Tuesday, August 31, 2010

365 Challenge, Day 45: Aaron's Book Club (Part Two)

One of TJ's new coworkers gave me what is probably the most thoughtful gift I have ever received for my birthday this past March.

Flag Day had occurred two weeks prior to my party, and this particular co-worker showed up to the event with a copy of Pedro Páramo, by Mexican author Juan Rulfo.

I had never heard of the book, or author, before. Neither had he, though he went on to explain that he had learned that Juan Rulfo had been a very famous author that lived near Guadalajara. He thought that, were I to read Pedro Páramo, I would have something to discuss with the locals once we arrive at post.

He was right.

Over the course of the last two days, I finally made time to read Pedro Páramo. I find only a little shame in admitting that I have no idea what it's about.

Don't get me wrong...I loved the book. It's just one of those that you have to read a second time to understand.

Pedro Páramo is the story of Juan Preciado and his mission to fulfill his deceased mother's last request - that he journey to the town of Comala and meet his father, Pedro Páramo, whom his mother had left prior to his birth. The journey leads him to what can best be described as a ghost town. There are no people here. Only echoes of the past. Echoes that Juan is inexplicably able to interact with.

What follows is a whirlwind story that left this particular reader with more questions than answers.

Told in a style known as "magical realism," Pedro Páramo takes place both in Juan's present and Pedro's past. There are no chapter divisions to tell your mind when the story flow changes. You must remain sharp or risk losing your sense of direction...just like Juan Preciado. By the end of the novel, I was not even certain that Juan Preciado still existed...or if he ever had. I think that was the point, but a second reading will tell me for certain.

I start my Spanish class on Tuesday. Pedro Páramo will most assuredly stay on my book shelf, to be read again at a later date. I like to think that, when that day arrives, I will be able to comfortably forgo the English language translation that I currently own in favor of a Spanish-language copy.

As someone that likes to read, I had already considered the fact that finding English-language books might be more difficult while living abroad. Now, thanks to this birthday present, I am eager to read more from the local talent, in the local tongue.

What better way to make new friends than through their entertainment media?

Monday, August 30, 2010

365 Challenge, Day 44: Kitchen Help

TJ made a delicious steak and potato dinner this evening. There were plenty of leftovers for tomorrow, too...

...until he made the mistake of letting Chloe out before putting the food away.

At least she's nice enough to do the dishes when she's done.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

365 Challenge, Day 43: Couch Potatoes

Um. Yeah. No personal photo from me today. TJ and I spent the entire day playing with the dogs, eating pizza, and watching the last half of Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season, courtesy of Netflix Streaming.

Have you seen this show? If not, you should. Buy it. Rent it. Stream it. Do whatever you must. Just watch it.

For those of you that are married or partnered, I'm sure you will agree that, sometimes, nothing in the world makes for a more perfect day than vegging out on the couch with your loved one.

This was one of those days.

Special thanks to Joey, for recommending this show...and to TJ, who continues to remind me that the photo of the day, much like the day itself, doesn't have to be spectacular. It just has to be real.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

365 Challenge, Day 42: Life, the Universe, and Everything

In Douglas Adams' science fiction masterpiece, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, supercomputer Deep Thought is tasked with discovering the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. After 7 1/2 millions years, Deep Thought finally determines the Answer to be "42." Unfortunately, The Ultimate Question itself remains a mystery.

I had a racquetball date at the Jewish Community Center this morning. Camera in hand as I walked down 16th Street, I expected today's photo to be a shot of the JCC, or perhaps the racquetball courts within. Instead, I found this church...

And in front of it, a sign that stated the following:

What Is The Connection Between
Dan Brown's
The Lost Symbol
and Church of the Holy City?
√ p, 463, 12th line from the bottom!

Having read the book prior to leaving Orlando, I certainly couldn't remember any sort of connection between the two. "The Lost Symbol" was the only book in Dan Brown's Robert Langdon trilogy to not feature the church prominently. I had assumed this would be a good thing, as I recall neither "Angels & Demons" nor "The DaVinci Code" painting Christianity in a positive light. So what, then, could be contained within the pages of this third novel that warranted attention? Since my copy of the book is currently housed in a storage facility somewhere in Maryland, courtesy of the US Department of State, I headed to my local Barnes & Noble to find out.

To provide some framing for what you are about to read, I will say that this (very minor) plot point revolves around a threat by the story's antagonist to release an edited (and thus, out of context) video to the media that demonstrates a number of rituals sacred to the Freemasons.

"With the exact model number, Nola had been able to cross-reference compatible carriers, bandwidths, and service grids, isolating the laptop's most likely access node - a small transmitter on the corner of Sixteenth and Corcoran - three blocks from the Temple."

That's it. Really. That's what all the ballyhoo is about. That was boring. I already knew that the church stood at the corner of Sixteenth and Corcoran, as would anybody that passed by. That couldn't be what the sign meant, could it? I doubted it, so I read further.

"Nola quickly relayed the information to Sato in the helicopter. On approach toward the House of the Temple, the pilot had performed a low-altitude flyover and pulsed the relay node with a blast of electromagnetic radiation, knocking it off-line only seconds before the laptop completed the transfer."

That didn't tell me anything, either. So instead I decided to look the church up. It took some digging to find just what type of congregation one would find at Church of the Holy City, but I finally discovered that it is part of the National Swedenborgian Church.

Like me, your first thought was probably, "The what now?" Sadly, Wikipedia offers more information about the church than the official website. Click here to learn more.

Emanuel Swedenborg has been compared to Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith in a number of ways, including their mutual reference to the highest heaven as "celestial," in concert with the usage of the apostle Paul (Corinthians 15:40-42).

Now, given the fact that three other structures share the corner of Sixteenth and Corcoran, I feel that the church's perceived connection to Dan Brown's book is just as flimsy as this blog's introductory paragraph is to the body of the text, but there you go.

And at least this is Day 42 of the 365 Challenge.

  • The angle in degrees for which a rainbow appears
  • The eight digits of pi beginning from 242,422 places after the decimal point are 42424242
  • In Judaism, the number of the "Forty-Two Lettered Name" ascribed to God
  • Fox Mulder lived in Apartment 42 at 2530 Hegal Place, Alexandria, Virginia in Fox's The X-Files
  • Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson's jersey number
  • Number of gallons in a barrel of oil
  • 42nd Street is a popular movie, musical and thoroughfare in New York City
  • The number of illustrations in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 41: Holding On

    OK, confession time: In Wednesday's blog ("Letting Go"), I may have inadvertently made it sound as if I was ready to, well, let go of all of my childhood fancies.
    Yeah. Not so much. These bad boys (and girls) are staying right where they are. But this is my last childhood vice.

    It's not like I'm doing drugs. But this is probably more expensive. And addictive. Sigh...

    365 Challenge, Day 40: Shakespeare? In Love!

    The Shakespeare Theatre Company opened its 2010-2011 season last Thursday with a Free For All presentation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, featuring Queer as Folk's Randy Harrison as Sebastian.

    Free For All is a much-loved Washington tradition that offers free performances of a Shakespearean classic to the general public. Tickets are offered via on-line lottery, and today was my lucky day!

    Click Here for information on how you, too, can attend a free showing of one of Shakespeare's great comedies.

    I will be the first to admit that I had no knowledge of Twelfth Night beyond its title and author prior to this evening. In fact, my sole reason for attending was for the chance to see Mr. Harrison on stage (advanced warning for like-minded individuals: Harrison only appears in one scene during Act I, though does feature prominently in Act II). Plot synopses are available all over the Internet, so I won't bore you with details.

    Shakespeare usually provides great source material; it is up to the cast and crew to deliver a top-notch production. I can now say that, Harrison or no, this performance offered one of my favorite theatre-going experiences to date.

    In fact, we will likely be entering the ticket lottery again. Please disregard the above link. I don't need the competition.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 39: Letting Go

    Comic Books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I would spend most of my summer vacations, and a couple of hours after school each day, at my grandparents' house. My mom would help my PaPa take care of MiMi...and when she died, mom took care of PaPa as well. To keep me entertained, I would always be given a couple of bucks to take down to the corner store, where I could buy candy and comics.

    When I was 9 years old, the Tim Burton Batman came out, and my interest in comic books became an obsession. At 12 years old my attention turned to the X-Men, who were hated and feared for being born different. Hmm. What could a gay kid growing up in central Texas possibly take away from that?

    Comic Books became my means for escape. If I was made fun of at school (sometimes), if I had a bad afternoon at football practice (always), or if I felt that I would die old and alone because nobody in my small town knew what it was like to be me (dramatic, wasn't I?), I could always escape into the world of adventure my comics provided.

    My hobby was addictive. I couldn't stop. Over the years I would lose interest in one franchise, only to gain interest in another. I would sell off parts of my collection, only to rebuy them later when interest returned. At any given point, I would have approximately 3000 comics in my collection.

    I continued down this path all through high school and college, and even into the first few years of my relationship with TJ. When we decided to buy the house, we both agreed (him much more readily than I), that this was a hobby that a) was expensive and b) took up a lot of space. I sold off the majority of my collection and made the decision to only buy the occasional trade paperback (a collection of storylines).

    Well, occasional turned into weekly, and I once again found myself obsessed. As before, my interest in certain franchises would wane, and I would sell my TPBs, only to replace them with others. It was odd. I no longer harbored the emotional attachment I felt during my younger years, but still could not bear to stop. Now it was merely habitual.

    When we moved to NoVA, TJ begged me to put the comics in storage with the rest of our belongings, but I couldn't do it. I had to bring some of them with me. We would be living here for nine months. I would need them, right? Funny thing is, I didn't. With minor exception, I have neither bought new ones, nor looked at the ones I already own.

    Life in Virginia has been filled with new adventures. I've met a lot of new people. I've started this blog. I've developed an interest in photography. I've joined a racquetball league. I've explored religion. I'm about to learn a foreign language.

    I no longer have time for the escapism that I enjoyed, and needed, in my youth. Sure, I still eagerly await the summer blockbusters that are inspired by these same comic book characters....but I no longer feel the need to read about them with any sort of regularity.

    I have found a website that purchases private collections. Before the week is over, what remains of my collection will be sent to them. When we get to Guadalajara, I will sell the comics that were placed into storage prior to our arrival in NoVA. Profits are negligible, but that's OK. I just need them to be gone. TJ's right...these things DO take up a lot of space.

    Marvel and DC (my preferred publishers) both offer digital downloads via iPhone and iPad. Some are free, others are available for $1.99. They don't take up any (physical) space, and they are much cheaper than tangible copies would be.

    I always download the free ones, but haven't really read them yet. Still, it's nice to know they are there, if I ever change my mind.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 38: Temple Micah

    When TJ and I began our exploration of Reform Judaism in Orlando, we were advised that, first and foremost, we would need to take an Introduction to Judaism class and find a rabbi to sponsor us on our path to conversion.

    Conversion typically occurs when either A) a heterosexual couple is preparing for marriage and one partner decides to share in the other partner's faith, or B) an individual makes the personal choice to convert.

    Given our unique situation (dual-conversion, same sex-couple), we knew that we needed to find a unique place to meet our needs in the Metro DC area. And we did.

    Temple Micah (One of "America's 25 Most Vibrant Congregations," Newsweek 2009) is a Reform Jewish congregation located on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, DC.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 37: This TV Smells Like Double Talk

    Now, don't get me wrong. I adore my new television.

    But why is it that, when TJ wants to buy fancy electronics, it's ok....

    but when Aaron suggests a night out at the bowling alley, we need to be frugal?

    It's probably because he's a crappy bowler.

    That's ok. I have my Wii to keep me company.

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 35: Endangered Species

    To your right, you might see a modest collection of FSO's, friends, and family gathered together for a relaxing weekend BBQ at Oakwood Apartments in Falls Church, VA.

    What I see is an Endangered Species. A photographic representation of missed opportunities.

    TJ's training class consisted of approximately 95 individuals from around the country. They all have varying levels of education and work history. Unique life experiences. Different motives for being here.

    They are coworkers. They are friends. They are family.

    Some already lived in DC. Most moved here for the job. All started this adventure together.

    And they are becoming an endangered species. One by one, they are being dispatched across the world to serve our country.

    Something I have noticed at gatherings such as this is that nobody really takes pictures. Sure, the occasional photo will pop up on Facebook, but for the most part these adventures go unchronicled. I know that this was my first time to take photos at such a gathering...and that I was the only one to take photos.

    Why is that, I wonder?

    For me, personally, I know that I have typically been afraid to take such photos. What is and is not appropriate when surrounded by your partner's coworkers? Are people as insecure about having their picture taken as I am? Are people annoyed by the "picture taker" in the group?

    I'm trying not to be bothered by that stuff any more. You really can't be when your mission is to take a picture every single day for an entire year.

    I wish I had started this project sooner. So many of my favorite people have already been sent to their overseas assignment. Some, I have pictures of. Others, I don't.

    I can only hope that our paths cross again.

    I also hope that, if such a BBQ happens again, I can man up and start snapping shots before half the group goes home.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 34: Come on Barbie, Let's go Party

    I think I've been enjoying my Drag Bingo prizes way too much.

    Barbie makes Ken an offer
    he can't refuse.

    The morning after.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 33: You're Too Big To Fit In Here

    What do you get when you take one Jeep Compass and fill it with three guys, a bunch of stuff yet to be unloaded from my June trip to Orlando, a 60" Sharp Aquos LED television, and a Samsung Blu-Ray Disc/DVD Home Theater System?

    You get the most dangerous and crowded three-mile drive ever. But, damn, this tv is beautiful.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 32: Drag Queens and Barbie Dolls

    Tonight's adventure led us to Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant in Crystal City, VA. Freddie's offers a relaxed environment with numerous themed nights. Tonight's theme? Drag Queen Bingo! For anyone not in the know, Drag Queen Bingo is nothing more exotic than a regular game of bingo hosted by....you guessed it: Drag Queens.

    I suppose the concept can be shocking for the uninitiated. It was certainly shocking for the heterosexual couple that walked in mid-game, took one look at the stage, gasped, and quickly scuttled out the door. Lame. Some people need to broaden their horizons a bit.

    Bingo is free, though it is appreciated if you dine or enjoy a couple of drinks while playing. We were kind enough to do both. We've been to Freddie's a handful of times, and even once before for bingo. That night we left empty handed. Tonight, though? Tonight, TJ won a round of Bingo from which he walked away with a a Ken doll and a copy of Pet Sematary on DVD. I proceeded to win a round from which I walked away with a copy of Harry and the Hendersons on DVD.

    Then, in a thrilling three-way tie, I lip-synced for my life to The Black Eyed Peas' "I've Gotta Feelin" against an old gay and a hot muscly gay for a Barbie doll and a portable charcoal grill. The audience was either pleased by my sexy performance or thought I looked handicapped and took pity on me. Either way, I won by round of applause. I totally needed the Barbie so Ken wouldn't get lonely, but was nice enough to give the grill to the hot muscly boy, who performed a strip tease in an unsuccessful bid for the crowd's vote. Sadly, our friend Michael (a first timer) walked away with nothing. I assured him that the second time must be the charm and encouraged him to go again sometime.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 31: When Dieting, it is Important to Have Supporters

    Barely two days into my diet, and TJ thinks the best way to show support is by making a bee-line for the Dairy Queen the moment we arrived at Tysons Corner Center.

    He enjoyed his Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard while I snacked on the memories of junk food long digested.

    That's ok. I will look skinnier even faster if he keeps eating like this.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 30: Is That House For Sale?

    Living in Falls Church, VA, I feel kind of isolated. Back home, we are the proud owners of a craftsman home located within walking distance (a pleasant one hour walk) from downtown Orlando. On the weekends we were able to walk downtown and catch a movie at the Plaza Cinema Cafe, or feed the ducks on Lake Eola, or have brunch at The Breakfast Club, or have a drink at Pulse.

    In Falls Church, I could walk for an hour in any direction, and I think I'd still have to call a cab to get anywhere interesting. That's the price we pay for being pet owners. Much like parents have to give up certain freedoms when they decide to have children, pet owners have to give up certain luxuries when they join the Foreign Service.

    The Foreign Service offers housing within DC, but with two dogs and a secret kitty (nobody knows she's here....shhhh!) we don't quite meet the requirements for in-District lodging.

    We don't mind (too much), though. We love our babies and would never give them up for a nicer apartment.

    Looking at the beautiful houses in the Dupont Circle area, however, does make one consider the notion of purchasing a second home.

    Within walking distance, we could have drinks at JR's or Cobalt. We could have brunch (or a really late dinner) at Annie's. There is a dog park nearby. Whatever we chose to do, we wouldn't be at the complete mercy of the Metro.

    Given the fact that at some point in his career TJ will be required to do a US-based tour, and that he will likely have to return to DC for further language training before being posted in a non-English or -Spanish speaking country, there is a pretty solid case for looking at real estate.

    Not right now. One mortgage is enough.

    But maybe one day.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 29: Reflections on Turning 30

    I was a chubby kid. 250lbs at my heaviest. The result of lots of baby fat combined with junk food and minimal exercise. Thanks to a strict diet and intense workout routine, I lost 65lbs during my sophomore year of college. I even managed to keep the weight off for a few years.

    When TJ and I started dating, I was happy. I didn't worry about what I ate. I didn't worry about working out so much. Over the last seven years my weight has fluctuated constantly between 215 and 235. No baby fat this time. Just lots of junk food and minimal exercise. Every now and then I get gung-ho about working out and eating right. I lose some weight, feel better about myself, and fall back into old habits, perpetuating an endless cycle.

    When I turned 29, I promised myself that I would get back down to 185lbs before I turned 30. This time, I would keep it off. I wanted to live the rest of my life not worrying about my weight. That was the best birthday present I could give to myself. The day I turned 30, I was no closer to that goal than I was on the day I turned 29.

    Tomorrow, the 365 Challenge turns 30. Tonight, I weighed myself. I was shocked to learn that I am now 249lbs. One pound shy of what I remember as my heaviest. I don't think I look as fat as I did in college. Baby fat looks different than adult fat. Even so, there is no arguing that I'm a big boy.

    I took a photo tonight, but I'm too embarrassed to show it to you right now. It's a picture of me, first episode of The Biggest Loser style. At some point in the future, I will show you this photo. It will happen at one of two milestones: either when I reach my goal of 185lbs, or when the 365 Challenge hits its 365th Day...whichever comes first.

    I wasn't going to post a photo at all tonight, but TJ reminded me that the point of the 365 Challenge was to post a photo every single day. He said holding onto it for later was cheating. He was right.

    I reminded him that many of our coworkers read this blog. I reminded him that many of my friends read this blog. He didn't care. He said posting the photo would be ballsy. He didn't think I could do it. He was right about that, too.

    But I hate it when someone tells me I can't do something. So, in the meantime, here's the blurriest and least mortifying I could make the photo that I am holding onto for a later date.

    I realize that I have just admitted something to the world that I try to keep hidden. I realize that I have just challenged myself to something that could end in my utter embarrassment.

    I'm ok with that. I think.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 28: An Open Letter to Virginia Drivers

    Dear Virginia Drivers,

    I do not like you in your car
    I want to hit you with a bar
    I do not like you here or there
    I would not like you anywhere

    I do not like you, you big louse
    I do not like you, or your spouse
    I do not like your big sedan
    And I can't stand your minivan

    You cannot drive on the interstate
    You fill my heart with such hate
    North or southbound, you still suck
    I cannot believe my stupid luck

    An hour and a half became four
    My day turned into such a bore
    At Kings Dominion I wanted to play
    Yet on the road I wasted my day

    Four hours there and two hours back
    Almost gave me a heart attack
    Once we arrived at our destination
    We turned right around out of sheer frustration

    I do not like you in your car
    I want to hit you with a bar
    I do not like you here or there
    I would not like you anywhere

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 27: Shabbat Shalom

    Perhaps the most difficult aspect of our move to Falls Church, VA was that it coincided more or less with TJ's decision to pursue a Jewish lifestyle. He began attending services in December. We moved in February.

    I've never been particularly religious. I believe in God...it's organized religion that gives me the heebie jeebies. Still, TJ's decision left me feeling a little concerned. Whereas before I was content to live in blissful agnosticism, I suddenly feared for my eternal soul. If TJ became a practicing Jew, did that mean he would go to heaven? And did that mean that I would go to hell? Would TJ think that I would go to hell?

    A requirement for conversion is the completion of an "Introduction to Judaism" course. TJ enrolled in a class that was scheduled to begin the week after our move to Virginia. Since it only cost $25 more for me to take it, I tagged along for the ride. All else failing, at least it would give me some background on Jewish culture.

    Throughout the sixteen week course, I found myself falling in love with the idea of Judaism. I was surprised to learn that religion has very little to do with it. That is to say, religion has as much or as little to do with it as you choose for your own life. Judaism is a culture, a way of life. It's about remembering the past, embracing the future, and respecting your fellow man. There is no clearly defined idea of what God is, or what happens after we die. Questions are encouraged. It is more important to learn from what the Bible teaches than it is believe that any of it actually happened. Religious text and meaning are seen as a product of the times that must adapt with society. These were concepts that I could get behind, and I began to see conversion as a possibility for not just TJ, but for myself as well.

    The trouble began when I started openly discussing the subject with my friends. They would all get that look on their face. You know the one. They would ask why. I found that I couldn't articulate my reasons. This embarrassed me. As the course neared completion, I couldn't think of one good reason to convert. The trouble is, I couldn't think of one good reason not to convert, either.

    Discussing religion is hard. It is awkward. It can be embarrassing. Everyone either has a really strong opinion about what the right religion is, or has at some point in their lives been so scarred in the name of religion that it has left a negative impression on them that is hard to shake.

    Having these discussions with religious leaders are even worse. Whatever our beliefs, thoughts, mindset, etc., we don't want to offend them. And in a case such as mine, where conversion is a possibility, we don't want to anger or disappoint them. It's nerve racking.

    I met with my rabbi sponsor shortly after class ended in June. I confided in her that I was unsure about conversion but didn't want to throw in the hat, either. She suggested that I take some time...do some reading....do some thinking, and get back with her in August.

    My meeting is scheduled for August 24th. I still don't know what to do. But I know what I will tell her.

    I will tell her that every time the Westoboro Baptist Church holds a protest, I catch myself saying "Ugh. I'm so glad I'm Jewish...oh, wait." I will tell her that every time my 'father-in-law' posts something hateful on his Facebook page about preserving the sanctity of marriage, I am grateful that the Jews don't feel this way (well, reform Jews, anyway). I will tell her that even though I don't attend services very often, and even though I haven't done much Jewish reading this summer, there is nothing more peaceful than a Sabbath dinner with TJ.

    I might even tell her that she scares me a little bit.

    Shabbat Shalom

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 26: Legally Rained On

    When your evening plans consist of watching a traveling production of a Broadway show at an amphitheatre, this is not the view you want to see from your windshield on the way to the venue:

    TJ and I had tickets to see Legally Blonde: The Musical at Wolf Trap this evening, and venue policy is that the show goes on, rain or shine. No amount of concern regarding lighting was going to change the ticket booth's mind about a refund, either. We arrived in time to see plenty of rain...

    ...and were fortunate enough to see a little bit of shine before the show began.

    Wolf Trap is probably my favorite performance venue in the entire world. Well, ok, maybe not the entire world, but the small part of it that I have seen? Absolutely.

    In the 1/2 year that we have lived in Virginia, I have already seen three shows at Wolf Trap: CATS, Mamma Mia!, and, now, Legally Blonde. We have plans to see The Sound of Music there in early September.

    Wolf Trap offers the standard admission for those that are afraid of the elements: $80 or so for a normal cushioned seat in the orchestra pit or balcony. For those feeling a bit more adventurous, there are the $20 lawn seats. The lawn is available on a first come, first serve basis, and opens about an hour before regular seating. Those that opt for the lawn are able to bring a picnic and the alcoholic beverage(s) of their choice. The view is decent, the option to have a picnic is charming, and, on a less rainy evening, the view of the night sky during intermission is breathtaking. Although there were none to be found tonight, I am typically enchanted by the plethora of fireflies to be found at Wolf Trap...a sight unseen in Texas and Florida.

    And let's not forget the uncanny ability of a bottle (or two) of wine to make everything better as the evening progresses.

    I make no bones about how much I miss Florida, or how ready I am to move to Guadalajara, but every now and again, something like Wolf Trap reminds me to live in the moment...to just enjoy the here and now.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 25: Nom Nom Nom

    Chloe's Favorite Snack

    Sorry for the boring dog pics, folks...Not every day is going to be exciting in a 365 day photo blog. I do work from home, after all!

    Today, you are enjoying another picture of our beautiful leggy blonde. Tomorrow you will be treated to photos of our outing to "Legally Blonde: The Musical." See? That's more exciting!

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 24: Family Values

    After watching an episode of Wife Swap, in which four more parents learned the importance of spending time with their children, TJ and I took the kiddos to the park.

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 23: He Came Bearing Gifts

    TJ's flight landed around 1:07AM . He was sick (food poisoning?), he was tired (long flight), and more than anything he was ready to be home (cuz I'm awesome and he missed me, duh).

    Along with two weeks' worth of smelly clothes and all of the beauty products that he snuck into his luggage, leaving me defenseless against the ravages of my early thirties for two solid weeks, he brought home some nifty souvenirs (that I have forced him to model for your entertainment): a hand-woven alpaca wool blanket, a marble llama statuette, and some wood carvings inspired by a local Ecuadorian artist that he enjoyed.

    Although I was practically a useless zombie at work today, it was nice to visit for a while when we got home from the airport. We've never been separated for this long before, and it kinda sucked. Everyone needs their space sometimes, but 16 days is pushing the limit.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 22: Aaron's Book Club (Part One)

    Today, I'd like to talk to you about glee.

    No, not the hit FOX television show. No, not the wildly popular music that is currently trending more iTunes downloads than American Idol.

    Instead, I want to talk to you about a new book series based on the television show and music.

    Let me preface this by saying two things:

    #1 - I don't normally read "literature" based on television programming. I tend to think it's trite, unimaginative, and unnecessary. Not to mention the fact that it usually contradicts the media it is based on.

    #2 - I was bored today. And I love me some glee.

    It was a quick read. Something one might finish off during an afternoon at the beach. As for me, I burn easily, so I read it in bed.

    All told, glee: The Beginning was much better than I expected, and I seriously recommend it to any and all "gleeks." The book delves into events occurring prior to the pilot episode of glee and does a great job of establishing a status quo for the main cast.

    My biggest concern about the transition to the written word was that there would be an inability to enjoy the musical numbers. I was right in that fear, but it is such a trivial concern. After a season with the glee kids, the show is more about the characters than it is about the singing. And thanks to the written word, I feel that I understand each of them better than I did before.

    And that's what makes glee so great. No matter how old you are, no matter how far removed you are from high school, you can stilll relate to these kids. Each slushie thrown in their faces, each coming out story, each struggle with weight, each desire to be more popular. We all know, to some extent, what they are going through. The humor is but a backdrop. These are the laugh-to-keep-from-crying moments in everyone's lives. If you don't watch glee, you really should. If you do watch glee, you should read this book.

    The book was penned by one Sophia Lowell. If her name sounds familiar, I couldn't say why. A Google search shows that this was her debut novel. She is working on a sequel, though, that is due in February. I'll be picking that up, too.

    Oh, wait. Can I get a volunteer to please pick this up and mail it to Mexico?



    Saturday, August 7, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 21: My Date With Zac Efron

    Why do you think that, as a society, we are typically too embarrassed to go to a movie by ourselves, to eat dinner alone, or to have a solo night at the bar?

    It is because we are afraid that other people, people that aren't by themselves at the moment, people that we don't even know, will think poorly of us. A number of irrational fears run through our minds: Will they think we are ugly? Boring? Mean? Dumb? Anti-social? Bad in Bed? Hygiene deficient? Lonely? Friendless? Spouseless?

    The fact remains that we are our harshest critics. Those people? They are too busy living their own lives to pay any attention to ours.

    Knowing that doesn't make going out in public alone any easier, though.

    I have never eaten in a restaurant by myself. During my days working in an office, if I felt the need to go out to lunch and I was alone, I would typically park my car at the far end of the lot and eat there, away from the judgmental eyes of others. On the rare occasion that I have eaten alone in public, it is a 10-minute stop at a fast food restaurant with my iPod blasting the world around me into oblivion as I inhale my food as quickly as possible.

    Other than being dropped off at the theater by my mom to watch "The Lion King" for the second time in the summer of 1994, I do not think that I have ever gone to a movie alone.

    And I have most certainly never gone to a bar without a companion.

    Last week I posed the question as to whether or not I have made enough friends here to entertain me while TJ is in Ecuador. As it turns out, I have. I've been more than occupied with dinners, trips to the mall, sightseeing, and club hopping. But sometimes I just want some time to myself. And since I work from home, sometimes I just want to get out of the apartment.

    And so, today, I went on a date with Zac Efron.

    I drove to Ballston Common Mall this afternoon and dove headfirst into the easiest of the three alone-in-public nightmares: I took myself to see a movie. Charlie St. Cloud, starring Zac Efron.

    I got there right as the previews were starting, and was admittedly relieved to find that I was the only person in the theater. There was no one to pass judgement! This was short lived, as, to my horror, two girls walked in shortly thereafter, stopped at my row, looked at me, and started whispering.

    Of course I feared that they were talking about me. Look at him. He's alone. I wonder why people hate him? The hussies.

    Yes. They had to be talking about me. Because it couldn't possibly have had anything to do with the fact that I was sitting dead-center, best seat in the house, and they were looking for the next best location.

    That one instant notwithstanding, I had a great time. Although it's not something I plan on doing often, I am now confident that I will not melt into a puddle of shame if I go to a movie alone. I think I'd even like to try lunch alone, sans iPod, sometime soon.

    But I'm still not going to a bar alone. That's just crazy.

    (PS: If you remove Efron's smoldering good looks...Charlie St. Cloud is STILL an amazing movie. It's a shame it will be judged solely on the fact that it stars the High School Musical alum.)

    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 19: Wise Old Chloe?

    The iPhone aficionados among you may have heard of a little app called FatBooth that will take a photo of you and, well, chub you up a bit. This app is always a hit among friends, and typically captures some rather mortifying moments. I've tried it on real people, photographs, illustrations, and even action figures, and the results are always hilarious. When you try it on your pets however, it just doesn't turn out right.

    Instead of fattening them up, it tends to give them an older, more distinguished appearance. I present to you Chloe, and her more seasoned digital counterpart.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 18: One Step Closer

    These are the rings that TJ and I share. We wear them as a symbol of our love just as a heterosexual couple would.

    But there is no marriage to act as a legally binding contract of our union. We cannot file our taxes together. I am not covered under his government sponsored health insurance. We had to fill out special forms when we purchased our home to ensure that neither of our families could take advantage of the survivor if one of us were to die unexpectedly.

    The federal government has not yet deemed it necessary to intervene in the individual states' right to decide on this matter. That may change soon.

    This afternoon, CNN broke the news that California's Proposition 8 has been overturned. Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker has ruled that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. There will, of course, be an appeal. I doubt it will bear fruit. Prop 8 has lost many of its initial supporters, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Should the appeals fail, it is very likely that this matter will quickly make its way to the Supreme Court...where it belongs.

    Hatred, intolerance, and paranoia still exist. The fight is not over. But the GLBT community won a major battle today.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 17: The Three Soldiers

    For Alfie's last day in town, we made a mad dash through the National Mall, Cheesecake Factory, and H&M. All things that don't exist in his new Appleton, WI home. Poor Alfie.

    Yesterday I briefly mentioned the fact that I thought I looked fugly on Sunday but cute on Monday (and, for the record, I looked cute today, too!). I was amazed to learn today that statues have their "off days," just like people.

    The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a three-piece tribute to the brave men and women that gave their lives during the Vietnam War. I always feel a little uncomfortable here: My Uncle Tommy, who passed away last Christmas, served in Vietnam. My father, his brother, was drafted, but managed to avoid the war due to a car accident. If not for that car accident, I'm not sure that I would have ever been born.

    The memorial consists of: The Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women's Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

    Of the three pieces, my favorite is the Three Soldiers statue. There's something very masculine, yet tortured, about it. I always find myself mystified by it, and apparently, so do the crowds that gather around it daily. People don't talk here. They just...look. When friends are visiting, I always make a point of showing them this statue.

    I was saddened to find that the statue was unavailable for public viewing due to an ongoing restoration in May. I was also confused, as I had thought the statue looked fine when my friend Patrick had visited in March, just two months prior.


    Alfie was fortunate enough to see the fully restored statue today. And now, so can you. It's absolutely beautiful. And the change in foliage doesn't hurt, either.

    March 2010

    August 2010

    There is a series of four photographs on display at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art in which the artist photographed himself sitting on the same park bench during each of the four seasons. After looking at my own spring and summer photos of The Three Soldiers, I am suddenly grateful that we will not be leaving NoVA until mid-November. I'm hoping for an early snow this year...

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 16: And I Thought Taxidermy Was Weird

    If the last few days have taught me anything, it's that no matter how many times a visitor drags me to a museum that I have already been to, I will always find something that is either new or that I simply missed on a previous visit. Today proved to be no exception.

    Above you will see a photograph of Doctor Grover Krantz and Clyde. In life, Krantz was a professor of anthropology at Washington State University and Clyde was his beloved 160-lb Irish wolfhound.

    In death, they are an exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Krantz donated their bodies to science upon his death in 2002. In 2003, they were put on display at the museum so that they could be used to help scientists teach human and nonhuman skeletal anatomy in relation to biomechanical function. Or something.

    None of the information available clearly specified whether or not Clyde was already dead at the time. One can only hope so...

    On a completely unrelated note, I thought Alfie and I both looked kinda fugly in the skycoaster photo from yesterday, so here's a cute one we took today.

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    365 Challenge, Day 15: Xtreme Sky Flyer

    One of the things I wanted to do during Alfie's visit was take him to one of the nearby amusement parks. We're both Orlando boys, so we're used to theme parks on every other corner. I figured it would be fitting. Of the three options available to us (Kings Dominion, Six Flags America, and Busch Gardens Williamsburg), I opted for Kings Dominion, as TJ and I already have Season Passes, and I'm kinda cheap.

    Alfie decided this morning that he wanted to give the skycoaster a try. For the uninitiated among you, a skycoaster is an attraction in which riders are hauled to the top of a launch tower and then dropped to the ground, where they swing on a cable tether until brought to rest. Perhaps the most important thing to know about a skycoaster is that they are operated by third party vendors. What this means is that despite having paid $40+ dollars for park admission, you STILL have to pay to ride the skycoaster.

    It has always been my personal policy to never pay for rides inside a park that I have already paid to enter. It just feels...wrong. Alfie, however, does not agree. And with that in mind, I fully intended to let him flail in the air to his hearts content as I watched from the cost-conscious ground. When he went to purchase his ticket, however, he learned that, if I were to ride with him, he would save six dollars on his own admission. Always up for the perception of cost savings, Alfie agreed to pay $23.99 for my admission so that he could "save" $6 on his own.

    It was at this point that I learned something about myself. It was never the $29.99 entry fee that bothered me ($23.99 with a buddy!!!). It was the 153-foot drop. I had no idea that you could hide a fear of falling behind a frugal facade.

    The damage was done, the ticket purchased, the harness secured. No backing out now. A guy has to keep up appearances after all. So up I went. And down I fell. Screaming all the way.