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


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

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

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

(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


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


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!


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!