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Friday, November 30, 2012

Back in the UK

We arrived in the UK Wednesday after an overnight flight, and spent last night in a hotel at Heathrow, something I highly recommend to ease the Jet lag.
Jaq and I would like to thank all our friends and family for inviting us into their homes which made our trip such a pleasure.
The picture on the right is the sum total of goods we brought back which are only to be had in America: 10 packs of Lipton Onion Soup Mix which Jaq uses to make scrummy meat loaf and onion gravy for bangers and mash; 10 envelopes of Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix; three cans of mild chopped green Chile's for Mexican food; 6 boxes of Nabisco Graham Cracker crumbs for Angel bars; 2 bottles of Gulden's dark brown spicy mustard, 1 bottle of Chocolate Merlot sauce, 1 bottle of Heinz 57 Steak Sauce, 2 boxes of cornmeal for corn bread, corn muffins, and Mexican food, 2 jars of Better than Bullion Chicken soup base for soups and gravies, 2 bags of peanut bitter M&M's for Tina Copley, a six pack of small canned V-8 Juice for Pauline, 2 bottles of Kraft Catalina Salad Dressing for Rita Talbot, four bottles of Melatonin, and 2 tins of dried Buttermilk for baking. This is one of the reasons we acquired an extra suitcase. The other is that Jaq bought some new clothes and shoes for us both--including down jackets to keep us both warm for winter cruising.
We also returned with metal piping for an inside chimeny sleeve, mat board for pictures, 2 farenheit outside temperature gauages, 2 fans and mountings to move hot air to the back of the boat, a large pack of bungee cords in varying lengths, Sylvania motion sensor lights, and a few other man bits and bobs!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Our last night in America

Given that Jaq does not sleep well at the best of times and travel takes a huge toll on her, we decided to spend our last night in America at The Seattle Airport Marriott--the same hotel in which we spent our honeymoon before leaving for England just over a year ago.
This is the entrance... a well appointed lobby.
After checking in we took a swim in this lovely pool. It has a glass and mirrored ceiling. The full moon shown on us as we swam and played in the warm water. There are 2 jacuzzi pools as well. We soaked away our cares and aches in the hot, bubbling water and retired to a good night's sleep.

Jaq requested concierge facilities which cost an extra $30.00 (20quid) and is well worth it. The lounge is only open to those who have access. It offers a full breakfast from 6:30 am-9:30 am. This morning we had scrambled eggs, thick British style sausages, toast, bagels, fresh fruit, orange juice and coffee. Oatmeal with all the trimmings is also on offer. One can eat as much--or as little as one chooses.

Apples, oranges, bananas, snack mix, yogurt, soda pop, water, juice, and a coffee machine that dispense plain coffee, cappuccino's, coffee mocha's, and hot water are available all day. One can come up to the concierge lounge and relax in the comfy chairs, read, play cards, watch T.V., or use the two computers, fax machine or printer.

Hor 'd' oeuvres are served from 4:30-7:30 p.m., cocktails are available form 5 -7 p.m. and desserts are available from 7:30 p.m. until the lounge closes at 10:30 p.m. The food is excellent and prepared fresh throughout the day. The appetizers are hearty and easily fill one up in place of dinner. Desserts last night were tiny profiteroles filled with cream and splashed with dark chocolate, chocolate mocha cream  with whipped cream, or fresh strawberries and cream.

Given that a soda form the machine in the hall near our room is $2.50 a piece and we have consumed four sodas, water, four juices, four bananas, snack mix, and a full breakfast between last night and this morning, the concierge fee of $30.00 is inexpensive and well worth every penny.  We are also posting this from the computers in the lounge and after we check out of our rooms we can relax up here until this afternoon when we must return to the airport for our journey home.

All though we woke to an overcast day with rain in the forecast, Mount Rainier was in full view! Jaq says the mountain loves me because it has never failed to show itself whenever I am in town. We highly encourage Brits to consider visiting the Pacific Northwest the next time a trip to the States is considered--especially if you have already visited Florida. Summers in Washington are beautiful and there are spectacular sights that easily rival the Florida Everglades and Disney World. For a sample of what's available read Jaq's blog post on her blog So This is Love, about her visit to Seattle and Tacoma with her grandson Michael.

We leave for London this evening at 18:10, arriving on Wednesday the 28th. We will stay at the new Comfort Inn near Terminal Five/Heathrow on Wednesday and return to the boat on Thursday. It's been lovely to see everyone and the world weary travelers are more than ready to get home.

The tax on Booze

In November 2011 Washington state residents voted for booze ie, spirits to be more available in stores. Finally after appeals against the result that would allow this hard liquor began appearing in supermarkets on June 1st 2012. Although beer and wine was widely available the strong stuff had for the past 78years  only been available in a state controlled  store 

This display is in a Safeway store, yes Brits Safeway survives here, and as you can see they have 2 prices. The club price is for those holding a Tesco like card.
The Kahlua at $14.99 attracts not just a spirit sales tax but also litre tax, yep the size attracts tax.
The tax table is below and I will leave those with the ability and stamina to work it out. The Kahlua in Tesco is on offer at £12 ($18) and U.S. readers this is the price you pay at checkout NO added taxes.
 Brits take note: Washington State stores have a state sales tax of 6.5 % added at the checkout. Groceries are exempt as are bedding materials for chickens?!!!!!!!! Life is short so a bit of humour is good for us all but it`s actually true.
 U.S. readers, in the UK we have a 20% tax on non grocery products BUT the price you see in store is the price you pay at checkout.
 Over to Jaq;
While residents of all States pay Federal income tax, only some states have a State income tax. Idaho does, Washington does not, hence the State revenue tax of 6.5% is Washington`s main tax revenue source.
In addition, Washington counties may also charge sales tax! King County in Seattle has a local sales tax of 9.5% in addition to the state tax! In Whitman county where Pullman is located, the local county sales tax is 6.5%.
State tax is not charged on prescription drugs, newspaper, and most food. Prepared food, candy, gum, and bottled water are the exceptions.
Washington residents who itemize on their Federal income tax returns may claim a refund for the state tax they have paid during the year.
Thanks Jaq we Brits thought that crystal clear.

So the U.S. shopper is aware of the added taxes so why can`t the stores just display the price and save the booze shopper standing using a calculator.
Opinion on the web gives me the impression that prices have generally increased since the abolition of the liquor store. Once again Joe public digs deeper into his/her pockets. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from the USA

"'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight..." ~ Joseph Brackett, Shaker hymn

We offer humble thanks for the love and kindness of our family and friends near and far today. We are rich in the things which matter most, and for this we are truly thankful. Happy Thanksgiving from Pullman, Washington, USA.

Vending heaven?

Coca-Cola Freestyle is the latest drinks machine here across the pond. I came across this one in the cinema where we nearly saw the latest Bond movie Skyfall. I say nearly because although the commercials played ok the projector said NO when the film was due to start so a refund was given to all.
This machine, the Freestyle, will dispense a hundred different flavours, yes that is 100.
In the UK a deal struck with Burger King means it is already amongst us Brits. In the greater London area since last June 16 BK`s have had the machine on trial. The `press here` button on the right brings up the screen below.

Selecting Fanta above gives us 7 flavour options as listed on the screen below.
Peach Fanta?  Perhaps Grape, Lime or Raspberry flavoured Fanta. Will it catch on in the UK.....of course it will. Do we need it...well I was going to say NO but without the freedom of choice and speech our civilised society`s give us life would be dull and after all you don`t have to buy a drink.
 Check out the full list of all the drinks  HERE.

I did not use the machine but others did and together with their mega buckets of popcorn had plenty to carry out to get the ticket refund.

 Not sure what cinema prices are in the UK but here the full adult was $9(£6). Adults 55+ and children below 12 were $6(£4).
Senior discounts seem popular here with some supermarkets on certain days giving a discount. I received 10% on Amtrak and Jaq received a 55+ discount in a department store.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Car hire can be a headache

Our hire car is a Ford Focus picked up at Spokane airport. Two week hire cost $401 (£264) including full insurance with no excess to pay if the worst should happen. Now I say full because in the UK there would have been an excess of $900 (£600) if the car was damaged on return. Back in the UK this excess could be reduced to $150(£100) at a cost of $13 (£9) per day. This was the case when I hired from Enterprise for a weekend last month although the charge on the Enterprise example lower down the page is £18 ($27) per day. Perhaps the weekend rate is discounted.

There seems to be a tangled web of prices for car hire both here and in the U.S. Our car was with Budget (Spokane) $401 but if when booking you clicked on the `live in USA` box the price shot up to $478!

Book a car with Enterprise at Heathrow for 2 weeks £512 ($768)
With Budget at Heathrow declaring you reside in the U.S and the price is £345 ($518) Both examples include the damage excess waiver.

All very confusing so careful research needed. I think our deal is good which by the way included both Jaq and I to drive.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I like this

Jaq puts our US visa card in the parking meter as we have a lunch date in the city centre. A quick in out of the card select the time needed job done. No finding change. Do we have these in the UK? I don`t drive much and for sure would by pass a meter in favour of a car park(parking lot) so have not seen a card meter.

How many times have you split a bag of sugar in your bag or one has the sealed end leak sugar everywhere. Tough milk carton like container, brilliant.
BigBelly Solar compactor has bins for re-cycling and general rubbish(trash). Not only is the bin capacity increased 5 fold the unit even sends out a text message to request emptying. Already they are in the UK in Bath.
The flat (apartment) that Jaq`s daughter Jessesca lives has these strange little windows           
attached  on the outside. Turns out they are  internal window boxes with small screened side opening windows. Screens are another very good idea here keeping bugs out whilst letting the air in.

A 1 gallon carton of milk, handy for large families.

My last like, being able to stitch 3 pictures together to give a better image of the Falls as the Spokane river passes through the city centre generating electricity on it`s way.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Seattle to Spokane

Above we are on Interstate 5 that stretches 1375 miles down the west coast from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. In this short trip to Seattle airport there were in places 5 to 7 lanes each way with 3 lanes between that are tagged on to either the north or south flow in the rush hour. In the centre of the picture the lanes are coming together and are over several more lanes below. On the left the sign reads `cell phone lot`.  This is a car park where cars can wait for a call from arriving passengers to say they are ready to be picked up.

We have been dropped off and at the kerbside are check in stands. These guys are called Sky Caps and they can accept your bags and issue a boarding card. This can be very useful when the airline desks in the terminal are handling large queues and a few dollars tip is all they require. All along the drop off lane the airlines are listed so you end up in front of your airline desk as you enter the terminal.

    The Alaskan airline flight to Spokane is aboard the 76 seat Bombardier 400. The 223 mile trip will take just under an hour on this Turbo Prop so luckily I had no need to use the outside toilet. Jaq has a big smile as this is the flight to the grandchildren.

 Left the camera saw this as we banked around after take off. The terminal far left centre with planes still on the stands (white lines).
Below Spokane has had snow but it is melting and the roads are clear.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mim and the boys

This folks is the highlight of the trip. Starting left you all know Jaq, known to her grandsons as Mim. Next comes Matthew (Mash) 8, Michael 13, and Connor, 2. These are Jesseca and Ben`s  boys living in Spokane Valley, Washington.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Along the U.S. roads

In the state of Oregon drivers remain in the car at the pumps. State law bans the driver from using the pumps, an attendant will fuel the car and accept payment.This is also the case in just one other state, New Jersey. 
It seems in the UK that SHELL are introducing attendants at some of their petrol stations. A list can be found HERE. Anyone back home seen/used one?

This WW11 B17 bomber is being restored to an as new condition. The nose section has been completed and is on show under cover. When all the parts have been restored the plane will be re-assembled and put on display in a protected environment. Link HERE

The Yellow one is a 1958 Chevrolet Impala and is for sale at $25,500 (£17,000). On the right a 1951 Mercury Sedan at $18,500 (£12,300). Some more HERE

We are at this moment in Lake Forest Park in north Seattle staying with a friend, Adelina, and our next journey will be a flight to Spokane where it appears snow has been falling. Hopefully it will be light or better still gone by our arrival as we have a hire car waiting and even Jaq my Alaskan born bride is not keen on driving without her usual studded tyres. That`s tires to our U.S. readers.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Portland to Tacoma

I am writing this post as we travel on the Amtrak Cascades train from Portland, Oregon to Tacoma,Washington. The overhead sat nav screen is similar to the one on the plane and tells me we arrive at Centralia in 38 mins and the time is 1.41pm, 8 hours behind the UK.
Looking out of the window as we travel at a sedate 79 mph. lakes and rivers dominate the landscape with plenty of houseboats. They each have a speedboat moored along side but no sign of a car or road. Also seen as the train hugs the waters edge was a Bald Eagle swooping low over the water and snatching a very large fish......Wow!!!!
We are travelling up the Puget Sound between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade mountain range in what I can only describe as the most luxurious leather reclining seats I have ever seen on a train. The amount of room far exceeds the plane and on longer trips headphones can be used to watch movies on the overhead screens--and this is just basic coach seating not 1st class!
The Bistro car is beautifully fitted out with seating down one side and bar stools at the coach length bar. Food is expensive, what`s new I hear Brits say, but this is good food.
Another thing to mention is when we arrived at Union Station in Portland, which was built in 1890, we were able to check as many bags as needed as you do at the airport.

No platform just a step
checking in luggage at Union Station

Luxury reclining leather seats

Friday, November 09, 2012

Wedding Bliss and English Delight

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

   We made it, after staying awake for twenty one plus hours, enduring nine hours on the first plane, a lay over in Seattle, and a commuter flight thirty minutes to Portland, Oregon. I've nearly recovered now from my near psychotic break with reality (I was so tired I wanted to snap the head off the commuter stewardess who would not shut up, and who kept opening and closing the metal clasps on cupboards right behind me while I sat in a grumpy coma). 
   Tuesday was spent in the company of Sparky, Kelli, and Mary; my favorite oldest daughter Jesse and my son in law Ben came over from Spokane. Jesse applied her expertise in baking to help bake and frost wedding cupcakes. Les learned about the local recycling program and set forth to blog about it.
How many Americans does it take to explain community recycling?
Les using Sparky's little pink computer to write a blog post about Oregon bottle recycling
  Sleep, hot showers, sleep, HUGE cups of coffee and tea, good food, big hugs, lots of laughter, and more sleep restored me to my usual silly self.
Now that is a cup of coffee!
   Wednesday morning we visited Untangled--a superb hair salon where Shiery gets her do done: cut, colored and, for the wedding, a lot of sparkling bling was glued into her raging fuchsia and purple do. We were served coffee and Mimosas while we waited. Even the men found it interesting!
Son in law Ben and Les enjoying coffee and Mimosas while we wait
Cindy--hair stylist supreme and Oregon Ducks fan!
Bling is applied to Shiery's wedding do
Jesse and Les watching a video of 2 year old Connor in his jingle bell hat
Jesse and Ben: Love is in the air!
Les and I cooking up something in the kitchen while Jesse frosts cupcakes

   Later Sparky and Kelli took us for a Dutch Brothers coffee and we pulled in to the drive through window. A cute young thing waited there for our order. Her eyes lit up when she saw Sparky's bright, glittering hair. Enthusiastically she cried, "Oh my god your hair is fantastic!"
   Spark ordered first for her an Kelli, then I gave my coffee order and then Les spoke up. Coffeegirl's eyes grew wide with surprise as she exclaimed, "That's awesome! Oh my god I love your accent. Keep talking!"
   After a short wait she returned with our order and a fellow employee who took a look at Sparky's wedding hair and said "Dude that's wicked!" Coffeegirl spluttered, "Wait--it gets even better--" she turned to Les and ordered, "Talk!" Coffeedude was blown away and replied, "Wow! That's totally awesome." As we pulled away laughing I knew we had scored as "coolest customers of the day."
   That evening the wedding ceremony went off without a hitch. Les escorted both brides to the altar. When asked, "With whom do you come and whose blessings accompany you?" Les replied,  "They come with me, their dad, and are accompanied by all our blessings."
Mother and daughter
Les waits to escort the brides: Kelli left, and Shiery, right.
Kelli and Shiery's hands with their hand fasting cord
With this ring, I thee wed...
The kiss!
Kelli and Shiery Carnes
Getting ready to jump the broom

   The energy of all those assembled wove a circle of love and support for Shiery and Kelli as they declared their love for one another publicly to family and friends. The brides were radiant and our family expanded to embrace them both. We welcome Kelli into our hearts as she establishes her place in our family.
   This morning Jesse and Ben stopped at Panera's on the way over, introducing Les to his first bagel. Delighted, his eyes sparkled as he looked at me and queried, "Do you think we can find these back home?"
   It is strange indeed to be back in America. It is a lot like running into one's ex...familiar and yet...different; love and disaffection in interesting measures; nostalgia and exasperation with each heartbeat.
   This trip was definitely not a home coming. It is a family reunion but physically, home is back across the Atlantic on a smallish island, and an even smaller boat. Spiritually, and emotionally home is where my heart is, and that is wherever Dear Sir lays his head. Happy am I, to lay mine next to his.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs