Friday, June 30, 2006

Cats are such optimists...

...they can always find the tiniest patch of sunlight in a dark house. :)

I just took these pictures of Allegro this morning, because she looked so content in the sun. She ALWAYS finds a little patch of sunlight in the morning, and she'll follow it around the room as the sunlight moves across the floor. And then by afternoon, she's back to her usual shady place on the couch. In fact, lately, she's also been burrowing under the quilt on the futon in the extra bedroom. So I guess she just needs her dose of vitamin D every morning, followed by some serious lounging. Which, coincidentally, is exactly how Eric spends most of HIS day. Lounging around, eating Krispy Kremes... and yet he still manages to stay thin... go figure... :)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

It's a bird... it's a plane...

I just noticed that the link I posted yesterday knocked off my little “about me” sidebar. I hate when that happens. If I’d noticed it earlier, I would’ve felt compelled to change it so the sidebar remained in its place. I’d better see if I can get that to come back…

So last night I saw Superman Returns, and I just have to say – John Williams is like a movie theme music-writing genius. I mean, I seriously probably would’ve paid just to watch the opening credits. Which I thought were really well done – they had sort of a retro, return-to-the-style-of-original-Superman look to them. Accompany that with John Williams’ instantly-recognizable score, and you’re sitting there thinking, “Yeah! Superman! Superman’s gonna save the world!” And I’m not even a big Superman fan to begin with…

I was thinking about all the movies John Williams has composed for – Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, E.T., Jurassic Park… even Home Alone and Harry Potter. And there are some really talented composers out there writing for movies right now – James Horner and Hans Zimmer come to mind – but there’s something about John Williams that can’t be duplicated, it seems. He has the uncanny ability of taking a very few musical measures and fashioning them into something that can immediately spark the imagination. He’s a master of musical onomatopoeia – in other words, he can compose a score that effortlessly invokes the theme of the movie. When I hear that Superman music, it SOUNDS like a guy who’s about to go rescue someone from falling off a bridge. When I hear the music from Jurassic Park, it SOUNDS like an island full of dinosaurs. When I hear the music from Star Wars, it SOUNDS like some kind of big space battle. I’ve always been amazed by the way music can conjure up emotions and images, and John Williams seems to be very attuned to this knowledge.

Anyway… I thought the movie itself was pretty good – I liked it more than I thought I would. I think I shocked Rick when I told him I wasn’t sure I’d ever actually seen all of the original Superman movie. Sorry. I guess that should’ve been a prerequisite for seeing the new one. I know I’ve seen PART of the original – I remember the end, where there was an earthquake and Superman had to reverse the rotation of the earth to save Lois Lane (which is just stupid, really – how does reversing the rotation of the earth change the course of time?? All that would do is make everyone really dizzy. But I’m probably thinking about it too much… it’s just a movie… just a movie…). And I vaguely remember a scene at Niagara Falls – wasn’t there a kid who fell over a railing and Superman had to save him from going over the falls? Maybe that wasn’t even the first movie… maybe it was the second one… I never saw all of the second one, either. Or the third. Was there a fourth? Because that’s another one I didn’t see…

Rick was saying that he thought Superman was a little TOO super – he can pretty much do anything without getting hurt, as long as he’s nowhere near kryptonite. But I think that’s what has made Superman such an iconic figure – the fantastic idea that some nearly-indestructible being is out there, ready to rescue us from mortal peril. You don’t want your superheroes to have TOO many weaknesses. And that’s what I was thinking as I watched the movie last night – how great would it be if there actually WAS a Superman out there, ready to swoop down and prevent so many bad things from happening? Perhaps that’s why superheroes seem to stand the test of time – because for two and a half hours, you can sit in a movie theater and forget about the outside world and pretend that just because the wings of a plane fall off, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll crash. You just need Superman there to help.

And hopefully, he’d show up accompanied by snazzy theme music…

Hey, isn't that-- ? Better take a picture, just in case...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Third place isn't THAT bad...

I’m glad to hear that Eric swapped out all those “serve and protect” mottos with the “We’re Rhode Island!” motto. It’s about time Rhode Island was recognized for something other than being the smallest state in the union. Coincidentally, I ran around the city last night replacing all the Krispy Kreme “Hot Now!” signs with “We’re Donuts!” – because I don’t think the name “Krispy Kreme” accurately conveys the product of the establishment. Their donuts are neither krispy nor kremey – and don’t even get me started on the blatant misspellings…

Since there was some talk about Kinky Friedman yesterday, I thought I’d post a link to an article about him. He’s a rather unique individual, and I like his idea that “politics is the only field in which the more experience you have, the worse you get.” I just might have to vote for this guy…

So anyway… it’s been a while since I updated everyone on my fantasy baseball status. I’ve been hovering around fourth place for a while – occasionally spending some time at fifth or climbing back to third. My offense has been great, but my pitching has been having a hard time with consistency. I can’t believe I took Carpenter as my FIRST pick – my best pitchers have actually been Contreras and, more recently, Sabathia (who was on the DL for the first part of the year – but fortunately for me, he came back with a vengeance. I believe one of the guys in the league called him a “man-god” after one of his high-point games…). So I’ve been relying on Contreras and the man-god Sabathia to accrue my points. Carpenter hasn’t been horrible – he’s been averaging about 17 points a game – but he’s nowhere near as good as all those fantasy baseball magazines seemed to think he’d be.

Rick, of all people, is in first place right now. (And I don’t know why I said “of all people”… I guess because he was in LAST place for much of the first part of the season.) However, he’s also WAY over the games pitched average (he’s pitched 105 games… I’ve only pitched 78…). So at SOME point, he’s gonna run out of games to pitch, and he’ll have to rely on his subpar offense – and that is when I, no doubt, will carefully and deliberately climb back into first place. I mean, I’m just guessing, but I’m pretty sure that’s the way it’ll happen. :)

Our friend Nick wrote up a summary of the season so far – here are a couple excerpts:

Amazingly, Rick finds himself in first place at the halfway mark with the best pitching average in the league...and as we've all heard, ad nauseam to these ears, pitching wins championships. Rick is doing well with his starting pitching and his offense has picked up nicely here lately. I believe Rick is somewhat of a favorite in this thing especially if he can pull off a trade in a month or so for a stud reliever or position player. The rest of the league can't help but hope that Rick's ride is a fluke, but I think he just might be legit this year... Can he hold this up for three more months and will his lack of RP appearances catch up with him? This all remains to be seen.

Lisa is holding her own quite well this year. Sitting in the top half of the league and making a play for a possible money spot is noteworthy for a girl and all - Very nice for her rookie campaign. However, her once promising closers have blown far too many saves this year and the piling up of negative performances is causing her pitching average to atrophy to the weaker levels in the league. This must improve if she wants to blog-brag about beating the 'boys' to the money spots.

And I most certainly DO want to blog-brag about beating the boys, so I’ll have to see what I can do about that. Although I have to disagree about my closers – I really don’t think they’ve been THAT bad. In fact, there’ve been times when I felt like my closers were all that was holding up my pitching average. My PITCHING in general has been lacking, but hopefully that’ll change in the second half of the season.

So tonight, I’m going to see Superman Returns with some of these guys, and I’ll probably get to hear about how horrible my team is, or, at the very least, how horrible the Yankees are. The Yankee Haters are fervent in Texas. The Yankees could have some sort of freak, bizarre, undefeated season, and they’d STILL be the suckiest team in baseball. (Is “suckiest” a word? Faisal? You’re my made-up word go-to guy – whaddya think? :))

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Number 100!

Hey, this is my one hundredth post! Cool... Gosh, there are so many people to thank... um, I'd like to thank the academy... (wait a second, I guess I don't get a prize for this, do I? :))

Wow – after all those poems yesterday, I’m thoroughly convinced that everyone I know is crazy. But crazy in a good way. Crazy in a “make life more interesting” kind of way. I suppose I should participate in this little poetry slam we have going here, huh? Okay, here’s my contribution:

There has been much discussion of the color of flowers,
And Eric’s aversion to mayonnaise,
McConaughey sends Eric under covers to cower,
But perhaps this is just a strange phase.

In Montana, Dave says, raw chicken was eaten
Followed quickly by mayo on a bun.
Eric ate it up – was his mayo fear beaten?
Nope – which makes it so much more fun.

Evydense says he likes mayo just fine,
And eats it on two pieces of bread.
Eric cannot even read such a line,
He thinks we’re all screwed up in the head.

Eric is at home, watching Conan O’Brien
When his door erupts with a knock.
His eye is at the peephole so he can start spying –
Matthew McConaughey is picking the lock!

Eric runs to the phone to call the cops,
Then realizes he’s already there.
Matthew cannot get in – he must be stopped.
(This poem is worse than “The Wedding Planner.”)

Suddenly Eric wakes up with a start –
It was just a dream! Afternoon malaise.
But the lunch on his plate causes a skip of his heart –
A half-eaten sandwich covered in mayonnaise!

Okay… so what else can I talk about? I think the Eric/mayonnaise hatred topic has pretty much been covered. :)

Well, I spent part of the day yesterday in San Marcos, which is about halfway between Austin and San Antonio. My friend Mary lives in San Antonio, and every now and then we meet up at the outlet stores in San Marcos. Which, to be honest, is more fun when you have some money to spend. But at the moment, I think most of my money is back in a chocolate shop in San Francisco…

I’ve known Mary since seventh grade, which would make her my oldest friend. (Not “oldest” as far as age is concerned… just “oldest” as far as the length of time I’ve known her… just making sure that’s clear. :)) Seventh grade was my last year in Texas (the FIRST time I lived here) before we moved to New Jersey (and since then, I’ve moved back to Texas, back to New Jersey, and back to Texas. I need to live in a different state…). I went to Georgetown Junior High School, where every single morning we’d listen to the vice principal read announcements over the PA system. He’d always end with, “let’s all have a good day here at Georgetown Junior High Schooooooooo…” The “L” would never materialize, apparently lost somewhere behind file cabinets full of student records. But it was perfect fodder for kids to hone their vice principal impressions to perfection… schooooooooooo…

I can remember loving science, art and English in seventh grade, and hating gym and math. I was rather indifferent towards history – Texas history, to be more specific. And I’ve always wondered if Texas is the only state that requires that students take a class about its own history. Do kids in South Dakota take South Dakota history? What about Oregon? Florida? California?? The thing about Texans is that they’re extremely proud of their state – Texas pride is like this little subset of American patriotism. Sure, Texans are proud to be American, but even more than that, they’re proud to be TEXANS. Every other state is like an inferior, second-rate state. And don’t get me wrong – I do love Texas, and especially Austin – but I don’t think it’s any better than a lot of other places. It might even be (gasp!) worse than a lot of other places. But people here are definitely proud of this state. The University of Texas even has a simple little slogan – “We’re Texas” – as if that just says it all. Of course, every time I hear it, I want to say, “well DUH… of COURSE you’re Texas – who else would the University of Texas BE? Rhode Island?” (Actually, it would hilarious if the University of Texas changed their slogan to “We’re Rhode Island.” I mean, really, how funny would that be? Everyone would be so confused… :))

So here are a few Texas facts I found floating around on the internet. I probably learned a lot of this stuff back in seventh grade, but then I moved to New Jersey, where NO ONE is proud of the state, and everyone secretly wants to be a New Yorker (actually, I really like New Jersey, too…)…

--Texas is the only state to have the flags of 6 different nations fly over it. They are: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate States, and the United States.

This is where the Six Flags amusement park got its name, by the way.

-- The King Ranch in Texas is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.

Hey! There’s that Rhode Island thing again…

-- Texas is the only state to enter the United States by treaty instead of territorial annexation.

This is kind of interesting, actually, because it means that the Texas flag can fly at the same height as the U.S. flag. And along those same lines –

-- The capitol in Austin opened May 16, 1888. The dome of the building stands seven feet higher than that of the nation's Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Yeah! We’re Texas! We’re seven feet better than the rest of the country!

-- El Paso is closer to Needles, California than it is to Dallas.

Yeah, tell me about it – try driving from Austin to El Paso some day. That is one seriously mind-numbing drive…

-- Amarillo has the world's largest helium well.

Um, is this interesting? So I guess the point is that Amarillo is a great place for a birthday party?

-- More species of bats live in Texas than in any other part of the United States.

Okay, the bats are pretty cool – Austin has the largest urban bat colony in North America, under a bridge downtown. They fly out every night at dusk, forming this huge black cloud over the city, and they eat tons – literally TONS – of insects every night. Which means Austin has a lot fewer bugs than it should have…

-- Jalapeno pepper jelly originated in Lake Jackson and was first marketed in 1978.

Eewww – jalapeno pepper jelly?? I’ve never even heard of that. Jalapenos, sure – we have plenty of those around here. But why would anyone make jelly out of them? I guess it couldn’t hurt to try it on a slice of bread with a whole lot of mayonnaise… :)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hold the mayo...

I have way too many random, unconnected things wandering through my mind tonight – immigration, Eric’s hatred of mayonnaise, my fantasy baseball team, Iraq, Eric’s hatred of Matthew McConaughey, high school study hall, the upcoming opening of Superman Returns, Eric’s hatred of Jodie Foster, the process of writing, the lost blog post that Faisal has commandeered, Eric’s hatred of the movie Contact… you know, maybe I should just talk about stuff that Eric hates. :)

So last night (shortly after Sylvester Stallone’s “Daylight” had ended…), Rick informed me that the movie Contact had just started on HBO. For years now, I’ve listened to Eric’s angry lament over the two and half hours he wasted watching that movie. In fact, when it first came out, I was hearing all kinds of people say it was a great movie, so after Eric saw it, I asked him what he thought about it. And I believe his exact words were, “if I had a choice between seeing Contact again and spending a week locked in a box, I’d take the box.” (Apparently this is why magician David Blaine is always burying himself and hanging himself from bridges and living underwater – someone is trying to make him watch Contact again…)

And Eric’s hatred spans beyond the movie itself – he has developed an acute aversion to anything that Matthew McConaughey has ever done, read or said. So I think this means that since Contact, Eric has never seen another movie staring Matthew McConaughey. Even MENTIONING Matthew McConaughey grates on Eric’s nerves – you might as well present him with a big mayonnaise sandwich with a side of potato salad and coleslaw.

My own impression of the movie wasn’t quite as harsh, although I could see why it’s not among Eric’s favorites. And even more than Matthew McConaughey (who wasn’t in the movie as much as I thought he’d be, considering the profound effect he had on Eric…), it was Jodie Foster who began grating on my OWN nerves. I’m not sure I’d be willing to lock myself in a box for a week, but I probably won’t be going out of my way to see the movie again.

At least Matthew McConaughey is a University of Texas fan… :)

This is Eric in the cabin in Montana, burning a copy of People Magazine with Matthew McConaughey on the cover... seriously, Eric, maybe some anger management classes would be beneficial...

Me on the phone...

Me on the phone in the crazy alien machine from Contact that sends you to another dimension... oooooooo.... (it's late... I'm getting tired...)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Going underground...

I’m sitting here at home, bored, on a Saturday night (how sad is that? I don’t have any wild, crazy parties to attend this weekend… as opposed to all those other weekends that I DO attend wild, crazy parties…). And for some inexplicable reason, I’ve settled on watching the Sylvester Stallone movie, “Daylight.” Must be a slow TV night. If you haven’t seen it, Daylight is about an accident in the Lincoln Tunnel that causes a collapse in two different sections, trapping a ragtag group of motorists inside. (They’d HAVE to be a ragtag group, because if they were just a “regular” group of people, the movie wouldn’t be as fun.) And, of course, not only are they trapped, but the Hudson River starts pouring in, threatening to drown them all. But this movie is actually amusing me somewhat – not because of the bad acting and horrible dialogue (for some reason the entire group keeps taking turns blaming Stallone for the precarious position they’ve found themselves in – “get us out! You said you could get us out! You lied to us!” It’s as if no one else is capable of strength or forming an idea. Eh, well, it’s just an action flick…) And I’m not amused because of Stallone’s inability to form coherent, intelligible language… wait a minute – yes I am.

But the main reason I’m amused is because this movie reminds me of all the times I’ve driven through the Lincoln Tunnel with mom and dad and whoever else happened to be with us, and how we’ve all felt compelled to remind mom of how CLOSE the river is to the ceiling of the tunnel. How it’s AMAZING that the tunnel even stays together. How it’s SUCH a long drive from one end to the other, and if you’re not careful, your car might get pummeled with falling tiles. Yes, we’ve had a lot of fun preying on mom’s fears. :)

Personally, I’d love to go to England some day so I could travel through the Chunnel to France (or vice versa…). But if mom came along, she’d no doubt take a ferry across the English Channel, because there’s no way she’d ever subject herself to a 31-mile underground-underwater tunnel. Imagine how much fun we’d have talking about all the falling ceiling tiles? (Mom would NOT be amused…)

Anyway, it would seem that everyone in the movie has made it out of the tunnel (except for a few extras, of course… there are always a few expendable extras) – even the dog has managed to swim and climb to safety. (Why does it seem like every disaster movie has to include a dog? And there’s always a point in the movie where you’re made to think MAYBE the dog is about to head off to that giant fire hydrant in the sky, but of course at the last second the dog is rescued, or manages to rescue itself. Because killing off the dog would NOT sit well with test audiences…) So I’m off to find something else to watch. Perhaps something with a bit more substance. I think I’ll start with the Travel Channel. Maybe they’re showing that documentary about the construction of the Chunnel…

Friday, June 23, 2006

Want to write? Look in the pantry...

I was talking about superheroes a few weeks ago, and I was reminded this morning that I already KNOW a superhero – Clipman! Yes, Clipman – mighty superhero, defender of office justice, keeper of the file cabinets, AND he knows Word Perfect! It’s Clipman! My acquaintance with Clipman goes back to that time I spent working at Hi-Tronics, where we used Word Perfect but no one really seemed able to completely grasp its intricacies. But lo and behold – Clipman arrived one day to rescue us from our confusion. And I think he may have tidied up the filing cabinets, as well. (Actually, that might have been me…) Seriously – Clipman was hanging on my dad’s office wall for so long that the original background paper was faded and wrinkly. But it was imperative that Clipman journey from New Jersey to Texas, so my dad traced over the original wrinkly paper and gave Clipman a new sheet of paper to call his home. He is now guarding the halls of ANS, where he no doubt restocks copy machines with extra paper and fills empty staplers. Maybe he even turns on the coffeemaker in the morning. Because that’s just the kind of superhero that Clipman is…

And that’s about it for now. I’ve got nothing here… my mind is strangely devoid of interesting insight at the moment. Although I’ve always been told that if you can’t think of anything to write about, you should just start to write. It seems sort of contradictory – if you don’t know what to write about, how can you write? And yet, usually, it seems to work. Shall I try it? Okay, maybe I will. Has anyone read any Chris Van Allsburg? He’s actually a children’s author and illustrator, but a few of his books have been transformed into movies – Jumanji, The Polar Express, and that new one, Zathura (which I have to admit I’ve never read… didn’t see the movie, either). Anyway, one of his books was called “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” (I’m having a déjà vu – have I mentioned this before? Perhaps there was another day where my mind was blank and I wrote about it in a blog post…). The book is rather simple – it’s merely a collection of strange illustrations (I’d say they range from melancholy to downright scary…) along with vague captions. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the book, but the one picture I can remember was of a man holding a chair over his head, looking poised to smash a strange lump under the carpet. And I can’t remember the caption at all – but the purpose of the book seems to be to fuel imagination. The pictures and the captions aren’t supposed to make sense – they’re supposed to be a jumping-off point for a larger, more complex story.

But I suppose just about ANYTHING could be fuel for imagination. Much in the way that writing leads to more writing, I’m amazed by the progression of my thought process at times. I can look over at my pantry door, which reminds me of food, which reminds me of all the great food I ate in San Francisco, which makes me think of how nice vacations are, which makes me think of all the places I’d love to visit, which makes me think of foreign languages, which reminds me of a family I was sitting next to at a restaurant the other day who were speaking a language I didn’t understand – but I did distinctly hear the words “opposition” and “Pakistan” used several times. Which made me wonder – what sort of opposition were they talking about? Was it opposition towards Pakistan? Was it opposition IN Pakistan? Was it opposition to the seemingly never-ending construction we’ve got going on in this city, and maybe it would be better to just go hang out in Pakistan until it’s finished? I guess I’ll never know. But now, every time I look at my pantry door, I’ll be thinking about the opposition in Pakistan…

And see? That’s exactly what I’m talking about – how strange it is to go from one idea to something completely different within the span of several seconds. And how strange it is to have absolutely nothing to write about and STILL be able to fill up space in my blog…

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Working hard...

My mom sent me this great picture of dad at ANS yesterday. Apparently it was Hawaiian Shirt Day, and since I don’t think dad OWNS a Hawaiian shirt (I can’t even remember him wearing a Hawaiian shirt in Hawaii…) he borrowed one from a co-worker. This is pretty much what engineers do all day, anyway. They hang out by inflatable palm trees, drinking pina coladas, and probably laughing about how the outside world assumes they’re designing circuits or something. Ha! So very naïve is the outside world… Okay, I’m just kidding. They really do work now and then. Actually, I think the outside world probably assumes just the opposite – that engineers are a bunch of boring, nerdy people who do nothing BUT work. However, I can say from experience that engineers and their cohorts are some of the nuttiest, most imaginative people out there. I guess you’d HAVE to be pretty nutty and imaginative to think it would be a good idea to electrocute people to make them feel better. (Okay, “electrocute” is probably too strong a word. But seriously, who would’ve thought that little electronic devices would be a GOOD thing to have implanted within your body?)

I worked at my dad’s company, Hi-Tronics, for about a year after high school. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a job. It was a lot smaller then, of course – so where I worked in manufacturing, it was just me, a woman named Paulette, and a guy named Frank. Plus Bill Parr, the supervisor of our little group. (Bill Parr was just plain old “Bill,” whereas my dad was, and forever shall be, “Mr. Bill.” So any time a phone call would come in, the receptionist could announce it either for Bill or Mr. Bill… and that way, there was never any question who it was for…)

Frank was an interesting guy to work with. I wasn’t so sure about him when I first met him – he had long, scraggly hair; he always wore jeans and a flannel shirt and big clunky boots; he drove an old, beat up car; and he was one of the nicest people you could work with. Frank loved listening to classic rock – we had a radio in our work area, and it was always programmed to a station that played lots of Rush, Led Zepplin, Queen, Pink Floyd, etc. One January, a few months after I’d started working there, the FDA decided to make a surprise visit to check out how things were running at Hi-Tronics. In the morning, right before they walked through the manufacturing area, Frank went over to the radio (which was no doubt in the middle of a Rolling Stones song… or maybe “Hotel California” or something similar…) and popped in a tape. He hit “play,” and the sedate sounds of Simon and Garfunkel – “The Sound of Silence” – drifted through the speakers. I may have started laughing, I can’t remember. But I do remember that at the very least, Paulette and I must’ve been giving Frank a strange look, because he turned toward us and simply explained, “FDA music.” So we listened to Simon and Garfunkel until the FDA left…

Back then, when Hi-Tronics was small enough that everyone knew everyone else, people could get away with some strange things. I remember one time when one of the engineers received a package at work, and it turned out to be a camping tent. And instead of waiting until he got home to check it out, he set it up in the break room. So for the rest of the day, any time someone wanted so much as a glass of water, they’d have to squeeze past the tent in the break room. I imagine these days, something like that would be frowned upon in the halls of Hi-Tronics – but at the time, it was one of those quirky things that made working there so much fun.

I guess camping tents may not be allowed at ANS, either, but I’m glad to see inflatable palm trees are still an acceptable form of office-area decoration. But dad – instead of Hawaiian Shirt Day, I think you should propose “Go to Hawaii to Buy a Shirt Day,” where everyone is set loose on the island of Maui to purchase their own shirt. Now THAT would be great for office morale… :)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Another Jeter picture can't hurt...

I’ve got New York on my mind right now (I’m in a New York state of mind??) because of all the Yankee talk on the blog yesterday. Plus the fact that MSN has two NYC-related stories on its homepage this morning – one is about how New York City was named the “most polite city” in the world by Reader’s Digest. (Reader’s Digest, of course, being a serious authority on urban culture and foreign travel.) And the other is a story about Derek Jeter, which I thought was worth sharing for any baseball fans out there:

I do love Derek Jeter… and not just because I have the teensiest, tiniest crush on him. As the article clearly illustrates, Jeter is just plain fun to watch, because he has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time.

But one of my favorite New York memories has to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In fact, it was the very first time I ever had the chance to visit the city, when I was a freshman in high school. My history class, led by our intrepid teacher Mr. Saewitz, took the hour-long bus ride into the city so we could visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And the Met didn’t have an “admission price” per se – visitors were expected to give a “donation” amount of their choosing, at which point they would be presented with a colorful little button to attach to their clothing. This would demonstrate, to the various guards posted around the museum, that each visitor had paid the required “donation.” (Isn’t a “donation,” by definition, given freely, of one’s own accord??)

But since my history class was a group field trip, we weren’t required to pay the “donation,” and, therefore, were not presented with buttons. And we were told by a museum curator to stick together in a group, so those little buttons wouldn’t be needed. But I had a five-page questionnaire about art history to fill out for class, and no time to wait around for everyone in the group to finish every question. And besides, how long are a bunch of fourteen-year-olds going to stick together when they’re set loose in a giant museum?

So my friend Ali and I ended up downstairs in the basement of the Met, our questionnaires completed and wanting to visit a costume exhibit we’d seen on the map of the museum. To get there, we had to go upstairs and around to the other side. So we confidently headed for the stairwell, chatting about silly, girly, fourteen-year-old stuff, when we were suddenly stopped in our tracks by a gruff voice.

“Ver ahr your BAH-toons?”

Ali and I looked up, seeing a guard standing at the foot of the stairs. He was standing severely straight, as if his last job had been at Buckingham Palace, but his accent was perplexing. German perhaps? Ali and I looked at each other, neither one of us, I’m sure, exhibiting any sort of comprehension in our faces.

“Excuse me?” Ali ventured.

“Your BAH-toons! Ver ahr your BAH-toons!”

It finally dawned on us that the guard was inquiring about the whereabouts of our colorful little required donation buttons. After several minutes of confusing conversation, during which time Ali and I were certain we’d be trapped in the basement of the Met forever, the guard finally allowed us to pass the magical stairs to the enchanted bridge that led to the castle of the dragon kingdom. (Er, actually, he just yelled at us to stay with our group and herded us up the stairs.) We completely forgot about the costume exhibit, instead deciding to hunt down Mr. Saewitz and whine about what happened. We found him in a large hallway filled with statues –

“Mr. Saewitz! Mr. Saewitz! We got in trouble!”

Mr. Saewitz looked at us with large, round eyes, and then quickly glanced around at the heavy statues in the hallway. The look on his face suggested he thought perhaps we’d knocked one over in some sort of rowdy game of touch football.

“We don’t have our admission buttons!”

A look of obvious relief passed over Mr. Saewitz’s features, and he rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, THAT – if someone asks you again, just say, ‘oh, there’s my group!’ and run away…” You’ve gotta love a teacher who encourages you to defy authority. :)

After that, Ali and I had a great time wandering around the Met, employing the “there’s my group!” distraction maneuver several times. And when we left, we made sure to pick up a couple little green donation buttons, to remind us of the day. I still have mine, stuck to a bulletin board in the extra bedroom in my house. And every time I see it, I think of the first time I visited New York City – the first time I realized (most polite city in the world or not) that I’d love that place forever…

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

There's always next year...

I was sad to see that the Edmonton Oilers lost the Stanley Cup to the Carolina Hurricanes last night. (And if you check out the story on, you can see “Hurricanes” spelled “Hurrcianes.” The proofreader in me just can’t let that go…) I’ve never been much of a hockey fan, but I was really pulling for those guys. And I know how hard it is to watch your team lose the most important game of the year. I can still remember the last time I watched the Yankees lose a World Series, and that was a really lousy feeling.

Although to be honest, it wasn’t such a bad day overall – that was when my parents were still living in Jersey, and I flew up for a visit that week. I’d just had my wisdom teeth out a couple weeks before and still had a bruise on my left cheek (I don’t know what that has to do with anything… I’m just fascinated by the fact that removing teeth INSIDE your mouth can result in such an injury…). Faisal had just returned from a trip to Pakistan and Dubai, where he bought me a little glass replica of the Burj Al Arab hotel (which is now sitting on a table in my entryway, irresistibly compelling people to pick it up and leave their fingerprints on it… in fact, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I need some paper towels and a bottle of Windex… must polish my hotel…). And that afternoon, Eric and Faisal and Dave and I went to see “School of Rock,” and then got some dinner at Porky’s (yes, there is a restaurant called Porky’s on 206 in New Jersey… it doesn’t SOUND like the kind of place you’d want to eat, but it’s not horrible. Not exactly good, either. But not horrible.). All in all, it was a really great day. But then we went back to my parents’ house to watch the World Series, and the Yankees lost, and another baseball season came crashing to a halt. And the Yankees haven’t made it back to the World Series yet. YET.

That was 2003 – and yes, it was sad to see the Yanks lose, but not nearly as sad as it had been a couple years before that. The 2001 World Series was overshadowed by 9/11 – in fact, the sporting world pretty much came to a halt for a while, and I think there was talk of cancelling the series altogether. Fortunately, the decision was made to continue with baseball as usual. I was lucky enough to make it to a playoff game that year – between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners. I can say, without a doubt, it was the best, craziest, loudest, most energetic, totally insane game I’ve ever been to (Faisal – do you remember that?? AWESOME… :)). And because of 9/11, the World Series ended up stretching into November for the first time in history. Who can forget game 4 of that series? How, as the clock neared midnight on October 31, the Yankees managed to tie up the game. And then the clock struck midnight – baseball in November for the first time ever – and Derek Jeter hit the game-winning home run. It was seriously like some kind of weird baseball magic. And when the Yankees ended up losing that World Series, it almost didn’t make sense. So, as I often do when things don’t make sense to me, I wrote about it. And the more I wrote, the more I realized it DID make sense, in a way. Sometimes you have to search for the good in the bad, or the lesson in the loss, or the hope in the future. Sometimes you have to know what’s important and what’s not.

So here’s what I wrote after the 2001 World Series loss. Some of you may have read this before, so sorry if it looks familiar. :)

Last night, November 4, 2001, the unthinkable happened. Perhaps the planets were misaligned, or some other cosmic disturbance threw the earth’s axis slightly off kilter, or maybe someone was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, the outcome was the same.

The New York Yankees lost the World Series.

Now, I don’t know if I’d just gotten used to the Bronx Bombers pulling a win out of the most impossible situations, or if I actually bought into the whole “magic and mystique” hype or what, but my first reaction was something along the lines of “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” It couldn’t be happening. That couldn’t be a different team celebrating in front of home plate, could it? This was supposed to be the year the Yankees reached a milestone – four Series wins in a row. And more importantly, this was the year New York wanted – needed – a symbol; a giant, untarnished, mega-watt icon, capable of casting its light – even the tiniest bit – on a city thrown into crumbling darkness on September 11. So why did the Yanks let us down?

I have an answer, but let me first explain that there are two kinds of people in this world – Yankee Lovers, and Yankee Haters. Yankee Lovers tend to be loud, obnoxious, arrogant and jealous of any team that beats the Yankees. Yankee Haters, on the other hand, tend to be loud, obnoxious, arrogant and jealous of the Yankees, especially if they happen to be playing a Yankee Hater’s favorite team. This particular World Series brought both groups out in full force – the Yankee Lovers showing up for every home game, filling Yankee Stadium to the brim and working themselves into such a frenzy that the walls shook; and the Yankee Haters, scattered throughout the country, glued to their television sets in the hopes that Jeter would have a freak dugout accident involving Gatorade, a wad of bubble gum, and Paul O’Neill’s batting helmet. The Yankee Lovers waited for their prized Bombers to provide them with a small moment of joy in the midst of on-going, city-wide mourning; the Yankee Haters thought that September 11 was too traumatic and significant to be affected by something as minute as a baseball game. The Yankee Lovers searched for hope; the Yankee Haters hoped for defeat.

It began, as all World Series do, with the playoffs – the Yankees were pitted against the Oakland A’s, and cries of “Sweep! Sweep!” could be heard from the Yankee Haters. The sweep seemed almost inevitable when Oakland won the first two games in the five-game series – no team in history had ever come back to win the last three games. But the Yankees apparently thought, "why not?" and decided to change history. They won three in a row and moved on to the Seattle Mariners, who’d had an amazing, storybook year and possessed the best record in baseball. And the Yankee Haters cried, “Sweep! Sweep!” The Yanks knocked the Mariners out in five games, and apparently against all odds, they were once again on their way to the World Series to face the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The “sweep” cries were so loud by this time you’d think every Yankee Hater had a broom and dustbin in both hands. With their two star pitchers – Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling – the D-backs were obviously poised to chew up and spit out the unsuspecting Yankees, right into “Yankee Hater” emblazoned trash cans.

But the supposedly simple four-game win never materialized. Four games turned into five… five turned into six… six turned into seven; with the Yankees and Diamondbacks scratching and clawing their way through every inning.

And something amazing started to happen – in the midst of a nail-biting, suspense-filled nine days, in the middle of what was destined to be a losing series, this group of ballplayers – whose collective batting average never broke .200 – became the epitome of the word “team.” And the city of New York, so desperate for that glimmer of hope and a glimpse of light, saw their Yankees emerging as heroes. Derek Jeter’s game-winning homer; Paul O’Neill’s hat tip after his final game in Yankee Stadium; Roger Clemens’s pitching; incredible outfielding by Alfonso Soriano; an always calm, stoic and proud Joe Torre in the dugout; a base hit here, a strikeout there, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, Shane Spenser, David Justice, El Duque… Challenger the Eagle (okay, so he’s not actually part of the team, but he's pretty cool).

In the end, when game seven was over and the Diamondbacks were finished celebrating in front of home plate and the least-classy D-backs fans in Phoenix had rioted and overturned police cars, the Yankees began to look, in my eyes, like that flag the firefighters discovered in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Tattered and torn, perhaps, but still able to invoke immense pride and respect. Even the Yankee Haters are unable to dismiss the fact that this was one of the best World Series ever, and games 4 and 5 will be remembered as two of the most amazing Series games in history.

So back to the original question – why did the Yanks let us down? The simple answer is, they didn’t. They played their hearts out – for the fans, for New York, for the fallen Trade Center, for the fallen victims. By most “experts’” accounts, the New York Yankees never should have made it past the playoffs. But game by game, inning by inning, pitch by pitch, they held on. And even though they return to the city without a World Series win, perhaps we Yankee Lovers are just a little more convinced that some kind of mystique does exist in the House that Ruth Built.

And we can’t wait until the magic begins again next season.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Beware the rogue air freshener...

Eric and Kat were here over the weekend (Kat, it was great to meet you! :)) so it was fun to hang out with them. I mentioned in one of my comments below that Eric is a Chicago police officer, but I should’ve been more specific – he’s actually a DETECTIVE, and I feel like I should mention that because he worked hard to get to that point. And I should also mention that out of four thousand officers who took the detective exam, Eric scored higher than 3,983 of them. Not too shabby… :)

So, as an obviously intelligent police detective, it is Eric’s job to pay attention to details. To review the evidence and piece together the clues. To always know what’s going on and to be aware of his surroundings. To remember his keys when he leaves them in a dresser drawer. (No, wait – that last one might be wrong…)

Yes, Eric flew all the way back to Chicago yesterday while his keys rested comfortably in a drawer at my parents’ house in Austin. I’m not sure when he realized they were missing – was it while he was in-flight, somewhere over Missouri, perhaps? Or was it some time after he landed? I’m not sure if he left his car at the airport or took a cab, but if his car was in the parking garage, then it certainly dawned on him by the time he attempted to drive home. Fortunately, he had a spare key to his car – but his apartment is another story. I guess he had to ask a maintenance man to open the door for him.

But have no fear, Eric – your keys are winging their way toward you on a FedEx plane, and will absolutely, positively, be there overnight. In the meantime, however, I suppose if Eric wants to leave his apartment, he’ll either have to ask maintenance to lock up for him, or he’ll have to leave the door unlocked. Which shouldn’t be a problem, since Eric’s apartment door is guarded by a rather aggressive automatic air freshener. It’s perched atop the doorjamb, close to the ceiling, and spurts out puffs of freshener at random times, presumably so everyone who happens to be in the hallway can enjoy sweet-scented air. The strange thing is, last time I was up there for a visit, I didn’t see any more of those air fresheners around. And the door to Eric’s apartment is sort of around a corner, away from the main hallway. Even stranger is the fact that any time Eric approaches, the air freshener spits another puff of air in his direction. It’s gotten to the point that Eric is extremely suspicious and paranoid about the air freshener, and when I was visiting, every time we returned to the apartment, he would look up at it with narrowed, distrustful eyes and say, “It just did it again! Did you hear it? It did it again!” I think some day he may just pull out his gun and shoot the thing…

But wait until you get your keys, Eric – in the meantime, the crazy air freshener will scare away any would-be burglars… Not that there’s much to “burgle” in Eric’s apartment… Dibs on the futon! :)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Maybe just a FEW more random pictures...

Who feels like eating some Rice a Roni? Anyone? Maybe it's just me...

Houses on a steep hill...

Standing on the dock across from Alcatraz... it doesn't look THAT far to swim, does it?

The giant sign towering over Ghirardelli Square... we walked so many blocks to get here, we thought maybe we'd passed it by without noticing. But the sign is so huge, you really can't miss it...

One of many crazy hills we drove on in San Francisco... you can see Alcatraz Island off in the distance...

A cross-section of Golden Gate Bridge cable (with the actual bridge in the background)...

Some intricately-decorated old houses...

And one more silly reflection picture... I was having way too much fun with my camera... :)

Happy Dad's Day!

I believe Eric said he was going to create a blog before Father’s Day, so he could attempt to usurp my “favorite child” status. But apparently Eric has been too busy arresting people and interrogating criminals to spend time on the internet. So I think it’s pretty obvious who’s still the favorite…

And since Eric doesn’t have a blog to share with everyone, it’s up to me to say this – Happy Father’s Day, dad!! My dad is the coolest dad ever – I mean, I know every kid thinks their dad is the coolest dad ever, but my dad really IS the coolest dad ever. I remember when Eric and I were young, and dad and his business partner Tony were just starting out with Hi-Tronics, and we always had all kinds of crazy little electronic things around the house. The extra bedroom across the hall from my room had tables covered with random capacitors and diodes and wires, and the smell of solder would hang in the air. And I remember thinking, “wow – my dad must be really smart, because all this stuff looks CONFUSING…”

But it was amazing how my dad could take something confusing, and explain it so it made perfect sense. Like algebra, for instance. I had a horrible algebra teacher my freshman year of high school, who wouldn’t so much “teach” us algebra as she would simply show us what it looked like. She would write out long equations on the chalkboard without saying a word, and then assign us homework and rush us out the door so we could all be on our merry little way to another class. I would return home with very little understanding of what it was I was supposed to do. But in five minutes’ time, my dad could explain my homework with such clarity that I’d be sitting at the kitchen table thinking, “hey, this algebra stuff is pretty easy!” Now why couldn’t my TEACHER do that??

My dad and I are the quiet ones in the family, and I’m glad my dad is quiet, too, because it shows me that quiet people can make big impacts. My dad is one of those people who leads by example – if you pay attention to him, you’ll learn all kinds of things. He’s like a taller, less-swampy, not-green Yoda. By watching my dad, I’ve learned all kinds of stuff: Be patient. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Try NOT to let the things that really aren’t a big deal become a big deal. Be generous when you can, but try to encourage people to help themselves, as well. Stay young by walking and using the stairs and taking hikes around interesting cities. Read a lot, and always be looking for ways to expand your knowledge. If you can get by just fine without that super-expensive electronic doohickey, then it’s probably best not to buy it…

And of course, my dad taught me the most important lesson of all – coffee is your friend. There’s always room for cappuccino. So in honor of my dad, I may have to have a few extra cups today…

Eric (aka "Second Favorite") and dad...

Me and dad, happy with our cappuccino in Pisa...

Saturday, June 17, 2006

There They're Their

My cable was out for the better part of the day yesterday, so even though I started writing this, I wasn’t able to post anything to my blog. But it looks like it’s back (the cable and the electricity managed to remain functioning after the big thunderstorm we had this morning – actually, I can’t even tell if it’s morning yet. Is it really past 10:30? Looks more like 5:30… hope the sky clears up soon…)

Anyway, what I was trying to say yesterday, before I was so rudely interrupted by a delay in my cable service, is that I said something earlier to Faisal about his fiancée, and it got me thinking about how strange our language is. When it’s spelled with two e’s like that – fiancée – the word refers to an engaged woman. Whereas spelled with ONE e – fiancé – it refers to an engaged man. So while Faisal himself is a fiancé, he is NOT a fiancée. And while his fiancée is certainly a fiancée, she is not a fiancé. I think it’s all very clear and makes perfect sense. Right?

People frequently ask me how to spell certain words – I guess, because of my years of proofreading work, it’s assumed I am a decent speller. However, the truth is that I’m NOT the best spontaneous speller in the world. In fact, I was never very good at spelling bees in school – mainly because of all the pressure to spell correctly off the top of my head. You could give me a perfectly simple word like “door,” and my thoughts would fly OUT of said door and into the hallway, where they’d cower in confusion for several seconds. What I AM good at, though, is LOOKING at a word and knowing whether or not it’s spelled correctly. Which would explain the proofreading proficiency. As long as I can SEE the word, I’m usually able to know if it’s spelled the right way. At the very least, I’m able to know if I need to look it up to make sure. So if someone calls me up and asks, “how do you spell onomatopoeia?” chances are I’ll have no idea. But if I grab a piece of paper and a pen, and write it out so the word is actually in front of me, there’s a better chance I’ll know what I’m dealing with. (Of course, in the case of onomatopoeia, I’d still need to look it up…)

One word I DON’T have to look up anymore is “broccoli.” The place I used to work had a small cafeteria, and every Friday they would send the next week’s menu to my area to be proofread and printed. And every week, one of the vegetables on the menu would be broccoli. And every week – every single week – the menu would be sent to me with the word spelled “brocolli.” I would correct it – again – and send it to the printer, knowing full well that whoever was writing that menu would never notice. Sure enough, the very next week, “brocolli” would be on the menu again.

But the misspelled broccoli incidents didn’t annoy me nearly as much as dealing with people who assumed they knew more than I did. Although it was MY job to proofread everything that happened to end up on my desk, it was up to the original authors to decide if they wanted to accept my changes. I remember one particular incident where someone had used the word “affect” instead of “effect,” so I changed it. When it was sent back to the author, she called me to ask about it, sounding slightly offended that I would have the nerve to mark up her page with my red pen. And even AFTER I’d explained why “affect” was the incorrect word to use in that case, she insisted the word remain as is. So the page was printed with a mistake… but at least I could take comfort in knowing I hadn’t skipped over it.

“Affect” and “effect” can be tricky words to figure out, but at least fiancée and fiancé are pretty simple to decipher. One is male, one is female. We don’t do that very often with English words. While we do refer to people who act as "actors" and "actresses," we certainly don't have doctors and doctresses. Or teachers and teacherettes. In German, however, all nouns are divided by gender – so you wouldn’t simply be, say, a lawyer (first profession that popped into my head since I was talking about Faisal…). You’d be a male lawyer (ein Jurist) or a female lawyer (eine Juristin). I’m not just a writer, I’m eine Schriftstellerin (as opposed to ein Schriftsteller, which would be a male counterpart). I imagine a lot of languages are like that, and the “fiancée” and “fiancé” difference is the same sort of thing – adding an extra “e” differentiates between male and female. And instead of creating one, single, all-encompassing English word to use, we’ve just stuck with the original French forms.

I suppose I should ask – does anyone besides me find this interesting? Probably not. Maybe tomorrow I should start talking about chocolate again… :)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

It's what's inside that counts...

I noticed that the Edmonton Oilers have forced a game 6 in the Stanley Cup finals – so for my Canadian fellow-blogger: go Oilers! :) Something else reminded me of Canada yesterday, as I was working my way through one of my boxes of chocolates. You know how when you have a box of assorted chocolates, you can never really tell what’s what? And this particular box didn’t come with a description of any kind, so every piece I’ve eaten has been a surprise (which is kind of fun, to be honest). So yesterday I chose a random piece from the box and bit into it – the center consisted of sugary maple candy. It was chocolate-covered maple candy. A beautiful little sugar-rush square. I can’t believe there was only one, because that little square was GOOD…

The last time I can remember buying maple candy was my sophomore year of high school, when I was in my school’s touring choir and we went to Toronto for a competition. On one of our off days, we were set loose in the city (seriously, I’m having trouble remembering where the chaperones were… did we even HAVE chaperones?) and a group of us settled on shopping for souvenirs at Eaton Center. (Or is it Centre? Wait, yep – it’s Centre… had to look it up to be sure I was spelling it correctly.) Okay, a group of us settled on shopping for souvenirs at Eaton CENTRE, which is a pretty decent-sized mall. But I can only remember buying two things while I was there – one was a box of maple candy. In the box, a cluster of small, sugary maple leaves surrounded one, big, giant, sugary maple leaf. Who knew foliage could look so appetizing?

The other thing I bought was a book, and I think perhaps I bought it mainly because I really wanted to pay the “Canada” price that’s always listed on the back of a book. (You know, like, “U.S. $this price; Canada $that price.”) I mean, if you work out exchange rates and everything, it’s probably about the same price, but I had a pocketful of loonies and I wanted to use them. Loonies, of course, being the Canadian dollar coins with the loon embossed upon them. (And loons, of course, are birds. Lest anyone assume “loons” merely refers to crazy people. Although how funny would THAT be, if loonies had pictures of crazy people on them? Nah, probably too controversial… better to stick with the birds…) Personally, I love loonies. I just love the idea of having a fun nickname for my money. We don’t really have that here in the U.S. – for the most part, it seems to be simply pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars.

And does anyone think it’s unfair that Lincoln was stuck with the practically useless penny? He was this great president… Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address… and the poor guy was assassinated at some play that his wife probably forced him to go to… and what do we give him? The penny. One cent. Whereas Benjamin Franklin – a guy who wasn’t even president – gets the hundred dollar bill. Yeah, Benjamin Franklin stupidly runs outside in a lightning storm with his kite, and we give him the hundred dollar bill. Or perhaps people never realized how dumb that was until AFTER he did it? So thank you, Benjamin Franklin, for showing us how stupid it is to fly kites in thunderstorms. We shall remember you always on our hundred dollar bill. (And thank YOU, Abraham Lincoln, for freeing the slaves. Here’s a penny…) Although maybe there was a certain logic to that -- after all, most people probably have dozens, if not hundreds, of pennies floating around their homes. But hundred dollar bills? I don't even have ONE of those right now...

Um, what was I talking about before I got sidetracked? Oh yes – maple candy. Good stuff. And, I discovered yesterday, even better when it’s covered with chocolate... :)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Should I go blond?

So on MSN today, one of the headlines is about the “latest celeb hookups and breakups.” I see this kind of thing quite often on “news” websites – yesterday, CNN even joined in with some kind of story about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Something about how they left Namibia for another country or another continent or another planet… whatever. And I just can’t help but think – do we honestly CARE that much about the minutiae of celebrity lives? Do we CARE if Brajolangelitt (or whatever mashed-together monker they’re known as these days) are in Namibia or London or New York or La Paz or Dhaka or Walla Walla?? And if we DO care about that kind of stuff, what’s WRONG with us?

I actually remember glancing at a magazine in a grocery store a few years back, and one of the headlines on the cover was announcing the shocking hair-color change of a famous actress (I can’t, at the moment, remember who it was… which hopefully is a good thing…). I remember being “shocked” myself that such an inconsequential change in someone’s appearance would be worth the paper the story was printed on. Surely the magazine publisher could’ve found something more substantial to write about…

I mean, it’s not like I KNOW these people. If one of my friends or family members were to move to Africa or even drastically change their hair color, of course I’d be interested. It makes sense to be interested in your friends’ and families’ lives, because it’s a way to stay connected… and when you genuinely CARE about someone, silly things like hair color can be more meaningful and help cultivate attachments. But Angelina Jolie? Tom Cruise? Jennifer Aniston? Why would I care one way or another about what they were wearing at some random awards show, or where they ate lunch on Friday, or what they bought while they were out shopping in Beverly Hills? Is it because I need to have conversation material? Are they coming over to my house for dinner tonight? Because if that's the case, I should probably go grocery shopping...

When we were on the road last week, we heard a comedian on the XM radio comedy channel talking about how fortunate we are to live in a country where things like this actually DO make the “news.” How incredibly lucky are we to have the time to even WONDER about where Brad Pitt is this week? How lucky am I to live in a country where I can actually be upset when the Yankees don’t win a World Series, because, for a fleeting moment, it’s actually an “important” thing? Too many people in the world don’t have those kinds of privileges, and I’m probably not always thankful enough that I DO.

And then again, when we ARE faced with problems and challenges and crises (as everyone, at some point, is) maybe these silly little celebrity blurbs are simply a way to empty our minds momentarily. Which I suppose could be useful, when you think about it.

Or should I say when you DON’T think about it?

Monday, June 12, 2006

How to lose weight on a cruise...

So now that I’m home, I’m faced with a question – what do I write about now? Should I talk about all the laundry I did today, which is always my favorite part of returning from vacation? (That was sarcasm, in case it didn’t translate…) Should I talk about the cool shirt I bought in Las Vegas? (It’s from the clothing line of Sean Puffy P Diddy Supercalifragilistic Combs – I didn’t even know he HAD a clothing line. Fortunately it was on sale, because apparently Mr. Diddy laces his clothing with solid gold threads. The “retail” price was more than I’d ever be willing to spend for a single shirt…) Or should I talk about how I finally got back on my treadmill today and walked a couple miles? (I always miss my workouts when I’m on vacation…) I’ve already talked about toes, so really, what else is there to talk about?

Actually, I really DID miss working out when I was gone. It’s funny, because I always have such good intentions when I go on vacation. I always PLAN to find the time and energy to work out, going so far as to make sure my sneakers and shorts and old t-shirts are packed, so I can throw them on and find a gym at a moment’s notice. The problem is, once I’m finally at my destination and reveling in all of the fun things a vacation affords, exercise suddenly takes a back seat. It becomes this sort of faraway, fuzzy thought that only surfaces after overindulgence, when I swear I can feel the pounds accumulating. And then, because I’m so sleepy from all that food, I drift off into another night of slumber, awakening to a rumbling stomach (how is it possible to be so HUNGRY after eating so much the night before??) and a mind completely focused on vacationing and NOT on treadmills.

What’s really strange is that I’ve found cruises seem to offer the most chances for exercise of any sort of vacation. Before I ever went on a cruise, I heard so many stories from people who said they gained ten pounds in one week on a cruise ship. And the first time I was on one, I realized that might actually be possible – there’s an awful lot of food on a cruise ship. Everything from 24-hour room service to midnight buffets. You can walk onto any deck anywhere and find something to eat or drink. I can’t remember if I gained any weight on that first cruise, but I soon figured something out. If you make a little bit of an effort, you can actually LOSE weight on a cruise ship…

I’ve come home from at least three cruises lighter than when I left. There are a couple secrets (or maybe it’s just common sense) to ensure this happens. First, while cruise ships are large by “ship” standards, they’re still compact as far as a “community” goes. Everything is either up a few flights of stairs or down a few flights. So after that first cruise, I stopped taking the elevators everywhere. I always take the stairs, which at times can be eight or nine flights at a time. Spend an entire day on a ship NOT using the elevator, and I guarantee you’ll get a bit of a workout. Second, I like to get out at ports of call and walk around. Next time I go on a cruise, I’m making sure to take my pedometer to see how far I walk. (Because sometimes it seems like it’s awfully far…) And third, of course, I TRY to only eat when I get hungry. I usually fail miserably in my attempts, but I make it up with yet another hike up the stairs…

And surprisingly, all that stair-climbing, and all the exploration of foreign cities, and all those failed attempts to eat only breakfast, lunch, and dinner result in returning home with looser-fitting clothing and a lower number on the scale. I never would’ve thought it was possible, after hearing all those, “I gained so much weight on that cruise!” stories.

Of course, on the vacation I just returned from, I rarely used stairs, and I was sitting in a car much of the time. So I definitely have to say – I really WAS happy to return to my workouts today. And I still have all that chocolate to deal with…

Back home...

Here's a few pictures of the view outside our hotel room in San Francisco. It's strange… I thought when I got home I might find myself stuck on Pacific time, having spent most of the week there. But no – I actually seem to be more on Eastern time right now. Probably because of the long drive home. We got up at 7:30 this morning, after a rather poor night’s sleep. Remember the nerve-grating refrigerator in the Las Vegas hotel? Well, this time it was an air conditioning unit – every time the fan went off, a loud thumping noise would emanate from the metal vent. It was something I didn’t notice until I was trying to fall asleep, and I didn’t figure it was worth complaining about for a one-day stay. Plus it was close to midnight and I was tired. But this meant that every time I was close to falling asleep, I would subconsciously alert myself to the possibility of the air conditioner waking me up. Which would, of course, wake me up. And then the air conditioner WOULD make a noise, and my subconscious self would say, “see, I TOLD you it was gonna do that…”

But the good thing is, since I didn’t sleep much, I spent most of the night thinking about my chocolate in the fridge and had no problem remembering to take it with me when I left. And I’m sure everyone will be happy to know it survived the trip just fine. I’ve already eaten a couple pieces – for testing purposes only. I had to be sure the molecular structure of the cocoa had not been broken down by its strenuous journey across the country. It was practically a scientific experiment. (I’m not sure what my excuse will be when half of it is gone tomorrow morning… that’s a joke… I’m not going to eat half the chocolate in a day. Really. I won’t.)

The drive today actually wasn’t as long as we were afraid it would be. The navigation system in the car was giving an estimate of 13 hours, but as we traveled along, it kept shaving more minutes off the estimate. It ended up being a ten-hour drive – that included a couple Starbucks stops and gas-station fill-ups. At one point we stopped at a station out in the middle of nowhere in West Texas – and when you get a chance to use a bathroom out in West Texas, you kind of have to take it. Problem was, the stupid middle-of-nowhere bathroom didn’t have a lock. I just couldn’t bring myself to use it. I mean, maybe out there in the black hole of civilization people don’t care if they’re interrupted in the bathroom. But I do. I really, really do. I suppose I could’ve taken my chances and assumed that the nearly-deserted gas station would STAY deserted, but instead, I took my chances and waited for the next town… (thank goodness it wasn’t too far…)

Anyway, I think now, since I’m getting tired, it’s time I went to sleep in my own bed. It’ll be good to know that my air conditioner won’t be making any weird noises tonight. And even if my refrigerator DOES, I can be secure in the knowledge that it’s all the way out in the kitchen, and I won’t hear it… peace and quiet…

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Almost home...

I’m back in Albuquerque, feeling a little sad because my trip is winding to a close. Tomorrow we make the final leg of the journey back to Austin – which will probably end up being WAY too much driving for one day, but at least I’ll get to sleep in my own bed tomorrow night.

And I have some nice souvenirs – my favorite of which is all the chocolate I bought in San Francisco. I finally found the “must-visit” chocolate shop in San Francisco, a place called Joseph Schmidt Confections. They’re native to San Francisco, and they only have two shops – one in San Francisco, and one in San Jose (which apparently we passed right by when we went to the Winchester House…). But after I stocked up on various boxes of chocolate, I realized I’d have to be careful with it – after all, we just spent two days in Las Vegas, where the thermometer was hovering around 105. Definitely can’t keep chocolate in the oven-like confines of a sun-soaked car. So I stored it in the air-conditioned hotel room, and last night I stuffed it into the repaired-and-no-longer-making-horrible-noises mini-fridge. So even after we’d crossed the Arizona border, my chocolate was still chilling out in the back seat.

And I did the same thing tonight – I brought the chocolate into the hotel room and placed it in the (quiet) mini-fridge, so hopefully it will remain in a solidified form even as we travel in the car. I have a worry, though – I’m afraid when I pack up to leave the hotel room tomorrow morning, I’ll completely forget the fact that I’ve stored my precious cargo in the mini-fridge. Right now, it’s kind of an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of thing – I can’t see the chocolate… all I can see is the black, opaque door that covers it. So when I glance around the room tomorrow morning to make sure I have everything, will I remember to open the fridge? I guess that’s why I’m writing about it – writing always seems to help me remember things… Don’t forget the chocolate… don’t forget the chocolate…

So tomorrow I’ll be home, and back to my usual random-and-sometimes-nonsensical blogs. I’ve had a lot of fun updating this every night – it’s been kind of cool to share my whole vacation with everyone. And thanks to everyone for all the comments – you guys make me feel like I’m actually an interesting person sometimes. :)

More random pictures!

A view of the highway heading towards Las Vegas

I saw this road sign on the way out to San Francisco, and tried to take a picture of it, but it came out blurry. So on the way back, when I saw it again, I was determined to get a picture. I had my camera ready in plenty of time, snapped the picture -- and it was blurry AGAIN. I was so upset about it that we pulled over to the side of the road so Rick could get a picture of the sign BEHIND us while we were standing still. Finally. At last I have a picture of the Zzyzx Road sign. Obviously a road named by aliens, as "zzyzx" does not appear to be a derivative of any sort of earthly language. It was SO worth the trouble to get this picture...

Guy on the Strip in a crazy card suit...

There's a lion habitat in the middle of the casino at the MGM Grand -- I guess these are the lions they use in some of the shows. The trainers were in there with them, scratching them behind the ears and throwing big beach balls around for them to play with. (My own little CAT won't let me scratch her behind the ears for very long without attacking me... I can't believe none of those trainers have been eaten yet...)

The New York, New York hotel...

The vertigo-inducing view off the balcony of our room. You can see how new this hotel is -- the identical hotel next door is still under construction.

I realized after I got ready for dinner that the mirrored windows on the balcony were better than the mirrors in the bathroom... I had to come outside to see what I REALLY looked like...

My camera (and me...) on the mirrored balcony...

Friday, June 09, 2006

Got any Raid?

I suppose everyone has been wondering why it’s taken me so long to update the blog today. (Has everyone been wondering? Or did no one notice? Maybe no one noticed…) I’ll explain all that in a second… Right now I’m on the 32nd floor of a brand new hotel in Las Vegas. And I mean BRAND new. It’s only been open a couple weeks. It’s so new that I’m not sure anyone has ever occupied this room. The towels still have little pilly lint balls on them because they haven’t been washed much. And there are advantages and disadvantages to staying in a hotel this new. Some of the pros: the bathroom is so clean that I’m not even thinking twice about walking barefoot through it. Usually when I get to a hotel, I immediately toss a few towels on the bathroom floor so my feet don’t touch any part of it. (I mean, do they ever really CLEAN the bathroom floor in a hotel room?) Another pro: the TV is a really cool flat-screen plasma thingy – the kind of TV that wouldn’t have even been available back when they built half the hotels in this city. And there’s a little bitty one in the bathroom, too. Which is cool, because when I’m walking barefoot across the squeaky clean tiles, I like to be entertained. Another thing I like is the décor – very modern and up-to-date. As I look out at some of the other hotels I can see from my balcony – Treasure Island, Aladdin, New York, New York – I imagine (although I don’t know for sure…) that the rooms in some of those places are a little more on the kitschy side.

Now for the cons: When a hotel is this new, there are bound to be bugs to work out. And we seem to have arrived in the middle of a very buggy time for this hotel. Some of the bugs have been pretty minor – it took at least a half-hour for our luggage to make its way up to our room when we checked in (although the porter was a Yankee fan from Brooklyn, so that had to be forgiven…), we didn’t have a room-service menu or amenity book in the room when we arrived, and a few of the TV channels don’t work. But a couple things have been a little more annoying – we had no internet access until about four o’clock today (even though we’re paying a “resort fee” that’s supposed to include high-speed internet), and, perhaps the most annoying thing of all – the little mini fridge in the room was making a horrible, intermittent noise all night. It sounded like a metal fan banging against another metal fan, and it woke us up a couple times in the middle of the night. So after several phone calls to the front desk and to maintenance, we finally seem to be online. AND (thank goodness) the horrible refrigerator noise has been squelched.

So this is the first chance I’ve gotten to update anything on the blog. The hotel we’re in is actually one of the quieter hotels around here – no casino in the lobby or anything like that. However, it’s directly across from the MGM Grand, and attached by a walkway, so we were able to just walk over there last night and check out the craziness of a crowded Vegas hangout. We ate dinner at the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill (VERY good), which is pretty much right in the middle of the MGM Grand casino. And today we walked around a little bit, and visited a few of the other hotels. They’re all set up in a similar way – shops, restaurants, and a big casino, laid out in a way that makes you think perhaps you’ve entered some kind of adult-oriented theme park. I have to say that after the small taste of the city I’ve had, Las Vegas may not necessarily be my kind of “thing.” It’s very noisy, very crowded, and very hot. It’s kind of like visiting a giant mall on Christmas Eve, with an added bonus of desert sand blown in your eyes when you’re walking down the street. And the whole thing is extremely manufactured – it really IS sort of like a weird kind of Disneyland for grown-ups. I’m not saying I wouldn’t come back, but I’d definitely try to come during the off-season (if Las Vegas HAS an off-season…) as the throngs of people have been a little disconcerting for me at times. (It’s like a Shy Person Nightmare…)

Rick knows several guys from work who claim that Las Vegas is their “favorite place in the world.” And all I can think, after visiting, is that these guys must have a very limited view of the world. I mean, it's certainly not the WORST place in the world -- but the best? Those guys must've never been to Maui…

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What have I learned?

We finally made our way to the quintessential San Francisco landmark today – the Golden Gate Bridge. Tomorrow we pack up and leave this city, and head toward Las Vegas. I have to say I’m a bit sad to be leaving – San Francisco is a very interesting place, and I’m sure we missed all kinds of cool things we could’ve seen and visited. But that, of course, just means I’ll have to come back some day. (Provided California hasn’t fallen into the ocean before I have a chance to return…)

A few things I’ve learned about the city of San Francisco that I didn’t know before: First, it’s crazy to navigate. The streets downtown aren’t so much laid out as THROWN out in a haphazard fashion. It’s like some civil engineer was playing with pick-up sticks and liked the way they looked all tangled and crisscrossed on the floor. The fact that we were always able to find our way back to our hotel was a testament to the usefulness of an auto navigation system. Without the nav system, I’m pretty sure we’d still be wandering around strange side streets or going in circles or traveling the wrong way on one-way avenues. Maybe running over cyclists or taking up space in bus lanes. And we’d definitely be making all the locals really, really mad…

Second, San Francisco has GOT to have the most Starbucks per capita of just about any city anywhere. We took a walk today around the neighborhood – just walked a few blocks away from the hotel, then circled around and came back the other side of the block. It probably took about a half hour. And in that half hour, I counted six Starbucks. SIX – that means that every five minutes, you could walk into a brand new Starbucks and order another cup of coffee. If it’s like that throughout the entire city, you could be wired all day, constantly, and never worry about accidentally nodding off. I haven’t been to Seattle since I was a kid, but I imagine if any city might come close to that kind of Starbucks saturation, it would have to be Seattle…

Third – and this really surprises me – San Francisco does not seem to be a late night kind of town. Sure, they have a Starbucks on every corner, but if you want your coffee, you’d better get there before six o’clock, because everything shuts down. This was a realization we made the first night we were here and decided to visit the shopping center next door. There’s a four-block mall adjacent to the hotel, and I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately, just about every store was closed already. It was only seven o’clock, but things seem to start shutting down around early evening. I’m sure there must be some kind of crazy part of town that stays open all night, but it’s obviously not around here…

But I definitely hope to come back some day. And now that I know I can easily find coffee every five minutes (or maybe every thirty seconds if I drive…) I won’t give a second thought to making the journey. :)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Worth the walk...

We spent the day at Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the really touristy parts of San Francisco. There’s an aquarium at Pier 39, so we started off there. It’s a small aquarium, but they had a couple big tanks with see-through tunnels underneath that were really interesting. (On a side note – the funniest thing happened when we were walking toward the aquarium entrance. The entrance is on the second floor, so you have to walk up a flight of stairs or take an escalator to get there. As we were walking toward the stairs, a family of about six people stepped onto the escalator. They’d only been there for about two seconds when the escalator suddenly stopped for some reason. Now, I don’t know about most people, but if I was on an escalator that stopped suddenly, I think my first instinct would be to simply climb the stairs. After all, I’ve been climbing stairs for most of my life, and if I had to climb one extra flight, I don’t think it would ruin my day. However, when the escalator at the aquarium came to a halt, the family on the steps looked truly stumped. They stood there, unmoving, shooting questioning glances at one another and talking in confused voices. It was as if they honestly couldn’t figure out what to do now that their motorized transportation to the second floor had been cut off. They were still standing at the bottom of the escalator when Rick and I reached the top of the staircase. Maybe they’re still there… maybe they never figured out a solution to their dilemma… I hope someone eventually explained to them that it’s okay to MOVE on an escalator if need be…)

After the aquarium, we wandered around some of the shops at Fisherman’s Wharf, and ended up at the end of the pier where a whole group of sea lions was hanging out on floating docks. Apparently these things started showing up shortly after the 1989 earthquake, and more and more have been taking up residence in the bay ever since. According the info posted on the pier, during the summer there are up to 600 sea lions in that area. They make a lot of noise and they smell pretty funky, but it was cool to see them all lying around like that. They were like giant, lazy sultans, waiting for servants to peel grapes for them…

And while all of that was fun, as soon as we had taken pictures of the sea lions we walked back toward the main road. I had a mission to complete, and I forged ahead through the throngs of tourists to search for my target. Up several blocks, a block to the left, past the ticket counter for the trolley cars, another block or two, and finally – at last – I saw it. Like a warm beacon of light at the end of a dark journey, it welcomed me from atop a hilly slope – the original Ghirardelli chocolate store and soda fountain. After walking eight or nine blocks from the pier, we had to climb several flights of stairs to get to the actual chocolate store (too bad there were no escalators…), so by the time we got there, I felt more than entitled to one of their “world famous” hot fudge sundaes. And yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I pretty much ate the entire thing myself. (Okay, I’m a little ashamed…)

But we had to walk back down all the stairs and back the eight or nine blocks to the parking garage, so really, it’s like I barely ate anything. (Right? Sure.) On the way back to the hotel, we took a detour and found Lombard Street – the really twisty crooked street you see in all those shows about San Francisco. That was an interesting adventure, actually, as Lombard Street is in an amazingly steep, hilly part of the city. Some of the roads were so steep that you couldn’t SEE them over the front of the car when you turned onto them. It was like driving on a roller coaster. A little bit scary if you don’t know where you’re going.

Maybe they could create some sort of escalators for cars to transport them up and down those sharp hills. You’d just have to hope they never ground to a halt…

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Crazy lady part 2...

Some pictures from the Winchester House:

Flowers in the garden

A view of some of the confusing layout from a balcony in another part of the house

The rather creepy-looking grand ballroom -- what's really strange is that Mrs. Winchester was practically a hermit. She rarely had visitors, and besides her servants and the workers building the house, the only other person who spent any significant time with her was her niece (who, of course, had her own bizarre wing of the house...). So what would they need a grand ballroom for??

Stairs that lead to nowhere. Anybody believe in ghosts? You always hear on those ghost hunter shows that spirts show up as "orbs" in photographs. Check out all the orbs! Spirits all over the place! Or maybe it was just dusty on that staircase... but that sounds so much less spooky...

The tour guide kept saying that Mrs. Winchester was really ahead of her time -- she came up with innovative ways to heat the giant house, and ways to conserve water, and apparently, ways to keep sneaky burglers at bay... (this was probably funnier if you were on the tour -- I saw the ADT sticker just a few seconds after hearing "Mrs. Winchester was so ahead of her time..." It struck me as funny... but sometimes I'm rather easy to amuse...)