Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cookie MAAAAAAAAAADNESS!

Last year I started the tradition of having a cookie swap before Christmas. It's a fun excuse to do two of my favorite things 1) bake cookies, and 2) hang out with my friends. If you haven't been to a cookie swap before the rules are simple. Everyone makes a batch of their favorite cookie recipe and gets to take home a bunch of cookies from everyone else's. All your holiday baking = DONE.

It's like the opposite of Thunderdome--one batch of cookies comes in, but 12 types go home.

This year I didn't participate in just one cookie swap, but two! One here at the house and one at work. While we didn't quite have the numbers of last year at the cookie swap here at home (which is kind of a good thing because finding seats for 23 people was a challenge) we had about 15 types of cookies which is a VERY successful swap. A table loaded with cookies, good friends chatting and catching up, mulled cider on the stove...what else do you really need to get into the holiday spirit?



The whole spread.





We're swapping fools!

I made two of my most favorite cookie recipes, one new and one old (recipes are below). The new recipe was from my favorite cooking magazine, Cook's Country, and was one of their annual best cookie recipe finalists. Chocolate Mint cookies--a chewy chocolate cookie with a melted Andes mint on top. That's right. a MELTED ANDES MINT. Your mind has been blown.

The old recipe was one of my Grandmother's favorites and one she made every year. Ricotta cookies, a delicious puffy light but slightly savory cookie topped with a sugar glaze. As I baked them, I spent a lot of time thinking about my Grandmother. How she made the exact same cookie year after year...albeit without the aid of a Kitchen Aid mixer. But following her recipe, making something that she loved, I felt really close to her. I never expected to get moved by a cookie, but there's just something really special about these holiday traditions...and the cookies are by far the sweetest ones.

But enough of this sappy stuff! Let's get to the part you really care about--the recipes!



Grandma Riley's Ricotta Cookies

Cream together 1/3 cup margarine and 2 cups sugar. 

Add 1 pound (1 15oz. container) ricotta cheese. 

Add two eggs and two tsp. vanilla. Mix.

Sift together 4 cups flour, one tsp baking soda, one tsp salt. Add to other mixture. Drop by spoonful onto cookiesheet and bake at 350 degrees 12-15 minutes.

Frost with a glaze made from 1 ½ cup powdered sugar, 3 Tblsp lemon juice, and zest of one lemon. Stir until smooth. Spoon 1 ½  tsp on each cookie and use the back of the spoon to spread and let it dry.




Cook's Country Chocolate Mint Cookies

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 cups (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
45 Andes mint

Combine butter, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted, about 3 minutes. Add chocolate chips and stir constantly until chips are melted. Transfer mixture to bowl of stand mixer and let cool for 10 minutes. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl.

Fix mixer with paddle, add eggs to bowl with chocolate mixture, and beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in 3 additions and mix until just combined, scraping down bowl as needed. Refrigerate until dough is firm, at least 1 hour or up until 2 days.

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Working with half the dough, roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls and place 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake until just set 7-9 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.

After removing cookies from oven, immediately place 1 unwrapped Andes Mint in center of each cookie. Let stand until chocolate is softened, about 5 minutes, then spread chocolate over top of cookies. Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 30 minutes. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fairy Tale Murder Mystery

In the past couple years, my friends and I have gotten into the habit of throwing murder mystery parties. This all started because birthday girl in December, Selvi, thought it would be fun to try it. So we put on our finest 1920s duds, used one of those box sets, and had a party. We had a blast, but when it was over, everyone couldn't help but think, "we can do better than that."

Since then, every six months or so we all get together and throw a big party....where one of the guests is murdered. Selvi, Mac, and Priya have alternated coming up with the stories and everyone is more than happy to strap on a costume and put on their detective hats to solve the crime.

This past weekend was Selvi's birthday so what better time to have another mystery party? This time the theme was Fairy Tales: Once Upon a Crime. From the evite (and Mac's brain)
When the curtain falls and the book closes, the fairy tale world does not simply end. Those who dwell in this land must still live with each other, and good and evil are never black and white. It is the Queen's birthday, hosted by her brother, the Dark Wizard, and all throughout the land are invited, even those who believe or flat-out know that the Queen herself is somewhat wicked, and the Wizard's charm is only skin deep.  
Still, it's a party that likely won't soon be forgotten. Basic murder mystery rules: one person will die. The Queen, Selvi Sri, will be tasked with using her brilliant intellect to determine whodunnit. A select portion of the cast will be suspects, and a few others will, for their own purposes, act helpful in her quest. Some of these people will be genuine, and others will lie. The rest of the crew will be there to have fun; any and all are encouraged to partake in the mystery, but you should feel no pressure to if you don't feel like it.
We assembled in the Sky View party room at Selvi's apartment in Rockville (fancy!). The cast was large; in attendance were the Evil Queen, the Dark Wizard, Cinderella (yours truly), Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother, Hansel, Gretel, the Wicked Witch, the Big Bad Wolf, Granny, Little Red Riding Hood, the Woodsman, the Ugly Stepsister, and the Huntsman. There were three suspects: Cinderella, Gretel, and the Woodsman. But who could have done the crime??


Some of the assembled cast.

I was Cinderella, one of the suspects. Here's my character description:

You are a Suspect. You are NOT the Killer.

Years ago, you married Prince Charming, with the aid of your Fairy Godmother. You are now Princess of the land, showered in wealth and adored by all. You even magnanimously allow one of your stepsisters, maimed by her attempts to fit in your shoe and blinded by doves at your wedding, to live in the castle.

But, unfortunately, your dreams are not as perfect as they seem. You've long known that Charming is less than faithful; there was that tart in the glass coffin, and you're sure that he keeps some hairy woman in a tower in the woods, but you tried to rise above it. After all, you are adored and are in a position of political authority. But recently you learned something that's slightly beyond the pale. 

Prince Charming is gay.

Obviously you have no problem with this, and it does explain why he first fell in love with your shoes. The unfortunate political reality is that once he works up the courage to come out of the closet, he'll find true love with his own Prince Charming, and you'll be out of the castle. That can't be; you look too good in a tiara. But it's all right; you and he have an understanding. You're looking for another Prince to marry, and once you do, he'll come out of the closet, pass equal right laws, marry Phillip, and you'll still get to be a princess. Everyone wins!

Well, they would, if it wasn't for that pesky Dark Wizard. He somehow found out (you suspect that your Prince hit on him but you can't prove it) and he's threatening to reveal your secret. You can't let him, not now when you're so close to snagging that Prince Eric with the lovely castle on the coast! He LOVES red-heads who can sing! Fortunately, all the Dark Wizard wants is a bribe. You've secretly snagged a few crown jewels, including a ruby the size of your fist, and paid him off. That should keep him quiet while you work out your living arrangements! Also, you fill the lonely nights in the arms of the Woodsman and Gretel, both of with whom you are in a stable relationship.

*gasp* Such drama! Closeted princes, three-way relationships, political maneuvering! And yet, I wasn't the killer? So who was it?

Surprise! It was the Woodsman. I can't recall what his motive was (mostly because I was drunk), but I do remember this happened.


He killed her brother, after all. 

The thing I love most about these parties is how much everyone gets into it. There are costumes and role-playing and mock fights and murder most foul! Everyone has a great time and it's a different way of getting together and hanging out. We're all giant nerds anyway, so adopting alternate personas and wearing weird outfits is kind of up our alley.

But will I ever get the chance to be a killer? We've had four or five of these things now...and still. No murder for Maggie. Maybe next time....

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 and Slow Cooking Heaven

Thanksgiving this year was a quiet affair; Bill and Amanda stayed in California with James in preparation for his first birthday on Sunday (you may recall he was born on Thanksgiving Day last year), and my step-sister and her husband also decided to celebrate at home. That meant it was just four of us on Thankgiving Day--me, Dad, Linda (stepmom), and my Aunt Kim. AND since everyone but me was leaving town the day after Thanksgiving...I was getting all the leftovers!

But what to do with 3 pounds of turkey? My family doesn't do the whole bird; we like the white meat best so we always just do a turkey breast. But the smallest breast I could find was 6.5 pounds which meant there was a lot that went home with me.

Cook's Country to the rescue! Don't know what I'm talking about? It's from the same people who do the America's Test Kitchen tv show on PBS and they have the BEST recipes I have ever made. Better than Martha Stewart, better than any of your Food Networks chefs, just great classic cooking. They also do equipment reviews, teach the basics of techniques, and getting their once every two months magazine is a big highlight for me. Seriously. Love it.

Their most recent issue had what sounded like a great slow cooker chicken and dumpling recipe. So I decided to sub in the turkey for the chicken--which meant I got to skip the step where you pre-brown and season the chicken. Since the turkey was also already cooked, I let the slow cooker go for the minimum cooking time and it ended up really tender, but not dry. I also left out the dumplings, since I had a roll of Pilsbury's biscuits to use up.

The finished product!

Here's the recipe if you want to give it a try! Some other changes I made--I used only one onion and left our the peas. Because, ew.


Stew

--3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
--salt and pepper
--3 tablespoons vegetable oil
--2 onion chopped (I used one medium onion)
--2 celery ribs, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
--2 carrots, peeled, quartered and cut into 1/4 inch pieces (I used chopped baby carrots)
--4 garlic cloves, minced
--1 tablespoon tomato paste
--2 bay leaves
--1 teaspoon dry thyme
--1/4 cup all purpose flour
--1/2 cup dry white wine
--4 cups low sodium chicken broth
--1 cup frozen peas 

Dumplings

--1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
--1 tablespoon baking powder
--1 teaspoon salt
--1 cup whole milk
--4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1) Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of chicken all over, 5-8 minutes, transfer to slow cooker. Repeat with 1 tablespoon oil and remaining chicken. 
(since I used turkey leftovers, I just dumped them frozen into the slow cooker--easy)

2) Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, celery, and carrots and cook until soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomato paste, bay leaves, and thyme and cook until fragrant and tomato paste begins to brown, about 2 minutes. 

3) Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in wine, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Whisk in 1 cup broth and bring to a simmer, transfer to slow cooker. Stir in remaining 3 cups of broth. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low. Stir in peas. (I cooked mine for just about 4 hours on low, then reduced to hear to warm for another hour before serving).
4) For dumplings: whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Stir in milk and melted butter until just incorporated. Using greased 1/4 cup measure drop 8 dumplings around perimeter of stew. Cover and cook until dumplings have doubled in size, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Edinburgh (cont): Down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace

After leaving Edinburgh Castle, Wendy and I made a lot of little stops. There was a writer's museum right down the street that had some really cool artifacts from three of Scotland's most famous authors; Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. It wasn't quite as interesting as we had hoped, so we only spent a few minutes there poking around.



Outside the Writer's Museum.

We then hit a bunch of shops, as souveniers and gifts to take home were a must. Especially since Edinburgh was the largest city we would be visiting. After shoping, we paused for a quick photo-op of the Royal Mile itself and headed down the hill, passing by St. Giles Cathedral. The cathedral dates from the 14th century (but was extensively restored in the 19th century). It has been a site of worship for over 900 years and is now the center of the Church of Scotland. It has a distinctive crown steeple which is easily recognizable from pretty much anywhere on the Royal Mile. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Giles, who is the patron saint of Edinburgh.



Looking down the Royal Mile.


St. Giles Cathedral

The cathedral also has a really great kind of hidden cafe in the basement (you have to walk around to the back from the touristy side to find the entrance) where Wendy and I had a delicious and cheap lunch...well, cheap for Scotland. We kind of get hosed on the exchange rate, so even a 7 pound lunch ends up costing over 10 bucks. Sigh.

Once we had refreshed a bit, we took a little detour down one of the streets that leads off to the Royal Mile. I was on my way to the Edinburgh Royal Museum and I think Wendy was in search of a knitting shop she had encountered the year before. Our wandering led us right past The Elephant House, the coffeehouse where JK Rowling famously spent her days writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I have to admit it was kind of exciting to linger outside the shop and envision her sitting at a small table with a cup of coffee dreaming up one of my favorite book series of all time.


And this is where the magic all began...

From there, it was just across the street to the museum. Unfortunately, this is where things got a bit sticky. It seems the Edinburgh Royal Museum and the Royal Museum of Scotland used to be two separate museums--and this was the indication in my guidebook. But in the last year the two museums merged into one building. So I spent about 20 minutes wandering around scratching my head and asking random Scots where a museum was that didn't exist anymore. Finally, I went into the actual museum and there I learned of the merger. 

So what's the Millennium Clock? I first ran across it on my initial visit to Edinburgh back in 2001.


The clock was created by four master craftsman for the Scottish Millennium Festival. It's not exactly a cheerful piece, as it commemorates human suffering throughout the twentieth century, as we stood trapped in the neverending prison of time. It's divided into four sections, the crypt, the nave, the belfry, and the spire. Each one contains unique and highly symbolic figures. The most disturbing are near the top, where charactures of Hitler and Stalin pass a large saw back and forth; sawing through the lives of humanity in the century. But not all hope is lost--at the very top of the clock stands "the pietà, in the shape of a cross. A female figure carrying a dead man. She is the mother, the wife, the daughter, the sister, the friend. Pietà is Italian for pity, compassion."

Coming to view the clock has become something of a pilgrimage for me every time I visit Edinburgh. It's beautiful and horrifying and it serves as a reminder for what people are capable of--both in terms of terror and compassion.

After leaving the museum and walking back down most of the Royal Mile, I needed a rest. I headed back to our apartment (which you might recall was less than a block off the main road) and took a bit of a break. I met back up with Chris, Kent, and Wendy, and we set out for our last stop of the day--the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

It is the official residence of the Monarch in Scotland and is mostly used for state ceremonies and entertaining. Next to the palace are the ruins of an abbey that was founded by David I, King of Scots, in 1128, and Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 15th century. Queen Elizabeth II spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer, where she carries out a range of official engagements and ceremonies.


Holrood Palace.



 Keeping an eye out for invaders...


The Abbey ruins, just outside the back of the Palace.



The ruins from the garden surrounding the Palace.



Right next to the Palace is an inactive volcano crater. It's one of the seven hills of Edinburgh.

On our way back from Holyrood, we stopped at another pub for dinner that was right around the corner from our apartment. The food was yummy, but Kent found a small bug in his salad (the horror!) and we all ended up getting our entire meal comped. Score! Thanks for taking one for the team, Kent!

Coming up next time: St. Andrews!


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Edinburgh, Day 1--Edinburgh Castle

Our first full day in Scotland dawned clear and chilly. Due to a combination of factors (but mostly jet lag), I was up early and decided to go for a run. It was a Saturday and early enough that the tourists hadn't come out yet and the Great Edinburgh Run wasn't due to begin for a few hours so I had the streets pretty much to myself. It was a bit cold, but I warmed up quickly--especially when the route I took had the first mile completely up hill. It was a slog, but I made it and was rewarded with a stunning view of the Royal Mile.

And this makes a good time to get into some history, no? I wonder if anyone who reads this blog is actually interested in this but I know when I go back and read this blog in 10 or 20 years, I'll like it. So suck it up, people.

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, the seat of the Scottish parliament and government, the largest city by area and the second largest by population in the country. Located in the south-east of Scotland, Edinburgh lies on the east coast of the Central Belt, along the Firth of Forth, near the North Sea. The city was one of the historical major centers of the Enlightenment, led by the University of Edinburgh, helping to earn it the nickname Athens of the North. The Old Town and New Town districts of Edinburgh were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 in recognition of the unique character of the Medieval Old Town and the planned Georgian New Town.

See, wasn't that interesting? Getting back to my more personal story, after I made it home and got cleaned up from my run, we all headed out for a day of sight-seeing, starting with Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh Castle is located at the top of the Royal Mile, the main street that runs through the Old Town District. It connects the castle with Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence when she is in town. Hence, the name Royal Mile (it also happens to be almost exactly a mile long). 

We made it to the castle just a few minutes before opening, and Wendy and I opted for the audio tour since we wanted to get the full experience. I hadn't been to the castle in about 10 years and they had opened up some new buildings and exhibits. It has a long history, and you can bet your ass I'm going to make you learn some of it.



Edinburgh Castle!



Kent, Chris, Wendy, and me in front of the castle.

From wiki:

Edinburgh Castle is a fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock. Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC, although the nature of early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. From the 15th century the castle's residential role declined, and by the 17th century its principal role was as a military base with a large garrison. Its importance as a historic monument was recognised from the 19th century, and various restoration programs have been carried out since. As one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and has been besieged, both successfully and unsuccessfully, on several occasions.

Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 16th century, when the medieval fortifications were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. The most notable exceptions are St Margaret's Chapel, which dates from the early 12th century and is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, the Royal Palace, and the early-16th-century Great Hall. The castle also houses the Honours of Scotland, the Scottish National War Memorial, and the National War Museum of Scotland.


Inside the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle (with Victorian decorations)


The apartments where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to the future king of both England and Scotland, James VI (or I depending on how you look at it).


View of the city from a cannon.


Looking towards the train station from the castle.





St. Margaret's Chapel, the oldest building in the castle grounds.


More views from the castle.

Most of what we saw in the castle dates from the 17th and 18th century. When it was used as a garrison, the military ripped out a lot of the medieval decor and replaced it (sadly) and it wasn't until the Victorian Era that the Scots really began to care about restoring their old buildings. And let's face it, to Americans things from that long ago still seem pretty old. After all, we don't go tripping over 1000 year old ruins every time we go for a walk outside the suburbs. 

Wendy and I spent about 2 hours in the castle, and then spent some time wandering down the Royal Mile and stopping into various shops and museums. But I think that might be the subject of the next post....

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Color Run


Almost two years to the day that I started taking up running with the Couch to 5K program, I ran my second 5K. This one was The Color Run which took place at National Harbor and raised money for Children’s Hospital. Unlike most 5Ks, it wasn’t timed (more of a fun run than an actual race), and at every kilometer there were volunteers with a specific color of powdered dye that they would throw onto you. It made for a fun yet messy run.


 So young, so innocent. No idea what mess awaits them!

Unlike last year’s Thanksgiving 5K (which I ran solo) this one I had two friends with me, Zach and Lauren. I still did the actual running by myself though since Zach is a little speed demon and Lauren decided to walk it. Riddle me this Batman: why is it every 5K course must include a giant hill? I get that Virginia isn’t the flattest place in the world, but isn’t it possible to find SOMEWHRE that doesn’t include a hill that makes me want to lay down and die??

But that’s what training is for, and I pushed myself up that hill and managed to run the entire course—which is always my goal rather than a specific time. My mantra while running (or let’s be honest, slowly jogging) is to repeat “you are not a quitter.” Sometimes that’s the only thing that can get you through it. When you feel that your lungs are going to burst, when your calves are aching, and when your heart feels like it’s going to pound out your chest, the only thing you have is pure nerve and determination. I’ve never quit at anything in my life and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let something like 3 miles get the best of me. I think the training for a race is as much mental as it is physical. You not only have to get your body used to running for however long those 3 miles takes, but also your brain to stay focused and keep pushing those legs.

And of course, there’s always race day adrenaline. It’s exciting to take part in an event like this—which had over 5,000 runners! They started us off in large groups at 9:00 in the morning (thankfully we were in the first heat and didn’t have to wait hours to run) and were still releasing runners an hour later. There’s a sense of camaraderie that exists in things like this; especially when you’re all covered in red, yellow, blue, purple, and orange dye. People encourage and joke with one another, which isn’t easy when most of your are wheezing along. 

All in all, the second race was a success! I ran the whole thing (even the hill!) which is always my goal and we participated in an event that raised money for a great charity. I'm thinking a 5K every six months is a good goal.

Post-race messiness!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

If it's not Scottish, it's crrrrrap.

Another day, another international journey. This time I headed across the pond  to Scotland with Chris, Kent, and my friend Wendy who currently lives in Olympia, Washington. The trip came together in kind of a funny way. Wendy had traveled to Scotland last year with her family and in February posted about how she wished she could go back. I responded something along the lines of, "let's do it. How about October?" Between me and Chris we then had the entire trip planned in about two weeks with hotels and flight booked. What can I say, we move fast.

We planned to spend nine days on the trip, but traveling to and from Scotland basically takes an entire day, which left us a week of sight-seeing. For the first time in another country we rented a car so we could keep the itinerary somewhat fluid. We basically traveled in a big loop starting out in Edinburgh in the east, then heading slightly north to St. Andrews, continuing Northwest into the highlands and Inverness, going further west to the Isle of Skye and then coming back south and east through Glencoe, Stirling, and finally ending up back in Edinburgh. Here was the itinerary:

Day 1: travel, evening in Edinburgh

Day 2: Edinburgh

Day 3: St. Andrews

Day 4: Loch Ness/Inverness area

Days 5 and 6: Isle of Skye

Day 7: travel to Stirling area

Day 8: travel back to Edinburgh

Day 9: come home!

All in all, it was a trip without major incident, which was kind of a relief. There were no problems with the rental car, the flights all went off without a hitch, and there were no (seriously) injuries or delays. More on all of that later...including the epic battle of Kent vs. Scottish showers and the day we almost killed a woman on horseback. But for now, Edinburgh!

When traveling to Europe, you're most likely going to be on a red-eye flight. Chris and Kent managed to sweet-talk the check-in lady into letting me sit in economy plus for free and we settled in for a relaxing flight that would hopefully include some sleep. Unfortunately for us and the other two hundred or so people on the plane there was a kid two rows down for us who screamed for three solid hours. Now to clarify: this wasn't a baby. This was a kid who was about four years old. Old enough for his parents to tell him to STFU or otherwise discipline him or find out what the fuck was wrong with him that would make him scream for THREE HOURS. But the parents were clearly not interested and just say there and did. nothing. So let's just say that we didn't get a lot of sleep on our flight to London. But we wouldn't let it get us down, and we connected to our flight to Edinburgh, finally got some sleep on that hour long flight, and arrived at Edinburgh airport around 3 in the afternoon.

And then it was time for adventures in driving on the wrong side of the road! Since we had rented a car to get us around...someone was going to have to drive it and Chris stepped up. I had borrowed my Mom's GPS and downloaded the UK maps (since renting it from the car rental company was super expensive) so we thought we were good to go. Chris actually took to driving on the left pretty well and did really great on the roundabouts. But....nothing is ever easy.

Turns out Edinburgh was hosting the Great Edinburgh Run the day after we arrived and there were unannounced road closures all over the place. PLUS there seemed to be some kind of epic construction project going on downtown and half the city was dug up and inaccessible. So our GPS was...kind of useless once we hit the downtown area. The apartment we rented was right off the Royal Mile (more on that later) so we had to rely on my memory of the city from 10 years ago and Wendy's memory from her one day stay the year prior. But finally FINALLY we made it and pulled into Old Tollbooth Wynd (for reals). After a bit of running about to actually find the entrance to the apartment we were settled in our home for two nights.

And then it was time for food! Since we were right off the Royal Mile, there were tons of pubs and restaurants but we wanted a taste of real Scotland. The famous The World's End pub was just a few blocks away, so we took to the street and had some good old fashioned pub grub...along with a pint of cider of course.

That's enough chitchat isn't it? Let's get to the pictures!

 Me, Chris, and Kent outside the apartment on Old Tollbooth Wynd


 Me and Wendy with our pints at the pub!


 My steak and ale pie (i.e. stew) with chips, beans, and yorkshire pudding! It was AMAZING, even though it looks kind of gross. I think that's true of most Scottish food, actually.


Outside The World's End

 Wendy in our apartment


Our super nice kitchen!

Coming up next: we dive into the history of Edinburgh and learn about the castle and the Royal Mile!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Madonna! Live! And in Concert!

Meh.

Look, nobody is more disappointed by this than me. I'm the one who spent the money on the concert ticket (though luckily not a ton) and looked forward to the concert for months. But in the end....meh.

When you go to a Madonna concert, you expect fun. And joy. And love. But what we got was a dark, high-concept show with guns, and blood, and weird depressing versions of a lot of her classic hits. I love Open Your Heart, but I didn't really understand why she felt the need to perform it with just some weird tribal drums in the background. And don't even get me started of the weird stripped-down version of Like a Virgin that had her rolling around in the floor and on a piano...but not in a sexy way. More in a "I am so depressed I could kill myself any second" kind of way.

 Too many guns. Ugh.

I think the problem here is that Madonna is still really bitter about her divorce. The album she was touring to support (MDNA) has some serious revenge-style fantasy songs going on, but at its heart it's a fun electronic album full of thumping beats that make you want to just get up and dance. But the concert was dull of dark imagery like Madonna shooting all her back-up dancers in the head during Gang Bang. That's not really what I signed up for.

I don't want to give you the impression it was all bad, there were some genuinely amazing and yes, fun, moments. Especially when Madonna broke out the baton twirling and the flying drumline. Oh, and Vogue was performed in grand 1990s style, complete with flailing limbs and some awesome catwalking.

THIS is what I'm talking about. Go get 'em, girl!

But for the most part, these moments were few and far between. I don't go to a Madonna show for some high-falutting performance art. Put on the cone bra, sing a few songs, and get over it. It's kind of hard for someone who had to work an entire day of overtime to afford your concert ticket to relate to your multi-million dollar divorce issues.

Sorry, Madge, but I'll stick with Lady Gaga, thanks.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Neil Gaiman!

Neil Gaiman is my favorite author. If you have not heard of him, 1) WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??? and 2) just go to wikipedia and read about his awesomeness, ok?

I was extremely excited to hear that Neil (we're totally on a first name basis) was going to accept an award during the George Mason Fall for the Book festival, and would be speaking at an award presentation on the evening of Friday, September 28. Tickets were free (!!!), all you had to do was email and make a reservation. As if that wasn't exciting enough, Goldstar had a deal where for $30 you could get access to a pre-award reception where Neil would make an appearance.

Um, hello, OF COURSE I WENT.

So along with my friend Jays (who is as big a Neil Gaiman fan as me) we rolled up to the Mason Inn on the George Mason campus ready for a night of awesomeness. We mingled with some of the other folks at the reception before Neil arrived, and talked about how we were clearly the coolest people in the room. That's kind of the double-edged sword with these kind of events; everyone at them is a huge nerd which usually means I rate among the coolest--which should give you an idea of the level of nerdom we are talking about here. Of course, that also means I have to spend the evening talking to the most socially awkward people on the planet; I thought the kid in front me in the buffet line was going to cry from anxiety when he knocked over some napkins.

And then things got amazing--at a fashionably late 6:15, Neil Gaiman walked into the room and was immediately swamped by people asking him to sign things. I thought I would just want to hang back and be content with watching...I always feel bad being one of "those people" who goes up to celebrities and asks them for stuff. But, hey, that's why Neil was at this thing, right? In the end, the temptation proved too great and since I had my favorite book, Neverwhere, along....Jays and I joined the throng.

It turns out we only needed to wait a couple minutes before Neil's attention turned to us. By this point, my supposed coolness had totally evaporated and I was sweaty nervous mess. Our entire interaction with Neil lasted about 30 seconds, which was time enough for me to squeak out, "it's so nice to meet you!" and "this is Neverwhere, it's my favorite!" and the brilliant, "thank you so much!" The people standing behind us were nice enough to take a picture with me, Jays, and Neil...


...and I resisted the temptation to photo bomb some of the other people having their picture taken. I thought I showed remarkable restraint. 


Here's my signed copy of Neverwhere! It says "Maggie--Mind the Gap--Neil Gaiman"

After we got our books signed and extracated ourselves from the mob, Jays and I decided to head over to the Center for the Arts where the actual awards presentation and speech would take place. We met up with our friends Zach and Lauren and settled into seats for what was sure to be pure magic.

After a mercifully brief intro from the director of the Fall for the Books festival and the Mayor of Fairfax, Neil took the stage! He explained that there was a plan for the evening (you guys know how much I love a plan) that would entail him reading an exerpt from his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, that was due out next year.  He would then answer some questions that had earlier been written on cards by some of the members of the audience. And then he would wrap up the evening by reading a new short story, since he felt bad only reading a portion of a book that we would have to wait a long time to find out the ending.

If you haven't had the pleasure of hearing Neil read one of his books, then I suggest you get yourself to the nearest public library or computer and get a copy of one of his audiobooks. Because he reads most of them himself and reads them better than most professional actors.

The exerpt he read from the new novel was the very beginning. The protagonist is a seven year old boy and as things begin, he is slightly grumpy since he has just lost his bedroom. His family is struggling financially and have let out his bedroom in an attempt to earn a bit more money. After a shocking surprise one morning at the end of the lane, the boy finds himself in the company of the three women who live at the Hempstock Farm. Lettie, the youngest of the three at eleven years old, is convinced that the duck pond on the edge of the farm is actually an ocean. All three ladies have...unusual gifts, and I don't think I am giving too much away when I tell you that they are witches. After finishing the reading, Neil stated that he had just emailed the finished draft of the novel to his editor at 3:30 that morning and it contained some of the scariest stuff he had ever written. It is decidedly NOT a children's story.

Neil then moved on to answering some of the questions that were posed to him by audience members. He had divided the cards into three piles, "ones I probably will answer, ones I probably won't answer because they're silly....and questions about Doctor Who."

I didn't manage to write down the first question (derp), but the answer spun into an entertaining story about Coraline. Neil mentioned that Coraline becoming a children's book was really an accident--and was all because a child lied. After he finished the book (which took 10 years), he provided a copy to his agent and wasn't sure if it was too scary to be sold as children's literature. She told him she would read it to her kids and based on their response they would send it to the adult editor or the children's editor. The next day she called Neil and told him that her children, especially her daughter, absolutely loved it. The book was then sent to the children's editor and the rest as they say is history. Years later, while attending the opening of the Coraline off-Broadway musical, Neil found himself chatting with the agent's daughter who was now a grown-up 16 years old. She mentioned her mother's initial reading of Coraline to her...and how she was absolutely terrified but didn't say anything because she had to know how it ended.

More questions:

"Have you ever been a villain in someone else's story? If you were going to be, what kind of villain would you want to be? PS: I'm the one writing the story"
--Neil responded that he was surprised to see that he was the bad guy in The Simpsons episode featuring his guest spot, The Book Job. He seemed delighted by this development, and I got the feeling that Neil secretly always wants to be the villain.

"When you write, are you like a nine year old putting together a motorbike in his room?"
--YES. "I know these parts go together somehow."

"Why are you not signing books tonight?"
--"Take a look around you and make a hasty head count. I have been told there are 1800 people here tonight [applause] and last time I did a signing for that number of people we didn't finish until 3 in the morning. And I didn't feel like doing that tonight." He then promised to come back which prompted more wild applause.

"Why?"
--"Why not?"

"Which of your books did you most enjoy writing?"
--This question had an interesting answer. Neil noted that the ones that he enjoyed writing the most were also the ones that he enjoyed the least. "There were amazing highs and terrible lows." These are the books that prompted calls to his agent at midnight with complaints of "why are you making me do this? I could have been a gardener!" To which the agent replied, "no you couldn't." He also mentioned that he really enjoyed writing his new novel since he got to try so much new stuff in the narrative. And of course, he loved American Gods. The writing process was described as "fun and horrible."

"What is the best advice you have for getting started writing?"
--"Sit down. If you plan to write with a pencil, make sure it is sharpened and you have paper. If you plan to write with a pen make sure you have refills and paper. If you write with a computer, turn it on and start up your word processing program. And make sure you have an automatic save program set up." Basically, type the first word and keep going. According to Neil, the people who become successful writers are the ones who keep writing and don't stop. There's no time when you get a postcard in the mail that says, "Congratulations! You are now a real writer!" and he won't show up on your doorstep to welcome you into the club. You just have to keep going.

"What were your favorite books as a child?
--At age 7: The Chronicles of Narnia
   At age 8: The Hobbit
   At age 9: Stormbringer
   At age 10-11: the first two books of the Lord of the Rings, since those were the only ones of the trilogy his       school library had.
  At age 12, Neil won his school's English writing prize and his reward was any book he wanted. He asked for Return of the King.

"Which Doctor (one through eleven) would you want to travel around in the TARDIS with?"
--Doctor #2, Patrick Troughton. He was my Doctor."

"Do you ever feel the basic elements of your books are too formulaic?"
--"No, I don't really feel like that. I think you can reduce anything to a one line description but it's not the same thing as the actual story. 'A normal person finds something weird and discovers life is bigger on the inside'--but the devil is in the details."

And in response to a question, we learned Gaiman's Law: no matter how beautiful your story, when the new book arrives and you crack it open to a random page and look down the page...you will find a typo.

And then Doctor Who questions were answered! We learned that Neil is definitely writing another Doctor Who episode (!!!) hopefully to air in the current series, but it could get pushed back if history repeats itself. It will NOT feature the TARDIS as a human, and Neil wrote a line into his last episode to make sure that couldn't happen again. When she says, "this is where we talked."

Neil then moved on to the final portion of the night, a reading of a new short story. The story was called Click Clack Rattlebags and was EXTREMELY spooky and scary. Prior to reading the tale, Neil mentioned that this is his favorite time of year...when the trees become more and more skeletal and shop windows become full of things that he loves, like giant spiders (yick).

All in all, it was pretty much a perfect evening full of amazing stories, both read and told. There is no doubt that Neil is a fantastic story-teller, in written prose or just when talking to a crowd. We were all spell-bound and the phrase "you could hear a pin drop" seems particularly appropriate during the readings. He couldn't have been nicer, more gracious, or more happy to be there doing what he loves most: telling stories. I feel extremely fortunate that I got the chance to meet him (even if only for 30 seconds) and thank him for sharing his stories with all of us.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Bridge Weekend

"The real test of a bridge player isn't in keeping out of trouble, but in escaping once he's in."

I started playing bridge in the spring of 2001 when I was studying abroad in Scotland. I was there with my friends Paul, Andi, and Alyssa, and we were looking for something to do one night. "Do you guys want to play bridge?" Paul innocently asked. And we never looked back.

We played everywhere. In pubs, on trains, in hostels, but mostly in the common room of my dorm (David Russell Hall or DRH as those in the know would call it). Chris came to visit us for a week or so in the spring and we brought him into the fold. We took our little bridge club back to the States with us, and that's how I met Selvi and Sarah; they lived on the same hall as Andi and Alyssa and would come hang out in the Old Dominion common area at William and Mary when we would get together and play.

We added even more people to the group; Eric and Pete from the concert band, who helped us carry on the club when most everyone else graduated in 2002. I stayed for law school and we brought in Kristin and Jennifer my roommate to keep the club going. I can't remember how often we would meet, but it was at least once a week and usually involved heavy drinking of some kind. Which meant our scores and strategy were somewhat fast and loose. Just like your Mom. Oh, did I mention the your Mom jokes??

But as these things tend to happen, we all started drifting away from one another. People got married and moved, it became harder and harder to get four people in the same room to play in person and life kept getting in the way of playing online in the evenings. So we finally decided to do something about it. We rallied the troops, picked a weekend and a point on the map in between, and agreed to meet up for a weekend of fun and well-mannered frivolity. Well, perhaps not that well-mannered.

"Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand." 

Since we had 10 people getting together and needed room enough to actually play, we decided to rent a house in the Massanutten ski resort off I-81 in Virginia near Luray Caverns. It was perfect; enough bedrooms for everyone, a hot tub, a large dining room table, and a card table and folding chairs. And since we had 8 players, we had just enough people to get two games going.

Of course seeing everyone (Paul, his wife Anna, Andi and her husband Jeff, Selvi, Chris, Kent, Eric, and Doug) was the real highlight, I was a bit worried that we would get there and people would just want to sit around and not much bridge-playing would happen. Well, it turns out I was half-right; there was a lot of sitting around but that's because we were playing bridge all weekend! From the moment we had four people who were awake and in the same room until around 2 in the morning, bridge was happening. Sure we took breaks for food, the hot tub, and to watch the Olympics, but for the most part it was all bridge, all the time. And it was AWESOME.

We kept score best we could, but all the games were fluid with people changing partners constantly and moving from table to table. Basically, we were giant bridge sluts. But it kept things interesting and it gave everyone a chance to play with everyone else. Over the years we had cemented certain partnerships: for example, first me and Andi and then me and Chris, but everyone was fair game this weekend!

"We had a partnership misunderstanding. My partner assumed I knew what I was doing."

All in all, it was too much fun to make it a one-time thing. At the very least it will become a yearly tradition, but I think we could shoot for every six months. And if you want to get in on the fun, it's never too late to learn! The actual play of bridge is very similar to spades, the only real difference is that the trump suit can change based on bidding that takes place before the playing starts. Of course, you never really learn all the tricks of the trade. Just remember: points above the line don't count. 


 The scene of the crime, Moccasin Lodge


 In the hot tub! From left to right, Selvi, Me, Eric, Doug, Paul, Anna, and Chris


 Two tables of bridge at once!


 Group photo!


Me and Anna in the hot tub haze.

On the Radio

Ever since I was a little kid, I've spent my mornings here in DC  listening to the Jack Diamond Morning Show on MIX 107.3. They used to air a "best of the Jack Diamond" show on Saturday mornings, and we would listen to it in the car when my Dad would pick us up from my Mom's for the weekend. So let's just say that me and Jack go way back. Though he is completely unaware of our lifelong connection.

There have been a lot of changes to DC radio in the decades since then. See ya, 99.1, WHFS! It was nice knowing you, Billy Bush! But Jack Diamond always remains the same...and I have listened to him for around 20 years or so.

Every Friday, the Jack Diamond show brings in a live audience (of about 10 people) for Free 4 All Friday. It's always been one of the things I wanted to do, but never seemed to get around to actually calling in to get the tickets, taking the day off, and getting off my ass and doing it. But this past week, I knew I was going to have Friday off (since I was headed out of town for a bridge club reunion...more about that later) and I wasn't going to have to leave until noon. I decided the time was right, and I was ready to be on the radio!

It was way easier to get tickets than I expected; I called Monday morning and told the nice lady who answered how I really wanted to come in for Free 4 All Friday and had been a long time listener. She took my name, age, and email and put me on the list. And that, as they say, was that. And since I am not ever one to go it alone, my friend Chris was along for the ride.

The first instruction we were given was the hardest: we had to be at the studio by 5:15 am. This is, after all, a morning show, which meant that my alarm went off at 3:30 in the morning. I went to bed early the night before to try to get about 6 hours of sleep, but I have to confess I was so excited that I don't think I got more than 3. Still, I was up and out of the house to get Chris by 4:30 and we made it to the studio up near Tenleytown with time to spare. Then we sat in the building lobby until 5:30 when Brooke, who does the traffic on the show, came down and brought us up!

The offices for the station are smaller than I thought (at least as far as we could see).We went right into the recording studio where the gang (Brooke, Ali, and Jimmy Alexander) were all ready and waiting. Unfortunately Jack Diamond himself was not in attendance; he was sick and getting ready to go on vacation. There was some disappointment, but everyone was so nice and funny, that we all had a great time.

In the recording studio!

There were 10 people in the "audience" that morning and everyone was very nice. Maybe it was the early hour, but some people seemed to have really low energy, but you guys know me. I basically took it upon myself to get everyone chatting and excited, and before too long we were getting the "quiet down" signal from Jimmy when we were coming back from commercial. break. We can't have the audience taking over the show!

And the best part was, Chris and I actually made it on the show! Chris got to play the Agree/Disagree game on the air and won a $50 giftcard to the new casino in Anne Arundel, and I got a chance to tell a story about "the craziest thing I ever saw." I self-censored and told a story about a deer trying to leap over a car*, since I figured stories about drug use in Amsterdam were not going to go over well on a family-friendly morning show. Just to clarify: it would have been a story about someone else's drug use, not mine. But still. Methinks shrooms and morning radio are not the best combination.

Chris waiting to play Agree/Disagree

I think because Jack wasn't around there was less on air chit chat between the other hosts and the audience, and more music. But that meant more chances for us to talk with the hosts during songs and at commercial breaks. Everyone was just really fun, wanted to know about the people in the audience, and happy talking. We stuck around until 9:00 and then were set free for the rest of the day. Oh, and did I mention they had most excellent catering from a local restaurant? Definitely worth getting up at 3:30 in the morning! And you're not going to hear me say that about a lot of things.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part. Everyone in the audience gets a "goody bag" that included concert tickets and other fun stuff. But one person wins a Grand Prize...and it was me! I got a free overnight stay at the Anne Arundel casino (on the executive level, ooh la la), two free tickets to the buffet, and $50 in free slots play. SCORE.

All in all, it was a really fun morning and I hope I get the chance to go back and see the show again...and this time meet Jack Diamond!

 Me and Chris with the morning show gang: Brooke, Ali, and Jimmy. And yes, those are Maryland flag shorts. No accounting for taste.

* Here's the entire crazy story about the deer: I was driving to my Mom's house which is a pretty wooded area of Alexandria. While on one of the main streets, a fawn suddenly darted into the road but managed to avoid the long line of cars. The fawn was followed immediately by Mama Deer, who made the decision to jump over a station wagon that was driving in front of me; she almost cleared it, but ended up getting clipped on the hip by the station wagon's luggage rack (stupid luggage rack) and flipped over the entire car landing on the other side of the road. It was like Olympic gymnast level of flipping. The deer just got up and ran off, and all the drivers were left looking at each other with a "the hell?" expression before continuing our drive.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Zombies, Run!

It's been a little more than a year and a half since I first took up running with the Couch to 5K program. People ask me all the time "do you enjoy running?"

Umm. To be totally honest....not really. When I am in the act of running mostly what I am thinking is, "oh god oh god please make this stop." I'm not enjoying the running endorphins or whatever--which btw, I am convinced are actually a myth. Because I have yet to experience any kind of runner's high. But it's more how I feel after running that makes it all worth while. I feel strong, and I am still genuinely surprised that I'm able to run at all. When I started I could barely make it for a full minute, but it's amazing how quickly your body adjusts and gets strong. And I guess I kind of lied about the endorphin thing--at the end of my first 5K I felt amazing, like I had just accomplished something really special. But still, one morning of feeling good does not a runner's high make.

ANYWAY, the point is, running is hard. In fact, the hardest part is working up the motivation. Sometimes you just want to stay on the couch, you know? So I'll take anything I can to help me get my ass outside or down to the treadmill--because I only run outside if the temperature is between 50 and 80 degrees. Otherwise, Homey don't play that.

Enter Zombies, Run, stage left.

Zombies, Run is an app that was originally only for iPhone, but has expanded into the Droid universe. It's a game, radio drama, and running tool all in one. Basically, you play the "character" of a runner for a small outpost of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. You go out on missions to collect supplies and other more mysterious items. Between songs from your own playlist, voice actors play the part of other people in the town (called Abeltownship) who dole out personal stories and clues to a larger mystery. Because not everyone in Abeltownship is who they seem...and it looks like you might even learn about how and why the zombie virus began. The longer you run, the more supplies you collect, and the more you can build up Abeltownship and support its growing population.

Believe it or not, the app actually has me looking forward to getting out and running. I want to hear what's going to happen next with the characters and each mission includes more clues about what started the zombie plague and whether someone is working against the survivors. There have been a couple updates since I downloaded it which have improved some bugs--there weren't really any instructions before, but now the game contains a "codex" that explains the who, what, where, and provides explanations of all the items you pick up.

Each mission lasts between 25-30 minutes, but you can keep running as long as you want. The game will continue to play songs from your playlist and you can still pick up items as you go (though the number decreases when the mission is completed). There's also more acting--once the mission is over you get to listen to portions of a radio show some of the survivors have started. It doesn't really add anything to the overall plot, but it's cute.

I recommend Zombies, Run wholeheartedly to anyone who likes to run or is trying to get into running. If you used this along with the Couch to 5K plan, I think you would have a really great way to stay motivated. If I remember correctly, the app cost $7.99 but is well worth the price. The first "season" contains 23 missions and I imagine they will release more in the future.


So tie on your shoes, plug in your earphones, and head out the gates of Abeltownship. And remember. RUN!

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Impossible Storm

It's easy to get caught up in our lives; the hustle and bustle of work, family, shopping, dating, etc. ad nauseum. We rush to and fro with to do lists that seem impossible to conquer and then beat ourselves up when we can't get everything done. Or is that just me? Anyway, we're busy.

And then Mother Nature comes along and bitch slaps us but good.

Friday night, June 29, 2012 was a quiet night. I was headed to New York City the next day (to see the play Harvey with Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory) so I stayed in and went to bed early, around 10:30. I was just drifting off around 10:40 when I heard the wind pick up. And then lightning started flashing. And not just regular lightning; a LOT of continuous lightning. And then it started raining. Pouring. Actually, deluging.

The lights flickered. "No way," I thought. "It's like 100 degrees outside. I need AC." Cue the power going out. And as as soon as the lights went out, the fire alarm went off. I immediately assumed the building had been struck by lightning, since the fire alarms had never before gone off the other times the power went out. I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes (all by the light of my cell phone) and went into the living room. And then I got a good look at the tempest outside. It was like a hurricane, and my response was basically, "you have got to be kidding me. They want us to go outside in THAT?"

But I sucked it up like a good girl and started down the (16 flights) of stairs. I made it down to floor 8 when the alarm turned off. Ok, great. Back up the stairs and into the non-air conditioned apartment. The rest of the night was...uncomfortable. I'm on the top floor of my building and as you know, hot air rises. It also took me a few hours to calm down from the adrenaline rush of the alarm and stairs fiasco.

In the end it turns out I was one of the more fortunate ones. I spend almost the entire day Saturday in NYC so the loss of power wasn't that big an inconvenience. It still wasn't on when I got home at 12:30 that morning, but I just went right back into the car and headed to Mom's house, since she was kind enough to let me crash. The power was restored as of 3:00 in the morning on Sunday, and the AC kicked back in Sunday evening. A lot of people had it a lot worse--going until the middle of the week before getting power. Let's just say that Pepco has a lot to answer for.

So what caused this? According to The Washington Post, the storm in question is called a derecho. Apparently they occur about every four years in the DC area, but trust me when I tell you I haven't seen a storm like this before. It came out of nowhere, developing only hours before it rushed into DC. Blah blah jet stream above a "heat dome" blah blah, point is, the storm developed in the Midwest (OF COURSE) and tore through DC creating winds above 70 miles per hour. I think I heard somewhere that it was the worst damage DC has ever had outside of a hurricane or tropical storm. Exciting! Except, you know, not. I think the current death toll from the storm is something like 17 people, mostly due to being hit by falling trees. Ouch.

Like most storms, the people I know weathered this one none the worse for wear. A lot of people lost the contents of their fridges and freezers (my freezer survived since the power was only out for 30 hours) and I didn't end up having to huff it up the stairs at all. So, count me among the lucky ones.

Still, it doesn't mean the whole thing didn't suck. In fact, I had a truly epic meltdown on Saturday night when I got home and saw the lights were still out. Let's just say the words "bullshit" and "this is not the third world" were bandied about. I know feel kind of ashamed of my reaction, like I said, a lot of people had it worse, but it just goes to show how we come to rely on our electrical grid for the most basic of comforts. As soon as those lights go off, it's like civilization shuts down.

So I guess what I am really saying is start preparing for the zombie apocalypse now. Because when the lights go out, you're not going to know what to do when your cell phone batteries run out, the radio stations shut down, and you are all alone.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Yard sale 2012

Ah, summer. The days are longer and hotter and hotter.

I guess I like summer...as much as I can like a season that turns my hair into a gnarly frizzball, makes sweat pour out of my glands as soon as I step out the door, and makes me turn as red as a cherry tomato unless I slather every inch of exposed skin in sunscreen.

Summers were a lot more fun when I was a kid; when the days were filled with alternating trips to the library and the pool and I could stay up until 3 in the morning reading or hanging with my friends. Oh, and there were slurpees! Now summer means having to slog six blocks from the metro station to the work in oppressive humidity and trying desperately to fall asleep in a stifling bedroom when the air conditioning goes out.

But there is one thing about summer that I really love and that's the annual Riley family yard sale! Since my grandmother passed away a few years ago, my Aunt has done an amazing job on working to clear out their house, which let's be honest, was pretty much stuffed to the gills. That means that there is plenty of stuff to put in a yard sale every year, and when we get the rest of our family and friends in on the action we are talking about a truly epically sized sale.

This was our second year of the sale, and it was even bigger than last year! We had the same large cast of helpers, but I think we had even more people come out and even more stuff got moved. The people tend to come in waves, and I was of course still shocked about the cheapness of people (no you cannot have that $500 armchair for $20 you FOOL). Of course the haggling and meeting new people--especially the cute guy who moved across the street from my Aunt--is fun, but the best part is hanging with your friends and watching all your old crap move out the door.

And I didn't get sunburned. VICTORY. 


 Now all we need our customers.

Ah, there they are!

 The yard sale helpers relax in the shade!

 Me and Selvi

 Mark your calendars for the first weekend of June 2013--the third annual Riley family yard sale!