Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Currently Reading

Working on my Thanksgiving Tour Schedule. Everyone deserves a little Roman Holiday of their own, right? 

I'm kinda nervous about this one. Like, deep in the pit of my stomach nervous. My entire knowledge of Italian is 3 years of Latin in college and a couple of Fellini movies. So unless I need to have a discussion about Cesar's campaigns against the Gauls or La Dolce Vita, I may be a little lacking in the communication department. But I figure all I really need to know is "Give me some gelato, pleeeeeese."

But within all this nervousness there is also an awesome sense of adventure and anticipation of that moment where I experience a culture, a place, smells, sights, all for the first time. The moment when the world becomes the truest kind of magic. 

"Travel is the art form available to Everyman. You sit in the coffee shop in a strange city and nobody knows who are are, or cares, and so you shred your chequered past and your motley credentials and you face the day unarmed. Bravery! Adventure! Defeat! Survival! And onward we go and some day in the distant future, we will stop and turn around in astonishment to see all the places we've been and the heroes we were."
-- Garrison Keillor

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Song of the Week: Bob Dylan

New Bob Dylan! New Bob Dylan! New Bob Dylan.

My love for the tambourine man runs deep.  Almost exactly a year ago I was seeing him live and to say it was dream come true is an understatement. When my office, a couple of months ago, was about to throw out a couple of posters featuring Mr. Dylan that we used at an event, I pulled them out of the trash and carried them through the streets of DC, (they were printed on foam board so I couldn't roll them up), on the Metro (Is that Bob Dylan? Yes. Yes it is.) and all the way home. 
I have no idea what I'm going to do with the posters, but no one throws out Bob Dylan. 

Today NPR debuted the song, "Duquesne Whistle" from Dylan's upcoming album, The Tempest, which comes out in September. Go here and listen to Bob Dylan turn into Louis Armstrong. Do it. Do it. Do it. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Words: Wisdom

Did you notice my new This is Me section there on the right? Fighting the Dark Side with pancakes is a direct quote from Ms. S. our gone west friend. T-shirt design pending. 

Words: The Things They Carried

I've talked about Uncle Walt, and HDT, so next on the list of favorite books is The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. The first time I saw O'Brien speak, he made me cry. He read from the last chapter of The Things They Carried and I sat in the crowded, standing room only, tent with tears streaming down my face, and I didn't care. I love this book. I remember  after the first time I read it,  I just had to carry it around with me for a couple days before I returned it to the library. I wanted the words to stay with me just a little longer.  So powerful. 

The Things They Carried finds itself somewhere in between fiction and memoir based on O'Brien's time as a soldier during the Vietnam War.  But more than war, this book is about storytelling and that sometimes stories can be the truest kind of truth.

Some favorite quotes:

The entire final chapter: The Lives of the Dead. First line: "But this too is true, stories can save us. "

From later on in the chapter: “The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.” 

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” 

“It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. "

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Local Travels: Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center

"Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand." 
--Neil Armstrong, 1930--2012

RIP Neil Armstrong.

I actually heard about the passing of the man who walked on the moon when I got home from visiting the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center. As I stood there in the shadow of the shuttle I marveled at, well, everything single thing about it. I marveled that human minds dreamt and thought and pondered about space and space travel and things that are bigger than our world. I marveled that human hands built something that traveled to space and back home again. I marveled that humans, like Neil Armstrong, had enough courage to get into the thing and aim towards the heavens. I believe that space travel is such a showpiece of the human potential, our dreams can be pretty limitless if we put in the hard work to achieve them. 

 I love how dirty and beat up the museum left the shuttle. Space travel is no picnic, but it is SPACE TRAVEL. 

Panels on the underside of the wings

The center is actual just a huge hanger, but in my opinion, it is of the one of the most architecturally pleasing of the Smithsonians. Because it is out of the way and has an open concept floor plan it seems so less crowded then the museums on the National Mall. Also, there aren't 19870 million explanation signs to read, which means there really aren't bottlenecks around any one piece. Everything is just so big, you kinda just stand there in awe of it all.

The Blackbird (Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird to be exact), the world's fastest jet-propelled aircraft. It's pretty stealthy. 
From behind
From the side
From the nose

The Observation Deck
 My beloved Blue Ridge Mountains!

I always say that you can tell if a museum is a good museum if they have a banjo on display. This is a good museum.
The "Lucky Lindy" Tenor Banjo, made in honor of Charles Lindbergh

Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Spine Poetry

Who knows where it started.
But everyone is doing it.
From school librarians in Michigan for National Poetry Month.
To famous artists.
Then there was an article in the Huffington Post
Then it became an addictive Instagram game.

Book Spine Poetry, sorting and groups and lining up books and titles to created even more words of wisdom. 

I will admit, most social media challenges take me forever. Answer 26 questions about myself? Um, 3 weeks minimum turn around time. Find 4 white things to take pictures of and tag? I'm  still working on that a month later. And please don't ask me to copy and paste anything into my FB status. That will never happen. But Book Spine Poetry? I so can do that.

I started with my own bookshelf: 
The Giver, The Stranger, On the Road Into the Wild: Everything is Illuminated.*

Then I found myself wondering around B&Ns waiting for Costco to open and I had to play again:

Desolation Angels: The Keeper of Lost Causes, Lost Names, The Broken Ones, The Sorrow of War, Atonement. Their Eyes Were Watching God.**

Don't worry, I put all the books back where they belonged and even bought a couple. 

And then when I was home again and went to put away all the books that I had pulled out to make some poetry, and add some new friends to the collection,  I noticed two books that decided, on their own, to line up perfectly:
Home: The Missing Piece***

*The Giver by Lois Lowry (she'll be at the National Book Festival this year!)
The Stranger by Albert Camus
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (No, I will not see the movie. Ick. Kerouc's genius was in his words, and that can't translate into film.)
Into the Wild by John Krakauer
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

**Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac. (One of favorite books titles ever and my favorite Kerouac book. I was trying to get it to work with the books from my own collection, but I couldn't fit anywhere. I'm such a beatnik. )
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Lost Names by Richard Kim
The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin
The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurst

***Home By Marilynne Robinson (Who will also be at Book Fest)
The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Words: Wisdom

“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”
--John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is a heated point of contention in my little bookish circle of friends. If you ever want to see civility and respect go out the window let a bunch of a bibliophiles talk about their favorite books (p.s. this is why I don't go to book clubs anymore, too much literary one upmanship). The more people tell me they hate Steinbeck and every single thing he wrote-even his shopping lists, the more I read him, and the more I read him, the more I love him, so thank you haterz for that. 

A Natural Sunday

Since my father passed away I have entered a church only a couple of times, and that includes the funeral. It really hasn’t been because of a crisis of faith in a higher power, it is more a crisis of faith in other people. But I still love the idea of having one day that is separate then the rest, to rest. A day  not to worry about deadlines and train delays. A day just to be. But I also hate the idea of wasting a Sunday, so when the seventh day comes around, I usually find myself trying to find something meaningful to do.  And I realize that people can find meaning in so many different places, even in a church building, but for me, the outdoors just makes my heart beat a little freer.  On the way back from Tennessee (have I mentioned my trip enough yet? Did you eyes just roll out of your head?), through the lovely Shenandoah Valley, on a Sunday, I kept seeing signs for the Natural Bridge and I made the executive decision to stop.

This great arch was carved out of the limestone over the course of thousands of years by the Cedar Creek, and is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.  

A rock Buddha

For church that Sunday I sat down on one of the benches, lined up like pews, and just took in the shock and awe of it all.  I walked along the little trail that ran along the little creek.  It was quiet. It was peaceful. I felt accepted. I felt wanted.  And isn’t that what church is supposed to be about?

For the Beauty of the Earth! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Extra Song: Avett Brothers

It is only Wednesday and I am already getting preeettty close to reaching my banjo quota of the week. But bear with me (I just typed "bare with me," but thought, no, everyone should keep their clothes on. Man, I need an editor, bad), this is a good one; The Avett Brothers singing "Live and Die" from their upcoming album, The Carpenter (due out in September).

 The The Avett Brothers is the only band that I am the teansy bit sad that I missed when I was in Missouri for the Hardest Day. But family is like the one thing that trumps music in my life. Did I just say "like", I guess I did grow up in the Valley. But I've seen the brothers Avett before, I know I will see them again, and they keeping putting out such quality music in the mean time, so I really can't complain. I sure can sigh a lot though. Sigh. 

Note: this is just an extra song of the week, the bonus songs on the new album are from the I and Love and You sessions: "Standing With You"  & "Die Then Grow." These bonus songs are only on the version available at Target stores. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Song of the Week: The Devil Makes Three and Larry and His Flask

Today’s behind the scenes of the Song of the Week has to do with running. Oh Lord, this can only end in wailing and gnashing of teeth, me running that is. Last night was my first night back in the gym since the Great 10k Debacle. But this time I’m not training for a race. Sometimes moving on with your life involves actually moving.  And last night wasn't pretty, only 4 miles, but a I did get a few stares from my singing a little bit too loudly under my breath, and that let me know that I was at least doing something right.

When I run, I have to have music. I’ve tried the being alone with my thoughts thing, it didn’t work. This probably is because my thoughts while running usually are “Why are you running? This is stupid. There is sweat in my eye. In my eye! Oh great. This is stupid.” So I have to have music, and that music usually switches back and forth between punk rock and old timey country/bluegrass.  I need something that I can match the beats to my steps. I need something with several instruments that I can focus on. And let's be honest, I need some banjo inspiration.

The Devil Makes Three and Larry and His Flask, both played heavily on my playlist last night. Both of them also are coming to the area in September, so maybe I can find out whether seeing them live while standing still is better than listening to them when running in a sweaty mess.

The Devil Makes Three (from California ) will be playing at The Hamilton   here in DC on September 19. This club is named after Alexander Hamilton, history books don't usually mention just how rock n'roll our Founding Fathers really were. What a shame. They also serve real food too, which is a god send if you are catching a show right after work. 

Larry and His Flask (from Oregon) will be opening up for Frank Turner at Rams Head Live in Baltimore on September 28th. This club, obviously isn't named for one of Founding Fathers, although Baltimore was capitol of the United States for a short while in 1776-1777. I have tons of random Capitol City trivia, which really is only useful for smug points.   I have seen these guys before and they give every show all they got. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Every Day Can Be Pie Day

I have been thinking about this pie for a while.

Apple Walnut Crumble, with the super and secret ingredient of Gruyere cheese, baked in the crust. A cheese plate in pie form. Genius, right?

But Gruyere in the crust isn’t exactly a secret. I got the idea from the beloved and sadly cancelled television show, Pushing Daisies. Chuck used to put Gruyere in the crust of the Apple Pie for her cheese lovin’ aunts.  Man, I miss that show.

Two shinny Granny Smith apples were peeled, cored and sliced, and then coated with a little sugar, flour and cinnamon. The crumble topping was a beautiful mix of flour and sugar, chopped walnuts, a little more finely grated Gruyere, and chunks of real butter.

Baked and Devoured. I could taste the cheese, but it wasn't overpowering, and the walnuts added a little texture and it was just perfect.  

However, it isn’t the prettiest pie known to man, but put it by the window to cool and it can be labeled an American Dream.

I kinda doubt that I will be hosting my annual Pie Day this Fall (can I come to yours?), but that hasn't stopped me from collecting recipes. I already have my eye and taste buds on this Blackberry Balsamic Pie.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sounds & Sights: Dawes: Bristol, TN/VA

A few shots from Dawes' set last weekend:

If, I mean when, you see Dawes, make sure you have a good view of Griffin,  the drummer, he plays those drums with in-tens-i-ty.

I have been waiting all summer to see these fine gentleman, and now that I have, I am ok with summer dipping below the horizon. Someone in the crowd asked me if I have heard of them. But of course. What do they sound like? Rock n' Roll, man. Rock and Roll. My exact words. And their set was pretty much perfection. Next time though, I want a full headlining set. More songs! More songs!

"Time Spent in Lost Angeles" has been on heavy morning commute rotation since I got back from, well, Los Angeles .

You got that special kind of sadness
You got that tragic set of charms
That only comes from time spent in Los Angeles 

Post Script: When I was googling this video, I accidentally  typed Lost Angels instead of Los Angeles. New name for my mythical band? Or does it sound too heavy metal goth/emo? 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

August 16, 1977 + 35 years

"I was thinking that night about Elvis

Day that he died, day that he died
Just a country boy that combed his hair
Put on a shirt his mother made and he went on the air
And he shook it like a chorus girl
He shook it like a Harlem queen
He shook it like a midnight rebel, baby
Like he never seen"
 --Gillian Welch, "Elvis Presley Blues"

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sounds & Sights: Mumford & Sons, Bristol TN/VA

Music festivals are great places to meet people, especially when the concert is in a slightly random town, so a majority of the crowd had to travel to get there. Music physically bringing people together. Huh, there might be something to that.  At the Mumford & Sons Stopover Show, I met people from all over; Alabama, Georgia, both the Carolinas, Tennessee,  and Kentucky just to name the ones I can remember off hand. 

But maybe the most profound story was one that I was lucky enough to over hear. There was a reporter from a local news station going around interviewing people about how far they traveled. The last people she interviewed were these 3 kids that had driven down from Vermont. Like almost to Canada, Vermont. And by kids, I mean they just graduated from high school. But Mumford & Sons are their favorite band and they haven't had the chance to see them live, so they drove, straight through, all the way down to Tennessee, pitched a tent at a campground to sleep over night, and were waiting outside the venue by 8:30 AM the day of the show. The doors didn't open until 2 PM.  By the time that Mumford would walk on stage at just after 8:45 PM, these three friends would of been standing out in the sun (in August, in the South) for 12 hours. All to see a band. The reporter asked them what do you think will happen when they start playing, "I think I might cry," replied the girl in the group. I could tell that the reporter was a little taken back by this, but I know that these kids get it. Instead of asking why would do such a thing, a better question would be, why wouldn't you? When  something moves or stirs you, or just makes you feel beautifully human, why wouldn't you do whatever it takes to get to it?  

And by all accounts the band made all the driving, all the waiting worth it. They played a well balanced mix of both old stuff from their album Sigh No More, and new songs that will appear on their upcoming album, Babel. All the musicians from all the other bands that played that long day came together during the encore for a raucous version of  the Old Crow Medicine Show's song "Wagon Wheel" (Johnson City, Tennessee!).  The energy of the band (and polite British banter) washed over the crowd and hearing 17, 000+ voices singing and roaring "I will hold on hope," is a pretty powerful thing. Having a favorite band get so big is a bittersweet thing. You want people to listen to good music, you want the musicians to have the means to  continue to make music, but there is also the fear of them loosing touch with the audience when that audience is so huge that all those faces in crowd seem to just blended together in a giant blur. But just like the fans who "get it," I think M&S still get it too. They continue to write and perform songs of the human existence, they are still pretty humble about all their success and well, they can still throw a good party.   

I almost titled this post, " Singing with your eyes closed." I say this a lot and it comes from the movie "About A Boy." It is all about getting lost in the music to the point of singing with your eyes closed.  As I am taking more pictures at shows I find myself more and more trying to capture that moment when the musicians themselves get lost in their own music.  

 Yeah, so the keyboard player moves a lot, but I didn't want to leave him out, so um, sorry blurry Ben.

Fact: if there is a banjo on stage, I will have an obnoxious amount of pictures of that banjo, and probably the person playing it.

This is my sentimental favorite picture of the night, all those hands reaching:

Post Script: My absolute favorite M&S song is Roll Away Your Stone, I always hold my breath until they play it. It's a good thing it is usually early in the set. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Song of the Week: Nathaniel Rateliff

For my latest road trip I resurrected my California play list and "Shroud" by Nathaniel Rateliff (found on disc 3 of the 5 disc set) became a favorite of the trip. 
Maybe it is because I listened to this a good number of times on repeat, but there was a moment of clarity, the kind you only get outside of your automatic life,  where I looked at myself, directly in the eye,  in the mirror that was across from my hotel bed and realized that I do wear some of my problems like a shroud, but wait, I’m not dead, and there is plenty of living left to do.

I had the privilege of seeing Mr. Rateliff  last summer. Goosebumps. Every one of his songs is golden and genuine.  He is currently based out of Colorado, but grew up in Missouri, so five points to him for that. No, give the man 10 points.  You can see his current tour schedule here, spoiler alert: this week he is joining the Mumford & Sons tour, and this Fall he will be touring with Michael Kiwanuka which will be more awesome than you now realize.

Speaking of Fall concerts, there are some pretty good ones coming to the DC area:

The Virgin Mobile Free Fest: October 6 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD: This year's line is stellar. Well, I assume so, I just saw that Jack White is one of the headliners and then everything went fuzzy. Tickets are free, but there is always a ridiculous rush for them. They go on "sale" on Friday August 24. 

Ben Gibbard (solo): November 8, at Sixth & I: Sixth & I is a beautiful Jewish Synagogue that also hosts a varied of community/cultural events. It is one of my favorite places to see a show. This solo show with the Death Cab for Cutie front man will surely be a great night.  Tickets go on sale this Thursday August 17.

The 9:30 Club has a pretty ridiculous Fall schedule, check out the full listings here, but might I suggest: Ben Howard (September 18), Glen Hansard (September 19), Dr Dog (November 11), Social Distortion (November 6 & 7).

And though I have issues with Baltimore, the line up of Frank Turner and Larry and His Flask on September 28, is so tempting. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Far Away Adventures: Bristol TN/VA

There is nothing that makes me more patriotic or makes me want to break out into random chants of  U-S-A! U-S-A! more than driving around this great country.  I do love the convenience of air travel, and by convenience I mean being able to fly across the country or the across the ocean in less than a day, not the “convenience” of airports secure lines, delays, and overpriced airport food.  But on the open road, that is where my heart is most happy.  I wish I could come up with a way to put myself on a  national tour. I would make t-shirts. You would come and see me. We would drink lemonade and eat pie. It would be grand.

Last week I made what has become one of my favorite drives, through the Shenandoah Valley. I *might* of teared up.  As I drove west on 66, I waited to see that first glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And when I saw those lovely hills, that really do look blue, I knew that the beltway was behind me and I could breathe a little easier. And then I kept driving down 81 south and the land just opened wide up; farms and red barns, and cows and tractors. It was so big and free and beautiful.  In my head I know that this country still has open spaces, but it always amazes me that we haven’t turned every square inch of this country into a stripmall or high rise office building.   If only we, as a people, could get out on the road more, and take in the beauty and diversity of this country I think we would hold ourselves up to a higher standard to bear and preserves its name.

It took me about 6 hours to get down to Bristol TN/VA. The state line between the two states goes right down downtown.

 It is a charming little town with the most charming people. As I walked among those people exploring downtown I caught myself walking really fast. Slow down, I told myself, slow down. I lingered at stop windows and strolled (strolled!) and read historical markers.

Late night hotel picnic
Chocolate graham crackers + peanut butter, creamy + green apples = I am a genius

 Southerners are very chatty  people, and I mean that in the best way possible.  I couldn’t stand still for more than a minute before someone would greet me with a smile and ask where I was from (did I stand out that much?) and then would tell me that their sister or brother or cousin had been to DC once.  See, we are all connected.  Even without asking I got directions to favorite restaurants, and I got invited to church. I didn’t have the chance to go either one, but it is nice to know that my stomach AND my soul can be feed down south. 

 It is a sad fact that I get taken a little by surprised by the kindness of strangers. My day job is in politics, and for many, many reasons I don’t discuss it here on the blog. In politics, 95% of the time there is no place for kindness. Everyone has an agenda (good or bad) and everyone will use any means possible (good or bad) to make that agenda go through. And that is the way politics has always worked, and in many ways, it is way the politics has to work, like it or not. We like to think  of the Founding Fathers and leaders of yester year singing kumbaya and making friendship bracelets for each other. But if you look at the facts and not just anecdotes, you will find nasty debates and guns being drawn on the floor of the Senate. We learn to deal  with and play the rules of the game because we keep telling ourselves we are trying to make a difference and hope we don’t burn out first. Some people thrive in such an environment and thank goodness for them, because other people have to run away from such an environment every now and then.  So when people are nice, just to be nice ‘cause that is what you do, it takes my mind a little while to catch up and not look for a hidden agenda. People this weekend were so nice. And with so much less energy going toward keeping my defenses up, I could open myself up a little more. I found myself smiling and laughing more, just for the sake and smiling and laughing.

Oh and singing! I saw and heard and felt some pretty good music.
Dawes + Mumford  = what is happening?
More on that later.

And on the way home I stopped to gaze upon the Natural Bridge.
More on that later too. I gotta spread the love, you know.

I put a lot of miles on my car:
I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Words: Wisdom

“All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.” 
 Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods

Walden, is probably one of, if not THE piece of literature that has most influenced my life, and whenever I find myself nearing a crossroads in life, I always turn to its pages for affirmation that striving for the life you want is worth it. Although , now of days, I don't know if I would completely trust all the words coming from men with crazy hair who live in the woods,  HDT and Walden, will always be found on my bookshelf. Guaranteed. 

Gentlewoman on the Road

I finally got my passes for the Mumford & Sons Stopover Show. Finally.  And I'm counting down the days until the possibility that this might happen before my  little eyes:

Mumford & Sons' cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" will be on the deluxe version of their forthcoming album, Babel, which will released on September 24, and can be pre-ordered on their website.

UPDATE:  I totally should of waited another day before hitting that publish button . . . a new single, "I Will Wait," from the new album was just released today (Aug 7):

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Local Eats: Cheesetique

I finally made it down to Cheesetique in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria on Friday. Several people have been telling me to go, several more people keep telling that I would love it. And all those fine people were right. 

Cheesetique is a  speciality  cheese shop as well as a cheese and wine bar. Since I don't partake of the alcohol side of this equation, I could focus all me attention on cheese. To start, our party of 10 ordered the Big Cheese Board that feature 10 different kinds of cheeses as well as grapes, pickles (or cornichons if you are feeling fancy and French), honey glazed figs, olive tapenade and membrillo (quince jelly), as well as bits of different kinds of bread and crackers. Our very knowledgeable waitress told us about each of the different kinds of cheese, but all of  us were so distracted by the huge plate of cheese before us, that we quickly forgot the fancy names and settled for referring to each as, "oohh that's good." There were soft cheeses and hard cheeses and blue cheeses and at least one goat cheese, so every taste could find something to love. And we sure did love it, the board was devoured within minutes. 

For my "real food" course of the night I was torn between mac and cheese and a grilled cheese sandwich. The menu featured several different kinds of both, all sounding so good, and I went back and forth, until I finally decided on the Gjetost and Banana Grilled Cheese.  Layered in between two slices of cranberry walnut bread are slices of Norwegian gjetost (pronounced YAY-toast, which fun to say!), banana and bacon. Salty sweet perfection. The rosemary chips on the side were delicious too.

Oh cheese, we have to stop meeting like this.