30th Birthdays!

Yes, “birthdays.” I feel like I was celebrating for about a week!

First, I guess you could count our meal at Amada in Atlantic City. It took place between GG’s birthday and mine, so we justified the expensive meal by saying it was kind of to celebrate both of us.

Then, the Friday before my birthday, GG and I went to Union Trust. I’d bought a deal from Livingsocial earlier this summer, and it was about to expire, so we made it a little birthday thing. The restaurant was gorgeous, and the food was amazing! Because we were using the deal, we had a limited menu to choose from. But we also saved about 50%, so I am ok with that. The steaks of course were amazing. I had a filet with espresso powder and truffle butter – I am still thinking about it. By the time we got to dessert, which was included with our meals, we just couldn’t eat anymore, so we got our desserts to go and had them at home a few days later – and they were awesome too!

Then on Saturday, I got together with a few friends for a little birthday day out. I hadn’t been planning on doing anything, because I was getting kind of stressed out trying to plan something. But I figured it was a big birthday, so I should try to do something. So we went out to get our nails done, and walked around and shopped a little bit. Then we went to the Melting Pot, where my mom, grandmother, and another friend joined us, and had a long, luxurious meal. After all that food, we were pretty stuffed, but of course still wanted to do the chocolate fondue course. J kept suggesting that we only get one dessert for the whole group, and it turned out that that was because she’d stopped by the restaurant early to deliver a beautiful cake, which they brought out with our dessert! So yes, there was way too much dessert happening, but the evening was lots of fun. And still low-key and low-stress.

I also hadn’t been planning on doing anything on my actual birthday, which was Wednesday. I worked from home, and my mom came by in the morning and brought me a pie. GG had suggested that I skip band practice that night and we would go somewhere. So we went up to New Hope for the evening, walked around town, because the weather was beautiful, and had dinner at Karla’s, which we hadn’t been to before, but I know we will be back. It was a very nice night out.

So… now I’m 30!

GG’s B-Day in NYC

GG’s birthday is coming up, and to celebrate he wanted to see a show at the Comedy Cellar in New York, which you may recognize from the opening of most episodes of Louie. The Comedy Cellar has kind of a weird system for taking reservations and posting line-ups, but you put up with it because there’s a chance that a big-name comedian might show up and perform among all the no-names, for the same $20 admission price. Louis CK is there often, obviously, also Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Attell, Darrell Hammond, and tons of others. We couldn’t get a reservation in advance, so we just took the chance, took the day off work on Friday, and headed up.

Timing-wise, everything worked out perfectly all day. We got to the bus into the city exactly on time, and then grabbed a subway to Greenwich Village immediately. We left home a little after 11 AM and had been thinking we’d get to the venue by around 3 PM, but it was more like 2. We went to the Comedy Cellar first thing, to get on the list for the show that night. The weird system is that they take a certain number of reservations over the phone, but those apparently fill up immediately; otherwise, you have to show up in person. Our back-up plan was to go to Dangerfield’s.

Our next stop was kind of a late addition to the schedule. A blog I read on Thursday mentioned this new Chobani SoHo store, and I realized that it was right where we were going to be the next day! And I love Chobani – I eat one almost every day! So GG was cool with it, and we went to check out the store. It is a really neat concept – they serve a selection of yogurt “creations,” basically plain Greek yogurt with sweet or savory toppings. GG and I decided to try the Pistachio + Chocolate and Fig + Walnut options, respectively, as well as split the Plain + Cucumber with pita chips. The store is very small, and with the crowd inside and the heat outside, it was pretty warm. But once some of the people cleared out, it was more tolerable. And the girl who waited on us was very nice, we were chatting with her a bit about the store. They just walk up and take your order on an iPhone, and you pay them right there. Then you can watch through a window as your items are assembled, and when they’re done they call out your name and hand you a bag. There really wasn’t space left in there for us to eat, but they directed us to a park around the corner. It was a nice park with a pool, fountain, playground, etc., so we sat and chowed down. The yogurt is served in nice little glass bowls that you can keep or recycle, or you can bring them back next time for $.25 off your order. We likely will not be back (I actually just recreated the cucumber and pita chips thing tonight at home…), but we washed out the bowls in the restroom at the park and GG carried them in his bag for the rest of the day. I tweeted about our visit and I saw @ChobaniSoHo tweeted me back (they are so good at social networking), so I suggested that they open a location in my area!

GG had originally wanted to go to this chili restaurant for dinner, but we realized after walking past it that it’s not really a place you can sit down and eat in. So while we walked around, we kind of kept an eye out for other restaurants. I think the problem in Greenwich Village is that there are too many options! We spent the afternoon walking around in the heat; yes, it was hot, but I’m glad it didn’t rain while we were there, as was forecast! We stopped in at some various stores and places. We went to a liquor store, which turned out to be the biggest liquor store in NYC. GG of course had to check out the single-malt Scotches. Most of the prices were comparable to, or more than, what he could get at home or in DE. But he found one thing that was way cheaper than he’s seen it anywhere (even with NYC sales tax). He freaked out and had to buy a bottle, so that was his little happy birthday surprise for himself. We also sat in Washington Square Park for a little while. GG was enjoying watching all the scantily-clad sunbathers, while I enjoyed looking at this girl sitting by the fountain knitting something, and this guy who just started dancing crazily (wonder what was on his headphones).

Finally it was time to head back for dinner. We decided to just eat at the Olive Tree Cafe, which is upstairs from the Comedy Cellar. While there, some people we didn’t recognize were sitting at the table reserved for comics. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner, then went out and downstairs for the show. We ended up seated front row, center. Like, inches from the performers. There’s a host and five comics scheduled, in about an hour and a half. I’d looked at the schedule in advance, and the only name I recognized was Sherrod Small, from Best Week Ever. All the comedians were great. They were almost through the show, when the host announced that next up was… Jim Norton! GG freaked out. And that was probably the best birthday surprise :o) After the show, we tried to get out of there quickly so GG could go back up to the restaurant and see Jim and the others sitting at the comedians’ table. That was fun.

We hopped back on the subway, and made it to the bus just in time. We were the last people to board, and as we made our way back to an empty seat, someone said “Hi” as we walked past – it was my friend B! GG was surprised that he would be on the bus, and I said, “Hey, remember who taught me about this bus line!” So when we got back to NJ, we chatted for a little bit – he’d taken a girl to NYC to see Cirque du Soleil. We might meet up at another friend’s birthday party in a couple months. That was a fun coincidence and a great way to top off a great day!

“The world’s so bright and beautiful I have to look away”

So it’s been a while, sorry. I had a whole thing I wanted to write about Chick-fil-A, but I didn’t want two topical posts back-to-back, so you’ll have to wait on that one.

We’ve been eating lots of corn on the cob. Except both GG and I prefer to cut it off the cob (a habit I picked up back when I had braces; we both hate getting it stuck in our teeth, plus it’s just a mess). How did I luck out enough to marry someone who eats corn the same weird way I do?!

Two friends had babies, and both now have a Jack :o) Natalie popped out her little nautical bundle on 7/17, and then a couple days later my coworker and friend H had her twins, Jack and Ryan, on 7/22. Those two were about 10 weeks early, though I’ve since been to visit H and seen pictures of the boys; they are healthy, eating, breathing, etc., just need to put on some weight before they can come home.

I’ve been half watching Project Runway 10 the past few weeks that it’s been on. It’s just hard to pay attention at this point when there’s still 10+ designers in the running. I’m sure I’ll focus when we’re closing in on a winner. Though this week looks to be saucy with Old Lady up and leaving in the night…

Lots of silly things happened at work, though this week will be a bit quiet since half my group is out on vacation. It’s a good time to catch up on stuff, though. (I’ve already caught up on a lot and it’s only Tuesday morning. I’ll have to pace myself.) We had this “breakfast with leadership” thing where we were supposed to mix and mingle with the leadership team, which barely happened, but I did meet someone in my own organization who sits down the hall but I’d not met in person before. Now we’re BFFs.

I stayed home from work with a one-day case of vertigo – I decided when I walked into a wall that I probably shouldn’t drive a car, plus I just couldn’t sit upright. But I could lay down, so that’s how I worked for much of the day, from my bed. (Thanks to working from home, there’s really no need to take a sick day anymore unless you’re absolutely dying.)

I watched the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics and then pretty much none of it since then. I either forget or I’m just not interested in whatever’s on. I watched some divers, and I would have watched gymnastics if I’d happened to catch it, but I didn’t. It’s ok, I learn what I need to know from NPR (just like the rest of my life).

Oh this was funny: I was out at lunch last week with my friend J – we just went across the street from our office. We were actually talking about religion, and vacation bible school and stuff (obviously I’m not particularly religious, and neither is she). About five girls came in and they were totally dressed like the Duggars: calf-length skirts, short-sleeved shirts, sandals, long hair. It was a little odd. Soon the restaurant was literally overrun with girls dressed like this, and guys in polos and khakis. It was like a Duggar convention! I saw some of them had name badges and looked up the name on them when I finally got a glimpse. Turns out there was some Christian music ministry class taking place, and they were all on lunch break. We just sat there, literally surrounded by these people, while we talked about Duggar-related issues. The funniest part was when J asked, “Are they saying grace before they eat?” and right then, this guy behind her closed his eyes and I assume said a silent prayer (and it was long) before digging in to his burrito.

And finally, my new business is going so well. Going into this, I thought, the minimum numbers you need to hit to remain active are so low, I should be able to make them, but I wasn’t really planning to being super successful or anything. They have this program for new Consultants where if you make certain goals within your first 30, 60, and 90 days, you get bonuses, and I hit the first one! And then the second one! And I’m on track to make the third one as well! For August, they’re doing another incentive with two levels – one at a certain amount, and one at twice that. I figured I’d be struggling to hit that lower one, but I’m actually almost at the higher one! The past three months with this have seriously been amazing – not to mention that it’s something I love doing. As has been my plan all along, I’m just going to ride this out and see what happens, but so far, the ride is going very well :o)

Bloody Bloody Abraham Lincoln and Beet Steaks

On Friday night, GG and I decided to try something new, and went to the Movie Tavern for dinner and movie. The food was maybe a little expensive, but the tickets were regular theater prices. So you’re really just paying for the convenience of being able to eat a full meal while watching a movie. You get there a little early and order your food before the show starts, so you’re pretty much finished by the time the movie is really on. And the waitstaff is very unobtrusive. They come around about halfway through to bring your check, unless you call them (there is a button at your seat). My only complaint is that he came back right in the middle of a particularly intense fight scene and I missed seeing exactly how it ended and they got out of that situation!

Oh, so the movie we saw was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It’s been getting bad reviews, but I loved it! It’s got horror, action, and history! I know it’s based on a book, and I really liked the way they wove the vampire hunter story into Lincoln’s life story, the Civil War, etc. The special effects are also really great. (Funny part: there is one part where they show the bombing of Fort Sumter and GG and I both looked at each other and were like, “We were just there!”) I really keep wanting to call this film “Bloody Bloody Abraham Lincoln,” though, since Benjamin Walker, who played Lincoln, also had the title role in BBAJ, which you might remember we have seen twice in NYC. (We actually listened to the BBAJ soundtrack on the way home from the theater…)

On Saturday, GG came with me to my acupuncture appointment (but did not watch!), and then we went to the farmers marketm where we got cheese, some fruit, fresh guacamole made in a big bowl right there, and awesome cupcakes. Later, our friend A came out to play guitar with GG. They had just gotten started when my brother called – he’d been in town for a concert the night before and had to leave wherever he’d spent the night, so could he and his friend come over and take showers at our place? Sure! After everyone was cleaned up, GG and A decided to take a break and the five of us went out for lunch. Then I took care of a few things at home before going out for my concert that night. It was very very hot, but luckily cooled down (and there was even a breeze!) as the evening progressed. I’ve been in worse concert situations. We did make a few mistakes, but I don’t think the audience noticed; and this was our first public concert of the summer, so hopefully that won’t happen again.

I did my usual weekend errands and chores on Sunday. Then GG and I went out to dinner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our first date! GG just searched online for restaurants in Philadelphia that serve beets, and found The Farm and Fisherman, which is known for this “Bloody Beet Steak.” So of course I had that, and it was fabulous! I’ll have to try to make it at home! GG had scallops with pork jowl, which was good, but there were only two scallops on the plate. For dinner, I had the chicken and he had bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin. Then for dessert, I had a panna cotta with some fruit, and he had a chocolate Napoleon with layers of salted phyllo dough. It was a very good dinner! But mostly, I was impressed with him being so sweet and thoughtful – he always takes me places he knows I will enjoy!

Anniversary Vacation to Charleston, SC

It had been almost three years since our last real vacation, so we decided at the beginning of this year that no matter what, we were each going to take off work the week of our anniversary (6 years on 6/6, so kind of a big deal) and do something special. We’d had a couple other vacation destinations in mind, but in the end we decided to go to Charleston, SC. We’d kind of started planning this vacation a couple years ago, and then we had a couple of topsy-turvy years and couldn’t go, so a lot of the planning was actually already done. I booked the hotel and started planning out activities and restaurants, and that was that!

Saturday: Our goal was to get on the road by 7:00, but it was more like 7:30 before we were on our way. Our first stop was actually to visit my coworker M, who lives in North Carolina. On the way, we passed through some weird land where Wawa, Sheetz, and Royal Farms coexist. It took us about 8 hours, and we were at his house around 3:00. His kids came to greet us and we all hung out for a bit, before going to their favorite local spot for ice cream, then getting barbecue, and spending a long time sitting out on the back deck talking. I figured one of two things would happen: either he and GG would become best friends, or his wife would hate me and GG and we would awkwardly leave early. Luckily, everyone got along! He works from home, so one of my favorite parts was getting to see his home office in person! (It’s not the way it appears via videoconference.) As we were leaving, his wife invited us to meet for brunch the next morning before we left town, yay!

Sunday: We met up with M and his family at this cute restaurant in the middle of their cute town for brunch. It was nice, but their kids were a bit rambunctious, so it wasn’t quite the sendoff it could have been. After eating, we continued on our way. GG had driven to NC, and I drove from there until we got to SC – we switched off at South of the Border (after counting 44 billboards for the place between Rt. 40 and the border). I’d never been there before – it was way crazier than I expected! We took a trip to the top of the giant sombrero, then were back on our way. We finally got to Charleston around 4 or 5 PM, checked in to the Elliott House Inn, and with no other plans for the evening, wandered around town. We stopped at Sticky Fingers BBQ for dinner (yes, BBQ two nights in a row… and my first glass of sweet tea this trip!), and then found our way down Meeting Street to the park at the Battery – of course, we didn’t really know what these things were yet. Then we decided to find a drug store so I could get some Dramamine to be able to take the ferry to Fort Sumter at some point. Google Maps on my smartphone completely steered us wrong, so we went on this wild goose chase all through town looking for a CVS, but finally found it, got my pills, and went back to the hotel to crash.

View from the top of the sombrero

Second BBQ dinner in a row

Battery Park

Monday: I’d attempted to put together a schedule for the week, so we could make sure we had time to do all the things we definitely wanted to do. But that kind of got thrown out the window and we did things more on the fly. We still got through most of our list, though! So on Monday we got breakfast around the corner at Toast (known for their bottomless mimosas!), then decided to take the (free!) trolley to the Charleston Museum, and then do a couple other things in that area. The trolley system seems like a great idea – there are three routes around the city, and it’s free, so you can just hop on and off as you like. The problem was, there were no stops really near where we were starting from. So by the time we would have walked to a stop, we might as well have just walked to wherever we were headed in the first place. But we didn’t know that yet, so we took the trolley. The Charleston Museum is a small but informative museum, and I’m glad we went there on our first full day in town, because it gave a lot of great background about the history of Charleston, how it started, how it grew, the Civil War, and basically why things are the way they are now. Then we walked to a nearby bookstore, Blue Bicycle Books, which had been recommended to me for its selection of Charleston books, and docile cat. When we went in, the cat was sitting right there in the “local authors” section, and then followed me over to the travel section. I don’t know if GG realized this because he stayed in the front of the store talking to the owner (who is also an author and has his book and articles about himself hanging all over the store, which is kind of off-putting…), but the store goes way back and is actually pretty huge. After that, we happened across Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale, where we had lunch (GG said it was the best quesadilla he’d ever had), and then stopped at Cupcake for dessert. We also walked through a park where artists had set up tents to sell their paintings and artwork. Then it was back to the hotel for a little rest and clean-up before dinner at Poogan’s Porch, where we had the best thing either of us ate all week: smoked gouda mac and cheese. Luckily, the restaurant was two doors down from our hotel, because GG pretty much collapsed after dinner. But we did get up and go out for another walk around the Battery (we used Trulia on my phone to look up the homes for sale and see how much they were; most of them had a luxury car parked out front, if there was just a regular car we wondered what was wrong), followed by drinks back at the bar at Toast, before turning in for the night.

Gershwin’s piano at the Charleston Museum – “Porgy and Bess” was inspired by a neighborhood here, so they have a bit of a thing for Gershwin

The Blue Bicycle Books cat

Behold! Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese! (The rest of our meal was also fabulous!)

GG collapsed in the hotel courtyard after our amazing dinner

Proof that I drank (the first of three times this week)! A sweet tea mojito at the Toast bar

Tuesday: By this morning, we wised up and figured out that our hotel provides breakfast for free. You check off your choice of food and beverages, choose a time, and indicate whether you want it served at your room or in the hotel courtyard. We took advantage of this and for the rest of our vacation, had a nice breakfast in the courtyard with the birds (more on this later). The only thing specifically on the agenda for today was a tour we had scheduled for the afternoon, so I decided we should visit the City Market for a little souvenir shopping. We’d seen it on the trolley the day before, so we knew where it was, and it was bigger than I’d expected! I’d been told that this was the place to go for sweetgrass baskets, and I guess it was, except nobody told me that they were like $200 for the tiniest one! So nobody got baskets. But we did get lots of nice gifts for everyone – handmade bakeware, a tray with a picture of Rainbow Row, ornaments and decorations, and of course spices and food! We found a place we wanted to have lunch, but it wasn’t open yet and I wanted time to drop our purchases back at the hotel before the tour, so we dropped everything off, then came back to the Charleston Crab House for lunch on the rooftop deck, before heading to the meeting point for our tour, the Pineapple Fountain. The tour turned out to be us and a young European couple, so it was cool because we could just talk about whatever we wanted. Our tour guide was Andrea, the woman who runs Charleston Walks, and she was very friendly and knowledgeable. We went all over the place, even when it started raining! (GG had a jacket and I shared my umbrella with the woman from the other couple.) We ended our tour at the Old Slave Mart, which is a neat little museum. I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like there when it was a whole warehouse of slaves! Afterward, we went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and headed to dinner. We wanted to go to FIG, which I’d heard was awesome, but I didn’t realize how fancy it was or that we really should have made reservations, otherwise I would have planned for it in advance. We did call ahead, and they told us to just come and sit at the bar, so we did. (Our other option was to sit at the “community table” and eat with whatever other strangers showed up.) The bar was actually really cool and we had a very nice bartender who also waited on us (he reminded me of The Mixologist from “Portlandia”). Dinner was fabulous. We had a cheese plate (brought by a server who looked and spoke like Ted Allen), I had this awesome chicken and beet dish, and GG had salmon. After dinner, GG really wanted to go to this place he’d seen called Wet Willie’s, which is a bar where they serve extremely strong frozen drinks. Yes, I had another drink (it was melon flavored). GG made friends with a strange guy at the bar and they made up a new flavor by mixing coconut, banana, and a really strong one called “Call A Cab.” That was probably the drunkest I was all week and I sent a friend an e-mail from my phone complaining about how I’m bad at drinking (even though GG says I’m a great drunk, I just get really happy and funny), and I know it said, “This is probably as close as you’ll ever get to a drunk text from me.”

Breakfast in the courtyard

Spices at the City Market

View of the City Market from the restaurant rooftop at lunch

Pineapple Fountain

Rainbow Row, the backyards of which inspired “Porgy and Bess”

Old Slave Mart

Wednesday: This was our anniversary, 6/6, and the only thing we had planned was our dinner at Husk. It turned out that this was the rainiest day of our trip, so we took the car out and drove to a plantation. There were a couple of plantations on our list of things to do, and they’re actually all kind of next door to each other along Ashley River Road, but I chose Drayton Hall because it seemed to be the closest and least expensive, but mostly because I’d been told they “pride themselves on their historical conservation efforts.” What I should have been told was that Drayton Hall is all about “preservation” – when “Aunt Charlie” died in the 1960s and left the plantation to her nephews, who eventually turned it over to the National Trust, she stipulated in her will that the house was to be kept exactly as it was – which means no redecorating or recreating what it would have looked like in its glory days, and not even adding electricity or running water. So it was kind of a shell of a house, and not the impressive plantation I’d been expecting, but on the other hand that was neat because you got to see some of the architectural things and layers of stuff that you might have missed if it was all done up. On our way back to downtown, we stopped at a boiled peanut vendor! Neither of us had tried them before and… they were actually pretty good! The worst part was the feeling of a plastic bag full of warm, wet nuts sitting on our laps while we ate in the car. When we got back to town, the rain had cleared out, and we walked to this gourmet deli called Ted’s Butcherblock for lunch. The food was good, but we apparently did not know how to order correctly, it was way on the edge of town, away from everything, and basically DiBruno Brothers in Philly is just a million times more awesome. Sorry, Ted. Afterwards, we walked down King Street, which is pretty much the shopping strip of the town. Then it was back to the hotel for what had become our daily afternoon nap, and then it was time to get changed and go to our much anticipated dinner! Somehow, even though we were literally next door to the restaurant, we were still running late. (Correction: GG was running late.) So we just had time to snap a quick picture for our traditional anniversary photo, and then we were off. Dinner was a-ma-zing. The idea at Husk is that they do kind of gourmet takes on traditional southern food. And try to sneak pork fat into everything. GG had a mint julep, while I enjoyed more sweet tea. We had some biscuits served with honey butter with smoked pork fat (see?). Then I had some kind of beet salad while GG enjoyed smoked oysters (they weren’t steamed, they opened while being cooked in their smoker). For our entrees, I had the sirloin, which was roll-your-eyes-back-in-your-head good (I’m sure because of all the pork fat in the sauce), and GG had a pork chop, to which he said, “If this weren’t such a fancy restaurant, I’d pick this bone up and gnaw on it.” We really did not need dessert, but when we saw peach cobbler with brown butter ice cream on the menu, we decided to split it. After dinner, we went to the Husk Bar, which is in a little outbuilding next door, and enjoyed drinks developed by the historical society. GG and I ended up swapping with each other, and so this was the third and final time this week that I got a little tipsy.

Approaching Drayton Hall

Sixth Anniversary photo!

Thursday: We thought we’d head out today and go to Fort Sumter, but once again I didn’t do enough advance research, and didn’t realize that there’s only two ferry runs there each day, and we were already too late for the first one and had conflicting plans for the second. So we decided instead to tour a couple of the historical houses in town. To kill some time before they opened, we walked to Colonial Lake, a large lake in the middle of a residential area. It was pretty beautiful in the morning. Then we walked back toward downtown, looking at more historic buildings on the way. We stopped at City Hall, which our tour guide Andrea told us had the cleanest public bathrooms in town – I think she was right! Then we went to the Nathaniel Russel House; tour guide Andrea had said if you’re going to tour one house in Charleston, see that one. It was pretty impressive – the staircase was amazing. The history of the house was interesting, too. After that, we went to the Thomas Elfe House. Word of warning: This is actually a guy’s house, where he lives. It’s open two hours a day for tours. The whole thing is sort of awkward, because you’re basically going from room to room in the house while he shows you every antique in every room. But it’s all worth it because at the end, he shows you his amazing kitchen. The kitchen was added to the original house in the 1960s and was very dated when this guy bought the place in the 90s, so they redid it to look like it was an original part of the house, with appliances hidden behind cabinets and paneling, little pull-outs for storage, and everything just very authentic looking. And finally you end up in his cute courtyard (I was sort of obsessed with catching glimpses of courtyards, so I loved that part). After that, we went around the corner to Bull Street Gourmet for lunch, another gourmet deli, but this one disappointed me less than Ted’s (sorry Ted). We had a tour scheduled for that afternoon, leaving from Battery Park, and with a couple hours to kill before it started, we just went to the park and sat and read and took pictures. It was really nice just sitting there in the shade for a while. Finally it was time for the tour. This was a Pirates & Ghosts tour, sort of a custom tour put together for us by Charleston Walks. It was going to be just me and GG, but I guess this mother/daughter joined in at the last minute. Our tour guide was John, a lifelong Charlestonian, and he was probably the most knowledgeable person we met all week. He knew something about everything, and it was all personal. I asked what this building was that we’d been seeing, and not only did he tell us what it was (former Shriners hall), he’d had his high school prom there! The ghost tour was pretty awesome – there are lots of haunted places in Charleston. I wish that tour had been longer. For dinner, we’d been planning to go to Hyman’s Seafood, a very popular place that had been highly recommended. There was always a huge line of people waiting to get in. I had a great idea – order food to go from their take-out storefront, and take it back to the hotel to eat in the courtyard! So we took our dinners back to the hotel and ate in our peaceful courtyard, it was lovely. This woman showed up, who had just flown in from Maine and was telling us how her flight was late and bla bla bla. We told her how we’d gotten take-out for dinner, and also told her how the best thing we ate was from Poogan’s Porch (two doors down from the hotel). Later on, GG saw her eating Poogan’s Porch take-out in the courtyard :o) (Funny side story: GG was talking about how a week away from the cats is like a year to them. “We had Christmas without you! And Cat Hanukkah!”)

Colonial Lake

Nathaniel Russel House

Battery Park

My favorite ghost story takes place at the Thomas Rose House: Dr. Joseph Ladd came down from New England to make his fortune and become a prominent doctor so he could come home and marry the girl of his dreams. While in Charleston, he stayed at this house, renting a room from two spinster sisters. Every night he would whistle a certain English tune when he came into the courtyard so they would know he was home. He’d become friends with a carpenter, and as he rose through the ranks of society as a doctor, the carpenter got jealous (even though Dr. Ladd was never weird about it and always treated him as equal). One night the friend challenged Dr. Ladd to a duel in Philadelphia Alley. Ladd shot first, and not wanting to hurt his friend, shot off somewhere else. The other guy wasn’t so nice, and shot Ladd in the abdomen. He was brought back to this house, where the Rose sisters tended to him until he died. He never got to marry his dream girl. Now he haunts the house, but he’s a nice ghost. He shows up at happy occasions – for example, on the first day of school for the twin boys who lived there, Dr. Ladd stood at the top of the stairs, smiling. Also, you hear him whistle his tune in the courtyard.

Hyman’s take-out in the courtyard

Friday: On our last day in Charleston, we finally made use of that Dramamine I bought when we arrived, and took the ferry to Fort Sumter. Cruising across Charleston Harbor, you get a great view of the city and what it must have looked like to people arriving hundreds of years ago – its nickname is “the holy city” because of all the steeples across the skyline. At the fort, we got a little narrative history lesson from a park ranger, then had some time to explore the site on our own, including an indoor museum. There are still mortars stuck in the walls from the Civil War! (Side story: When the ranger was introducing herself, she said, “You’ll notice I don’t say ‘y’all,’ I say ‘youse guys.” GG yelled out, “Yinzer!” Yes, she was from Pittsburgh.) On the way back to town, I decided I felt well enough (and the weather was nice enough) that I could stand at the front of the boat and just enjoy the breeze. We went to a restaurant called Blossom for lunch when we got back. I didn’t realize it was a little fancy (we’d actually passed by its sister, Magnolia, because I thought we were way too casual to go there). Oh well. I had possibly the best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten. After lunch, we went to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. This was actually not really a dungeon, but a lot of people were imprisoned in the dank basement, which led to lots of disease and death, which led to… ghosts! No ghosts were mentioned in the tour. The tall man who was our tour guide looked so familiar, and then GG reminded me that he was the guide at the Slave Mart on Tuesday! Then we went back to the hotel, where we dipped our feet in the hot tub in the courtyard for a while. (Why did we wait until our last day to do this?! The jets felt wonderful on tired feet and legs!) After our afternoon nap, we went back to the Husk Bar for dinner – no reservation needed, and in fact, even on a Friday night, we were the only people sitting up there for a while. I didn’t realize how limited the menu was, so I ended up eating my second burger of the day (it was pretty awesome too), and we shared a cheese plate (our third of the week, if you’re keeping track). (My notes from dinner that night read, “Husk Bar: small, awesome menu, neat atmosphere, tons of flies.”) We continued our low-key final night by getting Belgian Gelato and walking to the Pineapple Fountain to sit for a while. GG told me that this was the best vacation we’ve ever taken, and that just about made my week.

Pineapple Fountain as seen from Charleston Harbor

Fort Sumter

Last evening at the Pineapple Fountain

How I want to remember Charleston

Saturday: I think the local birds sensed that it was our last breakfast at the hotel, because after leaving us alone while we ate all week, one bold little bird jumped up on the table and tried to take a bite out of GG’s muffin! He pulled off the bit the bird had touched, and left it on the edge of the table for it. The bird flew right back up and took it, and sat there with us for a minute while GG took its picture. We got the car loaded up, then stopped at Harris Teeter (found on our long walk to Ted’s!) to pick up some snacks for our long car drive. After we got out of town, we switched positions, and I ended up driving through SC, NC, and most of VA. We wanted to switch spots around Richmond, but we got onto some sort of bypass to 95 where there were no rest stops, so I just kept driving. Luckily, we switched before we got to DC, because our GPS got all confused and we ended up somewhere in the downtown. But GG figured things out and we were back on our way home. We actually were home by about 7:00 PM, which was not bad at all (I was hoping to be home by 9:00). I had a major headache, so I just crashed and didn’t really clean up or unpack until the next day. Our kitties missed us a lot, and every time I leave for more than a day I feel like Sacha is significantly bigger when I get home.

Breakfast bird with a muffin crumb

Overall, this really was a fabulous, long-awaited, and much-needed vacation. Everything really worked out well. I think the thing we lucked out with most was the weather. We were expecting hot and humid southern days, but it was kind of unseasonably cool and breezy in Charleston that week, and it was just beautiful. The city was the perfect mix of history, shopping, sightseeing, and food, I hadn’t really realized what a foodie town Charleston is. I don’t know how we will top or equal this vacation, but we’ve got at least a year to plan the next one… (You can see all my Charleston photos here!)

“There’s a war in all the streets and yes the freaks must dance or die”

Things I’ve done in the past almost two weeks:

  • Hosted a very successful Thirty-One party that included guests from every facet of my life, which was weird, but of course everyone gets along :o)
  • Went to see Reggie Watts at the Troc, which was a totally awesome and bizarre show. I would love to see him again, though, because he does a lot of improvization, so I bet it would be completely different.
  • Started acupuncture. It’s weird. I haven’t noticed any change yet, but he said I need like ten visits. I’ll write about this whole TMJ thing after I’ve done a few more acupuncture treatments and have some perspective.
  • Teared up at the Kristin Wiig farewell sketch on SNL.
  • Made some awesome foods, thanks to Pinterest, including Cilantro Lime Chicken, Honey Yogurt Berry Pops, and an awesome Black Bean and Corn Salad that is almost exactly like the one they made at this Mexican place we loved (now closed).

I have almost no plans for the long weekend coming up, besides going to a friend’s BBQ. But I do have a long list of projects I want to get done – wish me luck!

“You put down that telephone, you’re not calling anyone”

I haven’t done an actual life update for a little while, have I? I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. A couple Fridays ago, my friend JK and I drove up to Perkasie for a Scentsy/Thirty-One party. The girl selling Scentsy was a friend of mine from college (who I hadn’t seen since college!), and a friend of hers sells Thirty-One, so they teamed up. It was fun to see my old friend again, and all the other girls there were really nice, too. I bought a bunch of stuff and actually got talked into hosting a Thirty-One party of my own, so that’s coming up in a few weeks.

GG and I went to see The Cabin in the Woods. I don’t usually like to go to scary movies, but there was something weird about the preview and I was curious. The movie was fabulous! Yes, it had scary/gross moments, but it was super original, hilarious, and really turned the horror genre upside down. (I’d see it again just for the Japanese schoolgirl scenes.)

Between me, GG, and the cats, it seems like we’ve had nonstop doctor, dentist, and vet appointments the past couple of weeks. In addition to Ivan’s dental issues (he is already back to normal, by the way), I’ve also been having some jaw problems that warrant their own post that I’ve been meaning to write. I have two more medical appointments on the calendar this month, and then hopefully we’ll be done for another year. But I am thinking of trying acupuncture, so maybe more other appointments will be added soon…

Last week I had a three-day meeting at work with our boss and three of my co-workers, from a total of four different sites. This could be nightmarish to some people, but our little fraction of our team gets along really well, we got a lot done, and I think it was a really good week. I was talking to GG afterward and was kind of amazed: our group overall is kind of dysfunctional, and past team meetings have been awkward and unproductive. But the five of us work well together, get things done, and also get along as friends. We spent all day together and then had dinners together too. Thursday was the last day of our meeting, and that afternoon a friend of mine, who was in a different three-day meeting this week, IMed me because ice cream and toppings for 30 people had just been delivered to her conference room, but her group had finished up early and everyone left, so did we want to come over? It ended up being a big reunion of everyone from our old department who was still on-site, and it was nice to have everyone together to catch up for a little while. That night my other PA co-worker had us all over for dinner (minus our boss, he had to leave right after work – probably a good thing!), which turned into a late-night drinking and cupcake party. Because GG was there, of course, and he could talk all night if you let him. Anyway, it was a great week and great to see everyone and also to be able to just sit in a room together and get stuff done.

Today was kind of a waste. I woke up at 8AM and had a horrible headache that only got worse over the course of the day. I spent most of the morning and early afternoon in bed, then finally felt well enough for about 15 minutes to brush my teeth, change, and move to the sofa, where I napped for a few more hours. I was starting to feel better around 4PM and ate some crackers, but even now, at 10PM, I still feel some traces of headache. Luckily, I was able to take some time this evening to do some of the chores I was planning to do today, but this was really bad, I had big plans and a lot to do today, and I really couldn’t get most of this stuff done. Maybe I’ll catch up tomorrow…


Last weekend GG and I drove out to NJ to visit MB and A. GG and A stayed home and played guitar all day, while MB and I went to lunch at her sister’s restaurant and then took advantage of the beautiful weather and took baby R to Grounds for Sculpture. MB has mentioned it many times, but I’ve never been and didn’t really understand what it was. It’s basically a huge sculpture park on the grounds of a former fair, so there’s some indoor areas but mostly it’s outdoor exhibits. A lot of the sculptures were done by Seward Johnson (of Johnson & Johnson), who is a sculptor and art fan, and created the park. Most of his pieces are realistic sculptures of people just sitting and standing around, and it’s sort of funny because you can sit with them, or they’re set up in places where you think there’s really somebody there. We had some fun posing R with some of the art.

There are also peacocks that are loose on the site, and R got to interact with them a bit. She toddled around after a beautiful white one, and it spread out its tail! I didn’t think she’d be able to catch up with it, and if she did get too close, I figured the peacock wouldn’t stand for it and would run away anyway. Nope – she grabbed a tail feather while the bird just stood there! But he did not look happy. As I did not want to see a baby get her eyes pecked out by a peacock that day, I did scoop her up and carried her around while we looked at the other peacocks sitting on their perch.

R is still the cutest baby and my favorite! After Grounds for Sculpture (and driving through Hamilton, NJ to see some of the other public sculptures in the town), we went back to MB and A’s house for dinner. We ended up hanging out kind of late, which I hadn’t wanted to do because I still had to get home and get ready for my business trip, so it was a bit of a late night, but of course we always enjoy seeing our favorite little family!

The rest of my week was all about work (and, luckily, was a lot of fun too). Two coworkers and I left on Monday afternoon for a week of meetings and stuff at our other site in CT. Usually we can get up there in around four hours, but because of a big accident on the highway, it took us more like six. We’d planned to drive about 40 minutes north to another town for dinner, but after sitting in the car all that time we didn’t really feel like it anymore. So we checked in at the hotel, then went to a nearby seafood place. The sun was just setting over the water when we arrived, and it was really nice.

On Tuesday we had team meetings at the office all day. The morning was just our training team, then we had a lunch break, and then the afternoon was a joint meeting of the training and compliance groups. We’re technically all one group now, but this is a recent thing – however, due to my position, I’ve been in both groups all along, so it was especially nice for me to have everyone together for once. There was a lot of good discussion, but as I’d predicted, nothing really got done, it was just a lot of talking and complaining. Still important for everyone to be able to discuss together, I think. Then we had a combined team dinner at a different seafood place on the water. We seem to always end up at this restaurant when I am up there. We had a lot of fun. The waiter was so strange – he kind of gave everyone a hard time, and joked around a lot. But in the end he turned out to be really funny. For example, one of the specials came with a “baby arugula salad,” and one of the ladies at our table was curious about this salad, but didn’t want the meal. He gave her a hard time and told her the arugula was only available with the special. But later, when he brought out desserts, he also brought her her own little bowl of arugula salad! Also, there is paper over the tables, and crayons, so we were having fun drawing things. In the photo here, she is posing with the arugula salad and a crayon drawing I did of her.

On Wednesday, I didn’t have any “official” meetings, so I just went about my regular business, working from the office up there. It was kind of fun! The office is all open, which is neat for once in a while, but I wouldn’t be able to work there every day. I also got to take advantage of their on-site IT help desk, because apparently I lost connection to the network and locked out my computer account! They couldn’t help me because I was not based at their site, though – they looked me up, saw what the problem was, and said, “But we can’t help you because you’re not a [CT site] person.” Then this other guy walks over: “And why aren’t you a [CT site] person?” I was like, “Um, because I’m a [PA site] person? I’m just here for the week.” They did phone the help desk for me, and they were able to help right away, but that was sort of weird. On Wednesday night I met up with another coworker who’d finally gotten into town, and we went out for dinner and a little walk around this coastal town. By the time we were done, my hair was a mess, what with the slight humidity of being close to the water all the time.

On Thursday we had our huge all-hands meeting. On one hand, it was kind of cheesy and scripted/staged, but on the other hand, it was actually pretty good. Also, I got to see a lot of people I rarely get to see (like my coworker from England who was in my group in our last company, too, and brought me a huge bag of British chocolates!). And I got to meet a lot of new people – both new people in our group who are based at other sites, and people I’ve been working with for a while but had just not met in person yet. For the first half of the day, we randomly chose numbers out of a basket and had to sit at that table number, which was actually a good way to get a mix of people from different groups at each table. But for the second part, we did get to sit and work with our own groups, so I got to be with all my buddies. Most people left after the meeting on Thursday, but I had to stay for something on Friday, so I wasn’t going anywhere. I ended up going to dinner with my boss and two good friends, which was really great. It’s always good to get a chance to get your boss’ ear for a while (plus he is a super great guy), and it was actually cool because the four of us are all from different sites, so this type of get-together would almost never happen. We went to S’s favorite local restaurant, which specializes in “Mediterrasian” food, sort of an Asian/Spanish tapas place.

On Friday morning, I was back at the office to help run a big presentation – we had over 200 people online! Everything went amazingly, and I’m glad I got to be there in person to help present. Afterwards, my two traveling companions and I started back home. We did stop for lunch, but still got home in about four hours. I took an epic afternoon nap, then went out to dinner with GG, and got online to do a little work I hadn’t had a chance to do with the spotty and slow hotel internet connection.

GG did a good job of holding down the fort while I was gone, but the poor kitties were pretty stressed out that I wasn’t there. They spent most of their days hiding from GG, except when it was feeding time. And they were throwing up all week. Poor babies. It took them about a day to get used to me being home again, but as of this evening, the three of them are all snuggled up and relaxing with me. I’m glad they’re happy now, but they really need to be able to survive for a week (not even a week!) without me!

Messed Up Work Weeks, Valentine’s, and My Need for Gadgets

This past week was kind of messed up. Last Friday was the last day of our really busy week, and we skipped lunch and then left a little early to get a late lunch with our visiting coworker before she had to catch her plane home. I said then that I was not leaving my house again until Sunday, and I did not. On Sunday, Jen came over and we went out for lunch and manicures. We went to this place at the mall that another friend had recommended once, and I think they were very good – not that I am a manicure connoisseur or anything, but they were thorough, the polish lasted for almost a week without chipping, and they didn’t chit chat in front of us in another language.

On Sunday night, GG took me out for a Valentine’s Day dinner. I’d asked him a couple weeks earlier to plan something for us on Valentine’s Day – didn’t have to be on the actual day, didn’t have to be anything fancy, I just wanted him to take responsibility and plan something. So he made reservations and wouldn’t tell me where, only that it was in Philadelphia, it was somewhere we hadn’t been before, and he knew I’d like it. I didn’t know where we were going until we walked into the building, because he covered all the signs! We went to Talula’s Garden, recently voted “best cheese plate in Philly,” which of course will score it major points with me. So obviously we ordered a cheese plate, and we went with the “American Cheese Champions,” which is a selection of six award-winning cheeses. They were good, but I found the portions a little small (and let’s not even get into the portions of the compote and stuff that were dabbed on the board). Honestly, I much preferred the cheese plate at Garces Trading Company. For our meals, I had the hangar steak, served with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and kale, and a side order of beets with orange zest and ricotta cheese. GG had roasted leg of lamb and a side of “roasted mushrooms galore.” We both enjoyed our meals, but again, not my all-time favorite. Finally, for dessert, I had the “Petite Cookie Collection,” which was a plate of four different mini cookies. And GG had the raspberry and citrus mousse, which was amazing and very refreshing. The atmosphere of the restaurant was really neat – you enter via this little courtyard, which is filled with Christmas lights and I’m sure in warmer weather is a really nice place to enjoy your meal. Inside, the building is an old hotel or bank or something, with crazy high ceilings. They have kind of cutesy decor with birdhouses and farm stuff. We were seated in a banquette in the bar area, where there were four tables along the window. On either end of the bench, there was a huge metal vent that was part of the original ventilation system of the building. The decorative grates are beautiful, but according to the manager (who apologized to the women on either side of me, but not me, I guess I didn’t look cold enough), they do get “drafty.” I was freezing. Overall, it really was a lovely dinner, and I love when GG surprises me with things he knows I’ll like. But would I go back? I’d rather go back to GTC first.

Because the previous week was so crazy with working, I decided to work from home three days last week, adding Monday in addition to my regular Wednesday and Friday. That really messed up my schedule and sense of time, but it was nice to only go to the office two days. I ended up going out to lunch with a friend on Tuesday, which turned out to be fine because then I didn’t go out for lunch on Thursday, when we usually get together.

This long weekend has been nice so far. GG’s been pretty busy with comedy stuff, so we haven’t been out to dinner together like we usually do. But we’ve been spending the days together. Yesterday we went out together to shop for a couple things. I was looking for a new MP3 player, because after six years (almost to the day!) and two batteries, my beloved Creative Zen is finally starting to go. It doesn’t start up, or the battery dies almost instantly, or it freezes and I have to pop the battery out. Also I’m finally running out of storage space. So I was looking for something similar, but with a little more space. Turns out, if you don’t want an iPod, or a little tiny thing like for exercising, you don’t really have a lot of choices when it comes to standalone MP3 players. The guy at Best Buy was saying he just uses his smartphone and a music player app, which didn’t seem like a horrible idea, but actually I just won an eBay auction for a used Creative Vision:M, so hopefully that works for me whenever it arrives. But in the meantime, we happened to go by the cell phone store and I just asked what the price difference would be if I upgraded my plan and got a smartphone. It turns out that I could get a smartphone sort of at a discount if I change plans and extend my contract for two years, but you end up paying full price because the balance of the cost of the phone is paid off in installments as part of your bill for who knows how long. So I’m holding off on that for now, though it was fun thinking about joining the rest of society with a smartphone, even briefly. I can do everything I need with my WAP-enabled phone for now :o)

Depending on the weather tomorrow, GG and I plan to go somewhere for the day to take advantage of the day off. And then I have a business trip coming up this week, which will end up eating several days, when you account for travel time and such. We tried to get out of it, but they really want me and my coworker K there for a couple meetings, so off we go.

Freaky Thursday

My crazy weeks end tomorrow, and I couldn’t be happier. This week we hosted on-site activities for three days, meaning we had extra co-workers in from out of town, and we spent our mornings hurrying to get our work done and our afternoons running events, and then we would all go out for dinner. Today we were all dragging, and I can only imagine how we’re going to be tomorrow, but hopefully next week things will slow down. Then I’ll have one or two business trips coming up in the next couple months. I’ll be very happy when things slow down!

Something really funny happened tonight – I went out with our last visiting co-worker, just to do shopping and have a quick dinner after work. She had never been to Chick-fil-A before! So we went there for dinner and people watching. One of the most interesting groups we watched were four teenage girls who came in with a very old woman who was apparently someone’s grandmother. She didn’t seem to understand where she was or what food they were ordering for her, and then she gave them money to pay for it. One of the girls had car keys, so they obviously didn’t need her for a ride. So why did these four girls bring an old woman out to dinner with them? And then they started taking pictures of themselves posing with her. She made a comment about taking pictures while they’re young, and my co-worker said, “I figured it out! You know Freaky Friday? She is actually a 16 year old girl in an old woman’s body!” I’m still laughing about that. This girl is awesome, it’s been fun having her here these past couple weeks.