Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent

Things are better. Circumstances haven't changed, but my approach and attitude have.


I am looking forward to Paris and excited to visit Europe for the first time. We'll be visiting not only France but Belgium and England as well.


We just booked our reservations for Greece and Italy for Nov 2009 and I'm pretty thrilled about that as well. I am so amazed at how far Jonathan has come in his enthusiasm for travel- this was my man who once said he saw no reason to ever leave North America.


This holiday season has been quite a whirlwind with travel, work, and social activities. I took some time to slow down last weekend and spent the whole day on Sat baking with my best friends. We made 11 different types of cookies/pies/breads and split the whole lot before heading home. I am blessed to have such wonderful friends who are so supportive.


I'll blog about the Vegas trip [including my review of Thunder down Under] when I return from Europe after the New Year.


And now, for the next two days, I will work on centering my thoughts on the reason for the season: Christ.


Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Caregiving


Early this morning I took my father to his cataracts surgery. And as we went over all the paperwork and preliminary procedures I had the same thoughts I always do when taking my parents to medical appointments:


Who is going to give care for Jon and I when we are older?


Who is going to take us to early morning appointments?


Who is going to make sure that we aren't left in emergency room hallways without a way to use the restroom (The doctors did this to my mother and if I wasn't there to advocate for her then what...) ?


Who is going to make sure that our multiple doctors don't prescribe meds that run counter to each other or interact in harmful ways (been done to my parents multiple times, but thankfully I noticed and corrected)?


Who is going to hold our hands when we have to go in for surgery?


Who is going to clean up our bathroom when we have a stomach flu and get sick everywhere?


Who is going to love us?


I see the future for us as elderly seniors and it scares me.


I was a paid caregiver once in my early 20s- for the mentally ill. It was difficult, emotionally draining work. I had to deal with disgusting bodily fluids. I had to dress and feed and bathe people. I had to manage meals schedules and budgets and a host of other normal life activities most people do for themselves. And I hated it. I hated the smells, the depressing helplessness, the forced observation of troubled minds and bodies degenerating each day. I wasn't very good at it either. (Part of the reason I think I would not have been a good mother.) I let the psychotic rantings of my patients get to me personally. In many ways I am now grateful for that experience as it has prepared me for helping my parents like nothing else could. But I am also filled with guilt because I disliked that work so much and found it so difficult. That I left that field of work and went into something that seemed to fit me better, that was easier. How can I hope to have someone take care of me when I am old and needy when I didn't even want to do it for others when paid to do so? I keep turning over my father's words from last night in my mind- "We took care of you when you were young, why can't you take better care of us?" This morning my mind has twisted that sentiment into: Obviously I don't deserve to have anyone take care of me or love me when I am old if I was not willing to take time out of my life to take care of and raise a child.


I pray for all of those who have no one to care for them. I pray that someone will have mercy on Jon and I and care for us when we are old even though we weren't willing to have children and care for them and even though I wasn't willing to keep caring for the needy when paid to do so.


I am so depressed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Power to Crush a Spirit

We all have the power to crush another's spirit with our words. Whether out of carelessness in not holding our tongue (I've been guilty of that) or out of deliberate and calculated maliciousness (yep, I've done that too), we have great power to inflict damage on others.


James 1:26, says If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.


Proverbs 13:3 says, "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.


1 Peter 1:15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;


"Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it." (Psalm 34:13)


Today my father vented his frustration and disappointment in my deficiencies as his daughter. "We took care of you when you were little, why can't you take care of us better now?" "I told everyone how you leave all the time to go on trips and aren't there when we need you. It's terrible. You work all the time too. You aren't taking care of us at all." "You are taking care of us worse now then when you ignored us when we lived in NM". And the words went on and on and on. It hurt so much, especially because I worry that there may be truth to it. I have been traveling a lot. And I am busy with work. But we see them every week, we take them to the doctors and shopping and we spend time with them. I don't know what to do to fix the situation.


I don't know what to do to make my father glad he had me.


I don't know what to do to prove to him I am good enough.


I don't know what to do not to be such a disappointment.


Same old story.

Travel and Other Thoughts

The days are moving at a fast clip lately and I feel like I'm just trying to hang on. There is so much to keep tabs on, so many things scheduled, so much to do. I have to keep remembering to breathe and focus on the quiet holiness of the season.


Over then weekend (Dec 6th-7th), Jon and I drove to NYC with our good friends Dani and Clayton. It was Dani's 3rd trip into NYC and Clayton's first. On the schedule was a viewing of Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular, dinner at Paesano's in Little Italy, enjoying NYC from atop the Empire State building, taking in the sights at Rockerfeller Plaza and lunch at Stamatis in Astoria. We stayed at a cheap but decent hotel in Queens, right in Chinatown a few blow from the last stop on the 7 subway. Dani seemed to have a good time as usual, despite having to hobble around on a broken ankle with a boot and crutch, but Clayton seemed less than impressed (although he said he had a good time). I don't think he's the city type. Or maybe he's just not the WOW over the top enthusiastic type. Hard to tell. Dani's handicapped status proved to be useful- it pushed us to the front of the line at the Empire State building, saving us loads of time which otherwise would have been spent waiting in lines. The Rockettes were as amazing as always, as was the food at Paesano's. The owner/manager treats me so well these days as I've been bringing small tour groups to him for business repeatedly now.


On Sunday afternoon, Jon+Dani+Clayton drove back to VA and I hopped a plane from JFK to San Francisco. Why? It was my first mileage run (see flyertalk.com for details on mileage running) as I realized last month I'm only about 4k miles short to reach elite status with Delta. Elite status = upgrades to first class, preferred boarding, extra miles earned on trips, and other fun perks.


The flight out to San Francisco was a nightmare. We sat on the runway for an hour waiting for clearance to take off due to the high winds. That set us back an hour on our scheduled arrival into California of course (Originally 11pm, now midnight). Then the non-stop flight had to make an unscheduled landing in Kansas City to refuel because the headwinds were so bad it was draining more fuel than expected. That set us back another hour (now 1am expected arrival into SFO = 4am eastern/jenni time). Between Kansas City and SFO, 2 separate passengers had medical emergencies (passed out, stopped breathing, major problems kind of emergencies) and there was talk of detouring the plane for an emergency stop. Luckily there were 3 doctors traveling that night and they managed to get both patients stable whereas the plane could finish the flight to SFO, where the paramedics promptly came onboard while everyone had to stay seated. That set us back another half hour, but we were all happy to see the sick people were ok.


So by the time I get off the plane and out to the hotel shuttle area its 1:45am Pacific Time. (445am Jenni time!!!). I call the hotel for the shuttle and they advise me it is not a 24 hour shuttle; it stops at 1am. I cry and start yelling at the guy because I deliberately and specifically asked the hotel clerk when making the reservation earlier that day if they had a 24 hour shuttle to/from the airport as listed on their website and he confirmed they did. A very nice man in uniform (Air Force) took pity on me and paid the exorbitant cab fare for me to go the 1.5 miles to my hotel ($20). He said he'd want someone to help his wife if she were in my situation. Yay for unexpected angels.


I got to the hotel, checked in, complained to the manager about the shuttle problem, and went to sleep. Got up at 6am Pacific to work from the hotel (because it's expected that I be available for my team by 9am Eastern and I was officially working on Monday). Spent the morning working and at check-out time [11am Pacific] took the shuttle back to the airport. My plan was to head to the gate and continue work from there until my plane left at 11pm, taking lunch and dinner breaks. Only the printer at the hotel was broken so although I checked in I couldn't print my boarding pass and the airport kiosks don't let you print your pass until 6 hours before your flight. Gah! I trekked up to the Delta Crown room and pleaded my case- I only wanted to use their printer and promised to take no snacks, liquor, or other snazzy treats. The agent handling the desk was so kind and gave me a guest pass. I printed out my boarding pass and went to leave and he told me to relax, enjoy my stay and eat and drink whatever I wanted. I had 2 pretzels and then felt bad that I was using the service without being a paid member, and besides I was getting hungry for real food, so I headed to my gate, thanking the agent profusely on the way out for his kindness.


At the gate I settled in and alternated between working and napping until my plane was ready to board for the redeye flight back to VA. I slept on the flight as well as the subsequent one from ATL to IAD, but it's just not the same as being in your own bed. Once I got to DC I went to pick up my Dad to take him to a medical appointment and then I was off to work as usual in Rockville. It's been a long day and I'm so tired despite the fact its just past noon. No rest for the weary though- I've a lot of work to do today.


Aside from the busy work and travel schedule, there are bills to pay and associated budgeting to catch up on, things to clean and tidy at home, Christmas decorations to put up (including the tree), a Soroptimist meeting on Thurs to prepare for, surgery and follow up appts to take my Dad to tomorrow and Thursday, emails to answer, ParJen Consulting clients to bill, and husbands and doggies to cuddle and love. And there is God to be worshipped and focused on which cannot be pushed to the end of the list. And of course there is the trip to Las Vegas on Friday to pack for.


I like having a busy filled life, but it will be nice to slow down after the holidays.

Thanksgiving 2008

Jon and I spent Thanksgiving in the Chicago area visiting family. Jon's brother lives is Des Plaines with his wife and their son. It was almost 7 years since our last visit and for many of those years we'd been wanting to go back for another Thanksgiving (if for no other reason then Jon's brother is the turkey MASTER, making the best turkey I've ever had). The family moved there after college and has remained there ever since. In fact, of all the Parks offspring, they are the only ones that have lived in the same area of the country since getting married. (Meanwhile, we have not lived in one city for more than seven years. Having a home now should alter that and allow us to really settle into our community for a long time. )


It was a very relaxing vacation. I know for many of you visiting your relatives never seems like much of a vacation (more like a chore), but we had a great time. Our entire trip involved a series of delights - shopping, eating delicious food and sleeping, repeated again and again over a span of 4 days. There was a little cooking dabbled in there on everyone's part (I made Turkey with a thyme infused reduction over waffles for dinner one night using the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers and it seemed to go over well) and some recreational activity (movie watching- go see Bolt, it's amazing!) also. At one point Jon was carted off to help a friend/neighbor install an ice skating rink. I'm guessing he is one of the favorite dad's among the kids in the neighborhood. Who ever heard of having your own personal ice rink as a kid? Very cool.


As for the eating, we sampled Chicago deep dish pizza as well as some famous Chicago dogs. The hot dogs were so good I was left craving them even after we returned to Virginia. As a special treat, my sister-in-law planned an outing for her and I to the Terragusto Café in Chicago. It's a cozy Italian restaurant that's leans to the casual in terms of décor in contrast to the upscale menu choices. We enjoyed the Chef's tasting menu, which gave us a taste of several dishes from the café's menu (which changes monthly). I shouldn't just say "a taste" as the portions were extremely generous. My favorites were the tagliatelle alla bolognese tartufato (classic thin ribbon pasta in a creamy four meat tomato sauce, parmigiano-reggiano & a touch of white truffle) and the capellacci di zucca alla modena ("pope's hats" stuffed with roasted fall squashes & parmigiano in a sage-brown butter sauce with amaretti crumbles). Next time you pass through the Chicago area, you'll definitely want to stop for dinner at Terragusto. (the address is : 1851 W. Addison St. Chicago, IL 60613)


Other noteworthy highlights of the vacation included another demonstration of my propensity to injure myself (I slipped and fell on a staircase which left me whimpering and slow to walk the next few days), a new trip idea (antiquing in New England late this spring with my sister-in-law), and lots of quality time with our nephew.


The only unhappy incident related to our trip was the nightmare of getting home via plane out of O'Hare. Much to our surprise, we found out the night before we were scheduled to return that our flight had been cancelled and USAirways/United and stuck us in the system on a flight from NYC to SFO as a placeholder since all ORD to WAS flights were booked full. It took 3+ frustrating hours on the phone with USAirways and United to find a flight back to WAS leaving on Mon Dec 1st, as we had originally planned. And those three hours involved pleading, sweet-talking, snappy acronyms, long periods on hold, hang-ups, and eventually crying. Next day we went to the airport to catch our flight (we were being routed from ORD to an airport in South Carolina and then on to IAD) and found it was delayed. As we waited, the airline kept pushing back our flight again and again and again. Originally scheduled to leave at 1:55pm, we did not get out of ORD until 4:30pm. We were pretty frustrated as we knew our flight out of South Carolina was the last one of the day meaning we'd probably have to spend the night in SoCar. Luckily, the flight from there was ALSO delayed (originally supposed to leave t 6:30pm but didn't get off the ground until 10pm) so we were able to get home. I am *never* flying USAirways or United again though. The last time I flew with them was about 4 years ago and it was to get to a conference in NY that began on a Friday. They delayed our flight so long I missed the entire first evening of the conference. And no compensation was offered. Worst. Airline. Ever.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Difficult

It's no secret that I've always adored my father.


I looked up to him, I respected his opinion, I continuously sought his approval, and I longed to be like him - intelligent, educated, cultured. During my childhood, whenever my mother went into one of her rages (screaming obscenities, throwing things, crying) I would turn to my father in fear, who would reassure me that my mother was simply crazy and displaying an irrational psychotic reaction likely due to her pent up rage and sadness at being abused so often by so many prior to her life with him. He would say this in a cold and clinical manner directly in front of her, which would fuel her rage further. He treated me as though we were equals; both doctors manning the asylum. It was definitely inappropriate and dysfunctional to speak about my mother in this way to a child, but I think it was his attempt to lessen the scarring of the verbal abuse pouring out of my mother's mouth.


As a child, when I asked my father why he didn't leave my mother he told me he was trapped because he had made the mistake of leaving a woman before and the courts always give custody to the mother. He said he would never abandon a child again. (It wasn't until I was older that I learned from my half-siblings the details of his selfish abandonment of them and the true cost to their well being). So in this way I grew up feeling as if it were my fault he was forced to endure my mother. (Of course after I became an adult he never left her). While I suspect other kids dreamed about innocent childhood wishes regarding toys and special privileges, I often dreamt of my mother's untimely death due to car accident or illness which would free us. In my scenario my father would then remarry my best friend's mom and we'd be sisters. Just as often as I'd envision these ideas, the guilt would well up inside of me and I'd hate myself for thinking such things.


Despite my growth into adulthood, I continued to wrestle with my feelings of anger and guilt toward my mother. I had many long conversations with her and came to understand the horrific experiences she lived through that shaped her world and encouraged her behavior. This only increased my guilt when the familiar untimely death wishes cropped up from time to time (usually when she was hurling obscenities my way). I solved the problem the only way I knew how- I moved far from home and rarely visited. But I always missed my father. Despite his hurtful comments (that I never measured up to my potential, that he regrets having all of his children because we were a waste of his time and money) I never grew angry at my father in the way my fury simmered against my mother. Even now, understanding that his love-deprived childhood (raised by uncaring nannies while his parents travelled the world and ignored him) is no excuse for his selfish and destructive criticism I can't muster anger. I just simply love him and still seek his approval.


Now that my parents are elderly and have moved here so that I may care for them, the dynamic has changed little. I still adore my father, whose mind is slowly slipping from him as his sentences repeat, his criticisms become rare, and his expressions of love and need for reassurance are frequent. My mother is just as difficult as she ever was. Loud, constantly negative and angry at the world, and very sickly (mostly due to her own poor stewardship of her body), it wears me down. It makes me angry.


Today she was rushed to the hospital with extremely poor vitals- out of control blood sugar, high blood pressure, and constant vomiting. I left work early and rushed to the hospital. When I arrived the nurse was reminding her that her lifetime of poor eating (completely ignoring the diabetic diet for example) was a big factor in her frequent illness. I felt a twinge of fear thinking of my own poor eating habits and anger at her selfishness in eating whatever she felt like instead of what's best for her. I vowed silently again right there in the E.R. to exercise more and watch my nutrition. I would not be like her. I would not!


Then I went downstairs to the hospital café and ate two candy bars. And I cried for both of us.


A few hours and endless tests later it turns out the culprit behind her vitals was her disregard for following her medicine regime in the face of a stomach flu. She simply stopped taking ALL of her meds (insulin, blood pressure meds, heart meds, etc) cold turkey Monday morning because her stomach hurt and she was tired of vomiting whenever she ate or drank anything. No call to the doctor for guidance (nor to me), no thought to the consequences, nothing. I was furious when I heard the news and though I tried to hide it I'm sure she could see it in my eyes. My patience wears so thin with her and I feel so guilty over that. Seems I've inherited my father's selfishness. She made a self-pitying comment about how hard it would be on Dad if she died in the hospital and how hard it would be on us to take care of Dad alone. Really Mom? Because I think it would be a piece of cake to take care of Dad compared to you. While she threw her tantrum in the hospital yelling at the nurses who didn't bring her a blanket fast enough, throwing her plastic spoon on the floor because she wanted to go home all I could think of was how if she hates life so much and can find no joy here maybe she could just quietly die and make it easier for all of us. And then horrified at my own evil I squashed those thoughts down deep and replaced them with equal parts guilt and self-loathing.


I am so weary. What can God teach me from these times with my mother? How can I move beyond my own selfishness and anger? How can I be the kind of daughter that truly loves her mother and honors her as God commanded?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Peru 2008

We've been back from Peru since Wednesday, and I've finally had the chance to post the blog entries for our trip to travbuddy.com.


Go here to read the entries and see our pictures:

http://www.travbuddy.com/travel-blogs/45112


If you are on facebook, you can also flip through the Peru albums (three of them) here where I've more carefully labeled all the photos:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/photos.php?id=603259739

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Good and the Bad

Good: Barack Obama has evidenced proof of the American Dream and shown that the practice of racial discrimination and oppression on a national/societal level is a closed chapter of American history.


Bad: He's as close to being a utopian socialist as we've had in a leader in a long time. And how will this play out internationally- will his presidency embolden terrorists who will perceive him as weak and scare the oppressed worldwide who are fearful that an Obama led America might not protect them anymore?


Good: We leave for Peru tomorrow! New adventures.


Bad: There are calls for a national strike this week that may prevent us from getting to Manchu Picchu once we are in Peru or prevent us from leaving the country when we are ready to come home.


Good: my mother is settling in better in Woodbridge and getting to know people.


Bad: She is rubbing in my face how the paid caregiver we hired is "practically a daughter" who "loves her and takes her places like a daughter should", directly implying that I'm deficient in not being able to take her everywhere because I work. Thanks mom. Thanks for never saying thank you for anything I've done and telling me how much more you love the caregiver.


Good: I went to sleep early last night to come into work early today and get stuff accomplished. Go me!


Bad: Screaming revelers at 2 in the morning drove down our street honking and screaming "YES WE CAN". Wasn't that the slogan for Bob the Builder Toy (Can we fix it? Yes we can!). Also, the power went out so this morning I had to dress in the dark and I was late to work b/c of a big accident on the beltway.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mom and License

Yesterday I came home to two intersecting disasters.


First, an angry yelling husband who had opened a letter from the DMV notifying me my driver's license had been suspended due to failure to pay a speeding ticket fine at the end of September. I explained to him that I had intended to go to the trial (to try to talk down the ticket) but that I got hung up with work emergencies and was not able to go so I called the court that day to find out how much the fine would be. Court clerk said it would be up to the judge whether to give me just the ticket or failure to appear fine or whatever and I would be mailed a copy of the decision and the fine amount. That was 3 weeks ago. Last time I checked the record online (a few days later) it still said pending. I understood they were sending it and in NY I have personally seen it take 4 months to send you the fine invoice so I waited, knowing it would come eventually.


It had not come yet as of this week. So imagine my surprise when I got the suspension notice from the DMV with no prior warning! Jon was livid and we had a huge argument right in front of his parents. I will fast forward to the conclusion of this part of the story - went to the courthouse this morning to pay the fine (step 1 in getting my license back) and found that they had accidentally sent the fine amount invoice TO THE WRONG ADDRESS. Hence why I never got it. They printed off a letter stating such to give to the DMV to request the $85 reinstatement fee be waived. The DMV declined to do so, advising it was not their fault that the Prince William County court made a mistake in addressing mail. So I had to pay my fee and get my license reprinted. Blah.

$162 for the ticket + $85 reinstatement fee = too much!


Second disaster waiting for my arrival home was that the assistant we hired to take my mom and dad places when we are unavailable/at work called to tell me that she was at the doctor's office with my mom. Mom had been throwing up uncontrollably since Tuesday night and when her nurse came to see her Wed morning told her she needed to go see her dr pronto. So mom called Emma since I was at work and she didn't want to bother me. (Gah, she should have called me!). Mom's doctor told her (after she threw up on him) to go to the emergency room. So Emma took her there and I came over as soon as I could make it (I was in rush hour traffic on my way home when Emma called to tell me what was going on). Jon came with me and we sat with my mom in the emergency room till she was seen about 2.5 hours later when they began asking questions about her heart and monitoring it.


At first I thought she had food poisoning or something but they seemed to piece it together quickly as a heart issue and ordered blood tests to confirm. There is some really great tech advances in the detection of heart problems and you can read about it here: http://www.patienthealthinternational.com/conditionarchive/cond25_item7790.aspx


They wanted to conduct several tests on mom that would take most of the night so they sent Jon and I home to rest. This was late into the evening on Wed night. We stopped by to see Dad and comfort him then went home. This a.m. my mom called at 6:30am to tell me the tests were done and they were going to admit her for observation and possibly more tests and that she was going to be allowed to sleep until this afternoon when they would make a decision on the next steps. I still didn't know what was going on at that point except she mentioned something to do with heart failure and enzymes and I started googling.


Kept in contact with her today after she woke up this afternoon which was right about when I finished at the dmv and so went to the hospital to see her and get status. Met with the cardiologist – its inconclusive whether Mom had a full blown heart attack or its simply the beginning evidence of congestive heart failure [which is a chronic terminal disease where your heart slowly gets weaker and weaker and not just when you heart stops like I thought/like it sounds]. This is because she had the elevated enzyme levels of heart failure/attack but without all the other typical symptoms. Either way, her body recovered from it on its own, without any complex intervention from both the heart issue and the stomach sickness. They just gave her IV fluids and anti-nausea meds b/c she couldn't keep anything down and watched the progression of the problem till it peaked and began to come back down.


In order to determine if her heart suffered permanent damage from the episode they have to do a heart catheterization which she has refused after learning the risks. She understands without that diagnostics effort they won't be able to really see what is going on and possibly prevent a fatal heart attack in the future, but she doesn't want to endure the procedure. So they are releasing her tomorrow afternoon and want her to follow up with the cardiologist in a few weeks. They can still do some of the old fashioned stress testing to try to determine if there is heart damage, but unlike the cath it won't tell them whether it is progressing. So we wait. Took Daddy to visit her today and then home. He is really anxious as could be expected. Also had to reach out to my estranged sister and brother whom I haven't spoken to in years to let them know what was going on with Mom.


It's been a long day and I am weary.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Miami 2008

As described in my previous notes, September was a very harried month for our household. So it was perfect timing that I had arranged back in the springtime for a ladies getaway trip to the Caribbean for late September.


It was the first official trip for my newest meetup group, NoVA Travelers (http://travel.meetup.com/1256). I formed this meetup in early summer at the request of several of the members from my other meetups (http://cooking.meetup.com/343 and http://walkers.meetup.com218) who reported that they enjoyed the short weekend trips I'd planned for those groups and looked forward to longer adventures. The basic operating principles of the group are as follows - I take input from members on destinations they'd like to visit, coordinate that info with the marketing and promotions info I am receiving on a daily basis from various travel agencies, consolidators, and transportation providers (such as the airlines or railways themselves) to find great deals for group trips. Depending on the location we either book a tour with a predetermined itinerary - or I research and plan an itinerary that I lead us on. We have our second group trip this weekend in NYC. We're doing a culinary tour of NYC and I'll be leading the group through 4 city sections [Little Italy, Chinatown, Astoria, and SoHO] while giving a talk on the history of each section and NYC overall. There will be a chocolate tasting as well as tastings and full meals in each city section. Nine of us are going and it should be a lot of fun. My compensation for the work is having my trip costs paid by the trip fees charged to the remaining members, so it works out for everyone as the cost is still much lower than on a commercial tour.


Anyway, for the Miami trip, we began with a weekend in South Beach from Sept 19th- 22nd. We stayed at Le Fountaine Bleu which is an AMAZING luxury resort. We had a one bedroom suite and attached studio suite. Marble bathrooms, bidet, Private ocean beach, spicy cabana boys to bring us iced cucumber slices and fresh water at the beach,amazing views off our private balcony, 7th floor rooftop pool, and more (And the hotel was only $130 a night per room thanks to the arrangements I'd negotiated ahead of time- an extreme discount off the normal $400 nightly rates.) Service was amazing and we all fell in love with the place. We crammed a lot of activity into the weekend from sightseeing in South Beach (the restaurants, the shops, the nightclubs!) and the heart of Miami (we went to Jungle Island - a sanctuary for rescued tropical animals and Little Havana-good cigars!) and everyone had a good time. We even rubbed noses with the quasi-famous, meeting Christopher Nolan's (directed The Dark Knight) brother at The Big Pink (a popular Miami restaurant in South Beach).


Monday morning rolled around and one of our members had to defect home (alas, work was calling) while the rest of us boarded the Carnival cruise ship Imagination for a 5 day Caribbean cruise. We had a day at Key West, another at Cozumel, and the rest of the time at sea. It was very lovely and just the sort of relaxation I needed. In Key West, a few of us grouped together to walk the city while another member ventured off on her own and another took an excursion tour offered by the ship focusing on Hemingway. In Cozumel, two of the members went on their own to see the city while three of us enjoyed an excursion tour that focused on sailing, snorkeling and then playing at a private beach. They had a water trampoline at the beach and that was very awesome (you swim out to it and climb on it and jump jump jump). There were also hammocks, plenty of beach chairs, and horses for riding. The cruise itself was lovely with plenty of the normal cruise amenities - spa (we had their massages and they were great!), pool and hot tub on the lido deck, funky drinks, late night dance clubs, fancy tea parties, formal night, tons of great food and music, and cheesy shows. I really hope to get an even bigger group assembled for our next cruise in the winter (a short and affordable Bahamas cruise).


Although the trip was fun, getting back home to see my husband was nice too after 7 days apart. And slowly I started to slip back into the regular patterns of life at home, although it took me a few days to adjust my sleep schedule and settle for just 3 meals a day. Heehee. :)


I think you are really going to laugh at the pics from the Miami trip - especially the ones from our cigar factory experience. You've got to see those! I've put them in a public album here:

http://www.new.facebook.com/album.php?aid=62528&l=b4345&id=603259739


So that pretty much wraps up September. Now you see why I've been out of touch since August- busy busy busy. But things are settling down now. Other than this weekend, we've got no trips planned until November and no major projects or interruptions. Just the peace of ordinary life.

September Transitions

September was a busy month in our household and one of ups and downs. You've already read about our Savannah trip that began the month…and I'll write again soon about the Miami+Mexico trip that came at the end of the month. Sandwiched between those trips was a major endeavor: project move-a-parent. :)


I worked diligently the first 2 weeks in September to get a lease arranged for my parents with a senior apartment complex the next town over (Woodbridge, VA), purchased all the furniture they would need for them home as well as household supplies (linens, dishes, etc), and had all the utilities turned on in their name at their new home. Tried to get as much set up for them so that when they arrived they could just slip into easy living at their new place. They're on the 3rd floor so it was a lot of trips back and forth from the car with things! Several days I was over at their apartment from the time I got off work until well after midnight putting the final touches on things. All the while trying to keep up with major work deadlines as well.


Finally the big moment came and on Friday Sept 12th I flew to El Paso, TX. From the airport there I rented a car and drove to Roswell, NM (3 hours) where my parents live. Visited with my folks a bit but primarily spent Friday evening helping them pack up their clothes, medicines and essential financial docs to bring with them. Everything else was staying behind as the investor buying their property was buying it as-is. Spent a lot of time shredding old financial records and talking Mom out of taking things that were not essential. Saturday morning we attended the closing on the house and then my parents' friends came over to say their goodbyes. Soon we were off, on our way to El Paso. We stopped at the cemetery in town so that Daddy could have one last look at his parents grave, but nobody could remember where in the cemetery it was! We got to El Paso, spent the night and then Sunday morning flew back to the DC area. One of my good friends Dani met us at the airport, as did Jonathan, knowing we had too much stuff for just 1 car. It was pretty overwhelming. Basically from Wed the 10th- that Sunday evening I'd had maybe a total of 8 hours of sleep. I was exhausted.


We dropped my parents off at their new place and as the weeks wore on they became more settled in their apartment. There were a lot of doctor appointments the first two weeks but things have calmed down now. We did find out that my dad has severe cataracts to the point that he can barely see. He just didn't want to tell anyone before and hadn't been properly examined by an eye doctor for a long time.


I am very glad my parents are here, but it has been a big adjustment for everyone. I haven't lived at home since I was 14 and I haven't lived in the same town as my parents since I was 20. We are all still working out living so close together and how to relate to each other now that I'm grown and they're needing more help with things.

Savannah Trip 2008

You've been missing out on the details of my daily life since I've not written a major update since August.


Let's begin there and slowly cover the gap between then and now over a series of notes.


At the end of August, for Labor Day Weekend, Jon and I drove down to Savannah, GA for a little Holiday getaway. We stayed at a simple motel in one area of the city not too far from the historic district.


We arrived on a Friday afternoon and our first stop was Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House. Every insider's guide to Savannah listed this historic restaurant as a "must-experience" event. Website is here: http://www.mrswilkes.com/ . Jon and I definitely agree with the experts- this place is not to be missed! The historic boarding house serves up authentic Southern Cuisine for lunch and dinner family style. As we came into the restaurant, we were seated with other guests around a communal table. Then the food procession began. There was fried chicken, sausages, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, grilled corn, beans and rice, stewed green, fried okra, baked beans, summer squash casserole, sweet potato casserole, fresh rolls, coleslaw, black eyed peas, butter beans, succotash, and a whole bunch of other dishes I can't remember. And fresh sweet tea [that was everywhere in Savannah!] and lemonade. Once we had eaten our fill, they brought dessert. Woo boy it was all so delicious. And affordable. We had lovely conversations with the other guests at our table - a couple from Chicago, a couple from Texas, and a single lady from I-don't-remember-where.


After lunch, we walked around the neighborhood where the boarding house was and admired the beautiful mansions before heading back to our hotel for a nap. It had been a long drive and the heavy lunch left us sleepy. Plus the southern heat was really oppressive.


Once we had a chance to nap and swim at the motel we were ready to head back to the historic district for our evening activities. We did some sightseeing of the squares closest to our dinner destination [the square that holds the John Wesley statue] as well as the riverfront area. For dinner, we enjoyed a spectacular meal at the Olde Pink House, another "must-see" from the travel guides and local advisors. We both had the company special which was flounder cooked Thai-style in a ginger sauce. It's a very unique presentation - the chef scores the fish with a diamond pattern on each side and then pan fries the fish (skin on and not deboned) with the special sauce. The scoring allows one to use a fork to puncture a particular diamond section which then perfectly and cleanly separates from the bone ready for eating. It was something new for both Jon and myself and tasted delicious. We found the entire staff to be so kind. I've been to a lot of places in the USA and I've honestly never met such nice people in my entire life. Even in the rest of the south. That was a repeated pattern we noticed in Savannah- how generous and good-spirited its residents are. The chef from the restaurant was truly top notch- he competed on Iron Chef [the series on the food network] a few seasons ago against one of the Iron Chefs.


After dinner we wandered through the downtown district for a bit and then returned to the hotel to sleep.


Next morning, we were up bright and early to go back to the historic district for a tour. We drove to the address for the Grey Line tour since they are the most affordable and recommended and all we found was the office of Old Savannah Tours. The lady behind the counter told us that the Grey Line tour company was out of business and so we could tour with them instead. They were a bit pricier, but we didn't have any other options [we thought]. So of course, after boarding the trolley, which raises our viewpoint over the skyline, we see that the Grey Line tour company is right across the fence and we had just driven in to the wrong side of the parking lot. Old Savannah Tours= scam artists!!!! There is no way though could be right next door to their major competitor and not know that they were still in business. I wanted to throw a tantrum and get off and demand a refund but Jon asked me not to make a stink over a few dollars. The tour itself was fine. Took us by all of the historic squares (Savannah was a planned city whereby mansions were planted around squares every few blocks.) We took a lot of pictures, got off and did a lot of walking (the trolley has on/off privileges all day) and toured the Juliette Gordon Lowe home which was special for me, having been a girl scout for 10 years. (Juliette Gordon Lowe was a childless woman who God gifted to serve with her husband in other ways in her community, including the founding of the Girl Scouts based on the Boy Scout model.) Another point of interest on this day was witnessing the spectacle of police and onlookers in front of the Cotton Exchange building. It seems some lady fell asleep at the wheel, plowed her car through some hedges and into a very old and valuable terra cotta Lion Statue. Once her car hit the fountain the force propelled the car into the air and it crashed into the front doors of the Exchange. The impact was so strong it shattered the windows on the second story of the Exchange and crushed the top of her car. The driver came away with nothing more than a few scratches. But city officials were wringing their hands over the historic and priceless statue.


We had a simple lunch by the riverfront (hot dogs) and saved our appetites for the dinner we were anticipating at Paula Deen's restaurant. I love the lady, and Jon enjoys watching her as well. We've seen her in person a couple of times as she has come to Washington, D.C. for the annual Metro Cooking Faire. She's an amazing cook and another example of God empowering someone to excellence as her beginnings were humble and her life fraught with struggle for most of early years. Her signature restaurant however was a disappointment. The food was merely average compared to the boarding house the day before and combined with the price (>$20) and the wait time (we had to stand in line for a half hour in the morning to get tickets for the buffet in the evening, plus wait 30+ minutes to be seated once we got there in the evening) made it a dinner I regretted.


After dinner we toured the riverfront area again, stopping to sample and buy fresh pralines for our friends back home and stopping at Wet Willie's famous frozen drink bar for a quick refresher. Eventually we made our way back to the motel for the evening, spent.


Sunday morning we drove to Tybee Island to spend the full day at the ocean. The city was having a Labor Day celebration with live music and other activities under their pier, but we spent most of the day relaxing on our blankets/towels a few yards from the water. The relaxing pace continued into the evening when we took some candid photos of ourselves before heading back to the hotel for the evening.


There are pictures documenting our entire weekend, including the squares, the mansions, and even the car accident, online. Just click here to go to my facebook album:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=62526&l=67be1&id=603259739

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Keeping up with Livejournal Friends

I created an lj account for the purpose of befriending people I want to keep up with in terms of their friends-only journal entries as well as joining communities I'd like to continue reading such as Fatshionista and poor_skills. I will not be posting blog/journal entries to the lj account; look for those to remain here on this blog at http://songsofgratitude.blogspot.com as well as my goings on at facebook: http://www.new.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603259739.


The new lj account is: jennireads.livejournal.com. If you'd like to add me, I'd appreciate it. :)

Is Anybody Still Out There?

So here we are in October. Looking back, I realize I've not posted an update since August. I've been traveling, working, and keeping up with friends though facebook, email, and meetup. I have so much to write about now that I'd love to have an audience digest. But in order for that to work itself out I must actually have an audience. The question is, do I still have one? I suspect that much of my readership may have fallen off during my 2 month hiatus from active blogging.


Is there anyone out there reading this, or will my question echo into the silence of the internet? I'd like to know before I invest time in posting entries here at http://songsofgratitude.blogspot.com


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Joy Joy Joy

I know you people are probably getting sick of all my happy happy joy joy life is lovely posts, what with your cynicism and "mature" realistically practical outlook on things but I can't help it. Yep, this is going to be another sickeningly optimistic and bouncing puppy joy joy post! I have basically come to accept that I'm a transparently optimistic and nice person who lives for happy endings and I'm not going to apologize for it anymore or let others make me feel as though my kindness to strangers and lack of cynicism evidences immaturity. Here is the truth - I like to be nice and I like genuinely nice people; to strike up conversations with strangers and to look for the best in everyone. I'm not good at being mean or sarcastic and dryly witty and I'm not going to consider it a mark of adulthood to try to play it cool around those types anymore.


So onto my update. I am doing GREAT. I am practically bursting at the seams with joy and smiles. I really feel that this decade- my 30s- is shaping up to be the best of my life so far. I'm feeling pretty close to God lately and making time to worship. I love my work and my coworkers are fabulous. I really feel challenged and stimulated by my tasks at work. Jon and I are doing great in the marriage department. My townhouse has a lovely new kitchen since I accidentally burned our old one down back in January. This year we did our first international trip (to Belize) and between now and December I am scheduled for a lot of travels including Miami, Mexico, NYC (two times), Las Vegas, New Mexico, Peru, and Paris. I am so excited about getting off this continent finally! My parents are moving here next month from NM so that will be good to have them close and be able to help them out. I am still consistently working on toning my body with all my walking this summer and its starting to show (people are commenting). Making new friends, enjoying the ones I already have. And if life wasn't perfect enough, today I managed to get a new INSTINCT phone for free through my contacts at the company. I wake up each morning with a rush, eager to see what the new day is going to bring in terms of adventures. Of course, being human, I am keenly aware that my life is just a little *too* perfect (which seems unnatural) and so in the back of my mind I am anxious about what might suddenly go wrong and upset my joy.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Re Democrats and Race

For molecularshyness :


Wasn't it the republican party that was founded in part on an anti-slavery platform?


Wasn't it the *republicans* who propped up Abe Lincoln and strongly favored ending slavery?


Wasn't it the *republicans* who championed civil rights legislation while democrats filibustered it?


The republicans support business because business (including businesses owned by blacks and other minorities) are the backbone of our capitalist economy which preserve our other freedoms. Hard to preserve anti-discrimination laws in hiring if there are no businesses. Hard to preserve anti-discrimination laws in property purchases if no one has money due to a poor economy.

On the other hand, the democrats support giving away the US treasury as much as possible to those they view as needing help from the government- and largely that has been people they look down upon as helpless or ignorant (blacks, immigrants, etc).


As I discussed in my previous post, freed slaves were mainly republican. It was only in recent history that the black vote migrated en masse over to the democrats- when democrats in the 60s started handing out massive portions of the treasury for social programs.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

History of the American Political Parties

First party system:

inception to 1836


Federalists - broad central power - Hamilton. supported England in French- England war. Stronghold in New England.


Anti-federalists - limited federal power. anti-national bank. supported the French revolution. Thomas Jefferson. supported France in 1793 French English war.

...also called democrat-republicans.


Second party system:

1837 to 1852


Federalists disappeared.


Anti-federalists split into multiple parties- [1] Jackson democrats who were against the bank of the united states b/c it was too centralized and too corporate. farmers and common/poor man were in this party from the start. Believed in appointing friends/supporters of like mind when becoming president instead of letting the previous executive employees stay in tenure. [2] bankers and businessman therefore fell together into the Whig party. They supported public works programs and subsidies to businesses and high taxes on imports to protect American businesses.


Third party system:

1853-1895


Democrats remain. A lot of white racists in the south joined the party having left the republicans who wouldn't tolerate their racism. These new democrats were pro business but didn't agree with the republicans on race so they found a home with the democrats instead. Lots of unskilled laborers and catholic immigrants in party also. Generally wanted govt to stay out of moral/social issues like prohibition. On slavery democrats were split in that some were racist and pro slavery and some were against slavery- mostly the northern democrats. They supported low tariffs on imported goods to keep costs low for common people and wanted less federal spending overall so that the common man could keep more of his own money.


Whigs dissolve. Some Whigs come together-mostly middle class anti-Catholics to make the American party (which eventually dissolved as most 3rd parties do). Many other former Whigs come together to form the Republican party and put up Abe Lincoln for president. Businessman and white collar workers flock to the Republican party. Freed slaves also in the party. Mostly protestant. Wanted the government to condemn sin - supported prohibition and other heavy handed govt intrusion into moral decisions. Still wanted high tariffs to protect business owners and lots of federal subsidies to businesses.


Fourth party system

1896-1932


More of the same from both parties, except that republicans became even more business oriented as some republicans thought the party went too far in supporting business over environment and commoners and left for the Democrat party. Also most of the poor immigrants coming into the country joined the Democrat party. Democrats are generally anti-war, anti-imperialism and anti-world policing and definitely anti-business. They support direct democracy versus electoral college and support broadening the vote to as many as possible except the blacks. Began to support strong govt regulation over business to protect people from businesses.


Fifth party system

1933-?? (some same 1960s, some say 1990s, some say still under this system today)


More people begin to support Democrats as the Republicans were in charge near the depression and some see them responsible somehow so the Democrats got even more poor, immigrants, and minorities to come over to their side. Republicans still support business and subsidies to business. Republicans FINALLY adopt free trade platform under Reagan, realizing that their previous anti-trade policies hurt the nation and businesses ultimately. Besides, now that US businesses were selling more and more overseas, free trade was more beneficial for them so they were now happy to support it too. Ironically, this is about the time that most Democrats driven by the labor unions- come out against free trade b/c it risked their jobs. Job security suddenly became more important than the little people being able to buy things affordably. Here we have a reversal of both party platforms on free trade.


Important notes:


From my research, it seems that since their inception, Democrats have always held tight to pushing direct democracy and having the common man become very involved in and directly benefiting from the federal government including govt funds. Republicans have always been pro-business and push representative democracy and the electoral college. A healthy debate that is likely to continue in perpetuity.


On the other hand, the parties switched ideology on free trade. I'm glad the Republicans finally came around to the winning strategy of supporting free trade. I believe its best for the global economy and will eventually lift most countries out of poverty. It's too bad the democrats adopted the anti-trade stance. Would have been nice to have unity on the issue.


Clearly on the black race issue, democrats have the longstanding pattern of being on the wrong side. This does make me feel good about my Republican party.


Finally, I don't see how democrats have the audacity to claim Thomas Jefferson as *their* president (go look at dnc.org - they state he was a democrat) when really he was the father of the party that BOTH Democrats and Republicans ultimately branched off from. I dare say that Jefferson, had he been alive, would have been more likely to go off with the Whigs than the Jackson Democrats when the split occurred.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cooking

One thing I really appreciate about our trip to Belize earlier this year was the way in which it broadened our culinary vocabulary. We just got done eating some homemade garnaches for lunch– it was the first time I've used my tortilla press to make the masa cakes. Garnaches are basically like a shredded chicken taco on corn cakes with sautéed onion, cabbage, and tomato and cheese topping. And of course doused with tons of Marie Sharp habanera sauce. This morning we had fried plantains as part of our breakfast. Last week I ate Belizean coconut rice and beans almost every day for lunch and last weekend I made a coconut pie and managed to precisely duplicate the taste of the ones served by the street vendors on Caye Caulker. It will be interesting to see what culinary contributions we adopt from Paris, London and Brussels on our Christmas trip this year.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

oil market and today represents more than 50% of oil purchases on the commodity market. Speculative purchasing involve buying a whole lot of a commodity you don't actually need with the anticipation that someone else does need it eventually and will pay you more than you bought it for to get it. Think of it like domain squatting, but with commodities like oil, oj, etc. I definitely agree that speculation can drive commodity prices up. And I agree that it sucks. But is it moral for the government to step in and tell people who is allowed to buy a commodity and when they can sell it and how many times you can sell it? That's micromanagement control. I realize it may be constitutional since the trading crosses state lines, but is it moral?


Edit: More researching on the fact and discussing it with economic types brings new information. Its just a *theory* that oil speculation is driving up costs. The counter argument is that if the oil speculator middlemen were not buying the oil from the oil companies and reselling at a higher price to those who need it [airlines, etc] then the oil companies themselves would just be holding it longer and selling it at a similar higher price to those that need it. Because in the end, the market price is the market price and speculators just change who gets the benefit of the markup more the original oil company or the speculator middlemen, but they don't actually change the market price. Only demand or shortage can really do that. And the speculators don't really create any shortages - they're not buying oil and holding onto it exclusively and refusing to sell, they are pretty much buying and turning right around when the oil delivery is ready and selling it.


Your thoughts?


It was Mommy and Me day in the town square near my office bldg. Lots of cute kids running around with their parents and it makes me stop and think about all the different paths my life could have taken and how different my life would be. I try to imagine what it would have been like if Jon and I decided to be parents and it is hard to imagine. At 32 I realize, had we conceived our first year of marriage, we could be raising an 11 year old right now. Can you picture it? Seems so strange to me to envision myself as a parent.


Are you putting your mind to the upcoming presidential election yet? What about the economy? Does it seem as bad to you as the doomsday crowd makes it out to be? We seem to be doing ok, except the recent $100,000 drop in our townhouse value stinks. Really stinks. Prince William County got hit the worst in Northern VA, but the housing bubble pop drove down values across the region. Watching our friends who are buying now makes us want to kick ourselves. For the same money we paid 3 years ago they're getting huge single family homes. We can only hope that we don't have to sell for some reason before the full recovery occurs [which could be 5-10 years down the line].


Lots of reflection on life and death this week with the passing of Tony Snow. Jon and I admired his talent and met him while wandering around downtown Alexandria a few years ago. To see him on TV after that was pretty neat, you feel like you have a connection. And to hear of his death at only age 53. Wow! That's less than 20 years older than Jon. Scary business. With 3 kids left behind its going to be tough for his family. Pray for them.


What's new in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Mirrors

Genevieve had carried her deepest secret close to her for more than three decades, clutching it tightly in the same way reluctant mothers hold their boys going off to war. A small wooden handled mirror, she often gazed into it wide-eyed, her sense of wonder edged with revulsion. Usually she stepped through this ritual in the quiet hours just after dawn when the house itself seemed still to be sleeping.


This morning was no different. She slipped out of bed and walked along the cold cherry planked floor to the side table against the opposite wall. Opening the center drawer, she removed the mirror and held her breath. She allowed her focus to move to the image in the mirror and she sighed, releasing her breath in a rush of moist air and lost hope.


When she was six, Genevieve had turned to her mother and asked "Mother, am I beautiful? Do you love me mother?"


This was because Genevieve had seen many faces on little girls and boys at school, but never her own. The world knew few mirrors at that time, and Genevieve had never seen one. So it was entirely natural that she should wonder after her appearance. In response, her mother had handed her the now familiar mirror.


"This is how I see you, inside and out. It is who you are. It is how God made you."


That was the day Genevieve learned about mirrors and ugliness. She had looked at and then into this shiny glass and all at once had seen how truly ugly she was. Her eyes contorted, her nose misshapen, her entire face seemingly disfigured when compared to the lovely faces of the other girls she'd seen at school.


Genevieve never asked anyone again if she was beautiful. Instead, she carried the hidden knowledge of her disfigurement quietly, shedding tears over her ugliness only when she was alone with her mirror. She could only look at her reflection in that tiny miserable mirror for moments before she would break into sobs that left her heaving and sick when they finally left her. Her worthlessness and ugliness were overwhelming when she focused on them, so she learned to distract herself with other pursuits. She was drawn to the beauty and bright spirit she saw in each person she became acquainted with and for reasons that did not entirely make sense to her, acquaintances seemed drawn to her as well. Often her friends would compliment her on her charm or her beauty and it angered Genevieve because she knew they spun lies with their sweet words. Her anger was not quick to last; it always softened when she remembered that they did this out of kindness and a love for her. They simply did not know that she was aware of her ugliness and that their words rang hollow.


Putting the mirror back into the drawer, Genevieve thought this morning's distraction should be a quick visit to see Elizabeth. A woman of intense soul and wisdom, Elizabeth been introduced to Genevieve many months ago at a dinner party held by a mutual friend. Since that time, the two had become close and spent increasing amounts of their time together. Genevieve adored Elizabeth's humor and wit and Elizabeth claimed that she was brightened by Genevieve's seemingly endless energy and kindness.


Genevieve showered and dressed and quickly walked the short distance to the cottage Elizabeth called home. As Genevieve approached the front gate and passed the lovely white rosebush that adorned the entrance, she could see Elizabeth sitting in the window, her long beautiful blonde hair resting on her delicate shoulders as her face was turned away from the window. The window was open and Elizabeth's quick and steady whimpering carried into the yard and pierced Genevieve's heart. Elizabeth was crying, her sobs intensifying as Genevieve came closer. What could be wrong? What could cause such pain for Elizabeth?


Without hesitation, Genevieve opened the cottage door and walked directly into the sitting room. Elizabeth lay crumbled on the window seat, trembling. The tears continued to stream down Elizabeth's face who had not yet noticed Genevieve had arrived.


"Elizabeth!" , Genevieve cried out to her. "Whatever is the matter?"


With horror, Elizabeth turned toward Genevieve and sharply drew in her breath. Genevieve waited for a sign of recognition, of explanation, of anything, in Elizabeth's beautiful eyes. Anything but the pain she saw registered there now. Elizabeth's brow furrowed and her sorrow turned to anger.


"What are you doing here? You cannot just breeze into my home like this! Get out! Get out now!"


Elizabeth snarled at Genevieve as though she were a wild animal. Genevieve had never seen anything like it before.


Genevieve noticed that Elizabeth seemed to be hiding something behind her back.


"What do you have there behind you Elizabeth?"


"Please just leave . Just go."


Elizabeth began to cry again. Genevieve approached and kneeled down before Elizabeth and took Elizabeth's hand, pulling it away from her body. In it, Elizabeth held a small wooden mirror similar to the one Genevieve had herself gazed into earlier that morning. Another mirror! The excitement at such a discovery was tempered by Genevieve's concern for Elizabeth. Standing up, Genevieve moved behind Elizabeth, sat down on the window seat beside her and embraced her.


"I do not know what is the matter Beth, but I want you to know I am here ."


"Don't pretend you don't know Genevieve. I know about the lies. I know. I've always known."


Elizabeth was crying so forcefully now that she began to cough.


"Not long before I turned to adulthood", Elizabeth began, "my father gave me this mirror. He was leaving on a long journey and he told me that he had always wanted to go but had stayed to watch over me until I could take care of myself. Then he handed me the mirror and left me standing in the hall. I had never seen a mirror before. I had heard of them, of course, from books and such, but never seen one myself. To see yourself as you truly are, as others see you, was the gift of honesty my father gave me. "


Genevieve listened intently as Elizabeth continued.


"I looked into the mirror and I could not understand at first what I saw. Such ugliness, such horrible ugliness. To think that my father had been forced to look at me every day in such condition. I couldn't bear it. I thought I might end my life. At times I realize I hate myself and I wish that I could give him back all those years he lost looking after me. "


Genevieve stood speechless before Elizabeth. Nothing she said was making any sense. Elizabeth was beautiful. Her eyes were seas of blue, her smile contagious.


"The worst part is that everyone pretends. All of you. Even you, you must feel so smug, thinking of your own graciousness in allowing me to believe I am beautiful. "


Elizabeth held the mirror up to her face and Genevieve peered into it to see Elizabeth as Elizabeth saw herself. She was shocked at what was before her. Genevieve's face revealed its ugliness as expected but Elizabeth's beautiful eyes were contorted into a slant, her nose bent and her entire face distorted in the mirror. Genevieve looked away from the mirror and directly at Elizabeth's face again. It was unchanged and as beautiful as always.


The mirror. It must be the mirror.


All at once the tragedy of Elizabeth's situation, as well as her own, hit her. Genevieve joined Elizabeth in tears. Joy welled up in Genevieve's heart and blended with sorrowful regret. How many years had Elizabeth gazed into that strange mirror which lied to her and hidden her beauty from her? How many years had she mistakenly believed in an ugliness that wasn't? And how many years had Genevieve possibly done the same using the mirror her mother gave her? Genevieve did not fully understand why or how the mirrors they had relied on could so distort truth and beauty (she did not understand that the cracked glass caused the distortion) or why their mothers and fathers would give them these mirrors. She did know that life would be different, very different, for Elizabeth and herself now that she had discovered the lie of the mirrors. What a gift to be able to give Elizabeth! She steadied herself and turned to Elizabeth to begin to explain her discovery.



Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weekly Update 6/29/08

Joy

Another productive and fun week. So far, my early 30s, have been the best period of my entire life with more days of happiness and internal sunshine than cloudy despair. Everything seems so orderly and pleasant; the universe seems to make sense in a way that just wasn't within my grasp during my 20s. I wonder if it only gets better from here and I'll love my 40s as much or if this decade is really the peak. We shall see.


Theology

We enjoyed a really good fellowship discussion with our new associate pastor over dinner on Monday evening. We explored the ins and outs of Calvinism, missionary work, and the Christian approach to taking risks and decision making. Jon and I are both fond of this new guy and think he is going to be great for our congregation.


Guns

In the past week Jon and I had the pleasure of trying our hand at gun sport. Anna and Ron invited us as well as Danielle and Clayton out to the range in Alexandria to shoot for sport. Within the group we had a 22 rifle, a 38 rifle, a 22 pistol, a 9 mm pistol, and a 40mm pistol. Exciting! I was quite nervous about the potential loud noises - I don't do well even in a room of balloon popping much less gunfire. But there was earphones and after awhile I desensitized myself to all but the very loudest gunshots. I worked with the 22 rifle first as it was the only gun I had any sort of experience with - my father had one at home growing up and he used to let us kids use it for target practice outside. I liked the 22 rifle a lot but felt a stab of uselessness when I found out it really has no ability to put down an animal for hunting much less an attacker in self defense. So I moved onto the 38 rifle. A little more force, but not much, and still very easy for me to handle. Again though, not a sure bet if you're trying to beat back an intruder. For that, I'd have to get comfortable with the pistols. I started with the 22 pistol as I'd watched the rest of the group fire it with ease. Well, really I finished with it too as I shot it a grand total of one time and it scared me silly. The flash at the end of the barrel when it goes off, the jerk in your hands as the bullet flies out of the gun, the noise. It was all too much and I quickly said, "Ok, done with that" and went back to exclusively using the rifles. Jon, on the other hand, had less use for the rifles and really enjoyed pistol firing. So all hope for preservation under an attack is not lost- at least I can take comfort in my husband's ability to shoot a weapon of truly deadly force should it ever be necessary for my protection. Thank God for masculine alpha males. :)


Also on the gun front this week of course was the landmark Supreme Court decision "officially" recognizing the 2nd amendment and advising Washington, D.C. that their citizens are under its protections as well. Three cheers for the inevitable declining murder rate we are sure to see now that DC folks can legally defend themselves and their property from criminals.


Travel Research


My big project this week in my spare time is to complete a massive Excel spreadsheet I've created that lists every country and territory of the world (I downloaded the list from Wikipedia) and has columns to record best time of year to visit and other details. I plan to use it as our master travel reference list so that at a glance I can figure out when tickets go on sale if it all makes sense to go to that destination at that time and what I'll need to know for the trip. Mostly I learned that I never want to visit Bolivia or Algeria and probably not Bangladesh either.


Jon and I have also been reading the culture guide Anna gave me last year that lists the important cultural behavior differences between our country and others. For example, in Morocco everyone eats with their right hand, even the left handed. And in France food is always eaten with utensils, even sandwiches and fruit. And frequent smiling to the tune of American style (we smile a lot apparently) is considered improper throughout most of Europe. Very interesting!


Weekend

Yesterday Jon and I spent the morning with friends walking up a mountainside in nearby Sky Meadows State Park. The view was lovely but at times the trail was tiring. After that we headed over with Tracy and others to enjoy an afternoon at Naked Mountain Winery eating BBQ and wine tasting. All of that walking and eating in the sun tired us out so we promptly headed over to Debby's for a few hours of lounging in/around the pool. Today will be a very relaxing day - after church my only official plans are to take Julia to our doggie playgroup at the Dogtopia spa so she can play with friends and all the toys for a few hours and then to drop her home so I can treat myself to a pedicure. Somewhere in there I also want to do something special for Jon and bake him a chocolate cake.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Paris anyone?

Ok, so now Jon and I have added a Paris trip to our Calendar for the winter. Christmas day specifically! There is about $1000 savings per person by flying during the low season (winter) and especially on the slowest days of the low season. We fly out Christmas, late in the evening, spend 6 nights in Paris including free breakfast and a riverboat cruise tour, and fly home on New Year's Day. All that for just $1499 a person. Take a look at summer trips to Paris and you will see they are easily $1000-$1500 more. Gotta know when to time these things. We are opening up the trip to our NoVA travelers group and I wanted to open it up to you readers as well. If you fly out of NYC or DC airports the price is the same; other airports may be slightly more ($100 or so). Let me know with a comment if you're interested in tagging along. People will be put 2 to a room. It's the perfect Christmas present to give yourself!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer is Here

So finally summer 2008 has officially shown up for the party. Fantastic!


What's In:

~Traveling! I started a new meetup group this week. NoVA Travelers. We've already got 45 people signed up the first week and growing. Our first two trips on our calendar are a Dewey Beach, DE weekend retreat Aug 15th and a NYC Culinary Tour I'll be leading Columbus Day weekend. Looking to put some more weekend trips on the fall calendar and a cruise in the winter. If you're local and interested you can sign up for the group at http://travel.meetup.com/1256/. It's nice because it allows me to travel frequently and brings in a little extra spending money each month. I think Jon is worried I'm going to quit the IT world and become a travel agent, but he has not nothing to fear- its no fun planning OTHER peoples' trips. I wanna go on them too or I don't want to do all the planning work.


~Traveling part deux: we're headed to Savannah, GA for labor day weekend this year. It was supposed to be a surprise but someone let the cat out of the bag early (Thanks Anna). As a side note, why would a cat be in a bag for a surprise anyway? Where does that expression come from? I'm really looking forward to touring all the squares in Savannah as neither Jon nor I have been there before.


~Sponsorship! A few weeks ago a gourmet food company (Roseda Beef) contacted me with regard to the Supper Club meetup I run to offer to sponsor a group supper by providing the main ingredient - sirloin burgers and buns. "What a great idea!", I said to myself and decided to not only accept but solicit sponsorship from other gourmet food companies. So I used our Supper Club letterhead and faxed about 50 gourmet food companies to offer them the opportunity to sponsor us. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far. The next supper event under sponsorship will be in Sept - Omaha Steak company is sending me 50 filet mignons and lobster ravioli, spices, and other goodies for our group. Its not often I have brilliant ideas, but when I do, watch out! :)


~Embracing our 30s. Jon and I are putting together a Thirtysomething group for our church. It looks to be a promising group and the best part is that its going to reach a lot of non-believers. Its an every-so-often-lets-get-together and hang out group versus a small group bible study. A lot of the women I've called so far told me they were thrilled to have a social group like this because their husbands are not believers and they could never get them to go to a bible study. This way they're going to meet and hopefully bond with Christians but in a low key no pressure situation. I gotta give props to Jon's parents and their In-Betweeners group they belong to at their church in NM because that's what we're patterning our group dynamic after.


What's Out:


~Working from the office is definitely out- coming down the road this fall at my main client/employer is a switch for all employees who normally work out of the office to working out of their homes and telecommuting. That will save the company on office lease space and the best part is we now get the tax deductions for the home office. Well actually the best part is getting to work from home everyday. :)


~Bad dreams. At least I wish I could push them out. I've been having the strangest nightmares lately. Last night I had a dream that I noticed a tiny hole in my face near the right side of my lips. I tugged on it and the tear spread all the way up to my eye like a broken seam on a cheaply made dress and my skin was falling off and I could see my muscles and bones underneath. It was pretty terrifying. Then there are the dreams I've been having frequently starring my best friend in which she is yelling at me and throwing things. Very very bizarre and disruptive to my sleep.


~HOAs. I never really had experience with HOA (homeowner association) groups in NM but now that we live in VA hardly anyone we know does not live in an HOA controlled subdivision. Frankly, its annoying. Especially when they send you warning notices about something silly or become heavy handed parking lot Nazis. Seems to totally fly in the face of private property rights if you ask me.


What's Up:

~Harry Winston Diamond Company and Hermes Stock (I recommend you take a look). I love these guys; solid performers.

~The price of gas. $4.00 a gallon now?? OUCH.


What's Going Down:

~my waistline (yay)

~our home value (still in freefall thanks to the housing crash)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Life continues to be pretty good, despite a few minor annoyances.


I lost six pounds this week. A lot of exercise (3 walks with my walking group on top of my regular cardio/weight lifting AND a focused effort on watching calories). Plenty of fiber (this has been my biggest secret to weight loss so far - loading up on high soluble fiber foods), and remembering to take my multivitamin every day (which is also making my skin softer and my hair glossy).


Getting everything in place for the big party on Saturday. Expecting 30+ people to descend upon our house. I'm cooking up a 4 course buffet with a lot of food and I hope it will be a success. It's going to included smoked salmon and ribs, duck quesadillas, and baked Alaska, among other items.


Annoyances include a speeding ticket (78 in 55 - $177 fine ouch!) and a strange conversation with a woman in my walking group. We were chatting about work - hers - and she mentioned she is struggling with her new job and not getting along with her supervisor at all. She asked me if I ever had a black boss and I said "What?" and looked at her funny because I didn't understand where that question came from all of a sudden. I said no (completely forgetting that my proj mgr last year is black; that's how much I pay attention. Its like asking me if I ever had a red headed boss. Who pays attention?) She went on to say that her boss was rude and aggressive and overly demanding. I still did not see what that had to do with being black, but apparently in her mind it was somehow related. She pontificated that she had observed this new supervisor talking about race a lot and that it made her feel uncomfortable. Always bringing it into the conversation. Well, ok, that is a bit strange - who does that?- but I still don't see overall how she can assume that being black is somehow tied to being rude or aggressive or hostile. Apparently her circle of white people has been pretty limited if she's never had a white person be rude to her. Or maybe (probably!) she has and just not attributed it to their race. So overall my reflection on her, just based on this brief conversation, is that she harbors some sort of racism. It always shocks me when I hear that kind of nonsense from someone. I can't believe its 2008 and some people are still making character assumptions based on someone's race. I think its absurd and no different than trying to use eye color or hair color or height to divine character and personality.


In other news, have you seen EPT's new commercial and ad slogan? Their new slogan is "the most advanced technology you will ever pee on" . Makes me giggle.


And, last but not least, my sister-in-law Melissa was on national t.v. last night! It was a segment of HGTV's show Designed to Sell. The clip of her appearance is here :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0MmQNMzxKg



Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Recent Travels


Jonathan and I have traveled for each of the past two weekends and we're just a bit tired now.


Two weeks ago we drove up to Davis, West Virginia for a romantic 12th anniversary celebration. We stayed in a cozy bed and breakfast - the Meyer House- and had a great time. The home was appointed with lovely antiques and our hosts made sure our suite was just perfect with a welcome basket of cheeses, chocolates, and sparkling beverages. Each morning a delicious breakfast awaited us downstairs. Saturday morning we were presented with eggs benedict served alongside seasoned skillet potatoes and grilled asparagus. Sunday we were served stuffed french toast with fresh fruit. Our hosts have an extensive DVD library so we took the opportunity to watch a movie during our stay. We chose Little Miss Sunshine and laughed the whole way through. It's a zany yet touching comedy about family life that we both enjoyed. I highly recommend it to you.


When we weren't enjoying our suite at the Meyer House, we were exploring the West VA countryside. We spent Saturday inside Blackwater Falls State park, walking some of the trails and taking in the beautiful scenery. Just as when I visited the park last fall with friends, Jon and I trekked down to the main falls. The falls are really gushing now that it is spring and the view is incredible. Sunday we did some sightseeing around town and some more trail walking on a mountainside before heading back home.


Last weekend, over the Memorial day holiday, we visited the Great Smoky National Forest in TN. It was a 7 hour drive down to Gatlinburg and rather uneventful. We stayed at the Smoky Bear Campground, just outside of the park and enjoyed the amenities there. It was the first time we stayed at a camp that offered a pool and jacuzzi. Very nice. We were only of only 3 campers in the campground; it is mostly popular among the RV crowd. The RV folks we met were very nice, allowing us to use their water hookups to wash dishes and chatted us up whenever they saw us. I'm starting to see the appeal of owning an RV when we get older and taking a few years off to travel the country. We left on Thursday for TN and did not arrive back in Manassas until Monday evening.


Each day we spent time in the park. Friday we walked up Clingman's Dome (highest peak in the park and 3rd highest east of the Mississippi) to see a 360 degree view of the surrounding wilderness. After lunch that day we also drove through the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina, stopping to watch a Cherokee dance performance and pick up some souvenirs on the way to more hiking in another section of the park to see a few allegedly beautiful waterfalls. I write allegedly because they were pretty dinky and unimpressive, especially compared to Blackwater Falls from the week before in West VA.


Saturday morning we biked through Cades Cove- a scenic farming area of the park with wide open meadows and a lot of wildlife. The ride was 8 miles for me (I took a shortcut) and 11 for Jon (he did the full loop) and tiring for both of us. The road was a series of hills that challenged our legs. There were no cars competing for the road though as each Sat morning from sunrise until 10am the park closes the Cades Cove Loop to motor vehicles to give bikers and hikers priority. We saw 2 bears, dear, and numerous birds on our ride. Once we finished the loop we checked our rented bicycles in and headed to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN for the rest of the day. Jon was such a trooper at the park, sitting with me to listen to a bluegrass performance (he doesn't care much for bluegrass). After we saw a glassblowing demonstration in the craft alley area of the amusement park we decided to purchase a piece created by the resident artist. I was surprised Jon was interested in accumulating glass items that serve no other purpose other than decorative fashion, but I wasn't about to complain. We settled on a purple and gold bowl that compliments nicely with the purple and gold vase his parents brought us back from Italy last year and decided that, maybe, we are going to begin collecting purple glass. Why not, right? After leaving Dollywood we dropped in on downtown Gatlinburg and immersed ourselves in the tourist crush. The place is a zoo at night, a mini Vegas but with a family and decidedly Christian orientation. This trip was the first time we've spent any appreciable moments in the bible belt and it was an interesting experience. It was comforting to be surrounded by the faithful seemingly everywhere we went not only in Gatlinburg, but also when we were in Pigeon Forge, in Dollywood, at the campground, etc. We saw lots of Christian t-shirts, bumper stickers, jewelry, etc and it was understood to be the norm that God is real and active no matter what group of people you were encircled by. A very different experience than living in NY as a Christian.


Sunday we did a 5.5 mile hike inside the park along tall old growth hardwoods. Like the other trails we visited in the park, the views were pretty but nothing extraordinary. I think we were both a little disappointed in the park by this third day of exploration. Maybe we've just been spoiled by our trips to natural wonders in the Western USA that truly take one's breath away- like the Redwood forest in California or the view at the base of the Grand Tetons or even Niagara Falls. The Smoky Mountains are just run of the mill peaks that look much like those in VA and not even as beautiful (in our opinion) as the Adirondacks. We both agreed the park is highly overrated. Anyway, after the hike on Sunday we spent the remainder of our day at the campground relaxing in the pool, jacuzzi, or our campsite. We left early Monday morning, stopping at the Lodge Factory Outlet in Sevierville, TN to shop for some kitchen items.


I've decided to put more attention toward writing and getting published. My main goal is to build a portfolio of travel articles so that I can land some expense reimbursements for future vacations to destinations I'd like to write about for which there is an audience ready to read. I had a small (tiny) personal essay published a couple of weeks ago in a local paper and I'm working on new articles in my spare time. You can read it by going to the website for the Current Newspaper and opening the Vol20 edition. http://currentnewspapers.com/archiveweek.php?n=1&year=2008

I'm starting on a short fiction story this week as well about a saucy character named Endless who changes the world in bizarre and amusing ways.


There seems to be several good movies coming out one after another this spring. We saw Prince Caspian when we returned from our West VA trip, we will see Sex in the City this Friday and hope to see the new Indiana Jones movie soon as well. Prince Caspian was great- much better acted than the first Narnia film.


The rest of life has remained steady with no new developments of interest to report. What's new with you?


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Children ARE a gift

I've been reading the news articles this week on the famous family from Arkansas that has 18 kids, and now a new baby on the way. (Mom is 41). More interesting than the articles are the comment chains on discussion boards and blogs about the news. So many people are so very critical of this family's choice to have a large family, despite the fact that they are debt free, contributing to their community, and have had zero trouble with the law or authorities [i.e. so far all of their kids seem well adjusted and good little citizens]. This family is also not living off govt welfare.

One argument tossed out against chemical birth control during its development was that the widespread use of it would pivot society toward devaluing human life. And this seems to have happened, based on the comments expressed by people on the internet about this family. They are derided viciously for their decision to have so many children. Liberals have tagged them as selfish, mentally ill, oblivious to world overpopulation and hunger, etc etc. I thought liberals stood for a woman's right to choose? That means no babies, 2 babies, 20 babies- it doesn't matter. As many of you know, Jon and I have chosen not to have children, but we don't view them as a curse and we certainly don't resent families that do want to participate with God in conceiving the next generation.

Most of the liberal complaints against the family are without merit, especially the comments that allege its child abuse to have so many children because no family can take care of that many children. Are these commentators completely ignorant as to the average family structure before the advent of the pill? In the early 20th century larger families were common. My mother came from a family of 13. My paternal grandfather was in a family of 12 or so. Even I have 8 brothers and sisters and I was born in the 70s. Granted it takes cooperation among the family to make it work, but it's not impossible rocket science.

What's the point of this long and now rambling post of mine? Simply this: we've gone from a society that received large families with joy to one that derides couples who decide to have more than 4 or 5 children as if children were a curse to society instead of a gift from God. And that makes me very sad and seems to be directly tied to the invention and distribution of chemical birth control.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Amazing, simply amazing

It's not everyday that fantastic artistic talent comes across your desk. Today was a lucky day.

http://www.austinkleon.com/category/newspaper-blackout-poems/

I LOVE this guy!!!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Good Things I've Made This Week in The Kitchen


  1. Greek Vegetarian Sandwiches (for lunch)
    Lay out a slice of lavish bread on a board or plate. Down the center of the bread lay a handful of spring salad mix. Top it with thinly sliced cucumbers, thinly sliced tomatoes, roasted red pepper, fresh ground pepper, feta cheese crumbles, diced fresh basil, and 1 tsp of Greek dressing. Fold the left and right sides of the bread over the middle like an envelope and enjoy. I serve this for lunch with a side of rice that has feta and dill mixed in. Yum!

     
  2. Coconut Cream Fruit Pastries
    Start with frozen puff pastry sheets. Defrost and unroll 1 sheet. Cut into 9 squares and bake according to directions. While that is going in the oven, take a pint of whipping cream/heavy cream and whip it according to the directions (basically you put it in your stand mixer and let it go until stiff peaks form, adding sugar along the way to taste until it is as sweet as you prefer). When its stiff, carefully fold in about 1/4 to 1/2 can coconut milk to taste. Slice berries (I used strawberries and raspberries) and kiwi fruit (peel kiwi first of course). When the pastry puffs are done, layer the pastry, cream and fruit in alternating layers ending with fruit on top. Use 3 puffs per serving you are assembling.

     
  3. Salmon with Corn Salsa - adapted from a Weight Watchers Recipe
    Roast salmon in the oven drizzled with olive oil and topped with Citrus Grill Seasoning (A popular spice mix in the spice aisle and also at Sam's Club). Meanwhile, roast corn in oven or grill outside on bbq until golden brown. Into one bowl dice red, yellow, and/or orange peppers, 1 or 2 green onions, 1/4 of a hot pepper of your choice [Thai or jalapeño works best]. Mix into the diced fruits a handful of finely minced cilantro, a tablespoon each of honey and olive oil, and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix the golden corn into the diced fruit salsa and stir stir stir. Serve atop the grilled salmon.