Friends and the Aquarium

Yesterday I got spend the afternoon with my friend Erin, her husband, and their 6 year old son. They came down from Philly for the afternoon so we could have a chance to visit before they have their second child next month. Usually when we get together I’ve gone up to Philly, so it was fun to have them come down to Baltimore this time.

After grabbing lunch in our neighborhood we headed down to the aquarium. If you’re not familiar, Baltimore is actually home to the National Aquarium, so it’s one of the better aquariums I’ve ever been to. Since we figured at some point in the next year we’ll wind up going to the aquarium again with our niece and nephew we went ahead and bought a membership since you only have to go twice for that to pay off. The extra bonus of that was getting to avoid the ticket line and also go in whenever we wanted to. The tickets at the aquarium are timed so you can’t just walk up to the window, buy a ticket, and immediately enter unless you’re a member. It was definitely nice to be able to do that yesterday since we weren’t sure exactly when we would get down there.

It had been a few years since I had been to the aquarium for a proper visit, though Paul and I did go down for a behind the scenes tech tour in the past year or so. I hadn’t realized until yesterday that they had stopped doing the dolphin shows. I know that they’ve been considering removing the dolphins from the aquarium, but I hadn’t realized that even though they were still there at this point they had discontinued the actual shows. You can still seem them swimming around in the pools, but they don’t do a show like they used to.

It is a still a great aquarium though and it was fun to walk around and see all the fish and spend some time with friends.

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Playing Catch Up

I’ve been really busy lately both with work that is kind of overwhelming at the moment as well as actually doing the fun activities I’m going to write about in this post and thus have had no time to spend here writing about anything. Here’s a quick look at some of the fun things I’ve been up to lately.

1. This past Saturday was the annual holiday party that one of my groups of friends holds every year. For a decade we rented out the upstairs bar at Max’s for a few hours of fun every December, but time moves on and there are now too many kids to make that an option. Last year we thought we found a good alternative that was family friendly by renting out the Women’s Industrial Kitchen, but that sadly closed and ruined the chances for that again this year. Instead of undertaking the difficult search for another venue that would be good for our group in it’s current configuration our friends Kevin and Tracie decided to just go ahead and hold the party at their house. It was a different dynamic, but it was still great fun to hang out with friends that I don’t always see as often as I’d like. Most of them have moved out of the city and have kids now, which means that a lot of the time I only see most of them when there is a party. I wish that wasn’t necessarily the case, but I get it. We still kept with tradition and held our white elephant gift exchange. This year I came home with Brewopoly, which is essentially a beer themed Monopoly game. Paul came home with something called The Whole Brain Game, which I brought home from this same gift exchange 2 years ago, never played, and brought back last year. Whoever it took it home last year obviously brought it back this year. I suspect I know what one of our gifts for next year will be.

2. Sunday was a very busy day. It started off with my friend Carissa’s annual birthday/parade brunch prior to Baltimore’s Mayor’s Christmas parade. It was fun to hang out with an almost entirely different set of friends from Saturday and of course to watch my favorite parade in the world. I have said many times in the past that I love that parade so much. It’s so perfectly Baltimore with it’s random assortment of people and things. I don’t care about some big, fancy, polished parade I just love the heart that is this parade. We headed straight from the parade to meet our friend Heather for dinner at Alewife. Speaking of friends I normally don’t see enough, it had been quite some time since I had gotten to hang out with Heather outside of our most recent book club meeting. She doesn’t have any kids, but she commutes to DC for her main job and then takes on 85 other side jobs so she is always busy. We added on a ticket to Newsies at the Hippodrome to our season tickets for her, so we met up for dinner and then went to see the show. I saw the movie once when it first came out many moons ago, so I didn’t really much about it. I enjoyed the show though aside from the family (of all adults I might add) that were annoyingly disruptive coming in late, going to the bathroom, and the person sitting next to me reeking of marijuana. I don’t really know what their deal was.

3. Monday night was one of my book clubs. I was hosting this month and had us read Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose. I had heard an interview with the author on NPR and thought the book sounded really interesting. We pretty much all agreed that the concept was intriguing, but it failed in execution. Too bad. I always hate when I pick a book for book club that isn’t that great. We had a delicious dinner, a good discussion, and white elephant book exchange so not all was lost.

4. Tuesday night I headed down to DC with my friends Heather and Karen to see Pop Culture Happy Hour Live. I’ve been to 3 of the 4 live shows they’ve done in DC. Sadly I had to miss the last one because I was out of town. They had been selling out their space at the NPR Headquarters in a matter of seconds, so this time they moved to the Sixth and I Synagogue. There were probably about 3 times the number of people, which gave the show a good energy. I definitely laughed a ton, and really enjoyed being there. Unfortunately because of coming from Baltimore and the need to snarf down dinner once we got into DC, we weren’t there when the doors opened at 6, which meant we had to sit up in the balcony. My view from the balcony was almost on par with my view during their first live show where I was standing in the back of a standing room only event in the middle of a pop up NPR store next to their old headquarters. This time I could only really see Barrie Hardymon. If I craned my head the right way I could sometimes see Glen Weldon’s face while he was talking, but mostly just his torso. Stephen Thompson and Linda Holmes were pretty much out of view for me. I appreciate that the larger venue allowed for more people to attend. When they asked at the beginning how many people had and hadn’t seen a live show before the people who hadn’t been able to attend in the past far outweighed those of us who had. Hopefully maybe they’ll be able to find a venue that supports the right number of people as well as provides everyone in attendance with a decent view. Even if I couldn’t see very well I still had an excellent time and am glad I went.

Star Spangled Spectacular Weekend

September 10-16 Baltimore is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key at the end of the Battle of Baltimore at the end of the War of 1812. You may recall that two years ago Baltimore hosted Sailabration to commemorate the beginning of the War of 1812, which designed to initially end in this week’s celebration, which is being billed as the biggest event that Baltimore has ever held. We went down to visit the ships and see the Blue Angels two years ago on a Friday afternoon. It worked out well, so Paul and I decided we would both take a half day of work on Friday and go down again this year when it would hopefully be a little less insane than it was bound to be on the weekend.

We didn’t go on as many of the ships this year because Paul didn’t want to wait in line. Based on the amount of time we had I don’t think we would have really had time to go on any additional ones anyway. Paul had looked at the list of ships ahead of time and decided he wanted to check out the NOAA vessel the Okeanos Explorer. When we got there we discovered they were doing official guided tours and so you had to sign up for a time. Since we were down there early enough we actually got signed up for one, but not until 2 hours later. We walked around and looked at the rest of the ships docked in the Inner Harbor and grabbed lunch.

Then we walked over to Federal Hill and got up there just in time for the Blue Angels to start their practice runs for the shows they were doing over Ft. McHenry Saturday and Sunday. Even just during practice they are incredibly impressive. I’m sure the actual show is even more so. One of the local TV news people got a ride in one of the jets earlier in the week and apparently passed out. I would probably vomit and then pass out. Some of those dives are crazy! They are crazy fast too. I kept trying to get a picture of the planes flying by the flag in the center of Federal Hill because I thought it would be a really cool shot. I have about half a dozen pictures of the flag with the Blue Angels just outside of the frame instead. I did get one picture that I really like though with the Blue Angels in formation flying right above the Pride of Baltimore II as it’s sailing out of the harbor, so I’ll have to settle for that one I guess.

After the Blue Angels we walked back over to the Okeanos for our tour. They told us about the work they do on the ship mapping the ocean floor and how their remote operated vehicle (ROV) works. It was a much more in depth look at the ship than you normally get when you get to walk around the main decks. After that tour we walked over to Fells Point and took a walk around the H.M.S. Argyll, a Scottish warship, that was docked at the Broadway Pier. I was highly amused that their uniforms involved shorts and knee socks because that just seems so Scottish to me.

We headed home after that and got stuck in some crazy traffic. Obama stopped at Ft. McHenry on his way to a fundraiser in Baltimore County and it happened to be right at Friday rush hour, so it pretty much FUBARed traffic around the entire metro area for several hours. A drive that usually takes us 10-15 minutes took us 45. I did not make it home in time to take the shower I had planned on before going out to dinner for a friend’s birthday. Hopefully I wasn’t too stinky.

Saturday sadly was rainy for most of the day, which is too bad given that it probably would have been the biggest day for the event if the weather had been nice. Luckily the weather did eventually clear up enough that the Blue Angels were able to fly about an hour and half after their scheduled start time, so it wasn’t a total wash for people who braved the rain. Happily for us the rain was long gone by plans for the evening. As part of the celebration Baltimore hosted the Star Spangled Spectacular concert, which was televised nationally on PBS’s Great Performances. If you missed it live last night, sometimes they put them up online, so you may be able to watch it later. The concert was hosted by John Lithgow and Jordan Sparks and featured a number of performers from all genres of music including Train, Melissa Etheridge, Kristin Chenoweth, Little Big Town, Denyce Graves-Montgomery, Kenny Rogers, Pentatonix, Smokey Robinson, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It ended in the largest fireworks display that Baltimore has ever put on and certainly the largest that I’ve ever seen. There were actually so many fireworks I was a bit overwhelmed. We were right in the middle of the six barges where we were located so I couldn’t decide which direction I should be looking. I think I might like my fireworks displays a little more subdued.

We had lawn seats of the concert, which actually worked out really nice for us. Because of the need to almost immediately switch back and forth between acts they had a second stage set up on the lawn. We had a great view of both stages from where we were, while I’m guessing people inside the pavilion had a poor view of the lawn stage if they could actually see it at all aside from what they were projecting on the screens on the main stage. Sometimes it pays to have the cheap (which in this case were not actually that cheap) seats. Each act sang 2 songs, so it gave you just a little taste of everything. Some people it made me really want to see more of live like Melissa Etheridge and others like Train reminded me why I don’t care about seeing them again. I realized last night that this incidentally was the third time I’ve unintentionally seen Train in concert because they happened to be playing with someone else I wanted to see. The first time was in a tiny little club where I went to college where they were the opening band, and no one had even heard of them yet. It was right before they hit it big with “Meet Virginia”. Anyway, I digress. It was a fun concert, and I’m glad we went.

It was a wonderful weekend overall. It was nice to see Baltimore on the national stage for something good for a change especially with all the recent bad publicity with Ray Rice and the Ravens.

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Paint Nite

Earlier this summer there was a Living Social coupon to do Paint Nite and my friend Jenny suggested that we get it and then go paint together one night. If you’re unfamiliar with Paint Nite it’s an organization that does painting events at bars and such. On their website they list the location, date, time, instructor, and show the painting you’ll be painting that night along with a rating for how hard it is to paint. Realizing our coupons were going to expire in mid-October we put our collective calendars together and came up with the one they were holding at Birroteca tonight.

It started at 6, but we decided to grab a really early dinner together first. Birroteca doesn’t actually open until 5 and we decided that we would be pushing it to be done in time if we actually ate there, so we wound up going to Arthouse instead. I was amused that we went from one Hampden pizza place to another for our evening’s activities.

I gather this is probably one of those things that like trivia, bars host on their slow nights in order to draw people in. This was the first one I’ve been to, so I’m not sure how similar the set-up is everywhere else, but I didn’t find it to be conducive to drinking at all. There was barely enough room on the table for the painting supplies and there certainly wasn’t any room to put down an extra glass. I did have a glass of water at one point that I had to set on the floor and then promptly managed to kick over, so I’m glad I didn’t have an actual drink. Other locations may have more room to spread out though and give people a little extra table space.

Even though our picture was rated as easy and we were going to get instructions on how to actually paint it I was dubious about my ability to paint anything halfway decent. I was actually pretty happy with how it turned out though. I might even hang it in our guest room. I’m not sure I’d want to pay full price for it, but it was a fun activity and I would definitely do it again for a discount.

My finished painting
My finished painting
Lovely ladies with our paintings
Lovely ladies with our paintings

Family Weekend in Baltimore

This past weekend my husband’s sister and her husband came down to visit with our niece and nephew. I had suggested this weekend awhile ago because the Yankees were going to be in town playing the Orioles and I thought it would be fun to take the kids to a baseball game now that they’re a little bit older, but I’ll get back to the baseball game in a minute. More than anything else the kids were excited to see our cats. I don’t think Scout and Charlotte shared their excitement. Our cats are generally very friendly and love for people to pet them. That doesn’t really extend so much to a couple of rambunctious three-year-olds though. The cats do not like being run at with grabby hands, and the kids didn’t get the concept of letting the kitties come to you and then petting them gently. We have a cat door leading into our basement so the cats spent a lot of time running down there, and the kids spent a lot of time like this.

Kitties are you down there? Come out and play with us.
Kitties are you down there? Come out and play with us.

After lunch on Saturday we headed to Port Discovery, which is the children’s museum in Baltimore. We had given them a family membership to the children’s museum in New York for a birthday or Christmas and they actually have a reciprocal relationship with Port Discovery so their pass worked for us to get in there as well, which was awesome. Having no kids of my own it was the first time I had been in Port Discovery. It’s pretty great for little kids. There’s lots of different areas for them to play in, and there’s a huge crazy climbing structure in the center that goes up the center of the building all three stories. They were too young to actually play in that this time, but I’m sure it will fun for them in the future. These are only a few of the things they did in the museum. I didn’t get any pictures, but I’m pretty sure their favorite part was the diner. We sat in a booth and they pretend cooked and waited on us. They might have stayed in there all day if we hadn’t told them it was time to move on.

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We hadn’t actually purchased baseball tickets early enough to actually get them from the actual Orioles. Yankees and Red Sox games at Camden Yards are always pretty full especially on a weekend because you get lots of fans that come in from out of town. Add to that the fact that the Orioles are currently in first place in the AL East so that Baltimore’s fair weather fans are actually going to games right now, and the game actually was pretty much sold out. Of course who knows what percentage of those tickets were snatched up by ticket resalers. The stadium definitely wasn’t full when we were in there. At any rate we waited until about an hour before the game started and then bought some tickets off of StubHub that had dropped way down in price as they were just trying to recoup some of their money. We hopped on the Charm City Circulator, Baltimore’s free bus, and went from the museum to Camden Yards. Since we bought the tickets on the phone and obviously weren’t anywhere we could print them out we had to get them scanned off of the phone to get in, which was as little tricky and took awhile. I think everyone in line behind us was ready to kill us. Oh well. We got in. We knew the kids weren’t going to last for the entire game. We were betting on 3. They made it about 4 as we didn’t actually get into the game until the second inning and we left after the fifth. Hopefully they’ll enjoy it a little more when they get a little older and maybe if we go when it’s not quite so hot.

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Sunday morning we checked out the new playground on our street. There’s been a playground there as long as we’ve lived there, but they recently replaced all the equipment with stuff for younger kids as well as replaced the mulch area it was located on with one of those rubbery surfaces that I think is made out of old tires. The kids had a great time playing on it. I’m still curious as to what else the city is doing in that park though since even though the new playground equipment is in they updated the work in progress sign there to say the project completion date isn’t until December.

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They left after we had lunch and ice cream, and the cats breathed a sigh of relief.

Birthday Celebration Weekend

My birthday isn’t actually until Wednesday, but I did most of my celebrating over this past weekend. This year the weekend before my birthday coincided with the larger of the two street festivals that happen in my neighborhood every year, HonFest. If you’re not from Baltimore and have no idea what HonFest is think your typical street festival with food, vendors, and music but with people dressing up like they’re in John Waters’ Hairspray. There are also contests for Baltimore’s Best Hon in various age groups. The pre-school age one is usually the cutest, though we didn’t make it out in time to watch that this year. We met up with a couple of friends on Saturday afternoon and walked around the festival for awhile. It was a great day for it. Usually by the time HonFest rolls around Baltimore is already stupidly hot and humid, but this year was one of only two years that I can remember that the weather has been really great for it.

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Saturday night I made my husband take me to see Kacey Musgraves, Alison Krauss and Union Station, and Willie Nelson at Merriweather Post Pavilion. As I already mentioned the weather was gorgeous on Saturday, so it was the perfect night for an outdoor concert. It was quite pleasant out with the sun up, and then after it went down it was perfect a perfect barefoot blue jeans night as Jake Owen sings. Chilly enough to be wearing jeans and a hoody, but still warm enough that I had no shoes on. Of course not everyone thought it was so pleasant. I was cracking up when Alison Krauss came back out on stage to sing at the end of Willie Nelson’s set she was all bundled up in a winter coat. My husband makes fun of me because he says I’m always complaining that it’s cold when it’s not, but I said hey at least I’m not that bad.

The concert itself was great. I had gone back and forth about whether or not I wanted to go. I really wanted to see Kacey Musgraves and Alison Krauss and Union Station, but I just don’t care that much about Willie Nelson. Since he was the headliner I didn’t immediately jump on it, but eventually decided it would be a fun birthday weekend activity and even if I’m not a huge Willie Nelson fan it would be cool to see a music legend in concert. As suspected I loved Kacey Musgraves and Alison Krauss and Union Station, but was not super excited about Willie Nelson.

Kacey Musgraves has been hitting it big in country music over the past year or so. If you listen to country music you’ve probably heard her songs “Merry-Go-Round” and “Follow Your Arrow”. I’ve been wanting to see her for awhile, but I remember last summer she was touring with some country artist that I don’t care for. I don’t remember which one. There’s a whole collection of what I think of the bro country artists, which are all the male artists that sing seemingly exclusively about drinking and trucks or at least that’s my impression from the singles they release. I don’t much care for them and I generally can’t keep straight which one of them sings which song. At any rate I was happy to see Kacey Musgraves touring with people I also wanted to see. I enjoyed her set a lot and look forward to seeing a lot more of her in country music over the years. My husband said he didn’t think she fit with the rest of the bill, but I said haven’t you learned anything from watching Nashville? You send the young upstart out with the veterans so their fans can learn about her and become her fan too. She definitely did have a bit of a different vibe though. Her set was very dressy with a bunch of stuff in the background including neon cacti and some lighting tricks during the set. Alison Krauss and Union Station on the other hand had nothing on stage with them except their instruments as did Willie Nelson aside from a giant Texas flag hanging in the background. So yeah a bit of a different mindset there. As the young person on the tour though she was surprisingly the last of all the people on the stage who pulled out their cell phone to record the last few songs of the concert when everyone was back out on stage with Willie Nelson. All of that cracked me up. I love seeing musicians, even veteran ones, excited enough by the people they’re getting to play with as well as the audience that they want to record it.

Alison Krauss and Union Station’s set was flawless. I love her voice so much. She also has a little understated wit. I told my husband their set was the anti-Jackson Browne. We saw him a few years ago and he played exactly zero of his hits. I’m still kind of mad about it. At any rate, Alison Krauss and Union Station did the exact opposite. They have had a long 24 year career together, so they obviously have an extensive catalog of music to work from. I would expect them to play some of their hits, but certainly would not expect to hear all of them. Yet that’s what they played. If the only songs you know by Alison Krauss and Union Station were ones you’ve heard on country radio or from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, then you heard what you knew plus obviously some other stuff. I loved them and would gladly go see them again any time.

Then there was Willie. I’ve never really sat down and listened to a Willie Nelson album, so I wasn’t sure how many of the songs I would know. Turns out that as a country music legend who has written a ton of songs that have become country standards I have picked up on a lot because I knew the majority of songs that he played. It was cool just to say I’ve seen him and his legendary guitar “Trigger” with it’s many signatures and hole worn into it from over 40 years of playing on it. However, at 81 years old Willie Nelson is not really in his prime anymore. He almost spoke the lyrics to his songs more than he sang them, and he wasn’t particularly engaging. He definitely lost a number of people sitting around us, who left partway through his set. By far the best part of the set was the last four songs when he had Kacey Musgraves and Alison Krauss and Union Station come back out on the stage and sing with him. That part of the show was a lot of fun, and is the kind of stuff I live for with live music. Then that was the end of the show. There was no encore, which was weird to me since I couldn’t even tell you the last concert I went to where the headliner didn’t come back out for an encore. I didn’t especially want him to, I just found it surprising since encores really aren’t that anymore they’re just an expected part of concerts. All in all it was a good concert and I’m glad we went.

Sunday I invited friends over to have some birthday cake with me. I really hate planning stuff to do for my birthday. I always want to celebrate it with friends, but I hate trying to figure out something to do and trying to wrangle my often not great about RSVPing friends if I plan something where I need to know if people are going to be there or not. Thanks to medications I take I haven’t been able to drink in many years, so just saying something like come hang out at this bar or something like that doesn’t really appeal to me. Thus I’m always trying to come up with ideas of low key things that don’t take too much planning on my part. I stress out about it every year anyway including this year, which was about as simple as it gets. I should probably just give myself a break and enjoy my birthday by not doing anything next year. At any rate since it was HonFest weekend, and we live a block away from where that happens I told people to just drop by my house between 4 and 6 on Sunday for some birthday cake after they were done enjoying HonFest. Of course when I made the plans I failed to realize that it was Father’s Day since I have no kids and my dad lives on the other side of the country from me. I lost a lot of people to Father’s Day plans. I did wind up having a decent turn out though and we put a serious dent in the cake. Though there is still plenty left for me to enjoy birthday cake for the rest of the week. I usually like to bake, but decided I didn’t want to have to bake my own birthday cake this year. Instead I ordered it from the Baltimore Cakery. The one I got was a 4 layer chocolate cake filled with dark chocolate ganache and cookies and cream buttercream icing. It was tasty. I amused though by how many people said this is good, but I’m really sad you didn’t bake something because your cakes are the best. I also decided that if I was going to go completely little kid birthday with only a birthday cake I was going to kick it up a notch and make some sherbert punch too. I took myself back to my childhood and made some good old punch with pineapple juice, Sprite, and rainbow sherbert. It’s as simple as that, but oh so tasty. I also provided some rum and vodka for people to make it adult punch if they wanted. All in all it was a fun birthday weekend.

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Preakness Party 2014

 

 

I don’t have much time, but here’s a quickie post on our annual Preakness Party. If you’ve been reading this blog long enough you by now know that every year we have a Preakness Party. We even planned our vacation around the date so that we could hold it. In my continued effort to bake my way through my Booze Cakes cookbook I made an Amaretto Almond Cake. It was good, but not one of my favorites.

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We also always make several versions of Black-Eyed Susans since there really is no definitive version of the Preakness drink. Even the “Official” version changes depending on what liquor company they get to sponsor them. This year’s official version had Finlandia Vodka and St. Germain in it. We made the official version (though not with the official vodka), an old standby version from the Washington Post that we make every year, and a recipe from a local restaurant. Though the latter one my husband was only  making by request, so I’m not sure many people got to try it.

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Horse racing parties of course require cute hats. 2014-05-17 17.23.05 2014-05-17 17.44.47

And here is about 2/3 of the people crammed into my living room trying to watch the actual race. Luckily it only lasts about 2 minutes because there wasn’t quite enough room.

2014-05-17 18.21.03I’m happy that California Chrome won because that means there is a chance for a Triple Crown winner this year. It’s always less exciting when there’s not. I’m sure the Belmont people love it because it gives everyone a reason to watch. I’ll certainly be cheering on California Chrome in a few weeks.

It was another fun party, and I’m looking forward to next year’s already.