What Vacation Looks Like

I made a promise to myself for my birthday week—a vacation from work. You’d think that would be easy for the Naked Hiker and me now that we’re officially retired. Isn’t retirement one long, continuous vacation?

Not mine, but this photo of Jennifer Farlin’s calendar looks similar.

Well. Like most “retirees,” we’re both as busy as ever with the garden, household chores, committee work for our Quaker meeting and various Friends’ organizations, and volunteering with community efforts. And for me, there’s always the blank page, revisions, book promotion, and literary citizenship activities; I haven’t retired from writing.

It’s all good work, and I’m privileged and blessed to have such riches in my life. And I’m grateful for today’s technology that allows me to pursue this work from nearly anywhere.

But. I’m not the only one to have noticed it’s damned near impossible to truly take a break, whether you’re retired or working 9-to-5 (or some other schedule). What does it even look like these days to go on vacation?

As we prepared for a weeklong road trip, I sought support from family and friends. Turn off the cell phone. Shut down the laptop. Activate “Vacation Responder” and don’t check email. Or Instagram. Or Facebook or Twitter.


Image by PetaPixel


It helped that, once we crossed the North Cascades into Eastern Washington, our cell reception dropped to almost zero. And access to Wi-Fi was limited. That means I have a week’s worth of photos and stories I haven’t shared yet about the beauties of Walla Walla, Twisp, Winthrop, and the North Cascades Highway.

Buckle your seat belt and join me on this short travelogue. Consider it a few minutes of vacation.

After an overnight in Portland to attend our grand-nephew’s high school graduation, we headed east along the Columbia River. We crossed the river into Washington in time to stop at Maryhill Winery for lunch, then drove down the road to Maryhill Museum of Art.

Built by transplanted Minnesotan Sam Hill (and named after his wife and daughter, both named Mary), the three-story museum houses works by Rodin, European and American paintings and decorative arts, a Native American art collection, and articles from the Queen of Romania’s palaces. The 26-acre setting also includes over a dozen outdoor sculptures by Pacific Northwest artists. Definitely worth a return visit.

Sam Hill is also known for, among other contributions, creation of Peace Arch State Park at the U.S./Canada border in Blaine, WA. You can “travel” there at a recent blog post by author Lauren Danner.

cottageWe spent the next two nights in Walla Walla, with a tiny cottage as home base. This college town is now as well known for its vineyards and wines as for its sweet onions, and we enjoyed both. I savored a birthday dinner at Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen and spent the first day of my 66th year visiting wineries.

college cellars

First stop was College Cellars, run by students in Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture Program. We left with some Sangiovese named in honor of the student who made it. Then we ventured to the former military training grounds near the airport. World War II-era facilities there have been converted to wineries, distilleries, breweries, and shops. A few bottles from Adamant Cellars and Buty Winery ended up in our car, too.

When traveling, I always stop at local indie bookstores. Staff at Book and Game Company welcomed me warmly when I introduced myself and thanked them for carrying Hiking Naked.

Breakfast with friends who transplanted from Lopez to Walla Walla, and a short hike at Bennington Lake rounded out our stay. We’ll be back.

Next, we traveled north to Twisp and Winthrop in the North Cascades. When we lived in Stehekin, I always thought of these two mountain communities as neighbors, and it was good to be back in that territory. There were other reminders of Stehekin when we stumbled upon Rod Weagant’s gallery in Twisp, staffed that day by his wife, Jane. The Weagant family lived full-time in Stehekin our first year in the valley. I also had a brief reunion with fellow author Peter Donahue, meeting up with him and his wife Susan Donahue, whose still life paintings were on exhibit at Confluence Gallery.

I had a second birthday dinner at Sun Mountain Lodge, just in time for sunset.

sun mountain lodge viewBefore leaving Twisp the next day, we stopped at Cinnamon Twisp Bakery and the local farmers’ market.


The rest of the day we wound our way over the mountains on the North Cascades Highway (Highway 2), stopping a couple of times (as one does when retired)

cascade-loop-map (1)

for views (and poems by William Stafford) like these near Washington Pass.

a valley like this

mountains valley


diablo lake

And these.

Silver Star


bookstore nci.jpg




And like this at the North Cascades Institute Gift Shop.




jess (1)


Back in the Skagit Valley, we combined food and writing with a stop at Harmony Fields to visit poet Jessica Gigot and sample her farm’s sheep cheese (delicious).



VB (1)Finally, we wound our way north to Bellingham. That night, I joined authors Larry Behrendt and Jo Scott-Coe at Village Books for readings from and conversation (moderated by author Stephanie Barbé Hammer) about our respective books. By the titles, you can tell they’re quite different, yet we find their themes of faith complimentary.

Plus, we had a lot of fun.

And that’s the best way to take a break from work.

What strategies help you go on vacation?







  1. Iris~I always love your thoughtful challenges and insights. Vacations! I find them much more difficult these days to take. Committing to going off-line at least one day makes a difference to me.

  2. This sounds and looks like a wonderful birthday week vacation Iris! I especially like the stunning sunset from Sun Mountain Lodge and the North Cascade Highway views.

  3. As usual, Iris, your thoughts arrive in my inbox with uncannily perfect timing. As it happened, we were on Lopez last weekend to meet my brother- and sister-in-law, who’d been there for the previous week. We took our e-bikes on the ferry and left the car behind for 48 way-too-short hours enjoying the island. Waiting for the return ferry, it occurred to me that we haven’t taken a “real” vacation (no phones, no social media, all the things you list above) for four years, and I’m feeling it. Luckily this fall is our 25th anniversary and we’re heading to Vancouver Island for a week. I can’t wait. In the meantime, thanks for this post, your great photos (which make me yearn for the North Cascades), and the shout-out. Plus I love your revamped website!

    1. Thanks, Lauren. Your post about the Peace Arch (and Sam Hill) stuck with me and made my visit to Maryhill Museum just that much more interesting.

      I’m sorry we missed you when you were on Lopez (we were on grandparent duty in Chicago – great fun, but NOT a vacation!). Next time you come this way, do let me know; it would be lovely to get together (I have an e-bike, too).

      Glad to hear you’re going to Vancouver Island this fall to unplug – and celebrate 25 years (congratulations). In September, we’ll celebrate 40 (!) years of marriage, and we’re going to Stehekin. As you know, that’s another terrific place to disconnect.

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