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.