Thursday, August 30, 2007

Some Porto pictures

These pictures should go along somewhat with the post below.

Porto, the Douro River, and Gaia from a Porto church tower.

The end of a Portuguese wedding.

The entrance to the Ingreja de Sao Francisco. Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures inside.

Rob at the Casa do Infante.

Connecting with my roots at Real Indiana. Er, wait...

Burmeister ports. Yum.

Rob on one of the narrow roads of the hills of Gaia.

The azulejos in the Sao Bento station.

Boavista's stadium. Go panthers!

A Porto open air market.

And the less glamorous side of downtown Porto.

A Tale of Two Portos

Rob and I agree that the best and worst moments of our trip were in Porto (or more correctly, the Porto region). Inspired by a friend's blog, which always includes the good, the bad and the ugly (although she actually has real excuses for life's stressful moments, while Rob and I only have ourselves to blame :), I thought I'd share the highs and lows of Porto.

Most of you know that I like some control over my environment. A huge understatement, I know. Traveling in a non-English speaking country was testing my own limits a bit. And in any new city, there's also the matter of not knowing where you should or shouldn't be... which no guidebook really tells you. We arrived in Porto early Friday evening and Rob had picked out two possible restaurants from our guidebooks for dinner. We checked into our hotel and set out on foot, as the restaurants were (in theory) just a couple blocks away. The short story is that we found ourselves wandering in a semi-inhabited area of downtown Porto with sidewalks full of dog poop, not so welcoming strangers around every corner, and two boarded up buildings where the two restaurants we sought were supposed to be. We eventually (after much wandering in worry and frustration) headed back towards our hotel, eating in the over-priced, underwhelming restaurant on the ground floor.

I asked our hotel for some recommendations for Douro River cruises. Porto sits on the Douro River just before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Heading east on the river you run into wine country, which we absolutely wanted to see. That night we figured out that the better cruises (including a vineyard tour) seemed to be on Saturday and not Sunday. We tried to make a reservation online, but it wasn't clear if it worked.

The next morning, we headed to Vila Nove de Gaia, across the river from Porto, to the boat's departure point. We arrived there to find no one in charge, no one who could tell us if we had a reservation, but a massive crowd of people waiting to get on a boat that could handle that number of people, but not well. My neurons were firing. See above. I hate unnecessary chaos. Why was there no line? Why was there no employee to answer questions? Why was there no order? We wandered around looking for an office to no avail and my stress increased as I realized that even if we got on the boat, we'd be sardines in the middle for the whole six hour trip.

It was probably the jet lag, but my crankiness made Rob cranky and it kept going from there. Grumbling steadily at each other, we decided to head to the office of another tour company, which was highly recommend by both our guidebooks and for which we'd seen signs the night before, so we could book a Sunday tour. We got in a taxi and gave the driver the address. He had no idea where it was. He drove until we spotted one of the signs for the place with an arrow and we jumped out to find the place on foot. We didn't stop to consider that these signs were in the not so friendly neighborhood we'd wandered through the night before. We followed them anyway, as they led us through darker, narrower alleys. But how could huge blue arrows saying "Porto Tours" be lying? Our irritation with our not-so-safe surroundings and each other grew. We stumbled upon the creepiest dog I've ever seen. In hindsight, the dog was probably more miserable than creepy, and Rob insists it was harmless. I was (admittedly probably irrationally) freaked, convinced the dog was going to eat me. Rob was storming ahead, so I yelled until he turned around and walked with me past the demon dog. The morning was not going well.

We were lost. There were no more blue arrow signs. We kept wandering and about 10 minutes later were able to triangulate our location by way of our vaguely accurate guidebook maps. Another ten minutes and we figured out the building that should have housed Porto Tours, but of course didn't. A couple more minutes and we found a locked building around the corner with a tourist information sign that said the office was (contrary to our guidebooks' statements) closed all weekend. Our irritation with each other lifted as we bonded over our mutual and newly found distaste for all things Porto. Why did this city hate us? And what was up with our guidebooks' lies?

As we wandered back to the hotel, we recalled another tour company office we'd passed the night before and stopped in just as it was opening. We looked through their offerings and, pondering the pre-boarding boat cruise stampede, thought it might be worth the splurge to get the more expensive driving tour of the Douro region in a small van. We dropped a credit card, reserved the tour for Sunday, and headed back to our hotel. It was not even 10am. Rob wanted to sleep for a bit longer and so we planned to take a train to a nearby fishing village/beach town for the afternoon to escape the black hole of Porto.

As Rob settled back into bed, I realized that there might be some things I wanted to see in Porto. Surely it wasn't all this bad. I told Rob I'd be back in an hour and set off for a nearby cathedral -- not in the scary neighborhood. It was beautiful. (For the record, I can't even count the number of times Portugal made me whisper "byoootiful," just like that, upon stumbling onto a new sight.) I climbed the 200+ steps to the top of the cathedral tower (let's hear it for Operation Portugal) and was treated to stunning views of the whole city, the river, Gaia. Porto could not be as bad as we thought.

I made a new itinerary for our afternoon, which involved a taxi to our first well-known tourist attraction to avoid landing ourselves in another dark alley. Around noon we set out. We visited the Ingreja de Sao Francisco. Byootiful. You step through a Gothic style entrance and find yourself surrounded by one of the most stunning church interiors I have ever seen. Everything was covered in ornate carvings gilded in gold. Baroque and Rococo (sp?) styles, to be technically correct... I think. It was breathtaking. Porto was looking much better. Across the street we stumbled onto the end of a wedding, as the bride and groom emerged from another church with an exterior covered in gorgeous azulejos (Portuguese tiles). Next up was a guided tour around the corner at the Palacio de Bolsa, which housed the government's commercial operations for a time (and still today to some extent). The highlights included a gorgeous old courtroom and an exquisite hand-carved table made entirely from the scraps left over from the building's wood carvings. Next was the Casa do Infante, also just around the corner, which is not only where Prince Henry the Navigator was born, but also where archaeologists have uncovered Roman ruins now partially on display.

We then made our way back across the river to Gaia where we had some amazing Indian food at a restaurant called, I kid you not, Real Indiana. We have the picture to prove it. Gaia is where the big port companies have their port cellars, many of which are open for tours and tastings. You just have to climb Gaia's hills to get there. Still not recognizing the extent of our guidebooks' betrayals, we followed their advice to visit Barros first. Up, up, up the hill in the heat only to find the doors sealed. No sign of tours or tastings. We wandered around a bit towards where Burmeister was supposed to be, according to our guidebooks, and miraculously, it was there and open. We got an excellent tour, saw a giant wood aging cask from the late 19th century that is currently full of aging port, and very much enjoyed the tasting. We left having purchased a bottle of port. Next it was off to Taylor's, also highly recommended by both our guidebooks. But, contrary to the hours listed in both guidebooks, it was closed when we arrived at 3:30pm. Taylor's is way up in the hills so we were exhausted on the descent. We stumbled onto Offley's who had an English tour at 5pm. We enjoyed it, although it was much less interesting than Burmeister's. We tasted port there with a couple from the Netherlands (who live in France) and a couple from New Zealand (who live in Ireland). Oh, and they all think America attacked itself on 9/11. Seriously. But that's another story.

We stopped in quickly for a tasting at Croft, bought one more bottle of Port, and headed back to our hotel. Porto was not so bad after all. We had dinner at a nice Italian place in Gaia and went to bed looking forward to Douro the next day.

This post is getting long, and our Douro trip deserves more attention than it would get right now. But suffice to say, it was my favorite day of the trip. The Douro region is stunning beyond words. Truly truly truly.

We had a lovely dinner on Sunday night after the tour in Porto on the riverside. (We had found the good restaurant area!) Then we had another half day in Porto on Monday. We wandered to the Sao Bento train station, with enormous walls of azulejos. Then we took a taxi to the far west side of Porto (a newer area) to the new, famous modern art museum that (contrary to our guidebooks) was closed on Mondays. Of course. :) But the museum's restaurant overlooking the museum's gorgeous park was open, so we had a nice early lunch there. An excellent meal actually. One of our favorites. Then we took a long walk to Porto's Boavista Football Club's stadium. The city's underdog. Arriving a little before 2pm. We expected the stadium to be closed, but also the stadium's store was closed for lunch from 1pm to 2:30pm. Of course. :) We went back to the hotel so Rob could relax a bit while I did some shopping before we took the train back to Lisbon. I wandered through an open air market, the main shopping district on a road called Santa Catarina (nice), the University of Porto, and a few small parks. It was crazy hot, which was all the more noticeable because every street seems to be headed uphill. But I actually had a lot of fun.

Despite all the wrong turns, the closed sights, the frustrations, we really did leave loving Porto and the Douro region... although we weren't so enchanted with our guidebooks. It is a gorgeous city well worth the trip. Just stay away from the alleys of the Ribeira.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Uploading pictures is hard

Arrrrgh. I've been trying to upload our vacation pictures but it's starting to drive me crazy. From the slow uploads, to the sites throwing the pictures out of order, to the total upload limits. Arrrgh. So although I'm sure you're all in agony waiting to see our vacation pictures, you'll have to wait a wee bit longer.

In the mean time, I thought I'd write a little bit about our trip, beginning with our first three days, which we spent in England. We left on a Friday evening -- running a wee bit late for our plane. We flew on Virgin Atlantic, which we loved. We didn't sleep much on the overnight flight but we were determined to make the most of our first day in London. We couldn't check into our hotel, a small place a half block from Marble Arch, right away, but we were able to drop off our bags, change clothes and brush our teeth! Then we hit a nearby coffee shop for breakfast and caffeine. We jumped on the tube and made our way to St. Paul's Cathedral. I have a huge soft spot for St. Paul's because when I lived in London, my dorm room looked across the Thames right at the cathedral's enormous dome. So I was happy to see it again. We wandered around the grounds and headed inside only to discover there was a 10 pound charge to look around! So we took a quick glance while backing out of the ticket line. If you don't know, the exchange rate between dollars and pounds is lousy right now. A pound costs nearly $2, so our visit would have been $40! We looked around the crypt (free) and then set off in search of Rob's ancestor -- Sir Rowland Hill.

Rob is a distant relation of the legendary British postmaster. Fortunately, the St. Paul's gift shop worker we asked just happened to be an expert on Sir Rowland Hill and pointed us precisely to the nearby statute of him. We were so excited to take a picture of Rob in front of the statute but a giant truck was parked right in front of it. Unbelievable! But we were able to angle a couple pics around it a bit. Then we jumped in a taxi to see a few sights by car -- we drove down the Strand, home of the Savoy Hotel and the Royal Courts of Justice; we drove through Trafalgar Square; and we ended up at Parliament and Big Ben. We stared across the river at the London Eye, which was new to London since I lived there way back in 1998-99! Then we walked across the street to Westminster Abbey, one of my favorite places in the world. You really have to see it to believe it, and I was thrilled that Rob was equally impressed as I always am. You are just swimming through history there, with the tombs and memorials of kings, queens, poets, scientists, and great people known and unknown around every corner. We even found the memorial bust for Sir Rowland Hill!

We were a little rushed though because we had a lunch date with my friend Philip, my favorite friend from my LSE days. We hadn't seen each other since Philip's wedding in Monroe, Lousiana, to the lovely Ashley in the spring of 2005. We got to see Philip and Ashley and their baby Blair (so beautiful) at a great pub in their neighborhood on the north side of London. I was really excited for Rob and Philip to get to know each other a bit more, as I've always thought of them as kindred spirits, especially in their football-loving ways. (Philip loves the Broncos as much as Rob loves the Giants.) We had a fantastic time and I was thrilled to learn that Philip and his family are moving to Atlanta soon, so hopefully it won't be another two years until we see them again. I can't believe Philip is a dad -- I can't believe we're all grown up! I knew Philip back when he had a tongue ring. In fact, when my friend Erica and I set out to get navel piercings in NYC several years back, it was Philip I called for a piercing salon rec. Now he's an investment banker, a husband, a dad, and about to live in the Atlanta suburbs. But he's still wicked cool. :)

After lunch, we checked into our hotel, showered and napped. Mmm sleep. Then we headed back out to the new Tate Modern, just steps away from my old dorm in Southwark but it was still under construction when I was there. We got there by way of the Millenium Footbridge, which was pretty cool at dusk, despite the steady drizzle. The Tate was great and had a cool exhibit on cities around the world. After the museum, we wandered over to my dorm where the light in my old room was on! And I was FLOORED to see a Starbucks next door. Back in the olden days, there was nothing at all nearby, certainly not hot caffeinated beverages! Then it was off to a gastropub for dinner, which was divine, especially the cold pea mousse. Seriously. This vacation was all about sleeping on the cheap but eating freely, and we did that particularly well our first night in London. We walked from the gastropub for about 20 minutes through the Knightsbridge area and past Harrod's. Then we headed back to the hotel and hit the sack as exhaustion was setting in!

Whew! I'm not sure I can keep up with this level of detail, nor that it's very interesting... but at least this lets you know why we were so exhausted when we got back from vacation. So much to see, so little time, and Type A Katherine taking the touristing helm. Tomorrow I'll try to post some pictures and some of the highlights of the rest of our trip. No promises on the pictures though. The internet seems to hate me right now.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Almost home

Rob in front of a "small" aging cask in a port cellar in Gaia, just across the river from Porto.

Me at a vineyard in the Douro Valley. No picture can do the scenery justice.

As for now, we are currently sitting in the Radisson Lisbon -- just five minutes from the airport -- and our hotel room is the size of our three previous hotel rooms combined (London, Lisbon, Porto). Tonight was a splurge because we are getting up at 4:45am to head over to the airport for our flight, so we wanted to be as close as possible.

We have had an awesome vacation. It's been jam-packed with sightseeing from start to finish. We have a few hundred pictures and a few extra pounds (not just of souvenirs) to show for it. Thank goodness for Operation Portugal because now we're just heading home back to our old pre-OP selves instead of the biggest versions of ourselves to date. :)

It's about time for our 5 hours of sleep to begin, so we'll sign off with a few quick lessons about travelling through Portugal:

1. A phrasebook is cool and all, but when you're staring down a menu in Portuguese, you really want a Portuguese-English dictionary in your bag.

1a. When in doubt, just gesture your way into asking the waiter to give you his or her favorite dish. It's always good.

2. There are not stones as slippery as the stones of Lisbon's cobbled sidewalks anywhere else on the planet. Shoes with traction -- yet light if you're visiting in the hot August sun -- are a must.

3. If the guidebook describes an area as "a neighborhood of contrasts" or at any point uses the word "melancholy," you may not want to go there, especially your first night in the city, especially at night.

4. Speaking of guidebooks, have three with you. Compare info. Only rely on the info when it's in at least two. Otherwise you'll be standing in front of boarded up buildings that used to be restaurants and outside train stations that no longer run trains.

5. Listen to some Portuguese before you go abroad. You won't believe what it sounds like in person. Nothing in your language book will prepare you. You still won't understand anything. But at least you'll be prepared for understanding nothing.

6. Portugal is beautiful and wonderful and worth all the struggles.

Much more to come! Can't wait to be back in touch with you all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blogging - Portugal Style

In case you didn't know, you are currently reading a nova mensagens. That's what calls a new blog post in Portuguese.

Our vacation is going great and we are surviving our total and complete ignorance of the Portuguese language. Sortof. :)

Here is a quick picture. We will post in more detail soon. This internet connection is not ideal.

This is us at the Palace de Pena in Sintra, which is just a short train ride from Lisbon. The views were just stunning. We took this using our new jobi (sp??) -- thanks for the tip Adam and Valerie!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

And we're off!

I don't think we'll post before we ship off to London, although we might blog from the road. If not, we're back on August 28.

For now I'll leave you with this pic of Rob outside Nick's Diner. Imagine the agony of seeing this sign with just one dollar in your pocket.... :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reunion Central

This past weekend was jam-packed with reunion fun as we had both my judge's clerk reunion and my family's annual reunion to attend, with the slight problem of them being six hours driving time away from each other. Saturday afternoon was a bbq at my judge's home in the Chicago suburbs, which was full of excellent food. I had to say goodbye there to my co-clerk Peter, who was hitting the road on Monday morning to head back to the East coast. His last day at work was Friday. He's been an awesome colleague and it's been sad not having him around this week.

We left the Chicago area around 5:30pm on Saturday, straight from the bbq, and hit the road for Cleveland. We stopped, as we typically do for long road trips, at Cracker Barrel and picked up a book on cd. (If you don't know this trick, it's great. You can "buy" a book on cd from Cracker Barrel and return it within seven days to any other Cracker Barrel, where you'll be refunded the price of the book minus about $3.50.) Rob left me to pick the book on my own and I admit I made a terrible choice -- The Second Horseman by Kyle Mills. You know a book is bad where part of the plot centers around protagonists trying to avoid nuclear war and you find yourself thinking it'd be fine if the bombs go off because at least then the book would be over. There's also a character who's rabidly anti-Semitic, but it's couched in these falsely intellectual terms and you don't really know he's a villain until late in the book... so before you get to that point, the character's rants leave a really bad taste in your mouth that jolts you out of the book. I have to blame some of the bad opinion on the fact that we listened to an abridged version (the last 30 minutes just made no sense at all so there must have been a lot left on the cutting room floor) and on the person who performed this particular book on cd. His style made everything sound schticky. And the voice he gave the main female character was like a caricature of a little old lady cartoon voice... only problem was that the character was supposed to be a young, bad-ass CIA agent. The voice was so ridiculous that it kept making us laugh, even at the many points in the book where she and the hero are about to be killed.

Anyway, we arrived in Cleveland at about 11:30pm and hung out at my grandma's for a while. A little after midnight my Uncle Tom (who is in his 50s) tried to get a game of "SPUD" going. Awesome late night game that's kindof a combo of "HORSE" and dodgeball. The game, which involves yelling, was interrupted by my grandmother shouting out her window that the game was too loud and we had to stop... which led to my Uncle Tom throwing the ball in frustration and saying, "Aw Mom, that's ridiculous!" My cousin Paul, Uncle Tom's 27-year-old son, was very amused.

We checked into our hotel a little before 2am and headed back to Grandma's around 10am. We met up with Libby and Colin to begin our morning as heathens. Most of the family was at mass, which included a baptism of my newest cousin Marcus. But we heathens who aren't so comfortable in a Catholic church had planned on doing breakfast together, so we stuck with that plan. We decided to just drive down Lorain Avenue, a main street near my Grandma's house around 220th Street, straight towards downtown where we'd later be catching an Indians game and just stop when we found something good. After passing up "Hobo Joe's," we stopped around 41st Street at Nick's Diner. From where we parked, the front of Nick's was blocked by cars. Rob ran across the street first, turned around grinning and said, "In about ten seconds you guys are going to realize this was a great idea." Indeed! In front of Nick's was a sign advertising their $1.99 breakfast -- 3 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon or sausage, home fries or grits, and toast of your choice. An extra buck got you coffee. Not exactly keeping with Operation Portugal, but who's going to buy a $4 omelet (also a great deal though) with that special staring at you. Colin and Libby, gentle eaters they are, pondered sharing the special, but Rob and I let them know how wrong that would be. So we all got the special plus coffee or tea and an OJ for Colin -- our total bill was $16. Unreal. And it was delicious! Score one for the heathens.

We made it to the game just as it got underway. It was the Tribe versus the Yankees and apparently someone forgot to tell the Yankees fans that Jacobs Field is not Yankee Stadium. Holy crap there were a lot of Yankees fans. (I'm not sure I can forgive my dad for letting his girlfriend show up in a Yankees hat... a pink Yankees hat no less. ;) They cheered so loudly after their team would make good plays, you'd think it was the hometown fans cheering and do a double take to make sure you hadn't missed something good. The game was reasonably close and the Indians needed a win to maintain their standing at the top of the AL Central. But the Cleveland fans in attendance could hardly be bothered to cheer their team through the closing innings. That's not to say there was a ton to cheer about. Leaving the tying runs on base in each of the closing innings is appalling. But sheesh! Don't let "Let's Go Yankees" cheers in the Jake go unanswered!!! At the top of the ninth, the Indians had two outs and two strikes on Jeter. So what would any home team fan do in that situation? You stand up and cheer on your pitcher, that's what! And what did I do? I got up and screamed my head of from the very top back corner of the stadium and tried to get some noise going. The M-nariks are always good for noise. But we need the fans in actual shouting distance of the field to do their part. And what did the rest of their Cleveland fans do? They sat on their hands in silence. Seriously. SERIOUSLY! And what did the Yankees fans do? They cheered on Jeter -- loudly. And what did Jeter do? Well, you can figure out the rest. Damn Jeter. Damn Yankees.

Bottom of the ninth, 5-2 Yankees, but the Indians show some life. They score a 3rd run, leaving men on second and third with no outs. You can pop fly your way into extra innings from that position. The Cleveland fans gave some half-hearted cheers, but nothing worthy of the fight their players tried to get going. So we the fans deserved the result we got. Three straight outs and the runners never moved. Devastating. I'd blame it on our heathen morning, but my Uncle Matt's priestwas with us at the game, so surely that cancelled out our debaucherous morning!

After the game, we went back to Grandma's, soaked with sweat from the sun and humidity. We watched my Uncle Dan zoom by us on the highway. Hee hee. I had an excellent chat with my cousin Andrew (who's 15) about Harry Potter. Rob, Andrew and I started kicking around a soccer ball in the backyard and nearly a dozen more cousins flocked over. So we played a multi-generational monkey-in-the-middle-type game, as my cousin Judy and her two oldest kids joined the game too. Those are the best moments of M-narik reunions to me, the random playing. When I was growing up, nothing beat time with my cousins. I still love playing games with my cousins and I love seeing all my younger cousins (the youngest is just a couple months' old) play with my older cousins' kids (the oldest of that generation is nearing the end of high school). So cool.

Finally, we began the long trek home. Shout out to Rob who drove the entire trip -- about 5.5 hours each way. So that's 11 hours of driving in about 30 hours just so I could spend a day with my family.

Work on Monday was a little strange. A new law clerk has moved into my old office while I'm working down the hall for my bonus weeks with my judge. I spent a lot of Monday playing tour guide for the two new clerks who started. Then yesterday was a lot of catching back up on work. The new clerks seem absolutely great and are so diligent. Makes me realize how much they have to look forward here. In just a couple more weeks, I'll be leaving behind about 60 bench memos at around 4000-7000 words a pop, 22 opinions drafted initially by yours truly (but later undergoing major revision by the smartest person in chambers) with the shortest still over 10 pages, a smattering of dissents, countless pages of PFR recommendations, and a million other little things. I wish I could do it all over knowing everything I know now, but of course if I knew last year exactly how much work was facing me down, I might not have survived!

Back to work I go.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Top Chef

Not much time to go into thoughtful detail, but I was a little annoyed by tonight's Top Chef episode. Cooking in a slim-fitting button down shirt is not the same challenge cooking in a low-cut top and heels. Not even close, for reasons ranging from physical to psychological to societal. And I was bothered that the judges pretended like it was. If I think of something more articulate to say about it I will, but I have been ranting about sexism quite a bit these days. So I'll leave at that for now.

Counting down

Tonight we had a lovely chicken tikka masala dinner, prepared by Rob obviously. Resa and Nick came over to join us, which means our house is a little cleaner is right now than it is usually. I also had my first Scooter's tonight since we began our "Operation Portugal" campaign to get in shape... which has been reasonably successful for me and wildly successful for Rob. So it wasn't entirely undeserved. Although I still have a ways to go.

Tonight it also feels like we're counting down to all kinds of things. Technically Friday should be my last day at work, but I'm actually staying a little bit longer to help get a few more opinions issued... and because I don't want to leave :). Nevertheless, I'm done with all my official work on Friday, which is a very nice milestone to hit. This weekend is the Wood Clerk reunion, so we'll be busy with that all day Friday and Saturday. We hit the road on Saturday evening for Cleveland, as this weekend is also the M-narik family reunion. So we'll arrive late Saturday night but we'll be around on Sunday to chill with the family. Our family is heading to the Cleveland Indians game on Sunday afternoon -- 50 tickets strong! Can't wait to see the Yankees lose!

Then of course, on the 17th we leave for Europe. London for three days, Portugal for eight. I'm kindof freaking our about the whole Portuguese thing. Have you ever looked at a Portuguese phrasebook? It is not exactly what I thought it'd be. Between the two of us, Rob and I have French and Spanish down -- at least well enough to travel. But I recently realized that the last time I was some place where I didn't speak any of the language at all was 1996 when I went to Italy for spring break to visit my then-boyfriend who was studying abroad. One day I was on my own for lunch while he was in class and I was so nervous about not knowing a word of Italian that I'm pretty sure I just went without food for the afternoon.

In hindsight I know how silly that was, but my lack of language-risky trips since then can't just be a coincidence (Mexico three times, France twice, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, the Bahamas, living in London). Clearly I'm playing it safe. I just hate butchering languages. I feel like I'm disrespecting an entire culture. Even when I lived in London for a year and obviously spoke the language, I felt like my American accent was disrespectful. So I'm nervous about saying anything Portuguese. We have a phrasebook. I think I'll be able to get "yes" "no" "thank you" and "I don't speak Portuguese" down before we get there. But even those little things are unfamiliar in such a new way. I hope that at the very least I figure out how to say "thank you" well.

Despite the language anxiety, I can't wait for the vacation. I've been reading our new guidebooks and our trip is quickly evolving from a chilled out, relaxing tour into a sightseeing-packed race through the streets of Lisbon and Porto. There's so much I want to see and do! And I hope that this trip takes away a little of my silly worries about going somewhere where I don't speak the language. After all, Rob and I have India on our list of places we want to visit in the next couple years! Not to mention Greece, Eastern Europe, and half a dozen other countries in Asia. I think I need to just get over myself.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Um, Whaaaat????

Okay. Whoa. Not cool.

Tonight was supposed to be the "season finale" of Making the Band 4. We were promised a band would be made. So excuse me for, well, expecting a band to be made! Instead, the episode closes with Diddy asking the viewers to vote online for their favorite boy-band-member-wannabe and then he'll pick the band live on August 26. Um, what???

First and most importantly, I'll be out of the country that night! So double that not cool. Second, I just tried to vote and I just see a blank page with ads on it. How on earth am I supposed to ensure that Brian A. and Robert make the band if I can't vote right away?

Hopefully if you click on the link above, you'll get a real voting screen. Trust me. Robert and Brian A. are rock stars.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Happy anniversary

Today (August 5) marks the five-year anniversary of Rob's and my first date. Kindof. The benefit of hindsight helps us call it our first date. Given the date, and the fact that I'm taking a break from drafting a not-so-interesting opinion, I figured I'd write a quick post about Rob.

As for our first date, well, Rob and I met through friends in July 2002. Inspired by the 2002 World Cup, my roommate Carly, Rob's friend Christian, and Rob decided to drag a couple friends to a park in Virginia for some informal soccer. I was one of those friends, unaware that Rob had already been informed about me and my single status. The day turned out to be a lot of fun. Rob and I disagree to this day about whether I was flirting with him or not. (Correct answer = no!) But I admit I did take notice. That day's game turned into regular Sunday games with our small group, which led to regular group scheduling emails, which led to some trash talk about football vs. football (that is, American football vs. soccer) with Rob and I solidly in the football (that is, American football) camp. And that led to one of us somehow suggesting we watch a NY Giants pre-season football game together. Recently, I tried to search through my old email to figure out who actually suggested it, as I had saved every single email between me and Rob. Unfortunately, lame MSN hotmail starts deleting emails around 4.5 years old. Boo!! Glad I've switched to gmail.

No matter, the date was set. Although we hadn't called it a date. And it was a Monday night. I remember Carly telling me to have fun on my date. I insisted it wasn't a date, but she replied, "Yes it is!!!" Rob picked me up early so we could take some swings at nearby batting cages. He made me choose the beer for the evening, which was a huge dilemma because I have the worst taste in beer. I think I picked Yuengling. Not one typically in our fridge these days. Hmm. After the batting cages, we got to Rob's house and ordered pizza. The game came on, but we were pretty chatty through the first quarter. Then we played some pool. (Rob's housemate had a pool table. Sweet.) I definitely flirted. But I still didn't know if it was a date. Eventually Rob drove me home, pretty late, and while I was pondering whether this had been a date or not, Rob asked when I was leaving on vacation. I was leaving on Thursday morning. He asked if he could see me again before I left. I think I knew it was a date then. We went out again in the 48 hours before I left. We went to Two Amy's. And that was definitely a date.

In hindsight, the Monday date, the August 5th date, was a total date. The biggest clue, which I didn't fully understand at the time, was the fact that Rob didn't watch the game. Did you catch that? My husband, the world's biggest NY Giants fan, the man who wouldn't notice fireworks in the next room if the NY Giants are on the television screen, didn't watch the game. Yup, in hindsight, that makes me grin like crazy. Just to know he liked me that much. Because I liked him that much too.

Still sometimes, I'm amazed it all worked out. After all, I walked in with baggage galore and with not much faith in relationships generally. Actually zero faith. Rob took it all in stride. Somehow he turned it around. So much so that this girl who, before she met Rob, had stated with much certainty that marriage would not be on her horizon, ended up married just three and a half years later. Who knew.

Well, actually Roxanna knew, but she says she was worried I wouldn't figure it out myself. :) Somewhere along the line Carly knew. After all, she's the one who told Rob about her single roommate. Mark knew. When I told him about Rob, Mark just gave me this look. A "duh" look if ever there was one. And Rachel and Claire couldn't stop telling me how great he was. Good thing I have such smart friends!

Rob said the other day that I make him look too good on this blog. If that's true, then I suppose this sappy post is no exception. But if you'll forgive the sappiness (and I suppose you will if you've read this far), I must say that I really only speak the truth about Rob. That's not to say he is perfect or that our relationship is without flaws. So to be fair... I'll point out a flaw. Rob loves to distract me in the middle of very important television moments, like Diddy and Laurie Ann's fight on Making the Band 4, which is so annoying. Not that I'm blameless. (See previous reference to Making the Band 4, which was not a joke.) But seriously. We fight. Definitely. We're both lawyers! We get on each other's nerves, as strong-willed people tend to do.

But at the end of the day, that stuff just fades out. Seriously. I'm beyond lucky to be married to someone who is my best friend, my biggest supporter, my greatest motivator, my most loyal defender... someone who is incredibly smart, wickedly handsome, insanely funny, endlessly kind... someone who makes me laugh more than I've ever laughed, makes me more comfortable in my own skin than I've ever been, makes me so eager to come home every day... someone who spent his last semester of law school at a new school so I wouldn't have to move to Philadelphia all alone, then three years later quit his wonderfully stable and hard-earned government job to move to Chicago with me so I could take my dream job... someone who is as liberal as I am, someone who thinks a feminist wedding is the only way to go, someone who thinks having an ambitious wife is awesome, someone who takes kids seriously for the individuals they are, someone who wants to make the world a better place. And did I mention that he is a really good cook and looks damn good swinging a baseball bat and has a truly wonderful family? I mean seriously, you can't even make stuff up this good. I found the best guy. The BEST. And it started five years ago today.

I don't really know if I believe in the divine or fate or anything like that, but I can't imagine how a life partner could possibly fit me better than Rob does. And after all, according to our niece Lauren, Rob is "the funniest man in the world," so how could I go wrong? (Awww, and right now The Beatles are playing on the Yahoo music station I've got on. Now that's fate.) Back to work.

Friday, August 03, 2007

It's been a long week

Not a lot of time for posting this week. My clerkship technically ends next Friday (although I'm going to hang around a wee bit longer to help my judge), so I have a bunch of work to complete by then. Fortunately, we've squeezed in a little fun. We took in a Cubs game on Monday night -- good game, but the home team lost -- with Rob's former co-worker Erin and several of her friends. We all went out for pizza afterwards and it was a very relaxing night all around.

Then on Wednesday night, we grilled out with our friends Tim and Emily. They didn't let us do anything, so it was a total treat of yummy food for us! We also got in a couple rounds of bocce ball. Then Tim and Emily surprised me with a birthday present and a birthday cake. Wow! I think the last time a friend made me a birthday cake was when Roxanna threw me a surprise party when I turned 17 in France (which was an exceptionally well-played and fun surprise). But I also think that cake was more like cake soup... awesome cake soup, but cake soup nonetheless. Remember, Rox? :) Baking in another language is not easy.

Anyway, it was a great surprise on Wednesday. I didn't have an actual birthday cake this year, although my co-clerks got me some delicious cupcakes. In the middle of a very hectic week that has me at my lowest sleep levels of the last few months, cake was just what I needed.

All this work of course means not much treadmilling for me. Rob is still putting me to shame. I've temporarily given up on our stats, which conveniently coincides with my dramatic decline in exercise. Hmmm. Something pseudo-Freudian about that, right?

This weekend has lots more work in store, but also lots more planning for Portugal! So that at least will be fun. I can't wait for vacation!!!!!

More women and workplace research

Here's another frustrating conclusion from a study of gender in the workplace. Men can get angry, but women can't. In fact, it's a bonus for men to get angry, while it's a big liability for women. Even better for women, the more senior you are in the workplace, the worse you are perceived for being angry... which is not true for men. There's a tiny silver lining. If you have a good reason to be angry, then you aren't punished as much. But you're still punished.

Now back to regular blog programming...