LA got nuthin’ on Seattle

A few times each year we make the big schlep down the west coast to LA to visit the southern branch of the family, and especially the grandkids. June is an especially fun trip, mostly because there is so much going on. And 2015 was no exception! This trip had all the hallmarks of a real MuddScape adventure, so we thought we’d share.

Of course, booking all your tickets in advance is frugal advice. And, along with that, booking a car on one of the billions of websites available for this is also a good idea. Priceline did us a solid on this, getting us a car for $17.99 per day at PayLess Car Rental. Sounds like a pretty good deal, until you see the taxes and fees that Burbank airport piggybacks onto the deal. It ended up costing us almost twice that. Sigh. But, it came with some entertainment, so I shouldn’t complain.

At first, we couldn’t even FIND the Payless counter, although there were plenty of signs pointing us in the right direction. It turns out that Avis and Budget co-own Payless (sounds like part of a global evil mastermind), and 6” of the end of the Avis counter has the Payless check-in and return desk, accompanied by a small vertical cardboard sign announcing this, and a young college student as a clerk. When we finally found it, 2 elderly women were in-process with their rental, and at the same time barraging the youngster with every imaginable question they could think of about Burbank, mostly about driving and weather. As it turns out, they are staying at the hotel across the street, and will likely put about ½ mile on the odometer, but who knew? Anyway, when they finish it’s our turn (at last!). But wait, there has been a call on hold and our plucky clerk needs to take that call before he can help us. By now being more than a little frustrated, we listen in on the call to anticipate how long it will last. Mr. Clerk listens diligently for almost a minute, then responds “Gosh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Then he listens again for another very long minute, and this time his response really gets our attention: “Ma’am, just how does you getting asked to take a sobriety test become our problem?” The call went progressively downhill from there, but Mr. Clerk handled it very politely and resolved it by extending the caller’s rental period by 2 more days, presumably until she could get dried out and bailed out. And he even offered to extend it at the same $10.99 discounted daily rate! Not done yet, Ms. DUI squawks on for another minute, to which Mr. Clerk replies, “No Ma’am, we can’t discount that rate by another $3 per day just because you won’t be using the car.” I have to admin, I admire her pluck. With that call ended, we finally take a full 30 seconds to complete our transaction and head to our car, much to the relief of the long line that has formed behind us.

This experience in itself would have made this a memorable trip. But there are 3 other highlights to the trip worth mentioning. The first, and the primary reason for the timing of our trip, was the birthday party for Dylan, our nearly 6 year old grandson. Mom and Dad set it up at a new party place called the Glow Zone, and let me tell you, this place parties down for young kids! One room had 2 banks of Nerf ball cannons for a 15 minute 6,000 decibel non-lethal war. Other rooms had laser tag, miniature golf, an elevated beam trail (with safety harnesses, of course), and a laser maze, all illuminated by black lights and painted in bright fluorescent colors. Pump the kids up with pizza and cake, and turn them loose, and you will have a good idea what a prison riot looks like. We had a ton of fun.

A very memorable highlight, from a grandparent’s point of view, was attending the Mathletes Award Ceremony. Our 12 year old grandson, Brandon, has been a Mathlete for the last 2 years, and this year he really took away the bling! There are a number of contests each Mathlete can enter each year, and the granddaddy of them all is the Mathlete Olympiad (appropriately named I think). Along with all his other certificates and merit badges, Brandon was called up to accept a certificate for placing in the top 5% of all national Olympiad participants. Before he could make it back to his seat, he was called back to accept a small trophy for placing in the top 1% nationally for his age group. But wait, there’s more! He was asked to stay up at the podium, and then presented with a larger, prettier trophy for placing #1, the TOP student in his grade, in the nation. Nobody was aware of any of the results in advance, and his entire family was stunned. And very, very proud. Who knew we had an uber-Nerd in our midst? Congratulations Brandon!

Speaking of uber, the last highlight was my sudden revelation about that new global cab-killing sensation. I imagined a new uber category that, if I can get a small slice of the multi-trillion dollar value of the whole thing, will indeed make me rich and important. Let me explain.

On our recent trip to New York City, we used uberX, the very affordable smart-phone-summoned car service that features comfy, regular cars with English speaking drivers that don’t smell like a slaughterhouse from Karachi, to get from JFK airport to our hotel in Greenwich Village. Quick, cheap, clean, and slick.

uberX, the Low Cost uber

uberX, the Low Cost uber

We were also introduced to uber Black, only because an uber Black driver happened to pick us up as an uberX fare since he wasn’t busy. He smelled faintly of Old Spice, nice! And picked us up in a shiny black Escalade.

uber Black, the Look-Like-Someone-Important uber

uber Black, the Look-Like-Someone-Important uber

But while we were in LA, particularly when we were in West Hollywood for dinner, I had a brainchild that was born out of nearly getting run over in a crosswalk by a local. When uber-cool is called for, how about uber Low?

uberLow, when just any other ride won't do!

uberLow, when just any other ride won’t do!

If you aren’t in a hurry, and you’re looking to be looked at, nothing tops low riding. I’m thinking this just may be the perfect ride to take a Mathlete to his prom, right Homes?

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BIL Road Trip, BS Philosophy, and Reflections

I have 2 big jobs to get done in this episode. I have to make sure I cover all three of the subjects in the title, and I have to keep your attention long enough to get you to the big payoff at the end.

I’m a storyteller. I always was, and while that sometimes didn’t work out so well as a young boy, it’s what I’m going to do now in an attempt to get all this knitted together. If you have done your homework by reading the previous post (This BS is so Texas!), you are already familiar with Stanley and are now prepared to hear, as Paul Harvey would say, the REST of the story. Now might be a good time to get a cup of tea, a glass of wine, or whatever. Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Not too long ago (days, not weeks or months) I got a phone call from my ex-Brother-In-Law (BIL, get it?), Dennis. He hasn’t been a brother in law for longer than he was, but we are still buds, and that really didn’t have anything to do with the fact that he was in possession of one of my dearest assets, Stanley, my Texas Smoker. Dennis was job hunting and had a few opportunities, all of which would likely require him to move from his home in Healdsburg, California. Thankfully, he had already retrieved Stanley from his cold and lonely exile at the back of the Henweigh Café to his house, but he wasn’t ready to schlep him along to his new home, wherever that turned out to be. So, he called to announce that “it might be time to sell Stanley”. Sell? Really? Would he sell his sister? (Maybe not such a great rhetorical question, let’s try again.) Would he sell his own son? Of course not! And, therefore, there would be no talking of selling when it came to Stanley, as good a member of my family as my own brothers (apologies to all of them). So, it became necessary to rescue Stanley, and return him to the fold.

Whilst he might have been delivered to me by a hand from the heavens (okay, I might have missed it again), I couldn’t count on that same delivery service to render passage to his next home, which we had decided would be my sister’s place on Orcas Island, Washington.

Delivering Stanley

And so is born a Mission from God (a salute to The Blues Brothers). My current Brother-In-Law, Jeff, and I had been conspiring for quite some time to retrieve Stanley from the Henweigh and bring him to paradise, but the sheer distance and labor required to do that humbled us. Now a new threat had made itself known, and it became urgent and necessary. On a few days’ notice, we put together the Road Trip Plan. In our college days, this would have been a story of an old pickup truck, several cases of beer, 6 hour driving shifts, fast food drive-thrus, and bloodshot eyes. But the reality is, we’re a couple of old farts who couldn’t drive a 6 hour shift without a 12 pack of Depends. For as much as we drink, a case of beer would get us to the southern tip of South America, and unless that drive-through is packaging a defibrillator with every Big Mac, we wouldn’t make it out of King County alive.

I only had 2 days off work, my usual Sunday and Monday, so it had to be a quick turn-around trip. One way is 803 miles, estimated to be about 13 driving hours, not counting stops. And assuming we wanted a few hours of sleep each way, and that we had to eat and gas up (the truck, please), it looked like 2 days would just about do it. We also had Jeff’s return ferry trip to the Rock as an incentive to keep a tight schedule.

Launch time from Kenmore was decided to be 8PM on Saturday. Jeff could catch a later ferry from Orcas for a timely arrival at my place after quitting time. This would give us a good light traffic window for most of the trip, and we could break it up by stopping near Portland, Oregon to catch a few ZZZZ’s.

At this point, one third of my writing goal is fulfilled: I have properly introduced and discussed the BIL Road Trip part of the title. But I am not going to bore you with all of the details. Instead, I’d like to get to some of the BS Philosophy stuff. You can fill in the landscape whizzing by in your mind as we wind our way, well above the speed limit as it turns out, through 3 states on our God-mandated mission of recovery and fulfillment. That sounds so noble. I hope I don’t go to Hell for that.

Jeff and I are both blessed with being “look on the sunny side of life” kind of guys. We both enjoy a good laugh. While we are of different political persuasions, we can still find room to poke fun at any and all current or prospective public office holders. That’s a pretty low bar, though, it’s brutally easy to take shots at our politicians these days. We don’t drive slow (flow-of-traffic, people, flow-of-traffic), we don’t need a radio blaring the whole time, and we both have a soft spot for cute waitresses. So, needless to say, we make a good Road Trip Duo. And that is a very fertile environment for BS Philosophy. If the recipe says: Put two irrepressible funsters in a tin can for 36+ hours, sleep deprive them, and feed them lots of fresh apples and peanut butter sandwiches, you will get a TON of BS Philosophy. It’s like a machine.

For instance, we share a curiosity about one of the great mysteries of our age: Where the heck to all these stunningly good looking gay male couples get their money? They seem to always be vacationing in Tahiti or the Dominican Republic, and they’re tan, thin, impeccably dressed, and relaxed looking. Neither one of us has a single thing against gay people, but I suspect there’s a secret source of money, the GayTM. We’re just sayin’, you know?

I know I promised you no actual details, but for those of you struggling to sustain the mental images of landscape whizzing by, we slept for a few hours at the Snooz Inn in Wilsonville, Oregon.

Snooz Inn

Now, back to the BS. Jeff votes democratic simply because he hates all republicans. That’s as good a reason as any; at least he votes. I will vote nearly any which way if I think the candidate can either put more money in my pocket, or at least might not take too much out of it: I’m a libertarian. But both of us agree that the status quo is either totally distressing or totally laughable. The Democrats are going long on the Clinton/Obama Dynasty with Hilary; the Republicans are working hard to parade out yet another stream of clowns in the hopes that they accidentally discover a winner (NOT like that horrible Sarah Palin incident, shame on you John McCain!). But I think I smell a rat, and Jeff didn’t disagree. What if Hilary is a ruse? A red herring? What if she is just being propped up in the spotlight, scandals and all, to take the massive brunt of the republican assault, so they can slip in Elizabeth Warren at the very end? Think of the relief the growing crowd of doubting and nervous democrats would feel, and how tired all of the republican clowns would already be. It’s pure political genius I think, unless they repurpose Hilary as the Veep. Or Michelle. Arrgh.

Have you ever been at a party, or even just at the supermarket, and overheard a great line from a movie? It happens all the time. These great lines are everywhere, and used in almost any context. Heck, there almost isn’t any context required to pop off “There’s no crying in baseball!” It’s good for a laugh almost every time you use it, and you can’t keep that image of a confused and flustered Tom Hanks out of your head. And let’s not forget (easy on a Road Trip), “the Sheriff’s a-near!” from Blazing Saddles. You can fill in as many as you can remember here. The point is, much of our conversation, especially at night, was simply bouncing movie one-liners back and forth like a “Top This” ping pong pissing match. It wouldn’t make a single bit of sense to anyone listening in, but it made astonishingly good sense to us. And in a blinding realization, we posited that there may already be 2 generations born and grown that just don’t get this. Which makes us seniors just a bunch of babbling idiots. It’s a good thing I like babbling.

I’ll interject another landscape prop here to keep those mental images fresh. We crossed the border into California and found a rest stop just as our bladders were ready to render a severe embarrassment on the two of us. I was quite taken with a small bunch of beautiful irises and just about to scoff at the Great California Drought as an obvious moon-landing like hoax, when I overheard some nice elderly folks praising the nice little old lady from Oregon who walks down from the border each morning with a Dixie cup of water for them. I had no idea.

Calif Irises

Those irises got us ruminating about the drought. Silently at first, and for quite a while. But when we hit the bridge over Lake Shasta, and saw that it is only 25 feet or so below normal, we went vocal. Both of us had an image of a 2 foot wide ditch of water where once a majestic lake full of house boats and jet skis existed. The power of the media is not at all fully understood by the vast majority of people. It is as expansive as the stupidity of our political leaders. Did you know that the very highest rate that a Beverly Hills lawn-watering, long-shower-running, 2-gallon-flushing, tap-water guzzling homeowner will pay for water is still lower than what we pay in Washington? Tiered rates and penalties? Really? Get a grip. Hey, Beverly Hills, There’s no crying in baseball! See, I told you.

Oh, here’s another baffling one. So many of our youth have absolutely no appreciation for the richness of what our generation considers the recent past. Richness in art (Worhol for instance), music (The Grateful Dead, eh?), and even language (remember Esperanto?). Jeff was compelled a few years ago to survey at least 5 young adults about the origins of the “-gate” suffix we so quickly affix to any scandal (most recently Deflate-gate from the Super Bowl). Of the 5, only 1 of them vaguely recalled that Watergate had “something to do with Nixon or Johnson”. There’s a ton of words or expressions like that. While they robustly live on, their origins are nearly lost, except to Google or Wikipedia. This could have the makings of a great Trivial Pursuit deck. Wait, is Trivial Pursuit lost on hipsters? Arrgh.

Lunch on Sunday was the Red Bluff Subway at the Shell station on I-5.

Red Bluff Subway

A sub sandwich can enhance the production of BS Philosophy, especially if you wolf it down, and then sit on a bumpy highway at 85 mph for several hours. And especially when the landscape is as scintillating as this:

Central Calif

Have you ever looked around your own home and truly seen the spaces you almost never set foot in, except to dust and vacuum? Some people have whole floors of their houses they haven’t seen in years. Some people have whole houses they haven’t seen in years. About the time we were on this mystical rant, we saw this:

Teeny Camper

I know that the Retro thing is huge right now. This trailer wasn’t much bigger than a Volkswagen Bug. I had images of 35 clowns getting out of it stuck in my mind for hours.

Anyone who has kids will say, out loud, that children are the greatest gift they could ever be given. But what they REALLY mean to say is that the only good reason to have kids is to have Grandkids. We seem to discover things in our grandkids that we totally missed in our kids. I’m sure it has something to do with either age or proximity, or diapers. As a grandparent, I rarely do diapers any more. Yeah, that’s it, it’s the diapers that keep us from fully appreciating the love of our children and yet almost immediately bond us inseparably to our grandchildren. We love our kids, as we do all of our family. But we shower our grandkids with all the good stuff.

We went south via I-5. Big mistake. Lousy landscape, and it’s surprisingly hard to find a small café. So we returned via 101 to the Crescent City turnoff to Grants Pass, where we picked up I-5 northbound again. Much easier on the eyes, particularly the short stretch in Mendocino where you are winding through the redwoods on a two lane highway that feels as narrow as a walking path. We really didn’t see a whole lot of the California coast because we had arrived at Dennis’ house at 5:00PM, and loaded up and left at 5:12PM, and nightfall at 8:30 would give us just another 3 hours of good sights. Unfortunately, all of that was inland and not on the Pacific Coast.

Dinner was a custom made pizza at Pizza To Go in Willits, California. Jeff has an allergy to garlic and onions, or anything a fire-eater like me might find on or in his food. So we let the girls cook up a pizza with all the ingredients on their list that wouldn’t assault his gut, and potentially make our tin can transportation even more challenging. It was very tasty, but I sense the girls there hadn’t seen anything like it ever. Or maybe ever again.

Pizza To Go Willits

After 6 hours of shuteye at the Econo Lodge in Crescent City, we headed “Into The Woods” (thanks to Disney Productions for allowing me to use this cheap ploy to help the search engines pick this up better) well before the break of dawn on Monday.

Crescent City

I’m going to get to work on the Reflections part of the title. That doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of other BS Philosophies thrown around inside the truck. It just means that I didn’t take notes, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. But you get the idea. Road trips are the mother lode for musings. They come in all flavors. Jokes, rants, pet peeves, grand ideas, family tales, virtually anything you can think of. But Reflections will always be a part of them.

Most of our reflecting was on family. Our childhoods, our children’s childhoods, our parent’s childhoods. Even a little on our impending Second Childhoods. And what we discovered is that while we remember best the super good and super bad things in our past, glossing over the mundane, we tend to focus most on the goodness we might find in our future. And for this Road Trip Duo, that was where we would live, and what kind of work we would do. We also picked apart our Bucket Lists, which, by the way, are eerily similar. This is not something that would be easy on a couch in a living room. You simply aren’t going to spend that much time anchored to the couch, or any other seat, to get to the depths and detail it takes to do a proper picking apart. Even on a nice long fishing trip, you hopefully get too distracted with other issues to stay focused on a discussion topic for very long. But the magic that is a Road Trip gives a proper space to grow reflections.

Finally, Salem! We could feel the trip contracting to a very manageable distance now. And not much longer after that, the Columbia River!

Columbia Traffic

All those closely packed cars resulted from the stupid DOT raising the drawbridge for some crappy little fishing boat to go under. And the northbound section stuck last year, resulting in a very nasty backup that required cars to actually back down off the bridge and seek another way across. So they lower it very slowly now. And we sat for 20 minutes waiting for that to finish. I have no idea how long the backup stretched through Portland.

Once we were into Washington, we really made ground. Almost all our time was spent devising an engineering plan to convert Stanley into something that could be towed behind a car. Portability is a highly desirable thing if you want to drag pure masculinity to family and friends events. My brother Johnny has a LyfeTyme smoker that’s towable. Orcas is a relatively small island, but I’ll bet that trailer has more miles on it than Carter has pills. What, you didn’t get the reference? You can’t be even fifty then, so why are you reading about old farts and a Road Trip?

We made such good time that Jeff made the earlier ferry home. It was a very long 2 days, but it went by in a flash. Good times can sometimes be hard to come by, but If you build it, they will come. Told you.


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This BS is so Texas!

I struggled to find a title for this installment, so I dug deep in the barrel and settled for something cheap and sleazy that would be eye-catching. If you have read this far, good for me.

It’s not what you think. While it IS Texas, it ain’t the BS you think it is. I wouldn’t be reaching to think that virtually NONE of you had guessed Barbeque Smoker. So, spoiler alert, that’s what this is, a short history and introduction to Stanley, our Texas Barbeque/Smoker. You need to read this, really, and for sure don’t miss the thrilling conclusion (spoiler alert: cliffhanger). This is really just a cheap, titillating buildup to my next blog on the hairy and exciting road trip to rescue Stanley (wait for it……), which has lots more pictures and way more stinging commentary and absolutely hilarious one-liners. I gleaned all of this great blog-marketing strategy from the lead-up to the recent NFL draft. You’re welcome. Buckle up, it’s down to business.

I acquired Stanley in the early 1980’s. My brothers had been making a living trucking double trailer loads of sweet, wholesome hay from California to the hungry bovine herds of drought-plagued central Texas. The trucking “to” part made them money, the return trip, not so much. So they found an enterprising solution to the return trip after they found the LyfeTyme BBQ Company in Uvalde, Texas. (If you are using Google Maps to find this little burg, make sure you zoom way, way in.) LyfeTyme builds these beauties out of 20” or 24” diameter natural gas pipeline materials, really durable stuff. Their name and logo says it all:


That grizzled, old guy bought his “when he wuz young”, and so did I. I’m expecting that my grandchildren will be cooking on Stanley well after I’m gone. Assuming, of course, any of them survive the fight over the inheritance.

The deal for my brothers was to buy a few LyfeTyme smokers, strap them to the empty hay trailers, and sell them in California, a land where money flows the way water USED to, and every real man absolutely needs a 650 pound, $1600 grill to get those burgers and weenies just right. I wasn’t actually one of those guys until my brothers each acquired one, and then, of course, I HAD to become one of those guys or risk permanently losing my standing in the family pecking order. It’s hard to stand out in a crowd of 5 brothers. Plus, I was getting it for $400 with no charge for freight.

LyfeTyme has a big lineup of smokers, here’s the one I chose:

Stanley in Hand

He is, of course, much larger in real life. But I was going for a “handed down from the heavens” thing, and might have missed it by a little.

Stanley has done almost as much traveling as I have, and that’s saying a lot. He was delivered to me in Sunnyvale, California, where he was the testosterone Star of many family and neighborhood events. When we moved to Lake Oswego, Oregon, he went along strapped to the back of the moving van. We relocated to West Acton, Massachusetts (Boston), and he crossed the country, again strapped to the back of a moving van. What a way to see the USA! Another moving van, with Stanley bravely hanging arear, took us back across the country to Redwood City, California (San Francisco). After a couple of years of super-macho weenie roasting, Stanley was then foster parented out to a chef-friend of ours in Antelope, California (Sacramento), where he smoked turkeys and briskets for a few years. He was then loaned to my ex-brother-in-law who had opened his own meat-centric restaurant (The Henweigh Café) in Sebastapol, California (wine country). (Are you wondering about the origin of the name Henweigh? It’s like a knock-knock joke: (me) “Oh, that’s just like a Henweigh!” (you) “What’s a Henweigh?” (me) “About 2 pounds”. It’s a lot funnier after 3 or 4 margaritas.)

He served for 5 years as the center piece of the menu, with a different smoked meat every day as the nightly special. But, alas, the restaurant didn’t make it, and after it closed Stanley was left in the rain in the back of the Henweigh for a few years, with no purpose in life, and no smoke in the stack. Sad, sad, sad. Everyone, even someone from Texas, should have a purpose in life. And, more importantly, never be separated from family. And don’t look at me like that just because I speak of Stanley as a “somebody”. He is, and always will be, an honored member of our family.

So, I finally come to the end of the background and history, and finally get to hype the heck out of the real reason you suffered through this blog: Stay tuned for the next brilliant installment where I receive my Mission from God to rescue Stanley and bring him back to the family fold where his purpose in life can be resumed. Unless, of course, the NFL calls and needs a new marketing hype guru for the next draft. I’m not going to hold my breath.

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Cottonwood Lakes Flashback

While continuing to reduce our historical footprint (meaning getting rid of crap from our past that is no longer needed or relevant), Wendy stumbled across some pictures from a backpacking trip we took with brother Brian and nephew Evan in the summer of 2002.

This trip was inspired by a day hike that Brian and I took a year earlier to these same lakes. We were actually fishing farther north on Bishop Creek, and decided to drive south to check out a spot that our Dad had taken us to decades before. All we remembered was what a great fishing spot the Cottonwood Lakes had been in our youth, and we were so close (only maybe 75 miles or so each way) that we couldn’t resist taking a peek. We left Bishop Creek before dawn, turned off Hwy. 395 at Lone Pine, wound our way up to the trailhead, and headed off on foot. It’s only 4 1/2 miles to the lakes, but all the hiking is done above 8,500 feet, so it took us a bit. And to get back to the truck before dark, we only had a couple hours of fishing. But it was totally worth it. Monster Golden Trout.

So, we planned a longer trip for the next summer. Brian and Evan arranged a pack train to haul in the comfy camping gear (yes, we had a full kitchen, air mattresses, and even a hot shower setup!). Wendy and I hiked in with small packs. The pack train met us almost exactly as we arrived at Lake 3, where we intended to set up camp at the top of the lake just on the eastern side. Here’s the campsite.

Lake 3 Campsite

Lake 3 Campsite

And, here’s the kitchen! That’s Evan in the shot.

Campsite Kitchen

Campsite Kitchen

The Cottonwood Lakes sit just on the eastern side of the Sierras, at the foot of Army Pass. The lakes themselves are well above the tree line, at about 11,500′ in altitude. Here’s our view to the west from the campsite.

Army Pass

Army Pass

While there are 5 lakes, in order to preserve the headwater source of the eastern slope Golden Trout, they only open in a rotation that changes every year. This year, Lakes 4 and 5 were open, and Lake 4 was getting all the action. So we invested some time in the long hike around Lake 5 to get at the beach on the far eastern end, where we could hope to actually land some Goldens. Here’s the lake.

Lake 5 sits immediately under Army Pass

Lake 5 sits immediately under Army Pass

And, here’s Wendy fishing from the beautiful, pristine beach.

Wendy preparing to haul one in

Wendy preparing to haul one in

We must have had the magic formula,  because we seemed to have no trouble at all regularly hooking Goldens up to 14″. Most folks feel pretty good about a 9 or 10 inch Golden Trout picked from a cold Sierra stream, and might even tell you there isn’t any such thing as a Golden bigger than 10 or 11 inches. But here’s some unadulterated proof against that argument. Needless to say, we ate well!

A Golden Trout feast. Big Boy (in the back) was 14".

A Golden Trout feast. Big Boy (in the back) was 14″.

As a footnote, we had a hurricane force storm the second night we were there. The Pack Master claims “there ain’t NEVER been a storm up here in July, ever”, but we were pretty sure the tent-flattening 75 mph winds and driving rain and hail were real. All in all, though, it was still worth it. If you all don’t think so, I’ll repost that picture of our feast and the beautiful blue water we saw from the beach on Lake 5!

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Another GastroSuccess!

I had a birthday over last weekend, and I mark myself now only one year away from my well-deserved Medicare holiday. After paying in all these years, especially in light of the carnage Obamacare has personally wreaked on us, it will be a delight to start with the payback! This is the end of the political comment section, read on for the fun parts.

My birthday was celebrated by the return of the Gastropalooza! There is a mix of opinions on just how many of these we have held, and this is most likely due to this event’s heavy support of the wine and tequila industries. However, I’m going with 5 (and a 1/2 if you count the after-party).

This year’s theme was seafood, which started out with a visit to the Stinky Market! That’s the locals-only name for a fabulous Asian market with a Vietnamese name that I can’t pronounce (and I’m afraid if I tried this post would be taken down) that has the largest selection of seafoods, both domestic and imported, of any fish store I have ever been in. I was told to keep my eye out for the frog tank, where I would be greeted by layers and layers of frogs stacked up for sale in a large aquarium. Not dead frogs, mind you, just very flatly stacked LIVE FROGS, with their eyes all blinking and staring out at you. I had my cell phone at the ready, and was primed to do a fabulous YouTube posting that would hopefully generate enough advertising income to retire on! But, alas, the tank was empty. So we settled on some very tasty ingredients for a Ceviche appetizer, some manila clams and prawns to mix with an existing jumbo bag of green-lipped mussels from Costco to steam as a second course, and Ralph, the main course.

Let’s start with the Ceviche, which required prep well in advance of dinner. For those of you who are unfamiliar, ceviche is a dish concocted by marinating very fresh fish and/or shellfish and herbs and spices in lime juice, which effectively “cooks” the seafood. Wally, one of our very adventurous friends and fellow-paloozer, could NOT take his eyes off of a very large octopus in the cooler. So, into the cart it went, followed by scallops, and a box of frozen green-lipped mussels (making them easy to cut into pieces). We added 6 pounds of fresh manila clams and 2 pounds of  fresh prawns and decided we had done enough damage to our wallets. When we returned home, Wendy and sister Mary made quick work chopping and dicing up Mr. Octopus.

Chop goes the Octopus!

Chop goes the Octopus!

Octo-Dicing for maximum flavor and chewiness

Octo-Dicing for maximum flavor and chewiness

Every ceviche needs spice and lime juice. Bro-In-Law Jeff had about 6 dozen Mexican Limes juiced and frozen, so we appropriated 2 quarts of that lovely nectar. And Wally and Wendy found cilantro, dill, and 2 types of scallions in Wally’s garden.

Spice hunting in Wally's Garden

Spice hunting in Wally’s Garden

The Scallion haul

The Scallion haul

The garlic is best when it’s peeled (or husked) and sliced thin. And for this we were given a wonderful tip from Frankie, Wally’s better half. This really is only good if you are husking a lot of garlic cloves, especially if you are slicing and not mincing them. Separate your garlic cloves from the bulb, and place them into a mason jar or other sealed jar. Shake them vigorously and, voila!, they magically husk themselves!

Shake it up Baby!

Shake it up Baby!

Well shaken and naked cloves, ready to thin slice

Well shaken and naked cloves, ready to thin slice

Super thin sliced garlic, lime juice, thin sliced scallions, diced fresh octopus, cut up frozen mussels, quartered scallops, and some finely diced English Cucumber, and in 4-5 hours you got ceviche! Just for fun, Wally took a small quantity of it and added a cup of high-test tequila to it. Yowzers! You have to try it to believe it!

The large glass jars are a MUST for presentation!

The large glass jars are a MUST for presentation!

And finally, meet Ralph. We found Ralph at the Stinky Market. He is (or was) a Bandit Fish, a wonderfully fat rock fish. And he just begging to be cleaned and stuffed with dill, cilantro, and lots of fresh lemon slices, then doused with EVOO, wrapped in heavy duty foil, and roasted on the BBQ on low heat for 30 minutes.

Ralph, the fat Bandit Fish, and our real Guest of Honor

Ralph, the fat Bandit Fish, and our real Guest of Honor

While we waited for Ralph to finish his sauna, we enjoyed the steamed mussels, clams, and shrimp. Then 10 of us picked Ralph, quite literally, to the bone! As a side note, our Grand-Niece Emma really enjoyed poking Ralph in the eye while I was cleaning and prepping him, that is until the loud “BOO!” that made her jump at least a foot off the ground. What a squealer!

A very special shout-out to all of those who made my 64th Birthday very memorable, and very gastro-satisfying: my best half, Wendy; my sister (and most excellent hosts) Mary and her hubby Jeff; my delightful niece Morgan and her equally delightful hubby Erin with their two delicious girls Emma and Annie; fellow Ninja-Barbequer Wally and his bride, the ever-floral Frankie; and last but not least Barbara and hubby Joe, she being the mistress of mouth-watering desserts, and he being one of the funniest Jews I ever laid ears on. I’m going to credit my future eBook that deals with Hayim Depot, the Home Depot for Jewish Guys, all to him.

Until we meet again! And, back by popular demand, here’s Tippy!

Garlic Husking



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Having Health Insurance is not the same as having Health Care: Obamacare Rant


I’m puzzled by the name of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I’m one of a large body of newly-senior citizens who qualify for Medicare at age 65. But, as this is only my 64th year on the planet, I’m also in my last year of government mandated purchase of health insurance as required by the ACA. Complying with the purchase mandate, however, doesn’t really translate to having Affordable Care, because I certainly don’t.

My wife and I will both be turning 64 this year. We are counting the days, literally, until our decades of tithing into Medicare begins its payback. We both qualify for full coverage at 65, but until then we are stuffed wallet-first into that zone where we are basically paying a giant chunk of our small income to fund other people’s health care, and virtually none of our own. This is a classic definition of redistribution of wealth, but in our cases it isn’t so much redistribution of wealth as it is redistribution of paycheck. We work, and each month we funnel a big share of our modest earnings into a health insurance exchange so that others, who typically don’t work, can have cheap or free coverage. And somehow, through the law, we end up with virtually no coverage.

We both work full time, and although we don’t make much, we make enough to disqualify us from any federal subsidy of our insurance costs. Our employer, like many small business employers, doesn’t pay for any of our health insurance, they simply can’t afford to and remain competitive. And at our age, even though we are in excellent health, we are brushing up against the very tall ceiling of the cost structure for individual health insurance. When our income is added to a small pension from a previous career, we make enough to be comfortable, but not enough to sock away any appreciable savings. So we live comfortably as long as a disaster doesn’t strike. Because we can’t afford anything better, we chose to purchase a Bronze Plan through the state exchange. Affordable, in this case, is equivalent to Catastrophic Coverage. It provides us with minimal no-cost preventative care but has a whopping $6,000 (each) deductible for everything else. And after the deductible is satisfied (and most of our savings is gone), we are still on the hook for 40% (up to $6,350) of the next $15,875 in expenses. If a catastrophe strikes, even a moderate one, we will be well into bankruptcy before full insurance coverage takes over.

So, back to my puzzlement, why is Obamacare called the Affordable Care Act, and not the Mandatory Insurance Act? We comply with the law, but still have no effective health care coverage, and especially not affordable coverage. For even a modest hospital stay, we would be bankrupted even with our insurance. So why, then, should we carry the insurance at all? Our coverage provides for, at no additional cost, an annual physical exam for each of us, a mammogram for my wife, and flu shots. Even at the inflated prices that our health care provider charges to an individual out-of-pocket patient (which are 68% or more discounted for our insurance carrier), we would pay less than $1,600 per year for those things that are covered by our policy. The following diagram shows what we would pay for progressively more health care (there is one column for each of us). 2015 Health Finances Cropped

As a reference point, here are some claims made by our health care provider, Evergreen Health, and paid by our insurance carrier, Ambetter Coordinated Care:

Health Claims

From a health care needs standpoint, if we assume the best scenario (no health events during the year), we are out a total of $10,960 for our policy, but get about $1,600 in medical services for that. Our insurance carrier, by the way, will pay only about $200 for those services for me, and about $335 for my wife. That gives them a tidy profit of well over $10,000. The government rationale is that this profit can help to soothe the costs of covering others who pay far less for their insurance, or nothing at all. I’m still waiting to see any facts or science to support that rationale.

If we assume a more serious scenario, an injury or illness requiring a minimal hospitalization, we will probably be out-of-pocket another $5,000-$6,000 for a total of $16,000 or so. Our insurance carrier has, by now, still only paid about $550 for services since we absorbed all of the costs in our policy deductible. Their tidy profit is still intact.

God forbid we have a much more severe scenario, a major injury or illness requiring a lengthy hospitalization. We will easily blow through the deductible, and then easily surpass the next $15,875 of 40% coinsurance expenses before full coverage finally, mercifully, kicks in. We will, unfortunately, already have exhausted our modest savings, shoveling those dollars into the total out-of-pocket obligation of $23,310 (insurance policy, plus $6,000 deductible, plus $6,350 maximum out-of-pocket during coinsurance). This not-so-unlikely scenario puts us out of savings, deeply in debt, out of work, and in the hospital. Thank God at least one of us is being fed, even if it’s hospital food. That assumes, of course, that it isn’t both of us in the hospital, and we haven’t double-bankrupted ourselves.

How is this Affordable Care?

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The Muddscape gets Wet ‘n Wild!

It has been a long, long time since we last posted. And a TON has happened. It will take quite a few posts to get it all brought up to date, so like eating dessert first for dinner we will start at the end.
We sold the 5th Wheel. And bought a boat. My older brother Brian told me this is one of the two happiest days of a boat owners life. I correctly guessed the other one, and you can too. Guess, that is, because if you haven’t owned one you will have to find out for yourself.
She’s a real beauty. A 23 ft. Bayliner Ciera combo cruising and fishing boat. In body she’s a 1992 model, and there are lots of little cosmetic things we are excitedly fixing or upgrading. But her bones and guts are spring-chicken young. A 16-hours-fresh new 4.3L Mercruiser with a just-as-fresh outdrive. Both of those were upgraded from the 1992 vintage to 1993, a big change that year produced a more powerful and fuel efficient engine and a much smoother and more efficient outdrive. Of course, we are rigging with all new critical gear: new fire extinguishers (4 in total), new life vests (in assorted sizes), a whole US Coast Guard distress signal package, all new rod holders, a brand new crab pot winch, brand new LED submersible trailer lights, replacing all the on-board lighting with LED lighting, a brand new anchor/chain/line, a brand new Lowrance E-5 DSI GPS/Sonar/FishFinder, and a bunch of other convenience stuff. And, of course, Wendy has reupholstered all the cabin cushions in a cheery blue and green pattern. She looks almost new! Meet GeeDub2. That’s long for GW and GW, which is short for Grandma Wendy and Grandpa Warren.
We are taking her on the maiden shakedown voyage the weekend after Father’s Day. Putting her in the water in Garibaldi (that’s in Tillamook Bay) and probably running up to Astoria for an overnight, then a little crabbing off the coast and some fishing too. We are very excited. The following weekend we managed to get 5 days in a row off, from Sunday June 30 through July 4. So we are schlepping GeeDub2 up to the Washington Park boat launch at Anacortes, plunking her in, and cruising over to Orcas to play with the family. If we have good crabbing on our upcoming Oregon Coast cruise, we’ll all be eating crab 2 weeks before the season opens in the San Juans. I don’t think we’ll have a problem finding some moorage…
We will have to resume telling our travel tales and adventures, and also filling you all in on the last 8 months since we left Park Sierra in Coarsegold and relocated to Hillsboro, Oregon just west of Portland. There is a lot to tell, a bunch of new additions to the clan, and plenty exciting developments. So stay tuned to the old Muddscape. Don’t touch that dial!

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