The photo's are up on my Flickr. One down, two to go. The Oyster stew is a hard act to follow!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I lied. There are several pictures from around my birthday that I want to share. I just hadn't taken them yet. On the left is our advent calender (expertly crafted by Kristal).
The most expert thing about it is that it is filled with Lindor truffles! Ithink there are five different varieties but we threw away the package and can't remember what the colors mean. One of them, we reckon the orange wrapped ones, are peanut butter flavor. I don't know why everyone insists on producing a peanut butter variety these days. Perhaps Reese's patent ran out. nevermind, all the other flavors are delicious.
I've always liked the fact that my birthday marks the start of advent. My mom kept up the tradition this year of giving me an advent greetings card on my birthday, which is perfect for me to display at work where a chocolate filled calender would contravene health and safety regulations!
This year, the procession through the calender windows also marks the countdown to are trip to England! Two weeks to go!
Since we won't be at home for Christmas, we are doing minimal decorating. However, I got these lights for cheap at Target the day of Halloween. I did a hopeless job of putting them up the first time, and they kept falling down and tangling up the screen door. On Black Friday I bought myself an early b'day present of a step-ladder, so I was able to hang them properly. Down the street there is a yard with the full compliment of inflatable winter festival characters, and they even blare out festive music. I also discovered a life sized Santa's sleigh and reindeer 'flying' in a beautiful arc a few feet off the ground of another neighborhood yard. I'f I can get a picture of it I'll post it up on Flickr.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Since there are no pictures to display, I shall have to fall back on entertaining you all with scintillating prose. So what can I say about clicking over the quarter century mark?
The first thing that comes to mind is that my birthday marked exactly two and a half years since my arrival in this great land. I honestly can't believe it has been so long. Despite being now well integrated into society and having perhaps developed a passable urban Virginia accent, I still frequently feel like a foreigner. While undoubtedly my understanding of the American people has deepened immensely (especially after living through the longest Presidential Election in history with them) I know I will never be fully American. At twenty-five it so happens that I am probably as close as I ever will be to being truly half-and-half, not just by birth but in culture also.
Secondly, becoming engaged has certainly reversed my perspective on age. If there was any fear that I would start to feel old when I reached 25, that was all swept away when I put a ring on my young lady's finger. Now if anything I feel far too young to be taking such a grown up step. However, I'm certainly not too modest to say that I'm very proud of Kristal and myself for taking this step together, and the timing in both our lives feels though it could not have been better.
During a conversation at the bowling alley, we were pondering what age we might live to see. Somebody born at the end of the 19th Century would never have imagined they would live to be 115, but that is exactly what Maria de Jesus dos Santos has done. Who can how old the super-centenarians of the 22nd Century will be, and if any of us will be among them?
We are both very happy, excited and in love. Thanks to everyone who has already passed on their message of congratulations.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
We final finished this 2000 piece puzzle! We bought it to celebrate having a coffee table to do a puzzle on, so we must have started back at the end of September. The castle was completed fairly quickly, then it was slow going until I spent a couple of evenings tackling the sky. We took a long break around Halloween as the puzzle got moved into K's sewing room so we could entertain in the living room. Recently we returned it to pride of place on the coffee table and I have been grinding away on finishing the foliage. The last pieces slotted into place this evening, just in time to take it apart to make way for Thanksgiving!
The lesson here is, don't try to do a 2000 piece puzzle on a coffee table. It was the only design I really liked at Target, which is why we chose this one instead of a more sensible size. Of course when we got it home we discovered it wouldn't fit on the table! Luckily K had a table pad from her Grandmother that was only about a quarter inch short, and worked fine except that it folded in three so was never completely flat at the creases and was a pig to move...
I am accustomed to having enough flat space to lay out all the pieces and maybe have enough room to move them around, but since the puzzle didn't even fit we were stuck hunting through the box, picking out interesting pieces. Very frustrating. When I was working on the sky I was convinced I had all the blue ones, but it took another half dozen searches to eventually track them all down. For a time we used the box and lid to transfer pieces back and forth as we hunted. I found a big sheet of, er, something white and rigid, so I could lay some pieces out and organize them, which helped a lot. But yeah, next time we're getting the 250 piece puzzle that's a picture of kittens...
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The National is an old theater house that recent re-opened as a music venue. I was invited a short notice to go see Conor Oberst and Ben Kweller, and as my faithful reader will know, I need turn down an invitation to a random event. Besides, I'm completely out of touch with the local (and national) music scene.
Since none of us had been to the Nat'l before, we showed up shortly after the doors opened to make sure we didn't miss anything. And wasn't is lucky we did, or we wouldn't have been treated to Rig 1. My best guess would be to label them an Indie Rap Group, if that genre even exists. The front man reminded me of Dider Revol in Son of Ranbow. I wasn't totally convinced by an outfit that produces only a small portion of their music live (mostly Dider 'rapped' over a backing track with disorted fills from his guitarist and bassist), and his a cappella number was like being at some strange trippy poetry reading. At least they solved the question of whether I was going to drink or not. PBR on tap? Oh, why thank you...
They seem to have their game together at the National, because the wait between acts seemed refreshingly short. Before long, Ben Kweller came skipping on stage. At first I thought there had been some mistake. The voluminous dirty blonde curly hair; the denim vest; the cute as apple pie voice? There was no way this was a dude. But a dude he was, and proceeded to launch into a set of what I'm calling 'punk folk' for want of a better description. For me the star of the show was pedal steel, played by an older gentleman in thick black-rimmed glasses (my associates disagreed). Basically the whole experience was making me think I was in Greenville in 1973, but what the hey.
After Ben had warmed us up it was onto the main event. Advertised as Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, I was expecting something along the lines of Newgrass, but was way off!
Again, words fail to really describe the odd arrangement of musicians assembled on stage. Perhaps this is the truest use of the term Indie. There wasn't really a band on stage, rather several individuals playing in concert. The most individual of them all was Conor himself who fits neatly into the category of arrogant prick. Technical prowess was hard to come by from any member of the group, who seemed to be centered around Conor's poetic lyrical meanderings. Personally I much preferred when he let one of the other band members take a song.
Well, some of the tunes were likable enough, and three PBRs in I was ready to get my groove on, which brought disparaging remarks about the quality of English dancing from my acquaintances. Most of the rest of the crowd stood there with their arms crossed, but clearly they were enjoying themselves more than they were expressing, as the calls for an encore were energetic and appreciative.
The band returned after just enough time for a few rounds of shots chased with a beer. After a few more numbers indistinguishable from the rest of the set, Conor invited Ben out on stage, announcing that this was Ben's last date on the tour with them. Ben, who had clearly spent the entirety of the headliner's set with a bottle of Jim Beam, staggered on stage for a rendition of Kodachrome, which they made a good job of, actually. After this point I don't really remember a lot of the music. Ben and Conor were climbing all over the stage equipment, kicking over drinks and throwing mics around. Conor tried to skip rope with the microphone lead, but got it tangled, first on Ben's guitar, then on a mic stand, before finally making a full rotation and drawing disproportionate applause from a highly entertained audience.
So, in the end a good time was had by all. It was just what I needed as an antidote to a crap week. I'm not hurrying out to buy their latest records, but they sure know how to put on a show, so Kudos to Ben and Conor.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
My first encounter was almost totally negative. I took a trip to the ER, which turned out to be completely unnecessary, but cost me $150. Luckily they never billed me for the Ambulance ride. But this event highlights two of the biggest problems in my mind with how the system works.
Firstly, treatment is not offered conditionally based on price. That is, you're never asked "Would you like this treatment (it will be $100)?". It is assumed that you want whatever treatment is best for you, and that you will pay with bill no matter the amount. Where else do middle class people make choices on those terms. At a restaurant, you decide whether to order the lobster partly based on the price of the dish.
Secondly, if you have insurance, you know they're trying to screw you somehow. It is virtually impossible to tell what you'll have to pay for until they send you the bill.
I was also very disappointed by the level of service at the ER. They weren't busy, and I guess I felt that since I was paying to be here, I should be treated like a hotel guest!
Anyway, my recent trip to the doctor was much more positive. Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with me! But it's about time I began regular check-ups, and I've been putting it off simply because I had no idea where to begin. In England, it seems so simple. You find you nearest GP, and go there. But here you have this wonderful thing called choice, which makes things impossibly complicated. Again, there is so much information out there, but so little of it is made readily available to the 'consumer', so having to make an educated choice is a complete headache. In the end, I discovered the secret shortcut: Ask someone at work who their doctor is - then you know that you'll be covered by insurance and you get a personal recommendation.
Going to the Doctor (by contrast to the ER) seemed like the deal of the century! For $25 I got one-to-one attention. When I go back for a 45 minute physical exam, again it's just $25! The people are friendly, and I felt like i was being treated with the respect that a paying customer deserves. I think the euphoria is mostly relief of knowing that I have somewhere to go now if I fall seriously ill. And really, the healthcare is only cheap so long as your healthy! Once you need regular treatment, it quickly become a whole different story. Perhaps it's good, as it encourages preventative measures.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
No, I didn't stay up to find out the outcome of the election. This morning was quite soon enough, and it was worth waiting just to avoid listening to the delusional babble of the news networks. Besides, once Ohio had gone into the Blue column, the result seemed almost inevitable. Nor can I say I was interested in wild celebrations regarding the appointment. Sure, I think the right man won, but my relationship with politics is intellectual rather than emotional. And while I'm far from Anarchistic, I try to live as independently from the government as I can. That is to say, whatever decisions Mr Obama makes, I'm sure there will be an avenue for me (and anyone else) to prosper.
In any case, from what I here of the reactions of important people, there seems plenty of room for optimism. There have been a lot of people saying that McCain's concession speech was superior to Obama's acceptance oration, but I'd have thought it obvious to anyone that it is easier to be graceful in defeat than victory, especially in what is essentially a popularity contest. Saying, "The other guy would've done just as good a job" is no way to either thank your supporters or reach out to the opposition. I've also heard a lot of comments that if McCain had expressed himself throughout the election like he did at the very end, he would've been a candidate they could vote for. Well, that's the point, isn't it? John McCain isn't an infinitely gracious man, and the mean streak he frequently showed during the campaign marked him as second best.
Bush says he'll make the handover as smooth as possible, which is probably the only sensible thing he's said in 8 years. Really the best thing about the outcome for me is that what it will do for America image to the rest of the world. Perhaps I can dare to show some pride of my American half when I return to the UK.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
To the surprise of a few of my colleagues (who still haven't exactly worked out how I possibly got here) I am in fact eligible and, as a responsible citizen, registered to vote in the USA. Thus it came to pass that Kristal and I ventured out on a rainy November morning to cast our votes. We are in the 106th precinct and our polling station is the local High School. The polls open at 6am, but we decided to wait for the rush of super-keen voters to die down, and give ourselves a few extra minutes in bed. I think we arrived around half-seven. For some reason the USA doesn't see fit to give it's electorate a public holiday once every four years for the general election, but I was allowed two hours of the work day to do the business.
Lucky, really, because voting wasn't exactly a speedy as I had dared dreamed. We did avoid the rush, according to a few people who had witnessed lines snaking around the building. Fortunately we were at least able to queue inside, out of the rain. We arrived, and I guess the guy at the front door hadn't been told that the crush had died down, as we were sent on a looping tour of the school corridors, only to arrive inside a door right behind the guy who had directed us! So far, off to a bad start.
After a few minutes in the queue, an election official came down the line calling for surnames Emm thru Zee to come forward, so Kristal dutifully went on and got her ballot ticket. However, there was apparently some hold up for the A-E crowd. By the time I got near the front of the queue, Kristal was done voting. So were her Sister and Brother-in-law, who had arrived about a quarter-hour after us! Kristal offered me her crossword puzzle, but I was being entertained by a gentleman who had graduated from this very High School in 1976, and would love to tell us all about it...
Finally I got to the table where they check your name on the register and give you the ballot ticket. The table was divided into four sections, alphabetically by surname, and the three sections from F onwards were empty. For whatever reason I was standing at the A-E section with 50 increasingly irate voters behind me. The reason appeared to be that one person with an A-E surname had arrived earlier, but their eligibility to vote was in doubt. Rather than take the problem aside, well meaning ladies of the Librarian caste were continually interrupting the A-E checkers with inadequate explanations of what was happening. The A-E checkers would then have a leisurely debate about whether it was OK to cross out an entry on the register or not. Neither could quite remember this being covered in the evening class. Eventually they realized that they needed to sort this out later - right now the priority was to process the stern young man standing in front of them who looks like he's about to knock their heads together.
After I got my ballot ticket, it was relatively smooth sailing. I had to wait in another line for a while, and somehow they had designed they queuing system so that the two lines crossed each other, but they had about 10 voting stations, so thing moved along nicely. You exchange you ballot ticket for a place at a touchscreen computer, and somebody helpfully informs you that you need to press the big red 'VOTE' button that shows up at the end for your ballot to count. Then your done!
All-in-all it wasn't that terrible. I mean, obviously there is no reason to keep a large fully trained staff for an event that occurs but once in four years. It can't be easy to arrange for an estimated 3.5 million Virginia voters to cast their ballot in 13 hours. It reminds me of sitting school exams. As you sit their watching the poor teacher fumble around with the sealed envelopes of papers, trying to follow some arcane regulation, you think to yourself, "You better not mess this up, because if you do I might not get a grade, and I've worked too damn hard!" Likewise, you enter the polling station, look around at the usual voluntary sector crew, and think, "You better not foul this up, because the vote in Virginia could mean something this time". We'll know soon enough.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
For once we found the required department of the home improvement store right away. Usually it is a painful process just to get yourself in the vicinity of whatever you're looking for, but the lighting dept. was pretty obvious! However, we weren't having much luck meeting our expectations for a kitchen light. The under-counter lights seemed like the right idea, but they were rather dim and we would need to extend the cord and have some kind of switch...wait - they have those extension cords with switches on, don't they?
After a good half-hour of attempting to cobble together a neat solution with components we thought a good electrics dept ought to have, we finally sought out a store employee for some further advice. We were politely pointed in the direction of a retired electrician, who was more than happy to wonder around the aisles, pulling a plethora of products from the shelves and offering a variety of solutions that still didn't quite sound like they would work out how we'd planned. Sadly, despite his enthusiastic support, we left empty handed, planning to re-evaluate the possibilities rather than take an arm-load of goodies home and rig up a bodge job.
It happened that Kristal's parents came to visit over the weekend, and we were discussing the conundrum with her Dad. As usually seems to happen, it wasn't long before he recalled that he had just what we needed back home in a shed somewhere, and he'd be happy to take a look for it and send it along to us. Thus on Tuesday, the perfect little light bar arrives, with two spots that take regular bulbs. I scrounged a couple of screws from my toolbox that seemed made for the job at hand, and had it installed in minutes. The only problem was turning the lights on and off, without having to take the plug out every time. I headed back to the hardware store for a clicker-wheel switch.
Now, I done a fair amount of tinkering with British electrics (yes, I was one of those kids who took everything apart), so I assumed it'd be plain sailing to fit a simple in-line switch. As it turns out, I had no clue what I was meant to do with this tiny thing. The answer, of course, was to find one in the house that was already assembled, dismantle it and see how it goes back together. Apparently, the neutral wire runs straight through the switch housing, and just the live gets cut, the blunt ends kinda wedged in. When you reassemble the housing, copper spikes piece the sheathing on the cut ends of the live wire to complete the connection through the clicker wheel. I was rather impressed with the simple elegance of it, as I had planned to have to strip wire-ends and insert them into impossibly fiddly connectors.
Anyway, it you want to see some photos, head over to my flickr page. Mostly we are re-enacting for the camera, but you get the idea. It really brightens up the place a lot, and does it neatly and safely, which is soothing to my ever-so-slightly-OCD-tendencies. In fact, the two 15W energy saving (60W equivalent) bulbs are so bright I've had to point them at the ceiling!
Sunday, October 05, 2008
The 'erbs needs to be rescued from the front bed last week. Grass and weeds had completely choked them, but once they were dug out I was please to find that they were all in pretty good shape. Once we had them safely transferred to one of the square gardens, I dug out the remaining sunflower stumps, pulled the weeds and put some mulch down. Hopefully we can get a few bulbs in there for the spring.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I believe in enriching my stay in the USA by partaking in activities enjoyed by the everyday American. This weekend I experienced another all-American, down-home, good-ole-boy pastime; browsing yard sales. I've been on the lookout for a coffee table on Craigslist for several weeks, but none of my enquiries were ripening into deals. We wanted a simple wooden table, and it seemed mostly likely that we find one sitting out on someone's front yard on a Saturday morning. I tried to be authentic as possible, so I donned sweatpants and climbed into the truck. However, to avoid buying a ton of crap, we would crawl by each yard, and if no coffee table was apparent, keep on moving! I had a list of about six sales, and the addresses, but we quickly put the list aside and just followed the signs as we saw them. Yard sales are everywhere! We probably drove past five or six spots, all tucked away in cute neighborhoods that we would never have any other reason to visit. Despite having no luck finding our desired item, we were having a lot of fun. Finally we found what we we looking for, and picked up a coffee table and side table for the princely sum of twenty bucks. The worst did almost happen when a little person started grilling us about dog ownership, and began suggesting several other items we might like to take off his hands. Luckily, we managed to avoid both admitting we don't own a dog without breaking the facade of all-Americanism, and buying more random household goods.
A bit of a sanding, and a lick of stain, and we have a rather fetching set of rustic looking tables!
You can blame 250+ cable channels for the fact that young people don't go out to see plays anymore. I can't say that I'll go out of my way in search of amateur dramatics, but there's something about the words 'free tickets' that piques my interest. So my Grandparents had a couple of spare tickets to a play. On an army base. The driver would be here at seven. Were we interested?
I stared the gift-horse straight in the face - and blinked first. How bad could it possibly be? The details were hazy, but would you believe it was the best offer we had for our Friday night! Thus we departed for Fort Lee (just outside Petersburg) to see the local Morale Welfare and Recreation Theater Company, and their production of Hart and Kaufman's You Can't Take it With You.
Perhaps to continue the theme of having absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves in for, we took our seats without picking up a programme. I detest programmes, and the way everyone sits there with their noses stuck in them until the curtain goes up. A glance around the auditorium confirmed that we were easily the youngest members of the audience (with the exception of another couple just a few rows away, who turned out to be friends of ours!). Minutes into the play we began to wish we had the programme. What the blazes was this foolishness all about? The jokes were so awkward it was like it had been written in the 1930s or something!
OK, it turns out it was written in the '30s. How was I to know?! However, by the intermission we were still none the wiser. A whole family of insane characters had been introduced, followed by more characters, then more...the doorbell would ring every two minutes, and here would be some other acquaintance, stopping by to add to the confusion. We took heart from discovering that the more seasoned theater-goers accompanying us were jest as baffled. Refreshments were definitely called for, and the army clearly knew how to make you feel welcome. Wine was $1.50 a glass! Perhaps a swift drink would bring the insanity into focus.
The second half got rolling, and pieces started falling into place. The daughter of this free-thinking family was engaged to the son of a high-flying Wall Street Banker. Could the two families ever see eye-to-eye? Probably not, is the answer, especially after the Feds burst in a cart the entire cast off to Jail for the night! I predicted that the play would conclude with a philosophical monologue by the Grandpa, but instead we were treated to a dialogue between the Grandpa and the Wall Street Banker, with interjections from a house-guest who happened to be the cousin of the deposed Russian Tsar (and cafe waitress)! It probably spoke louder in it's time, but had an uncanny resonance considering the current turmoil on Wall St. Most importantly, it turned out to be warmly entertaining, and executed with a genuine enthusiasm that tends to exude from amateur groups. My favorite part was probably when the Russian dance instructor informs the Wall Street man that he has the perfect build for wrestling, then immediately leaps across the the room, tackles the unsuspecting banker and pins him to the floor to prove his point. Physical comedy is timeless!
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Since my cycling adventurer turned out to be brief, we had time for some riparian recreation. I had seen on the news that river levels had recovered enough for Richmond to lift compulsory water usage restrictions, so it seemed fair to assume the stream may be running at a more refreshing temperature ("bath water" best describes recent conditions). We headed down to our exclusive lot on Riverside Drive hoping to paddle out to some rocks and take a dip. To our surprise we were met with 6 ft river levels, which made for tough canoeing and scarce rocks to alight on. So once again my best laid plan went agley.
The occasion was still pleasant enough. After a liberating bathe in something resembling beef stew we sat in the shade of a tree a reviewed high literature (Personally I'm reading an easy-going novel about a circus animal keeper).
It's a holiday weekend so I finally have some time to do whatever I please. With that in mind I dug my neglected mountain bike out of the shed and hit buttermilk trail. I lasted about 30 minutes before the humidity got the better of me! That was already enough time for me to take a small tumble. Hey, I'd drawn blood so could chalk it up as a successful ride - no need to continue!
It was like riding in a rainforest out there. The recent rain hadn't made the ground too muddy, but every root was slick with moisture. I am horribly out of practice, and frankly not as fit as I thought I was. Somehow I just couldn't find any momentum. In a brave effort at mind-over-body I attacked a relatively smooth uphill section, arriving at the top gasping for air and melting with sweat. My body signaled a surrender, so I emptied a bottle of water over my head and took the road route back to the truck.
This being my third summer I had believed that I had acclimatized to the heat and humidity. In fact I had just learned to take it easy. While I was sitting on a rock, two thirty-something ladies came past me, looking as right as rain. They kept a steady pace, and knew when the terrain was beyond them, calmly dismounting until they could ride again.
Still, fall is almost upon us (we had a preview for most of last week) and the weather will be more to my liking. Until then, I'm sticking to yoga!
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I don't brag on here often, do I? Well, this time we are particularly proud of our hard work (ever though it doesn't look like much). I'm not very familiar with American house-building methods, but the idea seemed to be that boards were nailed over insulation, and then batons nailed over the seams to create a decently weatherproof outer wall. The boards was already been put up and whitewashed, so it was up to us to get some baton-work completed.
I sized up the job at hand, and quickly decided we would need a chop-saw and a nail gun. We had a dodgy hammer (I was convinced the head would come off at any moment, probably as it was bring swung back towards the face), so cheese nails and Skil saw. At least it was something. I was pleased to see that if I should accidentally snag the cord of the saw, I wouldn't be the first.
We began by working out some trim around the window. Peter explained that it would be nice the mimic the trim on the original house, with the horizontals extending 3/4" beyond the uprights. Since we we working with 1x3, our efforts were never going to be elegant, but we were instructed to to whatever we thought best. Once the window was framed we began on the batons under the window. We thought it would be plain sailing, but the boards underneath we not even, and all the batons were warped or bent, and would bounce as you tried to nail, effectively dissipating all the energy you were throwing at the nail! We persevered and achieved what we could before the threat of heat-stroke forced us to go in search of beer.
On the second day we shored up some of our previous work with additional nailing, and worked out some trick angled pieces under the eaves. I'm not going to say it was pretty, but (most of) the them fit snugly, and close to vertical. As for the others...I believe they call it caulk over here...
We may have only got a small corner done, but y'know, there was eating and drinking and catching up to do too! Photos of all are on Flickr
Despite our promises to return on a regular basis, it had been a full year since we visited our friends and family in Highland county. Peter kindly invited us for another weekend of physical labour, good food and great views. Oh, and did I mention the delightful company: Blakes, Blanchards, Byrds, Scotts, an the rest of us hangers-on.
We arrived just in time for lunch on Saturday, but were swiftly put to work after a bite to eat. Kristal and I were tasked with adding the batons to the siding on the rear addition. It was hot work in the afternoon sun, and we gradually grew tired of bending nails, our grips on the hammers foiled by sweat. The lure of the creek overcame us.
Back Creek was suffering from a historic low, but the water was still refreshing (and so were the beers). When we got back to the house, preparations for dinner began. Relatives and neighbours soon arrived bearing coolers and trays of beans, potato salad, beets and deserts. Somehow Bob and I were elected for grill duty, and we did our best to cook 24 ears of corn and as many sausages on a small gas grill! Everything turned out pretty good, and the eating was fine as always. Soon the stars were out and it was time to retire to the tent.
On Sunday we grabbed a quick breakfast (more sausage!) and took a hike in the hills at the back of the house. I had a bit of energy left to finish the batoning job, then we packed up and head home.
There is something amazingly relaxing about that part of the world. Despite our hard work and inluxurious accomadation, we returned refreshed and uplifted. I can't imagine why we only make it once a year!
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Saturday, August 09, 2008
I want to apologise up front to my parents for only including them on my Blog in a post about Alpacas. My Mom and Dad took us to Buck Ridge Farm, where an extremely talkative lady rears alpacas! Located in Powatan, our host certainly made it worth the gas money with a barrage of information not only regarding the docile camelid but also the tax incentives for farming alpacas and other fascinating details. I certainly found it educational, and enjoyed making friends with some soft furry animals (the dogs were as fluffy as everything else)! After extricating ourselves from a potentially never ending conversation (by this point expanding to goats and tomatoes), we headed into Powatan CH for some lunch, then home.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Why is it impossible to recreate the first time you experience something?
The weekend was spent relaxing on the beaches of the Outer Banks, NC. The weather was fine: occasionally threatening rain, but only so cloudy as to take the sting off the midday sun and keep temperatures pleasant. The water was refreshingly chilly. We were far from the only cats on the beach, but never had any problem securing a spot for our chairs. We sunbathed, swam, read, ate, drank, and were merry.
But it wasn't anything like the first time. The first time, OBX felt like a coastal wilderness like I had never experienced back home. I'd had an idea that people escaped to places like this, camping in the dunes and cooking tuna over an open campfire on the beach. Now here was I, feeling a million miles from home and loving it.
So perhaps its not OBX that has changed, but me. And of course if you visit at the end of September, hitting the beach around dinner time, then it's easy to forget that such a majority of the population of the East Coast and beyond (we saw a lot of Quebec plates this time) treat OBX as their Summer playground.
It's heartbreaking to see a beach full of F250's. There's really no reason for it. For an avid fisherman I can see the benefit in him taking his jeep to the surf with all his tackle and bait and supplies for the day. A family on a beach trip need to park the truck in the parking lot, hand the beach chairs to Junior and start walking. The Environmentals are doing what they can to protect the wildlife, but making themselves hugely unpopular in the process. As a chemist all I see is the residue left behind. Hundreds of vehicles carrying material from the roadway onto the sand, laying down a blanket of Carbon monoxide, complex hydrocarbons and trace precious metals. I was always taught that the beach was a vulnerable environment by dint of its nature as a transition from sea to land.
Of course I respect the rights of visitors to recreate on the beach, but as with all things, with rights come responsibility, and little responsibility is being exercised by most of the visitors. What disappoints me is that as the people who have been visiting the area for decades complain about the erosion of their rights, they fail to realize how they have not kept up on their responsibilities to be examples of how to treat the environment with respect, to educate other visitors about the fragility of the beach and it's inhabitants, to exercise a little frugality and not abuse the resources that the barrier islands hold. Having completely ignored these vital roles, now they only have bad things to say of the legislators and civil servants working to do what they didn't do themselves. No, you can't fish from the beach around the inlet, because where the trucks used to be sparsely dotted along the waterline, they are now wing-mirror to wing-mirror. The traffic along the dunes rivals Highway 12. The Oystercatchers and turtles want just a sliver of their home to call their own.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
While in Boston we stopped in some cool shops along Beacon street, including a puzzle and game store. I picked up a book called 3-D Geometric Origami: Modular Polyhedra by Ron Gurkewitz and Bennett Arnstein.
I've managed some simple models that required fewer than 10 pieces, and that start with standard origami squares. Not sure if I'm ready to tackle the 20 piece Triangle Module Dodecahedron yet!
Kristal's Mom gave me a few Chocolate Mint rootings when we were starting our gardens. It has done rather well just outside our front door, so I attempted to make tea today. I took enough stems to give me a loose handful of leaves, and brewed them in just-off-the-boil water for about half an hour. I then diluted it down to double the volume an ended up with about a quart. It's rather nice. It doesn't taste overpoweringly minty. In fact it doesn't taste of much at all at first, but leaves a delightfully refreshing feeling in your mouth!
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Just got back from an awesome trip to Boston with Kristal, Chris and Rowie for Independence Day. Chris really wanted to make an appearance on my Blog, so here he is!
Took a tour of Richmond
Went Canoeing on the James
Shot handguns at the range
Drove to Boston
Ate Thai food
Heard the Declaration of Independance
Saw the USS Constitution fire a 21 gun salute
Went to the original 'Cheers' bar
Went round the corner to 'Sevens'
Walked down the Esplanade
Played Uno in an Irish Bar
Ate Fried Dough
Watched the Fireworks
Visited the NE Aquarium
Ate Dim Sum in China town
Tried bubble tea
Toured Beacon Street
Ate wood oven baked pizza
Drank in the Replica 'Cheers' bar
Drank some more in a cool bar with live music
Got lost on the way back to the Hostel
Visited the MIT Museum
Visited the Harvard Natural History Museum
Ate all we could eat at Fire and Ice
Sat in a park
Drove back to Richmond
Stopped at the Statue of Liberty
The Photos are on my flickr.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Since Kristal and I moved in together we have tried to limit the number of times we eat out each week. The effect of this has been to greatly expand the variety of dishes we prepare at home. Especially with the new grill, we have been dining in style at a fraction of the cost of restaurant fare. While I occasionally miss the popcorn shrimp at Outback, $10 of steak from the grocery store and a bottle of marinade will feed us for dinner and the next day's lunch and taste just as good (if not better). The only establishment we frequent now is our sushi restaurant (where we are considered patrons). We have discovered the secret to getting a lot of food for a small price, and rarely buy alcohol there (the tea is too nice).
Last night, beyond our wildest expectations, we weren't in a sushi mood. There was nothing to eat in the house save ground beef. Searching the internet was turning up few possibilities for new places to visit, and we ended up driving around Innsbrook in search of a place I thought I saw once...figuring we'd end up a Cheesecake Factory (their extensive menu is bound to have something that tickles our taste buds). In our meandering we came across the Ipenema Grill. It looked....expensive. But for whatever reason our curiosity get the upper hand and we started on a wonderful adventure of meat.
I have no idea what they eat in Brazil. The images that come to mind are beaches, slums and the rain forest. None of those landscapes include a restaurant of any kind. It turns out that the most popular style of dining is the Churrascaria. The service is Rodizio - a kind of all you can eat buffet, in which the meat is circulated on giant skewers by a team a waiters wielding equally huge carving knives. The Prix fixe was reasonable, so we agreed not to bolt for the door...
Before you accept any meat, the practice is to visit the salad bar (also providing side dishes). In hindsight, it is unsurprising that the food has a distinctly Mediterranean flavor; after all, Brazil was colonized by Portuguese, Italians and others, including some of Middle Eastern origin. For whatever reason, it felt slightly Greek, perhaps because of the ubiquity of olives!
On returning to the table, one flips a small acrylic sign from red to green, and the men arrive bearing carnivore heaven. The host mentioned ten type of meat. I tried to keep track, but as the meat-coma set in and my cognitive powers receded, counting to ten became a bridge too far. This is as much as I can dredge from my subconscious: smoked sausage, chicken wrapped in bacon, sirloin, tenderloin, pork ribs, lamb, and the roasted pineapple. All the meat is cooked in a South American barbecue style known as Churrasco, originating with the Gaucho cowboys. As far as I can tell, the key to everything Brazilian is lime juice. Everything was incredibly moist, tender and tasty.
I have to try a local beer whenever I can, and Ipanema offered Xingu. All I'll say is I may never drink another Guinness. Well, of course I will, but every time I do I'll think of Xingu.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The 8000 mile service is complete! I did the oil, filter and plug changes myself, then took it to the shop for new tires. I was thinking about saving up for some pimpin' Metzeler touring rubber, but then found a large chunk of metal embedded in my rear tire and had to accelerate the process. I think the stock tires will do just fine.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
I dropped a bike for the first time in my life on Saturday. I had to work in the morning, and was in a rush to get out of there! In my haste I lost my balance backing out of a parking space on a slope. I've always said that I'm the type of person who know when an accident is unavoidable and concentrates on minimizing the consequences. True to my form I made virtually no attempt to keep the bike upright, instead my focus was trained on putting my machine down gently. The outcome? It landed on the clutch lever which bent like so much cheese then snapped neatly in half. No paint damage. No broken mirrors, no scratched mufflers. I was still pretty mad at myself. It was scorchingly hot and I was stripping off my gear as I tried to stand the bike up. In the end I relented and sought help from a petite workmate who in fact made all the difference. After pumping the gas out of the flooded cylinders and carbs I was back on the road. Holding on to the clutch at a red light was agony, but the bike shifted much better having more lever travel.
I picked up some sweet chrome levers off eBay, and fitted they this evening. They look pimpin'! However, I'm now back to rough shifting as the lever hits the bar. I've adjusted the cable as much as I can without the clutch slipping, so I'll just have to see how it goes.
To celebrate my being in the USA for two year, Kristal acquired me a gas grill. A work friend of hers had no further use for it, so it came for free. It wasn't in very good shape, so I sanded down all the wood and metal, stained or spray painted as appropriate and generally cleaned it up. The worst job was getting the spider nests out of the gas lines. Apparently no one sells pipe cleaners anymore (people just buy Drano) so I had to buy a 99c wire bristle toilet brush and make a few alterations. After much sweat and bloody knuckles I finally had it clean enough that gas didn't get backed up and create a fireball around the taps!
The weather is awesome for grilling right now. Yesterday was burger night - tonight we had sausages. Maybe tomorrow I'll do chicken kebabs....
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Last weekend we took a trip to Sandbridge and got attacked by ladybugs. At one point I had three all sitting on my at once. The water was cold, and the sand kept on blasting us, but we had some killer seafood for lunch and I found a cool shell (a fairly intact Conch).
I thought you'd all like to marvel at me doing a Baywatch impression (minus the yellow floaty thing).
Friday, May 16, 2008
I can't really tell one plant from another, so I had Kristal tell me exactly what we had and I wrote it all down. The box on the left was planted from seed, and the right box was planted with starters.
For the purposes of web accessibility I should have created a table using html table tags. But I was lazy and did probably the worst thing I could've done. I turned an Excel file into a JPEG and posted the information as an image. Al Gore (the de facto creator of the internet) would be horrified. I added some poorly drawn grass to try to convince myself that an image really was the most appropriate format in this context, but I know in my heart that I guilty and not even providing alternate text can atone for my sloth.
I have high aspiration of updating my blog template. I need to upgrade to Blogger's new templates, but that would involve resetting the various colour and font changes I have made. At the moment I am still unclear as to the advantages of the new templates. Since I barely find to time to write posts, I dread the prospect of spending hours working on my template just to have it look identical to the current incarnation. I'm so out of practice with HTML that editing is a process of trial and error. I was trying to remove the padding about the banner image today, but can't for the life of me find the appropriate line of code to change. It isn't helped that the Blogger templates are written with some form of style-sheet that is unfamiliar to me.
I took the plunge and the new template editor is much easier to work with. It took about 10 minutes to make some colour and font changes, reinstate my banner and enact a few other minor edits. My only disappointment is that clicking on a colour swatch to select a text colour is much less satisfiying than locating to appropriate line of code and editing the hexadecimal number.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Kristal and I visited Crump Memorial Park this evening as I'd seen some young lambs there last weekend. We also walked around to see the pigs. A couple of volunteers arrived to tend to the garden, so we got a formal introduction to George and Martha (the pigs!).
The park garden grows the usual vegetables and of course tobacco, which is cured in the only surviving tobacco curing shed in Henrico county, also located on the property.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Due to our limited yard space, patchy knowledge of gardening principles and abundance of creativity we are attempting to grow our vegetables in square foot gardens. We picked up a ton of dirt on a recent trip to Mathews, and threw it in a 4x4 box. Apparently the grid is also very important to the method of the SFG. Today we picked up some starter plants for Home Depot. We have a second box which we will try to start plants from seed! Watch this space and I'll let you know if we manage to grow anything!
Monday, April 21, 2008
Save the planet or I'll set my Great Horned Owl on you! Make no mistake, this guy could really ruin your day - look at the size of those talons! Unfortunately he's not my Great Horned Owl to boss around. That job belongs to Quinn from the Wildlife Center of Virginia, who introduced us to this beasty and two other injured bird from his collection at the Henrico County Earth Day celebration.
That's right, it's Earth Day (officially 22nd April), and Kristal was on the clock manning a booth to promote DCR Natural Heritage and the protection of rare species in the Henrico Area. I helped he set up the display, then wandered off to watch this guy pull Red-Tailed Hawks out of a hat. Well, there was only one hawk (and two owls), and they were in cages not hats, but it was still freakin' awesome! Especially when our friend pictured above tried to fly away and half the front row suffered cardiac arrest.
Also presenting was 'Keep Henrico Beautiful' (who I quizzed about recycling at work) and the James River Advisory Council. I talked to the gentleman at the JRAC stand for some time. He had been stationed in the UK with the USAF when he was younger, so actually knew where Reading was, which is always nicer than meeting somebody who went to London once. He told me a lot about volunteer opportunities on the James River, as well as fishing lessons, which I'd definitely like to try.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I took three days off work to visit Martha and Graham while she was in Texas. The Lone Star State definitely went far beyond my expectations. Although I only had a short time and stayed around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we saw so many different environments. Both cities had very clean downtown areas with great bars and restaurants, lots of plazas and parks. We visited McKinney Ave. in Dallas for some lunch when I got off the plane. With a tram running up and down the street, it kind of reminded me of Sheffield.
Then we went to see the spot where JFK got shot. A little way down the street there is this strange monument memorializing the man. Even after reading the accompanying plaque, we really had no idea what any of the elements were meant to symbolize. As I said, there is an abundance of plazas and parks in both towns, so we walked around downtown Dallas to visit various points of interest. One park is home to a herd of life size brass longhorn cattle and their brass cowboys. Next door is a Civil War cemetery - I couldn't believe I'd traveled 1100 miles across the country and still hadn't escaped the Confederacy!
After we'd done Dallas, we headed back to Ft. Worth. The way back to Graham's apartment we passed through the Stock Yards, so stopped to take a look around even through it wasn't on the itinerary until later in the week. It's really a cool place: the streets are paved with bricks and all the saloons and general stores have wooden porches over the sidewalk. We kept missing the cattle run, but by all reports it wasn't that exciting. Some of the shops form a railway station for the steam train from Grapevine. Although most of the shops are tacky (with cowboy gear that was made in Taiwan) at the very end we found this awesome spice shop which sold every type of spice plus different salts, meat rubs, curry blends and teas. I picked up a few ounces, hoping the sniffer dogs at the airport wouldn't get me! We were getting thirsty so we popped into the White Elephant Saloon were a very curt barman who didn't understand half of what we said ended up giving us free beer. Time had gotten away from us, so the stores I wanted to go in for cowboy boots were shut, so we made haste to H3 Steak House for just about the best Ribs and Steak I've ever tasted in my life. Granted, the place wasn't cheap, but I think we all agreed it was worth it, and did our best to clean our plates.
We pottered back to Graham's apartment and after a brief respite, decided that we needed to walk off dinner a little. Graham wanted to show us this great pub that has a lot of beers on tap, so we took the scenic route to downtown through the water gardens. At the Flying Saucer, I tried a local brew IPA, which was pretty decent, but we were all dog tired after one pint so called it a night.
On Tuesday we headed out to the West of DFW. The main plan for the day was to visit Possum Kingdom Lake. I'd been told that the landscape started to resemble a desert very soon after leaving the DFW area. I didn't find it to be so. The ground got sandier, but there were plenty of hardy trees and prickly pear cacti. It's definitely Ranch country, with the stereotypical iron archway incorporating the ranch name over every driveway. Cattle, horses and to my surprise goats were present in large numbers. We stopped for some lunch at the lake, and watched some boys jump in, then climb straight back out of the cold water! The next attraction was to be Dinosaur Valley SP near a great barbecue joint, so we set off along some scenic roads towards Glen Rose. Our route took us through Granbury, which had the cutest town square. This quaint ice-cream parlor caught our eye, and with the temperature pushing 80 we indulged in a round of root beer floats. Martha put 'Twist and Shout' on the duke box, then we headed out again in the heat.
Dinosaur Valley was one of the highlights for me. Down in the Paluxy river, all these dinosaur footprints have been exposed in the layers of rock. At first all I saw was round holes that could have been anything (but were apparently sauropod prints). Then as my eyed discovered the three toed prints of the Acrocanthosaurus, it was suddenly the coolest thing on the planet! Plus the park is really pretty - we took a stroll down the river trying to spot a snake or an armadillo.
Unfortunately the barbecue place we wanted to eat at was closed, so we made our way back to town to find some dinner (with a brief stop to change a flat tire caused by a four inch bolt embedding itself in the right-rear). The BBQ joint in FW was classic (their motto was: "Life's too short to live in Dallas"). It was counter service and the meals were served in polystyrene trays and consisted of a huge pile of meat, sauce, beans, 'slaw, potato salad, two slices of bread and half a raw onion! The beers came in frozen margarita-style fishbowl glasses. Another fantastic meal at the opposite end of the price range!
Wednesday was kinda short. Graham had to get a new tire, then we went back to the Stock Yards so I could get some boots. After that it was time for me to catch my flight back home.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Today before embarking on a manly motorcycle ride, I set up the window boxes on the front of the house. The gentleman at Inside Out on Brook Rd suggested Germaniums, offset with the ivy. I also made a box and a pot with some pink and white Dianthus.
View Larger Map
I'm having fun with Google Maps - I like being able to plot a route so I can see where I've been a share it with other people. Today, I set out with the ambitious plan of taking a Northerly route to the Pamunkey river, then heading South to Route 5 back to Richmond. However, in between leaving later than planned, being completely lost most of the time and the weather taking a turn for the worst, I traced a slightly shorter route taking in some of the countryside of Hanover, before visiting part of the city that I normally steer clear of (but is interestingly historical).
View Larger Map
Spring is here and we were given two hours early departure from work on Thursday for our Spring Holiday (aka Good Friday). I was worried that the river would be too distant to comfortably reach by bike from my new place. However, I think I've found an OK route that gets me off the main roads as much as possible. My legs were feeling the burn by the time I'd made the return trip. The way back was predominantly uphill of course.
The River was looking pretty healthy. I'm not used to seeing it neither really low, nor swollen and full of debris. Last year was a year of extremes. While I sat on a rock and had a mid-ride banana, a fat, juicy crayfish climbed right up onto the rock in front of me before being swept away by the current.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Saturday, March 15, 2008
I'd like to introduce you all to Barry, the latest addition to our family. Barry came from one of our friends who had found him as a stray living behind and Italian restaurant. Although she'd had the cat for several months, she never got round to naming him as she didn't intend to keep him - he didn't even have a name, so I christened him 'Barry' (although K insists it's 'Bear-y').
Barry came with a litter box, his favourite brush and lots of toy mice, and after a tortuous 45-minute car ride from Petersburg locked in a cardboard box, he seems to have settled in well. He is always looking for a way to sneak outside, but we're keeping him in for a few months so he doesn't run away.
The bath tap seems to be Barry's favourite feature of the house - he can frequently be found scratching against it, and likes it if we turn it on just a little so he can play with the drips. He also enjoys the bay window, and sleeping at the foot of the bed. As far as we can tell, he's happy with his new home - and we are happy to have him!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Organizing Verizon was a bit of a nightmare. At first we thought we were getting a good deal on their 'FiOS' fiber-optic package. Then the deal expired. Then in transpired that FiOS was not available on our street, so we got regular broadband. We were told the DirecTV came with the package, which we didn't really want, so we'll be getting satellite TV from the Dish Network, because their DVR is cheap. I bundled my cell phone into the Verizon deal to try to make it sweeter, but ultimately we still end up paying through the nose for a home phone that we don't want but have to have. Verizon set up their recorded help-lines so that you can't get anywhere without entering a home phone number. So annoying.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Monday, February 04, 2008
As promised to many, here are the photos of our new place. Isn't it pretty? We've begun to move things in, but probably won't take residence for about another week. This is now my fourth abode since arriving on foreign shores, and hopefully I will be able to stay here longer! I promised my Grandparents I would stop using them as a post office, too, so email me for my new address.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Hooray! Finally something worth blogging about. Last night was our work holiday party, colloquially know as PPD Prom, since it's held so long after the holidays. They still insisted on putting up some lame Christmas decorations. It was a lot of fun, especially since J-No, Brian and Raz were in town, and because there was an open bar. The food this year wasn't very good. There wasn't even any dessert.
We've had so many new people start this year, and I had a good time getting to know them a bit better. Aside from almost burning Amanda's house down, I think we avoided any major mishaps. I'm glad its just once a year though; I can't party like I used to!
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Now on the the meat of the post. Since my readership is probably mostly British, I guess I'm going to spend most of my words justifying my choice to buy a pickup truck (or simply 'truck' as they are known here). While defensiveness will probably be seen as an admission of guilt, I think it's best that I address the principle concerns.
Richmond, Virginia is not Chelsea, London. Space is not at a premium. I don't have to negotiate narrow, crowded streets near schools, so there is no reason to limit myself to a small car.
Since it's a brand new vehicle, it actually make pretty good miles. The EPA estimates 29mpg Highway (that almost 35 miles to an Imperial gallon). Plus, I still have the motorbike, which regularly gets 40-50mpg, so don't worry, I haven't become a Global Climate Change Denialist yet!
Yes, the suspension is as stiff the proverbial Englishman's upper lip. But since Virginia's roads are in such as state that the Governor tripled speeding fines to pay for repairs, it's nice to be in something with good ground clearance.
I look like a Redneck
I know. And I love it. I've already started dressing accordingly.
I'm going to try to wade through the entire thing, but I've heard either document gives a worthwhile introduction to evolutionary theory. Personally I think everyone should try to at least grasp the basics of science, so I recommend you take a look.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Despite the title, this post has relatively little to do with low self esteem or attempts to be more environmentally responsible.
How my hair turned green
This year Santa brought me several hair related gifts. You may well ask why someone with as little hair as me would need such items. My favorite gift is a new pair of professional hair clippers. The gift I was initially most excited about getting was some blue hair dye. I'm sure you can see where this is going. Since the pattern of events leading to my green hair is fairly obvious, I'll concentrate on what I'll do differently.
Firstly, I won't be using a bleach kit that I found at the back of my bathroom cupboard next the the radiator. As a chemist I should know better than to expect good results from Peroxide that's been sitting around awhile. Secondly, only if the colour removal goes to plan will I continue to the next stage. Thirdly, in any case I think it's a good idea to wait a few days between bleaching a colouring, to get as much bleach out of the hair as possible. And finally, I'll locate a hairdryer before starting the whole process, so that if I decide that the application of heat is necessary, I won't be left running around wondering how I can live with two girls and still not be able to find one.
Happy New Year!
As with the red, my excuse for turning my hair green was the beginning of a brand new Year. I had a hard time convincing many other people that the goal of New Year's Eve is to go and stand around outside on one of the coldest nights of the year with a crowd of other nitwits. Cary Street was hosting it's 2nd annual standing-around-in-the-cold festival, so I was determined to attend. Despite the State of Virginia's draconian Alcoholic Beverage Control laws, I managed to enjoy a cold beer, while standing around in the cold. Bizarre country rock bands played songs for us to stomp our feet and rub our hand together to. Local nitwits included street preachers, libertarians and girls with a hypothermia-inducing dedication to fashion. The nitwits got a little out of control near the end, so we retreated to a side street to watch a small lighted ball go up a pole, triggering four indoor fireworks to announce the arrival of 2008. After that a middle-aged man exhorted us to make education a priority this year (we promised we would), then we made our way home.