Thursday, December 31, 2009

Don't let the screen door hit you

2009 started out with such promise. I was back home again, with only a few more trips planned for work. In February, I spent three weeks in cold, rainy Belgium and took a quick trip over to Vienna. In June, I spent a week in Toronto. Personal travel was limited this year: We went to Alabama in January; North Carolina and Virginia in August; and back to North Carolina for Christmas. Quite disappointing after 2008's 100,000 miles. Yet maybe it was time to stay home for a while? There's a season for everything, right?

Thanks to staying at home, I was able to finish my book. It was published in October (and republished in November!) I've sold about 60 copies since November, and I had my first book signing last week in North Carolina. That was cool.

Of course, I broke my leg in September, and that was the real reason I had the time to finish the book!

2009 had a tragic side, starting with two deaths in the family in January. My cousin Jimmy passed away unexpectedly, followed a few days later by Sandy's Dad. Our excitement over the new U.S. President was overshadowed by these sad events. But sadly, those would not be the only deaths this year. Sandy's Aunt Betty passed away in May, and my Aunt Lib died in July. Several long-time family friends also passed on, including two while I was visiting North Carolina for Christmas. I can't remember so many deaths in one year. I don't recall ever feeling so aware of my own mortality.

The economy sucked in 2009, but at least we have jobs - for now, at least.

Fortunately, we've both been around the block a time or two now, and long enough to see that life is a big cycle. It can't be good forever, and it can't be bad forever, either. The thing about a New Year is that you get a chance to start over, and that's why I'm excited about 2010. I'm going to shake the proverbial dust off my feet.

Adios, 2009: don't let the screen door hit you as you leave. Welcome, 2010! Welcome, New Decade!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A room of one's own - sort of

With S's Mom now permanently back in Alabama, we've got the other half of the house back. We decided to keep the back room as a guest bedroom, so the question was: what should we do with the front room? I told Sandy that I used to dream of having a "library" - a cozy, warm room with bookshelves and wall art and comfortable seating where I could hang out with a book and a cup of tea or coffee. I've also wanted a room where I could bring my laptop and write my blog entries, book reviews, brilliant Facebook and Twitter updates (haha), and other creative works without distractions.

S, who probably should have been either an architect or an interior designer, has been trying hard to make my dream come true. Last weekend, we moved the massage chair, the futon, and my funky Sumo bean bag into the room. Today, S has been hanging pictures and tomorrow we'll add the bookshelves and books. We had our first "tea" this afternoon, and now I'm writing this from my "new" reading/writing room!

It's still a work in progress (isn't everything "under construction" - really?) but it's slowly becoming my favorite room in the house. Now, if only I could get some decent lighting in here . . . don't worry, S is on it. In fact, I think she's already narrowed down a few floor lamp choices from Lamps Plus. So it shouldn't be much longer before the reading/writing room is complete. I guess then, I'll really have no excuses for not writing that second book . . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

Twitter surprise

I've been using Twitter for just over a year now and have been really fascinated with how it's used. Sure, people send messages to each other (what they're doing), but it's also used by companies to promote their products or services, by groups to promote events, and by individuals to share their thoughts on movies, music, trends, or whatever.

I try to "tweet" something everyday . . . not that anyone really cares, except for maybe the few friends of mine who are also on Twitter. Last week when I was reading the book On What Grounds, a cozy mystery about a murder in a Greenwich Village coffee house, I tweeted that I was reading the book and enjoying it so far. I didn't really think anything about it . . . after all, it was just one of my daily tweets.

Today, I got a Twitter message from the author, Cleo Coyle. It was a Reader Shout-Out and wishes for happy holidays. To me! How cool is that?!!

By the way, I *loved* the book, and have already ordered the next five books in the series (and this was before I got her message). For those of you who love mysteries and/or coffee, I hope you'll check this series out. Thanks to OWG, I can now use my screw-top espresso machine! Woo-hoo!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hibernation mode

It's been very cold here in the Hoosierland this week. On Thursday, it was a mere 13 degrees (F) according to my car's digital thermometer. Today was warmer, and by tomorrow, it should be warm enough to get my car washed. I hope so, because it's horribly dirty.

Anyway, it's that sleepy time of year, when the sun doesn't come up before your alarm clock goes off in the mornings, and goes down long before you get home from work. By the time I get home, I'm totally wiped out from exhaustion! All I want to do is eat dinner, watch a little TV by the fireplace, and read in bed. I especially love the latter because I have a wonderful heated mattress pad that I can turn up to 6 or 7 and it gets the bed all cuddly and cozy. (Don't worry, I always turn it down to Lo - or maybe 1 - before I fall asleep.)

OK, I should write something more interesting here. I will. Maybe tomorrow. For now, I want to hibernate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Paperback swap

I'm enjoying my latest obsession so much, I feel compelled to share it. Do you have a bunch of books that you no longer want? Trade 'em! On Paperback Swap ( you can list books you don't want anymore. When someone wants your book, you mail it to them (you pay the postage, but you can buy postage through the Web site with Paypal, and you can print postage-paid wrappers or labels). When the person on the other end receives the book (or when you mark the book mailed, if you used the pre-paid postage option), you get a credit. You can then "shop" the approximately 4 million books listed and choose your book! The sender pays your postage. List 10 books that you want to get rid of, and you will get 2 free credits which you can use immediately.

For someone like me who reads a lot, but only likes keeping "special" books on my shelves, this is a great way to feed my addiction. Check it out, and if you sign up, write my name in the section where it asked how you found out about it. I'll get a credit for referring you. Can't beat that!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time flies

Here we are on the first day of December. I don't know about you, but I can't believe how quickly this year is going by. It seems like just a few weeks ago, Sandy and I were celebrating the arrival of 2009 and meticulously planning how we were each going to lose 50 pounds this year. I can't speak for Sandy, but in eleven months, I've managed to lose exactly 6 pounds. So I guess that means I have only 44 to go. I kinda doubt I'll be able to do that before December 31.

We've been having some beautiful sunsets lately. Thought I'd share the view from the backyard one recent November evening when I arrived home from work before it was completely dark outside! I for one am ready for Winter Solstice, when the days start getting longer again. Tomorrow in Helsinki, the sun rises at 8:59AM and sets at 3:20PM. By December 21, they will only have 5 hours and 48 minutes of sunlight. So I won't complain.

Thank you, Google, for fixing the Blog Feed issue. All is right with the world now.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What you're missing

Since Google still hasn't fixed the Blog Feed issue, I thought I'd start posting announcements about my Book Blog updates here. I just finished reviewing Carrot Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke. If you want to read it, just click this link to Mariandy Reads! and go to it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving flashbacks

Happy Thanksgiving! This is hands-down my favorite US holiday. It hasn't always been my favorite holiday -- when I was a kid, it ranked #5 after Christmas, Halloween, Easter, and Independence Day - so this is a relatively recent thing.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was relatively low-key at my house. Meaning: we didn't have huge numbers of family or friends over. It was usually just the four of us, sometimes with my maternal grandparents, or a special uncle and aunt. Mom would always cook the traditional turkey meal, sometimes along with low-country Carolina food - fresh fish and shrimp (which would be deep-fried Calabash-style) and roasted oysters (fresh from the beach, shells caked with salty mud -- Dad would have to spray them with the garden hose before Mom would let them in the house!) We'd take long walks on the farm, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and football (I was a Dallas Cowboys fan back then), and sometimes we'd get the shotguns out and do some target shooting. I was particularly adept with the .12 gauge, even though my shoulder would always be blue for two days afterward. :-)

Flashforward thirty-some years. I'm all grown up, and living five hundred miles away. I'd like to go "home" for Thanksgiving, but it doesn't make much sense, given the distance and given the proximity of this holiday to Christmas, when I'll make the trek anyway. For the past several years, I've cooked the Thanksgiving meal all by myself, and served anywhere from three to nine people. In terms of my cooking, last year was probably the best so far. The Indiana free-range turkey was perfectly roasted and the sides were all amazing. We spent the day eating, watching the National Dog Show, and playing Rock Band on the Wii. It was a very simple but totally cool day.

This year on a whim, I decided not to cook. Instead, we drove down to Story, Indiana - in Brown County - and had a late afternoon meal. We'd never been there before, so the trip in itself was an adventure (we saw dozens of deer grazing in the recently-harvested corn fields). The Story Inn - "inconveniently located since 1851" - is an institution in south central Indiana. For one thing, it's supposedly haunted by The Blue Lady. We didn't see her, but the iPhone's Ghost Radar was going crazy when we were dining in the Old Mill room.

The food was, um, not as great as my cooking, but pretty darn good. We started out with some fresh-out-of-the-oven sourdough bread and freshly made honey butter, followed by a cup of butternut squash soup topped with bacon. There were three entrees to choose from: 1) roasted Indiana turkey; 2) maple-glazed ham; or 3) prime rib. I got the turkey, Sandy got the ham, and her Mom got the prime rib. (Sandy won this round. Not that the turkey or prime rib were bad but the ham was AWESOME.) For sides, we got turkey stuffing, mashed golden potatoes and gravy, green beans, yams, and cranberry sauce. And then there was dessert. Again, we had a choice . . . and again we each chose something different between pumpkin pie, apple caramel pie, and pecan pie. AGAIN, Sandy chose the best - the apple caramel pie was to die for. We were so full, we practically needed someone to take us out in a wheelbarrow.

It was a good day . . . and another nice Thanksgiving. But it's not the food that makes it my favorite holiday. It's a combination of historical significance and the realization I have so much to be thankful for. I'm glad we have a Thanksgiving holiday. When you really think about it, we should be giving thanks everyday. Let's try it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Read along with Mariandy

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the feed to my blog Mariandy Reads - over on the right side "Shameless Plugs" list - is not updating. It looks like I haven't read any books since The Unlikely Disciple. Truth is, I've posted two more book reviews since then. So if you typically read that blog, please check it out! In the meantime, all I can do is wait for Google to fix the error (I searched Help and apparently it's happening to several other blogs.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The book is here

The Wienerschnitzel Diary is now available on Amazon and CreateSpace. If you order from CreateSpace, I get a few dollars more. :-) Unfortunately, the delay in finalizing the book means that I haven't had much time to work on The Code. Oh, well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My iTunes Top 25 - so far

Tonight as I was downloading some iTunes songs, I noticed a link for Top 25 Most Played songs. I decided to check it out, and was quite surprised to see my list. Considering I have iTunes on two computers, and have three active iPods, I kind of wonder how accurate it is. But . . . here ya go. Numbers in parentheses are the number of times the song has played.

1. Other Side of the World - KT Tunstall (44)
2. Dani California - Red Hot Chili Peppers (41)
3. Ooh La La - Goldfrapp (37)
4. Strict Machine - Goldfrapp (36)
5. Crazy (James Michael mix) - Alanis Morissette (34)
6. These are the Days - Sugarland (34)
7. Dead! - My Chemical Romance (33)
8. Black Horse & Cherry Tree - KT Tunstall (32)
9. Swamped - Lacuna Coil (31)
10. Jump - Madonna (30)
11. Day Too Soon - Sia (29)
12. UFO - Sneaky Sound System (29)
13. Zwischen Heimweh und Fernsucht - Pohlmann (28)
14. Back to Black - Amy Winehouse (27)
15. Come Undone (Edit) - Duran Duran (27)
16. Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand - Primitive Radio Gods (27)
17. This is the Life - Amy MacDonald (26)
18. Bring Me to Life - Evanescence (26)
19. Home - Great Northern (26)
20. I Kissed a Girl - Katy Perry (25)
21. What Have You Done - Within Temptation (25)
22. Mercy - Duffy (24)
23. Ich bin ein Auslander - Pop Will Eat Itself (24)
24. Maybe I'm Amazed - Jem (23)
25. Dieses Leben - Juli (23)

It's interesting that #13, #23, and #25 were from my time in Vienna last year. I wonder how long it will take for the songs on this list to shift around or drop off so new ones can appear. Maybe I'll check again in a few months and report any substantial findings.

What are your Top 25 Most Played songs?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pieces of the wall

Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. The pieces above were chiseled out by Sandy a few months later. She just happened to be in Berlin on the day they closed Checkpoint Charlie - this piece of the wall came from near there. The piece was from the West side, evidenced by the paint (graffiti). The East side of the wall was out of reach of graffiti artists since it was surrounded by the death strip. Click on the link above to see a photo of the wall and death strip prior to 9 November 1989.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book update . . . and new book

Oh, the joys of living with dyslexia. I had NO IDEA how long the book editing process would take. After spending 16 hours on it last weekend, I thought I was finished. I even ordered several advanced copies of the book to give to my parents and a few other people. But when the most recent proof arrived, it was full of errors. Small errors, but errors nonetheless.

Publication of The Wienerschnitzel Diary is on hold for a few more weeks. With luck, I can put this project behind me by Thanksgiving. Maybe I should consider hiring a professional editor next time.

In the meantime, the writing continues. I'm about to start my first novel in conjunction with National Novel Writing Month. The tentative title is The Code. It's a young adult novel. The goal is to be proof-ready by 30 November in accordance with National Novel Writing Month's guidelines. We'll see how it goes!

Friday, October 2, 2009

So I wrote this book . . .

You might be wondering why I haven't written lately. Well, I could blame it on the broken leg, but I really don't need my leg to write blog entries. So here's the real reason. Every evening and weekend for the last three weeks or so, I've been working on the world's worst kept secret. I wrote a book. Actually, I edited a book - because it's based on a blog I wrote last year when I was living in Vienna. Anyway, I received the proof copy today and it looks GREAT!!! I do have a few corrections to make, so that's how I'll spend this weekend. But soon - maybe as soon as next week? - it'll be final. Thing is, I've enjoyed this so much, I already have an idea for another book - the next one will be a novel. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

10 reasons to be happy

Some days - some weeks - some months - some years are better than others. I'm trying to keep the main thing the main thing (because that's the main thing.) I have lots of reasons to be happy, but here is the list I will publish tonight (not in any particular order):

1. I have two doggies who are so excited to see me when I get home from work, they practically pee all over themselves.
2. The internet connection is working tonight.
3. The weather has been perfect lately.
4. My friend Q arrived home safely from her trip to Italy. :-)
5. My friend T is back at work after a very long medical leave. :-)
6. My leg is healing quickly.
7. Despite being born during the Johnson administration, I still only have about 8 grey hairs (and I haven't colored my hair since 1992).
8. Friends - you know who you are.
9. Family - hopefully, you also know who you are.
10. I have the world's most comfortable bed.

What would your list look like?

Monday, September 7, 2009

My right foot

Those of you who talk to me often or follow me on Facebook know that I had a little "incident" while walking the dogs last Tuesday night. I went out at 7PM that night and didn't get home until 11:30!!!

This is what my foot looked like while I was waiting for the results of my x-ray at St. Francis. Ha, you know how Moms always tell you to wear clean underwear in case you have to go to the Emergency Room? Well, when I saw this photo, I was so glad I'd had a recent pedicure! 

I knew what the x-ray would show: that something was broken, because I heard the crack when my ankle twisted - in fact, I can still hear it, each time I think to that moment in time and IT STILL FREAKS ME OUT. Sure enough, I have a fractured fibula. But it wasn't a clean break. In fact, the ER doc described it as "multiple chips." 

For the past 6 days, I've been home, and mostly in bed. I visited an orthopedic restorative specialist last week and he gave me a special walking boot that you can pump air into - very cool But I couldn't actually get it on my foot until Saturday . . . and even then, only for about 30 minutes. 

I kept it on several hours yesterday, and have had it on most of today. Earlier today I went out (I can't drive for 6 weeks, so I'm very thankful for S, my limo driver!) for my first "public" appearance since the accident (I don't count going to the ER or going to the orthopedic restorative clinic a public appearance!) We went to Starbucks, then over to Barnes & Noble, where after walking through the store I felt like I was going to die of pain, so much that I had to come home and lie down again!

I'm writing this entry from my bed. I've got my cryo cuff on (it's a really cool gadget that you put ice water in, then wrap around your foot, to reduce the pain and swelling) and I'm feelin' fine.

I'll have to go back to the office tomorrow. What was I saying last week about putting the big girl panties on?!!! Well, there's a time for everything, I guess!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Put your big girl panties on

Since moving to the dark side (i.e., taking a job in the corporate world) nearly ten years ago, my vocabulary has grown tremendously. I now consider myself to be fairly proficient in Corpspeak. This very unique language is often rather amusing. Here are some of the basics:

  • Ripped me a new one. As in: "Man, I was in a meeting with my boss this morning and when I told her I still hadn't finished Project X, she ripped me a new one." This is the rated PG version. The rated R version is: 
  • Ripped a new a**hole, which basically means the same thing, but typically applies to others, usually someone far up the ladder. As in: " I heard that our CEO ripped a new a**hole in one of our VPs for not making plan last quarter."
  • Come to Jesus. This is an encounter in which one person sets down some rules for another person or group, as in: "My boss and I are going to have to have a Come to Jesus on these new flex time rules, 'cause they ain't gonna work for me." Or: "When it comes to these new flex time rules, I (the manager) am just going to have to have a Come to Jesus with my subordinates."
  • My plate is full. This is what you say when your boss asks you to do something and you don't want to do it or don't have time. In which case, your boss will usually ask you to:
  • Clean your plate. Meaning: get rid of any unnecessary tasks or projects that you're supposed to be working on. Usually this is a temporary thing, to be done when a high-priority task comes along that supersedes anything else you were supposed to be doing. As in: "OK, I need you to work on [insert name of corporate-initiative-of-the-day], so clean your plate for the next two weeks."
  • Help me to understand. This is what you say when your boss asks for the impossible, but you can't say: "Are you out of your @#$% mind?! There's no way I can clean my plate right now! I'm already working on 5,000 high priority projects!" Instead, you take a deep breath, think of puppies and flowers on a warm Spring day and say: "OK. Help me to understand why I should clean my plate for this . . . as well as how I'm supposed to do it." NOTE: Always use help me to understand before you attempt to Come to Jesus, otherwise you may find yourself being ripped a new one. Or worse.
So what is my point in writing this blog entry? Well, usually, these words and phrases don't translate to real life; I don't use them at home. But a few things have happened to me lately that have made life a little challenging.  A few days ago, I remembered another Corpspeak phrase that I hadn't heard in a while. It seemed to apply to my situation.
  • Put your big girls panties on. This means exactly what it sounds like: just grow up, shut up, and get it done.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, this phrase has become my mantra lately. I just wish my "big girl panties" had Wonder Woman on them, because I could certainly use some of her strength!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The harvest

KT, this is especially for you . . . a photo of my most recent harvest from the summer garden. Here we have Roma tomatoes (grown from seed!), along with some yellow and red tomatoes in various stages of ripeness. The larger yellow things under the tomatoes are spaghetti squash. 

We still have 8-10 tomatoes on the vine, and look forward to more of these. The squash plants are gone now - replaced by Swiss chard, which have already emerged after just six days in the ground. So maybe it won't be long before I can show some more photos of food grown in our backyard!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Digging my garden

I took advantage of the cooler weather yesterday to plant what I'm calling "Fall Garden #1" (to distinguish it from "Fall Garden #2", which will be planted later, in the spaces to eventually be vacated by the peppers and tomatoes). Now, clearly I'm no expert. This is, after all, only my second garden. And I'm a native of Zone 7, where we can grow things outdoors 10 months out of the year without trying. But I'm hopeful.

So I cleaned out just over half of my square foot garden - not fun, by the way. The fun part is always in the planting. In the spaces vacated by lettuce, spaghetti squash, and radicchio, I planted more lettuce (Romaine and buttercrunch), more radicchio, red Russian kale, Swiss chard, scallions, and some short stubby carrots (can't remember the variety now).  These were all seeds (as opposed to seedlings - I did go to my local nursery seeking spinach and beet seedlings, but they said they won't get them for another week to ten days).  I added organic fertilizer spikes and made copious notes in my Plant Some Seeds journal and even marked my calendar based on "days to emerge" and "days to harvest." Maybe, just maybe, my thumb is getting a little greener.

As to my "summer" garden . . . hmmm. Let's just say I learned a lot from it. First, in my attempt to be organic, I forgot to fertilize. Then I left the lettuce out too long and it got too tough. I accidentally took up my leeks, then desperately transplanted them and now they're as limp as wet noodles. The peppers have been slow to flower and fruit - I'm only just now starting to see any action. My tomatoes, however, Rock. Not only are they abundant, they're also beautiful, with hardly any blemishes at all and very little evidence of pest damage. The biggest surprise of all was my spaghetti squash. OMG! I only got 4 but they are so awesome!

What I can tell you about vegetable gardening is . . . I dig it!!! (Ha ha) When I'm out there planting something, or pulling weeds, or looking for caterpillars, or harvesting . . . it forces me to be in the moment. Being in the moment is not so easy for me. I'm an adult with ADHD, and I get paid for my ability to multitask, which I'm quite good at. But when I'm in my garden, I'm really there, and everything is right with the world. 

I'm already thinking about next Spring! :-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

An amazing milestone

Fifty years ago today, Hawaii became a state. And my parents got married. My parents have been married for half a century! What an amazing accomplishment in this day and time.

If I'm doing the math right, my Dad was 25 and my Mom was 21. They had only met the previous May - at a funeral wake for my Mom's granddad, of all places. It must have been love at first sight because they only knew each other for three months before taking the big plunge. 

Both of them were high school teachers at the time . . . actually, Mom was just finishing her last summer school class and was about to start her first teaching job. They just sort of spontaneously decided (so I'm told) to go across the state line and get married. This is because you can get married in South Carolina on demand, rather than having to wait three days in North Carolina. 

So they went over to SC on a Friday night, and as was the custom back then (can't imagine doing this now) they found out where the judge lived and went to his house. Only when they arrived, they were met at the door by a woman with curlers in her hair. This woman performed the ceremony for them: now, was she the judge? Hey, I don't know. That's the story they tell me. For all I know my parents could be common law married!

If that were the case I think that, after 50 years it would be legal. Regardless.

Anyway, I'm thinking of them tonight, and feeling proud. And very, very lucky to have them as my parents.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The big stretch

The last week or so has been kinda rough at work. OK, I don't really mean "rough" - I mean busy. I've been working on a special project that had a quick turnaround, and I had to really give it 110%. That required putting other things aside and even working most of the day on Sunday.  It also required me to stretch myself. "To stretch oneself" doesn't sound fun, does it? It sounds painful. In fact, sometimes it is. I don't often want to do it, but I usually realize after the fact that it wasn't so bad. And I always learn a lot.

Such was definitely the case this time. Whoa, did I stretch!!! Did I learn! My brain hurts!

I'm not there yet . . . I'm not quite finished with this project. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If all goes well, life should get back to normal by the weekend. I hope so, because I have lots of stuff to do. Like planting my fall garden! 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Early to bed, early to rise

If not for the alarm clock, I would sleep until 9-10AM each day. I prefer staying up until midnight or later. When I was in graduate school, my best working hours were from midnight until 4AM. I'm sure I could easily get back into this pattern. Unfortunately, the world's circadian rhythm isn't exactly in sync with mine, and it's up to me to conform. So I'm desperately trying to make a few changes.

Starting tomorrow, I have a new rule: I'm going to be in bed (or at least in my bedroom) by 9PM and off the computer by 10PM. Lights will be out by 10:30PM.  

This means . . . I have to reduce my "fun" time online. Namely, I have to quit some of my Facebook games. I will miss YoVille and Sorority Life. I will miss playing Farkle. But mostly, I'll miss Farm Town! I have the cutest little farm there - I've worked so hard to get it "just so." It's hard to leave it! But alas, there are only so many hours in a day . . . 

Saturday, August 8, 2009

10 things I miss about living in North Carolina

1. Being in close proximity to my parents and certain other family members.
2. Sitting on the front porch in the rocking chairs at my parents' house on the farm that has been in my family for 4 generations.
3. Orange pineapple ice cream.
4. Chopped BBQ done in Eastern NC way, with a vinegar base, served with coleslaw (simply called "slaw") on top.
5. Sweet tea with LOTS of ice.
6. Calabash seafood - the real, fresh stuff from Carolina waters, not the fake, nasty, formaldehyde-soaked crap imported from who-knows-where.
7. Tar Heel basketball and the lovely little city of Chapel Hill. GO TAR HEELS!!!!!!!!
8. Long leaf pine trees that are so tall they seem to scrape the sky.
9. The Outer Banks, especially Ocracoke Island.
10. The mountains. All of them. And it's Appalachian, people (Ap-pa-LATCH-un, with a short "a" sound and a hard "ch", not Ap-pa-LAY-shun with a long "a" sound and wimpy "sh.") 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sweet C'ville

From a break in the trees up at Monticello, you can see the famous Rotunda at the University of Virginia down in Charlottesville. The brainchild of Thomas Jefferson, "UVa" was established as a public university on land once owned by James Monroe (5th President of the US) and was the first to offer formal study in philosophy and astronomy according to the Wikipedia article found here. It's also the home to several secret societies including the philanthropic Z Society, whose symbol graces the steps leading to the Rotunda (and other places).

Unfortunately for us, we only spent about two minutes on the campus of UVa. Just long enough to take the above photo. I wanted to stay longer, but S was afraid I'd commit myself to yet another Master's degree program.

We spent two nights at the Boar's Head Inn, where we enjoyed two dinners in the four-diamond Old Mill Room. (I blogged about the amazing food in my Food for Thought blog.) We also spent a couple of hours at the Downtown Mall Thursday afternoon, darting in and out of a few of the 100+ stores and grabbing an al fresco shrimp po' boy and sweet tea lunch at Miller's, one of the 30+ restaurants that line the tree-covered pedestrian street.

Charlottesville is a small town of about 40,000 people that probably doubles during the academic year. It seemed quiet to us, but then we realized that the students haven't come back yet. Give it a few more weeks, and the place will be hopping. 

In some ways Charlottesville reminds us of Bloomington. The presence of art galleries in the Downtown Mall indicates a good number of local artists; there are a plethora of ethnic restaurants and several independent coffee houses and bookshops. Charlottesville is certainly quaint and UVa is pretty with its rolling green hills and large brick buildings. But of course, we are biased and will always think that Indiana University has one of the country's most beautiful university campuses. :-) 

Nevertheless, we're thinking that Sweet C'ville needs to be put on the list of potential retirement locations. Its proximity to the mountains, historical sites and short train ride (114 miles) to Washington, DC is a plus. The local food movement is growing, and Joel Salatin's Polyface farm is only about 30 miles away. What's not to love?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thomas Jefferson and Monticello

This morning it was raining and quite cool, but in the Blue Ridge mountains you can never tell how long that will last. We decided to make plans to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's famous house on top of the mountain. Monticello is based on the Italian for "little mountain" and apparently Jefferson was really into Italian (Roman) design, especially Palladio. By the time we arrived at this historic site (a 20 minute drive from the Boar's Head Inn), the rain had stopped and the steam was not far behind. 

S remembers coming here as a kid, but it was my first visit. We took a guided tour of the downstairs, which included the entryway (where people would wait to meet with "Mr. Jefferson" - it was said he had some 100 visitors a month, most of them total strangers, and if he was home he'd meet with them), his private quarters (including his library, polygraph, and a bed that seemed way too short for his six-feet-two-and-a-half-inches frame), his daughter's sitting room, the dining room, a family sitting room, and a guest room where James and Dolly Madison often stayed for weeks at a time.

Jefferson was most likely a genius, and definitely a "Renaissance Man." He could read in seven languages, and (according to the tour guide) taught himself to read Spanish using only a dictionary and the novel Don Quixote. He was interested in everything from gardening and seed saving (the "TJ" on the marker in the photo above indicates that this plant, Joseph's Coat, was one of the plants grown there during his time) to making his own timepieces. He recorded the weather twice a day for some fifty years. A self-taught architect, he designed the unusual but attractive home and also the famous rotunda at the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville, which he founded. He collected European and Native American art and was quoted as saying "I cannot live without books" - and I thought I was the one who said that. :-) Despite all this and all his accomplishments (Declaration of Independence, Governor, Ambassador to France, Vice President, President, etc.), he died broke and probably somewhat broken as well.

You can feel the history here. You can also feel a sort of presence of the 150 to 300 slaves and servants who ran the place in its heyday. Jefferson was in a sort of juxtaposition on the issue of slavery. He called it a "moral depravity" in some early writings, yet he continued to "own" slaves and only freed a few upon his death. After 1785 during some years that he might have been able to do something about it, he only expressed what one author called a "thundering silence" on the issue. (See this article.) Certainly this and other documented writings and behaviors are in contradiction to the "all men are created equal" philosophy that he was known for. 

I'm glad I went, and recommend it to all of my history-buff friends out there.  Charlottesville itself is worth a trip, and I will write about that in my next entry.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stepping into the past

We've been on vacation. After spending several days on the family farm in North Carolina, we headed north to Virginia today. Somewhere along the way, I realized we'd be traveling within a few miles of the battlefield where my great-grandfather (my Dad's Dad's Dad) fought in the US Civil War. So I decided to go check it out.

My great-grandfather was with the North Carolina 51st Infantry. On that fateful day in June 1864, he found himself on the winning side of the battle, but on the wrong side of a gun. A musket ball fired by (most likely a) Connecticut Infantryman hit him in the arm. I can only imagine what happened after that, based on the horrible reinactments I've seen in movies, where they fill a man up with liquor and then hold him down. My great-grandfather had his arm amputated in an attempt to save his life. It worked, and he lived to be an old man with quite a story. 

I told the Park Ranger at the battlefield that my great-grandfather had fought there and she looked him up in the computer database. From the information there, she was able to tell me which regiment and unit he was with (for the record, he was fighting with Clingman and Hoke . . . as in Clingman's Dome and Hoke County, NC). She showed me on a map exactly where he would have been when the fighting was going on. So I was able to walk to the actual place where he was . .  probably the place where he got shot. She also gave me the number of the film so if I ever visit the National Archives in Washington, DC, I can look up the details about his military service. (This is not yet available online.)

Ironically, just a few hours before I arrived at the battlefield, another visitor stopped by. This person was a descendant of a certain Connecticut Infantryman who died that day. The unlucky soldier had been a part of Upton's regiment. It was Upton's regiment who was firing on my great-grandfather's regiment. The Park Ranger said it was very rare to get two descendant visitors in one day - especially from regiments who were firing at each other!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My first tomato

FINALLY, tomatoes from my garden are starting to come in! This is the very first. I picked it a few days ago when it was still green. Since I planted both red and yellow tomatoes, I eagerly anticipated the ripening so I could see which one it would be. Not long after I took this photo, I chopped this one up and put it into a salad. It was one of the sweetest, most delicious tomatoes I've ever had! I can't wait for more to be ready!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Leave the flip-flops at home

Does anyone remember a couple of summers ago when the national lacrosse champions from Northwestern went to the White House and some of the players got dinged for wearing flip-flops? I have to admit, at the time that story came out, I thought . . . what a waste of news story space. I mean, they were university students, and it was summer. Who cares? Well, I've changed my mind.

People. Flip-flops are for beaches, or pools, or slouching around the farmers' market or the mall. They're for patios and grocery stores and camp sites. They are not for work. At least not in the corporate center of a major employer based in the midwestern United States of America. 

Flip-flops should not be worn at the office. Period. And neither should cropped pants. But that's a whole other blog entry. :-)

Friday, July 24, 2009

After the kill

So here's what it looks like across the street now. They took down so many trees, it took them four days. I've never seen such a mountain of wood chips. S talked with the tree guys today and they said we could take whatever we wanted of the wood chips, so we'll probably be getting several wheelbarrows full to use in the yard.  It doesn't make it any easier, though. 

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Marked for death

When I walked out the front door today to go get the mail, I noticed that the trees in the lot across the street have been marked for removal. OK, I knew that the lot had been sold, and that a house would be built there soon . . . but what surprised me was the sheer number of trees that will be destroyed because of one house. Many of these are maple trees whose color bursts in the fall. Others - a few - are hardwoods so old and large, I can't put my arms around them. 

In all, I counted fifty trees marked with orange X's. All for one house. It made me sick. This is so ridiculous. Why did the developer even buy this land in the first place? It's not like we have lots of trees in central Indiana. Why are we in such a hurry to destroy the few trees we do have?

What does this say about the state of the world we live in? OK, maybe this sounds hypocritical coming from me. After all, I chose to build in a new subdivision in the suburbs. Therefore, I contributed to the problem. Believe me, guilt has been knocking on my door over the last few years, as I've witnessed firsthand the environmental impact of new construction and development. I never really understood the damage this does - until I saw it for myself. I could justify it somewhat by saying that at least when we built our house, only four trees were removed. Not fifty, for crying out loud. But I still feel guilty.

I am so angry and sad about this situation today. I want to chain myself to the big sycamore tree or climb up and live in it like Julia Butterfly Hill. I want to put up signs that say CUTTING DOWN TREES IS MURDER!!! But of course, I won't.

I wonder if our new neighbors have any idea that fifty trees are coming down? I wonder if they'll be surprised next time they stop by, when they realize the damage done? I wonder if they have a clue that instead of seeing a nice wooded area in their backyard, they'll be seeing the adjacent subdivision (previously hidden by the trees)?

Goodbye, beautiful trees.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer breeze

I just want to note for the record that I was very pleased with today's weather. Tonight, the windows are open, and an unusually cool summer breeze is blowing through. This will help me to sleep good tonight. I've got that old Seals and Crofts song in my head . . . or maybe it's the heavy metal cover done by Type O Negative . . . whatever the case, I can tell you that I'm feeling fine.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chef's challenge

This morning I got up early and went up to the Binford Farmer's Market to watch Round 2 of the Indy Chef's Challenge, which is sponsored by Slow Food Indy. If you've ever seen the TV show Iron Chef, you're somewhat familiar with the format: four chefs arrive to the event not knowing what they will be cooking; they are given 1-2 primary ingredients which the dish they create must contain. Then in the case of the Indy Chef's Challenge, they're given $20 and 20 minutes to shop for other ingredients there at the farmer's market. Everything except salt, pepper, and onions must be local and from the farmer's market.

Today's key ingredients were skirt steak and kim-chi, also locally produced and/or made. The four chefs had one hour to make their dishes. They'd just started prepping when I was there, and it was really cool to watch them work. There was one chef in particular who was interesting to watch because she was so precise with her cutting: her vegetables were so even and perfect. Even the way she placed things in little dishes was "pretty" and she never had a messy station. Wish I could cook like that!

Just as the hour was winding down, it began to rain. First, just a little, but then it began to POUR. The chefs just kept working through it, even though sometimes they were getting wet. Then we begin to hear thunder in the distance. At this point, only the most serious Foodies such as myself were still hanging out watching. 

One chef, Miguel from Mama Carolla's, made a beautiful potato cake and a very nice shiitake mushroom sauce which he made with Trader's Point Creamery (an awesome local dairy) milk. He served rare slices of steak on the potato cake and then topped it with the sauce and some herbs. I'm not a mushroom person, but it was so beautiful I would have eaten it up if given the opportunity. 

Another chef (not sure of her name, but she said she had just graduated from Ivy Tech in May) made a very attractive chutney with cherries and the kim-chi (and some other stuff), and served the meat on top of the chutney. The other two chefs came up with dishes using vegetables such as corn, tomatoes, and beans. I know it must have been a really difficult decision for the judges, but in the end, Miguel took this round. So now he'll have a spot in the final, which will be sometime in August at the Indianapolis City Market. I definitely want to go to that!

Of interest to my local Foodie friends: I got to talking with the chef supervisor, an instructor in the Ivy Tech culinary arts program. I asked if Ivy Tech had any classes or events for "hobby" chefs like ourselves. He said they don't have anything now, because they don't really have the facilities. But a new building will open in the Spring of 2010 in the 71st street area, and plans are in the works to have something then. Sounds like something to look forward to!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Garden update

We've got 11 tomatoes! And 3 spaghetti squash! (squashes?) Of course, the tomatoes are green, and the squash(es) are the size of small bowls. But soon, we'll have some food!

The peppers haven't grown as much as I expected, but one of them has a flower on it, so hopefully that means we'll get something eventually.

The fennel, leeks, and scallions are up and look healthy, but are a long ways from maturity. The raddichio is beautiful but doesn't look like raddichio. It looks more like lettuce. Hmm. 

I wonder how long it will take before I really know what I'm doing? LOL!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

An open letter to designers of public restrooms

To whom it may concern:

I propose a revolution in public restroom design. Starting immediately, I think that all public restrooms should have - at a minimum - the following:
  • Door handles on the entry side of the restroom, so we don't have to touch a nasty door handle in order to get out after we've just washed our hands. Sorry, but using the paper towel to open the door is just so inconvenient. I don't understand why you can't get this one right.
  • Speaking of hand washing, how about being consistent with the sinks? I don't understand why either the sink or the soap dispenser or the towel dispenser/hand dryer cannot all be automatic. An automatic sink and soap dispenser, but then a towel dispenser that I have to pull towels from, is kind of stupid.
  • OK, women need mirrors in restrooms. But we'd like for them to NOT be the kind that make us all look 50 pounds heavier. 
  • And we'd like some lighting in front of the mirror that makes us look real, not like we've been sitting in a formaldahyde bath all day long. 
  • I haven't even gotten to the stalls yet. Could we please have some stalls that give us some privacy? In Europe, the doors go from ceiling to floor, and you can't see people through the cracks. Why can't we have this?
  • And why can't the stalls be large enough for us to be able to turn around in?
  • And the toilets be places far enough from the toilet tissue holder than when you go to sit or lean down, you don't bruise your butt?
  • Why can't we have the nice musical toilets like they have in Japan, where you push a button and hear a fake flushing sound, to drown out certain . . . shall we say 'unpleasant noises'? (Not that I would ever make any of these in a public toilet. I just don't want to listen to anyone else's.)
  • HEY, attention to those who design AIRPORT public restrooms!!! . . . how about some really strong, sturdy hooks for us to hang those heavy purses and backpacks? And they might as well be attached to really strong, sturdy doors so that they don't keep falling off? Sheesh, is it really that difficult???
  • Finally, I think that all public restrooms should have some sort of stink control mechanism in them. I've seen these in some places. Basically it's just some kind of device on the wall that releases air freshener every so often. We could really use these in the restrooms at work. Especially about an hour after lunch.
  • OK, I realize I just said "finally" in the last bullet point . . . but one final point. It is not necessary to provide an equivalent amount of toilets and space in Men's and Women's restrooms in large public facilities such as sports stadiums and movie theaters. The fact is, women need larger restrooms with more toilets. Has no one ever done a study to count the number of women in long lines at these places? Meanwhile, the men are in and out quickly. Duh. It doesn't really take a genius.
Yours truly,

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Independence day

Since we had visitors this weekend, I didn't get to do much blogging - therefore, I didn't get to post my Independence Day photo until now. We had an enjoyable "Fourth of July" here despite the unusual cool weather and rain that day. Our guests left early Tuesday morning, and now we need to recover for a while. Back in a day or two . . . 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Graveyard wanderings

My Dad and sister are here visiting and yesterday afternoon we went to see the new Johnny Depp movie, Public Enemy, which is about Great Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger and his FBI nemesis, Melvin Purvis. John Dillinger was actually from Indianapolis, and became famous (or infamous) in the early 1930s for his numerous bank robberies and "Robin Hood" reputation among ordinary people. The movie was entertaining, but we were really intrigued when we found out that Dillinger (who wasn't nearly as handsome as Johnny Depp - lol!) was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery, right here in Indianapolis.

Crown Hill is the third largest cemetery in the United States and is the resting place for several "famous" people, so we decided to check it out. We saw the graves (or mausoleums) of President Benjamin Harrison, Lilly company founder Colonel Eli Lilly (as well as the other Eli Lilly, the Josiah K. Lillys, and several other Lillys), former Indianapolis Colts owner Robert Irsay, writer James Whitcomb Riley, and several (we guessed) people for whom modern-day places are named after, like Binford (as in Boulevard) and Butler (as in University). 

We did not see the gravesites of several other noted individuals, such as James Baskette (actor who played Uncle Remus in the old Disney movie Song of the South) or Layman S. Ayres (founder of the old L.S. Ayres department stores) or Howard Garns, who invented the game Sudoku.

As cemeteries go, Crown Hill is quite nice. It contains the highest point in Indianapolis, known as Strawberry Hill. At this top of this lovely hill is the monument to James Whitcomb Riley. This is actually the "crown" of Crown Hill - and from this vantage point, you get a really nice view of downtown Indianapolis. So in a way, it's kind of nice place to visit, and I'd like to go back sometime on a really pretty day to take more photos.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

10 things I like about summer

1. Watching the fireflies light up our backyard after the sun goes down.
2. Going to local farmers' markets.
3. Cornfields . . . and grilled sweet corn. Yum!
4. Listening to "summer" music, like stuff by Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett.
5. Watching "summer" movies, such as Grease and Mamma Mia.
6. A new season of Weeds
7. Sunsets after 9PM.
8. The State Fair. Especially the tractor parade. Especially the red tractors. :-)
9. Watermelon.
10. The smell of freshly-mown grass after S cuts it. (I'm very grateful that I don't have to cut the grass!)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Endings, beginnings

My trip to Toronto (photo above, inside Eaton Centre) was *the last* in a series of international business trips that started in October 2007. In that span of nineteen months, I traveled to 27 countries on 5 continents, and flew over 100,000 miles. I saw things I never dreamed of seeing; met people from numerous cultures; learned a great deal about my company's business; learned twice as much about myself. I fulfilled a lifelong dream of going to Australia not just once, but twice. I learned that I really can navigate myself and get along fine in places where I don't speak the language, even in places where the written language looks nothing like my own. And I learned that, as my pal KB says: "People are people." That is, we all just need to forget stereotypes and differences, because what we have in common is stronger than all the differences that exist.

I'm so glad for the travel opportunities I had. I know there will be more opportunities in the future - but maybe not the immediate future, and maybe instead of traveling on business, I'll be traveling for pleasure. I strongly believe that we are put where we're supposed to be at any given time. So maybe I'm supposed to be home for a while. That's OK. It's good to be home. Having these experiences has given me a certain "calmness" that I didn't have before. I needed that. Maybe now I can live more in the present. Maybe. Now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stalked by a taxi driver

First, a note. I actually started to write this entry early in the week, but am finishing it on the weekend. Therefore, please ignore the time and date stamp (in order to avoid confusion!) Next, a note that the photo above is of Second Cup, a chain of coffeehouses in Toronto that is a big competitor to that other coffee company that starts with the letter "S." OK, now we can get started.

I took taxis a lot in Toronto, because that's what you do there when you're traveling on business and don't have a car. Anyway, I had some very interesting taxi drivers. "Interesting" is a word that can connote many things, so I do use it loosely. :-) As is often the case in other large cities, my taxi drivers have all been from somewhere else: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia, Eritrea, etc. (and there is nothing wrong with this, it's just the way it is.) And many of them are very chatty

It occurred to me this week - after the five-thousandth time of riding in a taxi (OK, so I'm slow) - that being a taxi driver is probably a lot like being a bartender in that you never know what you're going to get when it comes to your customers: will he/she be friendly and interesting? Morose? Drunk? Psycho? Also, I imagine that it might be quite boring at times to be a taxi driver (even dangerous, in some places). So perhaps that explains the "Insights Yellow" personalities of nearly every taxi driver I've ever come across who speaks English.

This week I met the chattiest taxi driver in the universe. And he's also a stalker. That's right - I will explain momentarily. Let's just say that "Eddie" (not his real name) made me want to learn how to use Toronto public transportation.

This all started randomly, when Eddie happened to be driver who picked me up at my hotel one morning. I gave him the address of my destination, and hoped that would be it: that I could just ride in silence. Because at that time of the morning, I was still not really awake and wanted to enjoy some peace. But Eddie wanted to have a conversation. So, with my good Midwestern and Southern manners, I indulged him. This turned out to be a big mistake.

First, he asked where I was from, so I told him. As is the case nine out of ten times, he wasn't sure where Indianapolis is, so I explained: "it's near Chicago" because mostly everyone has at least heard of Chicago. Well, that opened up the door for him to tell me that he had a good friend in Chicago, that he had been to Chicago previously, that he liked Chicago except for the wind, blah, blah, blah. Well, after all that, I was then obligated to ask him where he's from, which then opened the door for him to tell me his whole life story. He was born in Eritrea, where his father was a doctor (all taxi drivers' fathers are doctors). But there was a war and the family had to move. They had a choice of Britain, the USA, or Canada (I've heard this before - not sure why, say, Norway or Argentina are never options?) and chose Canada because they already knew some people here. 

Then he asked if I was married. OK, I've learned over the years just to go ahead and say "Yes" to this question, and I've also realized that it's easier just to also answer "Yes" to the question of whether I have children (and it's best to say that I have a son). So I did this, and THANKFULLY that was the last of the personal questions. Eddie wanted to talk about himself. He's married to a woman who works for a pharmaceutical company (ironicly) and they have a 2 month old daughter. Would I like to see a photo? (he hands me his cell phone, I ooh and aahh about how cute she is, and ask if she's sleeping through the night, and he tells me all about that). Would I like to see his Father's Day present? (I feign interest again, and he shows me an engraved business card case).

[NOTE: So far, nothing here is really atypical of any other taxi ride I've ever been on. You see, for some reason, taxi drivers always end up telling me their life stories. I'm not complaining - this is just a fact. Sometimes, they even ask me for advice on problems: with wives, girlfriends, children - now that I'm older, they're even asking me for advice on dealing with mothers-in-law. So at the end of the ride, seriously, people - I always kind of have a feeling that I should be the one charging them, not the other way around. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works.]

So anyway . . . that first morning Eddie took the Don Valley expressway, explaining that we'd get there much more quickly than if we took Danforth Road. Danforth is a well-known street in Toronto. It passes through Greektown and has about a gazillion ethnic restaurants and neat little shops. It also has a million stoplights, but you can get to the office in 20-25 minutes. The expressway route, however, took nearly 40 minutes. Also, the fare ended up at $40. (It's $28 if you take Danforth.) Oh, and by the way, his credit card machine was not working, so I had to pay with cash. I realized after the fact when recounting this story to R, my co-worker, that Eddie had screwed me over. I didn't worry about it too much, though - because I figured I'd never see him again.

But the next morning, when I headed out to find a taxi to take me to the office, guess who was there waiting for me? My bud Eddie! 

"You are glad that I remembered to pick you up, yes?" he said, beaming. I forced a smile.

"Is your credit card machine working today?" I asked him, because I was running low on cash. 

"Yes, it is working now very good," he promised.

"I want to take Danforth instead of the highway," I said, firmly. I could see the disappointment in his face, but he agreed. Off we went. Guess what? It took only 22 minutes and the meter fare was just over $26. Hmm! I handed him my credit card. He slid it through and we waited, waited, waited, but there was no "signal" from the credit card machine. So he put it through again. And again. And again. I sat. We waited. Finally, it went through, but not after giving me something extra to stress over. 

The next day - Friday, my last day in Toronto - I got up earlier than usual, hoping that I could give Eddie the slip and be gone by the time he got to my hotel. Oh-so-quietly, I headed out into the lobby, being as invisible as is possible for a woman of my size (that was me trying to hide behind the fake trees). I tried to sneak a glance out the window, and lo and behold, guess who immediately made eye contact with me, as if we're sharing some sort of psychic connection? Eddie. 

So I rode with him for the third and THANK GOD LAST time, and by now I'm no longer the sweet old lady from Indiana who listens and seems interested in conversation. I've turned into . . . Super Bee-yotch!!! I don't smile, I don't talk . . . I just get out my Blackberry and pretend I'm working . . . anything to avoid conversation. Maybe if I'm mean or psycho, he'll stop stalking me! Despite this tactic, he asks if he can take me to the airport that afternoon (because I'd made the mistake of telling him during my first ride that I would be leaving on Friday).

And I'm thinking . . . sheesh . . . the meaner I get, the more he wants to hang out with me. WTF?!!! But gracefully, I told him I already had a ride. When we got to the office this time, the credit card machine worked just fine (and quickly), I thanked him one last time, and then I faded away into the office building . . . like a corporate cowgirl riding away into the sunset. And I didn't look back.

So if you ever go to Toronto, and you need to take a taxi, here's my advice to you. Pretend like you don't speak English. Pretend like you're from Iceland, and speak only a rare dialect of Icelandic. I guarantee this will save you a lot of grief. Especially if Eddie happens to be your driver.

The 100 mile challenge

I'm in Toronto this week on business and have been so amazed at the incredible diversity of food here. Just on one street, Danforth Road, there are about a zillion restaurants and pretty much any type of food you could possibly want. If the taxi drivers weren't so chatty, I might be able to get some good photos!

A while back, a Facebook friend sent me a link to something called the 100 Mile Challenge - an advert for a new show on the Food Network about a group of people trying to eat only food that comes from within 100 miles of their home for 100 days. Based on a growing phenomenon known as the Locavore movement, this "lifestyle" has all kinds of implications from environmental to dietary (I mean, really, WHY do we eat apples that come from New Zealand - no offense, New Zealand, I love you - when we have plenty of apples already?)

It was a new show. But it was on Food TV in Canada, not the USA. I was disappointed that I couldn't watch the show in The States, but glad I remembered to check it out when I crossed the border. It's the coolest reality show since Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days!

The participants are several families in a small town just outside of Vancouver, in British Columbia. It's an interesting group that includes a politician and his wife, a lesbian couple and their adopted teenager, a multi-generational family, a family with a child who has autism, a family that doesn't know how to cook, and a young family who seems divided on their commitments. Yep, it's an interesting bunch.

I would love it if someone in The States could click the link above and tell me if you're able to view the episodes. Any volunteers? I want to know if I can watch the remaining episodes when I get back home! (Sometimes you can't watch across borders because of copyright restrictions.)

Imagine the changes that could be made if more of us were to eat this way. OK, sure . . . those of us in Indiana would have to give up such amazing "imports" as pineapple, sugar, coffee, and olive oil. For many people, giving up those things seriously would be a challenge. But we might just gain more than we lose (or lose something for real, as in weight) by going back to simpler ways of eating seasonal, local foods. Certainly, we'd become more creative (previews show one of the families actually gathering their own salt - from the Pacific ocean!)

The 100 Mile Challenge was the brainchild of Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, who recorded their own 100 Mile journey in the 100 Mile Diet blog. The blog generated a huge international following (yes, S, that can happen!) and that led to the 100 Mile Diet book. After work tonight, I went to the totally awesome Indigo Bookstore and bought the book. I can't wait to read it! Note to those of you in The States who may be interested in the book: it's called Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet in the USA.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hot fun in the summertime

It was HOT on this first day of summer (and Father's Day) . . . despite that, we headed over to Lebanon, Indiana for our very first Slow Food Indy event. The "Father's Day Hoedown and Throwdown" was held on the grounds of Skillington Farms. We were given a tour of the chicken operations by owner Stan Skillington, who provided lots of information on how the chickens are grown "naturally" and how this is different than factory farming. It was really cool to see the baby chicks, and other chickens at various stages (some were three weeks old, and others six and nine weeks old). I was also fascinated with the portable hen house that gets moved to a new location every night so the chickens can eat fresh grass and bugs (their natural diet). 

After the tour, we ate fresh fried chicken (of course!) that had been cooked in cast iron pots on a charcoal grill . . . OMG, it was the best fried chicken ever. The "Throwdown" part of the day was a side dish contest (I didn't enter and it's a good thing, because I would have been competing with actual chefs from restaurants like R Bistro.) There were some really excellent dishes . . . including an "Indiana grits" polenta that was out of this world. And desserts, too, like a strawberry cream cheese cake that was to die for

The "Hoedown" involved bluegrass music. I'm kicking myself for not remembering the name of this local band, because they were really good! Yes, you read me right, I just wrote that I enjoyed some bluegrass music today! Actually, I like bluegrass music - sometimes. OK, I feel better, that being out of the closet. :-)

Party time

Our friend KB recently turned the big 5-0, so we celebrated with her last night in the garden of the Tiki Lounge. Friend B (drummer) and his band entertained us for several hours, playing acoustic covers of several songs from the last fifty years, from Jerry Lee Lewis and The Beatles to Dave Matthews Band and some stuff that was so new, I didn't know what it was. The sun went down and the fireflies lit up to the music . . . it was fun! And yes, that's friend J (in the green shirt) making a guest appearance while singing her signature song - "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

All hands on deck - part 2

Woo hoo! The deck is finished! Just in time for ninety-degree (30+ Celsius) weather! OK, so now the *real* fun begins. Anyone know a good place to buy good quality outdoor furniture? Preferably a table and chair set with a nice umbrella? All nicely put together so that S doesn't spend the next six months working on it in the garage and making me park my car outside in the elements? Y'all know I'm going to be grilling a lot this summer, now that I don't have to break my ankles walking up and down the steps from the back porch.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Early summer colors

I just want to give a quick shout-out to S for the amazing job she's done in our yard! Check out the beautiful flowers! We have a running joke at our house: she's responsible for the looks, I'm responsible for the tastes. That's why I grow veggies and she grows flowers and trees. And by the way, gardening is HARD work . . . and great exercise!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy anniversary to me!

Seven years ago - on June 16, 2002 - I walked down to garage of our then-townhouse, opened the garage door, flicked my Bic, and lit the last cigarette in my pack of blue American Spirits. I didn't know it at the time, but it would be my last cigarette. You see, I had been wanting to quit for a while. Actually, I'd tried quitting several times (at least 40). I'd tried everything from cold turkey to Wellbutrin to the patch and nicotine gum, but nothing worked.  So even though I wanted to quit, with my past history of failures, I wasn't sure it would ever be possible.

However, I never went back to the store to get more cigarettes. I can't explain it except to say that somehow, I was just done with smoking.

Since then, I've become (like most ex-smokers) very ANTI-smoking. I can't stand it. I can tell when someone around me has been smoking - like in the mornings when I get on the elevator at work with a bunch of people - and it grosses me out. I cheer when I hear about smoking restrictions in restaurants, at the airport, and other public places. I get really irritated when I see people smoking around kids - especially in cars.

Yet I know from experience - it's an addiction. I've read that kicking the nicotine habit is as difficult as kicking heroin. I can believe that.

So I have a sort of odd sympathy for other smokers . . . I want them to quit, but I know how hard it is. And I know that only they can decide to quit. You can't do it for someone else. You have to do it for You.

I'm so glad that I quit smoking. For me (someone who grew up on a tobacco farm, had several family members who smoked, and had my very first smoke at the tender age of 13), it was a huge accomplishment. I'm very proud of it. So happy anniversary to me!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Veggie garden update

Parts of the garden have really taken off! In fact, today I'll be harvesting broccoli raab. The tomatoes are getting really tall (I need to tie them down some more) and the spaghetti squash is taking over! (Next time, I'll know to plant it on the end, not in the middle. LOL!)

The deck is pretty much finished. I'll try to get some photos up soon. It looks great! 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All hands on deck - part 1

We're having a deck installed . . . this is what it looks like as of yesterday. I thought it would only take about 4-5 days, but the guys have been working on it for over a week now! Turns out, there was a huge underground tree stump they had to deal with. Anyway, let's hope it will be finished in a few more days. Here's another view . . . 

. . . and another:

We're using mostly ChoiceDek, which is made from recovered wood fiber and recycled plastics - so it's a "green" choice. The ChoiceDek color is Redwood. Hopefully it will look good with our brick.

I can hardly wait for the deck to be finished. I can easily picture myself out here, cooking up something tasty on the grill, while looking out over the backyard and pond. Someday there will be a nice patio set out here, too - and when friends LIKE YOU come over and the weather is nice, we can hang out on the deck!

Llama trailblazers

Regarding the 3 June entry, when I mentioned the possibility of a new blog for a new "adventure" . . . well, the blog and the story behind it are now up. It can be accessed via Llama Trailblazers. S and I are making this a public blog and hoping that we will get many followers from all kinds of different places, so please check it out!

Strawberry festival

Today we went to the strawberry festival at the Baptist church in Wanamaker. I'm sorry to say that I didn't think to take any photos. But I can tell you that the strawberry shortcake hit the spot and for $3 per bowl, it was a bargain. We all decided that we would be happy to make this an annual event. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Achy breaky everything

Has anyone noticed that the older you get, the more you have little aches and pains? I started noticing it a couple of years ago. First, my feet were sore all the time. Then I started having neck and shoulder pains, and soon found out that I had a herniated cervical disc. Well, now it seems as if I hurt all over, and it sucks!

S thinks that I need to get off the computer (see yesterday's entry!) and go for a walk or something. In fact, she's trying to convince me to start some sort of training program. This is all my dentist's fault, and next time I go in for a check-up I'm going to have it out with her. Yes, there is a story here that I'm withholding . . . for now. Let's just say that I'm considering names for a new blog about this alleged supposed training program that may or may not start soon. Here are the possibilities so far:

  • Mariandy's Boot Camp Blues
  • Mariandy Kickin' and Screamin'
  • Mariandy Dies and Goes to Hell
  • Mariandy: The Biggest Schmoozer
  • Mariandy's Journey to the Center of the Girth

As you can tell, I'm still thinking about it. But I'm open to suggestions. Any ideas?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New addictions

Most of my friends know that I'm a Facebook addict. I check it every night, and have known to be on FB two or three times a day on weekends. Recently I opened up Pandora's box, and learned that there are some interesting games on Facebook. Perhaps it's time for an intervention.

For the past three weeks, I've been playing this cute little Facebook game called Farm Town, where you can be a farmer with your own little piece of land. You can grow crops and buy cool things for your farm, like windmills and barns and farm houses. You make money by harvesting crops for other people and by selling your crops. You give and receive cool gifts, like animals (chickens, dogs, cats, pigs, sheep, etc.) and trees. When your trees bear fruit every 2-3 days, you get a little money from selling the fruit harvest. As time goes by, you start accumulating money. Right now, I think I have something like $250K. Too bad it's all a game!!!

A few days ago my sister sent me an invite to two other games, Vampire Wars and YoVille. I can't quite figure out the Vampire Wars game . . . it seems like you just click to attack other vampires, and it's kind of stupid and pointless. Plus, my imagination doesn't go there, if you know what I mean.

At first, I thought YoVille was going to be a snooze, because it seemed like you just create a cute little avatar, dress her (or him) up, and decorate your apartment. But then I realized that you have to earn money for the shopping. Right now, it looks like there is only one place in town that's hiring - the factory. Of course, there are other ways you can earn money. My little avatar actually hit it big in the casino one night after she "worked" her shift in the factory. I immediately took her shopping for some cool new threads and decor. After all, spending is good, right? If you've got it, you should be helping out in this economy.

Too bad it's all virtual. I've got to stop spending so much time online, though. Really!!! Is there a 12 step program for Facebook?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Something fishy going on

My Dad emailed me today (yay! Dad's online!) and mentioned his craving for seafood. That got me to thinking about how I grew up eating lots of local Carolina seafood. Some of my earliest memories involve catching, preparing, and eating crabs and flounder from the area around Masonboro Inlet, and shrimp and oysters from Calabash and the Grand Strand. Of course, everything was breaded and deep fried, because that's the Carolina way. So I know that when Dad talks about seafood, he's not talking about grilled wild Alaska salmon or anything remotely healthy.

Thing is, unlike thirty years ago when I was kid, not so much of the seafood is "local" anymore. Not sure why. Perhaps it's been overfished. Perhaps it got killed off by red tide. Or perhaps, like a lot of other things, the restaurants can get cheaper food from other countries.  It's like that everywhere, though. I was shopping in Super Target recently and started reading labels on cans and packages of fish. The tuna was from Thailand. Frozen orange roughy was from Namibia. Frozen shrimp was from Ecuador. Folks, that's a long way for seafood to travel. Fish is highly perishable and I shudder at the chemicals involved as well as the environmental impact in getting it from one side of the world to another. Not to mention the food quality issues.

Of course, it's a ways to Alaska, also. But at least I can be reasonably sure of the quality of the goods. We eat a lot of wild-caught Alaska salmon in our house. Wild-caught is supposed to be way better for you and the environment than the farmed variety - not to say that all farmed fish is bad because it isn't. It helps to know what fish is "good" and what fish isn't so good. I'm trying to get my Dad to eat more of the "good fish" and in doing so I've emailed him the link to the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector, which I highly recommend for all you seafood eaters out there to check out, also!

Now, if I can just get Dad to switch from deep-fried to grilled or broiled . . . 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In praise of the peony

Indiana's state flower is the peony. OK, whatever. But I appreciate them so much more since our friend K brought a lovely bouquet of them into our house last week. Now I see them everywhere, in people's yards and all around town. The flowers are so delicate, so fine, so perfect. I love them! I told S that we must get a peony bush for our yard so that we can have our own flowers next May!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Birthday parties

We've been very busy celebrating birthdays! So I thought I'd just do a quick entry on that. The first family birthday was Sunday the 24th. My niece,  Jamie, turned 13. This is so hard for me to believe, because it seems like just a few months ago, she was a bouncy little four-year-old splashing about in the swimming pool. Now she's a lean, mean karate machine (green belt!), an avid golfer and a budding singer/actress. 

Sandy's b-day was Monday the 25th, and we celebrated all day long. First, I made her some homemade cinnamon rolls (as in from scratch, not from a box or tube) for breakfast . . . that wasn't the only thing I made but it was the hardest. :-) It was raining, so we lounged around on the back porch until the early afternoon, when we went to see "Angels and Demons" at the Greenwood Park mall. Later, we had a nice dinner at The Cheesecake Factory and she got her favorite dessert, the strawberry shortcake. If you haven't had Cheesecake Factory's strawberry shortcake, you simply haven't lived! It's amazing and so huge that two (or more) can share.

Tuesday the 26th is Cody's sixth birthday, which is something like 42 in dog years. He doesn't want to make a big deal of out it . . . just wants some extra quality time with his Mommies and Oma, and maybe a little extra meat at mealtime. 

Party on!

P.S. The cake in the above photo was actually MY birthday cake. My sister made it. It was an apple cinnamon cake and quite nice! (The cupcakes were lemon.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tea is winning me over

I know people who can't function without a morning cup of coffee (or two!) As for me, I didn't even start drinking coffee until I was 32 years old, and allowed myself to be influenced by a certain special person. It didn't take long before I was hooked. A short time later, my friend "A" (she knows who she is) introduced me to that nectar of the gods known as the Starbucks mocha, and the rest was history.

One of the most awesome things about living in Vienna last year was that I was living in the place where coffee rules. These people know their coffee. I mean, I've travelled the world several times over now, and I can tell you that the best coffee in the whole wide world is in Vienna, Austria. 

But . . . lately, I wonder if I'm losing my taste for coffee? I just can't seem to drink much "regular" coffee anymore (by this I really do mean regular coffee, not espresso. I could happily consume espresso drinks several times a day.) The fact is, I've started drinking more . . . tea. That's right, folks. I'm totally into black teas. And Rooibos, a red tea from southern Africa. I'm beginning to enjoy some types of green tea. I'm even making my own ginger tea, and herbal teas, such as peppermint and chamomile (which I grew!)

When I was in London about a year and a half ago, my friend/coworker "S" and I popped into Harrod's one afternoon for high tea. That was one of the most memorable things about that trip to the UK. Cute little teapots with really awesome tea, and cute little sandwiches and scones with jam and real butter. I love the whole tradition of taking some time in the afternoon just to chill and enjoy a nice cup of tea and some snacks. I know I could do this with coffee also (and I have done), but there's something about tea that's refreshing and invigorating. 

Come to think of it, there's something in the UK tea that's different, sort of like there's something about the Austrian coffee. I now recall this from other previous trips there, as well as the trip to Ireland several years ago. The tea smells so fresh. OK, now I have to find a place online to get some real English tea . . . PG? Typhoo? Suggestions, anyone?