Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Unicycle Commute

This morning I was driving into work because I had a rental car yesterday for our one-day of field work up in Virginia, and I was taking it back to work. Of all days to not be on my bike -- I missed the opportunity of meeting a really fun fellow cyclist. I was just barely out of my apartment complex and saw the familiar look: helmet, backpack, i-pod, comfy clothes and windbreaker. I always have to slow down and see who else is riding to work on my route so that I can make sure I say hi next time. But this was no ordinary cycle-commuter (the sport cyclist looks different: he/she would have a matching jersey outfit, slick spandex, aerodynamic sunglasses and a tough frown). He was a uncyclist-commuter! Not a clown unicyclist like this:

He was a college-kid type obviously not looking like he wanted to attract attention (picture shown is not the real guy, but a look-alike I found on google):

He was deep in concentration, listening to his music and had the countenance of any other commuter on their way to work. I had to hand it to him for giving it his all! I would agree with him that one wheel was better than none, but two is much more relaxing.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Our House Walk-Through

Hmmmm... not exaclty a "walk-through" at 4 hours, but we did walk through and inspect the semi-final home. What a thrill it was to come up the walkway and see the home all lit up! Our project manager, Nate, was waiting outside for us checking on a few last-minute things. We went over all the warranty details and who to contact in case there are any problems, etc., and then we got to the fun part. We walked around with Nate and Nancy (our real estate agent if you recall) and we put our 8 eyes into finding areas for touch up paint, a little extra sanding here, a little caulking there... room by room for four hours. So, if you look carefully at the pictures you will see blue tape everywhere-- those are the places that need a little work.
Landscaping is in! The straw is to protect the grass seed and keep moisture in.
Discussing details with Nate in the kitchen.

The carpet in the gathering room, freshly vacuumed

Looking at the gathering room from the entry-way.

Entry-way and staircase, freshly stained banister.

We are sooooo excited-- less than a week away now!

Varying Degrees of "Liking the Cold"

Yesterday I had the romantic, feel-good feeling of liking the cold because it makes winter feel like winter. Remember how I said that? This morning was a little different. I'd like to revise that statement by saying that I have varying degrees of liking the cold, depending on the varying degrees outside!

I waved Paul off to work at 6:45 this morning and stood out for a few minutes gauging the temperature to decide if I need to wear Paul's Wooly Bear jumpsuit with gloves and a hat during my ride to work, or if I could get away with wearing my two pairs of leggings, a long-sleeve shirt, windbreaker, wool hat and gloves. It didn't feel that bad and so opted for the leggings (easier to peddle in than a bulky jumpsuit).

Once on my bike, however, I did not warm up as usual. My hands stayed frozen to the handlebars, my lungs still ached with the cold air, and my legs were still resisting the peddling motion by the time I made it to work. Huh. So I checked the temperature on the internet while thawing out in my office, and lo! It was only 18 degrees outside. No wonder! Yesterday was in the 30-40's, I believe, and so that's where I'd like to say my degree range of liking the cold resides.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hot Chocolate Day

It's been cold and cloudy here for the last few weeks, with a few intermittent days of sunshine, but it is glorious! I love the rain and cold weather because it designates winter as winter. With California sunshine most of the winter long as my background, I'm really enjoying the feeling of moving through the year with progressive seasons.

In our office, it's a nearly daily ritual for several folks to walk over to the Barnes and Nobles' Starbucks for a bit of warming refreshment. Today was a good day for it, and so I joined in for the brisk walk in the crisp air with my fellow co-workers. Ah, hot chocolate! It has become my new drink of choice replacing my beloved Dr. Pepper. I'm trying to ween myself off the stuff that I have been drinking every day since college. Hot Chocolate satisfies the sweet craving, and is not loaded with carmel coloring (nasty stuff), or high fructose corn syrup (another nasty) and does not have as much caffeine and hopefully not as much sugar (not sure about that one) as Dr. Pepper. Hopefully by the time the warmer weather hits I will find something else sweet to drink that is healthier than hot chocolate. Orange juice?

While I was at Barnes and Noble, I bought the winter Spin-Off magazine -lots of inspiration as usual!

Don't know if I'll be reading much over the next few days, what with more fiber from Trish and packing to do.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Graveyard Revisited

Mike, being very enthusiastic about the hidden graveyard, sent me some pictures that he took (I didn't have my camera along) during our field work last week. These three were the only graves at this hidden location in the forest, and were of the same family. I think the middle grave has a more recent headstone (concrete lattice) than the era in which the original graves were placed (early 1800's).

I'm not a body-snatcher or anything, so don't get the wrong idea by me taking this spooky facsination, but I think cemeteries are intersting places full of unspoken history. Makes me wonder who the people were and what they saw in their lifetimes, especially these older sites that are scattered everywhere in the south (in comparison to the west coast).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

House Update... Again

I'm finally back from Cape Fear and very happy to be home. We finished our last well at 5:30 on Friday (next to the swamp pictured below) which meant we had to spend the night, as our company has a policy of not working/traveling more than 12 hours in one day. Already having 12 hours in after packing and shipping samples, we made the best of it and went to a nice dinner, extended our hotel rooms for one more night and left yesterday morning for the 4 hour drive home.
Here's a picture of the swamp that we were monitoring wells near. Great place for a graveyard, eh? This wasn't exactly next to the graveyard I metioned before, but it's close enough to show the eeriness of the area.

As I said before, Paul's got us on an excellent schedule so I got home and changed and we headed out for our scheduled second phase of appliance research. Our calendar says that we need to have these picked out this weekend, along with getting our utilities sorted out and house insurance.
I don't know how much we are going to get done, but we have narrowed down our appliances to Kenmore or Whirlpool front-loading washer and dryers and between a GE or Whirlpool side by side, stainless steel fridge. Paul of course has a spreadsheet set up with price comparisons of all combinations being bought from either Sears or Hhgregg, which makes it easier to see in terms of dollars and features.
As we were out appliance shopping, it started to snow! Sadly, it didn't stick to the ground and melted instantly, but it did snow almost all afternoon.
As promised, I have some pictures that we took last Sunday of the progress.

The driveway has been poured, and that's carpet laid out in the driveway, as the carpet workers were there on Sunday installing.

Granite counter tops have been put in and the microwave, sink and dishwasher

The floors have been stained walnut color.

The light fixtures have been put in too!

Carpet being installed in the master bedroom.

Well, that's it for now!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Secret Graveyard and Lizard Wells

Just when I was thinking this was going to be a routine sampling event-- wrong again! This is kinda a fun little story.

Four of us are working as a team out at this particular job site and it can be really good times with the right people. The three people I'm with out here are a lot of fun and are the adventure-seeking type. Our project manager, Fred (names have been changed to protect the innocent), only here with us for the first day, was oblivious to this fact somehow, and he was giving us a general tour on the first day since none of us had been out here before. "There's well # such and such over there (motioning) and off to the left and around that hill behind the stump is well #such and such." Poor guy was droning in a very monotone voice while the four of us were jostling around on the dirt road ride trying to sound interested and attentive. As usual, when in a situation that is best not to fall asleep, I did. Mike jabbed me in the ribs as usual to wake me up and it didn't seem that I missed much. Yawn.

So we come around another bend in the road, and Fred was saying, "... and there's well# such and such by that pallet, and here's where we drop off the purge water, and the graveyard is off to the right in that forest..." That's when everyone's eyes became saucers and and their heads were craned to the back as we ambled past where the graveyard was supposed to be.

Fred was happy to continue on the grand well tour but luckily, Mike said, "Hoooollld on Fred. You said graveyard. Can we have a look?"

Fred looked surprised at the interest and then shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, if you really want to," he chuckled. "Actually it's quite interesting. John and I were here installing wells and were told by some employees about it. So we started snooping around in the forest and found it. Aparently the graves are of a family that lived here in the late 1700's to early 1800's. We were reading the tombstones once we cleared back the brush, and when we looked up we saw a large black snake hanging from the tree looking at us. That's when we cleared off and didn't come back."

Meanwhile Fred was driving slowly along the mysterious forest edge looking for the spot when he slammed on the breaks and pointed his finger, saying, "There." We couldn't see any telltail signs but as we got out of the car and walked closer we could see a faint trail easily missed by an untrained eye. We made our way slowly through the trees and thick shrubs to a little overgrown fenced in area with three tombstones inside. Someone had been by recently to tidy up a bit, but not enough to appear to be a regularly visited area. It was a well-kept secret. As I gazed down at the tombstones trying to make out the engravings, I couldn't help but wonder what these people saw when they lived here along the Cape Fear River (the grave was not 50 yards from the water although we could not see it through the forest) 200 years ago. Did they see much of the Revolutionary War? Was the father who was buried there fight in it? He passed away in 1811, and lived to be 54 years old, so it was possible. I think we were all thinking similar thoughts, as there was a respectful silence as we stood there.

We made our way back to the car, all deep in thought, and deeply impressed with Fred and his interesting way of shrugging off adventure. Mike asked dubiously, "Is there anything else cool about this place?" Fred thought, reflectively and finally came up with something he thought might pass, "Well there is an alligator living in the pond over by the shed over there and he's usually just hanging out ."

Needless to say, we were all most impressed again, and feeling bolstered by everyone's enthusiasm Fred thought it was a good time to mention "Lizard Well." He took us to the well and warned us that inside this well lives a family of lizards that are very territorial and stand their ground. "So becareful when you take the top off the well, because they're all likely to run out and be aggressive. Just give them their space and sample as if they aren't there." I can tell you everyone was thinking it but didn't say it for fear of sounding chicken: "Yeah, right."

Nobody was too excited to volunteer for that one, but Mike and Lindsay got the luck of the draw and had to sample that well yesterday. Mike sent us a picture message showing him holding the well cap with a lizard perched staunchly on the top, not about to go anywhere. Actually, Mike said because the weather was so cold, and being that they are cold-blooded, the poor guys had a hard time of being territorial as they were not able to move above a crawl! It's been about 30 degrees.. maybe not exactly, but that's how it's felt.

Monday, January 14, 2008

House Update

All bullet points on our schedule for the weekend were accomplished: from bird grooming to appliance hunting. I won't bore you with all the trivals involved there, but we did conclude Whirlpool is the way to go.... so long as it passes the online review check that Paul's scheduled to do this week. I'm at Cape Fear for work just as I was scheduled to be, and Paul is holding down the fort as he was scheduled to be. So life is good.

On Sunday before I left for Cape Fear we decided to quickly swing by the house and see how things are going. Wow! What progress! They have the counter tops in, most of the lights, the floors are stained and they are working on installing the carpet right now. Oh dang it, I just realized I forgot my card reader so I'll have to post pictures when I get home on Saturday.

I've got to head down anyway and meet everyone for dinner, so good night!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Nothing Much

I got home Wednesday night from South Carolina field work, sat down to write and couldn't think of a single point of interest. Same thing happened yesterday! Paul got home from Utah yesterday morning at 6:00 am, had an hour nap at home as I was leaving for work, and then he went straight back to work. Really, our state of affairs is at the maintenance level at the moment. We are in "Phase I of pre-moving prep" but not much prep is happening... and not many recipes being tried at the moment. Sorry to bore y'all.

One thing that I did want to share is that I went to Border's bookstore last night with Alyssa from work (and she was kind to take me and my bike home afterwards). I bought a book to replace the two that I have been trying to read at home and have not really enjoyed: "The Time Traveler's Wife" and "Onion Girl." The first has a good story but I lost interest in the characters, and the second book I found was not my cup of tea by the second chapter- too violent for my tastes.

I am starting to find that in general, I prefer classic books because I think the authors had a better talent for character development, and another key difference is that the characters they created had integrity and qualities to admire. So many modern books are about people without morals or courage, and represent what I get tired of seeing in society. There are exceptions and I do stumble upon a good book here and there that I really can get into. I love the Harry Potter books, for instance, because the characters have real trials (in the sense of jealousy, friend problems, loss of family, etc) and real faults, but they have many good qualities to admire, and are truly good human beings. Plus, the creativity is outstanding in those books. And there's the mystery aspect, the humor, and the violence is more my speed as the books are written for kids!

Anyway, so at Border's last night I picked up the second book "Duty and Desire" in Pamela Aidan's trilogy that corresponds with Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." The fun thing about these books is that they are written from Mr. Darcy's perspective and they are written very, very well. I was surprised to see how well a woman could write from a male perspective, including the humor, the character interaction between Mr. Darcy and his friends and also between him and his hired help. I really loved the first book, "An Assembly Such as This," and the second one is already proving to be very enjoyable (hence, no dinner was cooked last night).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Family Visit Memories

My laptop has my pictures scrolling through as a screensaver and so I had a glimpse of some pictures from the family visit that I had not seen yet. My mom is an excellent picture-taker and documents events with an amazing quantity of photos, so naturally they have not all appeared on my screen during my days at work. But as they do, I have a nice gift of surprise and memories.

For our English family, here's a picture to show we did the traditional "Christmas Crackers" at Christmas dinner, complete with the enclosed jokes and crowns.

Below is the big scrapbooking day, with the dining room table wedged into the family room so we could have a better view of the TV for the many movies we watched while working. The men were out of the house for the day. Can you tell what movie we were watching? Hint: Starts with a "P" and ends in the word "Bride"

This was a once in a life-time event: Dad offered to curl Heather's hair. She said that this was something she couldn't miss, and she was very brave. Surprisingly, Dad's "softer look" as he called it, was a hit.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Forward Planning

Paul is king of what he calls "Forward Planning," which I think is British for our American common phrase, "Planning Ahead." Obviously. Well, he has us on a very precise schedule carrying us through mid-February, past Phase I, Phase II and Phase III of our many events that take place in the very, ultra-near future. I fear that blogging has not been accounted for on our calendar, but I'm going to give it my best effort so that y'all can be abreast of our events (the same as everyone goes through when they move). Here's the synopsis of the next month and a half.

Phase I - Pre-moving Prep: Scattered days this week we will both be traveling for work. I'll be going to Camden, SC and Paul will be going to Utah. Birds are scheduled in for their grooming so that we have no accidental flights out front doors during moving. On Saturday the 12th and 19th we are scheduled to pick appliances, book our U-haul and set up our utilities and insurance for our new home. I'll be in Cape Fear for work during the whole week of the 13th. Our home inspection takes place on the 21st and I'll be traveling to Virginia for that day and the next for work. On the 23rd we appear at our home to meet the builder and do the walk through. Then we do all the banking stuff related to the house on the 26th.

Phase II- Moving Commencement: We sign for the house on the Thursday the 31st, pick up the U-haul and start to organize for loading (we haven't scheduled in packing but it starts today). People from my church are helping Friday and Saturday to help us load and deliver and unload.

Phase III- Post Moving: Appliances arrive on Saturday the 2nd. I begin cleaning the apartment on Monday after work to finish on Tuesday for our move out inspection on the 5th. Paul comes home from Sweden on Thursday the 7th and we start our search for a car. On Sunday the 10th we'll get a rental car which I'll be using during the next week (end of bike riding) until we find another car, since we'll then be living too far from my work to make it work with one vehicle.

Something we haven't worked into the schedule is getting the Mustang fixed. It is leaking power steering fluid and some jerk tried to break into it this week (luckily for us, unsuccessful of completing any theft), so now we have to fix the window paneling and get the leak fixed.

This commentary does seem overbearing and it is a not-so-subtle plea for sympathy. I know everyone has their trials and ours are not any more significant than yours, but it does help me feel better to write it down and share with a listening eye!

I think before starting the packing, I'm going to chill out with a bit of scrapbooking or continuing on with knitting The Sweater. On that score, things are moving along. The trunk is finished and I'm about to start the sleeves. Funny how out of proportion things look from this angle! Paul tried The Sweater on last night for the first time and it fit pretty well. A little snug perhaps, but in my defense he did have a big bulky T-shirt on underneath.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Native Plants to North and South Carolina

Ever since I took botany in college, the importance of growing plants native to where I live has been important to me. That's not to say I don't enjoy my orchids or that I will only grow native plants in our new backyard, but I think it's an important thing to consider when planting a garden. It's helpful to the environment to support plants that often get pushed out of existence by non-native, invasive plants. Also, water requirements for plants native to a region are more likely to be fulfilled by the natural rainfall of that region (maybe with a little help from your hose). If you live in southern California like I did, or other arid regions, it is most beneficial to your water bill, and for water conservation in general, if you plant native species that are drought-tolerant. A little research is required, but you might be surprised what you may find!

Now that we live in the Charlotte, NC area, it has been a goal of mine to gradually learn some of the plants native to this area so that we can plan our backyard trees, shrubs and flowers. I was pretty excited to find the Plant Native site which lists native plants (and their characteristics) in the location that you choose. The list is limited to the United States. It also has a nursery search that allows you to find nurseries in your area that carry native plants!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Baking Tournament Results

My apologies for taking so long and keeping you in suspense with the results of the Baking Tournament held here in our home over the Christmas vacation. At long last....

"Mighty Mom" scored 3 points in the tasty category and 4 points in the traditions category, 3 points for texture and 4 points for appearance for her Southern Boiled Custard.

"Mighty Mom" and "Kare The Bear" worked together to make Jill Cooper's gingerbread cookies with some additional ingredients for added spice. We scored 5 points for texture, 2 points for tradition, 2 points for appearance and would have scored more points for taste, but accidentally put too much salt which gave us only 2 points for taste in the end.

"Burbee The Baker" scored a whopping 5 points for taste (first plate to be cleared), 5 points for tradition (being the shortbread cookie recipe of our great-grandmother, Nanna), 3 points for appearrance and 4 for texture.

"Gary The Pot-Stirrer Man" scored 4 points for taste (second plate to be cleared), 2 points for texture (the chocolate kept melting and re-solidifying), 3 points for tradition and and 4 points for appearance. Gary had two assistants.

"Kare The Bear's" cinnamon rolls scored 3 points for taste, 3 points for tradition, 4 points for texture, and 4 points for appearance.

"Paulie 'The Mincer' Pie" scored 5 points for tradition (English tradition), 5 points for appearance, 3 points for taste, and 4 points for texture with his Mince Pies.
So here are the results you've been waiting for:
First place: Tied between "Burbee The Baker" and "Paulie 'The Mincer' Pie" with 17 points
Second place: Tied between "Mighty Mom" and "Kare The Bear" with 14 points
Third place: "Gary The Pot-Stirrer Man" with 13 points
Fourth place: The "Mighty Mom" and "Kare The Bear" team with 11 points

Let me know by comment or email if you want any of these recipes posted!

Our Pseudo-Empty Nest

Paul and I can't claim that we have "Empty Nest Syndrome" because we don't have any little fledglings that have flown the coop. We do have Clementine and Fairy, but they seem to like the nest and won't be going anywhere, and our family that has left the nest aren't our kids! The day after my parents left out house to return home to California, a friend of ours, Clara, from Paul's old work flew in to spend a few days. She left this morning at 4:30 before Paul and I got up for work and now we are back to reality.

This morning I was sorting through the fridge looking for lunch from the remaining leftovers from the past week's festivities and I came across some yogurt that my sister had in our fridge and some leftover snack carrots that my mom had left, and her brand of yogurt. And I thought, "Awww, that's my sister's, and mom's..." It made me feel like we're pretty darn alone all at once. We've had practically non-stop company for two weeks now, and I was getting quite used to having everyone there. Sigh.

So as I sit here and eat my sister's yogurt, I was reflecting on things and thought to my consolation: we can't say we'll be bored because we both have work travels coming up, mortgage decisions to make and paperwork for the house to get started. We sign on the 23rd! Life is exciting and new with each turn we make, and it is always surprising that it can still feel that way after our 32 and 35 years of experience.