Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Things I've Liked on the Internet Lately

When the cranium-implantable Google Brain comes out (summer 2020?) this is what it will look like.
If you feel icky about having something implanted in your head, just have it implanted in someone else's head and then have that head transplanted to your body. Because we can do that now.
To help scratch that Game of Thrones itch while you're waiting for the next book/season, here are the characters Simpsonized and the Houses corporatized.
If you haven't tackled the books, here's some incentive: even more evidence that reading is good for you.
Let's look at famous people's passports! (SFCO - Safe for Consular Officers)
Olive oil - good for salad dressing and preserving historic buildings.
Next time you're feeling obscene, read this article on the swiftly changing nature of profanity.
A gem from The Onion: Fox Books Files for Bankruptcy

This movie does not exist, but it SHOULD:

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Welcome to Ireland!

Jabbers and I and all of my suitcases have safely arrived in Dublin. Accomplishing that - especially the cat bits - turned out to be a trial (on which more later), but it's behind us now and we can get on with the pleasant task of getting settled in our new home.

Our new townhouse is super cute and well situated, and will be a delight to live in - once I get the hang of it. The house has a surprising number of Irish quirks that will take some getting used to. For example, on the first day I called my sponsor in a panic because I had locked myself INSIDE the house. Turns out the little knob on the lock slides up and down, you don't turn it. I also took some very cold showers until GSO explained the intricacies of the hot water system. Irish law forbids electrical outlets in bathrooms (too many electrocutions), so my hair won't ever be quite right until I can get an outlet and a mirror close enough together to straighten my hair without constantly running back and forth. But these are small things. I can't wait for all of my stuff to get here so I can make the place my own.

As if to celebrate my arrival Dublin is having its finest summer in decades - blue skies, sunshine, and temps hovering around 70 Fahrenheit. HEAT WAVE! No, seriously, this is a heat wave here. I could be wearing short sleeves, if I had packed any, which I didn't. But I'm making the most of the good weather, spending the weekend walking around getting acquainted with the city I will call home for the next two years. 

First of all, WALKING. Oh my god. It's so wonderful to live in a city with paved roads and sidewalks and so many interesting and worthwhile places you can get to on foot. It feels quite civilized. This morning I joined a walking tour of foodie hotspots (thanks Amy for the recommendation), so I now know where to get chocolates and cheese and quinoa and oysters and a variety of other delicacies that will make my next two years more delicious. There were a number of Dubliners on the tour who were also making good discoveries and were thrilled to give me advice on places to go and things to do while I'm in Ireland. Everyone here is so friendly! 

I still have to sort out phone service and home Internet and a million other things so it will be a while before I feel quite at home, but so far everything is off to a good start. It's going to be a good tour. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vicarious Tourism: The District

The big stinker
I wouldn't call myself a tourist in DC, exactly. I've lived here before so I know my way around, mostly, and I understand how to walk on the left side of Metro escalators and stand on the right. I haven't given the White House more than a passing glance and I haven't been to a single museum except the U.S. Botanic Garden, where I waited in line in the wilting sun to see (and smell) their blooming corpse flower. This giant phallic plant hoards energy for years - sometimes decades - saving it all up for one powerful blooming burst of heat and the stench of rotting meat to attract every pollinating dung beetle for miles. I apparently missed peak stinkiness though, sadly; I definitely caught a whiff of something foul but it may just have been the crowd of very sweaty onlookers.

It's a little strange being back though. Old stores and restaurants have closed, and new ones opened in their places. My old stomping grounds around 14th Street are getting increasingly chichi. I no longer automatically know, as if through a sixth sense, the time, place, and misery level of the inevitable Metro track work. My geography has gotten a little bit fuzzy; I still have enough of the "local" aura that people constantly ask me for directions, and usually I can help, but sometimes I'm not quite sure. I too am only passing through.

However, in lieu of participating in such classic DC tourist activities as visiting the Capitol and standing in the ridiculous line at Georgetown Cupcake (my cupcakes come from baked & wired), I've been getting things done: going to meetings, getting my badge renewed, and sorting out paperwork in preparation for the big move, which happens TOMORROW. Wow, that was fast. I've also been forced to keep up a hectic eating and drinking schedule in order to see as many of my DC pals as possible while I'm in town. My life is so hard, I know. Highlights include, but are not limited to: fiery Thai at Little Serow, a gluttonous brunch at Farmers Fishers Bakers, and a porcine feast at The Pig. Yum. I've always liked DC and it's been a pleasure to be here this trip, paperwork notwithstanding. And now for something completely different - next stop, DUBLIN!

My DC - the Dupont Circle farmers' market. There's sweet corn! And blueberries! And peaches! And...

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Today is my ten-year blogging anniversary. This blog here is just shy of the three-year mark, but I started my first one back in college. You can read my first-ever post here if you like, but I must warn you: it's not worth the click. In the pre-Facebook era, a LiveJournal blog was de rigueur among the twentysomething pseudointellectual set, at least at my school. All my friends had one so I got one too. I don't think any of my college friends have blogged for years now, but somehow I kept finding things to say. And ten years later, here I am, still flinging words at the Internet. I think we can officially call this a habit.

As I've mentioned before, autobiographical blogging requires a certain amount of narcissism, so thanks for putting up with that. On the other hand, in this age of selfies and reality TV narcissism is so hot right now, so maybe I'm just in tune with the zeitgeist for a change. How novel. But seriously, thanks for reading.  Extra thanks for those who comment, and extra super duper thanks to those who have sent fan mail. I live for that stuff. Positive feedback is what keeps me coming back to the keyboard, year after year, on approximately a twice-weekly basis. Behold, the power of compliments.

Hallmark tells me that the appropriate gifts for a ten-year anniversary are either tin/aluminum or diamond jewelry, so I'll be watching the mail expectantly for my Tiffany earrings and Reynolds Wrap. Here's to another ten years. 

Vicarious Tourism: Vero Beach

After an exciting but exhausting week at Yellowstone I was ready to take it easy for a while. Fortunately the next thing on the agenda was a few days of relaxation in Vero Beach, Florida, where my grandmother has a condo with beach access. I hadn't been to Vero since I was a kid, and I was surprised to find that the sleepy beach town I remembered had transformed into a much more upscale sleepy beach town, the kind of place where frugal multimillionaires shop at consignment stores and order the early bird special. There are more restaurants now, and better ones, and all kinds of dangerous cute little boutiques.

I did do some serious shopping while I was there - I spent a small fortune at the outlet mall - but mostly I spent long, leisurely hours at the beach: reading in the sunshine, watching the waves roll in, going for long walks along the shore, ogling the diver boys out looking for shipwrecked treasure, immersing myself in aquamarine. I strolled the boardwalk at night with an ice cream cone, hoping to glimpse a sea turtle coming up to lay her eggs. I never did catch a turtle but the nests were everywhere, each neatly roped off, catalogued, and labeled by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. I ate delicious meals with my mother and grandmother, reminiscing and gossiping about real estate. It was just what I needed.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ten Tips for High-Season Yellowstone

Going to Yellowstone in the high season can be chaotic. It's hot. It's crowded. Here are some tips to help optimize your vacation. Some of this advice we learned from experience, but the rest is from our own personal Yellowstone oracle: the checkout lady at Albertson's in Jackson who managed to ring up our groceries and drop some serious wisdom at the same time. She was right about everything.
  1. If you want to have any hope of staying in the park itself you need to book MONTHS in advance. I tried six weeks out and there was nothing available. You can still have a great trip staying outside the park, but it's a lot more driving.
  2. Don't forget your water bottles and keep a couple of gallons in the car for refills. It's hot. It really is, even if the low humidity seduces you into thinking otherwise.
  3. A wet bandanna around your neck is a great way to keep cool, but make sure it's 100% cotton, not a synthetic that will dry quickly.
  4. It also gets pretty chilly at night, so don't forget to bring a fleece.
  5. Invest in a pair of sunglasses with maximum UV protection and polarizing lenses - your eyes will thank you. I had no idea how crap my normal sunglasses were until a morning on the river left my eyes squinting and burning even with them on. 
  6. For the photographers out there, a polarizing lens will help keep the glorious colors from washing out in your pictures.
  7. To see the main attractions without getting mowed over by buses full of tour groups go early in the morning or later in the evening. You'll have a much better experience.
  8. Get off the drive-thru circuit and try out a trail. Only half a mile from the main attractions the crowds thin out dramatically and you get a much more personal experience with the park. We went horseback riding in a more remote corner of the park and saw other people only three times in the space of four hours.
  9. If you have never been on a horse before, a four-hour ride is WAY TOO LONG. Try two. 
  10. If you'll be doing your own cooking do your grocery shopping in Jackson. Stores in the park and in Gardiner and West Yellowstone are expensive and tilted more towards souvenirs than practicalities. 
And a bonus tip: Put a Reese's peanut butter cup in your s'mores. You're welcome. 

Vicarious Tourism: Purple Mountain Majesties

Continuing my very busy home leave, I just got back from a week touring Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with my sister Beth and my friend Amelia*. I had been hearing for ages about how beautiful this area of the country is but I had never managed to make it there until now. Having been, I can say with confidence that all the glowing praise you've ever heard about Yellowstone and its environs is completely underselling the place. The geysers! The waterfalls! The thermal pools and terraces! The canyon! The dramatic mountain views! We could have spent twice as long there and still not even scratched the surface of the park. The wildlife was pretty incredible too - where else will you see bald eagles soaring on an updraft or find a wild bison trotting down the street just a few yards from your car? And the stars! I've never seen so many! You can see the Milky Way and everything, quite a change from the five stars you get in the suburbs.

And there's so much to do. We hiked in the Tetons and rafted the Snake River. We rode horses in Yellowstone and soothed our aching muscles in a hot spring in Montana. We learned all about Buffalo Bill and celebrated the 4th of July with fireworks and a rodeo in Wyoming. (Miraculously, my sparkly pink pedicure made it through the trip intact.) And there were still so many things - mountain biking, paragliding, tons more hiking trails - we would have loved to do but just didn't have the time for. Maybe next time.

Beth is the photographer of the group so her shots are course much better than these, but in a place like this where every photo is a postcard even I couldn't screw it up that badly:

I need to go back one of these days - a week was nowhere near enough. But after our week of frenzied activity I need a vacation from my vacation! Good thing I'm going to spend the next week laying in the beach in Florida.

*Not her real name, but she picked it out.