Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 3, Part 1

Officially passing the halfway mark of this long saga–imagine if I wrote so much for a three-week trip! Better yet, don’t imagine it. . .

Stepped out of the hotel and walked over to the big street just in time to see the bus flash past! Oh wait, wrong bus. Phew!
The rain finally fell silently on the beautiful city, truly an emerald city, but no one except some of the tourists minded. It was not a torrential downpour, nor a quick tropical shower. It was like an ever-present sense of wetness, more than mist, but no barrier to a fine walk. As a matter of fact, I’d found that, with the proper company, it was preferable to sunshine.
Being alone, of course, doesn’t help.
And it didn’t last–by the time the bus left me off at the top of the hill, the sun was out again. The weather had a big hand in the rest of the day, but not as expected.
Having planned on places to be today, but no set times, I figured I’d check out a neighborhood I’d never been to, Capitol Hill, and see what the views were like from there. It turned out to be another interesting great neighborhood with too many hills, like Queen Anne, again reminding me of Los Feliz, with all the little new-agey yoga bungalows and coffeeshops. I had no idea this was the gay part of town; there was no outward evidence. I also wanted to see the museum of mysteries, UFOs, and such, figuring it had to be better than the sanitized one in Seattle Center that charges two arms and half a leg, but it didn’t open till the afternoon, and I’m not a patient tourist, so I left the big avenue and turned west, noticing with a cackle that this street was called Republican.
I certainly did not expect to be sitting in a shoe repair shop with a guy named Angel, talking about every subject on Earth while giving snacks to every dog that walked by, on a leash or not. I’ve always noticed that it’s the recent immigrants that want to talk politics the most, and that was no different this time, though I don’t think Angel was that recent. As I was gawking over how many different shoe polishes he had in the store, I asked him what he would recommend for my boots, and after a quick glance he deadpanned, “Shoe polish.” Ha ha, up yours too. But he was fun enough to leave a positive impression for this journal.
With the museum still closed and social and footgear needs attended to, I eventually moved back down the road, already sweating with a combination of the sun and me dressed for rain, still heading downslope on Republican, seeing all the tiny roundabouts with trees on even the small streets; I guess that’s one way to keep the speeds down, and much prettier than sleeping policemen {what they call speedbumps in Spain}. Passed the only theater in Seattle showing Bride and Prejudice, which I never did see. Went into the Broadway market, found nothing I really needed, and walked behind it, where I came to a library. Figuring I would rest up a bit while doing some random researching, I came across some mentions of Tashkent Park, which was a block away, so I went there to rest up a little longer and think of that city, which I hadn’t been to in a long time but was pretty sure I’d be going through on my big trip either later in the year or next year.
After moving north another block, turned west on Roy–hoping it wasn’t pronounced Waugh like some Canadian version of Sade–I came across Kerry Hall–there’s that man again!–which appears to be the last remnants of the old campus of the Cornish College of the Arts. At the time it wasn’t worth much of a thought—I’m surprised I even wrote it down—but I was to remember it the next day when I went to an art museum and saw a fantastic exhibit by one of their alumni. Plus I later remembered it as a setting in a mystery novel. . .
Onward. I headed northwest on Belmont, which was a steep downhill with lotsa nice country-type houses, the kind you occasionally see in Pasadena and such. As a matter of fact, the whole walk along here, with the ivy-covered walls and little statues on the fences, reminded me of the street from Gamble House to the Rose Bowl.
Eventually I arrived at Lakeview Blvd., which when you go southwest becomes a very thin overpass, very high above Interstate 5–did I mention I was afraid of heights? The sidewalk was maybe four feet wide, with cars whizzing by even though it’s a long curve–and very elevated, don’t forget–and the barrier was less than waist high with a tube-like handling area on top. Scaaaary. But even with all that I paused to get some photos, for right across Lake Union was the Space Needle and a particularly excellent view of the monstrosity known as the Music Experience Museum. From here you could tell exactly how ugly it is, looking absolutely nothing like a broken guitar. It was so ugly I had to photograph it, ya know?
Finally got across to firmer ground, this time Eastlake Avenue, which I know well as the route to the University, the bus always going slow enough in one stretch for you to see the massive REI flagship store. But instead of continuing my walk north along this street I cut through the parking lot of the Cancer Cure Center and got on Fairview–not to be confused with the Fairview a few blocks from where I live in Pasadena. I crossed this street as well to get to the lakewalk {since it wasn’t a river, I didn’t know what else to call it. . . okay, we’ll go with waterfront}. There’s a little park and then a floating wood walk past the small marinas, until. . .
Due to the early morning rain, I had planned to go to the softball game first–if it wasn’t called off due to the weather–and then do other touristy things I had in mind, but since I had a lot of time before I had to get to U Dub, and I was right here, accidentally, where I needed to be. . . float plane!
Come back next week for plenty of photos from even higher than the Space Needle or Smith Tower!

;o)

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Poetry Tuesday: Aster

From the one and only Plato; there’s nothing platonic about this!

You were the morning star among the living;
But now in death your evening lights the dead.

;o)

Why Concerts Are Still Worthwhile

My favorite Rush song is Bravado.
But it wasn’t when I first heard it. Sometimes you return to a song years later and it gives you a completely different feeling. But in this case I knew exactly what made me love it after dismissing it so many years ago: the live version, specifically the Rush in Rio DVD.
Perhaps the crowd played a part in it, but there’s quite a difference in musicality. Geddy sings with much more emotion. Alex’s solo seems sparse, more honest, beautiful individual licks that build into a gorgeous resolve. And his outro is Mark Kopfler-esque in its heartbreaking passion.
Taken altogether, the studio version feels sterile and emotionless in comparison, which is a bit hilarious when I realize how much I love the Gregorian chant version.
In a completely different example, Take Flight is my favorite Lindsey Stirling song, just for the music alone but also because it’s easily the most visually exciting track on the Live in London DVD. Even the music video is superb. When I saw the new live version of this song on YouTube, it didn’t look quite as stunning, but it made a difference because I knew I’d be seeing it live in a few months. And indeed, when the show finally got to the Greek Theater and I was in the second row, it was so much more inspirational, special, whatever adjective you’d like to choose.
I will admit I went quite a few years in my late twenties and early thirties without seeing many live shows, until Raining Jane caught my attention about fifteen years ago. From then I’ve been to hundreds of shows in Los Angeles, in places like Hotel Café, Molly Malone’s, Coffee Gallery, and quite a few that no longer exist. Other than an occasional headache when the mix was too loud, I’ve never regretted it. And can you think of a better way to meet your favorite musicians, especially without it seeming stalkerish? Just about every CD I’ve bought in the past 10 years is autographed, and some of those favorite musicians are now friends I have lunch with all the time. Heck, their kids know me!
So this is for all the musicians who think it’s no longer worthwhile to play out, but also to the fans, who should demand their favorite artists show up!

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 2, Part 2

Done with wandering, thinking up a plan, I found myself near the University Street entrance to the bus tunnel, where I came across a board of flashing lights eerily similar to the one in Union Station that was shut down because it caused an epileptic seizure {and has since been started again, huh}. A short trip, only a few stops, took me to Smith Tower, which to my surprise I realized I’d never been to.
Can’t believe more people don’t know about this! Most travelers to Seattle go up to the Space Needle to check the view, and never realize the city has an older, more original observation deck. Smith Tower is an almost-century-old and amazingly beautiful skyscraper which when built had been amongst the tallest in the US, if not the world. Now it’s dwarfed by its downtown neighbors to the north, but out here by Pioneer Square it sits alone and majestic, with only the Piazza San Marco Campanile facsimile at the train station keeping it company amongst the clouds.

All by its lonely on the right


Despite being afraid of heights, I couldn’t resist going up for some shots. It’s a completely different feeling than the Space Noodle (Yes, I changed that, I’m funny that way). For one thing, the design of the elevators–each car has a driver!–lets you see the people in the hallways as you zoom past them, which is fun in a voyeuristic kinda way. I was the only person in the elevator, apart from the operator, of course, who started the history lesson, and he didn’t sound bored doing it, either. He told me these elevators were the last manually operated ones on the West Coast, which is kinda fun to know. Some of us are so lazy we can’t be bothered to push a button.
Since a tourist has no need going to any of the business offices, the elevator zooms right up to the thirty-fifth floor, where you come out in a relatively small but very fancy room with a tiny gift shop and plenty of exhibits, but more importantly a wrap-around view of Seattle in its entirely. Suddenly you feel like you’re smack in the middle of Seattle’s skyline, even though you’re actually on one end of it. But that’s okay, because even if you’re not into looking at all the other sky-highs, you can see between them right to the Space Needle, the closest view you’ll get to its disk without being in a plane or chopper. To the east you get a fantastic view of Mount Rainier, while to the west is the Olympic Peninsula and its mountains, islands, and Puget Sound, not to mention the waterfront and the ferry terminal at your feet. And to the south, right below you, is Pioneer Square; if you see a long line of walkers, that’s probably the Underground Tour heading for the stairs. A little further up is the train station and aforementioned Campanile, and if you’re really into cheap seats you could probably watch the football game at Qwest from here. Safeco Field is right there too, but its architecture doesn’t allow for a good look at the playing area, oh well.
Above the windows is a running poster that goes all the way around and identifies all the prominent landmarks. Having been to Seattle many times, I still had never seen what looks to be a red fortress off to the southeast, maybe around the airport. I asked the guy on duty what the hell it was, and he chuckled like he got it all the time, which he no doubt did, and explained that it used to be the Pacific Medical Center–imagine Grey’s Anatomy set there–until it was bought by. . . Amazon!
And then you notice the door that lets you go outside onto a narrow walkway around the tower, and despite the fact the wire mesh cages you in and keeps you from walking on air, it is small consolation to the animal brain that screams, “If Nature had wanted humans to fly, she would have given us tickets!” Still, it’s a lot better taking photos from here than from inside, if you can stand it. I barely could.


Finally back inside, I wandered the exhibits, which if you see them will explain why it’s called the Chinese Room in there. The plaque and/or the guide will tell you the dark carved furniture were gifts to Mr. Smith–who made him money in guns and bullets. . . making them, not committing robberies–from the Empress of China. The very biggest deal of these furnishings is the wishing chair, which has carvings of a dragon and phoenix, which when combined is supposed to signify marriage in the Chinese mythological lexicon. So someone came up with the idea/legend that any woman who wants to get married will do so within a year of sitting in the chair, and uses Mr. Smith’s daughter as an example that the good luck works. Well, I sat in it and I’m still floundering in the sea of love, so if it indeed works, don’t bother, guys. It’s strictly for the estrogen-powered.
Damned sexist chair. . .
After that, wasted some time in the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Ever since the demise of Killing Time–what a fantastic name for a mystery bookstore!–in the University District, this is Seattle’s best mystery bookstore. Seattle seems to have a disproportionate amount of mystery novels written about it. I mean, how often do you read a book set in Atlanta, or Houston, or even Chicago? {That was rhetorical, no need to list them!} Emerson, Jance, Peirson, and even a few good one-offs.
Close by was a sporting goods store, whose name I can never remember but I visit every time in town, the only place I buy Seahawks gear; I remember one time talking to a large black lady about Brian Bosworth, or Not Worth, as I called him, in the checkout line, but why dredge up bad memories? This time they were selling UCLA stuff! Which reminded me of the time at the U bookstore with that checkout gal, where I asked her if I was safe wearing UCLA gear around town. She said as long as it wasn’t Wazzou. . . or Oregon, which led me to ask the store guy, who told me this story: In 1948, Oregon and Cal tied for the Pacific Coast Conference football championship. When the member schools held a vote to determine which school would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl, Washington voted for Cal and encouraged Montana to do the same, keeping Oregon at home and kicking off the loathing. Considering Washington was successful for decades and Oregon was a perennial loser till recent years, I think the hatred must have been pretty one-sided on the ducky side, but I guess if someone hates you, you tend to hate them back.
Couldn’t find a shoe buffer! My poor boots. . .
Had bought my ticket for the underground tour earlier, but had to wait a few hours till my appointed time, hence the trip to the bookstore and sporting goods and stuff. Got an ice cream at the pizza-by-the-slice place, ate it while watching the tourists and trying to guess their hometowns and countries as they passed by, and finally went inside and had a soft drink while waiting some more, though I knew how it filled up and left some standing, which is why I went in early as I could. Sitting next to me was a hung-over-looking chick–it was three in the afternoon–who begged me to tell her a joke involving sperm; trust me, I could not make this shit up. Luckily I knew one, and now you will know one too. . .
Guy comes into the sperm bank wearing a mask and holding a gun. He goes right up to the nurse at the front desk and demands that she drink that sperm sample on the desk. She refuses, and he pulls the gun up threateningly. . .
So she drinks it.
The guy takes off the mask; it’s her husband, who says, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Which sets the tone rather nicely for the underground tour, don’t ya think? You would if you’ve ever been on it and remember their corny, though cute, commentary.
Hint: if you’re from California, do NOT raise your hand when the MC asks, “Is there anyone here from California?” We get more flak than even Texans! He also said that some people got married down there! But because of the generally dingy condition, you shouldn’t wear a big frilly white dress, let alone heels. At that point there was a cry of dismay from the back; she never stood up, but considering the woman who squealed had painted blonde hair and tons of makeup, I’m guessing she wasn’t looking as forward to the tour as she had been a minute before.
You can’t spend any time in Seattle without soon enough hearing the story about how the town burnt down in the late 1880s, then was rebuilt on top of the ruins. Or, as the introducer to the tour says, “The ruins of Seattle are not as old or famous as those of Pompeii, but they’re the only ones we have. A further advantage is that they are right here in town and not across the ocean someplace. The Pompeiians couldn’t have buried their city without a considerable contribution from Mt. Vesuvius. Seattle’s was a do-it-yourself project. . . though Mt. Reiner is close at hand in case we failed to do it correctly the first time.”
As you might expect, large portions of the underground were still inhabitable, and used for all the stuff you couldn’t do legally aboveground, but even that eventually petered out and the whole level was forgotten, until Bill Speidel found it and thought it would be fun to give tours, which are so famous and popular now you need to buy a ticket a few hours in advance to reserve your spot.
Eventually we were introduced to our guide, who turned out to be a funny redhead with incredible blue eyes, dressed in overalls, such a fantastic contrast to the squealing woman just mentioned. She led us outside and around the corner, where our first stop was a triangular parking garage. As we stood there, annoying pedestrians, she explained the history of the area, how it had been slated to be torn down, how it was saved, and how things stood at present. Then she pointed out a fake owl on the upper floors of some of the surrounding buildings, apparently placed there to keep pigeons away, but according to all the white stains wasn’t working so well.
With that part done, she led us across the street to a nondescript door between buildings, where everyone filed down some wooden staircases that reminded me of the line at Disneyland for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Finally we were all gathered in what might have been the lobby of a small hotel over a hundred years ago, with a bar/counter and other remains all around. It was about twenty degrees cooler down there as she continued the lecture, peppering it with plenty of corny jokes—think Jungle Cruise at Disneyland—and stories about the founder of the tour, as well as the politicians of the time. My favorite: “He’d steal tobacco from your mouth if you yawned.”
From there we traveled through tunnels that looked like mine shafts, stopping at various places to gawk at the history left behind and hear more stories. I know I’m not making it sound very interesting, but it truly is, as well as a lot of fun, though maybe a bit tiring if you’re not used to all the strolling and standing.
There was one part that really stood out in my mind: if you walk on the sidewalks topside, you might notice there’s some bubbles of colored glass here and there; she pointed them out before we went downstairs. Well, now we were looking at them in the opposite direction, and she told everyone to yell when they saw someone walk by. So it was really hilarious when one guy did indeed stop and look around to see who was yelling at him.
The end of the tour comes out back in their building, at the gift shop of course. There are plenty of interesting books on the history of Seattle, as well as a few hilarious tomes written by the man Mr. Speigel himself; be sure to use the code word for the discount. And of course you can get key chains and postcards and such, and, believe it or not, Gummy cats. Not as good as Gummy Babes, but interesting enough.
And in case you get to the end of the tour and the guide hasn’t mentioned it, ask about the problem of elevation and the backflow from the toilets in the early days, which leads to a particularly bawdy joke dealing with the “frenemy” relationship between Seattle and its neighbor Tacoma. . .
It was interesting for me to realize–well after the fact–that I had a headache before and after the tour, but not during. . .
Now thoroughly tired, I hiked back to the bus tunnel for another short ride back to Westlake Center, delighted to realize I knew my way through the tunnels and had no trouble remembering exactly where I wanted to go. After the escalator to the Mezzanine Level, I decided that. . . THAT alcove was the one that led to the almost-hidden straight-shot elevator to the monorail platform. Of course there were signs pointing to it, but they only confirmed what I already knew, I swear.
And as the elevator doors opened, I caught a glimpse of the monorail pulling away. Well, there’d be another one in ten minutes, so I went inside the mall, remembering I hadn’t gone through my usual ritual in this place: buying gummy bears. That had to be remedied stat.
Westlake Center, despite being about four floors and airy, is really your typical overpriced mall, the only saving grace being the monorail stop, so I’m not going to bother reviewing this. I did have a chuckle as I passed a display of shades, because I had just read somewhere that people in Seattle bought more sunglasses per capita than any other city in the States, which seems ridiculous at first glance, but now I saw there might be something to it: you buy a pair on a sunny day, and the next sunny day is so far away that you forgot where you put them and have to buy another pair at lunchtime, and so on. Considering the glare off the bay, I could definitely see the necessity, though I doubt many had forgotten lately, since there’s been nothing but sun since I’d gotten here. A friend back in El Lay told me it was raining, which figured, considering how much I love rain and am hardly ever home for it.
As usual there was hardly any line to pay and walk into the waiting area or, as was the case now, right into the waiting monorail. On the trip you pass by these two hotels/condos that look like corn on the cob, except the corn’s been eaten and you’re just left with the ugly-colored cob. What made this funny was that there’s a duplicate hotel next to the Long Beach airport, as well as one pretty damned close to UCLA, and they all look like used corn. I’m sure I’ve got a photo of them somewhere. . .

Corncobs at middle-back

Once arriving, I noticed that, from the monorail platform, Seattle Center looked like the Prater–Vienna, Riesenrad, anybody?–with the little rollercoasters and rows of win-something booths and such.
Quick stop in at the business place to see if there were any new developments before tomorrow’s meeting, or if anyone was so blown away they wanted to see my photos again. Instead I got the secretary eyeing me and claiming, “You look like you slept in your clothes.”
“I napped in them, so technically it’s true.” Hey, I don’t get paid for my looks.
She went on and on about some kind of standard set in this place, which first of all I didn’t care about, since I would never be working here, and second of all, seemed incongruously out of place from someone so low on the totem pole. . . hey, I had to get a totem pole reference in while in Seattle, right? Finally I told her, “Excuse me for speaking–or dressing–my mind instead of following you off the cliff like a lemur. . . er, lemming!”
See, that trip to the zoo HAD been worth it!
More importantly, she flushed and shut up.
After another quick stop at McD’s, mostly out of fatigue than dining preference, it was back to the hotel to rest up and ice my feet, so they wouldn’t swell up and be unavailable for tonight’s fun. I really can’t tell ya what happened for the next two hours, not because I don’t want to but because I don’t remember it. I was pretty out of it.
This time bothering to have an actual sit-down meal, good but not worth writing about, I headed over to Belltown, remembering a previous visit when the whoosh of the monorail in the rain. . . no rain so far, dammit!
Anyway, I’ve been coming to Seattle enough years to see what a change has taken place in Belltown. From slums to a Patagonia store–that’s when a neighborhood knows they’ve made it. Kudos to the people who bought up the buildings before the renaissance.
Too early for the concert when I first got to the place, so I wandered around and found a FedEx, where I went in to get on the internet to catch up on e-mails and such, and to check the band’s myspace to make sure they hadn’t canceled or anything.
Okay, let’s be honest–the concert wasn’t good enough to be blogged about. On to the next day. . .

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: An Anglo-Saxon Riddle

circa 850 AD.

A meal of words
made by a moth
seemed to me
when I heard the tale
curious
and pheomenal:
That such a mite
like a thief in the night
should swallow up
the song of a poet,
the splendid discourse
and its solid setting!
But the strange robber
was none the wiser
for all of those words
and all that eating.

(Yeah, don’t ask me about “pheomenal”; that’s the way it was spelled in the book.)

;o)

Book Reviews: More kids’ books than you can shake a stick at

A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories
The Bard for kids.
Each play gets a title page, with a famous quote and a mishmash of artwork that shows some of the important points. That’s followed by a small cast of characters, and finally an illustrated text that boils the story down to its essential elements, just enough to know what’s going on.
The easiest way to describe this for Bard buffs is that it’s similar to the Lambs’ book of synopses, only for children. And it’s illustrated like a kiddie version of the Canterbury Tales.
The illustrations are more basic than the words.
The Tempest and Twelfth Night were my faves here.
Not all the plays are here, but that’s no surprise; only twelve, mostly the famous ones.
3.5/5

Ida and the Whale
Ida lives in a treehouse, always daydreaming as she takes in the landscape, wondering what’s out there in the world. A flying whale wakes her up and asks her to accompany him on a trip. Being a redhead, of course she takes him up on it. They go to many strange places, where the whale proves to be a philosophical genius.
The cover is funny, with a little redheaded girl next to a gigantic whale. . . and it’s still not to scale. Later on there’s a visual showing how much bigger the whale is than the treehouse, which is probably going too far, but other than that it’s mostly with her bigger than she should be. In honesty, I suppose it had to be done that way so that the two can communicate, but for someone who’s studied whales all his life—me—that’s a bit jarring, like a proofreader who can’t help but point out the errors (also me).
The prose was good, but the illustrations, seemingly childlike and impressionistic at the same time, are the key here. Those who love blue will enjoy this.
4/5

Muddy: The Raccoon Who Stole Dishes
Minimalist artwork tells the story of a bowtie-wearing raccoon who prefers foraging in garbage cans than in the woods, but then insists on eating off plates. I don’t know why his parents call him a picky eater—unless they mean picking through garbage—but that’s definitely not my definition.
Apparently raccoons are OCD about washing, with a strangely high prime number.
The ending did not go as I expected, and I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be a point to all this. Muddy did bad things and got away with them in the end; not only did the punishment backfire, he got to do even more of what got him in trouble in the first place!
3/5

Juan Castell and Aunt Sofia’s Giant Book of Please, Thank You, Welcome
Alternating between rhymes and prose, this little book tells of an upcoming visit by aliens and how the nephew of the person in charge of greeting them helps in preparing the world to be nice to them. In so doing he learns a little bit about each of the countries he’s assigned to.
This book is nice enough, with colorful art and usually well-written rhymes. I’m a little troubled by the ending, and I’m not sure why it needed magic, but perhaps it was done to make the kids more interested.
3.5/5

Mack’s World of Wonder. The Cutest Baby Animals
Split into two parts—farm and wild—this book features photos and some silly stick drawings of. . . yeah, you guessed it. The title does not lie!
There’s some really simple quizzes that show this is for the preschool set. Every little article starts with what the baby version of the animal is called, and how it feeds. There’s a big diversity of animals, but I was disappointed not to see a whale or dolphin. Guess they’re not cute enough.
3.5/5

My Favorite Pet: Ponies
Made for the preschoolers, this little book features large photos and some info about ponies. . . but you know that from the title, right?
There’s some incredibly simple quizzes, but then this isn’t supposed to be challenging, just informative, as is the small glossary.
3.5/5

A Day in the Life of a Raindrop
Here’s one that doesn’t actually take the title literally. Instead of some scientific info, it’s a highly stylized cartoon that. . . well, if it teaches anything, it’s strictly by accident.
The raindrop in question is strangely drawn: the body is as expected, with a slightly creepy face, legs, and arms, one of which is holding an umbrella. . . why? Is a pile of wet afraid of getting wet?
If this is for kids, why is the word “oblivious” in there? There are plenty of adults who wouldn’t know that one.
At least the rhymes are well done. Considering his bio says the author has composed hundreds of poems, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. But as a whole this seemed more like a surreal parody for easily amused teens than anything for kids.
2/5

Rattlesnake Rules
Told in rhyming stanzas, this book starts by showing off how different animals have different rules before settling into the one in the title.
Using pictographs and a bell she holds in her rattle tail, momma snake—she’s wearing a necklace though she has no shoulders—teaches the little ones all about livin’ the reptile life. There’s rules for humans too, but only one seems to be important: leave the rattlers alone!
I can just imagine a kid asking, “Mom, what does ‘Ace of Spades” mean?”
The artwork features a lot of reds, which at times makes it hard to make out the snakes. And the fact they’re always smiling—which looks more menacing than joyful—makes them look a bit creepy.
More info for the humans in back, more basic facts without rhyme, as well as myths, glossary, and so on.
3/5

Brave Thumbelina
For those who don’t know the classic story or need a recap, a lonely woman wishes for a child and gets a seed instead, which grows into a flower that gestates a tiny girl, who’s born fully dressed. After a happy time with her mom in their house, she gets kidnapped by a mother toad, which leads the little one on a long ride of adventures in the outside world. After some good times and bad times she finds herself in the perfect situation and goes to visit her mother, though the fact that Mom must have agonized about her missing daughter is curiously glossed over.
On the first page there’s a huge empty space and really tiny text. Annoying. The situation does not improve.
Little Thumbelina is drawn adorably on every page, though in somewhat of a 20s flapper style. It’s meant to be more stylish than anything else, and probably owes something to the illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s books.
4/5

Mina vs. the Monsoon
This book tells of a young Pakistani girl who is obsessed with playing soccer. Sad because the weather prevents her from going out, she tries to make the rain go away—does not sing the famous rhyme but does do a dance—with the help of her trusty, if not real, elephant. At the end she and her mom realize what every soccer-playing kid knows: it’s more fun playing in the mud.
The guide to Urdu and Hindi words would have been more welcome at the front, but at least it’s there.
Not sure what the moral is here. Seemed like a good opportunity to teach patience or acceptance of things you can’t change, but that certainly didn’t happen here.
Boisterously illustrated, with what might be too much color considering how basic the artwork is.
3/5

ANIMOSAICS: CAN YOU FIND IT?
A mosaic on the left hides a number of items listed on the right. The fact they’re the same color makes it difficult, but certainly doable even for small children.
The second page, red, has the viewer looking for a “ladybird,” even though it’s obviously a “ladybug.” Made me chuckle.
Other than that, it’s both pretty basic yet also a nice switch on the average puzzle game.
3.5/5

Around The World in Every Vehicle
I don’t know how true the title is—if I tried hard enough I could probably come up with something they missed—but other than that it’s a good tour of the world, with some famous landmarks standing out.
Nice to see the Charles Bridge in Prague, though the statues left something to be desired. The Haga Sophia looks minimalist-nice. It was an inspired choice to have them drive through Europe, then have the grandparents fly in to drive the van home while they go off to see the rest of the world on faster transportation.
I love the family name: Van Go.
On some pages an incident prompts them to look at similar vehicles around the world: buses, trams, fire engines, etc. It’s hardly ever that fitting with the story, but that’s not what this book is about.
Geographical mistake: They flew around the world twice when they should have gone to Australia between Asia and North America.
4/5

STEAM Stories: Robot Repairs (Technology)
In what looks to be a series of 5 books based on the STEAM acronym, this one features the letter T for technology, in the form of robots and their care and feeding.
The robot on the cover looks hilarious!
Great name for a teacher: Miss Eureka. I liked both her look and her personality.
Told pretty simplistically, but with enough fluff to teach kids about technology, especially tools.
Simply drawn, but the better for it. More info on the procedures of each page at the end.
4/5

STEAM Stories: The Great Go-Kart Race (Science)
The title is all you need to know about this story.
The kids face various obstacles in the race, like dead batteries and muddy puddles, but no matter how long it takes to get help from a passing tractor or think their next step through, they manage to stay in the race.
Professor Know-It-All! Perfect!
The first page shows the starting line of the race, and there’s a kart in the middle with a smiling kid. . . and right behind him is another smiling kid leaning over so she can be in the shot as well. It looks hilarious.
The last few pages feature a more detailed explanation of the science involved.
The artwork is basic, but cute nonetheless. It doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling, or rather science-telling.
3.5/5

ABC for Me: ABC What Can She Be?
Girls can be anything they want to be, from A to Z
As one would expect, this book goes through the alphabet, choosing one profession for each letter, something girls can aspire to be. I was greatly looking forward to what Q and X would be, but they were kinda letdowns, with the adjectives representing instead of the nouns.
Luckily there’s enough description and artwork to show what each job entails, otherwise it would be really hard for a parent to explain. There’s a good mix, though I know of at least one guitarist who’d be annoyed that she didn’t get in but the keyboardist did.
3.5/5

My Favorite Machine: Airplanes
Like the rest of this series, the artwork consists of photos rather than drawings, a good idea in order to explain. . . well, what the title says.
Pretty complicated ideas are dealt with very simply.
Some of the photos look more like photoshop or even clip art, but they don’t detract from the simple narrative.
3.5/5

Fall is Coming
A rabbit and a bird go on a bike ride, take a nap, and wake up to find the day has gotten cold. Rabbit learns to dress up. . . and that’s it.
As simple as children’s books are, this one is even more so, with big illustrations and minimal text. There just isn’t much of a story. There’s certainly no lesson, as any kid old enough to read this knows what to do when they’re cold.
2.5/5

Knock Knock Boo Who?
A collection of Halloween themed knock-knock jokes. Yep.
Some are really simple, yet still funny, like boo who and I scream. Others make no sense. But basically they’re at the level that’ll make your small child at least chuckle.
3/5

My Cat is Sad / Mi gato esta triste
Kid thinks his cat is sad and tries all manner of ideas to bring it out of its supposed funk. It looks more like the kid is what made the cat sad—and mad—with all his shenanigans, until at the end he finally gets it right.
This cat on the cover does not look sad at all. If anything, it looks angry, claws halfway out. Once in the book the cat appears to be sleeping, except when interrupted by another erroneous idea from its human.
Before each new idea there’s the repetition of the kid saying the cat is sad and the cat sleeping, so the book’s even shorter than it looks.
If this is supposed to teach a kid not to jump to conclusions, then I’m all for it. If it was meant as something else, I totally missed it.
3/5

My Favorite Animal: Frogs
Like all books in this series, this one features photographs and facts of the animal in question. Sometimes the words are too big for the age of the reader, but they’re probably in it for the photos anyway.
There’s some simple memory quizzes and a glossary, but again, this is about the visuals.
3/5

My Favorite Sport: Skateboarding
As always in this series, this book features big bright photos and some text. A little surprisingly, though I guess it shouldn’t be, all the photos here feature young kids on the skateboards, not all of them with protective gear even though there’s a section on that.
It’s certainly informative enough, though I’ve found that most of these books have words too big for readers of the target age. On the other hand, I think they’re more interested in the photos anyway.
3/5

Owl Love You
With plenty of rhyme and nightscapes, this book shows a momma owl’s love for her little one as she teaches about the nocturnal world they live in.
Unlike a lot of rhyming books, this one keeps a very singsongy pace, as though the authors actually know how to write poetry in its proper meter.
There’s a lot of hedgehogs, possibly because they look fun to draw. Bats, not so much. The art is done in broad strokes of watercolor, not all that big a deal but fitting with the theme.
4/5

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 2, Part 1

So here was the test: I was exhausted last night, as expected after that long climb and longer walk downhill, but the reason for all that exercise in the past couple of weeks was so I would wake up without feeling tired, and it worked! Ready to face the day!
Only to see the forecast calls for 70s. . . dammit! Rainy City my succulent rear end!
Mostly meetings in the morning, as well as that alliteration I’m so fond of. After that, it was back to the hotel to drop off all the photos and stuff, pick up the cameras, and move a few blocks east to catch another bus.
Except I can’t cross Aurora! It turned out to be a minor-league highway, and I had to go well out of my way–at least a dozen blocks–to get across it. Shit, never heard of pedestrian bridges, people? Though I did see a beautiful jogger that had me vowing to come back the next morning, maybe a replay of what happened in Salzburg with Suzette. . . {hope you weren’t anticipating that part of the story, because the next morning, and the following ones, I totally forgot. . .} Ended up in a very strangely shaped intersection with a couple of islands in the middle. . . just weird, you have to see it to believe it. Took me a while of muttering to find the bus stop, then make sure I was pointed in the right direction. But once I was in position the bus came quickly and we were off on another long jaunt. I’d noticed it before, but this brought it home really hard that Seattle is a very large city, from north to south, or vice versa, in this case. Due to the water on the west and east, there isn’t much room that way, but it had El Lay-type length from the airport to the zoo, and the zoo ain’t the furthest north you can go.
I love reading detective stories set in Seattle–which is why I know all the mystery bookstores–but I guess some are out-of-date. I believe it was Earl Emerson, though it could have been J.A. Jance, who wrote that cheap hotels with hookers offering their wares on the hoof abound along Aurora Blvd., but all I saw were condos and “retirement villas.” Well, maybe at night; every town’s gotta have a red light district, after all. We zoomed through Greenwood and got into Wallingford, another nice neighborhood similar to Queen Anne, though not quite as high-brow. It had even more of a small-town feel, almost like a small mountain town, though not as many trees as Big Bear or Whistler. Nice.
A young lady called for the bus stop one block before the zoo, and if she hadn’t, we would have gotten to the ticket booth before this huge crowd that beat us by about five steps. Luckily I happened to notice a sign–not homemade, printed up real–by the side of the booths that screamed: “Yes, there is another window open. Honest! Over here!”
I love this town.
The official name is Woodland Park Zoological Gardens, which is a bit hoighty-toity for me, but at least you can tell they’re internet-savvy, to be the first to grab that url: http://www.zoo.org/
Put simply, the elephants are the stars here. It’s very hard to find a zoo where all the animals are treated the same, as in all of them having equally great places to live. At this zoo, with its overly pretentious official name, you can tell it’s the elephants they care about the most. There’s a HUGE enclosure with a stream running through it, with elevated viewing points for the public. There’s even a full-depth swimming pool, pretty much making this a pachyderm spa! Unfortunately I didn’t see any elephants in this beautiful landscaped area, because they were all in the barn, which is also huge and looks like something you might spot in the Thai forest. The good news was you could look through the open doors and see the elephants being bathed about five feet away, close enough that the bug guy coulda stuck out his trunk to shake if he wanted to. There was one lady there to answer all the kids’ questions, while a guy took care of all the adult queries, and it was fun watching the elephant lift his foot so the big paw would be cleaned as well. According to the displays the floor was rubberized, to protect the elephants’ feet and knee joints, and the radiant heat produced so cheaply is what allowed the doors to remain open, even though this was a warm day and there was no worries about catching a pachyderm cold.
There’s a funny story on one of the plaques about how in 1921 one of the local newspapers did a fundraiser for money to buy an elephant. Kids donated over $3000 dollars, mostly in pennies, and the newspaper put up the rest. What they don’t tell you–it’s called research, people–is that the newspaper had already bought the elephant for the zoo and had to find a way to offset some of the cost while generating a bunch of publicity. That elephant lived into its fifties, but don’t ask me why it was named Wide Awake. At first they used to give rides on the non-sleepy one for ten cents, but Dumbo must’ve gotten bored and took off, though they don’t say if it happened while anyone was aboard. You figure after that they kept him locked up.
Moving on, my next stop was the Rain Forest, which is an enclosed giant cage for the birds, literally, and lets you stroll through a boardwalk full of huge ferns and such, which makes it kinda hard to see the birds unless they’re flying. Very humid, too. Did you know toucans are tiny? {I later saw them close up at Iguazu Falls, but this was my first view not on a cereal box.} The one thing I mostly remember was some crazy squawking avian doing laps near the top of the cage. He was tough to follow, going at full speed until he finally settled down or just got tired. If he hadn’t been flying perfect loops, and never crashing into the mesh, I woulda recommended a visit to the animal psych. And as I read the sign that claimed the animals were “sensitive to noise” so keep it down, a jet flew overhead.
The most fascinating part of this zoo for me was the Nocturnal House; since my favorite in the world is the Singapore Night Zoo, maybe I’m predisposed that way. Speaking of laps and animal mental health, there was one tiny porcupine pretty much behaving like the bird, doing laps around and under a hollowed log right at the front of the glassed exhibit. I couldn’t take my eyes off him; whenever he made a wrong turn, like going under the middle of the log before finishing off the lap, he would screech to a stop, turn around, go back to some imaginary starting point, and start over. I wonder if human diseases and disabilities–not the physical ones, I mean mental or psychological–can happen to animals too, because this little guy had some OCD in him! And don’t get me started on the beautiful blonde inside the enclosure feeding the bats! Yeeech! “No honey, I really don’t want to see what you do at work. . .”
Most nocturnal animals, according to the displays, have a layer of tissue behind the retinas that reflects light, therefore increasing sensitivity–and explaining why they don’t like to come out in the day, must be blinding. Though due to that, most are colorblind. . . I don’t think I’ve ever pondered the question of animals seeing colors before. Even a bull reacts to the waving of. . . whatever it is you’re waving at it, and doesn’t care if it’s red or not. There was also a display on fish who lived in a cave in Mexico and, through evolution, the species had become blind! I guess they depend on their hearing, and I don’t know about smells underwater, but there’s something weird about having to touch and taste everything to see if it’s edible. Which reminds me of the koala in some farm in Oz-land that, every time he came to a curb, he had to taste it, in case it had changed since the last time. I imagine the animal dentist had a weekly consultation.
Checking the little map I was given coming in, I saw that a bird show was starting soon, and since I was nearby and wanted a rest, I headed off over there. Unfortunately there were no stands like the show at the El Lay zoo, just bleachers, which kill my back, so I stood talking to a woman standing there waiting to be talked to, if the falcon on her arm was any indication; yes, she did have a bird in the hand, go ahead and say it. It was kinda eerie, the way its beady eyes looked at me, and seemed to sneer when I ran out of questions. I didn’t stay for the whole show, though watching the birds swooping down to grab the lure is always fun.
At the far reaches of the zoo there’s the Northern Trail, which is supposed to mimic a walk through Denali National Park, so says the signs. While I did see a bear and some bald eagles, I was pretty disappointed with this part. Sometimes the displays and habitats are too natural, ergo boring to the human tourist.

Who doesn’t love polar bears? Don’t answer that, I don’t want to know. The kids especially loved it when the big guys were given a large chunk of ice to play with, and inside it was what appeared to be an apple for the bear to work for. Of course the kids gave a rousing cheer when the bear finally got to it, and you could swear the big ol’ white guy was grinning.
There’s a huge gorilla enclosure, which the display claims is the largest of its kind in the world, but most people don’t bother checking out most of it, because it has a glass wall where you can gawk at the gorillas, and more importantly vice versa. I saw one particularly large specimen sitting on his haunches right at the left side, waiting for humans to walk by so he could study them, looking for a chance to lock eyes. I tell ya, it was spooky. . .


Some other random tidbits:
There was a big display about shade-grown coffee. I don’t drink the java, so I don’t know much about that, but apparently there’s an ecological component to the argument.
There’s a food court, but it’s pretty weak. I will tell you that the girl at one of the snack bars had very little imagination:
“What do you have in the way of ice cream?”
“Um. . . it’s bad for you?”
“Great. I have enough mothers.”
“How many?”
I almost said zero, but that was wishful thinking. Maybe she was BFFs with the one in the Space Needle.
As soon as you come in the gate and past the food area, there’s a huge grassy empty space. Don’t know if they let ya picnic there, but bring your football or Frisbee–just don’t tell ‘em I told ya.
Tree kangaroos? In Papua New Guinea. Nothing else I can say about that, but you gotta see it to believe it.
One of the kids scurrying around me was named Nickleby! I don’t even care if his father’s a Melville scholar, he deserves some lashes! {the parent, not the kid. . .}
Louisiana Pine snake! Yikes!
The King Cobra’s fancy name is Ophiophagus Hannah! When I got back to LA I told this tidbit to the Hannah I know, and to my disappointment she looked proud. I also found out later, at the Crocodile Club, that there’s a music venue called King Cobra, up on Pill Hill, which made me wonder what other booze places in town are named after animals.
I think this is the only place where I’ve seen the endangered snow leopard; I certainly didn’t see them during my trip to Kyrgyzstan.


The Malayan tapir is a huge weird thing. It may have the same coloring as a panda, but believe me, that’s where the resemblance ends. Again, you gotta see it. . .
Did you know “Orangutan” means “person of the forest?” Sounds Dutch, but apparently it’s a word in one of the myriad of Malaysian or Indonesian languages.
Sloth bear! He must be giving kudos to whoever named him. It was fun to see the cubs riding piggyback! Hmmm, I don’t think I’ve ever seen piglets ridding piggyback. . .
Nothing more natural than a little girl skipping. She had curly blonde hair, which I think accounted for her mom calling her “Noodle. . .”
After a couple of hours of almost non-stop walking–ever noticed you can get tired walking in an art museum too?–I managed to hop back on a bus quickly, and the ride was long enough for me to recuperate. Seeing no need to go back to the hotel yet, I stayed on the bus until it got to downtown and turned east. Not wanting to end up in the boonies–at least not yet–I got off accidentally at one of the places I wanted to check out, Freeway Park. Unfortunately this turned out to be just a park over the freeway and no bigger deal than that, and since I hadn’t eaten at the zoo, I salivated when I came across a huge sign for baked potatoes in a nearby business edifice. I clomped up the stairs and entered what turned out to be a thin L-shaped deli-like eating establishment, with some tables along the walls and the place where you order on the inside, and not a lot of room in the middle. I promptly sat down, only to realize I had to get in line to order. Doh!
I seemed to be the only customer at the moment, but the lunch hours had just finished and, from what I saw while I ate there, most people came in and took their food to go. Not even bothering to glance at the menu, I of course ordered the baked potato, though I ignored all the toppings in their little trays before me and asked for it “plain.”
It was interesting to watch the staff: it was owned and operated by an Asian family, with the beautiful perky girl taking the orders, mom cooking, and dad cleaning up the tables and floor. He was very friendly, smiling and saying hello to everyone who came in; the whole atmosphere of the place put me in a good mood right away.
As I said, I ordered my baked potato plain, and yet it still came with green and red stuff on it. The girl made a funny face when I brought it back, and she instantly threw the good-for-someone-else potato in the trash and called for her mom, who finally got the idea that I really only wanted sour cream and butter on my spud; maybe something was lost in the translation. Because of that–hey, I was really hungry and not in the mood to wait!–I give them a four out of five, though the large potato was excellent and the staff really friendly. Of course the place serves other food as well, plenty of different types of sandwiches and a bunch of side dishes, as well as more regular fare like bags of potato chips and such. There’s also a good variety of drinks in the glass-door fridge you see when coming in, not nearly as expensive as most places, and there’s a great view of the street from the tables up against the glass wall that held the banner, if you’re a people watcher. For the non-rainy days, there’s an outdoor patio as well.
I’ll finish by saying it’s definitely worth a visit, and I plan to go there again. After all, you can’t eat at the Metropolitan Grill every meal. . .
Refueled and ready for more touristy action, I sauntered along parts of downtown I didn’t know very well, coming across the new library and the pedestal-type building, neither of which I went into, simply shot them from a safe distance. No doubt walking inside that library is vertigo-inducing. It was tough enough trying to find an angle on the sidewalk to take a picture without going into the street–have I told you about Seattle drivers?


Passed a church that, on their marquee, said, “Jazz worship.” I know some people love jazz, but this is ridiculous! And there’s a Felonious Monk joke in there. . . {Yes, I know that’s not his name, it’s a joke in itself!} And yes, I’m sure it’s a regular worship thing set to jazz music, but I find that when I don’t care that much, I go for the funny. It’s barely Tuesday, you gotta learn to play along. . .

More next week—it was a really long day. . .

;o)