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31 July 2009
Photo Friday: simple pleasures

We all know we're supposed to stop and smell the roses from time to time. Well, after a hectic and overly-dramatic week, I'm taking a deep breath this Friday to appreciate the unexpected treasures, great and small, that have popped up in my yard.

sunflowerrific!

I planted a few sunflower seeds in a scrabbly patch next to the garage, not even sure if anything would grow there. Much to my surprise, a few plants cropped up, looking mostly like enormous weeds. Much to my relief, they have recently sprouted a few sunflowers! The biggest one plays host to a big bumblebee who often greets me in the morning as I hop into the car. (He didn't want to pose for any pictures today, though. Guess he's camera-shy.) I can not WAIT for this beautiful, cheery flower to start producing some tasty seeds!

dwarf zinnias

The dwarf zinnias I picked up at the farmers market earlier this season are thriving near the front walk. It's so nice to see bright flowers in the middle of the hottest and driest part of the summer.

cheers to you, mail carrier!

Inspired by Shawna Coronado's "crazy-ass mailbox garden", I decided to plant some stuff out by our mailbox. It's not nearly as fab as Shawna's, but a few giant zinnias have popped up. I can only hope they bring a shred of joy to our mail carrier.

unexpected pea pods!

The sweet pea seeds I planted with the zinnias haven't yielded much in the way of flowers. So I was shocked and delighted to discover that there are actual PEA PODS coming out! Bonus! There aren't a lot of them out there, but what fun it'll be to sprinkle a few fresh peas into a salad.

beautiful and edible too

The final simple pleasure photo is from the nasturtiums out on our back deck. I picked out these seeds at random, not knowing much about these marvelous flowers. In the subsequent weeks, I've been tickled to see bright orange flowers and leafy green vines spilling out over the side of the deck. I also noticed some seed pods poking out, and upon researching it a bit more I discovered that nasturtiums produce three kinds of edible treasures: the seed pods can be used much as you would use peppercorns, the flowers are edible, and the leaves are spicy and not unlike arugula. Triple-bonus!

What simple pleasures are you enjoying this summer?

Be sure to check out other great Photo Friday pics on Delicious Baby!


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


25 July 2009
Impromptu road trip
beachy goodness, but scuba FAIL

Soy un perdedor.
I'm a loser baby,
So why don't you kill me?
(get crazy with the cheese whiz)

After several Photo Fridays spent whining about wanting to hit the beach, it was time to make it a reality. The original plan was to visit the Chincoteague Blueberry Festival. But we talked through the options  and decided that this would be our only scuba opportunity for the year. There's some excellent wreck diving in North Carolina, but that's a bit too far to drive for a short weekend. Mark researched it further, and discovered that there's some scuba options in Virginia Beach, which is less than four hours from our house. Meanwhile, I reached out to the Twitterverse and got some great recommendations for local restaurants from @vatourismpr and @VaBeachCVB, not to mention an excellent beach tip from my grrl @raelinn_wine. We got a spot on a Saturday dive trip, used my Marriott employee discount to book a room in nearby Norfolk, and we were off!


Episode One: in which our intrepid heroes hit the beach

oktapodi always finds the best peds oktapodi gets a custom sand fortressFriday was beachalicious perfection. Quite by chance, our DC friends Tony & Christina were in VA Beach at the same time, so we spent the day at the beach with their family. Sandbridge, a quieter, less-crowded alternative south of the main drag, had been recommended several times by locals and visitors alike. We actually wound up a bit further south in Little Island Beach, where there was more parking. It was heavenly. No boardwalk, plenty of space to spread out, and some decent waves to jump around in. The kids spent the day digging holes to China and burying each other in the sand, while the grownups plastered their pasty selves with sunscreen and bodysurfed in the waves.

Christina is too sexy for my shadesoktapodi hearts Croc's 19th Street BistroThat evening, we met up for a fantastic meal at Croc's 19th Street Bistro, an ecobistro that features fresh local foods. This was another recommendation from my tweeps, and it was a winner! The menu is enormous, with lots of excellent sustainable seafood options plus a generous sprinkling of Lebanese flavors. Plus the happy hour specials are stellar. We commandeered a table on the patio and our wonderful waitress good-naturedly put up with our loud storytelling and silly jokes. She even posed for a pic with oktapodi. Croc's is the first "Virginia Green"-certified restaurant, and they are proud of the SOL (sustainable, organic, local) menu as well as the many green improvements to the building itself. We really enjoyed ourselves and highly recommend this place!

OK, so that was the good part, now for the downer part...


Episode Two: in which our intrepid heroine has a total scuba meltdown

And I didn't even get crazy with the cheese whiz.

In retrospect, it should have been obvious from the start. (But isn't that always the case?) I have about 50 dives under my belt, Mark just slightly less, but in the 8 or so years we've been diving it's always been outside the US. It's always been in a warm-water location, typically in a spot where people arrive there specifically to dive. We figured this would be a slightly different scenario, but had no idea what an alien experience we were in for.

My spider-senses were tingling from about the first moment we walked into the dive shop. We'd made arrangements to rent some of the necessary gear, including -gasp- 6ml full-body wetsuits. Yuck! We hadn't worn wetsuits since our certification dive all those years ago. Wearing a wetsuit is a lot like putting on pantyhose, but much thicker and covering your entire body. You feel like a neoprene sausage. It's way unfun. But, when the water's 60 degrees or less, plus thermocline, it's a necessary evil. Anyway, with all that extra buoyancy, you need more weight on your belt to keep you down. But for some reason this shop refused to rent us weights. Moreover, the guy behind the desk acted like we were complete idiots for not having our own weights. Excuse me? What's with the attitude, buddy? Why on earth would we tote an extra 10-20lbs each around the world with us whenever we want to dive? And now you're telling us we have to BUY these weights from you at nearly $5 a pound? Weights we'll never ever use again? No chance, lance.

At that point, I was ready to pack it in and spend another pleasant day at the beach. Never mind that this scuba trip was the whole reason we'd come down here. I was just not comfortable entrusting our lives to these a**holes. Granted, your average dive is not a life-and-death situation, but when you're 70+ feet underwater you do want to feel as though an experienced professional team's got your back in case something does happen to go wrong. Especially when you're paying through the nose for the priviledge. Well, for better or for worse, Mark talked me down off the ledge, and with the help of a much cuter and significantly less-surly dive shop staffer named Samantha we were able to rent the necessary weights. For an additional fee, of course.

On Saturday, things quickly went from bad to worse. Even though we showed up on time (early, even!) after being told several times that the boat would leave *promptly* at 8am, we didn't actually shove off till close to 9. And we didn't find out till we'd left that the boat wouldn't return to the dock until about 3pm, which would necessitate another night's stay at the hotel. (Fine, OK, that one was our fault.) I tried to be radically self-reliant on the trip out, drinking plenty of water, taking Dramamine as a precaution against seasickness, and trying to stay out of the sun. When it came time to put on the dreaded neoprene sausage suit, I made sure to leave plenty of time (and do it in a private spot) so I wasn't rushed or stressed. Things were looking good until we actually hit the water. I'm not sure exactly how to describe what happened, because I've never experienced this before. But something about the combination of the tight wetsuit, some other problems with ill-fitting rental gear, the huge ocean swells, and an almost complete lack of visibility... it just pushed me over the aforementioned ledge. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't get my bearings. I just completely freaked out. Panic attack, maybe? Who knows... all I knew was that I was *not* going beneath the surface in this condition. And nobody around us had any interest in helping out, not the divemasters, not the other divers, nobody.

My only choice was to slink back onto the boat, peel off the horrid suit, and attempt to regain my composure. Mark continued the dive on his own, sans buddy. This is a ginormous dive no-no, but god forbid the so-called professional staff offer to help out or pair him up with another diver or group. I spent the rest of the afternoon sipping water and quietly trying to get my s**t back together. Unfortunately I neglected to pop another Dramamine until it was a bit too late, so on top of everything else I was pretty seasick too. Didn't manage to "feed the fish" over the side of the boat or anything, but suffice it to say I was miserable, humiliated, and frustrated as hell.

Wow. Good times.

no vulgarities at VA Beach, please and thank youWe managed to salvage the day by staying an extra night (since we had to pay for it, regardless) and going out to a nice seafood restaurant. Mahi Mah was also recommended by my tweeps, and although it paled in comparison to the previous night's dinner, it made for a fun night out and some decent peoplewatching on the boardwalk. We wandered the main drag, watched a wedding on the beach, and marveled at the "no cursing" signs sprinkled about town. (Which only made me want to get as lewd & rude as possible, right there on the street.) Between the greasy fast-food joints, the sidewalk preachers, and the portly folks squeezed into improbably tight clothing, it was a slice of Americana at its finest.

So, kiddies, what have we learned? No more cold-water diving, to be sure! Always leave plenty of time to suss out the dive shop and its staff. As with many other situations, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. And there is no such thing as too much Dramamine.

All in all, it was a nice getaway. Any opportunity to hang out in the sun and check out a new green/locavore restaurant is a good time in my book.

RECOMMENDED:
Croc's 19 Street Bistro
620 19th Street
Virginia Beach, VA 23451
757.428.5444

NOT-SO-RECOMMENDED:
Lynnehaven Dive Center
1413 N Great Neck Rd
Virginia Beach, VA 23454

Related links:
* all VA Beach photos
* "no cursing" photo courtesy christopherdale

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


22 July 2009
Look Ma, I'm a Wine Whore!

What a fun announcement in celebration of #winewednesday! It's official! I'm thrilled to report that I am a new member of the Wine Whore Crew.


Visit Wine Whore Crew

I know what you're thinking... how is this different from any other day? Good question. I got hooked up with Randy Watson, aka The Wine Whore, on Twitter. He published a contest inviting folks to write in about "Why It's Better to Be a Wine Whore," with the following invitation:

If you fit any of the following criteria, you may be a Wine Whore:

* Do you love wine?
* Do you find yourself looking forward to that glass of vino at the end of a long day?
* Do you enjoy sharing your passion for the grape with others?

Um, can I get a HELL YEAH? So I entered the contest. Friends and neighbors, apparently I have what it takes cuz I made the cut. Woot!

I'll be helping review wines and share my love o' the grape. I can't wait! Watch this site, and The Wine Whore blog, for my contributions. Wanna be a part of the movement? Become a member of the WW Crew! Join us at a new online wine lovers' paradise... a virtual place to hang out, meet fellow wine lovers close to home as well as around the world, and most importantly DRINK FREE WINE!

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


17 July 2009
Photo Friday: Tamarindo raft-up

a beautiful Tamarindo sunset
another jaw-droppingly beautiful Tamarindo sunset

In keeping with the "I wanna go to the beach!" theme I started last Photo Friday, here are some pics from Tamarindo, Costa Rica. This was the first stop on my 10-week trip through Central America in 2007. I was fortunate to stay with some very generous friends who are building a house on Costa Rica's gorgeous Pacific Coast. They invited me to come to their version of a neighborhood picnic, an event called a raft-up where everyone goes to the beach, piles onto a bunch of catamarans, and heads to a more secluded beach for a day of grilling, music, games, and general beachy goodness. That's *my* kinda block party! But that's how it's done in Costa Rica, where "Pura Vida" is not just a tourism slogan but a way of life.

raft-up dance party!
raft-up dance party!

Pura Vida at the Tamarindo raft-up
Pura Vida at the Tamarindo raft-up

Tamarindo Still Life
Tamarindo Still Life: flops Imperial

Related links:
* All pics from
Tamarindo
* All pics from Costa Rica
* All Costa Rica stories
* Check out more photos of other cool places at Delicious Baby's Photo Friday!

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10 July 2009
Photo Friday: Scubaliciousness in Semporna

this is how i feel most days at work
this is how I feel most days at work

As many people are heading off to their summer vacations, I find myself in serious need of some beach therapy. Or perhaps scuba therapy. Or both! So in honor of my inaugural participation in Delicious Baby's excellent Photo Friday, I decided to replay a few snaps from our blissful three days of wall-to-wall diving off Malaysian Borneo last November.

Semporna is an odd little town; most people come there to access Sipadan, known as Jacques Cousteau's favorite dive site and the holy grail of scuba diving. So this tiny town is crawling with sunburnt dive junkies and a dozen dive shops. But smack up against the dive culture is a conservative Muslim community. Oil and water! There's a big mosque in the center of town, and most dive shops have posted signs exhorting patrons to COVER UP when they're out and about. It's worth the awkwardness, though, as Sipadan and the other surrounding islands afford some of the best diving we've ever experienced. It's like jumping into an aquarium. Nine dives in 3 days may sound like a lot, but to us it was scuba heaven!

::: sigh :::

If you can't go to the beach, let the beach come to you!

Malaysian beachy goodness on Sipadan Island
Malaysian beachy goodness

nudibranch!
nudibranch!

the life of a divemaster does not suck
the life of a divemaster does not suck

friendly fish kid at Semporna market
friendly fish kid at Semporna market

Browse all Semporna pics

Check out more photos of other cool places at Delicious Baby!

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04 July 2009
July 4th flashback

Someone recently reminded me that we're passing the second anniversary of my "take this job and shove it" departure for 10 weeks of solo travel in Central America. Yikes! Tempus fugit. I didn't yet have the blog set up at that point, so there's nothing in the archives about the preparations for this trip or how I was feeling at the time. But I distinctly remember a weird cocktail of excitement, liberation, and terror. (Sound familiar, veteran travelers?) And it all culminated on that last day before my departure, which I spent hanging out with friends at a riverside July 4th party, trying to seem composed and chillaxed. Hah! Meanwhile a huge thunderstorm (which threatened to turn into a tornado) raged through the area. Turned out to be nothing more than a standard summer rainshower, but what an apropos metaphor.

In honor of the US holiday, I thought I'd replay a few snaps from that transitional time two years ago. There really is nothing quite like seeing the fireworks over the monuments, reflected on the Potomac river while boats drift by. It's something everyone should do at least once in their lives. This year we'll be celebrating on a roofdeck in downtown DC, enjoying the mandatory grilled beast and dreaming of our upcoming travels to Italy.

Happy Fourth of July to those who celebrate it, and happy midsummer for the rest of ya!

choppers and trail police... I feel so much safer!

tornadoes? we don't need no stinkin' tornadoes!

nothing beats watching fireworks over the Mall

Browse all pics from July 4, 2007

Posted by sonia at 3:00 PM | Link | 0 comments