Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year's Eve!

No cohesiveness this evening, my apologies. Just some random thoughts.

First, I was cutting the tag off a new sweater and something gave me pause. I couldn't help but wonder: why the heck did they give me this?


Do the powers that be at clothing companies think their customers are capable of actually weaving new fabric if the sweater should develop a hole of some sort? And do they anticipate holes forming? Why else would they give us extra yarn? My favorite is when they give you a spare nondescript button. Understandable to include an extra if it's some sort of fancy, unique button that would be hard to replace. But often it's just a plain ol' semi-translucent dealie that can be found at any craft store. Gee, thanks. You shouldn't have. Course, I still keep them. Have to. You never know.

Secondly, lovely sunset to close the year. I like when the sky takes on hues other than those children draw in pictures for the fridge.


I hope my multitude of readers (ha!) enjoys a fantastic New Year's Eve, and a fulfilling 2006.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Still no coche

I still don't have my car back! It was supposed to be done last week, but with the holidays cutting the work week short, they didn't have time to finish it before their four-day weekend. Finally they called on Tuesday and said I could pick her up at 4:00. I was in and out in less than five minutes...I should have known it could never be that easy! I never realized how attached I am to my car, but I drove off with a huge grin on my face. I was so happy to be driving her again! I stopped to get gas because I had dropped her off empty, and while at the station I decided to inspect the repair work. I reached back to the rear door that had been replaced, but couldn't get it unlocked no matter how hard I tried. Nor could I open the door from the inside. And of course, since it wouldn't unlock, I couldn't open it from the outside either. So I took it back to the shop and they were puzzled. They claimed it had worked fine when they tested it a couple hours previously. But they agreed it was not right now. They gave me the rental back (it was sitting where I had parked it mere minutes prior) and are now trying to fix the problem. I talked to the guy yesterday and he said they're trying to get another door panel and hopefully it will come in today. I really want my car back before the weekend. I do not want to ring in 2006 without her!
***
The other day I saw Flightplan with Jodie Foster at the dollar theater. It is a great movie! It's billed as a thriller, but there's no gore or anything. It's more psychological with some action scenes. I definitely recommend it.

Then last night I re-watched National Treasure, with Nicholas Cage. That is a first-rate movie! It's like James Bond meets Indiana Jones meets Da Vinci Code! I'm an American history geek as it is, so this film is right up my alley. Plus, now that I've been to Philadelphia, the scenes shot there were more exciting. Add it to your Netflix queue if you haven't seen it yet...you won't be sorry!
***
I learned a couple new board games recently. Bohnanza is from Germany. Basically you have a lot of bean cards and you have to plant and harvest them strategically so you can sell them for gold coins. It was hard to get the hang of at first, but when we did, it was fun! The other game is called Carcassonne...it's named after a region in France I think. In that game, there are a bunch of tiles with grassland, mountains, water, and cities, and you have to lay them out like dominoes and also claim the largest amounts of land, water, etc., to get points. I lost both games but wouldn't mind playing them again to get better.
***
I had a funny dream last night. Yesterday I discovered that a fellow blogger linked to my blog. I was so honored! So last night, I dreamt that James Lileks, my current hero, was also a regular reader, and that he also linked to my blog in his Bleat. Right, as if! But I was thrilled in the dream, as you can imagine!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A merry time was had by all...

...except for those under age 1. Christmas was lovely. The whole family was together, and the house was full of life, love, and good cheer. But poor little Cassidy was very much under the weather. With lingering (recurring?) ear infections, a hacking cough, runny nose, and puffy red eyes, she was quite a pitiful sight. She cried almost nonstop. I swear she was saying "Ow." Her wails really sounded like it. Of course, being Christmas, the only option for medical care was the ER, which seemed rather extreme. When her fever spiked to 103.8, though, we seriously considered it. Thankfully the Tylenol worked its magic. Monday morning she actually smiled for a spell but it didn't last. I hope the doctor can make her feel better. She's usually such a happy little girl, and to see her suffering was heartbreaking.

Meanwhile in happier events, the kids had a fantastic time opening their presents.


Well, mostly.


One might say the children are spoiled


but that is a grandparent's prerogative!

In all seriousness, the abundance we are blessed with can be overwhelming at times. We are truly very fortunate and I am bursting with gratitude. Not just for the presents, but for the love, the affection, the support, the bonds that tie our family together. At the same time, I'm grateful even for the challenging aspects of life, because it is through them that we grow.

If you want to see more pictures from our Christmas, you can view my flickr album here. I recommend choosing "View as slideshow."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Another scarf...my favorite so far!

Finished another scarf tonight. I quite like it, if I do say so myself. It is very soft, and the color is lovely. Plus it is very long, the better for doubling up and looping for extra warmth. Definitely worth the extra time.


But I must learn to crochet, pronto. Carlee whipped out a scarf in 40 minutes last night as I watched with envy and disbelief.

Comet up close and personal


Comet is the best kitty in the world. He greets me at the door like a dog, only better--there's none of that jumping and slobbering. And he likes to be hugged. When he's sitting on my bed, and I put my arms around him, he starts purring. But my favorite is when he climbs up on my tummy and just lies there purring. What a lovebug!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's a Wonderful Life for Modern Times

If you have five minutes to spare, visit this site. Clever and oh so true.

This will freak your freakin' freak (as Ellen would say)

I love a good optical illusion. This one is tops! I'd love you to leave a comment letting me know if it worked for you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cute overload

Be ready to say, "Awwww" over and over again.

(Thanks to wetsuit boy for posting this link first.)

More baby animals here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sturm und drang

I saw a very disturbing film last night--The Constant Gardener. It is billed as a political thriller told through the lens of a romance. The previews looked intriguing. While the story was very well crafted, the movie was shot creatively, and the performances were riveting, the overall impact was not pleasant. This movie hits you like a ton of bricks. If you have any compassion for fellow human beings at all, you can't help but be deeply disturbed by what this film shows. While it is based on a novel, I suspect what it depicts is not pure fiction. Basically it's about pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of poor Kenyans by using them as unwitting subjects in drug trials...specifically for an anti-TB drug that often has fatal side effects. It's the Tuskegee Experiment all over again. As if that weren't bad enough, the movie depicts shantytowns and villages where people live in such extreme poverty it is unbelievable. And then to top it all off, there are bandits that come around to steal from and kill these already beleaguered people. It really makes you take stock of your own life, and realize how easy we have it here. An embarrassment of riches. A nauseating abundance. I purchased dozens of Christmas gifts and will receive a many in return. Yet one in six people on this planet lives without running water! It makes you put things in perspective. Here I am, grumbling because they came out with the video iPod five months after I bought my iPod photo, and these people have to walk 40 km to get medical attention; they subsist on rice dropped by UN workers; and they live in fear that men on horses will sweep in, take what little they have, and/or murder them and their families. Atrocious.

I don't usually watch movies like that, because I prefer to be an ostrich with my head in the sand. At the same time, I feel guilty for choosing cheerful denial. Yet what can I do, realistically? Short of selling all my possessions (or better yet, giving them away) and joining the Peace Corps, I have no ideas. Of course the answer is to find some middle ground, between doing absolutely nothing and dedicating my life to the cause. That balance is frustratingly elusive.

On top of all that lovely stuff, I've been feeling restless. I used to get this way when I was a teacher, during summer vacations. Too long with nothing to do, and I get depressed, which means I don't want to do anything at all. So it becomes a vicious cycle. I'm depressed because I'm not doing anything, but I'm not doing anything because I'm depressed. I even went for a run today to see if that would help clear my head. All it did was demonstrate how badly out of shape I've gotten in the past few months. Blech.

Lastly, the secret ingredient to Melissa's stew of malcontent: ambivalence about starting a new relationship. Do I want to get involved with someone if it's not headed for marriage? How do you know if it's headed for marriage until you're already involved? Could I handle another breakup? Am I ready to let go of the past? Oy, it's enough to make a girl wanna go hide under the covers and not come out until spring. But then I go back to those poor people in Third World countries, who really have something to moan and groan about, and I feel ashamed for indulging in self-pity.

Aaaaaaah! I need to snap out of it. I am optimistic that tomorrow will be better.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Notice anything different about the address bar?

If you're using Firefox you should. For Explorer, it may or may not work. Try bookmarking (or re-bookmarking) the page and then refreshing, or reloading via your Favorites list. Spiffy, huh? Inordinately proud, I am. Frivolous use of time? Perhaps. But life is in the details.

The glories of 8 a.m. and rental cars

Up early again, to take my car to the body shop. She's finally getting fixed! No better way to start the day than with some online humor courtesy of my favorite columnist, James Lileks. (Sorry, Dave Barry--you take a sabbatical, you get replaced.) His 12 Catastrophes of Christmas are high-frickin-larious! Maybe someday I'll be able to write half as well as he. From today's Bleat:
It is stupid cold outside. Five when I got up, Five at noon, Five at sunset. I think it’s Two now. Yesterday I drove to Target...and there was no place to park except the outer realms of the lot; the wind was blowing me-by-north-me, and seemed intent on keeping me from the warm red womb of Mother Target. I pressed on. Once inside I...got a cart for shopping. They’d just brought in a herd from the pens outside, and the handles of the cart were too cold to touch. I used my coat sleeves. I looked around and saw everyone else in the area pushing carts with coat sleeves. One of those things you just accept, I guess; I suppose in Arizona the cart handles burn your flesh off. It’s all a trade-off.


Later. I was late to the body shop. There was a ton of ice on my car, and it was not joking this time.

So I couldn't use the squeegee backwards, like I'd done before. I had to come back upstairs and get a spatula. Pathetic. I seriously need an ice scraper. When I finally got to the body shop, the lady from Enterprise was waiting to pick me up. She was driving a Dodge Magnum, one of those fierce looking not-quite-a-station-wagon-not-quite-a-minivan-not-quite-an-SUV cars. Huge inside. Power everything. She said it was the car I would be getting. I thought to myself, "Geez, this is only $25.99 a day?!" Turns out she was mistaken, of course. I got a Kia Rio.


Tiny, tiny, tiny, but at least it's not a Geo Metro! At least it has a CD player. Besides, it will be easier to park and will get better mileage than the Magnum. Luckily my insurance pays for a rental while my car is being repaired, but I'm paying for the additional insurance. I could never bring myself to call Allstate and tell them that I'd managed to wreck the rental I was driving while my regular car was being repaired from the last wreck. I love irony, but not that much.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Goings-on the past few days

Yippee! I finally finished my Christmas cards on Friday, and mailed them on Saturday. And today I finished wrapping presents. So it seems that everything holiday-related has been taken care of, with time to spare!

Let's review the past few days in reverse chronological order, shall we?

This afternoon I had a delightful lunch with a new friend, Amy. (I'm giving up on the pseudonyms.) She's been in NC since 1986, so she's the closest to a native as I've met. We ate at Carolina Bakery and Cafe in Raleigh, and then walked around the shops of Cameron Village. I'm told it is the oldest shopping center in the Southeast. It is outdoors. Today the high was in the low 40's, with a breeze that made it feel like the 30's. Brisk, to say the least. But they have lots of cute shops to browse in, and Amy and I chatted about her upcoming trip to Europe. She's going to Paris, Copenhagen, and Munich for ten days. I am so jealous!

The shops were not busy at all, which I thought was odd being that Christmas is only a week away. Of course, many of the shops are more like boutiques, and perhaps most people prefer to stretch their precious gift dollars at big box discount retailers. My money was spread around this year. I bought a fair amount of stuff online, both from regular merchants as well as on eBay. I also shopped at Target, Linens & Things, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hecht's, a bookstore in the mall, and Tuesday Morning (they're great for kids' toys!). I spent probably about as much this year as I did last year, despite being unemployed...I guess I'm operating under the assumption that I will get a job relatively early in the new year.

Yesterday I went with my parents to Salem St. in Apex, where we browsed the cute shops there. (Yes, lots of browsing, lots of cute shops lately.) Then later that night I went to "Cary's only night club," The Depot. My friend Larry is considering becoming part owner, and he invited me to see what it's like. I felt so la-dee-dah important walking in and saying, "I'm a guest of so-and-so," watching the lady speak into her walkie talkie, "She's on the list," and then being escorted in. Of course, there were no velvet ropes or throngs dying to be granted entrance, but still. Now, I'm not much of a night club person. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't really dance (except in the privacy of my own living room!). I don't have anything in my wardrobe that would qualify as "clubbing clothes." And I certainly don't like the pick-up scene. But Larry insisted it would be totally fine to just sit and talk with him and his fiancee. Which is what I ended up doing. It was very loud, so we had to practically shout, but the conversation was lively so overall it was a good time.

Friday morning I had breakfast with Laura at Bob Evans. We met at 9:30...which meant I had to wake up earlier than I have in a looooong time! There was a lot of ice on my car


but thankfully not on the roads.

Laura and I chatted until almost noon about the drama of setting up a Bunco group, her job, etc. Friday evening I went to Larry and Carlee's house for another game night. This time about 15 people showed up! We ordered pizza and Carlee had baked and decorated a beautiful Christmas cake. We were in two groups, not evenly divided. At first both of us were playing Apples to Apples, which was not as fun this time for some reason. Then we switched to Pictionary. I partnered with Carlee and we totally kicked butt! Some of the hard words I tried (unsuccessfully) to draw were "rinse" and "pivot." After six hours I was beat...but I heard that some people stayed until 2 am!

Thursday night I went for coffee with Arvind. He brought his laptop and he showed me lots of pictures. Most were from all the movies he's working on right now, but he also showed me a photo of himself skydiving. He also had some amazing shots of the desert, which I thought were beautiful. We've got plans to see The Constant Gardener tomorrow, and also to hit the craft stores. He likes to get the scraps left over from custom framings and use them in art pieces.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Various and sundry

You know something's not quite right when the Yahoo weather report for Apex says the low today is 39, but right at this moment it's 36. Hmm. According to weather.com, it's 35, but feels like 28. And did I mention it's raining? There were ice warnings last night, and the city was all geared up to dispatch salt brine trucks. At least two districts closed schools today, while others opened two hours late (I suppose to allow the ice time to melt once the sun rises?). I don't know if the ice ever materialized, because lucky me, I don't have to be anywhere.

I have to say, I'm getting very accustomed to this life of leisure, which is b-a-d. I've become a champion at staying busy doing nothing. I spend a LOT of time on the computer. I don't watch that much tv, which is an interesting departure for me. I bet if I had a DVR/TiVo, that would be different. I've done a lot of knitting. Finished two more scarves.

One for me, in fall-ish colors (perfect now that
it's winter!), complete with tassels (ooh, fancy).


And one for my niece, done in a fun eyelash yarn, in girly-girl colors.












Alas, the things that need getting done, like writing out my Christmas cards, go ignored.

Heading back to the daily grind is going to be a shock to the system, no doubt. But I won't entirely hate it...there's something to be said for putting in a good 40 hours and then relaxing on the weekends. Makes you feel more like a productive, hardworking citizen and less like a sloth. It certainly makes the weekends more special, whereas now, Wednesday is no different than Saturday, and there's a sadness in that.

Here's a tip for bargain-hunters out there...at my first knitting group meeting the other night, I found out that if you sign up for the Borders email newsletter (click Borders Mail in the upper right-hand corner), they send you 30% off coupons that you can print out over and over again. The only restriction is one per day. I just bought a $25 book there, and I'm considering returning it and then re-purchasing it with the coupon...that's $7.50, man--that could buy me a good skein of yarn!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Family Weekend

My brother, Amy, and the kids came down for the weekend. They live about two hours from my parents' house. They arrived Friday evening and left Sunday. I stayed both nights as well, so it was a full house this weekend, which was a nice feeling. The kids are adorable, but their noise output is definitely above my usual comfort level. Cassidy (7 months) is very vocal in the mornings and appears particularly enchanted with the echo she can create in the two-story family room. The other two like to imitate her. Triple the screaming, yippee!

Layne (almost four) has a very active imagination: a stuffed Christmas tree pillow became her "baby," and a wooden serving tray became the baby's "crib." A dish towel was the "blanket," and at one point the tree baby was put on the time out chair in the corner for misbehaving. Now Prestin (almost three), he's becoming more and more of a pill. If I had not witnessed Layne's transformation, recovering from the terrible two's and morphing into a docile three-year-old, I would fret over Prestin's unmanageable behavior. Touchy does not begin to describe it! But it makes his happy moments all the more precious. His smile is a real heart melter. He's also going through potty training, which makes life difficult for him, I'm sure. Poor little guy.

Seeing as Christmas was only 15 days away, we decided it was time to do some decorating. The outside of the house had already been decked by the wreath and garland fairies, and was looking quite festive.


Sunday we decked the inside. Prestin and Layne helped put ornaments on the tree, or at least on one three-square-foot patch of the tree. :)


Even the dogs could not escape the Christmas touch.


Recognize the scarf? :)


Further evidence to prove the theory that kids can endlessly entertain themselves with a simple cardboard box:


And lastly, a daddy and his little girl:

I heart Allstate

Last week I took my car to the Allstate drive-up adjuster (who knew there was such an entity?) and crossed my fingers. I glammed up the ol' gal to make her look like she's worth a million bucks--or at least more than the repairs would cost. I was outside in the biting wind scrubbing old bird doo off the hood, which I should have done weeks ago, but it's hard to be motivated about keeping your car clean when it's not garaged and every morning ends up with a fresh coat of dew.

[Heh heh...I used "doo" and "dew" in the same sentence! Betchya never thought you'd see that! For some reason that makes me think about how back in school, the teacher made you use the week's vocabulary words in a sentence. I used to try and cram as many words as I could into one sentence. Kind of lazy, but kind of not, since it's harder to make up a sentence that uses them all and still makes sense. Anyway, end of side note.]

Not to mention the fact that our county is under mandatory water restrictions due to drought, so I'm not sure washing your car at home is even legal. So, yeah, I let her go because I was conserving water. That's it.

But now it was important for her to make a good impression. So I cleaned out the car, made her look all spiffy inside, no junk in the trunk so to speak. Not that having stuff in the car makes it less valuable, but having a neat car would give the impression that it's been well-cared-for. Hey, give me a break, I was desperate! Then I even took her to the car wash despite the looming rainclouds. It was one of those no-touch deals, which are fun to sit in, but I doubt their efficiency. Afterwards when I hopped out to dry her off, my yellow towel promptly became black with the dirt that the "power wash" did not manage to power away. But she did look better and I figured the $7 was worth it if it made the slightest bit of positive difference in the adjuster's opinion.

Well, it turns out that all that effort was basically for naught. The adjuster was very friendly. I arrived at about quarter of three for my 3:00 appointment. But apparently he had me down for 4:00. He took me anyway, which was cordial. And all he did was stand outside the car with his laptop and enter in all the parts that would need to be replaced. He did not appear to even consider the possibility of totaling the car. His estimate was about $400 less than the auto body shop's had been. And with my deductible, the insurance company was looking at an outlay of less than $1000, so totaling the car would not be logical.

I called Cary Collision, which is about a mile from my house, and Cecil told me to bring by this new estimate. He seemed doubtful that he could procure the necessary parts at the cost Allstate assumed, but when he called me back a few hours later, he said he could do it. So I'll be taking my car in a week from today to get her all fixed. Yay! Thankfully my insurance includes rental car coverage, so while mine is in the shop, I can still be mobile.

Now, I've only used my insurance one other time, and based on that time alone, I vowed eternal loyalty to Allstate because they had my back, as the kids say. Once again I am delighted with Allstate's service. I would never consider a cheapo off brand company just to save a few bucks on the premium.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Holiday photos and the job hunt

Although I could come up with something to write about, it would basically be blather so instead I'll spare you and post a few pictures.

Two mornings ago, I awoke to an icy car. I still haven't bought an ice scraper, so thankfully I didn't have to go anywhere. :)


The other evening while driving around with friends we came across a holiday display so intriguing we had to turn around to see it more closely. Two huge trees, their limbs recently rendered leafless by the relentless onset of Winter, now sported dangling illuminated Christmas symbols. The effect in the photo is nothing compared to real life (as always). Sadly, one of my first thoughts was, "I wonder if the HOA has a problem with this."


And lastly, downtown Apex, decorated for the holidays. I love how in this shot, the signal is both green AND red...the result of a long shutter opening. (Don't worry, it was only green for a second before I put the camera down and started driving!)


And just in case you're wondering, yes, I am looking for a job. I just applied for two with the county, one of which is so up my alley! It's for the position of Solid Waste Environmental Educator. Basically I'd be designing lesson plans and activities to teach kids about why recycling is important, as well as coordinating the school recycling programs. The other job is more administrative, but it sounds more challenging than your average secretary job, so that's a plus. The latter job closes on Dec. 16, but the former not until the 30th. So it could be a while before they start interviewing. I also applied for a corporate training job with software company, but I haven't heard anything back from them. Alas, that would have been a fun job too. It involved traveling around the country to teach seminars in how to use a particular e-commerce application.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

The single girl's Christmas tree:


And my bedroom window, which faces the parking spaces, is now officially festive. I have yet to see anybody else’s lights. Bunch of humbugs? Hopefully my lights can spread some Christmas cheer.


Lord knows it's cold enough for the holidays. Highs in the 40's, lows in the 20's all week. Thankfully the precipitation is now over for at least a few days; last night the top story on the 11:00 news was about the threat of roads icing. Not pretty.

I've got the Billboard Music Awards on in the background in the hopes of catching Carrie Underwood’s appearance, but meanwhile I’m being subjected to the crappiest music imaginable. You want to feel old? Listen to what qualifies as a hit these days. Blech.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Making Friends

Making friends as an adult is difficult. When you're young, you easily befriend the neighbors' children. When you're in school, you see the same kids every day, so it's easy to form friendships. In college, you live with your friends. As an adult, the only people you see everyday are your co-workers, who may or may not be compatible with you on a personal level. Why is it that we could almost always find someone in one of our classes to be our best friend, but at work, it's virtually unheard of? I think adults are more closed off to meeting new people. Sure, they will be polite, even kind, and chat at the water cooler. But when it comes to the real stuff of friendship, or even just taking a casual friendship outside the office, adults would rather stick with their current group, thank you very much. Which poses problems when you move to a new area.

Part of what made the Triangle appealing as a place to relocate was its reputation for being an area where everybody is from somewhere else. This makes you feel less like an outsider, and theoretically should facilitate making friends. Well, it's true, everyone here IS from someplace else, and everyone IS quite friendly. Why, at the mall on Saturday, an older lady engaged me in a conversation about modern fashion trends in denim, complete with supporting info she'd picked up from Oprah. And the lady at the calendar store went on and on about her golden retriever. People here can gab, let me tell you. And that's great, I'm all for gabbing. But then you go on your merry way, back to your empty apartment with only a TV and computer to keep you company. And a cat, if you're lucky! :)

So where can one turn in her moment of need? Craigslist, of course! I posted under “Activity Partners,” looking for someone with whom I could go to the movies, try a new restaurant, or go shopping. (Other posters seek jogging buddies, poker partners, etc.) Many people responded, but nothing really got off the ground right away. So I posted again, in the same category, but this time looking for partners for knitting, bridge, or bunco. This one got lots of responses too, and I actually have met some nice people. Even after the first wave, both posts continued to generate responses, because the Activity Partner boards for Raleigh are pretty sparse, so my posts were still close to the top.

Now, I'm not sure how my newfound friends would feel about appearing in my blog, so I'll use pseudonyms, and I won't write much about their backgrounds although they are so varied and unique! I find the diverse mix to be one of the most fascinating aspects of meeting people via CL. First there was “Alan,” from India by way of San Francisco. We went to see Walk the Line. (On the way home was when I hit the deer.) But the movie was really good, and the company was delightful. Of course, sitting in a dark theater didn't provide much time for chatting, but we got in some good talk time before and after. We met again last week to have dinner at an Indian restaurant, and we had a chance to get to know each other even more. We have a stunning amount in common, and he is accomplished in such a vast number of arenas, my jaw never left the floor. Yet he is very down to earth and normal.

Next was “Lucy”, who's originally from DC. We met for coffee. What piqued her interest in my posting was my reference to the New York Times (they'd recently run an article on bridge). She was pleasant as can be, and had a lot of advice to offer in regards to finding a job in the nonprofit sector here. We are going to get together next week and knit.

Then there's “Lawrence.” He runs a spades group on Yahoo, as well as a board games group. He invited me to join and there was a big get-together at his fiancĂ©e “Candy's” apartment on Friday. Beforehand, the three of us went out for Mexican food (I found a wire in my chicken--very puzzling--upon retrospect, I think it must have been from one of those twist-tie thingies they use to bundle vegetables). Later at the apartment five others joined us and we played Apples to Apples, Taboo, and Pictionary. Candy had baked a cake (she's opening a cake business soon) which was delicious and we all had a fabulous time. Among the players was “Lisa,” who wants to learn to knit, so hopefully we'll get together soon for that.

Saturday I met with “Michelle,” from Boston. We are probably the most similar in family background and upbringing, although she's in the science field and I, well, am not. We went shopping at the mall. I acquired several things for the kids, so at least their Xmas shopping is done. I found out from Michelle that you can't get your NC license or plates until you've lived here three months. Whew! Here I thought I was a major slacker having waited this long. Apparently you have to show them three utility bills that prove your middle name. Go figure. Anyway, Michelle and I are going to meet again to see Jim Carrey's Fun With Dick and Jane when it comes out.

I'm also slated to meet with “Linda,” originally from Atlanta. (See, no one IS from here!) We were going to go to the Apex Christmas Parade this past weekend, but decided against it because it most likely would have been a logistical nightmare to find parking and meet up. So we're going on a Christmas train ride this Saturday. Not sure what to expect, but it sounds relaxing.

I hope at least a couple of these new friendships “take,” and they aren't just short-lived distractions. It's hard, because even when people ARE open to making new friends, sometimes there just isn't enough in common for the relationship to endure. I think kids have it easier because their requirements for friendship are so lax, probably due to their lack of worldly experience, while adults have so much more criteria for what they want in a friend, and also they have so much baggage that gets in the way. (Come to think of it, all of this applies to romantic pursuits, as well!) But even if none of my fledgling friendships endure, it's been fun nevertheless to meet all these diverse people!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Fun links from my old website

The links below are either the same exact ones as were on my old website three years ago, or they are updated web addresses that link to the same thing, or they are better versions of what I linked to (technology has improved since 2002, you know).

Powers of 10: Start beyond the Milky Way and zoom in to a single proton. So neat, you just have to go see it! (Same exact link)

US Mint: If you know me, you know I'm obsessed with the state quarters (and the new nickels). (Same exact link)

Zoo Cams: The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. has a great portal for various web cams located across their zoo. Watch gorillas, elephants, tigers, pandas, and more. (Better site, same concept)

Voice to the World: It's never too early for kids to get concerned out our world. At this web site they can send a message to just about any world leader about peace, the environment, and other issues. (Updated link, same website)

Phone Spell: Does your phone number spell anything cool? (Same exact link)

Name That Candy Bar: If you have a sweet tooth this is fun. Identify candy bars from a cross section view. (Same exact link)

Online Magnetic Poetry: Fun way to kill five minutes. Lots of different sets to chose from. (Better site, same concept)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dude, I was SO one of the first bloggers!

And I didn't even know it! Check it out, I totally forgot about this part of my old website.

When I was teaching, I had a web site for my students, and it looked like this:


I remember being so proud of those rollover book buttons. They took me like two days to do! Anyway, I totally forgot that there was a section where I used to write occasional little blurbs about what was new on the site, what was going on in the world, at school, etc. Reading it now, it seems just like a blog!

I uploaded the old site on a free server (please excuse the ads) for your reading pleasure. (It's ridiculous how now you can get 50 MB of storage for free, in a heartbeat, when back in the day I was limited to 10 MB on Time Warner--and I paid them almost 50 bucks a month for internet service!)

Other highlights, in addition to the bloggy part: the quote pages (it's funny how many of them ended up in Foundations for Life!), the mini-bio, and the photo album. All the internal links should work; the external links are probably in terrible disarray. But maybe tomorrow I'll post some of the ones that still exist out in cyberspace after all these years. It was a good collection of fun stuff!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Gas prices

Unleaded is $1.99 at the gas station closest to my apartment and it's under $2.00 all over the Triangle according to Gas Buddy. The cheapest is $1.95, the highest is $2.09. A month ago the average price per gallon in the U.S. was $2.42! I remember the good old days when it was under $1.30, back in college. I wonder how far down it will go before the big petroleum companies decide it's time to pad their bottom line again. (By the way, the cheapest gas in L.A. is $2.24, with the highest being $2.79. Ouch.)

You've probably seen this funny photo before; it has been in circulation a while:


Regardless of whether it is authentic or it was doctored in Photoshop, check out the price for regular unleaded. $1.72!! We would be elated if gas got that low again! I have to admit, though, that I was pleased with one side effect of high gas prices. Interest in hybrids skyrocketed, which was encouraging. It's sad, but most people won't start caring about the environment until it hits them in the pocketbook.

Monday, November 28, 2005

My first scarf!

I finished my first scarf! I would have been done earlier, but I'd forgotten how to cast off, or finish the thing. I went online and found directions, and it was actually pretty easy. So here it is, ladies and gentlemen. I know you've all been waiting for it, my debut piece:


And Mother Nature was kind enough to provide prime scarf-wearing weather. Muggy and 68 degrees today. Cozy.

Deer v. Auto

It came at me from the left. One second, I'm driving along perfectly content, having just made a new friend at the movies, and the next second I see a deer flash before me. The image is burned in my mind. His fur was whitewashed from the glare of the headlights. His eye was like a black marble. I swerved and hit the brakes, but he still hit. I didn't know what to do. I kept driving until I found a lit parking lot, where I got out to inspect the damage. I called my mom, sobbing on the phone, freaking out. Should I go back to find the poor animal? Could I handle seeing it suffer, lying there on the road? I drove back looking for it, and couldn't find it. I called 911 (something I'd never done before) and they sent a police officer to take a report. He was there in two minutes. I sat in my car for 20 while he did who-knows-what in his squad car. Meanwhile another officer stopped by to report seeing a dazed deer walking on the side of the road. I am clinging to the thought that it was my deer. That it was just a little stunned, not seriously injured and certainly not dying. I have no way of knowing exactly what happened to my deer, but I have to tell myself that this kind of thing happens all the time, and I did what I could to minimize the damage. I also can't help but think of Darwin. I mean, come on, an animal that is attracted to fast moving bright lights cannot be one of the fittest for survival.

Meanwhile the irony is sickening. I never should have even been on that stretch of road. When I left the theater I turned left and I should have turned right! But thanks to my stellar sense of (mis)direction, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, I can't help but count my blessings and think about how it could have been so much worse. I mean, I was actually driving the speed limit for once, and I actually had both eyes on the road and both hands on the steering wheel, when frequently I'm speeding and either reading a map or taking a photo. If he'd hit head-on, my airbags would have gone off, my windshield could have smashed, I could have been hurt, the deer could have died. So I'm thankful things were not worse. The damage to my car is relatively minimal. Of course, minimal is all relative to an insurance company. My car isn't worth much to begin with, being a '98 with 97k miles, so even two grand of damage warrants being totaled. So we'll have to see what happens with that. Such drama!


Those dreaded words: "Assembly required"

For my birthday I got a new entertainment center. I went to a furniture store in Raleigh and picked it out. It's Sauder, which means it comes in a box and you have to put it together. To me, this is both fun and daunting. I really like the end result, gazing upon my very own handiwork. But the process can be tedious.



The first night (yes, this was a two-evening project) I spent three hours assembling the main structure. I had to stop at the point where you hammer nails in the cardboard that goes on the back, because it was after 11 pm and I'm sure my downstairs neighbor would not have been pleased with me (the unit was lying face-down on the carpet). The next morning I finished putting on the back piece, and then started hooking up all the electronics. Another nightmare. I wish they would make an all-in-one TV with a built-in VCR, DVD player, DVD recorder, stereo receiver, tape player, CD player, CD burner, and TiVo. I would SO buy that TV. Of course, if one thing breaks, you're screwed. Anyway, everything is hooked up properly and the unit looks awesome! So much better than what I had before.

Before:


After:

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The big THREE-OH

Okay, so I never did post about my birthday. Being jobless and such, I have tons of time, but I've gotten really L-A-Z-Y. Nicole's trip out here was super fun! She arrived early in the morning, so we stopped at Waffle House for breakfast. New for both of us. Pretty much like a Denny's. Later we explored the shops on Salem Street in downtown Apex. They were all very charming. That afternoon we got pedicures. My guy took extra special pride in the design he painted on my big toe...kind of funny. He stared at the blank toe for a while, and made some brush stroke motions, as if planning out his masterpiece. He made me promise not to look until he was done, because he wanted to surprise me. It turned out to be kind of like a firework, with sweeping lines of gold and white bursting from the upper right corner of the toenail. But my interpretation was wrong! He told me, without a drop of sarcasm, that it was a depiction of the sunrise at 6 am. Mmm-hmm, whatever.

Anyway, the next day we went out to see the progress on my parents' house. Then we drove up to Chapel Hill to explore, and stopped at Southern Season because I'd read it was like this huge awesome store. It was fun to browse but all we got were some Kindersorpresa chocolate eggs (a reminder of Italy!). We drove all around just checking everything out, and Nicole played navigator. We almost made it to Duke, but using the Rand McNally street map while driving can be tricky. We wrapped up the day at the Streets at South Point in Durham, which I'd also heard was fabulous.


Fabulously crowded!! It was INSANE! The wait for The Cheesecake Factory (always long anyway) was two and a half hours. We opted for Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill because it was only 90 minutes. While waiting, we sauntered over to the Bose store and listened to their top-of-the-line demonstration. Pretty cool, but also pretty pricey! When we finally got seated, the food was great, and I got a happy birthday creme brulee (sans the embarrasing singing) for dessert.

Sunday we went to the movies to see Dreamer with Dakota Fanning. Very heartwarming. I love me those happy endings! I also learned to knit. Nicole was incredibly patient with this clumsy student. It was so humbling to feel completely incompetent at something I know is so simple. But, I'm catching on, and can even watch TV now while I knit without having too many dropped (or added) stitches. So far I'm about halfway done with my first scarf. It is far, far from perfect but I'll still wear it with pride. "Dude, I made this!"


Yeah, that whole widening part there, totally unintentional.

Monday we hung out and relaxed, knitting and watching Fever Pitch. We'd watched Mad Hot Ballroom her first night here, which was so-so, cute but not a keeper. Unlike Fever Pitch, which was totally a keeper! I love romantic comedies, and Drew Barrymore is one of my favorite actresses.

All this fun kept me so busy I didn't really have time to reflect upon turning thirty. It's kind of weird to think I'm in that decade, but whatever. I can't help but feel a little behind, though, considering when my mom was my age she already was married with two kids. But there's no sense in brooding on it--if it's meant to happen, it will happen. If not, well, there's a LOT to be said for living alone! I am in love with my new apartment, it is so roomy and comfortable.

Well, that's it for now. To all my loyal readers (ha!) stay tuned, because I have updates on my parents moving into their new house, as well as the saga of assembling my birthday present--a new entertainment center!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This is what bloggers do, right?

Provide links to fun-slash-weird things they come across on the internet? Well, here you go! (Takes a few seconds to load, but worth it. Music starts before animation.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia was fantastic! There is so much history there, it’s ridiculous. Come to think of it, there’s just as much history everywhere else, but in Philly it’s all the stuff you read about in school, so seeing the sites in person is quite a thrill. I think the best way to share about my trip is through photos, so here we go!

The drive to Pennsylvania was gorgeous. The fall foliage was absolutely spectacular.



I passed through several states (I missed the Pennsylvania sign because it was right after an interchange and I was focused on following directions).

Talk about dumb sign placement!


Being from California, I get excited over silly things like rivers, big bridges, tunnels, and toll roads.



This was my first view of Philadelphia.


My first full day, we went into Old City. We happened upon City Hall and found out that you can take an elevator to the top—for free!—to get an awesome view of the city.



Next was the heavyweight, the star of the show, Independence Hall. Unfortunately they’ve sullied the landscape with security barricades (pitifully disguised with bunting), but it is nonetheless a sight to behold the building where such momentous events took place two centuries ago.

I have difficulty accepting such a close juxtaposition of old and new. The skyscrapers immediately behind the Hall kind of ruin the view, if you ask me, but at least they haven’t torn down the Hall to build a skyscraper in its place.


If you take a picture from the back of the building, though, there’s less modernity to intrude on the scene.


Now, of course, the obligatory photo that proves I was there.


Dude, this is where they approved the Declaration of Independence and wrote the Constitution!! You can’t get more seminal than that!


The Liberty Bell is housed in a separate museum-like hall, where you have to walk past tons of exhibits talking about the bell before you get to see the real thing. But they’ve positioned it in such a way to allow for a pretty great photo.


The Mint would of course have been another must-see for me, but due to 9/11 security measures, tours are not open to the public. You have to get sponsorship by your congressperson, which takes at least a month. I didn’t know about this until I was already in Philadelphia, so I was out of luck.


We visited the Penn campus, where Marcy works. It was Homecoming Weekend, so pretty crowded for a Saturday. It’s the second Ivy League school I’ve visited (the first being Dartmouth), and it does have a stately feel with all the old buildings and such.


And of course, with it being fall, everything was ten times as pretty.


Another obligatory pose with one of the famous Ben statues:


The next day we visited the Italian Market (great if you are in need of produce, because it is very cheap and good quality) and Reading Terminal (another market but less produce and more meats, cheeses, and breads, along with lots of options for lunch). I had a chicken cheesesteak sandwich from Rick’s, which I was so excited to try.


It was delicious, but alas made me quite ill afterwards. Not sure why.

The following day we drove out to Valley Forge, about half an hour away. It was another beautiful day. We took the driving tour of the park, which is about nine miles and takes you by about ten different pullouts where you can stop and view something such as recreations of soldier huts, Washington’s headquarters, or an artillery field.





Even just the drive by itself was breathtaking. The park was simply gorgeous.


That’s Marcy by the canon. Talk about a huge tree!


The visitor’s center was also worth stopping in because they have cool artifacts, like actual playing cards and dominoes the soldiers used.


We had lunch at the King of Prussia mall (apparently the largest retail space in America), and then began the drive out to Mertztown.

I was ridiculously excited to visit this town, and was not disappointed. Again, the drive was spectacular and I would have stopped every quarter mile to take a picture if I could have. Just look at those hills!! (Click for larger view.)



We finally made it to the Village of Mertztown, as you can see.


We came across a cemetery, and I got out to look for any Mertz tombstones, but didn’t have any luck.


Finding the intersection of Mertz Rd and Mertztown Rd was a little more difficult, as the directions from Google were not entirely correct. But we eventually did find it. This is what you see while driving on Mertztown Rd:


The intersection of Mertz and Mertztown did not have signs for both roads, but at least we found it! A storm was rolling in, so it was quite windy, but I cannot tell you how pleased I was that the sky was cooperating by offering a beautiful backdrop for my photos.


I would have gone down Mertz Rd further, but apparently the bridge was out.


Mertztown even has its own post office, so I mailed a couple postcards.


We stopped at the market to get something to drink and I had to sneak this shot:


On the way out of Mertztown, the hills glowed as the setting sun illuminated the foliage.


My last full day in Philly, I returned to Old City to see the sites we ran out of time for on our first visit. I must admit, for the most part they were missable. I’d rate Congress Hall a five out of ten. Not much to see, but important stuff happened there, like the ratification of the Bill of Rights and the swearing in of our second president, Adams.



Old City Hall (where the Supreme Court met for the first ten years) was about a two. A single room, took about 30 seconds to visit.


A lot of stuff happened at Carpenter’s Hall, too, like the First Continental Congress, but it was also just one room. Probably a three out of ten.


The Todd and White houses, which you can only get inside if you go on a formal tour, are very nondescript from the outside. You’d walk right past them and think nothing of it if you didn’t know better.


Franklin Court was very enjoyable, however. I’d rank it about an eight. The white frames outline where his house and print shop used to stand.


The free museum underground showcases some of his inventions (he was super clever!) such as the glass harmonica.


There’s also a working print shop where you can see how they printed back in the day.


Lastly, there’s a post office where they hand cancel the mail using a replica of Ben Franklin’s signature. All very worthwhile.

Continuing on with the Franklin theme, we stopped at the cemetery where he is buried. We paid $2 to get in, but you don’t have to—you can see Ben’s grave from the fence. You’re supposed to toss a penny on it for good luck, so naturally I did.


It seems odd that his grave is so close to a busy street. Doesn’t seem like a very peaceful place to rest for eternity. The rest of the cemetery was quite picturesque, however.


Alas, acid rain and the march of time have combined to erode many of the tombstones to the point where they might as well be unmarked graves.

Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously inhabited street in America, and although it is rather quaint and charming, if you came to Philly and missed it, you should not fret. It’s a street. A rather short one. You walk down it, take a couple photos, and you’re done. A four out of ten.



Christ Church was worth the visit; I’d give it a six out of ten. It’s where George Washington worshipped, and so many other luminaries as well. A school group was letting out when we arrived, so it was rather chaotic. But their gift shop was the first I saw with miniature replicas of the Liberty Bell, so I was thrilled. Me and my knickknacks.

Now, aside from the cheesesteak, I haven’t mentioned much about where we ate. Everything was great, and not once did we dine at a national chain (big deal for suburban me). We ate at Marathon Grill twice (two separate locations). They have a rather extensive menu. I had a salmon burger first, and baked ziti second. Both were good. Kind of noisy inside though. Solid sevens. We went to Dmitiri’s one night, for Mediterranean fare. Tons of food. Delicious. Quieter. A nine. Mama Palma’s for woodfired pizza. I had one with lots of roasted garlic—I’m very into garlic these days. Quite tasty. An eight. Lunch on my last day was at Plough and Stars, an Irish pub. I was very original and ordered the fish and chips. The tartar sauce was fantastic, and the fish was impressive. Another nine. Even the food at the King of Prussia Mall was yummy. I ordered a turkey wrap from one of the food court places (I guess it’s probably a chain but not one I recognized) and it was very well done. One of the days we didn’t have lunch, because time just slipped away from us. But that day I got to try Tastycakes, which are apparently a big deal in Philly. They were okay, basically like Hostess cupcakes. I also had a pretzel from a street vendor, which was good, but it would have been better warm. But at the price of three for $1, you can’t complain.

A few other things I wanted to mention:

- The cheapest gas we saw was $2.29 out in rural Pennsylvania, on the way to Mertztown.

- Philly freeway signs measure in tenths of a mile, as in, the South Street exit is 2/10 of a mile ahead. Odd. I’m used to quarter miles.

- It cost me $10 in tolls to get to Philadelphia, but only $5 to return.

- The weather was great—unseasonably warm—except one night it rained. Of course we had walked to dinner, so on the way back we got soaked, but it wasn’t that far.

- I was surprised by how few souvenir vendors there were in the Independence Mall area. In the touristy areas of Italy, there were carts up the wazoo where you could buy your miniature replicas of David, figurines of the Vatican, etc. In Philly, you get your souvenirs from the official gift shops, basically.

- One cool thing about PA is there’s no tax on clothes or shoes. My only benefit from this was on the $10 slippers I bought at Nordstrom Rack.

- Google and Yahoo gave me different directions on how to get to Philly, and provided drastically different estimates of how long the drive would take. Google said 8:45, while Yahoo said 6:45. Google also took me right through Washington DC instead of bypassing it like Yahoo. In reality, it took me about eight hours to get to Philadelphia from my house. I did stop for lunch in Fredericksburg, VA, for nearly an hour. On the way back, it took me about seven hours. I stopped near Hopewell, VA for lunch, but only for 30 minutes. I think it was faster because I sped more, and also because on the way out I somehow ended up on the Route 64 business loop, and on the way back I stayed on the main highway.