Saturday, August 30, 2008

We're Here!

Ahhhh, we successfully broke free of the cold, damp grip of the wet side and Augtober... And the girls wasted no time getting some quality babycakes time in!

After some Pizza Pizza fun courtesy of Little Caesar's, we headed out to the park.

And then the sprinklers came on so we came home... Still on track for Karaoke tonight! Woooooooooo!!!

Keepin' It Clean

Last Christmas I did a pretty good job at giving Cindy some good stuff. She got an electric mattress pad, a new stereo (with HD Radio!) for the van, and the one I was simultaneously most excited about, and most worried about, two Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners - one for upstairs, one for downstairs.

Well, nine months later let's see how they've held up!

The Electric Mattress Pad: It's been used a LOT! In fact, I never would have dreamed it would get called into action in August, but there were a couple nights this week that were cold enough that it came in handy. Of course, it has a fairly major design flaw, too. The junction where the controller plugs into the mattress pad should be located on the very end of the pad, so it's out of the way. However, on this pad it's right where our feet go. Incredible something like that made it through testing and quality assurance without getting caught. Oh, also, there are no heating elements down at the end either - fine for Cindy, whose legs are shorter than mine... but I spent much of the winter with freezing cold feet while the rest of me was toasty warm. Final grade: C+.

Car Stereo with HD Radio: LOVED IT!! It had some weird design issues too, but none that were as glaring as the mattress pad. Seattle has a great selection of HD Radio, most of which are commercial free, all music expansions over their traditional FM stations. A couple of channels really got me hooked. Oh, but then we traded the old van in on the new one with the built in SuperStereo with hard drive and Sirius Satellite radio. I love the hard drive in the new one. But Sirius is pathetic. Programming wise, there are some good channels, but the sound quality on EVERYTHING from Sirius is HORRIBLE!! Honestly, the best way I can think of to describe the sound of Sirius, is that it sounds EXACTLY like a "fast dialup" (remember 56k modems?) RealAudio stream from 1997. For real. I haven't bothered to look at the technical specs behind it, but I'm sure it requires similar data rates. EPIC disappointment because there are some channels on there I'd listen to if I could stand the sound. Oh wait, I was writing about the OLD Stereo with GREAT SOUNDING HD Radio. That one was great. A little quirky, but solid. I give it an A-.

Finally, the Roomba twins. I would like to introduce to you, Rosie and Vax.

Rosie is on the left, and is in charge of patrolling the lower floors of our house. That's where the daycare is. Rosie has proven herself to be worthy of such an illustrious robot name! Like the Jetsons' maid, she tirelessly sucks up all the crumbs left behind by 14 busy puddle jumpers, day after day.

On the right is Vax, who does an equally good job in the upstairs part of the house. He does a great job whether sucking up cat hair or kitty litter... He also gets underneath the stove in the kitchen for a thorough cleaning that would only happen twice a year if we had to pull the stove out from the wall, which we would have to do to compare to his regular cleanings.

I got the twins from Woot, who sells Roombas quite often. I highly recommend them! As I mentioned earlier, I was very excited and yet also a little nervous about giving these to my wife for Christmas. I mean, it's like a horrible stereotype for a husband to give his wife a vacuum, iron, blender, etc, for Christmas... But I thought about that - the TACKY factor comes up because those all require her to do work. They're not to help her enjoy her life. These Roombas on the other hand, let her push a button and forget about the floors. It made sense to me, so I went for it.

Christmas morning, Cindy was excited to get them, but I believe there was a touch of skepticism as well - I mean, cool or not, her husband got her not one, but two vacuum cleaners for Christmas. Is he trying to tell her something??

Luckily the skepticism quickly faded as she watched them roam the living room, leaving the carpet cleaner than they found it. By the time we went to bed on the 25th, she had already named Rosie, and was excitedly telling everyone who called or stopped by that she had a pair of robot vacuums!

But wait, before I hand out the final grade for the Roomba Twins, there's another factor to take in.

We have, over the eight-plus years we've been together, had a really rough time with vacuum cleaners. We've gone the cheap route with an $89 Bissell... We've gone the extravagant route, with a $600 Dyson. (We have been VERY grateful for Costco's return policy, too!) We've tried several in between, and finally decided to just bite the bullet and buy an Oreck XL. Wanting to just be DONE with the whole thing, we got the Oreck XL-21, with a 21 year warranty. That should set us for life! And it better, since it cost more than the Dyson!

The Oreck works really, REALLY well. But even it can't seem to break the curse put upon us by the Vacuum Overlords. For some reason, the belt on our Oreck breaks frequently. It's a quick and relatively cheap in-shop repair, costing about ten bucks. But lately that ten dollar belt breaks after only a few uses and we're back for more. Right now it's broken again. Has been for a few weeks... We're a bit fed up with the nickle and dime-ing.. or rather "ten dollar billing" it's been giving us. So the Twins have been called upon to do more work than usual... And they're doing a great job at it!

With all the extra work they've been putting in, they were looking a little dusty. Yesterday we decided it was time to give them a little spa time to reward their hard work.

There's Vax in the Spa. That nasty clump of fuzz in the middle of the picture? That wasn't in his bin. That was all pulled from his inner workings! These things pick up EVERYTHING!! Even with that much crap clogging his insides, his last run resulted in a full bin and clean floor. So we did a thorough cleaning on him, and then on Rosie, and then set 'em loose to play, kind of like how after washing a cat or dog, you let them run around to celebrate their making it through bath time.

Well, they both came through Spa Day in perfect health, and sounded much better running around without all the internal clogging.

In light of the facts, with our little Roombas doing the work that an Oreck can't keep up with, and trudging on while filled to the brim with carpet fuzz and hair, The Roomba Twins have earned a final grade of A+! Heck, they even put themselves to bed (on their charging docks) when they're done working for the night. Definitely straight A Robots!!

Only problem is, what the heck am I going to get Cindy for Christmas THIS year??

Friday, August 29, 2008

Labor Day Road Trip!

Augtober continues to set new levels of disappointment here on the lower wet side. There have been one or two days of great, warm weather, but that has just amplified how horrible the rest of the month has been.

So we're packing up and heading east again! Kennewick, here we come! Yes Mom, we'll hit Pasco too... but we're sleeping in Kennewick so they get top billing.

Looking at the weather forecast, they'll be having strangely cool weather for the end of August, but it's still a good 15-20 degrees warmer than what we've been putting up with, so it will be a very welcome change.

And not only that, but....

Tomorrow Night, Somewhere in the Greater Tri-Cities Area...

Mike & Cindy Brinkerhoff, The Donald and Lisa Sorenson, and anyone else who loves a good song sung badly will hit the mic hard in the ultimate show of labor day weekend goofiness!

I'll be sure to take actual pictures for an actual update after the actual event!

We're looking VERY forward to seeing everyone over on the right side this weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Resume Torture

Long time readers will recall that back in May, I told the tale of the torturous radio situation at work.

Other than the ever-present problem of bad commercials, the musical atmosphere in the office had improved dramatically, courtesy of 96.5, Jack-FM.

A few days ago though, I started hearing rumblings that “the girls” in the office, who outnumber me, started talking about wanting to go back to “Star 101.5”. I really hoped they’d just kinda forget about it.

This morning as I entered the office, I caught the tail end of “This Love” by Maroon 5. Bad sign. Jack never really showed a whole lotta love for M5. Star, on the other hand, just can’t play enough of them. I put my lunch in the fridge, and sat down at my desk. Natasha Bedingfield was playing. Crap. I didn’t realize just how much I enjoyed NOT hearing her voice for the past four months. Then there was about 10 minutes of inane morning show jibba jabba. Oh boy oh boy, it’s “Therapy Thursday” where rejects from the trailer parks of the area call in to the radio station with their problems and let the sheeple listening tell them what to do.

Today’s topic? The mother of a 13 year old girl. The 13 year old girl wants to pierce her belly button. Since Mom appears to have never really established any of those uncomfortable and unwanted BOUNDARIES, or taught her daughter that she needs to respect and obey her mother, the daughter felt that she had the right to make a deal with her mom. The deal was that if girl gets good grades in the coming school year, mom will take her to the piercing pagoda and sign a waiver.

Mom made it clear that SHE didn’t like this idea… But did she put her foot down and remind girl that 13 year olds don’t call all the shots? No. She called Kent & Allen so they could ask the listeners of their unoriginal, incredibly repetitive programming for advice.

The first call that came in while I was in the torture chamber at my desk was from a 61 year old woman who was all for it. She proudly listed off all of her piercings and tattoos. From the sound of her speech, she MIGHT even have one or two teeth left in her mouth. Excellent role model for the kids.

Next up was a woman who I suspect is trapped in a captive listening situation like me, who tried to stress that the mom needs to be practicing a little thing called PARENTING, and that if the girl feels she “deserves” this at 13, what’s she going to decide her next indisputable right is? Oh, that call doesn’t generate enough drama, so they quickly cut her off.

Well of course they cut her off! They haven’t played any NICKLEBACK for at least 20 minutes! Gotta resolve that ASAP!!

OK… So even leaving the wretched “Therapy Thursday” out of it, Star 101.5 is the “Young and the Restless” of the radio world. It’s been four months since I last listened to this station in any way. I’ve been at work for 90 minutes. There has been ONE song played since I got here that wasn’t getting played back in April. Also, I’ve heard Maroon 5 twice already. Nickleback only once, but I bet if I’d gotten here a little earlier, it would have been twice too. Just as Victor, Nikki and Jack are endlessly scheming on CBS in the mid-morning, Star 101.5 endlessly plays the same 35 songs from the early 21st century over and over ad nauseum. It’s even more painful than it was before, having tasted the freedom of a larger playlist with NO DJs AT ALL.

My Head Hurts. And I know there’s a time bomb ticking before the one song I loathe above all others, gwen stefani’s “sweet escape” comes on. Hmmmm…. Maybe time for a fire alarm test??

UPDATE: 2 Hours and 15 minutes after arriving, Maroon 5 song number three is playing...

ANOTHER UPDATE: High Noon now, and M5 song number four is droning on... The pavement outside my window is looking warm and comforting...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday Funnies, All Week Long

Just a quick note... Over on the blog-link-list on the right side of the page, there's a new addition!

Andy's Comic Strip Creations, Rodney and Jim have started their own blog... They plan to fill everyone in on their life between the Sunday Snapshots we see every week. Check 'em out!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And Then There Were Six

Remember back in June when I played that so-called horrible, mean trick on everyone, suggesting that our family was growing? Well it turned out that our niece Chelsey was coming to live with us. She wanted a "Fresh Start." She wanted to finish high school, live in a peaceful environment, and asked to be a part of our family. With some deliberations Cindy and I decided that she could come, and that we would help her out. So a plane ticket was purchased, bedroom furniture arranged and we waited.... and Chelsey arrived on June 30th. She seemed happy to be here and eager to get started. We immediately went about setting up her residency with a Washington ID and drivers handbook, registered her for school, and helped her find a job at Fred Meyer. The summer seemed to be going great! She was working, and looking forward to school starting. We had gotten used to another kid, and our (extended) family welcomed her into the fold - no one held back their love or support for her.

Then last week she dropped a bomb...

From the day she arrived, her grandmother in Oklahoma had been calling her, nagging that she should be there, not here in Washington.


This grandmother is a partial (1/4) Native American, and is the worst type of example of the stereotypical "living off the system" mentality. Not only that, but her current track record of raising children has resulted in epic failure after epic failure. Chelsey's mom is an on-again, off-again drug addict, with a revolving door for the various men living with her. Chelsey doesn't even know who her dad is - there are two candidates, and her mom shrugged it off saying "yeah, I guess you could get a test..." Inconceivable, I know. We went down to their trailer compound in Arizona back in 2003 and despite warning ourselves that it would be culture shock, the actual lifestyle we witnessed was so completely foreign that we couldn't even come close to comprehending it without seeing it firsthand. At that point, "Grandma" was living there in her trailer, two trailers down from Chelsey's mom, with Cindy's dad (Chelsey's grandpa - her mom's ex-husband) living in the single wide between the two. Nobody had jobs above the fast food level... A couple years later, Grandma moved to Oklahoma to take better advantage of the "Indian Money" available. Chelsey had gone out and lived with her until a year or so ago, when her mom convinced her to come back to Arizona because she (mom) was in jail, and Chelsey's two sisters were going to lose their place to live unless she came out and got a job to support them. After 9 months to a year of that situation, she emailed us asking for the fresh start.


Soooo.... From day one here, grandma is trying to convince Chelsey that she shouldn't be here. She should be in Oklahoma. "Free money! You're only 1/8 Indian, you're the last generation to get to take advantage of this. Free school!" and I'm sure those were also joined with promises of "No expectations! No higher standards!"

Chelsey told us that her grandma was trying to convince her to come, but assured us that she was in this to change her life. She was very convincing when she said she was going to be the first person in her family to graduate, and that getting a GED wasn't good enough, she was going to GRADUATE. We bought into it, and did everything we could to support her.

Well, apparently two weeks ago, with the honeymoon period in the new job wearing off, and the reality of REAL school looming ever closer, Grandma finally broke through to Chelsey and they hatched a plot. Or made a plan... But it feels more like they hatched a plot.

If you recall the post about last weekend's day trip to Port Townsend, we were planning a "Parents Only" camping trip for this weekend. That fit in perfectly with Chelsey's escape plan. She and Grandma talked frequently, working out all the details... Chelsey would carry on the charade that everything was fine... She had Friday and Saturday off work this week, and got paid on Friday. (We parents would be out of town by this point.) She would pick up her check, go down to the Greyhound Bus Station, buy a one way ticket to Oklahoma, and be 2/3 of the way there before we even got home and discovered that she was gone.

Backing up just a little, it blows our minds even more just how well she was living this double life. During this timeframe, she opened a bank account at the local credit union, talked about how school was coming up and she hoped to make friends, complained that her one friend at work was transferring to another store, so who would she talk to at work... Wow...

Cindy unknowingly threw a (small) wrench in this plan... Not wanting Chelsey to be home alone all weekend, Cindy called her brother Chuck and asked if they would like to have Chelsey over for the weekend, since she wasn't working. He said sure, and that he'd pick her up Friday morning. Uh-Oh, that would make it awfully hard for her to get her check and sneak out to the bus station...

We discovered this little plot on Wednesday. It was 11:30am, the upstairs of our house was a mess, Cindy had a full daycare crew downstairs, and came up to lay down the law to our kids upstairs that they had to pick up their crap. Chelsey was still in bed... Lately, that's about all she did was stay in bed. Sleeping, reading, watching movies on Kaylee's portable DVD player... but always in bed. (cleverly detatching herself from the family) Cindy got mad and said that it was time to get up, quit laying around all the time, and DO SOMETHING.

About half an hour later, Cindy came upstairs again, and things looked about the same. She went into Chelsey's room, and found Ellysa in there with her, and Chelsey was crying. Cindy said "What's going on?" And Chelsey said "I don't want to talk about it." Ellysa said to her, "You have to tell my mom... She won't get mad at you."

Cindy sat down on the bed so she wouldn't be intimidating, and Chelsey spilled the beans on the whole escape plan she and Grandma had been working so hard on. Said that she hated it here. Hated the climate. Hated her job. Claimed that she didn't even know us or our family. Claimed lots of other things that I'm sure to her, justified everything.

I found out shortly afterward. I was at work, taking a short break from the grueling world of Microsoft SharePoint to look up class times at the local driving school for Chelsey, since she needed more help than I could give her in the short times our home-schedules overlapped. An IM from Cindy popped up on my screen, telling me what had just happened.

Rage. Sadness. Shock. More rage. More shock. Confusion. Disbelief. Maybe a little more rage. Definitely some relief on top of it all.

For the rest of the day Wednesday, my head was a spin 'n' barf ride of every emotion available cycling through. What an incredible betrayal! And she wasn't even going to tell us! She was going to sneak out while we were out of town, so she wouldn't have to face us. And I can guarantee that if we hadn't caught on to her, she wasn't going to quit her job. She'd have worked through Thursday's shift, said "See ya Sunday!" and never come back. As it is, I won't be surprised if tomorrow the phone rings with her boss asking why she hasn't shown up yet.

Over Wednesday and Thursday, Cindy made her go close out her bank account, tell Fred Meyer that she was quitting, and tell Tacoma Community College that she was quitting them too. She claims she did those things. Like I said, we have serious doubts.

I, in particular, have felt like a complete idiot for the past few days. When Chelsey emailed us back in June asking for help, Cindy was hesitant. I was the one who championed her cause, and said that we couldn't not help her. For the last month, I was the one getting up at 11:00 at night to pick her up from work. And as it turns out, I was the one who Chelsey told Cindy she "didn't feel safe" being around. Wow. Not just a knife in the back, but a rusty, jagged knife.

Chelsey's plan for getting to the bus station was to take a cab. Not willing to let her begin her white trash living until she was out of our environment, we insisted that we would drive her to the station. We had already cancelled our camping trip because we didn't at all feel safe with her moving out while we're not home. We HATE thinking like that, but there is certainly no trust left between us and her.

So last night we made the quiet drive down to the Greyhound station. I'm sure there are more depressing places, but I don't think I've ever been to any of them. We left her sitting there with her bags and a 90 minute wait for her bus. She gave us token hugs and "I love you"s, we turned and left. We didn't look back.

As we got back in the van (you know, the new van we bought so we could better accommodate an extra kid?) our moods were heavy. Yet as we drove home, an interesting thing happened. We felt like a huge, heavy weight had been lifted. Like a darkness that had been hindering everything we've tried to do lately had gone away. I can't even describe exactly what it was, but there was a lightness and a comfort that has been missing for at least the past few weeks.

We came home, cleaned out her room, and wondered if we'd ever get the urge to be generous again so easily...

And then we went to see Batman.

We still got our date... And it was the best date we've had in a long time.


Cindy belongs to the Tacoma area "Freecycle" group, an online community that gives away un-needed items rather than throwing them away or selling them. This morning, there was a woman asking for discount tickets to Wild Waves for her son and his daughter.

The season passes we bought for our family each came with several FREE ADMISSION tickets, enough that we still have extras.

Without hesitation, Cindy offered two of them to this woman. She called us back to confirm that we were really giving away full access, free tickets, and said how glad she was that her son and granddaughter could have a fun day.

As Cindy hung up the phone and put the passes in an envelope on the front porch, we realized that this whole time, Heavenly Father really is in control. We have opportunities to serve, to do good deeds, to practice generosity every day. When one experience ends badly, there's always another one right around the corner to restore your faith in the merits of giving.

We hope they have a great day at the park! They even have nice weather going for them!!

And Chelsey, we hope you make it to Oklahoma, and we pray that you beat the odds of the hand you're dealing yourself and come out on top.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back to School Shopping!

So my past couple of weeks have been filled with spending, spending, spending. Now I have to admit that I LOVE to shop. I love to buy shoes, clothes, fabric, decorations we don't need, and anything that is on sale. Well.... after two weeks of shopping with Ellysa and Kaylee our two daughters my taste for shopping has soured (a bit) or shall I say lessened. Not that we haven't had a ton of fun, they just don't seem to have an end to their wants and needs. And the expense is shocking! So when I realized that I still had one more child to shop for I panicked!!! What? Another trip to the mall..... Target..... the shoe store... ugh! So being the brilliant woman that I am, I called in reinforcements! That's right, I picked up the phone and called Andys Mom, Larisa. Now Larisa is great about doing all the little things that I often don't want to do for Andy like trimming his toenails, talking the birds and the bees etc., so naturally she was thrilled at the opportunity to take Andy back to school shopping. They are heading to Oregon this weekend to do some good ole tax free shopping. So this morning I have been putting together a list of things that he will need to start school, you know the usual stuff, paper, pens, shoes, jeans and shhh dare I say underwear?? (don't tell him I mentioned that) . As I was making this list we (Andy and I) were discussing school, his clothing desires and shopping. I asked " are you looking forward to shopping with your mom this weekend?" to which he replied "grunt... the only shopping I like, is grocery shopping!". This cracked me up, he didn't even thin about it - Food good/ clothes not so good. Spoken like a true boy!
Well good luck with this challenge Larisa, and thank you!

I hope that you are all having as much fun with your back to school shopping and happy spending!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Music Monday - Takin' It To The Streets

This week's column is definitely inspired by the cool street musician in Port Townsend on Saturday. He was very talented, which was great! However, even the less-than-super-talented specimens of street musician still do a great job of enhancing the atmosphere of the streets on which they play.

First example though, the great guitar guy (GGG) from Port Townsend! He set up on Water Street, which is the main road through town. If you're coming in to town, or doing any shopcrawling, you're doing it on Water Street. It's already a very concentrated area, with large, old-construction, block-long buildings divided into all manner of clothing, knick-knacks, and eating establishments. Given the diversity of the shops, there's already quite a buzz going on. But when GGG sat down, tuned up and started playing, everything including the cars driving by seemed to gel together into a rich tapestry of sound. His raspy voice lamenting how he hates to see the sun go down, put a smile on my face - one of those smiles that just appears all on its own! I didn't say to myself, "Oh, he's doing good. I'll smile to show my appreciation..." No, this was a case where I was listening, looking all around at how everything seemed connected, and realized I had a goofy grin. (That was when I knew I had to get a picture.) No doubt about it, the beach was the biggest star of that day's show, but this guy was a very solid opening act!

But wait, there's more! Although the lone guy (or gal) sitting on the sidewalk is by far the most common street musician business model, there are several variations that make just as strong an impression. Ever been to a Mariner's home game?

There are several regular performers on the streets around Safeco Field, playing guitar, singing, playing sax, trumpet... But there's one guy who was so legendary he made the setup sequence that Fox Sports NW put together a few years ago. I'm sure his mother gave him a name, but most people in the Seattle area will know who you're talking about if you just mention "Tuba Man". He'll add to the euphoria after a rare win, and drive home the defeated feeling of, well, another Seattle big league defeat. It really wouldn't be the same without him there!

But for my two favorite examples come from Victoria, BC.

First, we'll go to the main ferry terminal in downtown Victoria - where the Clipper docks. (The state ferry docks at the other end of Vancouver Island, in Sydney... Although you can still walk down to the Victoria dock, it's not the same as emerging from the boat to what I'm about to describe.) So your ship sails in... you join the cattle to disembark, go through customs, and finally emerge into the sunshine to the downtown waterfront. A unique combination of relaxed and frantic... Tons of stuff going on, but each individual part is laid back, taking it easy. And though you'd never guess that it's what you'd hear ringing above it all, there's almost always a guy... In a kilt... Playing bagpipes! I've seen other unique musical acts on that waterfront, from one-man-band-mimes to mermaids playing accordions, there's a ton of variety. But nothing tells me I'm in Victoria like hearing the 'pipes as I walk up from the ferry terminal!

Our next Street Musician highlight also comes from the streets of Victoria, BC. If you go up from the waterfront on Douglas, you may get lucky like Cindy and I did on our last trip, and encounter an amazing percussion troupe! We saw them setting up across the street as we headed into a shop... When we came out, it was absolutely mesmerizing! We stood across the street watching for probably half an hour! There was a guy playing a relatively standard drum set, along with several other people - I'd say 8-10 people in all. The other people were playing everything percussion. Bongos, Congas, Tambourines, Vibes, Marimbas... And then there was the leader - or at least the focal point, was a guy who was dancing around, holding some sort of Indian or Asian drum, and he had various drum type accessories on both ankles, and danced all over the sidewalk, leading the rhythm and melody over hills, under valleys, twisting and turning like Kaa from the jungle book. And the effect on us was just like Kaa's was on Mowgli - we could not resist. It was without a doubt the coolest unexpected concert I've ever seen.

By now, you should know the drill... Tell me about your favorite public performances!! Thanks in advance!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day Trippin'

This past weekend, I found myself surrounded by girls... We'd originally thought that Cindy and I would be "home alone" but it turned out that it was more like "Mike, Alone in a Sea of Estrogen."

Wanting to show the ladies a good time, we decided to take advantage of the fact that Augtober had vanished and let a couple days of August weather through, and headed for a day trip out to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula.

The Plan: Fun in the Sun! Hit up the beach at Fort Worden State Park and eat some good food along the way.

The first stop for good food in Port Townsend in the Summertime, is a little old fashioned hot dog stand called Dogs A-Foot. This business has been there forever, is open only during the spring and summer, and is THE best place to get a hot dog that I know of. They have a huge variety of sausages that they serve up on lightly toasted buns, with just about every topping you can think up - even bacon!

With pleasantly full tummies, it's off to the beach, right??

No, didn't I mention that I was travelling with four women? Well, those women noticed lots of interesting things (ie: STORES) as we were driving up the main street in town to get to our lunch spot. So the beach would have to wait, there were clothes to peruse!!

Normally, I can find ways to entertain myself in the quirky little clothing shops that girls are so magnetically attracted to. But this one just didn't seem to have anything for a guy to do... Of course, there was another thing calling me OUT of the store, almost as loudly as the girls were called IN.

As we were walking toward the store, a street musician was setting up right outside the door, and something about the way he looked made me want to catch a few songs. He was just starting his first song when I went back outside. And it was great!! I mean, this guy could be one of those success stories you hear about, where the guy toils on the streets for years with no intention of moving up, until being discovered by a bigshot in the music industry. He was really good. And his money jar was an old "Chopped Ocean Clams" can, which just fit the seaside town perfectly. After the first song, I ran back into the store. Cindy was only about 1/3 of the way around the clothing racks, so I figured I had time.

I needed the camera!!

So I ran to the van, grabbed the camera, and as I was walking back up the sidewalk.... Oops! Cindy's looking around for me, thinking I'd abandoned them! She'd also found the cutest shirt ever made, and didn't have her purse... I was needed!

After the purchase, I finally got the pic of the outstanding street musician...

Cindy slipped a dollar into his can for to cover my taking a picture, and I was happy to contribute because he really was great at what he was doing.

One or two (or three or four) stores later, we finally returned to the van so we could head down to the beach!

As we got close, the evidence started to build that yes, there was a beach nearby!

A little further, and we were looking at this:

And finally, THIS:

It didn't take long for the Baywatch Patrol to start up...

Once we got our blankets set up and laid in the sun for a few minutes, Cindy decided that it was hot enough to justify a dip in the sound to cool off. Only thing is, cooling off in Puget Sound is like cooling off in a sub-zero blast freezer. She got in to her thighs, did an about face, and practically walked on the water to get back up to the beach!

I got in about to my ankles. It felt like millions of icy needles shooting through my skin, bones and nerves. That is not what I call fun. Or refreshing. Plus, I really like hot weather, so I stayed dry on the beach, soaking up the sun!

The younger girls, of course, haven't developed their nervous systems enough to know when water is painfully cold, so they swam the afternoon away.

The surprise of the day was Ellysa, who has bragged about swimming in ice water with glacier chunks floating in it, said that yesterday's water was too cold. Her cousin Chelsey did NOT accept that answer.

Always looking for the next big thing, Kaylee explored the fashionable options surrounding fresh seaweed.

Cindy got hot again and decided to brave the arctic chill one more time... which made Kaylee SO happy...

The girls took a (minor) break in the swimming action to dig a Jacuzzi... I don't even WANT to know if there were any bubbles involved... ewwwww...

Then they all conspired to bury Kaylee...

During all the digging and burying, Chelsey found a candidate for dinner.

I thought it looked a little small, and was still kicking, so I threw it into the water to grow some more. Maybe next year we'll meet again, over cocktail sauce. But probably not.

We had dinner at the Pizza Factory, and then headed back to the other end of town. Across the street from Dogs A-Foot, is Elevated Ice Cream.

Homemade and delicious!! And every summer, their feature flavor is Local Raspberry, made from - can you guess? - local raspberries. I had to get a scoop of that, along with their Lemon Custard. Heaven on a Sugar Cone, my friends!

As I told the order-taking-girl at Pizza Factory, it was "A near-perfect day at the beach, followed by pizza - that's about as good as it gets!"

This coming weekend, Cindy and I are taking a parents only camping trip - on the wet side... I am hoping and praying for August instead of Augtober... Either way we're determined to make the most of it!

Sunday Funnies

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Funny!

As summer winds down, be sure to go swimming at least once!!

...just maybe not at THIS pool...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Good Times with Good Company

My nephew The Donald, his wife Lisa and their three beautiful daughters were in town Sunday night, so we invited some additional family and had us a good old fashioned BBQ!

Things got rolling with a rousing game of Hanford Uno...

Meanwhile, Cindy, Lex and Lor raided the garden...

I grilled homemade Banzai burgers (complete with grilled pineapple rings!) and then we topped things off with a patiofire (kinda like a campfire) with toasted marshmallows, s'mores, ice cream and more fun!

Early the next morning the Sorenson crew headed up to Children's Hospital for the REAL reason they came over, and Cindy and I returned to the grind of our daily routines... But those few hours on a relatively sunny, warm Sunday make the rest of the week that much better!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Music Monday - Quality vs. Credibility

This is the third attempt to write this week's column... When I started (Friday) I thought I'd definitely get it done in time for an early Monday posting, but alas, I had a really hard time putting the following concept into words... or rather, into few enough words that anybody would make it to the end... Music Rant Take Three: ACTION!

Okay. I think the problem with the first two incarnations of this post was that I put too much effort into setting it up. So I'm just gonna dive into it now.

There are a lot of artists who used to be great, and are now jokes at their own expense, sounding like they're locked in a drifting time capsule, bobbing to the surface once a year or so, their talent getting more and more diluted with each cycle.

Then there are the artists who are equally past their prime, but rather than do the honorable thing (GIVE UP - RETIRE!) or the capitalist thing (RESIDENCY IN VEGAS, BABY!), or even the aforementioned bobbing to insignificance, they decide to become "credible" by hiring the current, often self-appointed tastemakers, to re-invent them every few years.

Problem is, the core problem doesn't go away. The artist is out of good ideas. Or has lost the ability to sing well. Or really, just needs to go away.

Case Number One:


Yep, I went there. She seems to still be considered "untouchable" by the industry as a whole. But why?? It's certainly not because she's churning out hit after sing-along hit like she did 20 years ago! No, the press she gets these days is all about hand-picking a child to adopt from a 3rd world country (complete with ethics controversies), breaking up A-Rod's marriage, or writing children's books that I've never read, but according to people who have, I'm not missing anything.

Her music, meanwhile is dead in the water. She'd hinted that she was heading this way ever since Erotica came out in the mid '90s, but really made it official with her first single of the 21st century, 2000's Music. You (or anyone else!) could easily play the bass line for this song. Just find the note that the opening bass riff is on, and repeat for four minutes. Seriously. Remember the old Cheech 'n' Chong "Earache My Eye" bit, that had the stereotypical rocker gloating that he's so successful but only knows three chords? Well, Madonna topped it by only using one chord. And then when it gets to the chorus, the way she wails out "Music... Makes the people... Come together...." sounds like fingernails on a blackboard. I mean, it's just plain NOT good singing. Not that Madonna was ever a technically excellent singer, but go back and listen to any of her early hits, then jump back up to the current stuff, and it's hard to believe it's the same woman singing.

The latest big hit, her duet with Justin Timberlake, 4 Minutes, isn't quite as blatant... but again, it's seriously lacking in the melody department. I will admit to liking the chorus, but the verses just go on and on and on, with the backing track repeating the same eight notes over and over and over. Just to head off anyone who is preparing to say "But wait Mike! You used 4 Minutes in your latest DJ Mix!"... I used a remix of the song that actually made the daring move of changing the chords during the verse. And it worked.

In closing the Madonna chapter, I'll mention that my wife and girls love 4 minutes. But WHAT do they love about it?? Kaylee loves the part where Timbaland says "Madonna" in the post-chorus, pre-verse section. Cindy loves, from the same section of the song, when Madonna says "Tick Tock Tick Tock..." Note that the parts that make them love the song, really have nothing to do with it being a good song, or even a real "song." The second single from her current album is called "Give It To Me." I was sampling it the other night (while writing take one of this post) and Cindy said "That's HORRIBLE!"

I was happy to agree... Yo, Madonna! MELODY MATTERS!!!

The other grievous offender in today's article is none other than...

Michael Jackson.

"Oh, come now Mike..." you're saying. "He's too easy a target!" you're saying.

I say no. None of this has ANYTHING to do with what he may or may not have done in his fantasy/nightmare land. It has EVERYTHING to do with what he has done in a recording studio on and off since 1991's Dangerous CD.

For some reason, MJ has decided that the best way to counter the fact that his skin has faded and all of his "ethnic" features have literally melted away, is to work with the producers and tastemakers of the R&B scene to earn - just like Madonna - "credibility."

The thing is, Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad weren't historically huge sellers because they aimed at a certain segment of the music buying public. They were historically huge sellers because they were historically excellent albums! Michael clearly knows this, since he was afraid to release his 1995ish album on its own, and instead packaged it as a 2-disc set, with disc 1 being his greatest hits, and disc 2 being what should have been a standalone album. Except that if he'd released it as a standalone album, it would have flopped. Well, not completely flopped... That album had his very best song since he quit working with Quincy Jones (who produced the three huge albums). That song, "You Are Not Alone" still stands as an incredibly rich, gorgeous sounding production that fits in nicely with his other great songs. Let's see, what else did that album offer? "Scream" was a duet with his sister Janet. I'm guessing neither of them pulls it out for their concert sets... The rest of the singles pulled from there were even less memorable. But they sure did have "credibility!"

All of that pales, however, to the recent 25th Anniversary Re-Release of Thriller.

Yeah, again, he is always reportedly working on his next big thing, but all that ever comes out is hits collections and a repackaged Thriller. As part of the tribute to the legacy of that album, someone, probably an "image consultant" decided that re-doing "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was a great idea. "Oooh! Ooooh!" they must have said, "And we'll get someone to guest vocal on it with you, to bring more CREDIBILITY to it!" But then they had to pick someone.... I can just hear it now... "I got it! We'll get Akon to duet with you! He's already doing guest vocals on 85% of the R&B songs out this year!" And I'm absolutely certain that someone, somewhere in the making of that pairing, enjoyed an evil chuckle at the fact that Akon was in big trouble for inappropriate behavior with a minor at a concert last year... to the extent that Verizon dropped their support of his tour...

Well, this new version of a classic song came out. Its label reads "Michael Jackson, featuring Akon". But if you have the misfortune of listening to the song, it's the other way around. Akon sings a completely re-written song, that occasionally leads into MJ singing one or two lines. But it's HARDLY his song.

Michael, you have an incredible legacy. You're also a hideous freak of nature. It's time to quit trying to re-invent yourself, and just relax. Sing the songs people actually want to hear, the way they want to hear them.

Until then, I'll be passing the time with my ORIGINAL edition of Thriller.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

What Could Top Junuary? How About Augtober!

This picture was taken on Friday, August first.

You may recall a lot of griping from me about the complete lack of Spring and Summer weather back in June... Well, from July 5th through the 28th, things looked (and felt) MUCH better.

Then August roared in with ridiculously low temperatures and torrential downpours. Interesting thing about August 1st, 2008: That night we went to the Tri-Cities. As we pulled into The Donald & Lisa's driveway at 12:30 am, it was 10 degrees warmer than the wet side's high had been!

Anyway, we've coped by buying appliances... And Friday night we made our own heat by canning the peaches we bought on our way home from the right side... Our kitchen was hot & humid, almost like the first week oh August in a year other than 2008!

The first jar out of the canner was so beautiful I had to get a picture of it! There was a lot of steam rising off the jar, but sadly it didn't make it through to the picture.

Then yesterday we had originally planned to go out to Mason Lake again, but the weather scared us off... Good thing too, because today looked like this:

It's hard for a still shot to fully capture just how fast and furious the rain was falling, but believe me, it was amazing.

So Cindy and I spent the day in the garage... finding the floor, finding the workbench, and building a new shelf to hold our canned goods and Costco overflow!

On the bright side, the skies cleared just in time for the fireworks down at the park to bring "Fircrest Fun Days 2008" to a close. We watched from our back patio, with hope for a Summer day before Summer ends...

Sunday Funnies

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The 2008 Summer Egg-Olympics!

As the Olympics kicked off on the other side of the world, our "never wanting to be left out of anything" hens decided to have a little competition of their own!

Pictured above is today's entry from each of our actively laying girls - Ginger is conveniently molting, so she gets a pass from competing in this event. Although in the all time records category, she is the only one in our flock to have laid a double-yolk egg! Starting on the left and going clockwise are eggs from Marzipan, Layla and Babs.

Let's see what the judges have to say...

First up: Marzipan!

Somewhat respectable, but not really a championship effort... I think ol' Marzi isn't really interested. And for the record, she is by far the biggest (aka: fattest) chicken in the yard)

Next: Babs

Nice one, Babs! .35 ounces better than your roost-mate!

Finally: Layla

HOLY GIGANTIC EGG!! Topping Marzipan by a full ounce, with the biggest brown egg we've ever gotten, Layla definitely brought her 'Grade A' game to these Egg-Olympics! if only the cats would get off their nap mats and do something worthwhile...