Trick or Treat

Whenever I went trick or treating as a kid my favorite house was the one that handed out pretzels. Or juice boxes. AKA the house that every other kid in the neighborhood hated. I discovered at a young age that Halloween is not my holiday.

To understand my dislike of the spookiest of holidays you have to understand that my tolerance of scary things is at level Scooby-Doo. I’m not kidding, there are some episodes I have to watch with the lights on. That creeper was aptly named… So needless to say wandering outside only to turn around and see a masked someone with some sort of asthmatic issue gasping over you with a scythe in hand was never my idea of a good time. Ghosts, zombies, wolf men, clowns, blood, graveyards, giant spiders: don’t need ‘em.

I think the other issue I’ve always had is I never really cared much about the whole trick or treating thing- I just wanted to run around in my costume with my friends. When I was out trick or treating I had to duck my head past most of the houses, and if there was any sight of a “scarecrow” sitting on a bench with the bowl of candy in its lap I turned right back down the driveway. My favorite part about getting out and getting candy had nothing to do with the candy itself, but sorting it into organized piles at the end of the night.

Retrospectively I understand I was not exactly a normal child.

Dressing up is really the only part of Halloween that I enjoy. I seize any occasion to dress up and I love a good costume party. I was always the kid that totally overdid spirit days at school, and I love seeing people’s creativity, or how they transform their ideas to costume. That is, unless that creativity takes the form of a creepy serial killer. How are you supposed to know they’re not actually a serial killer? I also don’t care much for using it as an excuse to wear your undergarments as a substitute for clothing, but you know to each their own- if that’s how you express yourself, express away.

And this year to make matters even worse there’s the whole terrifying clown epidemic. If I wasn’t holed up inside watching “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” tonight and saw someone dressed as a killer clown out and about, I would most likely do one of the following:

  1. Call 911
  2. Run away screaming in what would under normal circumstances be deemed completely unreasonable, but under the threat of a potential creepy clown be totally warranted
  3. Attack first and ask questions later

I could go on citing several more reasons as to why this takes the top spot on my list of worst holidays (the candy wrapper litter lining the streets on November 1st, the notion that wetting your pants in terror is a fun activity, the lack of quality Halloween songs- expect for “monster mash” which I’ve been listening to on repeat the entire duration of my writing this) but I don’t want to get too wrapped up in negativity, however warranted it may be. However I will make one last comment on one of the most deplorable aspects of Halloween: candy corn. Come on candy corn, it’s time to choose- either be candy or be corn. You can’t be both.

 

Sweet Observations. Part 2: Sampling 101

Believe it or not, a certain etiquette is required when sampling ice cream. Often people will ask, “Don’t you get tired of giving out samples? Do you wish people just had their minds made up?” And while I can’t speak for my coworkers, I can honestly say that it doesn’t bother me. Sure, sometimes it can get a little monotonous, but it’s part of the job, and if I went to an ice cream shop with upwards of 40 options, it would be nice to sample a few things before committing. So don’t worry about tasting a few things, I won’t hold it against you. That is, I won’t hold it against you UNLESS you’re one of the following people:

If you are the person who greets your server with “I’ll try one of everything,” I have some bad news for you: You’re not the first person to come up with this joke. You’re not even the second one to think of it. In fact the only reason I’m laughing along with you is to cover up the sarcastic remark I want to make. I’ve heard that joke at least 5 times today and I got here an hour ago. If I’m not rolling around on the ground laughing, praising you for your wit, please don’t act surprised. You may be reading this and thinking “Oh no… that’s my joke…” and I want you to know that I won’t hold it against you as long as you make the mental note to never say it again.

To the person who actually does try one of everything: Why? To the person who commits to trying one of everything and then as they go along says, “Ew I don’t like coconut,” or “I can’t stand peanut butter”: you did this to yourself. Like maybe don’t commit to trying every flavor if you’re picky? Also, maybe trying every flavor at a small place that only serves five flavors is okay, I’ve never actually been to a place like that so I’m not sure they exist, but the place I work at has over 40 flavors. Please don’t make me go down the list. And to those who try them all and then look really thoughtfully at the menu before saying, “I think I’ll go with the vanilla”: …I can’t even start with you.

You would be surprised by the number of people who stand at the counter watching as you give what are clearly samples to others, but who then look at you and ask “do you give out samples?” More often than not, they push aside the bowl of used taster spoons as they are doing so. The following are responses I would like to make to those who ask if we do tastes as they are surrounded by other people tasting:

  1. Actually we stop tastings at 3:47 and it’s 3:48 sooo… this is awkward.
  2. They can, you can’t.
  3. Only the vanilla.
  4. Is today Tuesday?
  5. No.

Important note on group sampling: When sampling in a group, don’t be that guy who decides he wants to taste the same sample you just brought back for someone else. If someone in your group says, “May I try the raspberry?” don’t hesitate to say, “Oh may I try that too?” before I’ve walked away. Why would you wait until I get back before casually asking, “Oh can I try that too?” Did you think I couldn’t hold more than one tiny spoon in my hand? I’m all about getting my steps in, but come on now.

If you have four flavors you want to try, it’s okay to tell me all four of them at once. “Alright I have a few things I want to try: Strawberry.” Are you planning on keeping the other three a secret? Do I have to guess the others? I’m pretty sure you only listed one flavor there. I can remember more than one thing at a time, and it saves me the walk, so feel free to list away. But then please don’t act overly impressed when I remembered them all. I’m not an idiot.

If there is anything I’ve come to appreciate more after working in an ice cream shop for a year, it’s directness. Although let me emphasize a polite directness. My biggest pet peeve when it comes to sampling is people who dance around the question, as if asking to taste it might be the most offensive thing in the world. Common phrases include, “The chocolate, what’s that like?” “Can I see the chocolate?” “Does the chocolate taste really chocolaty?” Leaving me to answer their questions and then follow up with, “…would you like a taste of it?” Then they look at me as if that’s just the dandiest suggestion in the entire world. If you want something, please just ask politely.

So that’s pretty much all there is to it. If you can be courteous, direct, observant, and avoid the dad jokes, you’re golden will be welcomed back with open arms. If you don’t think you can play by these rules, maybe just stick to Dairy Queen.

Antelope Canyon

If you are ever in Page, Arizona, or even anywhere in relative proximity to it, I cannot express highly enough, how worthwhile it is to take a tour of Antelope Canyon.

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon on the Navajo reservation, which can be toured by guide in a few hours. Potentially the strangest and most wonderful thing about the canyon is that if you drove by, or even walked by, you would never know it was there. This huge beautiful cavernous valley is hidden just below the grounds surface and the only suggestion it’s there is a crack running along the ground.IMG_5177

The walls of the canyon are made of Navajo sandstone and were carved out by the erosion from water flowing powerfully across and under the ground over hundreds of years. Northern Arizona is prone to flash flooding and these rains are still altering the canyon.

It is divided into upper and lower canyons and my aunt, Andrea, and I opted for the lower canyon tour. It requires a little more hiking, as you have to climb down into it, and then up out of it. There are ladders and stairs built into the canyon making this a little easier, but I wouldn’t recommend it for older visitors. There are also places where the corners and walls are very narrow, so it may not be the best for those with limited mobility.

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Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, and never rushed the group when we wanted to take pictures or ask questions about a certain formation of rock. He knew where all the perfect photo spots were and paused to take pictures of the group whenever he thought there was a good opportunity.IMG_5172

 

The tour starts off with a short walk to the mouth of the canyon; here I can stress the IMG_5153importance of good shoes and a water bottle or two. When first walking out to the canyon Andrea and I both looked at each other like “wait is this it?” because as I mentioned before, you would never guess what lies just below your feet. You reach a little nook in the hill and slowly start to climb the stairs into the canyon where it’s cool and shaded. The stairs are fairly steep so you need to focus on getting down them safely, but once you’re down it’s difficult to stay focused on the ground in front of you, so it’s lucky they are mostly smooth sand.

There’s a reason that these walls have been featured on the cover of national geographic, that windows chose them as one of their screensavers, and that certain shots have sold for millions. Antelope Canyon is breathtaking.

IMG_5149I spent the entirety of the walk wide eyed and jaw slightly ajar in a sense of wonder from what I was seeing around me. You’re totally enclosed by the walls around you in their smooth swirling patterns, jutting out to play tricks with the light here and there, and it makes you feel small. Small in a good way. The type of small where you can feel just how amazing the world around you is. The type of small that makes you want to go out and explore every nook and cranny of the world that you possibly could, knowing that even then you wouldn’t be seeing it all, but being at peace with that. The type of small that makes you thankful to be experiencing the life that you are, even when there are some days that you’d rather hide from it all. The type of small that fills you with electricity, making you feel completely and utterly alive.

Berry Happy

If you’ve ever read Bruce Degen’s childrens book, “Jamberry” then you’ve probably fantasized about romping around barefoot in a land of berries with a friendly bear, eating all the berries you could possibly muster. If you haven’t read “Jamberry,” go to your neighborhood library immediately and pick it up. If the librarian asks why as a grown person you appear to be lurking around the children’s section, politely explain to her that you were tasked with reading a book about a boy, bear, and berries to fill a missing void in your life.

On second thought maybe you should just read it from the comfort of your own home… here’s the link to a reading on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJKclVRP_4s   Side note: I chose this reading because it shows the illustrations in their finest light and the illustrations in this book are perhaps my favorite of any book from my childhood. But I do apologize for the strange voice doing the reading… you may just want to turn the sound off and read it yourself…

But I digress; this post isn’t about children’s books, a boy, or bears; but it is about berries. Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with my mom, picking berries at Graysmarsh Farm in Sequim, Washington. We covered most of your berry bases, picking raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, loganberries, and boysenberries.

I’ll admit to being a somewhat subpar berry picker. Although I have a finely tuned technique when it comes to berry picking, its effectiveness has been called into question on several occasions. It works something like this: one for the bucket, two for me. Two for the bucket, one for me. A variation of this pattern is continued until my bucket is half filled and my stomach is entirely filled.

Graysmarsh has huge fields of berries, as well as lavender, and everything except strawberries were in season, so after wandering through the neat rows we ended up with about 20 pounds of berries between the two of us in a couple hours. Outside in the sun and soft breeze surrounded by sweet green bushes there’s a peaceful edge to the work being done, creating a therapeutic sensation to the activity. Once you get started, it’s kind of difficult to stop. I can’t count the number of times we would pause, saying, “that’s probably enough,” not even finishing the statement before continuing to pick our way down the row.13729004_1336449703036634_401524070210313870_n

The berries at Graysmarsh are top-notch; their flavors, textures, and pickabililty each contributing to the satisfaction of the experience. I don’t even really care for blueberries, but you better believe I was snacking on these. They aren’t mushy like others I avoid, but firm, plump, and sweet. Graysmarsh blackberries are thornless, so you can thrust your hands through the bushes without fear of being stuck to get the large juicy berries hiding in the depths of the vines. However, my favorites were the raspberries. Raspberries are my favorite fruit so I was biased going in, but these did not disappoint. Easy to pick, bordering on just the right edge of tartness and sweet, I could have easily eaten a flat of them. If I lived in Sequim, I’m fairly certain I’d be a regular raspberry picker there.

At the end of the day, looking at your stained hands and feeling the weight of your efforts hanging in the bucket on your arm, the realization of just how much work you did sinks in. It’s completely and wonderfully satisfying. Potentially even more satisfying will be the berry cobblers, jam, drinks, snacks, and smoothies that are to come!

Sweet Observations. Part 1: The Butter Pecan Phenomenon

So I’ve been working in an ice cream shop for almost a year now, and I figure it’s about time to bring to light a few of the things I’ve taken notice of. More than likely this will be part one of a seventy part series, because I’ve been given plenty of material to work with, but don’t worry, my observations will be short and sweet.

You can tell a lot about a person by the type of ice cream they order. I’ve spotted trends amongst the sorts of people who order specific flavors, but perhaps the strongest I’ve seen is what I like to call “the butter pecan phenomenon.” The obsession that those over the age of sixty seem to have with butter pecan ice cream is strong. I’m fairly convinced that on your sixtieth birthday, as soon as you blow out the candles on your birthday cake (or have made good use of the fire extinguisher in the corner) you develop an insatiable thirst for butter pecan ice cream. I’m serious here, 8 out of 10 seniors who walk into our shop ask if we have a butter pecan.

Now our shop has upwards of forty-five flavors readily available at all times, but guess which flavor is not included in those forty-five? Butter. Pecan. If you were disappointed to hear this, I’m guessing you are also eligible for the senior discount at the movie theater.

The utter despair that follows “Unfortunately we don’t have a butter pecan,” would cause some to believe that these devoted butter pecaners had just learned our flavors were limited to brussel sprout or chicken of the sea. Don’t you dare try and steer them towards another flavor, because it will just not be the same. Pistachio? How dare you!

After this, there will be a long period of sighing, lamenting the lack of their favorite flavor, as if this grief will somehow cause a bucket of butter pecan to miraculously appear in shop. When this doesn’t happen they’ll try about 20 other flavors, and you’ll cross your fingers they don’t ask for rum raisin, because that’s second on the elderly’s most popular list and second on the list of few flavors we don’t have.

Eventually they’ll find something that works, and you might even believe for a moment they’ve gotten over their beloved butter pecan. They’ll comment how wonderful this new chocolate flavor is, or how sweet the lemon bar is, and you’ll smile, glad that they found something just as good as butter pecan. And then they’ll get to the door and casually mention over their shoulders: “You really should have a butter pecan.”

 

Momcation

Being a mom seems tough. Not only are you responsible for your own well being, but you are responsible for another person’s (if not multiple others) development as a contributing member of society. As far as I’ve been able to determine a lot of effort, tears, and heart goes into that sort of responsibility. It’s only fair that moms get a break, and I’m not just talking their one day in May- they deserve more than that. More than a day, but less than a month- I’m not demeaning their worth here, I’m being practical: without them for that long all hell would break loose. In short, all moms deserve some time away from their motherly responsibilities. They deserve a solid “momcation.”

For the past 20 or so years, my mom and one of her closest friends have taken a vacation to Arizona to, as best as I can understand, get away from their two children and husbands. Their loving children who would never continuously leave their socks on the floor after being told to pick them up seven times, and their devoted husbands who would probably never forget to unload the dishwasher like they were asked… As one of those loving, albeit scatterbrained, problem children, I had mixed feelings about this annual retreat the two of them took, now that I’m older I can retrospectively appreciate that they deserved that week away.

Momcation has always held an air of mystery, although if you ask them, they’ll give it to you straight: we sit by the pool and read all day then go out to dinner and come back, chat, maybe have a glass of wine, and go to bed. Repeat x7. If it’s hard to believe that someone could sustain that routine for an entire week, you clearly don’t know these women. This year I learned first hand that this is exactly what they do.

Imagine my surprise when I was chatting with my mom one afternoon about her upcoming Arizona trip and jokingly, as I have the past couple years, asked if I could come, and she said “maybe.” She could have told me I was adopted and I might not have been more surprised- that’s how sacred momcation is. Things progressed from incredible to outlandish as I was cleared to come down for three days of their week of paradise.

It was at this moment that I realized I was no longer a problem to escape, but I was considered an asset to the adult team. Or at the very least I was no longer the nuisance I once was. And let me tell you, I’ve never enjoyed being a non-nuisance more: Best. Vacation. Ever.

After last week I’ve crafted a formula outlining the unique qualities of a successful vacation and they are listed as follows:

  • 1) Did you sit in the sun for as long as you possibly could?
  • 2) Did you consume your weights worth in gallons of iced tea?
  • 3) Were you able to successfully read while gloriously uninterrupted for hours upon hours at a time?

If you can answer yes to all three of these questions, congratulations! You had a great vacation.

During my brief stint on momcation I sat outside by the pool for three days in a row, only leaving to retrieve a new book (see 3) or refill my beverage (see 2). I’m not entirely certain how long it takes to develop an addiction to something, I’m sure it depends on the strength of the substance, but I’m fairly confident that in the span of three days I managed to develop a classifiable addiction to Arizona raspberry iced tea. It may very well be laced with something; my mouth is watering as I write this. As for criterion three, I managed to read 5 books in 3 days. Momcation needed to come with a label, “may induce uncontrollable sighing due to extreme contentment.”

One of the most shocking aspects of momcation is that any adherence to the food pyramids recommended dietary intake is strictly ignored. Breakfast the first day consisted of leftover enchiladas and chips. Gone were the “eat your veggies, be responsible” mothers I’d known for 23 years, and in their place were bachelors who stocked their shelves with margaritas and Twix bars. One night when we went out to dinner I ordered a slice of cake to eat for breakfast the next morning and it was actually encouraged. I’m not sure I’ve ever loved them more.

To some this sort of extreme relaxation might seem like the 4th circle of hell. Others are wondering where they can sign up, and to you I’m sorry to say, it’s a fairly exclusive club, and if your suitcase is not packed to the brim with paperbacks and you don’t have a fondness for queso or tequila, you will not be making the cut any time soon. It took me 23 years.

Mom, Laurie; thank you for including me on your momcation, it was an honor and a privilege that I didn’t take lightly. Thank you for providing the model of perfect, effortless, and lasting friendship; it’s a unique and beautiful gift and I appreciate your sharing it with me.

Nobody Likes You When You’re 23

They say nobody likes you when you’re 23. Or at least blink-182 says that and they seem like a fairly reliable source. To be quite honest I’ll be good with 23 as long as it’s no 22. Taylor Swift led me to believe it was a much more magical time than it was… I should have paid more attention to the whole “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time,” lyrics because there is so much truth in them it’s not even funny. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so many conflicting emotions in any other period of my life, and that’s including adolescent puberty. We all know how fun that is. Quick shout out to my parents for not disowning me in my teens, you guys are the real MVPs.

If you asked me how 22 was, my response would be completely dependent on my mood that day. If I were happy, I’d tell you it was wonderful. I got to be a part of the wedding of two very dear friends and being there for them was one of the most wonderful weeks of my life. I went on a great family vacation to Hawaii, I ran a half marathon, and I graduated college relatively unscathed with not only one, but two, degrees in four years. If it were a bad day I’d tell you 22 sucked. I had no clue what I was doing after graduation and I lost all my friends (not true in any way, they just didn’t live down the street anymore so some days it felt like it), I gained a bunch of college stress weight that I was then stuck trying to get rid of, worked a job that was okay but by no means my dream, and at the end of the day all I wanted was to be happy but had no idea how to get there. In short, 22 was a roller coaster and utterly exhausting.

My 22nd year was marked with more tears than most, whether out of frustration, excitement, sadness, or joy. If there were any justice in this world, I would have dropped a couple pounds losing them in water weight, but I learned that unfortunately this is not the way the world, or human biology, works. However nearing the end of 22, I started to finally get it through my head that I have much more to celebrate than to wallow in. You can choose to be lost and wander aimlessly or you can move with purpose, even if it’s shortsighted. You don’t have to live for the long-term goal: you can be perfectly happy with several short-term goals. They’re easier to break down and in some cases the steps needed to attain them may even be more realistically achievable. If I learned anything at 22, it’s that you can choose to wake up and be upset about where you are,
or you can choose to be positive about it; every day gives you a new choice.

Each day is a new gift and you can choose to be grateful for that, or you can compare your gift to everyone else’s, letting that comparison dull the excitement you should have for what is in front of you. When people ask me what’s new, I don’t have much to say to them that differs from the last time we spoke in terms of “exciting life events,” but I’m happy, and don’t feel the need to analyze why, but just be. I’ve found that there is an incredible difference in that.

My hope for 23, and what I wish I could have embraced more at 22, is to take each day for what it is, good or bad, knowing that the bad is only temporary and in the end, it’s all good.