Friday, September 30, 2005

Tropical depression my foot

Tropical depression, my foot.

Tropical Storm Kenneth, downgraded to Tropical Depression Kenneth, turned out to be Tropical Slightly-Out-Of-Sorts Kenneth. Tropical Hit-With-A-Bit-Of-Ennui Kenneth. Tropical Not-My-Best-Moment-Ever Kenneth.

We were really hoping for at least a thunderstorm, to make our day of sloth even more enjoyable. We like rain, you see, and when you've decided to devote a day to books and movies, rain can make it that much more pleasant to be inside. We had hopes. We had newscasts. We had storm center reports using big words like stormfronts and high winds.

And yet, Tropical Depression Kenneth unfolded like this: beautiful clear skies all morning, slight overcastness beginning around 1:00 that took the temperature down to comfortable levels for sitting outside and reading, followed by two intervals of about three minutes of extremely light and gentle rain. That's it. That's all.

It wasn't even enough to wet the grass. The sprinklers are doing that now.

Tropical Depression. Pshaw.

Tropical depression Kenneth

Today, we're waiting for the remnants of Hurricane Kenneth to hit the big island. It's not a tremendously big deal - it's been hovering off the east side of the island for a few days now, and is supposed to hit this afternoon. While we've been waiting it's been downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression. Just now, I saw an update online calling it a "disorganized cloud mass" that "may increase rain." What's next down the scale -- tropical rainshower?

Here's the most current picture I can find, from last night:



As I said, no big deal, but man, it sure is getting windy. Windier that is - it's been blowing like hell since we got here. But the plastic deck furniture is starting to move around on its own, and our rental cat just took off for home. I felt a little bit of rain when I was reading out on the deck a little bit ago.

We filled our water bottles and located a couple candles, but with only 30-40 MPH winds forecast there's little chance that it's going to cause us any problems, and we're very high up, so the flood warnings from increased rain aren't going to affect us either. Nonetheless, we're taking the excuse for a very lazy day at home. Brett is watching Bullitt, and I'm alternatively reading PD James, catching up on email and blogging, and feeding smoked salmon to the cat in an effort to cement her affections. There's a nap in our immediate future. And then probably more movies. Grilling butterfish at home tonight. No need to go out until tomorrow, when the storm should be past and moving north up the island chain.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Today's hawaii notes

First, a correction: That flower I posted a picture of yesterday is a bird of paradise, not ornamental ginger.

Yesterday we went to Hilo for their farmer's market. Here's a picture I did not take of this event, and the web page it came from:



Hilo is a sleepy little town on the east side of the island that is periodically hit with a tsunami. The last one was in 1960, but you can still see the damage from it in places. A local was telling Brett about how many people have been reluctant to fix up the damage to their houses from the last tsunami because it's likely that another one will eventually hit; he pointed around at several extremely weather-beaten, paint-peeling houses nearby that seemed to underline his point. However, the real estate market has been in such a boom that this is coming to an end. Apparently Donald Trump spilled the beans on Oprah some time ago that the best, least known place to buy real estate dirt cheap was on the big island of Hawaii, and since then everything has skyrocketed. Houses that used to sell for 60K are now selling for 400K.

Every time we're here, we fantasize about staying, just selling everything off and moving here. In reality, I don't know that I'd want to live here year-round forever, but I would love to do it for a few years. Life is slow here, and very sweet. We could afford to buy a house here, but probably not to pay the mortgage; alas. Back to Seattle we go. But not for nearly another week.


Sunset from our house, last night

***

We've seen a lot of green sea turtles, more than last year. The beach we like to go to has a rare turtle-cleaning station where turtles line up to let fish nibble the algae off their shells, so there are generally a few of the big ones around. On Tuesday we snorkeled near two of them; they're supposedly shy, and we were hanging back the required distance, but one of them seemed quite curious about me - he deliberately swam in close circles around me three or four times, giving me the old turtle eyeball each time he passed. I think he was checking out this pink thing floating above him. Was it food? What did it want?

He didn't seem alarmed. I could have reached out and touched him if I wanted to. Of course I didn't.

This page has some interesting info about green sea turtles:

They lived through the age of the dinosaurs. They survived the earth's age of ice. Sea turtles, the true ancients of the world, have been swimming the oceans for over 200 million years. ...

In Chinese mythology, the sea turtle represents wisdom. In Hawaii, legend tells about a green sea turtle, Kauila, who could change herself into a girl to watch over the children playing at Punalu'u Beach on the Big Island. When Kauila's mother dug her nest, a fresh water spring surged upward, quenching the children's thirst. Kauila is the "mythical mother" of all turtles, and perhaps of our children as well. It's also said that turtles were the guides for the first voyagers to Hawaii.



***


Trees outside our house, last night at sunset.

Today we're going snuba-ing at the Captain Cook monument. Snuba is a cross of snorkeling and scuba, where you have a floating air tank and a thirty foot line. Doesn't require you to get certified the way real scuba does, but it gives you more freedom to go deeper and see more things. I'll post on that tomorrow and let you know how it went.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Meet our vacation cat

Everywhere we go, we get adopted by a cat. Here has been no different - we were immediately adopted, our second day here, by this little guy, who comes by every morning to visit us on our back deck.

And because we're suckers, we give him treats to ensure that he comes back.

Looks like our old friend Indiana Jones, doesn't he?



A few other pictures:

Ornamental ginger


A choppy bay on the island's east side.


Same bay, through a palm tree.


View of the water off the back deck of our house, looking west - nice sunset views.


View of the slopes Mauna Kea, one of the two largest active volcanoes on this island, from our back deck. Mauna Kea is almost 14,000 feet tall, although it doesn't look that large to the naked eye because of the long, gradual slope.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sad news

Goodbye, Martha the Pirate...

Sound of palms


Palm tree outside our house, last night at sunset

When you lie under a palm tree with your eyes closed and the breeze is blowing -- and there's always a breeze blowing -- the leaves of the fronds clack together like they're made of ivory, like bones, like dice in a bag.

But it also sounds like a rainstorm, one of those slow but heavy summer rains, plunking huge drops down all around you.

Each time we leave here, I forget all about this sound, but then we come back and I discover it again.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Hello from Waikoloa

We arrived safely yesterday afternoon in Waikoloa, on the big island in Hawaii. Here's Brett, at left, at the Honolulu airport showing off his tropical shirt, which was one of his anniversary presents from me. (It was the cotton anniversary this year.) If you look closely at the green backpack at his feet you might notice the snout of Herschel the world traveler elephant peeking out of his bag.

Yes, Monkey and Herschel made the trip with us. They're currently sitting on the deck of our rental house, enjoying the balmy island breezes.

I love Hawaiian Airlines. For a really small fee, we upgraded to first class for the flight from the mainland, and were treated to roomy seats, hot towels, Mai Tais, and a meal which rivaled many I've had in restaurants. We'll probably fly coach on the way home, but it was fun to live the high life on the way out here.


The rental house is sort of funny. It's nice, and roomy, but its decor is... um... Let's see. The best way we've come up with describing it is to say it's kind of "Goodfellas Goes Polynesian." It's certainly got a theme to it, but "tasteful" is not a word that would jump to mind to describe it. The bed in the master bedroom is up on a large purple platform - if it were round and rotating, it would fit in perfectly. There are masks everywhere, including this one at right, which has some kind of moustache on it. There's an odd combination of lacquer and shag everywhere. Many, many things are brown, or mauve.

Nonetheless, it's a good house, right in the neighborhood we wanted to be in, near our favorite beach, has all the basic amenities (and a killer kitchen!), and will be an excellent home base. You can see the water (a few miles away) from the bed, and we can see one of the volcanoes from the deck. And there's high speed internet, for free, which you can't beat. We can get weather reports, market times for Hilo, and hey - we can blog.

I always forget, or doubt, that it's going to be hot here in September, even though I've been here at this time of year before. It's like I think maybe it was a fluke last year, and really it's going to be fall just like it is in the Pacific Northwest. Really, though, it's so hot that most of the time you want nothing heavier than a tank top on -- about 95 during the height of the afternoon, 80s at night.

Off to the beach...

Friday, September 23, 2005

For the next ten days...

...this will be my only worry:



Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Much more fun than REAL work...

Tonight I'm sitting around creating a document for the new housesitter who's going to stay here while we're in Hawaii.

Mostly, I'm worried about her having any idea which cat is which. She came over a week ago and met them, but I know I wouldn't remember names and cat faces a week later, not with this many of the critters around. So I whipped off a little org chart, with pictures even, a la corporate America.

At least I didn't stack rank them. :)


Ok, I did. PhoenixCassieMaddieMax. All 4.0 performers. 3.0 to whoever peed on the laundry the other day, if I ever figure out who it was.

Soporific

All of my entries right now are about sleep. Just noticed that.

Today, after working for 11 hours, we went to meet with our new financial advisor, who is a very nice man, greatly capable, and who really knows his stuff. However, he has a habit of repeating everything he says at least five times. And thus the one hour meeting becomes the two and a half hour meeting.

I was so sleepy last time I was there that I hear (from Brett) that I stared blankly (and rudely) at a wall for the second half of the visit. This time I was determined to do better. I tried to listen hard. I admired his graphs. I imbibed caffeine. I pinched myself under the table. I quietly tried to remember a good knock-knock joke I heard the other day when things got dull.

But... but... by the time it became 8:00 I was literally thinking that I would rather gouge my eyeballs out with a spoon then hear about diversification for one more second.

I hate to say it for the vast girly cliche that I'm about to reinforce, but this personal finance stuff is ... well... boring.

Mucho tired

The new job is going well, but as might be expected, it's quite a bit harder than my old job, and the transition is requiring me to work insane hours. I'm dealing with this by getting up an hour or two earlier and getting to my desk by 7:30 every morning, so that I can get a couple hours of solid work done before meeting craziness kicks in. And by staying until 6:00. And by logging in from home a few evenings a week, to either finish emailing or drafting things or (more often) to go through all my meeting notes from the day and transfer all the follow up from them into task list items. And by catching up a little on Sunday night before the week starts up again.

Which is all working just fine, for the most part. I'm mostly on top of things and mostly dealing with stress well. This is also all temporary - it will slow down a little once I'm more up to speed.

But... WOW I'm tired. I'm just not a morning person. At the end of week three of working 12 hour days which start too early, I'm just unbelievably wiped out.

Luckily, we leave for Hawaii on Saturday. Agenda: Nap. Nap on beach. Nap at home. Nap. Eat. Nap.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Why is it...

...that no sleep ever feels as good as the sleep you get when your spouse gets up several hours earlier than you and you can roll over to claim their side of the bed?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Rain

Seattle is getting colder, greyer, and rainier by the day -- and I couldn't be happier.

I love autumn. I love that first big pot of home made soup, and how warm the bed feels in the morning, and sleeping when it's raining, and lighting fires, and needing big scrunchy socks to keep your feet warm, and watching the leaves change, and putting the garden to bed for another year, and planting the bulbs for next spring.

And cooking -- Brett does most of the summer cooking, because he's the master of the grill, but fall and winter are my times to shine. I am the queen of the hearty one-pot meal. I love to make casseroles and cassoulets and soups and stews and pastas. Winter food. I live for that first sugar pumpkin. Every year I buy a bunch of them in that one week they're available, bake and scrape them, and store the flesh in the freezer so I can make soups and cookies and morrocan chicken throughout the winter. Apples too -- apples taste so much better in the fall, when they're truly in season. How could you dread the change of seasons when there's so much to celebrate?

Soon we'll be able to have our first fire in the newly-rebuilt chimney. I've already bought the Java Logs. Maybe this weekend.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Overheard, across the street, under a bush

Maddie, to unidentified neighbor cat.

Maddie: And then last night, they dragged a table in front of the concrete block that covers up the cat door at night!

Other cat: Oooh no!

Maddie: No, no, it's okay, I just shoved that out of the way too.

Other cat: Wow! You're good.

Maddie: (chortling) I can't wait to see what they try tonight.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tool using felines

Part of our problem is that one of our cats is a veritable Houdini. Every night, we bring all our animals in, put the locking cover on the catdoor, block it with a concrete block, and go to bed, hoping to keep our cats in and the neighbor cat out.

Every morning, this careful barrier has been fully dismantled by Maddie, the problem solving, tool-using feline who can't stand to be inside all night. Out she goes, and sooner or later, in comes Trooper*.

Last night, she not only moved the block and took off the cover, but she also peeled off layers of packing tape that we'd fastened the cover to the door with. Some of the tape was still on the door, neatly sliced, and some of it was entirely missing.

If she ever grows an opposable thumb, we may have a new dominant species on the planet.




*Trooper, incidentally, can also open the locked cat door from the outside. I've caught him jiggling it from the outside several times, until it loosens enough for him to raise. We're not sure if he can move the block, though.

Cat wars

The cat wars have begun in earnest.

We woke up yesterday to find Trooper in our basement, which led to one of the most vicious cat fights I've ever seen when he went after Phoenix like a banshee. It's the kind of fight where you think one of them is going to be killed, and you throw shoes and pillows at the aggressors head and it makes no difference at all. Phoenix got bitten again for the second time in two days, and all of a sudden we'd just HAD IT.

So we left a letter we'd written a few weeks ago for the neighbors, listing out the last twelve or fifteen incidents we'd witnessed and telling them that although we don't want to do so, we will call animal control soon if they don't keep the cat inside.

We've talked to them three or four times in person about it, to no effect. They've promised to keep him in but don't. And we just can't let this go on anymore. But we also couldn't live with calling animal control to have him picked up without letting them know first and giving them a chance to fix it. So we did what we thought was the ethical thing.

It was a polite note, even if the subject was difficult. We expressed regret and said we hope we can work this out so that all of our animals are safe in their own homes.

Well, so much for that. Came home to get screamed at by the neighbors, who told us we should "move back across the street" and "we should keep our doors shut" (we do) and that they don't want us to ever talk to us again. (They were, of course, quite drunk at the time.) Whatever, Henry, we said, knowing better than to try to reason with him right then. But still, it was unsettling and very disturbing. I hate the thought of feuding with our neighbors, especially as much as we love this block. But I don't know what the alternative is anymore.

They did, though, keep Trooper inside last night, so perhaps it will have the intended effect.

This morning we woke up to find they'd put a giant "beware of cat" sign in their front window, on flourescent poster board.

Nice.

Mall rats

Last night after work, Brett surprised me by asking if I wanted to go to the mall.

Why yes I do! I declared with great enthusiasm. We never go to the mall. We're not mall people. But a branch of one of my favorite stores opened there a few weeks ago -- Lush. I'm addicted to several of their products, including Rehab shampoo and the fabulous Shangri-La moisturizer. I've actually passed the moisturizer addiction along to my sister, and now supply her as well as myself.

Their closest store used to be in Canada, but now instead of mail order I can go buy it myself in person, and more importantly browse the store for other goodies, like this and this and... okay, I'll stop.

We were laughing at ourselves at the mall, partly because we so don't fit in with mall culture all that well -- here we were spending out Friday night in a shopping mall with a whole ton of 19-24 year old girls whose carefully coifed and crimped and made up appearances indicated that this was the social highlight of their week. It's a part of the US culture we rarely see, except in movies.

After Lush, we had this conversation.

Me: Do you want to go to Eddie Bauer? You need a new winter coat.
Brett: Nooooo... I hate shopping for clothes.
Me: You sure? They have nice ones!
Brett: I just want to go to the lego store.
Me: Okay. I'm going to Ann Taylor. I'll pick you up at the lego store in twenty minutes.


And then it hit us both -- transpose this conversation to a mother and an eight year old and it would make perfect sense.

Malls => don't bring out the best in people.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Even after all this time...

I'm still absurdly excited when Abbie the Cat makes a new post.

Movies

Went to see The Constant Gardener tonight. I didn't really feel like seeing it -- a serious movie at the end of an 11 hour workday seemed like it might be more than I could take -- and it had, for me, a slow start, but it ended with such beauty that I'm glad we did go to it rather than a lighter counterpart. It's what I think of as an inverse-pyramid kind of movie; it starts out with everything in the world, and slowly pares down and down and down until it ends with a single word that just breaks your heart and leaves you staring dumbly at the credits.

And hey, it got 91 out of 100 on rotten tomatoes.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hike report

Hiking – I’m trying to be good at this, but nearly every time, I end up wondering, “Why exactly do people want to do so much of this??” Sure, some of it is nice – the scenery can be breathtaking, and the air is clean, and the exercise feels good enough at least part of the time. But I'm obviously not really made for this. ;) Each time I hike, I end up hating the first mile of it, then enjoying the middle third, then hating the last third as we go on beyond all semblance of good sense. And THEN, just when your legs are starting to quiver, you turn around and walk the same distance back out.

I'm fine with the walking, and even with the long walking, it's just the long walking uphill that I object to. Isn't there nice scenery somewhere flat?

Yesterday’s hike: three hours, straight up, with almost no flat stretches. I made it two and a half hours without complaining, but then I started to get really tired. Finally, we camped out on a big flat rock overlooking neighboring mountains for a while and had our sandwiches. Brett forded ahead for another ten or fifteen minutes to see the lake we’d been trying to reach. I read and waited for him. His report: “Lake – eh. Not as great as other’s we’ve seen.”

We were just starting to head back down when suddenly we heard something really large running full speed at us through the bush. Good thing it was not the cougar we both thought it was for a split second, because neither of us had the chance to do anything more than look dumbly at each other and say “What the?” before they were on us, two young dogs, all noses and tongues and waggely tails. Our new best friends, two seven-month old Blue Heelers, out hiking with their food guy.

This was fortunate, in a way – we ended up hiking down with the dogs and their owner, which made the trip back more fun for everyone. Brett got to talk to an interesting new person (his favorite) for the whole four mile trip back to the car, and I got to hike up ahead with the doggies (my favorite).

As with most dogs on trails, these pups did the whole hike five or six times, all told. Hiking for a dog seems to consist of racing up ahead a hundred yards, then racing back to Food Guy to make sure he’s okay, then racing up to the lady in the front to see if she’ll give you water (of course), then leaping off into the brush to tree a squirrel, then looking puzzled when the squirrel throws something at you, then racing up ahead a few hundred yards, then racing back to Food Guy…

Anyways, it made it go quickly. And Brett admitted that this hike was a lot harder than what he did last week. So far, on Sunday morning, we’re both dragging our butts around, dehydrated like unto beef jerky, with many sore parts. Probably no hiking today.

Darn.

Finished Brother Cadwell, though.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Mazama

We’re camped out in Mazama, but at a lodge instead of in a tent – not the big fancy Sun Mountain Lodge we’ve stayed at before, but the Mazama Country Inn. This is a more down-to-earth kind of place – quilts and wood paneling and plaid wallpaper in hunter green.

There are crickets chirping outside our modest little room and we’re lying around reading, having just gingerly made our way across an open and pitch-black field to check out the pool. We’re at a lower elevation than where we usually camp, which means that a) it’s at least ten degrees warmer here than up at the campsite and b) there might be rattlesnakes.

Brett is terrified of snakes. Our little trip across the pitch black field was rather fraught with drama.


“You go first!”
“Ok, I’ll go, but you have to listen for suspicious rattling sounds.”
“Ok, fine.”


As much as I jest about the whole frequency of camping trips and Brett’s single-minded devotion to this particular part of the east Cascades, I must admit that there are a few things I love about it out here. A brief and unordered list includes:

  • The stars. Everyone should come somewhere like this – far away from cities or any ambient light pollution – just to remember what the night sky is supposed to look like. I spent warm August nights every year in my childhood stretched out in the front yard, gazing up at the Milky Way with my Dad’s navy binoculars, lost in the wonder of such a thing. Until I came here for the first time three years ago, it had been a long time since I’d seen it again, or seen it anywhere near as clearly.

  • Crickets. Why do we not have them in Seattle? What do Ohio and the east Cascades have in common that Seattle does not possess?

  • The quiet. The wind blows, the fir trees rustle, the crickets chirp, and now and then some kind of nocturnal bird calls. If you’re in a tent, you might be awakened by the crunch of deer hooves around your campsite, rather than the fire engines or traffic noises that might wake you back home.

  • The fauna. The fir trees seem alive here, whipping their branches around so strikingly that if you catch one out of the corner of your eye you might mistake it for a deer, or a dog, or a person. They’re majestic. I lay my hand on the bark and try to commune – sometimes I imagine I can feel a zinging sensation. Again, this laying-on-of-the-hands-with-trees is a habit I’ve had since childhood. Mazama is a good place to indulge it. **

  • Fire. Most of my friends know I love fire. That’s the one thing lacking from this weekend, since we’re living indoors, but I’m willing to trade it for plumbing, retaining my circulation at night, and a comfortable place to laze about and read.

On the reading agenda for this weekend for me:

  • Finish Abraham, A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, by Bruce Feiler – fascinating cross-cultural unpacking of the myths behind Abraham.
  • Once that’s done, start book two of the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, One Corpse Too Many. I recently discovered these because of a botanical book I found at Half Price Books that traces the herbalism history that is played out in the series.
  • Alternate backup second book: Persuasion, by Jane Austen. I’ve seen the movie, but never read the book.

Tomorrow we hike, and Sunday I’m going to morning yoga at the center nearby while Brett goes off to hike alone, then spending the day reading, writing, or working in the room alone. Sounds like heaven.




**Side note: Interestingly, I once met a friend of a friend who said that she could talk to the trees around here. She “spoke” to the trees on Mt. Rainier, who reassured her that the mountain wouldn’t blow for the next fifteen years. The year: 1987. Target end date to our safety according to the trees: 2012. Put that in your apocalyptic Mayan calendar end-of-the-world theories and smoke it.

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