2017 in Review

2017 had a pretty rough start for me, but it finished extremely strong. When I look back on the year I feel pretty happy about the accomplishments I have made. I’m almost done my lib tech course, I began learning the ukulele, adopted a dog, took some road trips, wrote a new book, started submitting my work to publishers, and I met a really amazing woman.

Here’s a list of my top 12 events. Some have links to longer blog posts or to other sites of interest.

  1. Manresa Castle in Port Townsend.

That time I spent a night in a haunted hotel, and woke up the next day with the entire town dressed in steampunk costumes.

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2. Grinfinn the Pekingese.

That time I met a dog, and he chose me to be his caretaker.

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3. Friday Harbor, WA

That time I took a ferry to a town in the San Juan Islands, and met a couple at a cafe who turned out to be a good friend’s uncle and aunt.

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4. Leavenworth, WA

That time I went camping in a town that does Christmas all year long.

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5. The Steampunk Festival in Belligham, WA

That time I went to a steampunk festival and wished that I was in a costume.

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6. Coupeville, WA

That time I discovered the beauty of just sitting by the ocean with a cup of coffee, a dog at my feet, and a notebook on my lap.

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7. Arlington, WA

I wound up here by accident after taking a wrong turn. Then, after a second wrong turn, wound up finding the BEST homemade ice cream place I’ve ever discovered.

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8. First book signing since Flying Feet!

That time Denise Jaden and Eileen Cook asked me to be a part of their summer signing.

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9. Digital Services Tech at Richmond Public Library.

That time a part of my job was to create a digitization station for digitizing VHS, LPs, and cassettes. (It now does SO MUCH MORE!)

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10. Chosen to be a part of the literacy quilt.

The quilt was 50 feet from my station, and it still took me weeks and weeks to notice I was on it. In fact, it was a patron who asked, “Are you the James McCann that’s on the literacy quilt?” And then when the quilt travelled to another library, I got an email from a coworker who realized I was the author of one of her favourite books as a teen.

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11. Family came to visit.

My sister and mom came in July, and my nephew came in September. We took many road trips together and had an absolute blast.

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My sister, Grinfinn, and I in Horseshoe Bay on our way to Whistler.

Hell’s Gate was one of the many trips my nephew and I took.

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My nephew, Justin, in Hell’s Gate, BC

12. Had a Nice Surprise

If you follow my Instagram, you may have noticed I’ve been spending a lot of time with a special someone, Jessica. Here we are writing at the Penny, a really cool cafe in Mission. You can read Jessica’s work on Wattpad.

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And, I started learning the ukulele (as in actual lessons). I (almost always) end my blog posts with a song that fits the moment–so, here’s me playing the ukulele on week four.

James in His Jeep Getting Java – Hell’s Gate Edition

For years I talked about travelling to Hell’s Gate — and not just so I can say I’ve literally been to Hell and back. Hell’s Gate is nestled in the narrowest part of the Fraser River just down from Boston Bar. In 1808, Simon Fraser uttered the phrase, “(it’s) a place where no human should venture, for surely these are the gates of Hell.”

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I had tried to visit a time just a few weeks before, but was turned back because the fires nearby were causing too much smoke. Yes, I was turned away from the Gates of Hell because the smoke was just too bad!

But with my nephew visiting, this seemed the perfect opportunity for a road trip. Grinfinn, Justin, and I all piled in the Jeep, and after a brief stop for lunch and coffee at the Blue Moose in Hope, we headed for Hell’s Gate.

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The drive there is gorgeous and the day could not have been more perfect. We followed the Fraser Canyon through the famous tunnels passing through Yale for a brief stop.

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Once at Hell’s Gate, we took the tram to the bottom of the canyon to what was once a mining town. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. The scenery was amazing and in September on a weekday there were no crowds. Hell’s Gate is very dog friendly, so Grinfinn had a great time!

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I’ve been on a few trams and found this one especially calm. It was slow and steady with a guide who has a spiel that takes the time from top to bottom to get through. By the time you get to the bottom, you have a pretty good idea of the area’s history and that makes exploring a bit more fun.

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A restaurant, an ice cream/fudge shop, and a museum.

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The view from the tram.

 

You can walk across that red bridge and really get a good view of the river. It’s spectacular.

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On the other side of the bridge are train tracks and a bit of a trail. Depending on how much of a hiker you are, you can spend a good day exploring the area. It seemed really uphill, so my nephew and I opted for not going on the hike.

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That’s my nephew below looking all pensive over the cliff. Hard to tell in this photo, but he’s got a camera that he took some great photos of during our trip. He was trying to find the perfect shot here.

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The day was hot and Grinfinn needed a break. There is a museum of the area’s history that’s air conditioned, so the three of us found our way there and cooled down.

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Grinfinn enjoys the cool floor.

All in all, it’s a remarkable trip there and worth the drive. Go on a nice day, but not when it’s full on heat. If you’re a hiker, take hiking boots. If you’re not a hiker, get the ice cream.

I leave you with this song by AC/DC:

James in his Jeep Getting Java–The Coupeville Edition

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The look on Grinfinn’s face when I grab his collar and my Jeep keys is priceless. He always does this little dance when he knows we’re going for a Jeep ride, and it’s the only time he bolts out the door as fast as his one inch legs can carry him.

This past weekend we travelled to Coupeville, Washington on Whidby Island, a town of approximately 2,000 people. I travel to Whidby Island a lot, and have blogged about it on more than one occasion. The town of Langley is a favourite travel destination that you can read about here. This historic site still has that frontier look from the 1900s when the town incorporated. Its history as a settlement from the 1850s is a fascinating one, and well worth the read.

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Beautiful, friendly, and peaceful, this was the perfect spot to go after a particularly rough week. There is something therapeutic that happens on road trips, kind of an erasing of the emotional cache that leaves me fresh for the following week. As always, Grinfinn was the hit of the town with lots of people stopping to take photos, pet him, and ask what kind of dog he is.

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Grinfinn and I wound up spending our time on a bench overlooking Penn Cove. Thanks to the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, there was free wi-fi so I had a great spot to rest and write. There was also a hot dog stand where I was able to get my lunch.

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I managed to grab a cup of java from the Knead & Feed Bakery before they closed. (They literally locked the door as I entered the building.) They have a great place to sit outside that overlooks the cove, and once while passing through I had stopped for lunch here so I can say the food is delicious.

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During our walk Grinfinn became enamoured by this statue of a dog. It had me laughing out loud, and when others saw what was making me crack up they also laughed.

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My theme song for this post is Dare by Stan Bush. I’ve been digitizing my LP collection at my library, and now this is one of the many songs I have to play on my road trips. It’s from the 1986 Transformers movie.

James in his Jeep Getting Java — The Steampunk Edition

The Fairhaven Steampunk Festival is an annual event put on in partnership with Village Books, the Historic Fairhaven Association and the Bellingham Steampunk Society. It’s well attended, fun, and if you enjoy the steampunk culture you will find yourself with your people.

When I took Grinfinn to this on July 22nd, I didn’t realize there was more to the story than just a fun event across the border. The annual event is in memoriam to a young man who had attended the first event, but in 2012 died in an accident. You can read about Mr. Flip here.

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Grinfinn and I didn’t dress up (I chickened out) and immediately we regretted it. The costumes were amazing, and everyone there was friendly and having so much fun.

The photo below is Mark Nichols & the Everexpanding Experience Machine. He was amazing! I have included his YouTube video at the end of the blog post as the theme for the day.

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This is Grinfinn posing as he is adored by several people all sitting on the benches around us.

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Not only did we have a grand day of steampunkness, but I also discovered a new cafe because I had to park so far away from Fairhaven. (Parking was at a premium due to the festival.)

The Firehouse Cafe, in the Firehouse Performing Arts Centre, has outdoor seating as well as ample indoor tables. It also has a take out window, which I am discovering is a handy thing when you are travelling with a dog. I was able to walk up to the window, order an iced latte, have a seat, and just enjoy the afternoon sunshine. Highly recommended.

The Fairhaven Steampunk Festival will stay on my radar for next year, and now that I know the story of Mr. Flip I will be sure to give him a shout out each time I go. Mr. Flip, wherever you are, no doubt you are wowing the audience.

James in His Jeep Getting Java–Camping, Leavenworth, and Grinfinn! Part Three

It’s taken me some time to write this last part of the trip I took over a month ago. As always happens, life gets in the way, time suddenly disappears, and now I’m probably going to write two or three blog posts of all the things happening right now.

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First, Leavenworth, Washington. Travelling to this town in the Cascade Mountains is a little like going to visit Santa’s village. The town is made up to resemble an old Bavarian village, and oftentimes storefronts will play Christmas music even though it was sunny, nearly 35 C, and the beginning of summer.

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One of the reasons I chose to visit Leavenworth was that it fared well as a “dog-friendly” place on the Bring Fido website. When Grinfinn and I arrived, we took a walk around needing first to find the pet store to pick up some supplies.

A Paw Above was friendly and helpful in getting me Grinfinn’s food and a carrier just in case he needed to rest from the heat and all the walking I was planning to do. Just one note here, is that I had opted not to take dog food with me over the border as I had been told by friends that I wouldn’t be allowed to bring it. I have not been able to find any documentation to suggest that is accurate, and in subsequent border trips I have brought dog food with no trouble.

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Once we were set for supplies, the owner of A Paw Above asked if I wanted a list of dog-friendly restaurants for my stay in town. I said yes, and she provided me with one. This came in very handy (and I won’t reproduce the entire list here, as you really should visit her store for the list if you go to Leavenworth.)

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Leavenworth is not a large town for walking, and the main drag was just a few blocks long. If you’re in the mood for shopping, there are plenty of unique shops and for the foodies there are some delicious places to eat. It only took me a few hours to see that part of Leavenworth, but luckily there is more than just shops.

Below is Grinfinn after being served a bowl of fresh water at our first lunch spot. Uncle Uli’s had a large patio area where Grinfinn and I were able to have some shade and a good meal. I had the burger, and Grinfinn had his kibble. And maybe a french fry or two…

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As I noted above, it got very, very hot during the day and Grinfinn tired out quickly. He did enjoy being carried around in the dog-carrier, and on this trip I found that this was a life-saver.

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The second restaurant I tried, also with a dog-friendly patio, was the Icicle Brewing Company. It was so hot at this point, that I asked for a recommendation and the server suggested a plate of cold cuts, cheese and crackers. It was perfect and delicious.

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The temperature had risen to almost +35C that day, and Grinfinn was really needing a break. There was a “ghost town” nearby that I wanted to check out, so we headed out to Trinidad, WA.

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This is all that is left of the original town. And, unfortunately, it was closed until the weekend so I didn’t get to see inside.

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But the journey there gave Grinfinn a chance to cool down with the Jeep’s air con, which seemed to make him pretty happy.

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The third day, Grinfinn and I headed back on the road to return home. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that I kept seeing signs in Leavenworth for a “water park,” which I had interpreted to mean one of those parks where kids get sprayed with water and swim in a pool. As always happens, I had taken a wrong turn on my way out and wound up driving past the water park–also called Enchantment Park.

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It was still early in the day, so I pulled into the lot and took Grinfinn for a short walk into the wooded area. We sat and enjoyed the early morning air, and wouldn’t you know it I saw a deer swimming in the water!

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At first I thought she was struggling, but then she climbed onto a sandbar and watched me for awhile. After a little bit of her and I assessing each other, she climbed back into the water and swam towards me.

I had mentioned in a previous blog post about Zeke’s Drive-in and how I couldn’t get a meal as the server didn’t understand that my VISA required a PIN for it to work. (She just thought it was declining due to lack of credit.) Well, on the way back I made sure to have cash so that I could try their burger and fries.

Definitely worth the stop as the service is very friendly and the food is great. I do recommend bringing cash if your card requires a PIN. And there is a cat that is very grumpy, a little territorial, and doing just fine so it’s best to just leave it alone.

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This is Angel. The photo is blurry, as that’s as close as I felt comfortable getting.

 

 

James in His Jeep Getting Java–Camping, Leavenworth, and Grinfinn! Part Two

The last time I went camping was probably about seven years ago. And when I say “camping,” I mean it in the most liberal sense. This is “car camping,” where you pull into a spot and your entire site is there ready to use. The last time I went actual camping, where I canoed several lakes, portaged between them, and hiked to the camping location, was more like twenty-five years ago.

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I chose the KOA campsite over the State one only because I thought it might be nice to have access to showers. Plus, the prices were about the same, so I wasn’t saving anything by going to a State park. I also liked the idea of having internet access, so that I could blog each day of my journey.

KOA Pine Village was more like a hostel where you stay in a tent instead of a room. There was a general store, washrooms, showers, a coffee shop, a pool, a dog run, a hot tub, and internet access.  I was placed pretty far from both the dog run and the washroom, though I had emailed ahead to request a site next to them (that also overlooked the river). At the time of check in, I should have mentioned my request again, but I was too tired and didn’t feel like it. In retrospect, I will now always be more vocal.

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I’ll rate the site out of five stars on a few key points:

(1) Cleanliness. This I would have given them a solid five star. The campsite, including the washrooms, were always kept very clean and were well maintained. However, when I asked about recycling I was told they hadn’t got around to that yet since they’d only been open for two years. Two years! That downgrades them to a three.
(2) Internet. Not always important to people who are car camping, but since I wanted to blog my travels it was for me. The internet (and I was right by the tower) was shoddy at best. On two devices (my Android phone and my iPad) I couldn’t maintain connectivity for longer than a few minutes. The iPad couldn’t stay connected for more than a few seconds. This I give zero stars. It was so bad it was actually not better than nothing.
(3) Staff. Five stars. For the most part, they were kind and polite.

So, they get a 2.6 star rating out of five. To improve, I’d suggest either boosting their internet signal or just not advertising that it’s a service. Plus, get a recycling bin.

There was a warning at the site office for wild turkeys, deer, bears, and cougars. The last one was what got my interest, as I have no fear of the other animals. I asked how often they’d had sightings, and was told that they’d actually never seen a bear or a cougar in the area, but because of the proximity to the mountains they were required to give the warning. I asked if she knew what to do if they saw a cougar, and she told me that no, in fact, she didn’t. She seemed shocked when I told her that you don’t run, you actually have to stand and fight it. I’m pretty sure I was labelled the “Crazy Canadian” after that.

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I did see many turkeys and a few deer. The turkeys enjoyed roaming my campsite, and only mine–they never ventured into anyone else’s. When I was at the site, they stayed off in the bushes and wandered the woods. There was no fear in them of becoming anyone’s dinner.

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The first night I had forgotten to pick up a propane canister for my camp stove and the general store was out of them. Instead, I bought some wood and built a fire, figuring I could boil my water for coffee and oats over that until I was back in the town the next day. This was Grinfinn’s first experience with fire, I assume, as it completely freaked him out.

I tried having him in my lap, but every time the fire popped and sparks flew Grinfinn would want to run as far as possible. Can’t blame him, since his fur is basically an accident waiting to happen. The next day, I made sure to get propane so that I wouldn’t have to build another fire. Grinfinn enjoyed the second night much more than he did the first. Lesson learned.

The first night it was so hot that I considered removing the fly from the tent to get more of a breeze. That would also erase my privacy, and when you’re car camping you have neighbours that are right beside you. Also on that first night, I started thinking to myself just how many horror movies take place in camps, campgrounds, or camping. Friday the 13th, Blair Witch Project, Sleepaway Camp, Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods

The second night, it was so cold that I was pretty sure my tent was haunted and I needed to perform an exorcision. Unfortunately, without proper internet access, I couldn’t Google how to do that so I just had to suck it up. I tried to get Grinfinn to sleep in my sleeping bag, but he was still hot (fur) so he didn’t want to stay in it with me.

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All in all, it was a good experience and first attempt at camping with Grinfinn. I have a few key things I’d make sure to bring next time (like a blanket just in case the night gets cold), but there wasn’t anything that would stop me from doing that again.

With that, instead of a theme song I thought I’d leave you with some video of Grinfinn fast asleep in the tent. His snores are quite relaxing, and can be very soothing to fal asleep to. Enjoy.

James in His Jeep Getting Java–Camping, Leavenworth, and Grinfinn! Part One

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I was awake by four a.m. and up by five. Call it excitement, maybe a little nerves, but this was my first camping trip in seven years and my first with Grinfinn. When I attempted to wake up the boy, he just looked at me, grunted, and resumed his slumber. But if I was up, so was he.

I’d planned this trip for months, originally intending to take ten days on the road to travel down to Oregon, up through Leavenworth, and home through the Okanagan. With Grinfinn, me being unsure how he would manage in a tent, I decided on a much shorter trip of five days on the road just to Leavenworth. If anything went wrong, it was a quick ride back up to Canada.

You can see my preparations for camping with Grinfinn here.

Rather than just chance it, I chose instead to book ahead to make sure I had a spot at the campground. Good thing I did, because the weekend was full and I didn’t get a booking until Monday. That brought my five day trip down to three.

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Grinfinn was absolutely chill sitting in his bed (with his seat belt on and the air bag turned off). Driving over the border (NEXUS lane), I had all his papers ready but wasn’t asked for them (there by US or back by Canada). I did get yelled at by the US Customs Guard for not seeing that he’d put up the red light for me to wait (that NEVER happens in the NEXUS lane).

While I considered stopping in Edison on my way there, I chose instead to just I-5 it down to Everett and jump on the Number 2 highway. I did stop for a rest at the Smokey Point Rest Area just north of Everett where I took a nap and walked Grinfinn (and, of course, I had stopped for my traditional Woods Coffee in Birch Bay).

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Yes, that looks like a shallow grave in the shape of a human body that Grinfinn is sniffing. There was a manicured, beautiful area with picnic tables that dog owners were not allowed to use. Then there was this wild terrain, with weeds and mounds of dirt such as the one in the photo above. That’s where you are relegated to if you have a pooch.

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And yes, those are working phone booths!

My next stop was Gold Bar, WA, a town of just over two thousand people. It’s quite pretty if you take a drive through the streets, and the main strip on the highway (there’s even bus service to Everett) is right by the railway with the mountains as backdrop. I liked it as it made me feel as though I were back in the Wild West.

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The weather up to this point was warm but overcast. When I drove into the Cascade Mountains, the clouds disappeared and the temperatures rose to plus 26C.

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This would be the first time I’d attempt to get a burger and fries from the roadside stop, Zeke’s Drive In. Unfortunately, I didn’t have cash and the attendant didn’t understand how my chip card worked. (I was told it was declined, but I couldn’t get her to understand that I had to enter in a PIN for it to work. And once declined, she insisted they’d be charge $35 for trying it a second time. Sigh.)

I did stop in on my way home, so expect a proper review in the third instalment.

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There were lots of places to stop and take photos, but after a few I had to just push on and accept that sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment as a fleeting one.

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It didn’t take long to arrive in Leavenworth, a town modelled after a Bavarian village. (More on the town in the third instalment of this blog series.)

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And since it felt a little like time travel, with small towns not understanding chip cards to phone booths, I felt this song was appropriate to the trip.