Monday, 30 May 2016

Memorial Day

It was Memorial Weekend here, and by some kind of planetary alignment it was also a Bank Holiday in the UK.  To celebrate we undertook those twin pillars of British existence: naval dominion and barbecues in the rain.

The naval side of things was achieved on Lake Needlewood, where we hired a row boat for a couple of hours in the scorching heat.  The idea was that being on the water would keep things cool, and I imagine it did for those of us that didn't spend the time rowing.  Having two coxes shouting at me to go faster was a new experience.

After that we headed down to the Muckers, who were doing their usual trick of magnificently hosting an American holiday party.  Sadly they made the mistake of inviting the British, which guaranteed the downpour.  My parents' family album is full of photos of us barbecuing under umbrellas, usually in swimwear - because it's the summer and we're blooming well going to enjoy it!  Though I managed to convince Vince to reenact the moment he refused to do it shirtless.

Someone who was happy to be shirtless was Jack, who jumped into the Navy Yard fountains with the kids the next day when the sun came out again.  I stood on the side offering encouragement but didn't want to undermine his authority by paddling myself.  Holiday weekend or not, a British gentleman never removes his socks and sandals in public.

Looking ship-shape and Bristol fashion.

Down the gangplank.

The passengers.

The engine room.

The green and pleasant land surrounding Needlewood Lake.

We seem to be going in circles.

A floating buffet.

Holidays are a strain on Hannah.

There seems to be some drag on this boat...

In the interests of balance (of which there was little on the boat itself) here's Hannah putting in some effort, with Pete coaching.

 Classic family barbecue photo.

Feeding time.

Please control yourself in public, Mrs Murnane.

Boys in the water.

"No horseplay" says one sign, but rules aren't enforced on a holiday.

Thursday, 26 May 2016


Every day's a school day, especially when you actually go to school, like Pete, although I'm the main beneficiary of his Americo-Jewish education.  Never more so than today, when we attended our first upsherin (אפשערן).  This is a combined birthday party and haircut - a superb idea, although you have to wait until your little boy is three before you cut his flowing locks.  Grandma would have been pleased by that, me not so much.

Now, I'm not one to claim that having long hair makes you look like a girl, but Pete's friend Aviv had certainly surpassed anything I managed during my Californian phase.  Nor did he seem in a particular rush to lose it all, but a lollipop and a willing grandpa made the whole thing go a lot quicker than our last visit to the barber.

As with any self-respecting party there was cake, jelly beans, cookies, crisps...everything you want to feed a crowd of three-year-olds.  Before sitting them on a train!  Yes, this all took place in our local Wheaton Park, where for the first time we got "priority boarding" by dint of being upsherin guests.  So once again, while we escape a lot of those pesky Old Testament laws, Christianity could have stolen a few more cool things from our mother religion before we parted company...

Classmates Pete and Aviv.

Come for the haircut, stay for the train ride...which is what these boys are anticipating.

That looks like a healthy snack!  Because I managed to take the picture before the cinnamon bun, moon cookie, and huge slice of cake.

Preparation is 90%.

Everyone gathers, except those young ones too distracted by party food.

In position and...

Snip!  The deed is done by grandpa!

I'd have taken a little more off myself, but whatever.

Selfie on the train.  Pete now knows the word "selfie", which no 3-yr-old should.  I blame school friends.

Tally ho on the carousel!  Now that's a fine haircut, although marital disagreement on this point continues...

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Surrogate grandparents

My parents often leave weeks between trips to see us - sometimes even a month or two - so in this emotional and childcare drought it's wonderful to welcome Sue and Justin.  They've known me since I was Pete's age, and we have an unspoken agreement that as long as I keep them supplied with wine and good tourist information they don't tell Hannah too much about what I got up to when I was little.

They were here for a few days on an Amtrak jaunt down from NYC where they're visiting Sue's sister.  Pete and I gave them a (rainy) tour of downtown, including wandering by the massive police action when someone drove into the city in a white van and claimed to be contaminated with anthrax.  Hey - when in DC!  We let them loose on day two and met them by the Star Spangled Banner in the afternoon, before filling them up with a diner breakfast the next morning and waving them goodbye.

In between there was much playing of Star Wars, with Sue taking the role of "princess" and Justin excelling himself as "bad guy".  Given Pete's never watched Star Wars it'll now be interesting what he makes of it when we finally let him.  We also received an interim package of British goodies; Angel Delight, obviously, but also some never-before-seen M&S giant chocolate buttons!  Just when I thought the USA had everything...

We held an anti-Trump demonstration, in the requisite composed and restrained British manner.

All grandparents get to feed grandchildren hot chocolate and cookies, not just the ones you're related to.

Justin is a model railway enthusiast and I discovered a massive (MASSIVE) secondhand railway store five minutes from our house.  Sue did not thank me.  "God save the Queen!" the man who ran it said to us, many times, hilariously.

M&S Gigantic Milk Chocolate Buttons.  They're even bigger than the picture on the packet!  Go out and buy some right now.  Seriously.  Right now!  And thank me later.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Up a hill, down a mountain

We do very well for most things here on the East Coast but something we do lack is mountains.  Sure, there are some Blue Ridge ones off in Virginia (so I've heard from a song) but all the really big ranges are out west.  How I miss looking from our window in Vancouver and seeing the soaring, snow-capped peaks.  I never bothered to walk up any of them of course, far too much like hard work, but it was nice to know that they were there.

So on Saturday, when I found myself itching to be high up in the hills - as those of us with Welsh lineage are compelled to now and again - I was excited to discover that a short drive from us is Sugarloaf Mountain.  What?  There's a Sugarloaf Mountain in Wales too!  And many others, in various locations throughout the world, including twenty in the USA alone.

But no matter, because this one is our Sugarloaf, and like most American mountains has a road so that you can drive up to the summit.  Well, almost; they expect you to walk the last 1/4 mile, which is reasonable in the circumstances.  The lack of a gift shop and cafe at the top was, however, disappointing.

Pete made it all the way up and back, with whinging kept at bay by the generous provision of Cadbury's Chocolate Buttons.  On the way home Hannah - who had planned the trip - coincidentally happened to notice that there was a winery five minutes away.  A winery with a kids' play area (which, let's be honest, any self-respecting vineyard should have).  We made sure to reward ourselves, and replenish the essential minerals lost on such an arduous hike, with a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc.

Into the woods.

I remember when all this was just trees!

Pleased to be at the top.

Should you expire on the grueling trail there are plenty of takers...

Back down.

Well, that was exhausting, but I might have just enough energy to lift a glass to my lips...

Toasting our fortitude.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Ode to Joy (and German beer)

The longer I stay away from Britain, the more I discover how many foreigners there are in the world.  There are whole countries full of them - this one included! - and some weren't even part of the Empire.

Luckily, Washington DC is a very international city, with its constant churn of diplomats, Popes, etc. and so even this far-flung shore has to cater for those of us from the old countries.  Which is why we found ourselves this evening at Cafe Mozart enjoying some good old-fashioned German cooking.

Now, I'm not German personally, but my hometown of Frome is famously twinned with Murrhardt, a town in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany with the shortest Wikipedia page ever.  Their choir once visited us in the early-80s and stayed with families all across the town.  We hosted Helmut and Ushi at our house.  Helmut arrived in his BMW with a boot full of German beer (a near-mythical commodity in Britain at that time) and within days became the most popular man in Frome.

But I digress.  Cafe Mozart is the nearest restaurant to Hannah's work, and is very well disguised as a deli; you walk through various wonderful European goods (Kinder!  Toblerone!) before you discover the eatery at the back.  But once seated, and finding that they serve beer in two-litre glasses, you know you're in the right place.

The best bit (although this may be the two litres of beer talking) is the live accordion player, who wandered around the tables and regaled us with European classics.  It turned out she was from Austria, which I'd already spotted from her Tyrolean hat.  Cultural awareness - very important.

I admit to less acquaintance with German cuisine, aside from knowing that it's better than British food because...well.  But after devouring my sausage platter and chasing it down with apfelstrudel à la mode (while Hannah and Pete destroyed schnitzel and a Black Forest Gateau) I now have a new favourite DC restaurant.

Apparently my homeland will shortly be voting whether to stay in Europe or leave (by pulling our little island with tugboats to somewhere in the mid-Atlantic?)  Anyone considering severing ties should come and spend an evening in Cafe Mozart.  It would be a shame if our ex-colony over here appreciated our European siblings more than we did.

"Danke schoen," she said as we left. "Bitte sehr," I replied. That's my GCSE German exhausted in an instant.

Black Forest Gateau.  Like the 70s dinner party never ended!