Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Benefits of Procrastination: A Life Lesson

I've been a tad preoccupied these past couple of weeks; one (my husband, at the very least) might even say obsessed.  A little backstory--once July hit and we had passed the halfway mark here, I knew it was time for us to start looking at plane tickets home.  This whole year, I've been holding out hope that we could swing by Thailand on the way home.  It sounds easy and just like one minute out of the way, right?  Like picking up some milk on the way home from work.  Certainly not a whole extra giant continent away.

Thailand has long held the top spot of places in the world I wanted to visit, but realistically it has always been a pipe dream.  I know, I know--everyone says Thailand is cheap once you're there, and a lot of people I know have been there.  But they were either single or traveling with a friend/spouse.  Five plane tickets, though?  Not cheap.  And while I am so, so incredibly thankful for my children that enrich my life in innumerable ways, let's face it--the teeny dip into the savings account pool for a jaunt to a foreign country can quickly become a massive drought for a family of five.

Four of which are boys that eat absurd quantities of food.

On the way to Australia for our yearlong teacher exchange, our stopover in Fiji only added $500 total to the cost of our plane tickets--a no-brainer, and the homestay we did there was something we'll all remember forever.  We wanted to have a similar experience in Thailand, but managing Australia's high cost of living this year while living on Sam's US teacher salary and my solo virtual law practice that has its ups and downs has proved to be more difficult than we'd hoped.  It was hard to justify increasing the cost of our flights to stop through anywhere on the way home; Thailand in particular, which upped the already steep cost by $1000.

I checked the plane fares for the hundredth time while the cartoon devil on my shoulder cackled 'this is a once in a lifetime opportunity--just do it!'. Just when I was sold on the idea of adventure over responsibility, the goody-two-shoes angel had the nerve to weasel its way onto my shoulder with a poof! and announce that it was far more important for us to just get home and get our finances back on track.

So, with a sigh, I did what any responsible adult would do.

I procrastinated.

And wouldn't you know, the next time I looked at those plane fares, the prices had dropped and it was actually cheaper to stop in Thailand than it would be to go straight to the States.

Clearly, it would have been irresponsible to book tickets straight home at this point--I mean, the universe had spoken, and I'm not one to tempt fate.



And since my mom had such a great time traveling Tunheim-style in Australia (coupled with the fact that she had enough mileage lying around for first-class tickets both ways), Nana will be joining us!  The airlines are surely implementing new security measures for their down comforters as I type this...

Needless to say, ever since the tickets were booked I have been completely consumed with guidebooks, blogs, talking to other travelers, and chatting with Mom to nail down an itinerary that is feasible (timewise and financially) but still awesome.  We'll be up in Chiang Mai with the elephants as well as down in Koh Yao Noi for a fishing village homestay.  I'm totally stoked; this will be a perfect last hurrah to an amazing year of family adventure.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Culinary Adventure Series: Sea Snails

Hanging out at the tidepools is easily one of our favorite things to do in Wollongong.  Just two blocks away, it's a quick outing that never disappoints.  I'm not sure how it's possible, but we manage to see new and interesting creatures every single time we're there--and we go a lot.

During yesterday's outing, Jackson spotted a large, beautiful shell that was still home to a creature.

When we found the second one, a different shell but still really large, my first thought was--dinner!

Wait, that wouldn't be your first thought??

Three events occurred immediately after I shared this brilliant idea with my family:

  1. I began Googling sea snail recipes
  2. Jackson, my little adventurous foodie, asked if he could help me prepare the meal.  (I love him.)
  3. Alex, stonefaced, declared that he would not be ingesting any sea snails.  (I love him.)

We had two good-sized sea snails (that I not-so-scientifically identified as a turban snail and a whelk in hopes of avoiding the myriad poisonous creatures that inhabit Australia's seas).  Jackson and I stocked up on smaller snails to make sure we had enough meat to work with and then headed home, bucket heavy with our bounty.

After giving them a hearty rinsing in fresh water, I steamed the shells for 1.5 hours.

Then, using a skewer, we pried open each little protective foot, and carefully slid the creatures out.
Jackson holding an extracted sea snail
Up close, these snails are amazing--each one had a beautiful black and white spiral pattern on one of its curves; I did a poor job of capturing it below, but you can somewhat see it on the lower righthand portion of the body.

I decided to make a conch fritter-esque meal out of the snails, because I figured the addition of other ingredients would help make it more palatable for my reluctant Al Pal.  After a lot of labor prying, rinsing, trimming, and chopping, I had a bowl of freshly steamed sea snail meat.

I chopped onion, green bell pepper (or 'capsicum' as they call it here), celery, and garlic and added it to the meat.

I then made a batter out of a cup of flour, a 1/2 tsp baking powder, pinch of salt and pepper, some paprika and oregano, a half cup of milk, and half a beer--and added my chopped mixture to the batter.

Then I heated some oil in a pan, plunked down some of my concoction, and fried it for a couple of minutes on each side until they were golden brown.  Paired with a green salad (and the rest of the beer for me), and dinner was served!

As I set dinner down on the table, I thought about how surprising it was that Sam was so game to eat my little culinary experiment.  He and ocean animals have a checkered past--he loves sushi, but he may or may not have an allergy to shellfish.  One summer in Maine while we were dating, he partook in my family's usual lobster-and-steamer feast and ended up spending the night huddled on the floor in the hallway outside the bathroom in between lengthy spells of vomiting and diarrhea.  He was right as rain in the morning, and even spent the day with me canoeing on the Saco River--but during future trips to Maine he has always avoided the lobsterfest. Although snails are different than bivalves, I was a teensy bit nervous that my sea-foraged meal would make him (or all of us) sick.

The Verdict

Sam: He ate three fritters and even said he'd like to take the leftovers to work in the morning.

Jackson: He ate three fritters and scrounged some more off his brother's plates.

Me: I thought they tasted great!  The smaller snails aren't worth it for the labor-to-meat yield ratio, so I'd only harvest sea snails again if I could find four of the larger ones.

For the less enthusiastic family members, this may have been more of a character building experience than a culinary experience.  I asked their thoughts on the meal...

Alex: "On a scale of one to ten, I'd rate it a one." (but he ate half a fritter!)
Alex 'enjoying' his first taste of snail fritter

Kenyon: "Disgusting. I only liked the salad; nothing else." (he also ate half a fritter!)
Since he was actually trying the fritter, I figured that wasn't the best time to tell him to cut his food and use proper table manners...
Overall, I'm calling it a success (and as of the time of this writing, everyone's stomachs feel normal...crossing fingers...).

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Agony of a Goal

I'm not a runner.  Hell, I'm not an 'exerciser', either.  I ran a bit when I first started dating Sam, because at the time, he ran--and isn't pretending that you're a more rugged/adventurous/athletic/accomplished person what you do when you're first dating someone and you want to impress them?  When my parents were dating, my mom told my dad she was big into camping, and they fully outfitted themselves with camping gear when they were newlyweds--but oddly enough, none of my fond childhood memories include cozying up in a sleeping bag with my family after an evening telling stories around the ol' campfire.

I do like to keep a general level of fitness, because if I'm going to stick around for upwards of ninety years, I'd like to avoid getting creaky as long as possible.  My yoga practice back home in Denver brought me the lovely trifecta of friendship, fitness and spirituality.  Our bank account can't justify a yoga practice in Australia--so my fitness here consists of meeting at the beach once a week for an exercise session designed by my slavedriver super kind friend, Emily.  The relaxing coffee excursion afterwards is my real motivation; that is, until I foolishly signed up for the popular Sydney running race, City2Surf.

City2Surf is the world's largest running race--let's face it, I'm never going to enter the world's longest race, so it might as well be the largest.  Riding on the coattails of my sprint triathlon last fall, I had looked forward to our trip to Australia and thought it would be great to participate in an event while we were there.

And then I proceeded to basically do no exercise until June 20, when I registered for the race.  The City2Surf route begins in downtown Sydney and finishes up at Bondi Beach; a great way to enjoy the gorgeous city of Sydney.  And I had a whopping 7.5 weeks to get used to running 14km; not so bad, even for someone who really doesn't like running.

Hahahahahahaha. (sob!)

So in the meantime, I wisely spent my energy doing lots of agonizing and procrastinating, along with a teensy bit of running.  You see, I'm lazy at heart, and I simply don't have a lot of motivation to run any sort of distance on my own.  I manage about 4km and then feel...done.  And when I feel done, why should I go any further?  Thankfully, the large majority of humanity doesn't suffer from this affliction.  Surely this gene isn't selected for, or else we as a society would still be living in caves and grunting monosyllabic words.

While I wish I could say that I was able to muster up a miraculous and vigorous inner strength and follow a strict solo running plan to train for the event, it's simply not the case.  Instead, my runner friend Kylie took mercy upon me and slummed it with me for a few runs--even though it meant that she was doubling up on her runs with her real running partner.  Suddenly, I was scheduled for a 8km run (which was great), a 10km run (which I despised every step of after the 7km mark but finished it only because Kylie was running with me), and a final 10km run last weekend (that felt great).  Of course, there was lots of agonizing before each of these runs.  After the last one, the agonizing continued because it was my final shot to run a longer distance and I was still 4km shy of where I needed to be.  Also, since Kylie was running in a different category than I was, I would be alone for the real race--amongst the massive throngs of other runners, of course--but this was still worrisome.

. . . .

This morning I awoke a few minutes before my 4:15am alarm and braved the insane gusty winds occurring in these parts to stand around for 2.5 hours until my start time--it turns out, 85,000 people take quite a bit of time to get over a finish line, even if they're neatly divided up into categories and locations in an intersection.
one section of runners, as far as the eye can see and beyond
Despite the cold, people were out playing music and shouting classic Aussie chants to keep the crowd pumped--how can you not get a little extra spring in your step running while listening to 'Walking on Sunshine', or the ubiquitous Men at Work song 'Land Down Under'?  Before I knew it, I was 4km, and then 7km (plodding along as I ascended 'Heartbreak Hill').  I still felt great at 10km, especially when I glimpsed the ocean coming into view.  The last 4km flew by.

My goal for the race was to not walk, and my best case scenario was to have the same pace I had in my earlier runs, right around 6 min/km.  My unofficial time was right around 88 minutes, averaging 6:08/km.

Not speedy, but for a non-runner, I'll take it.

And Kylie, I absolutely couldn't have done it without your help.  Thank you!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ten Years In

Yesterday, Sam and I celebrated 10 years of marriage.  It feels like an eternity and a moment all at once.  How is it possible that ten years have passed already?

Then I struggle to remember the 24-year old girl I was who stood overlooking the city of Santa Cruz, surrounded by friends and family, and vowed to spend the rest of her life with this one person.

So much has happened since then, and after some reflection, moments begin to flash by...
  • enjoying a great meal at Sushi on Main in Half Moon Bay for our one-day honeymoon (2002)
  • hitchhiking at 4am after running out of gas in the middle of the night on a side road in rural Nebraska on the way to pick up our weimaraner puppy (2002)
  • watching him regularly work on the bikes of neighborhood kids who didn't have father figures (2003)
  • simultaneously laughing and sobbing together as we greeted our firstborn into the world (2003)
  • backpacking while pregnant with Alex, hiking with Jackson on my back. He carried all of our gear, including a mistakenly overestimated 16 cups of dog food for a 2-day trip (2004)
  • feeling the joy of adding a second son to our lives
  • worriedly making the 1.5 hour drive to the hospital in northern California after finding him weak and lying on the floor during a bout with salmonella (2005)
  • mourning the loss of his mother to cancer (2005)
  • buying a house that we absolutely love (2006)
  • telling him on Father's Day that we were going to have another baby (2007)
  • welcoming our third son into our family (2008)
  • spending multiple evenings with a heat gun, helping him scrape the thick, black adhesive off what would soon be the wood floors for our new kitchen (2009)
  • him being so kind and loving even when my arms were blistery, swollen, pustuled and leaking fluid during my hideous and lengthy allergic reaction that spiraled out of control (2010)
  • dreaming about living abroad, and working together to make the dream become a reality (2011)
  • scouting out wombats in the dark on Wilsons Prom (2012)

He has always been willing to be the one to change diapers on an airplane and to venture with the kids into porta-potties and other disgusting public restrooms.

If it's raining when we leave a restaurant, he'll have me wait so he can pull the car around.

He will always, without fail, share his dessert, even though he knows I will be reluctant at best to return the favor.

He is the put-the-gloves-on-and-scrub-the-toilet person in the house, not me.

He has made amazing things for the boys, including a fort, a lemonade stand, and a bow and arrow set.

He squeezes my hand to comfort me when there's airplane turbulence.

If I hear a strange noise in the night, he never grumbles about getting up to go investigate.

If I'm feeling overwhelmed, he suggests that I go take a bath and he covers the dinner/evening routine with the kids.

When I wake up on Saturday mornings with a great house project that we should start on immediately, he often is actually is willing to do it.  

And he was willing to move with us halfway across the planet and have a different job for the year so we could have a family adventure together.

It's certainly not a perfect marriage, but life isn't perfect...and I'm so happy to have this life with him.