Sunday, October 28, 2007

Go Sox!

The Boston Red Sox, your 2007 World Series Champions.

In 2004, I was in St. Louis to see history.  This time around I was quite happy to enjoy it in the comfort of my own home with my lovely wife.

Nothing much else to add at the moment (other than A-Rod announcing the opt out of his contract in the 8th inning was... well this is a family blog).  Just had to be said.  Now begins the sad time where there is no baseball to be had...

Go Sox!


Friday, October 26, 2007

Cane Toads!

Brian and I are fans of toads. Whether it's enjoying Mr. Toad from the Wind in the Willows, listening to the croaks as we tried to fall asleep along side the Laotian riverbanks, or using Toad as an endearment for each other, the hoppy creatures seem to play a recurring small role in our lives. So when Seth recommended the documentary "Cane Toads" about that animal's ill-fated introduction into Australia, we were game to check it out.

Warning: Cane toads evidently create zombie children
The library only had a VHS copy; luckily we haven't totally converted to the digital age and still have one tape player. Seth had said it was pretty offbeat. Offbeat doesn't begin to cover it. We got our first clue that this was no ordinary film when we picked up the tape and saw the rather terrifying child on the cover with her misshapen, day-glo cane toad. (And our second when the ad copy on front said "If Monty Python produced documentaries, it would be Cane Toads!")

What followed defied description, though this review somewhat does it justice. Suffice it to say that the following characters (among others) are involved [taken from the linked reviw]:

Dr. Kerr - One of the men who, back in 1932, thought the cane toad would solve Australia's sugar cane pest problem. He was wrong, but goes on merrily collecting his pension while the poisonous toads muck up the continent's ecosystem.
Dr. Ingram - Herpetologist with way too much practice at mimicking the mating call of a male cane toad. [And who we think looks like a cane toad himself]
Dr. Archer - A specialist in the study of small rodents. He carries a grudge against the warty invaders ever since his marsupial native cat gnawed on one and subsequently died. Here's toad juice in your eye.
Syd - Police detective involved in the prosecution of drug users. Lick the toad and get five years mate.
Paul - Listening to him describing how amorous cane toads strangled his goldfish would be bad enough, his extreme speech impediment (he stutters, really bad) just makes the testimony a test of human endurance. [We're not even making this up]
David and Elvie - Two weirdoes who love the confounded little monsters, even waxing sentimental while talking about them.

One of the upstanding folks sharing cane toad tales.

A couple of the more surreal moments in the film:

-- Watching the toads eat pretty much anything smaller than them, including mice (awwww) and ping pong balls (!)

-- Watching an overly amorous male cane toad riding his chosen female. The only issue is that the female is dead. and road kill. and have we mentioned FLAT??!!

-- Learning that one of the towns had wanted to build a big cane toad statue as a tourist attraction to compete with the big prawn, the big banana, and the big ball of string, etc.

Cane toads getting it on.

As the strange people and their strange stories kept appearing we kept asking ourselves how this could not be a mystery science theater-type event. We even stopped in the middle and looked it up on to make sure it wasn't a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary (like Best in Show or Spinal Tap). But no, it appeared that it was actually for real.

So if you're looking for a little bit of education with a large dollop of riduculousness packed into less than an hour, pick up Cane Toads, An Unnatural History from your local library or video store. And be prepared to be bemused.

Big, ugly, horny, and able to secrete a deadly poison.
"You want some of this??"


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Food on my mind

my culinary idol...

As I wrote about earlier I've been getting a lot more into cooking since I returned from our trip. I geeked out watching the food channel for a few months while I was doing house projects and I've become addicted to a couple of food blogs, like the quirky Chocolate and Zucchini. Not having a real job has also given me a lot more time to read recipes and experiment in the kitchen. Brian's been a good sport about trying even some of my less successful efforts and we haven't had to resort to ordering pizza yet. :-)

who ordered the frou-frou pizza?

With a lighter work load this semester, Brian has been working himself back into the cooking rotation too. And though he would probably be happy with a lot more meat and potatoes he's done a nice job of finding the kind of chi-chi food I like to eat. He made a yummy salmon/veggie pizza the other day and came up with one of my new favorite salads after a trip to a farmer's market.

I had been planning on cooking something nice tonight and since Brian was watching the Sox in Game 1 of the World Series I figured I'd make a fall classic inspired meal. Actually, I guess I kinda failed with that because a true fall classic meal in that sense would have involved ballpark franks, etc. But I interpreted it as the season, not the sporting event. We were working late at the library so it needed to be something quick and easy. As it turned out pretty well, I figured I'd share it for folks looking for an easy fall company dish.

Cheese Tortellini/Ravioli & Butternut Squash

1 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled, cubed
1/2 lb refreigerated cheese tortellini or ravioli (about 2 cups)
1 T olive oil
2 slices prosciutto, cut into thin ribbons (1 oz)
5 T unsalted butter, cubed
1 large sprig of fresh sage (about 10 leaves)
2 T dry white wine
1 t. sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Cook squash in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Add the tortellini (or ravioli); cook according to the package directions and until squash is tender. Drain pasta and squash; set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high. Add prosciutto, cook until crisp, then drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Return skillet to burner (with drippings); reduce heat to medium.

Melt butter in the skillet. Add sage sprig and cook until butter browns, about 4 minutes; remove sage and discard. Stir in wine and sugar; cook 30 seconds, then add reserved squash, tortellini, and prosciutto. Toss to heat through.

Off heat, finish with lemon juice, parsley, and pepper. I added some freshly grated parmesan.

We ate the ravioli with the salad that Brian had created earlier this fall.

Pear Blue Cheese Salad (or Salad a la Brian)

Baby Spinach leaves
Sliced ripe pear (Bartlett is good)
Crumbled high quality blue cheese
Drizzled honey (used as the salad dressing)


Not only was it an easy, quick, and tasty dinner, but the Red Sox beat the Rockies 13-1.

Bork! Bork! Bork!


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Run Like Hell... Feel Like Hell!

Posing near the starting line
(methinks Brian spent too much time in Asia!)

After running Pints to Pasta with Becca, I got in my mind the idea to run a half marathon. I wasn't really sure on how to properly train for it, so using the power of the Google, I found a training plan, a race and realized I had 6 weeks to train. Thankfully excluding the track intervals, I'd done the work to date. The six weeks went pretty well. The big adjustment was two fold; I moved from running 4x to 5x a week and I spent one of those days doing intervals at the track. The reason I quit running in the first place was because I hated running on the track so much. Thankfully this particular program only had you doing it once every two weeks which was about my limit. Still, I was pleased by the speed and endurance I was showing.

After part of picking up my race packet yesterday, Becca and I decided to drive the course. It being Oregon, it was POURING. As we drove through massive puddles I started to get a bad feeling about the race. The weather was supposed to be more of the same today. Obviously cold, wet weather is not conducive to fast times. Then there was the actual course. 5 flat miles followed by 4 miles of steady climbing, then 3 miles of steep ups and downs and a mile flat at the finish. Not exactly a course built for speed. The more we drove it, the worse it looked.

After completely psyching myself out, we went home, laid low and I took in the Ducks crushing University of Washington as well as the Red Sox forcing a Game 7. Considering this a good double dish of karma, I got to bed nice and early, nervous but excited for race day.

As with most races, I had a few different goals:

C Goal: Finish (always reasonable to have this goal in a race this long)
B Goal: Sub 1:30 (6:52 pace)
A Goal: Anything faster :-)

To successfully meet these goals, I had a plan:

1) Run the first 5 miles comfortably fast and built a time cushion.
2) Run the 4 miles uphill with a goal of minimizing how much time I gave back.
3) Let 'er rip the last four miles and hope I don't burn up.

Line for the porta potties? What line?
Brian shows his canny veteran experience and breaks into a construction site

Race Day started off with a very good thing: stars. Clouds were nonexistent outside of our house, allowing us a clear look at the early morning stars. In short, no rain! We packed up my stuff and headed downtown to the start. I warmed up a bit, kissed Becca good luck and then got into the starting chute. When I start races, I like to get around people that look to be about my speed. I looked around and realized that large packs of chatty women with iPods (no offense to said running subset) were my neighbors, I weaved my way up to a reasonable spot for the start.

With that I was off. I weaved my way though a few people and got into a steady groove. Passed Becca a mile or so in knowing that I'd see her again in a few miles (the race started with a small loop). Mile one was a 6:49 pace. Comfortable and a good start. Hitting mile two, I started to get worried. My watch said it was a 7:12 pace and I couldn't get warm. If I was losing time already and didn't feel right, what was my chance of being able to actually break 1:30? This was a real dilemma for me; I felt blah physically and mentally I was a mess. I even contemplating dropping out (something I NEVER do). I decided to see what my mile 3 time was before making any rash decisions.

Of course, there was no mile 3 marker so I kept going to mile 4. The first words out of Becca's mouth when she saw me were "you're running too fast!". I hit the marker and realized that the mile 2 marker must have been WAY off. Suddenly I was going too fast. With almost 90 seconds in the bank, I elected to relax again and just settle into a good stride.

Speeding towards mile 4
(notice the lack of rain. heavenly.)

The hill portion was a challenge. Most of it was just a steady climb so I focused on keeping a decent pace and keeping up with my fellow runners. Fortunately I was part of a three man pack who was pretty content just working together up the hill, passing a few folks along the way. It made it a much more manageable experience and allowed us to focus on something other than the never ending incline. After the four miles, I still had just over 40 seconds in the bank.

Having this 40 seconds in the tank after the hardest part of the course was like a get out of jail free card. Time to let 'er rip. Of course, the previous three man pack had separated; one was about 30m in front of me and the other one was quickly dropping off the back. So for the next four miles, my place didn't change. I followed a line of three runners that were 30-50m ahead of me down the hill all the way to the finish line. I'd like to think I could have caught at least one of them but I kept running hard and couldn't make up any ground. Of course, when your last two miles (partially downhill) are 5:48 & 5:47, you can't feel too bad about not gaining any ground. I do credit Becca's inspirational "Run Faster!" as proper motivation though when I started to falter a bit with a half mile to go.

Approaching mile 12 looking good and what is the wife yelling?
"Run Faster! Run Faster!"

I gave what little I had left in the tank at the finish line and was shocked: 1:25:07! Needless to say I met my goals with a flourish. (And me being me, I immediately was mad that I hadn't run 8 seconds faster and broken 1:25.) I finished 23rd overall and despite some very tired legs, I actually feel pretty good. Met Becca post-race, warmed down, enjoyed a Winterhook and then headed home. In fact I'm writing this with my feet propped up, a beer close by and taking in a day full of football to be followed by Red Sox/Indians Game 7.

Don't let the pose fool you. Brian actually was pretty bouncy post-race.

So in short: Brian run fast. :-) Becca = superstar wife for putting up with my training and pre-race nerves and Red Sox in 7.

Life is good.


additional notes from the support vehicle and photographer: after driving the course yesterday in the monsoon we were both pretty psyched out about it and worried that the 1:30 goal might not be that realistic. However the vastly improved weather this morning definitely relaxed us a little and Brian seemed in good spirits when I left him at the start and went out to stake out my first cheering location. When I saw him several minutes early at mile 4 I got worried again that he might blow up on the hill, as he was running more aggressive than his pre-race plan had dictated.

The next 40 minutes were filled not with my cheering him at two more spots (as planned) but by me growing increasingly more frustrated as I ran into construction, one-ways, road closures etc in my attempts to get ahead of the race. I finally gave up, extremely despondent, returned to the tail end of the course, and set up at the 12 mile marker. Based on his goal pace I had a pretty good idea of when he might come by, but again was concerned that he'd gone out too fast and would have suffered in the hills. So I was way surprised when he turned the corner and came trucking past me more than 3 minutes ahead of pace. I'm sure the other runners wondered who the crazy lady yelling "Woo-hoo! Run Faster!" was. :-)

This is now two major distance races (the 2004 Twin Cities marathon and 2007 Run Like Hell Half) where Brian has finished and looked fresh and ready for more despite running faster than his goal. I'm impressed and really proud of him. But now I know to look out for his sandbagging...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cleaning House # 3

Yet another photo essay from this fall:

(see the previous two entries for more)

Over the river and through the woods
(to Mt. Hood meadows we go)

Another of our field trips over Labor Day weekend was to take Dave and Heidi for a hike around Mt. Hood and a drive back through the Columbia River Gorge. They requested waterfalls, greenery, and mountain views. Two out of three ain't bad. :-)

And if you count rushing streams that you have to balance across as waterfalls, then we suceeded on all counts.

Wobble. Wobble. "Don't fall. Don't fall. Don't fall"

"Piece of cake."

Yet another cool view of Mt. Hood. It looks really strange to me because a) this is from the east side of the mountain and it's a very different shape than what we're used to seeing from Portland and b) the mountain looks so strange with no snow on it. However after the colder weather and rain we've had in early October I'm happy to report that Hood is snow-covered once more.

Full Sail Brewery, one of the major companies in Hood River. We felt it was our duty to stop by and test out their offerings.

Hood River is better known, however, as the windsurfing capital of the world due to the strong winds that are generated in the gorge. On this fall afternoon you could barely see the water for the windsurfers and kitesurfers. It was a riot of colors and a ballet of movement and very enjoyable to watch with a beer.

Again, we can't say enough how happy we are about the decision to move back to Oregon. Having all of this right out our back door is a wonderful thing and we hope to continue to take advantage of it.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cleaning House #2

Another photo essay from our fall activities (see below for the first one):

Taking Time to Smell the Roses

One of the places Portland is known for is its International Test Rose Gardens. It's up on a hill overlooking the town and in addition to featuring acres of beautiful flowers, offers great views of the city and Mt. Hood. When we lived in Portland in 2000, I would take my books, cell phone and pager and spend hours in one of the garden areas studying electrophysiology. It sure beat working in a cube!

Over labor day weekend we played tour guide to Dave and Heidi and biked all around the city. The rose garden was one of our stops and we enjoyed playing amateur botanical photographer.

two unusual flowers of genus "tiredus bikerus"

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cleaning House....

Over here in bloggerville we are yet again ashamed of our laxness in posting. Mea Culpa x2! So in the interest of actually posting something I'm going to put up a couple of photo essays from some of our fall activities over the next few days since the full-blown entries on them seem to not be happening. So on that note:

Becca & Brian's Aerial Adventure

Caroline and I have been friends since I was 8 years old or so (and she was 11). When she was 18 she got her pilot's license and was able to fly the Cessna her Dad used for his business. Despite the fact that it's been 20 years I had never been up in the air with her. Hard to explain why. I guess when she first got it my Mom might have been nervous about letting me go up with her and then I've been living out of state pretty much the whole time since high school. Meanwhile her husband Luigi has gotten his license too and both of them have become instrument rated. When we moved back to Oregon I decided it was high time to get up there and experience flying with them.

So earlier this summer we jumped at the chance to do a little sightseeing flight on the coast. I think I'd written about this before, but C&L picked us up in Newport in their Cherokee and we did a leisurely flight down to Florence and back checking out the coastline and looking for whales. We had enough fun together that we started looking for a chance to do a longer trip. The perfect opportunity arose when we decided to go see some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Ashland is about 285 miles and a 4.5 hour drive away. While the quality of theater makes it worth the trip, a one hour plane flight sounded even better. So in early September we were off:

Brian watches Caroline closely for tips on entrance technique.

Fully qualified pilot on the left, dilettante on the right.

"What's happens if I push this??"

On the way home, Luigi had Brian take the yoke. Instead of just having him "fly" while we were cruising, he handed control over as we were needing to descend to the airport. So Brian had to try and bring the plane down at a steady pace, while keeping us on the right trajectory for the landing vector, while adjusting the lift. Let's just say that this didn't fill his wife with tons of confidence. And is it a bad sign if the only time he felt motion sick was when he was doing the flying?

The weather was beautiful on our trip home so we took a detour to do some sightseeing over Crater Lake. Brian had somehow never seen this famous Oregon land mark (and national park!) so we did a flyby. It was purty.

It sure beat spending 9+ hours in the car and it was a great way to see the state's landscape from a new perspective. We'll definitely be going up with them again.


(thanks Steve for the airplane make/model correction! that's what i keep you around for)