Wednesday, September 17, 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

Monday, September 15, 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

Friday, September 12, 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's hoping the gorgeous weather continues for while!

Friday, September 5, 2014

This Map Is Useless If You Want To Get To Murray, Idaho

If you ever find yourself in Northern Idaho and want to get to Murray on the back roads, don’t use this map. 

Sure, the map is free, but the roads on it don’t seem to bear any resemblance to any sort of reality. I think it is more of a conceptual map. It is what someone imagined roads could look like in Northern Idaho. I suspect that it was a school project by some kids in Bangladesh that the State of Idaho somehow got a hold of and decided to print off for penny pinching motorists who aren’t willing to shell out any money for a proper map. Yep, that would be us. The cheap ones. And for some reason, we have at least seven copies of this map. 

Scott, one of my brothers-in-law, my father-in-law and I headed off for one of our scenic drives the other day with this trusty map in hand. And before you say it, no, there is no cell phone reception in the mountains, so asking Siri where the heck we were and how to get to Murray wasn’t really an option at the time. Sure, we could have researched our route before we set off, but what’s the fun in that? 

If you find yourself up in Northern Idaho, make sure you find time to get to Murray. It is an old mining town which was known for gold and prostitutes. Today, it has a couple of bars, a museum and a cemetery and is a fun day trip from Coeur d’Alene. We couldn’t find the turn-off for the back road up to Murray, so we ended up going there the boring way via I-90 to the turn off to Prichard and then over to Murray. I suggest you take that route too (unless you have a better map then we did).

Once you get to Murray, start off in the cemetery. You can see grave markers for some of the famous residents of Murray – like Molly B’Damn. Molly (originally Maggie Hall from Ireland) was a local prostitute who was beloved by the community for her efforts nursing miners during a smallpox epidemic. Here is a picture of her grave. People leave coins and jewelery at her grave site.

And here is what she looked like. I wish I could pull off a hat and stole like she did.

After the cemetery, head into town and stop off at the Sprag Pole bar and order yourself a beer. When I asked the lady behind the bar what they had on tap, she rattled off the usual suspects, like Pabst Blue Ribbon. And then she mentioned that they had Kokanee. I asked her what kind of beer it was and she said Canadian. I have to admit I was a bit perplexed. I thought she might describe it as a lager, a stout, an amber or something like that. But no, the description was just Canadian. I have no idea what that means. Back when I was in Michigan, I thought I was so fancy when I used to drink Labatt’s, imported all the way across the border from Canada. So I decided to take a gamble and go international again with the Kokanee. It was pretty tasty - there is more to Canada then just Tim Horton's and maple syrup.

Once you have your beer in hand, head to the back of the bar and check out the Sprag Pole Museum. Admission is free and you can take your beer with you. My kind of place. It is a pretty quirky and interesting place. Their tag line is “no ordinary museum” and that seems like a pretty apt description. In addition to exhibits on Molly B’Damn, mining, logging and forestry fighting, there are also collections of all sorts of things on display. Like whiskey jugs, typewriters, buttons, coins and even those trolls that some of used to have on the end of your pencil in school. I think the museum is basically a warehouse of everything that was stored in people’s basements and garages in Murray. It is a fascinating glimpse of Americana. Like these buttons.

And these keys.

And this display of costume jewelry, complete with an Elvis pin.

Did you know you could make artwork out of old shotgun shells and bullets?

After you’ve explored the museum, walk along the main street and check out the old buildings. 

Take the obligatory photo of the post office. 

Then head over to the other bar in town and check out the old gold mine inside.

Once you’ve seen all the sights that Murray has to offer, if you’re feeling brave, pull out your useless map and pick a back road at random. Keep your fingers crossed that it actually leads back to Coeur d’Alene. As you can tell, we did make it back to Coeur d’Alene in the end. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post. It was a really nice drive back and we had some great views of the North Coeur d’Alene River along the way. If you decide to take this route, make sure you keep an eye out for two things – falling rock and stray bullets. 

The road we were driving along was graveled, pretty narrow and runs along a ridge with a steep drop-off. It wasn’t too bad until we go to the signs that said “falling rock” and “road narrows”. I don’t think any of us believed the road could get any narrower. It did. And there was a lot of rock on the road. It looked fresh, like it had just dropped off of the overhang minutes before. This is the kind of place you don’t want to honk your horn in. Thankfully, we survived this stretch of road. I find keeping my eyes closed helps. 

But the danger didn't end as just before the road became paved and headed down to Fernan Lake, we saw a sign that read “no shooting”. Well, of course, there were a few guys up there shooting in exactly the same direction as our car was headed. Thankfully, the guys have pretty good aim and we made it back to Coeur d’Alene without any bullet holes in our vehicle. Or maybe they had really bad aim and were actually trying to hit us?

Drive on Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Going For A Walk: Coeur D’Alene, Idaho

Coeur d’Alene is a resort town in the panhandle of Idaho (between Montana and Washington State) nestled in the mountains and surrounded by dozens of lakes. Although Scott primarily grew up in North Dakota, he did go to middle school in Coeur d’Alene and has fond memories of town. Scott’s immediate family now lives in the area, so I’ve been coming back to visit over the past 20+ years. While the area has grown considerably over the years, it still manages to (mostly) retain its charm, despite the increase in population. Scott’s dad lives in downtown Coeur d’Alene so we’ve being going for walks whenever we can.

One of the first things you see when you head into the center of town is Paul Bunyan. I remember reading about him when I was a little girl. I remember how strong he was, how he could wield his heavy axe and all the flapjacks that he ate. Nowadays, he has come down a bit in the world and is selling hamburgers.

Here is what the main street that runs through downtown looks like. They do a nice job keeping it pretty with all of the hanging flower baskets. See that Clark’s sign? The first girl that Scott ever kissed was the daughter of the owner of the Clark’s jewelry store. 

Scott’s eyes lit up when he saw this mural with sailboats on it. Coeur d’Alene Lake is popular with boaters, jet skiers, kayakers and of course, the latest fad of stand up paddle boarding. Personally, I don’t get it, but a lot of people seem to be trying it out on the lake.

If you want to go sailing, you can rent Hobie catamarans near the North Idaho College.

When we go for walks, we like to poke down back alleys. They can be pretty interesting places. Coeur d’Alene is full of old brick buildings like these.

You can also find all sorts of old junk when you wander down alleys. Which I guess isn’t really a surprise. If you market it just right, this is the type of thing that people with too much money in their wallets will pay too much money for.

Scott is into taking pictures of old signs lately. Like this one.

There are a lot of new trendy restaurants and bars since the last time we were in Coeur d’Alene. I think this place used to be an old muffler shop or something. If trendy isn’t your thing (and the prices that go with it), there are still a few dive bars around where you can play pool and smoke indoors. I think Idaho may be one of only a few States where establishments can choose to allow smoking inside. 

Moose seem to be a pretty big thing in Coeur d’Alene, so I’ll leave you with a couple of shots just so that you are familiar with what they look like in case you decide to come for a visit. Not only can you find moose on top of buildings, they have also turned them into giant bookends at the local library.

Walks during August 2014