Friday, April 12, 2013

The Need to Talk, Without Talking

A couple days ago, I posted a link on Facebook to this story about a teenage girl who was gang-raped by four classmates at a friend's house, then shamed and bullied by her peers after photos of the incident were shared online and went viral in her community. The girl hanged herself last week and her family took her off of life support on Sunday.

Despite the photos, an investigation found there was "insufficient evidence to lay charges."

When I shared the link, I wrote above it, "Fuck victim-blaming, slut-shaming, rape culture."  

Rape culture. Our culture in which the victims of violent assault are often treated as though what happened to them was their fault. Our culture in which our justice system too often fails these victims. 

Shortly after I posted the link, a female co-worker (who I will call "Jane") wrote me the following email:

Jane: Just spent 5 minutes in the bathroom crying over that story you posted. I wish I knew how to help, or how to even start helping, without getting cry-y and breaking down.

Jack: Damn, I'm sorry.
Yeah, I know what you mean though. Horrible feeling of helplessness.
This is why I shouldn't be allowed to internet at work. 

Two days later, a message from Jane:

Really? Really? Second story this week?
I just don't understand.

Jack: This has become an epidemic and it scares the shit out of me as a father. Bullying, cyber-bullying, victim blaming.... gay kids, girls who simply got drunk around the wrong people ..... It's so heartbreaking and so enraging that a beautiful loved one can be taken from you in this fashion.

Jane: It scares the shit out of me as a human. And it is heartbreaking, and enraging, and scary. It shouldn't happen - the rape, the glorification of it through shared images, the ridicule, the suicide. It breaks my heart. As angry as I am about it, I'm equally scared. I can't relate, but I can totally understand their feelings. I was talking with [boyfriend] last fall and started bawling (it was after an episode of SVU), I told him I don't know how people do it. I started to seriously think if I was ever raped, I don't know how I would live with myself and what happened. And would probably end my life.

I guess that was a long pointless rant. I'm just angry and scared. That's all.

Jack: Not pointless at all. I think it take a lot of strength for someone to overcome something like that happening to them in the first place. And to be so young makes it seem so much more impossible. Especially when your "world" is so small. Your high school is your world and your classmates are *everyone* and when you feel like everyone thinks you're a slut/whore/piece-of-garbage, life feels hopeless.

Scariest of all is the fact that every decision involved, by all parties involved, all the way from the initial assault, to the sharing of the photos, to the shaming, the blaming, the bullying, to the decision to take one's own life--every one of those decisions are made by young people who aren't equipped mentally, emotionally, or hormonally to make those decisions. Throw in the high school peer pressure/herd mentality and you've got a recipe for disaster.
You've got this tenuous balance of idiot sub-adults making decisions with horrific consequences.

And now we have this share-everything-online culture these kids are raised into, making the situation spiral out of control that much faster.

That's me analyzing the shit out of it. The other part of me just wants these bullies and rapists to suffer for the rest of their lives.

Jane: I want that too. I want justice. But rather than want justice after the fact, I'd rather it not happen at all. And I'm struggling, because I really don't know what to do to even begin to help stop it. I feel so helpless.

Jack: I don't know. Maybe the only thing you can do is to do your part in teaching the young people in your family right from wrong. Which is really the best thing you can possibly do.

Jane: Right. At the very least, it's something. Okay. SORRY about the sadness this morning.

Jack: No need to apologize. Real talk.

Jane and I never actually said a single word to each other during this discussion. We didn't even mention it afterward. Maybe because we were at work. Maybe because it would feel too awkward, talking about such a serious matter. Yet we both needed an outlet. We needed to talk about it. Somehow.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why You're Absolutely Wrong if You're Against Gay Marriage

There are many divisive issues in this country, but gay people getting married really ought not to be one of them. Here's why:

First, the Constitution. Duh. In fact, the First Amendment of the Constitution. That alone should kill the argument. Unfortunately, a lot of people think religion should play a role in government. But which religion? Oh, yours? How convenient for you.

Second, about that whole religion thing. Yeah, sorry to break it to you, but from the very first marriages in recorded history to the present day, religion has nothing to do with marriage. Some people (including myself) choose to include religious ceremony and values in their marriage. But the institution of marriage itself (and its legal implications) has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It never has. And even if it did, that whole First Amendment thing kind of overrides that argument. Rock beats scissors.

Third, the argument that people of the same sex getting married is "unnatural?" Two human beings born with the genetics to love and be attracted to their own sex, instead of the opposite sex--that, my friends, is the very definition of nature. Paper covers rock.

These three facts alone (and they are facts--these are not opinions) ought, logically, to kill the whole debate before it even begins. Unfortunately, we are not a logical, fact-based society. We are one of selfish politics, social anxieties, and church-influenced government. But I have faith--if you want to call it that--that leveler heads will prevail. Intelligence and logic will have their day all across this country.

Oh, there no doubt will be pockets of stubborn ignorance here and there. But we will win this. The people against us simply do not have a leg to stand on. Their politicking will only hold off absolute justice for so long.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Winter Cycling in the Pacific Northwest

In May of 2012, we bought a new house in North Edmonds, nearly twice as far north from downtown Seattle as our previous home. Not only was my commute going to get longer, it got a little more complicated as well. Where before, I was able to catch a single bus downtown, it would now take two buses to get there. Either that, or find another option... Bike!

Not all the way, mind you. That would take about three hours. Bike to the nearest Park & Ride, however, and that gets rid of the need for that first bus trip. You know what's worse than riding a bus? Riding two buses.

I'd always wished I could live close enough to work to become a bicycle commuter, but I don't make nearly enough money to afford the size of home we need while being close enough to do that. So incorporating my bike into my daily commute has been a sort of compromise to make that dream come true.

Now, when I started riding, it was late May/early June. Then I had all summer--an Indian Summer at that--to get used to the ride (the ride itself isn't real long--takes about fifteen minutes-- but it is mostly uphill in the morning), so the big question to me was, how is this going to work come winter when it's dark, cold, and raining every day? Am I going to be able to do this?

The answer is yes. There was the matter of purchasing the right clothing (believe me, you get what you pay for in this department--my Showers Pass jacket, though pricey, has been amazing) and the right bicycle gear (lots of blinking lights!), but beyond that it was a simple matter of saying, "Fuck you, rain!" and hitting the road.

There have, of course, been days when it was simply too crazy to ride: an apocalyptic downpour, icy roads, etc. And there are days here and there that I simply don't feel like riding. But it only takes a couple days of taking two buses to get to work and two to get home before I'm back on my bike. 

Now spring has arrived. The days are getting longer and we're having more nice days more often. I feel like I can see the light. Like I've made it through my first dark, cold season and I'm pedaling on through to the other side. It's been a really cool experience, actually.

Last month, Showers Pass held a poetry competition on Facebook for Valentine's Day. The winner was to receive a new jacket and pants. I decided to enter. I didn't win, but it was really fun to sit down and write something. It had been too long.

The submitted poem had to be 50 words or less. Here is the full 82-word version:

sideways looks, shaking heads,
gaping maws of disbelief.
but we smile, because we know.

we know what holds us here,
in the dark, the icy rain,
painting plumes of white breath
on black canvas.

we know what holds us here,
we, flashing red comets,
slicing ghoulish beams of light
through predawn fog.

here, our morning climb, frosted over.
fire in the legs,
ice in the lungs.
feeling of lightness at the crest,
of floating, of release.

in our descent, freedom
and knowing.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

when a song becomes more than a song

Sometimes a hole is just a hole. Until you take that first peek down the hole. Once you've done that, it's never really just a hole. Look a little further, maybe lean over a little too far, you might just fall right in. Right down the rabbit hole.

Sometimes art is just art. And sometimes art is an encapsulation--visual, audible, or both--of something very real. The art is there to say, Hey, this horrible thing happened and this is the only way I can process it.

Earlier, I wrote a little post for our family blog, in which I reference a song by The Drive-By Truckers called "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" (lyrics below). It's a gorgeous, yet sad, song that I've loved since I first heard it years ago.

The "rabbit hole" I mention is, in this case, the internet. While casually scanning the comments on the YouTube page for that song, I saw mention of this being based on a true story. Looking a little closer, leaning over a little too far, I read that it was based on the Harvey family of Richmond, Virginia.

Down the rabbit hole I tumbled.

On New Year's Day, 2006, Bryan and Kathryn Harvey and their two daughters, Stella and Ruby, "were found beaten, slashed and bound with electrical cord and tape in the basement of their burning house." Kathryn was co-owner of a popular toy shop. Both parents were beloved in their community. Their deaths were part of a senseless killing spree that occurred over seven days, claiming the lives of seven people in total.

"Is there vengeance up in heaven?" the song asks.

So the song became more than a song. It became the heart-breaking account of a loving family destroyed for no good reason.

Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife
When he reached the gates of heaven
He didn't understand
He knew that folks were coming over
Or was it all a dream?
Was it all a crazy dream?

He saw them playing there before him
What were they doing there?
It felt like home, It must be alright
Or was just a dream?
Was it just a crazy dream?

Memories replay before him
All the tiny moments of his life
Laying round in bed on a Saturday morning
Two daughters and a wife
Two daughters and a beautiful wife

Meanwhile on Earth his friends came over
Shocked and horrified
Dolls and flowers by the storefront
And everybody cried
Everybody cried and cried

Is there vengeance up in heaven?
Are those things left behind?
Maybe everyday is Saturday morning
Two daughters and a wife
Two daughters and a beautiful wife
Two daughters and a beautiful wife

Monday, November 8, 2010

same as it ever was

Life has a funny way of disorienting you. It can grab you, blindfold you, spin you round, and shove you forward in directions unknown. Then you remove the blindfold and look around wildly at your new reality and maybe there's a moment of confusion or even mild terror. But you stop. You take a deep breath. Maybe you close your eyes, count to ten. Then you look on your new surroundings with new eyes and you smile and you think, Yes. I can do this.

Realizing I am going to be a father soon has been one of these disorientating moments. Not in a panic-laden oh-my-god-what-am-I-going-to-do kind of way. Nothing so dramatic as that. Just, you know, a little dizzying.

Don't get me wrong. I'm extremely happy and excited. Whenever I look over at the ultrasound photo taped to my cubical wall--the one showing a clear profile of my baby with what looks like a subtle smile on his or her face--a warm feeling of love wells up inside my chest and into my throat.

As happy as I am, let's be honest here (nothing wrong with that, right?). It's a frightening thing, learning you're now going to be one hundred percent responsible for another human being. One who starts out so fragile and dependent on you for its very survival.

The strange thing to me is how I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the big picture. Not the birth, or the feeding, or the diapers, or the long hours and lack of sleep. I'm strangely not bothered by these things one bit. It's looking beyond all that. It's daydreaming of this new person becoming a kindergartner, a teenager, a high school student, and so on. It's the very idea that I have invited another person into my life. It's a commitment that goes beyond any relationship you'll ever have.

They are a part of you, always.

Again, I don't mean to sound apprehensive. I'm not. I just can't help but dwell on these things. My mind is a whirlygig of swishing and spinning thoughts, flying past each other and sometimes colliding in bright bursts of colorful worry.

Silly, I know. Sometimes I just have to process and work through all of my fears and self-doubts until I reach a conclusion on the other side. In this case, my answer is simply this: This new person, this baby... he or she will have a firm hold on my heart and I won't have a choice in the matter. So quit worrying and enjoy it, jackass.

I blame nature for allowing me the time to dwell. While the mother has--at least biologically--an instant bond to the child growing inside her, the father waits. He waits to finally see and feel this new person who has stubbornly remained tucked away for so many months.

For now, I have this ultrasound photo. I swear he or she is smiling.

I know I am.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stars, Ice, and Impossible Beauty: Backpacking in the North Cascades

[Photos HERE]

Lake Ann is not a big lake, but what she lacks in size she more than makes up for with her grace and charm. She's also a calming force and an escape of sorts, from the surrounding drama of our main star, Mount Shuksan. When Shuksan is not fogged in it seems to spread itself across the entire sky. When it begins to feel like too much, one can simply turn around. Ann is there.

Fairly popular among day-hikers, you'll see everyone on this trail from hardened mountain lovers to families and even white-haired grannies. That said, it's not exactly an easy hike. At 8.2 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain (both round trip), Lake Ann is a bit more of a day hike than I'm usually up for, so, to those grannies who actually get there and back in a day, much respect.

As for my friends and me, we decided to backpack in and stay two nights at the lake so we could do a day-hike to the Lower Curtis Glacier on Mount Shuksan.

We began our hike on Friday afternoon, Labor Day weekend. The sun was shining and the sky was clear. A more perfect day simply could not exist for hiking in the North Cascades, where everywhere you look there are craggy, snow-capped peaks vying for your attention. As we set off on the trail with our heavy packs, we were almost giddy with excitement. Unlike a lot of trails you'll find, this one actually drops in elevation by about 900 feet from the trail head, winding its way through lush forest and eventually landing in a gorgeous little valley where dogs and humans alike may cool off in the many creek crossings. Views of Mount Baker and the surrounding mountains kept us stopping often for photos.

Another crossing and the trail then moves back into the trees, winding its way along the toe of the Shuksan Arm before bottoming out again at a junction where one may choose to go straight for Lake Ann, or turn right for a trail down the Swift Creek Valley to Baker Lake. From this junction, the trail climbs and climbs and climbs. We navigated switchbacks, scree fields, and the seemingly never-ending 1,000-foot slog up an exposed ridge, sucking water like crazy from our CamelBaks.

As we reached the saddle and looked down at shapely Lake Ann, we felt very happy we'd soon be ditching all the weight on our backs. After descending about 100 feet to the lake, we made our camp at the south end, near the outlet of the lake. Evening was setting in and it quickly grew much cooler out. Campfires are not allowed out here, so we wanted to set up camp and get to cooking our dinner to warm up, but Mount Shuksan was not making it easy. The evening light seemed to change the mountain every few minutes. We’d stop whatever we were doing to take more photos and gaze, open-mouthed, at the alpenglow lighting up this colossus of rock and ice dominating the sky.

After dinner, we sat atop our rocky point, sipping Irish whiskey and making casual conversation. We tipped our heads back, watching the stars appear. When it had grown completely dark, we unclipped the straps of our seats and lay back against the granite. The sky now directly above us, we were like children. The Milky Way spread itself across the sky in a dense band of light. Not much was said, save for an occasional remark on the beauty of this place and exclamations over shooting stars.

Eventually, the chill got to us and we turned in. I lay in my sleeping bag, in my little tent, reading Lonesome Dove (not a smart book to bring backpacking, for its size and heft--but I couldn’t stop myself from packing it) and as I began to feel the weight of sleep coming on, I happened across these words: "Augustus lay back, his head against his saddle. It was a clear night, the stars just beginning to appear." I laughed a little at the coincidence. I switched off my headlamp, closed my eyes, and slipped away to the sound of the lake's outlet babbling at my feet while glacial waters roared down the mountain above me.

The following morning was eerie. We were completely fogged in so that you couldn't even see the other side of our little lake. As we ate our breakfast and cleared our heads with hot coffee, we could feel the sun fighting to show itself. It never completely cleared up, but that was fine. The constantly shifting dance of sun and clouds throughout the day kept things very interesting. We were just happy it was not raining.

Once we were powered up and the sun was peeking through, we decided to set off for the Lower Curtis Glacier. I stuffed my pack with just the essentials (water, snacks, first aid kit, warm hat, extra layers) and off we went.

If our map was correct, the glacier is less than a mile from Lake Ann, but it took us over two hours to get there. To be fair, part of this is due to the fact that we stopped to take pictures every ten steps, but it's also because this is no walk in the park.

After angling away from the lake, we landed in a creek basin where everything suddenly felt very prehistoric. Above, the fog moved in and out of massive rock spires, while at our feet we walked among beautiful alpine flowers, wild blueberries, and lush, bright green ferns surrounding enormous rocks. The trail then climbs numerous switchbacks toward the Fisher Chimney, a popular climbing route for those planning to summit Mount Shuksan. As we continued, the glacial water rushing down the mountain became extremely loud, while far down the valley, Baker Lake came into view. By this time, I was wearing every piece of clothing I'd packed with me. After crossing a couple of tricky and steep rock gullies, we arrived near the edge of the glacier. One more scree field and we were there.

I was on the glacier before I knew I was on the glacier. Carefully placing each step, I started to notice more and more ice between and underneath the rocks. A little further and there was no mistaking it.


Standing on top of the Lower Curtis Glacier, looking up at the craggy pinnacles surrounding the Upper Curtis, and across the snow and ice-filled cirque of Mount Shuksan was, well, very affecting.

We didn't have a lot to say.

Getting there: From Bellingham, take the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542) east about 60 miles to the trailhead (parking lot on the left, about 1.5 miles beyond the Mount Baker Ski Area). Call ahead to the Glacier Public Service Center for trail and weather information, (360)-599-2714.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Well Hello There, Summer

Summer appears to have finally arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. I say finally, as it is June 24th, but this is the way it is most every year. Summer weather really kicks in around the end of June or beginning of July. Most years, June is a time of gray skies and a restlessness that fills the air we breath.

After a long, dark, and soggy winter, we want to be outside. We ache for the sun, to feel her warmth on our bare arms. To feel her rays invigorate us in the morning and leave us drowsy and smiling at day's end.

Summer is here. So bring on the spontaneous barbecues, afternoon bike rides, long lunches away from the office, and campfires under dark starry skies, in the company of friends.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Welcoming the New Year from the Rose City

Portland, Oregon. The Rose City. Home to wonderful music, divine beer, and lots of facial hair.

In some ways Portland is a lot like Seattle. They both share a distinctive Northwest culture (perceived or real?) of bookish organic farmers sitting in a cafe, enjoying soy lattes and vegan muffins while agreeing with everything on the Huffington Post.

In other ways, however, Portland is very different from Seattle. It's smaller for one thing. It's not as geographically strange, so it's easier to get around. There are more strip clubs. It's actually soggier if you can believe that. And it's far more lumberjack-y than Seattle. Everyone there dresses like a lumberjack. And has a beard. Even the women. Kidding, mostly.

Anastasia and I love Portland. We've made five trips down there so far--a few times with friends and once we took her parents to McMenamins Edgefield Manor (Disneyland for adults). It's a great little city to get away to every now and then. And now that we're pretty familiar with the place, it's just as fun to go and explore new areas of town as it is to revisit those restaurants, bars, and shops that we've enjoyed on prior visits.

So when we were thinking of things to do for New Year's Eve this year, Portland fit the bill nicely. After working a half-day Thursday, Stasia and I bused down to King Street Station and hopped on a Portland-bound train. Note: It doesn't get much better than sitting back on a train, sipping red wine, watching the trees, water, ships, and farm houses pass by.

We didn't really have a plan for New Year's Eve. We had dinner reservations, but beyond that, we'd be celebrating the new year wherever we happened to be when the clock struck.

Walking around the east end of the Pearl District, we found a lot of bars and clubs, but many of them had people lined up at doors through which heavy bass music pounded mercilessly. We looked at each other knowingly, took a sip of our Metamucil and continued walking until we happened upon a corner bar that looked quite welcoming with its warm atmosphere and copious Christmas decorations.

Turns out, it was a gay bar. Stasia called it before I did, but by the time we'd found a booth and ordered our first drinks, it was pretty obvious. Thing is, it was far more laid back than most gay bars. Imagine if CHEERS was a gay bar. That's how this place was.

We thought we'd have one drink and then maybe see what else was down the street. Then we decided to have a second drink. By then the bartender was my best friend because his drinks were strong and not overpriced. About half an hour to midnight we relocated to a table closer to the bar and, therefore, closer to the celebration.

Another drink (or two?) and we joined the rest of the crowd with the countdown, followed by countless horns, balloon-popping, and other noise-makers. We had a blast and were quite happy with how we rang in 2010.

Here are some other things that happened:

We went to a Wisconsin-themed bar called Saraveza. Great beer selection.

Stasia had a custom cone of yarn spun together at Yarnia.

We found a place that apparently sells FRESH HAIR, which is marvelous. BECAUSE I'VE BEEN LOOKING.
A crazy magic door appeared in a cafe men's room. I DARED NOT ENTER.

A drunk woman stopped and peed in the middle of the sidewalk as we passed by.


Thanks, Rose City. See you next time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Cold Quiet of Alaska in November

Originally posted on The SunBreak.

All photos HERE.
Slideshow HERE.

November is a strange time to visit our large cousin to the north. It's cold, but there's very little snow. Every new day loses another five minutes of daylight from the previous. The whales have gone south. The bears have had their fill of salmon and are working on making their dens nice and cozy for the winter slumber. You can count the number of actual vacationers on one hand. Most of the out-of-towners appear to be there on business, as was the case with my wife. I tagged along because I can't pass up an opportunity to go to Alaska no matter what time of year it is.

We spent our first few days in downtown Anchorage without a vehicle. We stayed at a bed and breakfast called the Copper Whale at the West end and spent most of our time walking the streets, ducking into shops, boutiques, cafes, and brewpubs. There was a lot of bundling up, covering the ears, neck, and hands, only to shed it all again minutes later.

The high temperature during our stay was 35 degrees, though at times it was much colder than that. Still, I felt kind of silly, wrapped up as I was inside my snowboarding parka while hardened locals strolled by in little more than a flannel shirt. I told my wife I was glad it was so cold. "It makes the trip seem more exotic," I said. Luckily for us, the sky was clear, even sunny, so we were able to keep an eye on the surrounding mountains to be sure they were not misbehaving.

If you visit Anchorage, I recommend you not leave until you've consumed the following: the Crabby Omelet from Snow City Cafe, the Big Orso Burger from Orso, beers from Glacier Brewhouse and Snow Goose Restaurant and Brewery, and trivia night at Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse.

After a few days in Anchorage it was time to drive south to the Kenai Peninsula in a rented mid-size SUV. This is a breathtaking drive. First one must drive around the Turnagain Arm, a large inlet ringed by snow-capped peaks which seem to launch straight up from the icy water. The highway then ducks into the mountains and snakes its way through the gorgeous Chugach National Forest. The road then nuzzles the turquoise glacial waters of Kenai Lake and the Kenai River before eventually straightening out into a more even landscape dotted by marshes and small lakes.

Moose love Kenai. I don't think a day passed without seeing one of these huge, goofy-looking things in someone's lawn, on the side of the road, or, as was the case once, crossing the road right in front of me. I'm happy to report that the brakes worked wonderfully in my rented Toyota.

Located at the south end of the peninsula is the beautiful town of Homer. If you believe the bumper stickers popular in the area, Homer is "a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem." If you ever get the chance to visit the area, you must visit Homer. It is stunning. And it has a spit.

As my wife was busy working for two days, that left me with a vehicle, some magnificent country, and ample time for exploration.

I drove around the first day, somewhat aimlessly, without an agenda or a destination in mind. I took photos, watched the sun rise over the Kasilof River, visited an old Orthodox Russion Church in the town of Kenai, and then drove around some more. Feeling like I must be missing something, I decided that my second day of solo exploration needed to be a little more organized.

After having breakfast at a little diner in the town of Soldotna, where Fox News played on the television and a table of old men complained about big government, I drove to a wildlife refuge outside of town and stopped at a visitor's center to hopefully get an idea as to how to spend my last full day in Alaska. They told me about a nice scenic bypass off of the Sterling Highway out to Skilak Lake. I bought a good map, thanked them and set off on my way.

Now for a drive like this one, alone and in the woods on a winding dirt road, one must have the proper music to travel by. This meant a quick stop at the Soldotna Fred Meyer where, after a brief perusal of the CD racks, I found the perfect companion: a 2-disc collection of the best of Willie Nelson.

Willie and I hit the road and this was it. Perfection. This dirt road, taking us higher and deeper into the trees. It rose and fell and wound its way around many of the smaller lakes and beaver ponds surrounding Skilak Lake. The air was crisp and bit at my nose whenever I got out to look around and take pictures. It was quiet.

Very quiet. Not a soul to be seen, or heard, but for the geese flapping their wings on the other side of the lake. It was peaceful, and yet I couldn't help but feel like I wasn't supposed to be there.

I didn't feel threatened. Just small and alone. Some people never truly know solitude. It was thrilling.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Compass and Rose Tattoo

When it comes to tattoos, there are generally three kinds of people: those who have tattoos (and will probably get more), those who would never get a tattoo, and those folks in the middle who like tattoos, but may never commit to getting one themselves.

I got my first tattoo ten years ago, not long after moving to the Seattle area. It's located on my left shoulder blade area and depicts a young man sitting on the ground, hunched over, head in hands. Above him, flying out of his head are three faces. The first one is a hooded fellow who looks something like Death himself, the second is a rather angry-looking skull, and the third--the largest and most defined--is a fierce, resolute, and powerful character. You might say he represents an alter ego of the young man sitting on the ground--someone he wishes he could be.

Needless to say, I was going through some things when I got that tattoo. Even with plenty of friends around, it was a dark time for me. Depression is a bitch. I've grown up a lot since then, a lot of great things have happened to me, and though I may strike a mood every now and then, I'm generally a pretty happy person.

Because of its location on my body, I often forget I even have that tattoo, but it's always there. It doesn't represent who I am today, but that doesn't bother me. It's a mark in time. A reminder of things past.

For the past few years I've been wanting to get a new tattoo, but like many people I had a difficult time deciding what to get. I wanted it to mean something to me and if that thing was important enough, I wanted to be able to see it.

So here's the story behind this tattoo. I have an old compass that belonged to my grandfather Jack. We were pretty close when I was a kid. He was always chasing me around the house, threatening to tickle me; I always had a blast at his house.

When I was about 11 or 12 years old he took his own life. The older I get, the more the memories fade, but the event itself--the finality of it--that has always stayed with me.

The crack pattern in the glass on the tattoo matches the real crack pattern on my grandfather's compass.

The rose? Well, compass and rose imagery have gone hand in hand for ages. Also, I've always loved classic rose tattoo design so it seemed like a great fit. I guess you could say the petals falling are significant.

Lastly, the compass needle points northwest because the Pacific Northwest has been my home for the past ten years and is where so many great things have fallen into place for me. This is my home.

Four Months Later

GOOD DAY TO YOU, my hundreds--nay, thousands--of blog readers. So many of you I cannot possibly remember all of your names. There's Eliza over there, in her bicycle shorts, smiling and upbeat as usual. And oh, here's Tiffany over here, taking a break from tossing the tennis ball for her funny dog so she can read the latest updates online. And then there are the rest of you--whether you exist here, with your feet held firmly to this giant rock, or you reside IN THE SQUISHY QUARTERS OF MY MIND, here you are.

I am sure you, army of readers, have spent the past four months sucking your thumb in the fetal position and wondering, "When... when will he post again? Will he never?" Have a little faith dear reader, not to mention some self respect. Go on. Get off the floor. Dust yourself off. ENOUGH OF YOUR BLUBBERING.

So where have I been? Here and there. Working, playing, traveling. And Facebook. Like many others I've been sucked into the black hole of Facebook and neglecting this blog. But I'm going to try to post here more often.

Facebook certainly has its place in the vast intertubes, but it's not exactly an orderly place. There are people poking each other left and right. Mafia wars stumbling onto people's farmvilles. A friend of mine had a baby recently (IN REAL LIFE), causing him thereafter to neglect his virtual cafe. Before long, the scones had grown moldy, the milk had soured, and the smell had drawn flies and caused patrons to pass out in the booths (why they stayed so long to begin with is beyond me, though, perhaps this is good news--evidence that the machines have a ways to go before they completely take over the world).

So, since Facebook is not an ideal location for recording one's journey through this mess, I plan to update this blog more regularly and will start by bringing it up to speed on recent happenings such as our second trip to Alaska, our kitchen remodel project, and photos from Christmas.

Stand by.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Busy Summer!

It's been a busy Summer for Anastasia and I. In addition to our big kitchen remodel, we went on a great hike to Wallace Falls on July 4th with friends Ryan & Tiffany.

The hike wasn't too difficult. About 5.5 miles round trip with 1,200 feet elevation gain. It was pretty hot, however, so we were definitely sweating by the time we stopped for lunch after reaching the upper falls. And of course we brought our dogs along; they had a great time playing in the river on our way back to the trail head.
(Photos here).

The following weekend, Anastasia, Annabelle (the Annabeauties) and I camped out at Rasar State Park along the Skagit River. Here's us trying out our new sun shelter:

We'd never been to Rasar before, so we didn't really know what to expect. It turned out to be a really nice, well maintained park, perfect for families and large gatherings. The campgrounds were the type you'd expect to find at a state park, but the campsites were spaced well enough that you have a little bit of privacy.

A short walk from the campgrounds takes you to a really nice day-use area perfect for picnics, parties, and playtime. A trail from here takes you down hill to a big field begging for some frisbee time. Keep going and you'll find a couple of trails that take you to the shore of the beautiful Skagit River. I tried fishing, but the only thing biting were the mosquitoes.
(Photos here).

During the last week of July (and first week of August for Anastasia--she stayed a week longer than I), we spent a wonderful, relaxing vacation in Northern Michigan at Stasia's parents' cottage on Lake Huron.

We kayaked down the Sturgeon River and biked to Rogers City for burgers. We read books in the sun, the shade, and inside the enclosed balcony, under blankets and safe from bugs. We paddled around in Grand Lake and Lake Huron. And we celebrated Stasia's mom's 60th birthday with family and lots of pie!
(Photos here).

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Big Kitchen Remodel Project - Part II

Two days later, I'm still tired and very very sore, but it's the good kind of sore--a sensation of accomplishment. And pain. And also pain.

Saturday, along with a fair amount of yard work and house cleaning, we got the kitchen walls primed. No more green/blue/white/brown walls. Sunday morning, my buddy Jason came over to help me install the new bamboo hardwood floor in the kitchen/dining room.

We've got a lot more photos and I'll get those up in a gallery soon, but for now, a quick update!

Our kitchen Saturday morning.

Our kitchen Sunday night. Behold! The transformation!

Jason was a huge help when it came to installing the new floor. Thanks Jason. You're a king among men!

Celebration time!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Big Kitchen Remodel Project - Part I

Exactly one month ago today, Anastasia's parents, Paul and Kris, flew out here from Michigan to help us get started on our great beastly kitchen remodel--which includes the dining area and the laundry room. By the time they flew home a week later, we had completed demolition, new drywall, electrical, new lighting, and about half of the new plywood floor.

We actually didn't mind our kitchen for the most part. It wasn't great, but we could live with it. Thing is, we absolutely hated the floors. We figured if we were going to rip the floors up, well we might as well hit this thing all at once.

We have a lot more photos than this, and I'll share them soon, but I thought I'd start off with a summary view of where we are today.

Here's a photo of our kitchen mid-demo. The dining floor had been removed along with some of the kitchen tiles and some of the cabinetry.

Total destruction. Here we see Paul pulling out old nails and Anastasia hammering away at the tile in the laundry room. Watch out!

Paul installing our new can lights. The fixture in the middle is new too. No more track lighting in the kitchen. Also Paul is not supposed to be sitting on that part of the ladder. He found that out later.

One of many glorious layers of flooring we uncovered in the kitchen and laundry room. Why anyone would ever cover this up, I don't know!

This is where we do dishes now. In a plastic tub on top of the washing machine. On the upside, I accidentally found a cool trick: put the dishes in here while the washer is on spin cycle and the water in the tub agitates like crazy, making the dishes easier to clean a few minutes later!

And here is where we are today. Drywall work is pretty much done. Plywood floors are down. An ironing board serves as a temporary counter.

Tonight and this weekend we're making another big push. We'll be priming the walls and installing our new bamboo hardwood floors. By Sunday evening the place might look halfway done!

More pictures to come. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Best Lunch Break Ever

Full post and photos HERE.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Snowboarding at Mount Baker

I was standing out on our back deck a little bit ago, watching the dog as she sniffed around the yard, when suddenly in the corner of my eye I saw a large, dark shape fly out of view. I whipped my head around in time to see an adult bald eagle flying just above the neighbor's trees.

This happens from time to time--a reminder of how beautiful this region is. Sometimes it's a little thing. Sometimes it's huge.

Yesterday, some friends and I went snowboarding at Mount Baker Ski Area in the North Cascades. I'd never been there before, but had heard nothing but great things about the place. Someone asks, "What are you doing this weekend?" I answer, "Going to Mount Baker," and they smile and their eyes drift off to the ceiling, before eventually they say, "You're going to love it."

Yeah, I love it.

The drive itself is a wonderful trip through farmland, tulip country, and lush forests. The road winds through small, picturesque communities before snaking its way through the mountains and ending in the parking lot of the ski area.

Upon stepping out of the vehicle, my mouth dropped open as I looked around. Towering snowy peaks in all directions, the most overwhelming of which is Mount Shuksan, a massive glaciated peak that would remain in our sight for most of the day. The ski area itself is located on the Shuksan Arm, which connects the 10,778-foot Mount Baker with the 9,127-foot Mount Shuksan.

With such amazing surroundings, sunny blue skies, and Baker's incredibly diverse terrain, this was easily my best day of boarding this year, both in terms of sheer fun and my own performance. A perfect end to the season. Now, bring on the camping and hiking!

Photo Set HERE. Slideshow HERE.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

From Sunny Florida to the Snowy Cascades

Well, we had a great time in sunny Florida. Anytime I can wear shorts and flip flops in the Winter, I'm happy. Photos here.

Went snowboarding at Crystal Mt. last weekend. The weather was great. Hardly needed a jacket at all! Sky was clear and sunny and from the top of Rainier Express (or "Rex" as we call it) we could see clearly in all directions, from Mt. Adams to the south to Mt. Baker to the north. It's pretty amazing being able to see from one end of the state to the other from one spot. And of course Mt. Rainier, just across the valley, was enormous and beautiful.

It was a perfect day for pictures, but because it was warm out, I'd decided to travel light leave my camera in the car. Fortunately, at the top of Rex there was a photographer taking pictures which you then have the option to purchase down at the lodge after reviewing the photos. Unfortunately, however, the photos ended up being $25, so we decided to skip it and buy beer instead. Too bad though, it was a really great photo. Oh well. We're hopeful that we'll get another chance this weekend. A group of us are heading back up to Crystal Mt. on Saturday and if it's clear out, You can bet I'll have my camera with me this time. The forecast, by the way, is looking amazing. It's been snowing there all week and this Saturday is looking like it might be sunny again. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it!

If everything works out weather-wise and we get some good photos I'll be sure to post them here. In the meantime, here are a couple of photos from last weekend when we walked Annabelle around Greenlake:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Off to the Beach We Go

Tomorrow morning we're heading to Florida for a few days to see my mom, aunts, and grandma.

Looking forward to seeing them and to spending some time being lazy on the beach! We'll be in Pensacola part of the time and spending the weekend at a hotel right on the beach in Panama City Beach. So far it's looking like it will be around 70 degrees and sunny.

Viva Florida!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise Song for the Day

A transcript of the inaugural poem recited by Elizabeth Alexander:

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I've created a "Favorites" set on my Flickr photostream. As the name suggests, it's a collection of my personal favorites of the photos I've posted thus far on Flickr.

Set is here. Slideshow is here.

Naturally, this is one of my most favorite...