Monday, February 29, 2016

Off duty

My best friend Hallie's wedding in May 2015
It's midterm season so my posts will be very irregular this week. To tide you over, here are some posts that you might have missed during the past six years :)

Reviews (Charlottesville):


Posts that made me smile:

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Spudnuts - Review

Spudnuts storefront

Spudnuts' blueberry cake donut - my favorite!
If you’ve never been to Spudnuts, I suggest you plan a short trip to Charlottesville to pay this quaint little shop a visit. And bring cash.

Just beyond the Charlottesville Downtown Mall on Avon St. sits this itty-bitty standalone shop boasting a faded Pepsi sign and sells the most unique donuts. The hexagonal potato donuts need but the simplest adornments: chocolate glaze, shredded coconut, sugar, or maple. Sometimes, if you come early enough, you can snag an apple fritter made from the donut batter. And definitely don’t miss the blueberry cake donuts – those are the donuts that really shine.

Spudnuts used to be open six days a week during my days as an undergrad, but those have been reduced to four: Tuesday thru Friday, 6 a.m. – 2 p.m. or until they run out of donuts. I don’t know if those reduced business days are due to slow business, but I encourage you to support this small business because if this place shutters up, the next closest Spudnuts location is in Ohio! 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Russia House - Review

Drawing by Tony Ma ... Not that I would've sprung for dessert at Russia House ;)
Russia House in Herndon (not to be confused with a restaurant with the same name in NW D.C.) has all the ambitions of an upscale restaurant but falls disappointingly short of these motivations. I dined there on the busiest Hallmark holiday of the year, and so was not expecting top-notch quality or service from Russia House's kitchen, but equally was not looking to pay top dollar for something not worthy of being found in a convenience store's frozen food section. They had a prixe fixe menu of microwave-ready entrees AND DOUBLED the price of these entrees.

When my chicken kiev arrived at my table within 10 minutes of ordering (I'm telling you: it came from a microwave), I asked my dining companion, "Is that chicken ...?" Then: "This tastes like a TV dinner." The chicken -- shaped unnaturally in a rectangular block with rounded-off edges -- sat atop a bed of forgettable rice, and a heap of sad roasted vegetables. The chicken itself tasted processed and its texture reminded me of a chicken McNugget -- a $55 chicken McNugget but of inferior quality.

My dining companion, after some Googling, selected the beef stroganoff. Upon taking a first taste of his entree, I told him, "This tastes like it came from a can." Him?: "This tastes like something my mom made me as a kid."

On the upside, the (free) rolls are excellent, and boy does the staff keep them coming! The hefty rolls are dense and land on your bread plate with a satisfying "thud." I definitely was more interested in the bread than the "chicken."

Good luck flagging down the waitress if you accidentally drop your fork on the ground and need a replacement. It was a one-woman operation that night for a full house; the owner wore the hats of hostess, waitress, and bartender. To her credit, she was very polite and friendly. After all, the restaurant had doubled its prices that night, so I'm sure she was raking it in. And the young, spry staffers are quick with the water refills and handing out those aforementioned rolls, though those seemed to be their only responsibilities that night.

After receiving the check, I asked my dining companion if he wanted to get a snack afterwards because I was still hungry (I'd hardly touched my food). But he'd mopped his plate clean with the rolls: "If I'm paying $65 for this, I'm eating it all!"

Upon hearing the owner greet a guest with an enthusiastic, "Welcome back!" my dining companion and I looked at each other and said, "They have regulars?!"

The must only come for the rolls.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Where have I been? An explanation

Charleston trip with friends -- definitely a 2015 highlight
Hi there! I’ve got ‘splaining to do, don’t I? If you are a long-time follower of this blog, I am sorry to have let the posts wane. I didn’t post very much in 2015 because it was a challenging year for me. It was an unexpectedly important and defining year in my life because I had to make some hard but important decisions, and there were very few feelings and experiences I wanted to commit to long-term memory. The past year has been a big transition year for me, and I myself did not know what life would be like just three or even one month ahead.

I’ve written regularly for the past 6 or so years, but very few of my pieces are ever finished and fewer still are ever published on this blog. I write when I’m full of feeling, attempting to capture a memory, or to help myself think through all-consuming issues. I don't often finish any particular entry because I don’t always have a distinct beginning or conclusion – which makes sense because if I’m writing for myself I don’t need to provide expository content, and oftentimes I don’t have a conclusion because I haven’t figured everything out yet. And then, of course, is the question: How much of this do I really want to remember or revisit if it is so emotionally taxing to live through in the moment?

I survived 2015 and I am proud of the way I composed myself, but I would never want to relive it. I have come a long way but have a quite a ways to travel still.

Will you follow along with me?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Gym struggles

One of the few photos that exist of me in athletic attire

I’ve written before about gym newbies being one of the banes of my existence. Now that I share a gym with 25,000 other students, the struggle has only magnified. If I could, I would go to the gym every day because it’s my holy hour of solitude, gives me all the endorphins that ward off foul moods, and overall helps me be the best version of myself.

My latest gym pet peeve: Gymming as a group social activity. Like telecommuters in a cafĂ©, people come to the gym to be alone in the company of strangers, as oxymoronic as that sounds. I have a hard time with people who converse loudly and unreservedly while pedaling away on adjacent elliptical machines or stationary bikes, making a special effort to talk over the murmur of exercise machines. If these offenders were more aware of their surroundings, they would realize that although everyone at the gym wears earbuds, most are not noise-cancelling, and the gym floor is silent save for the sounds of ambient music and the aforementioned exercise machines (and probably some grunting), so everybody can hear everything in a place with poor noise insulation. (Never anger someone who is already really sweaty) And it’s not like I can pick up and move the treadmill so I can jog somewhere quieter in a climate-controlled environment!

Just a few more months just a few more months just a few more months.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Student mopeds are annoying, unnecessary

U.Va recently issued an email notice banning hoverboards because they present a safety and fire hazard, but what they also need to ban are mopeds. Every student here lives within walking distance from Grounds (a 15-minute walk is usually the maximum anyone here, unless they have the great misfortune of living in, say, the Copely upperclassmen dorms) so anyone who thinks they need a moped to get to class is a lazypants. The irony is that most moped drivers zipping around grounds are Division 1 athletes (!). I understand that getting to practice at U-Hall or John Paul Jones Arena can be a pain to get to via a Northline bus, but to go from class to class?? Stop being lazy.

I’ve almost been hit by a moped before at least three times this past fall! For those unfamiliar, McCormick Rd. is a main street on Grounds that, during school hours, is restricted to authorized University vehicles and buses, and student bikes with a maximum speed limit of about 25 mph (usually, cars don’t go faster than 15-20 mph because of the vehicle gates and flood of students). These mopeds, though, always speed by while going at least 30-35 mph! Crossing McCormick Rd. during normal class changes is hard enough: you have to cut through swarms of students, look both ways for vehicles, buses and bikes because there’s no crosswalk signal, and then scoot across the street through more swarms of students. So, adding speeding mopeds to the mix does NOT help. Given that McCormick Rd. is a main street on Grounds heavily populated by student pedestrians during class changes, I’m used to crossing the street and looking out for larger authorized University vehicles and buses and the occasional bike going a maximum of 20 mph, but NOT a moped speeding through at 35 mph.

This was a bit of a rant, but I’m just trying to get to and from class on time without getting hit by a speeding moped, OK?

The U.Va Rotunda undergoing renovations. I'll be equally bandaged up if I get hit by a speeding moped this semester.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Howdy, neighbor!

Every night as I lay in bed I can hear the man below me snoring blissfully. This evening while reading at my desk I could hear the woman in the unit below me (snoring man’s live-in lady friend) sneeze – twice. Most mornings I am awoken 10-15 minutes before my alarm goes off by the sound of the couple’s chubby pug manically running around, abruptly body slamming into walls, cabinets, doors, and miscellaneous furniture. This same pug cries and howls whenever his owners are gone for more than a few hours (while, I imagine, looking out the first-floor living-room window, waiting expectantly for his owners’ cars to back into their usual parking space).

Which makes me wonder: What must these neighbors know about me with just our thin ceilings/floors separating us? I live alone and so do not often have loud conversations save for the occasional phone or thrice weekly conference call, but I do play podcasts aloud while getting ready every morning, eating every meal and snack, and cooking or baking. Those who know me well know that I am a morning person, and my floors creak quite a bit – especially in the kitchen. And when I can’t fall asleep at night, or wake up inexplicably early and cannot fall back asleep, I often get out of bed and pass the time by baking or cooking, much to the downstairs neighbors’ dismay, I am sure, because sometimes I hear them start to move about and sleepily murmur to one another when I step on an especially creaky – but unavoidable! – floor tile. I have, however, abstained from vacuuming my floors early in the morning because nobody wants to (or ought to) be that neighbor!

Just a few more months folks, and I’m out of here :)

Charlottesville is stunning in the fall

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sweet Berry - Review

A Belgian waffle topped with strawberries, Nutella drizzle, and a scoop of chocolate gelato
Waffles, gelato, crepes, and frozen yogurt: All of my favorite things in the same shop at the corner of Main and Pickett Streets.

The first time I went to Sweet Berry, I sprang for the Belgian waffle topped with strawberries and Nutella. My dining companion, who opted for a comparably modest desert of gelato in a cup, had major food envy. The second time, we both bested the already-magical combination by adding a scoop of gelato to our Nutella-topped Belgian waffles. Needless to say, we walked out smiling and skipping.

Another popular combination is a crepe -- which can be filled with any combination of fruit, Nutella, or whipped cream -- swaddling a scoop of gelato.

It's unusual for a business establishment that serves such varied offerings to execute each one so excellently, but Sweet Berry does. And it's not just the waffles that shine: the tiramisu gelato, for example, tastes, amazingly, like its eponymous dessert. The frozen yogurt -- of which there is a choice of more than 10 different flavors daily -- is solid as well.

This definitely is a family-friendly place located across the street from Woodson High School, so expect to hear many a high-school girl gossiping, and tiny tots philosophizing with each other and their parents at nearby tables.

Monday, February 15, 2016


A Q&A adapted from the version that appeared in my department newsletter in summer 2015:

What is your favorite leisure activity?:
I’m a big reader. I carry around my Kindle everywhere with me so I can read if I’m standing in a long line, riding on the Metro, or waiting to get an oil change. I used to read before the start of classes in college, and my friend asked, “Don’t you think that makes you seem antisocial?” Maybe, but that doesn’t bother me :)

If you could vacation anywhere, where would it be?:
Either Thailand or London: Thailand for the pretty beaches, and London because I’m a complete Anglophile. I considered taking a solo trip to London for my 25th birthday but I knew my parents would not be too supportive of me traveling internationally alone :). Maybe in a year or two.

What is your favorite thing to bake?:
My favorite things to make are the yumyums I enjoy eating :). My favorite things to bake are banana muffins because they’re really tasty and so easy to make. My absolute favorite thing to eat (currently) though are probably Nutella poptarts, but I don’t make them too often because they’re tricky to make.

What is your favorite TV show at the moment?:
My all-time favorite show is Friday Night Lights (I love Kyle Chandler!). I will watch Downton Abbey for as long as it runs – or as long as Lady Mary remains a part of the show :) -- but I like watching reality television (e.g., The Bachelor/Bachelorette) when I want to watch something light to relax.

If you could meet one celebrity who would it be and why?:
Kane of the Kane Show morning radio program, but I think I would be too star struck to say much :). If we’re talking about someone with a broader fan base, I would say Kate Middleton (she seems like a really nice lady!), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (she is a G! And my new idol), or Katie Couric. Fun fact: Katie Couric and I were both crowned Cavalier Daily Earth Mama during our time at the University of Virginia, a title that is the newspaper’s equivalent of prom queen.

What is your favorite funtivity that you’ve planned for the group or participated in?:
The Valentine’s Day breakfast potluck is my favorite funtivity that I hope will be an ongoing tradition for the department :). Also, the department did not celebrate team member birthdays before I came on board, which is completely crazy to me! Every birthday boy or girl deserves cupcakes or donuts on their birthday! (Especially if they’re spending their birthday in the office ;)

Describe your perfect day:
I would wake up early, go to the gym, eat a strawberry and Nutella crepe for lunch, explore D.C., and then go to dinner with someone special.

If you were to get a new bunny, what would he/she look like, and what would you name him/her?:
I want a light grey, lop-eared bunny named Henry with white spots.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?:
Invisibility so I can walk around uninterrupted. A more useful one, though, would be the power to make people respond to my emails in a timely manner without escalation. [Note: this question was answered in a workplace context ;) ]

If you could have dinner with any fictional character, who would it be?:
Mr. Darcy (of Jane Austen’s Price & Prejudice), or Lizzie Bennett (who becomes Mrs. Darcy).

Toilet paper: over or under?:
Always over!

Other than food and water, what 3 items would you take to a desert island?:
(1) a grill with a bottomless propane tank (I suspect I would not be too adept at building fires), (2) indestructible, all-weather shoes, and (3) a snorkel.

If you were having a dinner party and could invite three famous people (dead or alive), who would they be?:
(1) Kate Middleton (notice a theme here?), (2) Katie Couric, (3) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and (4) Kane of the Kane Show. I would love to be a fly on the way for that dinner party.

What is your favorite restaurant?:
Rabieng for Thai food, Curry Mantra for Indian, Sweet Berry for waffles, and Miyagi in Vienna for sushi.

What is your favorite snack food?:
Savory: Harvest Cheddar SunChips. Sweet: Warm chocolate chip cookies.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sweet notes

I used to keep notes from my sweetheart in my work desk drawer, and take them out to read whenever I was having a particularly trying day or otherwise in need of some positive vibes. I still keep screenshots of sweet, uplifting emails I’ve received from colleagues to read when I’m feeling unsure of myself. A senior business development manager at my old job came by my desk during my last week with the company to say, in passing but in earnest, that sometimes people don’t know how much they are appreciated until they hand in their notice, after which the appreciative notes start pouring in. By then it’s too late – their desks are packed.

Appreciation should not merely be inferred; that’s how people and companies lose stellar employees, partners, and friends, and, I think, why so many long-distance relationships dissolve. The absence of criticism is hardly the inference of appreciation. There are few people (at least in my life) who can deliver criticism constructively because it takes some effort and thought to do so; the kind of criticism that flows easily probably is not received too well. In any case, I think everyone harbors enough internal self-doubt at times without the aid of anyone else’s unsolicited sharp words.

Charley Harper Homecoming