Monday, September 30, 2013

Burger With Cousin c/o Morgan's Pier

A while back my rather distant cousin P. alerted me to the fact that he and his partner/boyfriendwere going to be in Philly for a big sobriety conference. He has been clean of all substances for 34 years. I forget how long his partner has been clean, but they are definitely working the steps I would imagine. In any case he suggested we meet up for a meal. I suggested Morgan's Pier. And that is just what happened. We met for the first time in 2007 at cousin H.'s pig roast and hadn't crossed paths since, though I have had a meal or two with his son E. when he's on the east coast doing organic inspection things. In any case, Morgan's Pier was pretty quiet on the Sunday before Labor Day, which isn't any large surprise given the other event that was taking place in my neighborhood that weekend. We had our choice of seats and not much trouble with getting service. I ordered the burger medium rare. The burger that first came out, pictured here, was more like a charred puck with no pink to it at all. I asked if it would be possible for a re-do, our server was happy to oblige and the replacement burger I received was far more to my liking. It was good to check in with such a far flung family member, and I enjoyed hearing about the couple's cross country trip to get to Philly, which included copious camping and biking. One of these days I really need to make it a priority to go to California. I just think I'm a little too tickled with the fact that I can't say I've ever been. That or I'm afraid if I go I'll never want to leave.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Oysters, Fish Tacos and Fire in Rehoboth and Cape Henlopen Delaware

Happy hour at Fin's is a bit of a competitive sport, or at least that has been the case in my own life. I learned that it's no joke. Folks stake out spots outside a good 15 minutes in advance of the doors opening in order to ensure a spot at the bar. If you're not prompt (or early) the likelihood of your being able to get a seat is low. So the Wednesday for which there is no proof, I made a concerted effort to get there early and still had to deal with a pack of territorial 50-somethings who did not want to be my friend, which was fine because I overheard their conversation and they were boring. In any case, what I didn't realize about Fin's Friday happy hour is that it starts at some other time than 4 PM. So when I rolled up at 3:30 thinking I was totally on target, I found myself to be gravely mistaken; the bar was totally packed and there was no chance I was going to get a prime spot. This meant I was relinquished to the rather awkward second tier, standing bar shelf. Daunted but not doomed, I ordered a beer and a dozen of the happy hour oysters. Happy making they were, though I have to say that none of the two dozen oysters I consumed on this trip left me feeling as satiated or pleased as oysters usually do. I don't think that's the fault of Fin's, just perhaps a reflection of some thing or another in my own universe.
I also decided to try the happy hour fish tacos, as I had noted a few 50-somethings ordering them the last time and they seemed to be very generous in their portions for what was quite a reasonable price. This was a smooth move on my part. The fried white fish (no idea what variety to be honest) was crispy on the outside but moist and flaky on the inside. And the drizzle of sauce and mango-ish (maybe pineapple?) salsa that came with the plate were both right up my alley as well. Good times. I probably would have stayed longer and tried some other dish if it hadn't been for the awkward seating. Next year.
Then I returned back to my campsite. I have a whole rant about a lady who was rude to me/extremely incorrect in her campsite neighborly conduct, but the truth is that if I recounted the story, you probably wouldn't really care and I'd probably somehow turn out to be the asshole. But honestly, I was not the asshole, she was and we should all be thankful I did not write a mean note and leave it on her car's windshield. Instead I enjoyed an evening reading and stoking an unnecessary fire. God I love fire. I bought two bundles and started it before it was even close to being dark, which necessitated a run to the campground firewood shed to buy another bundle. Because I am addicted to flame y'all. Addicted to flame.
I really do love this campground. It's not really remote and some sites are far less awesome than others. This year was not an awesome year. Pretty much any year when I don't get a site around the edges of the grounds ends with too much proximity and not any privacy. It's interesting to me how we all willfully ignore one another, though we can clearly hear most all conversations. For example, I was entirely fascinated by all the activity going on at a site across the way from me where there seemed to be at least three or four young Mennonite couples and a whole slew of kids. Listening to them speak in Low German and laugh and chat while wearing basketball shorts and knock off Raybans was confusing. I had all these questions. Do they use bug spray? Do they use band aids? Are they actually permitted to wear basketball shorts and knock off Raybans? Why do they try to run me off the sidewalk that leads to the beach when I am walking and they are riding bikes? And why don't they apologize when they do so? Are they having sex in those tents? Do they hate their hair cuts? What did they think of the Tom Petty songs I was playing from my car? You know, just questions. Questions to which I will never have the answers because after the bike/running off the road episode, I no longer thought they were friendly Godly types and began to think they were wrathful Godly types. I could, of course, be mistaken on that score. The point is that it's always such an interesting cross-section of folks. Big family groups all speaking a language other than English. Older couples in their souped up RVs. Younger couples and their intense border collies. Extremely weird solo men trying to blow up their air mattresses using said motorcycles way after 'quiet hours' who then turn down the offer of air mattress pumps from granola-esque fathers or wayward kids acting on behalf of their parents. You know, just a funny mix of folks. All enjoying the semi-real experience of outdoor living, only with nearby bathrooms and neighbors probably even closer to them than in their everyday life. It's a mini-city and I like it. I keep hoping I'll somehow stumble across a dude who digs it too and comes on his own or with friends...but usually it's just foreign families, old people and creeps trying to fill their air mattress using a motorcycle. But I love it. These days I go back and forth about whether having kids is as much of a priority for me as it was when I was younger. This may be due to any number of factors, but I do still sometimes envision a life where I do get the opportunity to teach a youngster of my own the glories of setting up and sleeping in a tent, of building a fire, of diving under waves to get to the calmer part of the ocean, of the sheer loveliness of a perfect oyster with just a spritz of lemon. Meh, if I don't have my own I'll just steal the children of my friends for a weekend. At least one of the legion of children that will burst forth from the loins of my collective network would be down. One would assume.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Delaware Beach and Camp Times

This summer flew by. Between my two biggest excursions to North Carolina and Lake Champlain, I certainly can't say that I didn't get my fair share of swimming done, but somehow I struggled to find a weekend to dedicate to my annual Delaware beach camping adventure. In previous years I've gone in the early summer and then again in the latter part of the season. This year I wasn't sure I was going to go at all. I've gained some new responsibilities at work and they were making me feel slightly less capable of taking vacation days...but I made it happen. I arrived on the Wednesday before Labor Day and quickly set up my tent. Rain was also in the forecast, so I set up a tarp so I could still enjoy at least a little time sitting outside. After setting the site up I did as I often do and went to Fin's for happy hour and oysters. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera so you'll just have to trust me when I say that I had a dozen oysters and steamed shrimp and enjoyed a Troeg's beer while making friends with an older woman who has a hair cutting license in three states.
The next day it was beach times. I brought a beer with me. I also brought Let's Pretend This Never Happened, which is a pretty good read if you're interested in a funny woman with a wacky childhood recounting her various anxieties and triumphs.
The water was really perfect that first day. The waves weren't crashing as much as lolling and I was able to comfortably float without fear of being smashed to the ocean's floor. So the campground is about a mile away from an access point for the beach. This access point is about 2 miles away from the primary beach area for the park, which features a giant parking lot,  large bath house, concession stand and life guards. Generally speaking the section of beach that you can walk to from the campground is far less crowded. The area by the beach house is always pretty chock full of bodies and umbrellas, while this more remote spot certainly isn't going to give you a sense of being totally alone but does give you a little more space between people. This was very much the case on that Wednesday, when it was pretty much me with my set up and then a young couple a couple hundred yards away from me on one side and a lady with her two sons on the other. It wasn't quite as solitary or remote as the beaches of Eleuthera, but it was still nice. Oh and there was an Amish couple playing baseball because of course. I have many thoughts about the Amish/Mennonite folks also camping but I'll perhaps share that in my next post.
After a day at the beach it was time to seek out a meal. I decided to return to the Surfing Crab and debated whether I was going to go the soft shell or hard shell crab route. In the end I decided that I was up to a solitary round of crab cracking and ordered half a dozen medium crabs. In the past I've been seated, or have seated myself, in the dining room to the left when you first walk into the space, which has long picnic tables that are perfect for large parties. This time, however, I went to the room that actually had seats with backs. I was, as is often the case, the only person by myself and the majority of the other tables were older couples on what seemed like double or triple dates. In one instance three couples came in together and quickly the men sat at one table while the women sat at another. I guess that makes sense? As a woman who sometimes finds the conversation of men more interesting than those of women (not always of course), I always hate that breakdown, but maybe after you're married for 30 years you just don't feel like hanging out in a coed group anymore?
I also ordered fries. This was a generous basket of very hot and crispy fries. I enjoyed them but didn't make that much of a dent, as my real focus was on the crabs.
This crab was a dictator in life, and a high five enthusiast in death. I made it through four crabs but couldn't quite bring myself to eat the last two. Service was good and fast. I could have perhaps done without my waiter touching my shoulder in a way that I felt was a little pitying or presumptuous. Or maybe I was just being overly sensitive. I didn't see him touching anyone else's shoulders. So it is a funny thing, my simultaneous desire to want to talk about how it actually is a little bit of a bummer to do things I like by myself and my annoyance if anyone other than me assumes that I am bummed. I had a fine time on this evening. The crabs were good. I had a book. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. Yes, I would have liked to have a little company, but not having a companion didn't immediately make the meal (or any other aspect of the trip) suddenly sad. And yet I felt like those shoulder touches were somehow supposed to buck me up. Or it was all in my head. Hard to tell really.
And then it was a new day. The water was a little rougher and I was reading a new book, also good: Beautiful Ruins. This day was definitely more packed as far as folks, which made sense given the fact it was now a Friday on Labor Day weekend.
I worried after hearing stories all summer about these massive dolphin deaths in the Atlantic that I wouldn't see any on this trip. Luckily that wasn't the case. One of the positive things of being on a beach with other people, some of whom are children, is that I could focus on reading my book with the knowledge that if there were dolphins to be sighted, the parents would call out to their kids loudly enough for me to to into zoom photo action. As always, it was neater really to actually just watch their fins skim the water's surface than to try and photograph it. Really neat. Though I still haven't seen another one jump out of the water like I did quite a few years back.
Looking toward the main beach/bath house area.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pho and Darts

At some point in the last few months A. (my roommate) and I bandied about the idea of a field trip to Bullseye Darts so that A. could get his very own set of darts after a year of using mine or one of our other teammates'. I also was falling a little out of love with my darts and was thinking about getting a new set. Then LW and I also discussed such a trip with the added attraction of having a bit of pho, which would basically be a variation of our 2011 manapus adventure. Of course one often talks about doing something for an extended amount of time before actually doing it. And in this case I think it was at least a month between the idea being brought up and schedules aligning to make it so. I thought I remembered where the pho place we went to in 2011 was...but I was wrong and we ended up at Pho 75. This was a smaller shop than the place I actually meant to take us, and its menu slightly less pork rolls to try. Though there were fewer bells and whistles, they still had the crazy coffee.
It turns out this was going to be a day of firsts for A. Not only was he about to get his own darts, he also had his first pho experience. I think it went generally well.
The broth was good, the whole thing was good. I still like our go-to South Philly spot a bit more, but I was glad to try a new place and to introduce the glory that is pho to yet another person. 
Once our meal wrapped up we were on our way east to Bulls Eye. I think the three of us probably tried out a minimum of six different sets of darts each. At one point I was convinced that I wanted one set but then saw a completely different set and all my certainty went out the window. LW was especially dervish-like in her pursuit of a new set of darts. In the end ALL three of us got slightly different weights of the exact same darts. I've been pretty pleased with the new darts they have a different kind of grip that seems to be a slightly better fit in regards to my small little fingers and weak arms. Our league starts up soon, so that will be the real test. It was still very entertaining when we all walked out of the store with the exact same cases. Funny stuff. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bob Evans Breakfast

The next morning was certainly not the easiest. Originally I had suggested going to a kind of fancy brunch spot but the collective decision was that some of our party were too hungover to appreciate fancy food. So instead we went to Bob Evans. I must admit that I was momentarily saddened by this change of plans before remembering a)it wasn't about me and b)damn Bob Evans makes some good gravy! We all got different things but I got the two egg breakfast that came with sausage, biscuits, gravy and potatoes. The eggs were ok, nothing too special and I actually felt similarly ambivalent about the sausage. But that gravy? I would not be surprised if they put MSG in it because I just kept coming back for more.
This Christmas I made K., A., W., and K. all shirts. Well, I didn't make them with my bare hands, but I did put a picture that I made, which Cuz K. has always enjoyed, through an internet magic thing and had shirts made for them. I had seen them before but not all of the recipients in the shirts at the same time so one of my last requests before departing Ohio was to get them all together. There were two small issues with this. The first was that W. didn't know where his shirt was (teenage boys, what are you going to do about it?!) and the other was that it was night time and I was not giving them any very good direction about how to stand or smile. So I took a bunch of not terribly awesome photos. But the proof, it remains. Except for W. I was going to cover W.'s head with Jay Z's head...but then I realized that I don't know how to do that and gave up.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bachelorette Night in Columbus

As is often the case in my life, now is quite a busy work time. This results in a further slacking off in blogging, not to mention a very bad case of the 'I will not respond to your emails or phone calls in any semblance of a quick turnaround time.' So even though it's mid-September, I must still share with you some photos from K.'s late August bachelorette shin dig, which I organized (well partially organized) with a lot of help from Cuz K.'s friends A. and S. The night began in at Columbus's newest Hilton, which I must say was quite fancy. There was a little problem at check-in, which resulted in a different room that originally planned, but also resulted in the staff knowing that we were a bachelorette type deal, which resulted in a complimentary bottle of champagne being sent to K. So the evening began in part with some toasts.
I asked Cuz K.'s friend to do a fancy braid in my hair and she did a great job. You can't quite see it here...
But you can here. I wish I could do such things. It was so even and flat and perfect I refused to take it out for days afterward.
We started our evening at Camelot Cellars. I spent the morning before the event running around and picking up supplies, and this included a run to get a slew of fancy cheeses. A. also made a delightful veggie plate.
And then everyone arrived.
Gifts were given. Note the kid in the background of this photo. He later came inside with his friend because they recognized one of Cuz K.'s friends as their former middle school teachers. It was very awkward for the grown women, but I think the kids were high so they didn't really care.
I printed out a 'bachelorette scavenger hunt' list, which mainly asked for photographic evidence of a slew of silly things. One of which was, take photograph with other bachelorette. Done.

So basically K. got a whole heck of a lot of lingerie and a few other boudoir-oriented gifts.
And her photograph taken with a teenage nuisance.

The next stage of the evening took place at Mickey's. The remainder of the evening was predominantly focused on karaoke and crossing other things off the scavenger list.
This was the bride getting a dude to let her write her name on him in permanent marker.

This was J. hugging a tree. Check!
This was S. getting her photo taken with a guy with weird hair. I think it's up for debate whether this was really an instance of weird hair.
I believe L. had to ask this guy whether he was wearing boxers or briefs. I believe boxers.

Of course there was much singing.

And a little shimmying.
The end of the night found us going back to the hotel and falling into bed. The next day it was agreed that it had been a successful evening in which plenty of fun things happened and really no disasters. Best of the bachelorette experience:)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Food Truck Party in Columbus

My only big stop was to Penn Alps. After that it was pretty much just me driving. I left Philly around 8 I think. And I got there a little after 5:30. Or something like that. In any case, I arrived at Cuz K. and A.'s house and it wasn't long thereafter that I had a beer in hand. They gauged my interest in a food truck festival in the city and you know I was on board. So off we went. Columbus, for those of you who aren't fans of cities not on a coast, is a nice town. Not too big, but a fair amount of stuff going on and I always feel like people seem happier or nicer, which I guess is a kind of midwestern thing. In any case the festival was well attended. We took a long walk around the perimeter, which was were all the trucks were, to determine what we were most interested in trying. Then we went in a few different directions to stand in line. I debated between barbeque and Jamaican, and ended up thinking that jerk chicken was the thing to do. It was a pretty substantial wait, but definitely good stuff. This was not jerk chicken made for a frail palate and packed quite a considerable punch in terms of spice. It was not terribly surprising to realize just how dumbed down and 'for white people' the jerk chicken I so thoroughly enjoyed in Jamaica really was.
A good evening indeed.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Road Trip Lunch c/o Penn Alps

What is it about certain places? How do they manage to lodge themselves into our minds as meaningful, as beautiful, as timeless? And how often can those places ever measure up to whatever strange hold they've had on a person's brain? I ask these questions because when I started planning my drive to Columbus in order to celebrate Cuz K.'s engagement I did not struggle very much in making the counterintuitive decision to drive south before west and north. This is not the first time that I have driven to Ohio and made a stop at Penn Alps. The first was pretty much three years ago. I drove to Ohio on the way to go down to Tennessee to be with my parents for became my mother's second and last extended stay in a hospital. That was the drive that began a reality that ended with my mother's death less than a month later. When I was driving there and while I was actually eating and walking around Penn Alps and its rather remote Grantsville, MD location, however, it was not entirely apparent that that was the circumstance. I haven't actually re-read what I wrote about the last visit. I know that I was generally reflecting on the same ideas of place and time and nostalgia. And that I was non-plussed by the change to the entrance and to the gift shop, both of which were expanded and made slightly less quirky and more in line with the 'tourists stop here and we sell them things' vibe that I don't totally love. The funny thing is that as I knew I was going to stop at Penn Alps, I also started thinking about another location that I'd been to a few times in my youth that strangely stuck with me in terms of shaping some element of something that I care about. It seems. Hancock, Maryland is a second example of a place where I never spent much time, but that I visited a few different times throughout some formative time in my life.

I took no photographic evidence of my last minute decision to peel off the highway and drive down Hancock's main strip. I hadn't actually been sure that the place in my memories was Hancock, but when I saw the roof of and sign of the orchard/farm market literally just off the highway, I was pretty sure it was a place I had been. I don't know when. As a four year old. As an eight year old. As a nine year old. As a 12 year old. I simply don't know if I've been to that town three times or ten. At least three, that is for sure. In any case. It was a surreal thing driving down Hancock's Main Street and having at first a moment of feeling like I was totally mistaken. If it wasn't that apple/farm building market thing, then what town was it? I was driving the same route that my mother would often take when we drove to Ohio, but I had never remembered any of the roads. It's a strange thing to see things you've already seen but not entirely on purpose or realizing you are about to do so. Hancock is like that. I remember the market. I remembered a diner that I kept thinking was going to be just a little bit farther, and then I started to think that it didn't exist, and then it suddenly appeared and was exactly as I thought it would be. I remembered a General/Discount store with some weird mix of cheap toys and groceries and asundry things. The kind of place where there really is dust on some of the merchandise. I remembered going entirely through the town and turning right and going who knows how far to a place to park in order to then hike a while to get to a cabin with my parents that was along the Appalachian Trail.

So this town is just a location I somehow saw a number of times up until the time I was about 13. It is 17 years later and I am still drawn to it. And why? It's just a pretty small town with no huge anything that I could tell. Just strangely fragmented memories of being there. Being struck by the small town-ness of it. Struck by perhaps the run-down-ness of some of the people I saw. I don't know and I've just gone on a considerable tangent when my main point is that I revisited an entirely different place that I totally associate with driving trips with my mother for the first time since she died. That may not be my main point, but it certainly is part of the fabric of the situation.

In any case. I got to Penn Alps around 1 after hitting just terrible traffic on 95 south. I went directly to the hostess stand (past the still weird-to-me cashier plaza) to get a table. I was seated in an area I'm not sure I'd been to before. Though there is an especially cobwebbed part of my mind that feels like the answer is yes, and there was hot chocolate with whipped cream involved. But I could be wrong. In any case, I knew that my meal the last time hadn't been a runaway success so I tried to choose more carefully this time around. I went with a sweet tea that totally won. And enjoyed taking a look at the place mat - or should I say place map? With its nicely illustrated landmarks and routes as well as a pretty interesting slogan...the photographic evidence of which is only on my phone. Oh man it was funny, perhaps in part because of its spacing. It went:

Come once & see what we 
have yet, still

That shit is deep. 
More thinking led to a far better choice in meal. Though I don't usually order Reubens (in large part because the sandwich reminds me of my ex-boyfriend's eating tendencies), this seemed like the place to get even more over something that is so far in the past as to be the kind of thing that shouldn't influence my eating habits. It wasn't the thickest of sandwiches, but the country style bread (I requested non-rye b/c that is just the truth of my preferences) really did add something to the mix. And what I believe was truly homemade sauerkraut was absolutely not your standard stuff. It was deep and dark in taste and not crunchy, which to me suggests it really did ferment and pick up a lot of flavor before landing in my sandwich. I really don't know enough about corned beef to say how it ranked, but I will say it was thicker than some of the Reuben sandwiches I've seen in my time. I also ordered a side of mashed potatoes and gravy even though the sandwich came with homemade potato chips that I shamefully ignored. The potatoes had some nice lumps that suggested being made not out of a box. And I liked the gravy regardless of its providence. Providence? Provenance?
And then it was time to take a stroll through Spruce Forest. I, again, somehow found myself too shy to actually go into any of the workshops. Honestly I think as a kid I never did go inside. I just loved all the little cottages and the idea of creation happening within.
In this instance even if I wanted to go in I couldn't "due to a weekend workshop in feather carving." Because THAT IS A THING THAT HAPPENS!!!!!!!
Then I went to the bridge/Casselman River to sit for a moment. The ground was a little wet so I didn't really do what I thought I might, which was take off my shoes and put my feet in the river. This was in part due to the squishy-ness of the ground and one part the fact that there didn't seem like there was a really perfect place to get in there. Also, I'm not sure if there are rules against putting your feet in a river right by a crafts village and don't want to be banned.
Yup. I haven't read what I wrote, but I have looked at the photographs. It's kind of terrible. It demonstrates an entire lack of creativity. I keep getting stuck wanting to capture the same exact view or a very similar one, which doesn't capture any more of the feeling or thoughts that I may have been trying to capture. How can you capture the feeling of just being a kid being slightly interested, slightly mesmerized and slightly bored by a place?
In the end I basically took the same exact photographs that I took the last time, only fewer of them. After my meal and stroll I continued heading west. For a while I was on a pretty solitary/small road, which provided me many a beautiful vista of the hills and mountains around me. I am still not entirely sure what the mountains would have been, but my car definitely enjoyed the challenge of driving up and down a few of them. Also: coal propaganda is the worst.