Saturday, April 29, 2006

More from the Billy Goat trail at Great Falls

Last weekend, The Husband and I went back to Great Falls to hike the Billy Goat trail again. Because it was rainy, we didn't go all the way to the falls, so it was a very short hike, but I wanted to post another picture, one of the trail, so that maybe someone will be impressed with the rocky terrain and my ability to do the hike without causing serious harm to myself.

Billy Goat Trail

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Reading in the Post this morning about Kimberly Oliver, it struck me as rather discouraging that when someone wins awards such as a state or National Teacher of the Year title she or he has to stop teaching (even if it's only for a year or two) because of all the other responsibilities.

Public service announcement: Free ice cream

Today, April 25, is Free Cone Day at Ben and Jerry's Scoop Shops. I know where I'm going on my way home from work.

Find your nearest shop here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Travel journal: New York

One morning last week I came up to the street level at Foggy Bottom Metro and became instantly and acutely aware of the noises on the street. I think it began because a car drove by just then with the windows down and the radio up. Added to that were the competing calls of the Express ("Good morning! Post Express! Free paper!") and Examiner ("Get your Examiner! Free paper!") hawkers, and as I moved down the street aware from them, there was the sound of cars rushing by and the rumble of a shuttle bus idling at the curb. Then an amulance came around Washington Circle with its siren on, and a car playing music from the Spanish language station stopped at the light. More cars sped around the circle, and someone's cell phone rang behind me. A homeless man shook a cup of coins, and a helicoptor's propellors beat overhead as I was crossing K Street. A bus's breaks screeched and its doors sighed open to release passengers. It was constant noise, but everything was distinct.

On Friday, as I waited to cross the street at the intersection of Amsterdam and Broadway, I was struck by how much bigger the noise in New York seemed. Instead of noticing one noise after another, it was a constant roar. The roar wasn't everywhere, but in some places it was overwhilming. That constant roar sort of describes our trip to New York last weekend. There was so much to see and so little time to see it in.

We decided to spend some time walking around the Upper West Side after we'd checked in at our hotel. We had a tour of Lincoln Center scheduled, and plenty of time before that to visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which I love, but I wasn't sure about going there on Good Friday--didn't want to end up there during some sort of service. So we walked, in spite of the rain. We wandered through parts of Lincoln Center on our own and through the surrounding neighborhood, before taking the tour.

A little over a year ago I saw one of the chandeliers from Lincoln Center at an exhibit and San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art. I loved it then and seeing several of them in the opera house made them even more stunning. The sweep of the suspended white marble staircases with their red carpeting captured my imagination. The exhibit at MOMA had been on glamour, and while I still love the sparkly burst of the crystal chandaliers, their glamour is nothing compared to the opera house itself. Unfortunately, a dress rehearsal made it impossible for us to see anything more than the lobby of the opera house. We did get to pick through the windows at a dress rehearsal for the opera Acis that was taking place in one of the other theatres. My only experience with opera has been student productions of Carmen and The Magic Flute at UCSC. The few minutes I saw of Acis were beautiful--the singing, the way the performers moved, the lighting, the music. After that we went to see Avery Fisher hall, where the symphony performs. The lighting in the hall reflects off the oak paneling in a way that makes the room feel candlelit. I wish I could have seen a performance there.

Lincoln Center light

We ate dinner that first night a Dawat, a restaurant that Madhur Jaffery has a hand in. When vegetarians want a nice dinner out with more than one or two options for entrees, Indian is the way to go. The food at Dawat is different from much of what we are used to eating at Indian restaurants--not your traditional curries. The flavors are rich and spicy, but not hot. The Husband requested a spicy chutney when the waiter came to check on us. He brought back a little dish and presented it with a flourish, saying only, "Sauce." It was bright red, and certainly made up for the lack of heat in some of the other dishes. I could only eat a little bit of it at a time, and honestly, I didn't need the sauce. Even though our dishes weren't very hot, they had plenty of flavor.

We took a cab through the crowded, rainy streets to see Avenue Q, which a couple of friends had recommended, when I was unable to get tickets for Wicked. I still want to see Wicked, but I'm so glad we saw Avenue Q instead. At first I thought it was strange to have actors carrying puppets on stage, but it wasn't distracting for very long. I have never laughed so much at a musical. And that's all I'll say about that, because I can't think of anything that wouldn't give too much away.

We had planned on taking a taxi back up to our hotel afterwards, but the rain had stopped and we were in such a good mood after the show that we decided to save money and just take the train. That went fine, except for the fact that we had somehow lost track of which subway entrance we needed to get back to our hotel.

So we felt a little lost, but it did mean we got to join the mobs of people around Times Square, which was exciting. The first time I was in New York, we stayed right on Times Square. I took a cab from LaGuardia to my hotel, and then my friend Mark met me to take me around town while The Husband was at work. Mark had told me how incredible Times Square was, but as we stepped out onto Broadway I was overwhelmed. I was a little more prepared this time and as we crossed from Broadway to Sixth I stopped in the middle and just looked up at everything that was going on around me in amazement.

Looking for the right subway station we did a lot of circling around (and finally just went into a station that wasn't right and got a map--genius!). After we had toured Lincoln Center and gone back to get ready for dinner and the show, I had changed into heels. (I had brought four pairs of shoes, after all.) Since I'm not used to heels, some of my good mood slipped away as we wandered around trying to figure out where we needed to be. We finally found our 1 train, and made it back home with less whining than there could have been, but more than I had hoped for.

When I woke up the next morning, I thought I might be getting sick, because I was way too warm. I figured out quickly that our radiator was on and all the way up. We had eaten sandwiches (panini from Zabar's) sitting in on the window sill the day before, and we must have jostled the controls as we climbed over the radiators, but I don't know why it wasn't already too warm when we got back from the show. We did our best to turn it off, but had to call the front desk and have them fix it for us. At any rate I learned (or perhaps simply had a refresher course) that The Husband should not have to deal with any discomfort or problems before his coffee.

The problem with having walked a marathon is that, even though that was four years ago and I haven't done serious walking like that since, I have this faith in my ability to get me places. And I also have the ability to sweep The Husband into my delusion. I figure eventually he'll learn, but for now he lets me drag him from Cleveland Park to Georgetown to downtown DC. On Saturday he let me drag him around New York.

After a quick breakfast of croissants, OJ, and coffee near the hotel (which improved The Husband's mood enormously), we took the train down to the Greenmarket farmer's market at Union Square. We wandered the stalls, admiring the flowers and herbs, lusting after the fruits and baked goods, and thinking of John McPhee's writing about the city's markets. We gathered together some goodies for a picnic later in the day, and grabbed some drinks and hummus to supplement our lunch at the Whole Foods. We grabbed a train back up to Grand Central (I had the decency to forgo doing those 30 blocks on foot).

I wasn't as impressed by Grand Central as I thought I would be. The main concourse is a huge space, with some excellent people watching, but I had somehow expected something more glamorous. I was much more impressed by the main branch of the New York Public Library. The lobby is beautiful and huge, with more marble staircases, and I was surprised to see such a beautiful space for a library. We visited a small exhibit of letters received by a young Polish woman who had been sent to a Nazi labor camp during the Second World War. I thought the exhibit was well done, with good explanation of the letters that offered personal details as well as a broader context. I think that history takes on new meaning when it is made so personal.

Main Concourse at Grand Central

NY Public Library

After resting for a bit on a sunny bench outside, we continued up Fifth Avenue with the mobs of tourists. The ice on the rink at Rockefeller Center wasn't doing too well in the warm sunshine, but there were plenty of skaters anyhow. I watched a young girl, maybe eight or nine years old, in a lavender skating costume pirouette slowly in the center of the rink, pulling her body in closer with each turn, while her pony tail spun out behind her. We left the rink to go visit Atlas and peak inside St. Patrick's Cathedral. We wandered through FAO Schwarz, where we saw two men dancing on the piano, just like in Big, and I got my picture taken with the toy soldiers out front.


St. Patrick's Cathedral

Me with the soldiers outside FAO Schwarz

From there we went into Central Park, where we watched some young men breakdancing and eventually found a bench where we could eat our lunch. We were shocked my the numbers of people flowing through the park, and I attributed the crowds to the beautiful day--it was on its way to 80 degrees. But it turns out that there was a festival going on, the Eggstravaganza. After walking by the bands playing at the bandshell and catching a glimpse of the Bethesda Fountain, we escaped from the park and took a train down to Greenwich Village.

Bethesda Fountain

We saw the stretch of Fourth Street where Bob Dylan was photographed with Suze Rotolo for the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (didn't take a picture, but should have--the cars are different now) and watched guys playing basketball. We wandered into Washington Square, humming the line from Diamonds and Rust, where we watched men playing chess. Finally we realized we were tired and thirsty and headed into a coffee shop near NYU where we settled down for awhile to have a cold drink and read.

There was more of the West Village that we wanted to see, but we decided to leave it for another trip, as we had planned to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge that afternoon and have an early dinner there. We took the train down to City Hall and then set out across the bridge, where I was once more amazed by the swarms of tourists (seriously, we were worse than Brood X, although with less buggy carnage). The views of Manhattan were beautiful and just reinforced my awe at the sheer size of the city.

Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge

We strolled through Brooklyn Heights, admiring old churches and brownstones and flowering trees. We sat down to rest in the sun on the Promenade, once more admiring the views of the city and the Statue of Liberty. We headed back up Montague, looking at cute cafes and shops. We wandered into Heights Books. The Husband complains about Kulturas, my favorite used bookstore in Washington, being too crowded for its little space, but Kulturas has NOTHING on Heights books, where even someone as skinny as The Husband has to suck in before slipping between shelves.

Brooklyn street

View from the Promenade

We ate dinner at Grimaldi's, as Mark had recommended (well, more like ordered, but he was right), lining up outside to wait for a table. They are efficient at moving people through, and we didn't wait terribly long, even though the line had seemed intimidating. We ordered a small pizza with sundried tomatoes and onions, which was excellent. The crust was delicious (although, sorry, not quite up to 2 Amys' quality) and they were not at all stingy with the toppings.

After dinner we walked back out toward the water and admired the night skyline. Finally we walked back to the subway and traveled over to Junior's for what my friend Tonjia assured me was the world's most fantastic cheesecake ever. Turns out that description is something of an understatement. I had the plain cheesecake, which had the nice, dry texture I love, and a crust that was more like cake. The Husband's chocolate cheesecake was also perfection, and I wished I had room for both, but neither one of us could even finish one piece. While The Husband was in the men's room, the manager walked by and told me that they had a clean plate policy and that I couldn't leave until I finished. I told him I would have to sit for awhile then.

"That's fine. We're here until three in the morning."

We couldn't quite bring ourselves to finish, though. Our next stop was the Empire State Building. I was pleased as we walked up to see that there was no line, so I wouldn't have to wait terribly long for my romantic views of the city at night. As it turned out, there was no line because too many people had already gone up, so they had stopped letting people in for the night. I was disappointed, as we had a 3pm train the next day, so I wouldn't get to see the views at night. We had planned to shower and go back out to hear some jazz afterwards, but we decided to give in to our tired feet and bodies and just go to bed. Fourteen hours of sightseeing and walking is apparently our limit.

Our plan for Sunday had been to go out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and basically take it easy. But since I had bought our ESB tickets online we decided we ought to use them and changed our plans. We waited in line for an hour and a half before making it up to the observation deck. It was clear and bright out, and the views were just amazing. I was glad that we had been prevented from going up the night before. I hadn't be carrying a sweater with me, as it had been 80 degrees during the day, and I would have been FROZEN. Sunday morning I had a light jacket with me, so the wind wasn't unbearable.

Manhattan from the Empire State Building

I didn't think we would have time to ride the ferry and make it back for our train, at least not without a lot of stress, so we decided to see more of the Village. We watched more basketball, which was fun. There were guys of all ages and races playing, and the game moved quickly. It was much more fun to watch than the day before when the guys spent most of their time arguing over traveling.

We meandered down Bleecker Street, looking for a place for lunch. An Indian place offering sandwiches on naan caught our eye, but we wanted to explore our options and finally selected Cafe Figaro on the basis that its brunch menu included French toast with mascarpone and berries. I couldn't just pass that up, and I'm so glad I didn't. The toast was nice and crisp on the outside, the cheese was rich, and the blueberries were juicy and sweet. There was even maple syrup to top it off. The Husband does not have my sweet tooth and had a boring meal of a spinach and mushroom omelette and a Sam Adams.

Enjoying the sunshine, although Sunday was much cooler than Saturday, we walked further along Bleecker and then down to Soho. Tonjia had said we would like Soho, but it hadn't been high on my list. I'm glad we didn't miss it, though. I preferred the jewelry and scarves and art being sold on the street to the high-end stores, although the stores were kind of fun to look into. We wandered into the gigantic Mac store, the only store we went inside, actually, where I drooled over iBooks and a geeky-cute employee with pretty blue eyes, and The Husband contemplated whether an iPod would work with his linux machines. (According the young man at the Genius Bar, it theoretically could, but they didn't offere the software that would let it happen.) Outside, I ended up buying a glass pendant from a young Spanish woman (well, I think she was Spanish. She was talking on her cell phone in Spanish and kept saying "vale," which as far as I know is only used in Spain, but I could easily be wrong), and then we took the train back to the Upper West Side to pick up our bags and some H&H bagels, and then catch our train back to Washington.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Jesus is Risen, drink cheap beer!

This afternoon we and I walked past a pub on Bleecker Street advertising $3 pints as an Easter special. I turned to The Husband and said, "Jesus is Risen, drink cheap beer!...Hey, that sounds like a good title for a blog post, doesn't it?"

Too bad I don't have much to post under that title. Well, I mean, I have things to say about this weekend. It was a fantastically fantastic weekend. But it seems to have turned my brain to mush (I actually typed "fanantastastic" in the previous sentence, and it took me awhile to figure out what was wrong with it. It's like I'm typing drunk but totally alcohol free. Which doesn't quite seem fair), so pictures and details and such will have to wait until another day.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Honestly, I'm not that kind of girl

Last April when The Husband and I went to Buenos Aires for the weekend, I carried just my favorite backpack. On the way to the airport, the cabbie asked where I was headed, and I told him.

"With just one bag? All the way to Argentina?" I nodded. "If I call my wife will you talk to her? We go anywhere, she take two bags like that, just for the shoes. How many shoes you taking?"

"Just the ones on my feet." He laughed, and I felt good about my ability to travel lightly.

Friday morning we're heading up to New York for the weekend. I've packed* four pairs of shoes. What's happening to me?

*Why do I not start packing until after 10 at night when I am taking an 8 am train? And why do I think, "Hmmm, I am exhausted, still have things to do to get ready, and must get up at 6 tomorrow. This is a great time to go tell the internet about all of this." Must be my excellent organizational skills.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

One of these things is not like the others

I noticed her as soon as I got on the bus: a thin woman, with long, wild, ratted brown hair. She was wearing big sunglasses and a fur coat that looked old, and had a battered, hardside briefcase on the seat beside her. As I passed by and sat down in the seat behind her, I realized that she was muttering to herself, the same phrase, over and over and over.

"Prostitution, Social Security, and incest," she said. "Prostitution, Social Security, and incest."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

They didn't ask about tomato or potato

I love to hear the differences in the way people talk—the way they pronounce things and the words they use are fascinating. When we’re in London, I tease my friend Alex about some of the words he says (hire a car?), and he will make fun of the way I (and his wife!) say, “Could you pass the butter?” He’ll ask over breakfast, in his perfect English accent except for “butter,” for which he exaggerates our American pronunciation: budder. We saw an ad on the tube that used the expression “not a jot,” and he was surprised that I had never run across “jot” used to mean “a little bit.”

Even with friends in this country, I like to trade expressions for things. While I adopted “pop” in favor of “soda” at some point, my friend Kim in Texas calls all such drinks “coke.” Tonjia from Brooklyn eats hoagies instead of subs. When I was little, I learned that people in Wisconsin ask for PEE-kahns on their sundaes instead of pee-KAHNS.

DCist linked today to a dialect survey. I compared myself to the DC and California results. I fit in with California, for the most part, in spite of the fact that I’ve come to believe that “y’all” is a useful expression, and if there’s a chance to give a word two syllables instead of three (e.g.: caramel and mayonnaise) I tend to take it.

Just reading through the questions the survey asked was interesting. There are some things that it never occurred to me there could be another word for. I mean, what else would you call an eye booger? It’s an eye booger, for goodness sake. Others reminded me of my own mistakes. For instance, the choices on the traffic circle reminded me that at 26 it was disappointing to me to find that there were no acrobats or tigers at Piccadilly Circus (but wouldn’t that make things more exciting?).

Some of the questions confused me. On number 59 I was relieve to see my response—What the hell game is that? (or a variation of it, anyhow)—as a response. And was the suggestion that a berm be called parking a joke? (Hmmm…I would call it berm, unlike most Californians, but Microsoft's spellchecker thinks I’m making shit up. But isn’t that also what you call the water from the river that comes onto the beach by the Boardwalk? Maybe I really am making shit up.) And you can call a milkshake a cabinet? The hell?

Some other questions made me giggle. In some parts of the country, apparently, a firefly can be called peenie wallie? (Again, Microsoft thinks not.) And I love that in Minnesota they say “whipping shitties” for doing donuts. That’s awesome.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Great Falls, Maryland

Today was a beautiful day for a hike--sunny and cool, with a nice breeze. The Husband and I have walked along the trails at Great Falls Park in the past, always on the Virginia side of the river. Today we finally made it to the Maryland side of the river, to spend the afternoon hiking to Great Falls there.

The trail on the Maryland side is a much better hike, although I don't think the view of the falls is as dramatic. It's not very long, but unless you walk the towpath, it requires a lot of scrambing over rocks. I used to be afraid to do that kind of thing, but I am getting much better about it. I wish I'd taken pictures of some of the things I climbed over, and of the steep, narrow rock I inched my way down. At one point when I stopped nervously, a man behind me offered helpfully that I shouldn't be afraid to use a "third point of contact." I laughed at him and told him that I tend to use five points on a lot of the rocks. I don't trust my balance, so I will definitely slide down rocks on my butt and use my hands when I am climbing up or down. I may look funny, but I cut my risk of bruises and scrapes.

And today I made it out with no bruises or scrapes at all. After seeing the falls, we did walk back on the tow path, because one can only confront her fear of falling so much in one day, and the trip to the falls had already left me emotionally exhausted. But also rather proud.

UPDATE: At yoga last night we did eka pada rajakapotasana (What? I totally look just like that when I do it. And of course I didn't go look up the Sanskrit name because "pigeon pose" sounded boring. Be quiet.), I discovered a sore spot on my right shin. That sore spot turned out to be a big purple bruise (hey, it matches my yoga mat), so I guess I didn't come out of the hike as well as I thought. When I showed it to The Husband, he said, "Oh, I remember you yelping when you banged it on a rock." I knew exactly what he was
talking about. But that had been my left knee. Which is tender, but not bruised, so totally doesn't count.


close up of bluebells

lots of bluebells

lizard with a stripey blue tail


Great Falls

Random tidbit

For future reference (file under: gross; didn't want to know; glad I was warned in advance):

If you go out and eat spicy curry and then get sick* and throw up so violently it's coming up your nose? The capacin in the chiles will make the inside of your nose sting for a good hour afterwards.

*I don't know why I got sick, but I don't think it was actually the fault of the curry.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


I've been meaning for weeks to do a new design for this page. But my web design skills are non-existant and I get easily discouraged. In spite of that, I've had an attitude of "I want to do it myself!" whenever The Husband offered assistance. I mean, I wasn't trying to make too many changes; I thought I should be able to figure it out for myself. But this weekend I finally gave up, told him how I wanted it to look, and let him take over. I think he did a pretty good job.