Honestly, that was it. We happened upon the aquarium by accident because it was right by our hotel and we noticed one night when we were treated to dinner at a somewhat tacky, touristy restaurant nearby. Before we went back to Michigan, we decided to go check it out.
Well, needless to say, Noe and I were both very impressed with the aquarium. It is not the biggest aquarium either of us have ever seen, but the exhibits are really well designed, the facility is clean and well laid-out, and they have some truly fantastic animals, including Steller sea lions - one of only five facilities in the world that houses them.
Since the aquarium was the first thing about Connecticut that I actually liked, I had to apply to be a volunteer when I saw the form on the website.
Most volunteers start as docents, or interpreters - the people you hear on the microphones describing the animals or hanging out by exhibits answering questions. After 100 hours of being a docent, you are eligible for other volunteer assignments, including physically working on exhibits and getting up close and personal with the animals.
Docent training was a little intense, mainly because it was packed into four full-day Saturday sessions (which included speeches and tests). I finished training last week and today worked my first day as an actual volunteer (well, I "shadowed" an experienced docent, a very nice guy named Chris).
I worked the morning shift (8:30-2:30) and rotated through three exhibits: the ray touch pool, Birds of the Outback, and Pribilof Islands.
I didn't really think much about rays before the docent training class, but I love them now. If you stick your hand in the tank and don't splash around too much, they'll come right up to you. You can pet them like a cat. Kids usually describe them as "slimy" but they are actually very silky and smooth to the touch (due to their coating of protective mucus - sorry, couldn't resist the gross-out fact).
I thought the ray touch pool was chaotic until we rotated to another interactive exhibit, Birds of the Outback. If you want to see something louder and rowdier than a room full of kids trying to touch cownose rays, just put said kids in an enclosed tent with 300 birds (cockatiels, parakeets, and rosellas - all native to Australia). Really, the most fun part about being in BotO is walking around with Captain, our "mascot" cockatiel, on your shoulder. It was sort of like being a pirate.
I got to finish my shift on one of my favorite exhibits at the aquarium, the Pribilof Islands exhibit. We were on Pool 2, the pool housing one harbor seal (Rocky), two northern fur seals - actually sea lions (Zhivago and Commander), and four of the aforementioned Stellers (Lucia, Juneau, LA, and Astro). Mainly what you do as a docent at Pool 2 is get on the microphone and alternate interesting seal/sea lion information with safety warnings (such as "do not dangle your baby over the edge of the ten-foot wall that seperates them from a pool of 500+ pound animals).
I adored my first day at the aquarium and spent the afternoon wishing I had signed up for the full day shift instead of the half (I figured that half days would be a good way to test out how much I was really going to like it). I can't wait to go back and maybe work on some different exhibits next week. And I really can't wait to get my 100 hours in so I can get even closer to these amazing animals.
I promised you I was done hockey blogging until August. Well...I lied.
See, when I made that promise, I was only thinking about the Red Wings and the NHL season being over. I was not thinking about the fact that I might decide to play ice hockey.
This idea really started in Ann Arbor after I began hanging out with Chet and Lorraine. But I always had other things to do in Ann Arbor - soccer, kickball, and toward the end, tennis. The last thing I needed to do was start playing yet another sport when I was already past the ideal age to learn new skills. It took me seven years to get up to a passable level of mediocrity in soccer, after all.
But the idea of playing hockey always nagged at the back of my brain. Then I moved to Connecticut where I had no soccer and no tennis and started taking golf lessons, which was how I met Kelly. Not only did Kelly play hockey, she was willing to lend me equipment to get started.
Rather than jump directly into scrimmaging - not a good idea since I haven't been on skates since roughly the age of seven (no, wait, that's a lie - I skated with Sophie, Anthony, Jen, Bethany and Jess when we were 15) - Kelly forwarded me a flier for Bernie Cassell's Adult Hockey Clinic. She assured me that she had taken it twice and it helped a lot with learning fundamentals. The clinic had already started, but when I called the rink they said they would prorate me for the two lessons I'd missed and yes, this was appropriate for beginners.
So...how come when I got there everyone was flying around the ice doing spins and turns and fancy stick stuff? And how come they were all, like, huge guys?
Bernie quickly spotted me (not hard, I was the one sort of scooting along on my - OK, Amanda's - dull skate blades awkwardly wielding my stick) and skated over to introduce himself.
Bernie must have noticed my horrified expression and quickly assured me that beginners were indeed welcome, but that a lot of experienced players took the clinic to keep their skills sharp. He also told me that they would be nice to me.
Once the players stopped skating so fast around me that I could actually see them, I realized there were two other women and a couple newbies in the class. That made me feel better for all of five minutes, when we split into two groups for drills and they were all in the OTHER group.
Bernie was right, though - most of the guys were extremely nice. They were very encouraging - as was Bernie, who would skate next to me and yell "Good job!" which I appreciated, even if it was slightly distracting. Nobody complained about having me as their drill partner or in their group, which was also a relief. By the end of the class I was feeling much more comfortable.
Bernie assured me that I will be fine and I am not hopeless. Let me tell you, though - it is HARD to stay on your feet and move a puck at the same time. It is not as easy as it looks - not that I expected it to be, but still...it's very difficult. At the same time, it is incredibly FUN.
I will definitely be going back next week. Bernie is a good teacher and the people were very nice. Plus, I am totally hooked now. Maybe by the end of the clinic I'll actually have picked up some skills. Right now I am just impressed with the fact that I can stand up on the skates.
Don't ask me to stop, though - hopefully Bernie can help me with that part next week.
I blogged about Doyle's Great Gatsby Party in the post below this one, but I had to update with a few more pics. These were taken by Brian Samas, who says photography is just his "hobby" but he's pretty damn good at it!
Samas made me look like a movie star...I AM Jordan Baker!
"Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?"
I personally don't, but Daisy Buchanan, the main female character in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby always watched for the longest day of the year and missed it every year. This year, there was no way I could miss it because Kevin Doyle, our own history buff/literary enthusiast, decided to become Jay Gatsby for a night and host a spectacular solstice party, complete with 1920s costumes and prohibition-era cocktails.
Theme parties can be a bit of a gamble: you can never tell if people will actually embrace a theme or not. Doyle felt pretty confident with this party that at least five people would go all out: himself, me, Amanda, Dr. Mark, and Charlotte, all of whom are fans of the novel and enjoy playing dress-up. Much to our delight, every guest but one showed up in some form of a costume.
We picked Jordan Baker as our inspiration for the evening
Most impressive was how the boys stepped up to the plate. None of them went as far as Doyle (who donned a seersucker suit and a straw boater during the day but changed to a full tuxedo when darkness fell) but almost every man there had on some variation of the striped pants/bowtie/old-fashioned hat combination...and they all looked fantastic.
There are no bowties left in New London
Girls costumes are a little bit more elaborate, of course. The easiest thing to do is probably wear the fringed flapper dress commonly found in costume shops. And while that is a very fun costume, Amanda and I were going for a slightly different vibe, the Daisy Buchanan or Jordan Baker vibe - more society girl than flapper.
Mingling with costumes and cocktails
Well, thanks to Amanda's extensive googling, we were able to do it right. We ordered our dresses from Unique Vintage, which specializes in reproductions of vintage clothing. It's a little more expensive than buying the flapper costume, but these dresses are beautiful - good quality fabric, exquisite bead work, and if you follow the measurements on the sizing page, they fit really well. Accessories were collected through a couple trips to Peacock Feathers (the vintage store here in town) and Kohl's, of all places (which is actually where most of the guys bought their hats).
Finding headgear to go with a gold beaded dress took a little work. Amanda lucked out and found a great hat at Peacock Feathers, but while we saw a lot that were period-appropriate, none really matched my dress. I settled for making a sequined headband. One glue gun and a few cheap feathers later, I ended up pretty satisfied with the results.
I have to give mention to Dr. Mark's friend Charlotte for putting together a beautiful costume of mostly vintage pieces. Charlotte looked more like Daisy than any other other girl at the party. Her hair and makeup were perfect as well.
Doyle, Charlotte, and Mark
While we did not receive five crates of oranges and lemons from a fruiterer in New York (nor does Doyle have a juice machine in his kitchen) we did mix up some delicious prohibition-era cocktails and served them in fancy glasses. (We were almost sidelined by the fact that Doyle did not own a zester, but that problem was eventually solved.) One particularly delicious drink Amanda made was the Monkey Gland (weird name, I know) - a version of the recipe appears below:
2 oz gin
1 oz orange juice
1/4 oz grenadine
1 dash absinthe
Shake the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, then strain into a martini glass. We garnished with maraschino cherries, but you could probably use an orange slice or peel as well.
It's pretty yummy. If you can't get absinthe, Pernod would probably work.
Of course, elaborate cocktails get to be kind of pain after a while, so after a couple we switched to gin and tonics or similar simple beverages.
As far as entertainment, Doyle set up a croquet set in his yard and we had bocce ball. He also downloaded some jazz-age music in case anyone knew the Charleston (no one did). But most of the enjoyment came from wearing awesome costumes, exclaiming over other people's awesome costumes, quoting lines from the book to the people who hadn't read it, and just enjoying the company in general.
I hope Doyle makes this party an annual event, because I will be watching for the longest day of the year from now on and I'll be very sad if I miss it now that I know how fun it can be!
My first attempt at legitimate gardening seems to be going OK. I have basil, oregano, thyme, and catnip (can't help it!) in containers and rosemary, mint, peppers, cucumbers, parsley, and beans in the ground. The beans are leftovers from the house's previous owners, but they are more than welcome. (We also have some rhubarb sprouting up that might prove useful.) I am waiting on tomatoes and broccoli from Amanda and then my garden should be complete.
I hope everything keeps growing well and I can expand my selection next year!
Lately the Trifecta (Amanda, Katie, and myself - plus sometimes the Mini Deal) have been spending a lot of time (and money) at two of the "Thames River" group of businesses - Thames River Wine and Spirits and Brie & Bleu.
Thames River Wine and Spirits has a great Friday night wine tasting. They try three or four (usually four) different wines, mostly ones that I probably would not stumble upon myself. They hold these free tastings in their cellar:
The Thames River tastings are a great way to try new wines. They pour a variety of regions, varietals, and price ranges. This past Friday, we started with an $11 Loire Valley sauvignon blanc and finished up with a $46 Italian red blend (mostly sangiovese). The taste they pour is generous and the glass they pour it in really lets you get your nose right in there. The staff is pretty accommodating and happy to answer questions.
I'll be the first to admit that I've been a little out of my wine element since leaving the Earle and Julie's wine tasting group behind in Michigan. I was very excited to find this Friday night tasting and even more excited to find friends who are really interested in wine. (Check out one of those friends at http://ctwineguy.blogspot.com/ - John recently posted reviews of the stuff we tried last Friday.)
Perhaps we are a little too interested - the Trifecta decided that one night a week wasn't enough and has since begun visiting Thames River's neighbor and sister business Brie & Bleu on Thursday nights.
Brie & Bleu is billed as "New London's Premier Cheese Market" but they are also an excellent little bistro with deck seating available in nicer weather. They have a menu consisting of some standard cheese plates, salads, and bruschettas, plus weekly entree specials. Their list of wines by the glass rotates and offers some unusual suggestions.
However, the Trifecta doesn't order by the glass. We think the best way to enjoy Brie & Bleu is to first visit the wine cellar next door and pick out a couple bottles. We can then take these to the cheese shop where a waitress or one of the wine store guys will open them and chill them if necessary.
We've found some truly wonderful wines this way over the past few weeks, including one of our new favorites, the Michel TorinoDon David Torrontes. We actually can't take credit for finding this delicious Argentinian white - a third of a bottle was given to us a couple weeks ago by a couple also dining on the deck at Brie & Bleu who decided not to finish it. We went crazy over the floral smell and light citrusy flavors and bought our own bottle the next week. And then we bought more to take home. I know it's only June, but this might just be my favorite wine this summer...
Brie & Bleu has also provided some excellent cheese finds. We usually order one of the cheese plates on special. These plates include three regional cheeses and accompaniments.
Last week's Italian cheese plate was fantastic - but who doesn't enjoy some creamy fontina spread on crusty bread? The dried apricots and salami were perfect compliments.
We loved two-thirds of the French cheese plate we tried the week before. However, the third cheese was terrible. I mean really awful. It was a bleu cheese and I wish we had gotten the name of it so we could make a point to NEVER EAT IT AGAIN. All three of us enjoy bleu cheeses, but we dubbed this one the "morning breath cheese". The texture was bad, too - sort of gelatinous. If I find out the name, I will post appropriate warnings!
The occasional bad cheese aside, Brie & Bleu has provided us with some incredible food. If you are looking for something more hearty, I recommend their bruschettas. My personal favorite is the Parma - a delectable combination of prosciutto, tart apples, and blue cheese melted over a crusty baguette. Yum!
So between Brie & Bleu Thursdays and Thames River Fridays, we've been giving this group quite a bit of business lately. However, they've provided us with some wonderful wines and mouth-watering food, so I'd say it's a pretty fair trade.
Last night, Noe and I did something we've never done: we went to a concert together. That's right - in the entire time we've been dating, we had never gone to a concert together. We'd gone separately (I never turn down my standing invitation to see Barenaked Ladies with Eric - at least, I never turned it down when I lived in Michigan).
Truthfully, I don't really like concerts that much (in general). I hate concerts in venues that are built for sports - the sound goes everywhere and it's just not worth it (unless it is Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band and you honestly believe that Comerica Park might just be the smallest venue you'll have the opportunity to see them in).
But concerts in venues that are actually built for music are a different story entirely. The Dodge Music Center in Hartford is similar to DTE Energy Music Theater in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Both used to have much better names (The Meadows and Pine Knob, respectively) until corporate takeovers, both occupy a hillside piece of property, and both have plenty of reasonably priced (until you add in the exorbitant TicketMaster fees) lawn space perfect for spreading out a blanket and listening to some tunes on a warm summer night.
And is there any better warm summer night music than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers? (With the possible exception of Bruce Springsteen, which is just the best music any time, any place.)
I love Tom Petty but have never managed to catch him in concert. Part of this is due to my aforementioned general feelings about concerts. Part of it is also due to the fact that although Pine Knob was a perfectly acceptable venue, it was a pain in the ass to get to Auburn Hills. Anyway, when Amanda, Cailin and Kevin asked if we wanted to go, I jumped at the chance.
The Dodge Music Center is actually better than Pine Knob due to the fact that it's a little smaller and the hill isn't quite as steep, although plenty of drunk people still rolled down. The sound was fantastic.
Kicking back on the lawn before Tom Petty came on
Tom and the Heartbreakers themselves were in good form. No need to be front and center for Tom Petty - I love the man's music but he is definitely not attractive (Cailin calls him 'horse face'). The set list was pretty good - not too much new stuff - but he did leave out some tunes I would have enjoyed hearing, such as "The Waiting is the Hardest Part", "Don't Do Me Like That", or almost anything from the Wildflowers CD (although he of course played "You Don't Know How it Feels"). He played "Free Fallin' - maybe his biggest hit but actually one of my least favorite Tom Petty songs - pretty early on, but finished with the best song ever - "American Girl". There is nothing like a whole lawn of people singing and dancing and screaming "Make it last all night!"
Speaking of dancing, I have to say I enjoyed going to a concert with other people (Amanda and Mini Deal) who dance like I do - badly. Not that there is really any good or rhythmic way to dance to Tom Petty-esque rock music (it tends to be a lot of arm flailing and jumping up and down) but the fact that I had two other people doing it with me made me definitely feel less weird about doing it in front of Noe.
All in all, this was a great time, and I look forward to my next concert in Hartford.
Go Wings! This was an awesome game. Great goals by Rafalski, Filpulla, and Fleury...that's right, Marc-Andre Fleury, the stellar Pittsburgh goalie whose praises I sang in my last post. How did Fleury contribute to the Red Wings goal scoring, you ask? Well, the answer is quite simple...with his ass. That's right - Fleury scored a butt goal for the opposing team. Zetterberg was credited with it, but we all know who actually scored it.
Don't worry, Fleury (ha, that rhymes) - I still like you. But butt goals are funny.
And now, my readers, you can relax - no more hockey posts till August at the earliest. Thanks for hanging in there. Stay classy, Detroit.
OK, so I am more than a little miffed that I gave the Red Wings approximately five hours of my time last night/this morning only to watch them lose in triple overtime. Now, I know that the Wings have some room for error, but COME ON. They could have won the freakin' cup last night, but instead they played the equivalent of two games and are taking it back to Pittsburgh - not exactly what I would call a GOOD idea.
However, this game was the type of game I expected to see from this series all along. The skating was INSANE - these guys didn't just pull it out in the last five minutes of the third; they skated like maniacs from the get go. I don't know how they lasted six periods at that pace.
The big surprise to me as this series has gone along is the way we (the Wings) have all but shut down Pittsburgh's normally outstanding offense. We're talking about Crosby and Malkin here - our Zetterberg and Datsyuk (and Franzen) are great, but these kids have been crazy good - "kids" being the operative word - Sidney Crosby is only twenty years old, and Evgeni Malkin is only 21 or 22.
Even last night, the outcome of this game didn't come down to flashy goals but to truly outstanding goaltending by Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has always been good, don't get me wrong - but he took to an entirely new level last night. The Wings outshot the Penguins like a zillion to one (OK, in reality it was something like 54 to 28) and he stopped all but three of those shots - and some of those saves were truly amazing. It's hard to stand out as a goaltender on a team known for flashy scoring (and boasting the player that some would call the next Wayne Gretzky) but Fleury proved that he is not to be overlooked.
Now, obviously the Wings didn't play badly - any team that can hold this team to so few goals in a series and hold them off for almost six periods does not play badly - but Fleury's awesomeness made scoring more than slightly difficult. And let's keep in mind that Malkin didn't exactly bring his "A" game to the Joe last night. If Malkin had been playing like Crosby played, they would have sewn it up in regulation. However, I'd like to give some props to our defense and to Chris Osgood - on two of those four goals, he truly didn't have a chance (including the one that actually came off Jiri Hudler's skate - yeah Hudler, I saw that).
The ironic thing about this series is if the Pens were playing against any other team, I would be rooting for them. But not against my Wings. Plus, I want to see THESE Wings win a cup - a team put together in the era of the salary cap, a team without the famous leadership of Steve Yzerman (not that I don't miss him), a team without the legendary Scotty Bowman behind them on the bench. Not that I didn't love all those elements of the old Wings - but I want the NEW Wings to win a cup.
The median age of the Penguins is something like 27. They have time to win multiple Stanley Cups. And I am hoping that Sidney Crosby - like our Stevie Y. - is the young captain who not only turns around a franchise but stays with that team for the majority (if not his entire) career.
So, while I am disappointed the Wings couldn't close it out last night, I can't deny that this was some good hockey to watch, and Fleury was amazing. But guys, if you could try to win in the Igloo tomorrow night, I would appreciate it - and if you could do it in three periods instead of six, I'd be extra happy.
Putting googly eyes on someone's cast is the best idea EVER.
I apologize for the lack of posting recently - I have moved into a new role at work and I have been slammed (tons of overtime). I promise a new post tomorrow and to get back to a more regular posting schedule this week. Until then, enjoy THE CLAW (picture it saying "don't do drugs, kids!") and check back tomorrow night.