Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cedar Butte

Last weekend, we made another attempt at hiking to Cedar Butte. And this time, we made it!

We started out on the Iron Horse Trail and there were a lot of mountain bikers and since it was an old logging road or railroad grade, Heather didn't think it was real hiking.

The trail was a general incline up and Parker was getting a little impatient with it all. It wasn't like it was steep or anything. We stopped and ate the lunch that Chase made for us - nutella or peanut butter sandwhiches. I was lucky and got a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich. Just before we stopped for lunch, I came to the conclusion that a slight navigational error let us walk past the trail head and we needed to back track some.

Using the guidebook's descriptions as a reference and the topo map I had, I entered the coordinates of the trailhead in my GPS and we set off back down the trail. My GPS told me that we were at my waypoint about 10 feet from where the trailhead was - now why didn't I do that the first time?

Evidently, when we had passed it the first time, Heather had said, "I wonder where this goes?" But look at it, the markings are so slight... And the trail was very narrow; the brush on each side of the trail was always touching us. It looked like the trail hadn't been used in a very long time, the brush was so thick.

This trail was uphill and it was steeper than the first trail. But we put Parker in the lead and he moved at a good clip. The trail had some steps built into the steeper parts and moved us through the brush, always heading up.

At about 1300 feet, the low shrubberies thinned out, but Parker was ready to keep going. We had to stop here to put some moleskin around a hotspot developing on the back of Heather's foot, but that didn't stop us for long.

There were a final series of switchbacks to the "summit" (if you can call it that). Two surprising things occurred as we got close. First, Parker said "we must be close to the top, there are no more trees." How about that for the powers of observation of a four year old? Secondly, we heard people talking. After walking all that way, on a trail that didn't look used, there were poeople on top.

Parker lead the way up and was greeted by cheers and clapping from the people who were already there. I bet they didn't expect to see a 4 year old hike leader.

After eating some snacks and enjoying the view, we headed back down. We dallied in Boxley Creek for a while and then headed to the car, where there were cold cokes waiting for us.

It was fun to get out and go hiking - it was relaxing to get into the outdoors. It was great to actually make it this time.

My picture set on Flickr.
Somebody has put together a webpage about Hiking Cedar Butte.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dinner tonight

For all the new parents in my family, No, it is not a bowl full of infant excrement. But it does look like it.

I am making Chorizo and Shrimp Quesadillas with a Smoky Guacamole and the guacamole is more of an avocado puree, with a little sour cream and chipotle peppers (giving it the smoky taste) in it. I've made it before and the sauce was nice, but chipotle peppers come in adobo sauce, and I thought, "well, if the peppers are packed in the adobo, why don't I put a little of that in too."

Now, we all know why the recipe just calls for the peppers. It still tastes good and you could use it to gross out all the new parents you know.

Rested, finally

I've been exhausted for the last week and tired longer than that. And I know that my co-workers have been pulling long hours and have to be tired, too. This weekend is the first one in a long time where I won't need to work. I'm looking forward to it.

The trip to the Bay Area was fun, but tiring. It was a lot of work and then when I got back home, I put in a lot of hours catching and finishing up. On top of all that, all week long, I didn't sleep well. One night, I went to sleep with a headache and woke up with the same headache the next morning.

We had talked about making a summer camping trip this weekend to the Olympics, but it's just not going to happen (obviously, since this is Saturday morning that I'm writing this). We'll go hiking tomorrow, but everything is going to be mellow.

We went to the swimming pool last night and when we got back, we watched a movie. After it was done, Heather and the kids stayed up and watched TV. I went to bed. I slept until 6:45, then went back to sleep for another 30 minutes. For me, sleeping to 7:15am is pretty late (sad to say, but it is true).

But I feel rested. Finally.

Friday, August 25, 2006

This could have been us!

Amtrack train derails near Tacoma

I'm glad that no one got hurt in this accident, only 6 days after we went over the same tracks.

I bet that there are going to be delays from this one. But Amtrak won't be that concerned; they don't guarantee on time performance.

I overheard an attendant telling another passenger that "your guess is as good as mine" when asked about delays. How do you think that would go over?

Imagine, if you will, the moments immediately after the derailment.

Passenger picking themselves up off the floor, "What was that giant crash? Why is our car tilting to the side?"

"Your guess is as good as mine."

No more trains for us.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

My very earnest mother just served us nine.... - Pluto gets the boot - Aug 24, 2006

Tears in the fabric of reality. Now there are only 8 planets in the solar system?

What about the kids (and grown ups too)? How are they going to remember their names? The nemonic device no longer seems to work right. My very earnest mother just served us nine.....

Nine what? That doesn't make sense. We're going to need a new device to remember them.

What's next? Deciding violet isn't a color in the rainbow? Goodbye, Roy G. Biv!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Random thoughts and recent learnings

  1. Excel is not a very good database. It is a great spreadsheet, though.
  2. Caffeine makes the world go round.
  3. When iTunes adds Podcasts to your iPod, it plays them in the order they were downloaded. This can be problematic when you are catching up on podcasts after being gone for a week, or longer.
  4. iTunes doesn't share network connections with itself, so I had to manually download several podcasts (see above).

Oh, and evidently because I've migrated to the beta version of blogger (more integration with Google Accounts), comments can be made by beta version users, "Other" or "Anonymous." Old skool blogger accounts might have an issue with making comments. I apologize for the difficulty - so migrate to the beta!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Taking Amtrak

Last week, I had a business meeting in Oakland and we made a family vacation out of it. There are three new babies in my wife's family, so we took this opportunity to see them. To keep costs down, we took Amtrak. Boy, was that an adventure. And I think something that we won't repeat.

Going there

Our train was scheduled to leave downtown Seattle at 9:45 am Friday morning. We made it out of the house with plenty of time to make it to the station. With out incident, we found the station and, with the help of a baggage cart, got all our luggage into the station. I parked the car in a local garage and we were good.

I went back to the station and tried to get our tickets from the ticket kiosk. No such luck. I had to stand in line and get them at the counter, evidently because of a coupon code we used. Heather was in the process of checking our bags and discovered that my bag was a few (maybe 10) pounds over the 50 pound limit. I dumped a bunch of my work shirts, pants and 3 shoes (not pairs, but shoes) in a box we were bringing and got under the limit.

As we got all our bags checked, they announced that "due to a service interuption, service to Portland will be by bus." It turns out that the train never made it to Seattle. Not a good sign - I was planning on being on several conference calls after we boarded the train and working on things I had to present at the meeting (I had heard that AC power was plentiful). The bus was the bus, but I used up most of my laptop's battery and my bluetooth headset started to die.

A few hours later, we got into Portland and waited for the train there. As it got closer to the the scheduled departure, two lines formed in front of the door to the tracks. As departure time arrived, two train employees came to a desk on one side and meekly said, "Please form one line." Kind of hard to do once you've got over 100 people and luggage already in two lines. Then they assigned people to cars, by hand! Once we got to the assigned car, another attendant assigned us seats, again by hand. We were given a hand written 3x5 card showing our seat numbers. Because it was all by hand, it was a slow process.

Once we got on the train and settled in our seats, another attendant came by and re-wrote the seat card with our destination and how many seats in each row were occupied. It threw the attendant for a loop, because the seat numbers we were assigned got tucked underneath something and she had trouble grasping that there were 5 of us. Once we got that sorted out, I discovered that there was not plentiful AC power.

The kids were generally happy on the train - not the novelty of the train, but the fact that they could get up and wander around and that the seats were spacious.

My phone eventually died as did my laptop. The lady who "had" the AC outlet had recently broken her foot, so I went to the lounge car and picked up some food for her, and this formed enough of a relationship that I was able to drap my phone charger and then my laptop power supply over her chair and into our row.

As I worked off and on and into the night, I eventually fell asleep and woke up with the same freight train next to us. Eventually, I learned that we went nowhere during the night and were stuck behind a broken down freight train. After sitting there for several hours, we headed out.

We made it to Emeryville at just before 5 pm, 9 hours late. When getting our checked baggage back, the box (with the shirts and gifts for new babies) wasn't to be found. While Heather was taking care of that, I walked over to Avis and found that it closed at 1:30 pm (shorter hours on a Saturday). We were supposed to be there at 8 am, so it shouldn't have been a problem.

Amtrak called us a taxi to take us to our hotel and told us that we could work with customer service to be reimbursed for it, but that we should wait until the end of the trip, in case there were any more delays and additional costs.

The train delay also caused us to miss the scheduled family events on Saturday, which kind of sucked.

On Wednesday, I called Amtrak to see about upgrading to a sleeper car for more privacy and AC power. It would have cost an additional $700, over twice what we had already paid for our tickets. The kind lady also told me to expect up to 4 hour delays on our return trip. So, instead of an 11 pm arrival, we were looking at a 1 am arrival. I wasn't looking forward to that.

Going Home
We had to return our rental by 6 pm and our train wasn't until 10:12 pm, so we had some time to kill in Emeryville. We checked our bags, returned the car and walked over to Bay Street. There, we ate dinner and saw Monster House. The kids liked it and it was a great way to kill time. We walked back to the train station and only had about an hour to wait for the train.

The return train ride didn't seem so shocking, maybe because our expectations were already low. We did have to stop in Klamath Falls for about three hours, so we got off the train and wandered around. Klamath Falls has a nice county museum with interesting tidbits of local history. It looks like it was based upon people's collections - geology, Native American history, local politics, the Japanese internment and World War II (I didn't know that the Japanese used ballon bombs and repeatedly bombed the west coast).

It also turns out that the parts that were in the night and on the bus (for us) on the south bound trip were very pretty. It was nice to see parts of the North West and California off the interstates.

We got back to Seattle some time before 2 am (it kind of didn't matter anymore) and headed home. It was nice to finally sleep 1) flat on my back and 2) in my own bed.

Benefits of taking Amtrak
  1. Very large and spacious seats - larger than first class on an airplane
  2. Low cost - what we paid for train tickets would have only gotten two of us there on a plane
  3. You can get up and walk around - there was an observation car, a lounge car, a dining car a kid's play area...
Disadvantages of taking Amtrak
  1. Very slow - driving is faster
  2. They are always late - 4 hour delays appear to be the norm and our experience showed that up to 9 is possible.
  3. They will substitute a bus for a train - it sucked to be the guy going from Seattle to Portland and was looking forward to his first trip on the train and got the bus instead
For us, these disadvantages outweighed the benefits. I can see it being great for retired people with lots of time to travel and see the sights. We won't be doing that again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Trends I've noticed

Using Google Analytics, I've begun to see some trends in how my blog attracts readers.
  1. I have a dedicated readership (most of my readers are returning readers). Thank you!
  2. They are spread throughout the US
  3. When I post something, I get more visitors and page views
So, just to give you a teaser of what is to come, we are all travelling right now and we took the Amtrak train. And it was quite an adventure.

For me, this is a work trip, and I really haven't had much of a chance to blog. So, I hope you'll accept this and wait for the whole story.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My house is for sale

Okay, it is an alarmist title, but it brought you here. Our old house is for sale.

Redfin - Property Details for 5047 BRONCO CT

It is being sold at a loss and the photos in the listing are the photos we listed the house with. That is our patio set in the backyard pictures and it is in Washington right now. I wonder if there are any rights to the images that the our agent would hold. I wonder if the yard still looks like it does in the picture. I bet it doesn't.
Reviewing the listing, you'll note that the washer, dryer and refrigerator are all going with the seller. We left all of those in the house. Hmm. Maybe that is how she is going to make up her $20,000 loss. Nah, they were nice appliances, but not that great.

On a side note, Redfin is a very cool realtor site. It has a map interface (I think Microsoft's mapping solution) that highlights listings that meet your search criteria. That is the way I like to search now that map data is readily available on the internet. It is only limited to the Seattle area and the Bay Area, but those are the areas I'm most interested in.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Gonna party like it's your birthday.

My wife Heather's (as opposed to my other wives?) birthday was this weekend and after years upon years of her guessing what was going to happen, I was successful in keeping it a secret. Maybe it was just years and years of making her think all my plans were transparent and then flipping it.

We started out my going to the Herbfarm in Woodinville for dinner, just the two of us. Now, that is a dining experience - Garden Tour (and cute pigs) before hand, menu and wine pairing presentation by the Chef and Sommelier. They grow many of their own ingredients and everything that the purchase is all locally produced, sustainably farmed and really, really good. The theme for the night was basil and the tomato aspic and essence of corn soup were super. All told, it was a 5 hour experience. And a very nice one at that.

On the drive there, Heather kept trying to guess where we were going. Somehow, she came up with dinner at a winery (close) and a Morrissey concert (since we were kid free for the evening). Speaking of kid free, one of our friends watched the kids for us (that was a nice birthday gift in itself) as our regular babysitters were unavailable.

It was late when we got back home, so we went to bed.

The next morning, Alec and I headed out to the store and got some locally purchased berries and flowers (from the closest grocery store, a QFC) and made madelines and berries for breakfast.

We then went on a picnic lunch at Lake Sammamish State Park and went paddle boating. Okay, she did guess that one when we drove into the park (damn that sign!). Paddle boats are fun, but boy are they an inefficient boat. With five people in them, wakes from big boats and the current (and probably the wind, too), it was some work getting that boat around.

We then went to Borracchini's Bakery (read about it in Roger's blog) and had a few of Heather's friends meet us there. While this was a surprise (and telling one kid part of the events and another kid other parts, helped spread disinformation and doubt), I did have to spill the beans because there are only so many surprises I can get away with. Also the fact that both of our butts were wet from the paddle boat didn't help make us any more presentable.

That was enough surprises for the day and while I had thought about going out to dinner someplace in Seattle, since we were already there, she (and I) were ready to go home and just take it easy.

When we got home, we watched a French movie, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, which was pretty good and had the typically French (non-Hollywood) not so happy ending. There are some twists and turns (no plot spoilers) that take the viewer for a bit of a ride, but it was creepily enjoyable.

Happy Birthday Heather!!!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Talk about hot boxing!

Baking cookies in your car, can you belive that!
N.H. Woman Bakes Cookies on Dashboard
That has got to be the best smelling car after baking them.

So, that really won't work here in the NW - we've been having great weather. Now there is a reason to complain about it cooling off, no cookies in your car.

Restoring faith in mankind

Tuesday night, neither Heather nor I felt like doing anything for dinner and it kept getting later and later. At 9:10 pm, I presented Heather with some Chinese take out menus and started to place an order. The lady taking the order warned me that they closed at 9:30 and if I wanted to order, I'd have to be there to pick it up in 10 minutes.

So, while still placing the order, I slipped on my shoes and headed out the door. It wasn't a big deal; the restaurant is only 6 minutes from our house and it was one more opportunity to get out and drive my MINI.

I got there and had sometime to chat with the hostess. She said that this restaurant posts a 9:30 closing, which means (at least from their point of view) that they leave at 9:30. That's a little different from most other restaurants. She was also impressed by the fact that I really was there inside 10 minutes. She said that most people don't actually make it on time when they are closing. She said that it was nice and it started "restoring her faith in mankind."

I don't know if my punctuality has faith restorative powers, but if you are telling me dinner is ready in 10 minutes, I'll be there.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

No eels in my ice cream

Check out this article - it does require free registration with the NY Times.

Creamy, Healthier Ice Cream? What

Can you believe that? Protein cloned from the blood of an eel-like Arctic Ocean fish, the ocean pout. Not in Dreyer's Ice Cream. Not in my ice cream.

The ice cream I make at home is all natural stuff. That I buy from Safeway.

I really like Slow Churned Ice Cream. It is rich and creamy and delicious.

Does this need a fine print disclaimer?

My muse

Heather has become my food muse. She suggested making Lime and Mint sorbet, to be the foundation of a mojito sorbet.

And it is good.

The sorbet took a long time to freeze up - I think I might not have cooled the simple syrup enough - it was about 45 degrees. Evidently, that wasn't enough.

I'm just waiting for her next casual idea.