Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year, 2011!

Yesterday when I was waiting on the exposed, windy train platform to go to work at 06:30, I was wearing a winter coat, gloves, and ear muffs. This afternoon as I left the mall to drive home, I threw my coat in the trunk and put the top down on my convertible.

This weather is bizarre.

Since the week before Christmas, I've been packing for my next move. Believe it or not. And I woke up at 5:00AM today, so I'm too tired to ring in the new year.

If I believed in having New Year's Resolutions, I would have to vow to quit moving. At least for a year. I sure hope my new place is quieter and has less (or no) maintenance issues than this place. The maintenance man may as well set up a cot in here because this place has had every problem imaginable. It's a miserable old, unkempt building. I've only been here 10 months, and I can't wait to leave.

Well, it's 9:00 and I'm off to bed, so happy new year to all! May you be "too blessed to be stressed" (as a gem of a woman named Merry at work says every day), and may you be blessed with happiness, health, and love throughout the coming new year.

And... most importantly, Happy Birthday to my adorable niece, Maddie!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Famous Last Words

I gave all my winter coats to Good Will this year because they were too big. When I was shopping for a new coat, my sister-in-law Judy mentioned, "You won't need a winter coat here [in Atlanta]."

At 6:30AM this past Monday when I got into my car in the open air parking deck at my apartment building, my BMW thermometer indicated it was 21 degrees. As I drove out from under the deck, the temperature dropped even more. The drive to the Marta train is only a couple minutes, so I don't bother turning on the heat. It would never warm up in time.

I was wearing a turtleneck, jacket, coat, scarf, gloves, ear muffs, and hat. Standing on the open train platform, the wind ripped right through me. It was very cold. The next day was even windier and colder, when my car registered the temp at 16 degrees! Waiting for that late train in the eye-tearing wind was the longest five minutes of my life. My gloved fingers burned as if frost-bitten when I got on the warm train. The wind chill factor must've been below 10.

The next day we had freezing rain and ice. I slipped on the ice in the parking lot next door while picking up my mail on the way home from the Marta. Big mistake. Traffic was a huge nightmare. Atlanta motorists had lost all sense of civility.

I live in a huge shopping district, where traffic is absolutely horrendous this time of year. Add ice, early darkness, and below freezing temps to that, and you get some pretty grumpy drivers.

Leaving the parking lot, I grumbled to myself about the monstrous SUV parked next to me blocking my view as I backed out of my space in my tiny car. So I backed out very slowly. I was halfway out and nearly jumped out of my seat when someone laid on their horn. I looked around the SUV, and there was a Jeep wrangler at least five full car lengths away, horn wailing at me for trying to inch out of my space safely. All they had to do was stop and let me out, as most Atlantans would in the same situation, but they'd come flying through the icy lot and were in a hurry. I pulled back in and let the jerk pass. Turns out, her "emergency" was that she needed to get to the sub shop at the end of the shopping strip; there she made a dangerous u-turn to whip into the space closest to the sub shop.

I had some choice words for her as I passed and left the lot assured that she will die early of clogged arteries from too many salami and pepperoni subs.

I finally got out of the shopping plaza to drive the remaining block home. But then I could barely make the left turn into my apartment building from the infamously dangerous Peachtree Road. The three lanes of northbound traffic was backed up as far as the eye could see. The challenge wasn't turning in (as it usually is), it was getting into the middle turn lane, which folks in the opposite direction had decided to use (illegally, mind you) as a driving lane. I have seen so many accidents caused by people driving in the turn lane in front of my building.

So I was facing oncoming traffic in the turn lane for the first time ever. This time, I was the one who blew the horn. Finally I got home and swore I wouldn't go out again until the temperatures were above freezing.

People get so antsy here when the traffic piles up. They block intersections, rudely jump from lane to lane to be "first" in line, and create a hazardous driving experience for everyone else. This week they went over the top. I really hate driving. It's much more tolerable in the warm weather when I can put the top down and enjoy it. It's times like this that I miss the NYC subway and bus system!

I gotta move off this road. It's bad enough that my apartment is an ongoing maintenance/noise nightmare and that the elevators are broken half the time; but it is just too dangerous to turn left in and out of my apartment complex. I suspected that that would be an issue, but I needed a place to live, so I took it.

Time to start packing for move #47. (I think. I lost count....)

On the brighter side, I'm tickled to death that I don't have to travel for Christmas this year! For once, it's just an hour's drive to my parents' house. Yay!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jelly's Own Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! We had a wonderful feast at Mom & Dad's on Thursday. It was a good family gathering. My sister Lisa and her kids came from Tennessee, and my brother Dave's family was there, of course. The group of 17 included my sister-in-law Judy's parents and my cousins Debbie and Jenny (and Jenny's family).

The only local family members missing from the event were Buddy the dog and Jelly & Baby (my sweet adorable kitties). However, today I discovered that Jelly (clearly it was Jelly, not Baby) had her own little day-after Thanksgiving celebration in the closet of my second bedroom. On Friday I'd gone to City Dog Market to buy the girls' usual two bags of Innova dried food—the regular kind and the low-calorie kind, which I mix together.

Usually I dump the bags of dry food directly into a big plastic container. But this time I didn't. I decided the food would stay fresher if I waited a couple weeks, until the current supply of Innova was fully depleted. As I placed the two bags on the closet floor, my thoughts about the possibility of anyone trying to get into the food quickly dismissed any such silliness: "My girls are good girls. They would never chew through the bags."

How wrong I was. I got home today from some local exploring by car (in search of my next home) and was surprised to see one of the bags of cat food on its side on the floor, a large hole carefully carved out of it. There were a couple small scraps of the foil paper-lined bag on the floor. But as I write this, I realize now that there was much less volume of paper scraps than the size of the hole warrants. Hmmm. . . . I can't wait for that to show up in the litter box.

Clearly Jelly is the culprit. Going to the effort to chew a hole in a bag is more trouble than Baby would think it's worth. If Baby wants food, she either eats Jelly's food or she sits next to her bowl, looks directly at me from across the room, and meows. Once. She knows I'll feed her. Baby only eats when she's hungry.

Jelly, on the other hand, thinks about food constantly. It's not like I don't feed her enough. It's that she likes to eat a lot more than she needs (not unlike most Americans). What's funny is that the bag that she chewed open contained the low-cal food, not the good stuff. I laughed at her for that misstep. Burglary is obviously not her forte.

On Thanksgiving, I was good. I am very careful about what foods I choose at these large gatherings at my mom's. The food is always so good. If I ate everything I wanted to eat, I'd be shopping for a new, larger wardrobe in no time. But I've managed to lose close to 40 pounds and have spent a small fortune on an entirely new wardrobe, so I'm not about to overdo it.

Clearly Jelly is not as concerned about her wardrobe.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fall in Atlanta

Hard to believe that we are less than two weeks away from Thanksgiving. Last night I had to turn on my A/C for a couple hours. True story. Temps are in the mid-70's in Atlanta this week. Yesterday I found excuses to run errands just so I could put the top down and enjoy the sunshine and low humidity. It was bliss.

Things have been busy here. My brother Dave and his wife Judy held their big annual Halloween bash at their house. This party is such a big ordeal that they start decorating their house and the extensive haunted forest (out back) about two months in advance. They are still un-decorating now and might be done by the time they put up their Christmas tree.

The weather was perfect, and the costumes were fun. Two of my cousins were able to make it to the party, too. I went dressed as a cop again. I noticed that there were a lot of witches at the party, and cowboys too.

Last weekend my friend Rebecca from GW came down with her husband for an overnight stay. They had tickets to see their favorite musician Sufjan Stevens at the 100-year-old Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta. I'd never seen anyone so excited to go to a concert before. Tim and Rebecca are hard-core fans of this artist and had never had the pleasure of seeing him perform live, so this was a big deal to them.

I'd never heard of Sufjan, but he was good. Not only was the music great, but he put on a fantastic show as well. It's hard to describe Sufjan. He's extremely talented—plays about 17 instruments, I believe. I think the best way to describe his sound is "folk/pop/rock."

He had two of everything - two pianists, two bassists, two drummers, two brass, and two backup singers/dancers. Sufjan would change 'costumes' on the fly on stage by switching out hats and other attire. And boy is he a cutie! It was an unusual show, and I liked it.

I don't go to concerts very often, so I'm not used to staying out as late as we did. Just as the music was beginning, I looked at my watch and thought, "Hmmm. It's almost my bedtime." Three hours later we were fighting the parking garage traffic for what seemed like forever to get out. But it was worth it to see this unusual and very popular artist and his cult-like following.

Earlier, while downtown on a very cold and windy day, the three of us visited the World of Coca-Cola, which was pretty neat—especially the 4-D movie.

Today my 7-year-old niece Maddie is playing in her first piano recital, so we'll have another family get-together for that. Her sister Katie just turned five years old this past week; but, rather than attend her birthday party this afternoon, I'm taking my parents to the High Museum to see the Salvadore Dali exhibit.

It is fall in Atlanta. The trees are in peak color, the weather is gorgeous, and I'm still enjoying life!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Finally... a Real Job

I started my new job in Midtown three weeks ago. I am still thanking God every five minutes for this job, which is with a fantastic organization—easily the best I've ever been part of.

I work in a highly secure building, and there are certain rules about public disclosure that I must abide by. Technically, I'm not allowed to name my work place on any public forum. Let's just say it's a large financial institution. But it's not a bank.

My job is information security. I have so much work ahead of me that if I were to stop and consider it all, it would boggle my mind. So I take it one step at a time. The people I work with are fantastic. I've never felt more welcome on a new job. Complete strangers pass me in the hallway, stop and say, "You must be new here. What's your name? Welcome!"

Most are seasoned veterans of the organization. My boss has been there 15 years, my "buddy" (who is showing me the ropes) has been there 25 years. My IT support person, 18 years. Most of the folks I've met have been there, on average, 20 years. This is unlike any place I've worked the past 20 years—there is virtually no turnover.

That's because nobody leaves (by choice, anyway). The real kicker is that everyone I've met is truly happy to be there. I'm not used being surrounded by contented people. What I am used to is the constant ranting of complainers and whiners—especially on my short-lived Wall Street job of 2007-2008. This job makes that place look like a complete joke. What a bunch of whiney, overpaid brats! Looking back, I can't even believe I had to live with so much crap on a daily basis.

I've heard from several folks in the Atlanta area that I'm very lucky to have found a job with this organization. Many people are envious. Others want me to find jobs for their friends.

The building I'm in is new and is gorgeous—all marble with high ceilings and beautiful decor. There is a nice gym, a partially subsidized cafeteria, and a coffee/gift shop. My cubicle is great; it's pretty sizable and comes complete with coat closet. The location is perfect, just steps from the Marta station. And the company pays for public transportation, so I take the train to work. (The waiting list for on-site employee parking is 11 years. Like I said, people don't leave.)

I have a brand new Blackberry, tablet notebook PC, large monitor, and travel bag on rollers. My IT person wears a suit. She is helpful and friendly. Now, that is impressive. I am so weary of self-entitled IT people (read: brats) who choose to wear jeans to work when all around them are dressed professionally. My boss is a dream; he is completely hands-off and lets me do my job. All the micro-managers of my past have served no purpose other than generating migraines.

The benefits package rivals that of a former employer, Microsoft—something I never thought I'd be privileged to say again. While most companies are offering two weeks' annual paid time off to new employees, mine offers twice that.

One of the best things about this job is that I have three days off every week. I have my choice of flex work schedules. I chose a 4x10. I work four ten-hour days and take the fifth day off. This truly is a life changer. Americans work too long and too hard. Having that extra day off every week makes going to work the first of the week a positive thing. I go in refreshed, having had three full days off for chores, errands, family time, and relaxtion. Ever since I left Duke Power in the mid-90's I've longed for the day I can work a flex schedule again. My day has come!

I keep pinching myself. Did I really get this lucky? After years of being miserable in the workplace, what did I do to deserve this wonderful job? Will this last? I truly want to retire with this company. I have never felt that way about any company I've worked for. Besides, this is the only place I've ever worked that offers a pension plan. Man, nobody does that anymore! For years, I've been worried about my retirement. Finally, I'm not worried any longer.

The downside? It is this: the stupid hand soap dispensers in the bathroom operate on an electronic eye that doesn't seem to detect my hand waving furiously in front of it, begging for a squirt of cleansing foam.

But the fact that I, for once, don't have to glue a nametag to my chair so that it doesn't get "borrowed" from my cubicle, never to reappear, makes up for my one single complaint that the soap dispensers are ignoring me. Besides that, the restrooms and facility are the cleanest I've ever worked in.

Honestly, I have no complaints.

Man am I lucky! Thank you, God!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Short Film from Afghanistan

My nephew Jason came to visit us in Atlanta this week while on a 30-day leave following his 7-month tour in Afghanistan. He took some excellent photos over there, and shot some video that I've watched several times. It gives me chills every time I see it.

In the shots where you see three machine gunners returning fire, Jason is the Marine in the middle of the three. You can identify him by the white rectangular object strapped to the left side of his helmet. (Jason, that had better be a bar of soap and not a pack of cigarettes!)

Click here to watch the video posted on YouTube.

Also, you can vote on a small subset of Jason's photos that were entered into an international photography competition at this link. Just click on the stars in the upper-right hand corner of the page to cast your vote.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Drive Down Memory Lane

I took a road trip to Charlotte this weekend to see Chris, one of my two oldest friends. Here we are yesterday:

And here we are 30 years ago:

It is pretty hard to believe that it's been over three decades since the two of us, along with our friend Missy, were a trio of inseparable high school girls.

What is even harder to believe is that Chris's eldest son is 24, and she and her husband are celebrating twenty five years of marriage this year. Of all the couples I know, Chris and John are one of the happiest. You should see them together—they are best friends. They laugh a lot, which I think is the glue that holds a marriage together.

I fell in love with their cocker spaniel, Molly. This was my first time meeting her. She served as the welcoming committee. She was so excited to meet me that her little squiggly butt nearly peed on me. She's little Miss Social, kind of like my Baby.

It's funny, John thought that since I'm a "cat person," I wouldn't care too much for a dog. Are you kidding me?! I love puppy dogs. I'm just too busy moving to actually have one. Cats are much easier to keep at home when you live in an apartment, and I'm not too thrilled about the thought of walking a dog (rain or shine) every morning at oh-dark-thirty no matter what kind of mood I'm in. Besides, a dog needs a yard. High-rise apartment buildings just don't seem suitable for puppy dogs.

Anyway, I had a great time with Chris and her family. The drive was only four hours. It was 90 degrees and cloudless today, so I had the top down for the entire trip home (with literally four layers of sun screen on my face - SPF 15, 70, 25, and 30). I was slathering the 45 on my arms on the interstate.

It was weird driving down Independence Boulevard in Charlotte on my way to Chris's house. I lived in that city for nearly 10 years, back in the 80's. First I passed the old Charlotte Coliseum, now called "Bojangles Coliseum," which sounds so cheesy. I was delivering a pizza nearby there in 1985 or 86 when I was robbed.

Then I passed Briarcreek Road, where I had an apartment when Hurricane Hugo hit us (200 miles inland) on September 22, 1989, making most streets impassable and knocking out my power for five days. I'd been out drinking with friends the night before; I came home, put in my ear plugs, and slept through the massive Category 3 storm.

Then I passed the infamous Sharon Amity Road, where I was hit by a truck in my VW Rabbit while delivering a pizza late at night. That was September 22, 1985. I don't recall that event or most of the decade surrounding it.

I drove by a car dealership where I'd purchased one of the 17 different cars I've owned in my life (most of those in Charlotte).

I also passed by the newer office complex where Microsoft Product Support Services is now located, not far from the old location on Tyvola Road where I serendipitously started my computer career in 1991.

It was surreal to be back in Charlotte all these years later. And then to hear the stories from Chris about those days—because she remembers stuff that I'll never be able to recall—like my hiring her husband to be a driver at a Picaso's Pizza store I ran back in the day.... And all the other great stories about how she met John while she was still in college and engaged to another guy. Apparently I played a role in the plot to tell her parents of her dilemma at the time. I honestly don't recall any of that because it all happened in the month of my accident.

We laughed so much this weekend that my stomach hurt. I love Chris. There is just nothing in this world like an old, best friend. And even though we've seen each other only every few years since the old days, every time we get together it is as though no time has passed at all.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy Times in my New City

Moving to Atlanta has turned out to be a really good thing for me. After nearly five decades of living, I've finally found out what makes it all worthwhile. Yes, the secret to happiness is this: owning a convertible. Not just a convertible, but a convertible in a nice, sunny warm climate.

For years I've hated driving a car. That's because most cities I've lived in suffersfrom relentless gridlock, especially Seattle, NY and D.C. In fact, I dreaded moving out of NYC to a place where I had to own a car. I just didn't want to deal with it.

Of course, it would have been prudent of me to buy another hybrid—a nice, eco-friendly, squarish vehicle that makes 40 miles to the gallon and comfortably seats four people.

Blech. I'm so glad I didn't go that route. I love my convertible. Now I know what BMW marketers mean by the "ultimate driving experience." I actually look forward to getting in my car. Plus, it's really hard to get pissed off at idiot drivers when you're sitting back in the fresh air, the wind whipping your hair about your face, and the sun warming your skin.

The really funny thing is that, for the first time in years, truck drivers toot their horns at me. I can't help but have fun with that. (I'm competing with my 83-year-old Aunt Geraldine for the most toots in one road trip and, so far, we're still tied at three.)

Besides having so much fun driving, it's been great being close to family. My social life has improved by about a thousand percent. A week ago, my neighbor Lisa and I discovered a wonderful female pop rock singer who ranks right up there with Norah Jones (if you ask me). Samantha Murphy opened for the Chapin Sisters at the Red Light Cafe in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta. We enjoyed music so much that Lisa & I each bought Samantha's CD, Somewhere Between Starving and Stardom, and I haven't been able to stop playing it my car ever since.

The next day, I met up with my family at the Art in the Park Festival in Marietta. We really enjoyed the show, and everyone was in a good mood there because of the gorgeous weather. It was a cloudless, low-humidity, breezy, perfect day. My nieces got their faces painted while the rest of us perused the artists' booths. After that we had another fabulous home-cooked meal at my mom's.

Then today I attended the big annual Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain—a world-class art show featuring over 300 artisans, a live band (the Gwen Hughes group was pretty good!), plenty of sunshine and food.

Tomorrow a friend of mine from Tails High (a cat rescue group in Alexandria, VA) will be in town, and I've got dinner plans with her. That's another plus about Atlanta - it's a major travel hub, so you can get to just about anywhere in the world from here.

Next week I've got an ISSA conference, and the week after that is the international HTCIA conference. I am so lucky that all the good conferences are in Atlanta this year.

Busy, busy, busy! I am really having a good time and meeting lots of neat people here.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Real-life Video of Life at Camp Bastion

My sister-in-law Jacqui, the Navy doctor, forwarded an email to us this week that was passed around to folks who gave their time to help injured soldiers (and locals) at Camp Bastion hospital in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The email contained a link to a recruiting video made in April 2010 for the British Army Medical Services in an effort to recruit non-military medical professionals to do a six-week stint at Bastion.

Jacqui, a radiologist, is featured early in the 14-minute clip, working in an operating room where a young soldier is being treated for a gaping wound in his lower back and shrapnel embedded in his buttocks. She is also shown at the end of the video examining the CT scans of a patient who miraculously survived a bullet to the brain.

Director and cameraman David Varley had this to say about his film:
I filmed some traumatic situations, leg amputations, brain operations, IED (improvised explosive device) victims, both soldiers and civilians, I managed to film the medics through their eyes rather than focusing on the patients. I think what interested me the most was how they coped with the environment, what got them through?, the answer, team work, friendship, camaraderie and a serious dose of black humour, never directed at patients of course, but generally at each other.
We managed to capture the medics at work, rest and play giving a memorable recruitment film that directly targeted NHS professionals.
- from

The short video might move you to tears, as it is exemplifies how ordinary people brought together under the extreme circumstances of real war can do amazing things that save lives.

Stills included here are credited to David Varley, Managing Director, ONFilm Group and ( and 1st4film.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Making Me Proud

My brother Pete's family always makes me proud. He and his wife Jacqui have raised two wonderful young men, both of whom will no doubt be memorable contributors to society. This morning around midnight, their son Jason came home to the U.S. after nearly eight months sidestepping IEDs in the desert.

My entire family is utterly overjoyed to have Jason back and in one piece. Words don't describe the feelings we are all having, which approached giddiness late last night. I cannot wait to see Jason when he is granted some liberty.

Just a few days ago, Pete and Jacqui dropped off Jason's brother Matt at the Citadel, where he will be attending college on an ROTC scholarship. Matt is a wonderful kid with a great sense of humor. He is a rock star in my book. They are both sweet boys. And they're smart, like their dad.

To top all that off, Jacqui's younger sister Jessica greeted the Obamas at the Naval Air Station in Panama City this week. Here she is, in all her glory, shaking hands with a First Daughter:

How cool is that!? The expression on Jessica's face says it all. She can't believe it herself!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wikileaks: Who Polices the Internet?

This is a question that has been brewing for 30 or so years and has finally come to a head. Who is responsible for governing the information posted on the Internet, and under what laws are the posters of this information governed?

We spoke on this topic at length last summer in my cyber ethics class in grad school. The ethical implications of Wikileaks' recent actions are obvious, and I don't want to get into that issue here. Never mind that some of us might feel that these guys should be taken behind the barn and shot. Clearly the site's owners feel no moral obligation to protect the citizens of the world. As I said, that's a whole other (ethical) debate.

The other side of this issue is the legal implications—the fascinating argument regarding who polices information posted on the ubiquitous Internet. Because the Internet is not constrained by (and is therefore absolved of) geo-political boundaries, technically there are no laws that can be enforced here to stop further postings of classified government materials on the Amsterdam-based Wikileaks site.

The First Amendment cannot apply because that is U.S. law. U.S. laws can only govern web sites hosted in this country. Although the legal system has yet to catch up with the digital age and struggles to do so on a a daily basis in our over-saturated court system, the U.S. does have some basic "Internet" laws in place like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which governs computer hacking. It also passed Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that proscribes circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under copyright. It has the Stored Communications Act (SCA) and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) that criminalizes unauthorized access to stored communications and limits the government's ability to compel ISPs to produce subscriber records. In 2003, the U.S. enacted a bill Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing messages sent electronically (the CAN-SPAM Act). Sadly, computer-related law does not expand much beyond those big items. See Title 17 and Title 18 of the United States Code for more information.

But because Wikileaks is in Amsterdam, none of our laws apply. There is nothing the Pentagon can do to stop the rogue organization from publicly posting leaked information. . . hence the appeals for the site owners to simply “do the right thing.”

Maybe the U.S. government should instead declare cyber war on its own Federal employees in an effort to prevent further leaks rather than focus its energies on Wikileaks? After all, the information being disseminated is 'classified,' which means that only those who have undergone an ardurous background investigation that is required to obtain a security clearance had access to those documents (or should have had access).

Was the Pentagon paper leak a failure in process (i.e., an error), or was it truly a deliberate leak executed by one or more cleared individuals? No matter how many people the U.S. government gives clearance to, it's impossible to control the actions of each and every one of those individuals. So why not crack down on the electronic systems that store and transmit that data in order to prevent further leaks?

Check out the ‘seeders’ map at the beginning of Wired Magazine's Threat Level feed entitled "Cyberwar Against Wikileaks? Good Luck With That." Clearly this is a global issue, where technically no one country is ‘in charge.’

The fact of the matter is that there is no legal recourse here. Do you think the question of whether (and how and by whom) the Internet is policed will ever be answered? I’d have to say probably not in our lifetimes.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Chance of Afternoon Showers

Here in the South at this time of year, the weather is predictably sunny and hot every day, with the exception of about 20 minutes every afternoon when big black clouds roll in suddenly and leave just as quickly. Sometimes it rains, but more often than not the clouds just pass over.

On Friday around 2pm I had to take a trip up to Alpharetta to meet up with my boss briefly to pick up my check. I hadn't driven my car for a week and had been cooped up in the house working for several days. I was anxious to put the top down on the convertible and enjoy the outdoors.

As I approached the on-ramp to highway 400, I saw clouds to the north. It was that time of the day. The sun was out and the clouds seemed distant. I'd been in this situation a dozen times before (top-down, clouds ahead) without getting rained on, so I continued onto the highway. These clouds were gray and seemed harmless - not like the ominous black clouds that sway me to pull over and put the top up.

A minute later, however, as I approached the toll booth, my windshield was suddenly spattered with a handful of big round drops. I was in the far left lane (the cruise lane at the toll station), so I didn't have a choice but to stay there.

On the other side of the booth, the clouds opened up and very quickly poured buckets on me and my car, top down. It all happened so fast. I made it over to the right lane and onto the shoulder as soon as I could do so safely. It was raining laterally from behind, so I realized that this wasn't going to be a shower that I could just quickly drive through with the top down.

Sooner or later, I knew this would happen to me. There I was on the shoulder getting poured on as the electric top slowly came up out of the trunk and over my head. It only takes about 30 seconds to put the top up, but it seemed a lot longer. My white 'parachute' capri pants were soaked.

I merged back onto the highway and within a minute the downpour had stopped. I looked around at the interior of my car - the seats were all wet. I started laughing. Here I was in my wet car on my way to see my boss (and meet a couple other gals on our team for the first time) when I found myself with see-through pants. I couldn't show up looking like that.

The sun was shining brightly, so I pulled off at another exit and put the top down again. It was about 95 degrees, so I hoped I would dry out pretty quickly.

Sure enough, 15 minutes later when I arrived at my destination, the car was dry, and so was I. Well, that's one way to clean out the interior!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big 50th Birthday Bash!

I had more fun last weekend than I've had in a long time. This year, my eldest brother Dave turns 50. For several years, his wife Judy and I have said we need to do something special for this event. Somehow, Judy managed to pull off a huge quasi-surprise party on Saturday that brought friends and relatives from as far away as California, Seattle, Louisiana and Costa Rica.

Of course, the big to-do was held at a Cajun restaurant to satisfy my family's taste. The food was excellent, although I heard at least two people say that the Gumbo didn't hold a candle to my mom's or my sister's Gumbo.

Dave knew there was something going on for his birthday that day, but he didn't know what, exactly. Around 60 people showed up at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen in Alpharetta at 5:30. (It goes without saying that Dave is a very popular guy.) A delicious buffet table was already set up with jumbalaya, blackened Tilapia, popcorn shrimp, crawfish fondue, and more goodies. The drinks were flowing. M&M's imprinted with Dave's baby picture were scattered on the tables. Everyone was wearing "old fart" nametags. At 5:45, Dave was led in blind-folded by Judy.

To Dave's surprise, nearly every male guest (and many of the women) were dressed in a black shirt and khaki shorts—a getup that Judy calls "the Dave uniform." It was Judy's idea to email all the invitees a couple weeks ahead of time and invite them to dress like Dave does. Her email recounted how her husband would go into the closet to change into clean clothes and come out wearing an outfit identical to what he was wearing before. Come to think of it, I don't recall seeing Dave in a different outfit in recent months. The Dave uniform was a hoot!

The big 50-inch TV in the party room flipped through an expertly-made slide show depicting over 130 pictures of Dave and family from his 1960 birth to present day. It took the efforts of five different people over the course of two months to get those slide show DVDs made, beginning with the digital photo collection provided by my dad. In the end, my nephew Connor and Dave's friend Paul came through with the goods.

It was great fun seeing ourselves in those photos. Growing up, we'd spent plenty of summer vacations with my cousins from New Orleans, all of whom showed up at the party, except Ariane who'd fallen ill the night before. Her nutty husband Tommy made it, though, and he (as usual) was the life of the party. Among others. It was a roomful of Type A's, for certain.

The most fun was the roast/toast that Judy arranged. Dave's 4- and 7-year-old daughters had fashioned a nice crown that he wore for the entire ordeal. My favorite part was when Dave's friend Jeff (wearing a black Geek t-shirt), read off his two Top-Ten lists.

One thing you need to know about Dave is that he's a total computer geek. I remember him having this IBM 8088 (or similar) computer in our house in Virginia Beach in the late 70's. He used to play this game called Zork in DOS and instructed me to "never buy a computer made by Apple."

Dave went on to become a coder and now has over 30 years' experience in software development. Along with his wife, he runs his own company now. In fact, he's the reason I have some work here in Atlanta—he introduced me to one of his clients, who hired me a couple days later.

Another thing you need to know about Dave and Judy is their penchant for garage-saling. They have perfected the art of bargain hunting to the point that they have developed their own private language that they use at garage sales. Knowing Dave, it's all acronyms—like "OP" for over-priced.

I'd even venture to guess that the majority of their kids' toys and clothes came from garage sales. Every time I'm over at their house, they're parading this new item and that. "We got this at a garage sale for [insert low, low price here]" is probably the most heard phrase in their house.

Hence, Jeff's Top Ten lists were related to those two most endearing qualities and habits of Dave. For your reading pleasure, I've added them to the end of this posting. Dave had a blast during the roast, as did the rest of us.

Wow - what a fun weekend! I had so much fun that I was completely exhausted all day Monday. From my Uncle Mike's tale about shielding his dog Griffin's eyes as the extremely obese Wal-Mart shopper fell out of her bra while pushing her cart with her full upper body laid across it... to the follow-up description by my sister-in-law Jacqui (the radiologist) of the ardurous process of conducting a mammogram on such women... to my cousin Ronnie telling Cajun jokes in the perfect Boudreaux accent, I laughed so hard that weekend that I was bent over in stomach pain on a couple of occasions.

Besides my cousin Ariane, the only person missing from this memorable event was my nephew Jason, who is serving in Afghanistan. Jason, we miss you!

Happy Birthday, Dave!

Top Ten nerd things overheard by Dave:
10 - I haven’t had this much fun since the Northpoint High School Rubik’s Cube festival
9 - Judy, how did you ever let my Unix/DOS/Linux/Windows Today subscription expire?
8 - I can’t believe that is already taken
7 - How could anyone yawn during my Bulgarian travel stories?
6 - Who changed my Al Gore screen saver?
5 - When are they going to start a “Lord of the Rings” 24-hour cable channel?
4 - I am so crazy on my 50th birthday right now I think I am actually going to take my Star Trek: Next Generation action figures out of the box!
3 - Hey, anyone up for a round-table discussion on the Iran-Contra affair?
2 – Finally - Newt Gingrich Chia Pets!
1 - Anyone? I’ve got extra tickets to Nerdapalooza…

Top Ten things recently overheard by Dave at a garage sale:
10 - Hey, how much for the used Dr. Scholl’s foot inserts?
9 - That is not official Chewbacca Stars Wars merchandise
8 - I’ll give you 13 cents for that toaster and not one penny more!
7 - Lady, I had that National Geographic photosynthesis biosphere issue before you!
6 - Lady, touch it again, and I’m going “Mel Gibson” on you!
5 - I’m calling the National Garage Sale Council. These directional road signs stink.
4 - No color-coded pricing labels? So amateur….
3 - ???
2 - Judy, you got the counterfeit $20s ready?
1 - Wow, Viagra is so cheap at garage sales….

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Today will mark the 17th consecutive day of temperatures in the 90's in Atlanta. We are having July weather in June. Before moving further south, I dreaded that the heat would be unbearable for me. So far so good.

I'm pretty sure the difference lies in having an (air-conditioned) car. In NY and D.C., I didn't have a car, so I got everywhere on foot or by train (subway). By the time I reached my destination, I was soaked with sweat. Not so here. So far, it hasn't been as sticky humid here as it is in D.C. But, then again, it may be too early to tell. Summer just started.

In fact, I'm still riding around with the top down on the convertible. When the temperature on my dash shows 85, I know that it won't be long before I have to put the top down and crank up the A/C. Generally, when it hits 90, I have no choice. But yesterday I was out all day with the top down, despite the reading going as high as 95 in my car. That's what Saturdays are for!

This is my first weekend in many that I was free to do whatever I want. So I began my exploration of my new home city. I was actually hunting for a good shoe store to take my sister Lisa to when she visits next month, so I had a map of the four retail stores in Atlanta that sell NAOT brand shoes. I was also looking for a vintage clothing store that my cousin Jenny and I discovered in January while I was down here apartment-hunting.

I drove down to historic downtown Decatur—a neat little town full of eclectic shops and restaurants. I ended up spending all my time in one place called Blue Moon Designs. I could've spent all day there! I definitely want to spend more time in Decatur. I wouldn't mind owning a house there.

I headed to N. Peachtree Street in midtown after having lunch at Rainbow Natural Foods in North Decatur. I located the vintage clothing store that I'd been looking for. It's called My! My! My! and is located near the gorgeous Spire building. I can't wait to take my sister to that place, too.

After that, I headed back toward North Atlanta where I live I was driving up Piedmont Road through the artsy area of midtown when I came across some guys holding up hand-made car wash signs on either side of the road. They were doing a good business in a side parking lot, and as I drove past them I realized why: they were wearing nothing but their underwear.

Yup, that'll bring in the customers! Too bad my camera was locked up in my trunk at the time.

I'm definitely enjoying Altanta. I think I'll stay a while. It's funny—this is the first place I've lived in five years that didn't make me miss New York so badly that I cried every time I watched an episode of CSI: NY.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stress-free Living in the South

Man, I haven't had a stress level this low since I can remember. I think that this is at least partially due to the relaxed Southern mentality that permeates my new world. (Plus being on a break from school.)

Life here is similar to being in laid-back Seattle, only without any pretentiousness. People here seem to treat each other with an equal level of respect and friendliness, no matter your social status. And this is coming from a near-Buckhead resident, where Bentleys and Ferraris are not a rare sight on the road.

So it's nice to have an easy-going life for a change. My job (albeit low-paying) is not demanding or full of the usual political B.S. that I'm so accustomed to in Corporate America. That's the advantage of working for a small start-up company. The risk for failure may be high, but the work has a certain sense of intrigue. And motivation is a natural component when you are an integral part of the start-up equation—your individual performance is critical, and your contributions can directly impact the company's success or failure.

The kitties are happy here, and so am I.

Jelly is the biggest whiner I know (besides myself)! Of course, that adorable face is hard to resist. Today is Sunday, and Jelly would not let me sleep past 7:30. She kept getting up in the bed to awaken me. I'd roll over to turn away from her and feign sleep. She would then proceed to stand up on me and push on my back with both her front paws. Repeatedly. And while squeaking loudly and with an increasingly whiney tone—like a kid on the candy aisle in the grocery store. She wanted a belly rub and wasn't going to stop pushing on me until I complied.

I finally gave in and rolled over. Jelly is so funny. She's the first cat I've met who likes to "spoon" in bed. She has recently developed this new routine, which plays itself out before I fall asleep, while I'm asleep, and again early in the morning when I'm trying to stay asleep. She jumps up on the nightstand, then over to the bed. If I'm on my right side, facing the nightstand, she plops down up against my front, stretches out, exposes her belly, and rubs the back of her head on my chin.

I'll start rubbing her belly. She'll start purring. But the problem is that the next automatic reaction on her part is to start licking. Jelly is a big licker. Whenever you rub her belly, she has to lick whatever object is closest to her, whether it be the hand of her masseuse, or Baby, or a pillow, or her own furry self.

Lick, lick, lick. I can't get her to stop! It's OK during the day, but at night it's kinda hard to fall back sleep with this spooning kitty licking my face or arm with that rough cat tongue. Last night (probably around midnight) I recall informing her, "I'm not in need of a microdermabrasion treatment at this time, Jelly," as she scratched my face with her motorized tongue.

She is a strange one, indeed. Sir Walter Scott was right: "Cats are mysterious kind of folk."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Moving to Atlanta has vastly increased my social activities (my social life rating has gone from about a 5 to an 80, on a scale of 100). In D.C., my idea of a social event was having my friend Rebecca over to my apartment to study for our computer-related law final exam. Although I did make a couple museum trips with friends from school. But that was about it!

Here in Georgia, I live near my 75-year-old parents, who live in a beautiful "active adult" community north of Atlanta and are busy, busy, busy—all the time. They are always going to parties, or hosting parties, or planning community events. Yesterday I attended the "Armed Forces Day" event that my dad helped plan at their swanky clubhouse. My mom and I helped serve the attendees (something I haven't done in 22+ years). Later, she and I went lap-swimming. So by the time I got home last night, I was pooped! I don't know how they do it!

I had just missed a big downpour by mere minutes driving home on the interstate with the top down. Whew!

Also nearby is my brother Dave and his family. They've had me over for dinner parties, baby-sitting, and other stuff. His house is a good place to meet up with my parents for events, like the Mother's Day dinner that Dave's wife planned at the Melting Pot. My adorable 4- and 7-year old nieces have active lives, playing pee-wee soccer on the weekends, which is fun to watch. Next weekend, we're all attending a crawfish boil (something I haven't done since I lived in New Orleans in 1996). The humidity is just starting to rear its ugly head, so I'll bet it's going to be hot that day!

We've had a beautiful, colorful spring here. I've enjoyed the weather so much. Living here, I've been spending a lot of time outdoors. Part of that comes from driving around in a convertible with the top down—something else I've enjoyed tremendously.

Between family time and work and enjoying the weather, I haven't taken much time to blog.

So what's new? For one thing, as of this month, we've had Jelly the cat for a year. She still hisses at Baby when Baby play-attacks her. It's a hoot to watch. Baby will go at her, baring teeth, jumping on the bigger cat. Jelly is a big rolly-polly. She immediately rolls onto her back, sticking her claw-less feet up in the air to fend off Baby's advances. Baby eventually gives up and falls over onto her side, as if to say, "Ok, your turn! Now you jump on me!" That's when Jelly gets up and walks away, in search of catnip. To this day, she will have nothing to do with Baby's form of rough play.

Me, I managed to lose 35 pounds since last August—basically by changing my intimate relationship with food. I was happy with the first 20 pounds, and started buying a new wardrobe then. That was a mistake, because the pounds kept coming off, slowly but surely. So I've had to spend money on yet another wardrobe. I got rid of probably hundreds of pounds of old clothes and basically just started over.

I'm working again, although at an 80% pay cut from my salary of two years ago. It's stress-free computer consulting work, and I like the people I work with, so it's a good gig.

My only stress comes from my Maryland townhouse, which is now worth $140,000 less than I paid for it. I have a lousy tenant who still doesn't understand that rent is due on the first of the month, not whenever she feels like paying it. I still haven't gotten May rent out of her. But I've had worse tenants (like the one who never paid at all, still requiring court appearances), so I'm dealing with it.

My sister-in-law Jacqui is back from Afghanistan, and I get to see her in less than three weeks when my nephew Matt graduates from high school. He's headed to the Citadel on an ROTC scholarship, so of course we're all beaming with pride. Meanwhile, his brother Jason is still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and can't wait to come home in August. I pray for him every night.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Quiet on the Set!

I thought when I left NY that I wouldn't come across any more movie sets. I was wrong. Comedian/actor Owen Wilson has been in town for nearly two months for the filming of a 2011 movie called "Hall Pass."

There is a beautiful neighborhood near me known as the Brookhaven Historic District. It bounds the golf course of the Capital Country Club. A couple weeks ago, I found the country club on a Google map and went to check it out—to see if it would be a good place to go walking. It was beyond good. I fell in love with the neighborhood and its tremendous homes. The streets are lined with dogwoods, cherry trees, and multi-colored azaleas. The lots are huge, and the homes are fantastic. This quickly became my running trail.

On Saturday I was doing my run when I passed a security guard and some seriously long electrical cabling at an empty lot on Club Drive NE. I asked the guard what she was guarding, and she said they were filming the movie "Hall Pass" there with Owen Wilson. "Owen Wilson!? I love Owen Wilson!" I told her.

On Sunday, when I jogged past her again, I asked her if she was still waiting for the crew to show up. She said, "No, they start filming tomorrow night." So, on Monday after work, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk up Club Drive.

Sure enough, large trucks came up behind me, heading to the filming destination. The road was marked "Closed," but that didn't stop the Jaguars, Mercedes, and Lexuses of Brookhaven from navigating their home streets. Nearing the set, I saw all the lighting equipment set up and the trucks lining the street. A stunt company vehicle passed me.

I spoke with one of the guys in charge, who was standing in the front yard next door toof the adorable yellow house where filming was to take place beginning after dark. He explained how they'd come in two weeks ago and planted that huge tree in the middle of the front yard of the yellow house, and that the owners were ecstatic about it. Of course, they were also happy about the fee they received to allow filming at their home. He pointed to the front yard, which was scattered with kids' toys and bikes, and told me, "Those are my props." I took pictures of the crew and their vehicles, which you can link to here.

Pretty cool. I didn't stick around long enough to see Owen Wilson, although he's been spotted several times in Atlanta since arriving in February, per several online blogs and news articles like Follow Owen Wilson and Christina Applegate To Atlanta's Hot Spots and Farrelly brothers and Owen Wilson bring Hollywood to Castleberry Hill (Atlanta).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Yellow Cars of Georgia

You don't live down here without knowing what a Neti pot is. I can't get over how bad the pollen is in the South. As of last week, all of the cars in Atlanta were coated with a thick layer of yellow stuff. I'd walk up to my car to get into it, and I could literally blow pollen off the trunk lid. There was so much of it that I didn't want to touch my door handles! And I park in a garage.

It's a strange sight to see people using their windshield wipers to clear the pollen off— as if it were snow. Getting the stuff off your car is impossible. It keeps coming back. It reminds me of how cars look in the Northeast after a big snow when they're filthy from the road salt and dirty snow.

Yesterday I couldn't take it anymore. I had a free coupon for a $12.95 car wash, so I used it. I knew the line would be long, but the wait wasn't too bad because there were about 20 people working there. When my car came out, it was blue again. I was ecstatic to be able to touch the door handles. I felt squeaky clean, like I'd just had a long shower.

So I put the top down, (only temporarily, because you don't want the pollen inside your car too), and I drove to my brother Dave's for a dinner party—at which one of the big topics of conversation was, you guessed it—allergies. By the time I left that evening to come home, the first light coat of yellow was already on the car.

Walking around in sandals in Dave's heavily wooded back yard yesterday, I came back to the house with yellow toenails (previously painted red), yellow feet, and yellow shoes (inside and out). After sitting on a porch swing, my jeans were coated with the stuff. Puffs of yellow smoke emanated from the denim as I slapped away the pollen.

My poor sister-in-law Judy is really suffering because of her allergies. In fact, "pollen count" actually makes the news here. They've been talking about it on the news for at least a week now, saying this will last another month. A bad day is a pollen count of 1,500 particulates per cubic meter. Last Wednesday, that number topped 5,000. We had a temporary reprieve on Thursday when it rained, but the pollen is back in full force now.

See the MSNBC Video: In South, worst pollen in years, where the "run" on allergy medicine is causing pharmacies to restock their shelves daily.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Meet Baby II, the "Bimmer"

I think I'm in love. Prior to this year, I'd never seen the inside of a BMW car before, much less driven one. In fact, for years I'd stereotyped BMW drivers as snobby speeders, zipping in and out of traffic with no regard for those of us in our practical Japanese cars or American hybrids.

Boy was I wrong. BMW enthusiasts know a good thing when they see it. The first time I drove one last month, I was in heaven. It was a used Arctic Blue 3-series convertible. The ride was smooth, the car a timeless beauty, and the attention to detail and owner comfort beyond exceptional. I had to have one.

I admit, I had similar feelings for the Mercedes CLK convertibles. Driving those cars was like walking on air. I now knew what I'd been missing all these years. I've owned Hondas, Toyotas, Datsuns/Nissans, Volkswagens, Ford trucks, a Ford SUV, a Ford hybrid, a Chevy, a Mazda, and even (briefly) a crappy GM sedan. But never a luxury car. Never a convertible.

Car shopping was a pain. It's a full-time job that is full of disappointments (at least three cars were sold out from under me during the process, including the Arctic blue one that I wanted). But it's also a chance to meet interesting people. There was Jimmy, the 67-year-old widower out in the country who asked me to a dance after test-driving his '99 Mercedes-Benz SLK. Although Jimmy was sweet on me, I decided against roadsters after driving that car—a two-seater just does not provide enough space around me. I wanted a four-seater convertible.

There was the 6'1" tall massive mountain of a woman from New Orleans with four cats who told me about the time she parked her brand new Mini Cooper in a friend's driveway in Florida. She'd left the top down when the automatic lawn sprinklers came on and drenched the inside of the car, ruining the radio. Bummer. I didn't buy that car, either. It was cute, but not me.

Yup, met lots of interesting folk.

Then there was the whore's car. I was stepping into a used blue 2006 BMW 325Ci convertible at an importer's lot when a middle-aged black woman with long hair stopped on the sidewalk directly in front of the parked BMW. She was staring intensely at the car—admiring it, I presumed. I said, "It's pretty, isn't it?" She said, "No." Interested in her opinion, I asked her, "What makes you say that?" She looked at me and announced, "Because that's a whore's car."

I couldn't stop laughing. Either she'd already been drinking that day, or she was a zealous Southern Baptist who thought I needed saving. Possibly both. When I told the dealer about it later, he apologized. I laughed, "I'm from New York - I've seen it all."

Two days later I went back and bought the whore's car. And I love her. One of the cool things about BMW is their 4-year 50,000-mile free maintenance program and warranty. Nice. I took it in and had a free inspection and oil change this past week. Talk about getting the red carpet treatment. This dealer's service department didn't hesitate to put me in a brand new white 2010 BMW 328i sedan to use as a loaner while they worked on my BMW.

Man, the sedans are even smoother rides than the convertibles! I almost felt fickle for enjoying it so much. Oh, and BMW doesn't return your serviced car to you without washing it first. Granted, the valet key copy I had made cost me 50 bucks, but for some reason I didn't mind paying it. (A master key copy would have been $175. Yikes.)

Lucky for me, the week I bought the car, my brother Dave introduced me to two neat women who own a startup technology company here in Georgia, and I found myself employed just five days later.

To top that off, it was 80 degrees and sunny today—literally a perfect day. I, of course, found an excuse to leave my home office and go to my brother's home office to pick up some network equipment for the job. I sure took my time on that drive! The sun felt great.

Yeh, yeh. I am fully aware that in about six weeks I'll be complaining miserably about how much I am sweating in the sweltering humidity here. . . .

Man, I can't believe how much I'm enjoying it here. Atlanta - of all places. Hmm.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hello, Prince Charles (and Other Dignitaries)

Apparently when General Stanley McChrystal stopped in at Camp Bastion and spoke to my sister-in-law Jacqui, he'd already heard about the fact that both she and her son Jason were deployed to Afghanistan. He sought her out and asked her about it. She was sure to tell the General, "If you see my son, tell him to write his mother." She really drove that point home, as you can see from the newspaper article referenced in my last post!

Man, she has a great sense of humor. But how else do you survive a war in the middle of a desert far, far away where you can't tell the good Afghans from the Taliban, and you never know if you're going to step on an IED and lose a limb?

Jacqui sent me email later today saying that her son's best Marine buddy Kevin, a machine gunner like Jason, was thrown from his turret when his vehicle struck and IED. His back was severely broken. Kevin was flown from Camp Bastion to Germany immediately for surgery. The good thing is, he still had some feeling in his lower extremities. I'll definitely be saying some prayers for that kid tonight.

Meanwhile, I had no idea that Prince Charles was as old as he looks in these photos. Here he is in Radiology, with my sister-in-law smiling behind him, to the left.

Family in the News!

Yesterday the Florida Times-Union printed an article about my brother Pete's family. It's pretty good, talking about how Pete's wife and son are both deployed to Afghanistan. Here's the link:

Mom’s in the war zone — but so is her son

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Southern Hospitality

I used think that the "southern hospitality" was a myth. Maybe I was living in the wrong part of the South. Either that, or I was just in a bad mood for a really long time.

I've been in Atlanta for four weeks now, and I have to say that I'm blown away by how friendly, outgoing, and approachable people are here. Today I was pumping gas (into my new car) at Costco. There was an SUV adorned with two flying American flags parked in front of me. The little old lady who owned the vehicle looked at my car, then looked at me and asked, "Do you watch TV?"

She proceeded to inform me of a recent news story describing how the static electricity created by getting in and out of the car caused a fire after a woman had gotten back into her car seat after engaging the gas pump. The victim (who was unhurt) failed to discharge the static by touching the door before going back to the pump. (See video here. Also, the full story is here.) In any case, this very sweet woman just wanted me to know about it so that I'd be safe at the pump.

Last night I was following my brother in his car to a local WIT meeting. Being new to the area and not having a navigation system in my car, I usually have a Google map printed out when heading to a new destination. I had the top down on my car. At a stoplight, I'd pulled out my map to see where we were when a woman in the car next to me asked me if I was looking for a particular street. She and her boyfriend, the driver, offered to help me find my way if I was lost!

A couple weeks ago, at the post office, I overheard the female postal worker at the counter casually (and sincerely) call a female customer "Sweetie."

Not to mention, I've had a number of positive interactions in retail businesses here. (Shocking!) I've been shopping for new clothes lately at Macy's, Filene's, Marshall's, and other department stores; 95% of the retail clerks I've come across have reached out to see if I need help. Oh, and they all spoke English. In D.C. there were a number of frustrating experiences where I couldn't communicate with a retail worker because she/he only spoke Spanish. That happened twice at two different Marshall's stores. Who hires people who don't speak English for customer service work?

I did encounter one rather strange individual while car-shopping last week. I'll save that story for another blog post. After all, I need to post pictures of my new, already beloved convertible!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Restoring Order

Wow, I just realized how long it's been since my last blog posting. Well, that's because I've been moving (yet again). I am officially in my 47th abode. Oh, and this is a new state for me—Georgia. So that makes 11 different states (plus Bermuda) that I've lived in.

Don't ask me how I ended up moving this far from New York, especially after I swore I'd never live any further south than Virginia ever again. I'm not a fan of sweltering humidity. Truth is, it's a lot more affordable to be unemployed in Atlanta than in D.C. or NY. So I blame the recession, combined with the absurd cost of living in the D.C. area, for my latest move. Plus I have family here that I don't get to see often enough.

The only thing I'm lacking at this point is a car. In the 12 days that I've been here, I've learned that Atlanta has THE worst public transportation system I've encountered. I live on a major arterial that runs right into Buckhead and out to the suburbs, and yet there is only one single bus I can hop on to go up the road. And that bus only goes about a mile before it's at the end of its route. Not to mention, it runs about once an hour. Pretty useless.

I live near a Marta train station, but the only time that will help me out is if I'm going to the airport. Everyone here agrees that the trains are pretty useless for commuting.

So a car will be a necessity here—something I haven't had to deal with in nearly three years. The insurance will be expensive. I found out that my medical insurance will increase by a whopping fifty percent. My renters insurance tripled. My apartment (plus storage) is 35% cheaper and 14% larger than my place in Virginia. At least the lower cost of housing makes up for the outrageous cost of insurance.

Baby and Jelly survived the trip, which was a 10-hour drive. Baby, as usual, made it quite clear to me that she was upset about moving. Cats are creatures of habit. They don't like sudden, drastic changes in their environment. Baby knew what was up the minute I started packing boxes in December. They were both unhappy about being stuck in a closet/bathroom on moving day.

Then when I put them in their carriers for the road trip that Saturday afternoon, Baby cried for nearly two hours of the 7-hour drive to a South Carolina motel. She finally gave up. The next morning she repeated the dramatic routine, but we were at my brother's place just 2-1/2 hours later, so it wasn't as big a deal.

At my brother's, we had an entire 1,700-sf finished basement apartment to ourselves. So I couldn't understand why the kitties hid under a bed on the cold tile floor, refusing to come out for about an hour. There was so much exploring to be done, so it was bizarre behavior for cats. I realized later that they were probably terrified because they could smell my brother's dog Buddy (a sweet, harmless yellow lab).

After the movers left my apartment that Monday, I went back to my brother's to gather up the girls for their final, brief car ride to our new home.

As soon as I took them out of their carriers and they saw (and smelled) our "stuff," they were ecstatic. There were boxes stacked everywhere, but the girls recognized our things, and thanked me profusely with extra affection for a couple days. Even Jelly, who has never been a "lap cat," crawled up on top of me while I was reading in bed that night and snuggled in on my chest, purring. That's a first.

So here we are. I'll be done unpacking, organizing, and decorating by the end of this weekend. My multitudinous bruises are finally starting to fade, and my sore muscles are starting to feel better. Moving is a tremendous amount of work (especially when your movers fail to produce enough manpower to do the job during the timeframe that you have the loading dock at your apartment reserved—but that's another story).

I'm off to visit my mom and dad (in my brother's borrowed car). Hmmm. It's been about 13 years since I lived within driving distance of my parents. That definitely means more gumbo for me! :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

White Hurricane

Today, 02-10-2010, it is warmer in Reykjavik, Iceland, than it is here—by 20 degrees. We are in a white-out; visibility has been as short as ten feet on the highways. The wind has been howling around my building and up through the elevator shafts all day. My apartment door has been vibrating and the wind whistling outside the windows since I woke up this morning.

Even though I live in a completely enclosed high-rise, trying to open my front door earlier today was difficult due to an invisible and powerful draft. I had to push hard to get back into my place.

We have been in a true blizzard since early this morning, and this afternoon we broke the record for the most snow in D.C. in one winter—the total is nearly 56" now.

Looking out the window, all there is to see is whiteness. Newscasters are interviewing people snow-boarding down hilly streets in D.C. Some guys were out there playing football in the bitter cold and swirling snow. One idiot was out for his regular jog. The news reporter interviewed him near some trail, and when the camera man pulled back, both the jogger and news guy were standing up to their thighs in snow. How do you jog in that?? Geez. That can't be healthy!

Last night the mail carrier didn't come till after I went to bed, so I finally did get a Law & Order DVD and a movie from Netflix. I am sure we won't get any more mail delivered for another couple of days. I spent the day packing and organizing my boxes and containers for my move. There is very little left to pack, and I still have a full nine days before the movers arrive to load the truck.

Here is an unusual sign in the elevator of my apartment building, and some pictures taken from the lobby: