Thursday, August 31, 2006

No Apple craze

Ever wonder how popular your name has been over the years? There's a really neat website called Name Voyager that can tell you if it's ever been in the top 1000 names since the 1880's. And, if it IS one of the more popular names, it'll tell you what the ranking was throughout the decades. (Requires Java.)

I just like mousing over that mountain of pink and blue at random to see what names pop up and how popular they are/were. It seems that Melissa was quite the popular name in the mid-1970s, with over 7,000 babies per million being given that name. It held the number three spot that decade, in fact. My grandfather's name was Melvin, which reached its peak in the 1920s. What's more interesting is that Melvina was a popular name for a girl in the late 1800s.

Did you know that Grace was used pretty much solely as a boy's name in the 19th century?? Would you believe that John was a common girl's name in the 1930's?? Of course, a lot of names were either really popular back in the day and not so much now (Grover, Fannie), or really popular now but not back in the day (Gabriel, Abigail). Meanwhile, some have waxed and waned over the years (Emma, Kate, Benjamin). It's interesting but not surprising how quickly Brittany disappeared off the radar in the early 21st century. And check out the fad that was Farrah.

You can waste a lot of time playing around on this site, but rest assured you will discover fascinating, yet pretty useless, information, such as the fact that a lot of popular boy's names start with J, while a lot of popular girl's names start with K. Go figure.

One tip: You really have to pay attention to the scale on the right because otherwise you'll think that Cadences outnumber Marys, when in reality Mary ranks #73 for 2005 while Cadence, although it appears to skyrocket, actually ranks a mere #205.

Gift tag swap!

I received my gift tag swap package in the mail yesterday. What fun to open it up and discover one by one what each person had created! All of them are so unique and lovely.

You can see the ones I made here. Thanks Tammie for putting this together. Since you're retiring from swaps, you can be proud that you went out with a bang!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Satellite woes

I must go to bed in half an hour so this will be as quick as I can make it. Alas, I am without Direct TV. The service guys came on Saturday to install it and before I'd even answered the door they knew it wasn't going to happen. To give them credit, they tried. But it wasn't meant to be. My apartment complex requires that the satellite be on your screened porch. Mine faces north and east, and the dish needs to point to the southwest. I thought maybe if they placed it in the faaaaar corner of the porch they could get a signal, but no. So then I asked if they could put it in my bedroom. (They're laughing at me at this point.) They said I'd need a tripod, or at least a bucket with cement in it and a pole sticking up. I said, "Couldn't we set it on a chair or something? I'm desperate!" (The laughter increases.) But they agreed to try and get a signal through the window. They were actually curious themselves as to whether it would work. Nope. So I call up the office in a huff. "The Direct TV guys are here and they can't get a signal on the screened porch. Where else can they put the satellite?" Of course the answer is nowhere. So I whip out, "This is ridiculous. You're basically forcing your residents to do business with a company that is rated unsatisfactory by the Better Business Bureau." The poor guy said, "I can't change the rules, but I can page our maintenance guy." All righty, let's try that. James calls me back in two minutes. Same spiel to him. He has the same response. "I don't make the rules, I'm just telling you what they are." He said to talk to the manager on Monday. So the Direct TV guys had to leave without installing anything. So close and yet so far.

Monday I called the manager and instead of heading out of the gate with my BBB-rating bitchiness, I decided to try the honey approach. "I've got a bit of a problem. Is there anything you can do to help me out?" Turns out she hates Mediaworks more than I do! She wants to switch the complex to Time Warner but they are in a Mediaworks contract and so she's hired a lawyer to get out of it. Meanwhile Mediaworks is causing all sorts of problems for her residents, such as sending them to collections for not returning cable boxes that were, in fact, returned. And, of course, providing crappy cable TV and internet service. After this discussion the manager gave me her boss's boss's phone number and said that he can override the rules, but she doubts he will. Apparently if they let me install a satellite but keep the rules in effect, they will be violating some Fair Housing laws or something. I haven't called the big boss yet because work has been CRAZY lately due to Ernesto threatening Florida and all the schools there scrambling to send us their updated data and send out calls. Hopefully I will have some time to call him tomorrow. I don't feel as crusade-y as I was feeling before, because knowing that the manager hates them too and is trying to get out of the contract makes me feel better. I'll still call to see if there's anything I can do. But I'm basically resigned to living with Mediaworks suckiness until I move next spring.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Laugh till your sides hurt...

Little Miss Sunshine is a must-see movie! It is laugh-out-loud, scream-at-the-screen hilarious!! Man, that horn had me cracking up! And the "Where's Olive?" scene is classic!

The Emmys tonight are also very entertaining. I loved Conan's intro. But Stephen Colbert was ROBBED! More than once! His presentation with John Stewart was patent evidence of how much he deserved to win.

Tips or TMI?

I was shopping at Target today and in the hair care aisle almost one entire side was taken up by Pantene. How on earth did we reach this point, people?! How many different kinds of shampoo, conditioner, mousse, gel, and hairspray can one manufacturer sell?! Apparently like a hundred. Anyway, I was contemplating trying a new kind of mousse (named "Pantene ICE," apparently due to the way it will make my hair shine like an Arctic glacier) when I noticed another woman pondering all the options. I said, "They're trying to confuse us," and she agreed. She appeared tobe at a loss for what to pick, so I decided to offer my opinion. "My favorite conditioner is this one," pointing to Pantene's Daily Moisture Renewal. "It's as good as the stuff that comes in hair coloring kits." She seemed grateful for the suggestion, and even asked my opinion on shampoo. I said that I've tried Pantene shampoos but have found that Suave works just as well, and I directed her to Suave Humectant. She said, "Thanks! I'll try these and see how it goes." I of course had to insert a disclaimer: "Everyone's hair is different but I hope it works for you!"

As I made my way up and down the aisles filling my basket, it occurred to me that I have pretty strong brand preferences when it comes to many products. Now, I'm no Consumer Reports, and I have done no scientific testing, but I thought I'd list a few of my favorites in case anyone out there is not happy with what they're currently using. This is a very self-indulgent post and I forgive you if you stop reading right here because you're thinking to yourself, "Who the heck cares??!"

Dental care:
Toothbrush: Oral-B Cross Action, regular size head (which used to be "compact") with soft bristles--who uses the hard ones??

I think the "Cross Action" thing is new, but I have used Oral-B for years. I like the way the handle feels in my hand and the bristles are soft from the start--no "working in" period.
Toothpaste: Colgate Tartar Control Whitening. I've used this solely for years now, and I have zero cavities.

I like the way it tastes and foams up. Can't say it does much in the area of whitening, though.

Hair products:
Shampoo: The aforementioned Suave Humectant. Lathers well, rinses well. Not expensive.
Conditioner: Pantene Daily Moisture Renewal. Super thick. Worth the extra couple of dollars compared to Suave's less rich (ha, ha) conditioner.

Mousse: Pantene Extra Fullness mousse. It doesn't necessarily make my hair fuller, but it definitely makes it easier to comb and style, and when I don't use it, my hair does not feel as conditioned. I used to use Suave, but this is better.

Razors: Venus. Three blades means a close shave and, ironically, less likelihood of getting cut.

It kills me to buy the refills because they are ridiculously expensive but, again, it's worth it. I tried going back to cheap twin blades and it was a mess.
Shaving cream: I usually just use soap lather.

Paper products:
Toilet paper:
Cottonelle double rolls. (Honestly, why does anyone buy regular rolls anymore? Does anyone really enjoy changing the roll?)

It's single ply but does not feel like it at all. They have a thicker version but I don't like it as much.
Paper towels: Viva select-a-size. I think I've mentioned this before. I used to use Bounty select-a-size but now that they offer it in Viva, Bounty is only a backup. Viva is almost cloth-like, and is worth the few extra cents. Select-a-size is an easy way to make a roll last longer, because most jobs don't require a full sheet.

Air freshener:
Oust fragrance-free.

You really know it works because the smells are gone, not just covered up by some putrid flowery scent.

Pet products:
Kitty litter: Feline Pine (or, preferrably, the pet-store-generic brand, but they always seem to be out of it).

This stuff truly absorbs odors, and you don't have to scoop it every single day (unless your cat is super picky about that kind of stuff). It does have some tracking issues, but I've never used any litter that doesn't. I used to use the crystals but they are sooo expensive.
Scratchers: Comet loves the corrugated cardboard scratchers.

I've tried scratching posts but he was never interested in them. I had a roommate a while ago and her cats loved these cardboard things, and when Comet started using them, I was surprised but grateful. I have several around the house and he luuuuuvs them, especially if I put fresh catnip on them. He started scratching the carpet a little while ago, right by my bedroom door, so I moved a scratcher there and he started scratching that instead. Marvelous!

Food (this is more preference stuff, not so much advice--again, I don't know why you should care, but for what it's worth, here ya go):
Macaroni and Cheese: Kraft Thick & Creamy. So much yummier than the regular.
Butter vs. Margarine: I was raised on margarine but recently switched to butter because it all has the same amount of fat anyway (reduced fat margarine is WATER, folks), and butter is at least all-natural fat. Plus it is soooo much tastier.
Milk: 1%. I was raised on skim, but switched to 1% when I moved out on my own because skim expires too fast. I'm very accustomed to 1% now, to the point where skim tastes and looks yucky.
Drinks: I prefer Diet Pepsi over Diet Coke, although it used to be the other way around. In college, the cafeterias served Pepsi products and when I came home for vacation I tasted Diet Coke and was like, "Eww, what is this?" I'll take either but if given a choice, Pepsi it is. Although I don't usually buy soda at the grocery store. I like flavored sparkling waters, usually peach. Most stores make their own brand. I don't even know if there IS a national brand. Wal-Mart's has the best peach flavoring. It seriously tastes like you bit into a peach!
Crackers: My favorite is Cheez-It Twists, in Cheddar-More Cheddar flavor, followed by Cheez-It Crisps. But I've switched to Triscuits recently because my doctor said I should eat more whole grains. I like the Triscuit Thins, as well as the Rosemary-Olive Oil flavor. Stay away from the Garden Herb. It tastes like a cracker with soup mix on it. Yuck!
Chips: Oh there are so many yummy ones, but if you're looking for something a little less unhealthy, try Doritos Baked Nacho Cheese. They are quite good. You don't miss the extra fat at all. Stay away from baked potato chips though. They are nasty (at least in my humble opinion)!


Mint: Orbitz, in original flavor. Very nifty packaging that fits neatly in your purse (Friday I discovered that Trident has recently adopted similar packaging), and a great pepperminty taste. Chewable for a loooong time (I frequently pop a piece after lunch and keep it until dinner time).

Other: Bubble Yum Sugarless, in bubblegum flavor. Sometimes you're in the mood for something besides mint. This has a classic bubblegum taste yet is not bad for your teeth! You can blow good bubbles with it too, although it loses its flavor pretty quickly and becomes unchewable after about 30 minutes.

So do y'all have any tips or preferences?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The "memi photo"

You simply MUST check out my pal Debby's blog today. You'll see why when you get there. A kindred spirit!

While you're there, be sure to watch the video she posted on August 23. It's a marvel of editing--there is one caveat, however: if you haven't seen the movie Office Space, it won't be very funny.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


It's 10:30 Wednesday morning and I'm done with my work obligations for the day. I'm in Delaware, about an hour south of Philadelphia. What to do? I've got a stack of brochures describing a multitude of area attractions: museums, battlefields, shopping districts, and so forth. I'm looking for something not too far away and preferably not outside (the weather is actually quite nice--not too hot or humid--but I'm wearing slacks and a short-sleeved sweater--not exactly comfy attire for strolling around a zoo, for instance).

I decide to head to West Chester, PA for a tour of the QVC studio.

They depart every hour on the hour, and I get there around 11:15, so I have some time to browse in their store, which sells many of the on-air items. I'm tempted by the battery operated candles, but ultimately pass. I am unable to resist, however, when I spy a few nifty electronics gadgets : a foolproof timer (to maintain the appearance of an occupied apartment when I'm away), a nifty spacesaving (and cord-saving) outlet box that turns a two-fer into a six-er, and a remote control unit that allows you to turn three items on an off with the touch of a button. The cool thing about buying at the store is you don't have to pay for shipping, and you can get smaller quantities--I take home one timer instead of the package of three available on the air.

I have only bought one thing from QVC in my whole life, although I will say there was a spell recently when I watched it a lot and was tempted to purchase many items...but I never allowed myself to give in because I knew if I did, it would never end!

The tour starts promptly at noon and I am joined by some other women, mostly double my age. Our guide is a lady named Anne. She reminds me of my mentor teacher at my first student teaching job, Lorraine. All tour guides have their memorized spiels, but I get the impression she's not done this a thousand times. She is very nice and the information is impressive. For example, their biggest single-day sales was $85 million, $60 million of which was thanks to the special value of the day, a Dell home computer package. We get the behind-the-scenes scoop, including set decoration, graphics, audio, and product selection. We also get to watch what's being broadcast live--they're talking up a very nice looking handbag, which happens to run 160 bucks. We pass by the quality control lab where people are sitting at computers, but we are told they test thousands of products every year to find the ones good enough to make it on air. (I am soooo very tempted to take pictures but they are not allowed, and I am a good girl and obey the rules.)

My stomach is grumbling so after the tour finishes I set out to find some lunch. I spot a McDonald's and get off the freeway, but in the same strip mall is a deli so I go there instead. Back in the car the Garmin tells me it will take 40 minutes to get to Nottingham, PA so I call up Herr's Snack Factory to hold a spot on the 3:00 tour. I head out and it seems like I'm driving into the middle of nowhere. I have a hunch that I'll be the only one going on this podunk tour, especially since it's summer and school's out. But when I walk inside the visitor's center, it's like Disneyland exploded.

There are bright colors everywhere and the place is crawling with families. The gift shop is overrun by souvenir-shoppers, and I am flabbergasted. Who knew? I manage to get into the 2:30 tour and we head into a theater (bigger than some of the indy theaters I've been in!) for a 10-minute movie about the history of Herr's. So very quaint. You know how it goes, man starts business from scratch, it builds and grows and there are setbacks but they are overcome, and look at him today. The tour of the factory itself was like being in the Food Network show Unwrapped. I love this stuff! There really is so much we take for granted...something as simple as a bag of chips has quite a story behind it. Some facts I was particularly fascinated by:
  • In the bagging room, lots of chips end up falling on the floor. They are swept up daily, and taken down the road to the Angus farm to be used as cattle feed.
  • In the potato room, where the spuds are rinsed, all the excess starch that comes off is collected and sold to a paper company to make the glossy coating on magazine covers.
  • The heat coming off freshly fried potato chips is collected and used to heat the water for the building, and in the winter is used for climate control.
  • They make thousands of pounds of pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, cheese curls, and popcorn every day.
  • The plant is open 24 hours a day, four days a week, then shuts down around noon on Friday for a long weekend.
  • Oh, and come to find out, the employees enjoy profit-sharing. Buy Herr's!
Seeing enormous mounds of chips stirs up a craving. At the end of the tour we get to try a sample of freshly fried and salted potato chips. They're even still hot! Yummo! In the gift shop, they have bags of different flavors for 15 cents; I discover that the Salt & Pepper is my favorite!!

The day is young and my flight is not for hours so I search through my brochures for something else to occupy my time. I think about visiting some waterfront shops, or the Brandywine Battlefield, but decide to head for Strasburg to tour the Amish Village. As I enter Lancaster County, PA, I'm on the lookout for horses and buggies. Sure enough, I see about a dozen of them over the next few hours. Amish prefer not to have their picture taken but I snapped this photo while driving and you can't see the person so I think it's okay.

Man, those buggies go fast! I don't know why I expected them to saunter along, but seeing them whiz by was kind of amusing.

The tour of the Amish house is truly captivating. There is so much I never knew about this culture. For instance, they only have church every other Sunday, but they don't meet in a church. They take turns hosting it in their living rooms. Afterwards, they have a meal, in which the men eat first, followed by the boys, then the women, and finally the girls. The single women must wear a white apron, while the married ones must wear a black one. Single men are clean-shaven; married ones must grow a beard, but no moustaches allowed. (The Amish were persecuted in Europe by moustached men.) They have a fundamental belief in self-reliance, so they do not accept any governmental benefits such as Social Security or Medicare (although they do pay taxes). Electricity is not allowed, but they have ingeniously adapted modern appliances for their use. For instance, the gas-powered iron and refrigerator, or the lawn mower engine-powered washing machine. Everything in the house must have a purpose; no extraneous decoration allowed. Things like calendars, then, are Amish favorites, because it is a practical item that can be made beautiful. Around the age of 18, all Amish are allowed a year to party hearty, if you will, and live it up. After the year they must decide whether to remain Amish, or switch to the "English" lifestyle. Astoundingly, only 5-10% opt to leave the Amish way of life. Weddings are allowed November-January, but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Other months and days of the week are too busy for something so frivolous as a ceremony.

When the tour of the house finishes, we are allowed to wander around the village on our own, visiting the schoolhouse, the blacksmith shop, the smokehouse, and the barn.

I hop back in the car and head for the airport. Garmin tells me I'll be there in a little over an hour, which gives me plenty of time. I have to do a little hunting around for a gas station near the airport to fill up my ironically-licensed rental car

but I'm through security and waiting at my terminal a full hour before my flight. (By the way, don't rent from Hertz at the Philadelphia airport if you can avoid it--it took forever for the shuttle to come around, the line at the office was ridiculous, and two of the three attendants were incompetent.) What a full, fun, and fascinating day!

Monday, August 21, 2006

About this and that

Baltimore. I flew Southwest for the first time, and it wasn't all that bad. Granted, it was only an hour-long flight, but the only thing missing for a longer flight would be TV screens for a movie. For the flight to Baltimore, I checked in 24 hours in advance online, and got boarding group A, which apparently is very coveted. I scored a window seat towards the front of the plane. On the return flight, however, I did not check in until a few hours before the flight and got group B. This meant I was "stuck" in a middle seat, but once again, it was only for 60 minutes.

As for security, it did not seem any different to me. There were signs telling you about the newly prohibited items, but the lines were not longer than usual. I made sure to remove anything that could be considered a gel- or lotion-like substance from my purse (hand cream, Advil liqui-gels) but no one looked in my bag. I find it difficult to believe that an xray view of my purse would have revealed a tiny bottle of lotion, although perhaps it would have. (I'm going to conduct an experiment when I fly to Philadelphia tomorrow...) Plus, they sell all sorts of banned items in the shops beyond security, but there was no bag check before boarding the plane. They verbally announced that everyone should throw away beverages, etc., but I could have had a bottle of water in my purse and no one would have been the wiser. I suppose that the rationale behind this could be that since I bought it at the airport, it is safe, but then why bother announcing to everyone to throw their recently purchased liquids away? It all seems very inconsistent to me.

The trainings went well in Maryland. There were two sessions, and the second was better than the first because by then I knew what they wanted me to focus on. I was complimented by the district's director of communications--he said I am an excellent trainer, which was very nice to hear. He, in turn, was a very pleasant man to deal with, offering to help me at every step, be it with photocopying extra manuals, passing out materials, etc.

I think you can tell a lot about a school or a district by how these kinds of trainings go. Some places they laugh at my lame jokes ("There is a fine line between informing parents an annoying them" and "Never hit the back button in your browser when scheduling a call, because it will confuse the wizard, and we never want to confuse the wizard") while other groups just stare at me blankly. Some look at me attentively and nod and smile while I'm talking, and some, again, stare at me blankly. Phone trainings can be even worse when there's no affirmation from the folks on the other end of the line that they're getting it. ("See the button on the left called Options? Go ahead and click on that for me, okay?" -waiting- "When you click it you'll see a link at the top and a form at the bottom? -silence- "Did you click on it?") It sounds like you're babying them, but if you don't make sure, they will invariably fall behind and I'll be telling them about the the last thing on the page and they haven't even clicked on Options yet!

Anyway, back to Maryland. The school was in a very nice area, a suburb about 30 minutes north of Baltimore. It reminded me a lot of Apex. There was an old-timey downtown street with little shops, then lots of big, newer shopping centers, and tons of new housing being built. I didn't feel like venturing into the city or trying to find the coast. Crab cakes just aren't that alluring to me!

Weekend. It was my sister-in-law's birthday on Thursday so she and my brother came down with the kids to my parents' house for the weekend. I was supposed to have Direct TV installed between 8-12 Saturday morning, but at 7:40 I got a call from the installation guy saying that he wasn't going to be able to make it until 5 pm or later, because he had all these other "big jobs" two hours away. Since I had a previous commitment, I had to reschedule. Don't think I did this happily. I hope this does not bode poorly for Direct TV's service...although I suppose they should get points for calling ahead of time to let me know. But now I have to wait a whole other week to find out if I can escape the hell that is Mediaworks. Alas, I will probably end up keeping them for internet, though. They recently reduced the price to $39.95 (I know, unheard of!!) and I finally called Bell South and confirmed that I do indeed have to get a land line phone if I want DSL. I was told the cheapest phone package, including taxes and fees, runs about $25, and the DSL I would want (1.5 mbps) is $32.95 (one step down is $24.95 but only 256k), so I'm looking at a bill of $60 as opposed to $40. Granted, it would probably be a faster connection, and I'd get a landline phone out of the deal, but is it worth the extra 20 bucks a month? The internet has been running faster lately, so I'll probably stick with what I've got even though it's Mediasucks.

So I headed over to my parents' house on Saturday afternoon and got to see my nieces and nephew for the first time in a while. Cassidy is walking like a pro now, and she's talking too! Not to mention the mouth full of teeth she has! She still looks like a little baby, though, I think because her hair is so pale and fine. Here she is after enjoying a dinner of ravioli and green beans. She is quite the hambone, as my mother would say, when it comes to posing for the camera:

And she does this really cute "smooshed" face that is so adorable:

Our intentions were to have dinner at the Olive Garden on Saturday night, but the one in Cary was closed due to the water problems (they found e. coli in a water test and insituted a boil-water order city-wide). Consequently, the wait at the Raleigh location was very long, not to mention an hour's drive away. So we decided to go for an early dinner at the one in Greensboro the next day, since it's on the way home for my brother and his family. So I met them all at the restaurant and got to feed Cassidy. She really liked my noodles! She tried her best at my dad's beef but her little teeth couldn't quite grind it enough to swallow it.

Weird dreams. I had a bizarre bunch of dreams last night. One involved snakes, which I think was prompted by the cicadas outside my apartment, which kind of sound like rattlers. Another involved me "accidentally" becoming addicted to...wait for it...heroin. If you know me, you know how preposterous that is, but in my dream I just kind of fell into it, and didn't really think about it until at one point it dawned on me and I thought to myself, "Uh oh, I wonder if I'm addicted already. Oh well, at least now I'll have the glory of kicking the habit." Because it's true, those who hit bottom are esteemed for recovering, while those of us who maintain equilibrium just mosey along unnoticed. Not that I'm looking for attention or anything! Seriously! Don't think this is some sort of cry for help. I always have really weird dreams. Like the one where I was in a gimassive cave and there were bats flying around at the top and I was making photocopies. Analyze THAT, Freud!

Monday, August 14, 2006

TV and trainings

I finally got around to calling about satellite TV. I was planning on going with Dish Network, because that's what my parents have, and so I'm used to it. Come to find out, Dish no longer allows installations in apartments anymore. Ha! At least the other option, Direct TV, has no such policy. Someone will be here on Saturday between 8-12 to set me up. I'm so stoked! Not only will my bill be about the same, but I'll have more channels, a DVR that can record two things at once, and a remote that actually works more than half the time. Woo hoo! Now let's just keep our fingers crossed that when they come out they'll be able to get a signal from my screened porch (which doesn't exactly face the right way).

Lately the reception on my TV has been pathetic. It would look better if I had rabbit ears sticking up behind the thing. We're talking serious static. It's watchable, but seriously, the picture should be crystal clear when you're paying for cable. Well suddenly I turn the TV on tonight, and everything is magically clear! Not to mention that the internet is running much faster. I wonder if someone came out and tweaked something to make it all better. I never bothered calling because Mediaworks is such a hassle to deal with, but I think someone might be moving in to the the apartment next door, and so maybe someone came out to hook them up, saw that something wasn't right, and fixed it.

Today I went to Winton and Edenton, NC. They are about an hour apart, and about 2.5 hours from Raleigh. Edenton is right on the coast, but it's not technically the Atlantic. It's Edenton Bay, which is part of Albemarle Sound.

And even if I had wanted to touch the water, I wouldn't have been able to. There were several feet between the ground and the surface of the water. And knowing me, I'd slip and fall in. (I did that once as a child--I think I was feeding ducks in a lake, and I remember thinking to myself, "Don't fall in, don't fall in," and of course I fell right in. More embarrassing than anything.) I would have expected it to be cooler at the coast, but it wasn't. It was probably in the high 80's. But there was a breeze.

Apparently there was a Civil War battle in Albemarle Sound, and part of Winton was burned down in 1864. These towns were incorporated in the 1700's! Remarkable considering Santa Clarita, CA was incorporated in 1987! Check out this Victorian mansion in Winton (awful photo but what a charmer!):

Here's the back of Barker House (1782), which I thought was lovely enough,

but apparently I missed the better view, from the front.

I had time to stop in and look at one shop, selling gifts and culinary items (rosemary peanut butter, anyone?). Other than this clever display, there was not much of note.

So the Garmin is officially On Notice. I've had her for less than three months and she's already lost her voice. That's right. Absolutely no sound coming out of the thing. It happened while I was crossing over a big bridge. It made a very weird bleep-hack-bleep sound and I looked at it strangely, ascertained it was a passing anomaly, and continued on my way. At the next turn, I was dismayed that she did not speak to me. I pushed a button. No bleep. I turned it off and back on. Not a peep. Lord, she's giving me the silent treatment. The screen displays my location and I can read the directions by viewing the Turn by Turn list, but I have no idea what happened to the sound. It loses about 80% of its usefulness without sound. I am very disappointed. I have a feeling the worst case scenario will play out: I'll have to return her directly to Garmin, which will fool with her for weeks, meanwhile I'll be forced to resort to archaic paper maps and printed Google directions (gasp!). Eventually they'll ship her back to me, "fixed," and I will be forced to give the i5 a lowly rating in my Amazon product review because of my lousy luck to get the one unit in a thousand that happens to be crappy. Sigh.

On a brighter note, the trainings went well today. The first one had about two dozen people (I was expecting fewer than 10!) and the second had about eight. I think I'm getting better at making sure they understand things. I'm the kind of person who, if I don't understand something, I ask questions. And when I was a teacher, my colleagues were always very vocal if they needed clarification on something. But I am learning that many people, even if they're confused, hesitate to ask questions. So I've found that if you simply say, "It looks like I see a few confused faces," that tends to make people feel more comfortable--they feel like they're not alone, and they'll start to speak up. Because honestly, people come into these trainings with such widely varying ability levels. You've got the district IT people, who could probably figure the system out without any training at all, and then you've got the 60-year-old principals who are for all intents and puposes Luddites (okay, no cell phone, I can understand, but not even an answering machine at home?!). They forsake everything techie and are just barely using email. Any classroom teacher can tell you that this challenge is not unique. Educators face it everyday. I do think it's tough, though, when you only have an hour and then basically you'll never see them again. All I can do is say, "If you have problems or questions, please do not hesitate to call our Customer Support number," knowing full well that I answer at least 75% of those calls on days when I'm in the office. So in a way I kind of like doing CS just as much as, if not more than, training. Because when they call in, they have specific questions and you can help them accomplish something, rather than just telling them about it hypothetically. I have to say, though, that I like being the one who gets to show them all the cool things our new system can do. Everyone across the board just loves it, and has nothing but great things to say about it. So I feel very fortunate that the product I'm training them on is high quality.

Thursday I'm flying to Baltimore to do a training for one of our biggest customers. Wish me luck as I venture forth into the formidable and unpredictable realm of air travel.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Replies to comments

I've gotten a couple comments recently and wanted to respond, but I doubt my reply would ever be seen if I buried it in the comments. So here y'all go:
The area looks lovely/ What anout that humidity tho?? Ugh... I had contacted you about moving from CA to NC before. Well hubby got job in Charlotte, possibly Cary now for the move. My question is do you regret the move since you have been going through a summer out there? After your recent trip to LA would you rather go back home?? Just wondering if we're doing the right thing???
First of all, Charlotte is nowhere near Cary, but maybe your husband will be working from home? Secondly, I do not regret moving--and I honestly feel that this is my home now. However, I will not sugar-coat it: the humidity is downright awful. You do not want to stay outside for any length of time. The temp does cool off at night, but the humidity creeps up, so it's still not comfortable. You will need to run your A/C 24/7 from the end of June till the end of August. (Although I will say that today we are enjoying a spectacular reprieve from typical summer weather--it's noon and only 70 degrees outside! Granted, it is raining, but last week it was raining and 90, so I'm not complaining!) I doubt I will ever get used to the humidity. But one mitigating factor is it rarely goes above 100 degrees here, even with the heat index. After experiencing 113 in So Cal recently, I was happy to return to low 90's, even if it was wetter.
I have lived in the SW for almost all of my life and can't stand the lack of rain, the lack of "the early American outlook and history", the abundance of cactus, the ugly yards, the 122 degree summers (yes, I know it's dry heat but at 122 it really doesn't matter-it's too hot to breathe!) I'm considering picking up, leaving my friends of 30 yrs., my 23 yr. old son, and piling all my belongings into a "pod", selling a house that has tripled in price since I bought it and "mushing " on down to Raleigh/Cary/Garner NC---------a place I have never been to and in which I do not know a single soul! But my heart is so "Eastern" with the rich history and gorgeous decks and backyards for my dogs, with the plethora of cultural activities and, so far, the friendliness of the Southerners I have met so far, I can't stay away from dreaming that I can one day actually live there. Am I nuts?????? Most of my friends think I am but I have a few that say "follow your dream" and your friends will all come to see you when it's 122 degrees again! Any advice for an intrinsic Easterner that has somehow been dropped all her life in the SW?
It sounds to me like you already know what you want. And I say, go for it! What you describe is basically what I did--packed up in a POD, left all my friends behind, and moved someplace I had only seen once, for a day. I can't guarantee you will have no regrets, because I was fortunate enough to have my family move with me, but you are definitely not nuts to want to leave the southwest for a greener, friendlier area. I will caution you that some of the yards around here are not as beautiful as you may imagine. Yes, they have lawns, but rarely do they have sprinkler systems, so when there is a drought (which are frequently accompanied by water restrictions) the lawns suffer. But so much of NC is still in its natural state (densely wooded), so in my opinion that makes up for it. The landscape is bleak in the winter when most of that forest is bare, but it is glorious in spring, summer, and fall.

You mention Raleigh, Cary, and Garner. They are very different. I will spare you the dissertation-length comparison and boil it down to a nutshell: Cary is snobby (think Stepford), Garner is redneck, and Raleigh is, well, there are city parts and country parts and suburb parts, so you have to be careful where you pick, if you're picky. (Of course, all of that is a major generalization and some might think it's an unfair description, but it's my impression.) I'm in Apex, and I feel like Goldilocks, because it's just right for me.

I would suggest that you fly out for a few days and see if you like it. If you're like me, you will be very pleased with what you find, and you will be motivated to make the move happen. It can be scary, no doubt, but I am glad I took the risk because I am very happy here.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's official!

Considering how much traffic arrives at my site by searching for info on Trader Joe's, I feel obligated to post that there has finally been a confirmation that TJ's is, in fact, coming to Cary! (Thanks for the info, Mom!) And, as the original rumor indicated, it will be located in the old Winn Dixie store on Kildaire Farm Road (to be shared with a new Staples). No word on a projected opening date yet though.

This is such fantastic news! How much of a curmudgeon am I that my first thought is about how crowded it will be for the first few months?I do hope they make the Staples small, to leave more room for the TJ's side. It will surely be a popular destination! Poor Fresh Market down the street will either have to lower their prices or face shutting down. At least that's my bet.

For those of you wondering what all the fuss is about, just go, and you will see. Great, unique food at unbeatable prices. It's just a cool place. Mark my word, it will be so wildly popular, there will be at least two more Triangle locations within a year, 18 months tops.

Bullet blogging

My little trips are full of simultaneously insignificant yet memorable moments. Does that make any sense? I find myself wishing that someone was with me so I could turn to them and say, "Isn't that hilarious," "Whoa, check that out," or better yet, just share a glance and a giggle, or a meaningful look. But I guess I'll have to settle for bullet blogging for now.
  • There were Confederate flags everywhere in Rutherford County. Flying outside of houses, stuck on bumpers, and printed on all manner of souvenirs. A couple times I thought I'd taken a wrong turn and ended up in Alabama.

  • There were also all manner of "hillbilly" souvenirs (no doubt the coexistence of the two is not coincidental), some of which were good for a chuckle. Like the "Bald Man's Hairbrush," which was basically a wooden paddle with no bristles. Or the "Wooden Exercise Block," directions printed thereon: "Place block on floor. Walk around it. Congratulations, you've taken a walk around the block!"

  • Asheville is not anyplace I am dying to return to. I would like to see the Biltmore Estate still, but the town itself is a little disappointing. I'd heard it described as "artsy," but "bohemian" is more like it. Nearly every shop had patchouli burning. The ratio of shops selling new merchandise to those selling used was about even. The median age of the people I saw: 19. The median age of the buildings: 90 (and showing it!). Fashion statement of choice: clothing meticulously chosen to achieve the "I'm too concerned with real life and important issues and my art to care about how I look, so I just wear clothes I find in the trash--ok, I buy some at thrift stores but only independent ones" look. Which are not necessarily bad things, but it's just not my scene.

  • I am officially a fan of Holiday Inn Express hotels. [Sidenote: I am going back over what I wrote, and this line made me laugh, especially considering the paragraph before it! I am so clearly the polar opposite of your typical Ashevillian--you would sooner see donkeys fly than hear them comment about their favorite upscale budget hotel!] Anyway, this is the second one I've stayed in, and I've found that they offer the best amenities for the price.

    My room was awesome--good bed, good linens/pillows, nice furniture, fridge, microwave, granite in the bathroom, free wireless internet, and a great free breakfast in the morning. The Renaissance Hotel, a big fancy establishment which I booked cheap on Priceline, was nice too, but there was no free internet (they charged $9.95/day), no free breakfast, and no fridge/micro in the room. I rarely find a microwave necessary, but the fridge is always good to keep my water cold.

  • I think they accidentally hung the wall art sideways in my room though:

  • The absence of a free breakfast, paired with a very tight and early schedule this morning, meant that I had no other option than to order room service for breakfast. Twist my arm why don't you. It was my first room service ever, if my memory serves. I went for the Eggs Benedict Florentine, and it was mighty tasty.

  • I got not one, not two, but three brand new Colorado quarters as change from the Zaxby's in Forest City! The excitement and glee were abundant. And luckily confined to the privacy of my car since I was in the drive-thru. ;)

  • On the way home I saw the most unusual truck. I didn't know they made these.

  • On the way to Chimney Rock, I caught this stately but aging house up on a hill as I sped by on the highway below.

    I'd love to buy it and fix it up. But on second thought, it's more interesting to imagine all the events it's witnessed over the years as its paint has peeled. [Another sidenote: Why do old city buildings make me grimace, while old country buildings make me feel whimsical? The more I travel, the more I am becoming aware of how much I simply do not like cities, and how strongly I favor suburbs and countryside.]

  • Couldn't resist this photo of more ivy monsters...they're practically leaping onto the road to scare passing motorists!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Chimney Rock Park

I'm in Rutherford County, NC, and after my training this morning (which went very well!) I decided to take a drive out to Chimney Rock, about 30 minutes away. The entrance to the park is right off the main highway, and easy to find.

You drive about a mile and a half up a very narrow, winding road, which seems barely wide enough for two cars but somehow it works out. Then you purchase your ticket. Your $14 ticket! Hello. You continue about another mile up the same windy road to get to the parking.

There is an elevator to take you to the top. You can also hike it in about 20 minutes, but it was hot and steamy outside. I figured the least my $14 entitled me to was a lift to the top. And besides, there was no line. To get to the elevator, you have to walk through a short tunnel that was blasted out of the mountain. It totally reminded me of the tunnels you line up in while waiting for some rides at Disneyland. Only difference is, this one is real! It was ridiculously cool in there--thanks to Mother Nature, not A/C. (Note to self: Move to cave next summer.) The ride up is 30 seconds, and at the top you are let off into a gift shop where they sell every tchotchke imaginable with the words "Chimney Rock" printed on it, for three times what you'd normally pay for a souvenir.

When I stepped outside, I was struck by how windy it was up there, and how cool the breeze was. The sky had darkened considerably and there was thunder in the distance.

You do have to climb a couple flights of stairs to get to the main lookout point, but it's not bad. The view was pretty, but very hazy.

I wouldn't say it left me breathless, as their motto says. Perhaps in the Fall it is breathtaking.

I opted not to hike any of the trails due to the heat, although I suppose if I had I would have gotten more out of my admission fee.

Once I got back down to the bottom (of both the rock and then the mountain) I explored the little shops along the main street. Mostly more souvenir junk, but of course I managed to find a few things to buy. I walked along the river for a while and while navigating a rocky area one of my bags opened and some of the stuff I'd bought fell out. I found two of the things, but the third, a piece of pink quartz shaped like a heart, was missing. I searched but came up emptyhanded. I figured that it must have fallen out earlier (it was in a flat brown bag with postcards so could easily slip out if I held the bag at an angle). I retraced my steps for the past few stores, with no luck. So I just bought another one. But something told me to go back to the river and look again, so I did. Lo and behold, with a little more picking around in the plants, I found it! Big-time grin moment!

I decided to cool off a little by sticking my feet in the water, and was SO tempted to just jump in the river with all my clothes on. I was soaking wet with sweat anyway, and the water looked sooooo appealing!

But the practical side of me knew that the ride back home would be an uncomfortable one, not to mention the fact that my car seat would get soaked. So I just bought a bottle of water and hydrated.

Here are a few pix I took down by the river. A sweaty me, a pretty butterfly that fluttered around me for about 5 minutes, and some black-eyed susans.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Guess what I just discovered?! MediaWorks has an Unsatisfactory rating with the Better Business Bureau!
Based on BBB files, this company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to unanswered complaint(s). The Bureau processed a total of 24 complaints about this company in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period.

Complaints Concerned
Advertising Issues: 2
Delivery Issues: 1
Repair Issues: 1
Service Issues: 11
Product Issues: 2
Refund or Exchange Issues: 1
Contract Issues: 1
Billing or Collection Issues: 5
I'm going to ask the manager about why they chose MediaWorks, and why they have no problem dealing with this type of company. Just to be informed, I checked the status of the property management company, Drucker and Falk. Their rating is Satisfactory.

I never knew you could do this so easily. Just go here and type in the name of the business you want to look up.

Now I really, really need to look into Dish Network and DSL.


I hope this never makes it to America (description courtesy of David Pogue):
[There are] hidden overhead cameras that (according to our Italian guide) take pictures of your license plate, relay the time of your passing to the next set of cameras, calculate your speed, and automatically issue you a ticket if you’re speeding. The cameras can't see who's driving, though, so paying the ticket requires that you specify who was at the wheel; if you don't, you get slapped with a fine ten times as high.
Man, I would so get tons of speeding tickets! I have a lead foot. It's the one law I break every day. And I have to say that my new car makes it way too easy to speed. Not only does Fiona have quite a bit of pep, so she's quick off the line, but also the speedometer is laid out such that the needle is straight up at 80 mph...whereas in my old car the needle was practically horizontal at 80 mph. Such a tiny thing, you'd think, but I can't tell you how many times I've caught myself doing 90. Yikes!

While we're on the topic of speeding, what's up with those signs that say "Speed Limit Enforced By Aircraft"? Do they really have some guy in a helicopter or something with a radar gun aiming it at the freeways? And how do they hold you responsible? Do they have some sort of satellite taking pictures of the cars they catch? How low do these aircraft fly? Could I see them from the driver's seat? I've always wondered.

Speaking of road signs, there was a unique one in Pennsylvania that I saw a couple times.

It's not often that you see hyperbole in govermental signage, now is it?

BTW, not my photo; I was never quick enough to catch it as I sped by; courtesy of Stop and Go.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The A/C, it mocks me

I stayed at a Best Western in Covington, VA last night. It was decent enough. Yet I got barely a wink of sleep because of the bloody A/C. It did a fine job of keeping the room cool, but it was the loudest A/C unit I've ever heard! I had the fan on low, and turned the thermostat up so it would not click on as often. But there was no winning with this beast. Faced with the choice of either lying awake sweating, or lying awake not sweating, I'll take the latter! But that meant I got up at 5:30 having gotten more or less no shut-eye. Which is fine--anyone can hack that for a day. New moms do it every night for months.

What was so ironic was that at my training today, the A/C was down. Yes, imagine a dozen adults in a school computer lab, body heat adding to machine heat, with no circulation. The outside temp was around 85, with humidity around the same--and it was cooler outside than in. (Honestly, for a second, I considered if there was any way we could do the training outside. Ha!) I was sweating buckets, which is oh-so-professional. I began to wonder if the A/C gods were punishing me for cursing the hotel unit's volume.

The Garmin got me lost today. My destination was a school built in 2001, which is not all that recently. Both Google and the Garmin gave me the same directions, so I didn't question them. Somehow I ended up on a one-lane road that was basically a glorified driveway. A huge German shepherd and a little white puffball dog greeted me by running toward my car. I was only going 10 mph and I saw them from afar, so there wasn't a problem, but the way they approached me made me think that they wanted me to stop and pet them. I did not--I was too concerned about the fact that the Garmin led me astray, and I had an appointment to keep! Thank goodness someone answered when I called the district office (and luckily I had cell phone reception, although barely). The kind lady was able to give me directions...which were completely different from what I had. Go figure. I still made it with plenty of time to spare, because I tend to allow time for these kinds of incidents.

Driving up to Virginia, the Garmin had me go on all these two-lane small-town highways, and I just figured there was no better way to get to where I was going (Middle-of-Nowhere-ville). It was the scenic route, to be sure. I got to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a short spell, and passed through some quaint towns. But I also lost satellite reception a couple of times on the windy mountain roads. So after my training I asked a couple of the guys if they had any suggestions, and they gave me a much more direct route. It turned out to take about the same amount of time, but there were basically only five highways to remember (64 to 220 to 58 to 86 to 40), as opposed to the dozen or so the Garmin had put me on. Bottom line with navigators: do not rely on them completely. But the same goes with Google maps. However, I would guess that they are much more accurate in the urban areas.

I haven't talked much about what's going on at my office these days. It's all quite thrilling. In addition to all my traveling and training and other assorted duties, I was tasked with screening, interviewing, and choosing two new employees. At first I was very flattered to be given this assignment, considering I've only been there five months myself. But then I realized that the job fell to me mainly because no one else wanted to do it. I thought it was fun to read everyone's resumes and interview them. We got over 60 inquiries, and I was surprised at how many people have no clue how to do a proper resume! When I was searching for a job, I figured everyone looked up the same online resume tip resources as I did. Apparently not! About half didn't bother with a cover letter either, which was immediately a big minus. I probably conducted a dozen phone interviews, and then called in half of those for in-person meetings. I was beginning to second-guess my ability to judge candidates when, after three consecutive interviews, I was unimpressed. But then the fourth was the jackpot! The second position was harder to fill, because skill-wise there were several candidates who fit the bill, but there was one whose personality stood out. I do hope both of them accept their offers.

Meanwhile, I will be starting a new schedule. Currently I work 8:30 am - 5:00 pm. In a few weeks I will switch to 6:00 am - 2:30 pm. You may think I'm bonkers, but I volunteered to do this. Yes, I will have to get up at an ungodly hour, but imagine being done by 2:30!! I worked a similar schedule several years ago, and found it to my liking. My boss foresees that on some days they'll need me to stay late for trainings, but he offered a bit of an incentive. Sweet.

What else has been percolating lately? Oh! Hopefully after this weekend I will have news to share regarding an upcoming trip (for pleasure, not business). If you know me, you know I l-o-v-e the planning stages almost as much as the traveling itself!

I will leave you with a couple photos taken during my drive yesterday. These are somewhere in Virginia, but could just as easily be North Carolina:

The Ivy Monsters

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Driving "tips"

As I've mentioned before, James Lileks is one of my favorite bloggers. He also writes a daily column called The Quirk for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. I've found that since his quota was upped from a couple days a week to seven, he sometimes strains for material. But today's was a gem and a half, on the topic of driving. I just drove four and a half hours to Alleghany County, Virginia, so his observations are ringing especially true for me. I'm going to reprint it here because I want everyone to have a laugh, and if I just put a link, well, no one would click it.

Today's How-to Quirk Tip: driving home after a weekend trip. Traffic heading into the cities on Sunday now goes 85 miles per hour, with 2 inches between each car. I prefer 3 inches, for that extra buffer of safety. I don't mind going through my windshield, but it would seem rude to go through someone else's, as well. Want to join in the fun? It's simple.

Rule one: Stab the brakes every so often, just for the fun of backing up cars for 30 miles behind you. See, you brake, they brake. A guy in Monticello hits the brakes, and the North Dakota Highway Patrol answers a 42-car pile-up call three hours later.

Rule two: Pass whenever possible. The only reason the truck ahead of you is doing 84 instead of 86 can only be mulish indifference to your desire to go 87, so wheel around and pass him in the right lane. You'll soon see he's riding the bumper of a tiny car going 83. It's all the fault of some other car up ahead, who's only doing 82 while passing a car doing 81! Idiots! C'mon! We're adding 830 seconds to our cumulative travel time!

Uh-oh. The tiny car suddenly accelerates to 84, and all the cars behind you are speeding past in the left lane. You spent 15 minutes passing those cars! Wasted! Now you have to start all over again, and don't think they're not laughing: Who's 438 seconds closer to home now, pal?

Rule three: Take the side roads, and repeat the same behavior. Because speeding, tailgating and frantic passing is much more amusing on a two-laner. Passing a car while heading into oncoming traffic at 92 mph: thrill-wise, it's as close as you'll get to storming the beaches of Normandy.

Rule four: Toss the keys to your spouse. Magic words: Your turn.