Saturday, December 24, 2011

My college major, for better or for worse

If you returned (or went, if you've never been) to college to study anything you want, what would you major in, and why? (This is another Reverb Broads entry.)

I often lament that I didn't go to college for something "practical." I jokingly blame my parents for not making me study something more practical, although of course, unlike the people whose parents really did do that, I'm quite glad that mine let me choose my own destiny.

I remember visiting both the career counselor at school as well as a private one my parents hired, so surely one of them touted the merits of studying something "practical." I keep putting that word in parentheses because in essence an English degree IS practical. How lucky I am to have the benefit of going through life seeing grammatical and spelling errors everywhere I look! And think of all the books I had the benefit of reading in a classroom that other people had to muddle through on their own. I didn't have to take any complicated math classes. So what if I have no idea what a quadratic equation is. Would that really help me in my life today?

In the event that someone had sat me down and said, "look, here, missy: You are welcome to major in English (with a side of French) if you choose. But do keep in mind that your major will shape where you wind up after college," I'm not sure I would have reacted favorably. I probably would have been even MORE likely to study English and French.

And, frankly, it's pretty neat that I got to get a bachelor's degree in reading, writing, and talking about what I read. It almost seems too good to be true, at least for someone who enjoys those things (which I do). And, since I did an interdepartmental major of French and English, I was able to spend my junior year in Montpellier, France, which was one of the most amazing years of my life. So there you have it. I would not change anything about my major. I'm glad we cleared that up!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I have used this photo on many websites as my avatar. I feel as if I should retire it since it is 10 or 11 years old at this point. But I just love the way I look in it. My face is thinner. My eyes are just the right amount of squinty. My hair is curling in just the right way. My hair is also the perfect length on me. My cheeks are a little rosy as they tend to be, but not full on red as they get sometimes.

I don't remember the exact occasion, but I do recall that I was out with some people who I have lost touch with who used to be my very best friends. We had a huge falling out that left a sour taste in my mouth for many years. But frankly, at the time, they were a bright spot in my life and we had tons of fun together. I was single and this group of friends (usually the 4 of us) would go out a lot and stay out too late and we were so incredibly silly together. It's hard to even explain it because I could tell you that we had all these hilarious inside jokes and you'd say, sure, all groups of friends have those. I'd tell you that we would create all these crazy characters and you'd just look at me weird and I'd say "never mind" because I could not explain it. And I don't even remember exactly. I just remember the feeling. It was fun. It was so fun. And this picture exemplifies that. The irony is that my friendship with them ended in a firey furnace, but I guess it had to burn out somehow.

(This is a Reverb post. Topic: Self-Portrait: Post a picture of you that you like, write about yourself, post a video - what do you want your self-portrait to say about you?)

Mumsy and me

How am I like my mom?

My mom and I look so much alike that if you were to meet a group of 72-year-old women you could easily identify which one spawned me. According to a coworker who met her last week, she even makes the same spastic gestures that I do and will launch into an amusing story without prompt. I'm not sure my mom would appreciate that comparison but I don't think he's wrong either.

Virginia Beach
I was recently working on a list of the ways in which she and I differ because when asked that question I couldn't think of anything. Of course we are different in many ways but I don't tend to concentrate on them. I have always considered myself just like her, for better or for worse. We are both sensitive, sometimes to a fault. But we are also attuned to the feelings of others because of this.

At first we both seem to be rather buttoned up and prim. Because the reality is not apparent at first blush, when people discover that we have a silly side they are often quite surprised.

We both love Prosecco, Bloody Marys and margaritas made from scratch. We love to travel with our husbands but we are also perfectly happy to spend time alone when they are away without us. We each have the tendency to stay up late after everyone else has gone to bed. In fact, she's probably also up right now. But we should both be getting to bed if that is the case!

Anyway, I could not locate a photo of us together as adults. Here are a bunch more of her.

(This is a Reverb post. Topic: How am I like my mom)  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Three things I'm good at

At first I whined about this Reverb prompt because I am uncomfortable with talking myself up. That's unfortunate because sometimes it really is necessary, like in mid-year reviews. But I managed to come up with these three.

1. I'm a great traveler. I can pack just the right amount of clothes, mixing and matching top layers and rarely taking more than two pairs of shoes. I keep a list of essentials to check off when packing. I have all sorts of tricks such as putting my purse inside my backpack when boarding the plane so that it looks like I only have two carry-ons (backpack and rolling bag). I take a water bottle and I have a perfect one now with a Brita-like filter built in. I also am not beaten easily by jet lag. If flying to Europe, I try to take an overnight flight and sleep if I can on the plane. The first day sucks but if I make it to 8pm I'm golden for the rest of the trip. I remain calm when flights are delayed or the customs line is long. There is nothing I can do about those things, so why get my panties into a bunch over it? I learned a lot of my travel tricks from my dad, who was a pilot for TWA.

2. I am good at making people feel welcome. This is not the same thing as being good at small talk, although I'm passable at that when needed. I look at talking to people I barely or don't know as an opportunity to learn some interesting stories so I ask questions to get them started talking. It almost always works out. They feel welcome and I don't have to do as much of the talking. On rare occasions I will encounter someone who is also a question-asker and then the two of us will have a bit of a power struggle because of course you can't be rude and not answer questions politely asked of you. And you can't turn every question into a reverse question.

Great. Now you know all my secret tricks! (I will admit here that I have not always been good at this business of making conversation, but I have gotten much better at it in recent years and still could be much better but I do consider myself fairly proficient at it. I have improved my skills in this area by listening to some very good advice on the matter by my dad and my friend Catie, who coincidentally, is responsible for today's prompt.)

3. I am a good listener. This goes along with point number 2. You can't ask people probing questions if you aren't going to listen to the answers. And since I'm interested in the answers, it's not hard. Sometimes when having a conversation I am concentrating so much on what the other person is saying that I forget to have a follow-up comment after they stop speaking.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I will never

See, I have this silly habit of declaring I won't do something and then I eventually do it. My friends just roll their eyes now when I say there is no way in hell I'll do something. This mainly applies to fashion.

Some things I said I'd never ever wear include: knee-high boots, capris, 3/4 length sleeves, leggings, jeggings (except I refuse to call them jeggings and I swear they are just really tight pants, mostly because the word jeggings is completely inane). I also said I'd never read the Harry Potter books or get a Mac.

So, I'm a little hesitant to say there are things I'd never do because saying I won't do something seems to a signal that I will be doing it within a couple years at the most. (It goes without saying that this list will not include things like murder.)

1. I will never get a tattoo. I'm of the camp that I could never pick one and feel confident that I'll like it for the rest of my life. I'm very interested in seeing what others choose for theirs, though. I maybe read too much into them and assume the tattoos are a little window into what makes a person tick.

2. I will never play the lottery. This doesn't really require an explanation, does it?

3. I will never go scuba diving. I am not a big fan of swimming in the first place. I mean, it's fine, I just don't adore it or crave it. I mainly get in the water because I'm hot. I don't really like putting my head under water and I don't feel completely comfortable being in the ocean, especially when it's murky.

4. I will never start drinking coffee again. I stopped drinking it when I was 23, switched to tea, and have never looked back. I like the flavor but not how it makes my tummy feel.

5. I will never have a job that requires doing a lot with numbers. I'm so terrible at math that it would be a truly horrible idea to even apply for such a job.

6. I will never be a fan of winter. There is nothing good about winter. I don't like winter sports, being cold all the time, having to wear closed-toe shoes, darkness descending practically right after lunch. Jeff will defend winter by saying that Christmas is in the wintertime, and that is certainly true, but what is also true is that no matter where you live, Christmas is still on December 25. Although I would have a hard time adjusting to living anywhere besides NYC, or at least the northeast, I would really, really like to live somewhere that is warm all year round. Or at least a place where it rarely drops below 60 degrees. There are some great cities on the west coast where it doesn't get that cold, but the other thing is that like I said, I feel tied to the east coast and also I love the sun. I'm no sun worshiper, mind you. I just love it when it's sunny and warm.

7. I will never wear running shoes for anything besides exercise. (I admit that I had to wear them recently for a whole day that included a hike/walk in the woods and I felt weird about it the whole time. I should have just sucked it up and worn my hiking boots, even though they would have been annoying to wear on a 2-hour bus ride before and after this hike/walk.)

8. I will never say never on this one, but I really can't imagine myself living anywhere besides a large-ish, walkable city.

9. I will never willingly become a vegetarian. Sorry, delicious animals.

10. I will never wear leggings as pants. No really. I'm serious about this. And yes, I'm totally judging others who do this.

I don't have any food items on my list because I'm open to trying any food item once. Maybe this comes from my childhood when my parents forced me to try at least a bite of everything I was served at mealtime. If it was something I wasn't wild about but had eaten before, I had to eat three bites. I don't think that ever caused me to admit that I had begun liking something nasty (like sweet potatoes), but it did make me realize that periodically a person should taste again something you don't believe you like. The first time this happened to me, I was 20 years old and I found out that cherries are an absolutely amazing fruit and I had spent my entire life up until that point believing that I hated them, probably because I had only ever tried those nasty pickled ones. I am now in the process of learning which mushrooms I actually like. I always thought I hated them, but now I'm learning that some of them are quite delicious.

(This is a Reverb post. Topic: 10 things you'll never do) 

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Terrible Twenties

Coming up on ten years ago marks the end of the decade I call my Terrible Twenties. I was a brat. The only person who mattered was me. Whatever was fun was what was most important.

My Terrible Twenties began in my late teens and ended on tax day, 2002, five months after I had met Jeff.

When thinking about my former self I really do see her as another person. When I made the decision to not be a brat anymore it was a finality. I never went back on my decision to snap out of my bratty phase. You'd think that it would have been easy to slip right back in but it was actually really easy to leave it all behind.

I have wondered if I could have lived my Terrible Twenties differently and if I had if I would be a different person now. I don't think that I would have stayed in and read more instead of going out if someone had told me that going out almost every night of the week until the wee hours wasn't worth it. At the time it was incredibly important to me. Looking back it seems SO obvious that it wasn't worth it, but younger me would never have bought that truth. And anyway, I think those years did help shape the current me.

Reflecting on those years in my early 20s leads me to wonder if any authority figure could have talked me out of being such a brat. I wish I could say it would have been possible but I'm not sure about that. I dare say that by the time I left for college it was already set in stone that it would take many years for me to learn to appreciate the freedom of being an adult. If I were a parent would I be able to steer my kid away from the Terrible Twenties? I don't know. But I resolve to try.

(This entry was loosely based on a prompt by the Reverb Broads group. The photo is of me at age 21.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The importance of wireless headphones and couches

I've been listening to a lot of ambient music lately. I went through a period in high school when I was absolutely obsessed with Vangelis. I had all his albums. In retrospect, I think that was a rather strange obsession for a high schooler. And by obsession, I don't mean that I researched him or knew the first thing about him. I just listened to the albums a lot. Of course my obsession began with Chariots of Fire. Okay, I checked on Wikipedia. I by no means had all his albums. I certainly didn't have one called Sex Power. Although maybe it's too bad that I didn't! We can only wonder how different my life might have been if I had such an album at age 16.

Anyway, the ambient station on Pandora is pretty good. It relaxes me. Although in typical Pandora fashion sometimes it goes off on a tangent and plays a song that is just the sound of a dripping faucet.

I listen to music pretty much constantly when I'm home alone. I rarely turn on the TV when Jeff is away and I especially don't now that there is so much available via streaming. I feel guilty about watching TV, even if it's really good TV. Jeff will still channel surf on the weekends sometimes, but I try to quash this behavior. It's a time suck! Why watch half of a movie? It doesn't bother him, apparently. And this is why we have wireless headphones. If you live in an apartment I strongly urge you to invest in a pair of them.

Sometimes I will choose not to watch a new show because of the guilt and also because I feel like I spend too much time watching TV. Invariably I choose not to watch what winds up being everyone's favorite show. I noticed that season 1 of Breaking Bad is on Netflix on demand, but I also really want to start The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Also, watching a show on the computer feels like it's the worst of both worlds. I'm watching TV AND I'm on the internet. So not just one thing to feel guilty about, but two! I have a lot of guilt about things that aren't worth feeling guilty about, in case you hadn't guessed.

Alright, I've decided to watch the first episode. But I am definitely going to feel very guilty about it.

No, I didn't take it home.
Oh, by the way, I'm sitting on my new couch. I had a futon when Jeff and I moved in together. It was a bit too large for our current living room and plus, those things are not comfortable to sit on at all. So we got rid of if when I inherited two wing chairs. They are very nice wing chairs, but I did not realize how important it is to have a couch. The wing chairs are now safely stored in my in-laws' basement and we have a lovely new couch. I can put my head in Jeff's lap while we watch TV! Cuddling is necessary and good.

For now we have a no eating on the new couch rule. Or at least a no eating anything messy on the new couch rule. Or what is really a no eating anything messy when the other person is around to see you doing it rule.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The new norm

Isn't it funny how after a while a person adjusts to just about anything?

Just four days ago, I was in tears because it seemed as if the mice had already won. I sat at the kitchen table in the middle of the day while a mouse the size of a toddler crouched behind our stove and rattled the back cover. He did that all day long while a smaller mouse, one the size you are used to seeing, hopped up on the counter beside the stove, and walked around on his hind legs, paws on hips, sticking his tongue out at me. It happened exactly like that.

That was Thursday. By last night, when mice 7 and 8 had seen no reason not to reach for a stale piece of chocolate that for some odd reason smelled of death, I was almost entirely immune to the death chamber that has become the space between our stove and fridge.

Booie ferociously grabs at the mice when we pull them out. I have no idea why she wants to chomp down on a dead mouse, but I guess that's her way of showing how she would handle one. Yeah, okay, Booie, but still, it's snap trap: 8. Booie: 0. Whoever said that cats are good for a) keeping mice from setting up shop in your home because of their feline smell alone and b) that all cats are good at catching mice was a) a liar and b) probably had never owned a cat. Some cats are simply better suited to lying in sunny windows.

So, killing cute little animals has become the norm around here. I'm not saying I like it by any means, but it did become easier and quite fast, too. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had to adjust to that new norm whether I wanted to or not. Sometimes I think it would be easier if more things in life were foisted upon us like that, whether we think we want them or not. Or maybe I just need to get better at doing more self-imposed foisting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Realization about chivalry vs. manners

I've battled for some time this notion of how manners are supposed to work. This is especially in relation to how men treat women. For example: men should always usher women through doorways first. If a group of people arrives at a bar together and there are only a couple stools, the men should allow the women to decide if they want to sit first. A man should ensure that the woman he's with gets on or off the subway before he does. Etc.

Now, I have lived in New York or New Jersey since I left home to attend college, but I grew up in the semi-south of northern Virginia. My father is from the actual South and is this sort of gentleman described above. (It is no great stretch to put two and two together and see that I got this view of reality from observing my dad.)

Some of this sort of chivalry goes on in the North, but there is a lot of each wo/man for him/herself going on as well. And that always bugged me. On the one hand, I don't want to be bugged by it because I know deep down that there is NO reason for women to be treated differently than men. Why should a woman get on the subway first, right? A man could be just as tired at the end of the day as a woman and we women are perfectly entitled to dress however we want, so we can't say that we deserve the seats because we have to wear high heels. Many of us wear comfy shoes for commuting or comfy shoes all the time. I spend 95% of my work day with my ass parked in a chair. I really don't NEED to sit down for my 22 minute commute.

Most mornings I actually prefer to stand and I have this whole system where I hang back when people are entering the train so that I'm the last one on and can lean against the door. Since most people are rushing to get a seat that probably doesn't exist, it's very easy to hang back. I have been practicing this method for a few months now and not a single man has stood aside and ushered me onto the train first. If he did, I don't know what I'd do! He'd be foiling my plan! 

After reading this article, I had a realization. What struck me especially was this part:

To be sure, strict rules regarding courtesy and deference to others have historically been used as a way to enforce a social order in which women and blacks were considered less than full citizens.

In the Jim Crow era, blacks and whites lived with a code of hyper-politeness as a way to smooth the edges of a harsh racial system and, of course, keep it in place, scholars of Southern culture say.

As those issues faded, proper manners remained an important cultural marker that Southerners have worked to maintain. 

Ah ha! That's what it is! Chivalry of the sort outlined above (the kind where men let women enter the elevator first) really does need to die, assuming we no longer require this code of hyper-politeness to smooth the edges of a system in which women are inferior.

The other kind of chivalry, however, needs to be worked on by everyone, not just those of us in the North. There is no reason not to hold the door for the person walking right behind you. And there is no reason for that person to not say, "thank you!" It doesn't matter if it's a woman holding the door for a man or vice versa. It's just a nice thing to do for a fellow human being.

Phew! I'm so glad that I finally figured out why I had been battling that issue for so long.

(Photo is in honor of Halloween, even if it is a few days late.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The life list, part 2

Thirteen months ago, I wrote a life list, which I came across today. A lot of what's on there remains the same, but some of it changed. Earlier today, I wrote in my paper journal that I need a dog, so that definitely remains on the list. I quit toastmasters, so that's out of the picture. I don't care so much about picking up French again, at least not at the moment. I no longer care if our future home has a bar and I also care a lot less about learning how to brew with Jeff. That'll be his thing, whenever he gets around to it.

1. Have a reasonably clean apartment that feels like home, not a messy pit.
2. Own a dog.
3. Learn to drive stick shift. [Sure, I guess. I still want to do this, but it's not that important to me anymore. Maybe I take it off the list.]
4. Live abroad.... hmm... is this still something I want? I'm not sure. Let's change this to: continue to travel to new places and return to the especially loved ones.
5. Be a mother.
6. Get better at cooking through practice.
7. Write a book.
8. Publish a book.
9. Be able to say, "I'm a runner" and not inwardly say, "liar" because I don't stick with it.
10. Have toned biceps.
11. Learn how to use a sewing a machine.
12. Invest properly.
13. Get to the point where we are living in a home that seems big enough, presumably with more than one bathroom.
14. Find a way to use photography in new ways.
15. Let go of the past.
16. Drive across the US.
17. Come into my own.

I am going to need to revisit this list more often than once a year. Maybe I'll tack it up on my bulletin board and refer to it like some people refer to their new year's resolutions, a practice I don't much like, by the way. If you want to make a change, make a change! Don't wait for January 1 to do it. Do it now.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thoughts on 36

I've never felt remorse about my birthday. I'm always excited to a) get taken out to dinner but also b) to see what a new year will bring. This is a little bit amusing since many years lately have been pretty much the same, one after another, with some exotic trips sprinkled in here and there.

My 30th birthday
Next week I'm turning 36. This time I do feel something different. It's not like 30, when I was excited to be leaving all the mistakes of my 20s behind. And it's not like 21 when I could finally drink legally. Those are years you're supposed to get excited about. Not 36. No one says, "how does it feel to be 36??"

I will be half my mother's age and therefore the same age she was when she had me.

I'm in a women's group that meets every other Wednesday and I wasn't going to go on my birthday. Because it's my birthday! Even though just saying that out loud seemed silly when I said it. So I will be fĂȘted the day before, which is perfect because my mom will be taking me out for happy hour that evening already. And then I will meet Jeff for dinner.

In my 20s I loved celebrating with friends in bars. For my 30th Jeff organized an outing to a burlesque club and that was the perfect way to seal off my 20s -- with a bang. It feels false to me now, to do gatherings with friends on my birthday. NOT to say that I believe that is true for others. Just for me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I've missed this.

I'm thinking about blogging again. I haven't done that in a while. Or whatever it's called. Journaling? Keeping a diary? I never was a fan of calling it a diary. As much as diaryland meant to me at one time, I was never thrilled with the name. Also, I was constantly typing dairyland instead, which spellcheck wants to change to fairyland.

Before the internet, or I should say: last century, before blogging was all the rage or even a medium I had heard of, I diligently kept a paper journal. I wish I could remember what lead me to first keep a diary back in the 4th grade. Although that was a very hard year for me, I was not self aware enough to be able to record my thoughts on what was hard for me at the time. I merely kept a record of what I ate, how I managed to stay up a half hour past bedtime, what games I played with what friends, etc.

I think I started recording thoughts as well as actions a couple years later. There was nothing that deep, though, until high school. And then I went to town in journals. Poems and stories in which terrible or wonderful things would happen to a protagonist not so loosely based on me.

In my late teens and early 20s my journals were everything to me, as was writing letters to my friends (and receiving ones back). I would write to work through my emotions, okay let's face it: mainly about men. But still, this was immensely helpful and for some crazy reason I all but stopped.

Oh wait, not some crazy reason: the Internet. I was 25 for the millennial celebration and a month before that I started a blog. Most people I knew in real life had never heard of blogs. I myself can't remember where I first encountered one, but I can say with certainty that it stirred something in me and I knew I needed one right away.

Blogging was like writing in a paper journal, except with feedback! And praise! And encouragement! I was in a shitty relationship at the time and I needed all of that so very much. But there was also judgement and competition and secrets and inside jokes and cool kids and for the love of god, there were actually awards. I am writing this in the past tense as if this is all in the past. It is for me, but as far as I know it still goes on out there.

And I want nothing to do with any of that. Those things I listed have no place being linked with journaling. I wish blogging was not considered synonymous with journaling. To me journaling is a solitary pursuit and blogging is the public version of that. Not the same at all. I also believe that anyone who claims they blog as openly as they would journal in a private paper book is lying. I have not heard anyone say that lately. I'm just saying.

So anyway. I think I'm going to start using this space again for thoughts, not just as a travelogue. I have come full circle about permanence. I don't really care about keeping these entries as a record of my thoughts at a point in time. I have my paper journals for that. This is a public place and I will not be talking about anything that would make my grandma uncomfortable (in theory. She's not online.), which leaves a lot of room since for a 101-year-old, she's fairly open-minded.

That was an awfully long prologue. Here is the entry itself:

I'm practicing saying no more, or rather not being afraid to say it when it needs to be said. So far, this is going better than I expected. Related: I'm working on telling the truth about why I'm saying no (as long as it's appropriate). I vow to not be vague in this here blog, so here's an example: I have had a very emotionally intense weekend... oh crap, vagueness is creeping in. Okay: I went on a retreat this weekend that was very emotionally taxing (in a good way). More about the retreat in the future. I'm not ready to talk about it yet. On Friday I planned a happy hour this evening with 2 coworkers who live near me. I realized earlier this afternoon that what my soul really needs this evening is to go home and make apple squash soup and be alone (Jeff is away). I was avoiding letting the coworker know that I am bailing because I don't want her to judge me, be mad at me, think I'm a chronic bailer, etc. And guess what: she was totally understanding when I told her the truth. And we made plans to do another happy hour in 2 weeks. How easy was that! Whew. Anyway, I typed this on my phone on a bouncy bus so I'm feeling cross-eyed and woozy now. Over and out.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The marvels of New Mexico

 Santa Fe day one 

Our day started at 3am. Those 5am flights sure are a bitch. But, on the flip side, hardly anyone was headed to Houston at that hour and we both got upgraded. The food still sucks in first class (I have never tasted a biscuit that tasted less like a biscuit) but at least it's easier to sleep. We arrived in Albuquerque before 11am. 

We got on the road and headed north of Santa Fe for what should have been a 2-hour trip but wound up being three because we kept stopping to take photos. Also, driving a Kia on a dirt mountain road is rather scary. Did you know there are mountains in New Mexico? Well there are. 

Jeff got us an invite to check out the only North American monastery that brews beer, hence the drive along the mountain pass. The monks were incredibly welcoming. Monks' Ale is now available in Philly so look for it (not to be confused with Monk's Sour). They didn't offer us any, unfortunately, so I can't comment on the taste yet. They have a Belgian pale and a Wit and they were working on a Belgian triple today. 

Just as we were leaving we were asked to stick around a few more minutes to attend the 3:30 service. A large window in the chapel offers a breathtaking view of a colorful rock face. The monks chanted a couple Gregorian chant style hymns. Half the monks sat across from the others and they alternated lines. I'm so glad we stuck around for that even though we were faint with hunger. 

A hamburger with avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion sounds like it might be gross but I assure you it is delicious, especially when eaten in a roadside fast food joint called Dandy's that looks like it was built in the 50s and has not been renovated since the 80s. 

The marvels of New Mexico

 Santa Fe day one 

Our day started at 3am. Those 5am flights sure are a bitch. But, on the flip side, hardly anyone was headed to Houston at that hour and we both got upgraded. The food still sucks in first class (I have never tasted a biscuit that tasted less like a biscuit) but at least it's easier to sleep. We arrived in Albuquerque before 11am. 

We got on the road and headed north of Santa Fe for what should have been a 2-hour trip but wound up being three because we kept stopping to take photos. Also, driving a Kia on a dirt mountain road is rather scary. Did you know there are mountains in New Mexico? Well there are. 

Jeff got us an invite to check out the only North American monastery that brews beer, hence the drive along the mountain pass. The monks were incredibly welcoming. Monks' Ale is now available in Philly so look for it (not to be confused with Monk's Sour). They didn't offer us any, unfortunately, so I can't comment on the taste yet. They have a Belgian pale and a Wit and they were working on a Belgian triple today. 

Just as we were leaving we were asked to stick around a few more minutes to attend the 3:30 service. A large window in the chapel offers a breathtaking view of a colorful rock face. The monks chanted a couple Gregorian chant style hymns. Half the monks sat across from the others and they alternated lines. I'm so glad we stuck around for that even though we were faint with hunger. 

A hamburger with avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion sounds like it might be gross but I assure you it is delicious, especially when eaten in a roadside fast food joint called Dandy's that looks like it was built in the 50s and has not been renovated since the 80s. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Edinburgh: the city that proved I'm woefully out of shape

It seems that breakfast is not a major meal here. We arrived at our hotel at 8am and upon asking we were directed to Starbucks. When I turned my nose up at that we were told to look for a cafe up the road. That place doesn't open til 10, but it does look cute. We settled for a place that offers British and Scottish breakfast. I'm not sure I'm ready to try haggis yet, but Jeff is, apparently. 

5 minutes later... Haggis is actually quite good!

It will never cease to amaze me that non-Americans will gladly stand at a bar when there are seats available. I guess I'm just lazy by nature but also I don't like drinking while standing. 

The water straight out of the taps tastes good. 

Our hotel is an apartment hotel. Our room, which is reasonably priced, I might add, includes two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting area and a full kitchen. Having the extra room is unnecessary except for the fact that there are no drawers for our clothes so I have my clothes laid out on the bed in there. And having two bathrooms is certainly a luxury. 

Edinburgh is SO hilly. My calves are killing me. Even walking downhill at this point is painful. And it's not just gently sloping hills. No, it's 100 steps cut into a hillside. Makes for a very striking looking city, but those of us who don't do the elliptical every day are not amused. 

Edinburgh is apparently THE place to go for your hen or stag (bachelorette/bachelor) party. One set of chicks was wearing tiny pink tutus over tight black clothes and wings on their backs. Another set went the devil route, horns and all. A third set just had on matching sweatshirts. Amateurs! The men are not wearing matching outfits but I have to imagine that some of those groups of loud men were up to something similar, especially the group of dudes including one dressed in drag, including fake pubes hanging out. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

One day in San Francisco

I forgot to post this when I was there the week before last.

I'm getting next to no cell signal in the Haight. Is that because the hippies won't allow a cell tower nearby?

So many great shops in the Haight! Why do I not remember this from previous trips? Are the boutiques a relatively new thing?

I had such a good time hanging out at the bar of Churchkey last night! Sometimes being left alone while Jeff attends an evening event isn't so bad after all. 

Lots of rain does not lend itself to tourist photography. I have taken two pictures since my arrival on Tuesday. Both with my cell phone. 

One boutique in the Haight (called Ambiance) where I spent a couple of hours had the nicest sales staff. My favorite part was when one would call to another to bring a different size to a customer. She'd call out: "can I have a lady, please!" They also mix in some pieces they think you might like. I didn't like any of their choices except one (a $75 black top which I'm having them hold for me for a little while) because I have other shops to check out first. I do appreciate the touch of personal shopping. Why don't we have places like that in NYC? Or if we do, where are they??

When her friend got up to use the restroom, the woman sitting next to me at lunch today turned and said, "Hi! How are you?" She was curious to know what I had ordered. 

It must be a thing in California to have Dutch doors. I saw multiple businesses in the Haight that had just the bottom half closed. 

I decided against buying the top because I found more great things to buy. I also happened upon a store called Loved to Death, which sells a variety of wonderfully displayed Victorian memento mori and the like. In the back room was a show of dioramas with taxidermied animals wearing clothes and posed in little Victorian scenes. Unfortunately, I think this might be a temporary exhibit. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I miss Asheville BBQ and beer

Whoops. I forgot to post this before. I wrote it on my phone and then forgot about it until just now.

There is a difference between eastern and western Carolina BBQ, I now know. I thought all Carolina BBQ was the kind with a vinegar-based sauce. That's east. Western is the same but with a little tomato sauce added. It is now my favorite. Also, smoked turkey is completely under-rated.

There are tons of galleries here. I bought a print by a local artist sold in a converted Woolworth's that is now an artists' collective plus a soda fountain.

I don't think I've seen any fast food restaurants here. And the only chain store I recall seeing is Urban Outfitters. Not being one to seek out Starbuck's or any other national chain on vacation, it didn't hit me right away. But now I'm thinking this can't be accidental. And I think it definitely contributes to making this such a charming town.

I forgot to mention that when we saw the bluegrass band the other night, there was a bonfire out back behind the brewery as well.

My favorite local beers: Duck Rabbit Milk Stout (already knew and loved that one), Duck Rabbit Amber (I'm convinced that brewery can do no wrong), Pisgah Coffee Stout, Wedge Russian Imperial Stout (yes, raspberry can successfully be added to a dark beer), Wedge Community Porter, French Bread Wee Heavy-est.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What came first: hippies or beer?

I was determined that we'd hear some bluegrass this weekend, ideally in a bar that serves good local beer. I had picked out an option and then in the meantime we took a drive out to a brewpub just outside Asheville called Pisgah. They make beers the way we like them: strong and dark. We didn't want to leave those beers so we opted to stay and hear the band that was playing there. We really liked the opener: Jackass Flats (from Richmond). The main act, Cornmeal, is apparently a popular local band and was more of a bluegrass slash jam band so slightly less our preference. But still really great, especially the dynamo female violinist. 

It's a high of maybe 50 degrees but you'd think it was 80 the way people are dressed here. The worst part is that the restaurants are buying into this "heatwave" mentality and are seating people on their porches. We're waiting for a table right now and I'm really hoping for an inside one or else I may eat brunch with my gloves on. 

What is it about hippies and beer? It seems like wherever you find a good craft beer scene there is also an abundance of patchouli, dreads and Birkenstocks. 

We were seated inside for brunch where shared shrimp and grits and a fries green tomato BLT, both of which bordered on amazing. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mostly tasteless

My ears are pretty clogged. Going up and down the elevator is rather uncomfortable. I am having trouble (more so than normal) hearing.

The backstory here is that I had a cold that had my feeling pretty crappy from Monday through Wednesday. Yesterday I felt almost normal. Today I am 99% not a mouth-breather anymore.

My taste buds are operating at about 10%, I think, although it's kind of hard to tell since my brain seems to do a pretty good job of filling in the blanks.

I drank some red wine last night and I'm fairly certain that I detected enough of the flavor to appreciate it. Why else would I have drunk two glasses??

I ate a piece of sharp cheddar cheese and didn't taste it, but I like chewing cheese, so I had a second piece.

I made a sauce from scratch to put on chicken tacos. The spice was readily apparent in the back of my mouth, but other than that, nothing. Jeff, ever afraid to criticize my cooking (probably wise), only told me that it was "good."

Here's another weird fact: I didn't mind eating my taco cold as I would have if I could have tasted it.

I am quite fond of the chopped salads at Fresh & Co, so that's what I got for lunch today. What makes them especially delicious is the sesame ginger dressing. But let me tell you: eating salad that has no flavor is not at all pleasant. It is like eating wet lettuce. As it turns out, it's ALL about the dressing. Lettuce does not have good mouthfeel.

When I stick my nose down in the plastic bowl and take a deep whiff, I feel a slight burning up inside my sinuses, which masks the very very faint odor of ginger.

I picked out a cherry tomato. It does have a good mouthfeel. And I can detect the acidity in the back of my mouth.

Give me other things to try! Although not too many things. This might be a good diet. Although I am going to a beer, bourbon and BBQ tasting tomorrow, so let's hope it goes away before then. Otherwise, Jeff might be looking for someone to go with him tomorrow...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Charleston, SC

Preppiness is alive and well down south. I did not see any outrageously dressed people. 

The craft beer scene here is burgeoning and will definitely be worth checking on again in a few years. My favorite was the Duck Rabbit milk stout from NC. Terrapin makes a good porter. We finally found Wake & Bake at a beer store in Charleston. We didn't notice it on the shelf at first because, we were told, the name had to be changed to W&B for legal reasons. 

Yelp is not at all big in the south. Or at least not in Savannah or Charleston. 

Yes we smelled fried food as soon as we got off the plane and yes fried food is quite prevalent down here. However: they do it RIGHT. It's not heavy or greasy. Okay well maybe a little heavy. They tend to call it "lightly fried." Come on. Is that an oxymoron?

Fried foods we've eaten on this trip: oysters, shrimp, alligator, tomatoes, catfish, hush puppies, okra. Fried alligator tastes a lot like calimari but a little more like chicken. My favorite meal was smoked Virginia pork chop. So tender!

We got upgraded to a penthouse room (well, the penthouse is on the 4th floor). Our room had a fireplace! Traveling during the off season definitely has its perks. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More on Savannah

I don't think I sufficiently explained the way that people are not bundled up here. Is it possible that many people here don't even own any long-sleeved clothing?? 

What is it about southern men that makes them look so southern? The women look the same as northern women though. Yes it's a generalization, but it's true. 

I'm not kidding! We're currently sitting indoors at a cafe. I'm wearing a long sleeved shirt over a t-shirt and I have my scarf on because I'm cold. A woman wearing a short sleeved sweater just sat down at a table outside! In the shade! She's not smoking or anything! Do these people have Vermont blood??

Places I can recommend:

Moon River brewing: get the pulled pork sandwich and a porter. 

Rail Pub: divey, peanuts to be shelled onto the floor, some craft beers (ask about bottles). 

Planters Inn: 4 poster bed! Huge room. Centrally located. Wine & cheese happy hour! 

The Distillery: great diverse craft beer selection from all over US plus Belgium. 

ShopSCAD: art for sale made by locals 

Gryphon: classy little tea room across from ShopSCAD

Harris Bread Co.: 4.5 stars on Yelp but 3 locals waiting to get into a different breakfast spot a block away had no idea about it. (it's in the back) No line at all and excellent bread. 

Colonial Park graveyard: great history lesson (tons of signs about the famous residents) and also beautiful and central

Sweet Melissa's: the only place to get a snack at 11pm. Hot dog stand outside (Jeff loved), pizza inside (I loved). A mixed crowd of folks out on the town but not at all rowdy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Savannah, Georgia

It's in the high 30s here and Jeff and I are by far more warmly dressed than 99% of the people out tonight. Is this because they don't own coats? (definitely possible) Or because they're in denial?

The whole concept of being able to walk around with an open container is so very strange. The bars should give straws with the plastic cups, though. It's hard to walk and drink. 

There is some good beer to be had here, including Bell's, Sweetwater and New Belgium. 

We gave up going out to a nice dinner and instead went on a haunted pub crawl. The best part was going upstairs above Moon River Brewing, which is a falling down old hotel and has gorgeous old details. I guess they only fixed up the ground floor and called it good.