Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Restaurant Chicken

On Saturday Dean announced that we were going to Whistle Junction for dinner. Whistle Junction is a buffet-style restaurant just a couple miles from our home. Dean had been making noise about trying it, more for the redneck ambiance than the actual quality of food. With me graduating within six months (hopefully) we are on a quest to experience All Things Florida, which means the good, the bad and the ugly. But while we love "good" food (gourmet, authentic ethnic, etc) here's the dirty little secret: we also love bad food (White Castle, Waffle House, greasy pub food). So I wasn't completely opposed to a comfort food buffet, likely reminiscent of Old Country Buffet.

What I didn't realize after agreeing was that Dean didn't really want to go. He wanted to appear to want to go and try Whistle Junction, but he was scared to put his money where his mouth was, and was counting on me to veto the decision. What he didn't realize was that the adventurer in me was willing to try it, and was sick of vetoing suggestions just to hear about how mean and unfair I am. So what actually ensued was a game of restaurant chicken that played out to the grisly end.

We pulled into the parking lot of Whistle Junction to find it largely empty save for a handful of minivans taking up all the handicapped spaces and those closest to the entrance. I am not one to make fun of the truly disabled, but it became apparent that most of the patrons' "disabilities" were obesity induced, likely exacerbated by frequent trips to buffets like Whistle Junction.

"Well, here we are!" I said enthusiastically.

"Yep, he we are," said Dean with a hint of terror in his voice.

The inside of the restaurant smelled a lot like I remember our junior high cafeteria smelling. A distressing combination of canned vegetables simmering to the point of disintegration and grease. We bought our "tickets" at the "station" and tried to dig in.

Now I am tolerant to all sorts of questionable food from hospital cafeterias to airplane food, when they actually used to serve it, but this was too gross even for me. I found very little edible at the salad bar - the lettuce was brown, the cherry tomatoes were pockmarked, the cucumbers dried out (*shiver*). The main course tables consisted of unidentifiable meat, potatoes of various sorts and vegetables that were little more than bits floating in cloudy water. There was an intriguing "ethnic" table which consisted of pizza, fried rice, petrified stir fry and tacos. But, like so many of our experiences together, we took it in stride with a healthy sense of humor. I settled on some fried chicken (difficult to mess up too badly), and some mashed potatoes.

What amazed us were that handful of people there were eating this stuff up like it was their last meal. There was a birthday party in progress, another gathering of what appeared to be a large extended family and a few couples on "dates" like Dean and I. There were lots of cowboy hats and belt buckles. The guy sitting behind us was a particular gem, he complained about being able to play baseball with the biscuits. When the waitress apologized and suggested the rolls instead, he replied "I'm a hillbilly, we eat biscuits, not rolls." Priceless.

What I think amazed me most about the whole experience was that as awful as the food was, it wasn't cheap. It was $10.50 per person, not counting drinks and a small tip. Didn't these people know that you could get a much better meal almost anywhere for less money? It had to have been the lure of a buffet. But still, a place like Denny's has a large menu, is inexpensive and if it's quantity of food you're looking for, I believe they have several "grand slam" type meals for still way under $10.

It was while I was pondering how a place like Whistle Junction got away with charging an arm and a leg that I witnessed something that helped to explain the combination of clientèle and buffet asking price. The unpleasant gentlemen that had previously complained about the biscuits called the waitress over once again and threw an absolute hissy about the fact that he had seen a small child take a cookie from the dessert table with her bare hands rather than using the cookie tongs. I realize that the buffet is an unspoken honor system in which patrons silently agree to use tongs whenever possible and any breach can be a little unappetizing. However, the skeptic in me sensed an ulterior motive and I was right when the man got his full money back over the incident. Recall, this was a incident witnessed over the dessert table, so he had already had his half dozen plates full of food.

So you may be wondering what, if any, is the redeeming part of this experience? When, technically Deano got what he asked for, we were entertained by the absurdity of the whole experience, and I get to choose next week's restaurant!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two More Very Long Years

Two years ago, I told the story of how Wrigley found us the day after Thanksgiving. Well, it's now two years later and and Wrigley's fourth anniversary with us. It is commonly thought that at four years of age, a cat is completely grown and mature. Which means we're screwed. For years I had made excuses about Wrigley's behavior, that he was still a kitten and that he had yet to "grow" out of his misbehaving. Now there are no more excuses, we are just stuck with a wild, biting, howling, hyperactive cat. But I still adore him.

Let me go back once again to the beginning, namely the day he came to our door. This is him that very day (and yes, that is my thumb across his chest, I am holding him in my left hand at arm's length and snapping the picture with my right):

I hadn't had a kitten since my early childhood (we adopted Nellie full grown) so everyone (Nellie included) was taken aback by Wrigley's energy. I have a theory that the unbearable cuteness of kittens evolved simply to allow them to survive into adulthood. Nellie was a really good sport at first, taking him under her wing and tolerating his playfulness. And he followed her around relentlessly.

As the months went on and Wrigley got a little older, he sure didn't seem to be slowing down. AT. ALL. He exhausted all of us and was constantly underfoot and anywhere he wasn't supposed to be.

I often joke about how we adopted Allison under the influence. Despite the fact that we desperately wanted to save her from the shelter she was in, it wasn't lost on us that another kitten around the house could occupy Wrigley enough to let Dean, Nellie and myself relax a little. Another kitten was the only thing that could possibly match up to him energy wise. And even though Allie is the sweetest (and best behaved!) cat we have, she does her job perfectly and wears Wrigley out whenever she can.

But Wrigely is very much enamored with humans and still gives us a very tough time. He sleeps about half of what you would expect from a cat, wanders around howling when he is bored and bites you if you are sleeping and he thinks you shouldn't be. He is absolutely infuriating at times, yet completely irresistable. And we've finally accepted the fact that he will be so for as long as he's with us.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Top Ten Things I am Thankful For*

Not an original exercise, but one worth doing nonetheless.

  1. I am thankful that I have an amazing, loving husband who surprises me each day with his devotion and commitment to me and our life together. Not a day goes by without him both warming my heart and making me laugh.

  2. I am thankful all of my parents are still healthy and incredibly happy.

  3. I am thankful for my sanity (on most days).

  4. I am thankful my term paper was pushed back an extra week so I don't have to do it this weekend.

  5. I am thankful that even though I gripe about being a poor graduate student, I have health insurance, money to pay bills, and I can put food on the table and still treat myself once in awhile.

  6. I am thankful for the opportunities that have led me to where I am today.

  7. I am thankful that I drive a reliable car.

  8. I am thankful for my friends and their willing acceptance of my shortcomings.

  9. I am thankful I have two well-behaved kitties and one very entertaining one.

  10. I am thankful that I am a human and not a turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving, and safe travels this weekend!

*I know it should be "Top Ten Things for Which I am Thankful", but that just doesn't have the same ring.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

You're Welcome

To date, I have sterilized 25 cats. They don't all live in my colony, some of them were adopted out and some unfortunately have disappeared. Only two I know of have actually died and some I presume have wandered on to other feeding spots, much as new ones occasionally have wandered into mine. There are several feeding spots within a mile radius of mine, and most feeders don't mind new ones, especially if the new one has a clipped ear. A clipped left ear is the symbol of a sterilized feral cat.

Because black coloring is a dominant trait, roughly half of the cats I've spayed have been black (this is no doubt exacerbated by a small gene pool). The black ones are a little hard to tell apart, but I'm certain that like the others a few have wandered off.

I had noticed a couple of months ago a black cat sitting in the window along the sidewalk I take to the dumpster. I always get a warm spot when I see a black cat because I have always adored them. And this cat always seems engaging, walking along the window sill and wagging her tail when I walk by.

It was last week when I was watching her flirtatiousness that I took a closer look at her. Was I surprised when I noticed she had a clipped ear! Yes, folks, I spayed somebody's house cat. And after thinking some time, I think I remember doing it too. I believe she was a part of the first batch I did, who were all black. I supposed there is a chance that person took in one of the dumpster cats, but they are generally too feral even for the most devoted animal lovers. I'm fairly certain someone's unsuspecting indoor/outdoor cat got trapped with the others and was sterilized and vaccinated. If she was already spayed, they didn't tell me and each cat comes back with notes on their health. So, in short, you're welcome fellow apartment complex resident, for spaying your cat (even though she is now missing part of her ear).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I figured I had better write something before you all give up on me and leave me for dead. The conference last week had some ups and downs but all in all was productive and I am pleased with the job leads I got. Since I am still lacking in free time, let me just give you some of my thoughts about the last week or so.

  • My left middle toe is still numb from having to wear heels for 5 consecutive days. I swear to God I don't know how some of you ladies do it. My two female lab mates and I were literally hobbling by Friday afternoon. No more heels. Until the March American Physical Society Meeting.

  • This meeting was pretty important for me as far as trying to figure out what I want to do after graduating in the spring. My best networking was done at my poster presentations. My worst was done at the designated "networking events". Can I just add that I hate hate hate networking?

  • The first networking event was a session chair's dinner that I attended with Dr. Hari, who was a session chair and his wife was working so I got to be his guest. The "dinner" consisted of finger food, very little of which I found edible. A lot of seafood stuff which I don't like. There were these little beef tenderloin pieces on toasted baguette slices with horseradish sauce that was quite good. I had about four of those, which wasn't enough to counter all the free wine I drank.

  • The free wine (and empty stomach) coupled with the guy I saw wearing a skin-tight (likely intended for women) Hooter's football jersey led to an out of control giggling fit later that night at the key note address. Not my fault, that is a totally inappropriate garment for a magnetism conference. Just saying.

  • The Women in Magnetism networking dinner was lame. Last year there were about 25 women and a couple men from industry who were looking at specifically hiring women to diversify their groups, which I found to be alright. This year there were about 50 women (which was good) but also lots of male graduate students. I'm sorry, but the Women in Magnetism dinner was supposed to be a place where we didn't need to compete with men for networking opportunities. Although I strongly believe the problem of women being under represented in physics needs to be addressed through communication between the sexes, a forum seems to be the better place to accomplish that. Include men in the Women in Magnetism networking dinner, and you just have a regular old networking dinner that doesn't specifically help women in the least. On top of that, there were a few people I wanted to speak with, but the conversation they were having was dominated by an overbearing professor from a university I had no intention of applying to who proceeded to grill me about my teaching experience. I stayed for appetizers and wine, then headed to Tijuana Flats with my lab mates.

  • I met e.b.'s friend. That rocked. She approached me, introduced herself and cryptically announced that we shared a mutual friend. The world truly is a small place.

  • Festivities went on until Friday night. Saturday I dozed all day and had to trap kitties for Sunday's Spay Day. I took a break last month after the shooting incident. I'm still troubled enough by it that I had a hard time with recovering the kitties since the one I lost was one I had just finished recovering. Turns out I trapped her brother who was just as docile as she was.

  • This week I am resuming experiments, following up with contacts I made at the conference and digging into the daunting task of beginning to write. Yep, it's the big one.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Here but Away

I am at a conference this week. It is here in Tampa, but I've asked Deano to pretend I'm traveling because my schedule will be hectic and I won't know day to day what I'm doing. It being local makes things difficult because I have to commute downtown and do extra chores like help out with the Women in Magnetism dinner. The up side is that without traveling I have my entire wardrobe and accessories available to me. If nothing else, I have style on my side. I will check in with your blogs as time permits, but don't worry if you don't see me until the weekend.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I Heart Joel

A few months ago, Dean started hanging out with a guy from work named Joel. Due to various circumstances, I was always unable to join them. Either Joel had only one extra ticket to an event or I was too busy with work stuff. What I found hilarious though was the man-crush Dean had developed for Joel. Every time Dean would come home from one of their "dates", he'd rave about what a cool guy Joel is. Through Dean, I learned all about him and his wife. That he is a Cuban immigrant to the States via Spain, that he is a cyclist and that he and his wife at one time owned a small gym.

Dean and Joel finally planned an evening out with me and Joel's wife, who Dean had never met either. All four of us had to drive separately to the restaurant and unfortunately Joel's wife never made it due to prohibitive traffic, so it was just the three of us. Over dinner, I'm pretty sure I developed my own crush on Joel. He just has a way about him that makes him literally one of the most likable people I have ever met. He is extremely conscientious. The first thing he asked Dean when we sat down was how his day went. He asked me all sorts of questions about my work and then proceeded to tell me how great Dean is and how much he admires him. Not that I don't completely agree, but it's a pleasantly unusual thing to say. Then he told us about how he had his wife had dated for ten years before finally getting hitched in Vegas. Sound familiar? And since his wife was adopted, the two of them want to adopt children of their own because they understand that a loving family is the best gift you can give to a child who doesn't have one. I know, sounds almost sickening, but I assure you this man was completely genuine and I found myself in the same position as Dean - totally enamored. AND he does the Tampa-Orlando MS bike tour. We already have plans to meet Mrs. Joel and it couldn't come soon enough, though I'm pretty sure Dean and I are both a little jealous of her.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Fun

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are an Eco-Avenger, also known as an environmentalist or tree hugger. You believe in saving the planet from the clutches of air-fouling, oil-drilling, earth-raping conservative fossil fools.

Courtesy of dr. sardonicus. I had a really hard time answering some of these. The environmental stuff, even though I rate it high on the urgency list, isn't what I associate myself with most as a liberal. Besides, I think (maybe too optimistically) that saving the planet isn't a "liberal" cause anymore.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Beware of the Walk-In Clinic

I think I mentioned how last Monday I spent much of my morning in the walk-in clinic by my house. Let me first admit defeat and say: Mom and Deano, you were right. I should not have done that. They both told me to go see a general physician, which I ended up doing anyway. The reason I went to the clinic was because I knew I had a sinus infection. I didn't need a diagnosis as much as I just needed a qualified person to write me a prescription for an antibiotic. I understood Dean's concerns in light of his bad experiences with health care, but the two situations seemed like complete opposites to me. So anyway, I decided to just go to the walk-in clinic and it initially appeared to have been the right decision. I got a seven day supply of antibiotics, which lasted until Sunday evening. Of course I had felt better and more like my old self almost immediately after starting the course and so thought little of it when I took the final pill Sunday.

Then on Tuesday I awoke to more sinus pressure, dizziness and a constant flow of mucus down the back of my throat. I lived Tuesday in miserable denial that my sinus infection was back and yesterday I realized that I couldn't attend (and present at!) a week long conference not being in top condition. So I broke down and called my general physician and luckily they were able to fit me in yesterday afternoon. After a short wait to see her, our conversation went something like this:

Me: I went to the clinic last Monday for a sinus infection and the antibiotics didn't work.

Her: You mean you've been taking them for over a week now and they haven't helped.

Me: No, they helped when I took them. Then two days after I ran out, the infection came back.

She briefly counts off the days.

Her: You mean they only gave you a seven day course of this particular antibiotic?

Me: Yes.

Her: It should be taken for at least two weeks.

Okay, let me just say that I already knew this after I called my mom and stepdad yesterday complaining of my ailments. Stepdad (a pharmacist) told me the exact same thing. Apparently everyone knows that the antibiotic given to me should have come with a 14-day (not a 7-day) prescription. Everyone except the doctor at the walk0in clinic.

So now I get to start all over with a new antibiotic taken for 14 days. The good news is I am already feeling better than yesterday and despite losing another afternoon to doctors, pharmacies, etc. I think I will be in good shape pretty soon.