Monday, June 30, 2008

... and the food

Y'know, normally, when I go on a vacation, I have this overwhelming urge to go back to the same location a second time, and correct everything I screwed up the first time, thereby perfecting the vacation experience.  (I did this with Australia.  The New Zealand trip was largely perfect, but I know how I'd fix it.  And I know how I'll do Alaska again, when I get around to doing Alaska again.)

And if there's anything making me want to do my charter-the-Curlew-for-my-birthday-party experience again, it's that I'd get the food right this time.

The ship's captain told me there's two ways people generally do the food -- you can get cheap platters of stuff at Costco, or you can have it catered by the restaurant right next door to the dock.

I'd originally planned to go the Costco route, but time pressures forced me to just book it through the restaurant.

This was a challenge because the catering manager at the restaurant was only there Tuesdays and Thursdays.  From noon to four.

(Yeah.  An eight hour per week job.  Good deal.)

And she wasn't what I'd call extremely well-organized.  She emailed me the price sheets for platters of appetizers, and I emailed her back asking for a quote for six different appetizers ... and she didn't answer for several days.  Ultimately she told me my email ended up in her spam folder -- but eventually she found it and sent me the quote.  A few days later, I called her (it was Tuesday at 3:00 -- she'd just gotten in) and I was all set to pay, but couldn't because she didn't know how much it was as my quote was on her home computer.  So, yeah, massive competence going on there.  Until the food was actually on the ship, I'd had my doubts it would arrive.

But the food did come, and it was as advertised.  There were, however, two problems with it.

Problem one:  Way too much of it.  I was following standard cocktail party rules which said 4 appetizer servings per person per hour -- i.e., 12 per person.  What I hadn't counted on (and catering manager certainly didn't tell me) was that a good portion of my guests wouldn't eat at all, being afraid of seasickness, while others would eat very little.  Had we been on a yacht, everyone might have been walking around, mingling, eating and drinking.  But on the schooner, it was mostly sitting down on the deck -- you'd get up and walk someplace, but then sit again.  Result of all the sitting:  very little eating.  I'd say that, on average, people might have consumed 3 or 4 appetizers each.  If that.

Problem two:  I came up with a menu and asked the catering manager if she'd had any alternative suggestions for use on the boat.  She said my menu was fine.  Here's what she should have said:  "The finger sandwiches have mayo on them, and with it being upwards of 85 degrees outside, you might want to order something else."  Or maybe she could have told them to make the sandwiches sans mayo.  And the mushrooms al cava were in a lovely white sauce that was separating about an hour in to the cruise.  After two hours, the ship's "volunteer doctor" (a nice guy to have around) decided to clear the mushrooms, the sandwiches, and the dip for the veggies away "as a precautionary measure."  I whole-heartedly agreed.  Sure, I'd paid for a ton of food, but, all things considered, not getting my guests sick was a top priority.

So, yeah, next time I do this -- a platter of teriyaki chicken sticks and a platter of fruit.  And that's IT.

(And about one-third as many cupcakes as I'd bought.)

The ship's crew took home all the leftovers -- at least, the stuff that was still safe for human consumption -- so I'm glad it went to a good home.  But still, the food was the major element of this party that definitely could use a do-over.

The Birthday Party Shindig -- The Planning

I chartered a boat.

I wanted to charter a boat.  I'm not sure exactly where I got this brilliant idea, but somewhere along the line it dawned on me that I wanted to charter a boat for a few hours, fill it with my friends, and go sailing.  Really casual.  Just an afternoon out on the water.

Easier said than done.

I spent many long hours with google trying to find the perfect boat.  Size was an issue.  I was looking for a boat I could put 20 or 30 people on, and most sailboat charters fit 12 people max.  Or they were massive party boats to take more than a couple hundred.

I stumbled upon the boat I would ultimately charter fairly early on in my investigations, but I was put off a bit by the expense.  Largely because the boat hangs out in a more southern part of Southern California than I am -- so most of the local companies that listed it among their charters wanted even more money for it, since the cost of any local charter involved the additional cost of sailing it up to L.A. and back.

So I found some local charter companies and asked them what they would do for me for the number of people I wanted.  And they each priced me some sort of party boat, or yacht, or whatever.  The people at Hornblower Cruises wanted to do me a deal with a yacht for two hours, a brunch, bar service, a dance floor, etc.

I wasn't really sold on this.  (It sounded suspiciously like a Bar Mitzvah, when my ideal was something substantially more informal.)  But I got fairly far in the planning process with them, as they were convincing me that this was a good "grown up" thing to do for one's 40th birthday.  Until they started on about the fine print.

Fine print like:  Oh, your guests can't bring presents on the boat ("coast guard regulations"); so you'll have to lock all gifts in a car or something.  And there's no place to park your car near the dock either.  So you'll have to have your guests meet elsewhere, lock all your gifts in someone's trunk, and find some way of shuttling people over to the boat.

This was looking vaguely "last straw" like.  These people wanted a big pile of money to throw me a party that wasn't even the party I wanted, and now I couldn't even have presents?

I did a short survey of some of my to-be-invited guests and asked if they'd be willing to haul ass down to where the other boat was docked.  They would.

I called the people who charter said boat.  They gave me a price.  Parking is plentiful and free.  I said, "I know this may sound like a stupid question, but can you bring presents on the boat?"

She called the captain and asked him.  She called back saying that I could bring however many presents I wanted.  I got the feeling that both she and the captain thought I was a moron for asking.

(This stupid question stuck with me throughout the chartering process.  I think they knew me as the "idiot who asked about presents," because everyone I spoke to seemed to already know that I had asked this.  I finally mentioned this to one of the women at the charter place, and she assured me that this was not, in fact, the stupidest question they'd been asked.  Which led me to inquire as to what was the stupidest question they'd been asked.  Apparently you can charter the boat for a memorial service and burial at sea.  Someone asked where they dump the bodies.)

I booked with them.

I almost unbooked with them the minute after I booked with them, as everything I'd read on the internet said that the boat had a capacity of 36 people, but when I did the contract, she said it's certified for 36, but only holds 25 comfortably -- a statement which immediately lost me about 25% of my guest list.

But it was exactly the boat I wanted for the party I wanted, so I made the cuts and signed the contract.

Here's the boat I chartered -- she's called the Curlew, and I still think she's freakin' beautiful.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Stupidity Continues

Hadn't meant to go all radio-silence on y'all (if there's any of y'all still reading).  Work has gone and got busy, which isn't something work generally does, so I've put everything else (other than crashing on the couch and watching TV) on the back burner for a bit. 

(Which made for some interesting "party planning" for the big ol' shindig I had celebrating my 40th recently -- as I ended up renting a location I'd never seen and having it catered by a restaurant I've never eaten at.  But more about that later.)

I 'blog today about one of my regular topics -- me being a moron.

Went to a friend's wedding today.  10:30 in the morning.  About an hour away.  Because I was once quite late to a wedding in a fairly obvious manner (her wedding was in a chapel with many windows -- watch the video and you can see me running in late in the background) I wanted to leave at 9:00.  Have that extra half hour.  Just in case.

I'm still not sure what went wrong -- knowing me, it was my "five minute email check" -- all I know is that I got out of the shower at about 8:52, and I was thinking:  this is not good.

8:52!  Much cursing. 

Short-sleeve red dress or sleeveless black dress?  Haven't worn the red dress in awhile, don't know how it fits.  Black dress fits.  Besides, red will stand out.  Black dress it is.

Need black shoes.  Get black shoes from plastic shoebox.

No stockings, so I need to put powder in the bottom of the shoes.

Stupid freakin' powder thing won't open.  (More cursing.)

Keep pulling at lid on powder thing.

Have mental image of powder thing flying open, spraying me, dress, and closet with white powder. 

Calm down.  Gently open powder thing.  Put powder in shoes.

Put on undergarments.  Usually put on deodorant at this stage of getting dressed, but figure I'll put on the dress first.  It's sleeveless, so I can do the deodorant after, thereby avoiding the little white marks on the dress.

Put dress on.  Put goo in hair.  Put hairspray in hair.

It's now 9:10.  Curse.  Curse.  Curse.

Put necklace on self.  Amazingly, the clasp catches on the first try.  Put earrings on.  Drop one.  Dammit.  Find earring.  Put it on.

Hair looks like crap.  Re-part it.  More hairspray.

Can't leave without feeding cat.  Change cat's water dish.  Clean food bowl.  Put food in clean bowl. 

No time for makeup.  Grab makeup.  Grab purse.  (Way no time to switch to nice black clutch.)  Leave house. 

I've grabbed the Netflix envelope.  Do I run it to the mailbox or just leave it in my car?  Dither.  Take the stairs.  Mail the Netflix.  Go to the garage.

In the car at 9:24.  Tooling down the road, doing about 70.  OK, 80.  There's likely to be traffic, so I'll need every minute I can make up by insanely speeding.

9:45, I realize I never put on the damn deoderant.  I flap my arms around, like this will help.

9:55, I realize I didn't bring a little shoulder wrap in case it gets cold in the hall where the reception is.

10:00, I hit traffic.

10:22, I arrive at my destination, makeup in hand.  I have a moment's indecision between self-parking and $6 for the valet, but this is clearly a case where ponying up the cash is the way to go.  Leave my car with the valet.  Am inches away from walking off with my keys in my hand, but, at the last second, realize the valet might need them.

Say some hellos. 

Look for the restroom.  Video guy tries to stop me, asks me to say something nice on video for the bride and groom.  I say (directly to the camera, as it turns out), "I'm looking for the restroom" and duck away.  This will make a lovely addition to their wedding video.

I keep looking for the restroom.  There isn't one.  Well, no, there is.  There's one that says "Men," and another that says "Reserved for bridal party only."  But there's a (poorly-lit) mirror in the sort of anteroom where the bathrooms are, so I just put on my makeup right there.

I'm set.  Let's have this wedding!

Around 10:40, it dawns on me that the lack of deodorant is the least of my problems.  The wedding is outdoors and I didn't put on any damn sunscreen.  And no wrap either.

Yeah.  It's a lovely moment when you realize you're going to get really sunburnt and there's nothing you can do about it.  I actually thought I was doing OK, as sunburn has this apparently magical quality of not actually showing up for a couple hours.  I was fine during the ceremony, fine during the cocktail hour, and fine during the (indoor) reception.  (Although at some point during the reception, it was pointed out that my shoulders "looked a little pink.")

I really only noticed it in the car while driving home.  Which was itself a lovely journey, as the valet said my front left tire was really low, and it had looked like I was pretty much driving on the rim when I came tearing in there, and he'd put air in it.  Twice.  So I was sorta hoping my tire would make it all the way home, and I was trying to decide whether I should go directly to the tire place (in all my wedding finery) or if maybe I should go home first, lose the shoes, and dive into a bottle of Solarcaine.  But I kept feeling the sun beating in on my shoulder through the driver's side window, and it way wasn't helping.  Came home first to deal with the sunburn and change into something more comfortable, when I realized I don't have any strapless tops.

OK, sure, I don't think I've owned a tube top since the early 80s, but there's definitely a time and place for these things.  Like now, for instance.

Epilogue:  Tire held.  Quite well, actually.  I'm gonna see if it deflates overnight.  Shoulders bright red (and on my back too).  Wedding was lovely (and ended up being quite fun, as I knew rather more people there than I thought I would) although, all things considered, even though I technically got there on time, I still think maybe this should go in the column of "weddings I was late to."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not at All What I Intended to Journal About

Was going to write about having one of those evenings where nothing goes right, but I was just reminded of something completely different.

Growing up, I had a "School Days" book.  (If half my possessions weren't in storage right now, I'd be able to find it.)  It was a spiral bound job, with a couple pages for each school year -- where you were supposed to answer questions about the year.  And the pages were attached to each other to make pockets, so that, for each year, you could cram it full of mementos.  So, for instance, in kindergarten, you'd fill the pouch with your report card and some picture you drew of a chocolate chip cookie with legs, glue your school picture to the front of the pouch, and then answer questions about who your teacher was and what you wanted to be when you grew up.

And I remember this because I was extremely annoyed by that last question.  Well, no, not the question -- but the answers.  Because it was all check-boxes, and you'd have to choose among the careers set out for you.  And there were separate ones for boys and girls.  Boys got to choose between things like "Doctor," "Astronaut" and "Cowboy," while Girls got selections along the lines of "Nurse," "Teacher" and "Ballet Dancer."

My childhood inner feminist rebelled.  With my mom's permission (that I could be whatever I wanted to be) I checked boxes from both columns.  I was gonna be the world's first ballet dancer in space.

I also added something to end of the book.  I mean, this thing went up through twelfth grade, and then stopped.  And I thought there should be something after that.  So, when I was around ten, I took a pen and wrote in a few fill-in-the-blank questions on the back of the book, for what I might decide to do at the end of High School.  And the first line read exactly like this:

"Now I will find a man:  __ Yes.  __ No."