Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So much for goals

As I've said before, I like goals.

I don't like when they get screwed up.

We had planned to have enough money saved up to buy a SFH in mid-2012, and then we'd worry about the cars. Then my car's computer and timing belt decided to die a slow death (see below). It was frustrating, but we traded in a 2004 Focus with 156,400 miles for a 2011 Focus with 11 miles.

Since we can't ever seem to have a single issue (see: Laptop Replacement 2010) I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when Matt's car started making funny noises. We were (again) hoping for a cheap fix, but Midas says it's probably the transmission. They don't do transmission repair, so we'll take it to Aamco tomorrow to at least get an official quote - but I'm not optimistic. It makes me VERY angry though because M's car had 40,000 fewer miles than mine and should have lasted AT LEAST two more years.

Hello, 2013 :-(

(And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.)
(Apparently the universe dislikes me)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It is still a beautiful world

Prose as the year comes to a close (I am thinking of memorizing this):

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

- Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1923 (bolded by me, 2010.)

More Berkshires and Breakfasts

Friday morning's breakfast was a citrus fruit salad, apple cinnamon muffins, cranberry walnut bread, and a three cheese croissant and egg bake. I also had the yogurt and granola again, with coffee and juice. We relaxed for a few hours in the morning and then went to lunch with fam at the Morgan House (burger for M, soup and salad for me). We went to the Berkshires Museum in Pittsfield, and then dinner at the pub at Matt's grandfather's retirement community.

Saturday we had a blueberry buckle, vegetable quiche and pan fried potatoes, and a grain and dried fruit compote; I had the yogurt and granola again as well (and juice and coffee). We hit the road at 10:30am right as it started snowing. It flurried all the way to Albany and then mostly stopped. We got home around 5:30.

Now off to pick up chinese food. Possibly getting the new car tomorrow, though I'm more nervous now because M's engine seems to be running extremely loud and we may be facing another imminent repair-or-replace dilemma :-(

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

So we are up in the Berkshires for Thanksgiving - drove up yesterday (about a 7 hour trip) and checked into our B&B, and then had dinner and visited with Matt's grandfather and Jane. We showed them pictures and video from our cruise and gave them a tutorial on some of the newfangled technology available (iPod and e-readers).

We are staying at the same B&B we were at when we last came in 2008. The breakfast is not as varied as last time (fewer options laid out) but still quite tasty. This morning we had a challah bread souffle with berries, cinnamon and almonds, along with fresh fruit and yogurt with homemade granola, juice and coffee.

I finished knitting my first scarf (finally!) and have started a second one that involves some more complicatedness - two colors of yarn, as well as adding and dropping stitches to create a neat diagonal effect. I think my next attempt after this will be a pair of leg warmers to wear to yoga class so my legs don't get so cold walking to the studio.

We are relaxing for a few hours, and then heading over for Thanksgiving dinner at 2:30. We will probably hit up a museum or something tomorrow, and we'll be driving back to Maryland on Saturday morning (after breakfast, of course!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I usually like cracked.com

But this article is just silly: "5 Common Medical Procedures (That Secretly Aren't Worth It)."

They list CT scans, physicals, circumcision, C-sections, and antibiotics. However, they are conflating OVERUSE of a procedure with the merits of the procedure and trying to make a controversial article out of it. Overuse of antibiotics = bad. But antibiotics have also saved countless lives and reduced morbidity as well (I know, I had to tough it out through a weekend of strep throat once so my parents could take me to the regular doctor Monday morning instead of the Emergency Room, where I'd get the same treatment at ten times the cost). C-sections have saved lives. CT scans have saved lives (they try to make the argument that MRI is not only safer but also a far superior technology; for starters, try giving an MRI to someone with a metal rod in their leg, or a plate in their head, or an implanted pacemaker). I'm not even willing to give them a pass on physicals (although I agree about the correlation between medical care and income level/general interest in maintaining health and yell at the David Drew Clinic commercial every time I hear it on the radio; I still believe there are benefits to seeing a doctor on some sort of regular basis). About the only thing I agree with is circumcision, and even then I have to reserve a tiny bit of former self-interest because we always got our human melanocytes for our lab experiments from the Hopkins OB department.

So, sorry, cracked.com. You usually hold my interest but this one falls flat.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ho Ho Ho

M and I won't be handing each other presents on Christmas morning.

He worked fabulously hard to meet an incredibly tight deadline, and is being rewarded with a bonus that will cover most of the cost of his long-awaited gaming computer that he will be ordering in two weeks. His 'gift' is basically the rest of the cost of the computer.

And me? I'm apparently getting a new car for Christmas, because the verdict on mine this morning was about $2000 in repairs (for a car that has nearly 160K miles on it and is not even worth twice the repair bill any way you slice it). Just like with the laptop, I would have been perfectly fine with keeping this car for another 1-2 years but fate and technology seem to have other plans to force me to be a Good American Consumer. I have to keep reminding myself that, even though I've had the car for less than 7 years, in 'mileage years' it's more like 10-11. Next go-round will be better since I don't ever plan to have a 100 mile-a-day commute again.

The 2011 Ford Focus is still on the Consumer Reports Best Buys under $25K list and is the top small sedan from an American manufacturer, and Ford cars in general also have the highest reliability ratings of any American manufacturer, so that's what we're going with. Woo.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What's the deal with Homerun?

I was going to make my first facebook status today a comment about my blogiversary, but instead I had to make it an apology (and have already sent two people explanatory e-mails as well). I got an e-mail from my pastor about a free coffee from Qualia (apparently it's a small coffee shop in DC). The site is called Homerun (I'm not linking it) and it looked like a Groupon sort of thing, so I clicked through and it asked me to log in with what I thought was Open ID. The site then sent an e-mail of the free coffee offer to every address in my gmail contacts (about 250 people) and required a credit card number (for 'identity verification') to 'buy' the 'free' coffee. By this point my spidey sense was ringing 11 and I got the heck out of there. I e-mailed their customer service address asking them to delete my 'account' immediately (it autocreates an account with your e-mail address, and I couldn't find anything on their site to remove an account). I also changed my google password, just as a precaution.

Now, I can't quite figure out what their deal is (Homerun). It does seem like it's trying to be a groupon-like site. They have links at the bottom of their page to Facebook and Twitter profiles; the Facebook one just takes you to the FB home page and the Twitter account doesn't have any tweets.

I also found the webpage for the coffee shop. The have text on their page which reads "ALERT! If you have received a viral email using our name, please know that neither Qualia nor Homerun are associated with the criminals who sent it. They are operating illegally and without our permission. Please contact HomeRun directly at [] if you have received one of these emails." So that seems to add some legitimacy to at least the site in general, except for the fact that if you go to Homerun's site, the free coffee offer is right there on the main page. So did their site get hacked? There was nothing that jumped out at me in terms of funny addresses, misspellings, etc - the usual suspects. I am a little curious as to whether people are actually getting actual printable coupons at the end of the process; there is a list of Recent Activity on their home page and it does show 6 people as having purchased the free offer, which sounds like it would not be honored at Qualia based on what I saw on their webpage. Unless they're talking about a different e-mail?

A google search didn't seem to turn up anything either; I did get a lot of extraneous stuff because apparently the search terms "Homerun" and "spam" seem to go together a lot - one example was "Homerun or spam? Winning MLM selling strategies." "Homerun" and "scam" also seem to go together a lot for things not related to this particular website, because there is a sketchy investment firm with the same name. I had originally written this in my blogiversary post below, but I decided to make it a separate post in case this starts showing up in google searches, since this may be the first outside account of this site.

Blogiversary!

I started this blog on November 20th, 2004. Funny that I was getting ready to have a party that day too! Since then I've accumulated 1,186 posts (including this one). I've had nearly 23K site visits on the counter, but I didn't start using Sitemeter until June 14, 2006...so who knows what the actual total is (I'd guess close to 30K if I had to extrapolate).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.

But my name isn't even Dave!

So, my check engine light came on Tuesday morning. The car didn't have any noticeable effects, but given that winter is rapidly approaching, I figured breaking down at night, in the cold, probably wasn't something I wanted to put on my to-do list. I got up this morning on the wrong side of sunrise and took it to Midas to get checked out. (Side note - I think a lot of people drive around with their check engine lights on for a long time, because the guy seemed mildly surprised that I had brought it in even though there were no other symptoms. I bet those people don't get annual medical/dental checkups either).

The mechanic took it for a test drive, and then brought it back to run the code scan. Nothing happened. He comes and tells me that the regular scanner isn't connecting to the car's computer; they can run more in-depth diagnostics but it will cost $49.50 - I tell him that's fine and settle in for another half-hour (free wifi at least, and I had already gone to Starbucks). They come back around 8:45 and tell me the fancy onboard diagnostics computer won't connect to the car either. Since they couldn't even get a connection, they didn't charge me anything. The mechanic suspected that, since they couldn't get any information from the car's computer, it might be a problem with the computer itself (Powertrain Control Module) but that I'd have to take it to a dealership to confirm. He did check all the fuses/fluids and inspected the engine and other mechanical parts and said nothing seemed out of place, so I at least have a bit of confidence that my car isn't going to blow up before Monday morning, when I will get up on the wrong side of sunrise AGAIN and take it to the Ford dealership in Frederick.

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There was a groupon offer today - $25 for $50 worth of clothing at American Apparel (in-store only). I had never shopped there, but I like clothes (especially half-off clothes), so I went to their website to see what styles they had and if there was a store nearby. I'm assuming they have real clothes, but I can't confirm this because I never got past those two pages due to the soft-core porn littering their site. The Maryland store locator page had a series of three pictures of a woman provocatively posed in black underwear and a very sheer black tank, who was enjoying her desk chair a little too much, if you catch my drift. The store's main page had a rear shot of a woman squatting in a white lace thong, cheeks cozied right up to the camera. I guess they don't think anyone ever checks out clothing sites at work, or while their kids are in the room? Needless to say I don't think I'll be supporting that business any time soon.

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I just saw a recipe for a sugar cookie martini. I have to try this: 1 part each white chocolate liqueur, Baileys, and butterscotch schnapps plus two parts half-and-half. Sounds delicious!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Christmas top

Kohls occasionally sends out $10-off cards with no minimum purchase. Sometimes I will try to get something very close to $10 (I even got a t-shirt for free once; it was $8.99 on sale). This time I just took $10 off a top for this year's Christmas parties (and Steve's wedding, and probably dinner on next year's cruise). Vera Wang Asymmetrical Charmeuse Top:


I am thinking slim black pants and black heels for parties, pleated khaki skirt and flats for the wedding. Undecided about jewelry in both cases - the neckline stands on its own but a great pair of earrings and/or bangle(s) would go well, I think.

On an unrelated note, why does USPS refuse to leave packages at the door on the first delivery attempt? I always have to go online and tell them to redeliver it and leave it. Now I have to wait another day for my Old Navy order and my pink suede shoes :-(

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sweet lassi

The high point of my day so far is a yummy glass of sweet lassi. There was a super simple recipe in one of my e-mails, that I tweaked slightly. The cardamom is a warm contrast to the cool yogurt, and the vanilla adds a nice flavor:

2/3c each plain yogurt and cold water
1/8tsp ground cardamom
1Tbsp vanilla sugar

Combine in a bowl and whisk until blended and frothy; pour into a glass and enjoy.

*Notes: the original (traditional) recipe called for a drop of rosewater, which I've never used before, and a Tbsp of sugar. I thought the vanilla sugar was a nice variation. You could also use regular sugar and a drop of vanilla or almond extract for a different flavor. It also called for a MUCH higher water:yogurt ratio (4:1). However, my homemade yogurt was pretty thin this time compared with store-bought. I figured I could always add more water, but equal parts turned out to be pretty much spot on for me. If you don't have cardamom (it's expensive) you could substitute cinnamon and/or nutmeg.

(Hours later, I realize I should have made a 'Sweet Sassy Mo-Lassi' joke in the title. Booooooo)

What a dismal day

10-second recap: pouring rain, 'check engine' light, dentist appointment, frustrating work phone call.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I fixed the budget!

Go to the NYT page to see my choices and try your hand at balancing the national budget.

Hiking and Cake

Went hiking with M, Stacy, Jim, Phil and Lisa at Sugarloaf Mountain yesterday. Weather was absolutely perfect! We hiked up the orange trail to the summit (and when I say up, I mean UP!), down the red trail, and then the white/blue around the summit - probably about 3 miles total.

View from the summit looking (I think) west.

Another view from the summit (south-west?)

M and me at the summit (1282' according to the elevation map)

View from the red/blue trail's McCormack overlook (facing north).

<3

My awesome ice cream cake - two layers each of chocolate cake and mint chocolate chip ice cream (spread with hot fudge in between each layer), frosted with cool whip, and decorated with andes mints. I forgot to take a picture of a slice but it looked great - and between the 7 of us we ate the entire thing before dinner.

We went to Ziki's for dinner - tried sake (didn't like it, but Matt did), got smoked salmon nigiri for an appetizer and then hibachi steak and shrimp all around - served with vegetables, yakisoba, and fried rice, yum. We came back and watched MST3K: Soulstealer, which was predictably horrible and fantastic.

Next weekend is the chili party! We are having the last of the groceries for that delivered today (including 6 pounds of beef). I will be dicing and chopping and sauteing on Thursday or Friday (a dozen jalapenos, half a dozen onions, a head of garlic, beef and bacon) and then throwing it all in my biggest pot Saturday morning for a good 5-6 hour simmer. We may have up to 18 people at our place - should be interesting, but I know as always it'll be a blast. It'll be our last chili party in this place!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Not to be outdone by the turducken...

Someone invented the Cherpumple. A cherry pie baked into a white cake, on top of an apple pie baked into a spice cake, on top of a pumpkin pie baked into a yellow cake. One slice has approximately 1800 calories.

Thanks, but I'll stick with my ice cream cake. Pics to come later this weekend!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Numbered brain dump

1. Wow, a whole month?? I'm so freaking lazy. I kept thinking that I didn't want to post other stuff until I had done a vacation post, but then I just kept putting it off and putting it off.

2. So, vacation. Cruise = very awesome. We are already working on planning our next one (see #9 below). We did a bartending class, went to the Captain's welcome, saw one of the comedians, the ice show, the Ever After musical, and the Up In the Air acrobats show, went dancing at the club, swam and hot-tubbed, played mini-golf, did the rock climbing wall and ice skating, played Apples to Apples with the Bauers and Glasnapps, read a ton, ate a ton. The main dining room was very good, but the Chops steakhouse was also totally worth the $25 per person the one night we went: shared three appetizers (lobster carpaccio, portabello mushroom stack, crab/shrimp cake), got steaks with broccolini and roasted potatoes on the side, and a slice of Mississippi mud pie for dessert. In St. Maartin we went to the Tiki Hut Snorkel Park, which was fun, and then spent a little time walking around the town. Puerto Rico was our zipline canopy tour (SO much fun and of course, too short!) and then we had lunch at a place called Tio Danny's - fish tacos for Matt and paella for me. In Labadee (Haiti), we had pretty low expectations since we planned on just taking or snorkel gear to the beach and seeing what we could find - it turned out that there was an awesome reef on the side of one of the coves! We spent about 2 hours snorkeling, had lunch that the cruise ship brought out to the picnic area, and spent a little bit of time on the ocean side of the beach.

2a. We also had a blast with Steve prior to the cruise at Disney! Went to the Animal Kingdom for the safari and zoo area, Everest coaster, Lion King show and A Bug's Life show; Hit up Hollywood Studios for a parade, Tower of Terror, Rocking Rollercoaster, Toy Story, and Into the Movies; rounded out the park tour at Epcot to ride Soarin', Mission: Space, Test Track, Spaceship Earth, Nemo and Friends, Gran Fiesta and Journey into Imagination. Finished the day with the Epcot fireworks show and then dinner at the Yachtsman - we both started with lobster bisque; steaks for the boys and lamb chops for me; creme brulee all around.

3. Just ordered some cute pink suede mocs from Old Navy and some other stuff - including jeggings. I'm interested to see how this will work out (but I really want to wear them with the boots below). My reasoning is that jeggings will fit me better than skinny jeans because they'll have more stretch and will tuck into the boots better.

4. Weekends - Stacy's birthday is this weekend (hiking, Ziki's Japanese Steakhouse dinner, and ice cream cake). Next weekend is the chili party! We may have our biggest crowd yet (current record is 14). The Wednesday after that, we leave for Massachusetts to see Matt's grandfather for Thanksgiving. And then it's December! Two Christmas parties (Nusbaums and M's office); OAR concert at Strathmore, and then Christmas! And then New Years at the Bauers'.

5. Moving - we're almost settled on March. I cannot wait for a bigger closet! I did my closet switch-over this week, for hopefully the last time ever.

6. Appointments - I went to my eye doctor's appointment today, at My Eye Doctor (never setting foot in Hour Eyes again, remember!) I really liked the optometrist here too, and the customer service people seemed a lot more on the ball. I ordered my contact lenses and got a free pair of sunglasses! I moved my dentist appointment up to Tuesday because I started having heat sensitivity on the right side, over by my crown. Of course it sucked for two days straight (throbbing etc) and then the day after I moved my appointment it seems to be better.

7. Stupid people - need to stop honking at me when they're the ones being morons. Last Saturday I was waiting at a light to make a left turn. There is a left turn only lane, a left turn or straight lane, and a right turn lane. I'm in the left turn or straight lane, because I have to make an immediate right at the next light. So I turn left, into the far right lane, and someone blares their horn at me because I just "cut them off" - said person had been in the right turn lane and decided to turn left instead! I was really mad, because she even had the cahones to do the hand-fling-into-the-air thing at me! THEN...two days later, I'm at a light where they have a pedestrian crosswalk. The light is either solid red, blinking red, or blinking yellow. There is a sign that says "Proceed after stop on blinking red - yield to pedestrians." So after the pedestrian crosses, the light changes from solid red to blinking red. The car in front of me goes. I pull up to the line and stop; before I have the chance to move again the car behind me starts blaring their horn at me. Of course after I go through the light they fly right through behind me without stopping. Nice reading comprehension.

8. New music - I have bought a ton of albums over the past few weeks. I got BNL's (sans Steve Page) All In Good Time and Steve Page's Page One (Steve Page is better, but neither is as good as their former awesomeness). Got two albums from Jackson Rohm (Four on the Floor and Twisted and Misguided) and finished out the rest of the tracks from Jupiter Sunrise's Under a Killer Blue Sky. Got David Gray's newest, Foundling, and OneRepublic's Dreaming Out Loud. Got All Sides by OAR. And then a couple random mp3s from John Mayer, Snow Patrol, Ryan Star, Neon Trees, Eminem.

9. Next year's cruise - we wanted to a) go out of Baltimore, and b) go over Thanksgiving. Royal Caribbean had a 9-day Bahamas itinerary with stops in Port Canaveral, Key West, Nassau, and CocoCay. It was perfect! Except it seems that after this fall, they're only doing that itinerary from Jan-April. Booooooooooooo. So we looked at some different options, but finally we decided that the new Baltimore itinerary over Thanksgiving was still our best bet. 9 days, stops in Puerto Rico, Haiti, St. Thomas, and the Dominican Republic. We repeat two ports but we're okay with it. We didn't get to see any of the forts in San Juan, and we don't mind going back to the beach/lunch in Haiti. We are also planning on a turtle cove snorkel in St. Thomas, and either snorkeling at the Cayo Levantado beach area or a horseback ride to the Salto Del Limon waterfalls in the DR. And my mom better come - I haven't been on vacation with my mom since I was like, three - and I cried on the beach at Atlantic City because I didn't like the sand. I promise not to do that this time!!

I'm sure I'll think of more stuff, but at least I can stop feeling guilty about not posting for a month :-)


A few hours later - I've got one more.

10. TV - WHAT the heck is up, CBS??? There have been 8 episodes of CSI so far this season, and you've failed to bring any resolution to THREE of them! (Spoiler alert!) It started with the very first episode, where they catch the one bomber, but after he's in jail another bomb goes off...they allude to the fact that it might be The Biebs but totally leave you hanging. Then you got the shark guy and the vamps v. wolves, but the rubber suit guy is still on the loose. Wrapped up the hoarder, animatronic dinosaurs and ID theft guy, but then tonight you dropped the ball again on the corporate pollution cover-up. This isn't Unsolved Mysteries, guys (which are practically all solved by now anyways). Very disappointed.