Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Groove

Today's groove is pretty jiggy!  In honor of hitting the road this afternoon to spend the weekend in the country with the family on the river I'm sharing one of our favorite country road cruising songs.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


So.  Last week was crazy. This week less so, but not without its quirks.

I've officially moved over to a new office with shinny new windows and am getting more in swing with some new tasks and responsibilities.  Yay!

On top of work upheaval I've been trying to cram in as much as inhumanely possible to every nook and cranny of my remaining evenings as possible.  Between capoeira, troupe dance practice and weekly exercise classes with my awesome sister I've been a little more active than usual.  Add on a wilderness first aid class or two, a pending evening trip to Baltimore and other miscellaneous commitments and I've been running solid for a good two weeks straight.

More entertaining (well, hopefully more entertaining) posts will resume!  Just as soon as I find out where I set down my head...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Groove

A mellow tune for a mellow day.  One of my all time faves.

Fishing Lessons

My brother recently shared a picture he took in Luray:

It brought back the memory of the last time I'd seen one of these monstrosities.

I was... 6 years old-ish?  Young.  Still blonde.  It was one of the many weekends during one of many summers that I was spending time with my grandparents at their house on the river in Luray, one of my favorite places in the world.

Grandpa was going to teach me how to fish so he hooked up the little motor boat to the Koboda tractor (I called it my first car) and plopped me on the boat bench to be towed along to the neighborhood put-in.  The roar of the tractor always seemed completely deafening to me, less so now that I'm older, so when Grandpa stopped the tractor just before the boat launch and turned to talk to me sitting in the back of the boat he had to yell.  Unfortunately Grandpa yelling wasn't loud enough so I was forced to decode his gesturing.

What I gathered is that there was something off to our right in the strip of grass between the road and the tree buffer along the river bank.  I hopped out of the boat and inched closer to get a look.  It took me a minute or two and lots of looking back and forth for a visual game of Hot or Cold to try to find what he was seeing: a HUGE turtle staring right at me!

I looked back at Grandpa, grinning ear to ear and making the very obvious gesture that he wanted me to touch it.  Without a moments hesitation I faced that turtle, as big as my torso, square on and slowly reached OVER ITS HEAD to touch it's shell!  That day I discovered the value of finely tuned reflexes.

In slow motion I watched that turtle with his now obvious pointed beak-like mouth, shoot his neck out and aim right at me.  My index finger had made contact with his shell and the distance I had to pull it from there to the safety of a fist clutched tightly to my chest seemed miles long.  I made it out of his snap by centimeters and whipped my head around to see Grandpa doubled over the steering wheel in a fit of laughter.

Startled and a little bit shaky I walked back to the road and hopped up in the boat and Grandpa taught me how to fish for something ever so slightly less dangerous.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Standing Corrected

So you know that last story I wrote about my first exploration?  Well, thank my 80-year old brain for the mistake, that was actually my second excursion.  Allow me to share the story of my REAL first urban exploration adventure...

I wanted to get my hands dirty with my first exploration but I did not want to do it alone.  Not that I didn't feel capable, but for logical safety reasons it's just not advisable to go trekking through dilapidated buildings by yourself where it's highly unlikely someone will hear you scream when you fall through the floor.  I'll leave the Darwin Awards to someone else, thank you.

My Godfather of Exploration (the one who helped teach me so much) told me he knew of a couple of folks who were also new to the UE site we were on and suggested I get in touch with them.  I'd done some fairly extensive research and gathered a plethora of tips for a fairly low-key location.  Rumor had it it was nearly a cake walk to enter with some fantastic sights to see and we should have no problem getting in.  Double bonus was having two separate institutions to explore just a few blocks away from each other.  Two birds, one stone, a long and crazy day.  I contacted the new couple with my proposal, made sure Clif kept his schedule clear for that day and four fresh explorers penned in a unique double date on the calendar.

Clif and I met our new friends for the first time in a parking lot above the first of two sites we were about to attempt.  I was as prepared as I could possibly be and absolutely terrified at the realization that this was my show to run.  I shared all of the intel I had, gave some ideas for entry and exit and established an emergency plan should we get separated and soon we were on our way.

At the bottom of a very large hill sat a very large campus of buildings that had once held mental patients before it was repurposed to hold inmates and along the road in front of that campus sat a couple of work trucks complete with workers and a backhoe making trips back and forth to the main road right in front of our point of entry.  Not ideal exploring circumstances.

Well, we'd come all this way and made so much effort, half of our merry band (Clif and Laura, AKA Team Ballsy) was determined not to let the Presence of Unexpected People keep us back while the other half (me and Seth, Team Not-So-Sure-About-This) was ready to throw in the towel.  Our half was overruled by theirs and we huddled in the bushes to come up with a plan.

The Plan

Step One: wait until backhoe goes down the road (roughly 2-3 minutes until return) and guy by work truck to turn his back.  Both needed to happen simultaneously.

Step Two: Team Ballsy runs like crazy and swan dives into ditch under guard tower next to open gate in security fence where we need to enter.  Stay as flat and still as possible in the could-be-taller grass until backhoe makes its pass.  Check that backhoe is back down the road and guy by work truck is still facing the other direction and gesture wildly to Team Not-So-Sure-About-This who does the same.

Guard Tower

Step Three: When next 2-3 minute window is clear run like crazy out from guard tower ditch, into gate and start frantically looking for any open door.  Strain ears for sound of backhoe returning and duck behind corner of wall when it gets close.

Step Four: run around front corner of building to be more readily exposed to busy road instead of backhoe and guy by work truck and continue frantic door search.

We eventually found a place to get in and took a collective sigh of relief.  Well, half of us sighed, the other half rolled their eyes as commentary for how pansy-like their significant others were.  For the rest of our time at the first site Team Not-So-Sure-About-This ended up holding everyone's gear when we finished a building while Team Ballsy was free to search for our next point of entry, unencumbered.  Points of entry included rapid and graceless leaping into windows and running down metal fire stairs almost directly into the front end of some other guy's work truck.  CLOSE CALLS!  So much for an easy first exploration...

The second site we visited down the street was significantly easier which allowed Team Not-So-Sure-About-This a little more room to breath.

Photo Flood

Team Accomplishment

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Groove

Not all grooves need to have a party beat.

I love her voice and fell more in love with the song after watching the video.  I'm always, always drawn to dancing, particularly when it moves you with the story it tells.

The video and song have a haunting beauty to them but even more significant were the feelings it invoked afterwards of uncertainty at which side of the story I would put myself on.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Someone has been up to her knuckles in the dirt...



Vile Urban Decay Temptress

I have been given a title and while I feel most people would take exception to the vile part, I'll let it slide.

A handful of years ago I learned of a fascinating hobby: urban exploration.  UE is the art of gaining access to and photographing abandoned buildings.  It is not a particularly legal hobby, unless you are very lucky, but many say that's part of the thrill.  In all honesty I would like my urban explorations to be filled with as little threat of law enforcement activity as humanly possible. 

The big issues stem from safety and getting lumped into the same category as taggers and scrappers.  A good, true urban explorer's motto should be "take only pictures, leave only foot prints", however we are looked at in the same light as punk kids with nothing better to do than roll out with cans of spray paint or launch old toilets out of second or higher story windows just because they like the crash and scrappers out to leech every free penny they can with no regard to the destruction they leave behind.

The appeal of urban exploration is multi-faceted and every explorer you talk to will have different reasons for why they chose it as a hobby.  Some live for the adrenaline rush at the thought of getting caught and the more difficult a location is to enter, the better.  Others, like me, lean towards the history, documentation and Story Factor of dying breeds of architecture.

I have not been exploring in over a year but my itchy shutter finger is a constant reminder of how much I miss it.  It's been my plan to share my stories from the locations I've seen and today seems like a good ohe to start at the beginning.

Her First Time

Once upon a time I saw an impressive picture of an even more impressive (and creepy) abandoned building.  It spoke volumes to me and thus began my education of UEing.  Research eventually led me to a forum site that I stalked extensively before joining.  After much more stalking I slowly started participating in discussion threads and ventured out to do my own research, trying to find the physical locations of all the incredible pictures I was exposed to.

More time passed and I made some friends (one in particular who I can't appreciate enough for his guidance) and was invited along on a group adventure to an abandoned mill.

Access to the building wasn't easy and blood was rushing through my body so fast I could barely hear anything but muffled swooshing in my ears as I tried to keep up with the crowd.  This panic-filled adrenaline drove my determination to NOT be the person that held everyone up with my inexperience and less than stellar athletic capabilities. I would not be bested by the large, awkwardly hinged window we had to climb through and choosing speed over safety used the back of my leg over the metal rod running along the sill to pull myself through:

In this hobby you just walk that off.

Once inside it was a little bit easier to breath but overwhelming in a completely different way.  The location was MASSIVE and trying to find a place to start shooting was intense.  I held back, letting the other more experienced photographers work their way through, partly to not get in their way, partly to try to hide my incompetence.

One fellow explorer had lent me a spare tripod though it must have been apparent I had no clue how to use it.  I stood back awkwardly, pointing and shooting my new DLSR Cannon as it if was an Olympus.  He held back and helped show me some tricks that helped transform my shots from this:

To this (thank you KTS!):

The rest of our exploration was fairly uneventful and FAST!  For more seasoned explorers the two hours we spent there was more than enough time.  I think I could have spent an entire weekend in that location and still not have seen everything it had to offer.  Being very much along for the ride I saw as much as I could in the small window of time I had.


By this point it was not even lunch time and since we'd already trucked on up the road the majority voted to to further to another location.  A more difficult location.  A location that should not have been attempted with a dozen people, a late start and no real planning.  That, however, is a story for another day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Home View

The story of how Clif and I bought a house:

Clif had moved in with me and my roommate, Jed.  Let me tell you just how fast one can loose their mind when living with two men, three cats and a dog in a 1 bedroom plus den condo in the middle of Herndon.  Pretty. Darn. Fast.

This is the time of the housing slump when it was still possible to get mortgage loans.  Home costs were down extraordinary amounts and the market was ripe for picking.  One such potential pick was just a few blocks down the street from us.  I wasn't sold on buying a house in that particular part of Herndon but curiosity, especially around the exterior of people's houses, always gets me.  We had no plans, or even partial plans, to purchase but I suggested to Clif we take a look at the house, just to see how much it was listed for and have a peek inside.  What could be the harm?  It would be fun to dream.

A realtor we knew from church wasn't available on the day we wanted to look and so he left us in the very capable hands of one of his co-workers.  Being a good broker he took the liberty of doing some additional research and suggested we take a look at a couple of other comparables in the area while we were at it.  If there was no harm at looking at one house for curiosity's sake, why not add a few to the list?

Roughly two weeks later Clif and I had compiled a list of wants and needs and visited over two dozen homes.  Our realtor suggested we move our search from the bowels of Herndon to the other side of Rt. 7 and the Sterling area.  Home ownership was still mostly a dream to us at this point, we were open to looking just about anywhere!

One of our must-haves was the ability to transform an area of the home to a rental unit if it didn't already exist.  Towards the end of our search we found a home that fit our needs fairly well.  Though it wasn't in an ideal neighborhood, the price and space were better than we had hoped for and we started entertaining the idea of making our dreams reality.  Our realtor wasn't as convinced and suggested we hold off on our decision a little bit longer.

The next day he sent me a list of two dozen more homes that he wanted me to narrow down by half.  By this point the thought of carefully studying one more listing so as not to be swayed by one way or the other by the picture provided made me nearly sick to my stomach.  I'd done a fair amount of research on my own and had been dreaming on a regular basis about asking prices, square footage and more.  I made quick, perhaps sloppy work of the list until I got to the 12th slot to fill.

Out of the remaining homes on the discard list I needed to choose one more to look at and finally settled on a listing that almost lost out because of it's picture.  No curb appeal and it looked TINY, but something told me to give it a try. Bless our realtor.  The charm-less looking home that barely squeaked onto my narrowed down list is the one he had us hold out to look at.  He knew it's potential and wanted us to have a chance at it. 

From the moment we stepped onto the front porch and looked in the window we were in love.  It was beautiful!  Updated!  4 bedrooms and 3 baths including a master suite (something I never dreamed we could have), a deck off the sunroom and a huge kitchen!  The basement was in substantially sketchier shape but it was already outfited as a completely separately functioning apartment.  It had its own entrance, bed and bath and kitchen on top of a huge rec room with great views.

And talk about those views!  The development we were in was designed with paved walking paths and a nature cushion behind every home.  The back yard spilled out to lovely walking trails, a creek and woods so lush we couldn't see the neighbors behind us. 

We simply had to have it.

On Superbowl Sunday in 2008 Clif and I waited anxiously in our empty dream house to hear our realtor tell us that two other bids were placed on it and they were going in for their second and last chance bids the very next morning.  If we wanted this house, really wanted it, we needed to get our finances in order and draft an appealing contract immediately.  We agreed to the suggestion of our realtor for an escalating clause and pushed our financial cap to uncomfortable heights, we wanted this home so badly.

That Monday was an nightmare of anxieties and it may have been that night, or maybe even the next, but we finally heard from the realtor: the house was ours!  One bid never came back for their second chance and the other barely increased their offer which kept our budget at a substantially more comfortable level.

Less than four weeks later the lending laws changed to be such that we could not have gotten a loan.

Three plus years later we are still so thankful and blessed to be living in such an amazing place.  Often I look around and imagine further updates we'll be able to make and one day raising our children there.  Bit by bit I'm putting a stamp on the design inside and out, cultivating a green thumb in the garden and whatever the equivalent is for minor home repair projects (bruised knuckles and knees?).

Even though we've had our rough spots and in the beginning made a sudden and monstrous jump from "just looking" to making one of the biggest decisions of our lives, every moment has been worth it.