Tuesday, August 5, 2014

... yo, sound the bell - school is in ...

It is about THAT time. Stores are selling out of composition books, teachers are getting rosters and class schedules, and loving friends are volunteered for hours of pencil sharpening. New clothes are being purchased (although I am still not allowed to purchase any cardigans).  Nights cuddling with my lesson plan book are in my near future.

This will be year three for me – which means no more evaluations or induction. Training wheels are off. I have some basic plans in place. I have a feel for what works and what really REALLY didn't. I know (most) of the people I am working with. I have my running/early morning routine MOSTLY down. There are changes with how I’ll be spending my days (split between more teachers/teaching more students) but basically I’ll be doing what I did last year. 

I don’t talk about students or work on my blog with any real frequency. It is not due to a lack of love for what I do – trust me, ask me about the state of things in education and you cannot shut me up – but for the reason that my job and my personal life need a little (or a lot of) separation.  The summer is a glorious time where I don’t have to juggle the two.

This week and last week I had a few meetings and emails to prepare me for the impending ‘real world’. Then I took a little last minute trip to the Holy City to see McLain’s family and babysit. We stopped in Columbia to see my aunt and check in on her business ventures and new location! The Box Lunch and The Happy Cookers/Chocolate Nirvana Bakery & CafĂ© have moved to a new location close to Fort Jackson and should be open soon! My cousin and I got a photo by this awesome mural they have on the outside of the building they moved into. The kitchen is amazing and they have about 8 Kitchen Aid stand mixers.

After a visit and tour we hopped back on the highway to Charleston. McLain booted me out of the car at MUSC to spend some time with Mrs. G – who is working on a project about getting rats drunk and neurons or whatever (it’s a lot fancier than that). I was in her wedding last year and she and her hubs are super cute and super happy. She and I were roomies in college and needed a long block of girl-time. She whisked me away to Bon Banh Mi for lunch – which was beyond amazing. I got the five spice pork sandwich and was blown away. Then Mrs. G and I walked around and caught up and I got the lab tour.

One thing I love about big cities is walk-ability. I got finished up at the lab and then walked to where McLain and I were meeting one of HIS college buddies (now a Fancy-Pants Dr. Dude) and his wife. We got dinner at Virginia’s on King. The fellas both got the fried chicken and Mrs. Fancy-Pants and I got BBQ sliders and bouillabaisse, respectively. We all split the tomato pie as a starter. For real, authentic soul food that isn't swimming in grease with an upscale feel, this is a good place to go. The locals know it too – the tables were busy! Mrs. Fancy-Pants and I shared love of many things – including desserts. We had both heard glorious reviews of Kaminsky’s and because we had lighter dinners dessert was in order.  It was a short amble to the dessert bar, and we got a table. The menu and bakery case are daunting. McLain got an Irish coffee with his key lime pie, Dr. & Mrs. Fancy-Pants got the marshmallow chocolate cake, and I got (at the recommendation of our delightful waiter) the toll house pie.  I usually avoid sugar, because it makes me spiral into sugar-craving-central for the next … forever. This pie was worth it

It was a pecan-pie/chocolate cookie/brownie hybrid. Oh my word, y’all. Just … say yes. And my choice was the best - even though the other choices weren't shabby.

The next day was devoted to childcare for McLain’s niece. She is adorable! She was also in a new place without mommy or gam-ma. It was raining and she was sad. She was my little snuggle-bug all day. I learned that potty-training is hard, a twenty-two pound kiddo gets HEAVY after a while, and that I am not ready for that level of responsibility on a daily basis. We ordered awesome pie from Baroni’s Pizza – they make their Italian sausage in-house and self-medicated with the most decadent pint available and True Blood after the wee one was in bed. Like adults. 

On the way back into Collegetown, we stopped off to visit my grandparents in Summerville. We got lunch at Pug’s Tavern and we got great burgers and cocktails. My grandparents are pretty peppy for late 80’s, so they were very happy to see us. When we got home, we cooked more crop-share veggies and I self-medicated a little with more ice-cream.  What’s a four day running break without some over indulgence?

Rant of the week, using GoT (Joffery) to make a point: Preparing to be a Help Meet - The King Part 1 & Part 2

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

... you can call all you want but there's no one home and you're not gonna reach my telephone ...

The word 'vacation' means many different things, depending on your place and life and personality. I love adventures and traveling and dancing and experiencing new things and thus can occasionally come back from a weekend of vacation more physically exhausted than when I left. Usually, I am more emotionally and experientially fulfilled. But dog-tired.

Vacation does NOT mean the same thing to McLain. Vacation is more of a book-and-wine-filled idyll in some hidden place for him. With limited human interaction and next to no technology.

And this past weekend, I was able to get a little bit of that. To my great surprise, I actually LIKED it.

McLain and I loaded up everything we'd need to eat (and drink) for the long weekend and drove to Bryson City, NC. The quaint little town is surrounded by beautiful mountain views. To get there, We drove through Cashiers, NC - which looks like a place with people with lots of money and no need for outside society move. Their consignment furniture was for sale -used- at a price higher than the stores I'd go into would sell one new. But it was a darling little town.

By the time we'd arrived at Bryson City, we were thirsty and hungry and needed to stroll. For thirst, we stopped in at Nantahala Brewing Company. We sampled several of their house-made brews, particular favorites being the Hellbender, Dirty Girl Blonde, Trail Magic #1, and Devil's Courthouse. Because the brewery does not offer food on site, we walked next door and got pizza at Anthony's Pizza. It was crowded and service was on the slow side - but the pizza was GREAT. Downtown Bryson City is adorable, and it would have liked to linger longer and visit Humanite, but McLain was pushing to get back on the road.

He was wise.

The last bit of road to the cabin was skinny, curvy, dark and murdery. GPS was giving up on us, and we were using a map that didn't have our exact location on it. I was driving like an old woman and wondering why I didn't have brighter brights. It was decidedly unpleasant, and if we had stayed much later I wouldn't have been able to manage it. After only one wrong turn we arrived at Bear Kottage.

Once I shook off the nerves from the ride there, I was charmed. We moved in the food and our things and didn't leave the cabin until checkout on Monday. Except to get Splenda and salad dressing the next day, for a total of about a 30 minute adventure.

We got NO signal. I couldn't call out on my phone. We actually just turned off our phones, hence the lack of photos.

We sat in the hot tub, read by the creek, watched obscure American anime and finished Farscape. I slept late and long. Crop share veggies were turned into tomato soup and cheesy potato bake. McLain made pancakes and lamb roast. I made drinks and coffee. We debated the news and caught up and soaked in the beautiful sunshine.

And it was good.

And without me knowing it, things at work resolved. A tenant moved out. Test results came back. It was all waiting for me on Monday, and I did not lose a thing in the interim.

Except Dane cuddles.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

... can't you see we've got a good thing here?

What a crazy week couple of weeks! Last Sunday I discovered an old friend had arrived in town from Kansas (after having not seeing him in two years and with zero notice). As things typically go for me, I attempted to be accommodating and spent a good deal of time restructuring the next few days in order to see him. Which was, in hindsight, not a good use of my time.

Before the ghostee-pocolypse began - I went to Greenville for valuable pre-baby time with Lady Faulk looking at adorable owl-covered baby seats and the Cadillac of strollers. There were so many cute things to look at and gross things to learn about (NO, I did not touch her belly. YES, I am still in the choosing to be child-free for the foreseeable rest of my existence. Barring maybe adoption or fostering someday in the distant future).

The ghostee was vaguely interested in some very specific local gossip and I feel he was more using me for my network of friends than actually wanting to interact - but I arranged for a friendly game night at Starbucks with a host of folks and set up a group dinner at Palmetto Smokehouse in his honor. Which was delightful and yummy (drink specials and tasty food) but made my skin crawl from the conversational perspective.

In attempting to deconstruct my many social gaffes of the evening, I kept returning to the fact that people do in fact change. I have, in fact, changed over the past several years. And in said dinner I was able to demonstrate my new non-doormat feature. It was not well received by Kansas. Especially when I refused to take half-assed apologies and verbal abuse in front of a table full of people. Oh well.

The rest of the week was spent travelling for a work conference. It had been eons since I had been on a trip like this, so I was a bundle of nerves. It did not help that my planned mini-plane flight (Cessna, from Athens, via SeaPort) got cancelled super-last-minute and I had to drive a long way to Nashville. So I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn and navigated my way to the Gaylord Opryland Resort. I was not aware that this was a THING, y'all. It is most definitely the most opulent place I have stayed in. I got lost MULTIPLE times. It is like 5 massive midtown Atlanta hotels smashed together. and then they have a freaking botanical garden with a boat ride in the center. There are also a huge number of eateries and pools and a fantastic fitness center ... and a mall next door.

Clearly, I was suffering for my career and the nation's future. SO MUCH SUFFERING.

What do you do on a conference? Absorb sessions and network! It was a little out of my comfort zone, but I got to bond with some gals from my district and meet other folks. The sessions were informative, but not always the most entertaining way to spend an hour. And some were hilarious for all the wrong reasons. And I was rabidly taking notes so I could re-hash and re-present later on. The coffee was meh, the food was scarce (probably due to the fact that our conference was HUGE), and people were not showing their best manners at times.

After-hours dinners and adventures were had, naturally. If you go to Music City, prepare yourself for cowboy boots, blues music and whiskey. B.B. King's Blues Club was just a short ride from the hotel. We made a reservation on OpenTable, but  it took 30min to get a table after we arrived. No matter! We sat at the bar and listened to the AWESOME house band until we were seated at a table. Everyone's food was fantastic, as we were in the sharing mood. I had my first ever fried catfish, some awesome Memphis BBQ wings, fried pickles, fried green tomatoes with caramelized onions, and chips with blue cheese/bacon/truffle oil (yes I AM aware that every blessed thing on that list is most definitely fried). There was some dancing (both blues dancing and alcohol induced bouncy-white-girl-dancing) and Thursday seemed to be a night with the 'older set'.

Tootsie's Orchid Lounge was another awesome stop. This bright purple building has a band playing (and a bar slinging dranks) on every level. It was smoky and dive-y and so terribly fun just to exist in. The food was typical pub stuff, so I'd not plan on eating there. But if you want to hear the local talent, this is the place to go! On a trip up and down the stairs, I heard the same song in three different styles by three wicked vocalists.

And then there was the live music and mechanical bull at the Tequila Cowboy. Good times! I'd like to go back and explore the Parthenon and the Hermitage, amongst other things.

Oh, and Night Vale - lovely weather we're having.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

... she's a high-flying flag ...

Various and sundry events had me traveling to more off-the-beaten-path areas this past week, like Mount Airy, NC. This small town, besides being home to some of my extended family members, is best known for being the alleged model of Mayberry from the Andy Griffith show and the local sonker festival. It is also quite picturesque.

With all of those wide open spaces there isn't much to do. However, in recent years there has been an upswing in the number of local wineries and breweries in the Yadkin Valley area and North Carolina in general. In fact, my uncle works at Stony Knoll Vineyards. My cousin and I had some time to burn, so we went to Round Peak Vineyards and Skull Camp Brewery. The grounds were beautiful and dog-friendly. The owner's dogs even made the rounds and paid our table a visit.

As you can see, I tried SEVERAL wines and shared a flight of beer with my aunt and cousin. The wines at this particular establishment are mostly blends, and the semi-dry wines were all excellent! My top picks were Anticipation, Matrimonio Parfait, Nebbiolo, Dedication and Temptation. I even had a very good port. And did I mention the view?

It was a very nice way to spend an afternoon, after a long morning of baking zucchini bread and sitting on the front porch with octogenarians. Who kept trying to feed me sonker and pie and fried chicken. The horror!

I also got in a fair bit of reading. I was able to subscribe to Runner's World and the Atlantic at a ridiculously low price via Zulily. I haven't been getting a lot of books in this summer, but I have been reading a lot of articles, magazines, and blogs. The books currently in process are Dune, Lies My Teacher Told Me, Stiffed, and Riverworld.
McLain and I are dog-sitting for Lady Faulk's sweet Indy this weekend. Indy and Yankee are getting along swimmingly, but Indy is very affectionate, hyper, and likes to invade Yankee's 'bubble'. Conclusion? Indy is more like me and Yankee is more like McLain.Which works out.

Aren't they so cute? TOO CUTE!

We had a great holiday long weekend, and my NC family was able to come down for a brief stay. We had some swim time at the Crouse House before meeting up with the Forgie clan for some out of this WORLD fireworks. I have never in my LIFE been so CLOSE to fireworks going off before! I borrowed this photo from a friend who was snapping close by. They seemed close enough to touch! And were close enough to leave a little ash behind.

Other than  my very strong feelings and regrets and thoughts about the recent SCOTUS ruling, a pretty wonderful week for everything but my politics-and-ethics--related blood pressure.
This, on the other hand, made me feel a bit happier!

Monday, June 30, 2014

... on the road again ...

The rest of last week was a bit of a whirlwind! Thursday I was able to visit with some lovely nuclear folks at Ye Olde Sandwich Shoppe and Seneca's Jazz on the Alley. If you visit Ye Olde, might I recommend the Strawberry Stack? Think Montecristo, minus the battering and deep frying. The strawberry jam MADE it! The actual jazz was hilarious and at times somewhat painful, but it was nice to see downtown Seneca opened up and made tourist friendly - there are some shops I would like to revisit during the daytime.

On Friday McLain and I took a trip to Helen, GA. It was a nice 2ish hour drive, although we had a late start due to me being neurotic and needing things from the store at 7am, like I do. We went tubing down the river with Cool River Tubing, which was delightful! The river is gentle and slow, with only a few rapidly flowing parts. It would be great for a family with kids - buy a few trips and set the kiddos loose! McLain got a 'push stick', which was helpful as my tube was difficult and determined to get stuck at every opportunity.

We were ravenous after all the extreme effort it took to float to the outpost, so we used some leftover restaurant.com credit to eat at Bodensee. I figured, hey - when in 'alpine' vaguely German mountain towns do as the locals do - and thus, this restaurant was chosen. Just in case you were wondering, Germans do NOT mess around with the butter and cheese. This was a stick-to-your-ribs repast, and not at all low calorie or low fat. McLain got a smoked pork chop with sauerkraut and I got the chicken schnitzel with mushrooms and bacon and cheese. We also split a Camembert cheese appetizer. There was much dairy. It was delightful. Although, as I've been leaving salt out of things I'm cooking lately, it seemed a tad salty. It was probably fine for normal folk.

We also took the new red beast out for a ride. I drove, motivated solely by the fact that no beer would be in the growlers this weekend unless I drove us to the Wall of Beer. McLain knows how to motivate a ornery and reluctant driver. I like driving the truck in theory, but it is still a lot to remember. Shift here, watch the RPMs, blah blah. I can almost listen to the radio instead of being coached the whole drive. As Yankee loves the truck, hopefully I will become more confident and will get him to the lake more often.

Saturday morning was lazy, with a 10 mile run after noon and selling the old metal fence via
Craigslist-Fu. Making some cash back on something you aren't using is pretty great. The evening was devoted to contradance at River Falls Lodge. Contra is a very odd mixture of square-dancing, English country dancing, bluegrass and hippies. It is a BLAST. You are walked through it, the music is surprisingly addictive, and coordination is not required. The band this past weekend, ContraForce, is known for being more techno-ish and they jammed out!

In retrospect, it was the weekend of mountain drives. Pumpkintown is in the middle of nowhere. But it is quite pretty on the way to nowhere.

Cropshare madness ensued, because summer's here and so are the squash. And cucumbers. And tomatoes. And beans. Between the two of us, McLain and I made roasted green beans, froze about two pounds of yellow beans, froze another two pounds of squash, summer veggie tartlets, veggie soup, pesto, and pasta primavera. We still have beets, cucumbers, kohlrabi, tomatoes, zucchini, and green onions to use up. I have been eating cucumbers with lots of hummus for snacks. The zucchini is going to be used in this bread that Katie made while I'm visiting Grandot in the woods.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

... 'cuz I'm lonely and I'm blue, I need you - and your love too ...

McLain and I adopted Yankee a few months ago, and I am totally in love with my sweet beastie. I hate disciplining him, want to snuggle with him at all opportunities, and we are mostly inseparable. Yankee sees me as a 'senior pack member' rather than the alpha - which means I get to spoil him. He only occasionally tries to bend the rules. He's a wuss when it comes to exercise and tries to eat fireflies. I can't convince him to swim. He knows when I feel crappy and nuzzles me. He has the softest ears. He gooses house-guests and loves bath-time. One the rare occasion when he is really bad, he gets sprayed with citronella from his 'jackass collar'. It works out.

However - because my dog is so roguishly handsome (and people apparently have never seen a Dane ... ever) I get a LOT of attention when I take him in public. So much so that people will interrupt private conversations I am having with people to approach me about my dog. Rude. I usually get one or more of the following comments and questions from people that are irritating and ... dare I say it ... foolish.

Such as -

Do you need a saddle for that thing? Oh! You are quite the wit! I've never heard that before!

Have you ever tried to ride it? No, I have not tried to ride my dog. I actually care about his health and ability to ... live.

How much for a ride? I sincerely hope you are talking about my dog. And no. Just no.

What does he eat? What he wants/can get. Babies! I mean, you try fishing something outta his mouth he's gotten hold of! Actually, he eats dog food. He also likes raw veggies. If you leave something in reach (he has a long reach) and unattended, he eats that too. He does, however, let me take things out of his mouth if he has something he shouldn't.

How much does he eat? Must be expensive. Enough. And he is less expensive to feed per month than my geriatric cat. Leaf is an expensive 'free cat'.

Don't trust that cat, it's sketchy as hell.

How much does he weigh? Within 10lbs of me. Don't ask about that number.

Why don't you breed him? Well, he has no testicles. And because we don't want to contribute to puppy mills. And he's not breed-standard. 

Aren't those dogs aggressive?
No more than any other breed. It's in the nurturing. And this guy? Total chicken. Unless you are a couch pillow. This is what happens to unattended couch pillows when my people watch Dr. Who ...

Aren't those dogs stupid? Are your children stupid? Because they are tall and stuff. Or your spouse? Because he/she has big ears and a big grin. No. Danes are not stupid. They are stubborn. Like me.

He must have huge poop. Yes. He does. It may have something to do with the fact that his digestive tract is about the size of a person's, as he is about the size of a person. Excellent thinking, Sherlock.

Why is he wearing a muzzle? It is a halter, not a muzzle. It's to help him not pull me over when he sees chickens, couch pillows, or squirrels. But good on you for noticing and asking BEFORE you started petting him!

What's wrong with his leg?
It's a lick granuloma that is over inflamed scar tissue. We are taking care of it in the vet-recommended fashion. Yep - it's gross. No, it doesn't hurt. 

Does he shed? Yes. Large tumble-furs. Daily.

How did he get so big?  Genetics? Drinking too much Hartwell water? You pick.

I bet the could take my dog in a fight. Me too. That is, if your poorly-socialized creature actually pissed him off, and then I let our dogs bicker. But I don't think we should let that happen. In fact, I'm moving to the other side of the dog park, as your dog seems to not deal with large dogs well ...

Will he hurt my kid? Is your kid a couch pillow, chicken, squirrel, or stuffed hedgehog? Or is your kid causing my dog physical pain? No? Than no. Yankee may try to cuddle your progeny, but evisceration will not occur.

Conclusion - people react to Danes in much the way they react to cats in the following xkcd comic ...


Monday, June 23, 2014

... but she blinded me with science - and failed me in geometry ...

What a week! What a flurry of doing and making and going places and ... lots of napping.

I love summer.

I was able to catch a movie with McLain - Edge of Tomorrow was perfect for a date-night movie (action! explosions! humor!) and while McLain was upset that there was a little cheesy romance stuff, overall it was a good, mindless film to enjoy. On a related note - this article about the loss of truly strong female characters may be more up your alley! A lot of movies are including 'strong women' - and giving them no real function. Also a list of interesting questions, such as "could your Strong Female Character be seamlessly replaced with a floor lamp with some useful information written on it to help a male hero?". Seriously, worth the read.

Before beating the heat in the theater, we got a GREAT dinner at The Fox. Although there has been a bit of chatter on the internet about it being a horrible place to eat - both times we went I found it to be quite nice! And I liked the visiting bulldog. I just found out it is closed, and it looks like it is closed permanently. Oh well. The search for the best Anderson date night location continues!

I have also been toying with the idea of driving stick shifts. McLain had me drive Betty White in public, on the road, in Seneca - and I stalled out maybe three times. This was punctuated with waves of ugly words and comments about how stick shifts were practically the same as using the horses and buggies for transportation. And then, just as Betty and I started to get along - McLain traded her for a red two-door Explorer. I have mixed feelings. The shifting will be easier, Yankee LOVES the truck, and now we can haul things ... so we'll see. I will be driving the yet unnamed vehicle exclusively in a week or so.

I was able to go see family in Maggie Valley, briefly. It was a nice drive, and generally very pretty. The highlight of the trip was losing $7.50 in the casino. I was actually able to read an entire book while I was up there!  In case you were wondering, The Fault in our Stars is a nice poolside read and is a great example of realistic teens in teen literature. A nice relaxed day was just what I needed though, because I had signed myself up for a rough time the next day ... the Without Limits Lake Conestee 25k.

This was my longest running distance yet, my first race on trails - ever, and the hottest outdoor run I'd attempted. I was nervous and was struck by just how ... hardcore ... all the other runners were. My event was the only non-ultra thing going on that day. My time was slow, I felt awful, and I had to walk a bit. BUT I did finish. Even if I'm still fighting some soreness. 15.53mi in 3:11 and change - not too bad, but plenty of room to improve.

Everyone knows that the best rehab for sore legs is a massive road-trip to IKEA ... right? I did a lot of dreaming, but only came back with whiskey tumblers, bathmats, dishtowels, and a renewed desire to rip up the carpet in my townhouse.

On the food front - the gravlax turned out wonderfully (and addictive and tasty and I shouldn't make it too often or I will die over eating too much salt) , and McLain and I may have perfected icebox pickles! Which is great as we got 4 more pounds of cucumbers this week ... thankfully I have figured out how to make pesto so I can get rid of all of that basil.

I've been thnking about starting to get a fitness box every month - I really liked getting a Birchbox when I was subscribed. The only thing that could make the idea of a surprise box better is having it full of fitness things! The ones I've liked the idea of most so far are Kona Kase, StrideBox, and RunnerBox. Has anyone used any of these? Any words of advice?

Finally, I will leave you with an odd recipe - I bought a thing of chia and this is surprisingly non-offensive chia pudding. I use plain yogurt and almond milk. Be advised - it is BLAND unless you add fruit, spices, or flavoring. It is tasty though!