Monday, December 27, 2004

The Days Before Christmas

On the Tuesday before Christmas, I went to the Capital City Chop House after work, to eat dinner with JJ, JA and JB. I had been there almost five years ago, about a week or two after I started working at IBM. It's extremely close to the airport. In fact, it's the only thing between the exit off of I-40 and the airport itself. I missed the turn and had to loop around through the terminals. Dinner was very good, but it was very rich. The entree came with soup or a salad and I chose the she-crab soup. I'm afraid I didn't eat much at all, because it was so creamy. I have a low saturation point for thick creamy soups. It was also an entire vat of it. The salads that EB and JA ordered were gigantic, too. This was followed by crab cakes with a honey mustard nut sauce, which were quite good. The leftovers are still in my refrigerator. I need to do something about that. For dessert I had a single scoop of raspberry sorbet with chocolate sauce drizzled on top. I also observed that they served very good bread, too.

Wednesday, around lunch time, I went over to JJ and JA's and we went to Mad Hatter's Cafe and Bake Shop on Broad Street, in Durham. We all got salad trios, which are cool, because you can substitute soup for one of the salads. I chose three of their salads. The chicken salad was ok, but not the best I've ever had. The caesar was great. The best one was the grilled pineapple and apple salad, which had the fruit over greens and had a nice dressing on it. After lunch, we went back to their house and JJ showed me the awesome toy box that he built for his nephew.

A couple of the mornings before Christmas, I got a chance to talk to HCI on the radio as he was commuting to work. This was a nice treat, because usually I'm on my way there, too and I can't really talk on the radio while I'm driving.

I spent a lot of time looking on the web for ornaments made out of straw. My grandmother made the straw chains that we hang on our tree, but those are easy to break, especially when they tangle themselves while they are put away in boxes. I needed to repair them, but I wondered if anyone had any instructions or if anyone sold the straw chains. In fact, I couldn't find anything about straw chains at all. I did see a lot of sites for the straw stars, which we also have on our tree. I actually found a lot more sites when I started searching in German. For example, structuring produced a lot more hits for me.

I soaked the straw in very hot water and eventually I got the hang of tying the knots to form the chains. I repaired all of our chains such that we have many long strands now.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!

A year ago today, I started this blog. I had no idea whether I would keep up with it or what overall shape it would take. I didn't know what adventures there would be to describe in the coming year. This year has, indeed, been quite amazing for me with all the changes in my every day life. I hope that this year of blogging will bring as cheerful a collection of posts as the last. ...and just where would this blog be without you, my three or four faithful readers? Um...

Merry Christmas everyone!

...and now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Breakfast in Hillsborough

Saturday morning, I went to the Orange County Radio Amateurs weekly breakfast at BoJangles. I used to go regularly, several years ago, but I got out of the habit due to sleeping late on the weekends. Actually, it used to be held at Kelsey's Cafe, in downtown Hillsborough. It was fun seeing so many people I hadn't seen since....the previous Monday at the Christmas meeting. I checked into the Orange County ARES net and enjoyed listening and participating in interesting conversations while eating an egg and cheese biscuit. My attending the breakfast was, of course, due to the benefits of my clock radio.

On Monday, it was extremely cold, with a low of 9F, and very windy. I decided to work from home. In fact, I opened the doors to the deck only very briefly, in order to throw some birdseed out onto the deck. I also brought my old alarm clock, with its thermometer, to investigate how cold the great room was getting to see how much the fireplace was helping. When it was a warm and cozy 71F in my bedroom, which is closer to the gas pack, it got down to 64F in my great room. Within an hour or so of turning on my gas fireplace, it was up to 71F in there. I am immensely pleased. I had hoped the fireplace was making a difference, but I could have been wrong. It's nice to know that it's actually doing quite a lot of good. Three cheers for HeatNGlo!

Merry Chri$tma$ to Me

Thursday, I really blew it as far managing my schedule. I might want to consider looking at my calendar occasionally. I scheduled an appointment to have my dad take my van to be worked on in Kernersville, which is near Greensboro, perhaps an hour away from Hillsborough. The lift, power seat and hand controls needed maintenance, such as lubrication, which needs to be done every six months or so. Well, Thursday was the day that I needed to drive to Parizade, in Durham, for our work Christmas party. I was really annoyed with myself, because that meant that my mom had to give me a ride from work to the restaurant. It, however, turned out to be a good thing.

My dad hadn't even gotten out of Kernersville before the power steering died on my van. It has an electrical backup power steering system, so he was able to make it back to Triad Mobility Center, where the maintenance work was done. It's very good to know that the backup system cut in automatically, but I'm still glad that my dad was driving, to test it out. So, major brake repairs and replacement of the power steering are my Christmas present to myself this year.

Thursday night, I also checked into the Durham FM Association Thursday night net on my ham radio. This net was resurrected rather recently after a year of abandoning it. For those of you who are not hams, most amateur radio nets have a person who is net control and then other hams call that station. Net control makes a list and then calls each ham back individually to give them a turn at saying something. It can be a fun way to communicate. I used to check into these things quite frequently, several years ago. I enjoyed being net control occasionally, too.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Christmas Ham Dinners

Last Monday, (a week ago!), I went to the Orange County Radio Amateurs (OCRA) annual Christmas dinner. Instead of meeting at the 911 center, the entire meeting is held at the Village Diner, in Hillsborough. As I recall, 29 people showed up, which was a great turnout. I'm not especially fond of the food at the Village Diner, but I ordered a chicken salad sandwich, which was pretty good. I do like their country fried steak on their buffet, but I don't eat beef anymore. Unlike my 6-8 month quasi-vegetarianism, I am pretty religious about avoiding beef. It's not hard.

On Tuesday, I went to the annual Durham FM Association (DFMA) Christmas meeting. That's held at Fudrucker's, in Durham. The three main traditions of that are the collection money for the Durham Rescue Mission, collection of gifts to be donated to Social Services for kids and random trading of gifts among the members of the club. When I first joined the club, back in 1997, gag gifts were encouraged for the member exchange, but that has been largely abandoned. Lots of people got peanuts and candy, which was nice. The ARRL section manager attended the meeting and gave an impromptu talk that lasted at least a half an hour. It was actually fairly interesting, but most people seem to want to get out of the Christmas meeting fairly quickly. The turnout was quite low, so there was a lot of discussion on how to increase club participation, including the use of the repeaters. I think a different meeting place might help, although I certainly enjoyed the vanilla milkshake and French fries that I ate for dinner. Yes, I did have a nutritious lunch that day.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Food and Tea

Sunday morning, my dad and I made crepe style pancakes again. It's still tricky adjusting the heat on the cooktop. We had the heat on the frying pan way too hot at the beginning and then it takes a while to cool it down. I keep hearing legends about the magic of electric frying pans.

We took my brother to ACME Food & Beverage Company again for dinner. This time I had a pork empanada with spicy guacamole and sour cream. It was quite good, but spicy is an understatement. The empanada contained lots of black beans, which were also really good. For dessert, I had a decaf cappuchino. That's right, I didn't order anything other than a beverage. I really didn't feel like having anything more than that. It's shocking, but the cappuchino was excellent.

My brother flew home to Boston this morning. It was great that he finally got to see my house and we, of course, got to see him. Maybe someday he'll have enough vacation and we'll have enough activities planned such that he can stay a little longer.

I made some tea, this morning, with the Assam tea and a new yellow teapot that my brother gave me for birthday/Christmas. The pot, which came from the Upton Tea Company, has a cylindrical filter, which holds loose tea leaves and sits in the pot opening. My brother is pretty serious about his tea and I suspect he would have even used a tea cozy, had I had one. Fortunately, a kitchen towel sufficed. Note that my new teapot matches my bright yellow tea/coffee cup beautifully.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Food and Animal Watching

My brother, Karl, arrived Friday night. I showed off the house, since he hadn't seen it since its early stages last Christmas. Afterwards, we had some of my lemon meringue pie.

Saturday morning, I saw a pileated woodpecker in the oaks outside my great room windows. I was able to grab my binoculars and get a really good look. That was extremely exciting, because they aren't very common. Actually, it's not that unusual to hear them around here, but I have rarely actually seen them.
Incidently, I haven't seen the red headed woodpecker recently.

A little after noon, we drove over to A&M Grill, in Mebane. They have very good barbecue. It has a strong vinegar flavor, and, interestingly enough, a reddish sauce. I'm pretty picky about my barbecue, because I don't necessarily like what is thought to be truly good North Carolina barbecue. I've always liked Bullock's, but their food isn't quite as good as it used to be, but a good barbecue sandwich must have coleslaw on it and they have simply the best.

Afterwards, we drove by to see the buffalo in rural Orange County. My mom saw them just the other day and she's been eager to show us where they live ever since. We drove up and took pictures of the two of them, who didn't seem eager to get up and greet us, although we could consider ourselves glared at. This is probably a good thing, given their size. They look cute and cuddly, but I believe looks are quite deceiving, in this case.

Our neighbor, Mr D, gave us a whole bunch of catfish, which he caught on Lake Gaston. My mom fried them up at my house and I demonstrated my comparatively new talent of microwaving frozen corn and peas.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


I really need to write more often, because I usually have way too much to say if I wait too long.

Last Tuesday, December 7th, was my birthday. My office door was adorned with a "Happy Birthday" streamer. It didn't go up that high where it crossed the opening, so I suspected that the culprit was fairly short. Given that the majority of my friends at work are 5'1" or under, this didn't narrow it down too much.
It turned out that CL did it, but GA assisted with the tape. I generally think of everyone as being tall, so it was cool comparing people's heights while they were standing in my doorway.

GA had told me the previous day that she, CL, SY, EB and possibly some other people would take me out to lunch. We finally decided on Champa, since that's so convenient and very good. I had my usual Thai Iced Tea and shrimp Pad Thai. GA and SY left early and CL rode with me. I was suspcious at their leaving early, but I couldn't get any info out of her. I turned out that GA and SY had gotten a fourteen piece cheesecake sampler at BJ's. We had that afterwards, so I was completely stuffed during the afternoon. GA got me a whole bunch of assorted Marvin the Martian things and a stuffed penguin wearing a toboggan and scarf. TH got me a set of vinyl juggling balls.

On the way home from work that night, my car started running very roughly. My parents and I drove to ACME Foode and Beverage Company, where I had rainbow trout with capers, bacon and caramelized onions over roasted potatoes. For dessert we shared Jamaican style gingerbread with housemade vanilla icecream, drizzled with cranberry compote and surrounded by a moat of caramel sauce. The gingerbread was very dense. The consistency was somewhere between a brownie and a piece of toffee, but it was nice and spicy.

When we arrived at ACME, I noticed a strange smell, but decided that perhaps it was related to the restaurant. When we got back to my house, the smell was very strong and decidedly bad. We decided that it would be better to back the van out onto the concrete bad to keep the smell from getting any worse inside the house and to potentially keep the house from burning down if there were something seriously wrong. My mom drove me to work for the next couple of days and my dad was able to take it to Braxton Tire on Thursday morning.

It turns out that the problem with my van was actually the brakes. I'd noticed a problem with its pulling to the left for a long time, but they had never been able to find anything wrong. I had just gotten used to it. Well, it turns out that the caliper on the front right side needed replacing, as well as the hoses. They said that one of the pistons in the caliper was frozen. With an oil change, it all cost me $500. Nice. At least it's all fixed now and it's running beautifully. I guess I know what failing brakes smell like now, too.

The best thing that happened this week is probably that my new washing machine got delivered! Exactly two months after my four month old washing machine failed, Lowe's delivered a new one. It is shocking to me that it took this long. Frigidaire's customer service is just awful. I had to talk to four different people before I found someone who was serious about helping me. Even then, I had to call Lowe's several more times to make sure they got the authorization and followed through.

On Friday I made another lemon meringue pie for my brother's impending visit. It turned out well. I was extremely worried about it, because I almost dropped the thing in my lap when I was baking the crust and a piece broke off the edge. It also cracked quite a bit and I thought the filling would seep under it and make everything soggy. It actually turned out great. There still wasn't as much meringue as I would like, even though I used the standard hand mixer beaters this time.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

We will fight for bovine freedom...

Here are two links that I recommend:

The first is an animated music video about our bovine friends. It's very catchy.

The second is a website that lists the companies that make less than 55% of their donations to the Republicans. It's actually quite surprising which of the companies strongly support the Democrats, but it's nice to see.

It's been a busy week. Here are some of the highlights:

Wednesday night, I went my dad and I met at Chai's. I really enjoyed my meal this time. I order a Japanese Teriyaki rice bowl, with shrimp. It was exactly what I was hoping for. They were out of Gyoza dumplings, so we got some Fresh Basil Rolls, which were quite good. After dinner, we went to go hear AE play the French horn in a Duke Symphony Orchestra performance. I also saw GM there and got to chat with both of them a bit.

Thursday night, I went to my parents' house and my mom made a shrimp and bacon pizza. It was nice to visit with FIFO.

Friday night, I went to the Duke Computer Science Department holiday party. It was relatively fun and they had a really good salad with marshmallows, maraschino cherries, oranges, coconut and toasted pecans all in a creamy white sauce.

As I was driving home from the party, I witnessed a pedestrian's being hit by the glancing blow of a car. It was at the intersection of LaSalle and Erwin. I had a clear view and I was the only one who stopped, so, this afternoon I had to write an account of everything I saw. They pedestrian wasn't seriously hurt, but it could have been so much worse.

Saturday night, I met GM and AE at Southpoint. We had a very difficult time finding a place to eat on such a busy shopping day. After peeking in several restaurants, we finally ended up at the Tropical Smoothie Cafe, which was fairly empty. It wasn't too bad. I had a barbecued chicken pineapple wrap, which was pretty good. I also had a "Blimey Limey" smoothie, which was strawberry, orange, lime and pineapple. It strongly reminded me of chewable vitamin pills that I used to have, which was not a favorable association. It would have probably tasted really good to anyone else. Afterwards we went to Nordstrom's and while AE shopped for makeup, GM and I wandered around while thinking that there wasn't anything the store that was suitable for purchasing as a Christmas gift. Finally, after searching fruitlessly for a puzzle store, we found the store, Origins, which had some decent smelling lotions. Actually, the one I really liked was "White Tea", but I wasn't about to spend that much on lotion for myself. Finally, we rushed off to the theatre to see "The Incredibles", which was a cute animated Pixar film. I enjoyed it, but I've enjoyed ever other Pixar film that I've seen.

I made biscuits this morning. I love making biscuits, because it's just so easy and they taste so good, especially with ginger preserves.

Last Christmas, everyone in my organization at work was given a gift certificate to either Maggiano's, the Angus Barn or 42nd Street Oyster Bar. I picked Maggiano's, because it was the closest to where I live. Well, almost a year has passed and I finally used it today. I had actually decided to use it at Big Bowl instead, but the Durham location recently closed and I didn't feel like driving to Virginia. Maggiano's has a reputation for long wait times and being expensive. I don't think it's actually that bad, expense wise, if you order sensibly. The portions are huge and the food is quite good. We four cheese ravioli and garlic shrimp with shells. I'd had the ravioli several months ago, so I knew I liked it. We also got parmesan garlic bread and Shrimp Oreganata, which was probably overpriced, but quite good. For dessert, we had spumoni ice cream, which was a nice end to the meal.

We will run free with the buffalo...