Friday, June 26, 2009

Star sightings

You know how I mentioned I'd like to spend a little time with Reese Withspoon and Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson? Well, if catching a glimpse of them while filming their latest movie counts, then I'm three out of four. Yesterday Stephanie and I discovered they would be filming about two blocks from our office, so we ran a reconnaissance mission late in the afternoon to check out the situation. Our scouting session revealed a lot of cranes and lighting equipment, but no actual filming. Stink. However, it did raise a couple of questions: (1) how were they were planning on clearing out the McPherson Square bums to actually conduct any filming there, and (2) does the handwriting on these "no parking" signs match the handwriting on the "no parking" signs posted all over our block of K Street...possibly implying that they're filming right by the office next week? (when I'm out of town, of course - but potentially cool for Steph)

Then...our trusty blog at Washington City Paper informed us that filming would actually begin at 6 PM. You know, my sharply honed research skills may not always lead to the right tax answer, but I can do a pretty remarkable job of tracking down pop culture news. That counts for something, right? I made my way over after getting out of work a little later than I would have liked, and Stephanie joined me after escaping from her evening grad class. After being shuffled from sidewalk corner to sidewalk corner with a group of onlookers and being admonished multiple times to not use a flash when taking any pictures, we found ourselves right in the middle of Reese and Paul and Owen. Ok, not right in the middle...across the street. But it was really pretty interesting to see what all goes into making a movie.

For instance....why did they have a giant water truck wetting down the street? Was it theoretically supposed to have just rained, or does help out with the lighting in some way? What's the ratio of time spent waiting around versus actually filming anything? How much do they pay the poor girls with headsets whose primary job is to tell us onlookers to please get out of the way?

We totally want to be in this movie. So...Stephanie and I both filled out our extras applications today with Central Casting. Not sure if anything is going to come of this, but maybe we can make an appearance as "upscale pedestrians" or "attractive bar hoppers" or "Charles & Matty's neighbors," all options for today's extras.

If you want to check out all of the pictures from our movie set adventure, check out my Picasa album. Yes, some zooming might be in order to actually pick out those famous faces, but it was a pretty cool city experience.

Apparently the movie does have a working title...

And here's Reese...

And Paul and Owen and I think James Brooks...maybe...

Oh, and those burning questions from earlier - they were actually filming along 15th Street and not in McPherson Square, so all of the bums could stay on their park benches. Will they be filming in front of the office next week? To be determined - I'll have to count on Steph for the updates, though, because it's time! Tomorrow morning I'm meeting up with Kami and Carolyn at BWI to head into Boston - we're spending a few days in Provincetown, a few days in Boston, and you can rest assured that a great time will be had by all. I can't wait to see these girls!!

Now I just need to find Jack somewhere around town...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Parking lot invasion

The massive parking lot I cut through on my way to work has been invaded. The two block chunk of pavement between 9th & 11th, bordered by H and I, currently accommodates about 1/4 of the cars it usually holds, which I'm sure creates far more havoc for the drivers than the walkers. Yes, this space has been a trapeze school and temporary tennis courts and massive trucks and trailers from Sony Pictures. You need more information here on this particular aspect of city living.

1. TSNY has made its way to D.C. Trapeze School New York. I now walk past a trapeze school on my way to work. They've set up in the corner of the parking lot at 9th and H, and so far it's been pretty entertaining to see the various skill levels on display as I walk by. I kinda want to do this ala Carrie Bradshaw, Sex in the City, Episode #82, "The Catch." My ab muscles could probably use some work before I attempt this.

2. I have no idea who the Washington Kastles are, but their tennis courts are in the way of downtown commuters. Ok, now I know what it's all about because I had to Google it and figure things out. So apparently there's this thing called World TeamTennis with co-ed teams all over the country - real names here, the Williams gals and Maria Sharapova. Maybe I'll take in some exciting tennis action this summer.

3. I need to figure out how to get in some time with Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson, because they're running around town shooting a movie while I'm spending my days in a cube. How does one get a copy of their shooting schedule? Hmmmm...I hope they're still in town when I get back from P-town and Beantown. At any rate, they have massive amounts of trucks and trailers and movie equipment taking up a quarter of the parking lot (at least I'm assuming all of the "Sony Pictures" splashed all over everything is related to them - I mean, this isn't L.A., so I figure I've got it narrowed down pretty well). I'll try not to go all stalker and just hang out in the parking lot, though. Maybe some actual filming somewhere.

And that, friends, is what I walk past going to and from work. Oh, and three Starbucks, one tacky souvenier shop, and typically several bold squirrels.

Monday, June 22, 2009

America's pastime...and another meal on a bun

Ok, so even though I'd embarked on the half-smoke adventure a mere thirty-twoish hours earlier, that didn't stop me from enjoying another meal on a bun on Friday night...I mean, how do you go to a baseball game and NOT eat a hot dog?!? All-beef frank on a nutritionally-deficient all-white bun, smothered in mustard and relish, washed down with a beer...sometimes it's exactly what you need. Or maybe that's just me.

Friday night I met up with cube buddy Stephanie, her husband, and a few other friends at Tortilla Coast for a margarita and some fortifying chips and salsa before heading out to the Nationals game. The Nats. At least now when I hear that I actually think of it as something short for "Nationals" rather than pesky little bugs. Oh, gnats. The team is somewhat terrible this year, but I'm not one of those people who get too caught up the baseball team's win-loss business. If you put a baseball game on TV, odds are I'll go to sleep - however, attending a game is something else entirely. You soak up the atmosphere, enjoy some good times and good ballpark fare with friends, and have a generally pleasant summer evening while men happen to swing bats at balls somewhere in the general vicinity.

You know how mascots walk around at the game, generally bringing joy to the crowd and posing for pictures with small children? At a Nats game, it's actually a little creepy to see an Abe Lincoln with a head the size of the rest of his body headed your way. You can spot him in the upper right-hand side of this one, and there's a picture on someone's camera of all of us hanging out with Abe - I'll share that one later. Oh, Washington. You can also meet Donna (on the left) and Stephanie (in the middle):

In addition to encountering the wandering Presidents, we were on the jumbotron during the 7th inning stretch, dancing away with Screech the Eagle. And when we found out his name was Screech, at least three of us turned to each other and made an exclamation about "Saved by the Bell." Ahh, childhood memories.

When the 9th ended in 1-1 tie and headed to extra innings, we headed over to the Bullpen for another beer, some live music, and the last two innings on TV rather than in the ball park. The Bullpen is a cool concept - kinda like tailgating for the baseball game, only since it's hard to tailgate when you ride the Metro in, they've set up a space to provide the festivities.

It's that baseball time of year, gang - grab some friends and head out to the ballpark for the cheap tickets and a good time. I actually prefer the ridiculous minor league between-innings entertainment to the MLB show, but it's definitely not a bad way to spend a Friday night or a weekend afternoon. I mean, for the MLB you have team-specific bottles of Bud Light - it's a trade-off.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Not a light lunch

Last Thursday I, along with three co-workers, took my Habitat-weary muscles about a mile up 14th to spend a couple of hours doing a little more good in the world. PwC is a big supporter of Martha's Table, a local organization that provides all kinds of services to those in need - education, daycare, a decent meal - and we usually send a group of volunteers up once a week to do whatever needs to be done for a couple of hours. The Martha's Table folks have partnered with local farmer's markets and often receive donations of any produce left at the end of the day. Someone must have had a bumper crop of kale this year, because the walk-in fridge was absolutely filled with the stuff. Giant Rubbermaid totes, heavy duty garbage bags, cardboard boxes - overflowing with kale.

So, in an effort to actually make use of it before it turned all nasty and squishy, the four of us set to removing the leaves from the stems and tearing those leaves into bite-size portions, then dumping pan after pan into the sink for a thorough washing before its conversion into soup. Two hours of kale shredding - I was pretty grateful for the latex gloves, or otherwise my hand might have been stained a lovely shade of green for the foreseeable future. Actually, it was pretty amazing to see what four sets of hands can accomplish in a couple of hours when faced with an astounding pile of produce.

As much as we would have loved to stick around for some kale soup (ok, not really - we were pretty kaled out at that point), our stomachs were gurgling for something a little more hearty. We'd just spent the last couple of hours in a ginormous kitchen surrounded by food and leafy green things, so of course we turned to a location where the food carries a much more neutral color scheme (you know, the browns and tans of the world), the land of starch and grease, a D.C. icon. Ben's Chili Bowl is conveniently located just a few blocks away, so we walked on over and indulged in heart-attack fare for a late lunch. I had my first taste of a half-smoke, and while there's really no definitive answer for how it gets its name, D.C. lays claim to this slightly spicy sausage that's a notch above a hot dog. Throw it on a bun, smother it with chili and onions, throw some potato chips on the side, and you've got one nap-inducing lunch ready to go. I made the first bite with a knife and fork, and after being chastised for being so neat, I proceeded to throw caution to the wind (even wearing a white sweater - I mean, I was inviting danger), cover my hands in spicy chili, and chow down. Major clothing crisis averted by strategic neck-craning on each bite. Cube buddy Stephanie opted for the chili cheese fries, which are equally greasy and also tasty. Maybe my body could use some kale.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Power tools empower

As part of PwC's community service initiatives (we do more than taxes!), they occasionally give us the chance to shirk traditional work responsibilities for the day and descend en mass on some organization that's been kind enough to agree to take on a bunch of accountants/lawyers/type-A personalities for the day as we attempt to do some good in the world. The lucky recipient of the gang from 1301 K? Habitat for Humanity! So yesterday, after loading up on the bus, fortifying ourselves with coffee, enduring our rather incompetent driver, and hoping and praying that they sky wouldn't open up on us with a ginormous rainstorm, we found ourselves in a southeast section of the city that I would probably not otherwise find myself in, willing and ready build a house.

Today my body hurts in ways I didn't know it could hurt. I mean, it's really not too bad and actually serves as a good reminder that I should work out more, but can you pinpoint the muscles you use to (1) carry windows from a work shed to a home and then up a flight of stairs, (2) shave down a too-small window frame using what I think was a reciprocating saw, (3) move and stack scaffolding, (4) fill an enormous dumpster with construction junk, and (5) destroy old wooden stuff (held together with stubborn nails, of course) with a sledgehammer? This is totally counting as my workout time for the entire week. And now I know about things like window flashing and properly leveling a window in its frame! My cube buddy Stephanie and I learned quite a bit from Dave and Claude, two regular volunteers who come out as part of the Wednesday Crew.

And what would a construction site be without a little inappropriate talk and possibly some innuendo? Courtesy of the guys..."I can't get it up!" (actually referring to shifting the window up in the frame before screwing it in to close up the air gap at the tap) and "can we go all the way?" (those words may have come out of my mouth...quite innocently, I might I was peeling the backing off the waterproofing tape going around the window frames). One of our favorite phrases of the day? Screw it! And this was in a positive context! It's pretty exciting to actually get the window in place, leveled and ready to go, and shout "screw it!" to the poor guy who's stuck outside (usually Claude) so he can quite literally screw know, screw the window into its frame.

Fortunately, it only rained on us a little bit, and the home we were working on already had a roof, so we could seek refuge inside during the heavier drops. Oh, hard hats also serve as pretty decent rain hats in a pinch. The weather ended up cancelling today's outing (us Pdubbers are spread out over three days so we don't drive the regular crew completely crazy...oh, and for reasonable logistics), so I'm really glad we got to go yesterday!

And may I just put out there...who shows up at a home construction site NOT expecting to get dirty, do some actual physical labor, and maybe come across a bug or two? Most of our crew was pretty willing and had a good attitude for the day, but come on, you bug and dirt weenies - get with the program.

Check out our massive pile o' refuse...

...and the back of our home (which is actually two homes)...and do you see the two windows on the top floor on the right? The reciprocating saw and I got to cut through the blueboard insulation and send it plummeting to the ground so we could put windows in. I want to spend more time with power tools, please. I cut through nails with that thing!

It was rewarding to get away from my desk for a day and actually do something that gives back to the community a little bit. Sometimes I struggle to find anything redeeming about what I do at work on a day-to-day basis (the best I can come up with is "upholding the financial integrity of so-and-so and the economic backbone of our country!"...sounds semi-impressive, right?), and I truly appreciate that PwC does make an effort to give its employees the opportunity to put in a little community service time. Thank goodness for that community service charge code for my time sheet. And I hope this house that accountants helped build actually stands the test of time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rooftop times with the Democrats

A D.C. moment for you...since we work with so many well-connected people, there are occasionally tickets floating around to various events that make their way down to the senior and associate level. Three of these tickets brought forth a Tuesday night where Dana and I, accompanied by co-worker Donna, found ourselves on the roof of some schmancy building at the corner of 7th and I NW, surrounded by members of the Democratic National...Committee?...Caucus?...something like that, enjoying wine and appetizers while liberal ideas flew all around us. Oh, and Nancy Pelosi had some words for the crowd, and I was about fifteen feet away from her while she shared those words. It's a good thing the Republican in me didn't come out too much, because she had a security detail in tow - the serious looking guys with the earpieces and all. So there you go, politico that I've got the Speaker of the House out of the way, I'm going to set my sights on...oh, you know...the President. I hope he heads out for burgers again soon.

Sarin reunion!

What do you get when an awesome person named Sarah and a crazy person named Erin become indistinguishable from one another because they've spent excessive amounts of time at work together, particularly working on one rather trying client? You get...Sarin! Oh, PwC, what have you done to us? Anyway, my dear friend Sarah was in town this last weekend to hang out in D.C. with me, and we had a fantastic time. The recap follows.

After some ridiculous flight cancellations and delays due to crazy, crazy weather going on in Dallas, I rescued Sarah from Dulles during the wee hours of Friday morning - finally here! I had to head in to work for a few hours on Friday morning, which gave Sarah the chance to find one of the city's eight million Starbucks and do a little museum exploring while I did exciting things like edit articles and fight with technology.

After escaping from work (yay!), I met up with Sarah and we had a tasty bento box lunch at Teaism and then thoroughly explored the National Gallery of Art (after passing on the ridiculous line at the National Archives - I don't know what was going on there! probably just a summer Saturday...). As is the problem with many of the great museums in D.C., it's just freakin' large and has SO many cool things in it that you have to just give up at a certain point and go get frozen yogurt from TangySweet (where the line bordered on Archives crazy - we waited it out, though, because we really needed a cool treat). I thought one of the coolest things about the museum was the transition from one wing to the other - a 200-foot long tunnel, complete with moving walkway, through a display of 41,000 LED lights. Snazzy. Really awesome pizza (totally worth the wait!) and a good bottle of wine at 2Amys for dinner, and then we crashed after spending a little quality time with Harry and Sally...oh, and Harry the cat, of course.

Saturday morning I took advantage of actually having another person in my home to cook for more than one, so...French toast, please! After lazing around in the morning with our cups of coffee and catching up, we headed out to Georgetown and had burgers at Peacock Cafe, did some shopping at H&M, wandered through the adorable neighborhood, and ate a dinner's worth of amazing coffee-Oreo ice cream at Thomas Sweet. Of course, waffle cones of homemade ice cream aren't exactly the best choice for dinner (although a perfectly delicious one), so we decided the perfect solution to that would be margaritas, chips, salsa, and queso at Tortilla Coast. Ummm...not exactly healthy, but it is just darn tasty. See how our degree of happiness jumps up with queso and margaritas?

Dana came and met us for the chip & margarita fest, and then we walked over to Artomatic. Yes, the same Artomatic I went to a couple of weeks ago, but last time I didn't make through nearly all of the exhibits, and they certainly didn't dancers!!. Artomatic is just fun - we actually made it through every floor, and the three of us had a great time exploring the massive art space with adult beverages and cameras in hand. A few of the highlights: Dana gets ridiculously excited by both Peeps and Waffle House, Sarah and I are both inspired to become awesome photographers (she has a good start on that journey with her amazing camera...I have a little camera envy...I mean, excellent close-up shots of the Peeps action), I have a thing for cream soda Dum-Dums, and the creativity some people have just blows me away.

Sunday we made our way out to Eastern Market for a stop at the lunch counter (crabcake sandwiches! fries! massive Diet Cokes! oh yum!) and a quick viewing round of the assorted pickle people and jewelry makers, then we hopped back on the Metro to head downton for a lazy afternoon at the movies in the form of "Away We Go" at the E Street Cinema. Go check out the movie if for no other reason than John Krasinski is just adorable.

So good to spend time with a good friend! makes me miss all of you good friends that much more. Get ready for me, though, you Dallas-ites - I'll be in town July 8-12! Many things already on tap for the weekend - weddings, dinners, haircuts - so I'm hoping to spend a lot of quality time with the gang...aka my peeps. And yes, I'm going for cheesy with that by following it up with a picture of the giant Peep. Come on, did you expect anything less from me?

Monday, June 15, 2009

They really live here?

At the White House, that is. I can't imagine packing up and moving into the White House. Since I'll never be POTUS, it's ok that I can't imagine that, but it's still just odd to me that this remarkably historical place also serves as a residence. Anyway, one of the perks of working in the D.C. office as a tour rather than a permanent person is that you can occasionally take a little chunk of time away from your work day to do things like...oh, I don't know...go tour the White House. Provided someone (ah-hem, me) has the patience to coordinate a visit for said tours through a local (I still claim Texas as local...thank you, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison) Congressional representative. Seriously, it's quite a process, the requesting eons ahead of time and gathering of social security numbers and harassing the poor aide who's in charge of coordinating everything and can't give you the final yes or no answer until about 36 hours before this event should commence.

Last Thursday morning about fifteen of us gathered in the lobby at work and then walked over to the White House to check out the home of the First Family and all of the inner goings-on. I was secretly hoping that Michelle would pop out and offer us some coffee...or that we might see adorable little Bo frolicking about on the lawn. Well, let me just put that to rest and say that we didn't not see/greet/come anywhere near any two-legged or four-legged member of the Obama family. Stinkers. However, we did get to feel kinda important for about a second as we lined up alphabetically by last name and made our way past the security/Army/defender of the free world guy who checked our names off the pre-approved list and allowed us to proceed on to the metal detector.

Now, we'd read beforehand that the tour is self-guided, and they really mean it. You're handed a combo map/pamphlet and told to escort yourself through several rooms on the ground and state floors of the East Wing. There are security officers in each room who are there to answer any questions you may have (along with serving an actual security purpose, I'm sure) as well as a few explanatory signs posted along the way, but we made do with our handy pamphlet. There were a few other groups who seemed to have some fairly knowledgeable people leading them around, but we never could determine exactly where those people came from. Of course, no cameras allowed anywhere near this tour, but I do have a few tidbits for you, made out of words rather than images, of a few of the rooms we got to see:

  • East Room - the largest room in the White House, it is used for receptions, ceremonies, press conferences, and other events. Nellie Grant, Alice Roosevelt, and Lynda Bird Johnson held their weddings here, and the bodies of seven Presidents have lain in state in this room. When we were there it was set up for a jazz concert later that evening. They only hold tours in the morning, and then they whisk away the ropes and poles and mats, put all the rugs back in place, and go on with their days.
  • Blue Room - often used by the President to receive guests, and it is furnished to represent the period of James Monroe. The White House Christmas tree is placed in this room.
  • Red Room - frequently used for small receptions and often a favorite room of the First Ladies. John Adams used it as a breakfast room, and Rutherford B. Hayes took the oath of office there in 1877.
  • Other rooms we could take a peek in and/or walk through - library, Vermeil Room, China Room, Green Room, State Dining Room, and the entrance and cross halls.

We saw quite a few portraits along the way, including 1797 portrait of George Washington that has hung in the White House since 1800. Dolly Madison saved it when the British burned the White House in 1814 in retaliation for the destruction of some public buildings in Canada by American troops. And a couple more history bits for you...every President except George Washington has conducted the government of the nation here, and the Trumans had to move out from 1948-1952 when the severely weakened structure was rebuilt.

All in all, we zipped through in about 30 minutes. We probably could have gotten a bit more out of the experience with a stop at the White House Visitor Center, but I'll probably go hit up in some random winter month when it's less clogged with tour groups.

I got to go see the President's house! From the inside!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The, history, etc.

Last Saturday I wanted to take full advantage of Museum Walk Weekend, an annual event where ten museums in the Dupont Kalorama Museums Consortium feature free admission (yes, some places actually charge admission here, which is much needed to keep them operational, but it makes you appreciate the Smithosonian that much more...I'm a faithful contributor, though!) and all kinds of crazy special stuff going on. This year it also happened to fall on the same weekend as the annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, so a couple of the museums had some extra events planned in conjunction with the jazz festival. Rather than completely exhausting myself and attempting to hit all ten museums (I love this stuff, but not at the expense of my sanity), I went to my #1 choice first, spent the most time there, and then hit up two more that were relatively close by and not at the bottom of the "possibly interesting" list.

#1 choice? The Phillips Collection! I've actually been wanting to check this one out for a while, and while I was concerned that it might be a little bonkers given that it was a summer weekend coupled with free really wasn't too bad. Maybe a few too many young hooligans running around, but I've accepted that as an inevitable fact of life, especially when I live in the land of tourists. This museum has pretty much my ideal mix of art housed and displayed in a really great way - modern and Impressionist art in an old mansion coupled with bright, open spaces. They have a number of pieces from Rothko, O'Keeffe, Hopper, Klee, Matisse, Picasso, van Gogh, Degas, and C├ęzanne, and I loved how the museum is organized - rather than grouping it by artist (with the exception of the Rothko Room, which I think is better experienced on a weekday afternoon when absolutely no one else is around) or genre or time period, the art is organized in "conversational groups" (sorry if I'm getting a little artsy on you here, but I think it's interesting), encouraging you to look for similarities and differences in the paintings and/or sculptures in the different rooms. It's definitely a different way to look at the art, which I appreciated.

The museum space is a combination of the Phillips house (a Georgian Revival home dating to 1897), a former apartment building next door to the Phillips house, a modernist wing, a courtyard, and other amazing gallery spaces. I really enjoyed taking in not only the art, but also the details of this remarkable old home. One of the fireplaces had marble tiles, each one intricately detailed with its own fleur-de-lis, and they actually encourage you to take a seat on the furniture in the home and admire the opposed to roping it off and yelling at you when you come within five feet.

In connection with the jazz festival, I listened to a great pianist in one of the larger rooms in the Phillips house along with some interpretive fiddling/violin/impressive-foot-pedal-action that was the musician's interpretation of the art in one of the larger modern gallery spaces. Also in connection with the jazz "instrument petting zoo" where kids (or anyone, really, but you can bet I wasn't going anywhere near the germ collection known as the reed instruments) could try out all kinds of different instruments. Allow me to describe this for you. Ummm...loud. Yup, that pretty much sums it up. Although one of the little guys was actually getting pretty good with that snare drum.

I absolutely loved the Phillips Collection, and I will definitely be going back for their extended hours on Thursdays and Sunday concerts starting back up in October. Isn't this city great?

From the Phillips Collection I made my way over to the Woodrow Wilson House, which happens to be Washington's only presidential museum. Wilson lived here after his presidency, and it houses quite a few historical artifacts and gifts he received from diplomatic leaders. Did you know that diplomatic relations with Ethiopia were established during the Wilson administration? Neither did I, but I became acutely aware of it when I encountered native dances and all kinds of coffee in Woodrow's pretty nice gardens. I think I'll call him Woody from here on it - Woodrow just sounds so stiff and formal. Anyway, I think I would get more out of the home by actually taking a tour, but it was interesting to walk through the home and check out some of the items on display (they had a movie room!), and I always find it fascinating when these homes smack in the middle of the city, have expansive lawns and gardens. So pretty! And outdoorsy!

After Woody's house, I was up for...the Textile Museum! That's right, textiles. Have their own museum. Right here in our nation's capital. It's conveniently located about two houses down from Woody, so I figured a fairly quick stop would be worth the short trip. I didn't spend too much time there, but I did invest in a little quality time with the Amish quilts and turbans and ceremonial robes from all around the world. Oh, and you know how I mentioned special events were going on this weekend in conjunction with the whole "free admission" bit? Apparently that includes sheep shearing demonstrations at the Textile Museum. That's right, back on the huge lawn behind the museum they had a couple of sheep. I definitely was not expecting to see any sheep on my museum adventures, but I patted them on the head and went on my merry way.

Having not quite tapped out my art limit for the day, I decided that my merry way should take me over to Artomatic, a massive collection of local artists' pieces spread over nine stories in a warehouse, complete with music stages, dance troupes, and all kinds of other crazy artsy stuff. It's basically intended as a gallery space for all of these local artists over a month-long spread, and if I had some extra cash to throw around and some more space on my walls, I might be tempted to pick up some really great photography shots to liven up the apartment. Right besdie all the art I might actually want to purchase...resides all kinds of crazy stuff. A display of art made out of Peeps (yes, those marshmallow guys that pop up around Easter - my personal favorite was "Top Peep" where they were displayed in a kitchen setting ala "Top Chef"), life-sized Obama family finger puppets, miniature drag queen Presidential busts, and plenty of other crazy stuff. There was so much I didn't even get to, so odds are I might make a return trip before it closes on July 5. Not necessarily to buy anything, but I could take in a concert while wandering an industrial space filled with crazy art - pretty cool in my book.

After all of this art and history business (which gave rise to a totally-Picasa-worthy kind of day...I'll let you know when the pics are all up, you know I needed some serious food. Another DC Tex-Mex attempt at Tortilla Coast...and it was ok. Not stellar, but not terrible. At least the chips and salsa were tasty! Such an important benchmark. Rio Grande is still winning in this Texan's opinion. And even though I'm sure I had plenty to eat, it didn't stop me from picking up a toasted marshmallow shake at Good Stuff Eatery, snapping a sneaky picture of Spike (of Top Chef fame, which isn't really that famous, but is kinda food-famous in my world), and walking as far as Union Station before giving out and taking the Metro two stops home. Oh, and I'm quite partial to seeing the Capitol from the back...much fewer people, and it's pretty peaceful to sit on one of the benches with a milkshake and take in the sunset. Not a bad way to end the day.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

You DO live in the forest!

Last weekend I drove my car more than ten miles...all the way to Durham, NC! That's right, a sister fun weekend was long overdue, so I skipped out on work on Friday and drove down to Durham on Thursday night to spend some quality time with my younger sissy. As I fought my way through DC traffic and into the depths of Virginia, the slightest hint of claustrophobia set in...because in every direction I was surrounded by...trees. Trees and trees and trees. I'm a West Texas gal, folks - you're supposed to be able to see eighty miles in every direction. This was foreign territory to me. Anyway, after putting total faith in the signs since I couldn't see where I was going, I made my way through the forest and into Durham. Although Durham is basically a giant forest, too. I mean, seriously. The trees!! See how the forest scares me?

Us being the crazy baking fools that we are, the first thing we did when I rolled into town around 10:30 was...go to the grocery store. I mean, we needed supplies for our chocolate adventure! Our chocolate adventure in the form of chocolate madeleines with toasted almonds and coffee! They are really, really delicious and remarkably rich. Go ahead and make some.

More food adventures for the weekend consisted of:

  • traveling into the depths of the forest for a Carolina barbecue adventure at Allen & Son. Crazy Carolinians do this whole vinegar "sauce" and pork thing, which is vastly different from my Texas knowledge of thick, tomato-based sauces and beef beef beef. My verdict? Both are quite tasty, just in very different ways.
  • a stop at this amazing drive-through/walk-up burger place that appropriately goes by the name of Cook Out. That burger tasted like it came straight off a backyard grill, and they have about a million amazing milkshake options. I highly recommend peanut butter fudge, even if you end up throwing away half of it because you just can't eat anymore.
  • refreshing afternoon treats at Locopop, where I learned that the name is actually Locopop and not Local Pop...funny what gets lost when you just chat over the phone. This place makes awesome ice cream pops - I had chocolate chile, which both froze my mouth and set it on fire. How amazing is that?
  • Mexican food at Carrburritos! Fish tacos for me and nachos for my sis...nothing to say here but yum.
  • the discovery of Grown-up Soda (GuS!) at parker and otis, a totally adorable market/restaurant/store thing where we enjoyed refreshing beverages...and where I bought a bacon shirt!! That's right, it may not be the "I heart bacon" or "bacon is a vegetable" variety, but it's completely awesome. I can't wait to wear it. Too bad I can't wear jeans and a t-shirt to work.
  • ballpark deliciousness at a Durham Bulls game on Friday night - mmmm, beer and hot dogs and french fries. Perfect summertime fare.

I did just make a bulleted list of what we ate during the weekend, right? Sorry about that. You know I love the food. Oh, we also made blueberry baked oatmeal! And had brunch at Foster's Market! Ok, I'll stop.

I had a fantastic time with my sissy! We had food adventures and shopping adventures and forest adventures and explored her awesome school, complete with our own personal tour of the basketball mecca known as Cameron Indoor Stadium. And when I say our own personal tour...I mean that we just walked in and explored the place. Doesn't that seem wrong?? That you can just walk in?? I know the United Spirit Arena is locked up tighter than Fort Knox when there's nothing going on in there, but you can just walk in to this hallowed arena and explore to your heart's content? It was kinda awesome - we shot pretend free throws and sat at the announcer's table and parked ourselves on the very same seats the team sits on and ran out into the middle of the court and fake-dunked on a lowered hoop. And while some may consider Cameron the most religious site on campus, the Duke Cathedral should probably take that honor. It's gorgeous! And enormous! And just all-around impressive.

Getting away from the basketball for a bit, we also had some good girly times - plenty o' shopping, getting pedicures, and watching a silly girl movie balanced out our time exploring a basketball stadium and going to a baseball game. I love minor league baseball games! Where else do you get between innings entertainment like "termites in the pants" and Rooter Man? We also took in a concert on Saturday night in Carrboro - Josh Ritter. I had never heard of him before, which is not unusual for me, but I completely trust my sister's judgment in we went and had a fabulous time. He was the happiest concert-player I'd ever seen. It was like we were his very first show and he just couldn't believe we liked his music. So endearing! Go check him out on iTunes and support the happiness.

Did you notice how I tagged this with pretty much every word in the book? That's just how we roll on sister-fun weekends. Complete with fireworks. Love you, sis!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

King Street, bikers, and stars

After visiting George's house on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Dana and I also got together on Sunday to explore the rather charming King Street in Alexandria, VA. King Street runs through historic Old Town Alexandria down to the Potomac River waterfront (it's still weird living somewhere where there's actually flowing water), and it's lined with cutesy shops, cool restaurants and bars, art galleries, and over-priced yet adorable antique shops. It also has a trolley that runs up and down the street, and I have to say it's a whole lot quieter than a trip on the McKinney Avenue trolley.

We actually did have a purpose to our shopping - a coffee table and stuff for Dana's walls. While we did find some really great stuff, you know where you can also get similar cute, really great stuff for about 1/3 the cost? Target. So while we ultimately didn't buy what we intended, I found a new dress at the Gap outlet (ok, it wasn't all cute local shops - Gap and Starbucks and the like have invaded) and we came oh so close to getting some beaded necklaces made at Potomac Bead Company. We got all excited about the plethora of beads, but when the guy behind the counter suggested we take one of their handy classes and put them together ourselves instead of paying them a slightly silly amount to do it, our enthusiasm waned pretty substantially. Oh well. I'll just find a cute necklace at Target.

There were about a million bikers (of the motorcycle variety) in town over the weekend for Rolling Thunder 2009, a motorcycle rally held in DC over Memorial Day weekend every year to generate awareness and garner support for POWs and soldiers missing in action. It was kinda amusing to stroll through the antique shops and adorable stores and see the burly motorcycle men window-shopping their way down King Street.

Oh, and while this is something I haven't mentioned on the blog, for the last few months I've been fascinated by the stars I see on old brick buildings all over town, just like this one gracing a restaurant in Alexandria:

I've half-heartedly attempted some Google research to figure out what these darn things are but could never get a real answer. Well, I must have sharpened my Google skills or something, because I finally learned that these actually served a structural purpose back in the day as plates for rods that would brace the masonry against bowing. Silly Erin mystery solved! I've been taking pictures of these all over the place, so you can bet that a photo montage of some sort is in the works.

You're adorable, King Street! And as evidenced by your stars...old, too!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

George's house

It usually goes by the slightly more formal name of "Mt. Vernon," but doesn't "George's house" sound so much more welcoming? Dana and I spent a lovely, if somewhat warm, afternoon at George's house over Memorial Day weekend, soaking up some of the pleasant Virginia countryside and a little history to go along with it.

Unfortunately, my camera battery was still tired from Europe, and I'd forgotten that my extra battery, which I was so proud of myself for remembering to bring along...already dead and not charged at all. My photo take for the day was a whopping six, so I'll entertain you with the best of those shots and wait on Dana's for a more complete story of the day. And that picture of the mansion is totally not mine...I stole it from the interwebs.

Did you know that George was 6'3"? And Martha was 4'11"? And that I'm pretty much in between at 5'6" or so? Visual to your left.

It was pretty cool to see just how the Washingtons lived back in the day...although George was traveling around so much that he didn't really get to spend a ton of time at home. When he was there, though, he was way into farming and took it pretty seriously - he always considered himself a farmer first. Well, a farmer and strong supporter of animal husbandry. Most colonial farmers or planters did not raise nearly the number and variety of livestock that populated Mount Vernon. Of course, when you have all of those animals running around (hopefully running around in their specified fenced area the majority of the time), you'll accumulate quite a bit of...well...poo. That's why George had himself a 31x12 foot dung repository near the stable. You see, all of that dung makes for some might fine fertilizer, which helped out with the this whole circle-of-life thing going on. Nice work, George. Oh, and you can actually catch whiffs of leather and straw and other stable-like smells, which briefly reminded me of home out on the plains of West Texas...and prompted Dana to say "stinky!" girl.

The gardens were beautiful - the Upper Garden has some sculpted areas with boxwoods in the shape of a fleur-de-lis. The landscape scholars at Mt. Vernon (yes, they have landscape scholars - wowza) speculate that this was a way both to honor his friendship with the Marquis de Lafayette and to pay tribute to the French for helping America win the Revolutionary War.

I thought it was really interesting that the house and surrounding buildings, while they look like they're made of stone, are actually constructed from pine blocks that are beveled and coated with paint and sand to give the appearance of stone. I also just learned that this process is known as "rustification" - fascinating stuff. We toured the mansion and several of the other buildings, visited George and Martha's tomb, walked through the gardens, waved at some bovine and ovine critters, and zoomed through the very detailed museum as closing time drew near. All in all, a very educational experience and semi-patriotic way to spend an afternoon over Memorial Day weekend.

Ok, so this whole thing felt a little history lesson-ish on one of our founding fathers, but isn't that what I'm supposed to do? Impart a little knowledge from our nation's capital from time to time? Nah...I think I'll just go exploring.