Thursday, May 28, 2009


We learned new things about our neighbors, the Cascade Mountains. Traci was excited to hear the mountain range was well populated with active volcanoes. The one of most recent memory being Mt. St Helens, last erupting in 2005 or 2006 it continues to reform a lava dome in the center of the crater left from the blast in 1980. The largest recorded landslide fell from the northwest corner of the mountain, releasing ash and pyroclastic flows. The heat melted the snow and ice creating mud flows which tore through the surrounding forests. The landscape was scoured and reformed. The contents of the mountain splashed into a nearby lake with enough force to splash water out forming two new lakes. The event must have been impressive.

We travelled to the Mt. St Helens National Volcanic Monument. The interpretive center at Johnston Ridge shows a dramatic movie explaining all of the events surrounding the eruption in 1980 and previous eruptions. The area has many great viewpoints to take pictures of the dozing giant. This time of year the snow still covered several access roads and the top of the mountain giving it a dressed up appearance, cutting a white silhouette across the bright blue sky. The film and interpretive centers gave us enough information to stand before the mountain and imagine the facade slowly caving away, the ash shooting in the air, the force of the blast ripping apart mature trees at their bases, heat from the liquid rock pouring out of the side of the mountain instantly turning any groundwater to steam, then the violent mudflows washing the sides of the surrounding hills clean leaving trees lying in rows and piles like discarded toothpicks. Standing on the ridge I watched the clouds move across the top of the mountain and wondered if that was steam I saw coming from the lava dome.

Shane was smitten. The movies, pictures and signs fueled his curiosity. He seemed fixated on the power of the blast and it's affect on the surrounding environs. We had read a chapter book prior to making this trip describing how it might have felt to have been close to the mountain when it decided to change its appearance. The book had successfully planted the seeds of curiosity which fueled his fascination. He made a proclamation, from then on he would become a geologist studying volcanoes.

We slept in a motel near the volcano so we could explore more the next day. We decided to go to Ape Cave, a lava tube. This was a structure formed some thousands of years ago when lava burned a permanent tube through the ground. The person who discovered the cave by nearly driving his tractor into the entrance was part of a local conservation and outdoor group called the Apes. They took several people on tours of the caves after they discovered them always keeping a sensitive on their impact in an attempt to preserve the caves in their natural state.

The cave was round with the walls, ceiling and floors textured with cracks, bumps and smooth sections I could imagine were from lava rolling through the tube. We took the easier section until Traci and Sophia had had enough. Traci said she kept waiting for the ground to rumble and everything to start warming up. It never happened.

We did happen across two wonderfully nice adventurers who hailed from Chicago, although they were currently settled one in Washington, D.C, and the other in Portland, Oregon. The fellow adventurers had wandered up the more difficult section of the lava tube so Shane and I followed. We walked only a short distance before learning why this section had been labelled difficult. A large rock pile stood in the path and covered most of the distance as far as we could tell. So we climbed the rock pile. The challenge of the rock pile wasn't in the fact that most of the rocks wiggled a little nor that they were precariously stacked but that the whole event was happening in the cave and we were at the mercy of our limited flashlight beams. I watched Shane quite literally bounce from one rock to another as he gently ignored my paternal cautions against injury. He was comfortable just climbing right up. The flashlight beam threw shadows creating the illusions of holes and gaps in places where rocks were and left out the visibility of some other rocks.

We left the lava tubes to go to a lava fields in another section of the park. Here lava had settled in an area over 200 years before, friezing molds from trees falling in its path and burning up from the heat. The tree molds left tunnels large enough to crawl through. We took our turns inching through the tunnels, Shane had to go twice. A boardwalk had been built above the lava fields to protect the area from constant foot traffic. I could see where the ground was rippled as the lava had settled and cooled after oozing across the forest floor.

We stopped at Burgerville for lunch then headed home. Burgerville is a local fast food restaurant with a commitment to serving locally grown foods. To Traci and I's delight they were featuring fried asparagus from the Yakima valley.

Monday, May 25, 2009

...and Sea Creatures

The tide has been out for the holiday weekend. I was amazed at the lengths they would go to around here to attract tourists. A low tide on the first weekend of 'summer' was a perfect idea to get the people out and about to check out the sea creatures. The mechanics of such a project have to have been on a grand scale.

We were off to the water Sunday morning to greet the water dwellers on to land as their home receded into the sound. There were plenty of visitors from the salty water of the sound to delight the crowds of people scouring the beach. We walked over from the ferry landing to the fishing pier and found active crabs and eels. We hadn't seen many live crabs, usually the seagulls get them picked apart before the tide goes back out. This leaves empty crab shells all over the beach. When I saw one I would poke at it and it would flop open exposing the empty casing where the meat of the crab had once been. It was disappointing each time to see dead crabs.

This Sunday was crab and eel day for us at low tide. Near the fishing pier was a long trail of seaweed washed on the beach. The seaweed hid the crabs from their enemies and when you lifted the seaweed the crabs scattered across the sand. We moved a rock and the crabs under the rocks would dig deeper, settling themselves into more firm positions in the sand.

We poked at crabs, watched fish and eels squirm in the shallow water, touched barnacles, starfish and anemone. The low tide fails none on providing entertainment.

Shane and Sophia dug in the sand for a while until "I'm hungry" was repeated enough times to carry some validity. We walked home, stopping at a local restaurant where Sophia ate chocolate and banana crepes for lunch. Shane had pancakes. I had a bowl of clam chowder. Sophia's plate had chocolate, bananas and whipped cream. She nearly finished all of the meal bragging about how sweet and yummy her lunch was, especially the whipped cream.

A black dog sat beneath the table next to us. After the kids had finished their lunch they approached the dog's owner about petting the dog. They told the dog's owner about their dog back home and how they missed her. I'm not sure if they were expecting a quarter.

We stopped at the library, picked out some new books and went to the park near the library. While we played at the park Steve from home called with news he was in town. I called Traci and arrangements were made for Traci to pick Steve up and bring him to Edmonds for the evening. I played a couple rounds of tag and we headed back to the house to get prepared for a visitor from Troy.

Traci arrived back in Edmonds safely. I was relieved to have Traci home and excited to have Steve come with her for a visit. We talked a bit, gave Steve the house tour, and walked down to the Mexican restaurant downtown. It was nice to have someone from home to show our new surroundings to. We talked all evening eventually having to take Steve back to his hotel.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Weekend for Land and Sea Creatures

The youngest of the Miller clan had been left to the capable hands of their father for most of the weekend. Traci was off to Vancouver with her girl friends and Savannah was still in Illinois. The two youngest were at the mercy of the plans of their father and we had no car. Traci had taken the car to Vancouver so they didn't have to spend money on a rental car. This left Shane, Sophia and I to explore the town of Edmonds.

Friday, after Traci left, we ordered in pizza from one of the local pizza places. It was delivered and tasted pretty good. We have found a pizza place we like but the only locations are on the Kitsap or up in the islands. We have tried the local incarnation of "Pizza Man" and found it to be tolerable but nowhere near the quality of the Pizza Man in Troy, Illinois. The Pizza Man in Troy, Illinois was one of our favorite places to eat. Tuesdays they had a buffet full of different pizzas, salads, and the sandwich. I loved the sandwich. We found a place in Chandler called Rosati's. I think it was a Chicago based restaurant spread across the country. It was a little pricey but tasty!

The wings we had ordered with the pizza were good too. We made plans over pizza for an adventure on Saturday. We decided it would be worth an attempt to go to the Woodland Park Zoo. The bus stopped two blocks from our house and we would meet it on Saturday morning.

I hadn't slept well Friday night. I had tried sleeping with the kids and they moved around so much I couldn't sleep. I woke Saturday to the angelic cherubic faces of my children hovering over me. I had slipped down to the basement and slept for a couple of hours only to be awakened by the kids much too early. My brain had just accepted a dose of sleep when Shane and Sophia woke me up. Being pulled from the depths of sleep by those two beautiful faces defused any aggravation I may have felt about the poor sleep and early awakening. My eyes burned a little and my head swam slightly but those two young faces grinning down at me made me happy the sun had risen again.

The new day held the possibility for an adventure. We had talked about a trip to the zoo the night before and now the kids wanted to get started on this plan. We ate breakfast and packed the day pack with water and peanut butter and jelly's. Except Sophia only likes butter and jelly not peanut butter. I packed some granola bars, almonds, jackets and cameras. I studied the bus schedules and printed one itinerary for our trip down and several for our trip home. I wasn't sure how long the kids would last at the zoo so I printed plans for the bus routes from 2pm to 5pm, with buses leaving ever half hour. I wanted to have options for travelling home.

We caught the first bus and made the first transfer without a problem. We had travelled over to a public transit facility. There were signs and directions at various bays. Buses came and went every five minutes. We had about fifteen minutes and I didn't have the right change for the fare. We walked over to Starbucks and got a couple scones and some change. Shane tripped on the concrete and scraped his leg. He was bleeding from a superficial abrasion on his knee. I didn't have time to bandage him in the middle of Starbucks as we needed to catch a bus across the plaza soon.

We collected our scones and change and headed back across the asphalt. We were half way across the lot when our bus pulled into the bay. I picked up Sophia and we ran to catch the bus. I arrived at the door of the bus past a young man who had just been denied entry. As we passed he asked me if I had any change for the bus. I shook my head and stammered, "I only have enough for my family."

We stepped on the bus behind a man who was arguing with the bus driver. The bus driver was demanding to see his pass and he couldn't find it. He asked if he could just go on the bus and she denied him again. He finally fished his card out of his wallet and shifted his head from side to side in frustration as he flashed it briefly in front of the driver's face. The driver nodded him passage and turned to me. Pulled out two dollars as she surveyed my party and the fare required from us to ride. She said two seventy five. I dug in my pocket for a third quarter and she snapped, "just put the two dollars in", then pointing to Shane, "I'll give him a break."

Sophia needed to go to the very back of the bus. Every bus we got on she would walk all the way past every seat until she landed in the last row of seats. We would be thrown around while we walked as the bus lurched into traffic.

We went to the next bus stop and I misread the instructions I had printed earlier. I was trying to figure out how we would get from the intersection we were on to the intersection named on the itinerary. A woman approached us and asked if we were from the area. I said no and she proceeded to tell us about a church down the road she had attended in the past and we should attend the church if we lived in the area. She said she now went to church in west Seattle but the church here was really nice. I decided to ask her if the bus scheduled to stop next would take us to the intersection on my paper. She laughed and said we were on the wrong street. I then noticed the instructions to walk a tenth of a mile West and catch the bus there. The woman pointed us in the right direction and we were off to find our bus. We had nearly missed our connecting bus.

After a couple more bus transfers we landed at the west entrance of the zoo. The sun was out and every other family in Seattle had decided it would be a great day for the zoo. We saw the flamingos, tropical rain forest, gorillas, birds, reptiles, penguins, bears, giraffes, pigs, goats, and many more animals. The kids had fun climbing a web made of rope in a play area with a giant gopher mound riddled with gopher holes large enough for kids to climb and crawl through. We ate lunch near the giant gopher hole area.

Shane and Sophia were being entertained by another boy who would fall off the gopher mound and make silly gestures with his arms. Initially Sophia appeared quite smitten by this silly lad. He made her laugh and she followed his every move. Shane showed some green when he saw his sister's fascination with this other boy, he was robbing some of Shane's share of Sophia's attention. The three of them began acting silly together and it was all worked out.

We lasted most of the day at the zoo. An ice cream break helped maintain our interest and stamina. We passed through the Kimodo dragon house. The Kimodo dragon was huge. The kids stopped at the Kimodo dragon statue and climbed around, fighting over who would get to sit near the dragon's head. Fatigue was displacing the children's usually pleasant disposition and in its place there was the swirling devilry of sibling annoyance. Each child knew the strengths and weaknesses of the other. Once one child began to feel fatigued they preyed on their counterpart until the whole experience of being in their presence got challenging. I had begun feeling tired and my fuse ran short. I decided we needed to head to the bus stop to start our journey home.

The bus stop was full of asian teenagers speaking in their native language. It was interesting to hear the different sounds they used to communicate. I didn't think to ask what the kids thought of the foreign tongue. My two young adventurers were very droopy and our bus was still fifteen minutes away. I feared they would fall asleep and I would have to carry them onto the bus while fishing in my pockets for fare money. I lost track of time and the bus pulled into the stop.

The driver was waving everyone on quickly stating he was holding up the traffic on the entire street with this stop. I paused in front of the money box and he waved me on saying, "pay when you get off, I've got this whole street blocked." I followed Sophia all the way to the back of the bus. We settled in to our seats and I checked the itinerary I had printed earlier. We were looking for the Dayton and 160th stop. The street numbers were in the 80's and going up, we were at least heading in the right direction.

We passed into the 100th's streets and the bus turned and turned again sending us moving back down in street numbers. I thought we would stop in the right place until the bus stopped and the driver said, "last stop." We had pulled in to another transit center and I asked the driver as I paid my fare how to get to the bus I needed. He was very patient and cooperative giving me directions to get on another bus here and take it to the place we needed to go. We eventually made our way back to the first transit center we had been to earlier in the day and waited for our final bus home.

As we waited a gentleman sat next to us under the shelter. He was managing a luggage dolly with several bags bungeed to it and a small white bichon. Sophia asked if she could pet the white fluffy dog. The man smiled and said it would be a quarter. Sophia shrugged and began petting the dog. The man held out a quarter for Sophia's efforts and after looking at me for approval she grabbed the quarter smiling. Seeing this exchange, Shane took a great interest in petting the dog. After a few minutes he looked up at the man and asked, "can I have a quarter?" The man laughed and said only the first child to pet his bichon got the quarter. Shane leaned in and pet the dog with more affection than a mother cat giving her kitten a bath. He was nearly loving the dog into a doggie coma. He patted her head and stroked her, looked into her eyes and smiled at her. The dog was gentle and appreciative of Shane's efforts. The man looked at me and said he would have to give Shane a quarter after all.

Shane pocketed his earnings as the man and his dog got on their bus. We took our final bus a few minutes later. Sophia and Shane were quite tired from our adventures, drifting in and out of sleep during the final leg of the trip. We arrived at our starting point. They shook the sleep from their eyes and got off the bus seeing the neighborhood park fifty yards from the bus stop. Somewhere deep inside a fire came on and they requested, no demanded to go to the park and play. They ran around the park for fifteen minutes until Sophia remembered she really had to go to the potty. We walked home.