Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Catching up

So here's how it goes. Either there's nothing going on in my life, which means there's nothing to blog about. Or there are tons of things going on but I don't have time to blog about them. Either way, the blog gets neglected. Stinko. The current case is that I have tons to write about, but very little time or energy to spare. I've been burning the candle at both ends, as they say, and my life is suffering the consequences. Email goes unchecked. Blogs go unread. Cars go uninspected. Gifts go unfinished. Groceries go unbought. Where on earth does the time fly? Well, lately it has literally been spent flying. I've been on six flights in the last four days. Cah-razeey!

First I flew to Philly on Thursday morning--6:30 am flight = arrive at airport at 5:30 = leave home at 5:00 = get up at 4:00. Could there be a more ungodly hour? The upside: short wait at security, practically empty flight, no line at the car rental counter. Avis gave me a PT Cruiser which was very exciting for me because I love to try out different cars.

This one had an auxiliary jack where I could hook up my iPod. Of course I didn't have a cord with me, but $4.50 at Target and I was set. Oh, the sound is so much better than through the pitiful FM transmitter thingie.

I had about five hours to kill before my training, so I drove around. I crossed the Delaware/Pennsylvania border like eight times trying to snap a good photo of the "welcome to" signs, just because I could.

And hey, did you know there's no sales tax in Delaware? Sah-weet! After my training (which went fine) I met up with an old friend for dinner in Wilmington. We went to a chi-chi Italian restaurant. You can tell when I'm in a spontaneous mood because I'll order from the specials listed by the waiter rather than from the menu (oh yeah, I live on the edge). The appetizer was some mozzarella thing, and the waiter said if you like cheese you can't miss it. Well I lurrrrve cheese so I ordered it, but it was very disappointing. Yuck-o. For the entree the special was chicken ravioli, which was quite tasty, so that made up it a little. It was delightful to catch up with my friend, because we're both so busy we can never seem to find time to call each other up.
After dinner I drove up to my hotel where I was greeted at the front desk with, "Are you Melissa?" Seems I was the last one to check in for the night! I got settled in my room, which was adequate, and went to bed sooner rather than later. I did watch Grey's Anatomy though. Gotta get my McDreamy fix!

My training the next morning was at 8, and was located about half an hour away, so I had to get up pretty early. The training was not the greatest, because the district wanted their principals to use the system only for sending out emails, but they do not have any email addresses for parents yet. Plus they apparently had made all these policy decisions about when things would get updated and how, but without a strong knowledge of how the system works, which resulted in their decisions being inappropriate. But instead of accepting my offer to give some guidance, they just dismissed me in what felt like a bit of a dissatisfied huff. Well then.

Off I was to visit Crystal Cave. It was about 45 minutes away from the training, and the weather was drizzly and grey, with some fog in areas, but that made for some beautiful views.

Once again the Garmin got me to where I needed to go, but on a somewhat backroads path. Which is fine by me, because you get to see so much more that way. I even came across this giant pumpkin patch!

Driving to Crystal Cave, I was convinced it was going to be some little nothing roadside attraction, but when I pulled up there were several school busses there. The cave was discovered in 1871 and in my opinion a more accurate name would be Stalagmite Cave, but that doesn't have much of a ring to it. I went on the tour with an elementary school group, which wasn't all that bad. The kids were kinda cute in their enthusiasm, and they actually behaved really well. Before the tour, there's a "panning for gems" area where they were all so excited to find "gold" and "rubies" and the like in their bags of dirt.

The tour guide was obviously jaded, and he recited his lines like a reluctant third-grader quoting the Gettysburg Address. But the info was fascinating. It really takes so long for these mineral deposits to form. The drip, drip, drip from the cave ceiling creates stalactites up above, and when the water hits the ground it eventually builds up to create a stalagmite below.

When the two meet it's called a column, but it's very rare. There was one formation that was about four inches from meeting and the guide said it would take like 1200 years for them to join. Wowzers! One of the cool parts of the tour was when the guide turned out all the lights and there was just total darkness. Amazing to think that's what it looked like when the guys who discovered it first went inside. How did they ever realize what they'd found?

After one more training session Friday at 3, I headed for the airport. Now, while I was on the cave tour, some water dripped on my head, and the tour guide said that I would have a year of good luck. Well, that's a bunch of hooey because that night my flight was delayed, my wireless card stopped working so I couldn't even surf the internet at the airport while I waited, and then when I resorted to playing solitaire, I went through like five games straight before I could finally win. I finally got home around 11:30.

Saturday I got a massage and then went to my parents' house where my brother and his family were visiting. They brought their new puppy, Bubbles. She is very cute.

It was so sad to see her limping--I guess she fell off the bed and broke her leg so she had to have a rod inserted surgically. But she hobbled along on three legs without any problems. Being a puppy, she wanted to play, and kept optimistically nosing up to my parents' three chihuahuas, but they were having nothing of it. Lots of growling and yipping, but thank goodness no fighting. Little Cassidy got stung by a bee (what is it with her always getting sick or injured when she visits grandma and grandpa?) but rebounded rather well. She is such a ham. If you say, "Say cheese" to her, she makes the most adorable face where she wrinkles her nose and opens her lips to show all her teeth like a monkey does when it smiles. It's hilarious.

Sunday morning I got up early to go back to the airport, this time for a 9:30 flight to Cleveland. Alas, Southwest does not have a direct flight from Raleigh, so I had to layover in Baltimore, which meant an even longer travel time. But I brought along DVD's since I knew my wireless wasn't working right. I watched Click, with Adam Sandler. Perfect airplane/airport movie. It was very entertaining. Loved it. By the time I got settled into my hotel, it was 4 pm. I'd found several brochures of things I wanted to do, but they were all an hour away, and because it was late in the day, and a Sunday at that, nothing would have worked out. So I looked in the Garmin to see what was nearby. The Boulevard of 500 Flags sounded intriguing, and it was only 2 miles away. Off we go. This is what I found:

Okay, how about the Fairport Lighthouse? Good photo op, plus I get to touch Lake Erie. Kewl.

The foliage in Ohio was the most colorful I've seen. Beautiful and vibrant and abundant.

Although this pic was taken in PA, and it's pretty nice too.

On the way home from the lighthouse I saw a Gabriel Brothers, which my friend Amy recommended to me if I ever came across one in my travels. I checked it out and found it was like a Ross or TJ Maxx, but with even cheaper prices. I'm talking practically thrift store prices. Shirts for $2.99, jeans for $9.99. I got a couple turtleneck sweaters and the world's softest long-sleeved shirt. For dinner I decided on Smokey Bones (a BBQ place). Good call. The take out order was filled super fast and it was super delicious. Plus, apparently there's no tax on restaurant food in Ohio. Score.

Monday morning I awoke to snow on the ground.

Crap. Oh, crappity crap crap. I've never driven in snow! Holy cow. My plan if it ever snowed here in Raleigh was to call in sick. No can do in this situation. So I got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast (kick-butt buffet at the Comfort Inn in Wickliffe, Ohio, by the way). I called my boss and said, "Tell me everything you know about driving in the snow." Pump the brakes, don't follow closely, etc. Okay. Here goes. Turned out to be fine. No big deal at all. Of course, these people actually know what they're doing, because they live where it snows a lot. I bet if it snowed here there'd be a ton of accidents. Anyway, I made it to the training, and that one went well. On the way out I looked out the window and holy snowstorm, Batman, instead of melting, there was more! It was coming down like mad and there were at least two more inches on the ground. My car was even more covered than before! It was really quite a sight.

I was giddy with excitement because I'd never really seen snow falling that much. I'd seen the results of snow falling (i.e., day trip up to Frazier Park or a weekend in Big Bear) and I even lived in New Hampshire one fall and the last two weeks I was there it was snowy. But this was different somehow, maybe because it was a surprise. It was just so pretty.

Unfortunately I didn't have time to bask in the beauty because I had to hustle to my next appointment--this was the three-district training day. I drove not more than 20 miles south and suddenly there was no snow at all. Amazing. It took quite a while for the snow on my car to melt/fly off. The two trainings south of Cleveland went pretty well. The last one took place at an absolutely gorgeous high school. The view from the picture windows in the library was spectacular. Again, most colorful foliage ever. Although I will say we're doing pretty well ourselves here in NC:

After I finished up, it was back to the airport and onto a plane to Baltimore, then finally home to Raleigh. Made it home around 10:30. Can you say "exhausted"?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

New Seven Wonders of the World

This is the kind of thing that gets me excited. We get to vote on what the New Seven Wonders of the World should be! Few people can name all Seven Wonders of the Ancient World--I know I could only name a couple, such as the Egyptian pyramids and the hanging gardens of Babylon--but now's your chance to have a say on the modern version.

Apparently a Swiss non-profit called New7Wonders is organizing the vote. They originally asked the public to nominate sites, and almost 200 were suggested. They then narrowed it down to 21. You can go here to see the whole list and vote. The top 7 will be named in July of next year. My choices are:

1. Eiffel Tower, Paris

2. Colosseum, Rome

3. Great Wall, China

4. Petra, Jordan

5. Chichen Itza, Mexico

6. Easter Island Statues, Chile

7. Kremlin, Moscow

Runner up: Taj Mahal, India

As fond as I am of the Egyptian pyramids, they made the list last time--although it could be cool to say they're the only site to make both lists. But I think Chichen Itza should be on the new list instead, in the interest of fairness, because the ancient list did not include any sites from the "new world." And while the Aztec pyramid is not as massive as the Egyptian ones, I think it's important to acknowledge that two cultures, completely unknown to one another, separated by a giant ocean, had similar manifestations of their religious beliefs.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mixed bag

Bunch of random things today.

My counter has disappeared. I spent half an hour trying to get it to reappear. The best answer I can find from the on-line "knowledge base" is that there is some other java script on the page that is basically cancelling out the counter's code. So I removed everything in the sidebar. Still no counter. It's still keeping track of my visits (I'm currently at 5134) but you can't see the number over there. Times like this I have to remember that book, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

~ ~ ~

I went with my parents to look at some of the houses in the North Carolina Parade of Homes today. We started out at the top: $989,000 in Cary. I think the cheapest one was $312,000. I think our favorite was "Rex's Request," weighing in at $414,000 and 3000 square feet.

A lot of the homes had neat ceilings:

These doors were popular:

One home featured bamboo flooring, which is my favorite, although I prefer a wider reed:

There were a lot of mud rooms and wainscoting:

And of course all the houses had immaculate, though not lush, landscaping:

I had hoped we'd make it to some of the homes in Raleigh that are actually in my price range, but since it only goes from 12-5, we didn't have time. Oh, well, it's not like I'm buying right now anyway.

~ ~ ~

It's been about three weeks or so since most of the new shows started for the fall season. I started watching many, but only a select few remain on my must-see list.

Jericho - It's still kind a creepy, but it's keeping my interest. There's the realism aspect of how do these people survive, but there's also a bit of mystery as to why one resident of the town seems to have known the bombs were coming.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - You've gotta love how running an SNL-type show gets the same gravitas as running the country got in West Wing.

Brothers and Sisters - Kind of a bizarre mix of problems, some relatively unique (war vet son who's lost his way, tension between liberal mother and conservative daughter, pension fraud at the family company, dead patriarch's decades-long affair revealed) and some tried-and-true (married couple feels strain of mother's workaholic tendencies, career woman forced to choose between dream job and potential husband). The writing and casting are excellent.

Men in Trees - Lighthearted fluff perfect for a Friday night. Anne Heche is always highly watchable and her antics up in Alaska are entertaining. Good supporting characters too. I love the young innocent couple.

The shows I started watching but have dropped:

Heroes - Did not grab me after two episodes. Kind of comic-booky which is not my thing.

Ugly Betty - Too cartoony. The performances are over the top. I like the underlying premise (unattractive girl makes good in the big city) but it is kind of annoying to watch, and ricidulously predictable. But, it's on before Grey's Anatomy so I usually catch the last 15 minutes or so.

Six Degrees - I gave this one a fair shake...three episodes...but it just wasn't intriguing enough. These characters are supposed to be linked somehow but beyond one dropping a coin and another picking it up hours later, the writers didn't give me enough to pique my interest.

As for returners from last year:

Lost - It feels like it's moving very slooooow because we've been through two weeks of the new season and we still don't have an update on what's going on in the hatch. One of the reasons Lost was so good before was because the developments happend fast and furious. I hope things pick up quickly. I have enjoyed the flashbacks, though. I also feel like every little line is like a clue for something, but not in a good way. It's like the writers know people eat this stuff up, and so they throw in random things as if they're doing you a favor by dropping a crumb, but all it does is add to the confusion. But I still maintain that it's a well-crafted show.

Grey's Anatomy - Oh my word, this is a good show. I can't believe I started out not liking it when it started a while ago. It wasn't until the Superbowl episode (with the bomb) that I fell for it. I love all the characters, and I also love reading the writers' blog on Fridays to hear what they have to say about the previous night's episode. It always adds some insight.

Desperate Housewives - I look forward to it because it's entertaining and I like the characters, but it does have me in its grip like Grey's Anatomy does.

I also watch Amazing Race 10, but wish they'd get the heck out of Asia already. Of all the continents on the planet, that's the one I'd least like to visit. I watched What About Brian last year (it was only on for like 5 episodes) and I taped the permiere last week but haven't seen it yet. I wanted to watch The Nine, but it's on against Project Runway. PR will soon be over (I'll be happy if Uli or Laura wins, and furious if Jeffrey wins) so maybe then I'll catch up with The Nine on abc.com, then start watching it. I've heard good things about it.

Dude, I watch too much TV.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Can you hear me now? Not really.

I can't decide if I'm shocked, amused, outraged, or a combination of all three. My cell phone broke today. All I was doing was closing it (rather gently, actually) and somehow the hinge just suddenly broke. (By the way, the phone is almost two years old.) It's quite a pathetic looking piece of electronics now, but it still works. A coworker told me he had the same phone and the same thing happened to him, and he was able to use it for over a month like that. I have to say, this never happened with my Motorola, which is still perfectly usable. If it didn't involve transferring all my new numbers, I'd probably switch back, but I think I'll just limp along.

Thankfully I'm up for Verizon's "new every two" program only a couple weeks from now. Of course, that's assuming I stay with Verizon. I've contemplated switching to a different provider. Although I've heard Verizon is the best overall in terms of coverage, they don't cover my apartment so well. For a while Alltel's "My Circle" promotion intrigued me (pick 10 numbers, any network, or even landlines, and get unlimited calls to them), but when I checked it out, it was a bit disappointing. "My Circle" is only available with certain plans, the cheapest of which is $20 more than I currently pay and includes 900 anytime minutes--double what I have now. If I doubled my minutes, I wouldn't need "My Circle"! I'll probably stick with Verizon, because I won't be living in this apartment forever, and it does have good coverage in the Triangle and has proven reliable throughout my travels. Crossing the country, only Oklahoma City was inhospitable to Verizon. The only thing is picking out the phone. So many to choose from! And from what I've heard, certain phones have better reception than others...so if I pick right, reception might improve in my apartment. That would be awesome! Does anyone have any opinions on Nokia vs. LG vs. Samsung vs. Motorola?

~ ~ ~

While I have you, a movie recommendation: Go rent The Lake House! It is a wonderful film.

~ ~ ~

Oh, and one more thing: if you like Parmesan cheese, try Kraft's new Grate It Fresh. It is so cool. It actually works really well, and the taste of the cheese is entirely different than the powdered stuff.

From the Vault - SE vol. 6

We entered the state exactly one year ago today. Hurrah!

October 9, 1005 - From Nashville, TN to Asheville, NC

At the information center on the border.

View from the information center.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

From the Vault - SE vol. 5

October 8, 2005 - From Oklahoma City, OK to Nashville, TN

Graceland in Memphis

The Elvis Auto Museum at Graceland

The Heartbreak Hotel

P.S. Gabrielle--thinking of you as I post these! :-)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Drama in Apex!

Hey everyone! Thanks to those of you who wrote in your concerns, either on my blog or via email. I am okay. I did evacuate Thursday night, but I'm back home now and everything seems to be fine. I guess it was a pretty big deal since we even made the national news!

I went to bed unaware of any drama, but I got a call from a friend around midnight, telling me that they were evacuating parts of Apex and to turn on the news. At first there weren't many details, but finally they posted the address of the warehouse that exploded. When I entered it on Google, I saw that it was about a mile west of my apartment! They kept showing an evacuation zone shaded red, and I was just outside the south end of it, but at the same time they said to leave if you're within a mile radius of the warehouse. And since we were dealing with a toxic gas cloud that knows no boundaries, and the possibility of shifting winds due to an approaching storm, I decided to go to my parents' house. We stayed up until about 2 am watching the news, and when I went to bed I couldn't fall asleep for a long time.

The next morning I woke up and checked the news online to see what the status was. I had several trainings scheduled at work that day, so I decided I should go in. Of course, I was going to be late, so I had to reschedule the first training, and have my coworker do the second one. And then my other two cancelled on me right before their appointments! Oh well, at least I didn't use any of my paid time off.

On the way home, my usual freeway offramp was blocked, so I tried surface streets, but that way was blocked too. I asked the officer guarding the street when it might open, and he said he didn't know. Then he asked me where I was going. I told him the name of my apartment complex and he said, "Sure, you can go there." And I was like, "How? There are cones." He said kind of sarcastically, "Do you see the spot in front of my car with no cones?" As if I was supposed to know to just drive right through his roadblock! Anyway, I said thank you and went through. When I drove into the complex, I saw tons of cars, so it wasn't like it was deserted or something.

On the way to my massage appointment this morning there were still a few streets blocked but most of them were reopened. Now we just have to worry about whether the water is contaminated from the runoff. I tell you, something's gotta give, because a) I bet no one had any idea that toxic chemicals were being housed practically in their backyards, and b) the company had been cited multiple times in March for safety violations. Gosh, it makes you wonder about all the other stuff that we go around living our lives blissfully ignorant of.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

From the Vault - SE vol. 4

Several photos today. Seems like there was more to take pictures of in Texas than in New Mexico. Or at least, I didn't post all the good Texas pictures the first time around, so there's more left to choose from now. :-) Although I must tell you that in retrospect, the panhandle of Texas was the most god-forsaken landscape that we drove through. Absolutely no desire to go back. But I hear other parts of Texas are lovely. Can't dismiss the whole state for one corner. Imagine somebody judging CA by Bakersfield. Ha!

October 5, 2005 - From Albuquerque, NM to Amarillo, TX

The Texas state flag always makes me do a double-take
because it looks so much like North Carolina's.

A precaution not required by most states.

My first introduction to authentic Southern deep-fried food:
catfish, hushpuppies,
fries, and beans. My arteries harden
just remembering it.

Entrance to the campground where we stayed that night.

The view from the window of my KOA Kabin. Nothing made me
appreciate hotels more than one night in that little shack.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

From the Vault - SE vol. 3

October 4, 2005 - From Flagstaff, AZ to Albuquerque, NM

Miles and miles

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

From the Vault - SE vol. 2

October 3, 2005 - From Laughlin, NV to Flagstaff, AZ

Wannabe Vegas

The Crown Railroad Cafe right off Route 66

Monday, October 02, 2006

From the Vault - Special Edition

One year ago yesterday, my parents and I drove away from our house in Saugus--the one I grew up in, and which they owned for 26 years. We didn't get very far that night, on account of leaving so late, but the journey had begun. A year ago today, we were in Laughlin, Nevada.

In honor of our cross-country adventure, From the Vault will feature photos taken exactly a year ago that day, and not posted in this blog before now.

October 2, 2005 - From Acton, CA to Laughlin, NV

Good Ol' Southern Pacific

Dad goes to the car at a rest stop in Barstow, CA

Mom wrangles the dogs at the Barstow rest stop

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Meet Ginny

Friday afternoon, if you had asked me while I was standing on the beach what my plans were for the weekend, I would have said, "Nothing." Who knew that I'd end up right outside of Washington, D.C. less than 24 hours later on a spur-of-the-moment trip?

My parents and I made the five-hour trek not to gaze upon the seat of our nation's government, but rather to gaze upon a 2005 Honda Accord coupe.

I'd been searching for a new car, as you may know, and after considering everything from car auctions to Honda dealerships for certified pre-owned vehicles, I ended up back at Carmax. But not the Carmax in Raleigh, because they didn't have what I wanted. They offer a transfer service, but who wants to pay $200 and wait seven days? So off we went to Sterling, VA, to pick up Ginny (so named because of her state of origin--thanks for the idea, Mom!). Ginny is dark gray, as you can see, and has 13,000 fewer miles than my previous car, is a whole year newer, has all the same options, and yet was only $500 more. What a deal!

Of course, there were some logistical details that needed to be worked out since I was buying a car outside my state of residence. But it's really not a big deal. I was not charged VA sales tax, because I will pay NC sales tax when I go to the DMV here to register the car. One Virginia feature that I only noticed after I got home: the license plate holder attached to the front bumper (VA requires two plates, like CA, whereas NC only requires one). I don't think I want to remove it, because I think it would leave holes. But that's okay. I can find something cute to put there.

It was definitely a very long day of driving, but the trip home was in my fab new car, so it's all good. Oh, and she rolled over to 20k on the way, so of course I had to snap a photo.

And I have to give an Ellen-style "HOLLA" to my parents who are so generous to drive me all the way up there on a whim to pick up a car. And I will also give credit to Carmax, who, unlike last time, got us out of there in about an hour and 15 minutes. Pretty quick, no?

P.S. Holy cow, people! It's October already. What happened to September?!