Thursday, May 30, 2013

Camping, part deux

Four days. Three nights. Two people. One tent. 


That could be a really long time.  I'm sure if you'd put my sister and I through that scenario when I was about fourteen and she was eleven one of us wouldn't have emerged from the tent.

With 25 though, it was easy.  Beer lubricated the trip and we took advantage of the woods to be grimy and not shower.  That said, I was still happy to be with him and we merrily laughed our way through the weekend.

To make the most of the Memorial Day weekend we headed to the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain range here in Washington State.  Our original destintation on Mount Rainier wasn't looking very promising as the weather reports got worse and worse as we approached Saturday. The switch in locale was a bit greater than I anticipated, granted I hadn't given it much thought other than to want a place with sun.

We ended up at Osborn Bay which is part of the Steamboat Rock campgrounds. It was a small loop of approximately fifteen campsites right on Osborn Bay lake that connects to the much larger Banks Lake. The sites were plenty big for just the two  of us but they were fairly close packed.  When we camp on the western part of Washington there are lots of trees around that give the allusion of separation and space.  Eastern washington was a desert until the Grand Coulee Dam irrigation project made farming an option there. Trees were few and far between.  The surrounding area was mostly sage brush and more than once we commented how it reminded us of the trip we took to Arizona last month.

25 and I had a one night "trial" camp trip recently and did well.  This time, we'd augmented our gear and planned for a longer stay with more meals. It all panned out. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.  We didn't get on each others nerves, even when we were both a bit anxious about finding a site on the first day.  The weather was fantastic and I've officially started my tan for the year. I got a record low six mosquito bites.  I usually get that many just walking the dog at home!

A hike up Northup Canyon gave us amazing views of the canyons and coulee that glaciers had carved out tens of thoussands of years ago.

View from the parking lot of the Visitors Center
Steamboat rock is about a three minute drive from Electric City, and only another ten or so from Grand Coulee Dam. We checked out the visitor's center, made sure to go back at night for their educational but still really fun laser show projected on the dam and even went on a tour that took us along the top and inside. Thirty-three flavors of frozen yogurt were calling that afternoon and we made a stop in Electric City for that, ice at the smallest, most jam-paced grocery-cum-variety store then bought some firewood from a vet who was, very wisely, undercutting the surrounding store by a buck.

An arial view of the Dam to give you some comparison.  It is still the fifth largest dam in the world for output and was completed in 1942.
All around a stellar weekend.  I was lucky to have Tuesday off and 25 was able to request it off so we stayed three nights and didn't have to fight quite as much traffic driving home on Tuesday afternoon. My biggest disappointment of the trip was when we stopped in Ellensburg for lunch on the way home.  We'd planned for Iron Horse Brewery and they weren't open! Boo!

I suppose, if that's all I can find to complain about, I shan't complain at all. Fingers crossed that there will be time for more camping in July.  June is pretty much going to be work, work, work. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

25 as +1

I went to a wedding over the weekend.  It was nice living (far)away for years because I got to skip weddings and baby showers and the like. Now that I'm back, I seem to be making up for lost time.  Saturday was the fourth wedding I've been to in fourteen months. These things are getting expensive!

This wedding happened to be between a couple I know from hiking.  I met them about this time last year and was invited to the wedding with a plus one.

25 was my plus one.

Another minor milestone I reckon. He knew only three or four people in the wedding.  He'd met the couple twice.  I only knew maybe a dozen.  He said he'd go if I wanted him to and I said I did. We had to make plans in March because we stayed in Freeland, on Whidbey, overnight.

The wedding this weekend was on Whidbey Island, out in Puget Sound. It's a long squiggly island.  We took the ferry across to Clinton, on the southeast end and drive maybe fifteen or twenty minutes to Langley.  We left mid morning on Saturday with a few rough "I'd like to" plans for the weekend. We managed to hit Whidbey Distillery where we talked to the distillers, checked out the still and sampled some loganberry liqueur.  It has a wonderful berry flavor without being sugary/syrupy. I also bought a bottle that the distillers signed with congratulations for the happy couple.

We also hit Spoiled Dog Winery which happened to be almost a two minute drive from Whidbey Distillery.  A six wine sampler hit the spot and included Pinot Gris, Estate Rose of Pinot Noir, Piniot Noir, Malbec, Deception Red (blend) and Pomo di Moro, a white with apple and pear. My favorites were the Pinot Gris, Rose and Noir, which of course barely overlapped with 25's favorites - the Rose, the Deception and the Moro. They also had some fantastic chocolate and a blue cheese that the maker mixes a bit of Deception red into. The dogs, after who the wine is named, were very sweet and the vintners friendly and chatty.

After that it was off to get changed for the 3pm wedding. The ceremony and reception was held at Fireseed, again about two minutes from the distillery. It was a beautiful location.  The weather held for the day.  No rain and even a little sun later on. The ceremony was about twenty minutes, touching without being long and drug out.  Cocktails and appetizers followed immediately, then we drank our way towards dinner.  It was a condensed buffet of prime rib, chicken, couscous, mixed veggies, asparagus, roasted poatatoes & beets, mixed greens salad and two kinds of bread.  All of it was very delicious. Instead of traditional cake, there was a three tiered tower of mini cupcakes, chocolate covered strawberries and fruit tarts. A make-your-own trailmix bar and giant lollipops were the take aways. A bit more drinking, dancing and talking before we headed for the motel at about 10pm.
Not the couple from Saturday.
A slow start to Sunday was followed by a stop at a farmers market that resulted in a purchase of rhubarb, bok choy, sage. We had coffee and snacks before the ferry.  After the ferry crossing we found Diamond Knot Brewery's Pizza kitchen. The pizza was interesting combo of toppings - red link sausage, chicken, blue cheese, ricotta in place of marinara, garlic and mozzarella. I tried the brown ale and Slane's Irish style red ale.  Both slightly above average but not stellar. We skipped a growler fill.
A stop at the grocery stop and then home again, home again. It was a long busy weekend and I think both 25 and I were tired by about 7pm Sunday night. Over the course of the weekend there were more than a few sentences that started "If we get married. . . " and we'd stake a claim to what kind of food we would or wouldn't want, the music we would or wouldn't play, etc. It was never awkward and true to form for us, we laughed our way through the weekend. It's amazing how far we've come when we came appreciate that we both can see and say that want the other in our life and don't get weirded out by the potential a wedding forces us to face.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Car porn

My new baby.  2013 Kia Optima EX with premium and technology packages. See the glory . . .

Bronze Metal exterior.  It really lights up in the sun.
And nice from behind
On cloudy days it can look charcol, grey or brown.
Leather interior. Tan seats, two tone dash (mine is tan and black) and black carpet on the floor.
The dash.  3 month trial of Sirius Radio, voice activation for phone sync and navigation, garage door opener built in. Did I mention back up camera?
There's eco drive, cruise control, two sunroofs.  Front seats heat AND cool, rear seats have climate control and heat in the seats. Now all it needs is a name.  Suggestions?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Baby's got a brand new . . .


I was due for a new car. A new new car.  It took lots of research, a few test drives and of course some bumps along the way.

The great thing about the 1995 Nissan Maxima I was driving is that it was paid for. In recent months it had gotten to the point that I was virtually making a payment a month in repairs.  New tires in April, a new starter in December, an oil leak issue in January. It had 150,000 miles on it.  The engine was replaced at abou 140,000 which is great, except that the rest of the parts weren't. There was a daily alternation of burning oil or burning gas smell.  The whistle of the leak in the sunroof liner was irritating. Every day I was worried that I'd end up on the side of I-5 waiting for a AAA tow truck.
My old car, except my front bumper was maroon and the rear was black.
I started my online shopping about a month ago.  Where to begin.  hmmm.  I'd had the Hyundai Sonata as a rental car in Arizona and like it a lot.  The ride was smooth.  The options plentiful (of course, coming from a car made in the 90's, every car by comparison has a million buttons and options). I knew I definitely didn't want the Ford Focus or Dodge Dart after having both of those as rentals in Spokane. The Nissan Rouge was nice but not a car I'd want to own. 

Eventually I settled on a list to test drive. Hyundai was the first stop.  The Veloster is a hot little two or three door car that is supposed to be driver focused and aimed at "car" people.  I really wanted to like it but at only 138HP @6000rpm it was fairly gutless.  I'd have had to get the turbo model and that seemed like a speeding ticket waiting to happen. It was easily the most disappointing test drive. The Elantra was a nice ride, not amazing but there were some nice options. A small mid-size/big compact that would fit my needs but not necessarily be anything special.
Hyundai Elantra
Next was Mazda.  They market themselves as a fun car.  And the Mazda3 was a fun car to drive.  Small enough to handle well but big enough to hold four comfortably.  The Mazda6 would have been even better, especially as the 2014 had just been released, but at $28,000 MSRP, it was pushing my budget. I didn't even test drive it because I knew I'd have trouble not spending the money.
Kia was next.  It wasn't on my initial list but after reading some good reviews and hearing second- and third-hand what great cars they are, I added it.  I drove the Kia Optima, a chassis twin to the Sonata which makes sense since Hyundai owns 34% of Kia and they are both produced in South Korea. at 200HP@6000rpm, it had plenty of get up and go but a price noticably less than the Sonata or Mazda6 for a comparable size (wheelbase of 110inches). It surprised both 25 and I as we hoped it would perform well but didn't expect it to.
Kia Optima
The last test drive was a Subaru Legacy. 25 has a Subaru and thought I should at least give it a go.  Next to the Veloster, it was the second most disappointing. I felt like I'd be paying for All Wheel Drive that I didn't really need. The ride was bumping and noisy.  It was a wobblier handling too.

Any bets on what I bought?

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Naive Bleeding Heart or Sucker?

Last Friday I got my first paycheck from this contract.  Because it was the first, it was a paper check, direct deposit should kick in for the next one. Between work and a beer date, I rushed to the ATM to deposit it. I pulled in to the parking lot (in my tri-colored eighteen year old car that smells like oil/gas) and an African American woman, in her forties with a sling on one arm approached the car.  She asked if she could ask me a question.  I was skeptical but said ok, but it had to be quick.  She started to roll out how she and her husband were trying to provide for their kids and she has pictures of them and yadda, yadda. I had my check and my bank card in hand to go to the ATM and said, "This all has to go to bills".  She said "thank you anyway and than you for being so kind and treating me like a human being".

I crossed the parking lot lane to the ATM.  I had to wait a couple minutes while someone finished up and then I stepped up.  As I did so, a gentleman, maybe in his late 40's-early 50's, very overweight and leaning on a cane stepped up.  He was sweating profusely and laboring under his weight and the weather.  He said he wasn't looking for a hand out.  He wanted to earn some chicken and milk for his kids because the food stamps he got weren't enough.  I was a little flustered trying to listen to him as I followed prompts from the ATM but said I was sorry I didn't have any work to be done at the house.  Again, he thanked me for my time and for being nice.

I understand the logic of their asking/begging at a cash machine because we've all used the line "I don't have any cash", which can be true.  At the ATM, it can't be.  I think the fear/risk outweighs the benefit for them though.  Many people, including myself occasionally, feel nervous with a big check/lots of cash in hand.

There are two things that really struck me about these exchanges that both happened over the matter of about ten minutes.

The first is that both of these individuals, who I don't believe heard or saw the other, thanked me for being nice, listening and treating them like human beings.  Why is that so extraordinary? I am stunned dismayed that the poor are so disregarded in our society, though I am not surprised. When 25 and I went out for New Year's Eve I talked with a homeless man as we waited in line for the show we were going to. He also commented how few people were kind and even just to chat.  I can see that people are on guard because they are expecting to be hit up for money or help.  This gentleman from NYE had a tin out but didn't ask.  He seemed happy to drum and chat away, enjoying that someone had noticed him.

I understand that politicians and society at large has seen the poor and economically disadvantaged as a throw away group.  The bit that breaks my heart is that even as individuals, in a one-on-one situation, people are so dismissive of those who are struggling, even in this time of economic downturn on a massive scale. Thousands and millions of people are hurting financially now and weren't five years ago, there are probably an equal number of folks on the edge of the bubble.  I have the security of knowing that I don't have kids, I do have family to lean on in times of need.  Not everyone is in such a position and I have empathy for those who are striving to survive a difficult time.

Second: why do/did I feel like a heel for not giving them money?  I donate both time and money to charitable groups that suppose a variety of causes, homelessness and hunger among them. I donate to food banks and reusable good to St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill. I was in a hurry and not obligated to give them money, especially being that that ATM dispenses only twenty dollar bills.  That all considered, twenty or even forty dollars would not have bankrupted me.  It was my first paycheck in about seven weeks as I just started working again. Mentally, I'd already allocated most of the money for bills and such. And yet, four days later, I am still thinking about it.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Camp Out!

For the first time in years I went camping.  As tempting as it is to count a lot of the cheap hostels as camping, though they included a mosquito net, not a tent.

It was a beautiful weekend here in the Pacific Northwest.  The kind that we don't usually get until late July. It was high seventies, low eighties (roughly 23-25 celsius). Most of the campgrounds in Western Washington don't even open until the beginning of May so this is still early season. Since we (we being 25 and I) only had the weekend, we had to find somewhere close.  I stumbled upon a book, the antiquated thing with paper pages, that outlined campground in Washington and within selected Scenic Beach State Park and campground near Silverdale on Hood Canal with views of the Olympic mountains. What a location and less than a two hour drive.
25 hadn't been camping in a year, and we'd not been camping together yet. We both, wisely it turns out, decided to view this trip as a trial.  We were close enough that if we forgot anything really important we could go pick it up but otherwise we'd make a list of things that would be good to bring out the next time.  Only about a dozen items to pick up for next time and nothing that was a showstopper. Lots of things that you have to go camping agin to remember, like a tablecloth, long matches, extra firestarters, and the like. I also was reminded of why you don't just pack flashlights and lanterns, but test them before hand but actually turning them on.  I ended up with a dead headlamp, two dead lanterns, one of which was corroded so badly it was pitched, along with a broken camp chair.  Extra batteries are also on the list.
The highlight of the trip, other than the sun, was when a sea otter ran out of his den, down a felled tree and hopped in the water. The sizeable raccon was a close second.  We also saw some starfish, a couple of cranes (one flew over my house when we arrived back) rounded out the pack. The company was stellar, never boring or frustrated, even when I won at cribbage - which never happens. We listened to the Mariners game on Sunday, we walked by the water looking for crabs and critters, enjoyed roasting marshmallows and reading by the fire until there wasn't enough light left. Aside from the lumpy night's sleep (next time the air mattress is coming along.  We are car camping after all, no need to rely only on a little roll pad), it was a fantastic weekend.

We are already planning for another weekend trip in June, a two nighter if we can manage with work and all. The hope is that the weather will be just as good, though, as Seattlites, we won't expect that and we'll go either way.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Another One

It hadn't occurred to me until I wrote yesterday's post that 25 and I had another milestone in the not very recent past. We bought furniture sort of togetherish.

He is living in a small place that is a mash up of a studio and a one bedroom apartment.  Too many walls for the former, not quite enough for the later. He's been there about six months and wanted it to feel a little homier.  Really, he wanted to be able to offer a person a place to sit that wasn't his bed or the floor. Hence the shopping.

I happen to like both design and shopping so when he asked for some suggestions/my opinion, I happily gave him both. The key is that we were looking for something small enough to fit the space but nothing that would be featured in dorm room vogue. He had a few great pieces to build on - a dark wood dresser, a soft, lovely gray rug, cool moulding/trim in the space.

I was able to convince him that a little color and a little pattern could go a long way.  He's got great taste but it's very conventional and safe, see above description of dark wood dresser and gray rug.  End ended up with a chaise that pretty much looks like this:

but in a pale green with blue and marigold accented pattern.  He decided to change lighting from a tall skinny lamp with an upward turned glass shade to this:
which sits in the corner, behind the back of the chaise and gives off a nice glow that is enough to read by. He seems very happy with the choices.  I'm happy he asked me for advice, that he's happy and that I get to sit on it when I go over.

The trip to Arizona together, now sick care, a drawer, a chaise lounge, what's next?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Drawer

He's got a drawer.
Wikipedia says: A drawer (Listeni/drɔr/) is a box-shaped container that fits into a piece of furniture in such a way that it can be drawn out horizontally to reach its contents.
I spoke of the delicate dance that dating is yesterday when I said that you can't offer too much help or care too soon.  This falls in to the same catergory. Since we haven't defined what we are doing beyond "dating and enjoying each other's company" the roll out has been slow.  Like hunting, no sudden movements, no loud noises, nothing too drastic or unexpected.

A couple months ago we both acknowledged the need for toothbrushes at each others places.  Other than that, a planned night over came with an overnight bag. Socks, underwear, etc.  The toothbrush could stay, the rest y ou packed back and forth. It was a small, subtle claim that was disposable. If the relationship ended, I would simply throw out the toothbrush. There would be no need to have an awkward meeting to exchange "stuff".

From there we added sweatpants.  We each left a pair of comfy pants at the others house because work pants are not usualy comfy and it's not fair if he gets to be in comfort and I'm in nice (though less comfortable) clothes. I also felt a little strange about being in lounge wear when he was dressed nice because it sort of meant he was a guest. I didn't think of him as a guest, I didn't expect him to act like a guest, yet it was a dividing line. So we went to Target and each bough a pair of pants to leave at the other's house. Mine are grey sweats, his are plaid pj pants.

After spending three days at my place when he was sick, we've realized that a toothbrush and sweatpants might not be enough. Sometimes we end up staying over at the other's house without planning to. To address this I've started leaving a mini-overnight bag (sock, underwear, a clean top and makeup kit) in the trunk of my car, next to my gym bag which lives there too. When 25 last stayed over, I noticed he had three pairs of shoes in his trunk. Apparently he was doing much the same as I was.

He mentioned that "it would be nice" if he could leave a few things.  Internally I thought, "well duh!" externally I said, "of course, that would be fine". And so, he has a drawer.

There hasn't been any talk of drawer reciprocation yet.  He tends to stay at mine more than the opposite, both for a few reasons: geography of work to home, space to spread out, a dog and cat who can't be left alone too long. If I do get a drawer, I wonder what I'll choose to fill it with?

Such a insignificant object for such a significant step.

Wonder which one I'll get?