Category Archives: Shop Around

The Good Old Days: When Music Stores Could Make It

An unfortunate day has come, which anyone could have predicted: according to the Roanoke Times, Crossroads CDs in Blacksburg is closing – for good. The space will be leased instead by the owners of India Garden, who will make it a small grocery store aimed at Tech students.

Allow me to sound 80 years old for a moment. Back in the good old days, Crossroads was located at the corner of College Avenue and Main Street. It sold new and used CDs and music magazines, tons of vinyl, and rented out DVDs, some of which were pretty hard to find elsewhere. I would come in there all the time to search (in vain) for an original pressing of the Ramones’ Leave Home (the one that was released with “Carbona Not Glue” before Carbona threatened to sue them). I would grab up the free CDs and random stickers that they offered at the counter. I’d check out the free listening stations, which often showcased lesser-known artists. But my favorite thing about Crossroads was hearing the daily staff music selection broadcast over the loudspeakers, often something I’d never heard before. I bought CDs by artists I knew nothing about several times after chatting with someone behind the counter. And I was rarely, if ever, disappointed. I can thank Crossroads for introducing me to favorites like independent hip-hop artist Blueprint, and electropopish band The Lovemakers. Eric bought one of his favorite albums (by French electronic band DAT politics) after it was the Crossroads soundtrack du jour. The dude at the register couldn’t find the CD in the store, so he just went ahead and sold the store copy they had to Eric and put something else on the speakers.

When I first enrolled at Tech, Crossroads had two major competitors on the same street: then-popular local chain The Record Exchange, and Mike’s. Mike’s folded a few years later and in fact, I think Crossroads absorbed its movie-rental business at that point. The Record Exchange chain closed altogether about five years ago; the space became the local Republican headquarters. And then Crossroads moved out of the location that presumably inspired its namesake and took up its current Prices Fork storefront. (The original location was replaced with the unbearably bland food chain Moe’s.) With the future of real physical music stores already as bleak as it gets, I had a twisted feeling in my stomach seeing it leave an area accessed daily by VT foot traffic. The last time I stopped at Crossroads – finding it easier to drive there rather than run across a busy road several blocks from where I’d parked – I asked the clerk how they were doing. He was simply resigned to the fact that their customer base had dropped sharply and that this was the true beginning of the end.

So I offer a fond farewell to a place that represented what I love about stores, real stores that rent or sell movies, or music, or books, or anything else that people would rather buy online now, from the safety and seclusion of their homes. Crossroads was a chance to get out and discuss these things with people – real live people, not personas hidden behind silly avatars and cutesy nicknames. It represented a time when if you wanted to learn more about video games, or the latest music artists, or new movie releases, you had to move your duff and – gasp! – socialize in the original social network – the one made up of real live people. Nowadays you can buy or rent all of these things right from your computer; you can download games directly to your phone for you to play while avoiding conversation with the other people at the bar; you can pick the movies up out of your mailbox and look online to see any random person’s typed opinion of it. And in the midst of it all, brick and mortar stores shut down and make room for more tasteless food chains and more Walmarts.

Whether or not this is ultimately good or bad is up to you. But to me, it’s a bittersweet mix of both … and the bitter part is just a little bit stronger.


The Halloween Countdown: Decorating Our Home

October means it’s time to get out the Halloween decorations! Or, in our case, September means it’s time to get out the Halloween decorations. (We get enthusiastic early.) Eric is very blessed in the creativity department, so on one of his rare non-exhausted days off, he began catching up on long overdue artwork. When evening came, he took a break from his Wacom electronic sketch pad to mess around with some old props given to him by his last employer, Joe Devers of Just Outrageous Events, Inc. (JOE). (See the website for this incredibly creative and experienced floral event/event drapery company here: Just Outrageous Events.) Here’s what Eric came up with in no time flat:

Eric's shrine to Halloween

The images on the ceiling and wall are homemade creations Eric set up himself. At the bottom, Eric used a tiki vase from JOE as the base. He cut out pumpkin and ghost stencils from orange construction paper and made them stand up from the base with tape and pieces of bent clothes hanger. At the back, he attached a little flashlight of mine so that it shone through the stencils, projecting the images on the wall.

A flashlight taped behind a couple of homemade stencils makes these cool images on the wall.

An adjustable projector light from JOE shines on the walls, ceiling, or anywhere else we want it to go. (Warning: these types of lights get very hot very fast.) Eric cut out a mean jack-o-lantern face from red paper and pasted it over the light, then pointed it straight up at the ceiling.


In the middle of the display is an old-style haunted house decoration, one of a few I bought in a pack from our local Giant a year ago. The lights on the surrounding strings are shaped like skulls and jack-o-lanterns.

These Halloween jack-o-lantern lights are from Target.

We hung a “Happy Hauntings” sign from CVS on the outside of our door, and added a re-usable grocery/trick-or-treat bag on the inside.

Trick-or-treat bag from Giant supermarket.

One of my favorite decorations is the “Coffin Mister” I bought a couple of years ago. The coffin’s lid is hinged, and a skeleton sculpture creeps out at you. Fill lines carved inside direct the amount of water needed; flipping the switch activates the fogger and color-changing lights (included in the set). With all other lights off, the sight of the mist pouring out around the skeleton’s expression is very spooky. The Mister comes with a small circle mat to place under it, which does a shoddy job of protecting your fine mahogany, so be forewarned. We place ours on an old coffee table someone threw out at my building that I don’t really give a rip about, and routinely find puddles of water gathered way past the “protective” mat’s borders, and under it too! Also, if you have young children, be aware that the Mister was made with lead paint.

Check your local Target for this coffin mister.

A more child-friendly decoration is this light-up ghost from the Avon catalog! I doubt this particular decoration is still available, but you can find many like him. He turns on and off with a switch and has lasted seven years so far (probably because I take the batteries out before storing each year).

Glowing Ghost, Avon catalog, circa October 2003.

This jack-o-lantern, also provided by Just Outrageous Events, lights up when plugged in. Our cat Domino just loves this guy and lays right in front of his face whenever we turn him on. I’m guessing his lights feel warm on her fur.

Another great Halloween prop from Just Outrageous Events!

Check your local supermarket for Halloween-themed tissues, paper towels, and foaming hand soap.

Softsoap Halloween foaming soap with a glow-in-the-dark label!

Target takes a good portion of cash from me each year with their line of scary socks, throw blankets, pillows, dishware, and stuffed animals.

Just a few of the themed pillows on the couch, all purchased from Target.

Ebay is always a good place to search for unique treasures.

Vintage Garfield Halloween mug, circa late 1980s, purchased from an Ebay seller.

Sumo patiently tolerates dressing as Count Fatula each Halloween with a small doggie costume I bought him. This year, Eric made him a matching vampire coffin for him to sleep in. Eric used cardboard boxes to make the shape and then wrapped them with a black plastic garbage bag. A bit of organic catnip sprinkled inside enticed the vampire kitty to take a closer look. Unfortunately, he was still too wired for pictures and wouldn’t hold still long enough for me to take a good shot!

Count Fatula checks out his new sleeping box.

A bit too small? No worries for this cat. He will cram himself into anything. (Domino's spots can be seen on the left)

We have plenty of other Halloween decorations, including scented candles, vintage postcards, and picture frames, and a flashing pumpkin flashlight. And this year, we’re making Sumo a mummy outfit!

The Halloween Countdown: Halloween Candy

I purchased this darling cookie jar from the Cracker Barrel a couple of months ago:

If Sumo was a cookie jar ...

So of course we filled it with Halloween candy, like this:


…and now I don’t want to go anywhere near a scale. I wish Eric would just devour it all. Sure it would be disappointing, but at least I wouldn’t have to wrestle with my willpower every time I pass the mummy kitty’s sweet begging expression. “Ohhh, I’m so full … won’t you help me deflate a little?” he pleads. “Come on, one little Reese’s pumpkin won’t hurt you. Ohhhh, I just feel so heavy! … What’s that? You want more? Oh, you’re so kind ma’am …”

Anyway, here’s some of the tasty candy we got. Seriously, I look forward to shopping for Halloween candy every year. It wouldn’t be a big deal to keep it in the house if I could just eat a piece or two a day! We were unable to find our perennial favorite, Monster Munny, anywhere and I’m afraid to keep looking. If we do find it, it will die an unseemly death! I still can’t forgive my last employer for insisting upon putting out a fresh bag of candy right near my desk every few days, right as I was celebrating successfully losing 40 pounds of post-college beer weight.

Look for:

Butterfinger pumpkins. These are seriously the most delicious thing going in the candy aisle. You get a smaller palm-sized milk chocolate jack-o-lantern with those buttery, crunchy bits scattered inside. Given the nature of the product, there’s far more chocolate then you’d find covering a regular Butterfinger bar. It’s soft and heavenly, and the butterfinger bits are a pleasant surprise here and there. NOM. To my great shock, these were the first to vanish out of the mummy jar.

Reese’s dark chocolate peanut butter pumpkins. These little guys are very deadly for anyone on a diet. If you don’t care, then have at it. Delicious lumps of peanut butter covered in a thin shell of dark chocolate. Now, honestly, I have a hard time differentiating between milk and dark chocolate when I’m chowing on a Reese’s. I think it’s because a) there’s so little of it and b) the peanut butter is the real prize, anyway!

Hershey’s mini-bars. Essentially just little milk chocolate or cookies ‘n’ cream (white chocolate) bars with gravestones on them, these are quick and easy to eat nonetheless. I love to dip one in my hot tea. Hershey’s also used to put out a milk chocolate ghost, but I haven’t seen him in some time.

Hershey’s seasonal kisses. Over the last few years, Hershey’s has put out a whole slew of different flavored Kisses. There’s been everything from cherry cordial to mint to eggnog flavors. For Halloween, there are at least three varieties: candy corn (ehhhhh), caramel apple (not bad, but overly sweet), and the ridiculously yummy pumpkin spice! That last one gives you a light orange colored kiss with melty, gooey, slightly spicy goodness on the inside.

If you are having difficulty finding any of these, check your local Target. And if you’re looking for a somewhat healthier option, crack open a bag of ginger snap cookies and a block of sharp cheddar cheese; put together and eat. It’s surprisingly delicious. Kudos to my friend Seth for introducing us to that idea several years ago!

What are your favorite foods to eat at Halloween?

H Mart (Gaithersburg, MD)

No trip to Cat and Rob’s place is complete without a visit to H Mart, a Korean American grocery store and marketplace chain. H Mart carries tons of imported East Asian goods and food, including live eels, crabs, turtles, and fish (for consumption), and also has a nice selection of Latin American items. Here’s some of the things you can find there.

Some of the ladies hawking chocolates in the store had me sample these, explaining “Japanese chocolate sweeter than American chocolate, but no sugar!” It definitely tastes less sugary. If you like pocky, you will love these – biscuit sticks dipped in huge blobs of chocolate to look like mushrooms.

This stuffed Flying Goomba caught my eye in the imported goods shop at H Mart. Now he angrily waits for us to get back to Super Mario, already!

These are packages of veggie and sweet red bean buns, respectively. You keep them in the freezer, microwave them for about 50 seconds, and you have a delicious, steaming hot mini-meal. The buns are larger than they appear, and you get three per package.
Cafe Bustelo espresso is unbelievably yummy, and it will wake your sleepy behind right up. I like mixing mine with soy milk and a little bit of sugar. Eric’s family drank this when he was growing up. Unlike most of the other items shown here, you can probably also find this one in your local supermarket. (We buy our cans at Giant, in the ethnic foods section.)
Another drink from Eric’s childhood that we enjoy is called Malta Goya, which is probably best described as a super-malty, dark soda. (I’ve found most people do not enjoy the taste of it.) We typically purchase it from the local grocer as well, but at H Mart we found this six pack of “Pony Malta” which is supposed to be the super energizing version. Eric doesn’t like the taste nearly as much, and I think it’s just okay.
I love tea! I picked up a big box of oolong, a “Special Relaxing” herbal infusion with valerian, scullcap, catnip, and chamomile, and a brown rice green tea.
Meltyblend chocolate cubes, which literally melt away in your mouth and are ridiculously yummy. Mmmmmmmmm.
I’ve always loved wasabi peas! This particular brand is very crunchy, but not quite as spicy as I prefer.
Nestle Milo is a chocolate drink mix powder with added vitamins that was originally Australian and is very popular in some Caribbean countries, and probably others. I saw it standing next to some of my favorite European Ovaltine and couldn’t resist giving it a try. It’s more chocolately than European Ovaltine, but not as sweet as American Ovaltine. It is very hard to mix with cold soy milk, but like Ovaltine, there are many different ways to drink it. Maybe I’ll make some hot Milo in a minute. 🙂
This is a cat.

The Book Thing of Baltimore

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a ridiculous bookworm. I will try to read just about anything, and I have a stupidly huge collection of books that takes up way too much room. Some people collect coins or stamps. I collect books (and lip gloss). It’s easy to see that this hobby is inherited from my parents (especially my dad), that my sister also inherited it, and that my brother-in-law shares our “problem.” (My aunt is probably only safe from this syndrome because she has a Kindle.) Now, my sweet boyfriend is way too patient for his own good and did not even roll his eyes when I excitedly informed him that we would be visiting The Book Thing with Cat and Rob as part of a litany of Valentine’s Day weekend events. He deserves much credit since he has tripped over, stubbed toes on, cleaned, moved, and glared at literally thousands and thousands of tomes. He even smiled at me when I told him I would be painstakingly giving away 30 books that I have never read and probably never would (because they look pretty bad) away to The Book Thing.

Uh, so what is the big deal if we go to a book store? Well, The Book Thing happens not to charge anything for any of its books. They are mostly used, but many are in fine condition, and you can take as many as you like. Uh oh! This particular visit, we wound up with 45. (Six of those were Eric’s.)

Well, enough babbling. Let’s take a look at a few of the funkier things we got this time. And please visit The Book Thing’s website at

I was really excited to see this book. Unfortunately, it’s mostly just lists of things people believe, not explanations of why they believe. It’s still fun, so I took it! ( does the dirty work of debunking many of these for you anyway!)

I have always had a thing for old textbooks (okay, math, not so much). This is a fourth- or fifth- grade level reading text. There was a huge box of them next to the kids’ books bins, where a man ran up and frantically threw books up in the air as he plowed through all 10 bins. Hmmm!

This is an independently published collection of essays about society’s view of women’s beauty, and how companies push their beauty products on women, among other things. There were about 50 of these in a box. It was published by the Center for the Study of Responsive Law and has a 1986 forward from Ralph Nader.

This book is part of the Opposing Viewpoints series, which presents exactly what it sounds like. This edition focuses on the hotbed topic of abortion and the many and varied opinions of the subject. One of my favorite parts of the newspaper has always been the letters from people who feel differently about various topics than I do, so I was drawn to this like the proverbial moth to the flame.

In my youth, I had a hard time knowing how to tell someone something negative. Working in certain difficult environments and going to college certainly changed that, but I could always use help with less-than-pleasant situations. But some of the suggestions sound rather … well, scripted. This book is guaranteed to at least be entertaining!

I had heard of this book, but never bothered to check it out. I certainly could’ve used it at a certain point in my life. It’s based on the idea that people go through a quarter-life crisis along with a “mid-life” crisis. People in their early- to mid- 20s face uncertainty about what to do with their lives, and how to “figure it all out.” I still face this at 28, as do many people I know who are far older than me, so I don’t think it’s restricted to any one age range. There’s a corresponding website:

I LOVE old pulp fiction art! Yes, this is a collection of tawdry paperback covers from yesteryear! And, they are all magnetic postcards! I can’t get any to stick to my fridge though. Despite the cover’s appearance, nothing in here is really dirty, just funny!

I loved Anna Quindlen’s newspaper/newsmagazine writing, although I’ve never read any of her novels. This ought to be a cool read.

We also got various other books on science, animals, philosophy, psychology, physics, health, travel, crime, and mythology, as well as several novels. It’s like Christmas! 😉