Friday, April 27, 2007

And practically in my own backyard, too.


Sketchpad in hand (or in backpack, really), I went Tuesday morning to the prettiest place I've seen yet in Virginia (brought to my attention by my drawing instructor*) and purchased a membership just so I can go back and back and back again. How can I not go back to a place that has an Enchanted Forest?

I present the Norfolk Botanical Garden. You won't see any pictures of the Enchanted Forest here, because my battery died once again, somewhere in the middle, but you might see why I want to keep going back.


Because it's like blinking just to find out you've jumped across the Atlantic and back a few hundred years.


Seems like a good place for a coronation, doesn't it? As a matter of fact, I believe they did hold just that here just a few weeks ago.


This romantic little hidden path was not so hidden, but it was a sweet surprise.


This lovely path was blocked off to shelter the baby bald eagles that are nesting in a pine tree (in an 800-pound nest, no less) in the center of the garden. The lovely thing is that there's just one more place for me to explore when I go back. I actually walked through quite a bit of the gardens (settling in the Enchanted Forest to sketch) but there are 12 miles of paved paths -- and countless unpaved paths -- and so there is plenty, plenty, plenty still to be seen.

* She took us to the sculpture garden to draw one Saturday a month or so ago. While living in Europe, I used to see artists sketching or painting in parks all the time, and I always thought they looked so cool. So, well, artiste-ic. And oOn this gorgeous Saturday, as we sat there in the garden, drawing away, a group of Russian tourists came by and very enthusiastically took our picture. And my inner traveler/expatriate is tickled pink to have been a tourist attraction, to have been one of those artists! Now, where'd I put my beret and that absinthe?

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Music Issue

In order to get a free music download, I was forced* to sign up for a Napster free trial a week ago**, and I am so excited that I have been able to hunt down all these songs that I’ve craved for ages – songs that old friends once put on mixed tapes that are rotting away in boxes somewhere, songs I grew up with, obscure songs I’ve heard once or twice and thought I’d never find again – that I am actually going to keep the membership for a while. It’s so wonderful to be able to download songs freely and without guilt for the price of just one CD a month.

Okay, now I’m starting to sound like an advertisement and I’m not that devoted yet.

But I did have a wonderful time yesterday, when, infected with a certain glee, I went on a mad search for songs with the word “radio” in them. I’ve collected songs like that for a while, but this time I was inspired by a set of radio-themed songs I heard on WXPN (the greatest radio station ever) on the way back from Philadelphia, particularly one called “Radio Girl.” How could I not hunt that one down? And instead of just one, I found eight songs called “Radio Girl.” Fabulous. And dozens more with the word “radio.” That doesn’t even begin to include songs that are about the radio but don’t have the word in the title.

So I assembled a playlist with all of the new radio songs and the ones I already had, and I’ve been listening to it for two days now. Here are my favorites so far:

“Radio Girl” by John Hiatt (the song I heard on XPN)
“On the Radio” by Regina Spektor
“You Turn Me On I’m a Radio” by Joni Mitchell
“On the Radio” by Donna Summer
“Radio Girl” by the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash
“Radio Ga Ga” by Queen

And now I’ve just done a search for “Alison,” which feels quite vain, but is so much fun. There are so many, and not all of them are remakes of Elvis Costello’s (which I certainly like but which so many people feel compelled to sing to me). There’s even a version of “Happy Birthday to You” in French (“Joyeux Anniversaire Alison”) . There’s a song by Chris Porro called “Pink Floyd and Alison,” although it doesn’t seem Alison is a source of joy in that one. There’s a punk song by the Huntingtons -- “Alison’s the Bomb” -- which I’ll definitely play when I need a self-esteem boost. There’s even a song called “Alison Waits (A Ghost Story),” the lyrics for which are deliciously spine-tingling. This is what it says on the band’s (Advent) web site:

An Edgar Allan Poe-inspired lyric ("Annabel Lee," according to Arthur Hoffman) served as the springboard for this tale of lovers separated by death and the obsession (or hauntings?) that follow. An atmospheric sea chantey, "Alison Waits" takes on the dimensions of a tone poem, with a lengthy instrumental development section that seems to have made the song an early favorite among those already familiar with Advent's repertoire.

Mmmmm. Fun. Good listening for the rest of the day.

It’s a strange sort of self-indulgence, but it makes me happy and keeps my ears warm.
And lest you think I am totally self-obsessed, I am happy to point out that I also downloaded vast amounts of music by Correo Aereo, whose “La Mariquita” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I know; albums’ worth of songs by Linda Ronstadt (did you know her grandfather invented the flexible ice cube tray, an early toaster and the electric stove, according to Wikipedia?); and multiple versions of “Iko Iko” (I’m a fan of the Cyndi Lauper version but I like the Dixie Cups’ version nearly as much). And I’m slowly hunting down all those songs on my mixed tapes.

Which song would you download first?

* Okay, yeah, so no one was twisting my arm, I know.

** And now that reminds me that after all the hoops I had to jump through to get signed up, I never did go back and download that free song.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Set Back Time

I wish I could.

Nothing I can write will be of much use to the people who are close to this tragedy, but they and the loved ones they lost are in my thoughts. It seems such a cliche to say my heart aches for them, but it is true.

Friday, April 13, 2007

If only... were true. I love burritos.

And then maybe they could send me some El Pollo Loco, too. Although, now that there's one open in Connecticut, I have great hope for the future of East Coast fast food.



From my last drawing lesson. Our instructor had us cover a paper with graphite, and then draw by erasing and using a pencil (9B) to add only the darkest shadows back in. I think it's a pretty good likeness of me. Better than any other self-portrait I've done.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Raggedy Betty

I don't know why her name is Betty. It just is.


A few weeks ago, I got this little yen to make something by hand for my little sister, sweet Olivia. I think the idea was sparked by my mom's gift of these old craft books from her shelves:


I found a pattern for a rag doll in the book on the left, and decided it would be the perfect thing, even though I haven't made any stuffed creatures before, and this one had a lot of pieces. In my usual cavalier, I-have-no-idea-how-to-do-this-but-I-will-figure-it-out-as-I-go manner, I went ahead and made a doll.

Of course, since I am still a bumbling beginner when it comes to sewing machines, I decided it would actually just be easier to sew the doll by hand. This was not an unpleasant experience. Sort of meditative, really. It's sort of like driving a stick versus an automatic. The automatic might be simpler, and easier on the knees, but driving a stick keeps you focused and truly involved with the driving.

I did have to alter some features, including the rotating arms, to eliminate small baby-unsafe pieces.


I'm quite proud of her facial features, considering that, in spite of the fact that I've owned a small mountain of embroidery thread for many years, I have never embroidered anything in my life. I tried making a stem stitch, which I looked up online after reading the instructions on the pattern, but it ended up being more of a fill-in-the-blanks stitch.

I have sewed by hand off and on since I was young, but during the making of Betty I learned a few new, very useful things about hand-sewing:

1. It is totally possible to draw blood with the eye end of the needle.
2. So you should use thimbles.
3. Cut lots of extra fabric, above and beyond the pattern's seam allowance. And make sure that both arms are the same size.
4. It would be a good idea to actually buy some thimbles and keep them around.
5. Band-aids are always useful.
6. It will take three times as long as you think it will.
7. Thimbles.

By 10 p.m. the night before I drove up to New Jersey, Al and I were channeling Project Runway at the dining table, me frantically cutting and recutting fabric for Betty's clothing, trying to make patterns by sight, while he stitched with a machine that stuttered and jammed every five minutes or so. And unfortunately, I didn't judge the clothing dimensions well, so the tailor didn't have a whole lot to work with. But I think she looks lovely. He even embroidered a little bird on the back pocket of her jeans. Which brings us to the last hand-sewing lesson:

8. It is wonderful to have a husband who knows how to use a sewing machine.

But it was all worth the pain and permanent scarring. Betty seemed pretty happy at her new home, with her new pal. Who promptly started chewing on Betty's arm. I think that means Olivia likes Betty, too.

A Day in the Life of Philadelphia

Well, the first picture was actually taken two days before the rest. And it's not in Philadelphia. Forgive me.


Most of the snow was brown and slushy and dirty and nasty. But the snow enchanted the trees, and there's no way I could take a picture to do them justice, because there were no safe places to stop near the trees, but imagine someone throwing a sheet of lace over a forest, and making it glow from within, and there you have it. I was lucky I was able to stay on the road, even without the dangerous picture-snapping-while-driving, because I couldn't stop staring at the trees.

Now, back to that day in the life.


I always try to revisit a few of my favorite places when I go to Philadelphia, and this was one of them. I spent a LOT of time in parks when I lived there, and I was lucky, because there were (hang on, I'm counting) FIVE of them on my walk to work, which was only four blocks away from my apartment (in Philadelphia, that's just under half a mile), and another just on the other side of office building. This, the rose garden, was one of my favorites, mainly because it is in the middle of a block, and so most of the public, especially tourists, don't realize it's there, or at least that it's open to the public, making it the perfect place to sneak a reading break. And when the roses are in bloom, which they sadly weren't this weekend, it smells incredible. The magnolia garden behind this one is also a lovely park, and even more secluded, but the benches are far less comfortable.


I always liked this building, on Market Street. It's at the end of my old alley.


I used to walk past Independence Hall every day on the way to work, and I was always fascinated by the thought that I was walking the same path that Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among others, once did. And this is another park where I spent a lot of time, right across the street from my old office.

Funny enough, I've only been inside once, and it was when I lived there the first time; I was about six years old. I had a camera with me that time, too, a Kodak 110 camera, but I held it backwards the entire time, and when we got the film developed the pictures were all of my ear. I still kept them for years. My packrat tendencies started early. But if I still have them, I don't know where they could be. The pictures, that is. I am still a packrat.


This building, former home of KYW, one of the world's oldest television stations, and once home to The Mike Douglas Show, will soon be history. My dad worked here for many years. Now, KYW has left the building, and Dad tells me it will be torn down soon. I can't believe how bowled over I am. It just doesn't seem possible that it could happen. (Of course, it doesn't seem possible that Veteran's Stadium is gone, either). I spent quite a bit of time running around up on the station's third floor, as a kid in the early 80s, and I have vivid memories of the ice cream sandwich machine in the basement. I am sure the ice cream sandwich machine is no longer there, and probably hasn't been for years, but I am still sad.

At least I got to say good-bye, in a way, and didn't just show up to find a big hole in the ground.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Little Bunny Foo-Foo

Driving through the snow-snow. I'm heading out for a weekend holiday jaunt to Philadelphia (New Jersey, really) to visit my dad, step-mom and baby sister. Wouldn't you know, after weeks of lovely weather in the 70s, it's snowing right now and supposed to accumulate noticeably on my drive. What fun! What excitement! Wish me luck!

Easter was originally a celebration of the coming of spring. Yeah, so what happened to spring?

Well, I wish you a beautiful Easter, no matter what the weather (and no matter what your spiritual beliefs).

In the meantime, thank you all for your visits and lovely comments; I'm sorry I haven't been returning the favor lately but I'll be back soon.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Just Step to the Left

Sometimes I need a reminder that beauty is just a matter of perspective:


Just look at it from a different angle, that's all. Or look a bit closer, or from a bit further away. Or take a few steps to the left or right.


And suddenly, the same thing looks totally different.

Wait, it's April? In 2007?

Where have I been? I think it was just yesterday that I was griping that winter would never end (this being the warmest winter I've experienced since leaving California, it was also one of the most difficult to get through, I think because the cold came so late in the season, just when I thought it never would).

But now it's a bright, sunny 80 degrees outside (27 degrees Celcius). Perfect weather for sharing this photo of the Sierra Nevada Mountains:


and this one (me on the left and my mother on the right):


and this one:


(Yes, after 11 or so years of skiing, I am still a beginner and use the "big, easy" skis. I tried using a different kind the next day, because the girl adjusting the bindings told me she thought I could try faster, more advanced skis, and my ego said, "Oh, yes, do it!" And then where was my ego when I was standing at the top of the mountain, breaking down into tears because the snow was pure ice and the skis were too much for me to handle in such conditions? Nowhere to be found.)

But the pain was soothed and the ego sent scurrying even further away by some good West Coast eating:


On my last visit to southern California, my uncle explained to me why I will likely never see an In-N-Out Burger in Virginia, to my chagrin: apparently, company policy insists that they don't build any restaurants more than a day's drive from their central warehouse. To keep the food fresh and all that. So Reno's about as far as it gets.

Well, I say, I'll take stale In-N-Out over most other food any day. Then again, it's probably for the best. It's hard enough eating healthy as it is. Maybe I'll get lucky and the food gods will bless me with El Pollo Loco out here instead. That's healthy, right? I mean, it's chicken and guacamole and rice and beans.

Haute Cuisine? Nah, just West Coast fast food for me, please.

We drove around a lot while I was in Reno, too. I never really noticed the interesting things when I lived there:





(This is where my brother works right now. They have fabulous carpet:)


It might be the most beautiful kitsch I've ever seen.

My only regret on this trip is that I didn't go visit my good friend Tessie at my favorite place on Earth (so far). If I had just been able to make it up the mountain to a more advanced run, as in, more advanced than the beginner run, I might have caught a glimpse of the lake over the mountain. But I was concentrating on staying upright. So maybe, next time.

Now that I'm back in Virginia, I'll just keep going East and jaunt on over to Paris, thanks to Corey, who is serving up an incredible selection of delicious photographs and allowing her readers to travel along with her. The funny thing is, I could have gone to Paris without even leaving Nevada. Somehow, though, I just don't think it would be the same.