Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Petra Cafe

As is our more-often-than-not tradition here in Walmart Country, we like to go to the movies on Saturday mornings for $4 each.  Our local crappy movie theatre shows new releases and movies that have been out long enough that they would certainly be at the dollar theatre in a larger town.  For example, last year The Help played at this crappy movie theatre until it was out on DVD.

On a recent Saturday, we went to see the new Ben Affleck movie "Argo."  It was an excellent flick, with good acting and great production value.  I even learned something!  And we were exactly one half of the viewing audience at that showing.  When we left the theatre at 12:30 we were hungry, and keeping (sort of) with the movie's Middle Eastern setting, I had the bright idea of going to a local Mediterranean place we've heard about since before we moved here but had not yet frequented.

Petra Cafe is a lunch-only joint right off the Fayetteville Square.  This is the main reason we have never been there--it's not open on Sundays, and I rarely leave my office for lunch during the week, let alone campus, so we've just never made it up to downtown during their business hours.

I should probably add that I do occasionally go to lunch with a colleague or two, and on those trips I've eaten at the Thai restaurant right next to Petra, but never been into Petra itself.  Part of the reason for this is that Petra is just not feasible for groups larger than 2.  The entire place has a counter with 6-7 stools, 3 tables (maybe 3 people could sit at one of these tables....maybe) and another two stools next to the window.  I mean, it's a tiny tiny place.

It barely seems to count as a restaurant in other ways, too.  They have a normal-person fridge and stove, nothing commercial-grade you would see in a normal restaurant.  Clearly the guy who runs the place just makes batches of hummus and stuff, simmers meat and soup on the stove each day, puts it all together with pita bread, and serves it with love.

We both ordered a platter that came with gyro meat and taziki sauce and two sides.  I had hummus and baba ganouge (plus a few Falafil), Doug had hummus and foule, and afterward we shared a piece of baklava.  MMMMMMM!

I have a sneaking suspicion that Doug is going to start walking up there for lunches now that he knows and loves the Petra Cafe, and although I can't blame him, I might get a wee bit jealous.  Or I might be enticed to leave my office at lunch slightly more often.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I'm Number 1!

Two years ago, soon after Jenn and I met, we ran a road race. It was my first 5K race and her first 10K race. Since then, our interest in running had ebbed and flowed over time, and we've done a few 5Ks together. It has gotten to the point that I've lost all interest in running (not that I had ever been that much of an enthusiast), whereas Jenn has picked it up again recently. She decided that she was ready for her next 10K, so she signed up for the Chili Pepper Run.

She said that she would sign me up for a 5K. I didn't know if I was in enough shape to do one, but I figured I'd be able to walk some of it if I got tired. They didn't have a 5K, but they did have a 1-mile fun run. I, for the record, see nothing fun about running a mile; but since all participants got a meal after the race and Jenn was doing her race, I figured I could do the mile run and wait for Jenn to finish her race.

The really exciting news was that since I was doing a different race then Jenn, there was a different numbering system. My tag number was 1. Pretty exciting right?

I felt less important when I found out that everyone doing the fun run had the same number.

I can say with great certainty that I finished first in my gender and age group. As an added bonus, I was able to boast that I was the tallest participant in the race.

I know all of this because I was one of about twenty or so runners. A vast majority of them were kids. There were two other adults, and they appeared to be mothers of children in the race. One of the moms looked like she wasn't taking part in the 10K because she had just taken part in the Ironman the previous week, plus someone had to watch her kids while her husband ran the 10K.

It turns out that children who enter one-mile fun runs fall into one category. They're athletic children who enjoy running and/or live in an athletic family, so running a mile isn't that big of a deal to them. While this adult signed up to pass time while his wife did the 10K, kids sign up because they like to run and they're good at it.

On the plus side, these athletic kids have a sense of sportsmanship, so not a single one laughed at the sad man who finished dead last in a race among children.

At least, not to his face.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Professionally Unprompt

Twice in the past few weeks, we've needed a professional to come to the house for one reason or another. I get the impression that companies around here aren't really interested in wooing new customers. It's either that, or I've been spoiled with the notion of someone saying they would be by on a certain day to fix something, and they actually show up on that day.

Last month, I tried to get landscapers over to tend to our neglected and overgrown lawn. We didn't need anything special, just people to come over and cut the grass in our yard. I had contacted a few local landscaping companies. Four, actually. One got back to me rather quickly, but only to tell me that I lived outside of their service area. After a day or so, I only heard from one other company. I'm left to assume that either those other two aren't really interested in getting any customers, or they didn't think our we presented enough of a challenge.

The company I did hear from told me he'd stop by to get a look at my yard and to give me an estimate. He gave me a one-hour window of when he would come over. Almost two hours after that window passed, I called him and left a message. He called back 45 minutes later to tell me that he was running late. Looking back, I know that his "I'll be there by 2:30" actually meant "I'll be there by 6." I'm not blaming him for being late. It would just be nice to get a heads up.

He eventually emailed me an estimate, I agreed, and we were all set. He told me his people would be there Friday at 2 pm. Great!

Friday came, and it rained most of the day. I didn't want to bug him to ask if he was coming, because I didn't want to be that high-strung customer, high maintenance customer that annoys him to the point that he resented me. I had just assumed that his people wouldn't be working on that day and that they'll be by either Saturday (if they work weekends) or Monday.

Saturday came and went with nothing. I didn't hear anything Monday. I emailed him late Monday asking what was up. The following day, he emailed me saying that they would be there on that day.

They came by on Wednesday.

Luckily, the issue was overgrown grass, not something malfunctioning in the house.

Weeks later, we decided to take care of our leaky bathroom faucet. I looked online to see if this was something even someone like me could fix. According to videos found on YouTube, yes, it was. When I actually attempted to fix it, I figured out that either all of those videos were lying or our faucet was completely different than the ones featured in the videos. Either scenario wouldn't have surprised me.

I called a plumber, who told me he would be by tomorrow. He didn't give me a time... just "tomorrow." Even the cable guy gives me a four-hour window. I shouldn't have to use the cable company as an example of fine customer service. Luckily, I'm home most of the day, so I can stay in all day and wait for a plumber if I had to. He never showed up. I called him to find out what was going on, and he never called me back.

I called plumber #2, and they also told me they would be by the next day. When asked for a general estimate, they said sometime after 12. When 5 rolled around, I called to find out if they were still coming. I had figured that they were running behind, their day would be ending soon and they'd get to me the next day. The guy, almost impatiently, told me that he was running behind. Basically, he was coming over when he was coming over.

He came at 7:30. Technically, it was after 12. But again, I'm glad I was able to stay home so that I could wait for these people who would be coming by late enough to disturb dinner. My problem was more complicated than I had thought, and he would have to return. He couldn't tell me when, but judging from the tone of his voice, the following day (Tuesday) wasn't likely.

I didn't hear anything until Wednesday at 7pm, when he called to ask if it was a good time for him to come by for him to do the thing he said could take an hour or two. We didn't want to have the plumber over until 9pm, so I asked if it was okay if he put us off until the next day.

My assumption was that since I had been waiting since Tuesday, and they couldn't get to me Wednesday night, I would be first in line to get a visit on Thursday. They came Friday afternoon.

I'd have to say that both the landscapers and the plumber did a good job. When they eventually got here. I don't know what message I should get out of all of this. Are they telling me I should become a master of DIY home projects? Is time not really an issue here? Or are all of the professionals have a pact to be bad at this promptness thing?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Variations in Culture: Part II

As previously stated, recently Doug and I had a weekend full of culture. We dined out for peace and the next night went to a classy play at the University.  The night after THAT we went the opposite direction in terms of culture: we went to the Demolition Derby.

I forget how the idea even arose.  I think we had just sat down to dinner one night (at our classy dining table) when Doug said off-handedly, "I saw an ad for the demolition derby on TV."  I was immediately intrigued, as I've never been to a demolition derby, and it seemed an excellent opportunity for people watching and exploring local culture.  I was 100% sold when I found out it was held at the Rodeo of the Ozarks and called "The Big Smash in Springdale."

I readily admit that we fully intended on going to the Demolition Derby from a snobbery perspective.  I figured it would be stupid, perhaps attended by overall-clad, long-bearded individuals with missing teeth (note: although a stereotype, we have seen many a folk fitting this description since moving to town), and my overall intent was to make fun of it.  But if I might skip right to the end for a second, Doug and I both had a blast and we are already planning to go again in May, next time without the pretentious snobbery attitudes born from elitism and enjoyment of judgment.  Never you fear, those attitudes will still come out in other situations, but no longer at the Derby!

The night of the Derby, a cold front was passing through Walmart Country, such that it was about 40 degrees out.  Perhaps cooler.  Now, we were born and bred in the northlands and are no stranger to cold weather, but it was a stark contrast to the 75 degree weather we'd had two days prior.  So, we did what our growing Arkansonian roots prompted us to do: we put on our JCPenny-bought Arkansas sweatshirts, jeans, and the red knit Hog hats my mom made us last year (mine makes me look like Pippi Longstocking, with long side "braids" and Doug's says "Go Hogs!" around the brim), grabbed one of our slankets (the superior-to-a-Snuggie blanket-with-arms) and headed off to the Rodeo grounds.

It started off a little shaky for us, with a full on star-spangled banner and some kind of prayer that I've already blocked out of my mind.  But once the cars started to roll out, the fun began.  Now, I should also note that I couldn't understand half of what the announcer was saying, so I'm not sure I really understand the rules or the purpose of the derby.  All I gleaned was that 8-9 old crappy cars, decorated and painted in any-which-way (pink, jack-o-lantern!, names painted across the back) come out at once, facing the outside, like this:

Then, when the horn sounds, they back up as fast as they can, possibly hitting another car, and turn around so that they can hit other cars full on.  It's like real car bumper cars!  They drive around smashing into one another!  A car is "out" when (a) it gets dug into the dirt such that the wheels spin and it can't move, (b) it gets somehow pinned and it can't move, or (c) someone smashes it enough that it actually stops running.  So basically a car is out when it can't move anymore, at which point the driver takes the orange flag off the car and resigns himself to a life of failure.  The round continues until there are three cars left.  Then those cars that can still move drive off, and the others are towed off by tractors.  So awesome. Check this out:


We did not stay for the final rounds when the cars came back out to battle for the final $3000 prize. It was far too cold for that.  We did, however, catch the awesome "mini" round which was compact cars like corollas and civics and such.  Those guys only had one round and they just went for it, smashing into each other with far more zest and gusto than the larger cars (who I assume were conserving some power/energy for the finals).  It was so much fun!!

In between rounds we walked around the grounds and bought hot chocolate, people watching and observing the small little carnival set up just to the north of the fairgrounds.  Most importantly, we bought Doug a kickin' derby T-shirt, which is an excellent keepsake of our new favorite Walmart Country past-time:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Variations in Culture: Part 1

Recently, Doug and I had a weekend full of culture of all types.  The title of this post was intentionally chosen, as our first cultural excursion was to the University of Arkansas Theatre for their production of 33 Variations.  According to Wikipedia, the U of A is the first college production of this play, a Tony nominee for best play in 2009.

Although I love theatre and want to support the drama department, on this particular day I really didn't want to go.  It was a long day at work, the temperature dropped 30 degrees in a day, and I really didn't want to walk all the way (read: a little over a mile) back to campus an hour after I walked home.  Not to mention that we saw three of the four shows the theatre department put on last year, and one of them was awful (neither of us liked the play, although the production seemed OK), one of them was decent and the third I was insanely critical of because I know the show really well (they did Cabaret for the spring musical, and the casting was bad--seemed like they were casting MFA students in lead roles so that they could have leads rather than casting the best singers/actors for the parts).

Despite my reticence, we trudged back up to campus anyway, figuring it was the last weekend to see the show and it would be something different from watching TV on the couch.  As it turns out, I'm really glad we went, because the play was fabulous, and the acting was stellar.

33 Variations is a play about a musicologist and her obsession with understanding why Beethoven wrote what is now known as Diabelli's Variations.  Diabelli, a publisher and composer, wrote a short waltz and sent it to all the prominent composers of the day, asking them to write a variation on it, where he intended to publish them together as a set.  Beethoven ended up writing 33 variations of Diabelli's waltz, and the reasons for him doing so are unclear.

The musicologist, Katherine, goes to Germany to immerse herself in Beethoven's sketches, a trip that is not encouraged by her daughter, Clara, in large part because Katherine has been diagnosed with ALS (otherwise known has Lou Gehrig's disease).  The play, then, is about Katherine's tenuous relationship with her daughter and her quest to understand Beethoven's 33 Variations.  We, the audience, see the modern day Katherine and we see scenes of Beethoven, Diabelli, and Beethoven's right hand man-servant/friend, as Beethoven writes the variations and slowly loses his hearing.  Of course, we also see Katherine succumb to her disease.  The two stories are woven together masterfully, and the play is both funny and dramatic.

The University of Arkansas production was beautiful.  The set was simple but flexible, the lighting was dramatic when it needed to be, and none of it was overdone.  The acting was also really great, particularly the MFA student who played Katherine, but really the whole cast did an excellent job.  I walked out of the play with virtually no criticism, which for me is really saying something.  Doug enjoyed it as well; I think he said that this was the best non-comedy play he's ever seen.

After the show we walked home in the cold and made ourselves even more cold by getting frozen yogurt at our favorite choose-your-topping frozen yogurt shop on the way home.  I'm so glad I fought my "ehhh, lets just watch TV" impulse, because there is something magical about seeing a really good piece of theatre, when the writing and the play come together with a good production. It doesn't happen all that often for me, but when it does, I know I'll remember the experience for many years to come.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dining for Peace!

The other day, Doug and I were planning our normal routine, which is that I get home around 7pm, and he has dinner made or in progress.  We eat at our kitchen table (very adult of us--no more eating in front of the TV) and then retire to the couch for an evening of TV and movies.

But on this particular day, I was reminded that a local domestic violence shelter, Peace at Home, was holding a "Dine Out for Peace" event.  The shelter is not only a great source for people who are victims of domestic violence, but it is also a training site for students in the program.  One of our faculty members supervises the cases, and the students spent about 20 hours a week working with the (primarily) women and children who go to the shelter.

The event involved  a collaboration with area restaurants, where a percentage of all proceeds on the Dine Out for Peace night would go to the shelter.  So, Doug and I scrapped our normal plan and headed out to eat...for Peace!

We ended up at Ellas Restaurant, the closest sit-down restaurant to my office.  In fact, Ellas was the first place I ever ate in Fayetteville, because it is the restaurant in the Inn at Carnall Hall.  When I first came to interview, I stayed at Carnall Hall, and it was my favorite hotel of my interview circuit.  It was originally built as a residence hall for women, and was repurposed into an academic building for a couple of decades.  In the late 90s it was slated for demolition, but someone decided to renovate it into a historic hotel and restaurant.  It's a fabulous place to stay; the rooms are nice and comfortable, and the bar on the first floor is the regular "happy hour" location for the Psychology Department.  It's right on campus, a less than five minute walk from our building, so it's incredibly convenient for job candidates, other visitors, and impromptu get-togethers.

Doug and I have been to Ellas for brunch a few times, and I've been there for lunch several times for department functions.  I hear they have an Indian buffet on Tuesdays for lunch, but I haven't made it over there for that one yet.  Neither of us had ever been there for dinner, so we thought this might be the night to try it.

Ellas gives me the same kind of vibe as The Walnut Room in downtown Chicago's State Street Macys.  Not in look, as the Walnut Room is grand, with tall ceilings, dark wood paneling, and huge windows that look out over the Loop, whereas Ellas is one room, cozily decorated in shades of gold, with big overstuffed chairs.  The Walnut Room is always full of tourists, and Ellas is typically full of academics and academic administrators in suits.  But both of them have nice tablecloths, classical music playing softly in the background, and impeccable service, and I feel like I'm in an oasis away from the bustle of the modern world.  Both are places to relax, to linger, to savor, and I do feel pretty peaceful in both of them.  [Side note:  I'm not starting a competition here, because both restaurants are superior in different ways, but the Walnut Room has one of the most amazing desserts I've ever had--a Frango Mint cheesecake, made from the famous Marshall Field's frango mints.  Seriously amazing.]

We enjoyed a leisurely dinner and some crisp white wine.  Doug had pork tenderloin served with whipped mashed potatos and asparagus, and I had a soy and ginger glazed salmon served over rice and "asian slaw" with broccolini on the side.  I also got to eat Doug's asparagus, because he finds it disgusting and I find it delicious, so win-win on that one.

A former colleague, who retired last spring, was at the next table, so I was able to catch up with him briefly and feel as though I actually know people in this town.  He recommended the bread pudding for dessert, so we tried the dried cherry and white chocolate bread pudding served with a berry frozen custard, and it was divine.

A nice break from the usual routine, for a nice cause.  And I officially recommend the Inn at Carnall Hall to anyone coming to Fayetteville for lodging, spirits, and food.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Woo Pig Dew

One of these days I'm going to take some pictures of all the Razorback shops or sections of stores around town.  You wouldn't believe the amount of space Razorback gear takes up at the local Walmart.

But this really cracks me up:

Who forged the deal between Mountain Dew and the University of Arkansas such that an entire soda machine can be lit up with the ever-familiar running crazed pig and one of the the dumbest crowd calls in college football?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Another Wild Hog Convention Gone

I believe I told this story last year, but I'll tell an abridged version for the two new readers we might have.  Doug and I have a fondness for a charming little town called Madrid in the mountains between Albuquerque and Sante Fe in New Mexico.  It's a one-street town, less than a mile long, with a bunch of cute restaurants and artsy little shops, known for it's long-ago history as a coal mining town and it's recent history as the setting for the silly John Travolta/Tim Allen/William H. Macy/Martin Lawrence movie Wild Hogs.

The plot of the movie is really not necessary to understand here--grab some beers and rent the flick sometime--other than to say that these four suburban dudes ride around on motorcycles calling themselves the Wild Hogs.

Doug and I have seen this movie, visited the tourist trap store devoted to the film in Madrid, and now call out "Hey, a wild hog!" whenever we see a dude on a motorcycle.  Of note, Doug recently coined "Hey, a wild sow!" for a female biker.

Of course, then, I dubbed the yearly motorcycle rally that happens in Fayetteville The Wild Hog Convention.  The real name is Bikes, Blues, and BBQ but this name has issues. First, all the words start with the letter "B."  This makes it difficult me to remember which word comes first.  Second, there are just too many syllables.  I truly needed a nickname so that I could refer to the mass of leather chaps, loud roars, bandanas and long beards that descended into my town, so Wild Hog convention it is.

Plenty of people leave town during the Wild Hog Convention, because (a) it's hard to drive anywhere due to the number of cars/bikes on the road, and (b) it's just friggin' LOUD everywhere.  Especially when you live two blocks from the main stretch of the rally.

But really, it just didn't affect me much.  Yes, it was hard to teach with the windows open.  Yes, it was hard to talk on the phone while walking home.  Ultimately, though, I like all the Wild Hogs.  I think the bikes are pretty to look at, and the people are just fascinating.  Doug and I spent about 20 minutes actually walking around the rally, and he grumbled the whole time, but I could have put in some ear plugs and plunked down to people-watch for hours.  Wild Hog Convention, you are welcome in my town anytime.

OK, maybe just the one time per year.  That is probably enough.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Big Cats!

OK, OK, I know I promised I would post at least once a week, and I haven't posted in about 10 days.  I have failed my own mission.  The good news is that I was posting more than once a week before that, so I'm ahead of things in sheer numbers of posts.  I also have no idea why I'm apologizing to the four people who read this thing, but I think I'm actually apologizing to myself for failing in my promise.

I'm over it, lets move on.  Recently, Doug and I visited the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. Or, as we like to call it, "Big CATS!"  It's really impossible to describe the way that we say it in a written blog.  It's kind of a blurry, snarly way.

We got a Groupon-like coupon for the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a two-for-one kind of gig.  Considering we were planning to go eventually, it seemed like a good deal.  Then....we got married, got busy with other things and simply forgot about driving the 45 minutes to see a bunch of tigers.  Well, also we didn't want to walk around a wildlife refuge in the crazy Arkansas heat.  So, thankfully the day before the coupon expired, the weather cooled down and we decided to make those big cats our bitches.

When we arrived, we visited the restroom outside of the refuge area.  Normally I wouldn't blog about a restroom visit, but this one was notable because as I headed into the womens room and Doug into the mens room, I heard loud singing coming from the mens room.  Turns out the mens room had showers, and there were a couple of dudes showering in the random bathroom near the Tiger Camp (which is what I will refer to this place as from now on).

Inside Tiger Camp, there were two main areas.  First was what they called "the compound" which was a fairly small concrete area with a bunch of separate cages.  Sort of like a zoo.  There were about a dozen tigers, some other big cats (lions, jaguars, bobcats), a monkey, and a super cute bear.  I really liked the bear.  It was a big ole brown bear, cute as could be.  It was in pacing mode, just walking back and forth around its cage.

The second main area of Tiger Camp was the "habitat" areas, where the big kitties have access to grassy roaming areas.  Typically each habitat was shared with another cat, where each has an "on day" and an "off day."  During the "on day" the cat gets to roam around the habitat, and on the off day the cat goes into an adjacent cage and the habitat is habitated by a buddy.  A buddy that is too dangerous and/or bitchy to share on the same day.  Me thinks tigers didn't do so well in kindergarten.

One major thing that I learned when going to Tiger Camp is something I should have recalled from many past zoo visits: big cats are really boring most of the time.  Tigers and lions just sit around most of the time in zoos, because they have no need to hunt, and they are often sequestered from other creatures.  They just sit around in the shade, sometimes licking themselves.  It's not super interesting.  I mean, it's cute:

But not so interesting.

Yet.  We deliberately arrived at Tiger Camp late in the afternoon, as we heard that feeding time was around 5pm. As it turned out, this was a wise plan, because the lions and tigers and bears (Oh my! [you must have been just waiting for me to say that]) all knew that feeding time was coming.  They were roaming around, salivating while waiting for the meat truck.  Or in this bear's case, the orange truck:

We also got to watch some interns throw fistfuls of frozen chicken (donated by Tyson) at some caged tigers, who then just went to town on those chicken tenders.  There were two rows of cages between me and the big cats, but I was still only three feet from a tiger at dinner time!

Mostly, we heard the stories about all the big cats who ended up at the refuge.  I had no idea how big the exotic pet trade is in this country, and how some states just don't have laws saying "It's not a good idea to buy a pet lion."  So when people try to raise big cats and it turns out badly (whether for the furniture of the owners or the health of the cats--apparently declawing tigers results in arthritis for them), Tiger Camp takes them in.  They bring in the cats, keep them in the "compound" until habitats can be built for them, and then transfer them to the shared habitats where they spend the rest of their days.  They try to keep the cats comfortable, healthy, and safe.  We saw a tiger with a missing ear middle ear bone, lots of tigers with arthritis, and even a three-legged tiger!  Was it the most scintillating few hours of my life?  Nope, but it certainly was worth the beautiful fall drive.