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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 t…

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 ca…

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?" "…

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 c…

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 sl…

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 …

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

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 sho…

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 s…

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. D…

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.…

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, …

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

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 fee…

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 repub…

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

Demo…

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.
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 …

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 mi…

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 …

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!!!

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…
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 he…

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…

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 …

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!!!

Good Things I've Made This Week in The Kitchen

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!

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 berr…