District: Donuts Sliders Brew

 district donuts sliders

 

“I’d like four donuts, a cinnamon roll, two biscuits, and three coffees…for here.”

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As the words left my mouth, there was no doubt in my mind I was the fattest person alive. However, I feel that if you only have time to visit District once, you’d do the same. It helped that I had two willing partners in donut-eating to try the bounty that you see before you.

 

district donutsClockwise from the upper left (ignoring the coffees): banana pudding donut, pad thai donut, plain glazed donut, buttermilk drop, maple praline donut, buttermilk biscuit, brûléed cinnamon roll.

It is a goddamn good thing this place is outside of easy driving distance for me or I would be dead inside of a month. Did you even know that a cinnamon roll could be brûléed?! Because I didn’t, and that shit is a revelation. Cinnamon rolls are basically already the perfect pastry,  and adding the crisp crackle of torched sugar on top takes it up into the stratosphere.  What kind of mad science is this?! Is it possible to make something too delicious for your tastebuds to even perceive it? I feel like if any donut shop has a chance of making that discovery, it’s District.

In terms of the donuts themselves, the pad thai donut was my clear favorite. Sweet but not as sweet as the others, it definitely had the distinctive flavors that made you think of pad thai without crossing over into “Oh weird, this is too much” territory. Next was the banana pudding donut, which was aaamazing but so dense and rich that a bite was enough. The maple praline and the plain glazed were both good donuts, but I felt like neither really compared to the other two in terms of flavor impact. Following up all that sweet donut and cinnamon roll with a savory biscuit is necessary to pull yourself out of the too-much-sugar zone–I preferred the standard buttermilk biscuit to the buttermilk drop in both texture and flavor. I need to go back to District and try their sliders. All of them. Maybe with a donut bun.

donut

 

Bugging out at the Audobon Insectarium In New Orleans

venus flytrap light fixture

People have an almost primal reaction to insects. After all, they are the most alien-looking creatures we encounter on a regular basis. As Jeffrey Lockwood puts it at Popsci, “You could think of our fear and disgust of insects of being as a conspiracy of evolution and culture.” I myself feel a combination of fascination and disgust with insects, which is dependent on the type of insect I’m encountering and the context of said encounter. After all, it’s one thing to obsessively hunt insects in Animal Crossing, and another to have your mother scream while braiding your hair that your head is covered with bugs, prompting a call to the principal who came over and picked both bugs and eggs out of your hair at the kitchen table which then prompted an announcement over the school loudspeaker about there being an outbreak of lice and that no one in the second grade should be sharing coats or hats or brushes and everyone knows it’s you. Hypothetically speaking, of course.  One thing to have a butterfly flit around you in the garden and another to have a horde of spiders flooding out of a cardboard box in your direction. I think that the Audobon Insectarium in New Orleans enjoys playing with this juxtaposition of fascination and repulsion, placing enormous scaled-up insect nightmares next to smaller, cuter real life versions with tiny presents and holiday trees in their enclosures.

audubon insectarium

biodiversity pyramid

beetle

beetles

underground

The Insectarium must also enjoy getting a good shriek out of  people. In the Richard C. Colton, Jr. Underground area, you walk into a very dimly lit room, where something promptly bursts out of the wall in your direction, which caused Jason to squeal like a little girl and brought vivid flashbacks of Tremors screaming to the forefront of my mind. The entire rest of the underground area, I was on edge, waiting for something else to move or jump or slither past…so of course, nothing did.

creepy underground bug

ant battle

worm rider

However, all of that anxiety really works up an appetite, so thankfully, I was right on time for the opening of The Bug Buffet, where chefs whip up various dishes containing insects to teach you about the environmental benefits of eating insect protein, and you get to try any and all of them that your little heart desires. I decided I was going to try and set aside everything I’d been taught about the grossness of bug eating and take it on its own merits (or lack therof, depending on how things turned out.) After all, I’ve almost certainly unknowingly eaten any number of insect parts or rat hairs or any number of things that would make me heave if I thought about them too closely, so it probably wasn’t going to kill me*.

bugonthat

the bug buffet

bug buffet

chocolate chirp cookies

insect dips

On the menu for that day:

  • fried waxworms with cinnamon and sugar
  • cajun crickets
  • fried waxworms with taco seasoning and chili powder
  • chocolate “chirp” cookies with roasted crickets
  • cream cheese and onion cricket dip
  • mango chutney with poached waxworms
  • tomato salsa with crab-boiled mealworms

The only thing I didn’t try was the salsa, and that was out of a greater objection to the cilantro in the salsa than the mealworms themselves. If you can get out of the “oh gross, bugs” mindset, they taste kind of like nothing. Maybe the crickets had a slightly nutty flavor, maybe. Mostly, they just take on the flavor of whatever is around them, which is good in the case of apple pie waxworms and maybe not so great in the case of devil-weed mealworm salsa. While I daintily picked out a solitary waxworm and apple combo to place on a wheat thin (the preferred cracker of insect-eaters everywhere), I realized I had the chefs to myself so I could annoy them with my particular brand of hard-hitting questions. I learned that all of their insect supply is farmed and shipped to them, which I found relieving as I was envisioning them just sweeping the dead and sick and just plain unsociable ones out of the bottom of the cages–you know, waste not, want not and all that. I also learned that, no, neither of them have witnessed someone take a bite of something and start dry-heaving right there in line, setting off a vomit chain reaction that led back to the entrance of the Insectarium and right up Canal Street all the way to Bourbon. They were also more than happy to provide me with information about their supplier in case I was interested in hosting some lavish insect eating affair in my own home.

giant deep fried waterbugs

Along the walls in the Bug Buffet, they also had some photos of insect cuisine that I think I would find a lot more, ahem, challenging to consume. Things that would take more than one bite to eat and which I’m imagining would sort of ooze into one’s mouth like a fruit gusher…which aren’t even that pleasing as a fruit-based product, and would be even less palatable as bug goo. Look, I said I was working to set aside those prejudices, not that I was wholly successful and one step closer to being an all-around perfect human being.

And then, next to the door of the tiny termite cafe, they had this diorama that nearly made me lose my snacks. They can call it a roach’s christmas, but I feel a more apt title is “Christmas is ruined and for baby jesus’ sake, clean the kitchen” which I suppose is just a matter of semantics. 

roach christmas

cockroach tea

….and another hard no. Please and thank you, I would rather have lockjaw than drink whatever flakes off of a cockroach when it’s been boiled. If it works, though, a lifetime supply of tetanus remedy is really economical–you can step on rusty nails left and right and just keep using the same cockroach as those hardly little fuckers will survive the apocalypse and surely think nothing of a little boiling water, shaking it off and nonchalantly strolling away to go make a nest in your sandwich.

my god its full of stars

red crayfish

crawfisharmor 2

armor

stag beetle

put your hand in here if you dare

In the room dedicated to insect defenses, there was a box labeled “put your hand in here if you dare,” to teach you a lesson about how quickly a spider can strike. Both remembering the incident in the underground area, Jason passed, and I hovered in front of the box like the world’s largest and most afraid baby, moving my hand closer and then yanking it away. A kid witnessed this dilemma of adult babydom and rushed right over to cram his hand inside, screaming when the harmless puff of air went off and making everyone in the room collapse with laughter. Good thing it was him and not me, I may have thought. But never you worry, I got my comeuppance less than ten minutes later at their interactive video insect show, where the chair unexpectedly punches you in the back to simulate an insect sting and I shrieked like the devil himself had popped out of the ground in front of me and wanted to have a serious discussion about my potty mouth. So, if you’re counting, that’s no fewer than three screams in one museum, which is damn impressive for a museum. Maybe more on a crowded day at the bug buffet.

 

black butterfly

black yellow red butterfly

butterfly

butterfly damaged wing

yellow butterfly

After all of that screaming, I was definitely ready for a more chill time in the Insectarium’s butterfly garden. Unfortunately, the butterfly garden was where every shrieking kid in the greater New Orleans area decided to hang out, grabbing butterflies out of the air and bellowing at the top of their lungs, while the employees fruitlessly tried to tell people to look with their eyes and not their hands. I wonder if the same thing would be an issue in a roach room, or if everyone would still be screaming and touching, but for different reasons.

*The same cannot be said of those who have shellfish allergies–you may also be allergic to insects so eat with caution if you’re dead set on doing so.

Mardi Gras World in New Orleans

 

mardi gras world entrance

“Sounded like some sort of…party going on in the background. Are any parties today, Skinner?”

“Nah. It’s not really a party town. Though if I remember correctly, they occasionally hold a function called Mardis…something.”

So last week on the blog, I talked a little about the various Mardi Gras functions–the krewes, the parades, and the balls. Today, I’m going to go a little more in-depth about the parades and what it takes to get one from concept to reality. To learn about that myself, I took a trip to Mardi Gras World, a working warehouse on the New Orleans waterfront.

touring mardi gras world

First, our group was led into a back room, fed a slice of king cake (any tour that starts off with cake is a good tour), and shown a video about the history of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. Afterward, we were given free rein with a rack of costumes and the props scattered around the room. People didn’t seem as stoked about it as I was, but got into the spirit after I immediately popped out of my seat and slapped on a costume. As their once and future king, it was only right and natural that I set an example for the rest of the room to follow. Heavy is the head that wears the polyester crown.

dressed for mardi gras

dress up

serious king

Once we’d had our fun, we were led into the workshop, where Mardi Gras is made. Building Mardi Gras parade floats and props is a year round job. The floats themselves are owned and used exclusively by each krewe–they used to be drawn by teams of horses or mules, but are now essentially giant rolling tractor tanks. The naked floats cost around $80,000 apiece, and you need 14 floats minimum to have a Mardi Gras parade. Decorations on each can easily run upwards of another $10,000, so you’re looking at over 1.13 million dollars for a krewe’s first parade, and that’s excluding costumes and parade throws. This is not a cheap enterprise.  Now consider that there are around 70 krewes, and they each run their one parade one time over the course of the festival. One and done. There is a huge amount of money invested for a few miles of parading.

To help bring costs down, the props on the floats are rented rather than bought outright. When a krewe has decided on the theme for their parade and a general outline of what they want, they’ll call the prop warehouse and let them know, because it’s entirely possible that they’ll have something onsite that can be slightly reworked and reused, and that’s significantly cheaper than building a new prop from scratch. It also means that the krewe doesn’t have to store enormous props from year to year that they themselves might not be able to or want to reuse in a future parade. Some krewes, to save money, will also decorate their own floats, make their own costumes, and build their own props. Those who don’t rely on workshops like this one to make their ideas materialize.

floats

What’s involved in making a prop? First, a prop is sculpted in miniature in clay as a maquette. This can then be sliced to show the artists how to replicate it in a much larger scale. Many large props start as humble sheets of foam, which are glued together with expanding foam into a large stack. This resulting stack is light, carveable, and sandable. Once the final shape is achieved, the foam is then covered with paper mache, primed, and painted. Before it’s painted, it’s my understanding that it can also be used as a mold to create fiberglass replicas, so if they need multiples of the same prop, it’s much faster and easier to crack out a second fiberglass version than to create a second identical one from scratch.

carving foam

smoothing foam

reaper

not a closet

too much caffeine

making mardi gras float flowers

terminator

adorable bat

prop shop

float props in progress

styrofoam dust

ambassador of zululand

king

knight

spooky tree

Once the official tour had finished, we were given the opportunity to wander around the warehouse at our leisure, taking photos, observing the artists at work, and trying to take everything in (there’s so much stuff in the warehouse that it’s hard to see everything, much like House on the Rock). I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed with the feeling that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life–helping create one of the biggest, artsiest parties in the world every year. That is, of course, if I had any artistic talent other than stringing together lots of curse words, which unfortunately doesn’t cause my inbox to be overflowing with cool job offers. But now that I know how it’s done, maybe I can try to put together some foam props for future Halloweens, ignoring the fact that the last time I used a can of expanding foam, I made such a mess and it enraged me so greatly that I wanted to throw the can into the sun. But you know, other than that, I’m good to go.

(There are lots of photos of amazing finished props under the cut, including King Kong, Cerberus, dragons, and gold leafed-everything. This post was getting photo-heavy as it was.)

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Cochon and Cochon Butcher in New Orleans, LA

Sometimes when you’re making a trip, you have to make some hard choices. Such as: it’s lunchtime in the lower Garden District of New Orleans and you’re standing on the corner in front of Cochon, where the ribs are reportedly so delicious they made a friend of a friend cry, and the equally-praised Cochon Butcher, where devotees swear by their perfect sandwiches. How does one choose?

porquenolosdos

We started at Cochon, where we ordered the aforementioned ribs, boudin balls, and fried alligator bites, plus a cold microbrew to wash it all down. You know, health food.

cochon hot sauce

The ribs were in fact excellent, a little sweet, a lot spicy, and so tender they practically leaped off the bone and down your throat. The watermelon pickle they were served with was an interesting complement, sharp and vinegary which helped temper a bit of the heat from the sauce. The boudin balls were exactly what one might expect from deep fried sausage–comforting and utterly decadent. The surprise standout was the alligator. I’ve tried it before at some roadside cafe in the Everglades (apparently I was so nonplussed I didn’t even blog about it–there wasn’t much to say at the time save for the fact that they were chewy, greasy, gross, and I was cool with stopping after eating one.) The alligator bites at Cochon were good. GREAT. Not overly chewy, not sodden with grease, but surprisingly light tasting, and the chili garlic mayo made them sing. I stopped after a few, but not because I wanted to, but because room had to be saved for our trip next door.

butcher sign

santa chewie  le pig mac at butcher

Cochon Butcher is the lower-key cool Portland cousin of Cochon, the one that doesn’t need reservations and has a wookiee hanging out in the dining room. Although a number of items on their menu looked incredibly tempting, we elected to split only one (because, frankly, a few more bites each were all we could handle): le pig mac. Two house-made pork sausage patties, cheese, special sauce, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. Look at that stunner. The toasted, glossy bun that you’d only see on a fast food big mac in a commercial. The perfectly gooey cheese, the special sauce oozing out just so. That side of house-made pickles. You know those late night burger runs in your twenties, where you’ve been drinking and smoking and screaming with your friends in some dingy loud bar for the better part of the night, and you’re so desperately hungry that the crappiest burger tastes like food from the gods? This tastes like that, only sober, in the daytime. And when you take big ravenous bites like a starving wild dog right out on the street, the people next to you will be too busy doing the same to judge you.

Sometimes the best choice between two options is choosing both.

The Presbytere Museum in New Orleans

 

 

bottles from the ceiling

The Presbytere Museum is a study in contrasts, from the height of revelry to utter devastation, showcasing gobs of money being thrown around for fun and how the poorest suffered during one of the bleakest periods in New Orleans history. You see, the upper floor is dedicated to the krewes and history of Mardi Gras balls and parades, while the lower floor is dedicated to the destruction and horrors of Hurricane Katrina.

From the moment I stepped into the first room, I was overcome with emotion. Watching the news, reading about it online, I still had no concept of just how powerful the storm was. I still don’t, not really. But I do understand it better than I used to. When you’re exhausted from hearing something on the news, you can just turn it off and walk away. There is no turning this off. It’s staring you in the face. It’s a garage door that was spraypainted with a message about a dead dog–a beloved pet that the owner would find a way to return and bury. It’s a teddy bear that was so  coated in mud and silt that you wonder how it could have ever been soft, a child’s cherished possession. Your decision to walk away here is more meaningful, deliberate. Can you close off the sound of the wind whipping in the next room, ignore the 1600 bottles hanging from the ceiling representing the people who died in the floods and the hands of the first responders reaching out to help?

Ten years later, New Orleans is still struggling to recover from Katrina. I know, you got tired of hearing about it. There’s always more tragedy somewhere. A new worthy cause. There’s too much pain in the world for us to try and bear, much less comprehend it all. But if you can, spare a thought today for the people who didn’t make it out. For the people who did and lost everything and had no home and no family to come back to. For the people who tried to start anew somewhere else and were treated like second-class citizens because of their ‘refugee’ status, in their own country. For the people who came back and who are working hard to rebuild their homes and their lives. And help them if you can.

katrina fema garage door

destroyed teddy bear

One of the ways New Orleans is recovering from Katrina is via tourism, and there’s no greater draw for tourists to their city than Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras, a French Catholic tradition, was first (simply) observed in the New Orleans area in 1699 (though obviously celebrated elsewhere before that time, it did not originate in New Orleans). The first recorded Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was held in 1837, and the celebration has grown significantly in scope since then, with more than 40 parades running through the city over the course of the event, each headed by a different krewe.

What is a krewe? It’s an association of people who pay membership dues in order to put on these grand events, and membership is determined by the krewes themselves–some limiting their members to relatives of previous members, and some are open to all who can afford to pay. Membership fees also vary wildly, depending on how sizeable and elaborate their parties and parade are. Each krewe hosts their own parade, decides their own theme, pays for everything associated with having a parade, from floats to costumes to throws. It’s my understanding that the only way to be in a Mardi Gras parade is to be a member of a krewe. Me? I want to roll with the Krewe of Barkus, mainly to be part of a dog gang and have a solid excuse to think about puppy costumes all day long.

krewe of barkus

butterfly float

hobgoblins of fearFrom the Mistick Krewe of Comus parade bulletin of 1891–their parade theme was Demonology and all their floats were badass, with badass names. Hobgoblins of Fear, Vampires of War, and the one my friends and I would’ve ridden on, the Harpies of Remorse.

mardi gras queen

zulu 2000

zulu king

astounding headdress

mardi gras costumeA mardi gras costume design sketch. I think a bunch of these would make a rad coloring book.

creepy wizard

 

seahorse costume

parade throwsThe average amount of parade throws for one person on one float.

 

Mardi Gras parades are the public celebrations for all to enjoy. Mardi Gras balls are highly exclusive social events, with elaborate invitations, fancy favors bestowed at the end of each dance by krewe members (some of which are so large and ungainly that they’re later mailed to the recipient’s home), a king and queen complete with crowns, wands, and jewelry so bedazzled they’d make Miss America weep with envy, and a strictly formal dress code. Such a thing would never fly in Seattle, where utilikilts are considered semi-formal. What I’m saying is, I am both super bummed that I have never been invited to a party like this and at the same time, I completely understand why no one with taste would ever invite me to a party like this.

 

mardi gras invitationIf you give me a piece of gilded china as an invitation to your party, you can be guaranteed of my attendance. I could be having dinner with the President that day and I’d be like “sorry, bro, can we reschedule? I’ve got a truly baller party to attend.” Once I told him about the china invitation, he’d understand.

crown and sceptre

 

the gifts of satanLiterally no reason to post this other than the name “The Gifts of Satan” makes me laugh every time I read it.

mardi gras carnival party favorThank you for the pleasure of this dance, here is an elaborate jeweled pin as a lovely parting gift.

           public restrooms    Also no reason to post these bathrooms other than they made me laugh.

 

New Orleans is a city that has known adversity and finds a way to party anyway, to celebrate life in a big way, to see a period of fasting ahead and say “fuck it, we’re going to eat and drink and party until we can hold no more”, a city that rolls with the punches and comes back bigger, stronger, and more vibrant. They’re still coming back from this last punch. But they are coming back.

A Spirited Encounter At Muriels in Jackson Square

muriels front

muriels seance room

seance room at muriels

masks at muriels

seance room

wooden face

drink in the seance room

me at muriels

us at muriels

If you believe what all of the haunted tours have to tell you, New Orleans is filled with ghosts, vampires, and more than a little magic. Conveniently, of course, these hauntings never stray far from the downtown core, because there are limits to how far tourists are willing to walk. So many rumors and myths swirl around the various hotels and restaurants, peddled by the establishments themselves, any number of contradictory tour guides, and people looking to make a buck from book sales and TV shows. The French Quarter two story mansion that houses Muriel’s, located on the corner of St. Ann and Chartres street, has a multi-storied reputation, most of it fanciful, wishful thinking, or straight from the rear end of a horse carriage. The building is original to the 18th century? Nope. There have been a number of properties built, razed, and burned on that spot dating to the mid 1700s. The property that stands there now was built around 1900. One of the owners, Pierre Jourdan/Joseph Lippardi (depending on who is peddling the story), was a compulsive gambler who lost his beloved home on a hand of poker and subsequently committed suicide on the property? Nope.  When Pierre Jourdan died (not from suicide), the property was left to his son, who was at that time also deceased (update those wills, people!). It’s changed hands a number of times since then but never via gambling or suicide. There are ghosts haunting up the place, especially from that aforementioned suicide? I couldn’t say, but probably not. Especially not from a suicide that didn’t happen.

Here’s the thing: Muriel’s is so cool. They shouldn’t need to make up a story about a ghost and always have a table set for said ghost to draw in traffic. It stands on its own. When you’re sipping a honeysuckle cocktail in their posh red seance room upstairs, you feel like you’re a part of the coolest secret club in town (albeit one that plays “Let’s call the whole thing off” on an endless loop, and I’d like to know who to blame for that one, be they human or ghost). And the food? The meal I ate at Muriel’s was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life, and I am a prodigious eater. Between the three of us at dinner, we ordered nine different courses, and each thing was the best thing I’d ever eaten. I was too busy practically weeping with joy at the table to even think about taking pictures of anything. The gulf shrimp and goat cheese crepes were creamy, dreamy perfection. The savory gorgonzola cheesecake was tangy, salty, and the accompanying tart green apple was the perfect complement. The motherf’ing shrimp and grits were divine. And the double cut pork chop with a sugar cane apple glaze? I have dreams about that pork chop.  Sometimes when I’m sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to change, I’ll think about that pork chop and smile. I’m happy to think that somewhere inside of me lies some energy from that pork chop so that in essence, I have become one with that pork chop. I guess you could say that I have been positively haunted by that pork chop. Mmmmm, ghostly pork chop.

Celebration in the Oaks in New Orleans

celebration in the oaks

December in New Orleans is delightful. Sunny and warm during the day, the evenings are made even more delightful with twinkling lights strung everywhere, music wafting down the streets, and the utter decadence of the Reveillon dinners served throughout the city. Although I was in the city to celebrate a friend’s birthday (and her birthday has been overshadowed her entire life by the, uh, more well-known birthday a few weeks later), I felt it wouldn’t be untoward of me to enjoy some New Orleans specific holiday events prior to her arrival, namely, Christmas in the Oaks.

Christmas in the Oaks is an annual event in New Orleans’ enormous City Park, an easy streetcar ride away from the French Quarter/Central Business District. Thousands of lights are strung on their oak trees over a twenty-five acre area, many with a unique New Orleans twist–the Saints’ “Who Dat?” tree, a Mr Bingle* parade float, and an animated light telling of The Cajun Night Before Christmas.

rocking horse closeup

rocking horse

jack in the box

lighted walkway

snowman float

friendly possum

dragon slide

gator

space shuttle

astronauts

spiders

under the sea

unicorn

giant reindeer

bees

dripping moss

For an additional five bucks, you can take a ride on a tiny train through other light displays. I (of course) don’t advocate doing anything that would get you arrested, but some people I ran into on the street strongly suggested that smoking a little Colorado air freshener on the train is a life-altering experience. The ride starts off slow but takes you through light displays that are otherwise inaccessible to visitors. I was disappointed that I couldn’t go back and revisit some of the areas that the train passed through–their dinosaur display was really impressive (complete with an erupting volcano and running raptors) as were their giant pirate ship battles and their flying santa with a team of gator reindeer, and I definitely would have liked to see them all closer  and in better detail as the train goes by pretty fast. Also, the ride gets a bit chilly, so if you go, learn from my mistakes and maybe bundle up in more than a thin hoodie.

trex

gator deer

gator reindeerI tried cramming my head into this gator’s mouth for yet another immature photo op, but sadly couldn’t make it work.

gatorclausI also couldn’t get up on Santa’s lap. Curse this lack of upper body strength! I was going to ask for a pony.

gator claus

*As further evidence that I can’t read, when I first saw the map of the park that included a Mr. Bingle zone, I said “Mr. Bungle’s here?!” No and no. Mr. Bingle is a snowman assistant to Santa Claus, a former mascot of the Maison Blanche department store, not the experimental band.

Getting Better With Age

Last April, when I set a goal for myself to run a 5k within a year’s time, I didn’t put a ton of thought into it. I’ve never been good at running, and it would be cool to be better at it. Sure, I was able to walk (and complain through, let us never forget how much I complain) a half marathon, but run it? Hell no. I was always the kid who came in last when the time came to run the dreaded mile in gym class, wheezing my way over the finish line and making Arnold Schwarzenegger weep into his pillow at night over my lack of physical fitness.

I’ve tried and failed before. This time was going to be different. I’d develop one of those easy, self-assured strides, not elicit a single snicker when I go out in public suited head to toe in technical fabric, and should I ever find myself in a Jurassic Park dinosaur escape type situation, I’d be able to do more than shamble a few steps before giving up and bellowing “Jesus, just eat me already, running is worse than death!” After all, I had all of the knowledge of what made me quit in the past, so I’d effectively be able to avoid those pitfalls this time around. First, I reasoned, it would be best to lose a good chunk of weight before I began seriously training, to reduce impact on my joints and avoid injuries. To that end, I’ve lost sixty pounds (and counting). When I’d lost a reasonable amount with still about six months left on the calendar, I started the couch to 5k program, the premise of which is that they can take you from sedentary to fit enough to run for thirty minutes straight in nine weeks.  Not outside, where there are both monster hills and soggy weather to contend with, but on a teensy elliptical machine. It’s not the same as actual running, certainly, but close enough for government work, and with the added bonus of less stress on my knees since I’m still preeeettty fat. Good enough to get my heart pounding, my legs working, to sweat buckets. I dutifully did the workouts three times a week, shifting them to avoid holidays that I knew the lazy golem inside of me would use as an excuse to not work out at all. I finished the nine week program in January, and I definitely found it challenging and made progress through those nine weeks, pushing each workout until my legs wobbled when I stopped. My 5k is scheduled for early March, so I felt it was imperative to get out there and run on actual ground, just so if there was any deficit from training on an elliptical instead of outside, I’d have time to train to make it up. So, naturally, it poured out for two weeks straight.

greenlake

On the only nice day in the immediate forecast, I slapped on my running clothes, took my headphones, and headed to Greenlake Park, a 2.8 mile loop that’s relatively flat. As I drove up, I began to psych myself out a little. Is that how long 2.8 miles is? That lake is huge, I don’t remember it being so large. But I firmly and resolutely told my inner worrier to shut the hell up, that I’d been training and going well beyond 2.8 miles in my practices at home, so this would be no problem. Cake. I began to believe it once I pressed play on my c25k podcast. The familiar cues told me to warm up for five minutes, and when the warmup was done, I was ready to go.  I started off great, taking measured, powerful strides. First song down. I’m doing this! I’m doing great!

…Then the second song started, and that’s when my lungs filled up with warm glue, my legs began to burn, and I was forced back into a walk, wheezing audibly. Really?! I’d run, what, half a mile before my body gave out? I felt sick and frustrated. Just how much had I been deluding myself about the progress I’d been making on the elliptical? I blinked back hot tears and choked back my shame barf, not wanting this run to be exactly like high school. Little old ladies ran past me while the podcast continued, congratulating me on running for ten minutes and telling me that I’m doing great. A wave of shame so great rushed over me that I momentarily contemplated drowning myself in the lake, but ultimately decided that even as an abject failure, I had more dignity than to suck a lungful of icy water filled with goose poop in front of a dude sleeping on a bench and a group of fit jogger moms whose strollers cost more than my last car.

At this point, it’s safe to say that there is no way I’ll be ready to run a 5k in five weeks, given my general crapitude and what seems to maybe be some undiagnosed exercise-induced asthma. I don’t even know if there’s a point to showing up if I’m just going to make an ass of myself and get shuffled off the course because I can’t make their pace, and accomplish nothing other than make my wet rattling breaths sound like I’m a member of the undead for days afterward.

Maybe running is one of those things I’m just always going to be naturally terrible at. I guess I’m never going to be one of those easy-breezy people trotting down a trail, sweat free and fabulous. What I can do is glare at them from my hate cave, sweating away on my elliptical. The good news is, should we ever find ourselves in a Jurassic Park dinosaur escape type situation, I’ll  go a long way toward filling up those rampaging dino bellies so you can escape. Think of my noble and lazy sacrifice.

Scootin’ San Juan Island

scootin san juan map

 

scoot coupe

Almost a year to the day from my last visit, I set sail for San Juan Island, this time to explore more of what the island itself had to offer. Rather than take my car across on the ferry, I elected to rent a scoot coupe: a two-seater, three-wheeled moped that tops out around 40 miles per hour. The only thing standing in my way was the fact that my moped experience was limited to riding on the back of my second host father’s scooter in Taiwan–I’ve really always been more of an indoor kind of rebel, saving my leather wear for goth clubs and looking cool rather than for anything that might require that sort of protection.

My rental place did go over the ins and outs of driving a scoot coupe: don’t leave one of the buttons pressed in or your battery will drain. You have to manually disengage the turn signal because otherwise it will just keep blinking forever. Always put the wheel chock in front of a tire when parked. Always engage the brake lock when parked because of the inevitable kids playing on and around the coupe and their tendency to dislodge the chock. There is no reverse, one of you will have to get out and push in a reversing situation. Don’t go on any road that’s not on the provided map. Don’t try to u-turn on any of the roads because your turn radius is so enormous you’ll end up in a ditch. Speaking of which, pull over when cars are behind you so you don’t impede traffic but don’t just pull over blindly or you’ll probably end up in a ditch (don’t end up in a ditch). Got all that? Ok, drive that baby across the parking lot. You now have ten feet of experience and out into traffic you go! Of course, I immediately got flustered and missed the first turn, which meant poor Jason had to figure out the map and shout the new directions out at me because those big ass-helmets they have you wear are not super conducive to hearing. Or my ears clamp shut when I’m in a panic-type situation. Maybe both.

Once I got the hang of things (which actually happened fairly quickly), I had a lot of fun driving the scoot coupe. It felt like I’d somehow escaped a carnival with a souped-up bumper car, and had a great time careening around corners with the wind blowing in my face. It was late in the year, so there wasn’t a ton of traffic on the roads save for other scoot coupes, and we always honked and waved, which made me feel like I was part of a tiny adorable gang.

Since you can essentially drive around the island in one big loop, my first stop was at American Camp. As I’ve briefly talked about in a previous post, San Juan Island was the site of a territory dispute between the United States and England, with the island’s strategic position between the United States and Vancouver island, and as a result, both Americans and the English attempted to settle it. One day, an American farmer, Lyman Cutlar, found a pig digging up and eating his potatoes (not for the first time, either), so he shot it. The pig turned out to belong to an Irishman, Charles Griffin. Cutlar offered Griffin $10 for the loss of the pig, Griffin demanded $100, the British threatened to take Cutlar into custody, and in response, the other Americans on the island called for American military protection–thus sparking what is now known as the pig war. There was a lot of saber rattling on both sides, warships circled the tiny island, but ultimately no shots were fired. An American camp was established on the south of the island and an English camp was establish in the north, and eventually outside arbitration from Germany determined that San Juan lay within the boundaries of the United States. AT&T, however, still disputes that notion as I received a text message welcoming me to Canada and helpfully informing me that I’d be charged out the wazoo for data.

american camp

american camp site

american camp buildings

american camp view

eagle cove

eagle cove san juan

At American Camp,  in addition to the visitor’s center and some historical buildings, there are a good number of walking trails that take you down to the various coves and the lighthouse at South Beach. I ended up taking one of the trails to Grandma’s Cove after briefly seeing what there was to see in the visitor’s center–it was too gorgeous out to stay inside for very long. I didn’t end up hiking to the lighthouse because I was concerned about spending too much time in one spot on the loop, so after a bit more time checking out the laundress’ and officer’s quarters, it was back into the scoot coupe to putt to the next destination: Pelindaba Lavender Farm.

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Next year, a new spin-off from ITV:

dogton abbey

Not going to lie, I would watch every episode of this. Cats stirring up trouble at the garden show? Sumptuous kibble feasts? Dogs in a variety of adorable costumes? I’m so in. Plus Lady Mary can still be a total bitch.