Thursday, December 22, 2005

Blessed Winter Solstice!

The old year ended on October 31st and we've been moving through the dark time.

Now, with the return of the light, the new year has begun at last and the Year Wheel starts another cycle.

Blessed Winter Solstice to all!


'Twas the Week before Christmas....

Barb & Dan hadn’t been able to make Thanksgiving and wanted to have a big family dinner with everyone, so we went up to Tacoma on the train on Friday the 16th. We both enjoy the train as an alternative to driving--just how many times can you see I-5 from Eugene to Tacoma/Seattle without screaming in boredom, after all? And there’s a pleasure to having the train do the driving, particularly in bad or icy weather.

We paused in Portland to change trains. The Portland train station is not as bad as, say, a Greyhound Bus station, but it's fairly boring. We boarded early (Amtrak's business class is a heckuva deal; for a few bucks more, you get better seats, vouchers for the snack bar, and more comfort) and settled in. Joining us in the cabin was a set of grandparents and their five-year-old grandson. The child was definitely bright--the Babe was impressed with his ability to sound out "Vancouver" from the sign at the train station- but at the same time, he was still playing "Got your nose!" He also knew the words to the "Bob the Builder" song and to "Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Really well. Oy.

His grandmother was kind of interesting, too. She spent much of the trip on the cell phone (we were at opposite ends of the car and we still got treated to her conversations) bitching at people about how the how Congress was never in session this day and that no-one was returning her calls and how there was some important immigration legislation that the White House was really in favor of and so forth and so on. She clearly wanted all of us to be impressed with her. Sorry, anyone who's pushing for something this administration is in favor of immediately puts her in the "waste of space" category.

We got in to Tacoma on time (we’ve learned to avoid the Coast Starlight and stick with the Cascades) around 4:00pm Friday afternoon. Hank (the Babe’s father) picked us up. We made a stop at Starbuck’s for coffee for a little while, then headed over to Steve & Andy’s house, where we were staying. When we got there, there was no-one but a young man named Robert who we hadn’t met before. It turned out that Robert is in the Coast Guard and that Matt, Steve’s son, had met him in basic training. Robert was billeted at the Coast Guard station in Seattle but didn’t have anyone to spend the holidays with. He’s from a very small town in North Carolina and the mechanics of getting around Seattle were a bit foreign to him (he’d never ridden a bus, for example, so getting on the bus to get off base and see parts of Seattle wasn’t something he knew how to do), so Matt took him under his wing and brought him down to Tacoma.

The Babe and I parked our stuff in the guest bedroom and then went over to Evan and Dena’s house. I love their house; it’s authentic Craftsman style and just scrumptious! I admired a painting of Evan’s, which turned out to be an unsigned Sidney Laurence, specifically, a copy of his Off to the Potlatch.

Evan explained that Laurence was a drinker, had ups and downs and was something of a perfectionist, so he may have felt that he hadn't gotten this one juuuuuuuuust right. As a result, he sold this one off cheaply and took a stab at it again. It came down to Evan through his grandmother, who bought it from Laurence in Alaska, and it's truly gorgeous. The photo on the website doesn't do it justice and it is slightly different.

Here are a couple other examples of Laurence's work: Mt. McKinley, one of Laurence's favorite subjects, Evening Glow, and Cordova. His paintings are strong, a little primitive, but have a certain pre-Raphaelite intensity to them. There are still more paintings at the Sydney Laurence web site.

We went to Mexican food for dinner, something we've not yet found in Eugene that's really been worth eating. It was pretty darned good, too, so if anyone in Eugene knows of a good Mexican restaurant, please let us know! Afterwards, we drove over to Steve & Andy's, grabbed Robert, and headed off to see the annual Zoolights festival at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. I'd never been to the Point Defiance Zoo before, actually, and this was a lovely introduction. There are vast displays of lights: a 30' panorama of Tacoma and environs, for example, with both bridges (and front and rear lights for the rows of traffic!), Commencement Bay, and Mt. Rainier in the background. There are salmon going upstream being snatched by a bald eagle, which flies off to feed it to the eaglets, a monkey that swings from beam to beam all around the ceiling perimeter of the outdoor stage, a true chameleon that eats a fly, the Rainbow Bridge (actually, I don't know if it's supposed to be Bifrost or just a horizon-to-horizon rainbow), and lots of other things. It's on until Jan 1 every night until 9:00pm; go see it. Robert had never been to a zoo before, though he had been to an aquarium. He had a good time as did we.

We dropped Robert off at Steve & Andy's, then went back to Dena & Evan's house. I was zonked from far too little sleep the night before and crashed on the couch while the Babe talked to Dena & Evan. I would've liked to stay awake, but it wasn't going to happen. We drove home and fell over for the night.

Saturday, we woke up slowly. After a breakfast in, the Babe went out with Andy and a few others to the mall to go shopping for a Girls' Afternoon Out. Steve and I went out for coffee for a while with Hank, then came back home. I bashed on the computer for a while Steve ran an errand to get a plug to make a repair over at Hank's condo. He got back and we hung out and waited for a carpenter to drop off kitchen cabinets. (They're really pretty and they match the existing cabinets nicely.)

Barb was making a 26-pound baron of beef, a piece that's so big that it was probably created by taking a side of beef and a chainsaw and doing something creative. The butcher had taken care of spicing and forming it; all she had to do was bake it. Our mouths were all watering in anticipation. We showed up around 5:30.

Robert enjoyed himself. (He said that he'd felt good that, just the other day, he'd been channel-surfing and finally found a hunting show.)

There were two big events to go along with dinner: one was Rebecca's announcement that she was engaged (hurrah!) to a young man named Kevin.

The other was that we got to see Olivia, the newest family member, who is dazzlingly cute even for a baby girl...

...and her family line.

The Babe is wonderful to see with babies; she gets very cute.

Olivia's grandfather is as proud as anyone. And rightly so, I think.

One of Olivia's many charms is that she's a very sweet-tempered baby (I'm sure this will change at some point) and smiles a lot.

Although we all were very pleased to be holding Olivia and eating amazing food (I am so glad to have married into a family of good cooks!), it was a very pleasant evening just hanging out with family as always.

Old family friends Phil & Arlene were there as well.

Dinner and desserts--of which there were many--settled in on all of us and the party started breaking up around 10-ish. (We're getting old.) We drove back to Steve and Andy's for the evening.

Sunday morning, we watched the Seahawks on TV at Steve & Andy's. They scored two touchdowns in the first eight minutes and promptly forgot how to play football. Steve got so disgusted that he turned off the TV at halftime (after the score was tied 14-14) and washed dishes for a while. The Babe came out of the bedroom a while later (she'd slept late) and turned the TV back on near the end of the 3rd quarter. The score was now 21-24 (the Seahawks were still losing) and got us interested in watching the remainder of the game. They pulled it out at last but only because someone must've reminded them in the 4th quarter that they were playing football and not baseball. Well, they're in the playoffs and that's good.

Andy dropped us off at the Amtrak station that afternoon with a big box of half a dozen kinds of cookies and fudge. (Again, it is so nice having married into a family of good cooks!) Andy makes the best Russian tea cakes and there were cookies with miniature peanut butter cups in the middle and chocolate fudge and all sorts of things that are really bad for diabetics but oh! they were good. We boarded the train and headed southwards for home.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Latté art

I'm putting together a big post with lots of pictures from our weekend up in Tacoma visiting family, but I wanted to add something very cool that I just saw this evening.

As y'all know, Seattlites and former Seattlites are very into their coffee. Starbuck's is definitely the lowest common denominator of good coffee but there's an awful lot that's better. This is a page of latté art that's done by pouring the steamed milk and occasionally teasing it with a spoon. This is ART, damnit, and it makes a hedonistic experience cool on a whole 'nother level.