Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Oregon Trail

I didn't know much about Portland before I headed out there for a work trip last week (remember that horrible flight? Portland is where I was going). Actually, the extent of my knowledge was limited to what I had gleaned from The Oregon Trail, that old PC favorite. Let me assure you that I did not die of a snake bite, or dysentery, or anything else. Oh, and I didn't have to ford any rivers. Although sometimes it felt like I might have to, especially since it pretty much rained every day of my trip. But I wasn't going to let that stop me.

Portland has a very East Coast feel. In fact, it reminded me of Old Town Alexandria. Brick sidewalks, lots of great small restaurants and boutiques, and very walkable. But the people in general seemed a lot more relaxed than us East Coasters; walking around I felt like I was always in a rush and they just seemed to be strolling. The downtown area is full of one way streets, and when there was nothing coming, I would just cross against the light. And those Portlanders looked at me like I was a crazy woman and a lawbreaker. What, I couldn't wait just 30 seconds for the light to change? Well, no actually. I had places to be!

Like Voodoo Doughnut. I first heard about Voodoo Doughnut from the television show Man vs. Food. With sexually explicit doughnut names like chocolate triple penetration and cock and balls, not to mention the overall yummy appearance of their doughnuts, this place was at the top of my Portland To Do list. So one afternoon after the hearings had been conducted, one of the judges and I walked over and got our doughnut on. And let me just tell you. SO GOOD OMG. I started with their signature Voodoo Doll doughnut and it was seriously the best doughnut I have ever had. The shop is open 24/7 and they have numerous and unusual doughnuts to choose from. So I bought 6. You know, in case of doughnut emergency.

Voodoo Doll doughnuts (one missing a bite). And yes, that's a pretzel stick stake through it's heart.

In fact, the best thing about Portland, at least to me, was the food. Every restaurant we tried was delicious with special and unusual menu options, and there is a big focus there on sustainable and organic ingredients. So everything was really fresh. And amazing.

The second best thing about Portland is Powell's Books. It's the largest bookstore in the United States. And seriously, you guys? It's freaking HUGE. It takes up an entire city block (or more) and the different departments are organized into rooms with bookshelf after bookshelf that reach right up to the ceiling. You have to get a map when you get in, or you can get hopelessly lost, which honestly might not be that bad since there are so many awesome books everywhere you look. And stuff that you can't find anywhere else. Powell's sells both new and used books, so any random thing that someone decides to bring to them ends up on the shelves, which means there are lots of gems just waiting to be discovered by the wayward book wanderer.

Inside the Science Fiction/Fantasy "room" at Powell's Books.

After spending the week at the Portland Regional VA Office, I had all day Saturday to myself to sight-see. I was supposed to meet up with my friend Wendy, but she got called into work on Saturday, so I had to amuse myself. Despite the pouring rain, I made it across the river to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to take a gander at their planetarium. I'm kind of a sucker for planetariums and astronomy. I think it has something to do with my love of Greek mythology, since so many of the stars, constellations, planets, etc. are named after myths. Anyhoodle, planetariums are my thing, and while at OMSI I got to see the Holiday laser show (I have always wanted to see a laser show) and a short lecture/show on the December night sky. In a cool twist, I was the only one at the night sky show, so I basically had my own personal planetarium presentation. And the guy doing it was kinda cute, so, bonus!

Luckily for me, Wendy decided to drive down to Portland after work on Saturday and we got to spend the evening hanging out. We got the best Italian food ever (at Mama Mia's on 1st Avenue), a bottle of wine, and then just hung out in the posh hotel watching Indiana Jones. It had been too many months to count since I had last seen her, so basically, it was a great Saturday night.

And you'll all be happy to know that my flight home on Sunday was completely uneventful without a hangover in sight. And thank god I didn't come through Chicago. Because that place is just a mess.

The Christmas Tree at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

The lobby of the Hotel Monaco, where I spent an entire week. Good thing it was so posh.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Worst Flight Ever

Before I launch into my sad cross-country adventure, let me just say, it was all my fault. I knew that I had to leave for the airport at 6 in the morning. I knew that Selvi's birthday party was the night before. I knew that drinking that many rum and cokes was probably not the best idea. But still. WORST FLIGHT EVER.

Here's the whole story. As noted above, Selvi's birthday party was Saturday night, the night before my flight to Portland where I would be spending the week for work. To celebrate her natal day, we had a 1920s murder mystery party (more on that next week when I get home and get the pics uploaded) and it was an absolute blast. Everyone got dressed up, acted in character, and the booze was flowing. Perhaps flowing a bit too liberally for me. And unfortunately, it had been a really busy week, so that whole packing thing hadn't really happened. Which meant when I got home around midnight it took me another hour to throw all my stuff into the suitcase. I finally got to bed at 1.

And the alarm went off 4 hours later. And then the hangover hit me. I had the shakes, was completely nauseous and just all around felt like crap. After vomiting a couple times (not kidding), I cowboyed up and went down to meet my cab. Then I got the call. For some inexplicable reason, the cops had decided to shut down the road by my apartment building. On both sides. Going both directions. So the cab was not able to come get me. So me and my luggage dragged ourselves down the street and up the hill to the church parking lot where my cab was. As you can see, things were not going well.

After arriving at the airport, my nausea only got worse but I managed to hold it together. And of course, I ran into one of the judges I was traveling with while going through security and found out we were on the same flights. So I had to fake it. And I thought I did a pretty good job...until about 30 minutes into the flight to Chicago. When I had to get up, make my way down to the lavatory...and get sick. Yes, folks, I have never had motion sickness in my life, but I was defeated. I spent the rest of the flight huddled in the last row clutching a barf bag and trying not to get sick again. Sigh.

Worst. Flight. Ever.

Eventually, I managed to sleep a little while, and when I got to Chicago and walked around a bit (and ate a bagel) I actually started feeling better. I slept more on the flight to Portland and 5 hours later felt human again. I even walked around the city a bit when I arrived and got an early dinner. But dear god, that was one of the worst mornings of my life. My friend Mac asked me whether the night before was worth it, and at 7 am I wasn't sure...but upon further reflection, it totally was. Nights that fun don't come along every day.

Next time I just need to remember, every action (i.e. rum and coke) has an equal and opposite reaction. Or, what goes down must come up.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Do you like my pants?

Because guess what? I hemmed them with my OWN TWO HANDS.

That's right. I have finally demonstrated a useful adult skill. It only took 30 years. And trust me, any woman will tell you that being able to hem a pair of pants is of far more practical use than say, stopping a leaky faucet, fixing a dishwasher, laying hardwood flooring, or installing custom bookshelves. I mean, how many times do you really do those things? Whereas you constantly need to hem pants.

Combining this skill with my excellent baking and burgeoning cooking abilities...there may be hope for me yet in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Because the survivors are not going to need lawyers. But they will need properly fitting pants.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Country roads, takin me to Nate's home

Did you know you can be in West Virginia by driving less than 2 hours from DC? I know that logically I could have looked at a map and figured this out, but experiencing it in person made it seem a heck of a lot more tangible. And not to go all city mouse on you, it's kind of a different world. Dirt roads, tractor shows, general stores, mountains covered with trees of changing leaves, it's definitely a different life. And now I know someone who lives in it!

My friend Nate, tired of this urban lifestyle (at least during the weekend), decided to buy a cabin out in West Virginia. He's a county boy at heart, and now every weekend he drives out there to recharge his batteries. And being such a good friend, I invited myself along for a Saturday to check out the new digs.

Let me just say: gorgeous. I'm not sure I could drive 2 hours each way just to get home only on the weekends, but this place looks like something out of a magazine.

And I basically picked the perfect time to visit. The weather was cool, the sky was blue, and the leaves were changing. Did I mention the three story deck running around the entire house? And Nate's parents happened to be in town so I got to hang out with his gorgeous mother and adorable father. We watched Star Trek 3 and I provided color commentary. Since I have an encyclopedic knowledge of useless Star Trek facts.

But we didn't just sit around. Nate and I went and had lunch at the General Store down at the bottom of the mountain (!!) and then we went to the Lost River State Park and walked around. There was a sulpher spring, playground, and Lee cabin museum (that once belonged to Light Horse Harry Lee). It was a beautiful day and we had fun just wandering around and enjoying the changing foliage.

Now, it's not like I've never been in the country. My grandmother had a cabin in Minnesota that we used to visit every year. Now that was a cabin. No running water, no electricity...using the outhouse, that's an adventure. But I think in our suburban/urban world it's easy to forget that you can drive just a few hours and escape into a slower quieter place. And don't we all need that sometimes?

So to sum up: Nate's cabin = made of win. You should go!

Monday, September 27, 2010

You know what they say....

....sometimes you actually should meet your heroes.

This past weekend, at the tenth annual National Book Festival (pretty much the only good thing to come out of the Bush presidency), my favorite author of the moment, Suzanne Collins, put in an appearance. For those of you who aren't familiar with her, she is the author of the book trilogy, The Hunger Games. These books have been blowing my mind for the last three years, and I was not about to pass up the chance to see her in the flesh.

This was actually the first time I had ever been to the festival; it first landed on my radar about 5 years ago when I returned to the DC area from school. And ever since then, I have been out of town every year during the last weekend of September. Every. Single. Year.

But this year would be a different story (see what I did there?). I was going to be in town, and I had plans to go into the office. Which worked out perfectly, since the book festival was taking place on the Mall, just a quick walk from work. Suzanne Collins was the second speaker in the Teen tent, so I figured I could get into work early, pop down there and here her speak, get a book signed, and then get back to the office. And while my plan ended up working out, I kind of underestimated the distance between my office and the spot on the Mall where the festival was being held. So basically it was 2 miles rather than 1 mile. It only took me about 20 minutes to get down there, but since it was so hot that day, let's just say I was a little....damp.

The good news is, I was able to snag a standing spot directly behind the last row of chairs, straight back from the stage, and only about 40 feet from the podium. The tent was packed with kids, teenagers, and adults all eager to hear what The Hunger Games author had to say. She started out with a 15 minute prepared presentation where she spoke about her background as a military brat and how she was raised in an environment where military strategy and history were basically dinner table talk. She spoke about being a kid when her father went to Vietnam and how she didn't really understand what that meant until she saw news footage depicting the graphic horror of the war. Her father came home and from her description, it seems pretty clear that he had some post-traumatic stress disorder going on.

From speaking about her childhood, Ms. Collins then moved on to describing how her first series, The Underland Chronicles, was meant to introduce young adults to all the different facets of war and its meaning and toll. With The Hunger Games, which was born of a night of channel surfing between reality television and Iraq war coverage, she stumbled upon the perfect vehicle to fuse her interest in war, media, Roman culture, and Greek mythology. She pointed out the many parallels between her stories and Greek myths (especially Theseus and the Minotaur) and how the worst punishment the Greeks could dole out was to kill your children. By killing your children, they were doing worse than killing you, they were killing your future.

After the fascinating talk/lecture, Ms. Collins took questions from the audience. From little kids to some elderly folk, everyone had a question. And the audience wasn't afraid to weigh in; there was a spoiler-free policy on the questions as not everyone had read Mockingjay, and when one tween tried to ask a question about the end of the book, she got heavily booed from the crowd (as not everyone had read it). Ms. Collins told her to come up to the stage afterwards and whisper the question. in her ear People asked about where the characters for The Hunger Games came from (Katniss just popped into her head, fully realized), the geography of Panem (she didn't reveal anymore than what's in the books), where her character names originated (Capitol names are Roman influenced, Katniss and Prim from edible flowers, and other characters name echo their Districts) and where the idea of 13 Districts came from (the 13 original American colonies). And of course, there was a question about Team Peta and Team Gale. Ms. Collins smoothly answers that she didn't like one over the other, in her mind, a love triangle is only successful if it presents an impossibly hard choice, a Casablanca style choice. To her both Peta and Gale were strong and worthy enough of Katniss, but life, as they say, can change a person.

By the end of the session, it was already 11 in the morning and the signing wasn't scheduled to start for another half hour. So I decided to skip it and head back to the office. After spending 20 minutes wandering around looking for the entrance to the L'Enfant Plaza metro (seriously, could it be harder to find??) it was back to the work grindstone. But at least I had come just a little close to greatness and been near one of the most brilliant modern literary minds.

Monday, September 13, 2010

In Jane Austen Country

We were talking about some kind of England trip, weren't we? So, previously on the blog: Maggie, Kristin, and Rachel arrived in London and immediately start sight-seeing. We packed in as much as possible in that one day (which is huge and rife with history). The next day we still spent the day wandering around, but this time it was wandering around the country-side, as we traveled to Steventon and the surrounding area, the home of Jane Austen.

We took the train about an hour west from London and met up with our friendly tour-guide, Phil. Yep, that's right, we decided to book a private tour with Phil who offers tours of Steventon for Jane Austen-philes like us. We felt super posh as Phil met us at the train station and drove us around in his nifty van. And I think he was super impressed by Kristin's encyclopedic Jane Austen knowledge. In fact, we had a great mix of knowledge: Kristin knew everything, I knew some stuff, and Rachel was a complete newbie. So Phil had his work cut out for him, but at the end of the day he assured us he couldn't remember the last time he had so much fun giving a tour.

Our first stop was Steventon Church, where Jane Austen's father was the rector and where she attended church. It's tucked down a narrow country lane and isn't distinguished by any great architecture or signs, which somehow makes it even more special.

Steventon Church

Here's the three of us outside the church:

To the right of the church's door is a huge yew tree which, according to Phil, is more than 1,000 years old. I'm not sure the pictures accurately portray the size of the thing, but it looks like something out of a fantasy book, Middle Earth, or something like that. Apparently, there is a registry for yew trees like this throughout all of England, and people go on tours just to visit them. Dorks. *said the girl on a Jane Austen tour*

After the church, we continued our tour of the area. What's so great about Steventon is how unspoiled it is. Not just in terms of tourism, but also with development. Sure there are modern houses, but right next to them are thatch-roofed cottages and buildings that were visited by Jane Austen herself. For example, the traveler's stop where she would walk to pick up her post is still there (the original building) and it's still kind of a rest stop: it's a restaurant and pub located off the main road.

One of the places we went after the church was the site of the rectory, the Austen's home and where Jane grew up. While the house is gone, and it's just a field (with a bunch of cows) now, the lime tree planted by Jane's brother, George, is still there. It too is rather large. But you would be too if you had been planted almost 200 years ago.

After some more ramblings (I kind of have a tendency to take off in whatever direction I am pointed in when visiting the country), we stopped by The Vyne, a 16th century estate built for King Henry VIII's Lord Chamberlain that you can now walk around and eat at the restaurant, etc. The rooms were, of course, impressive and the Austens were guests there when the family held balls. Think of the Bingley's in Pride and Prejudice having everyone over to dance. Before touring the house, we wandered around the grounds during a break in the clouds, and of course it started pouring rain about 2 minutes later. Welcome to England! Another interesting thing at the house was a special art exhibition: in each room one or two extremely modern furniture pieces or accessories were mixed in with the traditional furnishings. It made for a fascinating juxtaposition, and sometimes you couldn't even tell the difference!

The Vyne

Our last stop of the day was also the most emotional. We went to the small cottage in Chawton where Jane, her sister, and her mother moved after the death of her father. Jane was not happy to leave her childhood home, and after some time in Bath, the family ended up in Chawton. Their home was modest, but it was her actual house. She walked across those floors, looked out the same windows, and sat in the garden. On display in the house was some of her original hand-written piano music, letters she had written her family, and even a lock of her hair given as a gift to a family-member.

But I think the coolest thing we saw was a quilt that Jane, her sister, and mother had sewed for brother while he served in the Navy. Again, what gets me are the tangible items that Jane touched and created, things that prove that she was a real breathing person and not just a name printed on the spine of a book.

As a special treat, the Chawton house had one of those historical actor people posing as a nineteenth century apothecary. Apparently, he and Phil were friends, and Phil called me over to meet him since he performed a lot in Williamsburg (and Phil knew I had attended William and Mary). The actor guy was really English, but he lived in Williamsburg part of the year as he did so much work there. Small world, huh?

Thus endeth my adventures in Jane Austen land. It wasn't really something we could have done on our own, since you've got to have a car to get around to all those sights. I also don't think there's any way we could have found half the houses since the roads there aren't exactly well-labeled. So getting our own private tour guide ended up being more than just a treat, it was a necessity. But we seriously had a great time, and just like Phil said, we laughed the entire day!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

This ain't no country club, this is LA.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled England post-trip coverage to bring you a report on my recent travel to Los Angeles. My brother and sister-in-law unexpectedly and suddenly packed up and moved from Detroit to Los Angeles only a month ago when he got a sweet offer from a rocket engineering firm called SpaceX. Yeah, you read that right. ROCKET ENGINEERING. My brother: he is pretty badass. Also, at his job they get free soda, coffee, and frozen yogurt. Free fro-yo, people!

Since the move was so sudden, my sister-in-law didn't have a job lined up so while she looks for ministering opportunities, Mom and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and spend some time in sunny LA. I was there about 15 years ago (yikes) when I was a sophomore in high school. On that visit I stayed with a friend who lived in the downtown area and mostly what I remembered was it being brown and very very hot. Lucky for me, Bill and Amanda settled in the Redondo Beach area, only a few miles from the beach. This meant high temperatures of around 75, sunny skies, and lovely morning fog known as the marine layer.

Not one to sit around on my ass (HAHA! Sarcasm, you dig?), Amanda and I hiked every morning with and without the puggle, Newton. We even convinced my brother to come with us one morning, as we hiked along the bluffs in Ranchos Palos Verdes. It was too foggy to see all the way to Catalina, but there's nothing like standing on a cliff, the Pacific ocean spreading out before you, with a cool breeze on your brow.

One of my favorite things that we did was visit the La Brea tar pits. Despite my Dad's assistance that we stop by the volcano that's nearby (he has trouble separating movies from reality sometimes), the pits were just as advertised. Big pools full of bubbling tar. I'm definitely spoiled by the Smithsonian, but the museum was actually really cool. A lot of people, including me, assume that the tar pits trapped dinosaurs, but the truth is the animals recovered from its depths are from the ice age only 25,000 years ago. Think saber tooth cats and dire wolves. Also, mammoths! And did you know that LA was once home to lions?? I didn't , but there you go. An educational vacation. Oh, also? Saber tooth cats are fucking SCARY, dude. Those teeth are big.

But my most favoritest thing of all was spending time with my family and friends, be it sitting on the couch watching movies, cooking s'mores over the firepit in the backyard, sitting down to one of Amanda's amazing home-cooked meals, or hitting the Redondo pier with my LA-based friends, Patrick and Rosa. Coming on the heels of my constantly on the move England trip, it was kind of nice to take things a bit slower. I spent hours just sitting in the sun in the backyard reading, a dog at my feet. It don't get much better than that, folks.

Now I'm back home, back at work, and thinking ahead to the next trip: Las Vegas over Columbus Day weekend. But there's a touch of fall in the air and if I stand on the balcony and close my eyes, it's almost like being back on that California cliff. Oh, and I could definitely get used to the idea of a California casual wardrobe.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jane Austen's England

It may seem that this has turned into a travel blog, but the truth is, I have been traveling a lot lately and it's just going to keep going until the end of the year. I've got trips planned every month until December, but the good news is that you, gentle readers, can come along with me! At least feel that you did after the fact when I share the stories and photos from the trips.

On August 12, Kristin, Rachel, and I took to the skies and traveled to merry olde England for a Jane Austen themed trip. We were planning to hit not only the big sight-seeing spots, but also walk in the footsteps of one of the most beloved authors in the English language. Armed with our resident Austen expert (cough Kristin cough) we were ready to see it all!

We took the redeye to London Heathrow on Thursday night and arrived at 8 the next morning. I managed to scam some Ambien from a friend (who shall remain nameless) to ensure that I slept on the flight, since we had a full day of sight-seeing planned immediately upon our arrival. And I cannot function without sleep, it's just a fact. After landing, we hopped the tube (i.e. London Underground, i.e. subway) to downtown London to check in to our hotel, which was in a prime location in the Mayfair District by the Green Park tube stop. And then we were off!

Any visit to London must include a stop at Westminster Abbey. It is, hands down, my favorite London sight as it contains so much British history it gives me a little learning-gasm. From monarchs to artists, some of the most important figures in history are buried here (Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, etc. etc.). And in Poets Corner, there is a plaque honoring Jane Austen. Hence, it fit right in to theme of our trip. While wandering around, we had some trouble locating it, so we asked a docent where it was. He helpfully pointed it out, but then came back our way a few minutes later with some questions of his own. He asked us, "what is it about Jane Austen that has made her so popular?" and he also wanted to know if we thought her popularity was just a fad brought on by the latest film adaptions of her novels. Kristin eloquently pointed out that the real appeal of Austen lay in her understanding of people and what motivated them to love, laugh, cry, and live. We assured him that the appreciation of her books was NOT a fad, and she would be around for a long time. He tried to talk up the merits of other authors like Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, but we weren't having it. Viva la Austen!

After Westminster Abbey, we wandered down to Trafalgar Square, where Lord Nelson perched on his impressive column flanked by massive stone lions, and took some pictures. By this time, it was starting to rain and we were hungry, so a quick look at our Rick Steve's guidebook confirmed that there was a cafe in the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields across the street. But it wasn't just any cafe--it was located underground in the crypt. It may sound creepy, but it was actually really cool and the food wasn't bad either.

Trafalgar Square. The large domed building on the left is the National Gallery. The spire on the right belongs to St. Martin-in-the-Fields where we had lunch in the crypt.

We were just getting started with our London day, so we hopped on the tube and headed to Kings Cross Station, for a quick visit to Platform 9 and 3/4. That's right, the infamous Harry Potter platform is immortalized at the Kings Cross station to allow for photo opportunities. There's even half a luggage trolley sticking out of the wall as if someone was making their way to the Hogwarts Express.

A quick walk down the road took us to the British Library, where in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery are displayed the treasures of the British Library including the Magna Carta, illuminated bibles, original manuscripts from some of Britain's greatest authors, and handwritten lyrics from The Beatles. It also happens to have Jane Austen's writing desk and some of her original letters. Maybe it's the history dork in me, but it was such a moving experience to see books, letters, and other documents dating back to over a 1,000 years ago. Seeing Austen's letters was for me akin to that moment in Deathly Hallows, when Harry finds the letter from his mother. If I may paraphrase, "here was tangible proof that she had lived--that she had put pen to paper." Very cool.

After the British Library, we decided to maximize our sightseeing time for the afternoon by getting on the Big Bus tour. It's one of those "hop on, hop off" deals, and is a great way to see most of the big sights and get the lay of the land. We rode it all around, getting off at St. Paul's Cathedral. Our hope was to get there before 6 to see the free Evensong service, but unfortunately we just missed it. Bummer. Luckily, the St. Paul area (actually the one mile square area known as "The City" as it was the original London and now the financial district) is home to London's oldest pubs. So we got ourselves some dinner at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, most recently rebuilt in 1667. That's right, 1667. There were tables tucked away in every corner, and once you thought a room would end, you'd realize that it just going on in a veritable maze of medieval furnishings. All of the pub tables were full and the dining room appeared to have been completely reserved for later in the evening, but the waiter took pity on three tired American tourists and let us sit in the dining room as long as promised not to linger. The best roast beef and yorkshire pudding I'd ever had and a pint of cider later, things were looking up, and we caught the last Big Bus back to Victoria Station where the tour ended.

At the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese:

On the way we drove over the Tower Bridge, past the Tower of London and the London Eye, over London Bridge, past Marble Arch, and ended up back at the beginning of the tour. From there, it was a quick tube ride back to our hotel and COLLAPSE. Remember, we had gotten at most 4 hours of sleep the night before on the plane and had immediately gotten our sight-seeing on. None of us had any trouble falling asleep that night, and we had the promise of our next day's adventure in front of us: Oxford and a visit to Blenheim Palace!

Here are some more random London photos:

Houses of Parliament and the clock tower (Big Ben is actually the name of the clock inside the tower).

The front of St. Paul's Cathedral, Christopher Wren represent! Also, I hear you can get bird food there for a really food deal. Tuppens a bag or thereabouts.

Lord Nelson atop his column in Trafalgar Square.

Did you know that I have a street? And am a saint. Bitchin.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

LEGO my exhibit ticket!

This was supposed to be another one of those "Things to do in DC" posts that I manage to get up here (way too infrequently). I say supposed to, because as usual, things didn't work out as I planned.

The initial idea was simple: this past Sunday, my friend Jason organized a group of friends to visit the National Building Museum to take a look at the new LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition exhibit. We met across the street, chatted about our eagerness to check out the LEGO renditions of 15 of the world's most famous structures, and then went into the museum. Where we were greeted with a sign plastered with big "SOLD OUT" stickers. Apparently, special exhibits require a special ticket so only special people can get in to see them. The kicker? The website didn't indicate that the separate ticket was required. So there were, all ready to rock the LEGOs, and we were denied.

Alas, nothing is ever easy. We tried to make the best of it by taking the Building Museum's basic tour, but this focused solely on the history of the building, and we didn't get any chance to see any exhibits or collections. By the end of the hour tour we were all feeling despondent and were hungry, so we dragged our sorry butts down the street to The Green Turtle sports bar (don't ask me where the name comes from). Good food and good conversation can cure even the worst heartache, but I have to confess to still feeling extreme disappointment regarding my lack of LEGO.

The silver lining on the LEGO cloud is that the exhibit is sticking around until September 2011 so there is still plenty of time to get our hands on tickets for another weekend. And when my office finally moves to it's new location in April of next year, I'll be only 4 blocks away from the museum. Happy hour LEGO exhibit, anyone?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Alma Mater, Hail!

Ah, Williamsburg. I spent 7 years of my most formative years there, through college and law school, but since graduation in 2005, I hadn't felt a strong desire to go back. It's not that I don't love the town (I do) or loved my time at William and Mary (I did), but the bar examination-induced trauma was just too strong to ignore for a couple years. Coupled with my academic burn-out from 7 years of continuous higher education, I needed a break.

But all that's over! It was time to head back to the Burg and revisit all the old hot spots. So with Selvi along for the ride we painted the town red...or as red as you paint it when you're facing 105 degree weather. Because it just so happens we decided to head down to Williamsburg on the hottest weekend of the year. Typical.

We drove down Friday night after work and because of traffic on I-95 didn't arrive until 11pm at night. But that didn't deter us from doing a quick drive around the town and campus. Let me just say this: if any of those kids ever bitch about their not being anything to do I will punch them in the face. When we were there, there was NOTHING. Literally, nothing. It was big news when they built a Wawa across the street from campus and the frats and three bars (called "the delis") basically comprised the entire nightlife. Of course, things improved as time went on. But now, there is an entire yuppy village at New Town (with bars, restaurants, housing, etc.) and two movie theaters. TWO! We used to have to drive down to Hampton to the AMC to see a movie. Now there's a huge multiplex in New Town and some place called a movie tavern, which is kind of like the Arlington Drafthouse.

The campus has changed a lot too; there are two new dorms on Barkesdale Field, and the Rogers science building has been expanded into a new "science center." The Swem library renovations are done and the renovations of Andrews and PBK are starting. The law school also has a fancy new library (which of course was done right when I left), and there is a brand new business school where the Common Glory parking lot used to stand. And the University Center (UC) was renamed the Sadler Center (after Sam) and is having a whole new wing added.

Ah, changes.

But not everything changed. Morton (the government building) is still slowly sinking into the ground, but god knows I love it. And the music building, Ewell, is still exactly the same. But they should really think about upgrading their security; almost all the campus buildings were locked, but we waltzed right into Ewell and into the bandroom. We even left some nice messages on the chalk board. No seriously, they were nice. Something like, "greetings from alumni!" Nobody except the janitors is likely to see it, but it made us feel good.

The Sunken Gardens at morning. Looks just the same!

Of course I had to take pictures of the Wren building, right?

The original Music department diva.

Me and Selvi chill with Thomas Jefferson.

The sun dial on new campus looking towards Swen Library.

The Crim Dell bridge. As soon as Selvi and I walked by, about 5 adorable turtles swam up in eager anticipation of us throwing food at them. Ha, suckers.

It's nice to know somethings never change, like the inside of the University Center.

After we spent a couple hours walking around the campus, we hit the campus shop and bookstore (my former employer) for some WM digs. Then it was off to the Prime Outlets for some shopping, and Peking Mongolian BBQ for lunch. A word about Mongolian--it was just as good as I remembered. SO GOOD.

And I was really happy after eating at the buffet.

By that time, it was over 100 degrees, so Selvi and I headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Then we met up with my friend Andrew at our favorite drinking spot, The Green Leafe. On the way there we lamented that it wasn't Sunday night when we could have broken out our Green Leafe mugs, but it turns out they were offering mugs of margaritas on Saturday. That's right, mugs.

That's a whole lot of margarita.

By that time we were well and tipsy, so Andrew loaded us up in his car and took us to hang out at his place. We watched some quality HBO shows and just hung out and had fun. Then it was back to the hotel where we slept the night away. We didn't have a lot of time the next morning since we had to get back to DC, but we slept in and then went to IHOP for brunch. It may not be fancy, but it's definitely a Williamsburg tradition.

All in all, we had a great weekend, and I'm really excited about going back sometime soon. Once you walk down memory's hard not to make a return trip. Maybe we can get some of you WM alums to come with.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Blog Inertia

For the past week, I have been trying to work up the energy to blog about my trip last weekend to Williamsburg. I've got fun stories and fun pics, but for some reason, the motivation is just. not. there.

It's not like I had a particularly busy week; work, home, some family and friend stuff, you know the usual. I didn't go out late on any weeknight or stay up late any night. I have been working hard at work, pushing myself, so I think the burn-out factor is definitely playing a part. BUT. None of this really explains why I went to bed at 8:30 Thursday evening. 8:30! You would think I had a run a marathon or been up all night the night before....or you know, done something to warrant that level of exhaustion. Alas, no. I was just tired and lame.

I think I'm getting old. Or it's hormonal. Either way, god help me because I'm only 30 and there is a long road ahead.

The good news, I have had a very relaxing weekend. I was pretty active with working out, walking in the park, and swimming and I've had a lot of fun but also some downtime. So I am hoping for the week to come that I will shake off the tiredness and get back to business as usual. And have the energy to get that Williamsburg post and pictures up. Because I am sure everyone is giddy with the anticipation of reading about it. So stay tuned!

Monday, July 19, 2010

No sleep til Brooklyn...or until the AC gets fixed

Next time someone tells me that global warming is just a myth, I am going to punch them in the face. Seriously. Don't tell me this heat we've been having (since, let's face it, April) is normal. I've been living in DC summers my entire life and we'll usually get this hot maybe around August or so for a few weeks, but never this early, and never this long. But I don't need to tell you, chances are where you live it's the same story.

So what would be the worst thing that could happen right now? That's right: for the air conditioning to break. Which is just what happened in my bedroom. See, my building is pretty old (built in the 1960s), so instead of central air, I have a convector unit in each room which is kind of like a radiator. It does AC in the summer and heat in the winter. Unfortunately, the one in the bedroom started making this really loud clanking noise on Wednesday night that was 1) too loud to sleep through and 2) made me think the motor was going to explode. It also scared the crap out of me when it woke me up around 3:00 in the morning.

Now I have this thing where I cannot sleep when it is really hot. It just doesn't happen; in fact, I like to keep it so cool that I sometimes use an extra blanket, even in the summer. Wasteful? Whatever, it's how I like it. Leave me alone. But there was no way in hell I was going to be able to sleep with no air conditioning these past few days. Which left me one option: the couch. The AC in the living room is working just fine, mostly because it broke back in May. Insert your own "fighting with the wife" joke here, but it seemed pretty sad to have to sleep on my own couch in my own house.

As Whitney pointed out, at least my couch is comfortable. But after 4 nights I found myself really longing for my own bed again. I called in a work order on the AC first thing Thursday morning, but of course they didn't get to it before the end of the day Friday. And the maintenance guys don't do work on the weekends. You can bet your ass I called the office today (Monday) as soon as they opened to ask what gives. And guess what? When I got home they had fixed it! The national nightmare is over, I can get back in my own bed!

And now I realize how incredibly lucky I am that I even have the option of air conditioning and I feel like a whiny little punk for even bitching about it. That's middle class guilt for you.

PS: this might also be the first blog post ever where when I ran spellchecker, I got the message "no misspellings found." Go me!

Monday, July 12, 2010

St. Maarten and the Floating Tiki Hut of Magic

Are we at the end already? Unfortunately, yes. Time for the last post about my Eastern Caribbean cruise vacation. Insert sad face here.

You might have noticed that I skipped a few stops, basically because when it comes to two of the islands I decided to just not to do anything and stay on the ship. I sat by the pool, read a lot, and just in general hung out and enjoyed my vacation. But the last full day of our cruise we had our final, and favorite, shore excursion. Ladies and gentleman, I give you: the floating tiki hut of St. Maarten.

Tucked in a little cove on St. Marrten in the Caribbean Sea, the floating tiki hut is just what it sounds like. A tiki hut (with bar and grill) that floats on the water. There are deck chairs, as you can see, and full snorkel gear. So basically, you can snorkel, then relax in the sun in a deck chair, grab a burger and a rum punch, and then just jump off the side and swim in the warm, clear water.

Nice, huh?

There was a boat that traveled back and forth from our cruise ship so people were free to stay at the tiki hut as long as they wanted. Which for me, Chris, and Patrick meant that we stayed there all day. They packed up around us, closed up the hut, and we took the last boat back with the staff. Because when you have that sweet a set-up, you don't leave. Unless you're Kent, in which case you head back after about 2 hours. But, bless him. It's his way.

By the end of the afternoon, when we were the only guests left at the tiki hut, the bar staff was just giving the rum punch to us for free to help get rid of it. Chris and Patrick got a bit, shall we say, toasted, but I figured one of us should stay sober-ish. So we kicked back, drank, and enjoyed the tunes piped in from the staff's iPod playlist.

Snorkeling in the cove was even more fun than our first stop since there was lots more to see. We hunted around for cannons that had blown off Fort Amsterdam in a hurricane, and looked at a sunken yacht, super colorful fish, lobsters, urchins, and the occasional scuba-diver. All in all, it was the perfect day.

And they let me drive the boat back! (not really)

So I bet you're wandering, "wow, this all looks great, but what did you guys do when you were on the boat?" And even if you weren't wondering that, I'm going to tell you. We did a lot of roh roh-ro-oh-oh-ing from Lady Gaga's Bad Romance (and Patrick and I performed an epic dance number to it in the dance club one night), we also did a lot of mocking of the Southern people we spent the day with on Dominica ("oh my word!"), and we did a lot of karaoke. A LOT of karaoke. Almost every night. And we might have done some choreographing of our karaoke routines, just to make sure we were up to snuff. But our perseverance was rewarded, as we received several medals for our karaoke performances. The karaoke lady was also very impressed with Patrick's acting fact, they showed the remake of Fame (which he appeared in) our first night on the ship. Coincidence, but a happy one.

So that about wraps up the vacation recap. We came, we saw, we conquered, and I avoided getting a sunburn. Think of it: pasty ol' me in the Caribbean and I managed to avoid any sunburn, thanks to my trusty SPF 75. I hope to definitely go back some day, but maybe next time pick a lighter itinerary. An island a day was very ambitious. And as you can see, it takes a lot of energy to sit around and relax all the time.

Did I mention that I got a coconut monkey drink? And you know that coconut came home.