Out of the Blocks

I have failed you dear reader. In starting think about what will be filling up the categories in my annual year end best of pop culture post, I realized that I never wrote up a post  (spoiler!) on my favorite podcast of the year, Out of the Blocks. I thought about it several times, but I guess always when I wasn’t in the mood to write or when I didn’t have time to write and it just never happened. But now that I’ve rectified the error of my ways you can download all the season one episodes for your listening enjoyment over your holiday travels.

Out of the Blocks is a radio show played on WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR station and then made available as a podcast. The show is produced by Aaron Henkin with music by Wendel Patrick. The show is exactly what its tagline implies: One hour of radio, one city block, everybody’s story. Henkin and Patrick choose one block in Baltimore and spend time there recording interviews with everyone associated with it. Depending on the block that can include people who work at businesses on the block, people who frequent the businesses, people who live on the block, or just people who hang out on that block for whatever reason including homeless people and drug dealers. All the interviews are then edited down for the hour-long show with each person’s story I would say averaging about five minutes.

Wendel Patrick composes the music based on the interviews often incorporating the sounds from the businesses or the street into the music. For instance in coffee shops you may hear the coffee brewing as part of the music or hear the buzz of electric razors in barber shops. They’re wonderful compositions that really enhance the stories that are being told and bringing about a sense of place to the pieces.

It truly amazes me the stories that come out of some of the people even after spending such a short time with Aaron Henkin. He really gets them to open up about some very personal things. People really just want to be heard and to tell their stories. It’s so fascinating.

Each block that they visit has it’s own personality and there are so many stories of immigrants and people just trying to make their way in a city that can be very hard. I know Baltimore like any big city has immigrants, but I really never realized how many places people are coming from until I listened to these eight podcast episodes. There are also some really sweet and amazing stories shared by people. I definitely cried more than once listening to this podcast.

I live in Baltimore, so obviously I feel some connection to the blocks in the podcast but I don’t think you need to know Baltimore in order to love this podcast. It’s really about humanity. It could be recorded in any city. It just happens to be recorded in Baltimore. I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough. I am so happy there’s going to be a second season in 2017.

The Best Possible Break-in

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving while we were out of town visiting family our house got broken into. Obviously this isn’t something that really makes me happy, but if my house had to get broken into I’m happy for how it went down. He apparently forced open the window next to our back door and let himself in. It actually was for the best that this happened while we were out of town. Normally on a Tuesday morning my husband would have been home working in our basement. Who knows what would have happened if he had come upstairs when he heard someone walking about?

Also because we were out of town all the stuff I think the guy was hoping to take in a quick snatch and grab wasn’t here. We both had our laptops, cell phones, and iPads with us as well as our wallets of course. Although we of course have lots of stuff I suspect much of it doesn’t have good street resale value aside from the stuff that we had taken with us. He didn’t even bother with our tv I suspect because of its size.

He also didn’t seem to go upstairs at all. All of our bedroom doors were still closed and none of the drawers were opened. I don’t have a lot of it, but the jewelry I do own was thankfully all still there. The only thing we could find missing once we got home was our spare house and car keys. Again thankfully my car was still there. Once my husband noticed those were gone I was worried he stole my car, but we went outside and it was still parked on the street where I left it. It didn’t even seem like he got into it at all, which is surprising given that it was actually parked very close to our house for a change and would have been easy to find by clicking the alarm on the key fob. I park on the street, so I never keep anything of value in my car not even loose change, so he wasn’t going to find anything there even if he did look. Perhaps the fact that I drive a manual transmission kept him from being able to actually take the car itself, or maybe he found the street in front of our house too crowded to be able to do anything with the car. I don’t know, but I’m glad it was still there.

Also it’s lucky that he left the back door open when he left. The cat thankfully didn’t run away even though the door was open all day long, but it alerted our friend who was watching our cat for us that someone had been in the house. So little was touched or taken that had that door not been open it might have been quite some time before we realized that someone had broken in and taken our keys and broken the lock on our window.

It feels super creepy that someone out there has keys to our car and house, but most of that is fixable. We’ve already replaced the locks on the house and replaced the broken lock on the window. Apparently the window lock wasn’t super great, which in some respects seems bad but in other ways is good because it means he didn’t break the glass in the window like he did to the house next door. I obviously can’t do much about the fact that he has my car key other than to hope he never decides to come back for it. You can’t really change your car locks like you can the ones on your house.

At any rate if the only thing we have to do is replace our locks and the stupidly expensive car keys, then we got off pretty easy. Maybe there’s someone more we haven’t realized is missing yet, but really if there is it’s just stuff. Most importantly we weren’t home and are safe, our friend didn’t come over to feed the cat and surprise him in the process, and our cat is still here. I hope we never have to go through this again, but I’m happy that since we did it was such a minimal issue. It could have been a lot worse.

Maryland Fleet Week

Starting in 2012 Baltimore started a big celebration featuring a lot of ships in our harbors and performances by the Blue Angels. Back then it was for the anniversary of the War of 1812. Two years later they did it again in 2014 for the end of the War of 1812. Now they’ve decided it was such a great success as part of the War of 1812 anniversary that they’re going to keep doing it every 2 years but branded as Maryland Fleet Week.

We went to it back in 2012 and 2014 and enjoyed it so we decided we go again this year. Happily we had a beautiful weather this weekend, so it as a great day to be outdoors. Since I go to church in Federal Hill, which is the neighborhood just south of the Inner Harbor where the ships were, my husband who normally doesn’t go accompanied me to church so that we could just stay parked there and walk over the festivities.

We started by grabbing lunch in the little beer garden they had set up. It actually had a nice selection of food by local restaurants and some local food trucks. We wound up splitting a pizza cooked in a mobile brick wood fired oven, which I thought was interesting. Usually at these things when live bands play I hate the music and it’s too loud, but for the time we were there it was the perfect volume and it was a bluegrass band, so I was happy.

There were not nearly as many ships this time as there had been in the past. The one docked in the Inner Harbor had a line a mile long when we walked by so we by-passed it completely. We had thought about walking over to the one in Fells Point, but had seen on the news that it got called away to do whatever it actually is in service for so had to leave early. We wound up walking over to Pier 5 where the USS Carson City was docked. It’s a fairly new Navy ship that looks sort of like a giant aluminum catamaran. It took longer than I thought to go through the ship, but it mostly worked out since we had a lot of time before the Blue Angels. We had to go through security first and then had to wait in a long line to get on the ship. They actually did guided tours and by the time we finally got off I was ready to be done. Our tour guide was chatty and several people in our group kept asking questions. We got by-passed by two other groups in areas where multiple groups could gather and got told to hurry up and move along in at least three places where only one group could be at a time. I was definitely getting a little anxious by the time we got off.

Because we were on the ship we missed most of the flying by whatever fighter jets were flying early in the afternoon, but I did see some crazy dives that were making me nauseous just watching them. Our main goal of the outing was to see the Blue Angels. We sat on the side of Federal Hill to watch them in a nice shady area on the grass. It turns out there was a tree in our way for some of it, but for the most part we had a pretty good view. It was amazing to watch as always. I honestly have no idea how they do that. There were definitely a few points where I almost wanted to cover my eyes because I was afraid they were going to run into each other. Obviously they didn’t or you would have heard about it all over the news. As always it was an amazing sight to see (and hear).

Fun-Filled Weekend

I had a very full, but fun weekend this past weekend. It was so full that I even turned down a ticket to go see Flight of the Concords at Wolf Trap on Monday. I knew I was going to need to take Monday night as down time, and you guys know how much I love Wolf Trap.

This weekend was HonFest, which is one of the two big street festivals in my neighborhood every year. It’s my least favorite of the two festivals, but if I’m around it’s too close not to go to at least for a little while. We pretty much just walked around for a little bit and I got a fresh squeezed lemonade, which is my favorite thing about street festivals. You can’t beat that mound of sugar at the bottom of the cup. We also got to peek inside the Five and Dime Alehouse which is set to open in September.

Later that afternoon we headed out to the ‘burbs to celebrate a 2 year old’s birthday. It was just a small get together, which was nice. We bbq’d with some friends and played with their kids for awhile. Even though it was a little on the warm side it actually turned out to be a fairly decent day to be outside and was especially so once the sun started going down. After all the kids that didn’t live there had left some adults were still hanging out when our friends’ 4 year old son said to me you know the party is over don’t you. It is still cracking me up. He figured since all his friends were gone that we should leave too. It was a very nice evening.

Sunday morning I headed down to DC to meet up with some friends for brunch. Since Alison is always trekking up to Baltimore for stuff we decided we should probably head down to her in DC for a change. After brunch we walked around a bit and got some gelato for dessert. Then to get out of the heat we decided to wander around the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and Museum of American Art, which was right near where we were. I hadn’t been in that particular museum when I was a kid, so it was nice to check out a small portion of it.

I capped the weekend off seeing Chvrches in concert at Rams Head Live with some other friends. I have a lot of awesome friends y’all. I’m still slightly confused by this concert, but very happy it happened. It was weird because the concert was only announced a couple of weeks ago, and then there was no opening act. I don’t remember the last time I went to a concert that wasn’t a huge name like Bruce Springsteen or Fleetwood Mac who both played for over 3 hours that didn’t have an opening act. Chvrches certainly played for much shorter than that. I’ve been pretty lucky at standing room only shows being able to see, but this concert not so much. If I stood in a very specific way I could see a small slice of the stage. I think some of the people I was with didn’t even get that. As always it was a really fun show anyway. I love Lauren Mayberry so much. I just want to put her in my pocket and carry her around with me. Chvrches is also at what I always consider to be the best part of their career in terms of live shows because with 2 albums out they have enough material to play a whole set of their music, but it also means they’re pretty much guaranteed to play whatever songs you want to hear no matter what.

It was a fun-filled weekend, but I’m pretty sure I needed another weekend with a lot more downtime to recover from it.

Visit from My Nieces

My sister, brother-in-law, and nieces came out from Arizona to visit for the long weekend. It was the first time they’ve been out here in 4 and a half years. My youngest niece was in utero the last time they were here. I get why it makes sense for us to go out there more frequently than they come here, but it was nice to have them come out here to visit for a change.

They got here on Saturday in the early evening. We walked over to one of the nearby parks. My eldest niece is very keen on the monkey bars right now. I could never really do the monkey bars very well, so I’m very impressed by her monkey bar prowess. The girls were also very excited to meet Tux, the stuffed penguin we always play with over Facetime, in person.

Sunday morning we down to the Inner Harbor and went on the Sea Dog boat ride. My eldest niece saw boats from the plane when they were flying in and said she wanted to go on a boat ride. It’s too bad the Urban Pirates cruise was sold out because I think they both would have loved that. As it was the eldest niece loved the ride and thought it was hysterical when I got completely soaking wet from a big splash, but the 4 year old was not keen on it at all. There were definitely some tears. It was too fast and too loud for her. After the boat ride we went on the carousel, which was much more her speed.

We went to Bo Brooks for lunch because my brother-in-law wanted crabs, but then we got there and they were out of crabs. A crab cake had to do. It was nice to sit outside on their patio anyway. After lunch we came back to my neighborhood and hit up a different playground. My eldest niece was not a fan because it did not have good monkey bars for her. We of course had to get some ice cream from The Charmery while they were here, so we did that after the playground. All the activity must have worn the girls out because the 4 year old fell asleep around 6, which is 3 their time, and wouldn’t wake back up.

Monday we went to the Orioles-Red Sox game. My brother-in-law’s sister lives in Northern Virginia so she came up with a friend to meet us for the game. They’re all from Boston and thus are Red Sox fans, so it worked out that the Red Sox were in town the weekend they were here. It was rather hot and humid at the beginning of the game, but at least we had club level seats so we could take the kids inside from some AC every once in awhile. It also happily didn’t rain like was in the forecast for several days leading up to the game. My youngest niece told me her favorite part of the weekend was the popcorn she ate at the ball game, so I guess she enjoyed it more than the boat ride. The Orioles lost so I was sad, but they were all happy.

We had originally planned to go to the aquarium on Tuesday morning, but my sister decided she didn’t want to spend that much money. We entertained going to the zoo instead, but after 2 hot days out in the sun my sister decided an inside activity would be better. We settled on Port Discovery, which is the children’s museum, instead. We got warned on our way in that they were expecting 350 school kids shortly, so we tried to do everything we could before the place was inundated. It didn’t turn out too bad. We probably didn’t stay quite as long as we would otherwise, but we mostly managed to hit everything before it got too crazy. After leaving the kid’s museum we hit what my niece had deemed the good park one more time so she could the monkey bars before they left for the airport.

It was a really fun weekend and I’m really glad they came. Hopefully it won’t be another 4 years before they make it out to visit again.

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Enjoying the Good Times

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia and stresses of life and not really take time to stop and smell the roses as it were, but this weekend offered some great times for me to think about the blessings in my life and be thankful for them.

As anyone around these parts knows we have been stuck in some awful weather pattern where it has been cold and rainy for weeks on end. Friday we finally had a nice sunny, spring day and it just made everything so much better. I got to get outside for a walk in the park. We got to dine outside at a restaurant in our neighborhood, and then I got to come home and bake a cake while listening to some James Taylor which really fit my weather mood. It was a simple, lovely evening and I very much savored it as it was happening.

Saturday we held our annual Preakness party. Despite the return of the gross rain it was a fun day with friends. We got to enjoy tiny babies, and bigger babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers running around our house. I am still endlessly amused by the fact that even more exciting than the fun animal cups and toys we had for them was the bowl of potatoes they found and played with. Next year we’ll just give them a bunch of produce to play with. I also finally managed to draw the winning horse in our pool, so I had a little extra money in my pocket at the end of the night too.

Sunday I got to head out to horse country for a baby shower for a friend (still in the rain, it never ends I tell you). I could never live out there myself, but it’s nice to escape the city every once in awhile and get out into the wilds of Maryland. That’s one nice thing about Baltimore is it doesn’t take very long to get out into some still very rural seeming places. We had a wonderful afternoon celebrating the impending arrival of what will be a very loved baby boy.

The weekend was a good reminder that my life is pretty good sometimes and filled with lots of wonderful friends and beautiful moments that I should pay more attention to and cherish.

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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.
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Part of our Preakness cocktail set-up. This year with fun cups for the kids.

The Baltimore Book Thing

Baltimore has many great things and one of those is the Book Thing. They are literally just a giant book exchange open on weekends. People can donate books and then anyone can go in and take as many books as they want. I know a number of teachers who go in and cull their shelves to fill bookshelves in their classrooms. Honestly I always have more books than I need in my house so I’ve never actually brought anything home, but I have certainly donated trunk loads full of books. The piles of books I bring home from librarian conferences always eventually make their way there. I’m always seeing people wondering where they can donate used books, and I always feel a little sad that wherever they live doesn’t have the Book Thing.

Sadly this past week there was a fire at the Book Thing. Needless to say fire, smoke, and water don’t mix with books or buildings for that matter. They opened up this weekend to help clean out some of the books that were salvageable, but after that they’ll be closed for the foreseeable future as they work on rebuilding. I’m really happy to hear that they plan on rebuilding as something like this could very easily just feel like they need to pack it in. I donated some money to their PayPal account to help out. If you’re in Baltimore (or even if you’re not) I encourage you to help them out. I look forward to their eventual return.