Sunday, June 25, 2006


Look at the teensy weensy watermelons growing in my parents' garden. So cute!

Here's one that's slightly bigger. I can't wait till it's ready to eat!

Pretty little flowers on the basil.

Check out this giant moth we saw yesterday while touring the houses being built in the neighborhood. Pretty wings, nasty furry body.

And because I would feel bad leaving you with that as your last image, here are some more of those lovely daylilies. I am ridonkulously obsessed with them. These are about 30 miles from the ones I posted a couple days ago.

Car drama

I've commented before that I seem to blog a lot about car-related issues. For some reason, there is just a lot of car drama in my life. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, car drama is not so bad. But like any other drama, it is stressful. And blogging helps diffuse some of the stress. Although I wasn't supposed to be posting tonight; right now I should be in a hotel in Whiteville, NC, in preparation for a training tomorrow morning. But no. My car apparently wasn't in the mood to transport.

I left around 12:30, and made it as far as Benson (where I-40 and I-95 intersect). The transmission was having a nervous breakdown or something. It couldn't decide what gear be in. I would be going a steady 65, and it would downshift for like three seconds, then go back to normal. This was easy enough to overlook one or two times, but it kept getting worse. Soon the car was jolting and shuddering really badly, kind of like when a kid learns to drive stick shift. There was nothing I could do. Letting up on the gas didn't help; neither did giving it more gas.

Eventually I had to get off the freeway and decide what to do. Renting a car isn't really an option on a Sunday, since no one is open. I could risk driving the remaining 80 miles to get to my destination, but what about driving back? Clearly the car is in need of repairs, and with my Georgia trip coming up, I wouldn't be able to take it in until July. So I called my co-trainer and he said it was okay to miss the Whiteville training and just go back to Raleigh.

Once I got back on the freeway, the car was behaving a little better, but soon it started acting up again. I got off the freeway to give it another rest, which helped, but less this time. Finally, two hours after departing, I made it home. The drive back was nowhere near as stressful as the drive out, because it was a comfort knowing that I was headed to familiar territory where I could take care of the situation and not feel helpless.

Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm clueless when it comes to auto repair, but my car has over 104,000 miles on it and I'm guessing the transmission's shot. I suppose it could be something relatively easy like a fluid issue or a belt or something, but I'm not feeling it. There's no way I'm paying for a new transmission, so I did a little car shopping online. I'm looking into a Honda Civic or Accord. I considered a hybrid, but they are considerably more expensive, and from what I've read, don't actually get all that much better mileage than, say, a regular Civic. The new '06 Civics are really nice inside and out, and the EX has some sweet options. If I go with an Accord, it would most likely have to be used; but I've been told that buying a used car makes more sense. I've also been told that the best time to buy a car is the end of the month (sales people deal more in an effort to meet their quotas) but I'll be out of town until Friday night, and Saturday is July 1. I doubt my car will last another month, although if I end up traveling a lot for work, maybe it will. I'm taking it to the dealership tomorrow, and hopefully they'll have a quick diagnosis. Thankfully I'm renting a car for my Georgia trip. Let's keep our fingers crossed that there's no car drama involved!

P.S. Probably the biggest bummer of this whole thing: on my way, I had planned to take a detour to Wilmington, to dip my toe the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Oh well--there was crappy weather today anyway. I'll just have to go some other time.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What I see from the car

Sitting in traffic can be pretty boring. Luckily, I always have my camera with me. Here are a few shots I've taken in the past couple weeks.

First, the spectacular daylilies on the highways have bloomed and are brightening up the driving experience.

Next, construction on US 1 is plodding along. I can't wait for it to be done. It will make my commute so much easier. Notice the ugly temporary median, and the nice smooth permanent one in the distance.

At least when I'm sitting in traffic, I have lots of lush trees to admire.

And lastly, something I see from my living room: Comet enjoying the screened porch. This was last is currently way too hot and humid to have any windows open, even at night or in the morning.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Training adventures, part 1

I just got back from my first on-site training. The trip was so fun! I went to Spartanburg, SC and Maggie Valley, NC with my coworker, Taylor, and he had me cracking up the whole way. He drove, so I got to relax--and play navigator. We used my new Garmin, and there were a few, um, mishaps. It would take way to long to fully explain what happened, so suffice it to say that once, after we got off the freeway to get gas, we ended up seeing the same five-mile stretch of I-40 twice (a congested part, naturally), and then another time, in an attempt to find a place to eat lunch, we ended up seeing the same seven-mile stretch of I-85 twice. I do know that one of these incidents was absolutely due to user error (the driver not trusting the Garmin's accuracy) but the other time the directions were not clear (she said to "keep right" instead of "exit right"). It's a learning curve. I definitely feel like I made progress in terms of understanding the nuances. In fact, even today--after just one day of practice--there were no mishaps.

This was my first time in SC, so of course I had to photograph the state line sign:

And there was another curious roadside monument. It strikes me as odd, because I thought Georgia was the peach state.

We arrived in Spartanburg about 45 minutes early, which was good, because the training had been moved to a different location. It was only a block away, but if we had been running late that would have been super stressful. The training went pretty well, although there was some trouble with the computers. We were in a student computer lab, and the PCs were very restricted so our online application didn't run properly on them. But we managed to come up with a workaround and it all turned out okay. I did not lead this training, since it was my first on-site. I observed and helped out a few of the participants.

When we were finished, around 3 pm, we headed for Maggie Valley, NC. It is such a cute little town!

Definitely a touristy resort-like area, which is fine by me. We checked into our hotel (a Comfort Inn) and later went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant across the street. Decent food. We drove up the street a few miles, at my request, to see what one billboard touted as the "most photographed view." We found it, but the lookout tower was closed. It was still pretty, even from where we were standing.

We drove back to the hotel and Taylor went back to his room to do some work (he has a company-provided laptop) and I went to a little shopping area down the street. Most of the shops were closed, but a couple were open and I bought a few postcards and a souvenir magnet. I also met a Harley biker guy, complete with long gray goatee and full arm tattoos, whom I never would have started talking to had his lap not been occupied by an adorable chihuahua. He was telling me that "Tip" was tired from a long day of riding (he has his own box on the back of the bike!) and missed his girlfriend (who couldn't come along because she's only two pounds (!) and isn't such a fan of ride alongs). Then I went back to my room, changed into my comfy jammies, sat up in bed, and knitted. Meanwhile I was listening to Jennifer Weiner's Little Earthquakes on my iPod. It was so nice to just be away from everything. I mean, I could do the same things on any night of the week at home, but for some reason I just don't. There are so many other distractions when I'm home: the computer, the TV, etc.

This morning we trained in Waynesville, about 15 minutes from Maggie Valley. Once again, the location had been changed and no one bothered to let us know. Thankfully, though, we were early again, too. The school we ended up at was a very dismal place, indeed. I would have been depressed to work there. But I must say, the computer lab looked like it belonged in a brand new school. It was a very nice setup. I did the bulk of the training this time, and it was a big class--45 people. I got to wear a lapel microphone! How cool is that? And, the local news came to film the goings on (must be a slow news day). Overall I think the session went really well, and Taylor said I did a great job. Yay!

We left around 10:30 am and got back to Raleigh around 3:00. I went inside the office to check my work email, and tied up a few loose ends for my trainings in Georgia next week. After experiencing only two on-sites, I already feel like the next ones will go even more smoothly. And I'm excited to travel to yet another new state!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Natalie writes about my life

A meme from SJ

This was so fun! And surprisingly easy!

Choose a band/artist and answer ONLY in titles of their songs:
Natalie Merchant/10,000 Maniacs

1. Are you male or female?
I'm Not the Man

2. Describe yourself:
Scorpio Rising

3. How do some people feel about you:
Let the Mystery Be

4. How do you feel about yourself:

5. Describe your ex boyfriend/girlfriend:
Break Your Heart

6. Describe your current significant other:
Few and Far Between

7. Describe where you want to be:
Lowlands of Holland

8. Describe how you live:
Like the Weather

9. Describe how you love:
Kind and Generous

10. What would you ask for if you had just one wish:
Peace Train

11. Share a few words of wisdom:

12. Now say goodbye:
Just Can't Last

November 12

From Moki

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. In the Search box, type your birth month and day (but not year).
3. List three events that happened on your birthday.
4. List two important birthdays and one interesting death.
5. One holiday or observance (if any).

Historical events
1439 - Plymouth, England, becomes the first town incorporated by the English Parliament.
1936 - In California, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opens to traffic.

1946 - A branch of the Exchange National Bank in Chicago, Illinois opens the first ten drive-up teller windows.
1980 - The NASA space probe Voyager I makes its closest approach to Saturn.

1815 - Elizabeth Cady Stanton, American women's rights activist (d. 1902)
1840 - Auguste Rodin, French sculptor (d. 1917)

No interesting deaths or holidays on Nov. 12, but there's this:
In Back To The Future, November 12, 1955 is the date of the famous Hill Valley lightning storm.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Melissa needs...

Have you ever tried Googling yourself? It can be kind of shocking to see where your name pops up--both when it's really you, as well as when it's someone else with your same name! For instance, there's a Mrs. Melissa Mertz who is a high school English teacher in Ellington, CT; a Melissa Mertz who is co-vice president of Ball State's Natural Resources and Environmental Management club; and a Melissa Mertz who is director of victim services at New York City's Bellevue Hospital.

I stumbled upon a meme that is kind of like that, but with a twist. You Google your name and the word needs, as in "Melissa needs," including the quotation marks. Then you just post the first ten results. It's kinda funny. In a slightly incestuous turn, some of the top results were other blogger's lists of what they found when doing this search. Also, I got some repeats in my top ten, so I did the first ten unique ones. Here you go:
  1. Melissa needs a fuller understanding to be sure she is on the right track.
  2. Melissa needs to board the blob ship that is hovering overhead.
  3. Melissa needs to get off the porch rail!!!
  4. Melissa Needs Maintenance Manuals!
  5. Melissa needs a camp job in July.
  6. Melissa needs attention and will do “things” for attention.
  7. Melissa needs blood will you help me?
  8. Melissa needs to move to a new convent to complete the next part of her religious journey.
  9. Melissa Needs Your Help - Kittens/cats Up For Adoption ...
  10. Melissa needs to take a break.
  11. Melissa needs to find a new agent.
Okay, so it was 11.

So here's something kinda cool. I was checking out my visitor stats and noticed that someone came to visit me from The Write Coast, and I discovered that the (obviously discerning) writer of that blog lists my blog as one of her "favorite reads!" So I thought I'd give her an Ellen-style HOLLA! By the way, I saw the above meme on Listaholic, which is her other blog. I love lists too! She has some awesome memes and it will be hard to choose which one to do next.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Where's the ark?

Prestonwood Golf Course, Cary, NC - June 14, 2006

Yesterday, the "remnants" of tropical storm Alberto made their way through the Triangle region. If you live around here, you could not escape the news coverage, but for those of you out-of-staters, I'll fill you in on the drama. The rain started around 4-ish in the morning, and by the time I left for work a little before 8 it was falling at the rate where you would start invoking felines and canines to describe it. My drive to work was a white-knuckler, but at least the freeway was not flooded. Once I got onto Six Forks Road, however, I found that the lane closest to the curb was more or less unusable due to the rushing torrents of water in the gutter. I made it to work fine, though, and even early. We always keep the radio on for a little background music, and at noon they switched over to carrying the audio of their TV sister station's news broadcast. We found out that Crabtree Valley Mall was closed due to the parking lot flooding,

and we kept hearing about all the streets that were closed.

Sunset Lake Road, Apex, NC - June 14, 2006

The newscasters must have said a hundred times, do NOT drive through water, and yet still people did it.

(This guy ultimately got a ticket for crossing a police barricade.)

Online I was able to watch video of the live coverage and they kept showing the feed from the traffic camera located at the intersection of Glenwood and Creedmoor, which showed a flooded out street and cars floating in it. Crabtree Creek was something like 5 feet over flood level. By 2 pm, Apex had gotten 6.7 inches, while Raleigh had gotten 7.6! We're talking in a matter of 10 hours, people! Considering that, the area managed relatively well, although there were some, uh, major problems.

Sinkhole near the Wake-Granville border, June 14, 2006

By the time 5:00 rolled around, I was fearing the worst for my commute home. After nearly five hours of listening to all the frantic reporting, I was more than a little on edge. I even called to cancel my massage (gasp!) thinking that once I got home, I would not want to risk leaving. Well, wouldn't you know, I get out on the roads, and by that time they were bone dry! Quite a relief. As soon as I got inside my apartment, I began inspecting for leaks, because I've had leaks before. I noticed that my kitchen floor had a puddle, and I looked up to find water dripping from the light fixture! I called the management office and they offered to send their on-call maintenance person right away, but I'd dealt with that guy before and he was useless (not to mention I smelled alcohol on him). So I said to just wait until tomorrow. Knowing my luck, I figured the water in the fixture would dry overnight and the guy would come in the next day, see nothing amiss, and think I'm a loon (especially since this is my fourth call for a leak--that bathroom ceiling was quite a bugger for a while). But this morning there was still water in it, so at least the guy will see I have a legitimate problem. Let's hope it's an easy fix!

All photos "borrowed" from WRAL. See the slide show of over 200 photos here.

Update: Yeah, no one came to take care of my leaky lighting fixture today. Grrr!! Also, on the news at the gym, I heard that even after all that rain yesterday, we are only one-tenth of an inch above normal for the year. So we're caught up from the drought, but not for long. Since there's no rain in the forecast until late next week, we'll be behind again in a matter of days!

From the Vault - Bella Via

Taken October 2001, Santa Clarita, CA

For several years, my hometown had an annual street painting festival at the Valencia Town Center mall. I went twice and then they stopped having it, I believe due to funding issues, which is such a bummer. The art was always so colorful and bold. Some of my favorites are here.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lightning squared

As I sat on my screened porch waiting for the evening storm to roll through, I caught a glimpse of a strange, tiny light out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head and it happened again: my first Apex lightning bug! (I'd seen some up in the mountains last summer while visiting my brother, but this was the first one I'd seen in my own backyard.) As the rain started, I saw more lightning bugs. But I was distracted by what was happening on my left, lightning of a different kind: the atmospheric bolts of electricity. Most of them I couldn't make out...the cloud cover created a diffused brightness that lit up the whole area. And we're not talking about a little flash here and there. It was constant! My dad likened it to paparazzi on the red carpet, and that is totally what it resembled. As the storm got closer, the thunder got louder, of course. I wanted a different vantage point so I went out my front door for a look. There is a super tall cellular tower right near my apartment complex (alas, my cell reception does not benefit) and I kid you not, I saw it get struck by lightning twice! I'm sure they must design those things with that occurrence in mind, and indeed, the tower remained standing and didn't spark up or anything. The rain, lightning, and thunder continue as I write this.

Unfortunately, the storm has not brought noticeably cooler temperatures with it. Nice and steamy! On the television, I found out that there are tornadoes possible with this storm as well, at least according to ABC. I cannot tell what the other networks are saying, because those channels are not available; they display a "searching for satellite signal" message, even though I have cable. Lovely!

Not that it matters, but this is the second thunderstorm today. We had a pretty big one this morning around 5:45. I was lying in bed with my back to the window and my eyes shut, and I could still tell when the lightning struck. Wild!

P.S. The tornado warning for Wake County just expired...whew!

My first hat

I finished my first knitted baby hat yesterday, thanks in no small part to wonder-knitter Tammie. She held my hand through the whole process, and without her I would have been completely lost after the first 20 rows. I am so happy with how the hat turned out (aside from the fact that it is kind of large) and hope to start #2 without delay. It was my first non-scarf project, as well as my first attempt to follow an actual pattern (Ann Norling #37).

It was an incredibly simple one that even I didn't have trouble keeping up with. The decreasing was even manageable, until I had to start using two sets of circular needles. That's where it got tricky.

I suspect that if I had started and finished that part of the hat in one sitting, I would have gotten the hang of it a little better, but it was done in fits and starts. Hopefully I've retained all of what I was taught, and #2 will require less assistance.

Friday, June 09, 2006

From the Vault - Paris Edition

Taken February 9, 2002 behind the clock at Musee d'Orsay in Paris, France

My first taste of Europe was my whirlwind trip to Paris, France in February of 2002. It was my last year of teaching, and I went with my best friend Nicole, who taught in the classroom next door to mine. I was determined to use up my accumulated sick days, which numbered around five dozen. (Alas, I never came close.) My decision to switch careers had invigorated me, and I was in a very adventurous mood. We left in the middle of the school week! Calling in sick to go to Paris felt so extravagant. We basically kept it a secret from everyone we knew at school, and then on the day we were leaving, at lunch we rolled out our suitcases from Nicole's storage closet and our friends asked where we were going. We said Paris, and they were like, "Las Vegas?" Imagine our glee saying, "No, the real thing!!"

We'd bought our tickets the previous November, because a) we found ridiculously cheap fares on Air France, and b) I like to plan. I planned up a storm for this trip. We had only four days in Paris, so we had to make them count. I got several guidebooks, but the best of them all was Rick Steves'. I adore his humorous and frank style. With such limited time, we had to prioritize, which is what I did. I made a table of all the attractions we might want to see, in order of importance. I can't find the list now (bummer!) but it had the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, and Sacre Coeur at the top of the list, while things like the sewer tour and a department store fashion show were lower on the list. For each site I listed the days they are closed and hours they are open, what arrondissement they are in, whether Rick had a guided tour in his book, whether the Museum & Monument Pass covered admission, which Metro stop to use, and special notes, such as the best time of day to go, etc. (Yeah, I'm anal.) But I'm proud to say that we managed to squeeze in all our top choices!

For accommodation, I found an apartment online, which was much more spacious than a hotel room, and quite reasonably priced. Not to mention that we felt very Parisian returning to our pied a terre in the evenings. The location was awesome. The first night we went for a walk, just wandering up and down random streets. Nicole stopped to tie her shoe, and when I looked up, there was a moment of holy-cow recognition: "Dude, there's Notre Dame!" Walking home later, we were pretty directionless, but we rounded a corner, and voila! There was our street. Oh, the serendipity!

For transportation around the city, I thought we could maximize our sightseeing by remaining above ground, and a hop-on hop-off bus seemed ideal. You pay a flat fee at the beginning of the day, and the bus runs in a constant loop all over Paris, picking you up and dropping you off right in front of the most popular destinations. Well, that plan soon went out the window. The bus flew right by our first stop, which happened to be the Musee d'Orsay, and dropped us off at the Place de la Concorde, requiring us to hoof it back to the museum in what I remember as a bitingly cold wind. Then, when it was time to move on to our next destination, we spent probably half an hour waiting for a bus that never we quickly learned that the Metro is the best way to get around.

Enough about Paris for now...maybe in a future edition of From the Vault I will reminisce some more. I have such fond memories of my short stay in the City of Light. I've uploaded photos to flickr and you can see them here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

This post has impact...but does it impact you?

They say you learn something new everyday. Sometimes it's trivial (the only date that is also a command: March 4th) and sometimes it is logistically useful (take Hunter St. to avoid congested downtown Apex). Other times it is a real epiphany. Today's new brain wrinkle is a combo of the trivial and useful sort, and was stumbled upon at, which is a clearinghouse of sorts for popular links. If you know me, you know that "10 Flagrant Grammar Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid" was quick to catch my eye. I love grammar. Well, let me rephrase that. I like things I'm good at, and I'm pretty good at grammar.

Anyway, I figured this article would be your standard rehash of the all-too-common their/they're/there kinds of mixups, and it is, but buried in tip #5 (affect vs. effect) was the tidbit that blew my mind. Impact is not a verb. Wha? Rainy weather impacts commuters. Consuming high amounts of fat impacts cardiovascular health. Turns out this is wrong. Who knew? Impact is a noun only. If you look it up at, you see that it is, in fact, listed as a verb, but has been slapped with the label "usage problem." Did you know there was a Usage Panel? News to me. Apparently this group of intellectually superior individuals decides what is proper and what isn't when it comes to using words. A whopping 95% of them think it is flat-out wrong to say "Today's high pollen count will impact allergy sufferers." You have to say "Today's high pollen count will have an impact on allergy sufferers." All righty then.

The usage note at refers the reader to the entry for contact, which also started out only as a noun, but has successfully transitioned into the verb category. Can you imagine it being incorrect to say "I will contact you as soon as possible"? The English language is always evolving, and my bet is on impact becoming acceptable as a verb, just as they/them/their will become acceptable to refer to a singular non-gendered entity ("Someone left their keys behind."). Heck, it's even hip to turn nouns into verbs these days. Think about how you find information online. Do you say, "I did a Google search on digital cameras," or do you say "I Googled digital cameras"?

Anyway, I know this is an extremely nerdy post and most people will roll their eyes or not bother to read, but it is fascinating to me and I thought I'd share. Still booooored at work. Obviously.

But travel is getting ever closer. June's locations have been finalized. I will be in South Carolina on the 21st; near Asheville, NC on the 22nd and near Wilmington, NC on the 26th. I probably won't have enough time to tour the Biltmore Estate but I definitely want to stick my toe in the Atlantic. Then I'll be in northern Georgia from the 27th through the 30th. None of these require air travel--even for Georgia, our customers are 2 hours from the Atlanta airport so it ends up being almost a wash. You figure, for a 4 pm flight, you have to be there at 3, so you leave the house at 2:30. It takes 90 minutes, so you land at 5:30 (assuming no delays). By the time you've gotten your luggage, rented a car, and hit the road, it's probably 6:30. I'm told the drive is about six hours, and from what I can tell, it's gorgeous country down there. I'm so looking forward to it!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Raleigh Farmers' Market

This morning I headed over to the State Farmers' Market in Raleigh for the first time. I was pleased to find that it's covered, which is nice because it keeps you out of the sun (or rain).

The weather outside was (and still is) gorgeous: sunny with a light breeze, not hot or humid. The market is about 15 minutes from where I live. I got there around 10 am, and although judging by the number of cars it seemed busy, there actually weren't that many people. I felt kind of bad that business was so slow, because you always hear about the plight of the modern American farmer. But by the time I left at 11, there were tons more people.

I'm guessing things picked up because churches let out. Also, there is some confusion about the hours on Sunday. The website I checked before I left said it opens at 8 am, but later I found some websites that say noon, and some that say 1 pm. Regardless, most of the vendors were there when I arrived.

The farmers know that if you get a taste of their offerings, it will be hard to resist buying, which is why free samples abound. I ended up taking home tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumber, strawberries, peaches, and corn on the cob.

Everything cost me about $15, which might not be that much less than the supermarket, but I think the quality is much better. The strawberries and peaches are super sweet and juicy. Not to mention the fact that everything is ridiculously fresh. The strawberries and corn were "picked this mornin'," as the lady told me. Seriously, the corn was piled up in the back of a pickup truck that had driven up minutes earlier. The tomatoes were definitely a bargain at only $1.25/pound. And it is worth your while to shop around, as different stalls have slightly different prices.

As you walk down the breezeway, the goods for sale gradually change from food to plants. The flowers were beautiful and very reasonably priced.

The garden section is impressive, with lush and colorful plants, as well as every herb you could possibly think of. I never knew there are so many different types of basil!

Up in the specialty building they have eggs, cheese, all sorts of preserves, honey, cured meats, candy, etc., as well as some more produce.

I got some rosemary garlic goat cheese. There are also a few gift shop stalls with embroidered pillows, decorative items, and the like. There was a separate area for crafts outside, but there wasn't anybody there. I think this might be where people sell handmade jewelry, etc., like I've seen at the festivals I've been to. Across the street there is also a Farmers' Market restaurant but I didn't eat there.

Overall it was a nice morning outing, and there was plenty of produce to meet my needs, although I have to admit I expected it to be bigger. I've read that there are 35,000 spaces rented to vendors, and I would say I saw only a hundred or so. I'm sure some of them were taking up two or three spaces, but even if each one was taking up ten spaces, that would only be 10,000. Now, I can't imagine the enormity of a market with 35,000 spaces. I probably wouldn't want to see it because it would be overwhelming. But honestly, I could have finished the market in 30 minutes; I took longer only because I was wandering around trying to find the rest of it! Oh, and there were no avocados to be had. I figured as much; it's a California fruit.

Friday, June 02, 2006

From the Vault

At first glance, it may appear to be snow blanketing the roadside. But look closer. The palm trees should clue you in a little.

Flowers in Oceanside
Taken March 20, 2004 near Camp Pendleton, CA

Here's another view. Doesn't it remind you of the field of flowers outside of Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz? (I can't decide if the stop sign ruins the photo or makes it. What do you think?)

And, just thought I'd freeze this milestone I happened to catch with a screen capture:

All hail round numbers!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Sorry it's been a week since my last substantive post. I wish I could say that I'm so busy I haven't had time to give the blog a second thought, but the truth is, I think about it every day and just haven't been able to come up with something compelling to write about. I was reading my favorite, James Lileks, yesterday, and he was talking about sprinkles.
If I die next week, put sprinkles on my coffin; it’ll soften the blow. Sprinkles make anything better. They’re tasteless, waxy, nothing but pointless sugar, but they’re SPRINKLES! I look for sprinkles in my own daily life, actually. That leather gear-shift knob option at the dealership: sprinkles. A new icon set to replace system defaults: sprinkles.
So I was thinking, what are some of my sprinkles? Well, I love electronics, for one. I got myself a new toy from Amazon: the Garmin StreetPilot i5. It's one of those handy GPS navigators for the car. With all this impending travel, I figured it would come in pretty handy. I researched the options, and you can spend over $1000 on these things. My main requirement was that maps for the entire U.S. come preloaded. I didn't want to mess with USB cords and CD's--and running the risk of being somewhere I haven't loaded the maps for. (Total coincidence: I just read about David Pogue's recent nightmarish experience with an ill-equipped device.)

When it comes to electronics I usually spring for all the bells and whistles, because, well, they're my sprinkles. But I read lots of reviews and there were so many problems with the fancier units locking up and not functioning. The i5, on the other hand, got solid reviews, and I liked its small size and the fact that you can run it on batteries (no unwieldy cords to grapple with). It also happened to be one of the least expensive units--especially considering it has preloaded maps. Both and Amazon had it for the same price. I decided to go with Amazon, which turned out well, because when I selected two-day shipping I was offered it for free (the shipping!) if I signed up for a three-month trial of Amazon Prime (a program that gives you free two-day shipping on all orders for $79/year). I figured I would just cancel after the three months, and in the meantime enjoy free fast shipping.

So far I've used the i5 around town and am pretty happy with it. It took a while to acquire the satellites the first time, and it still can take up to a minute, but once it's locked in there haven't been problems losing the reception. I haven't driven anywhere unfamiliar yet, but I've had it on to see what it can do. It wants to put me on the most obvious main routes, and sometimes I know quicker and easier back ways. But if I were unfamiliar with the area, sticking to the main streets would probably be better anyway. I can tell that the maps are a little out of date (I would guess about a year old) because one of the newer shopping centers here does not exist in its database. But I simply input a nearby intersection and it got me there fine. The screen is plenty bright, the volume is plenty loud, and I even got to choose a British accent for the voice directions! The only issue has been figuring out where to put it. It comes with a windshield-mount suction cup, which works great en route, but when left sitting in a hot car for a few hours, it falls off. Not to mention that if it's stuck to the windshield, the little gadget is in full view of any envious passers-by who might see fit to break my window and treat themselves to a "sprinkle" of their own.

Let's see, what else is a sprinkle? Mmm, the new KFC bowl. I tried it for lunch today, even though I was a little wary of the gravy-cheese combo (they looked at me funny when I asked to put those on the side, and said, "It's the bowl," as if it's some sacred combination not to be toyed with, so I buckled). It was dee-lish! I looked on their website to check out the nutrition info, but I guess it's too new of an item to be listed there. I'm sure it's sky-high in terms of fat, calories, cholesterol, and carbs. But at least the portion wasn't outlandishly large. In fact, it seemed kind of small, but afterwards I was quite full.

Any more sprinkles? Have you seen the new progress bars over on the right? And my new Relocating to NC graphic? Those are definitely sprinkles! How about getting change and finding state quarters or the new nickels--ridiculously thrilling sprinkles! Oh, and guilty pleasure TV, that's a big sprinkle--shows like Gameshow Marathon. I watched it last night since American Idol and Lost are over. It's a fun concept. Their first game was Price is Right, and it's a hoot to see celebrities trying to figure out how much things cost. Of course, they also had rather odd items up for bid, things that no one would know the price of, like a ceiling-suspended "bubble chair." And in the Showcase Showdown, there was a vintage Mustang. Something like that is really not fair to put up for bids, because who knows what kind of condition it's in?

One touch that I liked was that the games and set were exactly like the real Price is Right, down to the old-school digital readouts of bids, and the giant wheel. Of course, the celebrities don't get to keep what they win; lucky home viewers win all the stuff. (You can enter via text message, or online.) The winning celeb each night advances into the final round (Family Feud with the celebrities' own friends and family!), and the winner of that will win $100,000 for their charity of choice. The next episode is tonight, and they're playing Let's Make a Deal. From the previews, it looks like it's the same celebrities, which is odd. They showed a whole bunch more in the audience, who were never called up... Some of the other games they'll be playing are Card Sharks and Press Your Luck. I loved those shows as a child!! (I told you I was a couch potato in my youth.)

At the same time on ABC are the finals of the National Spelling Bee. That could be interesting too. I came across this blog, written in real-time by an on-location observer. Did you ever see Spellbound? Good movie!

So what are your "sprinkles"?