Friday, August 30, 2013

Birch Bay Update: New Pub Opening Soon

The quality of life in Birch Bay was diminished a couple of years ago when a bankruptcy caused the closure of two Birch Bay Drive year-round eating establishments: C.J.'s Beach House and CJ Wijns. The Beach House served, in my experience, the best food in Birch Bay. It was a great place to take visitors. Wijns (however you pronounced it) was a good place to get some coffee, lunch, and/or wine in a comfortable atmosphere and at a reasonable cost.

Fortunately, eating options have improved greatly in Birch Bay during the past few months with the re-opening of the Beach House, now owned by Jack Niemann, a successful local restaurateur, and the opening of two other restaurants to replace ones that closed: the Via Birch Bay Cafe and Bistro (the only eating place on the Ocean side of Birch Bay Drive) and Vonna's Purple Fin Restaurant. The Via filled a building that had been empty for quite a while after the Blue Fish Restaurant closed down, and it seemed to do a healthy business this summer. It had a major setback last Winter when a blustery storm brought waves that crashed through windows and flooded the place, but it has bounced back well. The Purple Fin, located near the C Shop on Anderson Road, filled a space that had been occupied for a couple of years by Dee's Country Diner. I ate at the Purple Fin in June with six other people who ordered a variety of fish and meat dishes, and we are all pleased with our meals.

A sign in the window of the space that housed Wijns announces the pending arrival of The Will O Pub and Cafe. The new establishment has a Facebook page ( ) charting the progress of opening the new business. It appears that it should occur any day now, pending final inspections and permits.

I wish these new places, as well as those Birch Bay restaurants and cafes that survived the Great Recession, well.  Birch Bay offers significant challenges to such businesses, mainly because the busy days of summer are followed by many days when Birch Bay attracts few visitors (there is a reason the C Shop stops daily operations after Labor Day). Nevertheless, with a growing number of full-time residents in the area, a revival of the housing market, and rising prosperity, the local economy is likely going to be much better in the coming months than it has been during the last few off-seasons. If so, we can expect all of these newly opened establishments to be ready to welcome the flood of visitors starting in Spring 2014.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Birch Bay Summer, 2013: A Photojournalist Report from the Front

Most of June, all of July, and the first few days of August have been spectacular in Birch Bay. During this time, I have awakened thinking, “What did I do to deserve such great weather?”  The days have been in the 70’s to low 80’s; the nights are cooled to the 50's. I can’t image a better combination, especially with the daily sun sparkling off the blue Bay. 

The fabulous weather has been enhanced by the visit of Godson Danielka, who gives me new insights into the lives of 11-year-old boys. Of course, I don’t always appreciate when he points out -- after I suggest that something he did wasn't too smart -- that I was born in the last century while he is a New Century kind of guy.  How can guy born in the 20th Century understand the perspective of a 21st Century kid?

As the great weather rolled on, some interesting things have been happening in the neighborhood. The following is a report on some of them:

New Book by Al Krause and Ruth Higgins

Al Krause and Ruth Higgins, our Birch Bay neighbors located a few houses to the south of my Morrison Avenue abode, have written a book entitled, Lessons from the Obama 2012 Grassroots Campaign. It was published at the end of 2012, and I finally got around to reading it in July. The book discusses their experience as volunteers for the Obama campaign in Northwest Washington State. While doing some valuable and important work organizing calls and other volunteer activities, they ran into some paid staffers who, at best, did not much help them do their work.  At worse, the staffers frustrated their efforts to the point that Al and Ruth resigned their volunteer positions and worked on other campaigns.

The book reminds me a bit of parts of another book that I recently read, Political Magic by Brenda Blagg, about Clinton’s “Arkansas Travelers.” This group of volunteers from Arkansas paid their own way to campaign in key states for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. There they were often dismissed and/or distrusted by Clinton’s paid staff. I would venture to say that paid political staff members are often wary of capable volunteers because they view them as threats to their own little pockets of power. 

I enjoyed Al and Ruth’s nicely written book, which is a quick read, and am glad that their volunteer work gave them the opportunity to meet, and have a picture made with, Obama, even though it was frustrating in other ways. I have to say that I admire folks like Al and Ruth who volunteer their time to promote their political beliefs. Most other people are like me, viewing politics as a somewhat unsavory spectator event. We may care who wins, but not enough to make an effort to take part in the process. 

Below is a picture of Ruth and Al in the Blaine July 4th parade. Ruth is in the blue shirt holding the large banner. Al is walking behind the sign with a dark blue hat and a light blue sweater.

You can find Al and Ruth’s book (in both hard copy and e-book) at these links:

Pat and Pat’s 50th Wedding Anniversary

In late July, my neighbors across the street, Patrick and Patricia Alesse celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a gathering on land they own across the street (toward Terrell Creek) from the main C Shop building. This land is where a public market is held on weekends during the Summer. This lot is about 50 feet from my front door.

The Allesses are the long-time owners of the C Shop  
and valued members of the Birch Bay (and surrounding area) community. They raised two boys in Birch Bay after moving here from Syracuse, New York. The C shop is probably the most recognizable landmark in Birch Bay and is famous for its tasty home-made candy and other goodies.

The celebration was festive, but informal, with guests coming from as far as New York. It featured Patricia’s original wedding dress, a ride in the type of car they owned when they married, and a huge wedding cake like the one they had at their wedding. It also featured a fascinating display of pictures from the lives of the Pats and their family. 

I appreciated the invitation to join the celebration and am glad to be their neighbors. 

Pat and Pat with one of their sons. Her wedding dress is on her right

Pat and Pat in the car model they drove on their wedding day

Pat and Pat, with their two sons, drink a toast to their continued happiness.
The wedding cake is a replica of the one they had at their wedding 50 years ago

A.J. and Danielka Caught a Salmon in Terrell Creek

We had some excitement around here two weekends ago when Danielka and his friend A.J. (age 10) caught a large salmon in Terrell Creek. A.J. and his family live in the Birch Bay Drive condo next to where Danielka is staying this summer. The two caught a 15-18 inch salmon in Terrell Creek just down the bank from where the Pat and Pat wedding anniversary celebration took place. 

Danielka (dark shirt) and A.J. (red shirt) fish from Birch Bay Dr. bridge over
Terrell Creek
Catching the fish took them quite a while. They spotted it under the Terrell Creek Bridge (where Alderson St. meets Birch Bay Ave.) and tried unsuccessfully to get it with their fishing poles, then went in the shallow creek with a net. After a couple hours of a concentrated chase, A.J. netted the fish with Danielka’s help. 
Here is Danielka with the netted Salmon
The catch stirred quite a bit of excitement. Many people were surprised to find such a large salmon in Terrell Creek, though I have seen some leaping further up the river. The catch is a good sign that the efforts to restore the creek for Salmon migration is having some success.

A.J.and Danielka with their salmon
Decent Pulled-Pork Barbecue Comes to Whatcom County

I am happy to report that Birch Bayers finally has a decent place to get BBQ. It is found in a restaurant, Dickey's Barbecue Pit, in nearby Lynden, a Birch Bay suburb. The restaurant is located just south of the intersection of Meridian and Lynden-Birch Bay Roads, across the street from Safeway. It is decorated as a lower-middle-class eating place, and people from Georgia or Texas or Arkansas feel at home when visiting it.
Danielka and Oxana eat BBQ at Dickey's Barbecue Pit in Lynden

The restaurant is a chain; nevertheless, its pulled pork sandwich is the best I have had on this side of the Continental Divide. I can recommend its pulled pork sandwich (I haven’t tried other BBQ meats yet). I like the hot-ish barbecue sauce that is available to top the sandwich. Also, the “barbecue beans” dish is very tasty. As a bonus, Dickeys provides free self-service ice cream cones to conclude the meal.  

Godson Danielka and his mother Oxana are fans of Dickey's. Include me on the list.

The Big Three Events: July 4th Fireworks, the Blaine July 4th Parade and the Birch Bay Music Festival

A big part of the summer fun in Birch Bay are three events that happen each year. The first two take place on July 4th and bring the biggest crowds to the BB.  As usual, Birch Bay had a explosively spectacular July 4th with the beaches lined with folks shooting fireworks over the Bay. I like to describe this event as an anarchic ballet. I have written a couple of blogs about it. You should come to see it for yourself sometime. The blogs are at this links:

I will not write more about the 2013 July 4th, but post below a few pictures of the event:

Before dark comes, some folks shoot roman candles over the Bay

A boy enjoys a sparkler on the beach

The crowd has assembled and is waiting for dark

Preparing a hot air balloon

When dark finally comes, Birch Bay's sky lights up
With the July 4th fireworks lighting up the Birch Bay night sky, it is a pleasure to prepare for the spectacle by attending the Blaine July 4th parade. The Birch Bay suburb of Blaine offers a state-of-art small city parade filled with local folks and their cars, tractors, politicians, businesses, and organizations. The day includes a pancake breakfast at the senior center, an exhibition of antique cars, and plenty of booths selling food and trinkets. Put it on your calendar for next July 4th if you are going to be in the area. It is the essence of Americana.  Here are a couple of pictures from the parade:

Boy Scouts march in the Blaine July 4th Parade

Honoring Veterans

Icelandic Heritage Society had many folks in the parade

Tractors were a big part of the parade

One young parade watcher gathered lots of candy tossed by passing floats
As I write this, the third event, the Birch Bay Music Festival, is booming in my ears. The Festival is held next to the C Shop, a few feet from my Morrison place. I get to hear all 18 bands from my living room.

This year is the third Birch Bay Music Festival. It gets bigger every year. In 2013, the Festival has 18 bands playing from 3:00 p.m. Friday to Sunday at 5:00 p.m. For the third year, I just heard Rebekah Ann Curtis sign and play her guitar. I always enjoy her music.

The place is crowded with booths, a small train ride for kids, and a music stage. Food is plentiful at the C Shop and the Bay Cafe across the street from the venue. The crowds seem more than ample for such a small space. 

You can read about the 2013 Birch Bay Music Festival at this website:

Danielka’s Visit

I will conclude the report on Summer 2013 in Birch Bay with news about the visit of Godson Daniekla, whose two-month visit will soon conclude, and he and his mother, Oxana, will return to their home in Podolsk, Russia. Danielka was recently bummed out to learn that, thanks to an order by Russian President V. Putin, he and all other Russian school kids will have to attend classes on Saturday during the coming year.

Thanks to Danielka’s visit, I now know more about the booming on-line game business. Danielka started the visit playing Wizards 101, which he greatly enjoyed. Now, however, he is enthralled with Mindcraft, especially Hunger Games. He especially enjoys playing on-line with multiple players using Skype to talk to friends who are in the game with him. The games have some downsides, like too much time with his butt in a seat, but they provide an incentive for him to improve his written English and spelling. His spoken English is now almost native.

One thing that Danielka wants very much is to have his own You Tube channel showing his computer gaming videos. He made some progress toward this goal: he now has the software needed to record, with commentary, games as they happen on a computer. He has made a couple of demos, and I expect that he will soon have his first You Tube video posted to his “Golden Redstone” channel.

Among the highlights of Danielka’s visit was a trip to San Diego, which I did not make. With his Aunt/Godmother Natalia leading the way, he and Oxana had a chance to visit Lego World, the San Diego Zoo, and the city’s great beaches. They had a great time.

Back in Birch Bay, Danielka and I went out most mornings to hit some tennis balls. Danielka is a good little athlete, so he has been learning steadily and now has developed some good basic shots that he is slowly coming to hit consistently. When he comes back next year, we will make some more progress.

Danielka playing tennis
As I show in the picture, I made Danielka wear a mask while playing tennis. It was his handicap to even out my age-related handicaps.  (Actually, the mask is a key part of the plot of the science fiction novel we are writing together. I describe this project a little latter in the blog.)

The first Saturday in August, Danielka attended the Pirate Days Camp as part of the Drayton Harbor Celebration in Blaine, a suburb of Birch Bay. He attended this event last year and greatly enjoyed it. This year was also fun. With his mother’s help, he put together a good pirate outfit, and he practiced his “Aargs” and other pirate talk. 

Pirate Danielka with his Aunt Natalia
The group of kids attending the Pirate Days event were a good looking group. It is hard not to smile when you see kids dressed up as pirates. Here are a few of the young pirates we saw at Drayton Harbor. 

One of the youngest pirates

Winner of one of the best pirate costume award

AJ. and Danielka
In the crowded summer, another event we enjoyed was a visit to the Whatcom Art Museum in Bellingham, a southern suburb of Birch Bay. In truth, we were not too thrilled by the apocalyptic art in the exhibition entitled "Nature in the Balance: Artists Interpreting Climate Change." A room stuffed with amateur "message" art (aka agitprop), even if you agree with the message, can be too much. After a while, we had to start laughing at the unending flow of grim messages in the exhibition. My advice: get rid of 90 percent of the paintings and exhibit only the best. The message will be conveyed with much more power and clarity than the hodge-podge of art now on the walls. 

Danieka and the bottom third of one of the
paintings at the Whatcom Art Museum
One of the few paintings I liked in the exhibition entitled
"Nature in the Balance: Artists Interpreting Climate Change"
at the Whatcom Art Museum
Although we were not too thrilled by the museum's main art exhibition, we did enjoy a new historical exhibit the museum is offering at its galleries in the Old City Hall. This one is titled "Treasure from the Trunk: The Story of J.J. Donovan." It documents the story of one of Bellingham's most important citizens in the first part of the 20th century. 

We also appreciate the Art Museum's offering of a history cruise around Bellingham Bay, which we greatly enjoyed. The tour lasts for 2 1/2 hours and is narrated by a historian who tells interest elements of the history of the city and county as the boat glides about the Bay. The night of our cruise has perfect weather, so we had some spectacular views of the Bellingham, Fairhaven, and Mt. Baker. We were wowed by what we saw.

Here are a few shots from the boat:

Bellingham Old City Hall (Red Building) and Mt. Baker

Fairhaven area of Bellingham (The grey building in the front on the water is one of the few remaining buildings of the American-Pacific Fisheries Cannery, which a century ago was the largest Pacific salmon processing cannery in the world

Danielka, Natalia, and Oxana enjoy the cruise

A Bellingham seal watches us watch him

One other thing that Danielka and I have been working on this summer: a book titled “Kaboy the Magician and the Intergalactic Locusts.” We have the plot worked out and three chapters drafted. The book is about a young boy, a visitor from Russia, in Birch Bay who discovers that he is destined to lead the fight against an invasion by the seemingly invincible Intergalactic Locusts, marauders from a planet in another galaxy who periodically invade planets like earth to gather valuable resources for their own use. To be successful, Kaboy must use secrets passed on to him by The Magicians, highly intelligent beings who nearly 14,000 years ago discovered too late how the Locusts could be defeated and, as their people perished, found a way to transmit those secrets for use on earth when the Locusts returned. 

Look for it soon at your local Amazon store.

It has been a great summer in Birch Bay. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to return to the Birch Bay Music Festival to listen to more music.