The roses in the backyard are blooming!

Here’s a close-up of the yellow one:

And the red one:

We also have large cream ones and tiny pink ones.

I’m of two minds on the whole thing. The first is sort of a “yay, blooming!” happy response – they really are pretty, and since they’re in a corner of the yard that we can’t see at all from the house I have no compunction about clipping blooms to bring indoors.

The section reaction is mild irritation – I can tell that the bushes are crying out for care from the way they’re growing (very droopy, not like the proud straight bushes of the neighbour up the street), and I know that roses can be time intensive, and off all the things I’m willing to spend time tending roses don’t really make the list. But if they’re blooming this well without any prodding/help, maybe I should try to nurture them? If they weren’t blooming so well, I’d just tear them out and plant dahlias and call it a day, but now I’m feeling torn. Does anyone want to convince me that the work is minimal?

A new dude!

Kevin went to the fish store for more salt and came home with a new cleaner shrimp!

We’ve been trying to find one for a good eight months (since we moved into the house), and we haven’t had much luck finding mature ones. We bought a teeny one when Kevin’s family was here for Christmas, which was a mistake as it fell prey to the ricordia in a matter of minutes. We were crushed and felt so guilty.

This morning, I felt a surge of the same emotion again, as I checked the tank on my way out the door to work and saw a shrimp body half-consumed by the ricordia. Luckily my eyes deceived me – the shrimp had molted (a good sign that he’s physically in order, since that’s an appropriate response to adjusting to the new environment), and it was just his old skin that was caught in the ricordia – a major relief.

The fish are intrigued but trepidatious. Here’s a typical moment: The shrimp was doing his cleaning dance and Clack (with Click nearby for moral support) swam up to him. But the second that the shrimp started to guide him into place to be cleaned with his antennae, Clack remembered he doesn’t like being touched by the shrimp after all, and cringed away. This photo is the closest I’ve seen of a fish shrugging off physical contact:

The tang consented to be cleaned for almost a whole second (Kevin saw it, I didn’t), which seems like a good sign since he’s the one that can benefit the most from grooming. He’s jittery enough around us that I suspect he’ll be too nervous to sit still when we’re home, but who knows what they all do when we’re away at work. πŸ™‚

Catching up on the home front

Yesterday, we got home and commenced a flurry of house cleaning and catch-up. Within four hours of being home, all of the laundry was clean, folded and put back, the suitcases were away, the lawn was mowed, the fishtank had gotten an hour of cleaning and TLC, and we were feeling organized and happy to be home. πŸ™‚ Nice.

Larry had been our fish sitter, and he went above and beyond, keeping our dudes cool and happy despite the 90+ temps (very rare for Seattle). He also saved a pump by stopping by an extra day – we got an evening phone call from him and could hear the pump screeching away in the background – he said it sounded like it was about to take off. He also took great care of the plants and they grew like mad while we were gone:

I’ll have to buy cages for the tomatoes this week!! Last year it was Amanda and Brian, now Larry. I think my new tomato strategy is to plant them then leave town for at least a week – they seem to thrive under the care of friends. πŸ™‚

I spent the afternoon finally tackling the grout in the shower. Apparently eight days of vacation can give you courage for daunting housework. We’ve been halfheartedly scrubbing at it every few weeks, but what worked in a tub with attached vinyl walls just doesn’t do it for grout. A toothbrush and laundry detergent with bleach did the trick, though it took a few hours. Shiny, pretty grout:

Of all the things to post about, right? But it’s so attractive now, I feel entitled to share. I can’t wait to shower tomorrow. πŸ™‚

Road trip: Home again!!

We’re home!!

We checked out of our hotel at the last minute again, checked our bags, and went to the French bakery down the street for a satisfying breakfast. Our plan for the day was vague, but I had a knitting store that I was interested in checking out and Kevin professed not to mind, so we reclaimed the car and headed for the suburbs (following the directions from Microsoft on Kevin’s phone). It was a complete failure. The directions were pretty over the river and through the woods, including turns down unpaved back alleys, and then the address that we were directed to didn’t seem to exist, and we were left on a residential street in the middle of south-east portland. Not meant to be. The neighbourhood was pretty, at least, and we drove by Reed College, which was interesting.

We’d contemplated stopping to see Mount St. Helens on the ride home (I still haven’t visited it), but the skies were low and deeply gray, so we decided to save it for a day with views. We cruised up I-5. The only real slow point was a mental one, where we drove past the junction with 101 just before Olympia. Call into work and tell them that we’d see them in a week because we decided to do the loop a second time?? How tempting…

According to my car’s trip counter, we went 1951.6 miles in eight days. Three states, a mix of old and new. I love car trips and this one was even better for the amount of time we spent on tiny roads where the speed limit dropped to 35 when we went through towns. This was a trip of little tastes of places – each morning when we got back in the car we wished we could stay at least another night. Wouldn’t it be neat to do a week-long vacation on the ocean in Oregon? Or a full weekend in Napa? Or a longer stay at the Tu Tu Tun Lodge…? Kevin wanted to bike lots of portions on our route – I’m not sure that a fully loaded bike on those hills sounds appealing, but I bet he could find biking partners and maybe I’d be the car support crew? In any case, the goal this time was to learn more about this coast, to see it in person, and I feel like that was well accomplished. We live in a beautiful place, and it’s amazing to see the variation down the coast and then back up inland.

Here’s the full album of trip photos. Yay. πŸ™‚ Feel free to contact me if you want recommendations for places to stay or eat along the route – we found several great spots.

Road trip: Bend, OR to Portland

Checkout at McMenamins was at 11, but Kevin went to the corner bakery to pick up treats and coffee for breakfast, and then we enjoyed the tubs, and took turns reading sections of the impressively local paper (favourite story: the full page on the guys who set up with beach chairs and coolers of beer in their driveways to watch the forest fires, after agitating for brush clearing for a few years…). And we ended up suddenly realizing we were five minutes late for checkout and hustling away – luckily, they didn’t seem fazed.

We decided to have lunch there, since it was a short driving day and we’d both wavered between options on the menu the night before. My onion soup and Kevin’s rueben were yummy, and it was fun people watching since the Bed Fourth of July Pet Parade had just broken up. Lots of red, white and blue costumes on pets, kids and adults. And as we drove out of town, there were several classic cars in show condition on the road, so that was a treat, too.

I’d just called my parents to wish them a happy anniversary when we came around a corner and saw this out the driver side window. Woah!

Sorry, Mom and Dad, for getting completely distracted mid-call. It turns out they were the Three Sisters – three huge cojoined volcanic peaks (Kevin turned out at a scenic pullout with a sign that explained the view – thank you, Oregon). If you click through to the bigger photo, you can see all of the big, blue, mounded hills in the foreground.

Pretty spectacular. The clouds (and what turned out to be the last blue sky of the trip) were pretty sensational too:

The road took us across the Cascades, along a tiny brook that grew larger by the mile. More elk signs (but still, no elk: sigh). The landscape grew increasingly distressed, and we’d finally figured out that what we were seeing must have been an enormous forest fire when we came across yet another scenic/educational pullout.

Apparently, this is a corner of the B&B complex – a forest fire set by lightnight in 2003. The hills and hills of dead black trees were sobering, and put a lot our last few days of driving in perspective.The pullout was interesting, as it explained how better husbandry could prevent fires. Certainly not new news, but I was impressed that state funds had been dedicated to education.

We took Rt 22, which followed the north fork of the Santiam River, which continued to be pretty. We switched drivers in Marion Forks so that Kevin could call his family before it got too late in the afternoon Eastern Time. The river continued to get bigger until all of a sudden the road went by the Detroit Lake and Detroit Dam – sort of amazing in a flyby way – the more I thought about it and the depp dropoff down the road, the more impressive it seemed.

Kevin fell asleep just before we picked up 15 south of Salem. For the most part the passenger time on this trip was attentive and active – we spent more time talking to our families on the phone on the off shifts than we did sleeping. I wouldn’t say that he missed much in this stretch though. It rained a little, and there was just general sprawl along the highways (lots of big box stores and billboards). You couldn’t see the mountains, so I was mostly just making haste for Portland.

Last time we were in Portland we got seriously lost, but I blamed us for inattentiveness. This time I just blame the city. Portland pretends to be a nice, grid-based western city, but in reality it’s a mess of one way streets, bridges, misleading highway exits, and you-can’t-get-there-from here. A little Boston wannabe. We missed our I-5 exit heading north, got off the highway to turn around, missed it again going south, and then got on a different highway and finally managed to find the hotel via surface streets. Stressful! πŸ™‚ Crazy Portland. Our hotel had mandatory valet and they were amused to see all of our roadtrip baggage (cooler, lifejackets, sleeping bags, yoga mats, etc). Apparently we weren’t the first car they’d seen en route. We managed to leave the camera in the hotel room which was a pity because Portland was awesome and now we have no visual proof. We walked over to an Andean Tapas place in the Pearl district for dinner. Wow. They had really unusual and yummy drinks (though we recognized some ingredients like tamarind from the Sengalese restaurant in San Francisco), I had oysters for the first time (interesting, but not a new favourite), and we had a great selection of small plates. I can’t remember all of them, but here are ones I remember from the online menu:

β€’ TORTILLA DE PATATA Y ALIOLI DE AJI AMARILLO Spanish-style potato fritatta with ajΓ­ Amarillo aioli
β€’ CHORIZO Rioja’s dry-cured sausage
β€’ AHUMADOS DE MAR Y RÍO assorted smoked fish from the river and the sea
β€’ ANTICUCHO DE PULPO grilled octopus kebob with rocoto and caper chimichurri
β€’ CAUSA a traditional preparation of freshly mashed potatoes, infused with key lime juice and pressed into a cake filled with spicy tuna, crab salad, and crispy shrimp

After dinner, we went down to the riverfront to watch the fireworks. I haven’t see a major city display in several years (the Seattle fireworks we’ve watched have been from across the lake), and Portland’s was spectacular. Happy Fourth!

Road trip: Northern CA to Bend, OR

We got off to a slow start – tired after all of the fun of seeing friends for the last two days!

Far from anything approaching a city, we couldn’t help but notice all of the heavy advertising on the highway for the Olive Pit in Corning, so we stopped there on the way out of town for bagels, lattes, and to be impressed at the variety of ways that you can use olives.

The road north was *rural*. We were back in log truck country:

… and forest fire country, so a lot of the pictures didn’t turn out. Lake Shasta was gorgeous, and it looked like all of the party boats and house boats were having a great vacation. After Redding, we were pleased to be seeing Cascades again (before that, the mountains to the east were the tail of the Sierra Nevadas). These mystery rocks to the west were amazing:

Mount Shasta is one of the huge volcanic peaks on the west coast, yet we could barely even see it due to forest fire haze. (And note trucks for scale!)

The road has views of it from the south, west and north, so we had a long time to contemplate the glaciers and how very volcanic the mountain seemed. This little volcanic nubbin (3917 ft, Black Butte Summit) was clearly related.

Once we crossed into Oregon (and got to use our neat new laminated map! An awesome gas-stop purchase!), we paused for take-out pizza in Klamath Falls. The town was pretty and lots of interesting storefronts; we could have spent much more time there. So: pizza, gas (I have to say I’m not a fan of the mandatory non-self serve), windshield and windows cleaned by me, change of drivers… and on past Klamath Lake

to Crater Lake.

I have to say that I’d been fairly vague and middling in my expectations of Crater Lake. I was expecting pretty mountain ranges, an unusual and pretty headless and water-filled volcano, tons of tourists (in the main season, there are all sorts of boat rentals and things apparently get all full of tour buses and activity), and nature despoiled for the sake of tourism. I was wrong every step of the way and loved the experience of being there.

We’d been taking 97N and split off onto 62N to get to the park. It still looked like a reasonable sized road on the map, but turned out to be a meandering, wide lovely two-laned thing that curved through farm country, with 360Β° mountain views.

There were pulloffs all the way along with educational signs about which mountains we were seeing and how the geology had changed over the last few millennia. I’d thought this before, but after reentering the state on the way home I had an even higher level of appreciation of what a great state Oregon is to drive through – gorgeous (ocean, mountains, lakes, wildflowers , and interesting weather), great signage, the roads are taken care of, they make a point of including passing lanes, and the pullouts are constant and well-marked. I love Oregon.

We had to stop along route 62 to get out and just smell the air. Wildflowers and hay and heavenly. (And aren’t the clouds neat?)

The road curved into the park, and we tuned to the National Parks radio frequency to find out that the majority of the park (including the east rim drive and almost all of the hiking trails) were still closed for the season due to snow. Craziness! As we climbed out of the farms (along blessedly straight roads – mountain curves aren’t usually my thing), the road curved along a deep river chasm – too deep to see the river even when you looked over the edge, but the canyon walls were sculpted and impressive. More signs for elk, but we didn’t see any.

We stopped for a moment in the visitors’ center to look at maps and orient ourselves, then drove to the rim. Wow. Here was one of the first views down to the lake after we got out of the car:

That’s looking down an almost-straight snow slope, and the blue you see is the lake, not the sky. Wow.

We found a spot on a rock-wall-lined outlook to admire the lake and eat some of the CSA cherries we still had in the cooler. Something of a trend this trip – locate gorgeousness, eat fruit. πŸ™‚

And here’s the shot of the view across the crater. Neat.

We enjoyed watching the wildlife. A fun chipmunk, and then this is a Clark’s Nutcracker – it’s about twice the size of a robin, and we saw dozens of them.

On the drive out of the north entrance of the park, we admired the snow banks:

The fields of snow on either side of the car looked like they’d been scooped away by yard-long oblong chisels. The result is that they looked groomed, like snow versions of vineyards. I have to assume that the wind does this?

Forest fires made most of the view a haze, but we could see this volcanic specimen as we descended.

We thought it was Mount Hood when we took the photo but on further reflection and a study of the map decided it was probably Jefferson.

We arrived in Bend, OR in the late afternoon. We stayed at the McNenamin’s Old St. Francis School – a catholic school converted into a 19-room hotel, restaurant and brewery. The place was very neat, and lived up to its billing for quirkiness. We stayed in a room called “Alter boys” – here I am reading in the room reading news stories and captioned photos on the wall from its former life:

The bathroom was something else – side-by-side claw foot tubs, two showers, a sink, and a toilet stall with no door, plus quotes from the former students painted all over the walls.

We went out to find a better parking spot, then came back for dinner and beer – both were delicious. We had free admission to the movie theater but the 8:00 show didn’t appeal so we played pool instead. I’m incredibly rusty, but we had a good time anyway. A neat place to stay the night after a very full day!

Road trip: San Francisco to Sacramento to N. CA

Day 5 was another low mileage day. We started the day with Dim Sum. I’d found a place in Chinatown (the Hang Ah Tea Room) which took a bit of map-work, but once we were there we each had a dim sum combo plate. Delicious, filling and satisfying. We briefly walked around Chinatown – a lot of it was just touristy, but the buildings are great and it’s interesting to see the things advertised (both in English and in indecipherable characters), and see people walking around, and contemplate how different lives can be. We made it back to the car several minutes after the meter ran out and mere seconds before the ticket officer arrived. Here’s a rushed shot of the Chinese elementary school across the street:

Nothing like waving to the parking cop as you pull out of the space!

We found and then crossed the Bay Bridge. Neat. I’d brought a hefty ziploc bag of quarters for tolls and we did a good job using them up in San Francisco. The iPod didn’t work (there was a radio station on literally every channel – something I’ve never experienced outside of NYC) so we twiddled the radio dial on our ride to Sacramento.

The highway there was great. To begin with, amazing pink, red and white flower bushes in the divider:

Amanda and Brian told us they were oleander. Gorgeous. Also, I was driving along and getting increasingly annoyed at the slow-poke people in front of me, then realized we were all cruising along at 80!! Yay!! Seattle (land of 49 in a 55mph zone) hasn’t yet totally killed my ability to drive on highways at an advanced speed. Every now and then I have the fear that I’ll never be able to move back to the east coast because my driving’s gone soft – it was a pleasure to know that I still have what it takes. πŸ™‚

I didn’t bring the camera into Amanda and Brian’s and I’m deeply regretting it. Their house is gorgeous (and cool! Amazing given how hot it was once we left S.F.), they looked awesome, and (1 ΒΎ year old) Lily has grown so much and is talking up a storm (we were treated to lots of colors, body parts, animals and their sounds, a forceful NO!, and constant updating of who was using the bathroom). We had a delicious Riesling, walked to the park, ate pizza, admired the tomato plants, pet Kitty, and then left much too soon. Being in much the same boat, we were all impressed at the house and yard renovations they’ve been working on (completed and in progress) and it was just such fun to see them again. Wish they were closer, but what a wonderful visit.

We left Sacramento around 7 pm, and drove about two hours up I5 to Corning (Olive Capital of the USA!). Amazing sunset en route:

Until it finally slipped away:

And then dusk was just as lovely:

We stayed at a perfectly functional Days Inn, watched the last half of a Harry Potter movie and then Jon Stewart, and then found ourselves exhausted and ready for bed.

Road trip: Napa to San Francisco

Day four was our shortest driving day of all – about an hour and a half. Our hotel (the Napa River Inn – relatively cheap, very unique, and highly recommended)…

… delivered a complimentary breakfast tray from the bakery next door. Yum! That’s great coffee (even though we forgot to request milk), a breakfast roll and quiche for me, and a scone and fruit and granola for Kevin:

We drove through vineyards to get to 101. I continued to love all of the enormous birds, circling about. Someday, I should buy a book about birds of prey so that I can tell all of the hawks, falcons, eagles, etc. apart. I think they’re fascinating.

We had a rush of traffic when we hit 37, including this impressive pink “do no harm” hippie bus:

but for the most part the trip was no traffic and smooth sailing. We saw a tech company amidst all the vineyards (regi-something, with a huge swooping red line and black dot as a logo) – funny. We zoomed through Marin County, and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pretty! Once we parked, we had about 50 minutes to find a lunch place and eat before our tour boat to Alcatraz Island departed. We speedwalked through the Fisherman’s Wharf touristery to Pompeii’s Grotto (a restaurant I’d found ahead of time and liked the sound of). By the time we got there, we had only about 35 minutes to eat (and it was a pretty sit down place with a wine list, umbrellas and outdoor tables). Our waiter was amazing, rushed our order, brought wine, and we completely relaxed and enjoyed the fresh sourdough, and delicious crab sandwiches, and chowder, and were back on the street walking to our pier after 32 minutes. How awesome.

The Alcatraz tour was incredibly interesting. The weather was unbelievable for us (warm, clear, and sunny), but the wind on that island was fierce and I was only warm with three layers on. They let you explore quite a bit, including around buildings that burned in 1970, which was very interesting. Lots of historical signs/explanations, which I enjoyed. Great views. I didn’t realize that the island was a Civil War fort before it was a military prison before it became THE maximum maximum-security prison of the US. Very interesting to hear about the layers of history. There’s an audio tour around the cells that was very well done. There was a bit of tantalizing information as well about the children and families of the wardens and guards who lived on the island. There was an ice cream parlour and bowling alley, and a boat that took the kids to school in San Francisco, and an incredibly windy area where they played games and baseball. Fascinating.

For some reason, they’re encouraging seagulls to breed on the island and turn it into a rookery. Horrible smell, obnoxious birds, but it was interesting to see what baby(ish) gulls look like:

Me on Alcatraz (wearing my pretty audiotour gadget around my neck) with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background:

Kevin on Alcatraz, with San Francisco in the background:

And the view of the island on the boat ride home:

We stayed with Kevin’s college friend Chirag (a recent transplant to the city) at his brother’s place in Pacific Heights. Neat neighbourhood! We took a meandering, hilly route through residential streets to get there (the poor Matrix was deeply unimpressed). Great touristing and house-viewing for us! We were exceptionally amused to come across a Segway tour. I didn’t have the camera ready (so excuse the rear-window shot), but they looked like nerdy ducklings wearing reflective vests, following their parent all in a line. πŸ˜€ We laughed and laughed. Up there with Kevin and the sinking kayak. πŸ™‚

Chirag was working in NYC doing financial stuff since graduation, but he decided to leave and now he’s volunteering with Kiva, a microfinancing nonprofit located in the Mission. I was really impressed at the way that they’re run (he gave us a tour) – sending college grads as emissaries to blog about the loans, using peer pressure to make sure the loans are repaid, due diligence for the local aid societies that they work with to make sure they aren’t skimming off the top, etc. Most people start small with their lending ($25 to $100), but the recycle rate and the increase rate were great. It’s so neat to find a classmate doing something inspirational. We were both impressed.

Once he’d shown us around, Chirag took us to a crazy loft bar in the Mission that had a rooftop deck that overlooked the whole city. Wow. Wish I knew the name of it, but I forgot to check. We stayed for a drink (I finally had caipirinha, after hearing about it for ages). Then we went for dinner to a great Senegalese restaurant – great food (including cous cous!) and delicious, unusual drinks, with ingredients like hibiscus and tamarind. An awesome night, and a great host. Yay San Francisco!