Sunday, January 31, 2010

Holy Mather Gorge!

Last weekend, when the greater D.C. area wasn't covered in six inches of snow, I took advantage of Saturday's beautiful weather to do some "hiking" (you know me, it couldn't have been too intense or I probably would have twisted an ankle and ended up plummeting to jagged rocks below, rendering myself incapable of even blogging about such an experience due to extensive injuries...) and exploring in Great Falls Park.

The undeniable highlight of Great Falls Park is admiring the Potomac River rushing through the Mather Gorge, complete with surprisingly accessible viewing platforms.  Approachable from both the Virginia and Maryland sides!  Yeah, I'm still growing accustomed to the fact that I can be in two states and a district (D.C., I just don't know what to really call you - I want to refer to you as a "state," but you're just not) in a matter of mere minutes.

To borrow the National Park Service's words since my pictures don't really do it justice, "the falls consist of cascading rapids and several 20 foot waterfalls, with a total 76 foot drop in elevation over a distance of less than a mile. The Potomac River narrows from nearly 1,000 feet, just above the falls, to between 60 and 100 feet wide as it rushes through Mather Gorge, a short distance below the falls. The Great Falls of the Potomac display the steepest and most spectacular fall line rapids of any eastern river."  Sounds impressive, right?  It really is!  Got as close as I wanted to, though - there were some crazy kayakers attempting water feats that are completely beyond my realm of physical capability.

The camera and I also spent some quality time indulging in my unnatural obsession with zooming in on tiny little pieces of nature.  I can't help it, I'm just fascinated by all the stuff that grows on stuff here.  You just don't get it in West Texas.  And look, there was a little snow still hanging around from Snowpocalypse!  Little patches o' snow + frozen rivers/creeks = cool (literally) nature moments.

Great Falls Park is also home to the crazy-old Patowmack Canal, which demonstrated some early lock engineering and allowed the colonial folk to get themselves and all their stuff from place to place.  Nice work, colonial folk.

For excessive and kinda blah (hey, it's January - a whole lot of brown and gray going on out there) nature pictures, check out the Picasa album.  And for just a dash of human interest amongst the rocks, water, twigs, and mud...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow day!

When D.C. gears up for a winter storm warning and really any amount of frozen white stuff (come on, weather folks - couldn't you be a little more specific than "between a dusting and eight inches!" to prepare us for what may come?  Although you did get a little bit more specific as the snow made its way on top of us...), I'm momentarily thrilled by the thought of (1) a potential day off work and (2) pretty stuff falling from the sky that generally makes the world a softer, gentler place, covering the world with a coat of innocence.  Ugh, too mushy and Hallmark-ish on the last one.  Sorry about that.  Well, January Snow Day 2010 happened to occur on a SATURDAY, which meant no free time off work (although I have my doubts that the federal government would have closed shop today, which is what Uncle Pdub follows...drats), but I did embrace the general snowy joy and bitter coldness of the day by...well, by not leaving my apartment, cranking up the heater, and generally being lazy.  Let me just say, it's much more pleasant enjoying the snow from the comfort of one's own apartment than trying to fight one's way through it to get it out of town.

Allow me to share in my laziness and general happiness about not doing much of anything today.  After all, what are weekends for?  I might even count this as a D.C. exploration since Dallas is not covered in snow.  Can only have this experience here, people.  Or possibly in Amarillo where the snow was ridiculously worse.

Sleeping in until 11.  Yes, I can still do that!!  Kinda proud.  Busting open altruistic Christmas gift from the Vaughns in the form of my first shipment of a three month coffee of the month program from Grounds for Change, a fairly awesome certified organic coffee roaster specializing in 100% fair trade coffee.  Delicious coffee AND supporting a good cause?  Sign me up.  Oh, wait - you did.  Thanks, Vaughns!  And this month's coffee, Ramelau from East Timor, is absolutely delicious.  I had a lot of caffeine this morning...and into the early PM hours.  Had fond thoughts of my Dallas people as I sipped away from my newest Dallas mug.  Miss you.

Opened up the blinds and watched the snow progress throughout the day while I watched crap TV, took in some college basketball, finished the book I was on, caught up on all kinds of magazines, cleaned, rummaged for food, spent at least an hour on the sofa in a coma-like state where I may not have done much of anything at all, and busted out the zoom lens to at least make it feel like I was up close and personal with the snow and those who chose to brave it.  It was lovely.

Inspiration struck late in the evening, and I finally managed to wrap up a project I've been meaning to finish for...ummm...kinda forever.  Another gift from the Vaughns, actually - a wine corkboard...board provided, get the corks attached.  Finally attached corks.  I think I really like it.  Dry, glue, dry.

I'm also on a real movie kick these days - Oscar season tends to bring that out in me, so this weekend I appear to have gone on a bit of a war kick with a Friday night viewing of Inglorious Basterds and The Hurt Locker tonight.  Enjoyed the former more than I thought I would (sometimes Tarantino just throws me for a loop), and now need chocolate or something to chill me out from the tension I developed while watching the latter.  Good movie.

And yes, I took pictures throughout my snow day and have now blogged about them.  I think I might be getting a little bored.  Maybe I should go to bed?  Oh, wait, I got up at I'm not exactly ready to call it a night.  Oh, SNL in just a few minutes?  With Jon Hamm?  I think I'm set.

Let me just say that I wasn't the laziest one around today...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bryan Family Christmas Cruise, Part 6: Merry Christmas! And...oh...we're still on the boat?

Merry Christmas, ya'll!  Oh, wait...that was about a month ago.  Well, rejoice, because the final segment of Bryan Family Christmas Cruise 2009 is finally making it out into the blogospher!  Phew, made it.  Well, here's what Christmas morning looks like on the boat...and usually I take a very traditionalist stance on the cinnamon rolls.  We always have cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.  The big boat didn't exactly do stellar cinnamon rolls...but there were there.  Phew.  Hiding right there behind the muffins and the all-too-important coffee.  And yes, we totally busted out the stockings for the boat.  It was oodles of fun!

Going to have to say that Christmas Day was our waviest day on the boat - check out the coffee wave action going on as we took in second breakfast (yeah, second breakfast...isn't that what cruising is all about?  eating excessively as you're bombarded with food 24 hours a day?).

After caffeinating ourselves and steering clear of the overly-excited children, we played with our new toys (stockings really are fun!) and spent some time on Mom and Dad's balcony...being careful to not go overboard in the wind and stormy ocean action.  It was only a tiny bit intense.

Oh, and maybe we spent a little time snapping a family portrait or two...yes, using the reflections again...

We also took in some shuffleboard action before the crazy weather drove us indoors.  For the record, shuffleboard takes a little practice before you can actually manage to get one of the discs to actually land in one of the boxes without touching any of the lines.  Or at least it does if you're a Bryan.  Maybe we just didn't have our good sea legs or something.

Christmas lunch...totally hamburgers and hot dogs AND ice cream.  No cooking or baking or candy-making for us, which is a little bit sad but also a whole lot easier.  Oh, and on the big boat you know it's the holidays when there's a snowman fruit and veggie carving.

You also know it's Christmas when your towel creature for the day is an angel...a tip angel, really.  She came with envelopes for gratuities.  Hmmmm.

And you really can't beat Santa on skates for the Christmas ice show!  Although I do have a small problem singing along with "there's no place like home for the holidays" when we're all on a big boat in the middle of the ocean.  This is not home for anyone, people.  Think about it.

Christmas dinner!  And...a real picture of the four of us!  Thanks, waiter Richard!

I was really proud of Dad for branching out on his dessert selection and going with noodle kugel...but it looked like brains.  And tasted like poo.  Sometimes branching out just doesn't quite work out.

Thank goodness Amanda had leftover chocolate to save us.

After dinner we headed down to the theater to check out a tribute band to the Temptations - it was slightly rocky going with the boat wiggling around in the waves, but we made it.  Barely.  And I have to say that some of the ladies in high heels were really having difficulties.  Especially if they had previously enjoyed an adult beverage or two.

And after Christams...we're still on the boat.  What, no sandy beaches to distract us?  Nope, just boat.  Alllll day.  Wait, aren't you supposed to stop and let us off on a beach somewhere?  Nope, just chill on the boat all day.  Ok, cool!  Let's do some bargain shopping...

...and posing by the giant Christmas tree and eating of the ice cream and exploring of the ship and playing with the walkie talkies and card games in the solarium...

...also some deck exploring and bridge discovering...

...and kitchen touring, which I thought was just exceptionally cool (even if it did involve running up six flights of stairs to exchange the flip flops for real shoes and running back down and catching up with everyone - thanks for waiting, Chef Andrew!). 

And after all the kitchen excitement, Dad and I finally figured out how to get on the helipad...but of course it was raining.  Boo.  Time to give up those dreams and just get ready for dinner.  Dinner where Dad ordered not just prime rib but lobster, too.  Yes, Dad, totally give yourself some thumbs up action for that.

And before we knew it...time to hustle ourselves and all our stuff off the big boat.  We had quite a collection!

I'm so glad we were able to take such a fantastic trip as a family over the holidays.  I'm a big, big fan of travel, and it's nice making some of these memories with my dad, mom, and sister.  Love you guys.  Also really love the enormous statute of Sam Houston between Houston and Dallas.  It's ridiculously awesome and just a little bit scary.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bryan Family Christmas Cruise, Part 5: Just a situation, mon

And now for our final port of call - Montego Bay, Jamaica.  Of course we were greeted by the sounds of reggae and Bob Marley wannabes hustling us for tips.  Welcome to Jamaica, mon!  We muscled our way through the cruise ship crowd and found the right group of shore excursion people, hooking up with our driver Don who proceeded to fight traffic and zoom us through the craziness that is Christmas Eve traffic in Montego Bay.  We wound our way around several problems...only in Jamaica, it's not a problem, it's merely a "situation."  I don't think my Type A-ness fits in with the island vibe very well.

Now, Jamaica's not quite as sparkly and clean as some of our other dreamy beach destinations - in fact, on this one we were driving past the iffy parts of town AND then quite a way into the countryside to go on a plantation tour.  At least we had an entertaining driver!  But you know, I just can't get used to the "drive on the left" business...and people are crazy-aggressive drivers there.  We found that it was best to just hold on for dear life and hope for the best.

Our first stop on this island tour was St. James, an Anglican church established in Montego Bay in 1775.  I thought it would be pretty cool to attend a church service here if for no other reason than to listen to hymns on steel drums - very island.  We stayed for a little while and took in some of the history and architecture, and I even climbed up a rickety little staircase to check out the bells.  Cool.

After whipping past fields of sugarcane and limestone quarries, we made our way past a burnt-out van or two (yeah, a little sketchy on some of these roads) and arrived at Mount Olive basic school.  Yup, school over the holidays.  I was wondering just what exactly this part of the tour would include - I mean, it's kinda weird to drag the kids in on Christmas Eve so they can show us their latest projects and sing to us.  We came to the conclusion that it was basically a ploy to suck money and sympathy out of us.  Interesting.  The kids were kinda cute, though.

Looking both scholarly AND a tad confused by our setting.

Nice colouring of the flag, kids!

Dad gets a chance to show off his social graces.

Sing it, kids!

After this...interesting...stop, we continued on our way to Johns Hall for our "plantation tour."  Yes, I'm throwing that one into quotation marks because...well, it just wasn't quite what we were expecting.  We did watch some fresh coconuts get whacked by a machete and then share their delicious freshness with us...

And we got to see some cool plantation-y things like tiny baby bananas...

...and coffee beans, which I think are exceptionally cute and kinda Christmasy before they get all roasted and delicious...

...and we got to chew on sugarcane, which was both tasty AND fun...

but the whole thing was very scripted and much less "oooh, wow, a way cool plantation!" than it could have been.  And for what we paid, I think everyone would have appreciated about three times the amount of food we got for lunch.  Although it was cool to try things like breadfruit (fruit!  that tastes like BREAD!  it was so cool) and salted codfish with ackee and real jerk chicken.  Of course, a certain Jamaican beer might make you care a little less about the whole thing.

And we did get some beautiful scenery out of the whole thing!

After one more life-on-the-edge driving experience to get us back to the pier, we headed back onto the big boat to get set for a couple of days at sea after some island time.  I chilled on the deck with my book for a while and captured yet more pictures of yet more sky and water and island.  I just couldn't help myself.

After dinner, some people were hanging out in our seats at the bar (yes, OUR seats!  we'd claimed a corner of the Aquarium Bar as our own to hang out and listen to good live music), but we waited them out and finally made it to a chill place.  The rest of the night?  Dad and I went to the crazy show in the main theater, we played a few rounds of Christmas Eve card games, and then we called it a night.  Santa's coming!  All the way out into the ocean!  At preciesely 8:30 am in Studio B!  Oh, the cruise.