Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ancient History

During my pre-blog travels I relied on emails to keep my family and friends au courant of my adventures.  To consolidate everything in one place (and make these stories more accessible than the "sent" box of my email), I'm going back and entering them as blog posts.  I've already added my Central America trip in 2008, and my Greece/Turkey trip in 2009.  Still to come:  Austria/Hungary/Croatia (2010) and Cancun (2010).  Stay tuned...

Boise - Chocolate Cake

Each of my parents has a favorite dessert.  Mon père loves applie pie, so Lady has developed some knock-out apple pie recipes over the years.  Lady, on the other hand, loves dark chocolate cake, so mon père has spent the past twenty years perfecting his to-die-for chocolate cake. 

And perfect it he has.  His secret formula (which includes various extracts and essences, in various proportions that require measuring down to the milliliter and/or using droppers, as well as lots of dark cocoa powder) consistently produces an ordinary-looking chocolate cake that is pretty much the best thing ever.

Many of the uninitiated have skeptically wondered what all the hype was about (claiming, of course, that their mother/grandmother/wife/favorite restaurant makes a mean chocolate cake), until they taste it.  No one's ever tasted it without asking for the recipe; no one's ever asked for the recipe and gotten it.  It took years before we children got the recipe, and even longer for the in-laws to be let in on the secret. 

Not surprisingly, when my family gets together, there is very high demand for chocolate cake.  And we usually go through at least one a day.  Here we are on Day #2, with Cake #2.  Yummm.


Boise - Family Photos

First, we went to church, where the youth speaker taught us that there are two teams in this life:  Team Hot and Team Cool, and that you couldn't be on both at the same time.  (Initially I was disappointed, since I've secretly always wanted to be on Team Hot and Cool -- then I realized he was talking about temperatures, not physical appearance and personality.)

Then we came home and took family photos.  If we're only going to get all together once every five years, we have to take advantage of the times when we do.  Plus, Ashley made the kids all matching outfits for the occasion.  

And lest you think this was a calm and not chaotic process, here's some footage:

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Boise - Day 1

At long last, and without further trials and tribulations, I arrived in Boise!  Mon pere and Mark met me at the airport in Mark's open-topped Jeep, which made for a fun and windy ride home.  Boy, was it nice to be back in the land of low humidity!

Lady, Heather and Ashley were all still in Rexburg at the Women's Conference, so it was just the men-folk and kids at home.  And there were more than usual of both:  Usually when I visit, Jordan is on a business trip, so it's just Heather and me and their three kids (Brynn, Jaron and Shae).  This time, not only was Jordan here, but we also had Mark, mon pere, me, and -- in from New York for the first time -- Ammon.  The five of us rode herd on the four bundles of (very high) energy called Brynn, Jaron, Shae and Teya (Kellen was in Rexburg with Ashley). 

By the time I got to the house, everyone was ready to get outside and play.  We headed out to the "Nature Park," which had a really great nature walk with viewpoints and exhibits that let us see into the ecology of the river environment.  We saw some ducks, a handful of 7-foot sturgeon, a bunch of trout, a Chinook salmon, a crawfish, and some nondescript little fish.  Then we walked over to the big river to watch people float by in inner-tubes before crashing a tastelessly teal wedding party on our way to the big toys. 

I forgot to bring my camera, but Jordan got some nice shots of the kids.

From left: Teya, Shae, Jaron, Brynn

Once everyone was tired of the toys (or, rather, once the adults were tired of the toys and the kids were just plain tired), we headed over to Fuddruckers for hamburgers (for some of us, elk burgers or ostrich burgers).  While we were eating, we got word that the women-folk had returned triumphant and would be waiting for us at home.  So we finished up, dashed through a sudden wind-storm, and went home to see them.

Believe it or not, this is the first time in five years that our entire family has been in one place.  Ammon, who married into the family in 2006, has never seen Ashley in her full familial habitat.  Until now.  Also?  I finally got to meet Mark's girlfriend, Erin.  They've been dating for the past eight months, but I only learned about it about a week ago, when Erin friended me on Facebook.  I have a policy against befriending random young women who approach me online, so I had to ignore the request until we finally met in person.  Turns out, she's really cool (good eye, Mark!).

In classic Davis tradition, we had a great evening of chocolate cake (that's cake #1) and conversation.  Jordan added a fun twist when he lit up the fireplace and a bunch of citronella candles in the backyard.  It was a good chance for me to play with my night-time camera settings.

From left: Jordan, JJD, Mark, Erin
Lady, mon pere, Ammon

Not all of us were taking this seriously.

Mollified (a little bit)

Check for cracks in the universe.  Or flying pigs.  Or freezing temperatures in hell.  Something's clearly afoot. 

Since when does an airline put its stranded passengers up in a hotel and give them meal vouchers?  Whatever happened to the good old days when we were kicked to the curb and told to fend for ourselves?  Who are you and what have you done to the United I knew and didn't love?  Whatever it is, there should be lots more of it (and a lot less of the old you).

After pain and agony and a lot of godmothering directed toward line minders and underlings (sigh, I can be high strung), I got to the United customer service counter ready for battle.  But there was no battle to be had.  I'd already heard the worst news (no flights till tomorrow afternoon), so it only got better from there:  They'd put me up in a hotel, give me a meal voucher, and put me on standby for the 10:00am flight.  No questions asked; no screaming and hollering; no kicking the furniture; no pound of flesh.

So here I am, at the Intercontinental, much (MUCH) happier than I would have been had I been forced to camp in the terminal. 

And the lesson of this story, is that I have a price.  Back in college my favorite Institute teacher (who also happened to be my favorite Political Science professor) liked to tell us that everyone had a price.  That is, when faced with the right enticement or temptation, everyone will cave.  He liked to illustrate this point by asking us to imagine that Britney Spears was waiting inside the cupboard.  ...  Which never did much for me.  But a spacious hotel room with a cool sink, good lighting, featherbeds with down comforters, and a chaise longue?  All paid for?  Okay, fine. United, you've bought me off (this once).

I want a setup like this in my apartment.

So, so mad

It never fails.  Late-summer travel from the east coast to or through the midwest is always an absolute nightmare -- especially when I try to do do a long weekend with family or friends.  One year I spent 12 hours sitting in JFK and then slept on the floor of the Salt Lake Airport on my way to California.  Another time I was delayed in Minneapolis en route to Boise and my luggage was lost for a couple of days.  Last year, on my way to Chicago, I got rerouted to St Louis and spent the night on the floor there.  Tonight, on another trip to Boise, it looks like I'll be sleeping in O'Hare (unless for some reason United decides to chip in for a hotel; I'm currently waiting in line to find out).

What makes me really mad is that the airline could have avoided this problem. The plane was over an hour late getting to (and leaving) DC, and they knew full well that a bunch of us on the flight would be trying to get onto the Boise flight. They also knew that we landed in Chicago with about 10 minutes to spare -- at the gate immediately adjacent to the Boise gate. We sprinted out of the plane and across the waiting area, arriving about two minutes before 9:00pm, the scheduled departure time.  The plane was sitting at the end of the gangway but, in typical airline fashion, United's response was the corporate equivalent of the middle finger. No one at the gate to help; refusal to open the door and let us on; twenty-minute hold times on the phone; a sprint to the other end of the concourse to get to the customer service counter, only to find myself in what's now passed one hour in line at the customer service desk.  Note, too, that the long line is not due to over-crowding, it's due to severe understaffing:  in a bank of twenty service stations, only six are manned. They've clearly adopted the Post Office school of management.  (It doesn't help, either, that a supervisor keeps walking by promising that help is on the way, when help hasn't materialized for the past twenty minutes.)

[Time passes fumingly]

I finally got through to a representative on the phone, and the earliest I will be able to leave is tomorrow afternoon. Which means that I've lost a full third of my time on the ground with my family.
People say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. I clearly need to stop traveling through the middle of the country this time of year.

Friday, July 29, 2011

On the road again

A mere two weeks after my adventures in Peru, I find myself once more in the airport.  This time, I'm on my way to Boise, Idaho, for a long weekend with my family.  It's allegedly the first time all of my family will be in the same place since my sister Ashley got married some unknown number of years ago.  Whether that's true or not, I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone and having another mini-vacation before settling into the very non-vacation mode of late summer and fall.

And since the airport has free wifi, I've set aside my latest issue of Foreign Policy (current article: Does Obama have a grand strategy? Do we care?) to record some choice vignettes:


[10:00am this morning -- at work]
Tim:  When do you have to leave today?
Me:  Not until 5:00pm -- I'm flying out of DCA, so I'll just take the metro.
Tim:  Did you know that Jeff messed up one day and went to DCA, when he was actually supposed to fly out of Dulles?  It was a complete disaster!  Can you believe that?
Me:  Oh, yeah, a friend of mine did that in New York!  She was supposed to go to La Guardia but went to Newark instead!  That's why I'm always really careful about the airport.
[3:00pm this afternoon -- after I actually looked at my itinerary]
Me:  I need to leave a little earlier than originally planned.
Tim:  Oh?
Me:  Remember that story about Jeff and the airports?  Well, it turns out...


[At the United check-in counter, at Dulles airport]
Me:  Excuse me, I have a quick question.
Attendant:  Sure, are you going to Paris?
Me:  No.


[On the train from the main terminal to the various lettered terminals; the train stops at Terminal A]
Daughter:  Mom, is this where we get off?
Mother:  [after a deep sigh with closed eyes]  Yes.  The feeling says this is the right stop -- it just feels right.  Let's get off here.
[I considered pointing out that the boarding ticket in her hand would confirm whether the "feeling" was right or not -- but then I realized it was much more interesting if (a) she was actually relying on divination to navigate the airport, or (b) had already consulted her boarding ticket and was pretending to rely on divination to navigate the airport]

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Container Gardens

In 2007 I decided to take a job in Washington, DC, rather than stay in New York City.  When I told other people what I'd decided, the general response was bafflement.  Beyond the categorical bewilderment that New Yorkers feel at the concept of living anywhere other than the center of the universe (nowhere is more convinced -- and convincing -- about it's place in the cosmos than New York), and the particular disdain with which they view DC ("it's just a giant SUBURB!"), those who knew me best legitimately wondered why I, specifically, would want to leave New York.  I loved New York:  the food, the opera, the theatre, the art galleries, the energy, the buildings, the style, the shopping, the yoga, the New York Public Library, the center-of-the-universeness, the fact that you could walk out your door at any hour of the day and get a cab.  I had friends there from nearly every stage of my life (high school, mission, college, internships, law school).  And my law firm had a great office in one of the coolest new skyscrapers in town.  It's the only place in the United States where I would wake up every morning and think, Boy, do I love it here!  (I felt that way when I lived in France, too.)

So why did I leave New York?  There were a number of reasons, both personal and job-related, but the one that was most easily captured in a word was this:  Gardens.  I wanted a garden, and I knew that I would never have one if I stayed in Manhattan.  In DC, I wouldn't have everything that I loved about New York, but I'd have a lot of it (the theatre scene is surprisingly good, and there are great restaurants if you know where to look), and for what I couldn't get, New York would only be four hours away.  And in DC I knew that my chances of someday being able to afford a little plot of ground would be much, much higher.

So I moved to DC and, ironically, spent the past three years living in a high-rise apartment with no garden.  It was a great apartment, and I did grow some great giant ferns in the sunroom, but I couldn't grow plants that needed to be outside, and I couldn't really dig in and get my hands dirty without getting dirt everywhere in my apartment, too.

This spring I moved into a new apartment.  It, too, is a high-rise and it doesn't have the wonderful sunroom that my other place did, but it does have a balcony.  Which means I can grow plants outside.

Potting some plants had been part of the plan since I'd moved in -- but other activities pushed it into low priority.  First I had to finish unpacking the inside of my apartment (so I could get all the boxes off the balcony) while balancing a demanding work schedule and hosting duties while Amanda was in town.  Then, of course, I was in Peru for two weeks (and there's no point in planting right before leaving, when there'd be no one to water while I was gone).

By the time we visited Monticello last Saturday, those other concerns had been resolved and Jefferson's extensive plantings had started my gardner's juices flowing.  Then I found a container garden "recipe book" in the visitors' center gift shop and got really excited.

I spent the rest of the weekend and most of last week reading through the recipes in the book, marking the ones that I liked (almost all of them) and trying to figure out which ones would fit into my pots and be suited to the light and heat of my balcony (only a handful). 

Naturally, I didn't use a single recipe.  When I got to the nursery, three things happened: 

First, I felt completely overwhelmed.  I had spent so much time reading about the plant species (sunlight preferences, watering needs, seasonal blooming cycles), design principles (P. Allen Smith had no fewer than 11 in his book), and technical issues (pot material, soil types, drainage tricks), that I had a headful of theory and facts, and not a clue about how to go about sticking plants into pots. 

Second, I was "rescued" by helpful and friendly garden-center employees who promptly crushed all dreams of growing hibiscus (sniff), but then suggested a number of other plants that I would likely have more success with.  They also confirmed my suspicion that 11 design principles is way too many, and that the only ones that really matter are the following:  Put in something tall and spiky, something bushy and flowery, and something that trails.  Most of all, however, they reminded me that planting is not rocket scence.  Aside from some general rules about the amount of light a plant needs, you can pretty much do whatever you want -- especially if all you're doing is seasonal containers.

Third, having finished my tour of the nursery with my gardening mentors, I spent the rest of the afternoon assembling and potting some "recipes" of my own (which turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself).  It's a far cry from the real garden I would someday like to have, but it feels good to have plants growing outside.  My balcony -- and, really, my entire living room -- feels totally transformed.

Big pot (from top): caladium, dusty miller, new
guinea impatiens, candy corn vine
Small pots (from left): dusty miller, fuschia, [blue
flower I forgot the name of]


Clockwise from left: Elizabeth fern, impatiens, coleus, spike,
variegated new guinea impatiens, purple sweet potato vine,
English lavender, silver thyme, creeping thyme, geranium,
creeping jenny


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heat Wave!

According to the Weather Channel, here's what's going on outside right now in Washington, DC:

Temperature:  95 F  (35 C)
Feels like:  112 F  (44 C)
Humidity:  58%

And at my parents' place in Las Vegas? 

Temperature:  98 F  (37 C)
Feels like:  93 F  (34 C)
Humidity:  9%

Just take a minute and think about that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

No Public Vomiting

A gentleman (or, in my case, someone who is trying to behave in a more gentlemanlike manner) ought never to vomit in public.  One should hope to avoid vomiting altogether -- but at the very least public vomiting should be out of the question. 

Alas, I find myself in violation of this principle with alarming frequency.  Indeed, in the past two years, my per-lifetime rate has jumped 200% -- from a respectable once per lifetime to an abysmal three times.  (Be forewarned that what follows is not a pretty tale; I refrained, however, from including photos.)


The first time was perfectly legitimate:  I was flying home from a late-summer visit to my grandparents' house in California and encountered a particularly nasty bit of turbulence on the flight from Detroit to DC.  I held out as long as I could, but there's only so much happy thoughts can do when the young girl next to one breaks ranks and goes first.  (At first I cursed the little minx, but then repented when her mother handed both of us Disney hankies to wipe up with.)


The second time was an underhanded blow from fate.  Finding myself newly employed in a job that paid well but required intensely long hours of work, I decided that, in order to prevent my waistline from expanding at a rate roughly comparable to my bank account, I would join a gym and start working out with a personal trainer.  I signed up at the gym across the street and began training with a guy promisingly named Armstrong.  He tried to convince me that getting strong was easy ("You just have to pick up a lot of heavy stuff") but I found it really complicated and stressful.  There were early mornings and incredibly intense workouts (that reduced me essentially to jello and made walking tricky) in an uncomfortable and foreign environment (my life, to that point, had been significantly more bookish than jockish -- early gym experiences consisted primarily of my asking the other guys to take off their 300-pound weights so that I could put on my 30-pounders).  Those things alone were enough to make me anxious (I'd wake up at 4:45am with a huge knot in my stomach) -- but then my trainer started imposing new dietary rules.  For example, I had to eat (not a foregone conclusion, in my case).  Not only that, but I had to eat a lot, including lots of protein and calories:  meat, peanut butter, vile protein shakes that tasted like doom.  Not inclined to eat in the best of times, I found it infinitely harder to do so under these circumstances.  I was a complete basket case of nerves -- but I was resolved to do my part:  Every morning I'd gag down a quarter of a piece of toast with peanut butter on it and look at a little bowl of applesauce for a few minutes before heading over to the gym.

Then one morning this trifecta of physical exertion, rampant anxiety, and unaccustomed food struck its blow:  I was about three-quarters of the way through a workout, when suddenly I felt lightheaded and nauseated.  I shrugged it off and pushed on (I may not be a jock, but I am stubborn as hell), but my body revolted:  I puked all over the gym floor. 

Naturally, I was mortified.  Never had I done such an undignified thing in my life.  Mr. Armstrong, however, didn't miss a beat:  He ran off to get a towel and a mop, and while he cleaned up the mess (and I pretended I was invisible), he explained to me how this was a sign of just how hard-core I was, because most people would have given up way before getting to the puking point.  (Riiiiight.  Suddenly I knew why I was paying him the big bucks...)


My third infraction occurred today, and this time I had neither an abetting little girl nor a spin-doctor trainer.  This time, I was just plain sick. 

I haven't felt well for the past two days.  I'm not sure of all the causes, but with the number of large and heavy meals I've eaten lately, I think overeating may be part of it.  My stomach was unsettled after eating too much at Brasserie Beck on Saturday, and I continued to take in large portions of heavy food on Sunday (BBQ sandwich at the Eastern Market) and yesterday (fried chicken at Georgia Brown's).  By late last night, I felt horrible.  Despite it being Amanda's last night in the city, all I wanted to do was make myself throw-up and go to bed.  (Which I did.) 

I suspect, however, that despite the fact that I've been taking Cipro and Septra for the past ten days, I may actually have a bug.  I scaled back on the food considerably today, eating only small portions of light fare.  But I felt progressively worse.  By dinnertime the thought of anything more solid than chicken broth was unbearable.  So I headed over to Panera and got a bowl of chicken noodle soup and tried to get some work done there.

I regretted that decision right away.  I was in a downward spiral, and the soup was not helping.  Pretty soon I was holding on for dear life, cursing my (a) having ever left my apartment, and (b) having chosen a restaurant where you had to get a key for the restroom.  In a last ditch effort to avoid total public humiliation (and ruining everyone else's appetite), I managed to empty my drink into my soupbowl and use my cup when the moment of truth came.  And come it did.  Strike three. 

Fortunately, I'm a pretty discreet vomiter (I'm pretty sure nobody was really aware of what was happening).  And once my stomach was empty, I quickly felt better enough to walk home without further incident.  (By the time I got home, however, I was seriously unwell -- despite the mid-90s temperature, I was so chilled that I was shaking uncontrollably, and I felt achy and weak all over.  I abandoned all thought of work and went right to bed.  I slept for about two hours and then woke up roasting.  I got up and nibbled on a few chips, sipped some Gatorade, and sat down to write this post until I felt better enough to go back to bed.)


There's also a remote chance that public vomiting is just the norm in Virginia, and I'm being sucked into the culture of my adopted home-state. 

Back in 2009 I went to a fancy wedding at the Homestead resort.  It was a very nice resort and only a little creepy (I felt like I needed either to be old white Southern money, or to be chased by Jack Nicholson with an axe to really appreciate the place).  The morning after the festivities, a friend and I were surprised to learn (at 10:05am) that the hotel stopped serving breakfast at 10:00am.  Because none of the other restaurants in the resort were open, and because we were in the middle of the Appalachians, our only option was to go to Ruth's Beehive, a little diner in the half-block of "village" that supported that resort.  Ruth's Beehive had been recommended to us as "charming" but couldn't have been less so:  We walked into a sickly salmon-colored dining room where a greasy haze hung in the air.  An unkempt waitress seated us at a sticky table and handed us some slimy menus.  I couldn't focus on the menu, though, because a couple of tables away, right in my line of sight, a grossly obese man sat vomiting on himself.  That's right.  Repeated little gurps that sent streams of mess down his front.  I about died.  Our waitress came back a minute later and asked if we wouldn't mind moving to a different dining room (we didn't mind at all), which turned out to be a shrine to Elvis Presley (complete with Elvis-print curtains and many black-velvet Elvis paintings). 

Despite the change of scenery, we chouldn't get the puking man's image out of our mind, and couldn't help suspecting that there was a correlation between the insalubrious conditions of the place and his gastrointestinal distress.  For some reason we felt bad just leaving without ordering anything, so we ordered the very minimum possible (one slice of Wonder Bread, to share) and left as soon as we could.  Never did I think that someday I would be the guy in the corner vomiting!

Post Script

Let this chronicle of woe be a lesson for you, dear reader, that despite one's best intentions, it's not easy to live the life of a gentleman.  The simplest rules (like no public vomiting) can trip up even the best of us.  Sometimes all you can do is take note, go to bed, and say with Scarlett O'Hara (who had such a hard time living in a more gentlemanlike manner), that "Tomorrow is another day."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Eastern Market

The great thing about having church start at 1:00pm is that there is time in the morning to do things.  Like going to the Eastern Market to have brunch and stroll around the farmers' market.  The farmers cut up pieces of their produce so you can taste it before you buy it (the tomato stalls and the peach stalls are always my favorites).  It's probably not exactly the sort of thing one should do on a Sunday, but every once in a while (for example, on the last Sunday of Amanda's visit), it's a fun thing to do.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jeffersonian Architecture: Monticello & UVA

It's somehow appropriate that Amanda and I should visit Monticello after visiting Machu Picchu.  Both are UN World Heritage Sites that prompt the question:  Why would anyone build a farm on top of a mountain with no running water?
Dining room
The dining room was the highlight of the trip for me.  Last time I was here, it was painted a soft blue color that was very pretty and safe.  Then the curators discovered that it had actually been painted this dramatic chrome yellow.  It was Jefferson's own selection and was the very latest in European fashion (and cost a fortune).  I'd read about the restoration in Elle Decor and was excited to see it in real life. 


Passage from the dependencies to the main house

University of Virginia:  Jefferson's "Academical Village"

The Rotunda

Faculty house, flanked by student apartments


Salon in the Rotunda

Stairways in the Rotunda


View of The Lawn from the Rotunda