More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

February in New Jersey February 26, 2018

Filed under: Family,Friends,Travel — dwhren @ 9:03 am

My sister and her family moved from Arizona to New Jersey at the end of last year and they finally moved into their new house a couple of weeks ago. We hadn’t had a chance to get up and see them yet, but President’s Day weekend was the perfect opportunity. We were already in New York for a few days prior to that, so it was easy to hop across the river on the train to go visit. My parents were in town from Arizona as they had been out to babysit my nieces for a few days, and some of my sisters college friends who have become good friends of the whole family were up from South Carolina for the weekend with their two kids.

It was a great weekend spending time with everyone. Mostly there was a lot of card playing as that is what my family does when we are together. I also got roped into taking Year of the Cookie on the road and making chocolate chip cookies for everyone. I enlisted a few little helpers and baked cookies with my youngest niece and my friends kids. My mom of course made everyone happy making her homemade pizza. My sisters, our friends, and I have all tried to make it but none of us can get the dough right. In case you were wondering if this pizza is serious business our friends even flew with pizza pans on the plane to make sure my mom had enough pans to make pizza for everyone.

On Saturday night we got a whole lot of snow at my sister’s house. Depending on the forecast you looked at they were supposed to get either 3-5 inches or 4-8 inches. They got just under a foot. This year (at least so far) and last year in Baltimore haven’t really seen any large snow storms, so it was kind of nice to have a big snow. Even nicer because I had zero responsibility for shoveling, and got to leave before dealing with the icy, slushy, gross aftermath that always seems to linger for weeks on end and which is what really makes me hate snow. The kids of course were seventh heaven with all the snow. There’s a nice hill in the backyard for sledding, though we managed to make our sled path end so that you basically slammed into a tree, which we stuck a raft in front of to soften the blow. They’re going to have to work on that in future. I haven’t been sledding since I don’t even know when. Probably when we lived in Massachusetts, which we moved away from when I was 15. It was probably not the best for my still somewhat jacked up back, but it was fun and worth it.

We got dropped off at Newark Airport to catch the Amtrak train back to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon. It’s only a three hour drive (assuming traffic cooperates), so we’ll probably drive in the future but this time the train made sense since we were in NYC beforehand. It’s going to be nice having my sister and her family so close now. When they were in Arizona it took us a 5 hour plane ride, plus the extra time you have to allot to deal with airports, and then a 1.5 hour drive from Phoenix to Tucson. Three hours is practically nothing compared to that. It will be great to be able to see them more than once or twice a year.



February in New York February 25, 2018

Filed under: Friends,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 9:22 am

My Christmas present from my husband this past year was tickets to see Hello, Dolly! as well as spend a day in the city going to museums. His company has corporate memberships with a number of museums in New York City, which means that he and at least one guest can get in to them for free. I often go up with friends or on my own to see shows. When we go up together we are usually visiting his sister and family. Hanging out with our niece and nephew is not generally conducive to going to art museums, and I can’t take advantage of the discount unless he’s with me so part of the present was spending a day in the city going to whatever art museums I wanted to go as well.

We rode the train up on Wednesday afternoon in time to get into the city, check into our hotel, and grab dinner before the show. For some reason I had zero interest in seeing Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler, but as soon as they announced Bernadette Peters I really wanted to go. It was an extra added bonus that Victor Garber took over from David Hyde Pierce since I was definitely way more into that casting too. I thought they were both fantastic. Normally if I see a show where an actor has replaced a different actor I’m familiar with I can see how the actor who initiated the part is informing what the replacement actor is doing. I could not see that at all in this case. Both Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber made the roles of Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder completely their own. I adored the show. This was my first time getting to see Bernadette Peters perform on stage and she was a complete delight. I was not the only one to be excited by her as I have never heard a crowd go as crazy for an actor not only during initial entrance applause but multiple times during the show and of course during final bows. Her ability to make me laugh uproariously with just the way she moved her eyes in certain scenes was amazing. I don’t remember the last show I laughed at as hard as I did this one. I could have done without the woman next to be singing along with all the music during the performance, but everything on stage was a complete joy. If you get the chance I highly recommend this show, and as a bonus unlike when Better Midler was playing Dolly I think you can actually get tickets for non-astronomical prices.

On Thursday we hit up a couple of art museums during the day. I wanted to go to museums I had never been to before so I chose the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. I particularly enjoyed the Incomplete History of Protest at The Whitney, which showcased protest art from their collection from the 1940s to the present. At MoMA I was taken by the Stephen Shore exhibit, which encompassed the entirety of his photographs from his five decade career. I wasn’t familiar with him previously, but he apparently became famous for his photographs of the mundane using a variety of cameras including a cheap children’s camera that looked like Mickey Mouse. He continues his work today in digital platforms including Instagram. It was interesting see the timeline of his photos showing mundane daily life as he traveled around the country over several decades.

Thursday night we were supposed to meet up with some friends who live in NYC for dinner, but unfortunately she came down with the flu and was still not better by Thursday night. Apparently what you do when your dinner plans fall through is you go buy half price tickets to see the SpongeBob Square Pants musical. Our hotel was literally right above the Palace Theatre where it is playing and we had both heard surprisingly good things about it, so we decided why not. I’m not mad that I went to see it, but I definitely did not think it was great. I don’t have a huge background with SpongeBob, but I know enough to know the characters and their mannerisms. The best part of the show was seeing how they staged everything and how the actors evoked the characters without being costumed like them. As for the actual story and music, eh. I expected it to be a lot funnier than it was. I don’t think I really laughed much at all. The audience was full of kids unsurprisingly and I expected to hear lots of kids laughing and shouting during the show, but it was a lot of silence. Squidward was definitely the best part of the show for many reasons, but the highlight of everything was definitely his tap number. You know how much I love a tap number. Unless you have a kid who really loves SpongeBob and wants to see this, you can probably skip it.

Friday morning my husband headed off to work and I met up with my other New York City friend for breakfast. I always like when I can catch up with my friends in real life while I’m in the city. After breakfast I caught a NJ Transit train out to New Jersey to visit my family where will pick up next time.


Friendsgiving November 20, 2017

Filed under: Food,Friends,Life — dwhren @ 8:31 am

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.


Girls’ Weekend in the Poconos October 3, 2017

Filed under: Friends,Life,Travel — dwhren @ 8:47 pm

This past weekend I headed to the Poconos with a couple of friends for a girls’ weekend. We used to go on these pretty much every year, but thanks to other life things like babies and weddings and houses, it’s been a few years. We decided to try and get back in the groove this fall. We settled on renting a house in the Poconos for a long weekend. Sadly one of my friends had to back out last minute to go to a funeral instead. We definitely missed her, but now we have a good excuse not to wait a whole year to plan something else.

We headed up on Friday and somehow managed to turn a 4 hour drive into 7 hours. We stopped for lunch outside of Lancaster at the Oregon Dairy farm. They have a restaurant, gift shop, and market there. I was thinking the market would be more like an Amish market than the grocery store it really was, but the restaurant was totally what I was hoping for. I had a delicious grilled turkey sandwich with cranberry relish on a pretzel roll. Then since we were at a dairy farm we all decided we needed ice cream for dessert. The amount of ice cream they gave us was absurd. I only ordered a single scoop and couldn’t finish it. My friends both ordered two scoops so they could get more than one flavor. I’m pretty sure they each had at least a pint of ice cream. It too was really good. We spent almost two hours at our lunch stop between eating and getting some stuff in the market. We tacked on another hour along the way between stopping for coffee and adding in a more substantive grocery stop near our destination.

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We rented a place on Airbnb located in the Pocono Ranchlands development near Bushkill Falls. The development has things like pools and horseback riding you can do, but it was obviously the wrong time of year for swimming and I can’t imagine any of us heading out on horseback. We pretty much found stuff to do elsewhere. Even though mileage wise it seemed like it was pretty remote from anything because all the roads between it and civilization are pretty much light and stop sign free it didn’t really take that long to get to things to do.

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I went for a walk by myself every morning around the neighborhood. I saw lots of deer. Most of them ran away as soon as they saw me, but these guys just stood there and stared at me.

After our large, late lunch we decided we didn’t really need dinner so grazed on some cheese, crackers, and charcuterie instead. The house had a fire pit in the back yard so we spent the rest of the evening sitting around the fire and of course making some s’mores for dessert.

The house we stayed in was nice. It had comfortable beds, nice furniture, and was well decorated, but we decided that the people who owned it must never cook when they go there because the kitchen was highly lacking in any decent cooking implements. Even attempting to make pancakes, french toast, bacon, and eggs for our two breakfasts was quite a feat with the paltry amount of cookware. We all said we would stay at the house again, but would definitely bring some of our own pots, pans, and cooking utensils.

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I don’t generally make bacon for myself at home, so I was happy to get to try out the trick for cooking bacon Michael Ruhlman shared while he made gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with Laura Lippman at the Baltimore Book Festival. You wouldn’t think, but starting off cooking the bacon with just enough water to cover it poured on top makes for some really excellent bacon. It cooks in the water first and then once the water boils off it gets nice and crispy. I definitely recommend this method of cooking bacon. Who knew?

Saturday morning we went to Bushkill Falls. There are lots of waterfalls in the area. I have no idea how the others compare, but Bushkill Falls is definitely the most commercialized. You have to pay a decent amount of money to get in. There’s also some tiny little shops and museums on the site as well as campgrounds. We weren’t looking for any kind of strenous hike though, and this fit the bill. There are multiple trails, but the one aimed at just your typical tourist is completely covered in a wooden boardwalk and stairs. It kind of felt like hiking in a giant tree house.

After that I wanted to go to some kitschy store called the Country Kettle that I had seen advertised when looking for stuff to do in the Poconos. It’s just a really ridiculous store full of kitsch, but also had a ton of bulk candy so we all indulged ourselves in some of that.

We headed into downtown Stroudsburg and walked around and then had lunch a cute little cafe/ice cream shop that based on the sign inside seemed to have once been a hardware store. I felt like I was in Gilmore Girls. This was obviously the trip of the best sandwiches because I had another really excellent sandwich. It was a chicken with arugula, gouda, and fig jam on a croissant.

Our final activity of the day was heading to the outlet mall in Tannersville. Of the three of us I definitely made out the best. I bought a new pair of shorts for the gym, 2 skirts, socks, yoga pants, jeans, a pair of gray pants, and a couple of sets of Pyrex bowls and containers. Not a bad haul at all and even better that most of it was discounted.

Our final stop of the day before heading back to the house was for dinner. One of the last places to stop before you entered the land of nothing was a little Italian restaurant/tiki bar (yes you read that right). My friend and her husband are into tiki, so rather than try and figure out somewhere else to eat I suggested we just stop there for dinner and then if we wanted we could hit up the tiki bar after. We also figured that even if it wasn’t the best Italian food, most Italian food winds up at least being serviceable. The food was actually pretty good though. I didn’t have high hopes based on the atmosphere and the sad salad the meal started with, but the pasta was actually tasty. I’m still a little sad that I ordered stupidly and just said I’d have the exact same thing my friend ordered. I too wanted the same salad and stuffed shells, but I wanted mine with meatballs not Italian sausage. I was like hey they didn’t bring me the right order until I stopped and realized I never actually placed my own order. That’ll learn me not to pay attention to what I’m copycat ordering. We were all really tired, so we didn’t wind up sticking around for the tiki bar this time. We headed back to the house and played Uno, Phase 10, and Skip-bo instead.

Sunday we pretty much just got up, made breakfast, packed up, and hit the road. We managed to get back to Baltimore in a timely fashion this time with just a stop for a pizza lunch somewhere in some small town in Pennsylvania that from what little I saw of it must be known for its antiques.

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It was a really fun weekend away. I’m happy to have girls’ weekend back in my life. Hopefully we can make it a regular thing again in years to come.


Perfect Fall Weekends September 10, 2017

Filed under: Friends,Life,Simple Pleasures — dwhren @ 9:05 pm

Given the terrible hurricane that is destroying so many places right now I almost feel a little guilty about how perfect our weather was this past weekend. It was great to take nice long walks outside every day in it. In addition to all the fun activities I had it made for a wonderful weekend indeed.

Friday night we walked over to a little Italian restaurant in our neighborhood that has a nice patio. The weather was great for dining al fresco, so when my husband asked where I wanted to go to dinner that’s where I chose.

Saturday was Hampdenfest, one of the two street festivals that happens in my neighborhood every year. It’s smaller and much more neighborhood based than Honfest. I much prefer it that way. We went out to get something to eat for lunch and ran into a good friend who we hadn’t seen in awhile so we wound up wandering around with her and her friend from out of town, getting drinks, and then heading over to everyone’s favorite activity, the toilet bowl races. I ran into some other friends there. So it was a nice day to spend outside with good friends. Rat Czar was my favorite entry in this year’s toilet bowl races, although I needed to get a closer look inside because I don’t see where the toilet bowl comes into play in this vehicle.

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Sunday continued the theme of good times with good friends. My first stop on Sunday afternoon was at a 1st birthday party where I got to celebrate a little cutie, hang out with friends, and enjoy some of this delicious carrot cake. I even have some leftover cake to enjoy tomorrow. Carrot cake is my favorite, so I’m very excited about that.

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After that I headed out to the county for dinner with friends who recently left Hampden and bought a house out there. While I’m sad that they are no longer my neighbors, their new house is perfect for their family of 5 and I’m happy they have a great new home to create beautiful memories in. It was wonderful to sit outside in their little yard listening to bluegrass music and catching up with a group of friends who is very dear to my heart. I used to see most of them every week, but now that life has scattered us all to the winds it’s been far too long since I’ve seen most of them. It was great to all get back together for a few hours and enjoy a gorgeous fall evening together.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect fall weekend. It was a nice reminder that the world isn’t all terrible and that I have a pretty great life with a lot of wonderful people in it.


New York Theatre Weekend August 8, 2017

Filed under: Friends,Pop Culture,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 8:12 pm

This Broadway season has had an unusual number of shows I was dying to see including several plays. A lot of times I don’t get too sad about not getting to see some musicals on Broadway because I know they’ll eventually tour and I’ll see them then. That doesn’t really happen with plays in the same way, so I was exceptionally keen to get up to New York and see a number of shows.

April, May, and June were too crazy with other travel and things going on in my life, so I wasn’t able to go up at any point in the spring. My passion to make this happen got reignited after watching the Tony Awards at the beginning of June. Sadly, I did not realize until that night when I started thinking about planning a trip that two of the plays I wanted to see were closing June 25. There was no way I was going to be able to make it to New York before then, so I was very sad that I was going to miss out on seeing Sweat and Indecent.

But then the theatre gods smiled upon me and I got a little bit of a reprieve. I did indeed miss out on Sweat, but they wound up extending the run of Indecent at the last minute through August 6. After I found that out I vowed to make it up before it closed for real. I also planned to see Doll’s House, Part 2 during the weekend. It supposedly is not closing until January, but if it continues to be as empty as it was on Sunday, I suspect it’s not going to make it that long. I also decided I could fit in three shows over the weekend, especially since everything I wanted to see was only 90-100 minutes with no intermission, so I also added in the musical that was highest on my list, Come From Away.

I took the train up early on Saturday morning. I was happy that all my trains ran on time despite all the crazy track work that is happening at Penn Station right now and ruining everyone’s life. In a Smalltimore moment I wound up in a train car with another librarian from Baltimore that I know who was going up to New York for the weekend with her daughter. They were seeing Come From Away at the same time I was. I stayed with a friend who lives in mid-town, which of course was super convenient for all the theatre I had planned. It was nice to spend time with her between  all my shows.

The first show I saw was Come From Away. I loved every show I saw over the weekend, but Come From Away was probably my favorite. It’s a musical based on the true story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland that wound up taking in 7,000 plane passengers after their planes were diverted there when U. S. airspace closed on 9/11. The music has sort of a Gaelic feeling to it with both rock and folk influences. I loved everything about this show. It’s funny, moving, I adored the music and dance, it made me cry, and it reminded me that humanity does have good in it even when it’s being horrible. If you get the chance I highly recommend seeing this show. It’s probably the Broadway show I’ve loved the most since seeing Hamilton.

Saturday night I went to see Indecent. It is also based on a true story about the life of the play The God of Vengeance and the people involved with it.. It was written in 1905 by a Jewish Pole and was the first play to feature two women kissing on stage. It was an international sensation until anti-Semitism grew stronger around the world and obscenity charges were brought against the actors during a 1923 production in New York. The story continues into the 1950s after World War II when many of those involved with the play are killed. It’s a great story about the power of art and love to prevail over the worst in humanity. I do wish that I had read The God of Vengeance prior to seeing it, but I’m probably still going to read it now to get a better understanding to reflect on.

My final show of the weekend was A Doll’s House, Part 2. It’s a newly written play, but it is a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House. It takes place 15 years after the events in the original play with Nora returning to confront the husband she left after she finds out that he had never filed their divorce papers. The original play is pretty serious, so I was not actually anticipating how humorous A Doll’s House, Part 2 was going to be. It’s a very dry, sarcastic humor but very amusing nonetheless. I just missed seeing the original cast which included Laurie Metcalf who won a Tony for the role, but Julie White does an excellent job in the role of Nora. I would highly recommend this show as well if you can see it before it closes in January. You don’t even really need to be familiar with A Doll’s House to enjoy it. The play pretty much sets up everything you need to know. There was only one line that I think probably would be lost on you if you hadn’t seen the original show but it doesn’t really affect anything.

It was a great weekend with three great shows. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect weekend of theatre. I’ll definitely have to do it again sometime.





Conferencing in Chicago July 3, 2017

Filed under: Family,Friends,Travel,Work — dwhren @ 7:59 am

Last week I set out on a trip that took me to Chicago for a conference and to Cape Cod for a short vacation with my family. I’m going to write about Chicago in this post and Cape Cod in the next one. This year’s annual American Library Association conference was in Chicago. As I am sure I’ve probably mentioned here before, I hate Chicago for this particular conference. Chicago is a fine city, but its convention center is in a terrible location not near to anything. You have to rely on shuttle buses to get back and forth from hotels as it’s not walkable to anywhere. After my last experience doing this a few years ago I decided I was going to skip the conference this year, but then an opportunity for me to be on a panel at the conference came up so I wound up going anyway.

It turned out to be a lovely conference, and I’m glad I went despite my still existing hatred of the logistics of the convention center. Luckily this time everything I had to be at and most of the stuff I wanted to be at was either scheduled in the convention center or the hotel attached to it, so I was able to just go over there in the morning and stay through the afternoon instead of trying to maneuver back and forth between the convention center and hotels for meetings multiple times per day. I also learned from my last trip and made reservations at a hotel that made it more convenient to get back and forth on the shuttle buses than the one I stayed at last time while also still leaving me walkable to lots of things to do in the evenings.

I had a great time at the conference. It was productive in that my panel went well as did the other program one of my committees was involved in planning. I’m not sure that I wound up going to anything that was super enlightening to me, but I left feeling good about my profession and my place in it so I’ll count it as a win.

The weather while I was there was pretty good. Friday night I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play with me. My hotel was very close to Millennium Park where they were having a free Stravinksy concert, so I grabbed some take out and went over to listen to it. It was a lovely evening sitting outside in some beautiful weather listening to music.

Saturday night I got to meet up with an old friend who I used to work at Barnes & Noble with in Baltimore, but who moved to Chicago a number of years ago. It was great to catch up with her face to face rather than just over Facebook for a change.

I got to do the same on Sunday with another friend who just left Baltimore six short weeks ago for a job after finishing her masters at Hopkins. When she told me she was moving to Chicago, I told her I was going to be there for a conference and we should get together while I was in town because she wasn’t getting rid of me that easily. It hadn’t been that long since I’d seen her, but I got find out how she’s faring in her new life and then be sad all over again that this person I like very much is now so far away from me.

Sunday afternoon I also got to finally put a real face to a Twitter pal over lunch. She is also a big music fan like I am and we’re always making each other jealous of the concerts we’re at from across the country. Of course she lives in Colorado so always gets to pull out the Red Rocks card. One day, Red Rocks, one day. It was fun to meet up with her and chat in real life for a change.

I wasn’t really looking forward to this conference at all, but it wound up being a good time and I’m really glad I wound up going.