Saturday, November 12, 2011

WE ARE Penn State

I have a confession to make.  I went to Penn State.  Until last week, this was a positive thing.  I have been very surprised by the benefits I receive due to my Penn State degree.  I got my first job from a former Penn Stater and I now talk to many employers who say they specifically seek Penn State grads in my field.  (I can't speak for other fields, but the engineering program at Penn State is pretty well respected.)  As such, many potential clients and competitors are former Penn Staters, and the most common reactions I get when asked about my alma mater are "Oh, I went there too!", and "Oh, my cousin's nephew's best friend went there, do you know him?"  (By the way, I do not.)

This week, the reactions have been more along the lines of, "Oh, I'm sorry."  As if I had something to do with the terrible news headlines of late.  I even considered not replacing my Penn State magnets on the back of my car after I finished washing it today.  So then I thought, how can I turn this around?  I have no say in whether Penn State decides to donate their ticket sales this week to a charity (though I like the idea).  I have no say in whether the head coach deserves the blame for not doing more.  Do the citizens of Germany during the 1940's deserve blame for the horrors of the concentration camps?  I think there could be debate for either side, but generally, I say they do not deserve the blame, but they should take responsibility for the solution.

This is why I decided to look up a local charity that helps abused children, their parents, and even the abusers.  I made a donation "from a Penn State Alum".  It is not much, but maybe if everyone does just one positive thing, we can rise above the actions of one jackass and become the erudite members of society we think WE ARE.

And for good measure, I finally decided to post my version of the "Where I'm From Poem" which I revised to reflect my experience at Penn State.  (Post your own or add to the comments.  The template can be found here.)


WE ARE from extra long twin sheets, from Chicken Cosmos and Milwakee’s “Beast” Ice. 

WE ARE from the East Halls parking lot (icy, barren, it seemed it would take a lifetime to cross it on a cold winter morning). 

WE ARE from Mount Nittany, the unhiked state park trails and cornfields surrounding campus.

WE ARE from teapot renditions and dishroom towels, from Louass and Bagg and Boob. 

WE ARE from the work study programs and Caps Tournaments. 

From “when we grow up we’ll go to Penn State” and “that’s where dad wrote his initials in front of Patee Library.” 

WE ARE from “We know god is a Penn State fan because the sky is Blue and White” and using the church next to Beekman’s bagels to point us in the direction of campus.

WE ARE Pittsburgh or Philly, from strip sandwiches, whoopie pies, “Death by Chocolate” and “Peachy Paterno”.

From the stolen block of cheese, and did we mention it was five pounds?, and the racing of the keg across town to Suzanne’s place. 

WE ARE from Brodie’s old photo albums, so young, so thin, not knowing we’d remember the days till we’re 40.


No matter how hard I scrubbed, I just couldn't get the spots from those magnets to blend in, so I'm putting them back on.  A testament to the rarity of a car wash?  Shut up, Constant Reader, I'm trying to make a point.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Paranormal Nuerosis

A few weeks ago, we flicked through the choices of movies on the Netflix stream and came across "Paranormal Activity".  Adam had seen it and said it was good, and I astutely noted that "Paranormal Activity 3" is out, so it must have been decent.  (Any sane person, of course, is thinking of "Halloween 14" or whatever they are up to now and realizing the flaw in my logic.  The "Sequel Theory" most definitely does not apply to horror films.)

However, I was in the mood for a mystery, and so we watched the movie.  It is one of those "Blair Witch" or "Cloverfield" types that are filmed as if they are everyday folks with their home videos, and the actors use their real names.  It was pretty good.  Believable, but extraordinary.

It's about a girl who has been haunted by a demon, off and on, for most of her life.  The demon had not shown itself since she was a pre-teen, but had recently returned now that she was an adult, and she was not going to take it anymore.  So she and her fiancee start trying to document the issue.  Let's just say, it does not end well.

I didn't think much of it at the time, but, well, the movie has apparently freaked me out.  You see, it starts as just some bumps and thuds in the night and a door that creaks as it moves by itself.  It only gets worse progressively. 

The other night, the furnace kicked on and made a racket as the baseboards tinked and clinked, and then the cat wedged herself through the slightly open creaky basement door and I nearly had a heart attack.  I tried to laugh at myself as I got up and very quickly shut the door on the dark and noisy furnacey basement with the potential demon lurking in the shadows.

And it has been happening ever since.  I inadvertently brought back a fear of the basement, which I thought I licked in high school.  Different basement, same scary darkness.

Next time, we're watching "Tangled".

Friday, November 4, 2011

Quick Question

Is there a way to tactfully tell a co-worker that his weekly project meeting interferes with your morning poop?  Just wondering...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I swear, Netflix is messing with me.  I just went to "My Queue" because it sent us a movie that I wanted to see, but is available for download at any time through the streaming option.  Basically it sent me something I already had for months, and still hadn't bothered to watch.  The thing it sent me before that would have been more at home on my sister's queue.  It was some romantic comedy starring Christina Applegate, and the only possible reason I could conger up for its presence in my home was that I liked "Married With Children" when I was younger.  I have been known to watch a romantic comedy here and there, but generally it is when my mom or sister has some control over the remote control, and I do not recall ever adding it to my queue.

And no, I don't think Sis got on there and rearranged my selections.  I don't even know the password half the time and when I do get through the tight security, I tend to have trouble accessing the Netflix site.

These last two movies were returned after several days of sitting on the counter in limbo.

So I just checked out my queue and there is not a single movie on there that I would like to watch.  I do remember putting these horrible choices on there, and continually moving them to the bottom.  Worse, I cannot think of a recent movie I would like to see.  I am sure there are things out there that I would enjoy. 

I went to the "Suggetions For You" section where, I kid you not, the top choices for me are a cartoon about a boy and his magical dog, a comedy special called "Talking Monkeys in Space", and a Nickelodeon TV show aimed at pre-teenage boys in the mid-nineties.  I am seriously considering the magic dog, and a nature video about Cuttlefish.  You know,  the octopi?  Come on people, cuttlefish!

I don't know.  I did really like "The Adventures of Scott Pilgrim".  Maybe I am a cuttlefish kinda gal.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Me Replacement

OK, I have been watching The Cool TV for hours and apparently it is a channel watched by many many balding men.  The "hair replacement" commercial has been on so many times, I just might be tempted to call.  Why?  You may ask?  Well, my hair follicles seem to be in tact, but:  I have noticed that the hair replacement tends to be supplemented by weight loss, nose jobs, and changes in eye color.  One man in the commercial, and I quote:  "After my hair replacement surgery, I felt like a different person."

Go figure.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cider House Blues

My apologies, Constant Reader(s).  I had the next topic all thought up - as you probably guessed, a continuation of my ever more desperate attempts to reconcile my inconclusive sleep disorder - but I got writers block again.  So, the sleep story will have to wait until it is ready to be told.  I, apparently, am not in control.


Last Thursday, I sat at my desk running calculations on a concrete beam, trying to decide how to support an existing structure while this beam is removed and replaced.  Truly, I was deep into it, really focused on my work.  Or not.

Suddenly, I realized.  I forgot the cider that my Dad had brought last Saturday.  This, I surmised, was the explanation for the slightly sweet and slightly sour smell that currently emanated from the interior of my vehicle.  Bummer.

I immediately emailed my Dad to tell him.  Perhaps he would buy more cider and drive two hours to deliver it.  Perhaps we would work out an elaborate Cider Scheme, for I cannot go an entire Fall without this cider.  He gets it from his neighbors, who press the apples, add nothing to them, and put the results in gallon jugs at the end of their driveway.  This is not grocery store cider.  Oh lament, and alas!  Surely, he would be as distraught as I was!

"Bummer," he writes back.  Yeah.
That's what I thought.

I learned some little known facts this week:

Fact #1.  We all know that fermenting cider turns to vinegar.  But, do most of you know that fermenting cider that is alternately heated during the day, then cooled down at night, in a thin plastic jug, will produce enough gas to break the jug?

Fact #2.  We all know that one can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.  But, it turns out one can attract plenty of flies with vinegar.  As I emptied the now half empty jug, a swarm of fruit flies was disturbed from its breeding ground.  It was at that point that I officially decided the cider was probably better not to drink.

Fact #3.  Breathing in a combination of vinegar and fruit flies is surprisingly less unpleasant than breathing in the smell of the decaying squirrel that got caught under my tire a few years back.

Fact #4.  The smell of decaying squirrel pretty much goes away when said squirrel is hosed out.  The smell of vinegar lingers for much longer.

Fact #5.  The results are inconclusive on the effects of flea and tick shampoo on fruit flies.  I think I eradicated more of them by driving around with all four windows open.

Fact #6.  The smell of vinegar, wafting through the air via open car windows, attracts bees.  Bee #1 will come for an extensive search to find the source of the smell, and finding nothing but a timid human swatting carefully at it with an ice scraper, it will send for a second Bee to aid in the search.

I hate bees.

And I will now have to make a special trip to Pennsylvania, just to get my Cider Fix.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sleep Study

I have posted a few times about how I wake up a lot at night, which makes me sleepy during the day.  Some days, it is all I can do to get in the door and collapse in my bed when I get home.  I feel like I am missing out on my life, because literally, all I do is work and sleep.

I tried a sleep study to determine what the trouble was.  This was before I was blogging, so I will relate this story here:

I arrived at the appointed location at the appointed time, 9 PM, with pillow in hand.  The website indicated the experience would be similar to a hotel, and I  would be able to watch TV or read until I drifted off, so I had also brought a book.  Several other people lined the hallway with their pillows.

The place was locked.

We waited in the hall, not speaking much, until a technician finally arrived, out of breath and with keys jingling as he ran.  He let us into a waiting room, which, indeed, had a TV.  He went to the reception area and fumbled through papers while we nervously chose seats.  No one turned on the TV.

The technician called a name, and the very large woman across from me spoke up.  He asked her, across the rooms, why she was there.  She looked around and then reluctantly announced that she was there to check for sleep apnea.  (By the way, this is why all the people, except me, were there.  And luckily, I was the last patient to be called, so I did not have to tell everyone and his brother my reason for seeing a doctor.)  I still refused to talk across the room like that and just got up to talk to the guy.  I was there for the night, but also into the day, to check for narcolepsy.  Apparently, his shift would end at 7am, and the lab would be closed again until 9am.  So there was an issue.  Great.

I was the last one called but the first one to be prepped.  They attached about 20 little doo-dads that would monitor my heart rate, breathing rate, brain waves, and a number of other things.  He asked how I normally like to sleep.  I told him I usually fall asleep on my side in a fetal position.

"Well, not tonight, you're not," he said.  "We need patients to sleep on their backs, and not move too much."

He then told me I was all set and I should just call out if I needed anything, because they have an intercom system and a camera in the room.  I asked if I could read my book (no TV in the room), and he said I could for a short bit while he prepped another patient.  Not exactly the "hotel" atmosphere advertised.

I carefully laid on the cheapo mattress with the scratchy sheets and thin quilt which was provided.  I began reading my book, a novel by Stephen King.  The technician left and began talking to the gentleman next door.  He was thin, but a heavy smoker, and, of course, was there to check for sleep apnea.  I heard every word they were saying through the thin walls.

The man next door was complete, and there was relative silence.  Another technician had arrived and prepped the other two people. I was still nervous, trying not to move, and reading my book because I was not sleepy.  Suddenly, the room filled with the booming voice of the technician who asked me to stop reading and turn out the lights.

Obediently, I clicked the light and tried to sleep.  Outside the room, I heard the technicians arguing about who would stay with me until the day shift got in.  They both had obligations after work, and so they called a supervisor.  Apparently, one of them would need to re-arrange a schedule, because they continued to argue.  My pinky finger, which had a sensor clipped to the end like a clothespin, was beginning to throb.  I was afraid to move, and I did not like the idea of calling out to the empty room.  I listened to the sounds of snoring, coming from the room next door.  Faintly, I could hear snores down the hall as well.

I laid in  silence, trying to sleep.  My pinky hurt.  I couldn't move.  The snoring was louder.  My pinky hurt.  Sleep! I tried to will myself.  I wondered what time it was.  My pinky hurt.  The technician was getting a soda from the machine.  I couldn't move.

At one point, boomy voice popped into the room, asking if I needed something.  I told him about the pinky, and he came in to adjust the sensor, scolding me for not speaking up.  He closed the door and I listened to the snoring some more.  Sleep!  (but don't move.) Sleep, goddammmit!  (but stay on your back.)  I wondered again how much time was left.

Eventually, I did fall asleep for about 2 hours.  The technician came in at 5am to "wake" me, and remove the sensors.  He said that since I couldn't sleep, there was no way I had narcolepsy, so I could go home. 

"Now?"  I said.  "I wasn't supposed to be picked up until noon.  I didn't bring my car because I am too cheap to pay for parking for that long."  

"Well, we don't need to see you for the day study."

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, and a very sleepy: "Hello?"

"Hi, honey!"  I cheerily said.  "Can you come pick me up?"

I got home and collapsed into bed, even though I had goo in my hair from some of the doo-dads.  I was exhausted after my sleep study, which came back inconclusive due to lack of sleep.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


It's that time of year when yard work is actually enjoyable.  The weather is just perfect - perfect temperature, perfect humidity.  And the ground is both wet enough and dry enough to be workable.  Adam and I planned to head out and enjoy working the land for an hour or two the other day.

Adam opened the door to the front, which leads to a pleasant little walkway from the drive.  There, on the concrete, was "Nature".  And not the early scene that sets the mood.  No.  Not the one that focuses in on a zebra running and then pans out to show the high-grassed meadow and the spectacular sunset, and all the other beautiful zebras racing in the wind.

This was the close up shot of the lioness, pouncing on one of the smaller zebras and pulling the poor creature to the ground.

In this case it was a small garter snake with its jaws wide open, trying to devour a toad.  It was quite a site.  The snake was small, and its head even smaller.  I think the toad had warts bigger than that snake's head.  The whole scene reminded me of the Flinstones opening credits when Fred orders a dinosaur rib that tips over his stone-wheeled car.  For the toad's part, it seemed to be doing very little to resist being eaten.  Occasionally, it would hop, with its new snake attachment just clinging onto its rump.  There was no flailing of limbs or slaps to the snake's head.  Just a hop.  On one hand, we figured, nature should take its course.  If this toad was meant to be eaten today, then so be it.  On the other hand, it was so sad to see this guy get devoured alive.

Before making a definitive decision, of course, I decided to document the event.  I took my turn at nature photography and found that apparently one needs to be more discreet.  The snake took one look at the large human pointing a black box in its face, and it slithered away.  Somewhere in its little brain, it decided eating animals three times its size was good, but that it should run from animals 100 times its size.  I wondered where the cutoff would be.

After the snake slithered away, we went online to determine the type.  We wanted to check that the thing wouldn't strike out at our ankles if we proceeded to the yard.  After determining that it was harmless, we went to examine the toad, which was sitting in the same position, breathing heavily, and bleeding.

Unfortunately, when we opened the door, the cat took her opportunity to rush outside.  She looked at Mr. Toad, and suddenly he got a burst of energy and began hopping away.  The cat was nearly on top of him before Adam rescued the poor thing.  I am willing to let a snake eat a meal to stay alive, but believe me, our cat does not need food.  She would probably have tortured the thing, pulling off limbs and whatnot, then let him to die on our walkway.

We took the cat inside, and there was no further sign of Toad or Snake.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Letter

To the Inventor of Skinny Jeans:

I hate you.


-me (and, presumably, this poor girl.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Graine

I know lots of people who suffer from migraines.  Me?  I hardly ever get headaches.  Though I certainly try to sympathize with my friends, I could only imagine what a very bad headache feels like.

And then Wednesday happened.  And kept happening.  In fact, I am not sure when it will end.

I woke up thinking I had clenched my jaw all night, because I had tooth pain.
But this was all right.  It would just take time to recover.

About 1:30 in the afternoon, a co-worker asked if I had any aspirin, and as I handed him some, I decided to take some myself.  The tooth pain was worsening, and I had developed a dull ache above my right eye.
But this was all right.  The aspirin would do the trick.

Five o'clock rolled around, and I decided to go to the gym, because that might clear up the sinus blockage or whatever it was.  The aspirin didn't seem to do a damn thing, and it was getting a little worse.  Also, I began to wonder if there could be a cavity or even an abscess in my lower right wisdom tooth.  That would be inconvenient.  In the past, going to the gym has either made my headaches go away, or had no effect.  I figured it couldn't hurt.

The class at the gym was hard - the power was out all last week due to Hurricane Irene, and all the instructors seemed to assume we all sat on our asses for a week.  (Personally, I preferred a completely prone position, complete with fuzzy blanket and teevee.)

I left the gym, felt a bit dizzy.  Though the headache was not really a bother during my workout, it had come back. It was about then that I felt like puking.  So badly, in fact, that I took the top off my water bottle, because, to paraphrase the infinite wisdom of "Waynes World", Dude, if you're gonna spew, you should have something ready to spew into.  The drive home was not good.

As I exited my car, I was hit with smells of the world on a muggy, rainy day.  The grass smelled, the air smelled, the garbage can smelled, my body smelled, and my car smelled.  I was so sick that ordinarily, I'd have forgotten the throb of my head, but the pain was still there, a piercing myriad of dull pain throughout the  right side of my face.  I made it inside and turned on a light.  Agggh.  I had thought the pain couldn't get worse, but I was wrong.  I fumbled through the dark house to the bathroom and pretty much laid there until Adam came home, pausing occasionally for unpleasantness.

I told him my theory of the abscessed tooth, and various other far-fetched reasons for my unfortunate predicament.  He forced me to take an advil and told me it sounded like a migraine.  He dutifully searched the internet and told me the worst thing I could have done when feeling a migraine setting in was go to the gym.  As far as triggers, we couldn't think of anything specific, but I had changed my eating habits due to a new diet.

So there you have it folks:  eating healthy and working out in moderation are bad for me.  I guess I should go back to my beer-slugging pasta fests on the couch.

Also, I apologize to everyone whom I looked down upon, even just a little bit, for missing work or other functions because of a migraine.  I had no idea it was more than just a bad headache.  Really and truly, this was an all over body ache, focused on the head, but also affecting the stomach, intestines, jaw, upper back and neck, ear, and throat (so far).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Oops, I Think I Borscht'd

Let's talk a second about one of the banes of my existence: beets.

According to Sara, owner of my CSA (Community Supported Ag) group, "You either love 'em or you hate 'em."

As a kid, we weren't subjected to beets much, so I was more in the "Ain't Never Tried 'Em" group.  I got them a few times last year in the share, and they went to waste the first time.  As a general rule, I did what I could with my veggies, but I tended to focus first on the ones I was familiar with, second on the ones that smelled and looked good, despite being new to me, and third on the new ones that looked unappealing.  Often, by the time I was ready to focus on that third group, a whole new set of veggies had arrived.  Beets, as you can see, look like dirty turds and smell slightly better.

Toward the end of the year, I had rustled up a way to introduce myself to beets without making them the star of the show.  I found a recipe for a bundt cake that used beets and orange peels to make a "beautifully pink-fleshed cake."  I had forgotten, however, that I am not a very good baker.

The reason for this is my willingness to substitute whatever is on hand for whatever I am lacking.  I don't recall exactly what I subbed in, but said pinch hitter was not good.  Cake #1 went largely to the compost pile out back.

You are right, Constant Reader.  One cannot have Cake #1 without Cake #2.  This one was prepared for a tailgate and placed next to various more traditional goodies, such as brownies.  I do not blame people for their choices.  Even I chose the brownies.

Cake #2 did make it back, mostly in tact.  But I was so reminiscent of the ickiness of Cake #1, that it eventually joined its predecessor in the compost heap.

This year, I have wasted exactly 4 pounds of beets.  And I decided it needs to stop.  I ain't down wit' wasting food - or beets.  (Anymore.)  Besides, I had an absolutely delicious felafel wrap at a local fair, which included beets.  They couldn't be all bad.

As a test run, I tried the "Beet and Orange Salad" at Wegman's (a grocery chain similar to Whole Foods or Harris Teeter).  It was awful.  Possibly rancid.  I tasted rancid bruschetta once. The tomatoes had begun to ferment and it was almost soda like with bubbles.  This beet salad was just like that.  Only, Wegman's is known for their fresh food, and especially their salad bars.  So was it really rancid, or is this how it is supposed to taste?  I couldn't decide if I should complain, so I focused in on my slice of Ultimate White Cake which is pretty much like very fattening heroin. good.  (By the way, I have not actually tried heroin, but I have seen Trainspotting.  Same thing.)  Anyway, another pound of beets showed up in my share after that - they are definitely producing better this year - and I just tossed the soft, wrinkly little guys into the compost pile, untouched.

It was a few weeks later (last Friday, actually) that I tried a Moroccan Salad at California Pizza Kitchen, which included, among many other tasty things, beets.

And it was delicious!  The beets really didn't make the salad bad at all.  I would not go so far as to say I would have missed them if they were forgotten, but... I decided on a whim to toss a few, small, finely chopped pieces into the soup I was making for my lunches this week.  Turns out, beets are kind of like the bullies of the bunch.  (Maybe that's where the get their name?)  Like a banana or cantaloupe in a fruit salad, everything in my blood red soup tastes like a dang beet.  It hardly seems like a soup at all.  It's a borscht.  Sure enough, you really don't use many beets in a borscht.  A small gang is all that is needed to take over the neighborhood.

Oh well.  My soup isn't all that bad.  And I used a beet on a salad for lunch today.  They almost taste good when paired with carrots.  I'd say I neither love them nor hate them.  But slowly, I am learning not to waste them.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

We Are!

I was at Wal-Mart the other day, searching for superglue, when I found duct tape with the University of Maryland logo on it.  It was about a quarter of the size of the standard silver-gray rolls and four times the price.
  Thought #1:  That's freakin' retarded, who would buy such a thing?
Thought #2: I wonder if they have Penn State?
Yes, folks, it's football season.
Let the tailgates begin.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Spotlight on Super Glue

I have just been to Wal-Mart, attempting to undo the damage from Hurricane Irene, or rather, from the preparation for damage from Hurricane Irene.  We were out of super-glue.

I spent $78.00.

Dang super glue.  I wasn't sure which aisle it would be in and I ended up traversing the whole freaking store.  I found it, along with $75 worth of other stuff, then saw it hanging right next to the checkout line.

Naturally, I now have super glue in place of skin on most of my fingers.  I can only hope it will come off before I travel to Houston on 9-11.  I am a bit concerned about the trip because I will need to bring my "engineers bag" again.  The last time I took it, I ended up with 15 razor blades in my carry-on.  I imagine that another slip up, coupled with the questions about why I have replaced my fingerprints with a wrinkly mass of well adhered plastic will make me miss my plane.

But I digress.

I wanted to update y'all on The Glasses Incident, because, frankly, I'm a genius (with superglue on my fingers).  I went outside to search, one more time, before Adam mowed the yard.

In the dark!

You heard me.

I took a flashlight out there, and every little dewy blade of grass glistened in the spotlight.  I swept back and forth for a while, and had just about given up when, there they were, plain as day.  They were exactly where I thought they would be - where I had blindly swept my hands, then scanned, then raked.  I call it "Step Six:  The Spotlight."

Based on my theory, prison inmates should attempt to escape in the daytime to avoid detection.

I will remember this when I go through airport security.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Come on Irene!

I have deleted more hurricane-related emails over the past few days than I ever have before.  Last Friday, we got a company wide email with a helpful FEMA publication on how to prepare for a hurricane.  But I also got the same email at least four times later as people felt the need to "reply all" to the whole company with their two cents.  I can only imagine that the Rochester, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Tampa, Houston, and all the other non-northeastern coastal office folks were more annoyed.

Aside from that, the advice is generally just common sense.  Things like buying ice and filling the bathtub for toilet water and bringing in your patio furniture.  I got back to the house and found Adam in full swing, caulking sealer on the roof and tying down the trash cans, among other things.

I took a different approach and broke my stuff before the hurricane could get to it.  I was attempting to squeeze an outdoor table through the doorway when I discovered that the decorative tiles which make up the top are not, in fact, glued in place.  They crashed to the concrete floor and shattered.  For good measure, I picked up the pieces that were unbroken, but I was still pinned in the doorway by the table, so I didn't place them far.  I am not sure how, but they took a dive as well, and one of them broke into two pieces.

At that point I felt obligated to swear.  It wasn't pretty.

I checked out the weather report and for the first time ever, we had a 100 percent chance of rain.  Even with gigantic storm clouds that have lightening bolts shooting all around with static energy, directly over the weather station building, I think they say 70 percent chance of rain, tops.

Sadly, we did not get to play out scenes from "Storm Chasers" or that movie about twisters. 

We went to West Virginia for a wedding and enjoyed really beautiful weather.

Before leaving, I gave the neighbors our numbers and told them to call if there were any issues.  They never called, so naturally, I assumed they were dead.

I also assumed we would be driving back into, well, a storm - after all, the forecast for Sunday was giving 70 percent chance of rain.  But, it was perfect outside.  Skies were blue and humidity was low.  We saw a few downed sticks but no downed trees as we made our way across the Maryland panhandle.

As we neared the house, there were a few more signs that we'd missed some action.  Eventually, we were detoured where a tree rested against a power line.  However, we were able to drive through the State park on our regular unpaved road to home.  It turns out, the neighbors were fine, and the cat was her normal oblivious self.  The power was out, but after our winter storm power outage, we are perpetually prepared for such events.  I picked up sticks from the yard while Adam rescued what food he could from the freezer and fridge.

I surveyed his garbage bag containing melted ice cream and eggs, and noticed the ratatouille that I had made the previous morning, still cold.  It used all the veggies from the farm as of late:  eggplant, zucchini, leeks, and tomatoes.  I planned to eat it for lunch all week.

"That stuff smells TERRIBLE," he said, "I don't even think the container can be saved."

I pulled it out (still cold) and sniffed it.  It smelled exactly the same as it had yesterday, when I made it.  "Geesh, man," I exclaimed, "It's still good!"

After assuring him that yes, eggplant smells like that, and no, he doesn't have to eat it, I rescued the container and put it in the deep freeze.

I went outside to lounge in the yard and read a book, where I got sleepy.  I took my glasses off for a nap, but when I got up, I folded up the chair and forgot the glasses.  For the next hour or two, I searched for them in stages:

Stage One:  "The Thelma" aka, the "Brainy Smurf":  While squinting, get down on all fours and sweep the grass blindly, hoping that you will not crawl on your glasses.

Stage Two:  "The Scan":  Go into the house and insert contacts onto eyeballs.  Return to yard and walk slowly while sweeping the eyes back and forth, hoping that you will not step on your glasses.

Stage Three:  "The Partner": Solicit a partner and insist, numerous times, that you are sure that you took your glasses outside.  Once he is convinced, or at least willing to take part in your futile exercise, both people can participate in "The Scan", hoping that you and your buddy will not step on your glasses.

Stage Four:  "The Rake": After a brief search in the house and on your head due to repeated accusations that you did not take your glasses outside, resume search with a rake.  Go back to area of alleged loss, and begin raking the yard, hoping that you will not scratch, or step on, your glasses.

I never found them.

Lets look at the scoreboard:

Hurricane Irene:  one gallon of ice cream, a few condiments, and some fishsticks.

Nicki:  One $300 table and a pair of glasses.

And people think hurricanes are destructive.

Excuse me, I have some emails to delete.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Engineer to the Rescue!

This economy has really taken a toll on my industry.  I heard some statistic the other day that a huge percentage of architects (I forget how much, and frankly, I am not in the mood for....

...ok, ok, so I think the overall percentage of unemployment right now is 9.3, but percentage of unemployed architects is 9.8.  Apparently, this is hard to measure due to people entering/leaving said occupation, but my point is, that its rough out there.  Architects aren't designing things, and sadly, engineers work for architects, so where does that leave us?

Well, that has temporarily changed.  The other day, I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business and working (for lack of actual work) on a proposal to get work.  Then, some ginormous dude and two of his dinosaur friends started walking down the aisle between cubes.  And then the landscaping guys outside hit the building with a tank-sized lawn mower, and the building was swaying back and forth for like three seconds before I realized this was an earthquake.

Suddenly, structural engineers are like superstars.  Only, they are extremely nervous superstars as they realize that all the hundreds of buildings they've designed over the last ten years have just been tested.  The drywall right next to my window was audibly cracking and I was not sure if I should run outside.  But, then it stopped.

I was on the USGS website even before the event was recorded, and hit refresh until a little red box popped up in Virginia.  Shortly after, I got an email from a project contractor, building a structure just 45 miles or so from the epicenter.  The email was flagged with a little red exclamation point meaning "high importance," and says one word:  "Earthquake".  Shit, man.  Like...shit.  What if something happened?  Did my building fail?  Then I thought about how that particular building was designed to withstand a LOT more than an earthquake, and it seemed really unlikely.

I called the guy and got a busy signal.  Not good.

So, I play it cool, and email back: "You were a lot closer to the epicenter than we were, any issues?"   That's cool right?  Not like what's in my brain, which is more along the lines of "OH MY GOD I HOPE YOU"RE NOT DEAD and ifyouareIhopeitsnotmyfault."  A minute later, he called me.  "I just wanted you to know that everything's fine."

Seriously, I was so relieved he wasn't dead that I wanted to kill him.  "Don't you EVER high importance your email on me without an explanation!!"  I nearly shouted.

About 10 minutes after that, I got a call from the owner on another job.  He had someone walk the building, and its all good.  But he wanted me to go there (3 hour drive) and let the 500 people standing outside back in.  You know, cause I'm a superstar.  Oh, and I fly faster than the speed of light and therefore will have no problem getting around Washington DC right after a natural disaster.  Oh, and also, I can apparently fight fires because the fire alarm was pulled and the fire department hadn't shown up. 

"Is there a fire?" I asked. 
"I don't think so," he says, "I think someone pulled the alarm." 
"But how do we, um, know that it wasn't pulled for a fire?"

So, after I convinced him that he should maybe wait for the fire department, I told him someone would be out tomorrow to check for damage. 

Today, I went to three schools, tomorrow a parking garage, and probably another garage next week.  So far, I haven't found much to be concerned about, and thank goodness, all my buildings are still standing.  But I'm up to my eyeballs in reports to write.  (Which is why I am blogging, thank you very much.  I'll write them....later.)

Hurricane, you say?  Pfft.  No sweat.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life Support

I's over.  I have had this houseplant since college, and it has dealt with a lot of neglect and abuse over the years.  When I first moved to Baltimore, ten years ago (eek!), I had to put all of my things into storage because my apartment wasn't available until September.  I left my houseplants with my father, thinking they were in good hands, but he put them in a cooler and let them sit outside.  This would have been fine, but when I went to pick them up, I found the cooler nearly full of water, and my plants were drowning inside.  I lost one plant, but this guy, and a few of his buddies, survived.

When I finally did move to my apartment, there wasn't much light.  But, this plant did just fine in a dimly lit hallway.

Seems it is time for a eulogy.

This was a plant I got from my friends Josh and Joanne, when they decided to sell or give away everything they owned, except for what could fit in a Volkswagon Golf.  They moved across the country to Portland, Oregon and before they left, they gave me this plant, which they never watered.  They just let it sit on their balcony, and it seemed to happily exist (but not in a cooler).  I have enjoyed the company of the plant much more than the few REM and Sonic Youth CD's that they hadn't been able to sell.  Come to think of it, I supposed I enjoyed the company of this plant in place of its previous owners.  Josh and Joanne were on their way.  I got one postcard.  They made it to Oregon, but the VW didn't.  They didn't have a permanent address yet, but they were enjoying the ride.  And then I never heard from them again.  I just loved that idea, of going off into the world without a plan, and seeing what happened.  But I was never brave enough to really try it.  I stayed with the plants and acted semi-responsible until said plants were submerged in 15 inches of water.

Anyway, this plant doesn't look like much anymore, but it had quite a life.  It was the only plant that seemed to like the new house.  Most other plants have been dying off, one by one, due to a lack of light.  There are beautiful trees near the house in the yard.  Unfortunately, they shade a lot of the sunlight that would otherwise pour through the windows.  I still have four plants left...but my army has been significantly decreased since we moved here.

The other plants were surviving but this plant had been thriving.  So much so that it grew another shoot that got pretty tall.  And when we returned from vacation, I found it just slumped over.  It was as though some cat or something had broken it.  But the cat wasn't home.  She was on vacation too.  Mystery.

Well, I tied it up to a dowel rod, which is the equivalent of being hooked up to those machines that boop and beep at the hospital.  I hoped it would repair itself, but I knew it probably wouldn't be the case when a few days later, it slumped over again, just above the twist ties.  I moved the ties up, but poor thing.  It's quality of life was not good, and I guess it was just maybe it's time to go.

Poor little plant.  It will be missed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Fought the Yard and the Yard Won

I dismantled my garden.

Let me back up.  Last year, when we moved into this house, I was excited to plant a garden.  I had a caveat - it would be on MY TERMS, and RELAXING.  It would not be the loads of work I remembered from my childhood.  Many a summer was spent picking things - peas, beans, more peas, lima beans, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, cherries, plums, apples.  Freezing things - broccoli, beans, corn, peas, peppers.  Canning things - peach jelly, blackberry jelly, blueberry jelly, plums, tomatoes, applesauce. 

I did not want this.

I wanted a peaceful garden, like this one:

"What is paradise, but, a garden, an orchard of trees and herbs, full of pleasure and nothing there but delights."...William Lawson

I wanted a wonderful hobby, like this guy had:

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."-- Thomas Jefferson

Probably, I should have listened to this guy:

"Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration."...Lou Erictson

I did accomplish significant abundance compared to last year:

Strawberries in 2010: 0.
Strawberries in 2011: 2.

Peppers in 2010: 0.
Peppers in 2011: 8.

Additional crops in 2010:  0.
Additional crops in 2011: 0.

At this rate, I may be able to make a pie when I am 60.  But, the deer and slugs are well fed.

Sometimes, I have to try things before I realize that I hate them.  Case in point - I willingly stood in line for that "Free Fall" ride at Cedars Point.  You know, its the one where they lift a carload of people to the top of a tall tower, and then drop them?  That one?  I did not realize that I was ABSOLUTELY terrified of the ride until we got to the top, just before the loud screechy noise that signified the brakes had been released.  I have NEVER screamed like that, EVER.

Case #2 - I climbed all the way up to the top of the 10 meter platform at Penn State pool when they let us try it one day.  I looked down at that water, 30 feet below, and only then did I realize, I was scared sh*tless.  I unceremoniously climbed back down.

I bought a slew of art supplies and drawing pads before I realized that I do not enjoy making art.  I have canning supplies in the basement, but no longer desire to can things.  And now, I have a plot of land that is being overrun by grass with absolutely no effort, despite hours of time spent trying to kill the grass.  

Do I regret doing these things?  Not at all.  How else will I know I hate something, unless I try it?

Friday, August 19, 2011

How i sPent me Sumer Vacayshun

It's me! Your old pal Daisy!  Well, I went on vacation too, you know.  You did not think my Adam and my Nicki would leave me all alone for a whole week by myself, do you?  And I am sure you know them well enough to know that they would not pay $26 a day for me to go to the yucky old vet, right?  That's why I got to go to beeutiful, historic, Westminster, Maryland, where my aminal friends, Basil and Sage, live.

I was a wee bit confused at first, you see.  Adam and Nicki left on a Friday, but only with enough food and stuff for the weekend, so I figured I had the house just for a day or two.  I called all my cat friends like usual, and we had our normal "the peeps is outta town" kegger.  The house was all cleaned up in time for them to get back, and then, in walks my Aunt Tiff.

She picked me up and tried to stuff me in my Kat Karrier, and I just HATE that thing.  I didn't know why Aunt Tiff, whose normally not so pushy, was tryin to take me to the vet, so I peed on her leg.  (Like I said, she really confused me, and I guess I am a little sorry, but really I hate the Kat Karrier, you know?  You probly woulda done the same thing.)

Anyway, after a super long and windy car ride, I ended up at her new apartment in Westminster.  The first thing I checked out was under the bed, and that's where my new friend, Sage the Cat stays.  Sage is a tall, dark, and handsome man-cat, I must say.  Meee-yow!  I figured I better growl and hiss at him a lot, just sose he'd know I was totally gonna play hard to get.  (It's a trick we gals have, it really drives a Tom wild.)  He was nice enough to let me stay in his place for a bit, but I figured I better let him have his space.  Besides, I really like lookin' out windowsills, and I'd never been to Westminster, so I wanted to check out all the cool old buildings and stuff.

I know, I know.  I was such a tourist.

Anyway, the service was pretty good.  Aunt Tiff still made me take a pill, and I tried to smack her around a bit, but you know, gosh darn it, I think she's actually pretty nice.  So I didn't use my claws or nuthin.  My meals got put right up there on the windowsill for me, and I really liked that.  One day I got a little tipsy, you know, and I sorta accidentally jumped on my food dish.  You know how it is on vacation.  But, like I said, the service was real good, and it got cleaned up.  Aunt Tiff never even said a word about it, so when I had to puke later - look, I was on vacation and livin it up - I decided to try this thing Nicki's always tryin to get me to do, and I puked in the litter box.  I don't know.  Aunt Tiff seemed to think that was cool, but I'll probably go back to puking in the hallway, or maybe right in the doorway.  I think Adam likes to clean it with his socks.  Why, as soon as he does it, he goes and gets a second pair so he can do it again!

Mostly my trip was spent sight seeing on the window sill, and at night, I got to run around and play with Basil and Sage.  They do this thing where they jump on the bed with Auntie T and Uncle E, and they play all night long!  It is so much fun!  I tried getting Nicki to play with me when I got back but she just rolled over and kept sleeping.  Humans don't seem to realize that the best sleeping time is in the afternoon with the sun to keep you warm.  Their loss, I say.

When it came time to come home, I had to ride in that icky Kat Karrier again.  Only this time, Uncle Eric put me inside.  I didn't pee on him, cause I was hoping to get a chance to pee and poop in his car.  Then he'd really understand not to put me in the carrier again.  Alas, I couldn't muster up a good poo, so I just puked.  Uncle Eric got the best of me though, he is one smart cookie.  He gave me a bath!!  Can you believe that!  Cats don't take baths! 

I am plotting my revenge.  I hope he gets white carpets in that new house of his.

But...I did have a fun summer vacation!  I can't wait until next year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This Other Old House

July 30, our last (sniff, sniff) day of vacation.  We had seen Monticello, but we decided on a whim to check out a nearby historic home, Montpelier.  I had heard about this on a radio show a few months back.  It was once the home of James and Dolly Madison, but they had very little money towards the end, and the house was sold over the years to six different families before it was finally sold to the DuPont family.  The DuPonts had gobs of money, and they added a horse track to the property, among other things.  They also added a few levels and 32 room to the house, and it really wasn't the same.

At least one DuPont realized that the home was important to American history (James Madison, you may recall, is considered the "Father of the Constitution", and his wife Dolly coined the term "First Lady".)  In 1985, Ms. DuPont left the house to the National Historic Trust, and they have been restoring it ever since.  In 2008, the house was finally back to the state it had been in around 1815.  They removed the extra rooms and the stucco finish from the exterior.  They carbon-dated the wall coverings through 32 layers of paint to find the colors used by the Madisons.

There is not much furniture or anything - they are working on that - but it was really interesting how meticulous this restoration has been.  They are working on the grounds with just as much effort, and they are currently building the slave quarters to match what they may have looked like in Madison's time.  Slaves were a tricky subject for Mr. Madison.  As a southerner, he relied on this labor source to allow him to sell his product  - usually tobacco, but later wheat - at a competitive price.  As a person, he knew it was morally wrong to force a person to work without pay.  He was very torn, and wrote a lot about the subject.  I do not think they tried to sugar coat the issue, but sadly, there is more written on the topic by Madison than by his slaves.  (Though there is one book by a slave, Paul Jennings, which they read from during the tour.)

We toured the house, and then the grounds, on a very hot day.  We walked through Madison's gardens, but there were no trees.  Adam, a red-head, was burning to a near crisp, so we ducked into the old growth forest which is part of the grounds.  As if we hadn't hiked enough, we went along a trail, thankful for a bit of shade, but with bugs helping themselves to the buffet of fresh human.  Soon we came to a beautiful spiderweb across the trail, glittering in the sun that filtered through the trees.  (I tried to take a picture, but this was one that didn't make it with the blind shot.)

We skittered around that, then got immediately entangled in another web.  For the next half of the trail, we had to walk with sticks, sweeping the air ahead to break the spiderwebs.  I still ended up obsessively sweeping my hair for spiders for most of the day.  It was hot, and now a tad sticky with spiderwebs, but I will say, the bug population appeared to be reduced.

I still wanted to check out the Madison family graveyard, and they also had a slave cemetery which sounded intriguing.   Adam was tired of cooking himself, so he waited in the visitor center.  The Madison graves were interesting, but (and I guess I should have expected this) the slave cemetery was just woods.  They know there are graves there by the depressions that form in the soil as it compacts, and these are visible mainly in winter, when snow lingers in the holes.  In summer?  It is just trees.

We finished the last leg of our journey, and arrived home to an 87 degree house.  Turns out, the air conditioner went kaput while we were gone.  For two days, we had seen how people lived over 100 years ago, without air conditioning, heat, running water, or electricity, and I'd love to say we just took this in stride.  But I gotta say, when you look forward to sleeping in your own bed for the first time in 9 days, you do not usually envision pools of sweat.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Old House

Ha, so you thought I was done with vacation posts, but you were wrong!  July 28 was our last day in Tennessee, but there was a whole state in the way on the trip back to Maryland.  Yes, Virginia.

As we did waaaay long ago on our trip south, we also made a pit stop on the trip north, just to break up the monotony of the interstate.  This particular pit stop had been on my list of places to go while I was in the neighborhood, but I never quite made it.  The picture above (taken blind, of course) is from none other than the Dome Room of Monticello.  This was the home of Thomas Jefferson, and I am sure you recognize it, for it is also featured on the nickel.  (For my younger readers - the nickel is a "coin" which is a form of "cash".  This was used to purchase things before "credit cards".)

Monticello was built in the late 1700's and has remained pretty much in tact since.  It is restored to its state in about 1815, when "TJ" was retired.  He's a pretty smart guy, that TJ. He took interest in gardening, architecture, science, and the arts.  He also had a few nutty habits like sleeping in these "alcove beds" which are only like 5 feet long and crammed between walls.  He slept sitting up on pillows, and then he put his feet in a bowl of water every day.  He claimed this kept him from catching cold.

After the tour, we walked around the grounds and saw some unusual flowers in a horseshoe shaped garden.  Most of them were marked "TJ" to indicate that Jefferson had grown them back in his day.  Though the house was mostly original (with a few additional steel beams for support - it was a tad rickety), there were also a lot of reproductions of things Jefferson owned.  For instance, he gave all his books to the Library of Congress after the British torched DC in the war of 1812, so there were only a few volumes that he actually owned in the house. There were also a lot of reproductions of the paintings he owned, though they did have one of the original Gilbert Stuart paintings of Mr. Jefferson.  (I do think it is a little odd that he had a huge picture of himself hanging...but I guess that was the thing to do back in the day.)

How do they know what he owned and planted?  Well, he was a bit of a "Type A" person and he kept detailed records of just about everything.  Interestingly, he also owned the Natural Bridge, and there was a picture of it hanging in the dining room.  I wonder if that makes us groupies?

Anyway, after Monticello, we headed to nearby Charlottesville, VA - home of Jefferson's school, the University of Virginia.  The same architect did many of the buildings, and the campus was very nice.  Of course, the main attraction was the few breweries in town.  And the ability to get a burger after 10pm.

We checked out the South Street Brewery, which was a bit of a hike from our hotel.  Looked a lot closer on the map.  Ahh, well, it was all worth it for a tasty brew!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cades Cove

Our last day in the Great Smoky National Park was Thursday, July 28.  We chose a driving loop which features views up at the mountains from the meadows, rather than views to valleys far below.  Alas many of my pictures are of things right next to the things I wanted pictures of, because the screen was destroyed during the previous day's exploits on "Chimney Tops" aka "Shale of Doom".  Digital cameras do not even feature viewfinders anymore, and there was no way to tell how far I was zoomed in, whether the flash was on, what mode I was in, or what, exactly, I was picturing.  However, taking "point and shoot" quite literally, one can still get a few good photos.

 Cades Cove - during spring, this is covered with wildflowers.

The Cades Cove Loop is an "Auto Tour" with lots of stopping points for looks at historic structures.  After all, the meadows only really exist because white settlers came to the area in the 1820's and 30's and chopped down all the trees.  The area was once home to as many as 271 (white) families.  (The native people, generally Cherokee, had lived in the area for centuries and I guess no one knows how many of them there were because it was not listed in my official "Self-Guided Auto Tour" booklet.)

Cades Cove is rumored to be a good place to see wildlife, including bears.  More on that in a moment.  First stop was a Baptist Church, established in 1827.

 The biggest appeal to me in stopping here was not the church itself, but the cemetery behind it.  I love cemeteries,  and after a PBS special which toured a bunch of them as scenic and serene parks, I am not afraid to admit it anymore.  Lots of people love cemeteries.  Really.  I am not weird.

OK, OK, so I'm weird.  I especially love the oldest tombstones.  I like to see how old people were, who their family members were, what sort of epitaphs they may have.  I like to look at the years, and try to imagine what life had been like for them.  I mourn a bit for those whose tombstone inscriptions have faded.

This cemetery had a number of old and interesting stones, including one guy who was "murdered by North Carolina Rebels" and another with an arched stone.  There were many whose lettering had washed away, and a number of infants and children.

It was also stinking hot!  And no shade!  So we continued past a homestead and two more churches without stopping.  We did stop for a short hike to Abrams Falls, and I don't think I would have taken such a nice picture if I could see the screen:

I do, however, have a few pictures of the rocks next to the falls, and about 8 pictures of ground because  I tried to photograph two beautiful butterflies that were opening and closing their wings.  I missed for every shot.  I did not even try to shoot a picture of the otter I saw later on.

The final historical stop is the Cable Grist Mill.  According to my booklet, this would feature about 10 old structures which were moved from various park locations to simulate a typical homestead with a mill.  One structure was to be a "Tennessee Cantilever Barn" and I was sort of surprised to see the use of a structural engineering term such as "cantilever" in the description.  When we got to the barn, we saw this:

 This.  Is not a cantilever.  An example of a cantilever is a diving board - something that freely overhangs on one end, with the other end fixed.  I thought perhaps they had screwed up their terms.

But then we saw this one:

Tricky.  There were two barns.

Anyway, we walked around the mill area a bit and then continued the drive.  Unfortunately, there was a bit of a traffic jam.  People were pulling off to the side to look at wildlife, but when the pull off areas filled up, they just parked themselves right there on the road.  We were patient, thinking this must be the bear we hoped to see.  So we get to the area, and we look, to find....


Yes, deer.  Not reindeer, or elk, or any interesting species of deer either. These were the same freaking critters that eat the shrubbery in front of my house.  The ones I practically dodge on the street on a daily basis.  And looking at the license plates, it was clear that these people would be equally familiar with this "rodent with hooves".  Very confusing.

We made our way around the deer-gawkers, and found the bear-gawkers - outside their cars, and into the woods about half a mile.  According to a woman just outside our vehicle, people were looking at a mama bear and her two cubs.


This is EXACTLY what the park rangers advise us NOT to do.  Not so much because the bear will maul you (though it could, if you get too close), but because the bear will get used to you, and then attempt to steal someone's "pickinic" basket, and then maul some other random jackass.  And then it will be killed without a trial.

Sorry, I just get frustrated by the masses who seem to care for nothing but their own enjoyment, regardless of the circumstances of their actions.

We opted to leave the bear be, though I was sad not to see it.  We saw only two bears on our trip - in both cases they were frantically crossing busy streets in Gatlinburg.  Kind of like these deer things we have up here...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Better Than Most?

After a day in the car, we went back to hiking on foot.  I had picked two hikes, just in case.  We were very ambitious.  The first hike, called "Chimney Tops" was considered moderate in difficulty for most of the hike, but ends with 800 feet of elevation change in the last mile.  The last hundred feet or so are actually a "scramble" meaning hands and feet are needed to get up, but it is easy to do without true climbing gear.  It sounded fun, and the hike was relatively short - the one we did on Monday (that would have been July 25th) was 7.0 miles round trip, but this one (which we did on July 27th) was only 4.0.  I figured we could do this in about 2 hours, despite the signs at the trail head noting that most people take 3 to 4 hours.  It also said most people don't make it to the top.

"Pfft!" I thought, "MOST people is not me and Adam!"

Well, that may be true, but this hike took us about 3 hours, maybe a bit more.

We had stopped at a gas station deli and brought a few sandwiches to eat in the woods.  We missed the turn for the picnic area, so we just went to the river and ate on some large rocks.  The stupid people who only yesterday were walking in front of cars while eating ice cream cones were playing in the rapids without shoes.  One little boy in particular was clearly unaware of the potential dangers of this, and his father was equally clueless.  As a former lifeguard, I assessed the surroundings and imagined how I would rescue this boy.  Despite the drama of Baywatch, it is actually a last resort to go into the water for a rescue, and I eyed up a good stick which I would reach out to the kid.

Meanwhile, he came closer and closer to this rapid in front of us, and I wrestled with whether I should say something, because his father was right there watching him.  Just like that, the kid, who was about 10 and weighed all of 70 pounds, started to get caught.

He gets this panicked look on his face, and his dad tells him to "Stand up" which is not only hard for him to do, but like, the worst advice ever.  You see, when you stand up in water that is strongly pulling you in one direction, you will stand on rocks spaced closely together.  The water will still pull, and more than likely, you will get a foot stuck between rocks and either drown, or break a bone.  Or both.  Luckily, the kid was not able to follow this advice, and tried swimming.

I made a move for that stick as he struggled, and then thankfully, he got his hands around a rock and was able to pull himself out.  He ran, stricken, to his stupid father who told him he should be more careful and actually kind of made fun of hm for being so skinny.  Luckily, I think the kid is smarter than the dad, and he looked like he may have learned a lesson about swimming near rapids.

Meanwhile, we finished our meals and began our hike.  It was totally as advertised, and we reached the "scramble" section as a family with two teenagers was coming down.  Both boy and girl teen paused to tell us how cool the summit is, and wished us luck.

I started out just fine, and Adam quickly rushed ahead of me.  We have both done lots of indoor climbing, and this was easier than most of those.  However, it was much more of a sheer rock than I had initially imagined.  I guess I pictured a hike much like the one we did a few years back at Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.  It required the use of hands, but the trail was through a narrow passageway.  It had higher rocks around us for most of the time.

This was just bare rock face, and I was climbing it.  On Monday, the body strongly opposed the brain.  This day, the brain was strongly opposing the body.  Believe me, this was decidedly NOT HARD.  My body was like, "Dude, I got this.  Piece of cake."

But my brain kept pointing out key differences between this, and indoor climbing.  Little things, like how I have always had a harness while climbing before, how I didn't bring my climbing shoes, how I might slip and fall to my death, and the most troubling point, how I normally do not climb back down.  In indoor climbing, you reach the top, and you let go, while your partner lowers you safely to the ground on a rope.  I highly doubted there would be one of those skyline rides on the other side of the summit.

Somewhere about mid-way, I froze.  Actually, no, I could not go up or down, true, but I was shaking like a leaf.  Arms, legs, hands, all of me.  Meanwhile, Adam nearly walked up the thing like stairs.  He marveled at the view, and told me to get up there.  I did make the choice to continue up, despite extreme concerns about getting back down.  If for no other reason, than to not be lumped in with "most people" who were currently shouting from swimming holes to add more lighter fluid to the campfire (or so I surmised).

A view of Adam about half way up.

Me, as close to the top as I could get.  It counts!

The view from the peak - Adam had to take this blind because I broke the fluid in the camera screen while clinging to a rock for dear life with the camera in my pocket...

By the way, we did not get to do the second hike because it was about 5pm when we finished this one.  I did manage to get down, thanks to my Hero (aka Adam) who told me exactly where to put my hands and feet on the descent.  Getting down was not as hard as I expected!

We instead went to the Newfound Gap by car, and hiked about a mile of the Appalachian Trail, just for kicks.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Happens in Gatlinurg Stays in Gatlinburg

After the "trek" to the peak of Clingman's Dome, we headed for our hotel on the Tennessee side of the park.  In reading my pamphlets on the area, I knew that the Bryson City area, and the North Carolina side in general, was the quieter, less popular side of the park.  The center, right there at Clingman's Dome, is the Appalachian Trail, which is the border between states.  Based on the hundreds of ads I had gotten with my "Great Smokies Trip Planner", I expected Gatlinburg, Tennessee to be something like Ocean City here in Maryland.  Basically, a tourist trap - only here there would be woods instead of sand.

This was beyond a tourist trap - it was like Vegas for families.  As soon as we left the serene park borders, we were met with pure chaos:  Haunted Houses, Mini-Golf, Dig for your Own Gold, Zip Line Tours, Live Bear Acts, and at least Six "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" attractions.  (Adam called them, Ripley's "I Can't Believe I Paid That Much" museums.)  Along the mayhem, were pedestrians.  Inexplicably, they were all paying more attention to their ice cream cones or funnel cakes, and grown adults were walking into traffic without even a glance at the cars.

It was pure insanity, especially compared to the peaceful whips of clouds we had photographed just minutes earlier.  I held fast to the reviews of our hotel, which said it was "off the strip" and "quiet", but "close enough to walk to the town".  Thank goodness, these were right on the money.

A few scenes from our hotel room:

Yep, that's the Roaring Fork Creek, which runs right behind every room at this hotel.  It is loud enough to drown out any noise, but the hotel truly is located a bit away from the mayhem.  Also, they featured "wine and cheese" followed by "milk and cookies" every day (though we stayed in the park until sunset each day, and we missed them).  And the pool and hot tub were open 24 hours.  And there was a parrot in the lobby.  (His name is Cesar, and, according to the sign on his cage, he bites.  Good to know.)

The only complaint I had was the free Wi-Fi.  It was set up a bit funky, so every web page featured a banner with flashing coupons at the top.  It was either this, or the million other set-up issues Adam noted in their code, that made it impossible to load pictures to my posts.  So, yes, I have been back for full-on a week now, but will continue to bore you every few days with stories about my vacation.  You're welcome!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Clingman's Dome

Some pictures from Clingman's Dome, which is the highest point along the Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet above sea level.  Only one other mountain, Mt Mitchell, is higher.  On a clear day, one can see Mount Mitchell, which is in Mitchell State Park in North Carolina.  We were there on a decidedly UN-clear day.  But the air was refreshing and cool at about 67 degrees, so we hung out on top of the man made tower that emanates from the dome, and eventually, the clouds rolled away a bit.

 The spiral walkway leading to the tower.

 View of some clouds rolling in.

 The long awaited southern view, with layers of mountains.

 The observation tower.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Contact with the Trail

The tires are the things on the car that make contact with the trail!

After yesterday's hike, we needed time to dry out.  We decided on a driving loop that would take us partially on unpaved road.  The drive started in the lower elevations on a hot and humid day, but the higher we drove, the cooler and less humid the weather.  At elevation 3000 or so, we put the windows all the way down, and at 4160 ft, we made our first stop at Big Witch Overlook.

 My attempt at humor...get it?  Witch's Overlook?  Geesh!  Tough crowd!

We continued on our drive up to the top, where, conveniently, there were potties.  There is a saying in my family - never pass a pot - so even though our needs were not dire, we used the facilities.  The area also had a number of beautiful tables made of piled up stones.  Alas, I had not thought I would need the camera on a trip to the restroom, so I will have to rely on my memory to picture these.  Fading already!

At this point, we entered the unpaved area.  A sign warned us that the road is 28 miles long and one way, with a speed limit of 15 miles per hour.  Adam maneuvered the car through twists and turns.  Directly adjacent to the trail, for the vast majority of the length, is a drop of about 40 feet or so.  It certainly kept him on his toes.  There also was no way one would reach 15 miles per hour without careening off the cliff.  He kept it an average of 10 miles an hour, going about 6 or 7 around these curves.

For those readers too lazy for this math: 28 miles at 10 miles an hour = a long time.  We did not reach the bottom in Cherokee, NC until about 3:30pm.  At that time, we were hungry!  A common theme on this trip is looking for food at non-traditional mealtimes.  No exception here - Cherokee has places for putt-putt and Christmas ornaments, lots of places to buy "authentic, Indian made jewelery", and Indians themselves, dressed in plastic feathers and beating plastic drums.  But the only food available was ice cream and candy.

I prefer to try local spots when I'm in a new place, so I noted a sign that said the "Cherokee Diner", complete with an "Open" sign.  Open signs appear to be in the windows of places 24-7 around here, so we still weren't certain it was, in fact, open.  Also, it appeared to be somehow between a Dairy Queen and a Dominoes.

Turns out, it was both the Dairy Queen and the Dominoes.  But, it was open, so we ate at the authentic Cherokee Diner.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Its a Natural Feeling

My body is a big fan of the Law of Inertia - at least the second part.  The law clearly states that an object at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.  My brain occasionally attempts to act as the outside force.

But my body tends to do everything in its power to resist the brain's attempts to move it.  The body reacts violently in some cases - from overheating and nausea, to full out puking, the body makes it clear that said movement is not okay with it, and I had better get back to rest.

To exercise with me is to realize:  I may puke on you.  I am so glad you love me anyway.

Allow me to segue into talk of preparations for our trip.  I read the pamphlets on what to do if encountering a bear, what to do if lost in the woods, and how to prevent hypothermia in the event that I am caught in the rain.  The pamphlets contained an additional section on pooping in the woods.  Oh, I tried to convince myself I wouldn't need it, but knowing my body, there really was no deceiving myself.

Dear reader, you have guessed where this is going, but allow me to regale you with my tale:

We decided on a hike to the "Lonesome Pine Overlook" which is just the beginning section of the "Noland Divide Trail".  The hike is rated "strenuous" by most reviews, and has an elevation change of about 2300 feet.  We started out in good spirits, despite the heat.  It was about 92 degrees and humid.  It wasn't long before we were both sweating, and Adam commented that he hates the sun.

Apparently, this was more effective than we knew.  Literally a minute after his statement, it started to drizzle and turned quickly to a light rain.  At least this will cool us off, we thought, and we continued our ascent.  About a half hour later, there was no kidding ourselves.  This was full buckets of rain, dumped by the gallon over our heads.  The trail was steep and narrow, with water literally streaming downwards as we climbed up.  I pulled my camera from my pocket and buried it in a biking glove that was still in my pack, hoping to keep it dry.  I also used the rain cover feature of my pack for the first time.  A pouch at the base holds a cover that slips over the top, affording an additional defense against moisture.

As thunder rolled overhead, we considered sloshing our way back to the car, even though we were only about halfway.  However, we chose to trudge on with heavy clothes and squishy feet.

An hour later, the rain let up, and we reached a rocky ridge.  Finally, we were able to take a few pictures:

Plumes of "smoke" rising from the valley - giving the Great Smokies their name.

 The peak in this picture was our destination - about 2300-ft above our starting point.

 This "waterfall" popped up during the storm.

It threatened to rain some more, and though we were cool with it before, our patience was a tad thin.  So we began the trek back down the muddy slope.  It was about this time that I realized what punishment my body had set  up for me.  Evil of all evils, I had to poop.  This behavior was not unheard of from my body.  So of course, I ignored it.

About 20 minutes later I told Adam of my predicament and headed away from the trail to dig a hole as I was instructed by my pamphlets.  On the bright side, I was already soaked to the bone and feeling generally gross.  And I answered an age old question:  When a Baer shits in the woods and no one is around to smell it, does it make a stink?