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 . . .