Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Camping and bottling

Don't you love how, in the my last entry, I boldly claimed that I was going to start posting on a weekly basis... and then promptly disappeared for about two weeks. My bad!

Actually, I'm blaming summer! Despite the notably lackluster weather, our summer plans have somehow run off the rails, and we've now found ourselves in a situation where we feel like we are playing perpetual catch up. Luckily, a lot of our "obligations" have been fun ones.

For starters, two weekends ago, we made our way out to Lake Kachess in the Cascades for our annual Cancerian Camping Trip with my brother, sister-in-law and about two dozen of our closest friends. Camping with that crew is generally more about grilled meat and warm cheap beer. But, Lake Kachess is still a stunning location.

Travis and our friends look out over Lake Kachees.

Big J plays the guitar... well, until the camp host came by at midnight to tell us to stop singing old Pearljam songs.

In addition to sitting around the campfire, playing cornhole and taking a short hike, we also spent a lot of time just floating on Lake Kachess in our inter tubes. Probably my favorite moment of the weekend was an extend float with Sarah, my brother and another friend where we made our way down the lake from the public park back to our campsite. Floating on a lake, drinking beers and talking to friends is definitely one of life's great pleasures.

Sadly, I didn't get an pictures of us floating on the lake, so here's me sitting in a stump throne.

In addition to it being Shahaf's Bachelor Party, this weekend was also the bottling of the 2007 Ranger Rick Red. As regular reader know, me, Sarah, my dad and several of our family friends have been making our own wine. My dad's college friend, Gary, started making wine years ago, and last year brought Sarah and I into the fold. This year was my dad's turn, and we ended up setting up a barrel in the crawlspace below my parents place.

Bottles drying and preparing to be filled.

Gary fills a bottle from a carboy. To the left of him, you can see the corker.

Since the barrel was a new one, it oaked up faster than usual, so this last weekend we got to empty barrel into bottles.

The barrel... recently emptied.

Another neat thing that happened last week was that we got a package in the mail. A week or so ago, I contacted the Washington State Archive and asked them if they had any photos of our house from "back in the day." As it turns out they did have one on file, from 1950 (the year after it was built), so for a small fee they sent me a copy of it. Here it is...

Isn't it cute! To see it today, click here.

It's interesting how buying a house has made me suddenly and massively fascinated in my neighborhood. I try to chat it up with our neighbors. And find myself reading up on Beacon Hill and Georgetown's histories. And, browsing local blogs. I've lived in a number of Seattle's neighborhoods at this point (The U District, Greenwood, Queen Anne Hill, Capital Hill and Belltown) and while there were things I liked about all of them; I haven't ever felt this compulsion to feel connected to it history.

Maybe its because we own the house. Maybe it's because our trip actual strengthened my attachment to Seattle. Maybe its because I'm getting older. Or, maybe it's because we are having our first child. Whatever the reason, I find myself really intrigued by where we live.

And I think we're framing the picture.

Oh, and speaking of having a baby. Here's Sarah!

(Since I didn't get a post in last week, you get to see a double feature!)

Sarah! Camping at 22 weeks!

Sarah! Back home at week 23! She's definitely grown since I started taking her picture at week 19th!


(Complete photos of the Lake Kachess camping trip. Complete photos of the wine bottling.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Growing season

Since we have started taking weekly pictures tracking Sarah's pregnancy, I've also decided that it would be a good time to dust off Ye Ole Strange and Benevolent, and start posting on it weekly.

I figured, if nothing else, it would provide us with a good forum to record our day to day lives as we prepare for parenthood because, y'know, no ones ever done a blog tracking a pregnancy before. Sort of like how we invented the Travel Blog.

Anyhow, last week was an especially exciting week for us, because not only did we get pictures of Sarah's belly from the outside, but we got pictures of the inside too! This was because it was the week of our first (and possibly only) true ultrasound appointment. Let's take a look at the Tummy Tot™ now!

I'm not sure why he or she looks like they are blowing bubbles. It's probably just a distortion in the picture, but it sort of entertains me.

You can also see a couple more images here. Honestly, before this, I have to admit that ultrasound pictures didn't do much for me. I had a tendancy to fall into the camp of people who either dismissed them as "not looking like anything" or "looking like an alien skull." But, having one of my own child, I can't believe that I love a pixely image as much as I do. It blows my mind.

But, having the pictures was only half the experience. Actually watching the ultrasound and seeing the baby twist and move on the computer screen was unbelievable. And, I think the only thing that kept me from getting choked up and teary eyed right that was chuckling as the technician wiggled the ultrasound wand up and down on Sarah's belly trying to get the baby to open it's fists so that she could get an image of its fingers.

And, speaking of movement, Sarah's now officially feeling the baby move. In fact, if I press my head hard enough to her belly ("hellllooooooooo!!!!!"), I can even few the occasional shift and wiggle. It'll be funny because Sarah will be in middle of telling a story, and suddenly just sort of break off in the middle of a sentence with a quixotic smile on her face. Then, after a pause, "sorry, the baby was moving." Pretty cute.

But, this week wasn't just babies for us. Trav and Meg are in town to see friends and family, and celebrate their two Birthdays. Also, while Sarah was getting a Baby Massage ("No, the baby doesn't get massaged, I'm just getting the massage."), me, Trav and a couple of friends decided to check out the Georgetown Art and Garden Walk.

While I technically live on Beacon Hill, the neighborhood of Georgetown is just a few blocks away at the base of the hill. Georgetown, which originally grew up as a neighborhood for people working at Boeing Field, is now known as a funky, punk rock enclave. One of the few neighborhoods that is still affordable and isn't in the process of being consumed full-scale by multi-use condos. And, we figured that the art walk would be a good way to really explore it.

The Georgetown "Castle." One of Seattle's most notorious haunted houses.

A makeshift alter built at the base of some massive trees in the Castle's backyard.

Probably the most surreal aspect of the walk is that all the gardens you visit are those of private home owners, so you are effectively spending your afternoon wandering through strangers yards and taking pictures. Not surprisingly, the people who had opened their homes to the neighborhood were all friendly and wonderful, and even those who weren't offically part of the walk were friendly... Such as the gentleman who invited us into his backyard to check out his chicken coop.

"Goldie" and three other chickens in their backyard coop.

Seeing the chicken coop was especially interesting because Sarah and I have talked about maybe setting up and urban chicken coop someday. I'm not sure if it is something we will be able to juggle with a baby on the way, and all the other work that needs to be done around the house, but seeing "Goldie" and her friends pecking around their coop, I still think it would be a great experience.

After wandering around a bit, working up an appetite and then filling our stomaches with burgers at Calamity Janes. We ended our walk by going over to a friend's uncle's house who lives in the neighborhood. There we enjoyed a little wine, watched his uncle's band play a little, and rode their vintage '32 Schwinn up and down the street before making our way back home hot and sweaty.

My friend's uncle's Schwinn (and not a bad photo if I do say so myself). Apparently, when they got it, it was still in the box.

Georgetown is actually know for it's bikers. But, this is probably the closest I'll get to being part of that scene.

Now, one last thing....

Sarah. Week 21. Yay!

The rest of our Art and Garden Walk photos.

Monday, July 7, 2008

"I've never been to Mt. St. Helens"

Generally, when I tell people I have never been to Mt. St. Helens, their reactions range from disbelief to pure confusion. I mean, I've lived in Washington state for the entire 32 years of my life, and its not like I'm exactly a home body. Still, while one of my earliest memories is seeing it erupting in the distance -a mushroom cloud of ash rising high above the tree line, on the distant horizon- I've never actually been to the mountain itself.

And, since Sarah's in the process of celebrating her 10th year in Washington, and has also never been, we figured this 4th of July weekend would be the perfect opportunity to finally make the trek. Historically speaking, 4th of July weekend is mine and Sarah's opportunity to head for the hills. Forsaking fireworks and the usual party crowds, our typical evening of the 4th is spent fireside, quietly enjoying the wilderness around us.

So, with the plan of camping at Mt. St. Helens quickly laid out, we hit the road. The drive south on I-5 is about two hours, at which point we stopped to spend our unborn child's college tuition on a tank of gas, and buy ice and fire wood. Unfortunately, loading the wood into the car, I managed to catch my forehead on the trunk which lead to two lessons learned in quick succession:

1) Hitting your head on the trunk hurts like a mofo. And...
2) If kicked in frustration, the side of the car is stronger than my foot.

Not a zit. The bump on my head starts to swell as we head for the Ape Caves.

With a sore forehead and a tank of gas, we drove another 30 minute or so to our first stop: The Ape Caves. After throwing a fit because I momentarily thought I'd left our camera at home, and after renting a gas powered lantern from the rangers station, we descended into the Ape Caves.

The Ape Caves are a giant lave tube just below the surface of the earth. From the entrance "skylight", the cave extends roughly a mile in each direction. Picking the slightly less intensive route, Sarah set off into the cave. Truthfully, it is amazing. Picture a nearly two story tall tunnel extending through the earth, leading gradually down, with eerily shaped walls that almost look like they'd been hollowed out by some giant worm, or maybe the Midgard Serpent. How could I have never been here before? I mean, it's called the "Ape Caves!" That's like if I found out there was a place called the Ninja Ghost Park in downtown Seattle, and had never bothered to check it out.

Obviously, it's difficult to take good photos in a cave, and even harder still to catch the size of it. But, this photos comes about as close to it as we could get.

Sarah warms her hands by the lantern. It was actually quite cold and drafty in the long tunnel.

Even with a number of other explorers passing us each way, illuminated by their own rented lanterns, it was easy to get caught up in the deep, dark, nearly silent atmosphere of the tunnel. And, slowly, as we made our way towards its end, the tunnel closed around us. At the very end, it became so narrow and low that we had to stoop to continue on. Finally, it grew so tiny that Sarah stopped, but I carried on for a short distance, crawling like an Army man on my belly across the smooth, sand covered floor (no crawling on her belly for Sarah). And, finally, it was too small to carry on, so I returned to Sarah. And, together we made our way to the surface.

Back on the road, our plan was to continue the loop around the south and east side of Mt. St. Helens; until we reached our reserved campsite on the north-eat corner of the mountain. There were only a couple of roads listed on the map, and all of them said "Closed During the Winter," ...but it was the 4th of July -the middle of summer- so they had to be open, right?


Apparently, the especially cold Winter, and almost non-existent Spring, had left the roads still covered in snow. And they were still gated closed. The main problem for us was that this left us stuck on the far side of the mountain from our campsite. And, to get to our campsite, we'd have to drive back to I-5, back north, and then out to it from there... a detour of approximately 120 miles. Whee!

Actually, this cued me up for my third opportunity to throw a tantrum and issue such bold statements as: "If we have to drive all the way back to I-5, I'm going to have an emotional breakdown." Sarah, for her part, noted that I seemed to be a better international traveller than local one, and offered to drive.

Arriving at our campsite a little over an hour and a half later, we were cheerfully, greeted by the campsite hosts, Roger and Sharon, who confirmed the situation with the roads, and also noted that the hike we'd planned to make tomorrow was similarly closed. Still, I was in a better mood by then, so I set our making a fire while Sarah whiped up some huge tacos.

Finally! We arrive at our campsite...

...and finally, we get to relax by the fire!

The rest of the evening was a leisurely affair with the two of us relaxing, reading and talking about our hopes and dreams of parenthood.

The next morning, we awoke late, ate a large breakfast and then took a short hike which looped around the campgrounds. Then, we hopped back in the car and set off looking for an adventure.

Our first stop was the Iron Creek Falls, a short distance up the road. But, while they were stunning to look at, they were literally right off the road, and didn't offer us the opportunity to flex our legs were were hoping for.

Continuing up the road, we finally came to another gate with a sign reading "Road Closed." So, with no hike readily presenting itself, we parked our car, jumped the gate and decided to turn the closed road into the hike. This would have seemed fairly rebellious if we didn't soon encounter several families with small children (and smaller dogs) who had apparently all had a similar idea.

"Road Closed"... that was basically the theme of this camping trip.

Still, if was a pleasant enough walk, winding uphill through the trees. Eventually, as we continued upward, a light misty rain began to surround us. And then, finally, we came to the reason for the "road closed" signs: Snow. Large drifts of it still spanned sections of the road. So, there we were, on July 5th, trudging across snowfields through misty forests.

July 5th! The mist settles on the forest as road becomes more and more covered in snow.

One soggy hiker.

While the atmosphere was addictive, it was also getting cold, and since we'd already hiked a little over two miles out, we decided to turn around and head back down to the car. Snacking on buffalo jerky and cherry tomatoes, and covered in beads of cold mist, Sarah and I were both in good spirits and -content- we hopped in our car and made our way back to the campsite for the night.

Back at camp though, Sarah barely had time to make dinner before the skies grew dark and started dumping rain on us. So, since we are "car camping" we decided to just hop in the car and enjoy our meal of wild rice, peas and chicken in there. Finishing our meal and reading for an hour or so, the rain finally tapered off enough to allow us a little time huddled by the fire before climbing into our cozy tent.

The next morning, we awoke with one goal: Actually see Mt. St. Helens. Up until this point, while we'd driven nearly a full circle around the mountain, we'd never actually seen it. The skies had been to cloudy, and the surrounding hills and trees had blocked any view we might have had.

So, packing up camp, it was back into the car. Another hour and half drive brought us into the "blast zone" and to the Johnston Observatory which finally gave us a clear view of... a cloud bank.

"Oh well!" Our stunning view of Mt. St. Helens.

While it was a clear and amazing view of the surrounding devastated countryside -a desolate moonscape still only covered by a light trace of scrubs, grasses and moss- the actual mountain itself was wrapped firmly in a white cloak of clouds. Sarah and I would have felt defeated if it hadn't seemed so appropriate and humorous. So, shaking our heads back and forth, we wandered through the visitor center, watched a documentary about the eruption, and strolled down a path along the ridge before turning to head back to our car.

But, just as we were about to look, we heard shouting. Racing back to the railing, we saw what people were pointing at: The clouds around the mountain seemed to be breaking up and parting. A dim shape could be seen on the right side of the cloud bank and then a tiny sliver of mountainside. And then... and then...

Nothing. The clouds wrapped back around the mountain as quickly as they had begun to part. Let it be said: Mt. St. Helens is the biggest tease ever.

So, Sarah and I got back in our car, and prepared to make the long trip home. Unfortunately, we hadn't refilled our gas tank since I bonked my head two days previous... and had driven about 350 miles since then. So, the arrow on our gas tank was hovering right above the 'E' and we had 50 miles to get back to I-5 and our nearest source of gas.

Luckily, those 50 miles were mostly downhill. So, inventing our own set of rules for driving on a near empty tank ("Coast downhill only!" "Don't hit the breaks going uphill because that's momentum and fuel lost!"); we boldly set out and joyously made it back to I-5 and a gas station.

Slightly less joyous was our trip back north on I-5 which managed to be stop and go traffic for pretty much it's entire length. This scenario only seemed more bleak as we contemplated the fact that highways and freeways across the nation were probably all in a similar situation. Still, well over two hours later, we finally made it home again.

We were tired, happy, and while we could now claim that we'd been to Mt. St. Helens; we still couldn't claim that we'd actually seen Mt. St. Helens. Oh well, maybe in another 32 years.

Oh yeah, and one last thing...

Sarah at 20 weeks!

So cute! So exciting!

(All the photos we took.)