16 August 2014

Who Do You Think You Are? - The Genetic Journey

Lately I've been watching a show on TLC called "Who Do You Think You Are?"  Largely sponsored by Ancestry.com, it follows various celebrities around as they trace bits of their family history.  Given my own history (and frequent lack thereof), I find this show fascinating.

On the one hand, I'm wildly envious of the stars' seemingly endless resources in hiring professional genealogists and researchers and historians to trace their lineage as they travel all over the world to discover where they came from.  Have to jet off to Europe or the Carribbean?  Oh, darn.  On the other hand, I love how much genealogical searching humanizes these celebrities; their reactions, whether of surprise or excitement or distress, appear genuine because in those moments they are just like the rest of us--regular people searching for who they are and where they came from.  And that's something we all want and deserve to know.

So far this season I've seen celebrities who've discovered they are direct descendants of European royalty and I've watched as other celebrities learned that distant relatives were murderers (though in one case it was arguably self-defense).  The common themes seem to be either how various family members persevered against great odds or how some aspect of one's personality carried down through the centuries.  For example, Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory wanted to see if there were any creative people or artists in his line; apparently there were several.  Another actor, for whom family is paramount, discovered a long line of ancestors who routinely sacrificed for their families.  Just the other night I watched as Brooke Shields learned that her Italian lineage actually originated in France; turns out she majored in French Literature in college and has always been drawn to all things French without ever really knowing why.  Now she does.

Obviously this is a television show and is therefore edited for maximum effect, particularly in presenting the whole "rise above adversity" theme.  After all, the goal is to snag viewers.  Even so, I am drawn to the latter theme of continuity because I get it--I'm seeing it over and over again as I trace my own ancestry.  I find the idea of continuity in one's family extremely compelling, especially after growing up as an adoptee and having pretty much zero continuity or family history for more than four decades.  Certainly a great deal of who I am was instilled by my adoptive family and I'm grateful for that and for them, but those experiences only define a portion of what and who I am.  Perhaps that's why the recent search for my birth parents and my history has been so valuable to me because I am finally getting a glimpse of my unknown origins.  Some aspects of my ancestry, particularly on my birth father's side, will likely remain a mystery forever.  I wish it could be otherwise, regardless of my birth father's apparent lack of character, because his own ancestry still comprises half of my heredity and I'd still like to learn more about it...I want to see if there is a continuity present in his line as there is on my birth mother's side.

The Love of a Birthmother by Susan Scharpf
Even if I never learn anything more about my birth father, the information I've learned thus far about my birth mother's family has been a gift.  It's difficult to describe how meaningful an experience it is to be able to find a part of yourself that you didn't even know was missing...to hear the echoes of relatives long past calling down to you through the ages...to feel just that little bit more whole.  It's an amazing thing, this context, and I've watched it play out over and over in each episode of this show just as I'm now watching it play out in my own life on a much smaller scale.

It's these stories, these connections, that make everything so real for me.  Seeing names on a page is interesting and all, but when those names come to life and become real, breathing people with whom you might share commonalities?  Well, that's another matter entirely, and one which cannot be underestimated.  I've already written about some of the small commonalities I share with my birth mother, the odd idiosyncrasies that mark me as one of her line and no one else's.  Since then, I've learned a little more about her our family, even with my limited resources.  I'm starting to hear the echoes.  I have one great-grand-aunt who did medical research at a time when women were not generally that highly educated; she helped to isolate the typhus bacterium.  Her sister, another great-grand-aunt, was a musician who taught piano in Germany.  I gather my grandmother was also a pianist.  I know virtually nothing about these people, and yet I can still see glimpses of where my interests in education and music might have originated.  My great-great-grandfather himself founded a well-known mission in Indianapolis which is still in operation today.  I find it particularly ironic that it was originally founded as a home for unwed mothers (and initially called the Door of Hope) given the circumstances of my own conception and birth.  I can't help but wonder if that example might not have somehow influenced my birth mother's decision to put me up for adoption as opposed to aborting me.  If so, then I'm doubly thankful.  Regardless, the echoes are still there--I may not have done anything as big as founding a mission, but I have always liked helping people however I can.

Watching this show serves to remind me how we are all tied to our past whether we realize it or not, as well as whether we are trying to improve upon it or to merely live up to it.  Either way, we are still a product of all those who came before.  For me, this is much like the strange feeling I had a few years ago when I was in the UK.  We spent some time exploring London, though we missed many of the sites I would have liked to see such as Glastonbury, Bath, and Stratford-upon-Avon.  There were various complications along the way that made the trip less than it might have been, but when I got on the train to head to Scotland, all the frustrations melted away.  It felt for all the world like I was going home.  The closer I got to Scotland, the more relaxed I became--the more at peace--as if centuries of Gaelic ancestors were welcoming me back to my native land.  It was a surreal experience, particularly since I had no knowledge of my heredity at the time.

Since then I've discovered through DNA testing that most of my ancestors originated in the UK (with a few Swiss and Germans thrown in for seasoning). Apparently Ancestry.com (which provided the testing) filtered their findings more fully because one day I received an email with updated results showing that I am approximately 31% Irish (yeah, like that's a shocker) and 27% British.  I'm even 10% Scandinavian...yay, Vikings!  Research into my birth mother's family suggests that of that UK percentage, a significant portion is Welsh and yes, there are a a few Scots scattered here and there.  So far I've not found any Irish in my birth mother's lineage to speak of (though I'm not done researching), so I can only assume I inherited the majority of it from my birth father.  Either way, I now have a context for my life-long fascination with all things Celtic (and not just their kilts, though admittedly those are pretty fabulous and tend to make me a little weak in the knees).  I've always been intrigued with the history and mythology of the Celtic nations and drawn to Celtic art, particularly knotwork.  I never knew why before--now I do.  Besides, if I'm part Welsh, I can totally claim a legitimate connection to King Arthur and to Torchwood (and possibly Doctor Who by extension).  Bright side, people...bright side.

Learning about oneself and one's geneaology is a journey in every sense of the word.  Most people get to discover their history over decades; my journey has so far been compressed into two short years, making it arguably more impactful since I didn't have the luxury of living and breathing my genetic family history as I grew up.  Suddenly I have a context for things I didn't previously understand; suddenly I can see the beginnings of a continuity connecting me throughout the years.  Suddenly I understand why my time in Scotland felt so natural and grounding, like Scotland was calling me home.

It was.

15 August 2014

Happy Jerseyversary

Two months ago today, I moved to New Jersey.  If someone had told me years ago that I'd one day be living here, I'd never have believed them.  I grew up in a smallish town in the Midwest, middle Indiana to be precise, directly across from one of the ubiquitous cornfields dotting the Midwestern countryside.  My hometown, at least while I was there, boasted maybe 3,000 residents.  Today it's closer to 23,000 and is basically a suburb of Indianapolis.  Personally, I find this grossly unfair.  I mean, they have a movie theater, for crying out loud.  Where was this when I was a teenager??  But I digress.

Two months and counting.

When I was an adolescent, I couldn't have imagined all the different places in which I'd find myself over the years. True, I tended to be "take one day at a time" sort of person and so didn't really think about it one way or the other, but when you grow up in a fairly insulated and conservative town, it's often difficult to think past one's limited experiences anyway.

I stayed in Indiana for college and grad school after which I found myself unexpectedly transported to a whole new universe in Memphis, TN--the South.  I felt like an alien in a strange land and, in many ways, I was.  I spoke too quickly, I moved too fast, and I refused to say "y'all" on general principle.  I was introduced to real-life cotton gins that looked nothing like the little box in my childhood history book.  Eventually I adapted; I spoke a little more slowly, drank sweet tea, and even picked up the odd regional colloquialism, though I still avoided "y'all" as a matter of course; no doubt it will be "you guys" till I die.  Ultimately I came to love Memphis and I still think of it as my home.  Besides, Memphis brought me some of the biggest joys of my life, including the birth of my amazing and brilliant daughter and the opportunity to travel overseas not once but twice, for which I will be eternally grateful and because of which I want to travel even more.

Seriously...I do.
After nearly 20 years in Memphis I moved to Georgia because of the Spousal Unit's job.  Georgia was quite the adjustment considering the girlie went to her first year of college just 3 weeks after we moved and we'd just lost 3 of 4 parents in the previous 4 years--never mind a number of other things complicating the move.  In the process, I soon learned the difference between the South and the Deep South and that I don't really belong in it.  I made some fantastic friends in my short time there, but I never really fit in otherwise.  And that's okay.  It was a good place to discover how much more liberal I am than I'd originally thought and to better understand who I am overall and what I think after years of focusing on other people.

Four years later, just when I was getting used to the place and able to find my way around, we moved again and I ended up on the Jersey side of the Philadelphia metropolitan area.  I find this particularly ironic because when I was a kid, my family used to drive all over the country visiting relatives.  By the time I graduated from high school I'd been in most of the contiguous states at one point or another, with the exception of the northeastern US so naturally that was the region I was most curious to visit. Well, that and Alaska.  Then the girlie unexpectedly chose to go to school in NY, so I got to see a little of the Northeast for the first time--and now I live here.  That's kind of exciting, really.  In fact, I'm even planning a new blog that will focus on my explorations of both Philadelphia and the Northeast in general; hopefully it will be launched in the next month or so.  And what's a new blog without a small preview?

In the process of running around like a crazy person while trying to sort out things like driver's licenses and plates and registrations the first two weeks and after myriad jaunts to home improvement stores,  I've picked up a few things about my new home.  So here, in no particular order, are ten things I've learned about New Jersey so far.

  1.  The people here are surprisingly friendly.  No, I didn't think everyone was going to be a rude, overly-tanned mafioso, but I did expect a certain degree of terseness and directness in speech that is largely absent in the South.  And while everyone does tend to be more straightforward here (which is great, because I always have been too; it's one of the many reasons I don't make a good Southerner), I was still surprised by how just how polite and open everyone seems to be.

  2.  It is illegal to pump your own gas here.  I've been pumping my own gas since I started driving approximately 5 centuries ago, so it's more than a little weird to hand over my credit card to a complete stranger and sit in my car while he hooks up the pump.  I confess I keep eyeballing the card reader in case someone wanders by to try yanking it out of the slot.  On the other hand, I can see the potential advantages of being forced to stay in my car when it's rainy or snowy outside, so there's that.

New Jersey:  Where You Can't Be Trusted To Pump Your Own Petrol

  3.  Speaking of gas, it's cheaper in New Jersey than in Philadelphia which is good because it's pretty much the only thing that's cheaper here.  I knew going in that the cost of living up here was much higher than in the South or the Midwest, but frankly I'm still in sticker shock at just exactly how much more expensive it is.  It's daunting, to say the least, and kind of makes me want to knock over an armored truck just so I can squirrel away some reserves.

  4.  New Jersey has something called "jug handles."  And I'm not talking milk pitchers.  Jug handles (which constantly make me think of "Jug Ears" from the British show "Are You Being Served") are a bizarre means by which one makes a left-handed turn on the road.  I've actually done a couple now (mostly successfully), and they still seem to me to be overcomplicating the streets but then I'm just a misplaced Midwest-Southerner so what do I know?

Just in case traffic wasn't convoluted enough.

  5.  There are no Kroger's or Publix grocery stores here; instead one of the big chains is Acme, which I cannot look at without immediately seeing Wile E. Coyote holding a cardboard box and hearing "Ac-Meeeeeeee" playing on repeat through my head.

  6.  New Jersey is surprisingly green, and I don't just mean all the trees and grass.  (And, can I just say?  Fescue, how I've missed you!  So soooooooft...)  In my township, most of the lampposts have solar panels installed and the recycling program here is rather extensive.  Residents are even provided with a big recycling dumpster, thoughtfully emblazoned with the breast cancer support ribbon...but you have to provide your own trash cans.  Go figure.

  7.  I may not live at the epicenter of US culture, but I can access a significant majority of it within four hours or less.  NYC is maybe 2½ hours away, and Washington D.C. is maybe 3½.  I'm also only about an hour from the shore should I get the inexplicable urge to expose my pasty flesh to the sun's harsh rays.  And it's the shore, not the "beach."  That's one change that's going to take some getting used to.  Meanwhile, I'm a scant 20 minutes from the "Cradle of Liberty" that is Philadelphia, as well as its myriad museums.

  8.  While I'm pleased to be living above the fire ant line once again and can actually do yard work without the imminent threat of my extremities blowing up like inner tubes or burning as though doused in habañero juice, my car and I are both somewhat less than thrilled to be back in the Land of the Eternal Pothole. I may mock native Southerners' aversion to cold weather with the best of them (not that I won't soon be whinging here after 23 years of relatively hot winters), but I have to admit that the roads are much easier to traverse without all the cracking and expansion brought on by frigid temperatures.  Also?  I haven't picked up a snow shovel in nearly a quarter of a century.

It was good while it lasted.

  9. Furthermore, I've learned that summer in New Jersey means rain and lots of it.  I don't know yet if that's typical or if it's just this summer, but either way, I really wish my neighborhood's power lines could handle the strain a little better.  Seriously--you'd think if the electric company knows there's going to be a problem every time it storms they'd spring for proper repairs rather than going through their giant box of magic electricity bandaids to jury-rig the outages.  Still, that seems a small price to pay for significantly more temperate summers than I've had for the last 2 decades.  And while I dread surrendering my beloved flip-flops in favor of grown-up shoes this fall, I am totally down with hot cocoa and tea and cider and sweaters and cozy fires and trees that actually change more than two colors in the approximately 3½ days which constitute "autumn" in the Southern region.  Apparently my Celtic roots are showing.

10.  Lastly, New Jersey has my phone's GPS completely flummoxed.  I've been using the Tomtom app for several years now and, barring the odd exception (and parking lots), Paul's done quite well for me.  No, I didn't name him; the voice options came pre-named.  A few years ago when relatives were visiting, I was demonstrating the different voice and language selections.  I landed on an Australian voice designated as "Paul" ("That's not a knife...THIS is a knife!").  Eventually I got so used to Paul's voice that now all the other voices sound somehow wrong.  At any rate, Paul can't seem to manage New Jersey at all and consistently smokes silicon motherboard crack when plotting out my various destinations.  I've been told that others have similar problems with their GPS when in New Jersey.  I'm not sure why this is, but even Google Maps gives me better directions.  Yet if I cross back over into Philadelphia, Paul is good to go once again.  I can only assume that Australians have some sort of ocean-based enmity against Atlantic dwellers.  Or something.

All I know is that continuing to learn about my new environs should prove to be very interesting and I look forward to blogging more about my adventures starting this fall.  In the meantime, I need to figure out how to become independently wealthy so I can travel all over the rest of the world (especially Europe) because just the small sliver I've seen thus far has not only to whet my appetite for more but has fanned it into a voracious flame; clearly something must be done about this soon because we all know how easily gingers get burned.  That raises an interesting question, though:  who is more formidable?  A Jersey girl, or a ginger girl?  (God forbid one is both, I suppose.)  I'll have to do some research and let you know how it turns out. ;)

14 August 2014

Moving, Part #2: The House that Crack Built

Any time you move into a new home, unless it is legitimately new--as in new construction--you expect to have to make small repairs here and there.  That's just part of the deal.  Even so, there are inevitably little surprises that greet you along the way, whether things you missed during the inspection or things which just don't get discovered till you're actually living in the new home.  For example, I used to call one of my Tennessee homes the "House of Many Doors" because until I was living in it, I did not realize how many superfluous or poorly-placed doors were ready to bang into each other.  That's also the house that decided to blow a water heater about 10 minutes after the homeowner's warranty expired.  I'm convinced that appliances can sense when that's about to happen and just lie in wait, ready to spontaneously combust at the most inopportune and expensive time possible.  My home in Georgia had much fewer issues since it did happen to be new construction, but even there I soon discovered that the dishwasher opened at a 90° angle to the sink; this meant that I spent the last four years crammed into a one-foot space trying to clean dishes at the sink and then awkwardly twisting myself sideways like a giant dishwasher wedgie to load the dishes.  It's always something.

Oh, look...it's my Tennessee house.  (From Pleated-Jeans.com)

This house has proven to be no different.  Sure, there were the things we knew about going in, like some cracks from the house settling and a dripping faucet, never mind the big things like a major stucco repair and installing a radon system and sump pump (who has a sump without a pump?), all of which were provided for in the settlement.  I still have to arrange for everything to get done, but at least I don't have to pay for it...mostly.  Even so, there are plenty of other interesting things we've had to contend with in the last two months, most of which appear to be largely the result of an overly-ambitious first owner (who was also an HVAC contractor) and a builder who clearly cut corners.  I don't know if the builder was inept or just lazy but between him, the HVAC guy with delusions of grandeur, and the previous owners with the questionable home improvement skills, this house has been a veritable rabbit warren of oddities.

My first discovery, after spending hours scrubbing them down (cleaning appears to have been considered largely optional), was that all the kitchen cabinets are not constructed of wood so much as covered with a weird plastic laminate condom, presumably to protect them from KitchenAIDS.  Unfortunately, said laminate condom is far more effective at attracting every dirt particle in the kitchen like a giant schmutz magnet than in protecting the cabinets from kitchen STDs.  Laminate condoms might have been more successful in the oven, which looks not unlike it was used to bake auto parts.  Or Meth.  (Though Meth might also explain why half the cabinets and/or their doors are not lined up properly and why all of the trim corners were professionally hot-glued on, never mind why the back of one drawer had to be cut out to allow space for the stovetop's power cabling.)  But that's still not as good as the elaborate hood vent built in among the upper cabinets that is exactly the correct height on which to wham yourself repeatedly (as evidenced by the permanent dent now in my forehead) and which is not, in fact, functional.  That's right--I have 3 feet of fake ventilation, complete with a transformer that was never fully wired and so just whines in the distance when you flip its switch.

Just sittin' here, waiting to suck up all your steam.

Psych!!  I'm gonna drop decaying paint in your food instead!
Not wiring things up seems to be a theme in this house, really.  The heating and air systems in the basement look like refugees from a 1940s airplane hangar, complete with several inexplicable ducts that are capped off and lead nowhere.  As a result, we have vents that don't actually vent.  In addition to the faux hood in the kitchen, the vent in the master bathroom is likewise not connected; the room turns into a sauna when anyone showers and leaves humid air hovering upstairs for hours.  I wouldn't be surprised if the other bathroom's vent was likewise disconnected.  Furthermore, the master bath's floor is wired for radiant heating--which was also never hooked up--and there are heat lamps over the sink.  All I can figure is that the bathroom was constructed for someone more accustomed to Equator-esque weather and so was built to wildly over-compensate.

As if all the disjointed wiring and ducting weren't enough, it turns out that the previous owners were apparently very bad at home repairs and tended to solve their household problems by either simply turning off the offending item or camouflaging it rather than taking the time to get it repaired.  Because, you know, calling someone is hard.  When we had the house inspected, for example, we found that one faucet upstairs was turned off; we were told that this was because a grandmother didn't like listening to the water drip.  Okaaaaaay.  So it didn't come as much of a surprise when we later realized the dishwasher's water supply was likewise shut off (something our inspector missed).   I tried to run a load of dishes after turning the water back on.  The dishwasher promptly spewed out water, which then snaked across the floor and down a vent leading into the basement.  Whoops.  Turns out the dishwasher was missing a simple hose--that's it.  But I guess it was just easier to turn it off than to actually fix it.

Looks like some of my ductwork.

There are other problems, of course.  A garage door opener is missing.  Someone hacked up the baseboards to install a gas fireplace upstairs.  Whoever put up the ventilated shelves in my closet used approximately 568 hooks to secure them because you can never have enough shelf security, particularly when the pull-down attic stairs--which are inexplicably placed in said closet--had to have an opening gouged into the door to keep it from smacking into the shelves.  The basement has outlet boxes dangling awkwardly from the ceilings, making electricians everywhere cringe without quite knowing why.  There are cheap cabinets randomly hung on the middle of the garage wall, guaranteeing that no one can get into the car without first tightly duct-taping all their wobbly bits or dusting a swath down the side of the car with their posterior.  Most of the window blinds are hung so precariously that they look like they're seconds away from making a prison break.  The molding along the stairwell is strangely mismatched; either that or the builder was trying to interpret the steps "artistically."  Nor is the back patio entirely level, which we discovered when the grill decided to go walkies in a storm and pitch headfirst into the yard.  And, just to keep things interesting, the power goes out in the whole neighborhood nearly every time it rains.

Okay, now you're not even trying.
We have additional repairs to make and will no doubt uncover yet more WTFs as time goes on.  Fortunately, however, we are pretty good at DIY, and many of the issues here are primarily cosmetic.  The house itself has good bones, so once the stucco has been repaired and the place has been given a little TLC things should improve considerably, busybody neighbors dropping by to regale us with all the neighborhood gossip and uttering creepy things like "I've been in your house...I know what you have in there" notwithstanding.

Besides, any time I get discouraged, I can console myself with the fact that at least I have not had pipes stolen nor had poop water pouring into my lighting fixtures as has a friend recently who moved into a rental house.  While I'm not sure I be handling her situation as gracefully or as positively as my friend has, her unfortunate house struggles definitely put things here into perspective.  My plumbing (as well as many other things) may well need an overhaul at some point, but at least it's intact and not currently raining literal crap in my home.  By comparison, everything else seems small potatoes.

(From CollegeHumor.com)

28 June 2014

Moving, Part 1: The Relocation Blues

A month or so ago I was browsing in a bookstore (one of the two main places I cannot be trusted with a credit card, the other being a fabric/craft shop) when I ran across the following quote:  "Moving is the second worst thing in the world...the first is ethnic cleansing."  While perhaps a bit overstated, I generally agree with the sentiment and am glad to have largely survived my most recent cross-country relocation extravaganza.

Wouldn't this be so much easier?

Even in the best of circumstances, moving is never fun.  Oh, sure, it's exciting at first when you're fantasizing about how best to rearrange your furniture in a new place.  Then you arrive and discover all the dubious things that need repairing because you were too busy evaluating those 30 houses in three days for overall structure to notice all the little dings and dents and scuffs and dirt and questionable constructions.  And that doesn't even take into account the actual moving process, which starts with the oh-so-careful labeling of boxes in exquisite detail and which rapidly devolves into a mad free-for-all of throwing completely unrelated items into the same boxes and labeling them all "Misc" just so you can finish before the movers arrive, guaranteeing that you will spend the next several months fruitlessly trying to find your favorite spaghetti fork till you eventually give up and purchase another one--only to discover the original one packed inexplicably in a box of Christmas lights the following December.  And that's assuming that the move goes smoothly.

In our case, I think, "smooth" is a relative term.  The moving crew arrived to load us up early on a Friday morning.  They were all very young and polite and moved with such alacrity that they had half our stuff in trucks before noon.  Because we were still frantically throwing things in boxes, I wasn't able to supervise everything as it was leaving my home.  That should have been my first red flag.  Eventually we ran out of boxes and so the movers just started taking loose items as they were and lumping them in with other stuff.  Once loaded up, they drove off into the sunset with all our belongings to await transport.

We stayed in the Georgia house that night, intending to thoroughly clean it and do all the paint touchups in an (admittedly over-ambitious) attempt to save money, but we were all so exhausted that it just didn't happen and I had to admit defeat to the realtor and let him hire a cleaning crew behind us.  The next day we loaded up our cars (late) and began the lengthy drive to New Jersey.  We ended up having to leave a few mostly irrelevant things behind in the garage because we simply couldn't get them all in our vehicles; as it was, the Spousal Unit's little sports car look disturbingly like the Beverly Hillbillies' truck on the way to California.

After innumerable pit stops for the dog and/or the child, I finally pulled safely into my New Jersey driveway around 3 or 4 am after mainlining Pepsi non-stop and with no small thanks to the girlie for staying up chatting all night to help me keep awake.  Twenty minutes later I was out on the road again to locate the wayward Spousal Unit and lead his GPS-less car to the house.  We all finally got to bed around 6 am Sunday, just as the day was well and truly dawning.  I know that's when I always like to go to sleep.

Caffeine drip.

 The movers arrived bright and early the next morning with all our belongings in tow.  They whipped through unloading at warp speed and were on their way barely 5 hours later, but not before treating me some prime mover porn as they basically performed a bucket brigade with our boxes, so I got to watch the rippling muscles of a bunch of attractive 25-year-olds.  Try not to be jealous.

This is when they weren't flinging boxes at each other.
My new boyfriend (he just doesn't know it yet).

As the morning progressed, it didn't take long for me to discover why the movers were so speedy all the time...in their youthful zeal to get the job done quickly, they weren't as careful as they might have been in stacking boxes, causing several to split or tear.  One even had a gash torn across the side, which mercifully occurred about an inch and a half above the printer housed inside.

In addition to my many now-crunched boxes, several small storage carts/units were damaged in one way or another (one is missing two wheels, for example, and hovering precariously in the sewing room like the Leaning Tower of Sewing Equipment).  At one point I went upstairs to discover a dresser lying on the floor of my new bedroom and one of the movers attempting to glue back together one of the three feet that had come off.  Shelving units from my office were unnecessarily dismantled in Georgia and left swaying in my office here (they're still a bit on the wonky side, even reassembled). My desk was significantly damaged as well and had to be repaired so it would, you know, not fall over.  Admittedly, most of my furniture is of the super-fancy kind that requires lock-screws, multiple tools, and extensive swearing to assemble, but it's still mine and I still prefer it in one piece.  Furniture which was originally dark now has white streaks on it, and things which were white now have dark smears.  My refrigerator's freezer drawer was disassembled to make it fit through the door, but then returned to me coated in a fine black dust.   Yesterday I spent several minutes picking up straight pins and buttons from my driveway, presumably fallen from a broken box.  Perhaps the coup de grace, though, was the Unit's completely trashed work cabinet, which appears to have resulted from the movers setting heavy boxes on top of said cabinet, the removable countertop of which had been taken off for some reason.  Needless to say, the heavy boxes shifted in transit and slammed into the exposed drawers and fell right on through to the bottom of the cabinet.  Well done, movers...well done.  Ironically, all our fragile items seem so far to have come through just fine, so clearly the movers are able to take extra care when needed.  Apparently they just didn't feel the need for everything else.


Ultimately I don't think the guys were deliberately careless; I just think they were very young and perhaps overly enthusiastic.  And it will be a while before I know if anything in the many smushed or torn boxes is damaged.  Still, I'm keeping track of the carnage as we unpack and taking pictures for a claim down the road.

Damaged or not, it still feels much more like home with all of our stuff here, even if half of it is still buried in a cardboard jungle creeping through all of the rooms like the ubiquitous Kudzu we just left behind.  Eventually everything will get unpacked, but in the meantime I will dive back into the cardboard chaos with my trusty machete in hand (and by 'machete,' I mean 'box cutter'), and chanting the mantra of unpackers the world over:  "It's around here somewhere..."

If you don't hear from me in a week, send out a search party.  With cookies.

29 May 2014

Georgia vs. Philly

About six weeks ago, I was sightseeing in Philadelphia while the Spousal Unit interviewed for a university job, and enjoying every minute of it.  Just a week or so later, the Unit was extended a job offer and we had to decide whether or not to take it.  So I did what I usually do in these situations...I made a list.

Reasons to Stay in Georgia:

10.  I haven't had a real Georgia peach yet.
  9.  Chris Christie.
  8.  Historical hoop/bell skirts = Personal cone of air conditioning.
  7.  O'Charley's.
  6.  Publix.
  5.  I can continue wearing flip-flops for 11½ months of the year.
  4.  Big houses and cheap property taxes.
  3.  So I won't have to leave fantastic friends.
  2.  I like the subversiveness of being an Indianian Yankee in General
        Sherman's court.
  1.  So I can keep singing "Love Shack" every time I head downtown
       on the Atlanta Highway.

Reasons to Leave Georgia for the Northeast:

10.  I've never had a real Georgia peach, so I won't miss them.
  9.  More religious/idealogical tolerance, like local politicians not referring
        to women as cows/breeding stock.
  8.  Historical Liberty Bell = Personal cone of liberty.
  7.  Wawa.
  6.  Wegman's.
  5.  They have all four traditional seasons (none of which are the pre-summer,
        summer/hell, post-summer, and slightly more chilly summer of Georgia).
  4.  Two hours from NYC, two hours from DC, 1 hour from the ocean, and
       more schools and museums and arts communities than I can count.
  3.  So I can live closer to the girlie.
  2.  I will once again be undamned--geographically, at least.   (Northerners who
       visit the South are Yankees; Northerners who come down and never leave
       are DAMN Yankees).
  1.  Dragons are way cooler school mascots than bulldogs.  Sorry, UGA!

In the end, we decided to take the job.  After all, how can you beat a dragon named Mario the Magnificent?  I mean, really??  Oh, and all that other art and culture and history stuff, too.

So now all we have to do is get a house, sell this one, and move everything 750-ish miles.  No big deal, right?

25 April 2014

Philadelphia Frolic

Sometimes the world moves a little faster than I can keep up.  For example, it's difficult to believe that it's already been a week since I was several states away and traipsing around Philadelphia.  In that short time, the Spousal Unit has been to Boston and back for yet another job interview (which didn't pan out, so no Amazon.com discounts for me. ::sadness::), and I have accomplished pretty much nothing other than to contract a very inconveniently-timed head cold and sore throat which may well impact my ability to sing in my choral society's concert some 11 days from now.  Ah, well...Murphy's Law, I suppose.

In spite of the ups and downs of the intervening week, I still managed to have a wonderful time in Philadelphia, at least the little bit of it which I saw.  My day started with a shower in the swish bathroom of the Ritz, during which I partook of the lovely-smelling "designer" toiletries, the aromas of which were somewhat mitigated by an overly-bleached towel that smelled vaguely of burnt biscuits.

Mmmmm...burnt-smelling towels.  Tasty!

While the Unit was leaving to head out for a breakfast meeting, my breakfast arrived via room service.  I love the idea of room service, though I'm usually far too cheap to splurge on it.  Still, when someone else is footing one's travel and lodging bills, it's a little easier to justify--at least till one sees the 20% forced gratuity and $5 delivery charge (because it's such an arduous journey up the elevator from the kitchen) and is reminded precisely why one rarely orders room service.  At any rate, the food was decent and I enjoyed it for the most part; in fact I was largely full by the time room service sent up the basket of pastries they'd forgotten.  Room Service thoughtfully packaged them in a to-go box, however, and placed them in a blue Ritz-Carlton shopping bag complete with plastic utensils and napkins.  Spiffy.

On my way out of the hotel, I stopped at the business center to print a voucher for a double-decker bus tour around town, one of those "hop on and off" jobs that gives you more flexibility for sight-seeing.  For the privilege, I was charged $6.99 for 15 minutes of computer time, of which I used approximately 2.  It's one thing to charge for internet in the room, but in the lobby/business center?  Seriously??  Why is it that the more expensive a hotel is, the more they charge you for the little things?  That seems counter-intuitive to me, but then I suppose most of the people who can afford such hotels just expense-account everything and so rarely feel the pinch.  Meanwhile, I feel the pinch...great lobster claws of pinch.  Either that or I've just lived with a tightwad for far too long.  On the plus side, guests are allowed to print off boarding passes for free...how generous.

I started my tour of the city by heading first to Christ Church, figuring since it was the farthest out I could start there and work my way back into the middle of town.  So naturally I got a cabbie who didn't know where Christ Church was.  Not that this deficit stopped him from heading out onto the streets and leaving me to look up the address en route, at which point he realized he was heading in the opposite direction and had to turn around; I was charged for the privilege.  Whoops.

Christ Church was lovely, I have to say.  Not in the sense of the architecturally astounding gothic churches all over Europe, perhaps, but it still had an elegant simplicity all its own.  Originally I'd just intended to visit the church, but because I'd gotten a later start than planned my visit occurred not long before the Good Friday service was to begin.  So I decided to attend. After all, it's not every day that one gets to observe Good Friday in an edifice so fraught with history.  Not only did several of the Founding Fathers (including Franklin and Washington) regularly worship there, but it essentially became the first Episcopal church in the United States after breaking with the Church of England during the Revolutionary War.  Not that I'm Episcopal, mind you, but the girlie did attend an Episcopal school for 14 years, so there was a certain degree of continuity in spending part of my day at this particular church.

Christ Church, Philadelphia

I had just enough time between my initial visit and the start of service to walk down to Christ Church's burial ground in which Benjamin Franklin, the ubiquitous Philadelphian, is interred.  The cemetery itself isn't terribly big, but houses several signers of the Declaration of Independence as well as a few other notable Philadelphians from the Revolutionary War era.  I was intrigued that Franklin's grave was covered with pennies (and a few other coins), It seems people throw pennies because of his famous saying, "A penny saved is a penny earned."  Though most of the burial ground is enclosed by a brick wall, there is an open iron fence panel right next to Franklin's grave through which passers-by can also lob their monetary projectiles.  Ben's grave garners around $4,000 in pennies annually which are contributed to the Preservation Trust.  It amuses me to think that somewhere Franklin is laughing his bifocals off because people are not actually saving their pennies by flinging them at his grave, yet he still is earning them. As I overhead one person say, "A penny tossed is a penny lost."  Something tells me good old Ben was the sort of man to appreciate the irony.

Franklin's grave has freckles.
Benjamin and Deborah...still earning interest.

After walking the burial ground, I headed back towards Christ Church for the service, stopping along the way to purchase $5 souvenir shirts.  I made my way back into the sanctuary and found a seat.  Later I learned that there are small bronze plaques marking where the more famous congregants sat; had I noticed them earlier I would have made a point of sitting in Betsy Ross' seat because there would be something delightfully transcendent about two seamstresses attending service in the same church, separated only by 220 years or so.  Ah, well...another time perhaps.

After the first hour (!), the minister took a break to inform us that the next part of the service would entail carrying a large wooden cross around the neighborhood to the locations of some particularly violent battles/incidents as a reminder to bring peace to the world and to carry it with you.  While I appreciated the sentiment and while I could probably stand to have a lot of my natural irreverence pounded out of me by attending a lengthier service, I didn't want to spare that much time in an already-limited day of sight-seeing so instead I hopped on one of the tour buses passing by and rode it to the Independence Visitor's center to see if I could get in to see the big attractions--Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

Independence Hall

As it turns out, both attractions are free, though you have to get a timed ticket to tour Independence Hall and they generally run out early.  They had already gone by the time I got to the visitor's center, but I figured I'd still ask about the Liberty Bell.  The park ranger looked around furtively, then asked me how many people were with me; when I said it "just me," he handed me a ticket for the 2:00 tour starting in half an hour and told me to "go now."  I thanked him and headed across the mall to get my bag groped by security staff who apparently had to make sure I wasn't bringing any napalm or sticky jam or leaky pens into the historical site.  Once suitably secure, I sat on a bench outside the Hall and munched on my hotel pastries while waiting for my tour to start.

After polishing off a last bite of croissant in line, we were taken to a holding tank lecture room and were introduced to our park ranger/tour guide.  We chatted for a bit about historical things, and then he showed us an original painting of the signing of the Constitution, dated 1785.  The ranger informed us that he "knew we were serious about history" because we signed up for the 2:00 tour and because the "4:30 (last) tour group is just a bunch of shoppers."  Tour guides with a good sense of humor are always a plus.

Signing of the Constitution

First we were shown the Supreme Court Room and told how King George III's coat of arms had been ripped off the wall at the outset of war and later replaced by the Pennsylvania coat of arms.  While there, I met a lovely couple from Brighton, England who were visiting friends in the city.  After chatting a bit, I couldn't help asking them if it was weird hearing and seeing about their history from the other side.  They agreed it was rather surreal; I imagine it would be.

The Supreme Court Room

Next, we went across the hall to the Assembly Room, where both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed and ratified.  In front was a table on which sat the silver inkwell used to sign both documents; on another table was an original copy of Thomas Paine's Common Sense.  On the one hand, you could feel the weight of history in the room; on the other, it still secretly felt like you were in part of a movie set as though the surroundings were not entirely real.  We were shown out the back of the building past stairs leading up to the other rooms and offices we were not permitted to see, including the bell/clock tower which once housed the Liberty Bell.  The tour took all of around 15-20 minutes; the Hall was much smaller than I expected, as so many Colonial buildings are.

The Assembly Room

When I left Independence Hall and went to get in line for the Liberty Bell, I saw a large group of people across the mall, one of whom was playing guitar and singing over a loudspeaker, "Raise our wages to 15, to 15...we cannot survive on 7.25, raise our wages to 15!"  Overhearing a political demonstration on the day one visits the American birthplace of political demonstrations seems rather apropos, don't you think?

Philadelphia Protestors

The line to see the Liberty Bell took longer than the entire tour of Independence Hall, which still wasn't all that bad as lines go, though that didn't stop a teen behind me from complaining to his mother about the long line and how it was "just a bell" and how he didn't see what the "big deal" was.  I couldn't resist turning to him and asking, "So you're saying the bell is not all it's cracked up to be?"  His mom sniggered and told him "she got you!"  Even the boy had to smirk sheepishly.  Mission accomplished.

One queue, two queue, red queue, blue queue...

Eventually I got through the line and saw the official Liberty Bell; again, I was both intrigued and not entirely convinced it was real.  When you go to places in Europe, you can feel the age and sense of history imbued in places and things; it surrounds you like an aura and is almost absorbed into your very skin.  That's not always true here.  Perhaps it's because we are so young yet as a country, or perhaps it's because we live and breathe sky-rises and iPhones and All-You-Can-Eat platters and so somehow have lost the sense of gravitas and awe we should still have for our own history.  I don't know.  But seeing a giant bell, however famous, cordoned off with little more than a seatbelt takes away some of that due reverence and makes it look a little more like a paper-maché movie prop than it probably should.  Don't get me wrong--it was still cool, just not perhaps in the way I expected.  Those pesky expectations...so hard to manage against reality.

Your crack is showing.

After seeing the Liberty Bell, I realized I had just enough time to hop on one of the buses and do the last full tour of the city before they shut down for the day, so rather than waste my ticket I blew off the Constitution Center and headed toward the buses.  The bus tour turned out to be perhaps my favorite part of the day because it enabled me to see more of the city than I would otherwise have been able and because the guide told us all sorts of stories that made the city come alive.  One of my favorites was about the "Busybody," yet another creation of Benjamin Franklin's.  As we drove through Society Hill, the guide pointed out several odd contraptions on the sides of the old row houses which she called "busybodies."  Though they looked a little like weird antennae, they are actually a set of mirrors constructed to face towards a window so that when someone downstairs was knocking on the door, you could look at the busybody like a periscope and have it reflect who was at the door to your upstairs window.  That way, you could tell if it was the tax man or your mother-in-law or whomever, and so knew when to avoid answering the door.  Leave it to Franklin to invent the world's first peephole to get out of paying taxes.

The world's only useful busybody.

We drove past the Chinese Friendship Gate in Chinatown, the "Rocky Steps" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Love sculpture in Love Park, Elfreth's Alley (the country's oldest residential street), a statue of Joan of Arc nicknamed "Joanie on the Pony" (which still makes me giggle), sculptures of a giant clothespin and a three-way plug, and a street lined with international flags representing growing populations from those countries in the city, plus many other things.  It was a great way to see a lot of the city fairly quickly, and I learned many interesting things in my 90-minute tour.

Elfreth's Alley

"Joanie on the Pony"

The "Rocky" steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Robert Indiana's famous LOVE sculpture.

When the tour ended I walked back to the hotel for a quick shower and tidy up before we went out to dinner with one of Drexel's professors and his wife. Constantine and his wife Amelie proved to be a very charming Greek couple who regaled us with stories about her work in Morocco, how nobody's moussaka is as good as Mama's, and of life in Philadelphia.  The Unit smirked at my animated discussion with Constantine over whether or not the Blues should have lyrics or just be instrumental (he was for solely instrumental; I posited that part of what makes music the Blues is the oral tradition from which it originates...so yes, vocals).  We spent a lively and highly enjoyable three hours with them before they walked us back to our hotel.

Estia Greek Restaurant

Upon arriving at our room, I discovered that during our absence someone had come in to perform a "turn down" service.  Rather than just leaving chocolates and turning down the bedding, however, our curtains had also been drawn, my towel had been straightened out on the shower door to dry better, and clothes/items I had strewn on the bed in my pre-dinner rush to get ready had been relocated to a chair, presumably so as not to detract from the whole turn-down effect.  Meanwhile, the hangers from the Unit's suit were missing completely.  I find it a bit disconcerting that such a swish hotel would take anyone's belongings, even something so mundane as hangers, and dispose of them entirely.  If I'm honest, that made me twitch a bit; the thoroughness of our turn-down service bordered on the creepy. Then again, we also found out at dinner that University guests are normally housed in a nearby Sheraton, but it happened to be booked for our trip...hence the Ritz.  Is slightly creepy okay if opulence is involved?  Hmmmm...

Saturday morning we packed up and checked out.  While waiting for the private car the University had arranged to take us to the airport, we saw a parade of some sort going down the street in front of our hotel.  One of the staff said it was an Indian wedding, but we missed most of the parade except for some guy dressed in bright and festive clothing and riding a horse around the corner.  Clearly it's all go at the Ritz.  We had a quick drive back to the airport with a very nice and chatty driver named Wayne, then an uneventful flight home.

I have to say, I really enjoyed visiting the city.  No matter what ultimately happens on the job front, at least I got to do the touristy thing and see historical sites I'd probably never bother with as a resident, because you tend to figure they're always there, so there's no rush to visit.  That's what happened when we lived in Memphis, anyway.  I lived there around 20 years and never once saw Graceland or the Lorraine Motel.  History is always there, regardless...and Philadelphia is a vibrant city alive with arts and culture and festivals galore.

Fingers crossed.

17 April 2014

Puttin' on the Ritz

It isn't often that someone offers you a free trip somewhere, much less housing at arguably the swankiest hotel in Philadelphia.  When Drexel called to invite the Spousal Unit for a campus visit, we expected that they would cover his travel.  What we did not expect was that they would also be covering my travel, or that they would be putting us up in the Ritz-Carlton of all places.  Helloooooo, decadence!  It's hard to believe that yesterday morning I was scrubbing my own toilets and yesterday afternoon I was answering emails from the Ritz about how they could "better personalize your service" and, oh, "what would you like in your honor bar?"  Because those two things go together.  But if Drexel wants to schmooze me too, who am I to argue?

Mario the Magnificent, Dragon Extraordinaire.

Our trip this morning started off with a bang--literally.  On the way to the airport, the Spousal Unit and I had to leave early so we could drop the Resident Diva Dog off at the kennel.  As soon as we got there, I opened the door and turned to grab the dog's leash before she could bolt out the door over me in her excitement to examine the calling cards of the innumerable pets who'd been to the parking lot before her.  As I turned to climb out of the car, I promptly slammed my head into the top of the door frame because I possess all the grace of a drunken rhinoceros (think hippos in tutus à la Fantasia).  Still, I figured if I was going to be a head-banger, then I might as well distract myself from the throbbing dent over my ear by composing a little ditty to the tune of I've Been Working On The Railroad:

Mary smacked the car door this morning,
Then Mary muttered loudly, "Ow, ow, ow, ow."

[And by "ow," I mean "string of enthusiastic swearing."]
Mary smacked the car door this morning...
And rung her personal Liberty Bell.

Mary whacked her head,

Mary whacked her head,
Mary whacked her head and swo-o-ore.
Mary whacked her head, 
Mary whacked her head,
And now her scrambled brains are sore.

Ginger Whack-a-Mole

And because I didn't want to forget these things so I could blog about them later (since that's what I frequently do and why I've been so bad about writing lately), I started dictating them into the notes app on my phone, which resulted in the Spousal Unit looking at me like I had perhaps done more damage to my head than he first thought.  On the one hand, he should be used to such things by now.  On the other hand, it's payback for forgettingto bring his CPAP machine, which basically means that now I'm going to be spending two sleepless nights in a swish Philadelphia hotel while he makes objectionable noises that I can only equate to the sounds a velociraptor might make if it were attempting to mate with a cement mixer filled with hardened chunks of concrete and a pre-oiled Tin Man.

On the plus side, because we had to get the dog to the kennel when we did, we arrived at the airport much earlier than usual, allowing plenty of time to cruise through the interminable security lines and checkpoints.  As usual, the Spousal Unit escaped the TSA Glove of Love, while I was given the Traditional Pat-Down of Unmitigated Smartasses®.  At least the grope du jour was efficient and unenthusiastic this particular time.  I've got to give the Atlanta airport props; considering how many people go through there (94 million a year, according to our pilot), they're surprisingly good at not letting invasive security procedures get out of hand.

Apple's latest governmental contract:  iPat.

Security: Not just for lonely adults anymore.

Once through security we still had ample time to grab a bite of something to eat other than a reconstituted potholder burger and soggy fries.  After hoofing it down a different concourse, we finally settled for Longhorn Steakhouse.  Generally speaking the food was tasty enough, though my salad was swimming in vinaigrette in spite of my asking for it on the side, and the bread (which you apparently have to request specially at the airport restaurants) was frozen in the middle.  But I chose to Let It Go (see what I did there?)  I was mildly surprised to be given a plastic blade in lieu of a real steak knife but realized that I can now rest easier knowing our national security has been ensured as a result of my sacrifice and that Longhorn's making me feel like I'm eating in an institution out of a Ken Kesey novel is purely coincidental.  Probably.

Keeping steak secure for travelers everywhere.

After lunch we headed back to our gate just in time to begin boarding.  I admit I smirked smugly at the Spousal Unit because I got to board in Zone 1 while he had to wait for Zone 2 because he doesn't have the gold Delta Amex card and I do. Plus Drexel's administrative assistant made our reservations separately.  Clearly I'm a very supportive spouse.

The flight itself was uneventful, aside from a few "woohoos" from the back of the plane as as we took off;  turns out half our plane was loaded with a high school girls' volleyball team on its way to a tournament.  Everyone found them amusing, particularly before we deplaned when one of the attendants wished them good luck (resulting in even more raucous cheering) and welcomed the "other five of you on the plane" to Philadelphia.

As it happens, the volleyball team pretty much dogged the rest of our day.  First, I had to wait in line with several of them in a bathroom with only 5 stalls.  Afterwards, I headed towards ground transportation to get a shuttle to our hotel, which involved me negotiating a rather surly desk clerk.  Eventually the shuttle came, however, and we were loaded up our luggage along with four other people.  The shuttle started to drive off, slooooowly, only to stop a few yards ahead at which point the driver disembarked and promptly disappeared.  Some 15 minutes later he came back and installed one of the many volleyball players on our shuttle. Then he disappeared again.  This time he appeared to be arranging shuttles for the rest of the volleyball team with 2-3 other drivers.  Once again he climbed aboard and started to drive off, only to stop again.  A few minutes later, two more people were climbing aboard.  For a shuttle that's supposed to be running every 10-15 minutes, I found it interesting that no fewer than three vans were stalled across from the terminal for a good 30 minutes.

Can you dig it?

With 9 passengers crammed in like sardines, the driver finally decided to head out.  Just before hitting the highway, he turned to ask where all of us were going.  One by one, voices called out: "Hampton...Marriott...Home2Hilton...Courtyard..."  Then us.  "Ritz-Carlton."  I know it's probably foolish of me, but I was painfully aware of everyone looking at us with raised eyebrows and for the first time in years felt like sliding down in my seat a little to hide.  I imagined everyone thinking, "If you're posh enough to afford the Ritz, then why are you riding on a smelly, nasty airport shuttle??"  Of course they probably weren't paying the least bit of attention, but it still made me feel self-conscious and I had to bite my tongue to keep from explaining, "Someone else is paying...we're not snobs, I promise!"  (Meanwhile, "One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong..." kept playing through my head on a loop.)

A couple of minutes later our respective destinations no longer mattered because we all became instant comrades-in-arms when we discovered that our driver could have put any NYC cabbie to shame.  He was whipping through the downtown city streets going a good 20 mph faster than the limit and coming so close to other cars as he pulled in and out of spots to let off passengers that half of us kept our eyes shut while he was doing it.  Since it was clearly going to be an interesting ride I took out my notebook and started to take notes old-school since my phone was out of juice.  Writing on that trip was challenging because it rapidly became clear that this particular shuttle's chassis was not blessed with shock absorbers; we were jounced all through town like small children in a particularly over-inflated bouncy house.  My handwriting resembled that of an arthritic, cocaine-addled physician, and not just because the only pen I in my possession had just moments before chosen to spontaneously dismantle itself.

True story.

The entire trip probably took 45 minutes, 90 if you count the Great Volleyball Transportation Negotiation of 2014.  First we drove through a less savory part of town (at which point I began humming the theme to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in my head), then we passed the famed Reading Terminal at Arch and 12th.  Next, we turned towards someone's hotel and got to watch dubiously as our driver bore down on some pedestrians crossing the road, gesticulating angrily at them to hurry across.  I'm pretty sure he was even revving the engine ominously at them as he kept lurching forward inch by inch.  Once around the corner our drive got close enough to a man waiting to climb in his car that I'm pretty sure he grazed the guy's backside.  Perhaps he was thinking "Buns-zai!" at the time. The remaining passengers exchanged glances of consternation.  At the stop before ours, a lady got whispered to us as she got off that she hoped we made it to the Ritz in one piece and that she hoped we enjoyed it there.  Sadly, she wasn't really joking.

Starring Walter Wait.

Since the Shuttle Ride of Impending Dismemberment, things have gone pretty smoothly.  We are now ensconced on the 15th floor, directly across from City Hall, which I discovered looming over us when I opened the curtain.  And now, as I sit here typing, my window is illuminated by a a glowing orange Big Ben-esque clock tower and a statue of William Penn is presiding over my work.  I guess you could say the Penn is mightier than the Shuttle.

Bigger than your average nightlight.

On the other side of our corner room, directly across, is an apartment building.  Each living room and dining room are made of wall to wall windows that you can look right into, and I can't help wondering if one of them houses an Ugly Naked Guy like in the show Friends.  One of the apartments does house an enormous television, which I can see clearly from my desk and which reminds me of a junior-sized version of the big marquis in Times Square.  Right next to the apartment building is a sculpture of a giant clothespin, which stands there in the middle of Philadelphia as an epic "WTF??" for tourists everywhere.  There are mints on the nightstand, bottles of water with a Ritz-Carlton label, and a bathroom with a glass-encased shower stall and a plush bathrobe.  And there may or may not have been a suspicious shutter click emanating from the toilet stall, to which the Spousal Unit responded with "You just took a picture of the phone, didn't you?" Mea culpa, dude...I guess you can't take me anywhere.  What can I say?  All the free airfare and hotel rooms in the world aren't going to keep me from secretly feeling just a little bit like a fraud who's going to be caught out at any moment.  I simply don't do pretentious well...apparently I'm far too busy embarrassing the Unit by behaving low-class.

Add caption

Still, it's nice to see how the other half lives on occasion if for no other reason than it makes me appreciate even more what I already have and more aware of what I don't really need.  Best of all, while the Spousal Unit gets grilled by Drexel professors for a potential job, I get to traipse all over the City of Brotherly Love on my own, taking in the sights while trying to decide if it's a viable place to live.  Deciding what to do on my day out was daunting, however.  Just looking at the list of available museums was enough to send me squeeing paroxysms of joy, never mind considering all the other arts and activities available both here and nearby.  There's no denying the place has a rich history and lots of potential; the real question is whether or not we could afford a home bigger than a refrigerator box or newer than the clock tower staring down at me.  One step at a time, though...one step at a time.

[Editor's note:  Taking a picture of a phone in the bathroom may be déclassé, but it's still a hell of a lot better than posting one which includes an awkward reflection in the silver toilet paper cover of the photographer in mid-snap while, um, deployed on the throne.  Mercifully, I noticed said reflection moments before I uploaded this post and am therefore not subject to unfortunate memes or plastered across tumblers all over the internet.  Thank heaven for small favors.]