Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Pensioner's Tale

As much as I looked forward to retirement, I had never realized how quickly and comprehensively I would break from the life I lived when I was working. Sure I am still in touch with some of the people I spent most of my days with, but one of the things that has surprised me is how quickly so many people dropped from my life.

Sure there are folks whose connection with me was almost exclusively through the job, and it does not surprise me that we haven't stayed in touch. And there are others who are like me - intending to stay in touch but delaying it for so long it finally becomes embarrassing to pick up the link again. Believe me, it's a two-way street. I haven't been very good at making the phone call or dropping a line, either.

Based on what I've seen of some of my friends, I am pretty sure I could really improve this situation if I bothered to learn how to really use Facebook. But let's face it, if I haven't bothered to do it by now I'm probably not going to bother in the future.

I started thinking about this because I received a voicemail the other day from Kumar, a friend from an industry organization with whom I did a lot of work. He had moved from Oz but was back in town and wanted to take me out to lunch. I, of course, am permanently out of town. But since I didn't bother to let him know that, I can hardly expect him to know.

In retirement, this wonderful business tradition of breaking bread and catching up has just about vanished. I won't go so far as to say that there's no such thing as a free lunch, but at this stage of my retirement they are much fewer and farther between than when I was working. And now that I am a pensioner, free anything starts to look good.

And by the way, that title is official. Being on the road, I hadn't realized at the time that I formally became a pensioner earlier this month. In the first week of June my first-ever pension payment landed in our checking account. It isn't a big amount, and the next deposit won't be made for six months. But legally and financially, I have moved from just being an old fart without a job to being a full-blown pensioner.

So it is probably appropriate that the last vestiges of my work life are coming to an end. Two days ago I got an e-mail from Davy, who took over my job and immediately showed everyone how it should be done.

He copied me in on his reply to Colleen in Accounts who needed to know where to send the wage form you file with your income taxes. Davy's answer was brief enough: "If you put it in a bottle, seal it, and throw it in the harbour, it will wash up against the side of their cruise liner at some point. Given the extent of their wanderings, that's likely to be quite an efficient way of reaching him."

I wrote back to tell Davy where they could send my form, and added "Shouldn't the company have some sort of celebratory service to recognize its very-last-ever-totally-final-never-to-happen-again payment to me?" I had meant it as a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the people currently in the company should be celebrating not having me (and particularly my expense account) around anymore.

But Davy, bless his soul, wrote back to say he would take LK and me out to a nice dinner the next time we were in town. I really had just been making a joke and wasn't fishing for a free feed, but I've got to say. Being a pensioner, I am especially looking forward to it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wheelchair Excess

Saturday was a special day for the family as Jordan graduated from high school. Family from all over came to celebrate the big day, and let her know how proud of her we are.

The graduating class was large - about 270 kids. With the marching in, the speeches, more speeches and more than half an hour just to hand out diplomas, it was sure to be a long ceremony. We decided that I would bring Peg about 40 minutes late to cut down some of the backside-breaking time. And, if we're honest about the whole thing, we're mostly there just to see our kid get the paper.

Also, because the ceremony was at the field house of the Rochester Institute of Technology, we picked up a wheelchair for the day so Peg wouldn't have to walk so far and also to eliminate the chance of getting jostled when the crowd exits.

There turned out to be one slight problem. When we had picked up the wheelchair the foot and leg supports were not attached. It didn't seem like a big deal to me but when we took it out in the RIT parking lot, it became a very big deal. Let's just say it was very similar to the first time I was handed a Rubik's Cube.

I should add that Jordan's brother Chris and his girlfriend Lesley hitched a ride with us. I should add that information so that I don't appear to be the only dumb one who failed this particular intelligence test. For we tried every combination we could think of and yet still the foot supports were sticking straight out in the air or only worked if your leg was 2 yards long. At one point - and this is after 5 minutes of trying to figure it out - Chris and I realized we weren't even sure which one was the left and which one was the right.

You need to remember that we are already well into the graduation ceremony and the clock was ticking. Peg was getting so antsy she finally said to forget the foot supports and she would just hold her feet off the ground. Fortunately, Chris and I finally made a correct decision at that point and told her No.

Then, as so often happens when you keep fiddling around with things that are supposed to go together but just won't, something magic happens. Without knowing precisely what he did, Chris got the right-side support on. "Wow!" we both said. I handed him the left-side support. Of course, since we weren't 100% sure of what had happened on the other side, that didn't quite go on the way it was supposed to.

But it was close enough that we figured Peg could put both feet on the right and no one would notice that the left support was sticking up about 10 inches higher. And hey, it was better than having to hold her feet off the ground while we wheeled her into the ceremony.

As we finally moved to the field house, I am pretty sure Peg was thanking her lucky stars that Chris came along with us. I know I was. Particularly because I kept hearing in my mind the conversation of the night before when LK asked if I didn't think I should take the wheelchair out and make sure I could assemble it. "No," I had said, "that won't be necessary. I'm sure it's a very simple thing to do."

Yesterday I told my mother about my inability to figure out the wheelchair assembly. She is so sweet and understanding, and even though I'm 62 and not a kid anymore, she tries to make me feel better when I am an abject failure at doing something.

"Well," she said, "you're so smart in other things, you shouldn't feel bad that there's something that you're not so good at."

I told her that may be true, but I was finding out that in retirement there wasn't much demand for literary criticism or editing skills. "It seems like most of the time you're being asked to fix a leak or put up a shelf. I can't remember the last time Linda yelled out 'Donald, can you come in here. I'm reading a poem and need help interpreting it'."

Mom laughed at that. "See," she said, "you're also so funny." Which I guess is its own merit. Certainly the security guards who watched me trying to assemble the wheelchair had had a good laugh, too.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


You are looking at a picture of my feet. They are wearing my new miracle shoes, footwear that promises to transform me.

They are Skechers Shape-ups and they've been around for a while, but I first became aware of them when travelling with Robert and Jaki. Jaki saw someone wearing them and asked if they worked.

Since they looked like sneakers to me, I assumed it wouldn't take much to make them work. You know, tie the laces, take a few steps. If they're still on your feet then you can assume they work.

But it turns out that Shape-ups promise all sorts of health and fitness benefits. I can tell you about them in detail because Skechers goes out of its way to make sure you focus on them. They give you booklets and DVDs, the message of which is "These shoes will make you fitter if you wear them."

So the other day, when LK had somehow convinced me that it would be more fun to go to the mall in Las Vegas than the casino, I found myself browsing through the Shape-ups booklet waiting to try one on.

And that's when I knew I was going to buy a pair. They promised to help me get fitter just by standing; I would appear taller; and best all, Shape-ups would help me burn more calories. And, best of all given my 62 years of experience, it does not require will power. Yes, that's a big plus for me.

Of course, fat guys like me have learned to read the fine print with all these products promising easy weight loss. There are plenty of supplements and diet plans that promise weight loss and in the tiny type at the bottom it says "when used in conjunction with an exercise program."

But, no, these sneakers say they're going to make me lose more weight and improve my posture because they are designed to simulate "walking on soft sand" thus forcing me to use more muscles, straighten my posture and use more energy. On the one hand, I think it's a bit odd that these folks have gone about designing a sneaker that makes walking more difficult than usual. On the other hand, I suppose you'd have to give high marks to their marketing team that they figured out how to charge more by pointing out that this flaky design makes you fitter because you have to work harder to walk while you are wearing them.

Anyhow, it's early days and I will see if they live up to their claims. I can report that they do feel odd when you walk. But it's less like walking on soft sand and more like trying to walk around with a tennis ball glued to the bottom of your foot. There's a nearly continuous sense that I could fall over at any moment. But then, I have that feeling when I'm barefoot, too. And if I do fall over, I will surely burn more calories rolling around the ground trying to get up.

I'll let you know the final verdict in a few months. In the meantime, I have to admit I really like the idea that I can lose weight by walking to the bar and having a martini while standing there.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stormy Weather

I guess I've tried to block it from memory, but it looks as if it's time to write about Friday's flight to Rochester.

We transferred planes in Chicago, and arrived late because of some severe thunderstorms that moved through the area in late afternoon. The airport showed all the signs of one where flights were delayed and/or being canceled. People were sitting on the floor, there were long lines to get into restaurants, gate changes were being announced regularly. OK, that's normal for Chicago, but for any other airport it would indicate problems.

Our flight was pushed back only half an hour, which seemed ambitious timing from what we could tell inside the terminal. And that wasn't just my opinion. The woman making the boarding announcements came on to tell us that we would get a "more realistic" estimate of when we could board once the plane we were taking had actually landed and emptied its other passengers.

As it was, it was only another 15 minutes or so when we began a very fast boarding. I don't think I have ever seen an airline push people onto its plane so fast before. Which is what made it so strange that, once we were all seated, everything just came to a standstill. Strange, that is, until some other passengers started wandering into the plane about 10 minutes later.

These people had been on the earlier flight to Rochester. Apparently they had pulled from the gate and ended up sitting on the tarmac several hours during the thunderstorms only to be told after this wait that the crew had "timed out". They had worked the maximum hours allowed and were required to return the plane to the gate. At which point, the flight was canceled.

So now these people were being rushed from one terminal to another and onto our later flight. They were told there was no room in the overhead bins, and they needed to "gate check" any carry-ons. And then they were told to just take any seat they could find. As it was, we overhead the ground crew tell the flight attendants that about 14 of the earlier passengers still had not made this last flight of the day to Rochester.

They may be considered the lucky ones.

As we finally taxied from the gate, our pilot came on the intercom to tell us that the control tower couldn't really tell him where he stood in the queue to take off. Apparently, we were all involved in some sort of Guinness record-setting effort to see who could make the longest conga line using jumbo jets. "I can count at least 38 or 39," he said, "which means we're no better than 40th to take off. So that means at least an hour here on the ground."

He was considerate enough to share his personal observation with us: "It's the worst that I've ever seen."

"We'll never get out of here," moaned a woman across the aisle from me. Even more ominously, LK pointed out her window and asked, "Can you see the lightning?" She was pretty sure the storm was moving in our direction.

After a while of sitting still, the flight attendant came on with a message. He was going to distribute water - OK, his words were that he was going to "do a water service" - but he had a big caution to add. "Since we are still on an active taxiway, you won't be able to use the lavatories. So you may want to think about whether you really want the water." Most of us over 50 skipped it.

Unable to turn on electronic devices, the majority of us who have embraced Kindles and laptops found ourselves strapped to a tiny seat with nothing to do except re-read Sky Mall for the third time. Unless, that is, you count watching the thunderstorm move ever closer to us. Pretty soon our pilot updated us. If you can call it an update to hear, "We don't know when we're going to take off or where we are in the line."

And then, as the lightning grew ever brighter, he informed us that the control tower has stopped all flights from taking off until the storm - about 25 miles wide - passes over. "We can't go back to the gateway," he added, "because most of the planes in front of us have shut down their engines."

So, as the rain began lashing our windows, it became evident we were not going to win the World's Longest Jumbo Jet Conga Line record, but were still in the running for Largest Gridlock in History. There was an upside, though. With the engines shut off, our flight attendants began serving booze and letting people go to the loo. Most of us over 50 did both.

Eventually the storm passed - or at least the scary parts of it did - and the control tower started letting planes take off. But only at the rate of about one every five minutes. To me, this sounded more like a science experiment than commercial transportation, but after finishing a second vodka I didn't really care.

We then got some good news. Apparently, lots of the planes in front of us had returned to the gates either to get more fuel or because their crews were timing out. Only 4 hours after our scheduled departure and more than 3 after leaving the gate, we were now #5 or 6 for takeoff.

Well, you know the end. We did take off shortly after. Our flight attendant confirmed with us that we had made the deadline by the skin of our teeth. Apparently, the crew had calculated that their time would end in about 10 minutes once flights resumed. But their dispatcher tapped his watch three times and said he was pretty sure they had half an hour. Which was all it took to get us winging to Rochester.

And on the way there around midnight, with the clouds regularly glowing with the burn of nearby lightning, it barely registered when the flight attendant told us that this particular crew had been working since 9am when they flew to Salt Lake City and back before this leg. He felt the need to then let us know, "But the pilot actually started his day in Boston and flew to Chicago to begin his shift." But then he added, "But he wasn't on the clock for that flight so it doesn't count."

You do reach a point where nothing really phases you anymore. Not flying through thunder clouds and not even knowing your pilot is only awake because of the relatively recent invention of high energy drinks. For whatever reason it just didn't bother me. Maybe because of the long, long wait. More likely because I had a third and then a fourth vodka.

No matter. Even after 2am, it felt good to land in Rochester. Although I'm not so sure Sandy, Dave and Jordan felt that way when we rang them to get out of bed and come collect us.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Starting 63

Today begins my 63rd year, and for some reason more than all the others before that number really does make it sound to me like I'm getting old.

The signs have all been there recently. I keep discovering new aches and pains most days, and my wife (a new sexagenarian herself, I might add) has started automatically telling me what the waitress just said even though she knows it makes me cranky. But the biggest giveaway is that I have begun to laugh at all those e-mails making the rounds finding the funny side of getting old. You know the ones that joke about having aches and pains, not hearing well and just generally being cranky.

To all those who e-mailed, Skyped, Facebooked and SMSed me, thanks for your birthday wishes. Those of you who used the 19th century technique known as a phone call already have been thanked. To those of you who meant to say something but forgot, don't worry. But just be aware that I received birthday wishes from but not from you. Of course, it would hardly be fair for me of all people to think poorly of someone who forgot something. (Or, more likely, doesn't have an automated reminder on their computer's calendar.)

All this focus on my birthday made me remember that I had forgotten to check on a payment I was supposed to get last week. So I logged onto our bank account and sure enough on June 4 I had officially become a pensioner since that was the first day my retirement plan paid a pension check into our account. And that, I suppose, is confirmation enough that I'm no spring chicken anymore (not that I have any idea what a spring chicken is, anyway).

We had a lovely day yesterday. I missed most of my birthday morning with a late sleep-in. I was tired from a triple whammy of still being on West Coast time, feeling pretty run down from our very late arrival the night before and, oh yes, martinis with Dave.

Once we got rolling on the day, LK and I went to the mall and ordered an iPad. They're on back-order of about a week right now, so we won't get it until next week. But I think it says something about both of us that we will be returning home with a carry-on bag that will have two Apple Mac laptops, an iPad, two iPod Touches, two Dr Dre Monster Beat headphones, two mobile phones, a TomTom GPS and two Kindles. We don't think it's excessive, though, because not all of them are working.

As we were leaving the mall, a large guy was walking in the other direction. He looked quite scruffy and was wearing shorts, a baseball cap and had a t-shirt half out and half tucked in. I told LK that she had absolute permission to tell me if I ever was out in public and looked like that. She studied the guy for a few seconds and said, "But you already do look like that, except maybe you have nicer shorts." She did suggest, though, that I was starting to get a bit scruffy and needed to do something about my hair.

My "scruffiness" remained a hot topic last night when we went to one of my favorite restaurants with Sandy and Dave and Jordan. Rio Tomatlan's decor is nothing fancy (a big plus to me!) but the Mexican food is just about as good as it gets. And, since this was also Fathers Day in America, it was nice that David and I both got to celebrate at such a nice place.

My beard is coming in pretty nicely - and whitely - but my hair is showing signs of shagginess. LK told the table I needed a haircut and asked about where I should go. Sandy chimed in that the length was good. She remembered the pictures of my debacle at the barbershop last year and said I absolutely had to avoid old-fashioned barbers. I listened with interest as they discussed it further, and then it occurred to me. They were talking about me. And about whether I should get a haircut. And I was there. And I wasn't really part of the conversation.

I think that may be the other reason I feel older today.

Friday, June 18, 2010

End of the Road (Trip)

So on Tuesday our road trip ended.

For the last time, super-organized Robert loaded the back of the Hummer in his carefully determined pattern guaranteed to make sure everything fit. It called for an official photo, and Jaki posed with him before getting behind the wheel to drive us through the cold and wind and rain to get to SeaTac Airport (the one between Seattle and Tacoma, for those who haven't been out this way.)

When Jaki and Robert organized our travels, we saw lovely coastline, beautiful forests, and enough fauna to stock the San Diego Zoo. It may have been cold and rainy on several of the days, but we saw some dropdead bits of America. It was back to Nature in a place where Nature is especially stunning.

So, left to our devices, LK and I debated the best way to finish off such a lovely trip. We discussed it and chose the next - and final - phase of our trip before returning to families on the East Coast. There was really never any doubt about where we were heading:

OK, it may not be Mother Nature, but it is our nature! Our time with Jaki, however, proved invaluable for our trip here. For Jaki taught us the Joys of Upgrading during our two weeks with her and Robert.

The absolutely best example happened in Victoria. We had booked into a very nice hotel on the harbor, but upon checking in Jaki made sure the folks at the reception desk knew we were going to be celebrating two birthdays on our two nights in that city. Presto! We were moved into what may be one of the loveliest hotel suites I have ever been in. (And those who knew me when I was using an expense account know I sampled more than a few in my day.)

LK took some pictures, just to give you an idea:

All of that, and a balcony sitting over the harbor as well. In fact, there were parts of this very large suite that the four of us never used, but it was nice having them there, I suppose. After all, it's good to be upgraded.

On our own, though, it was back to reality. A quick trip to Expedia, and we had booked $30 rooms in the Luxor, the famous black pyramid-shaped hotel. Checking in, though, the clerk tempted us with an upgrade to their top-of-the-line suite for only $75.

OK, I know Jaki's upgrade was free. But I was still tempted. After all, I reasoned, we have to pay considerably more for a small, dark room in Wodonga when we drive through to get to the Tasmania ferry. And we were in Vegas, after all. I splurged.

We ended up in a massive suite - not quite as large as the place in Victoria but heaps bigger than two people needed for a couple of nights. Oh sure, you might quibble a bit about the very large faux Egyptian decorations. (You definitely would if you were into interior decoration at all.)

I'd like to report that we made money in Vegas, but sadly some things never change. However, the room did help us keep some bucks in the wallet. It was so comfy we spent lots of time there. (And it didn't hurt that the NBA finals were on for two of the nights.) So we had a comfortable, upgraded time in Vegas.

Back to the East for families. And that trip is worth another blog. Next post.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Orcas Island

Hard to believe, but this is the last night of our road trip with Robert and Jaki across the Pacific Northwest. Yesterday we took a ferry from Anacortes, on the island of Fidalgo, to Orcas, one of the San Juan Islands that lie between Washington State and British Columbia. As you can see, it is stunningly beautiful here, and - most amazing - the weather has decided to be nice to us with sun and clear skies. You could almost believe that summer is near. Oh, that's right, it is.

We've rented a house above Deer Bay for our last couple of days. It's most appropriately named since we've seen a couple of deer while sitting around. We have definitely enjoyed the change in weather and NOT driving. The four of us have all come to the conclusion that we've had enough driving on this and our earlier road trip to last us for a long time.

Last night was fun and games. Literally. Whoever set this house up is a mad gamer. There are heaps of boxed games like Scrabble, Pictionary, Boggle and Orcasopoly (which we assume is the Orcas version of Monopoly). But what really caught our fancies was a garage with a full-sized pool table, dart board and foosball. So last night we played some pool and I discovered two things: 1) It's easier to blame your missed shots on not playing for quite a while, rather than the booze you've been drinking, and 2) You need to be very aware that your butt crack can show when you lean way over the table to take a shot.

The one downside to being so remote is that we really are remote. Our mobile phones don't get much of a signal and even the Internet connection is so bad that Skype keeps cutting in and out. Not such a bad thing normally, but annoying last night when I could not keep connected to Tom when I called to wish him Happy Birthday.

Anyhow, it's kind of nice to have a lazy day today. An early ferry tomorrow back to Anacortes, then Robert and Jaki will undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief as they drop LK and me off at the airport.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Fountain at Butchart Gardens

One last bit of Butchart Gardens.

LK took a video of the fountain in the rear of the sunken gardens. Set among towering trees, it is pretty amazing. (Caution, you should consider having a pee before watching this.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Butchart Gardens

The battery to the camera was deader than a doornail. The charger has Australian prongs and someone (yep, me again) had forgot to pack the adapter. Looked for the longest time like no more pictures for this little blog.

After insisting to LK that we wouldn't be able to find an adapter to plug our Aussie battery charger into an American outlet, we found one at the first place we looked. She said something about me being ever the optimist, I ignored her, and now the pictures of Butchart Garden in Victoria are available for your viewing.

These are fantastic shots that LK took that day, and I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as we enjoyed our day at this fabulous place.

They are on our Shutterfly share site.

Au Revoir, Canada

We spent our last morning on Victoria touring the British Columbia Museum of Natural History.

It is a spectacular place, with one floor devoted to the flora and fauna of the place (including a great wooly mammoth from earlier days). This includes some remarkably stuffed animals, making me think that the long gray winters of British Columbia give people plenty of time to tinker with dead carcasses.

The other floor is divided into two parts dealing with the humans who have lived here.

The first section of that floor is devoted to the aboriginal tribes and features some impressive totem poles and ornate, beautiful masks. It also how these people lived their lives and especially how they made use of the environment in which they live.

I now know, for example, that you can make a waterproof overcoat out of the inner bark of a spruce tree. Surprisingly, there were none for sale in the gift shop. Otherwise, I am quite sure LK may have been tempted to purchase one.

The other half of the "people" floor dealt with British Columbia after the Europeans settled there. There was a picture of a striking-looking man steering a fishing boat, and I included it at the top of this post so you could get a sense of the rugged and handsome people that lived here a century ago. The fact that Robert and Jaki ran up to me saying, "You've got to see this picture - he looks exactly like you!" had nothing to do with me including it.

Because of my problem forgetting the camera charger, all the pictures had to be small and - mostly - grainy taken by my mobile phone. Nonetheless, here are a bunch to give you a sense of that great place.

The Critters:

The Aboriginal Artefacts (and by the way, according to the information below it the "experts" are not sure if that first statue is of a woman holding a baby or a man holding his phallus "or perhaps both". I will let each of you make up your own wisecracks about that one):

After the museum, we had time for a drink and a snack on the waterfront. Then we collected our luggage and went to the ferry to return to Port Angeles. From there, we drove to Bremerton and today we move on to Seattle.

But one final picture - obviously our walk around the museum must have been just a wee bit tiring. With LK dozing next to me, I went to talk to Jaki and Robert. This is what I found:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Victoria BC

We are in Victoria, British Columbia. It's a beautiful island that must be just about the most southwesterly part of Canada.

We took a ferry over on Tuesday, a bright sunny day with promises of torrential rain for the rest of our visit. Fortunately, Canadian weather forecasters are not any better than those from other countries and we have had nary a drop.

We celebrated LK's birthday Tuesday night. I love the age we live in. She received birthday greetings from so many people - and not one of them knew where she was. There were e-mails, of course, and SMS messages. (And for those who truly know LK, the SMS were sent to my phone since they know she seldom turns her own phone on.) There were heaps of Facebook good wishes. But I think the biggest smile came from a Skype voicemail message where our favorite girl started out, "Hello, Armagh. Happy Birthday."

Our hotel, the Victoria Regent, is fantastic. It sits right on the harbor and is only a couple of blocks from the main restaurant and shopping area.

We have a balcony where we watch the extremely busy harbor as seaplanes take off all day, and cute little green shuttle ferries that scurry across the harbor looking all the world like toy boats.

We also have some beautiful views of the mountains off to the south and east. Yesterday we had a fantastic visit to the Butchart Gardens - one of the truly beautiful spots on earth.

That is best seen rather than described, but I cannot upload those pictures until tomorrow because we (OK, me) forgot to bring the charger and the camera went dead just about the time LK took her last picture. Of course, it wasn't what she intended to be the last picture but that's the way it is.

It was a great day, though, as we followed up Linda Day with Robert Day, celebrating his birthday. (There really are too many Geminis on this trip. Poor Jaki must feel as if she's traveling with six people.)

Today the sun is shining brightly, once again defying the forecasters. We have pushed back our ferry trip return to the US to late afternoon to have some more time to wander around this wonderful place.

Then it's Bremerton tonight and Seattle tomorrow.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Folks in Forks

On the long drive up the northwest Pacific coast, every once in a while you come across an unexpected bump in the road that turns out to be pretty neat. Or, in today's instance, it's a fork in the road. Driving from Aberdeen Washington up to Port Angeles, we went through the unique town of Forks, and it's worth telling you about it.

Driving into this small town, we started noticing all sorts of large, weird wood sculptures - bears in bikinis, fishermen with frog's heads, a 10-foot angry angel. We had decided that the folks of Forks had way too much time on their hands. Couple this with easy access to chain saws, and it was just enough to put us on guard.

Our mood changed soon enough, though (and it had to be soon, because the town is very small). We came across the Forks Timber Museum. I have since learned it was built by the Forks High School carpentry class in 1990, and I think those young Forkers should be proud of their efforts.

Nonetheless, I just couldn't work up enough enthusiasm to actually go inside and learn any more about timber than I already knew. So we just took a snapshot of their wood sculpture and walked next door to the Forks Tourist Information Center.

We were greeted by a cheery woman. "Welcome to the Twilight Zone," she said. I was torn between thinking she was a very friendly person but also somewhat odd. A few minutes later, she had her small dog cradled in her arms and told us he was a vampire dog. That made my mind up for me - she was definitely a very weird Forker. (OK, I'll stop. We came up with dozens of these during lunch, but I won't use any more in this post.)

It turns out that I was unfair to our greeter. She assumed that we were all relatively aware of current pop culture. Forks, you see, is the setting for the "Twilight" series of vampire novels and movies. That explained a few things. Like the "Forks (Heart) Vampires" sign at the tourist center. And what I took to be a derelict pickup sitting in the front that turned out to be the truck owned by Bella, the heroine of the series.

Given that the target audience for these books is young teenage girls, I don't feel too bad not knowing any of these details. After all, it's always different strokes for different folks. I mean, how many of those girls spent any time last week trying to comprehend how Al and Tipper could split after all these years?

Driving into the center of Forks for lunch, it became quite clear that this is one town that has embraced this vampire tourism with a vengeance. There are Dazzled by Twilight tours; one of the diners has a Bella Burger; even the pharmacy offers Bella's favorite remedies. Most of the motels have something about vampires on their signs.

It turns out that this overdose of Twilight tourism is all working out for the best. Apparently tourism in the town has grown 600 percent since the first book was published in 2005. It couldn't have happened at a better time to bring in much needed money, since the main driver of Forks' economy had been the declining timber industry.

Without the Twilight connection, it is unlikely Forks would have been able to attract too many tourists. If you doubt me, read this from its Wikipedia entry - and remember it was written by someone trying to put a good face on Forks:

Depending on the person, there are several things to do in Forks.
For the teenage group there is a group called the Rainy Day Gamers. These gamers gather every Friday at the ICN Building located a couple blocks away from the stoplight at 71 North Spartan. For others, Forks serves as the hub for numerous day excursions to the Hoh Rainforest, the Pacific Beaches, and various wilderness trails.

In other words, unless you're a kid and unless it's Friday, about the only thing to do in Forks is leave it and go somewhere else close by. Or take the Dazzled by Twilight tour and finish it off with a Bella Burger.

Lots of Forks pix at our share site.

The Rogue River

I've had trouble writing the post about our jetboat adventure going up the Rogue River, starting in Gold Beach Oregon.

That may be because I had a ball that day - absolutely loved the trip. Perhaps it says something about me that I have troubles writing about stuff I enjoy but can turn out War & Peace Part II writing about things I don't like. Hmmm, maybe LK has a point when she says I'm getting cranky.

Anyhow, the solution to this problem is simple: write something quick, post lots of pictures and move on.

So - in keeping with a recurring theme of our "summer" holiday, it was cold that day - and got much colder when the jetboat went fast and water splashed on us. But it didn't matter.

The Rogue River is beautiful, and was one of the original rivers protected by federal legislation that prevented further development. So lots of wonderful scenery and heaps of critters.

This trip is close to being renamed as Miss Jaki's Northwestern Safari since we've seen so many animals. A herd of elk grazing and buzzards eating roadkill had been the highlight before the boat ride. But before we had even left the estuary, we saw two types of seals and an aviary-worthy display of birds from cormorants, ospreys, and the beautiful blue herons. Further down the river, we saw a wild turkey and a couple of bald eagles. One of the eagles even did us the favor of taking off right over our heads. And from the river itself, one fisherman showed us a couple of impressive salmon.

The driver knew a lot of things about the river and the wildlife. And far too many corny jokes. He also seemed to think that getting us wet was funny. Which it wasn't, but who's complaining?

I've posted some of the pictures at our Shutterfly share site.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Good Wife

So here's the worry. LK and I have spent every day - in fact, almost every hour - together since we sold the house in early February. I am sure my peccadilloes are driving her crazy; I'm sure she wishes she had just a little more space than she's getting on this "Let's travel together for the next six months" tour of ours. I am sure she is getting just a wee bit tired of me.

I, of course, couldn't be happier.

Except, perhaps, maybe, once in a while, when LK tugs on my t-shirt to prevent it from riding up when I take off my sweatshirt in front of other people. I actually do appreciate her attempt to keep my ample frame from being scrutinized, and I know I react like some cranky old guy who thought he was being treated like an infant by his wife. But then, she reacts like I am a cranky old fart.

I know this because these were her words: "You're turning into a cranky old fart."

I whined something about not wanting to be treated like a six-year-old with his mother. She barely skipped a beat before offering me a deal: "Here's the way it is. I will not help you out - even though I was helping you out - anymore. And you won't ask me anything anymore. No, where is this, what should I wear - nothing."

Even I knew this was too much to ask so I told her no deal. I did suggest that I would not ask her three questions per month if she would stop infantilizing me (and you can guess how I ever learned that word!). She wouldn't accept my offer.

I fully understand that women want their husbands to look good, that they care about their husbands' clothes, that they are upset if their husband has, say, a big grease stain right in the middle of their shirt where their belly rises 50 degrees above what would be called flat.

And I fully understand that almost no woman understands that the husband - OK, me - really, really, really doesn't care very much about all of that. Especially now that we (I) are (am) retired.

Yesterday we were planning on going for a brief walk. Temp in the 60s, no rain. I planned to throw on a jacket, but LK thought I needed a lightweight sweater and the jacket. In case it got really cold. I told her I thought the jacket was enough, but she argued that I would be s.o.l. if I got cold.

I thought about it for a second. Then I realized - we could have these discussions for the next 20+ years, or I could make our lives easier. "OK," I said, "I am turning 62. We're both in good health. I think it's time for me to accept that I should never have to make another decision. I am making the rest of our lives so much easier. You tell me what I should wear."

And this is where LK shows her true mettle. You and I might back away from such a full responsibility. Truly scary, huh? But LK barely hesitated before saying, "Well, in that instance, wear the lightweight sweater and carry your jacket." She didn't bat an eye when I asked her whether I should wear the green or blue sweater.

(I should add that she did apologize when I had to take off the green sweater and carry the jacket because I was so hot once we started on our walk.)

This dynamic between my beloved and me is not onerous, by the way. It's actually quite liberating. It is defining what TROML is going to be like. (That's "The Rest of My Life".)

Take the other day when - completely out of the blue - LK said I should grow my beard again.

"But, darling," I said, "the last time I had a beard, you agreed I should shave it because it made me look old."

"Yes," she said, "but now you are old, so it doesn't matter. And besides, you won't need to shave any more."

All I can add to this is that it's now three days since I shaved, and my beard is coming in nicely - although it seems pretty white to me.

And perhaps I should add that I do love my darling. For surely, there is no one in the world who could care so much about me - even down to my beard and my sweater - as she does.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Crater Lake

Our summer holiday continued today with a day trip to Crater Lake in Oregon. Jaki and Robert had visited the lake last July and thought it was one of the most beautiful places they have seen. Wanting to share it with us, they planned this trip away from the coast. What they didn't plan on was that most of Crater Lake's roads are still closed with snow, the winds were howling, a torrential downpour was relentless the entire day and the temperatures - the JUNE temperatures, I might remind you - were in the low 40s (figure about 6, my celsius-friends).

So far our trip up the coast of northern California and through the southern parts of Oregon has made a joke of the discussion LK and I had when we packed for our marathon trip. That's the discussion where I suggested it was April in the Indian Ocean, May in the Mediterranean and summer in the US. Who needed sweatshirts, sweaters, jackets?

OK, we're past all that, especially because LK is so enamored of her new "professional duty" jacket. Here are just a few pictures of our first week on the road if you wonder what life has been like for us, and remember - this is our SUMMER holiday:

And finally, I made a brief movie of our visit to Crater Lake today. I apologize for the sound quality, but there were several moments when the wind gusted so hard that it just took over the mike. And then were a few other moments when the rain and wind combined to make my voice go very high as certain parts of my body scrambled to get inside where it's warmer.

Oh, and a PS - I haven't got around to writing about our jetboat trip on the Rogue River yesterday. I will try to catch up on that tomorrow.

And a double PS. Sandy, your sister said to tell you that she will call you in a day or two but we are just finishing our plans off now. If any of the rest of you wish to use this blog for personal communication, feel free. Just let me know who you need to reach and what you need to say to them!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Welcome to Oregon

It is a short drive from Crescent City, California, to Gold Beach, Oregon. It was the first time I had been in Oregon, and all I could recall were that their sports teams are called Ducks and Beavers and Trailblazers. You know, lots of water and not much development.

I was pretty sure I was overstating the case, because I had some vague memories that Oregon was actually a pretty cool place to live. But crossing the border this morning did not do much to change my first impression. It was rainy, foggy, and cold.

That, of course, did not stop us from visiting a few spots of this majestic, rugged coastline. But we didn't stay long, and we couldn't see much from far away since the clouds decided to get between us and the sights.

Once we got to Gold Beach, we did discover a lovely little bistro with local boutique beers on tap. After that, and in preparation for a jetboat river adventure tomorrow morning, LK decided I would need to rug up and had to buy a sweatshirt. So we went to the gift shop for the jetboat company. I picked out a sweatshirt and asked her what she thought. She unfolded it and said, "Donald, this one is for a very fat person." I guess love is blind, because she seemed somewhat surprised when I tried it on and it fit perfectly.

I think it also says something about my bride's habits that I walked out with my sweatshirt and a windbreaker for tomorrow, whereas she - who had not needed anything for tomorrow - walked out with a sweatshirt and a lovely waterproof jacket.

Obviously, not a lot happened today, but I did take a quick video at one of our stops. Here it is, and there should be some fun stuff after our river adventure tomorrow.

Eureka to Crescent City

Here's some pictures from yesterday's road trip:

We started by checking out the river portion of the Kinetic Race in Eureka. The race is an interesting event where contestants have to build vehicles that can go on land, water and sand and are propelled through pedal power. Needless to say, this science experiment gone mad results in teams decorating their machines in the oddest way - but it's all a lot of fun. Check it out here.

The whole town of Eureka seems to have come out for the event. In this picture, you can see Jaki and Linda watching the race. You can also see that they are the only people wearing shorts and t-shirts, as the entire town recognized how cold it was outside and dressed as if they were expecting a late snowfall on Memorial Day weekend.

(You can also see a very stylishly dressed citizen in the picture with me. I don't know how he knew I would be there, but it was very nice of him to wear a Bubba shirt.)

Later in the day we stopped to have a look at Trinidad Bay. It was drop-dead gorgeous, and LK and I celebrated by having a hug. Frankly, I think LK also appreciated that it helped warm her up in the winds high above the bay.

A little further up the road we ended up at a tourist attraction known as The Trees of Mystery. LK has a vague recollection of having visited as a child, but not much memory of the details. Certainly not enough to explain what the mystery of the trees is all about. Of course, she's most likely recalling seeing the big Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in front of the gift shop.

LK wanted to take my picture at the statue. I am not quite sure why she had me stand where she chose, but there it is. Anyhow, we are in Crescent City this morning, heading to Gold Beach Oregon as we bid California good-bye for this trip.