Saturday, July 29, 2006

Grumble and awe

Pardon me while I use my blog platform to complain. It's not even a new complaint. Mediaworks sucks. I feel like I've been transported to 1993, when internet speeds topped out at 33kbps.

You know your connection is slow when you are forced to watch the Google logo load line by line. How did we ever put up with speeds like that? It'll probably take me ten minutes to upload this post!

Technology, when it's done right, amazes me (what an original statement). I read an article in the NY Times this morning about the future of cell phones running off WiFi hotspots. Basically, internet calling (e.g., Vonage/Skype) for your mobile phone. Apparently the sound quality is much better than regular cell service, and of course you would basically have unlimited minutes. Pretty cool. You'd think the cell phone companies would be up in arms, but since many of them provide high-speed internet service too through their parent companies--think Cingular (owned by AT&T and BellSouth) and Verizon (owned by...Verizon)--they make money either way.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

So Cal Adventures

I arrived at RDU around 5:15 pm, for my 6:55 flight. (I like to be early.) There had been a brief downpour on the way to the airport but as summer thunderstorms are wont to do, it cleared up quickly. This was my first flight on Delta, and near the terminal there was a used bookstore. Genius! Why there isn't one in every single airport is beyond me! I got Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic and am finding it a quick and entertaining read. We boarded the plane on time, but sat on the tarmac for a short while due to the air traffic controllers trying to decide how to route everyone around a storm off to the west. Once we took off, the flight was smooth and quick: only a little over four hours.

When we landed at LAX we once again were forced to sit on the tarmac, this time because there was an American Airlines plane blocking the way. After picking up my luggage I headed outside to wait for the Flyaway. Immediately I was struck by the coolness and salty smell of the heavenly ocean breeze. A thought flashed in the back of my mind...why did I ever leave this? As we left the airport we drove along a very familiar route; we passed my old office, came near my old apartments, and the memories were so potent. Another flicker: If this is how I was feeling about an area I lived in for a mere 18 months, how would I feel returning to the town I grew up in?

Van Nuys was a tad warmer, but still quite lovely. My dear friend Nicole, who picked me up, was a shadow of her former self, looking quite fit and tanned. We gabbed in the car as if we were never apart. Don't you just love friendships like that? We stayed up pretty late (4 am according to my jetlagged body) but there was so much to talk about!

Friday morning, I got to sleep in. Nicole went off to a wedding-related brunch, and then later we met up for a late lunch with all our girlfriends at a local restaurant. I got to meet all the new babies! There were no fewer than three new little ones. Owen, a tank of a 5-month tot with the fullest head of unruly hair you can imagine:

Logan, a quiet guy who was just taking everything in. And Katy, the youngest at only 8 weeks, who slept the entire time. All the girls shared stories of motherhood--mostly the joys but also some of the frustrations.

Afterwards Nicole and I were off for a pedicure. I like So Cal pedicures because you can get flowers painted on your toes.
A rather simple request, but apparently unheard of in NC, and I think it adds a fancy touch. Our toes barely had time to dry before I was whisked off to the mall to meet a friend for dinner, while Nicole went to the wedding rehearsal. I ate at BJ's, a chain we don't have here in NC, and there was some serious avocado action going on. I had the avocado eggrolls (not as good as Cheesecake Factory's, but yummy nonetheless) and the Santa Fe salad which had slices of avo on top. After my friend left I headed over to the wedding rehearsal dinner at Buca di Beppo's for dessert. The groom's cake was to die for.

Saturday morning we got up early and headed over to the wedding reception site to start setting up. Silly me, I thought we'd be done by 11, but we didn't get out of there until after noon. We rushed home, showered and got all dolled up, then headed across the valley to the wedding. On the way we were tasked with putting up signs and balloons to direct the guests to the out-of-the-way church. The ceremony was to start at 3:00, and at 2:45 Nicole and I were struggling to stick little signs in the ground in the 108-degree heat and whipping winds. Needless to say, I asked myself why I bothered showering! By the time we arrived, we were among the last few. Oh well. Because Nicole was kind of on the "inside track," being involved in the reception and all, we got in to see the bride before the ceremony. Erin looked radiant.

Gorgeous dress. And I'm not normally a fan of wedding dresses. The ceremony was about 30 minutes, with a couple of singing performances. I couldn't hear the bride and groom say their vows--it didn't help that we were seated in the last row so that we could bolt as soon as the ceremony ended and head over to the reception to prepare for the guests' arrival.

There were a few minor glitches at the reception (the mike had some feedback and volume issues, the temperature in the foyer prior to dinner was a little on the hot side) but overall it went very smoothly, a testimony to my friend's planning prowess. Everything looked beautiful,

and the clubhouse it took place in (Bridgeport in Valencia) was lovely.

There was an Chinese flair to the decorations, since the bride and groom had met in China while doing mission work there. I got to sit at a table with all my friends, so it was a delightful evening.

It was all over rather quickly; by 8 most people were gone. Of course, we didn't leave till much later, being involved in the cleanup.

The biggest bit of drama occurred as we were about to leave the complex, and Nicole reached under her car seat and sliced open two of her fingers. Moments earlier the centerpiece she got to take home had tipped over, spilling water all over the car floor, and meanwhile her cell phone was ringing and we found out that the A/C at her house was not working. Whirlwind! Luckily the cuts were not too deep, and Nicole's roommate figured out how to make the A/C work again. Thank goodness on both accounts!

Sunday we did not have any obligations, so we decided to swing by my parents' old house in Saugus. Wow, the new owner is doing quite a lot of work in the yard!

I wonder what the inside looks like.

We had lunch at the venerable California burger institution that is In 'n' Out. Love me my grilled cheese animal style! Later Nicole was driving me around the valley so I could check out all the new things: roads, bridges, shopping centers, car dealerships, office buildings, etc. Suddenly we heard a weird noise, and when I looked in the side view mirror I saw that the rear tire was flat as a pancake. (What is it with me and flat tires on vacation?) Anyway, we pulled onto a side street and called AAA. We were quoted a wait of 40 minutes, but it ended up being nearly two hours in 113-degree heat. We had the A/C on, but when you're not driving, it doesn't stay very cool. But we made the best of it.

Finally our help arrived--we were his 15th tire change of the day and it was only 3 pm! By this time we had missed our movie, so we did a little shopping and had dinner at Oggi's (they have killer "stix"--basically pizza dough and cheese--and a mean chicken tequila pasta). Eventually we made it to a later showing of The Devil Wears Prada (very cute). Meryl Streep was perfect for that role.

Yesterday we got up and went out to breakfast at IHOP. Gotta love that. We got the tire replaced and then stopped by Trader Joe's but I didn't purchase much because most of my must-haves there are either refrigerated or frozen so I had to settle for drooling over them.

Then we just hung out watching bad TV (E! True Hollywood Story about the cast of Who's the Boss!) and I even indulged in a nap! We purposely left time to cruise around my old haunts in Playa del Rey and Westchester. Sigh. At the airport I got through security like a breeze and somehow found myself on a golf-cart-like shuttle by myself being chauffeured through a tunnel-like hallway to Terminal 6. Very bizarre. The terminal was sweltering; I figured they were conserving energy, because the threat of rolling blackouts is always imminent but apparently they were just having A/C problems. Solution: a decaf frap from Starbucks!

I totally lucked out on the plane getting an entire emergency exit row to myself--that is, until someone came and sat in the aisle seat. That was fine, he didn't bother me. The plane was designed with two exit rows, and I was in the first one, so my seat didn't recline at all, but at least I had the extra leg room. I managed to get a little bit of sleep; I'd say maybe 2 hours. I went straight to work from the airport because why bother going home when I'd have to just turn around and leave right away? Miraculously I was not all that tired today, but I'm sure I will sleep very soundly tonight, especially since I got a massage this evening.

Oh, and by the way, by the end of the trip I was missing NC, and in an even more stunning revelation, I realized I was actually looking forward to getting back to my job. Who knew?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

O glorious chariot, I christen thee...

I should be packing but instead I'm glued to my 'puter as usual. I leave for L.A. flight's at 7 pm so I'm going to the airport straight from work. That means I have to have everything ready to go by tomorrow morning. Somehow it always takes me as long to pack as I have time. If I have three hours, it takes three hours. If I have one hour, it takes one hour. Hmm.

I think I thought of a name for my car. I was referring to her as a princess in my last post, but didn't feel that was quite right because she's got an edge. So how about this: Fiona. As in, the princess from Shrek who is pretty and graceful yet spunky and can kick some butt.

The only part that doesn't quite fit is the fact that Fiona turns out to actually be an ogre...

We will try Fiona for a while, but I'm not above changing it if I think of something that fits better. I got a kitten the summer I moved into my condo, and my first name for him was Jupiter (the song Drops of Jupiter by Train was playing nonstop on the radio at the time). It never felt right though. About 4-6 weeks later the perfect name just popped into my head: Simba, of course! The Lion King is one of my favorite movies, and my cat was orange, so it felt perfect!

So today I drove out to Troy, NC to do a training. It's about 90 minutes from where I live. I think the training went very well. The first session completed on schedule, but the second session started an hour late because everyone was in a budget meeting. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though, because while I was waiting for everyone, I got a call from work and they alerted me that the system was experiencing 20-minute delays...which means if we had been sending a test call it wouldn't have gone through quickly and I would have had egg on my face again, a la Georgia. I was so grateful for the heads-up. They even gave me a good alibi to explain the situation. But fortunately the training was so delayed, by then the system was back to normal, and everything worked perfectly! The only frustrating part was that everyone was using laptop computers that had touchpads for the mouse...and they had never used one before! So they were all verrrrry slow. I did my best Patient though so if my boss calls them they should say good things about me.

I had to get a rental car to drive to Troy because mine was in the shop getting some cosmetic work done. I got a Chevy Malibu. Pretty nice. I liked the stereo. When you selected a radio station, it displayed the call letters, genre, and the name and artist of the song currently playing. And, the volume was speed-sensitive, so when you came to a stop light the music would get quieter, and when you sped up it would get louder. Also, it had automatic headlights so you didn't have to worry about turning them off. Even with all that, though, I still like my car better. It has a more comfortable seat and a smoother ride.

Returning the car to Enterprise was quite an enterprise, ha ha. There were like 7 or 8 people in line and only two guys behind the desk. Then one of them vanished for like 20 minutes because he had to clean a car for the customer who was going to rent it. To top that off, they ran out of invoice forms so everyone had to hand-write their info down. With all this activity, I felt bad asking for a ride back to Carmax but eventually (i.e., 45 minutes later) I did get a ride. As for whether I can tell they did anything to my car or not...I can see that the paint overspray was removed, but is the paint uniformly shiny all around the car? Since the car was dirty from today's rain, it's hard to say.

Okay, I should get to that packing now. I probably won't post until I get back on Tuesday (and maybe not even then because I fly in at 6 am and go straight to work from the airport Tuesday morning...I will be beat by the end of the day!). Have a lovely weekend everybody!

One more thing: I drove a total of 200 miles in the rental car. I forgot to fill it up with gas before I returned it, but the Enterprise office was so crazy that the guy didn't charge me. I pointed it out but he just waved his hand and said forget it. Score!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Floral tour of the Peaks

After I got home from the gym this evening I felt compelled to venture out into the heat and photograph some of the pretty flowers around my complex (Avalon Peaks). It's amazing how many are blooming in this wretched heat, but I guess the humidity keeps them going.

This one's not a flower but I've always been fond of the curvature of these holly trees.


Look at what I found today:

I did not see it when I got into my car to leave work. I think it came from the parking garage at the gym--I didn't see it when I was leaving but it's kind of dark in there. I'm hoping this can be buffed out so that it's less noticeable. Note the scratch directly underneath the ding, too. Not a good day for my still-nameless coche. I found out (from my mom) that October 2 is Name Your Car Day. I hope to have a name for her way before then, but that is my absolute deadline. In a completely unrelated coincidence, she's going in on Wednesday to have her heinie shined up and some paint overspray removed. She's like a princess going for a spa day. And I kind of feel like a princess in her, but she's too sporty and peppy to be named Princess.

Meanwhile I'm getting a rental to go do a training in Montgomery County, NC. Today I got some feedback from my boss. Apparently he calls up random accounts we've trained to ask them how it went. One of mine was complimentary, while the other one said I was "assertive." This could be a good thing, but I know why they said that. I was lobbying their superintendent to get better use out of our service (i.e., send more calls), because their tech guy wanted me to. I guess I pushed it a little too hard. Live and learn. My co-trainer got one glowing feedback and one that said he's Speedy Gonzales. He does talk fast, even for me, and I'm a mile a minute myself!

I can't believe that I'm going to L.A. in three days! Woo hoo! I'm so excited!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

From the Vault

Bridge near Clinton Presidential Library

Taken October 8, 2005 in Little Rock, AR

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Living Treasures Animal Park

After my training this morning I drove north to visit the Living Treasures Animal Park. The animals were so adorable! In addition to your typical petting zoo goats, there were also deer, donkeys, and mini horses that would eat pellets right out of your hand. I loved the feel of their lips on my palm, and how they follow you hungrily. Most of the animals were behind fences, but the littlest baby goats could fit underneath and were wandering around. There were also some animals that you couldn't feed, like bears, wolves, a hyena, and a tiger. Some, like the camel and the zebra, you could feed through a tube but not from your hand. Definitely a recommended stop if you ever find yourself in western Pennsylvania. It was overcast so my photos didn't turn out great, but here they are anyway for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cuteness overfloweth

Check out this little slide show/movie from Cute Overload. All together now: Awwwwwwww.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Marathon post

Holy cannoli do I have a lot to write about! If I think about it too long I will be overwhelmed and not want to write at all, so let me just dive in.

I got a new car! Saturday I went to Carmax in Raleigh with my parents with the intention of test driving a few different models to get a better sense of what I really wanted. My plan was to look now, buy next week. I purposely had not prepared to actually purchase a vehicle (I didn't even have my trade-in with me!), so naturally, I found one that I could not pass up.

I got a Silver 2004 Honda Accord Coupe, 4 cylinder, with all the bells and whistles. I have finally joined the 21st century with those new-fangled "power door locks and windows," not to mention remote entry, a sunroof, a CD changer, and stereo controls on the steering wheel. Oh, and did I mention how much I love the sleek and sporty styling? :-) (More pix here.) It drives like a dream and I absolutely love it. It is surprisingly clean and new-looking for being two years old (with about 30k miles). The other cars I test drove (a Nissan Altima and a Honda Civic) couldn't hold a candle to my Accord. (I didn't test drive a Camry because they didn't have any on the lot with fewer than 50,000 miles.) One of my geeky favorite things right now is how the door sounds when it closes. It is such a satisfying swoosh, you know?

So I'm trying to think of a name for my new car. My last car went its whole life nameless, so I would like to call my current car something uniquely suited to her. Any suggestions?

The whole car-buying process was pretty simple and easy at Carmax. I had a female salesperson who I felt comfortable with, and there was no pressure because there's no negotiating. Due to my being unprepared, the process took a little longer, and of course Saturday is their busiest day, but overall I was pleased with how it worked out. They also gave me a decent price for my trade-in, which they are going to auction off, so I feel better that some unsuspecting customer will not get stuck with its problems. I was kind of sad to see her go...she served me well over the years, and was the first car I bought. The hardest part, though, was giving up the stereo and speakers that I had just installed a year and a half ago. They were kick-butt!

I saw Superman Returns at the IMAX. Wow, what an incredible movie! Four scenes were in 3D, and I wish so many more of them were. The music gives you goosebumps, and the throwbacks to the original movie are very clever. I'd originally wanted to catch the 1:45 showing but it was sold out so I had to go with the 4:45. To kill time, I got a combo ticket for the Exploris museum and looked around there. It's a really neat place! So much interactive stuff for kids but it's fun for adults too. I wasn't really sure what kind of museum Exploris is, because it's not art, it's not history, it's not science. It's kind of a combination of all three, with culture and economics thrown in for good measure. The teacher in me was thinking, "What a great place for a field trip!"

Even though the museum is cool, it still did not take up three hours of my time so I ended up wandering into the presentation room where they usually have a short film about the museum's mission, but yesterday it was showing the World Cup final game. I have never in my life watched soccer, or cared about it in the least, but I totally got into the game! I had to go get in line for the movie at 4, and was bummed when the game went into overtime. But guess what they had playing on a plasma screen for those queued up? So I got to see the 30 min of overtime...which was pointless...and we were entering the theater right after the third penalty kick. Minutes later, from my seat inside, I text messaged Google to find out who won. I heart technology!

I'm writing this from Pittsburgh, PA. Well, technically Belle Vernon, right outside of Pittsburgh. I have trainings in this area all week and apparently, who knew, the baseball All-Star game is here this week. My flight was on time (in the smallest plane I've ever flown in--a two/aisle/one configuration with overhead bins on one side only) but Enterprise did not have the level of car I reserved. They tried to talk me down for a few bucks less a day, but I know how the car rental industry works...if they don't have what you reserved, you get something higher for the same price. So I ended up in a Jeep Liberty. Sweet! It drives quite well, and doesn't feel too big. But I don't like the quality of the interior. It screams "posh utilitarian," if that makes any sense. And get this: it's 4WD! As if I'll take advantage. You're more likely to see Paris Hilton get a PhD in rocket science.

My first opinion of the Pittsburgh area is wouldn't wanna live here. I drove through some gnarly areas. I'm not talking ghettoes, because I haven't been into the city proper, but just really downtrodden, forsaken areas, where you would not want to pull off the road to get a CD from your suitcase even though you can't find a decent radio station. My hotel is about 45 min from the airport, although it took me an hour to get here due to tons of construction and traffic, and it's an okay area. The hotel appears as if it hasn't been renovated since Reagan was president, but it's decent enough. I watched a Dolly Parton special on CMT while reading my blogs and found out lots of interesting things about her. I really like her. She seems so genuine and humble and positive and just a nice person. I would love to go to Dollywood someday. I'll just add it to my ever-growing list!

Friday, July 07, 2006

As veg as I can be

A post on Gabrielle's blog about a luscious lobster dinner made me start thinking about why I've never had lobster. The idea of picking out your dinner from an aquarium and then boiling it alive just doesn't sit well with me. But I eat chicken. I'm intrigued by the circus but could never go because exotic animals being forced to do tricks for our amusement makes me uncomfortable. But a show at Sea World? No problem. Leather shoes? If I must. But leather seats in my car? No way. And just so we're clear: you want to boil a lobster and go to the circus and cruise around in leather seats? Go for it. You make your own choices, and huzzah for that. To each his or her own. Although I may raise a friendly eyebrow at a fur coat or veal parmigiana.

Some may see me as ridiculously inconsistent, but I like what Emerson had to say about that:

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

One of the pictures in my Georgia Trip set on Flickr is of a chicken truck. It kind of doesn't fit with all the other photos. But when I saw the truck my jaw just dropped. I knew chickens were kept in small cages, but I'd never seen it in person. Sometimes back in CA when I'd be driving on the 210 towards Glendale I'd see cattle trucks, the kind that have pigs or sheep or cows in them. It's hard enough to tell if there are any occupants while you're driving by, let alone snap a photo of them. Often the trucks would be empty and I would feel a sense of relief. But sometimes I could see creatures inside bouncing along for the ride, most likely on their way to become someone's dinner, and I'd feel so sad for them.

I haven't eaten beef or pork (at least not on purpose) since 1993. Occasionally I'll bite into something that I think is mammal-free and it's secretly been prepared with bacon or ham, so I immediately stop. Currently I do eat chicken, turkey, and fish but I was a strict vegetarian for about eight years. I love animals, and once I got to college I felt compelled to walk the talk, so to speak. It was actually pretty easy going meat-free at that time in my life because the cafeteria always had a vegetarian option. My freshman roommate had little faith in my ability to give up meat. She wagered that I couldn't last two weeks, and to this day I think it was partly my stubborn streak, my desire to prove her wrong, that helped me get over the first few weeks, which were naturally the hardest. Every day seemed to present another thing I could no longer have. Chicken nuggets. Pepperoni pizza. Hot dogs. A sub sandwich. Thanksgiving turkey. But after a couple months, once I'd gone through the list and had that moment of lament for each newly verboten item, it was surprisingly easy to get over it.

Now, I was not strict-strict. I still ate milk and cheese and eggs, and I was not a stickler for the no-contact rule. If my friends ordered a pizza, I'd pick off the meat and eat the rest. Or if my dad made a stir fry with sausage I'd pick it out and eat the noodles and veggies. Believe me, I wanted to be a vegan (the kind of vegetarian who doesn't eat/wear/use anything from an animal--no dairy, no honey, no leather, no wool, no silk, etc.). But the thought of giving up cheese and chocolate were just too traumatic to even think about.

My vegetarianism was always a point of curiosity for people. Most could not comprehend why anyone would want to give up meat. It's such a foreign concept in our carnivore culture. The first question was usually, "How do you get enough protein?" The answer, which never seemed to fully appease them, was simply, "You get plenty of protein from non-meat sources." Few asked about iron, which was actually an area that I did lag in. I tried to donate blood in college and they turned me away because I was anemic. People wanted to know why I was a vegetarian--was I doing it for health reasons, environmental reasons, or humane reasons? The answer was really the last two, because let's be honest...potato chips, cookies, and ice cream are all vegetarian! But seriously, the way animals are treated on factory farms is just atrocious. It's been a long time since I've done any research so I can't quote any staggering statistics, but the stories about chickens having their beaks chopped off, baby cows being housed in crates so small that they would live their entire lives never even standing let alone walking, how factory farming methods pollute our air and water, and how feeding grain to animals is so inefficient when half the world is starving--these are the things that stick out in my mind as to why I was a fervent vegetarian.

For some reason my stance began to weaken in regards to chicken about five years ago. Let's face it: being a vegetarian, your options are limited, especially when you go out to restaurants. I was tired of paying full price for menu items even when I'd ask them to hold the most expensive ingredient, or having basically one choice on the menu. I cringed whenever I would be a guest at a friend's house and I'd have to decline what was offered, or they'd have to make something special just for me. Life is just easier when you eat chicken. So I slowly added chicken to my diet. And turkey. (Although this song is still one of my favorite SNL moments!) Fish was not such a big deal because I didn't really like it anyway. I rationalized this by picturing myself in front of a chicken. Did I feel any warmth or "oh how cute" feelings? Not really. But look into a cow's eyes--there's a soul in there.

Photo courtesy of Another Chance Ranch

Then one summer I went to the science museum in Chicago and I saw baby chicks hatching. I was beside myself for my lapse and I immediately forsook all poultry once again. But that lasted only about a year, and now I'm back to eating chicken. I also eat fish, because I've discovered if you buy the right fish, and prepare it properly, it can be really yummy, and the healthy omega-3 oils are good for you.

But occasionally I feel guilty for consuming the flesh of animals. I prefer boneless chicken. That way I can avoid gnawing on skeletons--such a crude reminder of dinner's source. (Much the way we steel ourselves against uncomfortable issues like poverty or disease in order to avoid emotional exhaustion, I attempt to maintain inner peace by distancing myself from my carnivorous reality.) However, one rule I would sooner become a Luddite than break is no mammals, so I will never eat beef, pork, venison, buffalo, etc. I suppose snake is technically allowed, but I can't imagine actually wanting to eat that. When I traveled to Italy a couple years ago, I ate in a tiny restaurant where there wasn't a menu; you ate what the mama cooked. And she cooked beef. I looked at it on the plate and wondered what it would taste like. I put a tiny piece in my mouth and chewed it to find out, and then spit it out because it just wasn't tasty--and it felt wrong. That's not to say that a steak sizzling on the grill doesn't smell good to me, because it does. I just could never eat it.

When it comes down to it, we do the best we can. I may not be as selfless as a full vegetarian, but at least I'm doing something. Every little bit counts.

By the way, I love the new Liberty Mutual commercial--very Pay It Forward. Gives me warm fuzzies. And what a great song.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

How I spent my 4th

Two words: Project Runway.

I had never seen this reality show, but got sucked into the marathon this morning. I watched it until the final episode! Nick totally looks and acts like my old friend Richie...they could be twins!

What a lazy day. I did get to catch a glimpse of a fireworks show through some trees out my back window. And of course now the home shows will crackle on into the night. I contemplated driving to actually go see a show, but it is so disgustingly hot and steamy outside (even now!) that I just wanted to stay inside with the A/C cranked up. When will fall get here??!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Training adventures, part 2: Joa-jah

I'd say I had a pretty good week. I worked about seven and a half hours total since Tuesday, and got to eat out, drive a rental car, sightsee, and sleep in a hotel on the company's dollar. Can't complain! Well, maybe a little. Our system did not function properly during two of the three trainings. The first snafu was not our fault, technically; our back-end provider that actually sends the calls was having issues. But the second time I think it was our fault. Either way, the customer sees it as a system failure, and I was more than a little embarrassed. I mean, there was nothing I could do, and no good excuses I could make, either. All I could do is apologize and say "It doesn't usually do that." Egg, meet my face. Face, meet the egg.

The good thing is that no one tried to blame the messenger, and the humiliation segment of the trainings occurred in the last 20-30 minutes or so. And after work each morning, the rest of the day was my own to spend as I wanted. This was my first trip to Georgia, and I didn't know what to expect. I'd heard less than complimentary opinions of the place, but I found it to be lovely. Granted, I did stay in the mountains the whole time, where it is less humid and very scenic.

I did drive through a few towns that appeared to be a little, shall we say, past their prime. But that's true of everywhere.

I would say that the highlight of my trip was Helen, GA. It is known as "Alpine Helen," as it is designed to resemble a German mountain village.

It's a charming little place with novel shops and restaurants. It is very similar in feel to Solvang, CA.

One unique attribute, though, is that the Chattahoochee River runs through Helen, and innertubing is a very popular attraction. I had dinner on the patio of a riverside tavern and watched the kids and adults on tubes lazily floating by. It seemed like a fun way to see the area.

Nearby Helen is Cleveland, GA, home of Cabbage Patch Kid Babyland. Admission was free so I swung by. I had four Cabbage Patch Kids when I was little, and actually still have them. At Babyland they have original CPK dolls on display in a variety of settings. (I say "original" because these aren't the ones you can buy in the store; these are all fabric, with bigger bodies.) You can also see the cabbage patch itself, where the babies are "born." They start out as heads only, which is a little creepy if you ask me.

Also nearby Helen is Anna Ruby Falls, located inside a state park. You walk about half a mile along a river and at the top of the trail you are rewarded with this view:

Other than these attractions (which were all on Wednesday) there wasn't much to do. Ellijay, GA is very up-and-coming, evidenced by the hotel being full with people on a land-scouting tour, and the huge brand new shopping center down the street. So I killed some time there. The most amazing find (don't laugh): towel holders at the dollar store. I cannot tell you how hard I've looked for these in the past couple years. I got a two-pack years ago, and used them in two of my dwellings. I didn't take them with me when I moved because I figured I could just buy more. How wrong I was! But then lo and behold, at the Dollar Tree in Ellijay, they sell six for a buck! I got a dozen, and let me tell you, the whole trip was worth it just for those towel holders. Yeah, yeah, you're laughing by now, go ahead. It doesn't take much to get me excited.

So if there was a recurring theme for my trip, it was "Roundabouts." There is a roundabout in Pittsboro, where my parents live. It's at the intersection of two main streets, and the old courthouse sits in the middle. I used to think, "Oh, how quaint." Well now I know that every small town in northern Georgia has one, too. And I've driven through what felt like them all.

Oh, another fun thing I did was go swimming at the hotel. I hadn't swum in years, but I had the whole (indoor) pool to myself, and had a grand time. Afterwards I sat in the spa for a while and that felt soooo good!

The Garmin did pretty well. Not flawless though. It was a little confused in Ellijay--not entirely accurate on where some small streets were located, but I sure did feel free to wander around, knowing that it could always get me back. On the way home, I was on I-85 and there was a digital sign indicating that there was congestion for the next 12 miles, so I put the Garmin's detour feature to the test. I was expecting a minor detour, but it basically recalculated the whole route. It took me off the 85 and put me on the 27 east, which passes through Albemarle (home of American Idol finalist Kellie Pickler!) It added about 20 minutes to my trip but who knows how long 12 miles of traffic would have added! Plus, this way I avoided the 40 too, which probably would have been congested as well.

No progress on the car-buying front, except I know I don't want a Corolla. That's what I got from Enterprise, and after driving it for a thousand miles I was not impressed. Hardly felt any more substantial than the Kia Rio. My car seems to do okay on short trips (less than 30 min) so maybe I can wait a few weeks before diving into the big purchase. I'd hate to feel rushed.

More pix from my trip here.