Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back on dry land!

And have actually been back on said dry land for several days now, but due to general vacation laziness that follows an eventful week of Caribbean cruise adventures and a rather unfortunate computer incident that you'll hear all about in the posts to come, I haven't fully rejoined the world of the interwebs, connectivity, and blogging.  However, with 2009 rapidly coming to close and oodles of goings-on over the last couple of weeks and in the weeks to come, I'm going to attempt to toss in some year-end blogging specials and get you all (and myself!) up to speed.  Although we're not going to get fully up to speed.  I can promise you that now because in the next few days I'm a little busy catching up with dear Dallas friends over tasty meals and girly pedicure time, ringing in 2010 with a bang, journeying to San Antonio for some Alamo Bowl adventures (sans Mike Leach, unfortunately - I'd really like to get the whole story there), and flying my way back across the country to D.C.  That's the kind of busy I like to be, though.  And it certainly is nice to be back in the land of ya'll, Chuy's, and refrigerators filled with Shiner.  Thanks for letting me crash, Vaughns - it's good to be among my people.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

O' Christmas tree

I haven't spent a ton of time soaking up the holiday season here in D.C.  It's really pretty remarkable how quickly time starts moving once December hits.  You blink your eyes, and woosh!, the middle of December is here in no time and you start to wonder where the heck all of your weekends went.  Although that's not an entirely bad thing when one of your weekends went to New York.  But it is a little sad when you had plans to meet up with photography buddies (or at least potential photography buddies - haven't actually managed to make it to any events yet!) and Mother Nature foils your plans to capture the holiday wreaths laid out at Arlington National Cemetery.  And your plans to figure out awesome camera things and meet fellow photography nuts.  Next time!

However, Dana and I did resolve that we would at least make our way to the National Christmas Tree in front of the White House, so last Thursday we cut out of work at a decent hour and proceeded to freeze our booties off in search of holiday joy.  There's one giant tree that's rather impressively lit, and it's surrounded by smaller trees, one for every state.  School kiddos or community groups from each state provide the ornaments for the trees, which is very sweet and all...but it's not like each state is really all that distinctive in its ornamentation.  Set high standards, kiddos, and blow us away!  All I really remember are sparkly horses for Nevada.  This may have had something to do with the inability of my frozen fingers to snap any photos of note.

It really is a pretty nice display, though - a little shout-out to every state, the National Menorah standing by, a chorus of little munchkins belting out carols, Santa's workshop, a nativity scene, and one of the most welcome pit!!  Trust me, when your fingers and toes feel like they're about to fall off due to the ill effects of the biting wind and bitter cold (ok, so it wasn't THAT cold, but we were pretty frozen), a fire pit is pretty much all you could ever wish for.

After shivering our way through the Ellipse, we headed over to the Willard Hotel, site of many a Washington social scene over the years and always fabulously decked out at the holidays.  We encountered some cheery carolers in the lobby, wondered why the Department of Homeland Security could afford to have a bang-up holiday party at not just any hotel but the Willard, for crying out loud, and enjoyed the general cheery and sparkly nature of the regal old place. 

Yet somehow I still appear to be freezing...

If you want to flip through all the pictures, here's a link to the Picasa album.

After all of the holiday explorations in the chilly night air, there's nothing like a hearty Italian dinner at Potenza to warm you up.  Truly not a bad way to spend a Thursday night during the holiday season here in our nation's capital.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thank goodness for the cute baby

And for amazing friends.  And for a lack of traffic disasters.  And for Sgt. Peppermint.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For last weekend's holiday trip to New York City to see Carrie, Jason, and Baby Alan, I had grand plans to spend Saturday roaming the city with a dear friend, taking in the holiday cheer and checking out the tree at Rockefeller Center and gazing at shop windows and spending an inordinate amount of time falling with blades on my feet ice skating and sipping hot chocolate and just generally enjoying it all.  In anticipation of the slightly less than stellar forecast for Saturday's weather, I even packed my fabulous snow boots that can take a beating and still keep me toasty warm and unaware of the elements.'s hard to appreciate general holiday cheer when it's raining horizontally and you're caught in countless wind tunnels.  Especially if you're trying to take pictures of anything at all.  Your hands are needed for much more important things like holding umbrellas and keeping flying scarves out of your face.  So, needless to say, our city adventures on Saturday were pretty limited, but we did at least catch a peek of the beautiful tree at Rockefeller Center shortly before seeking refuge in Anthropologie (please note all of the crazy umbrellas):

Even if the weather did foil our general city-fun plans, we still had a fantastic weekend enjoying the warmth of a cozy apartment while watching snow fall.  Very holiday indeed.  Some of my favorite things about the weekend:
  • The scent of a real Christmas tree.  Ooh, and in NYC there aren't exactly tree lots, but crazy tree sidewalk stands.  I'm just fascinated by the lack of space.

  • Curling up on the couch and watching The Cutting Edge.  Yes, this was a highlight.  Carrie and I both have very fond memories of watching this movie excessively...for some reason.  And have you listened to the soundtrack??  It's enough to make anyone smile.
  • Adventures in sugar cookies and decadent hot chocolate.  Thank you, Sgt. Peppermint and Pillsbury.  There's something to be said for crafting your own cookies out of dough scraps.  Really let the creativity flow.
  • A tasty Sunday brunch at 181 Cabrini - table covered with coffee and mimosas and French toast and bagels and eggs benedict.  Yum.  Also in the company of one very well-behaved baby who is just too cute for words when bundled up to face the cold:

  • Stopping in at B&H before catching my bus back to D.C.  I felt like a kid in a candy store with practically everything I could every possible want for my camera staring me in the face.  I limited myself to one new lens, a Nikon 55-200mm telephoto zoom (should come in handy for Bryan Family Christmas Cruise!), and proceeded to hustle myself out of the store before I spent an entire paycheck.
  • Just spending quality time with good friends and catching up on the day to day.  So grateful to have these wonderful people a short ride away.  And you know what?  The trip back to D.C. on Sunday night actually took the 4 hours and 15 minutes that Bolt Bus always projects yet never manages to actually deliver on due to ridiculous traffic.  Amazing!
If you want to check out the pictures from the weekend (warning: very heavy on baby pictures, seeing as how (1) he's such a ham for the camera, (2) Auntie Erin couldn't resist, and (3) we had a lot of indoor time this weekend), head on over to the Picasa album.  You might not see any more of what I'm calling his "superhero" pose like the one below, but there's an awful lot of cute Mr. Alan in there.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Public transportation rocks

Over the years (mostly the last few years, really) I've found myself riding the L in Chicago, trolley cars in San Francisco, NYC's Subway system AND the Long Island Railroad, the T in Boston, the Paris Metro, and S & U Bahn trains in Germany.  Oh, also some scary Czech trains, which we'll just try to forget about.  There have also been buses, some more confusing than others - as a general rule the Circulator in D.C. is a whole lot easier to figure out than any bus line in Germany:

I used to be so intimidated by the thought of using public transportation.  Every single ticket machine has some degree of confusion, and I was always concerned that I'd get the wrong pass or spend some obscene amount of money when $5 would really do the trick.  And that's with machines that work with you in English.  Paris had this crazy spinning wheel thing that just threw us for a loop. 
Well, now I think public transportation is just flippin' awesome, and I'd like to call myself a D.C. Metro aficionado.  Once you master the basics of navigation, you're good to go - they all work the same way.  Figure out what's at the end of where you want to go and just go there!  There might be some minor idiosyncrasies along the way, like the fact that a group pass in Germany covers two adults, three kids, and a dog on one ticket (or something like that - there was definitely a dog involved, because I remember being highly amused by that), but the whole thing is really pretty foolproof.

Don't get me wrong, there's something to be said for hopping in your car and just going where you need to go.  Obviously, a lot of it has to do with geography.  Sorry, Dallas, but DART just doesn't quite measure up, especially in the land of trucks and SUVs where I think people take a special joy in propelling these things down the highway.  And do I fight D.C. street traffic or, alternatively, attempt to lug home Target purchases (which often includes one ridiculously heavy thing like 20 pounds of cat litter or a case of bottled water) on the Metro?  No, I do not.  I fire up the CR-V and take myself down Jefferson Davis Highway (Virginia is the South, people) to the suburbia Target in Alexandria where you don't have to pay $1 for the parking lot AND I get the joy of actually getting on a highway.  That being said, I do get my own sense of special joy from actually using my legs more, not dealing with parking, and emitting a few less carbon bad things (eeekk, environmental statement!).

I'm also going to consider BoltBus as a public transportation option.  And unlike this summer when Kerry and I had some scratchy cloth seats and questionably smelly seatmate, at this very moment I'm on my way to New York in the relative comfort of a leather (or at least pleather) seat, making use of the Wi-Fi and actually posting a blog entry while cruising down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.  It's a crazy bargain compared to the train or a flight, and when you resort to highways, it's even more of a bargain considering the ridiculous number of tolls between DC and NYC.

And now, if you'll excuse me, with the convenient aid of the power outlet located in my seat that's preventing my computer from an untimely battery death (thanks, BoltBus!), I'm going to watch a movie or possibly an episode or two of "Mad Men" on my way through New Jersey.