A Plea to Old People at the Gym

Due to a variety of reasons (upcoming beach vacation, an uptick in free time, wishing to not be winded just by watering the garden, giving up on folding laundry because my arms got tired), my training-partner-for-eternity, XFE and I have been working on our fitness. Like, really working on it. Like, ordering overpriced paleo food from a food delivery service and giving up alcohol during the week. We’re talking a serious amount of dedication from two (ok, one) major couch potato. (Mmmmm, potatoes…..)

Prior to this latest round of fitness fanaticism, I had been going to yoga, albeit, pretty intermittently. Or, as XFE describes it: “napping with old people,” which is a completely accurate description.

And in the middle.

We do live in an area called “Old Town,” by the way, so yes, I am usually one of the younger folks at the 9:30 a.m. or 1 p.m. yoga classes at the Old Town Sport & Health Club down the street from my house. Not a lot of hip, urban professionals around during those times of the day. Just me and the old folks crew, many of whom use that time in yoga class to do whatever the hell stretches or poses they want to do. I’m pretty sure the instructor is just there to make sure no one seriously injures themselves.

In fact, many of my fellow old stogey yogis stick around for the class that follows, which is called “Fusion Stretch.” I have not taken this class (one one-hour stretch-and-nap session per day generally does me in), but the class description promises a “fusion of stretching and stability work….for a relaxing, yet invigorating experience.”

No, with XFE at the helm, we’ve been pushing our out-of-shape (unless you count round as a shape) bodies to their brink. XFE’s favorite form of torture is the innocently sounding, “Club Strength,” which we go to on Saturdays. Because, who doesn’t want to almost throw up without drinking before weekend brunch?

funny-picture-i-dont-always-go-to-the-gym

The name is mostly deceptive. As at a normal club, they do play loud, thumping, repetitive EDM music, but mostly I think it’s to drown out the moans of the victims, erehm, I mean, participants. And, as at a normal club, there is a lot of sweating in skintight neon and black lycra as people kick and thrash to the incessant beat of the music, but that’s pretty much where the comparisons end. Continue reading A Plea to Old People at the Gym

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Wars, Orphans and Orbs: Dubrovnik’s Old Town

My travel buddy for life XFE and I live in a part of Northern Virginia/Greater Washington DC area known as Old Town. It’s pretty cute. Full of cobblestone sidewalks, antique shops, and historic buildings with plaques announcing that George Washington once drank some cider on this exact location. Most of the old houses, churches and pubs were built in the 1770s, which is one of the reasons it’s the third oldest historic district in the country.

But, our Old Town is a pimply preteen compared to Dubrovnik’s Old Town.

Old Town's Stradun Street
Old Town’s Stradun Street

Dubrovnik was founded in the 7th century by a group of refugees from Epidaurum. I don’t even know where Epidaurum is or was. I think it’s part of Greece or Rome or something, but I couldn’t say for sure. Let’s just say, shit is that old.

I had read a history of Croatia, including the sly way that the rich merchants in Dubrovnik were able to play conquerors off each other and avoid being occupied themselves. Dubrovnik stayed an independent city-state until the French came along in the early 1800s.

Funny wall decoration in Old Town
Funny wall decoration in Old Town

Despite my considerable, newly-acquired Croatian expertise, we decided to continue our custom of hiring a tour guide for the day to show us around the city. After searching around on the Interwebs a bit, I found a great new website called ToursByLocals.com. The idea is pretty self-explanatory: You click on “Find a Tour” and the website gives you a whole list of local tour guides along with their qualifications, photos, expertise, prices, and recent reviews. It was totally like Match.com for tour guides.

We picked Almira as our tour guide, asked if we could have an earlier start time, and ToursByLocals handled the rest. Almira emailed us within 48 hours of our request and we were confirmed. We’ll definitely be using them again.

You can see Almira. That's her hat on the bottom left.
You can see Almira. That’s her hat on the bottom left.

The morning of our tour, we walked the 30 minutes from our hotel to Pile Gate entrance to the Old Town. Almira was right on time and very friendly. Armed with water and sun hats, we started our walking tour right outside the gate in a public square where executions took place during World War I (Italians executing Croats).

"Your execution super spot since 1308"
“Your execution super spot since 1908”

Almira explained to us how the Epi-Greek/Roman people established their settlement on the island and named it Laus, while just across the way at the bottom of Srd Mountain, the Slavs had their own little settlement called dubrova which meant oak forest. When the channel that separated these two settlements was filled in the 12th century they were united. The main street through the Old Town is called Stradun but in Croatian, it’s known as Paca, which derives from the word for “dirt,” signifying the dirt road that was filled in to connect the two settlements.

Another view of the Stradun
Another view of the Stradun

Right inside Pile Gate, Almira showed us a map that shows you where the Old Town was damaged during what Almira and other Croats call the Homeland War, the Croatian War for Independence from Yugoslavia and an emboldened Serbia. We sat silently perusing the map while behind us vendors sold ice cream and school children ran around trying to give each other the Croatian version of cooties.

The primary evidence of the war can be seen in the rooftops. All the roofs in Old Town—which you can clearly see from the top of the city’s medieval wall walk–are made of distinctive orange terra cotta tiles. More than 70% of Croatia’s red roof tiles were destroyed during the Balkan Wars, so everywhere you look, there are new tiles interspersed with old tiles. There was quite the collection and conservation effort after the war, with nations around the world donating replacement tiles made in Toulouse, France.

Croatia 072

It was quite sad to see beautiful old medieval wars pocked with shrapnel, but it’s nothing compared to the damage seen by other cities in Croatia. In fact, it was the attacks on Dubrovnik, a much-beloved UNESCO-protected Heritage Site that finally galvanized the international community to say, “whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s enough of that. It’s all well and good to annihilate some podunk little village in the middle of nowhere, but let’s not go after a cultural and artistic center.”

What's that? More red-tiled roofs? No problem.
What’s that? More red-tiled roofs? No problem.

After our tour, XFE and I went to the War Photo Limited museum, a two-story museum owned and operated by a photographer who had covered the Homeland War. It was very well done and a gut wrenching experience. It’s difficult to see contemporaries–people wearing similar clothes to you, using common  everyday brands that you use—and seeing them in the midst of war right in their own streets. Instead of seeing photos of brave soldiers, you saw photographs of people just trying to walk down their street and getting hit by sniper fire.

Croatia 079

When we walked out of the cool, dark museum and out into the sunny narrow streets of the Old Town, I had to blink away what I’d just seen. We walked quietly through the beautiful narrow streets, our sandals skimming the slippery, worn down stones that made up the streets. We stumbled across church after church, many of them featuring statues of Dubrovnik’s patron saint, St. Blaise. There are, according to Almira, 27 St. Blaise statues throughout the tiny city, including three seated figures and one in profile.

I can't spot it, but I'm sure there's a St. Blaise statue somewhere in there.
I can’t spot it, but I’m sure there’s a St. Blaise statue somewhere in there.

We walked past St. Nicholas church. Good old Saint Nick was the patron saint of fisherman, so of course he has a church in this port city. What I didn’t know is that St. Nicholas is often pictured with three gold orbs, which were a dowry he gifted to three poor sisters. He threw the first two orbs through their window, but he threw the third down the chimney, which is why he’s associated with chimneys.

We also went past a tiny window with a sort of Lazy Susan swivel that was used by noble ladies to drop off their unwanted babies in the dead of night. Apparently, Dubrovnik is also home to the oldest orphanage, which was established in the Old Town in the 1400s. In another romantic touch, according to Almira, the babies would be given a half coin piece and the mother would keep the other half. That would allow the disgraced noble woman to come back and retrieve her child someday, if her circumstances had somehow changed.

By now, we’d worked up a good appetite and were ready for a mid-day glass of white wine, so we headed to one of Almira’s recommendations for lunch, Kobun, which lies at the top of some stairs that are very similar to the Spanish Steps in Rome. After a leisurely lunch of mussels for me and monkfish for XFE, we walked past some stalls selling jewelry, including a type of necklace called a Dubrovnik button, also called Konavoske Puce. It’s like an open filigree design that’s used in necklaces and earrings. I picked one with a bit of coral, which is also very popular in this area.

Croatia 081

It was a very pleasant and illuminating day. In the battle of the Old Towns, I’d have to give Dubrovnik a slight edge over Old Town, Alexandria. But just barely. After all, we’ve got George Washington plaques all over the place to tell us how important everything is.

Dubrovnik's farmer's market, which had some amazing candied almonds, lemon and orange peels.
Dubrovnik’s farmer’s market, which had some amazing candied almonds, lemon and orange peels.

You Give Us a Bad Parking Ticket….Can I Give You a Bad Bureaucracy Ticket?

The Erin Brockovich of Old Town took on the law last week, emerging mildly victorious (I say “mildly” victorious because justice wasn’t entirely served in XFE’s efforts to fight a totally and completely unjustified and blatantly erroneous ticket.)

Let’s jump back into the rewind time machine: It was early July. We were in Costa Rica for vacation when some storm called the derecho blew through the greater Washington DC area. I love it when our storms have bad-ass Spanish names. Sounds like a potential character on Sons of Anarchy. “Have you met the new guy, Derecho? He’s a transfer from our SAMCRO brothers in the San Joaquin. They say Derecho…..he’s loco.”

Anyway. We live in a neighborhood that requires permit parking for the street. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, to park on the STREET WHERE YOUR HOUSE IS LOCATED, you have to plunk down $30, spend a lovely day at City Hall and obtain a permit. Which we did. In fact, we were previously located in Permit 5 parking area, so we had a Permit 5 parking sticker (we got to do this all over again when we bought our own place and moved to a different permit zone, of course. And by we, I mean XFE. I don’t do anything.)

The city of Alexandria is very helpful with these stickers, telling you exactly where it must be placed on your bumper. This is so that said sticker is easily identifiable by any individual with even rudimentary color skills (it’s a nice, bright blue square).

To make things even more fun parking wise, the city of Alexandria conducts street cleanings in Old Town once a week. So there’s one day a week where you cannot park your vehicle along a certain side of the street, despite having forked money for a permit to do exactly that. The day varies: for the side of the street that our house was located on, it was Mondays, so you could not park anywhere on that side of the street on Mondays. The opposite side of the street was Tuesdays. So you could not park on that side of the street on Tuesdays.

This is especially awesome when you plan on being away on vacation.

However, there is a totally inexplicable loophole here: Not every street in Old Town gets street cleaning. So, every time we went on vacation, we had to go in hunt of a parking spot on a street that was not street-cleaned. These generally were, of course, several blocks from our house.

(Interesting sidenote: Our new house on our new street (also in Old Town) does not get street cleaning at all. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the Old Town street cleaning program. It varies completely from block to block).

With ALL this in mind, we made certain that when we went on vacation in July that we parked on a street several blocks away from our house that was (a) still in our allowable permit zone (that would be Permit 5 – blue – for those keeping track) and (b) not scheduled for cleaning. We found such a magical spot and parked directly behind the sign that said “2-Hour Parking Except Holders of Dist 5 Permits.”

When we got back from vacation on July 5th, XFE dropped off his bags and walked over to retrieve our car, which had a completely shattered windshield and a July 3 ticket for illegally parking in a permit-only area. Two very bad things to come home to.

We believe that the windshield was shattered during the June 29th derecho storm. And, if we are correct on this — and honestly, I can’t really imagine any other reason or event that would have shattered our entire windshield — that means that the visually-impaired traffic cop delicately placed a downright fraudulent ticket under the windshield wiper of a storm-damaged car, which makes this person not only stupid, but a rotten human being. “OH, having a bad day are we? Windshield shattered, huh? Well, let me pile some more crap on you and write you an erroneous ticket!”

We were, to say the least incredulous. XFE immediately began looking into the options to contest the ticket. He compiled evidence, including photos of the street sign that clearly states Permit 5 holders can park there and, photos of our car, including our current and legal permit sticker and license plate. He wrote a personal essay detailing why he should not have gotten a ticket, laying out all the evidence.

The effort to contest the ticket was rejected by the city, with absolutely no explanation as to why, or what evidence was found lacking. Just a big waste of time. So XFE asked for a court date.

That day came last Tuesday. We spent weeks going over the evidence, looking for possible loopholes, playing out any illogical scenario that might have the court side with the cop and rule against us. After all, there was money at stake here – including $63 in court fees plus $10 adjudication fee. If we lost the case, we’d have to pay an even larger fine than the original one AND court costs. It would just add insult to injury.

We couldn’t find a single argument that would explain why the cop had not seen our permit, other than the fact that he did not even bother to look.

XFE took that Tuesday off of work to attend court. I really, REALLY wanted to go as well, if only to put a face to this person who had put a ticket on a storm-damaged windshield. I wanted to glare at him and silently try to figure out what kind of person would do that. Alas, one of us taking time off work was enough.

Nervously, I kissed XFE goodbye on Tuesday morning and wished him luck. I urged him to keep calm and collected. I cautioned him that if he did win, he should not, as he had been suggesting, offer the court a hefty bill for wasting his time and efforts in disputing the ticket. After all, if the city won, they’d make us pay for the court’s time and efforts, so fair is fair, right?  The court has obviously put a value on the time that this whole procedure takes up: $63 in court fees plus $10 adjudication fees, so we should be entitled to the same, right?

I made him promise he would call me immediately with the verdict.

About 10 minutes after the appointed court time, XFE called and told me that the cop had not even shown up. This cop did not even give us the respect of showing up and defending his erroneous actions. He will forever be just some faceless jerk, roaming the streets, giving out unjustified parking tickets.

In my job, if I do something wrong, I have to admit it and apologize. I’ve got plenty of bosses to make sure that I own up to my actions, express contrition, and try to fix things if possible. But this guy? This guy doesn’t even have to stand there in front of us and the court, and say, “You know what? You’re right. I wasn’t paying attention. I was wrong. I should have done a better job. I’m sorry” He just gets to run around, writing tickets for legally parked cars and nobody says anything about it. And the rest of us have to take time off work and defend ourselves.

 

So we weren’t exactly popping champagne bottles in victory. It’s hard to say justice was totally served in this case.

Also: if any Old Town Alexandria City police are reading this, put down the parking ticket machine and please start looking for the individual who stole a brand new box of Adidas shoes off our front step. You can use the $30 we paid for our useless parking permit to compensate you for your time.

SOLD

So, we bought a house. A townhouse here in Old Town, Alexandria, to be more precise. Wait, did I mention that here? I’m not sure if I did or not. It all happened quite fast and now seems beyond surreal. Ah yes, I see that I did mention it. But it bears repeating again. It seems like it’s kind of a big deal.

Upside down sign? That seems about right.

It was pretty much all we could talk about on our recent vacation, and my house-purchasing-boyfriend XFE was (quite subtly, to be sure) tied to his iPhone as he dealt with mortgage brokers, settlement companies, realtors, contractors, plumbers, banks, and assorted other leeches who are along for the ride whenever one buys a house. Seriously, is there anyone that didn’t make some money off this deal? I think the title company even slipped in a clause stating that XFE owed money to somebody’s nephew.

Apparently, keys to a house you own (on the bottom) are larger than rental keys (top).

But, the house buying part is (mostly) done and now we’re on to the fun part – changing everything about the newly renovated property we JUST bought! Not really. But there are just a few things we want done. For example, all the floors need to be stained and finished (we’re leaning towards a dark walnut or a stain called “Jacobean.” For crying out loud.)

We’ve got some plans for the island type thing in the kitchen (you can’t put stools under it. Where am I supposed to sit and flip through my magazines while XFE cooks?).

We also need something in both bathrooms to keep the water from splashing all over when we take a shower. Seems our very thoughtful developer/flipper did not include shower rods or glass enclosures. Guess he was going for a more “open” look.

I may not have a shower curtain but I do have a glittery glass sink. And a skylight that shines down onto it.

And, of course, there’s the subject of the closets. The current closet configuration might work for normal people, but we’ve both got a lot of clothes. And one of us is super anal about her clothes and how they are organized. I get very angsty if I don’t have a place for every last sweater or pencil skirt. So there is a weekend of assembling custom-ordered closets in our future.

These floors have all been replaced with wide plank pine and will be stained and finished before moving day. The closets also need some customization.

All of this needs to occur in the next two weeks. Grab your measuring tape….it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Woops. I Forgot to Title This. Let’s Call it “Fall Complaints”

Welcome to Daylight Saving Time, also known as Poe Hell, aka: Five-Month Hibernation Period.

Twisty country road out in Northern Virginia. Best enjoyed from one's car.

Even though I left work at my normal time, I felt like I got home soooo late tonight. I rushed home and then didn’t want to go back out. And that will be the pattern for the next five months. I’ll skip happy hours. I’ll avoid running errands. I won’t even be tempted by shop windows.  I’ll come directly home from work and change into comfy house clothes and eat and sleep my way through the winter. Preferably on fluffy clouds of macaroni and cheese.

I know it’s incredibly original to say, but I DETEST DST. And fall. And winter.

I want to seriously punch people who say, “But we gained an hour!” No. No we didn’t. We took an hour of sunlight from the end of the day and shifted it to the beginning. That’s it. Still the same number of hours.

Do you have any idea how many leaves can pile up on your tiny patio? We don't have a single tree on our property, but we have to rake every single weekend.

You see, thePoeLog is a cold-blooded creature who needs to bask in the sun to warm up and increase her
metabolism, much like our little tortoise pal, Yertle. Here are just a few reasons I hate this time of year:

  1. I do not get the concept of layering. I try. I really do. And as a consequence, I almost continuously find myself in a situation where my torso is excrutiatingly warm, and my hands and exposed face are frozen. This especially happens on the walk to and from the metro. I can feel sweat running down my back and trapping itself in the layers of lightweight wool and cotton I’m wearing, while my hands are so cold they can barely hold on to my purse handle and my nose is running and pooling on my upper lip, requiring a mad dig (with frozen fingers) into said purse for a wad of Kleenex. I loathe layering.
  2. Speaking of which, can we just talk about tights for a minute? I know I need them, to keep my legs warm. And, I do have quite the collection of knee high boots (seriously, I have, at least 10 pairs of knee high boots). But tights get twisted and are very uncomfortable. They require hopping about on one foot in the morning and jamming ones foot into a wafting piece of fabric floating freely in the air. They leave marks and they’re a pain to get in and out of, making every trip to the bathroom a sweaty wrestling match (again, because I’m wearing layers, and any physical activity causes profuse layer-induced sweating).
  3. Since there are now all these layers, and sweat, at play, there is, of course, a serious uptick in the amount of laundry required on a daily basis. And we all know how I feel about laundry.
  4. Coats. Holy Wool Overload. I moved to Washington DC with one winter coat. I have now amassed a ridiculous number of coats. They all are made of different materials, have different weights, and serve different purposes. There are fall coats for every day, fall coats for going out, rain coats that are ok with pants, rain coats that are ok with skirts and dresses, rain coats that are too casual for work and therefore are for weekends, leather jackets, winter coats for when it’s snowing, winter coats for when it’s not snowing, vests for when I only need my torso to be warm, but apparently, not my arms. We won’t even begin to address the various footwear required to make it through fall and winter.
  5. But speaking of footwear: Now that it gets dark earlier, I have to change my walking route home from the metro. My normal, preferred walking route is through a nice neighborhood, with very little traffic or need to stop at intersections and smooth, continuous cement sidewalks. But this route isn’t very well lit. So now that it gets dark at 5 pm, I instead have to walk down King Street, which is very well lit indeed, but the sidewalks of King Street are made of brick. Do you have any idea what brick sidewalks do to high heels? Even lovely knee high boots? It eats them. That quaint brick sidewalk running through historic Old Town is a death trap on many levels, but especially, for heels that slip between the bricks. My cobbler, incidentally, probably loves fall and winter.  Also: King Street? Tourist megahighway. So instead of meandering along in my lovely neighborhood, I have to dodge masses of enchanted tourists looking at all the old timey fun buildings, while dislodging my heel from shifting bricks every few feet. Somebody ought to make a video game out of this scenario. Something like, “Urban Obstacle Courses,” or something.

    Quaint, but quite ankle-twisting.

The one good thing about this time of year, however, is Fall Fun Day. I’ve mentioned Fall Fun Day before. It’s my favorite day after Super Spring Spectacular, which is celebrated in the same manner. It’s sorta like Treat Yo Self Day.

Fall Fun Day celebrates and recreates one of the first dates that my life partner/spousal equivalent XFE and I ever went on. It involves driving out into the lovely twisty country roads in the wilds of Northern Virginia. Which, all cynicism aside, really is beautiful this time of the year. From the comfort of one’s car.

All these people seem to be enjoying the whole "fall" thing.

Anyway, we take in all the beautiful changing foliage, stop at a few wineries, do some serious people watching/judging, and chit chat about the humongous houses sitting on acres of property out in the middle of Virginia horse country.

Mostly, we speculate about ways to do away with Daylight Saving Time.  Or, at least I do. XFE loves fall and winter. He’s so weird.

Does anyone else hate this time of year? Or are you all hypnotized by the beauty of the colorful leaves (which, by the way, signal death and decay. Just so you know)? Any survival strategies that don’t involve eating and sleeping?