July 26, 2014

Books I'm Hogging From The Library: The July 26, 2014 Edition

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Here's what I'm doing this summer (besides finishing my "forty before forty" list). Reading! And reading!

Portland Food Cart Stories: Behind the Scenes With the City's Culinary Entrepreneurs  ::  Nothing says "Portland" like "food carts." And coffee. And rain. Oh, and books. But back to the food carts. I LURVE me some food from a cart, and time after time I'm impressed with the amazing cuisine that comes from a tiny little kitchen parked by the street. Since I have a full-time job making zero-thousand dollars, I have to live vicariously through the author of this book. He regularly visits, samples, and writes about the food carts of Portland--now how cool is that?

College Without High School: A Teenager's Guide to Skipping High School and Going to College  ::  This. This is the type of book I love. It takes all my preconceived notions about high school and college and SWEEPS THEM ASIDE. It excites me to think about teenagers taking charge of their futures earlier rather than later in the educational process. I already plan to re-read this another time or two when my kids start "high school" (at home).

The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won't Learn in College About How to Be Successful  :: Okay, so I'm on a bit of a theme these days. It took me days, lo, about two weeks, to read this book because it had that much gold to mine out of it. (Usually I can skim a typical book in a couple of hours.) You guys know how I'm all about learning that is practical and relevant, and how academic navel-gazing makes me cray-cray. Well, this guy gives one example after another of people who made their own path to success--outside of higher education. He's convinced (and I am, too) that that the higher education bubble is about to pop, and getting a Bachelors will not automatically equate to getting a job. I feel this book is a must-read for parents raising the next generation of workers.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir  ::  I'm not sure who recommended this book to me but WOW. I read it in one sitting, stopping every now and again to pat dry a tear. Oh, it's not a tearjerker--it's quite heartwarming and insightful and perfectly captures what it's like to have a mother. I always marvel when an author can write with such eloquence, and capture details from yeeeears ago as if they just happened today. I read this book not only as a daughter, but as a mother with a rather complex relationship with her own daughter. As someone who is consistently trying to figure out who *I* am apart from the whole wife-mom thing, I truly appreciated this memoir.

Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness  ::  This is a short graduation speech put into book format, but you know what? Sometime a person can say more in a short speech than in twenty long-winded chapters. That is the case with this book. The one bit of wisdom contained in sixty short pages is solid. And if each person took the words in his speech to heart, wow, what a better world we would live in.

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July 21, 2014

May The Books Be Ever In My Favor

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It's not hard for me to sit down and read. I make it through a ton of books--most of them non-fiction. I like to skim and pick and delve and discuss and meditate on every little bit I'm LEARNING. My ISTJ-ness looooves an ever-increasing pot of KNOWLEDGE. But when it comes to fiction, I always feel a bit guilty, as if reading for pleasure somehow doesn't count as "getting something done." Now don't misunderstand, I love an excellent novel and it's fiction I turn to when I want to relax. However, that relaxing is often so successful that I end up asleep with a book propped up on my chest.

Regardless. I love that feeling (gah! feelings!) of fully immersing myself in someone else's story. It's one of the few things that can "unhinge" me from my busy, anxious mind. So I put it on my list and made it a priority to read fiction. In The Daytime. Scandalous--amirite?

I read Pride and Prejudice first, thus giving me bonus points for tackling a classic. But then I needed to up my "coolness score," so Hunger Games it was. Gotta keep up with the times, you know. Besides, I wanted to preview the trilogy to see if it was appropriate for my tweens. So yes, I was doing something frivolous but I was also DOING SOMETHING PRACTICAL. So take that, re-lax-a-thon!!!

I read all three books in about two weeks. I was shocked at how much The Hunger Games and Catching Fire matched up with their movies (one and two). It almost felt like the books were written after the movies. I enjoyed the books, but it wasn't a case of OH MY WORD THE BOOKS ARE BETTER THAN THE MOVIES, OH YES THEY ARE.

Mockingjay ended up being my favorite, probably because I didn't know the plot in advance. Page after quick-turning page I wanted to know how it all worked out for dear Katniss. I mean Gale! Peeta! WHICH ONE DID SHE CHOOSE?!?!? Of course by now I know the ending, which means I get to spend the next eighteen gazillions months KEEPING IT TO MYSELF to avoid spoiling it for my husband.

The third book is being made into two movies, because the entertainment industry wants to see me go mad. Maybe President Snow is behind it all, who knows. But from now until six months after November 2015 (as we'll wait for the DVD, of course) I'll be playing my own little game of Let's Not Blurt Out The Ending. Who knows if I'll succeed, but may the odds be ever in my favor.

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July 18, 2014

Veni, Vidi, Volcano

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You know how you can live just a couple of hours from something but never go see it? Well that's how it's been between me and St. Helen. I mean, I see her* a lot from my van, when I'm out driving around. There she sits just north of me, all flat-topped and snow-capped.

After seven years of living in the Pacific Northwest, I decided it was time to see the old girl up close. Now, you would think it would be easy to make a two-hour road trip straight north and east of where I live. HOWEVER. One does not simply go to Mt. St. Helens on a cloudy or gray day, as there'd be nothing to see. And in case you've not heard about the Pacific Northwest, it KNOWS how to be CLOUDY and GRAY. So for months I have watched the weather forecast, looking for a completely clear day where all five of us could head out.

That day came this week. This is the view about an hour or so from home (at Elk Rock Viewpoint):


We stopped by Coldwater Lake, a lake formed about thirty-four years ago when the eruption of Mt. St. Helens clogged up a creek. There's a nice little walk around the lake, with views of the mountain here and there:

That area is teeming with old burned-up gray stumps, which you can see dotting the hill behind my tween:

But there is new life sprouting everywhere as well, like these awesome bell-shaped wildflowers, which undoubtedly have a name:

Ahhh.... so serene:

We drove on, up and around, and finally reached the Johnston Ridge Observatory to see this:

Huh. That crater is HUGE, and I mean, ONE MILE ACROSS huge. It was fantastic to see. We decided it looks like some giant took an enormous bite out of his colossal ice cream cone. Not that I am always thinking about ice cream, of course.

Totally worth the two-hour drive. Especially on a clear day.

There's a visitor's center up at Johnston Ridge Observatory, complete with a couple of (old 1990s-style) films. It's worth the money through, but we actually preferred the visitor center we stopped by about halfway home. That place had a more informative video, and lots of educational displays that "scratched where it itched." But Johnston Ridge is where to go for the view. Wow.

I'm so glad I put this on my forty before forty list and made it happen. Veni, vidi, volcano: I came, I saw, I ERUPTED! (with delight!)

*Historical note: Mt. St. Helens was named after Lord St. Helens, a man. However, the mountain always feels like a woman to me, what with her blowing her top and all that.

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July 12, 2014

We Climbed Beacon Rock

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I don't like to get out much, and neither do my two of my (three) kids. There's just something so comforting about reading, staring at a screen, standing in the backyard, wash, rinse, and repeat. I have a pretty low tolerance for risk. Oh sure, I can think up all sorts of fun outings to do, but then my overactive brain follows it up with: "That would be fun, as long as we don't _____," with that blank being filled with "drown, fall to our deaths, get bitten by a snake, lose a bunch of sleep, get a raging sunburn, or have to deal with hordes of humanity." See? "Adventure" might not be my middle name.

But alas. I try hard to do things here and there that are outside my comfort zone. Test-driving a car, for instance. Taking a day trip with just me and the kids, for another example. I added that to my list, and I spent hours scouring out a place that was at least an hour from home. Fortunately, Portland is a gold mine for this sort of thing--within one to two hours in any direction is a full list of outdoorsy things to do.

I had a hike to a waterfall all picked out, to a place called "Butte Creek Falls," of all things. I even had my jokes all lined up for the walk. However, during the same week of our planned trip--a man drowned in those falls. Now maybe those with a stronger mental state could've gotten past that, but not me. No way, no how. That whole hike would have been a class entitled "Fending Off A Panic Attack, 101."

So back to the drawing board I went. I ended up picking a hike in the Columbia Gorge, on the Washington side of the river. Beacon Rock is this huge 800' monolith just waiting to be climbed. The hike description seemed challenging enough, and the weather forecast was 90-something degrees, so off we went on an adventure!

But before I bore you with pictures, I need to mention that Beacon Rock was named by Lewis and Clark themselves during their 1805 Voyage of Discovery to the West. And you know how I love me some Lewis and Clark.

This first picture shows what Beacon Rock looks like from a distance. I couldn't get a shot like this myself, seeing as I was DRIVING A VEHICLE when I might have gotten the shot. So here's the Wikipedia image, in all its blandness:

As you can see, it's a big rock, HENCE THE NAME. Long ago someone built a whole trail system up the side and now people climb to the top BECAUSE THEY CAN. AND WE DID. Here are my pictures showing proof.

At the start of the trail:

The view from about halfway up:

I told my kids we needed to stop about every five minutes to "take in the beauty." What they didn't know is that their Old Marm needed to catch her breath. 

Mostly because of this:

Fifty-one switchbacks on that trail, people. And it was hot. Here's my daughter, at one "rest stop" along the way:

This is the view close to the top. Loved the "toy train" down on the ground. (I called it a "toy train" to my poor gullible child and she still wants to know who sets it up and starts it each day. Bless her heart.)

Some kind man (who was older than me) (and in better shape than me) (and who beat us to the top) got a shot of all four of us:

And here's my middle child, who never complained or ran out of breath, my goodness, I miss my youth:

I tried not to think about heights on the way up or down the rock. But I think this picture does a good job of showing what the trail looked like:

And here's my smiley boy who likely could've jogged up the rock if it weren't for his Marm slowing him down. He was happy to get outside for the day, as I promised him Subway sandwiches after the hike. Best way to a tween's heart...

Once we'd jellied our legs from that hike, I took the kids to the nearby day-use area of Beacon Rock State Park. It was just a wide-open grassy area by the Columbia River--and most importantly--DEVOID OF PEOPLE. It was so refreshing to see my kids frolic outdoors and make up games with carrot sticks and real sticks and when did my boys become bodies with sticks for arms and legs?!

No day trip is complete (in my mind) unless ice cream is involved. We stopped by a Dairy Queen for dipped cones, which was a staple from my own childhood. Here's my girl with a vanilla cone dipped in cherry shell stuff. It didn't taste that great to her but it was PINK and THAT'S ALL THAT MATTERED.

And that was our day trip where we left the state and took a hike. And it's with a great sense of satisfaction that every time I pass that spot in the future I can say to myself, "WE CLIMBED BEACON ROCK." Yes we did.

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July 9, 2014

I Went Whole-Hog Vegetarian For A Week

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I'm at a culinary place in life where most of my meat dishes end up as dry, bland, gristly, or inedible. In addition to that, I have a very active imagination which makes me think of Babe, Bessie, or Henrietta while I'm eating said meat. I'm that person who squashes any talk of "which animal does this come from" at the table. I like to keep it to safe topics, like how the kids should not even look at each other, let alone speak to one another. Happy mealtime memories, you see.

I also think the price of meat is out-RA-geous, and that's not even for the grass-fed, antibiotic-free, humanely-treated, individually-named, locally-raised animals. And while I'm on an optimistic roll (seriously, how do you guys put up with me?!), I'm not going to go all "Food Network" and undercook my meat to make it "tastier." I figure if I'm nearly forty and can't stomach raw or somewhat raw meats, this old dog ain't learnin' new tricks during the next forty years.


I've gradually been eating smaller and smaller portions of meat as I age. So it made sense during this "year of celebrating me" that I'd try a week of eating no meat. Why not, right?

I just finished that week and it was surprisingly a happy one. I thought for sure I'd be starving and lethargic by Day Two, but I felt no such thing. I personally happen to enjoy a big plate of sautéed veggies, a side salad, and some fruit. I also like beans of all shapes and sizes, and eggs. I really like eggs (as long as I don't think about them too much, ha ha, welcome to my world).

I also worked hard this week to make it more vegetarian than carb-etarian, i.e., gain-weight-etarian. A friend asked me if I was having a vegetarian week, or a vegan week--and it was clearly a vegetarian week. Who could possibly give up butter, cheese, eggs, and the like?! That's a dish of crazysauce right there.

Would I consider being mostly vegetarian in the future? I would. That's what I figured out about myself this week. For social and family reasons, it's not something I can do whole-hog right now. But in the future when I'm making meals for just one or two? Yeah, I could see that happening.

This TED talk just came across my desk, and I love it because of its short length, the speaker with great hair, and balanced message. It's worth a watch if you've considered cutting back on your meat intake as well!

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July 8, 2014

I Cured My Peds

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Hi, my name is Lisa and I've never had a pedicure. ("Hi Lisa.")

I guess the whole "pay a chunk of money for relaxation and/or beauty" simply doesn't fit with my streamlined, cheapskate self. To quote my ten-year-old boy, "Can't you just paint your nails at home for a buck?" The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I suppose.

However. Since pedicures are a "thing" that most women like to do, I decided to get one myself. I went with a friend, which was a smart choice. It was nice to have someone to chat with and I didn't have to make small talk with a stranger who happened to be scraping and filing at my feet.

Did I enjoy myself? Overall, yes. The pedicure was relaxing and the finished result will give me little bits of happiness over the next couple of months. I picked a salon that got great reviews on yelp, and while it was fine, I doubt I'll go back. I went in expecting to pay $25 for a basic pedicure, and left paying $36 because of upsells and hidden fees and a little sign saying "we expect tips in cash." Remember my love for salesWOMEN? Yeah, that. Not a big fan. I don't like to feel guilted into getting all the extras and MY WORD THE STRESS and also I AM WEAK.

On a related note, I bought some black Teva wedge sandal / flip-flop things at the beginning of summer (at Fred Meyer, no less!) and aren't. they. darling?

I will say getting a pedicure was worth it, for the simple fact that the gal cleaned up my toes (the nails, the skin, whathaveyou) and the polish is not a sloppy mess which is usually what I crank out. And now that I know what all the fuss is about, I'd consider getting another pedicure (at another place) during the summer when my toes can actually be seen.

Well. Since you've seen actual photography of my feet now, I feel like this blog can go nowhere but up. But won't my toes look lovely while I'm finishing up my list? Yes. Yes they will.

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July 5, 2014

I Entered A Dealership And Drove A Car

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You know how most people fear public speaking? Wild boars? Large pits of lava? Well that's how much I fear salesmen. YES. SALESMEN. It has nothing to do with the actual person himself, and everything to do with being backed into a corner with a slick spiel and a "just sign here." SO YES. IT'S A CONTROL THING. AND I AM WEAK.

I put on my "Forty Before Forty" list to test drive something other than a Honda. I did this for two reasons: I already own two Hondas (which I adore) and I wanted to branch out to something totally different quite similar. (More on that later.) Secondly, I wanted to put on my Big Girl Pants and Face A Salesman--ALL BY MYSELF. I know, right? No husband or dad there to say, "Thanks, but not buying today, yada yada yada, goodbye."

You can tell by how long I waited to check this item off my list how much I dreaded it. I mean, dreaded it to the point I should have worn stronger deodorant, dreaded it. And you betchyer boots I waited for a day where my hair looked nice and I wasn't feeling particularly stabby. You know what I mean. A "good" day, with confidence on my side.

I entered the Toyota dealership on a holiday weekend, and I'm not kidding you, there had to have been twenty male salesmen all buzzing around that place. I'm not gonna lie--I made a beeline straight through the showroom and into the service area, just to give myself some time to adjust. "Ohhh, just here with my imaginary car getting an imaginary oil change... don't mind me," I thought to myself.

I finally got up the nerve to ask for a salesman and soon enough I was explaining to this man (bless his heart) the exact reason why I was there. I blurted out my age (always classy) and asked if I could test drive a car for the first time in my life. Soon enough I was buzzing around town in a 2014 tricked-out Camry Hybrid. I had that model picked out in advance, of course. A girl knows what she likes, and a Camry seemed just enough like my beloved Hondas, only fancier.

And how was the ride, you ask? Well. Besides having a co-pilot that felt oddly like driver's ed, it was nice. Quite nice. That Camry was a smooth, sweet ride. And in my wildest imaginations, I picture buying such a car when my old Honda gets passed down to the teen. FORTY-FIVE BEFORE FORTY-FIVE, PEOPLE! WRITIN' IT DOWN!

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July 3, 2014

I Lived Socially, Whatever That Means

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I've been combing the emails from Groupon and Living Social for a few months now. That's an adventure in itself. I had no idea how many things could be tweaked and tucked and treated, all for about 50% off. But I added to my list the goal of buying something on impulse--you know, something fun and frivolous and not available at my local Fred Meyer.

Wanna know what I bought? I doubt it. But here goes.

I bought a massage. This will be the second professional massage I've had in my forty years of life. I know, right? I'm worth it.

I'm going to report in advance how it went.


I've already got my time booked for right near my birthday, so HAPPY FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES OF SLIGHTLY AWKWARD RE-LAX-A-TION to MEEEEEEEEE!!

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July 2, 2014

My One Thousand Gifts

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I've spent a few years avoiding one particular book. One of those books that everyone loves and assures me I will love it and love love love love love. Well. I finally read it, thanks to a friend (SHE KNOWS WHO SHE IS) who sent it to me as a gift. What book you ask? One Thousand Gifts.

It's not my typical pick. I like straight-forward, honest, and funny. I also like heavily practical and useful sorts of reads. However. I read it--the whole thing--and it actually resonated with me. I had to read it slowly, a little bit at a time, but I made it through.

The author writes of her journey of grief and how that made her into someone who generally expected the worst to happen. She became a pessimist, if you will. And then a friend challenged her to see if she could make a list of one thousand things she was grateful for--and she did it. It took a while, of course, but over time her heart changed into a far more hopeful one.

I get that. My personality is such that I rarely see the "good" parts of life and simply wait anxiously for the next bad thing to happen. In the midst of reading this book, I decided to make my own list of one thousand things.

I added this to my "forty before forty" goals because I wanted to work on being a happier, more optimistic person. I've spent forty years with myself and I know I can be a bit of a curmudgeon. I figured if I was grouchy at age forty, imagine how cranky I'd be at eighty!

So I've started my list and it helps. I now look for things to write down. I look for the good. I figure if I finish my first list of a thousand, then I'll keep making lists until I'm Pollyanna herself. Oh, who am I kidding. Let's aim for Pollyanna with a side dish of snark.

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July 1, 2014

Fifty Foods My Kids Can Make

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I'd like to create a Pinterest board called "Cooking With Kids" that includes snapshots of disasters and sound bites of me hollering. "DON'T TOUCH THAT!" "DON'T GRAB THAT!" "GETTA TOWEL!" That'd get a bunch of repins, I bet. 

I tried cooking with my kids when they were younger. I'm surprised none of us ended up with a severed hand or third-degree burns. I eventually decided that the kitchen was a ONE-PERSON KITCHEN, and that PERSON was ME. I know, I know. That's not very "mothery" or "nurturey" but hey, I figured it was for everyone's safety that *I* do the cooking.

Fast-forward a handful of years. I now have two tween boys in the house, and they get HANGRY. SO HANGRY. They are also tall enough to stand at the stove without singeing their brows off in the flame, and mature enough to show a bit of restraint now and then. So all this together, I decided that now, NOW was the time to get them in the kitchen and doing some work for their Ma'am-Sir.

("Ma'am-Sir" is what they call me. It suits. It really suits.)

Well. I don't do anything without it being on a LIST, so I decided to jot down 50 foods I wanted my kids to be able to make. My plan is to walk them through each recipe in my genuine bossy-pants style, and then write out the recipe (three times! cuz I've got three kids!) to put in a cookbook for when they LEAVE HOME. YES. THIS IS THE SOUND OF ME PREPARING FOR THE BIG DAY.

It might sound like SOBBING. And then again, IT MIGHT NOT.

So. You want to know what those recipes are? I thought you might. 

Fifty Foods My Kids Can Make

Breakfast:   Fried egg, scrambled eggs, banana pancakes, pumpkin pancakes, yogurt pancakes, French toast, blueberry oatmeal, baked oatmeal and fruit sauce 
Sandwiches and Quick Lunches:  Egg salad, oven hamburgers 
Appetizers, Snacks, and Beverages:  Popcorn on the stove, hot chocolate, peanut butter apple dip, fresh lemonade, hot pizza dip 
Main Dishes:  Taco meat for burritos, chicken chimichangas, stir-fry and rice, crockpot ham, chicken pot pie, Italian chicken roll-ups, oven-baked chicken parmesan, crispy baked chicken, baked salmon, crockpot turkey, Swiss steak 
Cookies, Cakes, and Desserts:  Moist chocolate cake, peanut butter cookies, chewy chocolate chip cookies, apple crisp, wacky cake, pig cake, bombshell brownies 
Pasta and Pizza:  Spaghetti and homemade sauce, pizza dough, pizza sauce 
Side Dishes and Salads:  Creamy scalloped potatoes, cranberry salad, seven-layered salad, oven potatoes, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potato bake, corn bread stuffing, steamed carrots, microwave corn on the cob, sweet cornbread, crockpot applesauce 
Soups:  Baked potato soup, crockpot navy bean soup

I made sure to include a few recipes from "those who've come before us," i.e., grandparents and great-grandparents. I figure that will add a nice touch of family history to the books. It'll be good for my kids to remember their ancestors when they're off on their own--even the crazy lady ma'am-sir who taught them to cook.

If we happen to survive and complete this list of fifty, I plan to add fifty more. Wish me and the sous-chefs luck!

(Hey, guess what? I'm seventy-five percent of the way through my list!)

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