29 April 2008

You know the dream where you show up for the test two hours late and naked...

I just completed the worst exam experience of my life.

Now, I'm no spring chicken. I've been through a lot of exams. Lots. Many, many. Gobs.

Nothing like this.

This was my first, and perhaps my last (!), online exam.

I'd gotten nothing but positive feedback all semester from my online instructor and online classmates. Still, I studied just to be on the safe side.

It was a multiple choice exam.

Multiple choice! you cry, What could be easier?

That's what I thought.

85 questions in 85 minutes, with a timer going as soon as you hit go.

The questions were of this kind of format:

You walk down the avenue. You hear a melody in the distance. You see a blue bird. Do you:

a) admire the blue bird

b) consider Thomas Jefferson's role in history

c) link the rise of the combustion engine to current economic theory and the reduction of brown birds

d) toaster


Okay, I'm pretty sure toaster is wrong. But I could theoretically do any of the other three and maybe do a jig, too, to that catchy melody I'm hearing and I don't freakin' know why I'm seeing a blue bird to begin with because there's no genuine context given in the question! Maybe if I read it again... nope, still makes no sense.

Now multiply that by 85.

Now, just for fun, throw in technical difficulties.

For approximately 25 of the 85 questions, when I hit the submit key, it gives me an error message whose only option is an "Okay" button. "Okay"??! No, it's not okay! You didn't save my answer and the freakin' clock is ticking! Eventually, it doesn't even allow me that much interaction as it switches to an "already working this request" message but never actually saves my answers!!


I should have picked toaster because I think I'm toast.

28 April 2008

Carpenter's Cook-off/Someone else will have to charm Helen Thomas

Hubby and I attended the Carpenter's Cook-off Sunday at the Birchmere. This was a benefit for Carpenter's Shelter, which just celebrated 20 years of serving homeless and formerly homeless children, families and adults in Alexandria. I believe the statistic I heard at the event was that 90% of the people they help transition out of homelessness. That's pretty amazing!

I gotta tell ya, even if it hadn't been such a good cause--which it certainly was!--it was a great event to attend and I heartily recommend it for the fun and food factors alone. They had about two dozen great restaurants (Jackson 20--who won the cook-off with their incredible shrimp in remoulade, Asian Bistro, The Warehouse, Southside 815, Stardust, Restaurant Eve, Landini Brothers, Del Merei Grill, Rustico/Buzz, Hollin Hall Pastry Shop--indescribably good desserts! and so many more!) serving up samples of their food! Yum!! Of course, we had to re-sample the offerings of a number of contenders to be sure we were voting fairly. ;)

They had the Melonheads playing great tunes (Joe Walsh, Chuck Berry, Ike & Tina Turner, etc.), to which the adults and the kids rocked out. All this included in the cover price of $40, $30 of which went right to the shelter.

And then there was the auction. And you know what? We bid on the Helen Thomas dinner.

It was dinner for four with Helen so I figured we could invite somebody else who'd know what to say (perhaps j.m. tewkesbury or hughes ap williams). But the bidding very quickly eclipsed us and some lucky person got this sweet deal for $850.

We got eclipsed on lots of other wonderful items including a two night stay at any Ritz Carlton; a Kennedy Center 4th of July package; private cocktail instruction and sampling for 6 guests at PX; a Morrison House stay, dinner and gift basket and much more. They even had a Shakespeare package and a Nascar package on auction, though not in the same package. :)

I'm pleased that they were able to raise so much money for the shelter, even if it meant we didn't walk away with any of the really cool items.

Birchmere hosts this every year. I recommend you line up tickets early for next year!

PS Kudos to Congressman Jim Moran for making an appearance and supporting the Shelter!

Questions on this, that and the other

On Saturday, I discovered that the Springfield Borders has Frasier seasons 3, 7 and 9 under lock and key with the box sets, even though the other seasons are out flaunting their freedom on the standard DVD shelf. My questions: Why the heck does Borders lock up some seasons and not others? What is the advantage of storing different but sequential items in two different locations? I have for months assumed that they were simply sold out of season 3. It's just a toss of the coin that I asked the information flunky if a nearby store had season 3. That's when he checked the shelf I'd checked and then checked the box set cabinet and, lo and behold, there it was. I sprung season 3 and seasons 7 & 9 were cheering for it, even as they got locked in again.

My scale says one weight. Hubby's scale has me up 3.5 pounds from that. Doctor's scale has me up another 2.5 pounds from that. There's a way to synchronize your clock with the official time. My questions: Why isn't there a way to synchronize your scale? And am I the only one who tries to weigh myself on the scale in the store before I buy it? I bet I have the best selling scale.

Two commercials I love to hate:

  • The FreeCreditReport.com commercials. Oh the jingle is catchy and the message--known your credit standing--is a good one. My question: Is there anyone left on the planet who doesn't know they are entitled to a free credit report without going through these shmoes and signing up/paying for their program?
  • The new Volkswagen commercial where the new owner keeps pressing a remote alarm every time a young couple gets near the car. My question: Is Volkswagen's targeted demographic assholes??

27 April 2008

The beautiful and multi-talented Jane Seymour

We went to the P&C Gallery in Old Town Friday night for an art opening for, and featuring none other than, Jane Seymour. As there was a large sign demanding no photography, I do not have a picture of Ms. Seymour but I did snap a picture through the window of this self-portrait once we left.

It was cool. We were on P&C's mailing list and hubby made a reservation so we were very Studio 54 when they asked at the door if we were on the list. How rarely are we on any list! Any good list, anyway. Happily, they had a record of the reservation and we breezed in while others stood and gawked from outside.

Seymour is quite beautiful and certainly looks considerably younger than her age (57). She's also more petite than she looks on television. And, oh the talent. In addition to acting, she's an accomplished artist in many different styles and media. It looked like a show of five or six different artists but, as she assured hubby, they were all hers. Of the paintings, I liked the oil seascapes the best. In addition to the paintings, she had painted scarves available, too, and there were two books she'd authored that were for sale and even a pamphlet about the jewelry she's designed for Kay Jewelers. Pretty freakin' impressive.

25 April 2008

Surely this will not stand.

"3 NYPD detectives acquitted in 50-shot killing"

I can't bear to reprint the story here. But if you want the details, click on the link.

50 shots.


That's a whole lot of crazy.

I will leave you with the last line of the story: "The truth emerged when the smoke cleared: There was no weapon inside Bell's blood-splattered car."

What fun! (Artinis)

According to the Washington City Paper...

The Corcoran’s 1869 Society presents ARTINI
Throughout the month of April, 15 restaurants in the District of Columbia compete to create the most artistic martini. Visit the participating restaurants, sample the “artinis,” and vote online here. Plus: be sure to visit the all-new artini blog, where you can watch videos of citywide artini action and submit your own artful martini recipes.

Hm... methinks celery and dill infused vodka might be an acquired taste but I can't say I've tried it so I'm not gonna knock it. At least its not the sameoldsameold. Might have to taste test some of these. :)

23 April 2008

What does one say to Helen Thomas?

I am going to a benefit that will include an auction. One of the many things you can bid on is dinner with Helen Thomas.

My first reaction was "Wow!"

My second reaction was "Heck, no, I'm not bidding on that! What would I say?!"

Well, there's always "pass the rolls, please" or I could ask the first lady of the press all the same questions she's been asked for years... "Who was your favorite president?" "What was the toughest question you ever asked?" Yadayadayada. I'd make an utter fool of myself, I'm sure.

I will, however, forever be her fan, if only for what she asked W:

"I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet—your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth—what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil—quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?"

Yeah! Ms. Thomas, you rock! Talk about asking the $64,000 question!

A snippet of Wikipedia on Ms. Thomas:
"Helen Thomas (born August 4, 1920) is a noted news service reporter, a Hearst Newspapers columnist, and member of the White House Press Corps. She served for fifty-seven years as a correspondent and, later, White House bureau chief for United Press International (UPI). Thomas has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, was the first woman officer of the National Press Club, was the first woman member and president of the White House Correspondents Association, and the first woman member of the Gridiron Club. She has written four books; her latest is called Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public."

I'm not intimidated by a lot of people but, let's face it, this chick is sharp. I hope somebody worthy of her company bids on and gets the dinner. I'd be happy just to read the blog that will inevitably come out of it.

21 April 2008

Why not just say "Free Mercedes"?

I and 70 others received the following e-mail message at work today with the subject "Lost Keys":

Hello everyone-

If anyone lost a set of keys in the (company) store. Please claim them before 4:30 in the (company) store or they will be taken to the Security office after 4:30.

The key ring have a Mercedes key, MVP card, and a Giant’s card.

Um, I'm pretty sure that these keys will get claimed one way or another.

Context/What do you do?

I've been circling around a thought for the past few weeks and I'm still not sure what I want to say about it but here goes...

I always said if I won the lottery and could retire tomorrow, I would. I also acknowledged that I'd probably get bored doing nothing pretty quickly but I'd sure like to give it a try and see how long it took.

In the last few weeks I met up with an old friend who is independently wealthy and really can do nothing if she chooses to, and sometimes chooses to. And we had a nice chat but the things that she was talking about had very little to do with the things that I was talking about. It was like we were in very separate circles and trying to find ways to at least bridge the circle edges for a little while.

And then I saw the movie "About A Boy", in which Hugh Grant plays someone who is independently wealthy and does very little at all (lots of TV watching and such.) And Hugh's character meets a woman who asks him the inevitable question, "What do you do?" When he admits that he does nothing, she's singularly unimpressed. In order to impress her versus actually giving his life meaning, he pretends to be a father.

And there's the rub. Because the first question almost always asked is "What do you do?" as in "How do you spend your day?" The assumption is that you work, or go to school, or take care of children. Or, if none of those, that you do philanthropic work or creative endeavors. This is how we define each other when we meet. This is how we create context.

What do you do?

I'm an X.

Oh, an X.

And with that we begin to make and remake assumptions about how great or terrible it is to be an X doing what Xes do. But we have a neat little box, right or wrong, in which to put this new person.

But if you're not an X or a Y or a Z, then what? How do you connect with other people who are Xes and Ys and Zees? What do you talk about? How do you create your own context? How do you not lose yourself?

This becomes a more important topic to me as we approach honest-to-god retirement (hopefully early retirement within the next 10 years). Because once we are retired, then what? Do I work part-time in something that is less stressful than my current job or even enjoyable once salary isn't an issue? Do I volunteer and make the world a better place? Do I start drinking lime daiquiris at 11 am? What?

I took a Retirement prep class a number of years ago and it had great financial advice and tax advice and lots of wonderful components. One of the segments was on health in retirement and what they shared (statistics) was rather sobering. Apparently, people who have worked for years and years sometimes have the irritating habit of dropping dead soon after retiring unless they have something scheduled to do. It's like some part of them realizes that they no longer have context and says "Okay, I guess we're done here. Check, please!" and *poof* they're gone.

I've recreated myself a couple times in a professional sense and I guess I will again when the time comes but it's a little worrisome. I'd invite comment from those that have successfully negotiated the retirement wave and lived to surf another day. Or those that have found non-standard ways to answer the question "What do you do?"

17 April 2008

Sell By Dates and Other Devils

I may only have a few minutes... I have just consumed a whole 4-ounce container of Breakstone 2% Cottage Cheese that was dated April 9, 2008.

Yeah. I saw that "sell by" date and I still ripped into that bad boy. And you know what? It was good and I'd do it again. That's the kind of rebel I am. I'm riding shotgun with the demon food poisoning. I'm strung out on the hard stuff. Ooooo, the colors!

How helpful is a "sell by" date, anyway? "Use by", sure, but "sell by"? It's more a challenge to the stores: can you sell this before this date or will you have to restock the shelves? Yeah, I check "sell by" dates and given a choice between April 1 and April 9, I'll grab the April 9. But I don't get crazy over them. If the product looks good (maintains consistency and color with no unsightly bulges) and passes the all important "smell" test, I'm eating it.

Perhaps more important labeling is to know how to crack the codes on those tiny little (and by the way, edible) fruit/veg labels: four digits for conventionally grown, five digits beginning with 9 for organic, and five digits beginning with 8 for genetically modified. Beware the mutant 8s!! Now, that's a bad trip. Repeat after me, "It starts with an 8, it's not on my plate!"

14 April 2008

Not in Kansas Anymore (DC Sites)

"Girl from the South", a blogger who has just left DC, writes:

"We decided that you weren’t a jaded Washingtonian until you no longer felt awe or inspiration when gazing upon the Capitol Building or the White House."

I love DC. It's no Cozumel, but it suits me just fine while I'm workin' for a livin'. (Cue Huey Lewis: "Livin' and a-workin', workin' and a-livin', I'm takin' what they're givin' cause I'm workin' for a livin'." [Obligatorytangentinatangent: This link is a 1982 video but you can find him rockin' out just as fine on the same song in this current video, if you don't mind the poor production quality of a bootleg.])

I do react when I see the Capitol Building or the White House but I'm not sure I've ever felt awe or inspiration. Because my reaction has very little to do with what goes on inside these buildings.

I've lived in the DC metro area for over 20 years (first in the MD 'burbs then in the VA 'burbs) and I've always had the same reaction when I see these sites, as well as the Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, etc. I think "this is surreal" because it boggles the mind to think that I am living in a place that is so familiar to the rest of the country--nay, the world--whether they've set foot in DC or not. Regardless of what the politicians do or don't do and whether you're a fan of the current political spectacle or not, we live in one of the most recognizable places on earth.

This city has so many famous landmarks; so many recognizable features. Think how many movies and TV shows feature it. The news uses these sites daily as backdrops. It's in every school child's text book. It's on the money in your wallet. That's the Lincoln Memorial (well, duh) on the 5, there, for example. DC is inescapable.

To me, driving into the city and past one of these buildings or monuments is like when the screen turns to color and we're in Oz: FREAKY. I don't take it for granted and I never get used to it. I think it's way cool. I'm happy that Dorothy and Girl from the South found their way home. I'm not trying to get home. I am home, flying monkeys and all.

Restaurant Review: Thai Square

Since Thai Square, in Arlington, was listed in the "Dirt Cheap Eats 2007" by Washingtonian magazine and the restaurant's web-site sported a quote from Phyllis Richmond, we thought we'd experience dinner there Friday.

Ambiance: 10/30. This place is Small with a capital S and very popular. The double set of doors you see in the picture are the full foyer. They don't take reservations. So, people pack into the small dining room, hovering awkwardly over diners, because it's either that or wait in one of the three seats by the bathroom (yeah, that's right). The bathroom-adjacent seats mean you're "on deck". From the time we arrived to the time we left, the wait-staff was in constant blur, the restaurant was full, and there were always more people waiting. It's unnerving to be standing over diners. It's more unnerving to be dining and stood over by others. We were lucky--the table that we just happened to get was by the window (under the open sign in the picture) so we were somewhat protected but next to us was a window onto the foyer so we always had a view of waiting people and they of us, even if they weren't actually breathing down our necks.

Service: Fast, efficient, pleasant in a non-frills way. They also offered us drinks while we were "on deck". We took them, feeling a bit strange to be drinking as people squeezed by us to get to the restroom. 20/30.

Food: Tasty, attractive and interesting options. I had the Salted Fish Sauteed with Chinese Broccoli which is better described as Chinese Broccoli Sauteed with Tiny Bits of Salted Fish. Hubby had the Potpourri Shrimp with Bean Threads, a clay pot meal with huge shrimp, bean thread and shiitake mushrooms. Both were good but neither was so good as to make us forget about all the Thai restaurants between us and Arlington. 22/30.

Vegetarian Options: More than half a dozen actually vegetarian options. Plus, the occasional veg appetizer, too (we had the fried tofu-yummy!). 26/30.

Cost: Washingtonian wasn't kidding. The two entrees we had were $9.50 and $12.95, respectively. For the DC metro area, this is a phenomenal bargain and explains why people are constantly queuing up. 28/30.

Bonus: They have free valet parking in a high-traffic, hard-to-park area. Although it's a bit disconcerting because they take your keys and they don't give you a ticket. Happily, we got our car back. :) +4 points.

Overall: 22/30. A good meal at a great price but the hover approach was enough to put me off. I'll go to Thai Old Town and be a whole lot happier.

Arlington tangent: I often feel crowded in Arlington. When we were evaluating places to live we looked at homes in Arlington and found that they were crowded and pricey. Inside, the places were nice but outside you were on top of your neighbors and they you. I guess that's what happens in areas where land is at such a premium.

10 April 2008

Food, Glorious Food!

Here's something that combines two of my favorite things: travel and food! Check out Elite Choices' list of World's Best Food Festivals. From India's Mango Festival to Montreal's Beer Festival to Turks & Caicos' Conch Festival, there's something for everyone. Can't decide? Why not a general food & wine festival like the one they list in South Beach? Can't afford to travel right now? Here a list of festivals closer to home: DC Area Food Festivals.

09 April 2008

The Pope/Marketing

The pope is coming to DC in about a week and locals can attempt to catch a glimpse of him in his fancy pope-mobile if they check the schedule at:


It seems to me that this would be a perfect opportunity for a marketing tie-in. Surely, one of the local pizza places could do a "Find the Pope in the Pizza" contest, no? I see 30-second spots with Father Guido Sarducci, of course, as the spokesperson, much like his original discussion after the US tour so many years ago by a previous pope.

See transcripts at

This could be huge. His vision come true. How could it not be great?

Update: You can get a Pope bobble-head! Check it out!

08 April 2008

Weingarten Wins the Pulitzer

DC's Gene Weingarten won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for the following article:


I guess the question is, will our opinion be influenced by the fact that he's gotten this recognition? ;)

Way to go, Gene!

07 April 2008

Reading is Fundamental; Reading Good Stuff is Essential

We go to the library Saturday and I realize that I am missing well-written books.

I've read a fair number of books over the last year and they've, for the most part, had a good story line, compelling dialogue, and entertaining characters but they've lacked a richness of language--a well-turned phrase, a gift for imagery, even a decent level of vocabulary. I guess I've gotten a bit lazy in my reading, opting for bubble-gum fiction.

So, I spend a little more time perusing the shelves and pick up a book or two that have a little more going for them. I'm now reading a story that actually goes into a some detail about what the scenery looks like and what the characters are wearing and you know what? I like it. It's not Michener-esque in its descriptions; it provides just enough to give you a sense of what the main character is seeing; a little more like being there. Such a basic thing and yet so often dispensed with in this news-bite world.

This is reason number 436 that I will not be a best-selling author: there's way too much you have to do well simultaneously. I will contend myself with the knowledge that a published author and writing instructor once said I had written the first two pages of a best-seller. That's thrilling enough. And requires no discipline on my part. ;)

Now back to reading...

04 April 2008

Avast Ye Mateys

Remember when the worst thing you had to worry about on a cruise was how much you ate at the midnight buffet?

"Pirates seize French ship off Somalia"


I'm guessing these pirates don't resemble Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impersonation.

I'm kind of surprised they use the term "pirate" in the news. Where it's technically accurate, isn't there a synonym that would do a better job of conveying the seriousness of the incident?

Can you hear/read the term "pirate" and not have a ridiculous image of a pirate leap into your head? Admit it. You hear it and you get the complete shtick with patch, blowzy shirt, pantaloons, boots, probably even a parrot on the shoulder, don't ya? All complements of Disney.

That's the kind of thing you can't shake. No matter what you do. "Pirate" will always equal this image in your brain. If you get picked for a jury and the defendant is a pirate, you'll have to disqualify yourself because you can not develop a realistic, unbiased impression. You are stuck with the mythology. Then, again, who wants to be picked for a jury anyway? Bah.