Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sonics. ARGUH!

Last night I watched a very exciting Blazers/Nuggets game on some non-HD Cable station called CSNNW. We figured out eventually that it was the Comcast Sports Network Northwest. Say that ten times.

So now I can watch some Portland Trailblazers games.


Carmelo Anthony was out so Denver's defense was better than usual. They were double-teaming Brandon Roy so guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Przybilla were stepping up. Przybilla had a double-double, and when he reached that mini-milestone I was psyched. Late in the fourth when LaMarcus Aldridge made a beautiful LaDunk I bolted off the couch with a big "YES!" Ginger gave me a classic "I don't miss these moments" look.

Portland is a great team. How much upside does Rudy Fernandez have? How smooth is Brandon Roy? I even like Steve Blake. Is he the new Steve Kerr, or the new Brent Barry? The only depressing part is Greg Oden not meeting sports pundit expectations, but being the #1 draft pick is a curse that's hard to shake. I wish him the best; I hope he gets better and can find an effective way to deal with the harsh spotlight that's constantly on him.

It's a proven scientific fact that fans watching their sports team win have improved self-esteem for days afterward, while the opposite happens for the losers. So how's my self-esteem today?

Same. You see, PORTLAND IS NOT MY TEAM! Blazers are 3 hours south in the state of Oregon. Not my boys. I can get excited about any sports team by watching a good game. I'll watch the TNT games in beautiful, beautiful HD and bolt off the couch when Chris Bosh slams it home or D-Wade creates some magic - in Florida even. Exciting things get me excited, but the moment fades.

Where am I going with this? What else can be written about the Sonics being stolen out from under us by a band of redneck thieves from a flyover city who's most interesting attribute is its complete lack of interest? I have no great epiphany about their departure, just the loss I feel when I realize they're not on TV and I can't go to the game. I want to sit in KeyArena even if the only sound effect is "Everybody clap your hands!" Clap clap clap clap...

Sorry Portland. You've got a great team, they're young and fun to watch. But I want the Sonics. Even if it's the Memphis Grizzlies repatriated to the Northwest and rechristened the Sonics. Even if it's an expansion team with guys like Robert Swift, Stephon Marbury and that criminal Chris Anderson and it takes 10 years to have a winning season. It's the NBA, I get how this works. As flawed as the NBA is, I want them back in my City. Even if Commissioner David "I can't quit you, Clay" Stern cuts the ribbon. (I can punch him in the face later, after the ceremony and the lease is signed...)

Bring me some Sonics Basketball. Because "I'm going crazy up here at the lake!"

Update: OKC is known for something: It's the Fast Food Capital of the nation. Perfect.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Seattle: Snowed in until further notice

Putting it lightly: This is somewhat out of the ordinary! It's fun though. Normally right now we're going back and forth between drizzle and rain with the occasional non precipitating overcast day. So this ain't bad.

When it snows around here the town usually shuts down. For the entire city of Seattle, we have 27 snowplows. That's just enough snowplows to get to all streets in about 5 days. Not exactly great service, but then it usually only snows once per year and only an inch or so. It'll melt before they get to our street, which is just fine for the sledding hill/street in front of our house.

It's difficult to describe just how bad Seattle drivers are in the snow. It's pathetic. I grew up in a land where schools didn't close unless there was 24". Last night we threw the chains on the PT Cruiser and went out to dinner with some friends. I did a perfect handbrake rear wheel slide into a parking spot, it was beautiful. Our friends from Florida were impressed!

Lola will jump 4' to eat a snowball.

Remember the Mahonia? Looks like a space alien with dreads.

The new Markie's hill (the hill in front of my childhood home was known as Marky's hill).

I shouldn't be able to take a picture like this in Seattle! This is across the street.

Here's the warning, hope we get another 6+ so I can skip work tomorrow!
240 PM PST SUN DEC 21 2008

240 PM PST SUN DEC 21 2008






Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage

Plant of the Week #8
Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage

Here's another winter bloomer - as of December 7th it was blooming and had been for about 3 weeks. This is a pretty tender plant in this climate, and with the first hard frost the leaves will brown and that will be that until late spring. It seems to lag most perennials by 3 months. When others are blooming profusely in June, this salvia is just starting to bud. I made the mistake of cutting it back too much last winter and that probably slowed the growth even more, but it fully recovered and doubled in size from the previous year by August.

Like other plants in our drought tolerant parking strips (the only part of our yard we've planted so far because of the endless exterior renovations...), the sage received no water over the summer. Crush the leaves and you do get a pineapple scent, it's pretty cool. The books say 3-5' tall, and "Pineapple sage is a semiwoody subshrub in USDA zones 9-11, and an herbaceous perennial, dying to the ground in winter but resprouting in spring, in zones 8-9. Gardeners in colder areas grow pineapple sage as an annual, or bring it indoors in the winter. Pineapple sage grows naturally in oak and pine scrub forests at elevations from 8,000-10,000 feet elevation in Mexico and Guatemala." It's growing under an oak now, one of our six baby Quercus phellos, the willow oak.

There are 700 species of salvia. Like most mints, Salvia elegans has square stems, opposite leaves and is edible. We have yet to try it, but apparently it is tasty in a salad and makes a great garnish in a cocktail. Actually, that's not a bad idea - gotta go...

Next week: Quercus phellos? Revisit the Black Lace Elderberry? Arbutus menziesii?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mahonia X media 'Winter Sun'

Plant of the Week is back! (POTW #7)
Mahonia X media 'Winter Sun'

(Sorry POTW's have been on hiatus since June, I'll try and get this going again on a more regular basis. I got distracted with a little project I like to call The Porch Nightmare.)

Here's another plant in our drought-tolerant parking strips. I actually ordered Mahonia lomarifolia, Burmese mahonia. The Burmese Mahonia is even more rare, stays very narrow and can get 15' tall. Burmese is so striking in the garden, it's almost gothic with its narrow stalks shooting skyward and spiky foliage. But the nursery dropped off these 'Winter Sun' instead and it took me a year before I realized I had the wrong ones. Oh well.

The 'Winter Sun' are working out great though. Because I didn't know what I had, they're planted too close together, but for now the massing looks pretty good. They'll get much taller however, possibly 10', and at that point they'll be much wider than the Burmese I planned for, so we'll have to move some plants around.

These photos were shot December 7, 2008. The shrubs have been blooming for two weeks and I've got at least 3 more to go. We've got hummingbirds that visit our house just to drink the nectar out of our ten specimens. Other than the Salvia elegans (next week's POTW) these are the only flowers in the garden right now.

Mahonia X media 'Winter Sun' will grow in USDA zones 7-9. It's a blast of color on the shortest days of the year. New growth in the spring is bronze or coppery, by summer the fruits have turned purple and other birds are feasting on those. The books say these need afternoon shade, but mine get full, hot sun (reflected heat from the street and sidewalk too) all day. They've been in the ground for 2 years. The first summer I watered them, last summer they got nothing and I think we can agree that they're thriving.

These brighten up the typical December day in Seattle. It's cold and gray, with a slight drizzle, so the 'Winter Sun' seem aptly named.

Next week Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Finally, a reprieve!

Thankfully, the porch project is officially on hold until we:

  1. Have enough money to pay cash for the next round of construction materials (decking and siding - very spendy)
  2. Winter is wrapping up and it's not raining every day
  3. Feel like working on it again.
I'm very happy to have this behind me for awhile. This weekend, for example, instead of getting up with a sense of dread and impending crankiness, I got up and put Christmas lights on the boat for the Queen City Yacht Club lighted ships parade. Much more fun.

We got the stairs and walls in. Oh, and when I say we, I mean me. Concrete foundation, framing, everything me. Ginger helped with stair stringers. The stairs are temporary until we decide on what decking material we're using. Also, still haven't moved the big rock into place as the first "step", though the neighbors are impressed with its sheer size. It weighs 2,607 lbs. Waiting on a friend and a track hoe. Neat!

A quilt for Baby Clark

Baby quilt, originally uploaded by gingershana.

I can show you this now that it has been gifted! Just a simple baby blanket - pieced front with cottons and linen, and a back of chocolate brown chenille. The boy-ness/girl-ness of the baby is not being revealed, so I just went with bright and cheerful. Orange is always good...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I miss the big dog.

This is a story about Henry.

How do you start a post about the coolest dog you've ever known? You just start writing. B.D.E. - Best Dog Ever arrived in November of 2000. We drove to the suburbs of Vancouver, BC to pick up the little man. At eight weeks Mr. Henry was sporting giant paws and an fearless attitude. We avoided US customs by putting him out in the open, he charmed his way across the border with a wag and a yip to the border agent.

Our first morning we spent exploring his new world at our Queen Anne rental house. Little dog grew fast. At one point he was gaining 10 pounds a month. 6 months? Must weigh 60 lbs. He topped out at 120 two years later.

Little Henry showed no fear.

Ahh, melty puppy eyes.

He would do unspeakable things to this plush beach ball...

We moved to Wedgwood and Henry adjusted immediately to his new surroundings. What was ours was his. Couch, bed, whatever. We were weak and he knew it!

Teenager Henry.

Then we did the unspeakable. The neutering. After this, there was less humping and growling, but he remained largely the same dog. Largely, pun intended.

H-dog in his natural habitat, on top of the humans.

Not much of a swimmer, but he didn't need to impress anyone either. They were impressed anyway and he seemed to know it.

Henry made himself at home literally wherever we went. And we took him everywhere.

Why sit on the ground when I can sit in this chair?

We never had to leash Henry when we were out camping or on the beach. He stayed close, stayed out of trouble.

Henry liked to sleep. After about age two, he really mellowed out and took it easy most of the time.
Then we really upset the balance with this little orange thing. Ginger wanted an orange dog. Seriously, so after endless hounding and pleading we brought one home from the shelter. Henry was mildly amused and put up with his new little sister for the most part. Lola was to be the auxillary dog, a back up. A back up I felt we didn't need at the time.

Henry liked to play rough, really rough. You'd get him going and he'd knock you over. He knocked me off my feet many times, the momentum was unstoppable - his head a steel battering ram.

Lola got bigger and started taking up more space. Henry tolerated this.

We moved again, to a bigger house - sort of ready made for two dogs. But Henry would only live here for a year.

Big old Henry probably grew too fast and like all large breeds, had a short life expectancy to begin with. It's a good thing he didn't know that. He lived life to the fullest. Yeah, he slept a lot, but most Bullmastiffs are like that. Henry's personality really came alive around people. He knew he was the center of attention and played it up. We'd take him everywhere we could and he'd make a big entrance, people would ooo and ahhh, and Henry would stand up just a little taller and make a bee-line for the person with food. There are really two kinds of people: Those who loved Henry and those who didn't. He could tell which was which and then gravitated to the people he could manipulate for food or fun.

There was a little bit more to the big dog than sleep, food and slobbering. He seemed to possess emotion more than other dogs. Lola, for instance, is 99% instinct. She reacts to things the way you expect dogs to react. Lola barks when the doorbell rings because that's what dogs do. Lola does dog stuff like get crazy anxious when you pull out the tennis ball. She's completely and totally a dog; she doesn't think, she just reacts to stimuli.

Maybe Henry was slightly more evolved? I like to think so. It's hard to describe, but I think Henry had more soul. Our interaction with Henry was different. We spoke to Henry like he was another person in the room. He was the sort of dog that did what you asked him to do not because he was particularly good at obedience school, but because he wanted to make you happy. When we said "Speak" he'd bark so loud you'd fall backwards. That made us laugh, and I think that made Henry happy. He would sit and listen to you talk, trying to process the information, trying to understand the words. He wanted to be in on whatever was going on around him.

He was always in a good mood. One summer we think he ate a yellow jacket or something and got stung on the inside of his mouth. Half of his face swelled up to the size of a softball. We were freaked out but Henry didn't really care much about the swelling; he was just totally pumped to go to the vet! Oh, how he loved those female vet techs that fawned over him and gave him treats. He loved our vet, Dr. Canfield, who commented on several occasions that Henry was one of the happiest dogs he'd ever seen.

Even in times of what must have been sheer agony he seemed happy. When he ran down the stairs to the boat, slipped on the dock and crashed down hard enough to break a piece of bone off the back of his elbow, he got up and jumped in the boat like nothing happend. Why so excited? Possibly anticipating a boat full of people that he could impress with this Henry-ness is my guess. It was only later when he was limping badly that we knew something was wrong. When we took him to the special, expensive, orthopedic vet (ka-ching!) he noticed the same thing. "Your dog is probably in a lot of pain right now, I'm surprised he's so happy." That was Henry.

It's been almost two years since we had to take Henry to the vet for the last time. It's impossible for most non-dog people to understand just how attached we were to this smelly creature. When we'd go somewhere without him it would take about 24 hours and we'd be talking about how much we missed Henry. He was a massive part of our lives for only six years. I still think about him every day and I miss him just as much.

He was like my best pal. He knew me. For awhile I had a boss I didn't like and he knew it. When boss man would try to talk or pet Henry he'd turn away, blow him off. It was awesome! He did what I couldn't do! I guess what I'm saying is Henry possessed some very human-like qualities that I just don't see in other dogs.

Below is a picture from Henry's last day. You can see that his rear legs are failing him. He has been having terrible heart trouble for a couple of months and none of the drugs in his cocktail seem effective. They're making it worse, actually, and Henry's rapid decline is now visually obvious. We're taking 1/4 length walks at 1/3rd the speed because that's all he can do. He's falling down the stairs, essentially fainting as his heart can't keep up, can't send enough blood to both his brain and his legs. He hasn't been able to wag his tail for a couple of months, but still says hi with his eyes. He can't lift his leg, or squat. He's having accidents - but he is still trying to stand proud and tall and at times he pulls it off. It's just heartbreaking to see this happen.

His decline was so rapid we weren't really prepared. The last day we spent walking slowly around a couple of parks, letting Henry go slow and sniff whatever for as long as he wanted. We bought him a steaming plate of fish and chips and let him have at it, the whole thing. (In the past this would have lead to unbearable flatulence, one of Henry's less glamorous traits. He didn't act much like a dog, but you can't escape your biology all the time...).

The trip to the vet was so unbearably awful I don't want to describe it or re-live it ever again. And in cruel irony, Henry was happy to be there because he still loved the vet! The vet is a place full of attention and treats. He pranced in like a young dog and flashed a Henry smile at the cute, young vet tech - and he received a treat. Just like old times.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Small Craft Advisory

After a great Thanksgiving with friends at our house, we packed up the next day for our now traditional day-after trip to Kingston to go crabbing with the Carlson's. Like all great boat adventures, this one started with a Small Craft Advisory! We knew we shouldn't have left the barn Friday, but we were so ready to get out of town for some R&R and with a promise of great weather for the rest of the weekend, we were willing to risk it.

Once we got through the backup at the locks, we headed north northwest for Kingston and the going was rough, but not bad. 3 foot swells and some heavy wind from the south. That didn't last. Once we were in the shipping lanes the swells were building to 4 feet with some periodically larger waves that slowly rolled past us. We were going about 8 knots, the swells about 9 or 10. A tug boat pulling a cargo barge south sent us off course a bit. After he passed, trying to get diagonally across to Kingston was getting tough. Due north was the easiest course but if we missed Kingston we'd be crashing back against the waves and did NOT want to miss our cove.

The video above was taken when it was still kind of fun, before we were really out in it. Then it got scary as the waves were building. One big roller pushed us sideways to the west. I tried to fight it with the rudder, tried to turn to get us back on course and felt a pop in the steering gear. That was that, we just lost steering in 4 and 5 foot swells in the southbound shipping lane off President Point. Immediately we were beam-to in the swells getting rocked ferociously side to side. Ginger threw life vests on me and Lola as I radioed the Coast Guard. Pan Pan! Things were flying all over the boat as we rocked. After getting a position and stats radioed in, a Coast Guard cutter was dispatched, but still 20 minutes out! No one else was on the water. The Carlson's were an hour behind us.

We were alone, but within view of the shore and drifting towards it quickly. I got my wits about me and realized that I could move the rudder post with my foot, so Ginger took the throttle and I stood in the lazerette and moved the rudder manually. We were able to get the boat out of the trough and headed north again, zigzagging into Appletree Cove. Once I got the hang of it and we were closer to shore the waves subsided a bit. Finally we were in the cove. I called off the Coast Guard. Our next hurdle was avoiding the minefield of crab bouys in the cove without being able to see them. Ginger pointed left and right and we managed to miss them and the debris in the water.

Once deep in the cove and close to our destination, I was feeling pretty good about the new steering system! I decided we could make it to the dock (the dock never looked so safe!). So we slowed to idle and headed for the easiest spot on the end. The wind was blowing us off the dock so I came in steep and wasn't able to recover the turn with my foot steering system in time, and srape! But we were on the dock - sort of. "NEUTRAL! NEUTRAL!." Ginger almost left me shouting from the dock as she headed off solo towards million dollar yachts with no steering, but she fought it into reverse and we got her shut down finally. Adventure over. Whew.

I said, "Now that you've docked the boat without steering, how 'bout you try it with steering sometime?" Maybe.

After that, it was a pretty typical trip to Kingston. Crab city (mmm!), cool temperatures and some good relax-time with the wood stove. Lola played stick on the beach and ate too much sand. Mark and Ginger slept in.

We repaired the steering with a piece of exhaust hose. Should be fine until we can replace the entire rod from console to rudder post. A fun winter project.

So our good weather never materialized. Sunday we awoke to fog that never lifted. Finally at 1:00 with only 3 hours of daylight left, we decided we had to leave no matter what. We followed the Carlson's south and then radioed Seattle Traffic to see what cargo vessel might be screaming towards us at 30 kts. All clear, so we made due east and crossed the shipping lanes as quickly as possible. Completely blind really, but blowing the horn as we went. We made it to Shilshole without incident and then again waited impatiently for the locks. After losing steering in a storm, the fog just seems like a minor inconvenience! I asked Ginger if she still liked boating. She said yes. Whew!

The last thing this crab ever saw.

Cook 'em on the dock so they don't stink up the boat.

I ate this guy for real about two hours later. 7.5"!

A big starfish will spoil the whole pot. Once they're in, the crab steer clear. This beast had 20 legs!