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...