Thursday, December 17, 2009

prayers for peace

When Bob married my Aunt Barb, I thought it'd be a long time before he felt like family to me. In my mind, I felt like my life had been so long that the time before I knew Bob would always be longer than the time since he came into our lives. Of course, I was wrong. I had no perspective.

I'm not really sure when the change in perspective occurred. Maybe it was when he always made time for me to get a beer at the Moose. Maybe it was his selfless giving to making Granny laugh. Maybe it was how he sent care packages to every one of my friends when they were deployed. Or that he continued to ask about how they were doing eight years later.

I know the change was so gradual that I never noticed. Family is like that. One day, your cousin is feeding you mud pies; the next, he's standing by your side, trying to cheer up the rest of the family as they try to make sense of the incomprehensible.

Bob wasn't all laughter and smiles. He came off a bit gruff when I was younger. As I came to realize over the years, he kidded the ones he loved. If he didn't like you, he wouldn't waste his breath. Just like most of my friends.

Hammerhead. Testa dura. Governor. Friend. Uncle. He passed away this afternoon after a fierce battle with cancer. Judging by the reactions of the rest of my family, I'm not the only one who's going to miss him.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

amazing photography

A friend of mine from Gainesville is a professional photographer. Ever since she started posting photos online, I anxiously waited for the next installment. This is a multimedia project she worked on that's recently been posted on Vimeo and her company's website, Straw Hat Visuals. Go Gators!

Ok, so I thought I'd be able to embed the video to share. Guess not. The Vimeo link goes to the video. The company link goes to theirs.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

getting out the crock pot

Top Chef introduces me to many different ingredients and flavor profiles. When I happen to have the ingredients on hand, I'm more likely to introduce them to a dish.

Enter the spice rack. Earlier in the summer, I used the ground ginger and basil on it to season a fillet of salmon to give it a distinctly Thai feel when it was finished with the slab of grilled pineapple. To tie this tale together, Top Chef this week had a pork competition. One of the cheftestants (yes, that's really what they call them) made a tenderloin that she seasoned with fennel and paired with sweet potatoes and apples. I've never had fennel before, so I didn't particularly know what it tasted like. It's on the spice rack. Experiment time!

3 lbs. pork tenderloin
1/2 bag of dried lentils, rehydrated
3 sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed
25 oz. jar of plain applesauce
12 oz. your favorite Oktoberfest beer (or soup stock)
approx. 1 tsp. fennel

Layer the ingredients into a six quart crock pot. If yours is smaller, adjust quantities accordingly. I put the potatoes on the bottom, then lentils, then cubed pork, and finally applesauce. Season somewhere in between and add the liquid. Cook on high for 4 hours or so. If you want to cook it longer on low, I'd recommend browning the pork first so it's still recognizable at the end of the day.

Serve it over rice on a rainy day. It was pretty delicious. It'll be here all week.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

how's this go again?

I seem to have forgotten to post here lately. I'd make some lame blogger excuse, "I'm too busy," but that's a lie. Direct your attention more to the photographic outlet of my creativity. This writing thing just ain't doing it for me anymore.

I guess I'll still occasionally post here, but it won't be as timely, and it'll sure be less rant-like. To tide you over, check out some climbing action from last weekend. We had a good day, ate some Mexican food, and showed Bella how to be a crag dog.

When I got home, I went on a three mile run. She's been training hard, and I finally got the all clear to start running again. The Run for World Peace 5K is next weekend. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 28, 2009

restaurant week, round 4

I just went searching through my archives for the remnants of past Restaurant Week delights. Turns out, I was so full of delicious food, I blogged not about them. Either that or I tagged them differently. When I get home sometime, I'll search and tag them properly.

In any case, this is the fourth Restaurant Week I've been in D.C. for. This time around, we decided on a French restaurant. I've only had French food once before. I thought I wrote about that one too, turns out not. Anyhow, I was pleased once; I figured why not try again? The joint is called La Bergerie. The deciding factor between this and another highly-regarded one was the simple fact that La Bergerie offered dinner also. Some restaurants only serve lunch, in order to keep their normal clientele happy at dinnertime, or to not lose so much money with the prix fixe menu offerings of the week.

The choices were hard. For the appetizer course, she had perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned diver scallops. She shared, so I got to partake as well. Melted in my mouth. I chose the beef carpaccio. It was drizzled with white truffle oil, shaved parmesan cheese and some sort of strange lettuce variant. I thought it was delicious, but as I've learned in the past, my taste buds have a much broader range of delight than some. She was less than impressed. Had I not tried escargots last summer for Ma's birthday, I would've gotten them. It wasn't because I didn't like them last time; it was the desire to try something new.

For the main course, she had salmon on a bed of lentils. She found it delicious and ate every bite. I went a little too safe and got the roasted chicken. It was different; the other offerings on the menu were a little too boring sounding. The chicken was a little overdone, but the preparation was creative and inspired. It was stuffed with chicken livers, which gave the chicken the prototypical rich French flavor. The braised celery and sauce on the plate were interesting. Not bad, not great though. I did sop up the sauce with the baguettes still on our table though, just like the Southern boy I've come to be.

Dessert. Where Frenchies shine. Creme brulee; predictably delicious sat across from me. Souffle as tall as a wine bottle and as light as air placed under my nose. A bit like eating a warm cloud of cotton candy, with an airy eggy texture though. The hazelnut topping really complemented it well.

I doubt we'll go back to La Bergerie, though not for lack of quality. I'd like to see their "normal" menu to see if there's anything else that screams, "Eat me" on it. I do like French food, but as rich as it is, it should be mind-numbingly delicious.

Friday, August 21, 2009

idle hands are the devil's tools

I reckon my back has gotten better to the point that sitting still about drives me nuts. So much so that on Tuesday I decided to build a picnic table. Mind you, I'd not really discussed this with the Boss, nor did I want a run-of-the-mill table. So, I drew up some plans for a trestle table and got the materials.

Too much, but that's neither here nor there.

The plan was to finish the table before she got home from work. Mother Nature had other plans. My framing skills came back to me in a hurry. I was able to get the legs and top framed out in less than three hours with no assistance. I'm sure it was quite a goofy sight with some of the balancing acts I had to do with no workbench or level surface besides the ground and a toolbox. The rain came down, and as you may know, rain and power tools don't mix real well.

So, she came home to a table with no top on it. Surprised, yes. Would it have been cooler to have the whole thing done? Absolutely.

Back at it Wednesday, I braced the top for the cantilever with 45 degree braces. I cut the top to length and laid it all out. Turns out I bought too much material. A four-foot wide table dominated the porch. Skinnying it by one plank made it more manageable, but six-feet long took more space than I planned also. Opinion needed. She agreed.
Finally, yesterday, I predrilled all the boards, screwed them down, and evened up the ends. Total time investment: five hours or so. Total cost: $65 when all was said and done. Not bad. Now for the benches to sit on...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

variation on lasagna

I'm not sure why. Sometimes, I just get a hankering for some lasagna. Today was one such time. Spring break memories of the Tuscan lasagna made me think a variation of the traditional meat, cheese and sauce was in order. In the past, I've merely added ingredients. Portabello mushrooms. Italian sausage. More cheese. Tonight, I went outside of that modus operandi. I went Greek...sort of.

1 1/2 lbs. of shrimp, cooked & cleaned
12 lasagna noodles, cooked al dente and drained
1 small bag of baby spinach
Fresh basil to taste
Small bunch of parsley
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 cups shredded mozzarella (or Italian blend)
10 oz. or so of crumbled feta cheese
Tomato sauce
Italian seasoning, if desired

Lasagna requires a lot of bowls for prep and a decent-sized countertop. Chop spinach, basil and parsley. Combine in large bowl. Set aside.

Make sauce. Yes, I said make sauce. Doing this right means doing all the steps right. If you want to use Ragu or Prego, stop reading this recipe and learn how to make your own sauce. It's worth it.

Beat egg in another large bowl. In order, mix in ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella. In small amounts, mix in green stuff until all ingredients are evenly dispersed.

Oil the bottom and sides of a 14" x 9" casserole dish. The deeper the better. Spread a thin layer of sauce on the pan and the first layer of noodles. Cover with half the ricotta and spinach mixture. Next layer of noodles. Layer in sauce, shrimp and feta. Next layer of noodles. Sauce and the remaining ricotta. Last layer of noodles and sauce on top.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes before plating.

Shrimp worked well, but shredded [fill-in-the-meat] or a vegetable substitute would work equally well. Perhaps an olive/peperoncini/roasted garlic/red pepper Greek twist instead of meat? I'm not really sure. I also thought a pesto instead of red sauce would go well, too.

Cooking ain't an exact science; experiment and enjoy the results

Thursday, August 13, 2009

holla back, dc

In my boredom this summer, I've taken to reading a lot of random stuff online. One site that's been popping up a lot on the DCBlogs daily links is called Holla Back DC. The basic premise of the site is that women who are harassed by strangers on the street can submit their stories as a means of catharsis and get some support from the blogoverse. By empowering these women to share their stories, perhaps the next time, they won't be so silent in the face of men harassing them in public.

Since I started reading this site, it got me thinking. As a male, I'm clearly not privy to what goes on in women's minds when a stranger makes rude or lewd remarks to you in public. Does it happen often? If it's happened to you before, does it make you paranoid that all men are leering at you?

It reminds me of an anonymous friend that liked to wear sunglasses while on campus, so he could check out attractive coeds without being noticed. Voyeuristic, yes, but at least he had the decency and manners to not openly harass strangers based on appearances alone. Do guys like this eventually fall into the catcaller category?

I'm beginning to think that it happens more often than I witness, as most women on the street barely raise their eyes to meet a stranger's. Smiling at a perfect stranger is looked at with contempt instead of a return smile. I just don't get it.

I doubt any readers of this web rag are catcallers or harassers in question. If so, have any of your opening comments about a woman's appearance actually worked?

I thought not.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

buzz bakery

When I was a kid, my dad would get a tin of chocolate-covered pretzels without fail each Christmas. It was always the round gift, wrapped strangely or not at all. It's true what they say about exposing kids to varied foods to make them less picky. Since those chocolate-covered pretzels of Yule and yore, I've always had a hankering for salty-sweet combinations. Pancake syrup and sausage links? Done. M & M's and roasted peanuts in trail mix? Delicious. Grape jelly on a chicken biscuit? Absolutely.

When I heard about Buzz's August cupcake of the month, I knew I would like it. How much depended on their execution of the ingredients.

Raise your hand if you like devil's food cake. I thought so. Light and airy, this element I knew they'd execute perfectly, having had some of their confectionary creations at a dessert wine tasting at Planet Wine in February.

Raise your hand if you like peanut butter. Ok, not as many of you, but still a good number. Take that peanut butter and incorporate it into a buttercream frosting, and you've got a winner in my book. Put that frosting on a chocolate cupcake; delicious. How about a vanilla cupake and toast a marshmallow on it? Fluffer-nutter cupcake. Ooh, write that down!

(Peanut butter chocolate note: ever notice how Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are at times saltier than they are sweet? The genius! Other companies that try to mimic it get it all wrong and make it sickeningly sweet, which doesn't work for peanuts in my opinion.)

Finally, who likes bacon? Salty, chewy, cooked-just-right, high quality, center-cut bacon...Mmm. I once had this delicious bacon at a school luncheon. It was baked with brown sugar until the sugar caramelized and served cooled. It was quite possibly the most delicious bacon I've ever had. Again, salty vs. sweet battling on my taste buds.

Ok, for the finale, here's the combination. Devil's Food cupcake. Peanut butter buttercream frosting. Real bacon bits (not from a jar, actually made at the shop) folded into the frosting. One complex culinary delight in one small paper wrapper.

(Thanks to Metrocurean for alerting me to this flavor festival!)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

d.c. plates

I find myself doing double takes around here when it comes to license plates. On one hand, I see just more Florida plates than I do for any neighboring states (excluding Virginia and Maryland, of course!) I found it odd until I learned that military families don't have to relinquish their home residence status if Uncle Sam's shipping them all over the country. Probably why I saw so many out-of-state plates in the parking lot at school.

On to D.C. plates. Until I moved to the DMV, I had rarely seen an actual Washington D.C. license plate. Since moving here, I think I see diplomat plates more often than actual District plates. It makes me think one of two things:

One, why'd that person cross the Potomac? In the case of my District friends, it takes quite an event for them to cross the river. For the most part, if it isn't Metro accessible, they're not going. More often than not, it appears that they've just left to go shopping somewhere nearby, get some cheap gas, go to work (?). I guess the Target in Columbia Heights is too far out of the way for some!

Two, the double take in my brain reprocesses, "Wait. People that live in the District have cars? Since when? Cash for Clunkers must be working!"

Friday, August 7, 2009

whiskey tango foxtrot?

I've gotten some crazy spam emails in the past. Surprisingly, I don't get a whole lot of spam on my current email address. A lot of my friends have left this particular webmail client because of spam overload. I guess it all depends on whether your address is easily generated by spam bots. Anyhow, I got a chuckle out of this strange message that was sent to my Junk folder by the filters. No links, no signature, no please reply if you're interested.

I am a romantic woman, but I am also decided and strong when it iss
necessary. I also have the sense of the humor. I'm very easy going,
open minded, and respectful towards men. Being creative is veryy
important to me. II am magical, mystical, musical, sensible,
responsive, magnetic, practical, whimsical, harmonious, intriguing,
thought provoking, kind and gentle yet firm, inquisitive, compatible,
full of compassion, spiritual- but not religious, observant but not
judgmental. I am kind, thoughtful, sensitive, like to laugh, loyal,
confident, objective and taking really goood care of myself. I would
do the same for my future partner

Sorry, Mary S. I've already found love. What made you think this'd be a successful venture?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

my next thirty years

A trip across the radio dial landed on a Tim McGraw song I hadn't heard in a while. Kind of odd that it occurred the night before my 30th. A riff on the lyrics.
I think I'll take a moment, celebrate my age,
The ending of an era and the turning of a page.
Now it's time to focus in on where I go from here;
Lord have mercy on my next thirty years

I guess this is pretty true as this past year has been quite a change. Between getting engaged in March and getting married next July, I'd say turning a page is an appropriate cliche for now.
Hey, my next thirty years I'm gonna have some fun,
Try to forget about all the crazy things I've done.
Maybe now I've conquered all my adolescent fears,
And I'll do it better in my next thirty years.

I'm fairly certain that I had a good bit of fun in my first 30 years. It'll likely be a different brand of fun, but fun nonetheless. Example, I'm going hang gliding in three weeks. That'll be fun. I'm not sure what I was really afraid of in adolescence. Being happy? Being loved? Having friends? I guess this is why teen angst is overwrought and ridiculous when you look back with 20/20 hindsight.
My next thirty years I'm gonna settle all the scores:
Cry a little less, laugh a little more.
Find a world of happiness without the hate and fear.
Figure out just what I'm doing here
In my next thirty years

I feel like I did this in my twenties. Stopped sweating the small stuff and started appreciating the beautiful stuff. Perhaps that's why I've jumped headfirst into photography. Yet another hobby that will compete with my attention for years to come! The whole existential "Why am I here" question will vex me for my entire life I'm sure, but I reckon I'm getting a better handle on it day by day in front of a classroom.
Oh my next thirty years, I'm gonna watch my weight,
Eat a few more salads and not stay up so late,
Drink a little lemonade and not so many beers.
Maybe I'll remember my next thirty years

No comment, but if last night's any indication, I still like beer. Good lemonade just isn't as easy to find at restaurants or bars.
My next thirty years will be the best years of my life,
Raise a little family and hang out with my wife,
Spend precious moments with the ones that I hold dear,
Make up for lost time here, in my next thirty years

In due time. In due time. Seems a lot more fitting for thirty than it would've for twenty, that's for damn sure. I don't know if I'll still be blogging in 10 years, but I'll revisit these thoughts then.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

saturday trip to the beauty shop

I haven't been posting here a whole lot lately. Most of what I've been doing has been behind the shutter. Not a whole lot more to report on that front besides share photos. Here's two of my grandma from this weekend. She hates the camera, but it's pretty easy to sneak a shot or two.

Friday, July 31, 2009

public transportation

Back before I bought the danger Ranger, I occasionally took the bus to the mall in Gainesville. Rarely at best, but every so often, I'd need something that wasn't at any stores within walking distance of campus. So, I'd hop on the number 20 out to the Oaks Mall, wander around for an hour or so, and hop back on to get back to my dorm. I never had any need to figure out the schedule or the route for that matter. There weren't a whole lot of choices and the trip was short. Worse came to worse, I could call a friend to (maybe) pick me up. Beyond that and a rare Later Gator trip, I was not really savvy on public transit.

D.C.'s Metro system is my preferred mode of transport into the city. If I need to drive somewhere that Metro doesn't reach, it's a rare, special occasion. I know there's much to see in the District that is not accessible underground, but convenience is convenience. I could walk to the station, to my destination and back again. Since moving to Falls Church, I have a longer walk and a longer trip on the train. To get other places faster, I've begun trying to figure out the bus schedules nearby.

Mind you, my use of the bus is not a necessity. I rarely have cause to need public transportation since I have a live-in designated driver for those late nights or early happy hours. This summer, it's been more of something to do, just in case I need to one day.

Well, the past two weeks have been a "need to" situation. My folks borrowed my car for 2 weeks. Last year, it would not have been as big a deal. I was able to ride my bike, walking was an easier option comparatively. My fruitless PT appointments were in the District and easily Metro accessible. This year's chiropractor appointments are about three miles from the nearest Metro station and two bus transfers away if I go that route. Today, it took me almost 2 hours to get there. Afterwards, I had to wait for close to an hour to catch a bus that didn't even take me to the Metro line.

I have trouble accepting it because I have other options. Some of my fellow bus riders likely have no other option. Waiting for the bus is a fact of life for them. With no car and a need to earn a living, what other options are there outside of the reach of Metro and walking beyond the realm of possibility? People wonder why Americans don't use public transit. When you factor buses into it, it's horribly slow and time-consuming. I spent over four hours on various forms today to travel 20 miles or so. When I have the option to drive and save three of those hours for cooking a good meal, going to the gym, or taking some pictures, what am I going to choose?

Until we as a nation, state, or community decide to live where we work and make public transit more convenient by proximity, we're stuck with what we've got. Fortunately, I get my car back on Monday and will probably forget about it until I need to hop on a bus again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

spectacular street grub

Most of the time when thinking of street vendor food, overdone hot dogs and rock hard pretzels are what come to mind. Every so often, you find a spot that has something resembling food you'd eat by choice, not necessity. Ever so rarely, you find a gem with typical street vendor food presented in a not so typical way. Pupusas. Fish tacos. Shaved ice.

I heard through the interweb grapevine about a street cart that just opened that is one such gem. I ventured there, and man, was I impressed!

Sliders are the main fare, but don't think White Castle or Krystal steamers. I had the lamb meatball slider. It had slaw and goat cheese aioli on it. You get two sliders in an order, not quite enough to fill me up, but at four to six bucks, two orders won't break the bank. Add a drink and a bag of chips for $1.50.

They're open 7 days a week, and I plan on stopping by the next time I'm in the neighborhood, whether I'm hungry or not. Hey, it's for a good cause!

Spy Diner
9th & F Streets, NW

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

west virginia bouldering

Here are two clips of our climbing adventures in West Virginia last week. I thought long and hard about what music to accompany said climbs. Thoughts?

Monday, July 20, 2009

ethiopian adventure

"Well, what do you want to eat?" I asked.

"Ethiopian food," he replied, "Can't get that in Gainesville."

There's a few options for Ethiopian food in the area. Never having eaten it myself, I had to do some research. U Street seemed to have the largest enclave of Ethiopian restaurants and shops. Several sites actually called it Little Ethiopia. How many cities have one of those, outside of Addis Ababa anyhow?

Sorting through the recommendations, I decided on Etete (1942 9th Street NW). It won several Washingtonian magazine awards, the reviews were plentiful and (mostly) good. We got off at the U Street/Cardozo/African American War Memorial Metro stop. (Sidenote: Quite possibly the longest Metro station stop in the system!) People watching all the while, we followed a foursome of out-of-their-element girls into Etete. Go figure.

Candler and I ordered honey wine and sambusas before the main food came out. The honey wine tasted a bit like a dessert wine with a hops bite. Not bad, but not great. The sambusas were delicious. Lentils and meat and jalapenos and other veggies. Flaky crust on the outside. An African empanada, more or less.

For the main course, we opted for a veggie sampler, kifta, and a lamb stew. All of the veggie mounds were delicious. Kifta is a spicy blend of ground meat that is often served raw. We opted for medium, but it came out looking like browned ground round. It was infinitely tastier though. The lamb stew was rich with a slight vinegary bite to it. All of the dishes came out on a giant platter with a basket of rolled up injera. Injera is to Ethiopian food what chopsticks are to the Far East. I liken it to a chewier pancake. We used it like pita to pick up bite-sized morsels of the entrees.

All told, we couldn't eat all the food we ordered. Too much deliciousness. Knowing we were headed to Gibson's afterwards, we boxed it up anyways. Not five steps out of the restaurant, a homeless man in a wheelchair asked for some spare change. I offered the leftovers instead, and he graciously accepted.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

the new ticks

Returned from the woods on Thursday night. Five days of climbing, three crags, bouldering, sport climbing, deep water soloing, two showers. I'll make the stories short. There's too many to share.

Candler and I stayed at Rocky Top Retreat, better known as Roger's. If you go to the New, it's the community place to go. Six bucks a night. Plenty of characters call it home for a weekend, a week, or months on end. It's where we got the local beta on what to climb, for the New River Gorge is a dizzying array of climbs. The sheer volume alone makes the New the biggest crag I've ever been to. Kind of hard to narrow it down. We hit three separate parts on three consecutive days.

Day one, Kaymoor and rain in the morning. Searching for dry routes was the order of the day. 823 steps down the wrong way, we found our way to Rico Suave. Route one was called Totally Tammy (5.10a). Sketchy slab lead, but overall, not a bad climb. Made easier by our height, for sure. Route two was Rico Suave Arete (also 5.10a). Super fun lead, great movement. Left me feeling confident for more sends later in the week. After our misdirection, we were pretty much spent after those two climbs. Too bad. Back to Roger's. We got directions to Hawk's Nest for some bouldering in the afternoon.

Day two, Endless Wall. Six miles of cliff line and routes. Down the Honeymooner's Ladders, we tracked down Diamond Point and another slab lead to warm up. Glass Onion went at 5.10b, not as hairy as Tammy, but still a hairy clip or two. Hunting for straight up face climbing, we found Strike a Scowl (5.10b). Best exposure of the week, nearly a 360 degree view from the top. Too hot to hang up there and enjoy it though. Feeling confident, we hopped on Homer Erectus (5.11b) and were promptly beat down between the 3rd & 4th bolts. Demoralized and thirsty, we called it an early day yet again.

Day three, Bubba City with some of the other Roger's campers. Beer Wall is apparently overrun during the weekends, but we found an empty wall with our crew. Feeling pumped on my warmup Gilded Otter (5.7), I wasn't confident for the 100 point day we shot for. St. Pauli Girl (5.10c) tested my endurance. I made it up, but not without a few takes. No redpoint, but I got to the top. Stella put us on her project called Cirrhosis of the Leader, a two bolt 5.12a. All the business was at the bottom, basically a V5 into an easy slab. After a few goes, Candler sent first. Hans put it down next. Beta sponging from Stella, I used an awesome undercling to fight through the crux and finally sent. Near Beer (5.6) and Cerveza Verde (5.8) rounded out my euphoric day.

Pies and Pints all you can eat was on the menu for the celebratory evening. A lucky 13 slices went down my gullet, and a pizza hangover hit me the next morning. Candler and I rolled on up Rte. 19 the next morning, headed for Summersville's Whipporwill climbing and swimming. Good times.

I shall return.

Friday, July 10, 2009

mini golf practice day

Finally, I get a summertime day of being lazy. I didn't do anything today that was remotely productive.


Plan one, watch a movie. Tried to get into D.W. Griffith's landmark The Birth of a Nation. It's a tough one to watch, as it's a silent film that is over three hours long. Pretty tough for me to maintain my attention with stuff blowing up, let alone reading the screen. I got lost; I'll try again tomorrow.

No matter. I had other plans to hang out with like-minded teacher friends. Putt putt golf after a ginormous burrito at Chipotle. Yes, I went mini-golfing today. I needed practice for tomorrow night. It's her birthday and we're going to the H Street Country Club in northeast. I'll report on that more when I get there tomorrow.

Today was awesome. The county park that has the course has an amazing looking pool and batting cages too. The golfing was fun; I'll certainly make a return trip. I can walk there from my apartment for goodness' sake! My bored goal for the summer is to shoot for par. A 36 will be tough; that's 10 strokes fewer than today. No debris and no goofing off.

A little too serious for mini golf? You are talking to one of the many people in the DMV that chooses to pay to play in a kickball league after all...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

welsh food and weird art

Two summer traditions in D.C. were concurrently happening for the last two weeks or so. With the move, I didn't have much of a chance to get to either of them until this week. Well, I guess it was Friday. Hooray for federal holidays during the summer!

First off was the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Each year, the folks at the Smithsonian feature one foreign land and one American region. Last year, I took some pictures of the people and artists of Bhutan. This year featured Wales as the former and soul food as the latter. They highlight food, music, homes, clothing, and any other aspects of life that would be interesting enough to bring people from across the world to share with American tourists in tube socks and fanny packs. In any case, I was excited to try on my Welsh culture for a few hours.

Too bad. We got there a little bit late. Watching paint dry delayed our arrival and the only thing we got to do was try some world-famous Welsh cuisine. You've not heard of famous Welsh cuisine? You must be joking! I highly suggest getting out and finding some Welsh cheese. It's pretty tasty and all we've got to offer. It was a little warm to try the cawl, which is a tasty-looking stew with lamb and leeks and all manners of other vegetables. I think I'll find a recipe and make some in the winter, when it's rainy and more Wales-like around here.

Being disappointed by our late arrival, we headed off on the green line to Nationals Park for another summertime tradition: watching the Nats lose.

Who am I kidding? We can do that for the majority of their 81 home games. We were headed to Artomatic. In its ninth year, it is a random assortment of excellent or subpar art in all media. Nine floors of it in a recently constructed building. I found some inspiration in my photography, as in, I take better pictures than some of the "featured" artists. Maybe I'll try to get some work shown and sold sometime. That'd be pretty rad.

At least this year, I didn't see any naked men running around. That would've made our final stop a little harder to stomach. To round out the day/evening, we headed to a D.C. landmark called Ben's Chili Bowl. It's been an institution for over 50 years. You won't find health food here; but what you will find in abundance is a healthy dose of chili on burgers, fries, dogs, and half-smokes. Wash it all down with a thicker-than-concrete milkshake, and you're good to go. Expect a line, and bring cash. It's worth it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

twinkie, deconstructed

And here it is, book number one of the summer reading blitz under my belt. Twinkie, Deconstructed is an interesting book that sometimes reads like a PR spot for processed food manufacturers.

Who am I kidding? It is pure propaganda, plain and simple. Each and every industry Ettlinger gets a nod to greatness from the author, all because of the simple question his kids posed about ingredients on a Twinkie label. Brilliant in in its concept, fell short in execution.

In the end, he does make some good points about why manufacturers have moved away from natural ingredients in supermarket-ready foods. All in all, I think books like this will certainly drive me more towards organic grub and being a locavore, so as to avoid all these additives and processing that are in the seemingly innocuous Twinkie.

Honestly, I can't recall the last time I ate a Twinkie, but I know for sure now after reading this book, it ain't just Twinkies that get the scientific treatment by food scientists. I could go home right now and find all sorts of additives and preservatives and replacements for "natural" ingredients. Sure, they're "generally regarded as safe" by the FDA, but the acids and chemicals used to produce them are anything but.

To be perfectly honest, that kind of scares me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

what a week

Writing has trickled lately, huh? Cardboard haunted me for a good while before, during, and still after my simultaneous moves. I hate moving. Thankfully, next time around, it ought to be for a good long while. After that, it might pay to get movers to go from house to house whenever I get old.

Hmm. Something big to write about? My photos will be gracing the walls of our new apartment. I can't wait to get out and shoot some new stuff when my summer finally begins in stride. I'm not real sure when that will be. This picture of mine won a contest in one of the photo groups I've joined to challenge my creative eye. I've entered a few more shots for this month's contests. Post processing of photos is something new I'm trying. It fights with my purist spirit, but I'd rather take an average photo and turn it into something great than toss it and have wasted an opportunity. Shots like that one that are nearly perfect are hard to come by. I know Ansel Adams played with exposure in the darkroom when he developed his prints; digitally, this is my darkroom so to speak.

That's all. I'll try to be more exciting soon. Sorry, readers.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

dad's day

We really should realize this every day, but we often don't. We take our dads for granted, and reading Postsecret this afternoon makes me realize how lucky I am to have a dad like mine.

One that's a part of my life. One with far more character than flaws. One that has guided me through times of difficulty. One that has been there in times of joy. My dad is a man of few words, speaking more like a Hemingway than a fillibustering Senator. He's full of one-liners in my memory, the strong, silent type like Eastwood.

There wasn't a whole lot of cause for him to worry when I was a kid or teenager. Sure I got dirty and caused more mischief with my friends than I should've, but I stayed on the straight and narrow. I'd guess I got more solicited advice about women from my dad than on any other subject. On that timeless debate among men, Pop's advice is usually on point, though I sometimes don't want to hear it. In hindsight, I realize the wisdom in his words. It took a few years to straighten myself out and realize I didn't know it all.

In describing my father, I see myself. He is the man I've become. Though we are wildly different in some ways, our similarities abound. I am my father's son in so many ways now. I'm certain there are many more to come in the next few years.

Learn something. Take care. Love you too, Pop. Happy Father's Day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

one helluva guy

Have you ever met someone so selfless, so giving that he or she would give free rein of their house for the weekend at a moment's notice? Friends like that are hard to come by in this increasingly fragmented world we live in. Everyone who was blessed to have crossed paths with Chris Hale would agree, "He's one helluva guy."

Chris moved to Chattanooga before the rest of my climbing buds from Gainesville. His tiny apartment was often covered with fifteen or twenty crashpads and the accompanying dirtbags sprawled on the floor. Not just for one weekend once a year; almost every weekend when the weather was right during climbing season. He didn't seem to care; good times with friends and good times climbing. Working just enough to climb. He lived the life.

Before I knew him, I never would've considered calling him on Thursday or Friday to say I was climbing for the weekend and asking to stay. Every one did it, but it was because he loved being around other climbers, even if not at the crag. One time, I was passing through Chatty, planning on staying with some other friends, but I'd called Chris to see if he wanted to climb while I was in town. We got in a few hours at Little Rock City, and I still hadn't heard from my other friends. He offered his place without a moment's hesitation. Stories like this were left in his wake when he left Chattanooga to follow the climbing seasons around the country.

We lost a great friend this week. I hope we can honor him with his spirit and love of life every time we pull hard on sandstone, granite, or limestone outdoors. He will be sorely missed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

one thing

One thing that's always lacked from my teaching career has been a sense of consistency. I came into my first school in the middle of the year and struggled with my first class. Thirty-three weeks later, I said goodbye to them still asking questions about Mrs. Browning, the teacher I replaced at retirement. Normally, in teaching second grade, you get to see the students pass through the grades before going on to middle school. Not so in that school. Second grade was as high as they went, so off they went "up the hill" to the other elementary school that dealt with the third through fifth grades. It was kind of strange to see second graders get senioritis as they puffed up at the responsibility of being the oldest students in the school.

Four years later, change needed, though feeling some sense of consistency. I knew many of the students at the school, kindergarten on up. Many of the parents knew my face and vice versa. Working with siblings of former students makes things easier at the beginning of the year without a doubt.

Here, I won't get that chance. At a larger school grade-wise, it's even harder to feel that sense of consistency. You get to know the outspoken students in other grades, the ones your colleagues are always talking about, but you don't know them from Adam. In any case, I lost the chance to know two classes of students by looping this year. To top it off, I'm off to a new school next year.

I sure hope that I can get some roots at the next stop on my teaching journey. If I don't, I think I may have to get out of this teaching game. It's too hard to adjust to a new place this often.

cleaning house

It ain't that exciting, but it must be done. Now begins the arduous task of cleaning house and merging two into one. It is amazing how little I brought with me when I moved. Some of that little would be best suited for storing in the attic for no good reason and forgetting about. With my nomadic nature, I can't be toting things to new abodes without using them. Books and folders and notes from college are probably getting the permanent boot this time. I reckon what I want to keep is on my hard drive anyhow. The comments of long lost instructors and professors haven't really helped me since college, and I doubt that it'll change in the near future.

Currently, I have four bags of clothes and such that are going to wind up at Goodwill. I believe what's left of my mismatched dishes and plates and bowls will join that stack.

This will be the last stop in my itchy feet twenties. Lord willing and the creek don't rise, the following roof will be one with a proper mortgage that will allow me to resume my pack rat ways and acquire gobs of outdoor sports toys like a kayak and a mountain bike.

To top it all off, I need to pack up my classroom better than usual so that the county can move all my materials to my new school. Gathering boxes is hard enough; try doing it for two simultaneous moves. This month is going to be rough. At least I've got kickball and climbing and bicycling to keep me sane.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

a long, wet spring

"Stupid rain."

Josh's text wakes me up a little too early, and I get a little too anxious. I look out my window, see early rays of sunshine peeking through the trees, and think him to be crazy. Presumably, it rained Saturday night. I was fast asleep. My balcony was indeed wet. After much deliberation, we decided to go anyway. We soon found out that the boulders and flora were wet at our destination too.

Oh, well. New crag, new car smell, exploration feeling. Rocky Gorge Reservoir is in Montgomery County, Maryland. It's a bit past our least favorite local crag/crack den Northwest Branch. From what we can tell, it seems like it may be our new favorite local home. From descriptions online, we were able to locate 4 or 5 boulders. What the crag lacks in quantity, it makes up for in normal boulder quality. Nothing exceptional, but enough to get a fix for the morning when Coopers is too far away, and a week-long trip to the Southeast is out of the question.

We'll be back.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

go big on a bike

After doing domestic-related chores 'round here, I got the crazy idea to hop on my bike and ride out to Vienna. She's dog-sitting, and I thought it'd be a nice ride with some sunny skies overhead.

Everyone else had the same idea. Lucky for me, we were all going the same speed this afternoon. All the weekend warriors had hit the trail and headed home before lunchtime. I didn't have to dodge too many folks, hollering out, "On the left!" as I passed.

Today was test day also for a pair of bike shorts. No, I wasn't rocking spandex as outerwear. This was a pair of padded bike shorts meant to be worn as underwear. I looked normal on my old-school Fuji road bike, padded all the while. Perfect for my type of riding. Weekend warrior style. Not saddle sore yet. We'll see how things feel tomorrow.

The ride was uneventful. I knocked out the 13 1/2 miles one way in a shade over an hour. My legs were tired. We took a nice long break, visited with her brother, niece and sister-in-law, ate dinner, and I headed back with not enough daylight to spare. I found my way to the Metro and hopped on. Haven't gotten off the couch since. Wound up being close to 20 miles.

Climbing forecast tomorrow: unknown, unloved, and undiscovered. Good times, I hope.

Friday, May 29, 2009

the indomitable human spirit

It's been a while since I've blogged about either books or movies. Usually, I'm comparing the book version of something to the film version. This edition will not follow that modus operandi. This one will be a little more like those silly essays we used to write in high school and college, comparing seemingly disparate works to one another. In college, I compared a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story to one by Edgar Allan Poe and then tied that symbolism to Biblical representations of water. It was deep, but quite a stretch. Maybe I'll hunt that down and share it with you this weekend.

Anyhow. On to the analysis. In this corner, wearing Crip blue and throwing up gang signs, we have Stanley Tookie Williams' Blue Rage, Black Redemption. And in the other corner, we have the brilliant Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman.

The mere comparison of these two works must start with a description of the characters. The former, Tookie, is best-known for being a co-founder of the Crips. In his two-part memoir, he rails against his past and what eventually led him to death row. The missteps that led him to prison are many, though until he landed at San Quentin, he had never before been incarcerated. He was a larger than life figure in South Central LA during his lifetime, and that spirit carried over into his life in prison. He refused to submit to the prison culture, maintained his ethics, and turned over a new leaf. He wrote an 8-part children's book series to prevent youth from going down his same stretch of road. His turnaround was so drastic, there was a film made about his prison redemption, and he was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize.

The latter was Luke, a fictitious character, but one with an antiestablishment persona just the same. His refusal to submit to the rules laid out by the sadistic warden at the work camp led to beatings, harder labor, nights spent "in the box"...and earning the respect of all his fellow inmates. He fought the system up until the very end, playing his part with that trademark Newman grin. He wasn't locked up for murder, but his long trial at the work camp tested his mettle just the same.

Tookie & Luke both refused to let their spirits be broken by an inhospitable imprisonment. Tookie stepped into the realm of peacemaker while in prison, refusing to participate as the gang hooligan that took him there. He brokered truces between Bloods & Crips, which few on the streets have even tried, much less succeeded with. All the while, he faced a prison bureaucracy that was out to get him, much like the sadistic warden in Cool Hand Luke. Both spirits of these men were indomitable, unable to be broken. Despite crueler than cruel circumstances, they managed to hold their heads high until the very end.

Queue this movie, check out this book. I don't think you'll be disappointed by either.

Friday, May 22, 2009

middle names

A short one for your Friday enjoyment.

We were starting capital letters in cursive with the capital A & C. I realized soon after the lesson began that few of the students would be able to use either letter to write their names. No matter. Turns out it helped one first name and one last. Then the middle names come into play.

One girl pipes up, "My middle name's Ann. Now I can spell it!"

A look of recognition flashes in another's eyes, as if to say, "Me too!"

I add to the chorus, "My mom's middle name is Ann as well!"

Not to be outdone, one of my quiet boys put the class in stitches, "My middle name's Ann, too!"

About half the class heard him and about died laughing. I didn't repeat it for the ones that missed it; their fault for not paying attention. Good stuff. I'd say better than my bathroom sneaker last year. It's that time of year.

Eighteen left, not that I'm counting...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

fast food nation

Here it is, my short and sweet review of Fast Food Nation. If you're unaware of what the book is, it's an interesting take on the fast food industry and what it has meant to American consumers, even those of us who choose not to eat at such establishments. It has quite a bit of history on it, which was fascinating and disturbing at once. The business acumen and lack of ethics on the part of most of the magnates of the industry brought us what we know today. A McDonald's or 10 in every city, Ronald McDonald being second to Santa Claus in recognition, and the golden arches being one of the most recognizable corporate symbols in the world.

I can't say I'm going to be a vegetarian after reading this book. I don't have the willpower or the nutrition knowledge to make a go at it. Too much of my cooking skill involves grilling or roasting or frying. Pasta wouldn't cut it.

Some odd facts. Ray Kroc bought out the McDonald's brothers for a paltry $3ish million. His empire is clearly worth billions. Most franchisees go into debilitating debt to open a restaurant. There's a reason why immigrants staff the lowest levels of the American workforce; even managers in this industry make chump change and work lawyer-like hours. Ninety percent of children in this country visit a McDonald's every month. Why? Probably because they are the largest private operator of playgrounds in the country. A McDonald's hamburger is healthier than McNuggets.

Someone needs to import In-N-Out Burgers from California to the District. Their food is better quality, they pay their employees living wages, and their management style is ethical. Five Guys wasn't mentioned, but judging by the taste of their food, I bet they're in the same league. So what's this mean for Mr. J? As with all my reading on Wal-Mart, I'm avoiding fast food joints from now on. I haven't set foot in a Wal-Mart in almost two years, and I don't plan on starting.

My fast food corporation boycott!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

a night of amazing

I must expand upon what last night became. The weather up here has been less than perfect. As Tim put it, "We plan to climb or do other things when the weather's supposed to be good, and it's not. When we think the weather's going to be bad, we don't plan anything, and it turns out marvelous."

Or something like that. Anyhow, yesterday was one of those days. Forecasted rain all day long. Ruined my plans to ride my bike around the city and photosafari. Spent the day on a long overdue cleaning of the apartment. I must say, it looks pretty good. By the time I finished, the rain started. Go figure.

I'd wanted to go play with my new(ish) tripod and take some night shots of the monuments. With the rain, I didn't think that was going to be much fun. Turns out, the weather gods allowed me a little more freedom than originally expected.

First off, decided to go to Old Town. For you non-local readers, Old Town is a neighborhood in Alexandria. There's shops and food and bars and lots of people. If you make it as far as the waterfront, there's street performers and sidewalk musicians and boats and sketch artists of all stripes. It's generally a pretty good time in good weather.

So, the camera didn't mount right to the tripod shoe, so I left it in the car. Left me with a little more room for creativity on how to steady the camera for my pictures. I'm going to sort through them shortly. Look for them over on the photo blog this week. Successful shooting evening. I hope.

Amazing number one. I got to tour a pirate ship. Ok, so there wasn't a Jolly Roger flying on it's yard arms, nor was there an eye patch in sight, but I got to talk like a pirate for the rest of the evening. It wasn't even Talk Like a Pirate Day. Good times.

Amazing number two. It started pouring. Not so much fun, but we had to run for cover. A lot more fun in warm weather rain than cold. In the sheltered cove we found, there was a quartet called King Street Bluegrass playing, you guessed it, bluegrass music. Second song in, a little ditty by Old Crow Medicine Show. I take a few pictures of the crowd and the band. The fiddler asked me to email them to him whenever I get through them. Alright then!

Amazing number three & four. There's a little joint at the corner of King St. and Washington called Eamonn's Dublin Chipper. 'Twas a lovely night for a Guinness.

And a deep-fried Milky Way bar rolled in cinnamon sugar. It's a good thing that I don't live close to that place. I'd probably eat those far more often than the Surgeon General would advise. Which is to say more often than once. It was incredible. Kinda like the rest of the night.

Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

la nostra famiglia

Trying to learn how to get good shots of people. Here's a few from my NYC weekend earlier this month. Whatcha think?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

roller coasters

Life is a funny roller coaster. Unlike a roller coaster, the dips are less fun and more terrifying because we often can't see where the track levels out. The ride up isn't the exciting part, the opposite of life as well. That's the most excruciatingly boring part, until finally at the precipice, the car speeds up and gives you a shot of adrenaline.

I suppose an optimist would look at life's roller coaster as such, with a better outlook on the overall picture. A pessimist would view the ride more like an actual roller coaster for someone that doesn't like to ride them. On the way up, wondering when the bottom will fall out; back down again, heart racing, terrified of the outcome. The optimist will take it all in stride. Enjoy the ride up, not worried about the top. Look ahead on the way down, knowing it's going to level out eventually so you can catch your breath.

Where does this metaphor come from? Life lately has been a roller coaster ride. From the dizzying heights of my roller coaster ride, I thought life couldn't get much better. Friends at work, new friends to climb with, blissful relationship. Then the stresses piled on and on. Destaffed. Traumatic spondylithiosis. Migraines. Hunting for a new apartment.

Just like that, the cars leveled off at the bottom of the hill, took a barrel roll, and began their climb back up to normal. New job transfer accomplished, apartment settled for next year, climbing to destress, taking time to breathe and snap some photos. Give and take. It's a wonderful ride.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

back in time

She and I show up to the 9:30 Club last night. The email said get there at 6:30. Line's down the block. Doors were at 6:30; show at 7. Free tickets are confusing.

In stark contrast to the last time we went to this venue, we were in the door long before the show started. Good thing, too, since we both realized we were pretty hungry at that point. Decent food was had, an iced coffee to wake me up. As far as unexpected club food went, it was pretty tasty. The coffee was proper brew, not that overly strong Starbucrap.

Back to the music. We wandered upstairs and found a good spot with some swinging room. We were under the impression that there was an opening band; for $30 ticket prices, it only made sense. Nope. The band comes out onstage: generic rock band-looking guitar picker & drummer, Motown-esque backup dancers, and a blind pianist older than Ray Charles. Sharon Jones struts out on stage shortly thereafter and launches into her set.

The music was great. The crowd was into it. The vibe permeated your bones and made you want to dance. We swung and spun, as the mood fit the gospel and soul and funk and amazing music coming from Ms. Jones and her backups The Dap Kings.. The crowd below undulated to the music, much like the waves mimicked by last weekend's dance performance in NYC. The he-done-me-wrong blues songs mixed in also, making for a roller coaster ride of tempos throughout the show.

The problem with an early show at 9:30 Club is they tend to be a little shorter, with no chance for an encore. 'Twas the case last night. After an hour, she thanked us for coming, the house lights came on, and the crew started setting up for Lady Sovereign's later show. Oh well; it was great while it lasted!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

smug factor

I've been kicking this idea around in my brain since I got back from California. She and I rented a Toyota Prius while we were out there. There was a credit for renting one from the San Francisco Airport, and we figured that the difference in price would balance out with the better gas mileage. Total damage for the fuel, about $30. Total mileage, over 600 miles in a week. Two tanks or so in the subcompact we were supposed to get would've surpassed that total. Add the extra pep in the mountains, and it turned into not a bad choice.

I can't quite figure out how the Prius became so trendy. It's not particularly good looking. Its curious construction created blind spots that could hide SUVs. Even when checking blind spots, body panels blocked views. Starting it was a crapshoot, with a very finicky ignition system that required four simultaneous steps to get that electric motor to hum. The only thing I can figure is the smug factor.

Celebrities love them. Toyota charges quite a premium for them. People that drive them love them, despite all these shortcomings. If you're not sure why, check out Matt Stone & Trey Parker's thoughts via South Park's "Smug Alert" episode. It's classic South Park: contrastingly irreverent and poignant with a touch of revulsion garnish on the side.

I'll hold out for a decent looking car that gets better mileage than what I've got now. I've gotten a slight uptick in efficiency and a good cut out of my gas bill this year. Next year, who knows what'll shake out? I need to make friends with a coworker early in the year to carpool. That'll make driving to work fun again. I'm gonna miss you, Casey!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

what i would've done

Were my life circumstances slightly altered, I may have handled the last two weeks entirely differently. Without my leaning post to keep me upright and sunny side up, I might've retreated back into my introverted cave. I might've reverted to old habits. I might've left it all behind again, packed up this time and headed to Colorado or some other point out west. Climbing and snowboarding and dirtbagging sounded pretty good. I'm sure I'd get sick of it pretty quickly. I need to feel grounded. Maybe my wanderlust is fading.

Here's to a new start and putting down roots. I hope the county'll let me stay wherever I land for longer than two years. I don't yet know why my purpose at this school was limited to two years' time. Maybe in several years, it will become more apparent. I hope I can maintain contact with some of these students. This year has been pretty spectacular, and I really feel connected to this class. They know me, and I feel like I know them. It hasn't happened for a few years, that's for sure.

I hope I find it again wherever this traveling teaching show lands next.

Friday, May 1, 2009

the hits just keep on coming

April went out with a bang. April 30 might go down as the most comically awful day I've had in a long while. If I weren't so exhausted by the end of it, I might've been laughing all night.

I walked out of my building yesterday morning. The strap broke on my climbing bag immediately. I should've just turned right around and gone back to bed. The sky had a certain forboding tone to it. It felt like Groundhog Day, minus Bill Murray and "I've Got You Babe" on Punxatawney radio.

The rest of the day went pretty smoothly. Jobs were posted for next year, so I spent the afternoon poring over those, hoping to find a second or third grade position for next year. Hopefully, I can shorten my commute considerably and make this change a little greener!

After a good session at the gym, I punctuated the day with a ridiculous fall onto my head off a V7. I'm making progress; I just need to get it fresh.

Pulling out of the gym, I felt a whap-whap-whap coming from my front passenger tire. Sounded flat. I pulled over and found a huge chunk of steel sticking out of the tread. I hoped for the best and limped on down the road to the gas station. Sure enough, it flew out before I got there and was riding the rim in less than a block.

Flat tire, no big deal, right? I've changed many in my days. First one, new car, no sweat.


One, no tire iron to loosen the lugs. Two, jack rusted to the point of being useless. Three, spare tire flat. Four, when my buddy Rob pulled in to help me out, my car was too low for his jack. We improvised and got it done. It was such an ordeal, I couldn't help but laugh. What else could I do?

Oh yeah, pack for NYC and sleep...

Monday, April 27, 2009

almost poetic

I just finished reading Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I started reading it during my month-long traveling bender. It rekindled the same itchy feet syndrome first diagnosed by Jack Kerouac and nearly cured by an ill-fated attempt to live overseas. This time, however, in Pirsig's wandering tale of a cross country motorcycle trip intertwined with a past borne of insanity and ancient Greek philosophy, my life circumstances changed considerably. Oddly, so too did the book.

During the course of my reading, she and I made that whole "getting married" thing official, I logged about 10,000 miles of air travel, got attacked by a macaw, lost my job (technically, destaffed, but let's call it what it is), and started trying to get this bum back of mine fixed. I thought it rather fitting the way the book ended. So, if I may quote the last paragraph, "'Tis a far, far better thing...."

Wait, that's not right.

Ahem. Here it is:
Trials never end, of course. Unhappiness and misfortune are bound to occur as long as people live, but there is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things, but penetrates all the way through: We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things.

For all the stresses of my life past, and those to come, I know this to be true. Words truer were never written, nor at a better time for me to read them in a 35 year old classic.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


From the opening lines of the play, I knew I was in for a better show than the other time I'd seen it. The play is called Crowns, and we went to see it at the Lincoln Theater on U Street on Friday night. To succinctly summarize it, it's a historical musical on the origins of women's hats in the black church. Having been to so few black churches in my lifetime, I had to take their word for it.

Every Sunday, when we went to church, Grandma always had on a beautiful hat.

"Mmmm, hmmm," rose the agreement from the audience. It was altogether entertaining and enlightening. The costumes were vibrant, the voices were incredible, and the production was top-notch. I guess that's the difference between the community theater production I saw in the park in St. Pete and this merry band of professional thespians we saw on Friday.

The play opened and closed with an old hymn called, ""When I've Done the Best I Can, I Want My Crown." In this simple hymn, it explains the title of the play beautifully. For the entirety of the play, that point is built upon. We see that the hats that these women wear to church are based in part on African tribal custom and slave history, as church was the only place that slaves were allowed to congregate. Do right by the Lord on earth, you'll be rewarded with a crown in heaven.

I've racked my brain trying to come up with a subject that would hit home as closely as it did for the mostly female audience. I felt a little kinship with the plot line of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Greek and Italian families aren't a whole lot different. Following our family reunion a few summers back, I saw just how true that could be. Perhaps My Big, Loud Italian Reunion? That's only a familial culture thing, though. This play clearly struck a chord that went beyond individual families. I could identify with some of the subject matter based on my years in Alachua County, but being white and male, I couldn't grasp the cultural significance of it beyond what the plot was.

It triggered a brief Florida memory in me. Otis, the head custodian at my old school, lost a family member (I think it was his mother, but I can't recall) a few years ago. I was one of three coworkers that went to her memorial service. It was a blistering hot day. The church was packed with people in their Sunday best, crowns included. Crowns illustrated why perfectly.

I need to start going to church again. Any local recommendations?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

my titles seem to have nothing to do with the content of the post lately

Remember way back last season? I took a hard fall and messed up my back pretty good. Nothing? Here.

Well, the x-rays that the chiropractor took showed not a pretty picture. Traumatic spondylolisthesis. That's a lot of syllables to say that I fell hard and broke something. My back is pretty screwed up. It explains a whole lot. He was astounded that no one had before thought to take films of my back before. Nope, send me on my merry way to physical therapy, strengthen up the muscles, but ignore the underlying cause.

Long story short, twice a week intensively until it's closer to right. I'm pretty sore today from the adjustment. On the bright side of things, my back doesn't hurt as bad either.

Monday, April 20, 2009

rub a dub dub

Two nights of great grub! I've found a new awesome place to eat. Ok, not really found, but I spent a bit more time there this weekend than most people would consider normal. Food's that good. It's called Astor Mediterranean. They have one in Adam's Morgan also that's been open longer. It's a little off the beaten path, but it's pretty easy to get to.

The service is fast and friendly. The food is delicious with large enough portions to satisfy me. Friday night, I was going to go for the lamb kabob. Ravi Kabob makes a pretty mean lamb kabob, and I figure Astor would be the same. When I got to the counter to order, the cashier politely pointed out the ribeye special. I caved. Good choice! Well seasoned, a little overdone for medium, but it was still moist and delicious. It came with two sides, rice and spicy chick peas. Also excellent. I was pretty hungry on Friday, too. My mom was in town, so the three of us split an order of baclava and rice pudding. The baclava is served to share. Very thick, dripping with honey, flaky phyllo dough. Incredible. The rice pudding was rich and creamy with raisins, cinnamons, and coconut shavings garnished.

She and I brought her friends there last night. The cashier recognized me, said hello, and quietly thanked me for bringing such a large group. The girls all ordered something different. Raves were given to the hummous, which for $3.50 is quite a steal! The girls all had leftovers for today. Me? I polished off a deliciously messy Mediterranean chicken pita. Not recommended for a first date as there is no way to eat it neatly. It is delicious though!

Go. Eat. Enjoy. You may just see me there.

Friday, April 17, 2009

big, loud italian dinner

Oh, how I miss them! Way back when the Sopranos were still on the air, back when I lived in my first college apartment (probably the most posh pad I lived in!), we made a weekly tradition of Sunday dinner. Brian bought The Sopranos cookbook and every so often, we'd make a recipe from it. From scratch gravy, chicken cacciatore, lasagna. One thing that was never in short supply was the good friends and flowing beverage. By the time 9:00 rolled around, HBO was a little bit blurry, our belts were a lot bit tighter, and a warm afterglow of a good night permeated the room.

I miss that camaraderie. I suppose that's why I try so hard for '80s movie night to be a success. It was initially, but trying to do it weekly in D.C. is a bit tough. Once a month is more doable for most, though the number of occasions with more than 4 attendees are few and far between.

Flash to tonight. Big, loud, Italian dinner resumes. I actually didn't have enough chairs. First time I've had that many over for dinner. What'd I make? My Pinch-of-this, Pinch-of-that Sauce over homemade gnocchi. Yeah, that's right. I made gnocchi from scratch. To be fair, I had 3 pairs of hand to shape them properly and cook them up right. For what occasion did we undertake this elaborate meal? Mom's in town.

Want the recipe? I learned it from my mom, who learned it from hers, who learned it from hers in turn. One of those, yeah.

Peel the potatoes, boil them. Put them through the potato ricer. Let them cool enough to handle. Knead with some flour. How much? Enough. Add an egg to bind them. Roll the dough out on a floured surface, and cut them into knuckle-sized morsels. Drop them individually into boiling water. They're done when they float. Sauce 'em and serve 'em. Mangia!

Notice how that recipe doesn't really have quantities? Yeah, that's how I learned it, and that's how I remember it. Just like polenta. But that's another day, another meal.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

testing, testing....

One more marking period to go. One gauntlet of stste-mandated testing in the way. This is going to test my patience with test preparation and what I see as something more worthwhile: actually teaching my students something new, instead of spending what may amount to the rest of the year on review.

They aren't particularly excited about it. I guess I ought to try my best to make it exciting, but who among us really wants to listen to their boring teacher reteach stuff we already learned and learned well?! I could get up on my soapbox and rant and rave about it all, but I know it ain't going away. Only way I can reduce or eliminate testing is to invent a better mousetrap. To a bureaucrat, this testing assault proves everything. To an educator, the testing proves that the bureaucrats know nothing. Maybe I ought to become one someday and shake up their view of the world.

Is it Juneteenth yet?

Monday, April 13, 2009

going big

Last week gave me some reflection on how going big has changed since I first started writing here. When I first staked my blogspot claim, the website hadn't yet been acquired by Google, I still occasionally blogged on Myspace, and I was going to South Korea to teach English. Oddly, I think it was also after that plan had begun to fall apart. That plan was completely Go Big. Never been in a foreign country for more than a few days, and Canada really isn't too different in such a short trip. Then I wanted to live in the Far East? "You must be crazy," crossed the lips of quite a few friends and acquaintances.

Thus began the Go Big philosophy. I chose D.C. because...well, I rarely give the same answer twice. Threw a dart. Jumped ahead two years in my life plan, which isn't really a plan after all. Needed a change. Love seasons. So, I moved solo. No job, no home, few friends and family to help get settled.

Going Big before I left Gainesville meant planning a climbing trip in 10 minutes, driving 8 hours each way for a day and a half on the rocks. Buying tickets for Bonnaroo with about five minutes of thinking about it. Buying a sword for no apparent reason. Ok, that last one's pretty lame. It was more of a spontaneity spur than anything. I think I'd made it a New Years' resolution a few years back. Something about not being predictable. I think I've managed to keep it.

Taking a big risk in life is always fraught with perils. The big risks these days aren't quite the same. I do my research, then jump in with both feet. Am I still scared of the outcome of these possibly life-altering decisions? Absolutely, but I wouldn't change a thing that's happened since. Going Home's not an option.

I choose go big.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

the core of it all

Through the post of another climber friend of mine from the Florida days, I heard of a pro climber's very similar-sounding back pain.

Read it here.

The genesis of mine, as best I can tell, was from a bad fall on a snowboard last season. My lumbar region was swollen for three weeks. It was fine after that; I'd started running again and riding my bike. Come June, I'm down in Florida for Mom's birthday. Showering off after a run, I'm immobilized with shooting pains from my back down my left leg. When I got back to VA, started with the physical therapy.

He said I had a "weak core". Eight weeks later, my back was a little stronger, abs were a lot sorer. No problems until the last month or so. It's been debilitating at times. A few tricks to keep me upright while sitting. A trip to the chiropractor on Monday to attempt to straighten it out. We'll see how it goes.

Final California reflections coming soon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

like, totally rad

So, we went to Yosemite on Wednesday. We totally had a blast, like for sure!

We got to see all these amazing waterfalls. All the pretty snow melts which is sad, but it totally makes the rivers strong and stuff. Then when they make waterfalls, they're the raddest. Totally.

So, we went hiking up like 600 steps of stone to get to the top of one of them. There were all these people on the trail, and I was all like, "Excuse me, I'm trying to get my solitude on. You people are in my way on this totally paved trail. It's like I'm at the mall, which I'm totally not because I don't see an Auntie Anne's or Gap in sight. Which reminds me, so would I look good with a nose piercing? Not like a big one, just like one of those really cute stars that twinkles..."

We got to take these totally awesome photos of all the falls and these rocks around us. I think one was called El Capitan, which means like The Capitan in Spanish. You'd think I would know that, but my Spanish teacher was such a flake. I mean, oh, my god. How am I supposed to learn Spanish? It's like a whole 'nother language, and I already speak American. Isn't that enough?

So then today, we went to the Center of the Universe. I mean, for real. It's like where all these really amazing climbers go and climb on these boulders. Without ropes! Can you believe it?! Then it started raining and we had to leave. Total bummer.

Wait, wrong Valley accent? Oops. See what happens when I drive 200 miles through desolate farmland in eastern Cali. My mind wanders a little bit. Off to San Fran tomorrow again. Hopefully, my mind will be right...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

hey, person coming from israel!

Or as Lee put it, "Yo, Semite!" He's a clever one, that Lee. Anyhow, that's where we're headed today. A shiny new day dawns on us. It's gorgeous here again, but yesterday's dawn looked the same before rains descended on our brief tour of San Francisco.

We saw the one typical SF sight, took a few pictures of it, decided it was too wet, and went to get a pie. Our day scrambling and climbing and hiking was not as productive as we'd have hoped on Monday. The temperatures were too warm for sandstone slopers to be any fun, and the parks service had shut down the redwood trail we wanted to hike. Controlled burning. Can't say I'm that upset about the fact they were actually doing controlled burns with the NIMBY attitude that can precede them. More disappointed that I couldn't hike that trail that day.

So, off to the Valley we go. Hopefully the weather gods are on our side, though the weather scientists seem to be stacked against us. Keep your fingers crossed!

Monday, April 6, 2009


Safely landed in the Golden State yesterday. Eaten a little bit of food it seems. Good times with family thus far. Fighting that nagging back injury of mine. Lately, it's been fierce, but I am not going to let something chronic keep me off the rocks. Today was a little warm; tomorrow, likely a little cooler. Perfect for sandstone.

She and I aim to hit a local spot for a spell, do a little hiking, shutterbugging, and bouldering on some West Side sandstone. We'll see how it compares to that sweet southern sloperiffic sandstone I'm used to. Come to find out that the problem I was salivating over on Vimeo goes at a V-fun. The video or pictures will be dope though; I dug through the topo on the plane yesterday. No classics marked, so we'll just hop around to the problems I can flash or fall safely on.

Classic climber named problems all of them. Tick list to follow by the end of the week. My tips are sweating for that granite in the Center of the Universe. Hopefully, Mother Nature and hordes of tourists don't impede that goal.

At least we'll get some solitary hiking time and quality time together to take in the sights the rest of the week. Good times. My body is telling me it's late, though the west coast time zone tells me otherwise. G'nite.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

the sounds of silence

The whole day through, it was a madhouse in here. What a disaster of a morning with one, and a fidgety, barely focused day for all.

Now, it's quiet as a tomb. I can actually get some work done.

Alas, what am I doing? Barely working. Too excited for our upcoming trip to the Golden State. Too excited to focus on anything but Castle Rock and Yosemite dreaming.

Castle rock bouldering from Nicolas Mathieu on Vimeo.
So, I won't be flashing V10s or anything, but there is this wicked-looking V4 called The Spoon that I want to burn up.

Oh, and this is why I want need must go to Yosemite. Maybe I can soak up some history and ability by osmosis of the Tommy Caldwells and Ron Kauks and Chris Sharmas of the world that have climbed this amazing piece of stone.

Midnight Lightning from Deep Roots Media - Dane Henry on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


It's been a long time coming. We were walking around the tidal basin, looking at the pretty cherry blossoms. It is that time of year, after all. They still stun me with their brilliance.

Anyhow, the mood struck, and there was a diamond burning a hole in my pocket. I drop and ask that question she's been aching to hear for months.

Tearfully, of course, she says yes.

I jump up, excited...

...and promptly drop the ring into the tidal basin. Oops.

[No, not really. Gawrsh, you're gullible! Go look at a calendar. This is however a true story that had a happy ending for a friend of hers. The actual girl in the real story was about to jump in to get it before he stopped her. The ring was a fake. The real one was still in his pocket.

To guys: Best. Joke. Ever.

To girls: Meanest. Engagement. Story. Ever.]

So, um, honestly, did you think I'd announce such a momentous occasion via the interwebs? Go look in a mirror. I think April Fool may be written on your forehead.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

in a fog

Another one of those foggy D.C. spring days. Walking around the city in a cloudy mist, taking pictures of the not-yet awakened cherry blossoms. Tourists light, mud heavy. Like walking in a Poe's "Dreams"
I have been happy, tho' in a dream.
I have been happy— and I love the theme:
Dreams! in their vivid coloring of life,
As in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife
Of semblance with reality, which brings
To the delirious eye, more lovely things
Of Paradise and Love— and all our own!
Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known.

'Twas a great day nonetheless. Much like last year's kite festival shenanigans with the pirate crew. I reckon they're soon to return, much as the tourists will when the heat of summer comes anew. Luckily, I'll be off somewhere else, avoiding the madding crowds.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

must be genetic or something

Starting from a young age, I was in a classroom. Not so much as a student, more as a teacher's assistant. Sure, I went to school just like the other kids, but I had teacher workday duty when the rest of my friends were at home watching the Dukes of Hazzard. From a very young age, I learned that teachers bust their humps and bring work home and worry about their students long after the dismissal bell rings. As I progressed in school myself, my involvement in other school functions grew. I began tutoring. Turns out I was pretty good at it. Summers found me volunteering in classrooms of schools nearby, helping English language learners learn basic vocabulary and skills in kindergarten.

When my path to a life of leisure as a forester, riding around in a pickup truck on backcountry roads, measuring trees and such, ended because of some difficulty with entry-level science classes, it was little wonder that I found myself at Norman Hall, surrounded by pretty coeds obsessed with bulletin boards and rubber cement. Again, turns out I'm pretty good at it.Yet again, I figured out why. It's genetic. Mom just won teacher of the year...again. I've said it before, and it bears repeating. If I'm only half the teacher that my mother is, I'll still be one hell of an educator.

Congratulations, Ma!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Having just gotten off the phone with my cousin and getting sick of telling the story, here's one for the ages. No, it's not about Shezad & Maria's wedding, though that was the reason for the trip down south.

It's about a bird.

Whilst taking pictures in the backyard at my cousin's house in St. Pete, I heard the sound of what I presumed to be an eagle or falcon or vulture or some other wicked nasty raptor.

It was a macaw named Pete. Boy, was he pissed!

She and I checked him out as he continued to shriek like a banshee. We left for breakfast at my favorite family restaurant, which coincidentally, is the only family restaurant left in my family. I guess the bar wasn't technically a restaurant, though the food made national headlines once. Too many hot peppers on a sausage sandwich for a local cop, and a waitress got arrested. But I digress...

Upon returning from breakfast, Pete was still pretty upset. He'd gotten lower in the branches, and we were still curious about his mood. Come to find out he was awfully territorial, and we were in his bubble.

Neighbor happens by, gives us a little background, and goes to get some kumquats for Pete to munch on. Meanwhile, he's getting lower and lower in the tree. Helpful Eagle Scout that I am, I decide to help Pete reach his perch by offering an olive branch (so to speak) for him to get out of the tree.

Bad idea. The second his weight was on the branch, he latched onto my index finger quicker than go. I somehow managed to get the bolt cutter strong beak off before he did any major damage. Though I sit here typing one hospital visit later, and I can only now actually type somewhat competently. Three days later.

That old saying, "Don't poke the bear," should be amended to, "or the short-tempered macaw." Both may surprise you with their ferocity and quickness. Guess I ain't climbing this week!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

jetset update

I'm not feeling much like writing lately. Been reading some good books on the plane. Two weddings down, planning the trip to Cali, starting to think about where I'm living next year. Nothing big, just crazy busy.


Is this below the 140-character limit? Yes? I must say that this Twitter thing has me intrigued, but I'm rarely that concise in my thoughts. Seems to me like an external site for compulsive Facebook status updaters or AIM away message relics still lurking about on the interwebs. Tweet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

running on fumes

No, not me. It is St. Patrick's Day, but no, it's far too early to be on fumes. Perhaps tonight, I'll pour a pint, but that's about all. This story is about this weekend.

I got pretty spoiled with the Danger Ranger. When my fuel gauge hit E, I had about three gallons left. That translated into 60-70 miles of highway driving before I'd be pushing her up a hill. Well, in Florida, that never amounted to me running out of gas. Closest I ever came was a half-gallon left in the tank, but I did that on purpose trying to drain my fuel tank so I could change my fuel filter. Little did I know that the fuel line won't drain on the ground when you disconnect it. Who knew?

Another complication of the Danger Ranger was that my low fuel light never worked. I've grown accustomed to never seeing one, and now that my car has one, I get a little freaked out. I'm not quite sure what it means and how much is left in the tank. Used to be, I could trust my own instinct, but I just don't know this new(ish) car all that well.

Throw a new monkey wrench into the system. A rental car. Forty miles of highway with nary a filling station in sight. I was sweating. Turned the air and radio off. Slowed down to 10 below the speed limit. Drafting behind a trailer. Called AAA in anticipation of being stranded in No Man's Land with a flight to catch. AAA was no help, said if I happened to be stranded that calls were taking about an hour to fill. Called her, freaking out. All she could do was try to calm me down.

I finally did find a gas station, two miles from the rental company. I might've had a quart left in the tank. Made it there, got my receipt, and dropped the Jeep Compass off without a hitch. This traveling nonsense is far too stressful sometimes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

ballin' out of control

Horseshoes are grand. Cornhole is highly portable and inexpensive. However, bocce ball has to be my favorite of all lawn-based projectile games. I was lucky enough to get to play on a proper court when I was in Gainesville on Friday night. It was pure pleasure tossing the bocce while we waited on our table for a typically long time at Satchel's.

I challenged Palmer and Margarita to a match. Before they knew what hit them, I was up 8-1 and looking to close it out. It wasn't a fair fight. I've played a few times myself, and Margarita was a rookie. At that point, I got a teammate, and Margarita got the hang of the backhanded toss. We lost 11-8. It wasn't pretty, and under ordinary circumstances, I might've pitched a wobbler. Eh, I was having fun with all the side talk and the old friends milling about.

The hell with a new rope for climbing. No need for new climbing shoes. Forget finishing up my rack of quickdraws. I am buying a bocce set for when it warms up and dries out. No need for a perfect, walled-in court. We've got flat grass by my place. We can bocce and drink Peroni in the sunshine.

I like this idea. Who's with me?