Chelan, WA (Part 2)

The second day of my first trip to Chelan, WA started with another beautiful sunrise. This time, I greeted the sun with almost a full 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and a cup of Starbucks Via Colombian coffee. It was the perfect start to my last full day at the premier lakeside vacation spot in Washington state (from what I hear, anyway).

After a quick breakfast of eggs, bacon, and a rather bland red potato hash (my only culinary failure of the weekend, I think), it was off to Blueberry Hills Farm again. This time: for their “U-pick” blueberries. Growing up in Hawaii, such things were unheard-of. Even today, as local agriculture becomes more distributed, very few places offer a “U-pick” experience. It might be the lack of land to set aside for amateur pickers (much waste). Or, it might be the lack of amateur-harvestable crops. Berries, apples, pumpkin, and pine trees really don’t grow in Hawaii. So, off to the farm for my first berry picking experience.

I was issued a bucket, and given some instructions from the kids running the counter. There were blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. The raspberries and strawberries were supposedly pretty rare, given the season. I was also told (by my vacation housemates) that I should go back for additional buckets if I wanted to pick blackberries – something about them squishing.

Picking blueberries wasn’t as easy as everyone else made it look. Next to every good berry was another… not so good berry. Some were shriveled in the sun. Some had been bruised, possibly by the birds that occasionally burst from the rows. Others were red/purple – unripe and really sour. It was probably part pickiness, and part inexperience, but I only ended up with 1/2 a bucket full (just over 2 lbs) where everyone else had filled more than a full bucket. But, it was enough for me. I’m still using them in my cereal, and have plans to turn some into a sauce for salmon. I’ll probably have to turn some into a clafoutis as well.

While most of the group went back to the lake for some Jet ski action, I went with the resident foodie into the town of Manson to pick up some supplies for a custard-based blackberry ice cream. While we were there, we happened upon a local co-op of artisans: oil paintings, wine, and cheese – all under one roof. The cheese shop was having a tasting. Yet another new experience (or, 30 small new experiences) for me. I ended up buying a wedge of “Red Dragon” cheese from England. The woman running the tasting said it goes well with Mexican beer. This is true. My tasting companion suggested using it in a sandwich, given the main non-cheese ingredient was mustard seed. Also good.

After a quick stop at the local Red Apple Market – an interesting mix of farmer’s market, convenience store, delicatessen, and ethnic specialty store – we were headed back through Manson towards the Firehouse 5 Winery. We had spotted their sandwich board offering wine tasting and a “wine slushie” when visiting the farmer’s market the previous day. It seemed like something worth trying. We were the first ones in the bar at 3PM. We got our strawberry/peach slushies with one of their red wines, and exited past the very large crowd that materialized just minutes later. The slushies were good – mostly fruit. For each wine glass, there was probably less than an ounce of actual wine in there – just enough to get a hint of wine taste, but certainly not enough to blow even a 0.01. Even without much wine, they were really tasty – perfect on a hot afternoon. Just 15 minutes after they opened, their bar was almost full. They were probably serving as many slushies as they were full glasses of wine. It’s curious that Yelp has no review on them… yet.

Another beer-laden cookout capped my last full day in Chelan. Overall, it was a good trip. I was a little apprehensive about being well outside of my comfort zone at the start of the trip. That quickly vanished as I got more comfortable around the group. And, again, this beginner blogger forgot to take pictures of the food I cooked. Well, there will be other cookouts. I’m sure of it. Chelan was a lot more fun than I expected, and I hope to go back next year.

Chelan, WA (Part 1)

I just got back from Lake Chelan in central Washington. It was a combination Labor Day and belated birthday celebration for a friend. Technically, she’s my ex-fiancee, but that’s a story for another day. Suffice it to say that it took a few years to get to the point where we’re actually pretty good friends.

But why would I drive almost four hours to a place I’d never been, stay in a very small house with people I barely know, and push myself well beyond my comfort zone (both in terms of “beach activity” and social interaction)? Well, this blog’s subtitle says it all. Trying new things is the essence of learning and accomplishment. Earlier this year, I resolved to try new things and ACCEPT ALL THE SOCIAL INVITATIONS! as a way of getting out of my rut. Staying in a 3 bedroom, 2 bath (small) lake house with seven people was a no-brainer.

Naturally, most of Seattle decided to take I-90 Eastbound on Friday afternoon, so what would be a 3.5 hour drive turned into 6. That pushed my arrival well past dusk. Having never driven in the area before, and having never driven significant distances at night post-PRK, along with the fact that 50% of the drive is winding rural roads with no street lights made things especially difficult. Luckily, I was driving with my ex-fiancee’s old college roommate, and she was able to keep me sane during the ride. Given the amount of time we spent at a dead-stop on I-90, it was only natural that we needed to stop in Cle Elum. If there was ever a slice of 1960’s America, this was it. The bulk of the town exists along highway 903. Most of it was closed by the time we got there (around 6:30 PM). The one place that seemed to be open was the tobacco/liquor depot: Chew-N-Butts. I’d imagine most people in town know most other people, and the entire street shuts down on high school football game nights a ‘la Varsity Blues. I’d love to live in a town like this one day.

When we finally arrived, it was well past dinner. They warmed-up some leftovers (food I had prepared the previous night and sent ahead with some people who went out early), I downed a few beers, and everyone crashed early. Except me. Insomnia again. Probably related to being in an unusual situation. The two couples had their own rooms. The two other girls shared a room. That left me on a cot in the living room. After all the lights were out, I was left wondering if I had made a mistake coming here.

The sun came up the next morning, as expected. I probably had four hours of sleep. I’m usually no good with less than 8, but in the interest of trying new things, I soldiered on. Having forgot to close the blinds on both sides of the living room the previous night, I was awakened bright and early with this view:

The day didn’t start too bad, I suppose. An hour later, everyone else was up, too. We went a mile down the road to the famous Blueberry Hills Farm for breakfast (read: coffee). Having pre-Yelped the area, I determined to try something new for breakfast. The Eggs Benedict was highly recommended. Personally, I found the hollandaise sauce to be too sour. The reaction at the table was, “it’s not supposed to be sour.” Was I going to be sick? Maybe. Was I trying new things? Yes! Fortunately, I didn’t get sick – maybe it’s just the way they make their hollandaise? Sour cream based? Lots of lemon? Who knows. At least I got a good cup of coffee (three good cups of coffee). The cinnamon rolls that everyone else had seemed like the better choice – maybe next time.

The rest of the day was spent grilling, hanging out by the lake, and drinking beer. Lots of beer. It turns out that I was the only one in the group really dedicated to beer. Everyone else was having margaritas (which they assured me wasn’t a ‘girly’ drink, but I’m not convinced). I was finally acclimating to the situation. I was comfortable around the group – many of whom I had only met once or twice previously. Perhaps the alcohol and the lack of sleep helped a bit. Either way, day one was complete – and I actually had a good time. So good, in fact, that I started to wonder if my self-diagnosed introversion was correct.

In hindsight, I really wish I had taken pictures of the food I prepared for everyone. I made (as requested by the birthday girl) my famous Lemon Pepper Shrimp. I also used flap steak – a new cut for me, in lieu of my regular inside skirt steak – to create two different marinated steak dishes: a more traditional vinegar-worcestershire steak, and an Asian/SouthWest fusion steak that I’m pretty proud of. I’ll make them again before the year is out, and I’ll be sure to post the recipes and pictures here.

Part two tomorrow!

Power 90 Is Not P90X

Tony Horton’s Power 90 is not P90X (or, as Jon Stewart calls it, “The PX90”).

When I first decided to get my weight under control, I immediately went looking for P90X. After reading the reviews on Amazon.com, I decided that my sedentary husk couldn’t support that type of intense workout. Luckily, a few of the P90X reviewers mentioned Power 90 as a viable alternative. After doing more research (mainly, reading Amazon.com reviews – they’re the Wikipedia of consumer product reference), I decided that Power 90 was for me.

What is it?

It’s an exercise program by Tony Horton. Power 90 came out three years before P90X. Most people consider it the basis for the P90X workout. The difference? Time, intensity, and variation. Where P90X runs 60-75 minutes per workout, Power 90 only takes 30. Where P90X has a dozen different workouts, Power 90 has only four (plus abs). Where P90X rotates over three phases, Power 90 only uses two.

Why start there?

It’s easier. Coming from an absolute sedentary state (with fits and bouts of binge eating and borderline alcoholism), I was absolutely not ready for hour-long workouts that included weights and pull-ups. Power 90 let me ease-in to the process of becoming healthy with shorter workouts – averaging about 30 minutes. There wasn’t a single pull-up in the routine. I got by using only a yoga mat and some resistance bands.

How’d it go?

The first few weeks were tough. The program is six days per week, alternating “sculpt” (strength training) and “sweat” (cardio-oriented) workouts. Looking at my progress calendar – a handy wall calendar that comes with the program – I self-rated my performance as a 3 or 4/10 for the first two weeks. After that, it was a steady climb to regularly hitting 9 or 10/10 by the ninth week.

The workouts aren’t hard, unless you’ve been sitting and eating non-stop for the past few years. Focusing on proper form was the most critical part of getting started. With the wrong form, you either don’t work the right muscles, don’t work anything at all, or just plain injure yourself. As someone with experience with chronic back problems, I know how that goes.

The two hardest parts of the workout were the yoga warmup and the ab ripper at the end. I had never done yoga (and I’m sure some might argue that the yoga I did for Power 90 doesn’t count), but it’s not as easy as it seems. Beyond those items, the cardio, while short, was intense. The strength exercises were the most fun. I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of delayed onset muscle soreness. Even though it’s not the best indicator of a good workout, I always found that soreness comforting – like a pat on the back for a job well done.

Yup, my actual measurement card.

Combined with my dietary changes and calorie tracking, I went from fat to reasonably fit. Maybe “relatively fit” is a better way of describing the change. I still wasn’t reasonably fit yet. Admittedly, I didn’t push the diet as hard as I should have. I was still regularly breaking my calorie goals, but not by much. Part of that was my metabolism finally figuring out how many calories I really needed, and part of it was because sometimes you just need a treat. It wasn’t a perfect diet, but it’s what worked for me.

Recommended?

Yes. Power 90 is an easy starter workout for anyone looking to get off the couch. The real key is to stay consistent. Do all six workouts each week, for the requisite 13 weeks. Keep a food diary, and watch your calories. Do these things, and you’ll be off to P90X in a few months. Personally, I went three rounds with Power 90 before moving on to P90X (which I’ve been using for two years now). Training my mind to stay focused, stick with it, and eat right was the hard part. Training my body came naturally.

On TV: Suits

Television is a passion of mine. Some people like sports. Some people like nature. Some people like nightlife. I like watching good television. Sometimes, I even like watching bad television.

USA Network has given me some great television shows in the past few years. It started with Burn Notice; which was once lampooned on Saturday Night Live as the most popular show that nobody watches. Well, it may have started earlier than Burn Notice (2007), but I didn’t notice USA as a source of original programming until that point. The 2011 Summer season gave me Suits. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

The idea behind Suits is simple: Mike Ross (played by Patrick Adams) accidentally lands an Associate position at Pearson-Hardman, one of the top firms in Manhattan, under the great Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht). The only catch is that Mike isn’t a lawyer, but he does have a photographic memory and an incredible understanding of the law.

Initially, I wasn’t interested in watching the show. The concept seemed boring, and ripe for “uncomfortable situation” jokes. I had imagined “Meet The Parents,” but with everyone questioning Mike’s law degree instead of Robert De Niro questioning Ben Stiller’s… everything. Nevertheless, I picked up the pilot for free on iTunes (I love it when they give away free pilot episodes). The first episode was intriguing, the second was okay, but the third was phenomenal. The storyline was excellent. The dialogue was witty. The characters had clear motivations. The acting was great. The chemistry was present and resounding. I was hooked after three.

The first thing people expect when they see the promos is a bromance between Mike and Harvey. It turns out that there isn’t one. It’s actually more of a teacher/student thing – think Obi Wan and Luke rather than Starsky and Hutch. Harvey has the experience, reputation, and absolute presence; he owns the room. Mike has a brilliant legal mind, and the naivete that allows him to be outwardly compassionate. They make a great team, but I wouldn’t call it a bromance.

One of the best aspects of the show is character growth. To its credit, Suits was able to take a character that I hated, played by an actor that I disliked, and turn him into a character that I love to hate, played by an actor that I love.

Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) is the antagonist of the first season. The first time I remember seeing him on television was as a villain on the Knight Rider (2008) reboot. I don’t know if it was the writing, direction, or if he just chose to do it, but he was Heath Ledger’s Joker. While he gave a good performance, I couldn’t help but feel like they were just capitalizing on both the blockbuster movie and the late actor.

However, even watching with prejudice, I came to really like the character of Louis Litt (maybe not until the end of the first season). He’s just really good at being slimy, and he makes no apologies for it. I respect that. He fills the role of antagonist and comic relief so well that when you see him ‘win,’ it’s even more impactful. Watching him completely destroy the associates under his charge for being entitled and lazy with a “back in my day” speech and a stack full work he completed for them was so very satisfying.

I can’t write a review of the show without mentioning Donna. She’s a legal secretary; Harvey’s legal secretary. But she’s much more than that. She’s the pulse of the law firm. She knows all. She’s also Harvey’s “better half,” but not in the traditional sense. Where Harvey is cocky, Donna is more subtle. Both can (and will) manipulate people to achieve a goal, but they’ll go about it different ways. Watching them work together is extremely entertaining.

Two minor criticisms:

  1. That “House” moment – they do it less often now, but characters tend to find their solutions in random words they hear during completely unrelated conversations. House was famous for ending episodes in that fashion. While I actually enjoy those ‘lightbulb moments,’ I suppose it’s possible to overdo it.
  2. Gina Torres is underutilized. Even in the second season, as she took a more hands-on role in the main arc, she still felt sidelined. I get that Mike and Harvey are the main characters, but so far all we’ve seen her do is fight a bitter war with Daniel Hardman (David Costabile). It would be nice to get her into court. We all know Zoe can hold her own.

So that’s Suits. I can honestly say that it’s my favorite show on TV. If you were a fly on the wall in my house, you’d hear me shout, “SUITS!” every Thursday evening. Imagine it as a guttural cheer/mantra that leads-in to my weekend. It’s my equivalent of “STEAK NIGHT!

Side note: Suits just finished their Summer season, and will be back in January. I also hear that they’ve been picked up for a third season on USA.

Facebook Update

Facebook has ads. That’s their big revenue source, and that’s fine with me. I was in college during the “dot com bubble.” I entered the workforce a few years after the bubble burst. At a very basic level, I know how these things work. Free services are only “free” so long as somebody is getting paid. On the internet, that’s done via advertising.

At first, I was overwhelmed by the interface. I couldn’t pick out an ad from anything else in my “timeline.” Maybe there weren’t ads for the first few hours of my experience. After all, if I “had no friends,” and my timeline was empty, was I really a person? Could I be targeted with ads? If I got a random smattering of ads, would I be offended, and stop using the service? All serious questions for an ad partner.

Well, I’ve got ads now. Here’s the first set I noticed. Obviously, picking “single” as my status and noting that I was “looking for women” triggered the first ad for a dating app. That seems relevant, although I didn’t join Facebook for that purpose. It’s not that I wouldn’t keep my options open; the odds of anything fruitful coming from a Facebook relationship seem lower than low. It’ll be interesting to see long it takes them to figure out that I’m not interested – or if they’ll be able to figure it out at all.

Next up: Tequila. Good guess given my age and gender. Not good when you consider that it’s at the bottom of my list of favorite liquors. Looking at the rest of my data, I’m a little surprised they even suggested tequila. Maybe a number of my friends liked it at one point or another? Maybe people who showed interested in my schools or employer overwhelmingly liked tequila. Maybe I’m some kind of weird non-tequila-drinking minority among my peers. Either way, I guess if I were to go out and “like” some bourbons, I’m sure that would remove the ad entirely.

After that, two ads for games. The first one looks like a Bejeweled clone. “People like Bejeweled” is a reasonable general statement if you look at my country of origin, and primary language. The second is a racing game. Also good for males of my age range (but not interesting for me since Mario Kart 64 back in the 90’s).

Lastly, an ad for Facebook Marketplace, specifying used cars. Okay. I’ve only been “on Facebook” for a few hours. Maybe there isn’t enough data on me to generate a full set of targeted ads yet. I’ll check back in a week or so, and see what it suggests.