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Random act of kindness: FAIL

7 Aug

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While I was in Chicago for work last week, I met up with a friend for breakfast one day before the office opened. We agreed to meet at Do-Rite Donuts because it was close to my hotel AND had gluten-free and vegan options. (I don’t even want to know what they use to make a donut that doesn’t contain flour or eggs – I assume tree bark.)

Because I’m mildly OCD (and – more realistically – because she had to take a combination of trains and busses, whereas I only had to walk around the corner), I arrived 10 minutes before she did. I decided to grab a donut and hold a table for us outside since the place seemed fairly busy.

The donut selection was overwhelming, and it became even harder to focus when a homeless man shuffled into the place, slowly panhandling his way along the line leading up to the small counter. Everyone looked uncomfortable, so when he got to me, I said, “I won’t give you money, but I’ll buy you a donut if you’d like one.”

The cashiers heard me and we exchanged a look while they patiently waited for him to point to a donut. (Of course he chose a premium gluten-free flavor.) Then he leaned across the counter and tried to get them to bring him a cup of milk (which they said they didn’t have) and started asking about what else they had back there that he could eat. I felt a bit callous, denying a homeless person food, but I also don’t like being taken advantage of, so I reset expectations with him quickly. “No – sorry. I’ll buy you a donut, but that’s all. Let’s go.”

I paid and left, heading outside to claim a table. He, however, remained inside, presumably asking someone else for something. He must not have been successful, because he emerged a few minutes later, holding the donut I’d bought him. Looking at him, I allowed myself the small feel-good moment that comes with performing a random act of kindness, thinking that maybe we could fix all the world’s problems if we each just help each other out a bit more.

And then I watched as he walked to the curb and threw the donut on the ground. He stumbled around it for a bit, and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to pick it up or what, but he resolved my curiosity by drawing back his foot and kicking it, sending it sailing out into the rush hour traffic. Without a backwards glance, he shuffled down the block.

I guess he decided gluten-free was some bullshit.

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Miss Moneypenny Saves the Day

20 Jul

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It was storming when I went to sleep, so my cat, Miss Moneypenny, was a bit out of sorts. A few hours later, she woke me, running across the bed. Thinking she was making a play for mid-night attention, I tried to tip her over and make her snuggle – a move she usually goes with. This time, however, I was met with fierce resistance.

She was sitting near my head, and I could feel the twitch of her tail whipping my face. I nudged her, thinking she’d jump off the bed. No luck. Instead, she made a weird little chirping noise that I’ve only ever heard when she sees a bird out my window.

I turned on the light so I could assess the situation. It was 1am and she was staring fixedly at my bedroom curtains. I followed her gaze and spotted it: high on the curtain rod, her grey toy mouse.

“Miss Moneypenny,” I said. “You just now decided you needed to play with your mousie?” I stood on my bed so I could get high enough to knock it down – and then realized it was NOT her toy mouse. It was a real one, with huge ears and frightened eyes.

What was a mouse doing IN MY HOME? And how did it get up on top of a curtain rod, 8-feet in the air – at 1am?!

Miss Moneypenny was riveted. I considered knocking the mouse down so she could play with it, but decided: a) That would be cruel to the mouse, and b) There was a strong possibility I would lose sight of the mouse.

Decision made, I got an empty trash can and slid it up under the mouse. The mouse must have been wondering how it was going to get down from its high perch, because it (literally) jumped at the opportunity I’d presented. I slid a notebook over the top of the trashcan to makes sure I only had to do this ONCE. Dressed in my hot pink plaid pajamas – I slid my flipflops on and headed out to the DC street to release it.

Job done, when I came back to my bedroom, Miss Moneypenny was in the same spot, tail twitching, pacing to get a better view of a now non-existent mouse. Her obsession alarmed me – was there ANOTHER mouse I hadn’t found? Fortunately not, because after 45 minutes, she finally relaxed and we were both able to go back to sleep.

Who knew I had a mouse(r) in the house? She just covered her rent check for the next year.

 

Going, going – almost gone!

5 May

 

 

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My parents visited from Michigan back in March. I’d been itching to visit the Renwick Gallery since it reopened in November, and my parents were game to check it out.

If you’re not familiar with the Renwick, here’s the quick back-story on it:

  • It is part of the Smithsonian. (And because I answer this question for almost every visitor to Washington: the Smithsonian is a collection of museums and galleries – not a single destination – and they are all open free of charge to the public.)
  • The Renwick was the first art gallery built in the US intended to be used as an art gallery. (A lot of the other older art galleries were originally private homes.)
  • The exterior was completed in 1861 – and then the construction was paused because of the Civil War.
  • In the 20th century, there was talk of tearing it down, but Jacqueline Kennedy led a successful crusade to save it, and it returned to use as an art gallery in 1972.
  • It closed again for renovations in 2013 and just reopened in November.

To re-open the Renwick, the entire building was used for an installation of nine works by different artists, each specifically designed for and filling an entire room. The theme of the exhibit was, “Wonder” and I have to say: Mission Accomplished. I can’t imagine anyone going through the entire exhibit without at least one, “WHOA!” moment.

Here’s the exhibit’s opening plaque, which provides a bit of context for what it contains:

People have debated the meaning and value of wonder for more than two thousand years. It has been described as everything from the origins of our understanding of the universe, to how we respond to something defying categorization, to a naïve emotion delaying us from reason, to a shock to the heart, and a surprise of the soul.

The two rooms that provided me with the most amazement were those where common items were used to create very uncommon results.

The first example was Jennifer Angus’s pink-washed room that used insects for three-dimensional wall decoration. When we walked in the room, our initial reaction was, “Cool,” as we saw the “dia de los muertos” skeletons covering the walls. We quickly followed that by asking, “Those can’t be REAL beetles, can they?”

As it turns out, they WERE. Which then made the whole room a bit more creepy. And I felt compelled to try to approximate how many little insect corpses were pinned to the walls. It made my head hurt. Further, the wall plaque informed us that the pink of the walls was created by using the “juice” from other insects. Ew? And still – ahhhh!

Here are a few photos I snapped that don’t do it justice:

The other example that had me rubbing my chin in wonder was what appeared to be a simple construction of colored thread – pinned to the floor, then running to the ceiling, where it was pinned at a right angle. Sounds boring, but the effect was surprising. As we moved around it, it shifted from being individual clusters of thread to a see-through rainbow that seemed to be made from light.

Again, it doesn’t translate well in photos, but here’s an attempt – and no, I have no idea who that dude is posing in this shot:

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Those were the two creations that I found most provoking, but I heard people exclaiming in delight in every room, whether it was John Grade’s over-sized tree trunk constructed from small blocks of wood, or the glass ball formation created by Maya Lin (of Vietnam Wall fame), that climbed the walls of one room.

In addition to the art work, there were quotes in each room related to the theme. A few of my favorite examples include:

“It is not understanding that destroys wonder, it is familiarity.” —John Stuart Mill

“The mere knowledge that such a work could be created makes me twice the person I was.” —Goethe

The full exhibit is only available through Sunday (May 8), so if you’re in the DC area, if you hustle you can hit it! Even if you’re not usually a fan of art, I’d be willing to offer a money-back satisfaction guarantee. (Did I mention that it’s free?!)

Paris: Let me talk about eating…

24 Apr

You can’t visit Paris without at least one post about the food.

Our first night in Paris, Kelly and I struck gold when we had dinner at Café Constant. If you’re a foodie, that name probably rings a bell because it’s one of four restaurants in Paris (three of which are in a neat little row on the same street) by Chef Christian Constant. Also worth noting: it was a bargain – dinner was only 16 Euros per person in a city of often over-priced meals.

It was a hopping Friday night and the café had a nice little hustle going on, so the only place available to seat us was at a small table tucked under the stairs. Some diners might not find it desirable, but I enjoyed it, feeling like a little turtle tucked up in its shell as I ate.

Though most people in the café were French, two older, American-sounding women sat at the table next to us. We didn’t try to eavesdrop on their conversation, but when their dessert came, we gathered that one woman had ordered the roasted prunes in some sort of red wine reduction.

“Nasty,” I whispered to Kelly. “I would never think of a prune for dessert, would you?”

She was just shaking her head when we both heard something that caused us to lock eyes, raise our eyebrows and lose ourselves in laughter: The woman had raised her spoon and told her companion, “I might just shit myself at the table after eating this!”

You can take a girl out of ‘Murica, but you can’t take ‘Murica out of the girl.

That gave us one just more reason to split the profiteroles rather than try our luck on the prunes…

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Hair past a freckle

24 Apr

IMG_3836When we arrived in London, Kelly asked if I wanted any specific souvenirs from the trip. “I don’t have room in my suitcase,” I told her, nodding to the small carry-on I was hoping would get me through two weeks. “But I DO need a watch, so maybe if I find one I like, that could be a good keepsake.”

A few days later, I’m sure she agreed that it would not only be a good keepsake, but an essential item for the rest of the trip, as I asked her to check her watch for what felt like the fiftieth time.

I didn’t buy a watch, however, and instead used my iPhone as my timepiece when I wasn’t bugging Kelly for the time.

That was fine until we arrived in Paris, where we entered a bit of a time-warp. We arrived Friday night and made plans to meet the next morning at 9am for breakfast. I woke early the next day (as I tend to do every day) and spent the wee hours reading and planning the agenda for the day.

At about 8:30, I received a text from Kelly. “Have you eaten already?”

“No!” I wrote back. (I’m not sure why I was excited enough to use an exclamation point.)

“Want to meet downstairs in 30 minutes?” She wrote.

“Perfect.” I responded, thinking, “Isn’t that what we decided last night??”

Half an hour later, I was seated a table enjoying a croissant. “I’m here,” I wrote to her. “Got a table for two near the back. No rush.”

She wrote back, “I ate already. Want to let me know when you’re done?”

Confused, I thought maybe she decided she was tired of me and needed a bit more down-time. I plowed through my meal and met her in the lobby 30 minutes later.

“Sorry for the confusion this morning,” I said.

“Yeah, I think I must’ve been tired when we made plans last night,” she offered.

“No biggie!” I dismissed it, excited to get our day started. “I found a walking tour for us over in Montmartre – if we head out now, we should have perfect timing!”

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 7.31.28 AMWe popped up at the Metro station near the Moulin Rouge about five minutes before the tour was slated to leave. “I don’t remember what they said they would be wearing,” I told her. “Let’s check both sides of the street to see if there is a group forming.”

We spent the next ten minutes looking everywhere that seemed plausible for a tour to meet, without any luck. Then Kelly said, “Wait. What time was the tour supposed to leave?”

“Eleven,” I told her, pointing to my phone. “Basically, right now. Maybe they’re being very French about it and it doesn’t start on time?”

“Alison,” she said, pointing to her watch, “It’s noon.”

I looked at my phone again. “No, it’s 11.”

She shook her head and showed me her watch. “Noon.”

Suddenly, our confused dining plans earlier in the morning made perfect sense. The clock on my phone hadn’t automatically gained an hour when we arrived in Paris, so I was still operating on London time with an hour delay. No wonder we had missed each other in the dining room. As I paged back through our texts, the mistake was obvious.

Realizing a tour guide was never going to meet us, we started up the hill toward Sacré Coeur on our own. And I never DID find a watch I liked. Next time…

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Sacré Coeur, which inexplicably smelled like cheese and manure.