Note:

This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Movie Review: Baby Mama

First off: supported our local theater and went to Six Forks Station. What is nice about supporting a smaller theater? Less people...okay, not nice for business, but a better 'movie class' of people. Most, and this was not crowded at the 12:45 PM showing, were older people...and I mean, older than me. So no worries of anyone's cell phone ringing and being answered, or tweenies giggling in the back. It was a movie house dream.

CJ summed it up best when she said: Oh I love this place! I went here for field trips (during summer camps) and I like that it's small. I can leave the movie and get more coke if I need to.

Bigger isn't always better...well, it IS but in this case, it's not.

Now to the movie...I LOVED IT. It was hilarious beyond my expectation. Tim and I love Amy Poehler and Tina Fey -- big fans of theirs. Two of the funniest women in the 'biz'.

It was clean enough (for us) for CJ and Mi-Mi to watch, although CJ is old enough to kind of 'get it' more than Mi-Mi. But the antics are funny without being crass, as most of the SNL movie spins can become. Just a good-hearted, funny-as-hell, and a sweetness to it that made this movie my favorite of the year...and CJ's too.

And best of all? Women in the lead roles. I'm not a die-hard feminazi, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE when chicks come out with awesome movies like this.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Catching up on Amsterdam

Before I forget my entire last few days in Amsterdam, I'm going to create the vacation posts. The post date will be wrong, so that these will be read _now_ instead of missed by having them go in the correct date order. But most likely in a few weeks, I'll re-date them appropriately...

Enjoy!

Chain Reaction

Just as I post about supporting local, I go and dine with two chains. Shame on me.

But I have to say, these two chains really went beyond the call of duty and I have to pat them on the back for that extra special touch that is usually not available in chains.

Jason's Deli (jasonsdeli.com) - we frequented the Spring Forest location back when we lived closer to it. A favorite among Tim and the girls...me, it was pretty good, but I'm not a big sandwich person. This has since changed after my trip to Amsterdam where, well, a sandwich can be a gourmand's dream. So, Jason's Deli is no 'tosti' but it is quite good. And the fact that they were one of the first to eliminate trans fat from the products they use, well, that says a lot.

I decided to check out their website right after we got back from our vacation. I noticed the "Order on-line" button and decided to try it out. I waited for the "not available in your area" warning, but it never came up. I placed an on-line order with the Brier Creek location, in which we live approximately five miles from, and sure enough, our food came right to our door.

A couple of days ago, I decided to give them another try. On-line ordering with them is really easy and nice. You can substitute, you can name who's entree it belongs to...just a really good online ordering system, IMO. There are set times in which the user can select to have food delivered, which is at least 45 minutes out from the time of the online order. Well, since we were busy figuring out what we wanted, my order time had 'expired' to the required 45 minute minimum gap for delivery. My only option was to pick the next range of time. No problem for me.

My phone rang about 15 minutes later and I thought, I bet it's Jason's Deli, prepared to tell me that they can't deliver to my location, or that my credit card didn't go through...you know, call when there's a problem. Instead, the guy on the phone said "Um, we can deliver your food now, if you'd like." What? You are asking me if you can deliver now, instead of just doing it?

No, I didn't say that...I said "That would be great!" but really, call to ask permission to deliver earlier? I was impressed and they are now on my "To order online" list.

Domino's Pizza (dominospizza.com) - of course, I'm one of the many who has ordered from Dominos for YEARS. I remember "Avoid the Noid" and ordering pizzas as a teenager. They are good -- I like their buffalo kickers -- but when they introduced their Brooklyn Style pizza last year, WOW. This pizza is second to The Salty Dog's Pizza in Hilton Head for an extraordinary, ordinary, old-fashioned, greasy pizza. I LOVE IT. Sure, it's no gourmet pizza with basil, romas, fresh buffalo mozzarella and portobellos, but Dominos is not meant to be _that_ pizza place.

For as long as I've ordered from Domino's, they have been inaccessible via online ordering for me. As recently as two months ago, I could not order online from them. Papa John's, on the other hand, has had their system in place for years. I ordered online at my old house!

But for that Brooklyn style pizza, I sacrifice and actually speak to a person on the phone. But as luck would have it, I looked at the site last night and sure enough, on-line ordering was alive for me.

But what made the online ordering experience unique for me, and for a franchise like Dominos, is that it has a pizza tracker. What is a pizza tracker? It's a real-time process tracker of your pizza order. From the moment the order is placed, the tracker displays who looked at your order, who put it in the oven and at what time, when it was taken out, and when it's on the road.

I kid you not. I followed the tracker with delight. James put my pizza in the oven. And then Eric took it out for delivery. I thought that these names must be stubs for us online folks who spent 15 minutes staring at the tracker, waiting for the update.

So when the pizza delivery guy pulled into my driveway, Brenna and I were waiting for him. Just as he got out of the car, and after I said a nice "Hello", I drilled into him:
me: What is your name?
taken-aback-pizza-delivery-guy: Eric.
me: REALLY?! OH MY GOD! YOU REALLY ARE THE GUY ON THE PIZZA TRACKER!
Eric: nodding his head, with a befuddled look.
me: THAT IS TOO COOL! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU HAD YOUR NAME ON IT! AND JAMES COOKED MY PIZZA!! THAT IS TOO COOL! I LOVE IT!
Eric: Enjoy your pizzas!
me: I JUST THINK THAT IS TOO COOL!
Eric gets in the car to escape.

So, I'm tickled pink at these two experiences with chains...ironically, on the heels of my post to urge you all to go local.

I am a hypocrite.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mudcats vs. Lugnuts

I found this on yet another newsletter and just loved it. The video is wonderful enough but then to read what these folks did to get it going is just as good.

The video:

And the details on the best game ever: http://improveverywhere.com/2008/04/07/best-game-ever/

Support Local

Inspired by the enormous act of customer service that a business could do, especially in this era-of-bush,
I strive to do this and sometimes, can get down right fanatical about it. I try not to push it too much but in my mind, when someone says "I love Applebee's", or insert any other chain restaurant there.

And mind you, I'm a hypocrite because I do go to chains occasionally...maybe more than I care for...but definitely, DEFINITELY NOT APPLEBEE'S.

But I am guilty of sometimes serving the franchise chains but for the most part, I support local in every way that I can. I am going to list some of my regular local choices and if you live in the Raleigh area, or ever visit this area, please support these places too. Service is usually SO MUCH BETTER or at least, unique, at these places and I want to make sure to keep that business healthy and promote them.

Quail Ridge Books & Music - one of the very few remaining locally owned book store. I am pretty sure it is the only one in Raleigh. This place is a happening place. I frequently visit to listen to visiting authors. I didn't blog about it, but Alexandra Sokoloff (see my review of her book The Haunting was there last month -- with wine and cheese -- promoting her new book The Price (which I am finishing up).

There are many other things that go one there: the newsletter contains information about the staff's favorite book picks and even include reader picks. I get a lot of my information about future reads from this newsletter. There are also various book clubs covering every genre and age group you can think of.

I also volunteer as a moderator, of sorts, for a teen writing club. Quail Ridge allows us to use their facilities to meet every other week to review writing projects as well as discuss future writing projects.

It's not a huge place, although it ain't small either. But sized enough to make it feel like a cozy neighborhood book store with friendly staff members. It's large enough to cover all types of genres, but small enough that one wouldn't get lost, like a mega-two-story-book-conglomerate (unless it's a really big library).

The Library - Even despite my bad experience with my branch, the library is THE place for readers. FREE unlimited books, all genres, any book you want, and most of the time, yours until your done. There is great advancement in the government: I can request any book and have it delivered to my local library of choice and it will be waiting for me, with my name, in a reserved area of the library. Then, I can use the self-checkout and check-out my book and be on my way. No searching and really, a very white-glove service, if you ask me. I rarely buy books because of this, but occasionally, I like to add to my collection...where Quail Ridge comes into play.

Dos Taquitos - I have posted previously about how much I love this place. I loved it from the first time I set foot, about 12 years ago when I first moved to Raleigh. I don't know anyone else in my circle of friends and acquaintances who have even set foot in this place...but it's their loss...the place stays packed and they're doing well, so well, they've opened Dos Taquitos Centroin downtown Raleigh. Tim isn't interested in trying that one yet...he's loyal to this one.

New World Coffee House - This was (maybe still is) $Bill's place, when he lived in these here parts but now that he's in the suburbs of Clayton, it's our place. Service is pleasant and the place has wireless...and it's a bit roomy for just a coffee house. But wait, it's not just a coffee house: good sandwiches and soups are served too. But it LOOKS like what a coffee house should be, including showcasing local art...and their White Lightning is the bomb.

I will post more local places I frequent...I'm not even close to being done...

Mission Valley Cinemas lowers admission prices

This was the subject line of an e-mail I received from a newsletter I signed for.

The newsletter comes from a local movie house, well, several. Most Raleighites know of The Rialto, but it includes Mission Valley, The Colony and Six Fork Station.

Mission Valley tends to be a little out of the way for us, but not by much. If you recall my review of The Simpson's, this is the place where we went:
---
PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Mission Valley Cinemas lowers admission prices.

With price increases daily, it is unusual for cinema admission prices to be lowered. This is exactly what has happened to the Child, Senior, and Student admission prices at Mission Valley Cinemas.

The Child and Senior prices have been lowered to $5.50 and the Student price has been expanded to include High School Students.

Bill Peebles, owner of Ambassador Entertainment, said, “While I expect our competition to raise prices shortly, I want to do what I can to offset the frustration felt at the gas pumps all too frequently.”

With these changes, Mission Valley Cinema admissions prices follow:

Matinees: $5.50
Child: $5.50
Senior (60+): $5.50
High School and College Student: $5.75
Adult: $7.75

No convenience fee is charged for online ticket purchases.

For the current schedule, please check out www.therialto.com.

For additional information, please contact Bill Peebles.
919-856-8683 (W), 919-815-6700 (Cell), peebles@therialto.com



See ya at the movies,

BP.
__________________________________________________
Bill Peebles "Be careful what you ask for.
Ambassador Entertainment, Inc. You may get it."
1620 Glenwood Avenue (919) 856-8683
Raleigh, NC 27608 www.therialto.com

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Future Running Trail?

Well, not for me. Tim sent this to me and it's pretty fascinating. I've noticed, after doing a little research on this particular site, that this is a popular video...so many of you may have already seen it. But I thought, what's one more place to post this riveting "walk".

This video was shot in Spain, at El Caminito del Rey, which apparantly means "The King's Pathway":

Sunday, April 20, 2008

ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM!!

Every so often, we can hear the jingle of an ice cream truck from our house. I've never seen one, but I can hear it.

CJ has searched and searched for this thing and maybe once, was able to see it but the last few times, it has never come around. The disappointment on her face is heart-breaking.

Heart-breaking because ice cream from the ice cream truck is one of the best things a kid can get. It is delightful and it's almost like an oasis, when you see the ice cream truck coming your way. Hearing it just makes you excited and you can't wait to see it!

So today, when we heard the ice cream truck jingle, I told the girls that they should wait on the corner, which is an active roadway for the neighborhood, to catch the ice cream truck as it came by.

After a few minutes, I could hear my girls screaming "ICE CREAM TRUCK DRIVER! COME HERE!" every 2 seconds. The corner is approximately one house away, so they aren't right in our yard but several yards away. It was funny but it was also like: what in the world are they thinking????

But the sound of the ice cream truck just seemed to waft around us and not sounding as though it were coming closer. So I decided that I would find the damn thing and bring it over. I couldn't stand to think of my girls not having to get ice cream YET AGAIN so I wasn't going to stand for it this time.

I got into the car and headed out, hoping to find it.

I noticed that hearing the ice cream truck is not as easy in the car, driving with the windows down, vs. sitting still at home. But I heard it pretty loud at the cusp of the neighborhood, so I had a pretty good idea where to find it. And I did and found that the ice cream truck man was actually a woman - a very attractive latina who was very nice as I instructed her on how to find my daughters. She promised me to find them.

But when i saw my girls standing at the corner, with big eyes and wonderment on whether I found the truck or not, I gave them the option of having me take them to the ice cream truck or wait for it. They decided they wanted the sure thing and so, I took them back to the ice cream truck where we purchased several ice cream treats to share with the family.

The ice cream truck woman stated she would come back into our neighborhood next time and my girls, well, the THANK YOU MOM I got afterwards was more than I could ever ask for.

Wondergirl 5K

This is the race that happened a year ago and I posted about it under Girls Rule. I participated as a Girls on the Run coach for some great girls and this was the race that I helped train them for, for three months.

This year I participated not as a coach, but as a mom to a GOTR girl (CJ) and I also 'ran' it with Mi-Mi.

This is CJ's second season of being a GOTR participant and she loves it...and I love that she loves it.

For me, however, I had to give up coaching this season. I just can't make the time to do it. Well, I could, but it stresses our already-busy schedules. I miss it, I really do but having CJ do it makes up for it...and that she enjoys the program so much. Hopefully one day I can do it again...

Anyway, race day arrives and we all have to get up early to get to the race by 7:45 AM. The race is in Chapel Hill, so we needed to get out even earlier. We did it and not bad for me, as I had a teeny-tiny headache from my Girls Night Out, the night before.

This race is set up really well. There are many booths and a silent auction with a ton of stuff. Unfortunately for us folks who aren't rich, we are quickly outbid before we even had a chance TO bid... But this is such a great family event to support by cheering on or running it.

CJ chose her dad to be her running buddy for this race. I was her running buddy for the Reindeer Romp, which was in December so I was happy that she was playing fair and had her dad do this one with her. I planned to 'run' it with Mi-Mi, bringing the stroller along for the times that she got tired of running.

My BFF $Bill was going to run it with his 4 year old, Y-Y, who is one of Mi-Mi's BFF. So we met up with each other and after rooting CJ and the other runners on, we headed to the back of the line to await the bullhorn for us to go.

Ha! When we got to the line, no one was there. The race 'officials' decided to just let everyone go so $Bill and I were last. It was actually a really good thing because Y-Y and Mi-Mi were running and they had the cheers from everyone who had (thought they) finished cheering everyone on.

These two girls loved running. I couldn't believe how much they were doing on their own. $Bill and I trotted along, pushing our bulked up strollers (all the 'swag' the girls got before the race started) as we delighted in our daughters antics.

But there was a lot of: 'stop, let me get in the stroller' and five seconds later, 'stop, i want to run'. This was quite a workout for us old folks. :-)

Things were going quite lovely for me and Mi-Mi until Mi-Mi fell out of the stroller. Well, it was the transition from stroller-to-running and the timing of her getting out and me stopping the stroller did not work and she fell pretty hard onto the pavement. I knew this would be bad but what made it worse were the helpful strangers around us who all gasped simultaneously...this just makes her nuttier...

So after getting her back into the stroller and trying to console her, we were back on the road. She never would set foot onto the pavement afterwards -- although she did try once, but wouldn't stand on the leg with the bruised knee.

But Y-Y made up for it by running almost the entire 5K route. And she ran pretty fast. I was just tickled to death and I could hear the volunteers cheer her on then as she passed, I would hear the "Awww...she is so adorable!" comments.

I did a pretty good job of trotting the route with the stroller. I'm pretty anti-stroller when I run...in fact, I prefer not to hold or carry anything because I just feel like it all weighs me down. But pushing a stroller endures more strength than I care to provide, so for me to jog this, extremely hilly 5K course, with a 40 lb. 5 year old, well, I was surprised that 1) I could do it and 2) that I wasn't peeved about it.

I wondered what an odd site $Bill and I must have made. Y-Y is half Chinese and half caucasian; Mi-Mi is 1/4 filipino and the rest caucasian...but these two girls really resemble one another. However, even though they are close in age, they are far enough apart that they can't be twins...so here we are, and odd 'family' of similar looking kids, running almost side-by-side with our strollers and our almost twins.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

GNO

I don't want to do this because it's just going to come out very mean...but it is too funny not to mention in my blog.

Friday night was another Girls' Night Out outing. The plan: hit a place for pole dancing (YEAH!) lessons, then hit a restaurant afterwards for drinks and food. There were four of us and we were extremely excited about the pole-dancing. When I mentioned it to Tim he said he was measuring the bedroom out for where the pole would be installed. ;-)

The hot ladies came by my house to tote me over to the pole dancing place...but first, we had a glass of wine (or two for me) to loosen us up about our soon-to-learn dance moves. After that, we're off...

The address sounded very familiar to me. And when we got close enough, I figured out why: it was the location of CJ's old-and-now-defunct dance studio from several years ago. As we pulled into the parking lot, it was quite obvious that this place was PACKED. We were not the only ones interested in doing some side work...

We kind of knew that this particular Friday would be an open house, so there would be several classes going on. So this probably explained why this place was so packed...but on a Friday night? Aren't there bars and restaurants to hit vs. a 'fitness-dance' facility?

We were greeted with a nice lady who gave us a tour of the facility. First stop: jump roping class.

This was very interesting. The room is the same room that CJ did her practice dance routines for family show days -- a large room with mirrors and benches in the back for the moms & dads to sit at while the practice goes on. For jump-roping class, the benches were filled with women watching about a dozen women jump rope.

What was odd was that I would see a couple of women jump-roping and the rest were, well, doing slow-moving jump-roping moves. I could hear the instructor instructing, so I was extremely curious to see how the woman was doing with the jump rope. Note: I did a jump-roping class (ONE) and it was HARD. Then I did jump-roping for another fitness thing and it was HARD. I was a great jump-roper as a kid but something changes when you hit 39.

Anyway, I finally found the instructor and I just wanted to laugh: she had no jump rope! She had a microphone on, ala Britney Spears, but NO JUMP ROPE. She merely moved her hands and feet in a jump rope motion while 'instructing' the participants to do what she was doing WITH A ROPE. An unfair advantage, if you ask me.

I later learned from the tour hostess that the people sitting on the bench were mainly sitting there because they were tired of doing the class. Really? Couldn't they just emulate the instructor and just rotate your wrists and hop?

I heard one of my girlfriends ask about the pole dancing and the tour took us over to another room...this room had about 23 poles (we learned from the tour hostess). Each one had a patron on it...different shapes and sizes :-). But when I saw the instructor, I truly thought I was stuck in a Saturday Night Live skit.

Let me just preface what I'm about to say with: I think everyone, no matter, how big or small they are, should have fitness in their lives. I am not the most shapely person in the world and I promise you, I hold no negative judgement on anyone who is not fit.

But to see who was instructing the POLE-DANCING CLASS...well, how do I put this...um, you expect someone who is is similar-looking to those who might do pole-dancing for a living...like, I don't know, a stripper?

And preferably, a stripper that is from a _nice_ strip joint.

HERE IS WHERE I AM GOING TO BE MEAN, but it's the only way to describe what I saw.

The instructor was tall -- in her extremely high heeled stripper heels -- but she had the shape of a troll: no butt, big gut, and blue-veined legs with feet pushed into those heels. She had boxed-dyed red hair and super tight shirt and super tight, super short shorts -- so we could really see how flat her ass was and how big her gut was.

I thought this whole thing was a joke. But no -- I was told by the tour hostess that the participants LOVED her. I saw her wrap her blue-veined leg around the pole and swing around...and the other women did it too...but, um, well, it just wasn't sexy. In fact, it was completely the opposite of sexy.

Needless to say, we abandoned our pursuit of pole-dancing _here_. I can't speak for my fellow girlfriends...I have no idea what they thought and I didn't share my thoughts to this degree because I knew it would be just plain MEAN.

But the night went on without pole-dancing and instead, we enjoyed some good food and some belly-dancing at Oliver Twist.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lunch at Cindy's House

This would be the restaurant in downtown Cary.

The first time I went there, a year or two ago, I went with girlfriends. The food was out of this world. I was blown away, to say the least. My friends were kind enough to let me nibble on their selections and each bite, including all of my ordered dish, was foot-stomping good. Truly amazing culinary tastes in these dishes.

*BUT* our server was a douche bag. Not to be confused with the douche bag from work...but this particular douche was just, well, hateful with that "i'm trying to be nice to you" attitude. It was unbelievable how sanctimonious she was to us...literally tossing the menus at us and just very subtly snide in her attitude. It was my first time so I was really dumbfounded by her attitude and thought that maybe I was just over-thinking it.

It was the second visit that made me determine that my feeling about the first encounter was right: the waitress was a douche bag. I had boasted to Tim so much about this place that we went to lunch there, and brought along little Mi-Mi. And coincidentally, we had the same douche bag from my first experience...and she was still being a douche!

The food was still "to-die" for for me...

I returned with another girlfriend and was delighted to enjoy one of their specials of the day, which was an open-faced avocado 'sandwich': one avocado, halved, with a scoop of chicken salad in one and tuna salad in the other, with a slice of cheese then 'grilled'. Wow. It was OUTSTANDING...more so the avocado than the salads (I'm not a big fan of either), but truly an innovative dish (here in Raleigh).

Service was better...not grand but certainly not rude.

So I went back, yet again with another girlfriend (I love girls :-)) and this time, a turn for the worse.

We arrived and the restaurant was pretty empty. We sat down and one of the first thing's my girlfriend noticed was that her fork was, well, a little spotty. She took it well and simply wiped it down rather than mention it to our creepy waiter.

The next thing I noticed was a big, long piece of hair on the table...and it didn't belong to me. I mean, shouldn't they have shook the tablecloth at some point? And maybe, it could have been overlooked if it wasn't for the fact that the utensil was spotty...and then the creepy waiter.

The waiter was nice but he would bend over and look right at us to ask us questions. It was just weird and un-waiter-like behavior...but more creepy, serial killer/rapist-type behavior (I'm assuming, since so far, I haven't met one...but this is who I think would be one)...

So I just couldn't experience the same foot-stomping pleasure I had at my first visit...and with all that RALEIGH has to offer for foods...I just can't see myself returning to Cindy's House...unless, it's my own.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Book Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

This was March's book club choice and although I missed the deadline, I did read it while in Amsterdam.

This was probably the impetus for reading Jane Eyre...at least one of them. Several novels we were considering had references to Jane Eyre, and undoubtedly, this one with Jane in the title, was wholly dependent on it.

So this particular novel is a little out there: a futuristic setting in the year 1985, in England, where there is policing of literary novels and poems – where forgery is prevalent. There is also a war in place, the Crimea, so much is going on in the world in this novel.

The primary character is Thursday Next. You read it right: w LiteraTec (investigates literary forgeries), first name Thursday, last name Next. And as with most novels that have a lead hero or heroine, she is the best of the best. So good, is she, that she is assigned to work with an elite special operations force, SO-5. Well, and the operations that is to take place under SO-5 has also linked her to the most evil person in the world (well, third most...as the ending stated), which is another reason she is chosen to get involved with this SO-5 case...

The SO-5 case she is involved with goes awry and she ends up in the hospital. While there, she is visited by, well, herself from the future (in a sports car in the middle of her hospital room) to take up a job as a LiteraTec in Swindon, which is her hometown. She takes it and the journey continues with the third most evil man, and the literary classics of Martin Chuzzlewit and Jane Eyre.

As you can see from my quick introduction to this book, there is a lot of sci-fi and, well, just kind of “out there” scenes in which, really, you have to suspend any doubt and just go with the flow.

I am not a science fiction fan...and yet I like horror. I can suspend my belief for some things, but not for others and for whatever reason, science fiction is hard for me to buy into.

While I enjoyed the book, I doubt that I would be interested in following the series...this was our first introduction to Thursday Next, who will now be the heroine of many other novels. That type of genre is something I've grown to dislike because, and it doesn't have to be science fiction, I am so tired of the most invincible person in the world routine.

It's funny – buying used books can be more interesting than new. I bought this book used from Amazon and while reading (in the luxury of my waterbed in Amsterdam), a small note fell out that read:

“Melissa,
u can return it 2 me anytime you want...(squiggly face)

FYI: I got it @ an old book store.

P.S. It's not so good @ the beginning, but it gets better toward the end.

--Hiroko”

Hiroko is right...it was quite slow and mind-boggling in the beginning...although when we meet the third most evil man in the world, it was pretty good.

The middle was also quite interesting but truthfully, towards the end, I was tired of the jumping in and out of novels, the changing of the stories, etc. But at the very end, there was the whole sappy hollywood-type ending that just ended with a thud for me.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I thought I'd comment on the things I loved most about my vacation...and the things I didn't like...

The Good:
Food – all meals were amazing; some more memorable than others. My first meal in Amsterdam was wonderful: the carpaccio, with pasta and salad. Simple but oh-so-divine.

My steak dinner the same evening, at the bar adjacent to the first bar, was also great. It was super tender but also included a savory sauce atop it that was so, so good but have no idea what the sauce was.

The other item that stands out was a tosti that was simply a sandwich, cheese, sliced boiled eggs and sliced avocados. Amazing. Of course, the key to these sandwiches: tostis and broodges, is the bread. The bread, the breads, the breads! All over the place and so many different types – it's heaven and if you're on the Atkins Diet, shame on you – you're missing out on one of life's greatest creations: BREAD.

The other simple snack: cheese slices on top of buttered bread – open faced (one slice of bread). Again, the key is the bread but the other main ingredients is the cheese (it's Holland, of course) and their butter is quite different than the butter we buy here in the U.S.

Bathrooms – public bathrooms are the bomb. They take up very little space, but what they do take up is very private. The stalls have floor-to-ceiling doors, so you feel nothing but privacy, which is quite handy when you, well, want that privacy.

The bathrooms that I visited, and I visited many throughout the city – and I'll include London here too – were CLEAN. Not spotless clean, but definitely clean and not at all “icky”. That says a lot, to me, about the people who use these bathrooms: they take care not to make a mess, or clean up their mess, or both. The bathrooms also provide essentials to keep it clean: toilet paper always available, little baggies for ladies' personal trash, and trash cans. Sinks are clean and paper towels were always available. Well, one bathroom did not have paper towels but provided a towel. Not my idea of germ free drying BUT the establishment made an effort to provide something instead of hanging us out to dry (pun intended).

Restaurants – just the sheer number of them is a gourmand's delight...but it's just not the number, but the variety! Every ethnic food type you can imagine is prevalent throughout the city and to see people in them, well, they are of different nationalities. So if you pass an Ethiopian place, you don't just see Ethiopians eating there – well, at least it doesn't appear to be just Ethiopians. There are caucasians sitting in every ethnic type of restaurant, speaking Dutch, or whatever language they are in the know of. This makes me proud for them – no hiccups about eating outside their domain. And I think it's probably not even a thought to them...it's just eating good food.

Most offer alcohol, of course...alongside their awesome coffees.

There appears no interest in 'flipping tables', trying to get people in-and-out. The places we have been, people come in groups and are jovial, and take their time eating, drinking, talking and smoking.

The wait staff and cooks seem to be a part of the restaurant, not hired help. There is pride in their work and to me, every person we met at every place we ate at, owned the place. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't, but service was top-notch without being catered to (I hope that makes sense).

Pets Are Loved – dogs and cats everywhere. People love their dogs and take them everywhere: on the tram, in the grocery store, alongside their owner's bikes (or in them, if they're small enough), throughout the city's shops, and by golly, I saw one at Schipol Airport! Within the restaurants – dogs come and go, some belong to the people who work there and for the time I was there, no one complains and actually, most pay no mind, I think, because they are so used to it. We saw cats at nearly every restaurant we ate at. Um, this would not happen in the U.S. Someone would report a health violation and complain about their stupid allergies...

Bike Paths – These are everywhere and to call them a path is misleading...they are bike roads, most in cobblestone, wide enough for many bikes to pass one another. It is obvious that biking in the Netherlands is a means of transportation and there is no 'attitude' from drivers...mainly, because there is room for bikers. Note you asshole drivers in Raleigh: the cars DO NOT us the bike lanes at all, so there is no bad driver behavior of using a bike path as a turn lane.

Bikes, Bikes and More Bikes – I mean, the number of bikes you see anywhere is countless. And amazingly, bike theft in Amsterdam is pretty high. Why? I mean, they are everywhere whether parked or en route. These lanes go on outside of Amsterdam, so it's not just a city feature. Technically, you can ride your bike from Amsterdam to the outskirts of the city.

The other cool thing? Kids are on the bikes with their adult riders – even infants. Some bikes are equipped with a small windshield in the front of a small seat that sets in front of the pedaler – this is where a baby or small child can sit. Others have wooden “trays” on the back, where small children can sit.


The Bad:
Picky Eater – Although CJ did try a few things outside of her comfort zone, for the most part, she ate like a mouse. In countries that had the most amazing food, I felt frustrated and disappointed because, in my mind, she was missing out in so much of the adventure. She is certainly not a gourmand and yes, it is commonplace for children (especially American?) to be picky eaters but I would prefer to have one that is NOT.

And I would be less frustrated if she would at least taste things and then decide whether she liked it or not. But no, the flat refusals came at the sight of the food. And let's see, if you put butter on a piece of bread, then a piece of cheese on top – and you like bread, and you like butter, and you like cheese, then why wouldn't you try it? Please, someone – do you have a logical answer to this mystery?

Meltdowns – By the children, especially Mi-Mi. First of all, I don't want to hear that this is not a child-friendly place to take your children. I am DONE with Disney World. My children go where I go and experience what they can, alongside me. And to me, taking your children with you to these types of places is much more enlightening than Disney World.

Second: yes, children get tired and go nuts. So I understand that BUT even as expected as it is, it is still irritating.

Mi-Mi had two major meltdowns on our trip: one was Thursday evening, when I wanted to stroll through the hood. She would not put on her shoes without help. Well, first it was socks. Even CJ was trying to help and Mi-Mi responded with “nos”, or “i don't like those” but wouldn't find any for herself. So out of impatience, I told her to simply put her shoes on. Easy enough? No, she wanted help...and since I was pissed, I refused to put them on. My threats of leaving her were undaunted: her head, sadly, is harder than mine. And I pouted for a good 20 minutes waiting, patiently through the loud cries, for her to put her shoes one. She did not.

The second was the next morning, this time over brushing her teeth. Again, she flatly refused to brush her teeth without help and again, the competition between who gives in first was underway. Lots of tears, lots of LOUD CRYING (this time, by only Mi-Mi), and again, Mi-Mi wins.

The Ugly:
NWA Stewards/Stewardesses – coming to Europe was not an issue. The stewardesses were quite lovely. Going back was not the same. I was so annoyed with these assholes, treating some of the people on the plane like baggage.

Forms were handed out for immigration and customs. In English, each steward/esses asked folks if they were U.S. citizens. Um, exsqueeze me, we are leaving Amsterdam where most people are NOT ENGLISH SPEAKERS...and yet, when someone didn't understand, I would hear the steward/esses respond rudely. A couple of rude their rude statements to non-Americans:
'Either you are a U.S. citizen or you are not. Which is it?'
'I asked you if you were a U.S. citizen and you said yes. Now you are saying no. Which is it?'

Of course, I can't relay the tone in writing, but it wasn't nice.

The man behind me had a difficult time filling out his form. He asked the 'lead' steward, who looked like popeye, for help and popeye gave rushed comments about what each field meant. He was obviously irritated with having to spend any time talking about this form. When he was done, he left in a rush and when he came back, the man behind me asked for help again. This time, popeye responded with a quick, rushed answer and then said 'i have a job to do and i need to get to it.'

Detroit Entry Point – since this is my first time traveling outside of the U.S. as an adult, I haven't had to deal with landing on U.S. soil for the first time and going through U.S. customs.

First, it was a queue to pass through immigrations/U.S. citizens. The signs point us in one direction but instead, we had a grumpy security guy barking at foreigners and U.S citizens to form different lines. And he yelled with exasperation that no one was following his 'orders' efficiently.

Two things didn't allow this to go nicely:
1)There were people deplaning from two directions. Immigration queues were in one direction; U.S. folks were in another direction.
2)The signs pointed differently than ONE SINGLE HUMAN BEING. For us coming from Schiphol, where everything is outlined nicely by signage (in Dutch and English) and no human intervention is necessary BECAUSE IT IS WELL DESIGNED, this was confusing. And people's first instinct was to follow the signs and this irritated the single human asshole even more, hence the barking.

This was just the beginning. Once one clears the queue to show your passport/visa/immigration papers, the next queue comes along to pick up your luggage. Even if one is connecting to another flight, we have to grab our luggage and cart to another long queue to reach the luggage x-ray thingie-ma-bob.

So we reached the line for the x-ray thingie-ma-bob, which wasn't as bad as the other endless queues, but the agent there was barking at people too. She was exasperated at how people placed their luggage on the conveyor belt and would yell directions to these folks...many, foreigners.

Once you pass through this line, we have to pass through another line to have our luggage placed back on the plane for our connecting flight. This wasn't too bad for us.

But once the luggage line is passed, we pass through another line to go through security. Why? I was deplaned in a secured environment and passed through half a dozen secured points and yet, I have to take my shoes off and all my shit out of my bags and go through a security line again?

WELCOME TO THE U.S. of A.

Dank U Weil, Amsterdam

Well, all good things must come to an end and our journey to Amsterdam, too, had to end. It wasn't painful, but it certainly was sad leaving this wonderful city.

I truly enjoyed the Dutch culture. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt in a city in which, well, English is not the dominant language. I think the Dutch were used to English-speakers more than I was with Dutch, so that was probably what helped me feel more at ease.

So the melancholy of leaving was the fact that I was able to pick up on some of the language, I was getting used to my area of the city, and to leave it...well, and assume that I may never return, well, it's a little sad.

I feel fortunate and privileged to have had the opportunity to visit this city. I think about how there are many people who do not have the means to do something like this. It seems unfair to me that so many will miss out...

I hope I am lucky enough to revisit this city once more, maybe several more times.

Dank U Weil, Amsterdam (Thank You Very Much, Amsterdam). You gave me one of the best experiences of my life.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Amsterdam Day Seven

Today we went to see De Haar castle. In order to see it, one has to take the train to Utrecht and then the bus to the castle.

Simple, yes?

Well, not quite.

Again, Centraal Station is the place to go to hit the train to Utrecht. The system to get tickets is so efficient, with a number of 'tellers'...you are given a number and then there are TV monitors throughout the facility to show who will be next, as well as where your number is in the queue. In no time, we were helped and our tickets were purchased.

The train was nice and funny, no one ever checked for our tickets. I wonder how many people actually hop on for a free ride to anywhere.

Once in Utrecht, it was a simple trek to the bus station to catch our bus. However, we found that a trip to De Haar Castle is not common, so we waited about 45 minutes for the bus to show up.

Our bus driver did tell us that she would let us know when we were at the right stop. And as nice as she was, that's pretty much all she did: let us out at a bus stop. We had to figure out where the hell we needed to head to, to find the castle. I assumed there would be signs everywhere and as soon as we got off, we did have a sign:So off we go, in the direction of "De Haar". This is the road that the signed pointed us down to:Again, we are off and walk down this road...where, by the way, no castle is in sight. We get to a "T" intersection and our choices are to go straight, or turn right. Tim thinks he sees what appears to be castle-like structures straight ahead, but we see this sign:We have to assume that "Kasteel" is indeed castle, so instead of going straight (which is a really long road with nothing in sight), we go right...still not knowing if we are going towards the castle. There's a wooded area so it's hard to tell if there are castle-like structures along the way.

We go right and this is what the road looks like: So as you can imagine, our options of go straight down a long, bare road, or go right, down a long, bare road, was a bit daunting.

Tim states that the one lone person walking in front of us appeared to have a brochure, so we hoped that he, too, was looking for a castle. But no one else was around. Cars would drive by us on this little road, but no signs, no sidewalks, nothing.

And by this time, not only are we confused, we are pretty hungry. We had breakfast before our journey, but nothing since and at this time, it's around 1PM. We know that the castle closes at 3PM and it's by tour only. We are frantic to get there in time to get to the last tour, if we can. We set out thinking we would have plenty of time, but never factoring the bus time (since it wasn't run more often than hourly). And now, factoring possibly getting lost!

As we walk further down, we can see a bridge, although it is perpendicular to our route, it's something to look forward to getting to. Maybe, just maybe, the castle will appear beyond this bridge:Fortunately, a passing bicyclist confirmed that we were indeed heading towards the castle. And after passing under the bridge, we could see something coming our way (well, we are going 'its' way):As we get closer, we can see that the castle is going through some pretty major, and sophisticated, construction: The entrance to the castle is in sight: And how elegant is it to see a car like this at a castle?We notice some very well-dressed people and find a wedding is about to take place (or has finished): We purchase our tickets and we find that we will make the last tour, which takes place at 3PM. It's about 2PM now and I ask the lady if there is any restaurants nearby...we are starving and I'm just jonesing for a glass of wine. And food.

She tells us that right next to the castle is a small cafe and I get really excited because we can relax, after that long walk, and eat and lounge until our 3PM tour.

The grounds are amazing. Green lush grass and gardens throughout, even during these cold windy days...and today was no difference. Here is a shot of us approaching the castle:This turns out to be the side of the castle and not the main entrance. A shot of one of the garden areas:Very European, in my view of what European looks like.

The cafe! Food is in our future!!!We walk into this cute little cafe...I see a little bar...I'm so excited, and relieved. The sweet waitress then says to me "I'm sorry, but we are closed. We have a reception." THAT WEDDING!!! If I could only enter a long silent gap at how crushed we were to hear that, I would. But hopefully, you can get the picture of how awful those words to us. We were tired. We were hungry. We just made the last freaking tour and now that it's only 2-fucking-15 in the afternoon and we have to wait another forty-fucking-five minutes for the god-damn tour, starving, well...we felt deflated. Well, maybe my girls didn't, but I could see in Tim's face that the last of his positive sanity was about to be extinguished.

So I hurried back into the cafe and begged the waitress for food. I felt like Jane Eyre, when she left Thornfield Manor and ended up in the village without money. I told the waitress: anything you have, crackers, leftovers, anything. We were really hungry and we would pay for anything!!

I could tell she seemed a bit surprised at my behavior, but my maternal instincts kicked in and I had to take care of my kids, including my girls. She said she had candy bars and Tim and I bought up the lot.We get our fill of candy and get a nice sugar high to keep us going...walking over the moat to the main entrance of the castle: The front of the castle:The main entrance:
And the view from the main entrance: Pictures were not allowed inside the castle, but it's pretty amazing. You can read more about it, and see more images, at it's website: Kasteel de Haar.

When the tour started, we followed a bunch of folks around. Since the tour is entirely in Dutch, we didn't realize we were in a private tour group until another guide motioned us (deer-in-the-headlights-looking-folk) to her and said we were part of _her_ tour. How did she know? They actually keep a count of how many people bought tickets and they account for each one. I haven't seen/heard that type of process in ages. In the U.S., there would be no finding the lost tourists on their tours...

And still, the tour is entirely in Dutch but our hostess gave us an English printout of most of the details that she would cover during the tour. The great thing? She would do her spiel and then come to us and give us a brief summary, in English, of what she had just said to the other guests. Incredible and an amazing call above duty. Such friendliness and just proud to share the knowledge of something that they hold dearly. I was just moved...and no, it wasn't the sugar rush.

The interior is truly amazing. The details are intricate. Tim would point out that no single piece of detail was the same...wooden pieces, therefore, were created for each piece...tiles on the floor, on columns, in the ceiling. Everything was unique.

I couldn't exactly concentrate entirely on the tour, though, as I knew we had a bus to catch to get back to Utrecht...and then the train back to Amsterdam.

On top of that, I knew we still needed to purchase one more piece of luggage. All of the shopping that occurred, well, and the fact that we are now one bag short...and the horror of trying to pack everything we had in London into the bags we had left...and now we have more! I knew we needed to get back before the shops closed, which is around 6PM.

We finished the tour except for one room. The hostess had gone ahead and it was a great time to go, as we were back in the main room where we had entered. I wanted to give the hostess my sincere thanks and gratitude, but she had already bounded up the stairs to the next room. So I asked one of the tour patrons if he would be kind enough to let her know we had to leave. The man said sure and then questioned whether we were bored because the tour was in Dutch. I told him emphatically that we loved the tour and it had nothing to do with that, only the fact that we had a bus to catch. He offered to give us a ride, which I thought was truly amazing.

Such nice people these Europeans!

But we decided to cut it short and start the long trek back to the bus station. My fear was that we would get to a point where we could see the bus but it would be too far for us to catch it.

It was cold and windy. We make it to the bus stop and try to interpret the bus times. Either we had just missed the bus or we would be seeing it soon. It ends up that we had just missed it...and not because we saw it and couldn't catch up...but most likely, the bus came earlier than scheduled.

This was the worst moment of that day, well, second to the cafe being closed. It was cold, very cold...and the wind was just killing me. And the not knowing was tough: not knowing when the bus would arrive...whether the bus would actually appear...whether we got back in time to buy our suitcase...I knew, while I sat there, that it would be over and we would look back at this day with great memories...that was what kept me positive.

Another family soon joined us at the stop -- tourists as well -- so I felt a little better that someone else would be expecting the bus too.

The bus finally arrives after a good solid hour of waiting. We make it to Utrecht and their central station, well, it happens to look like a shopping mall and we make it into one of the main department stores, purchasing our suitcase. RELIEF! We hop on the train and make it back to Amsterdam.

What a day. We ate at one last spot that we hadn't touched in our Ideaal II neighborhood. The service, amazing. The food, amazing. Our view, amazing:

Campbell Reportedly Arrested at Heathrow Terminal 5

I guess she wasn't keeping up with news. I mean really? EVERYBODY'S luggage is getting lost!

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Amsterdam Day Six

Today we ventured outside of the city and took a bus to the hamlet of Edam. Another benefit of Centraal Station: it is a one stop hub to get to anywhere in the Netherlands...bus, tram or train.

The trip was probably about 30 minutes, although there were frequent stops along the way to pick up passengers. I noticed bike paths all along the roads we were on...so technically, you can work in the city and bike home in the 'burbs'. Pretty darn cool.

Here are some pics along the route to Edam...truly amazing, the difference between this bustling city to the tranquil country:

There's no good way to see this, but there are swans that 'lay' out in these fields of green...if you see a white blot, it's most likely a swan...or some other white bird. They were all over the place.

Passing through another town...

Another shot of just green fields...open space...

If I'm correct, then this is a pretty good shot of two geese flying simulataneously, alongside a small windmill...


Edam is a quaint little town that doesn't have anything remotely in common with Amsterdam...well, maybe one little section of it, but as you delve further into it, the little shops and cafes start to appear.

A sign as we alight from the bus:

A shot of the first part of the town, before entering the 'alleyways'.

The bikes that 'hang out' at the bus stop...it's hard to believe that bike theft is one of the top crimes here...

There is a canal separating the town into two sections.

It was just a beautiful place to walk through. The cobblestone paths with buildings quite close together, making you feel like you're in an alleyway, albeit much cleaner and nicer.




The shops start to appear and they were picture perfect. I loved seeing these...First, a flower shop. This is one of the places I would love to see in Raleigh. Sure, I have the fresh flower section of my grocery store, but somehow, it's just not the same.

A souvenir-type shop:

This sign says delicatessen, but the shop was full of cheese. We bought a sampler and found out that we can buy locally (in the U.S.) from folks he distributes his cheese to. The cheese is made by the dude that runs this shop, at least his family, on their farm...heavenly...

And what little hamlet could be without a candy shop?


It was just a wonderful experience and I felt great carrying my bag of cheese, not even worrying about how to get through customs at this point (although we knew we could).

When we got back to our houseboat, I was ready to have a night of dining without my girls. I love them, but man, they can drive you crazy. Tim and I didn't venture far, just right down the path from the boat to another local place.

We've passed this place numerous times as it's on the way to one of the tram stations. It has always been packed, and this night was no exception. We were able to find a table and the first thing we noticed was that the menu, as everything in our area, is in dutch. We did our best to decipher...I just wanted to be sure I wasn't ordering a 'filet', thinking I was getting steak and ending up with fish.

The place was bustling and the waitresses were busy, busy, busy. I noticed the table near us with a dog and again, I was quite happy with the idea that a dog could hang out with their peeps at restaurants. This dog happened to be running behind the backs of the patrons, on a bench seat. It was quite amusing.

Later, that dog came up to me...it somehow knew I would be a sucker...I must have smelled like a tourist...I shared my steak savors with him:

Isn't he adorable? He didn't belong to the table near us...he was just looking for suckers. Apparently he owns this place.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Amsterdam Day Five

Today we ventured out to see the Van Gogh Museum.

We took the #10 tram, which is closer to our houseboat than the #26. I took these pictures while we waited for our tram:

Here I tried to catch a mom with her kid on a scooter *and* the people with the dog. This is a common scene throughout this great city:

Here's the #10 tram coming towards us (but on the other side)...this is the bridge we cross to get to the grocery store and to the #26 tram...it also crosses the water that our boat was set on:
On the tram into the city, there is a windmill that has a restaurant or bar next to it. We never had a chance to give it a try, but it is a cool sight to see:
A shot out of the back window of the tram:
To get to the Van Gogh, we get off at the same spot that we left our water taxi on day two. The first amazing building you see is the Rijksmuseum, which contains some of the finest art work from Dutch artists. We did not go through this building as it was under renovation. It is open but only part of it and with so much to see in this great city, we chose to drop it from our list.

This beautiful home was admired by us on Day Two, when the water taxi went passed it. I got a good shot of it on this day:
Just a couple more shots of pedestrians and bikers WITH KIDS...there is nothing that stops these people from pedaling or walking:

Between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh, there is a huge park. This is a picture of the starting point...you can see Amsterdam's tourist slogan in reverse in the background:
This is what it looks like on the other side...which, BTW, I think is a genius slogan:
This is one part of the Van Gogh museum:
and this is the other side, which is the main part:
Amsterdam is really tech-savvy. There is updated information as you buy tickets to enter the museum, via monitors:
As with many things to see INDOORS in this city, pictures are not allowed. But I learned a lot about this Dutch master, Vincent Van Gogh, and the museum displays it well and is extremely informative. We were given an audio thingy to listen to (by a patron leaving the museum) and you can select any language to listen to...not sure if this is how it is at Raleigh's art museum, but if it isn't, they should consider providing this wonderful service.

After the Van Gogh, we walked over to Vondelpark.

We didn't go too far into the park, so we missed a lot of what this park is famous for...apparently, we hit the end of the park that was also under renvoation and many, um, down-on-your-luckers, were hanging out.

I kept asking Tim if he saw any needles laying around. I later found out that I confused Vondelpark as a reputed "Needle Park" from the 90s, where heroin users were allowed to shoot up at a public park...but this park was not in Amsterdam, but in Switzerland.

ANYWAY, once you walk out of Vondelpark, your at a very busy, touristy section. So touristy that the Hard Rock Cafe sits right, dead straight ahead. Uncle Phillip has been wanting to hit the Hard Rock Cafe, to pick up his Amsterdam HRC shirt, so we headed there for a drink and a t-shirt.


I was being pretty snobbish about going there because it's _commercial_ and I want to hit LOCAL. But once the wonderful bartender, Zelda, poured me a glass of wine equivalent to half a bottle, I felt a little better about setting in there.

Of course, it's at this moment that my daughters decide to have a crying contest. Let's see...what did it this time? CJ: "She broke my pen!" Mi-Mi "She won't let me play with the pen!" WAAAAAAHHH!

After that, we ate at little place before me and the girls headed back to the houseboat, while Tim and Uncle Phil decided to explore the red light district...