Saturday, December 31, 2005

things that go through your head when you can't open your eyes

So it is nearly midnight here in Brussels and I haven't exactly ended this trip with a bang. We got to bed "tres late" last night and slept in till after noon. As soon as I woke up I made a very unfortunate discovery- I couldn't open my eyes. And then I recognized the very familiar signs of an eye infection... So Tara and Deborah went out and enjoyed their last day in town, and I stayed in with my eyes closed most of the day. Not asleep mind you, just with my eyes closed. Not that they will really fully close- they are too swollen for that. And they won't fully open either. So I've been hanging out listening to DVDs on my laptop with a warm rag over my slitted eyes all day. On the bright side, I've written an entire book in my head, and even managed to get several pages of it written out on paper (which is complicated seeing as I can't fully see the pages).

But let's talk about more fun things than my swollen nasty eyes. (But feel free to contemplate how it is I am going to navigate the airport (with Tara) tomorrow and driving home from the airport when I can't open my eyes like a normal person.)

I really do love traveling in Europe. I don't say this to be a snob, because trust me, I do this the budget way. I stay with friends, I buy the plane tickets on sale, and I don't buy anything here that I could have just bought in the States. I don't live the high life when I'm traveling.

But I truly love experiencing the new cultures. I try to shy away from the tourist attractions for the most part and see what the locals do. In other words if it says "English Menus Available" I most likely won't eat there. Here in Brussels I have discovered how very interesting it is that everyone speaks different languages. Both French and Flemish are the national languages and so every single sign, every announcement, etc are made in both languages. It has made me realize how incredibly annoying it would be if the US were to adopt a second language officially. (Although I'm an advocate of finally making English the official language.) Everyone here is very friendly and understanding when I don't speak their language, after all, every other person in Brussels doesn't speak their language. While I do think American school children should be required to learn a second language, I really don't believe we should make a second official language. But on the other hand, we should make our major cities more internationally tourist friendly. For instance, Metro fare card dispensing machines should be in multiple languages. Having had to deal with "metro" machines in 5 different countries now (3 on this trip), and only one having instructions in English, I have complete sympathy for new immigrants and tourists to our country who have not yet mastered the language.

Food is always one of my favorite adventures when traveling. On this trip I have discovered that french bread in France is a dozen times better than crusty hard french bread in the States. Here it is very soft and doesn't have such a sour taste as it can in the States. And hot chocolate varies greatly from country to country too. In Amsterdam it tasted more like hot water. In France it wasn't very sweet, and was served with 2 sugar cubes on the side. I had to put in both, and it still wasn't quite sweet enough. But in Brussels it is absolutely divine. The regular chocolate in all 3 countries was pretty much found in shops all over the place, and was equally wonderful in all 3 countries. I did get to live out my life long desire to try out some of the purest cacao found in a piece of candy. Trust me, this was such a dark chocolate that the store actually tried to convince me not to eat it. It wouldn't be good to most people. But being the dark chocolate connoisseur that I am, I ate it. It isn't something you eat to enjoy, let's put it that way. But it really was some amazing and pure dark chocolate.
Belgian waffles in Belgium are a hundred times better than Belgian waffles from IHOP or your home waffle iron. And somehow, French Fries are better in Belgium than in France.

I will never get tired of learning about new cultures and meeting people from different countries. I wish more Americans would and could travel and experience different walks of life. Just a few days in a foreign country would really open up the eyes of so many people. I will never forget when I was in Prague a few years ago watching TV. It was the day Saddam Hussein had been captured and I was watching the news coverage in a hotel room with a friend. The international news kept saying "The Americans claim to have caught Mr. Hussein in this tiny hole today." The disdain and unconvinced tone in the reporter's voice made it very clear that he did not think the American troops had really caught him. But if you turned on an American news website, it was more than clear that they had caught the real Saddam. I was so frustrated, and really wanted another American around to celebrate with. But instead there was no one there who could understand my happiness. Americans don't know how the rest of the world perceives us, which is unfortunate. They don't know that the only view most Europeans will ever have us is from the TV shows they get from us. That tends to be the more popular FOX syndicated shows, ie- X Files, 90210, and the West Wing. And we all know how representative those shows are of real life. When was the last time an American watched a popular Euro TV show? (Other than Wallace and Grommitt videos.) Do they have any idea what the day to day life is like for a German? Belgian? Brit? Probably not.

One of the more surprising aspects of this trip was discovering how much I loved Amsterdam. I never would have guessed that the true red white and blue American girl that I am would love a socialist country with legalized prositution, gay unions, and recreational drug use. Who would have seen that one coming? But in the end, the absolute charm of the canals, the beautiful old buildings mixed with tasteful modern buildings, and all of the alleys and shops, just won my heart. I couldn't help but think about the history of the city and the people there and where that city is today. Surprisingly, I learned a lot from the art. I've visited the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, and the Louvre this week. (Not bad for a girl who's actually not so much into art.) Which basically means I got to compare the artwork from the French and Italians of the 14-16th centuries to that of the Dutch 14-16th centuries. (For those needing better references, think Da Vinci's interpretation of religious events, or of all the religious paintings that involve multiple naked people, for the French and Italians, and "Girl with a Pearl Earring" for the Dutch.) One of the things that struck me as I looked at all of the Calvinist, Puritanical, Dutch paintings was how no one smiled. And the women rarely faced forward. There was one painting where the woman was not only facing forward, but she didn't look like a stiff board. This painting was considered to be racy and heretical in its day because the painter allowed the woman to look so informal and casual. How shocking! But at the same time, a few hundred miles to the south in other countries, the French are drawing naked angels and cupids into every picture possible. The Notre Dame is adorned with more beauties than one person can take in. But up in Amsterdam the Calvinists and Puritans are pulling out the tapestries in the cathedrals, and even destroying the organs. (Turning previously Catholic churches into puritan chapels.) Is it really surprising that the people in Amsterdam are so oppressed that they got on boats and left to establish new settlements in the Americas?

But now Amsterdam has almost no religion in it. I walked around all day there and can't remember seeing one church. (In all other European cities the churches are found everywhere!) They were the first to legalize gay civil marriages, recreational drug use, establish cannibus bars, and have legalized prostitution. Did you know that if a prostitute in Amsterdam contracts AIDS she is required to report it to her union, encouraged to "retire," and is given a subsidized flat to live in? This is done to help her find new employment and keep AIDS from spreading. All this in a country that a few hundred years ago found the painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring" to be shocking and racy.

Its an interesting lesson in what oppression and failure to compromise and create understanding will get you. Oh and just for the record, I never once saw a stoned man wandering the streets of Amsterdam. And the only time I was really aware of cannibus use was standing outside a youth hostel next to the Anne Frank house. (In other words, where no one but American youths hang out.) It wasn't a rampant problem with every other person you meet stoned on pot.

Among other things those are some of the lessons and thoughts that have gone through my head this week. Some other quick lessons I've learned- always bring a long shoulder bag, rather than a small purse, when sight seeing. Never assume that just bringing a pair of back up contact lenses will save you. Glasses are a better back up option. (which obviously i didn't bring with me) When you are debating on whether or not to bring long johns or another pair of shoes with you, the answer is bring both. And a trip is exactly what you make of it. If you knew the full details of this trip (lost luggage, bad weather in paris, eye infections, missing out on 2 of the things i wanted to do most, etc) you wouldn't blame me if I just wanted to whine and complain that it was a horrible trip. But instead, I've discovered that its all about how you want to see it and feel about it. I can laugh it off and make the most of it. So what if I spent a whole day in the flat unable to see anything? I now have a great story about how to blow up VCR's and make mac and cheese without directions in English. (Bev, if you are reading this, I have a lot of explaining to do.) I still had a fun trip. And on the bright side, it happened on the last day here, when I was too exhausted to do much anyway. It didn't all happen on Tuesday.

I'll be back in the States tomorrow, barring any unforseen mishaps (get it? un-fore-SEEN? i can't SEE anything. ha ha. i crack me up.) Bon annee everyone! And ciao y'all!

Friday, December 30, 2005

J'adore Paris. C'est freaking cold!

So today was Paris. J'adore Paris, which is saying a lot considering the day I just had.
In a nutshell-
Took the Thayls train from Brussels Midi (which in spite of being called "Mid-i" is not the same as Central. Took me 4 days to figure that one out.) to Paris Gare Nord. About 30 minutes into the trip the conductor informs us that our tickets are not tickets at all, and are merely reservations. So he just charges us 20 euros, and we're all good. And he tells us to buy a new ticket in Paris.
Once in Paris I split up from Deb and Tara. It was time for me to do a little adventuring and exploring for myself. As many of you know, I have a big State Dept exam coming up next week. My biggest fear is not in the taking of the exam, but in, what if I pass the exam? Do I really want to live abroad? Can I handle life alone in a foreign country? I've traveled plenty in Europe now, and experienced multiple walks of life here. But I've never been truly alone in Europe. Until today. So my biggest mission today was to see if I could just handle being alone in Paris without any assistance. I think I hacked it pretty well.l
I've heard horror stories about the Paris Metro system. I don't know if I'm just unusually talented, or really lucky, but I had no problems. I got on my first Metro and went straight to Notre Dame. Beautiful place. Loved it.
Then I decided to go for a walk. It was chilly out- actually freaking freezing, but nothing too difficult. A few blocks later it started to snow. Hmm... not so fun. So I saw a bus pass by right at that moment and decided to go for a little ride, to no place in particular. I got off on what appeared to be a busy street and went off to live out a few personal daydreams. My Paris agenda did not really include anything other than sitting in a cafe looking at the Eiffel Tower and writing. So I had to buy just the perfect Paris notebook. It took much longer than necessary. By the time I had bought a notebook and compared the chocolate in Paris to the chocolate in Belgique, I was frozen solid. So I kept on walking and ran right into the Louvre. To be honest, I had no desire to see the Louvre from the inside. But the Da Vinci Code fan in me really wanted to see the outside. And just as I got there (it is really hard to miss the Louvre- its only about 6 city blocks), the cold powdery snow turned into awful horrible miserable sleet and wind. I had no choice. I had to go in. You know how most art museums are quiet and almost reverent like? Well, the Louvre is nothing like that. Its loud, noisy, and out of control. I bought a ticket and went off in search of Mona. She was underwhelming. But it did strike me as odd that I was standing there looking at the most famous painting ever, while listening to REM "Stand" on my mp3 player.
It was in the Louvre that I completed the one task given to me by Big Brother. BB- I think you'll like it.
And then it was off to walk some more. I loved Paris. It was beautiful, and very reminsecent of DC. There really is no question that the same person designed both cities. I walked in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, in the snow, and freezing cold, and just enjoyed the day. I can't wait to post the pictures later.
And this is when and where the Real Erin Adventures take over. I decided walking was just not that fun, and I was freezing. So as close as I was to the Tour d'Eiffel, I decided to find a bus. Suddenly, my little bus stop had a visitor. He was a short little man holding a notebook and had a very drippy nose. He starts telling me that if he can draw my picture that he will be the next Pablo Picasso. Telling him "Non merci" really didn't get me anywhere. So finally I just gave in and let him draw my picture. So he makes me take off my hat, poses me, and starts a little pencil drawing, all while sitting in a bus stop. As most bus stops are, we were right at an intersection. Cars kept pulling up and watching as he "made me a beautiful portrait." Including the French Gendarmie- who proved to be just plain old typical men, and hung out of their windows (in the freezing sleet) and whistle and cheer at me. I felt so special. (How did I know it was the Gendarmie? It was clearly marked on the side of their cars.) So the drippy nosed man, finishes my "beautiful portrait" (that looks nothing like me), and his nose drips on the picture!!! He wipes it up, and gives me my drawing. He points me in the direction of the Tour d'Eiffel, and I got back to walking. I finally got there, completely frozen to the core. And the Tower is closed for bad weather. But I have to admit, its almost a relief, because it just looked too cold up there! So I found me the perfect little cafe, had a little tart, hot chocolate, and wrote several pages to what will surely be my personal masterpiece.
I can't begin to tell you how cold it really was out there. Suffice it to say, I've been indoors for 4 hours now, and my feet are still tingling funny. I never want to be cold again!
I have much more to say on this day, including a funny bathroom story, but for now, its 2 am here, and I've yet to figure out the train schedule for tomorrow. I don't even know which country I'm headed to tomorrow! Netherlands? Luxembourg? Stay home and sleep in?? Decisions decisions!!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Amsterdam- Day #3 of the European Adventure

I can't begin to describe how exhausted I am, and how slow this computer is. Therefore, this will be a short entry. We took the train to Amsterdam today. It took 3 hours to get there. We saw the Rijks-something museum, which is basically all Dutch art. Much to my surprise, I loved it. If I had a little more energy, I'd tell you who and what paintings we saw. But not right now. But I will say that I got to see some of my favorite kind of art- Delft plates. (More on that later.) After that we saw the Van Gogh museum, which really didn't do much for me. He just wasn't my kind of painter. I'm just not into dark landscapes.
From there we had lunch, walked about, visited the town for fun, and hit the Anne Frank museum. We discovered that Amsterdam is truly a beautiful and enjoyable city. The canals are everywhere, very clean, and just quaint. Bicycles rule this town- and Deb can attest that they stop for no one. We had some snow today, which just added to the quaint beauty of the city. Sadly, we ran out of time and never made it over to the Red Light District, or into one of the famed "Coffeshops." (where they sell a lot more than coffee) But we are in the process of reconsidering our plans right now, and may just go back there for more- we loved it that much.
Until then- my rosy red cheeks are telling me I am beyond exhausted.
Oh- but I did finally break something today (it was only a matter of time really). (for those who don't know about me and my travels- i tend to break odd things accidentally in the worst of situations) This time I managed to accidentally knock a door handle off in the Anne Frank museum. It made a loud tumble sound and alerted an entire somber room of tourists to my presence. So my work here is done. Finally.
Off to Paris tomorrow! Two lucky blog readers will be the recipients of my phone calls from atop the Eiffel Tower. (keeping alive a long standing tradition of calling friends from the tops of famous places) And one blog reader probably knows exactly what it is I can't wait to "just do" tomorrow. There is a little life long daydream that I get to live out tomorrow. I can't wait!
And if a certain "Big Brother" is reading, I have finally figured out what it is I will do that only you will get to know about. You will be quite proud of my "out-of-shell-ness."
Until then- au revoir!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

European Whirlwind Day 2

Today we hit Brugges, (or Bruge or Brughes, depending on your language), a quaint little town in the Flemish countryside. It was about an hour from Brussels. When I finally can upload my pictures, you will be able to see the incredible bell tower we climbed, and all the little things that make this town a "must see" Belgian adventure. We visited an art museum, did massive amounts of shopping, visited nearly every chocolate shop known to man, and just enjoyed the culture of the city.

One of the crazier highlights of the day- walking down a little shop lined street in Brugges and spotting something "not right" in the window. Deb and I both stopped and stared for a second before it hit us. In the window of this little Asian convenience store (and you thought they only had those in the States), there was a very familiar picture of Jesus Christ. Or at least a picture very familiar to Mormons. And then next to it was another very familiar picture of Christ. And another. And then a picture of the (mormon) Salt Lake City Temple. We pointed at it for a minute, and then the shopkeeper, a young Asian woman, mouthed to us "I'm Mormon." Or at least, that is what I think she said. We sort of yelled back "We're Mormons!" But with the hustle and bustle of a crowd, we'll never know what she heard.

So far, other than the SLC Temple sighting, there have been no "typical Erin" adventures on this trip yet. No crazy stories about breaking toilets (Romania), getting locked in strange buildings (Prague), or otherwise surreal moments (the rest of my Romania experiences). But give me time. There's still 3 more days for me to cause an international incident. I'm sure something will happen eventually. I can't leave the country for 6 whole days and not have something happen. I mean, you don't really think the little Mormon girl can go to Amsterdam without something funny happening, right?

Tomorrow we are off to Amsterdam, where the Anne Frank house, the Van Gogh museum, another art museum I can't pronounce, and the famed "red light" district await us. And more shopping- of course.
My luggage arrived very early this morning- YEAH! So I did have clean socks and things to wear today. We seemed to have mastered the tram-metro-train system here, which is quite a feat, as nothing is in English. And we have even experimented speaking in our very limited French, and that, surprisingly, hasn't caused an international incident yet either!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

J'arrive a Bruxelles

I have arrived in Brussels. My luggage has not though. In spite of that, Tara, Deb and I have managed to see the Mannequin Pis, Maison du Roi, and tear up the town with our chocolate shopping and other shopping.
Hopefully my luggage will be kindly delivered to my door in time for our trip to Bruges tomorrow. Otherwise, I'm gonna have some seriously stinky socks.
So far it has been a good trip. I just really can't wait to see my suitcase again.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

What I Got for Christmas

One of the little thing out there people don't know about me is my love for old movies. When I moved into this apartment I really wanted to finally have an apartment that represented me and my personality, rather than the eclectic mix of roommates' preferences. So I painted and decorated this place myself. (With a lot of assistance and input from my mom.) Last year I got lots of apartment decorations, and wasn't really expecting anything for this year. So you can only imagine my surprise when I got a few new men to hang on my walls. (ps- there were other gifts, such as a wonderful homemade blanket by Mom, and a digital camera, and more. But this post is about my new men.)

Cagney and Bogart (in a vintage Italian movie cover)

Fred and Ginger came to join me last year (as did James Stewart in "Vertigo," and several album covers). Cagney and Bogart and Colman were new additions this Christmas. This is my favorite wall- I painted it all by myself. Please note my handiwork along the ceiling.
 Posted by Picasa

What girl's apartment of vintage movies wouldn't be complete without Clark Gable on her wall? Posted by Picasa

The One and Only "Rebel Without a Cause" Posted by Picasa

and one black eye (while hanging the pictures)- should look great in all those pictures in Europe this week Posted by Picasa

Happy Birthday to Sherpa

And a Happy Christmas to the rest of you!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Shoe Dilemma

When packing for a vacation, at what point do you determine if you are taking too many shoes?
Tonight is my only chance to pack for the big BeNeLux trip, and I am rushing around making sure I have every little thing I will need while there. Having flown to Europe a few times in the past, I have discovered how much I truly hate being stuck in an airplane for hours on end. First, US to Europe flights are overnight flights- sort of. If you consider getting in a plane at 5 pm Eastern time, and landing at midnight Eastern time (7 am local), overnight. In other words, just about the time I should be getting tired for the night, its time to get up and get going. So I've tried the sleeping pill route- which is why I don't remember much from my trip to London. (I fell asleep in some museum place and my travel companions left me there and continued sight seeing. And never saw St Paul's Cathedral because I was so sleepy I couldn't climb the five berzillion stairs.) I tried the stay up all night the night before getting on the plane- and then ended up in a center seat on the flight to Prague, and couldn't fall asleep wedged between complete strangers for 9 hours. (And then was so cranky once I got to Prague that I actually started crying when I saw my meager motel room.) So I'm not sure what route I will take on this upcoming trip.
But back to my original problem. Shoes. It is imperative when stuck in one seat for 8 hours that you dress very comfortably, but more importantly, you must also be prepared for what meets you on the other side. I'm sure you are all envious, but the weather in Brussels is predicted to be a high of 40F, and snowy every day we are there. Which means I have to be dressed warmly upon landing, and the shoes must be good for snow. And don't even get me started on packing luggage and how to shuffle it from car to plane to train to metro and through a strange city. So right now I have the following on my bed waiting for me to decide if it gets to go to Europe-
My large pink fluffy boots- I think I will wear them on the plane, and bring slippers to change into. They should be good for arriving in Belgium and navigating snow. But they are large, and not necessarily great for sitting in for long periods. (Hence the slippers for the plane- for anyone who has never flown internationally- its normal and common for people to wear slippers on overseas flights.)
My sexy black boots- We do have some clubbing and after hours ambitions in a few cities. These are required accessories (to be worn with my faux black fur thingy). But they take up a lot of space, and cannot be worn for walking and sightseeing.
My favorite adored black Born clogs. These are the world's most comfortable shoes. I have worn them while standing on my feet for 8 straight hours and never even felt an ounce of pain. (Why do we say "ounce of pain?" We never compare it to say, "pounds of pain." I don't get it.) I love these shoes. BUT- clogs? Snow? I don't know. Not so smart. But if we're talking hours and miles of walking, these shoes rock. They are going for sure, even though I'm not sure why.
My other favorite Borns (have I mentioned how much I love my free Born hook up recently?)- ballet flats. I don't really have an outfit to wear them with, but just in case my feet hurt and I can't wear the boots, the flats become a necessity for dancing. These shoes are a pre-emptive strike so I don't feel compelled to buy more shoes while in Europe. (Oh that is a funny one. I'm making myself laugh! Me not buy shoes! Ha!)
Now, none of the shoes I have mentioned are really very good for sight seeing in snow and rain. So I have packed another pair of black walking shoes. They aren't Borns- probably Payless. They are decent shoes, and a pair I wouldn't mind getting ruined from all the walking. And if the weather is really bad, I'll have the pink boots as back up, right?
So 5 pairs of shoes. For a 6 day trip. There's nothing wrong with that, right?
And then there's the coat issue. Knowing that we will probably get wet and cold, I think I should take 2 coats. One coat to wear, one for back up. Right? But 2 coats? There is a luggage limit. Because using the back up theory, I also have to take 12 outfits for a 6 day trip. Which is why it has taken me 3 hours to pack so far...

How can this be considered newsworthy???

The Perils of Hunting on High

This article made it to the front page of the Washington Post today. And for the life of me I don't see how it is newsworthy! "Men fall from tree stands." Big freaking deal! If this is newsworthy, are we about to also be inundated with articles about the "perils" of bowling? Tennis? "Two percent of drunk men who bowl will drop their ten pounder balls on their own foot and shatter their big toe." "An old man playing tennis pulled his hamstring."
Seriously! What is the point of this article?!?! It wasn't condemning hunting- shockingly enough. Is it just trying to find another way to taint hunting? Make guns look bad from a distantly related angle? I really don't get it. Its a boring article that tells you nothing more than "When people climb high into trees some will fall and land hard and suffer injuries as a result." Maybe the newsworthy part of this article is that some city kid just discovered there is something called a tree stand that gives hunters a better advantage, and is hoping that this insipid article will incite and enrage some activist group into banning tree stands. (But with a name like Partlow, this reporter is probably related to the rural VA clan of the same name that has towns and streets named after them throughout the state, and is anything but "city." Maybe that is the problem- the reporter went Democrat and got expelled from his backwoods family.) Guess what, hunting has been around since the dawn of time, and its not going away. If you ban tree stands, men will just climb a tree. So how about we just let them do it safely in their stands?
If this is interesting and newsworthy maybe I should write an article on how many people get tetanus when their fishing lures prick them. Would that make it to the front page too? Or should I write an article about how women burn their foreheads with curling irons?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I Owe Someone a HUGE THANK YOU

I left work early yesterday to attend Jack's viewing. (Which was very nice, I might add.) When I arrived in the office this morning I had a large plain brown wrapped box waiting on my desk. All I can see is that it shipped from a Mailboxes Etc in Arlington (not too far from where I live). There is no return name, card, or anything. Confused and thinking it was a business related package, I ripped it open. Had I expected it to be a Christmas gift I would have waited till Sunday morning. Much to my surprise, the first thing I saw was my own blog, printed up and staring at me. And then I noticed the beautiful set of dishes. I have no idea what to say! I have my own special Santa! They are wonderful dishes! I just don't know what to say!!
So to this wonderful person, who clearly must read the blog, I say thank you! How kind and generous of you! You've just made my whole Christmas!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

most pathetic single girl story ever

The pizza and sub place I always order from called yesterday. "Pretty lady, where you been? We not see you long time!"
I explain I've been really busy lately.
"Okay pretty lady, we just make sure you okay. We miss the pretty lady. You want dinner tonight? For you pretty lady, half off tonight."
I say I'll call them as soon as I get home.
Two hours later I was happily fed (for half off), and asleep on the couch by 8:30.

My home teachers haven't noticed I've been gone. But the pizza place- they miss me.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What You Can Get Me For Christmas

With Christmas approaching I thought it only fair to enlighten you with my Christmas wish list. As a single "career" woman on a seriously limited income I am constantly torn between asking for the completely practical things that I need, and just can't afford, and the things that I want, but cannot justify into purchasing when there are so many things on my "needs" list.

The Practical List

1. Shoe rack. I live in an ancient tiny Arlington apartment with absolutely primitive closet space. My shoes are taking over the place and are in desperate need of their own housing now. A good example of what go get me can be found
here .

2. Oil Change Gift Card. Seriously, how much more practical can a girl get? I have a car. It needs oil.

3. To put tires on my car is close to $400. That would put me in the poorhouse!
Tires .

Pink Coat You don't want me to freeze do you?

5. Dishes. My roommate's cat has an amazing knack for breaking dishes. I used to have a full set of glasses, cups, plates, etc. Now I have plates and mason jars.

6. And in the really practical category- grocery store gift cards. If you really want to give me a gift that will last all season, give me groceries.

The Less than Practical List

2. How can I justify buying myself
this bed when I need tires?

3. Grimm's Fairy Tales. Every day when I work at that store I can't mention I see this beautiful leather bound edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Its only $35 full price. If I don't get it for Christmas, I'm getting for myself for my birthday, in approximately 30 days.

4. And because I am a single woman, I must add the obvious last request.

I'm really not such a complicated person to shop for. I like insanely practical gifts. And cash. I am going to Europe in just 7 days. Cash is the best gift EVER right now.

More Positive Article on Jack's Life obit on Jack Anderson

This is the obit that ran on CNN today. I like this one better than the one in the Post. You would think the Post would have run a more favorable one considering that was his home for so many years. But that article is actually fairly negative. This one shares some of the more interesting aspects of his life.

Howard Kurtz also ran his own personal story on Jack today in the Post. You can read it
here .

I've been thinking today about what interesting and influential personalities I have had the good fortune to be around. Obviously Jack in his distant relative way has had a profound impact on me. But I've also had the opportunity to intern for Congressman John Doolittle, that I highly respect. He's a man that it is hard to find fault with. If you have ever spent much time in his presence you know that this is a man who will never get caught up in a scandal or muckracked in the papers. (or be called out in a Jack Anderson column) I've also worked with Pat Buchanan, who for all his faults, and whatever you may say about him, is a great journalist and writer as well. I'm not so sure that my politics are still entirely in line with Pat's. But getting to work near and under him, and even in the same car or room as him occasionally, was also a good experience. Working for Pat's 1996 GOP Presidential nomination campaign gave me an insider's view on who really makes up the leadership of this world. It also exposed me to the likes of EJ Dionne and David Brody (I worked in the press office). Is it any wonder with all of these influences that I chose to major in Political Communication and Broadcast Journalism?

Of course it does beg the question as to how it is I chose to leave real journalism to become an event manager for a gun company with a side gig as a romance advice columnist...

But when I think about the true exposure I have had to the "real world" I tend to get annoyed with the Monday morning quarterbacks and the armchair coaches of the political world who sit around and act like they know anything. I have a few friends who apparently know everything about the inner workings of government and what a politician's true motive was. To them I ask, "When was the last time you had dinner with a politician? When was the last time you worked in one of their offices? When was the last time you had a hunch something not right was going on and had to dig to find the story? When was the last time you actually worked for the government? Or in politics?"

Saturday, December 17, 2005

saying goodbye to someone i hardly knew

Investigative Journalist Jack Anderson, 83, Dies

Someone I hardly knew, but looked up to a great deal, passed away today. Jack Anderson is a cousin of mine, but I've always known him just as a "great uncle." I've only met Jack a few times, but I have been very aware of him my whole life. When I was a little girl he had a political column that ran in the funnies section of the Washington Post. Every day I attempted to read his column, which was way over my head. But it always stuck with me that I was related to someone that was "smart" or "cool" enough to have his own column. As I've gotten older and discovered my own love and hopeful talent for writing, its never been lost on me that I am related to the famous and important Jack Anderson. Granted, he never got the fame Woodward and Bernstein got, but his work was always as important. He was my first lesson that not all people get the respect and attention they deserve.

My only true memory of Jack happened on TV. I think it happend on his own TV show, but I'll have to find someone who can verify that fact for me and fill in the rest of the details. But he was interviewing Senator Dole inside the Capitol building about how safe and secure the building was. He asked "so could someone get a gun in here?" And Senator Dole told him no, that the building was secure. And then Jack pulled a gun out of his pocket, and asked "What about this one?" The senator jumped a foot in the air. I was only 10 or 12 at the time, and excited to see my cousin on TV. But that was all I ever had to know about him to know that he's a cool guy.

I have fleeting memories of Jack from family events. He was a gray haired older man with a big voice and a lot to talk about. We have a ginormous family and so it wasn't possible to know much about every member of the family. But later on as an adult I ran into "Uncle Jack" at some political events and went up and introduced myself to him. I'd always say, "I'm Erin McBride" and then pause to see if he would take the bait. Each time he would stop, shake my hand and look me over to decide if I looked like one of those McBrides, or if my last name was just a coincidence. He always figured it out first that I was one of those McBrides and was very nice to me.

And on a sidenote, Tara of "Tara's Page" fame is also closely connected to Jack. Her father worked very closely with him for many years. I knew of Tara for years because of this, without actually ever knowing her. But now I know her just fine, and can't wait to start our European vacation together next week.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Vote for Jason's Stepdad!

Body-for-LIFE Challenge America Votes

Jason's stepdad entered the Body-for-Life Championships a few months ago. He made it into the top 15, and now he's made it to the top 6! If he wins he gets $1,000,000 which he will use for a liver transplant for his son (Jason's stepbrother).

Click on the link above and go vote (each day) for Russel Pendergrass!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

MyPartyPost- Video Clip- Best Christmas Lights Display Ever

MyPartyPost- Video Clip- Best Christmas Lights Display Ever

This little webpage has just made my entire Christmas. Nods to Hardy for the enlightenment.
Seriously, this is a link worth checking out. Otherwise, you are missing out!!

Which is more fun?

The co-worker who thinks I work from home in the nude?
Or the little asian man who couldn't remember the word for "tango" at the bookstore tonight, so instead he demonstrated it for me?

Monday, December 12, 2005

You know you must be doing something right when...

You know you must be doing something right when you get hit on while pumping gas, AND you get three snaps and a whistle from a co-worker.

(Man, I really gotta figure out what it is I did different today.)

You know its a good day when...

You know its a good day when you get "3 snaps AND a whistle" from a male counterpart.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Last Sunday

I've been debating about telling a funny story about something that happened to me last week. The problem is that while I know most of the people that read this blog, I don't quite know all of them. And while its incredibly self-centered to say this, I am worried that this little vignette from the life of a single girl may be read by some of the people involved. (I just don't have Smash's courage!) So this version of the experience will be slightly un-detailed so as to protect some of the characters who may or may not have been innocent.
As I think most of my dear blog readers know I am in a family congregation at church. I used to be in a congregation (ward) just for singles for nearly 10 years. In the singles ward I was just any other person, and meeting new guys depended entirely on physical appearance and my own friendliness that day. But now in the family ward I pretty much haven't met a decent LDS guy in 8 months.
But then last Sunday a new guy was baptized and made a member of our church. Someone politely informed me that he is single and therefore I should make sure to invite him to some of the activities set up for singles. After all, I am the singles activities co-chair. So I made a mental note to find him after church and invite him to the activities.
The minute church was over a woman I have never seen before grabbed me by the elbow and insisted she introduce me to another woman. It was actually important that I meet this woman, so I let her steer me around the church house for several minutes till we found the woman in the parking lot. I met her, we chatted, etc. I then turned back to the church and said, "Thanks for reminding me, I am also supposed to meet Brother X today."
This stranger woman (who, just for the record, reminds me greatly of Mrs Bennett from the BBC Pride and Prejudice) lights up like a Christmas tree and says, "That's right! He's single!" And goes with me back into the church to find him. I was a little surprised at her helpfulness, but was glad for it because she recognized him before I did. But then she introduced us.
"Brother X, this is Erin- she's single!" And then she stood there beaming like she had just done a great thing.
I shifted horribly uncomfortably, smiled, and politely introduced myself further. Stranger Woman walked a few feet away, but continued to watch us from her safe distance. I talked to him for all of about 30 seconds when a car pulled up just a few feet away from us. (We were outside on the steps.) The driver, a man I know well, jumps out of his car, runs over to us and very breathlessly says, "Brother X, Erin, Erin, Brother X. You're both single!"
I try really hard not to blurt out something inappropriate like, "DUH!" And instead just smile again. Car man quickly grabs a nearby grandchild, puts it in the car, and takes off. Brother X is starting to look a little overwhelmed so I try to deflect the uncomfortable situation with a joke. "Well, if that wasn't embarrassing, I don't know what is!"
Well, Brother X didn't laugh, and instead just looked more embarrassed. So much for that one. So I quickly wrap up the conversation, introduce him to a nearby single guy, and said goodbye. I felt pretty bad for Brother X. Our congregation has over 600 people in it, and I'd guess a good 400 probably came up and shook his hand that day. Heaven only knows how many of them also told him I am single.
I don't mind their good intentions. In fact, I think its rather cute that people I don't know would want to introduce me to what appears to be a decent, smart, good looking, LDS guy. Its just their approach that bothers me. I seriously doubt any of those people know that they really embarrassed both of us with their well meaning remarks. I hope Brother X comes back tomorrow, only so I can smile at him from across the room, and not talk to him and make him feel uncomfortable. I'd hate for him to think I am some charity case that everyone is throwing in his path.
But hey, on the bright side, we may have finally got a decent single guy in my congregation! After 8 whole months, this great new "throw the singles into the family wards" thing actually had one thing go right. Well, assuming we didn't run him off already.

Friday, December 09, 2005 Alone in the Pews -- Dec. 12, 2005 -- Page 1 Alone in the Pews -- Dec. 12, 2005 -- Page 1

Once upon a time any news article about Mormons was so negative and biased that I found most to be incorrect and offensive. The LDS (Mormon) Church has come a long way in the last 5 years becoming more and more recognized as mainstream by society, particularly by the news media. This is thanks in large part to the president and prophet of our church, Gordon B. Hinckley, making it a goal to "rise the church up out of obscurity," and to Larry King marrying a mormon girl as his 20th wife.

Just showing how far up out of obscurity the church has come, Time magazine this week did an article just on the singles in the LDS church. I pretty much agree with everything stated in the article. But mostly I am just amazed that Time would find my lot in life newsworthy.

On the bright side...

So first the car breaks down again... on the way to my second job. Never made it to the job that would have paid for the emergency repairs. And then it snowed 7 inches in my neck of the woods last night. I guess our landlord just neverthought to rake up the berzillion leaves that fell on our walkway before the first snow hit this week. So we have a mountain of leaves on the walk, covered by ice and snow from the first storm. But no worries, at 4 am this morning I woke up to the lovely sound of some machine scraping the sidewalks. So that is the bright side... they cleared our sidewalks finally. (The last 2 days have been life threatening just to get to the door to our building.) However, for some unknown reason they choose not to clear the parking lot. I guess they decided since they did that earlier this week they shouldn't have to do it twice. So the 7 inches fell on top of the massive ice patches that formed behind the cars when the first plows went by burying the cars in the lot. I'm not joking when I say my apartment complex has become a death trap.

I know, not my most exciting or entertaining post ever. But its been a rough week. I'm really not a fan of snow. It just causes pain and misery and frostbite from what I can tell. Has anything good ever come from snow (except when you were a kid and school got closed)? No. The earth NEEDS rain. The earth NEEDS sun. But no one has ever said, "What we really need is a little snow." (Shoot, now I just got that stupid song "We Need a Little Christmas" stuck in my head.)

Happy Thoughts-
Its Friday.
I have play time scheduled in tomorrow. (assuming I don't go too broke from these car repairs.)
I like my rental car.
17 days till Belgium
Hot Chocolate will cure most bad moods.

Other Thoughts-
Paul McCartney is a great musician. I have worshipped the Beatles since I was old enough to push the Oldies radio station button in the car. (Granted I was 13 before I found out there was music other than the oldies to listen to, thanks to my dad.) But the worst song in the entire world is that synthesizer disaster, "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime," by McCartney's useless band, "Wings." It blows my mind that one of the greatest modern musicians wrote, sang, and produced that amateur disaster.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I am Lady Grace

Tonight was the big ice skating activity. All I have to say is - I'm gonna hurt tomorrow. I have a new found respect for those little skating twigs, apparently flying around like a wood nymph on crack actually takes talent. I only move about the ice as if on crack. I remembered why it is I only love to watch ice hockey, and not actually play it.
Tara- great job. And thanks for the fun conversation. I promise to get better before cracking the ice in the canals.
Sherpa- we must do it again soon. Always a pleasure.
Jules- You're the only one getting the very first joke in here. Unless one of my cousins has fallen victim to it to.
(And I'm not being snarky at all!)
Everyone else- sorry for the inside jokes.
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Everybody dance now!

This is a GREAT laugh!!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Just a City Country Girl

I've been thinking lately about whether or not I am a country girl living in the city, or a city girl who wants to be in the country. And I've come to the conclusion I'm just a City Country Girl. I grew up in the suburbs, which means I'm neither city or country. It means I'm just Fairfax to the core. Of course, unless you are from one of the surrounding counties, you just don't get that. It means I came from a county in the heart of a metropolitan area, so I had all of the amenities of a big city at my doorstep, or at least within a 20 minute drive. But "my people" are all from the country. I'm the second oldest of 40-something first cousins on my dad's side, and 3rd oldest of 20-ish cousins on my mom's side. And I'm probably only 1 of maybe 8 total that don't have a southern accent (regardless of which state they were born in). My mom's people all hail from backwoods Mississippi (pronounced properly "miss-sippi"),where we grew watermelons (pronounced "wuhder-meluns"), and ate black eyed peas and cornbread with every meal. I have distinct memories of shelling the peas every evening after dinner while sittin' on the front porch watchin' absolutely nothin' go by. So how can I possibly be considered a city girl?
Well, I do love the city, and like to think that my little neck of the suburbs is considered city living. Parking is not plentiful, white kids are in the minority, and we have a crime problem. That's city, right? I can walk most everywhere I want to go (except work). There are opportunities and diversity all around. I definately have a city girl in me.
But the question remains, am I a city girl? or a country girl? Well, let's see. I live in the city, but I volunteer at a po-dunk fire department. (a trait inherited from my miss-sippi grandpa.) But Gretchen Wilson I am not. I am not looking for a "man with a skoal ring" to say the least. But I do like the values of such a man. I like the men who want to have a family with the same values I was raised with. I think it would be a shame to have a family that didn't know the joys of having their own family mountain, or what it is like to sit around and sing Kenny Rogers songs and play guitar. And somehow that just doesn't hit me as a city girl thing to do.
So I've decided I'm a City Country Girl. I live in the city for now, but I'd die without the country nearby. The only tolerable part about the city is knowing that I can escape to the country any old time I want.


If I ever get time, I need to start my own Blog, and stop stealing this one.

But, stolen sweets taste the best.

I wanted to post a bunch of random thoughts...but they escape me. So here are a few that have been retained.

Is there ever a shortage of people that pont out what needs to be done better?

Is there ever anyone that cares WHY it is not getting done?

Aint it way cool to be wearing shorts in December!

A man who I respect, and consider a true leader, once explained his thoughts about life, and working. Have fun, make money, and change the world and always keep family first. You can not understand how important these things are.

I love watching the news, all the hate, violence, killings and stupid stuff makes me feel better about me.

I am reaching deep here, this might scare some.........Throwing away all things, hold to these only which are few; and besides bear in mind that every man lives only this present time, which is an indivisible point. All the rest of his life is either past or it is uncertain. Short is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame. This is only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.

Still remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. The longest and shortest are thus brought to the same.

It takes ALOT more than this..............Just Bring it.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

LOST Reunion

Speaking of things I am addicted to... LOST. (and then this really stupid show called "Reunion" that should be canceled for its horrible acting and predictable story lines.) LOST is too addicting. I'm thinking way too much about it. Today I watched a couple of back episodes, and I have a few questions. And since I know half of you are addicted to it as well, I appeal to you. I was watching the episode of the "other side" of the island's first 40 days. When they opened the trunk in the bunker, they pulled out a glass eye. Does anyone have any theories or clues to this one?!?!?! The blanket- big deal. The filmstrip- we have an answer (and Locke is an idiot... "what were the chances..."). But a glass eye?!?
Did anyone else catch whats-his-face on the TV in the background of Kate's dad's office? Or catch what was being said about him?
Open solicitation- does anyone have last year's LOST episodes, or Sex in the City (second or third seasons)?

Next, is anyone watching the wretched show "Reunion?" How can amazing, quality, hilarious programming like "Arrested Development" get canceled by Fox, and yet they keep that horrible show "Reunion" on it?? That being said, my TiVo keeps picking it up, so I keep watching it. Its seriously horrible acting with obvious scripts. (It makes me keep up hope that if I ever have the discipline to actually write out my own show idea and submit it the right way, I could sell it.) But just in case anyone else is watching that awful show, who do you think shot her?

What a Saturday should be

Today I finally had what a Saturday should be. I slept in. I played Su Doku puzzles (more on this addiction later). I knitted (almost done with someone's Christmas present). I watched my TiVo (more on this later). I went to the mall. I ran errands. I bought groceries. I went to the bank. I took a nap. I cleaned out my car. I did laundry. I caught up on 10 chapters in my Book of Mormon reading (actually I listened to it while knitting). And while it may sound like that was a lot, it really wasn't. Most of it was all done within an hour. It was great. I had a normal person's Saturday, which I have been seriously in need of for a long time now. Ooh, and I stuck to my diet all day. Haven't cheated once!!

Now for the important stuff in life. Like Su Doku puzzles. First, if you aren't yet addicted to Su Doku, its clearly because you haven't tried yet. For your online entertainment, I give you this- . (Some day I'll be smart enough to know how to make hyperlinks, but for now, I don't.) I became acquainted with these "number crosswords" about a month or so ago. Since then I have bought 2 different books, plus played them online. If you are going to try them online for the first time, let me just say that they are much easier on paper, where you can erase and make little notes all over the place.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I made it to purgatory!

Like so many of my cyber-friends this week, I have taken the Dante's Inferno Test. And apparently I am going to Purgatory, where I will be joining Panini, Ruby G/Sherpa, and Tara. At least I'll be keeping good company there.

The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to Purgatory!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Extreme
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)High
Level 2 (Lustful)Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Very Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Very Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Low
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

The Mormon Girl, Coffee, and Purple Hair

At my "other job" at the bookstore that I am not suppose to name on personal website, I was hired 5 weeks ago to do receiving two nights a week. On average I work 3 nights a week as a cashier. But last night I did something different. I worked in the cafe. Yes, some genius put the Mormon Girl in the cafe serving Starbucks for 5 hours. If it weren't for the punk snot nose condescending 17 yr old girl with purple hair bossing me around all night, I probably wouldn't have minded or cared too much. But because of the punk snot nose condescening 17 yr old girl with purple hair who actually said to me after 5 minutes of working together (in a quite loud and forceful voice), "I am your BOSS and you WILL do what I tell you to! And do not EVER speak back to me!", I am seriously considering refusing to ever work in the cafe again for "religious reasons."
Seriously though, I've never even had a cup of coffee. Who the hell puts a Mormon Girl in a Starbucks?? I don't know the difference between a latte, mocha, coffee, or espresso. And after 5 hours of sloshing the stuff around last night, I still don't. I just know that each one had a different button or pitcher.
But one mystery was solved for me. Starbucks Frappuccinos do not contain coffee or caffeine. In fact, they are mostly just milk and powder. They are about as much coffee as Ovaltine is. (This is of course assuming that you do not get one with the word COFFEE in the name.) I haven't solved the mystery of what a Tazo Chai is yet. But I have a feeling I will probably be finding out in approximately 9 hours.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


How can you not love a man walking around with his matching SWAT baby? (From last month) Posted by Picasa


(It didn't usually look quite THIS bad.) Posted by Picasa


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The Dynamic Duo!

Just hanging out with Jules in Orlando (last month)! Not the most flattering picture ever, but don't we look exhilirated from the hours of shopping and chocolate consuming? Posted by Picasa

Working Girl

Recently, I've been picking up work as a background extra on various projects. In the past month or so I've worked on 3 different m...

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