Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oh, For Pete's Sake!

As a supervisor I have been asked to write references for all sorts of jobs, schools and major life changes.
 Last night I stayed at work to finish a reference for my friend Matt's med school application (for those of you who have been following along at home, he decided to go the physician assistant route most likely on the East Coast). It was an online form that not only had a "give the candidate a rating from 1 to 5" section, which i hate, but the "additional comments" section had a limit of 4500 characters.
That was 4500 CHARACTERS, not words - spaces, punctuation, carriage returns : they all counted.
 I tried and tried to be brief, but my first draft came up at 4,988 characters.
 I trimmed, rearranged, edited, cut and cut some more to finally get to 4486.
 But when i pasted the letter into the form and hit save i got this
it's okay; i found an errant space, and got the form submitted, but for a moment there i thought i was gonna throw something or cry.
I of course took a picture instead.

Monday, September 29, 2008

It doesn't take much

In the last 3 weeks i have had to throw away many pairs of socks that had come to the end of their usefulness. Upon reflection I realized that some of those socks were 10 - 15 years old. No wonder they were getting a little threadbare. So Saturday was Sock Shopping Day. A vast array of new socks. I think that the lobsters are my favorite, though the flamingos are a very close second. But the award for instantly useful goes to these since i was wearing this t-shirt at the time. Blessed are the easily amused.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

freaked out

Remember the guy who i went to elementary school with that was the PE teacher at my school a few days ago ? He was just sitting at the computer next to me at the library. I haven't seen him for 25 years and now we run into each other twice in FOUR DAYS? Did i mention that on Wednesday he said that he recognized me at my gym, too? I'm not sure why i'm freaked out, but i am.


Cause i've been notarized. Which is different from notorious, by the way.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What'd YOU do at work today?

Team member AJ and I were in-house and went to the new K'Nex exhibit to build stuff. He worked on a creation based on his long-haired daschshund puppy, Mason that was amazing, but i think looks more like a wheeled coati. I went kinetic, making a whirlygig with different levels that interlock and spin with one turn. Yep, i get paid to do this.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I've always taken the word ambivalent to be pejorative. I think it is because when i was younger i thought it was equivalent to apathetic. Or it could be because in college the real definition of "opposite or conflicting feelings at the same time" was explained to me by a boy who at the time was ambivalent about our relationship (that was a fun time, really). I know that being conflicted is not necessarily a bad thing, but i've never quite shaken my distaste for the word. I bring this up because today i had an experience that left me ambivalent. The PE teacher at the school i was at today recognized me - we went to elementary school together. Weird. We talked about kids from class and whether or not we know where they are now; he has run into a lot of these people in the last 15 years. Hearing that people that really used to matter to me were married with kids of their own was cool, but hearing that some of them have had a rough life was upsetting. It was unsettling to realize that we both turned into different people since we used to eat lunch together : he was angry and an upstart back then (turns out he couldn't read - i had no idea) and now he is a PE teacher in the city with a degree in specialized PE (working with special needs kids). Who would have thought that this kid that HATED school would end up a teacher? And what about me? Am I where anyone would have guessed i'd be when i was 11? He asked me, " So what did you do after school? You have to be a doctor or something" and when i gave him the degree rundown he said, "Well i knew it had to be something; you came out of the womb reading a dictionary." It was sorta neat to hear that in his memory i was so smart, but weird to know that in reality i just blossomed early and that eventually everybody else caught up with me intellectually. Plus he called me Bob. I haven't even thought about the fact that my 6th grade nickname was Bob - even my teacher called me that. Weird. The entire thing was weird : good, bad, unsettling, heart-warming, weird. Ambivalent.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Unhealthy fascination with glass

You may not know this, but I love glass. I have collected unique pieces of colored glass and vintage barware for years. The reason many people don't know this is that at the old house you never saw my glass. I had the colored glass in a cabinet at the top of the steps and people rarely went upstairs. Plus there was a fully stocked bar already in the basement so i kept a lot of my stuff in boxes in the attic. Well, no more! I am resolved to get all of the glassware out on display by the end of the year; i am unclear on how to fit 5 boxes of glassware on the two shelves i have in the bar, but it is going to happen. As i have started unpacking pieces I've been struck by how many of them i have never even used. That is going to have to change. So i am also resolved to try to use as many pieces as possible, starting immediately. When my dad came over for dinner last week he asked for a bourbon & water and i had just unpacked and washed these: Though not as big as a pony glass they worked well. I am not normally attracted to brown or patterns from the 70s, but i do recall buying these because they seemed different. In fact, now that i am writing this, I think that i was specifically considering whiskeys (whiskey, bourbon, scotch, etc) when i bought them. I could just imagine that amber color behind the brown floral. Look at how well that worked out 10 years later. Also, at the same meal, i was able to use a martini glass to serve shrimp cocktail: Using a glass in this way isn't that unusual, but how about that cool color? These over-sized teal and clear beauties were too fun to pass up. Not to mention they can hold a lot of shrimp!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

That's Chiroptera to you, monkey-boy

Sometimes it is just a tiny, little thing that catches my attention. I was walking up the stairs to my front door when something seemed amiss. Do you see it? The tiny little pile of nuggets under the window? It looked kinda like mouse droppings, but there were no holes in the surrounding boards. In fact there was nothing on the outside of the house at all except the shutters. Hmmmmmm... shutters with just a little space between them and the wall. i wonder... Yep. It's a bat. A cute, little brown bat. I couldn't tell if it was actually a Little Brown Bat or an Evening Bat (wow; those are some scientific names, huh?) but it did seem to be unamused with being woken up when i moved the shutter to look for it. I am not opposed to a bat living at my house : they eat a ton of insects, including mosquitoes every night. But i don't really wanna sweep up bat poop. I wonder if we have any bat boxes at work...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Working hard

Programming just resumed on Thursday and already we're beat. It's true : I do have the best job in the world. Today we had a pretty long lunch so team members Miriam, AJ and I went to the Port Deposit Marina. There were these awesome 2 person ride-on dinos in purple. AJ found that the triple-spring support made it a stable ride, but Miriam quickly discovered they were perfect for napping. Some time was also spent on the rest of the playground. AJ seemed a bit amazed that we do this on a regular basis. You know i believe "Work Hard, Play Hard!" It didn't take long for him to embrace that philosophy.

Attention Skip and George

Hello. I've e-mailed you at several different addys, but none of them seem to work. Could you email me, pretty please? Thanks.

Cap't 'tenn Says...

"Avast ye scurvy dogs, it's International Talk Like a Pirate Day!" Who is Cap't 'tenn? you ask. He's the little pirate that lives on the antennae on the CD player on my desk, of course. and when the Cap't tells you to do something you really should hop to it; his temper is like a flash flood during monsoon season. [how happy would you be legless and impaled, really?] Every year he reminds me that it is TLPD too late in the day to do anything about it, so this year he scheduled this post for 3am so that we will all find it first thing in the morning. Go shiver some timbers, people! Arrrrrr.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There's always room for more sorbet

So Niki, does your watermelon sorbet technique work with other fruit, like say, for instance - strawberries? you've been asking yourself. Yes, yes it does. Quite tastily, in fact. (pictured here with another batch of watermelon cause it is like cold, yummy crack and i can't stop myself)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gift Certificate-y Goodness

On Sunday I spent my gift certificate at work. It was so much fun to shop knowing that i didn't have to pay for anything! First i added up everything in my "holding them to be bought one at a time" pile, which was 2 pins, 2 pairs of clip earrings and a pair of blue crystal earrings that are going to be repurposed as window dressing: Look at how happy they are to finally come home with me! Then i added a loooong double strand of flat, round, faceted brown beads and an even longer golden chain with 2 sizes of gold dangling discs (i've already changed the clasp on it so that i can wear it as a single, double or triple strand and as a belt!) Finally, i grabbed a 4-strand choker of blue and purple beads, that was discounted because the second strand is broken. I think i am going to restring it into a double or triple strand. Thank you, thank you, thank you again to my anonymous benefactor.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Take Me Home, Country Roads

We all know i love to drive : it might be called "walkabout" but in all reality it is a driveabout for me. The mountains of West Virginia are so beautiful with range after range in the distance and high meadows tucked away to be disovered every so often. I found one road heading towards Dolly Sods that turned to gravel after half a mile. Then it turned to tiny rocks. Then it started rising at about a 35 degree angle. Then it went to switch backs. It was awesome. As my little car climbed higher and higher on the side of the mountain it was like traveling back in time - there were no power lines, no houses and no one else on the road. At one point the road was running through a forest that dropped off quickly on the driver's side and rose sharply on the passenger's side : It was also an interesting contrast in vegetation as there were huge sections of flowering bushes, but the altitude was high enough that some of the trees had already started to change: Having seen no signs of civilization you can image my surprise when i rounded a sharp corner to spot this sign: ummmmmm... what's for sale exactly, the mountain? Driving with no destination in mind gives me the freedom to notice the crazy little things that abound in the world, like these giant carved bears guarding the front of this restaurant: I love that they are civilized bears that would patronize the restaurant for a cup of java like any local. (unless that is actually his alms cup since the place has obviously fallen on some hard times) One day i was driving about in an easterly direction in the late afternoon so the sunshine was bright and reflecting off of everything in front of me. As i passed this sign its unusual shape caught my eye but i couldn't quite read all of it until i was almost passed it. WAIT! Did that say "tepee rentals"? Oh yes, it did. There are tepee rentals at Princess Snowbird's (a famous Seneca princess back in day) Indian Village. I think we all know where i will be staying the next time i'm in these parts. There were signs of man encroaching on nature, Hello. Yes, i'm a deer. I am kinda startled by your noisy car, but more annoyed that you've interrupted my evening meal. Go away. as well as nature reclaiming what man tried to take Then there were the simply inexplicable: A dog in the back of a pickup isn't that unusual, but he remained sitting on top of the tool box looking over the cab even as the truck was roaring up the highway. I don't know how he managed to not fall out or even kept his balance, but by jiminy this hunting dog was at the ready. The walkabout finished out at 504 miles in 74 hours passing through 3 states. It really reinforced that i need to take more time off from work and that i need a 4-wheel drive Jeep! As we put West Virginia to rest for now i want to leave you with the single MOST surprising thing i saw on the trip: Welcome to your national forests...


Mid September is a time of celebration in the Nikiverse; in the span of 2 weeks i have 6 birthdays and 3 anniversaries to celebrate. Cards have been mailed or are in the works, but here is an all purpose post to wish everyone Happy Everything! Happy Birthday to Douglas Happy Birthday to Christopher Happy Birthday to Cricket Happy Birthday to Skip Happy Birthday to George Happy Birthday to Kaaren Happy Anniversary to Kaaren and David Happy Anniversary to Kristie and Jonah Happy Anniversary to Deanna and Greg I hope everyone else is having a Happy Everything Day as well.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More geology than any blog needs

How could I possibly turn down a place called Smoke Hole Caverns? It is the reason i headed towards to WV on my walkabout in the first place; we do a local elementary school every year and visit this place at lunch. For goodness' sakes it advertises that it has the largest gift shop in West by-god Virginia - of course i've been there! But there has never been time to do the cavern tour - until now! I just couldn't resist the enticement of "the world's largest ribbon stalactite" or "the second highest room in the Eastern US." Those are some lofty promises. After you pay your $12 inside the gift shop, you walk through a lovely arch to a nicely manicured waiting area next to the ominously locked gate in the side of the mountain The tour group gathers right inside the cave-like antechamber where the temperature had already dropped drastically, heading for the final cavern temperature of a balmy 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Our tour guide, Erin, explained that the front portion of the caverns were originally used by the Seneca tribe as a natural smokehouse. When the first European settlers came into the mountains they saw smoke rising from vents in the rock - hence the name. During the Civil War, both sides used the caverns as shelter and a storehouse. But when you think of humans utilizing caverns in West Virginia, you gotta think of moonshiners. Erin explained the process of moonshine distillation with a model still and i finally found out that X, XX, and XXX marks on the jugs denote how many times that batch has been run through the still. There are no XXXX jugs because on the fourth round of distillation the still would probably blow up; you know someone found that out the hard way. She told us there were no samples before any weisenheimer had the chance to ask. These caverns are made of quartz, sandstone and porous limestone. The main rooms are still "alive" which means that water is still constantly sifting through the ceilings and walls, depositing minerals and filtering the water that eventually goes into the Potomac then the Chesapeake Bay and eventually comes out of the faucet in my kitchen. It is illegal in WV to destroy any "living" rock so Erin was very specific about what we could and couldn't touch since it carries a $28,000 fine. Unlike most caverns, Smoke Hole is a vertical cavern; we weren't going underground, but rather climbing up inside of the mountain (made easier by steps). At the bottom she pointed out what looked like a dry stream bed - the raceway where rainwater flows out of the mountain - and that the only vegetation were mosses and tiny ferns that only grow because of the artificial lights installed for the tours: As the water flows it deposits minerals, which over the years pile up into various structures. When it is a straight deposition you get flow stone. There was a cool series of flow stone steps which look like waterfalls frozen in the earth; they are lit to reflect their name "Rainbow Falls." Flow stone can be very old and eventually look like someone has run their fingers through play-doh to create the walls When the water bubbles out from the ground in slow springs it makes a crazy pattern like brains which look freaky, but the water coming out is really fresh and clean and cold; we took turns tasting some - yummy! After we had ventured quite a ways into the mountain Erin turned out all of the lights. Caves are the only place on Earth where there is total darkness - it was cool and a bit creepy. She slowly turned on lights as we walked the path and climbed steps revealing room after room of amazing geology When water drips from the ceiling it forms stalactites (remember the C in the name is like C for ceiling) like these tiny pencil stalactites. The resulting splash on the ground beneath forms into a stalagmite. (and the G for ground is in its name as well) When the stalactites merge with their stalagmites it forms a column; the place where the minerals fuse is called the Kiss After walking and walking we finally came to Smoke Hole Caverns' claim to fame. When the water droplets don't drip straight down, but rather run down a track in the ceiling and then drip, it forms a ribbon stalactite. Here, my friends, is the largest ribbon stalactite in the world That picture doesn't really depict the size of this thing hanging over your head in a picture. It is so large, but looks so delicate. It is really impossible to capture how high some of the rooms were, with chasms dropping off next to the path and the ceiling vaulting hundreds of feet over your head. You are surrounded by rock on every side (the light brown blip at the bottom left of the picture is the top of a hat on a 6foot4 man) The furthest chamber into the mountain is called the Queen's Chamber where there is a natural pool of freezing cold water called the Queen's Bath. If i was the queen i would demand that the water was heated a bit. Over the Queen's Bath there was a huge formation called the Queen's Canopy - it seemed like a fitting place for my picture One of the things advertised was the cavern's fish pond Obviously there is no natural light in the caverns to establish an ecosystem. There was a small natural collection area of water that used to be part of a larger ancient pond. You can see the demarcation line on the wall where the water level used to be much higher; the crumbley looking stuff on the bottom half is crystallized cave coral. The only 2 commercial caverns in the world that have it are Smoke Hole and someplace in New Zealand. The owners make sure that the water level stays high enough when there hasn't been a lot of rain and keep on the pond lights for 12 hours a day so that the trout they stocked stay healthy. It was cool to look down and see fish swimming right under you inside of the mountain. Golden trout were first discovered in Petersburg -just 10 minutes up the road from the caverns- and are now raised there commercially so there is a golden trout in the pond as a shout out to local industry. These caverns aren't as big as either nearby Seneca Caverns or the much more famous Luray Caverns in Virginia, but they have a certain Roadside America charm to them.