Date Night

Rach and I had date night tonight. Since we moved in together she has been asking me to take her on a "real" date and tonight I feel I have finally fulfilled her request. A couple weeks ago I asked her what counts as a "real" date. We go out to dinner all the time. Sometimes we catch a flick afterwards. Most of the time we are with friends. I still have little idea of what entails a "real" date, but I know I went on one tonight. I have been wanting to take her to dinner at a local joint called "La Rustica," since one of my barbers told me to check it out. I have yet to find a good barber in Seattle, but like I told Rach tonight, this guy knows the community, he grew up here, knows how to cut hair, and has a bevy of wonderfully off-color jokes to tell on those days when it's nothing but old salts in the shop. We have a winner!

So, I asked Rach to join me at La Rustica in West Seattle. We arrived at about a quarter to eight. The restaurant is very non-descript and easy to miss, a humble sign proclaims its place on Beach Drive among seemingly endless rows of condos and beach dwellings. Not another business is in sight and even if you were specifically looking for La Rustica you have to be pretty observant to find it. Like I told one of the other couples we were waiting for a table with, "I heard about the place a year ago, spent eight months trying to actually find it, then spent another four months trying to find the best night to visit."

We were greeted by the owner, Giulio, an Italian immigrant. He greeted us in the non-chalant manner of a man who knows he need not compete with other restaurants, his customers are loyal, his food is excellent and even on a Thursday night, there is a line to get into his tiny, efficiently laid out eatery. He took our name and sent us to the teeny-tiny waiting room, back outside and three doors to the right. We walked into the room and two other couples were waiting to be seated. The room was decorated warmly with hastily applied plaster and art from Giulio's homeland but was so cold that seniority ruled over which couple got to sit in front of the space heater he had provided. After a short wait Giulio knocked on the window and motioned for us to follow him to our table. Long story short, we ordered a delicious bottle of wine and bypassed the dinner plates for a couple of very rich, well prepared plates of La Rustica's finest pasta. I had a risotto and sausage dish flavored with Saffron and a TON of butter and Rach had Linguine with truffles and tomato sauce. Both were AWESOME!! We thanked Giulio for his hospitality and continued down the waterfront for after dinner drinks.

We have a little Irish pub called the Celtic Swell on the Alki beachfront. I thought this might be a nice place to wind down since they always seem to have great live acoustic music when visit. We stopped in and after splitting a bottle of red wine at La Rustica felt immediately comfortable getting to know the people sitting on the barstools next to us. Little did we know that we were being sized up for Thursday night Celtic Swell poker!! We threw down a few rounds of Texas Hold 'em and a few Irish whiskeys while we were at it and before we knew it, Rach had won back the few measly bets I had made (I got rocked), and we were on our way home. On the way home, Rach talked to a long time friend who will be leaving on a tour of duty with the army soon and it sounds like we plan to spend New Year's Eve in Portland with her, so all of you Portland types, we're gonna need a place to crash!

Finally, the reason I sat down to write this post at such an ungodly hour. After returning from the pub and tucking my sweetheart in, I walked outside to let Rocky do his thing. I was thinking to myself, 'man was it great to be out in the countryside at Rach's parents place for Christmas.' I thought about hearing that train roll through Tangent late at night while I was trying to sleep. It reminded me of sleeping at my family's cabin in North Bend, Nebraska, where we heard the trains rolling through all night long. At that moment, standing outside my house in West Seattle, I heard something I've never heard here before. I heard a train whistle blow, I heard the wheels clickety-clack across the tracks on Harbor Island and I even heard the bells of the crossings as the night train roared through our sleeping city. I know for a fact that those trains did not just start running tonight. I have just never stopped or slowed down enough to listen to them. The whole time I've been living here, the trains have been running. This happy sound that brought me back to those times at my family's cabin has been blaring outside of my own house this whole time without me ever noticing!

What I'm trying to say is, slow down, stop, take a breath and don't forget to take in all that is around you as you hurtle through these complicated times.....


That's Why He's Rocky....

"I wanted to show I had balls at age 60. Just because society says I'm old, doesn't mean I am. I'm pursuing happiness, even if it makes the people around me unhappy."

I'm excited to see the new Rocky movie. I was a little surprised at first to learn that Rocky was going to actually be fighting in it. I figured it would be one of those movies where the old surly boxer trains the new champ to win. Nope, not Sly's style. Good luck Rocky!!

Here's a little Rocky trivia for you....I love trivia......almost as much as Rocky movies.....

Did you know.....

  • That Sylvester Stallone was offered $150,000 to back off his demand to star in his own screenplay for the original Rocky. They wanted Ryan O'Neal.
  • Stallone wrote the screenplay in three days after he saw a boxing match between the unknown Chuck Wepner and Muhammad Ali in which Wepner went the distance.
  • Stallone insisted that the scene where he admits his fears and doubts to Adrian the night before the fight be filmed, even though production was running far behind and producers wanted to skip it. He had one take for that scene, and was so nervous about screwing up the only scene he thought was important that he got himself drunk to do it.
  • Sylvester Stallone really did punch the frozen meat in the training scene in the movie. In fact he did it so many times in many different takes that after filming was finished, he noticed the shape of his hands was different. His knuckles were left completely flattened and they remain that way to this day.
There you go, that should help you during those Pre-movie trivia slide shows, you can impress your friends and win the affection of the opposite sex....hooray.


I Miss Snow....

Even though this picture is from a storm a couple weeks ago, I have to post it! I am just now pulling the photos off my camera, running a little behind. It is so rare for us to see snow like this in Seattle. Those of you who deal with snow all winter may not be impressed, but I LOVE this picture of our little front yard covered in the white stuff! Rach and I bundled up this night and took Rocky out and just romped around in the snow, it was eleven o' clock at night, but there were kids out sledding and everybody was coming out of their houses to see it because they knew that it would certainly be gone in the morning!
And here's a pic I took today looking over the sound from our deck, some really wicked cloud formations as this storm blew in! The wind has really been coming in off the water recently, gusting up to 30 mph or so. I was even treated to a double rainbow over our house, though it disappeared before I has a chance to grab my camera.


For the record...

The same month I chose to break ground on my pond project in the backyard also happened to end up being the RAINIEST MONTH IN RECORDED HISTORY in Seattle. Though it does rain here all the time in the winter, it never rains like it did for us in November. Usually we are simply submerged in an eight month long drizzle that keeps everything damp all the time but never fills the streets. The month of November gave us torrential downpours for days on end, flooding so bad that some landlocked rural towns were suddenly turned to waterfront island property, hailstorms, wind and lightning the likes of which I have not seen since living in Tornado Alley and even a four day snow and ice storm. I never have understood why an inch or two of snow shuts everything down out here until Rach pointed out that we have many many streets sitting on damn near forty-five degree slopes, pretty scary wet, deadly when iced over. Some guy slid all the way down a hill in downtown Seattle in his car, crashed through a guard rail and then fell three stories into an alley dumpster, he was fine though, got out and brushed himself off.

So, the grand total, super duper, record breaking wettest-month-in-Seattle's-history rainfall total is a soggy 15.63"

And now, your daily moment of zen....


Symptoms may include.....

I'm sick......getting better, but sick. I caught some kind of flu bug and have been out for the count for almost five full days now just walking around the house muttering to myself and shaking and sweating in my pajamas. Remember Doc Holliday in Tombstone? He was all pale and shaky and it made you nauseous just to look at him? That's how I looked this weekend:

Particularly annoying because it is the last week of school and I've got a ton to do. My temperature was so high this weekend that I think I even had a hallucination that the Cornhuskers lost the Big 12 championship, it was TERRIBLE! Good thing it was only a fever induced nightmare, right?!?! RIGHT?!?! Anyways, Rach has taken such great care of me and should have me nursed back to full health tomorrow.


Diggin' A Hole Boss...

The rain has finally subsided enough for me to resume work on Rach's pond. It is officially the wettest November in Seattle's recorded history now and we're only half way through the month! We've received all the materials we need for the pond, now I just have to put everything in place. My muscles are sore from a long day of digging yesterday but I am happy with how the project is coming along. Here is a drawing of the initial plan, though my projects always tend to be pretty fluid, partially because I'm recycling materials (rocks, lumber) that we have laying around and partially because it is more fun that way. A quick interpretation: A 2' waterfall flowing into a 100 gal. pond then into a 5 gal. spillway to set up for the big 3' waterfall to the next terrace, a small stream at the bottom of that waterfall flows into the HUGE pond(redesign, it was initially only 85 gal.) I'd estimate the bottom pond is probably nearing 500-600gals. I love projects of this size because it can all be done by hand, no machinery needed, and because it feels like I am sculpting the land with my shovel and a sledge hammer. The other fun part is that it feels like a puzzle, there are always those unknown variables that come up when you are too far in to back up and you have to figure out how to make it work for you. I love that. Trying to figure out drainage and how the pond will react to heavy rains or drout is particularly challenging for me. I tried to convince my dad on the phone yesterday that maybe I picked up some of his engineering expertise through osmosis.

So, I'm going to save most of the pics for a before-and-after type post once I'm finished but here's a picture of my hole in the ground as it looks right now.


The Pineapple Express

The sun is finally out today and I have put a hold on the construction of my own personal Ark in the backyard. This weekend's rain was the wettest storm in many years for Seattle. It poured rain for three days straight as many of you may have seen on TV as the Seahawks flew past the Raiders for a victory in Monday Night Football. Here's a map of some of the rainfall totals for the area that I captured before the storm was even over...
Who knew fooding and devastation could paint suc a pretty picture? As you can see, some of the mountain areas were topping out the scale at over 15" of rain!! Here in Seattle I think we ended up with almost four inches over about 48 hours. All of this moisture was shipped directly from Hawaii on the Pineapple Express, so the temperatures were around a nice, balmy 62 degrees too. All of the rivers are flooding and another big storm is forecast to begin tomorrow and continue through much of this weekend. Brett had to stay the night at our house because her house flooded, there were Coke cans floating in her living room. We are known for our rainy climate in Seattle, but rarely does it flood up here. Between this and last year's near-record 31 straight days of rain, it's hard to argue that our planet's climate isn't changing.


A Pirate's Life For Me.....

Disneyland is possibly even more fun as an adult than it was the last time I visited when I was a young boy. Many of the rides have been updated, some for the better as in the addition of Captain Jack Sparrow robots in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and some for the not so better, like the Nightmare Before Christmas presents riding in your car with you instead of the hitchhiking ghosts in the Haunted Mansion. Mostly though, Disneyland hasn't changed since I was there last and it is, I feel, continually getting closer to the magical world Walt Disney envisioned. They're even using the same funky smelling water in the rides that was there when I was a kid!

Rachel and I attacked Disneyland with gusto, fueled by over-priced bottled water and humongous M&M encrusted Rice Krispy treats. On Saturday we pulled a 16 hour shift at the park that had us limping back to our hotel with delirious Disneyland grins on our faces at almost one o' clock in the morning. We did it all, well, except for the Matterhorn, it's sinking into the ground, oh, and Small World was closed for Christmas decorating but other than that, we did it all!!! Rachel insisted that no matter what, we had to ride the Indiana Jones ride, multiple times. This ride was not there last time I visited and WOW, IT IS AWESOME!!! You ride in a funky military Jeep-hummer thing that rides very similar to my Jeep, so it instantly got huge bonus points from me, there's fire and lava and bugs and the Jeep JUMPS onto a rope bridge, then at the end you're nearly crushed to death by a large boulder!! So, so, so, so cool!!

I spent a good deal of time in the "50 years of Disneyland" museum where some of Walt Disney's conceptual drawings for the park and a scale model of Disneyland as it looked on Opening Day are on display. As a kid, I'm sure this building did not even register in my brain, but it was really exciting to me to see a little bit of Walt Disney's creative powers in a raw form.
Thank you Mr. Disney, it is truly a magical place ;)

Extravagant Halloween decorations were everywhere!

Me, facing my fear of Merry-go-Rounds, they're too fast......
This is my horse, there are many like it, but this one is MINE.

Splash Mountain! Zippa-dee-doo-dah!!!

Interesting fact, the Matterhorn is the tallest man-made
mountain in all of Disneyland.......

I suffered a massive protein overdose after eating this
humongous chunk of animal but it was SOOO worth it....

Awww.....cute kids....Rach became so excited a few times
that she went into uncontrollable fits of bouncing and squeaking...


Rocky's Fortress of Solitude

Otherwise known as "Plan D," I believe I have finally figured a way to keep Rocky from destroying everything we own and making himself sick. He can't stay inside by himself because he eats or destroys as many things as he can before we get home. He can't stay outside by himself because he eats destroys as many things as he can before we get home. He is a model of good behavior while we are with him , but left to his own devices he is an absolute terror!! A brief sample of what he has eaten recently:

-nearly every plant I've planted in the backyard
-toilet paper
-garden hose
-pool filter
-a pool
-pond liner
-countless pounds of spoiled plums and apples from our fruit trees
-welcome mat
-a rat
-a dead bird
-dog bowls
-BBQ tarp
-BBQ utensils
-pieces of the stairs going up to the deck
-Solar powered garden lights
-The DirecTV cable going to our bedroom
-lawn sprinkler

The list goes on. He's also figured out how to open doors and gates and has escaped from the backyard a few times. He is recovering from a sickness that he got from eating or drinking something in the backyard. To keep him safe from himself, we started leaving him in the downstairs bathroom, he knows how to operate a sliding door and easily escaped a few nights ago and went on a rampage in the house. When considering my options for puppy-containment solutions, the movie Hannibal came to mind. We could put him into a large glass box and cart him around on a dolly when taking him for a walk. Due to high cost, I dropped that plan and went down to the Home Depot for supplies. Thirty bucks later and Rocky now has his own escape-proof padded room, well except for the padding, he would eat it. He can't even have a dog bed in there because he ate his last one. I think I've finally outsmarted my wily, clever foe.........
So, I'm off to Chinese class right now and the Rocky Containment facility is getting it's trial run. Tomorrow I'm off to DISNEYLAND!!!!!


The Wanderlust Rules My Life

In keeping with our summer tradition of somehow spending as little time as possible in Seattle, Rach and I are halfway through a busy couple months of travel and fun. We spent another weekend in the San Juan Islands with Rachel's parents at a wonderful vacation home they had rented.
Panorama of the San Juans from the Anacortes Ferry

Then the following weekend we made a quick trip to Montana to visit our friend Mike who became fed up with the city and has been living in Montana since the spring. It was really great to see him, he's really in his element up there and him and Brett were both very excited to show me what Montana's all about.

Sittin at the Top of Thompson Falls

Now, with the Fall Quarter in full swing and school keeping me happily employed, Rachel is preparing for a trip to India (the videos I posted this week are themed for her trip). The day she gets back stateside we will be meeting up in Omaha for my cousin Erica's wedding. I'll be in Omaha for a very short time, as usual, but really hope to make the most of it. I arrive on Friday the 20th and leave at 5:00 AM on Sunday, can't wait to see all you Omaha types!!!

As if that's not enough, Rachel then leaves to go to Anaheim where I will meet her for the weekend so we can do Disneyland! I'm hoping they'll have something really cool for Halloween. Then I come back to Seattle and Rach continues out to Jacksonville, WOW!! Travelin' fools I tell ya!

The downside, Rachel will not be having her annual Halloween Party that she's been putting on for longer than I've even known her. I do hope to deck out the front porch as Davy Jones' Haunted Locker for the Trick-or-Treaters if I get some time though.....

A last note, I fixed the Pirates vs. Ninjas video from a couple posts ago, what a rookie mistake to promise you guys a great video and then fail to put the internet address into the HTML. Give it a look, it's worth the eight minutes!!!


The Chinese Dr. Evil

Fall quarter has begun at South Seattle Community College and after adding two classes to my schedule and dropping one I feel as though I am finally in the right place. My schedule includes Intro to engineering graphics, Intro to CAD, Manufacturing processes and Mandarin Chinese. My engineering instructor is an excitable, demanding little vietnamese guy that can't really speak english all that well. Whenever he talks about my generation he points at me and says "You young folk," except his accent makes it sound like he's calling me a young f**k. He's VERY demanding, I watched him hound one of his advanced students, he said, "very good work but you take too long, YOU MUST WORK FASTER!! Quickly, quickly, quickly!!!" Luckily he is extremely knowledgeable of his craft and has been teaching it for a very long time so I think I will learn a lot from him. He's also a Buddhist monk and part of my grade this quarter will be on pride and honor! My Chinese teacher is very funny and very good, when he learned English he learned to overpronounce words and to use his lips a lot(Chinese sounds do not require as much movement of the lips as English sounds), so when he speaks he sounds and looks a lot like Dr. Evil, sometimes I can't hold back my laughter when he speaks.


Pirates vs. Ninjas

I wanted to post this great short movie a few days ago on Talk Like a Pirate day but blogger's image uploader is being temperamental.......

No offense to the Home Improvement Ninja.......... :)


Avast ye scurvy bilge rats....

Yar, it be talk like a pirate day and ye best be talkin' like a pirate or we will be personally keel haulin' ye and sending yer chum-sucking carcass to the deep to spend eternity in Davy Jones' locker.....

Arrrrr........bloody landlubbers....dead men tell no tales.......


Orcas Island, Hold the Orcas

I spent my Labor Day Weekend with Rach in the San Juan Islands, specifically Orcas Island. Although we didn't catch a peek of any of the Orca whales that frequent these beautiful islands we had an awesome time. Rachel's friend Nicole had her wedding at Resario Resort on the Eastern half of the island. We spent the first night in a "cottage" in Deer Harbor, in all honesty, this cottage was more a big vacation house. It had a two-person hot-tub overlooking the water and one of those cool fireplaces that turn on with the flick of a switch. The next morning at breakfast I was having trouble getting my toast out of the toaster and a big friendly trucker looking guy helped me by jabbing two metal butter knives into the thing. "Ummmm, aren't you NOT supposed to do that?" I said, "You just gotta be careful man, watch," he replied. "Okay, I'll be over here.....far away from you.........and your butter knife experiment......."

After Breakfast we headed out to the resort which is actually the site of a historic mansion built by a man named Robert Moran. I love, LOVE places like this, I eat the history up!! I told Rach I wanted to see if I could figure out how to get to the behind the scenes parts of the mansion.....little did I know.....

After the open bar meet and greet hosted by the bride and groom we headed up to the lounge in what used to be Mr. Moran's living room. Rach and I were on a mission to get onto one of the many awesome sailboats and yachts at the resort marina. We chatted up the boaters and made some pretty good friends, particularly a guy named Aaron and his girlfriend Linda who have agreed to take us sailing sometime soon and were nice enough to buy us more rounds of Petron than we probably needed. Then, just before midnight, this goofy older guy came up and offered to take us on the midnight tour of the mansion to go meet a ghost. Rach, always the thinker, declined so she could stick around and make sure Aaron and Linda didn't escape before promising to take us sailing. I immediately volunteered, knowing this was my chance to see the parts of the mansion I REALLY wanted to see.

So, this guy and I headed up a few flights of stairs and past all of the "employees only" signs until we reached a huge mahogany door at the end of a long hallway. Upon reaching the door the guy whispers, "OK, this is the attic, this is where the ghost of Mrs. Reames lives. She used to like to ride into town on her motorcycle to play cards all night long with the local fellas. She's kind of a wild spirit, hopefully she'll be OK with me bringing you up to see her." I whisper back, "Here's a light switch, can we turn on the lights?" He says "Of course not, don't you know anything about ghosts, they don't like light!" So I grabbed the back of the guy's shirt and we pulled the huge door open and headed up into the darkness.

Now, at this point I am thinking that this guy is probably a hotel employee or something and they like to play this joke on us big city Seattle types. I'm expecting at every turn to have somebody jump out and scare the living daylights out of me. We get to the top of the stairs and there are two chairs on the left. He explains to me that this is where he sits and talks to Mrs. Reames. To my right and left about a hundred feet away on each side are windows glowing with the light from the resort below, everything else is darkness. We sit in the chairs and he tells me she is here tonight and asks if I can feel her presence. I feel nothing unfortunately but he tells me she is very near me and is inspecting me. I tell him I can feel her near me even though I can't, I'm still on guard for the flashlight guy with a scary mask on...he's just excited that he has somebody along who appreciates the history of the place and is open to the idea of phantoms.

We walk down to the end of the attic to one of the windows and pop it open. We can hear people on the patio below so, like all good troublemakers we start hollering things at them... Then we leave the attic, now he wants to show me the basement, cool, I'm game. We sneak through many doors that say "keep out" and finally arrive at the basement where we can hear employess on their break. He explains that we'll have to sneak past them and time it just right so we're not caught. So he gives me a silent count of three and we walk as stealthily as two Petron-happy adventurers can to another door leading to the sub-basement. I close the door silently behind us and we head down to the old cold-rooms where Mr. Moran used to store his meat and perishables. I inspect the double doors that look like the kind you would see on an old-west bank vault and point out the date to him, the doors had been built in 1893!! We go into the coldroom and he tried to coax me ionto stealing something nice for my girlfriend, I take a small orange ticket from a roll like you might see at a county fair or something just to make the guy happy.

We close the cold room door and head back up the stairs. After gracefully sneaking past the employees again with our best "what? we belong here." walk. We head up a narrow staircase about as wide as my shoulders and emerge into a fancy hallway, He says "look where you are!" with a big smile on his face. We're back where we started in the first floor lobby of the mansion. We head back to the lounge grinning from ear to ear, pleased with our own bravery and sneakiness. Rach explains that she just overheard the front desk calling security and telling them to investigate some noises in the attic. We're safe and sound back on our barstools again though.

After saying goodnight to our new friends, Rach and I headed back to the room and got some shuteye. The rest of the weekend was fun, the wedding was lavish and gorgeous, all of the people were very friendly and we took a little sidetrip to the top of Mt. Constitution, the highest point on the island. On our last day there we saw my midnight tour-guide's wife on the boat docks and she explained that he had been kicked out of the kitchen and the wine cellar the night before and was caught trying to steal a nice bottle of wine for them. She was so funny, she said it with the tone of a woman who has been putting up with her husband's mischief for decades and has long since given up trying to change his ways. A picnic on the ferry dock and a long boatride home and our adventure to the islands was over........for now........we will be heading back up in a couple of weeks to join Rachel's parents on Orcas again. I can't wait!!


Driving Miss Peaches

Rachel's company has sponsored a series of concerts this summer called ZooTunes at the Woodland Park Zoo. Last night's performance was Etta James and Rachel was wise enough to sign us up to volunteer for the event. So we showed up and breezed by the front gate thanks to our awesomely hip Wahington Mutual volunteer t-shirts. We showed up to the volunteer tent to check in, they didn't have any "Joe" name tags, so I was christened "Mike" for the evening. We then sat down for a spell while the opening act finished and the volunteer coordinators tried to decide where to put us. Rach had volunteered a few weeks prior and ended up at the gate stamping peoples' hands for reentry where she couldn't even see the band. A woman approached us and offered the crappiest volunteer job available. She needed somebody to walk around and use a yard stick to measure the lawn chairs the spectators were sitting in. If they were above 24" we were supposed to destroy the chair and promptly escort the perp to the exit.....well, no not really, but she did want us to politely ask them to fold up the chair they hauled in from the parking lot and sit down on the grass. Rach and I bluntly explained to her that this job did not sound like fun and we were merely here in an attempt to see Etta James for free and that we had even considered changing out of our volunteer T-shirts shortly after entry to the event. She wasn't really expecting anybody to jump at the chance to harass complete strangers about the dimensions of their camping chairs anyway. It was a good thing we held out too. After all the joking with Rachel about being assigned to Etta's personal security staff and carrying her to her limo bodyguard style while kicking the menacing paparazzi and reporters square in their faces, our assignment came. Shortly before Etta took the stage, one of the volunteer coordinators approached us and told us to report to Henry at sidestage. I wasn't actually Etta's body guard, but was pretty close, they gave us a radio and put us at the side of the stage. We were to allow only Etta's family, friends and those with the "all-access" passes to come backstage. Along with that we were charged with enforcing Etta's strict no-video, autographs or photography rule. So, in short, we ended up about twenty feet away from the legendary singer and had damn near the best seats in the house. We're pretty sure that Etta was giving me the eye too, though I fell out of her favor when an onstage fan was blowing in her face and she said "Somebody turn that SHIT off," and some fat stagehand came to her rescue instead of me... Oh well, she put on a great performance and had everybody up out of their 24" high lounge chairs dancing, clapping and singing.


Get Your Kicks at Sparks '06

At any of Rachel's family gatherings the word 'sparks' finds its way into conversation frequently. "See ya at Sparks," has almost replaced goodbye as the farewell of choice. I was invited to join in this wonderful experience this year and see the legend firsthand and I must say that it surpassed my high expectations. The campsite on Sparks Lake is accessible by a twenty minute canoe ride or mile long hike only. Some campers, like Rachel's parents, arrive early to set up the small village in the woods that hosted over thirty people at one time this year. I managed to get a couple days off of work to give me a four day weekend at Sparks.

Rachel has told me a lot about this place that her family has visited annually for the past 26 years but wasn't quite able to detail the beauty of the area. It's something that has to be seen in person. Ancient lava flows and pumice make up much of the landscape, the lake is long and has many many small lagoons and channels to explore by canoe. It sits among the glacier covered peaks of the three sisters, Broken top and Mt. Bachelor.


What to do at Sparks? The camp is on one of the lagoons. Three or four rafts are constantly anchored in the middle and during the day kayaks, air mattresses and pretty much anything else that floats finds its way out to the "floatilla." People are lounging in the sun and hollering for more cocktails to be floated out by the beer barge. Dogs are swimming everywhere, particularly Samba who felt the need to "rescue" everybody who splashed in the water. People take turns jumping off a log thirty feet up in the air into the water to the cheers of everybody watching.

There's tons of hiking to be done too. The geology of volcano country allows for some pretty awesome pits, caves and boulder fields that I had a great time exploring. Armed with a rope, hiking stick, a camelbak full of ice water and flashlights, Rach and I found are way into some pretty gnarly spots.....

Playing in volcano vomit makes a person very hungry and the chefs of Sparks answer the call. Highlights and perennial favorites at Sparks are Doug's Chili Rellenos and the infamous Mclennan Prime Rib feast. Rachel's dad put half a cow on a skewer and cooked it on rotisserie over his grill for three hours(it's no small task to cook for 30+ people in the middle of the forest). The results were absolutely delicious and not a scrap of meat was left. Even the dogs got a special treat that night as Rachel's dad found his way into their little doggy hearts by handing out the leftover rib bones....

After dinner, the firewood for the night is prepared and everybody gathers around to tell funny stories. Many people have really good stories about inappropriate places they have peed, suitcases, drawers, closets, etc. Along with my duties as "Cabana boy," I also helped the fellas prepare some firewood, Rach took this great pic of Jason and I gettin' our lumberjack on....
Be sure to stop by Rachel's family blog for more great photos of Sparks '06. Thanks again to everybody for being such great camping companions and making my first trip to Sparks such a memorable event!! I had a great time and can't wait until next year!!


Kayaking for Dummies

We took a short trip up to Whidbey Island this weekend to visit our friends Fred and Laurie. Included in the trip were kayaking lessons courtesy of Fred and all the fresh goat milk we could drink courtesy of Laurie and her goats Sugar, Kimmy and Soleil. She makes a lot of stuff from the goat juice such as Feta Cheese, creamy goat cheese, yogurt and.....whey. All were pretty good, particularly the Feta. The whey left a little something to be desired......it sends chills down my spine to think of the taste. Laurie insists it is an acquired taste and Fred drinks the stuff like it is iced tea, I couldn't quite share in their enjoyment of it. It is the liquid left over after milk curdles during the cheese making process. Fred and Laurie whipped us up some pretty gourmet meals though, bbq'ed salmon and chicken, fresh eggs for breakfast....very delicious!!

It was a little chilly this weekend but that didn't stop us from going out for a paddle. It was my first time in a kayak and Fred was a very patient instructor. First lesson, getting into the kayak, I guess it never occurred to me that I would have to learn the proper way to get into the thing....Second lesson, escaping the kayak when it turns upside down. This lesson consumed the bulk of my kayaking excursion, not because I wanted to become very good at it but because the first kayak I tried seemed to prefer being bottom up. I think it's because I'm a little top heavy, I must have almost twice the weight in my upper body than the lean mean kayaking machine Fred. Either way, after perfecting the egress technique and slipping into a new boat I managed to shakily paddle all the way around Deer Lake without flipping at all. I was very happy about this and am shopping around for my own kayak now, one that is suited for the heavier paddler.....

This year I will be making my first visit to Sparks Lake. Rachel's family and friends go every year and many of them stay for over two weeks. This weekend we will be going for four days to join about thirty other sparkophiles for camping, swimming, paddling and hammocking....I can't wait!!


Operation JOE M.A.M.A. (Episode II)

In the cold drizzle of a typical winter morning in Everett, Washington one man embarked on a United States Warship with a dream, a mission and...........a doll. His codename is "Danny Boy," his mission, escort G.I. Joe on his travels around the world. This is his story........

Episode II
"Toy Meets Girl"
Joe Visits Hong Kong

One of the most fascinating things about Hong Kong to Westerners is the overwhelming presence of the Buddhist religion, a favorite past time of sailors* is visiting the Buddhist temples including the Giant Buddha on Lantau Island guarded by monks of the Po Lin Monastery:

"Wow! That's a lotta Buddha!"

A long day of walking around looking at Buddhas is bound to make anybody thirsty....Just remember to observe the rules and customs of the host nation when heading out for a good time....

"Yo.....Barkeep! Gimme a
black n' tan, and make
it a triple!"

All good port visits
include a frosty beverage...
or three.....

No Navy** port is far from an Irish Pub. While enjoying the experience of being in a foreign land it's nice to be able to find a place that brings you back to home sweet home.

"Let's roll, this place is dead anyway..."
Have you ever heard of the Sirens in the tale of Odysseus? The streets of Hong Kong are full of the modern version of these hazardous women...the Mama Sans will literally grab you as you walk by and try with all their might to pull you in to their establishment, a drunken sailor is no match for this brutality and in many cases will give in after a long struggle and go watch the naked women for a while.....Joe was not so difficult to convince.....
"Geez lady, quit yankin' my chain!"

"You ladies sure are friendly. Hey, do you validate parking?"

Ahhh, Hong Kong, what a wonderful city, all good things must come to an end though. Cinderella Liberty is well known by anybody who has been in the Navy. Like Cinderella, the sailors must return to their ship by midnight or they will turn into an orange member of the squash family. Well, not quite, but if they don't they won't be seeing land anytime soon!


*In the interest of national security and the safety of my brothers in the Navy, the timeline of this series has been falsified, the names of ports and order in which they were visited may have been changed.

**This site is in no way affiliated with the United States Navy. Opinions and technical information are generated purely by the semi-twisted mind of the author.


The Art 111 Show

I got my portfolio back from my Beginning Drawing class today and wanted to share a few of my favorite drawings from the class. If you are interested in contributing to my tuition fund, I am willing to let go of these fine pieces for a mere $1,253.87 each. ACT NOW!! These things are flying off the shelf!!! Anyways, it was a lot of fun, it always amazes me how quickly you sink into a different reality while drawing. The class was over three hours long four days a week but time speeds up when you have your favorite implement in hand and it seems like the class just flew by me! It was nice because almost every day we started and finished one complete drawing....enjoy.....

Hey Mart, "They're balloons...for a party." Remember that?

For some reason, this one was the most enjoyable to draw...

A Landscape drawn while camping at Olallie Lake...complete with skeeter guts...

Scratch that, THIS was the most enjoyable to draw!! Artists love nudity...

A still life in Charcoal...

I had to whip this one up at home, I really like it but I don't think it's finished,
I think I'll add a mermaid in the middle and go for some much more contrasting values...
Love the Anchor though.....