Camano History Tour Shares My History

Way Back When on Camano

I love history. I love delving into the way people used to live and how things came about. That’s why I’m excited that the Camano Historic Sites Tour is here, Friday through Sunday, March 24-26.

Trippin’ in My Way Back Machine

Looking through the sites on the tour, I see that I have a personal history with many of the tour’s historic sites.

In the 1980s

I worked at Camano Inn when it was a nursing home. Now it’s a fine restaurant. Still haunted, they say.

Cama Beach Resort

Cama Beach Resort

Couple years later, I cleaned cabins at Cama Beach Resort, also haunted, they say. (Now it’s a state park.) The store they had there for the campers had so many photos and memorabilia from the resort’s early days that it looked more like a museum than a store. The owner was my boss, Mrs. Muriel Risk, an elderly woman who told me stories about the old days.  Mrs. Risk’s father, LeRoy Stradley, hired unemployed men to build the resort’s cabins, bungalows, boathouse, and great hall during the Depression. The family ran the resort for decades. During WWII, Mrs. Risk scanned the waters through binoculars for Japanese submarines. She said that in her time, she’d been a lawyer, doctor and pilot. She was quite a character and I’m glad I got to know her.

In the 1990s

My friend, Carol Hall, lived at the Mabana Schoolhouse. I helped her pack glass art for shipping. One day, she fell in love and moved to Portland. I helped pack her up to move.

South Camano Grange held quite a few memorable gatherings. I sang what may have been the first song I ever wrote at a birthday party there. It was about my massage therapist (Oh-oh, I’m aching to see you again . . .) I wrote it for a friend, Joyce Lukaczer, who was then a masseuse.

Yes, I go way back with Camano.

The Community that Plays Together

Camano City Schoolhouse

Camano City Schoolhouse

Lately, I’ve been hanging out at one of the tour sites, Camano Schoolhouse. The schoolhouse is a historic building that has attracted people dedicated to restoring it and making it a gathering place for events and education. They refinished the wooden floor, discovered original slate blackboards under faded wallpaper, and found the old school bell hiding in a nearby church closet.

On Saturday, March 25, 2 p.m., a community group will put on a play about the first teacher there and early telephones on Camano. I’ve helped behind the scenes. It’s delightful to watch it unfold as new friends and neighbors take on roles, both figuratively and literally.

Get Out and About Before You’re History

The beauty of history is to see what people did long before we were here and how it set the scene for all who followed. I can’t wait to visit my old haunts and swing by a few I’ve never seen to learn what people did before I got here.

I love vintage swing!

I love vintage swing!

There’s a breakfast, historic lunch (Reservations required, 360-387-0783), a play, a dance, and a light dinner. Sites are also open for drop in visits at anytime during the tour. Find the detailed schedule online or in brochures around town. Download the brochure here. There’s  history tour FaceBook page, too, with video.

While I’m not out enjoying the tour, I’ll play vintage music at Camano Schoolhouse. I’m not scheduled, but if you catch me, come sing along.

Mural Mind Games at Stanwood Pavilion

A Mural with a Secret Past

Stanwood Pavilion blends illusion and reality with a mural that has a secret history that few people know.

Faux Interior

Mural at the Pavilion

Mural at the Pavilion

Cafe patio overlooks mural.

Cafe patio overlooks mural.

Step inside the pavilion’s atrium and walk on cobblestones along Stanwood’s bustling riverfront shops and dock. Real businesses merge into the illusion: Continue reading

Clean the House—and the Senate

Step One: Forward Movement in the Women’s March

Women’s March, Jan. 20-21, 2017

Feeling Helpless? March

Someone asked, “Why did you join the Women’s March? What did you accomplish?”

Why? I felt helpless and alone in a world gone crazy. I wanted to move forward to a saner world. So I marched in Anacortes, Bellingham, and Mt. Vernon, Washington. I wasn’t alone. I connected with like-minded people. We started making connections as we talked about the marches on social media and made plans, made signs, and made hats. My friend, Karen, marched in Seattle, but we got ready together before heading different directions.

Friday night, I joined hundreds of people who marched the Anacortes sidewalks by candle and lantern light.We walked on the sidewalks and filled many blocks. I was number 355, somewhere in the front half. (That’s my sun paper lantern on the left.) Skagit Valley Herald wrote about the candlelight vigil here.

Candle March in Anacortes

Candlelight March in Anacortes. We walked up a few more blocks. That’s the front of the group across the street doubling back. I was in the front half of the march. More than half of us are behind me.

That was just the beginning. Saturday morning, I joined a huge crowd in Bellingham. Continue reading

Resolution Detour

Resolution Detour – Paving the Road to Hell with Good Intentions

Resolution Detour

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

It’s mid-January, when most people are saying to hell with their New Year’s Resolutions. I’m just getting started . . . on last year’s resolution.

For 2016, I vowed to write a song per month. How hard could that be? After all Jonathan Coulton wrote a song a week and was featured in the New York Times and NPR.

I’m easily distracted, so I settled on monthly. Somehow, I thought if I made a bold public announcement, I’d do it. Discipline was my word for 2016 and I had a plan. Continue reading

Beginning with Last Year’s Magic

Beginning with Last Year’s Magic

Last Minute Tree

I know it’s a new year, but I’m not done with Christmas magic yet. Here I am, writing by the glow of the Christmas tree, the first I’ve had in 15+ years. With kids grown and busy elsewhere, I haven’t cared to decorate just for me.

My impulse to buy a tree came when I was writing about the magic of my earliest remembered Christmas. As a young child, I loved to sit in the living room and bask in the magic glow of the Christmas tree. I wanted to feel that magic again, if only through the eyes of my young grandchildren.

So I bought the last Christmas tree in town. I couldn’t believe Continue reading

Shine Light Into Darkness

Shine Light into Darkness

Light from the sun hits me in the eye like a laser as it barely clears the southern horizon during these short days of December. It’s harsh, but I am cheered by it even though the world’s news seems dark.

We celebrate during dark winter days because we know light will return as Earth courses around the Sun. We survive dark days with acts of light: kindness, respect, and giving. As we orbit through time, another darkness periodically falls upon humankind bringing fear, hate, lies, and violence. Into this dark, we must shine light.

Fear is changing our world, Continue reading

Classic FKB promotional shot

Sam Williams, Juggling Bus Driver, Makes a Pass

Sam Williams passes balls, clubs, and cars, then passes on.

From Busker to Bus Driver

An old vaudeville friend of mine, Sam Williams, passed away Thursday, Nov. 17, while driving a bus. This juggling comedian started his career busking in the streets during 1970s resurgence of vaudeville, enjoyed a long career performing with the illustrious Flying Karamazov Brothers, then went back to the streets for his final career: the funniest Metro Bus driver in Seattle.

Sam was driving a bus when he had a fatal heart attack. He managed to slow the bus and signal his passengers for help while still semiconscious, thus saving the day and keeping his passengers and bus from harm as he passed on.

Seattle Times covers it well.

KOMO News includes a film clip that highlights his juggling career.

Early Vaudeville Days at the Alligator Palace

Sam Williams Does a Juggling Striptease

Sam Williams Does a Juggling Striptease

I met Sam in the late 1970s, when Michael Mielnik (aka Rev. Chumleigh) and I (Spike Wilder) were running the Alligator Palace Vaudeville Theater in La Conner, Washington.

We saw Sam performing in Seattle and asked him to join us at the Palace with the Alligator Revue in 1979.

Sam played a clumsy wisecracking juggler. He’d dive for a wayward ball and “rip” his pants. The ripping sound was the sound of Velcro®. In the course of comedic patter, he ripped his jacket, too.

In one bit, he sang, “Let Me Entertain You” while removing his white shirt and tie in a strip tease, all while juggling three balls. He took part in Chumleigh’s vaudeville plays.


Sam, Chumleigh, Spike at the Alligator Palace

Sam, Chumleigh, Spike at the Alligator Palace

In 1979, Chumleigh took the Alligator Revue to the Oregon Country Fair where we put on shows with the Flying Karamazov Brothers on the Chumleighland stage.

Sam immediately bought FKB stupid pants and stupid hat, looked like one of them; you could tell his heart’s desire was to become one. Sam’s a good example of dress for success: it wasn’t long until he joined FKB in 1981.

But first, he worked with Bliss Kolb (the Magnificent Mazuba) in Laughing Moon Theater.

Here are rare copies of Sam’s Bio and Laughing Moon’s promo; take a look. Funny!
Sam Williams Bio
Laughing Moon Promo

Sam Williams Becomes a Brother

Then Sam landed his dream job and became Smerdyakov, a Karamazov Brother. Much could be said of this charismatic juggling troupe that combines witty patter, silly humor, elaborate props, and fast-paced theatrics. FKB performed all over the world, including special performances, like the vaudeville version of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors (watch it) and special projects, like the movie, Jewel of the Nile.

Flying Karamazov Brothers - Howard Patterson, Sam Williams, Paul Magid, Michael Preston - in the neighborhood with Mr. Rogers

Flying Karamazov Brothers – Howard Patterson, Sam Williams, Paul Magid, Michael Preston – in the neighborhood with Mr. Rogers

When Mr. Rogers visited a FKB rehearsal in his neighborhood theater, Sam taught him to juggle. Watch it here.

You’ll find many FKB videos on YouTube. Here’s one from 1983.

I ran into Sam through the years at Oregon Country Fair, at the Seattle Moisture Festival, and with the New Old Time Chautauqua. He was usually performing, with the FKB or solo.

He touched so many people with his humor. He was silly, warm, and kind, yet with a tinge of sadness at times. Perhaps this is why he often recited Groucho Marx’s poem from Animal Crackers.

The last line says a lot about him:  “So be a real-life Pagliacc’ and laugh, clown, laugh.”

Thanks for everything, Sam.

St. Augustine's Ruins

Bombings Drill Through History

Bombings Reveal Canterbury’s Layers

A Blast from the Past

High Street, Canterbury, 1827

High Street, Canterbury, 1827

Bombings were the last thing on my mind last year when I travelled to England. Now as I sip the last of the tea that I brought home from Canterbury, I contemplate the rise and fall of buildings and empires. My sister and I walked those cobblestone streets a year ago, marveling that centuries-old buildings made of wooden beams, bricks, and plaster are not only still standing but occupied and well-used. At first I didn’t notice that amongst these centuries-old relics stand buildings built since World War II. Eventually I learned that new buildings were built in bombing sites.

Tour Guide Targets

During WWII, Nazi Luftwaffe (air force) peppered England with bombs, targeting historic cities with culturally important sites. They used the popular travel book, the Baedeker Guide, to choose highly-rated targets. During the Baedeker Blitz, Nazis raked the walled medieval city of Canterbury with bombings and wiped out a quarter of the city center. See a 2-minute clip of clean up crews and an 8-minute documentary video.

Main Target: Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral with its great tower was a prime target that was miraculously saved. Nazi planes dropped incendiary bombs to start buildings on fire and served to target buildings for heavy explosives to follow.  Firewatchers stationed on cathedral roofs bravely grabbed phosphorous incendiaries and threw them to the ground where they could burn out safely. The cathedral was damaged but not destroyed. Other buildings in Canterbury were decimated.

The motto: Keep Calm and Carry On describes the work that followed as Canterbury rebuilt. This tea I’m sipping tea right now? I bought it in a supermarket that sprung up from the rubble.

Roaming Romans Revealed

WWII bombs blasted holes through the city’s historic layers, revealing mosaic pavement and artifacts hidden underneath since Roman times. My sister and I visited the Roman Museum and saw many artifacts that had been found in Canterbury. There in the basement was a portion of  a Roman townhouse floor where it was laid before 300 A.D.

We learned that the entire city of Canterbury was built upon the ruins of a walled-Roman city. After the Roman Empire pulled its people home around 400 A.D., undergrowth over-grew, buildings tumbled, and walls crumbled. Then about 700 A.D. Anglo-Saxons came and built homes amongst the ruins. Vikings sacked Canterbury in 1011 and left it a mess. Normans took over in 1066 and built upon that.

Artist's Impression of Roman Canterbury 300 A.D. at the Roman Museum

Artist’s Impression of Roman Canterbury 300 A.D. at the Roman Museum

Layered History

Even though England seems the epitome of stability and reserve, its history is one of conquest and collapse. Canterbury is a prime example. Imagine if the Germans had won and rebuilt Canterbury after WWII. The new buildings would look somewhat different and so would the residents, the country, and history. It would be a whole new layer.

Night Scene

Ghost Walk Gives Bumps in the Night

Ghosts from Our Dark Past

More Than We Bargained For

Ancient cobblestones glistened eerily by lamplight as my sister and I hastened to meet a stranger that I’d chatted with online. During our week in historic Canterbury, England, we became familiar with quaint shops and restaurants. But we were curious about Canterbury’s secrets.

Ghost Hunting

Canterbury Ghost Tour with John Hippisley

Canterbury Ghost Tour with John Hippisley

At the appointed hour, we approached a large man in a long cloak and top hat who looked like he stepped out of Oliver Twist. He beckoned Continue reading

Unloading the dresser

How to Unload Funky Furniture Ethically


How to Unload Funky Furniture Ethically

No One Wants This

How could I unload it? I felt like a fool, driving around Mount Vernon with a hulking dresser that rattled at every turn. Why hadn’t I given it to the couple I’d evicted? No thrift store wanted it.

Seven months ago, it was a long, low white dresser with lots of drawers and a sweet Craftsman-style mirror. Now chipped paint revealed cheap pressboard. Obviously, it needed new paint. What wasn’t obvious was Continue reading