Monday, September 13, 2010

a brit on the american ideal

I was struck by an excerpt from Tony Blair's new book, A Journey: My Political Life.

Americans can be all that the rest of the world sometimes accuses them of: brash, loud, insular, obsessive and heavy-handed. But America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is a nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived in part, no doubt, from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the Civil War, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences. But it is there.

That nobility isn't about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work. But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. It is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when "The Star-Spangled Banner is played. Of course the ideal is not always met--that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

Never before have I read such an accurate assessment of America. To have it written by a foreigner shows incredible insight, perhaps only attainable by an outsider. It has intrigued me enough to read his book. If only it had come out during the summer when I had a bit more free time!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

summer squash soup

As is usually the case when I improvise a pot of soup, I can never remember how to make it again. In an effort to prevent that, here goes my first edition of summer squash soup. I'm liable to forget I posted this next year when yellow squash and zucchini are back in season, but then I just get to be creative again!

2 zucchini
3 yellow squash
1 Granny Smith apple
Juice from 1 lemon
1/4 stick of dynamite...I mean butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
~1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
Honey to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add lemon juice, garlic & shallots. Turn heat up, & sauté until the butter begins to brown.

While this is happening on the heat, peel, core, & rough chop the apple. Peel & rough chop the zucchini & squash. The ratio of squash to zucchini should be about 1:1. Ensure this at the store, I guess. Toss all in the pot with vegetable stock. Add enough water to just cover the contents.

When the liquid begins to boil, turn down the heat & cover. Cook until the squash is soft.

Puree the mixture. I love my immersion blender for soups such as this, but a regular blender or food processor would do the job just as well. Just be careful because the soup is, well, boiling hot. When it is to your desired consistency, return to saucepot & add minced ginger. Cook for about 5 more minutes over low heat. Taste & add honey a bit at a time. The soup is supposed to be a bit sour. The honey really helps cut that, but the ginger brings it together.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream if desired. I stared at my spice rack for some herbs to add to it to give it some more complexity, but I drew a blank. I'm certainly open to suggestions, if for no other reason than to try making it again!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

metro hate?

Hating on Metro is en vogue of late. Don't believe me? Check here. Or here. Or up-to-the-minute here.

Rather than pour a tall glass of Haterade, I've got a brief story of anti-hate. Last night, we went to meet with our wedding photographer to see our pictures and talk about a wedding album. As we left his place, I thought to myself, "I really should use the bathroom before we leave," but I suppressed the urge for some reason and walked out the door. Before we got to the station, it became apparent that was a bad idea.

A little known fact of some stations is that there are restrooms, however poorly marked. All you have to do is ask a station manager. As I scurried off the train at the Pentagon to find the manager, I saw he was helping a passenger asking about the Pentagon Memorial. As I did a Detrol dance, the woman standing next to him told me she was a Metro employee and nicely asked if I needed any help.

Now, I'm not sure if her answer about why I couldn't use the restroom was true, but since she wasn't on duty and not in uniform, I'm inclined to believe her: No public restrooms at the Pentagon station because of security concerns since 9/11. She could've ignored me since she wasn't at work. She could've been rude because tourons wear on her nerves when she's at work. She could've pretended to not speak English, but that would've only worked if she looked like she spoke another language.

But she was none of those things, and politely squashed my hopes of relief before I got home. For that, I thank her.

Yes, I made it, but just barely.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It began as most mornings would at home. Waking up to a water-powered alarm, really. We needed an alarm clock, so we bought one. Is one that runs on water that weird?

Dragging ourselves out of bed was harder than usual this morning. Perhaps it's the dearth of rest we've gotten on this trip, traversing La Ville de Lumières. I should have been more excited to visit the mystical boulders of Fontainebleau. For those of you who do not climb, a quick lesson. One, bouldering is climbing boulders without a rope to get on the top of them. There are often many ways to get to the top, some more difficult than others. Yes, it is quite a workout, and no, I do not wear gloves. Two, Font is revered as the largest and most developed climbing area in the world. People have been climbing on these sandstone boulders since the late 19th century.

Flashback to last night. Much to our chagrin, we discovered that the Chateau of Fontainebleau is closed on Tuesdays. Yes, folks, it is Tuesday. Visiting the chateau was supposed to be the counterbalance to the climbing and the alternative to Versailles. Why we never noticed that essential bit of knowledge before 23:00, I'll never know. After much discussion, we decided to go for it anyway. The gardens were open, and the transportation was little more than a train...then a bus...then a bike rental...and some unmarked forest trails on rickety mountain bikes.

No, this isn't turning into a Deliverance story. We saw no albino children and heard no banjo music. The trip there was expedited by our trusty two-wheeled steeds. The walks from the train station to town to the forest alone would have been close to 50 minutes one way. With the bus and bikes, it only took us twenty.

[Disclaimer, because of aforementioned poorly marked forest roads and limited directions from the Bleausards I contacted online prior to our excursion, the discovery of said boulders took closer to an hour. The weather was nice, and the sky only threatened to rain.]

While I explored a very small area of a vast bouldering playground, my better half dug deeper into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and occasionally snapped my picture. The weather turned out glorious in the woods, and despite our utter lack of French language expertise, we were able to purchase sandwiches at the boulangerie in town, rent bikes, and find our way back to our apartment in the Latin Quartier.

Rest now for the weary. I soaked in some climbing history, climbed on some sloping sandstone, and had a marvelous day in the woods with my wife. I believe I owe her a ballet show or a back rub. I'm sure I'll wind up doing both in the very near future. If I wind up in France again in coming years, I will be sure to arrange a meeting with a Bleausard guide so the journey there is a little bit easier.

Monday, July 12, 2010


This is my first trip overseas. The trials and tribulations of going it alone for the first time have been minor at best. I have the knowledge of my better half's travel experiences to build upon. Stay in a hotel? Crazy talk. Apparently, eating out three meals per day for a week or more really wears on your nerves. Unfamiliar foods can induce culture shock. I've loved most of the meals we've had and merely liked the rest. More on that when I return.

Where to stay if not in a hotel? Rent an apartment, of course. It's brilliant. Where else can you get out of the tourist bubble and learn the ins and outs of shopping at the market? How else would I learn that you have to weigh your produce at the grocery store before going to the cashier? Actually, I think someone may have told me that tip in the past; however, it took me being in line and trying to pick up social cues before the memory was triggered.

Our first nights here, I made some pasta from the bottega with sauteed vegetables from the fruit stand and chicken from the boucherie. It wasn't too different from what we often make at home. Aside from the lack of spices and herbs, it was no different really. Homemade Italian food in France? Oui. Our French diet has been expectedly devoid of les légumes. This allowed us to indulge at lunchtime and not feel like our sang was turning into beurre.

Enough of the French-English mishmash. Time for tonight's recipe. I want to recreate this at home, but it may be a little more difficult. Tonight, I made what I'll call a Virginia cheese steak...minus the cheese, and pork instead of steak. Yeah, I need to work on the name. Suggestions welcome.

1/2 lb. center cut pork chop, cut into strips across grain
1 Granny Smith apple, cut into half circle slices
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 onion, julienned
1/2 zucchini, julienned
olive oil
1 baguette
Salt & pepper to taste.

1. Heat oil in pan. Saute onions & garlic until they begin to brown.
2. Add zucchini. Cook until they begin to soften.
3. Lay apple slices between everything in pan. Flip when browned.
4. Add pork. Stir until done.
5. Layer individual ingredients into baguette so that each bite will have every flavor. Bon appetit!

Fresh ingredients are clutch. A good recipe is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. I made this for less than ten euros. It served two. The key to recreating this sandwich at home will be locating a proper bakery that makes a good baguette. I fear that may be the hardest part. I know that adding to this recipe will be the easy part. Cinnamon or a dash of cayenne might make this just perfect. A soft cheese such as brie or gouda might also be a nice accompaniment.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

impressionism at its finest

I went searching back through my blog archives to see if I'd posted anything about my last trip to a room filled with Impressionist masters. It wasn't in the lifetime of this blog, though it may have been on my slightly more regular Myspace postings that have since been deleted. I think I saved them somewhere at home. Is it weird to backdate a post by over 3 years?

Let's flashback, if I can, to my trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. I last went there in 2006. It is an impressive museum, and my visit was one of the first times I can remember being truly lost in exploring a museum. The collection of Monet alone was enough to render me speechless. Imagine if you will stepping into a room with 20 paintings, totaling in value more than all but the Forbes listed could ever afford.

Fast forward to today. Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France. What formerly was a train station now houses a superb collection of art. And, yes, there are a few Impressionist period masterpieces there.

Walking among the greats now, especially Monet, is more exciting because of our recent day trip to Giverny in the French countryside. Monet was a Parisian by birth, but when he began to paint, he fell in love with the small town of Giverny in the Normandy region. We walked among the Japanese water gardens where his water lilies bloomed. We stood underneath the willow trees where he dappled his brush to depict the blue waters. We strolled across the bridge that appeared in some of his most famous pieces as well.

So, in honor of his not-quite-sharp style of painting, I shot about half of my photos in almost focus. I can't wait to see how they turn out on my computer. I'm thinking I'll be compiling mixed media videos with the shots that turned out the best. Of course, the best of the photos will find their way elsewhere.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

little things

"But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?...It's the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it's just – it's just there it's a little different," said Jules in Pulp Fiction. Man, was he ever right!

Dead on our feet last night, she and I were discussing some of those differences. Because of Pulp Fiction, I kind of want to go into a McD's and get a beer. Just because I can. I doubt it'll happen though. There's so many other places to go.

The one thing I've always wanted to do stateside, but just can't bring myself to is go to specialty stores for foods. Farmers' markets for vegetables. A proper butcher for meats. The Southwest waterfront for seafood. A bakery for bread. You get the picture. Aside from not knowing which places are good, our lazy American economy just doesn't support it. We as a population prefer to go to one supermarket, get it all in one place, and be on our merry way. The problem with the new system is that when one place tries to do it all, it does none of it very well.

Downstairs from our apartment, there is a boulangerie. On our first day in town, we stopped in to get a baguette for breakfast on our way to Montmartre for the day. Fresh bread with camembert. Flaky, chewy, crispy, smooth, rich. Beyond compare. Down the street and around the corner, there is a small fruit market. Fresh produce daily. Our first day here, we stopped for some petit fraises. Unlike the Plant City strawberries to which I am accustomed, these were tiny, bite-sized, and full of flavor. Yesterday, when we went our our bike tour to Giverny, we stopped at all the little markets in nearby Vernon to get our picnic supplies. Cheese from the fromagerie. Bread & beignets from the patisserie. Amazing.

I understand that long ago, this is the way things were in the states. We had gourmand proprietors that took up the jobs that their parents had and their parents before them. Butchers' kids became butchers. Bakers' kids became bakers. You get the point. I would posit a guess that the foods from those small shops was higher in quality by a large margin, though likely with the accompanying higher price.

My new mission in life when we return is to seek out the small places that have the higher quality foodstuffs that make meals more pleasurable. I already know there's a butcher like that in Alexandria. To higher quality food and the small businesses that sell them!

In the comments, make suggestions as to those places inside the Beltway where such quality can be found. Merci!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


It isn't so much that I don't want people to perceive me as an American. On the whole, I'm proud to be one. Are there aspects of our culture I'd love to change? Absolutely.

Just as when my neighbors say something to me in typically broken English, I would like the opportunity to try my hand with broken French. Last night at dinner, the waitress afforded us that opportunity. An older woman, I doubt that she has much patience for rude tourists that expect her to speak another language. She was slow and patient, and we were able to order our meal.

She, a French caprese salad, something that resembled roast pork, and a slice of chocolate tart. Moi, bean soup, boeuf provencale, and sorbet (two flavors: framboise & cassis!) I reckon it's the kind of place that only locals go to, despite Frommer's recommendation. Several people asked us questions in French as we sat at our sidewalk table outside.

Today, I resolved to do even better. It's the little things that peg you as a local or not. The tiny customs. How people greet one another. How they cross the street. How to get off the Metro train at your stop. Today, I tried to scoop all that information up and then some!

We were able to order breakfast and lunch, mostly in French. Good thing too because the boulangerie for breakfast is right across the street from our apartment in the Quartier Latin. I believe we'll be in there again. That baguette was the best I've ever had...with soft camembert to boot!

Tomorrow, a ride through the French countryside to Giverny. I'll continue with the picture taking opportunities. I believe I'll try my hand at some more intentionally out of focus shots, in homage to Monet. Impressionistic photography if you will.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I'm married.

There, now that's out of the way. Post on that when we return from La Ville de Lumieres. See? I'm not so bad when I can write it down. Perhaps I should just carry around a whiteboard and dry erase marker, so my utter lack of French skills would be less evident.

In any case, we left on our trip woefully underprepared to deal with the language barrier. We can both speak passable Spanish and have reverted to it when our minds are overwhelmed with not understanding the French going on around us.

Well, it seems that way. I think what's most likely happening is I fumble for a French phrase I've just tried to read in the travel book. I get a response that is gibberish to my ears. "Uh..."

The morning we left, I read a blog post by an American expat living (or who has lived) in Korea. She made several good points about living abroad and Americans in general when they are there. I hope my perspective changes on this first trip abroad.

Quick anecdote before we head to dinner after 9pm..excuse moi, 21:00.

We found a fruit stand around the corner from the apartment we rented. I wanted to buy some fraises, but I was hesitant to go to the clerk. While waiting, an American in a Spain soccer jersey walked up and asked where a particular street was. His question seemed phrased ok, and I was able to understand him. Speaking slow helps me when I have context. An older French gentleman standing nearby answered him in French.

Blank stare.

Frenchman tries again, "Se habla espanol?"

A shake of the head. Frenchman laughs, and asks, "How about English?"

Relief washes over American masquerading as Spaniard's face. They sent him on his way. The way they saw him must've been the way the waiters saw us at the cafe this afternoon. Only my attempt at French was immediately discounted and traded for English with nary a thought by our waiter.

Off to try again. Au revoir!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

what was i thinking? and other random thoughts

Among the various, "Hey, can you...?" duties I've been tasked with this week since I'm out of school this week, going into the District is usually one of my favorites. This task seemed simple enough:
"Hey, can you go to Sticky Fingers in Columbia Heights to get some vegan cupcakes and cookies for Mr. X?

I know what you're thinking, readers in the Southeast. Yes, it does seem rather funny that a vegan bakery in D.C. has the same name as a barbecue chain scattered across the south.

Ordinarily, I'd Metro in, make a morning or day of it with my camera. Well, cupcakes don't travel so well in messenger bags, and summer temperatures (though lovely this week) don't really treat frosting all that well. I made the unthinkable decision to drive into the city to get said confections.

I thought to myself, "Well, it's after rush hour. Traffic shouldn't be too bad." Au contraire! It's summer. Traffic's always bad, especially when taking a tourist-laden route through the National Mall.

Forty-five minutes later (instead of 20), I arrive in Columbia Heights only to find that the streets are all under construction and turning off 14th Street is next to impossible. Bakery is quiet, but bustling. Luckily, I arrived just in time to snag the last two cupcakes that fit the bill.

Leaving, I find my escape route blocked by one way streets and Caterpillar backhoes. An ordinary Virginia driver might've panicked and run over a pedestrian or three while trying to punch in coordinates to a GPS.

Fortunately, my internal GPS kicked in, and I was able to escape the city in far less time than it took me to get in. I guess exploring the city on foot pays off every so often. If only the named streets made as much sense as the grid layout!

Two other random discoveries. The gas station at the corner of Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Avenue must be the most expensive gas on the east coast. $4.25 for a gallon of regular when the station next to my apartment is less than $3? You must be joking! Second, I think I'm allergic to soy milk.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"our" memories

There once was a website of which I was a part that asked contributors to associate memories to particular songs. They could be funny or sad or poignant. They closed down their open shop a little while ago and turned into an online magazine, as best I can tell.

In any case, I had a musical memory experience yesterday. I'm not quite sure if it's funny, ironic, or (fill-in-the-blank). Reserve judgment until you hear said story.

Musical knowledge required leans towards the country side of things. Travis Tritt has a song called Drift Off to Dream. I used to think that it was a super sweet song, and for the most part it still is. The first verse, however, clues you into the stereotypical lonesome protagonist, alone with his drink at the bar, hopeful for the love yet-to-be.

That was our song. When I say our, I don't mean our in the current sense. She is a past love, one whom I talk to perhaps once a year. Last time we spoke was over the summer. She'd found out that I was engaged and gracefully congratulated me.

Yesterday, I was driving in my car when Drift Off to Dream came on the radio. I couldn't help but laugh because of my destination: the courthouse. The purpose? To get our marriage license. This our is in the present and future tense.

Though she's in my past and I harbor no residual regret or feelings toward her, our song still tugs at my heartstrings. Emotional memories get stored away in a different part of your brain. They are often illogical, and many of mine in Gainesville forced me to leave. I couldn't take seeing reminders of my past when I was trying to move into the future. Those daily reminders of past-tense our memories were more than I could bear at times. It often left me feeling alone in groups of friends, but unlike the lyrics, never with my drink at the bar.

Since I left, I decided to no longer let my past dictate my present happiness. I found happiness within myself and was able to find love to make it grow. I truly couldn't be happier.

When she and I finally met at the courthouse that afternoon, I told her about the song coming on the radio. She and I shared a laugh as we crossed the street to many more to come.

Friday, May 21, 2010

i survived

It wasn't that bad.


Bike to Work Day had me all up in arms with worry. On past trips out on the W & OD, I have to walk up some stretches because the climb is too long, and I'm just not conditioned for it.

Today was no exception. One stretch got me out of the saddle, as it always does. A more seasoned two-wheeler rolled past me and asked, "Everything alright?"

Most of the other cyclists were certainly regulars at the commuting. They were decked out in their matching cycling shorts & jerseys. I couldn't have looked more like an indie kid. I thought fixies were all the rage; turns out, most hipster kids are just glad that you're out on a bike. Messengers will tag you as a poseur if you don't know what you're doing on a fixie.

But I digress.

I pulled into work, a bit out of breath and mildly sweating. Took me 45 minutes, a far cry from the 20 it takes in a car. On the way home, however, I had none of the agita from sitting at stoplights in bumper to bumper traffic. When I crossed over the Beltway, a smug grin spread across my face. Though I had about 6 miles left, at least I was out of gridlock.

I'll keep an eye on the weather more closely. It can only get easier each time I do it, right? I reckon that's the whole goal of the movement: one less car.

bike to work day

In the spirit of Go Big, or Go Home, I'm disregarding most conventional wisdom regarding training for long rides or new sports and riding my bike to work tomorrow.

It should be an easy ride along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail; however, the last time I attempted to ride my bike to Vienna, I had to be peeled off my bike by the chiropractor. This time around, my back is a year healthier, and I've been on a few bike rides since the spring began.

Eight miles-ish. Giving myself an hour to get there. I think I ought to be able to do it. At least I know what I'm getting myself into. Worst case scenario, I hop the Metro to get home. Of course, that means I'll need to push my bike to the station with my tail between my legs.

Tweets from the stop signs? We'll see.

Monday, April 19, 2010

traffic woes

I know, not so exciting. On my road trips in years past, I never had to worry too much about traffic. Just avoid Atlanta's rush hour, and we were set. Nowadays, DC's rush hour impacts travel plans too much. Tie ups can occur for insignificant reasons.

Recently, I've begun compiling a list of things I want to see at the beginning of a traffic tie up to justify my extra time in the car.

1) Any accident between a clown car and a busload of nuns. Clowns acting silly and nuns scratching their heads as traffic creeps by single file.

2) A 47 car pileup in which no one gets hurt. All drivers and passengers breathing a collective sigh of relief as their payloads of rubber chickens and bubble gum are strewn across the blacktop.

3) A minor fender bender(as is more often the case). Both drivers, mad as hell, get out of their cars and conveniently have either Hulk fist boxing gloves or sumo suits, and go at it on the shoulder. Now that's cause for rubbernecking!

As you sit in traffic this week, think of something comical and laugh instead of stew. In the comments, what would ease your frustration in a typical Beltway traffic tie up?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

one year later

In honor of one year since setting forth towards that M word many men fear, I thought I'd share the story. Names have been omitted, as usual. No sense in getting too personal!

“You’re next,” the groom whispered to me as we’re saying farewell at his wedding reception. I laughed; little did he know I’d paid the deposit on the ring and was picking it up as soon as we returned to Virginia.

All the pinball ideas bouncing around in my brain about how to do it. I knew the answer would be yes, but the question had to be memorable and unique. Everything that we’d done together over the time we’ve been together has been such. A proposal over dinner was too cliché and expected. I wanted to surprise her, and soon. Our upcoming trip to California presented too many obstacles to keeping it under wraps.

Morning of, I’m sneaking around, getting everything together for the day. Ring Pop, check. Camera, check. Scavenger hunt, check. What am I forgetting?

Oh, yeah. The ring. As soon as I pulled the box out, my pulse started racing. It wouldn’t quite slow down until I laid down that night.

We returned to the scene of our first date under the guise of preparing for an upcoming field trip. It was plausible, and she was none the wiser. All my sneaking would be unneeded; she never suspected a thing. Strolling through the city from Metro Center presented many occasions in my brain. How about there? No. Ok then, there? No.

The internal argument of where the best spot would be was silly really. When I asked her out, I picked a place she’d already been as an option. Turns out it had been on another date. Oops. Our first kiss was memorable in setting, but I interrupted her mid-sentence long after several “perfect” moments had passed.

Waiting was killing me inside. Walking in the door of the museum, I took a deep breath. The opportunity would present itself. It had to. My scavenger hunt was a blur. I added a few questions, racing through the museum, often racing ahead of her like a five year-old in Toys-R-Us.

And then it came. We took a breather on a small balcony overlooking the Oceans exhibit. I’d already stashed the Ring Pop in my pocket. “It’s now or never,” I thought, “This is it. The ‘moment’.”

I lean over to her, dry throat, mind swimming, and squeaked, “Marry me.”

Her eyes got really big, as if to say, “Is he serious?” Which is exactly what she said, I think.

“You’re not even on one knee,” she challenged me. Dropping to one knee, I repeated my request phrased as a command.

“Psssh. That’s not even a real ring,” she said with a glimmer of hope mixed with fear mixed with confusion in her eyes. I reached into my bag and pull out the ring. She immediately started crying and laughing and jumping.

Now it’s her turn to squeak feebly, “Ok.” So I was wrong about the answer, but then again, I didn’t give her much of a choice.

Of course, I didn’t have a chance when we first met either.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

the gnar

In the quest to ever improve and go big, this snowboarding season was momentous. Now, some will cry, "The season is far from over, brah." While that may be true out west, 'round these parts 'tis true. When four feet of fresh snow become a lumpy, packed mess, my season is done. Wisp was great last weekend, but it would have been amazing had I been there soon after a fresh snow.

Back to the point of the post at hand. After my third season of riding, I failed to meet her prediction/challenge, "You'll be better than me, and I'll be sad." Season one, the goal was to spend more time upright than not. I think I met that one, despite fracturing the pedicel of one of my vertebrae and inducing traumatic spondylotheosis. The following year, I quickly remembered how to link my turns, carve in the local parlance. I started rocking blue runs like it was my job. This year looked like it was to be epic in growth. My size (comparative to my better half) and seeming lack of fear should have combined to make the student surpass the master.

Well, this year, peer pressure kept me off the trails and put me in the terrain park. No Shaun White tricks up my sleeve yet, but I did land a jump or two. Ending the season running black trails and goofing off in the park was still improvement. I run the blues with certainly more speed than last year and am no longer intimidated by a diamond.

The best part of this season by far was riding confidently with her and my friends. I got to hit up two new resorts and ride outdoors after our historic snowfalls. I no longer feel inferior to most on the mountain. I'd say I'm somewhere near average. I may never be stellar, but that's not my goal. Never was.

Since I can't climb outside much in the winter up here, I may as well make the best of it. Now, a climbing spring is afoot. I have less than three weeks until Horse Pens 40. Time to break through the plateau and send some projects...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

oncoming headlights

I do stupid things sometimes. Things that jeopardize life and limb. More often latter than former, but that's beside the point. Despite all the things I've done in the past, I rarely get an injury that can't be treated with ibuprofen.

Rock climbing. Snowboarding. Jaywalking in D.C. Biking on M Street. Driving on New Year's Eve. Passenger of a not-so-stellar driver.

Last night, it almost came crashing down doing something so routine that the sheer absurdity of it took almost 24 hours to sink in. We were on a late night drive to a hotel for an early morning start snowboarding at Wisp in western Maryland. It was about 10:30; no later than other long distance, late night trips I've taken to get to the crag. (Rolling into Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina past the witching hour comes to mind.) Barreling down I-68, getting close to our trip terminus, I saw headlights ahead. I didn't think anything of it until I passed them.

Those oncoming headlights were on my side of the median in the left-hand lane. Going the wrong way. The car seemed as if it were standing still, but that must've been because of our highway speed. Not knowing the number for Maryland Highway Patrol, we called 911. We gave the mile marker, and prayed the cops would show up quickly.

Riding back today, licking my normal snowboarding wounds, I reflected on what had happened. I'm more shaken up about it now than I was then. There would have been no walking away from that crash...

Will it make me more cautious in my dangerous pursuits? Possible, but unlikely. Will it keep me from driving at night? Not a chance. I'm not real sure of the effect it will take, but judging from my past, it's going to rattle around in my brain for a little while before I figure it out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

long overdue snow stories, part two

The day after my fresh powder riding experience, I got a call from Snow. No, really, that's his name.

Anyhow, he was stuck at home due to the snow and wanted to go snowboarding. Free riding fresh in my mind, we set out for the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Netherlands Carillon in search of a slightly taller hill with a less exhausting approach than the one I'd tried 24 hours prior.

He packed a shovel to build a learning-sized kicker on the side of the hill we found. A hill that many gather on in July to watch the fireworks over the National Mall. In view were the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and U.S. Capitol. Clear, blue skies above, and nary a soul nearby.

As we hiked and rode over and over again, we got a few curious stares from passing cars and a few walkers. Before too long, I was getting better at catching air, though my landings were still spectacular failures. My partner-in-crime slash instructor was hitting all of his 180s, but couldn't quite manage the 360s he was working on.

After a while, an SUV rolls up, and two guys get out. They say their from the BBC and want to take some footage of us on the hill. Um, sure?

To be honest, I wasn't exactly jazzed with the idea. Cameras intimidate me in my best pursuits, which is why perhaps I hide behind mine while shooting my favorite hobbies. After a dozen or so falls on my part and much better success on his, they pack up their gear, stick a microphone in our faces, and ask us a few off-the-cuff questions. Our answers were less than eloquent, but we were apparently on that night's news on BBC. Too bad we never got to see it, despite giving the crew our email addresses.

The story's not done yet. A guy in a Navy (capital N for branch of service, not color) sweatshirt shows up toting two better-than-mine Nikons. He sets himself up for some photos of our view and also asks if he can shoot some of us. Content to be captured by still frames this time, we both think, "Why not?" I think I was more excited for this prospect because even if I fell every time, there were bound to be a few shots that at least made me look like I knew what I was doing.

I was not disappointed. By and by, he emailed me the files, and they were excellent. Check out some more of Justin Sen's photography, featuring yours truly at his website.

...and now you know the rest of the story.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

long overdue snow stories, part one

With the snow fast receding, I feel the urge to share two D.C. snow(insert-second-half-of-portmanteau-related-to-disaster) stories.

After the Saturday storm on Feb. 6th, she and I were suffering from a bit of cabin fever. I decided to take a walk to a park near Seven Corners. In the summertime, I spent a few afternoons at the park playing on the waterslides, reading in the sunshine and playing minigolf with various too much free time afflicted friends. After this storm, it was a considerably different landscape.

A Cold Morning Sun

It doesn't look it, but the snow was nearly waist-deep in spots. It took quite a bit of effort to trudge through with my camera and tripod, but I did manage a few striking shots with the polarizing filter on my lens. This, however, is not my photo blog, and neither the point of this post.

As I was about to leave in a sweaty heap from the unfortunate lack of snowshoes, I saw two guys walking into the park with their snowboards. Curious, I tailed them to the lone hill in the park. These two clever guys had found a small, hidden gem to ride for distraction. I struck up a conversation with them. I quickly hurried home to get my board and join them.

My better half dropped me off on her way to the gym, and I got my first experience in riding fresh powder.

Not out west. In a county park. No lift ticket needed, but I had to earn every twenty second run with the hike back up.

Absolutely worth it, though.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


This Florida boy is not really up on his winter rules. This winter has given me a few clues into rules of engagement.

It Begins Anew

Get after the shoveling while it's still falling. It makes it much easier when it finally stops.

Salt works, but only to a point. When it exceeds more than a few inches, the only thing salt does is make removal easier when you can finally find sidewalk underneath. I can't believe that I've gone through 50 pounds already this year. This winter decided to go big to make me go home.

On to etiquette for snow, snowtiquette if you will. Most people seem to have the common decency to not park in spots that were cleared by the sweat and muscles of another. People who are new to snow obviously don't know this. Compounded by a complex that was wholly underprepared and underfunded for this winter, parking spaces are at a premium indeed.

Yesterday, I spent about an hour for the common good clearing some other spaces out with my neighbors. The two spots that we use were finally clear of snow and ice after some heavy duty salt application. Upon returning home from work yesterday, she discovered someone had parked in her spot.

I don't mean some random spot that we "claimed" with a bucket or chair, saying don't park here. I mean a paid spot in our complex that our landlords included with our rent. There's few of them, and we have the right to tow from the spot without warning.

Angered at this breach of snowtiquette, I quickly texted my landlord for the phone number for the towing company and scribbled a terse note for the offender's windshield. Calling the towing company did me no good. They said they weren't towing from paid spots, "per management". My guess? Management knows that there aren't enough spots now for residents because their snow removal budget was blown in December.

We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to call again. Conditions worsening, we were of the opinion that it seemed awfully selfish to tow someone because they're in "our spot." On the other hand, I shoveled out the spot; I put in the hard work; I salted it to clear it completely. Am I completely off-base to expect that I should be able to park there instead of some jackass stealing my hard work? Would her car get keyed after the offending SUV was snatched by a tow truck? I tend to hate tow trucks for being nothing more than glorified car thieves, slightly less so since moving out of Gainesville.

Waking up this morning, it appears that the spot is now empty, rendering my indecision a moot point. If that's not the case, what should I do? It's whiteout conditions; I doubt a plow has been through yet.

In the comments, tell me what to do. Comical, ridiculous responses always appreciated.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

bring on the snow!

I was out walking the District today. Nothing like an unplanned and unwanted snow day to kill any sort of momentum you have in the classroom. At least I won't have that pesky three-day weekend for Presidents' Day like I was planning! I just hate time off.

I was quite impressed with the snow removal capabilities in DC. The streets were cleared, including side roads and alleys. Sidewalks, for the most part, were also salted and shoveled. On my normal side of the Potomac, VDOT was a little slower to act, as usual. By the time I got up at 7, the temperature was already above freezing. Shoveling was a breeze today, as was getting the snow off windshields and whatnot.

I come home to find this message from the NWS:



Oh, goody! If you work for VDOT, please go talk to someone in the snow removal department for the District. I'd really like to go to work next week. Judging by your efforts after December 19th, I'm not really confident you'll get the roads cleared before Punxsutawney Phil's six weeks of winter are up.

At least my camera still functions, and I can take some more pretty photos...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

climbing obsession

Used to be that climbing was the sole focus in my life. I'd spend at least three hours climbing at the gym 3-4 nights a week. Besides heading to the bar for a show, it was really my only social outlet in Gainesville.

Times have changed. A few more things have entered my social life. I'm engaged. I have friends outside of the climbing gym. The climbing gym, at least initially, didn't seem to take as many outdoor trips, despite the paradox of being closer to good stone. I threw myself headlong into photography yet again and have discovered I quite enjoy it since it meshes well with other interests. I took up snowboarding. Weather around here in the wintertime is too wet to have good climbing days. On the dry ones, it's rarely above freezing, which kills those days too. Summertime is manky and damp; holds are slippery and feet don't stick. Fall is perpetually hectic and even weekend trips are hard to come by. We'll see how this spring turns out, but it's looking like my best climbing is going to be at beloved Horse Pens 40 for spring break. It was going to be Bishop out in California, but the logistics just didn't work out. Road trip insteaad! I can live with that.

Thus begins the training regimens of years past. When I'd try in vain to break above the prior plateau so I could finally send my project. I'm top roping more lately, and trying to build bouldering endurance for our week-long trek to Steele. On the hit list this trip: Mortal Combat, Hammerhead, Earth Wind and Fire, The Beach, Millipede, Genesis, Chrisifix, and Getcha Some. Three have fought me tooth and nail, three I've never battled, and Genesis is just awesome.

Any tips to help me break out of my training slump?