Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of Year Assessment

Back in Peru in January, I’d felt optimistic enough to buy a vase. After all, I was going to change my life in 2009. I’d be needing that vase for all the flowers I was going to get. Right?

This always happens when I travel. I meet people. I find that I am normal after all—and then I got back to sitting in my tiny office day in and out, seldom meeting new people, and wondering how it is that the other folks I know seem to have such full social calendars.

Eleven months of this living passed quickly, and at the end of another year marked primarily by its lack of distinction, I find myself exactly where I was when the year started.

Though I now own a vase. Guess that’s a start.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Dinner

So there I was, hanging out at the National Airport Holiday Inn on Christmas night. Outside the freezing rain was hammering Arlington, Virginia, and inside I was hungry. What sort of food could I get? The hotel restaurant was closed but they gave me a list of nearby restaurants that were open on Christmas. Most of them were Chinese, but there was a pub down the street that was open.

If it weren’t pouring rain, I’d have walked. But I didn’t want wet shoes for the plane. To pack them in my bag would be even worse. I drove, but of course it’s an urban area with a lot of snow on the ground. There was nowhere to park.

I wandered up Four Mile Run in my Hyundai. Would Fairlington Pizza still be there? It was—but it was closed.

The McDonald’s that used to be Roy Rogers caught my eye. Inside people milled about and the lights were on. But when I got closer, I could see that it was some kind of party for an Indian family. That’s okay. I didn’t really need a Big Mac.

The Bradlee Chinese restaurant that I’d last been to in 1983 for sweet-and-sour pork beckoned to me. I ended up having Christmas soup at a place I used to go to during lunch from TC Williams High School. I remembered it being crappy back then. It was much, much better now.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

That Looks Familiar

I left Mom’s early on Christmas afternoon, exactly when the freezing rain that had been predicted for early that morning had decided to begin.

Carefully edging my crappy rental Hyundai down the icy driveway, I found my way out to the main road and headed northeast, sticking to highways and driving slowly. At dusk, I got off I-95 and headed south on Route 1 to Crystal City.

I’d used some of my bank account points (like frequent flyer miles) to book a free Holiday Inn room at National Airport, choosing that hotel for its free wifi and general airport accessibility. That is, I knew where it was.

And when I pulled into the Holiday Inn parking structure, I realized why its location was so ingrained in my subconscious.

It’s where I was hit by a car in my early teens.

I’d frequently bike through Del Ray to the bike path at Four Mile Run. If I continued on from there, I could lock up my bike in Crystal City and see a movie, visit the video arcade, or catch the Metro into DC, where there were all kinds of free things for teenager to do. I could go to museums at the Smithsonian, to the zoo, just wander around Georgetown or Eastern Market, or I could roam the “secret” passages under Capitol Hill, exploring the connections between the House and Senate office buildings and the US Capitol.

This knowledge would come in handy later in college when I was a courier for Associated Press. But I’m sure today’s local kids don’t have this same privilege. By the time I was working on Capitol Hill, ID badges were necessary to go just about anywhere indoors.

The last time I did this—and I don’t remember the year but am guessing I was around 13 or 14—I’d ridden north on the Route 1 sidewalk, and at the Holiday Inn, a driver was racing out of the driveway, anxiously looking left at oncoming traffic and hurrying to pull his car out in a gap. It didn’t occur to him to glance right in case of pedestrians. Certainly it would not have occurred to him to check for cyclists. I wouldn’t have been on the sidewalk at all if there had been any other way to cover this mile in between the path and the local roads.

I could see the whole incident playing out split-seconds before it did, but there wasn’t time to stop. I veered into oncoming traffic as I braked, and he slammed into me.

Then my ten-speed Huffy was flat and twisted on Route 1 and then I was scrambling up, scraped but unhurt, and desperate to get out of the highway. I stumbled onto the sidewalk. The driver was shocked. He stopped his car, got out, and was nervously stuttering.

“I didn’t see you. I didn’t even know you were there. Here, take twenty dollars. Call me if it’s more to fix the bike. Here’s my number.”

He wrote down his name and number on a scrap of paper. I pulled my bike up on the sidewalk, watching him drive away. I looked down at the scrap. I would never call that number, even though it was well over $100 to fix the bike. That bike would later be stolen from my porch in Ohio from Thanos when he was staying in my apartment while I was on a co-op in some other state. But by then, it had a broken pedal and c’mon, it was a kid’s Huffy. It was time to move on to a better bicycle anyway.

And here I was now, checking into that same Holiday Inn. The restaurant where the Other Marie and I used to go in later high school years—for their delicious peppermint ice cream—was closed for Christmas. I’d checked in but I’d have to go back out in my car in the freezing rain to find some chow.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

And More Snow

I don't know where my sister got a truck and I never even noticed that the reason the auto insurance I pay every month went up because she'd traded in her whatever-it-was-fake-Jeep for a truck, but can you believe what the back of the truck looked like on Christmas Eve? Damn. That was a lotta snow they had.

Though I guess it hides whatever crap is under it.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Icy Road

My mother took this photo last week. It's the small road that leads up a hill to the house she and her husband live in.

Right now the snow is gone, but the road is covered in ice. I got up it in my rental car with just a little slipping, but Mom's Mazda stayed at the bottom of the hill the night before last. Her husband's 4WD makes it up and down the hill with no problem.

Tonight I have to drive to Washington DC to drop off my rental, stay in an airport hotel, and get on a six a.m. flight.

I hope the forecast for freezing rain doesn't cause me problems.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Long Commute

Months ago, I'd splurged and bought a train ticket for the holidays. My mother and her husband live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The setting is beautiful but it's tough to get to. The Greyhound line through was canceled a few years ago and the train to nearby Staunton only runs a few days a week. And since I have to fly out of DC's National Airport at six on Sunday morning, I had to be able to get away late on Christmas. The train doesn't do that. And I couldn't drive my own car since I was flying back into Newark from my post-Christmas trip.

So I'd get to DC first and rent a car from there. I used points from one of my credit cards to book and pay for the car. I checked the Boltbus and Megabus sites... $20 one-way to Washington DC. But I'm lazy and it's slightly easier and faster to get to the train station in Newark from my apartment, so I forked over an additional $50 for the train.

The Amtrak _is_ more comfy than the bus. But the bus has wifi so it's kind of a trade-off.

I'd been packing and planning my post-Mom's excursion for months but somehow, the night before found me in a panic. I hadn't packed, hadn't graded my students, still had a ton of day-job work to do, needed to prepare my Hackintosh netbook with the right software and so on. I got to sleep at 1:30, woke up at 5, and made the train. Made the earlier train, in fact, which was the previous train running an hour late.

I was out of Union Station by noon and at National Airport a few minutes later. I was renting from Dollar.

My first surprise was the cost of rental car insurance. I have Amex premium rental car insurance, which means that normally I just pay for my car with my Amex, which then triggers a $24.95 additional fee that is primary, comprehensive rental car insurance. One fee per rental, not per day.

Well the Dollar lowest option was $29.

A day.

Bejesus. I might as well have rented the damn thing without mileage and used my Amex.

Then there were the taxes which were my responsibility. The total for my free car? $140.

AND I'd called a few days ahead to check. The agent had confirmed my reservation, said I was prepaid and only the insurance was my responsibility. And then had been cagey about the amount.

Now I knew why.

It took an hour to get the car, because for reasons I'll never understand, the desk agents must click a lot of very important buttons on the keyboard. Then the car keys were missing. Then the car wasn't in the right space. Then I found the car that matched the keys, but it didn't match the car on the contract. Then they found the RIGHT keys, but the car was in a totally different space, and finally I got in the right car. Someone had been cleaning it with something utterly toxic and it smelled like my face was being sprayed with Lysol for the next two hours, which meant I had to drive with the windows down and stop several times to get out of the car. That was some nasty shit. I thought I'd pass out... but it might have just been my lack of sleep the night before.

But in the end, I slid up the mountain roads to the Fonzie Apartment.

Now I just have to hope the weather cooperates for me to get out of here on Friday evening.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nature's Damage

Since this is totally disgusting, I made the photo teensy. If you really want to see it, you can click and look at my bruised toenail in all its glory.

What is this? This is one of two bruised big toes that I am sporting, and have been since Roberta, Kraiger, and I went hiking at the end of October. My shoes were too narrow (I guess—I didn't feel it at the time until it was too late) and coming downhill somehow resulted in these bruises.

Friends who have had similar bruises tell me I have 8-12 months of ugly toenails ahead of me. At the moment, I have painted them a dark red.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Atlas Rankings

What the hell? I checked out the sales on my 3-D Atlas over the weekend. Look at the bottom price! Ha!

Here's a close-up.

I will happily sell every single one of my books for $999 each. Let me know if you are interested.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bring On the Blizzard

I rushed over to Target last night—and the power went out. Nevertheless, I was able to acquire the trail mix I was there for. I mean legally. No, I didn't take this opportunity to loot.

Then this morning, I hurried to do my laundry and pick up my supplies. Because the East Coast is due to get slammed with some serious snow. Mom is already snowed in and the blizzard is heading our way.

Later, I took a look at my supplies and had to laugh at myself. Here is what I acquired for a snow day:

-one golden apple
-one pear
-two bananas
-one jar of Goya pico de gallo
-a tub of arborio rice
-some blueberries

I'm ready, obviously. Bring it on!

Though so far, the snow isn't terribly impressive.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Atlas in Korean

I just got in the 3-D atlas in Korean! It looks so cool. And has me thinking about Korean food for lunch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Secret Project

Here's a sneak peek at a secret project I have been working on.

It's not finished yet. I still have to add some video, some recipes, and maybe a "What Bundt Cake Are You" quiz for Facebook.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Season's Greetings

Happy holidays from my Catalonian Obama, Castro, and TinTin nativity caganers, pink hippos, and all of us here at Bundt Zombie HQ.

P.S. I feel like an idiot for doing this but I just censored this for fear of getting one of those "mature readers" labels slapped on my blog. Ha. Very silly.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Travel Laptop

See this cute new Dell Mini 10V netbook? It's teensy. See how small it is compared to my MacBook?

Now look what I did to it last night.

I used these instructions and got myself a brand-new Mac for $279 plus the cost of Snow Leopard. (The base cost of the Dell laptop was $249 on Black Friday, but I got some add-ons.)

Before you get all excited and think, "I can have a new Mac too," stop right there. I have a lot of Macs and wouldn't recommend a netbook as a primary computer. I'm going to use this for writing and travel Internet. I'll upload photos from it and blog from it. I'll carry it to the writing center and write (I hope). I'll throw it into my backpack and take it on long, dusty expeditions that I shouldn't take my MacBook on. Because if I destroy or lose a $279 Mac, it's not the same as destroying or losing a $1200 Mac.

I have yet to fully road-test this, of course. I'm going to give it a try over New Year's, when I head out of town to an obscure, non-wired destination.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wee Pals

My pal Denise helps out at a local elementary school on art class days.

Just before Thanksgiving, she told me about a conversation she overheard between two of the students. The students were writing out what they were thankful for.

Kid #1, whose background I don't know, wrote "I am thankful for Jesus."

Kid #2, an Indian kid, said "Who is Jesus?"

Kid #1 replied simply, "He's God's relative."

Kid #2 nodded and they both went back to work.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Do You Know It's Christmas?

Even if I weren't forced to listen to holiday music every time I go into a supermarket, even if I hadn't stumbled over a 25 percent off on *everything* sale in Macy's shoe department a few days ago, even if I weren't wearily contemplating how I'm going to pay my credit card bills next month, I'd know it was the holiday season by my amazon rankings.

The 3-D children's atlas jumped way up the sales ranks this week. And Dik-Dik, while nowhere near that level, went up the charts by half.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

But Is It Worth It?

Peter tipped me off to a travel writing event happening in London in February.

Dervla Murphy is speaking. And Jan Morris. These aren't people I've ever had a chance to see. I doubt I'll get another chance.

I think... maybe I should go. But I never get anything out of conferences, and it's not like any of the workshops or tutorials will help me. I don't need feedback. I don't have anything to show. I need to sit my ass down and write.

But I could just go as a spectator. Keep my expectations low. I have the frequent flyer miles. I could fly into Barcelona for the day, then go to London for the event. I can't spend more time across the pond due to my obligations as a teacher in February.

But even that is gonna cost me. Even the "free" airfare (into Barcelona and back from London) includes taxes of $129. I can get a cheap room on Priceline or stay with friends, but it all adds up. Quickly. And the conference itself is the most expensive part!

I spent 30 euros on a Barcelona to London cheap airline ticket this morning. Just in case.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ugly Bag

I finished making this bag yesterday afternoon.

Actually, I hate it. I don't like poofy things and the shape of this one is, for whatever reason, repulsive to me. There's not much useful space inside it since the lining is a square inside all this empty poofy space.

But it was for bag class and I felt compelled to finish it once I started it. I can't really give it to anyone since it's really imperfect (the first one always is) and it's such a poofy, unappealing shape anyway. I might put it in my Salvation Army pile.

I do like the fabric but I just can't stand the shape.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Back Away from the Spinach

Most weeknights, I arrive home after ten. That's too late to start cooking if I want to get anything done before I got to sleep.

So I stop at the deli by the train and pick up a salad. It's the kind of deli where you choose your lettuce or spinach, then pick from a counter of fresh veggies and fruits. The deli guy mixes it up for you and then passes it to the cashier.

On Thursday night, I'd been hungrier than usual. And it was getting chilly out.

"What kind of hot food do you have?" The deli guy, who'd started heading towards the salad section when I'd walked in, stopped and pointed to the specials.

"Beef stew, meatloaf, baked chicken, burritos, and two sides - vegetables, potatoes, corn."

"How about... oh, meatloaf, veggies, and potatoes."

He filled up a carry-out tray and handed it to the cashier.

Stunned, she looked at me and sputtered "But I thought you only ate salad!"

Maybe it's time to branch out.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Today's Mission

I worked on this baby quilt for a while today. It's going to be a long time before I know what I'm doing, but I do all right on half-assed quilts.

Day Job Again

Here's the trailer for my job animation. It's better if you watch it here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

New Toy

I'm completely enamored with this new monitor. It was $170 including shipping from the Dell Outlet. Why didn't I do this sooner?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Perils of Gift-Shopping

The problem with shopping for the holidays is that for every three presents I buy, I seem to get one for myself.

Here's my new monitor. I'm going to hook up my laptop to it. I haven't owned a big monitor in many, many years... but having one at work has spoiled me. So now I'll have one at home too.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Train Comin' Round the Bend

I took the train to and from the Shenandoah Valley for the first time ever over Thanksgiving.

I'd never considered it before because the passenger train only runs a few days a week. Usually, I either drive my old car or I take a Boltbus or train to Washington DC and then rent a car from there. Or just whine until my mother and sister agree to drive up and meet me in Alexandria, which is a little more than halfway if I take the train.

I took the Greyhound bus once to Winchester, Virginia (useless tidbit: birthplace of Patsy Cline) but that bus was canceled.

This time, the Amtrak schedule worked out perfectly for my needs and the price wasn't bad either. The train journey itself was long—more than seven hours—but vastly superior to driving, because I could read and sleep.

I took the above photo while waiting for the train to pull into Staunton to head back north to Newark/New York. I forgot to take a photo of the train pulling in, so I stole the below one off my mother's blog.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Small Town VA

To get to and from my mom's in Virginia, I had to take the train to Staunton, Virginia.

I'd never actually stopped in Staunton before, which sits at the base of the Shenandoah Mountains near the crossroads of two major interstates. I walked around for a few minutes before the train came to take me back to the big city.

It was cute.

And here is the view from the Fonzie apartment that I stay in when I'm down south. It's much nicer when there are leaves.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lake House

My mother and her husband scored a beautiful investment property on a lake.

You can see why they bought it. They got it for a great price due to some foreclosure-type situation that I don't totally understand.

But here's the funny thing... while the house is perfectly situated, an hour or so from DC, and has great picture windows, fireplaces, lots of room, and a great room with a peaked ceiling, it was oddly decorated. They'd gotten rid of the pink walls by the time I'd gotten there, but some of the fixtures and rose wallpaper are still in place.

You know how when you first get a house, you plan to make all kinds of changes, and some get made and some don't? I wonder what will end up staying.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lifelike Reproductions!

"Where are we?"

I was sitting in the back seat of my mother's car on Thanksgiving Day. We'd had a nice dinner the night before and had checked out a property she was thinking of buying, about an hour north of where she lives now. My mother was driving and her husband was in the passenger seat.

"You'll know in a minute," she said, smirking. She was up to something.

I thought a minute and then declared my guess.

"... Dinosaurland?"


Of course Dinosaurland is closed on Thanksgiving, but that didn't stop us from pulling over and taking photos in the parking lot.

Here's my Picasa gallery of Dinosaurland photos.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On Holiday

I'm in what I call the Fonzie apartment, above my mother's garage in rural Virginia. Fonzie as in the seventies sitcom "Happy Days." Fonzie lived over the Cunningham's garage.

I took a seven-hour ride on the Amtrak yesterday to get here. The trip was painless enough but I was really ready to get off that train by the end of the journey.

Having my own digs while visiting others makes the whole experience so much easier. And it really is a holiday for me, with nothing to do but read scripts for work and eat when told to.

Here's me, Mom, and Aunt Peggy eating-on-demand last night at the Wayside Inn in Middletown, VA. I swiped the photo off of Mom's blog.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Photos

I bought these handmade stork scissors in Uzbekistan in 2001. And promptly forgot about them until yesterday.

These two supermarket bags are part of my book-designer-bribery-scheme. He doesn't really need to be bribed. I just like to make bags.

I met Stuart and Liz yesterday in Carroll Gardens. We ended up at a wine bar eating fondue. My lactose-intolerance has let up over the years but I still sipped only cranberry juice.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Toy

I got it. I got the Lumix ZS3 so that I can shoot HD video and take photos with the same camera.

I'll have to test it out soon. I apologize for what I'm going to put you through.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fun with Google Images

Here's what Google Images turned up during a moment of procrastination. I'm sure there was more to the sentence if I'd clicked on it, but I liked the shortened version.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Because Cakes Move...

Marc shot this Bundt Day documentary to show me the HD video quality of his ZS3 point-and-shoot.

I ordered one this morning. A ZS3, not a Bundt. I have enough Bundts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A-Bundt-ant Table

The second-annual Bundt open house was a huge success. Possibly the most important event on this side of the Hudson since last year's Bundt celebration, which was at Denise's and involved a castle-cake.

How it "panned" out:

The Neopolitan had too much flour and was too dry. This was the last cake I baked, so I think I was too tired and impatient by then. The flour can't just be scooped out. It has to be stirred or sifted, to have air add to it. But this cake looked dramatic, with a swirled chocolate, vanilla, strawberry filling.

The mix Tunnel of Fudge was pathetic next to the scratch Tunnel of Fudge. And there was no tunnel. Don't bother.

Gypsy's yam cake was a huge success. And not just with Gypsy (who is a dog). All the people like the dog's cake too. I can attest to the odd and nice taste of making special cakes with yam. Moist! It had a pumpkin-y taste to it.

The pecan bourbon was delicious.

But the real star has to be the scratch Tunnel of Fudge. The center is a combination of chocolate, My T Fine pudding, and milk. And how amazing... it worked! There was a genuine tunnel inside the cake.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happy National Bundt Pan Day

November 15th is National Bundt Pan Day! Remember that post offices and banks are closed.

I am baking several Bundt cakes and will be serving them at 4 p.m. If you live in the tri-state area and feel like helping review my variety of Bundt cakes, which includes Tunnel of Fudge (mix), Tunnel of Fudge (scratch), Yam Dog, Pecan Bourbon, Neopolitan, and Gary's Leach's Birthday Bundt as recommended by Susan D-L, please stop by. You'll have to e-mail me for my address. Or look in the phone book.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Missing Bundt

Otis had a giant box in his hands when he brought up the yam Bundt batter for the cake I'm baking for his dog.


"What's that?"

"I dunno. Probably your Tunnel of Fudge.* It was downstairs."

It was. Where has it been since Wednesday? What kind of journey has the Tunnel of Fudge gone on?

I don't care. Long as it's here with me now.

*Mini-hippos included for scale.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Major Disaster

I haven't written for a few days. And now I have recovered enough to tell you why.

Someone stole my "Tunnel of Fudge" Bundt® cake mix from under the steps where FedEx Ground left it.

No signature required. What? How can anyone ship out such an item of value without holding FedEx accountable for it?


My heart is broken for my poor missing Tunnel of Fudge.

Except for one thing. Imagine the reaction of the thief when they got it home, rubbed their hands and thought "What wonderful expensive treat is in this box I stole from a brownstone on Eighth Street?"

Then got a Bundt cake mix. Called Tunnel of Fudge.

It's all worth it if they don't own their own pan.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Six or Half-Dozen?

Back in June, I was chatting with a former colleague at a bar. This involved a reunion of colleagues all from Marvel of the eighties and nineties, and also involved Korean karaoke, but that's not important.

What's important is that Dan--the former colleague--told me about a tiny point-and-shoot camera that had the ability to shoot HD video.

My ears perked up. I have a tiny Flip-style video camera that I take along on trips, and it's separate from my regular point-and-shoot. Here was a chance to cut my gadget weight in half.

But it was expensive, and I knew other similar cameras would come out. They have and now I find that I've narrowed it down to a choice of two.

I've been reading and reading... and I just can't decide. There are comparisons here and here and here and here. And plenty of other places.

I just can't decide...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Double Entendre

Is it just me or is this kind of a funny way to say "Men's Pants?"

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Modern Etiquette

It's Saturday, but I'm at work. Before you feel sorry for me, it's my own fault I'm here. I've taken on too much and I have to spend weekends catching up as a result.

All these classes, bags, and Bundts come with a price. Though it's debatable how much work I'm doing. I'm falling asleep at my desk.

So I was just standing at the sink in the ladies room. The only other person in my serviced office on a Saturday walked in, her cell phone to her ear.

She proceeded to a stall... still on the phone. She still hadn't stopped talking when I left.

Is it just me or does phoning-while-peeing seem a bit over-the-top?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Gentrification of Cake

Since mentioning my obsession with Bundt cake, I've received four recipes and this tidbit: "Google Tunnel of Fudge."

Preemptively cringing in case my results turned out obscene, I typed "Tunnel of Fudge" into my browser's search box.

Aha! That's the chocolate Bundt with the gooey center that I remembered from childhood! But apparently it's hard to make, due to the scarcity of some key ingredient. Lots of scratch recipes listed workarounds but I admit that I was getting apprehensive about this project as I read about the dangers of scooping flour versus lightly measuring it into a cup by spoon. Goodness. Cake is complicated.

A few tentative clicks then took me to this.

It looks like the same mix I'd have used as a kid.

I ordered it. I guess we'll find out. But I gotta admit, paying $8 plus shipping for a cake mix does strike me as a bit silly.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

This Old Thing?

I made another yoga mat bag. I'm on Home Ec tear.