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Monday, October 15, 2012

Laura on TV

My most recent appearance on NewsChannel 8 features fall getaways and odd election travel tie-ins.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Outrunning the Presidents Race

This time, I am talking about the real one, and not the one recently won by Teddy Roosevelt at Nationals Park. If you live anywhere in the United States, it is difficult to get away from the race between Obama and Romney, especially with less than a month to go before election day. But imagine the plight of those who live in and around Washington, DC. Politics is always ubiquitous, and if it's possible, even more so during the month before a presidential election. To boot, Virginia is in play, which means that even in deep blue DC, we are being pelted with ads from the right, from the left, and from those central players involved in the game thanks to Citizens United.

So, what's a Washingtonian to do? My advice is to get away and avoid TV. Fortunately, in these Mid-Atlantic parts, October is the perfect time to do just that. After all, it's fall foliage season and Virginia Wine Month, all in one stellar month.

During the past decade, Virginia has become purple in more ways than one. In addition to swinging Obama in 2008 (despite having a state leader Rachel Maddow dubs as "Governor Ultrasound"), the state has mauved to the center of the East Coast wine movement. With more than 200 wineries, the Old Dominion is #5 on the state list of wine production, a statistic that would make one Thomas Jefferson very proud. Throughout October, Virginia wineries and vineyards celebrate the grape every weekend with tastings, harvest festivals, live music, and art shows. Check out www.virginiawine.org for a full calendar of events from around the state.

Next up--leaf peeping. October is the month for fall color in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. The best color starts mid-month in the mountainous regions of this stately trifecta. For a status report on  Virginia's non-partisan colors, call (800) 424-LOVE. For West Virginia updates, call (800) CALL-WVA.  Maryland's number is (800) 532-8371.  Finally, if you want to venture even farther, the U.S. Forest Service hotline reports on foliage throughout the country at (800) 354-4595.

Fully sated by nature's bounty, head back to home in November and remember to vote.


Monday, October 1, 2012

A Farewell to Yarns: A Sheep's Tale in the Land of Hemingway

When I attended The Trailing of the Sheep Festival in Idaho last year, I admit that I was a woolly virgin. But after spending three days with my friends of the Ovis Aries stock, I became a sheep feta-shist. As this year's festival looms, I reminisce about attending what has become my favorite American festival. Please enjoy, my little lamb chops.

Ever since I caught wind of its existence, I have been fixated on attending The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which takes place in Hailey and Ketchum, Idaho every October. Perhaps it was the sheep poetry sessions that roped me in....after all, who could resist a sheep bleating Keats.

At any rate, as my obsession grew, I knit together a fantasy about becoming Queen of the Sheep. My dream was to show off my good breeding by donning a tiara and walking amongst my little lambs as we strode in unison down the streets of Ketchum. In order to blend in (somewhat) with the flock, I would enrobe myself in a virgin wool fleece frock.

And so, in order to get out of a rut and make my dream come true, I booked a trip to the Sun Valley area for the autumn of 2011. Hailing from Washington, DC, I decided the best way to win the title was to start lobbying Hailey town elders and the festival organizers. But as I grazed the landscape, I realized there might be a few hitches in my plan. First, I discovered that "The Trailing of the Sheep" took place during Yom Kippur weekend. Now, if this festival were to be renamed "Jews and Ewes" or "Hey, Ewe Jew", I would be a lock for the title. But alas, it was not, and I started to fear that the parade would be taking place on the Holy Day itself. Even though I planned to maintain my fast, I wondered if it would be kosher in God's eyes to be parading amongst sheep while atoning. On one hand, Moses was a shepherd. Still, he led his most important flock around Passover and not the High Holidays.

Courtesy: TravelAge West

As I ruminated over this ruminant dilemma, I discovered that the parade was delayed until the day after Yom Kippur. Thus, I was back on the non-fast track to becoming sheep royalty. But soon enough, I was brought to the realization that my lovely dream could become a wolf in sheep's clothing. While having a moveable feast at the home of the lovely owners of a Ketchum art gallery, the husband started raining a bit on my parade. (Said husband, parenthetically, hence the parentheses, resembled a hip version of Mr. Keaton, the dad on "Family Ties"). Mr. Bleatin' advised me that, at times, the parading sheep have been known to run amok. One sheep wanders off in a different direction and the entire flock ends up pulling a big ewe-turn. Or, Mr. Baa Humbug noted, as the hills at the end of the parade route come into sight, the sheep sometimes start stampeding to quicken the journey to their winter digs.

At any rate, instead of ending the parade in a path of glory, I suddenly envisioned myself in my own private Pamplona, overtaken by a mad mob of sheep goring me with their puffballs of wool and leaving me with tiara askew and my garb transformed into the world's largest livery of lint.

Of course, the citizens of Ketchum might not take kindly to this intruder amongst their ranks, no matter how stunning said intruder was. In fact, the stunt might even get their collective goat. Therefore, after rising up, dusting myself off, and repositioning my tiara, I realized I might have to go on the lamb (sic) or risk being pelted. However, I knew it was likely that I would be quickly found, as after the sheep were long gone, I would be the only one in the valley for whom the smell lolled.

Thank ewe very much.

The 2012 rendition of the festival takes place October 11-14. Details are available at www.trailingofthesheep.org. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Real Presidents Race


I suppose my love affair with Teddy Roosevelt started when USA Today assigned me to write about the best place to see wildlife in Washington, DC (excluding Capitol Hill). Not wanting to take the easy way out and yak about The National Zoo, I opted instead to cover Theodore Roosevelt Island, which, although located on the Virginia side of Potomac, is actually part of DC.

This little-known homage to our nation's 26th president was quite a find. The pristine island combines Teddy's love of nature with a statue you would swear came out of the Soviet Union. Even though said statue was a bit reminiscent of Stalin, I still left the island tsarry-eyed. 

Yet, my love affair with Teddy lay dormant for more than a year. But suddenly, watching an ESPN segment about the Presidents Races at Washington Nationals Park made me fall head over heels all over again.

The eight-minute piece, narrated by Ken Burns, highlights Teddy's travails during these races, which feature the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore. The quartet is made up of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and one Theodore Roosevelt. The race takes place once during each Nationals home game and Teddy always loses. 

Yes, during the course of five years, Teddy has won nary a race. The Let Teddy Win blog famously outlines many close but no cigar finishes. There was, for example, the time Teddy was tripped up by Martha Washington. Another time, the Kool-Aid mascot made him pitch over. Adding insult to injury, he has lost, in team mascot races, to stuffed pierogis, sausages, and beer steins.

The ESPN piece outlines this sad story, and poetically ends with the mascot of Teddy sitting in front of his statue on his island in the middle of the Potomac. 

The story tugged at my heart strings. And I was not alone. For on September 20, President Obama himself threw his support behind the Let Teddy Win movement, agreeing with Senator John McCain that a congressional inquiry might be needed
to look into Teddy-Gate..
But I digress. After watching the ESPN story, I knew I needed to immediately make a beeline to Nationals Park to watch the race (thank you, Destination DC, for the ticket) and cheer Teddy on. Surely, with my  loving support urging him home, finally, this time, Teddy would win.

I left my seat just once during the entire game, which is a world record for my bladder. It was after the third inning. But the top of the fourth was a quick one-two-three-out inning, and unbeknownst to me, the race always take place in the middle of the fourth. Thus, when I got back to my seat, I discovered I missed the show. I was crushed. That night when I got back home, I could only console myself by viewing Presidents Races past on YouTube and catching up on the Let Teddy Win blog. Thus did Teddy become my Saturday night squeeze. We spent a lovely evening together.

As this baseball season is drawing to a close, I will not likely be able to get to the stadium again in 2012...unless I somehow manage to wrangle playoff tickets. And I do have a good feeling about  Teddy's chances this post-season--he now has bi-partisan backing and this is, after all, the first time the Nationals have even made the playoffs. So, it could be Teddy's time.

And if not, I guess I will simply repeat the mantra that plays in my head every October as a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. Wait until next year, my dear Teddy bear. 

By the way, rumor has it the Nats will be adding another president to take part in next year's races. Who do you think should be the fifth Beatle? 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Top 9 Childhood Toys

In a previous post, I discussed a Top 20 list of toys circa 1910-2010 that was compiled as part of a poll conducted by the Children's Museum of Indianapolis (CMI). I vehemently quibbled with the results. But instead of trying to correct the errors of 24,000 poll takers, I will compile my own list--this one, as is my wont, a Top 9 roster. It excludes board games, as that seems to me to be a separate subject.

Laura's Top 9 List of Toys from her Childhood :

   1. Barbie: 'Nuf said.  

2. Canadian Hockey Table Top Game: I'm not talking Air Hockey, nor a table masquerading as a hockey game. Instead, what my older brother and I lovingly called "Game-da-Plink" measured about two and a half feet long and 18 inches across. The skaters were tin Flat Stanley Mikitas, posted on metal sticks that slid between specific slits in the "ice" (allowing for limited, albeit 360 degree, movement). Players had to maneuver each skater by hand-operated rods. Therefore, the game took a great deal of manual dexterity, as each person was responsible for five skaters, plus the goalie. This game was old school--no  newfangled innovations (at the time) like the overhead puck dropper or an electronic scoreboard. Although our little tin men were Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, most were anonymous, except for the wing man we called Badly Injured. Poor Badly Injured--he was constantly toppling off his post. The play-by-play from the era  (narrated by whoever didn't have Badly Injured that day) went like this: "Badly Injured gets the pass, he turns, he shoots, he topples over."  (I should mention that perhaps it was this early experience that propelled me toward a college sportscasting career doing play-by-play for minor league baseball, women's basketball, and synchronized swimming).

Oh shoot the puck, fond memories of Badly Injured and multiple victories over my older brother have caused me to drastically digress. Let's get back to my Top 9 list.

3. Ping-Pong Basketball: By which I mean the one complete with spring-loaded levers to pop the ball out of the hole and into the hoop. Not to be confused with the Thai version. And, parenthetically, if these sporting games sound archaic, please note they belonged to my much, much older sibling.

4. Skate Boards
5. Model Trains
6. Little Kiddles
7. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head
   8. Etch-a-Sketch

   And last, but not least:
9. Ken. Poor Ken. Such a second fiddle, yet such a trailblazer. Back in my childhood days, he was simply before his time. Now, my particular Ken had bendable (and shaved) legs, so I could never get his pants on. Still, this didn't cause major problems in the Barbie bedroom, as the couple slept on bunk beds formed by placing the Barbie wardrobe case on its side at night. By day, Ken perused said wardrobe, and was particularly fond of Barbie's Trans World outfit.  (Apologies for the different type--apparently, Blogger thinks Ken requires an alternative font style.) 

Which toys make your list? And if you were to choose among board games, how would Candy Land and MONOPOLY, as named in the CMI poll, stack up against Operation, Trivial Pursuit, or the Game of Life? Don't toy with me. Just leave your thoughts.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meandering Around Maryland

Here's a copy of my most recent weekend travel supplement for The Washington Post. It appeared in The Washington Post Magazine yesterday. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

¿Dónde está Barbie?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am appalled. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis has just announced the results of its "100 Toys That Define Our Childhood" contest. According to the popular vote of the 24,000 responding to the poll, the favorite toy from the past century is one G.I. Joe. G.I. don't think so.

IMHO, there is absolutely no question that Barbie should have been #1. But travesty upon travesty, not only is she not #1...she doesn't even rate a bronze medal. Transformers came in second and LEGO got the bronze spot.
WTF? Who voted in this contest? Not to sound sexist, but it sounds like some boy toys stacked the competition.

But let me get back to a little journalism here. The goal of this poll was to determine, from a list of 100 toys compiled by curators of The Children's Museum's collection, the ten most iconic.  After five weeks of public voting, the list of 100 was narrowed down to the top 20. From said list, the public once again was asked to rank favorites. In the wisdom of these masses, the Top 10 are as follows:

#1  G.I. Joe                           #7 Cabbage Patch Kids      
#2  Transformers                   #8  Crayons
#3  LEGO                             #9  Play-Doh  
 #4  Barbie                            #10 MONOPOLY
#5  View-Master
#6  Bicycles 

Regarding #10, I couldn't be happier, although I do think board games should have been a separate category.
Nevertheless, as a collector of international versions of Monopoly (I have more than three dozen), I'm a big fan of the board...although I do get rather bored when I play the game. By the way, dear reader, the stories behind the collection of those international games--ranging from Australia to Israel (in Hebrew) to Poland (pre-1989) to Tunisia (pre-2000) to Yugoslavia (pre-the break-up) will be detailed in upcoming posts.

The also-rans:

#11 Raggedy Ann
#12 Spirograph
#13 Etch a Sketch 
#14 Little Golden Books
#15 Hot Wheels
#16 Lincoln Logs
#17 Candy Land
#18 Roller Skates
#19 Silly Putty
#20 Mr. Potato Head 
Again, I am disappointed with the low rating for our spudly buddy. I definitely eye him for the Top 10. Yukon be sure I will discuss Mr. P.H. and others in my next post, which will serve up my own Top 10....or maybe my Top 9 given my contrarian nature. Meantime, what were some of your favorite childhood toys? And if there were a separate category for games, which would be on your list? Operation? Masterpiece? Sorry? Please weigh in.