Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cyber Monday? Is it a good deal?

Frankly, not sure what the fuss is about Cyber Monday, as if you have Internet access, you can find great deals any time of the year, when you need them. It might be better to keep in mind which retailers offer good deals and service (important with electronics, which is probably the biggest engine for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping).

For instance, a couple of months ago, my cheapie Polaroid tanked on me--a plastic hinge chipped off, making it impossible to keep the battery door on without a rubber band. The Canon (a basic PowerShot AS1000), while a good camera in many ways, requires a two-finger trick maneuver to open the battery door, making it impractical for me to use--maybe it's meant for guys, so it's in reserve (maybe I could re-gift it?).

Anyway, I was in need of a decent camera, and knew that online was the best way to go, as retail stores tend to do a switch and bait with regard to digital cameras. (I assume that switch and bait occurs on a more massive scale with Black Friday sales, but I digress.) I perused some of the regular bargain sites, and knew that I wanted the basic Panasonic Lumix point and shoot available, whatever it was, as I've seen photos and video shot with the higher end Lumix cameras, which had me drooling. Anyway, saw the Lumix DMC-FH20 on the Costco website, and had to get it.

Not only because of the camera's features, such as being lightweight with a slim profile, image stabilization, 14.1 megapixels, an 8x optical zoom, and a 2.7 inch LCD screen (and more!) as explained in this video from B & H Photo Video Audio Pro (the New York superstore that's a knowledgeable source for digital, audio, and video equipment with decent prices, too)....

...I am also impressed by the bonuses that Costco throws in for the price of its Panasonic Lumix cameras, such as a camera case, a (long-life) lithium battery and recharger, and a 2GB SD card, as well as a 90-day return policy and free technical support, all of which makes the low Costco price frankly lower than other online outfits (including Amazon). Because many online Costco deals last for two weeks, it's best to check Costco's site (and others) periodically, so no waiting until Cyber Monday is necessary to get that deal!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday shopping, at Capital Teas

Although the Christmas sights, sounds, and smells at the National Harbor today were nice, like the outdoor holiday market...
outdoor holiday market at National Harbor
And the Christmas tree (oddly enough, however, overshadowing the statue The Awakening, already in an awkward place)... Christmas tree at National Harbor I was at National Harbor to stop by one of my favorite stores there, Capital Teas, to pick up a couple of things. One of those things being a non-tea related item, a grapefruit soy candle by Votivo (like to have a nice, safe, scented candle around for the holiday season), which I'm highly pleased with. And, of course, tea. But not the fabulous decaf blackcurrent tea, which I haven't yet completely drunk up, but a nice cardamom black tea, because I don't currently have any cardamom in the house, and I love cardamom in hot drinks, especially tea. (Actually, I enjoy cardamom in my food and drink, period.) Perhaps because the harbor is not really a place for discount sales, the area was full of holiday shoppers, yet it had a pleasant, civil ambience. Which is why I went there and avoided other shopping areas like the plague (even the grocery store--I wasn't taking any chances).

Perhaps because drinking tea promotes calm clarity the store selling it had a pleasant buzz, though it was almost full. Thus, when I got home with my small haul, I had a pleasing cup to look forward to this increasingly chilly day...
hot cup of cardamom tea from Capital Teas

Christmas is on the way...

Before the Black Friday sales actually start, before hearing Chuck Brown's rendition of Merry Christmas Baby, you know Christmas is coming when you see these lights after the Thanksgiving meal, as I have every Thanksgiving evening on the way home from auntie's house...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoying Thanksgiving today with family and friends (over the river and through the woods...oops, wrong holiday), making sure to provide a small gift to the hostess, a jar of homemade cranberry sauce, so easy, yet homey and personal at the same time. Very thankful for those family and friends, although we sometimes have our, ahem, moments. Hope your Thanksgiving is as fantastic!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Relaxing...high above the city (the Bishop's Garden)

Mount Saint Alban highest point in Washington DC At the highest point in Washington, Mount Saint Alban, on the grounds of the National Cathedral, is a hidden gem known as the Bishop's Garden. While only three acres, and a few feet from the intersection of Wisconsin and Cathedral Avenues, this verdant space seems miles away from the fuss of the city.
an entrance to the Bishop's Garden On the other side of the gate is a spacious area, perfect for reflecting, quiet rendezvous, etc.:

open garden area
An even more intimate public spot awaits the other side of the open area, the gazebo:


from inside the gazebo
The gazebo is an informal border between the open area and the smaller, yet interest packed, garden itself, which is patterned after a monastery garden in the English fashion.

Naturally, this means there are quite a few types, and colors, of roses in a relatively small area, even on a crisp November day:

drooping orange rose
another orange tinged rose

pink rose
as well as other traditional English flowers, such as the foxglove.
foxglove flowers

At the margins of the garden are interspersed various religious carvings:

carving over pond
And items such as a replica of a medieval baptismal font, surrounded by rosemary:

medieval baptismal font surrounded by rosemary
Speaking of herbs, they're here in abundance--sage, thyme, lavender, and of course, rosemary...
purple sage

thyme bushes

Last, but not least, the Herb Cottage...

All this herb gazing when done viewing the garden means it's time to visit The Herb Cottage as a last stop before heading out. The cottage, outside and in, is as quaint as you'd imagine.

entrance to The Herb CottageDon't let the cuteness fool you--this is a great place to pick up inexpensive garden and herb gifts.
fragrance and personal care items for sale in the herb cottage

jams and preserves for sale in the herb cottage

more preserves and teaware for saleSome products are even produced especially for the Herb Cottage, such as many of the jams and preserves seen above. I had to get a couple of items, under the rubric that I needed them, which was somewhat true--I was running low on coriander, so I purchased whole coriander seed, as well as hard mill soap, both under the Bishop Garden label. (Can I call it a brand?) And even had a couple of bucks over from a $10 bill after the purchase. Shockingly, I didn't buy any of the tea there, some of which is served at the Cathedral's tour and tea. (Then again, I haven't taken that tour. Yet.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spicing it up at Cafe Citron

Dancers in the upper level, under the chandeliers.

OK, perhaps there were more people than usual (so I was told) at Cafe Citron tonight for its weekly Wednesday salsa lessons. It was held on the upper level this time (apparently, the lesson's usually in the basement), which didn't especially bother the unflappable instructor, Orlando, though he'd have preferred the usual location. Truthfully, I need to take the 'remedial' salsa lessons he offers there on Mondays at 6:30, because when dance steps are involved, I get easily flustered, as I'm more a freestyle dance person. I still have a hard time believing that Orlando didn't dance at all until 2003--who'd ever know by seeing him on the dance floor?

And no, my difficulties were not due to drink, but they do offer them. I particularly enjoyed the mango mojito, which was very fruity and hit all the right notes. The fire and ice, not so much--it reeked of pure alcohol, although it allegedly contains fresh ginger. Both drinks came from the bartenders in the basement, which apparently was the place to be, as it was pretty full, although the street level also had many people. Like many places in DC, Cafe Citron is larger than it initially appears, lending a mysterious, fun vibe, and a variety of moods, a different one for each level. The upper level is more sophisticated, while the street level great for a nosh in a colorful environment, and the basement is more intimate, made for talking, drinking, and dancing.

Even the bouncer at Cafe Citron is friendly, which is a good sign of a good time. An even better sign is the random conga you periodically see around the club--of course, in addition to all the other people there, which is the best sign of a good time.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The choices we make...(the election and stuff)

sign at polling place Went to the polls today, and there was a light, but steady, stream of voters. Perhaps more people voted early than expected, accounting for some of the apparent lack of urgency. In any case, had to vote, for Gov. O'Malley to remain in office, because the former governor Erlich is spewing nonsense about the health care legislation passed in Congress, claiming that it's bad for Maryland. Bobby Haircut doesn't understand that NOT having nationwide healthcare coverage is bad for Marylanders and other Americans. Of course, Republicans in other states are also aiming to attempt to roll back the healthcare legislation.

Frankly, I don't think any of the pundits and political prognosticators know how this mid-term election will turn out. The Republicans will gain some seats, but who knows how many, really, until all the ballots are counted. (Fairly, I hope.)

However, healthcare legislation (or lack thereof) is not the only issue that's affected, and been affected, by Republican governance. Take the issue of the Republican party and the NRA (please--never understood why the National Rifle Association is so obsessed with handguns). A recent Washington Post investigation mentioned that because of legislation passed in 2003 (by a Republican Congress), federal gun-tracing data is no longer publicly available. So, the results of choosing a Republican president and Congress years ago is still affecting us, in making it more difficult to trace guns used in crime.

Even more puzzling is another choice mentioned in that same article: (often) women choosing to purchase guns for others (often men), a practice referred to as a "straw purchase." Of course, these men are not legally allowed to purchase guns in Maryland, which is why they approach someone to be an intermediate. Of course, the question I ask is why you'd choose to remain with someone who asked you to buy a gun in the first place!

This isn't only a question of criminals getting their hands on guns illegally, as these guys, I believe, are testing the loyalty of their girlfriends. I say this because such guys can easily go to Virginia and buy a gun at a gun show themselves, as these venues are, unfortunately, still unregulated. It seems they're trying to find out if these women are "ride or die" chicks. The question is why any woman would choose to be one.

The choice, this or that, a question posed by the rap group The Black Sheep years ago in their song, The Choice is Yours.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Wine in disguise, yields a Shiraz surprise...

wines wearing brown paper bags The unknown wines (cue the music from the Gong Show).

Just in time for a Halloween weekend, I received an invite to a private blind wine tasting. The event was hosted by the amiable Laurent Guinand of Giramondo Wine Adventures, and sponsored by Yellowtail Wine. There were similar tastings taking place in 19 other cities (Boston, NYC, etc.) and a video simulcast featuring John Casella of Yellowtail, which had an audio quality appropriate for the weekend (not so great--extremely dark, shaky video might have made it complete), along with many folks tweeting.

Anyhoo, there were six other tasters, a fun lot in all, who were all much more experienced tasters, but after sniffing, swirling, tasting, hashing and shouting our opinions, we basically came to some of the same conclusions. One of my favorite folks complained, rightly, that the wines seemed "overcooked." All four wines were drinkable, and the third was preferred to the others, though Laurent mentioned that they didn't pique his interest.

the four red winesTada! After we all sampled the wines, it was revealed that all the wines were Shirazes, specifically Australian Shirazes. Kristen correctly guessed that wine #4, with the forthright fruit, was the Yellowtail. Wine #3 (I forget the brand) was the most expensive, was liked better than the others, but not worth its price.

We were all shocked that as different as these wines were from each other, that they were Shirazes from the same small area of the globe. While they were drinkable (I thought that #3 was good after it settled a while--it definitely needs to breathe), they showed no depth or nuance, which probably accounts for their boring Laurent (and me as well). Perhaps the grapes are so overheated in their little corner of the globe that acidity and other factors that increase complexity inadvertently cook out. (Similar to green tea leaves that are exposed to boiling water, which can "stew" or "cook" them, driving out their best flavors.)

Nonetheless, looking forward to another event (that is, if I'm invited back), which proves that education can be fun!