O, Canada

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:13 am

After much ado, I made it to Toronto, then on to Guelph. Canada so far is very rural. I guess I expected Toronto to be more sprawling; about one mile out from the airport, it was just fields. Also, I expected Toronto (major city) and Guelph (a large enough city to have a major university in it) to be connected by, say, Interstate highways (Interprovinces?). Most of the distance between the two cities was covered by small, two-lane roads that reminded me of some back roads in Ireland.

Anyway, I’m here, safe and sound. I made it onto the standby flight, so I didn’t even miss everything. I arrived in time for the very end of the welcome reception thing and then went out to dinner with some colleagues from the MSDL group (a consortium of large universities that use Desire2Learn).
I need to get up and going now. I’ll write more when I get a chance.

One more thing: am I close to an ocean? Just walking from my hotel to the campus building where the conference is, I’ve seen about six seagulls just hanging around on the pavement. The campus kind of reminds me of Iowa State, in terms of layout and architecture. It’s pretty nice, plus free wireless. Woot!

Update: I seem to be about 30 miles from some sort of bay. Those seagulls get around.

Also, the keynote address is being given by a guy who looks like Oliver Stone. I wonder if he’ll get drunk and be gross to me like the real Oliver Stone did that time.

Separated at birth?



Stuck at the airport

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:21 am

Greetings from Chicago O’Hare. My flight to Toronto got cancelled, so here I am. It’s annoying, but not super-stressful; I’ll get there eventually, and the main conference doesn’t start till tomorrow anyway, so I won’t miss anything important. It would be worse if my flight back from Toronto had problems, since it’s crucial that I get back to Chicago on time to get through customs, get back to the main check-in area, and get checked in on SAS for my connection to Stockholm. I’ve got a couple of hours’ leeway, so unless there are serious delays out of Toronto, I should be OK.

I’m on standby for a flight at 1:30, which would be decent; if I can’t get on that one, I’m confirmed on a flight at 3:30. To that end, I splurged on the $6.95 wireless Internet access. I figure if I’m going to be stuck here for another 4 hours, I’m going to blow through all the books and magazines I have budgeted for the entire trip, including the Norway part.

A serious problem at this airport is the lack of outlets. Don’t they realize that laptops need juice? I may take a walk around and try to find one of the coveted seats near outlets, since the 1:30 isn’t even on the monitors yet.



Anniversary excitement

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:05 am

I have washed my hands several times since chopping garlic and rosesmary for a marinade this morning, but my hands still smell like garlic. What gives? I’ve heard rubbing your hands with something made of stainless steel takes the smell off. Knowing my luck, my boss would walk into the bathroom right as I’m maniacally groping the faucets.

Denny and I are starting our anniversary celebrations tonight. We’ll be having onion/pancetta/cheddar tartlets (because they go perfectly with champagne), along with a walnut, Granny Smith apple, and bleu cheese salad, and a couple of nice New York Strips that are currently sitting in the aforementioned marinade. I also picked up some fresh string beans and zucchini. If we’re really, really lucky, there might be a couple of red little tomatoes in the garden, too.

It sucks that I have to be gone on our actual anniversary, but I just thought of something that makes me feel better. Since a year is actually 365.25 days, and this isn’t a leap year, I’m going to take that quarter day back this weekend and say our anniversary starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

I’m not sure my math holds up, but I’m going to hope for the best.

We’re going out to dinner Saturday, and I assumed we’d open our presents Saturday night too, but I don’t know if DC can wait that long. He was wiggling like a puppy when he saw a big package on our doorstep the other night, and I think it’s about killing him not to be able to open it.


The customer is always weird

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:22 am

Ken shared this article with me, which challenges the service model that “the customer is always right.”  It’s very interesting and worth consideration.  I don’t work in the commercial sector, and I’m glad my workplace doesn’t ask me to subscribe to that notion.  We try to treat clients well, of course, and help them as much as we can, but when it comes down to it, I am a serving the University of Iowa, not the random person who wanders in with a project only tenuously linked to instructional technology.  That means that if somebody is hogging up our scanners with their vacation photos and robbing others of the opportunity to use them for instructional projects, I don’t feel any need to make Hoggy McHoggerson feel “right.”

I also get a little annoyed with the suck-uppiness of wait staff in restaurants.  Sure, it’s good for them to be attentive and pleasant, but I hate it when strangers act like they’re my friends.  I realize they’re working for tips, and I feel for them.  The ideal solution would be to pay wait staff a living wage so they didn’t have to whore themselves out for tips the way they do.  Olive Garden employees are a prime example.  I normally find the Olive Garden medium-to-gross, but I used to belong to this secret diner organization where I’d eat at restaurants and report back on the experience.  They assigned me to the Olive Garden like six times.

Mediocre food delivered with sycophantic service!  My kind of meal!

I was talking to my friend Mose last week about that.  He’s an American currently living in Barcelona, and he said it was a shock when he came home for a visit and went out to eat.  He couldn’t believe how insincere the server was.  It’s a sad state of affairs, I tell you.  I would say I’m looking forward to the service in European restaurants, except the fact is we’re going to be eating in as few Norwegian restaurants as possible.  Restaurant prices in Norway (as well as all other prices, but especially restaurants) are outrageous.  Luckily, much of the time will be spent in apartments, so we hope to do some cooking to keep the costs down.

On the other hand, I do like it when I’m in some kind of retail situation and the staff go out of their way for me.  For example, I was in a clothing store not too long ago, and I picked out a dress from a rack with a 50% off sign on it.  When I went up to pay, she charged me full price.  When I made a little squawking noise, she explained that only the navy dresses were on sale, not the black ones.  I said that navy would be fine, so I went over to find one, but there weren’t any left in my size.  She kindly gave me the black dress for the navy dress price.  That kind of experience makes me want to shop in that store more.  I try not to get my way by throwing fits, though.  That’s just embarrassing for everyone.

In sum, I believe that the customer is always right when I’m the customer.  I believe that the customer is sometimes right when I’m the service provider.  I believe the customer is never right if the customer is trying to buy babies on the black market to feed to giant snakes in some kind of sick carnival act.


So much to do

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:07 am

I can’t believe how fast this week is going by.  Why do weeks fly by when you have all kinds of crap to get done by the end of them?  It’s Wednesday already.

By Friday, I must:

  • Customize the work laptop I’ll be taking to Canada so it’s useful for me when I’m there.
  • Put the finishing touches on my presentation.
  • Save multiple copies of my presentation in case something goes haywire.
  • Arrange transportation from the Toronto airport to Guelph, where the conference is.
  • Make sure things here at work are under control; set away messages on voicemail and email.
  • Get an anniversary card for Denny.

By Saturday, I must…

  • Pack, both for the conference (business casual, I suppose) and for Norway (sporty-outdoorsy, plus wedding guest attire), since I’m not going to be home between the trips.
  • Make sure my passport and finances are under control.  Put plenty of money in my checking account (I’ve found it’s easier to access a checking account than a savings account from foreign ATMs) and pay any bills that are going to come due while we’re gone.
  • Have a romantic anniversary date with DC, but be careful not to drink too much, because I have to be at the airport kind of early.

Speaking of anniversary drinking, one really nice wedding gift we got was a beautiful wine box with three really lovely bottles of wine in it.  Each bottle had a tag on it in which the giver explained that we were supposed to have one on our first anniversary, one on our second, and one on our third.  I’m excited to open the first one, especially because it’s champagne, which is my favorite food.  I was already a little sad in advance, though, for when we used them all up.

Denny came up with the great idea of buying another nice bottle on each anniversary to replace the one we consumed.  That way it will be a perpetual gift for our future selves.  I’m looking forward to picking out a fourth anniversary bottle this weekend.

We grilled more pizzas last night.  Well, to be fair, Denny grilled the pizzas.  I just floured the cutting board, formed the dough, chopped up the toppings, thawed the sauce (frozen from last summer’s tomatoes), blended the sauce for a more homogenous texture, decided the sauce was too thin, added some tomato paste, brushed the crusts with oil, put the pizzas on the grill, brushed the other side of the crusts with oil, put the toppings on the pizzas, cut and plated the pizzas, and made a salad.

As we ate, Denny said, “This was easy!”  Bless his heart.  To his credit, he did start the grill, flip the dough, and remove the pizzas from the grill.  Sure, it wasn’t beef Wellington, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it easy.  Throwing a frozen pizza in the oven is easy.



Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:18 am

Check out this cool gallery of unusual sculpture.  The very first photo is from a park in Oslo we plan to visit.

Bizarre modern sculpture is all well and good, but I must say I prefer bizarre old sculpture.  I get a kick out of witnessing the timelessness of the human condition:  we as humans have been weirdos for as long as we’ve had art, I guess.

(from the Parco dei Mostri, near Rome)


A thing that fills me with rage

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:44 pm

My exercise regimen over the last couple of years has gotten me a pretty sweet resting heart rate. I’m proud of this to a nearly stupid degree (seriously, have I accomplished so little in my life that the number of times one of my muscles squeezes in a minute is the best I have to offer? Another topic for another day.).

The great irony: the only place I get my pulse checked in any formal way is at the doctor or dentist. I’m always nervous at doctor and dentist appointments, so I get an emotional surge in BMP. It’s very annoying. Why I feel the need to show off my heart rate to medical professionals, I don’t know, but I do.  It feels like a waste of effort if the effects go undocumented.

Too bad doctors don’t accept homemade graphs as medical evidence.  It would be like walking up to a beauty pageant judge with a self-portrait made in Microsoft Paint entitled “The Most Beautiful Man in Iowa City” and demanding the crown.

I realize this doesn’t make sense to you because 1) Mac users don’t use Microsoft paint, and 2) I am not a man, and 3) that is a ridiculous thing to do, but it happened to a friend of mine.  Only it wasn’t a self-portrait; it was a portrait somebody made and left outside his door.  Then my friend moved to Seattle, which was probably smart.

Past and future wedding cake

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:06 pm

On Saturday, Denny and I stopped by our beloved Deluxe Bakery to order our anniversary cake.  You see, when we were in negotiations for our wedding cake, the owner told us not to save the top layer and freeze it as per tradition, for eating on the first anniversary.  She said she doesn’t want anyone eating her cake after it’s been in the freezer for a year, because the quality would have degraded and it would besmirch her baking reputation.  Instead, she said to come in around our first anniversary and they’d give us a free mini cake.

We’re picking it up on Friday.  Our actual anniversary is Sunday, but since I have to leave that morning for Canada, we decided to make a Friday-and-Saturday of it.

Our wedding cake was so beautiful and delicious.   I can’t wait to have another taste.

I don’t even want to do an archive check, because I was probably wigging out.  I don’t think I got too stressed out about the wedding, compared to some other people I’ve seen (albeit mostly on television, where the lowest common denominator gets the most screentime), but I’m still glad I don’t have to do it again.


Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring…banana bread

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:47 pm

My darling husband likes bananas. This is a fact.

My darling husband likes organic produce. This is also a fact.

Does it not seem logical that I would buy him some organic bananas at the store? It seemed reasonable to me. However, for some reason, those bananas sat on our counter and got squishy without getting eaten. What’s a girl to do but make banana bread?

The banana bread took longer than I expected, so I got to bed pretty late and I’m tired. It’s some damn fine banana bread, though. We helped our friend Kaspar clean out his pantry before his recent move, which left me with a bunch of shaved almonds, which make a nice crunchy topping. Denny has requested a peach pie in the near future, too, so I may be baking a lot. This surprise cool snap we’ve had is very conducive to that.

Updated:  Denny produced a lovely photo of the aforementioned banana bread.  He also has a really gorgeous shot of some garden onions.  It looks like something out of a lah-di-dah cookbook.


Work is slow today.

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:15 am

Inspired by my friend Chris’s brilliant Permanent Monday Garfield love/analaysis blog, and by the Comics Curmudgeon, here are five comments on five randomly-selected comics.

Ah, women. We’re always shopping. Also, why does an eight-year-old have a job?

In this universe, the mere mention of the word spring causes the colorless, barren skyscape, with its cinnamon-bun sun blazing down upon our heroes, to blossom into the (robin’s egg?) blue of spring. Was it some sort of eclipse? Sadly, the robin’s acknowledgement of his own inaccuracy takes us back to square one. In this universe, correcting others turns their white skies blue.

Ah, lawyers. They’re always expecting financial reimbursement for representing clients in court.

It’s weird how the frisbee in the title panel is flying straight at the dog’s butt. This comic strip reminds me of college, when I lived in an apartment with three members of the Ultimate Frisbee club, and I was studying linguistics, in which the word “penultimate” comes up a lot. This is the only comic of the 5 that I genuinely enjoyed.

Ah, women. We’re so violent. Also, are the girl’s pigtails purposely askew, or does her hairdresser just do shoddy work? Are the kids siblings, or is it just a coincidence that they have the same trifecta of diseased cheek skin? Finally, what’s up with the position of the beaten-up guy’s left wrist? Is he woman-bashing due to self-loathing of his own homosexual tendancies?

This is a present for Katy Baggs

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:26 am

This Notorious BIG/Gnarls Barkley mashup is tight.

More at the source.

Project Runway spoiler

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:57 am

Read no further if you don’t want to know about last night’s Project Runway episode.

Dude, Malan got robbed.  I’m as irritated by him as the next girl:  that (possibly fake?) accent, that stupid hair, those smug grins.  Yes, his dress was completely inappropriate for a pageant (and, for the record, I would be more likely to purchase/wear Uli’s, Jefferey’s, or Laura’s, but Kayne did the best job designing for the client).  But at least Malan tried.  I would much rather see someone fail out of poorly-executed ballsiness than Angela’s wishy-washy, do-nothing lumpishness.

Also, Laura (aka Geena Davis) has the boniest chest in the world.  I still love her, though.


What I want to know

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:59 am

Something I’ve always wondered about:

Dogs have thin, flappy tongues that look like deli roast beef.  Dogs also have very sharp teeth, and their thin, flappy tongues often drape over said teeth.

I have a relatively thick tongue and a lot more molars than canines.  This seems to be a setup that is less conducive to self-inflicted tongue damage than a dog’s.  I bite my tongue pretty often.  I think it’s because I chew a lot of gum.
Why don’t dogs bite their tongues off within about a week of birth?  It seems so dangerous to have a mouth like that.


Dallas is working out

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:39 pm

Check out this strange coincidence:  Denny needs to go to a Ruby on Rails training, and it just so happens that one is being held in Dallas at the same time as my conference.  His is at a different conference center, but they’re close together and both served by the DART, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

The bad news is that we’re going to have to cut our Napa trip a bit short, but we’ll still be there for a few days.  The good news is that Denny will be in Dallas with me to keep me company, which will make it much more fun.  We found a pretty good deal on plane tickets, and we’re saving the office money by only getting one hotel room.

One bad part about going to all these conferences is that my workplace might realize how well they get along without me and have me rubbed out.

Travel is confusing

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:37 am

Just because my life isn’t all-over-the-place enough for the next few months, another kink has arisen. You know how we’re going to San Francisco/Napa in October for that wedding? Well, we were planning to come back on the 10th, but there’s this conference in Dallas my bosses want me to go to. It technically starts the 8th. There’s no way I’m cutting my Napa trip short enough to make it to the whole thing, but I’m considering cutting it one day short and flying straight to Dallas on the 9th.

This all involves some trickery dealing with airlines; I’m flying to SF free on frequent flyer miles, which of course are handled completely separately from traditionally-purchased tickets, which Denny is flying on. I don’t know yet if there are stiff fees for cancelling the second half of my trip (since I need to take a different airline from SF to Dallas). I also don’t know whether I’d be credited any of the bazillion frequent flyer miles I spent on this trip, or whether we’d be able to change Denny’s ticket too. He could always stay in SF a day longer than I do, I guess, but he prefers not to do that.

This is all very confusing.



Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:18 am

Jackie Kennedy campaigning for JFK in Spanish.  She’s not half-bad, really.

Grilled pizzas

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:34 am

Grilled Pizzas


4 cups bread flour (can substitute all purpose, but bread flour is better)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup very warm water (about 105 F)
1 1/2 cups room temperature water
1 packet yeast
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tablespoon minced fresh herbs of your choice (I used thyme and rosemary;
basil and oregano would also be good)

Sprinkle the warm water with the yeast and let sit for about 5 minutes, or
until it is foamy.  Mix the salt and flour well in a large bowl (if you’re
using a stand mixer, use the mixer bowl).  Add the room temperature water to
the yeast/water mix.

In a small skillet, sautee the garlic and herbs in the olive oil until the garlic just barely starts to brown.  Remove from heat immediately and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Add to the water/yeast mix.

If using a stand mixer, get the flour/salt going and slowly drizzle in the liquid until a soft, cohesive dough forms.  You can also do this by hand.  Using the dough hook attachment, mix the dough for five minutes, or until smooth and elastic.  Alternatively, knead the dough for about 10 minutes.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to sit about 2 hours, or until at least doubled in volume.

Punch down dough and turn onto a lightly floured surface.  Cut into 8 equal blobs.  Each blob will make a personal pizza.  Freeze any dough blobs you don’t plan to use.

Let the dough rest, covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap, for at least 5 but no more than 30 minutes.  Press the dough blobs into a round, flat shape, 6-8 inches in diameter, stretching gently.  If the dough isn’t stretching well, let it rest for about 5 more minutes and try again.

Heat a grill to medium-high heat, or until you can only hold your hand 5″ above the gril for about 3-4 seconds.  Brush one side of each dough round with olive oil.  Working with not more than 2 at a time, put the dough rounds oiled side down on the grill.  Check for progress after about 1 minute.  You’re looking
for some good dark brown grill marks.  You may need to give it another 2 minutes or so.  Prick any big bubbles that form.

While side 1 is grilling, brush the tops with olive oil.  Once the first side is done, flip the dough rounds and immediately add your toppings.  Keep your toppings minimal, because too many toppings won’t get fully heated.

Suggested toppings:  tomato sauce, cooked chicken, cooked sausage, sauteed onions, sauteed peppers, pepperoni, mozzarella, smoked gouda, fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced tomato, basil leaves, pesto sauce…pretty much anything you like, except for raw stuff that oughtn’t be raw when you eat it.

Leave on the grill another couple-three minutes, lid down, until the toppings are hot and there are nice grill marks on the bottom.

The crust on this pizza is really good–it’s crispy and chewy and nicely flavored.  No pictures, sorry.  I have lots of frozen dough left, though, so there’s a good chance we’ll be eating this again soon.

Archive check:  One year ago today, I posted a recipe for stuffed squash blossoms.  In fact, I saw them again at the Farmers Market on Saturday; I should make those again.  They were good.


Ew ew ew

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:14 pm

Carbonated yogurt beverage.  Really, really not okay.

Unflavored yogurt, even.

Warrants sentence fragments of horror.


And we’re done

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:24 pm

The conference is over.  It was really quite exhausting.  I was looking forward to a break from work, but it turned out to be more mentally tiring than a typical workweek.  I’m sure I’ve worked 40 hours already; there were four hours of conference activity on Sunday, and we worked just about every night until 8 or 9.  It was hard work, but it was pretty rewarding; I have to say it was more valuable than most conferences I’ve been to.  I really enjoyed working with my fellow Technology Hitchhikers.  They were smart, fun people who were great contributors to the project.  And even though it was hard work, it was nice to have a change of pace.

We give a lot of lip service at work to leadership and management and everything, but it’s easy to give it lower priority when there are actual deadlines to be met, downed servers to be upped, and phone calls to return.  It was nice to spend a week actually focusing on those issues without feeling like it was taking away from the other things I ought to be doing.

I learned about how to use data effectively in presentations (how to gauge one’s audience to decide how much detail to offer), how to manage group dynamics to exploit the strengths of group members, and how to “lead from where you are.”  That is, you don’t have to be the director of a group to help guide things in a positive direction.  This is good ammo for a buffalo such as myself.  Now I feel compelled to try a buffalo burger.  I see them on menus sometimes, but I’ve never tried them.  I have no serious qualms with cannibalism.

One cool thing about meeting so many different people from so many different places was listening to all the accents.  There were quite a few Canadians talking aboot a variety of topics, and one of my co-Hitchhikers is from Australia.  She lives in Melbourne, but she knows Canberra and Sydney well, so we had a good talk about some of the places I’ve been in Australia.  Two of the other Hitchhikers are from North Carolina, and another is from China by way of Penn State.  There were Texans in the big group, and Tennesseeans (Tennesseesians?  Tennessenators?), and New Jersians.  It was cool to talk to them.

I also did a very good job being social.  I must confess, though, that I am now peopled out.  I am sitting in a restaurant at the hotel right now, because I have some time to kill before I go to the airport, and some of the people from the conference who are also eating here invited me to join them.  I’m sure they’re very nice, but after nearly a week of constant interfacing, networking, and intensive group activity, I just need some time to myself (aka Joe Time).  So I’m enjoying a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, enjoying the broadband connection in the restaurant, and doing some mental decompression.
Also, I watched Project Runway last night.  My favorite is the architect who looks like Geena Davis.  She’s so elegant and polished, even though she has five kids, and her designs are really classic and timeless, yet not boring.  I hope she doesn’t turn annoying.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell until you’re a few episodes in.

I’ll be getting home tonight, and my darling husband is picking me up at the airport.


Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:13 am

I’m in the final sessions of this conference, and it’s time to present the project we’ve been working on all week.  Ours is a proposal for a training program designed to train faculty and staff to implement Outcomes-Based Education for the university we represent, Invent U.  Invent U is a large, research-centered organization, and we’re pitching a community-centric training approach that harnesses relationships with local business and industry.

Blah blah blah, you don’t care.

I got elected presenter for my group.  I hope I can keep it under 10 minutes.  The group that’s going right now has nicer graphics in their Powerpoint than we do, but the presenters are kind of blah.  They also didn’t include a budget.  Weird.  Oh, we’re specifically NOT allowed to include any jokes.  Can you imagine?  They say it’s not appropriate when addressing such a distinguished audience (the conference organizers are playing the role of university administrators).

Of course you wouldn’t want to say a dirty limerick or something, but I can’t think of hardly any situation where some humor isn’t welcomed.  Life without humor?  Why bother?

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