november 2011

We had our lowest number of Halloween visitors ever—only 42 this year. Our previous low was two years ago, when we only got 48, but that's also because it was drizzling for most of the night, whereas the weather last night was fine. There did seem to be fewer people out in general (especially teenagers who are really too old to be trick or treating—normally we get 10-15 of those, and last night I can only remember 3 or 4), but it probably also didn't help that we're in a dead zone of scrooges who don't give out candy and our porch light was burnt out. We kept the door open and had the interior lights on, and we also had a jack o'lantern on the front porch, but I saw several decent sized groups visit the house across the street who didn't make their way over to us. I'm guessing if we had been better lit, we might have gotten up close to 60, but that's still a far cry from the 79 we got last year.

We waited until the last minute to look for a pumpkin this year, and several places we checked on Sunday were sold out, so as a result we ended up getting one from a small nursery that was actually part of their roadside display. It was the biggest pumpkin they had left, and it was still pretty small, but it was carvable and they let us buy it off the display. We actually got it Halloween afternoon, and I wasn't able to start carving it until about 45 minutes before trick or treating started, so I didn't do one of the Pumpkin Masters designs that I usually do—I just improvised a very basic design of two triangle eyes and a mouth of jagged teeth:

Given my poor artistic skills and how rapidly it was done, I was pretty happy with the result—he's got a lot of character.

We dressed Will up in his dinosaur costume and took turns walking him around to knock on doors (one of us had to stay and give out candy), and he had a pretty great time. We each took him to 2 or 3 houses, so it didn't take long, but by the time we finished, he was exhausted, so we took turns feeding him dinner and manning the door so we could put him in bed as soon as the official trick or treating period was over. He's not really much of a fan of candy (yet), so I don't even think he tried a piece. But we'll dole it out to him slowly as a treat every now and then over the next few weeks.

11.2.11 boss quit on Monday morning, giving a month's notice. This was already going to be a pretty tough cycle at work, but this makes it that much tougher. It's not a real surprise—I anticipated him leaving by next summer at the latest—but once we got to the end of October, I thought we'd keep him at least through next spring when our final batch of admit letters are sent out.

We already have a plan of action for this cycle, so now we just need to put our heads down and plow through it, but I've worked with him for 10 years now—he's the only boss I've had at this job—and I get along with him really well, so I'm going to miss him on a personal and professional level. The place he's going, though, is a great opportunity, for both him and his family, and while it doesn't make losing him any easier, I am glad that he's going somewhere that will give him a big career boost in terms of visibility and responsibility (and no, he isn't aware of and doesn't read this blog—I just genuinely think he's a great guy who deserves to have good things happen to him).

Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares show is in town to redo Cafe Hon, once a local-favorite fixture of the quirky Hampden neighborhood that has become a tourist trap with terrible food in the past couple of years. There was an open call for diners to fill the restaurant for the filming, and Julie wanted to do it, so I filled out the questionnaire because I've eaten there more recently (almost two years ago) and I have strong opinions about the place.

See, aside from the food quality going downhill while the prices went up, the owner of Cafe Hon has completely alienated her local clientele by trademarking the word "Hon", a term that belongs (and has belonged) to the people of Baltimore for decades (being from the south, I'm not sure what the big deal is—down there, everyone calls you "sugar" or "hon" or some local variation, and there's nowhere where it's uncommon enough that you can say it belongs to that place alone).

And this wasn't just to protect her business' name—she drove other merchants who sold merchandise with the word Hon on it out of business, and at the annual Honfest (which she organizes), she banned any vendors from selling any merchandise with the word on it—and she even banned them from selling the retro old lady glasses that are traditionally associated with Hons. It seemed like she cared more about getting tourists to spend money on mediocre food and tacky merchandise (she also has a store across the street from her restaurant that sells said merchandise) than she did about keeping her place a truly local establishment, but since she has thumbed her nose at the locals, I have no doubt that her business has dropped off.

I like to take people to Hampden when they are visiting Baltimore for the first time—it's a great little neighborhood not too far from the main Johns Hopkins University campus that has tons of little boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. Golden West is far and away my favorite Hampden place to eat, but I would often take guests to Cafe Hon because the food is less eccentric and the service is more reliable.

No more, though—I'm not a native Baltimorean, and I don't even live in the city limits (although I work there every day), but I've taken to this city, warts and all (and there are plenty of warts). Even before the owner trademarked hon, I had pretty much sworn the place off, but once that happened, there was no going back. If that's not a number one priority for Gordon Ramsay—winning back locals by getting her to renounce her supposed ownership of that word—I'm going to be shocked.

I don't hold out any real hope that we'll get selected to dine there as part of the filming, because I bet there are thousands of people who share my exact same opinions of the place, and they probably submitted their applications faster than I did. I watch the show anyway (one of my weaknesses), but I'm especially interested to watch this one and to see if Ramsay's makeover does anything to bring business back to the restaurant.

I was supposed to have two meetings yesterday (which is about average for me these days), but the first one had been rescheduled and I forgot to take the appointment off my calendar, and the second...well, I just sort of forgot about the second, because I'm just not able to focus very well at work these days.

Today I only have one, but it's a doozy: a meeting with legal counsel, the Registrar, and my two deans to talk about all the stuff that we need to delete out of our document management system for legal reasons. It seems a shame to throw away all that work—the only real record of all the work we do reading application files is the comments and notes that we leave behind to justify our admission decisions, and that's what legal also believes we need to throw away—but I agree that it's better to destroy it rather than expose ourselves to potential legal action if we had to provide it to a student after our process was complete.

That game last night was pretty fucking sweet; those are exactly the kinds of games that Joe Flacco and the offense have to learn how to win if the Ravens are going to get to the Super Bowl. On top of getting a season sweep of the Steelers (only the second time that has happened in the history of the Ravens franchise), it's hard to imagine a better ending than scoring the game winning touchdown with only 8 seconds left on the clock in front of the Pittsburgh home crowd after going 92 yards with just over 2 minutes to go in the game. If they go to the Super Bowl and win this year, I'll be slightly more ecstatic. But just slightly.

Even if they hadn't taken the win, it still would have been a good game for them in front of a hostile Pittsburgh crowd. The Ravens absolutely humiliated the Steelers in the season opener in Baltimore, and they had good control of this game, scoring first and maintaining the lead until the end of the fourth quarter, when the Steelers pulled ahead 20-16 after a touchdown. But I'm real glad they got the win.

Baltimore is in good shape with a 6-2 record and not too many tough teams left on the schedule (Indianapolis looked to be a real challenge at the start of the season, but they're in terrible shape without Peyton), but there's still a long way to go, and they have two games each left against divisional rivals Cincinnati (who are having a surprisingly good year) and Cleveland (who always play well against Baltimore even when they're terrible, and they're not as bad this year as they have been in some recent years).

So nothing's set in stone, but it's comforting to know that if for some reason we end up in another tie with the Steelers at the end of the season, the sweep of Pittsburgh guarantees us home field advantage. This town deserves to see a home playoff game for once, and for this year, at least, it won't be the Steelers standing in the way of that.

So the Cafe Hon woman held a big press conference with Gordon Ramsay to announce that she's giving up the trademark on the word Hon in an effort to win back the locals and get her restaurant back on track.

Here's the the thing, though: this woman is notorious for publicity stunts, and she didn't actually give up the trademark, she just said she as going to give it up. And that doesn't really make sense: if whoever grants these things granted her the right to trademark it, that means they'll give it to someone else if she gives it up. And since she owns at least four businesses or events that use the word Hon in their title, she would be exposing herself to gettings sued by whoever claimed the trademark after her if she gave it up.

If she wanted us to believe that she was serious, she should have said that she would retain it so that no one else could ever claim it but that she would not enforce the trademark unless someone tried to actually infringe on the names of her businesses. There's no way that, as aggressive as she's been in obtaining and enforcing the trademark, she would leave herself vulnerable by completely giving it up, especially because there are a lot of people in Baltimore who would like nothing more than to see her sued out of existence by the very trademark that she now admits should have never been granted in the first place.

I'm sure there will be reviews from the local papers in the coming weeks of the revamped Cafe Hon, but it's going to take awful high praise and some real sense that she has changed her attitude before I'll consider going back to that restaurant.

These are some really long weeks I've been pushing though recently. We're traveling for the holidays, and usually I don't get to relax a lot when there's a lot of driving involved, but honestly, I'd rather be on the road for 8 hours with a toddler than at work these days.

Yesterday I got to work and the garage where I have a permit to park was full. When you sign up to park in this garage, they tell you that this is technically possible, but I've been parking there for four years and I've never had it happen before. They had a man out front to tell you that the garage was full (apparently there was some big conference on campus), but unless you were a visitor coming to campus for that conference, the only option you were given for parking was to find parking on the street.

I drove into the garage anyway, because I don't really do street parking and I sure as hell wasn't going to pay a fee to park in another garage when I'm already paying for this one, and it was full—sort of. There was an entire row, at least 30 spots, filled with campus security vehicles, and at least 50-60 additional spots that were reserved spaces, except that no one has paid the extra fee to reserve and so every day, including today when the garage was technically full, they sit empty. Which was more than a little frustrating.

I was due to leave campus at 11:30 anyway to go to a doctor's appointment, so after driving around for half an hour and not finding anywhere to park, I just decided to go back home and work from there. Very frustrating, but with things as crazy as they are at work these days (it's hard to find time to work with the neverending conversations about all the chaos since my dean announced he was leaving—conversations that I am also guilty of initiating), I was probably more productive working from home anyway.

I'm going to miss these all-the-same-number dates when we run out of them in 2013.

Another lousy offensive game from the Ravens, and those two turnovers on kickoff returns from the special teams unit sure didn't help (and in fact, the six points gained by Seattle after those turnovers were the difference in the game). The score could have actually been much worse, but a loss is a loss, and they've got to figure out how to win against teams who are much worse than them on paper when they play on the road if they're going to continue their playoff push.

Next week it's a home game, but it's against the surprising Cincinnati, who give the Ravens trouble even in bad years—they're one of those teams that Baltimore always plays down to their level, and even when we win, it's rarely easy.

Last Friday I finally got to visit the Gypsy Queen food truck again, my first time since my initial visit at the beginning of the summer. Well, sort of—this was actually the debut service for the Little Gypsy, the second truck from the team behind the original Gypsy Queen.

I've been dying to have their food again—they used to come to my campus on Wednesdays, but over the summer they were given a spot in front of city hall on Wednesdays, and they just dropped us entirely from their rotation (which makes sense, I guess—I'm sure a lot of their business comes from our students, and they're all gone by June). They started coming back to campus in late September, but they switched their visit day to Monday, and I'm still on a schedule where I stay home with Will on Mondays, so I was never at work when they came. So I was really excited when I saw that they were sending the Little Gypsy back to us on Fridays.

I had the Korean BBQ tacos, and while they were pretty good, they didn't hold a candle to the burger sliders that I had the first time I ate at the truck, and there was a little too much kimchi for my taste. A friend of mine got a falafel sandwich, and she raved about it even though she'd never had falafel before (really), so I might give that a try if they come back to the same location next week.

Julie's mom visited over the weekend, and our big outing was taking Will to the zoo on Saturday afternoon. We had a couple of toddler meltdowns, but overall he seemed pretty excited to see the animals, and he loved having so much room to roam around. Interestingly, he didn't really react at all to the giraffes and elephants even though those are some of his favorite animals in his books and among his stuffed animals.

His favorite thing by far was at the lowly barnyard exhibit—they had a pen full of chickens and roosters, and the roosters were constantly puffing up and taking runs at one another. He thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever seen—he was laughing a belly laugh that you could hear from 20 feet away. We also went into the petting zoo area so he could pet the goats.

There was also a quick little train ride that we had tickets for (we bought a Groupon package that included two general admission tickets and two tickets for the train), and he enjoyed that quite a bit as well. It was a fun day—it's usually a fun day when we take him to do new things—and it's good that we had a day of nice weather before the cold arrived and made a trip to the zoo seem much less appealing.

Another visit to the vet for Oliver today, his fourth or fifth in the last couple of months. He's had some sort of chronic eye problem, and our vet has given up trying to diagnose it, so she's sending us to a kitty opthamologist. Normally I would just work from home when I have something like this I have to take care of (Julie has a seminar she's attending all day, so she couldn't do it), but I have a big meeting this afternoon that I can't reschedule—I'm meeting with a vice provost to discuss a half million dollar investment in a project that I've been working on for five years.

Hopefully both appointments will go well—I'd really like it if we could figure out how to get Oliver better, and it sure would be nice if I could stop talking about cost projections and ROI on this project and actually get to the point where we can build a long-term strategy for a campus-wide implementation.

The end of this year cannot come quickly enough. Although I don't really expect the beginning of next year to be much better...

This will be my last post for a while, as we're leaving tomorrow to go visit family in NC for Thanksgiving. Dreading the drive, but looking forward to the time away from work, even though there's so much going on that I'll still need to check email a few times a day (yes, even on Thanksgiving).

We left on Tuesday morning to drive down to NC to visit my dad and stepmother for Thanksgiving, and overall, the drive wasn't as bad as I expected. Traffic was relatively light, especially once we got down below Richmond, and Will was pretty sedate, requiring only one stop and sleeping for a good bit after lunch. He woke up about 20 minutes before we got to my dad's house, and for that brief period he was howling, but that's to be expected when you've kept a toddler on the road for seven hours.

On Wednesday we went to Saltworks, a hot dog place in Wilmington that's a local favorite and which I always visit at least once when I'm in town. And I think I must have slept a whole lot, because I don't really remember much else about that day.

Thursday was Thanksgiving, of course, and my mom drove up from Myrtle Beach to have the Thanksgiving meal with us (my youngest sister, who lives at home still, was also there with her boyfriend). We ate mid-afternoon, and Will didn't quite make it, so he napped for the first hour or so. He woke up before we finished, though, so we pulled his high chair up and gave him a sampling of all the Thanksgiving goodies.

After dinner, my mom, my stepmother, and Julie went to see the new Twilight movie (I can barely bring myself to write that), and my dad and I stayed and hung out with Will. I'm pretty sure he napped again, while I made plans to somehow watch or listen to the Ravens game, which was the Thanksgiving night game airing only on the NFL network.

Before Thanksgiving break, I visited the Little Gypsy food truck again, and this time I tried the braised pork tacos. I think I liked them better overall than the korean beef tacos, but neither of them holds a candle to the truffle sliders I had from the first original Gypsy Queen (and it looks like they can't do burgers in the Little Gypsy).

Next time I think I'm going to try one of their falafel pitas—a few friends have tried various iterations of those, and the reviews have all been strong.

And speaking of food trucks, I also went to the GrrChe grilled cheese food truck on Wednesday. I've been once before, and was a bit disappointed with the price and the amount of cheese on the sandwich I got, but I wanted to give them another try.

This time I stuck with a basic grilled swiss on wheat and a cup of tomato soup, and it was definitely a cheesier sandwich than the specialty sandwich I had last time. But I don't know if it was better than the grilled cheeses served by the Souper Freak soup truck, and the soups on that truck are way better than the cup of tomato I got from GrrChe (I think it may have actually been Campbell's).

So I haven't completely written this truck off yet—I might give a different specialty sandwich a try—but they are running out of chances to impress me.

december 2011
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