I bought some new shoes this week. Like, actual new shoes from a retail store. Not only that, but it was a retail store located inside a mall.

I was driven there out of desperation. Sometimes, in every secondhander's life, they find that they need something kinda like now. They cannot wait until they find whatever they want at a yard sale or a thrift store. Plus, it's amazing how when you actually need to find something used, all of those things suddenly stop appearing.

This desperate situation was brought on by the dog, who has made great progress in not chewing our stuff, but still cannot resist the siren's smell of shoes. Dogs interact with the world in a different way than we do, and there is something about shoes that turns Remix into a very bad dog. She turned my favorite pair of sneakers into open-toed shoes. Then she did the same to my backup pair, and though I still wore them for a week, I realized that even a small hole in the toe is kind of annoying. I'm considering duct tape. Then if anyone asks, I can just tell them that there is a recession on.

Obviously, I need to do a better job of keeping my shoes away from the dog.

In search of new shoes, I went to several retail stores. I was disappointed as usual by both the selection and the prices. Actually, I was disappointed by the selection and nauseated by the prices. We'll skip my growing frustration and all the angry muttering I did as I left each store roughly five minutes after I came in.

But finally, I found a pair of cute little slip-on sneakers at Payless for $11. The only problem was that they were a size 10.

I have big feet. It's not something I mind for the most part, because I figure it is something that goes along with being tall. I know girls who are of average height with big feet, and if I were them, I would feel very ripped off. It is harder to find shoes in my size, just because stores do not carry very many of them. Plus, a lot of women's footwear does not translate well to large sizes. Just looking at them makes me think "get on de boat."

I actually wear size 10 1/2. However, most shoes don't come in that size. They come in 10s and maybe they come in 11s. There just aren't enough women with clodhoppers that size to merit making the half-size. So most of my shoes are either a little big or a little small. On the rare occasions that I come across an actual 10 1/2, it fits like it was made from a mold of my foot. It is a miraculous experience that I'm sure women with size 7 feet take for granted.

I'd found the shoes that I wanted, but the size 10s were a little snug. There were no size 11s at the store. I could order them online, but then I'd have to buy them without trying them on, at which point I might discover that the 11s were too big. It's tough being me, with my shoe size that doesn't seem to exist.

Bigger problems that being a size 10 1/2: being a size 13, not being able to afford shoes, having your feet bound, not having feet.

So I decided to just suck it up and get the small shoes. My big feet would stretch them out after a day or two, and it would be fine. I was really just tired of going to stores. The plan was to wear really thick socks for a few days. I would break in these shoes like a rebellious colt. Then I had a better idea.

You know those shoe form things? You know, old men have them for fancy shoes so that the shoes don't lose shape when they are sitting in the closet, waiting for the Queen's visit. Well, I bet I could use a set of those to stretch out the shoes so that I didn't have to.

Amazingly, I happened to have a pair of them. I bought a giant bag of wooden hangers (Josh favors them) for a dollar at an estate sale, and in the bottom were a nice set of wooden shoe form thingies. I'd kept them, because...well, I don't know why. Because they looked cool and vintage. Because maybe Josh wanted them. Because they might come in handy someday. And they did! And since I have great big feet, they actually fit into my size 10s. Now I didn't have to use my own poor suffering feet, I could use these fake wooden ones. In just a few days, I'd have my own custom pair of 10 1/2s.

Just keep them away from the dog.


twin pet.

Lately, dog food has gotten me down.

Before we got a dog, I was anxious about how much pet ownership was going to cost. I knew that dog food could be very expensive or it could be very cheap, but I wanted to be a Good Dog Owner. I was afraid that my desire to be a responsible pet parent would conflict with my desire to not spend very much money on anything ever. I did a little research online. Consumer Reports told me that dog food is dog food, and that as long as it says "nutritionally complete," then it was fine. I felt like a savvy customer, not falling for clever dog food marketing.

I went to Wal-Mart to scope out the options. Next to every name brand was a bag of Ol' Roy that was meant to compete with it. So if you were a Purina kinda person, right next to it was a bag of Ol' Roy in the same color, a couple of bucks cheaper. Or if you were Iams all the way, there was an Ol' Roy for you, too. It's a pretty clever strategy. They're assuming that people are attached to their dog food brands. So if they only made Ol' Roy to compete with Purina, those Iams folks would walk on by and never even consider the store brand option.

I was disappointed that while I could get Ol' Roy in a variety of knockoff flavors, it still was only a couple of bucks less than the name brand. And then I found Twin Pet. Man, that is some cheap dog food. While the Ol' Roy bags come in a variety of bold colors, featuring happy and energetic family pets, Twin Pet comes in a beige bag. On the front is a beagle that looks sort of sad and plaintive, as if he is saying, "Gruel again?" While the name "Ol' Roy" conjures up an image of a faithful hunting dog, "Twin Pet" doesn't give you any sort of picture at all. What the heck is a Twin Pet?

I bought the Twin Pet. I bought 15 pounds of it for $4. It's funny that there is this ultra-cheap option for the ultra-cheap (or ultra-poor). Maybe Ol' Roy costs the same as Twin Pet to manufacture, but I bet they sell more of it if they put the price closer to the name brand options. I know from experience that buying Twin Pet makes you feel like a jerk.

Consumer Reports or not, I felt like a bad owner for spending so little. I normally don't buy into the idea that you have to pay more to get more; in fact, in any other case, I would feel superior and smart for not falling for that myth. But no, I just feel bad. Here Remix, I only love you $4 worth.

She seemed to eat it; in fact, Remix can set records for eating speed. And she seemed healthy and energetic. She was enthusiastic at feeding times, and in my mind, I tried to imagine her saying "Twin Pet! Twin Pet!" like a dog in a commercial. Then she said a bunch of other silly things, because I sure do like pretending my dog can talk.

At some point, I read an article about dog food. Reading an article about anything is a dangerous activity. The article talked about corn in dog food. Basically, it said that most dog foods have a high corn content, but that is a waste of your money. Because dogs can't even digest corn, so it's basically just a filler. Dogs are naturally supposed to eat mostly meat with just a little bit of vegetables ("roughage" - yum!), but not grain. So the dog is not getting good nutrients, and is basically just a machine that turns corn into poop. Also, they will age faster and die sooner (but only after racking up a lot of expensive corn-related medical bills). I was already feeling a little guilty about the Twin Pet, and now I was feeling worse. Because if anything was chock full of useless filler, it had to be the Twin Pet.

So I went back to the dog food aisle to check out the various Ol' Roy options. I was even thinking about more expensive brands, depending on just how expensive they got. After all, I love my dog. I want her to be happy and healthy, to reach her full doggy potential.

Guys, all the dog food has corn in it. ALL OF IT. Ninety percent of them had corn as the first or second ingredient, even the snooty organic ones. I found one brand that did not have corn in the first five ingredients. It was made by Rachael Ray, who appears smiling on the cover with her rescued pitbull. However, I happen to know that her pitbull bit somebody, so maybe she's feeding it too much meat.

I checked every single bag. I got pretty frustrated right there in the dog food aisle. Finally, I gave up and bought a bag of Ol' Roy that had corn as the fourth ingredient. It was $11 for 18 pounds, more than twice the cost per pound of Twin Pet. I took my relatively expensive dog food and my irritation home. Then I looked on the internet to find out what kind of mixed up world will only sell you dog food that your dog can't even digest.

The thing is, there is not really a consensus on the corn issue. There are articles going either way, and then below them are comments calling the authors of said article an idiot. Dogs can't digest corn, they're carnivores! I've been feeding my dog Purina for 15 years and she's healthy as a horse! I make my own dog food! I run a kennel and have never had a problem!

Nothing sounded particularly authoritative. No one seemed to have any data beyond anecdotes or vague ideas about what was "natural." At the end of it, I pretty much sided with cost and availability. I am not going to cook my own dog food, nor am I going to pay $2 a pound for some stuff that I can only get over the internet. At some point I realized that most of the pets in the country were eating the corny stuff, and they managed to live pretty happy, healthy lives. At some point, you have to decide that it's probably good enough. That's the kind of practical thinking that makes me sound like a terrible person. You know, the kind that feeds her dog Twin Pet.

However, I have switched to Ol' Roy. I'm just a sucker that way.


it's a shame about ray.

Friday, 4:03 PM
Someone has taken the newspaper funnies from the breakroom. I suspect it could be found sitting on a toilet tank in the mens room. I cannot go get it, nor am I sure that I would really want to now. I look through the Weekend section instead, not that I ever find anything I want to do in there. Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, is going to be in Durham on Saturday night, but I have no idea what his act would be. Also, The Lemonheads will be in Carrboro, performing the entirety of their 1992 break-out album It's a Shame About Ray. I file this item in my memory. Josh had told me many time how much he loves this album.

Friday, 8:37 PM
We are on our way to Winston-Salem so Josh can play a benefit for burn victims. I mention the thing about The Lemonheads, and he responds enthusiastically. I also mention the Dog Whisperer, and he doesn't realize that I'm joking.

Saturday 10:50 AM
I ask whether we need to buy tickets in advance. He says yes.

Saturday 11:34 PM
I buy tickets.

Sunday 9:20 PM
We leave for Carrboro. We have timed it so that we will miss the two opening bands.

Sunday 9:53 PM
We arrive and magically find a close parking space. We have missed the first opening band, but the second hasn't showed up yet. We go around to the new side entrance and find that they've taken down the wall separating the club from the bar area. It's now just a great big room. We get beers and find positions in the middle of the room. There are people here, but not so many that we won't be able to see.

Sunday 10:18 PM
A man in a hoodie comes onstage with a guitar. The crowd cheers. This is Evan Dando.

I don't know any of The Lemonheads's songs. In fact, all I know is from a Kimya Dawson lyric about the kind of binge drinking she used to do before she got clean: "Evan Dando never planned on telling you the truth." From this, I decide that Dando, if that is his real name, cannot be trusted. His appearance now doesn't help. The hood is up on his sweatshirt, making him look like a recluse. Whether he is one of those crazy geniuses, I don't know, though I could hazard a guess on the crazy part.

Evan says that he is going to entertain us for a bit. The second band got lost, but they are on their way. He doesn't want us to miss them, so he's going to play so we won't leave. Considering that it's him we are all here to see, it seems doubtful that anyone would go. But maybe he just wanted to play. In any case, we are thrilled at this spontaneous performance, this secret show. He plays a couple songs, and then just starts taking requests from fans who probably know his whole catalog.

Once, during a show, Josh's brother broke a guitar string. While he fixed it, Josh and the drummer made up a song on the spot and just played. They've been playing together for so long that they can compose as they go in front of an audience. Once the broken string was replaced, the guitar came screaming in during the middle of this brand new song, as if they'd planned it that way. They finished it, and someone from the crowd yelled out, "That's rock and ROLLLLL!"

This lone guitarist on the stage in front of a reverent crowd, this was rock and roll.

Sunday 10:34 PM
Evan leaves the stage and the second opening band starts setting up. I don't care about the second band, no matter what Evan Dando says, and besides, I am hungry. We walk outside and across the parking lot to a taco truck. We order two burritos, one steak (asada) and one lamb (borrego), $10. They are ready in minutes and are delicious, simple peasant food, our favorite kind. Meat, rice, lettuce, cilantro. We finish eating them in the car, because it is the first cold weekend of the fall.

Sunday 11:01 PM
We walk back inside just as the second band is thanking the crowd and saying goodnight.

Sunday 11:13 PM
The Lemonheads, all three of them, take the stage. They play It's a Shame About Ray, though they skip track 4 ("Rudderless") and have to go back. Evan seems scattered. The bassist is not amused.

It's a good show, but there is no encore. Well, we can't complain. We did get a secret show. Josh buys a t-shirt. He is happy.

Sunday 12:30 AM
We walk outside. Behind us, a man complains that the taco truck has left.

Sunday 12:31 AM
We stand next to the car while Josh smokes a cigarette. Maybe twenty feet away is Evan Dando. He is talking to the lead singer of the second band. Every minute or so, another fan comes up and asks him to sign something or have their picture taken with him. A couple just say "Great show!" and walk on. Evan is being friendly and cool about it. I ask Josh if he wants to go say hello, and he hedges, feeling shy. So we continue to stand there awkwardly at the outskirts. It's silly for him to be bashful. Hasn't he stood around after shows and talked to fans before? I encourage him to just go shake the man's hand, saying he might regret it if he does nothing.

He decides not to, and we drive home. He says that Evan seems too fragile to approach. Whatever.

Sunday 1:11 AM
We pull into the driveway, and he says I was right about regretting it. But it's okay. Lemonheads. Secret show. Burritos. It was a good night.


goober smile.

Being female, I periodically get emails that are full of pictures of cute animals. I resent the implication that just because I am designated double-X, I enjoy looking at such things. I mean, really, I am a highly educated, logically-minded woman. I would complain, but awwwwwwww...look at the wittle puppy!

I recently received such an email from a coworker. It was full of dog pictures - dogs wearing hats, dogs snuggling with kittens, dogs making funny faces. There was one picture of a pitbull. It was sitting next to a chair that had been so thoroughly destroyed that it was not even a chair anymore. The dog was smiling. Not that dogs smile in the sense that we do, but pitbulls have huge wide jaws full of teeth, and when they pant, it looks enough like a big goober smile that you'd want to put it in an email and send it to your best girlfriends.

Now I resented the implication that pitbulls were destructive. Okay, fine, my particular pitbull is kinda destructive, but doesn't mean they all are. There are probably some really old ones that you could leave alone with your chair.

Like I told you before, we give Remix stuffed animals to destroy so that she won't turn our chairs into not-chairs. It sorta works. We call them Cartmans, after the first toy, and she occasionally seems to understand what we mean by this word. New Cartman day is a special one in our house. We take her into the spare bedroom where she is generally not allowed to go. Ah, forbidden room with strange unsmelled smells! Then we dump the bag of possible Cartmans on the floor and allow her to pick one. Sometimes she sniffs around indecisively for a while before grabbing one and getting down to the hard work of ripping it open. Sometimes her decision is more immediate. Once she pretended to look at something on the wall before snatching a brown stuffed dog and bolting from the room.

Thus she has selected her new toy, and its days are numbered. The easiest thing for her to go for are almost always the eyes, which are usually hard plastic. Those are pretty much gone within the hour, chewed and then abandoned on the floor. By then, the hull has been breached, and she can start getting the fluff out, which she does by enlarging the hole left by the missing eyes. When you come to visit, our dog will probably offer you a toy that has no face. It is disconcerting.

Aside from being an outlet for pure destructive energy, the Cartmans also are tug toys. You can't tug in earnest, because they'll rip right in half (which is what happened when another pitbull came over one day and played tug). But you can tug a little bit, enough to make Remix really, really happy. You will never win at tug. Opposable thumbs are useful, but they are no match in this game against a wide jaw full of teeth and backed by huge muscles. These dogs evolved to bite and hold on, or rather, we bred them to do that. However, you can occasionally outsmart the dog and get the toy. And then you throw it a few feet away and she joyfully leaps to get it. Then she brings it back, because she wants you to try and take it from her again. Go ahead. Try.

I don't spend more than fifty cents on these things at yard sales. Stuffed animals are as ubiquitous as Christmas tins, the secondhand marketplace is lousy with them. I try to get the ones that are stuffing only. Obviously, the ones with voice boxes or battery packs are right out, but a lot of them have beans in them, either in the body or the feet. I try to avoid these as well, since she would probably swallow them. At the very least, they'd be a pain to clean up. But once I accidentally gave her a green brontosaurus with beans in the feet. I didn't figure it out until I heard them hit the floor in a steady stream, and thus the term "foot beans" was introduced into our house.

Usually if I'm buying Cartmans at a sale, I'm buying a bunch. People who have stuffed animals to sell never have just one. So while I'm standing there, paying for my armload of new-old toys, I tell the seller that they are destined for my dog. No one really responds very well to that. They look a little uncomfortable, as if they're not sure they want to sell them to me anymore. Perhaps they have fond memories of their children sleeping peacefully with those toys. I can't understand being squeamish about something you were selling for a quarter. I dunno, maybe those people don't like dogs.

I went out of town a couple weekends ago. Before I left, Remix had been working on the destruction of a stuffed lamb. When I returned, I asked Josh if she had gotten a new one yet.

"Well, yeah. But I didn't give it to her."


"She got into that room where we keep them. It's a stuffed Snoopy?"

"In a Santa suit?" I had been saving that one for Christmas (SHUT UP, I CAN GIVE MY DOG A FIFTY CENT CHRISTMAS PRESENT).

"No. It had beans in it."

"Oh. That one was not for her. It was mine."

"I'm sorry." He was sorry, but we both know that this is what happens when you live with a dog.

"My ex-boyfriend gave it to me."

"I'm sorry." He was not really sorry anymore. He actually smiled at that.

Remix was ecstatic to see me, as she always is. She immediately came running up, Snoopy hanging limply from her mouth, his face chewed off and beans leaking from his foot. I took it from her and sighed, as it was far too late to salvage the toy. So I threw it across the room and she bounded to get it. Then she came straight back with it clenched in her big goober smile, daring me to try and take it.


princess of cake.

We followed the girl dressed as cake into the bar. She had three layers, held up by wires in orbit around her, and yet if she bent down to pick something up you'd be able to see the filling. There were a couple of them, and their outfits were cute, but awful trying to get through the door. They were Liquor Girls, women dressed in little nothings and passing out favors and samples of booze. The companies that hired them would like you to have a good time, so you can associate that good time with their brand-new flavored liquor experience. They were handing out crowns and tiaras and shots of a new booze that was named Cake and supposedly tasted just like cake. Now you can have your cake and drink it, too! I don't know what the crowns had to do with it. Drink Cake! Then you can be the King of Cake!

We ignored the Cake girls (though I was interested in the free samples), sat down, ordered some drinks. The bar was crowded, and the TVs were showing some local team. I think it was baseball, so it must have been the Phillies. Clearly, I was very interested in the game. We ignored it except when the other bar patrons started cheering excessively. Instead, we discussed Cake recipes. I wondered how long it would be before some man came up to hit on Ashley.

I'll just put this out there - I never get hit on at bars, and I never get approached when I'm on my own. Only when I am hanging out with another girl do I get any attention at all, and that's from a wing man. There are lots of uncharitable explanations for this, and they all have to do with my appearance. Maybe I'm hideously ugly, or maybe it's just obvious that I'm not trying very hard. I'd had to wait back at the hotel while Ashley freshened up her makeup. I'd told her if she just didn't wear any, there would be no need to freshen it up. It's a real time-saver. But I guess that's not the point.

We managed to remain unbothered by the other patrons. I left for the bathroom, then came back to find Ashley in conversation with a guy that looked like the chubby guy from Superbad. I'm sure he was just as thrilled to see me. He was asking where we were from. This question had been very common on our trip. We merely had to say one sentence before someone called us out on our accents.

Hearing that we were from the Old North State, he launched into his best approximation of a Gone with the Wind accent. Bad southern accents are a pet peeve of mine. While his wasn't terrible, it was straight from the plantation. You know what? There are lots of southern accents. Mine doesn't sound like that, nor does Ashley's. Also, why would any girl be impressed with a stereotypical representation of her home?

At some point, he began singing. He had a very nice voice and some familiarization with show tunes (mostly from Oklahoma!). Still on his southern theme, he also treated us to "Old Man River" and an incomplete rendition of "Dixieland."

Basically, it was either bad accents or singing. I make it sound quick and sorta amusing, but this went on for an hour or two. We tried to explain to him, first politely and then not at all, that he was annoying us and that this whole act in general was unlikely to ever help him score at a bar. At one point, for maybe twenty minutes, he wandered over to the table next to ours, where we could hear him trying out a similar routine. Those people just left. That's probably what we should have done, but I had my eye on a tiara. I would be crowned the Princess of Cake!

He was nice enough to bring over a wing man, who was thankfully normal. They were both grad students, studying astrophysics at Penn. We asked the friend why he would continue on with all the bad accents and the singing when it was clear they were not working. His only explanation was that his friend was just really, really drunk. I was even more amazed once I realized that the guy must be actually pretty accomplished and intelligent. He was apparently signing up to do a research stint in Antartica.

I guess that was the worst part. It wasn't sitting there and having to put up with the guy. It was knowing that I could have actually enjoyed his company instead. I could have learned something and been enriched by his presence and experience. Maybe he had some interesting stories! But no. I had to listen as a guy from upstate New York sang half the words to Dixieland.

At least I got a tiara.


happy heart.

When I was in the eighth grade, my class took a trip to Washington, D.C. Our itinerary was pushing the limits of time itself, as the organizers wanted us to get as much out of the trip as possible. I basically had a crappy time, because we didn't spend long enough at any one location to appreciate any of it. As soon as we got somewhere, it was time to leave. We did spend a looooong time at the Holocaust Museum, or maybe it just seemed like a long time.

On the last day, we had an hour left to kill before we needed to leave. Our options were to spend the whole hour at the National Zoo or to ride the subway once and then spend half an hour at the zoo. It was put to a vote, and since most of us kids were from rural Western North Carolina and had never ridden a subway before, that's the option that won. I was pissed. I had ridden a subway before, but I had never been to a zoo bigger than the one in Great Bend, Kansas, which is about as impressive as it sounds. We rode the subway, then saw maybe one animal, before hopping back on the bus and driving back to North Carolina. I had a bad attitude about the whole thing, and so didn't enjoy any of it. My sister calls this not having a happy heart, which is kinda hokey but better than saying "shut up, you rotten ingrate."

I learned a couple things from this experience about vacation time management, namely that I would rather miss out on some things than not see anything properly. I did not learn anything about having a happy heart until many years later.

I was reminded of that brief zoo visit while in Philadelphia. See, we had tickets to go to the zoo as part of the CityPass, but there was just not enough time to do it. We wanted to focus our time on going to things that were not in other cities, and well, even Great Bend, Kansas has a zoo. So we spent a long time at the Eastern State Penitentiary and then realized that we only had an hour before the zoo closed. We knew that we would not be able to get there on another day, so we decided that we might as well use our tickets to get an hour of zoo time. We would not waste time riding the freaking subway. Instead, we rode a double-decker tourist bus, also as part of our CityPass. Because of my great strides in improving my attitude, I was okay about the shortness of the visit. Also, I've been to more zoos since the eighth grade.

Here are some random things from my time at the Philly Zoo, which is the oldest in the country.

  • They have a really nice rare animal exhibit, where I saw some animals that I'd never heard of. Each animal had a map that showed its natural habitat, and most of these guys had tiny little blips on their maps, about the size of Great Bend, Kansas.

  • Did you know that some porcupines have prehensile tails?

  • Ashley does not like birds, so we skipped the aviary completely. I love exotic birds, but remember, I had a happy heart. However, I did take a picture of some squabbling flamingoes to send to my flamingo-obsessed niece. She called me the next day to ask where I saw the birds, then said "Okay, that's all." and then hung up. We're not phone people in my family.

  • There were also some free-range peacocks. One of them chased Ashley, who, seriously, does not like birds.

  • They had a system of wire tunnels set up between the trees all over the park (sort of like the tunnels in a fancy hamster cage), such that the monkeys could wander around the park while still being separated from the apes with clothes on. As we were leaving, one of them was using the system to travel along, but he stopped and yelled at us for a while. We yelled back. WHAKU! WHAKU! I wonder what we said.

  • There were several flat penny machines, but none of the design options had "Philadelphia Zoo" on them, just pictures of animals. So I saved my fifty-one cents. I mention this in case anyone who is looking into getting a flat penny machine and is considering designs. If you don't put the name on the penny, then it's a pretty crappy souvenir.

  • Ashley could have spent the entire hour watching the prairie dogs.

  • The cheetah enclosure was at the top of a hill. There was a low stone wall that you could see the animals over, and on the other side of the wall was a huge drop, so any cheetah that wanted to go see the prairie dogs would have to jump pretty high to get out. And then they'd just run into the electric wires at the top. However, from the bottom of the hill, you couldn't really tell all this. You just see a low wall separating you from the worlds fastest land animal. Because of this, Ashley refused to go up the path because she thought the cheetahs were out, as in escaped. Not until I was all the way at the top could I convince her that it was safe. And she was still freaked out, enough that any stray squirrel in the bush made her jump. I guess she thinks that zoo animals just escape all the time, and once they do, they hang out in other parts of the zoo. If I had been an escaped cheetah, I would have gone to see the sights of Philadelphia, maybe invested in a CityPass.

We entered the zoo at 4:00 and walked out at 5:12, just in time to run across the street and catch the goofy tourist bus. We pretty much ran past the last few exhibits and missed the big cats completely, but it was fun anyway. Everything is fun when you have a happy heart.


all about the benjamins.

There are lots of things that the city of Philadelphia loves - cheesesteaks, sports, brothers. But the thing that they love most of all is Benjamin Franklin. They just cannot get enough of the guy. There are reportedly 5,000 likenesses of him in the city, and that doesn't even include all the hundred dollar bills. There is a parkway and a bridge. Finally, there is an institute, which actually is on the parkway.

We had tickets to the Franklin Institute because we invested in the CityPass. The CityPass is available in many cities, and you get admission to several of the area's best attractions for a reduced fee. I like to keep a loose schedule when I travel, but I was quickly overwhelmed with all the possible things to do in Philly. So aside from the discounts, the CityPass gave me a checklist of things to do that I had essentially already paid for.

We decided to do the Franklin Institute first because it was across the street from the hotel. Also, it was about to rain. I had looked at the Institute when researching possible stops, but wasn't really sure if I wanted to go. The only thing I knew was that there was a giant heart that you could walk through. Woo. I wasn't even entirely sure what it was, as "Institute" is kind of a vague word.

Now that I've spent a rainy Thursday there, I can tell you that the Franklin Institute is a science museum. Oh, and it's also totally awesome. Some museums are stuffy, look-with-your-eyes places. The FI is not. There is another museum in Philly called the Please Touch Museum, but you could easily call the FI the same. While this makes it a great place for kids, I can report that it is a good time for adults who have not lost their childlike wonder. And if you have lost it, this might be a good place to regain it.

The Institute is divided into several sections that deal with different areas of science. It's all very light on reading and high on doing. And the activities are great in that they demonstrate a series of simple concepts until you have the whole complex system. You can play with magnets or build pulley systems or fold paper airplanes. There is a hall of mirrors with lasers where you can pretend you are trying to rob a casino and need to get through the alarm system. You can pretend to be a TV weatherman with a script and a green screen. They even have a shimmer wall! I've only listed a tiny fraction of all there is to see and do there. We spent most of a rainy Thursday there, and were just finishing up the airplane section when they were closing for the day.

There were several sections that we didn't initially have any interest in. But by the time we were through with those sections, we were suddenly very interested in those topics. "Trains? Eh." "Trains are so cool!" It kindles interest in learning. I can't think of any higher recommendation for a museum. The staff members are knowledgable, and they like to see silly adults playing with the exhibits. We even saw a janitor building a pulley system, his vacuum sitting in a heap beside him (in his defense, the floors were clean).

One of the 5,000 Benjamins in the city is the memorial that sits in the atrium of the Institute. It's a huge marble statue, twenty feet high. When I was going in, I imagined old Ben, who reportedly liked his ladies, checking out all the fine honeys coming in to check out his Institute. Maybe he even had a good pick-up line about the Giant Heart. But when I left, I was feeling less cynical, and I felt like the Institute was something he would have approved of. Instead of a pick-up line, I imagined him instead as that old guy in the Thomas Dolby video.