Friday, December 9, 2011

Places to eat in Washington DC

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Costa Rica Adventure, part 1

This post is incredibly belated. It is in fact very nearly an entire year overdue. But it is still being written, because there are stories that should really be shared (and so I don't forget, of course).

From May 31, 2010 to June 11, 2010, Jeff and I traveled to Costa Rica. I was in Costa Rica 5 years previously on a school spring break trip, but Jeff had never been. Plane tickets were relatively cheap (~$300 roundtrip) and we knew someone in the Peace Corps there who we would visit.

We landed in San Jose on Monday, May 31 (it was Memorial Day in the US) and grabbed a taxi to our hostel, Hostel Bekuo. It had free internet and we had a decent private room but shared bathroom. We ate down the street at a place called Spoon, which allowed me to recall just how rusty my Spanish really was. I could get my point across, sure, but I'm definitely less conversant than in high school. We also walked around a bit, got some snacks at a grocery store, went into a comics shop, saw a Subway, etc. We had to arrange for a taxi the next morning at the crack of dawn to take us to the bus station, since San Jose wasn't so much a destination for us. That meant we missed the free hostel breakfast, but oh well.

The next morning we got up and went to the bus station. The taxi driver talked to us a bit, but of course we couldn't say much. We were there for the bus to Monteverde, and when we got there the ticket window wasn't open yet. There were a few other backpackers waiting around too. Some guys from Quebec we would see multiple times. Finally the window opened and we bought our tickets, something like $5 each (the public bus is the cheapest way around Costa Rica, and is what I would recommend if you are there). One cool thing about public buses is that food merchants get on every once in a while and are let off shortly afterward. But this means you can easily get a pretty cheap snack on your bus ride. The buses are mostly somewhat clean and a lot seem to have been tour buses in a former life (though, in the less visited areas I did ride on what was clearly a school bus once).

The bus ride was long but uneventful. As soon as you step off into Monteverde you are assaulted by people trying to sell you a place to stay. We already had reservations and one guy very nicely walked us to the bed and breakfast's sister hostel in town, where a guy who worked there walked us out to the Camino Verde B&B (it wasn't far just maybe not easy to describe). We were given our pick of rooms and basically had the place to ourselves.

Stay tuned for the continuation of our adventures - what we did in Monteverde and beyond - once I find the journal I wrote this down in!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Overcoming Fear: Kayaking Style

In my 100 facts about me post, I wrote "Overcoming a fear is one of the most satisfying and self-affirming things I can do." That really is true about me, and I'd like to share my tale of overcoming fear that really drove this point home.

During the spring semester of 2008, I decided to take a Whitewater Kayaking class at William and Mary. I had been flatwater kayaking many a time, and thought that doing whitewater would be really fun. But there was one part of the class for which I wasn't mentally prepared. That was the part where we learned various rescues. When you're just kayaking for fun the boat is not usually enclosed. However, for whitewater, you're in a smaller, more maneuverable boat and you close up the hole that you sit in with a spray skirt so the water doesn't get in and sink you. But, obviously, that means you're sort of shutting yourself in the boat. So one thing we had to practice was various ways to get out if your kayak gets overturned.

Up until this point, I hadn't really come to terms with the fact that I'm a little claustrophobic and a lot afraid of drowning. That's probably a lot of why the one time I went snorkeling ended with me freaking out and bailing. So of course when we started trapping ourselves underwater, stuck in a kayak, I was a little freaked out (this was in a pool, by the way). But I was also determined to get the stuff right. First we just practiced getting ourselves out of the boat. It's really easy, you just pull the loop for the spray skirt and push yourself out. So no, it's not like you're totally stuck or anything. However, if you're out in a river you don't want to bail like that if possible, because then you have to take a bunch of time to drain your boat and flip it and get back in, all taking lots of time away from your enjoyment of kayaking down rapids.

Luckily, there are a couple other options. One is called a bow rescue, and involves another boat coming perpendicular to yours. You grab the bow of their boat and use it to help flip yourself over. Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy. But imagine getting to that point - so you've flipped your kayak. You bang on the bottom of the boat and have to wait to feel the bow. Then of course, you're underwater and upside down, and if you're like me you're pretty disoriented by this point. Every time I tried it, I'd try to flip the wrong way and consequently get my head up a little then fall right back upside down. Of course, by that point I'd be panicking. I seriously wasn't getting it, and was stressing massively about it in and outside of class. My instructor, Randy, who was awesome by the way, offered an extra session for people who were having trouble. I came in along with a couple other people and we got one on one attention. At some point during this session, I finally got it. I could do it, and I could repeat it. Suddenly I felt a lot safer and more confident in my kayaking abilities.

Not long after that we learned how to do a self rescue called an Eskimo Roll. You roll in a similar manner, using a hip snap, but you do it all yourself, using your oar to help you. I was much more confident by this point, and I was able to get pretty good at doing an Eskimo Roll, doing it successfully more than half of the time. After a bunch of practice out on the lake we had our outing to the Appomattox River near Petersburg to raft some Class 2 and 3 rapids. The other parts of kayaking come fairly naturally to me - I assume it has something to do with my years of horseback riding (that sounds odd, I know, but I just have the feeling it's true). Anyway, the point is I didn't have to get rescued or self-rescue on the river, but I had that extra confidence boost from knowing that if I flipped out there, I'd be just fine.

And that's the sort of reason I love overcoming fears. Nothing can make you feel quite as good about yourself as mastering something you know you couldn't have done before. Plus the added adrenaline is pretty great.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

City Review: Williamsburg

City: Williamsburg, VA
Geographical Location: Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, USA
Population: 14,068
Size: 8.7 square miles
Climate: temperate, seasonal
My Time There: I went to college at William and Mary so I lived there for 3 and a half years, minus one semester abroad and one summer when I lived at home (that was August 2006 to December 2009). In addition, my grandmother lives there so I visited countless times throughout my childhood.

Weather: 3 out of 10. One summer I looked online and the two hottest places in the country at the time were Death Valley, CA and Williamsburg. No joke. Summers are muggy and miserable - it was built on a swamp, after all. There is a lot of rain. It can be nice in Williamsburg (winters are nice and mild), don't get me wrong, but because of summer it gets a low rating.

Food: 7 out of 10. Williamsburg is chock full of chain restaurants, being a huge tourist destination and all. It has a few unique options, and definitely lots of stuff is good. Plenty of non-American cuisine options, too.

Walkability: Campus and the historical part: 10 out of 10. The rest of the city: 6 out of 10. The William and Mary campus and Colonial Williamsburg are fantastic places to walk around. If it's within those boundaries it's easy to walk to, and a very pretty place to walk, besides. Both have few places where cars can get in your way. If you go outside of those areas, there are usually sidewalks but everything is really spread out so walking is not very practical.

Bikeability: 8 out of 10. Overall it is very bike-friendly, especially on/near campus and the colonial part. There are some bike lanes on the roads outside of campus, too.

Public Transportation: 2 out of 10. So there's a bus system, but it leaves a lot to be desired. There are only a few routes and they only go one way around a loop, so you might get stuck going through most of the whole loop to get to where you're going (and if you have to wait at the bus depot you should probably find another way to get where you're going).

Vegetarian-friendly: 4 out of 10. There are vegetarian options at many of the restaurants but no all-veg restaurants that I'm aware of. Food for Thought is one of the best choices to take someone vegetarian.

Beauty: 7 out of 10. Except for the swampy parts, Williamsburg is pretty gorgeous. Very green.

Museums, Etc.: 5 out of 10. There are a few museums around, but the rating is mostly for the 'etc.' Obviously with Colonial Williamsburg you have a wealth of historical information and locations to visit. That stuff is free for students but will cost you otherwise.

Cool Shops: 5 out of 10. There are definitely some neat places, like a totally sweet used bookstore and a shop that has tons of free samples of peanuts.

Free Stuff to Do: 8 out of 10. It's partially a college town, so of course there are plenty of things to do that are free and cheap.

Great Outdoors: 7 out of 10. The university has a boathouse which is free for students so you can kayak and canoe to your heart's content. The WM Rec Center has some great outdoor student trips, and there's a great outdoors club. If you're not a student, there are still some things for you - short drives to Jamestown and some James River beaches, and not very far from York River State Park.

Cleanliness: 9 out of 10. It's a clean place, probably because they want to make sure it looks nice for tourists. Though you should watch out for horse manure if you're in Colonial Williamsburg.

People: 8 out of 10. On campus there are lots of great people and I knew just about everybody. I have also met lots of non-WM Williamsburg residents through my grandmother and can say they are often friendly. One downside is that some residents resent the college students and tried to make our lives a bit more difficult.

Cost of Living: $$ out of $$$$. Rent is not terribly bad - on Craigslist there are plenty of apartments for $700-$800 a month. Food is also not extremely expensive (though can be a bit overpriced if it's a place that tourists flock to), and there are some pretty cheap places (I'm looking at you, Retro's).

Tourist Congestion: Non-Summer: 3 out of 5. Summer: 5 out of 5. People flock to Colonial Williamsburg when it is nice out. Also, there's Busch Gardens which is a big draw as well. If you're around on campus in the summer the tourists will even filter over and ask things like, "is this a real college?"

Safety: 4 out of 5. You would occasionally hear reports of crimes around campus, and there were a couple bad parts of town, but mostly it seemed quite safe.

Overall Thoughts: Williamsburg was a lovely place to go to college, although staying over the summer as I did, the heat sometimes got unbearable. There is stuff to do for students but in general this is a sleepy town that goes to bed around 8 pm. There are no establishments called 'bars' due to a town law - though of course there are bars, they are just called 'cafes' or 'delis'. So if you like to go out drinking, it's not the town for you. At least there is a 24-hour Wawa next to campus, for your late night macaroni and cheese needs. I liked it, but wouldn't really want to move back there unless I was doing grad school or something.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

City Review: Atlanta

City: Atlanta, GA
Geographical Location: Southeastern USA
Population: 420,003 (city); 3.49 million (urban); 5.29 million (metro)
Size: 132.4 square miles (city); 1,963 sq mi (urban); 8,376 sq mi (metro)
Climate: humid subtropical
My Time There: I joined my boyfriend on a business trip there for 4 days in early January 2011.

Weather: 3 out of 10. Winters are mild; I was there in early January and it was in the 50s - pretty excellent. However, they don't call it Hotlanta for nothing. From what I hear, summers are terrible, probably worse than in DC. Hot and humid - no good.

Food: 6 out of 10. We definitely found some delicious stuff, though it was almost exclusively American places, with a Southern cooking focus.

Walkability: 2 out of 10. There are sidewalks (in mostly good repair) but it will only be you and sort of sketchy people on them, except for a few touristy areas. Nobody walks around - I was walking and I did not feel safe in some places in mid-day.

Bikeability: 2 out of 10. No bike lanes that I saw, and no people on bikes either.

Public Transportation: 6 out of 10. The metro system, MARTA, will take you to many places in the city and there appeared to be a decent bus system. However, we were questioned about feeling safe on MARTA (which we did) so apparently there is a stereotype that it is unsafe.

Vegetarian-friendly: 4 out of 10. has quite a few listings for Atlanta veg places; however, none of them are in the downtown area - all in the burbs. There were veg options at some of the places we went.

Beauty: 3 out of 10. From what I saw, it was not that easy on the eyes.

Museums, Etc.: 5 out of 10. There are a number of museums, though they all cost money. The Georgia Aquarium is top notch. The World of Coke is cheesy, but fun for the tasting you can do.

Cool Shops: Downtown area: 0 out of 10. Little Five Points: 8 out of 10. There was nothing cool downtown, but Little Five Points was awesome, chock full of interesting stuff.

Free Stuff to Do: 0 out of 10. I really found basically nothing to do for free there.

Great Outdoors: 2 out of 10. There were a few parks, but nothing really close by in the way of hikes, that I know of.

Cleanliness: 3 out of 10. The downtown area, at least, was not particularly clean.

People: 3 out of 10. I know one nice guy who lives there, but people on the street were weird or sort of hostile.

Cost of Living: $ out of $$$$. Food was cheap (even the fancy places weren't too bad), and a quick Craigslist search just revealed that I could be living in a 4 bedroom home with what I pay for rent in DC.

Tourist Congestion: 3 out of 5. Apparently tourists come to Atlanta. I'm not really sure why.

Safety: 2 out of 5. I did not feel particularly safe anywhere in Atlanta (a little better in Little Five Points). The guy I know who lives there says every apartment parking lot has to be locked up tight. Not great.

Overall Thoughts: I was not enamored of Atlanta. In fact, I didn't like it. It was sort of dirty, and nobody walked around. It's easy to drive around in - traffic in the downtown seemed pretty light even during 'rush hour'. However, that's not what I want out of a city.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

City Review: Dunedin

City: Dunedin, New Zealand
Geographical Location: Otago Region, South Island
Population: 116,600 in the city proper; 124,800 in the territorial region
Size: 98.5 square miles (city), 1279.5 square miles (territorial region)
Climate: temperate
My Time There: Five months of living and studying at the University of Otago (June - November 2008).

Weather: 6 out of 10. Winters are cold (and there is pretty much no central heating) but it rarely snows or gets below freezing. It rains a lot in the winter. It does get warm (and fairly hot in the summer, I'm told). It really does embody that NZ slogan of '4 seasons in a day', though.

Food: 6 out of 10. Yummy Asian options. Good burger joints. Nothing in the way of good Mexican (but it's NZ, what can you expect?). Fabulous Saturday farmers' market at the train station (year round, as far as I could tell).

Walkability: 8 out of 10. Plenty of good sidewalks, and I never felt unsafe walking around anywhere from the Octagon north (even by myself at 3 am).

Bikeability: 6 out of 10. There were plenty of people biking but I didn't see any bike lanes. Center City and the Uni area is pretty flat, but if you went outside of that you'd be dealing with some major hills.

Public Transportation: 5 out of 10. There's just the bus, and it is hard to figure out. I had problems with it... I walked everywhere, though.

Vegetarian-friendly: 5 out of 10. Many places had meat-free items but there were few whole restaurants that were veg.

Beauty: City center: 7 out of 10, Areas around the city: 10 out of 10. Some lovely old architecture and a wonderful botanic gardens were gorgeous. Down in the uni flats, not so much. But you don't have to go far to get to some of the most amazing views I've seen.

Museums: 5 out of 10. There weren't that many museums but most of them were free or cheap.

Cool Shops: 6 out of 10. Plenty of opshops (that's a thrift store) but that's about it.

Free Stuff to Do: 4 out of 10. There were some things... but a lot of stuff cost a little money.

Great Outdoors: 9 out of 10. There were the botanic gardens and several hikes within walking distance, and if you had a car there are tons of hikes you can drive to.

Cleanliness: 3 out of 10. Especially on a Friday morning, it could be pretty gross - beer bottles everywhere... I would never walk around barefoot. I did find the ubiquitous graffiti rather charming.

People: 4 out of 10. I found nice people in Dunedin but on first glance most Uni students are standoffish, if not hostile. I didn't meet many other folks but the ones I did were rather nice.

Cost of Living: $$ out of $$$$. Quick TradeMe search revealed some 2 bedrooms in the city center for the equivalent of $1300/month USD. Food is also not too bad, though it always looked expensive due to exchange rates...

Tourist Congestion: 1 out of 5. Now, I wasn't there in the summer but it's not really a tourist destination as much as a lot of other NZ cities, so I can't imagine it's bad at all. If we're talking drunk uni student congestion, that is pretty high...

Safety: 5 out of 5. Like I mentioned earlier, I really never felt unsafe in Dunedin. A major plus.

Overall Thoughts: I absolutely loved Dunedin when I lived there for 5 months, but I don't think I'd want to live there again. It was a great base for travel but the sheer amount of drunk people you see was sort of overwhelming. It's pretty, but it's dirty. I'm sure there's better spots to call home in NZ.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

City Reviewing

Recently, I was thinking how I love to review everything and how there is a whole category of things I have totally neglected: cities. I travel a decent amount, and expect to travel more soon. There are many cities I have been to, and it would be cool to keep good track of what I liked and didn't like about them. That way when I am older and ready to choose where to move to, I can easily remember 'ah, yes, it's that one for sure!' assuming I move to a city. But I'll probably always want to be within a day's drive or so to some big city.

I've been trying to decide how to work it, what categories to use, and what numbers I should assign. So here I'm going to sort of do an example one with my home city.

City: Washington, DC
Geographical Location: Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, USA
Population: 600,000 in the city proper; 5.4 million in the metro area
Size: 68.3 square miles
Climate: humid subtropical
My Time There: I have lived here, in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, since December 2009, and will probably be moving away in July or August.

Weather: 4 out of 10. DC weather is fairly nice in the spring and fall, and winters are generally mild (not this winter, though). However, the summer is ungodly hot and humid and barely tolerable. Also, the weather fluctuates a huge amount, and it rains with some frequency.

Food: 7 out of 10. We've got some great food. Lots of delicious American, Italian, Asian offerings in the city proper. Not much in the way of good Mexican food in DC, though. There are several great farmers' markets, and a couple (Dupont, Eastern Market) are even year-round.

Walkability: 8 out of 10. Good sidewalks, feels safe, lots of people walking around at all hours. Sort of unusual to find a closed sidewalk.

Bikeability: 9 out of 10. There are lots of bike lanes and more are getting added all the time. That doesn't mean that cars (cabs, especially) will honor the sanctity of the bike lane, though... Slightly hilly, but not too bad. The awesome new bikeshare system makes this an even better place to bike.

Public Transportation: 9 out of 10. You can get almost anywhere you want to go in the city by metro, and many places in the suburbs, too. Buses cover a lot of spots that aren't so metro accessible. Metro is easy to navigate, but the buses are actually pretty difficult to figure out (it took me nearly a year of living here to figure out even the buses in my neighborhood).

Vegetarian-friendly: 7 out of 10. My neighborhood is great for this, and there are a lot of veg places in the city.

Beauty: 5 out of 10. There's no coast or mountains to gaze at, but the old buildings down on the mall, and the cherry blossoms in spring, for instance, are quite nice.

Museums: 10 out of 10. DC is full of fabulous, FREE, museums. If you want to see basically any topic covered in a museum you just wander down to the Mall and pick a Smithsonian. There are some other museums that aren't free, and some of those are good as well, though generally at least $14.

Cool Shops: 4 out of 10. I like to look in thrift stores/consignment shops and they are sadly lacking in DC. There is the occasional shop like The Brass Knob, which is basically an antique doorknob store, but there isn't much for me in the way of cool places to go in.

Free Stuff to Do: 9 out of 10. There are the free museums, then also the free monuments. There tend to be a lot of things that happen in the city that are free or quite cheap; DCist is a great guide for that.

Great Outdoors: 5 out of 10. There are some parks, but a lot of them you can't sit in without being bothered by beggars or the smell of urine. We have Rock Creek Park, which has some nice hiking trails but you shouldn't be there if it isn't daytime. You can get to several good hikes in a couple hours by car.

Cleanliness: 5 out of 10. Depends on the part of the city, but generally it is only sort of clean. My part of the city, especially in the winter when they suspend street sweeping, can be pretty dirty indeed.

People: 6 out of 10. There are a lot of friendly people to be found, though many of those are just crazy and/or homeless people that will start talking to you on the street. Generally a good vibe, though, except maybe for angry government employees on the subway.

Cost of Living: $$$ out of $$$$. Rent is high - in Columbia Heights, $1300/month is a good deal for a one bedroom basement apartment. You can find rooms in the $800 range if you're willing to do group housing. Food is not especially expensive, however. It's easy to find cheap dinner under $10 or more pricey stuff is around $15.

Tourist Congestion: 4 out of 5. It definitely depends on what part of the city you're in, but if you're anywhere downtown and it is anywhere near summer, watch out, you are going to be in a mob of escalefters and matching backpacks. September, October, January, and February are relatively peaceful (I should know, I worked in a museum gift shop).

Safety: 3 out of 5. Certainly there are areas of the city that would get a higher score here. But there are places I wouldn't be comfortable walking alone during the day, and even in my neighborhood I limit the amount I walk alone after dark, and try not to be out at all if it's late enough.

Overall Thoughts: I like DC. It's awesomely easy to get around under your own power or by public transport. The whole free museums thing is a major perk. It's big, but not huge, so you don't feel totally lost to anonymity. It's not the prettiest of cities, but it is pretty vegetarian friendly. Probably the worst part about it is the summer. It is really awful. Thanks a lot, founding fathers, for building it on a swamp.

I will almost certainly be updating this with new things I think of. Let me know if you think of something I should add!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Review: Angel the Series

Disclaimer: Slight spoilers ahead

Starring: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Andy Hallett, Amy Acker, Stephanie Romanov, Vincent Kartheiser, James Marsters, Christian Kane, Julie Benz, Mercedes McNabb, Glen Quinn
Created by: Joss Whedon

I have now finished all the Buffyverse shows. I feel a little empty inside. Angel is, for those who crawled out from under a rock, a spinoff of Buffy, in which Angel moves to Los Angeles and has a detective agency.

This show gets off to a slow start. The first season is highly episodic (not to say that there aren't some good ones) and sort of directionless. Season 2 features Angel being highly annoying, though I liked the last couple episodes, because we get Fred! Yay! I really, really liked Season 3. I think that's when the show really gets into its own. It goes into some dark places, though the ending part is sort of dumb in some ways. I also liked Season 4. Season 5 has Spike join the cast, which is awesome, but is not so great in other ways. Finally, the ending is totally unsatisfying.

There is a little too much damsel-in-distress crap at first, but there are some great characters and we get some top-notch character development as well. I love Cordy and Fred, and Wesley, so of course they have terrible fates. Angel was never my favorite character in Buffy, and he isn't always my favorite character in this show either, but I do like him better (at least some of the time). Jeff asked me if Angel was to Buffy as Torchwood is to Doctor Who, and my response is sort of. It is darker. Sure. More adult? Maybe. Sexier? Not really. The plots can be a little more out there, I think. There's good romance, some horror, suspense, etc. There were some pretty bad episodes (like Soul Purpose in Season 5, ugh) but I mostly liked it. Not quite as much as Buffy, but it has its own place in my heart.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

LA and Norfolk weekends

The past couple weeks have been travel-heavy, with a 4 day excursion to Los Angeles for a wedding and a 3 day jaunt to Norfolk to visit Suz and Nate (and their pooch, Rice). And this coming weekend we are popping over to Charlottesville to see my brother.

First up, LA. We stayed the night on Thursday (March 24) at Jeff's parents house and they drove us to Dulles in the morning (our flights were 10 minutes apart). I had to go through the body scanner - for the first time. It's not so bad, really. We had time to grab a bagel and then got on the plane. The flight was around 6 hours instead of the usual five due to strong headwinds. I couldn't watch the movies (the first one was the King's Speech, which I want to see) because my headphones made a godawful noise when plugged into the plane. Other than that, uneventful. We landed, then pretty quickly met up with Jeff's parents on the Enterprise shuttle, rented a car, and drove back to get Jeff's brother Kevin who had had flight problems but it all worked out. We stopped at a Coco's for lunch and continued on to be dropped off at our hotel in Huntington Beach, where we took a nap. We hung out until dinner-time, which was at the Macaroni Grill. It was a long dinner (there were 23 people) but quite nice.

Sunset in Huntington Beach

Saturday was the day of the wedding. We found an awesome bagel place. We hung out in Jeff's parents' hotel suite in Irvine for a while and then got prettied up and headed to the Sea Cliff Country Club for the wedding. It was really nice all around. Melissa had an awesome, unusual dress. The ceremony included the whole 'speak now or forever hold your peace' thing which was funny. It was a lot of fun. Jeff and I did some dancing.

the lovely bride and groom

On Sunday we went to meet up with some of Kevin's friends on the Santa Monica pier, after having brunch with Jeff's parents and Patrick and Dana.. It reminded me of a small version of the Ocean City boardwalk. Very colorful. In multiple ways. It was fun to walk around.


Next we found a mall and I got a slice of pizza and then we all got frozen yogurt. We found and checked into our hotel near LAX then met up at another guy's house for some board games. We played We Didn't Playtest This at All, Dixit, and Who Would Win. I liked all of those. We got dinner at a Subway - they had avocados! Oh California. The next day we flew out... after having to grab a last minute different flight due to ours being delayed and almost not making it on the plane... but we got home at around the time we expected, anyway.

On to the Norfolk weekend! We headed down on Friday, April 1 and stopped through Williamsburg to visit the Cheese Shop and the Peanut Shop... mmm. We got to Norfolk around dinner time and went out to Ten Top, which was delicious. We then hung out at Fair Grounds Coffee until it was time to get donuts at Donut Dinette (are you seeing a theme?).

Saturday we headed over to Suz's place of work, Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in Suffolk. We were there to take the Spring Greens Tasting Tour. It was run by this awesome woman named Vicky who took us around the preserve and pointed out edible wild plants, and which ones are medicinal, and which ones are poisonous, and stuff. Then we gathered some and went back and made a salad. The dressing was fresh lemon juice mixed with maple syrup. It was very colorful!

the salad in all its gorgeous goodness

After returning to Norfolk we stopped for bagels at Yorgo's, which has amazing herb cream cheese! Then we looked at a couple of apartments (Suz and Nate are looking for a new place). Later Suz's friend Kristy came over with her adorable baby, and was supposed to go to dinner with us but she had to leave instead. We went to San Antonio Sam's where I got veggie fajitas. We went into Naro Expanded Video after that, which is totally cool, but didn't get any movies. We just chilled and cuddled with the dog and played Blokus.

On Sunday I met my mom at MacArthur Center and then we went out for brunch at Tortilla West, which was really tasty. I got to see her rockin' new Mustang. Then she went back home and we got dessert at The Skinny Dip. We went to another house to look at, this one a mansion. Then Jeff and I headed home, stopping for dinner at a Wawa.

Look for posts on Charlottesville and further adventures upcoming!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

100 Facts About Me

I can't resist such a list and quiz-like meme. So I didn't. Hope it's interesting!

1. I am mildly allergic to eggplant.
2. I can juggle while hula hooping.
3. I have been bungee jumping (Kawarau Bridge, Queenstown - amazing!).
4. I'm really itching to travel again. That's partially why I hope to go to South Korea in August.
5. When I graduated from college, I was ready to leave. Now I'm ready to go back.
6. I don't know what I want to do with my life.
7. Well, really, I think I'd like to be a librarian, but I'm afraid there's no jobs available.
8. I fear I may never be satisfied.
9. I wish I could ride horses again, but I can't afford it.
10. I like wine, but not beer.
11. I want to learn to scuba dive even though I know it would terrify me.
12. Overcoming a fear is one of the most satisfying and self-affirming thing I can do.
13. I think I've lost my knack for getting to know people easily.
14. Last year I read 83 books. My goal is to read 100 this year.
15. I am way too obsessed with the Buffyverse.
16. I'm really good at remembering people's names.
17. Apparently I'm pretty hard on my knees.
18. There is some unknown food ingredient that makes me instantly ill (wish I could figure out what).
19. I am really bad at keeping in touch with people from my past. Thank goodness for Facebook.
20. I can't stand high heat combined with high humidity.
21. I want to move to San Francisco some day.
22. I like making lists.
23. I like keeping good track of the things I watch and read, and the places I eat.
24. I'm a foodie.
25. I used to be religious.
26. I watched a lot of movies growing up; now I'm more into TV shows.
27. I value my free time more than making a lot of money.
28. I can't stand working retail.
29. I don't exercise as much as I'd like to.
30. I really wanted to get a job as a dog walker.
31. I'm currently temping. It's okay.
32. I like the convenience of the city. Walking everywhere is great.
33. But I also like being in nature, and wish I had a yard.
34. I miss having dogs.
35. I want to go back to New Zealand really badly.
36. I'm obsessed with Tumblr.
37. It took me 5 months to start decorating my apartment.
38. I enjoy dressing outrageously for theme parties.
39. I can't wait for Doctor Who season 6.
40. I like putting together puzzles and models.
41. I'm good at crossword puzzles.
42. I really want a DSLR.
43. I love Tegan and Sara.
44. I want another tattoo but I can't decide on what it should be.
45. I hitchhiked for the first time last summer in Costa Rica.
46. I want to go to Herculaneum.
47. I wish I could take Whitewater Kayaking again.
48. I love board games.
49. I also really like video games.
50. I'm a nerd.
51. I read and liked the Twilight series.
52. I love the smell of leather.
53. I want to go rock climbing soon, but I have to wait for my knees to heal.
54. I pride myself on being able to trip without falling, but I have fallen twice in the last two weeks (once, up the stairs, and the second time, on a sidewalk in Georgetown).
55. I still like country music.
56. I don't still like Christian contemporary music.
57. The book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer had a really big impact on me.
58. I have decided to become vegetarian.
59. I hate visiting people in the hospital.
60. I have been hang gliding.
61. I have been spelunking.
62. I have been ziplining.
63. I rafted down the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world in Rotorua, NZ.
64. I love adrenaline rushes.
65. I like taking the bus better than taking the metro.
66. I like riding bikes but am still pretty out of shape.
67. I have recently been cooking a lot.
68. I enjoy cooking but I always want to eat out.
69. My cashier number at my last job was 69.
70. I like graphic novels.
71. I increasingly like reading fantasy.
72. I haven't shaved my legs in 6 months or so.
73. I also haven't had a haircut for that long.
74. I like buying things, even though I try not to very much.
75. When I have my own house, it has to have a library, or at least a lot of bookcases.
76. I really like animals.
77. I've taken birth control pills since I was 16. I wonder what it would be like to go off them.
78. I have high cholesterol.
79. I wish someone would pay me to travel the world.
80. I like traveling alone.
81. But that's not to say I don't like traveling with friends, especially Jeff.
82. I am going to a wedding on Saturday.
83. I don't like flying, but I tolerate it.
84. I do not like Los Angeles.
85. I'm afraid of bats.
86. It's only relatively recently that I realized the benefits of using scarves and umbrellas.
87. I want to ride an elephant.
88. I like IKEA because I can imagine my dream house.
89. I'm a macaroni and cheese addict.
90. Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson are my favorite authors.
91. I have really strange dreams.
92. I like to make up stories when I'm falling asleep.
93. I miss seeing my parents regularly; when I was at college they visited a lot.
94. I look a lot like my mom.
95. I want to get my motorcycle license.
96. I shot some guns recently and I loved it.
97. I'm pro-choice.
98. I'm really interested in promoting gay rights.
99. I want to write poetry again.
100. I have a sweet birthmark on my leg.

So there you go - a list of things that are true about me. There are more things about me, but I think this gives you a decent idea.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Very Busy Couple Weeks

As the title suggests, I have been quite busy the past couple weeks! Especially clustered around the weekends. Since the last post, I had an interview at City Dogs (no call back) and one with DogCentric last Wednesday (supposed to hear back around tomorrow). I'm totally optimistic about DogCentric.

Last weekend, as in President's Day weekend, went something like this:
Friday: gorgeous weather drove us outside to bike around the city a bunch. Went to food trucks; I had CapMac mac and cheese and Jeff had a banh mi at El Floridano.
Saturday: Drove down to Alexandria. Met up with Rob, Mary, Mary's friend Mike, and Peter (no Amy - she chickened out due to high winds, though I don't really blame her). Jeff and I rode in Peter's car up to Whitetail Resort to go skiing, stopping at Wendy's on the way. I got the EZ package which let you on all the green slopes. It was icy enough that I was glad of this. Started out on the baby slope, then moved up to the real bunny slope (the easiest green slope). Right before a break I went on the really long green, and realized how much my legs were already hurting. Then everybody met up and sat in the lodge and got hot chocolate and rested for about an hour. I then stuck to the easy slope and felt like I was really 'getting it'. I didn't fall down at all the entire time! Oh, and did I mention it was windy? Yes. The more advanced slopes were apparently shielded from the wind, but the green slopes were fully at the mercy of the 60mph+ gusts. And they were pushing you downhill, mostly. So I'd be going along and suddenly get pushed down much faster than I wanted to be going. It made riding on the chairlifts quite nerve-wracking. Anyway, it was great fun! We drove back and stopped in at Amphora, an all-night diner in Vienna (also it's supposedly Greek food but the menu is vast and consists mostly of American diner food). I got nachos (big surprise) that were really good (actually a surprise; they looked mediocre but tasted excellent). Then we left and got stuck in a non-moving, construction related traffic jam for 30 minutes. It was 2am, by the way. Finally, finally, we got to our car and drove home and sank into bed, exhausted (well, I was, anyway).
Sunday: We met my grandparents for brunch at Poste down by Gallery Place. It was tasty! I got a burger, though I wish I'd gotten an omelette or French toast or something. They gave me a Kodak video camera (similar to the Flip) that I have been playing with. We didn't do a whole lot else.
Monday: It was a holiday for most people, so we had people over to play games. I had to duck out for a quick doctor's appointment before Rob and Mary came, but I ended up getting to play Cribbage, Shadow Hunters, and Betrayal. Rob and Mary left but Stan and Carla went with us to Everlasting Life Cafe, a vegan soul food place on Georgia and Columbia. I got the kale vinaigrette and the mac n cheeze and it was delicious!

Then there was this past weekend! Ready?
Friday: My parents were meant to get in at about 2 pm on the train. A 45 minute delay, plus a train ahead of them hitting a truck, meant they actually got to the hotel at about 4:30. So before they came, we biked down to the mall to hang out with Anne and Mike (whose wedding we attended in St. Louis in September). The wind was blowing steadily at 40 or 50mph, which was kind of neat. We stopped in the Natural History Museum and I saw the hand-knit coral reef! It's sweet as. Then my parents called to say they were at Union Station, so we walked to the Marriott and they came in by 4:30. By this time I had made reservations for dinner at Founding Farmers for 4:45, so I had sent Jeff ahead to sort of secure our table. My parents went to check in quickly but the hotel told them they had no reservations. After a few minutes they decided to sort it out later (they had reserved through Expedia and were told they needed the Marriott confirmation number). So we went over to Founding Farmers, they with their luggage for the weekend. We got popcorn (cinnamon sugar), deviled eggs, and corn bread for appetizers, and I got the mac and cheese for my dish (it has peas, ham, and... apples?). It was good. I got to try their enchiladas which are awesome (they come with a huge slab of steak and corn on the cob). Then we walked to Starbucks while my parents tried to get their hotel straightened out, and ended up going back to the Marriott, and checking in anyway and asking for a refund from Expedia. Yeesh.

Saturday: We met up at the zoo at 10 am. We walked through and saw as many animals as possible before we had to go at about noon. That was unfortunate, because the lion cubs were going to be out at 12:30. Sigh. At least we saw the orangutans on their big tower lines that go way up in the air! I like the zoo. We saw the sloths actually! And the reptiles seemed more active than usual. After that we walked to Busboys and Poets, where I found you can't get nachos for brunch. However, I got the portabello sandwich (sans portabello) instead and it was very delicious. Next we walked a bit until it was time to meet up with Greg and Steph at the Source Theater (it's at 14th and T) to see the play On The Razzle. I liked the play; it was silly and pretty funny. Then we went up to our apartment (Greg and Steph went home) and hung out for a bit. After a while we headed out to Ray's Hell Burger, which took longer than usual because there was track work on EVERY LINE. Anyway, of course that was incredibly delicious and I got an au poivre burger with cheese, onions, pickles, and mac n cheese. We had to sit outside because it was pretty crowded and it was sort of cold, but still very enjoyable. They don't have tap root beer anymore (just the same brand in bottles) and they changed their buns, though they seem to hold up better now to all the juices. We took the metro back and said goodbye to my parents on the way (they had to leave at 7:30 Sunday morning). Back at the apartment, Anne and Mike came over to play board games. We played: Chrononauts (I won), Race for the Galaxy (Jeff won), Star Munchkin (Jeff won), and Shadow Hunters (Jeff and I won). Finally, at about 1:30am, we said goodbye and went to sleep.

Sunday: Got up and drove down to Alexandria to meet up with Mary and Rob to go shooting. Rob showed us the basic operation of the guns we would use, then we headed out. We stopped at Wawa for lunch on our way to Clark Brother's in Warrenton (which, incidentally, is the gun range my grandfather goes to). We got there, signed a form to get our range cards (free and permanent), then bought some ammo (you have to buy it there to shoot there) and headed to the back. Okay, I knew guns were loud, but I guess I have never been near so many being fired at once. Even with decent earplugs, it was pretty loud (though not too painful or anything). We started out on the shotgun range because it was empty. We were shooting clay pigeons, aka trap or skeet shooting, using a 12 gauge. The first couple of times I did not hit anything. But finally, I got it! And I hit like 4 or 5. It is a very satisfying feeling to see your little orange disk explode into many pieces. Also it is a great activity for groups because you can easily take turns shooting and pulling the launcher thingy. There were some people briefly testing out their new gun next to us and it was this intimidating large shotgun with holes all through it. It was scary-looking as hell and I tried to Google image search it but had no luck whatsoever (unfruitful searches: "scary looking shotgun," "shotgun full of holes," etc.). Oh well. Anyway, it was fun! Eventually we moved over to the rifle range to shoot the AR-15 (you know, the civilian version). Apparently I am really good at it. My first five rounds were all within the center black part of the target! This was at 25 yards. Eventually we ran out of ammo and left. Upon arriving back in Alexandria we decided to grab takeout at Red Mei, a mediocre, unspecifically Asian place. Then we played games! We played Dominion, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and then some Super Mario Wii. Then we went home.

Since then I have: bought new sneakers and bought the Buffy Chosen Collection. I know... obsessed, much? But it was on sale! So there.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2010: A Year in Books

I read 83 books in 2010. Eighty-three... I can barely believe it. That's a whole lot. And yet... I've already read 25 books in 2011 (though that includes some quick graphic novels). My goal is to read 100 books this year. Anyway... 83 is way above the average amount of books read a year by Americans (on different sites I found numbers like 4 to 11). I love reading, and I spend a decent amount of my time doing it. I read pretty fast, but the key is really setting aside reading time.

So, what books did I read in 2010? Perhaps you don't want an exhaustive list (but if you do, you can check out my 'read' books on Goodreads. But I will give you my highlights.

The Ten Best Books I read in 2010 (order is only by the most recently read):
1. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville - A steampunk fantasy novel. It's very gritty and plunges you right into the world of New Crobuzon. The ending is sort of unsatisfying and yet... I absolutely loved this.
2. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd - A tale of racism, love, religion, and bees in the south (really, there are bees). This book is sweet and insightful, but the sweetness is deep like a nice vat of honey... mmm... honey.
3. The Scott Pilgrim Graphic Novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley - Unapologetically nerdy graphic novels. They're also funny. Very very funny, and quirky, and just my style.
4. The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner - A nonfiction book about people who seek out unusual fruits. So very interesting and awesome!
5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold - A tale about what happens to the people in your life after you die that borders on fantasy. Based on the Goodreads reviews, this is really a love-it-or-hate-it book. I loved it.
6. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky - Yes, this is a 500 page book about the history of salt. Yes, it is also an intriguing and even exciting read! I really like Kurlansky's food histories (he's also written about Cod), and I love reading about food in general. I think everyone should read this book.
7. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - This had been in my book pile for years. I was sort of put off from reading it, just because of the subject matter. But it is amazing and magnificent and just wonderful. This one is a classic for good reason.
8. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson - Epic fantasy done right. Sanderson is fantastic, all fantasy fans should read him (also! this book is available free on his website). The system of magic is super cool (it involves pretty colors) and Sanderson writes great female characters.
9. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon - A novel about comic books! There seems to be some consensus that it's 'boring', but the quality of the writing made me forget about the points where maybe the plot was a little dragging.
10. The Windrose Chronicles by Barbara Hambly - Fantasy trilogy with magic, wizards, ...and a computer programmer. Awesome!!! Really great, strong female lead, some romance.

Many of these are nerdy and/or fantasy. That's alright. That's who I am. I didn't always read so much fantasy, but I find myself really loving it (though I refuse to go the Robert Jordan route. However I'm open to George R.R. Martin).

The Worst Books I read in 2010 (similarly ordered):
1. The Liar by Stephen Fry - Don't get me wrong, I really like Stephen Fry. But, apparently, not as an author. I found the book tedious and dry.
2. The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin - I started out liking this book. Maybe it was the repeated jokes or something, but I got bored and annoyed with it rather quickly.
3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - BORING! Oh my good lord, I do NOT care about Swedish business intrigue! The middle was decent thriller material, but the beginning and the end made me want to gouge out my own eyes.
4. A Passage to India by EM Forster - Blah. I didn't like the characters. It was alright, but did not hold my interest well.
5. Neuromancer by William Gibson - For such a scifi classic, this book is utterly forgettable. Literally, every time I see it mentioned, I completely forget that I have actually read it.
6. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner - I hated this book. Really, honestly, detested it. I grabbed it at a yard sale for 4 cents and swapped it for a not-even-decently-trashy romance in a Costa Rican hostel.
7. A Destiny of Love by Ivy St. David - Not that you would have ever heard of or seen this book (I am the only person to ever review it on Goodreads, for example), but it is a piece of crap. Barely worth getting for free in a hostel (see above).
And luckily, that's all the bad books I read last year (though there were some mediocre ones too). And there were good ones that I have not included, like The Color Purple, which totally would have made a list that was more than 10. I just had to stop somewhere, before I was actually going into all 83 books individually.

I look forward to making this post and series of lists next year as well. I am in the midst of a book that I suspect will make the best list. I'm going to go read it now.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Weekend

Happy Valentine's Day, internet! I personally have had a fantastic Valentine's weekend. Let me tell it to you:

Saturday: It was my last day of work! It was actually fine, since it was busy and I was a little nostalgic and everything was in perspective. I didn't change my mind or anything; I definitely think quitting was the best thing for me, and as Jeff said, my soul is now slowly repairing itself. I am hoping to get a dog walking job now. Anyway, after work I sped home, had a snack, then went to Hinckley Pottery for a Try It! Class (Jeff's birthday present to me). We got there and were given a tour of the studio. There were about 10 people in the class. After that we were shown the basics of centering your clay, then we got to do it! This was wheel pottery by the way. So we hunched over our wheels and started pushing the clay up and down. It is pretty difficult to move the clay; it takes more force than it looks like. After doing that for a while, we were shown the basic steps of throwing a pot, and then it was time to throw our own. Really, there's isn't much actual throwing involved... it was not quite like I imagined. My first pot had too shallow of a bottom and it fell off. I made a second pot and overcompensated, so it had quite a thick bottom. It looked like an okay dog bowl! Sadly we forgot a camera so I can't show you my efforts. Anyway, the class was incredibly fun, and I see that throwing pots on the wheel is difficult, but not as impossible as I imagined. I mean, I was able to make a little bowl that didn't look awful! I would love to take a full class but alas, it's out of my price range.

After the pottery class, we drove to Alexandria and stopped by Whole Foods for a salad. We arrived at Carla's house just in time for the telephone pictionary extravaganza! Telephone pictionary is a wonderful game for large groups (at least 5 is recommended, more is better). No one wins; except everyone wins because it is just fun and hilarious! This time was no exception. We stayed til the wee hours of the morning and I was totally exhausted, so when we got home I slept like a log.

Sunday: We drove back down to Alexandria for a trip to Fredericksburg with Mary and Rob. We went to a game store called Game Vault and tried out some board games! We played Last Night on Earth, Pandemic, and Revolution!, which I will review below.

Last Night on Earth: This is a team game. Some people are zombies, the others are survivors, and you have one night (15 turns in basic gameplay) to win the game - the zombies want to kill the people (each survivor plays as two people, and you have to kill two heroes to win) and the people want to kill the zombies. It is a fairly complex, multistep game that we quite enjoyed (though the rulebook was sort of vague and we kept misinterpreting things).

Pandemic: This is a cooperative game where you are trying to cure four diseases around the world. It was not very complicated, and due to a misinterpreted card we won easily (the perils of trying to learn games that none of you have played). We thought it was okay, but weren't enamored with it. It is apparently, though, decently popular.

Revolution!: It's a bidding game that goes rather quickly and is easy to learn. However, once someone gains an advantage (which can happen randomly) it becomes very hard to catch up, and it's the kind of game where one or more people can end up totally screwed over. I really disliked it, and it was generally everyone's least favorite of the three).

We went out to Salsarita's for food at some point and I got some delicious nachos. After the three games were over, Rob and Mary bought a couple games (Ticket to Ride Europe and Betrayal at House on the Hill), then we headed back to Alexandria. Stan and Carla were there when we got there so we decided to give Betrayal at House on the Hill a try.

This is a game with a changeable board - you start exploring and go through a door, then a random room tile is laid down. Eventually a haunting occurs. Someone is a traitor and everyone else is working against that traitor. There are 50 different hauntings, apparently. Ours was the Zombie Lord one, coincidentally. It dragged on a bit but was quite fun. Also, the game is very different each time you play, so that's nice. I will be playing this again!

Monday: Today it was 68 (!) degrees out. Jeff took off work and we biked downtown to get something from a food truck (but were too late for everything but Lobster Pound, which is too expensive for me so I got a salad from Chop't). Then we went over to the police department to pick up our stupid background checks (I may go into more detail about the Korea documents fiasco but maybe not since it is so frustrating. Suffice it to say that it has been annoying). After that we went home, took a shower, then lazed around, ate canned Indian food, and watched the first episode of Jeopardy that has Watson the supercomputer on it. So far Watson is winning... but they didn't finish the playing of the first game due to showing stuff about Watson and all that. I will watch again tomorrow!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review: Full Dark, No Stars

By Stephen King

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of four novellas by Stephen King, and so each one must be discussed individually.

"1922" - an account told by a man who has just murdered his wife. It is grisly, and horrifying, and really quite creepy; it led me to wonder what was real and what was just the character being driven crazy by guilt. Fantastically written, and really stayed with me.

"Big Driver" - A revenge story where a woman who gets raped decides not to go to the police. I've read some reviewers who really didn't like this one. I thought it was okay, but not great.

"Fair Extension" - Cancer patient makes a deal with a devil-like figure where he gets better but his lifelong friend, who he hates, has everything terrible happen to him. Interesting, especially how heartless the main character becomes.

"A Good Marriage" - A woman learns her husband's dark secret and has to decide what to do with this information. I really liked this one; I understood her motivations and the ending was nice.

In conclusion: wonderful collection of novellas. I need to read the other collections of his; they say he's his best in novella format, and these did not disappoint.

Grade: B+/A-

Or, you know, you could just go read Neal Gaiman's review for this book.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Repo! The Genetic Opera

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Alexa Vega, Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Sorvino, Sarah Brightman, Paris Hilton

Ok, the first thing you're thinking, I'm sure, is why would you ever watch a movie with Paris Hilton in it? (again... hmm... House of Wax...). Well, rest assured that she actually does decently in this and besides, only has a few scenes. This is a horror movie, as you might have guessed from that poster. But it's also... a musical? And it's funny, in a black humor sort of way.

It's the not-so-distant future, and due to a crisis of organ failures there is now a company that can replace all your organs. But if you fail to pay, they can also repossess them. Enter the Repo Man, played by Anthony Stewart Head, who was basically blackmailed into the job so that he could raise his daughter (Alexa Vega), who has a rare blood disease, instead of going to jail. One day his daughter goes out to her mother's tomb and begins to suspect all is not what it seems.

This movie is pretty gory, in kind of an absurd, unrealistic way. The fact that it's a musical makes it rather surreal and delightful. I already knew Anthony Stewart Head could sing, due to Buffy, and I liked him in this as well. It is a fun watch if you don't mind a lot of blood and violence. Bizarrely, there's a cameo by Joan Jett. The plot kept me guessing.

Grade: B

On an unrelated note, when I Google-image-searched 'Repo!', this came up:

Fabulous Five, a reading list-a-ma-jig

I have swiped this from my friend and former creative writing club/anthropology club pal, Shelly Holder.

Five Books Read Recently:
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 8): The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon
- Real Murders (Aurora Teagarden #1) by Charlaine Harris
- The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
- Kraken by China Mieville
- Lost Girls by Alan Moore

Five Books I'm Reading:
- A Fool and His Honey (Aurora Teagarden #6)
- Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
- Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman
- The Mental Floss History of the United States by Erik Sass
- The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose

Five Favorite Books (not definitive)
- Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Five Least Favorite Books
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
- The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
- The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
- The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
- Emma by Jane Austen

Five Notable Book-to-Film Adaptions
- the Scott Pilgrim comics by Bryan Lee O'Malley - the movie captures the mood pretty well, and of course the first bit is spot on (perhaps too much?)
- No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy - Despite the difficulty of translating the internal monologues that are a large part of the book to film, the Coen Brothers treated this very well, and added layers to the story visually in a manner that made me really happy.
- The Shawshank Redemption (based on the short story by Stephen King) - such a fabulous movie, along with The Green Mile, another King adaptation
- The Vampire Diaries novels by LJ Smith - The show is completely different from the books, and I like parts of the books better, but I still like the show. Sigh, guilty pleasure, and not a film.
- Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley - Ok, that's totally cheating because I haven't read the book. But I couldn't think of any more.

This has served to remind me I need to see the movie of Never Let Me Go. Especially since Carey Mulligan's in it! I leave you with a picture of her gorgeousness.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Warning! Possible spoilers!

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Seth Green, James Marsters, Marc Blucas, Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amber Benson
Created by: Joss Whedon

A couple of my friends in college were obsessed with Buffy and one of them owned all of it. She was on my freshman hall and I caught a couple of episodes in the lounge with her. They were alright, but I knew watching Buffy was going to be a huge time suck so I didn't get into it.

Well, it was nice to know I was right at least - watching Buffy was a huge time suck. I was watching it for a few months. But, on the other hand, I watched it in a few months. This is a 7 season show we're talking about, with each season having about 22 episodes. Without commercials each episode is about 43 minutes long. That's roughly 110.4 hours, or 4.6 entire days of my life spent watching Buffy. So that tells you how absorbed I was in watching it - it didn't really take me that long.

Indeed, I can now count myself in the Buffy-obsessed. It is a fabulous, wonderful show. It drew me in within a few episodes with its campy humor, teenage drama, and bad special effects. Trust me, it's awesome. It goes interesting places and deals with a lot of issues: death (of course), the burden of fate, various relationships, etc etc. It does gray moral issues very, very well. Every character in Buffy spends some time being evil. All the main characters are well fleshed out and rounded.

Different seasons are differently good. Seasons one and two have Angel (David Boreanaz), the brooding vampire with a soul, and the main characters are in high school. Season three sees Angel gone but a new slayer, Faith (Eliza Dushku), in the mix. Season 4 finds the gang in college and a new guy interest, Riley (Marc Blucas). Season 5 introduces Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), Buffy's sister. Season 6 brings Buffy back from the dead and into a sexual relationship with the vampire Spike (James Marsters), and Season 7 has Spike get a soul and the gang is up against probably the toughest evil they've yet faced.

While not every episode was amazing, and I sometimes didn't like certain characters (though there were few if any that I didn't at least like some of the time). It was consistently good and I never wanted to stop watching it (I still don't, sigh). I think it is my favorite show - yes, I believe I am saying I like it more than Doctor Who.

This is not, by the way, your typical vampire show. It's way more complex than that. I recommend it to anyone. I'm realizing I'm not going to be able to go into great depth here - perhaps I'll follow with a few more posts. For now - go watch Buffy. I recommend starting at the beginning, or you can watch "Once More with Feeling," the musical episode, which is top notch.

What is this graphic? Whatever, I love it.

Grade: A++++

...And I leave you with the following:
An Angel vs. Spike montage. SPIKE ALL THE WAY!!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Atlanta: or, the Land of Not Walking

I had an opportunity to go to Atlanta with such perks as a free hotel and mostly free food (thanks, the government, for sending my boyfriend on business trips), so of course I seized it (after all, the flight was only around $200).

My boyfriend got there on Sunday. I arrived Tuesday morning, exhausted from getting up at 4 am and driving, bleary-eyed, to Baltimore (damn you, cheaper but further airports!). I zombie-walked to the MARTA station, and pressed some sort of random buttons on the ticket machine (and ended up spending twice as much as I should have, thanks to sleep deprivation). The hotel was thankfully easy to find. Luckily, Jeff was able to leave a key for me at the desk. I grabbed it, went to the room, and slept until lunch. Jeff and I met up for lunch at a place called Think Sushi, which was good until we saw a roach on the table.

After that I looked up some stuff on my nook then wandered around in random circles. I found Atlanta Underground but didn't go in. I turned back from finding a cupcake place because I got intimidated by the large groups of men smoking and staring at me. Then I went back to the hotel to wait for Jeff to be done with work. Once he was, we went to the World of Coca-Cola. We tried lots of cool flavors!

Then we talked to Jeff's old co-intern Ian. He picked us up and took us to the Midtown Vortex Burger, which he lives right next to. I had wanted to go there, and it was quite tasty! He drove us back to our hotel, where we watched some TV and went to bed.

The next day I got up and went to Reuben's deli for lunch (delicious) then headed to the Georgia Aquarium. It is amazing. Expensive, but worth it. There's the biggest aquarium tank in the world there! It has 4 whale sharks and 4 manta rays. There was a crawl tube in the penguin tank that let you get face to face with the penguins! And the beluga whales were awesome. They're adding dolphins this summer (sad to miss that!). There are touch tanks as well.

That evening we went to Rare, a soul food tapas place. It was tasty and tapas are fun. We went to the Publix grocery store across the street to find dessert. Didn't find any, but found a guy being wheeled away on a stretcher... We didn't do much else that evening.

Thursday I got up and went to the Arts Center station. I got lunch at Carolyn's Gourmet Cafe, which was pretty crappy. Then I went to the Center for Puppetry Arts to see the museum which is free on Thursdays from 1-3. The Jim Henson stuff was neat, and otherwise the museum was a little creepy since it was just me and the puppets, basically. After that I walked across a bridge to Atlantic Station, which is basically a larger version of New Town in Williamsburg. I tried on some clothes and some purses, to kill time. They had a shuttle to the metro, and at the metro there were Travel Channel people promoting the show 'The Wild Within' and they gave me some trail mix.

Dinner that night was at Dogwood, a fancy southern place. It was absolutely wonderful. We had pimento grits, apple/bacon fritters, salad, and I had fried chicken with mac and cheese and green beans. It was the best service I've ever gotten at a restaurant, and the best grits I've ever had. Mmm!

The next day was my last in Atlanta. We got up and trekked over to Little Five Points, a neighborhood where people supposedly actually walked around. We ate lunch at Savage Pizza, which was great, and then went into a bunch of novelty shops, thrift stores, and comic book stores. It was quite a cool neighborhood, definitely the best we found in Atlanta. After that we went to The Varsity for dinner, a big drive-in that is famous in Atlanta. It is greasy. Very greasy. But pretty good.

I then gathered my stuff and went to the airport, where I had a very smooth process of getting through security (5 minutes) then getting a bagel and coming to my gate to find I could get right on (they had started boarding early). The flight was short and I drove back home uneventfully.

It was a good trip, but I didn't really like Atlanta. Nobody seems to walk anywhere (unless they are a creepy loiterer or a homeless person). We were asked for money more than we are in DC, but in a generally more polite way. Atlanta is pretty sprawling, so the amount of driving makes sense. It's like LA in that way. But the reason I like cities is the fact that you can walk around or take public transportation, and Atlanta was not as accessible in those ways. Some of Jeff's coworkers for the week asked if he felt safe on the MARTA, so I guess it sort of has a reputation or something. I was interested in going to the Natural History Museum, but it wasn't really accessible at all by public transportation. So I'd say I wouldn't want to live there at all, and it ranks near LA in my least favorite cities.