Friday, December 28, 2007

Lift Up Your Voice

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

 

This is the chorus from a new Christmas melody that has been making its way around the country this holiday season. It's absolutely beautiful both in sentiment and tune. You can hear the song on the blog of one of the band members here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Vacation Day 4: Christmas

Christmas morning J awoke to discover that he had slept 15 hours. Happily, he felt much better.

The two of us excitedly rifled through our stockings to see what Santa had brought us. He always brings us sweet and useful treats like chocolate and bubble bath.

We played with the pups for awhile, had a quick breakfast (green chile egg burritos) and then got down to the fun business of opening presents. Our family and friends were very generous to us this year. J received a lot of dvd movies he wanted, clothes, his beloved weather calendar (from me), and an mp3 player he had his eye on (also from me). I received a lot of presents as well. One of my favorites was the 7th edition of The Professional Chef, sent by J's older brother and wife in Seattle. I simply adore the cookbook/textbook. It's the standard used at the Culinary Institute for training new chefs. So, in theory, once I work my way through the whole book I should be a quasi-pro. Another one of my favorite was the Fujitsu tablet-laptop that J spoiled me with. Its the same model I had when I worked in congress and it is pretty awesome in that it converts from a standard laptop to a tablet pc with the swivel of the screen. I love it! A gift sent to the both of us that we highly appreciated was another placesetting of silver from J's parents. They are in the tradition of sending us one setting each Christmas. It's nice to have the good stuff; the real silver.

After all the presents were opened we spent time enjoying them (I made my way up to page 200 of the chef book) and then we dressed for Christmas Dinner. Normally we have a hand in preparing the dinner but this year we opted to participate in the free community wide Christmas dinner in Conway. It was held at one of their nicest steakhouses (a way for the owners to give back to their peers in the community) and it was delicious. Everyone was so warm and welcoming to us out-of-towners. Just a really great experience.

We went back to the cabin after that and napped for awhile before getting into our hiking gear again and taking the pups out for another winter walk. This time we did another trail in the White Mountain National Forest that loops around a frozen pond.

frozen_pond The frozen pond. Almost looks like a tropical beach doesn't it?

jenna_bridge Jenna walking across the river bridge.

icy_river2 The icy river underneath the bridge.

 

After our walk, we returned to the cabin, packed up the car, and enjoyed the final evening of our snowy Christmas vacation.

We left for home the next morning and the return trip, which should have taken 10 hours (as it did to get to NH), took 17 hours due to a near-continuous traffic jam from Connecticut to Baltimore. Along the way we also had some car drama as smoke started to pour out of the engine while we were hemmed in from all directions on the George Washington Bridge. Turns out it only happened when we engaged the clutch so we tried to avoid doing so as best we could the rest of the way home and then we dropped the car off for servicing at the dealer.

We arrived home to find a package waiting on our doorstep from J's oldest brother and wife. After being spoiled with the Chef book, what more could they give us? Turns out they had thoughtfully purchased presents for our pups too. I love that about them; they are the only ones who consistently remember that we have kids too, just of the four footed variety instead of the two footed.

Thus concludes the great Christmas vacation of 2007 for our family.

Your turn! I want to hear all about your Christmas vacation. Will you email me and tell me all the details or give me a link if you've made a public post about it?

Christmas Vacation Day 3

By the third day of our vacation J and I were feeling pretty settled into our snowy accommodations. The pups had both finally oriented themselves to the deeper snow (Poor Jenna had such a hard time at first because she would sink way down and it was a struggle for her to walk/plow through the deep snow) and we were delighted to have another day of recreation together.

In the morning we drove out to the White Mountain Cog Railroad to visit the museum and gift shop before our legendary ride on the Cog train. It was another spectacular event! Following a quick brown bag lunch we had brought, we boarded the train to ride halfway up Mount Washington. The tracks actually continue onto the summit but with world record wind chills it is just too cold for the workers to run the train all the way in the winter.

In West Virginia, J and I had previously ridden a steam train that zig zagged its way up a mountain side. This, this is totally different- the steam engine pushes a passenger car straight up the mountain, kept in place with gears that run along the middle of the track. This is not a journey for those with a fear of heights by any means. The train moves at a racing speed of 3 miles per hour up the mountain and 6 miles per hour back down to the base station. At the destination point [halfway to the summit] the train is stopped for folks to get out and walk within a roped off area of the mountain side (snowy, icy, and steep!) for picture-taking. I have to admit I was pretty scared to walk around up there. One slip and down down down you go. Here are some of our favorite shots from the train ride...

cog_train_engine  Steam engine, every environmentalists worst nightmare. This baby uses about one ton of coal to climb the mountain for these scenic trips. That's one ton PER TRIP.

Cog_train Engine, with passenger car attached, getting ready to climb.

cog_track1  View of the track ahead of us up the mountain slope.

original_cog_engine Original Steam Engine that powered the train for the first 90 years or so of operation.

cog_view cog_view1

Views from the stop point, halfway up the mountain. Check out the slope angle in the picture on the right. Don't want to stumble and fall down!

 

jon_jenni_cog_train J and I riding in the passenger car up the mountain.

cog_track The view of the tracks as we were heading down to the base station. Down, down down!

If you'd like more information on the train, or on Mount Washington (highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6288 ft), this page has all the details.

On the train, I got to talking with the brake man about my quest to get my hands on some moose meat. It is one game meat I've never tasted or prepared and moose are rampant across NH. He introduced me to the train engineer who happened to have bagged a 600 pound moose during hunting season earlier in the fall. He was kind enough to offer J and I about 5 pounds of steaks; we only had to follow him back to his community (about 20 miles away) once he put the train up for the night after our ride. So we waited around for him and did just that. I will, of course, fill you in on the taste once I find a recipe to prepare the moose meat. Have you eaten it before? Any of you have any recipes to share?

After our train ride and detour to pick up the moose meat, we headed back to the cabin for Christmas eve dinner. We enjoyed posole and all its accompaniments as is tradition in our household [and in many southwestern households]. What are your Christmas eve dinner traditions?

Unfortunately, J was feeling quite under the weather due to the dry heat inside the cabin and general overdoing of activities and so instead of making it out to a candlelight Christmas eve service he remained bundled up in bed dosed up on high levels of NyQuil while I supervised his recovery. We did take time to pray together and remember the reason for the season. 

Christmas Vacation Day 2

Sunday morning J and I slept in, enjoying our vacation. When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, I made a hot breakfast for the both of us (eggs, bacon, toast, apple cider) and then we were off adventuring.

Our first stop was the White Mountain National Forest to do some winter walking. The forest is truly spectacular- over 880,000 acres of wilderness purchased and now maintained by the federal government. New Hampshire was in a selling pattern to raise cash, auctioning off a lot of state late to the highest private bidders (mostly logging companies). The feds became involved in the purchasing frenzy in the early 1900s with the passage of the Weeks Act.

President Taft signed the Weeks Act into law on March 1, 1911. The law authorized the federal government to purchase lands for stream-flow protection, and to maintain the acquired lands as national forests. Initially, eastern lands along navigable watersheds were considered. As the years progressed however, the Forest Service acquired select western lands under the aegis of the Weeks Law.

The Forest Service recommended lands for purchase, while the Geological Survey evaluated the acreage to be sure the reserved lands would maintain navigable waterways. The law authorized a National Forest Reservation Commission to consider and approve the land purchases. The commission was composed of the Secretaries of War, the Interior, and Agriculture, and two Members each, from the House and Senate.

We hiked part of the Boulder Loop trail and took a lot of pictures. Here are some of the shots:

jenna_woods Jenna in the woods

 

julia_woods Julia in the woods

 

icy_river snowy river

 

snowywoods snowy woods

 

After our morning walk we set off to purchase a Christmas tree. With limited space in the cabin and a tight budget we decided to forgo a traditional live tree and opted for a small 3ft artificial tree that matched the proportions of the cabin living room.

Then we scoured the town for an authentic New Hampshire cookbook (I collect cookbooks from every state) with no luck. A lot of Maine and Vermont cookbooks but not a single NH publication.

We enjoyed some NY style pizza for lunch (so nice to be back in New England where you can get good pizza in any town) and headed back to the cabin.

Once at the cabin we decorated the tree, enjoyed nap time and then munched some fresh homemade popcorn. This was my first time ever making popcorn on the stove the old fashioned way. We only did it so we could conform our vacation to a favorite Christmas Carol:

It doesn't show signs of stopping

and I brought some corn for popping

the lights are turned way down low

let it snow

let it snow

let it snow

Later that evening it was time for the most anticipated event of our vacation- the horse drawn sleigh ride. The ride exceeded all of my expectations. We all have moments in our lives where we feel so very close to God and his creations - the land, the animals- and this was one of those moments. (I specifically remember the last time I had one of these moments - it was standing on the side of the highway before a meadow that stretched out as far as my eyes could see where antelope grazed against the backdrop of the Grand Tetons.)

J and I rode in the sleigh (an antique specimen over 100 years old) through the dark woods warmed under the heavy sleigh blanket draped across our bodies. The only illumination as we glided over the snow was the soft glowing light of the sleigh lamp and the moonlight reflected off the snow and lightly falling rain. The woods were quiet except for the delicate ringing of the sleigh bells and the movement of the horses. There was a misty fog all around us that further limited our view as the horses pulled us along the trail. It was breathtaking and magical and as my husband held my hands in his I took in the beauty of the moment and felt the tears welling up just before they spilled over onto my cheeks. I will never forget the experience and I am so grateful to have had the chance to go on the special ride.

Here is a picture of us in the sleigh just before departure.

horse_drawn_sleigh

Darby Field Inn Sleigh Rides.

Reservations: 1-800-426-4147

185 Chase Hill, Albany, NH 03818

 

After the sleigh ride we returned to the cabin where J started a roaring fire while I made dinner for two. Once we finished dinner, we decorated our tree and then stood back to admire our efforts.

tree&presents

Christmas Vacation - Day 1

The alarm buzzed at 3:45am and as I slid over to J's side of the bed to turn it off I grumbled. I hate getting up early in the morning for road trips. I am *not* a morning person.

We loaded up the last minute items in J's car-we had done most of the packing the night before- and then we were off on our Christmas vacation. I was so excited. A white Christmas was waiting for us in Conway, New Hampshire.

The roads were easy and the traffic was light. It was a smooth trip all the way up to New England.

We arrived at our cozy little cabin, unpacked everything and then ventured out into town to pick up groceries and to eat dinner. There is a smokehouse bbq joint that was highly recommended so we enjoyed dinner there and it was delicious.

Moat Mountain Smoke House

3378 White Mt Highway (Rt 16)

North Conway, NH 603-356-6381

After dinner we put away the groceries as we listened to Christmas Carols on the xm radio (we got the indoor docking station just for this purpose) and then cuddled up to sleep so that we'd be refreshed for the next day's activities.

Here is a picture of our little winter cabin surrounded by woods. As you can see, there was plenty of snow on the ground- about 2 feet. It was a lovely cabin with extra amenities such as the fireplace and full kitchen. It came fully stocked with supplies and equipment - we only had to bring food. The property we stayed at is called 'Sunny Brook Cottages' and I highly recommended the place for an affordable snowy or summer getaway in the mountains. 

our_cabin

Christmas Vacation Countdown

Friday December 21st was a great day for me professionally and personally. At the office we finished a major project team deliverable and I was still flying high from finishing my individual assignments on Wednesday- 2 more technical manuals/papers.

Two of my coworkers brought me Christmas presents and that added to my holiday cheer. In addition, we had our annual Christmas party and work and J volunteered to drive to Rockville on a company errand so he was able to stop over and enjoy the festivities as well. It was great to finally introduce him to all of my coworkers who have heard so much about him over the past year but had yet to meet him until then. The food was great- Iranian cuisine, and I received a Starbucks gift card during the gift exchange.

I got home pretty late from work [8pm] and J and I set about packing for the trip. It took us an hour or so to pack everything up, then we enjoyed a quick dinner before J went off to bed [he was driving first shift in the a.m.] and I made time to finally wrap all of his Christmas presents.

I was so excited about the upcoming trip that I could barely sleep.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Random Bits of This and That and Holiday Cheer

 

Today we officially finished all of our Christmas shopping. It was a fun and stress-free shopping season. The majority of our gifts we purchased on Black Friday and the rest we purchased online, avoiding the crowds at the malls.

Went to a Christmas party for the Women's Fellowship group and learned a new game called 'Mad Gab'. I wasn't the best at it but I wasn't the worst either. The food was good and the company was even better. One of my favorite friends, Irma, was there. She has a very infectious laugh and is always full of such joy and optimism. I really enjoy being in her presence.

Church was very special on Sunday as a couple we are friends with had their little baby girl baptized and we all came up to the altar and gathered around her to pray. I'm a mushy girly girl so you know I cried. One thing I really love about the Christian Church is the pervasive sense of love that permeates throughout the entire congregation. It's nice to enjoy a sense of belonging and fellowship. Of course in every church there are particular families that especially seem to radiate God's love and this couple is one of those families. You can tell in the way they smile, the way they embrace their family and friends and in the way so many are drawn to them. They feel good about life and blessed and when you are with them they help you to feel the same way. I don't know if their especially bright shining light is a gift any Christian can develop by following some sort of procedural guideline and growing their relationship with God, or if it's a special gift that only a few are blessed with just as the rest of us are blessed with different ministry gifts.

Imagine for a moment that one by one many of your friends decided they wanted to pursue medicine as a career and enrolled in medical school. Now you have no interest in medical school or being a doctor. You've sized up the commitment required several times, prayed about it, and determined that as best you can tell God is not calling you to medical school and it's nothing you think you would find happiness in. Still, you watch your friends have celebration parties when they're accepted into school, and more celebrations when they graduate. They form small groups to share in the experience and fellowship over the matter. In passing they remark to you how fulfilling their medical career is. You're still a long way from ever wanting to go to medical school yourself, but you feel like you are missing out on the shared experience. In other words, it stinks that everyone is part of something - no matter what that something is - and celebrating over it except for you. Even though you are really happy with your own job, and never want to be a doctor, you still feel left out.

For me, this medical school experience is how I feel about having a baby. It hit home again over the weekend as we celebrated 2 baptisms and a friend in the church announced at the baptism party afterward that she is expecting too. I'm very happy for all of them, but I just feel left out of the group dynamic at times over the issue.

Another situation that brought out that "left-out" feeling for me is one where several of my friends are also friends with a young woman whose personality is so different from mine- a good 180 degrees different. The woman and I are cordial and kind to one another but there just isn't a basis for friendship between us due to our differing personalities and interests. So it shouldn't bother me that she doesn't ever invite me to spend time with her as she does for all our shared acquaintances. And yet it does bother me. Of course if she did invite me I'd decline because we don't really have a good time together, yet I still feel left out by not being invited. This is one of those "feelings" that the rational adult side of my brain can easily diagnose as silly and illogical but I can't seem to make go away regardless. Obviously some moral weakness or failing on my part.

A busy week as far as the work schedule goes. A lot of deliverables due before J and I leave for the snowy mountains of New Hampshire on Saturday. I'm really looking forward to our white Christmas. I picked up a sporty parka this weekend and matching gloves to prepare. Also purchased some long underwear [they are very cute- basically onesies for adults with the snaps and everything]. An unrelated purchase was 3 pairs of knee high boots- one black suede, one brown suede and one dark brown leather. I got all 3 new pairs total for the same price on ebay  it would be for 1 pair if I had purchased from the store. This was possible because I purchased from an overstock wholesaler. So my advice is if you are looking for nice high heeled [or low heeled] boots, check out ebay first. Below are the boots I got.

 

Suede boots in black and brown:

 0a8a_1_bl

 

Leather boots in Dark Brown

d6ba_2

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nine Pounds Down

So it's almost the end of the year and my progress is this: 9 pounds down since I rededicated myself to giving this weight loss plan serious consideration in the fall. Nine pounds isn't a lot, I know, but it's something at least and I've kept it off. It's especially a positive sign that I've been losing over the holidays while most people gain, right?

Actually, 9 pounds conceptually *is* a lot. It's 36 sticks of butter. Ugh. Glad its off my bones!

Keep praying for me. Little by little I will get there. Watching all the Victoria's Secret holiday commercials is really motivating me. I can feel the thin and healthy me just waiting to break out again and strut her stuff...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gourmet Cheese and Artisan Bread

Saturday morning J and I worked at our church's food pantry. We served about 36 familes and it was a great experience. We are signed up for duty once a month.

I don't know who has the job of soliciting the area grocery stores for their cast-offs but they do amazing work. We were handing out not just standard pantry fare of hamburger meat and chicken, but also quail, roast pork and filet mignon. There were the best brand names for fresh and dried pasta, roasted red peppers in fancy jars, and all sorts of ingredients for an epicurian's ideal kitchen. We had an entire line of gourmet cheese to distribute (brie, true parmesan, several varieties of blue, edam, herbed goat cheese, etc.), most $10-$25/lb, and a lot of that imported. Although I tried diligently to get the families to take their share of this amazing bounty and gave them easy ideas on how to use the cheese, a lot of them shied away from the cheeses they had never tried or heard of (They kept requesting American, which we ran out of very quickly while the Brie sat unwanted!!!)

We did not go into the assignment expecting to get anything but the satisfaction of helping others out of it. However, we were delightfully surprised to find that after the shift is over at noon, *all* of the remaining bread and dairy products [which are at or about to be at their sell-by dates] have to be tossed for health reasons. Therefore, they are open to the volunteers to take home.

So, in summary, we were able to take home several wedges of great cheese, along with my favorite Artisan bread (cranberry pecan loaf), other breads (whole grain sandwich loaves to put in the freezer, baguettes, etc), and bags of whole bean starbucks coffee (most families do not have grinders so the gourmet coffee builds up very quickly that Starbucks casts off to the pantry).

If we keep volunteering at the pantry, I don't think we will ever have to buy bread or gourmet cheese again.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

On Pet Sitting

The hubby and I are pet/house sitting this week for my best friend. What an adventure.

Her dog and our youngest dog Julia are thick as thieves. They run, play, jump, and romp together with boundless energy. Proving the nocturnal nature of dogs, they stayed up all night long last night [our first here] playing and making a rowdy ruckus through the house. Needless to say the humans did not get a lot of sleep! Then the dogs slept all afternoon, storing up their energy for what is sure to be a second night of shenanigans.

Also, you've never seen anything till you've seen one double bed fit 2 adults, one 80 pound dog, one 50 pound dog, and one 30 pound dog. Talk about crowded!

Unexpected Biblical Lessons

Thursday was a day for making memories.

A good friend was unexpectedly in need of some biblical pastoral counsel so I took the afternoon off work to journey with her to a man of God we'd been referred to see in D.C. A pastor at a Baptist church near Howard University (New Bethel), he was quite the wise man. His words were exactly what we needed to hear. I came expecting to provide support for my friend but instead found myself just as moved by his counsel as I hope she was.

He spoke of God, our mission in life to allow God to perfect us (and how, when he's helped us to overcome one stranglehold, God will soon spur us on to dislodge the next- it's a long road to perfection), and the enemy who stands at the constant ready to distract us and disrupt the mission. He gave us practical and specific advice on discerning the word of God (be in the word every day until God's word is so familiar that no enemy of his can mimic it and lead us astray without us being aware of the deception) and strengthening our "castles" against the onslaught of the enemy (square our sins and those sins of others we need to forgive before God so that the enemy cannot lob them against us in battle).

It was one of the best sermons I've ever sat for and I'm so glad that I was able to hear it through the unexpected turn of my afternoon schedule.

Parties and Shopping

I did it! I finally found a dress for this year's National Chamber of Commerce Holiday Reception. I wandered by it at Macy's today while shopping with my friend Rho (http://pi-girl.livejournal.com).

I went onto Macys.com to find a picture of it to show you and in doing so discovered something interesting. If you buy the dress online and fit standard sizing [12 and below] you can pick up the dress, normally $109 on sale for $81. However, if you are plus-sized [14+] you can get the same dress, also normally priced $109 on sale for $71. This has to be a first in my experience- plus sized outfit by the same designer priced cheaper than the smaller counterpart. Odd, don't you think?

In any case, I'm happy to report that in the store the dress was even more deeply discounted than either dress price online. Woo! Plus, Rho (COUPON QUEEN!!!) had a 20% off coupon and I got an additional 20% off for opening a Macy's account so the dress was really a bargain. This was actually my first Macy's purchase ever. When I was younger I always thought of Macy's and Nordstrom's as luxury shopping [we always shopped at Kmart, Wal-Mart, Penney's, etc] and yet it turns out you can get things quite affordably at these "luxury" stores if you just buy on sale.

I am really starting to enjoy shopping again as [1] I've been losing weight and fitting into more trendy clothes and [2] have a gaggle of female friends these days to shop with. Rho and I must have tried on 20+ outfits and it was so much fun. The giggling, twirling and socializing. It's so nice to have friends again.

In any case, here is the dress. It looks better on me then on the skinny blonde model because I can actually fill out the bust. Plus, I'm wearing it with the bow in the front versus in the back as she's modeling it...

 

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Moroccan Chicken Stew with Apricots and Root Vegetables

Made this for dinner tonight and it came out delicious so I thought I would share. It’s full of fall/winter veggies, quite healthy, and under 500 calories per serving. Yay for eating delicious and healthy.

It’s my personal adaptation of a similar recipe on epicurious.com…

Servings: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried thyme
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large baking potato, peeled and diced

I large sweet potato, peeled and diced

1 cup dried apricots
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chile

¾ cup white wine [we use the cheap wine in a box]
1 teaspoon cardamom
3 whole cloves

1/4 -1/2 stick of butter

Garlic salt and pepper

Preparation

Mix cumin and thyme in small bowl. Sprinkle chicken with spice mixture, then salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Push onion mixture to side of skillet. Add remaining oil to skillet. Add chicken and cook until beginning to brown, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Scatter onion mixture, potatoes and apricots over chicken. Pour canned tomatoes with juices over and add wine; bring to boil. Stir in cardamom and cloves. Drop in ¼ stick of butter to marry the flavors. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until chicken and vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. Season with garlic salt and pepper and rest of butter [optional] to taste. Serve in pasta bowls with a hearty loaf of bread.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Travel Fanatics

Found this great travel site- Trav Buddy:

http://www.travbuddy.com/jenniparks

It was recommended to me by my friend Tracy. It has a strong international membership and people on the site are very friendly. You can share travel ideas and reviews and find travel buddies and that sort of thing. I really like it so far. If you join, add me as a friend (the above link takes you to my profile).

Weekend Update

Sometimes I miss the "safe space" that livejournal provided to create locked blog entries. On the other hand, being prohibited from creating "tell all" entries online due to a lack of a protected forum in which to do so means that I must share these details in person with friends I lean on, bringing us closer together in ways that chatting online never could. Also, I know on some level that the "safe space" that lj afforded was merely an illusion- as evidenced by the repeated times that trust was breached by readers.

So I will just vaguely express my feelings on the series of events I experienced last week in a simple summary- people can be pretty crummy and when you focus your life on what is right and good it turns your stomach just a bit when you have close encounters with others who  don't share this focus. A mixture of revulsion toward what they are embracing and sympathy for the life in Christ they are forgoing. I also want to reiterate that being a grown up means you don't do necessarily what you *feel* like doing, but what, after careful evaluation, you deem to be the best and most practical course of action.

In other news,my cherished cell phone/pda (Sprint ppc 6601) that I've had since my Congressional employee days was stolen on Thursday evening. I had to get a replacement phone, and since it was on my own dime, a cheaper one of course. I picked up a cute Katana II and it's pink! Pink! Tres adorable.

J and I spent the weekend wrapping Christmas presents. We are almost finished with all of our shopping and are trying to turn the focus of our time and energies to remembering the reason for the season. Christ, of course.

Another fun activity I was pulled into this weekend was researching my ancestry. My father sent me several emails with pieces of our family tree from his mother's side of the family [The Laraques] so I started to put it all together and found a great free tool to do so from myheritage.com. It wasn't long into creating my tree that the software reported to me that 2 other people had trees overlapping mine. How exciting! I got in contact with both of them- distant cousins [we share grandparents 4 or 5 generations back!] -and we started some great conversations. In the process of my research I've been able to go all the way back to 1613  and found 2 important people in history among my grandmother's line so far. One was a man who is held up highly in Haitian history for his work in the Haitian independence movement. Another was also a well loved man (Sylla aka "Tom" Laraque) by the Haitian people- so much so that he ran for president of Haiti in the 50s and had a good shot to win but was basically forced into exile to Mexico by the U.S govt who did not appreciate the fact that a Marxist might become president. (That's right, I've got a bloody Marxist in my heritage).  I'm excited to continue the trace backward as far as I can go with my paternal grandmother's family and then I will move onto my paternal grandfather, my mother's parents, and then Jonathan's family.