show up before racing starts and chances are that you'll get picked up. Generally, people are always looking for crew and they'll give you a chance.

3 - Be a team player.

Show up early for racing and stay late. Pitch in and help out. Bring a snack and/or drink with you to share. If you're a team player, chances are you'll get asked back to race next time.

4 - Be humble.

One of the key benefits of sailing on other people’s boats is to learn from them. Scott would be the first person to admit that he has tons to learn about sailing and boats and he is constantly picking up tips and tricks from other people. Even when it is what not to do. 

5 - Take a chance. 

In addition to racing on other people's boats, Scott has also helped move other people's boats. In addition to his first experience moving a boat from Mallorca to the Algarve, Scott has also helped move boats from Symi, Greece to Sardinia and from the Algarve to Madeira. He looked for crewing opportunities on the internet and just took a chance. One of his trips wasn't the greatest due to the skipper being what you might call a "jerk" (Scott might have another term for it). It got so bad that most of the crew abandoned the trip early, but Scott and another guy stuck through the end in order to honor their commitment. His other trip was a much better experience. Sometimes, you just have to take a chance. It might not always work out, but you'll learn a lot regardless, even if it just what kind of skipper you don't want to be!

19 September 2014

17 September 2014

Apple Pie Without Cheese Is Like A Hug Without The Squeeze {Sandpoint, Idaho}

Sandpoint was named "America's most beautiful small town" in 2011. I don't think much has changed since then - it is still a little treasure of a town in northern Idaho, nestled in the midst of the mountains and sitting along Lake Pend Oreille. It is a great place to go skiing, boating, hiking, shopping and, of course, eat pie. Scott and I headed up to Sandpoint the other day with his family in search of some pie at The Pie Hut

The selection of pies is overwhelming. How can you possibly choose just one slice of pie when you're faced with amazing choices like huckleberry, lemon sour cream, raspberry rhubarb and chocolate peanut butter? When we got there, one of Scott's aunties and I made a deal that we would both get two pieces of pie. It is easier to be a pig if you have company. For my first piece, I got French apple pie. Somehow, I was convinced that I had to get ice cream with it. To be honest, nobody had to twist my arm that hard.

One of Scott's uncles was baffled that I would have ice cream with my apple pie. He told me that his mother always said, "Apple pie without cheese is like a hug without the squeeze." I wasn't buying it. I have a new saying, "Apple pie without ice cream is like Canada without a hockey team." 

After gobbling down my apple pie, I was all ready to order another piece of pie when Scott's aunt said she was full and couldn't eat possibly another bite. It is hard to be the only pig at the table, so I passed on a second slice. In hindsight, I have to say that self-control is overrated. 

Scott's family is Scandinavian American (mostly Norwegian with a little bit of Swedish thrown in). So, after pie, the next place we visited was the local Scandinavian shop. 

When Scott and I first got married, I bought a lefse griddle and turning stick at this shop. If you don't know what lefse is, imagine a tortilla made out of flour, potatoes and lots of cream Trust me, it is delicious, especially with tons of butter slathered on it. If you're going to make lefse, the potatoes have to come from the Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota. Otherwise, they are useless. Or, so I've been told. 

While most of Scott's family is blonde with really long legs, I'm more of the short dumpling type with dark hair. I was hoping that if I could master the art of making lefse, I might grow a few inches and blend in a bit better with the in-laws. Sadly, that didn't really happen. But I did learn a little bit more about Norwegian culture in North Dakota - like the fact that they prefer their food to be white or off-white. Food that has any color is generally found in Jello salad. 

While we were checking out the goods at the Scandinavian shop, Scott wandered off to take some pictures of old signs. His family is used to him wandering off. It was a frequent occurrence when he was a kid. The police would find him walking down the road in the next town over and bring him back home. I think he had some sort of regular shuttle service arrangement going with the the cops. 

After Scott reappeared, we had a lovely drive along the back roads and lakes. Here, take a look at these pictures. Such a beautiful place to explore. I'm pretty sure you'll want to take your next vacation out here for the views and the pie.

Pie heaven took place on 4 September 2014

15 September 2014

Going For A Walk: Spokane, Washington

Spokane is a located on the eastern side of Washington State, approx. 20 miles from the Idaho border and 230 miles from Seattle. Personally, I never heard of it until I married Scott over 20 years ago (Scott’s family lives in nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho). Spokane is the “big city” in the region and is known for being the home of Bing Crosby, Expo 74 and Gonzaga University (my father-in-law loves the Zags!). It probably isn’t on your vacation bucket list, but maybe you should rethink that. It is one of those places that can surprise you and it is definitely worth taking a walk through, like we did the other day. You can spend hours poking around Spokane and before you know you’ll find you’ve walked over ten miles and there is still plenty that you missed.

They have these handy maps strategically placed on the sidewalks throughout downtown Spokane. You can see my feet on the map. I’m one of those people who has to turn maps around in my hands so that it is facing the way we need to go. It is the only way I can tell my left from my right and figure out which way to turn. Putting maps on sidewalks is a brilliant idea for people like me. You can just step right onto the map and position yourself facing the way you want to go. 

Spokane Map

We kicked off our walk in the theatre district. It cost us around $4 to park our car all day on the street. In most cities it usually costs you and arm and a leg to park your car, but not in Spokane. You should come here just for the cheap parking meters. 

We started off the day with Scott taking picture of old signs. We ended the day with him taking pictures of old signs. We spent most of the day with Scott taking pictures of old signs. You get the idea. Oh, look. I just happen to have a picture of an old sign from the theatre district.

Otis Sign BW

When we set out it was chucking down rain, so we hid out in a coffee shop for a while. There was a woman there who decided that it was an ideal place to do her entire morning beauty routine while sipping on a coffee. By the end of it, she had some really big hair and a lot of mascara and eyeliner on. Hopefully, it was all waterproof as it was raining cats and dogs.

After coffee, we headed over to the Spokane Cathedral where we met a guy who told us about the pilgrimage he made to Lourdes. I thought he had kind eyes and he probably has an even kinder soul. I imagine he isn’t the type of person to write a snarky comment in his blog about women with big hair and lots of makeup. 

Spokane Cathedral

Next, we headed down to the river to look at the Spokane Falls, a series of dams and waterfalls which are used for power generation. You can take a gondola down the river to have a look at the falls or just walk along the path like we did.

Spokane River

The falls are located in Riverfront Park which was created after Expo 74. The Expo was a big deal for Spokane. Nixon even showed up and made a speech to cries from the audience, “Jail to the Chief!” (Watergate forced him out of office shortly thereafter). Scott remembers the Expo from when he lived in Coeur d’Alene as a boy. The structures they built have that classic 70s look – what people imagined the future would look like one day. It reminds me of Tomorrowland at Disney World in some ways. Today, it looks a bit kitschy and tired in some places, but there are plans to revitalize the area. 

Expo Gondola

In one of the Expo structures (the United States Pavilion), you can find kiddie rides during the summer. Some of them have seen better days. 

Tilt A Whirl

I have no idea what this pig is supposed to be about. Poor thing is just sitting there all on its lonesome wishing some kids would come by and say howdy.


After walking through the Riverfront Park, we headed over to Domini’s to get a sandwich. We only needed one sandwich between the two of us as they pile on more meat and cheese then you can possibly imagine onto bread as thick as your average phone book. The sandwiches are huge, even by American standards, and that’s saying a lot! Domini’s has been in business forever and haven’t changed at all over the years. And why should they change? Once someone’s been to Domini’s, they become a lifelong customer. Every time Scott’s dad was on business in Spokane, he would stash away a bunch of sandwiches in his suitcase and bring them back to North Dakota for Scott and his brothers. When their dad walked in the door after a long trip, the boys ran right past him, grabbed his suitcase and started scarfing down the sandwiches as fast as they could. 

Like Hudson’s Burgers in Coeur d’Alene, they keep ordering simple. You choose your meat, chees and type of bread. No lettuce, not tomato, no nothing except a pickle on the side if you’re feeling adventurous. But there is popcorn - lots and lots of yummy popcorn.

Dominis Sandwich

Of course, even though the d├ęcor at Domini’s hasn’t changed over the years, the conversations have. While we were there, I overheard some folks at another table talking about places to buy marijuana now that it is legal in Washington State. Not a conversation you would have heard a year ago. I even saw a sign on a building advising how many feet you had to be away from the building in order to smoke marijuana. You used to just see those signs for cigarettes.

Dominis Inside

Our next stop was the Davenport Hotel, an iconic landmark in Spokane. It originally opened in 1914 and was quite the cutting edge place back then with air conditioning, a pipe organ and central vacuuming. Anyone who was anyone in the Northwest spent time at the Davenport. The hotel shut down in 1985 and lay dormant for years. Fortunately, it was renovated in 2000 and you can pay a visit today to see the stunning Spanish Renaissance lobby, the Hall of Doges, the hand painted frescoes and ornate woodwork and marble. 

Davenport Old

Davenport Hotel

After imagining what it would be like to have stayed in the Davenport in the olden days, we headed back out to hit the pavement and take some more photos of old signs. There are a lot of them in Spokane. Scott wants to go back for another walk so that he can document all of them. I think I’m going to need to create a Pinterest board just for his photos. In the meantime, here are some final shots to hold you over. The Merlin is one of my favorite signs - high class, neat and clean apartments on offer. And if you can’t afford an apartment, you can always get a low rent but strictly modern single room.

Rex Flour

Cresecent Machine Shop

Ketchum Sign

Merlin Hotel

Coke Sign

Walk on 22 August 2014

Linked up to Travel Tuesday with Bonnie  CamilaJessi, and Amy

12 September 2014

Life In Coeur D'Alene Lately

Scott and I have been hanging out in Coeur d'Alene tending to some family matters lately. Here is a little glimpse into what we've been getting up to in this pretty little resort town on Lake Coeur d'Alene in Northern Idaho.

Northern Idaho is known for its beautiful lakes and whenever you have lakes, you have boats. Because we're between boats just now, Scott and I have had to get our fix by visiting the various marinas on Lake Coeur d'Alene and Lake Pend Oreille. {The picture above is from the Panhandle Marina in Bayview.} Scott has even managed to get hooked into the racing scene and has been out a few times, including participating in the Spud Cup Regatta. Their logo is so cute - little potatoes sailing boats. If you sail in a state known for its potatoes which brags about them on your license plates, then of course you're going to name your regattas after them! Scott is pretty pleased to be able to add the States to his list of countries that he has raced in (New Zealand, Scotland and Ireland).

For some reason, every time I'm back in the States, I am absolutely astonished by the portion sizes when you eat out. You would think I would remember that this is the country that invented "super size", but I never do. Of course, we've fallen back into our American ways and have embraced gluttony. We've hit some of our favorite dining spots while in Coeur d'Alene including one of my all time favorites - Hudson's Hamburgers. Hudson's has been around forever and is one of the few things in this world that hasn't changed. There are lines outside the door at all hours of the day with folks eager to get a stool at the counter. Ordering at Hudson's is pretty simple - the only things on offer are hamburgers,  cheeseburgers, ham & cheese sandwiches and pie. Don't try to get any fancy toppings on your burger - you have a choice between pickles and onions. That's it. And if you want fries, try McDonald's.

We've been to the VA (Veterans Affairs) hospital in Spokane, Washington and the clinic in Coeur d'Alene a few times lately. It is pretty sobering to visit VA facilities - you see older gentlemen with Korean War caps struggling to get around in their walkers and guys who are missing limbs. I think most Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, would agree that how we treat our veterans is shocking. Many of the homeless men and women you see on the street corner when you're driving by are veterans. A shocking number of veterans take their own lives every day. And then there are the veterans who die waiting for care in the VA system. We can and should do better for these men and women. 

Idaho is a beautiful state nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Over 60% of Idaho is public land with some of the largest areas of unspoilt lands that you can find anywhere in the States. We've been taking advantage of our time in Idaho enjoying the outdoors here - going for drives in the countryside with Scott's dad and exploring the area on foot and bicycle. We have to try to work off our gluttony somehow!

That's life in Coeur d'Alene lately...here's hoping the gorgeous weather continues for while!