Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bro and his pillow pets

My brother has four pillow pets -- a panda, ladybug, mama unicorn and baby unicorn -- and has starting bringing his pillow pets, one at a time, to school with him. He is a high-school senior. Should I be worried?

This is a text message he sent to me today with the accompanying photo:
"Panda chillin with me in Spanish class :D"

Birds on a line

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

From my newsfeed

Posted by my middle-school algebra teacher:

SOL days are insane, but I'm OK. Came home to find Bill's room filling up with water, 2 hours later, we're OK. Kate's [his wife] spending the night at her Mom, but it's okay. Note from our housekeeper left on our bed: "the cat bomit on your sheets. they are in drayer." I'm done

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Order of the Ampersand turns 2!

Happy 2nd anniversary to Order of the Ampersand! I started this blog (originally hosted on Tumblr) two years ago for my friends and family to keep up with me as I spent 12 weeks in Charlottesville -- the longest I’d ever been away from home. At that point in my life, I was halfway through my college career -- by far the most formidable years of my life thus far -- and more than a little uncomfortable with my then-uncertain future, for various reasons, including a natural disinclination for change. Two years ago, the end U.Va and Charlottesville life felt uncomfortably close, even though that penultimate walk down the Lawn was still a ways away.

Now, I’ve graduated, moved back to Northern Virginia, and will begin working my first job in a few days. My blog will no longer be a chronicle of the latter half of my college career but rather offer a glimpse into my new life as a self-proclaimed yuppie in the D.C. area. Two years ago, I did not know where I’d be or what I’d be doing after graduation, but I’m pleased with what I’ve been presented with, and I cannot disdain the paths that have led me where I am now. I think I’ll like being a yuppie, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about this new journey.

Elevation Burger

On a scale from Wendy's to Five Guys, Elevation Burger is somewhere in between. The menu let’s you build a burger with various run-of-the-mill toppings (e.g., ketchup, mustard, lettuce, mushrooms, onions), and some interesting sauces including balsamic mustard, hot-pepper relish, and elevation sauce (a sauce the color of thousand island, but with less tang and more mayo) from a base of a burger, cheeseburger, etc. -- similar to Five Guys. But the beef patty itself leaves something to be desired. The patty is smaller than I expected, and not as juicy as I’d like a made-to-order burger to be. This may be trivial to some, but I took issue with the greens: For premium burger joint, I expected something more than a cumbersome wave of iceberg lettuce. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that the cheese on my cheeseburger was cheddar, rather than American.

There are also two varieties of veggieburgers (one with a fire-roasted taste, and the other with a more “veggie” flavor)  for the non-meateaters out there, and a veggie-wrap alternative to a carb-laden bun if that interests you. And you can place your order online and pick it up in-store. But if you’re dining at the National Harbor location, like I did, you ought to eat outside and take in the waterfront view.

The real winners are the crispy, skin-on fries prepared in olive oil. I prefer the texture of these fries to the less-than-crispy ones at, say, Five Guys, but the latter’s cajun seasoning has Elevation Burger’s beat. Frying in olive oil, though it is a slightly healthier alternative, leaves no discernible difference in taste, if you were wondering.

I went to the National Harbor location, but there’s one opening in Tyson’s Corner. I don’t plan to come back purely because this is D.C. and there are plenty of superior burgers in town.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Courtesy calls

Things I dislike about courtesy calls:
1. There is never a time when I feel compelled to listen to a stranger talk me into signing up for a credit card.
2. It often takes more than one hello and pause to get them to speak, or the person says, “Hello?” after I’d already said “Hello” first. This is one of my greatest pet peeves!
3. I’m not a huge fan of talking on the phone anyway. I’m more of an emailer or Gchatter. Does that make me sound impersonal? If it does, I should note that I really like writing handwritten cards and letters.

A recent phone conversation went like this:
Phone rings, see 1-866 number on caller ID and feel strong inclination to punt cordless phone out the window, but do not, of course, do so.
Me: Hello?
Caller: Hi, may I speak to Ms. --

My name is incredibly simple to pronounce, and I am offended by the ways in which some people mispronounce my last name. A call came in today asking for a “Mr. Meh” (said as in “Meh, I don’t really care what I order for lunch.”). Click.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to get good customer service

Here are excerpts from my online chat conversations with a Verizon FiOS custumer support representative to fix our living-room TV:

Step 1: When asked to state your problem, resort to violence
Me: Our Verizon FiOS remote control has been aggravatingly stubborn during the past few months, and I suspect it is on its last leg before it will be subjected to a violent bludgeon if it doesn't get its act together soon.
A Verizon Service Representative will be with you shortly. Thank you.

(An online representative responded within a minute. Excellent service)

Step 2: Use humor
Verizon: Well, you will get a new remote within one business day. Are all your other FiOS services working fine to the best of your satisfaction?
Me: Thank you very much! Well, the TVs with FiOS have some bad days. Sometimes it says there are no recordings. And it continues to feign ignorance even after we turn off an on the TV.

Step 3: Do everything they ask you to do and, most important, be polite
Verizon: I truly appreciate your patience and efforts in following the troubleshooting steps in such a wonderful way! I really wish all my customers are like you. I can grade you 10/10 for being so nice and patient.

Yes, the Verizon FiOS representative really said that to me. I have the screenshot to prove it.

National Harbor

Friday, May 11, 2012

Amy's jokes

Amy:  jane
me:  hm
Amy:  why did Ariel wear seashells
me:  why do u keep asking me
Amy:  it's a joke newb
me:  oh
cuz she's a sea-lut?
Amy:  LOL that's a good one
me:  so what's the answer
Amy:  because B-shells were too small

Google answers

Q: What sound do giraffes make?:
A: "They make a very sad bellow-like sound that's like a really depressed cow." (Source)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fry's Spring Station

Just as we continue to return to restaurants for the good food, so, too, do we return for the memories. Fry’s Spring Station will always be a special place to me partly because that’s where many an MB121 meeting took place. But the pizza is good, too.

My favorite pizza there is The Roberto, which contains chunks of tender meatballs. Another favorite of mine is now discontinued and was essentially a salad with tangy dressing atop a cheese pizza. Those who opt for the mushroom pizza, though, may be disappointed that the pie arrives displaying only a few skinny slices of mushroom that hardly occupy a third of the total surface area.

Apart from the pizza, Fry’s Spring Station also serves paninis, salads, and enormous portions of pasta. My pick for pasta is the lasagna, which arrives with a generous slice and hearty ground beef. The creme brule is one of a few dessert offerings, but I’ve had better

Al fresco dining is always a plus and there are plenty of outdoor seats (at least 10 tables total in the front and side of the venue) when the weather is fair. And on the plus side, it’s just a stone’s throw away from the Inner Loop and Free Trolley lines, and is easily accessible. I wouldn’t recommend driving -- especially on a weekend or Friday night -- because parking is extremely limited. 

The Roberto


Margherita pizza

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Balkan Bakery baklava

There are places aplenty to get baklava in Charlottesville if you poke around (e.g., Cafe Europa, Ariana's Grill). The Balkan Bakery has a baked-goods stand at the weekly farmers’ market and sells baklava for $5 a hand-sized square. Sure, you can eat it at room temperature, but here’s a better way to savor it: Take it home and heat it up in a toaster oven for a really special dessert. It’ll come out warm and crispy. Add a dollop of ice cream and sail away to obesity.

Farmers' market tacos

You know what makes me happy on Saturday mornings? Farmers’ market tacos. Specifically, these warm bundles of magic:

What do these taste like? Magic. What does that taste like? Chicken. And cilantro. And, of course, cheese.

The tacos themselves are $2.75 each and you have a choice of four different proteins: chicken (my favorite), steak, chorizo and al pastor. Unlike many other ready-made tacos, these come adorned with a confetti of cilantro and red onion, without being too overwhelmingly “oniony.” Sorry, there’s no lettuce to be seen here. Another unique element is the cheese. It’s not the typical grated cheese, but rather a crumbly, milder cheese that doesn’t attempt to compete with the punchy cilantro, zippy salsa, or savory meat.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


One of my favorite photographs: Here is my brother, Tony, (he was 10 years old at the time) with our newly adopted bunny, Duncan, who quickly became a beloved family member.

Conversation about John Edwards' corruption trial

me:  The mistress probably got pregnant on purpose. And ruined everyone's life, but Edwards is still a scumbag regardless.
 Amy:  It takes two to tango. He has to learn to keep his banana out of other people's fruit bowls.