Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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Re: Wanderfood Wednesday: Epicurean despot (by mark at 5/09 2:16 PM)
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12 February 2013
Happy Birthday, Mark!

It's not quite a milestone birthday, but it's one of those halfway-to-a-milestone birthdays, and definitely time to celebrate! Recently I realized I've done several oktapodi retrospectives, but have never properly featured my two-legged travel partner-in-crime. Mah bad!! Please allow me to remedy that with a heaping handful of my favorite Mark pics.

party on, Wayne (Rio 2012)
party on, Wayne (Rio 2012)

We've had more than our share of epic travel adventures...

one if by land, two if by sea (Stinson Beach 2007)
one if by land, two if by sea (Stinson Beach 2007)

Playarific (Burning Man 2008)
Playarific (Burning Man 2008)

Malaysian beachy goodness (Sipadan 2008)
Malaysian beachy goodness (Sipadan 2008)

oktapodi and Mark attempt some early-morning cheer (Kinabatangan River 2008)
oktapodi and Mark attempt some early-morning cheer (Kinabatangan River 2008)

bellinis! (Venice 2009)
bellinis! (Venice 2009)

a great place to ponder life's mysteries (Furlo Gorge 2009)
a great place to ponder life's mysteries (Furlo Gorge 2009)

if I completely empty my suitcase, this might fit (Jesi 2009)
if I completely empty my suitcase, this might fit (Jesi 2009)

hoping not to get struck by lightning (Assisi 2009)
hoping not to get struck by lightning (Assisi 2009)

yay, castles! (Piobbico 2009)
yay, castles! (Piobbico 2009)

Rocca Montale (San Marino 2009)
Rocca Montale (San Marino 2009)

The ol' Mark and the Sea (San Diego 2010)
The ol' Mark and the Sea (San Diego 2010)

devilish dudes in the Mothership (Burning Man 2010)
devilish dudes in the Mothership (Burning Man 2010)

stuffed shrooms, om nom nom (Middleburg 2012)
stuffed shrooms, om nom nom (Middleburg 2012)

Mark and I have been together a reeeeeeally long while, which means he's been a good sport as I've dragged him into odd circumstances, more times than I can count...

soaking with my crazy aunt in the Jacumba hot springs (San Diego 2010)
soaking with my crazy aunt in the Jacumba hot springs (San Diego 2010)

cooking doro wat with great friends in the middle of nowhere (Kamloops 2011)
cooking doro wat with great friends in the middle of nowhere (Kamloops 2011)

putting up with my gardening insanity (San Diego 2012)
putting up with my gardening insanity (San Diego 2012)

making art for Chipenhe village kids (Mozambique 2012)
making art for Chipenhe village kids (Mozambique 2012)

And of course no Mark retrospective would be complete without some pics of him in full rawkstar mode. If you want to hear him live, be sure to check out his band AquaSpank for show detes and tons more pics.

at PJ Skidoos


The Bunker


Quattro Goombas winery

Friday Night Live in Herndon

IJ Cann's

Happy Birthday, MWS! Ah lurve yew!

festival <3 (Osyrusfest 2009)
festival <3 (Osyrusfest 2009)

* browse all Mark pics
* browse all Mark + Sonia pics
* AquaSpank site  and Facebook page
* aforementioned oktapodi features:
Hankering | My night with oktapodi | Showing your O face | To oktapodi with love

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01 February 2012
WanderFood Wednesday: Brazilian Füdism

In honor of the two-week countdown to our Brazilian junket (can I get a woot-woot?) I decided to post a recap of our last Füdism, a monthly foodie gathering where we throw down the food-geek gauntlet with a group of friends. In January the theme was Brazilian food, and as usual everyone brought their A-game.

"just" a potato salad
"just" a potato salad


Our contribution, besides hosting, was two dishes: codfish balls, and pork empanadas. Om-nom-nom, if I do say so myself.

codfish balls
codfish balls... easy to make and fun to say!

balls in the oven
balls in the oven

mmmm, crispy balls!
mmmm, crispy balls!

Mark chops the meat
Mark chops the meat

empanada filling
empanada filling


Part of the fun of these events is poring over cookbooks and internet recipes for just the right dish. It's even better to get an authentic recipe from an expat friend.


authentic recipe
authentic recipe, quaintly quoted straight from the source

These photos capture only about half of the total feast, but at some point I stopped snapping and started chowing down. The caipirinhas flowed, the gorgeous dishes kept coming, and we had plenty of meaty goodness.

meaty goodness
no Brazilian meal would be complete without a big hunk of meat

I'm a bit chagrined to note that I focused solely on the "food porn" shots, and neglected to take a single picture of the delightful people who not only prepped these dishes but also made the gathering extra-festive. My bad! Brazilians are legendary for their hospitality... I think this group of gringos made a good run at it. Saúde, fudistas!

Be sure to check out Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.

* We're going to Rio!
* browse all WanderFood Wednesday posts

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26 January 2012
Rooting DC - support urban gardening

Rooting DC 2012

Three cheers for Rooting DC! This year marks the fifth annual gathering to celebrate urban gardening in all its many colors and flavors. Whether you want to learn to compost, cook healthier, organize a community garden, or influence local food policy, this is one event not to miss. And it's free!

I've attended for several years running, and I love how this event gets me energized for the gardening season ahead. Attendees comprise a wonderful mix of gardeners, foodies, community organizers, and most importantly low-income residents for whom this event was created.

The goals of the Rooting DC Forum are to:

* Build community among groups and individuals who want to improve our city through gardening and greening
* Share information and resources about gardening and greening in DC
* Provide opportunity for DC gardeners to coalesce around specific areas of interest
* Identify volunteer opportunities by creating a database of community based garden projects
* Keep gardeners connected via monthly e-newsletters that highlight volunteer opportunities, events and news from participants

oktapodi loves urban (and suburban) gardening
oktapodi loves urban (and suburban) gardening

I'm slightly bummed that I'll be missing Rooting DC this year because we'll be in Brazil -- I know, I know, don't cry for me -- but I encourage all my DC garden peeps to check it out. Online registration opens January 30.

While Rooting DC remains free and open to the public, tax-deductible donations of any amount are greatly appreciated. To further support the cause, there's a silent auction & happy hour next Thursday, Feb 2, at Looking Glass Lounge. I'll be there, raising a toast to my West Coast nephew Jack, who turns two that day. I'd love to see you there!

OK, so let's summarize. Here's how you can get involved to support this great cause:

1. Come to happy hour on Thursday, Feb 2
Looking Glass Lounge
3634 Georgia Ave NW, WDC 20010
RSVP on Facebook

2. Spread the word!
- Like Rooting DC on Facebook
- Follow Rooting DC on Twitter (also watch the hashtag #RootingDC)
- Download and share the event flyer

3. Come to Rooting DC on Saturday, Feb 18
Coolidge High School
6315 5th Street, NW, WDC 20012
9:30am - 4pm
Online registration & more info: http://rootingdc.org

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18 January 2012
WanderFood Wednesday: minestrone

I'm a big fan of salad, but when the weather gets blustery, nothing beats a big bowl of homecooked soup. To get back into the WanderFood Wednesday groove, here's a quick homage to a recent masterpiece: minestrone!

According to The Kitchen Project, "minestrone means 'Big Soup' to Italians and means a soup with lots of goodies in it." For me, it's all about the beans. Traditional minestrone usually calls for cannellini or great northern beans, but I happened to have a delightful melange of dried beans on hand from last year's garden.

beans, glorious beans
Jacob's Cattle, Cherokee Cornfield, Black Turtle, and "Big Red Ripper" cowpeas

I was a little sad that these beans mostly reverted to a standard brown color when cooked, but it was fun to see them all mixed together in the pot. One love!

The final product was an adhoc mix of whatever veggies we happened to have around, elbow pasta, plus some beef stock and a dash of tomato juice just to give it some extra oomph. The crowning glory was a cube of frozen pesto, made last year at the height of summer basil production. As the pesto cube melts into the hot soup, it provides just the right splash of garden-fresh flavor.


Snuggle up by the fire with a bowl of this homecooked goodness, and all the world's cares melt away in a haze of basil and garlic. Soup IS good food!

Be sure to check out Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.

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23 December 2011
Merry Chrismoose!

chrismoose cookies
best cookie cutter ever, courtesy of my sister in Alaska

Hope your holidays are merry & bright! Or at least covered in frosting. And here's to a stellar 2012... it is the Year of Awesomeness, after all. Cheers!

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22 November 2011
Unexpectedly thankful for...

November is a dreary time in the garden, at least here on the East Coast. And Nov 21 in particular is one of the toughest days of the year for me. But just when I feel like giving up and burrowing in for the winter, Mother Nature pulls out a few surprises. Here are a few random happy things I found yesterday:

kale, glorious kale!
kale, glorious kale!

unknown volunteer
I have no idea what this is, but it's been growing all year and decided to flower yesterday.

strawflowers, still going strong

pass the peas! we might actually get a few before winter

Thanks, Ma!

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25 October 2011
If you want to sing out, sing out!
a recap of Meet, Plan, Go! 2011

Does it feed your soul? Go within before you go without. We don't know how long the economy will be down, and in the meantime we need to live our lives!

our kickass panel

Sure, last Tuesday's Meet, Plan, Go! in DC dealt with nuts & bolts issues like insurance, airfare, and finances. But in between the logistics a steady theme emerged. Travel is more than getting from Point A to Point B. It nourishes something deep inside.

a great crowd

For the second year, I had the privilege of assembling a kickass panel to tell their stories and answer questions about long-term travel. In the audience of about 80 people were nurses and lawyers, project managers and artists, techies and cops, past and present and future careerbreakers, all bitten by the travel bug and yearning to see more of the world.

Alexis GrantNancy BeargKimberly PalmerKinnari PatelColey Hudgins 

After a little informal mixing and mingling, and an opening video featuring interviews with many MPG hosts from across North America, our panel of experts turned up the star power:

>> Moderator Alexis Grant backpacked thru Africa in 2008, recently left her journalism job and has just published an e-guide called How to Take a Career Break to Travel. In addition to contributing her own travel tips, she kept the program flowing smoothly and guided the panelists through a wealth of topics.

>> Nancy Bearg, co-author of Reboot Your Life and former National Security Advisor to vice presidents, regaled us with some eye-opening stats about how just burnt out the American workforce is. Did you know we're leaving $21 billion in vacation time on the table annually? Sheesh. Nancy gave us some great tips on how to make your travel work for your career. In 20 years, more than half the jobs out there will be things we don't even know the name of today. Create your own niche to come back to!

>> Kim Palmer, author of Generation Earn, tackled the big issue of money. Before you can figure out how much you need to save for your trip, you need to determine your dream/vision. Do you want to work while traveling? Relocate to another country? Just lounge around? Regardless, get your finances organized before you go, and consider launching a side business to sock away funds for your trip. Craigslist is great place to see what people are getting paid to do!

>> Kinnari Patel, corporate rat race escapee and social entrepreneur, advised us to tap into local hostel staff for information on traveler-friendly job opportunities and volunteer gigs. To find an organization to volunteer with, do your research online but ultimately go within to find a place that's a match your passions.

>> Coley Hudgins represented both the expat and family travel contingents. He's moved his family to Panama, and his youngest daughter will have dual citizenship. (How cool is that?) Kids are more flexible than you can imagine and will roll with anything. Getting your spouse on board can be another story, but as long as he/she has a willingness to get outside his/her comfort zone, you're on your way. He advised us not to  underestimate the "boots on the ground" effect of researching travel deals as well as local employment.

Bob from Hosteling International

Here are a few of my favorite nuggets from the night, as seen around the Twitterverse:

@hungry_wil: search within before you go without.

@pulpologist: You'll come back frm #travel more creative & a risk-taker, and this makes you a more appealing employee!

@CareerBreakHQs: Amen! RT @pulpologist: Wing it! Don't overplan. You'll never have this much freedom again in your life!

@jenniferparker3: Me too! RT @cityandsand Yes. #travel RT @jenniferparker3: Is this something that your spirit needs?

@pulpologist: You will have naysayers. (They're jealous!) Ignore some, let others know how important this is to you.

@BBADWoman: You nvr know the work yr going to get abroad until your boots are on the ground! Good blog name #BootsOnTheGround

annnnnnd prizes!

As a way to unwind after the event, Mark & I watched the classic movie Harold and Maude. If you've never seen it, or haven't seen it in some time, I highly recommend a viewing. It's not a travel flick, per se, but includes lots of timeless wisdom about finding your passion. And it has an amazing soundtrack by Cat Stevens, who reminds us:

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
'Cause there's a million things to be
You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
'Cause there's a million ways to go
You know that there are

You can do what you want
The opportunity's on
And if you can find a new way
You can do it today
You can make it all true
And you can make it undo
You see
It's easy
You only need to know

In addition to fueling the passions of future careerbreakers, our DC event raised funds for the Joan Zamborsky Memorial Trust Fund, which provides supplies and enables scientific exploration for an alternative high school in Pennsylvania. Way to go, travelistas!

cheers to a great event!

Many thanks to:
* my kickass panelists, for their energy before and during the event
* DC Travel Tweetup ambassadors Jennifer P, Jennifer L, Kelly, Claudia, and Kim, for helping to spread the word, for mixing and mingling, and for tweeting up a storm
* Lisa & Russ, for rockin' the reg table and icebreakers
* Mark, best.soundguy.ever
* Kelsey, fabulous photog
* Recessions Lounge, for donating the space
* Hosteling International volunteer Bob, for representing HI
* our kickass national sponsors:
Intrepid Travel, Hosteling International, and GoMio

Recaps from just a few of the 16 other events:
San Francisco
* Scenes from Meet, Plan, Go!

To see more photos and get involved in our monthly meetups, check out the DC MPG Facebook page. Oh, and check it out, we made the WaPo!

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13 October 2011
Bein' the Tía Loca

This week, in the face of some auspicious news (the birth of my first niece, Gwen) and some ominous news (an aunt deciding to accept hospice care for what we think is end-stage breast cancer) I've been ruminating a lot on aunthood.

It has long been my theory that every family has a crazy aunt and a party uncle. Sometimes these characters are packaged together into one person, sometimes the genders are reversed. But they make an appearance in just about every family circus. We seem to have a preponderance in my family, and I'm proud to count myself in the crazy aunt contingent.

Melanie Notkin (aka "Savvy Auntie") wrote an article recently in celebration of PANKs: Professional Aunts, No Kids. Whether childfree by choice or by circumstance, non-breeder aunts play a special role in the lives of their nieces and nephews. Unfettered by rules and homework and other parental structures, we're freer to dish out important lifeskills like how to curse in five foreign languages and the best way to open a wine bottle. There tends to be more negative bias towards the "maiden aunt" as opposed to the swingin' bachelor uncle, but personally I think that just adds to our mystique.

I wouldn't be a proper auntie if I didn't proudly display pics of all my nieces and nephews. So, here, see for yourself how fabulous they all are. :)

James Welcome Rinard
James Welcome Rinard, 4 years
big brother in the hizzouse

Jack Elliott Zamborsky
Jack Elliott Zamborsky, 1 1/2 years
the Jack Attack

Charles Andrew Zamborsky
Charles Andrew Zamborsky, 3 months
aka Charlie, or C-note

Gwendolyn Ruth Rinard
Gwendolyn Ruth Rinard, 1 week
one niece to rule them all

So what advice do I have for these adorable niece- and nephlings?

- See the world, just as soon as you have the inkling to do so! Don't let fears -- your own or the fears of those around you -- hold you back. As Mark Twain famously said, "You will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor." Indeed, stretching past your comfort zone is the only way to grow.

Be radicallly self-expressed
Burning Man 2010, my contribution to the Temple of Flux

- Be radically self-expressed. Speak your mind, even (and especially) when it's unpopular. Be true to yourself, even if it takes an entire lifetime to figure out what that really means.

- Appreciate your parents. They work *really* hard for you, and they put up with a lot of your shit, literally and figuratively. Yes, they're hopelessly uncool, but that's sorta their job. You may think they'll be around forever, and I sincerely hope that's the case, but take it from me, you just never know.

- Love your Mother. And this time I mean Mother Earth. We in past generations have done a crappy job in the stewardship department, but don't let that stop you from getting your hands dirty, knowing where your food comes from, and perhaps even planting your own victory garden.

To my fellow tías locas -- particularly
Tía Laura and Tía Vanessa of my own clan, but also the rest of you out there who are wrong in all the right ways -- I raise my glass. Despite the title of this post, I don't think Ricky Martin is going to write us a song anytime soon. Somehow Pink seems a more fitting tribute anyway.

Any party uncles wanna weigh in with their perspective?

Savvy Auntie: PANKs
* The Truth About the Modern Aunt
* with apologies to Ricky Martin
* P!nk: Raise Your Glass
* Browse all Burning Man posts, view pics from 2010 and 2008
* Celebrate Joan

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27 September 2011
40 days till 40
in which our heroine gets all philosophical-like

Today a countdown began.

I don't typically put much stock in age or birthdays. Many years back, I recall a coworker freaking out because she was turning 25... a whole quarter of a century! Silliness. That being said, the big four-oh is something of a milestone, and seems like an opportunity not to bemoan the passage of time but to regroup, contemplate, and clear some space for what's to come.

too many candles

I got the idea from Britt Bravo's blog, Have Fun Do Good. Last year she wrote about creating a daily practice for the 40 days leading up to her 40th birthday and it seemed like an interesting thing to try. I particularly liked her idea about letter-writing. Who sits down and actually hand-writes letters anymore?

I was also inspired by the Holstee Manifesto, which I recently purchased as a poster. Its simplicity is brilliant and profound.

Holstee Manifesto

And finally, I've been reminded a lot lately of one of my favorite quotes:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
-- Albert Einstein

So, in an effort to shake things up a little bit, maybe restore some of my recently-depleted mojo, and slide headfirst into 40 with as much zest as I can muster, I've decided to spend the next 40 days on the following practices:

* Connecting. I don't know about one letter a day like Britt, but I am going to take this opportunity to write, with an actual pen, on actual paper, some notes of appreciation. What a fun way to connect, and in a more in-depth way than the typical text message or Facebook "like."

* Clearing. This is the big one. I feel compelled to clear away space, mentally and physically, for new projects and new possibilities. Clearing away distractions.... So many ways to clear out clutter.... There's the digital version, a la Chris Brogan's "Great Unfollow Experiment". There's more concrete activity, such as clearing out closets or stacks of unread magazines. (Marks shifts nervously in the other room. Don't worry, I'm not going to toss out any of your stuff without your permission!) There's also a more abstract idea of clearing out bad habits that hang heavily like stale cigarette smoke. Hm. I'm not sure what shape this will take, but I feel there's great potential here.

* Nourishment. Massage. Yoga. Drinking more water! There are a number of ways to nourish the physical self. Play. Creativity. Meditation. And then there are ways to nourish the spirit. I already do most of this stuff, but not usually with sustained focus.

Quite by chance, smack in the middle of this will be Meet, Plan, Go! on October 18. It's an inspiring event anyway, but I'm wondering if the confluence of timing will yield a little extra somethin-somethin this year. Hm.

OK, enough navel-gazing! Thanks for indulging me, faithful readers. I may check in from time to time on this little experiment, but probably not. ;) We now return you to your regularly-scheduled blog topics of mostly-travel with a dash of gardening-cooking-wining. I also have a few more fun guest posts lined up in the coming weeks, so don't change that channel!

* Britt Bravo: Have Fun, Do Good
* The Holstee Manifesto
* Chris Brogan's Great Unfollow Experiment
* Come join us at Meet, Plan, Go!
* Vote for me in Tripping's contest (ok, totally not related, but there's just a few more days left, so I had to get one more plug in there!)

win a trip with Tripping!

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16 September 2011
Photo Friday: there's a fungus among us

almost looks good enough to eat
almost looks good enough to eat

Last week NPR's Science Friday did a piece on how, due to the recent torrential rains, there seem to be mushrooms EVERYWHERE. Inspired by this, I took a walk through my neighborhood. Sho 'nuff... shrooms aplenty. What was meant to be a quick walk to stretch my legs soon turned into an obsessive chronicalling expedition, with me stooping in front yards and patches of roadside grass to snap pics with my phone. Once I started, I couldn't stop!

unseen by most passersby
unseen by most passersby



striped umbrellas
striped umbrellas



Super Mario mushroom
Super Mario mushroom?

I also had a little fun with Instagram:

watching the world go by

almost floral

little seeds

The heck with stopping to smell the roses... I recommend you stoop a little lower and check out the mycological wonders awaiting you in the damp spaces of your world!

See more fabulous travel snaps at Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.

win a trip with Tripping!

Oh, and speaking of travel snaps, Tripping.com is running a photo contest. Wanna help me win a trip? Vote for my submission, taken during our recent Finger Lakes winery trip. Vote once a day if you want to, between now and Sept 30. Thanks for your support!

* Science Friday: Rainfall Brings Bumper Crop Of Fungi
* Three unexpected Finger Lakes finds
* Vote for me in Tripping's contest

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24 August 2011
WanderFood Wednesday: summertime yum

one of these things is not like the others!
one of these things is not like the others!

Today's WanderFood Wednesday post didn't require much wandering, just a stroll out to my front yard, plus a quick trip to our local farmers' market.

Happily, I've been too busy out in the garden to do much documenting this year. But rest assured, the goodies have been rolling in! Above is a selection of heirloom squash, tomatoes, and hot peppers surrounding everyone's favorite cephalopod. Below is one of my favorite summer salads, a classic caprese, with Woodle and Black Plum tomatoes, two kinds of basil, and some heavenly mozzarella from Blue Ridge Dairy Company.

say it with me: om nom nom!
say it with me: om nom nom!

I had a little success growing potatoes this year, although the resulting crop was a bit paltry. Never mind, we had enough yield to whip up some roasted blue and purple potatoes with garlic and rosemary. All ingredients straight from the front yard, except the olive oil & salt.

what's taters, precious?
what's taters, precious?

Paprika, grown like other peppers, has been another fun experiment this year. I've already picked a few and once they're dried they'll be ground into powder. Until then, they make a spirited addition to the front walk.

paprika, salvia, kale
paprika, with some salvia & kale in the background

I've always been a big fan of carrots, and although they don't tend to grow all that big in my yard, I have managed to pull up a fun sampling of heirloom shapes and colors. In the salad below is a combination of chantenay, deep purple, sunshine, and cosmic carrots, plus a few types of lettuce, mustard, kale, and chard.

heirloom rabbit food
heirloom rabbit food

This has been another challenging weather year (earthquakes! hurricanes! drought!), but the front yard veggie garden experiment continues! How does your garden grow?

For more great foodie posts, be sure to visit Wanderlust & Lipstick's weekly WanderFood Wednesday blog carnival!

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08 August 2011
Meet, Plan, Go!: meet the kickass DC panel

Meet, Plan, Go! in DC on Oct 18

Meet, Plan, Go! tickets went back onsale today, so it seems like a good time to introduce you to our stellar line-up of panelists for the DC location.

- - -

Alexis GrantAlexis Grant is a journalist and social media coach who's writing a book about traveling solo through Africa. She left her reporting job in 2008 to backpack through a handful of French-speaking African countries, freelancing along the way. Now she covers careers and job-search strategy for US News & World Report.

Alexis writes about taking leaps in life on her blog, The Traveling Writer, and she's author of the e-guide, How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business. A resident of Washington, DC, she spends her free time running, hiking, reading non-fiction, baking cupcakes and learning about entrepreneurship.

- - -

Kimberly PalmerKimberly Palmer, the author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back (Ten Speed Press) and personal finance columnist at US News & World Report, is a money expert on navigating adulthood. She helps young people master their own finances, from spending and investing to earning and giving back. As a young professional herself, she’s experienced the challenges (and joys) of parenthood, home-ownership, and job juggling first-hand.

Based in the Washington, DC area, Palmer has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CNBC, CNN, and local television and radio shows across the country. She has also written for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Asahi Shimbun/International Herald Tribune in Tokyo as a Henry Luce Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in history from Amherst College. She can be reached at www.generationearn.com.

- - -

Coley HudginsColey Hudgins is mercurial, impatient, temperamental and often moody. On the other hand, he's passionate about stuff he likes, creative, non-traditional and loves taking risks. Hudgins has traveled extensively throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. He lived and worked in Sierra Leone in the ’90s in the middle of a civil war where he ran a commodities business exporting coffee and cocoa to Europe. He's run roadblocks in Liberia manned by drunk soldiers, traded cigarettes for safe passage to a coffee farm at the end of a barrel of a stoned teenager’s gun, and was once arrested and threatened with a severe beating by a Nigerian solider for taking photographs at a military landing strip. The $100 bill he kept in his sock for just such an occasion saved the day.

He used to be a partner at a large public affairs firm in Washington DC but chafed under the authority and routine. The daily grind of wearing a monkey suit and witnessing the griminess of the Washington political scene didn’t help, existential crisis ensued, and he sold the house, car and most of the family’s possessions and moved to Panama with wife and two young children where he lives today. His day job consists of running a small consulting business while traveling hither and yon building his personal investment portfolio. Hudgins also co-founded the blog TheResilientFamily.com to catalog his experiences living, working, and investing abroad and outside of what most would consider the mainstream. The goal is to hopefully instill in others the excitement, confidence, and ultimately peace-of-mind that comes from radical self-reliance and living and traveling abroad.

- - -

Kinnari PatelKinnari Patel graduated from the University of Maryland in Physiology/Neurobiology. Before beginning med school, she took a year off to visit India, her homeland. This led to a decision not to pursue medicine and instead she went on to work in internet technology for almost 10 years, for companies such as Marriott and Conde Nast Publications. After surviving the rat race in NYC and the economic downturn in 2008 she left to travel the world. On her journey she explored Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Boliva, Chile. She also spent a month in Nepal volunteering at an orphanage and traveling through Tibet. She lives a spiritual life, practicing meditation and yoga, and believes in self realization and making life choices that fulfill your own personal truth. Currently, Kinnari is the owner of Be Healthy Vending, a company that provides natural, healthy food options to schools and gyms in the DC metro area, a cause she is very proud of. And, as always, she continues to realize her bliss.

- - -

Nancy BeargNancy Bearg has a distinguished career in national security, leadership, and human capital, primarily in the government and non-profit sectors.  She is a founding partner of Reboot Partners LLC, which conducts individual and corporate workshops and consults with corporations on Reboot Breaks.  The four Reboot Partners principals authored the book Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break on the whole process and benefit of taking sabbaticals. (April 2011, Beaufort Books).    

Ms. Bearg’s former positions include National Security Advisor to the Vice President of the United States, National Security Council staff member, and non-profit President/CEO.  In her current consulting career, she applies her extensive experience in practical and innovative ways to non-profit, for-profit, and academic endeavors. She holds a BA from Willamette University in Oregon and a Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.  She teaches a graduate course on leadership at George Washington University and lives in Washington, DC.

- - -

Wish you were here? Meet, Plan, Go! on Oct 18

Join us on October 18, in DC or one of 16 other locations throughout North America, to:

    * MEET inspirational speakers and like-minded travelers in your area.
    * Get motivation, contacts and resources necessary to PLAN the trip of a lifetime.
    * And start taking concrete steps forward to get ready to GO!

Meet, Plan, Go! on Oct 18 - buy your ticket today

Stay updated on the latest happenings by following MPG on Facebook and signing up for the Career Break newsletter. In the Twitterverse, follow @CareerBreakHQs and watch the hashtag #meetplango.

* Meet, Plan, Go! ...it's baaaaaaack!
* follow Meet, Plan, Go! on Facebook
* sign up for the Career Break newsletter
* meet 2011 MPG hosts
* information about all 2011 locations 

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04 July 2011
Declaring my independence, and a blogaversary

I was reminded the other day that this July 4th marks my fourth anniversary of travel blogging! Wow. Tempus fugit.

celebratory but shaky
celebratory but shaky... that about sums it up

Four years ago, I was watching the fireworks on the Mall on the eve of my first career break. Unfortunately, technical issues prevented me from actually posting anything until I was a week or so into the trip. By then I was already playing catchup (some things never change!) so my first few blog entries aren't particularly brilliant or introspective. Rest assured, I was freaking out. I'd just quit my job, was planning to travel solo for 10 weeks through Central America, and then come back and sell the house so Mark and I could take "the big trip." In my head I knew I could do it, and I like to think I was putting on a pretty good game face, but somewhere deep down, doubt and fear were gnawing into my spleen. What if I was making a huge mistake?

Tabacon Hot Springs, Costa Rica
Tabacon Hot Springs, Costa Rica

I managed to get through that shaky July 4th, hopped on a plane the next morning, and had an amazing trip. As most of you know, the rest didn't quite work out as I'd planned. For more details on that, check out a piece I wrote for Briefcase to Backpack called "Making Other Plans." Bottom line: I don't regret a second of it! And I continue to encourage other folks to take the plunge, by helping organize events like Meet,Plan,Go! and also by telling my story whenever someone seems open to hearing about it.

This July 4th, I'm working on another big project and hope to share more details in the coming weeks. It has the same familiar "holy crap" fear factor that's been waking me up in the middle of the night. What if I'm making a huge mistake? Fortunately the four-years-older-and-wiser me knows I can take whatever life throws at me. And the scarier something is, the bigger the opportunity. Bring on the fireworks!

How are you declaring your independence this year?

* Making Other Plans
* browse all "fond farewells" pics from 2007
* browse all July 2007 blog entries
* Meet,Plan,Go! ...it's baaaaaaack!

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28 June 2011
Two venerable DC institutions you won't see from the Tourmobile

If you have limited time in DC, and haven't visited since your 8th grade Social Studies trip, by all means check out the museums and monuments and the National Mall. They are mostly free, after all. But if you're able to plan ahead a bit, and have a hankering to hang with locals, I invite you to check out two DC musical venues that are nowhere near the tourist trail.

Filene Center
WolfTrap Filene Center, photo by Scott Suchman

If you have a car...
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

Seeing a show at WolfTrap is one of my all-time favorite summer activities. They have concerts in The Barn over the winter, but there's something magical about wining & dining & spectating alfresco at the magnificent Filene Center. It doesn't matter whether your tastes run to opera, Elvis Costello, or Bugs Bunny cartoons with live orchestral accompaniment, I dare you to have a bad time at WolfTrap. You just haven't lived until you've heard the 1812 Overture with live canon fire.

We typically grab a bottle of wine (or ten) and some picnic snacks (the prepared foods bar at Whole Paycheck is right on the way), and try to arrive early to stake out a good spot on the lawn. Actual seats in the pavillion are also available, but then you can't self-cater, and that's at least half the fun.

Filene Center, aerial shot
Filene Center, photo by Robert Llewellyn

Besides a full cadre of kickass shows, WolfTrap offers summer programs for kids, places professional artists in classrooms, and administers performing arts scholarships through its Foundation. But my favorite WolfTrap factoid is that it's part of the National Park System, and the National Park Service maintains the grounds and helps with theater tech. If you look carefully you just might spot Ranger Smith in his green khakis running lights behind the scenes.

Summer would just not be summer without at least one trip out to WolfTrap. Yes, it's a bit of a hike outside the city, but completely worth it. Hey, if you buy me an extra lawn seat, I'll happily give you a ride out there!

9:30 club
9:30 Club, photo by PatrickDB

If you're public-transport-bound...
The 9:30 Club

Originally housed in a sketchy location downtown where rats were commonly seen running along the ceiling beams, and now in a slightly-more-upscale neighborhood off the hipster U Street corridor, Nightclub 9:30 has been *the* go-to spot for live music in DC since 1980. With capacity for about 1200, this midsized venue is a great place to get up close and personal with the band, provided you get there well before the opening act starts and are willing to stand around. We tend to prefer to perch on the third floor, which has a separate bar and offers a great view of the performers as well as the crowd.

According to the Washington Post, the old club on F street was known as "a station of the cross for ascending bands working outside of music's mainstream." While the "new" 9:30 Club pulls in a more conventional roster, owner Seth Hurwitz prides himself on a  diverse lineup. We always get tickets to see hometown favorite Thievery Corporation when they're in town. Also Ozomatli, who take advantage of the lack of seating to perform a conga line through the crowd at the end of their set. Other recent excellent shows have included The Shpongletron Experience, GWAR, and Richard Cheese.

Josh Burdette
photo courtesy Consequence of Sound

Watch for 9:30 mainstay Josh Burdette, aka the scary-looking bouncer with the wicked piercings, and don't get on his bad side!


How to do it right

Both venues regularly sell out, so it does pay to plan a bit and get your tickets ahead of time. To plan the perfect musical interlude, figure out your transportation situation, cross reference your genre preferences, and pick a venue.

If heading to the 9:30 Club, hop on Metro's Green Line to U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo and pick one of the many excellent Ethiopian restaurants along 9th Street. Or stop at Dickson Wine Bar for wines by the glass and a huge front window for peoplewatching. Head over to the club when doors open (or before, if it's a popular show) and stake out a spot on whichever of the three levels suits your fancy. Earplugs are available for a buck a pair at the tshirt stand on the ground floor. Don't forget to tip your bartender well and prepare to have your world rocked.

If you're going to WolfTrap, pick up a few bottles of wine or six packs of beer, and score some picnic snacks at your supplier of choice. Whole Foods? Gas station convenience store? Whatever floats your boat. Food & drink is available for purchase onsite but of course it's much more expensive. You can get to WolfTrap via the Dulles Toll Road or Route 7, both of which can get jammed during rush hour, so plan accordingly. The parking situation can be a bit bewildering, but just go where you're directed; there's no such thing as a good space and you'll be walking uphill to get to the Filene Center no matter what. (Consider it pre-justifying the calories you're about to intake!) Bring a blanket or two, and try to get there well before the doors open so you can participate in the mad rush for the perfect spot on the lawn. Secure your location, crack open your beverages, spread out your treats, and prepare to make friends with your neighbors, especially if they've brought something even yummier! By the time the sun goes down and the show starts, all will be right with the world.

This post is part of Cambria Suites' Backyard Gems blog carnival. What are some gems in your own backyard?

The Filene Center at
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
1551 Trap Road
Vienna, VA 22182
tickets: 877.WOLFTRAP

Nightclub 9:30
815 V Street, NW
Washington, DC
tickets: 877.435.9849

Dickson Wine Bar
903 U Street, NW
Washington, DC

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19 June 2011
Dad is my co-pilot

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! Special shoutout to the dads who have gone on to that Great BBQ Grill In The Sky.

Kesh and Justin
Kesh and Justin, relaxing post-hike in Kamloops, BC

Thanks for always being there to pick us up and carry us on your shoulders when there are just too many prickly bushes in our path.

Jack and Popsy
Jack and Popsy, at a wedding in Bethlehem, PA

And cheers to the dads who have mellowed out with time, and become even more fun as granddads! (Such is the case with my own dear ol' dad, pictured above with our nephew Jack. The family resemblance is uncanny, no?)

Enjoy your dad, dads!

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30 May 2011

Marina di Chioggia winter squash
Marina di Chioggia winter squash seedlings

Mother Nature is such a crafty bitch. Most of the time she makes me work really hard to get my garden to produce veggies. Then she goes and surprises me, just to make sure I haven't completely lost hope. The monster seedlings pictured above are less than a week old! I just popped some seeds in the ground, and BAM! The promise of such low-maintenance produce makes me happy.

Marina di Chioggia is an Italian heirloom winter squash that produces big green warty fruit. Other experiments in my front yard pumpkin patch are slate blue Jarrahdales, chestnut-flavored Black Futsus, and Greek Sweet Reds. I've also planted a few squash and melons elsewhere, figuring I need to hedge my bets in case the beetles return with a vengeance!

ground cherries
"Cossack Pineapple" ground cherries

The other item I'm excited to watch develop is a "Cossack Pineapple" ground cherry plant. Ground cherries are similar to tomatillos, in that they grow inside a husk, but they're sweet. We got a handful at a friend's CSA last year, and they are yummy! I had the opportunity to grow some myself this year. You can see a handful of little lantern-shaped fruits starting to appear, along with some small flowers that bear the promise of more treats to come.

If you enjoyed this post, please pass it on!


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24 May 2011
Get your earlybird tickets to Meet, Plan, Go! DC

Meet, Plan, Go! earlybird tickets

Normally the early bird gets the worm, but this time it also gets to follow its travel dreams! After last year's standing room only crowds, this year we're giving you a chance to sign up early and secure your spot. And until June 8, earlybird tickets are on sale for the bargain price of $10. Get 'em while they're hot!

Alongside my fantastic planning team of Coley Hudgins, Alexis Grant, and Kelsey Freeman, I'm cooking up some good stuff for this year's DC event. We're kicking things off with an informal happy hour on June 22, so stay tuned for more details on that. Or better yet, sign up for the Career Break newsletter and don't miss a thing.

Are you ready to be inspired? If you're looking for a way to make your travel dreams a reality, join us on October 18 for Meet, Plan, Go! We'd love to see you in DC, but there are 16 other locations across North America to choose from.


* Meet, Plan, Go! ...it's baaaaaaack!

* Get your tix to MPG DC
* So You Want to Write a Travel Memoir by Alexis Grant
* Preparing to Move Abroad by Coley Hudgins

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13 May 2011
Photo Friday: VA Gold Cup fashion statements

lovely ladies in lovely hats
lovely ladies in lovely hats

It should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of hats. Always have been, always will be. So I jumped at the chance to attend this year's Virginia Gold Cup, espcially when friends invited us to join the Eleventh Street Lounge bus trip. Sure, a glimpse into blueblood horse country culture is fun. Unlimited booze and a spot "on the rail" at Virginia's biggest steeplechase event of the season? Good times, especially when you've got transportation there and back. But the real reason I was so excited to go? The hats.

Danny rocks his wife's hat
Danny rocks his wife's hat... and this is just on the bus trip out!

on the rail
on the rail

grounded hat
grounded hat

ethereal hat
ethereal hat

crisp and tasty
crisp and tasty

Katie sports some bling
Katie sports some bling to match her chapeau

this chick's hat matches her dude's shirt
this chick's hat matches her dude's shirt

fabulous even in repose
fabulous even in repose

this family is so cute it hurts
this family is so cute it hurts

Don't worry, the gents have some fashion options too. I'm not saying they're good options, per se, but choices abound!

fellow in  yellow... hello!
fellow in yellow... hello!

owie zowie
owie zowie

the original Virginia Gentleman
the original Virginia Gentleman

And, finally, MY hat! Something borrowed, something blue. Mark doesn't like how he looks in this picture so unfortunately I had to crop him out. But he wasn't wearing a hat anyway...

something borrowed, something blue


For more fabulous travel snaps, check out Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.

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

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06 May 2011
Photo Friday: Peep Dreams

Peep Dreams

Inspired by the Washington Post's annual "Peep Show" diorama contest, we had a little competition of our own at the office. My entry came in second, which is pretty respectable considering I wasn't even around to bribe any votes. My brilliant artistic vision was tough to adequately capture in a mere photograph, but it's essentially me at my desk dreaming about being on safari with oktapodi.

Art therapy is a good thing.

For more fabulous travel-themed snaps, check out DeliciousBaby's Photo Friday.

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


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16 April 2011

magnolia + pollen

The magnolia tree in our front yard is astonishingly beautiful each spring, replete with fluffy pink petals that exude springy cheer. But, alas, springtime in DC is a double-edged sword, as allergy sufferers know. And the other day I came face to face with what's been causing itchy eyes and runny noses for me and many others this season. Just look at that nasty pollen, just waiting to fly out and prickle up my sinuses! Mother Nature is such a bitch sometimes. :)

magnolia in full bloom

Fortunately, recent thunderstorms have blown most of the flowers off our trees, and we're back to good old green leafy goodness. It was fun while it lasted, sneezes and all.

(Yes, I'm a day late for Photo Friday, but go check out Delicious Baby's weekly carnival of photo goodness anyway!)

And if you enjoyed this post, please share it!

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13 April 2011
Meet, Plan, Go! ...it's baaaaaaack!
Ready to realize your travel dreams? Stop dreaming and start packing!

Meet, Plan, Go!

I'm thrilled to announce that once again I'll be hosting the DC location of Meet, Plan, Go! We had so much fun last year that we're coming back, bigger and better than ever.

On October 18, 2011, dreamers and experienced travel veterans alike will gather in 17 cities across North America to learn more about career breaks and extended travel. The idea is to:

* MEET inspirational speakers and like-minded travelers in your area.
* Get motivation, contacts and resources necessary to PLAN the trip of a lifetime.
* And start taking concrete steps forward to get ready to GO!

Wish You Were Here? Meet, Plan, Go! Oc 18, 2011

I'll admit it, I love it when travelers get together to swap stories. It's exhilarating and motivating, and it's the main reason I help organize monthly #DCTravelTweetup events and try to attend TBEX each year. Travelers have an infectious enthusiasm and we love to share tips on how to get the best deals, give advice on finding the best-kept secret spots, and inspire others to get out and go.

But what do you do with all that excitement when you're not sure how to make your travel dreams a reality?

If you've been bitten by the travel bug but remain in a state of overwhelm about how to make it happen, do we have the event for you. It doesn't matter whether you want to ditch it all and become a digital nomad, take a career sabbatical to recharge your batteries, or just find a way to work more travel into your existing lifestyle. You'll get valuable advice at Meet, Plan, Go! At every event will be individuals who have fulfilled their own dreams of traveling around the world, or are currently in the planning stages. Their real-life stories include an understanding of the unique challenges that all long-term travelers must overcome in order to claim their freedom on the road. They want to share their experiences and inspire you to live your dream.

MPG DC 2010 panel
last year's dynamic DC panel

Meet, Plan, Go! is happening simultaneously in 17 locations, so if you can't make it to DC there might be another one somewhere near you. Each city's host brings their own flavor and experiences to the event. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with this wonderful group of people last year, and look forward to adding some new Kickass Hosts to the group. Get to know the fabulous folks who will be hosting in 2011.

OK, are you jazzed?? So now what?

Online registration will be available in the coming months, but in the meantime stay updated on the latest happenings by following MPG on Facebook and signing up for the Career Break newsletter. In the Twitterverse, follow @CareerBreakHQs and brand-new @MeetPlanGo and watch the hashtag #meetplango.


* a recap of last year's DC event
* New York Times article about Meet, Plan, Go!
* follow Meet, Plan, Go! on Facebook
* sign up for the Career Break newsletter
* meet 2011 MPG hosts


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22 March 2011
Ode to Spring
the Great Garden Experiment continues

eat more kale!
eat more kale!

I could not be more excited about the arrival of Spring. Even though we didn't have nearly as brutal a winter as last year, there's still an exquisite pleasure in witnessing the renewal this season brings.

Continued experiments
This year's garden experiment continues some of last year's endeavors, like start seedlings in the basement, in all manner of recycled containers. (I didn't get a chance to snap any pics, but just imagine a small army of greek yogurt containers sprouting tomato and pepper seedlings.)

raised beds raised beds, view from the street
Last year's raised beds did well and will be put to good use again this year.

I'm always on the lookout for free supplies, and am a frequent visitor to the City of Falls Church's free leaf mulch pile. There are also a ton of great places to get free (or nearly-free) seeds, including events like Rooting DC and Washington Gardener Magazine's annual seed swap, or organizations Wintersown.org and the America the Beautiful Fund.

The lawn takeover continues, little by little. I forgot to take a "before" picture, but handily enough, Google Maps hasn't refreshed its image of my yard since about 2009, so here's a snapshot from a much greener time of year:
street view, spring 2009
here's the street view from January:
street view, Jan 2011
and here's a view from the house in March:
yard view from the house

Besides the additional raised beds, the bushes near the mailbox and around the center island have been removed to make way for herbs and veggies, and there are two new "lasagna" beds in the main part of the front yard.


New experiments

sprouting garlic
I planted some garlic in November, and it seems to be coming along nicely. It should be ready to harvest in June, about time for the tomatoes to take over this bed.

potato grow bags
I really wanted to plant potatoes, so I splurged on some potato bags. Blue and purple taters went in this past weekend.

wintersowingwintersowingI thought I'd try wintersowing this year. The concept is putting seeds out over the winter in little mini-greenhouses. Supposedly they sprout once the weather gets nice enough, and are hardier than plants started inside. So far some items have sprouted, some not yet; will see how the seedlings do in comparison with their pampered inside brethren.

raspberriesI put in some raspberry & blueberry bushes, right out front! I'm simultaneously excited and terrified by this prospect. I fully expect a scene from Hitchcock's "The Birds" to play out in my front yard, but if there are any berries left for the humans, it should be pretty cool.

lasagna bedI'll do a separate post on my lasagna bed project. No, I'm not growing lasagna in the garden; the term refers to a no-till method of layering materials to create garden beds.

Along with the lawn takeover comes a renewed interest in edible landscaping. This includes putting out attractive veggies like nagoya kale  (pictured at the top of this post) front and center alongside traditional flowers, or mixing blueberries with alyssum.

I'm going to try to post some pics each month, so you can see how the garden is progressing. Here's a snapshot of what's growing now:

leeks return of the chives tarragon  thyme and oregano
leeks, started indoors in January returning chives tarragon thyme and oregano
cilantro overwintered kale mystery items mystery items
cilantro overwintered kale mystery items

* browse all garden posts
* view all garden pics
* City of Falls Church free leaf
* Wintersowing resources
Wintersown.org | A Garden for the House | 
Dirty SC8 
* lasagna gardening
* edible landscaping/lawn replacement
Rosalind Creasy | Edible Front Yards |
Lawn Reform Coaltion 
* Rooting DC
* Washington Gardener Magazine
* America the Beautiful Fund

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


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14 January 2011
Photo Friday: sigh, are we there yet?

A short dispatch from deepest, darkest, coldest January...

an empty planter on the back deck dreams wistfully of warmer days
(I know how it feels)

hope from the basement
on the other hand, green things under grow lights in the basement give hope of things to come!

This post is part of DeliciousBaby's Photo Friday series.

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 2 comments
18 November 2010
Passports with Purpose: Help Build a Village in India

Passports with Purpose - India 2010 - We believe in the power of travel to change the world. Join us.


Passports with PurposeIt's back, and more ambitious than ever! Last year, Passports with Purpose raised enough money to build a school in Cambodia. This year, the goal is to build an entire village in South India.


In conjunction with Land for Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI), PwP aims to raise $50,000 to improve the lives of the Dalits, India’s most neglected class of citizens. Travelbloggers from across the globe are banding together to support this great cause, by donating some amazing prizes and spreading the good word.

Here's how to participate:

* Browse the list of prizes and enter a tax-deductible contribution for a chance to win that prize. Each $10 donation to LAFTI equals one drawing entry. Prizes range from airfare and hotel stays, to travel clothing and gear, to a Nerds Eye View ukelele. I have to say, the depth and breadth of prize donations this year is most impressive.

Get the word out! Tell your friends, shout it from the rooftops, mention it at your next holiday party. 'Tis the season for generosity and goodwill, after all. If you have a blog or site, promote PwP to your readers. Tweet about it using hashtag #PwP. There's also a Facebook Fan Page.

* If you've been naughty this year and need to obtain a few extra good-karma points to avoid getting coal in your stocking, consider donating a prize or becoming a sponsor. You can also make a donation without choosing a prize.

Don't delay! The raffle closes December 13, and winners will be announced December 17.

* Passports with Purpose: Donate!
* Learn more about LAFTI
* PwP Facebook Page


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12 October 2010
Show your colors
and support your local farms via "Dine Out For Farms" week

crisp autumn sky and some tall zinnias
crisp autumn sky and some tall zinnias

I've never been a big fan of fall. Chillier temps. Back to school. Dark mornings. Bleccch. What's to like?

the humble zinnia
I tried for a while to capture the simple brilliance of this humble zinnia, but couldn't quite get it!

rose mallow
rose mallow, a pleasant surprise this year

hearty marigolds turn toward the sun
hearty marigolds turn toward the sun

Well, being a little more in tune with the rhythms of the garden has actually brought me an appreciation of the autumn season. Who'da thunk? I'm experimenting with a fall planting this year... broccoli, brussels sprouts, LOTS of kale, leeks, some late carrots and beets, winter spinach. Not to mention a whole bed of glorious garlic that I'm hoping will yield some scrumptious spring garlic scapes and about a metric ton of stinking rose to cook with for a season or more. We shall see.

the last of the sunflowers, and (hopefully!) the last of the cucumber beetles
the last of the sunflowers, and (hopefully!) the last of the cucumber beetles

just a little more sunflowerliciousness
just a little more sunflowerliciousness

So far the mozzies haven't completely dissipated, but as the temperatures drop, so will the pests. I did notice a spate of cucumber beetles -- spotted rather than striped -- on the last of the sunflowers. I'm far less annoyed than when these critters decimated my squash beds earlier in the season. On a more convivial note, a fat brown grasshopper has been hanging out in the wildflower bed near the front door. His presence sparks a vague memory of fables about hard work, but every time I spot him all I can do is stop and gaze in wonder.

oh, hello!
oh, hello!

There are still a few stalwart tomatoes and peppers waiting to be harvested. At this time of year, it's anyone's guess whether we'll get frost or 80-degree days. I'm willing to hang onto the last bastion of summer crops as long as I can. But, I have to admit, I'm looking forward to those autumn veggies!


the last few peppers and 'maters
the last few peppers and 'maters

new fall crops: brussels sprouts on the rise!
new fall crops: brussels sprouts on the rise!

Also, it's "Dine Out For Farms" week! Support your local farms and the American Farmland Trust by eating out at a participating restaurant. What better way to show your colors? 

* Fruition
* Sweet green sublimation
* Wait for it...
* browse all garden pics

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20 September 2010
In a word: confidence
Meet, Plan, Go! DC a grrrrreat success

Policy's Liberty Lounge hosts Meet, Plan, Go! DC
Policy's Liberty Lounge hosts Meet, Plan, Go! DC

Nearly 100 Washingtonians gathered on Tuesday September 14, to discuss travel hopes, dreams, fears, roadblocks at Meet, Plan, Go! The energy in the room was phenomenal, and our stellar panel provided lots of solid advice. The recurring theme for the evening: have confidence. Whether it's during the planning phases, while trying to explain your trip to friends and family, or during your re-entry into the workforce, the more confidence you can summon, the more successful your experience will be. And the reverse is true, as Sherry Ott pointed out in a recent post: travel will give you back that confidence in spades.

spirited audience participation
lots of questions for the experts
spirited audience participation

panelists speak to a packed house
huge round of applause to our DC panelists!

Rich talks about using ATMs abroad

Rich Carlson of Ameriprise Platinum Financial Services encouraged us to "plan out how much you think you'll need to spend on your trip, then double it!"

Kathleen: travel builds valuable career skills

Kathleen Duffy of the GW School of Business advised the group to not be ruled by "practical" experiences only. Even creative trips can yield valuable career skills when you return to the workforce.

Tara discusses WWOOFing and working abroad

Tara Cavanagh of InterExchange gave advice about finding work abroad, including targeting countries with less Visa restrictions (like Australia) and WWOOFing.

Nicolette: have conviction about trip's purpose

Nicolette Pizzitola of Compass Point Associates cracked us up with stories of her family's reaction to her career break ("you're killing your mother!") But she also provided sage advice about projecting, with bold assurance, the reason behind your trip.

Stephanie warns not to overplan

Stephanie Yoder of Twenty-Something Travel gave us a sanity check about not overplanning. Be flexible! After all, they have computers in other countries.

And Kate Chandler of Away.com, moderator extraordinaire, kept things moving by feeding juicy topics to the panel and taking audience questions.

Jennifer & Tim of STA travel give out door prizes
Jennifer Apple and Tim Fegan from STA Travel were on hand to provide travel advice and help us give out door prizes. Yay, prizes!
yay, prizes

A few of my favorite tweets of the night:

@nicpiz: Fabulous night at #MPGDC - what an amazing group of global nomads, world citizens and free spirits - thank you all for showing up!

@adamkarlin: A big trip shouldn't be seen as a departure from, but continuation of what you should be doing w/your life.

@RichCarlson3: Loved @statravel's comment that the amount of preparation needed is inverse to the amount of time you'll travel!

@ctilley7: If a prospective employer can't appreciate your travel break, perhaps they aren't the best choice!

@gogastronomy: Cool, I just won a book: Two Laps Around the World @ #MPGDC. Exactly what I want to do. Fate?

@pulpologist: What about travel fatigue & trying to cram in too many countries? @20sTravel: be flexible & don't be afraid to go slow.

@weekendretweat: Learn languages with tv, in churches & bars....bars usually have American music :)

@JohnicaReed: #MeetPlanGo Tip: Just like students should study abroad, adults should take travel sabbaticals. Makes you more interesting.

@jtemplerobinson: Talk about your dream with confidence. It is a shift when people get that you are going to get your life out of it.

a lively panel discussion
a lively panel discussion

Special thanks to Jim Bourg for taking these awesome photos; to Mark for being such a great booth-babe and working the reg table like a pro; and to Marilyn Terrell & the Nat Geo folks for sponsoring the extra chairs.

And, finally, much gratitude to our spectacular sponsors, who made this event possible across 13 simultaneous locations:

Briefcase to Backpack Three Month Visa

BootsnAll   Career Break Secrets gap adventures GeoVisions Globejotter Tours Hostelling International Mango Languages National Geographic  STA Travel  Unconventional Guides Your Sabbatical

* view all posts and recaps from MPG events
* keep the discussion going on the
Meet, Plan, Go! Facebook page
* be sure to sign up for the MPG mailing list to stay on top of future announcements
* check out the
Career Break Boot Camp, coming in January 2011

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23 August 2010
Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin

our living room as of about midnight on Saturday

and on Sunday morning

Whew! This weekend we managed to pack up about a dozen boxes and send them on the road with a fellow DC Burner who is driving cross-country.

Thus officially begins the logistical complexity that is Burning Man. The first step is shipping out furry costumes, inflatable furniture, bike decorations, and other essentials. Check! Early Sunday, we'll hop a plane (carrying as little as possible) and land in Sacramento, where we'll spend a day collecting other supplies like groceries, booze, and our bikes. Then on Monday we'll pick up the Mothership of Love & Justice -- aka a Cruise America RV -- and lumber our way out to Nevada. With any luck, once on the Playa we will be reunited with our gear, and the festivities can begin!

Word to your moms.

* Photo Friday: ringing the Virgin Bell
* Photo Friday: desert eats
* Photo Friday: beyond the mmp-tss mmp-tss mmp-tss
* Burning Man

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10 August 2010
Join us for Meet, Plan, Go! on Sept 14

Meet, Plan, GO! in DC on Sept 14

Registrations are rolling in! I'm so excited to report that due to the overwhelming response, we've had to move to a bigger venue. (Woot!) Meet, Plan, Go! DC will now be taking place at the very hip Policy DC, in their upstairs Liberty Lounge. I was just there for a @Sisarina tweetup last week and can confirm that this is an excellent space, with plenty of room to mix & mingle, and a plethora of $5 happy hour food & drink specials.

Policy DC's Liberty Lounge
Policy's Liberty Lounge

Special thanks to fellow DC travel blogger Matt at LandLopers for giving me the opportunity to do a recent guest post about Meet, Plan, Go!: Get Out & Go: Make Your Travel Dreams a Reality.

Have you registered yet for this free and fabulous event? Don't wait until it sells out a second time!

Register for Meet, Plan, Go! in Washington, DC on Eventbrite

Not in DC? Not to worry, MPG is happening at over a dozen locations throughout the US and Canada.

* Meet, Plan, Go! site
* MPG Facebook fan page
* MPG Twitter feed
* LandLopers guest post
* DC registration
* all MPG locations

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09 August 2010

early August garden haul

...because sometimes it's nice to have a visual reminder that all your hard work really IS paying off.

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28 July 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: prezzemolo, a cautionary tale
one man's quest for the perfect Penne Rosate

Penne Rosate and a spritz in Treviso
Penne Rosate in Treviso

It started innocently enough.

Penne Rosate. Four simple ingredients on a bistro menu:
salsa di pomodoro | panna | salmone affumicato | prezzemolo

Little did I know this dish would turn into Mark's Holy Grail. Ever since sampling this delectable fare at Piola in Treviso, he's been obsessed with recreating the perfect penne rosate at home. And in typical Italian style, a deceptively simple ingredient list means the dish can be articulated about a million ways.

mmmm, golden tomatoes
mmmm, golden tomatoes

Renown chef Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington says you should make a dish eight times before serving it to friends. That always seemed a bit extreme. But we're starting to understand. Each time Mark makes this dish, he writes little notes in the margin about how to tweak the recipe next time. Not too much tomato paste. Be sure to use large golden tomatoes. Let the pasta sit and soak up the sauce before serving. He's even asked me to plant extra golden tomatoes in the garden so he can continue his exploration and and near-scientific quest for the flawless formula.

stir, stir, stir
stir, stir, stir

I don't think he'll ever achieve penne perfection. But, as with most things in life, it's about the journey, not the destination! I'm happy to have him keep experimenting with this dish forever.

some cream, a little smoked salmon
some cream, a little smoked salmon

It just so happens that there's a Piola right here in Northern Virginia, and they do have Penne Rosate on their menu. Part of me is curious to try it, part of me doesn't want to spoil the mystique of that first perfect taste back in Treviso.

the finished product, topped with lots of fresh prezzemolo!
the finished product, topped with lots of fresh prezzemolo!

And at the end of the day, I just like saying "prezzemolo." Try it with me: pret-ZEH-mo-lo. It's fun! I think Robin at My Mélange should add it to her list of beautiful Italian words. Who knew that humble parsley could be so entertaining?

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


* Photo Friday: Treviso spritz

* My Mélange: Italian lessons
* Piola
* our other Treviso pics
* WanderFood Wednesday carnival of foodie blogs


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14 July 2010
Naked in the rain
2nd Annual AANR World Record Skinny-Dip

FollowFriday tweet from Spud Hilton

And thus, with this unwittingly prescient #FollowFriday tweet from @SpudHilton, was kicked off a weekend of naturist antics.

Sadly, none of the other tweeps mentioned above were present at Pine Tree on Saturday for the 2nd Annual AANR Guinness World Record™ Skinny-Dip Challenge. We managed to have a grand time nonetheless.

last year's skinny dip event at PineTree

We'd been to this event last year, and once again invited a posse to join us for the festivities. Unfortunately Mother Nature chose Saturday to bless us with the rain she'd been withholding for the past two weeks.   ::: shakes fist at sky :::   Even with the drizzle, nearly 20 of our friends showed up, and there were close to 300 people in the pool at the time of the photo. The local tallies are sent into the AANR national office for final number-crunching. So I don't yet know if we broke any records. But that's really not the point.

I don't talk much about our nudist pursuits, because, frankly, there's not much to say. There are few things more relaxing than shedding your clothes and hanging out by the pool for an afternoon. Nudists are among the friendlist people on the planet. Shedding your outer trappings means you have to rely solely on your personality, which brings out your sociable side right quick! And once we got over the initial weirdness of pulling into a lushly-wooded parking lot and unceremoniously dropping trou, the hardest part has always been putting our clothes on at the end of the day.

In fact, we were so loathe to leave that we wound up staying an extra afternoon. We'd already planned to stay overnight (in a surprisingly luxurious cabin with air conditioning, a full kitchen, and a full bath!) but when we awoke on Sunday morning to a gorgeous sunny day, it was impossible to return home. So we spent another uber-relaxing day paddling around in the pool, catching up on some reading, and chatting with the amiable denizens of Pine Tree. Unfortunately the naturist population is aging and they seem to be having a hard time finding new recruits. As a result, we got more than our share of sales pitches. I'm not much of a joiner, and the idea of spending every weekend with the same people holds little appeal for me, so we'll probably never shell out the extra bucks to become members. But we try to get out to Pine Tree a few times a season. And we may have turned one or two friends on to the possibility of membership. So I think our work here is done.

AANR Guinness World Record™ Skinny-Dip Challenge 
Pine Tree Associates


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23 June 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: beer & cheese, who knew?
DC Foodies Do Good's May Tweetup

beer and cheese and sausages, oh my!

In honor of DC Foodies Do Good's June tweetup this evening (Macarons & Moscato, yum!) I thought I'd post a few pics from last month's event.

DC Foodies Do Good at Red White & Bleu

The group gathered in May at my favorite local wine & gourmet foods shop, Red White & Bleu, for a tasting of artisan beers and a sampling of cheese and sausage. I have to admit that I'm not normally a big beer drinker, but I am a steadfast admirer of passion and craftsmanship. And this saucy lineup of beers was something else!

om nom nom!

Especially paired with pungent cheeses and melt-in-ya-mouth cinghale sausage. Om nom nom.

Edward loves his beer

The good folks at Red White & Bleu may have made a convert out of me yet. I still have some catching up to do if I want to get to Edward's level though.

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.

And be sure to visit the DC Foodies Do Good site to see what tasty treats and feel-good-do-good events are lined up!

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

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20 June 2010
Sweet green sublimation
the garden experiment continues

wildflowers blooming
wildflowers blooming

The #1 question I get these days is "When's the next big trip?" Unfortunately, the way this year has turned out, it looks like we won't be doing any extended international travel. I know, it's killing me! My passport is highly offended to be sitting in the closet collecting dust. We've got some fun US trips coming up, but it's not the same.

So what's a Global Grrl to do when faced with a travel hiatus? Transfer that impulse into something more homebound, namely gardening. I took some of the lessons learned from last year's experimentation with the Special Olympics Victory Garden, and decided I was going to crank it up a notch this year. Notably:

* Move the veggies out to the front yard, where there's a whole lot more sun!

* Start seedlings inside with a proper grow light in more stable conditions.

* You can just never, ever have enough compost.

* Start early and plant late; cool weather crops like brassicas and root veggies can go out much earlier than other crops. I'm also planning to re-plant a bunch in the fall.

not nearly as illicit as it looks starting tomatoes indoors is fun! every container has the potential to become a pot

I got a set of cheap plastic shelves from Home Depot, hooked up some fluorescent lights on a timer, and gathered a handful of leftover pots and recycled plastic packaging. Suddenly every container that passed through the kitchen was a potential planter! I got pretty handy with the drill, too, to make sure each vessel had the appropriate drainage. Add in some free seeds from excellent sources like Wintersown and Washington Gardener Magazine's seed swap, and we were in business! After a few weeks, our basement looked as though something highly illicit was going on. I don't watch the show "Weeds," but I began to feel a strange kinship with Mary-Louise Parker, even though it really was just boring stuff like parsley and kale being grown down there.

hardening off plants by setting them out on the deck for a few hours a day
hardening off plants by setting them out on the deck for a few hours a day

Soon enough, it was time to start moving the plants outside. I struggled once again with having to create a garden plot from scratch, and wasted some time dithering over materials. This time it wouldn't be enough to nail some boards together in an odd corner of the backyard. We were moving into front yard territory, where the stakes are higher! I spent some time ripping out scraggly evergreen bushes (backbreaking work) and layering compost and shredded newspaper in their place. And I eventually decidd to buy some pre-made raised beds from Gardener's Supply, in conjunction with some cheap border material from Home Depot. No point spending time and money building expensive permanent structures when I didn't even know if this latest experiment was going to work any better than last year!

front yard in mid-February much better without all that nasty snow | mailbox view, mid-February mailbox view, mid-June

It was pretty funny to see an area that had been covered in three feet of snow not that long ago transformed into an edible landscape. And 'twas so subversive to rip up patches of grass, that sacred symbol of The American Dream! Moo hoo ha ha haaaa.

my spanky new Grow a Row sign
my spanky new Grow a Row sign

ahhhhh, brassicas!bolted broccoli, actually quite a lovely bouquetI ended up with four raised beds in the front yard. There's actually a considerable amount of shade from nearby trees, but I'm hoping there's enough sun to produce lots of delicious veggies. In fact, this year I've decided to participate in the Grow a Row program, where the Capital Area Food Bank pairs gardeners with food banks and other nonprofits that feed the hungry. Mark thinks the whole concept is pretty funny. I don't think I grew an entire row of anything all season last year, and now we're going to give stuff away? We'll see. So far I've had a profusion of leafy greens, and a few radishes. I didn't get the brassicas in the ground early enough, and while the broccoli and bok choi plants got huge, some started to bolt (flower and go to seed) before I was able to harvest anything edible. But, the experiment continues!

lush purple bush beans
lush purple bush beans

Three Sisters Garden: corn, squash, beans Mother Nature is fascinating up close! makeshift bean trellis squasharific

I decided to try a "Three Sisters" patch with corn, several types of squash, and beans. Almost all  plants were grown from seeds I got for free! Gotta love that.

tomaters a-comin'
tomaters a-comin'

tomato/cuke/pepper bed, in mid Maytomato/cuke/pepper bed, in early JuneI started a *ton* of tomato plants from seeds this year. The seeds came from a variety of places: saved from last year's few tomatoes, obtained for free, or in a few specialty cases actually purchased. These mostly-heirloom tomatoes have fun & funky names like "Razzleberry," "Black Cherry," and "Woodle." We'll see what kinds of 'maters start showing up! So far I've spotted a few flowers, which is a good sign, but most of the plants are still too small to produce anything so early in the season.

Cherokee lettuce, my new fave!
Cherokee lettuce, my new fave!

At the end of the day, no matter how many veggies get eaten in our kitchen or donated to charity, I still enjoy this pursuit. There's something zen about digging in the dirt and communing with earthworms. (They sure don't talk back or complain that your project is behind schedule or ask where your updated budget figures are!) It's a connection to my mom and grandmother, who taught me to appreciate the magic of popping a seed in some dirt and coming back to find a living plant. OK, it's not as much fun as spending a month in Italy, but if we're gonna be stuck at the homestead it's not a bad way to pass the time.

insect-attracting perennial wildflower mix
perennial wildflower mix

* read all garden-related blog posts

* browse all garden pics
* our upcoming travel schedule
* support the Capital Area Food Bank
* more info about Three Sisters Gardens

* Wintersown - learn to sow seeds outdoors!
* Washington Gardener Magazine

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14 June 2010
Meet, Plan, Go!
join us in a nationwide movement to realize your travel dreams

Meet, Plan, Go! on September 14

The movie version of Eat, Pray, Love is coming out later this summer, amidst great hoopla. Fans of the book are excited. Fans of Julia Roberts are excited. Fans of chick flicks are just about beside themselves. And the travel community is psyched for an entirely different reason: yet another mainstream outlet is helping legitimize the concept of a career break.

Back in 2007 when I quit my job to travel through Central America, I didn't realize I was taking a "career break." I just knew it was time for a change! Inspired by superstars Rolf Potts and Rita Golden Gelman as much as "real" travel bloggers out there living the dream like Christine Gilbert of Almost Fearless and Sherry Ott of Ottsworld, I was able to find lots of support and inspiration among the online travel community. And I was fortunate to have been raised in a family where international travel was always highly valued. So while it wasn't all that tough for me to make the leap, it was still a pretty big leap to make. Knowing in your heart that you can do something, and convincing your rational brain that it's a good idea, are two totally different things!

Which is why I was so jazzed to hear that the folks at Briefcase to Backpack are planning an event this fall to connect future cubicle escapees with the resources and encouragement to make it happen. Meet, Plan, Go! is a nationwide event happening simultaneously in a dozen locations on the evening of September 14. Despite being common in Europe and Australia, taking a break for extended travel is still anathema to our workaholic US culture. This is a chance to make the leap from "I wish I could do that!" by MEETing with like-minded travelers so you can PLAN to make that dream trip a reality and get out there and GO! Speakers will discuss practical topics like how to financially plan for a big trip, share inspirational stories about how they made the leap, and provide helpful advice on how to capitalize on your experience when you return to the job market.

sign up for the MPG newsletter by June 18 to win a copy of The Big TripInterested in learning more? Sign up for the Meet, Plan, Go! newsletter by June 18 for a chance to win Lonely Planet's "The Big Trip," a guide to career breaks. Event registration will be up and running soon. This event is free and will be held in cities around the US and Canada, so check the site to see if it's coming to a location near you. One lucky attendee will win a trip from Gap Adventures. I'm honored to be hosting the DC event and am working on lining up speakers and sponsors. If you're interested in helping out, drop me a line.

So, let's review:

    * You get to come to a free event and learn about traveling the world
    * You get to network with other people who have traveled the world
    * You get the chance to win a free trip somewhere in the world

What are YOU waiting for???

* Meet, Plan, Go!
* MPG Facebook fan page
* MPG Twitter feed
* Gap Adventures
* Eat, Pray, Love [the book]
* Eat, Pray, Love [the movie]
* Rita Golden Gelman's site
* Rolf Potts's site
[for other great travel blogs, check out our blogroll at right]

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19 May 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: wait for it...

Happiness is plucking a juicy, ripe, red strawberry off a plant in your own backyard, before the birds and squirrels get to it.

so close!

This one is juuuuuuuuuust about ready. It's been taunting me from out on our deck for about a week now. I can see it from my kitchen window. So close!

Ah, the yearnings of springtime.

Technically, this post is a bit of a stretch for WanderFood Wednesday, since I didn't even leave my house. But I'm pretty sure anyone who saw me on the deck this morning, in a bathrobe, meticulously photographing this strawberry, would strongly recommend a trip to the looney bin. So there you go.

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.

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


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14 April 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: what a pair!
DC Foodies Do Good red wine & chocolate pairing

Tahitian Vanilla Bean, Hazelnut, and 64% Bittersweet chocolates
Tahitian Vanilla Bean, Hazelnut, and 64% Bittersweet chocolates

You can keep your raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens... Two of *my* favorite things are red wine and chocolate. And clearly I'm not the only one who feels this way, as evidenced by the near-maximum-capacity crowd at DC Foodies Do Good's April Tweetup: What a Pair! A Blind Red Wine and Chocolate Tasting at Carafe Winemakers in Alexandria.

Tanisha pours mystery wine #3
Tanisha pours mystery wine #3

Wine educator Tanisha Townsend of The GrapeVine set the stage by explaining that we'd be served three wines in a double-blind tasting. This meant that we would need to pair the wines with both the correct varietal and the correct description on the sheets in front of us. Whew! Fortunately the DC Foodies crew was up to the task, and we diligently set about identifying the merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and grenache (which, craftily, was a fortified wine similar to a port).

handmade goodies
handmade baked goodies

Meanwhile we were treated to chocolates by Artisan Confections and some handmade baked goods from Cakes by the Pound. Heaven! Tanisha explained the difference between “dark fruits” prominent in a cabernet sauvignon and “red fruits” that typically dominate merlot. Darker chocolates, with deep-roasted flavors, pair well with wines having dark, toasty, or chocolatey notes themselves. And the less-sweet the chocolate -- typically those with a higher cacao percentage-- the more likely it will play nice with red wine.

Jennifer, Amy, and Mark do their homework, while Fox 5's Gwen Tolbart supervises
Jennifer, Amy, and Mark do their homework, while Fox 5's Gwen Tolbart supervises

But, let's face it, you can dutifully listen to all the wine education your little pea brain can hold and it still comes down to this: Drink What You Like. Break the rules, it's more fun that way! And I can say without hesitation: red wine & chocolate, me likey! Very erudite, eh?

more fabulous Artisan chocolates
more fabulous Artisan chocolates

This post is part of Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday series. Head on over there for more delicious foodie travel posts!

And if you're a DC-area foodie do-gooder, please join us for one or both of our May events:
* May 6 - Tweetup #5: Stout & Stilton, An Extraordinary Night of Beer and Cheese Pairing
* May 22 - Do-Good Event: breakfast service at Carpenter’s Shelter

* Carafe Winemakers (where you can blend and bottle your own wines!)
* The GrapeVine LLC | Facebook tasting club
* Artisan Confections
* DC Foodies Do Good

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


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02 April 2010
Photo Friday: signs of spring

Roll the car windows down, dust off those flip-flops, take whatever allergy medications allow you to go outdoors without dissolving into a sneezing-wheezing mess... it's springtime, kiddies! After a fairly brutal winter, we've skipped a few short weeks ahead and it's time to celebrate Mother Nature instead of cursing her.

Here are a few quick before & after signs of spring around my 'hood:

pear tree, winter
the pear tree in our backyard, circa mid-Feb during snOMG

same pear tree this week, white for a totally different reason!
same pear tree this week, white for a totally different

cherry tree in our front yard, mid-snowpocalypse
cherry tree in our front yard, mid-snowpocalypse

same tree, much happier this week!
same tree, much happier this week!

I have no idea what this tree is...
I have no idea what this tree is called...

...but it sports the most gorgeous blossoms this time of year
...but it sports the most gorgeous blossoms this time of year

joy! the hostas I thought I killed last year have actually returned
joy! the hostas I thought I killed last year have actually returned

the mint in the front planter always comes back
yeah, the mint in the front planter always comes back, but it's still nice to see it

A totally different sort of wildlife comes out this time of year, too. Witness:

woolly winter creature
wild & woolly winter creature

mild springtime urban deckdwellers
mild springtime urban deckdwellers

BTW, with the exception of that last shot, which was taken by one of my brothers during a recent family gathering in Philly, all of these photos were captured with my iPhone. It definitely doesn't replace my trusty SLR, but I'm pretty psyched with the quality of the snaps.

The other two classic signs of springtime in Washington are, of course, the Cherry Blossoms and the WaPo Peeps Show Diorama contest. How are you celebrating spring?

For more great travel photos, be sure to visit Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.

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31 March 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: DC Foodies Do Good at Miriam's Kitchen
as seen on TV!

It's no secret that I'm both a foodie and a do-gooder, so I was really psyched to find a group that combines both of these pursuits. Started by acclaimed cookbook author Robyn Webb and fellow foodie Line Storgaard-Conley, DC Foodies Do Good gives folks a chance to sample the finer things in life *and* give back to those who have much less. Mark and I helped out at their January event serving dinner at Miriam's Kitchen, and also enjoyed a fabulous chocolate tasting in February. Good times.

DC Foodies Do Good were at Miriam's Kitchen again this week, serving breakfast, and I am so proud to show off the coverage they got on Fox's morning news! Check out my multi-talented man, who not only answers Holly Morris's questions with impressive aplomb, given the ungodly hour, but also pours and flips pancakes like a pro. Is he a keeper or what?

DC Foodies Do Good on Fox

Congrats, Robyn & team, for a great segment! There's also a lovely writeup and link to this video on HuffPo. I hope this inspires people to get out and volunteer, either with DCFDG or another group.

DC Foodies Do Good next events:
* April 7 - red wine & chocolate tasting
* April 25 - lunch service at New Endeavors by Women

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more fantastic foodie posts.

* DC Foodies Do Good
* Miriam's Kitchen
* WanderFood Wednesday: chocolates around the world
* Holly Morris: DC Foodies Do Good
* Huffington Post: DC Foodies Do Good: Social Club Gives Back, Inspired By Love Of Food

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

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28 March 2010
Celebrating Joan at the National Cherry Blossom Festival


This year, I decided to celebrate my mom's birthday by volunteering at the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It was a beautiful, if slightly chilly, day to be downtown on the Mall.

The Cherry Blossom Festival lasts two weeks and tends to be one of those things Washingtonians do once or twice and then cross off the list. It marks the official start of tourist season, wherein legions of fanny-packin' clueless zombies invade the National Mall and clog up the Metro by not standing on the right side of the escalators. That being said, it's also a wonderful time to celebrate the classic beauty of our Nation's capital.

NCBF volunteers and our new Park Service friend
NCBF volunteers and our new Park Service friend

The focal point of the Fest is the Tidal Basin, where thousands of cherry trees frame the Jefferson Memorial. (These trees were presented in 1912 by the mayor of Tokyo, to replace the original batch, which all died of disease a few years earlier.) However, this year the organizers moved the performances, and the info booth, to the Sylvan Theatre Stage. You may remember this stage from such memorable gigs as American Giant's May 2009 show. It's at the base of the Washington Monument, which is a pretty kickass setting. There are plenty of cherry trees at this site as well, so even though the volunteers spent our time at this location we were able to see lots of blossoms.

Kyo Daiko troupe from Philly
Kyo Daiko troupe from Philly

All in all, it was a great way to commemorate my mom while doing some community service and getting some fresh air. Happy Birthday, JEZ!

* browse all Cherry Blossom pics
* Celebrating Joan with the first seedlings of the season
* I'm with the band
* Celebrate Joan, a site to celebrate the bright & shiny life of Joan Zamborsky
* National Cherry Blossom Festival official site | performance schedule

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17 March 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: I <3 kale

kale veggie stirfry
kale veggie stirfry

This is the perfect time of year to wax poetic about kale.

Still with me? (You're a hardcore bunch of readers and I LOVE you for it!) Allow me to 'splain. We all know that kale is a superstar veggie, ridiculously chockfull of vitamins and minerals and sooooooo good for ya. It's one of the world's healthiest foods. But it's not all that celebrated in its raw form, most notoriously known as salad bar garnish because of the rigidity of its leaves.

nagoya kale
nagoya kale seedlings

Well, I'm excited to be growing several kinds of kale in the garden this year. So I did a bit of research and found some fabulous recipes befitting this fabulous vegetable. One particular recipe, a sausage & kale soup I found in an organic seed company's newsletter, has become my new favorite food and I've been singing its praises every chance I get. The recipe is pretty simple -- spicy turkey sausage, fat-free chicken broth, a ton of kale & garlic, and some cannelini beans, with a dash of your favorite spices to kick it up a notch -- and is really easy to make. It freezes well too. Everytime I eat this soup, I feel like Popeye! It's been a truly awesome tool to battle the nasty colds going around in this season of transition. And the massive amounts of garlic have helped keep vampires away. :)

lacinato kale
lacinato kale seedlings

We'll see how my two types of kale -- a purplish nagoya and an heirloom lacinato -- do in the garden. So far the seedlings seem to be pretty robust, and I've been hardening them off for a few hours outside each day, but I haven't had the chance to actually put them in the ground yet. They'll definitely go in soon, as kale (like fellow brassicas broccoli and cauliflower) flourishes in cool spring weather. I am *so* stoked about the possibility of lots and lots of fresh kale coming straight from my front yard! BTW, the pic at the top is from a kale-barley casserole recipe. It was a bit bland the first time around, so I'm going to experiment with it some more. The stirfry was just gorgeous, though.

If you have any favorite kale recipes, send 'em my way!

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.

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09 March 2010
Requiem for a sassy gal
RIP Nana Zamborsky, 9/4/10 - 3/7/10

sassy, and way ahead of her time
sassy, and way ahead of her time

When someone is just a few months shy of hitting 100, you pretty much expect the call to come any day. But, secretly, we thought  somehow she'd outlive all of us.

from her early nursing days
from her early nursing days

On Sunday, March 7, the Zamborsky family lost our matriarch and grande dame. Nana Z was just a few months shy of her 100th birthday. Zs will be gathering from far and wide next week to pay tribute, and there will be many stories and much homage to this strong, sassy, amazing woman. Here's my two cents. I'll try to keep it short, since she wouldn't want anyone to make a big fuss over her. 

an early Christmas with Pop-pop (check out the stash of booze!)
an early Christmas with Pop-pop (check out the stash of booze!)

with Barb and Ed and a fabulous fur!
with Barb and Ed and a fabulous fur!

She wasn't the cookie-baking, kiss-your-boo-boos-away kinda grandma. And that's exactly what we loved about her. She was a tough lady, no doubt about it, most notorious for getting us to shine all the doorknobs in the house whenever she came to babysit. But we could ride our bikes over any time to visit, and she always had a Hershey bar ready from her stash. Perhaps even a forbidden Diet Coke. And she bailed me out of a tough spot on more than one occasion, with practical advice or a safe harbor to come vent or perhaps sometimes even a little white fib, if that's what was needed.

McDonalds with Nana was always a special treat
going to McDonalds with Nana was always a special treat

stories around the dining room table
stories around the dining room table 

Nana was way ahead of her time with notions like "fish is brain food" and "get out and exercise every day!" She was a celebrated storyteller, a guardian of Zamborsky family lore, and her sense of humor was legendary. The last time we visited her, one of the nurses made a point of telling us how much he enjoyed her wit and how she cracked him up. She always cracked us up, and herself too, with her knee-slapping cackle. I sometimes find myself cackling like that too -- although I haven't gotten the knee-slapping thing down -- and can only hope that a small piece of her indomitable spirit lives on.

everyone's favorite cackle
everyone's favorite cackle

Nana Z, role model and ultimate sassy gal, we will all miss you. I hope you're enjoying an excellent hand in that Great Bridge Game in the Sky. And I bet by now you've got 'em shining up the Pearly Gates until they can see their faces in the reflection!

November 2009
November 2009... still telling stories and keeping 'em laughing

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03 March 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: steamed small meat buns

steamed small meat buns
steamed small meat buns, Shanghai style

Every once in a while, it's fun to go back to an old recipe you haven't made in some time, just to see if your chops have improved. Back in the day, when we were just wee fledgeling foodies, the dish we'd bring out when we really wanted to impress someone came from the "China the Beautiful" cookbook. Steamed small meat buns, while having the added bonus of a kickass name, seemed pretty advanced to us back then. The recipe involves several steps of preparation and assembly, and requires a bit of organization to execute properly. It generally elicited a satisfying chorus of oohs and aahhs from guests, except for that one time our friend Jeannette busted us out for serving Safeway brand duck sauce. D'oh!

assembled and ready to be steamed
assembled and ready to be steamed

Well, I'm tickled to say, we made this dish again recently, and were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to pull off! I actually made it nearly singlehandedly while Mark was preparing another dish. OK, we cheated a bit by using store-bought wonton wrappers, rather than making the dough from scratch. But the resulting dish was just as oohh-and-ahh-worthy as ever!

the finished product
the finished product

Shiny and aromatic and fresh from the steamer, the biggest challenge is to wait until these little beauties are cool enough to eat without burning your fingers! This time around, Mark mixed together some soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper flakes for a tasty dipping sauce. No Safeway duck sauce... we've learned our lesson there!

China the Beautiful cookbookThis dish is from the China the Beautiful Cookbook.

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.

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24 February 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: chocolates around the world

raw cacao pods and beans
raw cacao pods and beans

Madecasse 63%
Madecasse 63%, from Madegascar

Last night the DC Foodies Do Good group gathered at Biagio Fine Chocolate for an exquisite tasting and education in the art and science of chocolate. Can't have much more fun than that... not with your clothes on, anyway. ;)

Biagio explains the difference between cocoa butter and cocoa solids
Biagio explains the difference between cocoa butter and cocoa solids

Owner Biagio Abbatiello gave us a quick overview on the history of cacao, from the Mayans all the way through the latest renaissance of artisanal chocolates. He also walked us through the complex process of growing beans and producing chocolate, and how many potential points of failure there are along the way. Whew. Don't try this at home!

We learned some fun facts like...

* the Mayans greeted the Spaniards with prized cacao beans, who in turn completely misconstrued this revered gift as lowly almonds

* chocolate played an important role in ancient Mesoamerican culture and great rulers were said to drink up to 50 cups of it per day to increase their potency

* in Dickensian times, all sorts of additives (like brick dust, ew!) were mixed into commercial chocolate, prompting some of the first regulatory measures

* if a chocolate bar has a strong vanilla aroma, it probably means the beans were over-roasted and vanilla was added to cover this flaw

* the percentage of total cacao you see on artisanal chocolates includes cocoa butter as well as cocoa solids, so two 70% bars can have completely different flavors & textures

* there are three types of cacao beans: forastero, trinitario, and criollo; the first is the most common and used in your M&Ms and other "supermarket" chocolate, and you're more likely to see the other two listed on more expensive artisanal chocolates

* listen to your chocolate! good quality chocolate should have a nice crisp snap when you break it, and if you're lucky you and your chocolate might even engage in a conversation

guide to tasting fine chocs
guide to tasting fine chocs

And then, of course, the really fun part... the tasting! Biagio provided 8 different dark chocolate samples and one milk chocolate, ranging from 63% to 75% cacao (and 32% for the milk choc). We nibbled treats from Madagascar to Venezuela and many points in between. As with a wine tasting, there is a distinct multi-step process to allow one to truly appreciate fine artisanal chocolate with all the senses. And indeed we did. I think my favorite was the Hispaniola 70% bar from Rogue Chocolatier, with a surprising burst of burnt orange and hints of cherry. It definitely spoke to me, which was no small feat given that all the arrayed chocs were stellar in their own way.

Bolivia Cru Sauvage 68%
Bolivia Cru Sauvage 68%

Divine 70%
Divine 70% from Ghana

Hispaniola 70%
Hispaniola 70% from the Dominican Republic

Biagio generously provided a gift basket door prize -- as if all that free chocolate wasn't enough! -- and newcomer Amanda was the lucky winner of a sampling of delectable treats from the shop. She promises to return the favor by participating in the next DCFDG, a volunteer session at Miriam's Kitchen.

Amanda and her prize
Amanda and her prize

For those in the DC area, I highly recommend a visit to Biagio Fine Chocolate. The staff is wonderfully knowledgeable, and they're committed to a mission of introducing the best chocolate the world has to offer. And if you're a DC-area foodie, come join the DC Foodies Do Good crew! The group's monthly tweet-ups alternate between educational tastings and community service projects, providing the perfect mix of gustatory comradery and do-goodery.

Michel Cluizel Concepcion 66%
Michel Cluizel Concepcion 66% from Venezuela

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.

DC Foodies Do Good
organizers: @robynwebb & @storgaardconley

Biagio Fine Chocolate
1904 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

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19 February 2010
Photo Friday: slacker edition

I've been a bad-bad monkey this week and have not posted ANY new content to the blog! I blame the complete *lack* of snow this week, forcing me to actually go to the office and get some work done. Bleh!  ::: shakes fist at Mother Nature nobody in particular :::

However, all the recent snowmageddon/snowpocalypse/snOMG craziness has me dreaming of greener pastures and new garden adventures. So, here's a little hopeful reminder that spring really is coming...

sunflowers always make me smile

And if you want to see the rest of the pics from this recycled Photo Friday, check out the original post: Simple pleasures.

Tomorrow I'm attending Field to Fork Network's Rooting DC urban gardening event and hope to get all fired up about this year's gardening endeavors. Stay tuned for updates about my planned attack on the front lawn and other edible conquests!

For more great travel photos, be sure to visit Delicious Baby's Photo Friday.

* Photo Friday: simple pleasures
* Grrrrrrrrreat Success! a Special Olympics Victory Garden update
* Our (Special Olympics) Victory Garden
* Celebrating Joan with the first seedlings of the season

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11 January 2010
Screw the resolutions, let's have more FUN in 2010!

Does anyone else feel completely inundated with New Year's Resolution lists and self-improvement advice? (Oh good, I thought it was just me.) I'm not a fan of resolutions, and I actually tend to do my year-in-review work around my birthday. But this brilliant little 5-minute video by @boxofcrayons really grabbed my attention. It's clearly a few years old, but was recently re-surfaced by the very wise Chris Brogan, and I felt compelled to pass it along. Take a peek:

My favorite principle is number 6... Use Your Wisdom: Start getting rid of the crap.

"Knowledge is a process of piling up facts;
wisdom lies in their simplification."
-- Rev Dr Martin Luther King, civil rights leader

Which one spoke to you the loudest?

* Eight Principles
* Chris Brogan's blog

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30 November 2009
Passports with Purpose
warm fuzzies and cool prizes

I'm excited to announce the return of Passports with Purpose, an ambitious project started last year by a handful of travel bloggers. It's essentially a fundraiser raffle with some amazing prizes. This year the funds raised will benefit American Assistance for Cambodia, an NGO that builds schools in Cambodia. As you can see in the widget to the right, PwP is off to a roaring start, and the event has only just kicked off!

Here's how to participate:

* Browse the list of prizes and enter a donation for a chance to win that prize. Each $10 donation to AAfC equals one drawing entry.

* Spread the word! Tell your friends, shout it from the rooftops, mention it at your next holiday party. 'Tis the season for generosity and goodwill, after all. If you have a blog or site, promote PwP to your readers. Tweet about it using hashtag #PwP. There's also a Facebook Fan Page.

* If you've been naughty this year and need to obtain a few extra good-karma points to avoid getting coal in your stocking, consider donating a prize or becoming a sponsor.

Don't delay! The raffle closes December 21, and winners will be announced January 5.


* Passports with Purpose
* American Assistance for Cambodia
* Beth Whitman's poignant account of her travels in Cambodia
* Nicholas Kristof's firsthand experience with AAfC in Cambodia

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09 November 2009
WanderWomen Travel Writing Contest

oktapodi wants to win some prizes... we just don't know which gender he/she is...The good folks at Wanderlust and Lipstick are conducting their second annual WanderWomen Travel Writing Contest for budding and experienced female travel writers. Participants can enter original travel stories in five different categories, for a chance to win some very cool prizes. This is a women-only contest (sorry boyz!) and is meant to encourage women in both their writing AND their travels.

The Grand Prize is a 12-day "Health and Harmony" tour through Vietnam. There are also great category prizes including a daybag from Overland Adventure and a travel pillow and blanket from Cocoon. Sweet!

So, ladies, I encourage you to submit your best stuff, and please spread the word to other travel grrlies in your network. The contest ends November 30, so don't dawdle.

* WanderWomen Travel Writing Contest
* about Wanderlust and Lipstick
Wanderlust and Lipstick

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16 October 2009
Back to reality

oktapodi is glad to be home, not so glad to be sorting through junk mail
oktapodi is glad to be home, but not-so-glad to be sorting through a mountain of junk mail

After a lonnnnnng drive to Rome, followed by a short night's sleep and then a long flight, an irritating layover in JFK, and then another hour drive to our house, we were pretty ready to be home. We arrived back to find the usual metric ton of mail, plus the unexpected surprise of no heat! Nice. Still, it's good to be in our own bed again. We have much catching up to do after being so delinquent on blog and photo entries for most of this trip. (Gotta admit, that hard drive failure really took the wind out of my sails.) But, rest assured, we are up to the task! Expect to see many more stories and pics from our astoundingly fabulous -- and occasionally fraught-with-peril -- monthlong jaunt through central Italy. Thanks for your patience, faithful readers. And thanks, as always, for playing along at home!

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19 August 2009
The hunt is on!
Online Wine Scavenger Hunt, Aug 19-28

Wine Online Scavenger Hunt

Now is your chance to win a coveted "Whiney" award! (Oh, you know you want one!) The first Wine Whore Online Wine Scavenger Hunt starts today, and runs through August 28. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite grape juice, and start hunting for answers to the posted clues.

Sign up and submit your answers at the Wine Whore blog. You'll notice some very illustrious sites  among those hiding the clues. :)

Happy #winewednesday, and good luck, winos!

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12 August 2009
And the winner is...

OK, well, the winner is *us* for taking a month off to travel through Italy. :)

La Tavola Marche - cooking classesLa Tavola Marche - surrounding areaBut, more to the point, we've chosen a place to stay for the bulk of our trip. And the winner is: La Tavola Marche! Located in the "calf" of the boot, in a central region near Tuscany and Umbria, La Tavola Marche is an agriturismo run by an American couple who share much of the same slow food philosophy we espouse. I ran into Ashley and Jason in the Slow Food group on LinkedIn. To take a snippet from their web site: La Tavola Marche is run by a young passionate American couple who will cook for you, take you shopping in the local markets for the night’s dinner, direct you to the best wines and cheese of the region, and if you wish, give you cooking lessons.

Do these guys sound like our people, or what?

They have several different apartments on their property. Unfortunately, by the time I contacted them with specific dates, the smallest one was already taken. But they made arrangements for us to rent a slightly larger apartment at a very reasonable rate. So we'll be spending the middle section of our trip in the middle of Italy, cooking and visiting the wineries and markets of Le Marche and just soaking in the scene for two weeks. From what we've read on Ashley & Jason's blog we're gonna fit right in.

La Tavola Marche - nearby town

We're still working through the details of the rest of the trip, although a good bit of it will be left to chance and our whims of the moment. We'll likely start off in Venice and Florence, then go to Le Marche, then end up in Rome. I'm also toying with the idea of visiting Torino, which is the home of the Slow Food movement, and also has an active CouchSurfing community. We'll see. We will need to rent a car to get to La Tavola Marche, but taking the train between the major cities seems the sanest way to go. The goal is to couchsurf as much as possible, with some hotels/hostels on board for backup.

As I've said before, one of the nice things about going to Italy (as opposed to, say Malaysian Borneo) is that seemingly everyone's been there and has a recommendation or ten. These we take with a big grain of salt, but it's all part of the pre-trip planning and research. Some other great resources I've been using to help plan:

* a flotilla of fabulous Italy Tweeps

* a wonderful book we stole (ehm, borrowed!) from Mark's sister, called "One Hundred & One Beautiful Small Towns of Italy"

* ViaMichelin to help estimate drive times

* Italy Beyond the Obvious and Italy Travelista for great articles and advice

Watch the calendar/maps sections of this site as additional details evolve. And of course we'll be blogging and tweeting our way through the trip... trying to find that elusive balance of sharing the juicy detes and actually enjoying our travels!

(all photos are from Ashley's Flickr photostream)

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07 August 2009
Tweeps I like
tweet tweet!I'm skipping Photo Friday this week (but feel free to visit Delicious Baby's site anyway!) to finally bat out my list of Tweeps I Like. Gadzooks, there's lotsa fab folks out there in the Twitterverse! This is a long list with a lot to take in, but I broke it down into several categories:

* Travel Mavens - General
* Travel - all things Italy
* Greenies/Foodies
* Best DC info
* My favorite winos

Hope this helps you find some worthwhile tweeps to follow. Happy #followfriday!

Related links:
* All I really need to know about Twitter I learned in kindergarden
* Visit Delicious Baby's Photo Friday for great pics
* Don't tell me you're not already following ME on Twitter??? Shame on you! ;)

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02 August 2009
Weekend with da boyz

After last weekend's hectic beach junket, followed by a Photo Friday fulla flowers, this weekend was all about chilling out with the boyz.

ladies and gentlemen, American Giant!

On Saturday night, I performed my typical roadie-groupie-photog role for Mark's band as they played their first paying gig at Bunker Sports Cafe in Leesburg. It was American Giant's chance to make a good impression on both the booking agent and the club manager, two characters who are key to any band's success. It was just an opening gig, but the headlining act, Kelly Bell Band, is supposedly a pretty big name, so it seemed like a good opportunity.

Glenn and Bryan

Too bad nobody showed up.

Mark shreds another solo

OK, well, that's not entirely true, there were about 50 people there. It was a biiiiiiig bar, so it just seemed empty. But everyone present seemed to be enjoying themselves. *And* there were chix dancing. *And* there were no big throngs showing up for the headlining act either. So we'll consider it a success!

Boogie James, in a pensive moment

On Sunday, we babysat our 2-year-old nephew, James. He is one funny little dude. It was the perfect chance to get silly, play with cars, and read Dr Seuss. What more could you ask for on a Sunday afternoon? And just as he started to get cranky, we gave him back. That's what *I'm* talkin about. Life is good!

Uncle Mark's cyclops alter ego  Aunt Sonia & James have an unnecessary zoom

Related links:
* browse all AG/James photos
* American Giant web site | Facebook fan page | My Space page

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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.


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!

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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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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

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30 June 2009
Grrrrrrrrreat Success!
Special Olympics Victory Garden update

Great Success! High Five!OK, well, maybe not great success, but I will give myself a small Borat-style high-five. We're finally starting to see some veggies in the Special Olympics Victory Garden! Niiiiice, I liiiiike!

The herbs -- basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, sage, chives, thyme, oregano -- have been doing well, and I've been harvesting the thinned seedlings for salads and other recipes. However, I was skeptical that we had enough hours of sun in the backyard to produce any actual veggies. The tomato, cucumber, and pepper plants have been growing like mad. But I was beginning to think we'd have a bunch of gargantuan plants with no edibles.

one red tomaterJoy! This week, I noticed our first red tomato. This tiny cluster is from the Juliet plant we bought at the Falls Church Farmers Market. Woot! You can see from the picture that the birds have been trying to get at it. (Despite the menacing inflatable snake that ain't foolin' NOBODY.) It's not going to win a blue ribbon at the State Fair. No matter! After carefully photographing it, which I made Mark do because my hands were all muddy, we carefully harvested it, and it's now in the kitchen awaiting a place of honor in a salad of some sort. Hopefully there will be more where it came from. I may live to regret those words... in which case you will ALL be receiving cases of salsa for Christmas this year!

cukes!I also noticed that the cukes are starting to proliferate. These are also farmers market plants, which are clearly at home in their back corner of the garden and are threatening to overtake the beans and squash.

I continue to struggle with the southeast corner, which doesn't seem to get enough sun to support anything. Plus it's the lowest, wettest point of the entire yard. I've tried lettuce from seed packets, several times, to no avail. I got a few seedling freebies at a gardening workshop last weekend -- yes, I attend gardening workshops on weekends for fun, are you the least bit surprised at my geekitude? -- so I might put in some cilantro and dill back there to see how it does.

My other struggle is with the compost pile. We've held off buying an expensive rotating composter, and instead used an old plastic trash can. I tried to keep everything manually rotated and aerated, but I let it go for a week or so because of all the rain. And when I opened it up this week it was chock-full o' maggots. Barf! So much for that experiment. I dumped it out in a secluded spot in the backyard and let the birds have a nice lil' picnic. We'll cover it with grass clippings and still have a workable compost pile. Another lesson learned for the Victory Garden files!

the whole shebang, June snapshot

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Related links:
* Our Special Olympics Victory Garden (May update)
* Celebrating Joan with the first seedlings of the season (March update)

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20 June 2009
I'm with the band

Here are a few snaps from Mark's latest gig... The band, American Giant, has only recently formed and this was their first outing. They played at a walkathon/fundraiser event for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, which was a little bizarre and very different from the standard smoky-drunken-divebar gig. I have to admit, though, watching them play onstage at the foot of the Washington Monument was pretty kickass. The National Sylvan Theater is little more than a rickety old bandshell, but the location makes it almost majestic. Having Jerome from Jimmy's Chicken Shack there to run sound on equipment from Rams Head didn't hurt either.

cool view from onstage

Mark and Glenn rock out

Jerome runs sound walkathon dude makes boring announcements

da band

ladies and gentleman, Mark "Two Sheds" Schramm

Hopefully there will be more American Giant gigs (and, ahem, a web site) soon, and y'all can come out and join us next time! Bring your earplugs. :)

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17 June 2009
All I really need to know about Twitter I learned in kindergarden
with apologies to Robert Fulghum...

TwitterI've been on Twitter for several months now. While the basic mechanics are pretty straightforward, it took me a while to get the hang of it and feel like I had a useful tool on my hands. There are approximately three gazillion "Twitter How-To" articles out there, but none of them really got to the heart of it. And it finally occurred to me that everything I needed to know about Twitter, I learned in kindergarden:

The Golden Rule
Follow everyone who follows you (unless they are an obvious spambot). You can always un-follow them later if their tweets get annoying, but at least give them the benefit of the doubt up front.

Share everything
Re-tweet helpful stuff. This has the double-benefit of sharing interesting tidbits as well as promoting someone else's tweet. If you do this on a regular basis, folks will start re-tweeting your stuff too.

Nobody likes a copycat
Don't just "RT" everyone else's material. And for god's sake don't spit out an endless stream of quotations. Add your own original thoughts from time to time!

It's polite to use someone's name in conversation
Use @ handles as often as possible. This directs a question or comment to a specific person, and you're more likely to receive a response that way. Unless you have a large pool of loyal followers, posing a generic question to the masses is not going to generate many responses.

Nobody likes a braggart
Constantly promoting only your own stuff (products, website, events, etc) starts to occur as spam after a while.

Just because someone's popular doesn't mean you need to be their friend
People with tens of thousands of followers aren't always the most interesting tweeple. More often than not, they're obsessed with rote numbers of followers. Yawn. (However, I do always give 'em a chance to really wow me, per the Golden Rule above.)

Know your friends
Use a tool like TweetDeck to group the people you're following into categories. This way you can easily skim a topic and see what folks are tweeting about. I follow a pretty diverse set of people -- travelers, gardeners, techies, foodies, winos, CSRfolk -- and TweetDeck helps me keep their conversations organized.

So what have I actually gotten out of Twitter? Here's a quick list of tangible benefits:

* I got someone a job
* I got some free plants (from several different people)
* I won a free bottle of wine in a contest
* I got a timely news snippet that proved helpful in a conversation with a vendor
* I've learned about lots of great local events
* I was able to give a particularly smarty response about hashtags in a work meeting
* I connected with a CSR industry expert who gave me some great jobsearching advice

...and, most exciting of all: I got an AMAZING fare to Italy by being in the right place at the right time and following the real-time advice of a travel guru.

Might I have gotten those things even if I weren't on Twitter? It's possible. But unlikely. There's something about the immediacy of tweets that is vastly different from an email you can stash away and maybe read later. And there's something intoxicating about gaining access to people who you might otherwise only read about or see on TV. Following a person and reading their random tweets gives you more insight into their humanity. And I happen to think that's pretty frickin' cool.

Do you have any great Twitter pearls of wisdom? Please share!

"Live a balanced life; learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance
and play and work every day some."
-Robert Fulghum "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarden"

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12 June 2009
How do you NOT plan a slow travel trip?

It's official. We're going to Italy in the fall. On Tuesday night, with the help of the good folks at FareCompare I found a redonkulously low fare from DC to Rome and just couldn't resist. (As a side note, it turned out to be a mistake on the part of the airline. They left out the fuel surcharge. Oops! Hee hee.) So, we're booked: September 16 to October 16. Italy, here we come!

And now comes the fun part! I love researching for upcoming trips. And while I have been collecting information, articles, blogs, tips, and contacts for a few months now, it's time for the real work to begin. Since we've never been to Italy before -- I know! unbelievable! -- we'll probably spend a few days each in "the big three" cities of Rome, Venice, and Florence. There's a wealth of information about what to do and see and eat and drink in these places. I may try to find us some couchsurfing hosts, and I hope to hook up with a few of the amazing Italy/travel/wine folks I've been chatting with on Twitter.

image courtesy of ConanilThat'll be fun, but this trip is really all about slow travel. A corollary of the slow food movement that began in Italy as a reaction to fast food, slow travel is a philosophy that embraces a decelerated pace, cultural immersion, and deeper exposure to the richness of "going local." Slow travel typically involves a stay of at least a week in one place, with day trips fanning out in concentric circles from your home base. After our frenetically-paced SE Asian junket last November, where we arrived home feeling exhausted and in need of a vacation from our vacation, I decided our next trip would be as slowed-down as possible. I've been drooling at pictures of small towns in Italy -- OMG, they're all GORGEOUS! I've been researching agriturismo venues where you can pick veggies from the garden and learn to cook fresh local dishes from scratch. Heaven! I've been collecting charming Italian wineries like baseball cards. After all, we will be there for the harvest season. Cin cin!

But I feel like I've hit a wall.

How do you *plan* a trip whose very essence is about not planning at all?

Is this information filed right next to the sound of one hand clapping? I haven't figured that one out either. Anyway, I'd love to hear from the slow travel mavens out there. How does one find the elusive balance that covers just enough of the basics so you don't miss out on all the good stuff, but allows the trip to unfold organically?

We also haven't decided which region to use as our home base. Any and all suggestions are being evaluated! Send your recs my way, please and thanks!

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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.


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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!

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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

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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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22 April 2009
Sweet Dreams

I'm working on some new blog posts, I swear I am. But in the meantime, I wanted to share this award-winning short by Kirsten Lepore, which came my way via nerdseyeview. I completely agree with Pam, it's a "nearly perfect travel story." Enjoy, and Happy Earth Day!

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06 April 2009
Styrofoam and cigarette butts

"Styrofoam Field" photo courtesy nualabugeyeWowie-zowie. I'd known about the evils of styrofoam -- especially after so much time spent picking it off our lawn -- but I didn't quite comprehend the magnitude of its nefariousness until this weekend.

I signed up to do a Potomac shoreline cleanup, one of Marriott's many "Spirit to Serve" activities that happen throughout the year. Saturday was a fabulous day to be outside: bright early spring sunshine, and a strong breeze to keep things cool. About two dozen folks from Marriott HQ and various local properties spent several hours on Saturday morning cleaning up Roosevelt Island. Situated in the Potomac River between DC and Virginia, the island is a 90-acre preserve with paved and wooded trails, a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt, and the remains of George Mason's house. It's a cool little spot and a nice respite from the rat race. Unfortunately, due to its location, Roosevelt Island also catches a lot of trash that gets dumped into the Potomac.

Blue trash bags and hazmat gloves in hand, we split up into smaller groups and each got assigned a specific section of the island. Our group wound up on the south tip under the Rt 50 bridge. I had visions of discovering all sorts of bizarre stuff -- discarded clothing, medical waste, maybe even a dead body! -- but it mostly came down to two things.

Styrofoam and cigarette butts. Ew.

At the start of the day, the organizers asked us to keep track of how many butts we picked up. I stopped after 50, but estimate my grand total to be somewhere around 100. They also asked us to count the number of plastic bags, and I was pleased to report that I'd only found two or three. That's a sign of something good. However, the quantity and frequency of styrofoam bits was most disheartening. Cups. Chunks of packaging. Those frickin' peanuts. Small bits. Reeeeeeally small bits. The stuff was absolutely everywhere. Yes, I know the new and improved styrofoam is CFC-free, so I guess it could be worse. But the stuff never breaks down. NEVER.

What ran through my mind, over and over again, as I stooped to pick up yet another white bit of the vile stuff, was that someday far in the future, aliens will come investigate our planet and find nothing but little pieces of styrofoam everywhere. And they'll wonder WTF we were thinking. I wonder that too.


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28 March 2009
Celebrating Joan with the first seedlings of the season

Yayyyyyy, little green theengs!

Yayyyyyy, little green theengs! The first seeds we started in indoor kits have sprouted. I think these might be the cukes.

What a fitting way to celebrate my mom's birthday, which, when she was around, was practically a national holiday. She was an avid gardener, and I credit both my love of veggies and my love of diggin' in the dirt to her fabulous guidance. Happy Birthday, Mom!

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27 March 2009
Jumping on the Tweetwagon

TwitterI've been resisting it for a long time. Twitter, the latest killer app... you've probably heard all the arguments pro and con, I'm not going to rehash them here. Personally, it boiled down to the almighty question of What's In It For Me? And I hadn't come up with a compelling enough answer to propel me into signing up for a Twitter account.


::: cue dramatic music :::

This week I went to a DC Web Women event. In addition to the usual top-notch presentation and Q&A from the group, afterwards a group of DCWWers sat around discussing the merits of Twitter for professional purposes. Somewhere amidst all that debate, I decided it was time to plug into the Twitterverse and finally see it for myself.

What do I think is In It For Me? Well, for starters, I'm looking forward to connecting with folks I might not otherwise have access to. This will be particularly useful as I continue to ramp up my job search, and try to expand my network into the new field of Corporate Social Responsibility. Also, I love the idea of getting local recommendations on the fly while we're out traveling. I doubt I'll be nearly as ambitious as the Twitchhiker, but travel and Twitter are an intoxicating match. And finally, I'm curious about using Twitter to microblog while on the road. Not that I'm giving up crafting more in-depth blog entries. But the ability to send a quick Tweet or post a single photo does open up some new possibilities. And brevity, after all, is the soul of wit. ;)

So, here I go! If you're on Twitter, feel free to follow me at http://twitter.com/pulpologist.

BTW, for anyone out there who's been living under a rock and doesn't know what Twitter's all about, here's a great video from Common Craft called "Twitter in Plain English."

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
11 March 2009
Read it and Peep
"An Army of Peeps" courtesy of psilverAh, it's that lovely time of year again. The crocuses are coming out, and so are the peeps. No, I'm not talking about the chirping sounds of happy little baby birds, I'm talking about those nasty, sugar-encrusted, technicolor marshmallow abominations in the shapes of bunnies and chicks. Despite falling into the category of "something you'd have to pay me big bucks to actually consume," Peeps have a special place in my heart as they hail from my hometown. Or at least the next town over. That's right, Peeps are a creation of the Just Born Candy Company, based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Another dubious claim to fame for the illustrious Lehigh Valley!

Although Peeps are not fit for human consumption, they do make great art subjects. To celebrate this festive season, here are two upcoming contests involving Peeps:

Washington Post's "Power to the Peeps" diorama contest:
This is a brilliant annual event where people create amazing works of art using Peeps. In previous years, the dioramas have been based on scenes from popular movies such as Pulp Fiction, tabloid headlines like Amy Winehouse's escapades, and Olympic events. You have to see these things to believe them. An incredible amount of work goes into each piece, and last year they were displayed at a local art show. Genius.

Nat Geo's "Peeps in Places" photo challenge:
National Geographic is running a photo contest where entrants are invited to photograph Peeps in front of iconic landmarks. Speaking as someone who has traveled around the globe and done this with a small orange mascot, I think it's an awesome idea.

oktapodi checks out the Man oktapodi admires Volcan Santiaguito oktapodi makes an offering oktapodi hangs out with a denizen of Kuching

I know there are examples of other Peeps masterworks... are there other contests out there as well? C'mon, where my peeps at?

"An Army of Peeps" image by psilver

Posted by sonia at 5:30 PM | Link | 0 comments
17 February 2009
Adventures in public radio
operators are standing by

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes...
Well you might find...

You get a penmanship award!

OK, that's not really how the song goes. But it's how my Tuesday night went as I volunteered at local NPR affiliate WAMU.

Diane Rehm embraces her inner squidbilly It was Day 4 of their Winter Membership Campaign. I'd already decided to step up the community outreach efforts this year, so when I got an email soliciting phone volunteers, I thought "why not?" It'd be a great chance to give back to a station I listen to a lot. (Anyone who's had more than five minutes of conversation with me can attest that it's only a matter of time before I break into "This one time...? on NPR...?" in my best Alyson Hannigan voice.) It would also be a great chance to go behind the scenes and see what makes public radio tick. Never mind the fact that my favorite show, starring my boyfriend Ira Glass, is taped halfway across the country at WBEZ in Shytown. And never mind the fact that, honestly, I can't stand the sound of Diane Rehm's voice. She still covers interesting topics on her show, Granny Squidbilly voice notwithstanding. Never mind all that; it'd be an adventure in do-goodery!

Granny Squidbilly embraces her inner Diane Rehm Welllllll, I'm not sure how much good I actually did. After the brief orientation, during which the WAMU staff exhorted us to PRINT NEATLY and mentioned that the person with the best handwriting would get the "Miss Legibility" prize, I sat down expectantly and waited for my phone to ring. It was like high school all over again. I got a total of four calls. One person just wanted to enter the prize drawing without donating anything. How lame is that? One person wanted to set up a "sustaining membership," meaning her card would automatically be charged a certain amount each month, but she wasn't sure she could sustain the minimum monthly amount of $10. That call was a bit of a bummer. However, two people actually pledged some funds. Woo-hoo! That meant I got to carefully fill out the oh-so-exciting Pledge Form (twice!), and then waggle it in the air when I was finished. 

my fabulous certificate, suitable for framingI think I collected a total of $300 for the cause. But it was clearly a matter of quality over quantity, as my stellar penmanship garnered me the legibility prize! This was definitely *not* like high school. They called my name and I rushed to the front of the room to collect my crown and have my picture taken for the Wall of Fame. I couldn't resist a little wrist-wrist-elbow-elbow wave to the crowd. It was exhilarating! Well, OK, not really, but it was the highpoint of an otherwise pretty dull two hours. Don't get me wrong, I had a lovely conversation with the other two volunteers sitting at my table. And WAMU did feed us. But it's not like I got to see any quasi-famous local radio celebrities. We weren't even anywhere near the recording booth. I got to enjoy a bit of my own quasi-celebrity, as other volunteers congratulated me on my hard-fought victory over illegibility. I got to wear the crown for the remaining hour of my shift, received a lovely WAMU mug, and got a certificate. Signed by none other than Diane Rehm, WAMU 88.5 Handwriting Expert! Check it out for yourself. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

No, you can't always get what you want. But, wait, does this mean that somehow the universe is trying to tell me that a Legibility Award is what I need...?

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
12 February 2009
Important birthdays

Today is the celebration of the birthdays of three great and influential men. I'm sure most of you have heard that it's the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. This year the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth has also been getting a lot of press. But there's one slightly lesser-known birthday to celebrate today as well, as it's the [cough-mumblety-mumbleth] anniversary of the birth of our own Mark Schramm. I don't have the time or the budget to do one of those soaring video retrospectives showing highlights from his life, but I can offer you a handful of recent travel pics:

the fearsome Markfish at Sipadan  Mark and Zoe in Chachoengsao  dusty Playa goodness  Mark and oktapodi check out Mt Shasta

Hey wait, actually I do have a video! Here's a short clip from last fall, of Mark and our nephew James getting down with their bad selves. Clearly music appreciation runs in the family!

Happy Birthday, Abe, Chuck, and Mark!

PS. Did you know...? You can also browse through all the Pulpology photos with Mark in them by choosing either the "Mark" or "M&S" keyword filter on the main pics page. Yes, this page is a little kludgey and I'm working on redesigning it. Any comments or suggestions are welcome!


Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
28 January 2009
Sweet and sour January

Whew, January 2009 has definitely been a month of "best of times, worst of times." I have to admit, I'm pretty glad it's about over.

We joined the rest of the world in celebrating the Coronation of Barack Obama on January 20. (Yay, stem cell research! Yay, an intelligent person in the Oval Office! Yay, attention to climate change! Yay, End of an Error!) We hosted a couchsurfer from Indianapolis. He'd helped with the Obama campaign in his home state, and was excited about waking up at 4am, waiting in the dark for a few hours, and then standing in the freezing cold for a few more hours with the huddled masses to observe this historical moment in person. We watched it on TV from the comfort of our warm, cozy house. Still, it was a wonderful event to witness, and it'll be nice to be able to travel without having to automatically apologize for being an Amerkan. And how cool to have a Chief Executive who understands the power of Web 2.0, for a change.

The celebration was marred by the passing of Mark's dad, who had a stroke in early January and never fully regained consciousness. We spent some time in Connecticut for the funeral and helping Mark's mom get things in order. Not a fun time, needless to say, and it brought back a lot of sad memories for me. However, it was nice to see friends and family and get a chance to celebrate John Schramm's life. He had just taken a business trip to China and seemed energized by that endeavor, so I'm glad he was able to go out on a high note.

In the "not-so-monumental but still reaaaaaally fun" category, and because I can't leave you on such a morose note, we got a chance to see one of our favorite bands last night at one of our favorite DC venues. Thievery Corporation rarely plays gigs in DC anymore, but they played the first of FIVE back-to-back sold-out shows at the 9:30 Club last night. As always, the show was spectacular. If you ever get a chance to see these guys live, go for it! Their latest album, Radio Retaliation, contains the usual eclectic mix of Jamaican, Indian, African, Latin, and Middle Eastern beats and melodies. It's goooood stuff.


Posted by sonia at 9:30 PM | Link | 1 comment
07 January 2009
Living in an Opeth album cover

Opeth - Blackwater Park album cover

Oy vey, all this murky grey weather we've been having lately is seriously kicking my ass! Makes me feel like we're living in the cover of an Opeth album, and who doesn't want a dose of everyone's favorite Swedish death metal band while they're slogging through January? I know, I know, hope is just around the corner with all the Inauguration festivities, but in the meantime it's been a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning.

And just to pile it on a bit more, Mark and I have decided to reprise the juice fast/detox diet we did last spring. We both really need to purge some of the extra weight and bad habits we've fallen back into after a month of gluttony in SE Asia and then another month of gluttony for the holidays. This time around, we're doing it a bit differently. Rather than following the 21-day Martha's Vineyard diet to the letter, like we did last year, we're going to try something a bit more sustainable that incorporates some solid foods along with all the slurm. The focus will still be on fresh fruits and veggies in juice format, and lots of water and green tea, along with the occasional salad here and there. No coffee, no alcohol, no processed foods. Well, we might give ourselves a hall pass for the Inauguration celebration... it IS a historic event, after all!

Have any great raw foods recipes? I'd LOVE to see 'em! The biggest challenge last time was sheer boredom, so if we can manage to get a bit more creative this time, I think we'll have something. The plan is to do the stricter part of the program for three weeks or so, and then start incorporating other healthy foods gradually into the mix, while still focusing on a mostly-veggie diet for the long term. And hopefully this will become a sustainable blueprint for a healthy lifestyle, as opposed to a fleeting New Year's resolution that quickly crumbles into a pile of pretzel bags and empty wine bottles. So we'll see how it goes. Wish us luck!

Related posts:
* 2008 Detox results

Posted by sonia at 12:15 PM | Link | 1 comment
26 December 2008
Still time to support two great causes

scenes from an American Christmas

Passports With Purpose
Passports With PurposeDidn't get that great travel gadget you were hoping for? Looking for a way to spend some of that Christmas or Hanukkah dough? Need to find a charitable cause to assuage some of that year-end Western Guilt?
Whatever the reason, there's still a week left to support Passports With Purpose, the brainchild of travel writers Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick, Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View, Debbie Dubrow of DeliciousBaby, and Michelle Duffy of WanderMom. Surf on over and check out the fantastic prizes, then buy as many raffle tickets as your heart desires. The funds raised will support Heifer International, an organization dedicated to eradicating world hunger. The raffle runs till December 29.

Celebrate Joan
get out and walk to help us Celebrate JoanOn Saturday, December 27, my family will be organizing our third annual Celebrate Joan 4K-ish Walk in Allentown, PA. Proceeds will benefit the Joan Zamborsky Memorial Trust Fund, which supports educational programs for the disadvantaged kids at the high school where my mom taught. I realize that very few of you will be anywhere near Allentown on Saturday. What I'm asking is that everyone get out and take a walk, wherever you happen to be that day, and send me a few pics. We love doing this event every year, and one of our favorite parts is getting photos and stories from around the world. And regardless of which holidays you celebrate this time of year, we could all use a nice brisk walk to work off some of those delicious treats!

Happy Holidays everyone, and thanks for helping to make the world a better place! Here's to a fabulous 2009.

Posted by sonia at 11:15 AM | Link | 0 comments
11 December 2008
Word of the day: discombobulated
Use it three times in a sentence today!
photo courtesy Nick J Webb via a Creative Commons license

dis*com*bob*u*lat*ed [dis-kuhm-bob-yuh-leyt-ed]
1. confused or disconcerted; upset; frustrated
2. thrown into a state of confusion; having self-possession upset
3. how you feel after coming home from a monthlong trip on the other side of the planet

So, we've been back for about a week now. On the surface, everything is back to normal (whatever that means). But as all seasoned globetrotters know, the longer you're away and the farther you go, the more your world gets thrown off-kilter once you come home. How am I discombobulated? Let me count the ways:

Sleeping patterns. OK, this one I expected. I've been to Asia before. It takes a while to get over jetlag. But this whole routine of not being able to fall asleep before about 2am, and then waking up at 4am, wide awake with no hope of getting back to sleep before the alarm goes off in a few short hours... I'm about over it. I am not a morning person, so being fully awake before the sun comes up is a disconcerting situation, to be sure.

Christmas holidays. You'd think that having been bombarded by "holiday" decorations and music the entire time we were in Southeast Asia -- which was itself pretty discombobulating... Christmas in a predominantly Buddhist or Muslim country, in the tropical heat? huh? -- would have prepared us to launch into the Christmas season upon returning home. But somehow missing Thanksgiving really threw off the rhythm for me this year. It doesn't help that all of our holiday decorations are packed up in storage in my dad's basement, so the house is devoid of all visual cues. I'm just not ready to face Christmas in two weeks!

Stuff. Everywhere. We couldn't fit a Christmas tree in the living room even if we wanted to, as we're still dealing with piles of mail, half-unpacked bags, rows of souvenir gifts en route to friends and family, and bits of trip doggerel to be stuck into journals. Oy vey. Fortunately we have folks coming over on Sunday for a dinner party, which will force us to whip the place into presentability! (Yes, Virginia, that's what closets are for.)

Big changes in 2009. 'Tis the season for New Year's resolutions, and while I have some of the usual suspects -- get more exercise, eat more veggies, do more volunteer work, etc -- I've also decided it's time to shelve the extended travel idea for a while. Even though it's something I've wanted very badly for at least the past two years, when I closely examine the facts, all signs point to Now Is Not The Time. So what does that mean? Well, an end to living life on hold, for starters. We'll reclaim our house as a home, take it completely off the market, and bring back some of the personality that was stripped away when we vanillafied it (per our realtors' advice) for the Soccer Mom demographic. I'm going to work on finding a new job that incorporates travel, so I can hit the road on a regular basis and still hang onto a steady paycheck. (More on that to come, and I will definitely be hitting some of you up for brainstorming and other support!) And a few other attitude changes that basically sum up to enjoying life in the present tense.

So, yeah, I'm pretty discombobulated this week. But somehow I've also been enjoying it, for the most part anyway. I think it has something to do with not falling completely back into the old routine. Travel, after all, is about breaking your routine and pushing beyond your comfort zone. If I can hang onto some of that while traveling through each day, and still enjoy the ride, I'd be ahead of the curve.

C'mon, I can't be the only one discombobulated during this hectic season. Misery loves company! What's got you out of sorts?

Posted by sonia at 11:30 AM | Link | 0 comments
07 November 2008
Greetings from Singapore!
what day is it, anyway?

We made it through the gauntlet of flights and timezones with very little drama, albeit very little sleep. Tuesday night was a blur of election celebrations -- people, the state of Virginia went BLUE for the first time in over four decades, can you gimme hallelujiah? -- and last-minute packing and prep. We had to leave at the butt-crack of dawn for our 7am flight on Wednesday, so you can imagine how much fun that was. But we managed to make it on our flight to Chicago, connecting flight to Hong Kong, and layover to Singapore, with nary a hiccup. We even lucked out and sat behind a deadheading flight attendant who kept passing us surreptitious snacks from the depths of the plane's galley. And in a bizarre twist, seated in front of us on the airport shuttle to our hostel in Singapore was a guy named Joel from Arlington, who'd just taken the same series of flights and would be in Southeast Asia for the exact same amount of time as us. If we see him on the flight back I'll have to buy him a drink.

Got in late on Thursday night, checked into Fern Loft Backpackers on East Coast Road, and tried to get some sleep. Unfortunately we only booked one night, and they're full tonight, but David the owner is an extremely friendly and helpful guy and got us a spot at their other location downtown. We grabbed some lunch at a nearby Vietnamese place, and had a lovely conversation with manager Priscilla over a delicious claypot meal. If you're ever in Singapore, definitely seek this place out! Details below. Unfortunately we didn't take the camera with us (blame the jetlag!) so there are no pics of this delightful woman, but she was great fun to chat with. And the food was deeeeeeelish! Not just because it was our first real meal in about three days, either.

David gave us a ride over to Fern Loft River Valley, where they checked us into another nice room and booked our bus ride to Malacca tomorrow. We had some vague notion of wandering around town, but opted for a nap instead. And now, if we can rouse ourselves, it's out for some more of Singapore's legendary chow! We had a brief debate earlier about whether or not there really is any "Singapore" cuisine, but it seems as though the endless choices of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and other Asian fare *is* the native nosh. Multiculturalism is what it's all about in this incredibly neat and orderly town. It's a nice unchallenging place to land and shake off the jetlag for a bit.


Fern Loft Backpacker Hostel, East Coast Road
693A East Coast Road, Singapore 459058
tel: +65 6449 9066
* near the airport and lots of restaurants
* friendly staff, especially the owner
* reasonably-priced, by Singapore standards ($40 for a private room/$14 per dorm bed)
* free internet/wifi, and there's a pub downstairs so it's a pretty social place

Claypot Cuisine
723 East Coast Road, Singapore 459071
Tel: 6444 5546
delicious Vietnamese food, extensive menu (with pictures!); and be sure to seek out Priscilla, the gregarious manager who loves to make everyone feel at home

Fern Loft River Valley
301 River Valley Road, Singapore
* walking distance to Clarke Quay and not far from Orchard Road
* same friendly staff
* a bit pricier than the other location, but roomier and sunnier

Posted by sonia at 3:00 PM | Link | 0 comments
03 November 2008
The packing game

where'd all this stuff come from???

Today's photo of the day captures that "oh s**t!" moment where it seems like there's just no way all this STUFF is gonna fit into two packs and two daybags. So much for traveling light... Oh well, we'll cram it all in there somehow...

(By the way, this photo was taken with my spiffy new Nikon D40, which I spent all weekend noodling around with. Many thanks to everyone who's chipped in!)

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
28 October 2008
One week to go
Where the rubber hits the road

Whew, it's been a busy few weeks nailing down the final trip details. And with just over one week to go, it's just about time for the last-minute freakout. Except things seem pretty well under control, at least for the moment. I did go through the reality-bites doldrums for a while last week. Does that happen to other people too, or is it just me? It's the phase in travel planning where you transition from daydreaming and inspiration to figuring out what is actually feasible. When it's time to fill in the blanks, what seemed like a good idea on paper can turn into a complete impossibility. Suddenly that straight line on the map from Point A to Point B becomes a nearly-impassable three-month slog during monsoon season. Or that CouchSurfer you'd been chatting with is no longer available to host. Or you realize that you've got an impossibly long list of places to see and there's no way you can fit all that into four weeks. It's something of a buzzkill, but it's also a test of one's planning mojo, where the women are separated from the girls.

Fortunately I'm up to the task.

I've gradually made peace with the fact that this trip will not be a leisurely slow-travel meander off the beaten path, but rather a tightly-controlled power-walk through the Top 10 Must-See Spots of Bangkok and Malaysia. Well, let me correct that: we will have lots of time in Bangkok, and I'm hoping that we'll get to sample the local flavor with Zoe and family. But the Malaysian portion of the program is getting a little crammed. And I was disappointed to learn that in order to fit everything in, we'll need to take several flights. It ups our carbon footprint significantly, and I much prefer the adventure of taking local ground transport. The good news is that low-cost carrier Air Asia has ridiculously cheap fares. And this is allowing us to visit lots of fun spots on the Peninsula as well as the states of Sabah and Sarawak on Malaysian Borneo.

The whirlwind itinerary is looking a little something like this:

- fly to Singapore - spend a day chilling out and recovering from jetlag
- take a bus to Malacca/Melaka - meet up with CouchSurfer Mr Yee Tea for a cooking lesson,
and surf with him for the night
- take a bus to Kuala Lumpur, fly from KL to BKK
- spend a week in Bangkok - hang out with Zoe and her family, hook up with Bruce & Anne,
celebrate Loy Krathong and see the sites in and around Bangkok
- fly back to Malaysia, spend 2-3 days in Penang with another CouchSurfing host
- take the bus to Kuala Lumpur and stay there for 2-3 days - hopefully participating in a
CouchSurfing potluck/meet-up
- fly Malaysian Borneo and do 3 days of diving around Semporna (Sipadan, Mabul, etc)
- take a bus to the Sepilok area and spend 2 days at a Kinabatangan homestay, with some sort
of jungle/river tour as well
- take the bus to Kota Kinabalu and crash there overnight
- fly to Kuching on the other end of Borneo, spend a few days with another CouchSurfer and
visit the local longhouses (possibly also Bako National Park)
- fly from Kuching to Singapore, and then back home

I've updated the map and calendar pages, and will be posting a more detailed Google map when we get back, to show exactly where we've been. In the meantime, the rest of the pre-trip to-do list awaits!

Posted by sonia at 4:45 PM | Link | 1 comment
23 October 2008
Mid-week culcha
Bread and puppets, Cirque and pho

This week we had the opportunity to attend two fun mid-week cultural events. It was a great reminder of the diversity of entertainment options right in our own backyard.

one of the characters from Bread & Puppets TheaterOn Tuesday night, we joined some friends at a performance of Bread and Puppets Theater. We weren't entirely sure what to expect, as the site is rather vague and nobody seemed to have any real information about the show. But the price (free) was right, as it happens I'm a fan of both puppets and bread, and when you go in with almost no expectations there's nowhere to go but up. Plus, you had me at "free."

I'm pleased to report that the show was AMAZING. The troupe at this performance consisted of eight people who alternately played ragtime instruments, marched around with flags, operated giant cardboard and papier-maché puppets, and danced on stilts. The subject matter was intensely political, which makes sense given BPT's roots in activist pacifism and participatory street theater. (You can find some historical information on the "Tour Schedule" page of their site... scroll down past the dates... poor usability but it is worth the effort!) The Tuesday night show had been advertised as the more "family-friendly" of BPT's Washington performances. So when things got a little heavy towards the end with a haunting piece about the war in Iraq, leaving the audience in contemplative silence, it was a bit of a surprise to hear the announcer plug the Wednesday show as "somewhat darker," and not as suitable for kids. But hey, I'm all about people exposing their kids to controversial subject matter as food for thought. I was totally encouraged that there were some kids in the theater when we went to see Bill Maher's "Religulous" a few weeks ago. Discussion and debate are not just for grownups.

Oh, and yes they did in fact serve bread at the end of the show! With some spectacularly garlicky aioli sauce. No vampire problems that night.

Cirque du Soleil - Journey of ManWednesday's entertainment was a bit more lighthearted. We're big fans of Cirque du Soleil, both the Vegas extravaganzas and the touring shows. When I discovered that "Journey of Man," the 1999 film featuring Cirque performances, was coming back to the IMAX theater at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, I jumped at the chance to get tickets. I do love me some IMAX. And we don't get down to the Smithsonian complex nearly enough. As I exited the Metro at the Smithsonian stop, which drops you off in the middle of the National Mall, I enjoyed the stroll between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building, with a lovely fall sunset as a backdrop. Somehow it never gets old to wander around among such powerful national symbols; after living in the DC area for almost two decades, I still get a bit of a rush. It's like being on a movie set.

And speaking of movie, the IMAX film was absolutely stellar. Filmed over a two-year period using Cirque performers from around the world, "Journey of Man" is a celebration of the stages of life from birth to death. The visual imagery is stellar, and the music is just as delicious. As icing on the cake it's narrated by Ian McKellan. Sitting in a darkened theatre surrounded by that Gandalf voice is always a good thing in my book. After the movie we chatted up Aba Kwawu, president of the PR firm that handles Cirque's DC runs. (She also had the fun job of handing out the door prizes while wearing a clown nose.) How cool would it be to work for the most kickass circus in the world?

We topped off the night by stopping for some pho on the way home. Unfortunately my favorite Pho 75 was closed for the night, but a block away Pho 50 was still open. (Why 75? Why 50? Why not a more creative name?) We had just enough time to gulp down a big bowl of the rich broth -- perfect eats for the increasingly chilly weather -- before they closed up shop. I used to be somewhat perplexed by the huge Vietnamese contingent in Falls Church, but now I just shut up and happily slurp my pho. Ten points to anyone who can tell me the story behind that inscrutable naming scheme, though...

Posted by sonia at 5:25 PM | Link | 1 comment
21 October 2008
What would you tell yourself?
C'mon, play the "what if" game!

A fasctinating discussion has been flourishing lately on CouchSurfing's Independent Women list, and I thought I'd fire it up here to see if y'all had any interesting comments to add.

The original question was:
"What if... you could go back in time and tell yourself something (besides the winning lottery numbers). What would you say?"

The original poster offered her own words of wisdom to herself at various ages. Lots of fabulous chix chimed in with their own thoughts, and here are mine:

jumpin the waves with Easy-E at BeltsvilleI'd tell my 6-yr-old self not to take everything so seriously, and that if you're able to laugh at yourself the rest of the world is not nearly so scary.

Christmas 1983... just entering my geek phaseI'd continuously tell my 13- to 18-yr-old self that geeks rule, and that not being the popular kid gives you much more strength and independence as an adult. Oh, and by the way, life is MUCH cooler after high school!

my college graduation... just happy to be outta there!I'd urge my 20-yr-old self to take that semester or year abroad, that the comfort & safety of the familiar will be there when you get back, although perhaps you won't need it nearly so much.

I'd tell my late-20s self to go for it, dream big, take those risks, but also have a financial safety net in case things don't work out exactly as planned.

the venerable Nana ZAnd I can't help but wonder what my 40- 50- or 60-yr-old self would tell the present me... I suspect it would have something to do with: things always work out for the best, even if it doesn't seem like it at the time; there are no easy answers and that's what keeps things interesting; and never lose the childlike sense of wonderment that comes from trying new things. To piggyback off that a bit, two things my now-98-yr-old grandmother has been telling us our whole lives: never stop learning, and keep your body as active as your mind. I think she's onto something... she made it to 98, after all.

What wisdom would you go back and tell yourself?

Posted by sonia at 12:10 PM | Link | 2 comments
15 October 2008
We're Going to Thailand! (and Malaysia!)
Time to dust off the passport... where are ya, old friend?

Ya gotta love it when a totally-unplanned-for plan comes together.

Sipadan photo courtesy Henry & TersiaIt all started when our expat friends Bruce & Anne, DC transplants living in Perth, mentioned they were going to be in Bangkok in mid-November. We'd been considering taking a short trip to SE Asia... not short by typical American vacation standards, but considerably shorter than the extended travel we'd been hoping to undertake. One month total, focusing primarily on Malaysia and possibly also Indonesia. Why those two countries? A number of reasons, but I have to admit that ever since I started researching the scuba diving off Malaysian Borneo, I've been hooked. Jacques Cousteau called Sipadan, a tiny island off the East Coast of Borneo, some of the best diving in the world. You can dive there pretty much year-round, and supposedly it's an amazing place to see large animals. There are also a plethora of dive sites on nearby islands Mabul and Kapalai. And, bottom line, how cool is it to casually say, "Oh, yeah, we'll be doing some diving in Malaysian Borneo next month"?

Zoe dahlingWe'd been seriously considering a one-month trip to this area, substituting Bangkok for Indonesia, when I found out one of my co-workers was going back to Thailand to visit family in November. The exceptionally-fabulous Zoe has been living in the US for some time now, but her mom still lives in Bangkok. She's goes back to visit occasionally, and I've seen pictures of the house. Suffice it to say, I'm planning to try to get adopted by Zoe's mom when we visit. Zoe offered that we could stay with her, as it turned out she would be there at the same time as Bruce & Anne. Sweeeeet.

Add to all this the fact that Loy Krathong, one of the biggest Thai holidays of the year, is also happening within this same window, and you have the makings of an insanely good time.

So, the general plan is to fly in and out of Singapore, since that's by far the cheapest hub in the region. (In case anyone's interested, I found the best fare on Vayama. I think the airlines are running scared because ticket prices seem to have dropped across the board.) We'll leave DC on November 5, the morning after the presidential election. And I fervently hope we leave on a note of celebratory elation due to an overwhelming Obama win, as opposed to a bitter hangover from drowning our sorrows after a McCain win. But I digress... We'll spend the week of Nov 9 in Bangkok, celebrating Loy Krathong and hopefully discovering some hidden gems only locals know about. Somewhere around Nov 18 we'll head south down the peninsula, stopping to visit whatever strikes our fancy. The last week of November and first week of December we'll spend time on Borneo, diving and hanging with orangutans and dodging headhunters and the like. We return to DC on December 4. And then, unfortunately, it's back to work the following week.

Stay tuned for more details as the plans evolve. This trip will be a little weird for me, as it's somewhere between a free-wheeling backpacker jaunt and a totally scripted type-A vacation. I hope to strike a balance somewhere in there! If anyone has any suggestions for must-see stuff in southern Thailand or Malaysia, do let me know.

Some of you may have noticed the little ChipIn widget in the sidebar. Taking a page from the Book of Joan, I've decided to ask for what I want for my birthday. (Just be glad I'm not declaring it a national holiday and announcing how many shopping days are left until November 6!) I've been wanting a better camera for some time now, so I thought I'd give an opportunity for folks to contribute towards this item. Many thanks to Beth at Wanderlust and Lipstick and Crystalicious for getting the ball rolling! The sidebar widget's a bit small and some of the text gets cut off. But anyone who chips in will get a postcard from Thailand or Malaysia. I'm planning to get a Nikon d40, which is a digital SLR that is a few generations behind the latest & greatest but has gotten consistently good reviews. If I get more than I need to buy the camera, the remainder will be donated to The Women's Center, a local DC charity that has been providing services to women, families, and the community for over 30 years.

Posted by sonia at 12:30 PM | Link | 4 comments
12 October 2008
Food for Thought
A quick round-up of tasty e-bites

There's been some good stuff in the blogosphere in the past week or two... seems like a good time to do a roundup post:

Divine Caroline's "Love This Site!" Awards lists a ton of quality blogs/sites, not to mention some familiar faces in the travel category. Browse the list, and feel free to vote if you find something you like. Nominations will be accepted until November 30, 2008 and winners will be announced in early December.

Nomadic Matt wrote a great article about How to Vote in the U.S. Election While Overseas. Whether you'll be traveling on the big day, or are just looking to avoid the lines by voting absentee, this piece has all the information you'll need to do your civic duty.

Hey, guess what, the economy's in the crapper! Shocking, I know. There have been a plethora of articles in the travel community encouraging us to nevermind the bad news, get out there and see the world. Here are a handful of my favorites:

* Almost Fearless - The Economy is Falling Apart, Should I Travel?
* Everything Everywhere - It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine
* Wanderlust and Lipstick - Eco (nomic) Travel

I heart Ira Glass! NPR's "This American Life" has done a fantastic podcast that explains the whole economic meltdown thing in plain English. Despite the cheeky title (Another Frightening Show About the Economy) it's actually pretty enlightening. Keep in mind that it's slightly outdated, as recent events have been spinning pretty fast. But it provides a good solid foundation for understanding what the *&^%! is going on.

I got another article published on Matador. It went up on Oct 3 but I only just now realized it (duh). Faithful readers will recognize familiar content, but it's packaged in a slightly different way from the blog entries: "24 Hours at Burning Man." As always, I appreciate any comments, Stumbles, Diggs, or whatever else you can do to help promote the piece!

And, finally, because we could all use a laugh in these troubled times:

election coverage

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
07 October 2008
Everything Zen? I don't think so.
Vigilant on the road but careless at home

I had a thump-yourself-on-the-forehead moment last Friday night. We were out at a club with some friends, and when I got up to use the ladies' room I left my purse behind, not really thinking twice about it, figuring it would be watched after by the folks sitting in our small group. When I got back, the friends were gone, and so was the purse. I tried to stay calm as we scoured the club for our group. My logical brain attempted to drown out the panic by stating calmly and clearly that one of our peeps had grabbed it and taken it with them for safe keeping. My wallet, cell phone, car keys, house keys... all in good hands. Meanwhile my emotional brain kept drumming up worst case scenarios and shouting "Stupid! What were you thinking? You'd never do this while traveling!"

And that little voice, while a bit overwrought, is right. If I were in a foreign country or even another city, I'd never in a million years leave my valuables sitting unattended, ever. What's particularly ironic about this is that things are *not* particularly secure on the American homefront these days, especially if the hand-wringing daily news is to be believed. Regardless, there's something about being close to home that lulls me into a false sense of security. It got me thinking about other ways this happens:

* Crossing the street. Indie Travel Podcast just did a funny (and informative) episode about this. I tend to be one of those pedestrians who quickly looks both ways and then darts out into traffic, against the light or in the middle of the block or whatever suits my need to get from point A to point B. But in some countries this behavior may bring about bodily harm or a huge fine. According to ITP it can cost you 200 Euros in Austria! It's not something to be taken lightly.

* Giving out personal info. While traveling, I would never dream of giving out my hostel or hotel address to a complete stranger. Yet a few weeks ago I got a brisk slap of reality when our Craigslist rental ad got hijacked by some spammers in Nigeria. (Yes, really. How retro! How very 1996!) At first I couldn't figure out why someone would take the time to scrape my content and one picture of the outside of our house, list it at half the price, and change the email address. Then when people started showing up with further instructions about wiring money to a Lagos bank account, I finally got it. It's my own damn fault for including our address with the original post. I stupidly thought "What's the harm?" Well, there ya go, question answered. Fortunately I think I was able to get Craigslist to take down the spamalicious ad before any really stupid people got bilked out of their cash. At least I hope so.

Back to the purse-snatching incident, it did turn out that one of our friends took it along with her when she moved to a different part of the club. Why she didn't bother to wait till I got back from the bathroom to migrate, I'll probably never know. But all's well that ends well. And I think the lesson here is that it's time to kick off my comfy slippers and hit the road to slough off some of that false sense of security.

What are some ways you take things for granted in your comfort zone?

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
02 October 2008
How Well Do You Know Your World?

I don't have anything profound to say this week, so I thought I'd share a fun little time-waster. I found this widget on the TravelPod site some months back. It's basically a geography quiz that gets progressively harder with each level. I did OK, for a dumb Amerkan. I will warn you that it's slightly addictive!


brought to you by TravelPod, the Web's First Travel Blog ( A TripAdvisor Media Network partner ) 


Posted by sonia at 12:30 PM | Link | 0 comments
23 September 2008
Corporate Housing, a new frontier?
And a bit of shameless promo, while we're at it...

There haven't been many new blog posts lately, as I've been trying to catch up on all the Burning Man stories. These are now fully uploaded, so go forth and read 'em, if you haven't already. Pics are also strewn throughout the stories, but if you want to see them all at once, they're here.

So what's new with the house? Nothing yet, but we've been considering posting it on a corporate housing rentals site. This is an interesting concept, as it would allow us to rent for shorter terms and more money per month. Of course it costs something to post a listing on a site like this, but for once it may actually be worth it. Where would that leave us? Well, ever since the episode with The Nice Professor Lady, we've been considering taking a shorter trip towards the end of the year. India was at the top of the list, until I realized it would be high season with Diwali coming up. Higher prices, more crowds, harder to get last-minute reservations... no thanks! Hm, what about Indonesia & Malaysia? We could fly in and out of Singapore, do some great scuba diving, groove on the cultural scene, maybe even hook up with that guy we met at SFO who has a house on Bali. And then our expat friends in Perth mentioned they'd be in Bangkok in mid-November. Ah, a plan starts to form! Where we go, and for how long, depends on how things work out with this corporate rentals site. If we find a good short-term tenant, we could conceivably take off for three months or so. If not, we may take a 3-4 week trip.

What do you think? Any recommendations?

I'm an AdventureUs.com Outsider... cool...

In the meantime, I've been dipping my toe into the travel writing pool. Some of you already know about this, because I've been tooting my own horn for a few weeks now. (Write your own joke here...) But for the rest, I'm proud to report that I've had three small bits of publishing success of late:

1) a few of my pics were chosen to be a part of the online Burning Man Image Gallery

2) I became a featured correspondent on AdventureUs.com

3) another handful of photos got published in a Matador article

...and I'm in conversation with the Matador editors about doing a written piece on Burning Man. Woo-hoo! Please visit these sites if you get a chance, and support the folks who support nascent travel writers and photographers.

Interestingly enough, Rolf Potts has just published a new book. I stumbled across one of his bestsellers, the time-honored classic Vagabonding, at a formative point in my travel planning. And now when I'm considering getting more involved with travel writing, his latest book is about that very topic. Have any of you travel geeks read "Marco Polo Didn't Go There" yet? He's doing both a virtual and a real-world book tour to promote the new book, and I look foward to hearing the reviews from the travel community.

Posted by sonia at 1:00 PM | Link | 0 comments
09 September 2008
Don't worry, it's not anthrax!

Today's Moment of Zen is brought to you by the letters U, P, and S.

So our remaining boxes that we had shipped back from Sacramento arrived today (thanks K&C for your help with that errand!) and as the UPS guy dropped them off in the front hallway, he raised one eyebrow and said, "There's some weird powder coming from these."

At which Mark & I chuckled and assured the poor guy it was just Playa dust, y'know, from Burning Man. And then we proceeded to have the "Burning What?!?" conversation until the UPS guy'd had enough and left, shaking his head.

Heh. You can take the Burners off the Playa, but you can't ever quite get the Playa (dust) off the Burners and their stuff!

PS. For those of you keeping score at home, the Nice Professor Lady fell through. So it's back to the drawing board to try to find a tenant! :(

Posted by sonia at 3:30 PM | Link | 0 comments
06 September 2008
One step closer?

We had a very promising meeting today with a prospective renter. She's a professor at Penn's Wharton biz school and needs a place for her family to stay while they renovate their Arlington home. Seems very responsible; she showed up exactly when she said she was going to; we had a nice conversation with her. Quite possibly the perfect tenant. The catch? (And you just knew there was one, didn't you?) They only need the house for three months, October - December. Right after Christmas they are moving back into their house, no matter what. ::: sigh :::

I don't want to jinx this, since it's not finalized yet. But if this situation comes to fruition it raises a whole slew of new questions. Should we go for it? (Answer: hells yeah, accept what the universe provides!) Where would we go for an abbreviated 3-month trip? (Answer: probably India.) Would we come back in January, or try to rent it out to someone else from remote? (Dunno the answer to that one yet.)

The very real possibility of moving out in three weeks looms large on the horizon. The good news is that we'll probably have to move even less stuff out than we'd originally planned, since our prospective tenant is OK with our storing stuff in the basement. This is one of the silver linings to having a 3-month rental term. But still, all of a sudden it seems like there's a ton to do in a short period of time! We should know within the next week whether or not it will all come together for October 1, and in the meantime we're trying to mentally prepare ourselves for some big changes. Fasten your seatbelts, friends and neighbors, I think we're about to go for a wild ride!

PS. Oh, and meanwhile I've been posting some of our Burning Man pictures. Still working on backdating some blog entries to fill in the gaps and answer the inevitable "What the...?" questions, but anyone dying for a sneak peek can take a look.

Posted by sonia at 3:00 PM | Link | 0 comments
03 September 2008
Back from The Playa
And what a long, strange trip it's been!

me & oktapodi get all dust-a-rific at Center Camp

Quick note just to let everyone know we're back in the "default" world after our adventures at The Burn.

Whoooooooo, it's gonna take some time to shake the dust from our brains and sort out all the stories and pics. Rest assured, they will be posted here as soon as possible!

Posted by sonia at 4:00 PM | Link | 0 comments
19 August 2008
Burning Logistics
Preparing for Burning Man

japonaise camp, c 2007 by philippe gladeThis morning, I sent three boxes of PlayaStuff out to Sacramento. I find it mildly retarded that it's more efficient to mail stuff to our destination, rather than take it on a plane, but such is the way of the world. Fortunately our dear friends Tony & Christina took a small load of stuff out with them in their RV, which they're driving cross-country as we speak: odd-shaped items like our huge umbrella, heavy things like a kryptonite lock for the bikes, and -praise the lord and pass the costumes- the Crinoline of Doom! True friends, they are. The BurningPlans are coming together nicely!

So what are our plans, exactly? We leave on Sunday and fly out of BWI to Sacramento to meet up with our RVmates Keith and Crystal. They've booked a room at a local Ramada, which will serve as our launch pad from and back into civilization. We'll stay there overnight on Sunday, our last night in a real climate-controlled bed for over a week. On Monday morning, three of us will head out to pick up the RV, and the fourth will remain back at the hotel to fill up the collapsible water bottles. It's recommended to bring about 2 gallons of water per person per day, as there is no running water out on the Playa. Burners need to bring their own drinking water, shower water, cooking water, etc, and we've got to bring it all in with us. Add in the fact that it's hot and dry out there on the desert (go figure), and we need to drink even more than usual, and you can start to see how important water is!

ant mischief art car, c 2007 NK GuyThe next crucial item to bring out to The Burn is a bike. Keith & Crystal ordered their bikes from Wal-Mart, but I was reluctant to buy a new item that we'll only be using for a week, so I found a supplier of used bikes on Sac's Craigslist. The Craigger to the rescue once again! Not only are we saving a good bit of money, but we're re-using an existing resource. And this woman is kind enough to meet us in Sac with the bikes.

Once the RV, water, and bikes have been acquired, it's time to head to Wal-Mart to pick up the other bikes and some other supplies like baby wipes, trash bags, and sunscreen. Then it's on to a grocery store to get our vittles for the week, stuff like pasta and peanut butter and dried fruits and nuts. Basic campfood. Although we will also try to find some slightly more epicurean items like that Indian food that comes in foil packets you can quickly heat up and toss over some couscous. Generally speaking, Burning Man is not about gourmet eats. But it's good to be prepared anyway!

gladiator at the Temple of Forgiveness, c 2007 by Heather WhiteHaving acquired all our supplies, and also a fellow CouchSurfer named Andre who is surfing our RV for a rideshare out to Black Rock City, we're off! We hope to get there before dark so we can find the other members of our impromptu camp, Great Balls of Fire. We're not an official organized Theme Camp (such as Barbie Death Camp or Spanky's Wine Bar) but about 20 of us from DC will be camping together to share resources and camraderie. Several GBOFers who are arriving at Burning Man early and will try to secure a space for us near another camp called The Philadelphia Experiment. I think we'll be fairly close to all the action, so we're definitely bringing several pairs of earplugs in the unlikely event that we'll actually want to get some sleep next week. With 55,000 people all practicing the art of Radical Self-Expression, in an environment where just about anything goes, I doubt there will be much time for sleep, but we will have to pace ourselves, for sure!

As promised, there will be tons of pics and stories to share from this experience. Unfortunately there's very little internet access on the Playa, so you won't be hearing much from us till after we return to civilization after Labor Day. So stay tuned!

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
10 August 2008
Travel adventures in your own backyard
This weekend: alllll about Maryland

It's not often you get to be a tourist close to home. For some reason, this past weekend was all about schlepping to various sites in Maryland. Besides the fact that I work there (in Bethesda), or perhaps because of that very fact, MD is not a state I tend to spend a lot of leisure time in. But this weekend provided a cornucopia of cultural crusades:

Friday night
Sylvester's Saloon
Essex, MD

We journeyed to this fascinating establishment outside Baltimore in order to check out two bands, Full Throttle and Highwire. The bassist from Mark's band, Model Citizens, is in the former, and our righteous Vegan baker friend Kirsten is the lead singer in the latter. Both bands play hard rock/heavy metal covers. The music was loud, the drinks were strong, and the people-watching was FABULOUS. What a time warp! It was quite a trip in the way-back machine, to be certain. From the wood paneling on the walls, to the dulcet tones of Judas Priest, to the big hair and tight jeans of the B'more crowd (hon), if I squinted just a little I was transported back to my days at the West End Youth Center dances in the mid-80s. After the show we crashed at our friend's place in Fells Point, to break up the long drive home.

Saturday shopping interlude
everywhere and then some

Unfortunately the next day we didn't have much time to wander around Baltimore, which was truly a shame as the weather was unusually gorgeous. It was also a perfect day for the Virgin Mobile Fest, which we've attended in years past. Apparently the Gogol Bordello set was superlative. I was just excited to see a long-lost DC fave, Shudder to Think, in the lineup. Does anybody know if they're playing anywhere else in the area in the near future? Oh, Craiggy, we miss ya!

Anyway, the rest of our somewhat-hungover Saturday was spent shopping for a small dinner party with two of our Burner mates. On the menu: some Ethiopian and North African treats. This required several stops at the various ethnic grocery stores in our neighborhood, including the Middle Eastern Halalco, Asian H-Mart, and predominantly Latino Bestway. Oh, and we stopped at plain ol' whitey-whitebread Giant too. The result was a splendid repast of Doro Wat, Misr Wat, injera, and Moroccan Carrot Salad. Mmmmmm, just like mom used to make (not so much)! Plus some great planning about how four grown people who barely know each other are going to share an RV for a week on the Playa. Sounds like it could be next season's reality TV, but I think we're all of the same low-maintenance ilk and there will be minimal drama. Stay tuned!

Saturday night
80s house party
Severna Park, MD

After dinner it was off to the next stop on our whirlwind Maryland tour: an '80s-themed house party near Annapolis. (This time the big hair and pink & black ensembles were amusing on purpose.) Gummy bracelets and legwarmers and fishnets, oh my! The hostess was even dressed like Strawberry Shortcake. We arrived late but managed to dive right into the fun, and even caught up with some friends we hadn't seen in years. Good times, good times. On the way out, I noticed a bowl of glow bracelets and grabbed a fistful, with the host's permission of course, as these will be the perfect bike decorations at the Burn.

Sunday brunch
M Cafe
Chevy Chase, MD

Sunday morning came around all too quickly, and it was time to clean up and head out to a baby shower for a co-worker. Normally this type of activity makes me want to stick a fork in my eye, but this was a cool group of ladies at a very chill restaurant, and we had an excellent time. The neighborhood, just to round out the Maryland cavalcade, was a very swanky spot featuring stores like Versace and Cartier, not to mention the corporate headquarters of The Ladies and Gentlemen of Ritz-Carlton across the street. Not my usual hangout, to be sure!

oktapodi feels oh so pretty, but wonders how one is supposed to ride a bike in all this poofSunday afternoon costume shopping
Unique Thrift Shop
Falls Church, VA

Last item on the to-do list before crumpling into an exhausted heap: check out the thriftalicious bargains at our neighborhood secondhand store. One never knows what one will find. It's the ultimate treasure hunt. I actually had pretty low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised to find an entire cartful of fuzzy, sparkly treasures that will make fabulous costumes at Burning Man. The find of the day, however, was undoubtedly what must be The World's Largest Crinoline. I saw it poking out of a row of spangly dresses and shrieked with glee, startling the other shoppers who were there for more legitimate reasons. This thing is HAY-YUGE! It's somewhere between Miss Havisham and full-on Scarlett O'Hara on steroids. Two layers. Several miles of white crinkly material. All for the bargain price of $20. Now if that's not The American Dream, I don't know what is. I just have to figure out how the heck we're going to get it to Sacramento, where we'll meet up with our RVmates and drive to the Playa. I may have to purchase a separate seat on the plane for it. One of my many evil friends suggested I actually *wear* it *on* the plane, which would pretty much require United to give me my own row. In first class. Oh, the possibilities... I wonder what Elliott.org would say about this one...

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
07 August 2008
Accepting what the universe provides

So, I don't mean to get all New Age Woo-Woo on you, but it's not everyday you come home from work to find that a Jeep Cherokee has magically appeared in your garage. After about a month of surviving (just barely) on a lean & mean carbon-lite diet of solely public transport, which required spending almost four hours a day getting to and from work, I was just about over my love affair with the Metro. I have to give mad props to everyone who's offered us rides, weekend loaners, and other creative short-term solutions to the problem of living in Deepest Darkest 'Burbia without a vehicle. But our friends Cat and William take the cake. After a conversation with Mark, Cat took it upon herself to prompt William to offer us one of his spare cars, knowing full well we'd never ask outright for such a huge favor. And so now we have a snazzy Jeep Wrangler on indefinite loan. I find it particularly fascinating because in the last decade or so, Jeeps have been harbingers of big changes in my life. 

:: snif, snif ::
You guys rock!

Now, can somebody just find us a frickin' tenant to rent our house, so we can get going on this trip already???

Posted by sonia at 3:00 PM | Link | 0 comments
01 August 2008
Travel jabs

yellow card dating back to Oct '06Here's some objective proof that this trip has been in the works for some time now: I pulled out my trusty "yellow card," more officially known as the International Certificate of Vaccination, and realized I got my first series of jabs in October 2006. At that time, I had no idea where or when I was going, but since most vaccinations are good for at least 5 years, and some require a series of two or three shots, it seemed like a good thing to get started. After a bit of research, I determined that it's a bit cheaper to get the shots at our local county health clinic, which proved to be its own adventure but at least I got it out of the way!

However, the clinics don't provide prescriptions, so for malaria meds and Cipro and other fun stuff, we have to go to our primary care physician. So that was today's big to-do list item. I thought we were all caught up on every possible jab necessary for travel just about anywhere -- TD, Polio, Hep A/B, Typhoid, even Rabies fer cryin' out loud -- and would just need to get an updated scrip for one of the many malaria meds. But it turns out I needed a booster for Measles-Mumps-Rubella, and Mark needed to finish up his Hep A/B series. So we did the human pincushion routine again. Good times. We also walked away with a fistful o' scrips: Larium for the skeeters, some anti-itch cream (because if there is a skeeter within a mile, it will find me no matter how much Deet-based chemicals I lather on), more Cipro, and Ambien (?). I doubt we'll have any use for that last one, as Tylenol PM tends to work just fine in a pinch, and the idea of taking even one sleeping pill gives me the creeps. But good ol' Dr Bae is a cautious chick, and I guess she wanted to make sure we got our co-pay's worth.

On a slightly different note, I wish I had some updates for you about when we'll actually be heading off to the other side of the planet. Alas, we have still not found a tenant to rent our house while we travel. That's the big determining factor right now, so please send all your best rent-a-licious vibes our way, in the hopes that we find someone to move in by September.

Also, the more astute among you will notice some cosmetic changes to the blog interface. It's still a work in progress, and we'll be doing some fine-tuning over the next few weeks as we continue to add more content to the site and start to publicize it a bit more. Feedback is always welcome!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
13 July 2008
Wellllll, that sucked
What is the sound of one house not renting?

Maybe in an alternate universe, there's an alternate version of me who is a real estate mogul, and everything she touches turns to gold. Alas, in this universe, the me who is trying to rent her house is not off to a stellar start.

Long story short: after busting our humps for the past week to get our house cleaned up and de-cluttered and ready for potential renters to come by, we got things to a presentable enough state to have an "open house" of sorts. This was recommended to me by a property manager who advised setting up a specific block of time for people to come by, so we don't get barraged with emails. Well, not only did we not get barraged, not a single person showed up. (Cue the trumpets: wah wah wah waaaaaaaaaaahhhhh.)

OK, OK, I'm trying to look on the bright side of life. Yes, the house looks fantastic. It hasn't looked this good since we had it on the market trying to sell it. Yes, we only advertised it in one place, and we do plan to cast a much wider net in the coming weeks. Yes, we had to start somewhere. And, yes, I did use the three hours on Sunday afternoon to update the "Planning" section of the site with lots of juicy tidbits. (I'm particularly proud of the Packing List in the "Gear" section.) But it still smarts a bit to give up an entire weekend, first cleaning and then waiting around for nobody to show up.

Oh well, onward and upward. The right tenant is out there, somewhere! And in the meantime, here are a few lovely pics of our lovely cleaned-up house for your viewing pleasure:

ooooo! look at this lovely exterior!

aaaaaaah, the fabulous partially-covered deck!

oooooooh, and here's another shot of the deck!

and this is the, um, charming spacious living room with walk-up bay windows

OK, I admit, here's where it starts getting supremely uninteresting... but I can't stop now!

just one more, I promise! this isn't even the greatest shot of the kitchen but apparently you have to prove there *is* one in the house...

Posted by soniaz at 5:00 PM | Link | 2 comments
05 July 2008
Independence, Redux

It's a little hard to believe that a year has passed. Exactly one year ago, I'd officially declared my independence from the 9-5 grind and was on a plane headed for Costa Rica to start 10 weeks of solo travel through Central America. OK, so I had a great trip, full of volcano hikes, scuba, meeting other travelers, and the usual adventures... but a year later, what's really changed? On the surface, it would seem not much. I'm back at the same job, still in the house, still cranking through the same basic daily grind. But this life-changing trip did cause a few permanent shifts, some minor, some major:

I've lost my tolerance for air conditioning.
Yes, I know, DC in the summer requires AC. It's tropical. But I've noticed myself getting really irritated at the frigid temperatures at the office, at home, on the Metro. Do we really need to expend so much energy controlling our environment? A little sweat, a bit of discomfort, it's not the end of the world! Plus I think all the moving around from hot to cold is making us sick.

I have a new appreciation for public transport.
It'll never be as cool as the Guatemalan chickenbus system, but getting around on the Metro (and more recently on New York's subway) is not a bad way to go. It takes a bit of patience, especially at the end of a long day at work. And we do still have one car in our household, so I haven't gone completely cold turkey. But I've learned to enjoy the sport and adventure involved in getting from point A to point B with nothing but my trusty SmartCard.

People are out there living the dream... more than you'd think.
Certainly being out & about among other travelers, I met many people who were breaking out of the mold and living their travel dreams. But even since I've been back, I've met lots of folks who are making big changes. Some, like my Couchsurfing cohort Dave Lee, are taking a year off to travel. Some, like Christine Gilbert of almostfearless.com, are moving overseas and making a career change to try something they've always wanted to do. Some, like my sister Laura, are opting for a change of scenery, just because they can. It's inspiring and empowering to hear their stories, and once I got tapped into the alterna-travel scene, I realized it's not as uncommon as I'd thought.

Declare it, set a date, do it.
This one's not new... it's a lesson I've been continually re-learning my entire life. It's so easy to get bogged down in the reasons not to do something, or the mind-boggling number of steps necessary to get started. Setting a date, and doing something irreversible like quitting your job or buying a plane ticket, is a sure-fire way to turn the dream into reality. I would've thought that doing it once before would make it easier to pack everything up into a backpack and leave behind the comforts of home for the adventures of travel. But I have to admit that the daily routine sucks me back into an entropic state more often than not. Keeping an eye on the prize is tough, even as we get closer to our proposed departure date! I think it may be time for something radical, like buying those tickets for the first leg of our trip to Perth, even though there's a seemingly endless To-Do List standing between us and sailing off into the sunset.

Time to shrug off the silky, seductive tendrils of routine and make a new Declaration of Independence! Freedom of the open road, here we come.

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
16 June 2008
So much for modern conveniences
Sometimes you have to just laugh and shrug

D'you think maybe the universe is trying to tell me something? Apparently this morning there was a huge water main break in the county in Maryland where my office is located. So I arrived to work to find an email memo instructing us that the water in the building might be contaminated; we were not to use any of the coffee machines or water coolers; make sure to use hand sanitizer after washing your hands in the bathroom sinks; yada yada yada. Of course I read this *after* filling up my trusty Nalgene bottle with 32 ounces of "contamination" and drinking about a third of it. Lovely. Well, I'm happy to report that I drank the whole thing -- why not live dangerously, here in Beige Cubicleville? -- and I seem to have lived to tell the tale. I've even been joking that this is good practice for traveling in parts of the world where you really *can't* drink the water. That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

On top of that, I just got a message from Mark that a big thunderstorm has knocked out power at our house. So I'll be arriving home to lots of candles, no internet, no appliances, no AC. But, hey, that just reminds me of the time that huge storm came through Guatemala and we lost power at the hostel in Livingston. It's amazing how many fun drinking games you can think up when there's no TV to watch.

I may be a bit late getting to the office tomorrow...

Posted by soniaz at 5:05 PM | Link | 0 comments
12 June 2008
Detox results

mmmmm, juice-a-licious!Thanks to Christine, of the fabulous blog almostfearless.com, for reminding me via a comment to my last post* that I need to provide an update on our crazy detox diet. I gotta say, it was tremendously unfun, and I sure did miss chewing. But between the two of us, Mark and I lost 50lbs. So it was definitely worth it! As a quick recap, the detox entailed 21 days of drinking fruit and vegetable juices and pureed soups. We did buy a few vitamin-enriched powders, but we mostly juiced stuff at home in our Juice Weasel... everything from the standard carrot-apple-ginger to some sketchier concoctions involving kale, radishes, beets, even sweet potato. I don't mind the taste of raw veggies so I actually had some fun making up new juice blends. And if you add enough fresh ginger, you can make almost anything taste good. The soups were a different matter, and there were definitely some debacles along the way. (Note to anyone who's following the book: that woman should be arrested for those recipes she included in the appendix! Gag me with a stalk of pureed broccoli!) However, I did have some successful experimentations with lemongrass, chilis, and garlic, where I could almost fool myself into thinking I'd made a Thai soup. And I have to give mad props to my co-worker Keith, who sent along some links for new recipes. This was just what I needed about mid-way through the diet, to inject a bit of creativity into the process.

Here are a few FAQs and answers:

> Weren't you hungry the whole time?
Not physically. The program instructs you to eat (drink) something every two hours, so you never really have a chance to get hungry. That's not to say I wasn't craving "real" food almost constantly. The hardest thing for me was ending a day at the office and not being able to look forward to a nice meal with a glass of wine. But it was definitely more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

> How in the world did you give up coffee for 21 days?!?
I guess I'm not as addicted to caffeine as I thought. I didn't have any headaches or other physical symptoms from giving up my daily cuppa joe (or three). Again, it was more about missing the ritual, particularly first thing in the morning. We were allowed to have some green tea, so I got an occasional blast of caffeinated goodness that way.

> Did you have enough energy without consuming protein or carbs?
I found it much easier to get up in the mornings -- and this is a huge thing for a non-morning-person like me. I wasn't bursting with energy all day long (good thing, 'cuz how annoying would *that* be??) but I did have enough to get through the day, as long as I didn't exert myself. Which brings me to the next question...

> Did you exercise?
I tried, really I did. Couldn't do anything the first week, and I got lightheaded just from walking up a few flights of stairs. I went back to Bikram Yoga the second week and almost died. By week three I was taking hourlong walks each day, and still feeling like I could barely make it up the hills, but at least I was getting out and doing something. Mark was able to continue his vigorous daily gym routine, which is probably why he lost 30lbs and I only lost 20.

> How did you stick with it for so long?
Strangely, there's some comfort and simplicity in a diet so restrictive. It takes all the guesswork out. There's no cheating... it's not like you can talk yourself into having just a bite of chocolate cake or one sip of wine. Nope, you're either in or you're out. Having someone else around for moral support was key, as well.

You're supposed to take 11 days to gradually get back to eating regular food, which didn't really work because we finished on Monday and took off for San Diego on Thursday. [Wedding details and pics will be posted this weekend.] Detox, shmetox. Now that we're back into a regular routine, the trick will be finding some sort of balance that allows us to cook and eat (and drink) delicious stuff, but keep it in check with moderation. We've also been experimenting with some new vegetarian recipes, and hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of the "organic" and "locally-grown" produce from the plants on our deck. Thankfully they didn't completely perish in the wilting heat that greeted us upon returning from the Left Coast. Ah, summers in DC!

* In order to post and view comments, you have to be a registered user of this site. So now would be a great time to subscribe using the link above! This way you also have the option of getting an email when new blog entries are posted.

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09 May 2008
Burning What???

poi spinner plus The Man, image copyright Scott London 2007It's official. We got our Burning Man tickets, and we're off to the Playa the last week of August. We've found the typical response to be a blank stare, followed by "Burning WHAT?!?" Seems not a lot of people on this coast have heard of this event, which has been around for over two decades and attracts over 50,000 participants from all over the world. So what is it? An experiment in temporary community? (whatever the heck that means) A festival of art and music and self-expression? A hippie-raver-drugfest out in the desert? Ummmmmmm, yes and no. Much like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, it's difficult to neatly encapsulate this event with a few descriptive phrases. In some ways, for me attending Burning Man is in the same category as traveling to India: it's a place of great extremes, where everybody has their own intensely personal experience, impossible to absorb it all at once, mystical and frustrating and wondrous and wretched and like nothing else you've ever seen. It's not for everyone. You'll love it and hate it and sometimes both at the same time. You can research and read up on what to expect, based on others' experiences there, but you're never truly prepared. You just have to go for yourself.

Right then. So we shall.

Mark has been there before, along with a group of friends from the DC area. This year it's finally my turn to check it out for myself. Seems a good way to kick off our next stint Off The Grid. Although it's more likely that we'll return from BM and spend a few more weeks back in reality before sailing off into the sunset. We're still figuring that part out. But you already knew I was going to say that, didn't ya?

Meanwhile back at the ranch, things are slowly falling into place for The Big Departure. And we continue to enjoy and appreciate the comforts of home as well as all the cool stuff the DC area has to offer. This weekend we'll be joining a contingent of CouchSurfers on a visit to Polyface Farms in Staunton, VA. Anyone who's read The Omnivore's Dilemma will be familiar with this family-owned, pasture-based, and highly successful farm. Should be a fun field trip. And in preparation for Eric & Dey's upcoming nuptials on the Left Coast, and the endless photographs that will be taken, we're doing a 21-day juice detox. (Yes, that's right, we're detoxing just in time to re-tox at the wedding reception!) We'll be following the "Martha's Vineyard" formula, which involves ingesting fruits and vegetables in liquid form (plus supplements) and promises a loss of 21lbs in 21 days. While I find this claim uber-gimmicky, it's an interesting concept, and I'm just hoping to slough off some of the fluorescent-lit cubeville pallor and sludge that's crept back since my return to the corporate world. Mark did this diet last summer, with grrrrrreat success. We'll see how I do. Keep ya posted!


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
21 March 2008
Happiness is a renewed passport

We both breathed a huge sigh of relief last week as our freshly-renewed passports arrived in the mail. That's one big item off the to-do list! Apparently we weren't nearly interesting enough for anyone to "breach" our files... or maybe they did, and we're just not high-profile enough to set off the Breach Alert. Honestly, I don't care if Condi Rice herself sexually abused my renewal application, I was just glad to get my stuff back in a timely manner! I had been particularly nervous about sending my old passport off in the mail, into the abyss, perhaps never to be seen again due to some ridiculous bureaucratic glitch. So many fond memories in one little book... even the Dreaded Page 11... How sad would it be to never again flip to page 11 and recount tales of Salvadoran border near-disasters? Fortunately we were pleasantly surprised by the alacrity with which our old battered passports were returned, alongside a set of shiny new ones, Big Brother Chip included, just waiting to be filled with stamps and visas and stories. Whewwwwwww...

Not much else to report, I'm afraid. Here's a quick recap on the current state of affairs, for those of you who  :: ahem ::  haven't been paying close attention:

* We took the house off the market. The situation was just too depressing and we've decided that rental is the only near-term way to go.

* I'm not bartending at Caribbean Breeze anymore. Way too much hassle for not nearly enough $$$. (But feel free to stop by the house and I'll make you a mojito or caipirinha anytime.)

* We're aiming for a departure sometime in mid-September, starting in Perth and working through SE Asia. I updated the route map with the latest thoughts on which countries we might visit, although, as always, this is still very much up in the air.

There's much to do in the coming months as we get the house cleared out, try to save up as much travel cash as possible, and firm up some of our itinerary. We'll also be making updates to this site as we look around for potential sponsors to help underwrite the trip. (So if any of you have marketing connections within travel-related companies, and can hook us up a la Where the Hell is Matt, do drop me a line!) Fortunately, most of our vaccinations are up to date, as we got a bunch of jabs last year, so that's one typical travel to-do that's already crossed off. September alternately feels so far away and not nearly enough time to get everything done. One day at a time...

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
21 February 2008
Adventures in subconjunctival hemmorhages

It's been a week of ocular shocks. (Hey, what a great name for a band! Tonight at the 9:30 Club, one night only, please welcome The Ocular Shocks! But I digress...) The first nasty shock came when I woke up on Monday morning to encounter a subconjunctival hemmorhage in my right eye. Yes, it looks as disgusting as it sounds -- my eye was completely bloodshot red where it used to be white -- although it doesn't hurt, itch, or produce any other symptoms beyond looking like you were in a bar brawl. Good for the sympathy vote, I guess. And of course it prompted much speculation in the office, necessitating a good juicy story. First place goes to the coworker who suggested I tell people it was a meth lab accident. Close second goes to another colleague who, after I mused that perhaps I should tell people I got in a big fight with a particularly surly eCommerce team member, added that I should be sure to tell everyone I plucked her bald. There's a nice visual. (Names completely omitted to protect the guilty.) I'll spare you any pictures of my nasty eyeball, tho the truly twisted among you are free to Google the term. Two different doctors have assured me that there is no treatment other than to let the eye heal itself and re-absorb the blood back into my system. Apparently it will turn some funky colors as it heals, much like a bruise. Can't wait.

Anyway, the second shock happened during a visit to the optometrist, where I was planning to go this week in the interest of updating my contact lens prescription and getting some new glasses. Now that I have some manner of health insurance again, it's time to get caught up on all things medical. Fun! The visit itself was fairly uneventful, until the end where I nearly had a heart attack when they told me I would be expected to fork over $700 for my new glasses! Whatchootalkinabout, Willis? What kind of crock is this? Fortunately my insurance covered half that cost, but STILL. Are these some kind of superhero glasses that will give me xray vision or other crime-fighting abilities? 'Cause that'll really come in handy while we're riding a songthaew in Laos. Criminy.

Ocular shocks aside, let's not forget (as if we could) that we're in the middle of a historic primary election season here in the US. Mark and I went out and voted on "Potomac Tuesday," which also happened to be his birthday, and like most people we've been closely following coverage of the race, particularly on the Democratic side. Although we both hope to send in absentee ballots for the general election, as we'll be long gone by November, we're looking forward to a new regime in 2009. There's been no shortage of political punditry, but I had to share the best candidate analysis I've seen so far:

World Hum's 2008 U.S. Presidential Candidate Travel Scorecard
What travel guide best suits John McCain? Where’s Hillary Clinton’s dream destination? Julia Ross examines how the White House contenders stack up as global travelers.

Now there's a yardstick I can identify with! Interesting to note that Obama got 4.5 (out of five) Air Force Ones, while Clinton got 4. Further proof that this is one close race, kiddies.


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
04 January 2008
Happy New Year!
The more things change, the more they stay the same

I know, it's been a while... but I thought I'd hold off posting until I actually had something to report. After the wedding maelstrom in the fall, things calmed down a bit. November was a very stressful month, with the one-year anniversary of my mom's death sneaking up on all of us. It did provide another opportunity to appear on TV, courtesy of our old friend Liz Keptner, reporter (and now morning anchor!) for CBS News in Philly. Liz was kind enough to do a piece on our Second Annual Celebrate Joan 4Kish Walk/Run, which was a rousing success.

Meanwhile I tackled another item on my list of "Things I Always Wanted to Try," and got a job bartending at Caribbean Breeze in Arlington. How I managed to snag this job with almost no real experience is a bit of a mystery, but I have been learning how to make some killer mojitos and caipirinhas and other fun stuff. The food's pretty good there, too, and they play cool salsa music. Stop by sometime, if you're in the neighborhood. On Wednesdays there are mojito specials all night long! Any flavor! Arrrrriba!

Hurtling towards the end of the year with no hope of selling the house at a reasonable price, it was time to suck it up and start the job search. Yuck! I'd forgotten what a soul-numbing process that is. After a few good interviews here and there, which ultimately led to nothing but a lot of waiting around because nobody is able to get anything done during the holiday season, I happened to re-connect with my former boss at Marriott, who made me an offer I couldn't refuse. (No, it did not involve snakes in a bed! They're not *that* kind of Mormons at Marriott!) I weighed all the pros and cons and wrestled with the idea that this was a step backwards, but ultimately decided that opting for "The Devil You Know" was perhaps not such a bad thing. So I'm basically back at my old job, doing pretty much the same stuff, but this time as a contractor working on a per-project basis. I have to admit, it was a nice ego boost to appear back in the office yesterday and have everyone tell me how glad they were to have me back. And, as my sagacious friend Dan likes to say, I'm not selling my soul, I'm just renting it out for a while at a good price.

So let Plan πr² begin! For those of you who haven't been following along at home, the goal is to save up as much travel fundage as possible in the next 6-9 months, rent out the house, and hit the road. We'll also update this site and post to the blog as our plans unfold, so please continue to watch this space! And kindly register, if you haven't already, so we can get some sense of who's reading this thing. You'll get a notification email when a new blog entry has been posted, that's it, I swear.

Happy New Year, everyone! Here's to a 2008 filled with adventure, prosperity, and passion!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
06 November 2007
Hurts so good
A birthday massage and an update

Many thanks to those who have sent birthday wishes, emailed, called, sang, actually sent paper cards, or some combination of the above. It's not terribly sexy to have your birthday on a Tuesday, particularly when it's election day as well, and even less on an election year like this one where you're voting for exciting stuff like school board and other state-level stuff. Yawn. But I did have a lovely birthday massage (thanks M, C, and T! you guys rock!) that was reeeeeeeallllly niiiiiiiice. It was mostly your standard swedish/shiatsu/reflexology/aromatherapy type of thing. But the woman also worked in just enough deep tissue massage to make it interesting. If you've ever had deep tissue work, you know how the pummeling can sometimes make you feel like you were hit by a truck. The more it hurts, the better the massage, right? That's kinda the point. But my new best friend Vera had just the right balance of tough love, and the end result was tres fab. Anyone in the area looking for a fantastic massage, I highly recommend Massage Works.

Right, so since I haven't checked in in a while, I thought it was time to post a quick update. The housing market continues to flip us the double bird, so we've had to formulate a new plan. Plan B? This is more like Plan x=πr²√Θ. But that just keeps things interesting. Anyway, the current working plan is to put the house up for rent while we travel. Sounds reasonable, yes? The rental market is actually pretty strong right now, especially in this area where you have military families and World Bank and State Dept and other transient groups. But it does present a new set of challenges. The two biggies are (1) scrounging up the money to travel with, and (2) getting the mortgage payment at or below what we could hope to rent for. We were aided a bit on the second issue by a new, lower ARM (which I still think was a clerical error but who's complaining). And to chip away at the first issue, I've dusted out the ol' resume and have been looking for an IT contract gig. I'm also looking at a few bartending options, just because I think it'd be a fun way to pull in some extra cash. Stay tuned for updates on that!

We're aiming for a departure date sometime in early summer, ideally to coincide with Eric & Dey's wedding in San Diego on 6/7/08. We may follow the SE Asia/India itinerary, but that may need to be adjusted for weather considerations. I'm open to suggestions! The timeline can be a bit more open-ended since there aren't any other family obligations on the books. (My sister is only allowed to get married if she consults my travel schedule first!) So we may wind up traveling for more than the allotted year. We'll see. First things first. And the first item on my to-do list is finding a j-o-b. Second item is world domination, in case anyone's curious.


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16 October 2007
Back home again

Whew, it is nice to be back in one place after our whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest!

I'll be updating this site in the coming days with tales of our adventures in Cali and Oregon. (Check out my first crack at using Google Maps on the "where" page of this site.) But I also need to spend some time updating my mom's site as we rev up the planning for the 2nd Annual Celebrate Joan Memorial 4K-ish Walk on Saturday, November 24. Mark your calendars! Even if you're not able to make it to Allentown for the event, we're encouraging everyone to find a moment to walk off that Thanksgiving turkey, and send us pics.


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
28 September 2007
Updates and a request

Those paying close attention may have noticed that I've been busy this week uploading pictures. There are so many to wade through! It's going to take a while to get everything up here. I'm about halfway through Guatemala at the moment, and I've re-arranged the pics main page to have the most recent groupings bubble to the top. Check back often to see what else has been posted! I'm also searching for a better way to display the pics in a slideshow-type format, to make it easier to view them sequentially. So if any of you other geekburgers out there have suggestions for plug-ins or simple freeware, do let me know.

Several of you have mentioned that you've been enjoying reading my adventures and misadventures, and I really appreciate that. I've thought about submitting one or two stories to some of the many travel writing contests out there, just to see what happens. So here's my request: which blog entries do you think are the best? They're not really meant to be self-contained stories, so whatever I submit might require a bit of editing. But I'd love to hear your feedback on which ones *you* liked best! Feel free to enter your vote as a comment here (remember, you have to register), or just drop me an email. Thanks for your continued support!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
25 September 2007
Realtor reality check
The party is over!

Well, it was nice to postpone returning to reality for a while, with all the wedding festivities. But today we had a sobering chat with our realtor. Back down to earth! Our new realtor -- this is number four in the series, and hopefully the fourth time's the charm -- is a pretty sharp guy and he gets where we're coming from. He's not trying to convince us to put tens of thousands of dollars into renovating the place. He doesn't sugar-coat his conversations. He does lots of research and networks with other "top producer" realtors in the area. But the news is pretty bleak. Citing recent reports from Moody's and predictions from Ben Bernanke and the like, our realtor basically told us that the housing market is in bad shape and is not expected to get any better in a lonnnnnng time. As in, not till 2014. Fantastic.

OK, so where does that leave us? Well, we're gonna keep plugging away and see what kind of interest our realtor can drum up. We have a spanky new brochure. And the house is listed in the MLS and on Realtor.com, and we even put something up on Craigslist (every little bit helps). Over the weekend one of my cousins suggested we should ask for help from The Lord. Hey, stop laughing! I just may give it a try. Can't hurt, can it? (Well, there is the matter of that lightning business...) Every little bit helps. Say it with me three times.

Seriously, any and all leads would be appreciated. You never know where that magic connection will come from. And despite all the dire predictions, the economy's doing pretty well and the DC job market is really strong right now. So there's gotta be *somebody* out there who thinks this house is right for them! ::: sigh :::

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
23 September 2007
Wedding Spectacularrrrrrrrr
Oh, my achin' liver

Coming home to a huge weekend-long party is a great way to postpone reality, lemme tell ya.

Starting on Thursday night and going strong till Sunday afternoon, the entire Zamborsky clan and assorted extras celebrated the wedding of Dave & Meghan. And proved beyond a doubt that I have the coolest family on the planet. (Well, except for a few lame cousins who couldn't be bothered. Guess there are some in every crowd.) We all love Meghan to death, and we're glad that Dave married up. ;) Her family is great, too... and who knew her Nana could throw down with the best of us? It was a fabulous weekend. I just hope my liver recovers.

Dave's fingers are famous!We started on Thursday night with a baseball game. How American is that? It was the Washington Nationals vs the Philadelphia Phillies, which presented a bit of a dilemma for me & Mark. Technically we should be rooting for the Nats because DC is our home. But as most of you know, I'm from the Philly area and most of my family (Meghan's as well) are diehard Phils fans. Fortunately this dilemma was solved by the fact that neither Mark nor I give a crap about baseball and we were just happy to be out drinking beer with the fam. As an extra bonus, Dave & Meghan got to unfurl the countdown banner that shows how many Nats games are left before they move to the shiny new stadium. Even though only their hands actually got to be on TV, it was still very exciting. And the Phils managed to pull off a win after all.

Rev Carol admonishes us to be "stately"Friday night was the rehearsal and dinner. There was a bit of a tense moment when Rev Carol didn't show up, but thanks to Josh for hooking us up with her phone number we tracked her down and determined that she was merely lost. The show must go on! We ran through the ceremony, sweating over such important details as which family members would be walking in in which order, and practicing being "stately." This is a huge challenge for my family. But I think we can handle it for a few minutes. My sister and I each get to do a really cool reading -- Laura is doing "Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog" by Taylor Mali, and I'm doing Robert Fulghum's "Union" (yes, the Kindergarden guy). And we also get to walk our dad in. So we actually have to pay attention for a bit.

Sonia & Mark do some quality control on the wineRehearsal complete, we headed to the Tabard Inn for the first of many highly-caloric meals and more drinking! Plus speeches. This is a really bittersweet weekend for the Zs... we are so thrilled for Dave & Meghan but we really miss my mom. It's hard not having her around. And it's hard to watch my dad struggle through this on his own. Fortunately I think we're managing to strike a pretty good balance of celebrating and remembering, and her presence is definitely felt among us. Especially with all the drinking and dancing!

Dave & Meghan do the deedUncle Frank gets DOWNThe wedding on Saturday went off without a major hitch. Yes, it was hot and we were all sweating like warthogs. But a family that sweats together stays together. And there were some minor wardrobe malfunctions, but nothing to call the FCC about. The ceremony was sweet, Dave and Meghan were really cute up there in their fancy outfits, and by the end of it there was not a dry eye in the house. And then it was time for cocktail hour! Followed by a fabulous dinner, and lots of dancing, and maybe a few shots as well. Eric did a great job with his Best Man toast -- short and sweet and funny -- and the bridesmaids had some funny vignettes as well. And did I mention there was dancing? Damn, this family likes to shake their groove thang! Now you all know where I get it from. Special kudos to Herschel & Karen Dorney and Uncle Frank & Aunt Carol, who represented, and then some!

you didn't *know* you were getting a rapper in the family, didja??The hardcore among us trooped out to a bar in Georgetown after they kicked us out of Dumbarton House. Took us a while, but we found a place where they'd let the bride in without ID. C'mon, people, she's wearing a big white dress, cut the woman some slack!

Best Wedding Ever? Well, I already admitted to my brother that the number one spot goes to our friends Dave & Debbie's Elvis wedding at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel. (Sorry, I gotta call it like I see it.) But this one definitely ranks! Great times, great people, and two great families. The Exleys -- and particularly Meghan -- can definitely hold their own with the Zs, and I hope we have some more joint family shenanigans in the near future.

Sunday brunch was a bit ragged, but nearly everyone managed to drag themselves out for some hangover snacks. And then it was time to hit a sports bar in Adams Morgan for the Eagles game. Whew. I could only make it to halftime, especially since the Birds were completely trouncing Detroit. (Hey, I actually sounded like I was paying attention for a minute there!) But it was nice to have one last bit of family bonding before everyone hit the road. Good times, good times! Let's all do it again sometime... like maybe in two weeks, in San Francisco? Oy vey.

PS. Since I already posted a slew of pics from the wedding to celebratejoan.com, there's no point in prepping and posting them here. Feel free to check out Dave & Meghan's gallery, which also includes some great photos from other family members!


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
18 September 2007
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig
So long, Central America, and thanks for all the fish... and sharks... and turtles... and lobsters...

I knew I was officially back in the States when I paid nearly two whole dollars for a pack of gum. Yikes!

My day started out with an early departure from Tina's Backpacker Hostel, where I was only too happy to leave behind my butthead bunkmates who insisted on drinking till all hours (which I have no problem with) and then noisily coming back to the room and flipping on all the lights and having a loud drunken conversation (which I especially have a problem with when I am scheduled to depart early the next morning). I was grumpy and groggy when I slung my pack on for the last time and trudged out to the dock. So it was a pleasant surprise when I ran into Russell, my divemaster buddy from the Blue Hole trip, who was at the end of the dock with a full dive boat awaiting a spare BCD. He offered me a lovely cup of coffee and we had a quick chat before he sailed off to face the Blue Hole and I hopped into the ferry to Belize City.

The rest of my journey was straightforward enough: nice breezy ferry trip to the BC dock, few blocks' walk to the bus station through beautiful (not!) downtown Belize City, hop a bus heading north and ask to stop near the airport, quick taxi ride the remaining 2.5 miles into the actual airport, and wait around for the American Airlines counter to open. I cashed my last traveler's check to pay the gringo fee -- ehm, excuse me, departure tax -- and my flight to Miami left on time and with no drama whatsoever.

It was a nice feeling to return to American soil... until I had to face the horror of the Miami airport. Ten weeks of turbo-chill were handily undone in less than an hour as I was fed through the ugly meat grinder of Passport Control, Baggage Claim, Customs, re-entry through Security, and a mad dash to my gate on the complete opposite side of the airport. Sweaty and exhausted, I somehow managed to make it to my final flight and crammed into a plane full of inside-the-Beltway types with their cell phones glued to their ears and Blackberries clicking away madly. I have to admit that I fit right in, as I was so excited to have my cellie working again that I promptly texted and called a whole bunch of people in the spare five minutes before the flight took off. Which actually turned into a spare hour because -- get this, I couldn't make this s**t up if I tried -- the plane had a SCREW LOOSE. How apropos.

So, I'm back, glad to be home and reconnected with my sweetie, and am looking forward to seeing friends and family in the coming weeks. This week will be a maelstrom of family shenanigans in preparation for Dave and Meghan's wedding in DC on Saturday, followed closely by Drew and Carlisle's wedding in San Francisco on Oct 6, and then a trip out to see Edward & Heidi's B&B in Oregon. No rest for the wicked! I have loads and loads of site updates to do, so watch for more juicy tidbits coming as soon as I can carve out some time. And feel free to queue up for some time on my social schedule, as I would love to catch up with everyone in person!

In the meantime, I'm enjoying some of the simple pleasures of being back in civilization, including:

* internet that doesn't cost $7 an hour!
* a clean kitchen I don't have to share with a dozen other grubby backpackers!
* fluffy towels!
* water that can be drunk right from the tap (and it's hot on demand, too!)
* school buses that actually have school children on board as passengers! and no mounds of luggage perched precariously on top, either!

I'm sure these small fascinations will wear off soon, so I'm reveling in them while I can. Life is good!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
05 July 2007
Ah, the petty indignities of air travel!

oktapodi doesn't like airports muchThis morning was rough, as i expected it would be. Didn't get a lot of sleep and I was really nervous as Mark drove me to the airport. I hate goodbyes! But it's only 10 weeks... And I did get a few last-minute phone calls in while I waited for my flight to depart. (The Corky Buchek tune was a niiiiiiice touch!)

The flight started out very promisingly, with an exit row seat next to a cute couple, he with a bit of an Adrian Grenier thing goin' on. But major thunderstorms in Miami completely FUBAR'd up the entire airport. Many verklempt people, and delayed flights, and gate changes. Blecccch. Ultimately, it worked out fine, and I got to the San Jose airport only a bit later than expected but verrrrrrry tired. Caught the free shuttle, and checked into a ridiculously nice room at the San Jose Marriott to get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow, the journey continues as I head to Tamarindo to hook up with Jeff & Carol.


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
04 July 2007
Happy July 4th!
fireworks on the MallLast day before I depart! Also, conveniently, Josh & Kathryn's annual daylong party on the river. It was nice to take an entire day and do nothing but hang out. (Check out the July 4th pics here.) Despite a midday sprinkle -- definitely NOT the tornado as promised -- and the fact that the holiday fell on a Wednesday, it was a great day with a good turnout.

July 4th Moment of Zen: Josh, Kathryn, Bryce, Frances, two Park Rangers, and I, helping Mark back up across two lanes of GW Parkway traffic to squeeze into a parking space. Nice work, team!

Of course I'm nervous about tomorrow's departure, but at this point all my prep work has been done, and all I have to do is get on a plane! Well, and try to get a bit of sleep...
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments