Ken, Caroline, and I summited Mt Hood yesterday, led by our fearless guide Nick. We departed Timberline Lodge at about midnight, and made it to the top at around 9AM. Cloud cover partially obscured the view, but we had some great scenery on the way up. On whole, the weather was fantastic.

I carried my skis up part of the way, but found that the heavy pack sapped too much of my energy. Nick brought skis as well, but had skins that let him basically ski up the lower part of the mountain. That let him climb a bit more efficiently, without the load on his back. That said, descending by ski is far more pleasant and rewarding than hiking the whole way out, and I’m glad I lugged my gear up as high as I did.

Nick has been up the mountain countless times, and knew where the hazards lay. Every year, climbers are killed, primarily by being struck by falling rocks/ice, or by falling themselves on the steep final ascent. Nick chose a route that minimized the danger of the former, and we used ropes to reduce the danger of the latter. We watched one party descend from the summit using ropes in a way that virtually guaranteed that if one had fallen, the whole party would have been dragged down the slope.

I skipped most of the training I had planned (the kids’ soccer always seemed to take precedence), so I’m pleased that things went as smoothly as they did. Overall, climbing Mt Hood was a great way to celebrate my 40th birthday.

Can a thoroughly mediocre movie become a great one in the last three minutes? I was a skeptic, but after watching The Italian Job, I’m a believer.

In late August, just before the kids started school, we went hiking in the Dolomites. We wanted to hike there ever since my uncle Larry showed us photos and paintings he had made of the area. In case you are not familiar with these mountains, they are basically a range of sheer limestone peaks forming huge vertical walls rising straight up from the ground. They are a sight to behold.

Since the idea of hiking hut to hut has always intrigued me, we decided to give it a shot. The Dolomites are home to dozens of tiny hotels, or Rifugios, often situated with a dramatic view. You can eat, sleep, and perhaps most importantly, purchase beer and grappa at these huts, which means, that with good planning, it is possible to hike for days with nothing more than a large day pack and a fat wallet.

Most everyone there speaks both German and Italian, so language did not present much challenge. On our second of our two hikes, we were able to see the mixing of cultures rather vividly in the trenches and fortifications that the Italians used to (unsuccessfully) prevent the Germans from invading and burning Seston during WWI. Some of the peaks are riddled with tunnels bored into the limestone that offer commanding views of the passes and valleys below. Barbed wire still litters the landscape.

I’ve mapped out our routes in Google Earth, (which was a bit of a trial, I’m afraid to say) so you can see where we went. You can view these hikes in Google Maps if you wish, but if you have Google Earth installed, use it, and the experience will be vastly superior. (And if you don’t have it, and have a broadband Internet connection, get it. Google Earth is a very cool program.) With Google Earth, you can get a much better sense of the terrain, of the sheer verticalness of the place. I’ve included links for both below.

We did two hikes, a longer 4 day hike, followed by a more modest 2 day hike. When you are viewing these, please keep in mind that we had to scale back our most ambitious plans because Thomas and Ian (7 & 5) were with us. Were we alone, we might not have limited ourselves to mere 8 hour days ;-)

We started with a modest 4 day hike:
Preview
Click to view this in Google Earth or in Google maps

And followed up with a short 2-day jaunt:
Preview
Click to view this in Google Earth or in Google maps

I watched Thomas play soccer yesterday. He played well, and even scored, which is unusual as he plays defence. But then again, everyone else on his team scored too (including, I think, the goalie). You see, the team they were playing consisted of very small children, a few still in diapers, one still learning to walk. Thomas’ team was filled with burly 7 year-olds, some sporting pimples and wisps of facial hair. After every goal scored (and there were many), the opposing team kicked the ball straight into the pack of Thomas’ teammates who had come forward for a share in the slaughter. Thomas and his teammates would fight each other for the ball, the victor would dribble, shoot, score. Lather, rinse, repeat. It was a bit like watching a replay of Germany’s 1940 match against Luxembourg, before they took on the French. The final score was 437 to -1.

Ah the vagaries of village soccer leagues!

[minor historical note: the game in question actually took place in the spring of 2007]

Last night, I went to see “Night Glow,” the culmination of Luxembourg’s LUXGSM ballooning festival. Though I had a hard time finding the event, I was glad I went. I always love Luxembourg’s linguistic and cultural mash of French, German, and Luxembourgish (itself an unintelligible mix of French and German). After the show I noticed that a number of spectators walking home to their houses in Germany. (How many people walk home to Canada after a fireworks show in Portland?)

While waiting for dark, we were treated to a series of hot air balloon launches and hot dog parachutists (one of whom, after a particularly daring descent, missed the target island and had an unexpectedly wet landing). The “Night Glow” itself lasted at least a half hour. The combination of opera, heavy metal, and orchestra music mixed with a healthy dose of fireworks, searchlights, giant sparklers, water sprays, and, of course, a dozen or so hot air balloons illuminated with swirling lights and from within by the huge flames of their heaters, was spectacular. The whole scene, staged on an island, was reflected off the water, and was marred only by the occasional MS Windows alert sound that somehow got added to the sound mix.

The only disappointment of the evening was that I never got to meet “Balloo”, the festival’s presumably balloon-like mascot. Well, that’s something to look forward to next year.

This year’s slug season is off with a bang! Just in the past week alone, we’ve caught over 1,000 slugs and smaller number of snails in and around our garden. Luckily, Jen and I have been doing most of the capturing, so we don’t need to cash in our 401Ks to pay the kids their nickel bounties.

I’m intrigued by reports that some locals keep slug-eating ducks in their yards to help manage the problem. They supposedly will leave the plants alone, but will gobble down any slugs they find. As an additional bonus, you can get duck eggs, duck tape, and a spot of Peking duck (if you’re careful not to take too much at once).

I’d like to take this opportunity to announce that we have a new member of the family, and hopefully a temporary one (though I suppose that in the long run we’re all temporary). A well-pierced passing driver noticed a rabbit in our yard, stopped, captured it, and assuming it had escaped from our house, rang our bell to return it to us. (Ignoring for the moment that you can hardly see into our yard from a passing auto, I do have to ask why someone would pause their journey to capture a small domestic animal in a stranger’s yard, only to give it to said stranger, but then I many not be fully versed in all the finer subtleties of German culture.)

Well, the rabbit wasn’t ours, and our neighbors who have a couple of rabbits of their own, claim theirs are all present and accounted for. That leaves only one possibility — the slugs that terrorize our garden have brought in an ally to complete the destruction they have started. There is no other rational explanation. Rabbit soup is on the menu for tomorrow. Along with shelless escargots.

Never start a major car repair project in a parking lot an hour before dark, just as the first flakes of a long-anticipated snowstorm are falling. Not when it’s cold enough to numb your fingers after five minutes of work. Especially not one that risks leaving all the power windows disabled in the down position.

I was installing a new stereo in my car with a “knowledgeable” and “experienced” airman who convinced me he “knew what he was doing.” He had “done this before,” he said. He used to work at Circuit City, after all. Hell, that practically makes him a “professional.” Now when I turn on the ignition, all my windows roll down, except for the one whose connection got broken and is now completely non-responsive, and permanently open. And the engine doesn’t turn over. I told the kids that I made them a “fun car.” A snow-filled car. Jen is not amused.

On the plus side, after two days of working on the project, one speaker works, and I only need to hold the stereo in place when I go around very sharp turns. That’s a measure of progress. Unfortunately, none of the “standard” sized parts I bought quite fit (For example, I needed to cut notches in the edge of the speakers to make room for the oversized wood screws that were the only things I could find at the all-night shopette on base, and now the grille covers won’t fit. Not that it really matters as someone stole all the cover-attachment screws out of the box before I bought it, and I bought the last two in stock so I can’t steal the screws from another box.) And I got one door back together this afternoon, so I don’t need to close it by wedging my fingernails between the window and the door, as I did this morning. The interiors of the other three doors are either in my trunk, or are stuffed in the back seat, held in place by the power-lock wires. Unfortunately, I need to take the kids to soccer tomorrow, and the snow is coming again, so my “expert” will likely be stuck doing snow plow duty, making it exceedingly likely that my kids will get to enjoy the quirks of the “fun car” to full effect.

Boy are there a lot of slugs here. I thought I’d seen it all in Oregon, but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

To try to clear the garden in front of our house, we set a nickel bounty on each snail or slug that Thomas or Ian captured. Well, I didn’t get the cheap labor I had bargained for. Here are the capture counts since May:

Thomas Ian
46 29
215 42
130 82
87 34
97 57
6 2
159 57
Total: 740 303

In addition, Jen and I have caught another 794 between us.

This represents a total payout of $37 to Thomas and $15.15 to Ian. Compared to their 50¢ allowance, that looks like easy money.

And there’s still plenty more out there, chewing our basil plants down to little green nubs. How are people supposed to have a garden with this much competition?

One of the more goofball gifts that came this Christmas (thanks mom!) was called “The Snowballer.” It is essentially a set of large garish red plastic tongs designed to scoop and form “perfect” snowballs. I was, at first, highly skeptical, but in retalliation for a well-planned ambush by Thomas and Ian yesterday, I put it to the test. With a little practice, I was able to make nice, nearly perfectly spherical snowalls almost as quickly as I could by hand. The snowy orbs flew true, and when they met their mark, they were soft enough that the crying was triggered not by the impact, but rather by a shower of snow down the jacket.

This was all as advertised. However, the Snowballer had two additional advantages of over the manual method of snowball formation: first, my ungloved hands did not get as cold, allowing me to rain far more missiles down on my children than would have otherwise been possible. Secondly, I was able to extend my reach to find snow that would have otherwise been inaccessible from my location, helping me keep my dear children cowering in the doorway where they were unable to fire back.

The Snowballer!

Oh yes, and a bit of advice for you parents out there: Don’t Google “Snowballer” when your kids are in the room, as you may find more than you’ve bargained for.

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