Thursday, July 22, 2010


Overnight, I have become a connoisseur of marine vessels. The living room has three large windows which look out over Puget Sound and the shipping lane to Tacoma harbor. The hot-tub faces the same way. Ferries criss-cross between the mainland and the island and many small fishing boats spend hours moving slightly here and there in morning and evening.

Its hard not to be curious when you see the size of the container ships passing. They are massive hulks - nothing like the slim, low to the water profile of ships when I last had time to gaze at them. When did container ships grow so large?

Cultivating my obsession, I have found a host of websites set up to follow vessels and learn about them. They include the shipspotters (, who post photographs of ships they see, the ports themselves (eg. Port of Tacoma) who post vessel schedules and my favorite find, which offers a global network tracking vessels via GPS in real time.

Now, when I see a large ship approaching in the distance, I use to navigate to my region (on google maps) and can see all the large vessels in the vicinity. For example, I saw a huge hulking container ship approaching, still shrouded by morning mist. On marinetraffic, I saw the ship and clicked on it. There, I could see where it had come from, its destination, a photograph, its name, its registration number, some cargo information and then watch it come into view. Once it passed, I could track it into harbor.

The really cool thing comes when you want to follow your ship. For instance, we saw two huge car transport ships called the Trianon and the Glorious Leader. If you go to the website you can see where they are now [Trianon is in Longview and the Glorious Leader is en route to Yokohama].

I have never been particularly interested in geography but seeing all the ships moving around the world (the English Channel is insane. I wouldn't sleep if I was sailing there) make geography seem more fluid, about the world rather than those pesky puzzle pieces of political borders. Oceans flow together - sure, they have invisible lines and territories in them - but they allow you to look at the shape of the world in a different way.

Another neat feature is that you can look at a particular port and see all the ships in and around it. As a child I lived in Durban, South Africa. Durban has a large port and it featured in our lives: I sailed my little dinghy in the harbor head, we ate fish and chips nearby, gathered bullet casings from the gun that fired off the start of the yacht races, saw the whaling station in the days when whales were killed and processed at the bluff, saw the QE2 come in and wandered around taking photographs at the docks.

It was common to look out to sea and find a line of ships anchored off the coast, waiting to come into harbor. I remember one year when there were 70 (I seem to remember this?) ships waiting because the Suez Canal was closed from 1967 (when I was an infant) until 1975. Water taxis would ferry the sailors to shore so they didn't have to wait so long at sea. I looked up Durban on the website and it seems to be a busy port - nothing like the Mediterranean or English Channel but many more ships than Tacoma.

Here are my recent ship sightings (I don't like because they deleted the ship photo I uploaded because it was Of Poor Quality). Dorks.

Wallenius Wilhemsen Trianon

Glorious Leader
Hanjin New Orleans

I've started to wonder about the life of merchant seamen. What is it like being on one of those small ship-icons on the big google map? I want to spy on them further and am looking for more sources. Do seamen on large cargo ships keep blogs?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Morning walk at low tide

Wren and I woke before 7am this morning. It was probably my fault. I can't sleep in bright light and the bedroom upstairs has no curtains so I wake with the dawn a bit after 5am. I managed to doze until 6am and then went downstairs to tussle with the coffee maker.

I really don't do coffee machines.

First, it started beeping at me in a strident way. I had put the water in the jug not the Receptacle - I was hoping it had a pump and would suck the water into the top part. Of course not. Blech.

I moved it to the receptacle.

Then it didn't go and didn't go. It was on some kind of automated timer cycle. I pressed BREW NOW. It started showing a cryptic LED display that looked like a sun rising and settling so I left it a while. I returned and removed the jug to check it but it was empty and it BEEPED AGAIN. Argh. Apparently it was waiting to be told the BREW STRENGTH I required.

There should be a button marked "don't care, maximum quick."

Morning ferry in the mist. I am witness to the fact they go ALL NIGHT

That time around I found the "MUTE" button but Wren had already "woked up" so we decided to go for a walk on the beach which was at the lowest tide for the day.

Low tide

Mid tide (it gets a lot higher)

Wren finds the tidal movements puzzling. When he comes down in the morning he rushes to the window and comments on the sea. Here are some of his observations:

"It is a tsunami. That is what it is." [high tide with ferry wake]

"It is normal again. NOR-MAL." [medium tide]

"It is all NEW! It is monster rocks. Those are monsters but they are sleeping . Be careful bird, you are near the monsters." [low tide with seagulls]

He agreed to come walking with me if we avoided the monster rocks. We did for a while but then I showed him that almost every monster rock had a starfish hiding under it and so we stared to explore. Here, Wren points out two sunstars hiding together under a large weedy rock.

There be sea stars

Another source of amusement were the geoduct and clam siphons. They appear as dimples in the sand at low tide but sometimes can be seen sticking right out. If you touch them, poke them or scoop the sand around a dimple, they can be made to squirt a lot of water as they retract. Once a showed Wren how to spot them he could not be stopped.

A siphon waiting to be touched


Here is Wren on our rocky beach. We collected some treasures from the beach, including crab carapaces, clam shells, a dead chiton with some meat still on (Wren suggested we put it in the hot tub) a broken old fashioned coke bottle and some interesting pebbles.

Wren took this picture of me

We walked all the way to Dolphin Point. This is a walk-in community which was the home of Betty Mc Donald (who wrote Miss Piggle Wiggle and The Egg and I). Because it was low tide it was easy to walk along the sandy and rocky shore but it could be tricky or impassable once the water comes in. Dolphin point is very pretty and quixotically Vashon shoreline. Perhaps if Mum comes with us on her visit we can walk all the way to the next access beach at low tide.

The view south from Dolphin Point this morning

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Those three pigs

I was reading The Three Little Pigs to Wren at bedtime. Mama pig sends the three little pigs out into the world to seek their fortune. It was the version in the pigs get eaten by the wolf rather than running for refuge to their brother's house. In the final 'scene' the brick-building pig sets a trap for the wolf who falls into a pot of boiling water and "the little pig ate him for dinner".

Wren found the story confusing.

Wren: Why does the Mama pig make them go away?
Me: Because they are grown up.
Wren: Don't send me away.
Me: No, if you are grown up I will give you some bricks.
Wren: No, you must build me a house...
Me: Well, we can build a house together.

Then I started thinking that even when kids are adults, I can't think of many people who send them on their way and say "seek your fortune". Perhaps that is going out of style. Anyway, Wren is not old enough and needed reassurance.

When we came to the part of the wolf being 'eaten' Wren worried about eating the wolf's fur.

Wren: It would be hairy.
Me: Yes, it would.
Wren: The wolf ate the other pigs?
Me: Yes... weird huh? Its like the little pig ate his brothers in the wolf.
Wren: The pigs didn't come out?

We had just read the story of Little Red Riding Hood in which the granny comes out of the wolf when the woodcutter cuts his head off (Wren said that was "Gross, don't show it to me"). It is odd. Perhaps the pigs had already been digested while Granny had been recently eaten.

All in all, it was a disturbing bedtime and I have told Wren that we can get a new book for tomorrow night.

More Joy of Vashon

I am going to be very dull for the next few days. I am just so startlingly happy at this beautiful house we are staying in that I am just going to post and rhapse lyrical about the place while Wren is sitting in the hot tub:

he has been there for ages, and yes, I have the temperature down to 99 so I am not concerned for his health. Plus, he stands up all the time. He is playing a game with the non-functional knobs. Sometimes the hot-tub is a space ship that he is driving. "Operation, clear" he says. Other times he presses them and says "WOOKY, WOOKY, WOOKY" which means "the big robot." He loves to make the maximum number of jets and bubbles turn on which generates some foam. That is called "volcano erupting" and we have to hold on in that phase.

Last night we all lazed around in it. I was the one who got out first - the kids version of hot-tubbing is too active and creative for me. I require rest, peace, relaxation and a book. Joshua is threatening to take the ipad into the hot-tub and watch a movie.

The house is quite remote from the road although the waterfront is developed and we have a number of neighbors. To reach the house we have to make a rather precipitous decent which is not easy with luggage and food.

Front door of the house
Trail from the back door

View down the trail from the road.

We now need to take a break from this transmission and head inside for lunch.

Monday, July 19, 2010

To Vashon, to Vashon

We're staying on Vashon this week while Frost attends camp here. I booked a house place online and it has turned out to be the most gorgeous waterfront cottage imaginable. Its right on the water - we can walk down some steps to the water which is now high and within yards of our living room window.

Its cosy and quaint, not the usual sterile ikea stuff you often get in rentals, and there is a hot-tub, past a sprawling pink blossomed rose-bush and our 'own' beach at low tide.

We have been taking some joy in ship spotting - watching the huge container ships as they pass on their way to Tacoma harbor. They are close enough to read their names and we have learned that one particularly vast white one [picture tomorrow, if Josh brings my USB camera cable] called the Cronus Leader, was carrying cars.

The view from our numerous windows is like a postcard, or rather, a series of postcards since you would need a super wide angle lens to capture any sense of the 180 degree vista in mauves, pinks and blushes of blue.

Frost brought his metal detector which was a birthday present, and we tried metal detecting on the beach. We found some pieces of metal, some brackets and some rocks that seemed to register. However, in the garden at home Frost found a 1943 nickel which is listed as being one quarter silver. Frost is quite excited and we hope to try some more sites this week.

It is also fun to scan Wren and find the metal staples in his chest from his last OHS. He suggested we scan Joshua and was gratified that Joshua's hip beeped (because of his keys).

Wren is very excited about digging holes when the detector beeps. However, he tends to fling the sand around a lot rather than digging strategically so Frost and I hover anxiously trying to see what 'we' have found. I also bought Wren a small kids metal detector which has located some large lumps of metal (a sinker, a bracket) but does not have the sensitivity of Frosts.

If anyone is interested, I read many reviews before choosing this detector: Tesuro Campadre. It is very light, has a fully adjustable handle (making a nice short pole for kids), is relatively cheap (compared to the better ones which are all $250+) and has a good level of accuracy. Frost is very happy with it so far and says "I have already had fun with it."

Frost says "the ferries look awesome at night." He is on the sixth book in The Last Apprentice Series and has been very quiet this evening.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The barefoot issue

Growing up in South Africa I was often barefoot. The story of Shaka Zulu making his warriors run barefoot over thorns to toughen their feet led to a cultural bravado about barefootedness -
"their feet were hardened, by frequent runs over the hot stony ground and by stamping thorns into the ground so that scar tissue would form."

Perhaps not over thorns, but I could run all the way across the burning sand at North Beach from the waterline to my towel. If it got too hot I could dig a hole and stand in that a while!

In Australia, my ex-husband's BFF was a bare foot zealot. He taught akido and believed that we should not wear shoes and so he did not. When his baby-Mama won a prestigious art fellowship to travel to France for a year, he finally had shoes for emergencies (like snow and major gallery receptions) but tried his best to stand by the ethic.

Coming to America, I found that bare feet are considered bad form. Many stores have signs prohibiting service to barefooted people and on more than one occasion when I have had a young child, barefoot, in the heat of summer I have been told that they just can't have a child barefoot in the store for their own safety because we can't guarentee their safety and there could be glass or something on the floor!

Apparently, America is vulnerable to an attack from the floor. Perhaps a shard of glass here or there will bring capitalism to its knees, really.

Regardless, Frost hates shoes. Really. He has about 4 pairs of shoes that are not for soccer (Blundstones, flip flops, some parkour shoes and a rather posh pair of Sperry topsider sandals.) Unless I nag, he does not wear any of them. IF I nag, he wears flip-flops and kicks them off as soon as we are in the car/library/out of the store.

Last week, taking Frost to the radiologist to have his "end of braces x-ray" I did not nag. We arrived at the medical tower to find he had no shoes. He knows enough about public opinion to feel awkward.

Here he is entering the elevator without shoes. In Washington State, this is a radical act.

And here he is hiding his bare feet in the waiting room.

I explained to the radiographer that 'we' had forgotten them, and she said it was alright because "we have carpet and nothing sharp on the floor."

ARGH! Enough with the sharp stuff already! Don't they know about Shaka?

When we returned to the car, Frost FOUND his shoes under the seat. He had taken them off in the car and forgotten. The drama was over. I wait to see whether there was a lesson in it. Nothing natural happened as a consequence, so I doubt it. But we shall see whether the fear of consequences broke through his shoe apathy.