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Everything you didn't want to know, and more
20 most recent entries

Date:2010-09-24 11:38
Subject:It Gets Better

I'm a longtime fan of Dan Savage, and religiously read his weekly Savage Love column and listen to his podcast.

In his most recent column, he talks about a gay teenager, just 15 years old, who hanged himself in a barn after being taunted by his classmates. His mother found him. Although teenage suicide is a problem for straight and gay alike, according to Dan Savage's article, "gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide."

One thing I like about Dan Savage is that if he sees something he doesn't like, he actually goes about trying to change it. He says in the column that he wished he'd had just 5 minutes to talk to this kid, to tell him that being gay in high school is painful, to tell him that it gets better. So he launched a YouTube channel called It Gets Better, which has short clips from gay adults all around the country, talking about how much better life after high school can be. Dan and his partner Terry submitted their own video, posted here.

It's a touching video for so many reasons. To see two people in love, to see them raising a child they both clearly adore. To see their families accepting them for who they are. I was so touched and so moved by watching this video that I wanted to share it. I don't know if anyone even reads this blog any more, but if you are, and you know a teenager who is gay and who is struggling, please pass this along, regardless of your politics.

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Date:2010-02-10 16:01

Day 6 or so of snowmageddon, snowpocalypse, SMOWMG! or whatever we're calling this (snowverkill is a recent favorite).

I have never seen this much snow. And yes, I did live for a year in Northwest Wisconsin.

I managed to escape the house yesterday and get downtown while there was still partial bus service. Unfortunately bus service stopped while I was downtown, but luckily the metro got me a little over a mile from home.

Normally a walk in a blizzard at night wouldn't be my top choice of things to do, but just being out of the house felt amazing.

Snowed in again today, though. Nowhere to walk as the streets and sidewalks are now mostly impassible. I went and shoveled earlier to get a head start on tomorrow.

Getting a lot of work done, a lot of reading, some cooking.

It was fun at first, but to be honest, I'm starting to go a little stir-crazy. Well, maybe more than a little.

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Date:2010-01-27 22:05
Subject:Thou shalt NOT!

Class had an interesting start tonight. As Andrew and I walked towards our classroom it smelled increasingly like smoke. When we arrived, we immediately saw why. An untended candle sat on the desk, amidst a shrine of highly flammable objects, such as paper flags, flowers and pictures.

This candle was accompanied by a message on the chalkboard, written in giant, all-caps scrawl: "THOU SHALT NOT EXTINGUISH THE ETERNAL CANDLE OF THE FRANCISCAN MONKS!"

This candle had apparently been burning for a long time. It was a pillar candle, housed by a plastic container, and the plastic had started melting into a brown, corroded mess, curling over on itself. Melting plastic, by the way, is not a good smell.

So on the one hand, we have a fire hazard, but on the other hand, we have a "thou shalt not". It's been a while since I've been given an actual edict, and in all honesty, I didn't know what to do.

The non-profit school that I teach for is housed by (but not affiliated with) a Catholic Church. So despite my lack of religiosity, I wanted to respect the fervor of the person who had constructed this odd shrine.

In the end, I went downstairs to consult the evening volunteer coordinator. As soon as the word "candle" was out of my mouth, Steven responded with, "Oh HIM again. I've told the church they need to put a stop to this!"

We trooped back upstairs where Steven took a picture of the chalkboard edict and the ruined candle, blew the candle out, and opened a window.

All was well, but somewhere in the back of my mind I felt a little guilty for extinguishing the flame that this undoubtedly strange person cared very much about.

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Date:2009-12-15 11:12
Subject:Toilet full of Coke

Sounds like a bad name for a band, but in fact, it was the recent state of the toilet in my master bathroom.

My house has old toilets, and the one in the master bath is especially ancient. There were stains in the bottom of the bowl that no amount of scrubbing would get out. I didn't mind the stains so much, but guests use the toilet all the time and it just looked unclean to me. In a bout of frustration, I told my handywoman that I wanted a new toilet. Instead, she recommended that I clean it using Coke.

Here's what I did.

Step 1: Turn the water off under the toilet by turning the valve clockwise.

Step 2: Flush the toilet.

Step 3: Remove the remaining water from the bowl using a plunger.

Step 4: Dump 2 liters of coke in the toilet.

Step 5: Wait 48 hours, leaving something very obvious on top of the toilet so you don't accidentally use it in the middle of the night.

Step 6: Turn the water back on and flush the toilet.

Step 7: Scrub the bowl with any old toilet scrubber.

I'm thrilled to say that I now have a bowl free of stains! Apparently the stains were just calcium deposits, and Coke has so much acid that it naturally breaks down the calcium.

I admit that I doubted this would work, for 2 reasons. The first reason is that it seemed too easy and too cheap to fix a problem that had been bugging me for a year. The second reason is that I didn't want to believe that something many of us drink on a regular basis could be an excellent cleaning agent due to its acid content.

Nevertheless, for something like $2, I have a nicer looking toilet and a bathroom that smells vaguely like Coke. Success!

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Date:2009-10-27 23:45
Subject:The sound of "th"

During my teaching, I'm often fascinated to learn what sounds are difficult for non-native English speakers to make. It varies by their own native language, of course, but this particular class is 100% Central or South American so all the students seem to trip up on the same sounds.

Today's lesson was about health problems. I had great fun pantomiming having a cold, the flu, a fever, various broken bones etc. One of the maladies in the workbook was a toothache. When I was listening to the students try to pronounce that word, I kept hearing something more like "tootsache". I don't know much Spanish, but given the trouble they were all having I had to assume that that sound just doesn't exist.

So I sat there for a second and tried to figure out just how one makes that "th" sound. In order to get it, you really have to start with your tongue between your teeth. Anything else creates that "s" sound I was hearing. Also, there is actually no vocal noise generated at all. The sound is made exclusively with the mouth (at the end of a word, anyway).

Thinking through the mouth positions and sounds of a word was an interesting exercise, and it allowed me to describe to the students how to make their mouth so the sound came out right. Not everyone got it, but some students picked it up right away. I had them repeat it over and over - ostensibly for practice, but mostly because I was really excited that they got it and I wanted to be certain I wasn't just hearing things.

I've had an incredible experience so far with the teaching, and little episodes like this are part of what fuels the enjoyment. When these students walked into the class, they knew how to say hello and that's about it. Watching their progress is just so much fun. Being part of their progess is fun, too.

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Date:2009-07-19 23:21
Subject:Rock Creek Park

My new neighborhood is bordered on all sides by Rock Creek Park. Rock Creek park is one of the primary reasons that DC is at the top of the list for the most green area for a big city.

Map of DC

You can see from the map above just how huge that swath of green is that runs up the center of the city.

I'm fortunate enough to live near this park, and have recently fallen a bit in love with it.

For the first time in a long time, I really look forward to going on runs. So many beautiful trails, in the shade of the trees. Amazing how much nicer it is to run on dirt-packed paths among thousands of trees than out on the pavement among thousands of cars and stoplights at every corner. It helps that nearly every time I go for a run, I have the great pleasure of stopping to watch the deer. Today, it was 3 beautiful bucks, so close I could see the softness of their velvet antlers. The other day it was 2 fawns, out with their mothers. Maybe some day I'll grow accustomed to the sight, but for now, I feel this great affinity for them. It's somehow magical that they appear in the midst of this crazy city.

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Date:2009-07-02 15:50
Subject:In the garden

I have been spending a lot of time in my garden lately. This is a somewhat recent phenomenon that took place after I realized that my yard looked worse than the yard of the house next door. I know I shouldn't worry about "keeping up" with the neighbors too much. It's just that the house next door is actually abandoned. So it was bad.

I have grand plans for my back yard. It's big by DC standards (i.e. it exists) and there is plenty of room for a patio and a vegetable garden. The problem is that my grand plans are expensive, and time consuming, requiring the two resources that I have the least of at the moment. Which honestly, is fine. I have other things to worry about. But, I didn't want to go an entire season feeling bad about buying small quantities of herbs from Whole Foods at exhorbitant costs, and then chucking the rest after I used my 1 tablespoon.

So my compromise was to try to tame the jungle, and to plant just a few things for the season to see how it went.

I had a little area dug out to plant some herbs and also one zucchini plant, one squash plant, and one tomato plant. The rest of the yard is currently a combination of grass, weeds, and conglomerations of bushes that look to be a synthesis of an original plant, a weed that grew to strangle said plant, and then another weed that grew to strangle the original weed.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been slowly trying to tackle and conquer one small section of the yard at a time. If I can maintain the work I've done, and keep adding sections, by 2011 I should have the yard totally under control. Which is probably when we'll be just about to tear it up to put in my dream yard.

Honestly, I can easily see why people just hire someone to do this. I spend hours a day in the hot, hot sun, getting eaten by mosquitos, doing deep knee bends. (Who knew gardening was such a good workout?) And yet, there is something personal going on here. It's war. And I want to win.

It's satisfying, too, to see what a good pair of hedge trimmers and tiny arm muscles can accomplish. I honestly love the feeling of looking out over what I've just labored on and seeing a real difference.

It's also nice to look out over my yard and realize that it's just edged out the vacant house's yard next door. Progress.

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Date:2009-04-01 23:20
Subject:tights != pants

For non-computer geeks, != means "not equals". Tights do not equal pants.

I saw this statement on a shirt the other day, and I burst out laughing. It was undoubtedly in response to the recent fashion trend where women wear just tights, and a shirt or sweater just barely long enough to cover the things that are important to cover.

I am not a fan of this trend, as it really does seem indecent to wear only tights. But, at one point in my life, I was a huge fan. In fact, it's possible I started this trend.

I must have been about 8 years old. One day I came downstairs after getting ready for school in what I thought was a perfect outfit. I was wearing my favorite sweater at the time - a purplish-magenta sweatshirt dotted with two-inch puffy penguins. On my legs were a pair of black gymnastics tights.

Upon seeing this outfit, my mom, thinking that I was just forgetful, reminded me that I needed to go put on pants of some sort. It was the 80's, I'm sure a jean skirt or jean shorts would have sufficed. But I was stubborn, and I refused to change. After a bit of back and forth, my mom gave in, and sent me out the door, wearing just tights and a purple sweater that covered the things that were important to cover.

Once at school, the teasing began almost immediately. The two most popular girls in the school - popular because they were twins AND pretty AND older than I was - were the first to start in. Perhaps it wasn't teasing. Perhaps it was mere curiosity. "Rachel, why aren't you wearing any pants?" My retort to that was elegant, and though I don't remember my exact word choice, it was something like "Why are you wearing a shirt with shapes on it?" (which she was). In my embarrassment, it was the best I could come up with.

I spent the rest of the day fielding questions. I also spent the rest of the day feeling ridiculous.

Salvation came after school, though. I went to an after-school program a few times a week called Kids Club, where we did our homework and played lots of fun games. That particular week was gymnastics week, something completely unbeknownst to me, but nevertheless convenient given my attire. Both of the popular twins went to this same after-school program, and they came up to me and said "Oh, you were wearing your tights for gymnastics! Why didn't you say so?" I played along, of course, claiming that I didn't tell them earlier because they were being so mean.

It's amazing to me that I can recall so much of this event, so many years later. I'm certain it was formative. I wasn't teased much by my peers growing up, so the times that I was really stand out. But it was also one of the (many) times it occurred to me that maybe my mom did know what was best for me.

To my mother's credit, I love that she let me leave the house looking ridiculous. She repeated the same technique many times when I went out during winter without a sweater, and later in life, too, when I was finding my bearings during high school. I'm sure it wasn't always easy for her, but I was stubborn as a mule, and I learned my lesson every single time.

I only wish that for each person out there wearing tights, there were a disdainful set of beautiful twins ready and waiting to mock them into wearing pants.

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Date:2009-03-08 20:32

I made crepes for the first time tonight. I had previously feared them, and thought of them as something only an experienced cook would undertake. It turns out they're really quite simple. The simplicity starts with the ingredients - there are only 5, all of which I had on hand: flour, milk, eggs, oil and salt. You basically just mix everything thoroughly together and then let it chill for a bit.

Cooking the crepes was slightly more complicated. You basically have to put barely enough batter in a hot pan and swirl it to cover the bottom completely. That part took some getting used to, and it was pretty easy to spot my first attempts given the misshapen appearance.

The next step is just to turn the crepe over. The turning was much, much easier than I thought. I am awful at turning things. Even fried eggs - which should be easy - end up folded in half when I try to flip them. But crepes are different. The batter coats the pan so thinly that it's practically finished cooking when you go to turn them over. So it's not like an egg where everything is slipping around when you try to turn it. They hold together pretty well too.

Tonight's recipe was for savory crepes. I filled them with asparagus, swiss cheese, and ham, and topped with a mustard sauce. It was a rich but good meal. Next time I want to try sweet crepes. A local restaurant serves the most delicious lemon and sugar crepes. If I could replicate them at home I would be in heaven!

And the best part about the meal? No fires this time! Whew.

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Date:2009-03-01 20:37
Subject:Excellent weekend, plus very small fire(s)

This weekend was outstanding for 3 primary reasons:

1) We got rid of 40 boxes that were just sitting around, gathering dust (literally - our place is still quite dusty).

2) I finished and filed my taxes.

3) 30 Rock had a new episode which Mark and I watched on my computer.

And onto the very small fires. Tonight I decided to try this quesadilla recipe which sounded good. The recipe called for broiling the quesadillas. I hadn't tried the broiler in my new oven yet so I thought this would be a good opportunity. And as I'm sure you can guess from the subject line, my food caught fire. Twice.

The sad part is, we just scraped the ashes off the food and ate the quesadillas anyway. I couldn't bring myself to throw away that much melted cheese.

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Date:2009-02-17 00:33
Subject:Miss Manners

Lately I have found myself wondering what Miss Manners would say about certain situations. For example, last night Mark and I were at a play. In the row behind us, some teenage kid - no doubt dragged there by insistent parents - was texting or playing games on his cell phone for the entirety of the show. At one point he actually dropped the phone and it made a clatter. The texting didn't bother me per se, other than the minor distraction of a faint bluish glow seen out of the corner of my eye. But the fact of it bugged me. Where were this kid's parents? Why weren't they reprimanding him? Who thinks it's appropriate to go to a play and do this?

In the end though, I realized that my indignance at the matter was only affecting me. I was the one who was sitting there irritated, letting this minor situation detract from what was an excellent play. He was happy as a clam, ignorant of everything around him.

I'm not sure how to reconcile the feelings though. When people break tacit (or explicit) social contracts, I get frustrated. We're in shared space here, and people need to learn to respect that space! And yet, telling someone "you're being rude" is hardly polite in and of itself. It makes me feel like a nag and a stickler that I even care. And yet I feel that these social contracts are important. I don't care what people do behind closed doors that doesn't affect me.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I need to either politely say something to someone or let it roll off my back. I don't want to let some 15 year old get under my skin. Life is too short!

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Date:2009-02-13 14:33
Subject:Amy and Isabelle

I just finished Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout, for one of my book groups. Strout is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. The book started out a bit slowly but by the end I kept looking at the shrinking number of remaining pages with sadness.

Like some of my other favorite authors, Strout writes about the tiny little lives of everday people. I love her characters. I love that they're frail and human and not at all cliched. There are no bad guys and good guys - just people who contain both. And her writing is beautiful. It has that natural quality where nothing feels forced. Every sentence just seems exactly so, and that it couldn't have sounded right any other way.

I'm happy to find another author I'm excited about, and whose books I haven't read all of already!

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Date:2009-01-21 14:50
Subject:after-ball party
Mood: amused

Well Mark and I aren't really connected to the national political scene in DC, so we didn't even bother trying to get tickets to any of the official inaugural balls. However, we did snag some tickets to an after-ball party which I happily attended because they were serving dessert AND breakfast at the same time. It was at the Georgetown Club in DC which is an absolutely beautiful building, and much bigger than it looks from the outside.

We had fun. I made Mark dance for one song, we ate lots of good food, and we ended up talking to a really nice couple from Detroit for a while. During our chat, someone came to sit down at the next table over and the guy we were talking to said "Hey Star how are you doing? It was great seeing you last night blah blah." I just zoned out because I didn't know the person. Except, I did know the person. It was Star Jones, maybe best known for her time on The View. It just took me a full minute to realize who she was.

And I know this is strange to say but I was kind of surprised she was human. It's like, you see these people all over the internet and magazines and you forget that they're real people. She looked EXACTLY like she does on TV. I was surprised that she didn't look any different.

Anyway, we don't get too many celebrities around here and if we do I certainly never hobnob with them so I was entertained by the experience.

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Date:2009-01-20 18:25
Subject:Inauguration Day

This morning Mark and I headed downtown at about 6:40 to join in the inauguration madness. Our plan was simple. Get into the parade route. From there, walk to Fogo de Chao where our fundraiser luncheon was. Watch the entire procession in a warm place with all-you-can-eat food and clean restrooms. After lunch, watch a bit of the parade, since the restaurant was literally on the parade route. Return home. Oh, the best laid plans! Here's what actually went down...

We started off our day with my co-worker Winifred and her friend Val who were down visiting from New Jersey. They were traveling downtown with us but then heading off towards a special area for actual ticket holders!

Happily, we live about 40 yards from a bus stop that was on a "power bus route" for getting people downtown for the inauguration. This was great news as it made travel exceptionally easy. We hopped on the first bus we saw, which surprised me. I had sort of expected to have full buses pass us by before we were able to get on one. In any case were off to a good start!

Once downtown, Mark and I split off from Winifred and Val and we made our way towards one of the many security checkpoints. On the way in, we saw tons of Obama pariphrenalia for sale, everything from calendars to full sweat suits. One vendor was selling something called "O-BAM-AHH Energy Stix", which they were advertising from the back of a decked out Hummer. I thought that was a pretty bad choice of vehicle to be peddling anything related to "energy" from. They were not doing a brisk business.

We also saw lots of protests and signs for various causes. Most notable were people advocating shutting Gitmo down. They were dressed in orange jumpsuits with black masks completely covering their faces. I think that was a good idea for them since it was very cold out. The temps were in the 20s at that point but the wind knocked them down into the teens. Having a full face mask would have been great. Anyway, it struck me as a bit odd that these folks were down there advocating for something that Obama has very explicitly stated that he wants to do. I guess maybe they just wanted to make extra sure?

After a few blocks we reached a security checkpoint and decided to try our luck there. There were a few thousand people in line already but we had expected that so we weren't too worried. The line was actually just a huge mass of people about a hundred people wide and several hundred people deep. We stood in line for a while without going anywhere and then we started to move. They were pulling a couple hundred from the line at once and letting them go into an area where they formed actual lines for screening, as opposed to one giant mass. Once that group was done they'd let more in. So when we moved, we moved quite a bit. And otherwise we just stood there.

We were in line close to 2 1/2 hours and we were in line next to various people throughout that period. People were friendly and chatty, asking where people were from etc. so that was nice. However, we were unfortunate at first because this girl standing next to me had a proclivity for bursting into song. She was not a good singer, and she hit some high notes that left me sad to be near her.

There were a few Kenyans off to our left trying to lead everyone in Kenyan songs, altered slightly to incorporate Obama. One of them sounded like "Sen ga le" but there was an occasional "Obama le" thrown in. They were smiling and waving Kenyan flags and having a great time. Further off to our left were 3 people who somehow had a microphone and a speaker who were preaching to the crowd. We're not entirely sure what they were saying because they were too far away, but there was a lot of booing so I'm going to guess they weren't talking about how much they loved Obama.

The crowd control was well done here and everyone was respectful of other people's space. There were no crazy stampedes or anything that made me feel nervous. After 2 1/2 hours we made it to the actual screening where I was treated to a very physical pat down. It made me happy to know that they were doing a good job making sure no one had anything dangerous on them.

Finally, we were inside the parade route! We immediately made our way over to the restaurant, only to find that we couldn't cross 12th street for some reason. There were no exceptions. We knew we weren't going to be able to cross Pennsylvania. But 12th street?? So there we were, one block away from our restaurant, and we were told by some secret service guy that we had to go back out and go through the security line again. This new line was just 1 street down from our original line! Ugh. So, we complied, because, well, we had no other choice.

Out we went, into a different line. At this point it was 9:45 or so. We waited in our new line for several hours. We were lucky to hear Obama's speech on a portable radio someone had brought with them. At around 1 pm we realized it was pointless to continue standing in line. We were moving so slowly we knew we wouldn't make it inside for any part of our lunch, and if we eventually did get onto the parade route, we knew we wouldn't be able to see a thing. So we just turned around and left.

We were a bit disappointed, but really, we went into it knowing something like this might happen. We walked back towards the bus loading area, and decided to stop in at Cosi for some badly needed food. They were offering an inauguration special, which meant 1/4th of their menu options at twice the normal cost! Good for them, I guess. And good for us too because we were hungry. Food plus hot chocolate fortified us for our trip home. And like our good experience at the beginning, the trip ended well, too. We hopped on the first bus we saw and headed home.

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Date:2009-01-09 18:05
Subject:A bad cure for the hiccups

My normal put-your-hands-over-your-head-while-someone-feeds-you-water-for-10-seconds hiccup trick doesn't always work when I'm alone.

Today I tried to use a trick I saw online where you kind of drink out of the back of the glass.

The good news is it worked. The bad news is I somehow poured it through my sinuses and water started pouring out my nose.

I don't think I'll be using that technique again, despite it's efficacy.

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Date:2009-01-01 13:30
Subject:New Year's Day

Mark and I took our first run from our new house. It quickly turned into a run/walk when my knee started bothering me. I have a long way to go to get back into shape. We ran through our neighborhood a bit and ended up near a tennis stadium and huge park area. It was nice to be outside despite the somewhat brisk weather.

I never do too well with New Year's resolutions. I guess if something is important enough for me to change I try to do it and don't wait until January 1. But there is something psychologically different about beginning a new year. It's tempting to want to turn over a new leaf, or perhaps several new leaves. My main goal this year is to do less. I want more unstructured time. Not sure how an old house needing lots of love fits into that plan but I guess we'll see.

Anyway, off to Lowes to pick out tile, lighting, toilets and perhaps appliances.

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Date:2008-12-29 23:44
Subject:An almost normal day

Today was pretty normal. I even got outside to go for a 10 minute walk, the first "exercise" I've attempted since moving. I just wandered a bit through our new neighborhood, which is nicer than I thought. Our place is definitely the smallest I've seen in the area, but that's just fine with me. There are some really beautiful old homes, and a couple of embassies. There are also an inordinate number of churches in the neighborhood.

I don't think this period of normalcy is going to last long. Mark already asked me to schedule a day next week where they'll cut the electricity to the house completely. Luckily I have the special wireless card that lets me be online anywhere.

In theory I'll have a new kitchen in a couple weeks. And perhaps some insulation too. And a patched roof. And lots of new electrical wires and pipes. I'm hoping some new non-leaking toilets as well. Lots going on!

I went downstairs tonight to look at the shell of my new kitchen. It's all just wood framing and wires. I actually love it a little. It's so neat to see the guts of it and to watch it all coming together. I wish I knew how to do some of this myself.

Once the kitchen is done and we take a little break I want to tackle a smaller project that we can do ourselves. I'm thinking the laundry room might be a good place to practice.

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Date:2008-12-23 10:26
Subject:Welcome to the neighborhood...

Someone broke into my car last night and tried to steal it. They ripped off all the ignition casing. Thankfully they were unsuccessful. But we were supposed to leave for Cleveland an hour ago and now I have to wait for AAA to come tow it to my dealer. Ugh.

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Date:2008-12-17 20:58
Subject:Coated with dust

It's a bit crazy around here. Finally have most of the office set up, including working internet and phone! Got settled in to work at a decent hour, only to have the electrical cord leading to my office cut in the process of having a wall demolished. The wall happened to be between my bedroom and the office, which are the only two habitable rooms upstairs. Today was a loud day.

A few interesting things we've discovered as we've been going through this process:

- We found the original kitchen floor underneath about 5 layers of linoleum.

- There is no subflooring upstairs. So when you are in the demoed kitchen and look up, you actually see the planks of hardwood floors laid directly on the beams.

- The ceiling in the basement is about 1 foot higher than we thought, putting it at least 7 feet. We might not need to dig down after all!

I have been referring to this process as an adventure. I am covered with dust about 100% of the time and when I want to leave the room I have to exit through lots of plastic sheeting. Finding a random item is like going on a treasure hunt. Sometimes I catch myself complaining, but really it's not too bad.

My cats are adjusting to this well. Landon, who used to run and hide when the vacuum cleaner turned on, merely looked annoyed today as someone banged on metal hard for about 2 minutes straight to the point where my ears were ringing. Landon has also discovered what radiators are and she likes curling up as best as she can on top of them when they're warm. I tried to copy her yesterday but I didn't quite fit!

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Date:2008-12-05 23:22
Subject:Costa Rica, revisited

I meant to post about this a few weeks ago but life has been a bit hectic and I'm only finding time now. "Now" happens to be in La Quinta visiting my Dad and Debbie. I am catching up on some work while half-watching Oprah.

Anyway, I blogged about my Costa Rica trip on the last day of my trip, thinking that I wouldn't have anything left to say about it, since all I was doing the following day was travelling to the airport and flying back to DC.

That day turned into a 36 hour adventure, which warrants its own entry.

The day started with a 5+ hour drive from Nosara to San Jose. The distance between the two cities is probably only 150 miles, but the roads are bad for part of it, and there is also a pretty long section of 1 lane highways through hilly regions, where you end up in line behind massive trucks.

Christie accompanied me part of the way, and in Nicoya she got off at the bus depot and I continued on my way. Pretty soon after leaving her, I got pulled over by the Costa Rican police. I was travling 90 k/hr in an 80 k/hr zone. 6 miles / hour over the speed limit! The police offer didn't speak English, and I didn't speak Spanish, but we each had enough language and hand gestures between us to resolve the issue.

He asked for my passport and conveyed to me that I owed about $100. I wasn't traveling with that kind of money and I indicated that to him. He informed me that if he registered the ticket, I wasn't going to be able to leave the country without paying the fee to the bank of Costa Rica. I figured that was fine, that I could take care of it at the airport. But he said the bank in closed on Sunday. In other words, I wasn't going to be able to leave Costa Rica that day.

It's a good thing that crying is crying in any language, and I'm not ashamed to say that I burst into tears. I have NEVER gotten out of a ticket in my life by crying. I'd like to think I saved up all my karma so that someday in Costa Rica when I couldn't speak the language and I had a flight leaving in a few hours, and I was closing on a house about 48 hours later, I would get out of the ticket.

In any case, it worked. And I was appropriately paranoid for the rest of the drive. I saw 10 policemen after that, and actually watched them pull over 5 different people.

Once at the airport, everything went well. We boarded the plane a little delayed, but then after we left the gate, we just sat and sat for apparently no reason. Finally the captain announced that the president was landing at the airport and they halt all takeoffs and landings during that time for security. I'd say we were delayed about 1.5 hours.

When we landed in Miami, I had 17 minutes until my next flight left. I sprinted through the airport. I was cheering at my decision to carry on, because going through customs was an absolute breeze. Sprinting through the airport is occasionally fun. People cheered for me. It was kind of nice. I arrived at the gate, totally out of breath, and a lot of people were still there. The flight had been delayed, and they just hadn't bothered to update the screens. I had about 30 more minutes than I thought. But hey, I got a little run in which was nice.

Finally I got on the plane, the last leg of a really long day. I was exhausted and ready to be home. Poor Mark was waiting up for me to pick me up, and the delay pushed back my arrival into DC from 12 to 1 am.

We took off, and all was well. About 30 minutes into the flight, we banked. Hard. I didn't think about it too much, but the thought crossed my mind that DC is pretty much due north from Miami, so it was odd that we were turning so much. A couple minutes later the captain got on the intercom, and said something like this: "Something is wrong with the plane, and I'm not sure what it is. The cockpit is vibrating. This has never happened before. We need to turn around at head back to Miami immediately." But somehow it sounded much much scarier to hear that in the air than it looks in writing.

My heart rate immediately skyrocketed. And the lady next to me wasn't doing too well either. After the pilot's announcement, she started doing hail mary's, and rang the call button to ask the flight attendant for some wine. The attendant basically said no, and I thought that she was going to have a panic attack.

The first comedic part in all of this happened next. One of the flight attendants must have been on auto-pilot (ha ha) and she started giving the full "beverage service" speech. She was listing all the options, saying it would start in a few minutes etc. Meanwhile, the flight attendant who had been paying attention came running down the aisle, mouthing "no, no, no" and waving her hands at the woman. And during all of this, we're descending back towards Miami quite quickly. And even though it was kind of funny, it was still pretty scary.

Maybe I was overreacting, but I honestly thought I was going to die. The pilot's speech was not reassuring, and I had just accepted the fact that we might crash. A lot of thoughts went through my mind. The good news is, there were really no regrets. And I decided that for the remainder of the flight, I would spend my energy thinking about all the wonderful things I had seen and done in my lifetime because I might only have so much time left and I might as well enjoy it.

Obviously, we landed, we survived etc. People clapped. We breathed a huge collective sigh of relief. The second comedic part of this experience was that just after landing, every single person on the plane received a voicemail or text message that the flight had been cancelled. Again, I had to laugh. We all knew very well what was going on, but we appreciated the airline's commitment to keeping their passengers informed.

Once we landed we had to stay on the jetway while the ground crew examined the plane to try to determine the cause of the problems. After about 30 minutes the captain told us what happened. Apparently someone forgot to fully secure an access control panel on the plane after inspection in between flights, and it had opened during flight. The wind against the open panel flap was causing the vibration. The captain also said: "Turning around was 100% the right decision." I am not sure what that means. Does that mean we would have died if we hadn't turned around? I didn't ask.

I was so thankful to the pilot for turning us around. In fact, when I exited the plane, I asked him if he would give me a high five and but he was kind of far away so he just laughed. I would have hugged him if I could have.

After we exited the plane, we all formed a giant line to get rerouted and to get hotel vouchers etc. There were no more flights that night, so we were all competing for limited seats on flights the next day. Thanks to a good suggestion by my Mom, I had Mark book my flight through Expedia while I was in line, and the result was saving at least an hour and getting a decent flight home.

So I spent the night in Miami, and as a special bonus, I saw my friend Misha and her new baby boy the next morning before my flight. Thankfully, the flight was without incident.

I got back to my house in DC at about 3 pm on Monday. It had been a really, really long day. I don't think I'd ever been so happy to be home.

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