Bloomington Because of Monday

Is planning a vacation seven years in advance overdoing it? I hope not, because I’ve already got my sights set on a future road trip. My destination? Bloomington, Indiana. April 8, 2024.

If you’re wondering why Bloomington, it’s because of Monday. Not to sound overly dramatic, but that day turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life.

Let’s just chalk it up to eclipse fever.

I’ve always had an interest in astronomy. As a young boy, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut – though I’m not sure I wanted to fly around in a spaceship so much as drink a lot of Tang. One of my first-ever college electives was an astronomy class. I quickly dropped it because, holy shit, who knew so much math was involved?! I just wanted to look at stars and maybe learn the names of a few constellations other than the Big Dipper. I guess the intricate math shouldn’t have been such a surprise. It’s pretty amazing that scientists know, down to the second, what time an eclipse will occur 100 years in the future. Half the time, I can’t even remember to turn the oven off after baking something.

Lame.

So as August 21 approached, my excitement grew exponentially. My mom picked up eclipse glasses for us about a month ago, and I remember thinking, thanks…are we actually going to need these? I knew we were missing out on the path of totality, but did not realize we would still get to experience 99% coverage in Vancouver, WA. Which, it turns out, is still pretty incredible.

I was actually getting annoyed with a few Facebook friends who were rather blasé over the whole thing. I don’t understand how anybody can brush it off as “not a big deal” considering an eclipse is something that occurs very rarely. I mean, this was the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years. How is that not a huge deal?! Woodrow Wilson was in office and automobiles were still a novelty, but hey, to each their own, I guess. I do appreciate that some of these less-than-enthusiastic people admitted to being surprised by how much they enjoyed the event, so in the overall scheme of things, it’s all water under the bridge.

I was so jazzed I was having vivid eclipse dreams the night before. And when I woke up a few minutes after 5:00 I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t, so I got up, showered, made coffee, and fired up the laptop to do some work from home. I knew I was going to be away from my computer for a couple of hours and didn’t want to shirk my responsibilities. Not that this was an issue; my boss told me later there was no need to be working at 6 a.m.; he’s happy as long as I get my work done, which I appreciated.

I headed out the door a few minutes after 9:00, just as the eclipse was getting started. I decided to walk to the park near my apartment complex. When I arrived, people were already set up in chairs and on blankets, some of them with cameras and tripods. Not a lot of people; there were maybe a few dozen folks total, which was perfect as I didn’t feel like dealing with large crowds. I slipped my eclipse glasses on, glanced up at the sun…

…and was blown away.

There was only a small sliver missing, but even that was impressive. I had never seen a crescent-shaped sun in my life before, at least not in person! It only got better over the next hour, as the moon steadily ate away at the sun, bite by bite. It was the first time the moon actually looked three-dimensional, I realized. Like an elementary school science project – just this big round ball in front of the sun.

Totally trippy.

I actually managed to take a couple of halfway decent photos with my Android phone, using the eclipse glasses as a makeshift filter. I mean, they’re not great – they wouldn’t even rank in the top 1,000 best eclipse photos – but so what. The real treat was seeing this in person.

Why is there a banana in the sky?!

About 20 minutes before the peak of the eclipse, it grew noticeably colder. I read afterwards that some areas experienced as much as a 15-degree temperature drop. That’s when the light took on a very strange quality. It never got completely dark, but was comparable to dusk, in a washed-out sort of way. Weird, because the trees were casting typical mid-morning shadows, but they were dull. The best way to describe it? Like the sky was a sponge, and somebody squeezed most – but not all – of the water (in this case, light) out of it. I became aware of the birds in the trees chirping, and even managed to spot a couple of stars in the sky. My arms were covered in goosebumps, and that was only partly due to the sudden chill in the air. The whole event was mesmerizingly surreal, seeing just a tiny sliver of the sun like that. A truly awe-inspiring experience. And all I could think when it ended was, I want MORE!

That’s where Bloomington comes in. It’ll be in the path of totality on April 8, 2024.

I mean, there are plenty of other places we could go. Like Austin, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, or Rochester. But I’ve actually been to Bloomington, and found it to be a nice, quiet little town with lots of cornfields, fireflies, and a really good Mexican restaurant. It should be a lot less crowded than those other cities, and depending on where we are living at the time, might not be all that far away.

Time to start planning!

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Dogs and Pigs

We went to an anti-Trump rally disguised as a rock concert Saturday night. And it was great.

Even casual Pink Floyd fans should know that Roger Waters is one of the most political and outspoken musicians in the business. When he performed “Money” and the video screen behind the stage cut to photos of Trump Tower and the Taj Mahal, it wasn’t exactly shocking. But that was merely the beginning. There was no doubt who he was referring to when he sang “picture a leader with no fucking brains” in his new song “Picture That,” followed soon after by a choir of schoolchildren who discarded jumpsuits for t-shirts with the word RESIST midway through “Another Brick in the Wall.” He was really just getting warmed up, though.

The real fun came in the second half, following an intermission. A series of giant projectors split the Tacoma Dome in half, and images of Donald Trump surrounded by KKK and Nazi propaganda filled the screens. Ol’ Roger really let loose then, turning 20 minutes’ worth of “Animals” tracks (Floyd’s most underrated album, in my opinion) into a crusade against tyranny and oppression. “Dogs” and “Pigs” have never sounded more relevant (“big man, pig man/ha-ha, charade you are”). Even the infamous flying pig got into the action; one side featured an image of Trump’s face with dollar signs in place of eyes declaring “I won!” while the other was emblazoned with the slogan PIGGY BANK OF WAR. The monitors continued to show images, such as that of Putin holding a diaper-clad baby Trump. Let’s just say subtlety is not Roger’s forte. It was a spectacle unlike anything I have ever seen, and given my political views, a message I could appreciate.

Nothing subtle about Roger’s message.

Oh, yeah. There was music, too. And it was good! 80 percent Pink Floyd classics, the rest tracks from Roger’s new solo album. Great setlist, focused mostly on “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals,” and “The Wall.” If you’re a rock ‘n roll fan, this is one concert to cross off your bucket list. Unless you’re a Trump supporter, in which case you’ll probably walk out in disgust.

To each their own.

We drove all the way up to Tacoma for the concert because Tara is a huge Roger Waters fan, and there was no Portland show initially. He did end up adding one, months later, but by then we already had our tickets. It gave us a good excuse to explore Tacoma a little bit, meet up with a longtime blogging friend in person, and visit with family. We finally got to check out the Museum of Glass, which pays homage to Dale Chihuly and other glass artisans from around the world. It was a really cool exhibit, and we got to see the Hot Shop where they were working on new pieces. If you’re ever in Tacoma, I recommend a trip there.

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Kind of a whirlwind trip, but we packed a lot in, and the weekend actually felt extra long because of all we did. The only downside was the hot weather. It was in the 90s in Tacoma and a solid 100 when we got home late Sunday afternoon. I was a little worried because all the traffic lights along Mill Plain Boulevard were off and the businesses lining the main thoroughfare were dark, but fortunately our apartment complex was on the right grid (in other words, the one not affected by the blackout) and our central A/C was keeping things nice and cool. Whew!

The Roger Waters show was actually our second concert of the week. Wednesday night, we went to see The Shins at the Edgefield amphitheater. We’d seen them once before, in Bend shortly after Tara moved out here in 2012, but our memories of that evening are a bit sketchy because we got a tad drunk. And by “a tad drunk” I mean totally blitzed. It was by far the most inebriated I’ve ever been in my life, which is a shame because I really didn’t enjoy the concert like I should have. We made up for that this time around, limiting ourselves to just a couple of drinks each. It was perfect weather for an outdoor concert, right around 70 degrees or so, and because it was the summer solstice, the sky wasn’t even completely dark yet when we left. We really enjoyed ourselves, even though we had to go to work the next day. And lead singer James Mercer is so damn affable, he told the crowd how excited he was to be performing for his hometown, when just a few hours earlier he’d been mowing his grass. Then went on to explain that he doesn’t even have a riding mower; he was literally pushing a little self-propelled Honda across the lawn. It doesn’t get more down to earth than that.

James Mercer, a few hours after mowing his lawn.

In other news, we are planning a road trip to South Dakota! Though my idea of moving to Rapid City may have started out as a lark, it’s gathering traction. The more we research, the more sense this makes for us. I know my mom isn’t thrilled over the idea, but there are a lot of pros, most of them centered on cost of living. Plus, Rapid City was ranked #16 in Livability’s Best Places to Live last year. It may not be for everybody, but it might very well be for us. We shall see. We’re going to head out there over the long Columbus Day weekend in October.

Just a quick explanation on why we are considering bailing on this part of the country: we were prequalified for a loan, but the amount we are eligible for is considerably lower than the price of the homes we are looking at – and the disparity between the two continues to grow every month. The housing market is so bullish right now, listings are being gobbled up within days. I’m even hearing of bidding wars taking place. So while you might pull up a Zillow listing and see that the estimated monthly mortgage payment is, say, $900, that would be based on a huge down payment. We’ve crunched our own numbers and would be looking at a figure double that amount, which would be very difficult to swing. It puts more and more homes out of reach. Now, if we were to buy a comparable home for $115K less, we wouldn’t be nearly as strapped. Obviously a lot depends on the job situation, but it definitely makes the idea worth exploring.

Who wouldn’t want to get the most bang for their buck?

Rubber On Wood

The low growl of a diesel engine rumbles to life and then idles, the steady deep-throated purr of a cat. Footsteps echo across a dock, rubber on wood, followed by the metallic clang of cargo being loaded. The plaintive cry of a gull fills the air.

Astoria is waking up.

We pull back the blinds to reveal a fog bank drifting down the Columbia River. Green bleeds to gray as the fog blots out the Astoria-Megler Bridge, turning it into a smudge that disappears into the ether. We wander down to the hotel lobby, bringing back steaming hot cups of a locally roasted coffee. Ray LaMontagne is playing on Spotify.

We are waking up, too.

The day is full of promise.


Astoria has long been a favorite spot of ours, but we’d never actually stayed there. When we decided it was high time for a weekend getaway to the coast, our first inclination was to head down to Newport or Lincoln City as we usually do, but we found a good deal in Astoria and figured, why not? We’d originally planned on going last weekend, but the weather looked dicey – this is the winter where anything goes in Portland – so we ended up delaying our trip a week.

Friday we worked a half-day, then hit the road around 1:00. The drive to Astoria was rainy, and the Columbia River was really high; some of the small towns we drove through on Highway 30 were practically flooded. Luckily, just as we pulled into town, the rain stopped and the clouds broke. Our hotel, situated right on the water, did not disappoint.

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I’d have loved to have taken advantage of the deck, but it’s just too cold in February to sit outside. So we drove into downtown Astoria and wandered around. Checked out a couple of stores, bought some fancy vinegars, nuts, and mustard from a Fancy Vinegar, Nuts, and Mustard store, and then ducked into Inferno, an upscale bar overlooking the river, for cocktails. The place was very Rat Pack-y, dark and clubby with Sinatra playing over the loudspeakers, and specializes in infused liquors. I tried a Manhattan with cherry vanilla whiskey, and followed that up with a pineapple tequila soda. Both drinks were smooth and delicious, as was Tara’s pear vodka press. We had a nice, relaxing time watching the cargo ships pass and the full moon rise.

We were tempted to stay at Inferno, but there was a dive bar within walking distance of our hotel, and we didn’t want to worry about driving after we’d been drinking, so we headed over there for the rest of the evening. The Portway Tavern was everything a dive bar should be, and a few things it shouldn’t be (karaoke), but we had a great time. The drinks no-nonsense and got the job done, the food was pretty good – especially the chowder – and while we didn’t have a view of the river, we did get to hang out with the locals, which is always fun.

Saturday was a lot of fun, too. After a lazy morning lounging around the room with Bloody Marys, we headed over to Pig ‘n Pancake for breakfast. We drove up to Long Beach, Washington next, and ended up walking six miles along the paved Discovery Trail that parallels the beach. We grabbed a late lunch at Castaway’s – chowder, steamer clams, and oyster shooters – as well as a couple of cocktails. It was getting late now and we wanted to catch the sunset over by the Peter Iredale shipwreck in Fort Stevens, Oregon, so we drove over there next. Unfortunately, the sky was mostly overcast and there were quite a few people with the same idea, but despite the clouds I got a couple of pretty good shots. 16711680_10211878220779864_2617787077505098621_n

By now we were pretty exhausted. We’d been on the go all day, as evidenced by the 18,661 steps my Fitbit told me I took, so instead of a dinner out at a nice restaurant as originally planned, we kicked back in the room and ordered a pizza. We had a very chill evening listening to music, drinking, and reading. Who says you need to go out to have fun?

Today we’re going to grab breakfast somewhere and then head home. We should be back by mid-afternoon.

Ohanapecosh, By Gosh!

I have, in the past, lamented over the fact that technology is taking over the world. I’ve mentioned how I wish we could go back in time to those carefree days where a “smartphone” was considered one that had buttons to push rather than a rotary dial, and a “web domain” was simply the home of a spider.

I take that all back now. Technology is good.

Tara decided last week she’d like to go camping for her birthday. Great idea! I love camping, too! You know who else loves camping? Every single freakin’ person who lives in the Pacific Northwest. At least in months ending with “e”, “y”, and “t”. It’s impossible to get a last-minute reservation this time of year, at least over the weekend. You can reserve a spot six months in advance, and I have a sneaking suspicion most of the really good camping spots are taken five months and 30 days early. So, no camping, right?

Not so fast. Turns out some campgrounds set aside a limited number of campsites on a first-come, first-served basis. One of those, Ohanapecosh (fun to say!!) Campground, was located smack dab in the middle of Mount Rainier National Park. A little research showed that 40 of their 188 spots were non-reservable. Perfect!, I thought, and devised a plan to make my wife’s birthday wish come true. I would take Friday off, leave the apartment super early, make the 2.5-hour trek north, and grab a spot for the weekend. Tara, who had an optometrist’s appointment at 2 PM, would leave afterwards and meet me there.

This was an excellent idea. In theory. But so were asbestos and sub-prime mortgages. I failed to take into account just how many people would show up early trying to find spots of their own, so when I arrived at Ohanapecosh (so fun – try it!!) shortly after 10 AM, I was shocked and dismayed to see the following sign.

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My first, optimistic naive thought was, they must be referring to the reserved sites, which have been full for the past five months and 30 days! But as I entered the campground and circled through the G and H loops, where the first-come, first-served sites are located, I found every last one taken.

Before I’d left, Tara had asked what our backup plan was. “We have no backup plan!” I told her, before adding optimistically naively, “And we won’t need one!”

I drove through a second time, but came up empty again. Just like that, it appeared our fun weekend getaway was getting away. And I realized the folly of my ways. Summer weekend, gorgeous weather…in retrospect, the possibility of finding a camping spot last-minute seemed like a fool’s quest. Still, I was so determined to make it happen, I tried to will a spot into existence.

Amazingly, this worked.

Unwilling to concede defeat just yet, I parked my car at the visitor’s center, grabbed a folding camp chair from the trunk, and set out on foot, hoping that a walk through the campground would somehow yield better results. When I reached the 38th out of 40 possible spots, I found an empty site. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, convinced I was hallucinating or the whole thing was a mirage, but there it was: a deserted campsite, free* for the taking.

*Actually $20 a night, if we’re being technical.

I set up the chair to stake claim to the spot (per campground instructions) then practically ran back to the visitor’s center to pay for two nights and clip my receipt into place, breathing a huge sigh of relief and thanking my lucky stars. I can only assume that the people who’d had H5 had just left, because the site was not available the first couple of times I drove past.

Once the campsite was reserved, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the day. It was 11:00 and Tara wouldn’t arrive until after 5:00, so I headed up to the Sunrise Visitor’s Center and hiked the Mt. Fremont Lookout Trail, a 3.4-mile roundtrip jaunt that crosses a ridge line to an abandoned fire lookout tower with stunning views of Mt. Rainier. The sky was brilliantly blue and cloudless and the snowcapped volcano, one of the tallest peaks in the U.S., stunning. The only drawback was the crowds (not really a surprise, given how full the campground was).

Mt. Fremont Lookout Trail.
Mt. Fremont Lookout Trail.
Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier

After my hike, I drove back to the campground, arriving around 3:30. Aside from the camp chair, the only other thing I had was a paperback novel, so I settled in and started reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement while the tall fir trees danced and swayed in the breeze. It was damn near perfect for a little while…but then my fellow campers began trickling in and starting fires, and the smell of cooking food reminded me how hungry I was. By 5:00 I could no longer concentrate on my book, and anxiously started looking for Tara’s truck.

This is where the lack of technology bedeviled me. There is no cell service in that part of the park, and I had not been in touch with Tara since walking out the front door at 7 AM. She didn’t even know for sure whether I’d been able to find a spot, but we’d agreed in advance that I would drive into Packwood and call her if that happened. I started wondering what would happen if she’d been delayed or never showed up for some reason, which led to a feeling of downright helplessness. I have never missed cell phone service so badly. I’d expected her around 5:30, and when she hadn’t arrived yet by 6:30, I really started to worry. Fortunately, she showed up a little before 7:00, right before full-blown panic could set in.

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Once she got there we set up camp and got down to the important business at hand: booze. OK, that and enjoying the weekend, which turned out to be wonderful. We hiked, we cooked good food, we enjoyed amazing scenery, and we relaxed.

Ohanapecosh Campground.
Ohanapecosh Campground.
Silver Falls
Silver Falls
The wildflowers at Mount Rainier were on point!
The wildflowers at Mount Rainier were on point!
Mountains. Trees.
Mountains. Trees.

Oh, and we didn’t get eaten by a bear, which was another plus.

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So in the end, Tara’s birthday weekend was a success. We are already planning a return trip to Ohanapecosh (it never gets old!!) next summer.

But you can bet your ass we’ll have reservations next time. Five months and 30 days in advance.

Make it Snap-E!

The camaraderie with friends this past weekend was nice. We caught an amazing sunset Friday night. Enjoyed some great food and tasty beverages. Soaked our cares away in a hot tub. But the best part about our weekend getaway to Ocean Park, Washington?

I found Snap-E-Tom in a local grocery store and picked up a few cans!

snap-e-tom

OK, “a few” might be an understatement. I think 39 is a perfectly reasonable number considering this stuff is harder to find than a Muslin woman wearing a Trump 2016 button. You might remember my obsession with this product; it dates back to last summer in Park City, when I picked up a can in a grocery store on a whim. One sip and I was hooked. Unfortunately, I didn’t take that sip until after we’d gotten back home; otherwise I’d have loaded up the trunk in Utah ’cause, as great as Portland is, they are not a Snap-E-Tom-friendly town. And yet, there’s Pabst Blue Ribbon up the wazoo. Further proof that injustice runs rampant in the world.

We were able to find Snap-E-Tom in Ely over New Year’s, but Ridley’s only had 13 cans on the shelf. Naturally, I bought them all, but have been hoarding them like crazy ever since [see: Muslim woman, PBR, injustice].

What’s so great about Snap-E-Tom, you might be wondering. It’s sort of like V-8, right? And that shit’s a dime a dozen. Well, yes, it is sort of like V-8…only a bajillion times better. Must be all the sodium. It’s got a great little kick, too. I heart the stuff [but you already knew that].

Fast-forward to this weekend. We rented a beach house in Ocean Park, Washington because we had friends visiting from Sacramento (hello there, Heidi and Ross!) and Oregon (yo, Chris!) and wanted to take them to the Astoria Wine, Seafood & Crab Festival. [It might actually be the Seafood, Wine & Crab Fest. Or the Crab, Seafood & Wine Fest. Or the Wine, Crab & Seafood Fest. I’m unclear on the exact order of things. Considering all the fermented grape juice vendors there, it might actually be the Wine, Wine & Wine Fest. I’d Google it but I’m feeling lazy.] In any case, we were having a grand ol’ time. The house we rented was a beautiful remodeled older place with hardwood floors, a spacious kitchen and dining room, and a hot tub. Score! We spent a good number of hours drinking, eating, listening to music, laughing, and swapping stories. Caught a magnificent sunset Friday evening. Did the whatever-it’s-called-Festival Saturday. That evening, after a dinner of braised short ribs that were to die for (Ross: recipe? Please?), Tara ran out of beer, so I walked to the local Thriftway to grab her some more. And decided, what the hell, they won’t have it, but I might as well check the beverage aisle on the off chance that this small barely-a-bend-in-the-road coastal Washington town might sell Snap-E-Tom.

Imagine my surprise when I found the stuff on the shelf. I’m embarrassed to admit this, guys, but I actually squealed. Might have uttered something like “sweet baby Jesus!” too, drawing stares from the other late-night shoppers. I didn’t even have a cart because I was just there for a six-pack of Bud Light, but I grabbed every can I could find, piled them in my arms, and made my way to the checkout stand.

“You sell Snap-E-Tom!” I said to the cashier, my voice positively oozing excitement.

“Yeah,” she replied, oddly not sharing in my jubilation.

“You don’t understand,” I continued. “This stuff is impossible to find back home!”

“Great. Paper or plastic?”

Some people just don’t appreciate their own good fortune. I staggered back to the house (all those cans of Snap-E-Tom were heavy!) and burst through the door. “You’ll never believe what I found!” I told our guests. Heidi, Ross, and Chris were about as enthused as the Thriftway cashier, but Tara at least recognized the momentousness of the occasion. She squealed, too.

And now we can stop hoarding Snap-E-Tom, because next time we are running low, I know where we can find more!

It’s just a short 5-hour round trip away…

 

Muddy and Bloody

Last week, I told Tara, “Hey! We should drive to the Oregon coast for the day!” It had been awhile, and she was down. But somehow that turned into, “Hey! We should drive to the Oregon coast, get shitty drunk in a dive bar, and stay the night!”

Priorities, man.

This was not a decisive plan from the start, but it morphed into one thanks to beautiful springlike weather and some rather tasty Bloody Marys at a sports bar in Garibaldi called the Hook, Line ‘n Sinker.

But first we had about five miles of mud to slog through.

The warmer weather and bountiful sunshine convinced us to go hiking. After some deliberation, we settled on Cape Falcon, a coastal hike just north of Manzanita, Oregon. A friend recommended it to me last year, but I had not yet been. It sounded like a decent enough hike; about 4.5 miles round trip with a fairly level trail, only 160’ of elevation gain, and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Somehow, I overlooked the part in the online trail description warning of muddy conditions in the springtime.

In any case, we left home early, and were on the road by 8:30 AM. Arrived at the trailhead shortly after 11:00, after killing some time watching the waves at Hug Point. It didn’t take us long to encounter the aforementioned mud; what started out as occasional puddles soon turned into a swamp. Gamely though, we pushed on.

Muddy Shoes

The mud that coated our shoes and covered our pants? Totally worth it for the killer view at the end.

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That’s Neahkanie Mountain, which I hiked to the top of back in October. Tara and I took a respite at the end of the trail, marveling over the magnificent beauty and stunning fury of the Pacific Ocean.

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End of the Cape Falcon trail.

And then we turned around and retraced our muddy steps. Our destination? Garibaldi, a charming little coastal town 10 miles north of Tillamook. I like Garibaldi because it’s small and quaint and not exactly a mecca for tourists, but it’s got the essentials. By that, I mean decent accommodations and not one, but two, dive bars.

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Smokestack in Garibaldi, the last remnant of the long-gone Whitney mill.

We whiled away the hours chatting and drinking at the Hook, Line ‘n Sinker. I even indulged in some less-than-healthy food, including fried mushrooms, a bacon cheeseburger, and sweet potato fries.

And of course, a few of these.

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Afterwards we hit the sauna and hot tub. The next morning we took advantage of the hotel’s free breakfast, which was a step up in quality from most, before hitting the road for the two-hour drive home. It rained the entire way and low clouds obscured the peaks of the Coast Range. It was a different sort of beauty, but no less stunning. We got home and binge-watched eight episodes of The Walking Dead.

All in all, a brief but fun weekend getaway.

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Beautiful and Treacherous

We are back home today. Smartest move I ever made? Taking the day off. I knew we’d want a chance to recuperate. What I did not expect was for the city to shut down thanks to a surprise snow and ice storm yesterday – one that made the long drive back both beautiful and treacherous.

We left Boise about 8 AM, figuring we’d have a leisurely, uneventful 7-hour drive back home. Shortly after, we got a message from my mom. She said it was snowing back home. This was unexpected, but I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. Probably just a few flakes that would melt as soon as they fell.

I was wrong. Portland/Vancouver ended up with 1-2″ of snow – not a lot by most standards, but remember, this is the Pacific Northwest. We’re wimps out here. It was enough to wreak havoc on the city.

The weather on our drive grew progressively worse as the afternoon wore on. The Blue Mountains were icy, and we started seeing a lot of wrecked cars on the side of the road. We made it over the mountains – whew! – but Interstate 84 was no better in the flatlands. In fact, that too was really slick, especially as we neared the Columbia Gorge. Cars were spinning out left and right, and we were crawling along at 40 mph. Our traffic app showed lots of wrecks and a very slow drive, so we decided to take a chance and cross the river to the Washington side at Maryhill. This turned out to be a great idea; State Route 14 is a winding two-lane road, but there were very few cars and it wasn’t nearly as icy as the interstate had been. Soon, it started snowing; before long, it was coming down fast and furious.

Our snowy drive home.
Our snowy drive home.
We saw lots of frozen waterfalls along the side of the road.
We saw lots of frozen waterfalls along the side of the road.

Half an hour from home, the snow turned to sleet, and then to freezing rain. That really made things slick! We finally made it home around 5 PM, about two hours later than expected, after stopping to grab a pizza and a few items from the grocery store. I figured once we left Ely we wouldn’t be seeing any more snow, but…surprise! There was actually snow on the ground the entire way from Ely to Portland. 840 miles of a pristine winter wonderland. Love it! We are going to remember this drive home for a long time to come.

Our trip was short, but a lot of fun. We celebrated Tara’s grandparents’ 60th anniversary on Friday with an open house. People were stopping by all day long, and we had quite the spread: roast turkey and ham, deviled eggs, black eyed peas, smoked trout, chicken wings, and a variety of dips and salads. I even got in on the action and made guacamole. By mid-afternoon I was feeling cooped up and decided to go for a walk, but I forgot just how cold a windchill of 0 is. Halfway through my ears were throbbing in pain and I started to worry about frostbite. As in, genuinely, paranoid-my-ears-were-going-to-freeze-and-fall-off, worry. So I booked it back home to thaw out.

Saturday we met up with friends for breakfast downtown before taking a drive out to the coke ovens about twenty minutes east of Ely. If there is such a thing as a “tourist attraction” in this tiny Nevada town, the coke ovens are It. Originally we’d planned on staying until Sunday, but decided to leave a day early so we could break up the long 13-hour drive into two days. We hit the road about 2:30, stopping in Twin Falls for dinner at Chili’s, and then pushed on to Boise, where we spent the night. Followed, of course, by our crazy drive home.

So today, we’ve got nothing planned beyond kicking our feet up and relaxing. It’ll be back to work tomorrow. But, hey – at least it’s a short week!

Here are a few more pics from our trip. Feel free to click and enlarge so you can FILL UP YOUR SCREEN WITH PHOTOGRAPHIC GOODNESS!!!

I’m a Lizard

Text conversation between me and my brother last night…

Him: Hey, is a hot dog a sandwich?
Me: Nope. But a burger is.
Him: It’s the same thing. Bread, meat, condiments.
Me: No. A hot dog bun is connected, but a burger bun has two separate sections. A top and a bottom. That’s what makes a sandwich. An open face “sandwich” is bullshit, too.
Him: What if I eat a hot dog wrapped in a bread slice?
Me: One slice or two?
Him: Just one.
Me: Not a sandwich. Unless you cut the one slice into two halves. That’s a sandwich.
Me: Wait a minute. When you go to Subway, sometimes the roll is still connected. But that’s clearly a sandwich. I may have to rethink my position.
Him: We both think sandwich.
Me: I’ve thought about it. A hot dog is totally a sandwich.
Him: Heard it on the radio. 60 percent said no sandwich.
Me: They’re wrong.
Me: Thanks for my next blog post.

Hey, at least this goes to show that I’m an open-minded guy. I can admit when I’m wrong. (It’s rare, but it does happen.)

Tara and I took a trip to Seattle last weekend to celebrate her mom’s birthday. They were content to spend the day “visiting” (Tara’s generic term for sitting around with a friend/family member and talking) in Tracy’s apartment, but I have apparently inherited my dad’s can’t-sit-still gene. Two hours in and I was itching to go out and do something. I asked Audrey if she was interested in driving downtown, and she pounced on the opportunity. She has her sights set on the University of Washington for college and wants to live in Seattle, so her enthusiasm was hardly a surprise. It was rainy, windy, and cold, but we didn’t let those things stop us. I had no plan other than finding a place to park and wandering around Pike Place Market, both of which we did. And then we decided to wander over to the Great Wheel, a fairly recent (circa 2012) tourist attraction on Pier 57 overlooking Elliott Bay. It’s a 175′ ferris wheel (tallest on the West Coast when it was built) with 42 climate controlled gondalas. It cost $13 apiece to ride, but even with the inclement weather, was totally worth it. We were up there for four revolutions (12 minutes) and took about 50 photos combined. Turned out to be a nice father/daughter bonding opportunity.

Back to reality on Monday. Work is kicking my ass. My new copywriter is doing a great job, but we are desperately in need of that third person. We had an interview today and two more scheduled this week. I’m hoping to pull the trigger soon as we can really, really use the help.

During every interview, my favorite question to ask is, “Tell me about a book you have read recently.” I think it’s a good icebreaker and tends to put the candidates at ease. And it’s interesting to me, because A. I’m always looking for book suggestions, and B. If you want to be a writer, you’d better be a reader. At least in my opinion. Fortunately, nobody has ever let me down. Sadly, no one has answered that question with No Time For Kings yet. Hey, there’s no harm in a little bit of ass kissing during an interview, know what I mean?

Future candidates, if you’re reading this post, take heed. And hop on over to Amazon already. Burn that midnight oil. You’ll impress the hell out of me if nothing else.

I kid, I kid.

In other news, it’s been cold here. I feel like I’m bundled up at my desk all day long and never really warm up. I even went so far as to turn the heat on at home the other day. I resisted as long as I could, but the constant teeth chattering were taking their toll. I can’t believe that I used to be hot all the time. I’m the complete opposite now.

In other words, I’m a lizard.

Here are a few pics from last weekend.

ferris1

ferris2

ferris3

ferris4

Interrobangin’

Last Christmas, Tara got me a Word of the Day calendar. What does she think I am, some kind of grammar nerd?!

Oh. Wait…

Anyway. I keep it on my desk at work, and the first thing I do when I arrive in the office every morning is tear off the previous sheet to unveil the new word. I feel just like a kid opening presents on Christmas morning, except I’m not a kid. And there are no presents. And it isn’t Christmas morning. Pesky little details aside, it’s still a lot of fun.

Not every word enriches my vocabulary. Some are common. Others, nonsensical. Up until this morning, my favorite had been jerkwaterMeaning remote and unimportant; trivial. I tore that page out and taped it to my filing cabinet. It sounds like a PG-rated insult, and I try to use it often. Thank you, March 23rd.

Today’s word of the day? Even better. I didn’t think that was possible, but guess what? July 27th takes the cake. There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is…

interrobang

First off, it’s fun to say. Interrobang. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? And it’s vaguely naughty-sounding. Especially when you have a wife named Tara. Think about it.

Best of all, I’ve been using the interrobang for years without even realizing it. Check out my opening paragraph in this post. I’m interrobangin’ like nobody’s business. Who wouldn’t want to interrobang?!

Sorry, March 23. Jerkwater is now playing second fiddle to interrobang.

Who says English is no fun?!

Speaking of fun, this past weekend was. But it almost wasn’t. Tara came up with the idea of heading out of town for a little weekend getaway. She suggested exploring Mount Rainier National Park on Saturday, then staying overnight in Yakima. I’m all for national parks and nature and outdoors. It was the staying-overnight-in-Yakima part that gave me pause. No offense to Yakimans. (Yakimen? Yakiwomen? I could really use some Word of the Day help right about now). It just didn’t sound very exotic. Never been there, never had any desire to be there. But I figured life is one big adventure anyway, and maybe Yakima wouldn’t prove to be so jerkwater after all.

And then the weather became an issue. It’s been an abnormally hot and dry summer throughout the Pacific Northwest, so naturally – on the one day where we planned on spending approximately 100% of our time outdoors – it decided to rain. Oh, and it was cold, too. When we reached the Sunrise Visitor’s Center it was 42 degrees and we had to warm up in front of a blazing fire. I kid you not.

42

42 may be the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, but it’s not exactly conducive to a nice outdoor hike. So instead we wandered aimlessly through the park with the heat blasting and the windshield wipers keeping steady pace with the rain. We’d heard a rumor that there was even a mountain out there, and Google confirms this…

Mount Rainier National ParkThough our view was decidedly less impressive.

What MountainAnd then, when all hope appeared lost, we noticed that the rain had stopped. Sure, it was still foggy. And cold. The air was damp. But there was no precipitation precipitating, and that made all the difference in the world. So we pulled into the parking lot at Tipsoo Lake and, just for fun, began walking the Naches Peak Loop trail. 3.8 miles and two hours later we had completed what turned out to be one of the best hikes we’ve ever done. At one point as we traversed a ridge line the clouds below us parted and raced through the valley, lending an ethereal quality to the place. There were alpine lakes and wildflowers and acres of huckleberry bushes laden with ripe, succulent fruit. The views were breathtaking. The sun even came out briefly. It was nothing short of spectacular.

Bonus: 0% chance of sunburn.

And you know what? Yakima, despite its essential Yakimaness, proved to be a good spot to hole up overnight. It was only 60 miles east of the park and had an honest to goodness real restaurant with tasty, strong cocktails. We imbibed in a few, and ate spring rolls and wild Alaskan salmon and a pork chop with bacon jam and the next morning bought fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s market and well, damn it all, we ended up liking Yakima. Go figure.

Not a bad weekend at all! And then interrobang eased my Monday morning transition to the workplace.

Does it get any better than this?!

 

 

Home is Where the Hotel Is

The first thing my mom said to me when we got back home from vacation was, “When are you moving to Utah?”

“We’re not,” I replied. “Why would you think that?”

UtahBut I knew exactly why she said it. Whenever we go someplace new and have a good time there, we get the itch to pack up our belongings and call this new place home. It happened most recently on our trip to the Olympic Peninsula.

“How was Port Townsend?” my mom asked.

“Great!” I said. “We’re moving there!”

Granted, I did not offer a timeline as to when this impending move might occur, but it was enough to cause her to worry. My parents don’t want us to move too far away. I even blogged about it here.

And now Tara and I want to move to Port Townsend. We even found a house.

The same thing happened when we returned from Denver. And every single time I pass through Astoria, I dream of a house on a hill overlooking the Columbia River. Hell, we can’t even go to a show in Portland without me admiring the neighborhood and gushing over how amazing it would be to live in an urban oasis like the Hawthorne district or Laurelhurst.

You have to understand, this whole “plan” to uproot ourselves and move to a new city will likely never come to fruition. Because every time I feel the tug of someplace new – Omaha, anybody?! – common sense eventually prevails. I love Washington. The Pacific Northwest is the greatest place on earth. Why would I ever want to leave?

And so it goes with Utah. It’s true, I did mention to Tara that if I had to live someplace else, Utah would make my Top 5 list. And I might also have said – purely hypothetically, of course – that if money were no object, I would be keen on buying a house in Park City. Utah is beautiful, and they have actual seasons. Plus, there are tons of hiking opportunities. And…the Great Salt Lake! But I did not come back from this current trip with any immediate desire to move. The truth is, I’m far too liberal for Utah. I have a “live and let live” mentality, but the politics and religion would drive me nuts. PDX is more my speed in every way possible.

Utah IS beautiful. There's no denying that.
Utah IS beautiful. There’s no denying that.

So relax, mom. No need to worry. We will not be calling the Beehive State home.

She may need to dust off that anxiety in another 14 months though, because we are already planning our next vacation. Yes, it’s over a year away still, but it’s never too early to plan! We’ll be going to Yellowstone and the Black Hills the week before Labor Day, 2016. I am already looking forward to it.

And thinking again about the cheap housing in Rapid City…