Friday, May 30, 2008

Random Thoughts

  • We've had some really gorgeous days lately in Raleigh. Comfortable temps, crystal blue skies, nice breezes, just perfect, really. But now we're getting into the upper 80's and I'm afraid this is the end of the glorious days. It will be 24/7 A/C from now until September, basically.
  • My cold is getting better. There's less sneezing and my throat doesn't hurt anymore. It's mostly just congestion at this point, so I sound much worse than I feel. I'm hoping to be completely healthy by next weekend.
  • Almost worse than my cold are these horrendous bug bites I got from going to Taylor's barbecue. I don't think they're mosquito bites, because they are particularly fierce and dark red and blotchy. They itch soooo badly, but it feels soooo good to scratch them! I took a Benadryl one night and the good news is I slept like a rock and woke up without any side affects so maybe that's my solution for the 11-hour plane ride!
  • I have two new additions in my office, Elefante and Tortuga. I love them both dearly. Both came from the flea market.

  • I've been listening to some London podcasts and learning fascinating facts. Like the first manager of the Savoy hotel in London (known, of course, as the location of Julia Roberts' Anna Scott's press conference at the end of Notting Hill) was Cesar Ritz, who then started his own hotel to rival the Savoy's luxury. And part of that luxury at the Savoy has to do with the plumbing. Apparently a bath can be filled in a matter of seconds because the pipes are so large--12 inches in diameter!
  • The NY Times' Frugal Traveler series is in Europe now. For some reason they completely bypassed London. Um, maybe it's the "frugal" part? Still, I was surprised to read that the exchange rate for the Euro is $1.68. That's nearly as bad as the pound! I hope our economy gets well soon. Otherwise the only affordable places to vacation will be in the states (which isn't terrible...Disney World is still on the top of my list) and Latin America (although I could put my Spanish to use, I'm not so keen on touring the third world, as arrogant as that sounds).
  • Work is going well of late. I've taken on the project of revamping all of our documentation, which is SO my thing. I could work in InDesign all day long and not get tired of it. I get so engrossed, and the hours just fly by. I'm finished with the Basic User Manual, and will be starting on the Advanced one today. There's so much more to do, but it all needs to be done by July for our new release (we add new features to the application twice a year).
  • I watched and loved the Grey's Anatomy season finale. If you're a fan, you must read the writers' blog, as well as listen to the writers' podcast. It adds so much to the show. You can hear how the writers come up with ideas, like to have someone encased in cement. And you hear the scoop on future episodes, too. Like they assured listeners that Derek is NOT going to get hit by a bus on the way to dump Rose. Mer and Der are actually going to be together for real.
  • The Lost season finale was also great, because so many questions were answered. But of course, many more were introduced. There's so much flashing forward and flashing back, I think when the series is over, they should have a boxed set of the shows re-edited, where everything is in order. Every script is so densely packed and full of layers, having everything laid out in front of you all put together would be very satisfying for those of us who need closure.
  • That's it for now. Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yay Yahoo!

I don't say that very often (I'm a Google gal), but I went to update my avatar, and they had the PERFECT backdrop! I also love the new "expressions" you can put on the avatar's face. I'm using "excited." Pretty funny!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Two weeks from tomorrow!

I can't believe it's so close! Two weeks from tomorrow at this exact time, I will be at LAX, waiting to board my flight to London. I do hope to blog nightly during my trip, but with internet access a big question mark, I can't promise. I will at the very least stop at an internet cafe and post something.

Here's a small peek at the extent to which I've comments on the anal retentiveness this so clearly exhibits, please. Just please keep your fingers crossed that we are blessed with beautiful weather.

Cutest child EVAH!

Chim-chim Chiree!

Flea market

Lots o' doggies at the flea market today. Not a good place to go if you want a dog, but can't have one.

(That last pup there...not exactly cute, but you have to feel sorry for the poor little guy.)

Cassidy's Third Birthday

Pardon my laziness. It's been two weeks, and I'm just now getting around to posting these pix. More at Flickr.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reading, PA

I arrived in Reading on Monday afternoon. Apparently Reading is known for two things: outlet shopping and the Pagoda. I decided to check out the Pagoda first.

Approaching it, you cross through an older part of Reading. It's different than most main streets because it's a wider boulevard, and surprisingly bustling. But you can tell it's seen better days. Then, from behind a big bank, emerges the duck out of water:

You take a windy road up the mountain, and when you come around one of the bends, you see this:

I got out and the view was surprisingly spectacular:

Some background info on why Dutch Country is home to an Asian landmark: There was a guy named William Witman who owned a quarry in Reading, and his conscious eventually got the best of him. He realized his business was ruining the mountainside, so he decided to stop the madness and build something beautiful. His inspiration: a postcard from the Philippines. The structure was completed in 1908, and Witman planned for it to be a luxury hotel. But the poor road access foiled that plan, so he sold it to a businessman, who a year later donated it to the city.

Over the years the Pagoda has served as a snack bar, an art gallery, and an office. Back in the "olden days," colored lights on each tier signaled who had won an election or a sporting event. The code was published in the local newspaper. It's open to the public, but only on weekends. I think the outside is probably the best part anyway.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New pennies in 2009!

The state quarter program will be ending, but the Mint will not let me down! They're releasing four new pennies:
Over the years, there have been many design changes for the one-cent coin. Usually, the 25-year minimum has to pass between redesigns. But, thanks to the 2009 Lincoln One-Cent Coin Redesign Program, there will be four design changes within 2009!

Abraham Lincoln's image has been on the front of the penny since 1909. That image will remain in place for all four coins in the new program. On the back, four different images will highlight four parts of Lincoln's life. These coins will be issued about 3 months apart in the order they happened.

* His birth in Kentucky (1809 to 1816)
* His youth in Indiana (1816 to 1830)
* His professional life in Illinois (1830 to 1861)
* His presidency in Washington, DC (1861 to 1865)

Besides the regular circulating version of these coins, a special version may be made for collectors. This version would contain the same metals as the original 1909 cent (95 percent copper, 5 percent tin and zinc) instead of the modern cent's normal mix (2.5 percent copper, the rest zinc).

Beginning in 2010, the design on the back of the one-cent coin is scheduled to represent the unity of the states, which Lincoln worked so hard to restore and preserve, and not to change again any time soon.
No pictures of what they'll look like yet, but this is exciting because instead of having to figure out how much change to give the cashier to ensure you get 75, 50, or 25 cents back, now you can just give them bills and there's a reason to WANT pennies! They're also releasing four new Native American-themed gold dollar coins, in addition to the current presidential gold dollar coin series. But those are nearly impossible to come by in general circulation. Pennies, though, are the exact opposite!

Update 9/24/08: Check out the new designs!!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Challenge Report Card: C-

I have done really well in terms of NOT buying anything online (except two things for work that will be reimbursed), not buying any clothes or shoes or household items, and eating mostly what I have at the house. I did go to the grocery store once and spent $40, but it was all completely justifiable. I had tons of pasta in the cupboard, but no sauce. I needed apples and milk and cheese. So if this was my only transgression, I think I'd still deserve an A.

The camera class was exception #1. No big deal. But then there was the whole Blue Planet Run weekend. The cabin was supposed to be exception #2, but on top of that I ate out twice, and that wasn't in the original plan. Or if it was, it was supposed to come out of the $40 I took out of the ATM, but that was spent at the grocery store. Okay, so if those were my only exceptions, I'd deserve a B.

But I've eaten out five times in the past two weeks. Three lunches (Qdoba! Jersey Mike's! Pei Wei!) and two dinners (Cinco de Mayo! Tonight!). So basically, I suck at not spending money when it comes to eating out. And I bought my mom flowers for Mother's Day. Shame, shame on me. C- it is.

I'm doing the evaluation today instead of on Wednesday, which is technically the last day, because Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I will be traveling for work, so my meals out will be reimbursed (yippee!).

I will say that I was successful in not charging anything on the credit card (except for work things). So that's a good thing. And it's not like I gave in every time I was tempted. People offered to pick me up lunch several times and I declined, opting instead to eat what I'd brought like a good girl. And today I could have had an iced coffee from Caribou, a delightful afternoon treat, but I passed. I heard about a fun website and wanted to throw away $10 just to see what I'd get, but I refrained. I have not purchased shampoo or mousse, even though I'm out of both--I've used things from my massive "reserves," which, although they're not my preferred products, do the job well enough.

So although I didn't pass with flying colors, I passed, and for the month of June I'm giving myself permission to "spend at will," and when I return, we'll see where I'm at. Then hopefully I'll be able to try the challenge out for a second month and do even better, and save enough money to buy a really good elliptical. The Nordic Track just ain't doin' it for me anymore.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wacky dreams

My brain has been on overdrive at night lately. I've had a bunch of bizarre dreams. Last night I dreamed I was on a tour of a parrot preserve in Korea. The birds were beautiful and I was trying to take pictures but a) we were on one of those moving sidewalks, so you couldn't stop and look, and b) I only had my small camera and the flash wasn't strong enough. The people who worked there were handing out candy at random times and the other tourists would get all excited. Afterwards I went to the cafeteria to eat and had a hot dog on a bun with a creamy orange-flavored sauce. Yikes!

The night before I dreamed about a big litter of white kittens. I wanted them so badly!

At some point, I forget which night, I dreamed was on a land line phone with a super long cord. I was able to leave the house (it wasn't my house) and walk down the street with the cord trailing behind me.

Yesterday I watched Oprah about past life regression, and how you can get hypnotized and find out who you were in a past life. I don't know if I believe in it or not, but it would be interesting to know if my dreams have anything to do with previous incarnations. They interviewed this one guy who always dreams about flying, and it turns out supposedly he was a war pilot who got shot down in a previous life.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Blue Planet Run - Mission Accomplished (sort of)

I've been meaning to post this since Sunday, but you know how it goes. The prospect of blogging everything that happened seems overwhelming, even though it was only two days! So I'll just cut to the chase: I "ran" the 5-mile course in 90 minutes exactly. That's only an 18-minute mile, which is barely walking speed. But the hills, my friend, the hills! The biggest one was right at the beginning, and it drained me. And there were like 14 more after that! We're not talking slight inclines, either. They were steep! At one point it was more like climbing than walking. You had to grab on to trees to pull yourself up one of the hills and keep from falling. I did a lot of walking, a little jogging (down the hills!), and took a couple of 30-second breaks to catch my breath. It was quite enjoyable on the flat parts. Very beautiful scenery. I was passed a few times by other participants, but otherwise I had the trail all to myself.

(one of the hills)

(lake along trail)

(starting line)

I really, really intended to do the trail twice, because I met my fundraising goal, but there was just no way. My lungs were screaming, my legs were dysfunctional, and I was wiped. Our whole team was in awe of the people who did the 24-hour relay, and especially the solo runners who ran for 24 hours straight! That is just superhuman.

There was a local Black Mountain restaurant called Green Light Cafe onsite providing food. Their spinach lasagne was delicious, and their fresh squeezed lemonade was fantastic. We were provided tickets when we checked in Friday night, so food was included in our registration price--nice!

It only rained a little bit on Saturday. Certainly not a downpour or thunderstorm. Thankfully the severe weather dissipated and was not an issue.

The cabin we stayed in was super nice. Not luxurious, but more than adequate. Hardwood floors throughout. Comfy (if small) beds. Great water pressure in the shower. The front yard was ginormous, perfect for playing frisbee.

Saturday evening we cooked out, burgers and hot dogs for all. We even made s'mores. Later we played Cranium (more fun when there's not so much arguing about rules) and then Catch Phrase (super fun!!). Sunday we went out to brunch and drove home.

Some in our group are already talking about next year...I have mixed feelings about that. I think once on that trail is probably enough for my lifetime! Now, if they decide to open the waterslide for us, maybe I'll reconsider...

Friday, May 02, 2008

By the way...

...the cabin is Exception #2 in the Challenge.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Blue Planet Run

In the last couple of days, this event has morphed from an endurance challenge to benefit those without clean water into, well, a weekend getaway that happens to involve a lot of running. Our team decided to downgrade from the 24-hour run to the 12-hour run, and to rent a cabin rather than camp in tents. Both of which show how coddled and spoiled we are. But--BUT!--at least we are doing something to improve our world, as opposed to sitting at home watching TV or something.

The forecast calls for thunderstorms on Saturday afternoon, which was the main reason we decided to go for the cabin. It's a massive, 3-level number intended for camp counselors (the run is held at Camp Rockmont, which is used for summer camps). There are many beds, and best of all, toilets and showers! And a roof! The fact that there's electricity and a kitchen are just bonuses, but very welcome bonuses nonetheless. I've been told we are "doing it Real World style," which means that whoever gets to the cabin first gets to pick their bed first. And, there will even be a confessional room, with a video camera set up so we can share our innermost thoughts. Someone's bringing their Xbox, another person's bringing the LCD projector from work, and many are bringing board games. We're really roughing it.

So Friday, we leave early from work and get to Black Mountain around 7:30. We make a mad dash for rooms, then go to dinner in town, and come home to go to bed relatively early since the run starts the next day (not till 10am though). Saturday, we run, run, run, till 10pm. It's a relay, so we take turns doing a 5-mile loop. I'm guessing the cabin will be pretty empty most of the day since we'll be out by the start/finish line (the course is a loop) where the food vendor will be (yes only one), and I guess there will be live music and maybe other stuff to keep us entertained. I believe "festival atmosphere" was the term I heard previously, however when I inquired as to how may participants there would be, they said a little over 200. So I can't imagine there will be that much going on. But it's supposed to be a nice day until the aforementioned thunderstorms roll in. I'm hoping I don't have to run in the rain. Or in the dark. I am still doing my two laps as promised, because I promised donors I would if I met my fundraising goal. I set the bar at $250, and as of today I've raised $291. That's so awesome! It's such a good cause.

Saturday night we are supposedly "partying," but I'm not much of a night owl, so we'll see how that goes. Then Sunday we come home. I must admit I'm relieved I won't have to be running at 2am, 3am, 4am...that would screw my sleep cycle up for days.

I will take lots of pictures and be sure to post some here when I get back. It should be a fun weekend!