Monday, November 27, 2006


Raleigh is a great city to live in. So says Money magazine and after being here for only a couple of months, we agree. What makes it so great? Well, there are plenty of places to go make money (jobs) and then go spend money (shops, movies, clubs, restaurants). It's still relatively warm here in winter, compared to New York, yet the seasons are more pronounced than in Florida. There are more country radio stations than hip-hop ones (something I personally am very greatful for). The schools are very good and there are several good universities in the area as well. And it's beautiful here too except for newly developed North Raleigh areas.

We knew all this even before we moved here. What we didn't know was that the Triangle in general and Raleigh in particular have a well-developed system of greenways and hiking and biking trails. In my present condition, I can't really do any biking or off-road hiking. But lucky me, I have miles and miles of nice paved greenways here! What are those? Those are trails, mostly paved and interconnected, that go through the woods, around the lakes, alongside the creeks of the residential and even some commercial neighborhoods. These are neither side-walks nor parks, but nature corridors that were left undeveloped for everyone's enjoyment.

The first greenway that we found was the Alleghany Trail. It starts at the North Hills Park with a steep decline and follows Crabtree Creek. It is tree-lined and quiet, except for a 20 or so yards of the Beltway underpass. Closer to the end of the trail, around Lassiter Mill site, there are large houses on both sides of the creek. We didn't mind those since they actually were very pretty and added to the scenery, especially around the old mill site and the Great Falls of Crabtree. This greenway also connects to several others, which we're planning on exploring in the future. But it is a very nice 2.4-mile walk/run/bike ride by itself.

Retail Woes

I don't go to stores on Black Friday since it's a rather stupid thing to do. First of, people do get injured and killed there. But suppose you do get a parking spot and make it into a store alive and in one piece. There are still suffocating crowds, maddening lines to changing rooms, restrooms, registers, exhausted sales people, and irritating Christmas jingles every which way you turn. The sales are not that good either. 10% off here or $20 off there - same as with any other holiday and even some non-holiday weekends. And the so-called "door busters" are mostly crap that otherwise noone would buy anyway. So I stay home on Friday after the Thanksgiving. Whatever I loose in terms of money, I save in terms of sanity and emotional well-being.

We did get to the stores this weekend though, simply had to. As I mentioned many times, our house is mostly empty. And we are remodeling. So we do need to go to stores to buy basic stuff. And then of course we find out that we don't need about half of it because it's the wrong color or just "doesn't go with anything else" and we go back to the stores to return it. Most of the times, it is not a problem. And then there's a case of Cost Plus World Market:

We had to return a seat cushion for a chair, but we lost the receipt. Not a problem, we figured, we'd just get a store credit. Right... They refused to take it back, even though the thing had all the tags attached and all. The reason - we don't have a receipt and since it's a PILLOW, they can't take it back without a receipt because it's a sanitary issue (or something like that). Ok, I can sort of understand how a seat cushion can be mistaken for a pillow by some dim sales person. What I fail to understand is how can presenting a receipt alleviate sanitary concerns that apparently arise without such a piece of paper. After some protracted arguments we did return it for a store credit. McManamans score 1-0 and take the lead!

Then on Sunday we decided to finally get some furniture for either a living room or an office. We aimed for a sleeper sofa. But first we decided to have breakfast at some greasy spoon. We drove to one such place, the Waffle House, and since all the tables were taken, got seats at the counter with a full view of the kitchen area. A Waffle House eatery is a place that we only go to once every few years. And every time we say to ourselves - never again! But the horrors wear off eventually and we return, attracted by irresistable smell of grease and the yellow shine of American Singles cheese. The strange thing is, it seems like there's a certain standard for employee selection for Waffle House franchise. I mean, every one of the places has the same crew - a mean middle-age manager with greasy hair; a fat and pimply white chick with glasses and piping voice; a disgruntled white guy in an exceptionally dirty, even by Waffle House standards, uniform...

The best seat in the house is not in a booth, but right at a counter. Your order will be taken much faster which by no means guarantees fast delivery. But more importantly, you get a chance to see your food being made. And believe me, this opportunity is absolutely priceless. Our server first searched for a stubby pencil while holding the order book in her mouth. Upon locating a pencil somewhere in the fathomless depths of her dirt-covered apron, she wrote our order down on a saliva-moistened page of this book. We then saw the same girl flipping someone's buttermilk waffle with her bare fingers - no gloves and yes, she did have what looked like an open sore on her thumb. Someone's order of hashbrowns got mixed up and the manager peeled already-melting slice of cheese off the top of hashbrowns, again, with her bare hands, and threw it violently right back into the alluminum prep basin, for the next order. We quietly paid for our orange juice and left without waiting to see how our order would turn out. Score: 2-0.

Thanksgiving Update

Our first Thanksgiving at a new place was pretty good (there's always room for improvement). My parents were going to drive down for a short visit. However, we figured out that since we had no furniture in the house except for my work desk, 2 chairs, and our bed, it was probably not the best idea for them to visit us right now. Of course, both Mom and Dad protested and assured us that they would be quite comfortable sleeping on an inflatable mattress and eating while standing up. Only with great difficulty did I manage to pursuade them to not go through with this folly. We agreed that they'll drive down here sometime in December when we're going to be better prepared to entertain.

This change of plans happened at the last moment (the day before the Thanksgiving), after I bought all the food. Not like I bought a lot of it. After all, we are still living out of a tiny dorm-size fridge (the one for beer and soda). So, for example, I didn't get a whole turkey, substituting it for a small turkey breast instead. Nevertheless, I had a task of cooking all this food last Thursday. The menu called for all the traditional stuff:

- roast turkey breast with honey-mustard glaze
- celery and mushroom stuffing
- cranberry relish
- mashed potatoes
- baked herbed sweet potatoes
- sweet and spicy green beans with turkey bacon
- pistachio salad
- and 2 pies (store-bought)

Even though we stayed in bed until 10am and then spent some time going to the Blockbuster for some last-minute rentals, I still managed to finish all the cooking by about 3pm! By about 3:30pm my work desk was transformed into a dinner table. Yes, it was not very elegant, but as I mentioned, there's a lot of room for improvement. The important thing to know here is that everything was very tasty and we totally pigged out.

Our bellies after the meal looked something like this:

And afterwards, Chris got the fire going in our fireplace and we made ourselves comfortable on a couple of blankets in the living room (remember - no furniture yet) and watched some silly movies. All in all, it was a pretty darn great Thanksgiving and that's something to be really thankful for.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Money

Yes, that's what we need around here - more money, a lot more as a matter of fact. We don't really do much for entertaining any more (except for going to see the new "Borat" movie which by the way was hilarious!). Nor do we eat out or even spend much on groceries. And yet, with all the home improvement projects going on, we are spending way more money than we're making. And I still can't post any pictures of finished rooms.

The master bedroom is almost done though. I know, I've been saying it for some time now. But we had an unexpected problem hanging a very heavy and stupidly designed ceiling fan. So it definitely slowed things down a lot and required extra work. But it should all be ready by the end of THIS weekend. Then I'll take some pictures, if I find my digital camera.

Chris is alternating between working on the master bedroom and the office. He just started on the office, but is making quite a progress. The plan is to finish everything (remove popcorn from the ceiling, paint everything, and bring in new furniture) before the Thanksgiving. Hmm, dunno if it really is going to happen, but I'll keep you posted.

Big progress with the kitchen - we finally ordered all the cabinets and the appliances yesterday. Who would've thought that it'd take almost a month to get this part done! But we're still going to be using our tiny dorm-style fridge for a while since the new one, along with a new range and a range hood won't be delivered until the beginning of December. So, due to the space limitations, we won't have a big stuffed bird for this Thanksgiving. Instead, we're going to have just some turkey breast. Also, not much room for leftovers, which some might consider to be a good thing.

This weekend we are going on a scenic drive around Raleigh area to look for inexpensive and not overly ugly furniture. We desperately need a sleeper sofa (or a loveseat), some bookshelves, and a dinner table w. chairs. Wish us luck!