Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The henna party - Part 2 of Katie's Wedding Weekend

Once we got off the bus in NJ, we walked up the hill to Ipek's house where she was throwing a henna party for Katie. This is sort of the Turkish equivalent of a bachelorette party, only there aren't ever any strippers, or bar crawls. There's a little ceremony where the groom's family gives the bride to be gold pieces (which are as good as cash in hand) and everyone celebrates with a little henna staining on their hands. I was a smidge disappointed because when I heard henna party I thought we'd be doing something cool like in India where they decorate their hands with henna in beautiful designs. This is not the case in Turkey. Nope, you just plop a little henna down in your palm or whatnot and go on your merry way. Nonetheless, I came home with a little packet of the stuff, and I think it'll be fun to play with (we can do a henna design party anyway).

Because it was so cold in the city we were the first people to show up. The henna party is for girls only, but Brad did hang out for awhile until Bekir showed up to take him back to NYC for the bachelor party at a Brazilian steakhouse. Once he was gone most of the ladies showed up. Several of Katie's friends from the city and from college were there, along with my mom and Bekir's family (sister, mother, aunts, grandmother and cousins).
Ipek did Katie's make-up and Bekir's mom dressed her in a green sparkly "robe" and put a red scarf on her head. She sat at a table and they brought out a tray with candles and a bowl of henna (which I'd earlier mistaken for spinach dip - but thankfully did not sample). They sang a little song (of which I understood zilch, but it was fun anyway) and did a little ceremony with the giving of the gold coins and the henna. They tied a red bag around Katie's hand with the gold and henna and she then passed around the bowl of henna for everyone else to put a smidge in their hands. This was fun, but mild disappointment ensued when the American girls figured out there wouldn't be any pretty designs (see, it wasn't just me). That was pretty much the entire ceremony.
After the ceremony we had some new and interesting Turkish dishes to sample and there were plenty of drinks to go around. I tried 3 different kinds of pasta salad, 2 different kinds of hummus, some red relishy stuff on bread and crazy amazing brownies made by Bekir's mom. The party was all in all a good time, but we had to drive about 45 minutes back to the hotel and Brad did not come back to get us until about midnight (we were not the happiest campers ever).

NYC Trip - part 1 of Katie's Wedding Weekend

So last weekend was my sister's wedding. Like most weddings there were a few events leading up to the big day, so even though the actual to-do wasn't until Sunday evening, we headed up to NJ on Thursday afternoon. After a nearly 7 hour drive in the rain, we made it to Bridgewater, checked in to the hotel and crashed. The 6:30am wake-up call came rather early (with it being 6:30am and all), but we got up, got ready and drove in to West NY to catch a bus in to the city. First off we saw Wintuk, a seasonal Cirque du Soleil show that my friend Rene just so happens to be performing in. After Josh moaned and groaned a good bit (as he does when we do anything he didn't particularly suggest), the show started and he decided it was a good idea after all (shocker). The show was fab, and when it was over we went backstage with Rene to get the grand tour. This was a pretty interesting addition to our trip and it was great to see Rene aside from everything else.

From there we took off for Soho - it's only my favoritest place in the whole world (well, at least it's my favoritest place in NY, if not the east coast). We made our way over to La Esquina (otherwise known as the Corner Deli) and had their fabulous roasted corn and fish tacos. Josh, ever the moaner and groaner, would not eat a bite of his corn, so I finished off not one, but two servings and definitely had my fill of corn till next season. From there we walked down to Rice to Riches and had some cheesecake and cookies & cream rice pudding. This was Brad's first trip to the famed rice pudding shop and I think he quite liked it (which is shocking cause Josh gets the groaning and moaning precisely from him when it comes to trying new things). Josh, still groaning and moaning, had no rice pudding whatsoever. After we stuffed ourselves silly at RTR, we walked over to Uniqlo so Brad could get a hat, scarf and gloves cause it was not particularly warm that day. Even with the newly purchased warmth, it was too cold, so we decided to just hop on the subway and head back to the bus.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Not so warm in south Texas

I'm on my last trip of the fall travel season, and frankly I'm rather disappointed. The people are great, I've got a bay front room and have had fun thus far. The major issue here is the freakin' weather. I picked this trip almost exclusively for the nice weather potential. Seriously, who doesn't want to go to Corpus Christi in December? It's all nice and warm and sunny.... or not. No, it was lovely when I got here on Wednesday, about 85 degrees, sunny, a light breeze. I wore my flip flops and walked around town - just great! All that ended about the time I went to bed that night. The wind woke me up repeatedly, it got terribly cold out, and today I didn't see the sun at all. Granted, it's better than the cold and wind in DC (cause there's no bay front room) and it is probably 10 to 20 degrees warmer. I'm outta here tomorrow afternoon, and of course it's supposed to warm up over the weekend. I suppose this is what I get for planning business travel around my personal desires.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving and wishful thinking

I rather enjoy social networking sites - of any sort really. For some it's a blog community (sorta like this), for others it's Facebook or MySpace, and for other's it's a message board of some sort. All of these things are nifty ways for folks to keep in touch and I really enjoy reading up on everyone's lives and news. This brings me to my current state of reading up on everyone's Thanksgiving holiday. Several friends of mine went out of town, while others stayed home and people came to them. Most had home cooked food, but I'd venture I know at least someone who went out for their turkey dinner. The recurring theme in most everyone's depiction of their holiday was FUN. Fun with friends, fun with family, fun with the dog and cat - whatever, it was all just fun. This applies to mostly everyone who wrote a blog, posted pictures, or made a comment of any sort regarding turkey day. This; however, does not apply to me.
For many years now we've been going out to Winchester to have Thanksgiving dinner with our friends and former babysitters, the Purvis family. These folks are straight sent from heaven. When we were absurdly young, clueless, and in need of quality child care, the Purvis family (yes, all 4 of them) came to the rescue. Kelly, the daughter, worked at the daycare Josh went to and when we asked around for someone who might be available one evening to babysit she was all in. We really liked her and her family (she was 19 at the time) and so we called her again and again to help us out. When we discovered we would need someone who would pick-up our kid and watch him till later in the evening, Debbie, the mom, stepped in to help. These folks helped us raise Josh and were just like family to us for the whole 3 years we lived in Winchester. Even after we moved away, we continued to go out to visit them for Thanksgiving (among other times during the year). THIS was always nice and enjoyable, never awkward or uncomfortable, and something anyone would want to do again.
This year my mom wanted to come for Thanksgiving with her new husband, who we've met all of once. Not to completely poo-poo the guy - he seems nice enough, but we just don't know him at all. Compound this with the fact that my mom doesn't even know him. This time last year she was screaming at us all about how everyone on the Internet is a "liar - all liars", and how dating sites are just formulas for disaster. Fast forward 6 months and she'd run off and married the first guy she met on an Internet dating site - pretty much site unseen. She dragged him around to her friends and family (Katie and I excluded) and then decided that was ample opportunity for everyone to "approve", so she took the leap like a complete child. I'll stop this rant here and continue on with my Thanksgiving story.
So she calls and says she wants to come and I said that was fine if she wanted to, but it wasn't necessary (cause we're very happy just going to Winchester). I've spent the bulk of my life going out for Thanksgiving, so she suggested we do that - her treat. I looked up a few places and decided on Clyde's in Ashburn, and that was that. There was some momentary moaning and groaning on the part of everyone here in my house because it's just not fun. It's not fun to deal with people in your house that you don't know. It's not fun to deal with my mom who is just a strange bird to begin with, but then coupled with her draped over this guy we don't know is extremely awkward. It's difficult to describe the level of discomfort that exists when they're here. At least when it was just my mom I could deal with just her. Generally she's nice to your face, it's over the phone that she's so unbearable. I did my best to make conversation about whatever I thought I might have in common with the new guy, but as it turns out there isn't really anything. He mentioned that he wanted to go visit places now that he's retired, so I thought that would be a fun topic. It wasn't. The only places he wants to go are places he's already been to, and all of said places are in this country. The funniest part of the entire conversation was when he suggested my mom get on an unpressurized, unheated military plane to Hawaii. She was clearly shocked by this suggestion, and my comment to her was "" I was beginning to think he might be relatively tolerable until the day they left and he started to tell a "joke" which wasn't a joke at all. Brad, in quick thinking, stopped him, and later told me what he was going to say (which he'd apparently told Brad the night before). I honestly wish he would've said it in front of me so I could've thrown him out good and proper. I have no patience for stupidity, racism, redneckism, or anything that could be construed as a threat to our national security. Makes me wanna take him up 123 and drop him at Langley next time they're in town.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Forced to slow down

I haven't been sick in about two years. Once upon a time, when I worked at the oh so craptastic law job, I got sick twice, in the whole horrific two months I worked there. The sickness only compounded the misery that was working there. Fast forward out of that dark and dreary time to my current job, which is generally sunny and fun. Even though travel is often the culprit for illness (especially this time of year), I managed to stave off any instances of the cold or flu for my time there thus far. At least until this past trip.
I've been a big fan of DanActive, pretty much every since it came out. I told my friends all about it and how great it seems to work. I generally chug a little yellow bottle of vanilla yogurt daily and never get sick. Unfortunately, in my flurry of travels and work and soccer and whatever, I neglected to pick up DanActive on my last several trips to the grocery store. I probably went about a month without it and now I am paying the price.
Each time I have to fly anywhere I get a little hack. I attribute this to the dry, recirculated air in the plane. Generally, after about 24 hours the hack is gone and everything is fine. This is what I thought was going to be the case on my trip to Boston-ish last week, but apparently the hack turned in to full blown nastiness. It took several days for me to come to terms with the fact that there was still something sitting in my chest. I came home and started waking up with a sore throat each morning, so I turned up the humidifier (which hadn't been turned up nearly enough). The end of the week came and the sore throat went away, but the hack did not. Saturday came and went and nothing awful happened, but on Sunday it all let loose. After lunch and grocery shopping I came home and took a little nap on the couch. When I woke up I was sure that the 8 pack of DanActive I'd just purchased would not be able to save me. I worked yesterday, albeit from home. I'm pretty productive like that, and as long as I can sit here in my sweats with a big cup of tea I believe life will go on. Today, my boss is gone off for his holiday vacation, and I am most definitely not going to take this affliction and pass it around the office. It wouldn't be nice, and it's completely unnecessary. Instead I'll be here, probably napping, popping some pills and catching up on my TIVO.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Secret life of a vampire lover

So, I love vampires. If you knew me in college, you might know this already (though that really depends on what point in college you know me from). I have no idea where the love came from, or when it started, but it's been there for quite some time and was only enhanced by books and movies like Interview with the Vampire and Blade. I have zero desire to suck blood from anyone or anything, nor do I fancy living forever (most days anyway). I just think the idea of vampires is... kinda cool. All of this is in sharp contrast to my extreme fear of horror. Horror in books, movies, real life - not up my alley. Vampires - up my alley.

Did I write this blog just to ramble on pointlessly? Actually, no.

So, today a new movie came out - Twilight. It's based on a book (or maybe a couple of books from the series) targeted at teenage girls. For this reason I haven't read the books, and I'm writing this blog instead of watching the movie (unlike alot of other people I know). I've seen several ads for the movie, so my interest has been piqued for awhile. Yesterday I read a review in the Post that was pretty positive for the flick over all. Today I took Sharon out to lunch (my assistant) and she told me about how her daughter is all gung-ho to go see the movie this evening. Then she told me how her daughter never reads, but was completely obsessed with the book series over the summer and how after her daughter finished the books she picked them up and read them too. Ok, so clearly I'll have to read the books. Seeing how I NEVER get to the movies, I probably won't get to see this in the theatre, but after reading the books I won't want to watch the movie anyway.

I'm generally opposed to books targeted at teenage girls, but for the sake of the vampire theme I'm gonna go ahead and take the leap. I have a feeling that I'll end up with plenty of folks to discuss them with (not unlike the Harry Potter following).

Blog for the travel break

So, you might have noticed that I haven't written a blog in like.... well, forever. It's a busy time with work, and blogging is WAY on the back burner (cause sleep is what I choose to do with any free time I might come across). Anywho, I've got a whopping 2 week break between trips, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to catch up a bit on where I've been, what I've seen and whatever else I think might be blog worthy. Let's work in reverse chronological order.

Most recently I've been to Boston-ish. The trip was planned for Worcester, MA, but thanks to a handy hockey practice scheduled in, I managed to make it around a bit of Boston with a good friend. I was super thrilled by this addition to my trip (which would've been totally lame otherwise). I spent a couple of hours the morning I arrived walking around Quincy Market and the north side of Boston. I had real good italian food and real good italian pastries. The north side is a really great part of town with narrow roads and lots of very old buildings - very old European feel. This is the part of town where you'll find the Freedom Trail along with all the italian goodness you can handle. After my jaunt around town we headed across a bridge to somewhere and went to hockey practice (for a whole hour thanks to SU not having it's own rink and having to rent ice time from public joints - cushy job, I know).

The trip before that took me to Texas.... yes, again. There I watched the election results from the privacy of my hotel room while I had a great turkey sandwich and amazing chocolate chip cookies. This was pretty much the highlight of my trip. Sad, but true. There were a couple of meetings I attended, but they weren't blog worthy.

This puts us back to late October when I took my first-ever trip to Wisconsin. I've wanted to go to Wisconsin for quite some time, and I was thrilled to actually go and see what there was to see. Unfortunately, my trip took me to the dead center of the state and so there wasn't a whole lot to see and do there. Fortunately, the folks I worked with there were hilarious and quite possibly the most entertaining group I've come across at a convention. After 2 days in Stevens Point I was ready to head home and made it back just in time for trick-or-treating.

I know, the exciting travel is almost too much for you to handle - well hang on, there's still more to come!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All worked up over politics

I've had a rule for many many years now - don't discuss politics and religion with friends. In some cases these "friends" might be mere acquaintances, and in some cases they might be family. In most cases my "friends" are actually my "friends" and the majority of said friends will tell you that I don't get in to these types of discussions (for the most part). This being said, there are plenty of other folks out there who not only don't live by this rule, they've apparently never heard of it. I've come across a number of people over the past year who want to sit and debate, bash, slander, smear, and berate whichever candidate they like the least. I've certainly got my opinions on the candidates, and I always have had opinions. If you ask me what I think of someone I will probably tell you one way or the other, but you should know that's not an open door for us to get in to a lengthy discussion about it. I might even ask you what you think about a particular candidate or their stance on a certain issue, but again, just a question, not a debate invite. All this brings me to the reason for this blog. Folks who get all worked up because they believe that one candidate or the other is somehow going to sell our souls to the devil.
Now, perhaps I'm wrong, and niave and whatever else you'd like to call me - but I believe that our government keeps tabs on folks, especially those in public office. I believe that the CIA has a file on me - and I haven't broken any law outside of an occasional traffic violation (and I've been free and clear of those for 2 years now). Keeping this in mind, I can't believe that any person holding a public office at the national level hasn't been checked over. This doesn't mean that they keep their noses clean. Did Gary Condit have Chaundra Levy knocked off... well, we'll probably never know. Do senators and congressmen break the law and d0 really stupid stuff - of course they do. However, I don't believe that any of them, not a one, is a threat to our national security.
This belief continues on to our presidential candidates. Honestly folks, do you think that "undercover terrorists" taking the form of presidential candidates are going to walk right past the CIA, FBI and whatever else is housed over in Langley? Do you think the secret service covering a candidate is standing idly by while he has meetings with Osama Bin Laden? It seems to me that there are alot of folks out there who believe this. There are entire organizations whose entire goal is not to promote one candidate or the other, but rather to smear one candidate or the other, and frankly their tactics and suggestions are not only outrageous, they're abhorrent.
I'm not sure how you feel, but for me, my vote is won and potentially swayed by telling me about what a candidate is going to do for this country. I'm generally only disgusted by smear campaigns and for the extreme cases where the only message is hate I just hit the delete button. You want to change my mind and win my vote? I suggest you start telling me about what your candidates plans are to make this country a better place. How is that guy gonna solve our problems and make the US a place our kids might actually want to live in? I don't care what you think about the other guy - and I'm entirely uninterested in whatever muck you've raked up on him. That only proves you've got far too much time on your hands which would undoubtedly be better spent finding better ways to solve our energy crisis, keep folks from losing their homes and jobs, and putting a halt on the enormous problem that is global warming and the loss of acres and acres of wildlife habitat.
That's what I want to know about, that's what folks should be talking about and frankly anyone who wants to sit around and sling mud all day can stick it where the sun don't shine.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Things that make you go.....

Arg! I'm gonna pull my hair out! No, not things that make you go hmmm... The aforementioned phrase is far more representative of my current frustration/aggravation level with a certain aspect of my current job.
I've got a great job, don't get me wrong. I love the people in my office, the organization I work for, the mission we support, and so on and so forth. The negative aspects are few and far between. Recently, an issue has come up that is just completely incomprehensible to me - on several different levels. People, possible an entire organization of people, are apparently running a covert operation to try and undermine my program. On the flip side of that - constituents of mine, who, in an attempt to block this potential undermining scheme are WAY overstepping their boundaries with yet other organizations (with which my organization is partnered). I realize this is all pretty confusing since I'm not naming names, but stick with me here.
So, the overstepping organization thinks that I (and/or my organization as a whole) should be backing them in their overstepping. We blatantly disagree and have told the organizations that have been overstepped upon what our stance is - as well as the actual oversteppers. Unfortunately, it seems that the undermining organization is continuing to press their undermining agenda, thus forcing us to come across (at least in some situations) as agreeing with and joining with the overstepping organization. It's a very tough spot.
In my position, I'm between a rock and a hard place. While I want to support the overstepping organization because we are partners and have the same goals, I cannot stand by and allow this blatant misuse of assumed power (power that does not actually exist - AT ALL). It's just wrong, and it's not my place or their place to do so (hence the term "overstepping"). On the flip side, if the undermining organization is actually playing by the rules, and not undermining my program after all (which I would honestly find hard to believe considering the circumstances) then we've done them a HUGE disservice and frankly there could be legal action taken (which would be an extreme case, but don't put it past them).
The next couple of months will be quite interesting where this issue is concerned. I'll be doing alot of travelling and may run in to this precise quandary - right in my face where I may be called upon to act in some sort of "overstepping" capacity (or at least that's my perception of what my potential action could be). I'd rather not be grouped with the oversteppers, so the thought of this makes me pretty ill, but I'd also rather not have a situation where my program is being undermined.
Just thinking about all this nonsense gives me a headache. Makes me long for the days where all I had to deal with were mindless ADs, non-compliant kids, and the occasional raging coach. Sad, but true...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Warning, your pill might make your nose itch...

I had a bit of a learning experience today - and then not so much of a learning experience. A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) had a bit of a "scare" per an "incident" yesterday that required some quick action and a trip to the pharmacy. If you've got any sort of clue in the world you will deduct from the previous statement what I'm talking about.
Now, oddly enough, I came to be the primary provider of information on the subject of this certain type of "medication" simply because I took the time to learn about it many years ago. This might have been because I was in a pharm class at the time, or it might have been just because I was interested to know how the drug worked. Regardless, I found myself spewing information regarding the topic and action of said drug. Inevitably it was me who employed the drug website to find a pharmacy who had it in stock and then me who also drove the getaway car to pick the stuff up.
Upon getting in the car after an oh-so-brief trip in to Rite-Aid, I snatched up the package to read all about what she bought. There wasn't alot of new information, but I did learn a few new interesting things.
  • This product will this stop your normal process from occurring (which is primarily why it works - no new news there)
  • This product may stop the process from escalating if the normal process has already occurred.
  • This product may also stop the process which has already escalated from escalating further if said process has not already taken up shop in the shed.

Good stuff, I know.

Other interesting tid-bits...

  • This product contains lactose (so in our theory it could be problematic for those who are lactose intolerant)

This part was particularly hilarious because we then got in to a discussion about what you'd do if you were to have an allergic reaction to said minuscule ingredient. Anaphalaxis was mentioned, severe gastrointestinal upset, hives, oh, and an itchy nose (which is my reaction to a certain ingredient present in many types of chewing gum). Yes, we decided that it would be truly unfortunate if your pill made your nose itch.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My dog opens doors

Since we moved to Fairfax we've had a new luxury not found in our old neighborhood - a fenced backyard. When we lived in Winchester we had one of these, and it was quite nice and large for a small townhouse (we had the end unit, so that definitely helped). The major difference here is that in Winchester we had no dog, and now we do, so the fenced backyard comes in quite handy when the dog wants to go out, but nobody else does.
Don't get me wrong - we walk the dog. We put him on the leash and take him out around the block and around the neighborhood in general (and on very nice days where there's nothing else going on we take him around the lake out back). It is a nice option to have though, the backyard, when one doesn't have the time or the energy to take the dog out for a decent walk.
Ben has been quite content with the back yard. There are a couple of bush-type things, a couple of trees, a nice brick patio area with a walkway out to the gate and some grassy spots on either side. Ample room for a medium-sized Shar Pei to do his business and jump around like a horse when he so chooses. Generally, when he's had enough of the business, or the running and jumping, or barking at whatever walks past the other side of the fence, he just sits down by the door and waits for us to come and open it up. I guess at some point he decided he'd had quite enough of this sitting and waiting and wanted to take matters in to his own hands - or paws as the case might be.
Back in the spring, we had to put Ben out back for quite some time while we had a bunch of kids over for Josh's birthday. Ben is just fine and dandy with us, and with the general visitor, but he tends to disrespect kids (because he was severely disrespected by the children of his previous owner), so we feel it's best to avoid any sort of "incident" and just ban him from things like birthday parties. It was on this occasion that he put his nails, and then foot, and then leg, and then head, and then entire body through our sliding screen door. From what I've garnered, replacing the screen isn't the most difficult thing in the world to do - so no harm, no foul on the dog's end.
Fast forward to August (I'm pretty sure it was August). I was doing some laundry and Ben came down with me and this is generally the time that I let him out back and then go to see if he's ready to come back in as soon as I'm done. I must've been side tracked and forgot about him because about 10 minutes later I noticed a ruckus of sorts coming from the basement. I went down to find the door wide open and Ben jumping around like a horse in the rec room. I found this quite odd, but figured he'd jumped up on the door and accidentally flipped the lever to open the door. It occurred to me at that point that the door was quite perfect for a dog to open without even really trying. I shut the door, apologized to Ben and got on with my day. The next day, Ben went out back again and within 5 minutes he was standing in the living room. At this point I decided it was no longer an accident - the dog knew precisely how to open the door, and would no longer stand for extended waits on the patio.

All booked up!

My fall is kinda busy, this is not new news. I try to plan out my fall well in advance so that there aren't any surprises along the way and I can give ample notice to the folks in the places I'll be visiting as well as the folks here who are impacted (i.e. - Brad, Josh, Sharon, etc). In August I looked at odd and assorted conventions and meetings and made a schedule of the ones I wanted to attend or had been invited to go to. Once I had it all squared away personally, other folks started adding in their two cents. AHA added a new Bootcamp, there was a crisis with our program so we had to add a trip out to Dallas (yet again), then Bootcamp got cancelled, so I got to hunt up something else to do to fill in that opening so I picked the Wisconsin convention. Good times I tell you, good times. Anyway, all of this finally came to rest on my calendar and I was comfortable with it so I started booking flights and making hotel arrangements. Oddly, I started in reverse because it my most expensive trip (flight wise) is not until December, so I wanted to keep an eye on those flights to get the best deal (cause I went WAY over my travel budget last year and I'd like to avoid doing that again). The price fluctuated and then seemed to come down to something I deemed reasonable, so I went ahead and bought (I can't go back and look to see if it was a good choice or not cause I'll never forgive myself if the price dropped $200 or something crazy like that).
So, this process has continued over the past month - me looking and waiting and looking and booking. All of this brings me to today where I finally booked my very last flight for this fall's travel season (we won't worry about the winter/spring until the new year - or at least later in this year). I noticed back in the summer that there'd be a good chance I'd achieve premiere frequent flyer status this year. I don't travel so much that it's a guarantee, so some well laid plans may have been needed. Thankfully it all worked out, so I didn't have to send myself on a 4 leg trip to Houston or anything ridiculous like that, and I was still able to ensure that I'll be sitting pretty for the coming year with United.
Yep, I'm super excited to have reached this frequent flyer milestone. I never really gave much thought to the potential perks or need for any sort of frequent flyer status. You fly, you collect your miles, you cash them in periodically for things like a free flight or an upgrade to first, but really, what else is there?
Oh, there's so much there! When I realized this was going to be a reality I logged on to my Mileage Plus account to read all about what I'd get once I achieved this oh-so-sought-after level. For starters - no bag fees! For second, complimentary upgrades! For thirdsies - always sitting in the part of the plane with the most leg room (which non-premiere level folks have to pay a nice fee each way for). The list goes on and on from there, but I thought those 3 were really fantastic perks. Plus, United informed me that with my achievement I'll be entered in to their current Premier level contest to win a 2 week trip to London for two! Yes, I know, I should stop dreaming (this will be filed away with my plans for when I win the lottery).
I'm all booked up for my fall (and yes, it's a little crazy at times). I'm looking forward to my visit to Middle-of-nowhere, Indiana next week to kick things off right :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Not paid for volunteering

To clear up my earlier blog/question about being paid for "volunteering," I got this resolution to the issue.
So, after emailing with a couple of different folks over at Gally, and not getting anywhere I decided to just sit on it for awhile and see what happened. Perhaps they did not have all the information they needed to pass along quality info to me. I decided yesterday that I needed to know, sooner rather than later, what the deal was going to be for next weekend. I emailed the guy who'd I'd last spoken to and asked that he follow up with me regarding the dates and times. Again, no response. Gosh, this sure does sound like a DSF job - little to no information given to the folks who are supposed to be serving a purpose.
Later in the day I got an email from Jon - who'd initially asked me if I was available - telling me I needed to call Barry (former boss and guy who manages to orchestrate these things better than anyone else cause he bothers to pick up the phone). I called on my way home and he laid it all out on the table for me (sans exact dates and times, but at least noted that he didn't have the info, but would put me in touch with the guy who did). I've since emailed that guy, Keith, and hopefully I'll know what the hell is going on before the end of this week.
In related news - Barry was able to tell me my spot is secured for Taipei a year from now, and he even went over the current roster of medical staff he's got lined up. Even more importantly, he was able to give me a timeline of events leading up to the Taipei trip including team assignments and possible training camp. I'll have a good 15 days of leave to use by the time this rolls around, but I theorized I might only need to use 10 of those days. Turns out, I'll probably be using all 15 thanks to a weeks worth of pre-games training camp in LA. I'm not bothered by this - I just need to know the facts, the dates, and my role.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Local celebrity

Way back in the summer (like 6 weeks or so ago), my friend Bean posted a blog about a couple of kids she knew from back in the day at gymnastics who were selected to represent the US on the Men's Gymnastic Team, Justin Spring and Alexander Artemev. This was interesting and exciting news and added a little bit of "hometown flavor" to our Olympic experience. We found during the first Men's Gymnastics competition that Justin was from Burke, which is virtually across the street (seriously, we live in Fairfax, but can walk to the Burke Target and the Burke VRE station). Alexander is from Colorado, but his parents were once Bean's coaches at the gymnastics center where she and Justin both trained.
We watched, and cheered and then the Olympics were over and we honestly didn't give it another moment of thought until this week. On the second day of school, Josh came home and announced to Brad that his P.E. teacher's son, Justin, had competed in the Olympics and she shared her story of going to China and watching the Olympics with Josh's class that day. We met both of Josh's P.E. teachers when we volunteered for field day back in May, so I was pretty sure I knew who he was talking about. This was very exciting for Josh as we made a point for him to watch as many different events and learn about different sports while the opportunity was there. I sent him back to school making sure that he remembered who Michael Phelps was and how many gold medals he won in the event that his teacher gave a pop quiz on the Olympics.
When I went to fetch Josh after school on Friday I saw Mrs. Spring out on Kiss & Ride duty and overheard her talking to another mom about her time in China and Justin's experience at the Olympics. The PTA, of course, has been harping to get him to come in to the school and talk to the kids. Hopefully that'll happen. What a neat connection.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Paid for volunteering?

I've been volunteering (on one level or another) with the USADSF for a little over two years now. Generally speaking there isn't any pay involved - that's how volunteering is supposed to go. The first time I volunteered I was still drawing my regular salary and I was volunteering at the place where I also worked - it was just in the summer when I was technically off. Fast forward to last summer when I "volunteered" again and got shipped off to Venezuela for 10 days (on 7 days notice, but I'm not bitter or anything). Now, that time I didn't have the option to continue drawing my salary because I didn't have the summer off, nor was I working at the place I was volunteering. My boss and my former boss (who orchestrates all this volunteer work) worked it out so my former boss covered my salary for me while I was away from my office taking "unpaid leave." Incidentally, this meant that I did draw my regular salary (sort of), but I did not receive any actual "pay" for my time volunteering. Are you lost yet? Good!
Now, on to the next volunteer opportunity. Got an email today that there will be some Team USA tryouts towards the end of the month at the place where I used to work, and they'd like for me to come and be the ATC servicing the tryouts. I'm happy to do this for the most part, and I'm accustomed to volunteering - at least for this organization. I then get an email asking what my hourly rate is so they can figure up what to pay me for doing this. Pay? I'm gonna get paid? Well this is pretty damn exciting! On the one hand I'm certainly not going to turn down any pay (especially considering that I still haven't been paid for the last time I did something at my old job), but at the same time I'm not sure I'm supposed to get paid for this supposed volunteer position I'm in. We'll be heading off to Taipei a year from now and I can assure you that I won't be paid for that time (but I've had 2 years notice on this trip and have had ample time to save up vacation days so last year's debacle will be avoided).
I guess it's not the organization who will be paying me but rather the facility. Maybe that makes sense. I've got no beef taking money from them if they need to hire someone to work this tryout. I'd just like to fully understand why, all of a sudden, I'm being paid to work with an organization I've always volunteered for.

Monday, September 1, 2008

....and I'm a site manager

For a couple of years now I've worked this ginormous soccer tourney in Prince William County in the spring, and this year also the fall. A local soccer club has been putting this tourney together each season (spring and fall) and teams come from all over the east coast to participate. The two previous times I was asked to work I was at a site with 3 fields way down in the south central part of the county with some folks who were just fantastic. The mom (whom we'll call M)handled the site managing aspect and the dad handled the concessions. Other parent volunteers signed up for time slots to come and sell t-shirts or field marshall or just generally help out. Even when someone didn't show up things still ran smoothly and at the very least there was M who was on task as site coordinator, handling anything and everything that came our way.
My job at these things is to basically sit around and wait for someone to get hurt. So, as one might imagine that leaves alot of room for boredom. I picked up the t-shirt sales job right off the bat and did that for the last couple of seasons. I also watched as M meticulously managed the site, organized the field marshalls, refs, and kept the score up to date on the bracket boards in addition to calling each score in to automated score keeper. Even though I didn't do much in this aspect of things, I inevitably watched and learned. Who knew all that watching and learning would pay off here at the fall tourney.
I showed up at 8am on Saturday morning, and introduced myself to the guy standing at the pavilion at the site I was assigned to (different from my previous site assignments). I asked if he was the site coordinator and he said "oh no, I'm just here to set up." So another lady comes and I asked, are you the site coordinator? "Nope, I'm just here to sell t-shirts." This went on with everyone agreeing that a different lady, well call her "L" was supposed to be the site coordinator. L did not show up to site coordinate that entire day. She was there, I saw her, but she did not do the job. Wanna know who did the job? Me, I did the job. The lady assigned to the t-shirts, she did the job as well. When the t-shirt lady went to get some lunch 5 hours later, a dad showed up and I told him the story, so he stayed around to help until the t-shirt lady came back. Good thing we didn't have any serious injuries. I can't very well be 300 yards away dealing with a broken arm while also site managing from the main pavilion.
When I showed up at 8am on Sunday morning, L was there and managing the situation along with several other parents. This is the way it's supposed to be. She thanked me for my help on Saturday, and inevitably on Sunday as well. While this lady was there, she still lacked the fervor and meticulousness of M, who was always on top of things, ensuring that nothing was left undone. At the end of the day on Sunday I was still the one taking the game reports, updating the score brackets and calling them in to the automated score keeper.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Disgruntled Athletic Trainer

I've got some beef with the NATA and their marketing peeps. I joined this organization way back in undergrad because.... well, it's the only professional organization for ATCs (and that's what I wanted to be). The idea behind a professional organization is that they represent the interests of those in the profession. We've got issues with the APTA, the NATA stands up for us. We've got issues with people not having a clue who we are or what we do, the NATA runs a campaign to try and change that. For the most part I've been happy with what has happened on the NATA side of things. Parts where I'm unhappy include: the changes to our education requirements, certification testing procedures, and now the "new" logo.
The "old" NATA logo was pretty glorious as far as I could tell. You didn't have to read all about ATCs to figure out that we were medical professionals. Instead, you could just take a quick look at our logo and figure it out (or at least that's how it came off to me). That logo is classy and classic. It doesn't look like we're stuck in 1972 with a porn star moustache. It looks as though we're an established profession with a long, respectable history. Does the AMA have to revamp it's logo to show that they're "moving in to the new millennium"? Hell no! They're the effing AMA - they're old and established and respected. If people can't figure out that they're not stuck in 1972, well then they should get a clue. This is pretty much the way I view it on the NATA side as well.
Over the past several years we've made great strides as a profession to get the recognition we deserve. ATCs have been recognized as health care professionals on numerous fronts and in turn have started working as health care professionals on numerous fronts. No more will you only find your ATCs at a college or high school. Now you find them caring for factory workers, the military, physical rehabilitation clinics and every place in between.
So, this begs the question - "why do we need a new logo to bring us in to the new millennium?" I really don't know... The "old" logo was fine, and respectable. Why have we now been reduced to cartoonish drawings and big bold fonts that jump and down and scream "look at me, look at me, I'm an obnoxious idiot moving in to the new millennium"?
The saddest part of this entire issue is that we, as a membership, voted on this new logo. The massive downside to this "democratic process" is that all of the options we were given all screamed the same ridiculous line. None of them were classy, nor were they classic. In 20 years this logo is going to look as 1972 as a porn star moustache.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gear up for fall

It seems that "summer" has come to a virtual end, and "fall" will be here in about a week. Alot happens for me, and the fam, in the fall so some preparation is necessary.
First: Josh will be starting back to school. Second grade this year, and I just can't believe it. What the hell happened? How did he get so big?
Second: The fall soccer season starts. Yet another season where I've had to go out and buy the kid new cleats. Again, what the hell happened? How did he get so big? Thankfully I've managed to skirt the task of also buying a new ball and new shin guards (the ball I bought for the spring season still looks new and the shin guards still fit). I did have to shell out $12 for some new Umbros as well - a former pair now sport a nice hip high slit up the side.
Third: Let the travel season begin. I discovered last year that the fall is a crazy busy time for my job with a bazillion conventions going on in October and November. My proposed trip count through the end of the year stands at 7 (which isn't too bad). I've got a few other things going on, but some are within close driving distance, and our big leadership meeting in December will be here in my office instead of Dallas. I've tried to broaden my scope, but I still am heavy on the eastern side of the continent. I'll be seeing both northern and southern Texas, Massachusetts, Indiana, New Jersey, Georgia and New York among other places not really worth mentioning.
Forth: The incessant wedding attending. How many weddings can one family attend and/or participate in over a 12 month period? I think we're putting this one to the test, but there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. Forgoing the recap of the past 12 months, we're looking forward to attending Nick & Amy's wedding (Brad's cousin and soon to be wife) in Wheeling, WV in just a couple of weeks. Thankfully we're not participating in any portion of this, so we'll be free to come and go as we please and I'm particularly looking forward to getting together with Jason (my good friend from college) and his fam who live just up in Pittsburgh. Fast forward from there to December when Katie and Bekir will be having their wedding up in Warren, NJ. Clearly I'm pretty involved in this one, as are Brad and Josh. This will be the first (and hopefully the last) wedding where we're ALL in it. I'm having a good time helping Katie with planning and such, and am looking forward to all of the festivities and cultural experiences that will come with the event.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Check please!

I didn't have much beef with the "service" on the boat. Generally people were nice and helpful (minus the one purser) and considering this wasn't a cruise line, the "service" was great. I mention this solely because when it comes to getting a check with which to pay the bill the service was seriously lacking. I've never worked as a waitress, or in a restaurant at all really (no, Dairy Queen does not count), so far be it for me to outline what is and is not acceptable in the way of giving the check. I would; however, think that it would be important to actually give the check in order to have it paid.

Night 1 - Dinner with Mary and Lauree: We waited and waited and waited and waited, and finally they brought the check (20 minutes after we'd been long finished).

Day 2 - Lunch with Nikki and Rene: There was no check to pay. They'd mentioned to me that we needed to pay before 1:30 cause the cashier would close - still, no check. So finally I head up to the guy and tell him what we had so that I can pay him before he leaves. Mission accomplished.

Day 3 - Lunch with Workshop Attendees (all 6 of them): Again, they bring me no check. I even noted to the guy "I'm picking up the tab for these folks, so bring me the check." No check. We have our meeting - 1:30 comes and goes, and I ask again about the check. They tell me I can't pay it now cause the register is closed and won't open again until 6pm - and still they give me no check. I say, "ok, I'm coming back at 6pm to pay the bill."

I'm sorry, these people are entirely too nonchalant about the check. The ferry system should count it's lucky stars that I'm a good person cause most folks would just walk away with 9 free lunches at this point (including the 3 from the previous day that I made a point to pay).

Day 3 - Dinner time: We had an all convention dinner, but I got up and walked up to the register to pay the guy for the lunches from earlier. I explained the situation and how I needed to pay and he looks a bit perplexed, but then says "you know what, don't worry about it." I said, "no, I'm worried about it. That's 6 lunches. I'd like to pay for it so I don't feel like a crook." He sits down and says, "well you're a good person," adds up the bill and I pay... finally.

Wine party in Stacy's room!

I've known for years and years that Athletic Trainers are a party crowd. In undergrad I'd look forward to our basketball conference tournament where all the ATC from the WVIAC would get together and we'd party it up. Once I moved on to professional life and started going to the NATA convention I continued that trend, only with ATCs from across the country. Knowing what I know about ATCs in general, I've often wondered if other professions share our love of partying. Well before boarding the boat, I learned right away, that the folks in NWD are all about the party. I will say that they're a little more high class though because instead of toting six packs or bottles of Jack on board, these folks had coolers full of wine.
Hauling your own booze on board is allowed, but consumption of said booze is a bit more difficult. To start, you may only bring aboard your own booze if you have a stateroom, and you can only drink said booze in your stateroom. Without a room, you must leave any alcoholic beverages with the purser and they will hold it for you. Thankfully, in our group there plenty of folks with rooms, so those without simply passed their stash off to those of us with accommodations. My group boarded with a moderately sized cooler full of chilled wine - ready to go at a moments notice. Unfortunately this cooler didn't belong to us, but we certainly had our share.
Shortly after departing Bellingham I was wandering the halls, when I happened by a room with the door wide open and folks having a pretty good time inside. I walked right by and then thought I knew the folks, so I back tracked. Sure enough, there sat a room packed full of folks with my convention - including Stacy, who I'd met just a bit earlier. They'd popped the cork on a couple of different bottles and were sipping away. I joined them for a bit and then went off to find some dinner (see Grouch Tent Guy Saga posting). Later that night I happened by again and there was the group, sipping away. This was becoming a trend, and I'll say that I definitely couldn't complain.
The next night folks got bored in the bar and Nikki decided to invite everyone over to our room. Unfortunately this wasn't to be as Rene had conked right out, so company in our "suite" was out of the question.
Where should we go?
What should we do?
Oh right, there's Stacy's room!
We tracked Stacy down, got her key, grabbed our wine, and headed for our party.
This cycle continued until the evening of the last day when we ran out of wine, and inevitably out of time to party. We were bonded by the trip as a whole, but none more than those of us who attended the wine parties in Stacy's room.

Rene, Jump Rope Goddess of the World

The whole purpose of me going on this Alaska boat trip was to put on a Jump and Hoops workshop for State Coordinators within the Northwest District. Clearly there were additional reasons why I wanted to go to this particular convention, and the perks were numerous, but I tried to stay focused on the "work" that needed to be done.

Rewind back to June of 2007 where I made the decision to hold the workshop on the boat. The decision was two-fold - a) we'd have a nice captive audience, and b) who wouldn't want to come to this convention? I looked up the District Coordinator for NWD and it was a gal by the name of Rene Bibaud. I needed this person to be the primary planner of this workshop. Being relatively new to the job I didn't know Rene, nor had I ever heard of her. Turns out, she's a bit of a celebrity. My assistant, Sharon, noted, "you don't know RENE?!?!," to which I replied, "nope, should I know her?" Well, yes, clearly I should seeing as how she's the Jump Rope Goddess of the World. Upon checking out her website, and doing a little reading it became apparent to me that I should know, and would know, Rene.

Thankfully Rene was all about having the workshop on the boat, and even though there were numerous planning snafus along the way, she did a good job of putting it together. To kick off our workshop session, Rene put on a little show for our session attendees.... and anyone else who happened to be on the boat at the time. If these folks didn't know about her before, well, they knew about her now. She jumped and twirled and skipped and hopped and threw random strangers in to tandem jumps and had a little Japanese girl doing double dutch on a whim as well as one 61 year old fellow who was celebrating his birthday.

I'd venture our session had an audience of about 50+ folks out on the aft deck of the ship, and all were quite entertained and amazed.

Brian Hagbo's Pain Camp

I guess I should probably talk a bit about the sessions we had aboard the boat as that's one of the primary reasons we all go to conferences and conventions in the first place. The first session of the convention was the one that had the most impact on me - both physically and mentally. I've heard alot about heart rate monitors since I've been working here at AAHPERD, but I'd never had the opportunity to really find out what they're all about. I do know they're a VERY hot item for P.E. teachers nowadays, and they're perhaps one of the most coveted on the high end equipment list. Thankfully, Brian Hagbo was on board to tell us all about them and give us the opportunity to try them out.
I'd met Brian up at Mary and Lauree's camp on day one of the trip, and he told me he'd be doing a session for Polar (the company that makes the heart rate monitors everyone wants so much), and so I made a point to get out of bed and show up for this one. After a short presentation on the monitors and what they do, we all picked one up, put it on and got started. Brian ran us through a series of exercises to get our heart rates revved up, selected a few individuals and downloaded their monitors' information to show us how the software works. All in all this was a fun and productive workshop, and I left a happy camper. I was a happy camper all through that day.... in fact, I was happy right up until I got up the next morning.
Mind you, I was on the top bunk in my little cabin, and so my leg muscles needed to be in good use quite early in the morning. I got up somewhat early the next day so that we could hop off in Ketchican and have a look around. I realized, upon stepping down on the ladder that my VMOs were extremely unhappy about the previous day's activities. I clutched the ladder tightly and made my way down.... very, very slowly. I pulled myself together and we went out to wait in line with the rest of the schlubs trying to get off the boat at 7am. Everything was fine and dandy until it came time to walk down the stairs and off the boat. This was a task that I was quite unprepared for, but I clutched the railing and lowered myself as easily as possible down the ridiculously long flight of stairs. On my way down someone behind me says, "is that from my session?" Clearly this was Brian, laughing at me, and I said, "yes, damn you, this is from your session." I proceeded to hobble around the rest of the day, and inevitably the rest of the trip. Even on Wednesday morning, long after the boat, and Juneau, and the day on the plane - I still had TONS of medial knee pain.
I've since recovered, but would like to thank Brian Hagbo and his pain camp, for teaching me the finer points of how not to exercise early in the morning.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Grouchy Tent Guy Saga

I've been holding off on this story for a bit because I've been trying to figure out the best way to present it. The actual experience was aggravating and then satisfyingly hilarious. Had it been a singular incident, there would be no story here, but it's the continuance that makes it so blog-worthy. I hope it comes out remotely as entertaining as it was for those of us who were there.

Rewind this trip back to day one where we board a boat in Bellingham. Up on the upper aft deck, my friends Mary and Lauree are setting up a tent where they'll be sleeping for the next few nights. Their tent is surrounded by numerous other tents, and all of these "campers" are securing their tents with duct tape so that they don't blow away. As the evening progresses, the tent city becomes quite dense, and there are tents all around Mary and Lauree's little plot, but that's what makes this so much fun.

Two "doors" down from Mary and Lauree's little plot, a guy and his teenage kid pitch a tent, but fail to secure it with duct tape, or anything else for that matter. After getting all settled in, these two toss all of their belongings in to the tent and take off to look about the ship (or so I'm guessing). About this time we finally push off and head out on our journey. One of the first things everyone notices is how the sole unsecured tent is bouncing all about and trying very hard to fly right off the boat. We were not the only folks who noticed this, but we were the only ones who really decided to take action. Approaching the tent, we caught it in flight and decided we needed to take some drastic measures to ensure this guy's stuff didn't end up in the water. While Scott, the guy in the tent between Mary & Lauree and this genius, went off to try and find the guy, Nikki and I used the ropes normally used to secure the tent to the ground to tie it to the tent behind it (we'd seen them come in and set up together, so we assumed they were buddies) and to the railing. Once the tent was relatively secure, Scott comes back with the guy and we proceed to explain the problem. Instead of being thankful, he was right out rude. In his words "that tent's not going anywhere!" Nikki explained to him that we caught the tent in the air and at that point decided to take action to ensure it didn't completely fly away. He was rude again to her and so we all just left (personally I was just cold and didn't care much about what may or may not happen after this). While this gave us a story to tell, I certainly didn't think there'd be any more to this saga, but oh was I wrong.

A couple of hours later I went down to the restaurant to get some dinner. Mary and Lauree joined me, and we got a nice table right in front of the windows looking over the middle aft deck. This deck also had room for tents, and numerous people set up there as well. I perused the menu and ordered up some grilled chicken pasta and chatted with Mary and Lauree. Round about the time they brought out the bread and butter, Mary noticed that Grouchy Tent Guy had packed up his stuff and set up camp down on the lower deck. Once again, nothing securing said tent to the deck so it's flappin' in the wind. He set up in the corner, but then picked up his tent and plopped it right in the middle of the deck and walked off. As it did before, the tent was bopping all around, trying to take flight and bouncing off of other people's tents. The other folks around the area were apparently getting pretty annoyed. We, of course, were laughing hysterically as were the couple at the table next to us. People are grabbing the tent and plopping it strategically away from their tents, and when it would bob back over, they'd do it again. Mary, amid her fits of laughter, decides to go down to the deck and tell them about Grouchy Tent Guy and our experiences with him on the upper deck. Round about this time, before Mary can even get down there, the group decides to take the poles down, to stop the tent from bouncing around and ensure that it won't fly away.

As Lauree, the couple at the next table, and I look on - Mary trots right down on deck and proceeds to let the entire group know about our earlier experiences with Grouchy Tent Guy. She points us out, and we all wave, and she continues to chat with them and make friends. After a bit she comes back up to dinner. We notice that this experience is bonding the lower deck folks and they've brought their chairs in a circle to chat.
Our dinner came and it started to get dark outside. It seemed that Grouchy Tent Guy got a heads up that his tent had once again been tampered with, and he came storming on deck, beer in hand (his kid had one as well). He proceeded to inspect the tent, look over at the circle of other campers (who were blatantly ignoring him), and started to take the tent apart. He piled everything in the middle and flung the entire load up over his back like Santa Claus, grabbing his beer on the way out. By this point we were rolling. I wish it would've been light out because the picture of this would've come out much better and I could've posted it.
One lady in our group also recounted a story of Grouchy Tent Guy at the pursers desk trying to get a room to stay in. The purser had to inform him they were all booked up and he was quite unhappy about this as she recalled. Oh well, serves him right for being such a jackass to folks who were simply trying to help him out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trying to visit the bridge

A couple of postings back I mentioned how I met a guy who drives the boat in the gift shop at the boat depot in Bellingham. I thought it might be cool to go up and say "hi" and see what they do up there on the bridge. A boyscout troop also on board apparently managed to get an escort up there, so I figured perhaps a few from our group could finagle this too. While wandering the halls one evening with a couple bottles of wine (there's a blog about this to come shortly) we got to talking to the ship's security manager and asked him about possibly visiting the bridge. He said it shouldn't be an issue, but that he would make a note of it and we should ask the purser in the morning. When I thought about it that next day, Nikki and I walked over to the purser and asked the person sitting behind the desk about visiting the bridge. The purser is not a single person, but rather a group of folks who work in the office and you're pretty much stuck with whomever is sitting there at the time. I've had really great experiences with this person, and in this instance, not so great experiences.
So Nikki and I approach the counter and tell the lady we are interested in visiting the bridge. She immediately shakes her head no and starts in to this lengthy explanation of how they don't generally allow this and it would be difficult to do and there's this process and so on and so forth, all the while shaking her head no. I was a bit confused cause this was opposite of the information I received earlier from the security guy. I mention to her that the security guy said it shouldn't be problem and she all but snaps at me, "you've heard our policies and procedures, so that's what you need to do." "Okaaaaaaay...," was all we had to say and we walked away. She was clearly disgruntled, and even though she did outline a process in which we would have to gather our group, have each of them produce their boarding pass, picture ID and a written statement noting their reasons for wanting to visit the bridge before we would even be considered, she shook her head in a "no" manner the entire time. Nikki and I relayed this info to the other folks who were interested, and decided perhaps we'd try for it a bit later in the day.
Later in the day I was in the hall reading a bulletin board about the Alaska Gold Rush when the guy from the gift shop happened by. I say "hi," and he stopped to chat for a moment. I mentioned that we wanted to come up and see him, but that the lady downstairs was less than friendly about it. He said, "oh, that must be Mary," and noted that she's often unfriendly and less than helpful. We discussed possible times to visit, but it wasn't looking good as the afternoon and evening held some tricky maneuvers. We decided it probably wouldn't happen, but it was much better coming from him in a reasonable manner instead of the stupid lady who just didn't want to let us through. We probably would've been able to go up, had she not been so contrary in the morning.
Anyway, that was by far the most disgruntling experience of the entire trip, so I can't really complain. There's always next time :)

Monday, August 11, 2008

The ferry boat Columbia

During the trip to Alaska we spent alot of time on the boat. There weren't alot of stops, and the stops we did have were extremely shortlived. This fact made it necessary to employ all of the boat's "amenities" in order to keep oneself entertained. Let's keep in mind that this is a ferry boat, not a cruise ship, or party pontoon with a live steel-drum band (I took one of those once in the Bahamas, so why not list it here). Ferry boats are a mode of transportation, not a method of entertainment, but they do their best to try and accomodate folks who have to be on board for days at a time (i.e. - folks travelling with kids and our convention goers).

As previously mentioned, I purchased a room for my travels, which I shared with 3 other gals. Our room wasn't huge, but it was a place to go and relax in peace and quiet, and you could sit and work at the table if need be. Not everyone opts for this "luxury," and so many folks slept in chairs in the recliner lounge or in booths in one of the forward lounges. The alternative to this arrangement was to bring your camping gear on board and pitch a tent on one of the aft decks or sleep in a lounge chair in the solarium (which did have handy dandy heaters that came on at night and, from what I hear, made it quite cozy). My committee member, Mary, and her adventurous friend Lauree decided to take the "camping" route. Many other convention goers decided to take the recliner route. From what I understand, nobody from our group nested in a booth in the forward lounge.
Aside from odd and assorted sleeping arrangements, the Columbia also boasted a small arcade for the kiddies, twice daily movies (somewhat recent releases) shown in the recliner lounge, a cafeteria style cafe, a more formal restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, a bar, a gift shop, and odd and assorted sitting lounges. Once or twice a day a park ranger would give talks on wildlife or forestry that we would see during our passage. From there you are pretty much on your own for entertainment, but the scenery generally does a good job of holding your attention.
I spent the majority of my time either in the bar (cause that's where we held most of our sessions), the restaurant (cause that's where the food was and we held our workshop there), or on deck (cause that's where the entertainment was as far as I could tell). I perused the gift shop once or twice, but didn't see anything I couldn't live without (except this nice antique map of Alaska, but I theorized I could get it elsewhere - note: I could not get it elsewhere). I did pop in the bar several times a day (aside from our sessions), but only had a few beers in there over the course of the 3 day trek.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The sitting and the waiting and the shopping

Once we were all ticketed, we proceeded to take our bags upstairs, park them in the middle of the floor (which was sort of in a boarding line) and look around wondering what to do next. I really wanted to go wander around Bellingham, but I didn't want to saddle anyone with being the bag babysitter, so I opted out of that idea. Instead I went downstairs to see what the gift shop had to offer.

The gift shop had goodies, and lots of them. All kinds of cool tribal art emblazoned items, soap, post cards, clothing, cook books (one all about crab cakes - took alot for me to pass it up). So I shopped a bit, picked up some handmade soaps in a variety of flavors, a nifty tote bag, a stainless water bottle with a some cool tribal art, and probably something else I can't think of. While I was in there I heard some guys talking to the lady behind the counter and I was standing there so I inevitably joined in the chat.

It was apparent that they worked for the ferry system, so I asked what they did. The big guy says "I drive the boat." Of course I didn't believe him, but he assured me that was his job. The smaller guy said he was learning to drive the boat. The big guy started to tell me two stories. One about a guy who jumped ship in the Wrangell Narrows, and another about a dog rescue they took part in (no clue where they dog came from that was in the water). As he started to tell the story about the guy jumping he looked past me out the window and said "oh crap, they're loading cars, I've gotta go," and so I never heard the story (which was bothersome). I paid for my stuff and headed out to grab a bite to eat.

There's a little cafe in the depot and I hadn't had anything to eat since 9am when Rene and I had french toast at a cool place in South Seattle. It was about 4pm and I was pretty starved, so I ordered up a mushroom, chicken and cheese crepe. This also came with a salad and the crepe was the size of the plate (a big plate). I ate about half of it before I was stuffed and headed back up to where everyone was camped out to see what the status of us actually boarding the boat was. The status had not changed - everyone was standing around. Rene and I decided this would be a good time for us to put our workshop binders together, so we spread it out all over the floor and commenced to assembling them. Just before we finished they decided now would be a good time to rally the troops and start boarding. We finished up our project, packed it all up and got in line.

Perhaps you remember my earlier blog where I said we had an absurd amount of luggage? This made boarding a bit of a challenge, but we managed to get it on the boat, only leaving our poster board on deck (which we promptly forgot about but someone else kindly picked up and held on to for us).

Beds for sale in Bellingham

I think that here is where the trip started to get interesting. We walk in the door and there's a ton of people, many of whom we know, and know well. So we have a little meet and greet and go to get our tickets. The line for this was moderately long, but I took my place at the end only to hear people up at the window calling for me. So, I head up there to find out what the ruckus is for. I didn't know these folks at all. Turns out, it's the other ladies who are with my workshop and they're trying to get their tickets (but they can't cause they're listed as being with my "party"). So I inevitably skipped the line to handle the situation. A little back story to the back story here - my budget funded the trip for 5 people who were attending the workshop (ferry fare and accommodations).

I'd been afraid (for a few weeks at this point), that the ferry system was screwing up my room requests. When I made the reservations way back in January I requested 1 room with 4 beds, and 1 room with 2 beds - they put me on a waiting list and said they'd let me know if they came available. Shortly thereafter I spoke with the convention director who told me she had reserved 2 rooms for me with 4 beds each. I went ahead and took them and paid for them fearing that might be the only way we'd have a place to sleep. I called the ferry back and said I'd just like to reserve 1 room with 2 beds so that I could trade it for one of the ones with 4 beds (which I already had secured and paid for) when and if it became available. Are you lost yet? Apparently the ferry people were lost.

Over the winter and early spring I had numerous conversations with a girl named Fini up in Alaska who tried to sort out my room situation, but to no avail. She would call me at home and leave a message or talk to Brad and give me the status of the "room situation." By the time I was on the plane to Seattle I was 100% positive that I was now the proud owner of 4 rooms (a total of 14 beds) when I only needed 2 rooms (a total of 6 beds).

Back to the port in Bellingham now... I ask the guy in the window - "I think I have a major rooming issue. Do I talk to you about that, or someone else?" He says it's most likely him and we'll get it straighted out. Once we figured out who the initial 2 rooms with 4 beds were booked under, everything went quite smoothly, but that was a bit of a process (since I wasn't the person who had actually booked the rooms). I was able to relinquish the extra 4 bed room, but still walked away in possession of (and having paid for) 2 rooms with 4 beds and 1 room with 2 beds. I only needed 1 room with 4 beds and 1 room with 2 beds. I approached the convention director to see if anyone might want to "buy" the room from me. It was, after all, the closest thing to a suite that a ferry boat offers. A room with a full bath, 4 beds, and a table and chairs. See as it's the nicest thing available, one might imagine that it's also the most expensive thing available. At $533 for the trip, it wasn't an easy thing to unload.

Thank God for wealthy Asian folks. Is it just me or are there alot of wealthy Asian folks. I feel like I know my fair share of people from Asian countries and all of them are doing VERY well for themselves. I applaud this as it's certainly not a smear on their culture, but rather something to be admired. Yes, I'm digressing. So, we just so happened to have Dr. Suzuki with us on our convention and yes, he was very interested in buying the room from me, but he didn't have $533 cash on him (gosh, what WAS he thinking). No sweat, we can just bill him! So, Dr. Suzuki and family took the room off my hands. The funniest part to this story was when we got on the boat and went to the pursers desk to get our room keys. I put down my boarding pass with the two 4 berth "suites" listed. The purser said "oh my!" and I replied "yes, we're high rollers."

Onward to Bellingham

The second leg of the Alaska trip was from Seattle to Bellingham. The original plan was to take the train up from Seattle, but that plan was somewhat nixed when we discovered that it was an early morning train. The afternoon "train" was actually a bus chartered by Amtrak that you catch at the train station. So, at noon we boarded a bus to Bellingham and were on our way. There were some interesting folks on the bus, several of whom were also heading up to Bellingham to get on the ferry. It was a two hour trip, but it went by quicky with all the great scenery. This was my first trip to Washington, so I was quite content to look out the window at the mountains and such. One lady pointed out some tulip fields, and though they were empty at the time she said they were amazing when in bloom.

Thankfully the train station in Bellingham, where the bus dropped us off, is adjacent to the ferry depot where we needed to catch the boat. We had an absurd number of bags with us, but between the two of us we managed to make it through the parking lot and in to the ferry depot to meet up with our workshop folks and get our tickets squared away for boarding.

Seattle is cool

The first leg of my trip up to Alaska was to fly out to Seattle. I had lots of miles from all my business trips, so I decided to go ahead and upgrade myself to first class as a special treat (for a really long flight). Rene, jump rope goddess of the world and workshop cohort, kindly offered up her place for me to stay the night and we would go together to Bellingham in the a.m. So I flew in around 3pm, took a cab to Rene's and called my cousin Mike to see if he was game for giving me a 25 cent tour of Seattle and possibly grabbing dinner. Rene was at a pre-convention meeting, so Mike came and we went out to see what there was to see.
Having not been to Seattle before, I wanted to see the touristy things as well as the not so touristy things that regular people do around town. We went to Pikes Place Market and I got Brad a mug from Starbucks (cause that's the sole thing he asked for on this trip). We drove around town cause it was raining (shocker) and got out at the Space Needle to take some pics. There are lots of cute shops and older, quaint parts of town that I could spend days wandering around in, but it wasn't going to happen on this trip. We drove down to the Akei (forgive me if I've misspelled this) beach where Mike likes to take his dog for walks and saw cool views of the city. We finished up the tour with dinner at the Pyramid brewery. I got a "taste" of the place in just a couple of hours, and there's certainly incentive to come back and explore further.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Alaska trip blog series forthcoming!

I'm back from the Seattle/Bellingham/Alaska trip, not too jetlagged, and with loads and loads of pictures. In additional to this I've got several stories to share, and so I'll be posting those individually - possibly with pics to help tell the saga. This may go down a la the Venezuela series from last August, cause I think that's a good way to go about relaying the information in a readable manner. Nobody likes a blog entry that encompasses an entire weeks worth of adventure and activity.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The end of TT's

In the middle of the few blocks that make up Old Town Fairfax, there sits a little tavern called TT Reynolds. This place has been in business since the beginning of time, and for the past few decades has been a pretty hot little local music scene. Back in 2001-2002 when we lived right in Fairfax, I always said I was going to hit up TT's some night and see a band. This, of course, never happened cause I had zero life outside of going to work and whatever was going on at home. I was sad about this, but got on with my life and moved out to Winchester.

After 3 long years out west, we came back to NOVA, and after about six months I decided that I should get a life and go out - and that's what I did. I rekindled an old friendship, and I went out with the couple of friends that I did have. All of this led me to make new friends and the ball just rolled from there. Round about now I'm sure you're wondering what this could possibly have to do with TT's. Alot actually. On my second "outing" with friends I went to Shamrockfest where I made a point to see a band that I'd heard about over and over again - Welbilt. I heard about them on the radio alot, and I wanted to see them live, so we headed on over to the DC101 stage and watched their set. Ya, so they rocked my socks. Loved them from the first chord. Shannon even beboped over to their table and picked up their CD - we were hooked.
A couple weeks later I saw that Welbilt was going to be playing at none other than TT Reynolds and I called Shannon up and suggested we take in a show. She came over and we got ready and headed out the door - entirely too early. I think we got there around 8:30pm and the place was virtually dead. We sidled up to the bar and ordered some dinner and drinks. I had the BEST cheese steak ever. They don't put that crappy steakum crap in their cheese steak. No, they take a steak, and they slice it up real nice, and they put some cheese and peppers and onions on it and slide it in to a toasted baguette and voila - one hell of a cheese steak. Some older fellow thought we were cute and bought us drinks, and I met Matty. If you go back about a year and a half in my Myspace blog you will read an entire blog about Matty. So the first band played and they were alright, and I don't actually recall who they were. All I remember is Welbilt, and I remember that they rocked. TT's is a small place. I like to call it the "College Lunch of GMU." If you're fortunate enough to know the College Lunch then you'll understand that, and if you don't have a clue what I'm talking about well, you've just missed out.

From that night on I spent ALOT of time at TT's. Every time Welbilt played there I showed up (and at that time it was probably about once a month, maybe even twice). I followed Welbilt to other spots that are also favorites of mine now, but nothing on earth is like seeing your favorite band at TT's. TT's was more than a little bar with a good cheese steak - it was where I became who I wanted to be. To have friends, and a life, and let go for just a little while. There's alot of personal significance in that little building. I shared really good times with really good friends there, and things always seemed to be better once I walked in the door.

A little over a month ago I found myself with a day where there wasn't anything to do. Shannon was over and Brad took the day off from work, and Josh was already out of school, so we went over there for lunch. We had to wait for them to open the doors because we were so early, but I didn't mind that we were the only ones there. I wanted to sit and take it all in. I had my cheese steak, and I stood in the bathroom and read the graffiti on the walls. Not one bit of it said "for a good time call 555-45275." The walls of the bathroom at TT's say things like "EBP ROCKS!", "I heart NATE!", and "I saw the best band in the world here tonight!" Just these snippets are significant proof that it's not just me who was profoundly affected by my experiences here. There are alot of us out there.

TT's is having it's final farewell weekend starting tonight. The City of Fairfax sold the building to a new owner who doesn't care about the history, or significance of this establishment. The new guy simply wants to open up a Vietnamese restaurant in that spot (cause that's what Fairfax needs, another ethnic food joint). Tonight and tomorrow there will be bands, just like every Friday and Saturday. The place will undoubtedly be packed, just like every Friday and Saturday. Sunday, that'll be the kicker... On Sunday they'll be having a farewell party, and I'm wondering if I'll even be able to get in the door if I don't camp out, but I'll have to take my chances. There have been a few big events at TT's that I've had to miss over the years because of odd and assorted reasons, but this is one event that just can't be missed. It's sure to be a very bitter-sweet experience, but I'll just add it to my memory book of all the good times I had at TT's.