Archive for the ‘Vacation 2008’ Category

I was going to post a lot more of my drivel but it came down to it being a lot of really personal stuff – the Reader’s Digest version is that we had a family reunion with my dad, my family, my siblings and their spawn, and some of their spawn’s spawn.  There was just a ginormous screaming banshee (ban-sidhe, if you want to get technicallish) horde of kids running around.

We roasted a pig, or rather many parts of several pigs, in a pit overnight and ate ourselves silly. After eating, I went up to the house, put on my slacks, shirt, tie, cool shades, and one dress shoe and one sneaker, and led a memorial and prayer for my mom.  It was hard, highly surreal, and didn’t hardly seem adequate.  I’m very good at compartmentalizing so I’ve thus far avoided meltdown – perhaps I can suppress it forever, who knows?  I read her last letter to me later in private, and that was tough, real tough.

Why the sneaker?  Everyone asked that… “Why the sneaker?

My answer was simple:  “Because it would have driven my mother absolutely bugshit nuts.”   She was a very proper person – some would say “perfectionist” (erm-ahem) – but things had to be just so, or they would get under her skin.  It was my last chance to try to get under her skin.    I’m not sure many people understood my thinking, but I know she would have. I used to call her Felix and she’d call me Oscar.

We stayed for a few more days.  One day we took off in the morning and went and put mom’s ashes where she wanted to be buried, with other family members.  I told my dad that when I go, I want to be cremated and flushed down the toilet, because I’d make it to the ocean eventually.  We’re a gallows-humor kind of family.

That night Cruel Wife and I got away to Eugene and had dinner at an italian restaurant I’ve loved since I was a kid.  Unfortunately it has gone downhill since the last time I remembered it, but we did see something really bizarre next door:

Bare Bones – Self Serve Dog Wash

Only in Eugene…  Lord, grant me the strength…

It brings up an interesting thing we noted while in my hometown.  My hometown has grown but as they say, “the more things change the more things remain the same.”  It has become yuppieville with a twist. All about town we found people sitting on street corners looking for handouts of one variety or another. One sign said:

Will wrestle your mother-in-law for donations.

I would almost pay good money to see that.  I suspect there’s a street-fighter under that demure exterior.

Another said simply:

Will accept verbal abuse for donations.

At least they are creative. It is a sign of the times. Jobs aren’t as scarce as in Michigan, but they are hard to come by. In a town where a huge number of people were employed as millworkers, loggers, truckers, and related jobs, the downturn in the lumber industry has had a profound effect. It is still a town with character though, and probably always will be.  Still, I wonder at the amount of (or lack thereof) self respect one has to have to set up a folding chair and a shingle to advertise that one is available for handouts or, best case, work.  I don’t know about you but of the two people, one who sits on a corner waiting for an offer or the one that comes to my door actively seeking work… I’m going to hire the one who gets off his butt and is looking.

By Friday we were ready to go home.  Before we could leave, though, I had some people I wanted to see.

We visited an old boss of mine who we will refer to as “Squatting Bear”, which is appropriate since he gave me the mock-indian name “Spitting Beaver” while I was a firefighter.  I was given that name because I was a voracious consumer of sunflower seeds, so you can get your brains out of the gutters now, please.

He’s a cranky old Forest Officer, but the best damn boss you could ever hope for. Under the dictionary entry for “redneck” there is a picture of this guy, but he’d give you the shirt off his back, back you up in a fight no questions asked, listen to your stories, make you suffer when hung over (which he did one day, making me scrape paint in hot direct sunlight for hours), and tell the worst jokes in the world. He presented me with some patches to mark my time while in his employ.  My proudest, since it came from him:

As Cruel Wife and I drove up to his house I said “Ten dollars says he brings up the ‘Spitting Beaver River Excavation Project’.”   I was not disappointed.

The story goes like this, and it varies depending on who, exactly, is telling it –

It was a wet day.  In fact, the summer had suffered from an excess of rain, which is saying a lot for the Willamette Valley.  The State Color is “Rust” if that helps your imagination any.  The fire danger was somewhere around minus 73 on the 0-4 scale.

In the between-fire down-times, one can only sharpen just so many pulaskis, shovel blades, chainsaw blades, or listen to the scanner while drinking coffee for just so long.  Actual patrolling was possible but not even the animals were up to lighting fires, it was so wet, and we had already needed pulling out of a mudhole once.

So, we decided to loan some pent-up energy to a late afternoon project, one in which we would widen a creek-bed running down through a residential area (the boss’ back yard).  We were excited to actually have something to do… a GOAL.

I was busy trenching a rocky and root-bound area, wielding my pulaski to pry loose and drag out rocks with wild abandon, and around 8″ deep, I ran into a really tough tree root.

NOTE:  The pulaski referred to in this story is the very same one that would hit me in the head sixteen years later…

Usually putting the flat (mattock) end under a root and prying will cause the root to pop and then a hack with the blade will free the area of the root.  This root would not pop.  So, I opted to hack at it with the blade – ONE and TWO, only to find another one immediately below the first and hacked at that with even more force.

SPLAAAASHHHH-HISSSSSSSS!!! Water geysered into the air at least forty feet until the water pressure dropped off to nothing.

In my first two hacks I severed the electrical lines to his well pump.  In the next hack I severed his main water line to his home and luckily did not electrocute myself while standing like an idiot in water up to the ankles of my boots and getting sprayed from head to toe.

My father, being an electrician by profession, was willing to make a call even at 5 o’clock.  After listening to the whining, griping, drama-queen antics of my boss, dad and I decided to present ol’ Squatting Bear with a bill that was made to order. (click on the bill below for the large version)

We visited with more longtime family friends and then went back to my dad’s house, spent time with my sister and her kids, and then took off for Portland.   I took a shot leaving dad’s house, which I always do when I leave the piece of land where I grew up.  That there is a picture looking from up by the house down to the county road.

On the way to Portland, we saw some nice scenes.  See how purty and green it looks?

Once in Portland, we got a motel room, returned the vehicle (good riddance), put the kids to bed, and got rested up for an uneventful plane ride home.

Only gripe was that the pilot of the plane, Kaptain Kangaroo, bounced us down the tarmac and all the way to the terminal, but I’ve had worse.

If anyone knows of a useful solution to jetlag going east, please let me know.  Three hours isn’t a lot, but it is enough.

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The river Styx was blocked off due to a chemical spill, so I came back. Just as well, as all I had to pay Charon was a token from Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Fever broke last night and now it’s just weak-kitten shakes and aches. Lesson for you, kids – Never, and I mean NEVER get sick while on vacation. The plane ride back will kick your ass.


(Large portions of this were written en-route and are just now being posted, since my father is on dial-up)

We left Ellensburg, WA at 4pm, which was both later than we wanted and earlier than we wanted.

The original thought was that a later departure time meant the kids would actually sleep on the way. We thought wrong.

The plan was actually a good plan, as plans go. But, as they say, most battles are decided before you even join with the enemy, as the winning battle is found weeks or even months prior, in planning and logistics.

What went wrong…? Well, for starters, my driver’s license expires before the end of the rental car contract. This means that I cannot drive the rental car I’m paying $700 for and only Cruel Wife can. Picture it: I have a bad neck and am a control freak. Chronic pain is not improved by extreme tenseness for hours on end. I’m hoping CW is a good driver when I’m not around, but I’m nervous in the passenger seat. So, 7-1/2 hours in the passenger seat, is not good. It’s pretty, though.

Leaving sooner would have put us in Portland smack dab in the middle of the dreaded Rush Hour. Ya. Hoo. Leaving later as we did meant that the kids would be tired and – yes, WE would be tired.

(Later. MUCH later.)

As I am writing this, traveling down I-5 near Junction City, my neck is screaming like a 7 year old girl with a spider down the back of her blouse.  OK, let’s be clear here.  I’m discovering that Cruel Wife drives a lot using the damn cruise control.  So when she needs to slow down because she was zoning out (because of the cruise control) she not only hits the brake hard but hits it really hard.  This does my neck no good at all.

The flexeril is helping some but the last two days have been somewhere between the Third and Fourth levels of Hell to begin with. (Damn you, Dante!) Notice I said Hell, and not Purgatory. Purgatory is Boardman, Oregon or Weed, CA.

I-5 Southbound, near Aurora, OR, I think.

We have already passed through S. Washington and the Gorge, scurried through Hwy 205 in Portland and are crawling down the I-5 Corridor.

We drove through the Indian Reservation and down 97 to Biggs Jct., Oregon. Along the way, we saw some very nice areas that if I ever win the Powerball, I will relocate to this area where there are no neighbors besides undomesticated equines, rattlesnakes, and coyotes. Nice river running through that area, too. Made me think of the valley they settled in near the end of the movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales”.

Biggs Jct. is a real hole in the wall but they have the bestest cheap corndogs in the world. They aren’t the best, and they aren’t the cheapest, but they are the best cheap corndogs in the world, for the price of $1.19 each. Cheaper than food, by far, so I had two. We took off from there and I took lots of pictures, and am only posting a few of the best here.

As I said, pretty trip. The skid marks in the photo below aren’t pretty, however, because this is a much steeper grade than it looks. That there is the bridge to Biggs, from the Washington side. with the Columbia River threading through it.

Problem with taking pictures in a dirty car, into the sun, while driving down the road, while NOT rolling down the window (because it is 154F in the shade) is that quite a few pictures turn out to be trash. Reasons vary, but mainly because you catch a lot of photos of bug guts or you find that both you and the camera have sensor burns from staring into the sun. Other photos get trashed because of the latency between snapping the photo and when the camera actually decides to take the bloody picture – usually about 3 seconds later, when you catch a lovely picture of a nondescript bush.

The Gorge was beautiful. Really really beautiful. If only The Dalles had a large science industry. But, The Dalles is on the map for windsurfing, not technology. Tech is booming in Bend, Oregon, last I heard but I haven’t a clue what they specialize in.

Looking upriver on the Columbia, West of Biggs

Heading west towards The Dalles

Taken through a windshield with Oregon Dead Bugs™, Mt Hood I had no right to expect this to turn out

Outside of The Dalles

A stitched panorama I did, halfway between The Dalles and Hood River (Warning! That is a 2MB file if you click on it for the larger version…)

Columbia River, Near Rooster Rock

Down through Hood River, Troutdale, Portland/Oregon City, Wilsonville, Aurora, McDonald’s (run the kids silly and feed our faces), Albany, Brownsville, Coburg, and… Eugene! Wahoo! I forgot the map, sorry. Here you go:

The blur is the easiest way to show the probability function of our being at any one location for the remainder of the trip.

Interesting note: Outside of Albany there was a sign “Last Burgerville 24,291 miles”. Ok, write that down… good to know… Note to self: Pick up two burgers when traversing the globe via the south pole.

Eugene, home of the Fighting Ducks, Delta House, the Butte to Butte Race, and lots and lots of slackster-in-a-haze, flannel-wearing, duck-squeezing, tree-hugging, coffee-house misanthropes nonpareil. Truly world-class hippie-dippy loser boneheads who will never achieve much more than being a blight to anyone who tries to pursue the American Dream and be successful at it. Success is bad. Actually success is good if you don’t turn a profit and use whatever money you make to pay taxes so the government can bail out people who can’t manage to succeed themselves. God knows we have to keep people from learning from their mistakes through hardship. That wouldn’t give us a warm fuzzy and allow us to sleep at night if we don’t give successful people’s money away.

Yeah, I’m a little disgusted at Eugene, an otherwise fantastic town, since it feels the need to embrace socialism and to embrace the idea that the enviro-elite shall pass down to the masses the approved Gaea-centric environmental conscience.

We just passed the turnoff to Hwy 58, which if followed, would take you to Oakridge, the Willamette Pass, La Pine, and eventually end up in Oregon’s equivalent of Michigan’s Flint (a real dive of a town), Klamath Falls. Ok place to go to school but it’s otherwise a place where they drink the beer and eat the glass.

Here we are, at my dad’s place. It’s 11:30pm, and I’m bushed.

(Now next day…)

Not a lot of time to write but here was a fun pic of me and my son at Dad’s. He loves the swing and has no fear of heights – he got the idea that hanging on was important when I threatened to not push him if he loosened his grip for even one second.

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Prosser, WA, and by extension Richland/Tri-Cities prove the rule that the more things change the more things stay the same.  Oddly enough this boom-and-bust desert town is growing but also dying off in the labs (Battelle PNNL).  Richland/Hanford is a so-called Superfund site.  The insidious part of the Manhattan Project which birthed from its loins the Hanford site and shaped the Tri-Cities as they are today (Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco) is that while it helped resolve the war decisively (thus saving MILLIONS of lives) it also guaranteed that the bill would come due at a later date, in the form of a radiological/toxic legacy.   The urgent part of the extraction and experimentation for the first bombs left Hanford and Savannah River in less-than-enviable condition, with some of the wastes not even being fully known, much less fully understood.  In the sense of “angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin” the debate could rage about this topic, but leave it at this:  There are many waste tanks out there that have cocktails of things that aren’t well documented, and some them are leaky.  And some of them are radioactive enough to kill a person in the vicinity in short order and like to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.  [ponder that – just ponder]

My picture didn’t turn out as nice as this one, but here is a picture of the Yakima River alongside which grows the famous Russian Olive Tree (Pieceofcrapius Assholicus Bushicus) which is a silver-leafed shrub/tree straight from the lower bowels (colon) of Hell itself.  They are silvery, leafy, bushy, and have placed at very strategic locations these giant-sized thorns capable of skewering your hand right through a glove.  They are also famous for purposely selecting to pierce the webbing between your fingers.  These demon-spawn trees are rampant in this area.

How do I know these things?  Because I lived here for five years at my first job (laser spectroscopy lab) and met/married Cruel Wife here 13 years ago to this very day.

Next is the ubiquitous Tackweed.  See those spikes?  There’s this real funny story about how Lemur King (yours very truly), upon just moving to this area, took his mountain bike out for a ride.  After about a mile it began to get very hard to pedal.  It seemed that it must be sand bogging down the works, but upon investigation it was found that the tires were both flat.  The tires were only flat on the bottoms but flat enough to spoil the party.  No less than 15 spikes in each of the tires.  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.   Funny, wasn’t it?  Even funnier, these little gems can puncture feet with a vengeance as they separate bones in your feet.  The wicked chuckle can be heard quietly in the background… ha…  ha…  ha…This is another example of how the desert seems to like “sticking it to you“.  Rattlesnakes abound as well. Rather than link a pic of a snattlerake, let me link you to a great story.  Fun for the whole family if you like giving them the heebiedejeebies.  The only story I can add is that the damn things would kill power to the area several times a summer by slithering into a transformer to get out of the hot sun.

Three or so days in Prosser, the high point for Lemur King meeting up with his best friend (and wedding day best man) for the afternoon to go see Batman the Dark Knight (kickass, the Joker was incredible and max creepy, too) then it was on to Ellensberg to visit fambly.

Portland – Prosser – Ellensberg

Ellensberg, WA – Coming Down from the Pass

We’re here until Thursday, then on to the Eugene, Oregon locale.  Willamette Valley and all it’s perks – mountains, pollen, and thistles (willamette is apparently native-indian-speak for “valley full of goddamned thistles”)

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Hi All.  First Installment, Vacation 2008.

We started out last Thursday night. The idea was that we would do things in a logical order…

  1. “Pink Juice” the cat
  2. Pack up stuff into the car
  3. Drive to the hotel next to the airport, stay overnight, dump off vehicle
  4. Get up early, get on plane
  5. Endure agony with two freaked out hyperactive ping-pong ball children
  6. Arrive Portland, get rental, have meltdown
  7. End up in Prosser, Washington – take Lithium and Prozac cocktail

Reality bites 50% of the time.

We gave Silver d’Cat his last meal of tuna juice and lots of bittersweet scritches.  The long and short of it was that the vet came by and was the epitome of the benevolent angel (of Death, certainly, but angel is the operative word).  He went peacefully and quietly and surrounded by folks that cared about him and him alone in those moments.

I took the box we wanted to put him in, added his kitty pad and he was laid on it, then covered him with catnip fronds.  The plot was underneath some shady trees smack in the middle of one of his favorite catnip patches and was capped with a heavy flat-topped pyramid stone – it looks good, really.  Lastly I put catnip on his stone.    Why do all this for a cat?  Well, because even the vet remarked on how kind and good-natured of a kitty he was – he was gentle, having only bitten anyone only a handful of times, in great pain, every time.  Times when he *should* have bitten the kids, he did not do so.

Packing the car and picking up the kids worked out well.  Driving to the airport went well.  Getting in the room was lengthy but uneventful.  Dropping off the car was hell.  Apparently our desk clerk at the hotel cannot distinguish between “Michigan Left” and “Left” in giving directions.  So in looking for the parking lot, what should have ended me up 1-1/2 blocks from my hotel put me all the way at the ass-end of Middlebelt Road.  You’re thinking “Oh Lemur King, you are such a whiny-assed pansy”.  Maybe, maybe not.  Middlebelt is not the best place in the world to drive around for an hour, and as I was looking at street addresses and road names, I nearly ran over an idiot who was (1) riding his bike at night, (2) was wearing dark clothes, and (3) had only reflectors on the heels of his shoes.  This is one case where “riding while black” is a distinct advantage.  I honestly could not see the guy because he was all but invisible.   So finally we got it out of the clerk that she meant “Michigan Left”.  I found the place and scrambled out of there to the hotel.  It was a hot and sticky night.  The Surface of Venus was a more hospitable place that night.

The flight went uneventfully.  This is nothing short of a miracle.  We got “our” rental car, but due to my driver’s license expiring on the second-to-the-last day of the lease period, I was unable to be included as a driver.  Get that?  They trust me to not drive the entire period as a non-driver, but they could not trust me to drive up until the day where my license expired and then stop.  NANNY STATE.  I’m still pissed.  $700 for a car rental and I can’t even drive the $*^&#@ thing.

On Our Way, Camera Out – Up the Gorge (I-84)

Through the Tunnel on the Columbia River (I-84)

So, we get on the road and I start taking pictures.  Around Hood River (going up I-84 along the Columbia Gorge), I got the camera out.  I was taking pictures on the fly and through a window, so bear with the reflections and smudges.

Not Too Far from Biggs Jct., Oregon – Home of the World’s Best Cheap Corndogs

Just After Biggs Jct. – Washington Side of the Gorge, to Tri Cities/Prosser, WA

More later…

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