Monday, April 27, 2009

Mystic Magic

I'm in Minnesota.  It's home & happy.  

My last week of training went by very fast.  I've made some very wonderful friends through training classes, and we've had many good times together!  Our parting was so bittersweet because I was SO excited to get home after being away for 5 weeks, but also, I know I won't see these friends for months or longer and I'm going to miss them so much!  I was glad that Amalis, Kisha, Kristy and I were able to have some time at the airport together before going home.  And Chewy the little rental car that was basically a go-cart with manual windows...he really made it through ;-).  I definitely enjoyed Maryland more this time!  And I was getting ready to be home for one day and then go to New Hampshire.  But then...Mystic Lake Casino & Hotel in Prior Lake, MN came up on my schedule.  It was still tentative so I didn't freak out but inside I was doing a HUGE happy dance.  

I went home, had a wonderful night being greeted warmly by the boy and the kitty.  Saturday morning I got to FINALLY meet my new niece, Little Lyra.  She's so tiny and warm and babyish and beautiful!  It was so good to see Kat, John & the kids--I miss playing with them!  I had lunch with Adina at Punch Pizza (SO GOOD!) and we walked around Grand Ave. which made me just want to move into a cute overpriced apartment immediately.  I got to see Caity while finishing up the old NE apt, which was really good.  Then Jesse and I headed to Shane's new place, in the Tilsner Building in Lowertown St. Paul.  DROOL.  Screw Grand, I'm moving there in a year.  It is AMAZING.  I've always loved that building and wanted to live there, but, seeing what Shane did with the space was wonderful.  We ended up eating dinner at Sweeney's with the ol' crew ;-) and then headed to Lindsay's birthday party at Bali on Eat Street.  It was an action packed wonderful day.  

Sunday was super laid back and filled with more family time, errands, and movies :-)  It's really weird to only be home a few days out of the month.  You don't really have time to get your finances under control, repack or do laundry.  I watched the Punisher War Zone finally, and loved it.  It's super gory...almost excessively so...but Ray Stevenson was great as the punisher, and Dominic West is such a chameleon--listening to him do that New York mobster accent was just strange!  I also watched the Reader (after Jesse fell asleep watching baseball, I hung out with Shannon) which was fantastic.  It was a very accurate adaptation from the book, and since I really enjoyed the book, I was very happy about this.  The acting was superb...and Kate Winslet.  I just adore her.  

Monday through Friday, I'm at Mystic Lake.  I took a taxi here early this morning and am shadowing/doing support here while they're upgrading their system.  I was a little freaked that I'd have to do overnights because the upgrade starts after night audit.  But then I find out they start at 2 AM and it takes hours, and it's all remote until after the upgrade is complete.  So yipee!  This is going to be quite the easy week and I'm here with two wonderful seasoned installers.  I'm in a nice room here, it's a pretty fancy hotel, which is a nice change!  I'm far enough away from home that since I don't have a car it's kind of annoying.  I'm close but still far :-(  BUT I have wonderful friends like Adina who come and pick me up and take me shopping :-)  Becky just flew in so she met us at the Mall of America and we three former roomies had a wonderful night together!  

Here's to a good week close to home!  And a fun weekend ahead!  Let's hang out!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dinos & Seamen

I've been keeping busy.  Real busy.  We all went to Baltimore again on Friday, to Luckies' Tavern.  We were supposed to have this "free happy hour" which ended up being an empty buffet and Miller Light for $2.50.   So, we made the best of it, and had fun dancing to the wacky music.  

Saturday Tom & I went to DC.  I made it to the National Portrait Gallery, which was GORGEOUS and wonderful.  Then we met up and went to the Museum of Natural History.  It was awesome.  I loved all the dinos and the diamonds were pretty cool too!  It all made me want to do something with skeletons in my art...possibly bird bones?  No idea what shape it will take, but it was pretty darn awesome how all these animals, present and prehistoric, have the similar bone structure and how delicate it all really is.  The day was SO beautiful, nice and warm and sunny!  

Today, Kisha, Kristy, Amalis and I went to this cute old church in Ellicott City.  It was small and every member came up to us and welcomed us, we even got a huge hug from the preacher.  Kind of strange, but it was a beautiful church and a good service.  We picked up Meredith and Tom and headed to Annapolis which is one of my new favorite places.  It is gorgeous!  We walked around the Naval Academy (the sailors walking around had such clean white pants it was crazy!) and the shoreline and then walked around all these beautiful old quaint houses.  It really is a gorgeous place!  We ate at the Federal Grill & Bar, and I had the best salad...ever.  Salmon, candied walnuts, apples, grapes, romaine, tomatoes, berry vinegarette--yum.  I could definitely live in a city like Annapolis!  

In other news, I just watched the new Harry Potter trailer...and it looks AMAZING.  Wow.  I can't wait for that.

And I come home on Friday...I can't even wait that long!!! Ugh...soon, soon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Of Montreal and the Vanishing Car Act

Of Montreal at Sonar in Baltimore, April 14th.  Oh yeah.  It worked out perfectly that another installer had a concert in Baltimore the same night so we could car pool.  When driving around looking for parking, most places were $20, so you can imagine my enthusiasm when we found a ramp for $4!  Walking from the parking ramp to my concert was very sketch...I was a little nervous about the walk I would be taking back at midnight, for sure.  Once I got to the venue, however, there were crowds of little indie people.  I've seen Of Montreal 3 or 4 times before, and it's always a group of indies in their 20s or 30s, with a beer in hand and crazy boots, etc.  The crowd in Baltimore were in high school or college, I would say 90% of them were underage.  The venue was a small garage with a stage and some lighting.  Because of this, the acoustics were awful.  My reviews of the opening bands are pretty harsh, and I should say that since I've never heard them recorded, they might possibly be ok, but the sound was so bad that they sounded terrible.  The first opener was Fire Zuave.  Emo/Rock fronted by a long blonde haired tool with smudgy black eyeliner, the drummer was shirtless wearing glasses my dad would wear, and the bassist looking bored and out of place with these weirdos.  Their sound was very U2 fueled, there was a little bit of Incubus and even at times: Bryan Adams.  I think the front man was playing guitar hero in his mom's basement and decided to be a rock god...and this is his attempt.  After a song full of head banging shenanegans, he said "that was a tough one!!"  One of their songs sounded promising, but I wouldn't purchase an album anytime soon.  Inkwell was the second supporting band.  They were more tolerable, but still part of that pop/punk/emo scene.  The little teens LOVED this band.  Their sound was SO chaotic.  What band needs 4 guitar players and 2 drummers?  Seriously...more of a mediocre thing doesn't make it great!  The vocals were just yelling/singing which got really old.  Needless to say, I was really pumped when Of Montreal started at 11.  Unfortunately, we had planned on leaving by 12, so I didn't stay for all of my band.  Of Montreal always puts on a show.  This time, they had 1-4 people on stage wearing costumes and pantomiming scenes sometimes having to do with the song, sometimes not.  The best one, I think, was when they brought out a Christmas Tree and had 3 people come out in pajamas acting all excited for presents.  As they open them up, they have gas masks in them (the old WWII kind) which they are SO happy to have!  They put them on and danced around.  I think Of Montreal is the closest to performance art I can get without going "wtf?!"  They're like contemporary art for music.   A lot of people don't like them or get them, and even I think they're crazy sometimes, but when understood, they're visionaries.  And I LOVE the guitar player with his wings and sideburns.  I'm bummed I didn't get to stay for the whole show, but on the other hand, the sound was so bad and I've seen them before, so I feel like I didn't miss anything.

On my walk back to the car, it was surprisingly deserted but well lit, so it wasn't unsafe, which is wonderful.  I even stopped to take a picture of the old City Hall!  The building entrance into the ramp was locked so I walked over to the garage  entrance...which was also locked.  Umm...panic.  So I'm in an alleyway in Baltimore, who do I have to ask for help?  The garbage men down the way!  They were super eager to help me out, and one was really concerned and kept asking me if I were ok.  They told me that usually the bellmen from the hotel down the way can get in, so off I go.  The bellman says he can't help me if I'm not a guest in the hotel.  I told him I would tip him very well if he helped me find my car, so off he goes!  Once we get to the ramp, however, he says there's nothing he can do, that's not the hotel ramp.  Hrumph.  He takes his sweet time leaving, and goes to shake my hand, obviously expecting a tip.  Um, excuse me, I'm not in my car, you don't get a tip.  So he leaves.  The garbage men leave (again asking if I'll be ok, to which I said, I don't know!).  I finally find this intercom by the garbage bins, and this guy begrudgingly tells me he'll be right down.  10 minutes in an alley later (the whole time thinking about how much I'd have to pay for a taxi back to Columbia or a hotel in Baltimore and what am I going to do?!), a toothless man opens the garage and yells at me saying the garage closes at 11 (the sign says 12, but I'm in his mercy).  I ask him how to exit and he says through this door, so I go and get my car, say a prayer of thanks, pay my 4 bucks into the machine, and drive down and the door is closed.  I drive over the sensor area about 5 times, drive right up to the door, and it is stationary.  I start yelling for that guy, hoping he's just lerking around somewhere.  Screaming in a parking makes me feel so not safe about parking ramps if no one heard my screams...  Finally I go back to the cashier area and find an intercom there.  A lady tells me the door is open.  I'm really pissed now....  Finally, after much intensive troubleshooting about the situation, the chick comes running down, attitude flaming, and opens the door.  Holy moly.  Moral of the story, $4 parking downtown comes at a price.  

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ellicott City

This Yank is happy to be out of the South and into the land of diversity and wonder.  Well...maybe Maryland isn't that magical...BUT it's a helluva lot better!  It's also so nice to be in a REAL hotel again.  At the Staybridge, not only do they have more than decent cable, but also a fitness center, and towels that do not double as mini pumice stones!  Tonight we went to Ellicott City for dinner.  I'm so amazed that no one mentioned this during our first time here.  Thanks to Katie's suggestion, we ventured.  It was like stepping out of corporate America and stepping into a cute little town in Scotland!  Old buildings, hills, small little antique stores (most of which weren't open, unfortunately); it was so up my alley!  I was thinking that there weren't any good areas near Columbia, but now I know that if an awesome position opened up in the corporate office, I could DEFINITELY see myself living in Ellicott City!
Phase II of training is definitely going to be a challenge!  I'm SO not technically minded, and this is all about servers and databases and interfaces and other things over my head...  I learned a lot from Katie, but there were times where I was focused on something else, she did it really fast, or even I thought I understood it at the time, but now I'm already lost.  I'm not really worried about it because I know it will come in time.  I just have to be focused on the task at hand.  I have much more of an optimistic standpoint on this job as of late.  I think a lot of that is the influence of some wonderful people!!  And a lot has to do with getting tired of complainers.  I am a firm believer of making the most out of a situation.  Where the last trip to Maryland was super hard and emotional for me, this is a whole new ball game (and I hate baseball, so why did I use that analogy?  No idea...).  I'm more prepared, more focused, and most importantly: more experienced.  I've spent 3 weeks in Branson, something that I thought would kill me.  And I can actually admit that I, for the most part, had a good time!  OF COURSE I would have rather been home.  OF COURSE I would have liked less time there or a better site...but I can't change it.  I can be jealous, but I can't change it.  It is what it is, and it'll make or break me.  When I feel like I'm breaking, THEN I'll be done.  
But not yet!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Iceberg, right ahead!

The coolest thing in Branson (which is a very competitive title to hold) is definitely the Titanic Museum.  Pictured here, it is at 1/2 scale, just hanging out on the strip.  However, as you can see, the Titanic's butt fell off?  On the other side of the building it's a warehouse sticking out the side.  So really, it's 1/8 of the Titanic.  Upon entering, you get a boarding pass with an actual passenger's name/info (at the end you get to find out if you lived or died).  Inside, they have artifacts and photos taken of the ship/voyage.  People's individual stories are written along with their specific artifacts.  There are 2 scale models which were really amazing.  One of the models was the front half as it is now at the bottom of the Ocean--this model was actually made for the movie.  Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures :-(  You walk up that grand staircase that Jack and Rose meet at in the movie, it's to scale, and it's really surreal!  The guides told us that the one in the movie was actually built bigger than scale because the actors were taller than the passengers.  Apparently there was not one person about 5'7" on the actual Titanic!  Crazy shorties...  Also, they had a simulation where you walked "out on the deck" and it was cold and you could see the iceberg in the distance.  Not bad, Branson.  Katie and I went immediately to WalMart and bought the movie.  

Thursday, April 9, 2009

God & Country

"Oh, Branson..." has been the saying of the month.  This place is just silly.  On Sunday, we drove 40 minutes to the nearest big(ger) town, Springfield, to go shopping.  We were ecstatic to find out that there was a Chipotle there.  How weirded out was I when there were only caucasians working there!  And the food wasn't as good as it normally is...and we all know why!  

On Tuesday, we went to Dixie Stampede.  It's like Medieval Times--Branson style.  We were seated around an arena, much like a Rodeo pit.  The food is slopped on the plates by servers in North or South militia uniforms.  We were seated on the North side (the better side, obviously).  There's a musical frenzy complete with horse, piglet, chicken, and mini-pony racing to decide if those representing the North or the South would win.  We were winning (as we ate our whole rotisserie chickens, biscuits, corn on the cob and cream of vegetable soup with no utensils) and then the South cheated and won.  Yeah.  Well, just look at history, guys, we REALLY won.  So there.  The show ended with a finale of flag bearing horse riders with blinking lights on their costume while Dolly Parton was behind on a megatron behind singing "America, the Beautiful."  Terrifyingly wonderful.  

On Wednesday, we finally went to this mini-golf place by the hotel that's full of large dinosaur statues.  There's even a volcano that erupts!!!  They're all about the show here!  We ate again at Cantina's so good.

It's been really interesting getting to know the young people who live here.  They grew up here, obviously, and complain about Branson, but have no intention of ever seeing anywhere else in the world.  In a seasonal town like this one, apparently, everyone goes 3-4 months out of the year (during the slow season) without a job.  Most people work in the hospitality business, and the hotels are 3-10% full during those times.  There's a complete lack of customer service here.  I blame it mostly on ignorance, because without proper training, how are you to know how to apologize?  If a customer comes to you saying that the room you just checked them into is dirty, the appropriate response is not "yeah, ok."   But if you're learning from example, and your superior says that, what are you supposed to do?  It really is a case of they don't know any better.  And while I believe that's not the way to go through life, if that's all you know, what are you to do?

On the bright side, I leave on Sunday :-)  

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pour on the CHEESE!

Branson is so cheesy.  I can't even explain how much they love the cheese.  About as much as they love patriotism.  At every show we've been to they always have a tribute to the veterans.  The crazy/cool thing is that at least half of the audience are veterans, and we should honor them.  I just am so not used to all the standing while singing cheesy music outside of church I guess.  
Today, Katie and I ventured out to the beautiful Ozarks to their theme park, Silver Dollar City.  It was a very well put together theme park.  And, although in my opinion it was very over-priced, it had the whole "theme" thing down while having variety for the whole family.  It was like being at a Renaissance Festival but with good roller coasters.  And I mean GOOD roller coasters.  Even with bronchitis I was able to really enjoy this!  Everything was themed as prairie-time, so they had an old school house along with mining/frontier themed rides.  There was a crazy house where the floors were at like 10-20 degree angles so it was really hard to walk around--trippy.  I've never seen so many redheads in one place in my life.  It was literally the land of strollers AND scooters.  I'm convinced that Branson doesn't teach women how to properly support their womanhood...maybe it's the lack of a Victoria's Secret anywhere near.  Anyway, the roller coasters, as I said, were great.  But...there were only 4 really good ones.  So what else did we do?  Well, what else would a Branson theme park have but...SHOWS!  Not just any magic or comedy shows you'd find at a theme park, but actual 30-45 minute long indoor shows (Branson style).  I've realized that this town is obsessed with Ireland, for there were at least 3 Irish themed shows there.  We saw Feet of Fire, which, one would think would be just Irish dancing, but there also was a harp tribute to Van Morrison and a very cheesy comedy routine by a (what I am assuming to be) fake Irishman in a sequined coat.  Then we saw a Peruvian dance show.  The dancers were all teens from Peru who didn't speak English.  The performance was apparently teaching us the history of Peru, but it was mostly just jumping around in different costumes.  It was, again, a very cheesy display.  BUT this one had heart.  You could tell that these teens really enjoyed the performance...and really, this is a way for them to see the world (well, it's a traveling show, so I'm hoping they're seeing more than Branson).  
It was a great way to spend the day. 

It still KILLS me when people reference this area as the Mid-West.  Poor Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago for being lumped in to this...

I just saw on the tv that Al Roker will be in Branson a week after I leave.  The tragedy! 

Friday, April 3, 2009

Branson, Fully Loaded

Ok. The sales ladies at the hotel have wonderful hearts and wanted to take care of Katie and I while we are here.  So they've been getting us free tickets for shows in the evenings. 
Wednesday night we saw SIX, an acapella group made up of 6 (out of 10) brothers. They were actually really talented.  One guy did all the percussion, another did all the bass and they performed a number of different genres/covers including The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, etc.  Plus they did a comedy routine, in which at one point they were serenading an elderly lady and one of the guys asked her if a sweaty bald man had ever sang to her before.  She cracked up and her husband (who was bald and sweaty) pointed to himself.  You just can't make this stuff up, folks.  We were definitely the only 20 something women there (well, the youngest there by at least 40 years, but that's Branson) but it was still incredibly entertaining.  Of course it reminded me of Andy Bernard on the Office...and what did they sing?  Oh yes, Rockin Robin. :-)

Tonight we went to the "sensational" 12 Irish Tenors.  A grand example of the fact that more is not always better....
First, they introduced themselves and only about half of them are from Ireland...the rest are posers from America (but there's no diversity so they can make sure they all still look Irish...but to the trained eye, we can see those with bad teeth, we know the real ones!).  Then, imagine that you're at a karaoke bar and the vocalists are wonderful, but the track of the song is so loud you can barely hear the voices??  Well that was the 12 Irish Tenors.  Not only were they singing "solos" in 4 person unison, but the cheesily-cut instrumental track was so unnecessarily loud that it ruined whatever tone the singers actually had.  Now, I don't mean to be mean, but most of them seemed to be Broadway rejects.  2 of the guys: Jonatan (actually pronounced like that cause he was authentic) and this little guy who we couldn't remember his name: now THEY could SING! They had them doing the actual opera pieces with backup from the other 10.  That was impressive and chills rolled down the spine as they hit those Pavarotti-esque notes.  If they would've kept the whole set to things that Josh Groban would sing, that would've been alright too.  They did a wonderful "You Raise Me Up." But then...ugh...they have to butcher the Beatles.  Just leave them alone, kids.  Or leave them to the Beatles impersonation group down the Strip...haha.  They completely ruined "Twist and Shout" AND "Hey Jude." Just uncalled for.  To make matters crazier, there was a high school choir from MN on tour who treated these guys like they were Justin Timberlake or something...screaming and fainting and carrying on.  It was entertaining...but...really?  It made Minnesotans look like they don't get out much.  

So far, Branson, we're 1 for 1.  Bring it on.