Politics Big and Small

Many of you know that I am a bit of a political junkie and I am fortunate enough everyday to go to work and talk about it with kids. I am struck lately by the similarities I see between my classroom and the national political stage. We're involved in a Legislative Simulation now that has divided the class into Republicans and Democrats and they are trying to pass legislation out of the Senate. What I see is a Republican party that is led by an very strong student and is very, very organized. Despite being in the minority they are incredibly aggressive and they play hard ball with everything. On the Democratic side I have another very strong student who is doing everything she can to cajole and threaten her side into doing something, anything to play the game even a little bit. Needless to say when we go to the Floor tomorrow I expect the Republicans to tear it up and the Democrats to whine about how they're the majority and they're supposed to win stuff.

This got me thinking about whether this is the problem with Democrats in general right now. We spent so long in the weeds that now that we're out of them we feel like we're owed stuff (like a Senate seat in MA) and we don't want to fight for it anymore. We're tired and we want someone else to do the heavy lifting. I think what I'm seeing in my classroom and what we're seeing in our country is that the Republicans are happy to lift and if we don't like the direction they're going we have no choice but to get off our butts and keep fighting. Or you know, not, but when the blame game starts again I hope we'll be a little more introspective and start with ourselves.

...but doesn't it always rain there?

When I tell people that I live in Seattle, the first question that they ask is about the rainfall.  I'm not surprised by this; Hollywood and television have done a great job of cementing this "fact" into our shared picture of Seattle.  Movies like Sleepless in Seattle and television shows like Grey's Anatomy generally show outside scenery shots with moderate-to-heavy rain falling and the ground shimmering with deep puddles.

The reality is that it doesn't rain that much here.  Annually, Seattle receives about 36 inches of rain.  Compare this to the 50-60 inches that falls over most of the Southeastern US or the 40-50 inches that falls over the US Mid-Atlantic areas.  Seattlites joke that only tourists carry umbrellas.  While this isn't a hard-and-fast rule, it is true that most rainfall in Seattle can be tolerated with a light coat.

The majority of rain in Seattle tends to fall in the winter and spring.  In fact, between May and October, Seattle receives less than and inch-and-a-half of rain per month.  That being said, in the winter months it's not uncommon for there to be at least some rain every day (or almost every day) for a week at a time.  In fact, we broke a local records a few years ago when it rained (at least a little bit) every day for over 30 days.  I suspect that this is the main source of this legend.  What this legend doesn't mention is that we also get days like the one pictured below throughout our rainy season; I took this photo a few days ago from my office:


I've also read (although I'm struggling to find a reference) that this rumor was started by old Seattle curmudgeons who didn't want people to move to here after the hype of the World's Fair.  Lacking the marketing budget of the pro-Seattle campaign, they resorted to guerrilla tactics: rumors and fear-mongering.

That story might not be true, but the fact remains: Seattle's a beautiful city to live in.  And no, it doesn't rain all the time.

2009 in Review

It's time again for the annual year-in-review...

Adrienne and I started 2009 as newlyweds.  We flew back from our wedding in Florida on New Years Eve, buying tickets to Teatro ZinZanni's dinner theater while the plane was boarding for take-off.  We landed in Seattle, got home, dumped our bags in the living room, and got ready for the party.  In hind sight, it might have been a bit much, but at least we looked good: New Years Eve 2008/2009.

In January, we rooted for the Gators to win the 2008 BCS National Championship game.  In my excitement for their win, I wore head-to-toe Gator apparel to work.

I threw Adrienne a surprise birthday party in February in additional to celebrating her mom and dad's birthdays.

In March, we watched the final episodes of Battle Star Galactica.  I'm not thrilled with the fracking ending, but that's another story.

April was a busy month.  We took a trip to Sedona, AZ with my parents and some of my mom's family.  We also bought a ridiculous cake for Rob and Anne Marie and hosted Easter dinner.  I sold my old table and chairs on Craigslist before our brand new custom-made table and chairs arrived.

In June we had our Seattle Reception with friends and family.  My parents came out for the party and got to experience some of Seattle's best things.  I also ran an open proxy for the people of Iran to access the internet while they were experiencing political turmoil.

On July 1st, Adrienne and I picked up our shiny new iPhone 3Gs phones; they're very nice.  We celebrated the 4th of July with family and friends.  We went on a wild adventure up the eastern seaboard to visit family and friends.  On July 25th, we adopted Maeby, our cute, little Chihuahua.

In August, Adrienne and I went to a Mariners game with Rob and Anne Marie, and Albert and Catie.  Rob and Anne Marie were married at the end of the month, yay!

Adrienne and I flew to Gainesville in September to watch the Florida Gators crush Tennessee.  I spent a few days at my parents' house before heading back to Gainesville for a recruiting trip for work.  I gave a tech-talk and helped man our career-fair booth.

I buzzed my hair in October, something I hadn't done in many years.

In November, I went back to Gainesville for another recruiting trip; this time was 3 full days of conducting interviews, ugh.  Later in the month, Adrienne and I flew to North Dakota to celebrate my grandma's 90th birthday and had Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family on my mom's side.  We had thanksgiving shrimp, they were tasty, but that's another story.  We had second-Thanksgiving back in Seattle with a much more traditional meal.

In December, Adrienne and I celebrated Christmas Eve with her parents before jetting off to a week in Hawaii to celebrate our anniversary.

I'm hoping 2010 provides us with as much fun and adventure as 2009 did.

Hawaii, you're amazing!

Wow... just wow!

Without question, this was the best vacation that Adrienne or I have ever been on.  Perhaps it was because it was our honeymoon and first anniversary... perhaps it was because we were in Hawaii... perhaps it was because the weather was perfect.  Whatever the reason, Adrienne and I had a fantastic time and are definitely looking forward to our next vacation.

Adrienne and I didn't go on a honeymoon immediately after we got married; her work schedule wouldn't have allowed us to spend a meaningful amount of time anywhere interesting.  It didn't take much planning for us to realize that spending our anniversary in Hawaii could also be perfect honeymoon.  Adrienne and I both needed to visit Hawaii for our "all 50 states before we're 30" goal, and Hawaii is... well... Hawaii.

We arrived Christmas day and departed New Years Day.  We filled these 7 days with adventure and relaxation.  We wanted to experience some Hawaiian traditions, like this luau:


We also wanted to do some activities that were relaxing and romantic.  We took a Mai Tai sunset sail which picked us up on the beach in Waikiki and sailed us into the Pacific Ocean on a catamaran while the sun set.  There was another boat in the distance which allowed me to capture this:


After returning, we decided that this vacation was filled with too many adventures to write only a single blog post.  Instead, we wrote a number of postings about our trip.  Be sure to check them out as well:
Hawaii was the last state that Adrienne needed to hit her "all 50 states before 30 goal".  Congratulation's Adrienne!  Our next big adventure will be to Alaska, the last remaining state that I haven't visited.

Kahala Resort and Spa

Having never been to Hawaii, Adrienne and I were unsure of where we should stay while we were there.  Asking our friends and family who'd been didn't point to any clear winners or losers, just a long list of Hawaiian-sounding words which were meaningless to us at the time.  We did some research on our own and settled on the Kahala Resort and Spa on Oahu.  It's a few miles away from the tourist-filled buzz of Waikiki and just east of Diamond Head.  It's intentionally secluded behind a residential neighborhood and is nestled between a PGA golf-course the the Pacific ocean.

The Kahala was the nicest hotel that Adrienne or I had ever stayed in, but the hotel is only part of the resort experience.  If we'd chosen to, we could have spent our entire vacation on the resort property eating at each of the 5 restaurants within the resort, swimming in the pool, lounging on the beach or being pampered in the on-site spa.  Even with all of the resort amenities, the perfect decor and relaxed atmosphere, it was the service that really iced the cake for us.  For example, as our cab from the airport pulled up at the bell-stand, 3 bell-hops approached the car; one to open each of our doors and one to get the bags from the trunk.  The guy picking up the luggage inferred who we were from our luggage tags, greeted us by name, escorted us to the check-in desk, waited for us to check-in, escorted us to our room, explained the A/C controls and other little things, congratulated us on our honeymoon and asked if there was anything he could do to make our stay more pleasant.  Wow!

Here's a view from the second-floor Veranda restaurant looking out across the dolphin lagoon, towards the pool with the Beachfront cafe on the far left and the Pacific Ocean in the distance:


What dolphin lagoon?  Did I not mention that they have 6 dolphins that live in a lagoon on the resort... crazy!


I'm not normally a "let's go hang out at the beach" sort of person; I don't like being hot and I don't like having the sun in my face.  It's just not me.  Of course, with a cabana shade to keep the sun out, the perfect Hawaiian weather and wait-staff serving me mohitos whenever I exert myself enough to hoist the yellow flag attached to the cabana... with that I can be convinced:



We tried to strike a balance between exploring the island and exploring our resort.  We'd arrived in Hawaii on Christmas day in the afternoon and we wanted to do something special for Christmas dinner, but we didn't want to have to work too hard for it either.  Fortunately the Plumeria restaurant (in the resort) was doing a Christmas buffet.  We'd mentioned that we were here for our anniversary to our waitress, and she congratulated us with complimentary cake:


Jason and Lara's wedding present to us was a romantic dinner.  The hotel really went out of their way to make this special and it was an amazing experience.  They'd set a table for us in a small gazebo near the ocean.  The table was decorated with white linens, sea shells and coral; the chairs were dressed up with chair covers (which coincidentally matched the chair covers we had at our wedding).  We were escorted to our table by our personal waiter, Subra.  He explained that he would be our waiter for the evening and reminded us that if we needed anything he'd be just a short distance away.  Subra filled our champagne glasses, brought us warm bread and poured ice-cold bottled water into our glasses before excusing himself to his station, a small cart about 20 feet away.  We'd arrived at the table about half an hour before sunset and were able to watch the sky transition from day to night while the sun showered us with rays of yellow, then orange, red, pink, and eventually purple before disappearing for evening.  We had three-course meal: sushi/sashimi and crab cakes for the first course, beef tenderloin and kubota pork for the second course, and banana bread pudding and guava cake for dessert.  The food was fantastic, the atmosphere was amazing, and the service was super.  Thanks Jason and Lara:



Our last night at the resort was New Year's Eve, which has extra significance for us: we met on New Years Eve 2004/2005.  We chose to treat ourselves to Hoku's Restaurant on the resort.  Our waitress, India, took great care of us and we feasted like kings while sampling from their appetizer menu over the course of a few hours:


Adrienne and I really had a wonderful time here and we're both hoping that life gives us an excuse to return again in the future.

History in Hawaii: Pacific Aviation Museum

No matter where you go in life, home has a way of finding you.


The PAM is sweet. It does a good job of balancing detail with human interest. The museum is organized around a few key events with planes perfectly reproduced to tell the story of that event. We had a great docent and learned a lot about how the attack was planned, why it was successful, and how the US recovered.

Captain Doolittle preparing for his bombing runs over Japan.

Defending the Guadal Canal

Authentic bullet holes from the attack!

We had a great day out here.

History in Hawaii: USS Bowfin

One of the heroes of WWII was the submarine corps. Without their efforts the Japanese navy would probably have been able to overcome what the Americans threw at it. One submarine that was famous for their efforts during the war was the Pearl Harbor Avenger, the USS Bowfin. It's located near the Arizona and civilians can get a sense of the living conditions on a submarine. I don't know if I would ever want to live on this.

The Bowfin

I might have fit.

Definitely not.

Enlisted sleeping quarters. There were 9 beds along each wall and then 4 fold down cots in the middle. Tight quarters!

Enlisted mess, they had a weekly menu that looked pretty decent!

Up above looking back towards the shore. That sub is long!

The Bowfin was fun, but up next was the aviation museum which I think we were both looking forward to seeing.

History in Hawaii: USS Arizona

I'm a history person and my favorite thing about history is the stories. Hawaii is full of great history and this series of posts will be my take on it.

The Island is famous in our history because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. As we tell it that tragedy was the beginning of our involvement in combat in WWII. What we never talk about is that it was also the beginning of making Hawaii a combat zone.


This is the visitor's center where you start the journey out to the Arizona. It is a really surreal place since the memorial was built on top of the ship. The harbor is only 35 feet deep so even though the ship is about 10 feet deep in the mud it was so big that parts are still visible above the water. The ship is also leaking oil and has been since she sunk. It's only about 2 quarts of oil a day, but that's enough that you can see it in the water. Some say it's the tears of those that died on the ship.


That rusted out cylinder to the right of the memorial is part of the ship.

The oil leaking


I also learned that sailors who were off the ship and survived that day are allowed to be buried on it when they die. It's a common sentiment among some of these veterans to rejoin their brothers.

Another shot of the boat out of the water. Those white concrete structures you can see were mooring platforms for another battleship when the attack occurred.

The attack only lasted for 3 hours but it decimated the fleet of battle ships the navy had been using since the turn of the century. Despite the damage, the navy and local Hawaiians got to work and managed to get all but 3 ships back in service within six months. The only ships they didn't get back were the Arizona, the Utah, and the Missouri.

I found going out there to be really surreal. I've been to a concentration camp in Germany and this gave me a very similar vibe. I'm glad that I went, it's really important to bear witness when we can, but I don't think I will ever go again.

Lost Tour

Freckles! I got so many answers to your question, I wouldn't even know where to start.

As avid fans of ABC's Lost, when we found out that there was a Hummer Tour of Lost filming locations we knew that we had to go.  We were picked up from our hotel in a bright yellow Hummer H2 streaked with brown mud hinting at the adventure that we were about to enjoy. 

We rode to the eastern coast of Oahu to the Kualoa Valley, a 3000 acre expanse of mountains, forest, and scenic vistas.  Before arriving in the valley, we passed by Locke's "father's" house:


We then headed toward "the island":


 Hey look, it's the Pearl Station:


Remember that scene when Ana Lucia killed the under-cover Other, Nathan?  No, here's a photo (our guide had a binder full of stills from the show):


Anyway, here's Adrienne and I sitting on those same logs:


Our driver had a few Lost toys in the truck and used them to take a number of forced perspective photos.  Here's us pushing the Darma van that Hurley found in the woods down the hill:


... and us being chased by "the smoke monster" (unrelated, this is also why you should remember to pack white socks on your vacation):


... and lastly, here's us golfing with Hurley:


There's a bunch more pictures in the Flickr set: Lost Tour.

Tour of Maui: The Road to Hana

"We should see at least one other island while we're in Hawaii" "Of course!"...  that's roughly how the conversation went between Adrienne and I while we were planning this vacation.  We had no idea what we were getting into.

This tour started for us at 4am when we reluctantly forced ourselves out of our comfortable bed and prepared for a day of adventure; the tour bus picked us up from our hotel at 4:45.  The only downside of staying outside of Waikiki was that we were the first pick-up spot for a lot of tours; thus our day started extra early.  After making a number of stops at various hotels in Waikiki, we eventually found ourselves at the Honolulu Airport.  We boarded a flight which departed at 7:30 and landed in Maui at the Kahului Airport at 8:05.  The flight went something like this: we took off, the stewardess came by with a single-option beverage service of Guava/Pineapple juice, then she made another quick pass to collect the cups, and then we landed.

Once on Maui, we started the drive along the north-eastern part of Maui towards Hana.  Our driver, Jeff, explained that Maui has 37,000 acres of sugarcane on the island and that the fields are fed fresh water from the mountains in the distance by a series of irrigation streams and canals which were built nearly a century ago.  The mountain in the distance, an active volcano, receives over 300 inches of annual rain-fall, more than enough to provide the fields with the water needed to grow sugarcane.

As we passed through the fields, Jeff explained that the road to Hana from Kahului is a twisty mountainous road which, over a particular 37-mile stretch, has 163 bends.  The road, a 2-lane (and sometimes fewer) pathway carved into the side of the steep slopes, was built in the early 1900's by Chinese immigrants.  Being the quickest route to Hana, this road is used by both the residents who live in this area as well as service vehicles such as fuel and delivery trucks.  Jeff explained that this roadway has its own de facto laws which help to ensure both safety and sanity.  For example, slow cars should pull over to allow passing when possible and, when approaching one of the single-lane sections of road, "if one car goes, they all go."

The ride, while somewhat nauseating, was extremely scenic.  As we undulated around the mountain, we were treated with alternating views of the violent Pacific waves exploding on the rocky shore below and tranquil waterfalls splashing down through dense, vibrantly-colored, tropical foliage.  Our first stop was at a park overlooking daring surfers showing off in the tall blue waves:


Next, we were given a chance to explore the Black Sand Beach where we saw lava-formed caves, tidal pools and the coarse black sand formed from eons of powerful tidal forces crushing and grinding the black volcanic rock against itself.  If it weren't for the pounding waves and tourists in bathing suits, I might have guessed I was on Mars.


We arrived in Hana around noon and stopped for lunch.  Hana is a tiny town with a population of about 1,100.  As with most towns this size, there's one grocery store, one restaurant, one bank (open from 3:00-4:30 daily) and two churches; if it weren't for the tropical setting, it's very similar to Ashley, ND (where my grandmother lives).  The restaurant is at a prime location for hungry travelers; it was packed with tourist (like us) who were half-way through their trip around the mountain.  I'd bet that they have a bigger lunch-time crowd than dinner crowd by a factor of 10.  The food was good and the cool breeze which blew through the open windows of the restaurant made for a relaxing meal.

After we left Hana, we made a stop at the Seven Sacred Pools, a series of waterfalls which have carved their way through a chain of lava-formed basins before they spill into the Pacific.  There were small children with their parents playing in the lowest pools and older children (whose parents didn't want to look) doing cannon-balls into the upper pools from the waterfalls above.


As we worked our way across the southern and western portions of our route, the scenery changed drastically.  Jeff explained that this side of the mountain is in a rain shadow and gets very little rainfall.  No longer under the canopy of dense tree-cover, we were able to get a feel for how massive the mountain actually is.  This photo hardly does justice to the grandeur of the scene:


The trip is about 120 miles long, but took us a full 8 hours including all the stops that we made.  There was a segment of road about 13 miles long which was unpaved gravel.  The van jostled and shook while it roared loudly and pounded violently across the terrain.  When the van eased quietly onto fresh pavement again, there was a spontaneous round of applause as the cacophony abruptly ended.

The trip ended with another take off, beverage service, cup collection and landing.  We were back to our hotel by 9:00pm.

Hawaii Food Tours' "Hole in the Wall Restaurant Tour"

On the advice of a friend of ours who grew up in Honolulu, we went on Hawaii Food Tours' "Hole in the Wall Restaurant Tour" (www.hawaiifoodtours.com/).  The entire tour, from start to end, was a blast!

The tour was hosted by Matthew and Keira.  Matthew is a former chef-turned-food-critic.  Keira, Matthew's fiance, is a Honolulu native.  The two of them are a light-hearted duo whose passion for food and enthusiasm for what they do is obvious from the moment that the tour starts.

The tour took us through a number of spots in Chinatown and other neighborhoods around Honolulu.  At each stop, Matthew or Keira would explain the significance of the food that we were eating: how it came to be popular in Hawaii, how it's made, or where it's grown.  The entire tour was very well organized and well paced.

We started out at Royal Kitchen where we ate baked manupua, a fluffy dough stuffed with sweet or savory meat.  It reminded me of fleischkuekle, which is a German meat pie (popular in North Dakota); fleischkuekle is fried instead of baked...  manupua is tastier.  This is a truly terrible picture of me, but I wanted to include it because this is also a scene from Lost where Sun is making a pay-off to Jin's mother by a canal in "Japan".  It's taken directly across the sidewalk from Royal Kitchen:


I don't want to give away all of Matthew and Keira's secrets, so I won't elaborate on every stop that we made, but...  We eventually made a stop in Chinatown at a shaded marketplace filled with the aroma of freshly prepared foods, the clatter of conversations in unknown languages, and sidewalk tables with vendors peddling fresh fruits, vegetables and othe treats.  We were treated to exotic foods that I would have never dared to eat; having a confident guide makes exploring new foods easy.  For example, this fruit is a rambutan:


As you can see, the exterior is bright red with red-fading-to-yellow "hairs".  It looks like something you'd expect to see on a snorkling trip mated with a poisonous caterpillar... it's not.  After the tough skin has been removed, the interior looks like a pear-colored white grape; it's semi-translucent, and yellow-ish.  Once in your mouth it feels - and tastes - like a ripe plum.

Honolulu's Chinatown is very similar to Seattle's International District (and I suspect similar to most city's similar neighborhoods).  For example, there was a butcher/sandwhich shop with this little critter hanging in the window:


Seattle's International District has similar shops with similar creatures hanging in the window for passers-by to ponder.  I left this tour with a newly-found curiosity about my own back-yard and the hidden treats that need only a bit of searching.

If you're planning a trip to Oahu, this tour should be at the top of your to-do list.  We booked our tour 6 weeks before our vacation and there was only one day that was available for the week that we were there, so sign up early!