Sunday, April 25, 2010

Holy places are generally pretty

I'm not really a consistent church-going gal, but for the last couple weekends...I have been.  Again, not exactly attending services, but more along the lines of appreciating architecture and beautiful gardens and taking tours and generally checking things off the DC List O' Wonders.  There was the trip to Washington National Cathedral, and then last weekend I drove over to the Franciscan Monastery with another quick stop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (quite a mouthful, isn't it?) since it was right there in the neighborhood.

First and foremost, the Franciscan Monastery crowd is a little less accommodating than the Washington National Cathedral folks to those who arrive +/- 5 minutes of the scheduled tour time.  Not anticipating heavy-ish traffic on my journey to the Northeast corners of DC, I made it in just after the 2:00 tour group had rounded approximately two corners, but was politely asked to wait around for the 3:00 group.  Well, it was a semi-beautiful, slightly-chilly-but-not-prohibitively-so spring day, and the tour didn't include the any stops in the rather impressive gardens, so I just took myself and my constant companion outside for an hour or so of wandering the grounds and appreciating things like arches and domes...

...and crazy pretty tulips and a replica of the simple Portiuncula Chapel at the First Church of St. Francis...

...and "let's play with aperture" shots of the plaques in the Rosary Portico, which contains 15 chapels commemorating the lives of Mary and Jesus...

...and detailed mosaics...

...and general prettiness of the Byzantine style, after the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople, with some modified Romanesque influences (totally copied straight from the website - of course I didn't just know that.  I have my random factoids, that's for sure, but that ain't one of them.)...

...and those Rosary Portico columns...

...and the general splendor of the tomb replicas/Grotto/stone paths that was supposed to make me feel like I was in Rome.

Well, given the amount of photos you've just scrolled through covering various plant life and things made out of stone that see the light of day compared to the number of photos to come, I actually really enjoyed my solitary hour of wandering about a bit more than the actual tour of the interior.  It might, just might have had something to do with the composition of my tour group, which consisted of (1) rowdy children with a complete lack of regard for personal space and (2) I already mentioned the crazy kids, right?

In spite of the rugrats, it was pretty cool to check out the impressive interior...

 ...with our nattily attired guide...

...who taught me more about saints than I think I ever really needed to know.  Those freshman year Bible classes at ACU don't exactly venture into saint territory.

I was really intrigued by the "tour the catacombs" hook on the website...and while they were detailed and actually underground, as catacombs should be, they were just a touch on the cheesy side (I'm sorry!  This feels a little sacrilegious!) with the "stone" elements often crafted from a stone-print wallpaperish material or stuccoed concrete.  Maybe I should go check out the for-reals catacombs in Rome to achieve the right degree of reverence, perhaps brought on by the fear that I'll turn a corner and never find my way out (catacombs should be a little scary, right?).  Although when coupled with a stop in the Chapel of Purgatory and captured like this...

...ok, maybe they were just a little scary.

Since I was in the general vicinity and in an "oooh, check out the impressive religious building!" frame of mind, I headed over to the BOTNSOTIC (remember the mouthful from earlier?  only referred to acronymically from here on out) on a bit of a whim.  Largest Roman Catholic Church in not only the United States, but alllllllll of North America and one of the ten largest churches in the WORLD!

Mass was actually going on, and I hadn't scoped out the tour schedule ahead of time (meaning I missed the last one of the day, oops), and honestly I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer mass (hehe, mass...Mass...sorry) of the darn thing, so I just took a loop around the outside and ducked down into the Crypt Church (crypts, catacombs, and Catholicism out the wazoo today!) for a quick stroll, slowing down for a moment of reflection. 

Besides, the visitors center didn't exactly look all that welcoming.

On a side note, I've now been in the tallest building in DC.  And I'll likely be visiting the tallest structure in DC (finally!  how have I not done this yet?) when my parents come to three days!  Yay, can't wait to see you!  Yeah, and I also work in the tallest commercial building in DC, which happened to play a minor supporting role in Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol and therefore makes going to work the tiniest bit more awesome.  You know all about the Height of Buildings Act, don't you?

Apparently my de rigueur "I am impressed by your religious building" shot.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Made it to church...kinda

Even though I didn't exactly enjoy last Sunday's beautiful spring weather the way I should have, I did manage to get out of the apartment and embark on a minor D.C. exploration to somewhat salvage the day.  I've had a journey to Washington National Cathedral on my D.C. to-do list (yes, there's an actual list, and it's even in Excel) and just hadn't made it that far up Wisconsin Avenue (save for one trip to Cactus Cantina, where I admired the cathedral from a short distance while sipping margaritas on a patio).  Seeking forgiveness for failed fitness attempts, I hopped in the trusty vehicle (the CR-V and I just celebrated our ten year anniversary!  ok, so there was no actual celebration, though I could really stand to wash it or something) and went to church.  No, I didn't actually attend services, but the choir was singing as we finished up our tour and I stopped and sat and listened and that counts for some sort of spiritual moment, right?  Yes, it absolutely does, especially in this gorgeous space that holds an air of reverence no matter how many camera-toting tourists (or, ahem, camera-toting semi-locals exploring his/her temporary home) troop through.

I got there just in time for the last guided tour of the day and joined up with a group of twenty or so to get a little more insight into certain aspects of the cathedral.  I'm really glad I caught the tour (audio option also available, which does offer some pretty cool historical features, but (i) wouldn't you rather hear from a real person and (ii) ewwww, gross, shared headphones), because the cathedral is a somewhat massive feat of architecture (sixth largest cathedral in the world!  the Washington Monument laid down from base to tip would fit inside the nave!  flying buttresses galore!) that also holds an incredible amount of detail I might never have noticed otherwise (the stained glass Space Window commemorating the Apollo XI mission holds a piece of moon rock, Darth Vader hangs out on the Northwest Tower, and Christ in Majesty in the High Altar is carved from Texas limestone...woot, Texas!...that gives it a spotlighted appearance in comparison to the surrounding figures).

I love going on tours and learning all kinds of little things, such as the origin of the phrase "pulling out all the stops" - "stops" control the air flow in a pipe organ, and when you really want to raise the religious roof, you pull out all the stops to pump up the volume.  The National Cathedral is where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last Sunday sermon.  The pews immediately in front of the High Altar have intricate and humorous carvings on the end, including a wolf in sheep's clothing (ha!) and a lion chomping on a Hitler-faced snake (which, sadly, I didn't have a chance to go back and photograph - apparently they shut the massive gates on the High Altar after the last tour goes through, stink!).

The Children's Chapel is tiny and adorable and filled with distractions and whimsy to keep the kids focused during long (and...ummm...boring) church services - kneelers with baby animals (awww!), wrought iron decoration depicting hundreds of different animals, and a crazy-detailed ceiling.  The architectural line of the cathedral drifts about ten feet off of center from front to back.  Helen Keller is interred there, as is Woodrow Wilson.  Also...stained glass is just pretty.

The cathedral also has some beautiful gardens, filled with tulips...

...inquisitive puppy dogs...

...and in a more modern touch, the nuptials of Mary and Martha in a garden cupola, presided over by a rather cheerful woman complete with rainbow scarf, courtesy of some recent legalization here in the city.

Also, parking is free on Sunday!  Woohoo! (hi, have you been to D.C.?  parking is non-existent/amazingly overpriced/controlled by those with a very similar mindset to personnel not-so-fondly referred to as "parking Nazis" at one Texas Tech I was truly thrilled about this)

You can check out the excessive photos, blurry shots and all, on Picasa.  Typical warnings regarding number of photos is per usual.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax time!

If you haven't filed your taxes yet...well, you might want to get on it.  That's about as much of a public service announcement as you're going to get from me.  Not going to lie - not missing my traditional 4/15 scramble at work.  Instead, I think I might stop by the IRS building today for some ice cream.

Alternatively, if I miss the noon to 1 PM window for my free mini-Blizzard, I could knock back a Tax Relief or two, which actually sounds pretty similar to what Kami and I indulged in a few years ago if you substitute a Sonic cherry limeade for the last four ingredients and a little...or a lot...of vodka for the first.  Yikes.  Tasty with a bacon cheeseburger and some jalapeƱo poppers, but we're getting too old for that now.

Hmmmm, other ways to celebrate tax day?  Someecards has their usual selection of jolly Tax Day e-cards.  Take a reusable travel mug into Starbucks today and get a free brewed coffee.  All food purchases at P.F. Chang's are 15% off today.  Get a free...ummm...HydroMassage.  Are those the weird things you only see at the mall?  I'm not researching that any further.

Do your taxes, people - it's the right thing to do.  Also, I would like to note that filing state tax returns is for the birds.  Yet another reason why Texas is so awesome.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ready to run...well...not quite

A few months ago, by virtue of a lucky lottery pick, I somehow managed to sign myself up for a physical endeavor - the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run on April 11.  April 11, you say?  Why, wasn't that last Sunday?  Why haven't we been hearing about all of this training and running and excitement about ten whole miles?

Well, I started out strong.  I invested in some new Brooks running shoes and signed up for the online beginner training program.  I bought new workout clothes (you look forward to working out more when you have a cute outfit, right?) and loaded up the iPod with motivational tunes.  Groundwork laid.  Let Operation Erin Might Actually Do This Running Thing commence.

I even dropped my workout schedule into Google Calendars and shared it with my friend Darcy so we could hold each other accountable for actually getting off our bums and doing something.  She's doing crazy things like P90X and serious classes that really make your muscles scream, so I was sure hoping I could keep up with my gradually-increasing-in-intensity walking/jogging/running routine.

And I did, I really did!  For a while, anyway...and then I was "too tired" and "too busy" and every other excuse in the book, and before I knew it I'd run out of time to really prepare myself.  And yes, I would have done the ten miles anyway, just to punish myself if for no other for this:
All runners must complete the course in less than 2 hours and 20 minutes. Runners not maintaining a 14-minute-per-mile pace at 5 miles will have to leave the course. If you fall behind 14-minute-per-mile pace during the second half of the race you will be required to board our sweep vehicle.
Board the sweep vehicle, known in my mind as the Van of Shame?  No thank you!  I mean, I'd like to think I could manage 14 minute miles, but why chance the Van of Shame?  For sanity's sake...drop down to the 5k.  Fill out the form, the switch is made, no problem.  I can certainly manage a 5k.

Saturday I made my way over to the National Building Museum and was pleasantly surprised at the ease of check-in and bib pick-up.  I was expecting crazy lines, but everything actually ran very efficiently.  Props to the volunteers.  I pulled together my clothes for Sunday, called it an early night on Saturday, and set my alarm for the semi-unpleasant hour of 6:00 AM.

Pulling together everything the night before doesn't do you much good when you stumble out of bed and hit "dismiss" rather than "snooze" on the alarm and crawl back into bed for ten more precious minutes of sleep.  Ten minutes turned into three and a half hours, and I slept through the race.  Epic fitness fail.  And that's as far as bib #18285 made it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A well-stocked medical supply cabinet

You know what the Wound Care Center looked like about a week and a half ago?  Well, we've now expanded to something along the lines of this:

Needless to say, this little stinker is the gift that just keeps on giving.  However, I'm happy to report that as of Tuesday morning I no longer have gauze packed into my chest - soooo exciting!!  Now I just do a Neosporin + bandage routine that isn't so bad at all.  Oh, except for the nasty allergic reaction I had to what I previously referred to as "really cool wound dressing film" and now refer to as "the deceptively awesome-seeming-yet-truly-not-awesome wound dressing film."  Hence the tubes of cream that are attempting to heal my skin.

Back to the doctor in the morning for another check-up and surgery discussion.  Apparently this was a rather deep cyst, so it's looking like the OR and I have a date in the not-so-distant future - want to get alllll of it out so I don't have to deal with this ever again.

Oh, and you know how freaked out I was about pulling gauze out of my chest?  I've really gotten pretty good at it.  Funny what you can do when you know you need to just deal with it.

Just something I'm thinking about these days

And trust me, I'd be happy to give credit where credit is due for this lovely rendering, but all I know is that came from somewhere in the depths of design is mine and I simply can't find it again.  Oops.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blossom-tastic Easter weekend goodness

I know a lot of people who head home for Easter weekend, in the midst of tax craziness and all, because it's important to be with family and celebrate these holidays.  I wasn't in the financial frame of mind to journey halfway across the country for a quick weekend (especially since my parents will be here in THREE WEEKS!!  Watch out, DC, the Bryans are coming to town!), so instead...a wonderful friend from NYC came in for the weekend, and I had Easter dinner with my surrogate DC family (we had ribs...yes, my surrogate DC family is most definitely from Texas...amen).  All in all, really not a bad way to go, especially with the impeccable spring weather Mother Nature bestowed upon the Mid-Atlantic region.

As much as I love Bolt Bus for its reasonable prices and mostly reasonable service, sometimes...sometimes traffic just happens on the Friday of a holiday weekend.  And buses leave NYC twenty minutes late and are then hit by a car on the congested highways, resulting in a little "let's pull over and file the accident report" time.  Poor Judy.  But you know what?  She finally made it!!  We celebrated her arrival and the generally gorgeous weather by heading down the street to a patio and immediately ordering both red wine and chocolate cake (commonly known remedies to travel weariness). 

Saturday morning dawned a little cloudy, so we waited it out with a combination of (1) sleeping in, which you can never have too much of, (2) cinnamon rolls, courtesy of the Pillsbury Dough Boy and entirely delicious, and (3) copious amounts of coffee (the last of my coffee of the month coffee!  I'm a little saddened by this) before heading a couple of blocks over to the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum for some culture and air conditioning.  Have I mentioned how much I love that I live just a few blocks from this place?  I think I have.  It's one of my favorite places in the city.  The Lincoln inaugural exhibit has now been replaced by something slightly less fascinating, which is a little disappointing, but they have so many interesting exhibits and the fantastic courtyard.  Love it.  We worked our way through the Presidential portraits...

...marveled at natural wonders...

The Grand Canyon is THIS BIG!!

...and also made it over to the modern and contemporary exhibits, which included some bright and enlightening Texas time.

After a stop at Legal Sea Foods for lunch and a D-list (or possibly lower - what's below D-list?) celebrity sighting in the form of Tennille, former Hell's Kitchen contestant now heading the kitchen at that particular location of a chain seafood restaurant, we started our cherry blossom journey.  The Tidal Basin is the place to be with cherry blossoms in every direction as far as the eye can see, and while it was bound to be mobbed with hordes of people, we knew we wanted to brave it for the photo ops.

We managed to survive the crazy-busy Metro ride to the Smithsonian stop...and proceeded to enjoy the beauty.  Yes, there's a part of me that knows I've done this before, several times, and fought the crowds and agonized over the massive amounts of people and general craziness of the entire event...but it really is beautiful.  Judy and I had a fantastic time taking in the fluffy blossoms and finding the perfect location for a blossom glamour shots.

After working our way through Blossom Central and walking walking walking, we slowly made our way back home (with a minor stop at H&M along the way, of course) and promptly proceeded to fall asleep upon reaching the living room.  All of that walking walking walking is exhausting!  Not wanting to get all exciting again, we ordered a pizza from Matchbox and headed out to pick it up.  And proceeded to take in one of the better fireworks shows I've seen as we paused at the corner of 6th and H to take in the fireworks show, apparently associated with the Cherry Blossom Festival, that I had no idea was happening.  So pretty!  Couch + pizza + wine + An Education + good conversation with a good friend = a pretty great laid-back Saturday night.

Happy Easter!  Sunday we took part in one of my favorite Easter traditions of late...EATING.  Also respectably known as Easter brunch.  We headed over to Georgetown for a tasty brunch at Clyde's and did a little shopping and a little partaking of frozen yogurt in a lovely park before heading over to the massive parking lot at 10th & H to drop off one NYCer for her bus back home.  Even though I'd rather she stay awhile.