I'm Dreaming Of A White Halloween

The forecast for tomorrow night calls for evening snow showers.  Now, if I lived in Salt Lake City or Breckenridge or Tahoe or somewhere wonderfully ski-hill laden, this might be good news.  Unfortunately for all of us, I don’t, and the hint of impending white stuff is no lottery prize.  Halloween is next Monday, and I really like Halloween, but how can I celebrate in Bog boots and insulated Carhartts? 

Some college friends and I once made the rounds in 40 degree weather (suburban Chicagoland is prime candy-begging real estate, even when you’re a college junior), and let me tell you, my roommate Noel, who took the evening by storm as Lady Liberty, was quite literally shaking in her boots.  This was mostly because her costume was a thin grey sheet and [the coolest] aluminum foil crown [you’ve ever seen], and also she didn’t have any silver Carhartt overalls that would match her torch.  The group of us spent the night slowly shuffling through neighborhoods in the cold, receiving all kinds of suspicious expressions from moms and dads, but still getting their mini Snickers bars.  I don’t want to relive a cold Halloween.  And what about the children?!

Snow and cold aside however, I love costumes, and love to conjure up ideas for the old two-person dynamo.  Here is a sampling from my collection.

Our pet cat, Kiwi and box turtle, Lois - I’d wear black (already filling my closet) with face paint whiskers and a tail, while C could strap on our friends’ turtle sandbox cover. 

Vermont and New Hampshire – constructed out of cardboard, this is always on the list.  Even when you’re dancing in two separate rooms, everyone will know that you’re together.

Thing One and Thing Two – I  saw this done once in college, and it will live on in my mind for-e-ver.

A chicken and an egg – I like the idea of wearing a round suit.

A hunter and a moose – the only hazard being that one of us might actually get shot walking to the party.

Moby Dick and Captain Ahab

We have some friends who are pregnant, and I’d personally really like to see them go as a bun and the oven.

Of course, I don’t actually have a party to get dressed up for, and I don’t imagine that we’ll really have any trick-or-treaters stop at our cabin, but hey – who needs a reason, right?  So if Monday night comes around and you happen to be a dromedary camel or bunch of grapes with nowhere to go, stop on over.  You can come watch the Chargers and Chiefs hammer it out with Captain Ahab and the white whale. 

Bring some chips.


Order Up!

Oh you saints of the food service world… you are the gladiators of innumerable, daunting culinary battles.  Meatloaf for seventy?  That’s all?  18 enormous pizzas?  With one oven?   No problem!  Home-made bread for 150 screaming kids? Honey, you look terrified - did someone start a fire? 

This weekend, I cooked for 50 people, spanning 6 meals, Friday night to Sunday afternoon.  To any camp chef or kitchen staffer, this probably wouldn’t be so alarming (or to one exceptional young woman who usually helps out on weekends like this).  I’m not sure why my name was anywhere near the hat they chose from to fill the void this time around, other than, well... the fact that I’m not doing much else these days.  But seriously, someone should have “accidentally” slipped and dropped my name out of the running.
The source of my culinary inspiration.

Here are a few lessons I learned this weekend while I was messing around with sharp knives and hotel pans:

1. Always cook more bacon than seems appropriate.  What you don't realize is that people have a special, very-expandable pit in their bodies, solely for stashing fried pork.  As C said on Sunday morning, “If you serve bacon at breakfast, there won’t be leftovers, and if you serve more bacon, there still won’t be leftovers”.  He was right.

2. When making pizza dough in the huge Hobart mixer, be sure to pause the machine when you are pouring flour into the bowl.  I know what you’re thinking and no, the dusty powder didn’t fly everywhere.  Instead, the curlicue dough attachment crushed the aluminum pitcher I was using to dump the flour, which is no longer a cylinder – it’s now just a long oval made out of metal.  It squashed like a tube of toothpaste under a car tire. 

3. Keep your hands out of the Hobart mixer.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.

4. How to make bear crack.  It’s candy, and I guess bears really do like sweets.  This is just one more trick I’ve learned in our neck of the woods.  If you live in a suburban area, don't use this recipe.  I will not be responsible for bears snacking on your children because you like to take their pictures when they eat out of your bird feeder.  Common sense could save the world.

5. Wear good shoes and sleeveless shirts.  I could’ve done hot yoga in that kitchen had I brought a mat, and it’s almost winter here. so I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to work in a Miami restaurant.  If you don’t have any sleeveless shirts, I suppose a bathing suit would work, but I’m not sure how that floral tankini or those Hawaiian board shorts would fly with the state inspector.  Bottom line: it’s hot, and after 12 hours on your feet, you’ll feel like you are waddling around in shoes three sizes too small with a pair of newly acquired cankles.

6. When the crowd has left and the day has ended, you’ll get enough of a happy, tired endorphin rush to help overcome the swelling as well as the bacon aroma that has imbedded itself in your scalp and fingernails.  Above all, you’ll be thankful for those crucial other hands that helped put you food on the table.  At least I was.

So to every line cook, sous chef, dishwasher and baker out there – you are underappreciated champions of the greater public.  You perform miracles daily, converting old bread, eggs, milk and sugar into a bread pudding that I could never rival, and yours feeds 85, while I generally eat my 9"x12" alone on the couch, unless C gets to it first.  You order vast amounts of food with precision and can compose menus quicker than I can write a status update.  You are astonishing individuals, and on behalf of all of us who eat with vigor and abandon, thank you.  Don’t ever stop.  


No Really, It's Up To You

The two girls of our family have developed a reputation among friends of being decision-averse. Don’t worry if you're mentally nodding - we’re not offended.  You’d think that with strong and capable parents, experience living far from home to build independence, a solid education and quite good friends, we would have had ample opportunity to habitually form and express confident (or at least competent) personal preferences.  Psychologically, this has come to be known as making a decision, but despite how supportive and able our parents might be, we don’t really do that.  Not normally, anyway.

We’re two apples from the same tree, but at times I’m amazed at how contrary our natures are, how opposite we’ve become.  I'd compare my sister to a Granny Smith – strong flavor, good for all sorts of things (you can dry them; they’re perfect for pie; I’ve even seen industrial art pieces made with Granny’s), plus they hold up well over time.  This is my big sister – strong and comfortable in herself, super-wicked-enviously fabulous at almost everything, plus she’s gorgeous (which I believe I’ve mentioned before, but really, these things can’t be overstated).  She’s going to age well. 

I’m a Macintosh - a little tart, good to snack on when you need a pick-me-up, and gets nasty bruises immediately upon leaving the tree.  I think these are also the most-dropped apple.  I have an awkward sense of humor and am maybe a little cynical, always available to offer little quips and poised to get the ice cream to soothe your woes, and I am not going to age well.  It’s already happening – I really do bruise easily, plus my neck-skin is starting to loosen like a turkey-gobbler.

Anyhow, we’ve determined so far that she and I are apples, and that we’re different.  Great.  But the point of this whole blurb is that no matter how different we are, over time we’ve somehow both grown deficient in one thing: making decisions.  In my first draft of this post, I went on a little rabbit-trail on how we are indeed capable of asserting ourselves in the face of life’s big choices, but that seemed so … assertive.  So I backspaced it all out. 

Where should we go to dinner?  Umm…I don’t know.
What do you want for your birthday?   You know, I really don’t need anything… 
Should we take a walk, or just sit here for twenty minutes talking about whether we should take a walk?  Well, I don’t really care - what would you like to do? (classic turn-the-tables move)

These snip-its have been practically sucked out of our normal conversation, which is where the maddening indecision seems to grow exponentially, as we avoid choice by verbally throwing it back and forth like a football covered in vomit that neither of us want to touch.

All said though, we can make decisions.  Usually I get the ball rolling, only because as I’ve aged, I’ve also developed a habit of losing my temper, so I just shout out foods or movie titles:  Sushi!! Transformers!!  Rice crispy treats!!  How to Train Your Dragon!!  Then, we disagree once or twice, and eventually, by process of elimination, a decision is made.  Typically, we go eat sushi and then she chooses a far more thought-provoking film.  Whatever.  

So if you struggle with selection, don’t give up.  Just figure out the big things and let the little ones filter themselves out.  Nature has a way of deciding for you anyway, like drops of rain carving through granite.  But really, do what you want - I'm no expert.


The End Is Never Quite Like The Beginning

Into the city we drove, but not without a search for the one stop on this trip that we'd been planning for more than a month in advance: lunch at the dreamy tex-mex fast food joint, Cafe Rio.  This improved love-child of Baja Fresh and Cold Stone Creamery is filled with containers of bright colored treats behind glass and smiling employees shouting urgent commands at you: "Red or Green?!", "Pinto or Black?!", "Indigestion or heartburn?!"  I think they aim to give you an involuntary twitch by the time you reach the register.  They ask.  so.  fast.

After Cafe Rio, we rolled our bodies back to the Caliber and somehow managed to putter our poor, now-vastly-overweight car back to the hotel.  After shimmying up to the desk and checking in, we holed ourselves in the room for the rest of the day, too bloated to go anywhere and too full to want dinner.  But there would always be tomorrow.

Antelope Island had been on my radar for a long time before this trip, years actually.  You see, my family (due to free, magical pass-riding with my dad's airline employer - which seems farther away with each time I hit "checkout" on Expedia) spent a number of February school-vacations skiing Alta and Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon outside of Salt Lake. And there was always that darn island lurking in the distance.  And it was always February.

So this year, I was determined to make the pilgrimage.  It was outstanding, for two central reasons.  First of all, there are 500-700 american bison roaming around, stopping traffic and generally showing visitors their um, best side.

Which is huge, by the way.

Second, there is a beach, which is composed 70/30 or so of the most beautiful white sand (formed like tiny pearls around the fecal matter of brine shrimp) and heaps of molted shells left by brine flies.  If you have a choice, step on the fly shells - they're a lot softer.  The lake is between 4 and 28% salinity depending on the season and rainfall (for reference, the ocean is 3%), so apart from some algae and birds that feed on the previous two species, it's just me, you, and some veeerrry floaty water.  You can even sunbathe in the lake if you like - it's easy as pie.  Which we did.  And it was excellent, but you'll need a shower afterwards - like right now - or you'll stink like an evaporating city pool.

We hiked in the foothills of the Wasatch range, went to the Hogle Zoo, saw the Lion King 3D (I'll tell you about my Lion King life phase some other time... it is way too extensive to slide in here), and went to a Brazilian churrascaria to cap off our western vacation.  There's nothing like 9 types of meat and those little cheesy donuts to really say, "it's time to go back to oatmeal and vegetables".

And that was it.  Just an airport whirlwind and we were home.  Plus a 5.5-hour car ride, then we were really home - just where we started, only a little less pale.  I assume this is Nature's peace offering for the six months of winter she's about to hurl our way.

Thanks, but the gifts better keep coming.


I Allow Myself One Huge Mistake Per Day, At Least

It’s taken me a little while to sum up our events by a daily schedule, so allow me to take this post to catch us up a little.  Where did we leave off?  Oh yeah, showering in the cave.

After Canyonlands, we planned a few days to base our activities out of the town of Moab, a perveyor of outdoor magic and bliss.  Apart from eating at the Moab Diner every morning and getting gelato every night, we explored a bit.  Here are a few things that what we did.

Here I am, weirding out all the German tourists.

Arches: We hiked the slickrock to Delicate Arch (barefoot) and then Landscape Arch from the Devil’s Kitchen area.  Like I said in a previous entry, though beautiful, Arches is a madhouse.  Go in February.

C under Delicate Arch

Hole N'The Rock.  I both highly recommend and adamantly warn you against this excursion.  This day was “M makes all the decisions“ day, which is why our activities were comically strange and anticlimactic.

Hole in the Rock is a 5,000 square foot home that was blasted into the side of a mountain back in the 1960’s.  The couple who owned the property ran a diner out of a portion of their home for a time, which eventually became a gift shop.  The home itself is dark despite the large windows that were erected on the external edge of the cave, er, house.  The husband dabbled in taxidermy, and there is a large mule resting near a window and a mustang in a corner near the bathroom.  You are never alone at Hole in the Rock.

Another reason that you’re never alone is that across the parking lot from the home is a private zoo.  Nestled near the two story outhouse and “sasquatch sighting” sign were a collection of animals: turkeys, peacocks, pygmy goats, a pig, a couple of American bison, 3 alpacas, a family of deer, two terrifying ostriches, and a bactrian camel named Kramer.  We bought a bucket of food that we could feed the animals, which was nice, but the ostriches pounced on the bucket with such terrifying strength that if I had used my hands to hold out the treats, I would have no hands.  Really.

Slickrock Trail: C spent an afternoon mountain biking the famous Slickrock trail on the edge of Moab.  I declined to go because a) I would weigh him down (there was a very high probability that I would either pass out or crash and C would have to carry my body the 5 miles out - I would literally weigh him down), and b) we’d decided to stay at a hotel for a couple nights, and it had an outdoor pool.  From his immediate feedback, I’d say that C loved it and periodically thought he might die, which is our favorite recipe for success.

Jetboat Ride to Remember:  For the second real gem of “M Day”, I booked us a dutch oven dinner followed by a jetboat ride up the Colorado River featuring a light show.  I work for an outdoor outfitter.  I have no excuse for neglecting to ask the right questions.  The first would be, “I’m looking for something fun and exciting – is this the right booking for me”, and the second would be, “Can you describe the light show”.  This would have avoided a lot of nervous hand-fiddling at dinner and juvenile giggling on the boat ride.  C and I arrived at the base and immediately knew that I had made [yet another] mistake.  We were surrounded by a sea of white.  I have no problem sharing activities with my elders, so I don’t want to come across like an entitled little brute, but I think I expected that our ride might have some element of speed and vigor, and that…. Well, I guess I just expected a more diverse crowd, all around.  There were exactly zero families with children.  We were one of three, yes three couples that were under 40.   Out of 100 or so people.   We made friends with two young newlyweds from California that sat across from us at dinner and adjacent to us on the boat ride.  The other young couple was on their own somewhere.  The food was a real high point of the night – a variety of slow cooked meats, scooped pound by beautiful pound onto your metal plate (didn't they used to use metal plates in prison?).  After dinner, we ambled out of the dining hall and made our way to our assigned seats on the jetboat.

This is Dee, our riverboat guide.

The ride itself was nice, but instead of learning about geological formations, we spent our upstream ride looking for the face of Winnie the Pooh in the canyon wall, and our downstream ride listening to a pre-recorded tape of cowboy stories and natural history (with some strong LDS undertones).  The “light show” was actually a truck that drove along the river’s edge with a spotlight in its bed.  As we floated downstream, a staff person shone it’s beam on one side of the canyon, then the other, but the truck kept plugging up traffic, and C and I had a hard time muffling our laughter when 8 or 9 cars kept coming to a crawling halt behind the truck, getting the same light show we were.  My bet is that they also were wishing for something with a little more speed and vigor.  Somehow, this still turned out to be a Moab highlight.  Or a lowlight, depending on how you look at it.

We did a lot of walking around in Moab, which is really a great little town, though I’m sure it’s becoming more touristy with each passing year.  Then one morning, we packed up our gear, threw it all in the Caliber, went to Denny’s, then headed northwest, back to the city, dust flying in our wake.


I Once Was Lost... Again

Needles District, Hike #2: Druid Arch via Elephant Hill 11 miles

Let’s just start off by saying that I should never be allowed to navigate anything: an atlas, a road trip, a relationship, or yes, a hike.  My sister, parents and husband (as well as most friends) could tell you that my sense of direction is just terrible.  You’d be better off consulting a street map of the wrong city altogether than letting me guide you around my own neighborhood.  But sometimes, C lets me feel important by giving me the reigns for a bit.  Unfortunately, he chose the wrong day to let his crazy wife steer the ship.

We began our hike from Elephant Hill (a correction to my previous hike entry, which actually began at Big Spring Canyon Overlook).  From there we set off toward Druid Arch, a cool rock feature that is accessible by following a network of trails that trace a number of river washes in surrounding finger canyons.  This place was a total maze of deep crevices and lots of random footprints, reasons that are not a complete defense, but at least makes me feel less foolish and slightly more reasonable.

I started things off with a bang.  Rather than follow the given (read: boooring) route that would lead is to the arch in a generally direct path, I subconsciously chose to take us for a scenic detour, though an area called Chesler Park, following a 3.1 mile loop through an open valley, which was really very pretty.  We were still following signs for the arch, and were still headed in the “right” direction, but in a flash of irony, we found ourselves moseying down the path in Chesler Park in almost a complete ring. Were we going in circles? Of course not.  I laughed it off as someone’s bad attempt at trail design.  Clearly their fault.

We did make our way to the arch eventually.  It took us a little longer because not only did we add this Chesler Park deviation to the hike, but we also managed to follow some ghost tracks up a river wash for around a half hour before finding the real trail again.  When we reached the Druid, we scrambled up past the trail terminus, which offered a stunning view of the arch (pictured above) to a totally unnecessary perch high on the cliff above, all because we followed some stray, misleading cairns.  This is not a part of the world in which to mess with people’s cairns.  Come on.

So, 14.1 miles later, we arrive back at our car and returned to our sweet home in the desert.  By this time, we were verrry grimy - coated in the accumulated dust and sweat of the last four days.  So we did the only thing a pair of desperate hikers could do.  Remember those water jugs I mentioned in an earlier post?  And the campsite that was nestled in among some boulders?  Well, there was a small slit in the rocks behind our fire pit, with a dark space deep enough that we were mostly out of the line of sight of our friends and neighbors.  

So, we showered, one by one, by holding water jugs in the air.  It was hilarious and terrifying and cold, but we emerged refreshed and clean, which was worth every awkward glance we received from the older man and woman one site over.

This was one mistake I could live with.


I Still Think Disney Filmed The Lion King Here

Needles District, Hike #1: Confluence Overlook via Elephant Hill, 11 miles

I'm sure you agree.

What a smashing day. We learned our lesson from the disaster of Murphy Loop and brought ample water, good eats, sunscreen and our A-game to this new landscape.  I wish I could fully describe how otherworldly the terrain is in the Needles district of Canyonlands.  We were in the southeastern slice of the park, and our hike led us to the Confluence, where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet and run on together through Cataract Canyon toward Arizona and the Grand Canyon itself.  I know some folks who have a permit to raft the Colorado in January of next year, and all I can say is buckle up kids, because this terrain is knock-your-socks-off, slap-your-grandma spectacular. 

The three districts of Canyonlands are geographically divided by water, but could also be identified through their gradual inaccessibility.  Island in the Sky is nearest to Arches National Park and the bustling town of Moab, where everyone in their right mind stocks up on water (no potable water is available in Arches, Island in the Sky or the Maze) and all other necessary munitions and luxuries (Ice!  Lattes!).  I’ll talk a bit about Arches later, but HOLY COW there are a lot of people running around that place, and each of them must drive at least three cars simultaneously.  I swear.  Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time hanging out with the masses there.

As I was saying earlier, Island in the Sky is nearest to outfitters, amenities and supplies, and therefore seems to be the most populated of the Canyonlands districts (which means that it is still “cricket…cricket” quiet compared to Arches).  The Needles is next in line with a far less dense group of visitors.  The Maze, an area that we unfortunately didn’t get to (it takes about 4 more hours to reach) is unmanned by the Parks Service and has been deemed “primitive”, which probably means “totally awesome and you should have come here”.

For us to reach the Needles, we journeyed an hour or so south from Moab, then turned east and slithered into the park near the small, sleepy town of Monticello where I purchased one of the most disgustingly sweet root beer slushies I’ve ever had.  Once you pass through the park gate, you still have another 22 painfully gorgeous miles to drive before you reach the Squaw Flat campground.  Even though we had left Moab fairly early, we were still pretty nervous that we’d get all the way in and find no available sites, only to have to drive all the way back to the Needles Outpost, a privately owned campground near the park entrance.  Anywhere else this might have been our fate, but not there, not then –the place was only half occupied, and we still got to choose – choose, I tell you!! – our sleeping quarters.  The sites were nestled in amongst gargantuan (read: McDonald’s-sized) boulders that were perfect for scrambling onto in the evenings to watch the sunset burn down into the horizon. 

The other glory of the Needles is that they somehow manage to pipe potable water in to the Visitor’s Center as well as the campground, which felt like a real lucky streak for dirty, thirsty visitors like us.  It would have been unfortunate to have to cart in a trunk-full of water without having to leave our clothes behind in town.  Exhibitionism in the desert is not highly recommended, unless you’re ready to paint your body in what C refers to as "sunscream", Australian zinc oxide sunscreen, which I’m not.  

The hike was meandering and the terrain diverse, with great “needles” or pillars rising above us in one moment, then a great savannah surrounding our tiny footsteps at the next, and we were constantly aware of the real possibility of catching a glimpse of a mountain lion or stepping on a diamondback rattlesnake.  By the time we returned back to the campsite and caught a Ranger talk on Ancient Puebloans, we were ready to cram some dehydrated Kung Pao chicken and rice down our gabbers (not so good if you’re curious) and slip into our two person Big Agnes sack (wicked good if you’re curious) for some sweet dreams, because let’s face it, the scenery was nice, and neither of us smelled like dead fish yet.


Why Can't We Live Somewhere Warm?: We're Back

Three things I learned during our first active day in Canyonlands National Park:
  1. I am NOT 18 anymore.  
  2. When hiking in the desert, bring water.
  3. Sunscreen is not just for your mom.

We arrived in Moab, Utah to blue skies and the nice 90-degree heat of early afternoon.  Canyonlands is a park that is naturally divided into three districts, each carved out by the Green or Colorado River: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze.  We started our trip in the Island in the Sky district, which only has one small campground (Willow Flat) of 12 sites.  This was full when we arrived, so we drove our hot little Dodge Caliber over to the Horsethief Campground, which is operated by the Bureau of Land Management.  Mercifully, the BLM runs a slew of campgrounds surrounding Canyonlands and Arches National Park, all for 10 to 15 bucks a night, which in my book, is as close to free as you can get.    And I’m all about that, because as we know, less money spent on lodging means that the dinner budget can expand a little.  And I like to eat, so this is good.

Day One: Murphy Loop, 8.5 miles.   Mother Nature is an evil mistress.  

For a day hike, 8.5 miles really isn’t bad.  Sure, this was one of the longer trails in the district, but still, it should have been very doable.  This is where I experienced realization #1: I am not 18.  I can’t suddenly expect my body to be able to descend then ascend 1000 or so feet in 75 yards without doing so much as a few sit-ups in preparation.  Well, I can’t expect to enjoy it anyway.  This was compounded by truth #2: When hiking in the desert, bring water.  The National Parks Service recommends carrying/drinking at least a gallon of water per person, per day.  At least.  So I guess carrying a Nalgene for each of us and a 16 oz. Dasani to share was a serious misstep.  I can’t believe how rookie this makes us seem.  The truth hurts. 

Sunscreen is also an important friend in the desert.  It’s particularly true when you are from the Arctic Circle and your skin tone resembles the bottom side of a paper plate.  Well, friends, it doesn’t anymore.  No sir.

Somehow I survived the first day, probably due only to the gentle prodding of my husband (read: I was allowed a break after every ten steps or so) and the depressing thought of black widow spiders and vultures picking away at my dehydrated body lying in some dried up river wash somewhere.  Also, I never, ever want to have to drink my own urine.   For these reasons, I managed to trudge my way up the cliff face back to the car… slower than a slug on a lamppost.

Since I had designed our trip itinerary, I fell asleep that night knowing that this was the shortest hike I had planned, and that the sunburn I had acquired would only feel worse after another day in the scathing heat.  But despite all this, if you had asked me if this was the best vacation ever, I’m pretty sure I would have said yes. 

I love this sort of thing.

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