Posted by barb on Sep 22, 2014 in Travels
We decided to see one last site in Philly before we drove home today – the Philadelphia Zoo.
I wanted to go partly because they had an okapi there – one of my favorite animals – but also because I’m just a sucker for zoos.
We found the giraffes.
Andrew had a moment with the otters.
The orangutans had sheets in their enclosure for some enrichment today. When we got there, one of the orangutans had her sheet on like a veil. Then she dropped that one and followed the other orangutan, who had a purple sheet. They both hid under that sheet for a few moments, then got up and walked off together, one holding the other’s shoulder. Very cute.
One really cool thing this zoo had was what it calls “Zoo 360.” Essentially they have “tunnels” through parts of the zoo so that some of the animals can roam a bit further than their normal enclosures. I think they had it for some of the primates, but we experienced it in the big cat area. As we were walking through the exhibits, we saw a pair of clouded leopards meandering over us.
And while we were having lunch, across from the big cats, a jaguar came over to see what was up. (It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but the “tunnel” was near the window of the cafe.) It happened that some of the zoo’s maintenance workers needed to get to something near the tunnel, so we watched them wait until the jaguar turned back around to a point where a zookeeper could close off the tunnel.
In the small mammal house, we saw the aardvarks sleeping together. Look at that belly!
And, of course, we found the okapi!
We did take a moment to get a picture of the two of us.
Happy 10th Anniversary to Us!
Posted by barb on Sep 21, 2014 in Travels
One of the things Andrew and I have talked about seeing in Philly for a long time was the Mütter Museum. It’s one of the offbeat museums that we’re attracted to across the country, though a bit more legitimate (or at least more successful) than some of the others we’ve gone to (for example, the Dime Museum in Baltimore and the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minnesota both closed a couple years after we had visited them).
Unfortunately, the M&uulm;tter doesn’t allow pictures inside the museum. Or maybe that’s fortunate. It’s a museum of medical curiosities, with loads of specimens collected through the 19th century. Andrew and I wandered on our own, taking in whatever interested each of us. At one point I passed him as I was walking into another room, and he just looked at me, shook his head, and said, “So much can go wrong.”
There was an extensive skull collection from a variety of people who died in a lot of different ways and with different ailments evidenced in their skulls. I was struck by the side-by-side skeletons of two women, one who had regularly worn a tightly-laced corset and one who did not – the damage to the ribcage was spectacular. Also noteworthy was the drawers full of things people have swallowed. Each drawer was labeled with things such as, “hardware,” “buttons,” “pins,” and “toys.”
[The Mütter Museum was free with our Philadelphia Pass, a $15 value.]
From there, we thought we might try to take in part of The Barnes Foundation Museum. However, when we got there, we found that they sold timed tickets, and the next entrance was a couple hours off. I didn’t really feel like waiting that long, especially since the museum would close just a couple hours after we got in, so we took a pass.
Instead, we hopped the hop-on-hop-off bus for the last time, and circled around the loop past the Philadelphia Art Museum where I snapped a few pictures from the bus.
We rode the bus almost to the end of their tour route and hopped off to see Elfreth’s Alley. This is the oldest continuously-inhabited residential neighborhood in the U.S.
From there, we weren’t too far from our hotel, so we walked back. On the way, I made us stop at the Besty Ross House gift shop to pick up a scrapbook kit I had seen there yesterday, but didn’t want to carry around all day. We also stopped at a comic book and game store, grabbing The Reef 2-player game that we played in our hotel when we got back.
Final tally on the Philadelphia Pass?
Paid: $80 for a 3-day pass (which was an internet special that got us a 3-day pass for the price of a 2-day pass)
Which got us:
- 3-day pass on the Big Bus Tour, $48 value
- The Franklin Institute admission, $18.50 value
- Betsy Ross House admission, $5 value
- Eastern State Penitentiary admission, $14 value
- Ghost Tour of Philadelphia, $17 value
- Mütter Museum admission, $15 value
Grand total: $117.50
So, even at full price of $100, the 3-day pass would have been worth the money. (No, I’m not being paid by the Philly Pass folks – I was just curious to see if we got our money’s worth!)
Posted by barb on Sep 20, 2014 in Travels
Half-marathon training doesn’t take a break, even for 10th anniversary vacations, and I had a 9.5 mile run on my schedule for this weekend. The plan was for us to head up to Fairmount Park where Andrew would rent a bike (with his newly-purchased bike shorts from the night before) and we would both do the 8-mile loop (Andrew a couple times, resupplying me with water along the way). That was the plan.
Little did we know there was a big 5k going on in addition to normal Saturday busy-ness. We ended up driving pretty far past the bike rental place before we could find a parking spot. We dithered for a while about what to do. I *could* still do my run while Andrew sat and read his book a the car. But, then I would have no back-up – no source of fresh water or Gu/sports beans to ensure I didn’t run out. And, I’d be feeling bad about leaving Andrew just sitting there for a couple hours. In the end, we drove back to the hotel, run not accomplished. I decided I would make it up one evening on the treadmill after work next week.
The revised plan for the day was to start at the Betsy Ross house. We toured the house, meeting Betsy Ross on the way.
[We got in free here with our Philadelphia Pass, a $5 value.]
Then we hopped the hop-on-hop-off bus again (our 3-day passes from yesterday were still good!) to the Eastern State Penitentiary. It was an active prison from 1829 to 1971. It was a new type of prison, where inmates were isolated from everyone. They had a small room with just a small opening for food, and that opened to a small private outdoor area. From the time they went in to the time they went out, they saw no one else. The idea was that they were to ponder what they had done wrong. Not much had been done to the site since it closed in 1971, so it stands in ruin. Very cool.
Al Capone was even here for a little while.
[We got in free to the Eastern State Penitentiary with our Philadelphia Pass, a $14 value.]
We didn’t want to pack too much in to the day, so we went back to the hotel and kicked back for a little while before heading off to Ghost Tour of Philadelphia
It was fun to hear ghost stories of the area. Do I believe them? Not really, but still fun to scare yourself every once in a while.
[We got our ghost tour free with our Philadelphia Pass, a $17 value.]
Our tour ended at Washington Square, where we stopped to look at the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier – beautiful at night.
Posted by barb on Sep 19, 2014 in Travels
We started Day 2 of our adventure by returning to the Independence Hall visitor’s center. We had picked up a brochure yesterday for the Philadelphia Pass – a pass that gets you into a bunch of sites for free. It included one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, and we found an online special to get the 3-day pass for the price of the 2-day pass. It seemed like a good deal – I’ll summarize how we did with that on the last day.
Our plan was to go to the Franklin Institute, and the best way to get there (without walking) was to grab the hop-on-hop-off bus, so we picked up the Big Bus Tour near Independence Hall.
[We got a 3-day pass for the Big Bus Tour free with our Philadelphia Pass - a $48 value.]
The Franklin Institute is a science museum. It was between traveling exhibits, so we missed out on a couple of the exhibit halls, but the permanent exhibits were still well worth our time.
There was an exhibit on the brain, which included a segment on optical illusions and tricking the brain. The most striking thing in the exhibit was an illusion where you and a friend enter a hotel room. The room is slanted, as is a bed that one of you lays down on. Within a couple seconds, your brain is convinced that your still-standing friend is standing at an angle, not that you are laying at an angle. Very freaky.
There couldn’t very well be a science museum named after Benjamin Franklin without a hall on electricity! The electricity exhibit included some historic pieces from Franklin’s research on electricity and some things to try ourselves.
Andrew was playing with an exhibit, and ended up with a bit of static electricity in his hair!
There was also a big exhibit on flying and air flow – the Franklin Air Show. Felicia *had* to try out the fighter jet cockpit.
We also took in an IMAX show, walked around Sir Isaac’s Loft (exploring forces and gravity), and spent a little time in the Amazing Machine’s (exploring mechanics and machines).
[The Franklin Institute was another thing included in the Philadelphia Pass, an $18.50 value.]
Since today was officially our anniversary, we tried to find a nice-ish restaurant on our way back to the hotel. We settled on a Thai place on South Street. It was a great choice for us – not too upscale (because we just don’t *do* that), but very good food. While at dinner, Andrew realized that he had forgotten bike shorts for our planned run (me)/bike (him) expedition tomorrow. So, he ran off after dinner to see if he could get to a nearby bike shop before they closed. I walked back to the hotel, and found this sign along the way.
Posted by barb on Sep 18, 2014 in Travels
Andrew and I decided that we needed to do something for our 10th anniversary. Sure, we’re planning a big trip in a year or two, which is really our anniversary present to each other (much like we waited a couple years for our “real” honeymoon – a Mediterranean cruise to see the 2006 total solar eclipse – but had a few-day getaway a B&B nearby right after our wedding). We decided on Philadelphia because it’s close, and we’ve been talking about wanting to go for a while.
We started up in the morning, not too early, but with a goal of getting there before lunch so we would have the afternoon to walk around and decide how we would spend the rest of our trip. It was a quick drive (< 3 hours). Our hotel room wasn't ready yet (no surprise, since check-in was at 3PM). So, we dropped off our car and luggage, grabbed a quick lunch, and started walking toward the Independence Hall area.
We started at the Liberty Bell, since the line was fairly short. Learned (again, since I had been there once before) that the famous crack appears the way it does due to efforts to fix it. It had a small crack and was re-cast twice before this crack was widened in an attempt to fix it. No luck, so they finally gave up.
Next we walked across the street to the Independence Visitor Center. We grabbed a bunch of brochures for other places we wanted to visit, and then found out that we could get (free) tickets to see Independence Hall – where the Declaration of Independence was signed.
At that point, it was getting too late to see much else, so we walked around to the Philadelphia City Hall and found a couple of nearby parks with sculptures. One of my favorites is the “Your Move” sculpture, a park with oversized game pieces scattered around.
Finally, we made our way back to our hotel – a long walk from where we ended up. We saw Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite on the way. People, inspired by his saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned” leave pennies on his grave. We later heard that the grave makes about $4,000 per year in pennies.
We also found dinner near our hotel at a place called Lucha Cartel. I particularly taken by their take on The Last Supper – done with Mexican wrestlers painted on the backs of skateboards.
I had a pineapple jalapeño margarita, which was hot, but tasty.
Posted by barb on Sep 1, 2014 in Cute Pets
My 16-year old kitty crossed over the rainbow bridge early this morning. We’ve known for a while that we would need to make hard decisions soon, so it wasn’t a shock, but that didn’t make it any easier.
She came into my life in my last few months living in New Mexico. A friend had found a mama cat with a litter of kittens who were about 2-days old in March 1998. I was leaving New Mexico to move to Maryland at the end of May, just about the time the kittens would be ready to leave their mama. Artemis was the only girl of the litter, and I claimed her, since I already had a boy cat, and he marked.
In late May, just after my undergraduate graduation, Artemis, Ares, and I drove with my parents back to Minnesota. We spent a couple weeks in Minnesota, getting some of the things I would need to start my graduate student life in Maryland, and then Dad and I drove with the two cats to Maryland.
She, Ares and I all went through many life milestones together. I entered grad school with them, got my master’s degree, quit grad school, went back to grad school and graduated with my PhD with both of them. I met Andrew, dated, moved in with him and his cat, Duncan, and married. I also lost my Dad with both of them in my life. Ares crossed the rainbow bridge a few months after I lost Dad, and I think that was the beginning of the end of Artemis – she had known him as long as she had known me, and spent more time with him, since they were always in the in house together. She never quite recovered from losing her friend.
This weekend I told her that if she was ready to stop fighting, I was ready to respect her decision. On Sunday, she stopped showing any interest in food, and lost some control. We knew it was time. Overnight she was in some distress, so we had to let her go. I have to believe that she’s now finding her friend Ares again, sitting in my Dad’s lap, purring and getting pets.
My names for her included: Artemis, Little Miss, Baby Girl, Little Girl
Hiding Artemis: Jocco couldn’t find Artemis when he was pet-sitting for me once when we were in grad school. He ended up calling my friend Stef (who was also going to help out with the pet-sitting) for help. She asked him a bunch of questions, like, is food disappearing? have there been poops in the litter box? Since he wasn’t himself a cat-owner, I’m sure these questions seemed odd. I don’t remember if he found her, or if Stef finally had to come over, but in the end, Artemis had been hiding under the ottoman of my comfy chair. Silly, clever girl.
Alpha Artemis: Artemis had always been shy around humans, so we kind of assumed that she was a submissive kitty. In my apartment, it was just her and Ares, and I never really saw them squabble, so I had no evidence to the contrary. However, Andrew brought a new cat into the mix when he and I moved in together – his cat Duncan. It took some time before we saw them interact much, but I remember one time they both rounded the corner on the landing of our second floor at the same time from different directions. We watched as Duncan started to challenge Artemis, and she put it right in his place. There was some growling, and maybe some paw swipes (I can’t remember), but fairly quickly, Duncan submitted (can’t remember if he slunk away or laid down — over time, we saw him do both). I think Andrew and I had different reactions – I uttered a “go girl”, encouraging Artemis, but Andrew felt a little bad for his kitty. We were both shocked to learn that she was the alpha in the house.
Snooze-control: When I was still a full-time student, I had a lot of freedom for what time I would get up in the morning, as long as I was to school on time for class. I would set an alarm to make sure I didn’t sleep away the whole morning, but usually would snooze 1-5 times (it was fairly random). Somehow, Artemis would know exactly when I had decided that THIS snooze was the LAST one for the morning. She would choose the moment when I hit the snooze button to jump up on the bed and lay on my chest. Almost every morning. And often, she would get me to snooze once or twice more.
Laptop patrol: Ever since I got my first laptop (and more recently a tablet), Artemis was sure to let me know when I had spent enough time with it sitting in my lap. She would come and sit on the arm of my comfy chair, and head-butt my hand or bat at my fingers – making it clear that SHE should be in my lap, not the stupid computer. Most of the time she was right…and pretty much all of the time in the past few months.
Posted by barb on Mar 2, 2014 in Movies
For the past several years, Andrew and I have been going to see the Oscar(tm)-nominated short films at our local theater (well, it’s not exactly local anymore, since we moved to the other side of the Beltway…). So, this year, when the program showed up at Cinema Arts Theatre, we made a plan to trek over to Fairfax for the day and catch both the animated and live-action programs.
Here’s my take on this year’s crop.
Spoiler Alert I’m probably going to give away some of the plots/turning points in these shorts, so go see the films first, before reading!
Get a Horse [Clip]
This was a Disney short, and starts out in the old black and white, small screen format. Suddenly, a couple characters break through the screen and find themselves in 3D color. The film continues with the characters popping into and out of the screen – into 3D color then back to flat, black and white.
It felt like this concept had been done before, many times. In fact, it seemed vaguely like Day and Night from Disney Pixar, which was nominated in 2010.
If this one wins, it will be because of the sentimentality of the old-style Mickey Mouse.
Mr. Hublot [Trailers]
Mr. Hublot is an OCD single man living in a steampunk-inspired future with tons of retro-looking automation. One day, he sees an abandoned robot-dog, and he can’t get this little guy out of his mind.
This one was my favorite. Though the story was predictable, with the ending set up fairly obviously in the opening shots, the story was uplifting…and the puppy was cute. And the animation style was straight-forward and fun to look at.
This one was about a feral child picked up in the woods. While there was a story present, the main driver of this piece is the watercolor-style animation.
Personally, I find this type of animation hard to look at, but I can appreciate the beauty that others must find in it. This one may win, just because the style sets it apart from the others and makes it seem more “arty”, which often attracts the Oscar voters.
Bizarre story based on the old Japanese idea that if possessions are old enough, they begin to possess a soul that can taunt people. A “fixer of all things” is caught in the woods during a storm and stumbles into an old house. All night the objects in the house taunt him int fixing them.
Room on the Broom [Trailer]
Going in to today’s movies, we were both hoping there wouldn’t be yet another Gruffalo short…well there wasn’t, but Room on the Broom was from the same team and author. It is based on a children’s book, so the film was cute, as were the Gruffalo shorts, but not terribly substantive or interesting beyond the cuteness.
My prediction is that Feral will win, because of the animation style more than anything. We’ll see tonight!
The live-action program started with this, a sentimental piece about a hospital janitor trying to comfort a dying child with tales of the world of Helium, a more-fun alternative to Heaven. It was cute and sad and sentimental – everything that we come to expect from the live-action shorts. Sigh. From the moment it started #150; in a hospital with a sick child – we knew exactly where it would end.
The Voorman Problem [Trailer]
What do you do when a prisoner proclaims to be a god? And, when that prisoner convinces the entire prison population that he’s a god? Send in a psychologist of course. This short shows us what happens next.
One of few comedies that we’ve seen in all the live-action shorts we’ve seen over the years, this one was fun and extremely well-done with just a few short scenes.
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) [Trailer]
This short captures the day a woman’s decides to take her kids and leave her abusive husband. I found myself drawn in almost immediately, and continued to be engaged throughout the entire piece. The danger for this woman felt very real, and the urgency carried through every moment of the piece.
This one could win tonight, and I would heartily support that win.
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) [Trailer]
Set in Africa, this piece follows a pair of Spanish aid workers who are kidnapped by a group of child soldiers. The acting was not great – perhaps because the actors were working in English, which was clearly not their first language. However, even if the acting was great, I would have been disengaged from the beginning. I know that child soldiers are a real problem in parts of the world, and I do know that their plight needs to be brought out to the public…it just seems that there are other ways to do it. Or maybe not. I know it’s complicated.
If this one wins tonight, it will be due to the subject matter, not the film itself.
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) [Trailer]
A very short (7 minute) comedy about a family late getting ready to attend a wedding. So many unexpected moments, and I may have laughed out loud. I doubt it will win, but this was my favorite.
I’m guessing that either That Wasn’t Me or Just Before Losing Everything will win tonight. It’s so hard for comedies to win these awards, though those were probably my favorite in this program.
Posted by barb on Jan 29, 2014 in Games
Several years ago we took a board game class through our county’s community education series. One of our favorite games (as evidenced by the fact that we bought it) was Wooly Bully. In this game, each player is a farmer with a different color (black, blue, red or yellow). Your goal is to fence in as many of your sheep as you can by the end of the game. This can be done in one large enclosure or in many small enclosures — whatever sheep you have completely enclosed scattered around the full playing area count toward your score.
At the beginning of the game, only you know what color sheep you have. You lay tiles, matching sheep colors and/or terrain (there are “village” sections and forest sections — see the detail picture showing a few tiles). When you lay a tile, you replace that tile but you also get to pick additional tiles if you match more than one side of the tile you laid — this way you can get more tiles in your had to choose from.
The village and forest tiles count as “fences” to completely fence in your sheep. However, you need to beware the forest — there are a four wolf tiles that can be played at any time. These wolves in the forest nullify any sheep enclosures that use that forest to close them. If you are lucky, you might have a hunter in your hand that can also be played at any time. The hunter kills the wolf, thereby making your sheep safe again.
To make the game a bit more complicated, each tile is double-sided, so you can play the reverse side of the wolf or hunter to get four additional sheep of a single color — this is a bonus if you happen to get the hunter or wolf with your color of sheep. But, of course, there’s some strategy to how and when you play that tile!
We’ve found that this game isn’t quite as fun with just two players, but works quite well for 3 or 4 players. The rules are very simple, so it’s also the perfect game when you don’t have a lot of time to explain the rules of a complicated game or you just want to get right into a game. The strategy shifts from game to game as you try to figure out whether to make a lot of small enclosures to to go for a ginormous, rambling pasture.
Posted by barb on Jan 21, 2014 in Games
Andrew and I have gotten back into board games. We first got into them a few years ago when we took a couple board gaming classes through our county’s community education program. We’ve played on and off over the last few years, but not with any regularity.
For 2014, we’ve committed to two things that will help us reconnect with our gaming-selves. First, we are hosting a gaming event at our house once a month for a small group of gamers (at least a small group to start). Second, we’ve committed to playing games together at least once each week or every-other week (if we’re busy on gaming night).
Our first game of the year was All Creatures Great and Small, which is a 2-player version of the game Agricola. I’ve never played either, so I can’t say how the 2-player version relates to the full version.
Each player has a farm, and the game is played in eight rounds, with three turns for each player in each round. There are several actions a player can do with their turn, from building fences for their animals, collecting resources, taking in animals, building stables or a new cottage. At the end of the game, players get points for the number of animals of each type and certain buildings. Once an action is taken by one person, it can’t be done by the other. (At least, not in the exact same way.) At the end of each round, pairs of animals have babies (as long as you have enough room for them).
I kept finding that I wanted one more turn each round, which, of course, is the point of limiting the rounds. There was a balance to how early to obtain animals, when to build a structure and when to enclose a pasture. We played two games, and I certainly didn’t feel like I figured out the strategy in that time. I suspect, as with any good strategy game, the strategy changes each time, depending on what your opponent does.
I’m looking forward to playing this one again, and might even look into the full game for our gaming parties.
Here’s my board at the end of one of our games: