Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who? Me? In a Museum?

Ah, Facebook. The website where hopes and dreams get together, play a few games, reminisce about the past, and die horrible deaths when exposed to the light of day. Okay. So that's probably not how it works for the original target generation of Facebook users. They all young enough to see it as simply a fun way to stay in touch with friends. But for those of us who are just a tad older than that original target group, it can be a different story. Or it least I've found it to be that way.

You see, when you haven't had contact with someone for 20-odd years, and you find yourself trying to summarize all that has happened in the past 2 decades, there are really very few ways it can turn out. Sure. You vow to tell the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, but then you start sending messages and realizing that the Truth isn't quite what you had hoped it would be. Instead of re-introducing yourself as a captain of industry, an artistic success, or a world-travelling vagabond, you -- if you're like most people -- find your story to be one of trying to explain away a period of unemployment, seldom using your degrees, and not even having made a terribly good show of being a vagabond.

Revisiting the past on Facebook is a bit like driving back into your home town after some time away. You see all of the same things you've always seen: The tree-lined streets, the main street full of stores, the town park and swimming pool, but the longer you've been gone the more likely you are to also see the changes. You start to notice the buildings missing from main street, having been torn down -- or simply fallen -- after years of un-use. You notice the church building losing its hold on this life. You realize that time has provided as many downs as ups for the town, too.

When I went home for a family reunion last weekend, I had a mix of emotions working on me. On the one hand, I was taking Christopher home in mid-summer for the first time. He was experiencing the town he had only seen in winter, or at least the edges thereof. On the other hand, I was taking along the memories which had been stirred up by friends I had been reconnecting with on Facebook. One of those friends mentioned, recently, that she hasn't been back to our home town in well over a decade. Consequently, I was wandering around with a keener eye toward what had or hadn't changed.

The same could, in some ways, be said for the family reunion itself. I had been trying to prepare Christopher to meet the 40+ members of my family we were going to see. But many of my stories were decades old, not based in any current realities. Spending time with all of these relatives, semi-relatives, and who-the-heck-are-yous, I found myself noticing both the things which were the same and those places where the cracks have begun to show a little more obviously.

Many of the same people we had always known were there, but a few were missing -- either by fate or by choice. Many of the same stories were told -- some by choice, some... well... couldn't be stopped. And, as on Facebook, I'm sure a lot of new photos will surface in the near future.

But here's the thing. Christopher and I were wandering around the town museum on Friday (before everyone else arrived), and came across something I hadn't expected to find: a yearbook from my Senior Year in high school. (What the...? My yearbook is in a museum?) Standing in the present, surrounded by artifacts and mementos from the past, I was able to flip back through the yearbook and see all of the promise that the future held.

And, who knows? Maybe that's still there, too.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Coming (Back) Soon...

Just got back from a 3.5-day weekend-long family reunion. It was great seeing everyone. It was a tad exhausting. And, long story short, I don't have the energy to be witty and interesting tonight.

I'd have posted from my parents' house, but their computer may have fried on Friday night during a storm and... well... no computer obviously means no blogging.

Strange, isn't it? Too much "energy" fried the computer. Too little energy has fried my brain.

Back soon. I hope.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Further Draining Adventures

So, while the we're very happy around here that the Korky flapper is doing its job and we're not losing lots of water down the drain, on Monday we were having some issues with sink water not going down the drain.

It all started with a little water backing up in the second sink basin in the kitchen. I decided it had been doing that for long enough, so I got out the plunger and worked on it for a while. After a few minutes of plunging, I had both sinks about a quarter full of water and... well... crud from the drain. I refused to give up, though, and by the time I was done the drains were both running clear.

With all that success, I figured I'd try my luck on the upstairs bathroom sink. It's been running slowly for a while, and it seemed like the logical step up after the kitchen. Of course, the sinks are completely different shapes. And the plunger didn't work quite so well.

Instead, as I was plunging in the bathroom, each downward push would result in water coming out of the overflow drain. So I plunged for a while and then, since the water was now running slower than before -- as well as being filled with brown gunk -- I decided to try some Drano. Wish I could say it worked. But... well... that would have been too easy.

This was the point where I did the really stupid thing: trying to use a plunger on a drain with Drano in it. You see, with the water bouncing around and splashing out of the overflow drain, I ended up with some of it on my hands. So I went into the kitchen and rinsed them. And rinsed them. And rinsed them. You see, on your hands Drano isn't deadly, it's just uncomfortable. It does something to the fat in your skin and I kind of felt like I'd gotten a major chemical peel on my palms. Even two days later my skin is still oddly taut and uncomfortable.

And, no, the drain wasn't fixed even with the plunging and the Drano. So Tuesday morning I called around and found a Drain Guy (different than a Plumber, I was informed), who came yesterday morning at 8am. He was here for about 15 minutes. He snaked the pipe and ran some water through the sink. I wrote him a check and he was on his way.

I love it when water that's supposed to stop stops and water that's supposed to run runs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Solstice Butt-Kicking

Unfortunately, I haven't been kicking the Solstice's butt for the past few days, it seems that these longest days of the year have been kicking mine. That certainly sounds better than blaming my sleep issues on the miniature schnauzer who was here last weekend, doesn't it?

You see, ever since last week, I've been having conversations with people about how long the days have been. And, well, that means they've been very long in the evening, as well as very long in the morning. Somehow, that seems to be mucking up my sleep patterns. I've been both staying awake later, and waking up earlier.

For instance: Last night, after we got back from a rousing round of "Pub Trivia" at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis (Every Monday promptly at 7pm in their "Far Side" bar -- you should come!), I was up until almost midnight. This morning, I woke up as Christopher was getting ready for work (at about 6:30), and wasn't able to get back to sleep (my alarm doesn't go off until 7:00, and I usually get up after two or three "snoozes").

Which is not to say that I haven't had a productive day. I spent the morning arranging for a "Drain Guy" (different than a plumber, apparently) to come and look at our bathroom sink tomorrow morning, watered the lawn, ran a few errands (including a hardware store, a grocery store, and a Target), and still was home by just after noon. Which meant that I could do some baking (Why do I always seem to end up baking on days when it is over 90 degrees?), clean the house (before we head to a family reunion this weekend), and... in a couple of hours... I'll be off to this week's movie with Kelly.

Hmmm... Maybe it's not such a bad thing that I got up so early today. Maybe the Solstice isn't kicking my butt in a bad way, but, rather, in a "get moving" kind of way. Maybe I should make this my normal routine and see how much more I can get accomplished. Or maybe, just maybe, I should go have a nap and hope that this feeling goes away.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not-So-Easy Virtue

I love when I go to a movie and don't have any major preconceptions about it. It allows for much more excitement when the movie is good. And if the movie is bad, it doesn't ever seem to fall as far from grace as a movie that I've heard a ton of hype about. ("Slumdog Millionaire" fell into that latter category for me.)

I had heard very little about the movie "Easy Virtue" before seeing it. The basic synopsis that I had read said something about a (female) American racecar driver who falls in love with a younger man of means and, after a whirlwind romance, marries him and goes back to his ancestral home in England. Set in the 1920s, what ensues is a comedy of manners, as well as a cautionary tale of expectations versus reality.

The cast is great, with Jessica Biel and Ben Barnes starring as the young couple whose love may or may not be enough to bridge the gap in their ages -- and cultures. The ancestral manse is filled out with Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas playing the young man's remarkably mismatched parents.

I didn't find out until the credits were rolling that this was based on a play by Noel Coward, but suddenly so much of the repartee made sense. (As did the fact that frequently the young married couple sing out-of-tune portions of Coward's songs.) There are a lot of Coward's influences in the comedic -- and, often, uncomfortable -- moments caused by the clashes of youth and experience.

Watching Kristin Scott Thomas try to hold on to the life she has created, while her son and husband both seem to be abdicating their roles is poignant. Watching Jessica Biel make her entrances -- whether out of a racecar, down a staircase, or in the middle of a foxhunt -- is just plain fun.

Now, back to that out-of-tune singing... I fully admit that I was really bothered by the fact that Barnes's character was never in tune. It made me wish that someone like John Barrowman had been given the role. (Granted, Barrowman would have been too old for the role in a movie, but he could probably still get away with it on a stage...) I found out, though, that Kelly (my movie-going compatriot) found the out-of-tune-ness to be sweetly endearing.

So... Given the opportunity, is a little "Easy Virtue" worth your time? Yes. Keep your mind open to the options it presents? Definitely. Overall rating: B+ (Yes. The "sweetly endearing" singing bugged me that much. Sorry, Kelly.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Longest Day of the Year

Yep. That's right. This is the Summer Solstice and, thus, the longest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere, at least). And at least two or three times in the past week I've been involved in conversations about how light it was late at night.

But my longest morning of the past week was definitely yesterday. Christopher and I are dogsitting for a miniature schnauzer named Fred, who rather enjoys getting up at ungodly early hours. Yesterday, he got Christopher up for a quick trip to the backyard at a little after 4. Then, less than 2 hours later, he was ready for a longer trip out. So around 6 I was up taking him on a walk around the block (and bringing back two baggies that immediately went into the bin in the garage).

At that point, since I was already up, I took the opportunity to go out and put down a "weed and feed" fertilizer. It needed damp grass, followed by at least 24 hours of dry weather, and I had been planning to do it, soon, but hadn't really contemplated doing it at 6:45 in the morning.

Around 9, I was off to one of the local garden centers which has started its yearly summer closeouts. By 10:30, I was home and working on planting my new finds and by noon I had finally gotten the chance to shower and get cleaned up. (And, yes, a nap was soon to follow.)

Of course... There is something else going on today: Father's Day. Because my brain isn't entirely functioning this morning (Fred, who is now napping soundly, woke me up at 4:19, and then again at 5:48...), I'm going to take this opportunity to steal something about Father's Day from a newsletter that hit my email earlier this month. (Don't worry. It's not copyright infringement or plagiarism--I'm the one who wrote it for the June NoNutsAboutUs.com newsletter.)

Isn't it time to say thank you?
I don't know what it was like in your house, but I know that Father's Day was never quite the same as Mother's Day at our house. On Mother's Day we all gathered together to toast Mom. There were flowers and (well-intentioned but really bad) breakfast in bed and an afternoon of peace and quiet.

But on Father's Day everyone wanted to spend the day with Dad. No one worried about breakfast in bed. No one bought flowers. Instead, the gifts were typically of the family-fun variety.

Unlike Christmas and Birthdays when gifts were actually for Dad, Father's Day brought out the gifts which Dad may never have seen after the wrapping came off. I know that in our garage there are still a croquet set, lawn darts, and possibly even a basketball hoop or two. Sure, Dad helped put them together and set them up, but after that first afternoon, he left them to the kids. (Not that we minded, though...)

So... All these years later, let's all take a moment or two on the third Sunday of this month to say "thank you" to the man who cheerfully played croquet, hung the hammock, and even let us take him to see "101 Dalmatians" (because we were sure he wanted to see it).

And, while you're at it, we doubt he'd complain if you bought him a cookie or two.

** Disclaimer ** The preceding was written as a "feel good marketing" piece. It's not entirely true. My parents never actually had lawn darts in the garage (we had to play those when we were at family gatherings at my grandmother's). The hammock is in the basement. The croquet set, however, is still there. ** End Disclaimer **

I hope you enjoy the longest day of the year. I'm going to go have a nap.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Brain Drainage

I had every intention of posting a nice little "Friday Food" post tonight. I was going to talk about grilling hot dogs out in the driveway on our little charcoal grill, and follow up with a tale of the amazing chocolate malts that Christopher made. (ohmigod. Blue Bunny ice cream was on a 2-for-1 sale this week. And Christopher makes amazing malts. It was a very nice end-of-week treat!)

Then I was going to fill you in on the "Fred-day" that I have been having, as Christopher and I are dog-sitting for a miniature schnauzer (named Fred, obviously) whose owners are on a lake somewhere "up north" for the weekend. He's a great dog. Really. Although, at 4:25 this morning when he got Christopher up to let him out... and at 6:30 this morning when he threw a fit because Christopher left and he didn't know I was still in bed... well... let's just say the morning did not start well.

I contemplated telling you a little of what I've been learning about Islam, Alexander of Macedon (aka Alexander the Great), and how the passage of time can alter historical perceptions, but decided that I had dealt with enough of that after 10 hours of working on my latest editing assignment. (8 essays on various historical topics ranging from the Jewish Akedah to post-9/11 fundamentalism.) I will say that I'm sure that I've now landed on some government watch list because of all of the terms I've had to look up online. I'm sure I'll forget them all by Monday, but right now I've got words like "mujahidin" and "midrash" bouncing around in my head along with "hadith" and, yes, "akedah." (I'm gonna let you look them up yourselves. That way we can all be on the watch list together...)

** Sidenote ** When I spellchecked this post, that paragraph lit up like a highlighted Christmas tree! Not sure why that surprised me. Possibly because, after working around the words for multiple days, they all seem pretty normal to me. ** End Sidenote **

Instead of all of that, though, I decided that today I'd celebrate the fact that I have finally (after 4 tries!) found a Korky 54BG toilet tank flapper and gotten it installed and adjusted in the upstairs bathroom. I have to admit that, when I found it at Home Depot, I wasn't sure it was going to work. It didn't look like the circle of rubber at the back end would fit around the pipe it needed to slide on to (onto?). But I brought it home and went to work. The loop stretched nicely, and I slid it into place. And I waited. I could still hear water dripping. Turns out, the flapper wasn't centered. So I adjusted it. And I adjusted it, again. On about the fourth try, I got it to create a seal. I celebrated this afternoon by listening to (with all due respect to the Mssrs Simon and Garfunkel) the glorious sounds of silence. In fact, I'm doing that right now as I type, too.

What a great way to end the week: with things NOT all going down the drain!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

As this happens to be a rather humid day, I actually turned on the A/C in my car on the drive home. And, once home, I finally broke down and turned on the A/C at home, too. Yes, it's mid-June, and after a few cool and damp days, we're now having hot and humid ones. So... Since I'm a tad wilted, and since I've got a list of things to do, I thought I'd give you a quick list of things to think about, too.

1) Why does wander sound like ponder, while wonder sounds like under? I mean... Ponderances would sound really odd if you pronounced it "punderances."

2) Wouldn't "The Quirky Flapper" be a great name for a speakeasy? Unfortunately, what I really need is a Korky flapper for the upstairs toilet tank. I've been to multiple places and still can't find the right one.

3) Why would anyone cast an actor who really can't carry a tune to play a character who is constantly singing bits and pieces of songs? (You'll learn more about this on the next Movie Monday.) Let's just say that John Barrowman might have been more interesting in the role.

4) What makes everyone in an office flock to a baby when it gets brought in? That happened today, and as soon as the tyke was through the door, every woman in the office was swooning. One of the men in the office who has kids just walked by saying "You can tell none of them have kids. They'd never do this, otherwise."

5) Why, in the middle of a rather large metropolitan area where shooting off fireworks is illegal, are they sold in all of the grocery stores? Alcohol can't be sold in the grocery stores, but fireworks can? Who made that decision?

Okay. I have to get back to some other things. Sorry to bullet-list and run. Don't ponder too long.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Were You Ready on June 12th?

I hope that all of you were ready for the broadcast TV changeover from analog signals to digital. Not that I have any idea what the change really entailed, except that something is now different in how broadcasts happen. Possibly kinda like the difference between Morse code and a telephone. Or something like that.

(No. Please don't try to explain it to me. Much to Christopher's dismay, I really don't care what most of that tech stuff is, either.)

Since we're a cable-connected household, we didn't have to do anything. We were fine. Some of our channels are incredibly clear, now. We spent three hours last night watching competitions on the Food Channel, and I know I should say that it was as if they were cooking in our living room but... well... it was simply like watching TV a week earlier.

Wait. That's not quite true.

You see, a friend of Christopher's who just happens to be a professional chef was here with us. So watching food competitions was nothing like it normally is. Instead, we were talking through most of the shows, discussing recipes for how each of us might have done them, and voicing our votes for who should win and/or lose. It was, as the DTV folks have promised, more like the competition was taking place in our living room. But that was entirely due to the company, and not the digitization of the broadcast signal. (Sorry, DTV folks.)

I guess that says something about my views on TV, or movies, or life in general: It's almost always more fun when you share it with someone else.

Oh. Wait. There is one the thing I want someone to explain to me: Since the DTV transition a few of our local broadcast channels are now completely fuzzy/snowy. What's up with that?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Post Number 200! That's Better Than A Frozen Fish Fight!

I had planned to write a nice little posting about the weekend, but then I noticed that this is going to be my 200th post! Wow.

To celebrate, I offer you some of my favorite moments from the past 10 months:

1) We've spent time getting to know John Barrowman (first in a post entitled Kicking John Barrowman out of Bed). I think I still owe you a post about him in a DVD production of "Putting It Together."

2) I survived being Historically Adjacent to the RNC in St. Paul, as well as dealing with the thrills and chills of installing a new garage door.

3) I've reviewed movies and shows and operas and restaurants.

4) You've hung out with me while I dealt with technology, you survived me coining the term Ponderances, and you haven't given up on me during the frustrations of my unemployment.

At the same time, I realize there are still some explanations and descriptions I owe you. In an attempt to clear up one of the things which I've been informed is a little odd, I offer you this new explanation...

You may have noticed that one of my post "labels" is "Better than a frozen fish fight." Here's what it refers to:

When I was in high school, the full student body would be gathered in the gymnasium for movies before the holidays. There would be pop and popcorn, and sometimes a short cartoon, and then a movie. But the movies had to be age appropriate (from at least 7th grade to 12th grade), and couldn't offend anyone on any level. Of course, this was the early 1980s, so people weren't as worried about this as they are today, but since this was a school-sponsored event, they were pretty careful.

One Christmas, the movie we were watching was some really bad action flick. Honestly, I haven't got a clue what it was about. I do know that, in comparison, watching "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" or "The Absent-minded Professor" in grade school was high class theater. Anyway... In the midst of this action movie, there was a huge fight scene where the guys were fighting onboard a freighter, where the available weaponry were, in fact, lots of frozen fish.

It was hilarious. Big strong guys whacking each other upside the head with mackerel. Dueling with swordfish. Beating each other with tuna. Flinging sardines. (Okay. I have no idea whether any of this happened in the movie. Except for the dueling swordfish. I remember that quite vividly.)

Suddenly, although the movie was really really bad, everyone in the gymnasium was laughing and enjoying the frozen fish fight. And, all these years later, I still remember it. So... If something is "Better than a Frozen Fish Fight" it is something fun, unexpected, interesting, and/or startlingly enjoyable.

And there you have it. Yet another clue into the strange and mysterious land of my brain. My own personal blogosphere.

Happy 200th posting! I hope you've been enjoying this rather odd ride which is, frequently, my life. And I hope we all enjoy at least 200 more.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Today is Not Wednesday

I've spent much of today thinking that it was Wednesday. Since I work both Wednesday and Thursday, that didn't screw up my schedule too much, except that I had a dentist appointment on Thursday... errr... today. 

Don't worry. I had told Christopher about the appointment, and I made sure to set the alarm last night before bed, but I still got up this morning double-checking the calendar and making sure that this was the 11th and, thus, in fact, Thursday.

** Sidenote ** For those wondering... My dental appointment was fine. Or at least fine-ish. No cavities. Only a small amount of calculus. And, well, a "microscopic fracture" in my lower right rear molar which is going to require a crown. So... "fine-ish." ** End sidenote **

Luckily, there was one thing that kind of shook me out of my early morning hazy humdrum for the day, just after I'd gotten to my appointment in St. Paul.

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about the weirdness of toilet water almost always being blue? (It was in a post titled Ponderances on May 5th.) Well, when I stopped in the restroom before getting my teeth worked on, the water in the toilet was, rather startlingly, lavender. 

Honestly, I wasn't sure how I felt about that. I mean... The water was pale purple. In the toilet. In the dentist office restroom. It was a tad surreal for 8:02 in the morning.

When I flushed, though, the water filled in clear, and I noticed the handsoap on the counter was also lavender. I'm not sure how enough handsoap got into the toilet bowl to change the color of the water, but... well... (using a little Occam's Razor reasoning) that seems to have been what happened. 

Obviously, this would not have happened on a Wednesday.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Past Imperfect (Tense)

In the past week, I've seen three movies which, before having seen them, I would have assumed had nothing in common. Oddly, though, they all seem to have a very important thing in common: Imperfect Pasts. 

** Sidenote ** That's "Imperfect Pasts" not "Imperfect Pasta" which is what I've typed about 5 times, now. If you see any references to Pasta later in this post, please ignore it. Unless, of course, I actually start talking about Pasta. But you're all smart people. I'm sure you'll be able to tell the difference. ** End Sidenote **

Movie Number 1: The Reader. Okay. I fully admit that I got this from Netflix and did everything I could to avoid it for about 3 weeks. But I finally decided I needed to send it back, and felt like I really should watch it first. If you don't know much about The Reader, it stars Kate Winslet as a woman who is on trial for crimes committed during the Holocaust, but that is simply the easiest portion of the movie to describe. You see, the movie is also about how she gets there, as well as what happens after. Without what she does in her youth, there would be no reason for the rest of the movie. Her imperfect past forces her down a specific path. Or does it? Thanks to some really good film-making (and, apparently, an amazing book as source material), that question of "What caused this to happen?" is left without a solid answer. It's an absolutely heart-wrenching movie, and worth every wrench. Overall score: A

Movie Number 2: Duplicity. Not only did I see this in the same week as The Reader, but I actually saw it on the same day. Nothing like a little cinematic overload. Luckily, I saw the difficult movie first, and saved the mildly fluffy heist flick for second. So here's the deal: Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play... well... let's call them "experts in corporate espionage." They've known each other for years, and have developed a mostly-happy relationship throughout their imperfect pasts. Unfortunately, as you might guess from the title, there is a certain amount of duplicitousness going on. There's crossing and double-crossing. Faking out and faking out the fakers. It is funny at times, as well as being a little tense and serious. But, in the end, the ending is quite satisfying. (I know... I know... Where else would the ending be?) So... Worth going to the theater for? We found it at a $2 theater, so, yes. Satisfying enough if you keep your expectations a little low? Sure. Overall: B+ (it's long and a little slow at times).

Movie Number 3: Up. You wouldn't think that a Disney/Pixar film would fit into this whole "past imperfect" topic, would you? I was just as surprised as you probably are as I watched the opening scenes of the movie. There is a larger-than-expected amount of overcoming the past, though, that happens in the movie. Which is not to say that anyone's past in this movie was "imperfect," but, instead, the idea of the future which they had developed in the past may not have been quite right. (Did that make sense?) Here's the important thing you need to know: The movie is amazing... not quite as amazing as Wall-E was a year ago, but still evocative, emotion-filled, and downright thought-provoking. It also has some stunning animation (check out the fabrics in the curtains... or the way the dogs' hair moves) and a nice -- but not overly dwelt upon -- moral. Great for little kids? Maybe not below about age 5. Worth sitting through any screaming kids for? Even I would say yes. Overall: A

Three movies. Many imperfect pasts. A great week for film-watching. (And, for some reason, now I want pasta...)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rainy Weekend (finally!)

Just a really quick posting to say that, after the 3rd driest May on record, we got close to 3/4 of an inch of rain over the course of the day, yesterday. And, tonight, it's raining outside again.

The golden-straw section of the lawn is actually shrinking. And I haven't run the hose since Friday morning. Granted, there aren't any standing puddles, but it's been amazing to see rain. 

It's supposed to rain off-and-on through tomorrow, and then be dry for the rest of the week. But at least we've had this weekend.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I feel I have been remiss in not talking about the places we ate while Christopher and I were out in California. In an effort to assuage that guilt, I give you the following...

Easiest place to order: In-N-Out Burger (Sunday night). Okay, so you could make it really really hard if you want, but the actual menu only has about 10 items on it, and they're pretty much either burgers or sides. Want a burger with nothing on it? Order a burger with nothing on it. Want one with everything? Order one with everything. Not exactly difficult. 

Longest wait, but great ambiance: La Golondrina on Olvera Street (Monday afternoon). Yes. There was a line. Yes. It was a little loud. But the staff were incredibly friendly, there was a strolling guitarist, and the food was good, to boot.

Most home-y meal: Memorial Day (Monday evening, obviously). Steaks off the grill were accompanied by homemade spoon bread (an amazing food, kind of like a polenta... or a soft cornbread... really, really good stuff). Dessert was a strawberry pie made the way we had them when we were growing up: Glazed strawberries on top of cream cheese in the crust. Yum. 

Best on-line recommendation: The Original Antonio's Pizzeria and Deli in Avalon (Tuesday lunch). Right next door to our hotel, this place is a hole in the wall, especially when compared to the much larger Antonio's Pizzeria and Karaoke. But everything online pointed to the Original Antonio's being the place to go, and -- wow -- they were right. We had a pizza and sodas and sat and looked at the memorabilia on the walls before going on with our day.

Best view, if a bit chilly: Armstrong's in Avalon (Tuesday dinner). The food was fine. The service was fine. The price was fine. But the view was great -- we were sitting out over the harbor and watching the clouds change color as the sun went down behind us. Nice.

Best unexpected find: Bravo Cucina on the 3rd St Promenade in Santa Monica (Wednesday dinner). I don't remember what Christopher had, but I had their signature dish "Rigatoni Farma," a dish with pasta, chicken, mushrooms, sesame seeds, and a teriyaki cream sauce. I know it sounds weird, but it was really tasty.

Coolest seating area: The Commissary at Sony Studios (Thursday lunch). My brother-in-law will probably think I'm insane for this, but it was truly a Hollywood-esque lunch. We ordered in the chic-er-than-most deli area, then went outside to one of the "streets" to find a table to eat. Now think about this: We live in Minneapolis. Eating outside is really only popular for about 3 weeks in the summer. At Sony, they eat outside all year, with almost no indoor seating. How cool is that?

Most surreal meal: IHOP down the street from Disneyland (Friday breakfast). Why surreal? Because we met up with a friend of Christopher's and spent most of our time talking about relatively serious topics (jobs, relationships, grown-up life stuff) while sitting at a table which was oddly in the center of a large room, surrounded on all sides by families with screaming, over-excited and over-sugared kids. 

Most fulfilling foods: Disneyland (Friday, variously). Christopher and I kind of ate like... well... kids, when we were in the park. Before we left the park, Christopher got a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone, and I picked up some cotton candy. It was great.

Best meal of the trip (a totally objective decision -- as if the others weren't): Take-out from Panda Express followed by Birthday Cake (Thursday dinner). In case I haven't mentioned it, the Friday while we were in CA was my birthday. But, since Christopher and I were going to be in Disneyland all day, my sisters opted to celebrate it on Thursday -- and they planned the meal just for me. 
I know it's odd, but I really love the Orange Chicken and Kung Po Chicken from Panda Express (the fast-food-chain-ish Chinese restaurant which is found in shopping malls in most of the country, but actually has standalone stores in LA). It was wonderful. We took the food home so that we could hang out with the amassed families and I got to spend time hanging out with my niece and nephews. As if that meal wasn't good enough, we capped it off with a White Bakery Cake with vanilla buttercream frosting (imported all the way from Palos Verde, apparently). I know... a lot of people find that boring, but it's my absolute favorite. How much better could a birthday meal get? 

And, no suprise, nothing to write about from the airport on Saturday morning. Although Northwest/Delta is (are?) now serving peanuts, again. Which seems like an odd choice considering how many people have peanut allergies. Why did they switch from pretzels?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sallying Forth... Sailing Back

There are vacations you take so you can go back to places where you've been to relive the past. And there are vacations you go on specifically to make new memories. It is the rare vacation which enables both to happen at the same time.

As you may have gathered from my last couple of posts, the week Christopher and I were in Los Angeles was one of those lucky rare trips. 

It's strange, though. As much as I knew we were going to be tramping around in many of the same places I'd been to when I was a kid, I figured that -- since I've been out there a bunch of times in between -- I'd just blunder forward and enjoy myself like I usually do. I really hadn't expected my past to play any real part in it except for some "Oh. We go that way" or "We ate there when I was a kid" comments I figured I'd make to Christopher. 

Okay, so I was fully expecting to spend a lot of time saying "My grandparents liked this ride when we were little because it was a cool place to sit down" while we were at Disneyland. I knew I might be reminded of something while we were walking along Olvera Street. Heck. I was even contemplating a meal at Der Wienerschnitzel, just because there used to be one down the street from their house. (We did pass a couple Der Wienerschnitzels while we were out there, as well as on of my old favorites: an H. Salt, Esq. fish and chips shop!)

Strangely, though, I think I got hit hardest by memories on the trip to Catalina Island. That trip was something we only did a very few times when I was growing up and we were out in the LA area visiting my grandparents. I don't remember much about those trips to Catalina, except that we would sit on the top deck of the ferry in the spray and wind, wander around the island, have a picnic lunch, then come home. 

When Christopher and I boarded our ferry, I found myself watching as a couple of women helped their parents onboard. They settled in and then waited for the trip to begin, commenting on their good seats, the view of the Queen Mary, and the proximity to the bathrooms. As we came closer to Avalon Harbor, people got up to move toward the front of the ferry, and I saw them banding together to get that first real glimpse of the island. There was something both personal and universal in what they were doing, and it made me wish I could have taken my grandparents there as an adult, and not simply been taken there by them as a child.

Another boat, another memory. Christopher and I were sitting and watching the schools of plaid Carp and orange Garibaldi swim back and forth under our Glass Bottom Boat, and I found myself also watching a multi-generational family grouping on the other side of the viewing windows. They were oddly disconnected, but also obviously together. When we were almost back to the dock, the Mother/Grandmother turned to the Grandmother/Great-grandmother and asked "When we get back, will you want a nap?" The response came quickly and familiarly: "Oh, no. I'm fine. But maybe you'll want to lie down for a while." She smiled through the years of sunlight-tanned wrinkles and went back to watching the kids. There was something in the older woman's tone of caring and "pish-poshing" which drew me back to my own family.

You know, I've actually heard of people who simply won't vacation in the same place more than once because they feel it's a waste of time. (I'm not sure if they feel the same way about not going to the same restaurant twice.) What I do know is that some of the strongest memories from my last trip were actually created about 30 years ago. And that, without taking that most recent trip, I never would have been lucky enough to find them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

California Re-cap, part 2

I realized, while speaking to a friend of mine today, that I've been home for almost as long as I was gone. And I haven't been at all good at writing it all down. Tonight I'm going to give you as much of my trip as possible. If it feels overly packed in and busy... well... that's kind of how it felt last week, too.

Tuesday - Christopher and I had our first solo car-driving day. Luckily, we only had to go a little way, then hopped on a ferry to go 26 miles west (yes... that's across the water)  to Catalina Island. We spent the day enjoying what it's like to wander around a tourist destination when it's off-season. We walked up around the Casino building, took a very 1950s "Glass Bottom Boat" tour, and generally lazed about. After drinks and dinner overlooking the harbor, we turned in. Oh. We stayed at a place called the Glenmore Plaza Hotel. It's an old hotel about a half block off the beach, just a few steps from an ice cream store, a pizza place, and an art gallery. The staff were wonderful. The view was great. The floors were... well... they certainly weren't level. But the place was nice and easy to get to and from. 

Wednesday - Back from the Island, we headed south down Highway 1 to Mission San Juan Capistrano. I'd seen the mission referred to as the "Jewel of the Missions" but had never been there. The Mission exceeded any of my expectations. The buildings are interesting and the gardens are gorgeous. We traded the Mission for the Pier later in the evening when we went to dinner in Santa Monica at a restaurant on the 3rd Street Promenade, then walked out to the end of the famed Santa Monica Pier.

Thursday - This was our day on the move and on the freeways. We started our day meeting up with one of my brothers-in-law where he works at Sony Studios in Culver City. He gave us his insider's view of the lot, although he kept pointing out that there wasn't anything overly spectacular to see, just being there was amazing. From there, we headed up to the movie-picture-iconic Griffith Park Observatory, with its amazing view of the Hollywood Sign and the LA skyline. We drove home half on surface streets (passing parts of the Walk of Fame, as well as the LaBrea Tar Pits), and half on some of the most notorious stretches of freeway (the 405, southbound, at about 4pm). That evening, we collapsed with the whole family, take-out from Panda Express, and -- after eating Chinese food and some really good birthday cake -- we enjoyed a nice quiet evening.

Friday - Our last full day in Los Angeles was, in fact, quite full. We had breakfast with a friend of Christopher's, then headed into Disneyland so that I could celebrate my 42nd birthday with a free day at The Happiest Place on Earth. Appropriate for Christopher's first time in the park, as well as for a day celebrating both my past and my future, we wandered the park and rode on all of the "old standbys." We started at the top of the Matterhorn, adventured with Alice and Snow White, and even spent time in the Enchanted Tiki room. Much like the trip to Catalina, it was a day where I was flooded with memories, while also celebrating the present and future. 

Saturday - Packing finished, we returned our rental car and headed for the airport and home to Minneapolis.

Yep. It was a whirlwind week. Tons of fun. A little exhaustion. And the perfect way to transition from one year into the next.