Playing Tourist in the Emerald City

We got to play tourist in our own backyard over the weekend.

OK, maybe “backyard” is a stretch. Seattle’s more like 180 miles away. But for a while there, it was feeling like a second home. So that kind of counts, right?

In any case, we headed north on Saturday morning for a weekend getaway to the Emerald City. “Have one last hurrah in Seattle” was on our Farewell Tour list, or words to that effect, and our favorite band was playing their annual Christmas show in Ballard, so we had the perfect excuse to go. We left home at 8:30 and arrived at our first destination, Pike Place Market, three hours later, where we promptly joined a million other people wandering around the place, one-third of them dressed as either Santas, reindeer, or elves.

Wow, I thought. Seattleites really get into the spirit of the holidays!

Which was actually only half true. Turns out they really get into the spirits, as there was a Santa-themed pub crawl taking place.

It did feel pretty festive regardless. Even the brass pig was dressed for the occasion.

Merry Pigmas.

And lest you think Portland has a lock on weirdness, Seattle folk can be every bit as nutty.

We spent a solid two hours in the market, with a stop at our favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant for lunch. Bought a hodgepodge of goodies including ginger pickles, Beecher’s mac ‘n cheese, coffee-flavored Greek yogurt, Bloody Mary green beans, balsamic vinegar, and the single most expensive filet of smoked salmon on the planet. Seriously, when the guy rang us up and said “That’ll be $41!” Tara and I looked at each other and I could read the holy shit! in her eyes. That’s okay; I’m sure it was reflected in mine, as well. But what were we supposed to do, say “err…never mind” and walk away? That’s just embarrassing, so we bit the bullet. I’m happy to report that the fish is really, really good.

Also, looking back on that list, what a weird bunch of stuff we bought, huh?

Sufficiently stocked up, we left Pike Place and debated hitting the Space Needle, but it was grey and overcast, a fact that I am sure shocks you, and we decided if we were going to drop $50 on a pair of tickets to the observation deck, we’d better have a clear view of Mount Rainier to make it worthwhile. After all, we’d just taken out a second mortgage on a piece of fish, so the idea of spending more money wasn’t exactly enticing. We drove up to Kerry Park instead for a view of downtown, then headed to Ballard and checked into our room, a claustrophobia-inducing little space that contained a bed and a dresser and not much else. The bathroom was down the hall. Not exactly the Ritz, but it was cheap. Ish. Cheap for Ballard, anyway, which is apparently one of the trendier areas in town. All we really needed was a roof over our heads anyway, so it was fine. Once we got settled in we walked around the main drag, looking for a place to drink – and eat too, though that was a secondary concern – and settled on a bar and grill called The Sexton. Anne joined us shortly after and we kicked back with cocktails and some really good food.

The Moondoggies were playing at the Tractor Tavern just down the street, and we were there promptly at 8:00 when the doors opened so we could secure a spot right in front of the stage. Widower opened and The Maldives followed before The Moondoggies took the stage. All three bands were fantastic, playing mostly originals with a few Christmas songs mixed in for good measure. At one point a presumably-drunk girl literally grabbed me from behind.  I figured she’d accidentally bumped into me thanks to a little too much booze, but then it happened a couple more times. I think Tara’s angry glare finally scared her off. I’ll just chalk the whole thing up to my magnetic personality.

OMG, it’s that Mark guy from Portland again! What’s he doing all the way up here…?

After the show I chatted with The Moondoggies’ lead singer, Kevin. I consider him a friend now, though I suppose that might be a stretch (though he does call me by name whenever he sees me, which at least counts as a semi-friendship, right?). He thanked us for driving all the way up from Portland, which means he probably thinks we’re really stalkers now, ha. They have a new album dropping in April and he said they’ll be coming down to PDX that month for a show, so it looks like we’ll get to see them at least one more time before we move.

By now it was well past 1:00 and Anne had to drive home – we’d cut her off hours earlier, but our hotel was a block away so we kept the party going a little longer. Actually ended up hearing last call at two different bars before finally calling it a night. By then it was after 2:00.

Sunday we returned to The Sexton for a Bloody Mary and coffee before hitting the road. Drove down to Tacoma to meet up with Tracy, David, Anne, and Anthony for breakfast/lunch before beginning the trek home.

All in all, it was a super fun weekend. Let’s recap the highlights: I was drunkenly groped, drank a gallon of whiskey, chatted up the lead singer in a rock ‘n roll band, and closed down two bars. Pretty badass if I do say so myself!

One of these days I’ll act my age…

Instaglory is Fleeting

A few days ago, one of my Instagram photos was shared by a site with a kajillion followers. Well, 80.8K, to be exact. To be fair, I think the “K” actually refers to “thousand” but that’s a moot point anyway. It’s still a lot of people!

Washingtonexplored reposted a photo of a train trestle I took over Thanksgiving weekend. It was quite an impressive span and resembled a giant erector set of sorts.

I got pretty excited when I saw my photo had been shared. It’s something Tara and I have both strived for.

“This is the kind of spontaneous publicity that makes people!” I exclaimed to her, channeling Navin R. Johnson from The Jerk. “Things are going to start happening to me now!”

Unfortunately, things did not in fact start happening to me following the post. In reality, the Instaglory was fleeting and rather underwhelming. I’d dreamed of getting a big boost from the publicity a shared photo would generate, but while plenty of people were double tapping the photo on washingtonexplored‘s page, few of them were coming over to my account. Case in point: their post has 874 likes while my original has 54. I think I gained a whopping two new followers.

Oh, well. My Instafame is on hold for a while longer, I suppose. But the positive affirmation was nice, at least.

The railroad trestle, by the way, was in the middle of nowhere. Just outside Lyon’s Ferry State Park, some 10 miles northwest of Starbuck, Washington. Population a whopping 129 people. This was one of the few residences we drove past in that area.

As you can see, clearly not a very happening place. I did joke, however, that this fixer-upper could be the solution to Portland’s housing crisis.

Tara and I wanted very badly to explore this abandoned farmhouse, but the “No Trespassing” signs scared us off. We both find old buildings like this one fascinating. I can’t help but wonder about the history of this place, obviously somebody’s home before it fell into disrepair. It had burned, too. Was that the catalyst for letting it go to ruin, or did the fire occur long after it was empty? I guess that’s one of those “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” questions that will never be answered.

I’ve always thought it was the egg. I mean, the chicken couldn’t have just apparated out of thin air, right? Maybe a bird that wasn’t quite a chicken laid the egg, and a chicken was born thanks to a genetic anomaly.

Or maybe I’m way overthinking this. Just don’t cry fowl, please!

I was really, really hoping a train would pass by while we were photographing the trestle. How cool would that have been? Unfortunately, we had no such luck. But later – after we’d explored Palouse Falls and were getting ready to leave – a train did go by on those same tracks. By then we were some 10 minutes away from the trestle. So close, and yet, so far!

Much like my Instasuccess.

Minimalism

Things look a lot different around here, huh? Don’t worry, it’s not the spiked eggnog talking. I have spent much of the weekend completely revamping my blog. My reasons are threefold:

  • I’m all about minimalism these days.
  • I had a perfectly good domain name gathering dust.
  • I paid $79 for a premium theme that was going unused.

So, I decided to get creative. I’m using my markpetruska.com domain instead of Mark My Words, though my blog is now incorporated directly into the site. You might have to update your bookmarks eventually, though everything should automatically redirect. I mean, Alexa can tell me that Tim Conway is 83 years old in a mere four seconds, so I have faith you’ll still be able to find my posts. You’re reading this one, right?

What a wonderful time it is to be alive.

I’ve also activated the new theme, added an online portfolio showcasing my professional work, a Hire Me section with a contact form if you want to throw gobs of money in my direction, and a Fiction page with information on and links to my books. Yes, plural, even if Dream Sailors won’t see publication until next summer. Oh, and the snow is still falling. I couldn’t get rid of that.

This just allows me to consolidate a lot of information in one place and should give me a more professional site in which to direct potential clients to.

That’s the plan, anyway!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

An elf factory exploded at work.

Christmas, I mean! It’s beginning to look a lot like that around ye olde office. For the past couple of years now, we’ve had an office-wide holiday decorating contest. You might recall that Team Content took first place in 2015 and was a close runner-up last year. It’s pretty easy to see why.

Our 2015 winning display.
Still killing it in 2016.

Naturally, expectations were high this year. So when the extent of my holiday decorations involved this, people were a bit underwhelmed.

Charlie Brown ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Scoff if you must, but I like it.

Why the abrupt change this year? Remember what I said above, folks: minimalism.

Don’t worry, I’m not a Scrooge. I still love Christmas bestest of all the tree-themed holidays (sorry, arborists). But my team of four is now down to two thanks to promotions and cross-aisle moves, and I didn’t want to use the tent for a third year in a row lest I become a parody of myself, so I decided to ease up this year and let others around the office have fun. And it’s certainly paying off. Coworkers have gotten into the spirit like never before. To wit:

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Pretty impressive, huh? It makes coming to work an absolute joy. Call me crazy, though: I still think I can pull off an upset victory.

Got a busy rest of the month planned. This includes the company Christmas party on Friday, a trip to Seattle to see our favorite band’s annual rock ‘n roll Christmas show with Anne on Saturday, a jaunt to Tacoma the following weekend to visit Tracy and family, and our usual trek to Newberg on the 24th for our Very Russian Christmas Eve.

This year more than ever, traditions are important to me.

Ho to the Ho, Ho

It’s snowing!!

On my blog, anyway. In real life, not so much. We are actually headed into a “December drought,” as the media are calling it. This means no rain for the next 10-14 days, proving that the newspeople are a tad overdramatic. But that is pretty unusual for December around these parts. It’s going to be sunny, windy, and cold. In other words: boring. But, I figure next winter we are pretty much guaranteed snow where we’re headed, and possibly lots of it, so I’m not as disappointed as I might otherwise be.

Yesterday, we finally got the apartment decorated for Christmas. (Ha, I say “finally,” but we’re only a couple of days into the month. Some years, my dad didn’t put the tree up until just a few days before Christmas. That and the fact that I never had a Big Wheel proves I led a deprived childhood.)

Even though this is our 4th Christmas in the apartment, I feel like this is the first year we actually got it right. It’s a small space, as apartments tend to be, so we never really had a good spot for the tree. This time, with a little creative rearranging of the furniture, everything fits, and looks great. I even went a little more overboard with the decorations than usual (I know; shocking!). The tree is fake – we alternate between buying a real one and going artificial every year or so – and when Tara asked if we could do clear lights instead of the multicolored ones I prefer, I agreed without hesitation, which I think shocked her a little. I’m trying to be more of a yes man in my old age, I guess. And I have to admit, with red garland and a red tree topper pointy thingamajig (I have no idea what it is…clearly neither a star nor an angel, I’ll say that much), it looks pretty good. I did tell her I’ll probably be in a multicolored mood again next year, so not to get too used to this agreeableness.

I now feel like I can start listening to nonstop Christmas music and watching Elf and Rudolph and the Griswolds. I might even break out the Marty Moose Christmas Vacation glasses later. Ho to the ho, ho. 

Yesterday we met up with our friend Kara, and her friend, and approximately one million other people, at the Portland Night Market. This special event is held in a warehouse 3-4 times a year and offers a great opportunity to shop for local products while enjoying an alcoholic beverage and grabbing a bite to eat. As long as you aren’t claustrophobic – because you will be elbowing your way through a sea of strangers – it’s great! We went back in May and had a blast, so we added it to our Farewell Tour list and now have one more item crossed off. It was a lot of fun, and we ended up enjoying some really good food that included a Korean fried chicken bowl, street tacos, pelmini, and miniature donuts from Pip’s (Voodoo and Blue Star hype aside, these are probably the best in the city). I doubt we’ll go again, though. The idea of dealing with those crowds is exhausting, and I’m in full-on “been there/done that” mode now.

Today we have a lunch date at a new conveyor belt sushi place in Vancouver, then we’re going to walk around Lacamas Lake for a bit. Tonight’s the “super moon” and it rises at 5:06, so we might try to get some pics of that, provided the sky clears up by then.

A Well-Oiled Machine

We had a nice four-day weekend. Hectic and busy, but ’tis the season, right? This, despite The Cold From Hell.

Tuesday, Tara said she was getting sick. Despite ingesting copious amounts of Vitamin C, echinacea, and oregano oil (god, she’s such a hippie!), there was no staving off the inevitable. By Wednesday it had turned into a full-blown cold. Shitty timing, given that we were hosting, but there was nothing she could do about it except soldier on. This will, in all likelihood, be our last T-giving in the PNW, so we wanted to go out in style.

It didn’t feel much like Thanksgiving though, thanks to a high temperature in the mid-60s. But if you think that was crazy, Rapid City hit the mid-70s! I’m religiously following their weather now, so I know what to expect this year. 75 at the end of November is basically unheard of. It sure never happened when we lived there in the 1980s.

Fortunately, everything went off without a hitch. We’re used to hosting Thanksgiving, so even after taking last year off, we had it all down to a science. We were like a well-oiled machine, Tara and I, and had everything timed just right: the rolls were coming out of the oven just as the turkey was ready to go in; the green bean casserole and glazed carrots went in when the turkey came out; and so forth and so on. We had two ice-filled coolers for the wine sitting on the back deck.

They were barely big enough. Let’s just say we emptied a lot of bottles between the eight adults.

My aunt Nancy, uncle Steve, and cousin Mandy were the first to arrive, shortly before 2:00. They were followed by my parents, then my cousin Shannon and her kids, Sasha and Soren. That’s a lot of bodies to cram into a tiny apartment, but we made it all work. We laughed, shared stories, and reminisced, and mostly didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that this was our last T-Day here.

I have to say, we outdid ourselves once again. All the food was fantastic. The turkey was perfectly moist and tender, and best of all, did not explode. I found a recipe for a sugar-free cranberry sauce made with Stevia that was every bit as good as the “real” stuff. And everybody raved over the pumpkin cobbler – so much so that the pie went mostly untouched. But our smartest move was using Chinet paper plates and plastic utensils. I’d seen photos of my friends’ elaborate place settings and centerpieces, and while they were fancy and beautiful, I’ll take the easier cleanup any time. Besides, Thanksgiving has never been a let’s-get-all-decked-up holiday for us. I wore sweats, slippers, and a t-shirt, for crying out loud. Are you really surprised, given that I got married in a tuxedo t-shirt and flip-flops?

The last of our guests departed around 6:30, and we were finally able to kick back. Hosting is a lot of work, which maybe explains why the day wasn’t as bittersweet as I’d feared it might be. Yes, we’ll be 1,200 miles away next year, and it’ll probably be just the two of us. Hell, we might just end up tucked into a booth at Perkins, digging into a turkey loaf or something. That doesn’t sound half bad to me right now.


Even though Tara was still sick, we left Friday for an overnight adventure in eastern Oregon. Last year we’d talked about visiting the Painted Hills over the same weekend, but bad weather and a lack of daylight convinced us to change our minds. We still had the same lack of daylight to contend with – the sun sets by 4:30 this time of year – but the weather was decent at least, and we are running out of time to do these things, so we went for it. Tara later admitted that, had she known she’d still be feeling as under the weather as she was, she probably would have called off the trip, but by the time Friday morning rolled around it was too late to cancel our motel reservation in Pendleton, so we headed out shortly after 8:00.

What can I say about the Painted Hills? Honestly, words do not do them justice. So you get pictures instead.

The different colored layers of sediment are made up of ash and the remnants of a deciduous forest that was buried in a lava flow eons ago.

Almost looks like the surface of another planet, huh?

We spent a couple of hours wandering around there before taking off for Pendleton. Which, it turns out, was another four hours away, and because we left late in the afternoon, most of the drive was in the dark. Over winding mountain roads slick with a thin sheen of ice. But it was an adventure! We saw wild turkeys and a shoe tree and listened to music and podcasts. Still, I breathed a sigh of relief when we reached our destination. Friday was a long driving day! We checked into our cheap but rustic motel room and then headed downtown for a bite to eat. Pendleton is odd: everything closes super early. Our original choice, a promising-sounding dive bar, shut down at 9:00. On a Friday night, no less! We found another place and settled into a booth, only to be informed that the cook had gone home so all they had available was bar food. We did not feel like potato skins or chicken wings, so we ended up at a Mexican restaurant around the corner that the folks at the place-without-a-cook recommended. The food was very good and we each got a margarita. We were back in our room and fast asleep 90 minutes later. Not exactly tearing it up like I’d imagined. Oh, well!

Saturday morning we checked out of our room, grabbed breakfast at a Western-themed spot called The Saddle (everything in Pendleton is Western-themed, btw; not surprising given their rodeo heritage) and then drove around Pendleton for a little while before continuing on to Palouse Falls in Washington, another two-hour drive.

Imagine driving through endless miles of gently rolling farmland for hours and then coming upon a dramatic waterfall cutting through a steep canyon, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. That’s Palouse Falls. It was surprising in its scope and very dramatic, especially after seeing nothing but empty fields and a whole lot of cows for what felt like forever. Turns out Palouse Falls is the state’s official waterfall. Who knew!

By now it was mid-afternoon and home was still a five-hour drive away, so we reluctantly hit the road. When we crossed back into Oregon and connected with I-84, I pointed out that Pendleton was a hell of a lot closer than home, 52 miles versus 182, and tried to talk Tara into going back on the spur of the moment for a second night. She was tempted, and if not for her cold, would have been down. I was just having too much fun and didn’t want our trip to end! It began raining, and was full-on dark before 5:00, making for a bit of a white-knuckle drive. We got home around 6:30, heated up Thanksgiving leftovers, and kicked back with “This Is Us.”

Today I busied myself packing up our harvest decorations, hauling them all down to the garage, and bringing up another half dozen bins full of Christmas stuff. Tara mostly rested. I’d meant to decorate, but after making a million trips up and down three flights of stairs, plus walking to the store in the cold rain, I just didn’t have the energy. So I wrote a blog post instead.

The Plan is to Fan This Spark Into a Flame

Friday was a pretty exciting day. Hamilton is coming to Portland for a two-week run March 20-April 8, and tickets went on sale at 10:00 a.m. I had my doubts that I’d be able to snag any, especially when the 6 a.m. news showed people already lined up at the box office, but my good luck with tickets held and I was able to score a pair for me and Tara. Deb and Annie at work are also fans and managed to get tickets too, so we basically spent the next hour lost in a haze of disbelief, talking about the fact that oh-my-god-we-are-going-to-see-Hamilton!! Which admittedly was not great for productivity, but I made up for it in the afternoon. My only mistake was choosing the “best seats available” option when I first logged onto the website, because I found myself with two tickets in my cart that totaled $1,056. I love Hamilton, but you know what I love even more than Hamilton? A roof over my head and food in my belly. So I had to start over, which cost precious minutes and had me convinced I had blown my one opportunity at seeing the Tony-winning Broadway musical, but ended up with a far more reasonable $236 total purchase. Whew!

The day before, by contrast, was super productive. I ended up working from home, because we had ordered some more of the Prairie Berry wine from South Dakota and UPS would not deliver without a signature. I meant to have it shipped to work, but in our excitement over getting more wine I didn’t let Tara, who placed the order, know of my idea until after she had submitted the order. Oh, well; it worked out fine and like I said, I got a lot done. That’s always the case when working from home. I like my coworkers just fine, but there are a ton of distractions and interruptions in the office, especially since it’s an open concept lacking cubicle walls and any sort of privacy whatsoever, so being able to buckle down and just focus on work helps tremendously. At 2:30 there was a knock on the door, and lo and behold, the wine had arrived! 

Working from home on Thursday provided me with a very interesting preview of my probable future. Can’t say I minded it very much; there’s a lot to be said for a commute that is measured in steps rather than miles, and my cat is far less demanding than my coworkers (except when her stomach reminds her it’s feeding time mid-afternoon). Come to think of it, I could say the same thing about my coworkers…

Last weekend my dad mentioned that he thought I might miss the social aspect of working from home full-time, and I will concede that it’s a possibility, though it’ll probably take a while for the novelty to wear off. I also figure I’ll hit up some of the local Rapid City coffee shops with my laptop in tow if I’m craving human companionship (not to mention the excellent macchiato from Harriet & Oak). Either that or I’ll just give in to the solitariness and become a hermit. Because let’s face it, by and large, people suck.

By the way, Tara and I put together a list of places to go/things to do before we leave, and we’re calling it our PNW Farewell Tour. Our list includes the following:

  1. Astoria Wine & Seafood Festival.
  2. Hood River Fruit Loop.
  3. Overnight stay on the Oregon coast.
  4. Afternoon at Powell’s Books.
  5. Visit the Portland Night Market.
  6. Catch a show at the Doug Fir Lounge.

And so forth and so on. We already did the Fruit Loop last month, so that item is crossed off. There are about 30 items on our list, and we probably won’t be able to hit them all, but we’re going to give it a shot! We’ve got 7+ months to go, so we’ll at least be able to check off the majority. The Portland Night Market is happening the day after Thanksgiving, so that’ll be another one down. We even came up with our own custom Instagram hashtag, ’cause that’s how we roll.

#MarTarPNWFarewellTour if you’re in the stalking mood.

There are also separate lists for restaurants and local products. We are nothing if not thorough.

It’s been a pretty chill weekend. We have run lots of errands and played lots of cribbage. Tara cleaned the apartment from top to bottom in preparation for our guests on Thursday, though I talked her out of shampooing the carpet because, really, is anybody going to be scrutinizing our floor that closely? People don’t care. Besides, it makes more sense to clean the carpet after we have a house full of guests, right? We also went grocery shopping, picked up Chinese food, and watched a Netflix movie on the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days before (spoiler alert!) being rescued. Action packed weekend here, folks. Try to reign in your jealousy.