Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Random Odds and Ends

As we get packed to head down to the Bay Area for food, family and friends (and did we mention food??) a couple of random thoughts:

Crossword Puzzles

I grew up enjoying all kinds of puzzles, especially logic puzzles and crossword puzzles. A love of solving puzzles was something that my Dad and I shared and we had a lot of fun working on them together. And I still feel really close to him when I do them.

I've recently become hooked on crossword puzzles again thanks to encouragement from our friend Seth, a fellow ultimate player and around-the-world traveler. He is a regular solver of the New York Times puzzles and has encouraged me to test my solving skills against them too. So now we both do them online and compete on solving times, though he's so much better than me that there's not much competition. Still, emailing back and forth about clues and working together to figure out the harder days of the week reminds me of solving puzzles together with Dad and that makes me happy.

(Plus, we get to be make jokes about ridiculous freaky talent of puzzle solvers like Orange and Rex Parker)

"Cleaning out the fridge" entrees

When I first started getting into cooking I could make some pretty good meals, but they always required cookbooks and recipes. I could follow directions and learn techniques, but I didn't have any confidence or knowledge about creating my own dishes. One of the fun things about cooking more since our return from the trip has been becoming more comfortable winging it in the kitchen. Recently I've been working on a new specialty on the nights Brian is in class: the cleaning-out-the-fridge-use-up-the-leftovers-and-feed-myself meal.

Two recent successes:

-- Saute-ing whatever veggies are left (usually zucchini and/or yellow squash and red bell pepper) in garlic and olive oil, liberally sprinkling with cumin, then adding in some frozen corn (kept in the freezer for this kind of purpose) or leftover fresh corn (in the summer), baby spinach leaves, and crumbled feta cheese to finish. Tossed over cous cous or pasta, or even wrapped in a wheat tortilla for an impromptu veggie burrito it has been a quick and easy, faithful, and tasty standby and has fed me on a number of occasions.

-- Sauteeing thin slices of prosciutto (left over from making the yummy butternut squash recipe I mentioned before) and shallots and garlic in butter to crisp the prosciuto, then throwing it in an omelet, with a little cream cheese and fresh rosemary (left over from some fancy Italian steak sandwiches)

Still Running

Haven't kicked the running bug yet. Guess Brian was more contageous than I thought. :-) But for the first time I think I can actually say I enjoy running instead of just tolerating it as a necessary evil for staying in shape. I think one of the things I really like about it is that I can see such progress. 3 miles always used to be a LONG run for me. Now it's my basic run and I build up from there.

Yesterday I decided to try a 6 mile run for the first time since the 10-K in September. I ran a loop that was much hillier than the easy Pints-to-Pasta downhill course and yet it felt comfortable and easy and I finished several minutes faster. How cool is that??

While I am still not setting any land speed records, I run at a respectable speed, and I'm really enjoying becoming someone who can just go out and run 5 miles without giving it another thought.

Not sure how interesting anyone will find these tidbits, but we figured it could be an appetizer before a full Thanksgiving meal entry.

Hope everyone has a great weekend full of fun, friends and family.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Little Housecleaning...

For our loyal readers, we've finally gotten around to doing some minor housecleaning (beats doing the real thing). The site has a few new links (including our friend Rich's continuing adventures around the world) as well as Flick's Zeitgeist function. Now you can check out our pictures in a size that makes ophthalmologists around the world feel secure in their latest sports car purchase.

Just spent a recharging weekend at the beach and am now back working hard trying to be the Grade A student, find a job and keep myself from putting on the eggnog/pumpkin pie/winter ale pounds already. Hopefully news on all fronts soon!


Note: currently the Zeitgeist isn't showing the pictures from our trip, but rather some of the more recent ones. We'll see if we can get that fixed.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Feminist Guilt, Or Where is Mia Hamm When You Need Her?

So Wednesday (a few weeks ago...I'm running a little behind) found us pulling out the all weather gear and heading to PGE Park to watch the US Women's national team play the Mexican women in an exhibition match. ('Us' being myself and Brian, Jon and Lori, and their former soccer teammate Resa). It had been pouring all week off and on and had continued that day including as we were driving up to the stadium. But somehow karma smiled on us and it was nice for the whole match. As we were walking back to the car it started raining again. Unbelievable.

The three game series against Mexico (played in St. Louis, Portland, and Albuquerque) was obviously conceived as a post-world cup victory tour. After the flame out and controversy that marred the tournament for the women, it was more like a reconnect with fans and start mending fences tour. In either case, the soccer-mad group of us were looking forward to seeing some quality soccer.

The popularity of women's sports is a touchy subject for this former female athlete. As someone who went through high school and college playing varsity sports I firmly believe in the importance and value of that opportunity. I believe that women's professional leagues are also important and good both as potential careers for the talented few and more as inspirations and examples for the normal many. (Especially with the obesity epidemic sweeping the country anything that helps get kids (and adults) up and moving is good.) I really want to be enthusiastic and supportive about watching women's leagues, but unfortunately (and embarrassingly) for many sports it just doesn't do it for me.

Soccer, however, has always been an exception (as has tennis). While the women's game is quite different (and slower) than the men's, I have found it in the past to be equally skilled and interesting to watch and in the heyday of the Hamm/Foudy/Milbrett/Lilly/Akers etc. years I really enjoyed watching the US team. Therefore I was really looking forward to this chance to see the next generation of US soccer stars. It would be an opportunity to say thanks and goodbye to Kristine Lilly and hello to Abby Wambach and her crew.

The evening started out well, with the aforementioned break in the rain really raising our spirits. (Especially since our good seats were just past the very edge of the roof and we would have gotten soaked.) Abby was chosen as captain and honored for reaching her 100th cap in the World Cup quarterfinals against England. And the gold uniforms, while not particularly modest, did look pretty flash.

Once the game started, however, the five of us were a little nonplussed. The conditions didn't really help. The temp was in the low 40's and the field was suffering from it having rained most of the day. However the level of soccer on display was not anywhere near where we expected it to be. As I've written about before, we've attended a half-dozen Portland Timbers games at PGE park and really enjoyed them. I wondered how much our experience with those games was impacting our perception. If we were used to the men's game, then it would stand to reason that the women's game would seem slower. However the speed wasn't really the issue. Instead it was the lack of flow between defense and offense, the lack of sustained possession or building of a play, and for many players even the lack of ball trapping skills that surprised us. And these are all things that I would expect the women's national team to do better than a USL (minor league) level men's team. Plus it was very much a boot and run to the tall/fast players sort of strategy.

Many of these critiques were made about the team by more knowledgeable soccer folks than me during the team's world cup run, even before the Hope Solo/Briana Scurry goalkeeper switch fiasco. Greg Ryan's coaching philosophy and belief that creative midfield play was not how the game is won these days was (in my opinion) deservedly criticized as was his reliance on his starting players and reluctance to use his deep bench. (Even in the game we watched, a meaningless exhibition, Abby was kept on the field for the whole game, despite being hobbled and in pain in the second half with an obvious injury).

A week after this US/Mexico match, it was announced that Ryan's contract would not be renewed at the end of the year. As a fan of soccer, women's sports, and our women's national team, I am happy at this news. I'm hoping we can again field a team that plays 'the beautiful game', much like the young team from Brazil did in China this year. Because I want to be proud of the team and the way it plays, I want to enjoy watching them, and I'd like young girls starting out in soccer to see our national team play and be inspired, like I once was.


Other notes from the evening:

-- The crowd noise was really different from the games we normally attend there. Instead of the chants and songs from the Timbers' Army (Portland has one of the most European-like supporters' group of any US team, USL, MLS, or US National team) and the occasional loud swear words, we instead had the ear-splitting shrieks from the pre-teen set.

-- PGE park seems to be really into "theme" concessions. We had barely sat down in our seats for this game against the Mexican women before the vendors were walking by and adding churros and tecate beer to their normal cotton candy, crackerjacks, bud light patter. (Though as we all sat there in rain ponchos and multiple flannel layers the "Get yer ice cold Tecate" cry didn't have quite the same allure it normally would.) And when we attended the Timbers match against Preston North End (a Championship League team from England - (Championship is one below the Premier League)), the concessions stands had added 'bangers and mash' to their normal nachos, hamburger, hot dog menu.

-- While there wasn't a huge Mexican fan contingent in the stadium, we did have a mini-one a few rows behind us. About eight kids had their face painted in team colors and were waving Mexican flags and chanting "meHEEco! clap clap clapclapclap. meHEEco! clap clap clapclapclap". It was cute and added a little bit of international flair to the evening.

-- The fans seemed a lot less knowledgeable than those who usually attend the Timbers games. I'm sure there were a lot of non-soccer parents who were there with their kids. But in any case the crowd didn't necessarily seem to respond to big moments on the field, and there were more people up and wandering around during play than I've ever seen at a game. Brian was about ready to go postal on some of the clueless folks just standing and talking in the aisles and blocking everyone's view while shots on goal were being taken.

All in all I'm glad we went, and I'm glad we supported the women's team, but for the near future I'll stick to my Timbers. They're a fun team that really improved over the last year and should be even better next year and we can watch them for minor-league prices.