Off We Go in Search of Snow

Dear husband asked me what I would like for my birthday a few days ago. We already have too much stuff. We both prefer experiences. So I asked for snow.

Obviously, he couldn’t conjure up snow out of thin air, and hiring a snow machine seemed a little over the top, and wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as the real thing. Instead, we elected to do another one of my favorite things: ROAD TRIP!!!! So off we went, in search of snow.

Fortunately, the area in which we live, Seattle, doesn’t get much snow. It sees maybe 3 or 4 days of it a year, if that. That suits me. As an adult, snow is less about sledding and snow angels and snowball fights, and more about horrific commutes, shoveling, and outrageous heating bills. No thank you.

But another beautiful feature of this area is that there’s snow nearby. We headed for Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountain range, to the little town of Alpental. And as you’ll see from my photos, the trip there was breathtaking, with its snow covered trees, frozen waterfalls, and fog.

I was a little shocked, upon arrival, to see the logjam of cars on the road, waiting to park for the ski lifts. This area is known for both downhill skiing and cross country. We saw lots of sledding off the roadside, and snowboarding, and snowball fights, too. But not a single mask. We didn’t get out of the car. We didn’t even park. We love our lives too much.

I can’t believe how selfish people are. As long as they have fun, they don’t mind putting other people’s lives at risk. How clueless can you be? Wear a mask, folks!

But I did want to touch snow at least once, so we pulled over on a deserted back road, and I decided to have DH film me throwing a snowball at the car. I’m walking gingerly because the roadside was a sheet of ice. And this was about take number 4, because I kept missing the dang windshield. Hence, the chuckle at the end.

Anyway, happy winter to you!

Stay home where it’s safe and warm and read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Help Your Local Little Free Library!

There are things you can do that won’t cost a penny.

Everyone who curates a little free library has one thing in common: a desire to promote literacy and the love of reading. To do that, we are continually looking for ways to spread the word about our library’s existence. It’s a constant effort, but I have yet to find a steward who doesn’t look at it as a labor of love.

Many of us have Facebook groups for our libraries. We also make announcements on Nextdoor.com, and in community forums. We proudly place our location on the littlefreelibrary.org location map so people who are looking for ones located near them will find them.

But, if you talk to enough stewards, you quickly learn that the best way to spread the word about your library, the ne plus ultra of grapevines, is to have your library turned into a pokestop in the Pokemon Go app. Then, players of this popular game can see your library on the virtual horizon from blocks away. There might be a library within walking distance that you wouldn’t otherwise know about!

It takes some effort for pokestops to happen, though. You have to either reach level 38 in the game yourself, or know someone who has who is willing to come to your library and nominate it as a pokestop. If it were up to us stewards, all little free libraries would instantly become pokestops. Sadly, that’s not possible.

There is much envy on the little free library forums of the pokestop “haves” by the pokestop “have nots”. When I posted the great news that my library became one, one of the milder comments was “I’m so stinkin’ jealous!” So, once I became able to nominate libraries myself, I decided to add that to my goals to promote literacy.

On a recent day off, on a rare sunny winter day in the Pacific Northwest, I decided to look up libraries near me on the library map, and plot the shortest route from library to library. For the next several hours, I visited each location, and checked to see if they had pokestops or not. If they didn’t, I nominated them.

This takes a little work. It requires the taking of photographs and much typing. This sometimes drew attention. When I told the first steward what I was doing, I think he would have picked me up and spun me around out of pure joy if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic. Such was his ecstasy. He was jumping up and down on his front porch. That definitely added to the fun.

Another fun part was visiting neighborhoods I’d never been in, and seeing the variety of libraries out there. Some double as food pantries. Some also give out painted rocks. Best of all, I got to imagine how many more children would find these books thanks to Pokemon Go. It was like a little free library scavenger hunt! It was a good day.

At the end of it, every registered library in Kent, Auburn and Covington, Washington was nominated. Below are pictures of some of the libraries I visited. There is no guarantee that my nominations will be accepted by the good folks at Pokemon Go, but it’s worth a shot. And if they are accepted, it could take anywhere from a few days to several months for it to show up in the game. But it’s worth it if it draws kids to those books.

Anyone can help spread the word about these libraries far and wide! If you don’t play Pokemon go, tell your friends on social media about little free libraries near you. And if you are a player who is high enough up in the game to nominate pokestops, won’t you help your local little free libraries promote literacy? Either way, go to https://littlefreelibrary.org/, click on the map, and look up the libraries in your area. Tell people about them, and/or nominate as many “un-pokestopped” libraries as you can. You just might turn a curious child into a reader, and that might make all the difference!

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Floating around the Rules

Check out these fascinating boats my coworker (Hi, Greg!) opened his drawbridge for the other day! Nothing like a change in routine to make life interesting. Yes, I know they look like houses being transported to an island somewhere, but actually they have a fascinating history.

It seems that the local rowing club here in Seattle needed some extra square footage, but all the land near the club was already occupied. The city would not let them build floating homes without paying heavy taxes. So the rowing club built these, and licensed them as boats. They have outboard motors on them. They are also equipped with a deck on the front with a mast and engine controls.

For the rowing club to float past the floating home rules, the city requires that they take them out on the lake four times a year to prove they are boats. They are actually maneuverable, but the wind sure does push them around, so tugs are always nearby. In this picture they are being assisted by the tugs because they’re going to Foss Marine to be dry docked for repairs.

Some rules are rather buoyant, indeed.

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Sticking the Landing

A dear friend of mine recently told me that for many years he had watched me tumbling through space, with my arms out, desperately and unsuccessfully clutching at anything in an attempt to gain stability. I’m sure it was almost as painful to watch as it was for me to experience. “But then,” he said, “you stuck the landing.”

I love that imagery. Like stepping out of an airplane, and clumsily flailing end over end in a dizzying freefall, and even, more than once, getting tangled up in my own parachute, only to find that I was still able to land safely, against all odds. That’s my life in a nutshell. I marvel at the fact that I survived.

I tried many things over the years. Colleges and trade schools in which I’d excel, academically, but ultimately those places got me nowhere. I bought a house, had to sell it during the crash, and then poorly invested what little money I gained from it. I got into a few relationships that made me even worse off, both financially and emotionally. For a while there, I was so nomadic that I barely bothered to unpack.

At some point I began to feel like I had nothing to lose, and I moved across the country to start over at age 49. I didn’t know anyone in Seattle. I knew nothing about Seattle except that the show Frasier was based here, and that there was rain. Lots and lots of rain.

It took me a few years to gain my footing in this foreign place, and I have to admit that there are still things about Seattle that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. But I did stick the landing, indeed. I’m married, have a great job, and am living in a place worth unpacking for. Life is good.

Now to shake the feeling that I’m going to wake up to discover it was all an illusion and that I’ve actually broken every bone in my body. Call it imposter syndrome writ large. But hey, even in that scenario, the ground will be stable beneath me, right?

My late boyfriend Chuck used to say, “We’ll get it done. It may not be pretty, but we’ll definitely get there.” And so it has been.

I wrote this for everyone out there who feels as if they are flailing. Don’t give up. Keep trying. As long as you draw breath, it’s still possible to stick that landing.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Public Transit Beautification

It’s no fun taking the bus. These days, it could even be deadly. But what I love about King County Metro, here in the Seattle area, is that they’re trying to make it as pleasant as possible.

Many of the bus stops in this area are quite nice, as far as bus stops go. A lot of them are sheltered on three sides from the wind and weather, and they include a bench. The upper half of the shelter is Plexiglas with a mountain and ocean abstract design that makes these stops easily identifiable from a distance, and they are really symbolic of this area.

But my favorite part is that many of them have art on the bottom half that is unique to that stop. You never know what delightful design you’ll come across. Some are photographs. Others are paintings. Each is a delight. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Any community that promotes public art is infinitely more desirable than one that does not.

Sadly, some people can’t resist vandalizing these bus stops, so often I have to resort to looking at them through my Pokemon Go app to see what the art used to be. What follows are some of the bus stops I’ve come across in my wanderings throughout the county. Enjoy!

Enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Home, via the Columbia River

It was the last day of my vacation, and as per usual in these situations, I had very mixed emotions about it. I love to travel. I enjoy going places I’ve never been. It’s an opportunity to set aside the stress of everyday life.

On the other hand, I was missing my dogs so much that it was killing me. And packing and unpacking suitcases and schlepping them from pillar to post can get very tedious. I missed my bed. I missed my little free library. I missed blogging. 13 days is pushing the outer envelope. It was time to go home.

If I was at all hesitant to leave Sunriver, the two 5-year-old girls, screaming and giggling in the room next door, was enough to make me beat a hasty retreat. If I had wanted to deal with noisy children, I’d have had some of my own.

Sunriver is a beautiful place, especially in the autumn when the leaves are turning to gold on all but the many evergreens. I decided that I’d enjoy the area a bit more by making a stop in the delightful city of Bend, Oregon. One of my favorite restaurants on earth is there. I’ve blogged about Spork before. If you’re ever anywhere near Bend, this place should not be missed. The ambience isn’t what it used to be now that they only do takeout, but the food still does not disappoint.

From there I drove off into a dense fog, with a light dusting of snow here and there. I was definitely leaving the sun behind me, and returning to the crappy weather of a late autumn in the Pacific Northwest. At least I got to delay that for a few weeks.

I passed an alpaca farm. I didn’t learn until much later that you are allowed to pet the alpacas. Had I known, I’d have stopped.

Prolonging the inevitable ever so slightly, I decided to take the scenic route home, along the banks of the mighty Columbia River. Avoiding the highway, I went through The Dalles and skirted the Northern and/or Western bank of the river as long as I could. That allowed me to go through some delightful little one horse towns, full of quaint little museums and courthouses. This area is definitely retirement-worthy, if you are so fortunate.

I also got to see a dam, but damned if I know what it was called. (Sorry. Had to.) And I stopped for pictures of the Bridge of the Gods, because how can you not take a picture of a bridge that’s arrogant enough to have that name? I mean, bow down, people. Pay homage.

I also passed Drano Lake. I don’t think I’ll be drinking out of that one anytime soon. You first. I’ll expect a full report.

And just outside of Stevenson, an otter ran across the road in front of the car. That’s a new one. I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.

The rest of the drive kind of passed by in a fog, literally and figuratively. It was good to get home and hug my fur babies, and finally break free of the albatross of suitcases that had been hanging on me for the entire journey. It made me feel like I’d lost 150 pounds.

13 Days. 4200 miles. From 9995 feet above sea level to 282 feet below sea level. From 98 degrees to 35 degrees. In and out of national parks. It was an amazing vacation. One that I’ll never forget. And here’s what I love the most about travel: it reminds you that there’s no place like home.

And as it turns out, it’s a good thing I traveled while I could. Now California, Oregon and Washington want you to quarantine for two weeks before crossing their borders. If that had been imposed while I was still in Nevada, it could have taken me 6 weeks to get home, if those rules were being strictly enforced. We are living in very strange times.

Enjoy some of the pictures from the day! And here’s a link to the first post in this adventure.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Investing in People

Greed powers the American economy. The vast majority of employers are hellbent on grinding every single ounce of profit out of their employees. If someone gets crushed under the corporate wheel, so be it. Another body will come along soon enough. If it weren’t for unions, most of us would be working 80 hour weeks for subsistence wages.

That may seem like a good idea for your profit margin in the short term, and it may make your investors very happy, but if you’re playing the long game, grinding your staff down is the most idiotic thing that you could possibly do.

The reason you even have a business is because of the people who work for you. If you’re going to invest in anything at all, invest in your people, because without them, you are nothing. Nothing.

Rick Steves understands this. You might be familiar with him because of the PBS show Rick Steves Europe, but here in the Pacific Northwest, he’s an even bigger deal than that. His headquarters are in Edmonds, Washington, and overall, he employs 100 people. (You may have also read my other post about him, which highlights what how he invests in his community.)

According to this article/video, Mr. Steves has made no profit whatsoever this year. As you might imagine, the travel industry isn’t the place to be in the COVID era. He had 20,000 tours booked, and he had to fully refund every single one of them. His office is currently closed.

But he understands the value of his professionals. He wants to keep them around. He could have laid them all off and saved a fortune on the front end, but many of them probably wouldn’t have been able to come back, and the money he would have had to spend on training, and the unknown factor of whether or not new staff would be a good fit would have cost him in the long run.

So Rick Steves is paying his employees to volunteer in their community. Some are working at food banks. Some are cleaning up park trails. Some are working at charitable thrift stores, or manning phone banks to get out the vote.

These people know they’re going to have a job to come back to. They are making a difference in the community. They are not going nuts with boredom, sitting on the couch and gaining weight. They will come back to the office feeling healthy, happy and confident. And I’m willing to bet they’ll be forever loyal to Rick Steves. There’s no better investment than that.

Granted, over the years this man has made a tiny bit a heck of a lot more money than I have. He can afford to be generous. Then again, compared to the bottom line of the greedy Jeff Bezos, he’s small potatoes. But in my estimation, he’s the better man by far.

Rick Steves, in Bruges, Belgium: He spends July and August north of the Alps. (ricksteves.com/MCT via Getty Images)

Enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Great Western Ramble

I had two weeks of vacation to use or lose. But what to do, where to go, in the time of COVID-19? Our trip to Italy got cancelled in May, and this country is handling this pandemic so irresponsibly that most countries don’t welcome Americans anymore. Heck, you can’t even go to Hawaii unless you quarantine for two weeks first. And I certainly don’t want to marinate in a flying metal tube of contaminated air for hours, even for a domestic flight. This narrowed down our choices immensely.

But in truth, I have long believed that those of us infected with the travel bug have a tendency to neglect our own countries. Why is that? If you’re going to see someplace new, why is it somehow less desirable if it doesn’t require a passport?

With this in mind, my husband and I set about exploring this amazing country of ours by car. We were gone for 13 days, visited five states besides our own, and, when all was said and done, we put 4,200 miles on the rental car. I am fairly certain that this was the longest road trip I’ve ever taken.

What an adventure!

We chose to rent a car rather than use our own because we consulted a wear and tear calculator on the web, and determined that we’d actually save about a thousand bucks by renting. I’m so glad we did. We put some hard miles on that car. During the course of the journey, we went from almost 10,000 feet of altitude to 280 feet below sea level, and that was by no means a smooth incline or decline. I would hazard a guess that we went around at least 1,000 hairpin turns. We avoided interstates as much as we could. Thank goodness my husband likes to drive.

I’m also grateful that our friend Herb likes to dog and house sit, and actually enjoys the company of my cranky dachshund. Apparently they had quite the bromance going on, to the point where Quagmire bit me when we came back home. I’ll try not to take it personally, because I love the little sh**, but jeez.

So away we go!

On day one, we drove 11 hours from just outside Seattle, Washington via the Northeastern corner of Oregon to Sun Valley, Idaho. What a beautiful country we live in. I said that pretty much daily on this journey. You don’t realize how massive it is, and how much of it is devoid of humans, and how much of it is farm and ranch land, until you drive around the West. It’s stunning.

We passed numerous solar and wind farms along the way. Given the vast open country, and our need to stop being slaves to fossil fuel if we want our children to have any decent quality of life at all, I was kind of shocked we didn’t see more of these farms. We’ve got the room. We’ve got the knowhow. And people certainly could use the work.

We also enjoyed the fall colors. It’s not like the gorgeous autumn one experiences on much of the East coast, with its oranges and maroons and reds. But it’ll do nicely. The golds and yellows reminded me why this is my favorite season. And it was awesome to put off experiencing the crappy, rainy winter weather that besets Seattle in October. We got two weeks less of that, and it was a treat.

We listened to a lot of podcasts along the way. I got to introduce my husband to Welcome to Night Vale, and now he’s as hooked as I am. We also listened to the Moth Radio Hour, which is a storytelling podcast, as well as NPR’s Radiolab, and two podcasts from the History Channel that were a lot more fascinating than I expected. The first one was Blind Spot: The road to 9/11. The second was Timber Wars. Those podcasts made the miles pass by quickly.

Our goal was to reduce human contact as much as we could, due to the pandemic. We tried to only eat restaurant food once a day, if that. We brought a lot of picnic food along. (More about that in a future post.)

We passed the nerve gas dump in Umatilla, which was kind of creepy and deserves a post all its own. (Bear with me!) And I also got to see Boise for the first time. Let’s just say that that box is officially ticked. But we did have some amazing Chinese takeout there, so there’s that.

We were shocked by the major differences in gas prices along our route. Anywhere from $2.10 at a Costco somewhere or other, to $4.50 a gallon in California. Yikes. And I’ll never get used to the fact that you can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. What is this, 1950?

We also saw a lot of fire devastation on the entire trip. On this day, it was the Evans Creek Fire in Ellensburg, and the mountains were all charred near Yakima. It was heartbreaking to witness.

On every day of the trip, my husband, who is a realtor, worked anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. Isn’t technology awesome? I think he was surprised that this didn’t irritate me. But it’s nice to see someone doing something that they absolutely love, and I might seem biased, but I truly believe he’s really good at it, too, in case you’re ever looking to buy or sell a home in Western Washington. It was impressive to witness.

We drove up something called the Pendleton Grade, where the mountains looked like they were covered in greenish brown felt and seemed like they would be soft, even though you knew instinctively that they weren’t, really. We also went through the Blue Mountains.

We reached Sun Valley well after dark, so I had no real idea how gorgeous it is until the next day, but I had to wait for the next “episode”, and so will you. I will say, though, that just as we were about to put the key in the lock of our first timeshare, all the lights went out in the entire valley, and were not to turn back on again until 6 a.m. This is not typical. We just were lucky enough to be there on the day they were doing some sort of trunk line repairs.

I’ve never gone to sleep in a place without having any idea of what it looked like before. We used our cell phones as flashlights, but that doesn’t give you a true sense of place. It’s rather surreal. But all that darkness meant we got to stand outside and see about a million stars, including the Milky Way, so every power outage has its silver lining, and all’s well that ends well.

What follows are some of the pictures we took on this day’s journey. Enjoy!

There are a lot more tales to tell about this trip, but I’ll try not to post them daily, so as not to put off those who aren’t interested in travel blogs. So brace yourself for a good month of every other day adventures! I’ll try to link them together, so that you can start at the beginning (this one) if you find yourself in the middle and want to read the whole saga. And here’s a link to the next day’s adventure!

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Drawbridge Artists in Residence

One of the things I love most about the City of Seattle is its ability to think outside the box. For example, two of our drawbridges, Fremont Bridge and University Bridge (the one I work on most frequently) occasionally host artists in residence for a three month stretch. (Check out a blog post I wrote about a previous artist in residence here.)

We are in the midst of an artist in residence cycle now. I love it when I see the artist E.T. Russian’s car in the parking space. It makes me realize that something creative and exciting is going on in the other tower. That makes me smile. Normally that tower is vacant. What a waste of a wonderful space with a gorgeous view!

Both artists in residence this cycle are graphic artists, and I cannot wait to see what they come up with. I encourage you to check out this article in Crosscut entitled, “Meet the artists making comics in Seattle’s historic drawbridges”. There you can learn more about E.T., and their Fremont counterpart, Roger Fernandes. Also, check out their websites by clicking on their names.

I think if this idea was floated past the Florida Department of Transportation, to be implemented on one of the Florida Drawbridges I worked on, it would have been laughed down. What a pity. But it makes me even more certain that relocating to open-minded Seattle was the best possible fit for me.

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Peaceful Protesters Aren’t Rioters

There’s definitely a lot to protest about these days. Personally, I’m emotionally drained by it all. My whole life, I’ve never been more horrified by what’s going on in this country than I am at this moment. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks with your own set of horrors. That’s the worst part about it. The list is endless.

The truth is that I’m glad people are protesting. It’s the only way that our voices will be heard. I’ve participated in a few protests myself. And every single one has been peaceful and nondestructive.

I get so frustrated when people equate all forms of protest with riots, looters, and vandals. Those things are a sickening side note that has nothing to do with the protests themselves. When a riot breaks out at a sporting event, as so often happens, do you blame everyone who attended the sporting event for that? When looters come in after a hurricane, do you blame the evacuees or the hurricane for that? When vandals tag a blank wall, do you blame the architect or the construction workers or the building for that? No? Then why are you blaming peaceful protesters? Is it because you really think it’s their fault, or because you want to add additional pressure to shut them up because you don’t agree with them?

In fact, according to this article, there is growing evidence that the trouble makers at these protests hold views directly opposite to those of the protestors. They’re trying to give them a bad name, when in fact it’s the right wing militia/domestic terrorists who should be accused. It’s horrific.

A lot of people are really angry right now. And unfortunately, some of those people are choosing to express that anger in very violent and destructive ways. That does not further their cause. In fact, it causes a lot of people to get hurt, tensions to ratchet up, and our tax dollars to be stretched even thinner to clean up after them, which depletes our ability to provide social services that might have prevented these problems in the first place.

But I genuinely don’t think looting, riots and vandalism have anything to do with the protests themselves. These destructive people are not trying to urge others to see their point of view. They’re just having a public tantrum, and using a protest as an excuse to get away with things that they normally couldn’t get away with.

I strongly encourage people to peacefully protest, and I genuinely believe that the vast majority of protests are, indeed, peaceful. There’s no need or excuse for things to escalate into violence or destruction. That would play right into the hands of those whom you are protesting against. Protesters know that. Please don’t lump them into the same pile with the destructive forces of this world. If anything, protesters care very deeply about this country and want to see it change for the better. Destruction doesn’t achieve that end.

What follows is the aftermath of some vandalism that happened at South Park Bridge in Seattle the other day. It’s a beautiful bridge, or at least it was. This does not win people over to your point of view, but I doubt that was the agenda in this instance.

As a bridgetender, I realize that I’m biased. I always hate to see a bridge damaged. It feels like a violation. It makes me sad.