Thursday, June 25, 2009

Keep On Truckin

OK, I'll admit it; I have mixed feelings about the death of Michael Jackson. Now don't get me wrong; it is always very sad when someone passes away; ESPECIALLYsomeone who has contributed so much to the world of entertainment the way that he did ~ but if we're being honest with ourselves, didn't the Michael Jackson that THRILLED us, the Michael Jackson that we knew and loved, die a LONG time ago? Back in the day Michael was BRILLIANT. He was unstoppable, and untouchable; but then he started touching people who should have been UNTOUCHABLE and he was never viewed the same (at least by me.)
Oh I loved Michael Jackson just as much as the next person. In fact, the first concert that I ever went to was The Jackson 5 at the Nanuet Theater-go-round. I learned to do the robot, to "Dancing Machine," I rocked with him "off the wall" and to this day I have "Can You Feel it" on my IPOD. I've used "Man in the Mirror" on the "Scrapbooking From The Inside Out" playlist numerous times, and I would definitely consider myself a fan; BUT I can't excuse his pediphilia, just because he's dead; IF he's dead... I don't know, I can't help but get the feeling that his death is going to be treated like Elvis' (where people STILL think he's alive and they see him places;) or like Selena (who although was never rumored to still be alive I still can't REALLY believe she's gone) or of course, Princess Diana. People thought that it was a hoax when Princess Diana died, and finding out about her death was very painful for me because I thought I was responsible. Yes, you read that right...
It was 1997 and I was working in the coffeehouse when I had an idea for a "Seinfeld" episode. I called the episode "Keep On Trucking" because Kramer decided that he was going to revive the expression "Keep on trucking" because he thought that it was a perfectly good expression that never got enough play. And then although I hadn't written it all out, I had it all planned in my head and I shared my idea with just about everyone who came into the coffeehouse. Well, about the same time, I came across a joke that I just fell in love with. I don't remember who first told it to me; but suffice it to say I told it to EVERYONE. I even got up at Open Mic night and told this joke; and it went like this:
Dolly Parton and Princess Diana both died and went to heaven. They were waiting at the pearly gates and St. Peter came out to greet them. St. Peter told them that he only had room to admit one of them and asked them to each tell him a bit about themselves and then he'd decide who could stay. Dolly went first, and said (in her southern drawl of course ~) "Well, I'm Dolly Parton, I'm a country music star, I've written lots of songs, I have a theme park , I have tried to do lots of good for people; and, well, I guess I'm best known for my boobs." St. Peter thanked Dolly and asked Princess Diana to speak (and she did in her lovely English accent~) "I'm Princess Diana, and I was a school teacher before I married Prince Charles. I've done a lot of charity work and I douche every day." St. Peter thanked them both and announced that Princess Diana would be walking through the gates. Well Dolly was astounded and asked St. Peter why and he replied "C'mon Dolly, everyone knows a royal flush beats a pair."
OK, so I was at work at the coffeehouse and Bobbi called and said "Oh my god you're thing came true!" I had NO IDEA what she was talking about for a second, and then it dawned on me; "she must mean my Seinfeld episode." I couldn't figure out how that would have happened, but I asked; "You mean my Seinfeld episode?" And she said "No! Princess Diana is dead." OH MY GOD! You could have knocked me over with a feather. I wanted to run and hide under my bed, because I felt like I had brought this on by telling my joke everywhere; "Princess Diana died, Princess Diana died" OY! The guilt was immeasurable. Now, of course I know that it wasn't really my fault and it was just a freaky occurence because (say it with me) "who could make this stuff up?"
Of course I know that I didn't cause or predict Princess Diana's death; just like the poor reporter on TMZ last week had NO IDEA that MJ would die a week later. Yah, I don't usually watch TMZ but just before "SYTYCD" came on, I caught a bit with a reporter going up to MJ's car. His face / head was all wrapped up and the reporter said "Are you alright Michael" and MJ's reply was unintelligible but the subtitle said "Why wouldn't I be?" I guess that's just life; and these are JUST coincidences.
I am saddened by the loss of the King of Pop, and hopefully the world will remember his legacy but not forget what he became. The loss of his childhood, and his mind were terrible wastes; but I hope that in his afterlife he will find peace and keep on truckin.
Till next time...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Lil Bit about Arizona

When it comes to living in Arizona I go through phases. There are times that I can't wait to venture out and try something new and others when I think that we are really lucky to live here. Lately it seems that I have been in "really lucky to live here" mode; and I recognize this because as I'm driving down the street I notably appreciate the most often blue sky as it contrasts with our flourishing landscapes. I relish the picturesque views and the overall friendliness of the local residents. I am thankful for the cost of living and the affordability of my kids chosen activities and when I talk to non-Arizonians I find myself promoting the state and all that it has to offer.

Luis and I moved to Arizona VERY unexpectedly. We had been living in Orlando for about two and a half years and we were finding it extremely difficult to make trips home to Puerto Vallarta since that wasn't a place that people were really travelling to from Florida and we started thinking about moving West. I called my friend Hollie, who had moved to Phoenix at the same time that we had moved to Orlando. Hollie had been attending Thunderbird (Graduate school for Global Management) and as a side project, she and two friends decided to open a coffeehouse. (I refer to my list of 100 things ~ # 82. Hollie Castro is the most ambitious person I know; and I think she is truly awe inspiring.) The year was 1996 and Starbucks hadn't come to town yet; so their business was doing quite well (they were voted Best Coffeehouse & Best Cup of Coffee, by both the "New Times" and "Arizona Republic" shortly after opening) and as upon her graduation in December Hollie was moving to Italy to work for GE and her partner Julie was moving to Houston, this was going to leave her partner Bobbi looking for a manager. I thought that managing a coffeehouse would be a welcome change from being a social worker so Hollie told me to call Bobbi. After speaking to Bobbi for a half hour, I got the job and Luis and I moved to Phoenix, sight unseen.

People always ask if I miss New York and the truth is that I miss my friends ands I miss the food but that's about it. I LOVE food! And though you could probably guess that just by looking at me, I firmly believe that not ALL overweight people LOVE food. Some are just overweight because they eat (whatever) to fill a void, or because they have poor metabolisms, or don't exercise enough, or because they eat the wrong foods; I however, LOVE food. I love to watch Food Network shows of all kinds
(especially $40 a Day.) I like to read restaurant reviews and menus even if I know that it is for a restaurant that I will never go to. When I'm in a hotel, one of the first things that I do is read about the local eateries and whenever Rachel K is going to a new restaurant she always emails me the menu so I can check it out; because we share a love of food.
Now, because I love food, you have to understand that moving from New York to any other state presents a culinary culture shock like no other. Upon the transition from NY to Florida I recognized the absence of the "Mom and Pop"

style restaurants and the non-existence of Diners ( I refer to my list #7 ~I totally miss New York Diners. Seriously, if there is anyone with some restaurant savvy, and you're looking to strike it rich ~ move to Arizona and open a Good, Old Fashioned, everything from Omelets to Crab stuffed flounder diner, and you will make a Gold Mine.) Aahh the Diner; where you could go any time of the day or night and ALWAYS get anything on the menu. The Diner, with its rotating cake cases with slices as big as your head. The Diner, where I first learned to love french fries and brown gravy and first tasted Baklava (that one was for you Judy; who ALWAYS asked EVERY waiter or waitress at WHICHEVER Diner; "How's the Baklava?") The Diner, where I spent countless hours after a school concert, or having a family dinner or an early morning snack after leaving a club. Aahh the Diner - choices were unlimited and yet I always got the same couple of things ~ BUT alas the chain was the thing in Orlando and the home cooked meals from Italian restaurants were no where to be found. The lack of dining diversity in Orlando somewhat prepared me for the gastronomic deficiency that I first encountered in Phoenix; the land of "Erto." Yes, the Phoenix area is overrun by 24 hour Mexican drive thru joints that frequently have a name that end in "erto." We have Filiberto's, Heriberto's, Hilberto's,Humberto's, Poliberto's Roberto's, and Roliberto's, (just to name a few,) and I'm sure there must be a Berto's too. Now Michelle K has been living in Phoenix a lot longer than me and she had informed me that Erto means meat of the cat; but I have developed my own theory. I hadn't had much exposure to Mexican food prior to moving to Phoenix, and YES, I know that I am married to a Mexican man; but his mom's cooking is not the type of fare that be offered in a Mexican restaurant; although it is DELICIOUS! No, growing up in New City, the only encounter that I had with Mexican food was Tacos at Jack In the Box (a few towns over; ) AND that Jack closed down within a few years. No Mexican food was not prevalent in Rockland County in the 70's and 80's and I offer further proof by explaining that in the 8th grade my Spanish teacher actually planned a field trip to the one and only Mexican restaurant in the county. Now I ask you, if Mexican food was commonplace would our class have been taking a field trip there? Probably not; but I digress...
The "Erto's" are not exactly purveyor's of Mexican cuisine; they are sellers of what I have come to call "ASS BURRITO." Yes, you read that right. Now you can decide for yourself what type of ass I am referring to; but basically I dubbed the popular Carne Asada burrito (from ANY of the "Erto's) ass burrito because it is meat that is typically overcooked and void of taste, (in my opinion) and subsequently not only did the Carne Asada burrito come to be know as ass burrito in my house, but now ALL of the "Erto's" are just generically and affectionately referred to as ass burrito; so, ass burrito is now not only a meal, but a place; or several places. "Aahh, the diner;" she said longingly...
Ass burrito is extremely popular in Phoenix and especially with my family. I honestly think that Luis could eat EVERY meal there and my kids would be righ tbehind him because they love the Quesadillas and beans.
A couple of months ago a brand new Filiberto's was getting ready to open in my neighborhood and to say that Luis and Nicky were waiting for the opening with baited breath would not be an understatement; so the day that I drove by and saw the balloons outside, I knew EXACTLY what we were having for dinner. I told my guys that Filiberto's had opened and they literally could not get there quick enough and because I am the Queen of FAIR; I will admit that the ass burrito was actually good. It had flavor and everything. Now does this mean that I'm a fan? Absolutely NOT, but I will give credit where credit is due and I will eat it out of necessity, although I order a shredded beef taco salad without beans and NOT a Carne Asada anything. Well, last week Luis was at work and time had gotten away from me, so I went to the A.B drive thru. I got the food home and discovered that I now had an additional reason to call them ass burrito because although my receipt said "a pint of beans" these payasos (Spanish word for clowns) sent me home with a pint of rice. Now I ask you, what choice did I have? I loaded the kids into the car and went back to A.B. I requested my beans and asked that they remake my order because I didn't want the kids to eat cold Quesadilla; AND I am now boycotting Filiberto's (not like that's such a hardship for me really.)

Now, although my disclaimers usually appear at the beginning of a post, let me say this: There is A LOT of fabulous food in Phoenix despite the excess of the "Erto's" and if you're visiting, even those are worth a try. A lot has changed food wise since we moved her 12 and a half years ago and the choices now abound. I hope to see ya here sometime because it really is a beautiful place to visit, a great place to live and a wonderful place to eat.
Till next time...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Camping - take 3

Ever since our last camping trip in October, we have been looking forward to going again. Michelle (legally) K and I made reservations all the way back in February for a weekend in June at Pinegrove (19 miles from Flagstaff) and for a weekend in July at Houston - Mesa (North of Payson;) and this past weekend was the Pinegrove trip.

Now I know that there are still many people who are still stunned by the fact that I actually enjoy camping, and this was evidenced on Facebook when on Friday morning I posted my status as "Paige Howell Ramos is going camping...Yes, camping!" and I received the following responses:
- Now c'mon Paige. Let's not be telling stories! Let me guess, camping at a hotel?
- "roughing it" at the Marriott??? ;-)
- I think it means she's bringing a sleeping bag to sleep on the king sized bed! :P
- In a motel?
- You mean a place where there's no bathroom???
Funny friends, but who can blame them; me camping is STILL an idea that I'm not quite used to and yet I LOVE IT.

We were all very excited to be getting out of town and trying our hands at camping again. As is customary, we were running late (so I refer you back to my 100 things about me list - #58 " I HATE being late; though all too often I am.") We were supposed to meet at 10 called to change it to 1030 and then again to 1045 because we had to call in last minute Asthma meds for Nicky, who wasn't feeling well. Thankfully the Kalka's were easy going and very gracious about our delays, EVEN when we FINALLY arrived and announced that Luis had forgot to put ALL of our sweatshirts in the car and needed to return home (20-25 minutes; EACH WAY.) It was absolutely unavoidable as the temperature was expected to be about 39 degrees in the evening, so Mike and Luis went back to my house and me, Michelle, the kids and Hershey hung out outside Carl's Jr. awaiting their return. An hour later we were finally on our way. We stopped for lunch at Camp Verde and I think that we even commented on how smoothly things were going now (or at least I thought it.) Michelle and Luis switched places and Mike and I drove. We made it to BEAUTIFUL Pinegrove around 330 and proceeded to unload and set up. Everything was going well and so Michelle asked me to go with her to get some water. I agreed and she asked me to drive but when I went to look for my purse/keys I couldn't find them and began to panic. We realized that I had left my purse in Camp Verde when we had lunch. Michelle got the number and by the grace of God, they actually had my purse. I suppose that karmically this could be considered pay back for my frequent efforts to promote the greater good .
At 5 , me, Michelle and my girls hightailed it back to Camp Verde with Michelle at the wheel; because she was afraid for me to drive without my license considering the way my luck had been going. We played a few rounds of Six degrees of Kevin bacon to pass the time and then retrieved my purse and its contents, completely intact. I asked Jose (who had held my purse) if someone had turned it in and he told me that he had found it when he was cleaning up. I gave him $10 as a small token of my appreciation and bought some ice cream for my crew as a thank you for their company; and yet again headed back to Pinegrove with Michelle at the wheel.
By the time we got back it was 715 and Luis had our camp all set up and the grill ready to go. I prepared the corn and beans (and by prepared I mean boiled them;) and we sat down to eat sans the Coke Zero that Luis left at home - so that was 3; as Mike pointed out and we were hopeful that nothing else had been forgotten.

We finished dinner and had a wonderful evening. We sat around the fire making Smores with the kids and as is one of our traditions, I suggested that we go around our circle and tell something that we are thankful for (because I do believe that we always have something to be thankful for and should express our thanks every day.) Well I was of course thankful to have gotten my purse back, thakful to be camping with our extended family, and I had to give a GREAT big thank you to Michelle for driving me back and forth to Camp Verde. The others were thankful for family and food and then we got to Max (Michelle and Mike's son;) who said that he was thankful for Bacon and his family (exactly in that order.) We laughed and laughed until it was time for bed.

We got up and made breakfast and then Michelle and I did what any campers would do ~ we went to Walmart. OK, OK course I know that's not what ANY campers would do; but we had a coffee issue and by issue I mean that we were in dire need of coffee as our generator wasn't strong enough to power the coffee maker that we had brought; not to mention I still needed Coke Zero (or some diet, caffeinated beverage) and somehow we were also running low on plates, cups and water (and yes, we had been there less than 24 hours) and I was sure that we had brought more than enough of all 3 of those items, so don't ask me where they all disappeared to.
Michelle and I drove into Flagstaff and went to Walmart. We were scurrying (yes, I said scurrying;) through the store because we didn't want to waste too much time and just as we were grabbing a playground ball I stopped dead in my tracks and said "Oh my god; Michelle look." And standing right there in the Flagstaff Walmart were Darth Vader, Chewbacca, A Storm Trooper, An Imperial Pilot, Darth Maul, and Boba Fett. We couldn't believe our eyes. We had struck the Star Wars mother lode and we knew that Nicky and Max were going to be so disappointed that they had missed it; so we did what any good moms would do and we took pictures with them with our make up free, camping faces. (Hence no picutes are beinbg posted on the Bumpy Ride.) When we got back to camp we said "Guess who we ran into at Walmart?" And after everyone made their guesses we said "No, them; " and showed the pictures.

We thought that we would finally be able to get down to the business of relaxing, but alas it was lunchtime and children and husbands wanted to be fed. After lunch Michelle and I played Scrabble, and because I know that she would want me to tell you this and because she has every right to boast; I will publicly announce my defeat as she beat my butt by about 100 points and she then declined any other invitation to play Scrabble with me because she wanted to revel in her win. She did; however, let me teach her how to play backgammon.
Dinner time rolled around and at 8pm the campground was offering a program called "Bear facts" which Michelle and I got out of going to by pointing out that someone had to clean up the dinner stuff, so the guys opted to take the kids to "bear facts" ~ HALLELUJAH! I mean I don't love camping enough to have sat through a presentation like that; however, when they returned Mike and Luis informed us that in the course of the time that we had been there, we pretty much had done EVERYTHING you could possibly do to ATTRACT a bear. We had poured bacon grease on the ground, we had a barking dog and we had what sounded like our own snoring bear ~ Mike. Once this was explained I just had one thing to say "Nice knowing ya." I was slightly relieved to find out that the closest bear was spotted 2 miles away and that a bear hadn't come into the campground for 30 years - but hey; how lucky could I expect to get in one weekend? I had already gotten my lost purse back; so I thought we were bear bait for sure.
We awoke - THANKFULLY, Sunday morning; had a light breakfast and packed up for home. We were definitely sorry to be leaving the serenity of the pines, but reality called.
It's funny but as relaxing as it is; camping is A LOT of work; and somehow you don't seem to mind and it's all worth it because when you are able to relax and hang out, it is that many more times peaceful and relaxing than anywhere I've ever been.
"I'm hoping that our next trip will leave more time for fun and relaxation and less time for mishaps," said the Queen of MISHAPS. And yet mishaps included, it was still a GREAT trip all around.
Till next time...