The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 26, 2011

Random Thoughts: A Midsummer Night’s Fever Dream

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:36 am

Hmmm... Got anything in Sapient Pearwood?

Although Summer is coming to a close, late August always seems to produce some of the best weather we get around here all year, and this year has been no exception in this regard.  Aside from a somewhat out-of-place rainstorm on Monday (which, naturally, managed to rain out the only outdoor activities I’ve had planned in weeks) it’s been mostly very nice weather without getting too hot or too cold.  I’m hoping that this weather holds out for a few more weeks, since September looks to be a busy month with two different trips and a number of other activities planned.  Unofficially, this kicks off tomorrow (or, given my tendency to be up way too late writing this stuff, probably today) with PAX over in Seattle, so since I apparently intend to spend the next couple of days actively wasting my life on video games (well, more so than usual,) here are a few random late Summer Thoughts I’ve collected over the past few weeks:

  • That title has absolutely nothing to do with the content of this post.  It was just far too clever to pass up.
  • I’m pretty sure I grossly overestimate my cleverness when it comes to post titles on this Blog.  And post content, for that matter.
  • Now that I think of it, I probably should have saved that one for a Fun with Insomnia post. 
  • I’ve got about a week until I head down to Disneyland for the Labor Day weekend with a few friends, and I’ve got about half a dozen things I need to sort out before I go, mostly in terms of trying to solve various wardrobe-related issues (I’ll refrain from further elaboration on that one) that can really annoy the heck out of you by the time you’ve spent three days wandering around a theme park and countless hours standing in lines.  Sometimes I worry that I’m starting to overthink these things, but at least I can always just remind myself that I’m not one of the crazy people that obsessively plans their Disney trips months in advance down to the minute, makes restaurant reservations six months in advance, and generally overplans the heck out of everything.  Unsurprisingly, these plans usually collapse about 20 minutes after the park opens, and meltdowns follow soon afterward.  I prefer to keep my vacations as meltdown-free as possible.  Then again, I’m pretty much just along for the ride on this trip, so I guess I’ll have to see what happens.  Either way, it should be interesting…
  • Owing to the somewhat unusual nature of the several trips I’m taking in September, it looks like I’m going to end up purchasing an annual pass to Disneyland.  When all the costs are figured in, it’s actually cheaper to buy one of those than to buy 3-day Parkhoppers twice, and then if I get the premium one (which costs an extra $120 over the deluxe version) it’ll also cover parking costs (a $45 savings on this trip), not have any blackout dates (which would cost an extra $65 a day if I end up going when there’s a blackout day for the other annual passes on the calendar,)   Of course, an annual pass also means that I’ll probably have to figure out how to sneak in at least another trip or two down there over the course of the next year to justify the cost.  It also means that in spite of my better judgment (which has already endured one trip out the proverbial window with a trip during Labor Day weekend and right in the middle of the Disneyland Half Marathon) I’ll probably have to make a trip down there during the ridiculously busy parts of Summer in order to see the completed overhaul of California Adventure.
  • My sister Heather and her husband Brooks are expecting their first daughter and my first niece any day now.  Also, my other sister Jacki and her husband just found out today that they one they have coming in January is going to be a boy, bringing the count of nephews to five.  I suppose this means I’m going to have to try to catch up…

  • Ever have one of those nights where you know you want cheese pizza for dinner, but you just can’t seem to decide how many cheeses you want on your pizza?  Well, Trader Joe’s has your options covered. Unless you only want a two cheese pizza, then you’re pretty much on your own.

  • But if you get the three-cheese stuff, then later regret it, I suppose you can always catch up by adding some…  Parmesan Style Grated Topping.  When they have to put it that way, it hardly seems worth the effort.  Then again, judging from the ingredient list it’s basically just regular Parmesan and Romano cheese cut with some sort of starch to make you use less actual cheese, thus (theoretically) reducing the amount of fat being consumed.  In practice, I suspect people just end up using more of the stuff and negating the effects.  Oh well, at least you can still get the real stuff.

  • Careful there guys, we wouldn’t want to keep Panda up past his bedtime now, would we?  Sadly, this seems to be pretty much what passes for “open late” around here. 

  • Way back in 2008, I wrote a rather extensive post on this Blog regarding the history of the old Marina style Safeway store in Downtown Bellevue, which was at that time on the verge of closing as Safeway moved to a much larger new store a block away.  At the time, it was expected that the old 1960s store, which is sitting on a prime piece of downtown Bellevue real estate, would be demolished within a few months to make way for the next part of Kemper Freeman’s ongoing Lincoln Square development.  As you’re probably all too painfully aware, the economy tanked a couple of months later, bringing a virtual halt to major development in the Downtown Bellevue area.  As a result of this, the former Safeway store has sat vacant and largely untouched since that time, with the only exception being when Microsoft briefly took over the parking lot for an ill-fated Miley Cyrus concert last November to open up their new Microsoft Store in Bellevue Square.  In a somewhat surprising development, last week it was announced that later this year this former Safeway will become the home of Your Local Market, a new independent grocery store with a focus on local and organic foods.  So far, there don’t seem to be many signs of activity here yet, but it’ll be interesting to see how this shapes up.  You’ll probably be seeing more on this one later.
  • In other semi-ancient Blog-related history, one of the very first posts I wrote on this Blog back when I started it in 2007 was an elegy of sorts to the old wreck of a car that I had spent the better part of ten years driving (five of which were probably well beyond the point when sane people would have gotten rid of it) and was preparing to send on its inevitably one-way trip to the crusher as I replaced it with a new car.  This past week, I made my final payment on my now not-so-new car, thus paying it off.  I’m definitely looking forward to not having to make that payment anymore.


  • As if I needed an excuse, this was the fortune cookie I received recently from a visit to a local restaurant.  Yeah, I know I’ve probably been spending way too much time cruising lately, but who am I to argue with a fortune cookie?  Oh, and the one I’ve got coming up in a few weeks doesn’t count.  Last time I checked, it was pretty dang cold off the Pacific Coast.  I’m thinking it’s going to take at least the Caribbean to deal with this one…

  • And finally to close this post out, yet another gratuitous dog picture from when Iwas taking care of Imola and Minardi a couple of weekends ago.  Just because.

August 20, 2011

Lost in the Baking Aisle

Filed under: Food, shopping — Brian Lutz @ 12:42 am

Image credit: Flickr user sea turtle (Creative Commons)

Picture, if you will, an ordinary American supermarket.  From the outside, it looks just like any other supermarket.  And yet, when a stranger arrives from a distant part of town to pick up a few groceries, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s something unusual about this place.  Nothing seems to be where it’s supposed to be.  Where he expects to find cereal, there are cleaning products.  The bakery has been mysteriously replaced with a floral department.  And the produce department is on the wrong side of the store.  This man thought that he was just making a trip to the store to do his grocery shopping, but instead he has bought himself a trip…  to the Twilight Zone.

OK, so apparently I do a pretty lousy Rod Serling impersonation here, but I’m sure at lease some of you can probably relate.  As a single guy who for some reason finds it necessary to eat food every so often to survive (it’s a pesky habit I just can’t quite seem to get rid of for some reason,) I find myself in grocery stores on a fairly regular basis.  For the vast majority of those impromptu shopping trips, I stick to one or two particular stores (most often the QFC in Downtown, or the Fred Meyer in Overlake) and may occasionally make a trip to a different store for something specific (like the occasional Trader Joe’s run, for example.)  Given the comprehensive selection of groceries available between these two stores, I rarely find it necessary to go elsewhere for my grocery needs, but every so often some situation arises where I might be in a different part of town and need to grab a couple of things, and there’s a store that just happens to be along the way.  So instead of making the trip over to your usual store on the way home, I just stop into the other store.  It’s got the same sign on the front as the one you usually go to, so just how different can it be?

It turns out it can be a lot more different than you’d think.  There are some chains that manage to standardize their store layouts to at least some degree, but in a lot of cases these days, supermarkets just end up being put wherever there happens to be some room to put one, which doesn’t always end up being as convenient as some people might like it to be.  The Downtown Bellevue QFC is a good example of this.  It’s a nice store, but it’s also an older store (built in the mid Sixties, if I recall from some of my badly neglected newspaper research) that appears to have been expanded on a number of occasions over the years, resulting in a particularly odd layout that was rather confusing for quite a while until I got used to it.  Even now I still have trouble finding stuff on occasion in that store.  Another interesting example is the Broadway Market QFC over on Capitol Hill in Seattle, which is a grocery store that’s basically been integrated into the first floor of a mini-mall with a number of other shops on the upper level.  But in a nutshell, what this amounts to is that quite often, it can be a lot more difficult to standardize the layout of a grocery store than it might look.  And it also means that if you wander too far from your usual store, it can be a lot easier to get yourself lost in a typical American supermarket than you think.

 I mean, this isn’t supposed to be difficult.  It’s a grocery store, for crying out loud.  And when you’re at a grocery store, it would seem not unreasonable to expect that you would be able to find groceries.  And to be fair, when you look around you, the items in the aisle surrounding you would seem to fall more less into that definition.  The only problem is that none of those items happen to be the ones you’re looking for.  All you’re trying to do is get some milk and something to make for dinner tomorrow night, and practically everything in the store is in the wrong place.  Eventually you do manage to get your bearings (although it can be surprisingly easy to end up making an entire loop of the outer perimeter of the store before you somehow manage to stumble onto the dairy case).  And even once you’ve managed that, it’s rarely the end of your troubles.  You’d think that on a walkthrough of a grocery store an entire aisle jam-packed with 200 different varieties of sugar-soaked breakfast cereal in boxes that look like an explosion at the Technicolor factory would be a rather difficult thing to miss, but you’d be wrong on that one, especially when it happens to be on the exact opposite side of where it’s “supposed” to be.  And by the time you’re trying to find the pasta and wondering why there’s an entire shelf full of moderately overpriced organic flours and bulk beans sitting where the canned veggies are supposed to be, you come to the conclusion that you’re lost.  In a freakin’ grocery store, of all places.  Eventually, you get sick of aimless wandering, go pay for the few items you managed to stumble onto, and head off, wondering why the heck you didn’t just go to your regular store.  By now, the five minutes you might have saved by going to the more convenient store along the way instead of going a bit out of your way to your regular store on the way home have inevitably been wasted on aimless wandering, and there’s a good chance you didn’t even manage to find everything you had on your shopping list.  At least you learned a valuable lesson in the process, right?  Right?  Not that it’ll stop you from repeating the same thing over again at a different time in a different store. 

You may not actually be shopping in the Twilight Zone, but that doesn’t mean you need a creepy narrator or a slow descent into madness to get yourself lost in the supermarket.

August 12, 2011

Summer Panic Season Is Now in Full Effect

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:59 am

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

You know the feeling.  

It always happens right around this time every year.  You never know exactly when it’s going to happen, but sooner or later it will.  Perhaps one morning you’ll wake up, look outside the window, see the clear blue sky outside, and suddenly it’ll hit you.  Out of nowhere, suddenly you realize that it’s mid-August, and when you weren’t looking, late Summer has arrived.  Labor Day is mere weeks away, and before you know it, it’s going to be Fall.  And it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been or how you’ve spent your precious annual allotment of 2 1/2 months (give or take) of reasonably sunny weather, somehow it’s never enough.

Yes, that’s right, it’s time once again for Summer panic season.  That time when people seem to always weigh their Summer in the balance, and inevitably find it wanting.  This can happen for a variety of reasons.  For the younger generation, there’s the omnipresent threat of looming SCHOOL in the near future.  For others, perhaps it’s the memory of just how crummy the prior three seasons have been, and the fear that nine-and-a-half months of similarly crummy weather may be just around the corner (and the weather forecasters, always eager to come up with humongous loads of meteorological technobabble, probably aren’t helping any here.)  Then again, there’s always exceptions too.  Perhaps some of those people who have endured the big Midwestern heat waves over the past couple of months look forward to a time when it isn’t 115 degrees outside every single freakin’ day.  And even though I sometimes have a hard time believing it myself, there’s always the people who seem to welcome the arrival of Fall for some odd reason.  Sure, there’s all the nice Fall colors to see, and it generally means that Halloween and Thanksgiving are coming soon, but it also means that things are going to get gloomy and cold, and there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to stay that way for quite a while.  The fact that we just got through enduring one of the coldest Springs on record in the Seattle area probably isn’t helping Fall’s case much here either.

But even though the arrival of Fall is inevitable (unless, you happen to have the resources to do stuff like go spend the next six months down in the Caribbean or something like that,) it’s not here just yet.  In fact, as of today there’s still a good 41 days of Summer remaining, at least if you’re going by the astronomical version of things.  And surprisingly, the weather for the past couple of weeks hasn’t even been completely terrible, so there’s still plenty of time to go out and do summery things if you’ve still got stuff to check off your list.  If you play your cards right, then you might even still be able to sneak in a vacation or two.  Of course that’s not always an option when you find yourself in the all-too-familiar position of having to make a living for yourself and (in most cases) some quantity of additional dependents, each of which tends to come with their own set of schedule conflicts, but that never seems to stop people from almost unconsciously wandering over to one travel site or another and trying to figure out what they can manage to sneak in.

In fact, if you can manage to sneak in a late Summer trip, it’s a great time to sneak away for a vacation.  Most of the kids tend to be back in school by then, and a lot of the grown-ups seem to be back into the old grind as well, and yet the weather is still (for the most part) fairly nice in September, and you generally miss most of the crowds you’d have to wade through in the Summer at many popular vacation spots.  I suppose if I was married with a family I’d probably have to get used to wading through crowds anyway (in more ways than one) but for now, I’ll take the relative peace and quiet (sort of) where I can get it.  As I’ve discussed previously, I actually have two separate trips planned for September, both of which should be interesting in completely different ways.  One will be getting away from pretty much nothing at all, and the other will be getting away from pretty much everything (for a while at least.)  You’ll see more on these later.

In the meantime, even though I’ve known all Summer that a lot of the fun stuff wouldn’t be happening until late August and September, I still can’t quite seem to shake the feeling that I’ve been wasting my Summer, and that I’m running out of it in a hurry.  I think part of the problem is that there’s just so much stuff that you’re supposed to do in the Summer that there’s just never enough time to get it all in, so you do what you can, but it never feels like it’s enough.  I suppose it never hurts to try though, right?

August 8, 2011

The Fine Art of Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road: A Visit to Grand Turk

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:18 am

(Note:  I’ve been meaning to add a couple more posts to finish off the cruise back in March, but I kind of lost track of the whole thing for a while until someone on the Cruise Critic message board requested that I finish it, so since I spent the time to write this, I figure I might as well post it (in some form at least) here as well.  There will most likely also be one more post from the cruise coming soon covering the final day spent in the Everglades and Miami Beach after disembarking from the ship.)

The final stop the Ruby Princess makes on its Eastern Caribbean itinerary is a relatively short visit to the island of Grand Turk, a relatively small island that serves as the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands.  Grand Turk, although one of the smaller islands in the archipelago, is the political capitol of the Turks and Caicos Islands, with a population of approximately 5,500 people on an island of roughly 7 square miles.  It is believed by some to be a potential site for Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the new world in 1492, and is also near where the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule landed after making America’s first orbital space flight on February 20, 1962.  Over the past few years, the island has become a cruise ship destination by way of the Grand Turk Cruise Center, a complex developed by Carnival Corporation at the southern end of the island providing a developed beach area, shopping and other tourist attractions.  Outside of this cruise center, much of Grand Turk remains a quiet place, especially compared to St. Maarten and St. Thomas, the two islands the Ruby Princess had visited on the previous two days.  After the jump you’ll find a look at an afternoon spent wandering around the Island of Grand Turk.


August 5, 2011

It’s the Most Artsiest Time of the Year: A Look at the 2011 Bellevue Art Fair Weekend

Filed under: Art, Bellevue — Brian Lutz @ 1:31 am

As a general rule, I tend to be skeptical of most things that get passed off as art these days, and the one recent visit that I made a few months ago to the Bellevue Art Museum didn’t do all that much to change my opinion.  As I’ve always understood it, the purpose of art is to make things that look nice, and maybe make you think about something a bit in the process.  Based on my experiences with a fair bit of what passes for modern art these days, it seems that a lot of so-called artists don’t care whether or not you think their stuff looks nice; just that you’re aware of how much more worldly and clever they are than cultural Philistines such as yourself.  Oh, and the only reason they’ve been working at Starbucks for the past three years is because people somehow refuse to acknowledge this irrefutable fact.  At the same time, there are also quite a few artists out there who do actually create interesting pieces that would look right at home in the average American living room (assuming you can handle the inevitably steep price tag attached to them) without trying to bludgeon you over the head with assorted pretentiousness.  Thankfully, most of the artists who come to Bellevue for the annual Art Fair weekend fall into the latter category, resulting in a weekend that provides all sorts of nice artwork to see (if not necessarily afford) throughout Downtown Bellevue. 

Over the years, the Art Fair weekend has become one of the largest annual events in Downtown Bellevue, attracting hundreds of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors over the course of the three days.  Rather than being one large art fair, there are actually three separate art fairs in Downtown Bellevue that run simultaneously;  The oldest and largest of the three is the Bellevue Arts Museum ArtsFair, which has been running since 1947, actually predates the establishment of the Bellevue Art Museum by nearly thirty years.  This one takes place at Bellevue Square, occupying most of the first floor of the giant parking garage behind the mall, and spilling out into the street, and also includes entertainment on the stage inside the mall, as well as other events at the museum itself.

Next door to Bellevue Square in the parking lots of several nearby businesses, the Bellevue Festival of the Arts takes place simultaneously with the ArtsFair.  This particular fair, put on by the Craft Cooperative of the Northwest,  attracts an additional 180 artists, with the requisite food and entertainment offerings.  Incidentally, that big cube sculpture you see back there?  It had a price tag of  well over $80,000 on it.  I’m not sure whether or not that includes the semi truck you’d need to haul it around with.  To be honest, I didn’t find a whole lot here that I found particularly interesting, but you mileage, of course , may vary on that one.  And probably will.

And finally, out on the 6th Street pedestrian corridor that runs through the middle of Downtown from Bellevue Square out to the Transit Center and along 106th Avenue, there’s the 6th Street Fair, put on by the Bellevue Downtown Association.  This is the smallest of the three fairs with only about 100 artists in attendance, but I actually found that this one seemed to have some of the most interesting stuff being offered.  There’s a bit of a different character to this one than you’ll find at the other two, with less emphasis on fine art type pieces, and more of the types of things you might use as household items rather than sticking them up on a wall and looking at them every so often.  It was from one of the vendors at this fair that I purchased a rather nice looking glass seashell to go on the knickknack shelf I have established in my front hallway.

One of the annual traditions at the ArtsFair is the chalk drawing on the sidewalk in front of the Art Museum.  As I’ve noted previously on this Blog, last year’s drawing of Botticelli’s Venus lasted a while lot longed than one would ever expect a chalk drawing to last, and in fact even as this year’s drawing (a rendition of Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe)  was actually drawn on top of the remnants of last year’s two chalk drawings. 

Walking through the parking garage where most of the ArtsFair takes place, you can find all sorts of different artworks in various mediums ranging from the standard paintings, photos and pottery to more unusual things like kinetic sculpture.  Jewelery and clothing in particular seemed to be well represented.  Since many artists requested that no photos be taken, I didn’t take pictures of any of the individual booths or artworks, but there were definitely lots of interesting things to see.  Virtually everything being displayed here was for sale, although with the price tags on some of these things, one would generally be more likely to walk away with sticker shock than anything.  Even so, there are still some reasonably affordable pieces to be found if you know where to look. 

Among the various artwork being offered, I also noted that there seemed to be quite a lot of landscape paintings and photos, most of which seemed to be mountain and forest themed.  And although many of these were quite nice (if a bit uncheap,)  I just didn’t see a whole lot of stuff that really interested me much.  In my apartment, I have a bit of a tropical island theme going with the artwork on the walls here, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think there were more than two or three pieces at any of the art fairs that would match this theme at all.  I’m aware that art fairs in the Pacific Northwest are going to attract mostly artists who work in the local area (although you’d be surprised how far some people come for this, I bought some nice wooden kitchen utensils from someone who came all the way from Pennsylvania to attend,) but I get the impression that someone could bring some nice tropical landscape paintings or photos to one of these fairs, and could probably make a killing off people looking for a nice little change of scenery.  I might even be convinced to spring for one of those (well, a print anyway, not quite sure I’ve got the budget for an original at this point…)

Even as a longstanding skeptic of much of what passes for art in this day and age, I have actually found that the vast majority of what was being offered at the three Bellevue Art Fairs was actually quite nice, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that I don’t need to bother trying to find a parking spot in the mess that inevitably results from trying to cram an extra 300,000 people into Downtown Bellevue on a sunny Summer weekend.  I’ll probably go back to being an art skeptic for the next 11 months or so, but it’s nice to know that at least once a year, there will be something nice to look at around here, right?


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