Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry and Bright

While in Louisville for the holidays, I found myself in a couple of situations where I wish I had had my camera. The first was when I drove downtown to purchase the Phantom of the Opera tickets my brothers and I gave my mom for Christmas. It was a dreary day, which made for a fantastic river view, as everything was shrouded in fog except for the very tips of the bridges. Very cool. The second was when my mom and I went to the Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center to browse the studios. In the courtyard, an ice sculptor was at work on an angel, and there were definitely a couple of opportunities for interesting shots. But alas, I didn't have my camera on me, so the only place those images can be found is in my head.

I did manage to take a few pictures though. The first two of are a holiday display on Jefferson Street in downtown Louisville. I thought it had a nice old-timey feel.

It wouldn't be Christmas at the Dowell house without a picture on the stairs. Since time immemorial, all the kids have squished on the stairs for a picture before running down to the living room to see what Santa brought. We all always look beautiful, as you can see.

And here's what the living room looked like before we ransacked it. When I was little, Santa didn't wrap our presents. We'd rush down the stairs to toys everywhere. It was amazing. Now that we're older and have a better idea of just what it is we're getting, the presents are wrapped to maintain some element of surprise. We each have a set spot where our presents are, so we know exactly where to plop down and start the unwrapping. And when it comes to Christmas morning, we're not the one-person-at-a-time type of family. It's a free for all, with everyone ripping their presents open and exclaiming over their gifts. It's also presents first. There would be serious mutiny if anyone even suggested breakfast before presents.

Though Jeff and Matthew got plenty of big boy presents, they seemed to most enjoy this race track, which was a gift from Santa to the whole family. It's a throwback to one of our favorite toys. We used to spend entire days racing cars down the track (which in the old version had only 2 lanes, I think). Each race was a heat of sorts, with the slower cars eliminated and the faster cars moving on round after round until we were left with one car to crown champion. Obviously, the track hasn't lost its allure.

This year we even managed to take a family picture in which everyone looks good. No closed eyes or goofy expressions. It's a Christmas miracle! The tripod and remote we got for Christmas obviously work quite well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Where We'll Land Nobody Knows

As Jeff moves into the final* stages of his PhD program, he's starting to think about where to go next. Professionally the next step for him is to take a post-doc position. Since we'll be traveling for a year, he won't move directly on to this step, but will take it on as soon as we return, hopefully. As finding a post-doc position while half a world away in a developing nation with unreliable means of communication could prove difficult (I love to understate things), he's working on making connections and investigating options now. (He's a thinker, I tell you.) Being unemployed and poor is not really something we are aiming for.

So we spend a decent amount of time these days talking about where we want to move, sometimes in a very philosophical if we could move anywhere type of way, but more often in a "there's an interesting program here; what do we think of the place" type of way. Locations that have come up in regards to the second type of conversation have been Memphis (St. Jude's Children's Hospital), Delaware (I can't remember what), and Sacramento (UC Davis program).

I can't say I was doing cartwheels over any of those. In fact, I was almost convinced that Jeff was trying to come up with some pretty bad locations as some sort of psychological tool to make mediocre places seem awesome. I was waiting for him to pull out Fargo, Boise, or Buffalo.

But then I got to thinking. First, a post-doc position usually only lasts 2 or 3 years. Second, I'm willing to travel all over the developing world with nothing but a small backpack, and I'm not willing to relocate with all of my things to any city in one of the most developed nations in the world? Third, is there anything better for a writer than to have a multitude of experiences, to meet all kinds of people, and to observe life in all its different forms?**

So, go ahead and bring it.*** Anchorage or Asheville, Billings or Bermuda, Charleston or Cleveland, Detroit (okay, I do draw the line somewhere) or Dublin....I can handle it.

(And yes, you can go ahead and give me the best wife of the year award.)

*The word "final" should be taken with a grain of salt. Jeff's working hard to finish but a lot of things still have to fall into place and the Neuroscience gods must smile down on us until we can say "absolutely final." We're hoping that's about 6 months from now. It could be 9. It will most certainly happen in 2008.

**What could actually be better for writing, in a weird, messed-up kind of way, is being stuck in a town that really, really sucks. Without anything else to do, there'd be so much more time for writing. And my imagination would really get a work-out.

***This does not mean that I won't come up with all kinds of negative things to say about any proposed place. I will most certainly still whine, moan, and complain. But then I'll buck up and and make the best of it. That's just my style.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Is It Really Almost Christmas?

Hello, anyone still out there?

Sorry I've been neglectful about posting lately. I've been feeling a bit over-committed, and Spargel took the hit.

The holidays are here, and though it doesn't quite feel like it to me (I'm not sure why, but I'm thinking that will change when I head home on Thursday), we've been doing all the typical Christmas things.

Our tree is up. It looks pretty much the same as it does every year.
I must say, however, that I think getting the tree up this year may have been even more difficult than the year I did it myself. We just couldn't find the perfect tree. In past years, we've easily been able to find the right one, but this year, we looked, and looked, and looked, and then finally settled for what seemed best. As you can see, it looks nice.

Unfortunately, however, the tree trunk has scoliosis. It it far from straight. After a bit of struggle, we managed to get it to stand up. But after loading it with ornaments, it was no longer what I would call upright. So we then spent forever trying to adjust, the tree fully decorated with lights and ornaments, and only two set of hands. Jeff would adjust the stand while I held the tree, but we needed a third person to tell us when it was straight. Let's just say there were many, many do-overs, and I was close to throwing the tree on the porch and saying forget it. But I guess we managed to right it well-enough since it has now been standing for one week without any tottering. Woohoo!

In other Christmas news, I spent the weekend doing some holiday baking. I cut back a bit this year, because I was tired and busy, and because, let's face it, we just don't have that many friends around here who we can give our cookies to. So this year we have chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, macadamia macaroons, cookie dough truffles, s'mores bars, and spiced nuts. All but the s'mores are tried and true, and most are different from the ones my mom, the queen of Christmas cookies, makes. Since we'll be home for about a week and can munch on her cookies then, I figured I'd avoid repeats.

My holiday shopping is pretty much complete, although I have two things I need to pick up once I get to Louisville. I know what they are and where to get them, so it shouldn't be hard although I hate not having them yet. I just love to cross stuff off my lists.

Two more holiday parties this week, and then we are done. I've already had two work-related ones (one for the entire Smithsonian and one for my department), and I have one more on Monday (for my specific museum). Jeff has also already had two (one for grad students and one for his entire lab), and he has one more on Wednesday (for his section of the lab). I can't complain about the free food and drink, but it's starting to be a little much. Couldn't we just consolidate them into one fabulous party instead of many mediocre ones?

Does that sound Grinch-y? I really do love the holidays. It's just that right now I feel like we've been squeezing the holidays in between a zillion other things. It'll be nice to be home and not have all those other things to worry about. I'm ready for a break.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hermey, Yukon Cornelius, and that Red-Nosed Reindeer

Set your DVRs, VCRs, and Tivos, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer airs tonight at 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) on CBS. Can it be Christmas without at least one viewing of this classic? I don't think so.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Library Beyond All Libraries

My brother Gregory claims that libraries make him ill, and thus he does his best to avoid them. I think, however, that I found one that he might just like.

While out visiting Jeff's family for Thanksgiving, Jeff and I ventured into Seattle on Saturday and spent the day checking out sites, both new and familiar. One of the sites that was new to both of us was the Central Library of the Seattle Public Library system. The library, designed by architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus, opened in 2004 to much acclaim and a couple of dissenting voices. It's hip, modern, and nothing like how you expect a library to appear.

Credit: Seattle Public Library Web site. (It was cold outside and we didn't think to stop and take a photo.)

Inside, the building teems with cool features. The first thing we noticed was a overhead book handling system that was completely high-tech, taking returned books and automatically sorting them based on where in the library they belong. Then we noticed the interesting art installation on the floor--556 lines of raised text in 11 languages found in the library's collection. The text is reversed "to reference both how books are produced and how we learn to read from symbols that are at first unknown to us." Also on Level 1 and rising upward all the way to Level 3 (Level 2 is a staff only floor) is a huge auditorium used for readings, performances, etc.

After peeking around Level 1, we hopped on the escalators, which are a crazy neon green color. Impossible to miss.

Though not a great picture, you can get an idea of the escalator's striking color.

Level 3 houses popular books and two things which seem pretty unique to me, at least as far as libraries go. One is a coffee/sandwich cart. My entire life eating in a library has been a big no-no, but here it's actually encouraged. Although, to be fair, you can't take the food out of this little area. Additionally, there was a gift shop that didn't sell used books but instead featured an eclectic array of items for the book lover that was, for the most part, not at all stuffy or intellectual, but in fact rather lighthearted and humourous.

Now Level 4 is the location of meeting rooms, but we're not talking your typical library meeting room. You know, the dark, dank, and dull meeting rooms common to most libraries and all too often tucked away in the basement. No, this Level's circular corridors are painted bright, bright red. It was very funky and space-agey.

Don't worry. The meeting rooms are painted in neutral colors.

Level 5, for reasons I'm not sure of, is referred to as the mixing chamber. It's really more of a multi-media floor with hundreds and hundreds of computers available for public use. A large librarian's desk is also on this floor and overhead is an electronic installation that shows what's being checked out...kind of a tally of what's being read in Seattle.

The bulk of the library's collection can be found on Levels 6-9. These levels actually spiral upward with each row a tiny bit higher than the row before it. The slope is really gentle, so much so that you don't actually realize you're walking up a ramp, but if you browsed the collection from the beginning of the Dewey Decimal System to the end, you'd actually rise three floors. How cool is that? Also, unlike in other libraries where you have to get up close to each row to see what Dewey Decimal numbered books can be found down it, in this library you can tell from fairly far away thanks to big floor mats at the end of each row with the relevant numbers on them.

The top floor, Level 10, is a reading room with study tables and comfy lounging chairs. It's also the place to go for the best views. Through the glass, you can peer out at the city.

You can also go out on a small landing and peer down at the library below you. It was intensely dizzying (I don't think you'll ever catch me bungee jumping) but really cool.

You could also get a view of the video projection by artist Gary Hill, which is installed on the white atrium wall. Although we were more intrigued by the cool patterns the ceiling projected as the sun played peek-a-boo through the clouds.

In this second image, you can see the video projection, although not very well.

Art-wise, I was much more intrigued by the video sculptures by Tony Oursler, which are in the wall of the escalator between Levels 3 and 5. I was too busy checking it out to take a picture, but here's one I co-opted from the Web.

I didn't realize the library would be so interesting and something I'd want to write about on my blog, so I didn't take as many pictures as I wish I had. (Plus inside photography is hard.) I encourage you to go the Seattle Public Library website to check out their slideshow of images. And if you're ever in Seattle, be sure to check it out. I can pretty much guarantee that you've never seen a library like this before.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'll Take the Day After

Thanksgiving. It's never been my favorite holiday.

When I was young, I didn't care much for turkey, stuffing, cranberries, or any of the other traditional food associated with the holiday. I wasn't even much of a mashed potato fan at that point in my life. And what is Thanksgiving about if not eating? It doesn't have the presents and festive decorations of Christmas. It doesn't have the candy and egg hunts of Easter. It was just food and family get togethers, a holiday for grown-ups in my childish eyes.

Then, was I was 16 years old and finally coming around to appreciating the holiday, my grandpa passed away during Thanksgiving week. We spent Thanksgiving at the funeral home in deep mourning of a man I loved dearly. My dislike of the holiday only deepened.

When I went away to college, I quit going home for Thanksgiving and became somewhat of a Turkey Day orphan. I had the usual feasts in Baton Rouge and Galveston. I made do with chicken in Freiburg and Athens. And when Jeff and I got married, I began spending Thanksgiving in Seattle. While I'd be loathe to give up Christmas with my family, I can handle Thanksgiving just about any way you give it to me.

But there is one thing that I especially miss about Thanksgiving at home, but it doesn't actually have anything to do with Thanksgiving day. It's all about the day after: Black Friday.

When I was little, I'd wake up on Black Friday to find my mom gone. I never quite knew where she was, but she'd be gone a good part of the day, "running errands" according to my dad. The year I discovered that Santa Claus wasn't quite who I thought he was, I found out that the "errands" weren't quite of the toilet paper buying type, but instead she was out in search of our Christmas gifts. That year my mom invited me to go along with her.

We were up early. It was still dark outside, the air crisp and clear except for the little clouds of heat made by your breath. My mom had a list and a big stack of ads, a plan for hitting the stores in the right order so as to maximize deals and hit as many stores as we could right after they opened. (And while this was early, back in the day, it wasn't the ridiculous 3 a.m. - 5 a.m. openings that are so common now. We weren't that crazy.) Strategically we'd go after the hot items first, the toys that every other person in town wanted too, and most of the time we'd succeed in nabbing that most wanted item, the number one on one of my brothers' Christmas lists, the toy that they were counting on Santa to bring, the reason they'd shape up right away as soon as they were reminded that Santa was watching. I thought it was great fun, a scavenger hunt of sorts complete with the thrill of victory when you found just what it was you were looking for.

After we'd hit all the openings of the big box stores, we'd head to the mall and go straight for the Cinnabon store for a gooey breakfast treat. Then it was more shopping until our stomachs started grumbling again and we'd sit down for lunch. Not too long after that, we'd head home, our feet tired, the trunk of the car full.

I don't know whether it was the secret nature of the shopping trip or just the fact that I got to spend the whole day with my mom (and not share her with any of my brothers or my dad) that made it such a fun day, but it was. And every year, when I eat my turkey or whatever stand in is at hand wherever I am, I recall those days with a sense of happiness and a tad bit of magical feeling. So you keep your memories of turkey and stuffing, I'll enjoy my memories of shopping and Cinnabon.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

To-Do: Nothing

Jeff and I had nothing to do this weekend. It was awesome. It has been forever since both of us were at home with no obligations. I took full advantage and gave myself permission to relax. I didn't get out my planner at all and look at the huge list of things to do that I always seem to have over my head.

I have to admit that the last few weeks I've been a bit overwhelmed. Jeff's been out of town or extra busy working long hours in the lab, so I feel like I've had to handle a bit more of the household things than usual, and on top of that, we've had a bit more household excitement than usual with the installation of new windows and window coverings. I've been taking a class at the Writer's Center, which eats up my Thursday nights (7:30 to 10 p.m.) and involves outside assignments. I've been querying and writing, which although fun has become a bit stressful recently in that I feel like I'm always working, either at the full-time job or at home on the freelance stuff. I've been planning our big trip and working on our blog (new site coming soon...maybe tonight). I've been running and trying to work out. I've been pushing away thoughts of Christmas and all the related gift shopping and listmaking and card writing and cookie baking. I've been attending conferences and weddings. And I've been working that regular, everyday 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. job.

I must say that this past week all that activity started to get to me, and I found myself a little grumpy. (I don't think the cold and dark are helping either.) As I walked to the Metro one morning, the children's book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" popped into my head. That pretty much summed up my mood.

I have a tendency to be hard on myself. I always feel like I should be doing something productive. Just the other night, I was actually thinking to myself that I should find somewhere to volunteer. (Did I mention in my to do list that I also already do volunteer editing for the Holocaust Museum?) Obviously, at this point, that's not a good idea, and I recognize that, but I still can't help thinking it.

And you know what doesn't help? Things like the Smithsonian Magazine Young Innovator's Issue featuring 37 people under age 36 making big noise in the arts and sciences. Or the National Book Foundations "5 Under 35" fiction awards. Reading about these people only makes me feel like I should be doing more, achieving more. It leaves me thinking, why isn't that me? Is it because I'm not talented enough or smart enough or work hard enough? It's stupid, I know. I don't need you to tell me that. And I'm not fishing for compliments here. I'm just revealing how I think, as messed up as it is.

But this weekend, I gave myself permission to relax...without guilt, which is the key. There are plenty of times I've sat down to watch a TV program but not enjoyed one minute of it because the whole time I was thinking that I should be doing something else. Seriously, relaxing is not my forte. But I succeeded this weekend. On Friday, I read, from start to finish, "A Thousand Splendid Suns." (Highly recommended. I didn't intend to read it all in one day but I could not stop. And just as an aside, Khaled Hosseini's first book wasn't published until he was 38, so take that all you Under 35s.) On Saturday, Jeff and I played Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii (I admit I was skeptical, but it was very enjoyable, and Jeff had a great time laughing at me), and we also played a couple of rounds of Hoopla. Today, I made some spiced nuts, caught up on Grey's Anatomy, watched some football, and went out with Jeff for sushi. It was fun.

(But, okay, I admit it, I couldn't just do fun things. I also dusted and ran the vacuum, did 5 loads of laundry, picked up needed items from Target, and went to the stores to check out a few items for our Christmas list. Oh well, it's as close as I think I'll ever get to a purely relaxing weekend. It's just the way I am.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Different Strokes

At the end of October, Jeff attended a conference for grad students in Stockholm. One of the sessions he attended was about career development, and he came home to tell me that one of the tips from the presenter was to marry another scientist.

Well, guess what, too late. We're already married. I'm not a scientist and I don't plan to convert to being one.

The presenter's reasoning was that only another scientist could truly understand you and the demands of your work. I call bullshit. Sure, I don't always understand the intricacies of what Jeff does. I know he works with proteins and his current focus is Parkinson's disease. I can't tell you all the little details. But I can understand hard work. I can understand the need to put in long hours to get where you want to be. I can maybe not like it so much when he has to go in to the lab on the weekends (he's there right now), but I can understand that it's what he needs to do.

I think Mr. Presenter maybe had a bit of a ego problem, a feeling that science is more important than other fields, bigger, better, more demanding. Does he think it's easy to be a baseball player, a novelist, or an architect? The truth is, in my opinion, that if you want to be good at what you do, if you want to be one of the best at what you do, regardless of what that is, you have to work long and hard. You don't have to be in the science field to understand that. You just have to be someone with passion, someone who also wants to be succeed, someone who understands hard work, commitment, and dedication.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if scientists only married scientists, engineers only engineers, writers only writers, accountants only accountants? Eek, I quiver thinking about what those dinner conversations must be like.

"Oh, honey, you should have seen me at work today. Nobody handles a pipette like I do."
"That's what I love about you, you know. There's nothing hotter than a man in a lab coat and goggles."
"Well you're not half-bad yourself. I wish I could transfer cells as well as you do. Now how do you keep your medium so healthy?"

(Yes, trust me, that is what two scientists sound like when they are together.)

So, anyhow, Jeff and I have very different careers. He couldn't do mine, and I couldn't do his. But we have many common interests, which carry the conversation through dinner. We have other things to talk about besides DJ1 or Color Field painting. But you know what, we also can talk about those things. Because while I'm no expert on science, and he's no expert on writing, editing, or art, we are interested in each other and what each other does.

And because of our differences, I think that we might just actually be more knowledgeable people. If it weren't for me, Jeff wouldn't be reading the New Yorker or going to see plays or attending art openings. And if it weren't for him, I wouldn't have the first clue about cell culture, I'd be much less likely to stay up late watching baseball, and I'd definitely never have been to a party celebrating PINK1.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Watch Out Rudolph

We all know that on Christmas, Santa and his helpers travel by reindeer-pulled sleigh. But have you ever wondered how the North Pole crew gets around the rest of the year? I hadn't thought much about it, but this past Wednesday, as I flew to Louisville, I got the answer. They use Southwest. I had no idea the North Pole was part of the Southwest route, but here's your proof.

When the plane we were to take to Louisville landed, off filed about 25 elves. They were tiny and dressed in green and red velvet. You should have seen all the gaping mouths and stares. Soon enough the elves were swarming the seating area, handing out candy canes, posters, luggage tags, and other goodies, all advertising the movie Fred Claus. Apparently Southwest is the official airline of the Fred Claus Elves Tour.

So the lesson here is that you really better watch out, since you never know where or when you might run into Santa's helpers. You wouldn't want them to catch you being naughty.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Next Year I'm Not Changing My Clock

I do not like the fact that we are no longer saving daylight. I've been a lazy bum tonight, and I am unabashedly blaming it on the fact that it was 100% dark by the time I left work tonight.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Run, Run as Fast as You Can

You know those people who run easily and naturally, the ones who go out for a run intending to just run something like 5 miles but before they've known it they've run 10? Yeah, I don't like those people. That's not me. I don't think I've ever run a distance and estimated it to be less than it was. If anything, I overestimate.

Really, that was only 2 miles; it felt like 10. That's more my experience.

But running is good for you, and it's easy to do in the sense that it doesn't require any special equipment. You don't have to belong to a gym or drive to a specific place in order to do it. Lace up your tennis shoes and walk out your front door, and you're ready to go. So in an effort to be healthy and in shape, I've been running since June.

Actually I've been running for years, but it's always been sporadic. I'd run every day for a week, then quit for two weeks. I'd never get into any kind of rhythm, and I'd never see any type of improvement in either time, distance, or ease. I often made excuses--it's too hot, too cold; I'm too busy, too tired. You know how it goes. I'm a goal-oriented person, but I didn't have any goals for running.

So this summer, I decided to do the Couch to 5K program. Now, I'm not a couch potato. I didn't need to start at zero. But I did anyhow. I followed the program step by step because it gave me a precise goal for each week. And while starting in the summer might not have been the most brilliant idea--heat for one, lots of travel for two--that's what I did. And I managed to make it all the way through the program, 100+ degree days, oppressive humidity, and all. If there's anything I dislike more than things I'm not good at, it's quitting.

As the weeks passed, and I ran farther with each session, I found that running did come a bit easier (mind you, still not easy). But I could feel my legs getting stronger and my breathing becoming less labored. So, when I completed the program, I didn't stop running. Instead I got Jeff in on the act and now we get up 3 days a week and go running. For years, I have sworn that I cannot run in the morning, but I think I may have been wrong. Perhaps running before your brain is fully awake and can realize the ridiculousness of what you're doing is a good idea. I'm only hoping we can keep it up through the cold and the dark of winter. I might not run that fast or that far, but I am, in some sense, a runner. And I like the sense of accomplishment that comes with pacing off a few miles first thing in the morning.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Request

If you subscribe to any magazines that you discard after you've read them, would you mind saving them for me? One thing you hear over and over as an aspiring freelance writer is that you need to be familiar with your intended market and that the best way to do this is to read the magazine. Well, folks, that gets expensive. I subscribe to the magazines that are at the top of my "I wish I could get published here" list, but there are a ton of magazines out there, and I just can't afford to get them all...even just to buy an issue of each from the newsstand would be a little much. And while I'm most interested in travel writing, there's room in almost nearly every magazine for some type of travel piece.

I'm only trying to acquire one issue of each magazine, preferably a recent issue considering how often magazines change their styles, so I'm not asking that you save them all for me, but if you could set aside one issue, I'd be most appreciative. I'm also particularly interested in regional magazines, as those don't even show up on my newsstands, but seem like they could be potentially good markets. If I'll be seeing you over the holidays, you can just hang on to them until then and I'll haul them back with me. Otherwise, if you don't mind, you can mail them to me (you may even be able to mail them via Media Mail, which is pretty cheap). I'll be most grateful.

I'm pretty much interested in anything you can come up with, but if you're not sure, you can leave a comment, and I'll let you know. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New Article Published

Last Sunday, the Frederick News-Post ran an article I wrote on the Lake Champlain Islands. You can read the article on my Web site or on the Frederick News-Post Web site.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Glory Hallelujah, The Sun Does Shine on Seattle

This past weekend, Jeff and I went out to Bainbridge Island for the wedding of our friends Britt and John. It was a lovely wedding and reception, and we had a fabulous time.

There was one thing about it that was extra amazing: the weather was beautiful. Seriously, blue skies and sunshine (once some crazy, cool fog lifted in the early afternoon) .

You couldn't have asked for a more perfect day anywhere, and this was in the Seattle area.

In six years of travels to the Seattle area, I have never had good weather (except for some sunshine on a side trip to Mt. Rainier, but I believe even then it was raining in Seattle proper). Regardless of when I go, whether it's July and August (which are just gorgeous according to Seattleites) or February or November (when you might except things not to be all that great), the weather is always the same: grey, cold, rainy. No exceptions.

On this trip, however, I got not just one sunny and nice day, but three. I didn't see a drop of rain or a grey sky. It was miraculous. So we took advantage and spent Friday wandering around downtown Seattle. We made two fun discoveries: the Globe bookstore, which sells all kinds of fabulous old books plus some nifty baseball postcards drawn by a local artist, and the Chocolate Box, where I had a Venezuelan sipping chocolate, which is pretty much a really intense chocolate bar in melted form.

We walked up and down First Avenue, which you could fill a whole day exploring. Lots of great shops. Too bad it's usually too soggy to enjoy a stroll. On Sunday (the wedding was Saturday and pretty much filled that day), we checked out a handful of Bainbridge Island parks. The leaves were changing up there but still primarily on the trees, so it was really pretty. Unfortunately, we forgot to take our camera so we didn't get any photos. I'm kicking myself for not taking it with us to the parks as I don't think I'll ever see such a lovely Seattle day again.

But, here we are at Britt's wedding, enjoying the fabulous day. Our friend Chris was playing photographer.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Stairmastering it at Shenandoah

Even though temperatures on this "fall" weekend were hovering up near ninety, Jeff and I decided to head down to Shenandoah for a hike. With the elevation there, it's usually cooler, and this was true yesterday, as the temperatures were closer to 80. We've done a fair bit of hiking in Shenandoah and wanted to do a new trail, so we stopped in at the visitor center to get a recommendation from a ranger.

We ended up 19 miles down Skyline Drive on a hike to Little Devils Stairs. We were doing the circuit route from the parking lot, with the total miles to be hiked at 7.7. About 5 of those miles are along a fire road, so the trail is wide and there aren't too many steep changes in grade. It was kind of like walking down a country road.

For the most part, the trees were still green, although off on the hillside you could see a few trees beginning to change.

And even though the trees weren't bursting with color, there were plenty of colorful and interesting plants to enjoy.

The other 2.5 miles or so of the hike were much more strenuous, pretty much a rock scramble down into a canyon and then back out. The trail crossed over streams (although the current drought conditions left most of them dry or just barely trickling) and up cliff faces. It was quite a lot of fun, although also hard work. And it was very, very humid down in the canyon, not at all cool like it was up on the fire road. In total, the hike took us 3.5 hours and was a very good work-out. I'd be lying if I said we didn't feel it today.

Towards the end of the hike, we saw something neither of us had ever seen before and felt duty-bound to document it for all of you.

That's right, stick-bug sex. Bet you've never seen that before, now have you?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Lives of Wander: The Blog

In preparation for the big round the world trip Jeff and I plan to go on, departure date summer 2008, we have created a blog. We're going to use the blog as a means of documenting our trip and staying in touch with friends and family. So why start it now, you ask? Well, we also want to use the blog as a means of recording our pre-trip planning, thoughts, hopes, goals, etc. In many ways, this trip is bigger than a year. It already consumes a good part of our least as far as thinking and planning and dreaming go. We've made a few posts and plan to continue through the planning and the doing. We'll see where it goes after that.

We're rolling it out slowly, introducing it first to you, my loyal Spargel readers. We have high hopes that it will grow though, so please don't be shy about sharing it with friends or linking to it on your blog. In a way, we're hoping the blog will become a conversation...not just us talking at you. So please, leave comments, start a dialogue, check in often. (I'm talking to you lurkers too. I know about you people who read Spargel but don't comment. Don't try to hide.)

So without further ado, may I present Lives of Wander.

The Big Ask

Today on the way to work, I passed a panhandler. I pass many of them every day so there's nothing unusual about this. But instead of asking in a mumble if I had any change, he very clearly and boldly asked if I had $5 I could spare.

Go big or go home, right?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Darkness and the World of Writing

It's just now 7:20 p.m., and it's already dark outside. Oh how I dread the upcoming changing of the clocks! It's already dark much too early now. I can't bear to think of what it will be like by the time we change them in early November, over a month from now. I hate the darkness.

But on a lighter note (hehe), it was a glorious day today. Beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures. I took advantage and went down to the National Book Festival on the Mall. I first listened to an interview with Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World and multiple collections of short stories. He's also the winner of a MacArthur Genius Award (I want one of those!). And though I admired his novel, I must say that I found him to be rather boring in person. The Genius thing didn't really come through.

The second speaker, Joyce Carol Oates, more than made up for it though. I'm a big fan of her work and have read many of her novels (though not nearly all considering she is superhumanly prolific). I think We Were the Mulvaneys is my favorite, although her most recent novel, The Gravedigger's Daughter, is quite good too (except for the first 12 or so pages which I found to be s-l-o-w). Anyhow, if you've read any of her work, you'd know that she tends to be a bit fatalistic, with a somewhat tragic view of the world, so I found it quite refreshing to be witness to a fantastic sense of humor. Really, she was very funny. Even Jeff, not nearly the bibliophile that I am, was laughing out loud.

Interestingly both authors offered similar advice when asked what they'd say to an aspiring writer. Instead of the usual "Dream big" offered by most people in advice-giving positions, they both said "Expect nothing." In the writing world, rejection is such a common-place occurrence that it often destroys people unaccustomed to failure, causing them to quit before they really even get started. Both suggested that if you expect nothing, you won't be torn apart by the disappointment and will be able to continue to churn out works and send them away. And then, rather than being disappointed by all the rejections, you'll be pleasantly surprised when someone, somewhere does want something you've written. Makes sense. But I'm not sure a big banner over my desk that says "Expect nothing" would be all that inspiring.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Brookside Gardens

Yesterday was a beautiful day, warm and sunny but not humid and sticky, so I decided to make the most of it with a trip to Brookside Gardens where I played around with the camera. I thought I'd share some of my favorites.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


My friend Megan tagged me, which means that I'm supposed to share on my blog eight random things about myself that you might not know. I doubt that any one of you will find all eight of these surprising considering I think the people who read my blog know me pretty darn well, but, hey maybe there's a surprise tucked in here for someone.

1. Growing up there were three things I wanted to be: President, an astronaut, and a novelist. I kept the President dream up through 8th grade when I was student body president. Shortly after that I realized that a) I'm not good at schmoozing or selling myself, b) I am a very private person, and c) Politics is dirty. I kept the astronaut dream alive through my first year of college. I studied astronomy at GSP and went to Rice intending to study engineering and hoping to do some kind of work with nearby NASA. My inability to grasp physics effectively killed that dream. The novelist dream began early when I won my first Young Authors contest in first grade and has never really died, although it's been repressed at times primarily because it seemed like such an abstract thing and I've always been much too rational and responsible to just say screw it all I'm going to try to write a book. But, lately I've realized that a) I'm not going to starve and b) it's still the one thing I really want to do, so in a year or two I'm going to go ahead and say screw it, I'm writing a book.

2. I'm afraid of dogs. There's no reason for this--I've never been bitten or had a bad experience. I'm just highly uncomfortable around them. (Although Jeff is convinced that I secretly like them.)

3. I am terrible at relaxing. I can't sit on the couch and watch TV without feeling like I should be doing something more productive. I can't lay on the beach or at the pool for more than 15 minutes without getting restless. A resort vacation would be my worst nightmare. I always need to be doing something, seeing something, learning something. Reading is the closest thing I can do to relaxing guiltlessly.

4. I'm a book junkie. I read everything I can get my hands on. And if you talk to me when I'm reading, I won't answer you. I'm not being rude, I just get so absorbed in reading that I literally do not hear you talking to me. When I was a kid I loved books so much that when my family went to the lake, I'd bring a book and read while everyone else fished or swam or whatever.

5. I'm actually very silly, but only around people I am very close to. Around others, I come across as very reserved and serious.

6. I have never in my life eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I like peanut butter sandwiches and I've been known to eat jelly bread for breakfast, but the idea of combining the two makes my stomach churn.

7. I'm almost always cold (or chilly as I like to say). Unless it's over 90 degrees and I'm in direct sunlight, I'm probably cold.

8. When I was little, I had a Madonna tape (from my cousin Lisa I think) with the song Like a Virgin on it. My next door neighbor and I used to dance to this song while wearing halos or wings and acting like angels. This is because I thought virgin meant angel thanks to the Church always referring to Mary as the Virgin Mary. It seemed like a logical leap to me...Who would have thought they'd reference someone's level of sexual experience so often in a religious place?

Now it's my turn to tag eight people...except I don't think I know eight people who have blogs, so um, if I know you and you have a blog and haven't been tagged before, consider yourself it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Farewell to Summer

Though it's still over a week until its official arrival, fall has begun to sneak in. The sun isn't as intense, the air carries a slight chill, there's dew on the ground, and the hours of daylight keep shrinking. I like fall...I really do...but I love summer. So it is with sadness that I bid it adieu.

I will miss...
*perfectly ripe peaches dripping juice down my face
*the smell of garden fresh tomatoes and cucumbers
*sweet crisp yellow corn on the cob
*pints of multi-color cherry tomatoes
*bundles of brightly-colored zinnias
*waking up to sunshine
*twilight until late in the night
*hanging out at the pool
*flip flops and bare legs

And you? What will you miss?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New York City: The Last of the Vacation Narratives

From Boston, Jeff and I headed down to NYC, but stopped outside of the city in Norwalk, CT, where we were able to visit with my friend Despina and her husband Taso. They'd literally just gotten back from Greece, where they were married, so it was very generous of them to have us stay, but we were so happy to get to spend the evening hanging out with them. Especially since they introduced us to this amazing place called Chocopologie, where we went for dessert. Between the four of us we ordered some truffles (the dark chocolate truffle with burnt caramel and sea salt was phenomenal...we weren't convinced when the waitress suggested it, but we were sold after the first taste), chocolate beignets, and a sampler that included ice cream, mousse with ganache, a molten cake, and some kind of weird chocolate "butter." It was a delicious night!

The next morning we said goodbye and took the train into NYC, where we had a $19 hotel reservation and tickets to the Yankees. The hotel was a serious steal. It was a few blocks from Grand Central station, within easy walking distance to many sites, and the room was fantastic. Comfy bed, spacious bathroom, quiet, well-decorated, and with a cool lighting system that gave you control over every light in the room from one panel by the bed (one on each side actually). What more could you ask for? Lucky us.

Oddly enough the worst weather of the trip was in NYC, where it was kind of chilly and where it started to rain after the game ended. You'd think we might have been cool further up north, but instead the further back south we came, the more we pulled out our jeans and long sleeve shirts. Anyhow, we weren't going to let a little rain ruin our trip, so we put our rain jackets to use and set out. We first went to Chinatown, where I added three pashminas to my collection, and where we had dinner. The lo mein was great. I wasn't as big a fan of the beef dish--weird texture, I thought--but Jeff liked it. Oh well, now I know not to order that dish in the future.

The rain wasn't letting up, but we kept up with our walking, heading to the Brooklyn Bridge, which we walked halfway across for the view. I actually think it might have been a better view because of the rain. Kind of romantic if you will.

We then paid our tributes at Ground Zero, which is hard to fathom, especially since it now seems to be one huge construction zone. But there's definitely a hole in the horizon. And then we wrapped up our rainy New York evening with a stroll through Times Square, bathing in its neon glory, before cozying up in our nice, warm, $19 bed.

The next morning we had a few hours before we had to head out of town, so we first headed up to Central Park, where we wandered past the Children's Zoo, the Bethesda Fountain & Terrace, one of the ponds, and Strawberry Fields.

The Bethesda Fountain & Terrace was my favorite part of the park. It has a very Eastern feel to it, which was heightened by a man playing a lute, its haunting melody floating across the park.

On our way back to the hotel to pick up our belongings, we enjoyed a few slices of New York pizza and took in Radio City and Rockefeller Center.

Hardly enough time for NYC I know--what about the Met, the MOMA, SoHo, the Village, Fifth Avenue--but I'm certain will be back. There's just way too much to see. and the city is nothing if not intoxicating. I first saw NYC when I was 14, and at that time I said that I thought it would be an amazing place to live for one year. When I told Jeff this (before our trip), he kind of scoffed. He'd only seen NYC briefly as a child while waiting for a passport or something, and he was convinced he wouldn't like it. He assumed it would be too fast, the people too rude, money too important. But we weren't there long before he was saying that I might be on to something. NYC isn't somewhere I could imagine as home, but it's somewhere I would be interested in adopting for a year. There's just nowhere else in the world like it. The center of finance, the center of the arts, the center of literature, the center of everything. You can just feel the pulse of the world running through it. I'd love to have a year to just live that, experience that. Now I just have to figure out how to make that happen.

Is it just me or do you too wish that you had multiple lives to live? There's just way too much I want to do.