Monday, December 31, 2007

Double O Seven

2007 in review:

January - I packed all of my possessions, got a new apartment thanks to Craigslist, and moved in the last week of January (movers rock). I also got Microsoft certified in Excel 2003.

February - I unpacked most of my stuff and started making dinner at my house once a week, starting with chicken lettuce wraps. I also got to go to a Minnesota Wild Game.

March - I started the month by booking my airfare to Europe in May and applying for my passport. The rest of the month spent I booking hotels and tours.

April - My grandparents moved out of their house and held an auction to get rid of stuff.

May - Europe!! But first, I had to beg and plead for my passport.

June - I turned 30.

July - I reread Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the Half-Blood Prince and then read the Deathly Hallows. My niece and I hit Borders at midnight for the Deathly Hallows release party. I saw Order of the Phoenix at midnight the day it came out, and 3 more times in the theater.

August - It started with the bridge collapse. It ended with the first meeting of my Writing 2 class.

September - I met a guy online, started dating him and made him my boyfriend, all in 30 short, rainy days. We went to the Renaissance Festival on the 29th.

October - I visited Duluth with the new boyfriend and I transformed myself into Medusa for Halloween. My brother-in-law and I took my sister to see Jim Gaffigan at the Orpheum for her birthday.

November - I finally got to see MIA in concert at First Ave.

December - I stopped biting my nails. I used the method of wearing a rubber band on my wrist. It served as a reminder and on the few times I did bite, I snapped the rubber band. Lastly, I posted to my blog on 27 of the 31 days in December, which was one of my 101 things to do.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

It's All Greek to Me

A Prologue is a piece of writing at the beginning of a larger work, while an Epilogue is at the end. Now an Epigraph is a short saying or quote, again usually at the beginning of a larger work, while an Epigram is a short poem or saying with a twist at the end.
None of those should be confused with an Epitaph, which is text that honors the dead, and is usually on a tombstone.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Opening the Photo Album

My mind is a photo album filled with pictures from my past. Some of them are blurry and unfocused or have someone’s thumb covering the left half of the scene. A few of them are overexposed, leaving the viewer only bright spots and shadows to discern where the faces were and who was laughing while I was crying. Some are portraits where everyone is posed in their Sunday best with hair recently cut and lipstick freshly applied. Lots of them are candid shots that depict some sense of movement or laughter.
There are some landscape or postcard shots that remind me of places I’ve traveled, and there are yearbook photos to remind me of my own painful adolescence. Doesn’t everyone have at least one school picture that they hope no one ever sees again? Some are family pictures that were obviously taken just minutes after some well-meaning third cousin shoved everyone up against the wall and demanded that they smile. Many pictures are from weddings or birthday parties. Some were taken on holidays and some are actually more like video clips or montages that depict several days that were all alike.
When it’s time to write about something that happened, I take out the picture and examine it. Fears, laughter, memories and joy come spilling out of each one. Remember how he wore his hair? Remember how cute she was when she was a baby? Who could forget that sweatshirt that I wore everyday for three months? I can easily get bogged down in the details and forget the big picture. So, it helps me to outline what I want to say before trying to write. I think some of my favorite exercises were the ones that involved imagining an event from someone else’s point of view or if it had happened in another way.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Random Quotes about TV and Movies

"90210" was all about teens behaving like adults. "Melrose" was the opposite. It started with a group of adults--doctors, advertising executives, fashion designers--and dared to have them behave as foolishly and as naively as adolescents. - Malcolm Gladwell

I have observed before that giant corporations have replaced Nazis as dependable movie villains. - Roger Ebert in the review of Robots

It's fun even as it's tense, and it's smart all the time. So smart that some reviewers have no clue what they're seeing. - Hat Rack talking about Firefly

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

X-Men Movie News

There is a Wolverine spinoff planned for 2009, still starring Hugh Jackman.

There is also a Magneto film in the works. There is no official word yet on who will star.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

There are four stories to the house, a big garage that holds an El Camino and another car, a barn full of motorcycles and two old sheds. The road curves up and around the back of the house and the yard rises alongside it.The basement is where you enter the house after parking in the gravel driveway. You might have seen the dead deer hanging in tree, but if you were lucky, you missed it. Inside you take off your boots and scarf and sit by the wood stove. Soon you remove your jacket, too. Aunt Jean, Uncle Mike and their kids Adam and Heather are there. You and Adam find a board game to play while you wait for Angie to show up. Heather and your sisters start talking about boys and clothes. Adam rolls his eyes and Heather shoots him a dirty look. Once everyone has arrived, you go up to the main floor for dinner. The food is good but nobody talks at the adults' table. All you hear for 20 minutes are the kids talking, forks clanging and people clearing their throats. After dinner there is some dessert and lots of questions about school, work and how you're Mom is doing. Then, it's upstairs to sleep in the room with the scary pictures. You wonder if you are actually related to the people in those pictures.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

December 23

Merry Christmas Adam*

*because Adam comes before Eve

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Half Birthday

Today is my half-birthday, so now I am halfway to 61.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Kevin Smith’s Universe

In 1993, Kevin Smith dropped out of film school and amassed a budget of just under $28,000 to film Clerks, a movie that was picked up by Miramax and won awards at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. Clerks has since earned upwards of $3 million and Smith has gone on to write and direct six more feature length films, including the sequel Clerks 2.

Smith appears in most of his movies as Silent Bob, a character that speaks very little dialogue, often getting just a single line at or near the end of the movie. In Clerks, he tells the main character that he needs to stop looking for a better girlfriend, because the one he has is pretty great, she’s just not perfect. In Chasing Amy, Smith’s third film, Bob actually gets an entire monologue in which he tells the main character that he was wrong to reject his girlfriend to whom he felt sexually inferior because she had so much more experience than he did. This is a recurring theme in Smith’s movies, and he claims this is a recurring theme in his personal life.

He is married to Jennifer Schwalbach-Smith, whom he met in 1997 when she was interviewing him for a column in USA Today. Most of the time when he mentions her, he points out how lucky he is to have a hot wife, since he feels he is mediocre looking and overweight. While I’m sure he thinks he is being complimentary and grateful, I think it shows how he still isn’t over the issues he had in his teens and twenties feeling inferior to women. In fact, he has said that Chasing Amy’s plot was taken from his real life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams, his then girlfriend and movie’s female lead. He was jealous that she had traveled to Bali and wondered how she could find him interesting after having had an experience like that. Despite his tremendous success in Hollywood, he still wonders, or claims to wonder how his wife puts up with him.

There are other themes in Smith’s work that reflect his personal life. Religion took center stage in his fourth film, Dogma. In it, two angels that God previously banished from Heaven find a loophole that will allow them to return to Heaven. The movie examines what would happen if they were successful, since that would prove God wrong, and how a cast of characters from Heaven, Hell and Earth all conspire to either help or hinder the pair. Smith was raised Catholic and still professes to belong to the Church. Many of his views diverge from the Church’s teachings though, and he explores that in Dogma. The main thing I took from the movie was that personal faith and the established religions of today don’t always mesh well, but that doesn’t mean they can’t both be a part of your life.

Smith’s sixth movie is titled Jersey Girl, as an homage to both his home state of New Jersey and his daughter Harley Quinn Smith. This movie is a change from his previous films in that Silent Bob is not in it and it examines a father’s relationship with his daughter after her mother dies in childbirth. Ben Affleck plays the male lead, and the child’s mother is portrayed by Jennifer Lopez. Backlash against the overexposure of Affleck and Lopez’s relationship caused Smith to significantly reduce Lopez’ screen time in the movie. Affleck’s character struggles with balancing his fatherly duties with his career and eventually meets a new woman played by Liv Tyler.

The fifth and seventh movies that Smith has both written and directed are Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks 2. Both movies are basically extended references to the plots, settings and characters of his other films. Jay and Silent Bob tells the story of two slackers who find out someone is going to make a movie out of their lives and isn’t planning on sharing any of the money with them. They embark on a road trip to Hollywood to stop the movie from being made at all. Clerks 2 shows us Dante and Randall, the two main characters from the original movie, about 15 years later. They are still working dead-end jobs in town where they grew up. One of them is about to marry a woman from high school and move to Florida to live in a house her parents will buy them and work for her father. He has unresolved romantic feelings for his boss and is unsure he wants to leave the life he has, despite its shortcomings.

Both of these films examine the potential we all have to sabotage some of the good things we have going for us, and how it can be very difficult to know if something is actually good for us or is just holding us back. Smith even manages to make Randall both a positive and negative force in Dante’s life.

Personally, I am such a fan of Smith’s work because of how funny he manages to be while still examining serious issues. He has said that he thinks dialogue is his strong point, and I agree that most of his dialogue seems authentic. But I would say his willingness to put his own issues on the table and speak about them is what makes people appreciate his films for more than their crude humor or big-name actors. He tells a personal story with each of them, and while the plot points are resolved, he always leaves the door open for a new chapter in the characters’ lives.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yard Salad

This pic reminds me of a time when I was about 5 or 6. Two of the stranger families in our apartment building teamed up and sold their unwanted stuff in the yard. Their sign read "Yard Sald", and to this day my family calls all garage/rummage/yard sales "Yard Salads"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

“Peace” and “Coexist”

“Peace” and “Coexist”

I have seen these two words made up of various religious symbols many places including T-shirts, bumper stickers and online. At their core, they are asking for unity and understanding between people of different religions.

The symbols making up the word PEACE are as follows:

P – The Christian cross with a half circle, a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion

E – An ornate E with a branch, possibly olive. The olive branch has been a symbol of peace since the time of Ancient Greece.

A – A hexagram or six-pointed star, known in the Jewish religion as the Star of David, in Magick as the Seal of Solomon and in Hindu as the Shatkona

C – The Star and Crescent that represent the Islamic faith to most Muslims

E – A dove with a leaf in its mouth, again possibly an olive leaf. The dove carrying the olive leaf is another symbol of peace in both Christian and Jewish tradition due to its appearance in the story of Noah and the Flood.

COEXIST uses three of the same symbols and some others:

C – The Star and Crescent again

O – A pentacle, which is a Wiccan symbol often used as a talisman

E – The scientific formula e = mc2, which means energy equals mass times the speed of light in a vacuum squared

X – A hexagram again

I – Contains the Wheel of Dharma, an eight-spoked wheel that is used in Bhuddism, Hinduism and Jainism to symbolize law and the path of life.

S – The Chinese philosophical symbol Yin and Yang, without the dots

T – The Christian cross again

So, both images contain traditional symbols for a number of different religions or belief systems. But, they each contain at least one universal, non-religious type of symbol. Peace contains an olive branch and Coexist contains a scientific formula. I have seen other versions of Coexist that use a peace symbol for the O and a combination of the two gender symbols on the E. This may be seen as an inclusion of other philosophical differences that are not rooted in any religion or belief in a higher power. The scientific formula is most likely a direct reference to the debate between evolution and creation by a higher being. Not only are they asking the practitioners of each religion to get along with those who practice other religions, but to include atheists or non-believers as well.

Why do we need reminders like these to tell us to be kind and tolerant to others? I think the problem comes when we think that our beliefs and views are the only ones that can possibly be right. It is upsetting that someone sees the same evidence we do and still comes to a different conclusion. We seek to assure ourselves that our conclusions are correct and the only way is to prove the other ones are incorrect.

Perhaps the ultimate goal of images such as these is a grassroots tolerance of differing views. If we no longer saw people of other religions as any different than us, it would be much harder to oppress or wage war on them. Cultural and political differences seem to take priority over matters of faith, but politics and culture are often a result of religious or moral beliefs. When two groups of people have such different religious heritages, it follows that they will have distinct cultures and political climates. It does not necessarily follow that those two groups can’t get along, learn from each other and eventually form one larger, more diverse group.

You might think of America as a pretty tolerant place as far as religion goes. The government does not practice religious persecution, and freedom of religion is upheld in the Constitution, but is that enough? In 2008, it is possible that the Democratic candidate for President will either be Hillary Clinton, a white woman or Barack Obama, a biracial man. This will be ground breaking in itself, since every major party candidate has previously been a white male. But what else have all of these men had in common aside from race and gender? Religion. The only President who was not Protestant was John F. Kennedy, who was Catholic. Both Obama and Clinton are Protestant so that tradition would continue if either of them won the election. The only Non-Protestant in contention for one of the major party nominations is Republican Mitt Romney, who is Mormon. Mormons consider themselves Christian but not Protestant. The first time a Muslim person was elected to Congress was just last year, here in Minnesota. Until religious minorities are fully included in our political process, I don’t think we can claim true tolerance.

So, these images are trying to remind us of how important it is to respect the opinions and beliefs of all people, whether they agree with us or not. Respecting those opinions means more then just refraining from violence against others, it also means you need to include them in secular activities just as you would someone with beliefs identical to your own. Respect means you don’t make fun of them for not eating pork or for having funny dirt on their foreheads. Respect means you are allowed to ask questions about rituals you don’t understand, since that can lead to greater understanding.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Winning the Cold War at What Cost?

“What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” argues former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in a 1998 with French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur (qtd. in Blum 1). In this interview, Brzezinski is defending the Carter administration and the CIA for funding the Afghani mujahideen in their resistance to the Soviet invasion of 1979-1989. This funding, that began in secret, was meant to draw the Soviets into a conflict that would drain their resources and hasten the fall of Communism. Now nearly 30 years later it is clear; the seeds sown in Afghanistan grew into to the resurgence of Islamic Fundamentalism and the formation of terrorist organizations including al Qaeda. This essay will follow the trail from the Cold War to the current War on Terror.

In December of 1979, The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and met a resistance that drew them into a decade-long war that ultimately contributed to the fall of the USSR (Reuveny and Prakash 696). The Afghani mujahideen, literally ‘Muslim warriors fighting a jihad’ (“Mujahideen”), were the resistors but they were not alone. Journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger explains, “For 17 years, Washington poured $4 billion into the pockets of some of the most brutal men on earth.” (Pilger 2) In the interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski admits that the stream of money started almost six months before the Soviets actually invaded. He says that President Carter signed a secret directive for this aid to begin in July of 1979 and that he and the President did this to increase the chances of a Soviet invasion (qtd. in Blum 1)

In the summer of 1980, US Representative Charlie Wilson read an AP article about the Afghan resistance and was moved by the descriptions of the mujahideen resisting the Red Army, despite the Soviet’s technical superiority (Crile 19). Wilson had recently joined the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which allowed him to make a single phone call to the staffer in charge of CIA funds and order that the aid to Afghanistan be doubled from $5 million to $10 million (Crile 20). Wilson visited Afghani refugee camps in Pakistan on an official fact-finding mission in 1982. He saw first-hand the horrors of a whole nation fleeing the Communists and that there were few men among the refugees, since most had stayed behind to fight. He spoke with tribal elders who asked not for food and medical supplies, but for “a weapon to destroy the [Russian helicopters]” (Crile 110). Later that year, Wilson actually told the CIA Chief of Station in Islamabad, Pakistan that he would “see to it that Congress approved whatever amount” the chief wanted for the mujahideen (Crile 123).

George Crile summarizes the CIA’s role in the Soviet-Afghan war: “Afghanistan … was not just the CIA's biggest operation, it was the biggest secret war in history. In the course of a decade, billions of rounds of ammunition and hundreds of thousands of weapons were smuggled across the border … At one point over 300,000 fundamentalist Afghan warriors carried weapons provided by the CIA; thousands were trained in the art of urban terror.” John Pilger explains that Operation Cyclone, the code name for the CIA overseeing camps training Islamic Militants, did not end when the Soviets finally left Afghanistan. Many of these militants would later join Al Qaeda or the Taliban (Pilger 3).

Congress continued approving millions of dollars in aid to the mujahideen after the Soviets left in 1989. In 1991, the CIA received $250 million for Afghanistan and in 1992 it was $200 million, hidden in a $298 million defense bill, and Saudi Arabia was matching this money. (Crile 514, 519). The CIA money was funneled through Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), so that the U.S. could have plausible deniability, and the ISI funded specific factions within Afghanistan. But the Saudi matching funds, which had been initially negotiated by Brzezinski, overwhelmingly went towards supporting, arming and training Arab mujahideen, fighters who came from other countries into Afghanistan to help fight the jihad (Blackton 1). The CIA considered but ultimately decided against training any non-Afghani fighters, mostly due to the problems and animosity between those fighters and the Afghani mujahideen (Lansford 139).

So, what was Afghanistan like after the Soviet withdrawal? Crile answers “By the end of 1993 … there were no roads, no schools, just a destroyed country -- and the United States was washing its hands of any responsibility. It was in this vacuum that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden would emerge as the dominant players.” (Crile 522). Lansford claims that the U.S. had no real plan to rebuild Afghanistan after the Soviets left but began to realize the effects of a weakly governed Afghani state in the mid-nineties. Terrorism by Islamist extremists and a sharp increase in the amount of heroin coming from the Afghan-Pakistani border signaled trouble (Lansford 144).

The Taliban took over various parts Afghanistan from late 1994 to September 1996, when it was able to capture the capital city, Kabul. They instituted a series of strict, fundamentalist laws and punishments that they claimed were based on their interpretations of Islam (“Taliban”). The atrocities that were carried out did not prevent U.S.-based Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) from entertaining members of the Taliban in Texas in 1997. They hoped to build a pipeline across Afghanistan and turn it into an “oil protectorate” (Pilger 2). It might have happened if not for the incidents of August 7, 1998. Rossi details the events: On that day, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, and later Osama bin Laden was named the prime suspect. It was discovered that bin Laden was running Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan with the approval of the Taliban. In retaliation, the United States bombed these camps in late 1998. The Unocal pipeline deal would not happen (Rossi 134-139).

The situation repeated itself on September 11, 2001 when New York and Washington, D.C. were attacked with commercial airliners and the U.S. demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden. They refused and the U.S. invaded Afghanistan with renewed fervor (Rossi 138). Bin Laden remains at large today, and it is suspected that he is still hiding out in the caves along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (Thomas 1).

While not contributing money directly to the non-Afghani mujahideen, the CIA’s “secret” war and the United States’ subsequent abandonment of Afghanistan contributed to the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. It can be argued that only Pakistan and Saudi Arabia played a bigger part. But Pakistan was the middleman for the CIA funds and the Saudis were matching our money at our request. Crile laments, “What no one involved anticipated was that it might be dangerous to awaken the dormant dreams and visions of Islam. Which is, of course, exactly what happened” (Crile 520).

Works Cited

Blackton, John Stuart. "The CIA on "Did the CIA create Bin Laden?" TPM Cafe. 21 Jan 2006. 15 Oct 2007 .

Blum, Bill. "CRG - The CIA's Intervention in Afghanistan." Centre for Research on Globalisation. 15 Oct 2001. 10 Oct 2007 .

Crile, George. Charlie Wilson's War. New York: Grove Press, 2003.

Lansford, Tom. A Bitter Harvest: Us Foreign Policy and Afghanistan. Hants, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2003.

"Mujahideen." American Heritage Dictionary. Fourth Edition. 2007.

Pilger, John. "What Good Friends Left Behind." The Guardian 20 Sep 2003 11 Oct 2007 .

Reuveny, Rafael and Aseem Prakash. "The Afghanistan war and the Breakdown of the Soviet Union." Review of International Studies 1999 693-708.

Rossi, M. L.. What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc, 2003.

"Taliban." Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007 .

Thomas, Evan. "Into Thin Air." Newsweek 03 Sept 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I am the one Who

I am the One Who…

Went to Italy for two weeks.

Wants to go back.

Loves to travel.

Buys too many books.

Eats and drinks too much.

Fixes problems and explains things.

Remembers random details.

Wonders how he feels.

Has strange dreams and has no idea what they mean.

Likes to spend time alone.

Turned thirty and found out it was no big deal.

Hates ketchup and mustard.

Stays up too late, reading or playing video games,

Has been to 48 states.

Remembers lines from movies and TV shows and repeats them annoyingly.

My boss treats better than the others.

Has too much clutter in my room.

Likes puzzles.

Loves board games and trivia.

Owns too many clothes.

Has worked at the same place for 11 years.

Hates politics.

Votes anyway.

Reads my news online.

Refuses to argue.

Speaks up.

Is reliable and sometimes bossy.

Can put almost anything together.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kickball Kiss

He and I colluded to put away the kickballs at the end of gym class so we could be alone. Let's see, this was third grade, so I was eight and he was nine. He told me to stop and close my eyes. Once I did, he kissed me and ran out of the room so fast that I opened my eyes to see nothing but the door closing. I must have gone to the lunchroom after that, but I don't remember. At this point I knew that he liked me back. Being eight years old, I guess that was enough. He would talk to me at my locker before I went to catch the bus home. My sister would stand ten feet away and giggle. I don't remember if I ever kissed him again or even how it ended. The next year, I was friends with his sister and he started calling me names, so maybe I had ended it.

What name did he call me? "Sarah Pampers"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I do this all the time: xkcd

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


In response to an essay about how you can edit digital photos to remove ex-boyfriends and girlfriends from pictures.

Are those people really unwanted? I think more often than not, the person doing the removing wishes to forget who they were when that person was around. Relationships can end because of some horrible misdeed, but often they just die out, lose their flavor or stop growing while the people in them keep changing. If I was to remove just one person from a photo, I'd always think of them when I saw the photo and that pretty much defeats the purpose. When I have stuff left from a relationship, I put it away somewhere and usually when I run across it again, I can look at it with fondness. I know I am lucky not to have had any relationships that would give me an urge to destroy things.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I was born...

Tonight was my last Writing Class and we had to read something out loud that we had written during the semester. This is what I read:

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN and my parents divorced before I turned three. My mother went back to college to get her Bachelor’s and moved us three girls up to St. Cloud to finish her Master’s Degree. I learned that providing for yourself and having say in what your life becomes are essential to being happy. I moved to Minneapolis when I was 19 and I have been working full-time ever since. I am trying to finish my Bachelor’s degree right now.

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN My father was a Vietnam Veteran and an alcoholic. We lived in the trailer park until I was 10, when we moved into an apartment. I grew up thinking that violence solved problems. I hated the small town we lived in, so I joined the military when I turned 18. I was stationed in Afghanistan in 2001, met my husband in 2003 and got married last year.

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN. My mother and two sisters lived in Minnesota until I was ten, when we moved to Seattle, WA. There I went to high school and then college, where I majored in performing arts. I now work in the local music scene as a talent booker for several venues. Most of the guys I’ve dated have been either musicians or software guys from Microsoft. The musicians are too flakey and the software guys are too boring.

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN, the youngest of three girls. I went to school in St. Cloud and then college in Texas. I majored in engineering and went to work for NASA. I met my husband at work in 2001, and we got married in Italy in 2004. We take two big trips every year and we just built a house.

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN but I grew up in St, Cloud. I met my high school sweetheart the summer before ninth grade. He graduated that spring and stayed in town for college. I took a job in an office after graduation. We had a child in 1998 and then got married right after our second one in 2000. His parents helped us with a down payment on a townhouse as our wedding gift. He never finished his degree, but he loves his job at the local radio station. I am back working part time now that the kids are in school. We are currently saving money to go to Europe for our tenth anniversary.

This was an exercise in which we wrote small biographical paragraphs that examined how our lives would have turned out if major events had been different.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I've been in a league since the end of September. My average is just under 100, which is pitiful. But it's fun, and it's a handicapped league, so it's more about improving through the season.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Golden Compass

This would have been a much different experience if I had not read the books.

I liked most of the movie, even the small details they changed from the books, despite parts of it feeling rushed. There was much more they could have included, but it was already a pretty dense story. I think someone who had not read the book would have had a much harder time following everything that happened. The casting is very good, especially the voices of the daemons.

Then there's the ending where there is an entire scene missing. I was so shocked that they ended it in the airship! Lyra is heading towards her father's house, and many things happen in the book after she gets there. I suppose they'll put those scenes in the beginning of the second movie, but it would have been better to end it with her waking up and hearing the ominous warning from her father's butler.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ask Metafilter

Yes, I know I just mentioned Ask Metafilter, but I am obsessed. Be glad you don't live with me and have to hear about it every day.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the Green (that's what Ask Mefites call AskMefi):

"As a friend of mine said once about being a woman dating geeks - "The odds are good, but the goods are odd". -ysabet I also heard this on the casting episode of Beauty and the Geek

"In practice, lots of drama comes from people being unclear about their roles in other people's lives." -booksandlibretti

"Definitely be frank with him without doing the whole "let me pull you aside like I'm about to tell you I'm a cannibal" thing." -cashman This was in response to one of the thousands of questions asking how to admit something unpleasant/wierd about yourself to someone else.

We are conditioned to traffic in cool. You have to look cool, not look nice or distinguished or presentable, but cool. But it's all so generic. Everyone seems to have the same new haircut that no one 5 years ago had. We all have the same cynical politics ... There is something fundamentally anti-intellectual about this, but I can't quite articulate it. There some element of arrogance there. Like everyone is perpetually 18... Maybe that's what cool is - withdrawing from the context of one's life into an artificial one, in which the cool perceives itself to be somehow outside of reality, looking in and commenting on it. But this isn't insight, it's not reflecting on the world. It's standing at the edge of the world sniping into it. - Pastabagel Parts of a big long response to a thread about Mr. Rogers. The whole thing is quite good, and it's actually in the Blue, not in the Green.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Couch Potato (2)

Here are some additions to this post, basically a list of any show I have watched regularly.

The Loop
My Boys

Andy Barker, P.I.
Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
The Big Bang Theory
Don't Forget the Lyrics
I Hate My 30's
Kid Nation
The Sarah Silverman Program
Thank God You're Here

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Condiment of Evil

I am the one who hates ketchup and mustard.

My friends all know it. BBQ sauce is almost as bad. Mayo is acceptable,but horseradish? Um, no. I find most marinara sauce to be a sad, watery excuse for Italian food, but I hate ketchup and mustard the most. Once I was at McDonald's with my mom and we were grabbing food for a bunch of people. I reached for a straw or a lid and my shirt sleeve got a small bleech of ketchup on it. I was horrified, especially when I looked around the "dining room" to see there were no napkins in sight. I ended up using a small piece that I ripped off one of the bags.

My nightmare job would be to have to clean up or refill condiment dispensers. Errant globs of ketchup or mustard make me recoil. I rarely eat burgers, so I don't have to worry too much about ketchup, but many places have begun putting mustard on chicken and turkey sandwiches. Arby's is the main offender here, so now I have to ask the cashier what sauce comes on a sandwich. If it's not mayo, please skip it!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Happy Hanukkah - tonight at sunset - to all my Jewish friends, so basically Travis.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Tonight is my second to last Writing class for the Semester. I have enjoyed most of the exercises we did, and some of the reading was pretty good, too. I'll be posting some of what I wrote for the class here throughout December under the writing231 tag. I still have to write something to read on the last day, which will probably be an exercise where you write a biography paragraph and then you write several more imagining your life if you had taken different paths. We did it after reading a similar essay by Luc Sante, which you can read here. 3 of my papers got 'A's and one got a B+, so I am expecting a decent grade in the class, which my GPA needs quite badly.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Take My Advice

I haven’t watched any daytime soap operas since I was in junior high, and I am not very interested in the personal lives of celebrities. But, I do have a guilty pleasure of sorts that involves reading advice columns, specifically those I can read on the Internet. I get something out of reading about some stranger’s personal problem and the helpful suggestions offered by either an expert or a bunch of well-meaning fellow readers.
The main columns I read are Dear Abby, Dear Prudence and Carolyn Hax’s Tell Me About It. These all follow the pattern of a columnist/expert responding to reader’s pleas for help and guidance. Often they will print another reader’s response to a previous answer, but rarely do discussions continue beyond that. There are recurring problems and the writers do a decent job of rephrasing the same advice to readers over and over again. I like how Ms. Hax seems to draw from a set of rules that favor being straightforward and fair to others, while also being honest with yourself about your needs.
Aside from the typical advice column, there are online communities that exist for members to post their problems and have the rest of the community respond to them. I find myself on Yahoo Answers and Ask Metafilter most often. These sites have a different dynamic, since people who are answering the question are able to read several previous answers to the question. This often results in them refuting or responding to a previous answer and not always answering the original question. Since you have a wider panel of answerers than the columns, the community answers show you different points of view that can be helpful, but they can easily fall into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.
Why is this my guilty pleasure? I see it as a way to enhance my social skills and emotional intelligence without having to expend social energy. I’m an introvert and find social situations pretty demanding on my energy level. Although I do watch a lot of television and movies and read many novels, I don’t think I get the same sort of wisdom from them. In a fictional story, the writer is trying to keep your interest and advance the plot. A single person or a small group writes most of the characters and dialogue. Characters make decisions and act in ways that may be artificial or just unusual.
If I can read about real life situations and people’s actual responses to them, I can reflect on how I’d respond in the same situation. When I have to make hard or important decisions, I try to learn from the mistakes and triumphs of people who have gone before me. Before I read advice columns all the time, my knowledge was limited to those I knew personally. Now I have the benefit of having read through many other people’s views on the subject, as well as their first-hand accounts of what exactly happened and what they have learned from it.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Apartment Therapy

I currently live in a 2 bedroom with my niece and I pay $650 per month, with no parking included.

Going backwards:
My last apartment was a studio where I paid $590 per month and had a parking spot.
Before that, it was 2 different one bedrooms for like $660 with free parking.
My sister and I shared a 2 bedroom for around $850 with free parking.
I had a one bedroom with no parking, a shared 2 bedroom for around $690 and my first apartment was a studio for $315 (!) with no parking.

These have all been in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park or Hopkins and most included some sort of "pet rent".

Friday, November 16, 2007

If you catch me at the border, I got visas in my name.

I am sorry this is so long.

The Passport drama lives on. As you may recall, back in May I had to go to a passport office in person to get one in time to leave the country. A few days later, UPS tried to deliver a passport to my house, but I was already on my trip so they returned the package to the Charleston office where my original application was processed. This all happened in mid-May.

Fast forward to early November, nearly six months later, and I get a letter in the mail with a return address of "US Government". They seem to think I received two passports, the one I got in Chicago and the one they mailed to me, and they'd like the one I got in Chicago back. They even go so far as to cite Federal statutes that say you can't have more than one valid passport and threaten that if I try to use the Chicago one I may be "detained by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol." Remember, I never got the one they mailed to me, my Chicago one is the only one I have.

I call the number, that same evil number I had to call every day for two weeks in early May, and speak to the same woman who told me to mail them a letter to get my Birth Certificate back. She tells me I should mail them a letter to explain my situation. Why do you have a phone number, email addresses and a website if you are going to insist that every request is made in a letter? She also tells me that she can see that the original passport was returned to the Charleston office. I ask her why the people who sent me the letter can't see the same thing. She says, "Washington DC doesn't know it was returned." Okay, I guess computers haven't made it there yet.

On this letter from the Feds, there is actually a form that you can fill out to tell them that you only received one passport, so apparently this is not a rare occurrence. I fill out the form and mail it back, but I also include my own letter, which I copied to the State Department in an email. The only reply I got to the email was to please fill out the form and mail it in.

Shortly after getting this letter, I had a dream that I was actually in a Passport Office and I was yelling at some woman about what had happened. In the dream, I was was planning to take a short trip to Canada to make sure my passport was still valid. When I woke up, I realized that is actually a good idea.

Here is the letter I sent them:

Dear CLASP Unit,
My records indicate that I have only received one passport, the one numbered chicago#, from the Passport office in the Federal Building in Chicago. I had to go there to get my passport because the Charleston office did not send it to me within their promised time frame of ten weeks. After repeated phone calls advising that my travel date was fast approaching, I still got no assurance that my passport would even be in the mail by the date I was leaving. So, I went to get it in person.
Once I left on my trip, there were attempts to deliver an express mail package to my residence but they failed since I was not at home. According to the woman I spoke with yesterday at the phone number 877-487-2778, this package was returned to the Charleston office. I assume this package contained the passport number charleston#. If she can see this in her computer system, why can’t your office see the same thing?
Your letter indicates that my passport number chicago# is “in the process of being invalidated”. Please do not do this, but invalidate number charleston# instead. I never received that passport. It was returned to your Charleston office. If you insist on invalidating chicago#, I must insist that you send me charleston#. I paid my application fee, plus many other travel expenses to get to Chicago, so I deserve to have one valid passport.
I also request some kind of assurance that whatever passport you decide to keep valid will not cause me to “be detained by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection” as your letter threatens, since I have done nothing wrong.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Too True

Malcolm Gladwell: "What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Did you know...

That Tennesse Williams was born in Mississippi and Minnesota Fats was born in New York? Neither of them lived in the state they used as their nickname. Williams is buried in Missouri.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Top Ten of the Year so far

3:10 to Yuma
The Bourne Ultimatum
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Knocked Up
Pan's Labryinth
Reno: 911: Miami
The Simpsons Movie

Last year's list is here. And me posting this means that I have been blogging for four years.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Happy Birthday, Mom and Tanya

I went all of September without posting - oops! I can give you a list of excuses if you really want them, although they would be the typical "work, school, reading, writing and socializing."

Bookwise, I finished The Amber Spyglass, read Girls' Night Out and am working on The Dark Is Rising. I might take a break from it though. The movie comes out on Friday, and I'd rather not be in the middle of the book while I see the movie. Also, I have tons of school reading to do and our book club just picked Twilight by Stephanie Meyer for October. It was my suggestion because some of us wanted something creepy to read. That's about as creepy as I want to get. But it's 544 pages, so I'd better get reading.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

and Even More Books

Short Stories
6. White Angel - 15
7. The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas - 12
8. Nebraska - 5
9. What a Word Means - 3

And this morning I finished Life of Pi - 319

That makes a total of 7,192 pages.

I don't know if am going to go for the Amber Spyglass next because I feel like I need a break from heavy, deep stuff for a bit. Maybe I need something funny.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Books

15. The Know-it-All - 400


16. His Dark Materials: The Subtle Knife - 352

Right now I am reading #17 Life of Pi because I have been drafted into a book club and it is our first selection.

I also bought about 11 books this weekend, not counting magazines or the ones I got for my niece. Two of them were for Writing 231, which started last night. I also got a copy of The Dark is Rising, About a Boy, The Big Love, Circular Sudoko and others I can't remember.

The next book I plan to read is His Dark Materials: The Amber Spyglass because I was a little annoyed at the end of The Subtle Knife. Pullman sure can write cliffhangers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I feel so stupid, happy and numb.

Oscar Levant said "Happiness isn't something you experience; it's something you remember."

I'm gonna go ahead and call him a liar. This year more than any other I have been quite aware of my own happiness at the very time I was experiencing it: on the top of a double-decker tour bus in Rome; speeding down the freeway driving to nowhere in particular; just hanging out, whether it is with old friends, new friends or old friends that are new again. Perhaps as we get older we are better able to be in the moment?

Monday, July 30, 2007


Done With:
12. His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass - Phillip Pullman - 399
13. Serenity - 257

14. Little Earthquakes - 448

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ex Libris

From June 2006 to March 2009, I am trying to read 33 books for my 101 things project.
The numbers are page counts.

Short Stories
1. When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth - 16
2. The Year of Getting to Know Us - 16
3. Cold Snap - 11
4. Ghost Girls - 13
5. Saint Marie - 12

Regular Books
1. Eragon - 544
2. Baggage - 327
3. Emily Ever After - 320
4. The Guy Not Taken - 289
5. Wuthering Heights - 394
6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 870
7. A Wind in the Door - 211
8. Dirty Girls Social Club - 308
9. Miracle - 256
10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 652
11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - 759

Total (4,982 pages so far)

Currently reading:
12. HDM: The Golden Compass - Phillip Pullman - 399

13. Little Earthquakes - 448

Monday, July 23, 2007

Movies on the horizon

The Simpsons Movie comes out July 27th.

Stardust comes out August 10th.

The Last Legion with Colin Firth comes out August 24th.

The Jane Austen Book Club on September 21st

Across the Universe on September 28th

The Dark is Rising on October 5th

The Golden Age and Dan in Real Life October 12th.

The first movie in the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass on December 7th.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Meme for Monday

1. What was the last song you sang out loud?

U + UR Hand

2. Who were the last 2 people you talked to on the phone?

Danielle and Tanya

3. What were the last 3 items of clothing you bought?

a purple T-shirt, a dress that I lost before I could wear it and an orange bra.

4. What are the last 4 places you drove/rode to?

Work, Chipotle, Best Buy, shopping

5. What are the last 5 web sites you visited?

Blogger, KOL, MySpace,,

I was the 473rd person to take this week's Monday Meme!

The Wisdom of Pink

Catch-22 - You've seen all the signs But you haven't got a clue
Cuz I Can - So I'll cash my checks and place my bets and hope I'll always win … I don't play your rules, I make my own
Eventually - So what good am I to you if I can't be broken?
Family Portrait - I don't want love to destroy me
I'm Not Dead - And I was never lookin' for approval From anyone but you.
Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely) - If you give me some room there will be room enough for two
Respect - Damn, I sure look fine, I can't blame those horny boys, I would make me mine
Split Personality - You don't know me well enough to label me
Stop Falling - Don't assume cuz I'm a woman That I'll fall in love
Stupid Girls - I'm so glad that I'll never fit in. That will never be me! Outcasts and girls with ambition, That's what I wanna see.
The One That Got Away - In a closed off corner of my heart, yes I'll always see your face
Try Too Hard - Everything you feel, everything you know, You found it on your favorite TV show
U + Ur Hand - I was fine before you walked into my life

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Giant Manta Rays

The first ever captive birth of a giant Manta Ray happened in Japan this week. The pregnancy lasted just over a year!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Passport Saga - a whole new wrinkle

When I first submitted my application for a passport, I gave them a ceritified copy of my birth certificate. I got another one when I went in person to get my passport back on May 16th, and they gave me that copy the same day. Now I expected that the first copy would be sent back to me as soon as the Charleston office realized that my second application had been processed. Well, it is now 23 days later and I still don't have any mail from them. So, I sent an email on Monday and another on Wednesday and there has been no response from them. So, I call them today and wait in the queue that likes to hang up on you, using the 3,1,9 prompts. I actually get through to two different reps who hang up on me because their systems are not working. I finally get through to a rep who talks to me and I explain. She says that she's sure they won't hold on to my birth certificate and that I should send them a letter asking them to send it back to me. Um, why do I need to send a letter if she's sure they won't hold on to it? She also says she can't send them a message to send it back to me because her messages only ask them to expedite existing applications (and we all know how well those work). There is no time frame she can give me as to when I can expect my Birth Certificate back.

I really wish I had gotten the first FedEx package that might have contained both my Birth Certificate and my original Passport. Because then I could have put it through my own 10+ week "processing" before sending it back to them. I would have made a webpage for them to look at each day to see when they could expect to get it, except there would never be an actual date, just some nonsense about how they should get it within my promised timeframe.

Update: It came in the mail on the 9th. I think they need some better notes so they can actually tell you what is going on with your "account".

Friday, June 01, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Seventeen

Friday June 1

Time to head home. I was going to tube to Victoria, but I saw a bus that was headed there, so I hopped on that instead. It took a bit longer to get there, but I was still able to get a ticket for the 10:02 train to Gatwick. I grabbed a Falafel sandwich and sat down on the train. I realized I was on a local train, which made about 7 stops before finally getting to Gatwick. I got to go ahead in line for check-in since I was a bit late. There was some band in front of me in line for security and a girl asked them for their autograph. I still don't know who they were, but they all looked about 15. I hurried to my gate but it was still a long wait to board. I didn't sleep on the way home, I just watched tv and some movies.

When we landed around 4, I finally got to go through the short line at customs/immigration. They asked me what kind of food I was declaring and then I got my luggage. I called my ride, but then a guy yelled at me for using my phone. There were no signs that you couldn't use them, and I was not aware that I had to go through another customs line.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Sixteen

Thursday May 31

I woke up after not sleeping well and went to take a shower. I sat there for a good ten minutes trying to figure out how to get the water to come out of the shower and not the faucet. I finally figured it out, but I was very close to calling the front desk.

I stopped at a bakery for a croissant and juice and then hopped on the tube. I transferred at Notting Hill Gate and saw two Shih Tzu's on the platform. I got to the London Eye right at 11 and was able to get right in line to board because I had purchased my ticket back on my first day. I think the Eye was my favorite part of London. It is a giant observation wheel built right along the Thames. You get awesome views of all of London in your pod that holds like 25 people.

After that, I walked past County Hall and the Aquarium and over Westminster Bridge. I went right past Big Ben, through Parliament square and over to Westminster Abbey. There is a small church right by Westminster called St. Margaret's, and that's where Sir Walter Raleigh is buried. There are lots of other famous Brits buried in there, including the "Discoverer of Nineveh."

Inside Westminster Abbey there are many more graves and memorials: Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, Cecil Rhodes just to name a few! In the Lady Chapel there are seats for the knights with helmets and swords hanging around them. I saw the coronation chair, where the monarchs are crowned and Poet's corner. At 1pm, some music started playing. I hit the gift shop and cafe for some postcards, a drink and a rest.

I headed out towards the nearest tube station and got some nice pictures of Big Ben on the way. The British Museum was my destination, but I stopped on the way for some groceries. I had a picnic in front before going inside the museum. After entering, I saw some artifacts from the discovery of Nineveh, which was weird considering I had just read about it in St. Margaret's. I also saw the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin marbles, and a huge figure from Easter Island.

I tubed back to my hotel and watched some Graham Norton before going to sleep.

Day Seventeen

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Fifteen

Wednesday May 30

I woke up at 8:20, packed everything in sight and checked out of Giovy after breakfast.
I left my luggage at the Termini and hit one of the stores in the attached mall. I got some flowery perfume for my niece and some mango vanilla stuff for myself. I always visit the zoo on vacation, but I hadn't seen it listed in any guidebooks, so had to look it up online. I got off the Metro at Flaminio and walked about a mile through Villa Borghese to the zoo and paid 8.50 Euros for admission. There is a public dog park adjacent to the zoo, and the nearest enclosure to the park is the hyenas! I wonder how many dogs go wild after hearing or smelling them. I saw a peahen with lots of chicks roaming free around the zoo, as well as two peacocks. The zoo has a big habitat built for the bears and in it they have comparison pictures of what the exhibit used to look like. It was basically just a bare room, so it's nice to see the improvement.

After the zoo I walked by the Modern Art Museum and took a bus back to the Metro, which brought me back to the Termini. I went online a bit more, got my luggage out of storage and took the same 6 Euro bus back to Ciampino. I got there about 7:20, since my flight was at 10. In the airport, I got some perfume at the duty free shop and popcorn for a snack. I didn't see popcorn much in Italy, and this package said "Popcorn not fried" and called it Air Corn. It was real popcorn though, not those puffcorn kernels.

Ryan Air started the boarding call at 9:30, changed the gate from 8 to 4 and then back to 8. I sat on the floor at times since there were hardly any chairs around the gate. Most of us ended up standing for almost an hour before getting on the buses to bring us out to the plane, so it was a mad dash for seats. It was a short flight and the line at UK Immigration looked shorter then the first one.

It was shorter, but it did not move nearly as fast. It took over an hour to get through. I had a ticket for the Stansted National Express bus, and I nearly missed the 1:05am because I couldn't find the stop. But, I hopped on just in time. When the driver asked me if I was going to Victoria Station, I said, "Si", because I was so used to saying it in Italy. At Victoria, a guy asked us if we wanted taxis as soon as we got off. I thought he was going to hail one, but it turned out he was a gypsy cab. He got chided by the police on the way for going too fast or running a red light, I don't remember. I saw the London Eye, the pickle, Big Ben and the full moon as we drove to my hotel.
I got there about 2:30am and fell into bed.

Day Sixteen

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Fourteen

Monday May 29

I got a late start today and it was still rainy, so Giovanna lent me an umbrella. I waited in line for the 110 for almost 45 minutes. I decided to take the metro up to St Peter's, since I'd probably have better luck getting on there. There was a very long line to get into the Basillica so I walked down Ottoviana and shopped a bit. Then I took the Metro back to Termini and rode the Archeobus. It was still cloudy, and there isn't much to see from the Arch. bus. It's better if you get off and walk around. I went back to my B&B at about 4 and napped. I went down to check my email and MySpace, where I got a message from a guy I knew in high school. It was weird because something had reminded me of him just the day before.

I stayed in for the evening and watched some more Italian TV. One show was Strisciala Notizia, which I used my dictionary to roughly translate into "Scrape the News". It was hosted by Ficarra & Picone.

Day Fifteen

Monday, May 28, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Thirteen

Monday May 28

American Memorial Day - I had a light breakfast and spent an hour online checking my email and MySpace (and yes even playing some KOL).

Then I went over to the bus area in front of the Termini and bought a two day combo ticket for the 110 and Archeobus. The 110 is a bus for tourists that takes you around to many of Rome's most popular sites, while the Archeobus takes you out along the Appian Way. They are both hop-on and hop-off and give you headphones to listen to the multilingual recordings about each site.
On my first ride, I got off at the Colosseum and took a few pictures. I wasn't planning to go inside, but a storm hit and many of us hid in the alcoves along the outside. It was cold and street vendors kept trying to sell me umbrellas. Finally, I went inside to get out of the rain and see how long the line for an admission ticket was. It moved very fast, so I was inside but not really out of the rain. On the second floor there was an exhibit about the Roman god Eros, with sculpture, pottery and paintings. I took many inside pictures and a few of the Forum and then headed back to the 110 stop.
This time I stayed on the bus for the whole route, getting some great pictures along the way. I went up to my B&B at about 4 to change into warmer clothes and rest a bit. I went back and took the whole 110 route again, this time from the top floor. As we drove up the road just after crossing the river, St Peter's came into view. There were sun rays peeking out from the clouds over the dome, just like a cartoon version of heaven. I was euphoric. The whole concept of how far I had traveled, what I had experienced over the past two weeks and how much I really needed this trip all hit me at this point. Going to Europe had been a big dream of mine for a long time, and it had finally happened.
When the bus returned to the Termini again, I headed over to Santa Maria Maggiore and read for a bit. I then walked up to the Quirinale and got some sunset pictures. I started to walk back towards Termini, but I got lost. I found my way, but then got lost again! I finally just got on the Metro and took it back to the Termini. Right before we boarded three guys ran through the crowd. 1 or 2 of them must have been chasing the other, but I have no idea why.

Day Fourteen

Ciao a Roma

Wow, I am here on my third full day in Rome and I still can't believe I am in Europe at all. I have taken so many pictures, I filled two 1GB cards and my 2GB is about half full. I still have today, Tuesday and Wednesday in Rome and Thursday in London.
Florence was beautiful, but frenetic. It is something else to stand in front of iconic works of art like that.
Sorrento was idyllic and gave me the 'chill out' time I needed. In Sorrento, I met a family from New Jersey at dinner and spent the next day in Sorrento with them. We shopped, talked, ate and sat by the sea. If I was ever to move to Italy, it would probably be somewhere around the Sorrento peninsula or Amalfi coast.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Twelve

Sunday, May 27

Again, I woke up at 5 and couldn't get back to sleep for a while, but at some point I did and woke up for good at 9. I went down to breakfast, which was huge and delicious, and Giovanna gave me a larger map. I took the 64 bus again, this time getting off near the Campo de Fiori which was deserted at 11am. Rick Steves has a walk in his Rome book called "La Dolce Vita" and I think he wants you to walk it at night, but it included so many things I had on my list that I did it during the day. So, I walked to Ponte Garibaldi, past the Singoga and Jewish Ghetto and looked over the river to Isola Tiberina. I then headed to the Pantheon and passed the Sacra again. It was very crowded getting in, and I saw some priests and probably other higher-ups leaving. There were rose petals sprinkled on the floor, and we all had to move towards the back so some choir pictures could be taken in the front. It wasn't nearly as crowded when leaving, and I sat in front by the fountain and rested.

I kept following Rick's walk and passed the Egyptian Obelisk that was Augustus' trophy after defeating Marc Antony and Cleopatra. The sky started to sprinkle a bit, so I went inside a mall and bought 'Wuthering Heights'. After waiting out the light rain, I headed east to the Trevi fountain. I specifically found a Spanish Euro to throw in, since it it supposed to guarantee your return to Rome. I figured, "Why not try to get Spain in on the guarantee as well?" After taking some video of the fountain, I walked north past Piazza Mignanelli and the column to the Piazza de Spagna and the Spanish Steps. I filled my water bottle and then sat on the steps reading and eating pistachios. Last on the itinerary was a walk down via Sistena to the Piazza Barberini and the Fontana del Tritone. I took the Metro back to my B&B, watched some more Italian television and fell asleep.

Day Thirteen

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Eleven

Saturday, May 26

I got a bit early to pack and headed out for breakfast. I sat at a table with some girls from Utah who were attending the cooking school and ate while the Sangiovannis came out and sat around the table. We wandered around Sorrento again, looking out on the Porta again and shopping down the San Ceseare. This time we tried some Limoncello, both regular and creme! We stopped for lunch and I ordered scallops, except I didn't. When my plate came, it was Veal Scallopini, I had ordered wrong, so we asked for some fish for me instead. If it had been just regular beef, I would have eaten it, but I can't stomach veal.

I had to catch the Circumvesuviana back to Naples at 4:39 to make my train back to Rome. So, we headed back to Sant Agnello and went down to the beach. To get there, you head down a beautiful but treacherous stone ramp that goes in and out of the cliff side until you finally are at sea level. There we sat by the bay and drank soda until 4, when we took the elevator up for 30 pence each and they walked me back to the B&B. After hugging them good-bye, I hiked up to the train station and finally understood that I had been getting lost because I was exiting on the north/west, not the south/east side.

On the Circumvesuviana, I was waiting for the Napoli Centrale station, but they announced Napoli Garabaldi and it looked like the right stop, so I hopped off. I was right, but I only had time to hit the bathroom and jump on my train. It was so much easier now after riding it twice before. It was a quick trip into Rome and a short walk to B&B Giovy. I highly recommend this place, as Giovanna is a great hostess, the rooms are spacious and sparkling, and the location can't be beat. It is literally 2 blocks from the Termini. Some places it is listed as Town House Suites Giovy, but be sure you are staying on Principe Amedeo!

Giovanna insisted on carrying my bag upstairs and she brought me water, orange juice, yogurt and fruit without me even asking. I watched Shrek in Italian before bed.

Day Twelve

Friday, May 25, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Ten

Friday, May 25

I got a very late start today, waking up at 11 and not leaving my room until almost noon. I really started to feel relaxed in Sorrento, partly because it's hard not to chill out there. Everything is beautiful and the pace is pretty slow. I went back to the grocery store, got things for a picnic lunch and ate in A Lauro. I walked towards the coast again and hung out in a little park called Piazza Vittoria overlooking Marina San Francesco. The Via San Cesareo is a road filled with restaurants and souvenir shops, so I strolled through it on the way back to the train station.

It was only a 3 minute train ride back to Sant Agnello, but I got completely lost on the way back to the hotel. I took a shower and went out to sign up for dinner. Mami Camilla has a cooking school attached that offers dinner in the evening for guests. As I walked through the garden to sign up, I saw a very large Corso Mastiff named Spagi and a little Chihuahua named Lola. It was about 4 pm and dinner was not until 8, so I had some snacks and did puzzles in the common area of the hotel and then went for a nap. I slept for almost two hours and woke just in time for dinner.

I sat at a table with seven other people, five of whom were a family from New Jersey travelling together. Dinner started with an octopus antipasti, a ravioli with basil and ricotta and bass with asparagus. Dessert was an apple strudel with pinenuts, which I am allergic to, but I picked them off. The family, the Sangiovannis, invited me to walk down by the cliff with them. They had just arrived in town that day so I told them a bit about what I had seen so far. They started their Italy trip in Lake Como and had been to both Florence and Rome, so we compared notes on what we liked and didn't like. We had coffee and tea at a bar overlooking the bay and hung out on the hotel roof and garden until about 2am.

Day Eleven

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Nine

Thursday, May 24th

After breakfast at my hotel and watching a little bit of Dukes of Hazzard in Italian, I packed everything and headed to the Santa Maria Novella train station. There I bought a map of Naples and a book of short stories by Jennifer Weiner. I got some pizza before getting on the train and realized how much easier it was the second time. Basically, try to get on the right car and listen to the announcements, since they repeat most of them in English. My train was direct to Naples, but stopped at Roma Termini, where it reversed so that I was facing forward and saw quite a few mountains on the east side of the tracks. It started to get very foggy and the sky turned stormy as we neared Naples. When we arrived at Napoli Centrale, I bought my Naples to Rome ticket for Saturday. I bought it for 6:30pm, since it was only an hour and a half back to Rome and I figured I'd want to spend time in Naples before I left.

As I headed down to the Circumvesuviana, the train that runs from Naples to outlying cities, I was expecting just one route, but there are actually six different lines! Luckily I knew my train's final destination was Sorrento, even though I was going to Sant'Angello. On the hour-long ride, I got my first tiny glimpses of both Vesuvius and the Mediterranean! I also overheard some guys speaking a language that I thought sounded like French until one of them said the Russian word for good (roughly "hodoshow").

When I got off the train, I headed towards the water and ended up making a large U through Sant'Angello instead of going right to my B&B. I didn't mind though, because as I turned a corner, I saw a breathtaking view of the bay overlooking Sorrento with a huge cruise ship in the port. Mami Camilla, my B&B, gave me a sparkling clean room with a queen bed. The whole Sorrentine peninsula has these sweet smelling flowers and the smell wafted into my room!

After changing clothes and resting a bit, I used the map they gave me to walk into Sorrento, veering left to go along Corso Italia instead of the road along the ocean. I had read about two places in Sorrento,
Standa grocery store and Pizzeria da Franco and they were both on Corso Italia. I found each of them, but I wasn't really hungry yet, so I kept walking through town towards Marina Piccola. There's another great view at the top of the road just before it starts to descend towards the marina. You can see Mount Vesuvius and look back along the coast to see Piano di Sorrento and Sant'Agnello. You also get to watch the hydrofoils that head out to Naples, Capri and Ischia. I walked back into town and past Standa, which was closed now, so I ate at Pizzeria da Franco. I ordered the provolone, walnut and honey appetizer and a pepperoni sandwich. They were both great and of course I had to have some Limoncello, since lemons are such a major part of Sorrento. I got back to the B&B pretty late.

Day Ten

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Eight

Wednesday May 23rd

I woke up after 9 am and grabbed a croissant and cheese from the hotel. I headed to the Baptistery and Duomo again since they are in the middle of Florence and it is easy to find everything from there. I had a 10:30 am reservation at the Accademia. It was the first academy of drawing in Europe and it houses Michelangelo's David. There was huge line for those without reservations and a smaller line for reservations. Inside, I saw Giambologna's the Rape of the Sabine Women. I assumed this was the original and the one I'd seen the day before in the Loggia dei Lanzi off the Piazza della Signoria was the copy. But it turns out this was the plaster and the one outside was the original.

I took some pictures of that sculpture and some musical instruments, including a couple made by Stradivarius! I walked into the third room and gasped a little as I saw David at the end of the hallway. I took two pictures and then a guard yelled that photos were not allowed in the gallery. There were no signs anywhere that I could see, and no guards had stopped me from taking pictures in the first two rooms. I guess they just have an issue with people taking pictures of David. When you get right up next to him, there is a very small sign that says 'no photography'. He is 17 feet tall and on a 5-6 foot platform, so if you are right next to him, you have to crane your neck a little. I marvelled at the detail in his right forearm, where there is a vein that travels out to his hand. I bought some things in the gift shop and headed back towards the Baptistery and Duomo.

My Uffizi reservation was for 1:30, so I had time to wander a bit. Ponte Vecchio is where I headed, which is a bridge over the Arno river and the only one spared by the Germans during World War II. There are small shops lining the bridge and most of them sell jewelry. On the other side of the bridge, I stopped to check my email and then headed back on Ponte Santa Trinita. Getting into the Uffizi was a bit confusing, but once inside I climbed four flights of stairs and looked at some busts of various members of the Medici family. There are tons of portraits lining the outer halls of the gallery, including ones of Machiavelli, Dante and several Ottoman sultans. My main reason for visiting the Uffuzi was to see the Botticelli room with his paintings Primavera (Spring) and The Birth of Venus. I also saw two versions of Adoration of the Magi, one by Rosselli and an unfinished version by DaVinci. The last major work I saw was Caravaggio's shield depicting the head of Medusa.

I headed back to my hotel for a nap, walking through the market Porta Rossa on the way. After my nap, I had dinner in my room and watched quite a bit of Italian television. Spongebob is still funny in Italian! While watching CNN, I saw two different ads for cities vying to host the 2014 Olympics, PyeongChang, South Korea and Sochi, Russia. Salzburg, Austria is the only other city in contention, and the final vote will be on July 4, 2007.

Day Nine

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Seven

Tuesday May 22nd

I woke up around 5am and could not get back to sleep, so I packed everything up for my train ride to Florence. I fell back asleep and when I woke up again, it was 9:20! I was planning to be on the bus by 9:30, but that plan was scrapped. I ate breakfast and my B&B host gave me some sandwiches for the train ride. He told me that the cafe car can be expensive. I hiked up to the local station and took a .90 train to the Termini. I found my Eurostar train on track 2 and just got on a random car. My ticket was for car 12, seat 96 and so I set off through the train, with my suitcase and tried to find car 12. An announcement came on that said the train was direct to Venice. Thinking I was on the wrong train altogether, I hopped off and asked a nun who was on the next car. She pointed to the car that I had just left and I saw that it was car 12. I got back on it and looked for my seat only to find that it was the first one that I had walked past when I first got on the train!

On the train I took some pictures and read an article about Second Life in Italian. When I got to the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence, I bought my ticket to Naples for Thursday morning. I walked to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella and ate my sandwiches. I talked a little bit with a man who was born in Florence but lives in London now. There were some pigeons in the piazza who were in pretty rough shape, including one with a missing leg. My hotel was only 2 blocks from the station, so I walked there and checked in. Their tv had several channels in Italian, and 2 in English, the BBC and CNN.

Later, I headed towards the Baptistery and Duomo to get some pictures and then past the Bargello. They were on my way to Santa Croce, a church in Florence that has many famous people buried in it. Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Marconi and Fermi are all buried here, and there is a monument to Dante. There are tombs in the floor and the audio guide explains that people wanted to be buried there to remind the living of their mortality when they tread upon the graves. Still, they have to protect them from wear, so some of them are surrounded by velvet ropes. After I left the church I went to the Piazza Della Signora and checked out the statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi. Then I ambled down a main shopping street called Calzaioli and got some tiramisu flavored gelato. I finished it in front of the Baptistery and went back to my hotel to do some laundry. The lobby had a copy of Rick Steve's Italy guidebook, so I read up a bit on Sorrento and the Night Walk in Rome.

I went out again in the evening and passed a theater playing movies in English with Italian subtitles. But the only thing they were playing was "Zodiac", and I didn't want to see it. I kept walking and had dinner at a trattoria with a rather gruff waiter. I had a Caprese salad and quattro-formaggi pizza, and then went to sleep around 10.

Day Eight

Monday, May 21, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Six

Monday May 21st

I decided to do the Colosseum and the Forum today, so I left my B&B around 10:30 to catch the 64 bus. I hopped off the bus at the area known as the Sacra which was close to the restaurant from last night. It is a square block of temple ruins that were discovered in the 1920's and built in the second and third centuries BC. It is about ten feet below the current street around it, and there is a cat shelter that takes care of the stray cats that live there. Each time I passed it, I could see about ten cats just lounging or playing around the ruins. I got back on the 64 and took it to Piazza Venezia, which is at the foot of Capitoline Hill. From here I got some more pictures of the Monument Vittorio Emanuele II and then climbed up the steps to the Campidoglio, a square designed by Michelangelo. I took lots of pictures and then rounded the corner to go down the hill towards the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. I filled my water bottle after waiting in line with tons of German tourists and got my first view of the Colosseum! I wandered through the forum at the foot of Palatine Hill for about an hour and finally reached the Colosseum. This area was rife with street hawkers selling sunglasses, hats, purses and other things. I sat near the Arch of Constantine, bought some souvenirs, took a bunch of pictures and had some so-so pizza.

I decided not to go inside the Colosseum until I came back to Rome the next week. Instead, I took the Metro up to the Cipro/Vatican Museums stop. I climbed several sets of stairs and got to the door of the museums at 3:20PM. They stop letting people in around 3:30, so there was really no line at all. I wandered through the Gallery of Maps and came upon the Sistine Chapel. You can take pictures in all of the other rooms, but they are a no-no inside the Chapel. You are also supposed to be quiet, but the guards have a hard time enforcing these rules. After sitting a bit and staring at the ceiling, I moved on through the rest of the museums, seeing lots of old artifacts and a few works of art. After I left the museums, I shopped on via Ottaviano and had some cannolli. I'd been to a small grocery store, so I had a picnic in St Peter's square and went to bed early. Tomorrow I would leave for Florence!

Day Seven

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Five

Sunday May 20th

I woke up to pack at 4AM, got the early bus to the other early bus to the airport. There were some nice views of the English countryside from the second bus and I got some pictures. I checked in and went through security at about 6:45AM. I got some food and big bottle of water from the Boots store and headed towards the gate. Remember that I paid a pound a minute for internet at the rail station? I found a bank of computers in the airport that were one pound for 15 minutes! I checked my email and then experienced the frenzy of boarding an airplane with no assigned seats. RyanAir does not assign you a seat on the plane, but it wasn't too crazy. We did have to walk from the gate to the plane right on the runway, and use the old-fashioned airplane stairs. I got a window seat and got the coolest views of the English Channel, France the Alps and all of Italy.

Once we landed, they had to bus us from the plane to the terminal and I was waved through immigration in order to wait at least 30 minutes for my bag. I took a 6 Euro coach bus to the Termini in Rome, and I napped a bit on the way there. At this point I realize I have American Dollars, British pounds and Euros all in coins and bills mixed up in my wallet. I put all the non Euro cash into a baggie with my passport. On reaching the Termini, I go inside to buy my Trenitalia ticket to Florence for Tuesday and get some food. Then I take the 64 bus to Stazione St Pietro and walk to my B&B. The first thing I see as I turn the corner is the dome over St Peter's Basilica. My host is very nice and I take a quick nap before heading out to see Rome.

I started by walking a few blocks to St Peter's Square, then over the Tiber River on Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II and then back on Ponte Sant'Angelo towards Castel Sant'Angello. Back over the river, I wandered around and came into Piazza Navona. Unfortunately, the Fountain of the Four Rivers was under scaffolding. I walked down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II all the way down the Monument Vittorio Emanuele II (he's a popular guy since he was the first king of a united Italy) and then backtracked to a restaurant. I had salmon and sweet rosemary potatoes. It was dark and I was tired (sensing a theme here?) so I took the bus back to my B&B, seeing some stray cats along the way. I hit the sheets at about 11PM.

Day Six

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Four

Saturday, May 19th

The first thing I did after landing in London was use the men's bathroom. I didn't realize it until after, because it was one of those single stall loos. Anyway, I start following the signs for Non-UK and Non-EU passport holders. It's a huge line and that is where I start writing this journal for the trip, starting back on Tuesday night with the flight to Chicago. At immigration, I tell the guy I'm leaving for Rome on Sunday and he says, "Tomorrow?" and I am confused for a minute. I laugh and tell him that I have no idea what day it is. I get out of there at 11:20, change my clothes and am thankful that I don't have to wait for any luggage. The Gatwick Express takes me into London's Victoria Station. At this point, I know I need to get a room for tonight, but I did not know that there was some kind of World Cup going on. This resulted in high hotel bookings and lot of loud, strangely dressed fans in all the stations. I got an Oyster card and took the tube to Waterloo station. I left my luggage there and walked out to the South Bank to see the London Eye. The lines were crazy long and I was tired, so I just waited in the ticket line and bought an 11 AM ticket for May31st, my last day in London. Back at Waterloo, I had a Chicken Korma Pasty (a curry chicken pot pie that you can hold in your hands) and paid 20 pence to use a bathroom. I used an Internet terminal that charged a pound per minute to book a room at the London Heathrow Marriott. I was very, very tired at this point, so I took the tube out to the airport, thinking I could get a cab if the hotel was too far away. I had to be at London Stansted (aka boondock central) the next morning and I knew they had bus transfer service between airports. After falling asleep on the tube and correctly guessing which Heathrow stop I should use, I got to the bus station and bought my bus ticket to Stansted. I also got a round trip Hotel Hopper so I could get to my hotel and back again. Let's see working backwards, an 8:30 am flight means a 6:30 am check-in, which means a 5:20am bus from Heathrow, so I need to get on the 4:37am bus from my hotel. I got to the hotel around 5pm, watched TV, visited the gift shop, had tea and went to sleep.

Day Five

Friday, May 18, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Three

Friday, May 18th

More like Day One
Today I flew from Minneapolis to Detroit and then on to London. My Detroit flight was uneventful, but my London flight had problems with the video system, so we had nothing to watch. There was an American guy in the row ahead of me sitting next to a British woman. He asked her about her trip and when she told him they visited Los Angeles he says, "Oh you've got to be kidding, LA is horrible!"

After dinner I got some sleep and woke up to breakfast sandwiches. We got vouchers as we disembarked because of the video malfunction, one for a free beverage and one for $50 off our next flight.

Day Four

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Italy Trip - Day Two

Thursday, May 17th

I am still in Minneapolis, so I went to work today. I also booked myself on new flights, Minneapolis to London and London to Rome. I now have a $450 credit on United Airlines, because my new transatlantic flight is on Northwest. I also booked a new B&B for my first two nights in Rome. I have been packed since about Saturday and it looks like I will actually be able to leave tomorrow!

Day Three

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Italy Trip - Day One

Wednesday, May 16th

I was supposed to be flying to London at 11 AM today, laying over in Chicago and getting there about 6 AM London time on Thursday. Instead, my passport has not reached me in time so I flew into Chicago last night at about 11:30 PM. The Passport Agency gave me a 9 AM appointment at the closest Federal building (still a 6 hour drive away). I took the El downtown from O'Hare and got to my ($180) hotel around 1 AM. Wednesday morning I got up and went to the Kluczynski Federal Building in downtown Chicago. I felt lucky at this point that I had actually been to Chicago three times before, so I was familiar enough to get around the city.

The whole in-person appointment was rife with bureaucracy. First, a security line to get into the building and then you wander around the second floor to find the right room. There are a total of three separate rooms, all with lines and seating areas. The first one has a line, two seating areas and then another line where you wait "up against the wall" after your name has been called. From this room, I called United to cancel my flight and the woman actually said, "You were going to fly overseas and didn't have a passport?" I was not amused and told her a very short version of how it never came and I was actually in line to get it in person.

After you leave the first room, you go in an elevator and wait outside the second room. At this point, you are threatened by an armed guard that if you eat, drink or use your cell phone inside the second room, you will be physically removed from the building and will not get your passport. I never knew that Diet Coke was such a security threat! Inside the second room, there's another line for them to check that you do have an appointment, that all your documents are there and to give you a number. Then you sit and wait for your number to be called. While I was in the two lines for the second room, I commiserated with two other girls in line, both from Chicago. We all made fun of the pictures on the wall, which are of Bush, Cheney and Rice, all grinning/smirking at you. Those pictures seem to be in every room.

When my number was called, I went to the window and the woman behind it asks, "How are you?" Normally, I know that's a rhetorical question, especially from a stranger. But this time I answered, "Not well. I was supposed to leave today and instead I have to come here in person!" One of the girls I was talking to in line was at the next window and she thought that was funny that I gave the woman attitude. The woman helping me takes my stuff and does things behind the counter while the woman helping the girl tells her that she must have exact change for the $157 fee. I guess the State Department must not know how to make change. The girl only has two $100 bills, but luckily I have change for one of her hundreds. I am not charged again (thank God) and told to come back around 12 or 12:30 and go to the third room. At this point it is just after 10 AM.

So I have a couple of hours to kill in Chicago, which I would normally love, but I am a bit stressed out. I wandered around downtown seeing a Falun Gong protest, Grant Park, the outside of the Art Institute and a Tenant's Association rally. I go back into the building about 12:30 and wait in line for the third room. I hand in my receipt and sit down for what turns out to be nearly an hour wait. As I am waiting, people are constantly being told where to stand and where to sit and that they are in the wrong line. I hear many people in the room say they'd originally applied in February! At this point the day reaches it's most ridiculous point when one of the guards comes in and stands by the window to take a phone call. A PERSONAL phone call on his CELL PHONE! I laugh out loud at him. Finally my name is called and I actually have my passport in my hands.

I continue wandering around Chicago, getting lunch at the Corner Bakery, seeing the Cloud Gate again, shopping and walking over the river. I take the El out to Midway and get home by midnight.

Day Two