Sunday, October 26, 2014

First Day of School, Summer's Last Blast

First day of Fourth Grade! Yep, as you can see, Lorelei was excited! Can you believe she's in 4th grade already? Where has the time gone?? Lorelei planned her first day of school. She chose all of her favorite things to wear: her favorite hat, her banana slugs t-shirt she got in the Redwoods, and her hoodie she got at Bumbershoot Music Festival. You can't see it in this picture, but she requested a messenger bag this year for school instead of a backpack. I'm afraid this kid is a total Seattleite.

4th grade has brought some interesting developments for Lorelei. First, Lorelei is back in TaeKwonDo after her 6-month break. It's interesting - she is a high green belt, so the instructors now have her lead certain parts of the class, i.e. stretching, and helping out some of the more junior kids in the class. She's learning how to be a leader. Even if she doesn't stick with TKD for very long, this experience is so good for her.

Another interesting development is:

She's learning to play the trumpet! Lorelei had the option of learning a musical instrument this year. She was very interested, so we encouraged her. Playing music has been one of the most rewarding parts of my life, and learning to read music is a great thing. It's a math language, after all.  So far she is doing well - she didn't have any trouble at all figuring out how to make noise with that trumpet. :) Lorelei is wearing her second favorite hat in the picture above. It's a hat her dad got her at the West Seattle Festival over the summer.

Lorelei is learning so much. She was just in here telling me all the mistakes I'm making in this post. She's a little too smart sometimes. She just got sent to her room.

Now, before I get into our recent adventures, we need to address something. As you know, Shawn has been diligently working away at his degree and the end is finally in sight with graduation set for April. I don't think I've mentioned how amazing he's doing in school, though. He has made the Dean's List so many times the Dean got tired of him and he has been upgraded to the President's List! It's quite an honor to make the President's List. He's maintaining a mostly straight-A average while working full time and devoting time to his family. It's hard, that doesn't leave much free time, but it's absolutely amazing what he has accomplished. So if you find yourself talking or emailing or following him on Twitter, tell him how awesome he is.

Speaking of awesome, Shawn's parents came for a visit in September, and we did a little exploring in the San Juan Islands. The San Juans are in the strait of Juan de Fuca, situated between Washington and British Columbia, Canada. They are part of Washington, but from them you can see the US mainland as well as the Canadian city of Victoria.

I admit, I was dubious about going to the San Juans. I am so partial to wild, vast, dangerous Pacific Ocean, I feel like all this business about the Sound and the Strait is just a prelude to the main event. I expected to think it was beautiful, but not really understand what all the fuss was about.

I could not have been more wrong. The San Juans are breathtaking. We were on San Juan Island, in a little tourist town called Friday Harbor. It's a lovely place. But once you get out of town, you see rolling hills and farmland not unlike southern Ohio. And then, bam! It hits you. You make it to the state park on the coast and it's just beautiful everywhere you look.

Here is a nice little postcard picture of the lighthouse at Limestone Kiln State Park.

There were all these neat little trails at the park and as you can see, it was stunning scenery. The lighthouse is decommissioned, but inside there were all these charts, showing the wildlife that had moved through the area over the summer. Apparently some college students were doing research and observation at the lighthouse, and they left behind their charts. In just the scant few hours we were there, we saw porpoises, seals, and there was a rumor of whales passing through.

The San Juans are prime whale-watching spots. They make a business of having tours all year round, as the orcas seem to love this water.

We will go back to the San Juans for sure. They are so much closer to us than the coast, and it's peaceful up there. To get to Friday Harbor, we basically have to drive to Anacortes, WA, and take a 90-minute ferry over. I love taking the ferry. And hey, guess what? They sell beer on the ferries!

From the San Juans we traveled down through Deception Pass (below) and headed to Port Townsend.

Port Townsend is one of my favorite places. It's this adorable Victorian town right on the Strait. We stayed at the "castle" above in Port Townsend. It was kitschy, but fun. Except when Shawn told Lorelei it was haunted and there was a meltdown. That resulted in Lorelei and I hitting the hotel bar for soda and wine.

The next day, we went to Hurricane Ridge in the beloved Olympics. You've all seen many pictures of Hurricane Ridge. We've been there a few times and I, for one, cannot get enough. I love it there. When we were there this time, it was the clearest day imaginable, and one of the last days of a hot, dry summer. There was no snow to be found on the Ridge - you had to go up another 1,000 feet or so to get to snow. Lorelei, Brenda and I decided to hike the Hurricane Hill trail which takes you up another 700 feet or so. I cannot describe how amazing it was. Here, take a look:

That picture above is looking north - that's the Strait of Juan De Fuca.

Those pictures above are of the trail. It was really steep going up. But the views! Beyond words. I love Hurricane Ridge.

So that was our last blast of summer. The rains have now returned in earnest, and last night we had a rain/windstorm that knocked out power for 6 hours. It's definitely fall in the Pacific NW. But we like the fall. We like hibernating a bit and consoling ourselves with our memories of summer, and sleeping to dream about the next big adventure. Just like Gretel. She has the sleeping/dreaming thing down to an art form. And in celebration of Halloween, here she is, sleeping and dreaming with her new favorite toy, her bat.

Happy Halloween to you and yours!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer Vacation, Chapter 4: Central Coast and Beyond

Day 4 of vacation sent us up through the central coast of Oregon, That picture above is at our first stop: Neptune State Park. As you can see, there is that fog again, rolling in and burning off in phases. The scenery was different minute by minute at the coast. I may have mentioned that Ed and Amy have a friend who coined the phrase "scenery fatigue." I believe she had Oregon in mind when she coined that. After a while you find yourself saying, "Oh look, yet another fabulous view."

More pictures of Neptune:

It was neat because the mouth of a river met the ocean (I can't remember the name of the river), so there was this whole ecology thing happening. Lorelei decided to build a damn, and then promptly stopped when she figured out how it affected the rest of the ecological system. Interesting lesson.

Here's my favorite picture from Neptune:

Up next was Seal Rock Park. This one also had a very cool trail down to the beach, but it was pretty well-traveled and not quite as, uh, terrifying as Whalehead. There were actual park ranger types working there and answering questions all over the place.

As you can see, the fog found us again at Seal Rock. And it was very 2001: A Space Odyssey. That big giant rock in the water definitely put me in mind of extraterrestrial activity. The middle photo gives you some idea of how large it is. I'm not going to lie, Seal Rock was a little weird. The picture just above was taken once you climb over some rocks into a deserted part of the park. There are tons and tons of birds' nests and aviary activity there.

Up next was what ended up being possibly my favorite stop along the way: Cape Foulweather. It was named by Captain James Cook, who ended up there on a particularly inclement day. The coast gets similar weather to what we see in Seattle, only more wind, so I can only imagine the shit weather that made him name it Cape Foulweather. Cape Foulweather, however, like all the capes, provides the most amazing scenery you are going to find, particularly in the good weather. The fog was in and out the day we were there, mostly out, though. There was an old lighthouse that was turned into a gift shop, with these postcard-worthy views.

It's hard to see from those pictures above, but there is a reef out in the open water that is maybe a mile from shore. The shop attendant told us that just before the fog covered it over, there was a pod of gray whales out just beyond the reef. They migrate May-September, so there are lots of spots along the coast that you can see them, but Cape Foulweather's vantage point is probably one of the better views.

I loved Cape Foulweather. It's a perfect representation of the Pacific NW. It's so aptly named for half of the time, and then quite the misnomer for the rest of the time. There seems to be no middle ground at the coast: the weather is just beyond terrible, or it's so amazing you can't imagine living anywhere else.

As we headed up the coast, we took a slight detour from our destination (our beloved Pacific City), and went a bit north to Cape Meares, yet another lighthouse and insanely gorgeous spot.

We had some more fog at Cape Meares, so not quite so many pictures of the landscape. I imagine, though, you get the idea by now.

Oregon is just silly with gorgeous life-affirming beauty.

Finally, we arrived at our destination; Pacific City, OR. Our special place that we love. And it was wonderful to stop for 4 days and take in nothing but waves, salt air, and beer brewed across the way. Actually, by day 3, I was getting a little irritated with the surf for being so loud. It woke me up pretty early. But it's not so bad to wake up really early on vacation, go sit on the porch and watch the dory fishing boats head out to sea. Right after they go, the surfers start showing up. We could do worse.

There was one afternoon that Shawn and Lorelei had gone on a hike and they were supposed to meet me at the brewery for a late-afternoon snack. As it turns out, they were tired and fell asleep back at our cottage, leaving me at the brewery all by myself. It wasn't all bad. I sat outside on the porch chairs and watched the waves. Beer is the great equalizer. I met some folks from Tacoma (shoot, we are practically neighbors!), a nice couple from Portland, and then another nice couple from Minnesota celebrating the wife's birthday. We all shared some stories about our travels, and then we watched as a pod of whales lazily made their way along their migratory path. We couldn't tell if they were grays or orcas because none of them crested, but we saw a tail and lots of water spouts. It was one of the nicest afternoons ever in the history of afternoons.

The people who had rented the cottage next door to ours were from Akron! That was fun - they spotted our Ohio State gear right away. I will never stop getting a kick out of seeing Ohio folks out here. Wish a few more of you could make it out here. Ahem.

There were so many neat parts of this trip. It was definitely nice to hang out in Pacific City and rest up, but the journey was really the best part. The picture above is a lighthouse off in the distance - I can't remember which one - but the picture is taken from Highway 101. It was maybe the prettiest drive I've ever been on. We said when we arrived in Pacific City that we didn't need to drive 101 through Oregon again. We've done it, it's amazing, we can explore other places now. I don't know, though. I could totally do it again. There were a lot of places we didn't stop, and there are some places I'd like to stop at again. Sometimes once isn't enough.

Today is the first day of fall and in Seattle it's raining. Of course it is. Just like how summer arrives like clockwork after July 4, today the rain has returned. The forecast will be the same for the next 5 months: rain, getting colder, some more rain, dark. That makes it even more pleasant to be writing about our summer adventures.

The news isn't all bad, however. With the darkness comes the twinkle lights all over downtown. Pretty soon Nordstrom will have it's Christmas decorations up, and Macy's will have the big star on its downtown store. Shawn is going to call the chimney sweep this week so we can have our fires in that beautifully crafted fireplace this winter. We will finally start seeing snow atop the Olympics again.

But until all that happens, let's keep thinking summer, just for a little while longer.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Summer Vacation, Day 3 - Southern Oregon

I mentioned the fog already, right? Fog on the left coast, especially San Fran and points north. It typically burns off in the afternoon or late morning, but it makes everything feel more like fall than dog days of summer. We appreciated this - Seattle has had the warmest summer on record, I think. It isn't that it has been uncomfortably hot and humid like Ohio, but it's been pretty close to uncomfortable. When it's consistently 80 degrees and the sun is beating down, the lack of air-conditioning becomes more noticeable. I'm not going to lie, I sort of liked it. I liked being warm and feeling the heat of the sun because we miss it so much in the winter months. By now, however, everything is pretty dusty. The rain will be welcome.

Anyway, that picture up top is the first stop on day 3, Whalehead Trail, OR. I took that picture from the trail from the parking lot down to the beach. A word about the trail: uh, they could have warned us it was going to be like scaling a rain forest tilted on its side. Steep, weedy, and more than a little dangerous. Here are some pictures from the less intimidating parts of the trail:

The trail itself was really neat, just a little scary. The hike was completely worth it, though. The beach was fabulous. It had all the makings of the Oregon scenery: large rocks jutting out of the water, cliffs that end abruptly at the shoreline with steep drop-offs, and of course, the mighty Pacific.

Just amazing scenery. And it was completely deserted because of the trail. It was lovely.

Oregon's coastline is mostly protected. The government was really smart and made a lot of it state parks, so most of it is completely unspoiled, with lots of trails for hiking and picnics, etc.. It makes for great days of sight-seeing.

Our next stop was Gold Beach, where we were able to see the sun again. I think the ocean and coastline is so lovely overcast, but when the sun shines, it's just magnificent.

Gold Beach was less striking and more beachy, but gorgeous nonetheless. They had an information center there, swings and several picnic areas with a trail or two for taking in the scenery.

After Gold Beach, we headed to Cape Blanco, one of the many lighthouses along the coast. The lighthouse was a fair elevation up, and it was again foggy and windy when we got there. The wind was blowing everything over sideways - it was like thunderstorm wind. The views were amazing but I was too afraid to get too close to the edge because I was afraid I would blow right over the cliff! Definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Lighthouses are so cool. I think this one was decommissioned in the 1990s, and they have turned it into a little museum.

That picture above was taken from a scenic view pullover spot, I think. I'm not sure. It's completely overwhelming to drive up 101 through Oregon - it's all so beautiful and striking.

Also that day we stopped at a creamery called Face Rock Creamery. They have the BEST cheese. Uh, and they sell wine so you can walk around tasting cheese and drinking wine. At the Oregon coast. I mean, throw on a football game and I'm in heaven. They also make ice cream, which was equally as wonderful as the cheese.

I've never been anywhere that has such consistent beauty as Oregon. There is not a single spot of it that isn't amazing. Well, except Eugene. Boo Ducks. :)

Next up, central Oregon and wrapping up the vacation blog. I know I need to wrap this up because there is so much more to write about! Lorelei had her first day of 4th Grade, Shawn's parents came to visit and we toured some of Washington, etc. I promise, I will get caught up soon. Until then, it will be nice to relive the summer little by little.