Monday, July 28, 2014

Jet Packing at the Fair!

It's almost time!!! 3 days, 19 hours, 51 minutes, and 14 seconds to go. Not that I'm counting or anything.

The FAIR is almost here!!!!!

I'm in prep mode, in amongst house guests and some volunteer stuff. Come Wednesday afternoon, though, it's All Fair All the Time. You've been warned.

I am blogging again for the local newspaper. YAY! I've already posted a few entries (July 16 was the first one). They've improved their overall website but finding their blog page is a bugger. So, if you want to follow along on the newspaper site as well, go to this link and then click on the little +Follow in the bottom right corner. Enter an email address and you'll receive an email every time I post a blog for the Columbian.

This year, I am shaking things up a little for the two blogs. Fasten your over-the-shoulder harnesses.

In past years, I have been staying up waaaaay too late in the wee hours blogging the elephant ear grease off my fingers. Between two blogs and lots of photos to sort through and then upload, I wasn't crawling under the covers until 3:00am or later. A couple days of that is doable but 10 days straight was doggone exhausting.

So Rob helped me come up with a new approach for blogging for the newspaper. Hopefully it will get me more sleep while also providing a distinctly different reading experience for those who manage to find me.

The plan is that I will still do nightly blogs here as usual, candidly summarizing the day's events and culinary exploits. However, for the newspaper, I will be blogging as I go. Yep, live and on-the-spot! I'm going to be cutting edge! Without a Smartphone or tablet! How? How is she going to do it??

Technology willing, I will be toting around my travel netbook and a newly acquired mobile hotspot. It is basically Wifi in a pocket. Verizon advertises it as a "Jet Pack." Oooh, space agey! So space agey, I had to go to two stores to find one since so few people use them anymore. Because most people have, you know, Smartphones and tablets.

Using my high-tech gadgetry from 2011, I will be posting several shorter blogs every day on the Columbian site from within the Fair's gates. I will be spending Thursday (also known as T minus 1) learning how to do this. Hopefully then I'll just have Woodhaven Ramblings to focus on when we get home each night. With lots of tantalizing food photos to share. Mmmmmm.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cache me if you can!

One of the many things I love about summer here is all the little town parties scattered around the county. Just about every summer weekend, another town holds its annual celebration. Over the years, we've been to La Center's Our Days, Camas Days, Woodland's Planters Day, and Amboy's Territorial Days.

A favorite is Battle Ground's Harvest Days. I'm not sure what used to be harvested when the town got the party started in 1960. My guess is hay. Nowadays, the celebration is mostly a community-spirited parade and an ever-changing rotation of carnival rides, booths selling honey and metal garden art, and a cruise of sparklingly restored muscle cars.

A new addition to the Harvest Days last year was a geocaching contest. We knew nothing about it last year but this year the organizers did a much better job getting the word out. So a few days ago, for the first time ever, Rob and I decided to geocache together. It's ok. We're married.

Non-existent in 1960, the term "geocaching" was officially added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2012. Accordingly, geocaching is "...a game in which players are given the geographical coordinates of a cache of items which they search for with a GPS device." Probably best described as a hi-tech scavenger hunt, geocaching is mostly a way to entice geeky people outside to get some vitamin D without a prescription. (See this link for a bit more of an explanation.)

Rob did a little geocaching back in the early 2000s when we lived in California. I think it was mostly a means of using the cutting edge handheld GPS device I gave him for his birthday. I didn't join him since I was mostly on pain meds and in a back brace riveted to episodes of TLC's "Trading Spaces" home decorating show. It's good to have hobbies.

When I saw that a Battle Ground accountant (fittingly) was hosting a Geocache Contest for this year's Harvest Days, I thought it sounded sort of fun. You know, a way for me and Rob to get outside on a nice sunny day and skip our D pills for the day.

We carefully reviewed all the info we could find and dug out Rob's long-since-discontinued Garmin eTrex Legend® handheld GPS device. Dropping in some new batteries, we were both a little stunned the thing still worked.

When we checked in to register for the contest, we learned that the coordinates and clues for the 10 spots to find were going to be soon released on a website. This was cause for some concern since it turns out that geocaching in 2014 is all about using your Smartphone. And we -- especially me -- defiantly do not have Smartphones. Oops.

The way geocaching apparently works these days is you hop online to find the clues/coordinates, tap a button on your phone to locate the spot on a Google Map of some sort, and then rely on your phone's built-in GPS to guide you there. Then you get to put your technology in your pocket as you dig around in bushes or under rocks or in creek beds as you search for a little box or tin or film canister (remember film??) or some other container. Inside the container is a rolled up log where you write in your name as proof you were there. Then it's back to your fancy phone to log in that you found the cache. And that's it.

I can almost see the perplexion from here. Both about how we were going to geocache...and why.

For the how:

Ever resourceful, we left the check-in table and scoped out some free Wi-Fi at a nearby burger joint and used my iTouch (an iPhone without the phone) to find the clues. We had to do a bit of math, though, since our Legendary Garmin eTrex® GPS device required an outdated way of understanding coordinates. A fancy Smartphone would have done the calculations for us.

We then had to save screen shots of each clue so that we could refer to them when we got closer to each cache. A Smartphone would have made them instantly accessible.

Using a paper map (what?!?), we then noted the general location of each of the 10 clues and planned our route. By the time we were ready to leave the burger place, we had had lunch, chatted up the manager, refilled our drinks thrice, and had had to lift our feet so the crew member could sweep up after the lunch crowd had come and gone. Any longer and they probably would have given us name tags.

And so we set out.

In a few places, the cache was super easy to find because other cachers were already there. Other locations were easier to narrow down due to the obvious tromping of grass. A few others took far too long and required the need to restore public landscaping that ended up not being involved in the cache. Oops.

And why geocache in Battle Ground?

Well, this.

Isn't it adorable?? It's a Geocache Coin. The first 200(?!?) people who finished the contest got a coin. And bragging rights. That's it. But do you see the gnome? There's a gnome on the coin! As soon as I saw the gnome, Rob knew we were going to be trekking all over Battle Ground, in the dark if we had to, with a list of numbers with degrees and decimals points in one hand and a vintage piece of technology in the other.  I had to...HAD TO...possess the Gnome Coin.

It actually only took us about 3 hours to earn our gnome...err, coin. And I honestly had an absolute ball in the process. I got to see parts of the county I didn't know existed, I got to meet people from all over the place, and I got to sneak a peek into a world I only vaguely knew existed. Geocachers are a serious but friendly bunch. All very focused but sporting.

At our very first stop, a woman maybe 10 years my senior was excited to see us and asked us what our caching name was. I let Rob answer. Then she asked if we exchanged...something. It was geocache jargon so I have no idea what she said, but when I told her it was at my very first cache find ever, she proudly handed me a butterfly coin and then got busy on her Smartphone logging in that she met Rob's caching name "on the trail." I felt bad I had nothing to offer her. As she eyed our Legendary Garmin eTrex® GPS device, she seemed more excited about bringing old school newbies into the fold than disappointed about not leaving with an exchanged trinket. Very cool.

On the rest of "the trail," I got to meet retired couples in their 60s, a dad and his two pre-school sons, parents and their teenage daughter, and the pastor of a church whose foliage we were trying to be delicate with. Everyone (including the pastor) was having fun and was in good spirits. People also happily exchanged helpful information without taking the fun out of the hunt. We saw lots of cars from Oregon and several bumper stickers that suggested that Battle Ground's Geocoin Challenge was good enough to travel over a river for. Heck, most Portlanders think they need to pack a suitcase and maybe renew their passport before coming over to the Washington side of the Columbia. So the fact they came all the way to tiny Battle Ground to hunt for trinkets is pretty impressive.

So is this my new hobby? Especially now that "Trading Spaces" is long gone? Probably not. I would definitely do other one-day contests in a contained geography. But as much as I enjoyed geocaching, it's not worth me abandoning my trusty flip-phone without a data plan for. Although if more gnome coins were involved...or better yet, LLAMA coins...who knows??

Monday, July 7, 2014

The most Portland meal that Portland has ever Portlanded

There's a skit comedy show on cable called "Portlandia." It's in its fourth season. We own the first two on DVD.

Somewhere along the 5th or 6th episode, Rob and I deemed the show a documentary. While laugh-out-loud funny, each skit has an impressively astute foundation of truth about life in a town whose heartfelt motto is to keep the place weird.

We love living near but not in Portland. Woodhaven is close enough that we can go visit but far enough that it feels like we have entered a parallel universe of hipsterness decorated with bowties, sleeve tattoos, and mason jars.

Last week we went into Portland to see a concert (Steely Dan ~ the first time I have ever smelled pot in the Schnitz Concert Hall).  Always looking for new food, we scouted out a restaurant within walking distance of the parking garage AND the concert. Our find got good reviews and had enough meaty, gluten-laden options that we decided to give it a try. Little did we know we were going to be in an episode of "Portlandia."

Mind you, we weren't literally in an episode. I mean, there weren't cameras or sound guys around. But after ten minutes of waiting in the lobby, I started to look for them.

The restaurant was called The Picnic House, self-described as "Picnic-inspired dining in the heart of downtown Portland." Yeah, I don't really know what that means either. But it sounded novel. And like it might include a red checkered table cloth or at least a crisp Rosé. What I didn't expect it to mean was grass on the walls.

We had a lot of time to look around...and take pictures. Although we had reservations and arrived a couple of minutes late due to traffic, we waited at least 20 minutes before being seated. We...and everyone else lingering in the lobby with a tree trunk hat rack...were told that it would be a few minutes because tables were being bused. This as we spotted at least a half-dozen unoccupied tables, set and ready to be peopled. The hostess's song and dance had that feeling of trying to convince us the restaurant was very busy and that we were lucky to get a table at all.

Our table -- ready for us when we walked in -- was stuck in a corner behind two other tables and a lamppost. The hostess, us, and our waiter had to shimmy between purses to get to the table. As Rob gazed at the lamppost hugging the table next to me, he observed, "I think we're in Narnia."

I was wearing my fun hipster glasses and suddenly felt like I was mocking the wait staff. They were all very retro-hip with suspenders, bowties, oxford shoes, and piercings. I'm pretty sure Rob and I were the only ones in the place without tattoos.  The whole place felt like a caricature of an already delightfully exaggerated town.

After the wrong bottle of wine was delivered to the table (in over 20 years of ordering wine in restaurants, that was a first), I gazed at the fake birds scattered about and then noticed a bagpiper on a unicycle ride past the window. When I mentioned this to Rob, his first response was to ask, "Was he dressed as a Stormtrooper?" Because, you know, Portland. (Check out the Unipiper here.)

As we waited somewhat patiently for our food and drank our wine -- whose label had a bird on it -- we amused ourselves by eavesdropping on the table next to Rob. It was a table of four and there were issues. Lots of issues. The waiter kept coming back with more dishes and apologies. Something had gone terribly wrong, so the kitchen tried to make it up to them with a free plate of Brussels sprouts. Personally, I would have preferred dessert but, well, Portland.

Dinner finally done and our concert time uncomfortably near, we summoned the bill. It was delivered tucked in a book of poems, sonnets, and ballads published by Harvard. How precious. We had Volume C. Rob serenaded me with "The Battle of Otterburn" (author: Francis Child) as I got ready to head to the restroom.

As I washed my hands, I noticed something was missing. Naturally, I took a picture.

And then I decided to take this one since it was the only way to make sure I had properly placed my lipstick.

Perhaps it was the restaurant's way of trying to make a point about vanity and how we all just need to be comfortable in our own skin, regardless of what may or may not be on it.

Or maybe the restaurant is still looking for that perfect mirror with bears wearing monocles etched in the corners. Because, obviously, Portland.

The restaurant's logo/mascot/Facebook profile pic

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

3 Letter Word for Wistful

I just read in my online news feed that Eli Wallach died. Even though I honestly don't know who Eli is, I am sad. And nostalgic for easier times that weren't so dominated by technology.

When I was a kid in the '70s, I loved Fridays. Yes, because it meant no school for two days, and because it meant that it was "Dallas" night. But mostly because it was the day that the TV Guide arrived in the mail.

Remember TV Guide? It was that little book that listed everything that was on TV for the week, with episode descriptions and the channels indicated by little black boxes with numbers in them.

That was back when there were maybe 13 channels max that you could pull in using rabbit ears, at least two of which were in Spanish. If you were lucky to have cable, you might get another 20 more. But there were only three major networks and they set the tone for the culture and how TV was made. 1970s TV was dominated by laugh tracks and theme songs and Gary Marshall. I know cuz I watched a lot of it.

In fact, I watched so much TV, the weekly TV Guide was largely unnecessary. I knew the schedule of my family's favorite shows. This was before Betamax/VHS/DVR, so all TV was appointment TV. You showed up when it was on; otherwise you had to wait until the summer for reruns to maybe catch the show the second time around.

Nevertheless, I LOVED when the TV Guide arrived each Friday. I would flip through the articles, and see if there were any special episodes I needed to make note of (for instance, the "Love Boat" episode with both Kristy McNichol and Scott Baio...OMG!). But the first order of the day when I snagged the TV Guide out of the mailbox was to flip to the back and attack the crossword puzzle. In pen.

Because the crossword puzzle relied heavily on TV-themed clues, I was pretty good at it. I knew all the current show and actor names, and watched enough vintage TV on Channels 26, 40, and 44 that I even knew about old timey TV like "The Flying Nun" and "Our Miss Brooks" and "The Donna Reed Show" and "Topper."

I would fly through that puzzle in a matter of minutes, often completing it but occasionally leaving just a couple of clues for my dad to fill in. Although Dad didn't have much choice since I got home from school before he got home from work, I now understand what a sacrificial gift of gracious parenting it was that Dad only jokingly showed exasperation that the puzzle was always largely done by the time he first saw it.

So where does Eli Wallach fit into all this?

Well, Eli was a clue that showed up often in my crossword puzzles. Along with Elia Kazan, I didn't know who these guys were other than an actor (Eli) and a director (Elia). But with 3 or 4 letters each -- at least half of which were vowels -- I could count on one of them showing up each week. I had no idea who these men were (in all honesty, I long thought Elia was a girl), but they were still very familiar to me.

And so now, nearly four decades later, with TV Guide's little book having been replaced by the "Guide" button on my remote control, I finally know who Eli is. Thanks to an online news story in the LA Times that I found on Google News, and then further reading on Wikipedia which has made Encyclopedia Britannica all but obsolete, I now know that Mr. Wallach was a method actor who mostly played bad guys. He was in a lot of Tennessee Williams stage plays and then went on to films that my parents never would have let me see. For instance, he was the "ugly" in the Clint Eastwood movie "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."

And...Eli won "Most Promising Newcomer" for his role in his film debut. He played a vengeful cotton gin owner in a controversial movie called "Baby Doll" (never heard of it), directed by...Elia Kazan.

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Wallach.  Rest in peace.

Eli Wallach ~ 1915-2014
Elia Kazan ~ 1909-2003

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dramamine is at the top of the packing list

Aaaaaaaand....home. Yay!

As much as I love to travel, I also love that I love coming home. Woodhaven is a very relaxing, deep-breathing sort of place to me. Well, aside from refrigerators that stop working and require replacement immediately upon return home. Yeah, that was fun.

At least it made the piles of laundry seem less daunting

As much as we travel, there are only a handful of places that we return to with any frequency. Yosemite was our first repeat, visited annually for our anniversary. Several years ago, that trip got replaced with a much more proximate quaint-town-on-the-Oregon-coast tradition.

We also now meet up with friends most years in Walla Walla for a weekend of wine fun. And we find ourselves in Kauai every few years as much for the sun as the Puka Dogs.

I'm thinking Alaska might be inching its way onto our "We Need a Break and Don't Want to Do a Lot of Research" travel list. Although we have only been twice now, last week I found myself making comments like "Next time I am going to come with a plan to buy some of those earrings" and "Before our next trip, I will spend some time on Trip Advisor so we don't find ourselves in this disappointing cafe yet again."

Rob and I talked about our next trip to Alaska in much the same way that we started talking about marriage after only a few months of dating: a foregone conclusion that the most fundamental decision had been made already and now we just need to figure out the details.

So why Alaska?

Well, it helps that it is relatively close to Woodhaven and we can cruise there without using an airport. And it helps that the seemingly best way to see its highlights is by cruise. My back likes that a lot.

But more than the convenience, Alaska is just jaw-droppingly beautiful. In its sum, it is unlike any other place I have visited. It has big skies like Montana...only bigger. It has fjords like New Zealand...only more meandering and mysterious. It has wildlife like Yellowstone and Monterey Bay...only completely randomly with an unshakable sense that in Alaska it is by the animals' graciousness and distain for unnatural fibers that they allow us on their turf.

We don't know when our next Alaska cruise will be. We're still debating ports and ship size and which summer month to try next. But I have saved my packing list and plan to keep it handy for whenever the mood and the next "HOT DEAL! ACT FAST!" temptation hits our mailbox. And I am determined to find a place to get a decent sandwich in Ketchikan.

Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau

Friday, June 6, 2014

OK, so it is actually the Best Room Ever

We’re at sea again, with just one more port to go before we drive home. The waters are a lot calmer today than they were that first day, but I still have a Magic Pill on board.

Shipboard consensus is that the first day was indeed pretty nauseating. A 4-time-Alaska-cruiser said that it was by far the worst sea day he had experienced on this route. And the naturalist on board gave it a 6 on a 12-point scale combining wind and wave action. So, all of this is to say, my green gills weren’t entirely our caboose room’s fault.

Rather, I now emphatically agree that our way back room is absolutely an upgrade. So much so that I now believe Alaska via cruise ship should not be experienced any other way. With calm waters, the view back there cannot be beat.

We have made extensive use of our balcony…gawking, photographing, eating, sipping, lounging. Despite the cold air, we had no wind back there. So the blankets I snagged after the first Movie Under the Stars ended up being unnecessary. So yep, Best Cruise Room EVER!

So with that, here’s a little pictorial review of our Room With a View:


Tracy Arm Fjord:


Part of my "Ansel Adams" collection

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

And then there were two

As hoped for, the seas calmed as soon as we had bits of land on either side of us. So to celebrate, we spent our first land day (in Ketchikan) on a boat.

The tour was of the Misty Fjords. So named because they are almost always shrouded in clouds of mist. It makes sense given Ketchikan boasts the title of being the 4th wettest place on earth, with annual rainfall measured in feet. We’ve been to Ketchikan twice now. If you’ve followed our travel tales, it will not surprise you that we have yet to see it rain in Ketchikan. And there wasn’t even the barest hint of mist in the fjords today. Partly sunny and dry all day. The locals were mistified. So goes Travel with Toni and Rob.

The Fjords were still beautiful, if not sadly missing the eerie coziness of a low, damp, grey ceiling. Instead, we were treated to the Alaskan version of Yosemite, were Yosemite Valley filled with water at depths over 150 feet. Sheer granite cliffs, waterfalls, evergreens…the Alaskan fjords had the entire Yosemite package minus the deer and coyotes but plus the seals and one whale. And hardly any people and no snack bars or tour buses. Having not visited our dear Yosemite in over eight years, Rob and I both agreed that seeing Alaska’s Misty Fjords will tide us over for at least a few more years.

However, as beautiful as the scenery was, it is not likely what I will remember first when reflecting on our trip to Alaska’s Un-misty Fjords. No, instead I shall remember this:

Rob and I have been traveling with Piglet our entire married life. Piglet joined our family on an early date to Disneyland. He is on his sixth photo album and has met people and posed with iconic landmarks all over the world. Around Year 3, while traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Shenandoah Valley, I was forever cured of any embarrassment of posing with Piglet when two teenage boys literally pointed and laughed at me while Rob was aiming the camera. Ever since, I have boldly carried Piglet front and center and posed him unabashedly on many tours and sightseeing trips. People often ask about him, assuming I am either an awesome parent or a young-at-heart grade school teacher. I have seen many a confused cocked head as I reveal I am, in fact, neither.

We occasionally see other folks vacationing similarly, most often with a Flat Stanley. We still exchange Christmas cards and photos with an English couple we met in the mid-90s while hiking Bryce Canyon in Utah. Redvers the Bear lives in England and quite fancies holidays in Cyprus. He and Piglet are old chums.

Today, though, was different. The other woman and I were so excited to discover a kindred spirit, we never exchanged names. Instead, we were unilaterally focused on exchanging stories and marveling at the idea of Pooh and Piglet—BFFs (Best Friends Forever)—finally intersecting on their travels.

I first spotted Pooh as he was being lovingly and carefully cradled by his caretaker. They were wandering about the boat, taking in the unmisty scenery. I grabbed Piglet and my camera and walked up to the woman. I didn’t say a word. Instead, I just smiled and showed her Piglet. A burst of smiles and laughter and then note comparison followed, culminating in a photo shoot of at least a half-dozen photographers.

The similarities were mind-boggling.

Pooh is 20 years old; Piglet is 24. Neither can be found anymore, as production has increased while quality has decreased.

Pooh is from the San Francisco Bay Area; Piglet spent his formative years there.

Both have multiple photo albums and have traveled the globe. Cruises are a particular favorite.

Neither is completely understood by the outside world, but both are lovingly embraced in the name of quirky fun.

We exchanged tips on cleaning and maintenance (Woolite as a fine washable is preferred), and we agreed that calling our companions “stuffed animals” is an insult. That commonality revealed itself as we dropped our jaws at almost identical experiences at the Acropolis in which we were each told by mean Greek women that our “dolls” were not allowed to visit the antiquities. While we had different solutions to that affront (Pooh entered minutes later in a backpack; Piglet entered years later in a purse), we immediately shared a bond over the shock and panic few others on earth would completely understand.

It truly was A Moment.

I haven’t seen Pooh since we got off that boat. There’s a very good chance our meeting was simply one of those brief moments of connection, of realizing none of us is really completely alone no matter the scope of our weirdness.

Vacations rock.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Looking Backward to Alaska

I’m wiggly and jiggly and as middle as I can get, surrounded by sounds of shuffling playing cards and people comparing past voyages. The string quartet downstairs is playing every classical composition known in popular culture, mostly thanks to Bugs Bunny. And the gentleman behind me just asked if we are in the Bering Sea.

Not quite. It’s actually just the Pacific Ocean that is bouncing around outside the window.

Our very first cruise ever was almost exactly six years ago, on a similar path that we are sailing right now…although with a different cruise line, a slightly different itinerary, and without our dear friends Carolyn and David. We had such a great time on that trip, we have been carefully watching the “TOP CRUISE DEAL!” promises that fill our mailbox year ‘round so that we could experience Alaska once again.

We finally snagged a great deal back in February, carefully choosing a cabin in the middle of the ship to minimize rocking and rolling. Within hours, the cruise line kindly upgraded our room. We had heard whispered rumors this was possible, but it was the first time we had ever won the Cruise Cabin Upgrade Lottery. Score!

The modern age is a glorious thing, so we immediately Googled our ship’s name and new cabin number. Glowing reviews and impressive snapshots filled our monitor. “Once you go aft, you’ll never go back!” So we accepted our upgrade to the back of the ship with great anticipation. Twenty-four hours and three anti-motion-sickness pills later, I’m sort of wistful for our original, less grand, more middle location.

So yes, our room is at the very back back back of the ship. Nothing behind us, everything in front of us. There are four rooms riding caboose – two regular rooms on the ends, two shmancy suites in between. We have the regular room on the starboard (right) side.

What makes the room an upgrade is the balcony. Because of the shape of the ship, the deck is quite large and very private. And it has pretty much a 180 degree view. Granted, the view is of where we have been, not where we are going, but it is still impressive. We are hoping it proves to be rather spectacular for private, glacier bay cruising in a few days.

About to leave port in Seattle

The room is also very quiet. Nobody in the hallways, seemingly miles away from stairs or elevators, and… as reported…no engine noise. When it was time for the lifejacket safety drill, we were surprised to find we have our own private escape route. Literally. Just us and the room above us and below us are to use the special staircase to muster in case of an emergency. It felt very unrushed and unpanicky and echo-y.

So really, the room is perfect for two introverts on a ship carrying nearly 3,000 athletic-shoed, fanny-packed cruisers. The only thing wrong with it is that it sways. All. over. the. place.

Fortunately, I remember from our 2008 Alaska trip that the first day at sea was a bit of a doozy. By mid-day, all four of us had popped Magic Pills generously available from the Front Desk. So I am hoping this sea sway is just part of the Alaska Adventure and that the water will calm once we are safely inside the Inside Passage.

I have no idea how many times I woke up last night. I am now questioning the wisdom behind rocking babies to sleep. Good grief! The bed shook and pitched and lightly knocked against the wall as if the ship was having quite an amorous night. It was…distracting.

This morning, I was grateful for the handrail in the shower and the fact that I shaved my legs before we left home. Formal Night #2 will just have to be a bit stubbly. Better that than decorated by bloody Kleenex bits.

As the hangers in the closet knocked around, I decided my make-up application was of the “good enough” variety. Introducing wands, sticks, and brushes to my eyeballs seemed unwise. So I am writing this through unadorned eyes.

By 9am, I popped my daily allotment of Magic Pills and eased my way to what must surely be the busiest location on the ship. There’s some sort of t-shirt sale underway, and there’s a long line at the Shore Excursions desk. But despite the horizon still being in constant motion, this mid-ship refuge is less sway-y than our home base. Glory hallelujah.

There’s also going to be a champagne fountain thing nearby in a few hours, which tells me that the fine folks who do this every week know the seas will indeed calm down soon and I will be able to pack away my Dramamine. At least until we head back home.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

For eyes

I started wearing glasses in 6th grade. It really wasn't that much of a surprise since both my parents wore glasses pretty young.

I remember being offered the chance to wear hard contact lenses for awhile which would correct something (I can't remember if it was my near-sightedness or my astigmatism). The doctor sent me home with the foreign objects and I remember sitting on our green 1972-ish couch, moving my head around, feeling the itchy weight of the lenses hanging on my eyeballs. It was with some relief and excitement that I proclaimed the lenses impossible to wear. I was going to get glasses!

I had a lot of fun picking out my frames, imagining that somehow a new look would transform my 12-year-old awkwardness. It was 1980, so I literally had rose colored glasses. The frames were light pink-ish purpley plastic and the lenses were blushing. Oh, and they were huge.

1980 ~ 6th grade came with glasses AND a cast.  Note the groovy chair.

I really liked my glasses until one day when I was walking between Literature and Science. The sun cast my shadow on a building. My huge, dark glasses were all that I saw -- which took some doing considering the explosion of thick hair that wasn't really being contained in barrettes. I remember thinking I looked like Helen Keller. Suddenly I hated my glasses.

It took several years to talk my parents into letting me wear soft contact lenses. But once I got them, it is nearly impossible to find a picture of me wearing my glasses. I wore them so infrequently, I kept the pastel frames all the way into college. Finally, sometime around being legal to drink pina coladas, I got my second set of frames.

Feeling all adult and slightly fashionable, I was excited to pick out red and black metal frames. I tried really hard not to wear them only when I was wearing red and black outfits. But when I did do the matchy matchy, I thought I looked very sophisticated. I didn't remember until I went searching for photos (again, a bit hard to find) that the frames were actually bigger than the first pair. Yikes.

Thanksgiving 1990 ~ out of college and not yet married (barely)

As we entered a new century, I realized I had good vision insurance and decided to shake things up with some smaller frames that rested on my cheek bones instead of smothering them. I liked my new glasses so much, I started wearing them on weekends and Casual Fridays. They were vastly more time efficient than all the solutions and rubbing and enzyming that defined the world of soft contacts. As my career and business travel kicked into high gear, my glasses got a fair amount of use.

November 2000 ~ Right before my career came to a screeching halt

In 2004, we sort of hit Reset on our lives and moved to the Portland area where we were unknown and unemployed. As we started to build a life here and more confidently own the Retired label, I put myself through something of a make-over. My dedication to watching "What Not to Wear" finally sunk in and I realized I needed to ditch the elastic waisted pants and oversized sweatshirts that saw me through two back surgeries and their accompanying braces and other bulky accessories.  Glasses were part of the new package.

It took several attempts, adjustments, and returns to finally settle on a pair of bronze metal frames with a slightly retro cat-eye shape. I started wearing my glasses so often, people at church would sort of do a double-take on the occasional Sunday I wore my contacts.

I wore my glasses so much, I realized it was cheaper to buy disposable one-day contacts whose 1-year supply actually lasted me two years. I also found myself wearing my glasses anytime I knew I was going to do a lot of reading. My eyes have been loudly hinting for several years that bifocals are looming. My arms are now just barely long enough to read if I am wearing my contacts.

2012 ~ roller derby fun in Portland

With all the use, the bronzy coating started chipping away. So I recently decided it was time for some new frames once again. 

I really wanted something bold and striking, but nothing looked good on me. All the hipster frames overwhelmed my face. I was also somewhat limited by the self-imposed requirement that I be able to cheat and look under my glasses so I can read without removing my frames.

I was a bit disappointed to find a pair of rather non-descript, half-frameless glasses. They are a little bit bigger and a whole lot lighter than my bronze pair. The prescription changed, too, which resulted in over a week of nausea and aspirin and waning confidence in my optometrist.

But, just as Rob predicted, my eyes finally adjusted to the increased ability to see and I put the headache remedies away.  After wearing my new glasses for several weeks now, they have grown on me and I like them.

2014 ~ my new "grown up" glasses

But wait! There's more!

This time around, we finally discovered the wonders of Costco Optical. My new frames were SO MUCH CHEAPER than what we had been paying in the mall!  So much so, we went back to get Rob some new frames, too.

As Rob was getting measured for the lenses, I amused myself by trying on kids frames from the display nearby. Much to my surprise, they fit. And so much better than many of the adult frames. With the already incredible prices plus a special discount offered that day, I found myself seriously debating between some thick black boys frames and some fun sea-green ones with Hello Kitty on the temples.

"Should a 46-year-old woman really wear Hello Kitty glasses?" I asked both Rob and the measurer.

"You could pull it off," replied Rob who trained me early that he will always give me an honest answer when I ask how something looks on me. The Measurer just smiled.

I debated throughout Rob's entire transaction and finally settled on the little kids version of Retro Buddy Holly Hipster specs. For no good reason other than they are fun and cost less than a couple of Costco-sized boxes of Cliff Bars.

So far I have only worn my Fun Glasses once, to a high school production of "Grease."  It seemed a fitting inauguration.  I will probably wear them anytime we go to Portland...because that's where all the hot chicks wear glasses.

2014 ~  I shall wear these to the library

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

At least the house smells great

I thought bread machines were supposed to be foolproof?  Sigh.

The biggest difference with this loaf -- other than its poofiness and the uncommon strength it took to open the poof-sealed lid -- was the inaugural use of pure, freshly ground whole wheat flour.  Flour we watched being ground right before our eyes from little grains of wheat.  Flour ground using water power from a river and flume and stuff.

Our flour source.  Aka "It's hard to take a bad photo here"

I guess the moral of this story is:  Great-grandma didn't have enriched flour so great-grandma probably didn't use a bread machine either.

At least we know enough not to top it with "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter"...

And by the way, it tastes heavenly.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Signs that insomnia is winning

Sleep is a precious, precious thing.  I wish I had appreciated that when I was kid and hated naps.  Or when I was an over-worked college student and had a remarkable (and now longed-for) ability to take 15-minute power naps between classes and work.

The inability to sleep entered my life when my back pain did.  Indeed, chronic pain and insomnia are best buds.  I learned once that there are two main types of insomnia.  One is the type where you can go to sleep but not stay there.  The other is when you can't get to sleep in the first place.  The first type is almost always associated with chronic health issues. The second is more psychologically driven.  I felt some validation in identifying mine as the first type.

I have cycles of good sleep and cycles of bad.  My worst cycle ever lasted about four months. Four months without a solid night's sleep is a solid ingredient for self-diagnosed insanity. On the other hand, our office was extremely tidy and I had very impressive scores on Bejeweled.

Thankfully, these days the bad sleep cycles usually only last a week or two (God bless you, SleepNumber Bed).  And thankfully, my lifestyle is such that I don't have any major responsibilities, like kids or a job, or needs to operate forklifts or pilot airplanes.  So I can typically slog through a few nights with lousy sleep without too much disruption to those around me.  It's still annoying, though.

I'm in one of those bad cycles right now.  As the sun rises earlier and earlier here above the 45th parallel, the need to go to bed earlier is more pressing since there is really no sleeping past sunrise.  My earlier bed time is sort of working but not really.  And yes, I have blackout shades.  Eh.

As I dragged through my day yesterday, I started a list of signs that I'm currently losing the sleep battle. And by starting a list, I mean an actual list.  On a piece of paper.  Because one of the first signs of prolonged sleep deprivation is the utter loss of short term memory.  So here are my 10 Signs That Insomnia is Winning:

  • Chewing gum makes you dizzy

  • You pull up to a drive-thru mail box and have to get out of your car because you dropped an envelope while trying to stuff it in the admittedly enormous slot

  • You have to check your rear-view mirror repeatedly because you can't remember what you saw the last time you looked back there...2 seconds ago

  • Horribly complicated questions like "How are you today?" and "What do you want for dinner?" overwhelm you to the point of tears

  • It takes far too much motor skills to put on earrings

  • Writing emails takes forever because not only can't you type anymore, you are now questioning how exactly to spell words like "that"

  • It takes four trips up and down the stairs in your house to locate the piece of paper you brought with you on the first trip

  • You use a calculator to add two single-digit numbers.  Because, you know, 9s are hard.

  • While draining pasta, you repeatedly remind yourself to save the pasta and ditch the water

  • You are certain you had 10 signs of insomnia's victory but it turns out you really only had 9

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kansas City -- A great town. Bring floss.

About five years ago, we had some free tickets on Southwest Airlines that were about to expire so we decided to take a "Why the Heck Not?" trip to one of their towns that we'd never been to before. We had such a blast in Louisville, Kentucky! So much fun, in fact, that we took a similarly entertaining trip a few years later to Albuquerque (and Santa Fe).

We now have a list of about six LUV cities to visit that people rarely think of as vacation spots. Indeed, as we mentioned to friends our most recent destination, an increasingly predictable response was, "Why?" Even the nice young woman at the hotel desk...and the greeting card artist at Hallmark Headquarters...wondered the same. Our answer: Free airline tickets, jazz music, and BBQ.

Kansas City, here we come!

We spent three action-packed days touring about Kansas and Missouri. I spent most of the time bewildered which state I was in, as the state line runs right through town but not always along something noteworthy, like a river. The map in my head says Missouri is always to the east of Kansas. That's great except that we were in that squiggly part in the top left corner where nothing lines up right. The only state I know for sure I was in the entire trip was confusion.  Thankfully I wasn't in charge of driving.

We dutifully did all sorts of online research as we prepared for our get-away. Packed with all of our confirmation numbers were two pages of intriguing Kansas City area attractions and more BBQ places than our stomach spaces could possibly accommodate. We share your surprise that Kansas City had two pages of interest (four if you're a blogger).

We spent our first full day mostly east of town in Missouri, tracing a bunch of historic trails. Living at the end of the Oregon Trail, it was quite fun to visit the beginning of it in Independence, Missouri. Three trails actually start there: the Oregon, the Santa Fe, and the California. Go ahead and guess where they each ended up.

We found an old campsite, some swales from covered wagons (swales are basically old-timey freeway ruts), and a very well-signed junction of two of the trails that was actually about a half-mile from the actual spot (Rob has read a LOT of history books). To their credit, the sign-placers admitted their faux pas on the last placard.

Piglet in a swale (go ahead say it:  A swine in a swale!)

I was honestly disappointed by Independence. Hometown to President Harry Truman, I kept imagining something between Mayberry and the quaint town square in the "Back to the Future" movies. I wanted to see cute stores with rock candy and quilts and cast iron skillets. I wanted to take a picture in the town's park gazebo that was festooned with patriotic banners. Instead, Independence was a sleepy town with cell phone stores, Curves, and a coffee shop featuring "Seattle's Best Coffee." Sigh.

The next day we toured a World War I museum. Aside from some school groups, we were by far the youngest people in the place. Most visitors and volunteer docents appeared to have had parents who fought in The Great War. We asked one of the volunteers why Kansas City, of all places, housed this historic museum. The answer was because that's where the people who had the gumption to do it were living at the time. And within days they had raised several million dollars in funding from like-minded patriots. It was a heartwarmingly American explanation.

We then went to the Hallmark Greeting Cards headquarters and museum. From the brochures, it sounded like a lively, interactive museum with a unique gift store attached. The museum was indeed interesting, revealing tidbits like Mr. Hall's personal relationship with both Winston Churchill and Norman Rockwell. It was a hoot to see old cards in the display, including one from the early '70s that I am certain I have seen in my parents' scrapbook. We got to meet one of the card designers and writers. He gamely explained how some of today's more quirky cards are created (Google, PhotoShop, old family albums...I'm thinking I might apply). I was disappointed to learn the gift shop was actually just your run-of-the-mill Hallmark store; no cool company swag for purchase. The highlight of the stop was our photo op with Hallmark's biggest celebrity.

Maxine was much shorter in person than I expected

Over the next day and a half, we toured other museums including one dedicated to TWA (the former pilot was so enthusiastic, we really didn't get to tour the place as much as hear stories). We spent some time in the American Jazz Museum wishing their displays were better organized and identified. And in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum I learned about Satchel Paige and segregation and how going to watch a baseball game used to be a BIG DEAL. This is why old photos show everyone in the bleachers all dressed up in suits and dresses and gloves instead spectators today, as one display said, dressed like they are ready to go rake leaves.

My most favorite Kansas City museum was one that only dedicated Googling divulged. It was housed in an old produce warehouse along the river and told the story of a steamboat that sank in the Missouri River in 1856 and was then dug up in 1987.

Another Great American Story, the diggers were just five local business men with a sense of adventure who had long heard the story of the ill-fated Steamboat Arabia and got infatuated with the idea of digging up her hidden treasure.

What they found was indeed a trove of goodies.

The steamboat had been making a run up river to deliver all sorts of goods to various stores. The boat's load was described as a floating Wal-Mart. Not far from Kansas City, it got caught on a tree snag and sunk, coming to rest deep in the mud. The mud ended up preserving many of the items in a condition never seen before. Only paper and cotton items disintegrated over time. Everything else, while very muddy, was a mindblowingly intact peek into pre-Civil War life.

Dishes, glasses, tools, cookware, shoes, hats, medicine, canned fruit and vegetables (still edible), toys, silverware, cosmetics, hair pins, beads and jewelry, doorknobs. The array was mesmerizing.

The display of items was impressive and very well done.
If you are ever in Kansas City, go to this museum!

I was particularly stuck by how elegant everything was. Rubber was around but plastic hadn't been invented yet. So everything was made of metal and glass and porcelain and leather. I was also fascinated by the shoes, how they all looked pretty much the same and were definitely function over fashion. And I found it instructive to realize that as much as times may have changed, people and their basic household items really haven't. Granted, there weren't any televisions, SmartPhones, or videogames in the Arabian stash but I'm not convinced that was as much to their detriment as it is to ours.

Shoes, shoes, and more shoes.  You can have any color you want so long as it is black.

Perhaps my favorite part to the Steamboat Arabia story is what the guys did once they unearthed all of these priceless treasures. Although their original plan had been to sell everything and make a fortune, they soon realized the loot needed to be restored and shared, together as a collection and as a glimpse back in history. So instead of making a lot of money, they spent a lot of money and created a museum and staff and lab to continue carefully cleaning and preserving the history. Nearly 30 years later, they have only tackled about 2/3 of the items on the ship. I was suddenly honored to have paid the museum's admission fee.

All the trail and history hunting made us hungry.  Luckily, we came with a plan.

We tried three different BBQ joints. We had hopes for more but our gastrointestinal systems...not really accustomed to so much cow...dictated otherwise. Nevertheless, we became very dedicated flossers and toothpickers so I think we had a respectable "KC BBQ Experience." The three places we checked out are best summarized as:

1) A total dive with greasy, filthy floors that probably haven't been mopped since Bill Clinton played the sax on Arsenio Hall's show...but the BBQ was incredible.

2) A highly recommended place that had a "Business Lunch on an Expense Account" vibe and BBQ that wasn't even as good as Famous Dave's. (No offense, Dave.)

3) A place inside a Shamrock gas station that was well-worth the 30 minute wait in line. I bought a t-shirt and I might never wash it due to its delicious BBQ smoke aroma.

A bottle of the gas station BBQ sauce also made it safely home despite the TSA agent completely unpacking our suitcase, unwrapping the bottle, swabbing it for hazardous chemicals, and then haphazardly smushing it back into the suitcase. Why yes, the sauce was their blazin' hot variety, why do you ask? TSA hard at work.

Our Kansas City BBQ Quest introduced us to the delicacy called "burnt ends." They are little chunks of meat (we had beef but you can get them in pork) that are about the size of stew meat. It's probably easiest to Google their exact explanation (here -- and I typed "delicacy" before I read that entry; apparently we are all in agreement) but suffice it to say they are melty delicious and resulted in an "Mmmmm" filled meal with exchanged looks that spoke only of "BEST BBQ EVER!"

The magnificence of Kansas City Burnt Ends

In the evenings we did our best to scout out some good live music. We found one piano man wearing a John Deere hat doing covers of Billy Joel and Elton John. And we found a trio (a piano, a bass guitar, and an electric guitar) jamming under blue lights in a club that supposedly is jumping on the weekends (we were there on a Thursday; barely a hop but still fun).

Our best find was an old joint in downtown Kansas City. A vacant lot was next to it, the sidewalk was popped up like mountain ranges, and the club's awning was a bit faded and torn. It looked very promising.

We knew enough from the reviews to let the host know we wanted to listen to music down below. We creaked down some wooden stairs and found ourselves in a fantastically old speakeasy with brick walls and a low ceiling. The live music was at times a trio, a quartet, and a quintet, depending on who wanted to sit in for a set. They riffed and improvised and took turns being in the spotlight. They swayed and grooved and smiled appreciatively when we clapped. I have since informed Rob that we need to hang out at that cool jazz club in Portland more often than once every six years. I had forgotten how relaxing yet energizing it much it feels like listen to well-played live music. The guys in The Majestic were live Kansas City jazz; I was jazzed, too.

We decided to have dinner while grooving. I gasped a little at the prices but only until I took a bite of the best filet mignon I have ever had in my life. Paired with a favorite wine we don't often see on a wine list, the hepcat music, the Prohibition-era setting, the amusing conventioneers nearby having had just a little too much beverage, all helped spin together an evening that will be my answer the next time anyone asks me "Why Kansas City?"


Thursday, April 17, 2014

I'm really not making any of this up

I was looking through some old photos recently and came across one that I knew required sharing.

Dedicated Woodhaven Ramblings readers know that I have something of an amusing history attempting to cook and bake without killing anyone, going to the emergency room, or meeting the new guys at the fire station.

Just in case you thought I might be taking some literary license with my cooking stories or that my culinary prowess is a somewhat recent development, I submit you this:

The photo was taken in the early 1990s, probably our first or second Christmas together. Rob and I are sitting in my parents' livingroom and I have just opened a very appropriate gift from Mom and Dad:  a fire extinguisher.

This was in response to my early marriage attempt to make toasted garlic bread with dinner.  I got a little distracted and sort of forgot about the bread under the broiler and ended up setting off the smoke alarm.

Instead of removing the charring smoke source from the oven, I instead focused on trying to make the annoying beeping stop.  Because that's just the sort of cook I am.  As I stood on a chair trying to disconnect the batteries (totally unsuccessfully, mind you, since the alarm was hard-wired into the ceiling), the doorbell rang and Rob opened the front door to our apartment.

As a plume of smoke billowed out into the breezeway, a crowd of concerned neighbors asked if everything was OK.

Rob's timeless response:  "Oh, everything's fine.  My wife is just cooking."

I'd love to say this is my very first cooking-gone-awry story, but's it's not.  It was my very first fire extinguisher, though.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Still trying to get the water out of my ears

I had never heard of "floating" until a friend mentioned it on Facebook. She described it as "wondrous, eerie, and peaceful." She also mentioned her thick curly hair was a quite a sight afterwards. Naturally, I got right to Googling.

"Floating" is just that: you float in densely salted water. But beyond that, you are in total darkness and utter silence. For about an hour and a half. So yes, a sensory deprivation of sorts. And yes, I am aware that this is sometimes a torture technique. It must be a fine line between wondrous and torture. I am happy to report I stayed on the wondrous side.

Proponents of floating tout all sorts of benefits including: better sleep quality; pain relief (I was pretty much sold right there); stress relief; mood elevation; inspiration; and heightened creativity.

Physiologically, apparently what happens while floating is your body increases its dopamine and endorphin levels (happy brain chemicals) as your mind goes into a state of theta brainwaves. It's that place of "I'm sort of awake but not really" right before falling asleep. It's also the state people enter when they are meditating. In fact, my little Beginner's Guide to Floating brochure says that "Float tanks can also be thought of as training wheels for meditation." After my disappointing yoga experience in search of meditation, this sounded like an intriguing shortcut.

My floaty friend lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I thought perhaps floating was a new-agey California thing. I was quite surprised to discover that Portland is the home of the largest float center in the country. New agey AND weird!  Score!

What this looked like in reality was two...TWO...couches in the free-trade-herbal-tea-sipping area and six...SIX...rooms to float in. This largest float center in the US was about the size of your basic Starbucks. I somehow expected more. Yet, there is apparently enough experiential demand in Portland that the center is open all the time. By that I mean 24-7. When I made my appointment for 11:00, I had to specify "a.m."

Some of the fundamental things I wondered before I floated:

How will I float? What happens if I fall asleep? Will I drown?

No drowning here!  In this situation, drowning is against the law...of gravity.  Har har. The water is really really really salty. They add in enough Epsom salt (I think he said 900lbs) that the water is more buoyant than the Dead Sea. It felt really soft and slimy, in a good way. Also, the water is only about 10" deep.  Yes, normally enough to drown in but still very comforting to someone who continues to work on her aquaphobia.

Do I wear a bathing suit?

Nope. Each float room has its own adjoining private shower and changing room.  All natural all the way.

I'm not really claustrophobic but will I feel confined?

Nope. But just in case, I chose one of the larger float tanks, which was about 7 feet tall. However, once the lights were out, I eventually starting feeling like a smaller tank would have been better. More cozy and contained and comforting. That was an unexpected reaction.

How much of me will be in the water? Do I need to wear eye goggles?  Cuz salt water hurts!

Because of the buoyancy, I was about half-way submerged. My ears were under the water but my eyes never were. At first my neck and shoulders hurt a bit as I was floating, which surprised me because I don't typically have pain there. I experimented a bit and discovered that having the water at my hairline was uncomfortable. As soon as I tilted my head further back so that the water was a bit above my eyebrows, my neck and shoulders relaxed.

Although ear plugs were provided, my Float Tour Guide Guy said he never wears them. He seemed to have a lot of experience being in a floaty state so I followed his lead. I shall wear earplugs next time and forever more.

Is the water hot? Cold?

The water is kept at skin temperature and the air is warm so eventually you can't really tell where the water stops and you start. In fact, the entire center was rather warm. I arrived comfortably wearing a long sleeved shirt, jeans, and a coat. It was just a few minutes before I was peeling off layers as quickly as was socially acceptable. However, when I went out into the reception area after my float, I found it to be the perfect temperature. And the outside air was now startlingly brisk.

The allotted 90 minutes seems like an awfully long time.

At first it felt like I was going to be in there forever. I was very aware of time and it was passing  s l o w l y. But then eventually I lost track of it. When the new agey music started to play to let me know my 90 minute float was ending, I was disappointed.

So what was the floating experience like?

My friend described it really well. It was indeed wondrous, eerie, and peaceful.

It took awhile for me to just relax into being in this dark pool of warm, slimy water. My mind darted all around and I felt sort of hyper-aware. I wondered if I was ever going to get into that meditative theta brainwavy state. It was during this time that 90 minutes seemed like forever.

I tried touching the bottom on the tank with my hand. I eventually touched it but it took some work. It occurred to me that doing arm and leg exercises in salt water could be a really good resistance training work-out.  Like I said, I wasn't so good at the relaxing part at first.

After awhile, I started to realize I must getting close to the "float state" because I kept surprising myself back into awareness because the water was moving. It turns out I was twitching, as Rob tells me I typically do as I start falling asleep.  So then I started wondering if I was ever going to get past the twitchiness and find out what this meditative state thing feels like. Lots and lots of wondering.

And then it happened.

I wasn't asleep but I wasn't aware of my body or the water or any twitches. And boy, was my mind going! I was having all sorts of ideas that came and stared at me and then flitted away like a hummingbird. I started to imagine they...these ideas which I can't remember...were fire flies that I was trying to catch. Interestingly, I was amused by my inability to catch them. In normal life, I would have been getting just a touch frustrated.

There was only one idea that I still remember. It came through very loudly and definitively. It was a little voice that said, "Your body is beautiful. No judgements."


I've been sitting with this for a few days. While I will admit that I have been obsessing a bit about losing my "winter coat" of a few extra pounds, I really don't think that was the extent of the message.

I have long been amazed by the construction of the human body and how all the organs know how to work in just the right coordination to keep us alive. I have described this system as beautiful.

I have come to think the message -- instead of being about physical appearance -- was more about not being so annoyed that some of my body parts aren't working like they used to. That even though my back and foot and knee and hormones are all evolving into a new normal, my body...all our still a beautiful, wondrous, awesome creation. And I really need to stop discounting that just because a few things aren't perfect.

So what about all the other stuff? The pain relief, better sleep, and happier Toni? Eh, maybe.

My back did feel a lot better while I was floating, and for few hours afterwards, but I'm pretty much back to my typical pain level now. My sleep has actually been worse, but that there are some very distracting environmental issues at play, namely two hyper cats.  And a snoring husband. And happier? Maybe. I don't know. I'm typically a pretty happy person so it would take a pretty big shift either way for me to really notice.

One interesting observation: when I left the float center, all of my senses were heightened. I smelled flowers I didn't even notice when I walked by them before my appointment. Everything around me seemed more defined and clear with sharper edges and more saturated color, like "High Dynamic" photographs. I wanted to make sure I didn't hit traffic on the way home so I should have checked the time, but I figured it would be what it would be and I'd know what time it was soon enough. Ummm....not my typical approach. Also, while driving (no traffic!), I found that I was super aware of what was around me but my reaction time was noticeably slower. Fortunately I noticed this quickly and adjusted my driving accordingly.

The entire floating experience fascinated me. My brain wasn't nearly as relaxed as I thought it would be but my body sure was. It was very instructive to finally experience meditation so that I have a better idea what I'm aiming for. But all that brain activity was a trip. I was expecting more quiet.

I definitely plan to float again, anticipating that it will be even more...relaxing? inspiring? bizarre?...since I won't have the "what the heck am I doing?" filter that goes with any new experience. I will be sure to wear short sleeves next time. And I will definitely use the earplugs. Let it be noted that vinegar and rubbing alcohol, pushing and tugging and gravity, and using a blow dryer do not help get water out of your ears.  Sigh.

Promo shot from the float center's Facebook page.
The room was dark and there was no bikini, but otherwise this is accurate.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Happy yet awkward

I read a book a few years ago that sort of changed everything. It's called Quiet by Susan Cain. Actually, its longer title is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. I've know I am an introvert as long as I've known its definition.

The distinction between introverts and extroverts that I identify most with is that it takes energy for an introvert to be in a group of people while it gives energy to the extrovert. I love hanging out with friends and having a fun evening with a crowd of people...but those activities are always followed by me collapsing in a heap at home with a need to recharge. It helps immensely that I married someone who is similarly wired.

I remember one time some decidedly extroverted friends of ours returned from vacation. They had barely been home long enough to reacquaint themselves with their pets when our phone rang. They asked if they could come over and tell us about their trip. Of course we said yes, but I was amazed that after a week of travel, the first thing they wanted to do was be with other people. That is pretty certainly the very last thing I would have considered.

So Quiet explored this and other characteristics of being a person who likes to be...quiet. It turned out to be an enormously validating book for me. No longer did I think something was wrong with me because I love voicemail and prefer to take walks by myself and find comfort in busy work. At the end of her 368 pages, Susan Cain had revealed to me that not only am I OK, I actually have something important to add to a world that seems to idolize and demand big personalities and group projects and risk taking.

All of this came to mind a few nights ago when Rob and I attended a large fundraising event for a local charity. Rob has been heavily involved with the charity for about five years, now serving on several committees and having a position of responsibility. He knows a lot of people there. I know a number of them, too, but much more on a friendly acquaintance, "oh, you're Rob's wife!" level. You know, enough for about 6 minutes of conversation before it gets awkward.

We've been to events for this charity many times before but Saturday was different. Due to Rob's current involvement, he had lots of people to "talk shop" with and a need and desire to mingle about the room of 300. I knew that it would be a lot easier for him to do that without me quietly in tow. I also knew that many of the conversations would not make much sense to me and that my presence might change the tone of them. So I happily kissed him on his way as I planned to enjoy the post-dinner entertainment on my own.

I was very happy to sit at the table listening to the live band. But then I realized I was the only person there with 9 empty seats. That didn't bother me but I knew it looked weird so I got up and moved to the side of the dance floor. I very happily stood there watching people dance. But then I realized the MC/Dance Party Cheerleader was making it his business to drag women out on the dance floor to teach them how to line dance. I saw him notice me so I decided I needed some water.

I happily hung out on the fringe of the room with my water bottle, but then I realized that enough people knew who I was and might wonder why Rob and I had abandoned each other. While it is socially fine...and even preferred...for married couples to mingle separately at large parties, it's not really fine for one to be mingling and the other to be wallflowering.

I tried to go out into the lobby, but my presence there was even more obvious due to the bright lights. I wandered back into the ballroom and tried desperately to figure out where in the world I could be happily alone without being noticed and raising questions that would put Rob in an undesirable light.

I found refuge in the restroom, taking an impressively long time to apply lipstick. And then I found a chair outside the ballroom and happily busied myself looking at my photos on my digital camera. I was quite engrossed in this busy work, so I was startled when a couple of Rob's extroverted colleagues targeted me as a wallflower and insisted that they join me and introduce me to their friends. Exactly the situation I was trying to avoid. Sigh.

Fortunately Rob showed up just as I was trying to commit the new names to memory. A few more pleasantries and we were off to the heavenly solitude of our car.

The entire experience left me so out of sorts. It was so strange to be absolutely at peace with being alone at a party (thank you Susan Cain!) while at the same time knowing it didn't look right and feeling I had to not look like I was alone (thank you extrovertedly focused society!). If I had been completely anonymous it wouldn't have mattered. It was purely because I didn't want to put a weird social spotlight on Rob that I felt any awareness that simply being my own quiet self wasn't appropriate. UGH!

I know this situation is going to come up again, so I need a better solution. I can fake being extroverted for awhile, but I know that when I hit that wall, it's OK to stop. Maybe I'll bring a box of Quiet next time and hand them out. Or better yet, maybe I'll find another introvert, quickly introduce myself, and then we can happily and quietly hang out together while watching the extroverts do what they do best.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Kiss me, I'm...not really sure what I am

Due to some twists and turns like adoptions and closets with skeletons, I really don't know much about my biological history. My gene pool is more like a dog's water dish. I can trace my DNA to my mother, my father, and one grandma. I am certain of only six people currently walking the planet that share any of my genetics. Our family reunions can be held in a minivan.

My Charlie Brown Christmas family tree has never really bothered me, except for that time in high school when we were instructed to map our lineage. I dutifully filled out the big sheet of butcher paper with names of people whom I considered family, but it felt disingenuous since the purpose of the assignment wasn't so much family as biology. I really didn't feel like explaining my "situation" to my teacher so I forged ahead as if I shared blood with all the names on my chart. Eh, an A is an A.

The only aspect of my ethnicity that I know for sure is Scandinavian...via that one grandma. Other than that, my ethnic heritage is anyone's guess. And most people guess Italian. It makes sense, given my olive skin, dark hair, and profound love of pasta. So for years, that has been my assumption: I am probably Italian with some Scandinavian mixed in for giggles.

With a dropped hint that he expertly picked up, Rob got me a very unique and technologically mind-blowing Christmas present last year: a DNA sample kit from

All I had to do was spit in a vial (morning spit prior to any food or toothpaste was best, per instructions) and ship it off in a self-mailer to a lab across the country. There were all sorts of matching stickers with long identification numbers and a list of identity-preserving instructions. It was a lot like filling out a Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes entry. Make no mistake: the spit and ensuing results are all me.

About two weeks later, an email arrived announcing my DNA results were ready and viewable online. Finally, I would be able to own my Italian heritage with confidence! Buono!

I logged into my account, clicked on the "See Full Ethnicity Estimate" box, and stared incredulously at the list that appeared. According to my spit, I am:

30% Great British (England, Scotland, Wales)
23% Western European (Belgium, France, Germany, etc.)
12% Irish
11% Native American
  8% Iberian (Spain, Portugal)
  5% Eastern European (lots of Slavic countries)
  5% Italian/Greek
  3% Finnish/Northwestern Russian
  2% Scandinavian
  1% Northern African (Algeria, Morocco, Libya)

I would be lying if I said I wasn't a bit disappointed. I am barely the one thing I knew for sure (Scandinavian)! And hardly much more of the thing I always assumed (Italian)! In fact, I have nearly twice as much Native American in me as both of those combined. Huh, what?? My greedy, politically incorrect heart sunk at the thought of all those missed scholarships. If I had only known. (Yeah, I know.  Let's move on.)

And Irish? Really? Yes, fine, I will admit my favorite color is green, the only beer I will drink is dark sludgy stuff like Guinness, and anyone who can make snakes disappear is my hero...but really? Irish? I know some at-least-partially Irish people who are fiercely proud of their Irishness. I have watched their national fervor from afar with an amused curiosity but I have never felt drawn to be a part of their clan. Are they my people after all?

And Great Britain and Western Europe. Yay. How exciting. Here I have long fancied myself something relatively exotic, like Mediterranean with a dash of Turkish maybe, since I blended in so well in Istanbul. Instead my blood is about a white bread as you can get. Brilliant.

I have been sitting with these results for over a month, trying to reconcile the reality I thought I knew with the reality according to "microarray-based autosomal DNA testing which surveys a person's entire genome at over 700,000 locations."

At first I was somewhat confused that I wasn't the person I thought I was. But after some reflection and soul-soothing spaghetti, I realized nothing had actually changed at all. Sure, I have some new information, but it doesn't change who I am, what I love, how I choose to live my life, or where I want to go on vacation.

But one thing might change.  I might have a new answer to the question "what ethnicity are you?" Maybe from now on I'll just say "all-American mutt." Hard to argue with a mircoarray of autosomes.

My people