Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Impromptu BBQ

Our original plan was to keep things small for Memorial Day. We went to a pig roast hosted by one of Zach's coworkers on Saturday. So on Monday we were just going to have Kevin's mom over and grill some steaks.

But then we decided to invite some other people. We went to buy food for everyone. We bought too much food, and that led us to inviting even more people. Before we knew it we had a party on our hands. Actually, I'm a little impressed that we managed to have as many people as we did, given that the whole thing essentially came together the day before. No one else had made plans, either.

Ultimately, we had a nearly perfect amount of food. The chicken and steak all got eaten. There were only a few ribs and a single serving of pasta salad left over. Some roasted veggies are still in the fridge, but the cheese and chips and blueberry pie were decimated.

I'm glad we ended up pulling a party together at the last minute. It's nice to see people. Some of the people who came are people we really only see on holidays. And one of Kevin's high school friends was in town briefly, so it was nice to catch up with him, too.

Mostly I'm impressed with how easily everything came together. We nearly had the right amount of food. We had far too much alcohol, but that's not exactly a problem. Everything was delicious and everyone had fun. I'm really getting the hang of this hosting thing. (Yeah, Kevin actually did most of it, but still)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Review: Hawkeye: LA Woman

The third volume of Hawkeye backs up a bit to redo the last few pages of the last issue, which was largely free of dialogue, as it was shown from the point of view of Hawkeye's dog, Lucky. In the opening pages we get to see the argument between the two Hawkeyes, which ends with Kate Bishop storming out and continuing to storm all the way to LA, where he life promptly disintegrates.

This volume collects the issues that chronicle Kate's time in LA, looking for a place to live and a job, battling her nemesis Madame Masque, and uncovering some truly horrific secrets. Watching her find her feet as she has to work for money for the first time in her life is a lot of fun. She makes some cool friends along the way, acquires a cat, and continually pisses off a detective.

In the end, she heads back to New York to pull Clint Barton out of a tangle he likely doesn't know he's in. She's smarter and faster and more determined. The next volume is the conclusion to this comic run, and I'm really excited to see how everything ends up.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mt Vernon Trail

Yesterday Zach and Sarah joined us for a ride on the Mt. Vernon trail, which is easily my favorite trail yet. It runs 17 miles from Roosevelt Island to Mt. Vernon. Most of that is along the river, which makes for a beautiful ride with a nice breeze. Except for the short section by the sewage treatment plant, but you can almost hold your breath the whole way past that.

The ride was a lot of fun, and surprisingly easy. We went out to Mt Vernon and back again, for a total of 35 miles. The trail is mostly flat, which is a big reason I found the ride easier than the last 30+ mile ride I did. It also helps that this was my second 30+ mile ride. I'm getting in better shape all the time, and it's nice to see my own improvement on rides like this.

I did have a little trouble with passing etiquette on the Mt. Vernon trail. It's both slightly narrower and much windier than the W&OD. Because of this people are more wary when it comes to passing. I'm used to the fairly aggressive passing that happens on the W&OD, which most people treat as though it has 3 full lanes, with the middle reserved for passing. I've even seen it treated as a four-lane path once or twice. But that sort of thing isn't acceptable on the Mt. Vernon trail, which really does only have 2 lanes. I got one or two angry looks for passing when other people thought I shouldn't (I felt like I had enough room, though).

I'm looking forward to doing this trail again. It's a 3+ hour ride, which isn't always easy to fit into the schedule. And as the weather heats up I may not want to go for such a long ride. But this one, and how good I felt afterwards, has me confident that it won't be long before I can tackle the W&OD in its entirety.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review: A Tale of Two Cities

I read this book in high school, and unlike so many other people I actually did all of my assigned reading in school. I decided to re-read it because I didn't remember a thing about it.

What's weird is that I definitely remember reading this book. It was the first time I was allowed to read one of my grandfather's fancy books, so I took great care of it. I distinctly remember sitting in an auto shop, reading this for hours, while my first car got its first oil change (the first one I gave it anyway). I remember talking about the symbolism and taking quizzes. But aside from the knitting lady and the opening and closing lines, I couldn't tell you a thing about the plot or characters or anything.

Having re-read it, I think it's mostly because Dickens uses so many words. He repeats himself, goes off on tangents and comes back to the point within a single sentence. His descriptions are flowery. And while he sometimes sets the scene in an incredibly powerful way, more often than not I found my mind wandering. I ended up relying on that old high school standby: Cliff's Notes. Reading the summary for each chapter after I read the chapter itself helped me keep the plot straight. And as I got farther into the book, I needed the annotations less.

Still, it's frustrating to need those annotations. The book was certainly interesting, but not quite enough to command my attention all the time. I occasionally skipped entire passages and went back to look up the important bits later because I couldn't focus through Dickens' style.

Maybe I only needed to re-read this book to remind myself that I don't need to re-read it. There are better books out there. Better depictions of these events and themes. I'll try to spend my time on those in the future.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures has never been my favorite Discworld book. Far from it really. I tend to file this with the earlier books that never seem to live up to the later ones. This isn't fair. Moving Pictures is actually a really solid book. There's an intricate plot that brings together a wealth of characters, an incredible critique of Hollywood, tons of thematic meat, an excellent twist ending and final fight that both plays into and subverts a bunch of action movie tropes, and the beginnings of some threads and characters that will soon become part of the fabric of this world.

It's just that I'm not terribly interested in the subject matter. I'm not sure why. I'm an avid consumer of pop culture, and I like everything this book has to say about exploitation and obsession. It just wasn't written for me. It was written for people who live and work in Hollywood. Who are interested in the whole business of making movies, as well as the history of cinematography. I know enough history to understand most of the jokes, but still this book doesn't entirely resonate with me.

On the second time through at least, I think it's because I can see where things are still forming. Pratchett is still stuck in the rut of repeating the same romantic beats for his protagonists over and over. He's getting closer, but he hasn't quite figured out women yet. Which is frustrating because I know he eventually does. He sidelines Ponder Stibbons while focusing on Victor, which is weird because Victor is never heard from again while Ponder becomes a major player. The movie industry doesn't stick around like the newspaper and the clacks. It all feels a little too impermanent. Like Equal Rites, this book ultimately suffers from it's lack of impact on the rest of the series.

But that's okay. I enjoyed it. It is a very well-crafted book and another step up for Pratchett. And next we get Reaper Man, one of my early favorites. Though that one does contain a subplot I found so baffling that I just always assumed it belonged in this book instead. We'll see how that holds up this time around.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wine Tasting With Mom

Connor had a few days off between Spring and Summer terms, so our mom came out to Virginia for a visit. The two of them spent the days doing touristy things while I was at work. But on Saturday we all trooped out to Loudon County to go to some wine tastings.

We started at Narmada, because it's one of the best wineries in Virginia. It's owned by an Indian couple, and they sell Indian food along with the wine. They offered three different tastings, and between the five of us (Kevin and Alison were there, too) we did all three. Mom and I did the reserve tasting, which had some of the richer wines on it. We missed out on the dessert wine, but that's okay because everything we tasted was delicious. Then we got a bottle to share and had a light lunch in their tasting room.

There are a few wineries on the DC side of Narmada. We went to them for Sarah's bachelorette party years ago, but I wasn't really impressed with either of them. So we drove past Narmada to see what was that way. Cell phone reception was spotty, but wineries are pretty decent about posting signs along the road. We found Gadino Cellars. They're fairly new, and they had some excellent wines. They also just introduced a whiskey-infused port that was so delicious we all bought a bottle of it.

Then it was on to Little Washington winery, another one I'd never heard of before. I fell a little bit in love. They offer wine not just from their own vineyard, but from small wineries around the world. They employ a sommelier to travel the world and find and buy wines and send them back. They offer these to taste, sell them at their winery, and make them a part of their "Dirt Road Wine Club", which I'm considering joining. $50 gets you 2 bottles of wine either monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly, curated from all over the world. It's a great idea, though it sucks that someone needs either be around to sign for the package or be willing to drive out to the winery to pick it up.

At any rate, I want to go back to Little Washington and take more people there. It helps that it's right next to Narmada, making it part of an excellent little afternoon trip. I just wish they weren't quite so far away.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: Saga, Volume 4

In the fourth volume, Saga finally jumps forward a little. Which is good. If this is going to be the story of Hazel's entire life, then we need some time to pass. Otherwise it will last forever.

Hazel has gone from newborn to toddler. Her parents have found a safe haven of sorts, and her mom is working while her dad takes care of her. He's chafing at having to stay hidden. Ilana is chafing at her job. And everything begins to fall apart all over again.

There's a lot of plot threads in this story, which means there's a lot to keep track of. But Vaughan handles it well, keeping most of the focus on the central family. I barely even realized that the bounty hunters and Lying Cat were missing until they showed up in the final issue. And in the meantime, the plot threads are starting to intersect in new and interesting ways. I'm really excited for Prince Robot IV to be basically switching sides in his quest for his kidnapped son.

It's hard to really talk about this book as a whole, though. There were some ideas that I really liked: people switching sides, and governments using an external enemy to allow them to ignore domestic problems. But mostly I'm just excited to see what happens next. This volume is so clearly just an installment in a much larger story. Until that entire story is available (which will be years from now), I don't really know how this all fits together. I'm enjoying it, but how do I judge it? Not to mention the fact that it's been so long since I read the last volume I forgot a lot. This is the problem with comics (and on-going comics, I'm glad Hawkeye's run is ending soon). They get so spread out, even more so than television shows, that it's hard to follow along. But waiting until something is complete doesn't always make sense either, since it can be expensive to collect the who run.