The Not-So-New Kid on the Block || Things I’ve Learned—My First Year of Island Life

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A full year on the island, Independence Day 2014 to 2015… (photo by the author)

July 15, 2015

As of last week, I am a full-fledged islander with one year of island living under my proverbial belt. I’ve learned a lot, but the Northwest—and especially island life—remain somewhat new to me.

It’s just different here!

I grew up in the ‘burbs of Chicago and, after college, landed in Denver. For 30 some years I lived my happy-married-kid-animal-friend-filled life. But—as life does—it changed my planned journey and took me down another path…

Expected: college temporarily claimed my kids.

Unexpected: cancer permanently claimed my husband. Then Chicago called me ‘back home’ for two years.

522-1225554330JY6rBut, last year, on the Third of July—with Freeland’s “bombs bursting in air” and eagles soaring over a flag-draped barn—I was welcomed to my new island home. To put it mildly, this has been a change of epic proportions.

Change is scary. But realizing that somehow neutralizes the unknown, the scariness of it all. Change is needed, inevitable and constant; there would be no butterflies if no change. Growth happens when we get out of our own way and our comfort zone and say Why not? or What if? It miraculously leads to paths and journeys, people and places we never could have imagined. Change is good.

And with that said, from being on this glorious rock for the past 379 days…

I’ve learned:

• Though I knew no one, and had not seen my house before I bought it, all will be fine.

• “Island Time” is real—it means add on/allow for an extra hour, day, week or month.

• There are so many events (gatherings, concerts, parades, workshops, exhibits) going on on this island that it’s not possible to fit them all in in just one year! Trust me, I tried!

• Winter and Spring here are better than anywhere else I can imagine. You want to see a cold/wet winter? Go to Chicago. You want snow in Spring (and Fall)? Go to Denver.

• There are more artists, writers, musicians and people of talent here than probably anywhere else on the planet. And they share those talents, too!


Too bad I couldn’t find a DEER to photograph; at least this is a small picture! (photo by the author)

• Deer and slugs will eat just about anything. At least once. At my house, at least twice.

• It’s good to go walking in the woods above Greenbank Farm (not so good during hunting season. Well, at least not without proper “I’m not a deer” attire. Trust me on this, too!)

• One only needs to take 316 steps to reach another coffee shop in any of the towns.

• Riding the ferry continues to be delightful and exhilarating (yet always too short!).

This is how we travel, and it can be grand...     (photo by the author)

This is how we travel, and it can be grand… (photo by the author)

• Whales and their friends do live in our waters even though I haven’t seen even one…yet!

• A leftover slice of pie from Whidbey Pies is a great way to start the day!

• If someone waves at you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you know them.

• Llamas and alpacas have really cute-creepy, whimsical, Dr. Seussian-type faces (and they live so nearby that I can see them whenever I want)!


Let's take a vote: cute? creepy? both cute and creepy?   (photo by the author)

Let’s take a vote: cute? creepy? both cute and creepy? (photo by the author)


• The drive up/down 525 makes my heart sing no matter what time of day or season.

• Ebey’s Landing and Double Bluff Beach are breathtaking walks! (Go see for yourself!)

deception pass

Deception Pass is a mighty fine view. (photo by the author)

• Friends are truly just strangers you haven’t yet met. Thank you for such joy, new friends!

• Each town on this island is unique and varied in its people and offerings.

• I’m not afraid to try something new here—whether a class, hair style or business venture.

• I’ve never been around more involved, artistic, vibrant, caring people.

• I can’t seem to go a week without the fried chicken from the Star Store!

• The “can-do” and “let me help you” attitude is alive and well and thriving everywhere on this island. And, philanthropy isn’t just an idea or one-time donation; it’s a way of life.

• No one cares what you do, how tidy your lawn is or how much money you make. They just care about and are interested in YOU.

• Vitamin Sea is the best supplement I take every day! That Passage! Those views!

• “Welcome Home!” Those aren’t just words on my doormat. It’s what people said to me from the moment I stepped foot onto this island, and something I now say to others.

I forgot to mention the great markets!   (photo by the author)

I forgot to mention the great markets! (photo by the author)

I’m old enough to know that people, however different, are fundamentally the same. In general, I think people want to be loved, accepted, respected, valued; we want to know that we matter and that what we do makes a difference.

I’ve found that on this island people are more open to expressing and challenging themselves (if one thing doesn’t pan out, they try another) and they make their dreams happen and help others do the same. They are open and embracing of ideas and each other; there is fierce individuality but also strong community spirit.

I’m still not sure what “it” is—but something SPECIAL is going on here. And everyone here seems to understand. Is it the air? The water? A bit of magic? I don’t know, but I think whatever it is infused itself into this islander’s soul immediately upon my arrival and life is just…better. I am so grateful to call this place my home.


One of our many beautiful sunsets    (photo by the author)

One of our many beautiful sunsets (photo by the author)

So, if I had a glass in my hand, and not just my keyboard, I’d raise it and say, “Thank you, Whidbey Island, and its people and magic, and here’s to another 365 days on the rock we call home.”

Les McCarthy is an author, entrepreneur and IPPY bronze medalist for her yearly “Healthy Living ~ Healthy Life: 365 Days of Nutrition & Health for the Family” calendars. She’s been a year on the island and in the NW and loves every gorgeous bit of it. She joyfully tends to her geriatric fur factory and is rethinking her stand on how cute the snails and slugs are!


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  1. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post!! My wife, Carrie, and I spent just over a week there in January and we’ve been working hard to get back ever since. So much of what you talked about we experienced first hand, especially the people of south Whidbey!!! Everyone we talked to, and told we were thinking about moving there, encouraged us to come. There were people that already feel like friends, even on such a short visit! Time and again we heard stories from people who visited and never left. As an artist / writer / vocalist I can’t wait to get back to our new home and get to know all the other creative and wonderful people on magical Whidbey!! See you all soon!
    -Shawn & Carrie Anderson in Sioux Falls, SD

    • Hey Shawn and Carrie … welcome to the island (even vicariously)!

      I lived in Chicago for two (horrid) years and every Thursday I’d get my online WLM and it would be my lifeline to a better time/place/life! I knew I’d be here someday and that connection was invaluable to my spirit. I really think it’s what kept me going some long, cold, lonely winter nights in the midwest! 🙂 If I can give you ANY pointers about island life or anything Whidbey, please contact me via the mag and I’d be happy to share with you what I know or just chat. Of course there are pros and cons of living on an island (or anywhere, actually) but there really is something special going on here. This is an amazingly active/caring/vibrant community and if you are an “artsy” person – you will be in good (very good) company! Come back (I know the perfect Air B&B for you!)!!! All the best! 🙂

  2. We are very glad you moved here, Les. No one else has ever brought us dinosaur sugar cookies and dinosaurs in capsules. Great cookies!

    • Hey Lynn … so glad you liked my dinos! Who knew T-Rex’s could be so tasty! 🙂 The movie was entertainment PLUS! Still don’t know how that woman made it thru the whole movie without her glossy shoes being scuffed up!!!! LOL! I’ll be back for more dino action! Thanks and take care – 🙂

  3. Dear Les:

    you have captured the Whidbey spirit beautifully — thanks for re-affirming my own choice to move to Whidbey nine years ago. And if you would like to find deer to photograph, may I suggest Hubble Court in the Scatchet Head community!


    • Hey Sheryl … Ha. Thanks for the deer info – however, I have enough of my own to photograph (if I were up at the right times when they are greedily eating my garden!). As of last night, they learned how to climb the stairs up to my deck – where I have all sorts of tasty nibbles! So glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks! 😉 All the best to you!

  4. Les, this is so wonderfully accurate.. My experience exactly, and five plus years here now, I grow in gratitude each day that the Universe led me here… Thank you for sharing your experience of this magical place…

    • Hey Rebecca … thanks for the comment. I didn’t realize until tonight that there WERE comments on these blogs! LOL. Yeah, the universe sometimes gets it really right! 🙂 Wishing you continued magic …

  5. Hi Les,

    I discovered Whidbey Island in the late 90s, and somehow knew that it would be my home when I retired. And that was before my first actual visit!

    I retire next Spring, and will move from NYC into my recently-purchased cottage in Langley. Your heartfelt share and comments from other Whidbey newcomers made my heart soar! I can’t wait to be part of such a kind and caring community.

    Stay well,


  6. Thanks so very much for such a lovely article. For years, my husband and I were trying to figure out our “next place”. We came to Alaska thirty-one years ago while he was stationed in the military- and here we still area… To make matters more complicated- our three children now have children- and. They all reside here! But with the long dark winters wearing on my soul- I started to search. We loved Vashon – but the housing was outrageous. Then we had the chance to purchase the most lovely home in Clinton, and that’s just what we did! I’m so excited- we close in a week, then head down the Alcan highway with four old dogs, one cat ( and we are flying out two pet ducks and pet chicken via ak air!!)
    This July 21st Whidbey will be our new home!❤️ We’d love to connect with anyone that has newcomer tips:)

  7. My family is moving to Whidbey in the Spring of 2018 and we are beyond excited! Thank you for sharing your experience. Your insights help affirm our great affection for Whidbey and the awesome people that call it home. We’ve been looking all over the Western Washington area for close to three years. After spending a week on Whidbey, we knew we had found the place we’ve been looking for! Looking forward to being part of a community of civic minded, creative and caring people.

  8. I just loved reading your post. Both of our sons (and our grand baby) live in Seattle and we have been considering retiring to the area. However we really didn’t want the hustle and bustle of Seattle. We visited Whidbey Island last trip out and LOVED it. We thought that might be just close enough and just far enough away that we could see the kids more often than now, living in Virginia. I feel we would love island life and your blog makes me want to pack my bags on come right over. Thank you for writing from an Island newby perspective.

  9. So you’re saying I should move my family there? Because I REALLY want to. We’ve lived in Denver for 15 years now and I am tired of the go go go and the club sports and the dance competitions and the noise. But will we be happy when all we know is the hustle and bustle? I’ll have a junior and freshman and a 5th grader. Is schooling good enough? I don’t need top notch but I don’t want terrible either. And can we be friends? ‘Cause I won’t know a soul 🙂

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