Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bike Party!

Let's say, hypothetically, that you like bikes.  Bikes are convenient forms of transportation, they're great for your health, and the people that ride them are generally pretty awesome.  I don't bike, but I have professed my love for them and the people that ride them.  In this hypothetical where you love bikes, you also want to meet the awesome people that ride them.  It would be ideal if you could perhaps even bike with these awesome people.

Enter Bike Party.  The Baltimore Bike Party meets on the last Friday of every month at the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon.  The group gathers at 7:00p and hits the streets of Baltimore on a pre-determined, 10 to 15 mile route by 7:30p.  Afterwards, the bikers gather for a post-ride party for good food, good beer, good camaraderie, and good times.  In October, the ride was attended by 1,300 bikers, the largest group ride on the east coast.

This month, Bike Party is pajama-themed.  Show up this Friday in your best pjs to the monument at 7:00p with your bike, bells and whistles, and get ready to meet some awesome fellow-bikers.  For more information, check out their Facebook page or email them at  I'm debating whether or not to force myself onto a bike this Friday, or just volunteer for the after-party.  This month, the ride will end at Pratt Street Ale House by Camden Yards.   I am down for anything that supports my wearing elastic-waist pants on a Friday night, because I'm a classy lady.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

All Aboard: A Nondenominational Light Show and Train Display in Montgomery County

I grew up with model trains.   I associate them with the holidays, with tiny ceramic Christmas villages, and sweeping away avalanches of pine needles from train tracks.  The migraine that results from the scent of artificial smoke takes me back to the days of candles, nativity scenes, garlands, and egg nog.

My father was raised on Lionel trains, and therefore so were my siblings and I.  I love that we were, I love that we don't put presents under the tree because then we'd be placing barriers to the train's route.  We are no longer allowed to gift my father ceramic houses for the village, because at some point the village began to morph into a metropolis much larger than our living room could handle.

As a family, we've partaken in an array of train-themed activities.  Train shows, train rides in the midwest with questionable food carts that made me ill as a child, train rides in the Adirondack Mountains where we had to carry canoes and there was many a raised voice.  I most vividly recall various adventures to a train store somewhere in Maryland (I have no idea where) that sold collectible trains alongside shotguns.  Because, why not?  It's the epitome of one-stop-shopping.

A day or two before I left to see my family for Thanksgiving, I was at home, delirious with a cold, hopped up on DayQuil and dousing my tea in a solid amount of Jameson after 6pm.  I received an email from my father that succinctly read:

"Suggest we have family time this Friday here: "

I was assured a light show of sorts, along with a large-scale (G-scale) train display.  I have done light shows in my past; the one in Manassas is practically tradition at this point.  You pay money, you sit in your car like good Americans, and enjoy drive-thru holiday festivities like you're ordering a Big Mac.  Santa, elves, reindeer, snowmen and toy soldiers are lit up with thousands of tiny light bulbs and move around, ensuring that everyone at the local gas and electric company has a very merry Christmas, indeed.
G-Scale Train Display
About 30 miles from my folks' place in Virginia, and a solid 30 or so from Baltimore, are Montgomery County's Brookside Gardens. Imagine my surprise when, as soon as one pays, you have to park. 
"Why are we parking?" asked all the ladies in the car, "Don't we just drive through the light show?"
"No," my patient father asked, "I think we have to walk through this one."
A collective groan emitted from the car.  

Gay pride?  Rainbow connection?
Wizard of Oz?  You decide!
The entrance to the walk-through holiday light show was ... a caterpillar.  We're talking Absolem from Alice in Wonderland here, except possibly more trippy, if that's at all possible.  He is also the caterpillar you have to walk through in reverse to exit, which made me feel like I was a human colonoscopy for the guy.  Why it was a caterpillar and not, say, a train or a reindeer or what have you, I couldn't say.  I mistakenly assumed that, "Holiday Light Show" implied all of those various holiday cliches we've come to love and/or abhor over the years.

No holiday is complete without the Festive Sea Creature.
As the walk continued, I became more perplexed, as did my family.  There were orange lights around, a lit up figurine that could have been a gardner but resembled a grave-digger, and the whole thing just reeked of "Haunted House" more than "Holiday Extravaganza."  There was a rainbow, along with a raincloud and what was trying to be a recording of thunder but bore more resemblance to a low growl.  Later, we saw a kangaroo, giraffe, lochness monster, two dolphins, swans that I thought were wonton soup spoons, a beehive (that totally looked like a basketball hoop) and a frog.  I found the entire experience oddly disorienting and perplexing.  How was this holiday themed?  Why were there so many orange lights?  Why did part of it, as my sister noted,  look like a cheap beachfront resort?  In the attempt to be nondenominational, it was just weird.

The train display in the greenhouse was lovely, albeit also a little weird.  Less weird in comparison to the confusing light show outside, but I didn't get why Woody and Buzz Lightyear were in a town with Disney princesses and some random sunbathing girls.  I maybe was looking for a congruent theme where none was to be found.  The trains themselves were wonderful, and it was adorable to see the faces of the small children, in complete awe of the entire thing.  I bet they didn't think twice about the odd characters in the train's town.  

If you're new to Bmore and want to see a train/light show combination, but are just completely sick of the holidays, this is the one for you.  Only $25/car.  Make the hike out to Montgomery county, and you won't have to suffer the sight of a single snowflake.  If you want something slightly more holiday-themed and much more convenient, sit tight for an update on Christmas Street in Hampden.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Duckpin Bowling: A Baltimore Pasttime

Anything related to sports or general athleticism never has been and never will be up my alley.  I've written about this in other places, but it bears repeating. It's not that I'm against fitness or some good 'ol fashioned athletic competition, it truly is that I'm just bad at it.  I'm bad at all of it.  I hike because it takes serious skill to mess up walking, even though I managed that back in September when I sprained my ankle on an eight-mile solo hike in the rain in the Blue Ridge.  Safety first, everyone.

Scrabble, proudly singing all the lyrics to R. Kelly's "Remix to Ignition," and eating are all forms of competition I can get behind.  A trifecta of the aforementioned would equate to something that resembles my nirvana.  When I'm feeling particularly limber and in-shape, I'll try putt putt or bowling.  

Baltimore is home to Duckpin bowling.  Wikipedia informed me that other locations claim to be the founders of duckpin, but I'm standing with Baltimore on this one.  The best place, hands down, for duckpin bowling in the city is the Patterson Bowling Center. It's a wonderful dive of a place where you BYOB and occasionally have to precariously walk down the gutters to retrieve your balls that haven't quite made it back to you.  The bathroom stall doesn't lock and sometimes you get to bowl an extra frame because the computer just didn't pick up your last one.  It is one of the best places in the city.

If you like fancy bowling with bells and whistles, definitely keep going.  If you're all about old-fashioned, shoe-spraying, grease on your hands from the never-cleaned balls while you enjoy the well-priced beverage of your choosing that you brought (gluten-free beer from the Wine Source, since you asked), Patterson Bowling Center is the place for you.  It is, in fact, the oldest operating duckpin alley in the country!
Important pointers provided for free.
I went this past Friday night, stopping at Johnny Rad's for dinner.  One of the folks in our party was a duckpin novice, and while we were giving him the rundown of all the glories that awaited him across the street, our server goes, "Are you going to Patterson Lanes?  I LOVE THAT PLACE."

Everyone loves duckpin.  Don't you love duckpin?  You should love duckpin, and if you don't, it must be because you have yet to go.  So call ahead and reserve your lanes at Patterson Bowling Center.  I promise you the battle for parking by the park is absolutely worth it.
Friends taking their duckpin seriously.  Duckpin is no joking matter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where to Live: A Tangential Discussion of Neighborhoods and Later I Mention Bikes For Some Reason

One of the biggest hurdles I encountered before I even moved here was where to look for housing.  I knew absolutely nothing about this city beyond the aquarium, and was relying on what Wikipedia had to say.  This conveniently pointed me away from the Bayview region, but didn't give me any idea of the difference between the ones I could seriously consider.  Having lived here for a bit now, I know the differences are vast.  I just needed someone to tell me.  A friend of a friend from many lifetimes ago lived in the city and suggested her neighborhood to me.  That is the very anticlimactic story of how I ended up in lovely Mount Vernon - someone I hadn't spoken to in years said, "I like it!" and that was good enough for me.  Luckily, she's a great person with wonderful taste, and I love it here.  While I appreciate and love the appeal of other neighborhoods in this city, I am proud to be a Mount Vernonite and have no plans of changing that anytime soon.

If you're new to Bmore and know little about this city, know this: Neighborhoods are a big deal.  This city is essentially comprised of a ton of small towns within an incredibly close vicinity.  Hampden has its quirks and hipsters, Highlandtown has a large concentration of latinos.  Station North has the artsy hipsters and MICA kids (look mom, I made a synonym!) and your frattier post-college scenes are more likely to be found in Canton, Fells Point and Federal Hill.  I feel like I've shared this link on every possible social media site, but I wish I had this map when I first got here.  I can't accredit who made it, but I found it via the amazing City That Breeds.

Washington Monument in Mount Vernon
Think about what you enjoy, where you are in life, how close you want to be to your office, your price range, what proximity you prefer to be to violent murders, etc.  What I love about Mount Vernon that I can walk to museums, an array of great bars, have access to a free bus, and regularly decide to be lazy and not go to yoga, but know I have the option if I want to! Artscape is right outside my door, I can walk to the massive Farmer's Market (no, you can't make me shut up about the market.  My love will not be silenced!), I can hop on a Bolt Bus to New York or nab Amtrak to anywhere I don't feel like taking my car.

The cons. 
Street parking is horrible.  Well, it's not horrible per say, there is available parking.  The consequences of street parking aren't lovely.  My poor little car has had it rough since moving here.  It's been scratched up, dented, broken into, knicked, bumped and bruised.  I've only gotten one parking ticket, but I know others who have had it far worse.  Baltimore does not mess around with its parking, and I'm fairly certain this is because they need to find creative ways to pay for our newfound inundation
I dislike that the only grocery store is Eddie's of Mount Vernon, and that it took me MONTHS to discover it.  Eddie's, while wonderful, convenient  and sells wine and beer which is a rarity in Maryland grocery stores, is expensive for what they're selling you.  I have purchased more last-minute produce of questionable quality for far more than I should've paid for than I care to admit.  Look, a girl can't make a lemon torte without a lemon, okay?

My Mount Vernon complaints become null and void when one introduces a bike into the mix.  With a bike, I could get to other stores more easily and not have to worry about losing my awesome parking spot.  I could join the Bike Party every month for more than just their after-party, and not have to feel guilty about regularly skipping yoga, because my transportation would also be my exercise!  Alas, bikes are not presently in the cards for me for unexciting reasons, but you should get one!  Cut back on emissions, get fit, make fun friends, don't buy overpriced, under ripe lemons.

So you're new to Bmore?  Research neighborhoods!  Make a pros and cons list, know your price range, and find people on Twitter/the Blogosphere to ask.  LiveBaltimore has a thorough list, but I personally found it a little overwhelming when I first started the hunt.  Just stay calm, research and ask questions.  The best way to get to know these neighborhoods is to talk to the people that live in them.  The people make up the neighborhoods and help shape them into the communities they are today.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Unless you live under a rock and don't have a killer router getting you wifi, you know it's election day! I've always been one of those people who's obnoxious about getting out the vote.  I have a tshirt from the 2008 elections that I wore the entire day that says something akin to, "HEY, VOTE!" in slightly more campaign-like, yet nonpartisan, terminology.

I woke up this morning with a spring in my step, excited to vote in yet another historic election.  Steve Inskeep was talking about 2-hour waits in Florida.  Friends in Virginia were noting at least 45 minute-long waits at 7am.  I made sure to pack a book and some snacks for what I assumed would be a lengthy line later in the day.

Growing up, my father always volunteered at the polling stations.  I remember walking to the local public elementary school with my mother to deliver him lunch.  This is where I'd vote in high school, and where I cast my primary vote for the 2008 elections.  I've voted absentee for president and governor, all from the great state of Virginia.

It should be noted that the only reason I'm a registered MD voter is because I needed a MD license to get a city parking permit, and figured, "What the hell?"

My polling place here in Baltimore... is a public housing unit.  Gone are the days of shiny elementary schools paid for with tax dollars.  Gone are the lines of people with their $12 sandwiches and Coach bags.  Everyone in Northern Virginia seemed to treat voting like a chore, whereas here everyone seemed excited to vote.  All those around me seemed so gracious for this great right, that they treated like the privilege it is.  It was such a diverse group of Marylanders, all coming together to play a roll in this democratic system.  Because I'm getting way too preachy and "Hooray for America!", I'll just note that my friend told me today, "I just wanted to moonwalk out of the polling place, I was so excited.  I didn't, because I don't know how to moonwalk."  It should also be mentioned that my wait was maybe ten minutes.  No books or snacks were needed.

So you're new to Bmore - I sure hope you registered to vote.  I hope you looked for your polling place in any of the fantastic locations (here, here, here, or my favorite (NSFW), here).  I hope you read up on all the issues, all the candidates, and I hope you made an informed decision.  I hope you realize the significance of your decisions on local issues, from the Dream Act to Prop 6 to the casinos in Prop 7.

Most of all, I hope you made sure you got a sticker.  Mine is being worn with pride on a dorky vest by a patient basset.  We'll be watching the results come in with good friends at their house, ready to celebrate (or get super glum.  Results TBD).

Don't forget that it's still not too late to cast your (DAILY) ballot for So You're New to Bmore in the 2012 Mobbies!  Keep the votes coming in until Friday!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Who Wore It Best? ... and other, far more important, things

The past week has been a whirlwind of activity.  Sadly, if you're here for an extensive(ish) write-up of something new to do in the city because you just moved here, I cannot do much for you beyond send you here.  You can thank me for the intro to the Fishbowl later.

While yesterday may have been Halloween, I spent it inside, working, and marathoning Freaks and Geeks on Netflix.  I celebrated Halloween (and my birthday!) last weekend, never once allowing myself the opportunity to sleep in.  That's for the youngins, right?  I spent Friday night setting up for and later attending (and judging phenomenal costumes) the Baltimore Bike Party's after-party (and after the party?  The hotel lobby) at Union Craft Brewery on Clipper Mill.

Saturday I went for another hike, this time to Loch Raven, with two friends and the dog.  Loch Raven was phenomenal, incredibly scenic, and the perfect fall hike to view the foliage before it all got ravaged off branches when Sandy came to town.  Little guy romped off his leash the entire five or six (purely a guesstimate here, as none of Loch Raven's trails are blazed or anything) mile hike, with only one near-submersion into the lake.  Success!

That night was another Halloween party, but at a friend's house in York, PA.  Sunday morning was the market (of course) and my birthday shindig where my wonderful friend provided me with gluten-free belgian waffle sundaes and great people came up/down/over/preposition for good times.

Then it was Hurricane time.  Sunday night, I hunkered down with the dog, Netflix, two random gallons of water, my parent's pilfered camping lantern, a constantly refreshing twitter feed, and every item in my kitchen that I could possibly remember existed, being thrown into a curry dish.  Mmmm... curried can opener.

This unnecessarily lengthy intro was to set the stage for what occurred.  After a busy, tiring weekend, Sandy came in and created the hype of Frankenstorm.  Baltimore shut down.  My office was closed (telecommuting!), public transit stopped running, my corner store pulled down its metal entry way blocking thing, ensuring that my wine stash was my wine stash, and there would be absolutely NO supplementing it.  Sandy was Serious.

Do you know what happens to people who spend entire days indoors, save for walking a dog in hurricane?  People who neurotically check their windows for leaks, with good reason, neurotically change the sopping towels on their windows, and engineer umbrellas to block the leaking rain from splashing onto you/your furniture/your electronics?  They go stir-crazy.  I worked, yes, but I also made scones.  And roasted my first chicken (with pomegrante seeds!  and help!  because nice people help you roast chickens in hurricanes!).  I also.... I also considered making a "Who Wore It Best?" for Bubba and I.


I became that crazy woman who lives alone and has a creepy relationship with her pet.
That being said, you know you're curious.
"Who wore what best, MV?" you're asking.  "Why are you being so cryptic, MV?" you ask.  "No, I really don't care, MV.  Please stop," you implore.
Excellent questions.

I bring you two images:
Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Sound off in the comments on who makes a better hotdog, and don't let the presence of relish and extra toppings sway you one way or the other! I tried to make you folks a handy poll, but it kept linking to what I think is the equivalent of a Polish Etsy.

Finally, and arguably far more important than the fact that my dog and I both wore hot dog costumes this October, dear, amazing, witty and informative Baltimore Chop apparently nominated me for two Mobbies, or Maryland's Outstanding Blogs.  I am embarrassed because I don't do well with compliments flattered, and torn between urging you to vote daily for me or daily for the Chop.  (Lucky you!  You can vote for both!)  I really am so grateful for how much everyone in Baltimore has made me feel so very welcome in the past year, even the twitter and blogospheres.  For those of you who know me, I'm constantly talking up the Chop and how he helped me get acquainted to this city when I first relocated, and even more so, how he keeps me up to date on wonderful things each day.  Good 'ol buddy Clube can attest to this.

This really serves as a great incentive for me to keep better tabs on this little blog, and not go so long between updates.  I was so much better at being a consistent blogger when I was in AmeriCorps, so hopefully now I'll get myself back into the swing of things.  I'm still in shock that I'm up there with the likes of the Chop, City that Breeds, Charm City Cook, Pigtown Designs, the Fishbowl, etc etc.  Amazed, and again, flattered.  So, go!  Vote!