Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review: Concerts

Man, I love stealing the souls of musicians.

Bagpiper in shadow.

Singing with their eyes closed.


Starting a new dance craze.

Deep. Dark.

 What Light. 

Accordion fashion

Hootenanny of the year. 

British banjo player in cut off jeans. The times we live.

And then my heart leapt.

Here's to the hope that my ticket stub cup always, always overflowth

Year in Review: Favorite Albums of 2012

On this the very last day of 2012 I feel compelled to do an end of the year list. However, I feel overwhelmed and inadequate to really review too many things. Have I read any books this year? Seen any movies? Which pie recipe really was my favorite? The answer to that last one is easy: ALL OF THEM.  But music, oh sweet music, that is one bee in my bonnet I feel I can comment on. I always have too many words, and soapboxes,  for music.

There was a lot of good music released this year. A lot. Every song, album, and concert I have wrote about over the last 365 days has meant something to me. I am thankful for each and every one of them.  But there are two albums that carry an extra special place in my heart. Like most good music, they found me when I needed them the most.  I've talked about both this albums, and bands before, many times before, and maybe at the risk of falling off the cliff of obnoxious fan girl rambles, I am talking about them again. So these little reviews may not be normal critiques of the albums, but more like why they left little imprints on my life and times. 

Stars and Satellites by Trampled by Turtles
This album was released in April of this year, right smack in the middle of my dad's illness. And that illness was quick and cruel, taking my dad from first symptoms to last breath in about 60 days. When the doctors, with heavy hearts, told us there was nothing else they could do, we took my dad home and set up a bed for him in our music room. There is something deeply comforting to me knowing that my dad was surround by the family piano and a couple hundred vinyl records for his last little bit of time on earth.  I was so scared that something would happen to him in the middle of the night, and he would be alone, that I decided to stay up and sit with him during the night. More times than not, he didn't sleep, so I would stay up and talk to him. Sometimes I would tell him jokes, or read out of some of favorite books, but a lot times it was me saying things that I should of said so many years before. Asking for forgiveness for all the worry that  I caused my parents throughout the years, telling him how much I loved him, that he was indeed that best dad anyone could ask for, and trying to reassure, the both of us, that I would be OK after all this. Those were some of the hardest nights of my entire life, but also some of the most meaningful. 

And then when the morning came, my mom would come downstairs and I would go upstairs to sleep, or try to sleep for a couple of hours. Many of you have cared for a terminally ill loved ones and know just how exhausting it is; physically, emotionally, spiritually.  And even though I was so, so tired crawling into the bed each day, I had a hard time falling asleep. I couldn't believe all this was happening. This couldn't be happening.  Stars and Satellites became my go to balm to calm my troubled heart. I would play it on  my iPod and headphones and bury myself under the covers.  I found that I could focus on the  music, and it would slow my racing mind and ease me into rest. And it did every day up until and maybe a few days after the hardest day when I said my good-bye to my dad. So even though the circumstances of why this album has a special place for me this year are sad,  it still brings me an ocean wave of peace whenever I listen to it. Maybe that is why I have become pretty loyal about see them whenever they tour through these here parts, even when they try to usher in the apocalypse with storms of destruction. Except when they come to Baltimore, there are just some lines I do not cross. 

American Boy/American Girl by Bryan McPherson
I also listened to ABAG a lot during those tough Spring months, especially the song Acid Rain with it's refrain of "Give it time, give it time,  give it time . . ." But there is another song off this fantastic album, a little tune called Long Lost American,  that has caught hold of my spirit these last couple of months.  In September, I finally made the decision that  after my job ends at the end of this year (this Wednesday to be exact. Whoa.) I am going to take a break and move back to the Midwest. Needless to say, this decision has become quite controversial. Several well meaning people have literally sat me down to try to talk me out of this. I've been told I am being selfish,  I am being stupid, especially in this economy, I am giving up my career for some Eat, Pray, Love, hippy dippy too early for a mid-life crisis. And maybe a little bit of that is true.  I have worked hard these last four years, I have a good reputation in my field, and not to pat myself too much on the back, but I am good at what I do. I am pretty sure I could of had another job lined up here in Washington if I wanted. But I am tired, I am broken.  I can't stay here. I need to leave.  I need to find myself again, my long lost self.  Maybe that is selfish. Maybe that is some first world dream. But I don't care about all the maybes. 

Somehow the American Dream has become about things. Houses, and cars and fancy shoes and success that can be measured by bank accounts and paragraphs in holiday letters. And yes, there is some merit in providing for yourself and living in comfortable means. But that is not all life is about (I hope). All this trying to keep up with an image, trying to keep up with everyone else has not fulfilled me, but has life me a little empty inside.  And I want to believe that America and the so called American Dream didn't start out being about things, it started out as, it still is about, becoming. Adventurous and exploring, and defining ourselves before anyone could tack a label on us, choosing for ourselves what we will become. I want to get back to that. I want to finally allow myself to grieve for my father and not worry about being on time for meetings or wearing the right suit, or going to social engagements that I don't care about. I want to tend to unseen wounds. And thankfully, my skills can be used outside the beltway, so I have no doubt I can still find means to eat and shelter myself. I have thought and pondered long about this decision, my decision to follow the path of my becoming. I am at peace with it. And this song, finally back to the song, has helped me come to this peace. It speaks of roaming, and new roads, and dreams, and not wasting life. And if there is anything I have learned this year, it is life is too precious to be wasted in unhappiness. In a lot less words, this song has become my battle cry. 

I walk in a funny way
And I talk much the same
I was lost when I came across the USA
With words that I say
And dreams I dream all day
A voice that I'll raise
A choice to go my way

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Faraway Adventures: Pompeii

In my last Italy post I was all hoity toity about studying classics and all, but I was so unprepared for our visit to Pompeii. I remembered a couple lectures about it in high school, maybe a mention of it in college (it isn't Rome after all), so I thought I got the jest of the story. There was a city called Pompeii, and one day a volcano erupted and basically stopped the city in its tracks. City. Volcano. Boom. The end.  

I expected a few ruins here and there, like most of Italy, and maybe we would spend an hour or so there and then catch a train back to Rome. I was wrong. When the history and tour books and history channel specials say that Pompeii is a preserved city, don't underestimate that statement. It is in fact a city.   A city in ruins, but still the entire footprint of the city remains. To be even more repetitive and clear: Pompeii is a lot bigger than you think. 
 Entering Pompeii with Mt Vesuvius there in background

There are many ways to tour Pompeii,  you can hire a guide, you can pick up a semi useful/not really useful map when you buy your entrance ticket, or you can do I what did and download a walking tour on your smart phone and wander around with Rick Steves talking in your ears.* But whatever tour option you choose, it is important to at least have a plan, for this isn't just some museum exhibit, it is a city. The buildings/ruins aren't really marked, most are numbered in a strange manner that is suppose to correspond somehow to the map, but there are like five #17s, the street signs are few and confusing, and major landmarks, say like, Mt. Vesuvivus, aren't marked on the map, so it is super easy to get turned out, and well, lost. 
 Pompeii's Forum, the political and religious centers of the town

The day we were there was overcast and drizzling, giving the city an eery glow.

Maybe I am making a big deal about orientation in Pompeii, because I, myself have no sense of direction.  None at all.  I fully admit to this area of lacking in my being. But sometimes getting lost is the best way to explore a city.
Pompeii was founded around 600 BC and by the first century AD, it was a booming port city. If you look at a modern day map you will notice that Pompeii isn't exactly on the coastline, so how was it a port city? Well, major acts of nature, like volcanic eruptions, tend to change the landscape.  Before Mt. Vesuvius blew her pretty little top, Pompeii was a sea side town.  So this fine city flourished for hundreds of years, but of all those years, only one day is really remembered, August 24, 79 AD, the day that mountain went boom.  Rumbles had been heard and felt for several days prior allowing for most of the cities population to escape. One of the mis-assumptions that I had was that the entire population perished. But in fact, only 2,000, out of the city's 20,000 population didn't make it out in time and were entombed with their city. 

And entombed is the perfect word. Vesuvius erupted for two days, the first day for 18 hours straight, covering Pompeii and nearby cities in a suffocating blanket of ash.  There was a fine and amazing combination of destruction and preservation that took place. Again, think of it as being entombed, buried, but still intact. Being buried and hidden also saved Pompeii from the plunders that used Italy as a cruel playground for many years. The buried city was once again discovered in the 1600s and the unburying process started in the mid 1700s. We have probably all seen pictures of  some the victims, people, literally stopped dead in their tracts, covered in ash and turned to stone.  There were only two of Pompeii's fine citizens on display, which just feels weird to type.  Out of respect I didn't take any pictures, but holy cow, they looked scared out of their minds. 

Wandering around this ghost city, it struck me how similar Pompeii was to a modern city. There were houses you could walk through, with rooms completely intact down to to tiles on the floor and frescoes on the walls.
 And it just wasn't the inside of the home, but the outside courtyards were still there too.

And don't forget their welcome mats:
Have, pronounced ah-vay (the h is silent) meant Hail (as in Have Caesar!) or Be Well. 

There were also the town Bath House, with a random (and live!) dog sleeping inside:
And of course, local eateries. The people of Pompeii weren't too big on eating/cooking at home so all around town were these stands, basically fast food joints, were people could go buy prepared food. The big holes in the counters were where bowls of hot food could be cooked and served.
Let's take a closer look at the fresco. Think about just how old that it is. Like a couple thousands years, old. Amazing.

I became quite obsessed with the streets of Pompeii. All the streets themselves were pretty low, with the sidewalks/entrances to buildings being a pretty big step up. There were a couple of reasons for this. One, Pompeii actually had indoor plumbing and the lead pipping would run under the sidewalks, and second the streets were cleaned/flushed with water every day.
In the middle of the streets would be these huge stones, that were crosswalks to be used when the streets were flooded. The stones also served as traffic markers.  If there was one stone, it was a one way street, two stones, a two way street, and three stones, a major intersection. The stones were the exact height and width for chariots to pass over them.  We seriously got our workout leaping across this stones and stepping up and down the street corners. Those Pompeii-ians most of had some fantastic legs!

Oh wait, the streets got even more amazing. There were barriers (those 3 white stones) that blocked chariot traffic, and marked pedestrian only areas:

And shiny stones placed in the sidewalk that would reflect off moonlight and torches providing street lighting at night. 

Getting lost granted me not only lovely wanderings of this ancient city, but also entertaining moments. As mentioned I was following a walking tour and it was going splendid until I was suppose to find the House of Vetti. This is supposedly one of the best preserved homes in Pompeii. Unfortunately for me, it was completely closed off for restoration. OK, I will just continue on with the tour. However, the next part of the tour was to follow a street that was also closed. Being smart, I figured I would just find a way to walk around and connect with the road further up. Nope. Let's try again. Nope again. I was lost, without a gas station around to go ask directions.  I figured I would just find the last stop on the tour, which was suppose to be another gem of Pompeii life, the bordello, the house of ill repute, for your more sensitive of souls.  So the first (and only) time in my life I wandered around looking for a bordello. Please, I just NEED to find the bordello. I did never find it, which I guess is OK, keeping my classy lady image intact. But I did find the whole situation and scavenger hunt amusing. I did however find my sister and my mom (at one of the fast food places). We all have different speeds when it comes to touring, so we always get separated. Sighs of relief and well as good times were had by all when we all met up again. The next day we caught a train to Florence for some more adventures! 

Other Italy Posts: Rome, The Vatican, Ancient Rome
*I am no in no way connected with Rick Steves, but he is my favorite tour book writer and I used his walking tours on many of the Italy sites. I found his free Rick Steves Audio Europe App  to be extremely helpful on this trip. Many of the historical facts on this post come his tour. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Gentlewoman of the Road Family!
And what is Christmas without awkward Santa pictures? There are so many things about this picture that I love so much: my sister's toothless grin, Santa's bewildered look and my little clinched fist--just waiting to pop Santa and make a run for it at any given moment,

May your holidays be merry and bright!

**My scanner isn't working, but I just couldn't pass up sharing my favorite, although a little fuzzy, holiday picture!**

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Home for Christmas

As soon as I pack my trusty orange backpack and maybe change out of my pajamas I will be Missouri bound for Christmas! It is going to be a short trip, a very short trip (back to work on the 26!) and I am already preparing myself for my plane to be delayed, but I will be home. 

To be honest, I am already pretty anxiety filled about my first Christmas without my dad. As I was deleting pictures off of my camera before my Italy trip, I found some pictures from last Christmas, and my dad. And even though I know I have them saved on my computer and various back up devices, I couldn't delete them. You know how when in Back to the Future, people start disappearing out of photographs and it is because they never existed?  My head kind of works  like that these days. Wow, random movie reference. 

 It's just hard knowing that there will be a painfully empty space around the Christmas tree come Christmas morning.  My mom, sister and I have decided to keep a lot our family Christmas traditions, even the silly ones. Most of my soul is pretty wild and willy nilly, but there is also part of me that finds great comfort in traditions, and rituals, and familiarity. So we are still going out to dinner at our favorite BBQ joint where I always, always order the same thing, still going to see a Christmas light display in a local park where I hope they still have my favorite display that our family has nicknamed "the vomiting cloud",  we are still going do some ridiculously complicated holiday baking  (we're attempting French macarons this year!), my sister and I will still stay up very late watching reality shows with our own snarky commentary, but most important we will be together. AND my mom has already told me that their local church carolers have already been by. Phew. I find people singing at my door one of the most awkward holiday things ever. I mean, do you tip them?  Smile nicely as you so slowly close the door as they sing? Invite them in for hot chocolate? Grab your tambourine and join in? 

I am trying to fit in one last Christmas music marathon as I pack and found this little tune from The Family Crest to be quite perfect:

You can download 'Home for Christmas" for free on their bandcamp page

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Words: Wisdom

One of the 17 million trailers before The Hobbit was for the upcoming movie Warm Bodies. At least half of all the trailers were apocalyptic tales, the end of the world (this Friday, y'all!) is going to be so dramatic. And Warm Bodies is pretty apocalyptic (zombies! zombies!), but why it caught my attention was that is based on a book, by the same name and by Isaac Marion, that I read early this year.  Yeah, so there are zombies, but there is also some witty and meaningful writing. Not to give too much away, the story is told through the point of view of a zombie that falls in love with a human that he just can't eat, sounds a little twee I know, but then comes to task, what exactly it means to be human. 

Anyway, when I got home from the movie, I found the little notebook that I keep favorite quotes in from books I am reading and found this one from Warm Bodies:

“What wonderful thing didn't start out scary?” 

My new motto for 2013? 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Song of the Week: Branches

So the minute I finished my Christmas Mix, I started to find more fantastic Yuletide tunes. I am one of those weird people who actually doesn't like Christmas music sung by big choirs or large orchestras. Maybe that is  little harsh, let's just say I like my carols simple, songs and arrangements that I feel I can add my little imperfect voice to, and maybe what a Christmas party would sound like around a campfire. Do people go camping on Christmas? Is that a thing? So counter-cultural, but I think spending a holy day in nature would be pretty inspiring, well, if there wasn't 3 feet of snow on the ground. 

California based band, Branches, released a Christmas EP this year that is pretty perfect to my ears. I would totally share my holiday campfire s'mores with them. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Faraway Adventures: Rome-Ancient Rome

This was the day that I had been waiting for for a long time. I minored in Classical Civilizations in my undergrad studies; I took years of Latin, Roman and Greek history, art and mythology classes. Studying a dead language and things that happened thousands and thousands of years ago did not help my job possibilities after graduation, but it gave me a good foundation for so much more than a paycheck.  Understanding Latin and all its tenses helped me in all my English Languages classes (my for realz major). It was in my Roman History class, that I learned about  government,  and  the rise and fall of republics and democracies.  And the best advice and tips I have ever received on public speaking came from a entire semester that was spent translating Cicero's speeches. That guy could both wound and heal with words. 

We started out at the Colosseum. Officially named, the Flavian Amphitheatre, built between 72 and 80 AD by the Flavian family of emperors, to host gladiator matches and other spectacles. It has four stories,  157 feet high, and nearly a third of a mile around, and it's footprint is nearly 6 acres.  At its hay day it could hold 50,000  toga wearing spectators. And all the spectators entered and watched the events for free, because the empire took so good care of the masses. So, yeah, the Colosseum was a PR tactic.

Cowboys at the Colosseum

Long time readers might remember a post that I wrote months ago about slides that my dad took when he was stationed in Europe with the army. I asked my mom to bring a couple of those slides. With most of the slides, it was a little hard to place exactly where they were taken, but the Colosseum is hard to mistake. After touring the inside of the arena, we walked around the outside to find the exact spot that my dad took a photo. We found it, and stood in his footsteps.

Across the way was the Forum, the ancient city center.  I had to take a moment to let the awe inspiringness of the place wash over me. Julius Caesar walked this roads, so did Augustus, all the other emperors and Cicero and maybe even Peter and Paul from the New Testament. This is not a history book or history lectures. This is real.

This is the spot where the body of Julius Caesar was cremated. After seeing this, I launched into a dramatic retelling of the death of Caesar, mainly for my sister, but I am sure other random tourists were amused too. Et tu, Brute?

 That tall building there, that is the Senate, like, THE SENATE. 

We even saw one of the legendary cats that are known to roam among the ancient ruins.

After the Forum, we toured the nearby remains of the home of Augustus Caesar, that still had some original frescoes, and the "hut" of Romulus, the founder of Rome.

You would think that this was already an action packed day, but it was our last full day in Rome so we had a couple of other things to see. After exiting the Forum we walked to the Circus Maximus where the ancient Roman folk held chariot races (it's now a public park), and then, AND THEN, we had our first taste of real Italian gelato:
One little scoop of Pistachio and one little scoop of Cinnamon Pear. 

After our refreshment and with it getting dark and late we headed to the Trevi Fountain and The Spanish Steps. Both were super crowded and the street merchants were super aggressive (Do I look like I would want to buy that? No. No. No!), making it, sadly, a little hard to enjoy either one of the famous sites, but still, we were in Rome, and that is pretty majestic in itself.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Life Lately: Holiday Edition

I've had a hard time finding the holiday spirit this year. But little things have been helping, like meddling in the kitchen and then randomly showing up on people's doorsteps with baked goods.

Also, Christmas music, lots and lots of Christmas music. Thanks for the mixes, Miranda and Amy!

Totally unexpected one day, a giant sparkly Christmas tree greeted me as I came up from the underground subway. 

Somedays you just need fancy cheese. Somedays you have to use a coffee filter as a plate.

 I took my favorite shortbread cookies to a holiday party and didn't exactly get a picture before they were devoured. Lots of butter and sugar will get you lots of friends.

You may remember this guy from last year. I had hopes that certain people had come to their senses, but nope, creepy snowman made his triumphant return this week. 

The Hobbit! You may have read reviews that this movie is too long and other disparaging things, but I loved it. It is intense (they spared no expense making those orcs scary), and it is almost 3 hours, so you have to pace your bathroom breaks. However, there was only one point where I thought, 'This would be a good place to end it. No, still going? Ok." But as I was explaining to a friend, in a very high pitched voice because I was excited, I loved it because of the familiarity of the story. I grew up with this series, they were my dad's favorites and he would tell us stories from their pages before we could we read them ourselves. And when the world seems so chaotic you need a little familiarity, even, or maybe especially, when it comes in the form a little hobbit named Bilbo. And Martin Freeman makes a fantastic Bilbo. So there may be some technical things 'wrong' but the movie is still the story that I love.  And I cried at end. Boy, did I. 

 Peppermint Bark is my favorite seasonal candy, and with so many brands and such a limited time to get your hands on some,  finding the best has become a mission for me. Not that all this taste testing is hard. 

Gifting some favorite words. People still read poetry, right?

When I started to clean out my desk at work I found 6 (!) boxes of tea. I started to become a big tea drinker when I started my job because everyone would bring a cup of coffee to early morning meetings and I felt odd not having a cup of something. I'm not a coffee drinker, so herbal tea became my hot beverage of choice. And even when I don't have meetings, I will usually make myself a cup around 10:30 am, declare it tea time, and take a few (needed) minutes break.

A little birthday cake. I am usually not a huge cake person, unless of course, it is my birthday. Years and years ago I had red velvet cake at my grandmother's house for the first time and decided that day that it was going to be my birthday cake, and it has been ever since.  Another year older, and hopefully wiser.