St. Patrick’s Day

Friday was pretty crappy weather. I had a potluck lunch at work that I brought the lazy solution to: a cheese/cracker/hummus tray I created after stopping by Bloom on the way in. We were planning on seeing Girlyman at Jammin’ Java, but when I called to confirm the show was still on, they let me know it was sold out. Funny, I remember seeing them at Iota when about 15 people showed up. Oh well, we’ll know how big they are in the area in the future (Sorry, Meg). To be honest, I wasn’t too upset at not going becasue a) I was wiped from the previous night and b) the roads were crappy. I also had to clear my car of snow without gloves ’cause I forgot them. When I got home I wanted to use up the way salty turkey loin, so I steamed asparagus and made a tasty cheese sauce to go with it. Jill went to bed soon after and I stayed up a bit reading and surfing.

Saturday I was up somewhat early, took Illa for a long walk in the snow. I knew we had a lot of cleaning to tackle because we were hosting St. Patrick’s Day dinner, so I went and tackled the big bad: our bathroom. It had been lightly cleaned, but it needed a top to bottom clean, so I did that for an hour and a half. After I was done, I showered and stretched and made an egg sandwich, almost timing it perfectly for to Jill to return with the milk. We cleaned for most of the afternoon, then I started cooking. I’d looked up a new cabbage recipe the night before and knew it would take a while to cook, so I did that (substituting honey for the preserves), then started cooking the corned beef. I’d suggested to Jill having baked rather than boiled potatoes, but she wanted to go old school, so I had her do that (I also hate peeling). I tried to make green onions based on my understanding of this article by adding red wine to red onions, but I guess I didn’t figure it out since they stayed red. My mom and dad showed up at 6, and Illa was very excited – he knows he’s getting belly rubs from them. Always frugal, I popped out the cheese/cracker/hummus tray from the day before as an appetizer, then got dinner out. The cabbage went over very well (I think it was the apple) – Dad even wanted leftovers! We watched video and pictures of Mom’s trip to Prague last fall with the Reston Chorale while we waited for the food to settle. For dessert, Mom made her classic chocolate cake with the awesome frosting – I overindulged a little.

I had some reminders of my mortality that night. Dad stayed after a little as he was dropping off a draft of his will. Nothing like that to make me feel like I was getting older, but then we cleaned up and started watching this week’s 24 while enjoying some Jameson’s. Newly cast on the show: Ricky Schroeder. And he’s going gray! That really made me feel old. We also watched House for the first time because Dave Matthews played the patient, but probably won’t be watching, partly because I thought both the A and B plots were week, and partly because Jill kept yelling at the screen (apparently the show’s not very realistic).

Sunday we both slept in. I got up at 11 and walked Illa, then made some eggs benedict. Jill ran errands while I read the paper and prepped some new eBay auctions. I watched some TV as the DVR is reaching critical mass (haven’t caught up from the backlog over spring break) and made dinner: pastrami, asparagus and hollandaise wraps. Still need to finish today’s paper, and maybe watch some more TV before bed.

Spycraft, Blackfield and the dangers of too much caffeine

Since I’ve got so much free time, I started a new hobby Wednesday. A couple of coworkers like role playing games and play D&D, and started a new Spycraft game this week. Since we live in the 21st century, naturally we’ve got our own game wiki, but the game itself is very old school (rolling a d20, using maps). The adventure was fun – our characters work for a firm that was studying the Shroud of Turin when it was stolen by a group of Russians, and we had track them down, starting in Jerusalem and ended up in Reykjavik, with some nice action scenes, like a shootout in an airport bathroom and a snowmobile chase. It was strange at first – I haven’t played an RPG since college. It’s not an every week thing (thank goodness), but it was a lot of fun.

Thursday I did something that was very unusual for me – I went to Maryland on a weeknight. A couple fellow Rush fans had urged me to try a new up and coming progressive band, Porcupine Tree. I got their last album, In Absentia and was impressed, so I also picked up their most recent album, Deadwing (the surroud sound version was at 50% off during Tower’s chain closing sale). I wasn’t enough of a fan yet when they hit the State Theatre last fall to make it to that show as it would have been three in a row as I had big shows the next two nights, but they’ve really grown on me (“Lazarus” from Deadwing made my annual artists to watch CD). Another album I picked up fairly recently was the debut by Blackfield, which was a collaboration between Porcupine Tree founder and lead singer/songwriter Steven Wilson and Israeli musician Aviv Geffen. I was impressed, and even more so by some of the tracks off their new album (particularly “Once”, already a contender for this year’s artists to watch CD). So when I read that the closest Blackfield would be coming to me on this tour was the Rams Head in Annapolis, I only hesitated a little before buying a ticket.

Even though I was out late the night before, I got in early that morning so I could get out early, grabbing one of Jill’s iced coffees to keep me going (this will be important later, as the most caffeine I usually have in a day is two Diet Cokes). I got going around 3:15. I planned on taking my usual route through DC to 50, but traffic started getting bad on 395 and the reports said there was a problem geting to 50, so I bailed out onto Suitland Parkway to get to the Beltway via Pennsylania Ave. A little bit of stop and go, but not too bad, and I was in Annapolis a little before 5, not too shabby. I parked at the garage near the Rams Head, popped in to find out that doors opened at 6:30, then walked down to the City Dock, stopping by Oceans II Records. I didn’t see anyplace I wanted to go and it was looking like rain, so I headed back and went into 49 West Coffee House. Concerned that I might be too sleepy for the drive home, I got another coffee and read the paper. When I was done, I put my stuff in the car and headed back to the Rams Head.

They were still finishing soundcheck at 6:30, so I waited in line for the doors to open. After about 10 minutes, I got to my seat right at the corner of stage right. I chatted with my seat mates, who were friendly and mostly big fans. I ordered a Weizenbock, and a salad idea I’d never thoguht to try: a peeled avocado, split in two with crab meat and cheese on top and placed under a broiler, then served on greens with a vinagrette. An intriguing mix of flavors and very tasty. The opening act was Jordan Rudess, the keyboard player for Dream Theater. I’d bought some of his solo albums, and they featured some of the same wild sythesizer playing (while standing) he does with Dream Theater, so I wasn’t prepared for him to come out and sit down at the keyboard and nothing but piano melodies come out. Nevertheless, it was very good. In addition to what I think were originals, he played medleys of older songs by Yes and Genesis (nice since I just bought tix for them) and finished with a version of Dream Theater’s own “Hollow Years”. I still felt not entirely awake, so I ordered an ice tea at the break.

Blackfield came on strong with my favorite track, “Once”. I was not expecting how loud they got – certainly the loudest act I’ve see there. My seat was under the speakers, but Steven’s monitor and the drums were pretty powerful. Not every song was loud, and the harmonies between Steven, Aviv, and the keyboardist and bassist were clear. They played mostly songs off the two albums, although after Aviv played a solo version of Scars, Steven joined him for a cover of Alanis’ “Thank U” that was good. Other standouts were “1,000 People” and “End Of The World”.

I got out right after the encore as I’d parked close to the garage entrance and knew I’d be blocked by people exiting if I didn’t get out quickly, plus I had a long drive ahead of me in the rain. When I started moving my pulse was racing, and it was not settling down even after I got on the highway. I knew then I’d had way too much caffeine, and even pulled off at an exit to just sit for a couple minutes to see if that helped. It did some, so I got back on the road, deciding to not get any major highways at first by taking 301 and Suitland Parkway to 395. I felt better by the time I got home, but I wasn’t sleepy for quite a while. I think I’m going to have a caffeine free weekend now – have to see if I feel like going to Baltimore in May to see Porcupine Tree on a weeknight.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Yesterday Jill was wiped out from her first midterm of the week and tried to go to bed early, but had to wait until dark because my neighbor’s roof was being replaced. I read the paper, had some fried chicken and creamed spinach for dinner, then watched the live broadcast of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was ok, best parts were Sammy and Mike accepting the award for Van Halen (and playing “Why Can’t This Be Love”), Velvet Revolver covering “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and “Best of Both Worlds”, and Eddie Vedder inducting and playing with R.E.M. AOL has the replay.

The Hall of Fame has come under fire recently, justifiably in my view. Inductees this year included Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Patti Smith and the Ronettes. Nice, but are they really rock and roll? Look at this partial list of artists that haven’t been inducted (and are eligible):
INXS, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Ozzy Osbourne, Bryan Adams, Def Leppard, Descendents, Iron Maiden, The Cars, Devo, Dire Straits, Squeeze, Toto, Whitesnake, The Boomtown Rats, Cheap Trick, Eddie Money, Foreigner, George Thorogood, Iggy Pop, Motörhead, Peter Gabriel, XTC, Boston, Heart, John Mellencamp, Journey, Ted Nugent, Bad Company, Jefferson Starship, Judas Priest, Kansas, KISS, Robert Palmer, ABBA, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Rush, Blue Öyster Cult, Foghat, Hall & Oates, Joe Walsh, Lou Reed, Peter Frampton, Scorpions, Styx, America, The Doobie Brothers, Electric Light Orchestra, Little Feat, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Meat Loaf, REO Speedwagon, Thin Lizzy, War, Badfinger, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The J. Geils Band, Jimmy Buffett, Mountain, Supertramp, Alice Cooper, Blind Faith, Bread, The Carpenters, Chicago, Grand Funk Railroad, Joe Cocker, Johnny Winter, King Crimson, Three Dog Night, Warren Zevon, Yes, Blood Sweat & Tears, Blue Cheer, Deep Purple, Emmylou Harris, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf, Steve Miller Band, T. Rex, Gram Parsons, Jeff Beck, Procol Harum, Cat Stevens, Love, The Guess Who, The Hollies, The Moody Blues, The Zombies

I think every single one of those artists should go in before anyone else is even nominated. Come on – no Bad Company, KISS, Boston (RIP Brad Delp, you’ll be missed), Styx, or Rush? Most of these artists are the very definition of classic rock, and the Hall of Fame dishonors it’s own name by not inducting them.

In other rock news, maybe Live Earth will be in DC after all. I knew there was a good reason Congress went blue…

Shamrockin’ the weekend

Friday night I stopped by Safeway on the way home since they had a tasting night with 10% off everything. I got home and cooked a tequila and lime marinated pork tenderloin we’d picked up on spring break and never gotten around to eating. It was a bit salty, but was ok, with some broccoli. Jill was tired and headed to bed, while I stayed up for a bit reading.

Saturday Jill went out to run errands and I made myself an egg sandwich, then went out on the deck to listen to some Carbon Leaf and read the paper and some comics. I left the house around 3 and headed to CD Cellar where I had my least expensive trip ever: 2 CDs for $4. From there, I hopped on the Metro and rode to RFK. I had a ticket to this year’s Shamrock Fest. They used to hold it in Ballston, but it’s grown too big and this year they fenced off the parking lots at RFK. A couple of guys I’d met through my fraternity alumni discussed going, and convinced me to buy the VIP ticket. They didn’t end up coming, but the ticket turned out to be a good thing. I knew about the all-you-can-drink beer and the private bathrooms, but I wasn’t expecting the huge lines everywhere, which really made me appreciate bathrooms and beers I didn’t need to line up for. The whole experience was very much like an HFStival, just one I didn’t go inside at.

The bands were good. I caught parts of sets from ThatGuy and the Kelly Bell Band as I wandered around, finally figuring out which stage Carbon Leaf was playing at and waiting for them to come on. They played a good set, I was surprised they didn’t play much newer material, but I love the old stuff. Here’s some pics from their website. After they were done, I got some food. I’d grabbed a hot dog on the way in from a vendor outside, but if I was going to keep drinking beers, I needed more food. I picked up a sausage on a pita (out of buns) and a Scottish meat pie from vendors, and found a new beer I really enjoy: Redhook Copperhook Ale. I watched a couple songs from Welbilt, then it was time for my guys in emmet swimming.

crappy cell phone picture

Great set, starting out with the appropriate “Parking Lot”, then going through the old favorites. I wasn’t sure if Tamer was back for good on the skins, but this article confirms he “recently rejoined the band”. It also says “there is talk of another album”, which is pretty cool – I’m only aware of two new songs, but I’d like to hear more. The day had been pleasant and clear, but clouds had been coming in as darkness fell, and during emmet’s set a light rain started to fall, but didn’t dissuade the hardy few who showed up for emmet (going on opposite the headliner never ensures big crowds). They finished up with “Hey Jesse”, then I split to the other side of the festival to catch some of Flogging Molly. Good band, but I didn’t stay to the end as I knew Metro would already be packed. It was, but I found a seat for the ride back. I got back home and we had some dessert (fruit and chocolate) before heading to bed,

Sunday Jill was gone all day studying. I got up, walked the dog, and made myself some schmorgles. I started dinner prep, as I was making tikki marsala and the chicken needed to marinate. I was trying to make yogurt (the recipe called for it, but I gave up because it never set) and brought it outside to cool, when I noticed the neighbor on one side had a dog visiting, and down on the ground Illa’s friend Bear was playing. Illa’s reaction? He peed on the deck. I took him inside, gave him a good talking too, then we went outside to play. How did he display his gratitude? He peed on Bear! Luckily his owner wasn’t too upset, but I wasn’t happy – he’s never done that before. He calmed down after that and played like he had before.

I finished marinating the chicken, made some bread dough, and started cooking tomorrow’s meal before I took a break, going outside to read the paper. Then I went downstairs and got some comics for new eBay auctions, took pictures, and went online to start them. Jill got home around 8:30 – I hadn’t realized she wanted to go to bed at 10. So I rushed downstairs and made dinner, grilling the chicken, cooking potatoes and the bread (supposed to be naan, but was more of a flatbread) and heated up some palak paneer. It turned out pretty good (except for the naan), and Jill enjoyed it. Now she’s asleep, and I’m finishing this up before I go back downstairs and finish getting tomorrow’s dinner ready and I go to bed.

Why New York?

Looks like Shea Stadium in New York will be the site of Live Earth on July 7th. Dang, I was really hoping they’d be able to put it on the National Mall. Have to see what the lineup is now to see how bad I want to go. Assuming that the Police are headliners and they do not get a DC area gig, I’d want to either go to that or one of the other Police shows (BTW, Genesis plays DC on September 23rd). Hershey and Philly would be closest, leaning towards Hershey because it’s on a Friday and Philly’s on a Thursday.

If I go to Live Earth, Jill wouldn’t go – she did not enjoy going to Philly for Live 8, and general admission shows are never something she likes. I think I’d take the train. Looks ok, I could take one from Union Station at 5:30AM to get to Penn Station by 9AM, and get a return one at 11PM to get back by 2:30AM.

Spring Break reading

I look forward to vacations to read. Often I’ll bring a couple hardcovers and mostly paperbacks and some magazines, because I don’t want to lug anything really heavy with me. Since we were traveling by car, that wasn’t a consideration, so that brought a new question: what did I want or need to read? The second answered itself quickly by glancing undrer the coffee table, where I had piles of periodicals, magazines that I had just tossed under there, including Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Money, Comics Buyers Guide, and the Washington Post Magazine (I skip them every Sunday, Dilbert be darned). What did I want to read? Strangers In Paradise, scheduled to wrap up in May. There will be 106 issues by the time it’s done, and I brought the hardcovers collecting everything up to the final 7 issues. I started reading it with the 4th issue (volume 2 number 1), had gotten the first three issues as the first hardcover, and had kept up ever since, but I had never gone back and re-read them before. Funny, since SIP is the only other comic besides Sandman that I own original art from. Anyway, that’s what I read on vacation. Almost no TV, other than the DVD we watched on Sunday, 24 on Monday, and a little of the Daily Show here and there. And I did almost all, just need to spend 20-30 minutes this week to finish the last Money.

Spring Break!

I’m not normally one for spring break, but this has been a tough semester for Jill, so she’s been really looking forward to going away (not that I haven’t). We got a late start Friday. I’d asked Jill if she could skip her afternoon class, but her professor said it would be important, so she didn’t. She got out at 3, but didn’t get home until 4, and we didn’t hit the road until 4:30 – not the best thing when you’re headed west on a Friday afternoon. Traffic was ok as we took back roads to 29, but once we were past 29, we hit some really slow patches. It was close to 6 and getting dark by the time we were out of the worst of it. We had one more roadblock, though. Jill was wondering what time check-in was, so I got out the paperwork. I gasped as I realized somehow we’d been booked for a Saturday to Saturday stay, instead of the Friday to Friday one I’d asked for. My fault for not checking, but our resort club had never made a mistake on any of our previous vacations. So I called Massanutten, and they said they could let us rent a room for the night, but they couldn’t switch us. Hmmph. Then I called the resort club, and they gave me a “one time exemption” and managed to switch us. Thank goodness.

Jill was driving, so I’d navigated us on 29 instead of 81, which she was happy about. One unexpected thing was the road across the Blue Ridge Mountains to get there, 33, which was a little steeper than she was prepared for. But it went fine, and we were at Massanutten by 8. We checked in, and avoided signing up for a “free” breakfast to talk about timeshares (one’s enough), then drove to our condo. We knew it was a two bedroom that could sleep up to 6, but we weren’t prepared for exactly how spacious and nice it was, especially the enormous jacuzzi tub in the bathroom (could fit 4 sitting). We unpacked, then headed out. First stop was for groceries at the nearby Food Lion, then we wanted to grab dinner. Jill was in the mood for barbeque, so we headed to Hank’s Smokehouse. Their ad said they were open for dinner 4-?, so we figured they’d be open pretty late. Nope – at 9:30 the doors were locked, and on a Friday night, too. We considered going to the nearby place, Romano’s Italian Bistro, but I let Jill know it was our friend Meg’s favorite place to eat there, so when we she would visit us the next day, there was an excellent chance we’d return. She gave up and we went back to cook at home. That’s when I discovered that the only oven we had was a toaster oven, and we wanted to cook a pizza. Luckily we’d purchased a square one, so I cooked a half at a time. It went well with some creamed spinach and beer. It still didn’t feel like vacation until we were laying in the giant tub (yeah, we want one).

We slept in Saturday, I got up earlier to fix myself some scrambled eggs and bacon. I called Meg when Jill got up, and her and her friend Ahren had just left Charlottesville, so we read until they came. They were ready to eat, but we weren’t, so we hung out for a while, then they took us on a short tour before we went to Romano’s for a late lunch. I had a sausage and marinara hoagie, while Jill got chicken parmesan, both good, but I think I should have got something with the Alfredo sauce (I had a taste of Meg’s and it was very good). We went back to the condo to change, then went to the water park. An indoor park at a ski resort makes a lot of sense, and it was fairly busy. We had a fun evening of slides and hot tubs before we turned into prunes. They left soon after as it was getting late, and we watched a DVD of the best of Comic Relief. It was funny when we got to the condo, as the listing said they had a VHS player in each room, so I brought my cheap DVD/VCR combo unit. When I walked in, I saw the exact same Insignia (Best Buy house brand) box sitting under the TV.

Sunday we got up somewhat early so we could hit the road and be in Charlottesville by noon. We picked Meg up at her apartment and drove over to the Downtown Mall. She was a big fan of the buffet at Himalayan Fusion (an Indian place), so we planned to do that for lunch. However, they’d changed and now were closed except for dinner on Sunday. Meg was bummed, and we headed down the mall to see what else was open. Not much for food, unfortunately. We swung by the South Street Brewery, but they were closed, then Meg spotted The Flat was open, a small two person stand cooking up crepes. We all got one, and headed back to Meg’s office to sit down and eat. Jill wasn’t thrilled by the eggy taste of the crepe (she won’t eat eggs at all anymore), but ate her fillings – I enjoyed my ham, spinach and cheese crepe. Meg had to head off with Ahren to run a bridge game, so we decided to walk to the Corner. Maybe not the best decision, as my legs told me it was about 1.5 miles. Still, that was some of the best shopping we did, as Jill scored on some mystery hardcovers and I picked up a used Porcupine Tree CD at Plan 9. The walk back was as much fun as the one there (and the Starr Hill brewpub was closed, too). We dropped the purchases at the car, then set out to explore the Downtown Mall. We hit a couple of bookstore, where Jill had more luck (and I had a little) before stopping at a coffee shop and reading until I noticed they were closing up. Luckily it was time for Zocalo to open. Our friend Jeremy is a greeter there, so we got some drinks at the bar (and some of their tasty cheese fritters) while we chatted with him when he wasn’t busy. We finished our drinks when Meg came by, and we headed over to Himalayan Fusion to eat again – successfully this time. I had the lamb vindaloo, while Jill ordered what she thought was chicken tikki marsala (but came out looking distinctly like tandoori) and a curried potato/cauliflower dish. I thought the vindaloo was very good, spiced just right, and I liked the presentation with the tandoori, like a fajita on a sizzling platter. We headed home after dinner, as we still had a drive in front of us.

Monday morning I got up early and had a breakfast burrito before heading out on that long three minute drive to the slopes. Jill wasn’t interested in skiing this year, but after losing the last two years to injuries, I was determined to go if we were staying so close. I bought a morning only ticket (you could upgrade to a full day by paying the difference) and got my gear on. I tried the green slope first, but that was too easy, so I headed for the first blue. That was more my style, so I skiied the two blues for a while until I felt I’d regained my form, then headed over to the two blacks. They weren’t true blacks, more of a double blue, but they were just what I was looking for. A great run, and I went back a number of times until my time was almost up and I started to get tired. I came back to the condo and heated up some frozen fried chicken for lunch – hit the spot. In the afternoon, Jill and I went to the craft fair, which featured a wine and beer tasting. Turns out that Paul, who was doing the beer tasting, would be our host the next night, so we chatted with hime and tried some beers. I made sesame chicken with stir fried veggies for dinner that night, then we had pudding for dessert.

Tuesday I wasn’t up quite as early as Monday because I was sore, but I did get up and decide I wanted to do more skiing. So I went and got another morning ticket, and jumped on the slopes again. I had been doing some exercises for skiing for a couple weeks, but it clearly wasn’t enough as I was feeling the burn soon after I started, and wasn’t able to ski as long as the day before. Still, it reminded me how much I love it, and maybe I’ll be ready to do a lot more next season. I came home for a bit and ate Jill’s Indian leftovers, then we went snow tubing. That was fun, as they had a moving walkway to take you to the top of the hill, then you just waited your turn to go down the hill. I’d worked up a good appetite from the day, so it was good we were going out to the beer tasting dinner. The food was excellent: a smoked chicken quiche to start, followed by a crayfish bisque and a salad, then tuna with a Jack Daniels BBQ sauce, fiinshed with a blueberry cobbler. Pairing a hoppy ale with the bisque was inspired, but the find of the night was Legends Lager, a smooth buttery lager that paired well with the salad, but it could have gone with just about anything. After the dinner, Paul came over and sat with us and our tablemates and chatted for a while, which was good as I needed the time to return to full sobriety (the tastings were a little fuller than expected). We both were looking forward to the tub that night.

Wednesday we were coming home. We had the condo until Friday morning, but another of Jill’s professors had scheduled a midterm for Monday morning, and she needed to do some full time studying. I showered and had some cereal, then started packing. We checked out and were on the road around 11. We hit some flurries on 81, but it wasn’t until we were on Gum Spring Road headed for 50 (to pick up Illa) that the snow started coming down. Luckily it didn’t stick to the road, and getting home was fine. I unpacked, read blogs on my phone and petted Illa while Jill went to Wegman’s, then took him out right before she got home and I headed upstairs to go online. She made fajitas for dinner with the chicken I grilled last week and the produce she got today. This entry took a while, now I’m going to surf for a bit, then go catch up on TV.

A couple pictures