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Jun '17

Home Report: British Columbia Chef’s Wine Dinner

While Jim was finishing up the day at the shop, I was off to an industry dinner sponsored by the British Columbia, Canada government, winemakers, and chefs at Ethan Stowell’s Tavolata on Capital Hill.

And it was just us taking over the whole restaurant:


And the place was PACKED – 74 guests plus all the staff running around:

The appetizers were located on the bar, with not that much space for people to get through:

But they were tasty – I probably had a dozen oysters, and a bunch of the tuna:

Considering the menu, I said “the hell with the shrimp or the salmon pate bruschetta.”

And since it’s a wine dinner, you need a few glasses….

We started the evening with glasses of both a brut and brut rosé from BC wineries.

Everybody had packets of info, menus, luggage tags – the works:

After the appetizers, we got onto business with Dungeness Crab and Baby Beet Salad with Radish, Avocado and Watercress (served with a BC Sauvignon Blanc):

Followed by Herb Fried BC (Vancouver Island Kusshis) Oysters, Spring Asparagus, Northern Divine Caviar, Carrot Tarragon Crisps with Sauce Fleurette (served with a BC Pinot Gris).

Next up, Charred Geoduck with Squid Ink Strozzapreti, Kelp, Guanciale, Egg Yoke, Garlic, and Clam Nectar. For some reason, this was a shared dish – and WAY too much – four of these bowls for a table of sixteen (served with a BC Pinot Noir):

Dark, but tasty.

The main was Roasted Halibut, Caramelized Onion Foam, Celery Roots and Hearts, Black Truffles, Sunchokes, Maple. This was the most uneven of the dishes with the Halibut seeming mushy rather than flaky. And there was just some odd flavor mingling. That said, the Bordertown Vineyards and Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2014 was the standout wine of the evening. Sadly, none of the wines are available (yet) in Washington State, but I saw at least two of our distributors at other tables.

After three hours of eating and drinking, I was beat – I skipped the Dark Valrhona Chocolate with Peanut Butter and Banana Ice Cream with an Icewine (which BC is famous for). As I typed that I suddenly wanted to try it.

Came home and worked until 2:30am on a website design contract I scored a month or two ago.

Made good progress, and slept in.


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Jun '17

Trip Report: Vancouver To Edmonton On The Canadian

A tad late updating the bog with the final adventure in Uncle Markie’s May Train Month.

Because I need the miles, and I had a discount coupon I decided to fly from Seattle to Vancouver to catch the train, giving me most of the day (noon-6pm) to poke around Vancouver. Sadly, my buddy Solus+ was under the weather so there went my lunch plans.

I got an all-day transit pass ($12.50 – 30% exchange rate) which got me from YVR to the train station where I ditched my bags for the beautiful day.

Ditched the bag and got back on the SkyTrain to Granville Station – the closest to the WorldMark at The Canadian on Hornby. Why swing by a condo that I’m not booked into? Coupons for 10% off on groceries (mixers for the whiskey I bought at Duty Free and 15% the food portion of my lunch at Relish, a couple of doors down from The Canadian.

Which helped pay for this:

That would be a Manhattan (duh!) up top, with a hipster Ruben (has avocado on it) and fries on the bottom.

Ended up hanging out there for a couple of hours – not like they had a rush – reading, drinking, relaxing.

Swung by the IGA for a six pack of Diet Pepsi – not my favorite, but it was the only thing diet they had in 16 ounce plastic. I’ve got a 28-hour train ride in front of me.

When you travel on The Canadian in a sleeper (for one), you get all your meals included, and the right to consume your own private alcohol in your stateroom – and access to the Lounges in Vancouver and Toronto.

I had ViaRail Preference points that needed to get used while they were having a 40% discount in honor of Canada’s 150th birthday. I also have a coupon for 50% off on The Canadian which I need to use before the end of April.

Today’s train is a LONG one – 2 engines and 23 cars (of which, only two are economy). So many cars that there are TWO dining cars.

Boarded at 6:30 for a 7:30 departure (the train is so long the break it in half to load passengers:

But, here are some shots of my Cabin For One:


Time for a cocktail before heading to the bubble dome car for some bubbles:

Since I’ve been on this route before – knew that I had to ask at boarding if there was a table available for my room:

And here is a shot of how the toilet and sink work (yes, you have to remove the table):

We they said “champagne” I was not surprised that it was really Italian Spumante – they “might” have had real champagne in Prestige Class where you get your own double bed and 32″ flat screen TV.

But, the view was lovely:

Having just the week before taken the The Cresent from New York to New Orleans I’d forgotten the difference between Amtrak and ViaRail in terms of food service. This was my morning breakfast:

Rye toast, eggs up, fresh ripe fruit, chicken sausage, grapefruit juice and coffee on china with a white linen tablecloth. On Amtrak, the plate would have been plastic, the white linen covered with butcher paper, and all options microwaved/reheated.

Lunch was equally wonderful – I started with the vegetable soup which had fresh fennel ferns in it:

For the main I got something I’d NEVER order on AmTrak – the Chicken Pot Pie, which looked and tasted like from scratch:

That would be a glass of Ontario red with my Chicken Pot Pie. Here was my choice of options for lunch:

Might as well get dinner out of the way before changing to scenery!

The salad course, followed by the main, which was rack of lamb…

Obviously, I’m not on AmTrak where the food was so underwhelming it didn’t even deserve a picture.

But the trip isn’t just about the food, it’s about the scenery!

Maybe a video clip or two?

Before I knew it, it was time to pack up and get ready to disembark in Edmonton. We were due in at 11, but it’s more like 12:30am when we arrive. I’ll use this moment to show you what the berth seats look like:

The upper pulls down and the lower pulls together, meaning the lower (cheaper berth) is a bigger bed!

Soon, I’ve Uber’d to the airport for my 6am flight – which check-in doesn’t open until 4. I actually manage a couple of hours of “flat” sleep on a “lounge couch” in the departures lounge. Before you know it, I’m checked in, through customs and immigration, which means that duty free has NO limits, other than what you can carry.

Oddly, I bought two more bottles (rum) because they gave me a free travel bag and a 22% coupon for more purchases the same day. Let’s see. Duty Free, 30% off because of the exchange rate, and a 22% coupon for two bottles of rum (which came with glassware). I could barely get my carryon into the overhead with all the extra weight.

The Edmonton Airport has some INTERESTING seating options (and no lounges):

I seem to remember a chorizo egg sandwich at the Starbucks because I ask about food on the flight in First Class, and the gate agent said, “minimal”. She was right.

I took the bite, it didn’t come that way. But I was on a E175 (operated by SkyWest) and I was in 1A, which is a single seat window/aisle seat.

Not bad for a regional jet! But I still look tired.

I look better with a drink, but not much. Nothing like a couple of hours sleep on airport furniture.

And I get views…

Not a bad view or seat. I was home by 7:30am in the morning with the time change – and went directly to bed.


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May '17

Trip Report: New Orleans, Part Four – The Final Chapter

Check out is at noon and we make it – guess it would be nice to show you where we are staying:

On the ground floor is Mr. John’s Steakhouse – definitely upscale. Here is the backstory about Mr. John, from a plaque in the lobby:

The nice thing about The Avenue Plaza is that its right on the St. Charles Street Car line:

From the condo to Canal Street is like 15 minutes:

We are headed to the Waterfront (also Harrah’s Casino):

This is Rache’s day, so we are heading over to New Algiers, which means a trip across the Mississippi!

Rache wanted to eat at this place in New Algiers called the Dry Dock:

It’s half a block from the dock.

And has a wonderful “divey” quality to it:

We both ordered specials off the chalk board:

Rache had the boiled shrimp with fried green tomatoes and lump crab meat in a red pepper sauce (not bad for a “dive” bar!).

I opted for the fried catfish with crawfish cream sauce over mash potatoes – with vegetables I didn’t eat:

Lordly, that was a FINE meal.

Only slightly marred by the non-stop coverage of what was going down on Lee Circle…

Back outside in the real world, for some odd reason, there is a statue of Louis Armstrong in New Algiers – he wasn’t from there, nor lived there:

Soon it was time to head back to the city and collect our bags from the condo.

Our last stop of the trip in New Orleans was to get another drink from Kevin…who showed us his cherry.

Technically, cherries – I had to buy some Tums from what we have done today…

And if you look at the bill, these are the cheapest, high quality, drinks in town!

Life in the Big Easy is hard!

A couple of city shots on the way to luggage collection….

Now THAT is a BBQ!

Before you know it, we are back on the plane:

Flying into the sunset:

I already miss this city.


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May '17

Trip Report: New Orleans, Part Three

Done with the Ogden and still we haven’t used our 1-day Jazzy Pass yet – luckily, it’s a 24-hour pass, which means that we won’t have to buy one for tomorrow!

Some nice sites along the way…

The “plan” for after the museum was to hit Samuel’s Blind Pelican for Happy Hour. If you don’t get there by 4 when it starts, expect to wait for a table, and standing at the bar drinking doesn’t count towards your $3 a dozen oysters with the purchase of an adult beverage.

Since we were down close enough to Canal I thought we’d walk over and check booze prices at Walgreens compared to The Red Zone, the next block over from the condo.


  1. More expensive
  2. Got stuck in massive traffic gridlock because they shut down Lee Circle (finally remembered its original name – Tivoli Circle)

They brought in busses to get people between Canal and just past Lee Circle – combine that with rush hour traffic….

We lost an hour in traffic. We could have walked it quicker (except my dogs were tired).

By the time we got to Samuel’s Blind Pelican, it was a zoo, twenty minutes for a table.

They go through so many oysters, they have their own delivery truck….

And what looks like a massive broiler…though that could be for their ribs…

Not to mention the one that’s out front for shrimp and crawfish…

We do have enough time to get to Poseidon before 6pm when their happy hour cuts off – and we order like maniacs!

Oysters, $6.50 a dozen (but with a much calmer atmosphere than Samuels) so we each got a dozen, Gyoza for $3.00

Pound of crawfish for $5.00 (in Garlic and Hot Oil). Dynamite Crunchy Roll for $3.50

Pork Dumplings for $6.00.


That was a crazy amount of food!

By the time we got out of there it was time to head off to Houston’s for a little jazz:

We were so stuffed from dinner (and we took a little doggie box back to the room), that it was just cocktails and jazz:

Those would be Sazeracs

THAT was a plenty full day. Tomorrow we fly home, but not until late afternoon – so more time for fun!

[? ? ?]


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May '17

Trip Report: New Orleans, Part Two

Our big stop of our first full day in New Orleans is The Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Both of us had been here (me, several times) for a show years ago which I refer to as “White Trash Male Erotica”. You will find a link to my blog posts HERE. This museum never fails to move me. I no longer even look up what is on exhibit because it’s consistently good, with a bit of edge to it.

The Ogden is located right next to the WWII Museum – a museum that you could spend DAYS. Here is the view from the outdoor patio, including a Carnival Cruise line ship in the background:

Here are some of the highlights:

That would be Elvis, Jesus, and Robert E. Lee.

That would be Abraham Lincoln peering through the doorway.

Some of the above were from the special exhibit, but most were from the permanent collection, which they do a very good job of rotating the artwork.

I had been planning on buying a membership to the museum even before they let us in for free because they thought we were state residents – and convinced Rache to split a dual membership with me so that we could get the reciprocal memberships to places like the Tacoma Art Museum and Experience Music Project, now remarketed as MOPOP (which costs $25 a pop to get into). Dual Membership = $100, $25 cheaper than the same level at TAM (Tacoma Art Museum).

So, if anyone wants to borrow our membership cards, let us know. The more it gets used, the better value.


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May '17

Trip Report: New Orleans, Part One

With the late train arrival, my usual first night visit to Houstons is out – turns out they close at 9:30. In New Orleans, 9:30PM. How VERY odd. But we were hungry so we went to Poseidon, which is just across the street from The Avenue Plaza. Usually, I only go there during Happy Hour. We started out with a couple of Sazeracs, though they didn’t have Rye, so we opted for Bourbon:

And caught a look at the Happy Hour menu in case we want to come back tomorrow…

For some reason, I didn’t even take any pictures of the room – but if you search for Avenue Plaza on the blog, some will pop up.

We both got a good night’s sleep though on our usual off kilter schedule, with me staying up late and Rache getting up early. He spent the morning while I slept exploring the Garden District on foot.

We got out of the condo a little after noon – headed towards the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

New Orleans is not all put back together, as evidenced by this shell held up with steel:

Our favorite (though we weren’t there together) restaurant, Purloo, had gone out of business on my last visit. We were surprised and happy there was a new restaurant in its place (Toups South) – and just as good as Purloo.

Nothing like a couple of cocktails to start the day!

I had the fried pulled pork special (think squished in a loaf pan, mostly frozen, then sliced), which came with all sorts of little sides:

Rache had the crawfish balls (there was some fancy name for them, but that’s the concept). Also tasty!

The place wasn’t all that busy, so we had plenty of time to talk travel with our server:

The restaurant is in the same building as the museum so I stopped by and checked out their bargain used cookbooks table – came away with three (which I now have to carry around all day).

Next stop was Dryades Market – basically a green grocer, fish market, meat market, with a bar in the center.

As luck would have it, my favorite bartender (Kevin) was on duty:

Yes, there seems to be some good old-style New Orleans day drinking going on!

I’m sort of setting the agenda today, but everything I’ve suggested would have been on Rache’s list as well with the exception of swinging by Walgreens to check Bourbon prices.

Here are some random city shots from our walk:

Before this was a neighborhood being gentrified, it was a poor black neighborhood, and before that a poor Jewish neighborhood.

Art is everywhere in this city. Even the Doppler Radar Dome on one of the local TV stations has a bit of class to it:

Along the walk, I stumbled on this very nice wine shop – does this make the trip tax-deductible?

Though I will say that Jim’s comment was – they are storing the bottle upright, and high up in the space, meaning the corks will start drying out no matter how much air conditioning you have.

I was a little surprised when we got to Lee Circle that Robert E. Lee was still atop. I’d been reading where all the Confederate Statues were coming down – as it turns out, Lee was on the chopping block with initial police barricades already set up, and lots of people taking selfies:

Our big stop of the day is The Ogden Museum of Southern Art which I’m going to save for a separate post since there will be a lot of pictures.



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May '17

Trip Report: The Crescent From NYC’s Penn Station to New Orleans Union Terminal

Fortunately I actually managed a couple of hour nap in the Acela Lounge at Penn Station after getting NO sleep on the plane.

East Coast sleepers are a single level, giving more headroom in the roomettes (still heavy on the “ette”). With a second set of windows near the top so when you are in the upper bunk you get a view.

Settled in.

Had to wait a bit for our car attendant to get us set up with ice in the room for our cocktails – perfect use for the in-room sink that folds down out of the wall!

With both the sink down and the toilet lid up.

We finally figured out where to stash our bags – turns out there is a shelf that extends out into the hallway ceiling.


If you are in the sleepers – food is complimentary in the dining car (sadly, not the wine). And it’s all prepared in this rolling kitchen:

Now for some random food shots:

Overall, the food isn’t as good as on ViaRail going through Canada – maybe that’s why I don’t have many shots of it!

But the sunrise/sunsets were worth photographing…

Thirty plus hour (the train was an hour and a half late) we are in New Orleans for next part of our adventure.

Uber to The Avenue Plaza!


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May '17

Trip Report: Headed To New Orleans, The Long Way

Looks like May is turning into Uncle Markie’s Train Month – though on National Train Day, I wasn’t on the train.

Rache is coming on this adventure with me, so off to the airport we go.

I didn’t realize that they could make a Cosmo in the Board Room until I heard someone asking for one, and the signature sound of a shaker!

Didn’t get upgraded to First, but pulled Premium. I think of it as Alaska’s answer to “shit we have too many 50K and 75K’s” to keep happy:

Premium is still three across, but it comes with 4-5″ more leg room, AND free cocktails and snack box:

Luckily, I got the luck of the draw – a 20-something chatty guy headed to Europe on a “buddy pass” as far as NYC:

We both look drunk and happy – I explained the rules of “premium class” to him – that applied even though he was a “non-rev” passenger, so lots of free booze for him.

Good weather as we are landing….nice views on landing:

So, this flight was a “red-eye” – left at 10PM, arrived at 6AM.

NOT my best time of the day, but I soldiered on since Rache had “a plan”.

The plan was to get a couple of trains from JFK to Brooklyn for breakfast with friends at The New Apollo Diner.

Clearly, I wasn’t awake yet since there are no pictures of the food (I had the Eggs Benedict because that’s something I don’t make at home). Luckily, I do have a shot (thanks Rache!) of our group:

After breakfast, we are off to Penn Station and the Amtrak Lounge:

Had I thought it though earlier, I’d have given Russ notice since he works in the neighborhood – Rache was luckier with the friend who couldn’t join us for breakfast:

The Amtrak Lounge is a little “tired”, with an odor of years of dust on the chairs – hopefully, they will redo this lounge like they have in Chicago, which has two floors, showers, and a real “first-class” feel to it.

Knowing there was no lunch on the train we both explored the station finding fresh-made, to-go sushi and other delights.

Next up, the train from Penn Station in New York to New Orleans.


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May '17

Trip Report: Portland For The Day

Amtrak Guest Rewards Double Points Days ends on the 20th, and this is the only time I’m able to get away for the day – and use my upgrade to business class coupon. I still have a companion fare to use on Amtrak, but I have until July to use/lose that one.

Grabbed the 11:15am Amtrak Cascades from King Street Station in Seattle:

Another reason for the trip to take one of the last trips around Point Defiance – within the year they will be using different tracking to avoid freight and knock 15 minutes off the schedule. If they could get it up to 125mph, it’d be quicker than driving. But this is the view that you will lose:

Well, OK. The view was from the seats on the other side of the car. And there is Wi-Fi, and cocktails:

We were a little late getting into Portland, but Swanda’s sister was waiting for me at the station to go out for a nibble and a drink – which turned out to be under one of my favorite signs in Portland:

And we parked in front of my stop after nibbles, but more on that later.

The place is called Seres.

I ordered a Fig Manhattan:

Tasty. we both ordered chicken pot stickers which were very small and very fried – my second appetizer was MUCH better – the salt/pepper calamari:

It was great to keep in touch with her after Swanda’s death – my excuse is that I collect toiletries for her church to put together into kits for the homeless.

Spent $130 at the liquor store which would have been probably double that in Seattle. The half-gallon of Evan Williams was $27.95 (tax included). Occasionally you can find it in Seattle for that price, but then there is 30% tax to add in. I did stock up!

Soon enough I was back at the train station for the trip home:

And the view as we rolled out of Portland, headed to Seattle.

The load was so light on the way home that I got two seats for myself.

Just a quick daytrip to Portland. Thanks Roxy for the ride to/from the train station!


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May '17

Car Report: Got An Additional One

Nope, not getting rid of the Miata, but there are times when it would be nice to go to Home Depot in a car that will actually hold something. And then there is the only having two seats thing.

I still miss the Ford Focus that I bought from the University of Washington Surplus Store. Institutional white with grey upholstery. I sold it to the neighbor who needed a reliable car for $4,000 – about twice what I paid for it – sounded good at the time. I’d put a new stereo, curtains, new battery, gotten all the sticker residue off. It was a nice reliable car:

Turns out that was a little over 4 years ago! Here is the blog post about the purchase – CLICK HERE.

Funny, the new one is also institutional white with a grey interior!

It being park of the City of Seattle fleet (more on that later), of course it still has some stickers on it…my favorite:

The numbers are coming off, the FREQUENT STOPS is going to stay.

When I picked it up, not only was there a full tank of gas, but a set of winter chains and a fire extinguisher mount:

Needs vacuumed, the seat steam cleaned, and gooping off the last of the stickers – but how many cars these days come with a full size spare?

Or a several hundred dollar laptop mount (made down the street by RAMounts, biggest employer in the neighborhood):

Sadly, the backlight is out on the radio, so that’s on order. Less than a hundred dollars and I’ll have a CD player with Bluetooth, USB, SD-/Card, and AUX inputs. Arriving next week while I’m on the road.

This is what I find most interesting — a dual-band low profile roof antenna:

Not so odd on a city fleet vehicle – but why did they leave a LIVE wireless data connection box under the front seat?

They had to have been under there to unplug the ethernet cord when they pulled all the computer and radio equipment. It doesn’t offer wireless, but it’s got ethernet, RS-232, microUSB. And when I say LIVE, seriously – the thing boots when you turn on the ignition. To test this, I put one of my laptops with an ethernet connection on it in Airplane Mode so it wouldn’t grab the signal from the house. Yep – it works!

It’s not a terribly speedy connection – yes, I downloaded to manual for the router – best I can figure, looks like it MIGHT be a 3G device.

The sticker on the Sierra Wireless AirLink LS300 router identified it as Seattle Public Utilities, our local water/sewer/garbage provider. Guessing it was a water meter reader, but who knows.

In that vein, I did try doing a speed test….felt more like EDGE/GPRS to me. Couldn’t even get the speed test to load! But free is free. In all my poking around, also discovered the second 12v outlet isn’t work – guessing that a fuse – which I found a SECOND fuse box. One under the hood, and then this unexpected in a panel under the center console.

More work to do on the new beast, but it’s good to go for now. The auction house handled emissions testing (or ignored it), licensing, title transfer, the works – maybe I should have gotten Evergreen plates for it!

Next stop, Portland.


1 Comment »

One Response to “Car Report: Got An Additional One”

  1. mb Says:

    will you help me buy one>

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May '17

Tour Report: 520 West Approach Project

If you’re a longtime reader, you know I love my infrastructure, so when I got an email for the bridge tour, I jumped on it – these things fill up instantly. Had to randomly think about who would be available on a Wednesday – chose Mags. When I got the acceptance for the tour – learned Mags couldn’t make it, so subbed in Jonathan.

When the details arrived Monday (for the Wednesday tour), there was a work/hiking boot requirement. Hello, Payless. Actually, got a decent pair of hiking boots for $35 – and I’ll need them for late June hiking around Whistler (yes, I hike – from bar to bar on loop trails from each of the mountain tops).

What the details DIDN’T mention was that this was a two-mile hike:

The blue line was our path – luckily our group did the long walk first.

Don’t we look great in our safety gear?

The first stop on our hike:

Nice day for a hike in the city.

This is where we are headed

A gaggle of orange ducklings…definitely in an active construction site:

Intersting to see the “ramps to nowhere” being torn down


Our tour was interrupted by a big bang – the sound of air brakes engaging fully. Apparently, a Microsoft Shuttle lost air power, which means the brakes instantly lock up. These people no longer have a good commute.

Man am I glad I don’t do that commute anymore!

These expansion joins are ready to be installed:

Soon, we were under the bridge

Here is a shot of the seismic bumpers the new bridge approach:

All in all, it was great to explore the Arboretum hiking back to the visitor’s center. Thirty-plus years in Seattle and I’d never explore one of our cities treasures.

And speaking of traffic messes…this truck got itself stuck trying to make an illegal turn….

Yep – that is a full 53′ trailer and a long cab tractor –stuck and trying to back out into rush hour traffic – ignoring the clearly posted sign that says, “No Combination Trucks”.

We found another way home that didn’t use that freeway entrance.


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May '17

Home Report: Channeling My Mother

I know it’s not Mother’s Day yet, but apparently, I was channeling my mother this evening. One of the (many) things my mother taught me to do is sew. In honesty, I hate hand sewing and loathe sewing on buttons. Sadly, in the past I’ve recycled shirts when too many buttons fall off.

Tonight, it started when my phone hit the floor, thankfully padded by a bouncy case, and a holster made from neoprene – but the stitching gave out, I’d probably made the case years ago for two phones ago.

Time to haul out the sewing machine, my mother’s college graduation present, Kenmore (made my White) sewing machine.

Since the case was already at the end of its life, machine is out, make a new case that fits better – and so the adventure begins. More of an adventure because I have all these squares of neoprene from the remnants bin at a GREAT fabric store if you are into recreational sports sewing: Seattle Fabrics, on Aurora, just north of 85th, by DancingBear’s house. Neoprene, Gortex, Sunbrella fabrics – none of this stuff is cheap (even the remnants), but it’s cool to work with.

So, new phone case, been there done it for a dozen years. I like them to hang on a carabiner from a belt loop so I don’t sit on them. It started with one, then morphed into four (apparently, I have lots of chunks of neoprene laying around):

And then it was like “what they hell”, I’ll do phone cases for all of my pants colors!

Above you see the blue Hawaiian print with the carabiner hook, and all the other colors I decided to do

Sadly – I only got four of them sewed before the battle-axe of a sewing machine started binding up – oil didn’t help, but pulling it part I finally found a huge hairball in it.

Cranking betting, but I’m going to let the oil penetrate overnight.

Thanks mom for teaching me how to sew – never got the hang of shirts, but I’ve made curtains for all the houses I’ve lived in.


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Apr '17

Status Report: Alaska MVP Gold

Well, three and a half months of being on planes has brought me to MVP Gold status on Alaska Airlines:

It actually took one more roundtrip that I was expecting as they credited my Seattle to Havana trip as a direct route, even though it stopped in Los Angles.

Another bonus to hitting Gold is the addition of four Guest Upgrades at time of booking, assuming space is available. I like a guaranteed First Class seat for the price of economy! If I manage to rack up another 34,203 miles this year I’ll hit their top level of MVP Gold 75K – meaning four more Guest Upgrades, lounge passes to give out to my friends (since I have a lounge membership), and better upgrade availability.

I’ve got a couple of long trips coming up – Mid-May is Seattle to New York, catch the train to New Orleans, fly home (4,496 flight miles) and an August trip to Kauai (5,396 flight miles). Dang, and I have that $125 voucher to use – maybe I’ll just go out and book another flight. And it IS Tuesday, the day Alaska announces what’s on sale for the week.

Sadly, I couldn’t find anything, maybe I should hit up DancingBear for a trip to Kentucky in July.

And because it’s the season, the overgrown front yard:

That would be my out of control rosemary “tree” to the left, and tons of tulips.

Had the top down for the last couple of days. YAHOO!


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Apr '17

Trip Report: Vegas, Baby!

Sometimes you just need a little guaranteed sun. In my case, that meant a two-day getaway to Vegas. Flights were reasonable ($160), and I used points for a 2-bedroom (overkill), and the rental car, all in, was $51 for the two days.

In exchange for a cheap airfare, that meant crappy flight times, which also means a better chance of an upgrade (which I got).

Interesting sign in front of the Alaska Lounge – and I’ve been seeing them at Alaska’s Lounges in other cities as well:

This is interesting in that when they are busy, they aren’t even letter Day Pass holders in – which since I still have three day passes that I don’t personally need since I have a membership, I give them to friends who are travelling out of Sea-Tac.

Even though it was a late afternoon flight, still started with my ritual Sparkling Wine with a touch of Cranberry in it. If you need to see what it looks like, there are dozens of pictures in posts over the years.

As many of you know, I always show up super early on flights days to milk as much value out of my lounge membership. Today it was a good thing I did:

Yep, they moved my departure time FORWARD by 10 minutes because of expected headwinds. Never seen that happen before.

What on the schedule was listed as a “snack”, looked more like dinner to me:

Leaving early meant that we got to Vegas pretty much on time so it was pick up the luggage, drag it to the rental car bus, and pick up by “compact or bigger” rental car which happened to be a striped down Nissan Altima.

When I say “striped down”, hand crank windows:

No power locks (which meant hand lock each door), and not even a key unlock on the passenger side. On a car with 14,000 miles on it.

I was surprised that it even had cruise control! But it got me to the condo:

With a huge master bath:

Too bad I didn’t check the exposure on the living room shot, sigh.

But you get the idea.

Oh, and on the way to the condo from the car rental place, I picked up supplies for the stay, and to bring home:

This is what $62 gets in at the Total Wine and Beverage store in Vegas. Those half gallons in Washington State would be $36 EACH. I almost went out and bought an extra suitcase to bring home more.

The basic reason for the trip (besides a booze run) was pool time, and the pool here, while small, has sun.

That is actually the view out the front door above.

And the view from my tiny deck at the back of the condo:

There are even three shared barbeques down by the pool.

With gas shut off timers – never seen that before. Great idea.


Made for a nice meal:

Checkout day was upon me, with a LATE 10:40pm flight (again, upgraded), but I’d scheduled a 12:30 Owner Torture Session, which wasn’t a torturous as many. 45 minutes and I came away with a $100 AMEX card (to go with the $25 one from my update at Blaine a couple of weeks ago), $25 worth of dining credit on the strip, and 1000 Wyndham Rewards points. And it was a great way to kill an hour.

Next up was a little plane spotting – Vegas has a designated area for aviation junkies like me to watch planes come and go. They even had a low power FM station that you could listen to air traffic control:

That is actually a Virgin Atlantic 747-400 landing.

Next, headed to the strip to look around – geez, Vegas is a depressing show of humanity. Most of the casinos now charge for parking, but eventually wound up at Planet Hollywood which doesn’t, and wound my way through the shopping area, then the casino, to check on one of the places to use my voucher. Man, the signage in casinos is poor.

Wasn’t quite hungry yet (the Owner Torture Session included a late breakfast), and $15 for a burger at Gordon Ramsey’s place seemed a bit much, but the waste of natural gas was amusing.

Sensory overload is what the strip is to me – went back to the car and headed to The Rio in search of a place to eat not engulfed in the den of drunk people and blaring music.

Found the American Bar and Grill at the far end of yet more shopping and casino areas (smoking is still allowed, FYI) and asked for a seat farthest away from the action:

When this arrived, I felt so much better:

And it being Vegas, even the starters were on the large size.

Yes, those mini burgers are stacked on onion rings.

I’d driven by the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” a couple of times today, but it was always mobbed, on the way to the airport, it was a little less mobbed so I pulled in. Decided a “selfie” was better than standing in line to wait for a turn in front of the sign.

Maybe I should have walked to the other side where is says “Leaving Las Vegas, Come Again” But, in truth, the sign in the terminal area is just as nice:

Speaking of the terminal, I love this sign above one of the few pay phones left in existence – talk about a SCAM to use your credit card to make a call:

That’s almost like the costs they charge prisoners for calls from the jail.

High tech gates at McCarran.

And a close-up of maybe why – seems the gates run a version of embedded Windows and the one of the left obviously has crashed:

Sadly, I did not get to ride Minnie all the way home, these was the Seattle flight before mine:

There you have it, just a run for sun, a run for miles (this will put me at MVP Gold through the end of 2018), and a way to get out of the house.


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Apr '17

Trip Report: Japan, The Long Way Home

Up at five, out of the house at six to catch the train, seven at the airport waiting for the ticket counter to open for the long way home. The way? Nagoya to Seoul to Los Angeles to Seattle. This is the routing you get when you want to fly out of a minor city to a minor city on 112,500 miles and $85 in taxes and fees.

At least Korean Air has a lounge at Nagoya:

Small, limited selection:

But a fancy toilet (yes, the Japanese are obsessed with clean booties):

But soon enough my plane is here (777-300):

And I get settled into my seat for the two plus hour flight from Nagoya to Seoul:

The cool thing is that you can electrically raise a divider between you and the person next to you in the center:

Yes, I’m watching One Flew Over The Cookoo’s Nest, though I realized that it’s a long movie and I wouldn’t be able to finish, so I postponed that to my next flight and settled for sitcoms.

This will give you an idea of the cabin layout:

And having the seat next to me in business, I chose to keep the screen down and use the neighbors table for my over flow.

Soon, breakfast was served – I opted for the Western Style which apparently means starting with cocktails:

And that is Plum Wine to the right – why not!

There was an additional course of fresh fruit that I passed on…there is a lounge awaiting me at Inchon, Seoul, South Korea, still a military base for the US where I here it’s possible to play 18 holes of gold WITHIN the security perimeter. I’ve been here a couple of times on layovers – if you have a really long one they will give you a city tour!

Mine was short, so I just got the “floor show” on the way to the lounge:

Even if you don’t have lounge access (this was my first time), there is tons of stuff to do inside the airport – day rooms to sleep, massage places, quiet sushi joints, the works.

Because I use my miles for a Business Class ticket (which I recommend EVERYONE saving their miles for a ride up front), lounge access is included – and a nice lounge it is. Massive because it is a major hub:

There are multiple food stands and tons of seating.

But soon enough, it’s time to get on my plane – I’d forgotten that the Seoul-Los Angeles route is on a A380-800 (though I don’t think they ever did a -900 or -1000):

Though, oddly, I don’t think the seats were as nice:

And once again I had the seat next to me open – Business Class was less than 50% full – actually, I had an entire row to myself, right in front of the bar. How appropriate. More on THAT later as it isn’t open for takeoff/landing. Here is what the back section of Business Class looks like:

And me, taking off!

And with the seat as flat as it could go after takeoff:

Oddly enough, lay flat is lumpy – better off in “Barcalounger” position. And a first for my recent Asian airlines experiences – champagne before takeoff, albeit a thimble full (apparently Korean has a reputation for being miserly with the drinks):

Once we were up, the food started coming – I love the stainless-steel chopsticks:

And then it was time to hit the bar at the rear of the A380 – not as fancy as the one on Emirates – but what the hell, we are on an airplane:

I like to point out what is built into the wall – a martini glass holder where there are brackets to keep the martini glasses handy:

Which is handy because they serve “stemware” drinks back here:

Made from scratch:

Let’s not forget snacks with round two….

There is even enough room to stretch out:

Back to the seat for breakfast number two…

And a final tour around the upper deck (never did go downstairs (there is the grand staircase in the front and a circular one in the rear, beyond the galley):

There is another self-service bar in the front (which I didn’t know about):

Abd a seriously LARGE bathroom. Maybe I’ll stay need to front next time:

Got into Los Angeles on time…a little after ten in the morning, got through Immigration and Customs (after a little luggage delay) and headed to the Alaska Lounge for my three-hour layover.

Sadly, the three hours turned into seven hours because of a mechanical delay with our plane earlier in the day. The upside? Even before I’d boarded I had a note from Alaska promising a $125 certificate off future travel. Now that’s PROACTIVE (listen up UNITED). It’s times like this that being able to hang out in a lounge with free food and drinks and wi-fi make the difference between a cranky passenger and a resigned one.

Home later than I wanted, but no work in the morning, so all is good, and I’m $125 richer. Apparently, I was exhausted as there are no pictures after the Korean Air flight.

[? ? ?]

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Apr '17

Trip Report: Nagoya, Days Two & Three

After my first day running myself ragged (OK, Julian was literally dragging me), I decided for a light day of exploring the neighborhood after Julian left for work around eleven. Explored the Japanese version of Home Depot, shopped for whiskey to pack in my bag (and in my belly), got snacks for the day from the huge AEON supermarket a couple of blocks away, did an initial pass at the 100 Yen store (that would be The Ninety-Cent Store in the US).

I was a little amazed to find this on the shelf of the grocery store:

I can’t even find caffeine free diet Coke in Canada!

Julian got home around ten and we started fixing a traditional Japanese dinner, which, for some reason I didn’t take any pictures of – maybe we were drinking, chatting, and having WAY too much fun.

So, it’s one in the morning and Julian wants to go on a walk, or it might have been midnight, I know it was late, and I wasn’t a fan of the idea, but he finally wore me down and off we went for a walk along the river.

Here is a nighttime view from his apartment:

And from our little evening walk:

Yep, the cherry blossoms are in full glory…

He is looking like the devil, which is how I felt about him when he dragged me out for a walk – my legs still feeling yesterday’s adventures.

As it turned out, the walk helped Julian not feel as bad the next morning, though he was still running slow. Me, I slept in and spent another day exploring the neighborhood, finalizing purchases at the 90 Cent Store and getting ready for a full evening…again!

The plan was that I was to meet Julian’s friend Yousuke for Hanami, the cherry blossom viewing party where everyone sits in a park, eating and drinking all day long. Off to the subway go I, and as tempting as it was to stop in for a bit, I didn’t:

Missed the first train by seconds when the sliding gates tried to eat me:

One train to Komaki to meet Yousuke (and pick up some snacks and drink for the park), three trains later we are back in Nagoya in a different direction. Yousuke probably should have picked up his snacks in Komaki because every convenience store in the direction of the part was MOBBED.

Then there was the challenge of finding his friends among the thousands of people enjoying the festival – these shots should give you an idea of the crowds and the blossoms.

Our group:

And part of the pile of shared food:

Imagine acre after acre of people hanging out with their friends eating/drinking/chatting for hours on end.

With that many people to say goodbye, we didn’t get back to Komaki to meet Julian until after ten (he gets off at nine) so we could all go out and cook our own meals.

That would be Yousuke on the right.

So, the reason that Julian works so late Tuesday through Saturday is that he is an English As A Second Language (ESL) teacher – who is even featured in his companies advertising (yes, they charge people more to have white people from the US teaching them).

Of course, we got home WAY later than I wanted since I have to be up at five to catch my flight home – this might be PART of the problem.

Yep, that’s a little recycling to take out.

Not looking forward to the early departure in the morning.


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Apr '17

Trip Report: Nagoya, Day One

Thanks to TackyT-ShirtPrincess, I have a link to the international coverage of the festival I attended in Kawasaki. CLICK HERE. Should I return next spring, I think I’d go back to the one in Komaki (always on March 15th – Kawasaki’s is always the first Sunday in April) as the crowds are smaller and the phallus’ bigger.

Guess that I really SHOULD show you the shirt I got her – even though it will ruin the surprise since she hasn’t gotten it yet:

With that little additional information about Kanamara, we need to get ourselves south to Nagoya on the Shinkansen, which means a couple of different trains to pick it up in Yokohama.

Yep – during the morning commute. But we made it.

And soon, the little lady with the cart came around. I picked a lovely Australian Red to go with my egg salad sandwich on blindingly white bread:

The trains are definitely high-tech – they even come with instructions on how to use the toilet:

Don’t squat on the rim, don’t put your poop stained toilet paper in the trash can, and wave your hand around to flush.

To give you an idea of how quick the train is – here’s a short video:

All that speed made me thirsty, so when the trolley lady came by, it was time for another round:

Arriving at Nagoya’s Central Station, changed to the local train, where there was even a sign on the train advertising the wine TokyoDave and Mitsio drank while we were in Tokyo:

Arriving at Julian’s place, I see he’s stocked up in preparation of my visit:

Though we might have to hit the grocery store for some of their 3 to 5 liter bottles:

His new place (since my last visit) is a definite step up – on the 13th floor with a nice view:

And the insides are nice as well!

You can see his previous place in this POST.

No rest for the wicked (guess that would be me), so after dropping our bags, it’s off to a Japanese Curry restaurant:

I even had a beer – yes, me!

Since this is Julian’s last day off before returning to work – off we go Inuyama Castle – more trains, more walking:

And after six or seven flights of “ship stairs”, we get (me, huffing and puffing) to the top to see the view:

Walked back to the station to use the facilities…luckily, no need for this one:

At least there was toilet paper.

But wait, there is MORE! Appetizers at home.

Before heading out to conveyor sushi! Where you order by tablet.

And get your own hot water for tea:

With food coming on Shinkansen and belts:

And a little video

And in the end, you pay by the stack of plates, by color:

Long day, longer…wait – karaoke!

In my(previous) world, karaoke is something done at a bar with people fighting over a microphone. Apparently in Japan, it’s something experienced with friends in a private reserved room with free unlimited booze.

This is a favorite of Julian:

Free drinks (with room rent) help Uncle Markie get into the spirit:

Julian filmed a small (thankfully) segment when the liquor took over:

A seriously long night. I’m thinking of sleeping in.


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Apr '17

Trip Report: Japan – Tokyo

TokyoDave and I arrived from the train station to a living room full of teenagers – apparently, there were twice as many (eight) earlier. In the living room on a tabletop cooker they had been making quesadillas and smores – yes, these are international school students. Sarah’s (TokyoDave’s number two daughter) red-haired boyfriend is half Japanese, half Argentine. Definitely a mixed crowd where English was the major language. And like teens everywhere, more food was needed:

Yep – they send Mitzio (TokyoDave’s wife) to the Dominos store because you get an extra pizza if you pick it up rather than have it delivered. Thankfully she also picked up a bag of ice for cocktails.

It was a long evening of catching up, noshing on various bits and bobs, a bottle of red wine was opened to go with the dutyfree whiskey I brought. Spanish, El Diablo something. Didn’t try it but it was finished by the morning.

Julian showed up from Nagoya in the morning – only getting a little lost needing TokyoDave to fetch him from the Family Mart (the 7-11 of Japan, except that 7-11’s are EVERYWHERE in Japan). Soon we were off to Kawasaki for the Kanamara Festival. Basically, it’s a Penis Festival – like the one that I went to two years ago in Komaki.

Police had closed off streets:

And the crowds were massive – much larger than the festival in Komaki.

With lots of people in costume:

And then the parade of penises started:

But a still photo doesn’t do it justice – how about a video!

And there were more “floats”….

This one was carried by and donated to the local temple by local drag queens:

Yet, more dongs…

And dress-up:

It turned into a family event with TokyoDave’s wife and daughter meeting up with us, though it’s only Julian, Sarah, and I in this shot.

Sarah and I are eating chocolate dipped penis’ (banana on a stick), while Julian is holding up his “mini-me”.

Eventually, we ended up at one of the two temples (starting and ending):

When the “honored guest” (that would be me) was ask about lunch, my request was not for street/stall food, but a sit-down restaurant to get away from the crowds (and, frankly, to sit down). We ended up at t noodle joint.

You order and pay at the hostess station, they give you tickets to place on the table. Want drinks? Step up to the vending machine for more tickets:

I opted for the sparking sake:

Soon, it was time to head back to TokyoDave at Mitzio’s house and relax:

And have a little late dinner.

For tomorrow Julian and I head to Nagoya.


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Apr '17

Trip Report: Tokyo Bound

I’m actually taking a weekend off leaving Jim in charge – like he is even when I am working the weekend. Destination? Tokyo to visit my ex, his wife, and daughter for a couple of days, then down to Nagoya to visit Julian.

But first, I have to get there, which means a stop in the Alaska Lounge:

Breakfast of champions!

Saw the combo Alaska/Virgin plane that was damaged several weeks ago in an “airport incident“. Fortunately, not my airplane.

Several days ago, I’d gotten an email from Alaska Airlines saying that they had upgraded me on my flight from Seattle to Vancouver. In the back, there isn’t even enough time for a beverage service. In the front, we got one quick round in the half hour flight. It was nice to even get an upgrade on a frequent flyer award ticket. Even got my favorite seat, 1C.

When I checked in back in Seattle, they were able to check my bag in all the way to Tokyo, but not give me a boarding pass for my connecting Japan Airlines ticket. Got to Vancouver, and while the plane had arrived, there, the gate area was locked up. Wandered the airport a bit and finally decided to go to the lounge that Alaska partners with in Vancouver – which turns out to only work if you are flying to the states, or, as it turns out, connecting to the Japan Airlines flight. Yahoo! More free food.

My newspaper fortune (VERY appropriate):

My plane (787-8):

My seat:

The bidet controls in the lavatory (yes, a bidet on a plane – better than a snake):

And then the food started coming (and coming). It IS business class, after all:

Somehow, I forgot to take a picture of the “starter” course which was shrimp, lox, foie gras (and tasty). Then before landing (after my third movie), they served us another lunch:

Upper left is VERY unusual version of Paella.

I went for the Western Meal option since I’ll be in Japan all week and this will be my last chance. Here were the menu options:

And let’s not forget the drinks!

My thoughts on Japan Airlines Business Class:

  • Last generation seats, not completely lay flat
  • A little stingy on the alcohol
  • A little too “formal” attitude for my taste
  • Food was good, but not over the top

But considering my round-trip ticket was 112,500 miles and $85, I can’t complain too much.

Arrived in Tokyo to an airfield taxi stand – meaning down the stairs and into a bus to the terminal. Fairly quick transit through immigration and customs, and soon enough I was on the Narita Express bound for Shinagawa Station where TokyoDave would meet me and get me the rest of the way to his house:

The train into town was an hour, and the remaining legs with TokyoDave another half hour.

We’ll pick up the story tomorrow, but at least I made it in to Tokyo in one piece.

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Apr '17

Trip Report: Spring Break For Jonathan

This week just a quick little trip a couple of hours north to celebrate Jonathan’s Spring Break at the WorldMark Blaine.

Nice little two-bedroom place:

With a pretty nice view…

Our room would be one floor down, right hand balcony:

And even a rarely used lounge (at least in the times I’ve visited this property):

To me, the downside of this place is that the decks don’t have BBQs – just a couple of shared ones outside the lounge:

Marinated chicken thighs the first night. Pork loin the second night. Pretty much cooked all the meals in. The second night the wind had kicked up so I had to use the grill cover to block the howling wind from blowing out the flames.

You can see what the wind was doing to the bay…

And I was definitely bundled up…

But the end result was worth it! We even did our breakfast’s in… scrambled eggs, bacon, fried risotto cakes.

All too soon it was time to return to Seattle, somebody (that would be me) is leaving the country Friday, but it was a fun little quick holiday.

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