How I Spent My Summer – Music

This has been a pretty slow summer for concerts. Nine Inch Nails was playing in Virginia so we skipped that one. I value my time. In July we saw Queens of the Stone Age at Merriweather Post and I engaged in lots of air guitar playing and head banging. St. Vincent opened. While she appears to be an avante garde froo frau, she played a mean guitar. I thought her music was more along the lines of art rock. She was very engaging.

Things picked up by the end of summer  and  we went on a bit of a concert binge.


In August, we went to see George Clinton and family P Funk at the 9:30 Club. What a party. He may be 73 years old but he knows how to get the groove out of his band. Getting down and getting funky. We saw him once before and the structure was the same—there was none apparent. While the music is rehearsed, there is a spontaneity to it, with plenty of jamming. The members of the band change by song. We saw at least two drummers, a few different guitar players, different back-up singers, different horns. It all adds up to what appears to be controlled chaos with George keeping them in line. And by golly, that old man outlasted us again! The last time we saw him, we gave up. We ran out of energy and time. This concert was no different. The show started around nine. At around 11 pm, George said, “Hey we’re just getting started. We’re not going nowhere.” And he meant it. We stayed for almost three hours but at 11:45 a.m. we gave up and left. Matt had to get up early. They were still going strong when we exited. One day we will see him on a night where we are rested and ready to party all night long. We can’t let that senior citizen out party us. And by the way, George cut off his rainbow dreads. Well, I guess he is entitled.


We saw Willie Nelson. We had never seen him so we figured why not. We knew a lot of his songs.


We saw Pitbull because I just love that man. You may say, but Marsha he sings about boobs and bootie and sex. Isn’t that a bit much for someone like you? Don’t you object? Honestly, with most anyone else, I probably would. But it is so obvious that he loves women, and he absolutely loves and honors his mother. Plus, he really makes me laugh. His music is singable, danceable, bawdy, fun and infectious. It all seems in such good fun. I don’t ever get the sense that he is a woman hater. No, he loves women and not in a bad way. I would say he is okay with powerful women.   I am not alone. To my surprise, I was not the only older woman in the arena. Inexplicably, he was actually opening for Enrique Iglesias. We left when Pitbull was done. Enrique who?

We saw Erasure because Matt likes them. Honestly, I don’t know who they are.  I do not know their songs but the Gen Xers seemed to like it.  All I saw was a middle aged man dancing around in sequin hot pants and a too tight t-shirt like I assume he did 25 years ago.  He needs to take a look in the mirror because, oh, that is something I can never unsee.

To round out the concert going, we saw Lykki Li.

lykki li

The concert started out kind of slow and I thought, uh oh, this is going to be boring. But it picked up as she appeared to get more comfortable with the crowd. She was dressed in a long black robe and I wondered why she was dressed for Hogwarts. Matt thought she just needed a cap and tassel. She danced around and as I think back, it all looked pretty silly.  Some kind of Goth goddess of sorrow dancing around on a black stage.  The whole thing was kind of odd but I like her music.  Played live,  the music was even more drum-oriented and I always like a good drummer. Her drummer was fantastic.

I think we are done for a while.

How I spent my Summer – Books and Movies and a Play

Have you seen the white whale? Aye, and the pure devil he was. Oh, what fun! I finished reading Moby Dick. Oh, scoff if you like, but I love Herman Melville. A friend of mine once observed that Moby Dick was really a biology/environmental treatise about whales. True. It is also a significant sociological study of the whaling tradition. If you take away all of Melville’s writing about whales and whaling in general, and just left the tale about Moby Dick, you’d have a novella at best. The Ahab story is about the all-consuming nature of Ahab’s need for revenge, wrapped in a religious fanaticism that makes Ahab believe that he and only he can and should be allowed to deal a death blow to the devil that is the white whale.

It is easy to understand why scholars study this work for a lifetime. The text is layered with meaning. Not being a bible scholar, or even a bible reader, I could not follow all of the biblical references. The love story between Ishmael and Queequeg is probably my favorite part of the book. I call it a love story because at one point, as they share a room in Nantucket waiting for a boat, Ishmael describes their talking in bed like a husband and wife. He really loved that tattooed madman with the goofy idol for a God.

The ultimate lesson is that fanaticism can only lead to destruction. In the case of Ahab, he destroyed everyone around him but not the white whale, the angel of death, and not Ishmael who is saved by Queequeg’s coffin.

Moving on to a documentary “The Act of Killing” is an unblinking study of the baseness of human nature. A group of Indonesian men acted as a death squad killing “communists” during a more brutal time in Indonesia’s history in the 1960’s and 1970’s.   The filmmaker discovered that this militia was so proud of their killing exploits, and they were so well-known and admired in their thuggery, that the men were willing to talk openly about their acts of killing.

The men claim to have based many of their methods on the movies. Almost as an homage to old gangster films, the movie director gets them to reenact some of their favorite moments of death. Demonstrations of the more simple acts of murder like cutting off a guy’s head with wire, to the more dramatic such as the reenactment of the burning of a village including random killing of the villagers, some rapes, and small children crying hysterically as they watched, brought these men back to their days of glory.

At one point, the men are interviewed on a television talk show where they proudly proclaim they protected the country from these subversives. It is hard to know who they were actually killing but the audience clapped and cheered as they told how many dozens of men they had killed for the sake of their country. In fact, it becomes clear that these men were a gang of thugs, enforcers who liked being in control.

Probably the most redeeming moment is when, Angwar—the focus of the movie and the best known killer of them all—comes to regret what he did. As he reenact, as he relives, he looks back at first with pride. Then he seems to crack. When he plays one of the victims in a reenactment, he becomes unnerved and at that moment comes to understand what it must have been like to be on the other side of the knife. He seems to comprehend, uncomfortably so, that it was wrong. During these reenactments they learn that they killed the father of one of their extras. Angwar listens to the young man cry as he tells of his father’s murder. Importantly, he seems to realize that he has lived with the horror of his actions for years without allowing himself to feel the humanity of it. He has been so proud of himself for being the best assassin the country has seen. By the end he comes to understand what he did was truly evil. In the last frame, he walks off and we hear no more.

It is a tough movie to watch but if you can stomach it, the study of what humans are capable of is stunning. This movie will stay with me for a very long time.

We have also been watching the Ip Man trilogy. Ip Man is considered to be the greatest martial artist in China. He practiced a form that was not well known and he had to prove himself. In the first movie he takes on the Japanese invaders. In the second movie he has moved to Hong Kong and he takes on the Brits. At the end of the movie, a young student shows up at his school. It is Bruce Lee. We are trying to pace and we have not yet seen the third.

Thanks to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” I have come to appreciate martial arts movies. If you want to see a beautiful movie, try “The Grandmaster.” Gorgeous in detail and cinematography, it is an epic drama about Ip Man. Not all martial arts movies are as good as these two examples, and certainly the Ip Man trilogy is not in at this level of sophistication. But the action is interesting, certainly far better than any Hollywood blow ‘em up car crash movies and if the movie is well made, it can be beautiful to watch.

On a lighter note, we watched “Celestine and Ernest,” the animated movie about a mouse and a bear. It was a simply adorable, feel good movie.

We also got out to the theater to see the play “Avenue Q” at Olney Theater. Hilarious. A musical with muppets controlled by actors and those muppets go where no muppet has gone before. A story about a neighborhood (read Sesame Street) and life for a guy and girl just out of school and how they fall in love. The story line and lyrics were pretty hysterical and oddly familiar. Bawdy, goofy, yet very insightful. I wondered about it. Yep, just as I thought—created by the same guy who wrote “Book of Mormon,” which if you have not seen it, what are you waiting for?


How I spent my summer — 4th of July in Pittsburgh


We decided to gambol off to Pittsburgh for the 4th of July. We met Maryanne and Jim for a Pirates game and fireworks on the waterfront. During the day, we went to the festivities at Point State park.

pgh #3
Sand sculpture celebrating the War of 1812


The water was choppy so the boat races were not going well, or at all.

waiting for the boat races


Soon we gave up on the boats and made our way to the ball park.

pgh #6

I had Manny’s BBQ and we drank some very good beer. Gosh darn it, we missed the pierogi race. That was disappointing. But the Pirates won so we made up for it in the end.

For as long as I have lived near or in Pittsburgh, I have never been to the fireworks. They were very good. It was a long show with some big poppers. They have Chicago beat by a mile. (Sorry. No one beats D.C.)

waiting for the show

More fireworks fun:


pgh fireworks #5
still waiting
pgh Fireworks#1
There they go!
pgh fireworks#2


As for food, Mercato is a restaurant in the Arts district.  It serves meatballs. Yes, meatballs. It could very well be one of my heavens. We ate there twice because we all love meatballs. How can you not?  It could very well be a perfect food. Well, it is not potatoes, which is the perfect food. But meatballs are a close second. Matt knows that if he is ever in doubt as to what kind of sandwich to order for me, he gets me a meatball sub. Hmmmm.

The next day we traveled to my brother Michael’s house for dinner.  He was stressed out because his daughter Rebecca was in the hospital giving birth to his third grandchild.  But the baby was fine and my brother was fine.

Good times.





How I spent my Summer – In the Garden

Part of the harvest

I tore out the old garden and built a new one made up of five large cedar boxes. It was ridiculously easy because I ordered the kit with pre-cut wood and metal corners. All I had to do was screw them together and that means Matt had to screw them together. I moved them into place. Then came the hard part. I had to fill them with dirt.

I started with three boxes. I dug up all of the good garden soil from the old garden. I moved about 18 wheelbarrows full of dirt. By my estimation that was about 54 bags of dirt at 40 pounds each. This was not even close to enough. I bought another 25 bags of soil at 40 pounds a piece. I moved them to the back yard and dumped them into the boxes. The next day I felt like I had been hit by a bus. That was some seriously hard work. But I was not done. Three boxes were not enough, so I ordered two more. I bought more bags of soil and I moved more dirt. In total, I bought 64 bags of soil. By my calculations, I moved about 2.6 tons of dirt. Needless to say, I counted this as exercise.

Once the boxes were filled I planted zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, Swiss chard and mustard greens. The soil in the box was fresh and full of manure. The garden thrived all summer.  I was absolutely overrun with tomatoes.  Most of them, we just plain ate.  Some I turned into spaghetti sauce and crushed tomatoes.


Later in the season I planted a wildflower garden on the bare spot where the old garden used to be. I have flowers everywhere and the butterflies and bees are delighted.

I also planted potatoes in containers, which produced a nice little crop.  Gosh, I love growing potatoes.


The blueberry bush flourished this year. It produced at least four quarts.  I also planted two plum trees. They were under assault by Japanese beetles, which were really bad this year. I put a beetle trap out and it filled in about a week. It was a pretty disgusting pile of bugs, but it seemed to help. I did get a few plums. I would expect more next year.

We were out on a pick your own farm one day when I found peanut plants. Oh, how I wanted to grow peanuts. I planted them and in about one day the squirrel had dug them up. You see, peanut plants are grown from peanuts and the squirrel dug right down to the root and found that orb of squirrel delight. I tried re-planting but it was a waste of time. He kept digging. Next year I will make sure those are covered.

The grape-vine is growing. I moved the asparagus bed and I transplanted my herbs to a new bed. Grapes, asparagus and even herbs take a few years to really get established. So we just have to be patient. I placed some of the herbs plants in different spots around the yard. The thyme and the oregano are growing near the shed. The mint is on the sunny side of the house and the sage is by the bird bath. I like to walk around and pick stuff as if it is wild.

I had so many dandelions this year that I decided to let them grow so I could harvest them. Yes, dandelions are edible. You can buy them at the Whole Foods Market. I don’t use any lawn chemicals so I would be picking an organic crop. I have to admit, they are an acquired taste. They can be bitter, like chicory, and just as tough. But for some reason I like them, particularly with feta cheese. They are also really good in soup with ham and white beans.

After they seemed to be big enough I picked some and I had a salad. These were particularly chewy and bitter. I guess that is what happens when they grow wild. I ate them. Matt did not.

Our two maple trees out front were looking pretty bad. The bark was turning black and the branches were dying off. I called the arborist and he confirmed they were dying of a fungus and could not be saved. So we had them cut down. When they were here I had them prune up the rest of the trees. It took two days. I loved them being here. I can never not talk to tree guys. Most days I wish I were an arborist. I love to plant trees. I never have enough space to plant as much as I want. So we talked about the trees, how they looked in terms of overall health, and what to plant instead.

As they cut and pruned, they sent the branches into the chipper and out came wood chips. The young man certainly could see I was interested, so he offered to leave the chips behind. I said, how much is there. About a cord, maybe two. I have no idea what a cord is but I said, sure, why not.

They dumped a gigantic pile of wood chips on my driveway.   It was easily four feet high and about six feet wide.  My job, spread it out. I was kind of worried that it had not been given time to properly season itself, breaking down somewhat before I used it. But it was mostly oak and cedar from the arborvitae they trimmed and it was not going to break down anytime soon. So I went ahead and mulched the entire property.

Mulch pile
The much-reduced mulch pile. By this time, I am toward the end of it.

I used a snow shovel to move the chips. It was big and light. It worked beautifully. I had so much mulch that I was able to put down chips around just about every tree and planting area in the yard. This much mulch would have cost me a fortune. It took about two weeks to get it done, largely because it kept raining. The neighbors who walk their dogs every day marveled as the pile got smaller and smaller. One guy pumped his bicep at me. Honestly, mulch is not that heavy. The hard part was filling the wheelbarrow and dumping it around because it took so many trips.

I love being outside, I love digging, I love the smell of freshly mowed grass and I love eating food I have grown.


How I Spent My Summer – 19th Anniversary

Matt and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary on May 20. He bought me sunflowers. I cooked dinner, papparadelle with duck ragu. We drank the Chocolate Block, a red wine blend from South Africa. It was a very nice day all the way around.  Hey, it’s been a nice life all the way around!

%d bloggers like this: