Thursday, October 29, 2009

My clogged drain and sore ankle

Yup, those things are related. I admit to having had two (small) glasses of wine before embarking on this folly, and I seem to have taken a large dose of stupid. This all happened Monday evening. First, I shoved a bunch of stuff -- broccoli stem peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds and onion peels -- into the garbage disposal. (That was Stupid #1) It seemed to be happily chewing up all this stuff, though, but then I saw that the water was rising in my sink, so I shut the disposal off. I reached into it to feel around to see if there was something stuck -- nada. I got out the little Allen wrench thingie and put it into the hole on the bottom of the disposal -- it turned around just fine. So, I brilliantly thought I should use the plunger. My first attempts were futile -- standing in front of the sink, I couldn't get enough leverage to push the plunger down. I pulled one of the wooden bar stools up to the sink and knelt on that. Still no leverage. Now, here's where Stupid #2 happens: I stood on the bar stool, pushed on the plunger, and I went flying to the floor. I landed with my weight on my right foot before I toppled over onto my side, bruising my elbow and left knee in the process. Much, much arnica and ice later, I'm walking ok but it hurts a little to flex my right foot when I go up or down stairs. Stupid #3 was putting half a bottle of Drano down the disposal. It didn't work. I've called the plumber, and he will be making a house call ($70/hour) tomorrow.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Little Differences, Part II

My mate Maggie reminded me the other day that it's been a while since I've written about my observations on the differences between the UK and the US. Here are some things I noticed on my recent trip:
  • At Heathrow Airport, you can actually buy tasty, healthy, reasonably-priced food to eat as you while away the hours before your plane takes off. In addition to the ubiquitous pre-made sandwiches in triangular boxes (my favorites are egg and cress or tuna and sweet corn on brown bread for about £2.25), you can buy real Greek yogurt with sliced bananas, honey and grape nuts for £1.85. For bevvies, there are various kinds of juice, vitamin water, or coconut water in addition to all the sweet soda crap. When I was in the Minneapolis airport back in May, I walked about a mile down the concourse in search of something edible that wasn't full of sugar, carbs and fat before settling on a pasta and pesto chicken salad that was overpriced and not very good. Similarly, in the Atlanta airport I recently forked over $8 for a Wolfgang Puck turkey and pesto sandwich, also not very tasty and with nearly enough calories to meet my daily requirement. America is seriously in need of better airport food options.
  • On the other hand, I couldn't find saline nasal spray in a little squeeze bottle (about $3 at any pharmacy or grocery store in the US) anywhere in London. After my long flight, I landed with my sinuses totally dried out. I wasn't stuffed up and didn't need a decongestant spray. I just wanted to soothe and rehydrate my sinuses and prevent nose bleeds. I went to two Boots stores and spoke to the chemist in each. The only thing they had to offer me was a big can of aerosol stuff for £6.85 -- too much quantity and too much to spend for what I needed. My next stop was Revital, the health food store in Belsize Park. I though surely they'd have something like little packets of salt and a squeeze bottle, but no. The woman there looked at me like I was nuts and finally said, "We don't need that here. It's always humid."
  • When your mates in the UK greet you, they often ask "Are you alright?" My immediate reaction to this was to think I must have an open wound on my head or look like I was totally stressed out. I then realized that this is shorthand for "How are you doing? Are things going well?" and just replied, "Yes, thanks. I'm having a lovely time."
I'm sure I'll think of more little differences and will update this list from time to time.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009


When I was visiting the swamp, I kept reading of various firsts. New Bern lays claim to quite a few, including:
  • It was the first permanent seat of the colonial government of North Carolina; later it became the first state capital of NC.
  • The first printing press in NC was set up there in 1749, and the state's first newspaper published two years later.
  • The first free public school in North Carolina was established there in 1766.
  • It held the country's first celebration of George Washington's birthday.
  • The world's first practical torpedo was assembled and detonated there in the 1890s.
  • First Jewish synagogue and RC church in North Carolina.
  • The Masonic Theater is the oldest theater in America in continuous use.
  • Pepsi-Cola was first concocted there in 1898.
Nearby Washington boasts of being the first town in America named after George Washington (when he was just a general and yet to become the first president). And Bath touts itself as North Carolina's first town, first port, and the location of the first public library in the state.

Now I can claim a personal first that took place in New Bern: my first time in a kayak. ScribeGirl told me we'd be taking the kayaks out on Brices Creek, so I came with various bits of gear that I'd need. I usually avoid pursuits that require special gear (and strenuous activity, particularly if it makes you sweat), but I was game to give this a try. So, I took Spooner's advice and bought nylon pants (capris that I got off the half-price end-of-season rack at The Mountain Goat, a shopping trip that took all of 15 minutes) because he says to avoid cotton clothing when boating. ScribeGirl said I'd need waterproof shoes -- not flip-flops because, if the boat flipped over, they would flop off my feet -- so I brought my stylish sling-back Crocs. And knowing of Rosenbeans' various mishaps with electronics landing in the drink when kayaking, I got a super waterproof pouch for my camera. We were out on the creek for about an hour, paddling past trees with Spanish moss waving in the breeze. It was pretty fun, as exercise goes. Perhaps my first time kayaking won't be my last.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

NC Backwaters

View NC Backwaters in a larger map

On Sunday, ScribeGirl and I climbed into the big-ass truck and hit the road for a day trip through the cotton fields and low country, visiting three little towns on the water. We passed a lot of interesting rural decay -- houses with porches falling off, barns with roofs caved in, rusty and crusty autos and farm machinery -- but we don't have any photos to show of this stuff. As ScribeGirl pointed out to me, when the house falls apart, the people move into a trailer on the property. So, while the buildings looked abandoned, there were usually people nearby -- and where there are people, there are often hounds and shotguns that we reckoned would make an appearance if a stranger came into the yard. So we stayed in the truck.

We did make stops in three small towns along the water -- Washington and Bath, along the Pamlico River, and Oriental, the sailing capital of North Carolina (and also a commercial fishing harbor). Our plan was to start with a visit to the NC Estuarium in Washington, but unfortunately it was closed. The whole town of Washington looked pretty deserted (was everyone in church?), but we found a cafe that was open and had a leisurely breakfast there before roaming the empty streets in search of photo ops.

Back in the truck, it was a short drive to Bath, another sleepy little backwater town that has a ton of history. Here, the visitor center was closed so we couldn't get a copy of the self-guided walking tour, but there are historic markers everywhere to point out the 18th century houses and church. The town is only three blocks long and two blocks wide, so we probably saw most of what there was to see.

Our next stop was Oriental, a lovely little town further down the coast. There we found The Bean Cafe, which had good ice cream and free wifi. Friendly townsfolk greeted us as we walked onto the porch of The Bean and, since this is the South where the livin' is easy, no one rushed us out of the cafe or limited our time on their wifi. In the fading afternoon light, we explored the fishing docks and found some excellent photo ops before heading back to New Bern (photo by ScribeGirl):

BTW, ScribeGirl has started a blog called Croatan Chronicles, which she promises to fill with tales of her relocation to the flatland of eastern North Carolina.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Greetings from Old Swampy

I stand corrected. The swamp isn't swampy at all. It's actually marshy. And all my worries about varmints (snakes, gators, giant insects, hounds) have thus far been for naught.

I'm in New Bern, North Carolina, staying with ScribeGirl at the house that she and Tim will
live in after their imminent retirement. The big attraction this weekend is Mumfest, which is a celebration of chrysanthemums and autumn but seems to involve a lot more vendor tents than actual mum plants. To avoid parking the big-ass pickup truck in the crowded town, we parked on one side of the river and rode the Mumfest ferry to the other. From the dock it was a short walk to Tryon Palace, the home of the first governor of North Carolina, where we strolled through the lovely grounds that were open free of charge for the fest. Lots of beds of mums there, and manicured hedges, statuary, a beautiful kitchen garden, and views of the river. Unfortunately, the river stinks to high heaven at the moment due to a massive die-off of little white fish, but I won't dwell on that.

The highlight of our Mumfest activities was a guided tour of the Cedar Grove Cemetery. We
learned bits about the lives and deaths of New Bernians of note, albeit not in chronological order so it was kind of hard to get a good historical overview. The cemetery has graves dating back to the early 19th century, and people are still being interred there today (mostly in the newer part across the street, although one older woman on the tour showed us the spot that will be her eternal resting place), so in a relatively modest space we saw 200+ years of townsfolk. Light was fading as the tour ended, and raindrops had begun to fall, so we skedadled back to the big-ass truck with a plan to return later in the weekend to take more photos.
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