December 25, 2012

December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 2012

So you’re probably wondering what to get me for Christmas.* Or, y’know, what to get your actual loved ones for Christmas. Whatever. I know that were it logistically expedient, you’d have already chosen one or two items off my extensive Amazon wishlist, I’M NOT JUDGING.

Though I can’t give good advice for parents (mine are getting pants and coffee), I humor myself that I have a couple of ideas for the discerning people in your life.

For the discerning foodie: Hobnobs. I have eaten dessert on four continents. These are my favorite go-to sweets, oatmeal cookies dipped in chocolate. If you’re really hungry, eat the whole tube. Otherwise, just one will do. Also, they’re British!

For the discerning reader: Gone Girl. It was a hard choice for book of the year in 2012, because I so loved both “Gone Girl” and “The Age of Miracles.” But whereas “The Age of Miracles” held me closely before gently letting go, “Gone Girl” almost suffocated me before abruptly ending. And if those metaphors don’t describe how you relate to books, maybe we aren’t the same kind of reader.

For the discerning viewer: The West Wing, complete series DVD set. In a year with elections, lurid scandals, and more international incidents than you can shake a dead fish at, remind yourself of a time not so long ago when ALL THE SAME STUFF WAS HAPPENING, but with smarter, more verbose people. And a big wheel of cheese. (Inside joke that you will get once you’ve watched "The West Wing"!)

For the discerning traveler: A non-rolling travel bag. Look, I’m all for rolling travel bags. I always travel with one. But you cannot, cannot, CANNOT travel with two rolling bags. It spells fail, which I personally witnessed this year in five countries. For the love of Pete, get your loved one a duffel bag, or something with a shoulder strap, so he has at least a chance of navigating airport security. DO IT FOR THE REST OF US.

Then go out and get yourself something nice. I got a new MP3 player, that also has a GPS, camera, wifi, and (I think) a cold fusion engine if I shake it correctly.

* Substitute winter holiday of your choice.

December 13, 2012

December 13, 2012

O Little Old Town

One holiday event I encourage you to try at least once in your lifetime is Historical Alexandria’s annual Candlelight Tour of Old Town. Granted, this will be a lot more difficult to accomplish if you don’t live in the DC area; examine your life choices accordingly.

The tour’s 2012 iteration included four stops: Gadsby’s Tavern, Carlyle House, the Bank of Alexandria, and Lee-Fendall House. Also included this year were some chocolate-making demonstrations and tastings, though there was more demonstrating than tasting going on than I would have preferred. Bottom line: If I’m not coming out of there with a faceful of chocolate, it’s not a win.

(Microsoft doesn’t think “faceful” is a word, which goes to show how little Clippy really knows me.)

Gadsby’s Tavern, as I may have mentioned before, was a popular lodging and dining establishment in Colonial Times. I could tell you that Washington ate there, but Washington ate just about everywhere in Virginia. #humblebrag What’s more impressive is that Washington celebrated a birthnight ball there AND Jefferson had an inaugural dinner there. So there.

When I last visited, I got to see some dancin’:


Carlyle House is a hot Halloween tour spot, because Carlyle died around that time of year, so the entire house puts on mourning apparel, including a corpse (or is it?) in the master bedroom. It’s freak-ay, you guys. Whereas at Christmas, it’s much more cheerful.


The Bank of Alexandria isn’t usually open to tourists, so this was my first time inside it. Good to know that Old Town still has a few secrets. The bank’s original vault is still there, though I didn’t find any colonial money on the ground. Totally kept an eye out, though.


Pretty badass night deposits slot.

Lee-Fendall House, built by Robert E’s uncle, is always decorated in the Victorian style. The docents there would tell you this is because the house’s last major renovation took place during that era, but we all know the real reason: Victorians were the first to pimp Christmas out. Trees! Gifts! Santa! Woo!


Also, flute ensemble:


Good times, you guys. Good times.

Not to mention the fact that you can stop at Trader Joe’s afterwards and stock up on seasonal appetizers. At least, that’s what I always do.

December 5, 2012

December 5, 2012

Party On, Garth

With the holiday season upon us, it’s time to create/refresh the covers we use at parties and other social gatherings. If you’re lazy, you can continue to introduce yourself as Nancy Drew (what a coincidence!), a freelance accountant working mostly in the education sector who needlepoints in her spare time.

Or is that just me?

But if you want to keep things fresh, it’s probably a good idea to start working on your legend. Pick a name, hometown, profession, and hobby that are uncommon enough to preclude follow-up questioning but not uncommon enough to raise suspicion.

For example, I’d love to reference one of my favorite TV shows of yesteryear and claim to work for “a clandestine government organization seeking to rid the world of evildoers.” I mean, it’s a quote from SheSpies and it’s true. But that’s just the sort of smartass quip that throws people. Better to go with “commodities trader” or “multinational bulk manufacturer.” If asked to define further, use buzz phrases like “We get products to market” or “We leverage synergistic efficiencies.” Basically, quote Dilbert cartoons before excusing yourself to get another drink and some more cheese.

Or is that just me?

For an introvert like me, this is a fun way to survive parties, especially with strangers. For all they know, you could be Carmen freaking Sandiego. Own it. Ever wished you knew how to knit, or weld, or make your own shoes? You do now! In fact, historical trades are the best obscure hobbies. No one can disprove your claim to be a weekend cobbler, cooper, or chandler because they don’t know how. You don’t think I can make a horseshoe? WHY DON’T YOU PULL OUT YOUR BILLOWS SO WE CAN THROW DOWN?

Thought not.

There’s always the risk, of course, that you’ll run into someone using the same play. And if math tells us anything, it’s that no group of people will contain two (fill in your obscure hobby here, for example: amateur whist players). Should someone connect the dots and try to connect you with another person who “shares your passion,” do what I would do: Fake anaphylactic shock.

Or maybe just learn a bit about your “hobby” and see if you can make the other person look bad. This is called “winning the party.”

One last note on hometowns: Midwestern towns are best, because they’re all the same, and attract so little recreational travel. When’s the last time you were in Sioux City? Topeka? Mankato? Learn a few good crop-centric jokes (start with corn) and you’ve basically got the region covered. I’ve got a solid seven minutes about dairy, since I’ve been doing this for a while.

A bonus of this strategy is that when the hosts are cleaning up and trying to figure out who took the shrimp home, the best they’ll be able to do is “that girl from Iowa who makes her own shoes.”

Winning the party, my friends. Winning the party.

December 4, 2012

December 4, 2012

I'm Buying Pants, Not Lumber

Christmastime, the season when we find ourselves trying to figure out what other people want to receive, when what we’re best equipped for is knowing what we ourselves want, and this is why everyone should just give gift cards.

Or is that just me? (And Rachel Green, who famously exchanged all her presents for store credit. You call us picky, we call ourselves DISCERNING.)

I find myself trying to shop for men’s clothing, and even online, it is awkward and I end up sweaty and tense. It’s like going to Macy’s minus the wandering through cosmetics. And I think the source of confusion stems from the crazy measurements of men’s clothing.

With women, it’s simple. One number. Eight. Fourteen. Zero. You have a number for tops and a number for bottoms. Sometimes, THEY ARE EVEN THE SAME NUMBER. Too easy. Sure, the numbers don’t translate into any apparent unit of measurement, but still. They have meaning because we give them meaning, like Twitter hashtags or the take-a-number system at the deli.

With men, there are numbers for necks and inseams and waists and OHDEARGOD. Every garment has, like, two numbers. MULTI-DIMENSIONAL garments, people. Perhaps the people who created this system thought we’d appreciate specificity. “You want a shirt for your husband, madam? Tell me exactly every torso measurement you can think of.” In the end, you have a shirt that fits really well, but also a wife who has killed herself.

In related news, happy holidays! Right? RIGHT?

November 27, 2012

November 27, 2012

Old Age is Wasted on the Old

Though I get invitations to subscribe to a lot of magazines (I’m a bit of a magazine whore), none has made me happier than the one I got last week:


In case you can’t tell, the Smithsonian wants to give me a senior membership. As in, “You seem to be the sort of person who lunches at 11, dines at 5, and wishes everyone would turn down their godforsaken music. Please spend $10 of your limited income on our magazine.”

To quote a show all the young people watch (but I don't): Bazinga!

Despite my outward appearance, I’m pretty sure I’m actually in my mid- to late-sixties. I imagine this is similar* to how some people feel that they’re a different gender than they appear to be. My contemporaries want to party hard, drink until they pass out, and get Elvish tattoos. I prefer to use coupons at restaurants and wear sensible shoes. Winning!

The Smithsonian obviously has some means of detecting this, perhaps by reviewing my credit card statements. My charges are roughly 60% food, 20% travel, and 20% sundries. And by “sundries,” I mean “clothes and entertainment and whatnot.” The fact that I even use the term “sundries” is yet another point to my argument.

 They say that having kids keeps you young, so perhaps if I’d kept up with my college contemporaries I’d feel 29. Many of my classmates already have three or four kids, so I assume they still feel young enough to live free and die hard. (Except they have kids, so their days are filled with poop. Irony!) My stories of the orchestra concert I went to last week or the difficulty of exchanging international currency don’t fly to the tops of their Facebook timelines, I bet. What I need is a Facebook for old people, which I guess is called “talking.” Sigh.

It’s gotten to the point that TheBoy and I hope that the crowds at our activities will be mostly or exclusively senior citizens. They’re well-behaved, keep to themselves, and don’t make a fuss unless it’s to remind you that they beat the freaking Nazis and all. This is why they’re the Greatest Generation, you guys.

Though my childless only-child status guarantees that I shall never be someone’s cranky grandma or great-aunt, I am ready willing and able to be everyone’s cranky neighbor. Keep your dirty hands of my Smithsonian magazine, okay? And pull up your pants!

* Or not at all similar. No idea, really. I thought I would try empathy, but I don’t know how to do it.

November 26, 2012

November 26, 2012

E is Not for Effort

What kind of grades did you get? I’m not interested in your GPA, or really you yourself in particular. (Other than admiring your taste in blogs, obviously.) I mean, what KIND of grades: were you on an A-B-C system, an E-P-F system, or something else entirely?

Lemme back up, because many of you are probably completely confused.

Some schools in the DC area are planning to shift from a traditional A-B-C grade scale to an ES-P-I dealio. (Those stand for “Exceptional,” “Demonstrating Proficiency,” and “In Progress,” by the way.) This new system was touted as a “paradigm shift” in the Washington Post, and I suppose it is.

Except I remember getting grades like those during my Milwaukee Public School days (circa 1988-1995). I know something with an E was at the top, and I think that was followed by a P for us, too. I never paid attention to anything below that, because c’mon. I was annoyingly precocious even then.

In 1995, I up and moved to Fancy Parochial School with a traditional grading structure. At least the teachers all used the same scale (93 and above was an A, 92 and below was Not a Grade I Received); once I got to college, all bets were off. Some professors started an a at 94; others started it at 90. No rhyme nor reason, you guys. I blame my 3.991 final GPA on confusion surrounding these grade scale inconsistenicies. (Not really. I blame it on the astounding number of Canada-related questions on the Baptist History final exam I didn’t study for. I’m pretty sure we didn’t cover Canadians ever in that class, Dr. Oats.)

But my educational history is definitely a hodgepodge, spanning schools of different types and in different locations. For those of you who stuck to one system and/or place—how were you graded? Did you even care, or am I the only one that obsessed with academic achievement?

November 22, 2012

November 21, 2012

November 21, 2012

Geotagging

Whilst reading The USA TODAY recently, I learned that the country of Iceland is considering changing its name. I think we all learned as kids about the Greenland/Iceland naming brouhaha debacle, so you realize that Iceland is not entirely a sheet of ice and Greenland is not entirely a sheet of…green. Each has its pros and cons, much like the movies of John Cusack or roadside buffet restaurants.

Though this idea is being proposed via a tourism department-sponsored contest and not an official law of the Icelandic government (Ice-stag? House of Ices? Ice Senate?), I hope it has legs. Rather than lamenting that there are no more blanks on the map these days, and rather than creating new countries by tearing apart existing countries and adding the word “south” (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, SUDAN), perhaps we just start renaming the ones we already have.

Some I think we should keep:

Andorra. It’s one of those words that just sounds rich, like “sateen” or “Trump.”

Bangladesh. It’s almost like a little percussive song, all in one word.

Burkina Faso. Fun to say, plain and simple.

Djibouti. Ditto.

Switzerland. I’ve no idea what a switzer is, but they’ve established a country with phenomenal chocolate, watches, and pocket-sized multifunctional tools.

And some that need to go:

Cote d’Ivoire. Look, I took two years of French, and even *I* get annoyed.

Kyrgyzstan. It’s the “gyz” that kills it. This from someone with a “czk” in her surname. I know of what I speak, people.

Laos. Sounds like a parasite.

New Zealand. Since there’s no Zealand, I wonder what ELSE these people are hiding.

Tanzania. Too often confused with Tasmania. Consider changing to Zanzibar, the name of one of its states.

As a US citizen, I have no way of making this happen. (Let’s pretend it’s my country of citizenship that makes my idea an impossibility, okay?) But this is why we have a UN, right?

November 20, 2012

November 20, 2012

The Phantom Tollbooth

A new set of “express lanes” has just opened on part of our notorious Beltway. The fact that I live in an area with either of these things is quite the change. In Wisconsin, you see, we didn’t have tolls. Whenever we’d go to Chicago, part of the novelty was paying the tolls. (Back when I was too young to be annoyed by the concept, and instead thrilled at the act of flinging coins at what appeared to be a bucket made of whiffleball material.) Perhaps my home state has since introduced toll roads, but it was certainly a foreign concept during my time there. We took our roads potholed, torn up, and/or covered in construction equipment, and WE LIKED IT.

(And in Milwaukee, you can’t really have a beltway, because hello Lake Michigan. Plus you don’t need a beltway because everything in Milwaukee is less crowded and quicker and cheaper and friendlier and SIGH. But that’s a rant for another day.)

But as with Star Wars and all advanced forms of cookery, perhaps my lack of experience with tolls and beltways puts me in the minority. According to TheBoy, both are common in Texas. I’m pretty sure the entire state of Delaware is a giant scam to extort East Coast drivers. (Hey Delaware, what have you done for me LATELY?)

And E-Z Pass? No. Give me a cheery old man in a bellhop-esque uniform, sitting in a booth, ready to collect my tuppence. Or perhaps give me a time machine so I can go to 1904 England. If you’re going to make me pay to use a road, I’d like a little something in return. They’re taken away the fun road signs (RIP Burma-Shave) and the ability to drive at unlimited speeds (possible exception: Texas), so this is one of the few things left to us. And by “us,” I mean, “people who drive really far distances.” And by “us,” I mean “them,” because I drive so little I ruin the battery of every car I own.

On curves ahead
Remember, sonny
That rabbit's foot
Didn't save
The bunny
Burma-Shave

He tried
To cross
As fast train neared
Death didn't draft him
He volunteered 
Burma-Shave

Altho insured
Remember, kiddo
They don't pay you
They pay
Your widow 
Burma-Shave

(I read the titular novel after a hearty recommendation by Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." I found annoyingly full of cloying puns and wordplay. Ick.)

November 19, 2012

November 19, 2012

Boink

Now that the election is over, we in Washington can take down our lawn signs, breathe a sigh of relief, and eagerly anticipate the holidays.

Just kidding! We don’t put up lawn signs because of the Hatch Act we don’t have lawns.

No, but seriously, I was all set to coast to the holidays—complaining a little less about my fellow man than usual and finding funny metaphors for the phrase “fiscal cliff”—until a few Fridays ago and the first in a series of bombshells relating to who’s boinking who in the corridors of power. It turns out there is a lot. Of boinking. In the corridors. Of power.

I’d like to point out that here’s a classic West Wing-esque storyline playing out in reality. Friday before a long weekend, lots of people out of town, huge news story dropped, followed by subsequent smaller-but-still-significant similar stories, like the ripples in an adulterous pond. Except the players aren’t nearly as attractive or well-spoken as they’d be in a world created by Aaron Sorkin. But still. I half-hoped to see Josh Lyman show up on Meet the Press.*

So now that the men in charge of the CIA, Lockheed Martin, and (yougottabekiddingme) ELMO have been accused of or implicated in unusual shenanigans, it appears very little can be trusted when it comes to the government, private industry, and educational puppet-based programs.

Innocence. Shattered.

Yet more evidence that a woman’s place is in the home absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s going to make for more than a few awkward Thanksgiving meals next week. I myself may only end up eating three servings of mashed potatoes rather than four, in solidarity. (Still going to have at least five pieces of pie; my empathy only goes so far. I *am* a Republican, after all.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out how to get the Virginia DMV to register a car that’s physically located in Turkey. I don’t think they did a West Wing episode about this.

* RIP Tim Russert!

November 16, 2012

November 16, 2012

Not Lovin' It

Almost drowned out by the distressing news that Hostess is going bankrupt (SAVE OUR TWINKIES) are reports that McDonald’s ain’t doing so good lately. Its president is stepping down, sales are lower, and Ronald McDonald is probably going to be exposed in a sex scandal any day now.

It’s just the way the world has been lately, no?

Obviously, this trouble started when I chose to write my MBA capstone paper on Burger King. Little did I know that my strategic plan was the butterfly-flapping-its-wings that would someday lead to the hurricane of McDonald’s downfall. (Question on hurricane metaphors: Too soon?)

Luckily, the marketing and fast food powers that be have rushed in with suggestions. As an erstwhile fast food patron and continuing foodie, I heartily applaud some of them…and question others.

I agree that McDonald’s needs to consider baked potatoes. Wendy’s has had this market cornered for years, and it’s time to spread the love of spuds. You know the only thing better than warm salty carbs? Warm salty carbs covered in dairy. TRUST ME, I KNOW.

I agree that McDonald’s should serve breakfast all day. I spent approximately five years of my life eating a McDonald’s sausage biscuit every day for breakfast. Morbid childhood obesity aside, those mofos were DELICIOUS. Just imagine if I could have had them at lunch and dinner, too. I’d be dead, probably, but it would have been a happy (if short-lived) life. Other breakfast greats: McMuffins, hash browns, the Big Breakfast.

I disagree that seasonal items should be brought out year-round. The whole point of the seasonal items is that they are available For A Limited Time Only. I’m a fiend for Shamrock Shakes, but only because their short-term availability lets me justify turning my tongue FDA-approved Green #47. It’s the same reasoning I use to eat Cosi’s turkey and stuffing sandwich weekly during the holiday season and then not set foot in a Cosi for the next ten months. Familiarity breeds contempt, and that’s not something I want to breed with my Shamrock Shake. (Question on gay marriage metaphors: Too soon?)

I disagree that McDonald’s should consider home delivery. Um, what? Has our hunter-gathering instinct died so much that we are unwilling to procure our own trans fats and carbohydrates? For shame, America!

What would tempt you towards the Golden Arches? Or do you think they’re fine as-is?

November 14, 2012

November 14, 2012

Away, Far Over Jordan

Not much to say about Jordan, honestly, because I was there for a really short time (flew in late Monday evening, worked Tuesday and Wednesday, flew out at 3 a.m. on Thursday). My hotel room was serviceable:


And I got to try the Jordanian version of my beloved room service Oriental Mixed Grill:


Note the bowl of potato wedges versus Egypt’s plate of French fries. Point Egypt.

Jordan reminded me most of the pictures of Biblical Jerusalem I grew up seeing in Sunday School. Lots of low, tan buildings. Amman is very (VERY) hilly, so buildings next to one another would sometimes have startlingly different altitudes. Imagine that the porch of the house next door was four stories higher than your porch.


No time for touristing, though I was told that Petra and the Dead Sea are amazing. I believe it. Just didn’t have the time.

Overall, though, I’m glad to be back in the United States (hurricanes and elections and all). Now I just need to figure out what to do with the euros, Egyptian pounds, and Jordanian dinar I have. So many coins, you guys!

November 8, 2012

November 8, 2012

It's All Greek to Me

Ah, Greece. Greece was a respite between the tough legs of my trip (Egypt and Jordan). I blended relatively well in Greece, enough to have more than one person approach me speaking what I assume was Greek. I probably offended each of them when I just shook my head and shrugged. And can I also mention what a delight it was to use a currency I understood? Though the Euro isn’t quite 1-to-1 with the dollar, it’s much closer than the 6 Egyptian pounds-to-1 US dollar rate I had been dealing with in Cairo. You think you’re good at math? Trying multiplying and dividing by 6 all day. Then pretend you’re me and terrible at math.

What did I do in Athens? I went to Ikea, obviously.


I wandered around a lovely neighborhood looking for a different Ikea. Never found it.


Not pictured above: cars parked fully on the sidewalk, women yelling in Greek, barking dogs.

I ate gyros wherein French fries were stuffed; a marvelous idea, if you ask me.


And a couple of Greek Mac value meals:


I saw the Acropolis, on which are the Parthenon, Hadrian’s Arch, Theater of Dionysus, and Temple of Zeus, among other things.



I tested the self-timer on my camera:


And I shopped for cheap and cheerful tourist trinkets in the Plaka (market).


My go-to line regarding Greece comes from an old “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip written in the days before the Athens Olympics. It was about the construction of the Olympic stadium, and the punchline involved three Greek construction workers standing around smoking while one said “Today we smoke, tomorrow we work.” I think Greece’s economic struggles speak to some of the, um, cultural issues there, but I’m okay with a more “laid back” atmosphere when I’m touristing. (As opposed to the “Death to America” atmosphere.)

Next stop: Jordan!

November 4, 2012

November 4, 2012

Walk Like an Egyptian

Hi!

It’s been too long, my friends. I spent most of October traipsing the Middle East, and then a tiny bit of it getting hurricaned on. It’s all fun and games until you’re trying to pay for a turkey sandwich at the Frankfurt airport with Egyptian money. These logistics never seem to come into play when James Bond travels the world.

But oh, man, if I started listing all the things that pissed me off on this trip, we’d be here for days. DAYS. Not counting the weird cultural issues, like the fact that you’re not supposed to use your left hand for anything in Islamic countries. But Heather, I hear you say, you’re left handed!

WHY, YES. YES I AM.

But let’s begin at the beginning. The two flights over 14 hours that took me to Cairo.

Kidding! Long story short: I got two meals but the in-flight entertainment sucked.


I can’t discuss any of the work aspects of my trip (cue James Bond music), but I did enjoy eating room service:


Seeing the pyramids and sphinx:


And watching protesters cross the Nile River on their way to Tahrir Square: 


Rioting, WOO!

I was coerced into riding a camel, buying a silver scarab pendant, and perusing the world’s pushiest souk. In lieu of pictures, imagine being stabbed in the eyeball repeatedly. Or actually stab yourself in the eyeball. That’s about how I felt.

Oh, and do it when you’re good and thirsty. Because you can’t drink the water in Egypt, silly. Only bottled water and carbonated beverages. Which you can’t buy at the local drug store because a) there are no drug stores and b) you can’t walk outside by yourself.

Next stop, Athens!

October 8, 2012

October 8, 2012

Burying the Lede

Though I’ve no idea how many times the average American flies, I guess I fly about three roundtrips a year, and I’m going to assume that’s above average. (Look, I wish I lived in a country of people with elan, but then a show about a child apparently named Honey Boo Boo becomes popular and I fear for our future). Anyway, I consider myself an experienced traveler, who was once able to get through security at Logan in under 5 minutes.

The problem with travel, frankly, is other people. It’s something irregular enough to so many that they’re out of practice. Or never got into practice in the first place. Thus they don’t believe until you tell them that they will need to remove their shoes, throw out their Big Gulps, etc. Yes, you—YOU—will need to follow the same rules as everyone else as posted in that giant sign over there, buddy! Strip and spread ‘em!

Whenever I find myself going through an airport security line, I’m reminded of one of my favorite movie scenes ever, from the film “Up in the Air”:


Yes. Yes. So much yes.

I try to keep up on the travel news, too. My favorite national newspaper, The USA Today, even has an entire online section devoted to travel news, which helps. They let me know when the industry comes up with crazy ideas, like this seat configuration in which the aisle seat SLIDES OVER the middle seat to quote-unquote ease boarding.



HAHAHAHAHA.

Remember when they tried to convince us that saddle-like airplane seats would be comfortable, cheaper, and allow for more passengers?



Has anyone ever seen one of these in real life? Anyone? Bueller?

Didn’t think so.

The thing is, until wormhole transport is perfected, airline travel is going to suck. Whether you’re in first class or in last (um, I mean, “economy”), it’s going to take longer and be more crowded than you’d like. Suck it up and deal, man.

All this to say that while today is my 29th birthday, it is also the day on which I depart for two-and-a-half weeks of work-related international travel. You won’t be hearing from me for awhile. And I’m going to some “interesting” places, so please send your karmic goodwill. I’ll bring you back some sand!*

* Actual sand. Not code for anything.

October 4, 2012

October 4, 2012

Chuck E. Cheese's

We went to not one but TWO party supplies stores last weekend to get stuff for my upcoming Angry Birds-themed birthday party. Just in case you just inclined your head in sympathy at the desperation of my childless life, let me inform you that being able to throw themed birthday parties for yourself is actually just the tip of a FABULOUS iceberg.

Kids (and childless adults) these days have a lot to choose from, my friends. You got your superheroes, your cartoon characters, and your occupations (firefighter, princess, firefighter princess, etc.). You know what my birthday party theme was as a kid? “Birthday.” I got a couple of balloons and a cake. And I was happy.

Actually, the best birthday parties were always at Chuck E. Cheese’s. And if your mind just mentally filled in “where a kid can be a kid,” WE SHOULD TOTALLY BE FRIENDS. You had pizza, and games, and those freaky animatronic animals, and tokens, and tickets, and oh-if-only-adult-life-were-one-giant-round-at-Chuck-E.-Cheese’s. I occasionally still dream that I’m playing a game of skee ball. (Despite a complete lack of hand-eye coordination, I had to go with skee ball. I didn’t like the flashiness of the video games or the violence of the whack-a-mole.)

And the ball pit? THE BALL PIT? Dude. Duuuuude. Did you hear the rumor that one of the balls had a sticker on it, and that if you found that ball and turned it in, you’d get a prize? I’m trying to figure out if that was one of those urban legends of the 1990s or whether I was just punked repeatedly. Though that ball pit was probably 2 feet deep, it seemed like a veritable ocean back in the day. You didn’t want to dig too far down, though, because you were pretty sure someone had pooped in it at some point.

I read awhile back that Chuck was getting a makeover. Behold the horror:


You’re telling me that the one resistor against our society’s rampant march to obesity is a rat who lives in a giant pizza restaurant? Have you not seen Templeton’s song in “Charlotte’s Web”? Those little dudes love food almost as much as I do. Come. ON.

Plus I think kids now don’t get tickets; they get points loaded onto some sort of debit card. Where the fun in that? The tokens-for-tickets transaction was my generation’s introduction to economics. Now, we’re just enabling a cashless society. So thank you, Chuck E. Cheese, for bringing about the Mark of the Beast.

October 2, 2012

October 2, 2012

Antietam

What with it being the 150th anniversary of the War of Northern Aggression and all, it’s the perfect time for us on the East Coast to get out and see the sights. By which I mean, to join a bus tour of senior citizens schlepping around Antietam on the last Saturday of September.

Coincidentally, this is exactly what I did last Saturday.

The weather was amazing. And after the 100 days of 100 degrees DC just went through (slight exaggeration? I WISH), that’s really saying something. Blue skies, foliage just starting to change…fabulous.


This thing started early, you guys. 0745 early. I realize that most of the seniors had already been up for 3-4 hours at that point, but your humble “young person” blogger was only semi-functional. I stayed awake long enough to ensure that the boxed lunches were loaded onto the tour bus, then I drifted off.

We stopped first at a cemetery in Alexandria that I had no idea even existed. Turns out there’s more to the area than Whole Foods. Crazy, right?


It’s hard to tell, but our tour guide was wearing that traveler clothing that has a ton of pockets yet rolls into a tiny pouch the size of, like, a can of tuna. I knew we were in good hands. Even after he handed out the purposed (did he mean “proposed”? I’ll never know) itinerary:


By about stop #13, several of the more elderly women in the group would refuse to get off the bus.

The battlefield, like others I’ve visited, turns out to be much bigger than you’d expect. Maybe it’s a product of my city upbringing, but I always imagine outdoor history taking place in a space the size of a backyard. MAYBE a park if it’s something big, like the signing of the Magna Carta. Then you spend most of a day driving to and tromping around different parts of one single battlefield and it’s a bit of a mindfreak.

Here, some pictures of the battlefield:


And a couple of our lunches:


By the time we got back at 1900, I was beat. (But not as much as the Confederacy, ZING.)