Three things

1. I can't believe this guy was elected to office in the state just below me. By "this guy," I mean the Representative from Virginia, who apparently has never taken the time to read important government documents like, oh, say, the CONSTITUTION.

2. The New York Times says it is okay to be messy. I am so relieved. Also, cognitive ergonomics? How cool is that?

3. I have to say I agree — some times things are funnier with bleeps.



There are so many things I need to get done this weekend, and yet here I am procrastinating via blog.

Last night I had a dream where I was at Disney World with my family, which is weird enough in itself, since my family hasn't gone there, appropriately, since my sister and I were kids, and isn't likely to ever go back. So anyway, in the dream, we went to get on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride (okay, so this may have spawned from watching Dead Man's Chest DVD extras) and they announced that they were going to use the submarines from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea instead of the regular boats. And my immediate response was, "Sweet, a mashup!"

Which is simultaneously amusing and frightening.

Did you know that it is pretty much impossible to find cannoli shells in Rockville? I've tried the regular grocery store, Trader Joe's, World Market, the gourmet grocery store, and no cannoli shells. So there goes my grand plan to make cannolis for the holidays, unless I can talk someone from my family into going to the (close, for them) Italian grocery store in Akron.


London (Radio Edit)

And so that, in a very long and rambling fashion, was my trip to London. There may be more as I think about it. I'm sure I have a DC Metro vs. London Tube post in me somewhere.

There are links from individual places to tags in my Flickr account, but if you want to see all the photos, here they are:

England highlights

Seriously? You want to see more photos after the first one?

Day 8 (November 18)

This day, our last full day here, became catch-up day.

We decided to make another run at English breakfast, and this time we had more luck. We ate at a pub in Covent Garden. I had the vegetarian breakfast, which was like the regular but with carrot and parsnips sausage instead of meat sausage and ham. The rest? Fried eggs, hash browns, a grilled tomato and baked beans. It was quite good. Carrot and parsnips sausage? Surprisingly tasty.

After breakfast, we hopped on the tube to St. Paul's Cathedral. After seeing so many churches all week I was still really glad we found the time for this one. It was spectacular — so much detail everywhere it was impossible to take it all in: the glittering mosaics on the ceiling, the black-and-white checkered floor, the dark, intricate woodworking, the paintings, the gilding, the enormous dome.

We walked around awhile, and then Eileen and I (Jeff had just seen it last year, so he opted to explore the area around the cathedral) hiked up the long, partly spiral staircase to the whispering gallery in the dome. I enjoyed this as much as the cathedral interior. It felt like a hidden space that you weren't really supposed to be in, even though there were plenty of people walking up with us. We were between the outer walls of the church, with a few small windows providing much of the light. In the straightaways, the space was barely wide enough for one person. In one area, we could see the smaller lower ceiling domes from the straight wings of the church. A sign pointed out damage from the Blitz. It's amazing to me that the church stayed standing throughout World War II.

When we finally got to the top, it was higher up than I had expected, and my fear of heights kicked in. The seats and people below looked so tiny from up there. There wasn't a lot of room in the ledge around the dome, either. There was a metal railing all around, and a wooden row of seats. I felt more comfortable sitting, so I did that for awhile. As I was sitting, I could hear people whispering — some near me and some across the dome. They all said something like "if you can hear me, wave your arms." And then sometimes I'd see someone across the dome waving their hands.

We didn't climb any further up, although the view from the top of the dome is supposed to be spectacular. I could see the balcony rail for it and it was really high up, plus we would have had to climb another 300 or so stairs. Uh, pass on that. We made our way down, walked around the main level a bit more, and then went down into the crypt. Unlike Westminster Abbey and the other churches we visited, most people at St. Paul's a buried in the crypt, including Lord Nelson.

One thing that really struck me at St. Paul's, and I suppose I had started to realize it at the previous churches, was the strong connection between religion, war and art in England. There were a number of war memorials, and some of the tombs featured very elaborate sculptures. One I really remember was a wounded soldier being pulled from his horse by another soldier. Coming from the United States, where though sometimes separation of church and state isn't quite what it should be, it's still pretty commonly recognized as being one of the founding principles of the country, it was kind of hard to wrap my head around.

We walked from St. Paul's to the Millennium Bridge. It was a brisk but sunny day, which made for a great walk. Lots of people out, and a street vendor selling roasted nuts (there were a lot of those throughout the trip). We only walked halfway across since we didn't actually need to go across. I took a lot of pictures.

We left the bridge and walked back past St. Paul's to the Tube. We wanted to catch a 2 p.m. London Walks tour of the British Museum. Like Westminster Abbey, we figured a guide to help us hit the highlights would be much better than wandering aimlessly ourselves.

We got to the Tube station where the walk met early and there was a Sainsburys across the street. We went in and wandered amidst the British food. The saddest thing — the giant spread of instant coffee. I seriously think it was more instant coffee than I have seen in the last 10 years. Maybe more than that. I had some very good espresso while I was in London, so I know there's a crop of people who appreciate good coffee. But then there's all that instant coffee...

The tour took us through Bloomsbury on our way to the museum. This is a big literary area in London (Virginia Woolf and others lived there) and it was absolutely lovely. I wouldn't have minded spending more time there.

The museum itself is in this huge neoclassical building, great big pillars. We went inside to its covered courtyard, which is immense and has this beautiful ceiling. That space used to house the British library, but all that's left of it now is the circular reading room in the center. We got to take a peek inside and it was a totally cool space — all those beautiful old books up on the shelves.

We didn't have much time before it was on to Egypt and the Rosetta Stone. There were a lot of people looking at the stone when we first came in, so we looked at some hieroglyphics and statues. I did get a good full look at it before we moved on, though.

We spent a long time in the Greek area, looking at ruins from the Parthenon, both the carved frieze from the building and statues. The carving was amazing.

Before walking to more Egypt, we saw the ruins from one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. I have to be honest, I don't have them all memorized and I didn't remember this being one of them, but it was pretty impressive. You could tell how massive the thing must have been, from the ruins.

And then it was on to the mummies. They creeped me out a bit — the idea that these people were buried so ceremoniously and now they're on display in front of millions of people.

That's kind of a theme for the whole musuem, the way it was filled. The English show up at some place of antiquity, say, "You lousy slackers, how can you let your priceless ancient ruins fall into such disrepair!?! We will save them for you!!!" And then the ruins get carted off to the British Museum. And then some period of time later the place the ruins came from decides it wants them back, so there's controversy.

The final exhibit we saw had no such controversy — it was a series of artifacts found in a field with a series of burial mounds, much like the ones we'd seen in the fields around Stonehenge. They determined the artifacts belonged to a king during the Dark Ages, and the richness and intricacy of their work meant that historians had to rethink how backwards things were during the Dark Ages.

That exhibit concluded the tour. The museum is definitely expansive and impressive — we probably could have spent a whole week there.

After we left the museum, we made plans to go on another pub walk in Hampstead, after a trip back to the hotel to pack a bit. We never made it there, though, because they suspended Tube service on the line we were on for a person on the tracks. We were in Camden, so we opted to just find a pub there; I enjoyed walking through the area — it was another place I would have liked to spend more time. We ended up at a bar Eileen had read about in her guidebook — Monkey Chews. We had some very tasty drinks and then walked back to the hotel, where we ordered a pizza from the future, which will make me giggle every time I think about it, ever.


Day 7 (November 17)

We woke late in the morning and walked over to Abbey Road, whcih was reasonably near the hotel. We took pictures of the Beatles' studio and held up traffic walking back and forth across the zebra crossing to attempt to take each others' pictures.

We took the Tube over to the London Eye, where it was fairly clear, so we got tickets. I was a little nervous, as I'm so afraid of heights, but it actually wasn't that bad (okay, I stayed away from the edge). It moved so slowly that there was plenty of time to adjust. The view was outstanding — I took lots of pictures.

After the Eye, we walked across Westminster Brige to a phone booth with Big Ben in the backrground (Eileen's mom had requested she take a picture there to match one she had of her brother). We ended up all taking each others' pictures there. Here's me.

We walked over to Eileen's favorite sandwich shop for a quick bite, then boarded the #3 bus to Oxford Circus — my first double-decker bus ride. The view was great (of course, we went to the top). The driver was pretty wild — I'm sure that was amplified by being so high up. It started raining when we got to Oxford Circus, which put a bit of a damper on walking around and shopping. I could see it was a lovely area, with great (largely high-end) shopping.

We walked from there to Picadilly Circus to get our tickets for Avenue Q. That show was great — really sharp, witty and hilarious. The description we'd heard was "Sesame Street for 20-somethings" and it totally lived up to it.

After the show, we walked over to Chinatown and picked a restaurant (out of like 5 billion) to eat at. We ate down in the basement again. They were playing karaoke on the television there, but no one was singing. Weird.

Day 6 (November 16)

We didn't have plans until later in the evening, so with a pretty free-form day ahead, we woke later (okay, later than we expected), with plans to get English breakfast somewhere around the Smithfield meat market off the Farringdon tube station (my Underworld fan status dictates that this must be one of my favorite stations, along with Baker Street, which is not in any Underworld songs but is just plain cool). But there wasn't nearly as much breakfast to be found around there as we'd expected, so we ended up getting lunch food at a pub (super-fresh bacon and avocado sandwich for me). The bartender seemed amazed that I wanted my cafe Americano sans milk and sugar. Heh.

After eating, we headed to the Covent Garden market for some shopping. I bought a few things at Lush but decided it would be better to wait and truck it out to the one in Georgetown rather than hauling home a bunch of stuff. I did, however, go pretty nuts at the Transport Museum shop.

It was already super-Christmassy there, with lots of people out, kids singing on a stage, etc. We had mulled wine, which was perfect for the chilly afternoon.

After Covent Garden, we headed to Harrods, which I found impossibly huge. I did a lot of gawking as we went throughout the store. We were in there for quite awhile and I'm sure only saw a fraction of the things there.

We had a fairly early dinner at Belgo, a Belgian restaurant in the sprawling basement of a building (putting things in basements seems common in London, and I think it's awesome). There were lots of exposed metal pipes, and the waiters were all dressed as monks. I had a half chicken, which I have to say I enjoyed more than the Portugese chicken. Score one for the Belgians.

From Belgo, we walked to Bookmarks, a socialist bookstore (Eileen is right, they should have called it Bookmarx) in the area. Not that any of us are really huge socialist supporters, but Billy Bragg was speaking there, and Eileen wanted to check it out (head to her blog for a photo).

We headed back to the hotel to change and drop off our purchases after Bookmark(x)s, because we had tickets to a benefit at mega-club Fabric. Fatboy Slim headlined and the dance floor was jam packed for his set. We spent the hour doing a combination of dancing, trying to stay on our feet, and trying not to get crushed. Which sounds like it would not have been fun, but it was!

Then we went to another room to see Damon Albarn's set. It was a little drawn-out and big beat for me, but there was more room to dance, so that was a plus. Here we could see the space a little better too — Fabric is in what looks like unused industrial space. It felt like we were deep underground, and there was a lot of brick, archways, etc.

Eventually we headed to the third room, which was a housier sound and much more my style. And even more room to dance!

We took a black cab home to cap off our enormously fun night. It was a real highlight of our time in London.

Day 5 (November 15)

We went to Bath via train in the morning. Once we got there, we first went to the Roman baths. Much of the ruins are very well-preserved — the main pool still looked like you could have gone in for a nice relaxing soak. The whole process of bathing must have been so relaxing and restorative for the Romans. At the baths, we drank some of the water (it had been purified), which was very warm and minerally (kind of rotten eggy...not the tastiest of stuff).

After the ancient baths, we took a bit of a walk around town. It really built up during the 17th century, when people came there from the city for the restorative properties of the hot baths (built amongst the Roman ruins). AS a result, all of the buildings were old and charming. We went to the Circle, where Jane Austen lived, and the Crescent.

Eileen and Jeff had wanted to go to this thermal outdoor pool even before we got to the city, and after walking through the Roman bath I was glad they did, as I came out really wanting a nice swim in some warm minerally water. So we went to a spa where you could buy time at an outdoor thermal pool. We swam for more than an hour in the nice warm water, although later into our time a cold rain started to sprinkle on us, which made it really tough to get out. One thing I really liked about the water was the scent — I'm not quite sure how to describe it, but it reminded me of something Aveda would put out.

After the bath, we were relaxed, refreshed and super-hungry. We headed to a nearby pub for a pint and dinner, and I had a super-good steak-and-ale pie. When we left the pub, most of the shops seemed to be closed, so we started the cold, rainy walk back to the train station.

I slept during much of the train ride back (how is it I can sleep on the train, and the van from the tour, but not the plane over, when I really needed to?). After we got back and took the Tube to Swiss Cottage, we opted to go to the actual Swiss Cottage, a restaurant/bar in a very Swiss Cottage looking building. Inside, which was warm, homey and not very Swiss, we planned our next day over a pint.

Day 4 (November 14)

This was the day we did our tour in the countryside. We started in Salisbury, at the Salisbury Cathedral. It was smaller and simpler than Westminster Abbey, but in many ways that made it more beautiful.

Then it was on to the ruins at Old Sarum, the remains of a castle on teh top of a hill — just the foundation remained. During most of our time in England the weather was cold and often misty, but manageable. On the top of the hill here, though, it was freezing.

We had lunch — fish and chips — at a quiet little pub. Everything we saw was so picturesque — all these little places with thatched roofs!

After lunch it was on to the real highlight — Stonehenge. It's amazing, and I'm not sure that I can adequately describe it. But I really like that a mystery like Stonehenge exists, and I was very glad I got to see it while we were over there.

We went on to another small town, Avebury, enclosed in a stone circle. The stones were interesting, but not nearly on the scale of Stonehenge (Note to self: next time think about the extra time it takes to clear customs coming back to the United States when you walk through a sheep pasture looking at old stones in England).

After a ride back to the city, we got sandwiches and soda at Caffe Nero (it's more fun when you call it Caffe Nerd, but it was probably my favorite cafe/sandwich shop type place there, primarily because they made a wicked espresso). Then we went to see Mary Poppins, which was a quite British way to finish off the evening.


Day 3 (November 13)

On this day, as he'd just seen the touristier things in London the year before, Jeff headed off to Greenwich to see the Prime Meridian and other Greenwichey things. That left Eileen and I to hit two of the major tourist spots, starting with the Tower of London.

It wasn't at all what I had expected — the size of the complex beyond the walls was amazing (I thought there was one tower with the crown jewels at the top, oops) — there's a whole city back there. We started by walking through the medieval palace, and then we took a tour led by one of the Tower's Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters), Robin.

Then we went to see the crown jewels, which are so over-the-top it was hard to believe they were made of diamonds, jemstones and real gold. They were all stunning, but the crazy highlight was the punch bowl (Eileen told me about it beforehand but I had no idea it was going to be so enormous and intricate...it was really more of a punch vat). We were lucky in that we didn't have to wait in line long to see the jewels.

After the jewels, we went into the White Tower, to see some of the armor and weapons, and then the Bloody Tower, and some of the other buildings where prisoners, including Sir Walter Raleigh, were held.

Then, in our attempt to hit our new London Double (Jeff said it couldn't be done, but we are fast, and don't read all the little placards on things), we headed to Westminster Abbey, which was amazingly intricate in its architecture. The hodgepodge of tombs, though, was a bit over the top.

We went on a London Walk through the Abbey, so we had a guide to point out the highlights. Among them, tombs of various kings and queens, Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens. It was the beginning of my being mildly freaked out by people buried in the floors of churches, although here I think it was justified — in one of the older segments, they had put a coffee stand over some people's tombs. I think that's just a wee bit over the line, there. If they put a coffee stand over my grave, I expect a double espresso piped down there every day. Italian roast. I just want to go on the record with that one.

We met back up with Jeff and finished the evening with an Along the Thames pub walk, again with London Walks. We stopped at four pubs, the last two from the 18th and 17th centuries, and had a half pint in each. I'm a fan of the half pint; I think they need to bring it to the U.S. Along with sandwiches in a box. But I'm getting ahead of myself on that one. We had Portugese food (roasted chicken) to wrap up the evening.

Day 2 (November 12)

On this day, we went to the Tate Modern, where, aside from looking at the more traditional modern art, we also "experienced" art in the form of a series of slides. The slides, the "Unilever Series," were set up in the open space in the building, which is a former power plant. It's a great space for art, and it makes them able to do things like set up giant silver slides. We rode the slides from floors three, four and five, and agreed that the fourth floor slide was the best.

After the Tate, we grabbed a sandwich and then toured the new Globe Theater. There weren't any plays running, as they only run in the summer, but the tour was enough to give you an idea of how Shakespeare's plays were originally performed — much better than looking at diagrams in high school English.

Then it was on to Vinopolis, which is a wine "museum." Primarily what that means is a place to look at some wine memorabilia and taste some samples. It was quite fun.

We came out into the evening and went to have dinner at a little place in Sloane Square — Chelsea Kitchen — that Eileen, our in-house (hotel?) tour guide knew about. When going to London for the first time, I highly recommend going with someone who lived there for a semester. Heh.

After dinner, we'd planned to go ice skating outside the Natural History Museum, but they were sold out. We did, however, see a fox (with a bag of potato chips in his mouth!) there, which made it worth the trip.

From there, we went to the Windsor Castle Pub, a charming little place with way-too-small doors (everyone had to duck to go from room to room) for some drinks.

Day 1 (November 11)

This was actually travel day number two, as Eileen, Jeff and I all took flights that began the evening of the 10th.

The plan was to sleep on the plane coming over. But my flight started at 6 p.m. and I was so wired that even my melatonin didn't help. Plus every time I would start to nod off, either the flight attendant would ask if I needed something (yes, SLEEP!), someone would cough or talk loudly, or the plane would hit turbulence. So I never really hit deep sleep.

Fortunately, although I got to our hotel (the Marriott Regent's Park) at like 9:30 a.m., they had the room ready. When you've been on a plane for six hours, through two major airports, and you can't figure out how many hours it's been since you last really slept but you know it's been a lot, let me tell you there is nothing better than a hot shower and a double espresso.

We opted to push through the day, so after unpacking and showering, we went on a This is London! walk. It included a boat ride on the Thames, and we actually saw all the major highlights during the walk. During that time there was also some drama of trying to get my international cell phone to actually work (it did after approximately 15 tries). It was really weird to actually be there and seeing all these attractions in person.

After the walk, we went to a Wagamama's for noodles, and then walked over to Picadilly Circus before taking the tube home. We were exhausted but it was still way too early to sleep, so we went to the hotel pool for awhile, which actually helped us wake up enough to go to the Marks & Spencer (M&S) Simply Food not far from the hotel for some breakfast food and other groceries.



So if you are wondering why it has been so very long since my last post, it's because I was in London (also, planning for London, packing for London, etc.).

The trip was outstanding! This was my first time there — first time in Europe, actually — and I absolutely loved it.

More in future posts...


Coffee shop #1

So when I moved out here, although I looked at a lot of apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland, I ended up going with Rockville over Silver Spring for a number of reasons. Rockville is closer to work, primarily. It is also on the "good" end of the Metro red line (closer to Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and Metro Center, primarily). It is also, though, very strip-malley. That means that many many things that you would want to buy are within a few miles (which can be good and bad), but it's kind of lacking in character. They are trying to do some things with a new downtown (literally...they just tore down the old downtown and started again), but that's actually pretty far from my place.

Silver Spring, on the other hand, already has one of those brand-new downtowns all done. Apparently it's the thing around here. It's got a Newport on the Leveeish feeling, and they've got stuff like an AFI theater and Whole Foods.

Okay, sidetracked. Moving on. Rockville, in its very stripmallishness, has about four Starbucks within a two mile stretch, but little in the way of coffee shops with character. There is a Panera, which I'm always a fan of for the free wireless and lovely carbey bagels, pretty close to me. One of the Starbucks is in Barnes and Noble, which can be fun. But as my life really is one giant quest for the perfect coffee shop, I'm not about to settle for them.

I had an errand to run in Silver Spring yesterday, so when I was done with the errand, and hungry, I decided it was time to check out Mayorga Coffee there in Silver Spring. It is about half a mile out of the downtown and SO NICE.

It is HUGE, lots and lots of tables (which I appreciate after some Sundays at Awakenings when they've pretty well run out of seating). And some of the chairs are normal chairs, but others are these gigantic leather chairs. It has a nice, cute decor with some character (one of the walls is a giant mural). And they do open mic nights and such. Not that I have any open mic aspirations or anything, but I feel like that's part of a true coffee shop's job. About a 15-20 minute drive from my place, which is not bad, although it feels like a long time now that I'm not driving very much (technically I could take the Metro, but because Silver Spring is on the other end of the red line it would take like an hour).

So, in short, on my first shot here, I found my new favorite coffee shop.

There is still Tryst in Adams Morgan to be tried, though. I've walked past it a bunch and been in once when we were trying to caffeinate on a night out, but haven't been in during its more coffee shoppish times.


Virginia 2

All of my blog posts from now on are going to be scoring states. Okay, maybe not.

BUT I went to the Virginia wine festival yesterday and it was totally fun. That Virginia really knows how to party.

They had unlimited tastings at like a zillion wineries (we only made it through half the tents).

It reminded me that I once again live near wine country (because let's face it, while I think there were like one or two around Cincinnati, it's just not the spot for wine). Unlike Lake Erie vineyards, which grow hardy stuff like Catawba and Concord (and have had recent success with ice wine) though, the Virginia ones actually attempt some more ambitious varietals.

There were actually a few good cabs, although all the pinot noirs were pretty disastrous. I think maybe they started growing them after Sideways, which means it's probably going to be awhile before they're any decent.

In other news, I washed and waxed my car today and it is like, frighteningly shiny. Like the sun hit it and it was blinding. Then I decided I had to stay in my apartment or walk places for the rest of the day because I didn't want to get it dirty.


Virginia 1, Maryland 0

So perhaps this buying wine in Virginia thing is not totally awful. Primarily because my friend Heather lives near the closest Virginia Trader Joe's to me. We went wine shopping on Thursday and I had a fab time.

And bought $87 worth of wine. But hey, case discount!

AND, the Blason de Bourgogne pinot noir is only $7 there, instead of the $10 it is in Ohio (okay, I bought five)! Quite a few of the wine prices seemed substantially lower than what I know they cost in Ohio.

So now I'm stocked back up on wine, and the wine rack is full and happy. Woo hoo!

Virginia: 1

In somewhat related news (I believe these things were combined in the same batch of gripes in my last post), I made it to the Maryland MVA and, one hour and $300 later, had registration and a license, and a title in the mail. They have promised that I'll also get something about doing an emissions test on my PRACTICALLY NEW 2006 car. This after the $85 mandatory safety inspection. Aaaargh.

Maryland: -1, which brings our running total to 0.


Ohio 2, Maryland 1

These are some things anyone should know before they move to Maryland.

Grocery stores don't sell alcohol in Maryland. Not liquor, not wine, not beer, nada. You have to go either to the state liquor store, or random beer/wine stores scattered about. I have been to the state liquor store, and it is teeny, and devoted a lot to liquor and beer, at the expense of wine.

As I am a bit of a wine fan, this is annoying. It's even more annoying when you realize that there is no wine sold at Trader Joe's. That's not annoying, actually. That's DISASTROUS. Yes, fortunately, I am pretty close to Virginia, where they do sell wine at Trader Joe's. So I am not completely SOL on __-buck Chuck (no clue how much it costs in Virginia, but I'm sure I'll find out soon enough) and my favorite wine, the Blason de Bourgogne pinot noir, which is as good as wine gets for $10 (that BETTER still be $10 in Virginia).

But I'm the type who likes to pair wine and food, and so on my regular trips to the local Trader Joe's, I can't just decide to pick up some wine to go with my Pasta Italiano. Or, more importantly, after the odd discovery that I don't experience oral allergy symptoms when I am drinking alcohol and eating fresh fruits and vegetables (otherwise I am allergic to them), I often will pick up a white wine and some sort of fruit as a treat (if you think strawberries are good, try eating them once every month or so). I can't do that anymore without an extra trip to the liquor store, where I'm confronted with their poor selection and lack of good cheap wines picked out by the Trader Joe's staff.

Ohio: 1, Maryland: 0

Maryland also has, apparently, a screwball license bureau. They don't even call it a BMV like normal states. It's the MVA (Motor Vehicle Association). But anyway, I have not been there yet, although I will have to in the near future.

I've talked to folks about how long it's going to take me and I'm hearing estimates of anywhere from 1-3 hours. There will be taking of numbers. I should bring a book for the wait.

To me this seems pretty simple...if the lines are consistently that long, OPEN MORE PLACES. If you don't have the money to open more places, CHARGE HIGHER FEES. Three hours is really not an acceptable wait for anything. Especially since Ohio, which has no money and is incompetent at so many things, can manage to have a downtown BMV which I could WALK TO and never had to wait more than 15 minutes.

Ohio: 2, Maryland: 0

Things are not looking so good for my new state, here. Ah, but it is a blue state.

Ohio: 2, Maryland: 1


Breaking news: Carrie likes whitewater rafting

So Eileen, Mads, Jeff and I (there they are, minus me, above) met up in West Virginia to go whitewater rafting on the New River this weekend. I was fairly freaked out before going, as I thought it was going to be like riding a bucking bronco for five straight hours, and I was going to keep getting thrown from the raft and at some point I would hit my head on rocks and probably lose some teeth.

None of that happened. We did some pretty substantial rapids (some of them were rated class five, although the river was low so it was not as bad it as it could have been) but nobody, including me, fell out. At one point in one of the bigger rapids it was like, "whoa, why is the other side of the raft suddenly on this side?" The other side including our guide, who nearly knocked Mads out. Hee. But somehow they all stayed in.

And once I got the hang of it I had a ton of fun. Riding the rapids was fun, but so was the calm parts, where we could get out of the raft and float along.

Also fun, drinking Natural Light on the bus ride to the lodge and finally changing into dry clothes afterwards. Heh.

After we left the lodge we went to the overlook over the New River Gorge, where I took the picture below:

Sadly, none of us brought one of those water cameras (I considered it but figured I'd lose it in the river in one of the 16 times I got thrown off the raft...lesson learned), so that's the closest photo to the action I've got. But you can kinda sorta see the rapids there in the back. Also, my arms. There was a window there...


Smithsonian and memorial pictures

The Route 66 portion of the transportation exhibit.

Big shiny train.

Model of an ocean liner.

Piece of the Berlin Wall.

And a bunch from the World War II and Lincoln Memorials:

The national mall

So it had occurred to me that now that I live here, I could just randomly pop off to go to things like the Smithsonian (which is free, who knew?).

And it also occurred to me, after I learned that the Smithsonian is in fact open on Sundays, that today would be a good day to do so. The Museum of American History is closing after Labor Day for a long time for renovations, so I was running out of time to go see that one.

So I did. I took the metro in, which pops you right out in the midst of all the Smithsonian buildings (why do they call it the Smithsonian when there are many different buildings?), and took the short walk over to the museum. I stopped for a pretzel before I went in and was bugged by the World's Bravest Squirrel for a bite. I totally caved...I'm used to the skittish black squirrels at Kent State and this guy was all ready to eat out of my hand.

So, anyway, back to the actual museum. You just walk in and go through security bag check and then you're there. Awesome.

Many of the exhibits were closed in preparation for the renovation but there was still plenty to keep me occupied for an afternoon. I particularly liked the transportation exhibit — everything from ocean liners to Route 66 to the L in Chicago. The conservation of the star-spangled banner was interesting, too, as was what happened to polio. I found parts of the America at war exhibit really moving, like things that had been left at the Vietnam memorial, and wasn't really prepared for that. Shortly after that was 9/11, and a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. Really wasn't prepared for that one.

I wasn't planning to make this entry a downer, really...

After the Smithsonian, I went to the World War II memorial to take some pictures to show my grandfather, and then, because I am an idiot, kept walking to the Lincoln Memorial. Which probably put my walking total on the day at at least three miles, since my apartment's half a mile from the metro to begin with.

So I am very tired. But....pictures in the next post!


You gotta fight for your right to.....Interweb?

Well, I had mentioned to Eileen that I was going to post updates in my blog about my move to D.C.

But, see, the problem with that is that I really needed home Internet access to do so properly. Which I have not had. Until today. Yes, I was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. Yes, I probably could have blogged from Panera or whatever, but I like blogging from home. Yes, I know I'm a freak.

So I suppose I should actually note for the record that I have in fact moved to D.C. to take a job out here as an information architect. I believe my last post was about my car being a lemon and my new rocking Mazda 3 (as a side note, you don't realize how much you love a Mazda 3 hatchback until you cram as many of your possessions as you can in it and live off of them for three weeks).

So, the Internet situation. Which stems from the apartment situation. Which is this:

My apartment wasn't ready when they originally said it was going to be. Long story short, the people who were in there before me trashed it and it needed to be renovated. The good news is that the apartment does look great, including a brand-new kitchen. Bad news is that I had to have the movers hold my stuff in storage for awhile and stay with a friend.

So that delayed me moving in, and when I finally moved in I had already been working for awhile and could only get cable installed on a Saturday. Guess which Saturday that was? Heh.

So the cable guy comes today and starts doing the installation thing, and the TV signal is really fuzzy, and when he plugs in the modem, he says it isn't going to work. The line coming in is losing signal like crazy and they'll need to send somebody out to replace the line. So that means NEXT Saturday morning, before I head off white-water rafting.

The cable guy leaves, and I was about to make a depressing trip to Panera for the wifi, when I decided I had GONE LONG ENOUGH WITHOUT INTERNET AND WAS NOT GIVING UP WITHOUT A FIGHT IEEEEEEE. Ahem.

After much jiggling and twisting of the connection to the wire coming in, suddenly the BBC was looking a LOT clearer. So I went for it, and plugged the modem back in, and the Internet light lit up. There was much InCompetentCastic software and crap left to go through, but yes, I hacked my way onto the Internet. Hahahahahaha.

So that is update number one. I'm sure there will be more later. Now that I can update easily. Yay!


And the lemon tale draws to a close...

...with an epilogue I'm sure I'll laugh about someday. Maybe.

I had my appointment to turn in my Elantra on Friday morning, to complete the buyback. Everything with that went well – even better than I expected. They did an inspection to make sure it didn't have anything beyond normal wear and tear (it didn't) and I had to sign about a zillion forms and then I was done.

So phase I went pretty well. Phase II was to buy a new Mazda 3. I had that all arranged with the dealer – they had the one I wanted (titanium silver, five-speed, hatchback) located at another dealer, and they went to get it Thursday night.

I found out, though, that the car they had gone to get had damage when they arrived at the other dealer, and they told the other dealer they didn't want it. Fortunately, the dealer did have one with the same specs in lighter silver (the other color I said I liked...obviously I like it since my last two cars have been that color). It also had a pinstripe, which was ugly. It seriously looked like somebody had taken a Sharpie and run it down the side of the car. Why mar that pretty little car like that? Fortunately pinstripe removal is easy enough (peel and rip, in case anyone was wondering).

The dealer suggested I take it for a quick drive, just to make sure everything was okay with the car. Turns out, everything wasn't okay. The check engine light was on, and I thought maybe it was just the gas cap. So I pulled into a parking lot and it was indeed loose, so I tightened it. Check engine light was still on.


Turns out the old gas-cap-check-engine thing is pretty common and the light needs to be reset by service. So we drop the car off there and go do all the paperwork.

I sign a zillion more forms. It's a wonder I didn't have a hand cramp. Also, I discovered in all of this that my signature scrawl doesn't really account for needing to sign my middle initial.

Back to service, and turns out that the gas cap code wasn't the only one that the computer (oh, I know SO MUCH about these computers now) stored. There is an air leak somewhere that is affecting the mix of air and gasoline, which the car can't run at its optimum self without. They found the source of the leak pretty quick, but getting the part to replace it was another issue.

I needed to get to work, but they got me a rental car (there is a rental car place right in the service bay, which makes so many oodles of sense I wonder why I haven't seen that before), so I drove that in to work. Didn't hear anything on the car that night, and I needed to drive up to Akron for Mother's Day on Saturday, so I stopped in first thing Saturday morning.

No luck on getting that most important combo of the part and somebody who could install it. So I was going to have to wait until Monday. But they said it was no problem to take the rental to Akron, so I made it home for Mother's Day, which was really my main concern. It's important to note that the dealer was absolutely stellar throughout all of this, which was....refreshing, to say the least.

They called Monday, and had the new part in, but they wanted to keep it overnight for tests. Like, they had a nurse check on it every hour or something. Hee. But the idea was that I should never have to bring it back in again. WHICH I AM ALL FOR.

So Tuesday afternoon, I finally went to go pick up my little 3.

SO WORTH THE WAIT. Even when I test drove it, this car really amazed me in that I got in and instantly felt comfortable. With everything — the pickup, the handling, the seat, the interior. There was absolutely no adjustment period. I thought I'd drive awhile without the radio just to concentrate, but within a couple minutes I was busting out new Red Hot Chili Peppers (how I managed to love-love-love the first two tracks and not give a crap about the rest of a double album is probably for another blog post that probably won't ever get posted) and rocking out, flipping lanes, cruising right along. The pickup is great, but it's the suspension that really gets me with this car. It handles amazingly well. That and the Mazda seats. Oh, how I missed Mazda seats.

So, yeah, it took a little while, but I finally got my awesome little car. And while yes, you ordinarily want to drive the car off the lot the day you buy it, the whole lemon thing has given me some perspective:

The car never put me in danger. I never had to sit on the side of the interstate while semis blew past and made the whole thing shake. I never had to beg anyone for a ride to work. No one ever said, "Well, unless we can recreate the problem..." They told me exactly what the problem was, and I didn't have to dig to find out what had been done to the car. The writeup was extremely detailed. They even had the exact error codes.

My old Mazda Protege had a problem within the first 30 days, too. Granted, it was the power window getting stuck, and I drove it off the lot the day it arrived. But I know that these things happen. The difference between the Protege and the Elantra is that the Protege was nearly perfect after that. To the point where in the midst of all the problems with the Hyundai, I was kicking myself for ever giving that Protege up.

And that's why I'm glad to be back with Mazda. There's something to be said for brand loyalty.
And/or Japanese car companies whose names end with "a".

I'm really amazed that this all happened, and worked out the way it did. The people at the dealership got a big kick out of doing the paperwork and informing they have to do for Lemon Law. Like when you have to sign a form saying you're aware of it. Uh, yeah, I'm aware of it. Heh. But while I'm sure I signed that when I bought the Elantra, I never thought that it (buying a lemon) was something that would happen to me. Even now, I think of the Hyundai and go, "did that really happen?"

But now it's finally over. And yes, when I drove that 3 in to work, I used whatever damn lane I wanted. I'm thinking about maybe driving it over the Brent Spence Bridge, just for kicks.

Maybe not. Nobody drives the Brent Spence for kicks.


public sushi announcement

After sampling the spicy tuna rolls from four area grocery stores, I would like to declare the Hyde Park biggs the winner of my highly unofficial Spicy Tuna Contest. It broke down like this:

1. Hyde Park biggs: The clear winner because, while it was no AOI spicy tuna roll, it had the required smoky tang. The sesame seeds were fairly light, but the flavor still came through. I am not normally a fan of cucumber but in this roll it gave things a nice crunch. There was also avocado involved. And the pieces were small enough to really catch all of the flavors at the same time, which is a major plus in my book. They also sell the spicy mayo in containers, which I'm trying not to think about too much, because I'd be tempted to buy a tuna steak and just slather it with the stuff and eat it raw, perhaps with sesame seeds on top, and there's a few too many bad ideas right there.

2. Hyde Park Kroger: Oh, Hyde Park Kroger, clearly things are not going well if you let biggs get you here. I'm sure you would say it is just a spicy tuna roll, but in reality, we both know it starts with the spicy tuna roll, and then it's the whole seafood department, and then the produce, and the wine section, and the organic department and then THE WHOLE DAMN STORE WILL BE FLATTENED BY BIGGS. AND YOUR GAS STATION, TOO (But biggs doesn't have a gas station, you say. Yes, but just wait until they reveal their SPICY SAUCE STATION and that they've been in cahoots with Toyota to produce the new Prius Tuna Edition). Everything in this roll just seemed a little limper, although the ingredients were the same. Not as flavorful as the biggs roll, either.

3. Oakley Meijer. I really wish Meijer would get its sushi act together, because it is right next to Target, and we all know of my love for all things Target. But alas, this was a typical Meijer roll. A little too big. They only had a combined spicy roll (tuna and shrimp), and I actually preferred the shrimp ones better. Things seemed a little...dry....oddly enough. Not sure what was going on there. Meijer gets a few bonus points simply for me making it through the checkout unscathed, instead of vowing never to return, which is usually what happens every time I go to Meijer. Unless I get so pissed off I abandon my groceries and never make it through the checkout, which also has happened. Freaking Meijer. You'd think Target would have started to rub off by now, but NO.

4. Rookwood Wild Oats. Wild Oats, you have fallen so far. You used to have the most beautiful sushi. And while this was actually fairly pretty in the container, it is clear something went horribly wrong. This thing didn't taste spicy at all, although the wasabi was overwhelming. I used the same amount as normal (a lot), which leads me to believe one of two things happened: 1. Wild Oats wasabi is four times as spicy as anyone else's wasabi or 2. Wild Oats sushi makers think spicy tuna rolls are made with copious amounts of wasabi instead of spicy sauce. As there was no spicy sauce either visible or tastable in the roll, I am leaning towards number two. Add to that the fact that these pieces were so freaking huge they were the only ones I couldn't handle with chopsticks, and it just gets worse. When sushi gets that big I find myself dissecting pieces in my mouth...."That was cucumber. Oh, think that was fish. Avocado?" Think 12 pieces instead of 8, people!

So why the sudden spicy tuna analysis? Well, sometimes Carrie just craves sushi. A lot. For days.

(No, I did not eat them all in one day. Or two.)


Score one for the little guy. Err, woman.

I won my arbitration hearing with Hyundai!!!

They have to repurchase my car. I am still learning about how all of the details with that work out, but the important thing is that I'll be free to go to another car company.

After my experience with this car, I'm not going to be looking very much for the new one. I've narrowed my choices down to Japanese car companies whose last names end in "a". A for reliAbility. Or something.

I am going to do some more test driving this weekend, but right now I've got this little cutie in mind. In part because I traded in a perfectly good Protege for my Elantra, and while I've obviously not kept tabs on my old Protege, I'm going to venture a guess that since we parted ways it's been in the shop less than the Elantra.

I do have to say that I come out of all of this with a lot of confidence in Ohio and its lemon law. I expected to go into the hearing and get steamrolled by a team of attorneys, but while Hyundai did send a lawyer, it was very informal and not at all like that. And while I had a hard time dealing with Hyundai over everything, once it went to the BBB, everything was very structured. And, bottom line, I had a car that did a very dangerous thing, multiple times, and now I have the opportunity to get out of it.

So yeah, if you buy a new car in Ohio, you really are protected.



random product placement

I do not know this for a fact, but I think that Trader Joe's Italian Blood Orange Soda would make the BEST Mimosas.

Also, every year, without fail, Neutrogena comes out with some craaaazy new suncare product that I just have to buy. Damn them.

In all seriousness, though, if it delivers as promised this new Helioplex stuff is huge. It's supposed to do what Meroxyl, which isn't available in the U.S. because the FDA says it's a drug and has to be approved, does. And that is to provide UVA protection that isn't photosensitive (i.e. breaks down in the sun, which is, of course, bad in a SUNSCREEN).

I, sunscreen nerd, will be testing this out on vacation. Neutrogena also makes an SPF 55 (55! holy cow!) of their amazing Dry Touch stuff with the Helioplex, which I also picked up at Target today.

Yes, I know, vacation isn't until June. But as fast as March has gone by it'll be here before I know it. At least that's the theory...



Realized I should post an arbitration update.

There isn't much to update at this point. I think it went okay but they have to have an independent technical type person take the car for a test drive, and then after that I will get the ruling in writing.

So I won't know how it turned out for at least a little while.

Dear Bed, Bath and Beyond

I know you must read this blog since the furniture in a box I purchased yesterday (yes, I know I promised to quit but it was just a little tiny table!) was actually really well-wrapped and showed no evidence of having been punted across your store at some point. Given my past experiences with futniture in a box I have to say I was amazed to pull out piece after piece and not find a giant gash in one of the legs, or that the tabletop had split in half, or the little middle piece was missing.

However, I must correct you on one point. Nothing that involves GLUE should ever be labeled easy to assemble. I don't care if the instructions are: "Glue part A to part B. Congratulations, you are done!"

Glue automatically negates ease of assembly. It just does.

But, really, congratulations on getting that whole wrapping-the-furniture-so-that-half-doesn't-get-bought-damaged thing. If I have any other issues I'll just post them here and you can get right on them.



Oh, by the way, it's ON

I keep forgetting to post that my arbitration hearing with Hyundai is scheduled for this Thursday. Apparently I won't find out until later what the arbitrator decides, but whether I know or not I'm sure I'll be ready for plenty 'o Guinness Friday. Heh.


you knew the Apple rant was coming

It was just a matter of time.

For the first time ever, I actually bought something on iTunes because of collaborative filtering (for the record, it was "Emerge," by Fischerspooner).

In my brief time using iTunes, it has frustrated me on many different levels. I am a frequent Amazon.com user, and I've gotten used to their level of personalization and collaborative filtering. They say "We thought you might be interested in..." and they might as well have said "Put this in your shopping cart, now!" I'm used to them reminding me that I looked at Grey's Anatomy on DVD the other day and saying, "oh, crap, I was going to buy Grey's Anatomy on DVD!" That sort of thing.

iTunes is not nearly so helpful. If you were, say, listening to previews of some of the songs on the 97x Top 97 list one day, and came back the next deciding you were going to buy some, well, you're on your own finding that list again, sucker. Because search won't work and iTunes isn't going to HELP YOU SPEND MONEY by indicating what you looked at recently. They do provide other top downloads and related artists and other such stuff, but I still feel lost half the time on iTunes. And they don't have that uncanny knack for constantly knowing what you want even before you do.

And don't even get me started on the usability issues. The search text box with no button! Argh! Sure, it's all Appley streamlined and sleek, but there's plenty of space for a search button that would keep bunches of users from getting tripped up (myself included).

I've got similar bones with the iPod, although I like mine. Such as having to reformat the damn thing to get songs off. They call it synching your iPod, when you hook it up to the computer so it can have its little mind meld with iTunes. But it's not SYNCHING if it doesn't remove from the iPod the songs you've removed from iTunes. What it's doing would be better termed DUMPING. It's a good thing PDAs don't synch with Outlook this way or executives around the world would be showing up for cancelled meetings all the time.

And then there's the scroll wheel, which I use daily to blow right past whatever artist or song I'm trying to find. I thought that I would get used to it, but I think operating something primarily with your thumb might just be inherently bad ergonomics. Someone posted this critique of the iPod on a mailing list I'm on, and I found myself nodding my head to the whole thing.

But I'm going to keep the iPod for quite awhile, because it is still a hell of a lot better than my ginormous MP3/CD player, my previous mobile music solution. And I'm stuck with iTunes until somebody else comes along with something better. Come on, Amazon, you know you want to!


Best sport ever!

Why did no one think of this Snowboardcross before?

It's got jumping, bumping and crashing, and when it's calm, it's oddly mesmerizing.


Why the Olympics are bad

Already, today, I've had a conversation with myself that went something like this:

Carrie: Come on, you have to get up off of the couch and do something productive.

Carrie: But, the Olympics are on!

Carrie: You don't need to watch the WHOLE Olympics. Your apartment is a mess. You need to go to Target.

Carrie: Rarely in my life do I actually NEED to go to Target. Think of the money I will save.

Carrie: Nordic combined just came on. If you watch Nordic combined now, in a week you will be slumped in the middle of your living room in a couch potato stupor, enthralled with curling.

Carrie: OK, damn it, you're right. What do you think is on tonight?



Thursday night on my way home from the Crazy Fox, I almost got broadsided by a guy running a red light on Fifth Street downtown. Luckily, something felt wrong, and I checked the intersection before I went, because BAM, there goes little likely drunk red car through the intersection.

And I found myself thinking, wouldn't that be ironic and anticlimactic, if my lemon Hyundai was totaled after all the crap I've been through?

However, I've seen enough of the crash test results on my size car to know that, side air bags aside, I would not have fared well in that crash, so it's probably all for the best.

Unless next week I get in a stall-caused crash or something...


best hair day ever!

That isn't actually today, it was yesterday.

I went to the Aveda Institute to get my hair cut, and got the best haircut of my life. Now, granted, I average about one haircut a year, where I take off the six-eight inches that have grown since my last haircut, so it's not like I've actually had a huge number of haircuts before.

But anyway, my hair's now shoulder-length, and layered, and THINNED (They can thin it? Who knew? And why did no one suggest this before?). Now the trick will be to actually style it the way it's supposed to be occasionally.


Ode to my five-year-old Timex

Oh, Timex, I thought this afternoon it was over.

When I turned that corner too tight and knocked my wrist (and you) against the doorframe, and noticed an hour later that you were covered in streaks of white paint, I thought, this is it — I am going to have to put poor old Timex in a forgotten drawer of my jewelry box and go to Target to plunk down $24.99 for a replacement. I think this is how much a replacement you costs at Target. Obviously it has been awhile since I bought a new watch.

I tried to wipe off the streaks with my shirt and then a tissue, but they wouldn't budge. Poor little Timex, I thought you'd be felled in your prime. You're only five (or maybe six, or seven) years old, and only on your third battery!

I've had you so long I can't remember when I got you. I know there was another watch sometime around my freshman or sophomore year of college — I can remember the strap breaking and a futile search in the steps and lawn of Harbourt Hall. Clearly, that watch was not as durable as you.

Because when I tried eyeglass cleaner spray, the streaks came off, and your face was as good as new. How resilient you are!

I have to admit I was relieved. Sure, you're, like, the greatest watch of all time, so Target still carries your model. But it wouldn't be the same. We've got a lot of history, Timex. You let me know when I was strolling into my undergrad classes 15 minutes late. You lit up your little Indiglo face in countless dark clubs and movie theaters. You got me to job interviews on time. We've been swimming in my grungy apartment pool and the beautiful blue Caribbean together (because you're waterproof, not water resistant!).

I know you've seen the new watch I got for Christmas, the pretty beaded one. I know you might be jealous, but you don't need to worry. Sure, it's pretty, and I'll wear it sometimes when I want to dress up, but, really, you need a break occasionally. You don't need to worry about your place in the watch hierarchy — you're still the functional little master of time around this apartment.

About that ramming you into doorframes every once and awhile...you know I don't mean to do it, right? You know I'm just not very careful with my appendages when I turn corners sometimes. After all, it's not always you getting hit. Sometimes it's my elbow, or my thumb, or my knee, or my toe. I'll try to be more careful in the future, though.

Here's to five (or maybe six, or seven) more years together.



For anyone who hasn't been following my Hyundai Lemon Saga, and I'm not sure if there actually IS anyone, as I think I've whined to nearly the whole free world about it...

Tuesday two weeks ago, the car stalled on the interstate again. I pulled over to the side of the road and was able to start after 10-15 minutes, and took it in to Hyundai the next day, where they replaced the crankshaft sensor AGAIN.

I sent a lemon letter in to Hyundai on Monday.

Then this Friday, yep, you guessed it, stalled out again. The plus side of this, if there is a plus side, is I am getting very good at coasting on the interstate. This time I had to cross three lanes of traffic while stalled. I took it in to the dealer and they puttered around with it all day and called Hyundai's central tech people. And did nothing. I also called Hyundai's consumer center to tell them they might want to hurry along that lemon stuff since my car is a DEATH TRAP.

I'll find out more about this lemon stuff early next week, hopefully.

In happier news, my new Sony Psyc over-ear headphones that I got from Target are working out quite nicely. The iPod also is working out nicely. I watched an episode of Prison Break while I was waiting for them to fix the crankshaft sensor and I felt like I was too cool for the Superior Hyundai waiting room. Hee.

I have some issues with iTunes, though. I have always thought that the idea behind syncing a device with your computer is so that all of the settings and files match up. iTunes, though, thinks that syncing means you dump all the new shit on the device, without clearing out anything that's been deleted from iTunes. As a result, my iPod is already starting to get bloated. I know you can delete songs manually, but that would take eons.

Also, I have realized that my My Music folder has become bloated itself, with crappy songs, and crappily labeled songs, and duplicates of both crappy songs and crappily labeled songs. I'm not quite sure how that happened. So now I'm trying to go through and clean it out, which sucks on about five different levels. But then once everything is nice and clean, I'll reformat the iPod and start again, with all the crap gone.