Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The look on Eric's face when I make him watch the Kits Showboat with me and the kids...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

E- previewing W Illini

I'm trying to clear out space now that I have finally filled up my 32 gb iPhone and came across this video. I have spent many hours going through hundreds of homes down in Phoenix, mostly with my friend Ed who I am talking to in this video and figured that might make this a keepsake.

Although it is not very entertaining, it does show what $67,000 can buy down there. This is a four bedroom home built in 2006, right across the street from a school. We ended up buying this one two months ago and it is now rented for $900/month.

Monday, June 27, 2011

2nd Annual Point Roberts Scavenger Hunt

Last year, we hosted our very first "car rally" style scavenger hunt in Point Roberts to celebrate the end of the school year. Luckily, our friends are the tolerant kind and they submitted themselves to the same torture for a second year.

Last year, Eric wrote the clues and acted as the course commissioner. I had so much fun on his hunt last year that I thought it would only be fair to take turns. I took over the clues and Eric got his own car to command.

We met up in our garden to fuel up with veggies, fruits and chips. After all, there were three hours of straight up hunting and gaming to get through before we'd be done.

The group gathered to hear the rules (and arrange a bit of car juggling...Molly joined Maya in her family team and Finny and Delia teamed up with Eric). That picture shows Simon using his body to describe how much fun the hunt would be...

This shot is Eric scrambling through the local newspaper for the answer to a clue. He is competitive. I don't know if I have mentioned that here before. There was much debate over how much of an advantage Eric had as a competitor. He had the obvious advantage of knowing Point Roberts very well, but he was the only team leader without another adult in the car.

Here is Eric's team forming the letter "B" for "Butler. Poor Delia. And Finny, really. Oh, pity them all. Oh, and that jar on the picnic table is the baby food I made the teams eat. Last year it was chocolate bars. This year, I decided to make them really work for points. Extra points for choosing vegetable based baby food. Those peas really reeked.

There was swimming, which was similar to last year...

...but I introduced a new event that I expect to see repeated. The "hands-free doughnut eating contest". The spectator value on this one was huge. I liked that contestants were allowed to pick their own poison. They picked from a random selection of doughnuts...adults went for strategy, kids went for flavour. We learned that the cream filled ones are NOT the way to go. Unless you are there as a spectator, in which case, all cream filled is the best choice.

If these shots are shaky, it's only because I was laughing so hard.

I should note here that Lukey's performance, while mostly unnoticed, was pretty incredible. He was the unsung hero. I saw you, buddy.

Up next was the cracker eating contest. Kids were up first. Ben took this one.

Then the grown-ups. We had to whistle after four crackers. Not easy.

The results? Well, Team Butler was strong. They had the highest point total, but with adjustments for advantage as a semi-local, the title this year went to the Kaplun/Mulcahy team. Last year's champs, the Braun/Grants, went away disappointed. It was a 10 point difference, which is a true heartbreaker. I think they'll be swimming next year.

Behold the 2011 group photo:

E- I wouldn't mind my own helipad

On day 7 of our trip we tore ourselves away from the comforts of Bellevue and toured around Mercer island.  I've never been one to particularly covet material goods and always thought it was a poor trade to spend all one's time chasing get money.   However, seeing the lifestyle that money can buy on lake Washington, Mercer Island in particular, is about as close as I could get to really desiring the big bucks.   Most of the homes on the water are amazing and the rest are spectacular.  Many of these homes are less than a 10 minute drive from downtown.   They have shallow bank beaches bordering on a relatively warm fresh water lake.  Many people have big docks to keep their jetskis, ski boats, and even yachts like the one behind us in the picture.  The more extravagant homes also have float planes, or in Paul Allen's case, a helicopter and it's own floating landing pad.  These boats can go through the locks out into Puget Sound in less than 1 hour, giving them the whole of the Pacific to explore.  I'd probably be willing to work a few more hours a week to make that lifestyle happen. 

Having said that, I am appreciative of the time I get to spend with my family and be able to go down to Seattle for a week of fun.  As you can see in the pictures, the weather was a mixed bag, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the lake and having a great time.  For our last night we anchored off of Seward Park on the west side of lake Washington.  We took the dingy to shore to play in the park and watch the "Furry 5 K"  where thousands of locals came out to walk or run with their dogs.  The kids loved seeing all the different dogs parading by.

On our last day, we explored some marshy areas near the University of Washington where we saw lots of wildlife in a beautiful setting......that just happens to be under a major freeway.  Something about that feels so American.

When Finny fell in the water getting out of the dingy, Molly and I decided to join her for one final swim before we met up with Bryan.  Before hitting the free way home, we toured around Seattle a little to retrace our route, but in the car this time.  It felt so different seeing the same areas from the land side instead of the water.   I really got a new appreciation for how beautiful Seattle is on this trip and would recommend to anyone to visit Seattle this way.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Once we left La Connor, we had an interesting trip through the rest of the Swinomish Channel and then a long cruise to Oak Harbour. The clouds had moved in, so the overcast sky drove us all to our separate pursuits…well, as separate as you can get on a tiny boat. I drove while Eric read, Molly read, Lukey slept and Finny played on my iPhone. I listened to three Vinyl Cafe stories en route, then made the kids listen to one of them (The Waterslide, in case you are interested…it's hilarious). 

Oak Harbour's marina was well outside of the little town. It was on the late side when we pulled in, so we decided to skip a walk into civilization and hunker down for the night. I thought the chilly evening called for a warm dinner, so I pulled out the pasta and set to work lighting the alcohol stove. Eric was off trying to sort out the reciprocal club arrangements for the night, so I lost my usual sous chef (he is usually the stove lighter…they freak me out a bit, plus I figure that as a firefighter, he should make himself useful). On my own. Not. Good. 

I had, how shall I put it, a STRONG flame on the stove. The good news is that the water boiled fairly quickly as a result. The bad news is that my stove confidence was shaken. I have stuck with it and the stove and I have come to a bit of an understanding. A little bit. Actually, not so much. I still don't really get it, but I'll keep trying. No temperamental stove will get between this girl and her morning coffee. 

Yesterday was our iffiest weather day forecast, so we decided that we'd hoof it to Shilshole Bay, a suburb of Seattle. It was a solid six hours underway, but the kids were troopers. We arrived in at about 5:30 and figured we should walk a little bit into Ballard and see if the Canucks game was on tv anywhere we could take the kids. We enjoyed a really nice walk along the waterway towards the Chitternden locks system that we planned to hit the next day. We got to walk onto the locks themselves and we tried to explain the lock system, which the kids dubbed "the boat elevator". They were excited to see it in action, though a little nervous about the number of people watching the boats in the locks. Stagefright for our turn.

We asked the lock guys where we could catch the game nearby. The consensus was that the Stanley Cup Finals were not the priority in Seattle that they are in Vancouver. There was a lot of shoulder shrugging and looking around for another guy to ask. We popped into one of their recommendations, a little dive called the Lockspot, just outside of the Lock park gates, not really expecting much success. Instead, we found a tv to ourselves, CBC feed, cheap beer and killer fish and chips. It was great. 

The game, on the other hand…

As so often happens when the kids are away from the routine of school, within days our family shifts to its more natural rhythm of staying up late and waking up even later. This morning was proof. We cracked our eyes at 10:40 am. While I love a good sleep as much (actually, far more) as anyone, it does make me feel like we are at odds with the boating community. They seem to be a much more of an "early riser" kind of crowd than the Butler/McKnights. Story of our lives, really…

We only had a hop, skip and a jump to motor before we were into the locks. There are two locks in operation, one large and one small. It is a serious business, with big fishing vessels passing through to travel into Lake Union and Lake Washington. As far as we know, our boat has never been in fresh water, so it was a right of passage for our Albin too. I have to admit to a bit of stagefright myself as we approached the locks. The last thing you want to come off as is the biggest goofball novices on the water. Those lock guys mean business. They shout out directions on the loud (and I mean LOUD) speaker for all to hear and they expect things to happen fast. There are ropes flying and knots to be tied. We made it through with minimal embarrassment. The kids got water safety colouring books handed over at the end of our "elevation" and they were tickled, waving to the people gathered around to watch the locks at work. 

The trip into Lake Union was amazing. Partly because I think I know Seattle a little bit and it looks so different from the water, patly because it was incredible to see the mix of working boats, pleasure boats and best of all…dreamy houseboats. Oh, the houseboats. We had a great journey though Lake Union into Lake Washington. We cruised along gawking at the enormous houses on the waterfront. We think we spotted Bill Gates' place, or at least the one we would build if we had his money. We docked at Meydenbauer Marina, reciprocal guests of the Yacht Club. It is the first place we've stayed on this trip that is truly a Yacht Club, complete with a clubhouse mansion and some VERY spiffy boats. We launched our dinghy with its new motor and explored the local park for happy hour. Then after dinner, we walked into Old Bellevue, which is basically Kerrisdale or Ambleside on steroids. It's fancy. And you know, we barely stood out in our day-five of the trip grunge. Barely. 

Striking a pose in the park
The view from Meydenbauer Park
Tomorrow, I am going to wake up at a more decent hour (yeah, right) and walk back up to old Bellevue for a fancy coffee to start my day. Then, we'll explore around Mercer Island and likely tuck back into the lap of luxury here at the Yacht Club. The local Safeway has a television lounge (!) and we'll try to watch the Canucks game there. 

The crazy girls going for a VERY cold swim

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seattle or Bust

After our overnight in Anacortes (which has a boater's dream walking-accessible full-service close we went twice, just because we could), we decided to head for Oak Harbour on Whidbey Island. To get there, we cut through the Swinomish Channel. It's a dredged shipping channel servicing La Connor, one of my very favourite places in Washington. It was a destination favoured by my Nana and I remember many a trip to La Connor via Chuckanut Drive with my grandparents. I was a little surprised by how much being there again made me think of my Nana. It was an interesting change of perspective to arrive by boat, however.

Okay, so those of you who know me...a quick quiz. If I go to a quaint little town like La Connor, where am I likely to spend the most time?

Alright, half marks if you said coffee shop.

Full marks if you said lovely, little independent bookshop. Ding, ding, ding.

Here we are outside of The Next Chapter, possibly top of my list of my "turn-over-the-keys-I'll-take-over-from-here" bookseller fantasy.

Lucas met a friend. Also named Lucas. I can't blame the kid for glomming onto a dog. After all, what is the only non-literate in the family going to do while the rest of us browse books?

Another quick quiz...who, other than me, was the most reluctant to leave the store (which had already closed)?

If you said Molly, give yourself a bonus point. She found a book she wanted badly. I told her that I wouldn't buy it (I had already bought her two books for the trip, although in full disclosure, I hid one of them after I realized it was about the Titanic...who gives their eight year old a book about the Titanic to take ON A BOAT TRIP? I sort of owed her a book, but whatever...). I told her that if she wanted to borrow the money to buy the book, I'd loan it to her.

We bought the book, the first in a series by Erin Hunter called Seekers, and then Molly proceeded to read it all over La Connor.

The picture below was only taken after I insisted that she put the book down for the camera. Her expression is one of tolerance by the barest of margins.

If I didn't ask her to put down the book...this is the sort of picture I got:

I ended up leading her by the arm around the town. La Connor doesn't present much of a traffic challenge, but you have to be a little bit aware.

Once we got back to the boat, we lost her completely.

Only that's not quite true. It is funny how seeing my girl off in her own world can make me feel like she's in mine. I remember my dad yelling into the backseat of the car, telling me to stop reading and enjoy the scenery. I would put my finger down in the middle of a sentence to mark my place, then look out the window at...farmland, or a forest, or a little non-descript town in the middle of nowhere. All I wanted was to be back in whatever century or mystical place my finger was holding for me.

It's funny because I love traveling and seeing new places, but a book can give you the identical experience. It can suck you in in a way that a highway simply cannot. Or a boat trip, for that matter. Molly was in the north with a polar bear. And I was right there next to her, enjoying the scenery. 

I am writing this blog at 12:45 pm in Shilshole Bay, just outside of Seattle. Tomorrow we will take the lock into Lake Union. If we have wifi, we'll update tomorrow.

Seattle Bound

You know, how we continue to be optimistic and naive about the time it takes to pull together our family for a week long trip is beyond me. Our family psychology could be a text book example of the power of the mind over overwhelming evidence to the contrary. No, we cannot pop out the door with a backpack and a baggie with our toothbrushes in it. No, we cannot wake up in our bed in Vancouver at 10 am on Sunday morning and then expect to motor out of the Point Roberts Marina by noon. And yet, like dim-witted Disney characters, we are positive beyond all reason that we can achieve anything.

Our original plan was to head down to Point Roberts on Saturday night, then get an early start Sunday morning. Instead, we had a great evening out at our friends Mike and Kate's house watching the Canucks game. The sun was shining, the kids were playing happily and the television was set up outside. It was impossible to tear ourselves away. So…plan B was to get up early and head done to Point Roberts, quickly throw our stuff into the boat and sail off NOT into the sunset (i.e. long before the sunset). 

Plan B got off to a rocky start when we slept in until 10. It was even rockier when we hadn't even arrived in Point Roberts by 1 pm (it's a good thing I am writing this blog post, because there is no way that Eric would ever admit to the massive detour and plan-killer that was the retrieval of his laptop from a distant firehall in North Delta). When we got to PR, we had to stop by the cabin, then head to the Marina to load the boat. 

Argh…it just takes so long. It was the lowest of low tides, so the ramp that goes from the parking lot to the dock below was basically the steep drop you'd see on a world-class roller coaster. With many fewer safety precautions. In fact, when I went to take my first trip down fully loaded, I grimaced in Eric's direction. When you have been married for a long time, you can speak volumes in a single glance. It was one of those word-free conversations. I looked at him to express my misgivings about taking the Wheelbarrow of Doom down the Ramp of Death. He looked back at me and clearly expressed his disbelief at my cowardice and all-around lameness. Well, what could I do? I pointed my oversized rubber wheels down the ramp and went for it. 

I nearly died. No, really. 

I wanted to make sure I didn't drop our groceries, clothes and other supplies down the ramp and catapult them into the water, so I decided to turn around and walk backwards down the vertical line that was the ramp. It was suicide. If not for a last second brainwave to jam the handle under the railing and hold on for dear life, the W of D would have shot down the R of D and after dragging me down the metal-grate, it would have run me over before flying top speed into the ocean. Instead, I calmly called to my husband. I told him that I "needed assistance immediately". He came to my rescue, but there were raised eyebrows and poorly concealed smirks flying. Until he tried the same manoeuvre, then asked for my help…! 

Well, it turned out that we rode off into the sunset after all…it was a later start than we had hoped for at the initiation of The Plan. Plan W, or whatever letter we were up to by that time, had us motor over to Patos Island to tie up to a float for the night. It was only a two hour cruise across to Patos, but in those two hours we had a bonanza of wildlife sightings and we felt like we were finally on holiday. We tied up, got out dinner stuff, played a couple of games together…before we noticed that the whole front cabin was filled with more than the regular pong of boat…more like the smell of straight diesel. 

Long story short, there is a little leak in the engine somewhere that caused us to scratch our heads a touch, untie again, motor back out to see what happened in the engine, and calm down the protests of the impatient natives (the kids) that we were somehow turning around and heading home to Point Roberts ("What…? That was the whole holiday…? We aren't staying…?"). We satisfied ourselves that the issues weren't catastrophic and went back into the bay at Patos and tied up AGAIN. 

See Molly's smiling face? It wasn't like that while we motored back out to sea...

The sunset was spectacular. It went from this bright orange slash across the water...

...into this crazy pink flamingo sky.

Morning came. I slept fantastically well. Our sleeping arrangement is that all five of us form a Tetris puzzle in the rear cabin of the boat. There are heads crammed into ribs and feet pushing into cheeks. Molly and Finny sleep sideways in the middle, between me and Eric and Lukey is a floater. The strangest part of this jigsaw nighttime routine...? There is a whole other cabin in the front of the boat with room for at least three people to sleep. It goes empty. Why? Not sure. I guess we're a close family. 

Eric boiled water for my coffee (which tasted divine) and we set out for Anacortes.  

On the way, we couldn't resist a quick picnic on Spencer Spit on Lopez Island. It's a very cool geography that was, unsurprisingly, a favourite of First Nations people. Much like us, they stopped there en route to other more permanent places. They stopped for clams. We stopped for turkey sandwiches. I wonder what they would have thought of sliced turkey on buns with avocado, cucumber, lettuce, cheese and tomato?

Below, you can see Finny in front of both our landing dinghy and the ship we call home, the lovely Pacific Pride.

Lukey, Molly and I went for a walk around the area, which is actually a great car-accessible campground. It was an old homestead site in the 1880s and is now a Washington State Park. 

The kids all went swimming. Fools. I mean, brave souls. 

Eric and I have discovered that tying up to a float is a much more relaxing situation than anchoring. I know we will do more and we should get better at it, but our trip up north in the boat last summer was a little nerve-wracking. I like the peace of mind that comes from lashing up to one of these babies:

 And, if there could ever be a more stereotypical father/child moment...Eric taught the kids to skip rocks. It was pretty much Eric skipping rocks. He seems fairly pleased with his best effort...

We packed up and headed off to Anacortes. We were trying to get there in time for the Canucks, but didn't get into town until the middle of the game. While we scrambled to find a place to watch it, we stumbled onto some wifi and saw the score. We decided to have dinner on the boat instead.

More on the trip to come...