Friday, November 6, 2009

Denver Trip Report

NoVA Travelers spent the last weekend in August in the Colorado Rockies. We hopped on the plane to Denver Friday night and settled into the Curtis hotel in the heart of downtown to get a good night's rest before we embarked on two full days in the outdoors. This was the 5th upgrade in a row for me on the Delta flight, so in keeping with my gift policy to the group I gave it away to one of the members who sat in first class in my place while I sat back in coach.

 
 

Sat morning we stopped off at a well known cajun café (Lucile's - 275 S Logan St) in Denver for breakfast on our drive out to Red Rocks State Park. The food was good, and the homemade biscuits were massive (very tasty smothered in spiced country gravy).

 
 

Arriving at Red Rocks we found that it was a special event day- some sort of hippie fest basically. This meant that in between our scenic hikes we were treated to seeing a lot of stoned college students peeing in the brush. Just an additional entertainment factor for us I suppose.

 
 

Our first hike was the 4 mile Morrison Slide Trail and the scenery was beautiful. We kept a slow but steady pace, documenting the hike with pictures along the way. All pictures have been posted to the meetup event page at http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/photos/703291/ so make sure to check them out! They're also in my Denver Album on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/jenniparks), so you can see them there as well. There were several families on the trail as well as a few mountain bikers. Between the fresh air we were breathing in and the glorious landscape we were eye witnessing there was a total calm and peace about us.

 
 

A couple of hours later, having finished the trail, we sat down for a leisurely picnic lunch under one of the pavilions before a couple of us returned to the wilderness trails to hike the Trading post loop (a little over a mile and a half). This short hike proved quite interested because by now the music from the hippie festival (reggae festival? Whatever…) had begun and the acoustics of the landscape led to the amplification of the sound all around us as we approached the natural amphitheater.

 
 

We made it back into Denver in time to get cleaned up and prepped for dinner downtown. We dropped in on a recommended Italian eatery - Osteria Marco - and while the food was good we didn't appreciate being seated at the stool table right by the entrance. Quick trajectory to a sore back that was…

 
 

Post dinner we finished off the night with a visit to a dueling Piano Bar called SingSing. I'd always wanted to check out one of these places since I love cabaret and piano bars but mixed in with all of the classy tunes were a lot of off-the-cuff impromptu raunchy songs sung to bachelorette party attendees that seemed totally unnecessary (I feel like the old guy now yelling you kids get off my lawn!)Still, overall it was a good time.

 
 

Sunday morning we treated ourselves to an absolutely fantastic breakfast at Snooze in downtown Denver (2262 Larimar St, get there just after opening to avoid the rush). This place has roughly 20 different kinds of pancakes and other delicious treats. I ordered the breakfast burrito but enjoyed a sample of the Hawaiian pancakes with macadamia nuts and coconut that the server brought around for us to try.

 
 

After breakfast most of the group gathered to head for Mount Evens while a few decided to enjoy a low key day exploring downtown Denver. The drive to the base of Mount Evans is very scenic in and of itself, but once you enter the Mount Evans area and begin to climb it is really spectacular. The first stop was Echo Lake, and as you will see from the pics we've uploaded to the meetup page, it's just lovely. Past the lake we made our way to the summit, stopping several places along the way to hike and/or take pictures. When we began at the bottom it was roughly 65 degrees and at the summit hovering around 35. As we were snapping photos of the mountain sheep and goats it began to snow. Snowfall in August! Simply amazing.

 
 

It took us literally all morning and most of the afternoon to explore Mount Evans and we did not get back to downtown Denver until early evening. At that point we walked the downtown mall and a few members made plans to visit the US Mint the next morning before we would rendezvous for the return to the airport.

 
 

You can read all the members' comments on the trip here: http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/9819937/ Based on the great time that was had by all on this trip, I've decided to launch a series of National Park trips and am committed to visiting at least one or two parks for hiking and sightseeing per year. For 2010 we have Mt Rainier in Washington on the calendar and Denali Natl Park in Alaska. If you enjoy the outdoors, I hope you will be able to join us for either or both of these upcoming trips.

Boston Trip Report

The fourth weekend in August NoVA Travelers hosted a two-day Beantown tour, focused on the history and cultural attractions of Boston.

 
 

We flew to Boston on Saturday morning and made our way to our fabulous hotel - the Nine Zero. The hotel is literally on the path of the Freedom Trail so we had easy access to all the historic attractions we planned to visit.

 
 

Once we checked in, we meandered our way along the Freedom trail, visiting The Boston Common, The State House, Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King's Chapel, King's Chapel Burying Ground,

Benjamin Franklin Statue/Boston Latin School, Old Corner Book Store, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Site of the Boston Massacre, and Faneuil Hall. Leilani served as our trip photographer, snapping photos along the way. She's posted many of them on facebook, so if you happen to be a member there, just friend me (http://www.facebook.com/jenniparks) and I'll point you to the Boston album. It was really fascinating to see the old burial grounds especially with many of the nations prominent political figures interred. It's always interesting to see how young so many people died due to diseases that spread like wildfire yet how long some people managed to live before passing (some lived to be upward of 85+ even back then).

 
 

We had lobster for lunch in the Faneuil Hall area at Paddy'O's. For about $13 we each had a full 1.5 lobster, fries, and slaw. Very tasty and I highly recommend it for cheap eats. We also had some sort of crab cheese dip that was pretty good too.

 
 

With our bellies full of seafood goodness we continued on the Freedom trail. There was a LOT of walking on this day. We covered almost 5 miles in total. The rest of the stops included the Paul Revere House (which we toured), The Old North Church (very beautiful courtyard to rest in), Copp's Hill Burying Ground (more interesting gravesites) and the USS Constitution
(free tours but the lines were so long we just admired from the dock.)

 
 

We were going to walk back downtown, stopping for dinner the North End (Boston's Little Italy) but our feet commanded us to hail a cab instead. We had the cabbie drop us off at the very famous Mike's Pastry (300 Hanover St) and joined the crowds in picking out some delicious pastries to take back to our hotel (much safer and more delicious than picking up a stranger to take back to one's hotel!). You know when you get within a quarter mile radius of Mike's because most people can be seen carrying the distinct white pastry boxes tied with string. We weren't actually too hungry after prematurely snacking on some of our pastry stash so we rearranged our dinner plans and decided to pick up something after walking back to the hotel to relax for a while. Interesting side note- on the walk back we came across a performance troupe called the Afrobats that our travel meetup had just run into 3 weeks before in Central Park in NYC. I just smiled and told them we were groupies following them from city to city.

 
 

After we returned to the hotel we found to our good fortune that the hotel temporarily misplaced my bag I had left with them that morning in storage. They were so apologetic when they found it and hour later (turns out someone had put the bag in the manager's office for safe keeping) that they not only sent up a bottle of wine to our room but treated members to a full multicourse dinner with wine at the elegant restaurant upstairs at no charge to the group. The food was TO DIE FOR. One of the sides ordered by a member - the garlic cheese mashed potatoes- was sinfully rich and delicious and especially fantastic. We were so full we had to order our desserts to be delivered to our hotel room later.

 
 

Sunday morning we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before making our way to the public commons and gardens just down the street. The landscaping was beautiful, the swan boats (of course we treated ourselves to a ride) were fun, and we smiled wistfully as we saw not one but at least two different couples taking their wedding pictures on the grounds. I love weddings and happy endings. I was very happy to snap more pictures for my pigeons and brides album (I try to find a pigeon and bride on every trip I take, so far I've had generally good luck with this. People are in love all over the world and birds are plentiful).

 
 

We stopped for some lemon ice and to take pictures of the Capitol building before walking up the famed Beacon Hill. The houses are charming and sophisticated with colonial charm and many a well known citizen has lived atop Beacon Hill (most recently John Kerry).

 
 

On the other side of the hill we found ourselves at a cheap eats taco shop that was muy bueno and then it was up and over the hill again to stroll down Newberry street- Boston's equivalent of NYC's 5th Avenue. We admired the window dressings, stopped into a lovely hat shop to play dress up and then unwittingly found ourselves in the middle of a protest parade that was marching by. We just happened to be going in the same direction you see, yet I am sure many assumed we were 'with' the protestors as we walked among them.

 
 

Back at the hotel, we checked out, gave away the bottle of wine we'd been given the night before (can't take it as a carry-on and we made a young couple very happy with the gift) and with a bit of sadness said goodbye to Boston as we headed to the airport for our flight home.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Las Vegas Trip Report

NoVA Travelers made it to Vegas in October!

 
 

We arrived in Vegas the first Friday night in October just after 11pm and made our way over to Caesar's via airport shuttle. We checked in, having booked a simple classic room and with a smile and little persuasion were upgraded to one of the 1200 square foot executive suites. Last time we came to Vegas we were successfully upgraded to a bigger beautiful room than originally booked, but never anything this amazing before. I guess I am honing my persuasive skills each time. Our suite had a beautiful marble foyer, a baby grand piano in one of the main sitting areas (there are 3 separate sitting areas, a wet bar, a dining area, a master bedroom and 2 marble bathrooms with separate glass enclosed showers, tubs, and WC with bidets. We were very satisfied with our accommodations to say the least. After check in, we were hungry so we grabbed a quick bite at Augustus Cafe and then headed back to the suite to sleep.

 
 

Saturday morning we had a rough to do list to plow through. First we spent the morning going up the strip to see the lions and the NEW ADORABLE baby cubs at the MGM habitat. The afternoon was frivolously passed in the spa as we meandered from the 4 different roman baths (giant marble jacuzzis) to the sauna, steam room, arctic room, and tea lounge (20 varieties of fresh tea made to order). That was followed by an hour long full body massage and time outside at the Garden of the Gods pools. Finally, we capped off the night with an overindulgent steak and lobster dinner at Nero's. Letting my tummy recover from the vast quantities of food I camped out in the room Sat night while my roomate Bridget headed out to walk the strip and see the sights.

 
 

Sunday we enjoyed a grand brunch on the property, more spa and pool time (of course), a walk past some of the strip's notables (Bellagio atrium display, TI pirate ship, Circus Circus acrobats), and then eventually sightseeing down on Freemont street. We had an overpriced (but good) dinner at the Asian restaurant in Caesar's before catching the redeye flight home to DC early Monday morning.

 
 

All this adventure *could* have been yours, if you'd only come with us. :)

 
 

Pics are up on my facebook album as usual. (http://facebook.com/jenniparks)

Maine Lighthouse Tour Trip Report

The second week in Maine NoVA Travelers hosted a scenic lighthouse tour. I had not been up through Maine in roughly 10 years so it was really refreshing to lead the group on this trip.

 
 

The plan was to fly to Boston on a Friday afternoon and rent a car for our adventures and everything fell into place as it should. Since there were only a couple of members that signed up for this particular trip, I was able to insert a slight detour on the way up to Maine to stop for dinner with a college friend of mine. She was very gracious (Thanks Helen if you're reading this) and her enthusiasm for …well for just about everything…is infectious and joyful. She steered us to a great dinner spot and we had a lovely time.

 
 

Once dinner was over, we said our goodbyes, and headed for Camden - the furthest point on our itinerary. We made it to the Whitehall Inn (http://www.whitehall-inn.com/) pretty late and found our room keys waiting for us at the check-in desk. This inn gained its fame through multiple events- first in that it served as the backdrop setting for the movies Peyton Place and Thinner, and second in that a famous author - Edna St. Vincent Millay - spent most of her time writing her work on the property. Heartwarming only begins to describe the property- with clear views to the ocean and charming historic photos and antiques throughout the Inn, this is a place to come back to. Leilani has posted many pictures from the Inn (and the trip in general) on facebook. If you're a member of facebook and friend me on the site (http://www.facebook.com/jenniparks) I can point you on your way to the pictures.

 
 

Saturday morning we woke up to a fantastic breakfast spread in the Inn's dining room. I love it when the thoughtful touches are in place such as the tiny gourmet jam and marmalade jars or the delicate tea selection. Once we had the car loaded up and we'd taken our fill of pictures in Camden we began to wind our way down the coast along Route 1, stopping at lighthouses all along the way.

 
 

Our first lighthouse stop was Curtis Island. The original light station dates from 1836, present lighthouse and keeper's house date from the late 1800's. We stopped at a small park in Camden to get the best views. Then we moved on to the Indian Island light. It was decommissioned in the 1930s and privately owned since then. We got a distant view from shore at the Marine Park in Rockport. Our third lighthouse stop was one of the most beautiful - Rockland Breakwater. At this location, a small lantern was placed at Jameson Point at the entrance to Rockland Harbor in 1827. As Rockland became a leading port in the late 19th century, it was decided that a lighthouse should be built. The townspeople kept moving the light out further along a jetty as the jetty was constructed. Finally in 1902 a permanent lighthouse was built at the breakwater's end. It was almost destroyed in the 70s by the govt who felt it was no longer necessary but eventually concessions were made, ownership changed hands and the lighthouse has been preserved.

 
 

We took a break after that, following a tip I'd received to seek out one of Amy Upham's pies at Thomaston Grocery. Apparently she is a stay at home mom famous throughout all of Maine for her fabulous pies. It was quite a drive out to the grocery but SO WORTH IT. Absolutely the best blueberry pie I've ever had hands down. We found an Irish pub nearby the grocer and brought our pie in. The staff were nice enough to bring us plates and whipped cream for our pie after our lunch so we cut them in on the pie and they seemed to appreciate that very much.

 
 

After lunch we made our way to Owl's Head light, another beautiful and historic lighthouse in Rockland. Then onto Marshall Point light at Port Clyde Harbor.

 
 

We eventually arrived in Portland where we checked into our hotel for the night and headed to dinner at Caiolas (a highly recommended seafood restaurant http://caiolas.com). The food was excellent and the bartender proved to be good company for the evening.

 
 

Sunday was our final day of the tour. We stopped at Cape Elizabeth lighthouse - the most powerful light in Maine (a 4 million candlepower flashing white light visible for 27 miles) before moving on to Portland Head light which is probably the most photographed and most famous lighthouse in all of the United States. It's so beautiful it's easy to see why it is a popular site for weddings. In fact there was a wedding party taking pictures while we visited.

 
 

We tried to make a stop at another well known lighthouse (Spring Point) but were thwarted at every turn by barricades setup for a fundraising 5k run. Instead, we compromised on our afternoon itinerary and found a local ice cream shop to indulge in summer's treat.

 
 

We stopped over at an oceanfront seafood shack for a fresh lobster lunch (yum) and then drove back toward Boston, dropping in on the historic town of Salam (which Leilani promptly fell head over heals in love with) before making our way back to the airport.

 
 

Maine is known for many regional delights - blueberries, moose, wild forests, rugged ocean coastline, scenic lighthouses, seafood and historic inns just to name a few. I'm very glad we were able to enjoy some of these on our trip. Especially if you enjoy seafood (lobster was under $5 a pound!) you owe yourself a trip to Maine.

 
 

You can read member reviews of this trip to Maine here: http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/9812969

NYC Trip Report

The first weekend in August NoVA Travelers sauntered off to NYC for a Broadway weekend. These short weekend jaunts to NYC have proved popular with the group and I always love spending time in the city myself.

 
 

We stayed at the 70 Park Avenue, a Kimpton property that is fast becoming one of my favorite hotels. What I love about this hotel chain is how special they make guests feel. They greet us by name, they give us a gift from the minibar everytime we stay, and they throw in freebies now and then like a full breakfast when we've had a rough day. Pretty good treatment for a customer that has averaged less than 10 stays in my first year with them. At the big chains like Hilton or Marriott you're a nobody until you've stayed 30 times. Because of this I will give Kimpton all of my business (and of course the travel group's business) whenever they have a property available in the city I happen to be traveling to. Here's a link if you're interested in learning more: http://www.70parkave.com/. They've got properties in most big US cities, with fabulous restaurants and really modern chic décor. The whole luxury boutique experience, including in room spa treatment is available.

 
 

Saturday Penny, Louise and I flew dca-jfk, took the subway to Grand Central and strolled the leisurely 2 blocks to our hotel. Although I had planned to highlight one of Manhattan's pizzerias for lunch, on the spur of the moment we decide to indulge and dine at Per Se for lunch. Per Se is the legendary sister restaurant of The French Laundry in Napa Valley. (Take a look at their amazing menus here: http://www.tkrg.org/upload/ps_menu.pdf) The other ladies ordered the lunch tasting menu while I chose the more expansive dinner tasting menu (might as well go all the way when you've come this far right?). The food was AMAZING. Course after course after course of deliciousness. The presentations were very lovely- we started for example with these adorable 'ice cream cones' where the cream was cream fraiche with chives and the scoop was salmon tartare. It sounds sort of strange but it was fantastic. I'm finding my appreciation for raw foods like tartare is increasing as I frequent posh restaurants and feel compelled to at least try every course set before me since I'm paying for it. There were delicate fish courses, robust entrees like beef and lamb, and no less than 3 dessert courses brought to us in succession. The courses are portioned perfectly- enough to enjoy but not enough to stuff you so full you can't enjoy the next. I took some great pictures to share (but that was with my cell phone camera which was eventually stolen in Zurich before I ever got the pictures transferred).

 
 

I'm a bit fuzzy on what we did after lunch but before dinner and Broadway and I'm going to attribute the loss of memory to the gourmet food induced stupor. I'm pretty sure it involved shopping in Chinatown as that's a usual staple on every NYC visit.

 
 

For dinner we dropped in on my favorite local restaurant- Paesano's - in Little Italy. If the fresh pastas and savory sauces weren't enough of a draw, we are always treated like royalty at this cozy house of pasta so they always get our business.

 
 

After dinner we made our way over to Broadway area to take our seats for '9 To 5'. The play was outstanding and I didn't know until I arrived that the actress from the West Wing (Allison Janney) had one of the lead roles. She was very good, as were her fellow cast members. One thing I found interesting is that they weren't just playing the characters but were playing the actresses who played the original characters in the movie. You know how Lily Tomlin has a distinct way of dressing in those long jacketed pantsuits that can't just be dictated by the screenplays she's in because she wears them in EVERY movie? Or how Dolly Parton has her distinct accent that persists through every movie because it's not part of the role, but her own persona? Well the cast picked up all of these subtle and not so subtle character traits when performing. I can't decide whether the play would have been better or worse if the cast had made the roles their own.

 
 

After a great night's sleep back at the 70 Park Avenue, we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and then spent the *very* rainy Sunday at the Met. I've always wanted to visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and here we had the perfect rainy day that dictated we spend our time indoors. The museum was a hit according to all and a nice finishing touch to our weekend.

 
 

Sunday evening we were supposed to head back to DC on a particular flight but made it to the airport 5 minutes after the check-in time (we got there 40 minutes ahead of time and policy at JFK now dictates 45 minute cut off for check-in). It was the first, and hopefully last, travel group disaster. I had to cough up $50 per member for the change fee to put us on a later flight and the only available flights were out of LaGuardia so we had to cab it over there from JFK as well. But I took care of my members and we returned to DC no worse for the wear.

 
 

NoVA Travelers typically schedules a Broadway trip each spring, and sometimes again in the summer if there is enough interest.

Monday, October 19, 2009

List of Upcoming Trips

For anyone interested in joining my travel members (or if you're just interested in where I'm going), and for those who may not have had a chance to check out the full meetup calendar of upcoming trips (at http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/list/), here is our listing of all currently scheduled upcoming trips. Find the one that peaks your interest and sign up to join us! Spaces are limited.

 
 

Nov 14 6:00 AM Historical Philly Tour

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11635555

 
 

Nov 19 7:00 PM Thanksgiving Holiday in Greece 2009

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/8467503

 
 

Dec 3 12:00 PM Budget Weekend in San Francisco

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11466810

 
 

Dec 10 5:00 PM Aspen Winter/Ski Retreat

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11277267 

 
 

Dec 20 6:00 AM NYC Christmas Spectacular

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11582005

 
 

Jan 2 2010 1:00 PM Turn over a new leaf dinner party at Jenni's

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11122701

 
 

Jan 14 2010 5:00 PM Winter Wanderings in Rome (5 days)

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/10209065

 
 

Feb 11 2010 5:00 PM Magic in Madrid (4 days)

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11388470

 
 

Feb 20 2010 11:00 AM Snowtubing Retreat in PA

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/9578938

 
 

Mar 13 2010 6:00 PM Jenni's Fabulous Fifties (Birthday) Party (come help Jenni celebrate her 34th)

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11395819

 
 

Mar 19 2010 4:00 PM New Orleans Culture and Cuisine

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11432272

 
 

Apr 23 2010 5:00 PM Fiesta Weekend in San Antonio

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11432097

 
 

Jun 18 2010 5:00 PM Weekend in San Diego

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/10641750

 
 

Jun 26 2010 5:00 PM Alaska Adventures

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11505466

 
 

Jul 16 2010 6:00 PM Relaxing Weekend by the Lake

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/9579108

 
 

Jul 22 2010 3:00PM National Park Series: Mount Rainier

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/11497697

 
 

Sep 11 2010 8:00 AM Chowhound Weekend in Chicago

http://www.meetup.com/NoVA-Travelers/calendar/10825987

 
 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

John Bradshaw

Notes from John Bradshaw's book RECLAIMING VIRTURE:

 
 

Prudence is key-

 
 

To be brave rather than cowardly or ruthless

To be just rather than dishonest or legalistic

To be self-controlled rather than compulsively controlling or impulsively out of control

To be compassionate to others suffering rather than being self-absorbed or enabled others by overdoing for them

 
 

 
 

Moral Totalism<Prudence (the mean)> Subjective Relativism

 
 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Southwest Trip 2009

Our major vacation this summer was a 10 day trip to the southwestern United States to visit family, see some great national parks and take a breather weekend in Vegas. Because having this much fun all by ourselves would be selfish we of course invited our favorite couple along- Dani and Clayton. None of us were sure we could handle 10 straight days of each other's constant companionship but it actually worked out perfectly. D&C were the best traveling companions we've ever had.

 
 

To start the trip, we hopped on a Delta plane and flew to El Paso, TX where Jon's parents picked us up. This was on a Friday, and we spent the entire weekend with them doing our usual NM activities (which mostly consists of eating excellent Mexican food).

 
 

Over the weekend Jon and his dad took Dani and Clayton out to the desert for off roading with the jeep and I made time another afternoon to go to the wedding of *my* flower girl Katherine. Hard to believe she's all grown up and getting married herself. I had not seen her since the wedding 13 years ago and she's changed quite a bit of course. After the wedding I walked over to the NMSU campus and sat on the grassy horseshoe and thought philosophically about the path God has led me on so far in life (How appropriate since I was sitting at the sundial where Dr. Segal held our philosophy classes MWF afternoons under the warm NM sun). The people I've met, the experiences I've had - God has been right there with me the entire time. I thought of the people from my past he had woven into my life and the circumstances under which I had met Jonathan and I wept for the blessings I've been gifted with. God is so good to me. I also got a chance to visit with one of my girlfriends from way way way back (elementary school back)- Jaime. D&C came to church services with us Sunday morning and it was really neat to share the place where we got married with them and for them to meet all our family friends that mean so much to us. Later that afternoon we had a day trip out to White Sands to go sand sledding. What made so many of our happy moments even happier was getting to watch the expressions on Dani's face when she saw things she'd never seen before like endless dunes of sand or *real* mountains.

 
 

Monday morning we packed up my inlaws' car (which they graciously let us borrow) and headed off on our road trip. Passing through Socorro, Clayton was excited to stop at the very large array and take pics. (A massive line of satellite dishes used for major research projects like SETI). Passing into Arizona, we eventually made it to the Grand Canyon Lodge on the north rim and settled into our temporary accommodations. We had two nights in the park and made the most of our days there hiking various trails. We saw wild buffalo and Jonathan barely avoided a collision with a crazy jaywalking deer. And I got my picture of my bride! (It has been my "project" ever since Rome to capture a picture of a bride and a pigeon on every trip). The lodge itself is massive and beautiful and the view is amazing. The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular works of God- it's breathtaking and awe inspiring and I fear our pictures do not begin to do it justice.

 
 

Wednesday we left the GC and made our way over to Bryce National Park in Utah. My first time in Utah via car! (Only ever had been to the SLC airport). Bryce is very unique. It's landscape was created by wind and erosion, carving out thousands and thousands of rock formations. That afternoon's walk took us either on the Navajo Loop which wound through some of the most beautifully eroded areas in the canyon.  These paths twisted and turned, climbed, and then dropped down into the heart of the amphitheater.  At every turn, we passed hoodoos (tall, isolated rock formations) that, with imagination, resemble their namesakes: the Three Wisemen, Joseph and Mary, E.T., Wall Street, and Queen Victoria. The hike yielded some fantastic pictures but we were all pretty tired afterward.  Our accommodations within the park permitted unlimited access to the spectacle of vibrant red sunsets that bathe the canyon each evening and we stayed out on the canyon's edge to watch the natural show and documented the experience with our camera. (We took over 400 pictures during the entire trip).

 
 

First thing in the morning, Jon and I let Dani and Clayton sleep in while we rose to watch the sunrise. We reunited a couple of hours later for breakfast and more short hikes before hopping back in the car and driving to Zion National Park. The park was just a few hours away yet evidenced vastly different landscaping than Bryce or the Grand Canyon. After checking into our nearby hotel (Cliffrose lodge, a pretty motel with large beautiful gardens and an outdoor pool and jacuzzi), we took a stab at one of the hikes in the park - the Emerald Pools. This was our 4th day of hiking and we were all starting to get a bit sore (or maybe it was just me) but we carried on like the brave troopers we were. Imagine our shock/joy/surprise when we ran into our old friend Krikor in the park! Krikor and Jon used to work together in upstate NY and we lost touch with him over the years. I noticed him in the park and we waved him down for a happy reunion. Can you imagine the statistical factors involved in two friends, out of millions of Americans, who live 4 states apart meeting each other by chance one day across the country in an isolated National Park? That's pretty amazing you have to admit! We swapped contact info and now keep in touch on facebook. I am waiting for God to reveal the important reason he brought us back together against the odds. I figure it's got to be something BIG.

 
 

Friday we spent a second day hiking Zion and it just about did me in. It became very apparent while hiking Scout's Landing that my lungs still have residual scarring/damage from the bout with double pneumonia back in January. At one point during the heavy switchbacks I had to pause to breathe slowly after every switch. Once at the top of the landing we all appreciated the impressive view and then Jon, Dani, and Clayton carried on to Angel's Landing while I wimped out and relaxed at the landing. I was just exhausted, my lungs burned and the extreme heights of Angel's landing trail scared me. Meanwhile, Dani peered over edges and dangled her feet off every chance she got. It makes me a little sad and envious that the three of them rated the harrowing walk their favorite part of their entire trip. (Their favorite part and I didn't get to be there *wah wah*) I felt pretty left out but what could I do?

 
 

Saturday we left Zion and drove to Las Vegas. All of the hard work of hiking was behind us and it was time to RELAX. We checked into our upgrades rooms at Caesar's Palace I had scored us using the $20 trick and spent the weekend unwinding. Dani and I hit the spa both days we were in town and it was fantastic. In addition to the various jacuzzi tubs, cold baths, steam room and sauna, the spa also features an arctic room where it SNOWS ON YOU. How many times do you get to be naked in the snow (spa areas are clothing optional and gender segregated). We loved it. Plus there is something cool and freeing about hanging around naked all day with one of your best friends. The four of us did dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Sat night and then Dani and Clayton went to see the Blue Man group while Jon and I had a quiet evening in our room. Sunday we walking D&C all over the strip to give them a taste of Vegas and tried to enjoy our final days of vacation.

 
 

Monday we drove back to Las Cruces, said our goodbyes to family and Tuesday we flew home. It was 10 days of making memories, working those muscles, being awed by the wonders of God's creation, and bonding with Dani and Clayton.

 
 

Definitely one of the best trips of my entire life and it was awesome to watch the joy on Dani's face as she fell in love with mountain hiking and the southwest.

 
 

Pics or it didn't happen:

 
 

(Note: the four of us shared 1 camera the entire trip. The pics of the cute animals and flowers are all my credit. The pics of all the dead trees are courtesy of Dani.)

 
 

NM pics:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=145515&id=603259739&l=c11f2d1293

 
 

AZ/Grand Canyon pics:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=145523&id=603259739&l=42bb737e85

 
 

Bryce pics:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=145533&id=603259739&l=5ab5698aee

 
 

Zion and Vegas pics:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=145540&id=603259739&l=311500fb1d

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 


 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Summer Song

Summer has come and in two days will be gone. The time passed so quickly as we carried on with our adventures.

 
 

There has been a lot of family events since the summer began. Jon's brother Jeff and his family transferred from Yorktown, VA [about 2.5 hours from us] across the country to Colorado Springs. They had transferred [Jeff's in the Air Force] here about 3 months after we moved to the DC metro area and it had been so nice to have them nearby so that we could visit often and watch our nieces grow. Hopefully we will still make it out to see them at least once a year in their new location. My sister Suzie came down from Detroit in April to stay with us for an extended visit, returning home in the beginning of July. My oldest sister Sonia dropped in unexpectedly from NY as well, staying with us for a little over a month before she headed down to visit her daughter in N.C. She has now returned to the DC area and is living with my parents until further notice. My sister Alix drove up from Huntsville, AL on her way to MA and I got to meet my nephew for the first time. Finally, my sister Sandy flew out from Detroit, bringing my nephew Andre with her and we had a great visit - she was in town for just a few days to visit Dad.

 
 

Besides family mayhem, summer has been synonymous with travel for Jon and I. Trips included: NM (to see family), Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion national parks (Utah), Las Vegas, New York City, Maine, Boston, Denver, Switzerland, and Costa Rica. It seems like a lot when I read over the list. I'll be blogging about each trip starting with NM very soon.

 
 

I also managed to lose 10 pounds. The same 10 pounds I lost [and then gained back] when I had pneumonia in January. So I've reached a new low and that is great. Only a bazillion more pounds to go before I can claim to be in my "medically suggested weight range".

 
 

Jonathan and Julia both celebrated birthdays in August, and my best friends Anna and Dani also had birthdays over the summer. Anna's beautiful baby girl was born in early summer. Dani got a new dog. Our Monday night church group grew by two new members. We held a few summer parties at our place and I led our walking group on a few new hikes.

 
 

A busy summer. Looking forward to the exciting adventures in store for Autumn- travels to Andorra, Spain, Italy, NYC, Greece, Miami and Aspen; several dinner parties at our place, and who know what else God has in store for us.

 
 

God's grace be with you.

 
 

 
 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Notes on Stock Picking

Jenni's strategy on picking great stocks:

 
 

beta greater than 1 is risky (good for under 45 years old)

 
 

Look for growth stocks (if you're under 45)

 
 

eps=1.50 or higher

 
 

Small cap - 5% of portfolio or so. Look for $7/share or greater, 25% growth in sales and earnings, net profit margin >7%

 
 

Net income/shares=earnings per share (EPS)

 
 

Share price/Eps= Price equity ratio

low Pe= good by (or could mean bad news is looming ahead)

Stock screen: p/e less than 30

 
 

 
 

PE/EPS expected growth % 1 yr= PEG <1=good buy 1=1 fair >1=overpriced

-use to evaluate growth stocks

 
 

PE/EPS expected growth 5 year=YPEG <1=good buy 1=1 fair >1=overpriced

-use to evaluate regular stocks

 
 

REVENUE value:

Price Sales Ratio = PSR

(Shares outstanding * share price + debt)/revenues over past 4 quarters= PSR

-the lower the psr the better

 
 

Shareholder equity/# shares outstanding = book value

-the closer you can buy to or lower than book value, the better

 
 

Shareholders equity/net profit= ROE (return on equity)

-the higher the ROE the better

 
 

Debt/equity= Debt to equity ratio

-the lower the better

 
 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On Selflessness

Everything is about me - about what I want or, when I'm "trying" to be selfless it's to please God or others so he (or they) will love me. Not often out of a sense of gratitude and love for God am I joyfully spurred to love those he loves but instead a deep insecurity that God does not love me because I'm not good enough and a never ending drive to gain his love and approval.

 
 

Have I ever *really* loved anyone selflessly, unconcerned with earning approval (by God or man) or filling the emptiness in my heart? Rarely. Only at chance moments with my husband, with my friends, with our dogs, and even with celebrity strangers that I pray for. Usually it comes about paired with pity or empathy when I sense one is victimized or hurting in some way and my heart yearns to comfort them and there seems to be no trace of selfishness in those moments.

 
 

How do I move past this now that I am aware? (And I am only aware of it this week due to a thoughtful question posed by our Monday night group leader on the topic of what drives us and gives us our sense of value.) I see only three options:

 
 

  1. I have to just stop caring about being loved. I don't know how to do this; how to give up wanting to be loved.
  2. God has to fill me up somehow so I'm no longer so desperate for love that I make it the focus of every interaction. He has yet to do this.
  3. I have to achieve a monumental level of self-denial and discipline whereby I do not hopelessly give up on being loved but I no longer allow it to be the focus of my interactions. Live with the emptiness instead of pretending I no longer care about being loved, yet still give my all to others for their sake. This is a level of suffering I'm not sure I can manage.

     
     

    I really need to work on cultivating a love for others that transcends self and focuses on their best interests. At this point my problem seems purely practical in that I'm not sure at all how to go about doing this given the infeasibility of the three options noted above.

     
     

 
 


 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Myrtle Beach 2009

First weekend in June I took the Travel group to Myrtle Beach for a relaxing weekend. It was an empty itinerary to be populated as everyone saw fit- swimming, relaxing in the pool, etc. It went as planned except that we could never find the restaurants we wanted to (stupid GPS), a blind man literally smash-walked into our rental car on my side (he missed the crosswalk by about 5 feet), and my fellow attendee got the shock of learning her boss passed away suddenly while we were in MB as folks from the office called her to ask where he could be. We also learned that North Myrtle Beach is the shagging capital of the world (apparently it's a dance of some kind?!).

 
 

Definitely a weekend I will not forget.

 
 

Pics or it didn't happen:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=123957&id=603259739&l=0ab5a5d3cb

 
 

Rome, Italy 2009

As I mentioned previously, the weekend of May 15th, I took a mileage run to Rome and brought a friend along from the travel meetup (http://www.meetup.com/nova-travelers).

 
 

It was simply phenomenal. Not only a cultural journey but a spiritual one as well.

 
 

All the pics are here in these two albums and I suggest you open them up in a separate window to peruse while reading along:

 
 

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=123915&id=603259739&l=48578dc285

 
 

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=123942&id=603259739&l=8a0ce6e112

 
 

All the videos are here (look for the 4 labeled Rome):

http://www.youtube.com/jenniparks

 
 

 
 

We set off for Rome on Friday evening, arriving in the city Sat morning. This gave us 2 full days (Sat and Sun) in the streets of Rome before heading back to the States Monday afternoon. I know many of you think it's crazy to spend just a weekend overseas but my philosophy is solid. I can go to bed Fri night in my own bed like the rest of you go to sleep in your beds and wake up in Manassas, VA (*yawn*) or I can go to bed on the plane Fri night and wake up in Rome for the weekend. Seems like an easy decision when framed in that context doesn't it?

 
 

My usual strategy is to hop off the plane, refreshed from sleeping on the plane and begin my day with a burst of activity and that's exactly what we did. The flight over was rather uneventful. We flew Alitalia, a Delta skyteam partner and despite the rumors that it's a snap to get an upgrade to first class on a domestic ticket I found it impossible. The food was really good even in coach, so I wasn't too disappointed. We did find a source of great amusement in the numerous BA flight attendants gathering for a BA flight at the next gate over in Boston while we waited for our Alitalia flight to board. Dolled up in form fitting red suits with high heels and identical hairstyles (swept up bun) and makeup the ladies looked so familiar. Where had we seen them before? Aha! Anybody remember the Robert Palmer video for Addicted to Love? Give these BA agents guitars and you've recreated the scene. It was uncanny how similar the troupe looked. Perhaps Palmer got his inspiration for his girls after a BA flight - he was british right?

 
 

After arriving at FCO, we waited patiently for our speedy train to take us from the airport to downtown Rome and then enjoyed the ride into the city. The countryside between FCO and Rome reminds me a lot of California but speckled with the bright building colors of South Beach Miami.

 
 

The Termini station in Rome was a flurry of activity. Sexy Italians speaking Italian at every junction. I stepped off the train and immediately fell into the familiar vibe - amazingly Roman culture (at least as I perceived it) was similar to that of Manhattan. Bustling, laughing, stylish and trendy. With delicious Italian markets and food all over the place. They even have NY Style pizza (errrr I suppose NY has Roman style pizza).

 
 

It was just a short four block walk from the termini station to the Hotel Romae (http://hotelromae.com/en/) where we stayed. It was a great find and my hours spent pouring over hotel reviews when planning the trip proved fruitful. The hotel was lovely - a condo building that had been converted into 3 separate hotels with lobby offices on different floors. The staff was friendly, wifi was free and the antique elevator was an adventure with its narrow shaft and cast iron framework. The little basket of toiletries in the bathroom was adorable- they even gave us tiny facial sponges. (Actually, it turns out later when my roomate read the package carefully that those cutesy exfoliating facial sponges I used to wash my face were shoe shine scrubbies. Uh….)

 
 

After we put away our things, took in the view from our room, admired the complimentary fruit basket and stretched out for a few moments to rest it was time to venture out into the city. For the first day I planned an ambitious afternoon tour of Vatican City (important to go on Sat since it's closed Sunday) and then dinner and strolling in the heart of Rome across town. Hotel Romae is conveniently located on Via Palestro near the Cipro metro so it was easy to catch the subway to the neighborhood just outside of Vatican City. From there we grabbed a quick bite to eat (fresh pizza - delicious!) and walked to the Vatican and began our tour. We started with the Vatican museum. The place is phenomenal. So many pieces of prized art conveniently housed in one location. Greek and Roman sculpture, Egyptian art, gardens and more. (I hope you are looking at the pics just now in the other window. Are you?) I loved it all, but my favorite spots were the Egyptian mummies (very cool and reminded me of the bog bodies we saw in Dublin), the sculptures where the genitals had been covered by plaster fig leaves under a particularly modest Pope's direction, and the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is just spectacular. I took pictures of it all to share with you. Which ones from the collection do you like the best? Be sure to take note of the really amazing 2-d painting that appears 3-d, maintaining the illusion until you get very very close to it in person.

 
 

Once we had made our way through the Vatican museum we entered St Peter's Basilica and the square. The building reverberates a sacred presence and it was a blessing to stand inside it. Pictures cannot really depict the enormity of the structure- the place is huge. I feel it's impossible to stand in a basilica such as this one and not engage in conversation with God. God who is so holy and mighty, see all who have come to worship you here. We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of mass (I recorded it and the link is below in the links to all the videos). I felt a tremendous sense of peace and belonging to stand in that place before God and I cried as I thanked God for loving me. Walking out of the basilica I read one simple plaque that brought deep sorrow and anger. Peter - this Peter whom the basilica is named in honor of and who is considered the first pope - stood up against the injustices of perverse and twisted worship. He spread the good news that God loves us and that only through grace (not works) are our sins forgiven. So what could bring such sorrow and anger here? Reading that the basilica was built using funds raised through the selling of indulgences (the forgiveness of sins via payments to the church). What a slap in the face to everything Peter lived and died for. To use those funds to build a basilica and then put his name on it as though he would be honored. It was sickening. We are so sick and sinful as a people.

 
 

We took the metro back to our hotel and rested for a bit before setting off again for dinner at Campo De' Fiori. Campo De' Fiori is one of the great squares of Rome. At its center is a statue of a heretic (Bruno) who was burned alive on the spot in 1600 (he preached that the earth revolved around the sun). The square is alive with tourists and shopkeepers in the evening. While dining at one of the hotspots on the square we saw a busy florists market, a mime, a unicycle riding juggler and a naked hottie who leaned out his window after getting out of the shower. The food was fantastic! I had a starter of Italian cheeses with fig jam (excellent combination) and then a main course of lamb while my travel roommate enjoyed the gnocchi. After dinner we walked to Piazza Navona, the site that was once a racetrack but now has been converted to a beautiful oblong square with a majestic fountain. We reveled for a bit in the scene and then hailed a taxi back to Hotel Romae where we promptly collapsed for the night.

 
 

Breakfast Sunday morning was a treat, especially as it was included in our room rate (another reason for you to book Hotel Romae). Served across the street at The Yellow Bar, we had our choice of breakfast items from a simple continental affair to a filling traditional breakfast with eggs and more.

 
 

After breakfast I planned to lead us on a full day of history touring in downtown Rome but the travel roommate wasn't too keen on the plan. She opted to stay in the hotel neighborhood while I went off by myself. It was a new feeling to explore a stranger city on my own. I felt really free to see whatever I wanted, stop whenever I wanted and eat and shop wherever I chose. I loved the bit of free/me time.

 
 

I set off for the Colosseum first. The famous Roman Colosseum - site of all the games. As I stood in line for tickets it occurred to me that my strategy of blending into European culture was working. I may not have looked like a Roman (too tall; too fat) but I wasn't pegged as an American with my pretty skirt and sandals. The beggars, tour hawkers and junk peddlers all made a beehive to pester the Americans in the long line. They were easily marked of course by their propensity to wear shorts and sneakers. I felt smug and superior to have outfoxed the intruders. I did have a few couples stop and ask me questions in French, so I can only assume I somehow gave off a French manner or appearance. I take that as a compliment!

 
 

Once I'd purchased tickets and entered the Colosseum my mood changed. I walked around the structure - an imposing and beautiful piece of architecture - and recalled the horrific events that took place there. The Christians fed to the lions, the other innocents brutalized, the animals killed. So much agony in one place, condoned by the patrons. As wave after wave of tourists passed me with their Colosseum t-shirts and magnets and other mementos I felt repulsed. Why is there a gift shop here? Would anyone put a gift shop at Auschwitz? Do people not really understand the gravity of what took place here? And there was a bride! A bride having a reception there in this house of death. Very sad to me. Rome was twice now the reminder of the depravity of man.

 
 

With a somber heart I left the Colosseum and proceeded across the street to the Forum. The forum was the heart of Rome…not in Italy but in Roman times. Most of the original Roman buildings were buried by weather and man over time and although the Italians knew they were there they never had the drive to uncover them. It's fascinating to me that they just left everything buried. Eventually it was all uncovered by archeologists and put on public display. The grounds and buildings are still impressive and I learned a lot on my self-guided tour, especially when I craned my neck to listen in on other tours being led. Did you know that the word 'Capitol' comes about to refer to the seat of governments simply because the Romans happened to build their seat of govt on a hill that was already named Capitol Hill? Fascinating. The Forum grounds held another sad monument to human disgrace- a majestic arch built to commemorate the last siege of Israel by the Romans. It depicts Roman soldiers carrying off Jewish menorahs and other cultural icons and was constructed under force by the Jewish slaves the Romans carried out of Judah in victory when they sacked the place. Very very sad. The Jewish slaves were also the laborers who built the Colosseum.

 
 

Once out of the forum I ascended steps toward the top of Capitol Hill to view the modern Capitol. As I climbed the stairs I saw a small sign advertising a prison and a nun standing outside. It piqued my interested so I ventured over to investigate and discovered it was none other than the famous prison where Paul and Peter were in chains. I walked down the spiral staircase to the dark and damp cellar where the marble column the disciples were chained to still stands. The tears began to flow again. This was a very emotional trip. I stood there and thought about what the disciples had endured for the sake of the Word and asked myself what I am willing to endure for God. Am I suffering enough for his sake?

 
 

Eyes still damp, I ascended into the light of the sunny Roman afternoon and continued my climb to the Capitol. I stood before it and let my eyes take in the beauty of the architecture before walking down the busy street on a search to find a good place to eat lunch. I found myself at a small café named Café Roma where the waiter told me I would find excellent French and Italian cuisine. I had the lunch special: lasagna. It was unlike any other formulation of lasagna I'd ever tasted- it was made with a béchamel sauce layered between sheets of pasta and meat sauce. So very good. A fusion of the French and Italian I guess. I'd love to have it again.

 
 

After lunch I headed for the Pantheon, stopping at several small shops along the way. I purchased some cutesy souvenirs and homemade pastas to take back to the States and chatted up the locals. Fun times! At the Pantheon I ran into yet another bride. This time I decided to take her picture. I'm going to start a new photo collection on facebook: brides around the world. Every vacation I go on I seem to run into brides. Brides and pigeons. I will take pictures of both. Yes, the album will be titled Brides and pigeons around the world.

 
 

I also passed a shop selling- get this - Duff beer. And the slogan was written exactly as it is on the Simpsons. So did the Simpsons rip off a foreign concept or did a foreign business rip off the Simpsons?

 
 

The Pantheon is just brilliant. First, all the columns were stolen from Egypt. Just like the French were fascinated with the Romans, the Romans were fascinated with Egypt and appropriated many of their belongings into Roman culture- especially their obelisks and columns. And I don't mean they stole the design, I mean they ripped the actual columns out of the ground and brought them to Rome. What was so much more fascinating about the Egyptians that out of all the lands they conquered the Romans most favored the Egyptian items? The Pantheon was a Roman temple dedicated to all of the Gods. Today, the most prominent God featured is Christ. It's a bit sickening to see tributes to Christ standing alongside idols fashioned for other faiths. Sort of reminds me of the Washington D.C. Cathedral and how they sell new age books in their bookstore and hold multi-faith sermons in their chapels. God would not be pleased; he's a jealous God.

 
 

I needed to get back to the hotel quickly after the Pantheon tour so I hopped on the city bus. Was that ever a mistake. My illusions of the appeal of strapping Italian men vanished as I stood among them. They may look pretty but they stink. I'm not sure whether they just bathe less often than Americans or whether they bathe as frequently as we do but don't wear deodorant. In any case…yuck. And on the bus of course all the men are courteously standing and holding the hand straps with their arms held high.

 
 

Once back at the hotel we opted to stroll down the block for dinner at Mama Angela's. The food was superb as we'd come to expect in Italy. The waitstaff was friendly. One of the waiters, while not particularly handsome, had the thin serious pose and body type of an Armani model. As the staff tried to lure us in with promises of great cuisine and delicious desserts I asked if we could have a picture with the Armani model for our dessert. But of course he said. We all laughed at my little joke. As we progressed through the dinner courses (see the pictures, they were so good!) we eventually came to the end of our meal and our waiter asked us if we were ready for dessert as it was included in our meal. I was about to say we wanted to take dessert back to our room for later, but I stopped and decided to see what dessert entailed first. Imagine my embarrassment when the waiter announced he would go get dessert and headed toward the front door, coming back with the Armani model look alike. Head bowed down in my hands I wanted to sink into the floor as the other patrons looked on. By God I was so grateful just then that I had *not* asked to take dessert home. He sauntered over to us, smiling ear to ear and posed with us for pictures. We paid the check and left.

 
 

Our last adventure for the evening was a long walk from the Piazza del Popolo to the Spanish steps and finally ending at Trevi fountain. I am pretty good at getting most of the major sights crammed into my itinerary in just a few days. We passed a lot of lovely shops along the way that I took pictures of (see album) and also fell into a lovel chapel that beckoned to us with delicate music emanating from its doors.

 
 

Monday morning we had another splendid breakfast at the Yellow Bar before dashing off to the train station, catching the train to FCO and boarding our plane for the states. We did not get in until very very late because our connection in NYC was delayed for several hours. Many passengers were tired and frustrated waiting for the plane to DC from NYC but I tried to keep focused on the great adventured that had just played out and was able to wait with a smile on my face.

 
 

Overall I give Rome 5 stars (I'm sure the Romans were waiting for that holding their breath in anticipation). There is fresh flowing water all over the city through public fountains (not at all like our drinking fountains, but actual fountains). I learned a little Italian (Did you know that Prego means "You're welcome" ? All this time my pasta sauce has been welcoming me everytime I open the pantry and I never knew it. Although there were often people around who spoke English, when they didn't I found they often spoke French so my lack of fluency in Italian did not crush me. I look forward to going back to Rome again and there are many other places in Italy I can't wait to visit.

 
 

It was also very neat to see the movie Angels and Demons just a few weeks later and being able to remember the feel of standing in most of the places the scenes were shot.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Seattle Pics

This just in: I found and uploaded the Seattle Trip pictures today.

 
 

They are here:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=123750&id=603259739&l=73aaa65c9e

 
 

 
 

May Roundup

I blink and it's July. Not exactly sure how that happened. I believe we left off in our tale of The Amazing Adventures of Jenni at April and the Hawaii trip. Seems so long ago now.

 
 

While I was in Hawaii my man of steel (Jonathan) and my sweet sister Suzie worked diligently alongside our friends Dani and Clayton to renovate our backyard, staining the deck and fence. This was all under the guise of making our outdoor area shine for the Today show taping. Ahh yes, did you know I was supposed to be on the today show? They were going to do a segment on the rise in popularity of supper clubs in the down economy and just when we had everything tentatively scheduled swine flu took over the headlines and out the window went the proposed fluff piece. I didn't even get my 15 minutes of fame. :( At least I got a nicely stained deck and fence though right?

 
 

The first weekend in May I actually stayed home (shocking!) and got my left arm looked at by a local doctor that Saturday. (Sunday I took my travel group on a tour of Annapolis, MD topped off with a sailing trip and a gourmet lunch I catered. We all had a great time and Dani and my sister Suzie stood in as assistant organizers and did a great job!) I had meant to schedule the appointment with the bone specialists but when I asked friends what kind of doctor that was they replied "osteopath". So I booked an appt with a local osteopath. Imagine my surprise when I got there and found out that a DO is really just one step above chiropractor and most of them end up operating as family med doctors since getting a DO is easier than getting an MD. Not really a bone specialist by any means. All she did was refer me to get x-rays and then when the results came back referred me to a *real* bone doctor (an orthopedic) to interpret and work with the results. This is all the result of an injury to my left arm sustained on a tubing trip last year on vacation. I was tubing with Jon down a river, our tubes tied together, when we began to approach a 1 ft drop. I panicked and asked Jon to help us swim toward the calmer side of the river sans drop. He told me to relax and let go and have fun. In my sheer terror I grabbed a rock as we passed it and attempted to hold on with all my strength. That didn't last long, soon my left arm gave out in weakness and over the drop we went. We lived, as Jon theorized we would. But my arm was left with serious pain for the whole week and when we returned home I went to my doctor and asked for help. She gave me something to lift and upon observing me lift without any deep agony declared it was probably just a muscle pull and it should get better on its own in a few weeks. It never did. So a year later, I finally decided to get help. Long story short (too late) my arm actually broke in the accident- the tip broke off- and when it healed the torn muscles grew back around it and like a splinter it irritates the muscles as they move. So I'm on a month of physical therapy 2x a week and if that doesn't work to end the pain I might need surgery.

 
 

The second weekend in May the man and I took a mileage run to Santa Ana and turned it into our own 13th wedding anniversary getaway. We stayed at a Marriott just down the road from Disneyland and spent the day there enjoying the rides and shows. The Aladdin performance there is really really good- broadway caliber and if you get the chance to pop in and see it, it's well worth it. We enjoyed the alone-together time and laughed a lot, especially over a chinese menu handed to us by a delivery guy on the street. It offered such 'Engrish' delicacies as "bbq friend rice", "chicken fingas", and a side of Italian spaghetti with every entrée (what?!) . We kept the menu for posterity and future giggles.

 
 

The third weekend in May I took my travel group (http://www.meetup.com/nova-travelers) to Rome. I've got so much to tell you about that trip that I'll cover it in a separate entry.

 
 

The fourth weekend in May (memorial day weekend) the hubby and I jetted off to Seattle on another mileage run. It was my first as a Gold elite (middle tier of the 3 tier elite status rank on Delta) and I was so excited to have made that accomplishment. It's not too hard for people who travel with work to reach 50k miles flown in a year, or even in 5 months like I did, but it's quite difficult for someone financing all their own travel and doing it on weekends. There is a whole science to analyzing trip fares and performing all the segment calculations to squeeze out the max miles on a run and to keep the cost at or under 3 cents per mile. Anyways, we had a great time in Seattle. I love connecting with my sister in law Liz (hubby's brother's wife) because she's so sweet and really brims with the love and joy of God. She's like a little sun in our universe of people, brightening everything. It my second trip to Seattle in my life, and since on the previous trip I didn't do much sightseeing we really put some effort into visiting some cool places this time around. We went on the Seattle Underground tour and that was very very impressive. Seems downtown Seattle used to be about 1 story lower than it is today but after a big fire they took the opportunity after razing the buildings to build the city up an entire story, leaving the original storefronts underground after the streets were raised. You can tour the labyrinth of underground buildings and old sidewalks. The group that leads the tour is quite knowledgeable and a lot of fun. This is definitely a must-see tour for your next visit. Besides the underground tour, we also took a cruise through the locks- indescribably awesome- and filled ourselves to the brim with good food from Ivers. Jon got in a lot of wrestling and playtime with the nephews while we were there- I think they really were excited to have him there. Its harder for me because boys in general (not just theirs) seem so alien to me [always want to smash things and be aggressive and so much energy] since I'm a frilly girly girl but I still loved spending time with them. I just have no frame of reference for what is normal boy aggression. It's good I never had boys, I'd be trying to turn them all into sensitive-musician-wouldn't-hurt-a-butterfly-metrosexuals or something. Even though I like Alpha males, they scare me a bit.

 
 

The last weekend in May we stayed at home and it was nice to catch up with Suzie. She'd been living with us since April yet I'd spent most weekends away from her. I love her so much, and it was such a blessing that she came to live with us for awhile. She really helps me to see me through her eyes, which makes me feel better about the person God made me and is calling me to be. She has so much going for her - she's bright and funny and very extroverted. And she is so loving and giving. She took the pressure off me with mom and dad a lot as she stepped in and took over some of the caretaking while she was here. I often pray that she finds the path God is whispering her toward, whatever that may be. I want the best for her.

 
 

While Suzie was here she documented her stay with photography and videos. I hope you will check them out.

 
 

The photos are here:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=123737&id=603259739&l=a35c195547

 
 

The videos are here:

Sailing - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VB6Mcbvwtww

The Parks Family (Jon Jenni and the Girls) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ84C2YApog

Danielle Rides Gabe to Victory - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0QoKtL3iCQ

 
 

 
 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Is This Thing On?

Is anyone out there reading this? (Blogger insecurity and insignificance complex setting in)...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hawaii

The last weekend in April I took a long weekend in Hawaii on the island of O'ahu for the fun of it. Really it was a combination of mile run (Hawaii was on sale with Delta/NW), group trip for my travel meetup (http://www.meetup.com/nova-travelers), and adventure trip to explore new territory.

 
 

Jon opted to stay home for this one, so it was just myself and another friend Jeanette. The flights to Hawaii were rather uneventful except that of course I can now saw I have flown over the Pacific ocean. Another box to check off the list… We popped in and out of the Delta Sky Clubs in the airports along the way and that was a nice respite from the noise of the gates. I did meet a really nice couple on the plane who were also mile runners. They were the really ambitious type too, having gone to Asia recently for dinner! They didn't know anything about the mile runner's site flyertalk.com so I explained to them all about our little group online and they were thrilled to discover they weren't the only ones with this crazy hobby.

 
 

Once on the ground in O'ahu we caught the SuperShuttle to Waikiki Beach as planned to take us to our hotel. It's about a 30 minute easy drive from the airport to Waikiki Beach.

 
 

We stayed at the Marriott on WB, right across from the oceanfront. It was a lovely view of the ocean to the front and a partial view of the mountains to the side and rear. (I've uploaded pictures of the whole trip (http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=114761&id=603259739&l=cd0ff17fcd) so you might want to open that in a second window to follow along.)

 
 

First thing I really started to notice (how could I not?) is the overabundance of men wearing Hawaiian shirts. If space aliens dropped down on Oahu they'd conclude it was an enforced dress code. We were in Hawaii, I know, *how cliché* and what else should I expect, but really, butch up a little guys will ya?

 
 

Dinner our first night was at Roy's - a legendary Hawaiian chef's restaurant in Waikiki Beach. It's right near the Outrigger for those of you who make it over to WB anytime soon. This was *the* best meal I had all weekend in Hawaii. We both ordered from the prix fix menu. I chose the crispy vegetable spring roll, Macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi with lobster butter, and hot chocolate soufflé. Every dish was beautiful in presentation and showcased an exquisite pairing of Pacific Rim flavors with native Hawaiian culinary ingredients.

 
 

As if dinner on an island isn't fantastic enough, we had a great view of fireworks over Waikiki Beach that evening.

 
 

After dinner Jeanette went out for a night on the town while I played old lady and relaxed in the room, tired from the long journey from the east coast). Remember that Hawaii is 6 hours behind DC so by the time it was 9pm I was exhausted.

 
 

Saturday morning we opted for breakfast at our hotel, as it has a well recommended Polynesian themed buffet. For the rest of my life I will remember the delicate taste of waffles with coconut syrup, fresh whipped cream, macadamia nuts, and shaved coconut. In addition to the fabulous waffles the buffet featured traditional breakfast items, an omlette bar, and salmon and rice (hmm for breakfast?). We tried a little bit of everything before we set off for the day's adventures.

 
 

We decided to rent a car for the day and beach hop along the island. The rental shop in our hotel was sold out completely, as were the three others nearby. I called Jon back at home and asked him to rent us a car through USAA somewhere within a couple miles of our hotel. He found a rental spot through USAA that still had a car left and it was just a few blocks from us. Success. And the one car they had left? A blue mustang convertible. Not too shabby.

 
 

We got out a map of the island (Waikiki Beach is on the island of O'ahu, one of 19 Hawaii islands. Hawaii gets its name from one of the islands that is actually named Hawaii) and began planning our route for the day. You can open a big map of O'ahu to follow along our route in a second browser window by clicking HERE. Sorry for the tiny print. (There is also great reading on the Hawaiian islands at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawaiian_Islands#Main_islands . I recommend you visit this link at some point and school yourself up on Hawaii if you're not too familiar with the state.)

 
 

Our driving route was approx 100 miles. We started in Waikiki Beach of course (lower right on the map) and took H1 over to Pearl Harbor (lower center of map). We got to Pearl Harbor too late to avoid the crowds, so we skipped the 3 hour line for the USS. Arizona wreckage view and instead I went aboard the USS Bowfin submarine which had no line. Jeanette had already seen her fair share of subs in her lifetime so she sat this tour out. I was really shocked at how short and small the quarters were on the submarine. And you can tell it's a ship built by men for men because everything is ugly steel- there is no interior décor going on at all, except a pinup calendar, which hardly qualifies. The memorial area of Pearl Harbor is really pretty with small monuments erected in dedication to all the fallen ships/subs from WW2 that tell you about each one and the crew. I was really moved by the site, as it reminds you that life can change in an instant and that peace is never guaranteed even in the great USA - there are always shadows of war around the corner.

 
 

After Pearl Harbor, we began our journey toward the north shore up Highway 99 (center of the map). Whereas Waikiki Beach is loud and touristy, the north shore is known for it's quiet, laidback beaches and beautiful mountain scenery. The drive up 99 was so beautiful! It's hard to describe the landscape of Hawaii. At times it reminded me of prairie lands, but much more green. It's unique to say the least. I took so many pictures (are you still looking at my pictures in another window too? Hope so!) including one of the Dole Pineapple plantation. (The plantation is right about where the 99 marker is on the map, a bit before 99 meets Highway 83 on the upper middle section). As we drove by the plantation I began to look for pineapple trees but could find none. We did spot row after row of what we thought were cactus plants coming out of the ground but later found out were actually the pineapples. Did you know they grown in the ground with their spiky tops sticking out? Yeah, me neither.

 
 

After 99 merged into Hwy 83, we stopped at Haleiwa Beach (center of map, just after the Hwy 83 marker). This beach had a pretty piece of land jutting out into the water covered in palm trees. We snapped some pics and were off again down the road.

 
 

Our next stop was at Waimea Falls, inside Waimea Valley Audubon Center (center top of map). It's a lovely nature park with a trail alongside botanical gardens that eventual leads to Waimea falls. WF is a 40 foot waterfall and we got some great shots of it in the picture collection. Swimming is allowed at the falls but I dipped my toes in and found the water to be too cold for my tastes. We also met a friendly peacock in the parking lot and had authentic Hawaiian pulled pork sandwiches at the visitor's center for lunch.

 
 

After the falls we continued beach hopping as we drove east and then south on Hwy 83, taking pictures at each one and making memories (but not swimming- the water was cold). These included Sunset Beach (where we saw wild muskrats, center top of map), Laie Bay (great view of the mountains behind the water, right top of map), and Kahana Bay (west cost of map halfway down). We stopped at a beat up roadside shack along Hwy 83 south and bought little baggies of fresh pineapple, coconut, and other fruits and ate them straight out of the bag. The vendor had dusted the pineapple with some red powder that was fantastic. He said it was a local spice and spat out one of those over-voweled unpronounceable Polynesian names. Wish I knew what it was, but whatever it was it was delicious. (My pet peeve about Oahu is the excessive use of vowels in the Polynesian language. First, it is hard to pronounce anything. Second, it's hard to keep the different names straight with so many similar vowels. Third it forced me to have the Muppets song "Mahna Mahna" stuck in my head all weekend.)

 
 

Somehow we missed a turn and ended up on H3 heading back toward Waikiki. It turned out to be a happy accident because there is a scenic overlook just before the tunnel on H3 that goes into the mountain. After we had entered the tunnel, found a place to make a u-turn and came back out the tunnel where we had entered we pulled over and took some great shots of the landscape from the viewpoint (look for the H3 marker lower right of map moving toward the center).

 
 

We made our way back over to the west coast from H3 and down the coast, stopping at Waimanalo Beach (the red dot on the map where Hwy 72 meets the west coast), and Makapuu Beach (lower right on map) and the Halona Blowhole (right after Makapuu Beach, but not listed on the map). We took so many pictures and while I hope you enjoy the shots, the two dimensional nature of photographs cannot fully present the beauty of the three dimensional view.

 
 

We dropped the car off around 8pm and headed to Cheeseburger in Paradise (a local Oahu chain that claims to have originated from 2 women who, while vacationing in Hawaii, decided to stay permanently and open a hamburger shop and borrowed the name from the JB song) for dinner. The food was disappointing and I could swear I've seen a restaurant with the same name in Virginia but the manager told me they did not have any restaurants elsewhere. I came home and looked it up and sure enough there is a completely separate company running a chain of CBiP restaurants along the east coast. I wonder if they know about each other? They must in this day and age of google right? And yet nobody is suing anyone? Maybe they both licensed the title from Buffet (would you need to license a title built on a phrase from a song?). Who knows. Anyway the virgin pina coladas were excellent but the food was unremarkable and overpriced. After dinner my vacation mate went out to explore again while I hit the sheets.

 
 

Sunday morning we headed over to a cheaper ($8) local buffet a few blocks down that had good reviews. The food was alright and there was a lot of entertainment provided by the birds who quickly descended on mass on any plates left on outdoor tables after the patrons had paid the bill and left but before the tables were bussed. I thought it was cute, but I could hear Jon in the back of my mind going on about bird germs.

 
 

Once we finished breakfast we took the public bus (easy to find, heads right down the central streets) to Hanauma Bay. Because we would be swimming this day, and leaving our clothes unattended I did not bring a camera. Suffice to say the scenery was beautiful and as one of the most popular photo spots on Oahu a quick google search will bring up lots of pics for you if you are curious. It's a steep walk down and back up again to the beach and there were quite a lot of people there but the experience was still enjoyable. We rented snorkel equipment and snorkeled around the reef that's sitting right in the middle of the bay. Tons of beautiful fish all around. It's the best snorkeling experience I've had since Belize. I did manage to cut myself on the coral plenty though accidentally as I was swimming past. The reef can be difficult to maneuver around in the shallow water. We did see a lot of kids and adults intentionally standing and sitting on the reef despite the signs that prohibit such. It was a very relaxing day at Hanauma and we did not return to Waikiki until the late afternoon.

 
 

Once back we grabbed lunch at the Tiki bar next to our hotel (there's a shot of it in the picture gallery). Although the virgin pina coladas here were delicious (can you sense a trend?) the food was mediocre and overpriced. It seems I was learning that food options are limited if you're stranded in Waikiki without a car. I did get a chance to try a unique Japanese ice cream preparation that was tasty- basically they wrap ice cream in gummy rice gelatin. It sounds gross but it's very tasty.

 
 

After lunch there was shopping to be done for mementos and gifts for family/friends and then I wandered around the hotel taking pictures of the décor including all the fresh flowering plants. Spent some time at the beach across the street and the pools at the hotel before freshening up and heading out to try to find a quality dinner in Waikiki. No such luck. I eventually ended up at a Thai place that served the worst interpretation of Thai food I've ever tried and at 3x the price of the Thai restaurants in DC/VA. What really makes me mad is that I thoughtfully tried to warn patrons waiting in line to get in as I was leaving just how bad it was and not one of them took my advice and left. I guess they deserve what they get.

 
 

We packed up our stuff that night and prepared for departure. I got up at 3am Mon morning Hawaiian time to work on east coast schedule with my coworkers, taking my "lunch" break to have breakfast downstairs at the hotel buffet again. After the day of work was done at 10am, I played at the beach for a few hours before it was time to head for the airport.

 
 

Overall, it was a fabulous trip and I'm so glad I went. I'm hoping to head back sometime this summer or fall and explore a different island this time and bring Jonathan with me.


 

 
 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Self-Discipline

I'm 33. I've been overweight all my life with the exception of one year in 4th grade when we moved from NY to NM and I spent my summer outdoors exercising and lost enough weight to be in normal girl clothes instead of 'husky'. (Gah how I hated husky). The first time I really remember tracking weight was in college. I was 185 then. I met my boyfriend (now hubby) and was so head over heels in love I couldn't eat much nor sleep and I lost enough weight to get down to 170 and a size 14. Stayed around there until moving back to NY when I was 21 and edged up to 200. About 6 years ago I edged up to 250 and a size 22 and stayed there for a couple years until I got the motivation to actively try to lose weight. (Before that I just wished a lot but never made any behavior changes).

 
 

My mom is diabetic - since she was 40- and never has followed the dietary guidelines. Therefore she suffers from neuropathy, has had toes removed, and all sorts of other horrific complications. I always told myself if I ever got diagnosed I wouldn't be crazy/reckless like her and I would follow the dietary guidelines. I kidded myself that I could eat whatever I wanted until I turned 40 at which time I suspected I'd get diagnosed like she did and then I'd start eating a restricted diet. Better to have 40 years of food joy and the rest of my life restricted then just be restricted my whole life to try to prevent diabetes was my crazy logic.

 
 

Only a kink came into my plan. January 2008 at the dr for my routine physical and my fasting blood sugar was 129. Doctor said if it was over 127 again within the year I would be officially diagnosed as diabetic. So i did what any procrastinating denialist would do. I simply avoided the dr at all costs lest she diagnose me and it be "real" and I have to change. This worked until Jan 2009 when I got pneumonia and *had* to go to the dr. Sure enough, fasting was 131 and my blood % test was in the diabetic range too. So she put me on the lowest dose of metformin (500 mg 1x day) and told me I really really need to get serious about weight loss and exercise now. She said that would be the most likely way to stop it from getting worse and to possibly eliminate the diagnosis/problem altogether if I lost enough weight.

 
 

I had gotten my weight down to 235 with exercise and controlling portions a bit (and got a lot of compliments along the way that I was looking thinner), but couldn't seem to get lower than 230-235. Then, when I got pneumonia in Jan I dropped to 220 in 4 days because of the fever/severe illness. I was actually thrilled to have lost so much so fast (everyone noticed I was getting thinner) and a bit sad when the weight started to come back as i recovered. I am now back at 233. :( But then again, I've not been strenuously working out since the pneumonia in Jan b/c i get frustrated that my lungs get weak after just a short stint of cardio. The dr tells me it could take a year before my lungs are at full capacity again and just to work hard but not push my lungs too far. I've wimped out and haven't been consistently doing weight training either this spring.

 
 

The dr told me I did not need to get a meter and take my sugar everyday or anything like that yet since I wasn't seriously diabetic, but I knew in the back of my mind I should really start paying attention to my sugar levels. I just put it off because, like always, i can pretend there isn't a problem. That ended this week. i got a meter and started testing. oh my god. I started testing on sat. I am consistently 125-140 fasting and I *was* 170-225 just after eating, and sometimes still 2 hours after eating. I did the research and found out that is way way too high. Crap. Now i had to acknowledge the facts and start making changes. I was mad though because I really thought i wouldn't have to face all this till my 40s. I started making changes to my diet immediately and the numbers went down immediately. Now I'm 125-135 fasting and 135-160 after eating. Not great, but getting better - a small victory to spur me on. Sunday I had a dinner party with friends and they brought mashed potatoes. I didn't want to resist. 190 after eating! Bye bye mashed potatoes I guess except maybe a splurge 1x a year at thanksgiving. boo. :( I can't be the only one who finds that pretty much all my favorite foods are the diabetic no-nos can I? Why can't I be a spinach addict or something instead of a potato, baked beans, sour candy straw, creme brulee, bread pudding, mac and cheese addict? I'm so frustrated with my addiction to sugar. And I definitely feel like its an addiction complete with withdrawal symptoms.

 
 

I've also immediately stepped it up and added 2 daily 20 minute [1 mile] walks around my neighborhood- once in the morning and once in the evening. I will get my rear to the gym at least 2x this week too.

 
 

This is it. It is official. I can't put it off anymore. I have to grow up, right now, and get some self discipline. I have to get this weight off, stick to going to the gym regularly and kissing my high carbs goodbye. I don't want to just treat blood sugar with meds (and god forbid insulin one day) because i know high sugar is really just a symptom of the underlying problem- too much fat/glucose stores in my body and my body is sick of it and can't control it anymore. If I just use meds to treat my symptom, I won't be fixing the underlying problem and studies show that diabetics who manage their sugar still die earlier than everyone else on average who aren't diabetic.

 
 

I think i need a sponsor to call when thinking about buying sour candy straws [my favorite treat ever] or bread pudding. :)

 
 

thanks for letting me rant. and if you see yourself in me at all let me know how you are coping. I care and maybe we can encourage each other.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Style

So I got a new haircut today:

 
newhair 013
newhair 009