Thursday, May 31, 2018

My Memorial Day Holiday Vacation

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Every year I try to go somewhere for the Memorial Day long weekend, even if it's just to my parents' place. This year I visited a childhood friend in South Carolina. The trip got off to a rocky start, but once I was in town, we had a great time!

The rocky start was at the airport (no surprise there). I was flying out of Reagan National Airport, which I had never done before; I only did that because Southwest Airlines did not have any direct flights to Columbia, SC (from any of the nearby airports), so I had to fly American Airlines instead. What a mistake. I got to the airport nearly two hours early (because American Airlines told me to), and when I had just about 20 more minutes until my flight was supposed to leave, I learned that my flight was delayed by two hours. That means I had to wait FOUR hours in the airport. I was so angry! I had to go over to one of the bars in the airport and do a double shot of whiskey to make myself feel better. I wrote complaints on both Twitter and the American Airlines website, but they could not offer me a refund or a voucher (just one more way Southwest Airlines is the best). Then I waited a while on the bus that takes you out to the tarmac, and then we FINALLY took off, and I didn't get to SC until after 9pm when I was originally supposed to land just after 7pm. My friend picked me up, and her boyfriend had bought us pizza for our late dinner (I also enjoyed some more whiskey at this point). And that was the end of Day 1.

Day 2
This boar statue is in downtown Greenville. It's actually a fountain: it's always drooling!
It rained pretty much all day for my first full day of vacation, but we didn't let that stop us from having fun. We made the long drive out to Greenville, SC (yes, there is a Greenville in both SC and NC) and walked around the cute little town.

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We enjoyed crepes for lunch from Crepe du Jour, and I also tried a Borgia coffee, which is pretty much coffee mixed with hot chocolate, orange flavoring, cinnamon, and whipped cream. Yum!

Then we stopped in a few shops before heading to the Dark Corner Distillery for a tasting. Because of Blue State Laws, my friend had never been able to go because she was always in town on Sundays; we also couldn't do a tasting of more than 6 kinds of liquor because of these rules, even though they had 12 spirits to try! So we divided up the list and then shared so we could taste all of the options.

Photo by Danielle Fahey
I thought the spirits were good, especially the gins, but of course I couldn't take any home because I wouldn't be able to fly with them. So I bought a "Whiskey Girl" T-shirt as a souvenir instead. Now I'll have something to wear to every country music concert from now on!

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We made tacos at home for dinner and borrowed Game Night from Redbox for a movie night. I would normally write a blog post for a movie, but this one wasn't worth it. It's a silly comedy but with suspense/violence mixed in, which is not my cup-o-tea. I love Rachel McAdams, but I liked Disobedience more (see below).

Day 3
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Although there was still a bit of rain, the forecast was mostly clear, so we decided it was safe to do some more activities out-of-doors. We visited the local farmers market, which was much bigger than I expected (more than 3 full city blocks!). There was some art work I was tempted to buy for my mom, but again, I couldn't think of how I would safely get it home. The market started closing up just as we were leaving, and then we made our way to the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. This actually ended up being our one sunny day of the trip, so I thought it was perfect timing to see the flowers and animals in the sunshine.

Here are just a few (or a lot...) of photos I took that day:

This fountain is dedicated to organ donors, which I thought was really cool.
This prehistoric beast is an alligator snapping turtle. Yes, that's a real thing!

These are a kind of upside down jellyfish!
These little guys are called garden eels. Pretty cute!
 Also, check out this video:

It makes sense that this starfish is called a Chocolate Chip Sea Star.
We saw someone in scuba gear taking care of the tank.

This is a baby version of one of the big tortoises you've seen. And by baby I mean this thing could be 20 years old for all I know.

This pig is called a Babirusa. It wagged its tail like a dog!
This tapir was keeping cool in its pond.
"I'm king of the mountain!" I saw someone feed him some popcorn. No wonder those meerkats were so fat!

These kangaroos remind me of Romans who just ate a huge meal and are now lounging after some revelry.
This lemur is quite flexible...

After our outing (during which we did get a little sunburned), we wanted some good ol' Southern BBQ for dinner. So we went to nearby Midwood Smokehouse. I had pulled chicken on a salad which was both healthy and delicious. Afterward, my friend had a surprise for me, which I had no idea what that meant...
So many fireflies! Image found here
We drove out to Congaree National Park at about 10 o'clock at night for a night walk. I saw many fireflies, and then my friend pointed out that the bugs were lighting up all at the same time, or "synchronously." Only three species of fireflies do this in the United States, and at this park, it only happens once a year during a two-week period in late May-early June. What perfect timing for my trip! And it was a full moon that night (or nearly so), and it shown down like a spotlight in the park. It was amazing how much we could see on our night hike just from the moonlight; you could even see our shadows as if it were daytime!

Day 4
Photo by Danielle Fahey
The forecast was pretty good for this day, too, so we wanted to do something else outdoorsy. We considered kayaking, but it was a little expensive, and the kayaks looked like open-style kayaks (i.e. you are more likely to get wet), so I was not into that. So we decided to go hiking instead. Table Rock State Park is known for good, strenuous hikes, so we made the 2.5 hour drive out there. By the time we arrived, it was already about 1pm, and we were some of the last people to start the hike (a lot of people were finishing up just as we began). We were told it would take us about 4-5 hours round-trip, so we had to get going! It was a great hike for exercise, and we even enjoyed ourselves in the rain for a couple of minutes. And my friend's dog was happy, too!

We finished up at exactly 7pm, so our hike really took close to six hours (granted, we took breaks and such). We headed to Travelers Rest afterward for dinner, since we knew we couldn't make the drive home on empty stomachs. Shortfields was dog-friendly, so we sat out on the patio and ate dinner (mediocre food and service, but it felt good to relax). Plus there was an eight-week-old black lab puppy on the patio, too, and it was SO cute!

Day 5
I got to see the world's largest fire hydrant. Yep, that's a thing.
This was our rainiest day, so we made this our "staycation" day. We had a lazy morning, and then went out to get our nails done. But all of the nail salons were closed for the holiday! Since we were already in the Vista neighborhood, we went to Starbucks for coffee and then did some shopping at Urban Outfitters (I bought a green sweatshirt for my next Dartmouth reunion, which is still a few years away...). As we were crossing the street to get back to the car, I was almost hit by a Fiat! She was stopped at a red light, and I was crossing IN the crosswalk with the walk sign lit up. I started to cross, and she inched closer. I thought I had made eye contact with her and in doing so believed she would stop, but she kept getting closer, to the point that she was moving me into the intersection as my hands were on the hood of her car! I wasn't scared because it was such a tiny car and she was moving so slowly, but I couldn't believe this happened! I yelled at her and gave her the bird, and she rolled down her window and said she was sorry, blah, blah, blah. People like that shouldn't be allowed to drive!

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After that excitement, we drove home for lunch and baked a banana chocolate bread pudding (recipe for that here). Then we headed to the Nickelodeon (or fondly called "The Nick"), an independent movie theater in downtown Columbia. The tickets were very reasonably priced (especially compared to DC prices), and the theater shows the names of their members on the screen before the movie, which I thought was really nice. We saw Disobedience, a movie about the forbidden love between two Orthodox Jewish women (skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid spoilers!). I thought the film was very moving, and tells a story that is not commonly portrayed but should be told. And the acting was phenomenal. The story takes place over just about a week of time, so not that much happens; my friend pointed out that it is more of a "character-driven" movie than a "plot-driven" movie. The music threw me off a little bit (it seemed to get cheerful in random places), and it didn't have the Hollywood happy ending that I wanted but knew would not happen. It was certainly a somber film, and I was glad we had that banana chocolate bread pudding to enjoy at home after the serious two hours we had just experienced.

After the movie, we played some Boggle (no one will usually play with me, and I think this friend will not play with me again; I'm just too good!) and hung out until it was time to watch the Capitals hockey game. We took an Uber to Hickory Tavern, a local sports bar, to see the game. The food was good and the service wa fabulous; they made us feel right at home. We lost the hockey game, so that was too bad, but we still had a good time at the bar before going home.

Day 6

This was my last day in South Carolina. Since I was flying out of Charleston with Southwest Airlines (thank goodness), we spent the day exploring Charleston, a cute town with lots of shopping.We had lunch at Lowcountry Bistro, where the food was a bit overpriced but the experience of eating out on the balcony with a cool breeze and looking out over palm trees was divine.

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We headed to the Charleston City Market, a famous market in town. There were tons of cute things, especially the handmade crafts, but I think the only purchase made was my friend's new pair of sunglasses. Then we made a stop by Candlefish before heading to the Tanger Outlets, which are just a few minutes from the airport. We were much more successful there in our shopping. I bought tons of exercise clothes (I'll never feel guilty buying that stuff because I know I'll use it), and my friend bought a lot of cute things, too. Then I successfully shoved my new purchases into my suitcase before my flight.

My flight out was delayed, but luckily only by an hour. I didn't get home until close to midnight, and I still need to catch up on sleep from this entire vacation. But it was worth it!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Dierks Bentley Concert

That's me next to his big truck! I'm in my big hat to keep me safe from the rain.
Last week I went to Merriweather Post Pavilion (despite the rain) to see Dierks Bentley perform. I had never seen him live before, and I wasn't about to eat the ticket costs just because of a little (or a lot of) rain. My friend and I were prepared: I wore my raincoat, rain boots, gloves, and a scarf; I brought along two umbrellas; he bought an 8x10 tarp (at my request; I learned the tarp trick when I saw Garbage at Wolf Trap in the rain last summer). I was surprised how many women and girls were wearing cut-off denim shorts and tank tops, like they were hoping the rain would let up that night (newsflash: it had rained all week long and the weekend forecast was no better). But we made the best of it, and the rain may have actually made it more of an adventure!

Lanco was the opener, and I didn't know much about them. So when a group of six guys walked on stage in denim overalls and sunglasses, I just thought, "Huh, there are more singers in Lanco than a thought, and they need a better wardrobe." They sang a few bluegrass song, which also took me aback. But afterward they introduced themselves as the Marilyn Monroe Boys, and introduced the other performers by the wrong name, like Derek Bentley. At that point I realized they weren't a real group, but just all of the performers in disguise (including Bentley, who was wearing a long wig to REALLY hide his identity).

After that, the real Lanco came on stage. The lead singer, Brandon Lancaster, seemed stoned out of his mind, and I was distracted by his denim jacket with a HUGE yellow rose decal sewn on the back (and are those his real teeth? They're almost too perfect...). I didn't know most of their songs, and I was kinda ready for them to be done as soon as they started.

Here a few of their songs:

Trouble Maker

Born to Love You

Long Live Tonight

 Greatest Love Story (This was the only song I recognized.)

Later on the lead singer came out to perform with Bentley, but again, because he was under the influence, he didn't know the words. Instead he sang John Michael Montgomery's Sold. He did a pretty good job, but afterwards Bentley told Lancaster to stop drinking all of the whiskey.

Just for fun, here's the original song:

Then Brothers Osborne came on stage. My friend and I had seem them live before in 2016, but we didn't mind seeing them again. They play a lot of extra instrumental bits at the end of each of their songs, and John Osbborne (the one with the big beard) can REALLY play; he is SO good! I had forgotten that they are originally from Maryland, so it was cool when they each brought out a Maryland flag after their set.

There are some of songs they sang:

It Ain't My Fault

Shoot Me Straight

Stay a Little Longer (This one is still my favorite.)

Finally it was Dierks Bentley's turn. His beard is a lot bigger than in the past! He looked like a mountain man, which I suppose it appropriate for this Mountain High Tour (His new album is called "The Mountain," and he claimed Lanco brought the "high" part.). Throughout his set the background images reflected not only mountains but also other beautiful shots of nature: the stars, lava, fire, ice crystals, etc. I liked that these beautiful parts of nature also have a religious quality about them: the stars are not just outer space but Heaven, and fire represents the spirit of a Burning Man. So I was just as entranced by the background videos as I was by his singing.

He played a lot of songs from his newer album, but I think I'll always like his older stuff better. Here's a taste of his more familiar songs:

I Hold On

Am I the Only One

Somewhere on a Beach

Different for Girls (I was disappointed that there wasn't a woman on tour who could sing this duet with him. Plus, I find it very odd for a man to sing this song. What does he know?! Same with Keith Urban's Female.)

Black (one of the sexiest songs in country music)

What Was I Thinkin' (Classic Dierks)


Say You Do


Woman, Amen

Dierks sang "Drunk on a Plane" as his encore song. Plane and uniform were included in the performance!
 Drunk on a Plane

He didn't sing some of his older hits that I thought for sure would be part of his set list:

Come a Little Closer (I love this song!)

Settle for a Slowdown

Lot of Leavin' Left to Do

This was a fun concert, especially when you consider how horrible the weather was (the lawn was a mud pit by the end of the night; so squishy!). But since it was quite the experience, I think I can check Dierks Bentley off my "seen" list and not see him again. This was a once in a lifetime experience!

*Even though we were in the "front row" on the lawn, the band still was pretty far away, so all of my pictures are from the screens, hence why they may look pixelated. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

My Thoughts on the Royal Wedding

I didn't watch the entire royal wedding, so this blog post is a bit incomplete. But I happened to get on the elliptical at the gym at just the moment when Meghan Markle (now the Duchess of Sussex) arrived at the chapel. Here are my takeaways from the ~40 minutes I watched.

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1. The dress: Her wedding gown was a bit of a letdown for me. At William and Kate's wedding, Kate's lace grown literally took my breath away. Those lace sleeves! The V-neckline! Meghan's boat-neck dress was much more understated, with no lace or beading. BUT that's not to say she didn't look beautiful! Her veil was SO long (16 feet!), and her diamond tiara was dazzling.

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 (Read this article for a complete comparison which is much more thorough than what I have here.)

2. The guests: As I watched, the cameras every once and a while would show a famous star in the crowd. I saw George and Amal Clooney, Serena Williams, Sir Elton John, and David and Victoria Beckham. I know some of Meghan's TV show co-stars were there, but since I don't watch much TV, I couldn't have picked them out even if you asked me to. Who else did you see?

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3. The song: A gospel choir sang a ballad version of Stand by Me, and it was magical; I get chills all over again each time I hear it (in a good way!). Listen:

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4. The preacher: Michael Curry officiated the wedding, and he was great! He has so much passion, and it's just unfortunate that the royal setting and crowd was not as responsive as I'm sure his regular congregation is. Even I wanted to spontaneously shout, "Hallelujah!" or "Praise the Lord!", but no one in the crowd was reacting like that. He was also funny, joking about how he was going to take a seat soon so that the couple could actually get married (slight laughter did spread throughout the crowd, although Kate was pretty stone-faced the entire time). You can hear his full sermon here. His speech also made me think of a few songs:

Imagine (when he was talking about imagining a better world like Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about)

Fire (when he went on a tangent about how fire brought us cooked food, the industrial revolution, automobiles, and the social media that allows us to be "socially dysfunctional" with one another)

5. The fashion: Since I just wrote a blog post about the Met Gala, I'm still on a roll writing about fashion. I saw a lot of light pinks and mauves at the royal wedding, and while those make great nail polishes, I don't love those colors for clothes (it's too "It's a baby girl!" for me). And of course the headgear stole the show; other than the Kentucky Derby, a royal wedding is the only time when hats really get their due.
Oprah's outfit could only be complete with a huge feather puff on her hat. And this isn't even the original dress she was supposed to wear: her first dress was too white, so she made a last-minute change, because Oprah is a classy lady like that. Image found here
The fascinator is amazing, but doesn't Kitty Spencer know that the bigger the print is, the bigger it makes your body look?
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Camilla was also on the pink train. Image found here
I'm not sure I would ever wear a lime green coat dress, but when you're 92 years old (not to mention the Queen of England), you can do whatever the hell you want. Image found here
Cressida Bonas, Harry's ex-girlfriend (awkward...) clearly doesn't hold a candle to Meghan. Those garish horizontal stripes! What was she thinking?! Image found here
Again with the large floral prints: having a big rose around your nether-regions is just a little too Georgia O'Keeffe for me. Image found here
Carole Middleton looks chic in this simply coat dress and delicate floral fascinator. Image found here.
I'm not sure many people could pull off a head-to-toe violet ensemble, but Karen Spencer rocked this purple OOTD.
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Princess Beatrice of York made quite a splash at William's wedding, and this beaded dress is just as unique as the fascinator she wore in 2011. Image found here
What a special day: a real life fairy tale! 

PS: If you like bad lip reading videos, watch this one of the royal wedding. Hilarious!