Friday, April 8, 2016

Finding freedom inside the lines

The first time I heard someone talking about Adult Coloring Books, I thought they were joking. When they assured me they were quite serious, I assumed they were talking about something naughty that one might find in stores with lots of x’s and darkened windows. But no, really, these are unrisqué, totally upstanding coloring books for grownups. Nothing x-rated about them.

Naturally I started pondering what would constitute pictures for adults to color. Instead of Disney characters and ponies and bunnies, perhaps images of sensible shoes or filing income tax returns or deciphering Explanation of Benefit statements from recent doctor visits?

I found the entire idea of grown up people coloring rather goofy and was perplexed what silliness might have spawned the fad. Insert foreshadowing music here.

Then Rob gave me one of the best birthday presents ever: an extensive variety pack of Sharpies. Score!

I have something of a passion (one might say addiction) for colored pens. If I have to do adulty things like pay bills and take notes at meetings, at least I can do them in a rainbow of pretty colors, right? Who’s with me?

At about the same time as I was admiring my new plastic case of new colorful markers, I was also on a quest to figure out how to relax (please note prior blog about crocheting). And I was starting to hear grown people I knew (mostly women) talking about how relaxing this adult coloring book thing was. So I unceremoniously caved.

Picking out a coloring book was a lot more personal and discerning than I imagined. I truly thought I’d just go to Michael’s and pick up The Coloring Book and maybe some impulse-buy Gummi Bears and continue on my Grown Up Woman errands. It never occurred to me I would have several dozen different design themes to choose from.

The books weren’t just the somewhat predictable themes of animals and plants. There were also themes of abstract designs. Some were more linear with sharp edges. Some were more swirly. Some were kaleidoscopey. Some were groovy paisley. It was so overwhelming – as Michael’s seems determined to be – that I almost abandoned my band-wagoning altogether in favor of two soothing impulsive bags of Gummies instead.

But then I spotted The One.

It was a weirdly instant, intuitive thing when I flipped through “In The Flow” and knew I had found my book. I immediately connected with the curves and softness of the designs. I liked that a number of them were busy without being so intricate as to require bifocals and Excedrin.

So I snapped up my book, headed home with much anticipation and visions of gleeful Sharpie-ing, and let my coloring book sit unused on my nightstand for a good two months.

Falling into the same category of reading a novel, I just couldn’t seem to allow myself the luxury to simply sit and color. I am hard-wired to “accomplish” stuff. I am learning the hard way that this is both a blessing and a curse. Hence my quest to learn better how to relax before I curse myself into utter and total exhaustion.

Finally, while on vacation in a warm beachy locale, I recently forced myself to flip through my optimistically packed coloring book to see if I could maybe get Into the Flow. Within about 30 seconds, I spotted a page as the words “blues and greens” popped into my head with command and directive. And so I obeyed.

A work in progress

It took me about three days to finish my Very Important Work. I found myself playing with my Sharpies while Rob did a little light reading about a Muslim Marco Polo named Ibn Battutah. Yes, we decompress a bit differently, he and I.

Just as promised, the coloring indeed proved very relaxing. I seemed to tap into a completely different and largely unexercised part of my brain as I was pushing the ink around and letting intuition guide me as to which color to use in each section.

This stunned me since my typical approach would have been to study the design and plan out all the colors, with organization and intent. I’m not spontaneous and I’m not artistic. Things involving color (home décor, wardrobe, flower pots, nail polish) always require much thought and consideration. The freedom to just let the colors flow and not fixate on any decisions was bizarre and unfamiliar.

As I colored, I felt myself relaxing, my breathing deepen, and my swirling brain chatter blessedly go silent.

Despite many attempts, I have yet to figure out how the heck to meditate (see, this quest is very intentional. I’m beginning to think that’s part of the problem…). But I’ve started to wonder if the Zen-y, zoned-out-yet-singularly-focused state my pens took me to while coloring might actually be in the neighborhood of meditating.

Although the only tangible thing I have to show for my time coloring is a mishmash of blues and greens splashed in between black lines, I utterly surprised myself by visiting a new place in my brain and loving the creative spontaneity and lack of judgment that exists there. I am grateful some silly trendy fad and my previously inexplicable fascination with colored pens can guide me to visit there again. Soon and often.

But first, I'm pretty sure I need some more Sharpies.

Ta da!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Pickled kale smoothies are next

My unintended yet undeniable transformation into a Portland Hipster has taken one step closer. I am learning how to crochet.

Wearing my ultra-trendy black framed Buddy Holly glasses, sipping organic rooibos tea, and rocking a t-shirt featuring a llama wearing a top hat, I’ve got my J/10 hook making knots out of a multi-colored skein of yarn from Wal-Mart. Yes, the transformation still has a ways to go. I’m sure there are free trade yarn shops I should be patronizing instead. Bad hipster.

I’ve wanted to learn how to crochet for a few years now. In fact, I gave it a tension-filled go about 4 years ago at a women’s retreat at church. It left me contemplating trying needlepoint instead.

This time, though, I had a much better teacher.

Chelsea will officially be my sister (in-law) in about six months. I truly cannot wait. She already feels like family so the “not yet” qualifications to her sisterly status are getting increasingly awkward. She is fun and goofy and hysterical and smart and determined and creative. And she makes my brother-in-law the best version of himself I have ever known. So yes, I adore Chelsea.

Chelsea also rocks because she, too, appreciates and innately understands the beauty of quiet. And quiet activities. Introverts unite! Without saying a word!

Chelsea and I had a chance to sit quietly together on a couch a few weeks ago. With patience and clarity and starting at the beginning, Chelsea showed me how to do a slip knot and a chain and a single crochet and a double crochet and how to switch colors and how to finish. We covered a lot of territory in just two episodes of “Fuller House.”

Although it is obviously the work of a beginner, I am quite proud of my first crocheted effort. Rob offered his support by using it as a pocket square for the evening. Good hipster.

I have since been practicing on an ever-growing set of pink, blue, and purple knots. Admittedly I've had to consult YouTube a few times to remember how to hold my yarn right and how to do a single crochet. I will probably revisit double crocheting soon.

I’m making good progress, although I would really love to sit next to Chelsea again and watch her work. I think my tension is off and I still can’t look up while crocheting. And I go very s l o w l y. This is actually probably a good thing since one of the aspects that attracted me to this yarny hobby is forced relaxation. I’m not very good at relaxing.

Thankfully, I have found it very soothing to lie on the couch with music or NCAA noises in the background and work my knots. I don’t know what I’m making, but I am having a blast getting there. Zak has been helping, too.

I do sort of worry, though, that this relaxation might be preempted by PRODUCTIVITY once I get good enough to follow a pattern and make something intentionally. I’m just a touch goal oriented (stop laughing, Rob and parents) and have an uncanny ability to turn just about anything into A Project with A Purpose. Thus my inability to relax.

I have mentioned to a few friends that I am learning how to crochet. To a person the first comment has been, “What are you making?” thus reinforcing my concern.

My first answer was “A bookmark.” Then as my non-project project got bigger, it turned into “A Barbie beach blanket.” Currently I fear it looks suspiciously like a pot holder.

I have to work fast to turn it into a book cozy because a pot holder would require me using the kitchen. And although the yarn wrapper doesn’t give any warnings of flammability, I betcha I can catch a crocheted pot holder on fire in three entrées or less.

Truth be told, my goal is to make a slouchy beanie hat so I can
be as cooly hipster as the llamas

(Shameless plug:  get the awesome t-shirt here!)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bake me a cake as fast as you can

Rob turned a big birthday last week. He’s never really been keen on celebrating birthdays so it wasn’t terribly uncharacteristic that we spent his Big Birthday Ending in Zero wedged in small seats munching on peanuts and pretzels. We had places to go and people to see.

Nevertheless, I didn’t want his birthday to go completely unfeted. So yesterday I decided I would make him dinner AND his favorite cake in belated celebration.

After a full day of book study, haircut, gym, grocery shopping, and being on call for a friend having outpatient fun, I finally flopped home and decided I could get a cake in the oven before collapsing on the couch for a spell.

Now since you know me and my kitchen prowess, you don’t need to ask if the cake was from scratch. You might instead ask me which brand of boxed cake mix I bought. To which I would answer I invited Betty Crocker to the party.

Knowing better than to try to do a layer cake (hahahaha!), I reached into the dark depths of our Baking Cupboard and finally scrounged up a 9x13 pan suitable for both baking AND serving.  It may not be pretty but it's efficient.  Yay efficient baking!

I honestly can’t remember the last time I used the cake pan (sorry, Rob) so I’m not sure when the rust splotches dotting the bottom and sides of the pan appeared. After trying to scrub them for a bit, I decided maybe 25 years was a good life for a pan and perhaps I should toss it and buy an unrusty one.

I read the mix instructions again and noticed that there was an oven temperature option for using a glass dish. I have glass dishes! A 9x13 one even! Without rust! My well-stocked but oft-avoided kitchen saved the day!

I whisked right along, dumping in oil and water and three newly-purchased eggs. I dirtied a spatula and a measuring cup and the counter. I was baking!

While the cake baked at 350, I busied myself cracking and disposaling 10 eggs that reportedly expired on Feb 2. Of this year, thankfully, but still. I was just grateful they were still mostly liquid. And that I had thought to purchase their replacements earlier in the day.

When the timer rang, I was on the phone discussing the outpatient fun, so Rob kindly offered to do the toothpick test. He set the timer for a few more minutes and motioned that when it rang again, the cake would be ready.

When I took the cake out 3 minutes later, it looked so pretty! Yellow cakey goodness just waiting for chocolate frosting. I went back to the couch for more flopping while the cake cooled and I summoned the energy to start dinner.

Sometime later, Rob observed from the kitchen, “I don’t think it was done after all.”


“The cake. I don’t think it cooked long enough.”

Wondering why he was already digging in with knife and fork without the icing on the cake, I unpeeled myself from the couch and arrived in the kitchen without my camera. I should have known better.

The center of the cake had deflated. Like the entire center. Like it looked like I had cooked the cake with a brick artfully placed in the center so as to leave an impressively symmetric divot. Actually, my cake looked suspiciously like the Pineapple Upside Down Danish of a few years ago. I may be inept in the kitchen but at least I’m consistent?

I stared at it, thinking maybe the divot would be a great place to put lots of frosting to even everything out. I then grabbed a toothpick and performed voodoo all over the cake. Gooeyness. Oops.

Rob… an incredibly supportive and highly experienced good sport when it comes to my “cooking”… suggested with enthusiasm that we could just cut out the center part and turn the cake into a Bundt cake. Brilliant! I know what a Bundt cake is! Plus, he loves cake batter (it’s his favorite ice cream flavor), so he could just eat the gooey center part as an appetizer. Is he awesome or what?

I got a knife and glopped the liquidish yellow confection onto a plate and handed Rob a fork. Two bites in, he dabbed his tongue with his finger and produced an egg shell.

Two more bites and some rooting around and it was clear…that one shell fragment wasn’t an anomaly.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I am 48 years old and somehow I managed to ruin a cake…from a cake mix…with just three added ingredients…not just one but TWO ways. I should just hang up my mixing bowl right now. Please? Good Lord!

Looking at the clock and insistent on baking a cake for Rob, I decided that I still had time to run to the store for another box AND a new baking pan and still have dinner in prime time. Barely.

40 minutes later, I was washing my new pan. Rob, the prophetic man that he is, cautioned, “Please don’t rush.” How does that man read my mind?!

Going in slo-mo, I opened the second box of mix and realized I had gotten a different brand. Why do the two biggest brands of cake mix use the same two primary colors on their boxes? Without meaning to, I had thrown Betty out of the party and invited Duncan instead. Whatever. Cake mix is cake mix, right? As long as it isn’t crunchy?

Mix, oil, and water were in the bowl, along with my first of three eggs. Being ever so careful not to add any texture to the cake this time, I apparently was a little too focused and did something I have never ever done with an egg in my life. Not even when I was five years old and my grandma was teaching me how to make scrambled eggs.

I cracked the second egg on the counter and it fell completely out of the shell all over the faux granite. As I tried to scoop it all up and keep salmonella from hitting the floor, I started to laugh. Not quite crying laughter but close. Rob appeared as if on command.

“Do you have any more eggs?”

“Of course not. I only bought a half-pack.” Still laughing.

A spatula and plate later, we had scooped up most of the free-range pre-chicken off the counter and into the bowl.

I am relieved to report that 27 minutes later I was victorious over the second attempt at the cake. It baked just as promised without crunch or goo.  I even managed to get the frosting applied without cutting my tongue on the unnecessarily sharp Cutco spreader thingy afterwards (you don't do that twice, believe you me).

Undecorated victory is mine!  But the cake is Rob's

I also have completed an unintended taste-off between the two major cake mix brands. I can now proclaim Betty a better dessert guest than Duncan, despite the fact she is currently lounging in our trash can.  You'll be at our next party, Betty!  Crunch- and goo-free!  Hopefully.

Salvaged from our recycling bin just in time

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ignorance is bliss…and parenting is easy!

Rob and I don’t have kids but we got to pretend to be parents for a full 13 hours a couple of days ago. Given this vast experience, we shall soon be making ourselves available for all your parenting questions. We’ve got it all figured out, just ask us.

Emma is a young teen from our church’s Youth Group that Rob and I lead. Due to some unavoidable business travel and sick relatives, Emma’s mom asked if Emma might be able to stay with us after Youth Group until the next morning when she had to be at school.

Rob and I discussed it…as we do most things…and we decided we could totally handle it. The bulk of our conversation concerned having a house guest, not about having responsibility for a kid. Because, well, that part never occurred to us. We have house guests rather frequently. It didn’t dawn on me that a 14-year-old would be any different until I later realized I might have to make her breakfast at an ungodly hour (hello 7:00am).

Emma arrived at Youth Group with all the gear she would need for the several days away from home (Emma is on tour, staying at different houses on different nights until Mom returns). I figured she would have a backpack for school and a backpack for spending the night. Silly childless me.

We stuffed our trunk with two suitcases, two backpacks, a pillow, a blanket, and a basketball.

When we got to Woodhaven – which Emma had never visited before – Emma asked where she would be sleeping. I told her we had a guest room and a dedicated bathroom she could use. Her eyes smiled and got wide as I realized she was probably usually offered a couch or a sleeping bag. Because, well, she’s a kid.

Rob asked Emma if she had homework to do. She said she didn’t. We didn’t think to question her answer. Should we have? Hmmm.

Admirably breaking my habit of offering guests a glass of wine, the three of us hung out in our living room for a bit chatting. Somewhere around 10:15pm, it occurred to me to ask Emma a question I’ve never asked a house guest before.

“Do you have a bed time?”

Emma smiled sort of sheepishly and answered, “10:00.” Oops.

We discussed timing for the next morning and I was relieved to learn Emma doesn’t really like to eat breakfast. Suddenly feeling all nurturey, I told Emma she had to eat SOMETHING in the morning before school. I offered to make her a fruit smoothie. We settled on a banana instead. Parenting is easy!

The conversation was winding down and then Emma asked, “What favorite memories do you guys have about your childhoods?”

Rob and I were both intrigued by the question, having never been asked it before.

I chatted for a bit about summer trips to Idaho and the Oregon coast to visit cousins. Rob talked about 4th of July celebrations with friends and neighbors and parades and fireworks. I then noticed Emma’s wheels spinning, trying to think of another question. I glanced at the clock. 10:35. A figurative light bulb went off.

“You’re stalling, aren’t you?” I smilingly accused Emma.


I was impressed by her honesty. But not as impressed as I was at my figuring out what she was doing. Just two hours in and I already had this parenting thing figured out. I rock!

We shuffled Emma off to bed…thankfully still in the 10 o’clock hour…agreeing to wake her up at 7:20 the next morning. I crawled into bed, set the alarm for a time typically reserved for early morning flights out of PDX, and then lay there awake…for hours.

I kept hearing Emma upstairs running water or closing a door. I didn’t want to go to sleep until I knew she was asleep. I have no idea why. Other house guests don’t affect me like that. Is this a mom thing?

The next morning, Emma was up and dressed and eating a banana right on time. Again feeling all nurturey, I asked Emma if she wanted a bottle of water to take to school. She excitedly said yes; I guess the water in the fountains at school is gross.

We were in the car 2 minutes ahead of schedule. I’m now totally confused about all those scenes in TV shows and movies and commercials where the entire family is running around like the house is on fire, trying to get out the door in the morning. I mean, you tell the kid what time you need to leave and she does it. Why all the rushing? Parenting is easy!

As we approached Emma’s school, I was caught off guard by all the traffic and the need to be so alert so early. Flashing yellow lights and school buses and adults wearing reflective gear and lots of arms waving to direct cars this way and that way. No wonder people drink coffee in the morning.

There was a definite dance routine for this whole School Drop Off thing but the steps were totally awkward, much like the Nae Nae. Emma was kind enough to give directions so that other parents didn’t honk at us for doing it wrong. I’m now convinced all driving tests should include a school drop off. Waaay more challenging…and ultimately more useful…than parallel parking.

We got Emma’s gear transferred to her next host and I felt all mom-like when I told her to have a good day at school as she slung her backpack over her shoulder. Part of me wished I had thought to pack her a PB&J sandwich, apple juice, and a Ding Dong.

Returning home, the weight and exhaustion of being a mom for 13 hours eventually consumed me. I took a two hour nap.

Maybe parenting...even the super amenable Emma...isn’t quite as easy as I thought.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dog Run

My fear of dogs goes way back. I blame Mutt Mutt. Or, rather, Mutt Mutt’s owner.

My great grandmother (absolutely *mother* not *ma*) loved her decidedly mangy version of Benji. The yappy beige dog clicked his nails all around the wood and cement floors of Grandmother Lottie’s old house. Mutt Mutt wasn’t particularly friendly to anyone other than Grandmother, least of all me.

When we would visit (which seemed very often), Mutt Mutt would bark at me and chase me and try to nip at me. He was a small dog and I was a small 8 year old. Apparently Mutt Mutt was simply trying to play with me. Grandmother thought my terror was very amusing. I hated that dog but I hated the laughter and lack of protection more.

And so I don’t like dogs much. Wasn’t much of a fan of Grandmother either.

Years later, my Dog Phobia took on a new dimension when Rob and I were walking on a trail along the ocean. I was grateful to be outside on a scenic leisurely walk after being cooped up in the house for so many months following my first back surgery.

I was rather tentative but feeling sturdy in my clamshell back brace that doubled as enormous plastic corset. No bra for months! Is that more than you needed to know?

Suddenly, a large dog of the Doberman variety started running towards us. Dogs were supposed to be on a leash but this one had no human attached to it. Terrified, I froze. Rob tried to intervene and managed to get the dog to slow down but he wasn’t able to prevent the dog from jumping up on me, muddy front paws on my shoulders, dog breath and spittle and teeth in my face.

The owner came running over and apologized. I think I waited until she was gone before I burst into fear-filled tears while trying to wipe the mud off my sweater. If I hadn’t been wearing my brace, my unforeseen second back surgery would have happened a lot sooner.

And so, yeah, I reaaaally don’t like dogs much. Particularly the untrained, unleashed type.

I have determined that I can handle tiny dogs (think slipper sized) and old, arthritic, drooling dogs. The little ones I can flick away. The old ones move slower than I do so I can out maneuver them. But any other size or age of dog and you can usually find me casually cowering behind Rob.

Except when I am by myself. Like on my very therapeutic and greedily guarded walks alone.

My walks heal me. They help my back feel better and they restore my spirit. I often find God on my walks, whether in music or scenery or thoughts. My walks by myself are a somewhat sacred time for me.

Recently, because of a knee issue that will hopefully be fixed soon, I have been doing my easiest walk: our neighborhood. Two mostly flat laps on a nicely paved road lined by trees and a creek and neighbors who wave.

Last week, though, someone insisted on joining me. Toby. A neighbor’s free range and largely untrained dog. I hadn’t seen him in a long time so I had sort of assumed…with a guilty tinge of hope…that his wild ways had finally caught up with him.

You see, Toby is black lab mix who doesn’t wear a reflective collar. He LOVES to chase and attack cars on our private road. I have lost track how many times I have slammed on brakes or swerved or honked out of deference to Toby.

But a few days ago, there Toby was again. And with amazing energy and agility, that large 10-year-old black damp dog was charging me and trying to jump on me.

Prickly with fear, I yelled NO and DOWN and GO HOME with increasing desperation. I did all sorts of ill-advised pirouettes to avoid Toby literally getting in my face. My good knee wriggled a tiny bit. Thank God I was wearing my knee brace on the bad one.

Determined not to have my walk hijacked by a dog, I continued on my path. Infuriatingly, my second lap was pretty much a repeat of yelling and dancing with Toby. Adamant and defiant, I marched up to the neighbor’s house and knocked loudly on the door. Nobody answered. I cried all the way home.

Today, armed with a more confident Alpha Dog voice and posture, I tried my walk again. About half way to Toby’s house, he appeared in the street and then trotted back to his house. Hoping maybe his owner had called him back home, I optimistically continued towards his house. And then…there he was again, charging down the street at me at startling speed.

I did my most convincing yelling and pointing. Although Toby didn’t put a paw on me, he sure wanted to. I looked at him and boomed (mostly to me), “THAT’S IT!”

I marched up to the house again and again knocked with purpose. This time someone answered.

I vaguely remember meeting Marla when she was in high school. She is now a nurse of some sort (judging from her scrubs) and has a young daughter (judging from her clingy leg accessory). Marla and I had never really chatted much before today.

I am proud to say I was polite and friendly and non-accusatory. At least outwardly. We had a very pleasant conversation and I learned that “SIT” sometimes works on Toby. Marla demonstrated and Toby complied…and then didn’t…proving Marla right.

Wondering about Toby’s unnatural energy, I asked with that same tinge of guilty hope how old he is.

“Oh, he’s about a year and a half, I think.”

I stared at her dumbfounded, recalling the decade of screeching tires and that time about 8 years ago when I bought one of those ultrasonic dog deterrent remote control thingys only to have Toby be mesmerized by it and follow me and the noise all the way home to our garage.

A few more questions and it was revealed that Marla’s family has had several black dogs over the years. All looking about the same. All similarly managed and trained. All named Toby.

The guilty balloon of hope popped.

I then asked about the possibility of one of those invisible fence things that all the other neighbors have for their dogs. Nope. And seemingly no plans for one. Fantastic.

“Do you let him out at any specific time?” I asked hopefully. “I have been walking along here quite a bit recently and I hadn’t seen him until last week.” Maybe if she saw how cooperative I was willing to be, Marla would keep her scary dog in the house or contained in the yard more often.

“Well, we have been trying to let him out more because some neighbors,” Marla’s hand waved in a general direction over there, “complained that we were leaving him on the chain too long.”

And in that moment, my anger and offense and they-better-do-something-about-this-and-now attitude soften. In their place were unexpected sympathy and perspective and new understanding. Suddenly a bright light was shining on Marla’s struggle instead of my own.

“You just can’t win either way, huh?”

Marla gave me a weary smile saturated with relief while she shook her head.

We chatted a little more, we shook hands, and parted as friendly neighbors. Before I got to the next house, I got to practice my “SIT” command on Toby. It worked beautifully until I complimented him by saying “Good dog.” He was so excited by the praise, he tried to hug me.

I am still nervous and I still fear Toby’s exuberance might harm me. I now have another ultrasonic dog deterrent thingy on its way from Amazon. (I threw the other one away not realizing I had a revolving door of other Tobys it might work on.)

But now, instead of being indignant that I can’t even walk in my own neighborhood without fear of a damn dog… and instead of being filled with righteous anger that the neighbors really need to better train and care for their pets… and instead of letting fear consume and paralyze me… I am now more at peace with the idea of figuring out how Toby and I might co-exist without fear or yelling or jumping or dancing.

Like I said, I often find God on my walks.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The sneaky path of assimilation

My hubby grew up in Southern California. We hang out there at least a few times every year so we can visit large portions of his rather large family (and I mean quantity, not girth. To the contrary, I often feel like I gain 10 pounds down there just by comparison. Ugh.). Although SoCal has never felt like home to me, it does feel very familiar after 25 years of visits.

It usually takes me a day or so to adjust to the warm glowing orb thing in the sky and all the brown and cement and retail opportunities (we have one mall in our entire county…one). But then I eventually settle into the familiarity of who sits where in the family room and stories about my father-in-law’s days in the world of ketchup and cooking oil and pudding cups. I focus on the family time and chats and (hopefully) my mother-in-law’s lasagna. For at least a little while, my life and world at Woodhaven fades into the background.

And this is exactly as it was during our most recent visit. Until my two worlds collided with the simple reading of a newspaper.

When we first moved to Woodhaven over 11 years ago, it wasn’t long before I was heeing and hawing at our free weekly local newspaper. The editing was so bad and the letters to the editor so deliciously small town, I quickly took to calling it The Local Rag. There were stories about horses and taxidermy and ATVs. Topics completely unfamiliar to me, serving to highlight every week how very not-from-these-parts we were in our new home.

But then the paper was sold and a new editor was brought in. The spelling mistakes disappeared as did the lengthy Corrections section apologizing for the prior week’s multitude of reporting errors. The letters to the editor no longer railed against too many stop lights on Main Street or the unsightly trash collecting in a local park. Instead the letters took on a less provincial tone with concerns about politics and the economy and such. In other words, the paper became much more professional and thus much less entertaining. It lost the quirky, small-town, rural, decidedly not-the-SF-Bay-Area feel it once had.

Or so I thought.

On one of our last nights in LA a few weeks ago, I decided to read the latest issue of The Local Rag that I had tucked in our suitcase.

As the pages fluttered in the conditioned air (in January!), I read the news with new eyes. Or rather, old eyes of 11 years ago. Having immersed myself in the trendy suburban Californianess of Orange County for nearly a week, I had unknowingly distanced myself from Woodhaven just enough to discover my newspaper hasn’t actually changed much.

My Local Rag hasn’t lost its quirky, cowtown appeal at all. It is me that has changed. Me that no longer thinks twice about seeing a story about concealed pistol license applications being on the rise, or a 12 year old in camo proudly showing his first elk from a recent hunting trip, or a rather sizeable paid ad titled “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

11 years ago, I would have gasped at the publication of such a picture
These days, I see much more graphic hunting pix in my Facebook newsfeed
(Yes, I'm referring to you, Kayleigh)

All of those stories are expected, typical stories to me now. They no longer scream how big a change we made when we left the San Francisco area for a new adventure. It no longer strikes me as amusing or confusing to find a story about a local Mounted Shooting Junior Champion. Sure, I still need to Google “mounted shooting” but I no longer get all itchy and twitchy about the celebration and intention of riding horses while shooting at stuff.

I just realized I have been writing this blog while wearing a pink camo shirt. A shirt I bought about five years ago because it’s warm and looks cute with my jeans. Don't worry, though, the jeans aren't Wranglers.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Too Much New Year

I am not one to typically make New Year’s Resolutions. I’m more of the philosophy that if I need to make a change, I should just make it and not wait for a new wall calendar. All dates are sort of arbitrary, so April 21 is as good a time to make a course correction as January 1 is.

So it’s not because it’s the beginning of the year that so many new things have populated my life recently. It’s more because sales were good or we finally had time that we’ve been replacing and upgrading and inviting in so much new.

We replaced our roof two summers ago, about a year before we were told we should start getting bids. Having watched two neighbors recently attach blue tarps to their roofs after a huge wind storm and then try to replace so many shingles in the rain, I felt vindicated in my dedication to replacing things just slightly too early.

It is therefore totally within character that a year ago we decided that sometime in 2015 we would replace some major appliances. Yes, I’m a planner. And no, there is no spreadsheet involved (but, fine, there is a Word document tracking annual goals and such. I am so predictable.).

Thanks to some great Christmas sales and a slow drip of research throughout 2015, we jumped pretty quickly on a well-priced washer, dryer, and dishwasher a couple of weeks ago. Super easy purchases in store and online, delivery, set-up, rebates, haul-away. All Eazy McSqueezy as my dad would say.

Except it wasn’t.

The washer and dryer delivery was fine but the dryer didn’t work. We ran out and bought a new circuit breaker, hoping that was the problem. I congratulated myself for marrying a handy engineer as I watched Rob install the new breaker. Exasperatingly, the dryer still tripped it within 5 seconds. An early morning phone call to the Big Box Store that we purchased it from resulted in assurances that they would be happy to exchange it…except none of their stores in the Portland metro had that model. Of course.

The nice delivery guys came back, hauled away the sparkling new but dead dryer, and refunded my credit card. Happily, a different Big Box Store had what we needed for 99 cents more. Seemed like a bargain, especially since this dryer hasn’t tripped the new circuit at all. Five loads of laundry later, I’m starting to trust my new machines even though I’m still confused by all the songs the dryer keeps playing at different intervals. The owner’s manual is of no help; I’ve scoured it. Google is probably next.

That adventure behind us (I'm leaving out the part about finding someone on a community Facebook page who wanted our old set and watching a mom and her gangly 14-year-old son smush both machines into a Suburban), Rob dove into installing the dishwasher. Surely that would be simple, right? I mean, 11 years ago he installed the one we were replacing and it was Eazy McSqueezy all the way. At least as I remember it, having mostly stood there with my hands on my hips offering cold beverages and lighting.

Sadly, though, this installation came to a dramatic halt on Saturday when we realized that the lip of our kitchen counters is about 1/8” too long. We had the counters replaced a couple of years after we got that other dishwasher, so we had no idea that the long lip was basically trapping our appliance in the cabinetry. Go us!

Rob managed to wriggle out the old one (mostly since we didn't care about scratches or operability) but there is no way the new one is going in. As I type, I am waiting for a guy from the granite place to come do something with tools and dust and noise to shave off 1/8” to allow our new dishwasher the freedom to move about the cabinets. The guy was supposed to come yesterday but there was an ice storm and nobody was going anywhere. Because Portland. And because that's just how things are rolling at the moment.

In other newness:

We’ve also replaced Rob’s cell phone which naturally necessitated upgrading iTunes. Which naturally messed up all of the birthdays in my phone for some inexplicable but widely discussed and loathed reason. And those so-called Geniuses? Yeah, not so much. So unimpressed, although they do have pretty cool glasses and tattoos. I got it all working again despite the Geniuses; I only had to create about 20 new contacts and leave out the birthday info. Eh, that’s what ice storms are for, right?

I thankfully stopped short of upgrading the operating system on my cell phone to match Rob's. A cooler head and snail-paced DSL prevailed in making me realize my year-old operating system is working just fine, despite what the musthavethelastestthingNOW Apple culture would have me think. Really, why bring on the inevitable headaches (see birthday mess) to simply have more little yellow faces to express emotions I am encouraged not to take the words or time to express?

Last week, after many phone calls and much smooth jazz hold music, we finally found a solution to make our internet go faster (and cheaper?!?). However, I have resisted making the switch calls to customer service in India until our chocolate supply is replenished. Things would be so much easier if we weren't so darned sentimental about an old email address (truly, it's vintage at over 20 years old; so many memories).

Realizing that our favorite airline doesn’t fly direct anymore to the places we most often want to go, we decided a few weeks ago to switch loyalties on our primary credit cards. Twenty minutes yesterday with customer service (in Pasadena!) and I think I have opted out of all the in-house, third-party, non-affiliates, joint-marketing shenanigans Bank of America would love to offer me. We'll find out soon enough.

And lastly, yesterday, finally thawed out enough to tackle the rural roads around Woodhaven, I got my hair cut about 2 weeks past schedule due to my haircutter’s holiday travel. I was certain I would be camped out in front of her salon with scissors in my hand, desperate to lose the 7 extra pounds I was carrying on my head. But much to my surprise, I have sort of enjoyed seeing some waves again. I have been wearing my hair short enough, everything was more straight and less wavy. Just like I had wished back in 1979.

But well, I had unknowingly missed the waves. So one more change to add to the new year – my hair is purposely longer than it has been in several years. I am pretty sure I caught Rob doing a Snoopy Happy Dance out of the corner of my eye yesterday (like pretty much every man alive, he prefers long hair. A testament to his love given my pixie cuts since forever, right?). We'll see how long my longer locks last. My hair stylist expects a desperation call in about 2 weeks.

So it’s been a lot of new and change here recently. All our decisions, all with intent, but I don’t think I realized how disconcerting it would be to make so many little changes all at the same time. My whole world feels a little unfamiliar and off center, with owner’s manuals and calls to customer service and so much Googling.

I know all this newness will morph into status quo soon and I will hardly remember this nagging desire to have my old comfy stuff back. But for now, I am grateful I’m not also trying to make some major January 1st life change like reducing the amount of Tabasco I consume or how much stuff sporting llamas I need beautifying my world. Changes like that would require more chocolate than Hershey or Moonstruck can make.

Monday, December 21, 2015

More officially a 12th Man!

If you’ve been following Woodhaven Ramblings for a spell, you might remember that benchmark day back in January 2014. Just days before the NFC Championship game, I dumbfounded my mother by officially abandoning the 49er Faithful for the blue and green 12th Man bandwagon of the Seattle Seahawks. It was a well-considered decision, I promise.

Free duster mitts that are much better used as pom poms

I’m grateful my Bay Area friends are still speaking to me despite our differences. On the heels of yesterday’s reportedly unwatchable performance by the Niners, one stalwart friend and fan rebuffed my invitation to join me in my support of the Seahawks with this retort: "Um, no. I think I'd become a fan of professional cricket before that happens. But, thanks for the offer." Yep, Faithful indeed. I like that.

Yesterday’s Seahawks game, on the other hand, was completely and utterly watchable. Like from some pretty awesome seats near the 20-yard line at CenturyLink Field. Yes, it’s true: Rob took me to a Seattle Seahawks game!!! Live and in person!! With hot dogs and everything!!

We decided to make a weekend of it, it serving as the very best Christmas and Birthday gift combo pack EVER. We took a very relaxing, nap-infused train ride about three hours north on Saturday afternoon. We mastered Seattle’s public transit system to get to our hotel and then had a fabulous dinner with one of my most favorite people, Zeke. The restaurant was a bit crowded so our yelling conversation was a good warm-up for yesterday’s required chatting volume in the noisiest stadium in the country.

Prior to yesterday, I had only been to two professional football games in my life, both featuring the aforementioned Gold Miner people. The second game almost doesn’t count because it was a pre-season game populated with players I had never heard of. Parking was a snap, though.

The first game was in the early ‘90s in December. As we left our Bay Area apartment complex that morning, we noted that the decorative fountain outside the office was frozen. With our seats in the top deck of Candlestick – a venue that required parkas for summer baseball games – I really don’t remember much about that 49ers game other than my being a frozen stick with arms that moved up and down to deliver hot chocolate to my mouth. I also remember my team lost to the New Orleans Saints. I still don’t like them. Yes, I can carry a grudge.

Yesterday we came a little more prepared. We had many layers of clothing, a rain poncho, baseball hats to shield the rain, a towel to wipe off wet seats, and dry clothes to change into so the 3 hour train ride home would be a bit warmer and less cranky.

Much to our surprise, rain drops were minimal and our dry clothes stayed tucked inside our suitcase (yay for baggage storage at the train station!). Although we did get a bit chilly, the 69,000 other fans around us served as nice wind blocks. And the excitement kept us warm, too.  No hot chocolate needed this time!

Yes, Rob's hat is epic.  And warm.  He says it was very warm
and pretty much the only way I was able to convince him to wear it.

See?  Epic.

Wanting to get the Full NFL Experience, we arrived at the stadium about 2.5 hours early. It made going through the bag check process super easy – no waiting! I had done my homework and had my official post 9-11 Era NFL sanctioned plastic bag with dimensions no greater than 12” x 6” x 12” visibly toting all the essentials (camera, phone, Kleenex, credit card, Chapstick, ear plugs).

Toting my regulation bag like a pro
Later, a super nice security person showed me how to fold and display the bar codes on our tickets inside our bag to make the scanning even easier. With her tip, I felt like a season ticket holder instead of some interloper squatting in the Balmers' seats for the day (we don’t know them, we just thank them for going to Mexico and wanting to sell their tickets. Relatedly, people, lock down your Facebook profiles. Honestly.).

We meandered all around the stadium and then went into the connected Event Center which basically looked like a convention of Seahawks fans. It was awesome!!

As we entered about 2 hours prior to game time.

There were lots of photo ops and booths handing out free goodies. There were several sports talk radio shows broadcasting live from the venue. Several areas had large TVs for watching other teams in action. There were games and face painting and contests and cell phone charging lounges and Seahawks Swag booths. The only thing missing was some Tempur-Pedic beds.

Almost like being on a cruise ship!

Richard's not as tall as I imagined

Making sure Richard behaves himself

As we wandered around, I truly felt like I was a member of a culture, a community, a tribe. Every direction I looked was slathered in blue and green. Although I didn’t break out of my introverted shell, I know I could have struck up a conversation with any person there and we would have had at least one love in common.

My Seahawks Swag was pretty mainstream compared to these SuperFans

It wasn’t just the attendees either. The love and Seahawk Spirit extended to the security staff, the souvenir vendors, the food booth folks. “GO HAWKS!” ended most interactions. Much more fun than “Have a nice day.”

Done exploring and eating and shopping, we found our seats in time to get situated for warm-ups. Players and trainers from both teams littered the field. Without pads or jerseys, it was hard to tell at first if I was watching any names I knew.

Then Michael “Ooops, Another Penalty” Bennett jogged past us in navy track gear and enormous gold-plated headphones. If it weren’t for that Sony-NFL sponsorship deal thing, it would have been a great Beats by Dre commercial.

Then we saw Pete Carroll, the head coach. I know people have definite opinions about him from his days at a certain southern California college, but I have something of an affinity for Pete. I remember when he was on the coaching staff of the Niners back in the mid-‘90s. He also went to my high school (though long before I did), so somehow I feel like Pete and I are buds.

Did you have Mr. Bachelder for math, too, Pete?

Rob then pointed out a young kid throwing the football around. He was short and small compared to everyone else on the field. “Maybe he’s somebody’s son who gets to play on the field with the big guys,” I thought.

Asking for the largely unused binoculars, Rob confirmed his suspicions. “Yep, that’s Russell Wilson.”

Russell Wilson!?! The quarterback?!? That little kid out there in baggy sweatpants running around with the adults was WILSON, arguably one of the best quarterbacks playing in the NFL?!?

Yep, the more I watched him and then saw his face, it was indeed him. Teeny tiny Russell. I had no idea how much weight and bulk those pads add. Note to self: never ever wear football pads.

The warm-ups took about an hour. I kept looking around, wondering where all the fans were. The stadium looked pretty empty. Maybe since the Seahawks were favored to trounce the Cleveland Browns people weren’t planning to show up? Hard to believe, but then again that’s how we managed to get great seats without having to mortgage our house.

At least he didn't leave surprised

And then, much like the Katy Perry concert I dragged Rob to last year, the people came. 69,002 in total (Rob and I are claiming the 2). And nearly every last one of them sporting some sort of fan gear. Truly, I think I might have seen maybe six unspirited fans not paying their Official NFL Merchandise tithe.  Sinners.

Full house!

We had been warned that CenturyLink Field would be loud. And it was. But we never did put in our earplugs. While we both had good hats protecting our ears, we never felt like the decibels were getting dangerous.


Chatting later with a season ticket holder at the train station, he offered that the crowd was a bit subdued compared to many games. No seismic readings this time. So that is why our ears aren’t ringing today. Nevertheless, it was absolutely the noisiest sporting event I have ever attended.

The game lasted a little over three hours. No need for overtime. The first touchdown was by the Browns. The stadium was very quiet.

But all the rest of the TDs (3 more) were courtesy of the Seahawks. YAY!!!! Lots of cheers, screams, high-fives with strangers, fireworks off the top of the stadium. Minus the scampering cats, not all that different from our celebrations at Woodhaven really.

As much as I had worried about the back-friendliness of our seats, it ended up being wasted worry (like so much worry actually). The only time I actually sat down was during time outs and commercial breaks. Otherwise I was on my feet clapping and yelling. So really, we didn’t so much pay for the Balmers’ seats as the concrete in front of them.

I absolutely loved watching the game in person. I loved the energy of the crowd and the shared experience of many thousands of rabid fans. It was surreal to see my favorite players in person, life-sized, right in front of me. Rob is skeptical but I have no doubt that my favorite Richard Sherman looked at me and smiled.

This is right before he smiled at me and waved back

I even enjoyed the slurring swaying entertainment of the drunk guy in front of us. Wasted on IPAs instead of Bud, he was a Pacific Northwesterner through and through. Yes, the Full Football Experience.

There were a few downsides to the live, untelevised action, though.

For example, I couldn’t follow the ball nearly as well on my own without the TV camera crew guiding me. That Wilson is quite an accomplished faker.

I also missed the TV commentary to help me understand the game better. Rob knows football very well and he always answers my questions with depth and clarity. However, I realized yesterday that the TV commentators often answer questions I don’t know I have so I end up learning more.

I was also surprised by how much rest the players actually get between plays. It never really occurred to me at home that during commercials the players might just be standing around, relaxing, sipping water, laughing, discussing the next play, agreeing that candlesticks make nice wedding gifts, etc. Don’t get me wrong – these guys are all extraordinary athletes. I just didn’t realize they had a few more opportunities to catch their breath than what is presented on TV.

Richard behaving himself and chatting nicely with a ref during a commercial

I think the thing I missed most, though, was seeing what was going on on the sidelines. Our seats were on the visitors’ side and I really didn’t care about what the Brown were doing when they weren’t on the field. On the other side of the field, it was hard to see what Pete and the boys were doing…especially since they were all dressed in dark blue and sort of mushed together.

I missed seeing the facial expressions of players as calls or plays were made. I missed seeing Pete Carroll smile and “atta boy” Wilson after touchdowns. And I especially missed seeing my favorite cheerleader, Richard Sherman, pumping up the offense and giving props to his fellow defensives when due. One of the reasons I like Sherman so much is his passion. Although I could see it on the field, I missed seeing it on full display on the sidelines, too.

As we chugged our way home on the train, dry and happy and still glowing from a 30-13 win, Rob and I agreed that would we love to try to make this an annual thing. Maybe not a full weekend, but at least a full day of train and game and all things Seahawks.

Attending a game in person made me feel just a little more part of the family, a little more of a fan, a little more of a true 12 despite my years rooting for a different team.

Sorry again, Mom.

Almost as amazing as seeing the players in person was seeing
this Elton John impersonator that I always see on TV
True 12 all the way

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Color my world

With new shelves finally attached to the walls and decorated with sentimentality, the Great Woodhaven Home Office Make-Over of 2015 is FINISHED!! Christmas came early!

Normally our projects don’t take this long; I’m a gal who likes to get things done and cross things off her To Do list. But we have been gone more than we’ve been at home the past six weeks. Once the walls were painted and the 830lbs of IKEAness assembled, our project took on a much more hodge-podgy pace while we toured our suitcases around four states and two countries. Not to mention a new computer that needed to be set up with 9 days’ worth of cloud-based file transfers. Yes, 9 days. We’re seriously considering ditching our boonies-based 1 Mbps DSL for something involving satellites.

Decorating was the last make-over task so I’ve actually been using our new office set-up for a few weeks now. Rob is probably tired of me saying thank you and explaining yet again how much easier my bill paying duties for our church are now that I have copious flat surfaces to spread out all my binders and folders and receipts. With our old set up, I was using a chair and the floor as my primary work surfaces. I’m embarrassed it took me so long to realize how ridiculous…and painful…that was.

I absolutely love how everything turned out. I will admit I have found myself just sitting in our new office admiring things. I am especially pleased with the lighting – it is very warm and soothing.

I am also relieved the Silverado purple walls turned out just as I imagined. My visionary skills are somewhat limited so this is quite an accomplishment. I wanted a color that helped me relax and focus. My gut told me that a dark color would make me feel cozy and secure and would help me keep my attention on task. With a few weeks surrounded in Silverado I can say my gut was on point.

I’m actually quite proud of myself for finally having the nerve to put so much boldness on all four walls of a room. Although much of Woodhaven’s walls have color, the bravest ones had been saved for accent walls. And even that’s quite a departure from Life Before Here.

As a kid, I never had anything but white walls in my bedroom. Some of that was due to us living in rentals, other due to my not wanting anything to clash with my Superman, Miss Piggy, or kitten posters.

As an adult, Rob and I lived in our Ode to Ecru house in California for at least five years before we mustered up the courage to paint anything. We high-fived our boldness when our guest room walls finally changed from white to whitish yellow. Unless the lighting was just right, it was pretty much impossible to detect we had changed anything. But we were proud. Baby steps.

Later, when my back pain ramped up and I was spending a lot of time in the bath tub, Rob painted our tiny bathroom a serene sky blue so I could pretend I was bathed in sunlight instead of Epsom salts. We really thought we were living on the edge with that sky blue bathroom. And relieved we could easily close the door when all the color got overwhelming.

Somehow, though, when we moved to Woodhaven, we got really gutsy. Many of the walls in our new home were slathered in Old Lady Floral wallpaper. That was scraped off and walls were painted before the furniture arrived. Since we had to paint our bedroom, two bathrooms, a dining room, and a kitchen nook anyway, we decided to fully embrace all the changes we were already making. Why not add colored walls to the list?

We’ve slowly been painting room by room, some by ourselves and some with our checkbook. Only one bedroom remains the drab white with pinkish undertones that greeted us 11 years ago. The other walls around Woodhaven are pale yellow, sunny yellow, tan, sky blue, Wedgewood blue, sage green, mint green, neon green, burgundy, and now dark purple. As psychedelic as that combo sounds, it really does work. When we embrace change, we embrace change!

I’m not sure when we will paint the remaining bedroom, nor what previously unthinkable color its walls will be. But I am sure that I will get that itchy feeling to breathe life and energy and mood into that room at some point. And then all I will be left with to paint is closets. People paint closets, right? Hmmm.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Wedding Story

It’s probably a little unusual, but when I was growing up I never really thought about getting or being married. The closest I got is that I figured somewhere in my early 30s I would get married to some sort of professional guy who had dark hair and dark eyes (aside from a few brief exceptions, that was definitely my type).

So imagine my surprise when at the barely pretending to be an adult age of 22, I met the man I wanted to grow up and grow old with.

Rob and I had our first date on his 24th birthday. The story of how that came to be is a good one. Perhaps I’ll tell it in a few years. Suffice it to say, we clicked right away and I was falling fast in love before the entrées arrived.

We were dating long-distance (about 400 miles separated us), but it wasn’t long before our phone conversations were not about if we were going to get married but when.

About 4 months later, Rob proposed. I was sitting on my bed at my parents’ house, busily tying my shoes, when Rob interrupted me and said he had a question for me. Expecting it to be something along the lines of where I wanted to have lunch, I was jaw-droppingly surprised when I saw Rob on his knee with a sparkly ring in a velvet box. I didn’t hesitate with my answer. And I suddenly understood why my mom had had that goofy grin on her face that morning.

Newly engaged.  Holy cow we were young...

Fast forward another 4 months. Rob had moved up to the San Francisco Bay Area from Los Angeles to be with me. We both had busy, professional jobs, and very few decisions about a wedding had yet been made.

Sure, we talked about it. But neither of us had any pre-conceived notions about what Our Wedding should be. I had never daydreamed about walking down an aisle or what my wedding dress would look like or what song would play for the father-daughter dance. When it came to my wedding day, my mind was a complete blank. Rob figured people would be there, and his future wife would walk towards him in a white dress, but that’s all he had to offer to the planning. So our discussions were a bit aimless.

Trying to nail down something…anything…I came to a few conclusions.

First, reflecting every bit of my screaming liberal arts education, I was NOT going to be walked down an aisle and given away like property. Nope, I would walk down the aisle by myself like the self-sufficient, independent, utterly capable woman I was. Take THAT, antiquated and misguided tradition.

Second, I look better in black than in white, so I decided a black wedding dress would be cool. Surely such a thing existed, right?

Third, I wasn’t sure who all I wanted standing by me during the ceremony but I was certain one of them had to be my very best friend from college. I hoped Zeke would accept and enjoy being my “Man of Honor.” And I was determined that Rob’s very conservative family would just have to deal with a gay man being their new daughter-in-law’s primary wedding attendant.

Yes, I was going to announce my entrance into Rob's family with gusto.

And that’s as far as I got. No date, no venue, no color scheme, no theme, no gift registry. And honestly no time to think about those things because my job in a political consulting firm in an election year was nothing short of insane. If I wasn’t stumbling into bed as soon as I got home from work, I was busy sobbing out tears of frustration and stress. Deciding what color napkins to have and what to engrave on them was beyond my capacity and interest.

Then the day I had been fantasizing about finally arrived: Election Day!

Yes, Election Day. Everything in my politically-based job hinged on November 6, 1990. As soon as that glorious day arrived, my life would return to normal. I could work only 50-60 hours per week and might even have time for fun on the weekends. And then…then…I could start seriously planning our wedding.

So that next weekend, Rob and I discussed our Big Day. And as we chatted, I realized that the few decisions I had made were really more about making some sort of political, cultural statement and being in-your-face different than it was about joining lives with my soulmate. The more we talked, the more I realized I just wanted to be married. The ceremony and celebration to get there didn’t really matter as much.

We looked at the calendar. We had both already arranged to take Monday, December 3 off because we were planning to go to Los Angeles to see the very last car race at the Ascot Raceway Park before it closed forever.

“Instead of going to the car race, we could get married,” Rob offered. More romantic words have never been spoken.

With only three weeks, we got busy making arrangements.

It helped that my mom was a legal secretary and knew judges. Our venue was quickly determined to be the Superior Courthouse in San Francisco with an acquaintance presiding.

My parents would be there as would Rob’s dad, stepmom, and his oldest younger brother. Besides the judge and the bailiff, that was the full extent of our wedding party.

No music, our own cameras for photos, and just one bouquet of some beautiful Fire and Ice roses. And no napkins.

Rob needed a new suit so he got one that doubled as his wedding outfit. My mom and I headed to the mall one evening and in the back of a store we found a cream-colored skirt, jacket, and veiled hat that fit me perfectly. Having spent countless agonizing hours in dressing rooms during my childhood, almost in tears because nothing ever fit, my mom and I immediately felt the Universe was endorsing my marriage with that fit-off-the-rack wedding suit.

Rob and I went to a jewelry store in a different mall and picked out a set of simple gold bands that happened to already be the perfect sizes. More approval from the Universe.

And so the morning arrived. Monday, December 3, 1990. Almost exactly nine months after our first date.

We all convened at the courthouse. I was dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt with full make-up and carrying a garment bag. Everyone else was dressed up and Mom was carrying my bouquet in a box.

We didn’t get very far; first we had to go through a metal detector. Because, well, the county jail was in the basement of the building. Don't most weddings involve a metal detector? No?

As the entourage lined up for the weapons screening, people congratulated me as it was obvious I was The Bride.

“Are you marrying someone in jail?” several asked.

“No, I’m marrying him,” I clarified through laughter as I pointed at Rob.

It was funny...the first time.

By the fourth or fifth time I was asked if I was marrying a jail bird, my mom’s mother bear instincts were in full gear and she very clearly made it known that her daughter was NOT marrying a criminal thankyouverymuch. She was adorably feisty.

I changed clothes in a yellow tiled public restroom down the hall from the court room. Not quite the standard Bridal Suite.

When I was ready, I emerged with perhaps a bit less the pomp and circumstance than when a groom typically first sees his bride. We all then stood around and waited for the judge to arrive.

My grand entrance

When he finally greeted us, I told the judge that Rob and I had a last-minute change. You see, initially Rob and I thought it would be fun to get married in the courtroom. I was going to be the plaintiff, he was going to be the defendant, and our family would sit in judgment in the jury box. We thought it would be hysterical!

But, well, my future mother-in-law spoke some very wise words to me the night before and convinced me otherwise. Rob agreed and so we instead asked to have the ceremony in the judge’s chambers.

Funny, right?  Yeah, my soon-to-be mother-in-law wasn't laughing.
And she was right.  Thank you again, Nancy!

A little bit of scrambling and nine of us were cozily in the judge’s office. Nervous but excited, Rob and I held hands as we recited the slightly edited vows we had agreed on (yeah, no obeying going on in this marriage!).

Right in the midst of us dedicating our lives to each other, the phone rang. In all the last-minute changeroos, the judge forgot to have his calls held. The bailiff quickly answered the phone and took a message. Now we know why we invited him to the wedding!

It’s amazing in subsequent years how many vows we have claimed the other agreed to at that moment. “What, don’t you remember that you said you would go to the County Fair with me every single day? Hmmm, it must have been when the phone rang.”

A few short minutes and signatures later and we were official. GO MARRIED US!

With big smiles, a marriage certificate, and a fluttering veil, we exited the courthouse. Our first official congratulations by a stranger was a very nice homeless guy camping outside the door. Looking back, I am especially impressed by my father-in-law’s amused composure at that moment. I am quite sure that was NOT what he envisioned for his oldest child’s wedding day.

Homeless guy just out of camera range

Instead of a reception, we all headed to lunch at the restaurant Rob and I went to our on first date. Ribs for a wedding lunch? Yes please!

I had a blast walking from the parking garage to the restaurant. It was lunchtime on a Monday in the business district of San Francisco. People were smiling and congratulating us the entire route. It wasn’t quite walking down an aisle but it was a hoot. I felt very loved and encouraged even though they were all strangers.

Rob’s most vivid memory of that walk was coming across a dead pigeon near where we stopped to pose for pictures. It was a rather bloated bird and we tried to make sure it didn’t appear in any photos. Again, so impressed by my father-in-law!

After lunch, we all said goodbye and then Rob drove me to our surprise honeymoon location: Yosemite. I got to see it for the very first time by moonlight on a clear full-moon night, with fresh snow on the ground. It was magical.

My boss’s wedding gift to us was an extra day off so we spent one night in Yosemite and explored the valley the next morning before heading home. Although we took a much longer and more involved trip about six months later that we said would be our official honeymoon, it never was. The one night in Yosemite was and will always be our honeymoon.

Over the past 25 years, I have often thought of our unconventional little wedding and pondered if I have any regrets. Both Rob and I agree that the only regret we ever have is that we didn’t have more people there to celebrate with us and share our most important moment. But we had the most critical people there and we most definitely had a wedding that reflected us: simple, meaningful, full of togetherness and laughter, and a touch quirky. Just the right recipe for our marriage, too.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Course for Adventure

We are on our last At Sea day and will be home tomorrow. I had thought about finally breaking out my swimming suit today and lounging around on the Sun Deck. But we woke up to really cool lightning and thunder. And by cool, I mean both fun to watch and the need to pull out some pants for the first time in a week.

It’s been very strange these past several days to be so dang hot and wearing all my summer clothes again while people make reference to The Holidays being just around the corner (so, you know, I should buy all sorts of souvenirs, they make me deal!).

In Puerto Vallarta, we docked near a shopping mall that had “Feliz Navidad” and pine wreaths and reindeer decorating the building. With 86 degree temps and high humidity, the image was just plain wrong.

I can tell I am finally relaxing. I have gotten lots of glorious and much-needed rest over the past week. Something about being rocked (mostly gently – I’m down 2 Dramamine) to sleep each night has induced much slumber.

I also got hit by a cold yesterday. Historically, my body seems to know when I am running on empty and it can finally let its guard down to give into the sniffles and sneezes. Yesterday was our last port before home and sure enough, just hours after returning to our cabin, I was pawing around in our medicine stash for Sudafed.

Today I am trying very hard to stay away from public spaces so as not to infect anyone else (yay for the highly unpopular Skywalkers Lounge!). I’m not thrilled about having a cold, but I am grateful it’s a head thing and not a tummy thing. Rob is actually pleased I am sick because he knows that means I finally stopped fighting. So in a very weird way, my sea of Kleenex wads is a sign of a vacation much-needed and well-done.

Our three ports this cruise were the main ones that The Love Boat typically visited. Occasionally they went to Ensenada and/or Acapulco, but the primary ones tended to be Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. I am here to tell you, every one of them looks quite different now than in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Especially Cabo San Lucas. Yikes! The growth is mind-blowing!

When we booked the cruise, we fully anticipated never leaving the ship. Did I mention we don’t like Mexico? But as we perused the excursions offered by the cruise line, we decided that it might not be too awful if we stuck with a tour and were lead around like sheep by fully vetted and accredited tour guides. And thus we bravely got off the ship each day and tentatively explored a little of what each town had to offer.

Puerto Vallarta
Our tour was billed as a walking tour of the town’s newish boardwalk, a visit to a church (no shorts allowed, poor overheated Rob), a stop at a tile factory (in reality more gift shop than factory), and then a final stop at a tequila distillery about 45 minutes outside of town for lunch and learn-how-they-make-stuff instruction. Free samples were also promised. Ole!

The highlight of the walking tour was going into the City Hall and seeing a mural on the wall. David, our tour guide, was quite proud to show it to us.

As nice as the mural was, what made the visit memorable was that there was a reporter from the local newspaper there and she asked to take our group’s picture for a front-page tourism article for the next day’s paper. David was VERY excited.

Rob and I smiled at each other, silently remembering the trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico several years ago when we ended up on the front page of the newspaper watching a beautiful wildfire-induced sunset. It remains one of my favorite pictures of us. And it was our first brush with paparazzi.

Back in Puerto Vallarta’s City Hall, all us little tour ducklings lined up, with a few people shamelessly angling to be right next to David so that they would be front and center in the photo. Even though Rob and I ended up in the middle of the photo, it was mostly because we got bumped into that position.

With some anticipation, I finally got online this morning to search for the lengthy tourism article and the accompanying professional photo of our tour proudly in front of the mural. If you want to check it out yourself, here’s the link. Because I like to be a full-service blogger, though, here is the photo:

And here is the full and complete translation of the extensive article: “The national and international tourism, is very important for our city, because besides the economic benefit they generate, in the end each one of those visitors become promoters of our beautiful Puerto Vallarta.”

I hope David is still proud and excited. Me, I am highly amused.

The other highlight of the day was the visit to the tequila factory. It was quite a ways out of town, past the prison.

Once there, we had a fantastic beef taco lunch and the very best habanero salsa I have ever tasted. Tummies full, we then learned about how tequila is made and got to sample 6 different versions (Rob and I maturely split the shots. Yeah, we’re wimps. But sober ones!). Here’s what I learned:

-- Real tequila is made from 100% blue agave. If it is made from green agave, it is called mezcal. Mezcal is apparently sort of nasty and it is the stuff with the worm in it. So, worm = no bueno.

That pine cone thing is the heart of a blue agave plant.

-- The process of making tequila is more similar to making whiskey than making wine. Lots of distilling and high alcohol content. Nevertheless, Rob had a fascinating yet rather technical side conversation with the head tequila maker. The factory was family-run and the maker was the founder’s grandson. The family sent him to France to learn wine making and sort of earn some credibility. Interesting tactic that apparently was successful.

-- Much like champagne, tequila can only be legally called that if it is made in the Tequila region of Mexico.

-- The delicious limey citrus smell of a margarita is actually the tequila, not the mix. Having not had straight tequila since the bachelorette bar-hopping party my co-workers threw for me 25 years ago (I remember the first 5 shots – oy), I had no idea how wonderful tequila smells. This was dangerous insight.

-- The real way you are supposed to drink a margarita is without lime or salt. Mexicans started adding lime and salt to cover up bad tequila. Since I love salt, this information is unlikely to change the way I order my margaritas. Call me inauthentic.

-- Some people make flavored tequilas. We tried a peach one, an almond one, and a coffee one. Later, in a touristy market place, we sampled a mango one and a hibiscus one.

-- Relatedly, we now know the process for bringing hard alcohol on board a cruise ship. You have to check it in immediately and they stash it away until the last day of the cruise. Then you get it back, pack it, and take it home with you.

-- For a limited time only, free samples of peach and hibiscus flavored tequilas at Woodhaven!

Our tour was an “off-the-beaten-path” boat ride through an estuary to see birds and mangroves. Although neither of us is really into birds, Rob and I remembered having quite enjoyed seeing new-to-us wildlife on different trips. So this sounded like a relaxing, soothing, educational way to avoid the city of Mazatlan itself.

Instead, we got to experience Mexico tourism at its authentic best. Or worst? Either way, it was a decidedly we’re-not-in-the-US day. Some entertaining highlights:

As I stepped into the small boat we toured around in, I was alarmed and then amused that the boat’s floor was rather squishy. It was freshly painted, though, so at least it looked in operable condition.

Each seat sported an uninflatable faded orange life jacket. As I eyed mine, I surmised that the best it could do would be to indicate where I was flailing about in the water trying to stay afloat. No matter, though. Hugo, our tour guide, announced that it was too hot to wear the life jackets and assured us that Carlos the Driver would not capsize the boat. None of us felt very confident but none of us put on the life jackets either.

The bird watching wasn’t terribly exotic. We mostly saw buzzards, blue herons, and pelicans. We did get to see the pelicans up close though, thanks to some smelly fish Hugo brought on board for photo ops. He was adorably confused why nobody was volunteering to feed the pelicans the stinky treats.

After our boat ride, we were to be taken to a restaurant on the beach for lunch and then an hour of free time playing in the water. I assumed we would be transported via another tour bus lacking functional AC. Instead, we got to take what Hugo kept calling a “Mexican limo.”

The “limo” was a large rickety wooden cart with boards nailed across for benches. The cart had an awning, so at least it was shady. And it had lots of organic AC (yay for a breeze!). We entered the limo from the back by scrambling up two very high, rotted-wood steps.

Once inside, we had to hurdle over the benches to find a seat. Well, my knee wasn’t having any of that, so I snagged a seat in the far back that required no track and fielding. I was the youngest on the tour and by far not the only one with knee issues, so that back area filled up quickly.

Did I mention that the cart was pulled by a tractor? Oh, and Chester the Chihuahua rode along up front. It was quite hard not to notice that he was all boy.

Once we got going, the limo took us off-roading through the jungle and sand dunes for a good half-hour until we came to the beach. Then it drove us right along the water’s edge, running over a cormorant along the way (yeah, it squawked quite loudly, hobbled about afterwards, and quite upset a number of passengers. Rather unwise form to run over a bird with a vehicle carrying a bunch of bird-lovers. Oops.).  It was a very looooong 6 miles.

I took a few blurry pictures but decided a video tells the story best. Please note that my camera has a motion stabilizer and I was doing everything I could to keep my hands steady. And yes, my back was NOT happy with this adventure. And yes, I have passed along to people who should know that the tour’s description needs to be amended a bit.


Finally at the restaurant, we spent the next couple of hours commiserating with other sore tourists and fending off musicians and vendors selling beaded jewelry and iron wood turtles.

I had brought along my swimsuit to go play in the uncommonly warm water (it was reportedly about 84 degrees), but I just couldn’t muster the courage to change my clothes in the restaurant’s rustic bathroom. The fact that the ocean water was an icky brown didn’t help entice me either. I did go put my feet in it, though. And then killed the rest of the time trying to figure out how to clean them off.

Cabo San Lucas
Our tour in Cabo San Lucas was our favorite. It took us about an hour north of the increasingly large and touristy town to a little colonial village called Todos Santos.

Todos Santos has a beautiful mission founded by the Jesuits – that’s pretty much what started the town several centuries ago. More recently, The Eagles and Don Henley wrote a very famous song about a hotel there and fans often stop by as a sort of a pilgrimage.

Todos Santos got hit a bit hard by a hurricane a few years ago, so some of it is still being repaired while other parts are newly renovated. From the looks of things, Todos Santos aims to be the Carmel (California) or Cannon Beach (Oregon) of Baja. There were a number of artsy stores and studios, and the souvenirs were much more authentic and handcrafted than all the mass-produced pottery and beadwork and silver jewelry we saw in the other ports.

The town was named by the Mexican government as an historic place (officially called a Magic Town). As such, Todos Santos is getting some additional funding and is the first to get some improvements like a desalinization plant (adequate supplies of water are a big issue on this desert peninsula of Baja California).

Overall, the town just felt more real and less touristy that where we visited in Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. It wasn’t crowded at all. In fact, our tour of 20 caused many locals to stare for a bit. This has a lot to do with why it was our favorite tour.

After walking around town and visiting the mission, we settled in for lunch at the cantina inside the Hotel California. Yep, THAT Hotel California. It was a very pleasant, comfortable, welcoming place. The food was delicious, the margarita was fantastic, and they were kind enough to play The Song twice while we were there.

As I listened to the song in the place that inspired it, I thought a lot about a friend of mine who traveled all over the world for about 3 years. Andi she said she heard “Hotel California” played at least once in every single country she visited – Germany, Jordan, China, you name it, they played it. I’m not sure if Andi has ever been to Todos Santos. If not, she definitely needs to add it to her travel list. They even have t-shirts for when she marks the occasion (yeah, touristy but still not as touristy as the other ports).


We still need to pack and I still have about a half-hour left of internet minutes I can use. Oh, right! This is my first official cruise with free wifi! Well, 150 minutes of free wifi. Which has been plenty to check email, get fantasy football teams situated, check in for our flights, and upload 13 photos and 2 videos to my blog. My loyalty to Princess has paid off! And rest assured, soon we’ll be making another run. Well, at least soonish.