Sunday, June 19, 2011

Extra pics of the Butchart Gardens? Why, no...

Despite the fact that both Ken and I couldn't be less interested in gardening and yard work, we tend to keep buying houses that require a ton of maintenance and/or expertise in the "yard arts." The funny part about buying and moving into this house with an elaborately established landscape was that every plant that blooms is a surprise.  Since they were dormant and all "sleeping" back in December, we had no idea what color things were or even what they were.  Luckily we have great help from Box of Rain Landscape on keeping the garden healthy, well laid-out, mulched and properly pruned.  And then the rest of the time we just wander around the garden gaping at it all.  There is also a bit of fruit planted as well: blueberries, raspberries, Italian plums, grapes & figs.  We still need to figure out when to harvest that stuff.  It's ridiculous.

Things said in this household since the Spring:
"The front rhododendrons are pink!  And the ones in the backyard are lavender!
"We have Bearded Iris."
"We have Tiger Lilies."
"We have Calla Lilies."
"We have a ____ load of figs."
"Roses, hello!"
"What are all these little purple flowers?"





This is a peony.  My Facebook friends told me so.


1 of 2 massive fig trees.  I've never eaten a fresh fig--that will soon change.









Ken endeavors to plant some pea plants he's sprouted for Sidney which could be the gateway to a vegetable garden.  This ought to be interesting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Victoria BC aka “Extreme This Vacation,” Day 2


  
The previous day set a pretty high bar of fun but took a lot out of us.  Because I was recovering from a cold prior to our arrival in Victoria, being on the scooter all afternoon set me back a little.  All morning, I sequestered myself in our room to rest up for what we had planned Saturday.  And I was going to need it. In keeping with doing things that are unexpected and possibly unwise, Ken and I arranged to do something called Wild Play.  Both of us had done Ropes Course team building exercises in the past so when Ken saw this as the #4 recommended thing on Trip Advisor for Victoria, we signed up.
According to the pamphlet, we were in store for “thrill-filled circuits of rope swings, wobbly bridges, tightropes, ladders, swinging logs and zip lines [that] create [an] exhilarating, suspended obstacle courses for all ages.”  All this while strapped into a harness and strung up 60 feet in the air.  It was liberating. Like ski slopes, they had blue, green, red and black levels to denote the level of difficulty and distance from the ground. I do have a fear of heights which makes this activity that much more exhilarating. Most of the time I focused on the tree ahead of me and where the safety line was lashed/bolted to the tree. Looking down made it worse so I just tried not to do it.  




This is my bad ass look.
The most difficult "game" was the crossing (pictured below) with the alternated hanging nets. That required a lot of upper body strength and was in the black (last and most difficult) section of the course. I was getting tired by then and it put me over the top. Unfortunately there is no exit from that point so I just had to keep going forward. Much of it was mental too. Shortly after that, there is a rung of 6 monkey bars to cross to get to a nearby tree. When I was in 3rd grade, I'd swing all day on something like that but at 37 with a lot more weight and much less upper body strength, I was getting really psyched out by the idea of crossing them. Our guide shouted up to me to grab the 3rd rung in and swing my legs to the next platform. That was so simple but I couldn't see it through my anxiety. Interesting how the mind does that.

This challenge was the hardest for me to navigate.  Zapped a lot of strength.




The zip lines are basically where you take a break from the hard stuff and trust your equipment. They got longer and higher as the course progressed. Those initial few were quite a challenge for me because it's not like you are sitting in a sling. There is a "pulley" that is thethered to your harness and you clip that on to the line as well as your safety clips. But that's it--your butt is just hanging out there and you have to sit back, extending your legs and arms as you rocket into a cushion attached to the tree.



I know this sounds ridiculous but when I got scared or doubtful, I just remembered that I'd given birth to another human being so this obstacle course was a cake walk comparatively.  I definitely felt braver once I internalized that.  (Not that everyone has to have a baby to know what they're capable of but it really helped me.)  

We successfully navigated the entire course.



After returning to the hotel and getting cleaned up, we wandered out to the harbour where on a barge was a stunt bike exhibition.  While rave-like music blared from the stage, riders jumped and flipped through the air.  We were dressed up for dinner and didn't quite fit in with the crowd filled with grungy, overtly tattooed 20-somethings with a thirst for Molson Beer.





We concluded our night with a quiet celebratory dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant called Cafe Brio.  It was cool because they did half orders of the entrees so you could try more than one thing.  Stay away from the duck, too dry and salty, but the Beef Pasta dish was sublime.   

Our trip to Victoria was wonderful in every way.  Ken will tell you it was too cold but I would say the 60 degree temperature was just right and no precipitation--so perfect.  Canadians are super nice and I love the way they say "sorry" with the long 'o'.  On the Victoria Clipper ride back, we sat next to some retired vacationing Australians who hit it off with Ken and chatted about Australia and computers.  Other than being completely exhausted, I was mentally refreshed and can't wait for our next adults-only trip. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

MyPublisher.com Woes

While self-publishing & photo book creation has come a long way with the advent of the Internet, sometimes things go astray.  Technology can be vexing and even more so when the humans behind it act as cold and heartless as their software.  Here is a heartbreaking tale of such a scenario about MyPublisher.com from my friend Sarah.

********
Hi Kali,
Do you have the ability to post a review far and wide somehow?  I just had the most horrendous experience with one of the companies that was highly reviewed in the online posting you sent.  (Which was a great article!)  I have no idea how to "get the word" out about this online, but if there is a good way that doesn't take too much time, please let me know.

After sinking HOURS and HOURS of time into Mika's Father's Day project, the software hit a glitch and erased everything I had been saving along the way.  I just spent the last ten minutes crying my eyes out like a little girl since time is something I haven't had a lot of recently, and so to lose something that will take me months to build again is just devastating.

Here's what I just wrote about it to the guy who posted the review you sent me.

Hi there,
I really appreciated the detailed and thoughtfully written review of photo books.  Thanks!  Based on your article, I selected MyPublisher for a large project I am working on.  Near the end of the project after I had invested MANY long hours, the program froze momentarily.  Then, 99% of all my work disappeared.  It didn't quit.  I didn't get error messages.  I contacted MyPublisher immediately (spoke with supervisor Scott) and was told that "it sometimes does that" on computers with less than 2GB of RAM.  

I use many page layout and audio sound editing programs on this computer without problems.  No where on the website was it made clear of the system requirements for MyPublisher before I got started.  There was no way to recover all I had lost.  In addition, MyPublisher was unwilling to work with me in any way to make things right.  They did offer to "extend a coupon" for a discount I would have already been receiving had their program not crashed, but they wouldn't do anything beyond that.  It's the same discount anyone can get - and I would have, too, if their program hadn't lost everything on my computer today - so I didn't feel it was appropriate level of "we're sorry" for the massive amounts of time, heartache, and missed deadlines their software has caused me.  

I was hoping they would print my project - a single book - free of charge.  No deal.  After that, I asked that they disclose the 2 GB issue more prominently on their web page to save other people this outcome. They did not offer a comment or agree to do so to.  I am extremely disappointed by this company.  I would love it if you could post my experience as a follow up on your blog so that other people might use my experience as an additional tool for evaluating if MyPublisher is really the right choice for them. Thanks so much for considering.

Sincerely,
Sarah

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Victoria BC Trip aka “48 hour abdication of all parental responsibilities,” Day 1

I’ll be honest, I was little nervous about my first overnight trip away from Sidney but it all soon evaporated when we left the house in the wee hours Friday morning to catch our boat.    Mother and Cindy were kind enough to come up from Portland and stay with Sidney for the weekend.  It was in honor of our 6th wedding anniversary that we officially celebrate later this month.  I “Grouponed” out and found deals on the Victoria Clipper and the amazing Marriott Victoria Inner Harbour which is right behind the famed Empress Hotel.  
During the three hour mostly-smooth Clipper boat ride, we saw a Humpback Whale breach--that’s when I knew this would be no ordinary vacation.  With the freedom of movement and the ability to do anything we wanted, this trip suddenly became the gateway to a magical world called Canada.  The weather in Victoria is basically just like Seattle and luckily it was partly sunny and in the 50/60’s which as far as I’m concerned is perfect.  Ken definitely wishes it was hotter and definitely wishes he brought a better coat.
 

If I may make a sweeping generalization, Canadians have to be the nicest people in the Northern Hemisphere if not the world.  There are so many positive interactions we have had, they even drive “nice.”  But we are on Vancouver Island in Victoria so maybe it’s particular to this specific area but I get the feeling Canadians are pretty chill and why wouldn’t they be?  They all have healthcare.  Anyway, our room which was a “Groupon coup d'├ętat” scored us a killer deal on a high floor room which overlooks the harbor and access to the coveted concierge lounge (free food).  Since Sidney, extravagance has been kept to a minimum so this is a big deal.  

We found out there was going to be the first ever Freeride Mountain Bikers Jumping Event this weekend and watched ramps constructed as we ate some delicious fish and chips for lunch at the Flying Otter on the Wharf.  “Flying otter” is what they call seaplanes.  
We decided that we needed to go see the Butchart Gardens right then and wanted to have the most flexibility with the least cost. Public transit would take almost 2 hours each way--nope, chartered motor coach had such limited hours of service--nope, renting a car was too easy--eye roll.   I know!  Let’s rent a motorcycle, no even better, a motor SCOOTER because (as in holding with one of the core tenants of our trip) it’s more economical.  (Fun fact: Motor scooters with 2 people on them hit a top speed of about 40 mph so don’t get on a highway/freeway with them.)  
We  “Roman Holiday-ed” up to the Garden and took a picturesque but in hindsight ridiculous tootle along windy roads and much faster traffic.  The gate staff at the Gardens kindly held their giggles to a minimum when we pulled up to the park entrance to pay.  And then the scooter wouldn't start for a bit so we were almost freaking out that we’d have to call the scooter rental place to come pick us up--but alas it started up again.
A bit windblown and saddle sore, we strolled through the magnificent gardens.  And this comes from a person who doesn’t much care about gardening or yards or flowers.  This place is absolutely breathtaking.  According to one of the onsite staff, 50-75 full time gardeners are constantly working year-round.  It’s varying terrain and garden types are surprising and magical.  




They even have a replica of Porcellino the bronze Florentine boar whose nose you rub for good luck.  Ken and I did this in Florence in 2004 when we visited and evidently the Butchart family had a replica made and installed in their garden.  Many of the flowers were in bloom so it was very colorful.  Unfortunately none of the roses were out---I guess that’s not until July.  But they have a rose garden that would teach Portland (the Rose City) a few tricks.  You can just tell that in full bloom that place must be stunning and so fragrant.



Reluctantly we got back on our scooter and braced ourselves for the many hills awaiting us.  For good measure we leaned forward when cresting.  The Marriott staff kept their giggles to a minimum as well as we arrived back and parked the scooter overnight in the garage.  About that time, Game 5 for the Stanley Cup had started between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins.  It’s a best of 7 series and they were tied 2-2.  This game was being played in Vancouver.  All day we had seen people (including statues) wearing green, blue and white colored hockey jerseys (the same color palette as the Seahawks btw).  And you could tell people were psyched up.   But we caught the last half of the game and then went out to see how the Canadians celebrate winning a hockey game.  Crazy times!
 

The next and possibly last game of the series if the Canucks win will be in Boston Monday.  We later asked a waitperson about what it was like when the Canadians played the Americans for Olympic gold.  It was crazy he said, people filled the downtown streets in Victoria.  But then he said, “But the Stanley Cup win is more important.”  #Canadian Culture Lesson

With a hopping nightlife and celebratory crowd mingling around the harbour and streets around the Empress Hotel, we took it all in until it became a bit crisp and I wanted to get a little bit more to eat.  Even though I had to wait 45 minutes for it due to a kitchen error, I had the best gourmet clam chowder I’ve ever eaten in the lounge at the Marriott Victoria.  Smoked paprika, yukon potatoes, cream, ham and clams.  Unbelievable.  

Bliss: getting the evening report on Sidney & not having to pick up toys for once.
Evening in Victoria Harbour
So if you think this day was full of fun, wait until you hear about Day 2.  
To be continued....

Monday, June 06, 2011

Immunize

The other day, as I perused the Seattle Times Online, I came across a starling story about how Washington State has the HIGHEST number of vaccine exceptions for children in the nation.  So 6% of the kindergardeners in this state do not have some or all of their immunizations.  Lovely.

I will admit when we were first pregnant with Sidney, I heard about the so-called link between autism and immunization.  I had friends who swore that immunization was highly dangerous and I listened to them because as a soon to be parent, you obviously want to make all the right decisions.  I started to think we should consider an alternative immunization schedule.  Not to completely give up on vaccines but to space them out.  Then I read "Baby 411" written by a doctor, started looking at the CDC website and remembered that I believe in science.

Third world countries are falling all over themselves to get vaccinations for deadly & disfiguring diseases that still exist in the world.  Because the US has nearly eradicated some of these from our daily lives, within a generation or two, we've become forgetful, stupid or both.  The immunity to small pox, chicken pox, measles, mumps, polio, etcetera doesn't continue unless you get the shots.  So when parents who have issues with the vaccines withhold them from their own kids and then put my child, myself and my community in danger of contracting one of these diseases--well that is just selfish and stupid.  The concept of herd immunity only works if everyone does it.  From my understanding, the vaccines themselves create a barrier to the disease but it's really the combined barrier of the complete group that keeps a disease from getting a foothold and spreading.  This is especially true for the very young who can't get immunizations until certain ages.  For instance the MMR shot is not given until 1 year of age.  Until then, they are dependent on all around them to be healthy.

I just can't understand how we got here: turning down such a life-saving breakthrough of science like we're turning down an appetizer at a dinner party.  These should not be optional.  And if it's really that much of a problem for someone, perhaps they should go live in the woods, home-school their child and never expect to come into contact with any other human being.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Gifts of uh...Love?

I just picked up Tina Fey's book Bossypants with the unsettling cover of her head Photoshopped on a large man's upper torso.  Once you get past that the contents are quite funny and heartwarming, as you would expect from her.  I'm really looking forward to her comments and observations about motherhood.  But I'm not that far in, maybe on the 3rd or 4th chapter.  At this point, she talks about her eleventh grade boyfriend who gave her a box of microwave popcorn and a used battery tester for her 17th birthday.  She added, "Like you give someone when you're in love."  It also sounded like he broke up with her soon after.

That story totally hearkened me back to my late 20's when I received a similarly vexing but ominous gift from a boyfriend.  To set the stage, Joe (not his real name) and I had just gone for a long weekend to Boston to visit his family after dating for a few months.  He sort of sprung the trip on me since a gloomy cloud of "this will likely not work out" settled over our relationship.  But I was encouraged by this gesture and found his initiative romantic so I set that feeling aside.  We traveled in early December and it was a nice trip so when we got back I bought him a number of Christmas gifts like a sweater and other cliche' relationship-y bobbles.  The week before Christmas he came over and I presented him with the wrapped and bowed boxes and he stared at them dumbly.

"I didn't get you anything," he said.
"Oh, that's okay," I said. "I know you're busy."

I was really confused because hadn't I just been visiting his parents and sister on the other side of the country two weeks ago?  (Oh and I had paid for my own plane ticket so that couldn't have been considered a gift.)  But I tried to shake it off and have fun that night anyway.  I left the next day to go down to Vancouver alone for an extended vacation with my family.

When I returned, there was a medium sized Amazon.com box waiting for me.  I tore it open with desperation and hope that it might be from him.  Maybe he needed some time or space to come around and get into the spirit of the holiday.  Not that I needed expensive or fancy stuff but some THING (a card even) to show he cared.  Inside, I found an invoice stating his address in the billing box (which was the only indication of where this had come from) and a fully stocked toolbox & socket set.  Wow, definitely practical.  Too bad I already had a fully stocked toolbox and he knew it too because he fixed the sink a few months ago.  The date of purchase was 12/26 and it had been one of these "gold box deals" that Amazon used to do where they'd deeply discount one item for a whole day.  I must say, he got it at a good deal on it--so kudos to him.

As I tried to feign some semblance of appreciation, my ridiculous female mind desperately clutched onto the quickly disappearing tendrils of hope that this relationship would last much longer.   What kind of a jackass gives you a toolbox for Christmas?  Especially one you don't need.

At least someone benefited from Joe's cringe-worthy attempt at lame reciprocation: for a New Years present I gave my brother a brand new toolbox and socket set.