Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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25 May 2009
Kicking off summer with The Big O
Osyrusfest 2009: The Great Gig in the Quarry

It's simply not summer in the US until Memorial Weekend, the official inauguration of the season of grillin, chillin, and overconsumption of the vice of your choosing. This year we decided to start our summer off right with a trip to Osyrusfest 2009 in Coatesville, PA.

Hoffmania at workWe'd attended this event two years ago, and it was great to see how it's grown. Started a few years back by the illustrious Preston and Paul Hoffman as a way to celebrate jam bands (and an excuse to drag millions of dollars of lighting equipment to the quarry outside their old family homestead), Osyrusfest has evolved into one of the premiere small music festivals in North America. The schedule was jam-packed full of excellent bands from all over the country. Even for someone who gets easily bored with the never-ending wiffly-wafty nature of jam music -- ehm, that would be me -- the jaw-dropping lights and striking Ofest setting kicks the whole thing up a notch or ten.

chillin on the front stoop at GBOF CampLearning from past mistakes with leaky tents, this year we decided to rent a big honkin' RV and drive up from DC. Several participants flaked out at the last minute, which just left more room in the RV of Love & Justice for me, Mark, and our friend Josh (better known in some circles as The Minister of Intoxication). We got the exact same model we'd rented last year for Burning Man, and the minute I stepped inside to load up our gear I had a huge flashback to our dusty, surreal adventures on The Playa. And, sniff, I missed Crystal and Foreward and the rest of the GBOF crew! Nevermind, we were about to create a whole set of new memories with a new cast of characters.

We finally hit the road around 8:30pm on Friday, which meant missing most of the hideous weekend traffic, but it also meant arriving just before midnight. After taking a wrong turn at Gum Tree and almost taking out their neighbor's mailbox, we rolled into the Hoffman Estates just as the Mobias Project set was ending. I wiggled the Mothership into position, and we cracked open a frosty beverage to celebrate our successful arrival. The party raged deep into the night, complete with a DJ set and a neverending supply of Fisherman's Brew beer. (Sponsorship is goooooood!)

chillaxin' with oktapodi and some tunescreek and old schoolhouseThe rest of the weekend was somewhat of a blur, albeit a totally mellow and relaxing one. Daytime consisted of parking ourselves in the shade outside the RV and interacting with our neighbors, sharing beverages and tasty treats. If we were so inclined, there were several sporting options to partake in... everything from whiffle ball to bocce. Mostly we just sat around chatting and enjoying the continuous current of music from the DJ tent, live guitar and drum circles, or our own RV sound system. It was chillaxed to the max!

Eclipse: The lunatic is on the grassEclipse: I'll see you on the dark side of the moonThe highlight of the weekend was indisputably the stellar set by Eclipse, a Pink Floyd tribute band from Nashville. They totally stole the show. Mere words can't quite convey the exhilaration of standing on the overgrown quarry floor, surrounded by lights and fog, listening to this band belt out Pink Floyd favorites like "Comfortably Numb" and "Wish You Were Here." If I closed my eyes, I coulda sworn I was actually seeing the Floyd live and in the flesh. It was truly breathtaking. The band has seven members, including one vocalist who sounds more like Roger Waters and one with more of a David Gilmour sound, plus a hot female saxophonist/keyboardist, and another hot female vocalist who can belt out "Great Gig in the Sky" like nothing I've ever heard. So they can really cover the full gamut. If you are the least bit fan of the Floyd, make it your business to see these guys in concert. They blew us all away.

Eclipse guitarists rock out with Mark's Rich BichBlair and oktapodi both dig absintheAnd then, the icing on the cake: we got to hang out with most of Eclipse after the show. Such is the benefit of having a ginormous mothership of a vehicle... you get to host the best parties at the festival! We never quite matched the 20-person pileup of BM 2008, but we certainly did circulate a lot of folks through the RV of Love & Justice on Saturday night. And I have to say, in addition to being a phenomenally talented bunch, Eclipse are also outstanding peeps to hang out with. It was a pleasure getting to know them. The absinthe was flowing, the hookah was fired up, and the steady stream of innnnnnnnnteresting people kept the conversation lively, to say the least. Good times.

Dan from 1Well is *really* dedicated to his jobBy the time Monday rolled around and it was time to roll on home, everyone was a bit rough around the edges, as you can imagine. Preston was overhead to say something to the effect of "I can *feel* how much fun I had this weekend. Even my teeth hurt!" Amen, brother. We were all using our inside voices the following week at work. No matter, it was completely worth it! Kudos to Preston and Paul for a tremendously successful Osyrusfest 2009. Oh, and on top of all the fun, we raised a bunch of money to help provide clean drinking water to Varkhadiya Village in Gujarat, India, via the fabulous folks at 1Well. Gotta love fun that benefits a great cause. Summer 2009, here we come!


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PS. All Ofest pics can be found here. Anybody who wants originals, please visit the Flickr set and help yerself! (There are a few additional photos posted there.) I didn't get everyone's email addies, so kindly help me spread the word to the rest of the 'Fest folks.

PPS. Hippie-ravers HEART oktapodi, big time! Here's a small sampling of the new friends our groovy cephalopod made at Ofest:

oktapodi networks with the 1Well chix oktapodi makin' friends... ...and influencing people oktapodi enjoys a rare moment with Sir Paul cephalopod love

ok, one for the Christmas card! oktapodi is now an Eclipse groupie oktapodi loves to hang with the band The Minister in the hizzouse Charlie + oktapodi = splurp!

see, sometimes the photog DOES get photographed Alex, Alicia, oktapodi Shashaty can't believe what oktapodi has to say um. wow. write your own caption.


Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment

10 May 2009
Our (Special Olympics) Victory Garden

In celebration of Mother's Day, this seemed like a good time to check in with an update on our gardening adventures. As I've said before, my mom was the one who instilled in me a love of veggies and diggin' in the dirt. So while I'm more than a bit sad she's not around to witness my latest attempts at green-thumbery, what better way to celebrate this day?

First Lady Michelle Obama takes part in the groundbreaking of the White House Kitchen Garden Friday. (AP)This year we (and by "we" I mean "I") decided it was time to graduate from container plantings to a full-blown garden in the backyard. I was inspired, in part, by First Lady Michelle Obama's awesome efforts to raise the profile of organic gardening by planting a vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House. Hurray! The likes of Alice Waters and Michael Pollan have been advocating this for years, and it's just another sign of positive regime change to see the First Family involved in gardening efforts. (To his credit, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is doing some kickass things to embrace sustainable agriculture, and has planted his own garden right on Ag grounds.) There's been much talk of "Victory Gardens" this year, given the troubled state of the economy and America's higher awareness of the importance of locally-sourced food. And how much more local can you get than your own backyard? The time was right to fully embrace the gardening ethos, and take our efforts to the next level.

Just one problem: our backyard is pretty shady. We love our "secret garden" backyard for the privacy it affords. While the front yard is super-sunny and enjoys afternoon southern exposure, the back is full of tall trees and doesn't get as much sun. Hrm. While there is an interesting movement (see below) that recommends doing away with that All-American pasttime of keeping a high-maintenance, resource-draining green carpet of turf, we weren't quite ready to take the plunge and dig up our front lawn to make way for veggies. So we tried to find a suitable spot in the backyard that would get enough sun to sustain a small patch of salad fixins.

We found a spot, and opted to go with a raised bed. Supposedly raised beds are a more efficient use of space and water, and are the way to go when planting vegetables. So we plotted the dimensions of a possible raised bed, taking into account the odd shape of the yard, several drainage spouts we didn't want to disturb, and the extant foliage. We settled on a very odd shape, and set off to obtain the necessary lumber to make the frame.

March 2009 - setting up the frame over existing dirt and grass

The result was affectionately referred to as either the "Trapezoid Garden" (Mark) or "Special Olympics Garden" (me). Yes, the shape is weird. Yes, it's a bit larger than recommended for a raised bed garden. But ya gotta work with what ya got.

In preparation for planting all manner of herbs and vegetables, I decided to try to start a few things from seed. After purchasing a boatload of seeds (rookie gardener syndrome), as well as a few peat starter trays, I planted some tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, rosemary, and a handful of flowers for the front yard. Lacking a proper greenhouse setup, I had to be satisfied with a few sunny windows and plenty of water.

By late March, we'd mulched over the scant remaining grass using newspaper and a combination of grass clippings and compost. Having lugged five big bags of designer dirt home from the garden store, it became obvious we'd need a *lot* more soil for this puppy. Hoo boy.

April 2009 - slowly filling in more dirt, little by little

Meanwhile, the cukes and tomatoes had all succumbed to mysterious malady I eventually identifed as "damping-off disease." This fungus rots the stems at the soil surface, causing them to topple over, shrivel up, and die. Boo-hoo! It's caused by overwatering and poor circulation. I've decided that the peat trays are partially to blame, as it's hard to tell if the plant is sufficiently moist or oversaturated. It was discouraging to lose a whole tray of seedlings, but fortunately the peppers were still in good shape.

April 2009 - pepper seedlings aplenty

At least, until the mercurial DC spring weather got the better of me. I accidentally left the seedlings outside overnight once in April. The daytime temps had been in the mid-70s, so I'd put the plants outside to "harden" a bit in preparation for eventual planting. That worked out great, but that night it plunged to the 40s. Eeeek! The abundant tray of seedlings dwindled down to a few extra-hardy specimens. I was crushed. One glimmer of hope: an errant tomato seedling from last year's crop managed to survive the winter and poke its little head up. I've since been warned that hybrid seedings are not to be trusted, but I'm still proud of this one tough little soldier that made it through the ice and snow. I eagerly await whatever fruit it decides to bear this season.

April 2009 - one tomato survived from last year!

Gradually, throughout late April and early May, we transformed the bed into something that might actually support vegetative life. This involved many trips to the garden center for bag after bag of dirt, plus some attempts to turn over the existing soil and combine it with the purchased stuff. I transplanted several lettuce varietals that I'd started from seed, as well as scattering some new lettuce seeds directly into the garden. I researched "companion plants" and which veggies played nice with each other, and attempted to plot out the garden schematic. I also attended a workshop co-hosted by The DC Historical Society and Washington Gardener magazine, and geeked out to an afternoon of Q&A by Cindy Brown of Green Spring Gardens. My true geekburger nature shone through as I reveled in the research, the planning, the anecdotal stories from other local gardeners. But at the same time, I was realizing that gardening is really all about trial and error. As with most great hobbies, in gardening one must not be afraid to fail once or twice or three times, in pursuit of that one combination that really works. I don't like to fail (who does?) but when you're talking about a 99-cent pack of seeds or even a $2 plant, happily, the stakes are low. When the cucumbers I started from seeds all croaked from the damping-off fungus, I bought a bunch of seedlings from the garden store and planted those in the garden. When cutworms (or perhaps the insane amounts of rain we've been having lately) got the better of those seedlings, and all but one flopped over, I bought heartier plants at the local farmers market. Hopefully the third time's the charm. Likewise, though I can't seem to keep a tomato seedling alive no matter what I try, a friend has come through with some awesome heirloom plants. Live and learn, and take good notes to prevent the same debacle next time.

May 2009 - fulla dirt, fulla plants

Which brings us to the present. As of this weekend, I've planted nearly everything, except the peppers, which require really warm weather to flourish. The multiple varieties of lettuce, which love the cool damp weather, are starting to mature and I've already started incorporate some into our daily salads. A sage plant from the garden center seems to be doing well, alongside a stevia plant that I just couldn't resist. (I have no idea how you make the transformation from green leafy plant to organic sugar substitute, but that's an experiment for another day.) The new cukes are in, fingers crossed. I planted a bunch of herbs from seed, including basil, cilantro, and chives. Several types of heirloom tomatoes (Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Chocolate, and Black from Tula) from our friend's garden are planted alongside some other funky-sounding tomatoes (Nebraska Wedding, Juliet, Pink Beauty, and Green Zebras) sourced from the Falls Church farmers market. The Juliets were purchased from a farmergrrl with a Jack Skellington tattoo. Now *that* is the American dream, friends and neighbors. I also planted a few different types of carrots, beets, and beans, as those were always my favorites to garden with my mom. I think she'd be proud of my efforts. Now, if I can just keep the birds and squirrels from eating everything...

May 2009 - sage, stevia, and many lettuce varietals

PS. I have discovered that gardeners, in addition to happily sharing their knowledge, are generous with extra plants and clippings. Along with the heirloom tomatoes, in recent weeks I have been the benefactor of rosemary clippings, hostas, and day lillies. I could also have my share of free mulch if only I had a way to transport it from a friend's yard in DC. Much love to my garden peeps, you are a wise and bounteous group of folks!

If you enjoyed this post, please help us spread the word!

Related Links:
* Michelle Obama: How Does Your Garden Grow?
* Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden at White House
* Michelle Obama's Garden
* For Vilsack, the Proof Is in the Planting
* Lawn Reduction and Lawn Substitutes
* Why Mow? The Case Against Lawns

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 2 comments

02 May 2009
Passport DC: How I spent the morning in Colombia

Colombian Ambassador's residencedining room with Elizabethan wainscotingI arrived at the Ambassador's residence around 9am for orientation. Stepping inside this oasis of lush style, you'd never know you're just a few steps from the Dupont Circle Metro Station. From the stunning entryway leading to a jaw-dropping wooden staircase, to the dining room with Elizabethan wainscoting, to the skylight in the Edwardian ballroom, the Thomas Gaff house is a true DC landmark. It's a few blocks from the actual Embassy of Colombia. But it was no surprise that this was the chosen site to host the Embassy's open house. The place is sa-weeeeeet!

art around every cornerThis was Cultural Tourism DC's second year organizing Passport DC, a series of 30+ embassy open houses all occurring on the same Saturday in May. The event provided a unique opportunity to visit some of the most gorgeous properties DC has to offer. Embassies from Australia to Zambia opened their doors to the public, offering cultural programs, food tasting, and a rare glimpse inside buildings that are not often open for walk-ins by the Average Joe. I'd heard about the event from the volunteer coordinators at the Cherry Blossom Festival, and it sounded like a great opportunity to give back. I received two assignments: morning shift at the Embassy of Colombia, and afternoon shift outside the Embassy of Ukraine.

our seal kicks your stamp's assLast year's event drew over 50,000 people, and this year they expected even greater numbers. In preparation for a day of directing the masses, Denisse Yanovich, Cultural Attaché at the embassy, gathered up a group of Passport volunteers and embassy staff to dole out assignments. As any good volunteer knows, there's nothing better than knowing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, so it was a great relief to see the shifts planned out in precise detail. Denisse explained that some of us would be tasked with crowd control, making sure that nobody brushed up against the priceless Botero painting in the foyer or wandered upstairs to Ambassador Carolina Barco Isakson's private residence, and some of us would be serving treats or handing out literature in the main ballrom. I ended up at the passport stamp station. The event program guide featured a "passport" section in the middle, where visitors could collect a stamp for each embassy visited. My very important job was to offer an official stamp to those who wanted to commemorate their visit to Colombian soil. Most embassies used standard ink stamps, or stickers, but at the Embassy of Colombia we didn't mess around. I got to use an ancient metal seal to emboss page after page. After a few hours the muscles on my right side started to feel like jelly, but it was worth it for the excited reactions. "Oooooo! It's so *official*!" and "Coooooooool!" and "Wow, that's awesome!" were just a few of the standard responses. People really dug it. And as any good volunteer knows, there's nothing better than recognition of a job well done.

everyone wanted to win a tshirtLast year, the Embassy saw about 2,000 visitors. I don't know what the final count was for this year, but I'm guessing we surpassed last year's benchmark by about midday. The line stretched out the door and around the block. People were almost as excited to see the exquisite artwork as they were to enter the raffle to win a free tshirt emblazoned with the "Colombia es pasión!" tagline. Visitors were also treated to videos extolling Colombia's tourist attractions, free Juan Valdez coffee, and bocadillos with guava and queso. I didn't see the Couchsurfing group who met up for the day, but did run into a random friend who was surprised to see me wielding an official Colombian seal. It was a great morning.

My shift was over around 1pm, when I was relieved by the afternoon volunteer. Denisse directed me to the kitchen in the bowels of the residence for a spot of lunch. (As any good volunteer knows, there's nothing better than a free lunch! Especially one awarded in recognition of a job well done.) I was a bit sad to leave, but my next shift awaited. I ate as quickly as I could, and caught the Route 3 shuttle bus to my next destination in Georgetown.

On the shuttle, I sat next to a woman who had just come from the Embassy of Uzbekistan, and was en route to Saudi Arabia. She and I marveled at the fact that when you've lived somewhere for a while, you tend to take for granted the goodies that are available in your backyard. When else do you get a chance to see what the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia has to offer? Legally, Embassy grounds *are* officially the soil of that particular country, so it's probably the only chance someone like me might get to "visit" Saudi Arabia. Alas, today it wasn't meant to be, as I needed to continue on to my next shift at the Embassy of Ukraine.

Long story short, I got redirected to help out at the main information booth back at Dupont Circle. I spent the rest of the afternoon directing folks to the appropriate shuttle lines, explaining that although the Embassy of Australia closed at 3pm there were still plenty of embassies open until 4, and handing out program guides until they ran out. While not nearly as organized as my time in Colombia that morning, it was nonetheless energizing. By the time my afternoon shift ended around 4:30, I was exhausted and more than ready to head for home.

It's too bad Passport DC is only once a year... so many fabulous embassies, so little time! But for those who are looking for a second chance, the European Union countries are doing their own open house events next weekend:

Shortcut to Europe
Saturday, May 9

Related links:
* more photos from the day's events
* video/pics from all embassies

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Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments