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Will’s Birthday Surprise

God help me I’m way behind in blogging. And I’ve got many entertaining things to blog about — it’s not like we’ve been bored or anything. But one thing I HADN’T been able to write about was Will’s birthday.

He turned 40 this past January, and way back in September I started planning. First we were going to go skiing in Santa Fe, but then a friend of mine said this: “You say he didn’t have the best childhood? You should take him to Walt Disney World so you can recreate his childhood.” I was dumbstruck by that insight, but as she is childless and has gone 4 times with her husband and loved it, I thought she might know something.

The first thing was, how to keep this secret? Because after doing a bunch of research on the web, the first problem was that Disney has very aggressive cookies and now all my ads on my websiteshad Mickey Mouse on them (which Will actually noticed but I lied and said I was doing research for a friend of mine. I lied a lot during this whole thing.) Then, I had to hide paying for it, since we share the same accounts. So I took money I earned writing articles and opened up a secret bank account. I’m pretty sure the people in the bank thought I was having an affair.

It took months of figuring out where to stay, which room, meal plan, how many days, airline stuff, car to pick us up, all the while “pretending” to be busy with other things (in air quotes, since I’m not really pretending to be busy ha ha ha). The week before, I lied some more when Will said I couldn’t use the credit card and I replied, “How am I supposed to buy you a present?” (I already had, with cash). And then I showed him websites of B&B’s a couple of hours away and said maybe we should stay there… the day before we left, Will’s making comments about how he has to go get a chiropractic adjustment because his neck hurts and we should squeeze that in before our drive out and all I replied was, “Uh huh… sure.”

The next morning (2:15 a.m.) I wake up with this GINORMOUS crack of thunder, and considering that I had to wake Will up at 4:00 a.m., I just stayed up and worriedly watched the radar. With good reason, as it turns out. I woke Will up (and was immediately suspicious when he’s remarkably pliable to getting up at that hour), and pile us in a cab, lying some more to Will when he asks if we’re going to the airport, while all the it’s pouring. And I don’t mean a little. Austin got over 5 inches of rain that morning, and our plane was sadly, sadly delayed. I’ll leave the details out, but let’s just say that it was many flights later before we got to Orlando. At this point he still didn’t have any idea where we were going. Until we drove in the entrance to Disney World.

After that, everything was good. I had arranged for a room in the Animal Kingdom Lodge that overlooked a savannah, and this was the view the minute we walked in the room:

A momma giraffe and baby, in case you were unclear.

We saw zebras, gazelles, some crazy-looking things with horns… every morning and at night. They even had night vision goggles so you could see the animals after the sun went down.

And while I thought it would take Will a little while to warm up to things, he actually really enjoyed it right off the bat. After all, how can you not like drinks with lighted ice cubes:

You simply CANNOT underestimate the entertainment value of an LED ice cube.

I nearly had to wrestle Will to the ground to get this picture, but it’s awesome; Christmas photo for sure:

And you can see Will WAY in the back on the left, screaming:

Well, OK, maybe you can’t. But he’s there and I know this because I took pictures of every single train going by and blew them up to find him ;-)

Will was super impressed at the quality of things — how, in Epcot, each of the “countries” were staffed only with people from those countries (the Japanese women loved my t-shirts from Japan!). How easy it was to get gluten-free food, and how the chefs came out to talk to you for that. The attention to detail. I hadn’t known what to expect but it was WAY more than I thought it would be for an adult. Kids, sure — of course they’ll have a good time there. But there was tons of stuff for adults and things we didn’t even get to, like private safaris with authentic African dinners as part of it, performance driving classes, more high-end restaurants (the French restaurant we ate in was simply unbelievable. And not a child in sight.)

He said he’d go back, and considering that he had always been… reluctant isn’t even enough of a description for how he felt about it, I’d say the whole thing was a success.

Oh, and he loves his new watch :-) It WAS his 40th, after all! And he had absolutely NO IDEA — it was a total surprise, which is the awesomest.

Christopher Hitchens Who?

I few months ago, I started writing a post about Christopher Hitchens, who fascinated me simply because he was such a good debater and took on such sacred cows as religion and Mother Theresa. I had a draft going about this, because while I found him fascinating and argumentative and thought-provoking, whenever I mentioned him even in educated company, inevitably, no one knew who I was talking about.

And then he died. Last week, after he had been diagnosed with cancer a year and a half ago. He wrote about it in a series for Vanity Fair called Topic Of Cancer. This article, about manners and cancer, was hysterical and spot on: Miss Manners And The Big C. Really, a must read for everyone.

He wrote about more light-hearted things occasionally as well — Vanity Fair (not ironically, I’m sure), sent him on an assignment that resulted in a three-part series titled The Limits of Self-Improvement in which he succumbed to yoga, waxing, spa treatments, cleaning up his English teeth, quitting smoking and god knows what else. All the while, writing a humorous and bluntly honest account on ” …(the) entire micro-economy based on the pursuit of betterment… (where) the author—58, full-figured, and ferocious in his consumption of cigarettes and scotch—agreed to test its limits”.

And he was very well known — besides the regular column in Vanity Fair and Slate, he wrote for a variety of political entities including the Washington Post, and I had first read him in Harpur’s years ago, where he caught my attention by stating that the three most overrated things were champagne, picnics, and anal sex (since, at the time, I hadn’t been that thrilled with the champagne I had, and picnics always seemed better as an idea than in reality, I was willing to take his word on the third). Someone who wrote such long sentences but still didn’t lose me and made me laugh was impressive. For example:

In writing about the creation of Mormonism (the article was on Mitt Romney) and John Smith’s claim to have found secret tablets that only he could read: “It seems that we can add, to sausages and laws, churches as a phenomenon that is not pleasant to watch at the manufacturing stage.” Even Will laughed when I read him that one.

When he got diagnosed with cancer (in which he stated that “In whatever kind of “race” life might be, I have very abruptly become a finalist”), he wrote:

“Of course my book hit the best-seller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can’t see any ironies here: would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?”

I saw an amazing debate with him (it starts here and is worth every moment you view it) in which he took on Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the U.K. and newly converted Catholic, in a debate in which the topic was whether or not religion was a force for good in the world. What a remarkable debater — respectful, funny, and sharp, with an encyclopedia of facts on the tip of his tongue. It inspired me to know details about so many different topics, if only to be more interesting at the dinner table and in the lecture hall. Even if you didn’t appreciate his views, you had to respect the brain behind them.

As he describes finding out about his esophageal cancer:

The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me.

It is very sad to know that such a smart, wickedly acerbic, sharp, unapologetic and challenging man has just died at the young age of 62. There was so much more to write! He was someone who taught me, through his writing and debating, my critical thinking skills, of which there is a very sharp lacking in society these days, and he will be sorely missed by those in the know.

Xmas Torture

In a fit of insanity, I decided halfway through December that I wanted to send out Christmas letters again. You know how it is — you spend all this effort for years (at least, I did) writing a letter, printing it out on holiday paper, ordering the photo cards (praying that you had, at some point during the year, taken a decent photo worthy of reprinting 100 times), and then addressing them and forking over the postage to mail them, hopefully in time, to then never hear that someone liked the photo or enjoyed the letter. It sort of erodes your enthusiasm. So when I got busy a couple of years ago, I resorted to an email version, and then last year I think I just ditched it altogether.

But this September, Will and I went to a conference in Denver and visited an old friend in Colorado, who’s teenage daughter told me that they had always looked forward to it and had missed it the last couple of years. Really? Well, OK then!

Still, it was with a start that I woke up halfway through December and realized that if this was going to happen, I was WAY BEHIND already.

So I leaped onto Shutterfly.com and that’s where my troubles began.

First, 300 choices for cards is a bit excessive (OK, maybe it’s 200 but still). The site doesn’t save my choices and kicks me back to the start each time, even though I specify the size and number of photos. After several rounds of this, I just pick one, dammit, and load the photos. Create the card. Move on to the cart to pay and HOLD UP! What’s this option? YOU’LL ADDRESS MY ENVELOPES FOR ME? For a mere 25 cents per envelope?! Awesome. And you’ll upload from my Mac Address Book! WOO HOO! Until I realize that no, it’s not exactly that simple (kind of like installing a sink, or doing any computer upgrade — seems straightforward but NEVER EVER is). Making a file of just the people for the Xmas photos entails a stupid amount of work that goes all evening and into the next day, with the clock of December banging loudly in my ears. Then to upload.

And when does that ever go well? It uploads OK, but then won’t move forward because OF COURSE some of the addresses don’t make the computer happy. Edit edit edit curse curse curse. Try again. Oh, you still think that Canadian address is wrong? LET ME JUST DELETE IT after editing it THREE TIMES. Then comes the order part.

How hard could that be? I’ve spent freaking HOURS on this already and now I’m going to pay (literally and figuratively, apparently). But I want to order some blank envelopes and extra cards just in case and look! there’s a check box for that with a drop-down specifying how much you want! Awesome! What? Why doesn’t it get added in the cart? Let me go back and try again! What? Again? And again? (I’m like that — I keep thinking I’ll get some different result simply because THERE ARE NO OTHER OPTIONS TO PICK SO LET ME TRY IT AGAIN.) I call Customer Service, whose number, not surprisingly, is dug so deep in their website that I’m up to my shoulder in pages before I find it.

They have no idea what I’m talking about, and I’m on the phone with them for 40 minutes before they tell me they’re going to have to call me back BECAUSE THEY CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY I CAN’T GET SOME GD MF’ing EXTRA CARDS. I swear to you, I’m nearly having chest pain at this point because I mostly just want to murder all computers in general with a blunt ax but my fist will do.

They call back, give me the answer WHICH ACTUALLY WORKS and I place the order. Holy hell.

No question about it, I save a shitload of time with pre-printed envelopes, but lost it all again because for some unknown reason, those photo cards, which logically should fit within a regular business envelope because, you know, you MIGHT want to send a letter, come with their own, special size that is just a HALF-INCH too small, which requires me to take my nice Xmas stationery and fold it just a little bit more, so it’s all squashed up now. Lovely.

I’m sure, after a 4-year hiatus, that people will be glad to hear from us (me, really, because it’s only the women who care about sending cards and we’re the only ones writing them, despite how we sign them) and I console myself with the fact that next year I’ll be prepared to have 100 people pre-printed on the wrong-sized envelopes and it’ll all go much easier.

And I totally deserve it because I waited so long. And for those of you who get one, I’d love a little motivation in the comments so I know they’re appreciated :-)  Thanks. Europe’s cards won’t be there in time — no surprise there! But they’re coming!

Here’s the finished product:

You can’t see the blood and sweat but I promise you they’re there ;-)

I Just Bought A Bike

And for people who have visited our house, they will exclaim, “But you already have a bike!” Yes, three of them, technically. But it’s just like the medical system — you get more and more specialized, and soon nobody can do anything outside of their realm, and you sit there paralyzed because your racing bike is too nice to lock up somewhere and needs special shoes, and the fixed gear doesn’t have pedals OR a seat at the moment and besides it’s too hilly, and all you want to do is ride downtown to catch some dinner and not walk the mile-and-a-half, for God’s sake!  Why don’t we have bikes like in Europe, which are NOT flashy and you don’t mind locking up, and let you carry stuff in a basket?

Good question. Apparently I’m not the only  one not asking that question, because the Linus Bike company decided to fill in that gap, and now I’m the owner of a bike that is the COMPLETE AND POLAR OPPOSITE of the bike that took me across the U.S. and France, and heaven’s knows how many thousands of miles. But which I don’t want to ride the mile and a half downtown and lock up. No, now I have this:

And when I say “opposite” I mean that in EVERY. SINGLE. WAY. It has fenders, and a rack (and I’m putting a basket on the rack. A basket!), and something to keep my pants from getting in the chain, 8 speeds, and a kickstand. It has no quick-release ANYTHING so no wheels will be stolen, or the seat, or whatever. I can wear a skirt with it (because I DO actually own a couple), and it’s a completely not-flashy black. It’s actually called a “Dutchi” because they have a million of these in the Netherlands and it’s about time they made them here.

It’s my early Christmas present and I can’t wait. I’ll have it in a couple of weeks and then all those silly 1-2 mile trips that we keep using the car for WILL BE OVER.

It doesn’t hurt that the summer is over as well ;-)

Halloween, NYC-style

I’ve always envied those kids I see in the movies, who, on some reasonably temperate night, go happily door-to-door, kicking through the leaves, to stand on porches and ring doorbells, getting gobs of candy, and skip off to the next house. My childhood didn’t look anything like that.

I grew up in a two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of a large apartment building in the Flushing section of Queens, in New York City. We DID have a balcony (off which the cat fell once, landing in a bush and surviving for another 12+ years after that):

No, we are not actually twins.

We didn’t have a yard, and I didn’t get my own room until I was 22 and living in a house off-campus at my college. I walked to school every day, through the busy neighborhood and shopping area, at least a mile. We didn’t like playing outside because there were these “Bad Boys” who probably weren’t bullies and probably weren’t even bad, but we begged to stay inside where it was safe, and then we would read voraciously, until my mother would decide that enough was enough and we needed fresh air and would throw us out into the concrete playground to come home only when it was becoming dark. God knows  how I ultimately ended up a tomboy when we would carry 15 books home apiece from the library to devour morning and night, at the table, and in bed. Explains my addiction to my Kindle, however.

Anyway, there were a few things about Halloween that, until I started seeing movies, I didn’t realize weren’t normal. One of the things that drove us crazy was that it was always quite cold on Halloween, so we were always trying to figure how to have a cool costume that actually had some coverage. The other thing was, there were no houses. There were buildings. So what did that mean?

That meant 1. the potential for an enormous haul. We would start on the top floor, the 16th, spread out and ring a bunch of doorbells, and then run to all the doors that opened (because a bunch weren’t — it was a very ethnic neighborhood and not everyone was into Halloween). Then we’d go down the stairs to the 15th floor, and so on. 2. You could then risk the cold and run to another building with the gang of kids, (which we’d do) but they were slightly farther apart than houses so it was a pretty chilly run. However, we were known to cover 2 or 3 buildings for the night. It was always weird going to another building, because their paint and carpet were different, and it felt so alien. We didn’t need anyone to jump out at us — an unfamiliar building was freaky enough.

Nope, not twins. Although I’m the one consistently on the left of the photo, I’m noticing. The smaller one, even though I’m older. Yes, it was annoying when I was young.

Then we’d finally get tired and cold (oh, did I mention that no adults came with us?) and head home, to have mom pick through the candy and make sure it was safe.

That’s the funny thing about being a kid — you don’t actually know how different things are until you start meeting other people or seeing movies or reading books (I’d read about 4H and people having horses and living in real houses and it just seemed like a fantasy).

Not that I trade my childhood for anything. But every once in a while, I think going house-to-house would be super fun.

When You Know Too Much

I went to get my annual exam last week — you know, the one that checks “down there” to make sure I don’t have weird things going on because it’s a little hard to do that check-up with a mirror. I always show up with my own blood work, as well, which is always pretty darn good (compared to most people, I’m sure). And then the nurse practitioner runs through the basic questions.

“So, have you had your mammogram this year?”

“No, because studies have clearly shown that doing a mammogram does actually more harm than good especially for women in their 40′s — remember those guidelines that came out two years ago recommending against them? Besides, mammograms are not preventive, remember?”

Oh, right, said the look on her face. That’s true…

Not 30 seconds later… “Are you taking a calcium supplement?”

“No, because studies have shown that taking calcium makes no difference to bone health… you know how they keep saying that we drink and eat more dairy than nearly any other country and have the most amount of osteoporosis?”

Oh, right, as she nodded her head.

It was fascinating to see that even in the face of obvious evidence, the “standard” recommendations are still repeated and repeated, even though they don’t help at all. The actual statistic for the mammogram recommendation is pretty shocking, actually, when put into context:

You would have to screen nearly 2,000 women in their 40s for 10 years in order to prevent one death from breast cancer, and in the process you will have generated more than 1,000 false-positive screens. 1,000!  (here’s the full blog post I wrote on this).

And yet we still have the regular medical establishment recommending low-fat diets, an hour on the elliptical machine, low cholesterol (which increases your cancer risk), mammograms, and PSA tests for men (even though the new recommendations advise against them) and taking antioxidants (which will actually do mucho damage in multiple places — read here).

Woe to the person who goes to the doctor uninformed!

We Should Have Worked With Computers

Is it like this for everyone? That the longer you know someone, the more you get stuck in remembering them from how they were “back then” rather than their ongoing current version. Because we’ve had a bizarre rush of (mostly) family who seem to remember NOTHING about who we are and what we do now, and only what they’re (apparently stubbornly) keeping in their heads from 10+ years ago. Let me explain.

Will and I graduated with our Masters degrees in Oriental medicine (which, I might add, was a 4-year degree) over a decade ago, and didn’t sit still for an instant. In fact, since that time, we have changed our private practice to nearly 90% nutrition. We read books. We read studies. We pick apart studies. We read conflicting views. We put together the pieces and then see if our theories are correct. We ask other experts and then check to make sure THEY’RE correct. I made a video on Youtube about how we get Type 2 diabetes that’s bizarrely popular — even M.D.’s have told me it’s the clearest explanation they’ve ever seen. In the last four years (and it increases every year) we get hired to lecture about nutrition to other health care providers — and THAT, let me tell you, is huge, because you can’t stand in front of an audience and not know your stuff. You have to know way MORE than your stuff, so that you can explain your topic at all levels. I have a whole series of articles just about nutritional topics that have been published (my dad would have been so proud!) and have had people tell me that I’ve completely changed their views and actions on nutrition. We’ve submitted proposals to national conferences on nutrition, been accepted, and then been put under the microscope by large audiences and succeeded. Hell, we’re even going back to get another Masters in Nutrition (because we clearly don’t have enough to do).

And yet…

Interestingly, it’s the people closest to us who seem to have the hardest time getting what we do. My mother puts up with symptoms and then doesn’t do what we say, and when I visit, there are bottles of things, untouched, that should be empty by now. My vegetarian sister has a new baby, and even though Will actually SPECIALIZES in pediatrics, no one asks us a single question about nutrition for a child or how to keep it from getting ADD (as an example). We were flown to Toronto to talk to 100 naturopaths specializing in pre-, peri- and post-natal nutrition for mother and child, and our own family could get the info (and I’d love nothing more than to give it to them), but they don’t even ask. Will’s mother has breast cancer and after mucking about with it for several years, the medical establishment has labeled it “chronic” (when was the last time you saw a cancer labeled “chronic”? Right, that’s what I thought). There’s so much we could do for her, and have certainly tried (she also resists taking anything which I find bizarre — if I had cancer, I’d be taking BUCKETS of stuff), and yet his own sister wrote in an email to a nutritionist she wanted her mother to see that her brother doesn’t know that much about nutrition because he’s an acupuncturist by trade.

By trade? You mean, like a plumber by trade? My eyebrows nearly hit the ceiling when I read that. Wow.

We’re not quick to be insulted by any means, but even that gave me pause. I might have let it go if that nutritionist had anything helpful to treat cancer for my mother-in-law, but we had already made those recommendations over 3 years ago and they were so banal you could have gotten them off a 3-minute Google search.  Maybe 2 minutes. And you paid $185 for that?

Talk about feeling impotent. You have relative strangers hanging on your every word, and doing everything you say and getting better, and yet you can’t make a difference to the people who mean the most to you.

Maybe if we knew something about Apple computers instead, then our family would be desperate for our expertise.

Suspicious Minds

I like to say that growing up in NYC gave me a healthy amount of skepticism that prevents me from being taken advantage of, but it’s a challenge to figure out when you really ARE about to get shafted, and when you are actually being helped. And to help me figure this out, the universe gave me three examples in the last week.

The first came when I went to my favorite place for a pedicure. This place is great — I can’t figure out how they make money, because they charge $25 for what I’ll pay upwards of $80 for less time and less service in some expensive tony salon. I have to travel way the hell up into Canada (also known as north Austin) but it’s worth it. I was sitting back reading, when the woman massaging my feet, said, in a thick Vietnamese accent,

“You need eyebrow wax.”

I politely demurred and said No, thanks, and went back to reading. She waited about 20 seconds before she said it again.

“You need eyebrow wax. Let me give you eyebrow wax.”

And a third time.

“Eyebrow wax make you look good. Let me give you eyebrow wax. You need.”

Now, I’m going to pause here for a moment, because this is where I was mentally trying to figure out what to do. It’s completely possible I needed an eyebrow wax, because I don’t give a rat’s ass how mine look, and I can’t remember the last time I even saw them. On the other hand, maybe she says this to everyone because she’s really good at upselling, and not taking no for answer. In an effort to change the direction of this conversation, I ask her how much it is, and when she says $8 (and adds in, again, that I will look much better), I’m like, Whatever — for 8 bucks, sure, wax my eyebrows.

I still don’t know if I REALLY needed it, or if she’s just good at her job. “Really” meaning that before I looked like some guy with a unibrow.

Then, a couple of days later, I’m getting my haircut. I haven’t paid for a haircut in nearly 20 years because I trade what I do for what she does, and my stylist owns two salons and is fantastic. I don’t even mention what I’d like — I simply let her do whatever she wants to do. So when she says, “Let’s dye your eyelashes!” I’m immediately back to, Do I need that? Unfortunately, I probably do, if the cultural norm is NOT pale, thin, sparse eyelashes. I fold much faster this time, because I don’t have to pay for this, so I succumb to black dye on my lashes, which makes me look like I’m wearing eyeliner for 2 days, and has people telling me I look great. That probably means I should wear more makeup, but that’s probably never going to happen.

Two days later, I’m at the car wash. It hasn’t rained in Austin in months, so there’s been no chance to get the bird poo off my car, and I’m about to go hand wash it myself in this ungodly heat, when Will, digging around in a pile of papers, finds a coupon for a free car wash set to expire at the end of this month. Woot! I pull into the full-service car wash, and the guy checking me in mentions within 10 seconds of me arriving, that I have a chip in my windshield (which I’ve noticed for some time) and they’ll be happy to fix it. I don’t want to spend any money — I just want my car cleaned, and yes, I know it can spread (but it hasn’t), but I JUST WANT MY CAR CLEANED and even when he’s telling me it won’t cost me anything as they’ll talk to my insurance, I don’t believe him somehow. I keep thinking I’m going to have to file it, and pay up front and finally I hear what he’s saying — it REALLY won’t cost me anything, now or in the future, it will take 5 minutes (OK, maybe 10) and there are no tricks involved. At some point after I’ve gotten my car back, I’m realizing that I could have done this a long time ago and gotten other chips fixed instead of putting KrazyGlue in them myself. I’m sure the guy was wondering why I was so resistant, but there’s that suspicion again…

I’ve been on the flip side of that, when I worked at REI. It’s a co-op, meaning that if you pay a one-time $10 fee (it might be $15 now, but it’s really nominal), you get 10% back on all your purchases — you get an actual check in the mail. So if you were spending $100 (easy to do there), you would have basically paid for the membership and it’s a lifetime membership. And yet, I always had to tell people I didn’t work on commission, we didn’t get anything for having people sign up, and even when I did the math for them, some people still looked at me suspiciously as they took the form, and some just flat-out declined. So I DO get it. The trick is to not let that filter of “This person is trying to take advantage of me.” get in the way constantly.

Because I could have gotten that chip fixed a long time ago.

The Anti-Vacation

(This post was delayed by some weird technical glitch that decided my blog didn’t exist anymore. Apparently, leaving it alone for 2 weeks fixed the problem. Oh, if only all broken things worked like that…)

Will and I just came back from the Anti-Vacation — the type of “break” that makes you desperate to come home, ready to hurl yourself headfirst into work. Of course, we didn’t sign up on purpose for hell, but that’s what we got…

RAGBRAI is an annual, 10,000-person strong bike ride across Iowa that’s been going on for 39 years and would best be described as a rolling party. Yes, you technically should be on your bike each day, covering some mileage to the next town, if only to offset the food you’re eating, but even then, you could get a ride if you needed to. Oh, and the riding is also helpful to offset the Bloody Mary’s you might be drinking (which I noticed didn’t seem to affect my riding at all. Curious…)

That many people going through small towns causes not just a traffic jam, but a virtual halt to anything else but cyclists slowly moving through, although that gives you plenty of time to view the food options on either side of the main street.

And food there was — deep-fried pork tenderloin, breakfast sandwiches, porkchops on a stick, pancakes, smoked peaches, lemonade slushies, walking tacos (what’s this? look below), deep-fried peanut and jelly sandwiches, burritos, chocolate-covered bananas, chocolate-covered cheesecake, home-made ice cream… it is well known that you can gain weight on this ride, despite cycling 50 – 75 miles a day in hilly terrain. I didn’t, but that’s only because I didn’t have any soda and refrained from the funnel cake…

That’s a walking taco — cut open bag, insert taco meat, lettuce, cheese, etc. and eat with fork. Will wanted his own pickle instead of sharing and I was all like, “DO YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THAT CUCUMBER?”

We also met up with some good friends who do this ride every year, and have special equipment for it, including a sink that pours out margaritas (third from the left), a full bar complete with glassware (second from left), a cooler big enough for a body (far left), and a 50-gallon-drum grill. Apparently the person carrying the boom box couldn’t make it this year, but I can imagine the size of that as well:

The hell part came because it felt as if we WERE in hell — assuming hell is a zillion degrees and overpopulated. Apparently Iowa’s having a heat wave along with the rest of the country, because there were “unseasonably warm temperatures” occurring. Unseasonably warm my ass — we roasted. We sweat so much all the sunscreen washed away, meaning that Will got stupendously burned, and I even got blisters on my lips. And there was no cooling off at night — first you roasted during the day (until we got smart and started stopping in air-conditioned bars for a beer here and there), then you roasted at night until about 3 a.m., when it cooled off enough to sleep. That lasted only a short time, because, even with ear plugs, you could hear the alarms begin to go off. And why would that be?

Because overpopulated hell means a tent city, which inevitably had a few people in it who were PANICKED that they couldn’t finish the mileage in the next 16 hours before dark, and so woke up at 4:30 a.m.  I would have killed them, but could never figure out which tent they were in…

The only highlight was the freezing cold shower I took after getting off the bike. After getting dressed, I would stand in the shower again and get my clean clothes all wet so I could stay cool longer. Did I mention how we were roasting?

Combine that with an overnight, sleeping-upright bus ride there and back, and you’ve completed the full Anti-Vacation Package (although I will tell you that the air-conditioned bus on the way back was WAY more appreciated than on the way up ;-) )

Would I do this again? Only if I was sure to be able to sleep indoors. I might take a chance again in the future, as I’ve heard this is a blast (and I had a few short moments where I forgot we were cooking),  but yeah — I’ve never been so glad to be home in my life.

Trial By Salad

We had dinner night before last at a friend’s house, and the several couples coming were assigned different parts of the meal, and we got salad.

We often get the salad assignment from this particular friend, and I’m fairly certain he’s applied some thought to this, since he knows we work late, and (although not yesterday) often arrive at his house directly from work. And, possibly, having succeeded reasonably with the food assignments (one time, he and his famous-for-hating-vegetables wife came over and when she asked for seconds of the spinach, his head nearly exploded), he trusts us to do something more than pour some lettuce out of a bag and show up with a bottle of ranch. After all, we’re drinking this man’s wine and eating his meat — the least we can do is make an effort.

The only problem is, most people regard salad as merely an impediment to the rest of the meal. I’ve even said it myself — why waste space on salad when there’s so many better things coming? Then there’s the whole thing of hot food/cold food. Maybe the Europeans are on to something, serving salad at the end of a meal so you don’t have to rush through it before the hot food arrives. It seems like a complete INSANITY when I see people insisting on finishing their salad while their entree gets cold by their elbow. I shove it aside in an instant. And I LIKE salad!

This is also a group who has a few people who aren’t so keen on eating healthy, so I’ve turned myself inside out to try to come up with something that will entice them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

One time (this time the salad was a mix including blue cheese, and cranberries) I had brought my own, home-made dressing (fancy French basil-flavored olive oil, fresh dill, oregano-flavored vinegar, etc.) and people actually commented on the dressing (I’ve got a memory like an elephant ;-) ). Another time I made a special herb salad that was a redux of a traditional herbed salad that the New York Times had highlighted on a Sunday in their magazine section (5 hand-chopped herbs!) — but it looked like any old salad, unfortunately, (but tasted fantastic!) so I ate most of it that time (I hated to waste it). I decided to venture out a bit last night, and made a beet salad. I don’t often do much with beets, and going to a dinner party always gives me an excuse to try something new. (Oddly enough, that seems to be the complete opposite of what most people do — they tend to stick to the tried-and-true, while I like to experiment on people, apparently).

This one was described in the New York Times as a beet salad for people who hate beets, and remembering the wife who hates vegetables, I thought this might be perfect. I even dressed it up by putting the grated beets in little endive boats (who doesn’t like food entertainment?). One beet fed 9 people (possible because there was a lot of other food) but I was pleased to see that even the veggie-hater liked the orange-flavored beets. The ultimate compliment ;-)

Recipe is here:

Never mind the stupidly small serving in the picture — you’re going to go after this with a large fork, because it was YUM. And easy. I was impressed. I’ll have to pull this one out again in the future.