Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's only May, for crying out loud!

It's 9:54 pm and the temperature outside is a balmy 82 degrees. Enough said.

Update 6/1/06: Perhaps it wasn't enough. Let me clarify. I hate heat. I hate humidity. Both of them together? A diabolical combination, as far as I'm concerned. I am praying that this summer does not make me regret moving to NC.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

From the Vault

Update: See more From the Vault.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was looking around for a meme to do for today's entry, because I was feeling a little uninspired, and I came across "Thursday Challenge." It's a photo meme, and this week's theme is "Ground." I was searching through my pictures for an appropriate photo, but here's where being a picky rule-follower can be a burden. Every photo I considered, I dismissed as not quite right. As if I were picking something to be displayed in the Louvre! It's a blog, for crying out loud. Apparently I don't like being restricted by themes, as my own postcard swap taught me.

So I decided to start my own meme. You can do it on any day you want, and more than once a week if you want. And there is no theme. All you have to do is pick one photo from your "vault" that has never been on your blog before, and post it. You can write about it, or let it stand alone. It's kind of like your favorite singer putting out a CD of songs that they recorded but which never made it onto an album. In the age of digital cameras, we all take tons of photos that never see the light of day, for lack of a proper venue, or an "excuse" to show them. So let "From the Vault" be that venue, that excuse. Here's my inaugural offering:

The Star

Taken May 11, 2001, Pier 39 (San Francisco, CA)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Severe weather

In California, this meant a heat wave or over an inch of rain in one day. Here, it means golf-ball sized hail and tornadoes. With increasing frequency, the local news stations are blaring Severe Thunderstorm Warnings, Tornado Watches, and the occasional Tornado Warning. What's the difference between a "watch" and a "warning"? Good question. I just found out recently myself. Apparently a "watch" means conditions are favorable for the weather-oriented event in question, such as a tornado, whereas a "warning" means the weather event has actually been spotted in your area. In other words: Tornado Watch: no biggie. Tornado Warning: Holy crap! All of the warnings, thankfully, have been in counties far from where I live. That is, until Mother's Day. We had a really bad storm roll through, and there was a tornado warning in effect for Wake County. We ain't Kansas, so there aren't cellars. All you can do is go into an interior room and hope for the best. Of course, nothing happened, or else I wouldn't be writing this a week later.

Speaking of severe weather, hurricane season starts June 1, and this week is Hurricane Awareness Week. It is all over the news here, not only because of the awful hurricanes last year, but also because Raleigh was hit by a hurricane not too long ago. The infamous Fran, in September of 1996. It's hard to imagine what a hurricane might do to a city that's located a hundred miles inland, but last night on the news they showed clips from when it hit, including footage of one of the major malls here (Crabtree Valley) under several feet of water. I've also heard that people were without power for over a week, with mid-ninety degree heat and nearly 100% humidity. Ack! I hope we don't get hit this season. Last September, knowing that we were moving to NC, I watched Ophelia with a wary eye, and even saved this radar shot:

Looks pretty ominous, no? I can't help but think...I'm on the second floor so if there's a flood my stuff should be okay...but since I'm on the "top," does that make me more vulnerable to the wind ripping off my roof and blowing everything away? Let's hope we don't have to find out!

Good ol' weekend recap

One of the great things about being employed is that you appreciate the weekend so much more. When you're a lady of leisure, Tuesday is the same as Saturday--except that stores are less crowded during the week. But now, when Friday arrives, there's a great sense of relief and anticipation. This past Friday was no different. I did not have any major plans to look forward to, but just being able to sleep in (I've been sleeping better lately, thanks for asking) and lounge around in my PJ's until noon packs in enough delight for me.

I did have the goal of being dressed and out the door by noon this Saturday, however. I needed to get my oil changed. Man, 3,000 miles go by fast! I never really noticed how quickly the miles rack up, because I've always had synthetic oil in my car (Amsoil, to be specific), which only needs to be changed every 25,000 miles or one year. The last time I got my oil changed, I didn't have any Amsoil, and didn't have time to wait and get it from my dad, because I thought grungy oil was partly to blame for my car overheating. (Turned out not to be the case, but that's another story.) So I got regular oil and thus it needed to be changed after a measly few thousand miles. This time I did have Amsoil, though (thanks, Dad!) so I won't need to revisit Fast Lube Plus for quite some time. Which is a good thing, because I never seem to be able to get out of there without spending over $150. This time, they recommended that I change my power steering fluid and clean out my fuel system. For all I know it's a load of bull, but it sounded reasonable enough to me, and I was reading a good book so I didn't mind sitting around a little longer. Mine was the only car there so there were several guys working on it at once. Besides, this was the view from the waiting room.


Gotta love NC.

After the car was done, I headed over to the Crossroads, the world's largest shopping center (or at least it seems like it). They have every store you could imagine, and if it's not there, it's within a 2 mile drive. Seriously, Cary has it all in terms of retail. Anyway, I was looking for two things: clothes and craft materials. As I've mentioned here before, I am going to be doing some on-site trainings this summer, and I kind of feel like my current wardrobe is a little bit too casual for that. And, I'm going to a friend's wedding in July, so I need something kind of dressy. I made out okay on the first count--a couple pairs of slacks and tops--but I bombed horrendously on the summery-dress front. Thankfully I still have time to look. As for the crafts, I wandered through Michael's searching for inspiration for my gift tags for Tammie's swap. I finally emerged with cardstocks, papers, and embellishments sufficient to craft 100 tags, and I only need to make 10. But at least I have options. :-)

For dinner Saturday, I picked up Red Robin to go and took it over to my parents' house. I love Red Robin, and was excited because the first one opened in the Triangle area a few weeks ago. But I have to say that it tastes better if it doesn't sit in the car for 45 minutes before you eat it. After dinner, we watched two movies: Family Stone (which I'd seen) and Nanny McPhee (which I hadn't). Both were good, in very different ways. I gave both three stars on Netflix. Family Stone would have gotten four if the first three-quarters of the movie weren't so heavy and uncomfortable. I know Sarah Jessica Parker's character is supposed to be awkward and she did a bang-up job of acting, because it truly is painful to watch her squirm under the family's scrutiny. Nanny McPhee was cute, and I could see kids loving it, but it was a little simplistic. It's becoming trite to say it, but the best kids' movies are the ones that have many levels and layers, like Finding Nemo.

Saturday night, despite a forecast for dry weather, there was a big thunderstorm with lots of lightning and rain. My parents have a pretty open view of the horizon, and we saw so many flashes of light. But as fast as the rain came, it left, and I went home. The drive was bizarre. There was fog, which isn't new to me, but the nature of this fog was so strange. It wasn't thick, and it wasn't everywhere. It was in low-lying pockets. Truly, it looked like the set of a movie where a fog machine was in use. I have never in my life seen fog like that. It did get denser and higher in patches, but for the most part it was very low. It felt like I was driving through the clouds. Almost surreal.

Sunday I got my hair cut. I explained exactly what I wanted to the hairdresser, but as usual, she cut too much off. Oh well, it grows back, right? We chatted mostly about the Grey's Anatomy finale. Afterwards I went home for lunch, and a little before three headed off for my weekly massage. Have I mentioned the Rub Club here before? It's the greatest thing since sliced bread! You pay a monthly fee and you get a certain number of massages. The rates are dirt cheap, and I couldn't pass it up. It may sound indulgent--and, well, I guess it is--but my shoulders and neck have been so incredibly tense lately, I really felt it was a necessity. I've never gotten more than two massages from the same person before, but now it's the same lady every time, and I really think it gets better every week. I think she is becoming accustomed to where my knots are, and she's more confident in how to go about releasing the tension.

I did some grocery shopping afterwards, and then came home and worked on my gift tags. I do hope they are crafty enough to be worthy of being in the swap. I like how they turned out, but it seemed too easy.

At 9:00 I watched the season finale of Desperate Housewives. It's a good show, but I was not wowed by the finale. I actually found myself looking at the clock around 10:15, thinking, "How much longer?" They did set up next season pretty decently, so maybe it will be back in top form in the fall.

So I guess that brings us up to today. I was a little busy at work--gasp!--so the time went by pretty quickly. I also found out that I am going to Georgia for some trainings--I get to fly into Atlanta. Hopefully I'll have some time to do a little sightseeing. Oh, and the trainings in Pittsburgh that were going to threaten my vacation to L.A. in July were rescheduled for the week before, so there's no chance of a conflict. Whew!

Oh, one more thing--did you see Google's logo today? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday. I love Google's special logos. You can see them all here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fall TV

Do you like to watch TV? I do. Once upon a time, I had shows every single night that I couldn't bear to miss. Although I'm much better about it than I used to be, I watch about 1-2 hours a night. I record Ellen everyday, so that's an hour, and the rest shapes up like this:
Monday: nothing
Tuesday: American Idol (only until next week though!)
Wednesday: Lost (tape American Idol results show)
Thursday: nothing (American Inventor's final episode was last night)
Friday: nothing
Saturday: nothing
Sunday: Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy
The season is winding down, and the networks have announced their fall schedules. I didn't feel like reading some 1,000-word piece about the nuances of all the timeslot swaps and counterprogramming attempts. I just wanted to see what's going to be on and when. It took me a while to find just that, so I figured I would put the link here in case you're interested in it. This shows ABC's lineup, and right underneath the headline are links to the other networks' schedules. (A grid-style overview is here.)

One cool thing I read about Lost is that there will be no reruns next season. There will be seven straight new episodes in the fall, then it will go on hiatus while a new show takes its slot. When Lost reappears, it will have all new episodes until the end of the season. That rocks! Everyone should do that!

As for what new shows I might want to watch, I usually wait for Entertainment Weekly's Fall TV Preview issue. But these shows sound interesting at first glance:
Heroes (NBC Monday at 9)
The Nine (ABC Wednesday at 10)
Six Degrees (ABC Thursday at 10)
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC Thursday at 9)

The first three are all pretty similar, and very Lost-like. Who knows if they will be any good. I am hesitant to become attached to hour-long dramas that are doomed to be cancelled. But I think that's why things tank so quickly; no one wants to be the guinea pig. None of the dramas I currently watch were on my schedule right from the start. I caught up with season 1 of Lost on DVD, which is not a bad way to watch TV, if you ask me. No commercials, first of all; secondly, you know you're golden for at least 22 episodes (no threat of the ax); but the best part is you don't have to wait a whole week to see the next episode! For a while I even contemplated canceling my cable and buying all the seasons of 24 on DVD. Surely that would keep me occupied for a few months. Then, on to Gilmore Girls, The OC, Nip/Tuck, etc. But then you lose the water-cooler cache. Yep, it's still all about peer pressure.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

First birthday

I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

More here.

Around the world

I'm always on the lookout for good blogs to read, especially since I spend about 7 hours a day surfing the web. (I'm told the slow times won't last long; soon I'll be traveling for trainings, and then it'll be fall, which, since our clients are mainly schools, is the busiest time for Customer Support.) My latest discovery is not a blog, though. It's a new weekly newspaper column. But since you can read it online, it's updated regularly, and it's about someone's life, it's pretty much like a blog. (Just imagine your blog being published in the New York Times...holy cow!)

Anyway, this guy is going to travel around the world in 90 days. Dreamy, right? The catch is that he's on a budget. No more than $100/night for lodging, and $40/day for meals (hello, Rachael Ray!). This seems incredibly doable, since that's basically how I always travel. But this guy is going to some pretty far-out places: Pakistan, Croatia, and Galicia to name a few. Of course, his itinerary may change since he doesn't want to be tied down by pesky planning. He has not enumerated any specific budget limitations for transportation, but since he plans to use low-cost air carriers, buses, trains, and ferries, it will probably be pretty cheap. Anyway, his column will appear every Wednesday, chronicling his journey, and I have high hopes that it will be entertaining reading.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Life goes on

On the way to a late lunch/early dinner (lunner?) Sunday at Carrabba's, it was a caravan of three: my parents in the lead, me in the middle, and my brother and his family bringing up the rear. We were driving in the outer lane of highway 64 east, and in a heartbeat a deer ran out from the median onto the road. It was not aiming for me, but rather my parents' car. Which means that a) I did not hit it, but b) I got a front-row seat for the unfortunate action. The deer followed what I assume to be a similar path to the one that hit me six months ago. Ran into the driver's side front quarter panel, then ricocheted off the rear door. Perhaps due to the speed, the poor doe went flying pretty high in the air, doing some awful flips, eventually landing at the left edge of the inside lane. I was expecting my dad to pull over right away, but he didn't. I assume he was stunned into proceeding. You know--when something terrible happens, and you don't quite know how to react, so you just keep on. I did it too--didn't pull over until I regained my wits. We did eventually pull over, the entire caravan on the side of the road. I was rather shaken up, having witnessed from afar what I'd only imagined happened that night back in November. But you don't expect this kind of thing on a bright, beautiful spring day. The script calls for darkness, or at least ominous clouds. But the thunderstorms of the previous evening had cleared, and the rain made everything smell clean, and the sun was shining on the bright green grass and trees. An innocent creature wandered where it shouldn't have, and it was a fatal mistake. I am grateful the only casualty was the deer, but at the same time I am uncomfortable dismissing the deer's life as expendable. My brother was my hero for the day, running back to where the deer lied motionless, and pulling it off the road so that it would not continue to be hit by more speeding vehicles. What's so bizarre is that after the police report, we went on with our day as planned. Continued on to the restaurant, waited for an hour, got booster seats and a high chair, dipped bread in olive oil, cut into chicken, spooned potatoes, guzzled caffeine, shopped for digital cameras. It never ceases to amaze me that life goes on. But it always does. Certain events feel like they should make the world stop turning, or at least change things, even if it's just a little, but no.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Memory is a mysterious thing. Case in point: my gym lock. I’ve had it for about two years. It’s a purple combination lock that I bought at Target. (Did you need to know that?) Although I did not get to pick the combination, the string of numbers lends itself pretty well to memorization. And usually I manage to pull them up from the recesses of my brain when needed. But I vividly recall one evening about a year or so ago, having to sit on a locker room bench trying to clear my synapses, because I could not for the life of me remember the numbers in the correct order. I was drawing a blank. Or rather, I was drawing a jumbled mess. I think numbers from my previous combo lock even crept in. I tried many different strings and none of them worked. There was a long moment of slight panic--what am I going to do? My car keys are in there. My cell phone is in there. And there's no way I can get to them. Briefly visions of gym staff arriving on the scene with some lock cutting tool entered my mind, but I dismissed them quickly because, darn it, I knew the numbers, they were in my brain, they were just temporarily inaccessible. And I knew, of course, that the more frustrated and panicky I got, the less likely I’d be able to remember them. I ended up distracting myself by watching some TV (they always had MTV2 on in the locker room at the LAX 24 Hour Fitness) and then trying again, and I finally got it.

So it was a weird feeling when I walked into the locker room the first day at my new gym and a string of numbers just popped into my head, seemingly out of nowhere. But of course, it wasn’t really out of nowhere. I was back in a locker room, and my situational memory brought those numbers up to the surface. Remarkable how the brain works.

Speaking of forgetfulness.... Unless I stand right in front of the stove for the duration of the cooking time, there is a 95% chance that the pot will boil over. I've burned many things in the toaster oven. And when I put clothes in the washer, often times I forget to transfer them to the dryer for hours. Is this an indication that I'm easily distracted and scatterbrained (in an ADD sort of way) or that I have a bad memory? I'm not sure either one is better than the other!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Busy Saturday

Yesterday was a fun day. Around noon my parents and I went to the Apex Peakfest, an annual street fair that has over 200 vendors.

(view from north end, looking south...fire station on the left)

(view from south end, looking north...you can spot the water tower in the distance)

I got a pretty silver bracelet but otherwise we just browsed. It was a gorgeous day with a nice breeze. A leeetle bit hot in the sun but in the shade, perfect.

After leaving the festival, we headed over to Office Max because I wanted a trackball mouse--my absolute last idea to help ease some shoulder tension and pain. We'll see if it works. Next we stopped at A.C. Moore, a craft store like Michael's or Joann's, because my dad is just in love with it since his first trip to one in Durham a week ago. (Yes, I said my dad--he's not your average sports nut guy, to be sure.)

We had lunch at Lucky 32, a nice restaurant in Cary that we hadn't been to before. The decor was nice, the bathrooms were really nice (with toilet seat covers!!!!), and the menu had many enticing options . My mom and I liked our meals but my dad wasn't impressed with his flavorless open-faced turkey sandwich.

Afterwards we were going to check out the Martha Stewart KB Homes in Cary, but we got on the 40 freeway and traffic was at a crawl so we ditched that plan. We were going to head for Kmart but missed the exit, so we just went around in a circle on the beltline. I'd never done that before. Everything is so green and lush, it's just beautiful. If I had to pick one word to summarize North Carolina, it would be TREES.

We got off on Six Forks Road for a bit of show-and-tell ("That's my office," "Over there's my gym," "Here's the Bear Rock I go to for lunch sometimes," etc.) We continued way up Six Forks Rd. and, wouldn't you know it, found a Kmart. My parents were interested in something for the backyard (I can't say what yet) but they didn't have it.

Exiting the parking lot, we unknowingly got on the wrong street (Strickland) and ended up having a great detour. We drove through a very nice neighborhood (turns out to be called Crosswinds, with houses around $350k) and we spotted a Goodberry's, where we stopped for our first frozen custard. My coworker had given me a gift card she'd won and said she'd never use, so it was free! It was delicious--basically like ice cream, but much smoother.

We got back onto Six Forks and then went up to the 540, hooked up with the 40, and then exited at Harrison for a quick peek at Umstead State Park. We drove through Cary and stopped at their Kmart, which we discovered, after much confusion, had the desired backyard item. We managed to squeeze it into the car (barely) and then we came back to my apartment around 9. Whew! I slept like a baby. :)

The latest on Trader Joe's

[This started out as a quick post about the latest news on Trader Joe's coming to the Triangle. Then it mushroomed into a mini research project, which may or may not be of interest to you. I find it fascinating though.]

Here are the latest developments, from CaryNews.com...still no confirmation about the store's location or arrival date, but it's looking mighty promising! I also loved reading people's comments on this News & Observer page. It makes me feel more justified in my excitement to know that others are just as devoted.

A side note, however: TJ's is owned by German billionaires? Crap. Did a little research. Yep, it's true. It was started by Joe Coulombe as a Los Angeles convenience store chain in 1958, then bought in 1979 by Germans Karl and Theo Albrecht, who also own the ALDI food chain. All right, well, who owns my other options?
  • Lowe's Foods is owned by Alex Lee, a Hickory, NC company.
  • Harris Teeter is headquartered in Matthews, NC. (Some history here.) It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Charlotte-based Ruddick Corporation.
  • Food Lion, although headquartered out of Salisbury, NC, is owned by a Belgian company. It is a subsidiary of Delhaize America, the U.S. division of Brussels-based Delhaize Group.
  • Kroger is owned by Kroger Co. (which also owns Ralphs, Fred Meyer, and Smiths Food & Drug). Kroger is a Cincinnati-based company.
  • Whole Foods is owned by Whole Foods Market, Inc., based in Austin, TX.
What about the stores I used to shop at in California?
  • Stater Brothers is headquarted in Colton, CA.
  • Albertsons (headquartered in Boise, ID) used to own Sav-On, Osco, Jewell, Acme, and Lucky, but the whole lot was recently acquired by a consortium of investors. (Details here.) SuperValu (headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota) got 1100 stores, making it the second largest grocer behind Kroger. Cerberus (a hedge fund group!) got 600. (Read about Cerberus here and here. Something I can't quite put my finger on sounds kind of ominous.)
  • Vons and Pavillions (and Safeway) are owned by Safeway, Inc., based in Pleasanton, CA.
  • Ralphs is owned by Kroger (as mentioned above).
So it looks like even though EVERYTHING is a GIANT corporation (except for Stater Bros.--still a corporation, but operates in only six counties of CA), they're all Amerian-owned except for Trader Joe's and Food Lion. Hmph. Tsk tsk. Grr.

Okay, so TJ's is owned by Germans. Does that mean it's un-American to shop there? This makes me feel a little better:
I myself am an employee at a Trader Joes here in the DC area. And I can honestly say that out of the countless jobs I've had, TJ's has been the most pleasant to work for. They seem to really take a genuine interest in the well being of their employees. It's the little things that they pay attention to that really have an effect on us. For example, if there is a special occasion, the mgt. makes sure to celebrate it and include the whole staff. They also go out of their way to let you know that you're doing a good job as well...I've been taken out to lunch at a restaurant for an hour and it was paid for by TJ's. They've got great benefits [even for part-time employees], and I actually just got my first raise and it was substantial! I make more money now than I EVER have and ive only worked there for 5 months.
But then again, someone pointed out that TJ's produce is overpackaged...e.g., when you buy apples they come in a plastic tray with plastic wrap over it (neither of which is recyclable here in Apex). Whereas in a regular supermarket, you put the apples in a reusable plastic bag. Hmm.

Nothing's ever black and white.

If you're interested in reading more about TJ's, I found this loooong article, which talks about how it became successful. Apparently there's a whole book about it!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

My name in Flickr

It's a visual language...

MELneon sign iSSA

I really like how Nicole's turned out...

You can try it here.

More attempts:

Friday, May 05, 2006

Time to rack up the frequent flier miles

Although nothing is written in stone, here are the places I will probably get to visit through my job this summer:

North Carolina:

Eastern North Carolina (Pamlico/Chowan Counties)
Northwestern North Carolina (Alleghany County - where my brother and his family live!)
Southern North Carolina (Mecklenburg County - i.e., Charlotte)
Western North Carolina (various counties in the mountains)
Winston-Salem, North Carolina


South Carolina
Northern Ohio (2-3 days)
Illinois (2-3 days)
Pittsburgh (1 week!) (!)
Albany, New York (3 days)

The only minor snag is that the whole purpose of the traveling is to retrain our customers on our new user interface...which is not done yet and has an ever-changing deadline. I haven't even tried out the beta version yet, and I'm supposed to show district superintendents how to use it in a couple months? Yikes!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


There is a small yet in some ways significant difference between North Carolina and California that I have heretofore neglected to discuss. It’s the kind of thing that, when confronted with it, I think to myself, “I should totally blog about this,” but then when it comes time to sit down at the keyboard, I have long forgotten about it. I am speaking about none other than toilet seat covers. Or rather, the lack of them here in the Tar Heel State. Every public bathroom in California has them, but here, not so much. I’ve probably seen them once. I’d always taken them for granted. I figured it was one of those modern-day givens, something that came into common use years ago and is here to stay. But apparently it’s not as common as I assumed. It’s peculiar how something so basic can be ubiquitous in one state and completely absent in another. It makes me wonder: are people in California that much more concerned about germs and cleanliness? At what point does the tide turn and merchants/office building managers feel compelled to provide this courtesy? I guess I have to tally this oddity in the “culture shock” column, although like everything else, it’s not been so much a shock as an “all righty then.”

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sleep issues

I think I might actually be getting too much sleep. I know, this is not commonly considered a problem. Most people would give a kidney to be able to indulge in nine hours of sleep a night. But I think this over-indulgence may actually be the reason why I haven’t been getting truly restful repose lately. I’m not the type of person whose sleep is easily disturbed by things like an unsettled mind, daily stresses, etc. I could be charged with defusing a bomb on a nuclear submarine transporting a cargo of puppies, and the night before I’d sleep fine. But lately I’ve been tossing and turning a lot, and waking up many times during the night.

I have attempted to get to the bottom of this through a process of trial and error. Am I not tired enough at the end of the day? This is partly what prompted me to join a gym, knowing that regular exercise makes for better sleep. Am I too hot? Take off the second layer. Is it the darn chirping birds? Keep the windows closed. All routes tested to no avail. Last night I even decided to plug my night light back in, thinking maybe that was the culprit. (I’m grasping at straws, people!) I still woke up, but I took note of the time: around 3 am. I’d gone to bed around 9:45. So I’d slept soundly for the first five hours. After that, it was somewhat restless, until my alarm went off at 6:20. It dawned on me that maybe I don’t need as many Z's as I've been allowing myself. So the experiment continues, with a new variable. I will stay up later and see if that makes a difference. Because seven solid hours are better than nine fitful ones.