Autumn in the School Garden


Mandy with her son in the school garden.

After a busy summer of family, fun, and real estate, I was ready to get back to school. The warm and dry summer did wonders for my spirit and for our school garden. While the grass had turned brown and crunchy across the island, our school garden was thriving with the addition of a drip watering system that Craig Sanders of Island Irrigation generously installed for us.

September came, and so did the rain! The first day of school welcomed our students with a torrential down pour. The brown grass that had become our reality early in the summer turned green once again and we got another beautiful “Indian Summer” on Orcas Island. What a relief for this teacher since my best lesson plans revolved around days spent in the garden.


The sunflowers had grown to great heights since the students patted the soil over the seeds last May. After enjoying their grandeur for several weeks we brought them down to harvest their seeds. The children enjoyed pulling each seed from the giant heads. Many seeds were eaten and many more were saved for replanting next season.

The potatoes were dug with excitement and squeals of delight as each different potato was unearthed. The potatoes were boxed and put in cold storage for cooking projects later in the winter.

The pumpkin patch was our newest expansion in the garden. We broke ground last spring, hand digging the area and carefully spacing our pumpkin seeds. We had a very successful harvest, growing over 200 pumpkins in our brand new patch! We had enough small pumpkins to send one home with each student! The larger pumpkins were processed in the classroom. We scraped them out and saved the seeds; roasting enough for everyone to enjoy a handful and saving the rest for replanting next spring. We baked and pureed the pumpkins and have over 100 cups waiting in the freezer for our pumpkin pie baking lesson.

There are so many jobs to do in the school garden. With over 215 students spending an hour a week in the garden you would think we would run out of jobs to do, but we never do!

Beyond the harvesting of herbs, tomatoes, calendula flowers, kale, watermelon, and carrots, there are many other garden jobs to take part in.

Raking the leaves of the maple tree is a favorite job for many. We learned that one way we can keep our beloved tree healthy is to rake its leaves up under it and let them compost there over the winter, in essence feeding the tree! With only 5 rakes available the kids must regulate taking turns. We are not just feeding the tree, but also practicing our social skills.

We are lucky to have wood chips donated to our garden by John Olsen, the Tree Doctor. The kids spend lots of time reinforcing the pathways with wood chips. In this process they learn to work together and even team up to fix a broken wheel barrow! The children work hard and see the results of their work.

One of the most difficult garden jobs is the pruning of the blackberry bushes. While we appreciate the natural fence the bushes provide and the delicious berries, we are in a constant battle to keep them from taking over two edges of our garden. The work is hard and often times painful, but there are always students who are willing to do it.


After putting in all of this work we remind the students of why we do this by rewarding them with 10 minutes of harvest time at the end of each class. This is when the students scramble to create the most delicious “garden burrito” possible! It is gratifying to the adults who witness this time as we watch the children happily eating their veggies.

We harvested, composted, dug and double dug. We created new beds and cover cropped old ones. We put our garden to bed for the winter. And to celebrate we fired up our cob oven and had a PIZZA PARTY!

With the generous donation of his time and talent, James Ferraris of Soul Flour Bakery helped us to make the best garden pizzas ever! There was pizza sauce and mozzerella cheese as a base.  The rest was left up to the creativity of the children, and creative they were. The ingredients were all fresh from the garden. There were ground cherries and rosemary, sorrel and chives. You name it, they made it. Yes, there was even a worm pizza. One little girl said, “I didn’t think I’d like a vegetable pizza, but I tasted it and I do!” This is what it is all about. Showing kids where food comes from, teaching them to work hard, and watching them enjoy the fruits of their labors.



Happy harvest season to you all!



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A Dog’s Life in the San Juan Islands – Part 1

Sandi Friel with Leonberger MurphyPosted by Sandi Friel

When Bob and I relocated from Florida to Orcas Island, our dog Murphy was 5-1/2 years old. That might be considered young for many dogs, but for Leonbergers who have an average lifespan of seven years, Murphy’s best days had passed. Or so we thought.

Murph turned out to be like Robert Moran of Rosario Resort and Moran State Park fame. Moran arrived on Orcas at 47 years old in such poor health that his doctors didn’t expect him to live to see 50. Of course Moran outlived all his docs. Orcas Island’s low-stress, fresh-air, outdoorsy lifestyle inspired the retired shipbuilder to live another 39 years!

Likewise our Murphy lived almost another full Leonberger lifespan after we moved to Orcas. Hiking Turtleback Mountain and Moran Park, paddling in the cool water off North Beach, patrolling the property for deer, driving around the island in his papa’s pickup to visit friends and collect hugs and biscuits, enjoying the temperate Northwest climate: Murphy had a lot to live for here on Orcas. The healthy, adventure-filled and extremely dog-friendly island kept him going well past what would be, in human years, his 100th birthday.

Murphy trotted off to Fiddler’s Green this past August at age 13. The following are a few of the many wonderful island moments Murphy and dogs like him have available here on Orcas. There’s also a shot of our new puppy Quinn, as he eases into the island lifestyle with his first boat ride.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we take a closer look at some of the island’s pet-friendly perks!



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A Walk Through Halloween Town, Orcas Island

IMG_3330_bwBy Marlis K. Sandwith

:: Slideshow at bottom of post ::

While Orcas Islanders are generally pretty casual in their daily dress, we desperately love any and every excuse to get dressed up in crazy costumes, or walk in a parade, large or small. Halloween is no exception, when, for a few hours at least, Eastsound Village is transformed into “Halloween Town,” to borrow a phrase from my friend, Sharon Ho.


Children’s Halloween Party at the Odd Fellows Hall

When Halloween is on a school day, the kids do not wear their costumes to school, but change into them right after the last bell rings, and head directly downtown. This year, as you know, Halloween was on Saturday, so there was lots of time to prep for our family’s walkabout around town. All the merchants are decorated and open for the trick-or-treaters, and it’s not unusual for the adults to be decked out in costume too.


In disguise: Teri Williams and Cory Harrington (Photo Credit: Mandy Randolph)

We started out at our office–T Williams Realty, where there was a little Halloween party going on, and Teri, Sandi, Cory and families were in full regalia handing out treats to all the visitors. Another fun place to visit is the Orcas Library, where kids get to choose a book to keep, and have their pictures taken. Brown Bear Baking provided rows upon rows of pumpkins for families to carve all afternoon. It’s such fun to walk around town and see everyone in costume–have I mentioned how superbly CREATIVE Orcas Islanders are? The Funhouse even hosted a 3-weekend costume-making workshop, taught by renowned artist Brook Meinhardt.


Marlis, Ada, Finn, and Roger

The Odd Fellows Hall featured their annual Halloween party and dance for kids, where our kids drank FREE Harmony Chai, ran around in circles, and danced with all their friends. The children’s party was followed by a showing of a vintage scary movie, and later by the Odd Fellows Halloween dance party for (mostly) grownups.  After the children’s party, we walked back to our car through the now-darkened town, stopping to warm up at the firepit blazing outside the Orcas Food Co-op, all of us thankful for our little village on our little island.

Please enjoy the slideshow of our walk around Halloween Town!

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You Know It’s Fall on Orcas When……

…the fog settles gently in Crow Valley.

Fall 2009 015

…the local oysters are even tastier because the water temperature is colder and they get “happy”.

…the pantry is in need of a Costco run and it’s much easier to book a last minute trip with the Washington State Ferry Reservation System.

Mt. Baker in the background welcomes all ferry commuters

…locals share the bounty of the farm with family and friends, and you are invited to old-fashioned cider pressing potlucks.

Family and friends learning about old fashion cider making

…you purchase your winter crab catch license to extend the enjoyment of fresh seafood for a few more weeks.


…the Farmer’s Market moves into the Oddfellow’s Hall, where the artisans and gardeners continue to offer local bounty and color. The Holiday Fair will soon fill these walls with bells and song.

…you admire showstopping sunrises and sunsets– what more can I say? They take your breath away!

…Fowler’s Pond turns into a golden reflection of wetland plants, surrounded by fall foliage on fire.



…Seahawk football fans come alive with blue and green. All throughout Eastsound, locals don their favorite 12th man T-shirts (and tutu!) and gather around the large screen at the Lower Tavern, where everyone knows your name.

Our very own Beth Holmes and her tutu-go hawks!!!

Our very own Beth Holmes and her tutu — go Hawks!!

…Viking team spirit comes alive on the side of the barn each year as incoming seniors display their artwork. Give us a call at 376-8374 if you want to attend a sports event. The Booster Club did an amazing job of fundraising and gave out annual passes to all the donors.

old orcas barn painted by incoming class

The old, swaybacked barn.

new hay barn painted by incoming seniors

The new hay barn painted by incoming seniors.

Fall is all about celebrating the end of a season and the beginning of a new one. And there is no better place than Orcas Island to spend time with friends and family and cozy up to the season. Happy Fall!









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An Orcas Dream Comes True

mary ann sircelyBy Mary Ann Sircely

Blue water, blue sky, bright sun and wind in my sails. Anchoring out, rocking to sleep with the gentle motion of the sea. Waking to a gray misty dawn, busy birds, seals swimming past. Is this a dream? Yes – a dream come true.

Several years ago, when I envisioned myself living on Orcas Island, sailing was an integral part of the picture. I longed for my own boat and the opportunity to cruise around and explore the intriguing coves, bays and islands of the San Juans and beyond.

When you combine a rusty sailor, a boat needing work, and countless obstacles, you’ll understand how difficult it’s been for me to actually leave the dock and begin my journey. Then dear friends stepped aboard.

Teri Williams and Jay Fowler were determined to take me sailing. They answered countless questions, made sure I had all my safety equipment on board, and helped me tend to practical issues. After the Labor Day crowds departed, we planned an overnight cruise to Blind Bay. The weather was perfect, and I sailed out of West Sound with the best crew ever.

Winging it toward the channel, we sailed my 22’ Catalina to Bay Head, where we picked up Teri and Jay’s sailboat, the Blue Pearl. Then we motored over to Blind Bay, dropped anchor and rafted together for the night. Jay set two crab traps and we rowed over to explore Blind Island, enjoyed a wonderful dinner and watched the sun go down.


The view at dawn from Blind Bay.

I peeked out of the companionway as dawn broke with a soft, filtered light illuminating Harney Channel and Blind Bay. Clouds streaked the early morning sky. The inky water was flat, almost glassy save for tiny ripples stirred up by the light breeze. Two ferries changed places at the Shaw landing, barely visible in the morning mist. This delightful view can only be seen from the water, and I soaked it all in.

Filled with coffee, fruit and Teri’s Coffelt Farm bacon and egg sandwiches, and tending a bucket of crabs, we motored to Bay Head, where Jay docked the Blue Pearl. (I was getting plenty of important docking practice.) Skirting a ferry at the landing, we entered West Sound and had a glorious sail, tacking back and forth across the bay toward the marina, all the while adjusting sail trim and customizing the boat to suit my needs.

This is not my first dream realized on Orcas Island, and it won’t be the last.

What made this trip even more special is our deep friendship and Teri and Jay’s incredible generosity – they knew how much this maiden voyage would mean to me, understood how they could help in so many ways, and in their calm, collected and competent manner, helped me build knowledge, skills and confidence.

With so many places to see, and so much to do, we’re planning our next trip. Let’s go!


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The Cons of Living on Orcas Island {TIP: the cons are really pros}

IMG_3330_bwBy Marlis K. Sandwith

So you’ve been to Orcas Island. You’ve walked around Eastsound Village, hit the Farmer’s Market at the Village Green, hiked Turtleback and Moran, sailed out to Sucia Island, and soaked in the tubs at Doe Bay Resort. Before you even board the ferry and head home, you’ve given yourself over to all sorts of daydreams about what it would be like to live here. You’ve looked at the real estate ads. You’ve even decided you’d like to farm now. In between your daily catch of fish that you’ll catch off your kayak. But before you get too far in your reverie, just take a gander at this list, so you can get a little more in touch with the reality of living on Orcas Island. You know the pros, but here are the cons. The catch? If you’re like me (and most other people who love living here), you’ll see most, if not all , as pros.


Many restaurants and shops close for 1-3 months of the year.
It’s true—I cry a little during the Winter months when I can’t sit in the cozy lounge at New Leaf Café, order Szechuan pork noodle bowl from The Kitchen, sip beer and eat wood-fired pizza at Hogstone’s, or browse the goods at Olga’s and Springboard. But I admire that my friends, business owners, and their employees set aside time to take a breather after a long and busy tourist season. They are attending to their own needs during this time, and it makes me appreciate them all the more when they open their doors just before Spring makes her appearance.

Closed for winter

There are no fast food or chain restaurants.
Is this really a bad thing? I think not. If you really need yourself a greasy burger, head to the Lower Tavern. And if you’re really attached, you won’t feel as guilty when you head through the drive-through on your once-per-month mainland trip. There is REALLY GOOD FOOD on Orcas Island. I promise. Even our public school’s lunches are really good.

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There are no chain retail stores.
Again—can’t say that I find this to be a bad thing. I’ve found our local shops to be very accommodating if there is something I can’t find. Many of them will order items not generally carried in their stores. There are also several heavily used local Facebook sites that function much like Craigslist. It’s amazing what you can find in the backyards and garages of Orcas neighbors. If all else fails, many use Amazon. Yes—you can get things here in one day. Even a lawn mower.

no big box

Going off-island is, in general, an all-day affair.
You’ve got me a little bit here—it can certainly be a drag. But honestly, most of the time, I look forward to a mainland trip. It’s an Event. Some Islanders call it “going to America.” Some of us even dress up a little more for the occasion. One winter, a big group of us were going to see a show at the Paramount in Seattle. We met at the ferry landing, ALL of us dressed in black. The ferry worker smiled and said, “ahhh, you must be going to Seattle!” The bonus: coming home to Orcas always feels amazing when you’ve been away.

Despite what many people think prior to moving to Orcas, life is VERY BUSY here.
We’ve seen it time and time again: people move to Orcas thinking they’re just going to hole up and live their simple life in a cabin in the woods. Only then they meet a few people, go to a few events, get invited somewhere, get involved in something, meet some more people. Then, they get asked to volunteer, coach, teach, perform, mentor, and often—all of the above. Of course, you can always say no, but hopefully not to all of it. The point is: you can be as busy or as free as you want to be, even on a small island.


Movies only show on weekend nights, with one movie per week.
This is another one that just adds to the novelty of seeing a film in the theater. The great thing about the Sea View Theater is that they do more than just show films. They hold a variety of community events, such as magic shows, burlesque shows, FREE Seahawks game screenings (best place to watch the Superbowl), and they even have a lounge where you can get beer and wine before and during the show. What’s more, they are one of the hosts of the Orcas Island Film Festival in October, which is not to be missed.

Theater Superbowl Magic Show

Contrary to what many believe, most of us are not boating, fishing, hiking, paddling, and biking every single day.
Well, some of us are (you guys are awesome), but not all. On the whole, I’d say we are a very active bunch, and tend to be outside a lot, even in nasty weather. However, we’re just like our mainland counterparts in that every now and then we get in our grooves, look around and realize we live in this incredible island paradise, and yet we haven’t taken advantage of even a fraction of what it has to offer in the past month.


Gas (and many other necessities) are much more expensive on Orcas than most mainland locations.
No argument here. Although, I’d argue I spend much less money living here than I would on the mainland. There are fewer chances for impulse buys. When my family and I moved back to the San Juans after 18 months on the mainland, our gas bill went down by almost two-thirds. Many shops offer local discounts; all you have to do is ask. As for groceries, if you shop sales or join one of several buying clubs, you can do pretty well. Local farmstands and CSA’s are also a great way to get local, quality food at very reasonable prices. In general, I find that the things I can buy here on the island may be more expensive, but many things are also higher in quality, particularly when I’m shopping for holiday items and gifts. It’s a wonderful feeling to buy something an island neighbor made with his/her own two hands, and there is no shortage of such items on Orcas.

If you’re single, there isn’t a wide pool of potential dates from which to choose.
This may also be true if we’re talking cold, hard numbers here. However, let’s talk about QUALITY. I know—you’re not convinced. Okay, I’m speaking anecdotally here, but several of my dearest friends (a few in our very own office) have the love stories of a lifetime, and are married to someone they met here, in the San Juan Islands.

Because there are so many gravel/dirt roads on Orcas, your car gets really dirty.
So you’ll wash it, and wash it, and then you’ll become so fed up with the futility of it all, and you’ll look around and realize that every other Orcasian has at least a mildly dirty car, and you’ll only wash it for your special, fancy trips to the mainland. Unless you’re a real estate broker. Then you have to keep your car clean. Even if you have three kids and a giant yellow lab. Sigh.

dirty car

It’s expensive to take the ferry.
True. But it’s less expensive than the nearby British Columbia Ferry System in Canada, and less expensive than many other ferry-served regions in the United States. You only pay once—going Westbound. If you buy a commuter ticket (5 car passes or 10 passenger passes), you’ll save a bundle. Plus, it’s FREE to walk-on both ways of the interisland ferry. Look at the bright side: if it were cheap, or better yet, if there were a bridge, everyone and their mother would live here. And then it would be a different place altogether. Besides, just think of all that money you’re saving not driving up and down the freeway every day.


If you live in Deer Harbor or Doe Bay (and beyond), you’re looking at a 20-30 minute commute to the village of Eastsound.
Yes. Have you been to Deer Harbor? It’s truly awful having to wind your way along Massacre Bay, through the sweet little hamlet of Westsound, and over the scenic and pastoral roads of Crow Valley. Very stressful. Or Doe Bay? I’m so sorry you had to give up your I-5 commute for a quiet ride on Point Lawrence Road, down through Buck Bay and past sweet little Olga before coming to the part of Olga Road that drives RIGHT THROUGH Moran State Park and the shores of Cascade Lake. Make sure and keep your windows up; you won’t want to hear the sounds of little rushing waterfalls and creeks, or smell the scent of damp evergreens. That would be too much.

massacre bay from skull island

There are no streetlights in Eastsound.
Believe it or not, this is a hot topic on our little island. The people I’ve heard from are split about down the middle on this issue. So the pro is this: Things must be pretty good on Orcas if this is a hot topic.


Island Time.
So great if you just can’t put that book down, but you’re supposed to be at a meeting in ten minutes. Never fear—most people will be about 5 minutes late. Not so great if you need something fixed at your house. On the whole—daily life on Orcas Island moves at a pace much slower than the city. So just relax, enjoy, and breathe.

Island timeIMG_2301IMG_2131

The off-season is actually a really great time to see Orcas Island. Bring your boots, a raincoat, and yes–even sunglasses, and I’ll show you around this Fall/Winter.

~Marlis K. Sandwith, Associate Broker, T Williams Realty

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An Adventure-Filled Vacation Without Leaving Home

Sandi FrielPosted by Sandi

One of the great aspects of living in an outdoor destination like Orcas Island is that people of all ages love to visit. There are so many fun things to do here that even teens who are normally glued to the virtual world of their smartphones and other gadgets find enough real life adventure to stay entertained.

In mid August my father-in-law and 16-year-old niece trekked out from back east to see us. Bob and I took the opportunity to unplug and enjoy a vacation in our own backyard. We packed a month’s worth of activities into a week, ate fresh-caught seafood almost every night and were reminded all over again why we chose to live in this far out northwest paradise. Our family photo album tells the story – click a photo to start the slideshow:


If this type of adventurous lifestyle appeals to you, I’d love to help you make it a reality. I specialize in helping people in all phases of life move to Orcas Island. Contact me and let’s begin!

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Pickle Camp 2015

teri-williams-summer-cropBy Teri Williams

I look forward to pickle camp each year. Friends and family gather to share stories and the thrill of scrubbing cucumbers and peeling garlic.

"pickle pals" for life, Elsa and Teri

“Pickle pals” for life, Elsa and Teri

There are also plenty of laughs and good food enjoyed by all as we sit back at the end of the day and get that warm feeling about what we accomplished, and begin to start counting down the calendar days until Thanksgiving, when the first jar is popped open and pickle camp comes back to life, one jar at a time.


Fresh, ready-to-pack ingredients line the counter for packing jars.

Fresh, ready-to-pack ingredients line the counter for packing jars.

Elsa had the liquid measurements on her wrist likened to a quarterbacks play list. The assembly line behind her was moving fast.

Elsa had the liquid measurements on her wrist likened to a quarterbacks play list. The assembly line behind her was moving fast.




Place the following in the bottom of a quart canning jar:
1 head of dill
2 cloves of garlic
½ tsp mustard seed
1 red chili pod
¼ tsp turmeric
4 whole pepper corns

As jars are being filled, another garlic clove, red chili or a pinch more of dill can sneak into the jar, making the recipe really just a guide line.

For 7 jars, in a sauce pan heat:
6 cups vinegar
7-1/2 cups water
1 cup kosher salt
3/8 cup sugar

Place cucumbers in jar standing on end, pack tightly. Fill jar with vinegar liquid mix, place canning lid on top and screw lid on tight. Place into a water bath canner (water should cover top of the jar) and bring to a rolling boil. Process for 15 minutes. Do not open until Thanksgiving.

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Orcas Teens: Living and Working on an Island Paradise


Not a lot has changed since I was a teenager growing up on Orcas Island 20-25 years ago, and that’s not a bad thing. The Sea View Theatre still shows one movie a week and The Village Stop, (Con’s) still has soft serve ice cream. Being a teenager on an island is actually pretty great, especially Orcas Island. The days are long and the weather is generally perfect with average temps in the 70’s and clear, sunny skies. Our island is a major tourist destination during the summer which means that local businesses are in need of seasonal help. Orcas teens are fortunate to have the opportunity to learn new skills and make some money each summer. The jobs are plentiful and range from store clerks to firewood splitters and everything in between. Here are a few Orcas teens that I came across at work recently.


Dropping my son off for a day of fun at Kaleidoscope Preschool and Childcare Center, he runs straight into the arms of Emma Minnis, a high school Senior who spends her days getting messy with the toddlers!


Off to Island Market I am helped by high school Junior Rowan Lister. It is humbling to ask him to reach things on the high shelf for me, after-all I have known him since he was a baby! After handing me the item I ask him what he is saving his money for.  He tells me that he wants to buy a knight’s suit of armor for his younger brother! Shhh… it’s a surprise!


At the local clothing consignment store Sequel, I run into Junior Bethany Hansen. She is just as friendly as always even though she is on the tail end of a 52 hour work week. She works nights at a local restaurant, as well as her day job at Sequel. She says not all weeks are like this, but she wants to earn a lot of money so she can buy a car before school starts.


Walking past The Kitchen I see a familiar face, it’s Brother Murphy! Brother is a high school Junior and all around friendly guy so his job at The Kitchen is a good fit. The Kitchen serves fresh Asian food in a relaxed outdoor environment. Brother helps prep the food, serve, and does the dishes. All good life skills!

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I decide to stop in and see my son Jordan Randolph at the recently opened and very popular Clever Cow Creamery. The line is out the door with people anxiously awaiting a taste of the locally produced handcrafted ice cream. I work my way in and find Jordan and co-worker Kyle happily scooping and serving ice cream. The line doesn’t let up in the time I am there and Jordan tells me later that they didn’t see a break in the line for three hours! As I watch, I see the boys working steady, having pleasant interactions with the customers, and even cracking a few jokes along the way. I am filled with overwhelming “mom pride” as I walk away. My son has grown into a capable and kind young man. I knew this already but seeing him at work somehow makes it more real. I appreciate the owners of the Clever Cow for giving my teenage son his first “real” job.

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Out at Moran State Park the owners of Orcas Adventures rely heavily on Orcas teens to keep a safe and fun working environment. Owners Edward and Fiona Stone grew up on Orcas and were once teens looking for summer work themselves! There are currently six high school and college students working the Sugar Shack and the Boat Dock. Yes, Orcas graduates do consistently come back for summer work on Orcas. Why not? The work is readily available and the rent is usually free!

It’s not all work for Island teens, they know how to make the most of their free time. With no malls to hang out at, and only one movie showing per week, our kids have to get more creative. Orcas teens know they have it good. They take advantage of the beauty that surrounds them. You will find them swimming, hiking, fishing, biking, boating, beach-combing, and sunset watching. Here are a few pictures I found on facebook from some of my son’s friends (yes, they gave me permission to use them).


A morning run on Mt.Constitution!


Friends hanging out at the lake.


Sunset toss in the Salish Sea!


The reward!


Sunset Yogi Charlie.


Stopping by to see mom at TWilliams Realty!

It’s a charmed life for sure! I am grateful to have been raised on this amazing island and so happy that I am providing the same opportunities for my children. If a move to Orcas Island is in your future please give me a call and I’d be happy to show you around… Island Style!


Mandy Randolph Broker/Associate @ TWilliams Realty


Mandy and family on beautiful Orcas Island!

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Funhouse Commons: Enriching the Children (and families) of Orcas Island


IMG_3330_bwBy Marlis K. Sandwith

When I was living on San Juan Island, and my oldest son was still a small one, I had a little case of Orcas Island Envy. The source of my envy? Orcas had the Funhouse. At that time I knew the Funhouse to be an island-size version of a children’s museum, or even a science center. It was also a place where teens could gather on weekend nights, and they reportedly had an awesome sound/recording studio, plus a very established and successful mentoring program…all created and built by the community.


When I finally moved to Orcas Island, I had a second child, and a third on the way. Our first experiences  at the Funhouse were through the Music Together classes offered by Mary Wachter.  After my third was born, we continued classes, and my new baby girl would lie on a blanket in the middle of the circle, while the little ones and their grownups danced and sang and played music around her. My oldest son participated in running club for a season, a few teen nights here and there, and we’ve enjoyed visiting just to play a while on numerous occasions.


Over the years, the Funhouse has changed, morphed and adapted to the community’s needs, and continues to do so even today. In 2001, their board and staff determined that they should expand their role in the community by opening up their facility, their resources and their programs to everyone. The name was formally changed to the Funhouse Commons, which is the short name for The Children’s Discovery Foundation of Orcas Island, Washington.

This past year, my family has used Funhouse Commons quite a lot. My middle son, Finn, is 7 years old. He is a very passionate and unique individual. He is smart and funny and witty, and has a near encyclopedic knowledge of a large number of animal species. However, his biggest challenge lies in the social realm. Luckily, he has had great teachers and staff at the public school the past few years to help him work through this challenge and gain new skills.


What’s more, several months ago he began attending Funhouse Commons after school for a Pokemon club hosted there by a high schooler. After a while, Finn begged to go there a few afternoons per week, as they offer a highly used after school program. My schedule didn’t require him to be in the program, but since he was so excited about it, we tried it out, and I’m so glad we did.  I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the staff there this year. They show me time and again that they take their jobs as seriously as any teacher, and they make every effort to truly know my son, and to give him new social skills while he is in their care. Funhouse Commons is not just a childcare program for Finn; it is an extension of school, an enrichment program, and in many ways it functions a lot like the closely-knit neighborhood in which I grew up playing. For all of this, I am so grateful.

Another claim to fame of Funhouse Commons is the Annual Funhouse Science Fair, in which Finn participated this year, and it was truly inspiring to see over 100 island kids from Orcas and neighboring islands participate, plus many exhibits from community members.

I could go on and on about my appreciation for this magical place and all the many programs they offer and ways in which they contribute to our sweet community, but instead I will leave you with some photos of the Funhouse that might invite you to stop by and visit next time you’re on Orcas Island. Enjoy!

P.S. COMING UP ON JULY 4TH: THE ANNUAL EAT AND RUN 5K RUN! You can run, walk, and there is even a 1K run/walk for kids! I’ll be there helping, so please REGISTER HERE and stop by to say hello! This is a great way for the whole family to have fun while supporting such an important part of our community.


Entryway & coatroom lets you know you are in a fun place!





Funhouse Commons is currently undergoing an interior makeover to brighten up their huge space. This means cool pops of color in different alcoves and learning spaces.







The Climbing Wall with cool sculptures above. Art is everywhere at the Funhouse Commons!


The Art Yurt!



My daughter Ada, dragging big brother Finn away from Funhouse Commons after his first day of Summer day camp. You can see he is not going willingly!

Raising kids on Orcas Island is pretty wonderful. If you want to know more about what it’s really like, I specialize in working with families. My other career was in education (you can read more about my background HERE), so I’m happy to talk schools as well.

Happy Summer!

~Marlis, Broker/Associate TWilliams Realty


Filed under Art, Community, Family Life, Kids, Uncategorized