Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jon Turns 30

In true "Spoon and Captain Jack" fashion, this post is belated. Extremely belated. Apparently someone (who will remain nameless) didn't feel like writing about his 30th birthday. So, two months later, I've taken it upon myself to briefly recount the events that surrounded the celebration of Jon's official trip over the hill.
I'm afraid I've set a terrible precedent for myself. After swearing that I would not try to surprise Jon on his birthday two years in a row, I did just that. But it was his 30th birthday after all--I couldn't just let it slip past unrecognized. However, there is no way that I can pull this off three times, so I am hereby publicly declaring that there will be no birthday surprise next year.
Jon knew that his "official" birthday present would be tickets to the University of Washington football game. Despite a tough loss to the Oregon Ducks (and their obnoxious fans), a good time was had by all. The real surprise, however, took place a week prior.
I had informed as many of Jon's friends and family members as I could that a fun way to celebrate Jon's 30 years would be to shower him with 30 of something. And shower him many of you did. 30 bags of mini Cheez-Its, 30 temporary tattoos, 30 songs from iTunes, 30 text messages, 20 AA batteries (figure that one out) guys are creative. Thanks for all your help!
The surprise didn't end there, though. Jon's dad graciously offered to share his birthday (which is a week prior to Jon's), which turned into a great alibi. We told Jon that there was going to be a surprise party for his dad at a brewery in Seattle. We knew we were successful when it wasn't until Jon walked in and saw friends that had never even met his dad that he started to figure it out. Thanks again--you know who you are.
I did promise to be brief, so one more thing before I end this post. On October 24, 2009, I witnessed something I never expected to see. With that build-up, I encourage you to check out YouTube's newest star (Jon En Fuego):

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Hey, you guys!": Our Trip to the Oregon Coast

Please pardon the random Goonies quote in the loses a little something in print. But it's a great introduction to the beginning of our Oregon Coast adventure. Fate smiled upon us when Jon and I both had 3-day weekends at the same time in October, so of course we had to take advantage of it. While pondering where to go, we realized that while Jon reminisces fondly about all the family vacations he used to go on to the Oregon Coast, I had never been there. That's as good a reason as any, so rather than getting up and going to work that Friday, we got up and drove to Oregon.
Our first stop was Astoria, Oregon. Jon had mentioned a couple hundred times that the iconic '80s film The Goonies had been filmed in this town (home of the Astoria High School "Fighting Fishermen"). I promptly began obnoxiously quoting the one line that I actually remember, "Goonies never say die." What I had forgotten was that the cinematographic masterpiece Kindergarten Cop was also filmed in Astoria. All together now, "It's not a tumor (pronounced too-mah)." Even though we felt silly doing so, I'm so glad Jon asked one of the tourism office employees where the "Goonies House" was because she promptly pulled out a list of movies filmed in Astoria and even circled the highlights on a map. I'll bet you didn't know Short Circuit (remember Johnny Five?) was filmed in Astoria.
After our stop in Hollywood's neighbor to the north, we quickly visited Fort Clatsop--the site where Lewis and Clark wintered when they finally reached Oregon--before continuing on to the coast. We checked Seaside and Cannon Beach off the list en route to Tillamook, a destination all its own. For those of you not from the northwest, Tillamook is home to a dairy/cheese factory/grocery store/ice cream shop/mecca of yumminess. We restrained ourselves from heading directly to the cheese samples and check out the factory line. Then we went for the ice cream.
Jon had a couple more stops in mind, including Depoe Bay (the "world's smallest natural harbor") before reaching Newport, which is where we stayed overnight. These tiny seaside communities certainly know their audience, as nearly every hotel is located along the water. Our room was no different. For a girl from the Midwest, waking up to the sound of the ocean was a bit surreal.
The next morning took us on an adventure to Heceta Head where we climbed to the top of the lighthouse. We were blessed with gorgeous weather, so the views were pretty breathtaking. While waiting for our turn to climb, we kept hearing this barking noise. After a few moments of investigation, we realized that we were hearing sea lions. Big, stinky, annoying sea lions. This was quite fortuitous because our next destination was the Sea Lion Caves. Unfortunately we had already seen all the sea lions on the beach, but it was still cool to go down into the cave.
We had just enough daylight left to go for a run along the beach near our hotel. Sure, it was sort of windy, and yes, it was getting chilly, but we were rewarded with an incredible sunset and darn good workout. It's tough running through sand. It wouldn't be a "Spoon and Captain Jack Adventure" without a brewery, so we refueled with some tasty beer at Rogue Brewery.
Even though Jon had Monday off, I still had a workday at school, so Sunday marked the end of our vacation. However, we made several stops along the way. We went to another lighthouse, this one at Yaquina Head. As we walked up to the lighthouse from our parking spot, we noticed a lot of people standing on the trail with cameras and binoculars. Curious, we stopped to find out what all the ruckus was about. And a ruckus it was, indeed. A group of gray whales were swimming around, just spouting through their blowholes like they were putting on a show for us. It's no surprise that I have never seen a whale before (minus a trip to SeaWorld), but the fact that Jon had never seen one either made it extra cool.
Exhilarated after our whale spotting, we charged ahead to Lincoln City where there was a kite festival on the beach. Dozens of brightly colored kites were anchored on the beach as the festivities were going on. There were choreographed routines with kites moving in unison to music; it was amazing to see all the twists and turns be under such great control. All I remember from my kite flying youth is getting the plastic Wal-Mart kite stuck in a tree after five minutes. The highlight for us, though, was the kite fighting competition. We were slightly disappointed that the Kite Runner kids didn't make a cameo, but it was still pretty cool and surprisingly intense. Twelve kites were in the air with the ultimate goal of being the only kite still flying. A variety of methods were used to knock other kites down, including wrapping the string around another kite's string to pull it to the ground.
However, the last kite had to come down sometime, drawing our trip to a satisfying conclusion.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Husker Nation

One of the hardest things about leaving the Midwest (in addition to leaving my family, friends, and home of 25 years, of course) was that I would also be without my favorite teams. We don't have enough time to watch TV to justify anything more than basic cable, but even if we did, we still wouldn't be able to watch the Royals, Chiefs, or Cornhuskers, anyway. (Disclaimer: Yes, I know that there's not a huge demand for Royals or Chiefs games, but I am a loyal fan and would watch them if I could.) No offense to the Mariners, Seahawks, or Huskies, but it's just not the same.
However, we stumbled upon the perfect outlet for my fervent fanaticism this fall. When I first moved out West, Jon discovered a website for the Washington chapter of the University of Nebraska alumni association. Through that site, we learned that a local AM radio station broadcasts Husker games. There's nothing like listening to a Husker game in Washington...and hearing the feed and seed commercials that follow every break in the action.
This season, though, we figured out that we live ridiculously close to an Irish pub that hosts Husker watch parties each week. Thinking that there would only be a handful of fans in attendance, we were shocked to see nearly 50 people decked out in their red staring intently at the TV screens. Correction: Jon thought there would only be a few people. I had no doubts. Husker Nation is alive and well.
We've been able to attend several watch parties this season and the atmosphere is always comforting to me. The fight song is played after every score and "Go Big Red!" chants are raucous. All that's missing is the iconic "More Points!" To my delight, Jon usually fills in that part--I knew I married the right guy.
Speaking of Jon, he's been a great sport, tagging along with me and cheering on the Huskers. All that will change next September, however, when Nebraska travels to Washington for the "Battle in Seattle." I can't wait.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Spoon and Captain Jack's Back-to-School Special

After an amazing trip to Europe in spring 2008, we made the lofty goal of leaving the country at least once a year. However, once July rolled around and we had zero arrangements made and no solid confirmation of when Jon would be able to take vacation time, we revised the aforementioned goal of leaving the country to simply visiting somewhere we'd never been. Hence, the "Back-to-School-Special" was born. After much debate and discussion over what to call our ten-day tour (because it doesn't count unless it has a name), Jon ingeniously came up with the title "Back-to-School-Special." The meaning is twofold: 1) the trip was our last blast before the new school year starts for me, and 2) several of our friends are graduate students living near college campuses. Now that we've effectively checked the box on the marathon, our next feat is to visit all 50 states. For better or worse, when it comes to travel, at times we focus on quantity over quality. Fortunately for us, we were able to experience both on this trip. Due to the nature of Jon's job, we have friends scattered across the country. And bonus for us, many of them are currently located in such exotic locations as Ohio and Indiana, both states I had never visited until this trip. The concept of going to all 50 states prompted a Seinfeld-ian discussion of what actually construes a visit. Merely having a lay-over at an airport obviously doesn't count, but there were mixed feelings about whether or not driving through a state was sufficient. What we finally decided was that a significant event had to occur in order to consider a state properly visited. That said, we tackled 11 states in 10 days, which brings my total to 33 and Jon's to 32. The following photo montage highlights just a sampling of our significant events from each state:
Hauling our luggage through Illinois

See if you can find our reflection--it's like a game of "Where's Waldo?"
Playing cards in Indiana
Worst Spades hand EVER.
Tasting wine in Michigan

This photo was taken at a winery. Trust me.

Watching Army Wives in Kentucky

We were evidently more interested in the pets than the show.

Eating barbecued steak in Ohio
We were too busy eating to actually document the event, so this picture is from the next day. But it's Ohio, seriously.
Driving around campus in West Virginia
Unfortunately we did not see Matthew McConaughey of "We Are Marshall" fame.
Floating down a river in Virginia
Enjoying a brewery in Vermont
This is the view from the brewery's patio.
Munching on ridiculously expensive gas station Cheez-Its in New Hampshire
Again, you have to take my word for it. The Cheez-Its didn't last long enough for a picture.
Chasing after a train in Maine
It's not really travel unless you have to run after transportation.
Getting drenched in Massachusetts
Apparently being soaked by rain evokes the same emotion as narrowly making a train (see previous expression).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dirrrrty Denver

In 2005, I embarked on a journey that changed my life forever. While I'd done an awful lot of living before that, it was that year that most dramatically altered the course my life would take. During the spring semester of 2005, I began my teaching career (sort of), met my future husband, and suffered some crushing personal tragedies. Throughout all of the ups and downs, however, was one constant: the Bu Bees.
Say it out loud. Yes, we're mature.
In Bamberg, I had the fortuitous experience of living with an amazing group of women on a street called Buchenstrasse ("Beech Street" in English). It took us approximately 5 seconds to name our apartment, which was just about as long as it took us to forge lifelong friendships.
Fast forward four years. Since our magical fairy tale of an experience in Germany, we've managed to stay connected, despite the ever-increasing distance between all of us. We've attended each others' weddings, bridal showers, and bachelorette parties; drank beer out of a truck and played kickball at Winkstock; sampled all of the finest sausage Hermann, Missouri has to offer; and made a committment to reunite on a regular basis. This year's destination of choice was Denver, Colorado.
I turned the DD Bu Bee Reunion (just think about it) into a mega Midwest trip, stopping in Nebraska to hang out with relatives before spending some time in Kansas City. From KC, I hitched a ride with one of the Bu Bees and drove that excruciating stretch of road known as I-70. It's amazing how much quicker the trip goes when your U-Haul doesn't get a flat tire 2/3 of the way across Kansas... We actually made pretty good time, but did have to make the choice to drive past the 8000-pound prairie dog.
Once in Denver, we immediately began our favorite Bu pasttimes: watching video footage and pictures from Bamberg, playing the "Hey, remember that one time in Germany..." game, and filling out our quote board. The quote board is now technically a notebook that travels to all of our officially-sanctioned Bu events, but originated as several sheets of construction paper taped to the wall of our German apartment. It was quite the conversation starter, and more than one of our friends had a tendency to rush over to the board upon arrival to our place, desperately hoping he had made the list. (Ir)regardless(ly), we always keep our ears perked for those innocent utterings which always manage to sound inappropriate.
In addition to all of 'remember-whens,' we did also enjoy Colorado's capital. One of the reasons the reunion was dubbed "DD" (for Dirrrrty Denver) was that we were set to experience the 'quick and dirty' version of our location. Our hostess for the weekend lives fairly close to downtown and was able to show us around downtown, including the 16th Street Mall. We sampled the meatless entrees at a couple of delicious vegetarian restaurants and did a little shopping.
The weather cooperated with us the Saturday of our three-day weekend so that we could go hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. The scenery was beautiful and it was great breathe in that fresh mountain air...except for the fact that the trail we'd chosen also served as a horse trail. Whether you adore, abhor, or are ambivalent to alliteration, hopefully you can appreciate the title we gave to our afternoon: "Hiking with hummus on horsecrap hill."
All too quickly the weekend was over. But before we left, we already began planning for our Five-Year Bu Reunion next summer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Hotlanta"...Not Really

In a slightly surprising turn of events, I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia for an education conference. Due to budgetary issues combined with a bit of miscommunication, I wasn’t sure I would be attending until a mere week before we flew. However, being the flexible person that I am, I only freaked out for about a half a day. Really, the whole thing seemed to work out and I actually learned quite a bit. In fact, I even had more fun than expected. One of the things I was looking forward to was the heat and humidity, if only to remind myself why the Northwest is a great place to be in the summer. The second I walked off the plane, I felt it. “Ah, humidity. It finally feels like summer…now where’s the air conditioning?” Growing up in different parts of the country, Jon and I have had many conversations about our different perspectives and have come to the ground-breaking conclusion that it’s all what you know. This becomes glaringly obvious when discussing the weather. Maybe if you’re from the Northwest, 70 degrees and no humidity is your idea of a perfect summer day. The same scenario would be a lucky day in early October. But, back to Atlanta… In all actuality, we really lucked out on the weather. The mercury barely made it to 85 and although the humidity was supposedly high, I hardly noticed (my colleagues from the Northwest, on the other hand, were more susceptible). According to local weathermen, this was very uncharacteristic for early July, but it worked out great for us. Most days were fairly sunny, although we did get a brief thunderstorm on our first day, something I miss out west. Who would have thought that the girl who used to refuse to sleep upstairs in her bed during a thunderstorm would get excited at the thunder and lightning?!? It turned out that although we arrived on a Tuesday night, the conference festivities didn’t truly begin until Thursday. We had a quick state-wide meeting on Wednesday afternoon, but were essentially free for the remainder of the day. Perhaps this was not the most cost-efficient choice the district could have made, especially in this time of economic downturn, but it did allow us the time to adjust to a different time zone, get comfortable with the public transportation system, and do a little sightseeing. I know that I was able to focus more on my conference sessions because I was not lamenting the missed opportunity to explore a new city. Plus, it’s providing fodder for this blog post. I’m sure none of you—not even the other teachers—are too interested in hearing about topic-based gradebooks or common assessments and data analysis teams. [Side note: the latter example was a session presented by a group from Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis. While they provided excellent information, I couldn’t help but resent them for their school’s victory over my alma mater in the 1995 State Championship. It’s a small world…] Now that I’ve effectively wasted a considerable amount of white space building up to the trip, I need to get to the interesting parts. Fortunately, our conference was located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, right in the middle of several tourist hot spots. One such spot was the CNN Center, home of, you guessed it, CNN. We went on the official studio tour, and I must say that I don’t really watch the news in the same way now that I’ve seen a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately (especially for one member of our group), we didn’t see Anderson Cooper, but we did see anchor Tony Harris in line at the Starbucks the next morning.
View of the CNN Center from Centennial Olympic Park
In addition to CNN, we also checked out Centennial Olympic Park, which was constructed for the 1996 Olympics. This is where the bomb went off during those Games. We spent about 20 minutes waiting out a downpour. Across the street from this park is where the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium are located. Lucky for us, both of these locations were open late enough for us to visit after our second day of conference sessions. Not being a huge pop fan these days, I still thoroughly enjoyed the World of Coke. Despite the propaganda, it was interesting to learn the history (remember the New Coke debacle?), watch some old commercials, and go on a 4-D “ride.” The highlight, however, was the tasting room, where you can taste over 50 types of Coke products from around the world. I think my stomach expanded to double its normal size due to all the carbonation; I felt a little like Charlie Bucket in that part of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he and Grandpa Joe are floating around in the fizzy room.
Mmm...high fructose corn syrup!
I’m really glad that the Georgia Aquarium extended a discounted offer to conference attendees because I’m not totally sure we would have ponied up the full entrance fee. It would have been worth it, though, because it was an incredible aquarium. We could have spent hours in the ocean exhibit alone. Before gawking at the 60-foot long tank, we traveled through the acrylic tunnel with sharks swimming overhead, a la Jaws. In fact, we even witnessed a hammerhead shark eat a fish, which sounds a little gruesome, but happens so rarely, it was kind of cool to see.
Whale shark front and center
On the morning we left town, we had one final destination to check off on our list: the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. I agree with one of my colleagues that it’s a shame that it took until the 1996 Olympics for any money to be spent on this landmark, but I’m glad that it was. Touring the Visitors Center was a moving and humbling experience; I felt ashamed of our nation’s treatment of African-Americans. I found myself wondering what type of action or non-action I would have taken if I had been alive during the Civil Rights era. Needless to say, I'm glad we made the time to stop at this important location.
The final resting place of the Kings
On a less serious note, the highlight of the trip (besides spending time with colleagues I hadn’t known very well previously), was our BBQ adventure. Thankfully, the other people in our group like to experience the local flavor of a particular destination as well, so we asked around for some restaurant recommendations and were told time and again to check out Daddy D’z. We liked it so much, we ate there twice. Being the fiercely loyal person I am, I won’t come out and say it’s better than Arthur Bryant’s or Gates, but it’s pretty close. We ate some of the biggest ribs I’ve ever seen, along with homemade mac ‘n’ cheese; collard greens; fried okra, zucchini, and green tomatoes; red beans and rice; broccoli casserole; corn bread; and of course, sweet tea (we all ordered different sides and shared). I felt like such a failure when I couldn’t clean my plate.
"We ain't pretty, but we're good."

See, teachers don’t have the whole summer off…

“20 Miles of Hope, 6.2. Miles of Reality”

There is a myriad ways to begin this post about our marathon experience. Heaven knows I had ample time to think about it…4 and ½ hours, to be exact. I’ve been asked more than once what one thinks about when running for that long, and the only answer I can come up with is everything and nothing. Since I am incapable of completely turning my brain off (just ask Jon how frustrating it is having me jump from one topic to another twenty times in a single conversation), I usually just let my mind wander.
A lot of times I find myself planning for school or singing that one song stuck in my head. Sometimes I finish a run and realize I have no clue what I had been thinking about for the past hour. With that in mind, please allow me to attempt to re-create my thought process over my 26.2 mile journey… Mile One: Okay, I can do this—that didn’t take too long. In fact, I’m ahead of the pace I had planned on. It’s a good thing Jon made me move up in the pack to start the race. Mile Two: Still going strong. Only 24 more miles…er… Mile Three: “OFFICIAL RACE PHOTOGRAPHER AHEAD.” Now, how should I handle this? Do I smile at the camera? Grimace in agony? Look off into the distance intensely? That’s a smart move, having the pictures taken early in the race. That way, no one looks too worn out yet. To see these pictures, follow the link to photographer’s website: In the San Juan Marathon photos, Jon was #42, while I was #43.­­­­­ Mile Four: “FLAT SECTION OF THE COURSE BEGINS NOW.” Literally ten feet later, “FLAT SECTION OF THE COURSE ENDS NOW.” That’s some sense of humor… Mile Five: Just passed a guy who’s breathing pretty heavily. Guy: “(Gasp, choke) I’ve never run more than six (gasp) miles (gasp) before.” Me (entirely too chipper): “Until today!” Guy, aka Nostradamus: “Isn’t there supposed to be a big hill up here somewhere?” Mile Six: Hello, Hill! Bring it on. Show me what you’ve got, bi-atch. (Author’s note: this is when I thought I was tough.) Mile Seven: What goes up must come down…wait, there’s another one?!? Mile Eight: Time to separate the sheep from the goats: half-marathoners to the left, marathoners to the right. Three other lonely souls and I head to the right… Where in the heck are the beautiful ocean views? This is an island, right? The farmland is nice, but I can get that in the Midwest! Mile Nine: Ah, there’s the water…and another giant hill. Time to open that Gu. Mmmm…sugary, flavored toothpaste…yum. Mile Ten: Still eating the Gu… Mile Eleven: Hey, there’s Jon! I guess that means the turn-around is coming up soon. Um…not that soon. Mile Twelve: The kids at the water stand ahead are doing their best to cheer us on and direct us to the “last bathroom on the course.” WTF?!? This would also be the first bathroom. I must really be dehydrated, though, because I’m going to take a pass. If I stop now, who knows if I’ll be able to start again. Mile Thirteen: Now headed back the way we came, which is a little boring, to be honest. But feeling okay. Have only seen a couple of women in front of me…I could actually place, which would be absolutely ridiculous. Mile Fourteen: Ah, there’s that hill again. It didn’t seem this steep going down… But wait. That house is having construction done, so there’s a port-a-potty in the front yard. Maybe I ought to take advantage of it… Mile Fifteen: Now catching up to the half-marathon walkers. They’re having way too good of a time. But it is nice to run with people again. Mile Sixteen: Just told by one of the course volunteers that I don’t look tired enough. What’s that supposed to mean? Am I not running hard enough? I must be an incredibly good actress. Mile Seventeen: Throughout the entire race, there has been an SUV full of kids and their dog cheering on the runners, specifically their mom. They’ve just set up camp and are now doing choreographed cheers: “I say ‘RUNNER,’ you say ‘POWER.’ ‘RUNNER!’ ‘POWER!’ ‘RUNNER!’ ‘POWER!’” Mile Eighteen: We’re starting to approach where the area where we started which can only mean one thing: we have to do a loop. Arrrggghhh! Mile Nineteen: Now I’m starting to get passed by the guys who are in the process of winning the marathon, about six miles ahead of me. Awesome. Mile Twenty: That was a nice little trip through downtown. There were actually some fans…or people who just happened to be out and about while a marathon was going on. I have now officially run farther than I have in my entire life. Holy crap. Mile Twenty-one: Just struck with an ingenious idea. Instead of merely drinking water at the water station, I am now going to dump it over my head. Overdue for Gu #2. Mile Twenty-two: Ridiculously tanned and fit man running in the opposite direction. Man: “I missed the turn-off!” Yeah, he was almost finished with the race and then accidentally ran an extra two miles. He looks like he can handle it, though—I have little sympathy. Just like I tell my students, “Follow directions!” Mile Twenty-three: Narrowly missed being hit by a car on a curve. Mom would be so pissed if I got hit by a car. Mile Twenty-four: The race has now become akin to a tent revival: Oh, sweet Jesus! Where is the next mile marker?!? Lord, give me strength! Mile Twenty-five: Holy Mary, Mother of God, one more mile?!? Mile Twenty-six: This last .2 is like a kick in the junk. Uphill? Yeah, that’s about right. Several minutes later: Thank you, Heavenly Father. Bring on the M&Ms! Enthralling, isn’t it? Just imagine stretching that out over four and a half hours. At any rate, while we are satisfied with our experience (I even got first—out of only seven—in my age group), I think it’s safe to say that we are hereby officially retiring from our marathon career.

Before the race: "What were we thinking?!?"

After the race: "That was the dumbest thing we've ever volunteered and paid money for."

For official race results and information, follow the link to

Vancouver 2010 or Bust

In an effort to get psyched up for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games (or for the simple reason that I’d never been there), we spent Memorial Day weekend in British Columbia. It’s not often that we both get three-day weekends at the same time, so we wanted to make the most of it. Our original plan was to take the Amtrak to Vancouver, but apparently everyone else had that idea because the train was booked by the time we began making our plans. Not that we waited until the last minute or anything… Therefore, we hopped in the car and drove north. Jon did have the foresight to check the border crossing times, and we wisely took a less crowded route that was only slightly out of the way. We breezed through the checkpoint and for the first time I got to use my “enhanced driver’s license,” which in Washington essentially doubles as a passport for Canada. The customs official was not as excited as I was. Once we arrived in British Columbia, we decided to stop off at a Visitors’ Information Center to get a better feel for how the trip was going to shape up. I have a bad habit of being an overly go-with-the-flow traveler, so I was up for anything. Not very helpful in the planning stages, but I usually tell myself that Jon gets a kick out of that part. He had been to Vancouver years ago, but that trip was more of a drink-Molson-while-watching-hockey kind of adventure, so we were both eager to try something new. Unfortunately, said Visitors’ Information Center was closed (on a Saturday, mind you), but lo and behold, it happened to be next door to a brewery. I am not making this up. It would have been bad karma to not stop, so we enjoyed a nice lunch before continuing on to Vancouver. On our way to the hotel, we took a little detour through Granville Island. It’s a pedestrian friendly area with lots of little shops and restaurants and even a public market similar to—albeit not as cool as—Pike Place. Oh, and there’s a brewery there, too. Shocking development. I swear Jon has some kind of “brew-dar.” Since the weather in late May was beautiful, the majority of our Vancouver activities were outdoors. We spent that afternoon checking out the flowers and exotic birds at the Bloedel Conservatory. We also couldn’t help checking out the flocks of dressed-up teenagers taking pictures of themselves. Evidently prom is not just an American tradition. To conclude our evening, we headed to an area of Vancouver known as Gastown. We got the vibe that Gastown is a touristy/trendy neighborhood (not what you’d expect from the name), and what do you know, there’s even a brewery. We had a hankering for tapas/dim sum/small plate food and relied on our friendly bartender and his new-fangled iPhone for recommendations. Our outdoor adventure continued on into Sunday. Still marathon-training at that point, we had a short 8-mile run to cross off our to-do list. We chose Stanley Park for our route and were greeted with some incredible views from the sea wall as we ran. It turned out to be quite fortuitous that we needed to run because we saw sections of the park we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Plus, we saw a couple of bald eagles close enough to poop on us (they didn’t). Forced to choose between several appealing options (everything was pretty darn expensive), we opted to check out the Capilano Suspension Bridge in the afternoon. 450 feet across and 230 feet above the Capilano River, it was not for the faint of heart. However, it was much sturdier than the bridge from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom—which I thought about the whole time—as this bridge could hold 96 elephants or 9 737 jets. That’s what you have to tell yourself when you can feel the whole thing sway with every step. For the heck of it, we took a little ferry ride after our bridge experience. We rode to Bowen Island and back and were “those” people who didn’t even get off the boat.

On our final morning before making the long drive back to the U.S., we decided to return to Stanley Park for the Aquarium. I had momentarily forgotten that Canadians don’t honor Memorial Day, so we toured the aquarium with numerous school field trips. It made our visit more authentic, though. In addition to all of the cool fish, frogs, snakes, otters, seals, dolphins, etc., we watched a “birds of prey” show, complete with a bald eagle. Not something you see every day…except for the day before. Content with the touristy vacation, we’re now ready to return for the Winter Games in 2010. Lithuanian curling, here we come!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A “His, Hers, and Ours” Weekend: Ours

After fishing and tulip gazing, we decided to make a stop at the meat store in Mountlake Terrace. That’s not a typo, we found an honest-to-goodness meat store. Of course, they also had over a thousand styles of hot sauce, barbeque sauce (including three types of Gates and four of types Arthur Bryant’s BBQ sauce), salsas, and other spices, as well as fresh cheese, and yes, even meat. We loaded up on steaks, lunch meat, BBQ sauce, and cheese. What a place! But the real highlight of the day was our dinner of fresh-caught trout. We paired the trout with our asparagus and wild rice. This is quite common, and though I was out of practice, I still cooked up a delicious meal. Kristin, on the other hand, had a hard time with the way I prepared and cooked the trout.
Fresh trout are cleaned, slathered with butter, and baked for 20 minutes. They are two small to fillet, so they are cooked on the bone. This loosens the meat so it can be pulled easily from the skin and bones.
To her credit, Kristin ate the whole fish (minus the head) and actually liked it. “Trout are in the same family as salmon,” she justified, “so, it was better than I expected.” And that answer was better than I expected!

A “His, Hers, and Ours” Weekend: Hers

After fishing, we went to go see the Tulips blooming in the Skagit Valley. This falls in the “Big Deal” category for local events, so much so that there is an actual festival dedicated to the blooming of tulips, though I have never been. We drove through the valley, enjoying the partly-cloudy afternoon. On the way, we stopped at an honor-system vegetable stand. We bought two pounds of fresh asparagus and made change with apples. We eventually did find the tulip fields. The flowers were beautiful, though I always thought there would be more. We had the most fun people watching. The tulips attracted tourists as far away as Russia, Japan and Germany. Everyone posed for photos in the tulips. Some groups went between the rows, at least until the groundskeeper shooed them out of the field. The fest was fun, but next time, we’ll avoid traffic by bicycling.

A “His, Hers and Ours” Weekend: His

What better way to start the weekend than getting up at 5 a.m.? Getting up at 5 a.m. and going fishing! That’s right, April 25 was opening day of lowland lakes fishing season, a subject of great anticipation for many in the Northwest. For those Midwesterners reading this, this is a big deal for several reasons: 1. Trout are dumb and delicious. Like cows, except harder to catch. 2. The dumb trout get caught first. 3. If you don’t have a line in the water by 6 a.m., all the dumb trout will be caught by someone else and you will not catch anything this morning, today, or all summer long. So for this reason, we drove 100 miles to my Dad’s house, woke up before dawn, and putted around the lake in the rain in an effort to catch something with a brain the size of a marble. (Yes, that actually is a car in the photo!) As (beginner’s) luck would have it, Kristin caught two rainbow trout! Turns out the trout liked worms better than lures on opening day and stuck twice for her. She got one 9” and one 12” trout.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Worst Wine Tourists EVER

Rather than attempt to succinctly describe our day trip to California's Sonoma Valley, I'll just cut and paste an e-mail Jon sent to our wine expert friend. (Like I tell my students, if you use someone else's work, make sure you give credit to your source. Thank you, Jon.) "...the Sonoma Valley was awesome! Unfortunately, we are the worst wine tourers ever. We only made it to three wineries and the Russian River Brewing Company, where we had the brettanomyces beers. Wild, man [as in wild yeast]. It is like the love child of a Belgian doppel and a Beaujolais. I've never had anything like it! We got there about 5 p.m. on a Monday and the place was packed. Looks like the recession is good for someone! Wine wise, we went to Roche, the first winery at the south end of the valley. Pretty good Pinot Noir! They are close to the bay, so the nights stay cooler than areas further up the valley. We spent the most time at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. This is the same Italian family that invented the Jacuzzi Spa. One of the 600-plus descendants married into the Cline family, which owns a French-style vineyard also in the Valley. The Jacuzzis make some great Italian wines and their building is incredible. Next time you go back through Sonoma, stop at their winery. I think you'll appreciate the traditional family blends.

Our last winery was...[g]ood, but nothing mind-blowing. After that, we went for a hike at Jack London's Farm, picnicked by the lake, and generally enjoyed the warm, sunny weather, while it was snowing up in Seattle."

There is actually a lake under there...we checked.

The San Francisco Treat

As a teacher, I only get so many days off throughout the year (yes, I know I have the summers off, but at this point, it seems far away), so it's important to take advantage of every opportunity to get out of town. So, when Spring Break rolled around, Jon took a couple of days of leave, and off to San Francisco we went. After our Amtrak adventure (see previous post), we arrived in the city fairly early on Sunday morning. I'd never been to San Francisco, and Jon hadn't been there since he was in high school, so we definitely were the kind of tourists who tromped around with our guidebook in tow. The basis of most of my knowledge of "San Fran" comes from growing up with the girls of Full House and Rice-a-Roni commercials, so I was up for anything. We had planned on doing mostly touristy things that first day, but these plans were stymied by the fact that Alcatraz was sold out (how a prison can be sold out is beyond me, but whatever). Being fairly easy-going people, we quickly adapted and turned Sunday into "outdoors day." We walked around essentially all day, first taking the light rail out to Mission Dolores, one of the original missions in California. We then stopped by Alamo Square Park (which involved scaling some serious hills to get there) with the dozens of other people basking in the sunlight. It was great to actually experience springtime after wading through Washington's rain. While there, we saw some quintessential San Francisco row houses that reminded me of the opening credits of Full House (because yes, we looked it up on youTube to confirm). Our next outdoor destination was Golden Gate Park. This park stretched on and on for miles, and I'm pretty sure we only covered the tiniest of portions. Again, there were tons of people outside enjoying the fabulous weather, and I began to wonder why they call this place the "Fog City." We literally did not see a single cloud the whole time we were there. We did experience a tremendous amount of wind, however, which dampened our venture to the Pacific Ocean. When you grow up in the Midwest surrounded by land, land, and more land, the ocean is always fascinating. Unfortunately, the wind was so strong that we couldn't enjoy it, settling only to touch the surf and retreat inland. Even though we had been advised by a former San Francisco resident (see the post about our train trip) to avoid the Powell and Market Street cable car in favor of the less touristy College Street car, we crowded on with every other tourist and made our way toward Chinatown. As we strolled, I stumbled upon Jack Kerouac Alley, which led me directly to City Lights Books. When I was in college, I took a class about the Beat Generation (think Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Burroughs...beatniks), and this particular bookstore was their mecca. In general, it's cool to actually see a place you've only read about, so needless to say, I was pretty excited. To appease Jon, we immediately went to a brewery. Flying by the seat of our pants all day, our next destination was the Coit Tower. Like most large cities, San Francisco also has a tall structure that you can sightsee from (similar to the Space Needle, the Liberty Memorial, the Sears Tower, etc.). We had the terrific fortune of arriving at the top just as the sun was setting, which resulted in some pretty incredible pictures. Satisfied with our day, we stopped at an Italian restaurant in North Beach for dinner. On Day 2, we rented a car and headed north toward wine country. As this will be recounted in a subsequent post, let it suffice to say that on the way we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, taking obligatory photos all the way. Our final full day in the city ended up being the touristy day we had anticipated at the outset. We started our day by hopping on a streetcar that took us to the waterfront where we were whisked to Alcatraz Island on the official Alcatraz Cruise Ship (all rights reserved). As I'm not really a big fan of research, I didn't know a whole lot about the penitentiary before we arrived, but the informational video and audio tour quickly solved that. After the trip someone asked me if it was creepy or sad to be there, like visiting a concentration camp. I had to answer with a resounding "no." The victims of concentration camp were just that: innocent victims. The inmates of Alcatraz were there of their own accord. However, as someone else pointed out, the creepy thing was that the place was nearly silent as everyone was on the audio tour. Groups of people walked around the cellhouse in hoardes, stopping when the tour told them to. Even a group of kids visiting with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters (or maybe YMCA) program were quietly following along. If only my Prime Time kids had been like that. If only my high school juniors were like that... When we returned to the mainland, we braved Fisherman's Wharf. As expected, it was incredibly touristy. Not really being shoppers, we stopped for some sourdough bread and kept moving. Next on our list was Ghirardelli Square, which honestly was a bit disappointing. I was expecting a chocolate factory, a la Willy Wonka, not an upscale shopping area. I guess a lot has changed in the 10 years since Jon last visited the city. We tried the cable car again, finally taking that sage advice. It was a much nicer trip when we weren't wedged in between a bunch of sweaty people with cameras around their necks. We even got to see where the cables travel under the street at the Cable Car Museum, which admittedly had a very peculiar odor. We're very interested in experiencing all the unique things different locations have to offer and so hanker after any and all recommedations. When I mentioned our trip to one of my dance teachers, she immediately suggested a Dim Sum restaurant that she and her husband frequent on all their trips to the Bay Area. I had no idea what Dim Sum was, but I gamely took the advice. It turns out that Dim Sum is similar to tapas (sort of like appetizers), Chinese-style. It also turns out that Dim Sum is quite tasty. Knowing that we only had a couple of hours before our respective flights left, we spent our last morning in San Francisco going for a run. I'm going to publicly declare here and now that we are training for a marathon...there's no going back now that I've put it in writing. At any rate, we needed to go running, and it was Jon's bright idea to really experience a San Francisco run by taking on some of the infamous hills. Definitely one of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time moments. Surely, there was plenty we missed, but I feel pretty satisfied with our San Francisco adventure. If only we'd had some Rice-a-Roni.


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