The rest of my summer vacation

Well, a lot of people have said to me that my vacation didn’t sound too relaxing due to the 200 mile ride from Seattle to Portland in two days. The way people repeat to others what I did over my summer vacation, I can just hear the quote marks surrounding the word “relaxing.” Well, really, I could argue this point by saying that nothing is more relaxing to me than riding my bike on the open road, experiencing the world in slow motion through the benefit of an un-motorized vehicle, earning the right to witness the beauty all around me. I could try to explain that there’s nothing more relaxing than total body exertion. Putting all your energy into forward momentum gives you focus and, oddly enough, a lot of time to reflect on those things you never have the time to. When I’m cycling, I get lots of ideas for poems, stories, blog entries and, sometimes, even how to solve problems at work. My mind and body are together in a moment. It’s a cure for endless distraction. I can’t touch my cell phone, I’m nowhere near a computer, and the only people I have to talk to are others participating in the same trek I’m on. I’m at one with myself. And, of course, when you get to the end of the long journey, I find that all the cares, frustrations, worries of the day have left my body somewhere amidst the hard work for forward momentum. There’s no greater peace than that. Total relaxation.

However, I suppose if you’ve never done it, and you’re not inclined towards physical exertion as a means of relaxation, you just don’t get it. I understand. I hate running. When someone describes running as romantically as I’ve just described cycling, I cringe. I used to run, even participated in a few 5Ks. I hate every moment of running. From the moment I start a run until the moment I cross the finish line, I hate it. My whole body and mind is completely focused on the end game. I don’t want to be there and instead of that focused Zen-like voice I hear in my head when cycling, there’s a whiny, sniveling voice screaming, “Are we done yet?” So perhaps you would feel like that when cycling. Totally get it. So you can put your quote marks around “relaxing” as I would if someone told me they spend their vacation doing an Iron Man challenge…

While I found my ride on STP completely relaxing, rest assured that I also did do some of the more socially acceptable sort of relaxation–the kind without the double quote marks–while I was in the Pacific Northwest. And it was just as fun and mentally refreshing as my 200-mile journey on bike. I spent some good time with a long time friend and her family, met up with a fellow Hiram alum, and did some (off-bike) exploration of Oregon wineries and the coast. Needless to say, I returned to Ohio so completely relaxed that I completely forgot everything about my job and spent my first day back trying to find where I left everything I needed to begin working!

In the days before STP, I took in the sites of Seattle and spent some time with Sarah and her family. Most notable was my trip to the Chittenden Locks in Ballard. These are real working locks that allow boats to pass from the Puget Sound into the bay, Lake Union, and eventually Lake Washington. It was pretty cool. I’d only ever seen the broken down remains of the Erie & Ohio Canals along the towpath and the occasional demonstration of these same old canal locks in places along the canal where they’d been restored. I’d never seen a real, functional lock system and, frankly, didn’t know they still existed. So I was utterly fascinated watching boats go through the locks in both directions.

A sailboat in the lock.

A sailboat in the lock as the water rises.

Sailboat in full lock

The water fully risen in the lock.

A big huge “worker” boat of some kind also came through the lock while I was there. The guys on the boat were really nice. I had a conversation with them about the old Erie Canal… I spent so much time watching the boats that Sarah lost track of me and had to call me to let me know they were leaving…

A big boat waits as the water finishes rising.

The rest of my “relax-cation” began the Monday after STP. Shawn–Sarah’s husband–drove me to Portland to pick up the rental car I would use to get to the coast. Their friend Mason, at whose house we spent Sunday night–not only equipped me with directions to the coast from downtown Portland but also gave me the names of some recommended wineries to hit on my way out. Of course, my instructions to leave Portland started from Powell’s book store which was just a few blocks from where I got my rental car.

So before leaving Portland, I spent an hour and a half indulging my inner bibliophile in what is, in my humble opinion, the BEST book store that ever was and ever will be. Did I say Powell’s? Powell’s, Powell’s, Powell’s! They deserve lots of free advertising and endorsement, even if my audience is not vast. If you’ve never been to Portland, but ever plan on going, you absolutely cannot leave that city without visiting Powell’s. This book store takes up one whole city block. One whole city block, people! It has the widest, most eclectic collection of books I’ve ever encountered at a physical book store. They have the biggest science-fiction section I’ve ever seen–even bigger than most libraries I ever been in! They even have a whole section of graphic novel–like several rows of ceiling-to-floor shelves!  Additionally, they sell used books so you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg necessarily to get all the books you want…

Historical sidenote: Mike and I went in Powell’s on our 2000 trip to Portland and we each bought like 10 books–we spent more money in Powell’s than any other place where we bought souvenirs. That’s how nerdy we were!

Anyway, in Powell’s, they were taking free digital photographs of customers where they superimposed your image onto the backdrop of the Powell’s store front with your name on the marquee. So I got one taken. Cute, huh? (I’m even donning my newly acquired Theo Chocolate shirt! What a good consumer of local product I am!)

Perhaps one day I'll really have my name on the marquee for my published book? A girl can dream, right?

Somehow I managed to leave that store with only three books. In case you’re curious, they were:

  • The City & The City by China Mieville, which I’ve been meaning to read since the author’s book was discussed and reviewed on NPR’s Books podcast.
  • Infected by Scott Sigler, a horror/sci-fi author whose podcasts I sometimes listen to and have been meaning to read (and was totally not disappointed–read this on the plane ride home!)
  • Passage by Connie Willis, which, when I read on a road trip to Colorado with my parents after Mike died, caused me to have a life-altering experience that earned the book “passage” to my Top Books of All Time list.

Believe me, I wanted to linger in that store longer, but I had wineries to visit, the coast awaiting, and the parking meter outside expiring… Oh, one needs excuses to remove themselves from Powell’s

It was a beautiful day as I headed out into the rolling hills of the Willimette Valley wine country. The number of wineries in this area alone is mind-numbing. My first stop was Rex Hill which was pretty much along the highway 99W headed towards Dundee. I found it without effort by signage along the road which worked out great since that was one of the wineries Mason had indicated was worth checking out.

All the wineries in the area have what they call “flights” for tasting. The winery may have other wines, but the only ones you’re allowed to taste are the ones available for sampling in the flight. I’m guessing there are certain wines they highlight during certain periods of time. I got the impression that some wineries rotate out what they’re offering in the flight. Flights are $10 each and are usually waived if you spend more than $100 on wine. Yeah, I know, right? Kind of a high fee for waiving!

The area of the Willamette Valley that I was in was mainly a Pinot Noir region. I’m not that versed on Pinots–I’m a big Zin and Shiraz drinker and somewhat more versed on Cabs and Merlots as well. Pinots tend to be a lot lighter in texture. It was hard for me to get them.  My palate is not as refined as other wine drinkers. I can’t always detect those more subtle flavors Pinots offer. But it was fun trying!

I wasn’t that enthused with Rex Hill. They seemed a little snooty and the pourer did not offer me much information. I guess my casual tourist attire and lack of makeup was off-putting or something. Still, the winery had a very beautiful estate that I enjoyed. I ended up buying a bottle of an un-oaked Chardonnay… I found that even though I was paying for flights, I felt a little guilty leaving a winery without taking at least a bottle. I liked the Chardonnay, anyway.

As I traveled further down 99W towards the Dundee Hills region, I spotted a sign pointing to Lange–a winery my friend Sue recommended to me way back in the depths of winter when I was planning this trip. So I turned down a road headed ascending into the hills… and ended up following signs to an interesting dirt road that continued to wind through the hills. I was a little uncomfortable in the rental car without the benefit of gears to shift to help the car take the climb; it took me awhile to figure out that I could actually gear down in an automatic. But soon I was on top of the world at a beautiful winery…

The view from Lange with Mt. Hood in the distance.

Lange Estates Winery

Immediately, I liked this place better. The staff was super-friendly and chatted with me as they poured the flights. The other people gathered around the bar were also very chatty, unlike at Rex Hill, so I had a nice time trying new wines and explaining my mission in Oregon. One of the guys explained that he had once done STP and congratulated me on my ride. I ended up buying a bottle each of Pinot Gris and Tempernillo. (The Pinot Gris was recently drank by me and Sue when I stayed at her place the night before Mad Anthony River Rally… yay for good wine!)

On my way back down the same treacherous hill, I decided to stop at one more winery, the neighboring Erath. Again, as soon as I walked into the door, I was heartily greeted by two very friendly folks behind the tasting area and a group of other visitors also trying flights. It was about 15 minutes to 5–the wineries generally close around 5pm in Oregon–and I asked if it was too late to get in on the flight they were pouring. The pourers said, “If you’re in before 5, you can stay until you’ve tasted everything you wanted to try.”

I finally managed to find a Pinot Noir that I liked quite a bit. It was a bit expensive, but I bought two bottles. I also found a great Gewurstraminier with a very floral nose. I bought two bottles of those as well, hitting the $100 limit and achieving–at last–a free flight. Whee! I guess, eh?

Anyway, I was quite satisfied with my experience as I drove away headed, finally, to the beach house where Sarah and her family awaited. I would have liked to have spent a week exploring wineries in that region. Unfortunately, I’d probably spend half my days in an alcoholic haze and gain 20 lbs from all the carbs. Still, it was delightful. It was so cool to experience west coast wineries.

The view from the beach house... and, yes, that's quite a long step down from the back yard!

I still had my rental bike with me throughout my stay at the beach house in Lincoln City, and I kept thinking I would ride the bike while I was out there, but the mornings were a bit chilly (in the 50s) and I just lacked the general motivation. I spent my second day trying to get to Sea Lion Caves. In my first attempt, Shawn’s father and I tried to take Max but when we were about fifteen minutes away from our destination, Max pitched a fit and, neither of us being very apt with child-sitting, gave into Max’s demands to go home to his mother. So I drove the hour back to the beach house, dropped Max and his grandfather off, and then proceeded to go back to the caves myself. It wasn’t as fun by myself… but it gave me a lot of time for reflection… as the last time I’d been there had been with Mike in June 2000.

The observation deck at Sea Lion Caves.

I love seals and sea lions. They are my favorite of all creatures. Next to cats and dogs, that is. To me, seals and sea lions are like big, smelly, aquatic dogs. I can watch them for hours. Any time I go to the zoo, I immediately make my way to the seals and sea lions, and then, if you are with me, you’ve got quite a task in trying to drag me away… I couldn’t get any good pictures of the sea lions here (no groovy binocular zoom lens). But trust me, they were CUTE. And noisy. And smelly. But, hey, there’s no accounting for taste; I don’t smell all that groovy in my natural habitat–on a bike–either.

There’s a picture of me, Mike, Sarah and her ex-husband from my first visit to Sea Lion Caves taken in front of the statue below… I can almost fill in the empty spaces with the ghosts.

If you look long enough, you can see Mars Girl and Mike standing there.

I spent one mopey morning brooding on the beach outside the beach house. It was inevitable. When left alone in places of beauty such as this, I often spend a great deal of time reflecting about what Mike would think if he were there… I see the world through his eyes now. Sometimes I think I am his eyes…. he gave me the eyes to see the world… and now I see for him… I guess a piece of him lives in symbiotic relationship with me… part of his spirit that he passed on… I don’t know… Something like that… But he’s always the first one with which I want to share my experiences. Because I know he’d love them all.

Waves crashing on the rocks.



Why do I find this sign so hilarious?

Tsunami Warning

Tsunami Warning--that poor stick dude doesn't stand a chance.

I didn’t take many pictures of myself or anyone else. Instead, I took pictures of what is more interesting to me: scenery. My mom, however,  always thinks scenery pictures are boring and suggests that I should stand in front of the scenic views. Apparently, she believes people are more interesting than scenery.  So, here, Mom, this one’s for you.

Me, Sarah, and Alice

Me, Sarah, and Alice at the beach house.

After three days on the beach, I headed back to Seattle, solo, as Sarah and Shawn wanted to remain in Portland to visit with friends. I was going to take the Amtrak train from Portland, but I changed my mind last-minute in favor of dawdling back through wine country. It was a financially painful change in plans, particularly as far as the rental car went, but, oh well. It’s vacation, right? Who wants to hurry and be stressed? I did hit two more wineries. I never found Duck Pond, which is the one I really wanted to go to, but I went up and down 99W several times and never located the danged place. Instead, I ended up going to Bella Vida (very nice) and Ponzi. Does anyone know how to get to Duck Pond?! For some reason, I was convinced I needed to go there.

My last two days in Seattle were pretty laid back. I met up with Alison for a sushi lunch on the Friday before I left. Then, I spent the rest of the afternoon getting my money’s worth out of the rental bike by riding from the U of W campus (where I was staying) to Seward Park, and then all around some side streets in the area, bagging a few more nasty hills along the way.

And I discovered this scenic view of downtown Seattle.

Downtown Seattle.

Downtown Seattle (or part of it).

I even got to experience riding in the bike lane on the bridge to Mercer Island along I-90. No, it wasn’t the most scenic bike path ever. But there was something singularly unique (for a Midwesterner, anyway) to ride on a bike lane next to a busy highway. And being so close to the highway was the least of my worries. No, the fencing along the side facing the water was a bit off-putting as it did not go all the way to the ground, leaving about six inches of free space that I could imagine a dozen scenarios of in which I fall through… if I slid sideways somehow at a really straight angle. Impossible yes. But it still didn’t calm my nerves any when the bridge climbed to about 30 feet from the water at each end. I’m betting this bike path is less fun to transverse on a windy day…

I-90 Bridge to Mercer Island.

I-90 Bridge to Mercer Island.

I was hauling butt back down Washington Blvd around 6:00 when Alison called to say she would meet me at the shop if I wanted to take the bus with her back to campus from the shop, and then we could have dinner. It actually saved my day because my original plan was to ride the bike all the way back to Sarah’s apartment, where I’d left my rental car since there was no free parking around the campus, and then drive back to the bike shop. I’d spent so much time riding around town that I had scarcely an hour to make approximately 10 or so miles back to Sarah’s and then back to the bike shop before they closed at 7. I probably would have made it back to my car by 6:45ish so I would have cut it really close. Fortunately, the bike shop I’d rented the bike from was in the neighborhood where I was riding–Montlake–so I just rode right there with plenty of time to spare. Despite the fact that I had just half a day left in Seattle, I was reluctant to turn in the bike. I had better luck navigating Seattle on two wheels than four…

I finished up my experience in Seattle with a dinner at the College Inn Pub (I was staying at the rustic College Inn) with Alison. Had a great stout microbrew. Even got to see Sarah one last time when I picked up my car from her place. She’d returned from Portland early with the kids, so we got to chit-chat for a bit. I left Seattle at the “crack of doom”–a 7am flight–the next morning, feeling completely fulfilled about my vacation. It felt pretty relaxed and casual. I had thought I’d be a lot more tense about all the logistics of renting the bike, checking in a different hotels, getting to the STP start line, finding my overnight place on STP, etc. But everything fell into place nice and I was able to relax the entire time I was out there. Maybe I’m becoming a less uptight traveler. Also a trait I may have picked up from Mike…

I’ve posted all of my pictures on Shutterfly which you can access below. As always, I think I should have taken more… and probably more with people in them… Oh well!

Click here to view these pictures larger

Happy St. Patty’s Day

Some lush-ku for you in the spirit of the “holiday.”

Light-weights drink green beer
And speak with emerald tongues;
Hop-heads drink Guinness.

(If I had more syllables, I could have added “and grow hair on their chests.” Which is what my dad claims happens when you drink a stout.)

I’m neither Irish
Nor Catholic. But I love beer!
Happy St. Patty’s!

Smithwick’s, Harp’s, Guinness
Great Lakes’ Conway’s, Killian’s:
Irish brew’s true hues.

…So how long until Cinco de Mayo…? (Though I am not as versed on Latino beer.)

Happy hour at Wolf Creek

As it was rainy and cold, Michael and I meandered down to Wolf Creek Winery in Norton for a little Friday evening relaxation and chilling out. We bought Subway sandwiches and enjoyed the *last* bottle of Exodus for the season. It was delish.

One of the Wolf Creek cats, sensing my affinity for cats–or rather, smelling the tuna in my flatbread sandwich–started hanging around our table, sitting in a one of the chairs like a person. She really knew how to work us. I gave her several chunks of tuna from my sandwich. Cats (and dogs and little children) know I’m a sucker for a cute face.

(Behold, the *last* bottle of Exodus next to the kitty.)

Later, when Michael took a trip to the rest room, he returned to find this kitty curled up on his chair. Because I’ve got him trained well, the cat lady that I am, Michael then took another chair at the table. She would leave our table and come back periodically. It was almost like drinking at home, only less annoying as Nicki is not polite enough to remain on the chairs, she likes to climb on the table instead.

The season of pumpkins

I know fall is here when Blue Moon’s Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale becomes available in stores. This is Mars Girl’s favorite beer. Coors (the brewer of Blue Moon) is not the only beer company to come out with a pumpkin ale. Oh, no; the beer section of the local grocery store is filled with all sorts of pumpkin ales and Oktoberfests. Yummy delights for someone who loves pumpkin flavored everything and beer. I usually don’t go for those flavored, fruity beers. There’s just something about Blue Moon’s pumpkin ale. Maybe pumpkin doesn’t offend and contrast with beer the way a fruit like strawberry does. I dunno. But I happily bought a twelve pack of Harvest Moon and I’m drinking my first right now with my dinner… Ymmmm…. Sweet anticipation. I guess it helps that they only bring it out once a year for a limited time–increases the longing.

Besides beer, I love just about anything to do with the flavor of pumpkin: pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin rolls, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheese cake… oh, folks, the list of savory pumpkin delicacies just goes on and on for me. It all starts with my undying love for pumpkin pie. I would select pumpkin pie over any other dessert offered. Yes, even ice cream (unless, of course, it was pumpkin flavored).

I found my love for pumpkin pie as child. My grandma E would bake it as one of the many pies she made every Thanksgiving. Forget the apple pie, I fell in love with pumpkin pie the very first time that mushy goodness was set on my tongue. I don’t even remember when that moment was. When I was a kid, and therefore not concerned about my weight, I would eat half the pie, which ultimately resulted in my grandma making an extra pie and designating it as mine each year. As a teenager, I just didn’t appreciate this wonderful act of love. I was on Slim Fast diets, trying desperately to lose weight, and I wouldn’t allow myself to touch the pumpkin pie, much to my grandma’s chagrin. She always sent it home with me and I made my other family members eat it. Damn. If only Grandma E was around now. Yeah, I’m still obsessed with my weight, but I could not refuse one of her pumpkin pies if I tried.

Nowadays, I let myself have a few pieces of pumpkin pie each season. You only live once. I sure hope there’s lots of pumpkin pie in heaven.

Nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cinnamon–these are the best of the sweet spices. I sing the praises of these spices in my Chai lattes and eggnog. Give me gingersnap cookies and spice cake. Yum. Pure ecstasy. I curse God for inventing taste buds that lure me to the dark side of food, that place where all the food that makes you fat and unhealthy lives. I’d be much skinnier if it weren’t for pumpkin pie and fries and ice cream and tasty spices that flavor food oh so nicely.

Maybe I need to make a pumpkin pie for myself this year. Though, I don’t know. I failed miserably at my last attempt at Sarah’s pumpkin bread. Of course, I didn’t have a bread pan so I had to improvise and I learned that brownie pans don’t work too well. I did finally buy a stone bread pan from Pampered Chef, though. So I could attempted it again.

Hmmm… I just found a pumpkin pie recipe online that involved using cream cheese…. Aaaahhh…ohhhh…. sexy….!!!

Berghold Merlot

On Saturday, the bf and I went to a performance of the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls for my company’s picnic. I decided this was the perfect moment to open the bottle of Berghold Estate Winery’s Merlot that I purchased while visiting Lodi, California in May. I remembered that this was a nice semi-dry red with a slight oakey aroma and flavor that I enjoy in reds (but care not for in whites so much). So determined that I must preserve the experience in its entirety, I purchased some plastic wine glasses from BB&B an hour before leaving my house for the event. I just felt that normal disposable glasses was going to do a terrible injustice to the experience of this wine.

Well, my memory of the wine served me well. The aroma was strong but pleasant after I let it breathe a little in its glass (though plastic it was). It seemed to pair okay with the light sandwiches that we had for dinner–especially since the chicken salad sandwich was lightly flavored with dry berries. The wine didn’t overpower the food at all.

I wish I would have remembered the particular flavor of the wine… I’ve gotta get better at writing notes as I am drinking the wine rather than reflecting later on a taste that has long since been washed from my tongue. Suffice it to say, however, that the wine was memorable enough as an enjoyable experience that I would definitely buy it again.

I know Lodi has a reputation for being the cheaper, less refined wine region of California. My cousin states, though, that the area is coming into its own these days. It’s hard to believe Lodi would ever have a bad reputation, for two of my favorite wines come from this region: Earthquake Zin and 7 Deadly Zins (both bottled by the same winemaker, Michael & David Family). Perhaps I’m just not a good enough wine-drinker to distinguish greatness from Greatness. But I always accolade and buy the wines that taste good to me.

My birthday: a hung-over adventure with sexual inuendo

Warning: This post is not rated. Parental guidance is advised.

At this point in my life, you’d think I’d know better than to match drinks with my father, the expert beer drinker. But, of course, I didn’t listen to myself, yet again, and on Good Friday, I took my dad out for dinner because I feel I owed him one (and a dozen more) for the work he’s been doing on my house (which is to say, he’s been doing everything and I’m so lucky to have a father in semi-retirement who actually wants to help a single gal like me out in this way).

So we went to Ray’s Place in Kent, which is one of our favorite local brew pubs because they have a pretty big menu with some good food (I won’t even bring up those wonderful jerk fries that contain rosemary in them…). They’ve also got another great benefit: a better than average (for Ohio, that is) selection of beers on tap. I decided to have Blackout Stout by Great Lakes Brewery (one of Cleveland’s very few micro brews), which I’d sampled a few months ago at a Hiram alumni event at the brewery and I found, to my great surprise, that I actually liked a stout. To add to the surprise, my dad ordered Guinness, which he swore years ago that he absolutely hated. I’ve determined that beer drinking is like wine drinking in that you start off with the easiest to handle kind (in my case, this was MGD in college), and then your tastes become refined and you just like better and different flavors.

My dad, still a practicing Lutheran, was not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, so to be kind to him and not flaunt my heathen, non-fasting ways, I ordered a tuna fish sandwich, of which I only ate half. Mistake number one–not enough food. But I’ve been feeling a little overweight these days and I was drinking beer, so I was trying to be good with my calorie intake (which I totally blew later in the weekend anyway). We also had fried mushrooms, which again, not the wisest choice for trying to be “good.”

Well, one tall beer turned into two. And then I paid the bill. But we were still sitting there talking and the waiter came by again and asked if we wanted another beer. So Dad orders a small, and then I order a small because I don’t want to be sitting there drinking nothing while my dad is drinking. I guess I should have asked for a water or something. A part of me, though, wants to show my dad that I’m a big girl, that I can drink as much as him and not even show that I’m already feeling a wee-bit tipsy. Or that my mind is failing to form full sentences and that my tongue is starting to feel a little bloated so that my words don’t come out as clear as I want them to because the last person in the world I want to be able to accuse me of being drunk is my dad.

My dad claims that we had two small beers. I only remember one. I’m not sure who is right because I don’t even remember leaving the bar very well. Somehow my dad got my car keys and he drove us home. Which is good because I really wasn’t in the right frame of mind for driving. I found some evidence in my car that I may have smoked a cigarette on the way home, but I’m not sure (I keep an emergency pack of cigarettes in my car because they usually can wake me up if I’m feeling too tired to drive home. I know, it’s bad, I’m really going to stop for good; that pack has been in my car a month). The next morning, I discovered that there was only one cigarette left in my pack and I could swear there were at least three the last time I opened it. There were also some ashes on passenger-side dashboard and the window was open. I don’t remember my dad leaving. Or even going to bed. I woke up laying on my bed, fully clothed. It was surreal.

Of course, I puked all morning, which totally sucked. And it was really surprising because I normally don’t get sick over beer in any quantity unless I’ve mixed it with hard liquor or wine. Usually, I just suffer a headache and have a horrible taste in my mouth all morning. As I once again found myself paying tribute to the Porcelain Goddess, I berated myself repeatedly for being so stupid. Thankfully, I can say that it’s been a very long time since I drunk myself into that kind of ridiculous stupor; it’s been even longer since I woke up on the morning of my birthday completely s-faced. (The year I turned 21 is coming to mind…)

I know. I’m 33. I should know better. Feel free to berate me for my stupidity. I deserve it. Come on… I’m waiting. Land it on me. Give me your worse.

Well, after I was finally able to keep fluids and food down, I invited Michael over and we watched TV until it was time to go to my party at Buca di Beppo in Strongsville. Originally, I had planned to go on a hike with Michael during the day, but I just didn’t have the energy to leave the couch after my morning of spewing ginger ale and water. Can’t say that I was feeling completely myself–never do after I recover from a hang-over–but I sure was hungry enough to appreciate the delicious food and, yes, even a few glasses of wine. (They say, the “hair of the dog,” after all.)

Of course, the team of Buddha and Penitz went out of their way to try to embarrass me. However, nothing will ever top the year they bought me the big black (African-American?) dildo and made me think that the restaurant had given it to me by playing it straight as the waitress brought that gift over. I think I must have turned several shades of purple–and, believe you me, I’m such an extrovert, I rarely get embarrassed. For an entire year, I continued to think that the restaurant–which was a pretty wacky place so it could have been believable or I’m incredibly naive–had given me that thing. The boys confessed to it last year with much giggling. I was aghast. What made them, especially Buddha who then had only known me for about a year, think that that was a gift they could get away with giving me? How the heck did they know that I would only become embarrassed and not run out of the restaurant crying, as my sister-in-law looked like she wanted to do?

I swear, it’s really a blessing–for their sake–that I’m the good-natured person I am…

Anyway, last year, their gift was cute, but not so embarrassing to me. This was the year of the famous Kirk Rock Penis picture. An episode of the original Star Trek called “What are Little Girls Made Of?” contains this image of Captain Kirk bearing a stalactite that all too closely resembles the male genitalia. They happened to notice this on St. Patrick’s Day after I’d left the party… and, as often happens when one has indulged in much alcohol, they came up with the brilliant idea of photo-shopping a picture of me into that frame (see below). They gave me a framed 8×10 and had wallet sizes for all of my friends and family. Sweet, but really, not that embarrassing.

Concept: Penitz and Buddha
Photoshop Art: Craig N. (in one of his non- offensive and creative ventures)

I admit to this being funny and creative. It was great, especially the picture they found of me from that very St. Patrick’s Day party in which, yeah, I was a few sheets to the wind. (But no Porcelain goddesses were worshipped that evening, I was just happy.)

This year, this same duo decided to get me a book entitled The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women. All I can say is two things:

1. I must have done a lot of crazy things in my younger years (that I don’t remember or have blacked out) to earn me the robust sexual reputation with which these guys have anointed me.

2. How embarrassing it must be for a guy to purchase the items they buy just to punk me on my birtday. I wish I could be a fly on the wall by the check-out counter. A guy purchasing a magnum-sized black dildo probably raises many eyebrows and prompts assumptions… A guy purchasing a book on anal sex for women… Well, if I were the cashier, I’d think, “Scum bucket male pig.”

I’m no prude, and I may be a liberal, but I have my limits as to how far that philosophy extends in my personal life, that’s for sure! And… ew!

Anyway, I can take most jokes like any one else. After getting a package from a waitress that turned out to contain a magnum-sized black dildo, nothing else can have the edge on embarrassment for me. The good news is that a rare few things can cause the blood to rush to my face like that… Other than, of course, a person in the sixty-something crowd pointing out my tattoo (which actually happened when I met Michael’s dad during a ride into Wooster last summer). I probably find that embarrassing because I know that most people in that age group disdain tattoos and make improper assumptions about my lifestyle just because I have one… (Damn, Mom was right about something!)

Overall, I had a pretty good 33rd birthday, though a little more subdued than in the past. Yeah, my friends have somewhat of a perverted and twisted sense of humor, but for the most part I like them anyway… And, it seems, I just can’t get drunk following a morning of being hung-over like I used to!