Have Yourself a Mini Little Christmas

I had my annual review at work a few days ago. Things went well. My boss told me how much he appreciated my hard work and effort, gave me a new title (Senior Content Specialist…has a nice ring to it, huh?), more money, and  a person to supervise. This is all very exciting. Career-wise, I haven’t had it this good in 12 years. Walking into the conference room, I had but one goal in mind:

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That’s right. An “OX” license plate! I’ve always wanted one.

OK, and the car it’s attached to, as well. My parents think I’m crazy. “It’s ugly!” they say. Ugly?!?! The Mini Cooper may be many things, but I don’t consider it ugly at all. Remember the movie The Italian Job? There was a great car chase scene involving a bunch of Mini Coopers. That movie made me realize how badly I wanted one.

How could you not fall in love with the car after watching that? In addition to great styling, zippy performance, and the ability to fit into tight spaces, if you are ever being chased by a gun-toting motorcyclist it’s comforting to know all you need to do is open the door and you will easily dispense of the would-be assassin.

Care to change your mind, mom and dad?

I’ve been thinking about a new car for quite awhile, but have been biding my time. The trusty ol’ Santa Fe has been a good vehicle, and has given me 12.5 years of excellent service. She took me all the way to Ohio and back, after all. But she’s definitely getting up there in years. Lately I’ve been looking for any excuse to upgrade. We were driving home from the company Christmas party last night in the rain, and my windshield wipers were squeaking something fierce.

“You need new wipers, babe,” Tara said.

“Or, I could buy my Mini Cooper,” I replied, ever the pragmatist. “New car, new wipers. Problem solved!”

She thought my solution was a bit extreme, but I’m at the point where I really don’t want to invest any more money in the Hyundai. Her brakes are worn and she’s due for an oil change, too. Or, I could use that money for chrome mirror caps or LED Xenon headlamps or a white bonnet stripe. Clearly, my priorities have shifted.

I’m not saying I’m going to take the plunge. It’s nice not having a car payment to worry about. At the same time, I have owned this vehicle seven years longer than I’ve had any other. If nothing else, it’s nice to know I have options now.

Besides, if it’s good enough for this guy, why not me?

Mike-Myers-Austin-Powers-1-

All Aboard the Hot Tamale Express!

Today I had the crazy notion that I should make tamales. This was a crazy notion for two reasons:

  1. I have never made tamales before.
  2. I’m awfully damn Caucasian.

I guess I associate tamales with December because I was once married to somebody who was awfully damn Hispanic, and her family would never dream of graduating from Christmas without making a huge batch of homemade tamales. I didn’t like them for years. And then, I learned to tolerate them. Once we divorced, I suddenly decided that I loved ‘em. A therapist would no doubt have a field day with that one.

I never really understood tamales in the beginning. I used to ask the ex, “Why are you wrapping up a perfectly good burrito in a freakin’ corn husk?” Clearly, I was not the foodie back then that I consider myself now.

Plus, there are few dishes as labor-intensive as tamales. You have to make the dough from masa, a fancy word for corn flour. Roll it out, spoon it into a dried corn husk, add your fillings, and steam it. My motto back then?

keep-calm-ain-t-nobody-got-time-for-that-79

Not when this existed…

hormel tamales

I kid. I’m not a fan of the can unless it’s Tan in a Can, but that’s another story. I just couldn’t in good conscience devote a whole Saturday – that’s half a weekend, if you do the math – to making something I didn’t even care for all that much.

Fast-forward to 2010. I’m walking through the Portland Farmer’s Market one miserably cool and wet Saturday when I stumble upon a food cart selling tamales. So I order one. Artichoke and cotija from Salvador Molly’s. Clever name, unique ingredients, and as a ate my tamale huddled beneath a covered entryway on the PSU campus, I had what can only be described as an epiphany.

Viva la tamale! I thought. So this is what I’ve been missing out on all these years. 

tamales
Note: not my actual tamales. I scarfed those down too quickly to bother with a photograph. Thanks to mccormick.com for this image.

I enjoyed them so much, the first time I ever met Tara in person – some five months later – I took her to Salvador Molly’s actual restaurant and ordered those very same artichoke and cotija tamales.

And so now, whenever the calendar page is flipped to December, I start craving tamales like nobody’s business. I have yet to make them myself, though. Because, again – they’re labor intensive.

"I'm ready to donate blood now..."
“I’m ready to donate blood now…”

Fortunately, I remembered the really good Mexican grocery store and deli on NE Glisan St. in Portland. Tortilleria Y Tienda De Leon. This place is located in a sketchy part of town right next to a plasma clinic (I kid you not) where you see people who are probably junkies selling their own blood for a quick score slouched against the building out front. Seriously, they resemble extras from The Walking Dead. Despite the lack of ambience, it’s worth a quick jog into the mercado to pick up some authentic, delicious Mexican food. Oregon Live says so. And Willamette Week raves over this place, too (while mentioning those “vacant eyed and incompletely toothed” plasma bank customers I mentioned). See? My analogy was spot-on.

And so today I indulged my pseudo-Mexican (by association) roots and enjoyed some hot, delicious pork tamales. That I did not spend half a weekend cooking myself.

What foods do you associate with the holidays?

Hakuna Matata

In the past few days, the kitchen counter in the office where I work has been buried in a mountain of sweets. It started innocently enough, with a few cookies on Monday morning. By Monday afternoon, “a few” became “a lot,” and a pie was thrown into the mix. Tuesday saw the addition of pastries, and on Wednesday, candy appeared: chocolate covered cherries, chocolate covered pretzels, and to really drive home the point, chocolate covered chocolate. My workplace now resembles Willy freakin’ Wonka’s chocolate factory. On steroids.

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“Follow me to the conference room!”

The company I work for is not unique: every office I’ve been in looks this way in December. The holidays are synonymous with sweets. You just loosen your belt an extra notch and deal with it. Or, you know, ignore the tasty confections.

Ha.

Yesterday I was curious, and started poking around one particularly large basket that was overflowing with treats. It was filled with straw, and when I pushed it aside, this wondrous sight caught my eye.

pineapple

“Holy crap!” I said. “It’s a pineapple!” Which, in retrospect, was a pretty dumb thing to say as it clearly wasn’t an apple or a pear. And also, I was alone.

Now, when it comes to office treats, the rule is simple: first come, first served. I didn’t even think twice as I strode from the kitchen, clutching the pineapple in my hands and holding it above my head for my coworkers to see. It was reminiscent of that scene in The Lion King where Rafiki is holding up Simba on display.

“It’s mineminemineminemineallmine!!!” I declared gleefully.

I think I was just a little excited to find something that wasn’t chocolate. Had I found a persimmon in a basketful of tangerines, I probably would have been more chill. It’s all about context. And let’s face it, pineapples are a little bit exotic.

As my coworkers looked on in wonder, I explained that because I was born in Hawaii and lived there so many years, the pineapple should be mine by default. “It’s my birthright!” I said. Shades of Simba again.

rafiki

My logic can be very convoluted sometimes, but all I know is, I walked out of the office yesterday with a ripe, juicy, exotic fruit in my hand. That’s a win any way you slice it.

Speaking of, I think I’ll go for rings.

pineapple

How chocolatey and sweet is your office this time of year?

I Invented the Smoothie!

I was eating a banana today, and started thinking about a snack I used to enjoy growing up. I would slice a banana into a bowl, pour orange juice over the banana slices, and eat them with a spoon.

Holy crap. I was one weird kid.

The breakfast of champions?
The breakfast of champions?

And yet, I remember how good it tasted. Plus, it had to be pretty healthy. Better for you than a bag of chips or a candy bar, right? When you think about it, this fruity concoction is really nothing more than a deconstructed smoothie, which means I was a pretty innovative twelve year old. With a potassium level off the charts, presumably.

No wonder I rarely get sick.

Do you know what this means, though? Are you picking up what I’m laying down here?

I invented the smoothie. 

This is not some baseless claim like Al Gore’s whole internet thing. Had I dumped the bowl into a blender and pressed START, I’d be rich! Instead, I am still a million bucks shy of being a millionaire.

Quick, name that movie. (Answer can be found below).

Unbelievably, this is not the first invention I was screwed out of. Back in college, I majored in Advertising. No, I’m not saying I invented Mad Men. But I had a Campaigns class, and our big project for the semester was to create and market a new product. I was living in California, where it’s sunny 300 days out of the year. People are obsessed with tanning, but that can lead to melanoma. So I thought, how about a self-tanning spray that would give you bronzed skin without the risk of developing cancer? I called it…drumroll, please…

Tan In a Can.

In the late 80s, there was no other product like this on the market. A year or two later, self-tanning sprays started showing up on grocery store shelves. Which means I also invented sunless tanning products. I often joke that my college professor quit the next year and was seen driving around town in a Ferrari. Because Tan In a Can is a real product now.

Tan In a Can

To add insult to injury, she only gave me a “B” in that class.

And here I am, still still a million bucks shy of being a millionaire. 

Which is a quote from Del Griffith (John Candy) in one of the greatest comedies of all times, Planes, Trains & Automobiles. If you don’t believe me, I’ve got three words for you:

Those aren’t pillows.

‘Nuff said…

You Are What You Eat

Tonight, I’m planning on watching my favorite horror movie of all time.

Wouldn’t that make more sense around Halloween? you may be wondering. Hey, I love The Shining as much as the next person. The Exorcist is creepy. That damn doll in Annabelle is enough to give anybody nightmares. All are fine horror movies best viewed in October. But the movie that inspires abject terror in me takes place on Thanksgiving. Avert your eyes now if you are easily frightened. You might want to have any small children leave the room, lest they peek over your shoulder and catch a glimpse of this fright-inducing flick.

charlie-brown-thanksgiving

Don’t get me wrong. I love Peanuts. When I was a kid, I had comic book collections and a stuffed Snoopy doll and Charlie Brown sheets for my bed. Some of my fondest memories involve watching the holiday specials on TV every year. I even remember the Dolly Madison commercials that accompanied them. I have Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas album. “Linus & Lucy” is the default ringtone on my phone.

But.

The Thanksgiving special terrifies me. And it’s all because of The Chair. The damn, evil chair.

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Chair Fight

This otherwise harmless-looking canvas Adirondack chair is like the devil incarnate. You know how a lot of people were afraid to go swimming after watching Jaws? I was afraid to venture into the garage, because that’s where Snoopy liberates The Chair from – and havoc ensues. The two circle each other, fists clenched. Snarling is involved. They trade punches. And then, in one truly terrifying scene, The Chair appears to seriously maim our beagle hero. As a kid, I thought Snoopy had been killed, and burst into tears following this horrifyingly bloody turn of events.

Death by Adirondack

Nobody can survive an attack so vicious, right? Snoopy has clearly been squished flat, his canine body broken and battered. There will be no more dogfights with the Red Baron for him. Somebody else will win the prize for best Christmas light display this year. Woodstock is going to have to find himself a new best friend.

Fortunately, Snoopy survives the attack, and The Chair is finally corralled into submission. Franklin ends up sitting on it to eat his ice cream sundae, buttered toast, popcorn, pretzel sticks, and jelly beans. But this child’s psyche has already been scarred.

Franklin chairAnd then, the audience is lulled into a false sense of complacency. Amends have been made, Peppermint Patty has apologized to Chuck for being an ungrateful little brat, and they’re all headed to Charlie Brown’s grandma’s condominium for a real Thanksgiving dinner, joyfully crooning over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go!

The scene shifts back to Snoopy’s doghouse and we are subjected to an even more frightening scene as we observe Woodstock resorting to cannibalism.

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Adding insult to injury, Woodstock battles Snoopy for the wishbone. And wins.

And you thought the Donner party were a bunch of animals.

Here are ten fun facts about the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. Pay special attention to #4.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! Try not to eat your fellow diners.

FOOls in the Rain

Some people claim that rock ‘n roll is dead. I disagree. Because yesterday morning, we stood in a line hundreds deep for Foo Fighters tickets. In the cold rain and wind. For three hours. For a concert that is ten months away.

We must really like you, Dave Grohl.

10559666_10205282078640433_419723977629634675_nThe Foo Fighters have long been one of my favorite bands. I saw them once before, in 2008, and that concert was one of the best I’ve been to. So when they announced a show in Portland next September – coincidentally, it’ll be on our second anniversary – I jumped at the chance to buy tickets.

And then I found out they were selling ‘em old school. A special pre-sale at the Rose Quarter box office was being held Saturday, from 10-2. Be there or be square, as the cool kids used to say. Otherwise, tickets were going up for sale on December 5th.

“We should totally get up super early on a weekend and stand in line for tickets in the pouring rain for hours!” Tara said.

Maybe those weren’t her exact words, but they’re what I heard. Nevertheless, this was the Foo Fighters we were talking about. There was a certain charm in lining up for tix like they used to do before the internet. I decided it might actually be fun!

Umm…do I look like I’m having “fun”?!

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Yeah, it poured on us. But only for the first hour. And then the sun came out. But the wind negated any warming effect that big, bright object in the sky was having.

And then, just for fun, it started raining again.

Fortunately, we were surrounded by a bunch of interesting people, all united for a common cause. And more importantly, all soaking wet. The phrase “misery loves company” should not be understated. We were cold and wet, sure – but so were they. The line seemed everlong (see what I did there?), but we were making slow and steady forward progress. We even had some free entertainment to help us pass the time.

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In the end, the rain and wind and cold didn’t matter because we ended up with really good seats for the Foo Fighters concert next September 14. We’ll be much closer to the stage than we would have been if we’d waited until December 5 to buy our tickets.

Our friends thought we were fools for standing in the rain for hours. I say it was well worth a little soaking to see Dave bring it to Portland next year!

What do you think? Would you wait in line for hours to buy tickets for your favorite band?

A Better, Wetter Life

November 19th marks the anniversary of a pretty big day in my life. Exactly 20 years ago today – right around this very moment, as a matter of fact – I became an official resident of the Pacific Northwest.

It felt like I had finally come home.

Growing up an Air Force “brat,” I never had a home. Just a series of houses I lived in temporarily, in cities thousands of miles apart. We never stayed in one place longer than three years. My dad’s final assignment before he retired was the Bay Area of California. I actually managed to stay put for eight years in San Jose, but quite frankly, hated it there. Too many people and too much (traffic/pollution/crime/sunshine/emphasis on the tech lifestyle). The only thing keeping me there was my (now ex-) wife, who was born and raised in the Silicon Valley and whose entire family lived there. She swore she would never leave, so I would sit in my bedroom gazing longingly at pictures of Oregon (seriously) and dreaming of a better, wetter life.

Images like this made me long for the Pacific Northwest.
Images like this made me long for the Pacific Northwest.

And then, opportunity came knocking. The company I worked for was expanding, and decided to open a sales office in the Pacific Northwest. It would be either Seattle or Portland. And if I wanted to relocate, they would pay for my move. Oh, and promote me, too. Even throw in a nice little salary increase. What a deal, huh? I was golden. Except for the wife-who-would-never-move. And then, because:

  1. The Universe has a sense of humor (not to mention impeccable timing), and
  2. Everything happens for a reason,

She picked that moment to decide our two-year-old marriage no longer appealed to her. Fine, I said. I’ll date the hot girl my friends want to set me up with. And then move north and have a kick-ass job in a part of the country I used to sit around in our bedroom daydreaming about. Bitch.

The new girl WAS hot, and her parents owned a sushi restaurant. Because of those things, I:

  1. Tried salmon roe sushi for the first time, and
  2. Agreed to accept the job offer and relocate to either Seattle or Portland to become the Customer Service Manager for our new sales office.

The salmon roe sushi left much to be desired, but the impending promotion (not to mention Hot New Girl) had me feeling on top of the world. Everything in my life was suddenly falling into place just right. But not so fast. Remember how I said the Universe has a sense of humor? Suddenly, the wife decided she did want to be a Mrs., after all, and would I pleaseprettyplease with a cherry on top take her back? She told me this, incidentally, while I was in Indianapolis for a big meeting at my company’s headquarters.salmon-roe-sushi

Because, not to mention impeccable timing. Remember?

By this point, I had already mentally prepared myself for an exciting new chapter in my life, and was pretty much over the whole marriage thing. I decided to throw out an ultimatum. I’d take her back, I said, if she agreed to two things:

  1. We would move to the Pacific Northwest, and
  2. We would have a baby, with an option for babies.

“OK,” she said. “And OK.”

That pair of OKs completely caught me off guard. Honestly, I was not expecting her to accept those terms. Plus, I had a big date planned with Hot New Girl as soon as I got back home. If I had found salmon roe sushi even mildly appealing, my life might have turned out very differently…

…but raw salmon eggs are disgusting. And also, a promise was a promise. Which is why, 5 months later, my wife was pregnant with our first baby and we were driving north to a new life in the Pacific Northwest. Destination: Portland.

We Are MovingThe preceding months had been filled with excitement. We spent a drizzly and cold 4th of July in Seattle, and were given a grand tour of Portland by the man who ended up being my new boss. We really weren’t familiar with either place; ironically, despite my longing to live in the PNW, I had only ever been north of the California border one time. I’m still not sure why it took on such a mythical aura. Once it was decided that Oregon would be the location for our new office, I made a solo trip back to PDX to find us a place to live. I picked out a nice apartment perched on a hill in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland. It had two bedrooms, a fireplace, and a stunning view of Mount Hood from the living room.

My first home in the Pacific Northwest.
My first home in the Pacific Northwest.

Friday morning – November 18, 1994 – we watched San Jose dwindle in our rearview mirrors as we drove north. Plural, because we each had our own cars to drive, making the 669-mile journey a quiet one since cell phones wouldn’t exist for years yet. We stopped briefly atop the summit of Mount Ashland just over the border, where my wife panicked momentarily because it was snowing and she had never driven in the white stuff before. I talked her down and we continued all the way to Springfield, about two hours south of Portland, where we spent the night. We had a rendezvous scheduled with the moving truck the following afternoon.

Oregon Sign

The following day – again, exactly twenty years ago – we set out mid-morning, driving through the Willamette Valley for our last leg of the trip. It was the type of day many consider “raw” – overcast, drizzly, the temperature hovering in the upper 30s. We arrived in Beaverton just in time for lunch, grabbing subs at a local sandwich shop before meeting the movers at our new apartment.

And that is how it all began.

15 months later, we bought a house just across the river in Vancouver, Washington. Different state but, imaginary lines on a map aside, it’s all really just Portland.

portland-oregon-sign

The wife decided once again that she didn’t much like being married – at least to me – but by then, it was a moot point. I was up here and got my babies. Obviously, I’ve never been happier. And Tara is not a fan of salmon roe sushi, either – so she’s a much better match for me.

It’s hard to believe I have lived nearly half my life here. This place is home in a way that nowhere else could ever come close to matching.

And I can’t imagine ever living anywhere else.

Sock Monkeying Around

You know how that “elf on a shelf” is all the rage over the holidays? Yesterday, Tara and I stumbled upon something even better. We can’t wait to bring him home and set him up in various festive poses this season!

10352938_10203240724279720_8231844961267357253_nI don’t know what clever name you’d call him. The “sock monkey with a chunky”? He definitely puts the X in the Xmas Season. Mistletoe? WAY too tame. We’re all adults here.

We were shopping for really innocuous items. An ice scraper. Light bulbs. Daddy needed a new pair of shoes. Kitchen sponges. Tara wanted lip balm. I assure you, pornographic monkey was nowhere on our list. We just happened to round a corner, and I spotted him. Naturally, I burst out laughing. Tara could not figure out why, until her eyes landed upon the display of sock monkeys and she saw how stiff the competition was for Christmas gifts this season.

Now, I’m sure this was a happy accident (emphasis on “happy”). The sock monkeys have tails, as simians typically do – the better to swing from tree to tree with, of course. Probably some harried store clerk inadvertently tucked the tail beneath this monkey’s legs and never noticed that it now protruded suggestively. We could have fixed the “problem” right then and there, and in fact, I thought that’s what Tara was going to do when she walked up to the display. But…no. Not my dear wife. Instead, she rearranged the other six or seven sock monkeys propped up on display so that their tails were sticking out from between their legs inappropriately.

“But dear,” I said. “I thought erection season was over.”

“Hurry up before someone comes,” she said, and we quickly scurried away. Gotta admit, I did not think my wife had the balls to do something like this. She’s a keeper.

It could’ve been worse. At least we didn’t come across this holiday decoration in the store.

Santa Grab

 

I know it’s early, but Thanksgiving is next week, folks. It’s not too soon to think about what is going up for Christmas…

 

This Bugs Me

I recently brewed myself a cup of tea and was about to take a sip when I glanced inside the mug and saw this.

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To say I recoiled in horror would be an understatement. Screamed like a little girl is more accurate. It’s okay – I’m not afraid to admit it. Because look at the size of that spider! If I hadn’t glanced down before taking a sip, I could have swallowed it whole.

Shudder.

Naturally, the second thing I did (following my bloodcurdling scream) was call Audrey over. My daughter is deathly afraid of spiders and, sadistic dad that I am, I felt the need to share this sight with her. Needless to say, it was not her cup of tea, to borrow a pun. Nor mine. My friends commiserated with me when I shared my experience on Facebook, but most of them were more curious about whether I was experiencing any newfound superpowers and seemed rather disappointed when I confessed that I could not shoot webs from my wrists, and did not have spidey senses to feel tingling. Supportive bunch, that lot.

As traumatic as the whole experience was, it could’ve been worse. In the past, it has been worse. I’ve decided to put together a list of my five creepiest insect moments. If you’re squeamish, this might be painful.

  1. My brother sat on an anthill when he was four years old. I came to his rescue by beating him with a broom. I’ve been terrified of ants ever since. People laugh at me for such a trivial phobia, but I contend that once you have seen ants swarming over your younger brother while he screams in terror, it isn’t a stretch to picture them hungrily devouring human flesh.
  2. I was eating dinner in a restaurant with a friend when a cockroach scurried across the table as if it belonged there. The worst part about this wasn’t the actual insect, but the manager’s reaction when we brought it to his attention. “Happens all the time,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders before walking away. And to think we were hoping for a free meal, or at the least an apology. Ha!
  3. I once got bitten on the knee by a spider. At least that’s what the doctor surmised when he examined my knee, which had by that point swollen to the size of a balloon. He prescribed antibiotics, the knee swelled even more and then the wound burst open one morning. Trust me, you do not want any more details.
  4. My parents awoke one night to find ants crawling all over them in bed. This didn’t affect me directly, but I’m pretty sure I slept with the light on for the next year or so. Because if the idea of ants devouring my flesh wasn’t bad enough, now I had to worry about ants devouring my flesh in my sleep. Is it any wonder I developed a raging case of insomnia?
  5. My former mother-in-law lived in a cockroach-infested apartment. It was so bad, they would swarm over our feet and ankles while we were eating dinner. If she hadn’t been such a damn good cook, we’d have never put up with that shit. But, she made a killer chile verde.

I’m not saying all bugs are bad. This guy’s pretty cool.

clip-art-bugs-bunny-781264

But he’s the exception to the rule. And come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to find him doing a backstroke in my cup of tea, either.

If you have an insect horror story, share it in the comments, please!