Three Birthdays and a Wedding, June 2012

It’s been a busy month.  June started with my birthday, which was closely followed by David’s birthday, and then finished up with a trip to Chicago to celebrate my cousin’s wedding, see the family, and have a quick visit with Lexy.

David and I celebrated my birthday pretty quietly.  I had an easy morning on my own, because David was in Austin for a meeting, and I drove in to Baltimore to pick him up around noon.  We dropped off his bags, and then headed into Old Town to shop for a bike, which was his birthday present to me.  The guys at Wheel Nuts were super-helpful, and we placed an order for this:

I don’t have a name for her yet, but I’m taking suggestions!  David got his bike tuned up, too, and we’ve been taking lots of rides together.  He even got me a rack and a basket that clips into it for the back so we can ride to the farmer’s market Saturday mornings.

We had sushi for dinner, and then went and saw The Avengers, because, let’s face it, it’s just plain awesome. My favorite moments: when the Black Widow takes a call during her interrogation, when Ironman tells Thor not to take his stuff, and when Captain American tells the NYPD what to do.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you should, and when you do, make sure to stay for the second “surprise” ending.

Renata came down to visit for David’s birthday, and we went to the International Spy Museum.  They didn’t allow us to take photos in the museum, but they had a giant box that would take a photo in front of a “spy car” and email it.  There were lots of people around, so you can’t really see the car…

Later that night we went out with friends to a bar in DC called Reef.  We played games and caught up and generally indulged in merriment.  David wore the fedora I bought for him.  (Also, yes – that’s a wooden robot that I’m holding.  It was another birthday present I got for David.)

The wedding we attended was for my cousin Mike and his (now) wife, Anne.  It was held just outside Chicago where Anne grew up.

The rehearsal dinner was at her mother and step-father’s farm, surrounded on all sides by corn and wheat.  As the sun set, I caught my Poppa taking his great-granddaughter Caylee for a walk.

The wedding ceremony was in a small Catholic church, with one of Anne’s family members officiating, and the reception was held at a local country club.  Both events were stunningly beautiful, with the bride looking particularly breathtaking and the groom looking pleased, but a little shell-shocked.  I didn’t get any photos, because at the ceremony I forgot and at the reception I was too busy making a fool of myself on the dance floor, but I found a couple photos posted by others:

The morning after the reception we attended the brunch hosted by Anne’s parents for their guests who stayed at the hotel.  When it was finished and everyone had checked out, my extended family caravanned out to Starved Rock Park and checked into the lodge there for a three day “Camp Duffus:” a brief revival of what used to be an annual family event.  David and I really enjoyed seeing my family, some of whom he was meeting for the first time. We played many games of cards, drank far too many drinks, and generally had a great time.  We also celebrated Poppa’s birthday with a fire, camp songs, and – oh, yes – shirts.

We’re heading home from Chicago now (I’m writing in the airport), and we just said goodbye to my friend Lexy.  We stayed a few extra days to swing up to Chicago after the family left so we could visit her.  We had sushi for dinner, spent the night catching up with Lexy, and saw the Garfield Park Conservatory this afternoon.  I found the Garfield Park Conservatory in a Google search for things to do in Chicago, and it was a winner.  We had a great time and spent several hours looking at all they had to offer.  (I would suggest bringing a bottle of water, if you go, however, as there’s a lot to see, and the rooms are very warm and humid.)

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Russell and Holmes

I’ve been busy over the last few weeks, but with very little dancing to report.  I’m working at Barnes & Noble and at Grape + Bean, so most evenings I’m at work. Although I’m thrilled to be working, I do miss going out to the local dances and especially traveling to exchanges.  It looks like it will be awhile, too, until I’m able to resume attending exchanges regularly.

Dancing is not my only pastime, however, and taking a break from dancing has freed me to spend more time reading and sewing, both things I have been passionate about for much longer than blues or swing.

Laurie R. King has recently released a new book in her Russell and Holmes mystery series, titled Pirate King:

As I have not yet read God of the Hive, which comes before this, the release of Pirate King prodded me into action.  I am sorry to admit that although I often cite these books as one of my favorite series, there are several books (of the eleven that are currently out) that I have not reread since my initial reading, some going back to my high school years.  Since I knew I needed to reread The Language of Bees in order to read God of the Hive, I made an executive decision to start from the beginning and read them all. I have thus far progressed to the fifth book, The Moor.

The Moor takes place on Dartmoor, where Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is also set, and refers to the original story quite often.  A little more than halfway through the book Sherlock Holmes instructs his partner Mary Russell to reread The Hound of the Baskervilles to see if she notices something relevant to their current case.  Since I’m on a quest to read all the books, I felt duty-bound to include a reading of Doyle’s masterpiece at the spot where Mary reads it as well.

I have to admit that my introduction to Doyle’s Holmes was less inspiring that I had expected:

“Really, Watson, you excel yourself,” said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. “I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements, you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.”

He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration and to the attempts which I had made to give publicity to his methods….

“Interesting, though elementary,” said he as he returned to his favorite corner of the settee. “There are certainly one or two indications upon the stick. It gives us the basis for several deductions.”

“Has anything escaped me?” I asked with some self importance. “I trust that there is nothing of consequence which I have overlooked?”

“I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth.”  [He goes on to tear apart the conclusions which he had moments previously applauded.]

At this point I put down the book and returned to Mary in The Moor, justifying it to myself that I would get confused about the two books, so that it would be better to just read King’s account of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  But the second paragraph in sent me back to Doyle’s Holmes, and I read the whole thing through:

In any event, it was no great hardship to settle into my chair with the book and renew my acquaintance with Dr. Mortimer, the antiquarian enthusiast who brings Holmes the curse of the Baskervilles, and with the young Canadian Sir Henry Baskerville, come to the moor to claim his title and heritage. I met again the ex-headmaster Stapleton and the woman introduced as his sister, and the mysterious Barrymores, servants to old Sir Charles. The moor across which I had so recently wandered came alive in all its dour magnificence, and I was very glad this book had not been among my reading the previous weekend, leaving me to ride out on the moor with the image of the hound freshly imprinted on my mind….

I am very glad to have read the original now, and I really enjoyed it after I got over Holmes being a bit of an ass. I am finally understanding the references King makes in this book, as well as a number of comments dropped throughout the books about the relationship between Holmes and Watson.  It has also given me a renewed appreciation for the way King developed the relationship between Russell and Holmes, and the differences between their partnership and the earlier one with Watson.

The Russell and Holmes stories are all mysteries, but I confess I haven’t been much of a mystery fan since my grade school days of devouring Nancy Drew books. Instead, I read them more for the characters and dialogue than the clues and solving of the puzzle.  Therefore, allow me to recommend these books to you if you enjoy mysteries, fabulous characters, good dialogue, or the reworking of classic characters.  If you have read them in years past, allow me to recommend revisiting them as I am doing; thus far they improve with age.

Settling in…

We’re finally starting to feel as if DC is home.  Admittedly it’s still a shock when we drive down the street and see the Pentagon or any of the many postcard-familiar monuments we now see every time we go out.  But our place officially feels like home (instead of someone else’s home that happens to have all of our stuff).

David’s working like crazy.  The move brought about a back-log of work that he’s try to catch up with.  I, of course, am seeking work.  After looking at my options, I’ve decided to do something that ten years ago I would have told you I’d never do.  I’m sewing for a living.

As a kid, people would ask why I wasn’t considering fashion school and didn’t I want to be the next fashion star? (Project Runway wasn’t underway until I was in college, or I’m sure it would have come up.) I’d tell people who asked that I was afraid sewing for a living would make me lose the joy in it.  Time will tell whether there was truth in that, but I’m hopeful that sewing is the right choice for several reasons:

  1. So far when I do something else “for a living” I haven’t become passionate about what I’ve engaged in; I know I’m passionate about sewing.
  2. Doing something else leaves me without any time to sew, so there’s no sewing to be taking joy in.
  3. It’s something I can take pride in.  I’m an excellent seamstress, all bragging aside, and I particularly take care with the details and the finishing work.  When I make something for someone I know it’s excellent work and that they’re getting everything they’re paying for.

I’m getting started with a boutique that has shown interest in my work and is giving me a trial to see if it works out. I’ve heard from a couple of bridal shops that may be interested in contracting me as well.

This is the sample piece that they’ve asked me to do as a first piece.  The collar will have a closure, but it will be added by the boutique owner.

Since I was sewing anyway, once finished the blue dress above, I decided to try a project suggested on a blog I follow, The Crafty CPA.  I think it turned out really well:

Ginger has been settling in well, too.  She likes that David and I are both working at the house, and has settled into a regular routine that involves breakfast the moment I get up, then a nap, and once it gets dark, going out onto the porch for a bit.  Lately she’s found some very odd napping places:

I’ve been busy.  Since I last wrote, I found employment as an administrative staff member at a local marketing company.  On top of that, I went to visit my family down near Columbus one weekend, we had a group of friends in town another weekend, and David and I took a joint private dance lesson from Mike “the Girl” Legett and Dan Rosenthal.  Also, this coming weekend we are attending Mile High Blues in Denver.

The job is going well.  The people I work with are really fun and the office is very open and surrounded by windows, so there’s lots of sunlight.  I feel pretty comfortable with my work; it’s similar to my last job in a lot of ways, and I’m getting a fair hand on the parts that are new and different.

Visiting my family was really nice.  I went down to volunteer for Rick and Rose’s Destination Imagination competition. DI is a creative problem-solving competition that helps kids develop skills in creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, time management, and project management.  Rick’s team placed first in their division, and will be going on to the state tournament next month.

Elizabeth also volunteered for the tournament (every team had to bring a volunteer).  She and I got to spend that evening back at her place where we curled up with some cups of tea and pretended for a couple of hours like we still get to live near each other.  It was so wonderful to see her; it makes me sad that we don’t see each other as often now that I’m in Cleveland.

And we celebrated Rose’s ninth birthday at Coco Key – the local indoor water park.  Elizabeth joined us for the party as well. The party was on Sunday night, so the girls were able to have the place mostly to themselves.  (It is so incredibly weird to realize that Rose is nine.  And Rick is nearly eleven!  When did they get to be so old?!) 

The weekend David and I hosted a group of friends who are also local-ish dancers was bucket-loads of fun. We hung out at our apartment and talked, drank, and watched movies (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Despicable Me), which is something we don’t often get to do since we are typically too busy dancing. We also went to Wooster’s new monthly dance, which was particularly neat for me because I went to school there (when there was no swing club and definitely no blues dancing).  Fenna also attended the dance and took some incredible pictures.

And she took photos at a dance that David and I attended in February.  

 Which brings us to David and I taking a lesson together.  It may have been the best thing that’s ever happened to our dancing as a couple.  Something about the way we danced was fighting each other, and Mike and Dan worked with us both separately and together. We started out with David and I working with both Mike and Dan, and then I went with Mike and David worked with Dan.  Then we switched instructor/student pairs so that I was working with Dan and David with Mike. At the end, we came back together and worked as four again. The result is a clearer connection that is more comfortable for both of us.

I have a theory, of which I am rapidly growing more and more fond, that the key to improving your dancing is direct feedback and an open mind.  Because I am about to slam large group workshops, I want to be very clear that I am NOT saying that private lessons are necessary.  All you need is someone or someones to work with, with an open, stated understanding that constructive criticism will be given and received.  There are a lot of ways to achieve this, but I am very certain that workshop classes don’t cut it.  Instructors cannot (or will not) say to a specific person that they are or are not doing something, and group criticism generally won’t do the trick.  More often than not the result of a mass correction is that people who needed the criticism think they’re doing it right and don’t correct it and people who were doing fine start to over-correct.

BUT – if you take what you learned in said workshop and bring it to your friends with a “let’s see if we’re doing this right” approach, you can work through it and make sure that the move/ connection exercise/ stylization/ alignment/ whatever is turning out correctly (or at least in a way that is not uncomfortable for anyone involved).

This, then, is why David and I had such an incredible lesson.  We gave each other feedback, Mike and Dan gave us feedback (both from watching us dance and from dancing with us), and between the four of us we worked through several major issues in our dance. 

On that fabulous note, David and I are going to head out this weekend to Denver for the Mile High Blues exchange.  More words when I return.

Haircut!

I love my hair.  It’s wavy and full, fabulous, and totally not under my control. I’ve been growing it out for seven or eight years now, and I loved the length — right up until about three weeks ago when I just got so tired of pulling it out of my way.  It was heavy when up and everywhere when down, and I got to be so annoyed with it that I threatened to shave my head (which would have looked REALLY awful).  

Finally, I said to David, “I’m going to cut my hair short.” And he said, “Ok.”

“Really?  You’re ok with that?  I thought you really liked my hair?”

“Yeah, I like your hair.  I’ll like it short, too.  In fact, I think it’ll be really cute.”

Excellent.

Obviously in the “after” picture my hair is straight, which my fabulous stylist did just to help with the cutting.  It remains full and wavy — I just don’t have a photo of it yet. 

EDIT: Here it is curly.

Boston Adventures, January 2011 – Part 1

New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2010

We flew into Boston a few days early so we could attend their New Year’s Eve Gala. It was a lovely night of dancing to the sounds of Shawn Hershey and the Fried Bananas and guest vocalist Jan Marie, hosted by Boston Swing Central. Jan Marie, in addition to being fabulous company and a very talented dancer, has an unbelievable voice.  (I told her at dinner a few nights later that she may look like a small white girl, but it is evident from her voice that she is in fact a large black woman.) David and I got all dressed up for the occasion in black and green, but we unfortunately completely failed to get a photo of ourselves.

The evening also had a short break for some entertainment: The Harlem Hobos

The Boston Museum of Science, January 2, 2011

Saturday – New Year’s Day – we spent with Grayden and Koren, who were hosting us for the night.  We hung out in their kitchen, partaking of an excellent breakfast, courtesy of Koren’s housemate, Phil, and Phil’s friend, Tasha.  After breakfast there was a long period of iPad fascination and chit-chat that culminated in evening plans that never happened.  Instead of exploring downtown Boston, David and I explored a hotel swimming pool and some really terrible pizza.  I highly recommend a heated swimming pool and pizza as a post-New-Year’s-Eve-in-Boston activity. 
On Sunday we had brunch at Jacob Wirth, well known for their beer selection and their chowder, both of which turned out to be excellent.  
After lunch we were torn between visiting the Robotics exhibit at MIT, the Natural History Museum at Harvard, the New England Aquarium, and/or the Boston Museum of Science. It was a really tough call (yes, I know; we’re geeks), and we had originally hoped to get to two of them, but a late start meant we had to pick only one.  In the end, we decided on the science museum.

We saw neat exhibits on M.C. Escher, optical illusions, the senses, light, and math.

In the first one, the reds are both the same color and the blues are both the same color.  In the second one you have to pick out the one + or O that is not like the others. If you click on the image, you should be able to view the larger image.
When you click the button on any side of this box, the shape(s) hanging on that side dip into the soap solution below and come up with bubbles in the shape. I actually didn’t read what mathematical hoopla this proved or demonstrated, because I was so fascinated with the shapes the bubbles made. 
  
There was a lot of cool stuff in the math exhibit; even though I don’t particularly care for math, the machines and demonstrations were very impressive.  David particularly enjoyed the probability illustration: balls were dropped from the center top of the box, and they fell randomly through the pegs to create a bell curve. [Quote on the probability box: “The theory of probability is nothing more than good sense confirmed by calculation.”]

We’re Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo…

David and I visited the Cleveland Zoo.  It’s December, so it was cold out, but the zoo prepares for that.  The rain forest area is in one large (and well heated) building, and they have coat racks so you don’t have to haul your coat around.  And when you’re ready to head into the zoo, they have a shuttle (also heated) that takes you up to the aquarium and cats building (I know! Really weird pairing).  
David took a LOT of pictures.  When we got to the zoo, I discovered that my camera battery was almost dead. So I got some shots (like this one), but David got many more. 
Sometimes, we were not entirely clear about who was on display –
the animals or us:
River otters and children
Orangutans and children
Gharial and woman (tasty snack?)
 
Something cute and small (and us, not pictured)

 
And we saw bats, of which David managed to get several very nice photos, despite the room being completely dark.
And a dwarf crocodile. He was only about three feet long, and didn’t move, blink, or twitch the entire time we looked at him.  (David wanted to know if he was fake.)

These guys were off display for the winter, as was the entire Australia section of the zoo.  However, when we left the rain forest and headed to the aquarium/ cat building, the shuttle was no where to be found.  It was rather nice outside, despite the cold, so rather than wait, we decided to walk.  On the way, we encountered the kangaroos’ winter home. Two were outside when we came upon the building, and while we stood, a couple more went in and out. They looked very cold, though.
 Just as we were getting ready to continue on, along came the shuttle, whose driver very kindly stopped and let us board. 

This is a prehensile-tailed porcupine.  At first we just saw two sleeping, but then a third came up and started running all around the trees. They have an enormous nose.  It’s a little hard to see in the picture, but it’s that large pink spot at the end of his face.  (It looks really fake.)

And cute turtles.  There was a large section in the rain forest with turtles and frogs for a very long time.  They were all cute, but they just didn’t differ that much from each other. 
The ant eater seemed bored.  Unlike the otters and the orangutans, he had no interest in us, and just wanted back through his door.  So he paced back and forth.  It was very sad. 

This is a spiffy pink bird that pretended like I didn’t bother it.  We looked at each other, and then I casually strolled up to the railing and we chilled for awhile.  He kept looking at me and shuffling his feet like he wasn’t sure if he should come closer or move away. 

And then there were the R.O.U.S.es.  I don’t actually remember how 
the zoo had this guy labelled, but really, could he be anything other than 
a Rodent of Unusual Size?

 

And we couldn’t quite figure out what kind of animal was in this cage, 
or why it had so little room.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas (or *insert holiday of choice*)! And I hope you have a fabulous New Years Eve! We’ll be in Boston for New Year’s and for an exchange the weekend after.