Archive for the 'Virginia' Category

Apr 16 2009

The elusive sea koala…

Published by under Travel,Virginia

If you’ve wandered by our site in recent weeks, you’ve probably noticed a strange “sticky” post and a picture of a weird koala-mermaid gracing our homepage. I’ll explain.


A few months ago, the Australian tourism office announced they were conducting a worldwide job search for an “Island Caretaker.” This person would live on the Great Barrier Reef islands for six months, keeping a blog and making videos to promote the islands.

After three people independently emailed me the link to the job, and after I learned that another three people had emailed Ben about it, I became convinced that this was fate. I mean, HELLO? The job involved traveling, sitting on beautiful beaches, and BLOGGING. If you’re not convinced we are the best candidates for such a job, please refer to: this entire website.

We took a risk and applied together, as a couple, rather than as individuals, thinking that our quirky interaction might add a funny element to the video, and might set us apart from the crowd. It could’ve also been what disqualified us, but we’ll never know. We didn’t get the job. BIG MISTAKE, QUEENSLAND. BIG MISTAKE.

So our dreams of making $100,000 for six months of lying on a beach were squelched, and we’re back to the annoying and archaic concept of actually earning our money. Blech.

For your viewing pleasure, I present our audition video. If I post this, I don’t want to hear any, “WTF, of COURSE you didn’t make it, that video is STUPID and terrible and you’re the DUMBEST people alive,” okay? We didn’t make it. No rubbing salt in the wound. Instead, once you watch this video, please comment with: “WOW, Australia really messed up by not hiring you! You’re HILARIOUS. And really attractive! And super smart to boot!”

K? Good.

PS: Shout out to my sister Lindsay for filming us! She was quite patient dealing with our demand for dozens of takes of each shot. Another shout out goes to Allison for her awesome artistic skillz.

11 responses so far

Jan 30 2009

An engagement story: Brittany’s point of view

Published by under Virginia

I’ve always been kind of wary when it comes to this whole “getting married” thing. For one, how in the world are you supposed to make a decision regarding who you want to spend the rest of your life at this clueless age? I’m supposed to determine who I want to spend the next sixty years with, when I haven’t even been alive for half of that? Pretty much at any given age in my life I’ve always considered myself the Smartest Person Ever. A couple of years later, however, I inevitably realize just how stupid I was, and how much I’ve changed since then. Oh, ps: now, of course, I am the Smartest Person Ever. And clearly capable of making decisions regarding lifelong commitments.

Ha! Would a person who is capable of making such decisions open up her cabinet this afternoon to find a carton of orange juice? And then turn around to find a half-full glass of orange juice in her fridge? And last week, at work, would she unzip her laptop case to find a sock, but no laptop, and have no idea how that happened? Who, later, after a day-full of wedgie-picking, realize she had her underwear on backwards?

Clearly, this is not a person you should trust to make Very Important Decisions.

And even if we disregard my utter inability to make good decisions, about 0.000000001% of people who get married are 1. still married and 2. happy. A sad fact, but a true one.

So I dismissed my sister the morning of Dec. 20th when she voiced(/shrieked) her convictions that tonight is THE NIGHT. I was looking forward to our date, though. Thanks to the trip and subsequent job hunt, we hadn’t had a proper date night in…well, in a dismally long time.

I took advantage of the opportunity to get all gussied-up, even though the effort is often not worth it. Girls, listen: men do not notice. Trust me. Unless your boobs are in their face they will not pay a lick of attention to what you’re wearing. So stop obsessing in front of a mirror about whether you should go with the boots or the strappy heels. Over the last five years, Ben’s tried to shed light on the oblivious nature of men. He’s usually right.

La Grotta was Ben’s idea, and a good one it was, because the food is melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. I spent dinner 1. remarking on the amazing food, 2. stealing as much food as possible from Ben’s plate, and 3. reveling in our conversation—conversations that, despite having had such conversations every day since we were 14, are still the most interesting discussions I have.

On to the gardens: my favorite parts were the oversized light sculptures (a giant web full of giant spiders, all made of lights, spanned the length of a pond!) and the food stand serving warm mochas. ‘Cause for some reason I decided it’d be a good idea to add coffee on top of my garlic-fish breath.

And then, as we were about to leave, Ben pulled me down one more path. I can’t say exactly what I was thinking then, but it went something like this:

Why doesn’t he want to leave? We’ve seen the entire garden. This is weird. Wait, why are we stopping here? Oh, sweet words and kisses, okay, I love this. More sweet words and kisses! I love this! Holysh*t,isheproposing?ISHEPROPOSING? Wait… I’m supposed to say something?

So “flustered” is a good way to describe my reaction. I mean, what do you say when one of these life-changing moments comes along? I can tell you that you aren’t supposed to stammer “I—I do!” That response (hopefully) comes later.

In the end, despite all my fears about the m-word, the decision was probably the easiest decision I’ve ever made.

Because as we walked through that tunnel of twinkle lights and he stopped and pulled me towards him, he took my face in his hands and kissed me in that way he has that’s both gentle and firm. The way he’s kissed me every day for the past five years and still every time makes me feel weak and tingly. Because I knew exactly what he would order once I heard the night’s specials. Because he can still make me laugh until I cry. Because he’s my home. Because whenever we’re together, the rest of the world vanishes. Which is why, even though the proposal happened in the middle of a public garden on a weekend, I couldn’t answer people when they asked if anyone else was around: I honestly have no idea.

Plus, he has a really cute butt.

2 responses so far

Jan 26 2009

An engagement story: Ben’s point of view

Published by under Virginia

I made an off-hand reference in my last post that Brittany and I are now engaged (hooray!), but shortly thereafter began feeling guilty that our engagement story equaled little more than a footnote here on the blog. To set things right, please allow us to officially present our engagement story. Because the tale probably differs depending on which one of us you hear it from, we will be attempting to illustrate the FULL story by giving you both a his and hers point of view. As with any good set of conflicting stories, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I proposed on December 20th, but I started educating myself on diamonds back in August, which was a good thing because it turns out that diamonds are serious business. At that time, I had a vague awareness that there was something called “the 4 C’s” and I knew that only a diamond could cut my car’s windshield. I knew this second bit because I once worried out loud in front of my dad that I was going to cut my windshield by using a metal ice scraper, and he chided me by saying that only diamonds can cut glass. As if everyone is born knowing that. Anyway, this was the extent of my diamond “knowledge.”

Thank goodness for We all know that the purpose of the Internet is for people who are obsessed about a peculiar topic (Pokemon, ShamWow, radishes, etc.) to be able to talk about that topic with similarly obsessed people on a dedicated message board. It’s like group therapy. Well, Pricescope is THE place for people who are obsessed with diamonds. In search of answers, I created an account and started asking my silly newbie questions on the message board.

As luck would have it, it turns out that most Pricescope members’ favorite thing to do is share diamond buying advice, and in no time, they had me up to speed with all the things I needed to know. Standing on the shoulders of giants, I knew where to buy a diamond (online! not in a marked-up brick-and-mortar!), which of the 4 C’s was the most important (cut!), and what those multi-colored 40x enlarged crazy diamond X-rays really mean. This is sort of turning into an advertisement for Pricescope, but I really owe a lot to the members there and I would recommend it as a starting place for anyone with no more diamond knowledge than the belief that it might be able to cut your car’s windshield.

So I found the right diamond on a site called Whiteflash, and after a wee bit of trouble getting my bank to properly wire the money for my purchase (I may or may not have used the words, “you’re trying to ruin my engagement!!!” over the phone) the diamond arrived just in time for our night out. Brittany and I had planned to eat out at one of our favorite Richmond restaurants on December 20th, and afterwards go to admire the Festival of Lights at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. I knew this would be the perfect night to propose.

The only real problem with the plan was the question of how to bring along the ring in an inconspicuous fashion. The box it sat in was kind of…boxy…which meant that it stuck out like a sore thumb no matter which pocket I tried to stuff it in. I wanted to surprise Brittany with it, rather than have her ask about the strange bulge in my pocket when I picked her up at her door. I tried on every coat I owned, searching for one with a pocket suitable for concealing ring boxes. No such luck. I’m not a patient man, and soon I was frustrated enough to give up on the entire idea, cancel dinner, send the ring back, break up with Brittany, sell all my belongings, and move to a deserted island where nobody could ever talk to me or bother me again.

But then I noticed the hood on one of my coats. It’s the kind of hood that rolls up into a special pocket in the back collar of the coat, where it seals on the inside with Velcro. Could I roll the ring box up in the hood of this coat and seal it safely (and inconspicuously) away? Yes! Strangely enough, I COULD do that! And so it was that Brittany was picked up that evening by a handsome gentleman wearing a weather-inappropriate coat with a barely noticeable box-shaped bulge in the back collar.

Amazingly, we had the server to ourselves at the usually bustling restaurant (thanks economic crisis!), which left us even more time for Festival of Lights fun afterward than anticipated. Did I seriously just thank the economic crisis a week after losing my own job with Circuit City? Perhaps my new diet of bread crusts and filthy water is taking a toll on my mind after all…

We saw lights and trains and trains made of lights at the botanical garden, but I was distracted by the looming proposal. Where should I do it? When should I do it? Am I going to be able to remember all the things I’ve practiced saying? Mercifully, these thoughts were eventually broken by the sight of a a brick path underneath a tunnel of hanging yellow lights. When I saw it, I knew exactly what I needed to do. And by that, I do mean go to the restroom, since the ring was still tucked away in the hood of my coat and impossible to retrieve without making myself look like a clown.

After a successful ring recovery mission in the men’s restroom, I led Brittany to the brick path with the ring snugly in my coat pocket. I’m happy to report that I did remember the things I wanted to tell her (most of them) and when I got down on one knee, she gave me the answer I hoped for. At least, I THINK she did. When I popped the question, I distinctly remember her responding with a flustered, “I do! I mean…I will!” Do those count as a yes?

If you’ll excuse me, I should probably go clear this up sooner rather than later.

5 responses so far

Jan 19 2009

Circuit City

Published by under Virginia

So we haven’t posted an entry in months, apparently. Amazing how life gets in the way once you get back home and settle into a comfortable routine. At least until your routine gets pulled out from under you. When that happens, you blink your eyes and wonder where all the time went since you last posted on that “blog” that used to be such a big part of your life. And I should know: I worked for Circuit City until last Friday. Yes, this Circuit City. The bankrupt one that’s closing. Heard of it?

Circuit City is was based here in our hometown of Richmond, VA, and until last week I was employed writing training materials for 500+ stores across the country. It is was a cool job, but I never wanted to talk about it here for fear that I would inadvertently mention something the company might consider “proprietary,” which translates roughly to “talk about it on your public blog and you’re fired.” But now that the company is liquidating into oblivion, I figure there isn’t any harm. I suddenly have a lot of free time on my hands and I want to write about things in my life. Also, I was never allowed within sniffing distance of anything “proprietary” anyway. See? Circuit City did make some good decisions after all!

Wall Street Journal’s Worst CEO of the Year.

People ask me, “why did Circuit City fail?” I think the answer is too many years of bad management. As they say, the fish stinks from the head. The shame of it all is that in the final months of the company’s life, torch-carrying shareholders sick of losing all their money booted the boneheaded CEO and installed new and improved management. It was pretty much a puppet government, but it was a competent one. If it weren’t for the ridiculous economic condition of the country, I think Circuit would have made it. Its failure is very bad for the Richmond economy and very bad for my bank account, so I wish things could have gone differently. Plus, I really can’t stand Best Buy.

And that mostly-unforced transition gives me the chance to get on my soapbox and share one of the (many) stories that explains my 100% justified hatred for Best Buy: A few years ago, Brittany bought me a Rio MP3 player at Best Buy as a gift. Awesome gift, but I had it in my head that I wanted an iPod, so after some deliberation we decided to return it to the store unopened and I would apply its credit toward the purchase of a more expensive iPod. Or so I thought…

Best Buy wouldn’t take it back! The store manager quoted the 30-day return policy and showed us that Brittany had purchased the MP3 player 32 days ago. Now, I understand the need for limited return policies…but not only were we only 2 days over the limit, we were returning an UNOPENED product and trying to buy a more expensive one! Well, that frosted our cookies pretty good, so after making the obligatory scene and loudly declaring that we would never shop at Best Buy again, we hopped right across the street to Circuit City (they are were always right across the street if you didn’t notice).

We talked to a manager at the Circuit City and explained exactly what had happened at Best Buy. The manager didn’t even hesitate: she told us that SHE would take back the Rio and give us store credit for its full retail value, which we could apply toward the iPod we wanted. Now THAT is customer service. Of course, it was also smart business: as a result of this episode, Circuit City enjoyed the exclusive rights to all my consumer electronics purchases in the years thereafter. And I buy a lot of geeky crap. In conclusion: I really can’t stand Best Buy, and will never end my boycott! Never!!!

But even my righteous, righteous anger can’t change the fact that I am now unemployed in a town full of hiring freezes. I got a better-than-expected severance deal given that Circuit City doesn’t have any more money…but the job search is definitely ON. Especially given the latest news in our lives: on December 20, we got engaged! I’m so excited she said yes, but if we are going to pay for this wedding, homeboy needs a new job. And fast.

The wedding ate my dollars?

7 responses so far

Jun 23 2008

How DO you do laundry while traveling?

Published by under Travel,Virginia

Our first week abroad, we made a rookie mistake. We let our dirty laundry pile up. It wasn’t until we were officially out of underwear that the thought occurred to us that, oh yeah, I guess we have to do laundry here. So, naturally, we packed our dirty clothes in plastic bags and hiked over to a laundromat we’d seen in the busy new town of Chania. There, we made the unfortunate realization that the use of their washing machines cost eight euros (12 bucks) per kilo. On our budget, that was the price of about four meals. Yikes.

We were even more dismayed to find, upon our return, that to dry the clothes would cost an additional eight euros per kilo. To put this in perspective, say you wanted to wash and dry five pounds of clothes. It would cost you forty euros or about SIXTY DOLLARS.

Which is why, on one sunny afternoon, we found ourselves heaving bags of soaking wet laundry through Greek city streets, back to our room, where we hung them out to dry.

Obviously, going forward, we adopted the tried-and-true backpacker routine of manually washing our wardrobes. Eventually, we honed our hand-washing skillz to perfection. For the benefit of fellow travelers, I’ve decided to share the process, in ten steps.

Step 1: Pretend that the hostel’s bathroom is clean. Find a sink.

Step 2: Fill the sink (or bathtub or bowl) with water, some sort of soap (laundry detergent is a luxury; it’s far too heavy to cart around. Shampoo or body wash work just as well), and your dirty clothes. You’ll need some sort of sink stopper (you can get a universal stopper at a travel store, though they never work great). A dirty sock works just as well.

Step 3: Walk away. Entertain yourself for about 15 minutes while you let your clothes soak (more, depending on level of stinkiness [FYI, according to spell check, "stinkiness" is not actually a word]). Try not to forget about your clothes until the next morning when you wake up, walk into the bathroom, see your waterlogged wardrobe sitting in a puddle of stagnant water — actually, stagnant red water, thanks to one shirt — and then for the next six months have to wear clothes that all have a pinkish glow about them.

Step 4: Come back. Stare at the sink full of filthy clothes with loathing. Question, not for the last time, why you chose to travel far away from your comfortable home with washing machine.

doing laundryStep 5: Get your hands dirty. Swish around the clothes for a while. Scrub each item individually, concentrating on Problem Areas (i.e., armpits, stains). Apply additional soap as needed.

Step 6: Rinse! Run each item under the faucet (a shower head is particularly good for this) until the water runs out clean, and not soapy.

Step 7: Wring the excess water out of the item. Now, most proper hand-washers will tell you not to do this, as it stretches or misshapes your clothes. But seriously people, these clothes are going to be ruined by the end of your trip, no matter what you do. Embrace it.

You want to know why I’m pro-wringing? ‘Cause the most annoying part of doing laundry by hand is drying your clothes. That is, they don’t. It can take DAYS for soaked clothes to dry.

But never fear — Brittany’s come to the rescue once again! I have a little trick that hastens the drying process.

Step 8: Spread out a towel on the floor. Place the wet clothing item on top of the towel. Roll up the towel/clothes combo. Whack your boyfriend with it a couple of times. Very important.
doing laundry

Step 9: Wring, squish, squeeze, sit, stomp, have fun! Do whatever you can to that towel burrito to get as much water out of your clothes, and into the towel, as possible. Work out all your aggression! Sing while you do it. Sorry, it’s required.
doing laundry

Step 10: Hang up your clothes, wherever you can. Outside is always best. We brought a portable clothes line with us. If you hang clothes indoors, in a non-air-conditioned, unventilated room, they’ll pretty much never dry. If you can, time it so your clothes can hang out overnight. You’ll be wary of leaving your clothes outside overnight before you realize that no one wants to steal your dirty, hand-washed underwear anyway. Also, get used to wearing damp clothes.
this is how we dry our laundry... on the heater

If you’re clothes are still wet by the time you have to pack up and move on, for the love of God, pack them in a separate, plastic bag! They will stink to high heaven otherwise. Oh, borrowed hair dryers also work for emergency drying.

Ta da! You did it! Your clothes are (kind of) clean!

If ever you find yourself in a hostel, scrubbing your unmentionables in a small sink using hand soap instead of detergent, and hanging them to dry on the railing of your bunk bed in a room you share with eight people, you’re officially allowed to call yourself a backpacker. Be thankful that you don’t have to do your laundry in a river, like most rural residents of S.E. Asia.

Important Tips:

  • Do NOT, for your own sake, let your dirty clothes pile up. Every couple of days wash a few items. Trust me, it’s much, much better this way. Manually washing an entire load of laundry is not a fun way to spend an entire day.
  • Realize that pretty much no matter what you do, you’re going to stink. It’s cool. So does everyone else! Your definition of what’s “acceptable to wear” is far different while traveling than while living at home.
  • And as a “treat” to yourself, splurge once a month or so and let someone do your laundry for you in a proper machine, no matter what the cost. ‘Cause, trust me, you’re never going to feel truly clean wearing underwear you hand-washed in a sink.

And finally, two items a traveler should never, EVER be without:

  1. Tide stick
    Tide to go stick
  2. Febreze! For the uninitiated: Febreze is a miracle liquid that eliminates odors in fabrics. It pretty much allowed us to do laundry half as often. I know, disgusting.

Sweet, sweet modern luxuries.

59 responses so far

Jun 05 2008

Tales We Never Told: So what DO Europeans think of Americans?

Published by under Travel,Virginia

After the dozenth person told us we needed to attach a Canadian flag to our backpacks while traveling around Europe, I became curious. How bad would it be? Why do I have to pretend I’m not American? Do Europeans really hate us that much?

In short, no. Most people we met were able to separate any feelings they may have towards the American government from their perception of its people. That said, George W. is widely mocked. We rarely introduced ourselves as Americans without getting a comment or two about Dubya – to the point where I wanted to start every conversation with, “Hello, my name is Brittany, I’m from the United States, and I DID NOT VOTE FOR HIM, thankyouverymuch.” (Oh, there was also this guy).

We obstinately refused to wear maple leaves on our luggage, and we had no major problems. Sure, I encountered lots of people that were surprised I wasn’t a gun-toting, lawsuit-happy, Bible-thumping, socially-conservative cowboy. They can’t help it—their media depicts Americans that way. And I was more than happy to assure them that, no, I promise, we’re not all like that.

But there was ONE guy…

During our tour of Halong Bay, our group—a mix of Australians, Canadians, Irish, English, Malaysians and, of course, two awesome Americans—stopped on a beach to have a picnic lunch. The conversation was pleasant and fun, aside from an irritating British man at the other end of the table who would loudly state well-known facts as if he discovered them. “Did you know that the skin is the body’s largest organ?” he’d say proudly. “Yes, I read that in a science journal.”

We largely tuned him out, and talked to the cool Aussies and Canadians around us.

There was one moment, though, when there was a brief lull in conversation. Mr. Science Journal took advantage of this opportunity.

“I mean, I can understand voting Bush into office once, because how could they know?” he said, his voice heavy with condescension. “But the fact that they re-elected him really makes me call into question their intelligence and what kind of people they really are.”

No one said a word. Aware of the presence of two Americans (well, everyone but him, who hadn’t bothered to talk to us), everyone looked down nervously, avoiding our gaze. An awkward silence fell.

Eventually, Ben broke the silence:

“God, I hate Americans,” he said.

The table burst into laughter, with the exception of Mr. Science Journal. In Ben’s words, “I think I succeeded in making an ass out of THAT guy.”

There’s very little you can say about America that will offend me. I have enough of my own criticisms to appreciate that other people might be critical of government as well. But this guy’s personal remarks and unapologetic generalizations rubbed me the wrong way. It was the one instance during our trip that I had to suppress the urge to defend my country.

Before I end this, I want to tell one more anecdote that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside about Uncle Sam.

Back on Crete, we met a Danish dude named Nikolaus, who’d spent time in Florida, where he had family. His first impression of the States, he told us, was confusion over the extreme number of rules we have; rules that seemed silly to him. No, you can’t walk here! That would be trespassing. And God forbid you show a beer bottle in public!

“It’s like you fear all the time!” he said. “Americans are scared. What are you afraid of?”

This perception was accentuated when he visited the local Walmart to register for a fishing license. He’d brought his passport, his visa, and several other travel documents and forms of identification. However, because he didn’t specifically have an American driver’s license, the Walmart employee would not issue him a fishing license.

Irritated, Nikolaus argued with and questioned her, but she wouldn’t budge.

“She would not use her brain!” he said, getting annoyed as he remembered it. “She just followed the rules without thinking!”

As he was about to storm out angrily, Nikolaus noticed racks of guns lining the wall. “So I can’t get a fishing license,” he said. “But, if I wanted, could I buy a gun?”

“Well, yeah,” the employee said. “Of course.”

7 responses so far

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