Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rocking My Commute

I have a 23-mile commute (46mi round-trip) everyday, primarily along the Washington DC Beltway (I-495). If you picture the Beltway as a clock, I travel from the six-o'clock (Exit 1) to 9-o'clock (Exit 10) points and back. After I dropped off Dash at daycare today, I checked the Google Maps App on my iPhone (LOVE this app! It's the reason Monkeyrotica gifted me the iPhone in the first place) and saw the Interstate was colored red (very slow traffic) right around my exit. As I approached my exit, I could see that traffic was NOT moving at all, and the ramp to the non-local exits was full of cars. I took the local route.

Here's a screengrab of what 495 looked like this morning, with my route in pink. See the red-and-black segments across the bridge in Maryland? That means traffic is stopped, not moving, you're SOL. I never got on 495, as my ramp continues as a ramp for the next exit, Telegraph Road—I took it and followed Eisenhower Avenue, which is a frontage to the Beltway for about four miles.

The next exit to merge with the Beltway is Van Dorn, and Eisenhower Ave conveniently ends right there. I ramped onto 495 at a point where there's usually heavy volumes of merging cars and there was NOTHING—only about three or four cars, including me. The rest of my commute, which typically takes 30-45 minutes? I sped through in 15. All the cars that were normally clogging the roads were stuck in Maryland or Occoquan, VA.

Woot! It's rarely this easy to navigate a bad snag. Anyway, now I'm at work. Have a great Wednesday, everyone!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Philly, Day 4: Come Again Some Other Day...

On our last day in Philadelphia, the sun came out. I swear, with the rain clouds gone, the temperature jumped 40 degrees within hours. We took the kids straightaway to a playground that was already heavily populated with all the local kids, happy to playing in the bright, lovely air.

We picked up some deli sandwiches to have for a picnic lunch at Chickie's Deli. The grass was really, thoroughly wet on the circle in front of the Academy of Natural Sciences Museum, but that wasn't stopping me from eating al fresco (Monkeyrotica ate from a comfortable, dry bench, several meters away). What a beautiful day!

Inside the museum, we experienced a looming Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, Rosie admired the taxidermy polar bear, Dash sampled what life might be like as be an amateur archaeologist and tortoise wrangler, and we saw a butterfly habitat up close.

Goodbye Philadelphia! You're not too far away, and we didn't really catch you at your best. We'll visit again soon.

Philly, Day 3: Damn, it's Cold!

I know, I'm really dragging these posts out with details on the only trip we've taken as a family unit EVER (all other overnight trips have been with extended family). Here we go with more photos and riveting commentary!!

So, for you, my friends, here's the obligatory shot of us with the Liberty Bell — done. See, there we are! Don't we look stiff and cold, with our hats, coats, and extra layers? We were so frigid that immediately after leaving the Bell's museum, we decided to scrap our tickets to Independence Hall (a mostly outdoor tour) and go straight to a children's clothing store to buy shivering Rosie some extra clothing and Dash a raincoat. I did pack a lot of extra clothes (Dash was wearing my 2nd scarf), but we just weren't prepared for it to be in the 30s, raining and blustery when it was practically April (it would be 70 degrees the next day). True to form, Lolli Lolli was selling bathing suits and Summery frocks, but I scrounged a few items out of the deep-discount, off-season sale rack.

From here, we had lunch at Lee How Fook's Tea House in Chinatown, where we were the only customers. Dash made friends with the waitress and ensured us some excellent service (he's such a charmer). After lunch, we went back to the hotel, had more baths and stayed warm until dinner.

We ventured out again for the HIGHLIGHT OF THE DAY, Jones Restaurant! We scuttled the four blocks to Jones, hobo-umbrella flapping inside-out and back, and settled in immediately. The atmosphere was comfortable and family friendly, the waitstaff was quirkily pierced and tattooed, the music piped in was eclectic 80s and 90s tunes (I recall hearing The Cure and Love and Rockets, among other familiar bands—I was their demographic), and the menu was pure comfort food. The kids split fried chicken (Dash) and waffles (Rosie). Even better, there was a full bar offering fabulous cocktails. Here are a few photos of us really enjoying ourselves at Jones. I don't think there's anywhere quite like it in DC. I suggested to our waitress that they open a franchise in our area, to which she responded that they did have plans to start a location in Atlantic City. If I do make it to AC, I'll check it out. Going to Jones is like visiting an old friend's house—an old friend that loves to cook and has a great bar.

It's time to get these kids in bed:

Next up, Day 4: Come Again Some Other Day

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Philly, Day 2: Museums We Loved (but didn't photograph)!

On Monday, we got up bright and early to enjoy the hotel's complimentary breakfast, where we found that all the other guests were foreign (well, one couple was from Montana, does that count?). Thankfully, all the items they served were foods that both Rosie and Dash would eat. After we filled up on cereal, bagels, muffins, fruit and coffee, we bundled up in extra layers, raincoats, hats, scarves, and gloves. With umbrellas at the ready, we headed out for the one-and-a-half-mile walk to the Franklin Institute.

At the Frankin Institute, I waited in the long lines to get tickets for everyone. The basic tickets included just enough of the exhibits to engage the kids—the "Body Worlds and the Brain," IMAX theatre and all the extras would be too much. As we walked in, we were just in time to line up for the Planetarium, where they were showing a special presentation, "Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity," narrated by a particularly classy voice-over actor, Liam Neeson! Rrowr. The animation for the visualizations were spectacular. They were showing planetary phenomena that no-one has actually seen, all speculation, but it was so well-executed (and well-narrated!) that heck, I believed it! When Red Giant stars go super-nova, they implode, and the energy plus the gigantic force caused by that implosion feeds on itself, sucking everything around the star inside, causing the black hole. Then, there was a bit about Einstein's theory of relativity and some really cool grid-line simulations that I though I understood at the time, but, um, *shrug*.

Then there was a bit about big locomotives, then some fancy aerodynamics hand-on exhibits where Dash sat in the cockpit of some stinky old shabby aircraft DASH GOT TO RIDE A PLANE! Now, Monkeyrotica had been playing up the "climbing through the giant heart" that he recalled from his grade-school field trip. The kids loved it—we went through twice, when many other claustrophobic souls dropped out shrieking early on. Sure, it was some painted fiberglass that has seen better days, but it's a great teaching tool. Squeezing through the tight "ventricles" while a throbbing "lub-dub" surrounds you and simulated red and white blood cells speed past overhead was pretty exciting.

From there, we hit the gift shop and headed just a 1/2-mile away for lunch at Oh! Shea's, which served acceptably decent pub food with a nice house-brand root beer. Just three blocks away was our next destination, the Mutter Museum Of College Of Physicians Of Philadelphia. This oddity actively prohibited photographs, with burly security attentive docents ready to give you the smackdown if you attempted a cameraphone pic. If you can hunt down the Discovery Channel's special on the Mutter Museum, you'll pretty much see everything we did, jugged guts, dessicated foetal mutations, eye and skin diseases, genetic disorders. Needless to say, our kids were the only ones in there under 14.

We schlepped it back the 1.5 miles in the rain to the hotel, with one stop for me to replace my hobo-umbrella, which was turning inside-out with every other gust of wind. We stayed in for a breather, let the kids splash in a hot bath, then headed out to the Brauhaus Schmitz, an authentic German restaurant about 5 blocks away. The kids were getting kind of loopy at this point, crawling under the table, playing with our phones (photo of Dash doing exactly that!) and such. We ended our day with cookies and tea back at the hotel.

Next up, Day 3: Damn, it's cold!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Philly, Day 1: Road Trip!

After departing for Philly, handing the kids an iPhone and a gameboy micro so they could be perfectly distracted and play games while we drove, we planned a stop at Maryland's Havre De Grace vintage prefab, Bridge Diner.

Dash patiently waited for his order (a hotdog, of course) while leaning on the vintage formica tabletop. Rosie cheerfully watched all the locals playing Keno. She was unsuccessful at figuring out the game (as were we all).

I started out our trip with sunglasses on, but somewhere between DC and Philly, the sun disappeared, the shades came off, and I didn't need them until Mr. Sun reappeared about four days later. We dropped our bags at the lovely Morris House Hotel and immediately set off for somewhere to get a drink. Despite Philadelphia's Blue Laws we managed to find a bar in the Jewelry District that had its Sunday sales permit, Coco's. The kids were in a great mood, munching potato chips and watching the easiest to follow of television sports, BOWLING, playing on all the big screens.

With umbrellas in tow, we stopped back at Morris House to have tea, check in, and unpack. We really enjoyed our room, which had a master bedroom (with its own door!) and a fold-out couch for the kids in the living area. The one item that we all looked forward to at the end of a cold, wet, Philadelphia day was the bath. It was large enough to fit both kids (and a couple of friends) AND had jacuzzi jets! Heaven for itchy-fingered four-year-olds.

After changing out of our hobo-traveler duds, we walked the five city blocks to City Tavern, an 18th century tavern with too much Flash on its website. The kids tromped wistfully past darkening, moist gardens that beckoned them to scamper through, but we had reservations to make. Monkeyrotica enjoyed the historic microbrews very much, with Yards Brewing Company's General Washington's Tavern Porter as a favorite. He picked up a 6-pack of the selection before we left town. For appetizers, Monkey had fried oysters and I tried out the duck sausage. I ordered the Braised Rabbit, which was lovely (but waaay too much food for little me—I finished half), and Monkey had the Rack of Lamb, and for some reason, we ordered Dash $18 worth of sausages. Rosie picked at an item from the "Award Winning Children's Menu."

We allowed the kids to scamper through one garden that was still open as the wind picked up, and the drizzle really got annoying. We were fairly blown back across Washington Square as we headed back to Morris House and its promise of hot tea, a roaring fireplace, and freshly baked cookies in the lobby. I sipped green tea and pretended interest in W Magazine; Dash and Rosie scarfed several chocolate chip cookies before we hit that delicious bath and turned in for the night. Next episode: Day 2: Museums that we loved, but didn't photograph! (Have you noticed that for some reason, the Strings family only takes photos while we're at meals?)

"Captain Dash" Superhero!

I took Dash (& his new haircut) to a superhero-theme birthday party
this weekend.
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