Monday, October 31, 2011

Apple Cider

Around October, every year, I get a craving for fresh pressed, cold, crisp, apple cider.  I have experienced this craving for almost as long as I can remember, certainly as far back as my early teens.  When my wife first learned of this "seasonal craving" she passed it off as yet another quirk in my personality. I would seek out fresh apple cider...not store bought, not pasteurized, just fresh from the press, apple cider as well as its required accompaniment...plain, cake donuts.  No icing, no powdered sugar...just plain old cake doughnuts. (Which I generally do not eat any other time of the year)  She asked me about it and I replied that I think it had to do with an old Cider Mill that I was taken to by my Parents, when I was growing up in Michigan.  It was called Yates Cider Mill.

As I thought back, I really could not remember having gone to Yates Cider Mill more than a half dozen times.  I did not recall going there every year, though maybe we did?!  My past childhood memories have become a bit foggy and I rely less on my memory as 100 percent factual, after having been wrong on specific details in other instances.  Certainly the yearly yearning came from somewhere and I have to assume it was the family trips (and a few trips I made on my own in my late teens) to the Cider Mill that planted the seed that seems to sprout every year in October.

I do have some specific memories about Yates Cider Mill and I have even visited it as an adult during a few trips I have made back home.  It is an old brick mill.  It stands literally right next to the Clinton River in Shelby Township and it used a large, wooden water wheel to power a very long/large press that likely seemed even larger to a young boy with wide eyes, waiting for a taste of freshly pressed apples!  The mill dates back to 1863 and looks virtually the same today as it did when I visited it all those years ago.  I have even seen it featured on the Food Network Channel!

When I was a kid, you could literally go inside and watch the apple cider being pressed.  You could watch the hundreds and hundreds of apples being squished and see a jug being filled at the end of the long, enclosed table (10 x 20 feet?) that had a pour spout on one end.  There was no pasteurization here..just pure, simple, apple cider.  The Mill was surprisingly quiet and you could smell two things...apples and the warm scent of freshly made, plain cake donuts.  We would inevitably get a box of the donuts to go with what was usually a gallon of apple cider.  You could walk outside and through the small parking lot, freshly fallen leaves crunching under your feet and sit down in the crisp, cool Michigan air and enjoy your apple cider and donuts at the picnic tables in the park that bordered the river and the Cider Mill.  If you were lucky, you would get to see a train rumble by, as the railroad tracks were a stones throw away from the park.  Can you imagine a more enjoyable scene as a kid?  It had all the elements of a Norman Rockwell scene.  I really enjoyed it...and enjoy the thought of it now even moreso.

Yates Cider Mill, Michigan

I assume that this happy, childhood memory (and truth be told, this was one of very few childhood "Family" memories where we were all together....other than church on Sunday, or dinner each night) explains the consistent and powerful yearning I have to welcome the fall season with a cold glass of fresh apple cider and a donut.

If fresh cider isn't available, I buy the best stuff I can.  I invite my wife and kids and anyone else within earshot, to come have a glass of cider and a donut...thinking somehow that they will enjoy it as much as I do.  They generally smile and comply, knowing it is important to me and brings me a sense of "being home" after being gone for so long.  I appreciate the gesture and I think, just maybe, that my daughter sort of "gets it" these days.

Last fall, while talking to a friend/co-worker, Jim, about the fall season and apple cider, he told me, "hey, I have an old cider press from the late 1800's and we press apples for cider every fall!"  WHOA!! Someone else does this?  I asked him about it and he explained that his family has enjoyed this tradition since before he could remember.  The apple press that he uses was passed down from his grandfather, to his mother/father and now to him.  He said that the wood on the old press had become dry and worn and as a gift, a friend of his restored the press using new oak...and the press is like new!

We talked about getting our squad (and our families) together and spending a fall day pressing apple cider.  It did not happen that year, however, this year after I reminded him what a great/traditional event that would be, we were able to get most of us over to his house (in a very nice rural setting overlooking the water in Port Orchard) with bags of apples in tow.  5 families were able to make it and we had more than 60 lbs of apples to press.  The apple press was simply beautiful.  It was expertly rebuilt with beautiful white oak and all of the original cast iron gears, crank and gear train etc looked old, but in perfect condition.  The press basket (where the shaved/ground up apples are placed before literally pressing the juice out of them) was still original and looked all of its 100+ years old...but was still up to its task. (See above photo of Jim and his kids showing us how its done!)

Most of us took a turn at hand cranking the press to shave/grind the apples, which in turn dropped into the press basket where they were then "pressed" by a hand cranked screw that literally compressed the apples, providing us with fresh apple cider.  The kids were curious and the youngest ones were interested in what the contraption was that we were using to get juice...that could more easily be purchased from the store in bottles!!  I think I was the biggest kid there and I likely had the biggest grin as well.  We sat around and drank apple cider right from the spout of the press table.  We tried different apples and blends. We ate a few cake donuts that I felt compelled to bring.  Truth be told, I am quite sure I drank over a gallon of apple cider...yeah, no kidding.  Anything worth worth overdoing!

We enjoyed sitting around, talking and watching each other get a workout from cranking the cider press.  We watched as a few deer came out of the nearby brush, to see what was going on (and were promptly fed with the discarded, crushed apples)  We noticed all the chestnuts that had dropped from the trees and we enjoyed the view of Port Orchard, just down the hill.  Later we sat around a small fire that was needed to take the edge off the crisp, cool Washington air.  We enjoyed a bit of pot luck, and laughed over some silly stories.  And...I drank more cider.  It was a wonderful day and for me, it doesn't get much simpler, or much better than this.
Good company, good cider...good memories.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


This past weekend, a couple of us decided at the last minute to venture out on a backpacking trip to “Deadmans Lake” and “Goat Mountain”, in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  Gifford Pinchot lies in the shadow of Mount St Helen’s, just a few miles north as the crow flies and is truly a beautiful area of Washington that seems to get less attention than many other more popular hiking/backpacking areas.

I had scouted the area last year, looking for a forest road that might allow us to start at a relatively high elevation as Goat Mountain lies above 5000 ft.  I was unable to access a trail head that started at approximately 4100 ft, as there were several gates closing some of the logging/forest roads.  After looking at the topographic map I had, I saw that there was an alternate road in, that would require the addition of approximately 3-4 miles to the hike, but would still allow us to start at an elevation of 2400 ft. (instead of coming from the opposite direction and backpacking up a 1.5 mile switchback that gained almost 2000 ft of elevation in that 1.5 miles!)

I drove the twisty logging road for a while and sure enough, it dead ended into a trail head called “Goat Creek”.  I had brought my Siberian Husky, “Luna” with me, as I had intended on hiking in a bit and staying the night.  When I approached the trail head, I was darn near attacked by an unusually large number of yellow jackets.  I retreated to the car with Luna and decided I had found a good trail head, and could at least present the trail/route to the group of guys I backpack with and see what they thought.

Fast forward to this year.  The guys I backpack with (Guys in my squad at work) took vacations at different times throughout the summer, there were a few guys that sustained injuries and we simply did not get our usual 2-3 backpacking trips planned/executed.  I had told the guys I really wanted to do the Goat Mountain trail, regardless of which route we took, as the views were supposed to be fantastic. (Looking north to Mt Rainier, and south to an unobstructed view of Mount St Helen’s, with Mt Adams in view at the same time...on a ridge that stood higher than 5000 ft!)  In March, we tentatively planned a 3 day trip for the first week in September.

The night before our first day off last week, I get a phone call form two of the guys (Jim and Taz) saying, “Whats the plan!?  Are we going tomorrow?!”.  Both of these guys had been off on vacation for the past month and I hadn't seen either of them for weeks!  To be honest, I assumed the trip was a no go and I had not prepared for it.  So, being unprepared, unpacked and still suffering from an injury I sustained two weeks before on a trail ride with he new motorcycle, what do I do?...I say “OK, lets go!”. (I don't want to be the wimp of the squad!?)

Now, remember I had scouted the alternate trail head and said that it added 3-4 miles to the original route?  Well, I seemed to forget about this as I pulled out the map and led Jim to the trail head, some three hours from where we picked up Taz.  It is a steep, winding hill and we all agree it is a good thing we weren't hiking it, as it would allow us to save considerable energy for the hike ahead.  Also of note...this is the first and only backpacking trip we have done this year.  Normally we would have had a chance to "season" our legs a bit on a few hikes covering a bit less distance.  We arrive at the trail head and secure our backpacks, ready to hit the forest and hike to Deadmans Lake.  It should be noted that Taz assumed we were starting at the trail head that I originally tried to locate.  It would have made the hike to Deadmans Lake approximately 3 miles or so.  He was unaware that we were starting at a totally different trail head and that it added at least 4 miles to the hike.  We had also looked at the trail and noted that much of it seemed to follow the contour lines of a few ridges, at least in the first 3 miles of the trail.  In short, Taz was prepared for a 3 mile, relatively “rolling” trail. Umm, WRONG!

We head out and within the first mile or so, we are impressed with the scenery, the elevation and the rather narrow mixed use trail. (Hikers and Horses allowed)  We immediately see frequent horse droppings along the trail and in some spots we are amazed that folks would be riding horseback given the sometimes 70-100 feet cliffs we are skirting on a trail that narrows to 18 inches in some places!  About this time one of the guys says, “look!”.  We look down along a washed out, gravel strewn portion of the trail some 60 feet below us and see a horse that appears to have fallen off the trail.  It appeared the horse had fallen within the last 24 hours and from the looks of it, had to be put down with a shot to the head.  It was sad, as I am sure that the horse was someones “buddy”...a four legged friend that likely spent many hours being fed, brushed and ridden by a familiar and caring two legged friend.  It was a grim reminder to be careful.

We trek on and about 45 minutes in, we start gaining elevation.  Just a little at first, we gain and lose 30-50 ft at a time...a rolling trail of sorts.  About an hour in we are steadily climbing.  Not a terribly steep climb, rather a continual, obvious rising trail.  A couple of hours later, after climbing steadily with no reprieve, we pull out the map to check our location.  It was about this time that Taz was made aware of just how far we had to go.  He was surprised, (in a bad way) but Jim's lighthearted spirit of adventure and my stubborn “one foot in front of the other” demeanor convinced him that it wouldn’t be as bad as it seemed.

We realize at this point, that we have some serious climbing to do, albeit somewhat gradual.  We are at about 3000 ft above sea level at this point (gained about 600 ft) and we have about 2000 vertical feet left to gain.  We set out towards “Vanson Lake” summit about 4 hours away.  As we march along the continually rising trail, we cant help but wish WE had a pack horse carrying our 40+ lb backpacks.  A couple of hours later, drenched in sweat and breathing a bit more heavily, we stop at a stream to replenish the nearly 1 gallon of water we had consumed up to this point.  It has been a few hours of steady leg workout.  It was like being on a “StairMaster” machine for 3 or 4 hours!  In short, the trail and it's gradual, but deceptively steep incline was...RELENTLESS!  That word was thrown around by us on a few occasions throughout the trip, for describe the unending uphill climb!

We reached the ridge near Vanson Lake, took off our backpacks and took time to take in a bit of a view, drink some water and determine how far we were from Deadmans Lake.  To say I was physically spent at this point would be an understatement.  I would have been happy putting my sleeping bag on the trail and sleeping where I fell!  We checked the map and determined we had about two miles to cover before reaching Deadmans Lake.

It was about 6 pm and it would be dark (due to the tree cover and the mountains blocking the sun) by 8 pm.  We headed out first heading uphill, then shortly thereafter, downhill.  Our feet hurt and our quadriceps were screaming for relief.  I cannot adequately describe the effect that trudging downhill for 1.5 miles has on already tired legs.  You have to step carefully due to the loose gravel, you take shorter steps to minimize the bouncing/impact of the backpack and it shoves your feet up against the front of one's shoes/boots.  It can be a bit uncomfortable, especially at the end of an already arduous hike.

We had a tough time matching the map's depiction of the trail to what we were looking at, but a few minutes after Jim set off up the trail to have a look, he came back and said he had found the trail that split off and let to Deadmans Lake.  The map was dead wrong (not often the case) and we had simply needed to hike another couple hundred yards to hit the cutoff south to the Lake.

Just after sunset, we walked about 200 yards south and the Lake came into view.  A simple, calm and shallow alpine lake surrounded by two mountains and tall green trees.  We walked to the lake edge and saw the sign...”Deadman Lake”.  I certainly felt like a dead man!  We realized we had about 10 minutes of twilight left, so we quickly setup our tents and bedrolls.  Taz collected up some wood and got a small fire started.  I pulled off my hiking boots with a sigh of relief and sat next to the fire as the sky went dark and we prepared our dinners.  I was exhausted.

Dinner tasted great (always does after such a long hike) and we talked a bit about the hike.  We had covered at least 8.5-9 miles and about 6 of those had been a steady uphill.  We had gained over 2400 feet in elevation and hiked double the distance Taz had expected...oops!!  We sat by the fire in the dead silence of the forest until the fire dwindled.  As it was about to go out, we decided to hit the sack and get off our feet...figuring we could chat while on our backs.  It wasn’t long before we were as quiet as the forest and sleep subdued us.

Morning brought sunlight, a renewed spirit, a hunger for breakfast and....mosquitoes and flies!!!  We awoke to the sound of flies and mosquitoes buzzing madly around our tents. Taz said it sounded like the “damn Indianapolis 500!!”.  The bugs were racing wildly in circles around our tents, surely anticipating their own breakfast should we venture out of our tents!  I had to laugh, as the sheer volume of the buzzing bugs was incredible and Taz's analogy was as ridiculous as it was accurate!  As we looked across the lake from the safety of our tents, you could see millions of bugs zooming just above the water...and you could see the Trout jumping for their own breakfasts!

We ventured out and were immediately greeted by the bugs.  A fire was started and we sat near the fire more for the smoke repelling the bugs than for the warmth of the fire.  We prepared our respective breakfasts and enjoyed a leisurely meal, and drank the rest of our water, still trying to replace the water we had spent during the hike in.  After braving the bugs during a quick bath in the cold lake, we retreated to our tents in an effort to escape the bugs.  It would be the second topic that would prompt someone to use the term “relentless”. “These damn bugs are RELENTLESS”!...was heard on several occasions...laced of course with several impolite expletives!!  I thought how unusual it was to have heard that word used so frequently over the past day or two, but not having heard it used otherwise for years!

We figured a day hike would be good for our tired muscles and provide us with an opportunity to check out at least partially, the view from the ridge that lies just west of Goat Mountain.  This would have been the ridge we would have traveled along, should we have braved the 1.5 mile switchback that started at the trails eastern trail head.  In hindsight I would have preferred this 4.8 mile route...pain in the ass switchback or the almost 9 mile trek we made from the western side of the mountain.

After a steep climb out of Deadmans Lake ( no backpack this time, just some water and a snack or two in hand) we were at the ridge line in about an hour.  It was impressive. To the north we could see Mt rainier from a southern perspective instead of the eastward perspective seen from Tacoma.  To the south we could glimpse the top of Mt St Helen’s. ( We did not hike the additional 2 miles that would have allowed us an unobstructed view) Looking down from the ridge to our south, there was a steep series of hills that led to a couple of streams some 2500 feet below us.  Just east was the top of Goat Mountain.  The trail that stayed just below the ridge line showed Mountain Goat tracks, Cougar tracks and Bear tracks!  Certainly the Mountain Goat was on the menu for the other two predators.

We thought we were going to hike out along the eastward Goat Mountain trail the next day, so we decided to head back to the lake for the day.  We scouted around looking for some wildlife and surveying the views as we made our way back to camp.  We certainly felt better than we had the day before and the day hike really stretched out our muscles and gave us a chance to recuperate.  We had a late lunch and took a nap, before being awakened by what we thought might be a bear foraging in the nearby underbrush.  We walked out towards the breaking branches etc., but never did see any large game, let alone bears.

Later, we heard the sound of horses and moments later two bow hunters entered the camp on two horses, with a pack horse in tow.  They were hunting Elk and asked if we had happened across any.  We told them the forest seemed unusually quiet and that while we had seen a few tracks, we had not seen any large animals.  We spoke for a few minutes and told them of the dead horse we had happened on the day before.  After the horses made their way through our campsite to get to the lake, they drank their fill and the group left for the westward trail.  We could not talk them out of their pack horse!

Dinner was nice, as we waited until the cool, dark evening had rid us of the bugs.  I have spent a lot of time in the woods and this night struck me as perhaps the quietest night/environment I have ever experienced.  We commented on how still and quiet it was.  We talked a bit and enjoyed a few Pop Tarts that Taz had brought along, (He always brings the most food and candy etc) then called it a night after deciding we would hike back the way we came.  We figured it would take at least 6 hours and knew we would need a good nights rest to start early in the cool morning.

We awoke to our buzzy alarm clock bug around our tents, eager to greet us!!  We packed up, enjoyed a hot breakfast and set out to return to the real world.  The backpack straps reminded us that we had journeyed in recently, as it almost felt like we had sunburned shoulders when we first threw the backpacks on.  Ouch!!

We started our climb out of Deadmans Lake, up a long, winding, uphill trail.  We knew it would be uphill right out of the lake, but we felt energized from having enjoyed a day of rest.  We made very good time on the uphill to Vanson Lake Ridge.  It was tiring, but we agreed it felt much better than the trip in.  We took in some water and started what we knew would be a long and gradual downhill hike, the opposite of our hike in.

Personally, the downhill hike is harder on me than going uphill, thanks to a 30 year old knee surgery and a lack of any cartilage on the inside of my right knee.  The downhill stepping really places a lot of stress on my knee and I had prepared for this by ingesting stupid amounts of Ibuprofen the last few days to mitigate the certain pain and swelling of my knee.  The upside was, that this downhill was simply not terribly steep, but rather gradual and it was easier on all of us than some of the past, more steep downhill hikes we had endured.

Now, on this trip I was breaking in a pair of brand new and pricey Merrell hiking boots.  They were not a full boot but rather a ¾ boot that placed the upper, outside leather edge of the boot in an uncomfortable position against my upper ankle.  It was uncomfortable because due to my knee issue, my right foot “pronates” a bit causing an atypical angle from my foot to my lower leg.  This caused the leather top edge o9f the boot to wear a cut into my upper ankle on the trip in.  I lived with it and thought, “I will just lace my boots a different way/adjust it” on the way down.  Well, that did not work and every step I was taking caused the leather edge to rub/cut into my skin in a most uncomfortable way!!

We stopped twice so that I could adjust my sock, add a sock, bandage/pad the ankle....nothing worked.  It was kicking my ass and making the trip down a real pain in the a--.  Now, these boots were a gift from my wife and cost the better part of 200 dollars.  They were purchased from REI. I told the guys, “this is ridiculous, I am going to cut a wedge out of the side of this boot”!  REI has a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee!!  They of course laughed, looked at me like I was crazy and said, "REI is not taking back a hacked up pair of boots from some sissy backpacker"!  We stopped, grabbed a knife and cut a wedge out of the top/side of the boot.  I saved the cutout piece, put the boots back on....and...its a miracle!!!!  No pain!!  I was blissful!  We continued our hike out and I felt like Superman.  No pain, alllll gain!!

As we neared the trail head, we came across a bit of a waterfall that we had seen on the way in.  It was quite pretty and I had mentioned a few miles back, I intended on using it as my personal shower!!  So off came the backpack, shirt, shorts (I had shorts on underneath) and stood under that wispy waterfall for several minutes as we took a break.  It felt fantastic...cold, clean...and I could taste the salt that was washing off my face.  I got dressed, loaded back up and we completed the hike out about 40 minutes later, making it out in 4 hours and 50 minutes.

Jim was fresh as a daisy, I was very tired but pleased with the hike/trip....Taz...looked like he had just completed the Bataan Death March!  We are an eclectic group for sure.

We loaded up and drove out.  We made our way north on I-5 towards Tacoma as Jim and I reviewed the trip and talked of alternative trips and the like. Taz was asleep.  We stopped off at the first McDonald’s that we came to.  We have a tradition of stopping at McDonald’s after our backpacking trips, as most of us do not eat there often.  After burning a ridiculous amount of calories on these backpacking trips, we know we can afford the luxury of some huge burgers...and they truly taste better after a long backpacking hike!

Several Quarter Pounder's with Cheese later, we were back on the rode home.  Full, tired, and ironically talking about the possibilities of the next trip, having forgotten already...about the trials and tribulations of the recently completed trip!

...And yeah, REI took the boots back!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Giving In


I like getting the most out of the least. I don't like being told I cant do something and that I "must do this" to "be successful in that". I have taken beautiful, clear astrophotographs with a very minimalist CMOS Cam, that shouldn't have been so capable. I tweaked and tuned a "too heavy" Jet Ski that normally ran 57 that it would run 62 MPH...full throttle, for hours...winning some tough races in the process, much to the surprise of a few competitors. I have also taken some wonderful photographs over the years, with the often looked down on, "consumer grade"...compact camera.

The compact camera has come so far, so fast, that it is mind boggling how capable they have become. I have told many, many people to enjoy, get to know and use their little compact digital cameras and not worry about the fancy, "cool looking" DSLR's that have that fashionable shutter release sound that just "sounds so professional". In fact, I believe that 90 percent of people dont NEED a DSLR...90 percent of the time.  Big, heavy, non-portable glass anchors...I laugh in your general direction!!!

I bought a damn DSLR.

The 10 percent of the time that most of us need a DSLR...and I need a DSLR, is portrait work. Sure you can take a good portrait with a compact camera. But what you cannot do, is obtain the shallow depth of field that throws the foreground and background out of focus immediately in front of and behind your subject. Thats it! The only thing I cannot do with my compact camera. THE ONLY THING!!

I tried every trick I knew...using macro modes to trick my camera...skewing the aperture and tweaking settings...shooting at the maximum telephoto range of the simply is not doable.

So, I bought a damn DSLR.

I needed to do some real portraiture work and after borrowing a friends simple Nikon D40x to shoot a few simple, "one light setup" portraits, I simply gave in. I just could not get the portrait of my daughter above (Taken with the D40x) with a compact camera.

I decided it was time to buy a damn DSLR, so I set about finding a reasonably priced, quality camera. Now, I am used to the 200-300 dollar price range of high quality "prosumer" compact digital cameras. Well, I was in for some sticker shock. (remember..."getting the most out of the least")

To make a long story very short, after reading a ton of serious reviews, pouring over hundreds of test photos and shopping the internet for the best possible price...I picked up the rather "old" (introduced 2+ years ago) Canon EOS Rebel XS for 399.00 dollars, shipped and with no tax. It was a factory (Canon) refurbished camera from Adorama. I was still not happy I had to spend so much for a camera! (It is less than half the price of any current DSLR capable of the same image quality)

It is a beautiful and very capable camera that will surely find a place in my photographic a portrait camera. As I get used to it and get comfortable with its operation, I will be sure to post a few portrait shots to show off its capabilities. But, I will still be taking my Lumix ZS1 with me the other 90 percent of the time!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Roll Me Away

                                                       2009 Kawasaki Super Sherpa                                                         

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit, I stole the above title from Bob Seger and the closing line from the old Kawasaki ads/slogan!   

I have been both busy and lazy over the past two months.

I took 30 days of vacation in the month of July, during which I stayed quite busy with home maintenance and know, the things that need to be done before the rainy winter arrives. I spent two weeks trying to get some family camping in and in short, we were rained out!! I enjoyed time off with my family regardless. Before I knew it, I was back to work. During my vacation I admit, I never even thought about posting on my blog!

I have continued to ride my bike to/from work etc., have enjoyed some photography and have purchased and listened to a few vinyl LP's from several local garage sales!

Before my vacation was over, I had found yet another item to catch my interest and imagination. After talking with a friend of mine for some time, about the merits of using a motorcycle to discover some of the rugged terrain and back country that I normally backpack, I decided to buy a "Dual Sport" motorcycle. ("Enduro" for you older folks!) I wanted to be able to ride to the back country and then ride INTO the back country, all on the same bike!

So I bought a nice little Kawasaki 250.  Officially, a Kawasaki KL250G Super Sherpa. I wanted something affordable, reliable and simple. This motorcycle is just that. I picked it up recently in Kaiser, OR from a nice couple that had put a mere 200 miles on the bike. It looks nearly new and is still not properly broken in.

Its been a while since I have ridden a motorcycle off road, and I am looking forward to throwing it around on some trails. Next spring (or maybe this fall) will bring a few camping trips, transportation courtesy of the Super Sherpa! It will be a nice break going from being my own "Sherpa", to using the Super Sherpa to lug my gear around!

I have motored around the streets in and around my neighborhood and it is a blast to ride. Saturday will bring my first venture onto some trails and dirt so that I can get a feel for the bike and see how it handles off-road. (As well as how I handle has been many years since I have played in the dirt on a motorcycle!)

Let the good times roll!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Inclinaciones españolas

I am a white, blue eyed German guy. (ok, I have some Irish from my Dads side)

As a young boy, I recall watching the old know, John Wayne, black & white movies and TV Shows.  There was always a good guy and a bad guy...a leading lady and the bad guys girl.  The leading lady was usually a blonde and the good guy usually wore a white cowboy hat.  The bad guy was often from Mexico, spoke with an accent, had a mustache and had a raven haired, dark eyed girl...just the opposite of the leading lady.

I think I was supposed to find the leading lady pretty.  Somehow, the castanet clicking Spanish lady seemed to capture my attention and imagination...dashing any hopes of the leading lady captivating me with her fine, fair features!  This was my first inclination towards Spanish "culture".

When I was about 6 or maybe 7 years old, I recall visiting some friends of my Mom and Dad.  I don't remember much except that their names were "Liz and Cedro".  Cedro...what a strange and interesting name... at least in Michigan in the 1960's!  I don't remember exactly, but I think he was from a southwestern state and he certainly was Hispanic. 

When I was about 10 years old, I heard a song on the radio that was sung in Spanish.  It instantly resonated with me (and apparently a lot of other people as it hit #9 on the Pop Charts) even though I had no idea what the lyrics meant!  I recall memorizing the song regardless.  When was the last time you memorized a song in a language you don't know!?

When I made it to High School, I decided I would take a language course.  I chose Spanish.  Could have picked German, but I didn't.  I struggled with the language each year, for the next four years!  During that time I learned things other than vocabulary words and language.  I learned of the geography of several Latin Countries.  I studied Latin cultures and the history of ancient civilizations that resided in Mexico and South America...adventurous and interesting stuff about pyramids and vanishing Mayans and the like.  I was fascinated. 

Sometime during High School, I heard that song that had been popular so long ago.  You know, the one I memorized but couldn't understand!  Well, I was a student of Spanish by God, and I set about translating the song.  Considering my poor grades in Spanish, this proved harder than you might think!  After figuring out the lyrics, I liked the song even more.  In fact, it is probably my favorite love song.

I visited Spain on a couple of occasions in the mid 80's, while serving with the U.S. Army in Berlin, Germany...Lloret De Mar and its beautiful beaches...Barcelona with its history, (Columbus sailed from here!) its huge Cathedral and its friendly, beautiful people.  I enjoyed real Sangria, and I ate my first real "Paella" here! 

All these years later, I am married to a Spanish speaking, raven haired, dark eyed beauty of Spanish heritage. (Hmmm does that make me the "bad guy"??)  I have forgotten most of my Spanish.  (Traded it in for German while overseas...who knew!?)  And I rarely hear that Spanish tune on the radio these days.  Funny how things work out.

 The Spanish group that sings the aforementioned song is called "Mocedades". It is a 6 person group (3 of which are siblings) from Biboa , Spain.  They placed second in the "Eurovision Song Contest" in 1973 with this song, and it became an instant International hit. The song is simple and exudes an innocent yearning to express the feeling of love. It reminds me of what a teenager might write to his or her first love. The song uses a mix of instruments popular in the 70's...bold brass, subtle violins and a distant lead guitar.  Combine this with the smooth background vocals, the building volume of the song, and the calm but sometimes desperate voice of the lead singer, and you have a memorable tune. When she sings of the "guitarra en la noche" and "trills" the "R" in perfect Spanish annunciation, it still gives me goose bumps. 

You are on your own for the translation, (thats half the fun!) but be careful, there are some very inaccurate translations on the web.  Here it is, from 1973..."Eres Tu".

Eres Tu (Original 1973 Eurovision)

Eres Tu (Excellent Sound)


Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Royal Wedding

Everyone appears to have an angle regarding this recent spectacle. Many of the ladies appear enamored with the “Fairy Tale” lived out by the marriage of this modern day Prince and Princess. Many of the men...could care less.

Me?  Well, I have two Razor Sharp Insights into this recent event:

1.  I was listening to a radio talk show recently, that had a British guest talking about the Royal traditions, including the Royal Weddings, being “linked to their DNA”, as it has been such a long part of the history of England and its citizens. Well, my immediate thought was, being that we were established as a Country in direct opposition to England and its desire to “Lord over us” with their Kings and Queens, it is “in our DNA” to see such “pomp and circumstance” as just that! There is no real “Monarchy” in England's governmental decision making process and it serves as a reminder of history and tradition at best. (Sort of like the old white we really need to relive that?!)

2.  I observed the fairy tale wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. The same hype, the same media coverage, the same re-living of the British traditions. It was a glorious ceremony. Princess Di was beautiful and humble. I was frankly touched by the genuine compassion and social grace displayed by Princess Diana. She truly embodied many peoples idea of a modern day Princess in her appearance, her demeanor and her character.
I then watched in horror, over several years, as the “traditions” and the machine that is England's Monarchy, ”chewed up and spit out” a beautiful young woman that had entered the Royal Family and had “married a Prince”. I believe Princess Di would have been happier and more content marrying a common man, that would have given her love instead of fame and a title...and she would likely still be alive.

I certainly wish the best for the newly married Royal couple.  Like so many young couples, they are young and have the world, and a world of possibilities in front of them. They also have Englands hopes and expectations resting on their young shoulders. They will inevitably be compared to Charles and Princess Di. Perhaps many among us are simply hopeful that Prince William will redeem his Fathers failings and live happily ever after with his beautiful new Princess, in a way that we wished had been the case with Princess Di.

You want a fairy tale? Seek out a couple that has been married for 50 years. It is likely they had a more modest beginning, but a similar sparkle in their eyes all those years ago. They were probably as handsome and as beautiful and considered each other “Prince” and “Princess”. They may even be your Parents or Grandparents. If you look closely, when they speak of each other, you might catch a glimpse of that sparkle in their eyes. real “happily ever after”.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In The Groove

My recent venture into the world of classic Hi-Fi motivated me to check out some Estate/Garage sales over the past month or two.  I intended on looking for that "one in a million" 1970's Receiver that was just waiting to be discovered in the basement of an old house...dusty, but in great condition...for the price of ohhhh a gallon of gas?!

I have not yet found such a deal, but I have stumbled across some nicely preserved vinyl Lp's.  Given that most of them sell for between .25 cents and 1.00 dolllar, I started buying a few here and there.  In the world of "iTunes", where a song costs .99 cents a pop, I am getting songs as low as 2.5 cents each!  (For you math whizzes, that's a savings of up to 97.5 % per song!) Take that Apple!!

I am finding I have to look through alot of vinyl to get the few, very clean records that interest me, but I am finding the whole thing interesting/fun.  I usually pick the Estate/garage sales that appear to be the result of elderly folks leaving the residence etc., as these hold the most promise for my purposes.  I drag Sandi along most of the time, and I think she likes poking around in some of the very old, interesting things that are available.

Last weekend, we went to a "basement sale" in the north end of Tacoma, where the homes look out over the Puget Sound.  (The nicer part of town)  We entered the basement of the 1920's house, making sure not to bump our heads on the pipes etc., that hung low from the barely 7 ft ceiling.  It was a small basement, and smelled old, probably like your grandparents house/basement.  There were hundreds of National Geographic Magazines, old tools, canning jars and the like.  In the dimly lit, far corner of the basement, I saw some old Albums.  I looked to my right and saw an old "Gramophone" for sale...the style you see the dog listening to on the record label in the above photo. think, it wasn't an "antique" to these folks, it was the latest technology...back when they played their 1916 78's on it.  Did I say 1916?  Yeah, they had 78's dating back to 1916.

Now, I am not a collector of 78's, as the music style in the 20's and 30' isn't my cup of tea.  However, I could not resist picking up 2 full size (think the size of a 33 1/3 album vs the 10 inch standard 78's)  78's that were in very, very nice condition.  Hell, I didn't even know what the music was that was on these things, I just wanted to have a piece of the 100 year old music history i was looking at.

I thumbed through about 100 other 40's, 50's and 60's vinyl albums and picked out about 12 or so.  They ranged from Connie Francis and Jackie Gleason to Eddy Arnold and Perry Como.  I even found an album I remember from my childhood called "The Singing Nun".  It is a Belgian album and was in excellent condition.  The albums hit single was a song titled "Dominique".  This album contained a 9 or 10 page story, complete with sketched pictures that depicted a real life, young Nun (Soeur Sourire) that sang and played guitar, and her life at the Convent  There were 4 watercolor prints that were painted by Soeur Sourire that were included with the release of this album.  These were not only intact, but in perfect condition!  Another nostalgic find!

Here is an excerpt that briefly describes the real life "Singing Nun", Soeur Sourire:

      Born Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers, she was a nun in the Dominican Fichermont Convent in Waterloo, Belgium. While in the convent, she wrote, sang and performed her own songs, which were so well received by the order and at retreats that the monastery decided to let her record an album, which visitors and retreatists to the monastery would be able to purchase. 

In 1963, the album was recorded in Brussels at Philips. The single "Dominique" became an international hit. Many radio stations in the U.S. played it and other softer hits more often in the wake of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Overnight, the Dominican nun was an international celebrity with the stage name of Sœur Sourire (Sister Smile). She gave concerts and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on 5 January 1964.[1] As of November 2009[update], "Dominique" is the only Belgian song that has ever been a number one hit single in the United States

Anyway, I am pretty sure my sisters will remember this album, so I thought I would mention it.

After getting home with my new found vinyl "treasures", I give them a good cleaning and replace any worn out sleeves (or missing sleeves) and put them away.  I usually reserve one to listen to as I am cleaning or putting the others away, and this time I chose a Perry Como album.  (Pictured at the top of this posting)  Perry Como is from my Parents generation and like many of you, I find a reassurance and comfort when I listen to old songs that remind me of my childhood.  It is also interesting and memorable to listen to the music that my Mom and Dad listened to/liked when they were a young couple with a house full of kids.  It sets my mind to a good way.

When the needle dropped onto the album, and I heard this song, (Once Upon A Time) I immediately loved it.  I had never heard it before ( I dont remember it) but it immediately struck me as a beautiful song.  It is a melancholy tune that speaks of past moments that cannot be recaptured.  Times and places and feelings...that we can never return to...but will never forget.  When you add to this that it is sung by Perry Como, it is a powerful and sweet song.  Perry Como is one of the finest male singers of the 20th Century, bar none.  He would likely be thrown off of American Idol for a lack of "gimmick/style" these days, but he can "stand and sing" like no one these days can. He has something that synthesized and electronic enhanced singers these days just cant buy, talent.

I decided to include this song here for your enjoyment.  It is not a digital is recorded right off the album, exactly the way I heard it for the first time.  I even included the familiar (to some of us older folks) "needle drop" that comes at the beginning of any album you play. Do yourself a favor, play it loud.  The dynamic range (difference between soft and loud parts) back then was simply much greater than many songs exhibit today.

Once Upon A Time

Have a listen to what sweet violins, a great voice, and good vinyl...sounds like.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Wonderful World

I was browsing a few NASA pictures when I came across the above photo of Earth.  (Courtesy NASA)  It is not an artists is an actual photo taken from space, of our world...our Earth.

I have personally observed 6 of our neighboring planets through various telescopes, one of which is quite powerful.  I have seen these planets with my own eyes, with remarkable detail and clarity. To give you an example of the detail I am speaking of, I have seen one of Jupiters moons (Io) pass in front of the planet and have watched for an hour as the shadow of this moon made its way across the face of Jupiter!  I have seen the polar ice caps on Mars and have seen not only the rings of Saturn, but the separation of several ring groups. These planets are simply awe inspiring when seen first hand and they are each unique in their features and their character.

I have never seen the Earth...  I mean, I see it every day, but only in the way one see's a mountain when standing on it.  When you stand on the summit of a mountain, you see everything else around you...except...the mountain.

That is what struck me when I saw this photo of Earth.  How little I "see it", and how much I take it for granted.  The only planet in our solar system that supports extraordinary amount of life!  It has a variety of  terrestrial features including majestic mountains, barren deserts, and dense jungles.  There are huge oceans and bright colors of blue and green and tan and a visible atmosphere that we see as white clouds. 

If you look closely at this photo, (click on it to make it larger) you can make out the soft reflection of the Sun in the Pacific Ocean, just off the west coast of Mexico! (Iam sure most dont see this until prompted to look)  I stared at this photo for a few moments, taken by its clarity, but more so by the stunning features and complex beauty that simply outshines all the other planets I have ever looked at. 

To quote a line made famous by Louis Armstrong...What a Wonderful World!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Let's go for a bike ride!

What a familiar phrase.

I remember first learning to ride a bike when I was 4 or 5 years old.  It was a big bike, I think meant for an adult.  It was red with unusually wide tires, and may have been a girls style bike with no top bar.   I had seen one or two of my older sisters riding this bike, and it seemed like they had fun pedaling it around.  I am not sure why one summer day, I decided it was time to give the bike a try, but at that age, reasoning generally took a back seat to spontaneity.

We had a dirt/gravel driveway that led to a beat up street named "Rauschelbach". (Yeah really..and I am not sure if I spelled it right!)  Next to the driveway on one side was a large tree, just close enough to take note of and consider avoiding should I find myself losing control of my new found transportation.  On the other side of the driveway, closer to the street, was a ditch that ran alongside and on both sides of the street. (No sidewalks here...just a ditch with corrugated metal tubes that were like little tunnels under each driveway...this was old school)

I still remember little things about the day I decided to conquer this old bicycle.  It was warm and humid, and I think it was morning. (before noon) I could smell the thousands of Dandelions that grew where our backyard grass was supposed to be. There was a little bee of sorts, that was hovering and darting back and forth in front of me...not a honey bee, but smaller...just hovering, quickly moving left, then right.  I could hear the sounds of hundreds of Grasshoppers in the field next to our house...a kind of high pitched "humming" that fades into the background of other summer sounds...

I was nervous.  The bike was bigger than I was and probably weighed as much!  I think one or two of my sisters were there, no doubt anticipating my imminent crash.  I think they may have even held the bike on my first few attempts down the driveway, but I seem to only remember my first successful solo trip.  I was not big enough to sit on the seat, as it was way too tall, so I put a foot on the right pedal, balanced myself and took off down the driveway...wobbling, scared, and realizing halfway down the driveway that I had no idea how to stop.  I made it to the street, past the big tree on my left and somehow managed to turn right (hope no cars are coming!) and made my way along the side of the street, next to the looming ditch.  It seems just looking at the ditch drew me ever closer to it.  The more I looked at it to keep from going in, the closer to the ditch I got!!  I managed to stay on the street and avoid the I pedalled a little farther before turning around and clumsily making my way back to the driveway.  I think I put my feet down to stop, as I had not inquired, nor did I care much in the beginning, how to stop the bike.  A few rides later, and after learning to pedal backwards to activate the brakes, and I was a certified "bike rider"!  It were as if I had broken the sound barrier, or discovered was incredible and fantastic and all I wanted to do was ride that bike!

Now, riding a bike at 5 to 10 mph when you are 5 years old, is a liberating and exhilarating experience.  It was a "right of passage" to kids of my generation.  It represented "speed" and "control" and "freedom", not unlike my venture into cars some 10 years later.  It is also one of very few experiences/activities I enjoyed as a child, that I continue to enjoy as an adult. (Drinking hot cocoa...made with another)

As I got older, I enjoyed riding sisters bikes, my Mom's bike, and a nice 20 inch, green bike I later received as a gift from my parents.  I rode everywhere...  I rode with my friends "around the block", I rode to "the store" and i rode to the local elementary school to play baseball...a plastic milk jug of water hanging from one side of my handlebar (summers were hot!) and my baseball glove hanging off the other side.  When I got my first job at 13 years of age, (a local truck farm) I wasn't driven there by my Parents, I rode my bike.  I later rode my bikes to school and my "girlfriends" house.  My buddies and I would simply ride and talk about anything and everything as the road dissapeared effortlessly under our tires.  It truly was liberating...and we did not wear "bike helmets"! (can you believe it, we all lived!)

I saved my money and when I was almost 15 years old, I bought a very high quality, "ten speed racing bike".  Do I remember the model you ask?  I was 15 and had saved up almost 200.00 dollars...after working 50-60 hours a week each summer for the whopping wage of...wait for it...1.00 dollar an hour. (50% of my weekly pay was put away by my Parents for savings, so saving up 200 bucks took a while) You are damn right I remember the was a "Fuji Grand Tourer"...champagne in color....not gold...CHAMPAGNE!!   It served me well and took me everywhere until I got my first car.  It was the first major purchase of my life and as fate would have it, that bicycle was stolen on the last day of my senior year in High School, from the Varsity locker room.

                                                             1976 Fuji Gran Tourer (Champagne)

I had several other bicycles through the years, a "Schwinn Le Tour Luxe", (stolen from my apartment in Berlin, Germany) a "Kuwahara Triathlon" that replaced the Schwinn and later a "Trek 820" and "Raleigh" mountain bikes.  I rode for pleasure, sometimes competitively and sometimes as a way to keep fit.  I never noticed until recently, that I have never been without a bike and I have never stopped riding.

These days, I still ride.  In fact, In January, I started riding to and from work as a means to stay healthy.  Its only 20 minutes in and 20 minutes to get back home,  but it is 40 minutes of pretty hard pedaling/exercise that I wouldn't otherwise do.  I have a cycling computer on the bike I ride and I have used a picture of it on the right column of this blog, to post/keep track of my mileage since I started biking to work in January.  I am hoping to complete 1500 miles by years end.  We will see.

I still "fly down the hills", "jump curbs", do "wheelies" and ride with "no hands"....I feel like (and often act like) a kid when I ride.  I still love the sound my tires make on the pavement...kind of a "growl" sound that gets higher pitched as I go faster.  I like the sound of a smooth gear change...  I like the wind in my face, and hearing and seeing and smelling the neighborhoods that I ride through.

As adults we seem to "grow out of" or get bored with many of the things we loved and enjoyed as children.  Heck, sometimes we simply can't do some of the things we enjoyed as kids.  I can honestly say, I still love the feeling I get when I am riding my bike.  I hope I always do.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

First the camera, now the stereo ?!

I am not sure people should ask me, "what's new ?"  They probably expect me to update them regarding a continuation of whatever it was they thought I was focused on a few weeks before.  Instead, they often get a long (and completely new) story about the latest, and often completely different interest I am currently immersed in!

I found myself looking at vintage stereo receivers a few weeks back.  I was something of an audiophile back in the late 70's and 80's.  That simply means i had an insatiable interest in all things audio.  When I was about 16 years old, I bought my first real piece of audio gear, a Realistic (Radio Shack)  SA1000A Integrated Amplifier.  It was cool and powerful and likely drove my parents crazy when I was blasting music thru it.  I was hooked on nice audio/stereo gear for the next 15 years or so, until a family and living space influenced me to get rid of the huge speakers and the rack full of powerful stereo components.

Now, don't think I gave it all up.  I didn't, I simply had to buy the latest and greatest small components that I could afford, that actually didn't take up a whole wall in the living room.  This gear was compact, sleek, and "digital".  It used LED's and a remote control.  It sounds nice and has served me well. 

But I missed the "warm" almost "vacuum tube" sound of the old stereo receivers.  I missed the long, analog tuning dial...the heavy weighted tuning knob that if given a swift turn, would cause the tuning pointer to almost float from one end of the dial to the other.  I missed the tuning meters and power meters and the wood cases that gave the receivers an almost furniture-like quality.

I started looking on Craig's List and E-bay.  Certainly I could find an old receiver that had been taken care of?  I discovered, there were thousands of "me"!  All looking for the vintage audio gear!  It was quite competitive, much to my surprise!  Long story short, I found a guy on the north side of town, that had found some items in his Grandfathers house and among the items?  An old Pioneer SX-535 Stereo Receiver (circa 1974) in very good condition.

After some cleaning, and a few tweaks here and there, I placed the beautiful, blue lit dial, shiny knobbed receiver in my home office.  It took me back to a simpler time, when I had plenty of time to sit around and "play records" and listen to the radio.  Something that I now hope to do with this receiver.  Of course, I needed new speakers and I did not want to try to fix a pair of vintage speakers, as that gets expensive I bought a pair of modern Polk Audio speakers and hooked them up.  The sound?  Exactly as I remember.  A bit "warm", lacking the "digital crispness and sterility" of the modern audio gear.

While I was at it, I hooked up my turntable to the stereo so that we could throw a few vinyl records on. (yes I still have some)  This past Saturday, my wife and I went to a garage sale, where the resident had been a vinyl record collector his whole life.  He had over 4000 (yes thousand) albums for sale.  There was too much to look thru, and it was about 26 degrees outside, so we selected 8-10 albums and promised we would come back on another weekend when it was warmer.

We got home and played a few albums: Lynn Anderson, The 5th Dimension, England Dan and John Ford Coley, Procol Harem, We Five, Pat Benetar, Neil Sedaka and even an old "Mono" recorded album of Glen Miller.(think late 30's early 40's)  Most of these were 1960's albums, printed before CD's were even invented!  And you know what?  They sounded fantastic...occasional scratch and all!

Excuse me, I have to go turn the record over so I can listen to side B.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Back In Time, Back To Basics

My previous post spoke to a few things i wanted to do this year.  One of these was to dust off an old (30 years) Yashica TLR camera and shoot a few rolls of film through it.  Sounds simple enough. 

Truth is, like most photographers that have gone digital, there are a few basic skills that new technology allows me to ummm...well, shortcut.  These shortcuts have caused me to get a bit lazy in my basic skills.  What am I talking about?  Well, exposure metering (judging the light needed for a photo) is pretty much automatic these days.  Steadying the big, heavy camera?...we have optical image stabilization for that....who needs a tripod and a manual cable release these days!  Black and white film?...Just flip a switch and and white pics!  Need to get closer to your subject?...just hit the zoom button...vs physically moving and composing your shot with a fixed focal length lens/camera.  I had to go wayyyyy the basics I had learned more than 30 years ago.

Well, I shot my first two rolls of black and white.  I pulled out my rarely used old tripod, found my cable shutter release, and hoped that my "needle and pointer" light meter on the old camera would be accurate!  I "Bracketed a few shots", but paid closer attention to what I was doing, because unlike erasing a pic you don't like in digital, this medium format film/processing costs money!!

I grabbed my wife and daughter, asked them to do a quick sitting for me, under duress, since they had not "fixed themselves up" etc., put them next to a window and fired off 24 shots.  The shot of my daughter above, was one of the resulting photos.  It was an old camera and black and white film, so I chose a rather "old school" pose.

Back to basics...and a look at the present through an old camera brought back to life!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!


Let's get the important stuff out of the way first...Wanna know what I got for Christmas?!

1.  A great pair of quality (as in REAL) hiking/backpacking boots!
2.  A 21st Century backpack to replace my 1988 external frame backpack...nice!
3.  A Blue Ray DVD player! Sweet...

Of course, I received other nice gifts and cards, but I don't want to sound like I'm spoiled.

Where did the time go!?  I say this every January. (and sometimes on my Birthdays) The New Year allows for a change of course, the setting of new goals and often brings a renewed optimism and outlook for the immediate future.  Like many of you, I have jotted down a few goals and "resolutions" that I hope I will achieve in the coming year.  I wont bore you with them.

I am looking forward to some great backpacking trips, a long and relaxing summer vacation with my family and a few good photographic opportunities.  I recently dusted off an almost new Yashica TLR camera (shown above) that I purchased 25 years ago.  I will be going retro, using that camera (and hopefully remembering some equally old photography skills/techniques) to capture some street scenes and portraits this year.  If I get a few decent shots, you will be sure to see them here.