Oregon

From July 8 – 15, the family went out to Oregon to see some lovely things and to visit with my sister-in-law, Ashley. We landed in Portland on the afternoon of Friday, July 8, and wasted little time in going out into the drizzle of rain to visit a toy store called Finnegan’s and of course Powell’s Books, which was magnificent. We pushed our son’s culinary boundaries a bit by going to a Persian place for dinner (his verdict re the beef kabob he ordered was an unexpected “amazing”). Ashley had taken the bus over from her city a couple of hours away by the morning, and we went to the Waffle Window for breakfast (another “amazing” from our son, who had the lovely fruit-laden waffle pictured below).

From there we went to the Chinese garden in Portland, which was nice. We were most taken with the mosaics covering the floor of the place.

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Mosaics covered the ground at the Chinese garden.

We took our leave of Portland for the time being and headed west to the beach at Newport, stopping at the Otis Cafe on the way. It was a cute little (semi-famous?) place with magnificent cheesy hash browns and tasty breakfast and sandwich fare.

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We had a great lunch at the Otis Cafe on the way from Portland to Newport.

I didn’t get many pictures at the shore of Newport beach, but I can report that on Saturday evening, it was chilly and rainy. We dipped our feet into the Pacific ocean (a first for three in our party), and the kids waded a bit more before we called it quits. We swam a bit in the hot tub and heated pool as the rain ebbed, and then we retired for the evening to play games and have a healthy dinner of popcorn and marion berry pie from the Otis Cafe.

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A pretty dreary day at the Newport coast. We had to take 112 steps down a wooden stairway to get from our condo to the sand.

In the morning, we tried the shore again. The water remained frigid, but it was a little sunnier, and we waded and splashed a little before packing up and heading to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse and the nearby tide pools. I grew up going to beaches in North Carolina. A tide pool in my experience had been basically a little pool on the sea shore where you might find a few stranded creatures. At Dog Island off the coast of Florida a few years ago, the kids saw such a tide pool. My expectations of encountering a similar pool on this visit were way off. Here we found stones leading to rocky land in which pools formed offering us views of sea anemone, sea urchins, various mussels, hermit crabs, and a few star fish. It was really unexpected an lovely, far beyond what I had hoped to encounter and a real treat.

As we were leaving, we heard cries that a whale had been spotted, and sure enough, we saw a spout off in the distance a few times. We also passed an overlook from which we could see a few dozen seals lounging and lumbering about in their sealish way, which was a nice farewell bonus. After a yummy seafood lunch a few miles away at the bay, we got back in the van and headed south to Gilchrist, which would be our home base for three nights as we explored Crater Lake and the Newberry caldera.

The cabin we rented was huge and nice, with foosball, ping pong, a pool table (under the ping pong table top), and no internet or cable (a plus in my book). We roasted marshmallows one night and I read aloud to the family each night as is our habit generally. It was a great home base, and I’d love to go back should I visit the area again (and would gladly recommend it to anybody planning a similar vacation).

Crater Lake was breathtaking. The kids grew weary of hiking and generally had kind of a crummy attitude about the lake itself, but it was really beautiful. The trees in this part of the country are a lot different than what I’ve grown up with (not only the bright Ponderosa pines, but the huge pointed pines in general, and the vastness of the forests we drove through), so the short hikes were like seeing nature afresh for me.

The lake itself is so blue that it looks fake, and even in July, you see snow pack a foot or more deep (which the kids did like sort of skating around on). This is a place that makes me wish I were a better photographer, that I knew how to edit my pitiful little phone snaps to bring out the vibrancy of what I saw with my eyes, which has been lost in translation in the photos below.

This takes us through Monday. On Tuesday, July 12, we drove north from our cabin to explore the Newberry volcano and associated parks. First, we went to a lava tube — a cave that in this case was about a mile long carved out by a lava flow whose exterior cooled more rapidly than its interior, so that as the hot lava continues flowing and the exterior stops flowing, a hollow is formed. Although there are restrictions on who can enter the cave because of a fungus that can be spread by people and that hurts bats who live in the cave, we saw no bats. Mostly it was a long, chilly walk in the dark. That undersells it a bit, I suppose. It was neat to see, and to imagine the elemental forces that worked to create such a wonder, but as caves go, there wasn’t much in the way of scenery: A few places where there were pencil-thin stalactites, pits in the ground formed presumably by dripping moisture, and some neat narrowing and widening of the cave, but not as magnificent in terms of scenery as, say Luray Caverns in Virginia. L pouted through the whole walk, claiming that when she saw cracks in the ceiling, she was afraid it would collapse and we would die.

Next we went to a basalt flow nearby, which was neat. After a picnic by the basalt flow, we drove into the Newberry caldera itself, to one of the two lakes contained within. We rowed a sort of excruciatingly and unexpectedly long 35 minutes across to the other side of the lake to try out the hot springs, some of which were very hot indeed. There were a few other people there, but not so many as you might have expected. We tested out some of the little holes dug out already and dug one of our own into the pebbles that formed the beach. I was amazed at how cold the clear blue/green water was even right up to the shore in contrast to how very hot some of the springs were just 3 or 4 feet deeper into the land. The kids liked this a lot. I may have gotten into trouble for farting in one of the springs and blaming the bubbles and the sulfurous smell on the springs themselves.

After a tough row back across the lake into the wind, we drove up to the rim of the caldera, which afforded us beautiful views of the surrounding forest, both lakes in the volcano, and an obsidian flow on one of the interior faces of the volcano.

After viewing the Newberry caldera from its rim, we made the sort of treacherous drive back down and went to an obsidian flow. This was one of the highlights of the day for me, as I imagined a 100-foot wall of lava advancing inch by inch and cooling to leave behind porous pumice and glassy obsidian. A path snakes through the rocks, and it was fun to spot huge chunks of the shiny black rock. L started looking for rocks that would make neat little stone chairs, and she reports this as one of the highlights for her as well. At one point I picked up what looked like a chunk of regular old pumice, but it turned out to be a darker, sharper type, and for the pleasure of looking like a strongman who could hoist a big rock over his head, I bled a lot from one of my palms for the remainder of the visit.

The obsidian flow seemed like the landscape of a dead planet but for the occasional little tree or splash of wildflowers here or there, and the seas of trees flanking the flow. My photos don’t do the site justice.

Wiped out after a very full day, we stopped at a great Mexican place in La Pine on the way back to our cabin and then retired for the evening in our usual fashion, prepared to head back north to Corvallis the next day.

We drove to Corvallis to a soundtrack of Mumford and Sons and the Milk Carton Kids and then hung around at A’s house for a while before hitting the riverfront and then the town for dinner followed by beer (for the grownups) and corn hole on the rooftop of a bar. On Thursday morning, we hit a rock shop in Corvallis to get some souvenirs and then a book store just because before grabbing a yummy vegetarian lunch at Nearly Normal and driving to the Columbia River Gorge, where we parked and hiked to 5 or 6 waterfalls.

We wrapped up our waterfall tour (several falls not pictured above) with ice cream cones and a drive back to Portland, where we relaxed a bit and ordered in some pizza before sending Ashley home on a shuttle and going to bed to travel home in the morning.

Although L had flown before when she was 8 or 9 months old, neither kid had really flown before, so this was sort of a landmark trip for them. They enjoyed the flights and the train ride between terminals at our connection home at DFW. In addition to the many miles we traveled by air, we drove 991 miles in a rented van as we toured the eastern third or so of Oregon. It was a great trip, affording us the opportunity to see many things very very different from what we’re accustomed to seeing in our day-to-day lives.

Fishing

For my birthday this year, M got me a guided fly fishing trip. I had gone on a guided trip on a work trip in Utah a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I own some fly fishing gear but don’t really know what to do with it, or where to go with it, and I think I need a couple of guided experiences would help me get a better understanding. Fly fishing seems to be a lot more technical and require more arcane knowledge than just dropping a cricket or worm into a pond and pulling in bluegills. So having this guided experience was a real treat.

It was well below freezing, so it wasn’t always the absolute most physically comfortable experience. We didn’t have much luck with flies rods (too cold for the fish to be hungry, maybe? surely that, rather than incompetence on the part of the fishermen, was the cause), so we wound up using spinners to try to get reaction strikes. I landed one fish and had a few more on the line but failed to land them. Dad landed two or three, I think. In spite of the cold, it was fun, and I’m eager to get back out there sometime and see if I can catch a few fish on flies.

Hot Dog Cheese Man

In trying to train Maisy to do things like recognize her name and please please to stop trying to tear my ears off my head with her fangs, I’ve begun giving her little bits of hot dog and cheese. When we go on a walk, I keep a few in my left hand and vainly insist “heel! heel!” every few steps to try to get her to walk beside me and to my left. When she manages to do it, I give her a treat. If she continues to walk beside me, I dribble treats to her periodically to make it a rewarding behavior. I also use hot dogs and cheese to work on things like “sit” and “down” and “stay” and “maul” with her.

Because I work from home and my family is at work and school for much of the day, I lead sort of a solitary daytime life, and so naturally I talk to the dog a lot. I decline to confirm suspicions that I carry on full conversations with her as if she were a human being, supplying both sides of the conversation. I will confirm that for the humorous benefit of the children, I will sometimes say things aloud as if from the dog’s perspective. For example, if she’s trying to tear my ears off, I might use a goofy voice to say something like “I can’t help myself because they’re just so tasty, like delectable pink little pork rinds nom nom nom.”

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was saying something in my “I am a ridiculous animal” voice and speaking from the dog’s perspective about myself. I imagined that the dog’s notion of who I am is that I am the thing that is fun to chew on and drag along by a leash and that supplies hot dogs and cheese, so I had her say something like “Hot Dog Cheese Man is going to take me outside now.” And from then on, I’ve taken on the nickname “Hot Dog Cheese Man.” I refer to myself by that name (mostly when dealing with the dog), and the kids have picked it up some too. It’s a source of great mirth within the family.

My daughter lost her last baby tooth the other night and left us a note with it (she knows we’re the Tooth Fairy) in which I make an appearance as Hot Dog Cheese Man.

In all things pertaining to naming in our household, this rates very highly for me, third perhaps to Maisy’s long silly name and the name Cheesyfarts McButterpants, which I made up for a reason I’ve since forgotten but which still comes up from time to time.

Table Tennis

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Last year for Father’s Day or my birthday, the kids got me a little portable table tennis set. You just clamp the net posts to an available flat surface and — boom — you’re ready to play table tennis. We don’t use our formal dining room very much for dining. In fact, the table is often covered with things that get dumped on it rather than put away in their proper places. We needed the seating for Thanksgiving, so we had to clear the table off, which meant that the time was ripe for playing some table tennis. The table’s a bit smaller than a regulation table, but it’s still fun to hit with the kids.

The kit came with two paddles and a little sack made of netting to store the three balls in, and my son and I both delight in asking one another to go grab the ball sack so we can play some table tennis. (Yet another instance of why I should win Father of the Year.)

My daughter, who hasn’t typically been the most physical or coordinated of children, is actually pretty good at getting a little volley going, and I really enjoy hitting with her. My son tends to play on the table top itself a bit less consistently than she does, and we wind up banking off of walls and the floor or just smacking the ball hard at each other, which is also fun, if differently so.

Farm

My sister-in-law has slowly been building up a bit of a menagerie. A couple of years ago, she had a bunch of dogs, a couple of cats, and a few chickens, but more recently, she’s added goats, a lot more chickens, and a couple of brand new wild pigs. We took the kids over today to take a look. Although it’s not really a working farm, the place has begun to resemble something of a farmyard, and the kids really enjoyed feeding the goats and holding the smaller animals.

Thanksgiving

For maybe the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve been in charge of cooking our Thanksgiving turkey. This year, I wasn’t certain I’d be cooking for a bunch of people until fairly late, and I wasn’t able to pre-order a gigantic free-range, organic, summa cum laude turkey in advance. In the past, I’ve gotten a turkey somewhere between 20 and 24 pounds to feed a passle of people. This year I ran out three days before Thanksgiving and got two 12.5-pound turkeys instead (the larger bird being unavailable). They were frozen, which isn’t something I’m used to (in the recent past, we’ve gotten birds that were alive on Tuesday), and there were two of them, and I wasn’t sure how that’d work in my oven. They turned out to take nearly an hour longer to cook together than I think one of them alone would have taken. It all worked out, though, and they turned out about as beautifully as two creatures who have been murdered for the sake of a historically misinformed food glut can turn out.

I put nearly as much effort into my rolls, which turned out delicious and equally, non-grotesquely beautiful as the turkeys. My process photos below show how the rolls progressed. For the turkey, thank(sgiving)fully I show only the finished product.

I did have a first this year. It’s common when you get a turkey to find a little sack full of the organs, which generally one turns into giblet gravy. I didn’t like giblet gravy until I was a bit older, and my wife doesn’t like it, and my kids turn their nose up at gravy altogether, so we default to my wife’s preference (which is fine by me; I like regular old gravy just fine). This year, only one of my turkeys had the organ sack in its cavity. The other had the top half of the poor critter’s head. In general at least in the U.S., we tend to prefer meats that don’t much look like the creatures we’re killing. At least in this case, I suppose I can say that I looked the poor bird in the eye, at least one of them.

Meat is pretty gross (I contend that being a physical body in the world is pretty gross), and while we eat it with most meals, we don’t eat a whole lot of it with any single meal. During the Macy’s Day parade today, I heard the stat that some 280 million turkeys are killed in the U.S. each year for Thanksgiving. When I was in I believe the third grade, 280 million was the estimated population of the United States. It’s a staggering number. I mean, there was a turkey served in the U.S. today for each person who was alive in the U.S. when I was in the third grade. That’s crazy! I’m sort of ashamed to have contributed two of those turkeys, especially when for me the real hits of Thanksgiving tend to be the vegetable dishes, but I suspect that there’d be revolt if I proposed a veggie Thanksgiving in the future.

We also made cranberry sauce (from cranberries, not pooped out of a can), mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. Others in the family provided other delicious sides, including perhaps the loveliest sweet potato casserole I’ve ever seen and a really yummy broccoli casserole, and we’ll make some stuffing and sweet potato casserole tomorrow to augment our leftovers.

It was a good Thanksgiving overall. I woke at around 7:15 and cooked and cleaned until about 12:30, then ate a plate of food and cleaned for a bit longer. It was nice to listen to the family chatting and to share some laughs, to hear my kids playing with their little cousins. The rest of the day stretches out before me. I’ll spend a few minutes making terrible noises on my guitar, then will read to my family, then will maybe watch some TV, and finally read until bedtime, and then I’ll sleep tomorrow until I feel like getting out of bed. I’ll feel sympathy for those who have to work tomorrow and will feel perhaps a sort of benign contempt (if that can even make sense) for those who spend the day doing cutthroat shopping (tempered by sympathy for those for whom the day’s deals amount to a necessity of the season).

Secret Santa

My wife has five siblings with something like a 15 year spread from oldest to youngest. That’s a lot of adult siblings to buy Christmas presents for when you’re the youngest in high school or college, so when the youngest were younger, we decided to do a Secret Santa exchange at Christmas. Siblings and significant others (who’ve been around for a while) play along, and everybody draws a name and gets a gift for one among the group. It’s nice because instead of stressing over being more frugal about gifts for a whole bunch of people, we can try to think about one person and get something thoughtful and with less concern about balancing the old budget.

Because I write code for a living, I volunteered years ago to automate this so that it could be truly random and truly secret, and also to impose certain necessary restrictions. For example, I’ll already be getting gifts for my wife, so I shouldn’t get to draw her name in the Secret Santa drawing. As we’ve added more significant others to the mix over the years, the restrictions have become more, well, restrictive.

A couple of years ago, I found some bugs in my code that made it sort of surprising that we’d never had a big snafu. It was possible (though unlikely) for a person to get drawn twice, if I recall correctly. The code does record who drew whom, but I use some simple reversible encryption to obscure the data so that even if I view the data, I can’t tell who drew whom without jumping through some hoops to decrypt the data. It looks like this:

mysql> select id, selected, selectee, spouse from people;
+----+----------+----------------------------+--------+
| id | selected | selectee                   | spouse |
+----+----------+----------------------------+--------+
|  1 |        1 | Š­ð·4Ì9ΟO*Ú                |      2 |
|  2 |        1 | àßúœÉsë1‘™                 |      1 |
|  3 |        1 | 4èàÿ|tB Ýá)Öœ–             |      0 |
|  4 |        1 | Ñkdt»ÙŽ¼üHÚ©z%             |      8 |
|  5 |        1 | ã,oŒô-ârvó-b               |     11 |
|  6 |        1 | (Ûk;Öîì(:vû^­ƒ€             |     13 |
|  7 |        1 | Éãä“úHàücLݦÙ5*            |     12 |
|  8 |        1 | åÐï÷¡I•Ò0Ñ´Y               |      4 |
| 12 |        1 | Á/ðE™©„“Ü%                 |      7 |
| 11 |        1 | ®§V$]n1½ŽÂÎw«y             |      5 |
| 13 |        1 | †Ì>í…²”[Å*çƒ@©             |      6 |
+----+----------+----------------------------+--------+

So even if someone had in the past been selected to receive more than one gift, it wouldn’t have been readily obvious, and it would have been tricky to fix, since the code fires off an email to everybody letting them know whose name they were assigned.

So say Joe and Bob both draw Mary. They’d each get an email letting them know to get a gift for Mary, and unless I snooped a bit, I wouldn’t notice, and even if I did notice, I’d have to regenerate the assignments for the whole group, which’d result in confusion. Inevitably somebody would wind up looking at the older email, and we’d have chaos. Luckily, we had no snafus, and I fixed the bug.

I have occasionally played with the idea of mixing things up a bit, though. For example, I think it’d be fun to make everybody get me a gift. Or, to put a less actually selfish spin on it, it’d be sort of fun to make everybody get me a gift and then in turn get everybody else a gift. I’m far too lazy for that, though, so once again we’ve got a random selection (within the usual constraints), and hopefully everybody winds up being happy with it.