Friday Linkage: Big Cats Find Love on Metro

  • crowdWant to get even closer to the sweaty intern swaying next to you on the packed Blue line this summer? Now there’s a dating website for DC metro riders. Giving new meaning to “weekend track work.” (I have no idea what I was insinuating there. Doesn’t really work, does it? Look! Something shiny!)

big cat

  • Speaking of metro, I saw the above advertisement on the way home the other night. Apparently, big cats are roaming the wilds of DC and disrupting public safety. Maybe I should alert them about this beastie.

Petunia Garbo

 

  • My super helpful friend Emilia (who’s killing me with her Instagrams of her vacation in Cinque Terre right now) sent me this list of shark-infested waters a couple of week’s ago, with a note: “I bet you’re in the midst of planning your next vacation. Be sure to pass this along to XFE so he can consider one of these & please his loving girlfriend.” Nice. Don’t fall off any cliffs, Emilia.

 

  • It’s only a month till our trip to Croatia and I have not started my packing matrix! Just kidding. Of course I have. And I incorporated a few tips from this packing tutorial on Refinery 29, even though I will obviously NOT be trying to live out of a carry on.

 

  • Life is full of difficult choices. But deciding, NAY, knowing when to drink beer in the shower is no longer one of them, thanks to this handy infographic. Have a great holiday weekend!
Should I Drink a Beer in the Shower?

 

Monday Quick Hit

I promise I’ll have a much longer post tomorrow, but I did want to put something funny up today.

This is an email I received from my house-subsidizing-partner-for-30-fixed-years XFE on Friday before the home inspection. It documents an exchange he had with the home insurance company:

Just asked if we had pets, “Yes?”

Is it vicious?  “Depends” She might lay on you…..

By the way no additional charges for kangaroos or wallaby’s.

I asked.

Love you – have a great day

I also feel compelled to write this note in light of some activities that occurred later that night:

Dear Area Pet Kennels/Doggie Day Care providers: I sincerely apologize for the Friday night hijinks. Please know that the call asking about your abilities to accommodate/host a wallaby or kangaroo was a “serious” request from one person in our household. However, the other party involved is firmly against having a kangaroo as a pet, a fact that is well documented elsewhere on this blog. So, we’re at a bit of an impasse, and I wouldn’t go building a kangaroo enclosure just yet.

I hope that the call and request brightened up your Friday evening.  We have a very low fun threshold in our house. That’s my only excuse. Thanks for the laughs, Poe and XFE (and Petunia too).

PS: To manager Brooke (name of facility withheld): XFE is very much awaiting further contact from you on this issue.

The Future Mr. Pickwick

Since we’ve gotten back from Australia, one of us (the male edition) won’t stop lobbying for a new pet. Seems my Outback-Jack-boyfriend-for-life, XFE is unsatisfied with the pet we currently house, feed and lavish with love.

No, he wants a new pet. A different pet. An entirely more exotic creature.

XFE wants a damn kangaroo. (And yes, before y’all ask, I did see the recent Millionaire Dollar Listing on Bravo featuring the young finance millionaire who couldn’t find a condo to buy in his $4 million price range that would allow him to keep his pet wallaby Inky.  I must say, it was pretty creepy seeing that dude walking around with the wallaby in a pouch.)

Yep, that's normal.

Being the super-awesome and supportive girlfriend I am, I immediately said, “absolutely not.” This seemed to fall on deaf ears, as the clamoring for a pet kangaroo only increased.

“Fine,” I thought, “I’ll show him. We don’t even have kangaroos in the U.S., so this argument will soon end, with me, as the winner.” (This was all mumbled to myself while fantasizing about the awesome victory lap I would soon be completing, finished with a Poe-patented I-Told-You-So-Dance.)

Except, I was wrong. There are lots of kangaroos for sale out there. Including, of course, a whole bunch of crazies in Texas selling them. I swear, you can literally buy anything in Texas. Looking for miniature zebu cattle to go with your wallaby? No problem, says Dr. Zoo Little of Munch Ranch near Athens. What about a camel or zebra? Sure thing, says Nueces River Ranch

(Although, upon further inspection, it does appear that this is a hunting ranch providing hunting animals, which is very, very troubling. Also: “We DO NOT ship outside of the USA or TX.” I’m confused, which is it? Texas or the U.S.? Nevermind, just….skip these guys. They’re stupid and they might be shooting at kangaroos.)

Who would shoot such a cutie? (sorry I don't want you to come live with me)

Anyway, once I surmised that you could in fact, despite all logic to the contrary, buy a damn kangaroo in the United States, I figured at least the law would be on my side. There’s no way you can legally own one of these things (outside of Texas, of course). Right? RIGHT??

Only, the law kinda wasn’t helping me out. I don’t know. It’s not really 100% clear. It’s one of those situations where they list a whole bunch of exotic pets that you would need a license or permit for but they don’t mention kangaroos, wallabies or even marsupials. Is this one of those loopholes where you can say, “Well, you never told me specifically that I COULDN’T have one, ERGO, I got one?”

Here’s an ambiguous “summary” of the Virginia laws:

Virginia

Category: Partial ban on private ownership of exotic animals – allows ownership of some exotic animals but precludes ownership of the animals listed.

Summary of Law: No person may possess nonnative exotic animals that are classed as predatory or undesirable as a “pet.” Nonnative exotic animals include, but are not limited to: bears, wolves, coyotes, weasels, badgers, hyenas, all species of non-domesticated cats, alligators, and crocodiles. Persons may possess these animals if they are a licensed exhibitor, i.e. commercial, educational or scientific uses. However, there are no state requirements for a person possessing non-human primates.

Citation: 4 VAC 15-30-1015-30-40

Ah, and therein lies the crux: “include, but are not limited to.”  Even reading the underlying citations, I couldn’t find anything that actually precluded owning a kangaroo.

Suddenly, XFE was feeling quite encouraged and was putting on his own special pair of I-Told-You-So-Dance shoes.

Not yet entirely ready to throw in the towel, I decided to contact one of these crazy sellers. I was certain that they would see where I was from (civilization) and refuse to sell me a kangaroo. I decided to contact Castleberry Safari because, well, it sounded like the fanciest, and most uptight, and therefore the most strictly official one of the bunch. People named Castleberry must be quite high-faulutin’ and not into risking their good name or business license selling pets to people that should even have them, right?

I explained via email on their website that I was interested in learning more about their fine selection of varmin, but I had some concerns about my own state’s licensing and permitting requirements. Would they, perchance, know if they could even legally sell me the mystical little creature?

Within seconds my inbox was inundated with kangaroo collateral from one Janice Castleberry, including tons of information on how to care for my future pet, a subscription to their newsletter (which appears to come out quite frequently), back issues of the newsletter going back to September, information on how to order a book written by Rocky Castleberry, and a pricing sheet, which informed me that to bring this new critter into my life would run about $1,700 for a boy and $3,500 for a girl. Also, that they ship COD through Delta and the cost is $235. (Can you really ship anything—let alone a kangaroo—COD anymore??)

Finally, Janice emailed me again with the information I had been originally seeking: “Check with your state’s Fish & Wildlife Department to see if they are allowed and if a permit is needed.”

Lord knows the Castleberry’s weren’t going to stop XFE from getting his stupid kangaroo. Which makes sense, honestly, since they are a business at the end of the day. XFE wasn’t even phased by the cost, loudly proclaiming that he’d wanted a boy the whole time (since Petunia is a girl and XFE hasn’t had much luck with her) and wasn’t that just a bargain that they were about half the price!

This was not going well.

Fine. I will indeed check with my state’s Fish and Wildlife Department. I looked all over their website and the only option seemed to be sending them an email in their general box. I guess whoever is in charge of checking that thing thought it was spam because despite leaving all of my contact information, I never heard back from anyone at the Virginia Fish and Wildlife Department.

Yep, that's XFE with his new pet wallaby. They look so happy, don't they?

I tried. I really, really tried. So state of Virginia, you really do have me over a barrel here. I’m trying to do the right thing here and NOT have an exotic, unnative pet hopping uninhibited around the tiny patio of my tiny row house in tiny, civilized Old Town Alexandria. We don’t even have grass for crying out loud! We don’t even have a banana pepper plant, thanks to vandals.

Not that I think kangaroos eat banana pepper plants, but they might. Maybe I need to get that Castleberry book after all.

Hotel Crashing: Barossa Pavilions

It might have been breakfast with the kangaroos that made Barossa Pavilions my favorite place of all the places we stayed in Australia. But more likely, it was the light-up rubber ducky.

We approached Barossa Pavilions in the dark, after a long day of travelling and celebrity spotting. Since it was dark, we couldn’t really get a sense of how amazing the place (and the view) was. But we did get a sense of how great our pavilion was from the moment we walked in.

Barossa Pavilions consist of six separate freestanding little houses, well-spaced apart to guarantee absolute privacy and amazing and unobstructed panoramic views of the Barossa Ranges. They are located on 75 acres of stunning hillside near the town of Lyndoch, which is about an hour-and-a-half northeast of Adelaide.

It’s so private we never saw another person during the three nights we were there. Each pavilion is controlled by a keypad and an access code, so there’s no front desk or check in. The owners text you the access code on the day you arrive and you just drive up and park in front of your pavilion.

The location could not have been better. It never took us longer than 30 minutes to drive to any of the wineries we visited or back at the end of the day.

The pavilions themselves were adorable. They were very modern and minimalist, with a simple open floor plan and wall-to-wall windows running the entire length of the unit. They’re all the same (with some slight decorating differences) and are designed for couples (no kids allowed).

The owners really did think of everything. The well-decorated living room had a selection of DVDs, magazines and even an iPad. The sectional couch was very comfortable and cozy.

Each villa is totally equipped with a modern and well-stocked kitchen with just about everything you could possibly need, including breakfast provisions featuring local foods.

It had cereal, handmade muesli, locally baked wood oven bread, selection of spreads, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, bananas and pancake mix. In the fridge were champagne and orange juice, butter, free range eggs, double smoked bacon, cream and milk, yogurt. Seriously, it was more food than we could finish.

There was also fresh coffee beans for the slightly complicated and oh-so-fancy espresso coffee machine, a selection of fine leaf teas, homemade cookies, chocolate fudge and a very nice small bottle of local port.

The amazing deck ran the length of the pavilion and had a porch swing and a barbecue grill, which we made use of each night, rather than eating out. By this point, we were pretty sick of eating out every meal, and we really liked feeling like locals and going to the butcher, the baker or checking out all the mysterious items at the grocery store.

We’d pick up something each day on our way back to the pavilion, I’d sit on the porch swing, and XFE would get his grill master on. His lamb chops are better than anything at any restaurant anyway. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to enjoy one of the wines from the wineries we had gone to that day.

The front bathroom had a washer/dryer unit as well as a shower and L’Occitaine toiletries, while the back bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub, bubble bath, candles and matches, and even a rubber ducky.

The property was so peaceful, you really felt like no one else was around. We’d walk around in the evenings and look at the bazillions of stars.

And then there were the wild kangaroos.

We saw them two of the three mornings we were there. You’d see a group of them – usually 3-4 — (fun fact: a group of kangaroos is known as a mob) calmly munching away at the dry grass, rooting around with their forepaws. We would try not to startle them and go about our morning, but checking every few minutes to see if they really were there.

They’d eventually get full and look for a bit of shade where they’d collapse on their side before the heat got too much. They’d loll around, scratching their stomachs with their short arms. It was so indescribably awesome.

Between the amazing accommodations and the great kangaroo show, we really did have to pull ourselves away each day. By far one of the best places we’ve ever stayed.

Someone here in the Virginia wine country should really take note and replicate this type of accommodation. There’s way too much of what XFE and I call “Colonial Chintz Chic” in the accommodation choices up here.

And there’s not nearly enough wild kangaroos.

Can we just talk about how adorable these matches are? As a redhead, I thought they were the cutest things ever. I did not take them, however. Only the ducky. (Did I mention he lights up?)

 

 

Getting It (Sorta) Done, Qantas Style

If you want something difficult to get done, let’s say, getting your child into a certain daycare facility or, maybe, getting to the bottom of an insurance bill, let me just offer up a suggestion — get someone at Qantas on it. No, seriously. These guys take care of difficult stuff, quickly and efficiently and very pleasantly.

This is a real Qantas employee. Doesn't she look nice?

Let me explain: So, after three days of wining and dining and lazing our way through the Barossa Valley, we reluctantly drove back to Adelaide to board a 7 pm flight back to Sydney. We planned to fly to Sydney the night before our 10 am flight to Bangkok so that we’d have one last night in Sydney and plenty of time to get up and make our way to the airport in the morning.

You probably see where this is going already, don’t you?

Yes, there was some rain and weather in Adelaide. And yes, our 7 pm flight to Sydney got cancelled. And, of course, there were no more flights out that night. All of us on the Sydney flight were told that we’d been put up in a hotel in Adelaide, given vouchers for meals and cabs, and been rebooked on a 7 am flight the next morning.

However, a 7 am flight would not work for us since we had a 10 am connection in international, and would need to pick up our luggage, recheck it, go through security in the international terminal, and be in the boarding area about 45 minutes before the flight.

We explained this to the lovely Qantas people in the business lounge at the Adelaide airport and not only did they deal with the other 100-plus passengers (most of whom were typical, laidback Australians about the whole thing – “no worries,” — but a few of whom were THOROUGHLY disgruntled and unpleasant), but the lovely Qantas people also worked their butts off getting us on an earlier 6 am flight.

And, Lisa (that was the manager on call in the lounge that night) checked through our two largest bags on through Sydney onto Thai Airlines, so we wouldn’t have to pick them up and recheck them. Just check in at Adelaide in the morning, give them our bags and we’d see them waiting at the carousel in Bangkok.

We finally left the airport around 9 pm to hightail it to the lovely Majestic Roof Garden Hotel (no St. Regis, but it was fine) for a night of one last bottle of Barossa wine purchased at the airport gift shop as it was closing (a Turkey Flat Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre blend), and a pretty bad lasagna ordered from room service, before getting up at 4 am to return to the airport.

Alas, Lisa’s efforts came to naught, although we do genuinely appreciate the effort.

"What am I supposed to do without my Kerastase?"

No, our primary luggage remained in Sydney for the two days we were in Bangkok. We’re not sure who is to blame (Qantas in Adelaide for thinking they could check it through? Qantas in Sydney for not paying attention to the international connection tags? Or Thai Airlines, who let us check on our two additional carry-on bags at the departure counter in Sydney, but seemed to have an awful lot of technical difficulties doing it, which makes us wonder if they did something to override the earlier bag check-ins?)

Luckily, we’d had the foresight to repack our smaller carry-on bags while at the Majestic in Adelaide. We both packed a couple of changes of clothes, our bathing suits and a few other essentials.

Things like my full-size hair products (which I desperately need all three of, and will defend them to my dying breath) had to be clawed from my frizzy-headed grasp and placed in the full size suitcases since we weren’t sure what the Thai-TSA-equivalent rules were exactly. If they weren’t all so damn expensive (including a curl cream I have to order from Canada – yes, I am spoilt and high-maintenance), I would have risked it. As it was, I just made sure I had some spare barrettes on hand.

Our bags did eventually catch up with us in Bangkok. Unfortunately, they were actually delivered around midnight of the morning we were departing. We had them brought up around 7 am, just so we could grab some clean clothes and my beloved hair products out of them, before hauling them right back to the airport.

So, while I started this post by saying that Qantas can do just about anything, I should say, they aren’t superhuman or anything. But they really do the best they can, and they’re very pleasant about it. I can say their customer service that night was way beyond what we’ve experienced in similar situations here in the U.S.

Now if Qantas could just find a way to let a poor girl carry on her full-sized, over-priced, difficult-to-replace hair products, I’d be their absolute biggest fan ever. I’d probably even get their logo tattooed on my ankle or something. It’s a pretty cute kangaroo.

Pink Mink and Rubber Duckies: Wine Tasting in the Barossa

After escaping death’s watery clutches, mastering the art of koala whispering, and rubbing elbows with popstars, there really was only one thing left to do: Drink a bunch of wine.

We headed to the Barossa Valley, a wine region in southern Australia. It’s kinda like Napa but without the crowds or the tasting fees.

Barossa is an hour drive from Adelaide and was settled in the mid-1800s by Europeans, mostly Germans and the British. Almost immediately, it seems, they began producing wine. Some of the vines at one winery (Langmeil, which also happened to be our favorite) are 169 years old, which is pretty crazy when you consider that after 20 years, vines start to produce smaller and smaller yields (something I learned during a tasting at our second favorite winery Turkey Flat – where our extremely attractive hostess claimed that they had the oldest vines. This would become a common theme throughout our visit).

The region is made up primarily of three communities – Angaston, Tanunda, and Nuriootpa (which is the Aboriginal word for “getting your swerve on with good wine.” Actually, that’s not a literal translation. It really means “meeting place.”  All three towns are relatively close together (within miles of each other) and there are tons of little communities dotted in between, including Bethany, which was one of the oldest settlements and had a lovely winery built into a rock quarry. It also claims to have the oldest vines in the region. Shocker.

The Barossa is visually stunning – lots of rolling hills and expansive vistas. It wasn’t at all crowded when we were there – generally there were a few other people at any particular tasting room, but nothing crazy.

Almost all of the tastings were fully inclusive, meaning you could try absolutely anything they had. Anything. It was crazy. A wine free-for-all. My wine-for-life-partner XFE and I shared tastings to keep the tipsy at bay, but the generosity of the pours overall made this a challenge.

The tastings were free almost everywhere, or $5, reimbursable with a purchase. And in the couple of cases where there was supposed to be a fee (for example, the wonderful Seppeltsfield Winery – which ALSO claims the oldest grapes!), the shopkeepers even waived that small fee because we were American and couldn’t really buy much to take with us.

(Seppeltsfield was very interesting because they specialize in fortified wine, which are things like sherry, port and tawny. What makes it fortified is the addition of a liquor, in this case brandy. I’ll tell you, I was learning stuff all over that valley.)

Even the big guys like Penfolds and Peter Lehmann didn’t have fees. These were the two largest, most commercial wineries we went to, and we actually bought a very, very nice bottle of wine at Penfolds to have with dinner that night, but we generally like to seek out the smaller, lesser-known wineries. Needless to say, we avoided Jacob’s Creek and Wolf Blass.

But the Barossa specialty is the Shiraz and I swear, we didn’t have a bad Shiraz the whole time we were there, including the sparkling Shiraz, which was wonderful.  They also have a popular blend GMS, which is Grenache, Mataro or Mouvedre, and Shiraz that I liked.

On the white front, they had some very interesting Rieslings, which were for the most part very dry. Not sweet, like the German versions. And, surprisingly (since it’s so popular here in Virginia) we tasted a few Viogniers. We also had some great, great roses, including the above mentioned Turkey Flat, and at a small winery called Rockford.

We went to 14 wineries over the course of two days, which seems like a lot, in retrospect. But we were generally out the door at 10 am and back by 5 pm, so they were pretty spread out. And, like I said, we did share tastings and we didn’t go through the whole list at each winery, instead, picking and choosing a few that we wanted to try.

Plus, we had nice long lunches each day, including lunch in Angaston twice at a place called Wanera Wine Bar. They had this octopus and chorizo dish that was to die for. XFE and I both shared a tapas sized portion the first day we went and then two days later, went back for the larger portions. Just thinking about it right now is making me crave it.

Mostly we stood around talking to the shopkeepers and winemakers, who were a very gracious and helpful bunch. I really did learn a lot. For example, at Whistler Wines, I learned that kangaroos like apples. That’s because the owner keeps kangaroos and gave us some sliced apples to take out there.

We bought a few wines, including a couple of wonderful Tawnys, one of which, Mr. Pickwick’s Particular Tawny from Saltram Wine Estates, which we had had during my birthday dinner at Ochre. We also bought a small bottle of Tawny from Langmeil.

But our best purchase had to be a lovely sparkling concoction we bought on our way home one night at a winery that was just down the street from where we were staying in Lyndoch.

Kellermeister Wines has quite a distinguished billboard – very understated and regal – that proclaims that its wines have received a whole bunch of stars from renowned Australian wine critic James Halliday. This is apparently quite the big deal, according to the very posh young man who was serving us that day. And, according to the Kellermeister website:

We’ve been quietly handcrafting Kellermeister wines in small batches at our boutique winery in the beautiful Barossa Valley for a long time now. But in true Aussie fashion, we’ve managed to keep just how exceptional the wines are pretty quiet. Well, until recently that is, when Australia’s leading authority on all things wine, James Halliday, spilled the beans in his definitive Australian Wine Companion.

James classified our winery with the highest possible winery rating – five bright red stars. This prestigious designation is only bestowed upon a handful of wineries across Australia in recognition of the consistent production of wines of “exemplary quality and typicity” – just the sort of wines that we’ve been making for over 30 years.

We tried a few of the Kellermeister wines, including, of course, the Shiraz, nodding and murmuring our appreciation, when two intriguingly named Moscatos caught our eye. “Could we try the Black Fire and the Pink Mink?” we asked.

It may not be from the oldest vines in the Barossa (although the label hasn’t changed since the 1970s), but that Pink Mink sure did taste good after dinner while we gazed out over the dark hills and impossibly starry skies from our uber large Jacuzzi bathtub, pink rubber ducky included.