Sunday, October 12, 2008

Photo Fun

Hi, everyone! (Or, rather, hi, Addled Writer!) I have access to my sister's internet this weekend, so I'll probably post more later on tonight. I know you're just twitchy with anticipation. Until then, though, enjoy the following photo I downloaded the other day from my camera:

This is the result of an ill-fated Labor Day weekend spent walking hundreds of blocks in heels and flip flops. ("Ill-fated" only partly because of the damage done to my feet and mostly because of the damage done to my ego and self-esteem. But that's another story for another day.) It was horrible, I tell you! But bless the genius behind the the Starbucks-esque hypersaturation of Duane Reade in the Manhattan market. All I had to do was walk a block in any direction, and a plethora of first aid supplies awaited me.

So there you go. And off I go to a baby shower. Nothing I love more on a gorgeous autumn day than to spend it inside, sitting in an awkward circle in someone's living room, oohing and aahing over baby gifts.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Still here

You'd never guess it, though. I'm actually a bit surprised that my blog hasn't tied a handkerchief to a stick, slung it over its shoulder, and set off down the road with its little blog thumb sticking out, looking to hitch a ride far away from me. I don't know why I haven't updated: life hasn't been all that boring lately, but for some reason, this little sucker has been on the backburner.

So, over the last two months, I've... quit my job, traveled to South Dakota and Wyoming, and, um... gone to the beach, New York (several times), taken in a baseball game, eaten at IHOP, bought flip-flops on sale, and become disturbingly addicted to the game Rock Band.

Tomorrow I'm off to Vermont, so maybe I'll regale you with some tales and such upon my return. Brace yourselves.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I am a home improvement superstar

In my last post, I mentioned an unwelcome roommate--i.e. a mouse--that I saw one Saturday morning a few weeks ago. What I didn't get into in that post was just how freaked out I really was. In short, I was on major high alert and super skittish that I'd see the little guy again. Don't get me wrong: those who know me well know that I adore animals. That said, I prefer my non-human roommates to be of the domesticated variety (think dogs and cats) and not of the uninvited rodent variety.

You think I'm exaggerating when I say that I was freaked out and couldn't sleep? Just ask Addled Writer. She witnessed my meltdown (although probably buried it deep, deep in the recesses of her brain) after I saw a mouse scurry along the length of my bed (albeit on the floor) while typing away at a final paper late at night in December of our senior year of college. I remember that night running downstairs crying to the guy working at the front desk--begging for his help--and, when he sympathetically told me there was nothing he could do until business hours, I ended up sleeping in the fetal position on the living room sofa. I have no idea what grade I ended up getting on that paper, but it couldn't have been good.

I seriously remained jumpy for the rest of the academic year. Every time AW or our other roommate would, say, jingle keys or, say, open a squeaky cabinet, I'd do a vertical leap into the air. Anyway, you get the idea. Fast forward, then, to a few weeks ago, and you have a similar situation. I'm old enough to not be so panicked (that senior-year run-in was my first ever with a rodent in my residence, so the drama was high), but that still doesn't mean that I was happy about having a freeloading mouse rummaging through my stuff.

However, I refused to take my landlord's approach, which involved spending 30 seconds in my apartment laying down glue traps. I'm not killing the poor little mouse just because he's not paying rent. As I'd mentioned in my last post, I'm quite convinced that the mouse was getting into my apartment through my crappy heating unit, part of which is falling apart. My landlord seemed to think otherwise--hence his half-assed efforts to appease me. I decided to take matters into my own hands and went to the hardware store, where I purchased several yards' worth of flexible wire mesh and two boxes of tacks. With that, I thought, I can cover up the offending heating unit and keep the little mouse (and any of his friends) from returning. (Yes, I know that, in theory, I could also end up trapping the little guy in my apartment, but I was willing to take that chance.)

It took some time to finally get off my ass and do this, mostly because I wanted to do it in the light of day, and I've scarcely been in my apartment during daylight hours. But earlier yesterday I arranged my tools:

Note, if you will, my sophisticated means of measurement: I used my Snapfish folder to determine the width of each cut. Very scientific. Note, too, the bad-ass wire cutters I bought from Target yesterday morning:

I want to use them on everything! I fear, though, I'll get carried away with their awesome cutting power and will accidentally lop off an appendage. Here I am effortlessly cutting the wire with them:

Cool!! And here, finally, is the result:

It worked like a charm! Better than I'd hoped, actually, apart from the obvious scratching of the paint above the unit. I don't care, though--I'd rather have scratched paint than a rodent for a roommate.

It's amazing how much my mood has improved since I did this. I walk around my apartment with reckless abandon now, sashaying past the once-offending heating unit without fear of a violent mouse attack. It's so cool.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Of Mice and M. Night Shyamalan

Not much new with me, but if anyone out there knows how to mouse-proof an apartment without causing any harm to the little rodent in question, let me know. I saw a mouse last Saturday morning when I first woke up, and it's about the last thing I want to greet me at the start of weekend... or any other time, for that matter. Anyway, my landlord, in his infinite wisdom and cruelty, chose not to repair my heating unit (the source--I'm convinced--of the mouse's break-in) and chose instead to leave glue traps throughout my apartment. Rather than have the burden of an innocent animal's suffering on my conscience, I threw out the traps and covered my heater with blankets. Yes, I know this is ineffective, but I don't care. Besides, I haven't seen the mouse since, so maybe it did work, or perhaps he simply continued on his way to some other apartment.

Still, the little critter did cost me several nights' worth of sleep, so I did also purchase some flexible metal netting with which to cover the heater. It's far easier to do it myself than to pick a fight with my landlord.

An aside: the mouse wasn't the only thing to cost me sleep last week: I had the misfortune of going to see the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie last weekend, and it haunted me for days after. Even the image of my Marky Mark couldn't keep me from being scarred from the sights of all of the death scenes, especially when enough of them occur in my old stomping grounds in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. Then again, it might have been the lack of plot and the wooden dialogue more than the suicides that kept me tossing and turning in the middle of the night. It's tough to say.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mini Getaway

Once again I'm blogging from my blackberry, which is about as slow and tedious as it sounds, but it's the best I can do while on vacation and away from my computer. it's been a nice couple of days: mom wanted to visit her sister in Florida, so I volunteered to take her for a long (four-day) weekend. The weather has been dodgy, with some rain yesterday and clouds today, so beach time has been compromised. This morning, however, I was reminded that a morning on vacation in West Palm Beach is still better than a morning spent preparing for work. Check out this photo:

That, dear reader, was the road I took on my inline skating excursion. It was smooth as glass and lined with palm trees, and I was in skater heaven. I know it's not that exciting, but this little thing brought me such joy! It has, however, meant the final nail in the coffin for any pleasure I derived from skating through that rude-cyclist-infested and leaf-clogged Beach Drive in DC's Rock Creek Park. Alas.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Big Easy

I was back in DC for only 36 hours before I had to hop on a flight to New Orleans for a conference. This is the first time I've been back since Katrina, and it feels... strange. Returning to New Orleans felt like returning to the scene of a violent crime, as if the air was thick with ghosts. Even though the French Quarter was mostly spared the worst damage (I'm staying just on the edge, on Canal St), it still feels like there's a sense of unease about the city. Maybe I'm the one who's ill at ease, though, or maybe I'm looking for something that's just not there. I doubt it.

Even sitting here at Cafe du Monde, as I am--eating beignets and drinking cafe au lait--feels somehow artificial and forced. Or maybe life just goes on. I don't know, and I'm not about to ponder it now, because it's a real pain to blog on a BlackBerry. That, and I'm getting powdered sugar everywhere.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Georgia on my mind

After enough khachapuri to satiate me for the rest of my life, I’m back from Georgia. What a mission! I can’t imagine how lucky I was—everything was seamless. Tbilisi was lovely, the election observation itself went off without a hitch (for an evaluation of the election itself, though, you'll have to read the OSCE report), and I won the partner lottery. Really, I wouldn’t have changed a thing (except, perhaps, the daredevil driving skills of the bus driver that took us to and from our area of observation—I was convinced that he would kill us all). I’ll try not to bore you to death, but we saw what happened when I tried that with my Kazakhstan impressions, so I promise nothing. Anyway, here goes….

I left work at 2pm on Thursday the 15th and arrived in Tbilisi at 3am on Saturday the 17th. If you do the math and account for the time difference, I ended up spending a good 27 hours in transit. Bad, bad scene. Except, in a way, it wasn’t. Much of that time involved crashing in a hotel room at the Munich airport, where many of the observers were paired up with others to sleep and otherwise kill time before the flight to Tbilisi left later on that night. My roommate, from Denver, was awesome! (In the interest of protecting the innocent, I’ll just call her Denver from now on.) Here’s how our first meeting went: PSK checks in, is informed by hotel staff that her roommate is already checked in herself. PSK grabs key and walks up the stairs to the room. PSK walks into the room and sees Denver crashed on one of the beds. Denver sits up, says, “Hi, I’m Denver!” PSK greets her, they both wish each other nice naps, and PSK herself crashes on the second bed. I tell you, these trips are not for the close-minded or the divas among us—you really have to expect and make do with random situations such as this. You have to be willing to be flexible and adaptable. Long story short: Denver and I became fast friends and, post nap, ended up hanging out together a lot while in Tbilisi prior to our deployment to our respective areas of observation.

Tbilisi was a really lovely city with a lot of character and, obviously, an enormous amount of history. We were housed in the Sheraton (the same one that was taken over by Kalashnikov-wielding men in the ‘90s—a former sign on the hotel actually read: “Handguns are acceptable; semi-automatic weapons must be checked at reception”) across the river from the old town and the main downtown area, but the walk was an easy, scenic one. For the 36 hours we had to explore the city prior to deployment, Denver and I walked all around, popping our heads into churches and shops, snapping photos, and hiking up to a fort that overlooks the city. We saw a wedding, we saw centuries-old buildings, and we saw many of the requisite guy-on-horse statues. The next day, we hopped into a cab and, in broken Russian, had the cabbie take us to the ethnography museum across town. Hilarity ensued as we pulled up to the entrance and the guard, eyeing us, began to close the gate. This was not quite the hospitality for which the Georgian people are known. Turns out, though, that the museum hadn’t opened yet, so the cabbie took Denver and me to Turtle Lake just up the road to bide our time until the museum grounds opened.

The museum was worth the wait. We stumbled into random homes from Georgia’s past, two of which had these lovely women who walked us through them, explaining along the way (in Russian and even in French and broken English) what we were seeing. Both Denver and I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the “Georgian Pampers” (a wooden--yes, wooden--contraption) that one bassinet had hidden underneath the quilt, and even I had to laugh at the spirited pantomime of the woman at the hunting lodge who explained to us how chicken heads would fly across the room when cut off. Yikes.

So, back to the hotel, where we attended the usual briefings on what awaited us on our mission and where we searched anxiously for the people with whom we would be paired for the next five long, intense days. It got to be a bit of a joke: every time someone would ask an insipid question in the briefing, Denver and I would turn to each other and groan, convinced that the offending questioner was my partner. Still, there was no sign of him, even after two whole days in Tbilisi. It wasn’t until I’d gotten a seat on the bus to the Guria region (my area of observation) that we met. I heard him ask of the other passengers, with trepidation, “PSK?” as he walked down the aisle. I waved my hand, and he sat down next to me, both of us relieved that we didn’t get someone out of our worst election nightmares.

In fact, my dear partner (a.k.a. DP) and I soon became good friends. (By the end of the observation, we were even planning a return together, this time arriving in Georgia via his native Turkey.) We arrived in the town of Ozurgeti to spend the duration of the mission with six other teammates in a guesthouse—for a total of eight people sharing one bathroom. Let me tell you, you really get to know people well when you’re sharing one bathroom for that long. Lucky for us we all got along fairly well, because that could have been one ugly week otherwise.

Has anyone else noticed how bloody long this post is already? Holy crap. I’ll try to get to the point faster and keep out of the weeds.

Right. So anyway, the food and the wine were plentiful and delicious. The scenery was lovely, and our team partners—our interpreter and our driver—were wonderful people. Each of them, in fact, invited us into their homes for the huge feasts over lunch on separate days. Our interpreter’s family—her beautiful and utterly charming daughter-in-law and grandchildren—cooked for us, filled our glasses with homemade wine, danced for us, and treated us to an unreal level of hospitality. DP and I were truly humbled and truly thankful for the good fortune that had greeted us at every turn of this mission (with the possible exception of my car sickness on the drive through the mountains). We were situated in these lovely mountains with winding rivers and streams, ancient churches, and the Black Sea (where we had dinner one night) only an hour’s drive away. We couldn’t believe our luck.

Oh, and there were cows everywhere—on the side of the roads, walking in the roads… it was so cool. (A side note to Tiberius: I tried to get a photo of this phenomenon for you, but with no luck, as l felt awkward asking our driver to stop so I could capture the moment).

The hours are long on election day. Typically a team is up and out the door by 6 or 7am at the latest, and rarely gets back to the hotel prior to midnight. Working 24 hours in a row is not at all unusual. So when the clock struck 11pm at the final polling station, DP and I started to get loopy. Everything we saw, we decided, was a violation. Smiling workers? Violation. Outhouse in the back? Violation. And so on. We began to wonder if we had somehow died along the way and were in hell or limbo. As the polling station chair flipped through the rule book in order to follow it verbatim, DP started muttering about how Genghis Khan had burned libraries full of books along his path of conquest. “Now I see why,” he mused. Pausing, he surmised that Khan was himself an observer, stroking his moustache while he scanned for violations in the stations and eventually giving up and just burning the rule book. I, of course, found this all perfectly logical at the time. Then again, I also had my doubts about actually being alive at the time, so anything made sense to me then. An aside: DP is lucky that he actually is alive right now, because I almost killed him when he decided on the polling station where we would watch the final count, for it had as its only bathroom an outhouse. Again. Our final polling station in Ukraine had an outhouse, too, and I had flashbacks to being led there by my beloved interpreter (hello, my dear!) at 3am with nothing but a flashlight and the good fortune to avoid the giant mud puddles and patches of snow. Luckily, there was no need for the outhouse this time, but DP still would have owed me were it not for his announcement after calling our LTO that we were done—done!—with our observing at just after midnight! We had to work a second shift the next day, but we could get back to the guesthouse at a decent hour and even get some sleep! This really was a treat, and DP was only the messenger, but I still let him off the hook as a result.

Eek—I have a flight to catch to New Orleans, and I haven’t even finished packing. Long story short: a good time was had by all, DP is just about the best partner ever, and our whole regional team—from the observers to the drivers and interpreters—was top-notch. As before, if you have any interest in photos, visit Again, substitute accordingly. And now back to packing—one hour to go before my ride to the airport gets here! Bye again for now.

P.S. Two more things that I found entertaining/amusing:

1) One of the political parties--I forget which one--lifted their party logo straight from the helmet of the Houston Texans. I, of course, found this hilarious, but it was tough to explain the entertainment value to the other members of my team, but at least I was amused. I still regret not getting photographic evidence of this.

2) At one of the polling stations, I was queried on whom I preferred in the election. I explained that I had no favorite and was there as a neutral observer. Someone then asked me what I thought of the American election. Again I explained that I couldn't say. I don't know Georgian, but I definitely heard the word "diplomatic" being exchanged in between chuckles. One man, however, exclaimed, "You need a new president more than we do.". I did everything in my power to refrain from joining them in their laughter. DP and I agreed that was the best line of the election.