Thursday, July 30, 2009

of tourist traps and strip mall sushi

I think we should officially declare 2009 The Year of the Visitor. Long-lost friends, in-laws, nieces and nephews, cousins and children have all trekked up the Oregon Trail to Camp Cactus recently, and we couldn't be happier. It's given us an opportunity to go places and see sights we wouldn't ordinarily take the time to visit.

Matt and I drove up to Seattle on a warm and sunny Saturday with my sister in law Martha and niece Lily. We got there just before lunchtime and drove around looking for a cheap place to park. Cheap is a relative term. Let's just say, if you're used to parking in a small to medium sized city like Portland, when parking in Seattle it is advisable to be accompanied by either a platinum credit card or a briefcase full of money.

Our first stop was the Public Market, where we waded into a raging torrent of tourists and were swept along past stalls selling dazzling flowers, luscious fruits and vegetables and tacky souvenirs of every description.

It's a throwback to another era, and it's packed because public markets like these are few and far between.

I'm not sure what the pigs were doing there, though.

After lunch we strolled past the original Starbucks location.

It was packed with Japanese tourists holding up their cell phones to take pictures, so we skipped our afternoon caffeine fix and walked up the hill to the museum.

It's a good thing, because the caffeine might have sent me over the edge like the drivers of these cars.

On the way home, we stopped for gas and food at an outlet mall in Centralia...were we found a kick ass little Japanese restaurant that served the freshest sushi I've had in ages, as well as a really great Korean dish called bulgogi.

It was so good, I ate it before I remembered to take a picture.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

a two-bit tour of portland

My niece and sister in law had expressed interest in seeing a bit of Portland while they were here, so we went downtown one afternoon to check out a few points of interest. Our first stop was Laughing Planet Cafe, a new age burrito joint on our way. As you may have noticed, I'm a bit of a burrito purist...I don't generally go in for organic brown rice and tofu, or organic, non-GMO beans cooked in canola oil in my burritos. Nope. I want carne asada (grilled steak), flavorful, spicy rice and refried beans cooked with lard, baby. Throw on some fresh pico de gallo and sour cream, and that's my idea of comfort food.

But since my guests were both vegetarian and health conscious, I thought this would be a good place to have lunch. Hey, gracious hostess that I am, I was willing to lower my standards sacrifice a little flavor for my guests' well being.

Boy was I wrong about this place! The menu was amazing, if a bit weird-they offer tofu and tempeh, along with something they call "vegan sour cream" (that made me shudder), but you can also get fresh, organic salsa, locally produced sour cream and cheeses, and naturally raised chicken along with all the crazy combinations. Everything was fresh and delicious.

I had the "Che Guevara" burrito, with plantains, black beans, sweet potatoes, brown rice, spicy barbecue sauce and really really fresh pico de gallo. It was so good, I never even noticed it was vegan.

How to use your PND (portable nutrition device - aka burrito)

I'm definitely going back again soon, if only to hang out at this shrine to THE MAN and try the Zappatista salad!

Powell's front door
(photo borrowed from this site)

After lunch we tooled over to our local monument to the written word, Powell's City of Books, a giant bookstore where thousands of both new and used books mingle on the shelves, and the uninitiated need a map to get around.

After a couple of well-spent hours browsing and buying way too many books (and worrying about getting all that heavy cargo back to California), we stopped to window shop across the street at Anthropologie, a favorite place to get inspiration for weird and wonderful displays and merchandising. Peering in the windows, I saw something that sucked me right in through the open door:

Two crazy, gigantic wasp nests made from recycled magazines and newspapers, that appeared to be hanging from a large birch branch hovering above the sales floor. The only thing missing was the hum of a gazillion wasps. But perhaps that would be a bit too over the top, even for this wacky place.

Then it was time to stop and smell the roses at the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park, high up in the hills above downtown.

My niece Lily rolled around in the grass to get the best angle for her photograph, while Martha and I checked out the views of downtown and Mt. Hood in the distance.

(above photo borrowed from this site)

Tune in tomorrow for some cheap thrills photos of X-rated sandcastles in Pioneer Courthouse Square!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

what's on

Dog television.
A source of both endless amusement and near total boredom, punctuated by random scents and short bursts of excitement, like kids riding by on noisy skateboards, strange dogs pooping on your lawn(!), raccoons trooping across your street like they own it and squirrels cavorting in a circus act (Rocky and the Amazing Flying Squirrels!) on the electric wires overhead.

Dog TV: just like people TV... only smellier.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

camp cactus excursions, inc.

You know how it is when friends come to visit. You take them out and show them the local geography and points of interest, both personal and touristy. They tag along on errands and walk around the neighborhood, and the best guests manage to merge seamlessly into the rhythm of your everyday life. When I go visit friends, I like to see where they hang out, and how people live in a place, not just the places a guidebook says are interesting.

My sister in law and niece have been in town for a few days, and we've gotten around more than we have in ages.

The other day we drove up to Mt. Saint Helens and checked out the crater and the movie at the visitor's center on Johnston Ridge, the area directly in the path of the gigantic eruption in 1980. The view of the crater was spectacular, but the movie suffered from a seemingly tiny budget and a little too much special effects envy.

It seems a little odd that the government would spend millions of dollars building a visitor's center so close to a still very active volcano, but hey- I'm glad they did. It saved us a very grueling hike.

All around the area the destruction is still quite apparent, even after nearly 30 years. Ridges miles away from the blast are still covered with the carcasses of giant fir trees that were toppled like matchsticks, and dried mud flows over a hundred feet deep in some places smothered the forest and changed the landscape in a matter of hours. The power of Mother Nature is very sobering, indeed.

On our way home we stopped at a local restaurant on the Washington side of the Columbia River that's known for its great river views and unique artwork, which is everywhere:

(And this is just the art in the women's restroom.)

Too bad we couldn't talk Dave into taking pictures in the men's room. Stay tuned for our trip to downtown Portland and the X-rated sandcastles.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

here's another one...

I'm sure everyone would agree that hygiene is apparently very important if your liver is fried.

Monday, July 13, 2009

greetings from beervana

Most people know about the Northwest's reputation for great coffee. But along with all the espresso bars and coffee roasters, there's a brewpub on every other corner...and they're making some of the best beers in the world. As a matter of fact, there are a few right in my neighborhood.

Got stout?

Monday, July 6, 2009

the party's over

The streets are littered with burned-out paper tubes and the charred remains of brightly-colored, strange cardboard exploding creatures. Scorches mark the sidewalks, a record of all the snakes and sparklers and poppers ignited by the little kids, under their parents watchful gaze.

The big kids, some of whom now have little kids of their own, played with large artillery. The bigger the boom and the brighter the explosion, the better. For a couple of years someone in the neighborhood figured out a way to tie explosives to a bunch of helium balloons and set them loose to drift until they blew up, dramatically rattling windows and setting off car alarms blocks away.

The neighborhood cats have finally all emerged from their hiding places, and life returns to normal. Happy 6th of July!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

hooray for the red, white and blue

Imagine a soundtrack of 100 kazoos playing the Star Spangled Banner, and that's what life is like at Camp Cactus today.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

sunnyside up

I've been working in a place where they keep the fried eggs in a drawer...along with fall leaves and popsicle sticks. I guess it would be weird if it were a restaurant, but it's a commercial photo studio. Welcome to the world of advertising. (And don't believe everything you see!)