31 December 2007

Counting Crows/Happy New Year

In the words of the Counting Crows:

And it's been a long December and there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

Here's wishing you and yours a better year ahead!

30 December 2007

Restaurant Review: The Palm

We went to The Palm restaurant last night. I'd been hearing about this restaurant for years so with great expectations we went. We had a few surprises.

Ambiance: Despite the valet parking and the high prices on the menu, this was a very casual place. The waiters were in butcher aprons, the walls were covered with caricatures, the customers were often in jeans. It was a comfortable enough room but didn't match the hype. 19/30.

Service: The waiter was helpful and informed. The food and drinks came out promptly. We could have done without the five minute explanation on the history of the restaurant. 25/30.

Food: This is a steakhouse, first and foremost, and we didn't eat steak. So take that into consideration. That said, we did have the seafood (clams, mahi-mahi, ahi tuna, and swordfish) and they all tasted good. Nothing extraordinary in the presentation or the preparation but good solid stuff. The sides were a la carte but large enough to share--we went for the whipped potatoes and the wild mushrooms. Very rich but tasty. And the bread basket which the waiter offered and brought was a nice mix of breads, though they'd have been better served warm. Although the waiter said that the restaurant had started out as an Italian restaurant and still had Italian influence on the menu, we saw little of that.

I'd generally be inclined to give a decent rating on the food, given the last paragraph, but hubby and I were both running to the bathroom for half the night. Maybe the mushrooms were a little too wild?? 10/30.

Vegetarian: Very limited options. This is not a place for vegetarians. 5/30.

Cost: Expensive. By the time we were done with tip, we would have racked up a $200 tab for two cocktails, two appetizers, two entrees, two sides and two glasses of wine--if we hadn't had a gift certificate to apply. All that money for food that lacked originality 10/30.

Bonus: It is nice that they offer valet service as parking in that area can be daunting. +2.

Overall: 14/30.

21 December 2007

The Palm is Dead, Long Live the Palm

There's a lot of "Palms" in my life right now but unfortunately not a lot of palm trees.

My beloved Palm Pilot, a facsimile pictured here, (a Zire 71, if you're techified) finally could no longer sync up correctly with my new laptop after four years of faithful service. It was hard dealing with the reality. I tried to fix it. I tried to help it limp along. I consulted experts. I downloaded patch programs. But, alas, reviving it to it's youthful vigor was not to be.

I have to admit I was getting a little panicky. At first, I thought, lots of people get by without a planner, I can, too. But the withdrawal got worse and worse and I was fearful of losing track of so much that I thought I needed to keep track of. Sigh. I guess Buddhists would have a problem with this level of attachment. But, hey, I'm working here. I need to keep track of appointments and when tasks were completed and ...well, you know. I have... needs.

So I trucked on down to the Sprint store last night and eyeballed the options and pushed buttons and, in the end, I chose another Palm. A Centro. It's a smart phone/device. In red, because I am in my red phase. (Oh, yes, it's true.) It and I are getting acquainted and it has WAY more capacity and capability than my old model. So much so that it's a bit overwhelming. I am working my way through the various kewl bits. I am beginning to think it has WAY more capacity and capability than me!

And, to keep with the Palm theme, it so happens that we have an opportunity to check out The Palm restaurant next week. So, stay tuned. I'll try to manage a review and maybe even a photo (on my new Palm) if I can manage it without displaying my true tacky nature.

Happy holidays! Wishing you all that's good right in the palm of your hand!

17 December 2007

Dan Fogelberg, dead at 56

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg, famed for the soaring vocals and elegant instrumentation of tunes such as "Longer" and "A Love Like This," died on Sunday, three years after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. He was 56.

In tribute to Dan Fogelberg, I am providing the lyrics to one of his more evocative songs that is always played at this time of year. It's always one that grabs me when it comes to the last verse and he slows down on the "Just for a moment I was back at school... and felt that old familiar pain..."

Thanks, Dan, for all the heartfelt music.

Dan Fogelberg - Same Old Lang Syne

Met my old lover in the grocery store The snow was falling Christmas Eve I stole behind her in the frozen foods And I touched her on the sleeve She didn't recognize the face at first But then her eyes flew open wide She went to hug me and she spilled her purse And we laughed until we cried. We took her groceries to the checkout stand The food was totalled up and bagged We stood there lost in our embarrassment As the conversation dragged. We went to have ourselves a drink or two But couldn't find an open bar We bought a six-pack at the liquor store And we drank it in her car. We drank a toast to innocence We drank a toast to now And tried to reach beyond the emptiness But neither one knew how. She said she'd married her an architect Who kept her warm and safe and dry She would have liked to say she loved the man But she didn't like to lie. I said the years had been a friend to her And that her eyes were still as blue But in those eyes I wasn't sure if I saw Doubt or gratitude. She said she saw me in the record stores And that I must be doing well I said the audience was heavenly But the traveling was hell. We drank a toast to innocence We drank a toast to now And tried to reach beyond the emptiness But neither one knew how. We drank a toast to innocence We drank a toast to time Reliving in our eloquence Another 'auld lang syne'... The beer was empty and our tongues were tired And running out of things to say She gave a kiss to me as I got out And I watched her drive away. Just for a moment I was back at school And felt that old familiar pain And as I turned to make my way back home The snow turned into rain

15 December 2007

I'm Not Usually Cheap--No, Really! (Tipping)

Here's the thing--I'm put off by mandatory tipping. When service is good and tipping isn't assumed, I'm happy to tip and tip well. I often tip more than 20% for good meals when I get good service. But when there's an assumed tip, an implied tip, if you will, that just doesn't sit right with me. Tipping is supposed to be optional. And yet it's not. Not really. Think about it. It's not optional at all.

So, this week I took myself out for a manicure and pedicure. I do this maybe once or twice a year. This time I went near work and squeezed it in over lunch. I should say that I am the daughter of a professional manicurist (she retired after ~35 years) so my standards are reasonably high and I have a sense of when something is done right or wrong in this arena.

This was not a great experience. The tools weren't sterilized properly. They used tissue to separate my toes instead of the usual separators (not a hygiene issue but odd.) The workers chatted a LOT with each other in Vietnamese to the point where I wondered if I was perhaps in their way. The manicurist insisted on cutting my cuticles when I told her not to and she had the nerve to tell me she knew I didn't want her to but she felt it was better. She left me in between the pedicure and the manicure to spend five minutes waxing someone else's eyebrows without checking to see if I had time for this interlude.

I could go on. The point was, as I said before: this was not a great experience. I should have checked out the place more thoroughly before committing but, hey, what's done is done.

So, it comes time to pay and I'm trying to decide on a tip.

If you've been down this road, you know that you get the pedicure and then half-way through the manicure they suggest you settle up so you won't smear your nails trying to pay once the polish is on your fingernails.

The price of a manicure and pedicure is $35. ATMs give out $20 bills so most people carry around increments of $20. As it turned out, I didn't walk in with anything smaller than a twenty. I say all this because I believe they priced the manicure/pedicure combination as a small savings over getting them separately but also with the implication that they would get a $5 tip. Snarky but there it is. Normally, I would hand over $40 and say keep the change and that would be that. And, really, it's not a huge amount for a tip, it's around 14%.

This time, even with the myriad problems, I was prepared to give her the$5 if she didn't add insult to injury and assume she was getting it automatically. Here's how it went down...

She says it's time to pay.

I say "$35 for manicure and pedicure, right?"

She says "Yes."

I hand her two $20 bills.

She takes them and pauses--a long pause--and looks at me, waiting.

I look at her, getting irritated but holding her look and smiling.

What can she do? She gets up to get me change.

At this point, I think "If she brings me five singles in change, I'll still hand them all to her for tip."

She takes her time, as if annoyed, and brings me a single $5 bill.

She hands it to me. I take it and look at it pointedly. That's it, then: less tip. I look at her, smile, and say "Could I have change, please?"

She pauses but, again, what can she do? She takes the $5 and brings me five singles, not quite meeting my eyes this time. So there you have it. She could have brought me the singles the first time but she chose to bring me the $5 bill. I put down three of the singles on the table and put the other two in my wallet.

I realize I'm taking some risk here. After all, she hasn't finished the manicure and she can do a sloppy job, but she doesn't. She rushes but she does an okay job and that's that.

14 December 2007

Romantic Christmas

When I was a young girl, of say 5 or 6 or 7, 98% of my experience of Christmas came from the television and it was a very romanticized version.

It was the era of Christmas specials. So Dolly Parton's Christmas Special was followed by Andy Williams' Christmas Special, Donny & Marie's Christmas Special, and so on. It was that kind of time.

It was always snowing for Christmas in Hollywood. I can remember that there were a lot of scenes of snow falling outside windows while people gathered around a huge, stone fireplace that looked to be burning real wood, and sang romantic Christmas songs to each other while they wore brightly-colored sweaters. Occasionally they sang while they went on sleigh rides but mostly they gathered by the fire, singing and briefly chuckling at lame jokes between songs.

I thought: this is why people love Christmas. You get to canoodle with the one you love in front of a fire and you sing each other romantic songs. How great is that?

11 December 2007

It's the Time of the Season (TV)

Remember when there was a lot of decent stuff on TV? Okay, it's been a lot of years, but stroll with me down memory lane. There was a time when there was more than one night a week with something to watch. Not only that but you'd know when the "TV season" was starting. In fact, one of the counterpoints to the horribleness of going back to school was that at least you had the new TV season to look at come September. There would be specials with genuine stars talking about the new shows. And then the TV season consisted of a number of real seasons' worth (Fall/Winter/Spring) of new shows and then summer came and you had reruns. Ah, nostalgia.

Then they cut the number of episodes. You got one, maybe two, real seasons and then reruns and more reruns.

Then they started with "mid-season replacements" which were sometimes better than the official season starters.

Then they started switching somewhat willy nilly to the point where you said "Wait, is that show on? Is it canceled? What's the deal? I thought that show was in this time slot...?"

Now we have the writers' strike. So we have even more reruns.

I've noticed that the "reality" shows aren't rerunning. Does that mean they don't have writers? Or just that they're filmed so far in advance that it doesn't affect them?

I miss the good old days of television. Is it any wonder that TV Land is so popular?

10 December 2007

Traveling Wireless

From The Washington Post's Post Points:

Also, stay connected wherever you are by researching and jotting down WiFi hotspots in your destination. Jiwire for instance, lists thousands of Internet locations in nearby and far-flung places. The Web site also lists which locations are free.

Handy to know where your next WiFi is coming from if you're the type to want to stay connected while in far-flung places. I still associate being connected--wired or wireless--with working and that's not what I want when I'm on vacation but I guess more and more folks are using it to stay in communication with the ones they love.

07 December 2007

Study Finds Steroids, Illegal Stimulants in Supplements

From USA Today:

"Study finds steroids, illegal stimulants in supplements"

So maybe when all those athletes said "I have no idea how I got steroids in my system" they weren't kidding!

Who knew?!

And You Thought You Only Had to Worry About Hurricanes in the Caribbean

Elite Vacation Newsletter reports...

"Little Damage Reported from Strong Nov. 29 Caribbean Quake

According to a Reuters news report, a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 struck near the Caribbean island of Martinique on Thursday, November 29, sending tremors and panic through the region but causing little damage, witnesses said."

05 December 2007

Snow, Queen (but Not The Snow Queen)

As the snow gently drifts to the ground here in the greater DC area, I hear on the radio that, including today, it has snowed 4 out of the last 6 years on December 5. Huh. Good enough for me. I say we declare a holiday and enjoy it properly.

Also, in the realm of common knowledge that wasn't common to me: Queen is putting out a new album. So there's that.

This has been your 5 minutes ago reporter, lacochran.

04 December 2007

Service? More Like Recitation

I had the pleasure of dining at two wonderful restaurants this weekend, one in DC and the other in NoVA. Great food, fine atmosphere, lots of good wines by the glass in both places. I won't tell you the names of these places as from here on down this is more a peeve about the current trend in service than a glowing report.

At both restaurants I felt like I was held captive by the waitstaff while they showed off what they knew.

At restaurant A:

Me: I have a question.
Waitress: Absolutely. Let me tell you all about our menu and if you have any questions about wine, I can tell you about that, too. In fact, let me point out a few things to you as you turn to page 12, here, of the drink list, you can see we've spared no expense to bring you some fantastic choices. We have more than 150 wines by the bottle and more than 60 wines by the glass. Oh, and blahblahblahblahBLAH.

Wait a minute. Did you not hear me say I had a question? Are you not the least bit interested in my question? Do you really think I want to hear a soliloquy before I ask my question?

At restaurant B:

Waiter: Do you know what you'd like?
Me: I do!
Waiter: Let me make a few suggestions that you may not have considered. At Restaurant Blahdeeblah we're proud to say we do things a little differently. We're delighted to offer a variety of specialty drinks that you've never heard of. My favorite is the Tommy Lasorda. It's got just the right level of insouciance and a surprising touch of filbert liqueur. Now if you were instead thinking about wine, of course we have umpteen different wines by the glass that I am very familiar with and they start here and go all the way to here sorted by blahblahblahblahBLAH.

Wait a minute. You asked me if I knew what I'd like and I said I do! What the HELL are you going on about? Let me tell you what I want and--here's a thought-- you shut up and go get it!

Why do I feel like I'm watching a performance, and a fairly lackluster one at that? Okay, so you had to memorize a lot to get this job. I get it. Doesn't mean I want to hear everything you know.

03 December 2007


For all the gentile neighborhoods I've lived in, I've never been visited by carolers. I've seen it on television but never in person.

Not sure how I feel about this... I certainly get enough Christmas music on TV, radio, in stores, etc. but that lacks the personal touch and the pleasure (we hope) of a live performance. I've been part of singing groups that sang Christmas music but didn't go caroling, per se. Hm. Maybe I'm missing something.

Perhaps in the spirit of making up for anything my neighborhood might lack in Christmas spirit, one of my neighbors has decided to decorate with every possible Christmas decoration/inflatable/light/etc. he can lay his hands on. I thought it was tacky last year but he has surpassed that by far this year.