Thursday, March 30, 2006

Home! (again!)
I never get tired of coming home from a trip. I like traveling, but I like coming home even better. Well, not so much the traveling home per se, but the arriving home. After the luggage is picked up and I'm in the car with SNG and hearing about the dog's latest crazy antics. SNG and Goofch live up the bachelor lifestyle while I'm gone, eating pizza and playing poker and smoking cigars. Before I get home, they're really careful to hide all the evidence and clear out all the smoke smell so I won't catch on, but I know what they're really up to while the cat's away...

So last week and this week was the Big Annual Conference in San Francisco. We had a terrific time, in spite of my laptop experiencing total meltdown on Monday afternoon during a diagnostic check with the help desk guy, who was just trying to figure out why my wireless card wasn't working. The bad news? Lost all my data from the past week and can't recover from my last good backup until tomorrow. So no work gets done in the meantime. The good news? I got a brand-spanking new laptop, the next model up from my old one. Which doesn't really mean squat, except that I can gloat to Fuzzy and Tiny Dancer and other colleagues who are still stuck with those old, pathetic D600s.

Lessons learned-- no more visiting SF in March. I'm severely allergic to the whole darn city. Upon breathing my first lungful of Bay air, I started sneezing and didn't stop until I was on the airplane again 8 days later. Being in a "delicate condition," I can't take any normal allergy medicine or cough suppresants-- in fact, all that's allowed is Tylonel (a.k.a. The Placebo)-- so of course the allergies turned into a raging bronchial thing by the end of the trip. This fact, combined with the lack of useful technological work resources (the naked laptop), motivated me to stay home from the office today and read up on some old statistics books I'd been wanting to dust off. And take a super-long hike with the dog in the state park. And do some laundry. And unpack.

And tomorrow I'll go in, and the help desk guy (actually, they'll send over the help desk chick because guy is still in SF) will try to glue together the little bits and bytes from my old hard drive and hopefully recover a few programs I promised for last week's students, then she'll restore the new laptop to the Last Good Backup and I'll spend the next 2 business days installing and configuring The Software My Company Produces so I can hopefully get a little productive work done by, oh, Tuesday or Wednesday.

It's still faster than doing everything with a pocket calculator.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Tomorrow I head out for San Francisco to attend and teach at the Big Annual Conference. It's a 9-day trip and you might think that in that time I'd be able to do plenty of navel gazing, but you'd be wrong. For one thing, there's ALWAYS something going on at the Big Annual User-group Conference, since so many coworkers are there and these folks always have energy to party. On top of that, every conference in San Francisco is action-packed because for some reason I have ended up having lots of friends (users and clients) who show up to user group conferences on the west coast. Odd because I've never lived further west than Dallas.

My manager and his manager are also big party-animal types. In past years I've managed to impress The Powers That Be in my department with my two-handed martini handling prowess, and drunken one-handed cartwheels without spilling my drink. The stories are hallway legend to this day. This time around I'll be giving the devil-horns with my Perrier & Lemon while everyone else staggers about with their Sonoma wines.

SNG's new pet-name for me is Designated Driver. I guess it makes up for me calling him Wallet all these years...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!
I forgot my green today, so I snipped a few pretty leaves off the plant in my office and pinned them to my jacket. Close enough?
Anything to avoid being pinched.
Did you remember your green?

And St Patrick's day is a nice reminder that tomorrow is SNG's and my anniversary.
After 11 years, he's still my favorite rebound guy. This year was even better than last year. Which was even better than the one before. Which was even better than the one before that. Which was... Oh you get the idea. Can't wait to see how great year 12 will be!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

It's so nice to be back in the classroom. So far this year I've taught one other class, and it was a 2-day class in January. Other than that, I've either been on vacation or in the office. But what I really love to do is teach. And that's the whole reason I wanted this job to begin with!

Next week the travel strts up again with a 9-day trip to San Francisco for the big annual conference. I love going because it's one of the few times each year that I can travel with other people. Two friends and I are going to rent a car on the Saturday we're there to go hiking in the redwoods somewhere. My aunt once took me out to Muir Woods and it was just awesome, so I think we'll try to go there. I need to figure out how to get there...

Slow week otherwise. I'm outgrowing my clothes pretty quickly now, and while my weight didn't change in the 1st 3 months, so far this week I've gained a pound a day or more. YIKES! Um, better lay off the chocolate and cookies since I don't think that the Inch High Private Eye has gained a pound a day. Maybe it's water. Water and girl scout cookies.

Monday, March 13, 2006

*edited to add: I finally told my colleagues today that we're expecting a baby, so I can finally write about it here, too! In case you didn't know, we're expecting a baby! Woohoo!
Waiting Game
In an effort to keep my backpack light (since I did end up sleeping in 12 different places over a 21-day vacation, and all with one backpack most of the time), I shipped 3 packages home to myself. The Spain package has already arrived, since mom sent it from Austin. We sampled some of the fancy Spanish chocolates last night when our neighbors came over for dinner.

I'm still waiting for the package from France, but it is coming on a boat, so I expect it'll be mid-July by the time it arrives. It's mostly candy and a pink sweater that smells like goat.

The package of "Grape Juice" from Germany arrived today. Apparently, the German post is just as bad at doing their jobs as the US. The package had been dropped, sliced at with a knife, run over, bombed with TNT, stepped on, and probably had a dog pee on it for good measure. Luckily, the bottles inside were SO well protected that they are all still very much intact. So we have 4 bottles of Reisling ice wine (Eiswein) to toast something with! Now all we need is something to toast. I'm sure we'll come up with something before the year is up...

In other news, we had a BEAUTIFUL weekend here in Raleigh. High was around 75-80 both days, so we got out on our bikes for the first time in a few months. Sore tooshies today, but it was worth it. Sunday Peace and Fuzzy came over with their new puppy (SO CUTE it could bring about world peace) and helped us install our large and magnificent new hammock in the backyard. Goofch has been trying to figure out how to get in it to take a nap.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Our last day in Europe was spent in Strasbourg, which I would recommend to anyone visiting that area. It was just a really terrific place. The cathedral is breathtaking on the outside, and inside is some of the nicest stained glass I've seen anywhere. There's also an astronomical clock dating back to the late 1500s, which was a first for me.

The whole trip was unforgettable, and I've got about 700 pictures to fill in the blanks. And I'm waiting for Fish and J&K's pictures as well, so between all of us, we should have every waking hour well-documented. Three countries in three weeks, with 3 different sets of traveling companions, you'd think there was a lot of room for something to go wrong... but it didn't! I've always said that my mom is "pocket-portable"-- you would be hard-pressed to find an easier travel buddy. Val and Jerome are so much fun to stay with that I didn't want to leave when it was over, although I imagine they were glad to have their place back to themselves. Even traveling by myself was no problem and kind of an exciting adventure. Traveling with Fish and Jen was as much fun as I had imagined it would be- they're easy-going and really fun to be around, and everyone seemed to be interested in the same stuff, so it was just perfect. I'd have liked to not have that little bout of carsickness, but if that's the worst thing that happens, who can complain? Oh, that and puking in a public square in Spain, but whatever. This was the Vacation of Nausea! Yay!

We flew home all day yesterday, Frankfurt to Chicago, 3 hours layover in Chicago, and then Chicago to Raleigh. We slept through the layover in the Admiral's Club, slept for the whole flight from Chicago to Raleigh, and Peace was nice enough to pick us up at the airport so we wouldn't sleep and drive. Then we slept for the whole night until the alarm went off at 6am to go to work. Which is where I am now. 928 unread email messages, 2.5 hours to wade through them, and soon we're off to lunch because almost everyone's in the office this week. It's hardly like I was gone at all! ;-)

I Love My Job So Much (how much?) that when I was driving onto campus this morning through the tall trees and the hills, I had a big smile because I couldn't wait to tell everyone about this fun trip, and go through all the email and find out what was going on while I was gone, and get back into the swing of things. I know, what a dork, but it's a really cool place to work.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Friday we left Rothenburg oder die tuber (Sp?) and drove to Karlsruhe to K's parent's house while she and J (well, really just K because men have it easy) finished getting ready for The Big Day. We caravaned (somewhere between 3 and 12 cars, I wasn't sure) to the Theatre in Baden-Baden where the ceremony was held. Knowing how I am at weddings, I made SNG carry a pocket pack of Kleenex and some lip gloss in his pocket. It was a beautiful ceremony, translated from German to English so that J would know what he was agreeing to. But the ceremony was so professional, efficient, pragmatic... all those thing you'd associate with a German civil ceremony, that I didn't quite get to the point of weepiness. But I think J's mom did. Nothing can stop a mom's sentimentality!

It snowed and snowed and snowed some more, opening the door to a great number of White Wedding jokes, and the blanket of white made the forest around the castle where the reception was held seem like something from a fairy tale. I think it made a wonderful backdrop for a March wedding.

We met lots of K's family and friends and just adored them! K's godmother wrote a poem for them that she read at dinner called A Team that made everyone in the room reach for a tissue. She was kind enough to provide an English translation, so I made use of SNG's pocket pack as well.

We were treated to terrific food and conversation for cake & coffee, dinner, and an elaborate breakfast the next morning. I especially enjoyed chatting with a fellow named Timo whose English is almost better than mine. He's great fun and allegedly has a website, but I don't know it or I'd link it for you. But no blog. Maybe he'll start one at some point.

Now J&K are off to Rome, and we are finding things to do here in Baden Baden. This morning we took a bus (I just LURVE public transportation) which means I had to use one of those crazy FARKHARTE machines again but I think I got it right. At any rate, we each bought a ticket and used it to get to the train station and back again, but no one asked to see it. So I figure we could have just used it all day to cruise around and people-watch on the bus. There's not a great deal to do in Baden-Baden other than get nekkid and go to a Roman bath, and all the stores are closed on Sunday. But we have had a reprive from the snowfall so we took a very long walk on the hiking trails in the hills above the town. Tons of kids sledding and families wandering about.

Jen and Fish took the car for a day trip to some castle near Lake Constance that was a couple hours away by car. Tomorrow the four of us drive west to Strasbourg (Sp?) just across the border to visit the cathedral, eat tasty and cheap food (so says the Lonely Planet guide) and speak to the locals (because we can). That's our last day here before SNG & I catch a SUPAH-FAST train to the Frankfurt airport where we'll blow our last few Euros on rooster fights and leather pants. Jen and Fish will stay on until Friday, probably heading northward.

This afternoon SNG and I took a tour of every cafe in town from 4:15 - 4:45 and found them all completely full, so we're kind of running on empty at this point. Better find me a green tea soon or I'll have to go take a nap. And we can't have that!!! :-)

PS-- Krista, Volker, J, & K-- if you're reading, thank you again for inviting us to the Wedding. You threw a celebration that we won't forget! It was really terrific to meet everyone and to spend a little time getting to know our new German Friends!

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Scherz auf Deutchland! Part I
I'm sorry about the dry spell, but we were staying in a town with no internet cafe and today is the first time we've seen one. It's Saturday, and the wedding was yesterday, but it will get its own separate entry. So for now I'll catch you up to the adventure and mayhem up to Friday morning.

In spite of my good intentions, I did not spend Tuesday at the Louvre because it was closed. I know, why should that stop me, really? But I wanted to be sure I made the train to see SNG so I resisted breaking any major laws all day long. Instead of the Louvre, I walked around in the on/off snow and eventually killed a couple of hours at St Etienne de Mont church and the Pantheon. Once I'd read every eiptaph in the crypt, I hit a creperie and called it a day. There was time for one last dinner with Val and Jerome before they took me to Gare de L'Est and waited with me until I got on the train. Aren't they the sweetest people ever?

I ran into a little bit of trouble on the train. First, I had been booked in a double sleeper car with a strange man. Not just a stranger man. A strange man. Once I was reassigned to my own sleeper car, the conductor threatened to make me pay an enormous supplement because I had accidentally logged the date on my Eurail pass incorrectly. Here's the problem: You have to mark your pass before you board the train with the date of travel. I left on Feb 28. So I put 28Feb on the pass. Turns out I was supposed to put 01Mar because that's the day we arrive. I pleaded ignorance. He told me it was written on the pass in 4 languages. Luckily, as none of those languages was English, my ignorance plea had some cred. Never mind that I could have read 2 of those languages but just didn't read the fine print finely enough. So I was off the hook-- "THIS TIME." (scowl at the stupid American-- Bad Cat!!!)

Train ride-- woobly woobly woobly all night, feeling kind of woobly all day for 2 more days, the usual.

Once in Germany, I felt like I'd landed on another planet. Or, more like, I suddenly felt completely illiterate. I had no idea what was expressed on ANY sign ANYWHERE unless it had a picture. I do not believe that English has any connection whatsoever with German linguistically. Somebody just made that up. But I do have an English-German dictionary and found the word for ticket (FAHRKARTE) and hunted for a FAHRKARTE in the train station so I could take the S-bahn to the airport (FLUGHAFEN). There were a lot of places to buy FAHRKARTEs. I think most of them were for high-speed train travel. Eventually I found the way to the U-Bahns. Keep hunting. Then I saw a mysterious S in a funky style next to a P in a different funky style, and I'd been wandering with 25 pounds on my back for long enough (on no sleep and no coffee) and followed the S sign. Paydirt. There were a series of machines offering FAHRKARTEs to various places including the FLUGHAFEN and I found 3 lines that would go there. To buy it, all I had to do was enter the code number for my destination, and push the appropriate button to request the appropriate flavor of FAHRKARTE, and give it the indicated sum of money. I found the code for the FLUGHAFEN and looked for the right button. There were 2 rows of about 15 buttons each, all different colors, some with pictures of geometric shapes, flowers, animals, aliens, and a little airplane. Well, a few had little airplanes, actually. Some were identified with little small people-figures, and others with BIG people-figures. Some had a lot of people-figures. I thought that perhaps since I am a little person, I should push one of those buttons. With an airplane on it. Then I thought maybe since I'm a grown-up, I should push a BIG person button. Then I thought, well I like daisies, so maybe that's the ticket for me. I selected what seemed like the best ticket for me, paid a huge sum of money, took my ticket, and headed for the train.

I'm pretty sure that according to S-Bahn sales records, a family of 5 went from the train station to the airport on the #9 at about 7:30 Wednesday morning. No one ever asked to see, scan, tear, lick, or smell my ticket. I could have gone for free.

Time warp- found Jen and Fish looking no less for wear and sleeplessness (rather fresh, in fact) and we ate our weight in free goodies at the admiral's club until SNG arrived (YAY!) a little grouchy after he'd searched the airport for the admiral's club for over an hour. On the up side, he did find a porn shop and a place to bet on rooster fights. The bottom level of the Frankfurt airport is straight out of an episode of CSI.

Our first 2 nights in Germany were spent in Rothenburg ob der Taub (sp?) which is a sweet little ancient town full of schneeballen (balls of dough, fried crispy and coated with sugar and something else like cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, whatever), cuckoo clocks, wonderful Christmas tchotchkes, and a memorable museum of crime/torture. Once we'd spent the day in the stocks and learning how duels were arranged between men & women, as well as trying out thumbscrews, neck violins, leg screws, stretchers, baker's baptisms, witch's posts, gallows, oh who knows what else people can think of to obtain a confession from a suspected criminal... we found some lunch. I have to say, we haven't yet had a bad meal in Germany.

We were fortunate to be staying at the right place on Wednesday night, which is the day that the English Speaking Club of Rothenburg meets at the restaurant in our hotel. Sounds silly? Let me tell you- to my American and Canadian readers, if you are ever in Rothenburg, be sure to be there on a Wednesday night and go to the Altfranke Weinstube for dinner. The meal is terrific, but mostly it's these fantastic people you'll meet. We were the only North Americans. There was one Scotsman who has lived in Rothenburg for decades and everyone else was native to Rothenburg. Most of them were elderly men, many veterans of WWII. A few were younger. "Herman the German" is a dairy farmer who drinks a liter of raw milk every day of his life and swears it is the secret to good health. The last day we were in town he came by the hotel to give us a liter of milk from his farm. I think he was enamored with Jen, as she's a cute American who knows everything about dairy farming. Wolfgang has traveled a great deal in the US, and mostly loves to go to the great open spaces such as Montana, Nebraska, Wisconson, etc. But he wishes it was easier to meet people out west. Robert was a WWII prisoner in a French prison camp in Baden Baden (a famous spa town) and escaped, only to be stationed at another famous spa town in Germany. One young man wants to obtain a US work Visa to move to Hawaii and work in a great hotel and be with his girlfriend from Santa Barbara. He's never been to the US, and wants to pass the interview at the US embassy. I hope he finds a job at a terrific resort. Friedrich joined the German army at 16 years of age and was a tank driver in WWII. He can't hear much, but keeps in touch with soldiers from New Zealand that he befriended at the end of the war over the internet. He's 82 and very elegant.

There were others and I won't bore you with descriptions here. It was perhaps the best way that one could start a trip to an unfamiliar country, and we felt so welcome we were just glowing for a day afterward.

We eventually caught up with J&K and J's parents and made plans for The Big Day. But that's a story for a different post.

Germany is so beautiful with all the snow (SO MUCH SNOW!) and I've seen no evidence of pickpockets or scam artists. Kind of a relief after 2 weeks of clutching my purse and locking up my backpack. I am still essentially illiterate, but I've figured out a few words and can plunk my way around like a semi-halfwit tourist instead of a complete nitwit catatonic. :-)