More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Outdoors, Friends, Fun: AKA Summer is the Best June 5, 2017

Filed under: Baltimore,Friends,Life — dwhren @ 7:51 am

After a terribly cool, grey, and rainy spring we seem to have finally turned somewhat of a corner and are getting some warmer sunnier weather (of course as I write this it’s supposed to rain and be cooler this week) at least for the past week. It’s been wonderful and has done wonders to improve my mood. Life is just so much more pleasant when the weather is nice enough to do things outside.

The previous weekend there was a 30th birthday party for one of my friends. We got to sit outside on a lovely screened porch and enjoy a firepit out on the patio. I love sitting around a firepit on a summer night.

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The following night one of my friends from college got married at The Elm, which is an event space a few blocks from my house. I was always kind of curious about it, so I’m glad they got married there so I could finally check it out. It was rainy off and on earlier in the day, but it cleared up just in time for them to have their ceremony outside as planned. It was a lovely wedding, and I enjoyed getting to walk there and back. I don’t think I’ll ever go to a wedding closer to the place I’m living than this one.

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On Thursday one of my coworkers and I finally got to try blacksauce kitchen for lunch. I’m a long time lover of their food from the farmers markets and festivals, but I hadn’t yet managed to make it over to the storefront they opened a few months ago. It’s only opened on Thursdays for now and it’s carry out only, so we were waiting for a Thursday when we were both free and the weather was nice enough for us to eat outside. We took our delicious food (blacksauce never disappoints) and ate it on a bench in Sherwood Gardens. It was perfect, at least until the part where we had to go back to work.

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This past Saturday I went down to Georgetown to meet another friend from college who was there for work. We had brunch outside and then wandered around Georgetown for awhile. It was great to catch up with her, and it was nice to walk around Georgetown. It’s been a really long time since I’d been there.

Yesterday my church held its service followed by a potluck brunch outside at the pavilion at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Last year the school that we normally meet at had a water main break and some enterprising person managed to think of and snag the BMI pavilion for our service instead. It worked out so well they decided to do it once every summer. The weather was perfect for it this morning, and it was lovely to sit out and stare at the water and the boats.

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I didn’t get all my steps in earlier in the day, so we went for a walk after dinner. I love that it’s still light enough at 7:30 to go out for a walk. It’s a billion times better than when it gets dark hours earlier in the winter. Everything in this post is why summer is better than winter and why I love it so much.

 

New York Theatre Trip March 2, 2017

Filed under: Friends,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 8:18 pm

There are approximately 1000 shows currently on Broadway or set to open soon. There is sadly no way I’ll get to see them all, but I decided to take a trip to New York to mark at least a couple off my list. I get way more vacation time than my husband, so I decided I’d take a few days off work and take a mid-week solo trip up to see a Tuesday night show and Wednesday matinee. Hotel rooms in NYC mid-week at the end of February are fairly reasonable, and it turns out we had enough points on our credit card to pay for my hotel that way anyway.

Thanks to the credit card points I actually wound up staying at the Doubletree Suites in Times Square because it was the best deal with the best location for what I was doing. I really didn’t need a suite to myself especially just for one night, but I pretended I was all fancy for a night. The hotel was a perfect location and I was surprised at how quiet it was at least where my room was located. No usual traffic noises keeping me awake. The hotel itself could use a little updating. It was looking a little tired, but the bed was comfortable enough so I don’t have any real complaints.

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My suite. I even had 2 sinks in the bathroom.

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View from my hotel room.

I took the train up on Tuesday afternoon. Happily it worked out that for reasons both my friends in NYC were not at work during my trip so I got to steal them away to meet up. Tuesday night I met up with one at the bar in an Italian restaurant for called Casa Nonna for an early happy hour dinner. It was great to catch up with her in person and enjoy some delicious pizza.

After that I headed to the newly renovated and reopened Hudson Theatre for Sunday in the Park with George starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford. Sunday in the Park with George is one of those classic Sondheim musicals that I had never seen, but always felt like I should so I was super happy when this production came around and it started getting such good buzz. I immediately put it at the top of my list of shows to see given its limited run. It was great. Turns out Jake Gyllenhaal can sing. Who knew? He made an excellent Georges Seurat. Despite her Broadway bona fides this is the first show I’ve seen Annaleigh Ashford in as well, so I’m glad I finally got to see her perform too. The theatre itself was beautifully restored, though I suspect they’re soon going to regret their decision to serve wine in actual wine glasses instead of the normal Broadway sippy cups given the cream colored velvet seat covers.

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Wednesday morning I of course got myself a bagel for breakfast and then took a walk on the High Line. I’d walked part of it in the past but not the whole thing. I figured it would be a good way to get my steps in for the day. Scenes from the High Line:

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In the afternoon I met up with another friend for lunch and then we went to see Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 together. The reviews for this show had been really great and my boss who also sees a lot of Broadway shows but doesn’t care that much for musicals told me she loved it, so that’s why it was also one of my top choices of shows to see. I’m definitely glad I saw it on Broadway because there is no way it’s going to translate into a touring production even remotely close to what it is now. The staging is set up in such a way that the actors are everywhere in the audience a lot of the time with staircases from the stage leading up into the Mezzanine. There’s no way they’ll be able to do that on a tour. There’s lots of seating on the stage as well, which will also be something can only be approximated to a degree.

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The show itself is based on War and Peace, which is something I’ve never read so I have no idea how faithful the storyline was. Condensing a book that long into a Broadway show I’m sure results in a lot of cuts. I certainly felt the story lacking in certain places. Entire plot threads seem to show up in a song and then just completely disappear. The overarching love story was the heart of the show and made sense to me, but most everything else including Pierre and the Great Comet left me slightly confused. It’s a sung through musical, which I’m not sure I realized going in. It made me wish I had listened to the cast recording ahead of time as I know I always miss things when they’re solely in song form on first go around. At any rate none of that really mattered because it’s just such a fun production full of delightful dancing and costumes and hey did you know that guy Josh Groban can really sing? There were a lot of fun audience interaction touches too. At one point the second act they pass around Great Comet branded rhythm eggs for people to shake along to the song. Now I have a little souvenir from the show I can annoy everyone with. If you’re thinking about seeing a Broadway show I would definitely recommend this one because it is a really good time and you’re never going to get the same experience from a touring production.

It was an excellent trip. I’m really glad I decided to plan it for myself. Everything worked out perfectly. I should probably do it again some time.

 

DC Day October 24, 2016

Filed under: Concerts,Food,Friends,Life,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 7:54 am

Awhile back my husband, knowing that I like the band The Head and the Heart, pointed out to me that they were going to be playing at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in DC. I had already seen, but decided not to go because I didn’t feel like going all the way to DC and was hoping they would swing back through Baltimore later in their tour as they had in their previous tours. He pointed out to me that he was going to be in DC for a conference that day, so if I decided to get tickets I could come down and meet him and we could go. So I went ahead and bought tickets. Of course two weeks after I bought tickets, they announced a show in Baltimore in December. Looks like I’ll just have to see them twice. Poor me.

Anyway, shortly after buying tickets to the concert my former boss passed away and I saw that the memorial service was going to be in Olney, Maryland the same day as the concert. After looking up where the heck Olney was and realizing it was in DC suburbs, I decided it didn’t make sense to go back home in between. Instead it made more sense for me to drive into DC and spend the afternoon there. So I made plans to do just that.

The memorial service was lovely. They had ten people speak and share stories and remembrances. It was a very fitting tribute to man who was loved by many, and tried to live life to the fullest despite his long battle with MS. He will be missed.

After the memorial service I headed to my friends Alison and Dave’s house. They just bought a house in DC and happily they were free so we could hang out yesterday afternoon. I got to check out their new digs, and spend some time with them. Now that Alison sadly no longer lives in Baltimore I obviously don’t get to see her as often. They still come up this way a lot, but I know once they settle into their DC life more and more I know that drive will seem even less appealing. Alison and I thought about going to a museum briefly, but I had no slept well and was really tired so we decided just to hang out their house until dinner.

One of the problems with D.A.R. is that there is nothing else immediately around it in terms of commercial things like stores and restaurants. Within a mile or so there’s a handful of places, but you still don’t have a very big selection if you want to grab drinks or dinner before a show. I made us reservations at Founding Farmers, which I had heard good things about and is insanely popular based on the number of people waiting to get in there. Perhaps at one point it was amazing and is now just resting on it’s popularity, or maybe it’s just one of those places that has a reputation for whatever reason that it doesn’t really live up to. After waiting almost an hour after our reservation time for our table (normally that would have made me leave a place, but in this case there wasn’t really anywhere else to go), the food was just middling. I’m not sure why everyone was fighting to get in there. At least everything came out fast since we were pressed for time by the time we got to sit. The carrot cake was tasty too.

Because dinner took so long we did miss the first bit of the opening band, Declan McKenna. I didn’t know them going in, and after seeing what I saw of their set I wasn’t really sad that I missed part of it. They weren’t completely terrible like whoever the opening act was the first time I saw The Head and the Heart in concert, but their music didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Last night was the fourth time I’ve seen The Head and the Heart in concert. Once at the Newport Folk Festival and then once on each of the tours they’ve done for their three albums. They always put on an excellent show. Last night was no exception. They obviously played a good chunk of music from their new album, which I really like. They still tend to play a lot from their first album as well, which the crowd eats up. At this point especially for those songs but for some of their more recent material as well, it was really just one big sing-a-long with the crowd. That doesn’t work with every band, but it totally does with them and I was happy to be able to sit there and sing with everyone. I’m already looking forward to seeing them again in December.

 

Aberdeen IronBirds Game August 30, 2016

Filed under: Friends,Sports — dwhren @ 8:32 am

Sunday night we headed out to an Aberdeen IronBirds baseball game. The IronBirds are a Short Season A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. They are owned by former Oriole Cal Ripken hence their name being a combination of Ripken’s nickname The Iron Man along with birds for the Orioles.

I’ve been to other minor league team games before, but this was my first IronBirds game. My other minor league games have been in places where there isn’t a major league team. We live within a couple of miles of Camden Yards, so there’s no need to trek all the way out to the northern reaches of Maryland to watch a minor league team play. One of our friends got a group of people together to go up on Sunday though because they have a crab deck at Ripken Stadium where you can order crabs and sit out at picnic tables and eat them during the game. It’s all very Maryland. I figured it would be a good time to check out the IronBirds and spend some time with friends.

It turned out to be a really nice night for a baseball game. Perfect summer weather in my opinion. So even though I didn’t wind up eating crabs, it was still a fun outing. It was also dollar hot dog night, so by the time people decided to move to the crab deck I had already eaten a hot dog and fries and decided I wasn’t going to bother with crabs. Other people seemed to enjoy them though.

In addition to dollar hot dog night it was also Halloween in August, so all of the people working there were in costumes as were a lot of people in the crowd. I was actually surprised how many people actually showed up in costume. Good for them for getting into the spirit of things. That’s the thing about minor league baseball, everything seems just slightly goofier, but in a good way. There’s lots more stuff they do to try and keep the crowd entertained. It’s all very low budget, but I find it endearing.

The baseball itself was not great. There’s a reason these guys aren’t playing in the big leagues. The game went into extra innings. I gave them one more inning to win before we left. Based on how the last few innings had gone I had a feeling it was going to be awhile before anyone scored and broke the tie. I was right.We had driven the 45 minutes home before the game was over. Our friends that stayed said it went into the 13th inning and they were there for a good hour after we left.

It was a fun night and it’s a completely different experience than going to an O’s game, but I would probably need a pretty good reason to trek up there again for a game. We spent just as much money on tickets for the IronBirds as for an O’s game. Granted that’s comparing fourth row seats at Ripken Stadium to upper deck seats at Camden Yards, but it’s still comparing what we would actually pay to see a game at each place. Plus you can bring in food and drink to Camden Yards, which you can’t at Ripken Stadium. I guess at least the hot dogs at Ripken Stadium were better. I don’t like the ones they have at Camden Yards. Aberdeen is a little far to drive just for a hot dog though. Probably if I want to see a baseball game in the future I’ll stick with the Orioles, but I’m glad I got to check out the IronBirds after so many years of driving past their stadium on 95.

 

 

Escape Room Fun August 15, 2016

Filed under: Friends,Random — dwhren @ 7:40 am

I’ve been curious about these Escape Rooms since I first heard of them a year or so ago. Yesterday I finally got to find out what it was all about when a group of friends and I went for someone’s birthday yesterday. If you’re not familiar with the Escape Room concept, there is basically some sort of themed room that usually up to 10 people get “locked” into and have an hour to figure out how to get out. There are lots of locks in the room and you have to use clues you find behind the locks in order to unlock the final key to get out of the room. Basically it’s a race against the clock to win the game and escape.

I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect, but I was excited to try it out. These things seem to be popping up all over the place these days, but the one we went to was called Escape This Live in Catonsville. They have three different rooms there. We did the easiest one they have called Queen Anne’s Revenge and it was a pirate themed room. Even though it’s the easiest one there, it was still rated moderate difficulty and we were told that only 24% of people who do it make it out within the hour.

The first thing I found out was that they don’t really lock you in the room, at least at this one so no worries for the claustrophobic.  You could technically get out whenever you want. There were two doors. The main door that you enter the room through is left unlocked the whole time. There was a second locked door that was the one you needed find the key for and open in order to win.

There was a short 1 minute video intro with a sort of starting clue and then the timer started. Again I don’t know if this is typical of how all of these places work, but at least at this one you were left with a walkie talkie and could contact the people who work there to get up to 3 clues throughout the hour. They obviously had cameras in the room watching us because every time we asked for a clue one would pop up on the video screen related to the puzzle we were obviously working on at the time, so they could obviously see what we were doing while we were in there.

We did actually manage to make it out with only 1:34 left on the clock. It was really harrowing there at the end. We still had three locks left with less than 5 minutes and had been working on one for at least ten minutes. Once we got that one finally open we got the other two lickety split and got the door open just in time. It made the end really exciting. It was fun no matter what, but I’m glad we managed to get out. It would have been disappointing to get so close and fail.

It would be interesting to try another one now that I’m familiar with the concept to see if I would be any better at it knowing some of the way things were set up in this one. Also having done it, I do think it’s probably the most fun with a large group of your own friends so that you buy out the room. I feel like there could be a weird dynamic trying to do it with people you don’t already know. I would definitely do it again.

 

Hudson River Valley Weekend August 8, 2016

Filed under: Friends,Travel — dwhren @ 7:44 am

This past weekend I went up to the Hudson River Valley to visit one of my friends from college. She moved up there about a year ago to teach at West Point. It’s not as nice as the couple years she was living near me in Maryland while in grad school, but definitely better than when she was in Georgia or Washington State. I can at least make it to New York for a weekend visit fairly easily.

I took a half day off work on Friday and drove up there arriving around 5. After I got up there we drove over to West Point and Kristen gave me a quick tour of the campus. It’s incredibly beautiful, and she confirmed that the views from her office are amazing. I’m still trying to wrap my head a little around the fact that the Hudson River Valley is so close to New York City. It seems like it’s in another world.

We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in one of the towns around there. I’m not sure exactly where we were at that point. We ended the night watching commercials with a little bit of Olympic opening ceremonies mixed in. Seriously NBC that was complete garbage.

Saturday we headed to Olana, which is the house built by Frederick Church. If you’re not familiar with him, he was the most famous of the painters from the Hudson River Valley School. Based on what our tour guide told us he seemed like quite the interesting man. The fact that he made enough money as an artist to build this incredible house sort of speaks for itself. The house has lots of Persian influences, but he really pulled design elements from all over. The house is built on the top of this hill overlooking the Hudson River. It’s an incredible view. The house itself is gorgeous too. If you’re ever in the area I would highly recommend checking it out.

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Olana

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View from Olana

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View from Frederick Church’s studio in Olana. That decoration in the window is actually black paper that he cut and was then placed between a pane of amber glass and a pane of clear glass. It’s pretty impressive.

We drove into Hudson for lunch and wound up at a French place called La Perche for lunch. Everything on the menu sounded amazing and I went back and forth trying to decide what I wanted, but we eventually both wound up with the burger. Sadly it did not leave room for one of the yummy looking pastries for dessert.

Our next stop was Hyde Park and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidential Library and Museum. The grounds hold both the house he lived in for pretty much his whole life as well as the library and museum. We knew that based on the time we were arriving we were most likely only going to be able to do one or the other. Luckily we didn’t actually have to decide because all the house tours were sold out for the rest of the day. I think the museum would have been my first choice anyway, so I wasn’t really disappointed. We got to walk around the grounds and see the outside of the house and his gravesite anyway. I don’t think I learned that much more than I already knew about FDR, but I enjoyed the museum nonetheless. I didn’t like it quite as much as LBJ’s, which is the only other presidential library I’ve been too. I’m still very glad we went though.

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FDR’s house

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Side of FDR’s house

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Grave of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt

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FDR Presidential Library and Museum

On our way into Hyde Park we drove past a Dairy Queen. I love me some Dairy Queen, but there really aren’t any around Baltimore. The only ones around here are inside mall food courts and they’re not exactly convenient to where I live, so I pretty much never eat it. We both commented on it on the way in, so decided it was mandatory to stop and get some ice cream on the way out. Of course eating ice cream at 5:30 didn’t make us very hungry for dinner. Kristen wound up cooking us some fish, risotto, and green beans that we ate close to 9 in the middle of watching some more Olympics.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at a place called Fiddlestix. I somehow refrained from ordering the Heath Bar waffles or the Oreo french toast. I still kind of regret it, though not as much as I probably would have regretted it if I had actually eaten them. I wound up with fruit salad and regular french toast.

Kristen suggested several options for activities for the morning before I headed back to Baltimore. I decided against the official West Point tour. Although I would like to do it at some point, much of the tour is actually on a bus. I’m glad I looked up info about it and found that out because it is actually what made me decide against it. Since I was going to be spending most of the rest of the day in the car I wanted to do something a little more active. I also decided against going to Washington Irving’s house, which is also something I’d be interested in the future, because it had time entry. I didn’t feel like being beholden to a schedule. So my final decision was to go walk around in Bear Mountain State Park. Part of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park, though we didn’t really walk any of it. There’s a little zoo of injured animals that they rehabilitate. We walked around that and then down a little trail down to the river. It was a nice little park, and I’m happy I got in some exercise before getting back in the car. I headed straight from the park back to Baltimore.

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View of the Hudson River from Bear Mountain State Park

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View of the Hudson River from Bear Mountain State Park

It was a great weekend. It was wonderful to catch up with Kristen and see where she’s living and working now. I also enjoyed exploring around the Hudson River Valley area. It’s somewhere I’ve never been before. It’s incredibly beautiful and extremely different than the city life I live. I’m not sure it’s somewhere I’d want to live myself, but I very much enjoyed visiting there.

 

38th Birthday Weekend June 19, 2016

Filed under: Concerts,Friends,Life,Music,Travel — dwhren @ 5:23 pm

If the rest of my 38th year is as great as my birthday weekend, it’s going to be a fantastic year. My actual birthday was Saturday, but I took work off Friday to use up the rest of my vacation time and give myself a nice long birthday weekend. I started everything off getting to meet up with a good friend from college and her 3 year old daughter. In the time I’ve been in Baltimore she has lived off and on in the Baltimore/DC metro area a few times, but sadly moved away again last summer. She was back in town for a visit this weekend, so it worked out perfectly for us to meet up for breakfast on Friday morning. It was great to see her and the perfect way to start off the weekend.

Friday afternoon my husband and I headed up to Philly for the weekend for a weekend of concerts, which were my birthday present. With the hotel and concert tickets it was an expensive gift, but I’m pretty sure my husband would pay any amount of money for me to buy myself my own gift every year. I’m still waiting on that Christmas present from 2 years ago. Anyway, all the pieces fell into place for a perfect weekend, and the best birthday I’ve had since we got engaged on my 30th birthday.

What seems like forever ago now, The Cure announced that they were going to be playing in NYC on my birthday. I have been dying to see The Cure forever, which my husband knew so he agreed we could go as my birthday present. I didn’t manage to get tickets to that show, which I was sad about at the time but ended up being a blessing. A few weeks later they announced a full North American tour with a stop locally, which I got tickets to so I’ll still get to see them but it freed up my weekend for something else entirely.

The Dixie Chicks announced their first North American tour in a decade with a show in Philadelphia (technically Camden, NJ) on my birthday. I will be out of town for their DC show next week, but I hate that venue anyway so I’m much happier to go to Philly for a show anyway. So I got tickets for that show (I’ll refrain from a long, angry diatribe on the racket that is Ticketmaster and Live Nation being the same company that somehow resulted in me having to pay ticket resellers double face value for lawn tickets the day tickets went on sale via their website when later there wound up being swaths of tickets for sale from them for a show that was not in fact sold out and had people on Stubhub selling lawn seats for $6). Shortly after that they announced that Jason Isbell would be playing on Friday night with Frank Turner opening, so I decided we could make a whole Philly weekend of it. I was a little bummed that the show announced for Merriweather for Saturday night include Chris Stapleton co-headlining with Jason Isbell, but because everything was coming up roses for me a few weeks after I saw that we got notified that Chris Stapleton was added to the bill and the show had been moved to a larger venue. Perfect!

We stayed at the Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill. Hotel rooms in summer in Philly  are expensive, but I at least managed to find a rate that included free valet parking and free internet. The location also wound up being completely perfect for us. We were able to walk to Festival Pier for the concert Friday night, and while the Saturday concert was across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey there was a ferry we could take across the river a block from our hotel. I was really glad I did my research and saw that parking and traffic at BB&T Pavilion were terrible and cost $30 and found the ferry over as an alternative. My only complaint about the hotel was that our room overlooked I-95 so we had a lot of traffic noise. I’d definitely stay there again as long as they could guarantee me a room on a different side of the hotel.

I’ll write about the concerts themselves in separate blog posts since this entry is getting long already, and I know most of you don’t care to read about the concerts anyway. Saturday during the day we met up with my friend Erin and her family. They live just outside the city, so it was nice to get to see them while we were up there. They suggested meeting up at Spruce Street Harbor Park, which was again conveniently located just a few blocks from our hotel. It’s a little park along the waterfront that for the summer they put all these food stands, games, hammocks, bars, and seating in. Our original plan was to grab something from one of the food stands for lunch, but there wasn’t anything veggie friendly for my husband so we wound up eating inside the Hilton hotel restaurant, which was right there. After that we hung around in the park for awhile, then wandered around the city for a little bit and found a flea market to peruse. I haven’t yet mentioned how wonderful the weather was the whole weekend, but it was so it was a great day to spend outside with them.

It really was the perfect weekend. All the pieces fell into place, and I had such a wonderful time seeing music I love played live and getting to spend time with some wonderful friends and their great families. I wish every birthday could be this good.