Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A trip to Charleston

Well, what can I say - working life sucks! Of course, I gotta work to make money, but wouldn't it be much nicer if I were to win the cash though? I mean, then I could do what I want to do most - travel.

Finally, last weekend we got out of Daytona and went to see my cousin Olga and her husband Noah at their new place in Charleston, SC. Of course, because of our jobs, we couldn't leave until Friday evening. And of course we had to be back on Sunday evening. Now figure in 6-hour drive (one-way) and you get the idea of how much time we got to spend in Charleston. And, to make it all even better, my boss absolutely insisted on me working overtime on Friday night! So we didn't get out of the house until after 7pm. But we made it to Charleston and even managed to spend an hour or two talking with Olga and Noah, Russian-style, in their little kitchen.

If you think we didn't wake up too early next morning, you just might be right. Either way, after spending time eating breakfast, talking, and getting ready, we finally set out on a tour of Charleston. First, Noah drove us all around a local getto. It looked very Southern - some of the people on the streets might have come straight out of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or "Gone with the Wind". The whole place didn't look dangerous or scary, not by the light of day anyway, just very sad - old row houses that haven't seen any maintenance in decades with their peeling paint and grimy siding, with walls leaning in every-which direction and sagging porches, with old rust-covered air-conditioning units practically falling out of the half-boarded windows.

After such a great start, things started to look up. We parked in the Historic Distric and walked around a bit. Since neither one of us really knew any appropriate historical facts, we just read occasional plaques and mostly gawked at the architecture or landscaping details. Here's the thing about Noah - he walks very fast, almost at a running clip. What's more, he walks very determinately, as if he had some particular destination in mind. Put the two together and you turn a leisurely sigh-seeing stroll into an endurance race with a couple of short stops to read an inscription or two. The thing is as far as I figure out, there is no particular destination we MUST get to. May be it's Noah's propensity as a journalist to move quickly, always on a look-out for a story.

Still, our walk was most enjoyable, if somewhat short. We returned to a car and drove to Mt. Pleasant to "keep it real", as Noah jokingly suggested. What a nice place it was! The word "pleasant" would describe most of what we saw - tastefully rich houses (with their expensiveness merely suggested by architectural details, location, and landscaping, rather than by size and gaudiness), narrow sandy beaches, remains of old fort that gave South Carolina its Palmetto State status, a small diner on a tree-lined corner, and a tiny and welcoming elementary school.

After a short drive and a shorter still walk on the beach, we returned to Charleston for some afternoon drinks on a rooftop terrace of some posh restaurant. The sun was shining straight down on us and the temperatures must had been well above 80. We found a cool place under a striped umbrella and I started imagining a large frozen drink - a daiquiri perhaps - so cold that the beads of water slowly run down the side of the glass, cooling my fingers... I was almost tasting my drink, when the waitress announced that they do not serve frozen drinks or tap beer. By the looks on some other faces I could tell that it wasn't just me who just seen a dream die. But there were plenty of other drinks to have and so we ordered. My Flirtiny with Smirnoff Raspberry vodka was mild and sweet. Olga's Perfect Manhattan was perfectly strong. And Chris won the prize for the fruitiest drink of all - bright pink in a tall glass full of ice-cubes and with a cherry on top.

Later that evening we went on a short walk in the park by the Citadel, trying to find some magnolia pine cones for Olga. But it was getting dark and as we couldn't see too well, we returned home to some food and wine and a totally weird Russian movie about the Hermitage Museum.

The next morning we had little time to waste and yet we wasted it plenty. The time spent on getting ready to get out of the house is apparently directly proportional to the number of people involved. And so we didn't step out until noon (and that's without spending time on breakfast, mind you). First we head straight to a local bakery for some brunch (oh, the delicious grilled portabello mushroom sandwich!). And then we decided to briefly stop by the library that was having the book sale. Hehe, that was a major mistake since we spent at least an hour or two there.

Finally, we said goodbyes and exchanges invitations and were on the road home. The most memorable part was a small country store on Rt. 17 that was selling peach and cherry cider. If you ever drive in those parts, make sure to stop by - it's worth a small delay.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Talented Mr. Xander

Сейчас Зэндер - еще котенок. Но когда вырастет большим - непременно станет библиотекарем...

А может быть - строителем...

А может быть - разработчиком баз данных...

Но пока-что он у нас - кот в решете...

New week - new hurricane

Do you know that we have about 2 months left of the hurricane season (in Atlantic Ocean) and only 4 hurricane names left? I kind of wander what if we run out of names before the year is over?

In other news, Xander's flees have a conference today on his neck. I used to think it was more of a mating meeting, but I firmly believe it's a war conference now. They are strategizing how to resist our repeated attempts at exterminating them.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Anne Oakley and I

Anne Oakley: As a youngster, Oakley learned to shoot in the woods of Darke County. During hard times, she helped support her family with the game she caught.

I: As a youngster, I learned to shoot in the woods of Fort Jackson. The best way for me to support someone with my rifle is to lend it as a crutch.

Anne Oakley: She captivated the royalty of Europe. Queen Victoria was quite impressed with her. And on one famous occasion the crown prince of Germany encouraged her to shoot a cigarette from his mouth.

I: I captivated National Guard range safety personnel my poor shooting skills. I was repeatedly encouraged to keep my rifle pointed "up and down the range" and to remember "breathing and trigger squeeze".

Anne Oakley: At 30 paces, she could slice a playing card held edgewise. She could shoot holes through coins at a smiliar distance. It was even said she could "scramble eggs in midair."

I: I shoot 4 out of 4 at 300 meter and 250 meter targets. And I shoot 2 out of 4 at 100 meter targets.

Anne Oakley: At the height of her career, she was one of the most famous cultural icons in the United States.

I: Six years after enlisting (I guess, it can be considered as the height of my career), I shot 37 out of 40 on M-16 rifle range (paper targets) and 26 out of 30 on M-9 pistol range (pop-up targets).

By the way, the whole entire Army structure is rigged towards the officers. If I had any doubts left after 6 years in, they were dispelled at the Camp Blanding, FL firing range last weekend. Most officers have to qualify with M-9 pistol only. It's very light and easy to shoot (and easy to clean, by the way). The targets are much closer, with the furthest being just 31 meters away. You shoot from the standing position only and hold M-9 with both hands for greater stability. And to top it all off, you are given extra bullets!!! Yes, I am not kidding - officers are given 40 rounds, but only 30 targets to shoot at! What a life! Oh, and to shoot expert you only need to hit 26 out of 30 - that's 86%. In comparison, on a rifle range, you must shoot 38 out of 40, or 95%, to qualify as an expert.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day

Ok, so I changed the name of my blog and its purpose. Now I'm going stuff that I do during my LEAP YEAR. For explanation of what the Leap Year is all about, see blog description. If it's still not clear - e-mail me.

So, here are the latest developments:

1) Before you read any further, please go to the Red Cross website and donate whatever you can to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

My cat, Xander, is growing just fine. He must be 5lbs now, if not more. But in his mind, he's still a tiny kitten. No doubt, he's very spoiled already. There are certain things that just have to be done every day, like letting him play with water out of the faucet, or allowing him to mess up a perfectly made bed. Or playing with him whenever he wishes. A couple of days ago Xander discovered two things - toilet paper and paper towels. Here's a picture of a paper towel roll. Believe me, toilet paper roll looked MUCH worse.

3) Gas is $2.95/gallon here. A pound of tomatoes is $1.99. Now, at least gas is as good as it can get. Tomatoes, on the other hand, look like crap and taste like cardboard. Same is with other veggetables, except for potatoes. Apparently, this lack of taste does not bother most people here. I suspect they simply don't each too many veggies. What gives me this idea? Well, first of all, these 200-300lbs "dieters" at Wal-Mart or Publix always fill their carts up with sodas, chips, and frozen dinners. Second, every time we're at the register, I have to educate a cashier on the names of different produce items. For example, yesterday one lucky cashier learned three new veggies - red cabbage, radishes, and zuccinies (which were originally mistaken for cucumbers). So, what to make of all this? Nothing other than this - wanna good food cheap - grow it yourself! Our old dacha came to mind and Chris and I ran to the nearest Home Depot. Half an hour later, we ran out carrying several pots and some plantings. Now we're testing our green thumbs on two tomato plants, two bell pepper plants, an italian parsley and a chocolate mint. To top it all off, we are attempting to grow our very own pineapple.

4) Since it's Labor Day today, we'll be having a cook-out right outside the garage (remember - we live in a townhouse). The usual American holiday fare of grilled chicken, steak, and potatoes will be supplemented by a no less typical Russian holiday dish - a beet salad.