Thursday, October 13, 2016

Kodiak Cakes

My friend Todd (not to be confused with my first year of college roommate Todd, who is also my friend), who often eats garbage foods on purpose (seriously, if there was a nice restaurant on one corner and a gas station with microwave burritos and those hot dogs in the spinning heat racks on the other corner, Todd would go to the gas station; I know that sounds mean but I guarantee that this is an actual choice that Todd has made at least once in his life), casually mentioned to a few of us online the other day, "My microwavable pancake in a cup is pretty tasty."

My immediate response was, "WTF?", because "pancake in a cup" doesn't sound like anything that should be possible or acceptable, and I say this as a person who actually liked the hot dog-flavored Pringles.

Todd isn't the only one who sometimes likes garbage food.

Todd explained that he had eaten something called a Kodiak Cake Flapjack On The Go, and that he'd bought it at Target. We peppered him with questions, because it sounded kind of awful, but the other night at Target I decided that I would just have to find out for myself:

Kodiak Cake

I won't say it's the best two dollars I've ever spent, but it wasn't bad.

It didn't look very appetizing, and smelled like nothing when I opened it:

Kodiak Cake

I added 1/4 cup of water and mixed until blended:

Kodiak Cake

and it did smell a little bit like pancake batter. I popped it into the microwave for a minute and fifteen seconds, and when it came out it looked like this:

Kodiak Cake

It looks like mush in that picture, but it's solid. The top springs back when you touch it with a fork, and it smells so good. I got the cinnamon and maple flavor, and it smelled so maple-y (maple-ish? My spellcheck will not suggest any words for "smelling of maple") that I was suddenly excited about trying it:

Kodiak Cake

Kodiak Cake

It's light and fluffy, like a pancake should be, and it tastes pretty good. If you work in an office or someplace like that where you want a somewhat filling snack or small meal (one of these is 260 calories) and have a microwave, this might be good to keep in your emergency desk drawer.

It's not a pancake, though. It tastes like a pancake, but it's not flat or seared on either side. This is a pancake-flavored muffin that you bake in the microwave.

It was pretty good for breakfast, though.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


I spent Monday through Friday of last week in Arizona, for a conference. Since the conference had pretty solid blocks of activity every day, I didn't really get a lot of sightseeing in, so I don't have as many pictures as I normally would on a vacation trip. I saw a lot of friends and colleagues, though, had a really good time, and brought back some good ideas.

Our trip started before dawn on Monday, when I dressed in a shirt that I got on clearance at Kroger:


It was on clearance because the score printed on it is wrong. I wore it all day, and even though several people commented on it and talked about the game, no one noticed that mistake.

Dawn came while we were on the plane:


but it wasn't the only thing. The flight attendant brought me a stroopwafel, a strangely sweet cookie that I'd never had before. After reading the ingredients, I gingerly tasted it, and then immediately devoured it.

I also spilled my ginger ale on the plane, and helplessly blurted to the (attractive) flight attendant, "I SPILLED!" as if I am a toddler. I'm sure he noted and was impressed by my highly articulate vocabulary. I'm still not sure how it happened, as I was reading, sipping, reaching for my cup, and then all of a sudden ginger ale and ice in the aisle.

They left the cubes there to melt.

Once the plane landed, we knew we were on limited time and pretty much only had Monday afternoon free, so we dropped our bags and took a car to historic Old Town Scottsdale:






That last one was inscribed on a bus stop, of all places. While in Old Town walking around we did some shopping, poking into a lot of touristy stores filled with touristy crap:


Nothing says "America" like a fringed leather bag made out of our flag. Even better, I saw the same bag in multiple stores.

We also got some food. I had some delicious chorizo and jalapeno corn cakes at the Daily Dose:


and I have to say that I ate more chorizo last week than I have at any other time in my life. If I was ordering anything and it had a chorizo option, by God, I got the chorizo. All of it was very good, as was the Golden Nugget that I got at the Sugar Bowl, a charmingly pink ice cream parlor that looked kind of like a soda fountain counter in Barbie's dream house:





I was less pleased with the Meat and Potatoes Martini that I got at Cowboy Ciao later in the week:


The deep fried bacon was delicious, but the cocktail itself had a strong, almost sour taste. The mac and cheese I had with it was wonderful, though.

Other than that one day of sightseeing, the only scenery I saw on the rest of the trip was when I went for walks:







but that's ok. I was there for work, not for sightseeing.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Month in Books: September

I didn't really have a theme to my September reading, which I bring up because I will in October.

I'm also bringing it up because I'm thinking of a secondary book project: reading or rereading all of my Stephen King books. I know that there are other blogs already doing this, reading them in publishing order and such, but I've been a Stephen King fan since high school. I have an entire bookcase in my apartment that is nothing but hardcover Stephen King books, and once I even wrote Stephen King a fan letter.

That turned out kind of hilariously, as I wrote to ask for an autographed photo. He wrote back and explained that autographed photos were more a practice for actors, not authors (Oh really, Stephen? So what were you doing appearing in all of those movie and television adaptations of your work? Writing?), and invited me to send a book to be autographed instead. I was so mad about it that not only did I never get around to sending a book, but I also threw the letter away. I wanted an autographed photo of Stephen King, and I threw away a signed letter that he wrote me because I was mad.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, I haven't read some of those books more than once, and some of them I haven't read at all. Over the years, Stephen and I have drifted apart a little, and I don't automatically buy and read his books as soon as they come out anymore. Some of them I don't even buy in hardcover, because I didn't feel like spending the money after Dreamcatcher, which I remember reading once and thinking, "Jesus, this is so bad." I'm wondering, though, if those books will mean the same things to me reading them as an adult that they did when I read them as a teenager, or if I will see them differently through a lens of different experience.

It's an idea for a New Year's resolution, but in the meantime I need to get some books out of the house, which means attacking the "books to be read" piles. That was the theme for September, and ties into the theme for October.

1) Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism is a love letter to the 80's. It's 1988, and even though high schoolers Gretchen and Abby have been friends since 4th grade, their friendship is a little strained after a night of skinnydipping and LSD. Gretchen's acting a little weird, and bad stuff keeps happening around her. Abby is concerned, but when she starts asking questions, that's when the really bad stuff starts happening to her, to their friends, to their school, and maybe to the whole world. Is Gretchen possessed by a demon, like the weightlifting exorcist Abby consults believes, or are high school girls just bitches? And can their friendship survive?

This book was fun, but also a little disturbing. There was some really intriguing imagery, and when I got to the end I was kind of just plowing through because I wanted to see what would happen.

2) I don't really know how to sum up Welcome to Night Vale except to say that it's just not the novel for me. I don't remember which friend said, "You don't have to listen to the podcast to read it! Go ahead! You'll love it!" but I listened to that friend, and I stuck this book on my wish list, and then my parents bought it off of my wish list for Christmas, and now I wasted a Christmas present on a book that was more interested in being cleverly surreal than in actually telling a story that might interest a reader, and I wasted time reading it.

Maybe I just didn't get it, or maybe there's not really that much there to get.

3) Holly Madison's Down the Rabbit Hole offers the incredibly shocking idea that Hugh Heffner, a man who dates seven interchangeable women at once, might be a man who mistreats women and ignores their feelings. Who could have predicted such a thing from a man who presents this image to the world:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

I'm sorry to mock her struggles to find self esteem and happiness, but throughout the book she seems incredibly naïve for a woman who willingly agreed to move into a shared bedroom with another girlfriend in a mansion with a curfew so that she could group-date a seventy year old. And not just agreed to, but requested. She sought out this lifestyle, and then was perpetually amazed that she wasn't treated like an individual and nobody cared about her feelings.

I'm also kind of surprised that Criss Angel didn't sue, because the part where she talks about him being emotionally abusive and stealing her jewelry after she broke up with him could be construed as defamatory, unless he agrees that's what happened.

4) Back in the early days of the war in Afghanistan, a lot of people had an impression of Pat Tillman, the NFL player who walked away from a football contract to join the Army. In Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer tells us about the man behind the propaganda: who he was, what he believed in, and why he thought it was his duty to help others. This is both a biography of Tillman and of the US involvement in Afghanistan going back several decades before the fighting, the tragic way in which the two histories collided, and the way that the US government did their best to obscure the fact that Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

This book is ultimately frustrating, because it's a story about how Tillman thought he was doing the right thing, and trusted the government to tell him and the American people the truth. Since that didn't happen, you're left with the feeling that his sacrifice was a terrible waste.

5) Gordon Merrick's The Lord Won't Mind is a trashy romance novel. There's crying, emotional outbursts, a whirlwind romance, a little bit of violence, sinister machinations to keep the lovers apart, and a lot of sex. A lot of sex. More sex than "50 Shades". The kind of sex you awkwardly read on the treadmill while hoping that no one else is looking at your Kindle, because there's so much of it and it's so graphic. The surprising parts of this, though, are that it's a gay novel from 1970 that doesn't end in horrible tragedy, and that it's really super racist to the point that I assumed it had been written prior to the 1950s.

It was an interesting read, but drags in places. It also didn't clear anything off of my reading pile, since I read this one on the kindle while on the treadmill.

6) I realized at the bookstore a few weeks ago that I've never read anything by Robert Heinlein. That seemed odd, since he is a legendary science fiction author and I like science fiction, so I went to the science fiction section and grabbed the first Heinlein book I saw: Methuselah's Children. It tells the story of the Howard Families, a group of people in the near future who have managed to extend their lives by a few hundred years through decades of selective breeding and concealed identities. Regular humans are hunting the Families, convinced that there's a secret to their long lives, and the Families have a wild, desperate plan to steal a newly constructed interstellar starship and leave Earth behind.

This felt like half of a book. Up until they actually got into the spaceship and took off, everything was moving along, but once that happened the book seemed to fall apart. They go to a couple of planets and, eventually, back to Earth, but that whole half of the book seems directionless, like Heinlein wasn't really sure what kind of story he wanted to tell or was just throwing things at the wall until it got long enough to be publishable. I should probably try at least one more book before I decide he's not the author for me, but it may be a while.

I'm open to suggestions for another book of his to try. I was thinking of Starship Troopers, because I've heard that it's good and also because Casper Van Dien was really cute in that movie, but now I'm not sure that's a good reason to read a book, because a lot of times now I can't tell Casper Van Dien from Grant Show, so I'm open to other ideas.

For October, the theme is Joyce Carol Oates, because I have a number of her books in the "to be read" pile, so I might as well read a bunch of them all at once.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

My Heart Will Go On

In considering yesterday's race, it's possible that I may have been too hard on myself.

This is a typical problem for me. If I do a presentation and receive five positive comments and one negative one on the evaluations, I only remember the negative one. I've never in my life walked out of anything I've done, a play or a presentation or a workshop or a training, and not dwelled on something that I could have done better.

Now that I've had a good night's sleep and some time to think about it, I wondered if this might be the case. Just this morning, I asked my good friends Angelina Jolie:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Dolly Parton:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

and Jennifer Lawrence:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

if they thought I was being too hard on myself, while my friend Orlando Bloom asked to see my finisher's medal more closely:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Those two jerks from "Twilight" tried to see it, too, but I pretended not to hear them.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Angelina, Dolly, and J-Law suggested that yes, maybe I was dwelling excessively on the negative. Yes, I was unhappy with my race time, but that was partially my own fault, and I was definitely overlooking the fact that I finished at all. Lots of people wouldn't have.

Thinking about that, I asked a few more friends what they thought.

Brad Pitt wanted me to hit him, as hard as I could.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

I wasn't really down for that.

James Dean thought self doubt was tearing me apart.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Maybe he was right. After all, Katie Perry thought I was a firework.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

And Dale Jr. thought I was a champ.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Adam Sandler was slightly skeptical of this whole exercise:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Cameron Diaz was bored by the whole thing:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

and I didn't really care what Shia LaBeouf had to say:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

but Taylor Swift advised me to just shake this off:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

and Tom Hanks reminded me that races are sometimes like a box of chocolates, and you never know what you're going to get:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

I had a bad race, but it's not the end of the world.

As Channing Tatum and I stared off into the distance, contemplating the race after this one:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

Jack Dawson reminded me to never let go:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

and I decided that yes, my heart will go on.

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

There's another race after this one, and I'll do better.

But I also completed this race, and that's also an achievement.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Mystery Finish

I did the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon today, for the second time. Unlike the first time, though, I don't really know how I did. The published finishing times don't include me, which would not be terrible if I had noted what time I crossed the starting line.

I, of course, did not do so.

I was at the start line:

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

I was actually at the start line well in advance, before daylight was at the start line:

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

but they start us in waves depending on when our projected finishing time is. I was so focused on getting in my wave and starting in a good mental place that when I finally made it over the start line I didn't think to check the clock. I did think to take a photo of every mile, though, and by adding up the time in between them I have an idea of how I did.

The answer to that question is "not so good".

I finished somewhere before the 3:30 pacer, but I have no idea how much before, since I finished and immediately headed to the car, because my feet were killing me. I was also mentally drained, since I did this race by myself, and wasn't really thinking anything other than "Shower, chocolate milk, I might be crippled, shower, I have a medal, chocolate milk, shower..." on endless repeat through my head.

So how did the race go?

Mile 1

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

I was mostly fine here. A little cranky, as I usually am at the beginning of races, but moving at a good pace.

Mile 2

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

No matter where I am walking or racing, there is always someone pushing a baby stroller who manages to be faster than me. You can't see the stroller in that picture, but right around Mile 2 it went past me and I never saw it again.

I was walking a solid 15 minute mile pace at this point, based on photo time stamps, and managed to do so for five or six miles. Overall, I managed to keep on a 14-16 minute pace the whole way, except for a weird blip about 2/3 of the way through where I dropped down to a 19 minute mile, then must have realized I had slowed down, and did the next mile in 13 minutes.

Mile 3

I have no memory of Mile 3.

It is a thing that existed.

Mile 4

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

Mile 4 also exists. While I don't remember anything specific about it, it was around this point that the road really started to tilt. It's a very winding road, so it tilted one way and then the other, and the uneven walking started to loosen one of my shoes.

This will be important later.

Mile 5

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

I was in my zone at this point. Around the 5 or 6 mile mark, I can usually forget that I'm walking, and just move forward automatically.

That blonde in the light blue shirt next to the girl in the orange shirt? I stayed with her almost the entire race. She was doing a run/walk thing, so she would run ahead, then when she slowed down to walk I would pass her. We did this until Mile 12, when she finally passed me for good and I did not catch up.

Mile 6

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

Mile 6 is where I lost track of reality for a minute.

Somewhere after Mile 5 I decided that we had actually already passed Mile 6, and that the next mile marker, Mile 7, would mean we were over halfway done. So there I was, happily trucking along, and then I came around the corner and saw that we were at Mile 6, not Mile 7.

For a second I thought, "Why did they put up the six mile marker twice?" and almost said something to the people around me, but then I realized that no one else thought it was weird, so I wisely did not say anything.

Mile 7

This is the best photo I have of Mile 7:

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

I was really trucking along at that point, I guess, because all three photos of the Mile 7 marker are blurry.

Note that the road is still slanting.

Mile 8

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

Mile 8 is also slightly blurry, but it's because we were going downhill for a second. Not only that, but there was also suddenly a breeze at Mile 8. I don't know what happened there, but for a minute or two, it was fantastic.

Mile 9

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

Mile 9 is where I realized I had a problem with my shoe.

The tilting, uneven road had caused one of my shoes to loosen a little, so now instead of a snug fit, my left foot was rubbing back and forth on the bottom of the shoe with every step, and my sock was in between my foot and the shoe, rubbing and bunching and chafing.

I should have stopped for a second to re-tie my shoe, so that it would be good and tight again, but since I was making such good time and I was probably getting a little exhausted, I decided that I should just finish instead, because four miles is nothing. I walk four miles after work all the time. I'd just power through those four miles, and then my foot would be fine.

Mile 10

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

At Mile 10, I could feel a blister forming on the foot with the loose shoe.

I convinced myself that I only had a 5K left, and I walk those all the time, so fuck that shoe. Fuck that blister. I am a warrior, and I walk through the pain.

I really should have tied my shoe again.

Mile 11

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

Sometime during Mile 11 I realized that I had a problem in my other shoe, too.

At first, I thought there was a rock in my shoe. I don't know how one would have gotten in there, eleven miles in, but there was definitely a small stone-like object in my right shoe. On each step, I tried to shake my foot around a little, so that it would end up between my toes and not right in ball of my foot (the same spot where a blister continued to form on my left foot), and when I did get it up by my toes I realized I could feel it with my toes.

One of my toenails fell off inside my shoe.

After the race, I discovered that it was my pinky toe nail, and that it will grow back. During the race, I was filled with uncertainty.

"Do I need that toenail? Will it grow back? Did it cut the bottom of my foot, or is my foot just sweaty? I can't tell, but what if my shoe is filling up with blood? How many miles are left until I can take this toenail out of my sock?"

Mile 12

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

I slowed down here. People that I passed early in the race started to pass me now. My left foot was killing me, since the blister wouldn't burst for some reason, and every few steps I had to shake the toenail in my right shoe back into place.

I'm going to say right now, though, that these are not the only reasons why I slowed down. The God's honest truth is that I was not in the shape that I should have been for this race. I took a bunch of rest days all summer long, and ate a bunch of garbage. I have put some weight back on, and my speed is down because I have become a slightly larger person who didn't train enough.

This is my own fault, and I admit that.

These are problems that I will remedy.

In the meantime, I hit Mile 13:

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

I was almost limping at this point, definitely favoring my right foot over my left, but I was still ahead of the 3:30 pacer. Someone called my name, someone gave me a medal:

Great Smoky Mtns Half Marathon 2016

and I gave myself a chocolate milk and a donut.

Now, I'm waiting to hear back from the race management, to find out what my actual times were.

In the meantime, I've resolved to do better next time.