Thanksgiving in New York

As has become our custom in recent years we once again headed up to New York City for Thanksgiving to visit with my husband’s sister, her husband, and our niece and nephew. We took the train up and got in around noon. The weather this year was fantastic. I wish it was that warm every year. It made it so much nicer to be able to go outside and do stuff while we were there.

While the dinner was being finished we tried to take to the kids to the park to keep them occupied. Lily refused to leave mommy, so it wound up just being Paul, Ryan, and me. I taught Ryan how to play Red Light, Green Light though our plan to tire him out backfired a little when he wanted to be the stop light.

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Lily playing librarian and checking out books to me.

Dinner was small this year as it was just the six of us and the kids weren’t really sitting down to eat with us for the most part. The rest of the evening was spent playing with the kids in the apartment. They had great fun wrestling with their Uncle Paul while he tried to get them inside of a giant box that was in the apartment.

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Friday I naturally started my day with a bagel. There are no bagels in Baltimore that compare to a New York City bagel. Then we took the kids to the Big Apple Circus. I’ve only ever been to the Ringling Brothers Circus before (and I guess a few Cirque shows). This was actually a little more akin to Cirque than Ringling Brothers. There was a lot more acrobatics and a lot fewer animals (only one act with dogs and one with horses) than Ringling Brothers. There was also an intermission that resulted in meltdowns by pretty much every kid sitting around me including my niece and nephew. We made it through the second half though.

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After lunch across the street from Lincoln Center where the circus was, we wound up walking the 30 blocks back to their apartment. It was a beautiful day, so I was all for it. I really didn’t expect the kids to make it the entire way. If I was betting on it I definitely would have lost. There was a lot of whining the last 10 blocks or so, but they made it. I did get them involved with my Fitbit telling them Aunt Danielle had to get her steps, so they kept asking me how many steps I had the rest of the weekend.

As is our custom, Paul and I headed out Friday night to see a Broadway show. This year we saw Allegiance. I’ll write more about that in separate blog post to come probably tomorrow.

Saturday I went out to get another bagel for breakfast. Unfortunately this one wasn’t as good as they mixed up the strawberry cream cheese I ordered with lox cream cheese. Let’s just say that first bite was quite a surprise. I ate it anyway, but it’s definitely not what I wanted.

After breakfast we took the kids to the Museum of Natural History and the Planetarium. They’ve been learning about space in pre-K, so it was actually something they were interested in seeing at the museum. And of course we had to take a trip to see the dinosaurs. It was significantly more busy in that part of the museum, so we didn’t spend too much time there.

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Paul and I took the train back on Saturday afternoon. It was about 20 minutes late, but still much better than taking the bus back in Thanksgiving weekend traffic as we have in past years.

It was a fun weekend, and I vote that we have warm weather for all future Thanksgivings there as well.

Suzanne Vega with Duncan Sheik at the Barns at Wolf Trap

For a change it was my husband who decided we should go to a concert last night. Usually its me dragging him out to things. The concert was at the Barns at Wolf Trap. As you may recall I’ve written many times about how Wolf Trap is one of my favorite concert venues. To be more specific I’ve always been referring to the Filene Center at Wolf Trap, which is their outdoor summer venue. The Barns is a much smaller venue built into an old barn in the park.

It was my first time there, and it’s a very intimate venue. It makes me regret some of the other concerts I’ve seen advertised but didn’t go to realizing now how awesome they would have been there. It’s still a trek though especially on a weeknight, so I have to really want to see someone. Even more so with the threat of winter weather during certain months.

With Paul working in DC these days it didn’t make sense for him to come home to Baltimore first and then drive down to Northern Virginia. I figured out that the Forest Glen metro station was convenient for him to get to from his office and fairly close to 495 so I could drive down and pick him up there. So I’m the one who got to sit in stop and go traffic for almost an hour and half (so many accidents) while he got to enjoy the trafficless short part of the ride.

The concert itself was somewhat of a collaboration between Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik. He opened, but really it was a joint show in which he just played first as they both played about an hour and then came back out on stage together for the encore.

I have never been a fan of Duncan Sheik’s music, and last night’s concert proved to me that I am still not. I did appreciate the fact that he told stories about the songs he was singing, but also he’s a really awkward storyteller. I wasn’t really quite sure to feel about him as a performer aside from the music.

As you may or may not know, Duncan Sheik wrote the music for the Broadway show Spring Awakening. He sang a couple of songs from that last night. At the time I saw that show I didn’t care for it. It’s one of the few shows I’ve ever really thought about leaving during intermission. Listening to those songs last night realized that my opinion of it probably hasn’t changed.

I knew there was a Broadway musical based on the book American Psycho. Until last night I had not realized that Duncan Sheik had also written the music for it. He sang one of the songs and the style was very much reminiscent of the music from Spring Awakening meaning I have even less desire to see it than I did before. Sorry Duncan Sheik. You’re just not for me.

We were obviously there to see Suzanne Vega. Duncan Sheik and she have been working on a play (with music but not a musical?) together based on the author Carson McCullers. She sang three songs from that last night, and I actually really enjoyed them. I’d see the show if the opportunity presented itself.

She also sang a variety of songs from across her career. Some of them the hits you would expect and some more deep dives into her catalog. Going in I wanted to hear four songs and she played all of them, so I was happy. She started off the show with “Marlene on the Wall”, which one of the songs on my list. She also sang “Left of Center” and “I Never Wear White”, which is off of her most recent album.

The last song I was hoping she would play and figured that she would was “Luka”. I was obsessed with that song when it came out in 1987. Makes sense that a 9 year old kid would be in love with a song about child abuse right? I have a very vivid memory of listening to that song while swimming at our neighborhood pool. This song made it to number 3 on the pop charts at the time. I’m trying to imagine this song ever getting anywhere near a pop chart in this day and age. An indie rock song about child abuse. I think not.

As I mentioned Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik came out together for the encore. Apparently it was his birthday so she had a cake brought out for him and sang him happy birthday. After that he sang “Barely Breathing”, which was his big radio hit back in the day. He didn’t seem to want to sing it anymore but was resigned to the fact that he probably has to sing this song for the rest of his life.

She sang “Tom’s Diner”. I did at one time love that song, but it was something that I eventually got tired of because it was overplayed and even 25 years later I haven’t gotten over it. I don’t know why some songs that I start hating because they’ve been overplayed I can eventually go back to after enough time and some of them remain forever tainted, but unfortunately this song was is one of the latter for me.

Basically I could have done without the Duncan Sheik half of the concert, but I really enjoyed Suzanne Vega. I also really enjoyed seeing a concert at The Barns and would definitely make the long trek down there to other performances.


Songs I Love – Return to the Moon by EL VY

EL VY is the new project by Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls. I’ve really been digging the song “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing with Crescendo)” or as most people just call it “Return to the Moon”. I’ve never been a huge fan of The National. The music is just too mellow and downbeat for my taste generally. I admit I don’t really know anything about the band Ramona Falls, so this probably isn’t something I would have sought out to listen to.

I heard it a few times sort of the background on the radio when I was doing other things and thought to myself that I liked it. Eventually one of the times I heard it I stopped to Shazam it and find out what it was. Since then I’ve been enjoying listening to it both on the radio and on Spotify.

I have no idea what the lyrics mean, but I find the tune super catchy. I even decided to check out the rest of the album figuring it would be similar tonally. Unfortunately it was one of those cases where the single off the album seems very different than the rest of it. The rest of the album felt much more like The National to me and very downbeat unlike the upbeat vibe that this song has. So I’ll just stick to listening to this song and leave the whole album to someone else.

Fabric shopping in New York City

As I mentioned in my previous post my friend Alison is getting married next year. Our friend Heather is making her wedding dress for her, so yesterday the three of us took the train up to New York to do some fabric shopping for the dress. Alison’s mom was also taking the train down from Massachusetts to meet us.

Since her train got in about an hour after ours we wandered around a little and stopped and got some crepes for second breakfast. Then we headed back to the train station to pick up Alison’s mom. Unfortunately a switch problem at Penn Station made her train an hour and half late.

Instead of waiting around the train station forever we decided to go ahead and start shopping. We wanted to wait for her to buy the real fabric for the dress so we started with some trip shops looking for ideas for things like hair pieces. I’m not very crafty and don’t sew at all, so most of these places were lost on me. I wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with most of this stuff. We did stumble across a place called East Coast Trim that was the prettiest, most hipster looking trim shop. I still wouldn’t know what to do with anything in there, but it was all really pretty to look at.

After Alison’s mom’s train finally got in we hit up Weaver’s for fabric. Heather had gone shopping there for costume fabric with her boss recently and decided it was a good place to hit up for the wedding dress fabric. I won’t give anything away, but we found what we were looking for there. We had a whole list of places we could hit up if need be, but it was nice that Alison found something that fit what she had in mind there. Also Sonny the proprietor of the store was awesome, and I’d definitely recommend shopping there if you’re in New York and are looking for some fabric.

While we were waiting for Alison and her mom to get there from the train station I spotted this fabric. Initially I was just thinking I really like that pattern. Then I touched it and realized that it was a heavier fabric and I started thinking that would actually make a nice table cloth and it would match my dining room. As I mentioned I have no sewing skills, so I still was mostly just saying that off-hand and not thinking I would actually get it. Then Heather said she would turn it into a table cloth for me. Obviously I didn’t know the measurements for my table off the top of my head, so I told her let me text Paul for the measurements. It often takes him hours to notice he has a text message, so if he texts me back before we leave the store then it was meant to be and I’ll buy it. If not, I’m not supposed to get it. He texted me back immediately, so apparently it was meant to be.

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After that we headed to Mood, which is a large fabric store made famous by contestants on Project Runway shopping there. We went there to find thread, a zipper, and fabric for the lining of the dress. I’m not completely useless because I found both the thread and fabric that matched the fabric we bought for the dress. They didn’t have a huge zipper selection and we didn’t find what we needed there. On the way we passed a shop called Zipper and headed back over there to find one. I have no need for a zipper, but that store was amazing and made me want to buy one just because. In addition to the hundreds and hundreds of pre-made zippers they had in every size and color you could also make your own zipper in any length, color, with any of the hundreds of pull choices you wanted. It was very cool. Not surprisingly we found what we were looking for there.

We decided to grab lunch after that since it was already after 2 pm. We wandered around a little bit more after lunch and then dropped Alison’s mom back at the train station. The three of us walked over to Koreatown and wandered around for awhile before settling in at a coffee shop to be able to sit down and get out of the cold. We originally had dinner reservations at 6, but since we ate lunch so late none of us were hungry. We canceled those reservations and I wound up heading back to the train station a bit early. I grabbed a sandwich in Penn Station to eat on the train instead.

It was a fun day trip, and I’m happy we accomplished what we went up there to do.

Bachelorette Weekend Plus Visiting Old Friends

Last week my husband came down with a cold at the beginning of the week and I cursed him because I knew I was going to catch just in time for the end of the week when I couldn’t take off work on Friday and then had to leave immediately following for a bachelorette weekend in Philly. Sure enough that’s exactly what happened.

Friday was the most miserable of the days. I managed to suffer through work. There was a lot of resting my head on my desk in between the stuff I had to be there for. After work I met up with friends to begin our journey up to Philadelphia for a double bachelorette party weekend.

My friend Alison is getting married in April and her best friend is getting married in December. They have a number of friends in common so decided to plan a joint bachelorette party weekend and settled on Philly as the location because it’s a fun city and it was easy for most people attending to get to. The people coming from the Baltimore/DC area met up at my house and then we began our journey up to Philly with a pit stop at the Birroteca in Bel Air for dinner.

It was around 10:30 when we got to the hotel. I offered to take the pull out sofa bed in our suite since that meant I would sleep alone and hopefully not get anyone else sick. Plus I’m a horrible sleeper so I was hoping that having a bed to myself would allow to sleep a little bit better. That might have worked ok (the sofa bed was not at all uncomfortable) if the suite was not the most dumbly designed hotel room. Why would you put tile floors in a hotel room? Every step of the people upstairs echoed. They also seemed to have a penchant for moving the furniture around. It was quite loud and not conducive at all for sleeping.

Despite what felt like not a great night’s sleep I woke up feeling much better on Saturday. I was definitely still sick, but I felt a lot better than on Friday. We eventually all ambled our way over to Reading Terminal Market for breakfast. I decided to stand in the line for the Amish donuts. Last time I was in Philly for a conference everyone was talking about those donuts, but I couldn’t make it to the market until Sunday and they’re closed then because you know, Amish. They were good, but not the best donuts in the world.

We basically just hung out at the market until it was time for us to head to Yard’s Brewing for a tour. Our group had a private tour. Our tour guide was very amusing, and I felt like I learned stuff even though I’ve been on many a brewery tour at this point in my life. We hung around the tasting room for awhile after that. I was pleased that they had some home brewed root beer on tap so that I had something to drink.

After that we found a place nearby for lunch as it was already 2 pm at that point. Apparently we hit them during their kitchen changeover from brunch to dinner. The waitress did warn us it would take awhile, but I don’t think any of us were really counting on lunch taking 2 hours. The food was good at least and it was nice to chat with some people I either hadn’t known before the weekend or didn’t know very well.

I took the opportunity to go back to the hotel and rest up for a few hours before dinner. So basically I spent my whole day eating as an activity. I’m ok with that. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant called Panorama. I can’t say much for it. The food was ok, but nothing spectacular and the service definitely left something to be desired. Dinner took even longer than lunch clocking in at 3 hours and there were several other missteps. Again the company was good, but by the time we were done with dinner I was spent and headed back to the hotel while a few people went out for drinks.

Sunday a couple of us got up early enough that we headed over to the Italian Market area and walked around and popped into some very delicious shops. In one of the shops the woman working there was plying us with many samples of cheese and salami. It worked though since it’s the one place bought anything in.

We ended the weekend with brunch at a French restaurant called Parc. It was delicious and the service was actually good so double points for them. About half the group hung around Philly for the afternoon, but I took my leave at the end of brunch. I felt a little bit like a party pooper with my stupid cold, but hopefully the bachelorettes had fun.

My friend Erin lives just outside of Philly, so I wanted to stop by and see her before I left town and meet her new baby. It was nice to see her and meet the smiliest baby in the world. Her mom recently brought her copies of our middle school yearbooks, so she was showing me those. For some reason either we or one of our friends wrote our names under the pictures of the two school librarians. Seems kind of prescient now at least in my case. We were both remarking on how we had no idea what any of the inside jokes I wrote about to her in the yearbook meant. At was great to see her even if it was just for a couple of hours. Hopefully we can see each other again soon when I have a little bit more time to spend together.

Finally, on my way home I stopped at my friends’ Kevin and Tracie’s house because they were hosting a get together for our group of friends to see our friends Dawn and Darren who emigrated to New Zealand a number of years ago. They were back in the States visiting over the past few weeks and were in Maryland over the weekend. It was great to see them and catch up in person. I was definitely dragging by that point though and skipped out when everyone was going outside to sit around the fire pit. Tracie was like I can’t believe you’re leaving before s’mores. You love s’mores. I do, but I was too tired and sick to stick around any longer.

Overall it was a great weekend with lots of great friends. I just wish I hadn’t been sick for all of it. I of course was perfectly better to go to work on Monday because that’s how these things work. I was hoping I would feel just sick enough to take a sick day, but I did not and I’m not the kind of person who would ever take a sick day if I’m not actually sick.

Sufjan Stevens at the Meyerhoff

Sunday night my friend Chinwe and I went to see Sufjan Stevens at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore. There were many weird things about this show that were entirely unrelated to the music itself. First, instead of normal e-tickets that we could print we apparently had something where we went to the venue and swiped the credit card used to pay, which they had positioned past where you had your tickets scanned. That was all kinds of confusing. We wound up going earlier than originally planned in case there was any problem getting the tickets since neither of us had any experience getting tickets at a venue in that manner before.

At any rate it’s a good thing we did because otherwise we would have missed most of the opening act. Nowhere on the tickets nor on the Meyerhoff’s website was there any indication that there was an opening act for the show. Secondly everything we had indicated that it started at 8, so imagine our surprise when it hit 7:30 and the lights went down and people came out on stage. So the audience was half empty as people were still coming in. Very weird.

Also the row in front of us seemed to have very bizarre issues with people sitting in it. Some large group of people who were together kept trying to sit there, then getting up and switching with each other and then eventually deciding they were in the wrong place entirely. After they left some other people tried to sit there but realized they were on the wrong side of the theatre. Finally right before the show some people did sit there, but one of the couples left after about 15 minutes and the other stayed for much longer, but still left before the end of the show. Did these people buy tickets for someone they didn’t know? I’m confused. The row seemed to be some kind of vortex that didn’t want people sitting in it.

As for the actual show itself, the surprise (at least to me) opening act was an R&B singer named Gallant. I actually quite enjoyed his music and he was very into the performance. He was dancing, jumping, and spinning around the stage with a long-corded microphone. I was afraid he was going to get all tangled up in it and hurt himself or land on the mic stand he left laying on the ground during one of his jumps. He managed to leave the stage unscathed though.

As for Sufjan Stevens, if you don’t know his music I don’t really know how to describe it, which is something Chinwe and I were talking about on our way into the show. He also changes up his musical stylings a little with each album making it even harder to pinpoint. Wikipedia lists his music in all of the following genres: indie rock, baroque pop, indie pop, psychedelic folk, and electronica. I am into some of it and not so much into others. I really do like his new album Carrie and Lowell a lot, and I knew he’d focus on playing off of that.

He did end the main part of his set before the encore with some songs that I guess fall into the psychedelic folk genre. I thought of it as a cross between a psychedelic fever dream and the kind of music you hear in the background of underwater sea life nature films. I’m pretty sure you need to be high to enjoy it, and since I definitely wasn’t I could have lived without that portion of the set and been much happier.

Overall I enjoyed the concert, though I’m not sure that I found Sufjan Stevens compelling enough of a performer to see again. His songs are all really melancholy. He pretty much just got up on stage and sang it. There was a lot of production with lights and video, but long time readers of this blog know that doesn’t excite me a whole lot as far as concerts go. It was interesting to see how he and his band moved around on all the various instruments, but not something I’d need to see more than once.

He finally seemed to get a little bit more life in him during the encore. I get why the music doesn’t lend itself to that type of performance overall, but the encore had much more of what I enjoy in live shows. After not saying a single word for the entire first part of the set he stopped to tell stories at the end and finally ended the show by saying he was channeling his favorite spirit animal…Drake. He then proceeded to invite Gallant back out on stage to sing Hotline Bling with him to close out the show. Stories, fun cover songs, collaboration with other artists. Check, check, and check on my list of things I enjoy at concerts.

The whole Hotline Bling thing was entirely ridiculous and fun. I couldn’t stop laughing during the whole thing. If you don’t know Sufjan Stevens or his music it might not seem as crazy as it was because it’s the complete opposite of what the rest of the show was. Someone posted a video of it from a show in New Jersey from the previous night.

Pop Culture Happy Hour Live at The Howard Theatre

Last night my friend Heather and I went to a live taping of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. She was already down in DC for work during the afternoon, so I took the train down and met her. We grabbed dinner at the Right Proper Brewing Company, which is right next door to the theatre. After eating at Proper Restaurant in Tucson last weekend, this makes the second weekend in a row I’ve eaten at a restaurant with Proper in its name. Stay tuned to see if I manage to eat any restaurants called Proper in Philly next weekend. The food was tasty. I had a fried green tomato sandwich. The menu had sort of a Southern vibe going on and they even served Cheerwine. I don’t actually like Cheerwine, but I always like seeing it places outside of the South. They didn’t have any sweet tea though, so they weren’t that Southern.

Based on the time we met up and subsequently finished dinner we had lots of time before the show started. We decided we go over to the theatre and start the line. Turns out that its NPR’s Week in Washington where they bring lots of big donors to the city and treat them to a variety of events, so there was a pre-show reception for them going on when we got there. We got inside the lobby with them, but were then told we couldn’t actually go inside the theatre yet. So us and 4 other people who beat us there got wait inside while the rest of all the people who started showing up had to wait outside.

Heather had actually help make a costume for Petra Mayer, who works for NPR books. She came out and chatted with us for awhile while we were stuck in the lobby and introduced us to Audie Cornish, who was there as a guest on the podcast. Petra also saved us some seats in one of the booths on the side, which was great since there weren’t enough seats for everyone that was there and some people had to stand for the show. We were there early enough that we would have been fine getting seats anyway, but it was nice not to have to worry about.

Normally the podcast is Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon, and Stephen Thompson plus a rotating guest panelist who usually works for NPR or is at least an NPR contributor. That seat as I already alluded to filled by Audie Cornish for this show. They also had Fred Armisen as a guest, which is not the kind of thing they’ve ever really done with the podcast before. I assume it’s partly because they had it as event for the Week in Washington guests as well as the fact that they were perhaps trying to people a little more for there money with the move to the larger venue.

They have been moving the show into progressively bigger spaces, the Howard Theatre definitely being the biggest to date. Obviously with moving outside of the NPR building itself and into a bigger venue comes with higher overhead, which means ticket prices have to be increased. I would have been fine paying the $25 just for the regular podcast, but Fred Armisen was a nice bonus.

I’m not sure how they’re actually going to air this podcast as episodes because it wasn’t really the same as what they’ve done at other live shows. Normally they tape two back to back episodes, which it didn’t seem like they did this time. It didn’t run quite the whole hour and half that was listed on the tickets, which would definitely mean it’s too short for two of their typical 45 minute episodes. I’m guessing it will just air as one longer than normal episode.

The show started out with Fred Armisen coming out and playing a song, which I gather from some conversations after the show was a last minute thing he requested to do, which seemed to be somewhat the way he operates. Then just the four people from NPR came out and did a segment discussing things they find the most scary. After that Linda did an interview with Fred Armisen, which he just sort of ran away with at times. The final segment was a quiz, which is something Linda likes to put together for the live shows. This one was about Halloween episodes of old sit-coms. Audie Cornish is my favorite guest panelist and it cracks me up how competitive she gets over these dumb quizzes. Last night was no exception. They ended as always with a segment on what’s making them happy this week. That was the end of the scheduled show, but then Fred, who as I mentioned seemed to be in his own little show, decided they should have a Q&A with the audience. Given that there was something else scheduled in the theatre that night and they obviously had a time they needed to be off stage I could see some panicked faces up there, but they did let three people ask questions.

After the show everyone stuck around for people who wanted to talk to them. Fred was very happily greeting and taking pictures with everyone who wanted to meet him. I also heard he went up to the reception before hand to meet and greet the big donors, which was something he wasn’t contractually obligated to do, so he definitely seems to be someone who is very happy to meet and talk to fans or just people in general I guess.

As always it was an enjoyable show. It’s always fun to go and actually see them recording in person since you do pick up on stuff visually that you just don’t get when you only have audio. It’s also of course fun to be amidst a crowd of fans enjoying themselves as well.


Heather and I meeting Fred Armisen
Heather and I meeting Fred Armisen