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March 2017

March flew by.  Matt was sick for a few weeks.  I avoided it.  Mostly it was the routine of life.  There were some highlights.

Matt’s Birthday – On Matt’s Birthday we went to Garrison for dinner.  This is a restaurant we had not tried before.  It has some good reviews so we figured, why not?  They were offering a special smorgasbord and with it they were serving Aquavit (Scandinavian moonshine) which is our downfall. We had a snort. In most restaurants these days, appetizers can be the size of what I consider an entree. So I stuck with appetizers.  The hands down favorite was the chicken liver parfait–chicken liver pate with kumquats.  Delish.  I also had a cheese plate and bison tartare which was surprisingly bland.  Matt had the rabbit tagliatelle entree.  At the end of the evening, I was feeling giddy with good food so I asked for another aquavit.  That was a mistake.  I had a pretty good headache the next day.

Then we went to Obelisk, another restaurant we had always wanted to try, with Matt’s mom.  This is a fixed menu, many courses affair.  The menu changes everyday but it is Italian based food.  We had a cheese plate which was yummy.  We had several appetizers, small tasting plates which disappeared before I could even record them.  I had a mushroom agnolotti, home made pasta of course.

The White Snake – We love the playwright, Mary Zimmerman. She is an imaginative writer and creator who uses stories, folk tales and Greek myths and turns them into great theater.  We have seen Argonautika, Metamorphoses, and Arabian Nights.  A few years ago, we went to Chicago to see her adaptation of The Jungle Book (which just did not work for us.)  So when we see her name as writer, director, creator, we are there.

This play, the White Snake, is based on a Chinese folk tale.  As explained on the Center Stage website:  Originating from the ancient Chinese fable, The White Snake tells the story of animal spirits White Snake and Green Snake, who take human form as a beautiful woman and her sly servant. White Snake soon falls passionately in love with a poor pharmacist’s assistant, but their relationship is reviled by a conservative monk and tragedy lurks behind their newfound happiness.”  Zimmerman told the tale in a modern way, bringing in all kinds of magic with costumes, lighting and music.  Even puppets.  The snakes were played by women who worked with puppets to portray the writhing snakes.  Overall, it was a good play.  Not her greatest work, but it was interesting and that is what we always we expect from her–to be entertained with a good story with words and sets and portrayals that bring out the joy of the story.

 

February was a really awful month

Most of this month was spent obsessing about Donald Trump or going to funerals.

I am not going to even discussed his orangeness.  He takes up enough of my time.

Two men that I worked with for many years died over the course of two weeks–Charlie Hobbs and Bobo Dean.

I was just getting out of law school with not a job prospect in sight.  My boss at the time, a judge at the local D.C. Court of Appeals, got a call from Charlie asking if he had any good law clerks and the judge recommended me.  I had never heard of Indian law. But I went to the interview to find out what it was about.  He hired me to work on a very big Indian case against the federal government concerning mismanagement of timber owned by Indians in Washington state.  To say our relationship was complicated is not saying enough.  We fought.  A lot.  I was a very volatile and opinionated person.  Charlie valued the opinion but not the volatility.  We produced great work.  Kind of like band members who fight with each other all the time but make great music together because of it.

Charlie was a guy who was willing to hire me when no one else would and I can never thank him enough for that.  So it was very difficult to watch him decline over the years.  Near the end, Matt and I visited him in the hospital several times, just going in to talk with him and cheer him up.  We can be very entertaining.  But he finally succumbed.  I’ll miss you Charlie.  You taught me a lot and the next time I write a sentence that reads, “Not so!” or the next time I refer to “jub jub” I’ll think of you.

As for Bobo, he was the greatest conversationalist in the universe.  I could talk to him all day long.  He was infinitely interesting.  I did not work with him regularly since I was usually working on litigation and he did other things.  But he was a vivid man with a tenacity that I have never experienced since.  He changed Indian law for the better and I hope that people appreciate that.

 

Mardi Gras

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That is one dapper fellow

February usually is a lousy month. So we decided to throw a Mardi Gras party.  I spent two days cooking up a New Orleans extravaganza of jambalaya, collards, mac and cheese, muffulettas and an appetizer stuffed with crawfish and cheese.  We had king cake and lots of beads and hats to top it off.  We thank everyone who came, especially my family.  We had fun seeing everyone.  We took some pics before the party started.

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Michele, Michael, Marsha

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Michele and John

Honey Qiao and Me

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Sometimes I get ideas in my head that are just kind of kooky.  A while back I went through my closet and tried on all of my gowns.  As many of you know, Matt and I used to go dancing but we can’t do that anymore so the gowns have collected dust and I wondered if I should keep them.  Well, I had to say goodbye to most of them since my torso has decided that I need to look more like my mother.  I can’t have a closet without at least a few gowns.  You never know. So I started to work on replacing them.

I don’t really spend much on gowns.  I look for sales, clearance, whatever I can.  I’m not that particular and I have purchased more than one gown from the local JC Penneys’ prom rack. No kidding.

This time, I decided to see what came up on Amazon. There I found Honey Qiao.  Honey Qiao is a person, I am going to assume a woman, in China who will create a custom gown for you for about 70 bucks. While you can buy a standard size from her, if you send her your measurements and pick a fabric, she will whip up the dress that is pictured on the page to fit you.  I discovered that there are several such dressmakers on Amazon.  I went with Honey Qiao.

I asked Matt to help me with my measurements.  I had to measure the usual–bust, waist, hips but also arm length, length from collar bone to floor, the distance from shoulder to shoulder, arm hole, and full height.  Off those measurements go to Honey Qiao and she responds within an hour.  She thought that one of my measurements, from collar bone to floor seemed wrong and she asked me to measure it again.  By this time, Matt was sleeping, so I took a stab at it.  It seemed to be the same but she made me nervous so I added an inch.  Her response was, “friend,we got that.we will make the dress for you now.thanks very much for your measurements.”

And a week later, the gown arrived accompanied by a note that read as follows (punctuation per the letter):

I wanna say: Hi there, my dear friend,thank you choose our products,choose me,choose honest.  I am a dress desinger which make the occasion dresses, wedding dresses for 8 years and my family is human hair factory over 30 years old.  This is not an adviertisement but and Introduction about me:) The dress you got , it is sequined fabric with cap sleeved closed by zipper and has a cowl back. before this hot summer,I make this dress with satin lined, with padded. but I got some messages from buyer and they wanted to return dress because they felt too hot,too thick ,hard.uncomfortable.after I got this news,I improve it that very night . and made some new samples with US2 to US24W ,and find 20 girls to wear the new dresses with different sizes.the new dresses,I choose very thin. soft. big elastic lined.  no padded.  here is very hot in China too.after they try them on.  15 girls said feel comfortable did not feel too hot.but 5 girls said a little pain of armpit since there was sequins,so.i put extra soft fabric to cover the sequins under the armpit .and then it is great finally.

since this fabric is made of lots of sequins ,so,maybe sometimes will fall off,and when we cut the fabric ,some sequins was fall off too .just like fabric fibre will fall off too when you cut it. but sequins fabric very popular now,it is sparkly,shinny, this design is modest but not stuffy.

just like : If you love someone,you should accept its everything,includes its faults and weaknesses, just like : love me.love my dog.love this nice dress love my fall off sequins 🙂 lol

i am sorry for bad english .i just want to say,yes,this fabric has its faults .but we love its sparkly,we should accept everything it brings.

but pls do not worry, i accept refund or exchange if you really don’t love it.

your girl friend does not love it, return!

your boy friend does not love it,return!

your baby does not love it,return!

Your dog you cat does not love it.return!

hate it ,just return it !

we make refund so easy   🙂

but…

if you love it.

pls don’t hesitate to leave your best 5 stars reviews in out product websiteand 5 stars good feedback in your order.

And Pls Pls remember contact me if you want give us bad feedback when u met problem, just i can ,i will help u do my best.as you know,i am a new seller here, work hard,i don’t want make buyers disappointment and i hope i can get more suggestions from my buyers and give you more good dresses  .

Thank you for understanding

[She then tells me her contact information on whatsapp and email]

Give my sincerest wishes.

Lily

come from Honey qiao company

 

You have to admit.  That was one adorable letter.  And the dress was gorgeous except for one tiny problem–it was too long!  I should never have changed the length measurement.  It was dragging on the ground.

Well, Honey Qiao did say that if I did not love it for any reason, I could return it right?  But it was my fault.  I gave her the wrong measurement so it would not be fair for me to ask her to take it back.  Instead I emailed her to just say, hey, the dress ended up being too long.  I was hoping she would say, no problem, I’ll fix it.  Yeah, she didn’t.  She said,

“i am sorry to hear that dear.longer is better than shorter .
hehe
i think the dress length should is 56.5 inch .right ?:)

Yeah, she was right.  I gave her that number so it was hard to argue with her.  hehe.

In the end, I took it to the seamstress to be hemmed.  So my $70 gown ended up costing $120.  Did I save money?  Hard to say.  The gown fits like a glove and I would never find that off a rack.  But, as she warned, I do seem to leave a trail of sequins in my wake.  As she instructs, that is a flaw that I have to accept if I love the dress. And I do love the dress.  So lesson learned.  Never listen to Honey Qiao when she questions the measurements my husband gives me and accept whatever she produces, flaws and all.  Now all I need is a place to wear this bombshell thing to.

 

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January 2017 – Ugh! Already?

I am going to try, really try to keep up with a blog because for the almost two years I did not keep one regularly I lost track of my life.  So good riddance to 2016.  You really sucked.  So here goes 2017:

New Year’s Eve

We went to China Chilcano for New Year’s Eve.  We had been to this restaurant once before and loved the Peruvian fusion food.  First, I love Peruvian food because it involves potatoes and chilis.  Second, I love pisco sours, which is a Peruvian drink made with pisco, a Peruvian brandy made from grapes.  The Piscos were part of the dinner package, all I could drink.  So this seemed like a great place to have a New Year’s Eve dinner. Wrong.

The food was so-so, which really surprised us.  But even worse, the music was so loud, that we literally could not hear each other and we were writing notes back and forth on a tablet.  I suppose if I texted, we would have been texting across the table.   Even though we had reservation for the midnight toast, we were practically running for the door by 11:30.  Does this make us old?  I don’t know but I vowed that we are not going out for New Year’s Even ever again.   I’d prefer to sit in my basement and watch movies.  As Louis C.K. says, (and he is my philosopher king) it is really a meaningless moment.  It is a mental construct. All that happened is that day turned into night and night turned into day.  A new year is just the next day.

January 1, 2017 – The Day After

I had one too many piscos but I forced myself to exercise anyway.  Then I spent the day cooking a leg of lamb and fava bean puree, a Puglian staple that is kind of like but not really hummus.  We fell in love with it on our trip to Italy.  Then Matt taught me how to play Yahtzee.  I remember when I was a kid I thought it was an old person’s game.  I guess I was right.

January 5, 2017 – Wicked.  

We went to see Wicked at the Kennedy Center.  I have to admit, I am not a fan of The Wizard of Oz.  I am not sure I ever made it through the movie.  When I was a kid I was not into musicals and that movie has a lot of singing and dancing.  I’d get bored and move on.  Matt loved the movie as a kid and he had the Frank Baum books so I read them.  I was not too crazy about them either and to be honest, I never absorbed the story line. Wizards, good witches, bad witches.  Meh.   So when Matt said he wanted to see Wicked, I kind of groaned and reluctantly said okay.

Well, it was GREAT!  I did not know the story line at all so I was going in with no expectations whatsoever.  Why is the wicked witch evil?  Is she really evil or is it a plot? What is the back story?  Too much fun.  The two women playing Glinda and Elphaba were fantastic singers and also pretty gosh darn hilarious.  The set was fun, the costumes outrageous, the music soaring but not pompous.  We just enjoyed it immensely.  I cannot say I am a fan of the Wizard of Oz, but I am a fan of Wicked.  if it is coming to your town, go and see it!

January 11 – Hockey

Went to see the Pens play the Caps.  We lost!  in fact, we sucked completely.  Gosh, I hate that.  We need revenge.

January 14 – Louis C.K. at DAR.

I’ll be honest, I had no idea who Louis C.K. was.  (I am oblivious about a lot of things.  Hey, I’m busy.)  But we have Netflix and I suggested we check out his sitcom, Louis.  Oh my God!  I love that man.  He is hilarious, insightful, philosophical.  I call him my philosopher king.  He reminds me a bit of George Carlin just in terms of tackling hard topics and making it all seem so funny.  At this show, which he recorded, he talked about such fun topics as abortion, suicide, and the fact that if you utter the words Jesus Christ with the wrong intention, you end up in hell.  Yeah, he made all of that funny. I’d see him again in a heartbeat.

January 20  [____I am pretending this did not just happen___________]

A day I cannot discuss. But no, I did not go downtown to protest.  When I saw the hooligans were out, I decided to stay home.

January 21 – The Women’s March on Washington

Oh, yeah.  You know we went to this.  But we never actually got to the rally itself.  Way, way, way too many people.  We came off the subway, got directed down a side street that was parallel and a block from the stage and from there did not get anywhere near the action.  We wanted to get to the handicapped area and by the time we did, it was packed with people.

So we decided that Matt would set up his chair on the sidewalk and we would watch the crowd streaming off the subway.  In that sense, the march went right by us.  People are so clever.  There were clever signs, street theater, puppets (I love the puppets) and just thousands of people happily marching.  Good times.

Here are some pics.  Keep in mind.  This is on a side street coming off the subway.  They are trying to get to the actual march which is blocks away.  Lucky for us, they marched to the march:

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Matt holding my sign – This is side B

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too hilarious for words.  This pair was our favorite.

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Street Theater.  A bunch of people were inside the blue sign which was a circle and read “All in the Same Boat.”  The people with capes and masks were the bad guys I think.  The people in the boat went around and then they all fell down.  The people in the masks laughed.  It was all too deep for me.  

march-7

My sign, Side A. It was very popular.  A lot of people took pictures

 

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Puppets!

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Great sign and true!

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A marching band of Tubas!  Fallopian tubas!

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_________________________________________

January 28 – Caroline, or Change

We have been going to a lot of theater this past year and Tony Kushner has been big on our list.  Who is Tony Kushner?  One of our best living playwrights.  He wrote Angels in America and if you have not seen that extravaganza on HBO, you need to sit down and take it in.  A play about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, Al Pacino goes full out as Roy Cohn.  Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson join in to wow us with their acting with both playing multiple characters.   It is a two part play so it takes two days to see.  Back in November, we spent two nights and almost seven hours watching it live.  It was fantastic to see.  The actors have to go all out for the play and they did it at Roundhouse.

Tonight we saw Caroline, or Change, a musical about civil rights in 1960s Louisiana.  Caroline is a maid for a Jewish household.  Based on Kushner’s life, it is about the relationship between the maid and the young Jewish boy.  But it is also about the nascent civil rights movement and Caroline’s frustration with her lot in life.  The music is varied from soul to opera. The things surrounding Caroline–the Washing Machine, the Dryer, the Radio and the Moon–are all represented by in the cast.  The Moon sings opera.  The Radio is a Supremes-like girl trio.  The Washing Machine is kind of like Bessie Smith and the Dryer is like Paul Robeson.  Really all quite entertaining.  Kushner creates complex narratives that run the gamut of human emotion and ambivalence.  Plus, he wrote a song that uses the word “pogrom” as part of a rhyme.  That just kills me.

 

Bill Murray

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Back in April, the Kennedy Center announced that it was going to give Bill Murray the Mark Twain Prize for Humor.  I got it in my head that, gosh darn it, I want to go and see this.  Why do all the hoity-toity types get to go to these kinds of galas and we peons have to stay home?  So I thought about it and figured that if I join the Kennedy Center I’d have a chance to get the tickets early.  Wrong.  I was way down on the category of members who had a chance at the tickets.  I logged in on the day they were to go on sale for me and I saw something like four seats available.  I hit refresh and they were gone.

Undeterred, I decided to find the tickets on-line.  Clickety clickety clickety and voila, I found them.  The price was high, not exorbitant, so I bought them.  Hey, it’s Bill Murray.  I love that guy.

Bill is a Cubs fan and there was a great deal of concern that if the Cubs had to play a Game 7 on its way to the World Series, he was not going to show up.  But the Cubs won and Bill came. He is there with his family in the balcony set off by the red curtain. We were sitting across from them so we could see every reaction he had.

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Matt wore his black tie tux and I wore a gown.  Boy, were we overdressed.  I could not believe how casually people were dressed.  Some people were in jeans.  Whatever, I like wearing gowns.  murray-3

We had pretty good seats, way up in the balcony but no one in front of us, so we could see clearly.

There were stars testifying to Murray’s wonderfulness:  David Letterman, Sigourney Weaver, Miley Cyrus (for God’s sakes, what a mess she is), director Ivan Reitman (Ground Hog Day), Jimmy Kimmel and others.  Bill was funny.  He was clearly uncomfortable getting an award. When he gave his speech, he was trying to understand why everyone said he was beloved and he wondered what that means.  What it means is that we simply enjoy watching him do what he does best.  We watch his movies, no matter what they are, because we find that in the end, he is interesting even if the movie may not be. So we had lots of fun and we saw Bill Murray get his prize.

Arthur the Guard Toad

arthur2Arthur is our guard toad.  He is just so adorable. He comes to our porch almost every night and sits on the stoop. The cats keep an eye on him from behind the door but he does not seem to mind.  When I see him, I go outside and say hello and he says, “Reporting for duty, ma’am. No intruders to report.”  (We have a constant made up dialogue with our wildlife.)  He started appearing a few months ago.  He disappeared for a few weeks and I was so sad.  But then he came back and is his old warty self.  I swear I could take his picture every day.  Look at that face!

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Last night, he brought a tree frog friend who has climbed the glass storm door.  Here he is. from both sides.  He doesn’t have a name.  Yet.

 

Passionfruit – the local harvest

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People who live in the tropics are so lucky.  They get the exotic fruits that we can only imagine.  A few years ago, Matt and I traveled to Sri Lanka.  It was there we discovered and indulged in passion fruit.  I think it is an acquired taste,  a complex combination of passion flower (you can often find sachets and scented potpouri in passion flower) tart lime, and sweet orange.  It has a zing to it and if you do not like tart fruits, this would not be for you.  But for us, it is heaven.

When we were in Sri Lanka, our guide convinced the bartender to make a drink of passion fruit juice and arak, the local liquor.  We downed quite a few one night in a restaurant much to the annoyance of the bartender who did not know he was going to have to juice fruit all night.

On the outside passion fruit are kind of ugly.  They are about the size of an extra large egg and have a hard outer skin that shrinks and wrinkles as the fruit ripens.  They end up looking a bit like oversized prunes.  The more wrinkled they are, the sweeter and juicier they are.  You have to cut them open with a knife and when you do, you find a surprise inside.  A bit of pulp seeds and juice.  Very precious little.  Perhaps a few tablespoons. So if you are going to eat them as say a dessert or an a snack, you would need about five or six.  And it does not look all that appetizing so you are wondering, huh?  You are eating snot?  No, trust me. That is a gob of sweet tart delight.

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In the States, passion fruit is ridiculously expensive so they must be good right?  You might find them in a very large grocery store for $2.50 each.  Yikes!  $2.50 for about two tablespoons of pulp?  For that kind of money, they better be the best passion fruit ever.  So we sit around longing for them.  Matt might buy a few in the middle of winter.

But now I have discovered I need not wait for that moment.  I signed up for a website called Local Harvest.  It puts consumers in direct touch with farms.  Here is the hilarious part.  “Local” it is not.  I can sit here in Maryland and order fruit from California and honey from Florida.  I am buying it without the middle man and I suppose there is some valor in that. But it is not like I am getting food from the local market or pick your own farm.

Local Harvest sends me email alerts.  I try to toss them in the trash so I am not tempted but one day I opened it and there it was–passion fruit for sale.  God bless California farms.  I had no idea we grew passion fruit in the U.S. and I sure had no idea I could have them mailed to my door step.  The cost?  About a dollar a piece, half of what the grocery store charges. No question, I immediately ordered some.  I went a little nuts and ordered from two farms, 30-40 in each box.  So 80 passion fruit were on the way!

I could not wait for them to get here.  And now they are here and I am trying to pace myself.  Pacing sucks.  I swear I could sit down and eat ten or fifteen no problem.  But I try to limit myself to five or six so as not to commit the deadly sin of gluttony.  Stupid deadly sins!

Then I got on-line to find passion fruit recipes.  Of course you can find them in desserts but what about entrees?  I figured fish would be the key–tropical and often paired with fruit.  Bingo.  I found about six recipes for fish with passion fruit sauce.  This is a very popular dish in South America.  Was it good?

Yes, it was yummy.  It was passion fruit pulp cooked with red onion garlic and then processed into a sauce with fresh cilantro.  It went perfectly with fish and rice.  I hope this does not turn into a habit.

Marsha and Matt Take Manhattan

hamilton

This was a trip where the stars truly aligned.  After a lot of searching and effort, we got tickets to both Hamilton and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  So off we went to New York, New York.

Okay, here is the answer to the question everyone asks.  How did we get tickets to Hamilton?  Well, it is not that you can’t get tickets.  What you cannot get are tickets at the regular price unless you are willing to wait about a year.  My policy is that I do not buy anything a year in advance.  My life changes too much, my mind changes too much, to make that kind of commitment.  Heck, for all I know, in a year I could be living in Tahiti.  (I wish.)  But there are plenty of tickets for sale by resellers. The issue then becomes, how much are you willing to pay?  My answer was, not more than I ever paid to see Prince.  Plus, you need to be flexible and be willing to go on a Wednesday or some off-day.  Forget the weekend.

I went on-line and started going through the tickets for sale day-by-day, month-by-month until I found two we could afford.  Some of the tickets were going for as much as $1000 a piece.  Yeah, I am not paying that kind of money.  I have some dignity and I am not going to be extorted.  I finally found tickets that were under $300 a piece, which was a bargain.

Having secured those, I started shooting for Colbert tickets.  Why not try to do both?  Getting tickets to Colbert is not an easy task either.   I had applied for tickets many times and so I started searching every day to see if a date had opened.  Finally, one night as we were enjoying our after dinner repast, and I was playing on my iPad, they let me into the queue and I got them.  It worked.  See, the stars did align.

But wait, there’s more.  We love a good meal.  I’m very much into table pounding a la Harry Met Sally when something is gosh darn good.  When we last visited New York, we had dinner at The Modern, the restaurant associated with the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.  It had good reviews and we are foodies so we decided to try it.  The food was surprising and imaginative and our taste buds were most pleased.  So we thought, let’s go again.  Turns out the chef had left and started his own restaurant–Gabriel Kruether.  Well, Gabriel darling, we made reservations and we are on our way.

And let us not forget Aquavit, our favorite Nordic restaurant.  After our trip to Norway we became fans of Nordic cuisine, and we have eaten there many times.  So we had to stop there too.

Plans all made, we set off on a cold February day riding the train to New York for a four day holiday.

First stop, Colbert.  Hey, there we are on the telly:

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There are very strict rules about attending one of these shows.  We have to get in line to get a ticket and a hand stamp, even though we already have reservations.  Then we are told to return at a specific time and if we are not there, we are out, even with a ticket. Then we get into another line and wait and wait and wait.  The first line is interminable.  The show tapes at five.  We start standing in line at around two.  It is raining and cold and miserable. We are early enough that we are standing under the theater awning so we are not soaked but after two hours, the toes are decidedly frosty.  But we persevere.  We go away and come back at the appointed hour.  We get in line again.  When they finally let us in, we stand some more.  Finally, doors open and we end up pretty close to the stage.

So what happens?   It starts with a comedian warming up the audience.  A not very funny comedian who seems to be a throw back to the 1950s.  He is actually telling ethnic jokes about the Irish.  Um, okay. This guy’s job is to get the audience fired up.  We practice yelling and cheering.

Next Colbert comes out for a Q & A.  They tell you not to ask him any personal questions.  He takes my question.  I am so excited.  Actually, I have a comment.  I tell him that I really think he could be the next Johnny Carson but he needed to have someone from a zoo bring an animal to maybe pee on his head.  Then he’d really be Carson.  (I will never ever forget that Carson moment.) Yes, I suggest that Colbert have an animal pee on his head.  He makes a joke about my comment, he is flattered that I compared him to Carson, and that was that.  Then Jon Batiste and the band come out to play some for us.  The show starts, Stephen comes on and we watch a t.v. show being made.  It is all over in about 90 minutes.  The entire ordeal took about six hours.

We have reservations for a late dinner at Aquavit.  I opt for the three course traditional Nordic meal, which, of course, includes house-cured herring and potatoes.  It ends up being about seven courses after they brought all of the chef’s surprises like porcini mushroom soup with rabbit and a venison tartar with a raw quail egg.  We pair dinner with an aquavit flight.  What is aquavit?   A Norwegian spiced liquor, a vodka or whiskey depending on whether it is made from grains or potatoes.  Linje Aquavit is by far the best and most traditional.  In the olden days of yore, sailors would put the aquavit in casks and take it with them around the world. They realized this process gave it a more complex flavor.  So Linje mimics that by putting their aquavit into oak casks and giving it a world tour on a ship traveling to the far reaches of the Pacific and back.  The aquavit matures with help from the gentle rocking of the ship.  I assume the house-made aquavit we were tasting did not go around the world on a ship but it was still tasty.  Three shots of it and I am feeling pretty good.

After dinner, simply stuffed to the gills, we flag a taxi and head back to the hotel to begin planning for our next adventure–Hamilton.

Here is the other answer to the often asked question about Hamilton, is it really that good?  Yes. Yes, it is.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  In fact, Hamilton has ruined musicals for us.  As Matt says, there is a time before-Hamilton and a time after-Hamilton. For example, we recently saw Evita at the local theater.  Yikes!  So BH.  Now that we are AH, that musical just does not meet the test for a great musical.  I am not sure if it ever did.  But I can say that, after Hamilton, it seemed flat and dull.

The theater where Hamilton plays is quite small,  built at a time when men must have been as tall as James Madison.  Matt, like most other men in the theater, is squeezed into the seat, knees practically under his chin.  I am even uncomfortable. But the music and the story are so engrossing, we just ignore it.  The show is a three hour extravaganza of music–pop, rap, traditional musical numbers. It has it all.  It is just exhilarating to watch.  Yes, watching two men have a free-style rap off (if that is what it is called) about how to pay for the debts of the States after the Revolutionary War is ridiculously fun.  We are watching the original cast, too.  Afterward, we walk back to the hotel happy about what we have just witnessed and vowing to see it again someday.

And now the day had come for us to dine with Chef Gabriel.  We save ourselves all day for the tasting menu extravaganza that is to come.  We are warned the tasting menu takes three hours and has twelve courses.  Twelve?  Bring it on.  It has it all.  Fois gras, caviar, venison, lobster, and more.  It ends up being more like fourteen courses with the add-ons.  Once again, groaning as we leave the table, we waddle back to the hotel.  We must have consumed two days worth of calories in that one meal.

The next day we packed our bags and headed home, another adventure coming to an end.

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The Corpse Flower

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Success!!! On August 2, 2016, we finally got to see the Titan Arum in bloom in all of its fetid glory.  Also known as the Corpse Flower or stinky plant, this plant, indigenous to Indonesia, gets its nickname from the putrid odor it emits when it blooms.  The odor is likened to rotting flesh or meat.  There is a purpose to that odor–it attracts beetles and flies which then pollinate the flower deep inside the cone.  It is also called titan for a reason.  This one grew to be 7’4″ tall before it collapsed.  Go to the US Botanical Garden website to see the time lapse video.

Trying to see one of these bloom and emitting a stench is no easy task.  People line up for blocks to get into the building.  And if you don’t get there at just the right moment, it will not smell.  Why do we want to smell it?  Because that is the point.  It is one thing to be a big plant.  It is an entirely different level when it smells like a rotting corpse.  You have to ask yourself, can it be that bad?  The only way to find out for yourself is to be there when it smells.

We tried to see one three years ago but I was traveling and by the time I arrived, speeding like a maniac from the airport to get in line, the line was so long that it wrapped around the building and double on itself.  They closed the doors just as we approached the entrance.  We cried and went home.  When we went back the next day, the odor was long gone.

This time we were fully prepared.  I was glued to the live webcam waiting, waiting, waiting for it to open.  I would yell to Matt from my office–it looks like its getting closer!  Maybe tomorrow.  But it delayed and delayed.  When will it open damn it!  And then finally, pow!  The leaves opened and there it was in all its blooming glory.   We went through lots of logistics and planning for us to get there and get in line.  But we did it!  And it stunk to high heaven!  At first we could not smell it and I was concerned that we had missed it again.  But we found the exact right spot where the stench was lingering.  For me, it smelled like a dumpster on a hot and humid day, maybe holding a dead body, or at least rotting meat.  It took a really long time to get that smell out of my olfactory nerves.  But by golly, we achieved a lifetime goal.  See and smell a stinky plant.  Hey, life is full of these little treasures.  Here it is for a close up.  Gorgeous details.

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This next photo is of a fountain in the botanical garden.  One day, I want to have one of these.  fountain

Blog Dylan

This was the note I wrote to myself after were returned from not seeing Bob Dylan.  Well, we saw him alright, but I insisted we leave after he croaked out his first song.  I say “croaked” kindly.  I stomped off to the car, muttering, or not just muttering but loudly proclaiming to the only person who would listen, my husband, that the guy just needs to retire.  I was really angry. Here is why.

I have loved Bob Dylan forever.   When I was in elementary school  we sang Bob Dylan folk songs like “Blowin in the Wind” during music class.  He was right there with Woody Guthrie and “This Land is Your Land,” as it was meant to be. During the Golden Age of Radio, before music was sliced into smaller and smaller niche marketing categories, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” played along side Nancy Sinatra singing, “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” and we were okay with that.  Bob was always there singing songs we all came to know, inserted into out DNA.  (Thankfully, Nancy eventually disappeared.)  You really could not miss his music.

But he really came into my consciousness when I was in high school and then college.  I played Blood on the Tracks and Desire over and over again.  I’d leave the arm up on the stereo and the record just looped (I don’t think that anyone under 40 understands what I just said.)  Six hours later, we would realize that the same album had been playing all day.

The mid ’70’s was a very productive time for Dylan.  His marriage fell apart and there was all that pain and anguish that had to be digested. In my opinion, Blood on the Tracks is still his best record.  He will never produce anything as perfect ever again.  Then came Desire.  Then Bob found Jesus, another life changing moment for him, and he put out some terrific gospel records.  Those three records–Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love–could not have been more fun and original.  People hated that he had gone religious but I did not care. If that is where Bob was, fine with me so long as it produced great music.   I embraced it.  I sat in the front row for his Slow Train Coming Tour and there was Bob dripping sweat on me as he testified along with his gospel singers. On my visits home for a weekend, I’d convince my mom to skip church on Sunday and we’d listen to Dylan’s gospel records instead. Neither one of us was very religious and it was a great excuse to stay home listening to good music.  I still love those records.  “Pressing On” has got to be one of my favorite songs of all time.

Then somewhere along the line Bob and I parted ways.  I am a tough critic.  If a record is not great, then I feel free to complain, particularly in Bob’s case.  He put out one or two okay records but for me the late 80’s early 90’s were a bust.  He played withe the Dead and I was okay with that.  I was a Deadhead at the time, so I went with it.  He was part of the Traveling Wilburys, and how could you not love that?  I believe I saw him in concert at some point during this time period at the Frederick County Fair, which kind of blew my mind.  The County Fair?  Really?  Yep, there he was, strumming away and, shockingly, not too many people were interested.  He had kind of fallen off the radar.

Finally, in 1997 he released Time Out of Mind.  It took more than a decade but it was a great record. Why?  Broken heart.  When someone breaks his heart, all of the pain and heartache and feelings pour out and it is just beautiful.  But his voice was really not there.  Daniel Lanois did a great job of hiding it, but he does not sound great on that record.  Look, he never had a great voice, but this was nasal sandpaper.

I believe that this record prompted me to see him in concert again, although my expectations were not high.  In case you are not in the loop, since the 1990’s Bob Dylan has been on a never ending tour.  Literally.  He tours.  This is what he does.  He is never not on the road. So it is really easy to see him.  Just wait and like the swallows returning to Capistrano, Bob will be back.  He tends to show up around here in November near my birthday.  So we went.   He was playing with Joni Mitchell.  She was great.  Bob, well, not so much. The songs he sang were incomprehensible.  Did I see him play the greatest hits?  I suppose so, but it is hard to say.  He had changed the rhythm of the songs and his voice was so bad it was almost painful to listen to.  He mumbled his words.  He could have been reciting the telephone book for all I know.  He really was just terrible.  After that show I said, I don’t ever what to see him again.  It just is not worth it.  I am not paying to see him just because he is Bob Dylan.  I’d rather remember him in his glory.

I stuck with it, avoiding his concerts, just not caring anymore.  He put out a Christmas record, which was awful.  He put out a record singing the standards.  Oh my, just give it up, Bob!  Bob, you cannot sing anymore!  But no matter what he puts on a record, some critic somewhere says, hey, it’s not so bad.  Wrong. It is so bad.

Then a few months ago, I see that Mavis Staples will be in concert at Wolf Trap.  Mavis.  I’ve never seen her.  This is great.  Let’s go!  Uh oh.  She is opening for Bob Dylan.  Seeing her will violate my vow to not see Dylan in concert.  Well, it’s for a good cause.  So we buy the tickets to see Mavis.  Bob will happen to be there too.

On concert day there are a lot of people there with their kids, clearly bringing them to see the legend himself.  There are also a lot of old people like me, long time fans.  Mavis is great of course.  Then comes Bob.  The harsh gravel throat that sounds like he needs to clear it of about five years of tobacco tar and phlegm,  the growls, the failure to find a note, any note, the mumbling, it is all there, but even worse!

I just became enraged!  Here are all these people paying good money and for what?  To see a legend that can no longer perform.  It is kind of like people going out to see a museum piece.  People just want to say I saw and heard Bob Dylan perform.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  What is wrong is Dylan pretending that this is what he is giving people.  Would there not be more dignity in finding what he can do and do that?  How about a talk?  How about reading his songs as poetry.  Anything but “sing.”

Think of it like this.  Would it have been great to see a great baseball player, mabe Hank Aaron swing a bat?  Absolutely.  But would you have wanted to see him try it at age 70 if couldn’t even see the ball let alone hit a fly?  Hank did the right thing and showed up at autograph shows, had people pay him for his signature, they had the ability to say they met him, and he made a couple of bucks.  He did not embarrass himself trying to be something he was no longer and people could remember him as he was at his best.

Dylan?   I don’t want to remember him like this.  I understand he is who he is but at some point, you have to hang it up.  What about the kids who came to see him?  They are seeing someone trying to perform far from their prime and what will they take away from it?  Either that it was great to see Dylan or what in the world was that about?  Why is he a legend again?

Well, I once again vow, never again.  One day Bob will pass away and I will be very sad.  But probably sadder because in his later life, he couldn’t seem to find a new way to connect with me.

Marsha and Matt go to Sweden

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The aurora over Mt. Nuolja and the Aurora Sky Station

In January, as a blizzard was bearing down on Washington D.C., Matt and I flew away from the two feet of snow that was on the way and headed to Sweden to see the Northern lights.  Seeing the Northern Lights is not an easy thing.  Seeing any natural phenomenon is very hard and planning a vacation around an attempt to see a phenomenon can be risky.

So I did what every modern dreamer does.  I searched the internet  for the best places to see the aurora.  A place in Sweden, Abisko National Park, kept coming up.  Sweden?  Not Norway or Iceland?  No.  Abisko.  Why?  The theory is that Abisko is located in an area with a microclimate that creates a very good chance of clear skies. Abisko is also in Swedish Lapland, far north of the Arctic Circle and very near Sweden’s northern border with Norway.  So we were pretty sure it was going to be dark and cold.

I bought it.  So I started obsessing about taking a trip to Sweden.  I called my sister Michele and said, let’s go.  She said, sure, why not?  So off we went.

We started in Stockholm of course, where the weather went from freezing cold, a bit of snow and then rain from day-to-day.

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We took in the sites including the ABBA Museum and I am here to say that it is utterly ridiculous that there is a museum dedicated to ABBA but people sure were paying to get in, including us because my husband is a devotee.  But they had some stuff that was completely campy too, so you just had to go with it.

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The clothes were really ridiculous then, weren’t they?

 

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Matt singing along with the group in the sound booth

Matt will never forgive me if I do not mention that we made a pilgrimage to the brewery opened in conjunction with Brooklyn Brewery, Nya Carnegiebryggeriet (Carnegie Brewery I think).  They had some good beer, good atmosphere and good food.

But Stockholm did not detain us long because we had to go north to the Lapland frontier.

We stayed in Bjorkliden, a resort in the middle of nowhere.  There was nothing there but the hotel we were staying in, but it was a beautiful spot.

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The view from our hotel room at around noon.

The sun was coming up for about five hours.  All of that night time atmosphere just made us want to sleep all the time  We were fighting off the need to hibernate and not really doing a very good job.  Our goal was to be awake at night to see the auroras so it was actually okay for us to sleep.

Our first attempt to see the aurora was a visit to the Abisko Sky Station.  That is the tiny dot of light at the top of the mountain in the opening picture to this blog.  We opted for the dinner and stars package.  They have a small restaurant at the top and it serves a very fine gourmet meal to help with the energy needed to sit and wait for an aurora.  The trip to the sky station was by ski lift, a mile long ride up the mountain in the fresh air  Remember, it is night time above the Arctic Circle in January.   They gave us survival suits to wear and none of us said no.  I am glad because it was COLD on that ski lift.  Holy smokes.  It was so cold and we were moving so fast, neither of us got out the cameras.  I was afraid I was going to drop it because of frozen fingers.

At the top we found–clouds.  Yep.  Clouds on the one place that the internet guaranteed their would be good weather.  Stupid internet. The weather changes on a dime, we are told, and maybe, just maybe, the sky would clear. So we went inside for a lovely dinner with about 50 strangers.  All of the meal preparations are brought up on the lift as well.  And given that it was all prepared and brought up in lift chairs a little at a time, it was an amazing dinner.

It started with smoked Arctic char, then mushroom soup with pork belly, an entree of roast moose with a sea buckthorn berry sauce and for dessert, vanilla pana cotta with cloudberry sauce.  Yes, that was very yummy.  We had a drink selection of local schnapps, beer, wine and a dessert wine.  Yikes, the beer was not really very good.  The schnapps, homemade with a sing-along, went down fine.

But that great meal did not change the weather and after a short wait, we headed back down the mountain, disappointed the Gods did not favor us with a solar flare.

But we had another chance that we almost gave up on.  We woke the next day to find that it was snowing and would probably snow all day.  We went snowmobiling in the morning and spent a few hours watching a herd of reindeer.  We had scheduled to go on another aurora photo safari and we figured we might as well just bag it.  But we could not cancel without eating the entire cost of the tour.

Then a miracle happened.  We had gone back to take a nap and I saw a glint of sunlight peaking over the mountain.  This made me re-think it.  We flipped a Kroner a few times–heads we go, tails we don’t–and it kept telling us to go.  I told my sister the Kroner had spoken so we got ready for a night in the cold.

At a small park that served as an interpretive center to the Sami people, we waited.  The photo guide had an app that told her when coronal flares were being shot off the sun and when they would arrive in Swedish airspace.  Too cool.  But there was nothing.  We were allowed to use the hut (really a tepee) to keep warm.  We sat on the reindeer skins  in front of a fire and had a spot of hot toddy of some sort (warmed lingonberry juice) while we waited.

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And we waited and waited and waited some more.  It was very, very cold.  I can’t tell you the temperature because if they said it, they gave it to us in Celsius and I am an American so that is meaningless.  But it was probably in the teens.  It was so cold that after more than an hour my toes and fingers were in distress.  But we soldiered on.

Matt and I were standing in the field waiting behind our camera tripods and we could hear the others talking about packing up.  We had to walk back to the van waiting to pick us up.  And suddenly, there it was.  The green curtain, dancing in the sky.  We were yelling, there it is! We went into emergency mode, just snapping and snapping away until the guide insisted that we leave.  We did reluctantly.

But a funny thing happened.  When we saw our pictures on the computer, they were blurry.  Why?  It was so cold that the cameras were covered with frost.  At some point, the guide wiped off my lens cover.  Unfortunately, she left behind spots that are crystal clear in the picture,  The lens focused on the spot.  Oh well.  We saw it anyway.  Some of the  pictures are here:

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Mission accomplished.  Lesson we have learned again and again. Never question the toss of the coin. When the coin speaks, follow.

On to the Ice Hotel.  We were in the far north and not far from the Ice Hotel so we took the opportunity to visit. No, we did not sleep in an ice room.  I am a sensible person and I have no intention of sleeping on a block of ice covered only with reindeer skins.  We stayed in the warm rooms.  We did go to the Ice Bar and drank way too much out of ice glasses that were shaped out of water from the clean Torne River.  We kept the glasses and we drank the melted water the next day.

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The Ice Hotel rooms are designed each year by artists who enter into a competition to give each room a theme or personality. For example, the elephant was a gorgeous sculpture in one of the rooms, that I believe was about memory.  Another room had the arches, another the peacock.  And yes, it is all sculpted from ice.  The Hallway was beautiful, like an ice castle you would imagine in a fantasy.  A chandelier and vases and columns all glowing white and blue.

Now for the review.  Nice hotel, very unpleasant staff.  We travelled to a lot of places in Sweden and this hotel by far had some of the rudest people we came across.  We could not figure out why.  They seemed either bored and really could not be bothered.  Or so harried that they just did not care.

We ate at the Ice Hotel restaurant, Jukkasjorin.  When the chef found out there were Americans there, he came to our table and talked and talked.  He had worked in the U.S. and loved it.  We had the Ice tasting menu which included bleak roe, salmon, and a smoked ptarmigan with porcini consumme, which bowl licking good.  Gosh, that one was good.  Smoked right on premises, the bird was cut into small pieces which were presented in a jar.  Opening the jar let out a waft of smoke and the flavor permeated the nostrils.  Into the soup and viola, heaven.  Then finally, reindeer with chocolate sauce and lingonberries.  For dessert brambleberry gelato.  Holy smokes, that was good too.  But it was way too much food.  The serving sizes were too large and we were absolutely stuffed.

We did not stay long at the hotel.  It was time to head back.  Off to Stockholm we went for another trip around the city, touring the things we had missed.  The Nobel Museum was surprisingly interesting.  Shopping in the Old Town led me to some wonderful sheep inspired gifts.  We had an early dinner at Den Gyldene Freden. This was going to be our truly traditional Swedish meal–herring, meatballs, and homemade schnapps, and they did not disappoint.    We tried all of the herring–traditional, mustard and herb.  The homemade schnapps was crisp and went perfectly with the fish.  The meatballs were flavorful and substantial and they came with mashed potatoes so it was hard to complain.

A short mention of the food.  We ate well everywhere we went.  For the record, we ate reindeer–both steaks and uncooked carpaccio, moose, ptarmigan, artic char, herring, cloudberries, brambleberries, sea buckthorn, lots of smoked salmon.   The Swedes have something called Fika, the Swedish coffee break.  But I would think of it as similar to a traditional afternoon tea but they have it any time they want.  There are cakes and cookies and sandwiches involved, but they drink coffee instead of tea.  You can find afternoon tea too, but fika is the tradition.  We liked fika.  How can you not like an elaborate coffee break?

I had one last Swedish goal–to have a sauna and then jump into cold water.  We searched and consulted and the only place where they opened a hole in a frozen lake for a plunge was too far from town.  Instead we went to the spa a the Grand Hotel.  They had a cold water pool.  Yes, I was going to do this.

The spa separated the ladies from the men for some of the activities.  The sauna and cold bath were in the segregated areas.  We signed up for a  massage and then parted into the changing rooms.  I said to Matt as he walked away, “You better jump into that cold water!” He assured me he would.  I know I did.  I steamed myself for a few minutes and then took the plunge.  Gaahhh!!!!.  After that steam, it was cold!  And while I tried to ease myself in, it really is not worth it.  Like tearing off a bandage, you just have to fall in.  So I did.  I did this about four times–sauna then another jump into the cold pool.  Needless to say, I was the only person in the changing room doing this.  Then I went for my massage.  The masseuse told me not to jump into the cold water after she worked on me.  But I did anyway.  It was invigorating.  When we met again, Matt said he had gone into the cold water too.  I have to believe him.

And that was our trip to Sweden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky

It was an off-day in the hockey playoffs so we had time to watch a movie.  Matt wanted to watch Creed and I said, sure, why not?  You know about Creed, the sort of sequel, or some kind of sequential installment in the Rocky saga, that features a young boxer, Adonis, the son of Apollo Creed, who is trained by Rocky Balboa for a championship fight of his life.  Sound familiar?

Yeah, here is the thing.  I could not remember a thing about the Rocky movies.  Any of them.  Not even the first one. None of it resonated with me.  The original Rocky came out in 1976.  It was the year of the bicentennial, Jimmy Carter was running for President and I was 16 years old, going to high school and generally hanging out with my friends, drinking beer.

I am sure I saw Rocky.  Who didn’t?  I remembered that it was about boxing, that was easy.  And I remembered the song.  But for the life of me I really could not remember the details of the story.  This fascinated me.  Here was a movie that was so inspirational to so many.  It won the Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Yet, it had long since departed my brain probably because I had not seen it for 40 years.  I also assume I saw Rocky II, but again, zero recollection of that movie either.  I highly doubt I went in for the other movies but who is to say.  Because if the first movie did not even make it into a long forgotten corner of my brain there is no way that I have some pieces of the other movies hanging around.

After watching Creed, Matt thought he might have to go on a Rocky binge.  I was not about to do that.  But I did agree to watch the first Rocky again.  I had to know if it was still a good movie.  Would I even remember it?

Nope.  The movie was completely unfamiliar to me.  Except for one scene.  I remembered him drinking the eggs.  Now that is a memory that sticks in the neurons.  But other than sloshing egg yolks, the movie was like new.  And boy, was it annoying.

In Creed, Sylvester Stallone’s words were so garbled, there were times I needed sub-titles. He talked like he had rocks in his mouth, and not in a good way.  But he was not exactly comprehensible in the original Rocky either.  What goes on in the six inches between his ears?  Anything?  It must, because he sure has been able to sell himself as a star.  But one does have to wonder, given his mannerisms, whether he is cooking with gas.

The movie dialogue was okay but not all that scintillating and the characters seemed very stereo-typed and formulaic.  Rocky was not really an interesting guy.  He was a dope more than anything.  But yet, we were persuaded to believe that this dope could experience this dream.  We were persuaded to believe in him because we like the idea that he believes in himself.  That is the American Dream.  If we believe in ourselves enough, we can succeed.  Rocky’s belief was unwavering.

Looking back, it all seems absurd.  Is it because times have change so much?  When I see movies or shows from the pre-9/11, pre-Great Recession world so many of them seem so simple and innocent.  The world was not a scary place.  There were no terrorists, or us and them.  There was no fear that the economy was slipping away and that the American Dream is a myth.  In those days, the American Dream still existed.  We all still believed life could be good and free and that redemption is at the end of the road.  I am not sure many of us believe that now.  Or at least we have our doubts.  Life has become ambiguous and tentative.

But not for Rocky.  Rocky has nothing but he believes in himself just the same. Rocky was living in a roach-infested dump and seemed to be a high school drop out.  Rocky did not have good genes.  He was a mutt.  Then good fortune shines. He is a lucky guy that Apollo Creed picks out of a book of fighters and Rocky is on his way.  He does not win the fight, but he proves his belief in himself is not misplaced.  Woohoo.  It is the absolute embodiment of the American Dream and we all accepted it was possible.  Today, well, I am not so sure we are willing to accept that, if we just try, success will be there for us.

Creed tried to evoke that idea but honestly, I was not buying it.  This was not an American Dream movie.  Creed’s son Adonis was raised by his rich step-mother and he had a proper education.  As Creed’s son, Adonis had good genes. Creed was about a son living in the shadow of his father and trying to make it on his own. Unlike Rocky, he does not believe in himself.  He fears that he will be compared to his father and he wants to make it on his own. But he also fears he will never live up to his father’s glory. Creed was not about getting a shot at success but at coming to  believe you are entitled to it.   It may be a drama that some young adults experience, but that is not an American Dream story.

Was the story line written in this way because we are so jaded that we can not even accept the American dream as a movie premise?  Or are we all navel gazers now, wanting to find a way to believe in ourselves but we can’t. So we want to see an inspirational story where someone comes to believe in themselves, overcoming their own mental impediments.

In the end, I did not find Creed inspirational.  Entertaining, but not inspirational.  Neither was Rocky but I think that is because the willingness to believe those kinds of tales has long since left me.

Swarming Bees

swarm #1

We started keeping bees last year.  We only have one little hive because we really do not have time to devote to the care of farm animals.

Bees are funny.  They have an entire routine that beekeepers have been keeping track of for years.  Here is how it goes.  You have a queen bee, she mates and carries around thousands upon thousands of eggs.  She deposits them into the comb and they grow into bees.  The drones are male and do nothing.  The females do all the work–that isn’t really news is it?–and are known as worker bees.  Worker bees forage for nectar and pollen and bring it back to the hive to ferment into honey and protein.  They take care of the eggs, they take care of the queen, they keep the hive clean, they defend the hive from invaders.

If you have a really strong hive, the queen just keeps producing and producing.  The hive is getting mighty full with bees.  Also, after a while the queen does weaken, she can’t live forever.  When the bees sense that the equilibrium is off, they start working on producing another queen. In one case, with a weakening queen, they stick around and produce a new queen to replace the old one.  In a very full hive, they produce queens for swarming so they can get out of the hive and on to a new life.

In beekeeping you are supposed to stop a swarm for two reasons, lost bees are valuable and you will lose honey production.  But if you prevent swarming, you have to create more colonies and we just do not want a bunch of hives.  Nor do we care that much about selling honey.  In fact, we have no intention of selling honey.  We just like watching the activity.  It’s a hobby.  We had always said if the bees swarm, it is natural and we did not really want to stop them.  We had seen some queen cells being formed and it was either supercedure or swarming.  We were not sure.  We thought there was plenty of room in the hive.  We were wrong.

The weather here has been absolutely miserable.  Bees don’t like cold and rainy weather.  If it is too cold, they stay inside huddled together.  Rain makes them cranky.  They love sun.  Last Saturday, the sun came out briefly and there was enough impetus for the bees in our hive to swarm.

We were lucky to witness it.

 

 

I looked out the back door and all I could see were thousands of bees flying like mad.  They flew in a cloud seemingly without a direction but they knew what they were doing.  They all alighted onto a branch far up in the cypress tree.  We had not expected them to stick around if they swarmed but there they were, hanging in a cluster with their queen, about 20 feet off the ground, maybe more.  They were way up there.

swarm #2

So what do we do?  We figured they would fly off soon enough and we went about our business.  Bees don’t bother me so I was working in the yard while they hovered over my head.  Honestly, a bee has no interest in you unless they think you want to hurt the hive or the queen.  They might fly around you and even land on you.  But stinging you will kill them so they really do not do that lightly.  It has to be a defensive act.

The next day we went out and they were still there.  Probably a little cold and tired since they survived an overnight storm and cold, pounding rain.  It was chilly out.  It occurred to me that when they are cold and wet, they are lethargic so maybe we could catch them.  The question was, how do we get up there?  The idea is to cut the branch and let it fall into a container.  Then you can move them into a hive box.  We pondered and considered and finally I had an aha moment.  Let’s get the tree loppers and see if we can reach it.  We have a Little Giant ladder, a pretty tall one even when it is in the inverted V position.  The plan was that I would pull back branches while Matt went up the ladder and put the branch off with the lopper.  The branch would fall into the hive box below.

We put the box on a table just to raise it up a little so the fall was not so far.  I pulled and Matt lopped.  The branch came down.  But alas, the cluster broke in two and there was still a ball of bees in the tree.

Catching a swarm does not work if you do not get the queen.  They follow her so you have to get her.  If she was still in the tree, we were sunk.  Well, yeah, the next day, the bees were all back in the tree.  We did not get her.

So a few days later, the bees still hanging in the tree, we tried again.  This time they were much lower.  So I pulled out my trusty butterfly net that I use to capture frogs and snakes.  I went up the ladder, carefully put the net around the swarm and Matt cut the branch.  Bloody swarm split again.  Half of it went into the net, half remained in the tree.  Damn it! I put the net up again and tried to shake them into it.  I got a lot more.  We poured them into the hive and hoped for the best.

But yeah, it didn’t work.  There were still bees in the tree regrouping.  Unless we could get that queen, they would stay in there until they decide to fly off.

So we gave it one last try.  This time I went up the ladder with a 32 gallon garbage can so I could catch the entire branch in a lump and put a lid on them immediately.  It worked.  Matt clipped and into the deep can they fell.

Third try#1

 

We closed it up and walked it over to the hive boxes.

 

We poured it in and mother of mercy, they all started marching in order right into the box. When they do that the queen is there.

third try #5

to signal the queen is here, the bees put emit pheromones.  They lift their rears and flap their wings to spread the scent.  

third try #4

Marching into the hive

 

That was just too cool.  So we have a new hive.

But funny thing, our original hive swarmed again with another queen (we had a few cells).  We found a very small swarm in the cherry tree.  But it was so small it was almost not worth trying to catch.  We might have acted differently had we known then what we know now– we do not think there is a queen in the original hive.  With this terrible weather we have been having, queens have a hard time mating.  Remember, they do not want to go out when the weather is bad.  So we think maybe there is a virgin there that has not gotten out yet, or there is no queen left.  This is a bad situation that we are trying to rectify.

You can buy queens.  People raise them.  But if we don’t get one in there pretty quickly we will have big trouble ahead.  We are working on it.  More later.

 

 

 

 

Go Pens!

I must admit, I was curled up in a fetal position during the third period of Game Six against the Caps.  That was utterly nerve wracking.  I made Matt turn off the sound so I did not have to listen.  But they did it, Thank God and we are here watching the Caps fans wonder what the hell happened.  No, we did not go to see the Pens Caps play here in DC.  It was way too expensive even for us.  We are saving our money for the Stanley Cup Finals.

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