Thursday, December 2, 2010

November Darkness

'November is a dark month in Sweden, with November 2009 offering up only 17.5 hours of sunlight in many parts of Sweden, an average of 35 minutes a day.' - The Local, 16 Nov 2010

this photo is from early Nov; now my bike is buried beneath mounds of thick snow

I don't know what the averages in sunlight hours have been for 2010, but I don't imagine they're far off from '09. 

November is a difficult month in that every day is 3-5 minutes shorter in sunlight than the last, totaling a loss of over 2 hours and 7 minutes throughout the month. On Nov 30, the sun rose at 8:16am and set at 14:57pm. And the end of winter is still so far away. 

With this in mind, I am happy to say that November has come to a close and I made it through this long, dark month. Now on to the beginning of the Christmas season, when nearly every window - business and residence alike - is decorated with either a stjärna or Adventjlusstaker. It's surprising how big a difference these bright beacons can make in lighting up an otherwise cold, dark walk home. And distracting thoughts of losing feeling in my toes.... and fingers... and ears... and nose....

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey Day in Stockholm

In my quest for a turkey in Stockholm for Thanksgiving, I decided to post the question of where to find one on the discussion board of an online English newspaper here called The Local. Here are a few of the answers I got: 

              -Most large supermarkets have frozen turkeys of around 6-10lb size. Ingelsta Kalkon will definitely have one, although they can be a little pricey. And our ever-so-reliable-in-being-over-priced local butchers, Taylor & Jones will also gladly take your hard-earned cash for mediocre goods
              -Have you actually looked in a supermarket? They pretty much ALL have frozen turkeys at the moment... Willy's are selling for whole frozen turkeys for 49.90:- per kg which is not bad...
              -you may have well posted " where do i buy potatoes" such is your lazyness. if you cant do the simple things then you do not stand a chance in hell of actually cooking the thing. stick to tin food. (This one was my favorite, from someone who calls himself "Mirrorman")

Based on these responses, I find it interesting that neither of the 2 major grocery stores - Hemköp nor ICA Kvantum - located near my apartment sold any turkey whatsoever. Not an ounze. 

On Saturday morning, I visited Ingelsta Kalkon in Östermalms where I found not only various sizes and parts of fresh turkeys for sale, but also Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, Kraft Stove Top Stuffing Mix, and Libby's canned pumpkin puree (for about $13/can - fortunately, I already had fresh pumpkin!). I settled on 2 turkey breasts (a whole turkey for 4 people seemed a bit excessive), and headed home to prepare my first self-made Thanksgiving feast. 

The menu was:

rosemaryturkeybreastssweetpotatocasserolegreenbeansstuffingcranberrysaucebutternutsquashcornbreadgravymashedpotatoes AND pumpkinpie for dessert


I have to say, it was pretty delicious

So take THAT, Mirrorman

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at Max

I spent 2 hours at the grocery store this morning, searching for the various ingredients required for my Thanksgiving feast this Saturday. Pre-made pie crust? -No, sorry. Everyone makes it from scratch here I guess. Butternut squash? -None left, but come back this afternoon, we're getting a new shipment. Pumpkin puree? -Never heard of it, but here's a slice of saran-wrapped pumpkin. Any turkeys? -No, they're not in season. So when are turkeys in season, I wonder.

I must have spoken at least once to every employee working in ICA today, who were probably greater in number than the customers (it seems Thursday mornings are a popular time for restocking everything in the store).

Eventually I left having found all I needed to make butternut squash casserole, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce. But I still don't have a turkey. Details, details....

And so it came to be that after spending a few hours in the kitchen, I ended my Thanksgiving day at Max, Sweden's oh-so-delicious (and oldest) burger chain. It may not have been a typcial Thanskgiving dinner, but it was, as the Swedes say, Mums! (MMMMmmmmmmm)

Happy Thanksgiving Allihopa!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A1 - Check!

Folkuniversitetet. It's a tough word to spell - try saying it. I can't seem to get it right. Like seemingly most Swedish words, the pronunciation is a killer. But for the last month, I've spent 2 1/2 hours a day, 5 days a week there, on the 3rd floor of this beautiful building. It's located on Kungstensgatan in central Stockholm, just across from Observatorielunden. And as of last Friday, after 60 hours spent in the classroom, I have graduated from my first Swedish A1 course.

If you don't take into account the fact that my teacher was present less than half the time, making every day a guessing game of who would actually show up (there were 3 in total, each one having a completely different method of running a class), then I would say it was a great experience. I have never appreciated to such an extent just how important teaching methods can be.

Regardless, I learned so much and have built a great foundation for my future Swedish courses, which will start in January. For the time being, however, I plan on teaching myself the 2nd half of my textbook (A2) aaaaaand...

speaking only Swedish with Nik.

We started this little endeavor on Monday. And today is Thursday. In the last 3 nights, we've probably spoken an average of 70% Swedish. Not bad for a first week, eh? However, my vocabulary is still so limited and after a long day at work (that is, Nik's long day at work, not mine - yet), it's difficult to use so much energy in trying to convey the simplest information, like how was your day at work? The answer could take anywhere from 1-20 minutes. So, we've amended this undertaking and have decided to speak på svenska until 9pm, then switch to English. For now at least.

I'm still waiting to have a dream in Swedish, which I think is the true marking of really learning a language, but that could be some time from now. Until then, I'll be working hard to eliminate the recognition of being a foreigner the second I open my mouth. And will carry around mini vocab flashcards in my pocket wherever I go.

Monday, November 1, 2010

SlottFest = Castle Party

Last weekend I was whisked off to a castle in the South of Sweden for SlottFest 2010 thanks to the annual gathering of friends from Västervik, a tiny town on the East coast where my Niklas happens to be from (THANK YOU Joseph for organizing!!).

[slott means castle; fest means party = perfect combination]

The castle is called Örenäs Slott and is situated on Öresund, the body of water separating Denmark and Sweden. There's only about 15 miles between the 2 countries at this point, so you can easily see across to the other side. Örenäs is the youngest castle in Sweden, built in 1918 - not so young by U.S. standards.

Sweden may not seem like such a large country, but it is in fact quite looooong. Stockholm is only about a quarter of the way up, from which it still takes at least 5 hours to get to the Southern-most region. And so Nik and I watched snow-covered fields turn to soggy, wet land on our train ride South before arriving in Lund and then continuing by train to Glumslöv, the nearest village to the slott.

Upon arriving, we checked into our room to find that we had a suite on the top floor with not 1 but 2 full bathrooms. I don't really understand the rationale behind this, but I didn't protest - it was gorgeous, bathroom(s) and all. Scattered throughout the castle were several salons with huge antique sofas and wing-back chairs crowded around ornately decorated fireplaces. I was happy to relax in one of these comfy chairs, where I could pretend to be royalty reigning over the surrounding sugar fields (who knew sugar grew in Sweden?).

At 7pm the night's festivities began with champagne in the basement, a tastefully bare space with brick walls, low ceilings and cozy candlelight. Our party of 70-some then made our way upstairs for a 3-course dinner: skagen pate (skagen is an incredible Swedish dish: a combination of shrimp, dill, sour cream, etc mixed in the perfect ratio, usually served on toast); beef and potatoes with a delicious sauce (details are getting harder to remember at this point in the night); and for dessert, a chocolate mousse with Italian ice (of which I ate an extra serving, because for some odd reason I wasn't full enough already). 

I have never seen Swedes eat together in a large group without singing. Although I've been informed that songs are only for Christmas and Midsummer, the sopranos at this reunion were aplenty. I have no idea what the words meant, but almost every Swede knew each one. Most were accompanied by a toast at the end, and naturally, more toasts led to more singing, and so it went with song, toast, then a speech, toast then another song, toast and so on... toast.... toast

The last move of the night, upward once again, was to the salons for Baileys, coffee, Macmyra whiskey and dancing. The evening progressed as most do, messier with each passing hour, and the last guests were up well past 5am. I'm told there were only a dozen or so left by then. I'd given up my efforts to outlast the crowd and surrendered to sleep a couple hours earlier to the world's softest bed. The weekend was definitely one to remember, my first - and hopefully not last - night in a real castle.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Want to Ride my Bicyle

Before moving to Stockholm, I decided that one of my first purchases once arriving would be a bicycle. Swedes bike everywhere. To work. To the movies. To the grocery store. They have little baskets attached, full of smaller versions of what Americans load in our cars. And lights on both the front and the back - it's against the law not to. They'll often squeeze 2 or even 3 people on board, a parent with their kids or friends or whoever and I always wonder how it's possible to get around without completely wiping out in the middle of the street. Regardless, I wanted to join this privileged group of cyclists ASAP.

The Swedish equivalent of Craigslist is, which quickly became my new most visited the site. Although I couldn't read any of the words, I learned how to search for sales - säljes - of women's bikes - dam cyclar, and then used my personal translator to figure out the rest.

I searched every day, and made the journey to a random Northern suburb where I wandered on foot through a pretty little neighborhood for at least 45 minutes, asking anyone I came upon where Nälstavägen was (no one knew) before finally finding the house myself and trying to communicate with the woman selling the bike (who didn't speak English) and then deciding I didn't want the bike after all.

And so I came to the last day of validity on my metro pass. I refused to buy another week, and so I went to the deep south of Stockholm's suburbs via commuter train to Handen where a kind elderly man named Stig met me at the station with his 30-year old bike. I tested it and bought it in a matter of 10 minutes. 950 kronor (divide that by about 6.5 for dollars). Wheeling my newest possession proudly back toward the trains, I was stopped and informed of the rule - NO CYCLARS ON THE TRAIN BETWEEN 1500 AND 1800. Only in Sweden does rush hour start at 3pm.

I had 2 1/2 hours to kill in a town which had, I discovered, nothing but a library and a mall. So I settled myself in a charming Konditori (bakery, of course - thank God there was one of those!) with tea and a cocoa ball.

The wait was well worth it for my new mormor cyclar. That's what the Swedes call the style, which translates to grandmother bicycle. I call it a beach cruiser. Whether grandma or beachy, I love it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Week 1 in Sverige

My new hometown

A long-awaited visa suddenly came through a couple of weeks ago, and was delivered to me via a FedEx envelope with an undistinguishable name and address. It's a miracle the package arrived at all, much less only two days after I'd finally spoken to someone at the Swedish Migration Board, nearly begging them to take action after five endless months. They did, and I was on my way nine days later, 85 lbs of baggage in tow, bringing me to the point at which I am now: at the kitchen table of my new, cozy flat sipping on Moroccan Mint tea.

I live in Solna, a suburb running just along the northern edge of Stockholm's city center. The area is dotted with office buildings, malls and apartment complexes for the most part, where janitors live next door to businessmen. Today, its tree-lined streets are paved in an orangy gold from leaves fallen with the steady sprinkle that's gone on since this morning. To the weather's defense, it's the first rainy day since I arrived.

view out the front door of my apt bldg

There are two good things about the precise location of the flat I share with my Niklas:

1) It's only about 5 stops on the metro system - the "tunnelbana" - from the city center. Walk 7 minutes through a lovely park, descend one of Europe's  l o  n   g    e     s      t  escalators, hop on the carriage, and 10 minutes later you're SMACK in the middle of things.

2) There's a pub with excellent kebabs on the ground floor of the apartment building. Which means that any given night when I .... er Nik doesn't feel like cooking, we just head downstairs and order a delicious kebab (the biggest I've ever seen). This proved extremely convenient last weekend after our 6-hour trip to Ikea via bus-train-bus. Although on the way back, arms full with our newly purchased stuff for the apt, we couldn't find the bus and had to walk the last leg of our journey - about 2k. The kebab and kebab pizza never tasted so good.

It's certainly been a week of new experiences, and coming to the realization that I need to learn Swedish pronto. Which has become my new long-term goal. That and the small detail of finding a job to support myself in this ridiculously expensive place. Until then, I'll just try not to convert to US$ and enjoy my new life in Sverige!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Running on Empty

An article by myself
                                            about the trials and tribulations

           of my 10-mile race

     for Bay Weekly newspaper

                                 check it

Monday, August 30, 2010

Annapolis 10 Mile Race

On Sunday morning, I ran my first 10 mile race. Before I say anymore, I'd like to share a quote that was typed on a piece of paper taped to one of the orange cones marking the course:

There are no failures, only experiences and our reactions to them

I don't know who said it or when, but that is my mantra for this race.

But I regress. So my first 10-mile race. I signed up in early June, and have been training semi-seriously since mid-July. Almost 2 months of 7am Sunday runs with Annapolis Striders... and most... errr some of the runs on our suggested daily schedule.

I spent all day Saturday busy with a family crab feast (so much fun). But kept well hydrated with water. Went to bed but couldn't fall asleep for awhile (as my training leader warned us would probably happen). Woke up with butterflies in my stomach. Arrived to the race in plenty of time.

The start line was small, and it took awhile for 4,600 people to pass over it, but I was probably about 3 minutes back and toward the front of the group. Which is roughly where I stayed for the first few miles. This is me around 1.5 miles, happily trotting along:

I look like I'm enjoying myself, don't I? And I was. I continue down Main Street, then up King George to the Naval Academy bridge, which is around where I suddenly feel weird, dizzy, queasy, sick. I stop. I drink water. I walk. I jog. And at the top of the bridge, I throw up, just a little, for the first time. This is the start of mile 4, which just happens to be the moment when the number one runner is sprinting back over the bridge on mile 8.5. Just fabulous. How do these people run so fast?!

I continue slowly, and weave through beautiful, leafy neighborhoods where sprinklers arch over the road to keep runners cool and families blast motivating music from their lovely homes, waving and cheering as we pass. THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU WONDERFUL PEOPLE!!

And I continue. And I drink a bit more at another water stop. And I feel sick again and throw up for the 2nd time, just a little. But I've come so far, I can't stop now!

So I go onward (and upward) along Route 2. I overhear another runner say this is her favorite part, when the people protest our race because they can't pull into their church parking lot. It is Sunday morning after all. But no one is protesting, or at least I didn't hear them.

The route brings us back down to the bridge, and on my way across I throw up for the 3rd time - it's becoming a cycle, it seems. This time is more than before and a kind athletic trainer (she tells me that's what she is as I hunch over) comes and rubs my back.

But now I'm really almost done, so I keep going, so close. And finally, the finish line at the Navy Stadium is in sight. It's up a hill, though and I need to sprint to the end but I j u s  t  c  a   n  '   t   d  o    i     t

I practically stagger across the finish and am handed a soaking cold towel - just like bikram yoga - and this is how I lay for about 20 minutes in my own savasana:

And then I throw up again. Sorry to keep bringing it up, but it's what happened. At this point, it seems my body is not allowing me to keep any liquids down, which can lead to big problems. So I hook up to an IV. 2 liters later, I feel almost normal again. I truly hate needles, or anything being stuck into my skin period. But I am so thankful to the medics there. And to my family of supporters

who cheered me on and worried when they didn't see me at my goal time and then worried more when I was waaaaaay past my goal time.

I don't exactly know what happened, but I've now learned what not to do when running a 10-mile race.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The New Guys in Town

There's a new band in town, they've got a retro sound
Nothing close to lame, the band is called The Names
5 guys, 2 managers, and some good rock 'n roll
Check them out in my article here
And see their show next Sunday @ The Federal House

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Globes, Silly Bands and Scorpion Bowls: Boston in the Summertime

I landed at Boston’s Logan Airport at 11:50am last Friday morning, more than relieved to be off a plane where I’d been squished between the windows to my right and a woman who probably should’ve bought two seats to my left. It felt great to walk again.

By 1:15, I was lounging in the sun with a cranberry-lime seltzer water, soaking in the warmth that I’d been missing from the depths of my air-conditioned office. I was back in Beantown.

A reunion that evening with five of my lovely BC roomies over Upper Crust Pizza and an assortment of beverages was long-overdue and wonderful. We caught up and planned the night ahead – a trip to Atlantic Beer Garden, ABG as the locals say, a new sports bar/ club/ roof deck right on the harbor. Nice location, right next to Cirque du Soleil, with a random assortment of clientele and stairs that smelled like puke. Yum.

Our Saturday morning sleep-in lasted until our stomachs needed more substance than leftover pizza so we headed to brunch, and then on to the M Street Beach, South Boston’s new summer hot spot. It wasn’t Miami (well, I’ve never been there anyway, so who knows), but it was close. Tons of young people everywhere lounging on somewhat seaweed-strewn sand, their coolers kept close. The water was refreshingly cold, and we watched as a long-distance race ended, feeling only slightly unaccomplished as 70-year olds strode ashore from the competition.

The breeze sent us home mid-afternoon for Thai carry-out and preparation for the night ahead. It started with scorpion bowls at Long Wharf's The Landing where we consumed exactly 1 gallon of drink (minus the ice), then onward to the Sail Loft, a tiny, lodge-like bar seemingly on the edge of teetering into the harbor. It was naturally packed in the middle and on the 1 by 1 meter sized deck, and empty in the back.

We decided this would be a good place to distribute the sea creature and dinosaur silly bands we each had brought along to bestow on whoever we felt was worthy. Which included the doorman, the guy who helped me get gum off my sandal, the guy who worked at EasyBake Oven, the Californian who seemed to think he was in the greatest bar in the world, and an assortment of international travellers, who we decided should spread the craze to their respective countries. No word yet on the progress of this endevour, but we should probably be getting commission from the founder of this little money-making trend.

Alas, the weekend sadly came to an end with Sunday brunch at The Beehive on Tremont Street. Mmmmm turkey hash and poached eggs. I hope it won't be another three years before the six of us reunite... until then, I've got my stegosaurus and jellyfish wrapped safely around my wrist.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dreary Erie a Mistake by the Lake??

If you know Erie, PA, then you know the phrase. But that doesn't mean the saying rings true. I myself have said it before, but there's a lot more to my thoughts on Erie than summing it up as a rainy little town on a great big lake.

To me, Erie is

a long car ride to get to, for which I'd always bring several books to occupy myself, as if the trip would take several days and not 8 hours
the long-awaited arrival, at which time my brother and I were reunited with our cousins and would immediately race to their basement where an unending loop of bumper bikes/ would ensue for hours
trips to the lake for swimming and jetskiing and fireworks and bonfires
seeing the church my great great great grandmother helped found.... and the building my grandmother used to work in..... and the little house where my great grandparents lived, now in the not-so-nice section of town
WALDAMEER - it may not be the biggest amusement park, but it kept us happy for a loooong time
ice cream sundae's at Dairy Queen - I'm not sure why I associate Erie with Dairy Queen but I do
elaborate plans to sneak out of our bedrooms in the middle of the night past "the grown ups" to go downstairs for a snack - and usually failing
sea glass!
drive-by's past "the castle" where my great grandmother once lived - and which, at least now, bears no resemblance to a castle

Erie is all of these things to me. But how could a mistake be so beautiful?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sweet Sweet Cali

I think it's time
                           for a photo montage...

la bonita playa de Coronado - the water's gorgeous, but the jellyfish are monstrous

Balboa Park, where we listened to the Hillcrest Wind Ensemble serenade us with the songs of The Wizard of Oz

one of the coolest - and possibly only - wine and spirit parlors I've been to, Vin De Syrah - decorated with umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, teapots pouring from the walls, a hidden doorway covered in grass, and the most amazing honey truffle spread

I had been craving this meal for exactly 4 years and 6 months - it was worth the wait

Redwood Regional Park - wonderous and beautiful, even when we nearly lost the car

Blue Bottle Coffee, the real San Francisco treat; despite not being a coffee drinker, I have to say the iced coffee was pretty tasty

the one and only

London reunion!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sewage in Spa Creek!

Warning! Beware to all who dare to swim in these waters!
A sewage line has broken, and the entire creek is contaminated - and may have been for the last month. Swimming in the area may lead to severe sickness, growing of new appendages, or worst of all - Chesapeake Bay disease

                   ooooooooops..... if anything happens to me, this might be an explanation - but how could I pass when the water is the perfect temperature and the jellyfish have yet to come?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

4th of July

The 4th of July is my all-time-favorite holiday. Hot weather, bbq's, parades, red-white-blue, sparklers, watermelon, celebrating our country - what's not to like? But beyond this is an event I dream of all year long: the Market Street Block Party.

Since I was 7 years old, I have loved the holiday for this very reason. I don't know what it was exactly - the party has a simple premise: bring together neighbors to celebrate together in the street. But I always remembered it as the day when all the kids in the neighborhood could run around in the street with no cars, free to throw water balloons and raw eggs at each other with the only consequence being another thrown back in your own face. I always ended up looking like I'd been through a food war by the evening's end.

This year was the 33rd year, so it's become a long-standing tradition. The agenda includes bike decorating in the morning; parade in the afternoon; reading of parts of the Declaration of Independence; cook-out with hotdogs, hamburgers, and a plethora of red-white-and-blue colored foods; and finally the GAMES! - water balloon toss, egg toss, watermelon eating contest, and whatever else people think of, usually involving messy foods and liquids.

This year yours truly, along with Lizzie and Amanda, took on the task of organizing the party. This meant getting the permit, making the posters, and organizing the entire neighborhood so that a) we didn't have to buy all the food and supplies ourselves and b) we wouldn't be the only ones there, forced to get rid of 200+ hamburgers and hotdogs ourselves. Which probably wouldn't have ended well.
So we invited some people - lots of people - delivering letters seeking volunteers to help and then flyers to probably more than 300 houses in the neighborhood. We ended up with over 100 people this year, which we considered quite a success. Without many kids around, the parade was small - and followed by an impatient white pick-up truck that was not happy to be delayed by what must have looked like a discombobulated stroll through the street blasting Sg Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Regardless, everything went according to plan. And I got second in the watermelon eating contest for 18 and up. 

When everyone had gone home, Lizzie and I took a well-earned dip in the creek before the fireworks started. I won't say organizing the block party was easy - the ache in my feet the next morning was like none I've ever felt before - but it was well worth the effort.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Weekend Getaway

I thought crossing the Bay Bridge on the Sunday before Memorial Day would be a synch. Everyone's already wherever they're going, relaxing in the sun before a rare Sunday night out on the town, right? Apparently not, as Nik and I discovered... my plan to leave midday was not the greatest, as it seems there is a nearly perpetual backup getting onto the bridge, but we eventually got to our destination. And for once, the destination was not the beach. I've recently discovered a path of about 10 vineyards that make their way down Maryland's Eastern Shore - the Chesapeake Wine Trail. And this was my birthday suprise for Niklas.

The first winery we visited was in St. Michael's. I love this cute little town, but the winery was tiny and crowded - and all we wanted to do was sit outside on such a gorgeous day. So we left, hot and sweaty, without consuming a single drop.

Our next stop was this beautiful vineyard, Layton's Chance, which had just opened the week before. The owner, Joe Layton's family has been farming here for over 80 years. He gave us the grand tour, explaining to the most minute detail how to make wine... we were interested in the how but were really holding out for the taste. It was worth the wait. Five varieties later we found ourselves plopped into two of the most comfortable rocking chairs, glass of wine in hand, overlooking the vineyards in the late afternoon sunshine... bliss.

The final stop of our Eastern Shore tour was Cambridge, more precisely the Lodgecliff B&B. The B&B is owned by a friendly couple from Wisconson who did all they could to make us feel at home. The old farmhouse was actually the first B&B in Dorchester County, and sits on what used to be its own 150 acres of property right on the Choptank River. We watched the sunset and then explored what there is to see of Cambridge's downtown. There's not much at this point, and I don't think we were missing anything either. We talked to a few locals - our cab driver (the only legit one in town), our waiter (we befriended him, as we were his last table... and the restaurant's last table.... and the last people eating out in all of Cambridge, I believe, seated 1 minute before the 9pm cut-off), and the cop who sat with us for most of our dinner because there just didn't seem to be much happening that Saturday night. The town is cute, but with only one bar open past 10pm - Jimmie & Sooks - occupied by about 7 people (us included), there's not too much going on... this was exactly what we wanted, though, and it turned out to be an amazing weekend. Next time I'll just have to add more wineries to the trip

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Leading the Way in Green

The beautiful leafy riverside neighborhood of Olde Severna Park outside Annapolis is taking the green movement seriously. They've just planted a rain garden to stop pesticide-rich water from flowing straight into the Severn, and they've got much more planned where that came from. They're also beginning to use wind to power their houses, one family at a time. Read more in my article, published in Bay Weekly this week

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rappel for Kidneys!

Baltimore's new Legg Mason Tower in Harbor East development stands at 360.5 feet from ground to roof. On Saturday, June 19, up to 80 people will have the opportunity to scale its glass facade - from the 23rd to the 4th floor balcony - all in the name of kidneys. Rappellers must raise $1000 to rappel, and all proceeds go straight to the National Kidney Foundation, benefiting the 1 in 9 adults in our country who suffer from kidney disease. Yes, $1000 is a lot of money - but think about it: you know 100 people. So just get each of them to donate $10 to the cause, and you're set.

this is it- so high you can't see the top

For this, you'll get the glory of bouncing down the side of one Baltimore's newest buildings perched on the edge of the Inner Harbor with magnificent views of the entire city. It's over the edge for a good cause - do you dare? For more information, visit

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Saving Texas Truck

I had my first highway collision last Friday. When I say highway, I don't mean that it was a high-speed hit. I was actually stopped, halted by I-95's typical bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic south of D.C. The guy behind me failed to notice I wasn't moving and BAM a horrible sounding metal-on-metal crash slammed my body forward. All the stuff that has gradually accumulated in my car, despite my best efforts to contain it, flew to my feet - pens, nail file, post-it notes, shoes, directions, half-eaten banana.

I'm the guy in red

Thank God the man wasn't going very fast... maybe 20mph or even less, I really don't know. My head banged back hard against my headrest and I sat there for a few moments wondering what to do. The shock subsided as a merging 18-wheeler jolted me to action and I pulled off the road, the perpetrator following.

I stepped out of my car on wobbly legs, shaken and sore in my neck, but otherwise fine. The damage was, to my surprise, not much more than some chipped paint and an imprint of his license plate, and after exchanging insurance information, each of us drove off.

The problem was I still had 4 hours to go until I reached my destination: Durham, North Carolina. That's a long way to go on a good day after almost 3 hours already stuck in the car - and after the crash, all I wanted to do was get there - or anywhere really - and get out.

I continued on my journey, and somewhere around Richmond started following a little white pick-up truck with Texas tags. For some reason, I found comfort in this nondescript car, and stayed behind it for awhile before losing it as I got off I-95 onto I-85. But a few miles later, I found the little white truck again and kept in its wake well beyond crossing the NC border.

I'm not sure what it was about this car - it was pretty nondescript, and I never saw the driver. I doubt he thought any more of me than a pair of bright lights on his tail. But when I finally got too low on gas to risk waiting for another exit, I veered off the road, regretfully parting from my leading guide.

I finally did make it to Good Fellows bar at midnight, just in time to ring in JC's birthday. The next day we drove to Wrightsville Beach in Wilmington, and I can honestly say that jumping in the cold salty ocean never felt so good.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rock Bottom Remainders

Exactly one week ago tonight, I was engulfed in a wild crowd of music lovers in D.C.'s 930 Club, jamming out to the tunes of the Rock Bottom Remainders. Who is this band, you may wonder. If you haven't heard of them, you're not alone - I'd never heard the name until a few hours before the show. "By day, they're authors. Really famous authors" their website boasts. And by night: rockstars. Well, they play covers for the most part, but they're really good covers.

You may know a couple of these writers, who include Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Stephen King, Mitch Albom, Ridley Pearson, Matt Groening... the stage was pretty packed with some true literary talent.

The best part of the show I have to say was each band member's sense of humor. They seemed to be having the time of their lives up there, from Amy Tan's vocal solo beneath her enormous blonde wig to Mitch Albom's incredible Elvis act, hips and all. Here's me getting an autograph from the man himself (a bit blurry, but I swear it's really him)

me 'n Mitch... yea, we're on a first name basis now

They made it clear from the start that they were there to have fun when they told their audience "We want you to forget we're all such geniouses of the pen- we just want you to get drunk and silly because that's what we would be doing if we weren't playing up here." I'd say we followed their instructions pretty well...

I <3 Amy Tan

About midway through the show, someone on stage called out, "We've come to a point in the night when you may have forgotten what good music sounds like" and then continued on with Los Rabanes' I Shot the Law.

It was an incredible, unique experience to be in the presence of so many fantastic writers, and to watch them be whatever character they wanted to be on stage that night. I won't ever think of them in quite the same way again. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring in the City

New York in the spring: clouds with short bursts of sun shooting through, sporadic showers, a breeze that's almost warm. Still, it's a fabulous place to be, whatever the season.

Last weekend my Bolt Bus arrived on Friday night to pouring rain, the temperature 25 degrees cooler than when I boarded the bus (and was almost booted to the later departure time) in Baltimore's summer-like weather. Regardless, I was happy to stretch my legs and be out of my tiny seat (although spacious compared to the Chinatown or Greyhound buses I'm used to). A reunion with college roommates made it well worth the ride, of course, and by the time we'd caught up on each other's lives it was already 3am - a far cry from my usual 11pm lights out at home. But that's New York for you: the city that never sleeps. And I did what I could to embrace that mantra.

Drizzly skies on Saturday afternoon prompted us to replace a Coney Island trip with my first MOMA visit. The extremely bizarre and interesting Marina Abramovic's The Artist is Present exhibit was most notable, to say the least.

The evening brought us to the Lower East Side to a tiny BYOB (!) Thai place called Sticky Rice. Dimly lit lights accented colorful walls while loud, upbeat music gave the place a pre-party atmosphere, which complemented the bottle of wine each of us had brought to accompany our meals. A little ambitious, but I think the 10 of us finished what we brought... or most of it at least. We closed the restaurant around midnight as chairs were stacked around us, and made our way to Nurse Betty, a trendy little bar with pinup girls covering the walls. 4am came too soon, but when my head hit the pillow of a surprisingly comfortable air mattress, I was out to the world. Good night New York

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Nice Day for a ... 26.2-Mile Run

Patriot's Day. Marathon Monday. A day off. However people know it as, next Monday is a celebration in the state of Massachusetts. It doesn't mean much to those of us back here in Annapolis, but for me, it conjures memories of no class, and maybe even warm, sunny spring weather (if that exists in Boston). In essence, it's a day of partying interspersed with watching the runners of the Boston Marathon pass by - all 25,000 of them - panting their way up the last stretch of Heartbreak Hill.

For Annapolitan Jennifer Quinlan, the day will be a whole other experience: she will not only be running her first marathon, but her first organized race of any distance. Click here to read my article published in Bay Weekly about Jennifer's experience training for one of the most famous marathons in the world - and remember to "digg" the article too!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cherry Blossom Photo Montage

A trip to the city - Washington, DC that is - on a beautiful spring day during the Cherry Blossom Festival is asking to be surrounded by hordes of wandering people at every turn. I expected as much on my first (yes, first- I'm really not sure how it is that I've never been up to see the blossoms before) trip to this pink riverside wonderland, but had hoped somehow it wouldn't be completely saturated. It was, but it didn't really matter. A reunion with a friend after months of not seeing each other distracted me from the crowds - even the dozens of cumbersome strollers blocking the way and the sides of peoples' heads that couldn't be avoided in photos. Here's a few of the best ones from Saturday:

The crowds made it feel like we never left London... except that it's probably rainy and windy there right now. And instead of sitting on the sauna that is the Tube in the summertime, we were carried home at the end of the day by an airconditioned Metro. Sometimes you've got to love America