Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Okay, so maybe it wasn't the really good kind, but you've gotta love a tour bus company that has a sense of humor.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I just love the Book Festival-- it takes the whole space of the Mall between the Smithsonians, and it's packed with people. It's so cool to see so many people going to an event focusing on books. This was also one of the first big events we brought Alice to last year after we got her, and we were super excited to bring her again.
This year, the weather was unseasonably awful-- no more than mid-60s and raining. And yet, they're estimating that over 130,000 people attended-- and many with their dogs, too. A new record! What was extra neat this year is that there were a ton of kids' activities-- writers, tents, book characters, and activities. There were kids everywhere!
One of the special things that they had was Clifford, the Big Red Dog.
Another was... TARGET DOG!
Bullseye was even doing tricks for the kids when they got up for their pictures with him. So cute.
Oh! And the DC K9 Unit was there, too.
The Festival posters (which they also give away at the event) each year are really cool and have a melange of different book characters on them. This year, they had Alice and Wonderland characters on them. We had to get Alice's picture when we found the Mad Hatter flag.
I had one picture that I really wanted to get: Alice with John Irving. Three years ago, a couple of my friends and I went to an event called An Evening with Harry, Carrie, and Garp. It was a benefit reading at Radio City Music Hall featuring Stephen King, JK Rowling, and John Irving. It was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced-- whether or not you like any of the authors, if you ever have a chance to go to one of their readings, absolutely do it. They were all incredible. I'd never read any Irving books beforehand (and sadly, still haven't-- it's on my to-do list), but I instantly became a fan. I really wanted to have little Alice's picture with him.
Between the crowd and umbrellas, the picture was a little tough, but it's close enough.
When we got back to the parking garage, we noticed a great magnet on the car parked next to us:
Gotta love book-lovin' dog people.
Monday, September 28, 2009
The results were astounding.
Here is Test 1: Turkey vs. Tennis Ball.
The turkey wins!
Now for Test 2: Turkey vs. Cheese.
Turkey wins again!
Incredible. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go make a call to those Nobel people.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
I'll give you a hint: Friday night is Pizza Night at our house.
Yes, it's Alice drool. Apparently the pizza last night smells reeeeeaaaaally good to Alice. She sat on the ottoman staring at us and drooling.
By the time I finished and let her have her little pieces, my foot was drenched.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Today is Miss Izzy's third birthday. And this one is particularly sweet. With all of the lost dogs this summer (and now in the news), I just feel so stupidly lucky my folks found her when she ran away.
Hope you have a year full of toys, treats and warm laps, Iz!
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
As I mentioned briefly a couple weeks back, we stayed at The Inn at Meander Plantation, which I’ve since started calling “My Happy Place”. Why, you ask? Because this was the view from the front of the house:
And this was the view from the back:
Gorgeous, peaceful, calm, lovely. I LOVED it.
I actually just stumbled across the place while searching for dog-friendly B&Bs online. I found them through a website that compiles B&Bs and has little pages for each. I loved it from the description and couple of pictures that I saw. There were two things that really pushed me over the edge with it: one, they have cottages on the property; two, they mentioned on this little website that they had a rescue dog with a past and two rescue cats. While it’s much less frequent (or maybe we just don’t notice it anymore), we still occasionally get looks because of Alice’s scars, and the idea of being able to take her somewhere where people wouldn’t give it a second thought seemed… nice; and three, the food sounded awesome.
After I made our reservations, I realized that I wasn’t going to the real website. And “Ooooohhhhhh!!!!” was all I could say. Totally lucked out. Not only did it look even better than it sounded, I found out that the women who run it are both former writers from my neck of the woods in Chicago—and one was a former food writer/chef. While my time in New York was full of absolutely fabulous food, nothing compares to eating in Chicago.
One of the things that they request is that you do dinner there one night. It’s $65 a person, pre-wine, which is a little steep, but it was five courses from Chicagoan chefs—we could go for the splurge.
So I anxiously count the days until we leave. I think I actually started packing two weeks before we left. Or perhaps it was repacking—Alice kept on getting into her bag and taking out her toys.
After making it through DC holiday weekend traffic, the trip was great. Before I moved
here, I never knew how geographically diverse Virginia is: definite metropolises, college towns, old Civil War-type areas, and beautiful rolling mountains. Everything around us was farmland, mountains, and so green. It was just gorgeous.
We got to the Inn and they told us that we were the only ones with dinner reservations that night, and asked if we’d like to either change our reservation to another night or have a three-course picnic basket dinner instead. Asking if I want a picnic is like asking a raccoon if he wants something shiny—I absolutely cannot resist a picnic. We had what has now become one of my favorite dinners ever, with Alice.
That night we walked Alice around the grounds and spent the first night in our darling little cabin. It was perfect.
So let me tell you how much of dog people the owners are. In our room, we had not only a brown towel to wipe off dewy, dirty dog feet and a sheet to go over the furniture so that they could jump on the antiques without damaging them, but here’s the pillow in our room:
Alice had a lot of fun chasing her tennis ball around the room and shoving it under new furniture, but she seemed a little on edge. I got the impression she didn’t understand where we were, why we weren’t home, or why there weren’t people and dogs she knew around. We tried to explain that we were all on a vacation. I’m not sure it registered.
The next day we woke up and had an absolutely divine breakfast. All the breakfasts we had there were three courses, and it’s totally ruined normal breakfasts for me. They should all come with a muffin course, a fruit course, and main meal. That morning, we had absolutely incredible lemon poppyseed muffins, sorbet on grilled pineapple, and omelettes with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and goat cheese. It was incredible.
We got back to the room, and Alice was sitting in her cage, absolutely frantic. We took her out, and discovered that while we were gone, the cleaning crew came through. So not only were we someplace different, strangers were coming into her house! She was a basket case pretty much the rest of the day.
Fortunately, we spent a lot of it outside, visiting vineyards. In total, we went to four. The first one we went to was Rappahannock. I had high hopes for this place—their website seemed great and they expressly stated that they allowed dogs. We drove for what seemed like forever to get out there, and when we finally arrived, we were sorely disappointed. This was the pet area:
We ran inside to see if we could quick grab a bottle, but not only were there no bottles out to grab, they had mainly golf-related wine items for sale. I have no idea why. The real kicker is that the tasting, which was listed as $3.50 on the Inn’s Website, was actually $7.50—and they had no interest in even acknowledging that we’d walked into the tasting area. I’m hoping that we caught them on a really, really off day, and that normally it’s not this lousy. One good thing, though: I got a great picture of Alice near their vineyard.
We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, and it was a super long drive not to pick up a bottle, so we followed signs to another vineyard about a mile away called Oasis. We pulled up to it, and noticed that the front vines looked a little weary, but it was clear that not only did they have a lot of land, they had a gorgeous view and beautiful decks to sit and watch it.
It ends up that the withery vines were because the vineyard went out of business. What a shame! I could see this being the most perfect place to spend a Friday night, listening to music. Fortunately, it does appear from their website that they might be reopening in the spring. I hope so!
Feeling dejected, we started to head home and to hit a vineyard that was on our list called the Grey Ghost. The Inn offered a lot of their wines and its name is awesome, so we figured they were good. But the website was quite eh and they didn’t say they allowed dogs, so we kind of blew it off at first. Note to self: the wine list at a good B&B is a better indicator than a low-tech website.
We decided we’d do a quick run in, taste, and head out. We ended up spending maybe an hour there, in their beautiful yard next to part of their vineyard, eating great cheese and crackers—with Alice. They had zero problem with her being there.
Besides coming home with two great bottles of wine, it’s made me want to really start compiling a list of places in each state where dogs are welcome (so start compiling your own lists, I’ll be asking for them soon).
On our way back to the B&B, we saw signs for Unicorn Winery—the place with the store puggle I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I won’t rehash the story, but I will reiterate that we think Alice picked a fight with Sammy because she was stressed out. I will also say that they were wonderful, their vineyard was wonderful, their Viognier and Traminette are fabulous, we’re saving a bottle of their Meritage for a special occasion, $5 gets you a taste of all 11 of their wines, and I can’t wait to go back there. Oh, and we also came back with awesome wine glasses.
Since it was Friday, and no Friday would be complete without pizza and wine, we stopped at a place called Luigi’s in Culpeper for take-out. If you find yourself in the area, do stop in—they were lovely people and the pizza rocked.
On Saturday, breakfast began with perfect, hot, gooey blueberry muffins, smoothies, and sweet potato pancakes for me (I can’t remember what The Human Male got—some super-looking omelette, I think). Since we were so close and I’ve been dying to go down there for years, we spent the day in Charlottesville.
What a freaking great town. Most of our time was spent on the Downtown Mall (a great pedestrian area full of restaurants and shops), as well as trying to find the Charlottesville Running Company, a running store that Google Maps told me was everywhere from 3.6 miles away in one direction to 364ft in front of us a few seconds later—both of which ended up being in the middle of the same street. We never found it, but I’m determined to go back to Charlottesville and track it down.
We had lunch at a place called Rapture on in the Downtown Mall. Not only was the food awesome, they asked us if Alice wanted a dish of water—then brought out a huge metal dog bowl for her. We were shocked—not only are we used to having to ask for water, we’re used to the little Styrofoam cups!
Along the mall, they also have this HUGE chalkboard wall/sculpture, and an ample supply of chalk for drawing upon it.
Alice’s mood progressed substantially during the day. She started off on our drive down pouty.
But by the time we were eating, she’d been told enough times she was adorable and was back to her old cheery self.
Really cute: after seeing Alice do a high-five, our waitress came over and asked how we got her to do that—she was working with her dog on “shake”. That really touched me—not only did they make concessions for her with the dog dish, they actually showed an interest in her. All in all, Rapture was great.
On our way home, we stopped by Barnes and Noble for magazines. The only reason I mention this is that I’ve discussed taking Alice to B&N before, and that their policy varies by location. At the Charlottesville location (there’s just one), they don’t allow dogs.
On Sunday, we went back home. But not without one last divine breakfast. It started with cranberry walnut muffins, fruit (unfortunately, I can’t remember what was fancy about it), and baked eggs with gruyere. Oohhhhhhh, I’m still dreaming of that breakfast. It was unbelievable.
It was a bummer to leave, but I have to say, it was absolutely the best vacation. We arrived back in DC very mellow, with five bottles of wine and hundreds of gorgeous pictures. I quickly put one up as my work computer wallpaper, and I now reference it whenever work/life get a little stressful. Amazingly, it works.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Murphy, Hudson, and Luke have been walking for about 18 months now to raise awareness of canine (and all companion animal) cancer and the need for more research on it. They're doing this in memory/honor of Luke's Great Pyrenees Malcolm, who developed bone cancer and passed away in 2004. Their blog and website can do a much better job explaining about their mission, so I'll leave it at that.
They were in DC this week to talk with Hill People and sent out a call for walkers to walk with them from the Pentagon to the Mall by the Smithsonians and the Capitol. The event was called The Canine Caucus.
I couldn't think of a better reason to spend a day not working and support the boys in their mission. I was also walking for a reason: my family lost our beloved cat Reggie several weeks ago to cancer. I wanted to walk for him, because there's no reason he-- and my mom-- should've had to go through what they did.
I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but trying to drive in DC is a fool's errand. First, saying that the roads were designed by monkeys is an insult to a monkey's city planning skills. The roads just aren't set up to accommodate 5 million people-- a couple of the main, extremely heavily-traveled interstates are two lanes. Fail.
Second, in a city that's a major tourist hub, the signage is the worst. Wait, let me correct that-- WHEN there's signage, it's the worst. In many cases, it isn't even there. And when it is, the signs are so packed with monuments and other roads, the type is small and you can't read it. They also do the thing where they either have only one mention right at the turn-off (and you, without fail, are two lanes over), or they'll have an arrow to turn off when there's two or three turn-offs on that side.
Other fun things: signs will say to get off to reach a destination, when in fact you don't want to get off there to get to the destination, or they'll put the "get only in this lane" arrow in between two lanes-- or pointing in a direction where there's no lane at all.
Knowing this, I knew I needed to allow extra time to get over there. The event was scheduled to start in Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove, which I didn't even know existed (further confounded by the fact that it renamed as Lady Bird Johnson Park). So I spent a few days looking up different sets of directions (I found several-- all saying to get off at different exits), and allowed half an hour of time to go the four miles. I found some directions on the National Park Service website that were to a Marina (surprise! There's a marina at the Pentagon) that joined up with the park. I feel the need to print these so you can get a glimpse:
- Take right Exit 10 A (Boundary Channel Drive) just past Pentagon/Crystal City (before 14th Street Bridge to DC)
- Merge Right towards the North Parking of the Pentagon
- Continue on in the Left lane around the Pentagon. The Pentagon Lagoon and marina will be to the right.
- Come to a stop sign. There will be a sign that says George Washington Memorial Parkway with an arrow to the right.
- Turn Right and enter Route 27 North (there will not be a sign for 27 North) for a short time (stay in right lane)
- Take first exit Right to GWMP South. There is a sign for Lady Bird Johnson Park to the right on the exit ramp.
- Merge right onto GWMP South.
- Just past yield/merge sign, turn Right into Marina (before the Humpback Bridge)
I tried following these, missed all of the exits (I swear none of them existed), but ended up in the Pentagon's North parking. And fortunately as I drove by, Luke and Murphy were walking across this tiny little parking lot, which had an even tinier sign saying that it was "Park Parking".
I got on some magic road to turn around and ended up in the Rosslyn neighborhood, then found another road (which I think was GW Parkway South) and followed the signs to LBJ Grove and the Marina. And ended up again in the Pentagon parking lot. Luke and Murphy were still there, so I figured these twenty or so spots were the parking. Unfortunately, they had a two-hour parking limit. I knew they'd been in touch with the National Park Service, so I figured that we maybe we wouldn't get ticketed or towed.
So Alice and I parked, then talked to Luke and Murphy for a bit. What a nice guy and wonderful dog. You may imagine that a long-haired guy who packs up everything he owns to walk across the country with his dogs, camping out wherever he can pitch a tent or couching it with strangers may be a little nutty. But in actuality, he seemed completely sane (and the hair is because he's going to donate it to Locks of Love). I knew just how sane when he mentioned he found DC a confusing city to navigate.
There was a little bridge that you cross to get to the park where the meet-up was, so Alice and I crossed it... and found a HUGE parking lot, with no two-hour limit signs. So we decided to cross back over the bridge and move the car-- because, really: how hard can it be to get to the other side of a marina?
Answer: in DC, absolutely impossible. I followed signs to what I thought was GW parkway and ended up at Reagan National Airport. The signage at Reagan is even worse (arrows to middle of lanes, two ways to get to different streets, etcetera, sometimes no signs at all. Although not entirely unexpected for an airport that goes by 17 different names). To get an idea of the range and roadways, here's a map of our area:
Half an hour later, I ended up in the same parking lot, with 14 minutes to spare before the start of the walk. A few other walkers had parked in the lot, so I decided that I could either turn around early (which I'd planned on, anyway), or just trust that even the Pentagon/NPS couldn't tow that many cars in such a short period of time, or that they'd feel so badly doing it after hearing why we were there, that they'd drive us in Hummers and tanks to go pick up our cars at the tow lot.
The turnout for the walk was pretty good-- I'd say probably 50-60 people and 40-50 dogs. The people walking without dogs really touched me-- these were families and their friends who'd lost their dogs to cancer. There were signs, pictures, and T-shirts. It was one of those moments when you saw sad people incredibly happy because they got to stand up and do something against an opponent they had absolutely no power to control. I really loved it.
The walk went from the Pentagon, along a highway (I seriously have no idea which one), across the Memorial Bridge, and to the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool. We stopped at the Pool for about ten minutes to regroup and have a moment of silence. And let me tell you, a big pack of dogs at a tourist spot attracts a TON of attention.
By the way, Alice made a friend on the walk. His name is Bob the pit bull. Bob adored Alice, and Alice thought Bob was pretty darn swell, too. Insert whatever Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice jokes you'd like here.
I had a pretty funny interaction with Bob's owner. Since he was wearing all the pink, I asked what her name was. "It's Bob," his owner said. Having found that not all pit bull owners like saying they have one in situations like this, I asked what kind he was. She did say that he was a pit. I told her that I loved pit bulls, his owner said "Thank you!" I love it. (By the way, I think Bob may have a blog.)
Alice and I walked to about the end of the Reflecting Pool, and then turned around-- we were coming up on the two-hour time limit, and I had an appointment in the afternoon. I didn't really want to have to figure out how to get Alice and myself to the towed car, then scurry over to my appointment. In truth, I think it was for the best. When Alice and I got back to the car (a 3.6 mile round trip), she immediately fell asleep. I think the 2.5 miles out to the Mall and then back would've been too much for her little legs.
Oh-- one of the local news crews was along for the walk, too.
It was pretty funny watching the anchor and camera guy running around trying to get the best shot (and the anchorman was in a suit). That cameraman pulled off positions and shots that you'd think only contortionists could get. Alice was extremely curious about him, too. In one spot he laid down on the ground to get a walking shot, and Alice immediately walked over in front of the camera and stared into it. I think it's safe to say, she may not have a film career in her future.
Alice sightings appear at 1:05-1:07 (along the far front corner of the bridge), and at (I have the brown and white purse-- look down):
As an aside, we talked to Lexie's owners for a bit-- the nicest lady. She told me all about Lexie and how she was rescued from a puppy mill. What a sweet little dog and kind owners.
While I wish we went the whole way, I really feel good that we even walked part of it. Our walk obviously didn't find the answer to curing cancer, but I do feel that symbolically and emotionally, it made a difference. We were a visible sign to those who do have the power to fund research, and it's always nice to find someone else who supports what you're doing.
Oh, and by the way: as I was trying to get to the highway to get back home, I turned down a random road at the Pentagon and no more than two minutes later passed the entrance to the Marina parking lot.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a holiday amongst me crew. Even the scalawag Alice (aka Barnacle Breath Cynthia) be gettin' in on the action by wearing both her knee-tremblin' terrifyin' pirate collar and her special bandanna from Mamala (who landlubbers know better as Black Death Prunella).
Now if you'll pardon us, Sword Jugglin' Sully and I be havin' some pillagin' to do. YAAAARRRR!
Wishin' ye the best of swordfights today,
Cap'n Augusta Roughknuckles