Sunday, June 26, 2016

Avoid these questions, OK?

I love travel surprises, and the best are delivered by locals who most often please, but may also ambush visitors. Case in point: Our guide on an island tour in French Polynesia could not contain his curiosity about tourists in his charge.
Our guide, seated on the bus step during a rest stop, evaluated the belly of a rotund man, not pictured, and asked, "How many babies you got in there?" The bus fell silent and all eyes turned to the unfortunate guy who's in the harsh spotlight of a taboo topic - weight.

This could go either way. But the man rubbed his belly, and, with comic timing, shouted, "Two!"  Then he guffawed and the mood on the bus turned light. Gotta give that guy credit for his sense of humor and comfort with self deprecation. 

The still-curious guide turned his attention to the man in the yellow shirt, and I'm probably not the only one who wondered how many babies he's carrying. But instead the guide asked  "How old are you?" 

Yes.  How Old Are You??

Yellow shirt quickly replied, "I'm 71." I guess he was relieved not to be asked the "how many babies in there" question. 

In the span of two minutes, our charming guide had waded into mine fields (or is that mind fields?) of the American psyche: weight and age. 
And where will his eyes alight next?

Oh no! He's looking  at me!

"How old are YOU!?" he asked, cocking his head like a quizzical bird. A crow, or a raven.

It's not a hard question, but I paused. I'm among the senior citizens of the world who are reluctantly getting used to being senior citizens. It's not easy to spit out my real number. So I say, like my mother before me said decades after she really was this age: "I'm 39."

Sadly, this caused more levity on the bus.

"Ok, ok, I'm  71," I confessed. "But," I asked the guide, "Don't you know you're not supposed to ask people, especially American women, how old they are?"

Versions of that issue have surfaced over the past 30 years when my sister Monette Johnson and I are out and about together. It doesn't seem to matter where or when, or which one of is having the worst bad hair day, of which there are many. Here's how it goes.

My sister was born in January 1937. I was born in December 1944. I'm on the right, by the way. You do the math. Clearly, I am so much younger. Well, apparently that is not so clear. Truth is, once you get past the forties, age differences matter less and less. If that's the case, then I should have stopped being rattled by these unthinking questions 20 years ago. June 2015 photo.
Waitress in Duluth, MN
Oh! You must be twins!

Retail clerk in Medford, OR
You 're sisters, right? Yes. sisters, we confirm.

Whew! I'm in the clear. Then the clerk feels the need to press,  About a year apart?

AAARGH! I could cough up a dozen examples of such questions, and my sister could likely recall more, as they excite her pleasure centers.

I should be happy for her that she involuntarily glows when this happens, and doesn't rub it in. But, on my side,  the inquiries continue to prickle.

It's our sick youth-possessed culture and celebrity-worshipping media that have some of us clinging for dear life to what remains of our fleeting youth, if even a shred remains.

When I get really old, I know I'll get over it.

Years ago, before my hair was as gray as hers, someone assumed my sister was my mother. I withheld that bit until the most recent incident in Medford (see above.) But she did not believe it.
Age and weight may be at the top of the cruelest/clueless-questions list, but other better-left-unasked ones lurk as day-wrecking bombs to be deployed by ignoramuses.

Such as....

When is your due date? 
Not pregnant.

How much do you make? 
Not telling.

You gay?
You're not?

How much did you pay for that?
More than I'm willing to say.

Why don't you have children? 
Really, you're asking me that? You ass.

Have you had an abortion?
Perhaps the most private of all areas of inquiry. Could result in waterboarding

Are you a Jew? Muslim? Christian? etc.
Yes, no, or maybe. And you?

Are you a Trump supporter?
If you are, be careful who you tell.

Did you have work done? Asked with a knowing (or assuming) nod toward your eyelids, jowls, nose, lips, breasts, tummy or other unreconstructed features.
If no, be flattered.
If yes, suggest the questioner might benefit from such a procedure, perhaps to sew his or her big mouth shut.

Do you dye your hair?
Doesn't everyone?

The last one, below, is for women whose blessed event occurs near the end of her child-bearing years. That was me.

You're a little old to be having a baby, aren't you?
A male stranger asked as I shopped for groceries in Grants Pass, OR, at age 41, eight months pregnant with Chris Korbulic, who turned out to be a magnificent human being.

was a tad old (others had asked if I knew what causes it), but his deflating question left me speechless.

I can report that Grants Pass, Oregon, in 1989 was home to the world's rudest person. That asshole.

Do you have a rude-question moment to share, one of those "I'm speechless and can't believe you're asking!" moments? If so, please share on this blog or on Facebook, wherever you're engaged. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Summer Watermelon Salad with Quinoa, Mint, and Feta

The best gauge for a potluck contribution's success is whether anybody asks for the recipe. This email arrived shortly after our gathering. Please send me your wonderful quinoa/watermelon recipe. Loved it and want to make it  next weekend. Alrighty then!

First allow me to give credit where it is due. Although I often post original recipes, this one is not my creation.  Looking for a quick and delicious way to use watermelon in a salad  for a potluck, I happened upon this recipe from @the kitchn. If you want the original, and in an easily printable format, click here.
That recipe, in turn, had been reprinted, with permission, from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck, published in 2015 by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. I hope they don't come after me for not asking permission. I made changes, subbing in quinoa, which I have on hand, for couscous, which I don't. I also amended dressing proportions after tasting. And I used way more watermelon. More photos, directions and the amended recipe follow. 

Summer Watermelon Salad with Quinoa, Mint, and Feta
Serves up to 6. Double or triple for a crowd.

1 cup quinoa, white, red or mixed
2 cups water
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, or regular salt
pinch of saffron, optional, but pretty if you're using all white quinoa
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons lime zest
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons honey (I used 2)
1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2-3 cups seedless watermelon cut into cubes. Or more!
3/4 cup celery cut into 1/4 inch wide slices (1 large or 2 smaller stalks, trimmed)
1/2 cup mint leaves, gently cut into strips or torn, not chopped, plus a few leaves for garnish
1/2-3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably not pre-crumbled.

If you're using couscous, consult the original recipe. One benefit of using couscous is that it doesn't require cooking. The benefits of using quinoa include that it is wheat and gluten-free, lower  in carbohydrates, and a good source of protein.

If using quinoa, add water and quinoa to a small saucepan, add the salt, if using, and heat to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to simmer,  cover and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed.

Remove from heat and dump into the bowl you'll use for the salad. Spread around to cool then set aside for at least 15 minutes. Stir and fluff again before adding other ingredients.

Zest the limes until you have 2 teaspoons of zest, and squeeze the fruit to make 3 tablespoons. Place in a small bowl or jar, or better yet, a miniature food processor, and add olive oil, honey, and the pepper. Whir, stir or shake until dressing is well combined and the oil doesn't separate.

Once quinoa has cooled, add the celery then drizzle half of the dressing and toss gently to combine. Allow to sit for 30 minutes, if you have time, to meld flavors.

Then add the crumbled feta, the watermelon, and the remaining dressing. To garnish, add an extra handful of crumbled feta and a few whole mint leaves, or additional sliced or torn mint.

You can make most of this salad ahead, and refrigerate. But save the feta, mint and watermelon until shortly before serving. I've made it twice, and the watermelon does not keep well for more than a day.
Everything you need for the salad, except the watermelon and dressing. The silver implement on the bowl of mixed-colors quinoa is a zester, a useful tool. Most box cheese graters  have a zesting surface if you lack this kitchen gem.

The little food processor I picked up at a thrift store for a few bucks has become a best friend in the kitchen. It emulsified the salad dressing with  a few twists of the lid.
Love the seedless watermelons! I find it's easiest to cut them into quarters, then cross hatch cut to the rind,
Then continue cutting half of the quarter melon at a time, over the salad bowl. I washed and dried the melon before cutting, by the way. I also do that with cantaloupe and honeydew, which can be subbed for watermelon. 

It's delicious! I especially like the crispy celery combined with the salty feta and sweet, sweet melon. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Roadtreking - Us and Them, Then and Now

The young runner on the tree-strewn forest road is Chelsea Behymer, son Chris' girlfriend. She's running out of the sheer joy of being alive and thumbing her nose at minor obstacles such as hundreds of downed trees  en route to a trail we wanted to hike. But first we have to drive there, them in a self-converted Sprinter, us in our cushy Roadtrek Agile.

The tree-clogged road presented a challenge they wanted to tackle. To Paul and me, it was a no-brainer no-go from the get-go, even though we followed them.

A recent van camping trip with son Chris, whose primary sponsor, Eddie Bauer, features the Live Your Adventure brand, and his friend Chelsea, made clear the differences in our travel styles and our generations, including their propensity for risk and ours for scaling back in that department. For starters, we joined them by invitation. How cool is that? I loved my parents, but I don't recall at any time inviting them to ruin a jaunt with me and a romantic partner. That's just one little difference. (If you have a few minutes, check out those links above.) Maybe we're getting rewarded for all the camping trips we did with our sons when they were youngsters. 

PK and I are Baby Boomers, although I am officially one year too old. We worked hard, scraped by for a few decades, and raised two incredible sons. We were frugal because well, we couldn't afford not to be. Now well into retirement, we've reached a comfort level that enables road tripping in luxury, at least compared with son Chris, and also compared with our younger selves. (Keep reading.)

Ours is the sleek silver Roadtrek Agile van above. Theirs is a spirited red Sprinter he named nevervan. Maybe because he wanted one for so long but never thought he'd find one he could afford. 

Chris and Chelsea travel in true Millennial fashion equipped with rugged mountain bikes, kayaks, the latest electronics, propane stove, cooler, and a trowel. No heater, no AC, no running water, and no toilet. Not even a fan.

He snagged a deal on this used Sprinter a couple years ago, and between kayaking expeditions, he, with help first from his father, and later, from Chelsea, fashioned a simple custom interior from which he can work and play. Our home is his mailing address, but the Sprinter is his real home, which he often shares with Chelsea and her little mutt, Peanut.(Naturalist Chelsea has work that takes her to far places for weeks at a time.) 

Our van, on the other hand, is a lightly used 2010 Roadtrek Agile on a Sprinter chasis and, like Chris', boasts a Mercedes diesel engine. Let's not even talk about the price difference because it is, frankly, shocking. They're going Spartan, mostly, and we're, well, not! 

But there are some perks to getting old, right? For the record, our van, the same 21 ft. long as Chris', is decked out with: cherry wood cabinets, unbelievable storage space, a refrigerator/freezer, AC, a microwave/convection combo oven, a generator, a tiny toilet/shower closet, a queen-size bed, swivel seats, blinds, curtains, a retractable step, awning, outside shower, furnace and on it goes. We love it, love it. But we also paid our dues. 

                                    Photo above: Chris riding his bike about 25 years after the photo below was taken.
Korbulic family around 1989. Chris, 3, has the long shorts, Quinn, almost 13,  the cute pink ones. Paul's kayak is atop our trusty Toyota Landcruiser and my road bike is ready for my training ride that morning for Cycle Oregon. We car/tent camped from Oregon to South Dakota and back. One of our best family trips ever. 

About paying our dues. We progressed through the decades from rough and tough tent/river/car camping (30 + wonderful years, half of them with our two sons), to sleeping in the bed of our pick-up (a couple awkward years) to enjoying the hell out of our FourWheel pop--up camper beginning in 2010, to our current state of luxury.
We've never wanted a hulking RV, but something that parks as easily as a large pickup, doesn't require an RV site with hook-ups, and gets decent gas mileage. No wonder our Roadtrek is named "Agile." It satisfies  our keen desire to travel comfortably but nimbly as we pile on the years. And my, how those years are stacking up.

We kinda noticed those years during our enlightening camping caravan with Chris and Chelsea. We also noted some, umm, traveling style differences. This is to be expected, of course, since we are 40 years older.  But they indulged us, and probably didn't notice, as they were too busy making every minute count: running, biking, hiking, gathering firewood, gnawing roots and herbs, gazing into one another's eyes, organizing their van, doing push-ups on picnic tables, and washing up in snow-melt temperature lake water. And I'm only exaggerating a tiny bit.

A few key differences


Choosing a campsite
Us:  We love Forest Service campgrounds, $5 a night, senior rate, or county, state or national camps, between $15 and as much as $35. We have succumbed to private RV campgrounds under desperate circumstances, which can run between $35 and $55, depending upon size of RV and amenities needed. Not recommended! 
Them: Dispersed camping: free (AKA boondocking)
Note: They seemed comfortable with the Forest Service camps we used during our two nights out, but Chris later revealed that those were the only times they'd stayed in designated campgrounds. We treated them to the $10 per night fees. Our first night out, the four of us were alone in a lakeside campground with a spectacular view of Oregon's Mt. Thielson. We also had clean odorless toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, and lots of wood for campfires.

I had to look up "dispersed camping," although we encountered it in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, CA, and in Death Valley. We didn't call it dispersed camping in our 20s, though, but 'finding a place to park and hide in the woods or wherever." The link above is an excellent guide, which I just discovered on the RoadTrekking Blog, which calls it boondocking. I was delighted to learn that many Roadtrek owners prefer boondocking. That's my kind of group!

As a person who grew up in the boondocks of North Dakota and has lived in Oregon boondocks for a few decades, I am pleased that remote terrain has come into fashion with owners of high-quality compact self-sufficient camping units. I'm excited to go boondocking along the East Coast. Is that even possible?

In the West, most ranger stations have behind-the-counter maps to how and where to camp free provided you can do without hook-ups. Of course, Chris and Chelsea don't need no stinkin' ranger advice. They've only been routed out of a "campsite" at 2 a.m. by law enforcement once. 
Mt. Thielson from a deserted Forest Service campground on Lemolo Lake in Southwestern Oregon, May 2016.
Settling into a campsite - Us and Them
Us: set up the camp chairs, pour some cabernet sauvignon and start thinking about appetizers.
Them: check the mountain bike tires, do a few calisthenics, hop on those babies and ride 45 minutes uphill over rocks, roots, and downed trees before returning to gather wood and assemble a campfire. 

PK may be wondering where the corkscrew is located as he watches the biking preparations "next door." Soon they'll be off and onto the same trail we'll hike tomorrow to Lemolo Falls. That's our Roadtrek Agile.

Dinner time
Us: Sometime between 7 pm and 8:30 pm, preferably during daylight. 
Them: Sometime before bed and after a bike ride or a hike, especially if they've had fewer than five or six hours of physical activity. Or maybe that should be seven or eight hours?

Plastic bags
Us: We're virtuous, we thought. We reuse purchased plastic ziplock bags until they fall apart, and take cloth bags shopping. We use the inevitable plastic disposable bags for trashcan liners and to hold  massive amounts of garden overproduction to drop at food banks and press into neighbors' hands. 
Them: No plastic bags. None. I've tried forcing ziplock bags on Chris to keep a hunk of cheese or a leftover from drying out. Nope. No plastic bags.
Upon encountering a road blocked by too many downed trees to count
Us: Complete agreement that the downed trees make the road a no-go. 

Them: (Who are in lead position) Let's get through by using the machete on the smaller trees and holding others up so the van(s) can pass under, and then just dodge around stuff. Destination: an up-close view of Lemolo Falls. We turned around, of course, with a bit of difficulty, perhaps a quarter mile down the pike, and took a log strewn hiking rail to the falls the next morning. But we followed them into  this obstacle course. It was, uh, instructive, to observe our differences.
Yes, this may be too many trees, they agree.  Below Chelsea bends another small tree for van passage.

Bathing (with environmentally acceptable soap, of course) in streams, lakes, oceans, ponds, snowdrifts etc.
Us: Unless the water temp is at least tolerable, we'll wait for a warm shower or take sponge baths.  
Them: Frigid water is not a problem!  It toughens then up, and I believe they actually like it. Plus after a few hours of running, mountain biking, vigorous hiking, rock climbing etc., rinsing off is imperative, icy water or not.

Leveling the van
Us: We use those orange plastic Lego-like thingies plus a cellphone leveling app for precision work. 

Them: Search around and you'll find the perfect rock or piece of wood.

The obvious difference between "them and us", of course, is that they're in the fullness of beautiful vigorous youth and PK and I are teetering on the edge of old age! 

We realize what's coming, but before it does, we'll be riding high, far and wide in the Roadtrek.

Warm Spring Falls is just a few miles off the beaten path near the North Umpqua River in Southern Oregon. The trail to it is maybe a half mile long. I think we should be able to get there again in 10 years, maybe even 20. When you're in the first third of a normal life span, you can't fathom the last third. But when that final third arrives, you know you must grab every bit of joy. Seeing waterfalls and wild birds, tending a garden, nurturing relationships, including with your adult children, all take on new meaning.  The "life is short" cliche becomes your reality. I need to get to bed and rest up. I very have important things to do tomorrow.