Sunday, July 31, 2005

Third Time's the Charm

So, yeah. I started Harry Potter 6 again. Eric C. loaned me the audio book version, though, so I get to "read" it that way now. There's still an important clue that I vaguely remembered and wanted to verify, though somehow I missed it entirely on my second (admittedly fast) reading. It's neat to hear Jim Dale reading it, too. He won an award of some sort for his reading of book 5, with something like 134 separate character voices in it. Neat. He does do a good job at that, though I'd say he could use a bit more pitch variation when it comes to the female characters and the kids. Ginny in particular seems to have a surprisingly deep voice for a 15 year old girl. Oh well. It's fun.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Salsa vs. Lindy

Well, my plan for Steppin' Out was to start the beginning salsa series next Wednesday. Unfortunately, when I checked on it last night, I found that the schedule changed from what's on the website, and the beginning class is now at 6:00. Ugh. I could make it there if I wanted to (since I've been working on a slightly earlier schedule recently anyway) but there's no way I'd want to wait around for two hours afterwards for the 9:00 swing dance. And I do want to be able to do both a class and a dance, especially as long as it's the same price either way. So now I'm thinking I'll take the intermediate lindy hop class at 7:00 instead. That will be fun, too, though probably less "good for me" than a beginning salsa class. But it's just 4 weeks, so I can see how I like it and then decide what to do after that.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Steppin' Out

I'd been hearing about Steppin' Out, a relatively new dance venue in Sunnyvale, for a while, and I finally got around to checking it out last night. Wednesday nights are Lindy Hop nights, though they've got lots of other dances all through the week. I might consider doing West Coast Swing on Mondays, especially since it's Richard Kear who's teaching. There's also Hustle on Tuesdays and Salsa some other time, both of which I should take some actual lessons in eventually. Lindy Hop is what I've most had a hankering for recently, though. Too bad it's on Wednesdays, since that makes for a very long day after work and library. Still, I liked it a lot there, in spite of a somewhat small crowd. I might make that my swing outlet for a while, instead of Swing Central, though I'd have to reschedule my library nights if I wanted to take lessons. There's just too much for me to balance with dance these days. I haven't been feeling like devoting more than one or two evenings a week to dancing, and in that time I'm torn between doing things I'm comfortable with and just having fun, or taking lessons in things I don't know so much (like Hustle or Salsa, which wouldn't be as fun, at least not for a while). Plus, with whatever I choose, I have to consider conflicts with things like library volunteer nights and Irish sessions nights. Argh. But, as always, better too many choices than too few.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


I'm in a bit of a daze now. Time to figure out what to do with my life for the next couple years before book 7 comes out. Wow, though. That was a doozy.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


HPATHBP Antonia and I just reached the halfway point in the new Harry Potter book. (We're reading it out loud to each other, otherwise it would probably be finished by now.) We managed to get our copy not too long after midnight last night, then stayed up until nearly 4 AM reading it. Then about 3.5 hours of sleep and starting again. Now a few hours of napping and then back to the book. (Well, a few hours of napping for me, but a short nap and some running for Antonia, so she doesn't go entirely without training this weekend.)

So as not to be too spoiler-y, I will restrict my comments to the following: (1) I'm liking Harry a lot more than I did in the last book, (2) chapter 14 was awesome, (3) Justin will be glad that more of the kids are getting clues finally, and (4) I never knew how much the phrase "gum disease" could make me laugh.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Accio Book 6!

I've got a reserved copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince waiting for me at Borders, to be picked up at midnight tonight. So after a bit of Friday Night Waltzing, Antonia and I are going to go get it and then read it (aloud) straight through the rest of the weekend. Or at least as much as we can, minus time for some minimal sleeping and eating. I am quite excited.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Google Picnic

Evil Death Ferris Wheel Well, I thought last year's picnic was big, but this event just keeps getting more like a carnival every year. Heck, there was even a ferris wheel, not to mention a crazy scary evil death ferris wheel ride (remind me not to let Kimmy talk me into any more roller coasters in the future). Something I liked more than getting flung around upside down was the spin art booth. Spin Art You would put a piece of paper in a holder that spun it around really fast as you dripped paint on it. There were lots of neat designs from that. Other fun things were a kite performance, twister, contortionists, and a swing band (though I only got to dance a couple of songs). It was a good afternoon. Plus, I remembered sun screen this time, so I didn't toast myself. Yay!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

UK Trip 2005

Alright, I think my blogging marathon is about over (two weeks' worth in under two days -- not bad). Now I can go back to working on things like sleeping at the correct times and looking left before I cross streets. Not to mention catching up with all the blogs/email/snail-mail/etc.

Anyway, if you want to make sure you didn't miss anything going by, here's the whole trip:

Britain, in Limericks

So, Miriam being Miriam and me being me, and long train and subway rides being occasionally boring, we came out of the trip with a small collection of limericks, commemorating various places and events. Here they are, in chronological order by subject (not by creation). Enjoy.

The Circle line runs all around
And Picadilly cuts across town
We got on the District
But found we had tricked it
It took us not uptown but down.

After waiting outside for an age
I stood down at the base of the stage
The actors did pace
Right in front of my face
Like fearsome wild beasts in a cage

Just after the play's final scene
We were yearning for Indian cuisine
But nowhere on Drury
Could we find Tandoori
At 11 PM -- that's obscene!

In the beautiful city of Bath
We walked up and down every path
We had to exclaim
Over everything's name:
"Of Bath" and "of Bath" and "of Bath!"

If Bath Spa is your destination
Then throughout your whole visitation
The end of the line
Of each bloody sign
Will remind you about your location

Is Glastonbury Tor worth the fuss?
It was well worth the hiking for us
In the blustery blast
We gazed out 'till half-past
Then we dashed back downhill to the bus

Out at Stonehenge we saw the big rocks
And one of them there even talks
If you ask him politely
He'll tell you that nightly
The Druids dance 'round in their socks.

Sweeping, majestic and regal
Is Salisbury's famous cathedral
But we showed up so late
They were closing the gate
So we sighed and admired the steeple

While training from Salisbury to Bath
Engineering work lay in our path
So onto a bus
They deposited us
While the workers all had a good laugh.

In Yorkshire confusion's complete
Where the terms "bar" and "gate" have me beat
By the river called Ouse
A bar won't serve booze--
It's a gate! And "gate" means a street.

In Scotland's fair capital, people
Can stare, stupefied, at a steeple
Or tarry a while
Upon Royal Mile
And dine upon something uneatable

"Make Poverty History now!"
Cried the Edinburgh protesting crowd
And they marched 'round the street
'Till they fell off their feet
(Or whatever it was they'd avowed).

[for Borden]
Your friends from the U.S. of Am.
Have brought you some shortbread and jam
With thanks for your kindness
They hope you will find this
With love, from Miriam and Graham

There once was a fellow named Gideon
Who lived on the Greenwich Meridian
Inter-hemisphere travel
Makes others unravel
But for him it was strictly quotidian

At Oxford a student named Howard
Had an outlook too ivory-towered
So he switched to All Soul's
And restructured his goals
Now he's hunting the mythical mallard


Me on a Bridge I spent a couple days at Miriam's place in Philadelphia after we got back from England. There was a bit too much groggy recovery time in those two days to actually see much of the city, but we did spend a lot of time in Fairmount Park, which, I think, was exactly what I needed. It's a beautiful park, and just walking through the woods there relaxed and rejuvenated me more than anything else had in a long while. A very good place.

On Thursday, inspired by Scotland, we took a shot at making shortbread from a recipe online. Brown sugar shortbread, no less, which I had once years ago and loved. It ended up within shouting distance of actual shortbread, at least, though not necessarily recognizable as such if you didn't know ahead of time what it was supposed to be. Still good though. That night we ate crêpes at Le Beau Monde (where the job description for the waitresses must have prominently featured the term "quirky") and then went swing dancing at the Tokio Ballroom. That was fun but jet lag had me zonked out pretty early.

Notes of interest only to Liz Carroll fans:
  • I found Wissahickon Avenue and Wissahickon Creek but not Wissahickon Drive. So close.
  • We also passed a Wingohocking Street. I should write a tune for that to go with Wissahickon Drive.

London Again, and Oxford

Appropriately enough, July 4th was the day we came back down to London and met up with various fellow Americans. Borden was kind enough to let us stay at his place in Greenwich for a couple nights, and we also saw Miriam's parents and sister, who were in London for a few days at the end of a trip to France.

Profiles Having enjoyed our previous time at the Globe so much, we convinced Miriam's family to go see Pericles with us that night. Her parents got actual seats, but Maya came down to stand by the stage with us. This play was done as a "modern practices production," so it was a good complement to the original-style one we had seen before. It also featured some exciting acrobatics on ropes suspended above the stage. I think they had to scour the world to find people who could do that kind of thing and act. Great show, and very much worth going to the Globe again. If I lived in London, I would probably go see every play that goes on there.

Flowers and the Radcliffe Camera The next day, Miriam and I made a short trip out to Oxford. I think that if I had Stanford to do over again, I would probably consider a quarter or two in Oxford much more seriously. I liked it there. Seems like it might be weird though, to be a student at a place where tourists pay admission to come poke their noses in. Oh well.

Christ Church Cathedral was lovely, but had a very mysterious sound. It was a low, rumbling hum, just barely a note rather than a noise, that seemed to come from somewhere off in the distance but surrounded us nevertheless. I imagine there are shifting staircases, Hogwarts-style, somewhere, or other parts of the building are humming to themselves.

In the afternoon at Magdalen College we were starved, having skipped lunch, so we went for a quick bite at the little cafe in the college, fearing a dull, expensive little tourist trap. To our delight, it wasn't like that at all. The only people there were two friendly waitresses and a man who travels around the country taking photographs of cathedrals, and who spent our lunch time telling us all about it and showing us pictures. He was a very nice guy, retired I think, and just doing this as a hobby, though he said he might put together a book some day. So that was a fun little interlude in an afternoon of sight-seeing.

I liked All Soul's College because they have a gorgeous courtyard, but it's hidden. You see a small, simple green square when you first go in, but that's just the decoy courtyard. If you head to the back right corner, you find a short hall leading out into a much larger, more ornate courtyard, with some beautiful views. Plus, they have a song about a giant duck. Must be a cool place.

Blackwell's bookshop was also fantastic. I wish I could swap that in for my local Borders. There are several floors above ground, with new, used and antique books, but the basement is the really fascinating bit. It's set up on three concentric split levels, so that when you're on the top level or the stairs, you can see not only the large horizontal expanse of books, but also three levels of depth. I wonder if that's the largest number of books I've actually been physically able to see at once? Felt like it, at least. It's like a bibliophile's heaven.

That evening we went back to London and had dinner with Borden. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to see much in Greenwich, though we did get to walk under the prime meridian, which is marked by a green laser beam arching across the nighttime sky. It's amusing to think that Borden lives in the Eastern hemisphere but works in the Western hemisphere. What a commute!

Other notes:
  • Goddard's Pie House has some delicious and cheap meals. We didn't go back for the jellied eels, though, I'm afraid.
  • Magdalen Chapel had monochrome stained glass windows, which seemed odd at first but which was fascinating in its own way.
  • We at dinner at a restaurant with goldfish bowls suspended from the chandeliers.
  • Innocent Drinks juice bottles have stories about monkeys on them.
  • On our flight home the next day, the pilot announced that London had won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. People applauded, and it was a nice resolution to two weeks of seeing "back the bid" and "make Britain proud" posters.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Make Poverty History March What we didn't know when we scheduled ourselves to be in Edinburgh for the first weekend in July was that it would put us smack in the middle of the Make Poverty History march and G8 Alternatives protests. 225,000 people marched through Edinburgh that Saturday, so we hardly got the typical tourist experience. But it was really neat to be there for that, and fun to follow the march around town. It feels very different though, to see anti-Bush slogans and posters abroad than at home. (There were a lot of those, mixed in with all the other issues.)

Whale Bones The National Art Gallery was closed since it was on the protest route, but we did get to go to the Museum of Scotland (connected to, but not to be confused with, the Royal Museum of Scotland). This was an excellent museum, covering the entire history of Scotland from prehistory to the present. They even had a couple of Andy Goldsworthy pieces there, which made me happy.

Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh Castle has some great views of the city from up on "The Mound" of volcanic rock it's built on. Among many other things, we got to see the crown jewels of Scotland, which have a rather silly story attached to them. As I understand it, once Scotland became part of the UK they no longer needed their own crown jewels (sceptre, crown, etc.) so they locked them in a box and locked that in a room. Then they promptly got themselves all confused and started wondering if the crown jewels were really in there, and where they might be if they weren't. It was all very mysterious for about 100 years until Sir Walter Scott came along and had the brilliant idea of actually checking. Lo and behold, the crown jewels were right were they had been left, and Sir Walter got a plaque in Edinburgh Castle for it, probably along with some other recognitions. Yay for him.

The Firth of Forth On the edge of the city is Holyrood Park, which has even farther ranging views than the castle does. We went hiking out there for a few hours on Sunday morning, and went to the top of Salisbury Crags, though not Arthur's Seat. (Darn. I guess we'll just have to go back some day for that one.) Walking along sheer cliffs with the wind trying to buffet you off is an exciting sensation. On a smaller hill were the ruins of St. Andrew's Church, overlooking a small lake with swans and ducks. Very picturesque. It was nice to get out of the city for a while and into something more approaching nature, even if it was still crisscrossed with footpaths, tourists and joggers.

The short bits:
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh are lovely, though why they close at 6:45 pm when there is still a good 3 or 4 hours of daylight left is beyond me.
  • An alternative park for our dinnertime picnic (Inverleith) had a cricket game we could watch. Still no idea how cricket works, but entertaining none the less.
  • Sir Walter Scott's memorial is one of the more evil-looking constructions I've seen, though it's got some competition from a creepy black tower on the Royal Mile. Both would look at home in Mordor.
  • We saw War of the Worlds at the cinema, where I ate Revels (chocolate candies with varying centers).
  • I love shortbread.


View from the Art Gallery Steps One of the things about visiting England is that it can be hard to tell sometimes whether that castle across the street is actually a tourist attraction or just a boarding school founded 1400 years ago. The one by our hotel in York was a school. Crazy.

Miriam falling off a wall York is surrounded by about 2 miles of old castle walls, which are great for strolling, viewing the city from above, falling off of, and finding little nooks in. The giant gates in the walls are called bars, not gates, and gates are streets (though streets can also be just streets). Also, the river Ouse is pronounced "ooze." It's prettier than it sounds, though.

York Minster Before the trip, I had reread (and shared with Miriam) chapter 3 of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. So when we went to York Minster we were on the lookout for speaking stones. And in a way, we found them. There was a service going on in the chapel at the time, and it was being piped out through various speakers tucked all around the Minster. So it really was like walking by a pillar and hearing it speak. Wonderful. We also got to go into the chapel for the last part of the service. I loved the organ music and the choir singing. At the end of the service, the choir filed out past us, still singing, and we could hear each part individually as they walked by, until they gathered together again in the next room and the harmonies recombined.

York is a pretty haunted place, but at this point it may have more ghost walk tours than actual ghosts. We went on the original one though, which was probably the only case (for the entire trip) of us allowing ourselves to be herded along with a gaggle of tourists like that. But it was worth it to listen to a great storyteller. The stories weren't even all about ghosts per se, but also about other unexplained and mysterious phenomena, like the walls of Clifford Castle running red with blood every hundred years, or a past life hypnosis session that described the crypt of St. Mary's church 15 years before it was actually unearthed and discovered.

Other highlights:
  • Used book stores. Unlimited time and money -- that's all I need. But I managed to restrain myself for the most part.
  • Turkish delight. Yum.
  • Eating Indian takeaway by (and on) the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey.
  • Dancing on cobblestones to Strauss waltzes being played on a harmonica.
  • Emperor Constantine distributing largesse in the form of oranges.

Bath and the Southwest

The River Avon After London we went to Bath for a couple of days. We only really spent the first day in Bath though, and the second was more of a run-around-to-lots-of-places sort of day. But of that, more anon.

One of the first things we did was to see the Assembly Rooms of Bath, which are ballrooms and such that the Jane Austen types would go to to be seen in high society. By sheer luck, we found ourselves on the largest of the dance floors with no one else around, so we had a quick waltz twice around the room to hummed strains of the Blue Danube. That was fun. Underneath the Assembly Rooms is the Museum of Costume, which was actually tolerably interesting, though I think Miriam got rather more out of that than I did.

Bath Abbey Bath Abbey was beautiful, full of stained glass and dead people. Right next to it were the Roman Baths had lots of interesting Roman artifacts and green water. The wishing pool also now has 25¢ and 10p more than it had before we got there. The reflections were nice, too.

Botanic Gardens The Botanic Gardens were gorgeous, though their closing time of 9 pm was silly (it's still light for another hour at least after that). However, there was a playground nearby that emptied itself of kids at about the same time. This playground was great; I wish I had one like it when I was younger (heck, I'd take it now, too). In addition to the usual swings, slides, etc. it had a zip line, a climbing wall, a great climbing web of ropes (like monkey bars, but way better) and something called (I think) The Hags. This latter was sort of an ultra super seesaw. Each person sits at the end of a long rigid arm and the joint in the middle lets the arm rotate around the center pole and also angle up and down. So once you start pushing yourself off the ground and get going fast enough, you can fly around the pole in a sine wave kind of motion. It's fantastic.

Glastonbury Tor Anyway, the next day was our crazy day. We started off with a 1.5 hour bus trip out to Glastonbury. We saw the Abbey ruins and climbed the Tor, where the wind attempted to blow us back off the entire time. I could hardly blame it, of course, with all the tourists it has to endure up there. We had to skip Chalice Wells on the way back into town, unfortunately, since we needed to catch another bus.

How Stonehenge was really made There weren't any convenient bus routes out to Stonehenge from Glastonbury, so we actually went all the way back home to Bath and got on the train to Salisbury. From there we managed to get on the last bus to Stonehenge, where it was raining lightly and treating us to a bit of thunder and lightning as well. Very cool. After we got back to Salisbury, we went to the cathedral but only had a few minutes outside before they closed it. We admired it from outside a bit, but it was getting rather darker and wetter by this time, so we didn't spend long there. That's a place that would deserve going back for more time in better weather, though.

On the way back to Bath we took the last train of the night, which was running a bit late. About half way back the train stopped at Westbury station, having been informed that Network Rail was doing some nighttime engineering work on the track ahead of us. They negotiated for a while, but they didn't let us through. So we all got shuffled off into various buses bound for Bath, Bristol and Cardiff, and we ended up getting home that way. So all in all, the day probably had about as much transportation nonsense as anything else, but we still managed to do and see a lot of fun stuff, so it was good.

Random tidbits:
  • After a while, it seems that everything in Bath is named Blah Blah Blah of Bath. This becomes more amusing the more things you apply it to.
  • Yak Yeti Yak is really just the best name for a Nepalese restaurant.
  • There was an antique maps shop in Bath that offered free international shipping. Thankfully it was closed, or I would have blown a horrid amount of money there.
  • A fine Indian restaurant in Salisbury received my umbrella as a tip. Luckily, it wasn't raining anymore when we left (though actually, I guess that's why I left it in the first place).


Blogger Goes to London We spent the first four days of our trip in London. Recovering from two overnight flights in a row plus jet lag was a bit of a pain, but it was exciting enough to finally be in England that it didn't matter much. We stayed in room 404 of the Leisure Inn, but we managed to find it every time.

We did get tube passes but ended up walking places the vast majority of the time (as we did for most of the rest of the trip as well). It's more fun to be out and actually moving yourself around the city than to be tunneling around underground everywhere. We did a rough approximation of the Jubilee walk on one of the days, to see a lot of the famous sights, and similar amounts of walking the rest of the time. I am glad beyond words that I decided to get new shoes and insoles before I left.

On Saturday night, we took a mess of public transportation out to Hackney for the Cotton Clubbers' Honey Pot Dance Battle. This was a swing dance competition (followed by social dancing, of course) but in a different form than I had seen before. It was a competition between teams of 4 or 5 couples and two teams at a time would line up on either side of the dance floor and be given two swing tunes in a row. They'd use the intervening floor space to dance at each other in couples or groups, with constant trading off of musical phrases and dancing space. There was a lot of good dancing, along with a lot of general silliness, so it was highly entertaining.

Outside the Globe One of my favorite things we did in London though, was seeing a play at the Globe. For £5 you can get a standing spot in the yard, which, if you're early enough, means that you can stand literally right up against the stage. It is more than worth 2-3 hours of standing and a crick in the neck to do this. We saw A Winter's Tale, which was an "original practices production," meaning they approximate as closely as possible the way in which it might have been performed in Shakespeare's time. It was absolutely fantastic. If you're ever in London and want to see a play there, don't spend more money for a seat, just get right down there in front. There's nothing like it. Also, the music was excellent. I need to get myself some renaissance music some time.

We passed enough amusing street performers along the banks of the Thames that I think they deserve a mention here as well. Perhaps the most gimmicky was a tightrope-walking saxophone player. We also got a neat magic show from a young man named Charlie Caper (great name!) and talked to another guy named Storm who's playing guitar on the streets as he hitchhikes around Europe. I was particularly fascinated by an old man with wild white hair and beard, dressed in a t-shirt, sweat pants and ribbons, and playing violin. He was playing classical music (I don't know what, specifically), and playing it quite well too, but with an incredible energy and excitement that made me think more of fiddling than anything else. I loved it.

Other random tidbits:

Thursday, July 07, 2005

We're Okay

For those of you who didn't know, Miriam and I flew back from London to Philadelphia yesterday, so we were gone by the time the bombings happened and we're okay. I'll be getting home tomorrow night and blogging about the trip (which was great) this weekend.