Monday, April 25, 2011

Say Cheese!

Sometimes vacation plans change.  They change because of bad weather or flight delays or lost luggage.  Or because of an omelette.  What eggs-actly am I talking about?  (I know, I know…roll your eyes but know that I was hysterically giggling when I wrote the previous line!)  See, an omelette changed the course of the Oregon road trip that my mom and I took earlier this month.  Our original plan was to leave Cannon Beach and drive to Portland so I could go to Powell’s Books.  But before we left the coast, we stopped at the Lazy Susan Cafe for breakfast.  We both ordered omelettes – my mom got a cheese and mushroom omelette and I got just cheese.  Those omelettes were to die for.  When I read the menu, I noted that they were made with Tillamook cheese.  I knew from one of my trusty travel brochures that Tillamook was just down the road and it was home to a cheese factory…okay, honestly, I was really interested in the ice cream operations!  Anyway, those omelettes were enough to change our plans so Portland and books were out and Tillamook and dairy products were in!

Check out some of the pictures of the Tillamook Cheese Factory!  But keep this Tillamook travel tip in mind - check out the cheese bar before you eat the ice cream!  Your tummy will thank you!

Cute cafe on Cannon Beach's main street.
Cozy with a friendly staff...and delicious omelettes!

Tillamook Cheese Factory

Ladies at work on the cheese line

Please slice it thin!

The ice cream makin' room

The best $7.50 lunch I've had in a long time!
(Mine's the one without the whipped cream...ick!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

On the Feel Good Side of Leaving

I love reading my horoscope but ever since they downgraded Pluto’s planetary status, Jupiter moved into retrograde, and they redid the astrological star chart, I can’t figure out what my sign is so I just read all of them and pick the one that sounds best.  Given all that, maybe I should just stick with Chinese fortune cookies.
A couple of years ago, after finishing one of my first major projects at work, I kept mulling over what I could’ve or should’ve done better or differently.  I happened to order some Chinese food one night and this is the fortune I got in my cookie:
I’ve had it hanging up in my cubicle ever since to remind me that I can learn something new every day and use those experiences to encourage me to do better or become a better whatever (but not a better bed wetter!) 
Today was my last day at my (old) job.  The past couple of weeks have been a little crazy and a little bittersweet but tonight, in the words of Hootie’s gone-country Darius Rucker, I’m on the feel good side of leaving (and I swear it has nothing to do with the margarita!)  I start my new job on Monday.   
When I wrote my post about accepting my new position, my mom told me that she was a little concerned because I ended it with “I think I’m ready.”  She said it didn’t sound like I was sure of my decision.  It sounded fine to me but when you start blogging about your life, your mom apparently gets to give you editorial feedback.  So, Mom and everyone else…while I’m a little sad, a lot excited, and somewhat nervous, I’m most definitely ready.  And the Chinese fortune cookie gods must think so too.  A few nights after accepting my job offer, I got this fortune:
Yeah, I think so too.  But the GPS is in the car just in case! 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Goonies Never Say Die!

If you grew up during the ‘80s, chances are you saw some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces ever made – The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ghost Busters, Back to the Future, and my two favorites, Top Gun (best soundtrack ever!) and The Goonies. 
If you’ve never seen The Goonies, you’ve been sorely deprived.  Here’s a quick summary – a group of friends hunt for the treasure of the pirate One-Eyed Willy in order to save their neighborhood (the goon docks) from being torn down by developers.  The film was set and filmed in Astoria, Oregon (as was that other thrilling movie, Kindergarten Cop).   My mom and I stopped in Astoria and nearby Cannon Beach on our travels through the North Coast.  We didn’t run into Mikey, Sloth, or Mouth…but I did eat a Goonies burger!  I hope you enjoy the pictures!
The Astoria Column.  You have to
climb 164 steps to get to the top!

Some of the 164 steps in the
Astoria Column.  They keep going...
The Astoria-Megler Bridge as seen from the Astoria Column.
This bridge is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.
The city of Astoria as seen from the top of the Column.
Mom!  I see you!  Can you see me?!
Along the [goon?] docks.
Deep in Ecola State Park.
Haystack Rock in the distance. 
Taken from Ecola State Park.
Haystack Rock from Cannon Beach.

You can never have too many pictures of rocks.

My mom and I at a scenic overlook.

Oregon:  The Land of Trees

Overlooking a town (Manzanita?) from a bluff.

Does anyone else think this sign is funny?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Family Food Friday!

My family and close friends (and a few long-suffering cubicle neighbors) know that I’m a bit of a chatterbox.  I’m kind of bubbly, outgoing, and it usually takes a little longer for me to walk to places at work because I usually run into two or three people whom I just have to stop and chat with.  Clearly, I’m an extrovert, right?  Nope.  I’m an introvert, through and through.  Did you know that intro- and extroversion actually has to do with energy levels?  While extroverts are energized by parties or large meetings, introverts are usually drained and exhausted by them.  Introverts wish they were anywhere but where the action is…and if they have a good book to curl up with, that’s even better. 
When you’re an introvert, your large family can be overwhelming.
When you’re an introvert with an inferiority complex, your large family can be overwhelmingly overwhelming. 
The closest thing that I had to grandparents were my Uncle Bill and Aunt Betty.  Uncle Bill was my mom’s older brother and the patriarch of the family who are the Delaware relatives, 8 kids and their many offspring (which include cousins-once-removed, second cousins, cousins by marriage, step cousins, etc.  I refer to all of them as cousins because it’s just easier.)  Some of my favorite people are among the Delaware relatives - they are an incredibly loving, accepting, loud, large group of people.  A very large group of people.  Not ideal for an introvert like me.    
We visited them a lot when I was a kid.  It was always fun, if a bit overwhelming.  As I got older and my personal insecurities started to massively mount, I didn’t look forward to those trips as much.  I was constantly comparing myself to my cousins’ kids who, in my estimation, were all beautiful, smart, artistic, and athletic.  I spent a lot of time asking why I wasn’t born “normal” like they were.  Or how come I was dealt the sucky hand and ended up with a stupid craniofacial abnormality.  I was so unlucky and it wasn’t fair.  (Does anyone else hear the violins?)  All this baggage combined with my natural introversion made going to family events torture for me.  This continued well into my adulthood…my mom strongly encourages me to go to things, I feel guilty so I go, but I’m miserable.  And I worry that I’m going to become Denise, the spinster cousin, who brings Aunt Margaret to all the family gatherings.  Gradually, my mom’s let me off the hook a little, although I know it annoys her. 
Around Christmas, my cousins, the Delaware Twins, invited me to a Swedish Smorgasbord at the IKEA close to where I live.  I accepted the invite but it was just something that I was doing because I knew it would make my mom happy.  I was relieved when it was sold-out.  Turns out, there’s an Easter Smorgasbord too.  I got another invite.  But, I’ve made a few changes in my life since Christmas.  I accepted their invitation and looked forward to the experience, trying new food and spending time with my family without bringing along all of my personal baggage.  
On Friday night, I joined my aunt, the Delaware Twins, their daughters, and some of my cousins’ friends at IKEA.  The food was definitely more different than anything I’ve ever had before…it blew the ‘roo outta the water.  There was salmon, cooked and not, herring, liverwurst, sausage, beet salad, potato salad, cucumber salad, carrots, scalloped potatoes, ham, and Swedish meatballs.  I piled my plate high and joined my cousins at our table.  I think I did pretty well - I liked the herring and the liverwurst; the beet salad was okay (although I got really grossed out when the redness of the beets dyed my deviled eggs…that was icky);  I’ve had cooked salmon before and it’s not one of my favorites.  I had a hard time getting the raw salmon (lax?) down…that was pretty awful.  I also had lingonberry juice and thought that was delicious.      
When this is the first thing you see,
you know you're in trouble!


When we weren’t eating, there was talking because the Delaware relatives do that really well.  We talked about my grocery shopping habits (there are none!) and the Delaware Twins remembered that I used to eat stranger things than applesauce for breakfast.  Delaware Joan’s older daughter and I talked about the government shut down drama.  And I thought it was hysterical when she and her sister made fun of their mom for the way she pronounced Oregon.  I had just spent a week cringing every time my mom said Oregon!  Delaware Jean’s youngest daughter and I, both Smorgasbord first-timers, snapped pictures of the buffet.  And sure, when Delaware Jean’s middle daughter arrived looking like a million bucks after running, there was a little pang of jealousy, but that’s natural…we’re all human.  But then we talked about running, destination weddings, and Bethenny Frankel.  And I was having a great time. 
When I got home, I was exhausted.  Family (or any kind of large) gatherings are always going to be overwhelming for me but only because I’m an introvert…not because I’m holding onto baggage that only exists because I spent too many years feeling sorry for myself.  My family’s always accepted and loved me for who I am…it’s just taken me a lot longer to catch up to them. 
Food Friday isn’t always about the food.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Running with a Walker

Remember that list of goals that I want to accomplish this year?  Goal Number 5 is to run a 5K.  A couple of weeks ago, I amended that to finish a 5K.  I don’t even know why I put this on the goal list.  I’ve never been a runner.  In high school, when you had to do the mandatory mile run to show how fit you were, I made it half-way around the first lap and then walked the next three and a half.  When I told my brother about the 5K, he asked if I even knew how to run.  He’s not very optimistic that I’m gonna accomplish this goal.
Have I been working towards it?  Occasionally, I run around the house with a string for Phoebe the cat to chase.  And I’ve walked around the neighborhood three times with Scruffy.  Other than that, not really.  Until tonight. 
A few months ago, Caesar Rodney advised me to join a running club.  I didn’t…exercise is a lot of work!  Then Richmond came over and said she was interested in joining Females in Training (FIT) through the local running club.  We signed up (even though there was a part of me that really wanted to “forget” to mail the check by the deadline).  Last week, Richmond went to the first session by herself…I was on vacation and couldn’t make it.  All the ladies ran time trials so they knew what groups they were going to be placed in.  If you ran a mile under 10 minutes, you were put in the A Runner group; over 10 minutes, you were put in the B Runner group.  There’s also a group for Run-Walkers and Walkers.  Richmond is in the A Runner group.  I didn’t run the time trial but I can tell you that even if I had, I most definitely would not be in the A Runner group.  When I signed in tonight and told the coaches my running history, they put me in the Run-Walker group.  So, Richmond goes off with the other A Runners and I go off with the Run-Walkers. 
The Run-Walkers walk for five minutes, run for two minutes, walk for five minutes and then repeat two more times.  I was okay for the first cycle except that my sweatpants kept falling down a little.  I have to get running pants, not to mention running shoes, running socks, a sports bra, and a little pouch to put my keys in.  These were the things I was thinking during that first cycle.  The second cycle was a little more intense, I was thinking that even though the doctor said my heart was fine, I was pretty sure it was going to explode.  The third cycle was basically just a long walk.  But I finished without collapsing.  And everyone clapped for each other at the end.  That's always nice.
I met up with Richmond in the parking lot at the end…her group ran two miles through the neighborhood, without stopping.  Now, I have another be able to run with Richmond without stoppingOur graduation race is July 10th.  Hopefully, we'll be running it together!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is That a Crab in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

What happens when seven people living in a house...oh, wait, wrong reality show.  What happens when seven people, most of them tired and hungry, start a quest along the Seattle waterfront to find a restaurant open for dinner at 3 PM?   Three restaurants, two more people, no buses, and about two hours later, they end up right back where they started.  Ahh, the first crazy unofficial, non-Discovery sponsored night of CatchCon 2011...what memories!
For all of you who are scratching your heads and wondering what the heck CatchCon 2011 is...let me take you back several years ago to my bedroom late at night (this is totally PG so get your minds out of the gutter!)  I was a recent grad school grad wide awake worrying about...well, probably something stupid or inconsequential.  I was surfing the channels in the wee hours of the morning when, hark!  What did I discover?  Deadliest Catch (DC), a show about Alaskan crab was like the deadliest job or something.  It was interesting and, okay here's a confession (and I could really lose some of my DC cred right now but you'll still like me, right??) I thought Blake was hot.  There I said it.  To make a long story short and to employ one of my favorite puns, I got hooked.  By the end of the show, I already had a favorite boat and a favorite crew (Blake was pretty but the Northwestern is prettier!)  Eventually, I became a member of my first online fan forum and joined a loyal band of Northwestern supporters.  DC became a Tuesday night staple for me (don’t bother calling me, I won’t answer), I started learning about the world of the Alaskan crab fishery,  my mom and I began to go to fan events, and uninformed people began to look at me like I was one crab short of a full pot.
So, that’s some background on the show, but what is this CatchCon business?  In 2009, I heard that there was going to be a convention for the fans of the show in Seattle, Washington.  I so totally had to be there, but, um, this was before Adventurous Denise and the idea of flying to a city all the way on the other side of the country where I didn't know anybody...well, that was just impossible.  But, as always is the case with me, I had a great crew of friends, both in real life and in cyber world who encouraged me to go for it.  So I did.  And that's how I found myself in Seattle two years ago, meeting fellow fans, making new friends, and oh yeah, getting up close and personal with some of the crews and boats featured on the show.
Last year for CatchCon 2010, I took my mom along because, well, she's better at the whole groupie thing than I am!  Once again, we had a blast so, obviously, when we heard about CatchCon 2011, we knew we were going...with or without tickets (by the way, the whole ticket procurement process is an event in and of itself!  I won't put you through reading about that...but, once again, I gotta thank my pals for coming through for me for two years straight!). Each year CatchCon gets a little bigger but for the most part, there's a core group of Northwestern fans that I hang out with and while we talk to Wizettes and Banditas, we know that our boat is the best.  You can call us fans or groupies but don’t use the “s” word or we’ll throw you overboard without a survival suit!    

My CatchCon "Bling"

The Northwestern going
through the locks.
Here's a typical CatchCon agenda:  Friday morning - wait for the boats to arrive (it's only the Northwestern and the Wizard...sorry CM and TB fans!).  Friday afternoon and night, you chill with fellow fans and catch up with your friends.  Saturday morning, you get in line super early so you can get into the event as soon as possible (and so you can wait under cover!). Once you're in, you get your trusty lanyard (I've got three now!!) and then you’re off - you can go on the boats, get autographs from captains and deckhands, play (and lose) games, peruse the Discovery store, eat lunch, listen to the captains and deckhands on discussion panels, and have your picture taken more than you can count.  It’s a full day of fun!  A post-CatchCon tradition for many of the Northwestern fans is to see the boat off and then high-tail it over to Ballard to watch her go through the locks (if you’ve never seen this…find the locks nearest to you and check it out, it’s awesome!)  After that, we usually have dinner at the Lockspot (featured on After the Catch).
It’s a busy weekend and while meeting the crews and getting to go on the boats is awesome, for me, it’s all about getting to see the friends I’ve made over the past few years.  We live all over the country and come from very different backgrounds but a show about Alaskan crab fishermen brought us together and that’s pretty cool.  To my Deadliest Catch friends – this year was a blast and I can’t wait to see you again at CatchCon 2012!!   
Our annual "Waiting in Line" photo...
but where are Carole and Rich?!
(The next few posts will be about my vacation and CatchCon!  I didn’t blog much while I was away because I was too busy having fun!) 

Friday, April 8, 2011

On Leave

When you work for the government, you don't get vacation days, you accumulate or "earn" annual's like earning gold stars but better!  So, when you're taking vacation, you're really taking leave.  Checking my leave balance is one of my favorite things to do when I check my electronic pay stub.  I'm on leave right now...vacationing in the Pacific Northwest before I attend the third annual CatchCon in Seattle tomorrow (yes, a post is forthcoming!). Unfortunately, my peaceful, relaxing leave-taking is being threatened because there is a chance that at midnight, the entire government will go on leave.  Government Shut Down.  Furloughed federal workers.  No work until the politicians come to an agreement about a budget.

Please don't think I'm an idiot but I haven't exactly been paying attention to all of this...actually, I wasn't paying attention the last two times this shut down showdown came down to the wire.  I'm not a huge news watcher and the only newspaper I receive is the free one that is delivered in my neighborhood.  I have a general understanding of what's going on...everything else, I usually ask Deputy Pepper.  But he's on leave right now too.  I really wasn't worried until I began to read Facebook posts from some of my other friends/coworkers/
fellow Federal workers implying that this time the shut down may really happen.  My agency has already sent out a notice about what to do in the event of a shut down (there's even a part about what happens when you're on leave!)

During a government shut down, only essential personnel report to work.  I am most definitely not essential personnel.  But it's not like I can take more leave because once the government reopens for business, we have to report back to work...whether that's this Monday or five Thursdays from now, unless I use more of my leave.  But I won't be earning leave because we'll be shut down.
In any event, I'm going to enjoy this last bit of my leave and keep my fingers crossed that the government doesn't shut down because I kinda love working...when I'm not on leave.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Road Trippin'

I used to be a bit of a collector.  I collected bags, key chains, postcards, magnets, mugs, eggs, alligators, Donald Duck stuff, Marie Osmond dolls, collectible tins, glass carafes, anything Kennedy related...and there was a brief foray into camping lanterns.  Hellooooo, credit card debt.  I also collected something that didn't cost me anything - travel brochures.  You know, the free pamphlets that are in the racks in hotel lobbies or visitor centers that advertise all the different places you can visit in a town, city, or census dedicated population center.  I go wild at those racks and can easily leave with a couple dozen of them!  Plus, they're free!  I love looking at them to see all the places that I can go!  If I wanna visit a glass blowing studio in Tacoma, I can.  If I want to go to the largest Christmas shop on the East Coast, I can and I have the handy brochure to tell me how to get there!

There used to be a time in my life, actually not so very long ago, that I was terrified of driving on highways.  It wasn't really the driving on the highway part that freaked me out, it was the merging part that always got me so scared.  I don't know where the fear came from...I actually drove on highways a couple times when I was a teenager but then I just didn't.  After a while the not doing it turned into a great big, irrational fear that kept me firmly buckled in the passenger seat.  At first, it was just a minor inconvenience, I went a lot of places "the long way" or I just asked my mom or someone else to take me.  It only got to be embarrassing when I began to hear that the younger kids of my cousins were cruising the nation's motorways.

Back in the days when I was content to just be a passenger, I had a conversation with my old pal B. about driving.  I told her that if I could drive on highways, I felt like I'd be free, I could just take off and explore, I could take road trips to wherever I wanted, I could go see all those places that I just read about in those many brochures that I collected.  B. looked at me and said, "But would you?"  I guess I really didn't know, but a girl can dream, right?

I didn't begin driving on highways until I was 25 years old - it was actually a caveat of my moving to Maryland for grad school.  In typical Denise-fashion, there was a lot of hand flailing and panicking when my mom and I made that first trip.  The turning point really came during my first solo drive from Maryland to Pennsylvania.  On that drive I realized it was fun!  I could go fast, there were no red lights, I was in total, complete control, and I was free!  No more taking the long way...unless I wanted to.  And road trips were a real possibility.

So, B., would I take road trips?  You better believe it.  I don't know how long a trip has to be to be defined as a "road trip" but I define it as a car ride longer than the 11 miles it takes me to get to work.  Some are short - a day driving on the California freeways from Yorba Linda to San Diego to Alta Loma; taking a practice run to the Kansas City airport...only to keep going until I reached St. Joseph, Missouri (the home of the Pony Express and where Jesse James was killed); or heading for a Florida beach after two full days of baseball.  Some are longer and more my week-long adventure in the Pacific Northwest two years ago or crossing the border into Canada last year.  Short or long, they are all sweet adventures that I cherish because there was a time, highways or no highways, that I never thought I'd go anywhere.

Today, another road trip begins.  My mom and I are headed from Seattle to the coast of Oregon.  She's the passenger and I'm the driver.  We're ready to hit the open road.  And, of course, I have a dozen or so travel brochures packed in my bag!

See ya on the road!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Roo and 'shrooms

I have a little extra bounce in me today and it's not because I'm off too one of my favorite places on Earth. Nope, it's 'cause, after a few weeks absence, Food Friday is back!  And as usual, a few days late!  Just so you know, I've tried a few more things when I haven't been planning surprise parties, turning 32, deciding to turn left, or going to Phillies Spring Training. Let's see, I've tried flaunta (sp?), an artichoke, and a bit of apple strudel; nothing too exciting to write about but at least you know I'm still trying new things!

On Saturday night, I was invited to a surprise dinner for my cousin's 40th birthday at Villa Barolo where Chef Lo works. I didn't meet the chef, but his name was all over the menu! The fun started the bar where I ordered a Malibu Bay Breeze (this was coming off my single Margarita night on Friday night so I was feeling daring!)  Appetizer preferences in my family tend to run towards hot wings and mozzarella sticks, so when the wild boar sausage and nookie came out, it was a little different to say the least! I haven't exactly been a fan of wild boars ever since the kid in The Thorn Birds was killed by one.  (Don't even get get me started on Catholic priests!)  But, I figured what the heck?  And down it went. It was actually okay. The nookie on the other hand! (I realize that's probably spelled wrong so feel free to correct me!)  Other appetizers included clams, mussels, and oysters...all raw. And all were disgusting. This was the only time that I was worried that I might possibly projectile vomit all over the cousins sitting across from me...although they're both moms so they're probably used to that kind of thing.

With the lingering taste of clam in my throat, I forged on. While the rest of my family tried exciting dishes like chicken, fish, and pasta, I was feeling game for a little game meat! There were several options to choose from, including ostrich ("tastes like chicken!")  Having just watched Oprah Down Under, I decided to go for a taste of the Outback, roasted tenderloin of kangaroo with portabello mushrooms served over mashed sweet potatoes. If you know me well, you know that the freaky part of this dish for me was actually the mushrooms! I tried, I really did try, to choke down a bite of mushroom but I just couldn't do it. Mushrooms are icky. The kangaroo was a different story. You're supposed to order the meat the same way you order a steak, so I got it cooked medium. It was served in a wine sauce and it tasted rather sweet although it was kind of chewy (good exercise for the jaw!)  Except for the tiny piece that I gave my brother, I ate the whole thing and I gotta tell you, it was really good!

Before any of you write me nasty messages asking me how I could eat a poor, innocent kangaroo, get over it.  It's not like I ate a koala bear.