Mid-Life Crisis Trip

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Entry 20: Deep-fried twinkies and powwows

Fri, Aug 11, 2006

7:00 pm

We're beginning to enjoy this whole "cheap or free" lifestyle. One of the free things we found is a presentation by Prof. Jim Bell called "Postcards from Mars." He's one of the lead investigators for the Mars Rovers (the two little robots wandering around on Mars taking pictures).

We were at a PlanetCom festival in 1999 when the Mars Polar Lander mission was supposed to land and among other things, listen to Mars. There were all kinds of NASA people and science people (and Robert got to pee with Buzz Aldrin) and tons of media and even Bill Nye the Science Guy (always surrounded by 50 or 60 kids).

Unfortunately, they lost contact with the lander on Friday and everybody spent the rest of the weekend holding out hope ("maybe it didn't have enough quarters to phone home"). But it was never heard from again.

So it was really nice to attend a lecture about the rovers, because, as Jim Bell pointed out, "they have just entered day 926 of their 90-day mission." These babies were supposed to go maybe half a mile, and have gone four miles and are WAY past their warranty period.

Some of this is luck (it turns out that the wind periodically blows the dust off the solar panels so the rovers can keep their energy up) and some is over-engineering. The Spirit Rover has a dead front wheel, so it can only drive backwards. It's holed up for the winter when the sun is really low and is waiting until the summer driving season. The Opportunity Rover has mechanical arthritis in the instrument arm, so they can't really extend it any more, but it gets by.

Coolest thing we didn't know: The instrument cover on the Spirit Rover includes two pieces of aluminum from the World Trade Center.

Second coolest thing: The daytime sky on Mars is red and at sunset turns blue—exactly backwards from Earth.

Nobody knows how much longer they'll last, but you can check for pictures and mission updates at: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html

Sat, Aug 12, 2006

We don't know if this made news anyplace else, but four pipe bombs were found in the Salem area. They didn't explode on their own and nobody was hurt. The current theory is that they were all attached to cars and two of them fell off.

The paper this morning is advising everybody to check underneath their cars for pipe bombs if they've been parked anywhere "for some time."

Robert's thinking maybe he'll just take the scooter everywhere...

12:15 pm

We have driven about two hours east to a town called Siletz, which is hosting a powwow. Because Robert will be working with Indians soon, we figure it might be a good idea to gather information.

A powwow is a gathering of Indians from different tribes where they get together to dance their bahooties off. They have competition dances and also just "everybody get out in the middle and dance for a while" dances.

Dancers and drummers and vendors come from all over to these gatherings. Mostly they are about community and reinforcing Indian cultural identity. And dancing and drumming to raise good feeling among participants and spectators.

The dancers' regalia (NOT costumes) is amazing to see. Although there are styles particular to a tribe or region, dancers borrow styles freely from one another so they can catch a judge's eye. The colors knock OUR eyes out, anyway (although it does occur to us to wonder what it costs to dry-clean some of the outfits).

For a report on the food, we turn to our gastronomical expert, Robert. Well, not so much a gastronomical expert as "a guy who'll eat just about anything, once."

Here's his report:

Frybread: This is a yeast-type bread that's fried up flat, so it's like a cross between a tortilla and a donut.
"Damn good!"

Elk Stew: Elk apparently lead pretty tough lives, as their meat is mighty durable. A good use for it is to put it in a stew with vegetables and potatoes and cook it until it cries.
"Damn good!"

Indian taco: Taco ingredients spread out on top of fry bread.
"Tricky to eat, but damn good!"

Robert's looking forward to working with people who understand the value of a good meal.

Sunday, Aug 13, 2006

12:15 pm

Today's free thing is the Polk County Fair. If we'd come yesterday, it would have cost six bucks (plus parking) but today it's all free, free, free. On the way in, we pause to watch the junior rodeo's team roping competition. When you see the professionals do it, it looks so easy—just throw the rope around the steer's head and stop him, so your pardner can rope his feet, and presto—you're done!

When you watch eight-year old kids do it, you begin to get an appreciation for how hard it is—especially when you realize these little kids are WAY better ropers and riders than we'll ever be (granted, that doesn't take much). The steer isn't too cooperative, either, as it doesn't seem to want to be roped and keeps running away and sidling along the fence.

We also look at the crafts barn and check out the bunnies and chickens and—LOOK!

Deep Fried Twinkies!

We've heard about these, but never had a chance to try them! Woohoo!

Okay, so here's how the Deep Fried Twinkies are made:

  1. Take a Twinkie (registered trademark of a giant corporation, which we use with all reverence and no claim whatsoever that it's a generic name—these babies came from a Twinkie®™ box and are authentic Twinkie®™ Brand Snack Cakes).

  2. Shove a stick into the Twinkie and put it in the freezer.

  3. Once it's good and frozen, take it out and dip it in some kind of batter (seems to be standard hushpuppy batter—slightly sweet)

  4. Drop it into a deep fat fryer for five minutes.

  5. Then, to make sure it's sweet enough, dust it with powdered sugar and pour chocolate syrup on it.

Our tester's report: "Sweet. VERY sweet." It's warm and gooey and—sweet.

But also good, in that "damn the calories" sort of way you expect from Fair Food. Even Laura, who doesn't care for desserts managed to power through about a third of it.

And after only one, we have no desire to try the deep-fried Snickers candy bar.

Thurs, Aug 17, 2006

It's officially been too long for Robert since he's had anything work-related to do. Yes, it sounds fun to just lounge around and wander off to visit tourist spots. In reality, after about two weeks it gets really really boring (and you start running out of good tourist spots).

Laura has never really quit working, since she's running various autoharp festivals and working on different projects. Robert, however, has been getting more and more antsy.

Laura suggests he needs to get a hobby. "I already have a hobby. Working."

Good thing work starts up next week.

2:00 pm

We can't live three blocks from the state capitol building without going on the tour of it. During the tour, we learned many informational-type facts:


Oregon motto: The Union
[Nope, this doesn't make any dang sense to us, either. It's especially interesting to realize that this was probably the result of many long hours of arguments. And probably a lot of drinking.]


The legislature meets only every other year and Jan 2007 is when they meet next (lucky us). Republicans have the majority in the House and Democrats have the majority in the Senate (but 2006 is an election year, so who knows).


This is the third capitol building, because the first two burned down. The conflagration of the first one is sometimes blamed on people from Corvallis, on the theory that if the building burned down, maybe they'd move the capitol to Corvallis (about 30 miles south of here).


The current capitol building is made from marble and steel and should therefore be less likely to burn down. It was built in 1939 and they hired a good architect. Inside and out, it's beautiful and dignified and modest. And very echo-y.


There are four big murals inside the entrance. One of them is about the "Father of Oregon," John McLoughlin, who imported the first white women to Oregon. In other words, the Father of Oregon was a pimp with good PR.


In the Governor's office, there's a photo of Daddy McLoughlin who looks a bit like the mad scientist in Back to the Future.

bullet Oregon is the only state that has a flag with two different sides. One side is the usual boring state emblem. The other side has a beaver, much to the delight of 13-year-old boys, who find this endlessly amusing. (They also crack up at the State nickname: The Beaver State.)

3:00 pm

We find out about that golden statue on the roof of the capitol building (actually we knew about it two weeks ago, because one of our readers went and did a bunch of tedious research about it, so that we didn't have to—we have the BEST readers!).

Official name: Oregon Pioneer
What everybody calls it: The Gold Man
What the heck it represents: The spirit of Oregon's early settlers
Why he has a coat over his shoulder: Beats us
Number of steps you have to climb to get to it: 121
Number of us who made this knee-wrenching height-defying climb: 0
What it's made from: Bronze
Cost of a refrigerator magnet in the gift shop that says "I survived 121 steps to see The Gold Man": $6

Next week

The government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that everybody who joins VISTA has to go to a "training" session. Our training session is in Provo, Utah, where they are flying us (at your expense) for four days.

All we know about the training is that they can still kick us out of the program if we don't behave properly. We have therefore dubbed this the "Must-not-roll-eyes training."

To stay sane, we may channel our frustration into extra trip-logs. So don't be surprised if a few more turn up. They'll probably have a fairly high snark content as well.

Robert & Laura
Mid-Life Crisis Trip