Friday, September 26, 2008

So I like best of all autumn...

...because its tone is mellower, its colours are richer, and it is tinged with a little sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and its content. - Lin Yutang

It's beautiful here today. It hasn't stopped raining for 48 hours, the sidewalk looks like it could be permanently soaked, and it's cold and crisp. The leaves are barely starting to turn, just the tops and the tips. Today was the day you could feel the season change from summer to fall, and I couldn't be more happy.

I didn't sleep so well last night, as autumn decided to come in with force, blowing rain and my birdfeeder into the side of my building. I got up every couple of hours to peek out at the droplets flying sideways past my streetlamp. When I woke up this morning, I opened the blinds to enjoy the water dripping down the window while I went through my morning emails. But the sound of the rain coaxed me back under the covers, and I slept until noon.

After I finally made it out of bed, the rain was gone, but the wet still hung in the air. I decided to run to the store and get my baking supplies for this weekend, because nothing is going to go better with the turning of the seasons and the days of rain in the forecast than the smell of baking banana bread and rum cake. I ran to the closet and pulled out my skinny jeans and the fall tops I bought a couple of months ago. The pretty turquoise jacket with the matching collared shirt still had the tags on, and had been waiting patiently for the weather to cool down. I added on my brown leather boots, and headed out.

Of course, my car didn't want to start, until I realized the key wasn't turning because I had screwed up the lock last time I got out of the car. Thanks to Rachel telling me how to jiggle the steering wheel, it started just fine. In the meantime, the rain started to pour back down. By the time I was done buying the rum at the ABC store, I walked out into sheets from a cold autumn shower.

But the rain didn't dampen my spirits! I went to Hellmart for the rest of the ingredients, and found crates of fresh apples and pumpkins and squash at the front of the store, along with a display of cider. For once I enjoyed my trip to the crowded megamart, and walked out with some perfect Braeburn apples and a gallon of cider. And I may have picked up a carrot cake, too, since the cake spice smells so warm and sweet. I was in such a good mood, I even joked about the sexiness of Mark Harmon with the girl at Subway. Yummy.

I love everything about autumn. I love the way the leaves look, especially in the rain. And all the food and smells, pumpkins and spices and apples. Not to mention the damp smell everything seems to take on for the months before the freeze. I think my favorite part of autumn is sweaters. It's the only time of the year where you can wear your favorite sweaters without having to cover them with a coat. I know what you're thinking, what about spring? But the sun is different in the spring, and it rains so often you have to cover up anyhow.

When I get back from California, I get to go through my sweaters. And I'm even more excited because I've lost so much weight that anything I had stored away when it didn't fit now gets to have a second chance. I have a storage chest full of cashmere begging to come out and play. I even bought some baby alpaca scarves in Peru, and I can't wait to wear them all.

Now before anyone goes all crazy on me about my penchant for expensive fabrics, I'll let you in on a little secret. I don't buy cheap sweaters. I'm a collector. I shop at the end of the season, and I consider each sweater an investment. I figure I save a ton of money by not wearing through cheap sweaters each year. And I take immaculate care of my cashmere, packing it away every spring with acid free tissue paper, hand washing it so the fabric blooms, and never putting it on hangers. My favorite red sweater is several years old and looks like new. I stopped buying the cheap sweaters after I grew tired of them having holes after being worn twice, and pilling and stretching and all the other crazy things cheap fabrics do. My mother-in-law even got in on the game a couple Christmases ago and bought me the most gorgeous shell and cardigan set. Now let's see what happens when Jere finds out I'm using his grandmother's antique blanket press to store my sweaters and scarves...

So everyone take a minute this weekend to enjoy the changing of the seasons in whatever way makes it feel special for you. If you're in a warmer climate than I am, my apologies. You won't need a sweater until at least November. But for my friends in Michigan, lucky you! Someone be sure to go to Klackle's, pick apples and pumpkins on a hayride, drink cider, and if you get the chance, ship me an apple caramel cheesecake donut or ten. I dream about those.

It's time for me to dive into some cake and cider, and watch Super Troopers. You are freaking Rachel, I completely blame you for that one.

Today's lesson: Sometimes it takes nothing more than the change of the seasons to regain your awe in the beauty of things. We should all take a moment to stand breathless in the rain and feel the wonder of the coming season soaking into us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trading Vienna for Berlin...and where the hell is AT&T?

I was pretty disappointed yesterday when my travel agency called and said my trip to Vienna had to be cancelled. Turns out that since it's so close to Christmas, no one else wanted to go. That little trip was just supposed to be conveniently added onto the rest of the month in Europe, but no one else wanted to go there. Fortunately, they had a trip right before mine going to Berlin, so I'm going there instead. Yes, I'd rather go to Vienna, but Jere has no desire to see Berlin when we go to Germany, so I can go there on my own. As I told the travel agent, I've been working my butt off on my German, so I'd better get to go somewhere I can actually use it. Geben Sie mir eine Flasche Wein. Yeah. I'll do just fine.

Today, AT&T was supposed to come and fix my phone line. I've been going over my minutes on the cell phone by an obscene amount every month, so Jere and I decided to get a landline. The problem is they hooked it up a few weeks ago, and it's still not working. So I called and made an appointment to have someone come. The woman said today between 8 AM and 6 PM. Nice window, huh?

So I cleaned the apartment on and off all day, waiting for the repairman to call and say he was on his way. The call never came. 10 hours and 4 hand mopped floors later, my phone is still not working. I'm so steamed. I turned down Andrea for lunch because I was waiting for them to come. Hopefully I cool down by tomorrow, because I feel like calling and screaming right now.

Short blog, but it's bedtime here. And tomorrow is a major piano practice day, so I need all the rest I can get.

Today's lesson: Plans tend to change when you are the most excited about them. Best to just shrug your shoulders, go with the flow, and go buy yet another travel book so you know how to get around Berlin.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What happens in Bear Lake....goes on my blog?

Even the weather couldn't ruin this past weekend. Don't get me wrong, it was cold and wet and pretty miserable. The driving was white knuckled, and I spent almost the entire time soaked to the bone. But rarely have I had a weekend filled with more laughs or received more of a reminder that in my friends I will always find unconditional love.

I left for Dulles Airport around 8 in the morning on Friday to catch my flight. Despite the rain, I didn't experience a single delay on my trip. I got into my rental car in Lansing and drove all the way to Bear Lake, where Kelli and Christina were waiting. Kelli did some truly amazing research online and found a great deal on a gorgeous cabin right on the lake. And she gleefully spent the rest of the weekend trying to cryogenically preserve us with open windows and her fan.

When I finally pulled in the drive, we immediately went out to seek food. There was a restaurant down the street, but as it was past 8:00, it was closed. So we hopped over to the gas station to find an ATM, and asked the girl there where we could find something to eat. She said the only place open was the bar, but it was all the way across town. Now what does across town mean to you? A 20 minute drive? More? "Yeah, you'll have to go to the other side of town, it's about a mile and a half down the road." We were definitely in podunk. That said, the food at the bar was nice and the waitress had a good sense of humor.

We went back to the cabin to build a fire, but it was so wet, we gave up. And determined as we were to get silly drunk, it didn't happen. We went to bed early. And the next day, we went horseback riding in the rain.

I can't even pay proper tribute to our hour long ride in print. I have never laughed so hard in my life while sober. It was Kelli's first time on a horse, and the manager of the stables put her on the biggest horse on the ranch, Joe. She couldn't steer him, and managed to whack herself in the head while trying to go underneath a branch (not a tiny branch, one the size of a tree trunk). Christina and I were behind her and actually had to stop our horses until we quit laughing.

We embarassed the heck out of our guide, Oscar, talking about our sex lives and making dirty cracks about everything we thought of. That's what they get for sticking a girl who hasn't gotten lucky in 5 months on a horse of that name. I may have gotten Lucky, but when I woke up the next morning and felt every sore muscle in my body, I realized that Lucky got the best of me.
After coming back to the cabin and taking a long nap, we drove over to a bistro recommended by the woman at the ranch. The food was tasty, my wine was fantastic, but we were so full and tired that we wanted nothing but to go to bed. After putzing around the cabin for a bit, we did just that. Another exciting night for the little old ladies.

Early to bed, early to rise, and we were up and out of there just after 8 in the morning. I was lucky enough to make it to Little Man's first birthday party. I'm so happy I didn't miss this important event, and I got to see even more of my friends. When it came time for me to go, I didn't want to. I wanted to stay and visit and talk.

The drive to Lansing was treacherous, and I was exhausted and soaked by the time I had dropped off the car and made my way to the gate. Luckily, my flight wasn't canceled, because so many were. I got back to DC and still had a two and a half hour drive home. But hey, you'd drive to the airport if it saved you $400 in airfare. But it meant that I was worn out today, so I decided not to have my piano lesson and caught up on my emails and talked to my husband. Then I fell asleep and took a 6 hour nap. Whoops.

Today's lesson: Visiting home can be completely fantastic. But when it's time to return to regular life, leaving everyone you love can truly make you ache.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Spontaneity and inevitability

Anyone who knows me well knows I'm not the most spontaneous person out there. Every trip has to be planned and scheduled. So when Rachel emailed to let me know there was a McCain/Palin rally in Fairfax the following day, I wanted to go, since I hadn't seen Rachel since December, and the whole thing sounded like fun to me. (Ahem....personal note here: my blogs are non-partisan. I'm not talking politics here, just talking about someplace I went. Political debate makes me crazy.)

I decided fighting DC commuter traffic in the morning before the rally was out of the question, and got on Starwood and booked a night at the Westin only ten miles from the park. Let me just say, I love my Starwood points, and didn't pay a penny for the room. I went shopping for some cute new shoes and an automatic feeder for Ginger, then came home and packed an overnight bag.

There was a time when the idea of only having a few hours to prepare would have sent me over the edge. But after so much travel, especially on guided tours where you're unpacking and repacking constantly, I've gotten good at it! I already had my travel cosmetics packed, and planned an outfit for the rally. After loading up Ginger's food tray, I was set!

The hotel was gorgeous, the room service was fantastic, and Rachel and I had a wonderful time at the rally. I think we've decided McCain picked Sarah Palin because her name is easier to chant than his. Cindy looked gorgeous in green as usual, the sun was shining, and the crowd was 30,000 strong. No matter what your politics, the whole thing was exciting.

I got home last night and found Miss Ginger angry but well fed. She learned how to eat out of the bowl, which made me SO happy since I've got girls' weekend next. She will be just fine.

I woke up this morning to the inevitable: Ginger rubbing her paws on the blinds because she knows it will wake me up, and the remote going missing so I'm forced to watch kids programs like Handy Manny. You know, I don't mind these bilingual cartoons so children can learn the basics of another language, but I figure that since there's already Dora and Manny teaching kids Spanish, can't we have another cartoon that teaches them German or French or something else? I know that an increasing number of people in America speak Spanish, but I wish my high school and and middle school would have offered something other than Spanish. I've got to agree with Joana's sister. Why aren't we teaching our kids Latin anymore? Such a good base for languages.

Oh well. Living in our home, our kids will learn German. Jere took it in college, and I'm good enough at this point to make simple sentences. "The car is red" or "I am a housewife." A couple more weeks of practice and I might be able to make my way around Vienna with ease.

Today's lesson: Only when you've planned and prepared things ahead of time can you be spontaneous. By being organized, it's easy to grab, go, and not flip out because you can't find the teeny tiny tube of travel toothpaste.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Takeout for the obsessive compulsive

Today is my day to chill. Yeah, yeah, if today is my day to chill, what was yesterday? Yesterday I mopped floors and cleaned my light fixtures. I wrapped Christmas presents since I won't be around for November or December, made the Christmas card list, and managed to email my husband back and forth enough to actually pick out our Christmas cards. And today I was supposed to volunteer at a blues event, but that was moved on account of the weather. So I found a House marathon on TV, curled up with my cat, and called it good.

Then this evening I decided that being good all week earned me a thin crust pizza. I got online to order it through Pizza Hut, then remembered something. Thank you, Wraith and Ericka, for introducing me to Domino's and their order tracking process. I ordered my pizza online, watched as the website told me the exact second my pizza was being prepared and by who, then told me when it went into the oven. And I knew the exact moment the delivery guy went out the door, and I knew his name before he arrived.

For those of us with a few obsessive compulsive tendencies, what a delight! I set my screen where I could see it, watched the status of my dinner, and organized the living room and kitchen. What a world we live in that we can know the exact location of our pizzas at all times. Someday, I'm betting, there will be webcams so we can watch it cook, too. And now I'm happy with my pizza and a movie, looking at the pictures my husband emailed me today.

It's been a great day.

Today's lesson: Technology has given us some wonderful things. The telephone, indoor plumbing, electricity.....and a little doodad that lets you track the exact location of your thin crust vegetarian pizza like the computer obsessed control freak you know you are.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Little things amaze me

It's been awhile since I watched the Travel Channel. Quite frankly, I've been too busy travelling the world to pay much attention to the TV.

But I turned it on this morning to watch Samantha Brown. And it's been phenomenal today. First she went to Belize and tubed through the same cave I went though. And right now she's in Cusco, Peru, touring Awana Kancha, the alpaca and llama cultural center. She's feeding the same llamas that I did!

As I tour more places and realize just how big the world is, I'm more facinated at how much of it I can see from my living room. And it's a true delight seeing the places I've been, simply because it's like living it all over again.

And now Samantha is drinking Pisco sours and eating Guinea pig and alpaca steak. I miss beautiful Peru and I miss the food and views. My biggest problem is my own conflict: Do I want to see more of the world, or do I want to return to the places I loved? Should I go back to Ireland and revel in thick Guinness and cheap crisps in a tiny dirt-floored pub? Should I drink cinnamon tea in the freezing cold night after watching the dervishes in Turkey? What about sitting by the ocean in Lima, watching fireworks and a wedding from a beachside restaurant? Or do I want to find new places to love and learn from?

And what on Earth will I do if I fall in love with Europe in December? That's five countries I will have travelled to, and I fear I may not want to come home to my mountains, despite how beautiful my home is.

I've been home too long, and I'm ready to go again. A month without travel makes me restless. And I can't wait to spend next weekend with some good friends.

Today's lesson: Travel breaks your heart twice: it hurts to be away from home, and it hurts to be home.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I'm going back to bed.

I've been sick for two days. Two whole days where food has been the enemy. So when I woke up this morning and felt fantastic, I was completely ready to make up for everything I'd skipped while I wasted away in my bed.

I bounded out from under my comforter, fed the cat, and softened some butter. The dishwasher was unloaded, six dozen cookies were baked and packed, and a ton of online Christmas shopping was finished. I got so busy I actually walked out the door late for my music theory lesson. And that is where it all started to go downhill.

What is wrong with people? And trust me, there is no person above my notice at the moment. This includes handicapped drivers, city planners, police officers, secretaries on lunch, cell phone providers, fat old women, supercenter employees, Ford F-350 owners....the list goes on.

First off, I think city planners are idiots. I know there are special people out there whose job it is to make traffic run smoothly by programming traffic lights to have specific timing. To whoever has that position in Waynesboro: "YOU SUCK." At no point should a driver hit every red light in the middle of the day. I'm not talking rush hour here. And what is the deal with handicapped drivers? Is there a law that states they have to go 20 mph under the speed limit while taking up both lanes? Each time I tried to pass this guy, he'd switch lanes!

I obviously arrived late to my lesson, which was less overwhelming this week. Jere gave me great advice, telling me to be honest with my instructor that I was completely lost. It's hard for me to admit when I'm overwhelmed by something, especially in music, but I walked in and told him I just wasn't grasping the first lesson, and he was able to break it down in a way that made complete sense to me.

Earlier I had decided to run to Walmart after my lesson to pick up some Christmas gifts and fresh veggies. I really hate going there, but there are some things you can't get at the grocery store. I suppose I could have gone to Martin's for the veggies, but I figured Walmart was safe because it was the middle of a Thursday. No kids running around because school was in session. I should have known I was walking into a nightmare.

What's wrong with Walmart? Let's start with the pharmacy. My doctor told me to pick up some ovulation tests, so I went hunting for them, only to find the place where they should have been empty, with just the price signs and no tests. So I walked up to the pharmacy counter and tried to flag down a woman, but ended up being assisted by a hard of hearing old man. What follows is the conversation that ensued:

"Uh, yes. I'm looking for ovulation tests."
"Ovulation tests?"
"Yes. Ovulation."
"Pregnancy tests?"
"No, not pregnancy tests. Ovulation tests."
"You need a pregnancy test?"
"No, ovulation tests. They come in packs of seven."
"You need seven pregnancy tests?"
(Let me interject. This very hard of hearing man is yelling "pregnancy test" over and over, so the head of every old lady is turned to look at me, the teenage looking short girl, and they're tsk-tsking to each other.)
"No. I don't need a pregnancy test. I need ovulation tests."
(Turning to the head pharmacist, thankfully a woman)"Do we have O-VU-LA-TION tests?"
(Nice pharmacist lady)"They would be over by the pregnancy tests, but I think they are restocking that whole area so they may not be there."

At this point I just waved my thanks and walked back over to the pregnancy tests to see if I'd missed seeing the ovulation tests. I hadn't. But while trying to get in there to look, I was repeatedly run over by a woman on one of those electric scooters, a subject I will cover more in a moment.

Here's my question about the hard of hearing pharmacy assistant: if he can't hear me say "ovuation", what else does he miss? Isn't it somewhat important to correctly hear things in pharmacies? Don't you run a risk of handing out the wrong medication if you hear someone wrong? And what about HIPAA laws, you know, those privacy laws about not giving out patients' private information? Goodness knows what this man has said too loudly. "SO YOU KNOW THIS MEDICINE FOR YOUR GONORRHEA CAN MAKE YOU DROWSY, RIGHT?"

Here in Virginia, we let old people drive long past a point that is smart or sane. This includes letting them drive those motorized scooter carts around Walmart like they're on a Nascar track. I've never seen so many fat old women driving those stupid scooters around all at once. And none of them cared that they were blocking all the aisles. There was one woman who backed out of an aisle and thanked me for waiting, so she was ok. But all the rest of them, freaking idiots.

And the last thing that drove me crazy was that when I went to buy the cafe con leche powder because I had a craving and was feeling too pissed off, lazy, and stressed to come home and fight with my espresso machine, there were four cans and they all expired in February. Oh. And when I got through the line, I realized I forgot to pick up what I actually came for.

I was supposed to go to a Junior Women's Club meeting with Andrea tonight, but I called and told her if I had to smile at one more person I would scream. So I went home, hauled in the groceries, and found a package from my husband waiting. Right on time. :-)

On a couple of good notes, I am about 90% done with the Christmas shopping, as I will not be here to do it in November or December. I ate organic brownies straight from the pan for dinner with a glass of milk. And last night I managed to make my own blog header on blogspot using my own graphics. I'm darn proud of it, go take a look:

It doesn't matter how much I got done today. It wasn't worth the stress. I'm going to bed tonight and not getting back out until sometime Saturday afternoon.

Today's lesson: There are some days when you should just stop what you're doing, drive home, put your jammies on, and climb back into bed. In fact, you should do that everytime you even think about going to Walmart.