More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

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.

 

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.