New Orleans April 2013

Michelle joined me on a work trip to New Orleans April 2-5th. It was a very, very quick trip, but we walked around as much as we could and crammed what we had time for in to the evenings. Michelle took a swamp tour one of the days I was in conference, and we managed to find some good food, music, and intrigue after the conference let out for the evening.

Camper Arrives!

We took possession of the camper on Friday. We bought it used back in October but kept it stored with the dealer over the winter. After a few trips last summer with the family, we realized how precious the time with our kids is, and the joy of endless loops around the campground on bikes can’t be beat. The awesome folks at Apache RV center gave us an entire walk-thru, showing us how to operate every feature and critical function of our 2008 Fleetwood Sun Valley. They also installed a brake controller on the Honda, which made everyone a little more comfortable about stopping the trailer. Then, we hitched up the trailer and drove home cautiously. 82nd was interesting, with many abrupt stops. Stopping was a little interesting until we got the brake controller sensitivity dialed in.

We lucked out in that there were no cars parked in front of our house when we arrived. Finding parking will be an ongoing challenge with the steady stream of New Seasons shoppers. Especially when we return, exhausted, dirty, and surly on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday we set up the camper on the street and started moving in. We’ve been staging with things like sleeping bags, silverware, cookware, towels, etc. in the girl’s room and garage. Finding a place for everything was actually quite fun. And the inside of this camper is, to be honest, huge. It was a little unnerving while parked on the street, but once we’re camping and it’s raining for the 36th hour in a row, the extra space will be what keeps us all sane.

We also sanitized the fresh water tank, checked out the plumbing, and entertained passers-by. The camper seemed to draw some really strange folks, which reminded me to lock down the propane tank, battery, and hitch. Parking on the street will be an interesting experiment. One neighbor was happy to share with us that despite the “no storing things on the street” ordinance, it hasn’t been enforced since 1988. We’ll see how long the neighbors are patient with us. Most seem to think the camper is better than the shoppers.

Now, we’re awaiting our maiden voyage trip. Something small, short, and easily recoverable from. What better time than March to try things out?

Binding breaks on first run. I struggled to get down the hill.

Hilary captured this last week while we were skiing at Mt. Hood Meadows. It was my first run on a pair of skis I picked up a swap just a few months earlier. Right binding explodes about halfway down the first run. Managed to get down without taking the other ski off, but it took a while. Luckily, I had my ’96 rossis in the car for backup.

The rest of the day was a blast. Great snow, not too many people, and great company. The rest of my gear worked great.

Kauai 2011

In November, Michelle, the girls, and Grandma Kathy and Grandpa Dave all met up in Kauai for a week in paradise. It was a lovely time despite the record rainfall. We spent some excellent time in the water (sometimes while be rained on), visited Wimea Canyon, and went back to Tunnels Beach where I proposed to Michelle 11 years ago. In case (in the likely hood that) I don’t post a full report, here are the photos:

Whidbey Island in July

The family packed up and headed north to spend the 4th of July weekend with the Dunlaps. It had taken nearly 3 months to figure out a time to meet over the summer, but we managed to pick the perfect weekend. We stayed on Whidbey Island atop a bluff looking south over Puget Sound. It was fantastic, and we had a blast doing some proper relaxing with friends. We ate well, drank well, relaxed well, and roasted marshmallows well. I hesitate to say we slept well, but I hear you can do that when you’re dead.

I think one of the highlights for me was the excellent tide-pooling we did on Sunday morning on what was looking like a cloudy and rainy day. The tide was out quite far and with Stephanie as a guide, we got to see a lot of cool stuff lurking in basins and under rocks. She showed the girls (and me) that if you poke a geoduck, it will squirt water at you. The girls loved it (as did I).

We made a trip over to Langley, which is a quaint and fancy town on the east side of the island. We picked up lunch from the grocery in town and ate it while sampling beers at Olde World Ales & Lagers, then picked up ice cream. Finally, we headed home and swam for a bit with the girls. Ella discovered the joy of goggles and spent half her time underwater. MG isn’t yet appropriately respectful of the water and did her best to thrash out of everyone’s arms.

Meals were great, and not just because the view was so stellar. The first night we had smoked bratwurst from one of Scott’s coworkers and grilled corn. The second night we had Thai beef salad. The third night we had pork loin. Desert should have been the view, but we also did s’mores, which we discovered can be altered by switching out milk chocolate for peanut butter cups. I recommend trying sometime. All of it.

Eventually, the trip ended with a ferry ride back to the mainland and an all to brief stop at Lake Rosiger to catch up with other college friends and a tired car trip back to Portland. Three cheers for summer.

Beacon Rock is a damn cool trail

Ella, Maddie and I took off after cartoons and breakfast and drove east on SR14 (Washington side of the Columbia) to Beacon Rock State Park. I’d seen some cool pictures of the trail, and frankly, they didn’t do the trail justice. We got to the trailhead a little after 9am and after adding several layers (it was cool and windy), we started upwards. Ella is rather fearless on the trail and I kept having to ask her to slow down, not because I cared, but because I could sense Michelle scowling.

The trail essentially winds up a cliff, zig-zagging up the most approachable route, and occasionally doubling back over itself on a bridge. The trail is surprisingly easy, but it’s still a pretty steep climb up. It was easy enough that most of the people we saw were not “hikers,” but they all seemed to get the same enjoyment from the excellent views of the river, east to the Bonneville Dam, and west towards Washougal and Portland.

We hit the top and had a picnic. It was only 10am, but I couldn’t argue with the girls who thought it was the perfect place for some sandwiches. It was – even for simple PB&J. We played on top for about 30 minutes before winding back down. Madeline finally insisted on walking, and made it about half-way down the mountain before I sensed Michelle’s apprehension about the exposure.

I’d recommend the hike without any hesitation. So would Ella.

Chicago surprise

Andy and Michelle at Wrigley FieldA week before my birthday, I received an e-mail from my wife at work saying “don’t plan on being at work from Sept22-24.” I snapped back “I can’t miss work during the first week of the term with all that is going on. Plus, my dad and I are going to Primus on the 22nd.” A few minutes later, an annoyed e-mail came in that said (paraphrasing): “Primus was a ruse, your boss and coworkers have known about this for months, and they just want to make sure your desk is clean before you go. The only reason I’m telling you is because a lot has changed since the plans were originally made.”

Well, the morning of my birthday, I walked the girls and dogs around the block and got back to find my mom and wife getting the car ready, and my mom started driving us in the direction of the airport. I hadn’t seen the luggage or anything, but when we pulled up to the airport, Michelle was crying and telling the girls she’d miss them and call them. Surprise number 2 – the trip would be sans children! (try not to sound too excited…) Then, as we were self-checking in for the flight, Michelle implored me to check my wallet. It seemed a little fatter, but as I opened it, right in front were 2 tickets to that night’s Cubs game vs. San Francisco… At Wrigley Field.

I’ll spare you the travel details (no kid!) but we arrived in Chicago, took the train to the hotel, got back on a train to Wrigley, and had just bought some ball park sausages when the game-related events started to wind up. My wife the birthday ninja pulled of another big surprise, and here we were just a few hours later sitting in Wrigley Field watching the Cubs. And as an added bonus – they actually won. It was surreal – genuine harvest moon rising from behind the rooftop bleachers behind right field, Buddy Guy throwing out the pitch and leading the 7th inning stretch, drinking Old Style and eating polish sausage, and watching my first Cubs game and game at Wrigley. It was awesome.

And that was only the first day. (Though we were up pretty late that night exploring, then trying to find some food.) Day 2 we took a boat tour put on by the architectural society, walked to Millenium park, hit the top of the Willis (aka Sears) tower, walked back uptown, then met Hilary (yes, my sister was there too) and Avery for dinner in Wrigleyville at a burger bar. Then, we grabbed a beer at the Map Room before heading separate ways.

The architectural boat tour was very entertaining and very satisfying. I consider myself a bit of an armchair architectural critic, and Portland largely doesn’t cut it when it comes to major architectural developments of the last century. Sure, we have some wonderful buildings, and we have what is considered to be the first (rhymes with worst) postmodern building, but so much of the Art Deco styling can only be found as facades on smaller buildings, many on the east sider of the river along Sandy. I’ve never been too keen on Modernist architecture. I get it, and seeing it done well certainly helps. In fact, it’s hard not to see the lobby of some of these massive buildings and not imagine the clothing and conversation of people walking to and from the elevator when these buildings were new. And, more recently, I’ve discovered that I like what a modernist building does to a skyline when compared to the overly busy and detailed facades of the post-modern stuff coming up now. Anyway, it was wonderful to see the birthplace of the skyscraper and see the history as it solidly sits above the river. And then to go to the top of buildings that stand nearly twice as tall as ours in Portland, a freshman of a city by comparison.

Day 3 we started the morning at Shedd Aquarium, which I must say has one of the most amazing grand hallways anywhere. The marble on the walls looks like waves and sea foam, the ornamentation around the room and on the light fixtures was all decorated to resemble or show sea life, and it certainly made waiting to buy tickets much easier. The museum’s Amazon/Freshwater displays were probably my favorite part because they were so unlike any of the aquariums I’d been to before. The pacific northwest display was a good attempt, but we’ve been spoiled by the Newport and Seattle aquariums. And the Invasive Species room was a treat for me. I only wish they could have and some lamprey’s in the tank.

After a short lunch we immersed ourselves in the Field Museum. Again, there’s a sense of paternalism that permeates this place, especially among the older exhibits that fits the era, but now seems kind of, well, bully-ish. That being said, I appreciate their work and their absconding away from around the world with fascinating (I’m sorry, they purchased their collection, right) relics, animals, and information. Some of the animal displays were similar to those in the Hastings Museum that I loved to visit with my grandparents growing up, but the scale and variety of the field museum is, frankly, overwhelming. Five hours was not enough, and after several hours, you’re kind of saturated. I’d love to come back again – if only to stand in the great hall. It’s amazing. Even without the 67 million year old broad menacing everyone.

The afternoon was sunny and surprisingly clear considering what was supposed to be a rainy day. We decided to grab drinks in the Hancock building and even got window seats on the west side. It was a great place to watch the sun set, and frankly, the drinks weren’t as expensive as I had expected. We had sushi for dinner (I know, what were we thinking?) and tried to clean our palates afterwords with some lovely Two-hearted ale.

The 4th day was our last, so we wandered by foot out to the waterfront, down to the Navy Pier, then in to town for a last stroll through. We tried to do some shopping but realized that all the stores were the same, prices were the same, and at home, we could skip sales tax. Yeah homogeneity.

I managed to squeeze a lunch trip to Big Star for our departing lunch. It was most excellent, and was a great thing to have in our bellies before the flight home. Plus, getting there was a little indirect because of a failed address lookup in Google maps, not that I’m complaining, which allowed us to walk through some more marginal and nice neighborhoods, something that was a treat for me.

I’m kind of amazed that all this actually happened, and having worked on this post over the last couple weeks, it already seems so long ago. I’m fortunate to have such a wonderful wife and friend to give me such an awesome birthday, and to arrange it so far in advance with my boss and coworkers. Thanks.

Panoramas from Chicago

My wife surprised the heck out of me on Wednesday, the 22nd (my birthday) by taking me to Chicago for a Cubs game. I’ve always wanted to both see a Cubs game, and see a game in Wrigley. It was awesome. I’ll write more on the trip later. First, I have a few panoramas that I captured. We only took the point and shoot instead of the DSLR, which I only partially regret. Anyway, here are 4 small previews of the panos I shot. The pictures link to a much larger version. Slow downloads.

Field Museum in Chicago, IL. Looking south from second floor

Field Museum in Chicago, IL. Looking south from second floor

View of the Chicago skyline from the Shedd Aquarium

View of the Chicago skyline from the Shedd Aquarium

View of Chicago skyline from architectural tour boat at mouth of Chicago River

View of Chicago skyline from architectural tour boat at mouth of Chicago River

Wrigley Field, Cubs vs. Giants. Third base line, Aisle 106. Cubs won

Wrigley Field, Cubs vs. Giants. Third base line, Aisle 106. Cubs won.

Camping at Pelton

Simtustus LakeThe Freed family tried to go camping back in May, but were stymied by cold, rainy weather. Tent camping in 40F with an infant and 3 year old are no fun, so we skipped it. But planned another trip in August to the desert where the weather would have to be good. This time we opted for Pelton Campground, which is a park run by PGE on the Simtustus lake, a reservoir on the Deschutes River. The campground is about 10 miles south of Warm Springs, and a lovely piece of eastern Oregon. The whole family was along, so we had my parents in their popup, us in our gigantent, and Hilly & Hassy in another 2 person tent. It was quite the site as well, directly above the swim area and dog swim area.

Over the course of the long weekend, we did some fishing, canoeing, mallow roasting, cooking and eating, reading, and playing on the playground. The desert did disappoint a bit – it was never more than 75F, and most of the time it was also rather breezy, so swimming was a little challenging. The girls didn’t seem to mind much though, but still preferred the playground to the swimming. Ella even tried her hand at fishing, but didn’t have much success. She didn’t mind though because Grandma taught her about licorice, the bait that serious fishermen use for themselves. She really got in to that. We did find a slightly better place to fish later, but only caught pike minnows, which there’s a bounty on.

The good news is that the girls are really digging camping. Maddie woke up multiple times during the night, screaming on a few occasions, but Ella was upset when it was time to go home, expressing interest in staying longer. Here are a few pics.