Friday, December 28, 2007

Best Music of 2007

Screw Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, and "holiday cheer" - I love December for all the delicious year-end lists. Best (and worst) movies, TV shows, and books all have their own special appeal, but for me nothing beats the best-of lists for music. Several websites compile their own lists, which provides an interesting opportunity to compare how different readerships (listenerships?) and critics weigh the relative merits of each album. Where do they overlap? Where do they diverge? Which albums are really the best??

See what the pros have to say:

And now I humbly provide my own Best Music of 2007 list, available here. That link provides my explanations, of a sort, but I'll reproduce the list here in the interest of completeness.

  1. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
  2. Caribou, Andorra
  3. Radiohead, In Rainbows
  4. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin
  5. Lily Allen, Alright, Still
  6. Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
  7. Iron & Wine, The Shepherd's Dog
  8. The Hot Toddies, Smell the Mitten
  9. Patrick Wolf, The Magic Position
  10. Okkervil River, The Stage Names

Runners up: Andrew Bird, Armchair Apochrypha; St. Vincent, Marry Me; Arcade Fire, Neon Bible; The Shins, Wincing the Night Away; Battles, Mirrored; Rocknoceros, Dark Side of the Moon Bounce.

Until December 2008!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bloody Antietam

My fake siblings Jon, Darren, Sarah, Yvonne, and I belatedly honored Veteran's Day with a trip to the Antietam battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD. On the bloodiest day of the Civil War in September 1862, 23,000 soldiers were killed, missing, or wounded. See my powerful reenactment of a dead Confederate soldier below:

From Antietam

Click on the link for other tasty photographic treats, courtesy of Jon.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Second Swipe with the Old Rag

From Old Rag Hike ...

"What, another boring foliage shot, AB?"

Yes, dammit. I happen to be slightly obsessed with autumn. When I was living in California and Hawaii the turning of the leaves was easily the thing I missed most (just don't get me started on the things I now miss from those places).

Back to the event at hand: a wonderful hike of Old Rag at peak or close-to-peak foliage. Amazing weather and large crowds greeted us when we arrived at the trailhead at 9 AM. An hour later and we certainly would have had our patience tested on the trail. To clarify for those of you unfamiliar with the mountain: Old Rag's famous rock scramble to the summit is full of narrow and often difficult passages through the rock, which naturally creates bottlenecks when the crowds increase. Fortunately on the way up I had none of that, and hiking down again the same way (foolish foolish foolish, but Jon made me) we managed to wiggle our way down a weird alternate route through the worst of the bottlenecks. My thighs have been in pain ever since, but it was absolutely worth it. Perfect, perfect day.

PS - for another write-up of the same trip (one could even say a better write-up), see Jon's account.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Adventures in Paris (not THAT Paris)

From Myron Glaser ...

Last weekend I managed to finagle a day off work (a holiday, even - not "personal leave"), which I planned to spend hiking in the George Washington National Forest before heading over to Paris, VA where friends Jamie and Kevin had rented a PATC cabin for the weekend. Well, long story short, the hike was a bit of a bust, and on top of that, the guy I was caravaning with, John, somehow got his car stuck in a ditch and we were compelled to spend the next 2+ hours driving to Front Royal (for cell service), calling AAA and waiting for the tow truck, driving back to the GWNF, and finally towing that sucker out.

Fortunately John's car was undamaged by the whole fiasco. And we were still able to get to Paris early enough so that it was still light out for our rainy 2-mile hike along the AT to the cabin. Saturday was spent sleeping in, eating pancakes (I was the flipper), and hiking a roughly 10-mile loop of the AT in the Sky Meadows area. The day was just gorgeous and sunny, and the foliage was beautiful (see also the picture of my "rainbow tree" at the top of this post).

Sadly I had to leave that evening to get back to DC for the New Pornographers show, but I felt like I managed to make the most of the trip. And now I've realized that these PATC cabin/hiking weekends are pretty much the most fun and wonderful thing I do.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Steeple chaser? I hardly know 'er!

From International...
After having attended the Virginia Gold Cup (a spring event) for the past couple years, I finally had the chance to check out the International Gold Cup today. Fewer hats and sundresses, more corduroy and tweed, but otherwise the same sweet combination of tasty victuals, fashionable friends, and thrilling races prevailed. I spent my time almost exclusively in the role of bookie, taking $1 per bet and calculating payout by dividing the number of bets by the number of betters on the winning horse. (At the dire risk of boring, this creates some interesting wagering strategies. Most interesting was the case of my friend Morey, who placed a dollar bet on every horse in the race. Think about it...there are some interesting possibilities there). Anyway...

Did I mention how good everyone looked? Did I mention that we owe this all to the fabulous Jeff?

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Visit to the Decidedly Non-DC Northeast

Lucky me! After several months (a year?) of pestering Jeff, I managed to score myself an invitation to visit the famous King Family Camp, a beautiful cabin tucked away in rural West Topsham, Vermont. For 48 hours, Jeff ran me and fellow traveler Ann ragged, first stuffing us with delicious Vermont food and then hustling us up the White Mountains. I think if he had been inclined to charge, Jeff could have made a pretty penny off of us for his awesome tour-guiding! Check it:

Trip Journal
Made our way to Jeff's cabin in Vermont via the Manchester, NH airport with relatively little drama (other than Jeff's thrilling attempt to drive down the wrong side of I Street). Jeff cleared out the two dead mouse bodies and dispatched a large spider, thus making the cabin about as critter-free as possible. Jeff couldn't get the gas stove working, but the futons and wool blankets provided us with as toasty a bed as we could wish. Ann and I were naturally delighted to discover there's no outhouse at the King Family Camp.

Saturday - Eating our way around Vermont
We indulged in a rather late sleep-in, then hit the Waits River General Store for breakfast. This was to be the first of SIX food stops over the course of the day. We made our way through the gorgeous countryside and eventually ended up at the Cabot Creamery, where we took a tour (they were making Habanero cheese) and tried absolutely everything on the sample table. Vermont cheddar is the BEST. Next we made a stop at the Morse Farm Sugar Works, where of course we learned all about sugarin' and got to sample all the different kinds of maple syrup. I was raised on the fake stuff, but how can you not fall in love with maple syrup, eh? The rest of the day included stops in adorable downtown Montpelier (for lunch), at Ben & Jerry's in Waterbury (for the free sample at the end of the not-so-exciting tour), at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill (for cider and the most delicious doughnuts ever), and finally in Burlington (for sunset, dinner, and the Red Sox game). Stunning scenery all around. Foliage to die for - even a covered bridge! Yes, I've seen this stuff before, even in VT, but the power of simple beauty never fails to amaze and awe. Also, Vermonters are so damn friendly! I definitely think I belong in a less populated area, at least personality-wise. Too bad I'm hooked on things like concerts, opera, public transportation, amenities, etc. etc.

Sunday - White Mountains hiking
After picking up breakfast at Dunkin' Doughnuts and lunch sandwiches at a deli in Woodstock, NH, we arrived at the trailhead for the Old Bridle Path at Franconia Notch. Over the course of two hours, we ascended 2,000 ft in three miles and ended our trek at the AMC's Greenleaf Hut. Needless to say, the views were breathtaking. So was the hike, actually, in a more literal sense. The ascent got my pulse racing and the descent made my knees ache, but I loved every second.
Our mountain adventure tired out even trail-blazer Jeff, so you can imagine our joy when we discovered our flight back to Baltimore was delayed nearly an hour. We killed the time by chatting with a fellow passenger who recognized us from the hike (small world!) and eventually boarded and took off. I didn't get to bed until 1 AM - and I was the first home (poor Jeff, stuck driving all day!). But, in the end, even if I hadn't gotten any sleep at still would have been worth it. When are we going back already, guys??

Monday, September 17, 2007

Good Gauley, Miss AB!

Back from a gnarly weekend taking on the wild waters of West Virginia. Radical!

<---Lower Gauley rafters
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

TMBG Builds a Birdhouse in My Soul

Those of you who know me (and presumably that's everyone who reads this) are aware that I am a rabid music lunatic who attends more shows per month than I have fingers and toes to count them on. I rarely (if ever - can someone do a search on this for me?) post anything here about the shows I see because I don't usually have anything important to convey about them. Especially not when I compare what I would write with what my friend Dana does on her concert blog. Anyway, point being: the fact that I'm bothering to bother you with my thoughts and feelings on the They Might Be Giants show at Ram's Head Live yesterday should speak volumes about how amazing it was. How amazing they were.

My feeling with regard to concerts is that, on a scale from 1-10 in awesomeness, all bands start with a 5 and move up or down from there. Points are awarded not just for sounding good, but for the frills and sometimes thrills that differentiate seeing a live performance and listening to a studio recording on my Bose. The Giants get a 10 for their show yesterday. The songs were great and included classics like Particle Man and Birdhouse in Your Soul, as well as choice selections from their new record The Else. But what put them over the top was the theatricality and personalization of the show. During one skit involving a phone call from "beyond the grave," Edgar Allen Poe (Baltimore celeb) called in and read a poem (which turned out to be Metallica's Enter Sandman). The audience was asked to clap - with hands above their heads - for the entirety of Particle Man, and when enthusiasm flagged and hands began to drop, John Linnell improvised a verse about lame people who don't clap at concerts. John Flansburgh had lucky first-row audience members strum his guitar. Let me not forgot that they had not one but two encores, complete with an explosion of confetti.

Well, of course I haven't done a great job of putting you in the midst of the crowd, but take my word that it was an engaging, hilarious, fun show, and well worth the long drive up to Baltimore. It was the first night of a national tour, so try to make it out to see them if you can.

On a related note, Ram's Head Live is a terrific venue.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ravens Run Hike

On Sunday I went on a quick but satisfying hike on the Virginia - West Virginia border (see pic of me and Sarah at the sign). We found a turtle on the trail and beautiful views greeted us at the top - well worth getting up a little early on a Sunday. We later negated all our burned calories by stopping for Cold Stone on the way home. Also listened several times to all the Flight of the Conchords songs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Assateague Camping 2007

<---Jeff, Ann, Darren

This weekend I indulged once again in a camping expedition to the Eastern Shore, this time to the Maryland side of Assateague Island (see last year's trip here). My camera unfortunately reacted poorly to the excesses of sun, sand, and surf, and froze up shortly after Joel took about 100 pictures of a humorously-posed dog. So, lots of pictures of Reagan, not too many of the rest of the weekend. I'm sure you would have loved to see me all scarred up from the millions of mosquito bites I endured. Man, it was painful. But at least I got to hang out with great people (photos courtesy of Joel) and read a hell of a lot of Harry Potter.
<---Dana, AB, Jon, Yvonne


Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Last Strokes

MPP is over. Now, to move onto the hallway...
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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Artwork SCORE!

Finally - real artwork in my new place! This is a significant first and my eyes verily well with the specialness of the moment. Best of all, the artist is world-renowned abstract painter (and dear friend) Brian Williams, genius extraordinaire. Brian took pity on my art-starved walls and graciously gifted me these masterpieces (titled Submarine). He didn't even know that my middle school colors were orange and blue. Go Bell!

Seriously, though, I think these add a lot to the space. Combined with my 46" LCD TV on the other wall, I've got plenty of eye candy!

On a related note, B-dub does actually sell paintings as well, so if you or any of your rich relatives are looking for an interesting piece, drop me a line. :)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Birthday Dinner at Etete

Celebrated my birthday (which is today) with a dinner last night at the fabulous Ethiopian restaurant Etete. Our party of eleven strained their table resources but made me feel very popular. Thanks everyone. :)
Birthday-celebrating, food-eating revelers. Oops, I seem to have missed Patrick in this shot. Sorry babe.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Latest MPP Update

I know, yawn, right? But for those of you interested, here's the result of some very, very hard work this weekend.
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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Adam's Wedding

Congrats to Adam and Marina, who got married this last weekend at Mount Vernon. Pictured is yours truly with the groom in the middle and my smokin' hot date, Eric Huang, on the right. I think Eric might have been on his eighth cup of Martha's Rum Punch.

Below: Eric and I declare our allegiances.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Quite a bit of progress this weekend on the MPP. Still less than halfway done.
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Sunday, July 22, 2007


Back from Phoenix last night and dove right into the Massive Painting Project (MPP) today. Here's the latest progress. The edging on one whole wall is complete. The others will be considerably more challenging given the presence of furniture. Lesson learned: painting in underwear is really the best, as paint WILL get on EVERY limb.
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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Decemberists with the BSO

Metallica's 1999 collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony on "S&M" was awesome due to its incongruity. The Decemberists' similar experiment with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last night was awesome due to the two groups' essential compatibility. Listening to the Decemberists' music, one feels that certain songs just beg for orchestral treatment; for instance "The Infanta" and "We Both Go Down Together" (both of which they played last night, of course). It was really very thrilling to see it all come together so well. The orchestra didn't just take the easy route, either, but added satisfying layers of complexity to the music. On top of that the Decemberists were their usual campy, theatrical selves, complete with playing dead, rolling around with instruments on the ground, and crazy dance moves. Such a beautiful night...and such a fun show.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Chincoteague Weekend

Left: Seaweed Necklace Right: JL, Dana, me, Jon, Ann, and Jeff enjoy the cool water

Gorgeous, hot day on the island of Chincoteague (the southern part of Assateague). No ponies as the Pony Drive has not yet taken place, but plenty of sun, sand, waves, and beach bums. Me and friends Dana, Diana, and Erin spent the night in a nearby campsite and enjoyed a ridiculously opulent meal of raw oysters and steamed crab followed by Island Creamery homemade ice cream (I had the "Pony Tracks" flavor).

Next week: Coolin' down in Phoenix.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Tuberific Fourth

Happy Fourth of July, peanuts!

Yesterday I took advantage of the whole no-work thing to join several friends (about 20 of them) for a tubing adventure on the Shenandoah River. We enjoyed PB&Js, Fig Newtons, and hard cider as we floated downriver for three miles. Occasional .1-class rapids made things interesting.

Thanks to Jon for organizing! More pix here.
(pic above is friend Seth Wikas, rolling through the "heavy" rapids)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Day of Fun in Locust Grove, VA

On the top: Joanna, Pete, Darren, me, Jon, and Mary enjoy a spin around the big lake on Darren's family's pontoon boat.
On the bottom: My famous "breaching shark attack" descends upon an unsuspecting Jon.
On Sunday I drove down with several friends to Deep Dark Virginia - specifically Locust Grove, where friend Darren's parents have a gorgeous house on a beautiful man-made lake. First we visited a nearby winery (my first one in Virginia), then we went back for swimming, a ride on the pontoon boat, socializing, merriment, and food. Weather and company were perfect. The wine - eh.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Kayaking in Seneca Falls

Me and Diana work our paddling muscles in Seneca Falls, MD. Wet exits rock!