More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

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.

2017-09-29 13.41.57

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.

2017-10-01 07.39.22

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.

2017-09-30 08.56.40

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.

2017-09-30 12.05.37

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.

 

Date with Myself September 24, 2017

Filed under: Books,Concerts,Life,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 1:15 pm

My husband was up in NYC yesterday for World Makerfaire and visiting his family. I had previously bought tickets for a concert that weekend, so I wasn’t able to join him. In addition to the concert on Saturday night I also made plans to go to the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday afternoon. For various reasons it worked out that the friends that I was going to go to these things with were not able to go with me, so I spent the day having a date with myself. Luckily I’m not someone who cares about doing things alone. I know some people feel self-conscious about it and would choose to stay home rather than doing something by themselves. I’m hear to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about it. It’s much better to do things that you love alone than not do them at all. Plus sometimes it even means really good things will happen to you as it worked out for yesterday.

The Baltimore Book Festival is pretty small and not something I generally get that excited about unless there happens to be a particular author I’m interested in, which there isn’t every year. This year there were two panels I was interested in, but sadly they were not on the same day. My book club conflicted with the Sunday panel, so I decided I would go down on Saturday instead. After a crazy morning dealing with a work issue I almost thought about bailing, but I didn’t and I’m really glad I wound up going because the panel was fantastic.

It was scheduled in the Food for Thought tent, which typically has food authors and cooking demonstrations in it. I don’t know how this panel came to be, but whoever put it together has my whole-hearted thanks. It was Laura Lippman, Michael Ruhlman, and Ann Hood speaking about food and fiction while cooking grilled cheese sandwiches. Laura Lippman’s forthcoming book, Sunburn, which is due out in February 2018 but which I had a galley of and have already read, features a scene where one of the characters cooks the woman he’s trying to impress a really fancy grilled cheese sandwich. Michael Ruhlman is a chef and author who Laura consulted regarding what realistically a person might have on hand in a kitchen in 1995 that they would make into a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. His most recent book, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, is one of the better books I’ve read in 2017 so I definitely recommend checking it out. His wife Ann Hood joined them. She is apparently also an author, but I’ve never read anything she’s written. They were great together. The panel was really lively and fun. And I have new trick to try next time I’m cooking bacon. If the three of them had a cooking show together I would definitely watch.

The second part of my date I went to see David Gray and Alison Krauss at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The friend I was supposed to go with failed to put it on her calendar when we got tickets months prior and then wound up being out of town this weekend. I tried to find someone else to take the ticket last minute after we realized, but no one wanted it. So I just went by myself. That wound up being a really good thing.

I managed to snag myself a spot at the front of the lawn even though I got there an hour after the doors opened. The concert was not anywhere close to sold out, which helped. Plus I didn’t bring a chair, so I could sit where the lawn had a steeper slope. Being in that spot made it easy to meet up with one of my librarian friends who lives in Northern Virginia and was also at the concert with her sister. They had pavilion seats, but stopped out on the lawn to say hi to me for a few minutes. So it was fun to see her.

The concert was basically two sets with the artists co-headlining. During the set change some guy came up to me on the lawn and asked me if I was alone and if so did I want to upgrade my seat. I said yes, and sure. Then he gave me his ticket inside the pavilion. Not only that, but it turned out it was in row D down in the pit. I have no idea what his deal was, but I’m super grateful to him. At first I figured he had come to the concert to see David Gray and wasn’t interested in sticking around to see Alison Krauss, but when I got down to the seat the guy next to me told me that no one had been sitting there during David Gray’s set so I’m not sure what the guy who gave me the ticket was doing. Not only did I get to move way down front, I wound up in the best row ever. Right next to me were an older gay couple who were plying me chocolates and who were super excited about Alison Krauss. They kept shaking each other in giddy excitement whenever there were some particularly great harmonies. I loved it. And then on the other side of them was a woman who was probably in her 70s who was really getting her chair dancing groove on. Hashtag life goals. So it turns out I should be thankful that my friend screwed up and couldn’t go with me or I never would have wound up there.

The concert itself was full of a lot of really great music. David Gray and Alison Krauss sure can sing. Alison Krauss’s melodic voice is pretty much what imagine angels singing must sound like. All the music was amazing and I can’t complain about that at all. I was very happy to sit outside on a beautiful night and listen to it.

All in all it was not my idea of a great show though. It pretty much was all about the music. For some people that’s great. I know there is a rift between people who would prefer for artists to get up stage and use pretty much all their time playing versus people who enjoy the stage banter and other things that can happen during concerts. I fall firmly on the side of preferring stage banter and storytelling along with the music. There wasn’t really any of that last night from either artist. This is the second time I’ve seen David Gray and he really hasn’t said much of anything either time, so I imagine that’s just his m.o. I’ve seen Alison Krauss before and she has talked more between songs than she did last night. It’s how I know that she’s always cold. My husband even asked if she was wearing a winter coat last night even though it was like 70 degrees because of that whole thing the first time we saw her. The answer to that question by the way was yes. I also would have liked it if they had sung at least one song together, but alas it was very much like we were at two completely different shows. It was still a lovely evening with two artists whose music I love, and who I would see again, but it’s never going to be a concert I rave to anyone about how amazing it was.

It was a really fun day all around. I’m a pretty good date. I’d definitely go out with me again.

 

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.

2017-09-09 16.25.10

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.

2017-09-10 15.10.06

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.

 

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.

2017-05-26 20.44.55

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.

2017-05-27 17.55.192017-05-27 17.49.452017-05-27 17.47.21

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.

2017-06-01 12.32.58

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.

2017-06-04 10.07.04

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.

 

Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture April 14, 2017

Filed under: Life — dwhren @ 9:37 am

Last Sunday I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which opened last year. Like the other Smithsonian museums admission is free, but at this point you still need to have a timed admission ticket to get into this museum. They generally release blocks of tickets about three months ahead of time and you have to be on top of it to get them because they go fast. My husband managed to snag four tickets back in January for this past Sunday.

2017-04-09 11.15.38

We met up with some of our friends who live in DC. Our tickets were for entry at 11:45. We were in the museum for almost 6 hours until they kicked us out at their 5:30 closing time and I still didn’t feel like I saw everything. I didn’t stop and watch any of the many films throughout the museum, and the further we went along the less I read because I realized I was running out of time.

I’m not sure what time the museum actually opens, but at least when we got there we were able to head straight into the exhibits without waiting in any lines. When we got back up though there was quite a line of people waiting to get in. The history part of the museum is three floors of exhibits underground. You have to queue up to ride an elevator down to the start. They recommend you to use the bathroom as you exit the elevator and they aren’t kidding. It’s the last time you’re going to see a bathroom for awhile unless you backtrack a lot or rush through the exhibit.

The exhibit starts in the 1500s with the beginning of the slave trade and ends around 2008. It covers all the things you would expect from slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, Civil Rights, and more recent issues of race.

After we spent a few hours winding our way through the history exhibits we stopped at the cafe for a late lunch. Like some of the other newer cultural Smithsonian museums the cafe is an extension of the exhibits with the food representing traditional foods from African-American culture. It’s pricy but it was delicious.

After lunch we headed to the exhibits on the upper levels of the museum. The upper levels are more of the cultural parts of the museum with the African-American experience and influence on American cultural institutions. There are exhibits related to sports, the military, television, theatre, film, food, fashion, music, and art. I definitely ran out of time to give all of these their proper due.

There are also some really nice views of the National Mall from the museum.

It is a really well done museum, and if you get the opportunity I highly recommend checking it out. I definitely want to go back again at some point in the future and spend more time in the areas I gave short shrift to on this visit.

 

Self-Reflection in the Time of Trump January 23, 2017

Filed under: Life — dwhren @ 10:48 am

Like many people I have been disheartened since Trump was elected president, but I was overwhelmed with with love, and joy, and hope on Saturday watching women all over the world stand up together to say we won’t keep quiet. We will fight for what we believe in. I was at a conference this weekend and couldn’t make it out to a march, but I was bowled over by the number of women I personally know marching in cities around the country and even in Africa.

The past few months have given me a lot of time to reflect on my life, my beliefs, and what is important to me and what I’m going to do about it. How the Nazis came to power and how so few people did anything to stop their terrible acts is something that has been debated since it happened. As a psychology major I’ve read all those research studies that show how easily people buckle to authority and how easily they stay silent. I long ago, not proudly, acknowledged to myself that had I been living during that time I probably would not have spoken up. I don’t think I would have been a Nazi, but I don’t think I would have fought back either. I have always been someone who doesn’t like to make waves. I go along to get along. So I can definitely imagine myself just trying to navigate through whatever was happening without trying to offend anyone, but in my silence I would have been complicit.

This election rocked my faith to the core. I’ve known for a long time that most quote unquote Evangelical Christians and I don’t see eye to eye on many things, and I often wonder how we are possibly reading out of the same Bible. To see so many Christians not only vote for Trump but declare him a Godly man or God’s anointed to take back their country is just…I really have no words. Despite belonging to a church that teaches nothing but grace, mercy, love, and reconciliation, having a close group of Christian friends who live their faith seeking social justice, and having the wisdom of writers like Rachel Held Evans to remind me I’m not alone, this election still made me stop to ask what am I actually believing in. If the actions of this man are what Christianity is aligning itself with then what kind of God am I putting my faith in?

I won’t say that my heart is 100% healed or that I’ve completely opened it back up to God again, but I can at least hear him calling me in the most likely and unlikely of ways. There have been multiple sermons at my church that I have felt were written just for me in this time. Stuff like that is the likely, but you really don’t expect to have wonderful passages about finding Christian faith and calling the Religious Right he became deeply involved with to task written by a Jewish man inside of his book about creating the tv show “Saved by the Bell”. I also picked up the book “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” at the perfect time. It reminded me that people are not God. Religion is not God. I put my faith in something higher.

All this is the long wind-up to a question my friends in my Bible study and I were talking about, which is if you created a hashtag for what you wanted to live out in your life and have God work on you in 2017 what would it be? For me I decided it was #courage. The courage to speak up and to speak out on what I believe. I’m guessing there’s more than one person reading this who has no idea that I’m a Christian. That’s the just stay silent and not say anything when people might disagree part of me. Don’t talk about my faith in places that will cause tension. Don’t talk about all my liberal, progressive beliefs around people that might offend. Now is not the time to stay silent. So I’m trying to be courageous. To open up and speak out even when it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

So I will say to start that I am scared. I am scared of what the next 4 years will bring and how easily we might wind up in places we really don’t want to be. To have the first press conference of Trump’s administration be defending easily disproven lies is frightening. I said before the election on Facebook that the only person Trump cares about is himself. He cares about his ego and feeling powerful. If you’ve listened to anything he said during the campaign, his lies about how big the crowds are at the inauguration should not be a surprise. The fact that there are people who will already defend this lie and claim it to be true all the way from his administration to people in my Facebook feed is truly terrifying to me. If we are already at a place on day one where people will say an easily disproven lie is true, then where are we going to be when the lies aren’t so black and white? I will not stay  silent and let these things pass anymore. I’m claiming the courage to stand up and call out the lies and defend the things I believe in.

After thinking about writing this since Saturday, this morning when I actually had time to sit down and do it I almost didn’t. But at the exact moment I was thinking about backing away and not putting this out there someone from NPR Music tweeted out a story to this song “Quiet” by a singer named MILCK written for the Women’s March. I don’t think it was a coincidence. It was God saying hey you remember that promise of courage you made and asked me to help you with? Well guess what here’s your reminder. Get to it.

Acapella version of part of the song being sung by a group of women during the march.

And the full studio version

 

Thanksgiving 2016 November 26, 2016

Filed under: Family,Life,Movies,Travel — dwhren @ 6:52 pm

For the past several years we’ve done Thanksgiving in New York with my husband’s family and Christmas in Arizona with my family. This my sister is going to her in-law’s in Boston for Christmas, so we decided to switch things up and go out there for Thanksgiving. The only way to make the trip affordable was to take vacation time on Monday and Tuesday and fly out the Saturday before and then come back the day after Thanksgiving.

My nieces are 8 (as of December 13) and 4 1/2, which are really fun ages. I spent a lot of time playing with them and thank god didn’t have to play Barbies one single time. The only time they were playing Barbies while I was there my youngest niece told me to go away and I gladly did.

On Tuesday while my husband and sister were working and my nieces were at school, I went on a hike in Catalina State Park with my parents. We did the Romero Pools trail, which was definitely one of the more difficult trails I’ve hiked between the rise in elevation and how rocky it was. We were kind of lame and turned back probably about .2 of  mile before we got to the pools. Once we reached the top of the ridge and realized we were going to start going down the other side of the mountain and thus were going to have to hike back up it again we decided to turn around. We had already hiked 5 miles, so I didn’t feel too bad about it. My husband, father, and I also did a quick 3 mile hike nearby where they live on Thanksgiving morning. It was a piece of cake compared to the other one we did.

Wednesday we took the kids to see Moana (or rather I really wanted to see Moana and suggested that we go). I enjoyed it and could definitely tell that Lin Manuel Miranda wrote the music for it, which was really the best part of the movie in my opinion.

We had a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for which I was roped into making a pumpkin carrot cake. Since I’m more likely to make a cake than a pie, I decided to make straight up pumpkin pie my dessert and only tried a bite of the cake. It pretty much tasted like carrot cake for the most part, which is not a bad thing since it’s one of my favorite desserts. I’m not sure I’d bother with the pumpkin version of it again. There was lots of other delicious food and fun times with my family and friends.

It was a fun trip and it went by way too fast.