My senior year of high school, they offered Russian as a foreign language.

I had taken German from Jr. High, (side note: I’m old as shit, and went to Jr. High, not middle school. If this is too complex to understand then fuck off) but my family history was Russian, so taking Russian as a language was not just novel, but had some significance.our teacher was Olga Penrose (who in class was called Olga Michailovna, as that was the proper Russian form. It was patronymic, first name plus father’s name as your middle name) We got used to this. A part of the language class was culture, and you don’t really know a language if you don’t get the culture behind it.

So this was great. I loved our class, we did standard language drills, did some cultural stuff, like cooking, and it was fun.

At some point later in the year, we had a chance to participate on a language camp, where we would speak only Russian over the weekend. This was cool. Really, I was a geek, and this was the 80’s, before being a geek had some gravitas. Geeks today are like jocks, each one might be  a future dot com draft pick. There is a slight social entry and advantage. Back then, you were poison. I was poison. But camp was outside the normal social circles. There was a faint glimmer of hope. And there was at least one hot girl in our class who was going.

So naturally, I had to go to Russian Camp.

It was actually great, and we did a lot of language drills, and social events. There was supposedly some social KGB that was going to turn us on for non-Soviet behavior, but that never happened because I assume there  were geeks and liked blond girls too.

However, this was when I found out that Billy Joel was the official music of Russian Language education. Every night, someone had a Billy Joel tape running. Everyone sang along. I was already a Billy Joel fan from long ago, so for once, I fit right in.

After camp, our class still went out to do things. For whatever reason, The music was Billy Joel. We once ended up with a crew late at night in Bellevue on the docks at Meydenbauer bay, doing nothing, but the tape player had Billy Joel on it.

I went on to take Russian in college. I moved to Russia for a bit, and met my wife. my Russian language improved. We have a daughter now. She’s almost 16. She also likes Billy Joel. it probably isn’t a Russian ting specifically. Probably just a social group exposure.

Or  maybe we all have a New York state of mind.


A gallery of our newly purchased boat, a 1983 Sea Ray 340 Sport Bridge.

There is never, ever, a logical reason to have a boat.

WP_20140727_18_31_31_ProBoats are expensive, and if they aren’t they are broken, and need expensive repairs. You need special training to know the navigation, language, and other magic of boat-shit to use a boat. The toilet is called a head. it clogs if you look at it funny. A flat tire is called “sinking”. Everything is trying to kill you or empty your wallet. Everyone on the water is a drunken asshole, with maniacal jet skis swarming about just waiting to lose control and punch a hole in your hull.

But that’s just the cynical view. Mostly true of course, but cynical.

I love boats.

My family had a boat when I was young, not an uncommon thing his the Seattle area. Our first boat was a typical 20-something foot fiberglass Bayliner. It was nice, got pulled about on a trailer, and we dropped it into the lake for the weekend. That was fun, but not so memorable. After my parents divorced, my dad lived on a larger boat for a while. This was a 42 foot Grand Banks type of boat. Wooden decks and rails. A big, slow diesel engine. Multiple rooms and compartments beneath decks. This was the first boat that I drove, and I spent a lot of time on it.

We took longer and longer trips. I learned how to drive, dock, and tie lines. We navigated the Ballard Locks out to the Puget Sound on the way to Shilshole Marina, Blake Island and many other destinations. I always loved the locks, and still do. You pull into the locks, and the lockmasters direct you where to go. Boats stack alongside each other in an aquatic game of tetris, filling the lock. The bells sound when the gates close, and soon you are wrestling with lines to keep the boats from bouncing around as the currents of the escaping or filling water move you about. The gates open on the other side, the water close to level, but never perfect. Currents reverse and swirl as everything comes into balance, and the lockmasters shout down to start moving out. Lines are tossed from boat to boat, engines fire and you head through the gates, under the railway, and out the channel into the sound.

It never gets old.

Now our family has our own boat. We have a 33 foot, twin engine Carver from the late 70’s. It’s big, and slow. I regularly have to go below decks to replace parts that have worn, but the technology is so old that I can do almost everything myself. One engine is rebuilt, the other is overdue for the same. I have a full set of manuals and schematics, so I can work out what is wrong with a flashlight and a multimeter. The engines are Ford and use parts from a Mustang. It is a fiberglass boat, but has just enough wood trim to not look too modern. It is an old Cabin Cruiser design, with the controls on the upper deck, and a full cabin below. Long windows look out from the cabin, so we have views when we motor about the lakes.

Our best summer times are just floating in the sun. Sometimes we anchor, sometimes we find hidden docks along the edge of the lake. You can be right next to where you go every day, but when you arrive by the water it feels like another world. Life and business on the water is different than on land, especially in a city like Seattle. Seattle has a long history as a port town, but also an interesting history in the lakes. Lake Washington is connected to Lake Union via the Montlake Cut. When this cut was created, the lakes weren’t the same level. The cut dropped Lake Washington nine feet.  Two islands became peninsulas. The city built the Hiram M. Chittenden locks in Ballard, and cut from Lake Union to Salmon Bay. Marine traffic could now move from the ocean, to Puget Sound, thorough the locks and up into the inland waterways. This was completed in 1917. It completely shaped our city.

You can drive around the lakes and bridges in the Seattle area, and you see the upscale restaurants, marinas, and parks on the water. Do the same from the water and you see neighborhoods of floating homes and liveaboard boats. Some in the organized marinas, others in little side moorages sandwiched between industrial boat docks and shipyards. Pleasure boats cruise alongside commercial traffic. Seaplanes swoop just feet over your boat and land behind you in the crowded water. The view of the city feels older, like being back in time.

P1030097We do have to deal with some really ignorant and awful boat owners on the lake. This weekend is Seafair, which is the big airshow and Hydroplane races on the south end of Lake Washington. The event is amazing, but it brings out the worst of the worst, and now we just avoid it. We spent Seafair on out boat, away from the events. We had Lake Union to ourselves. We know a public dock in Ballard near the Locks, and went there to cook and swim. We sat and enjoyed the sun. A few planes form the airshow buzzed over our heads. We had no crowds on our cruise back to the dock, and stayed at the dock until the sun went down.

Boating isn’t about the boat. It’s the escape away with your family and friends. It’s a different view of your area and environment. And it is well worth the time spent under decks and in a stinky bilge. The reward more than beats the cost for me.

We ended our vacation where we started, back with family in Philadelphia.

The drive from Lancaster was pretty fast. We stopped for breakfast in a Waffle House on Highway 30. I had heard of Waffle House from so many people, and I love a good greasy spoon breakfast joint, so this was not to be missed. We walked in and were greeted by a very large and sweaty man in a slightly stained apron sitting on a stool in the front area. He had a voice like Wolfman Jack, with a vague South or something accent. He was friendly as hell, and while others were waiting, noted that there were three spaces at the counter. We love the counter. I was certain that this man would die of a heart attack before we were done eating, but I loved the guy. Not enough to give him mouth-to-mouth when he inevitably collapsed, but I was trained for the new CPR that didn’t do that so I felt better about it.

We sat at the counter and the menu was a two-sided laminated placemat. We all ordered Eggs with various sides. Sasha got some OJ and Yulia and I got coffee. I had Bacon, Sausage, and Grits with my eggs. From the counter we could watch the cooks and waitresses in their full action mode. There wasn’t so much of a kitchen, as a cooking and serving area in the middle of the diner. And this wasn’t a restaurant, it was a true diner. I was loving it right away. Our coffee was simple and plain, and very good. It never stopped coming. Our food came quick and wasn’t served in any particular order, when it was ready, we got it. All of the staff took their jobs seriously, but smiled all the time. It was a great breakfast and a great experience. I chatted with our large host on the way out, and he didn’t die in my arms so I was glad. Waffle House gets my approval.

Feeling good and caffeinated, we headed down the main highway and back into Philadelphia. We stopped in downtown by the art museum. We had the whole day, and most of the next to relax. Our flight was at 5:30pm the next day, so we took our time. The Philly art museum was right behind the Water Works restaurant that we ate at at the beginning of our trip, and looked like the Acropolis. It deserved another visit. We parked the car at the riverfront park beneath the museum, and walked through the heat up the steps in the back. Once inside, we asked at the desk where to get in. We thought Sundays were supposed to be free, but apparently that was just the first Sunday of the month. We didn’t have time to take advantage of the full main museum, but the smaller gallery across the street was doing an exhibit on Fashion. Both Yulia and Sasha are fashion hounds, so this sounded like something that was both cool and something that we had time to enjoy.

We walked down the block and across the street. The novelty of the heat had worn off long ago. We were happy to duck into the museum, up a red carpet on the front steps to remind us that the exhibit was about high fashion. How clever.

WP_20140713_12_33_59_ProThe main exhibit was about Patrick Kelly. I know nothing about fashion, but I was fascinated about the man. Patrick was a Black, Gay designer in the ‘80s who moved from America to Paris to pursue fashion design. That was interesting. I liked his designs, they had a bold, brash ‘80’s vibe to them, and were fun. however, I loved the fact that everything had a deep social undercurrent. Patrick had a huge collection of really racist art and sculpture. Stuff that was pretty typical in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Aunt Jemima statues, black minstrel dolls, and so on. And he used these images in his own designs. His personal clothes were based on sharecroppers coveralls, topped with a modern PARIS cyclists’ cap. It was wild stuff.

If you are a fan of Lenny Bruce, then you might remember his “Nigger” sketch. Lenny Bruce was a comedian in the ‘60s who said, among other things, that the word Nigger shouldn’t be whispered. Whispering it only gave the word power that it didn’t deserve. He suggested that Nigger be said loudly, and dismissively. The hatred lived not in the word, but the hateful people who used it to hurt. And that you could take the word, and its power away from them.

Apparently Patrick Kelly had similar thoughts.

Patrick used an Aunt Jemima caricature as the symbol for his brand. it wasn’t shown in America as it was “too controversial”  Many of the Minstrel faces and logos appeared in his work, and his designs had sharecropper influence. It was bold, beautiful work. from both a fashion and political sense.  other exhibits showed the influence that his designs had on modern designers, and their work.

Patrick Kelly died at the age of 35 from AIDS.

On the way out of the museum, we got Sasha a notebook in the gift shop. It was a Moleskine style book, made for fashion design with silhouettes of models and examples of how to design outfits. She has already used it to outline a few ideas. She is a good artist. Thank you Patrick.

WP_20140713_13_17_48_ProWe walked out and headed around the museum. We stopped at the statue of Rocky Balboa. it probably seems silly to have a statue in a city to a fictional character, but fiction is inspirational too. Fiction can be built out of a composite of a group, or a community, or an entire city. I think Rocky is that for Philadelphia. With the rise and fall and recovery. Everyone cheers for Rocky. Everyone wants to take a part of that success for themselves. maybe a statue make sense for just that reason.

We left and finished walking around the museum and back to the car. That was it for us, We headed back to Wynnwood, my aunt and uncle’s house. We stopped on the way to get some groceries, wine, and a bit of shopping, but eventually pulled into the drive and headed in.  Their dog was ecstatic to see us. They were out in Gettysburg, and had a dog sitter, but the dog knew and loved family. Yulia swam a bit, Sasha rested and I wrote. Later that evening my cousin came by with her son, and we hung out.

In the morning Sue and John returned, and we spent the morning telling them the story of our trip. It was good to rest and talk with family.

Every year, we go on vacation to rest and spend time with our immediate family. Sometimes, we get a chance to spend time with more distant family that we see less often. It is great when you can bring them all together. We didn’t relax much this vacation. We were always busy. But our time together was of good quality, and was good times. We connected as a family together, and to our family across the continent.

You can’t ask for much more than that.

The restaurant in the hotel was a bit hit and miss. After a late swim at night, we came out for dinner, and it was a train wreck. Everything we had was undercooked, screwed up, or just nasty. They couldn’t even get stuffed peppers right. Wow. The wine was better, and it was crappy, but they poured a lot. the evening was topped off with Karaoke in the bar, that filled the restaurant and lobby. We slept in a bit again, although Yulia got an early swim in before I was up. Breakfast was completely different. It was a custom omelet bar and full buffet. Really good and reasonable. Strange to have such a difference. Once fed, we got out of the hotel and headed to the farm.

WP_20140712_13_05_10_Pro 1It was a pretty short drive, and was supposed to be a real old farm and homestead that was turned into a slightly touristy learning center. We got there and it was a bit too quiet. There was no one around and the place seemed empty. We went to the information desk in the Main building, and found out that not only was today a “off” day, this wasn’t an Amish farm. This was a German family farm, which was similar, but not what we were looking for. The guys at the desk pointed us back in the right direction, and we left back towards the Amish areas. It was just a short drive, and we got to the Amish farm shortly.

This was nice, it had a local bus tour, a typical Amish house, and working farm. It was also nice that this was partially run by an Amish family, who ran part of the tours. We bought tickets for a full tour, and were just in time to hop on the tour bus. The plan for the bus was to take about an hour drive through the area, showing some of the local farms in action, talk about how the Amish live, and stop at a local Farm/Shop.

The first thing pointed out on the tour was that it was easy to pick out Amish houses in Lancaster, as they all had green pull-down shades in the window. He was right, as we drove we could see green shades at each of the Amish houses. They also no longer had any power wires leading into the house. Custom built farms would have never had power, but a lot of Amish worked other jobs as well, as there wasn’t that much farmland to go around. Some of the Amish businesses pointed out were farm equipment repair, buggy and scooter repair, some furniture manufacture as well. These Amish would buy regular houses and refit them for their needs. We were told that the simplest rule of thumb for technology was that no electricity was allowed in the house, but gas or air driven appliances were ok. Anything electric (like a phone) had to live in a shed by the road. Many of these had solar panels, which was preferred to regular power because it kept the family independent. And independence (or more accurately, preventing intrusion from the outside world) seemed to be the goal of restricting technology. The Scooters and Buggies were similar, as the reduced mobility out of their community. It was still ok to get a ride somewhere, or take the train, but personal transportation was not ok, even a bicycle was too much.

The area was beautiful. We loved riding the tour, and the driver pointed out little things along the way, like some of the oldest farms, the one-room schoolhouses, even where one family bought a house with a tennis court, and turned it into a horse yard, as they don’t play tennis. Apparently swimming and volleyball are very popular though, not sure if the tennis thing was preference or due to some rules. After a long drive around we pulled up into the farm with the small shop. They had some homemade ice great, homemade root beer, and various crafts and items for sale. We got some ice cream and root beer, as well as some herbal rubs that looked interesting.

As a frequent tourist, I think it is a good thing to support the community that you are visiting, and that usually means spending some money. When we did our tour last year in Mexico, I was surprised that most of the places that we visited had no vendors. After all, we’re tourists, we’re supposed to be the suckers here. Supporting local small business is part of the deal. if you don’t do that I feel like we are stomping about someone’s community and not giving anything back. And in this case we got a great deal. The Ice cream and Root Beer were amazing. Nothing beats homemade.

We headed back to the Farm from here. and then took the house tour. The house was setup as a typical Amish house, and our guide was a young Amish guy named David. As he showed us around, he told us some of the same information as the driving tour, including the bit about the green shades. I asked him why the green shades? He looked surprised at the question, thought for a second and told me that he didn’t know. They just all did that here.

Great answer.

We got a rundown of Amish clothing, usually made at home by Mom, usually dark somber colors. Nice hats though. I like straw hats. No electric lights inside the house. Lots of windows, and propane camping laps converted with very nice shades and cabinets to hide the propane. Quite clever actually. Church services are done in the home, rotating weekly between the houses in the community. The clothes wash was done with an old, gas driven Maytag washer (with squeeze roller) usually kept in the basement or summer kitchen (like an enclosed porch). These washers date back to the late ‘50s, but there is a company locally that licensed the design and still makes them new, along with repair parts.

WP_20140712_15_03_26_ProAfter the house tour we walked around the farm and Sasha was having a great time feeding every animal that she could. It wasn’t too hot out so it was nice to relax outside fro a while. Watching animals run about has a very Zen appeal to it.  They had an example of a typical schoolhouse showing the layout (all grades in one room). They go t school up through eighth grade, and take no science. In Alabama or Mississippi I think this would get them a doctorate.  We walked around a bit more and I ended up chatting for a bit with an older Amish woman. I thanked her for opening their community, and mentioned that we were visiting family in Philadelphia. She was really nice, and we ended up trading addresses. Now I have an Amish pen pal. (I will have to check the internet to see how stamps work, apparently you can write on paper, put it in a envelope, and some guy will carry it across the country so the name you write on the outside. How quaint)

We left the farm, and wanted to get some food before our second goal: taking a buggy ride. We checked the reviews of several local places, but every one we stopped into was a nasty super-buffet. I only assume the high reviews came from folks who had lost their taste bugs in a freak sword-swallowing accident. We drove back onto the main highway, and after a short while saw a chain Roadhouse style BBQ restaurant. We walked din, and every table had a bucket of peanuts on it.

Perfect. Unlimited peanuts is the hallmark of quality.

We ended up ordering some good BBQ. and their drinks were good as well. I had the super-sized Margarita wit sidecar of more Tequila because vacation. For a chain place, it was great food. When the supply lines are short (out I farm country) everything tastes just a bit better. Yulia had some Atlantic Salmon, which unlike the Farmed Atlantic in Seattle, is wild and terrific. We ended up mentioning to our waitress that we were from Seattle (some roundabout salmon conversation), and she thought that was amazing. for most of the east coast Seattle is this far away, flannel-clad place. A land of magic and software. Our waitress was enchanted with us for the remainder of the evening, now we were the interesting ones, instead of the Amish.

We went back to Intercourse, and managed to catch the buggy ride place just before it closed. These guys weren’t Amish, but Mennonite (same core religion, but few technology restrictions.) We got the last ride of the day, which was a blast. Sasha got to drive the buggy on the smaller side roads, and our guide told us all about the Amish (our third time hearing this, we assumed that there would be a quiz later.) It was bumpy, but a lot of fun. He showed us how the buggies drove, the little electrical light system, and pointed out how many businesses in the area had buggy stalls for Amish customers (like a mini-barn). We chatted with the guy a bit when we were back, and helped him out unmounting the horse from the buggy, and rolling the buggy up into the barn. Sasha got to meet the other horses, and wash down our horse. The horse seemed pleased. It was a great time.

Back at the hotel, Sasha retired to her room, and Yulia and I sat on the deck off the hotel bar. It overlooked a golf course, with a fountain at the hole nearest us. We drank wine and watched the fireflies come out as the sun went down.