Monday, November 29, 2010

Delta Business Elite Menu Review ATL-MUC

I really enjoyed the service and menu offered on our recent Delta flight from ATL- MUC. We were booked in the Business Elite cabin. Our flight attendant was this lovely woman (Annie) from somewhere down south in the States with a smooth motherly voice; should I ever fall ill I’d love to have her by my side to ease the agony.

People have often complained about how awful airline food is but I’ve never had a bad meal yet on any airline, even in coach (tip: always go for pasta or seafood in coach).

For our dinner the starter was presented as follows: seared tuna medallions aside roasted red peppers and goat cheese with a seaweed edame salad. It doesn’t read in print as appetizing as it tasted (it was delicious!). A simple green salad followed for the second course. I chose a fruity white wine which was promoted as “no oak” to pair with my appetizer and salad and I really enjoyed it: Boulder Bank Savignon Blanc 2008. (While I’ve never loved wine for it’s own sake, I have always loved good good and discovered over the summer that a well chosen wine can enhance the tastes of ingredients on the tongue.)

The main course offered an option of fish, pasta or beef and in a departure from my strategy to “always go with the pasta” I opted for the filet of beef. Tender and served medium, it was accompanied by green beans and mashed potatoes. It was very good. I chose a medium bodied merlot (Souverain 2006) with ‘plum undertones’ to pair with my entree and it was absolutely fabulous. My palette is not sophisticated enough to taste the fruit undertones nor the “smoky vanilla” but the wine tasted very buttery to me which I really love. My wine friends tell me that white wines can be described as buttery but it’s not an appropriate description for red wines yet that is what my tongue tasted and was happy to taste: buttery goodness. It reminded me a lot of the smooth buttery reds I had sampled in Andorra last year.

Dessert was a classic hot fudge sundae and an absolutely pleasure.

Dateline: November 21, 2010 2pm

Here’s another thing that annoys me: Pittsburgh. We took off for our European trip from PIT this morning b/c Delta is offering double MQM promo for all flights out of PIT. We drove into downtown Pittsburgh last night from VA and encountered a crowd of 20+ people milling about on the sidewalk in front of a bar that was about to open for the evening. They were almost all wearing Steeler jerseys (Steelers are the PIT football team). Must be a game tonight I thought. We walked a few more blocks, passing more Steeler attired fans. Into our restaurant for the evening – Fat Head’s. I saw Steeler scarves, Steeler hats, Steeler pins, Steeler t-shirts, Steeler sweatshirts, Steeler jackets. I saw Steeler earrings and even a Steeler tattoo! Middle aged men, kids, senior citizens, dogs, all dressed to support the team. Now, the shocking fact: THERE WAS NO STEELER GAME. Turns out this is just regular evening wear for 3/4 of Pittsburg residents. I found it ridiculous. Ridiculous!

Then I spotted the sandwiches coming  to the tables around us and my blood really began to boil. Massively huge sandwiches! Makes me ashamed to be an American huge. The “way we Americans all go to the all-you-can-eat-buffet side of the restaurant overlooking Niagara Falls but all the foreigners go to the smaller portioned sit-down side” ashamed. The “way we cheer for Smarter than a 5th Grader contestants” ashamed (if you lose you look like an idiot, if you win you’re only bragging rights are that you can intellectual best a 12 year old; dear God why do people champion this show?!). But I digress. Pittsburgh! Giant sandwiches with descriptions like “mounds of meat”, “piles of”, “mountains”, “layers”. Sure you can pick off all but a respectable portion of meat but then you’re paying $10 for a normal sandwich which is sort of like paying $12 for a Moleskin notebook.

I ordered a simple cheap grilled cheese sandwich to avoid the overstuffed meat versus overpriced sandwich and was still disappointed . Massive and greasy and served with enough potato chips to fill a whole bag, I picked at it while Jon worked his way through a kielbasa sandwich. And don’t get me started on how much they mix meats on their sandwiches!!!

So we leave the restaurant and pass legions of PIT Steeler adorned adults. It was really irritating me even though I can’t put my finger on the reason. Sports fanaticism? Group think? I don’t know but by the time we left the hotel for the airport in the morning and the body count of PIT fans had continued to skyrocket I was livid. Actually livid. Then we arrived at our gate and the Delta gate agents were wearing PIT jerseys over their uniforms.  I KID YOU NOT.

THERE IS SOME SORT OF PATHOLOGICAL SICKNESS IN PIT AND IT IS CENTERED ON GIANT SANDWICHES AND STEELER PARAPHENALIA. The whole thing has made me cranky. Or perhaps it’s just internet withdrawal rearing it’s ugly head.

Dateline: November 21, 2010 1pm

I’m terribly annoyed with myself this afternoon. I’ve just purchased a trendy (read: overpriced) Moleskin brand notebook at the Cincinnati airport because I could not quickly find any simple and cheap alternatives before we had to board our flight. I feel the fool for trading in twelve quality dollars for what should be a $1.29 notebook if I were buying it at any standard office supply store. The ridiculous pricing of these notebooks is not lost on the author of the cheeky “Stuff White People Like” franchise (which mostly pokes fun at middle class Anglos). He describes the enduring hipster affinity for them among the rest of the nonsensical trends of our culture. To read the description of the notebook listed on the promo sheet provided with the purchase you’d expect that writing in a Moleskin will elevate you to a higher spiritual plane. Pffft.

I wish I’d remembered to bring a notebook from home and then I’d not be faced with this choice of no notebook versus overpriced notebook. But bringing along paper and pen is not typical of me- I usually rely on my memory to capture the events of the day and then transcribe to my laptop each evening of a trip.

For this trip however I’ve left my laptop at home. Further I’ve left even my blackberry behind. My first untethered trip since I’ve owned a cell phone or laptop! Why: Since my new job does not require me to be on call during vacation (first job EVER that hasn’t) I’ve taken this opportunity to break my internet addiction. It’s become a real problem. I check my favorite internet sites (facebook, flyertalk, livejournal, dailymile, foxnews) and my email as soon as I wake up each morning- before I do anything else. I check email constantly during the day on my bb and facebook on every work break. A good solid hour goes to the internet every evening and it’s the last thing I do before bed.

I never even realized I was addicted until I read an article that reported on internet addiction in the USA and noted with great disdain how many people check email before even going to the bathroom in the morning. Guilty as charged, but so what? These are the kind of people the article alleges that cannot pull themselves away from the net for even a day. In an effort to prove the idiocy of such claims made by crank old technophobes I recently decided to step away from the internet for 24 hours. I failed. Miserably. Ahhhhh, the ding of new mail notifications are as intoxicating a drug as they were when Meg Ryan’s character expounded on the topic in the movie hit “You’ve Got Mail”. My longest stretch internet sober this week was less than an hour. An hour!

But you can’t expect the drunk to turn down temptation if he takes his liquor bottle with him now can you? And THAT’S why I’ve decided to leave my blackberry and laptop at home for 8 days of internet sobriety. It’s been a hard time of it my first day. My thoughts drift to check my email frequently and every time I observe something clever my fingers itch to post it on facebook or twitter. I’m hoping the withdrawal symptoms lessen as the trip continues.

And now I have to buy a watch at the airport because I’ve just realized I’ve no way to tell time without my blackberry. Gah.

High Self Esteem Versus Healthy Self Esteem

Coming as a surprise to many education administrators and counselors who are tasked with shaping our children within the school setting and preparing them for adult responsibilities, studies are now out showing that promoting high self esteem as a cure-all has been a lot of baloney.  The experiment has failed to elicit the changes promised and instead has created a worse problem: narcissism on grand scale (across an entire generation; maybe even two).  Turns out an unrestrained sense of self-worth is pretty dangerous.

One of the psychologist bloggers on the political right that I follow has provided interesting insights on the studies; on narcissism; and on the risks of raising children with superegos (dictator training 101) or, at the other extreme - with such a deep sense of worthlessness paired with idealized view of others that they’re willing to sign up for enslavement to the state or jihad crusades.

Her essay is here: http://drsanity.blogspot.com/2007/02/narcissism-and-self-esteem-gurus.html

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Human Rights

Regardless of one's political slant, there is a bit of logic askew to deem education or healthcare a human right. Here's why. In order for something to be a right- a fundamental human right that others cannot take away from you, it cannot involve forcing someone else to do an action. It *can* involve preventing someone from doing something (like killing you; the recognized right to life for example prevents people from killing you without punishment) but it can't compel others to do something otherwise you are stomping on *their* rights to abstain from that activity.

The problem with making a good or service that cost $$$ a right means that someone has to pay for it. And, in theory, you cannot force people to work. If you cannot force people to work (that would be against their human rights i.e. forced labor) then you have two problems- one you cannot force someone to teach others or force another to write the curriculum and two you cannot force the general population to work in order to provide taxes to pay for the education. Therefore, education cannot be a right because in the abstract it requires compulsive labor. Same with healthcare or any other good or service.

Monday, November 1, 2010

This and That: fourth qtr 2010 edition

In September I penned a lengthy update providing a general overview of the happenings in our family. Here we are in the last quarter of the year and there have been a lot of new events since that post. Thus begins a new blog tradition: quarterly updates, filed under ‘This and That’.

Work

In September, I put in my notice at my federal contracting job to coincide with the end of the contract. I had lined up a new job with another contractor – SAS admin work again (yay) for a different agency than the one I’ve been working with the past 4 years.  Regardless of whether my previous employer would win the follow on contract or not, I was ready to move on. My decision was validated when it was announced at the end of September that a competing company had won the follow on. I patted myself on the back for being prepared with a new job and approximately 10 seconds later it (the new job) evaporated as they too lost their contract that I was to work on. Oops.

So it was back to job hunting. I made myself available through Dice.com and started fielding calls from recruiters. It was down to two companies offering competitive SAS admin positions. I agonized over the decision and prayed God would give me a clear sign of which one to take as they each represented a great opportunity. He did: one of the companies was not able to make good on their original verbal offer due to budget constraints – taking the job would have meant a pay cut from my previous position. That put the other company over the top, and they are now my employer (I started mid November). The best part is that while I will be representing the company as one of their consultants for a federal agency contract, I am not hired to that contract; I am hired to the company permanently as a free floating consultant. My job is to be an “expert” who consults on my areas of expertise across various contracts. I’m very excited about this new role.

When things get rolling (right now I am being paid to complete addl training and waiting for paperwork to be processed) I will be working in Washington, D.C. every day, commuting on the VRE. This means I will be very well read in 2011, with 2 hours of commute time a day on the train.  I should be able to make a lot of head way through the bible and best seller lists with all that available reading time.

Christian Walk

Jon and I have fallen in with the folks at Grace United Methodist Church here in Manassas. We really feel at home in this congregation even though we are very new to it. Everyone is so welcoming and for me the best part is that the members reach out to you as a new visitor and help you find ways to plug in and get involved right away. We’re currently attending the contemporary Sunday evening service @5pm, but I reserve the right to drag Jon to the traditional morning services occasionally when I want to feel especially reverent or to hear the grand pipe organ.

I’ve taken a strong interest in incorporating  long standing Christian traditions and rituals into our day to day spiritual life. I’m into my second week of daily devotional readings in the morning and readings/prayer before bed. I start in the morning with the daily thought from Oswald Chambers famous collection ‘My Utmost for His Highest’. Then I’m using this reading calendar for guidance in selecting passages to read and consider prayerfully: Daily Scripture Readings from CRI. Also, this is the first year that we are really going to put our hearts into Advent rituals such as the Advent wreath (and associated readings and prayers), Advent calendar, fast before Christmas, etc. I think ritual and liturgy can be a great part of one’s religious practice (so long as they don’t become shallow or empty; it’s important to keep the focus on God and avoid legalistic attachments to the rituals). I’ve been using one resource in particular to learn more about the religious traditions and rituals of our Christian faith and put them into practice: 'A Continual Feast' by Vitz.

Travel

I marked the first day of my unemployment at September’s end with a trip to Las Cruces, NM to visit family and friends and pick up this year’s supply of fresh green chile. I had a great time seeing everyone and visiting our ‘home’ (where we go married) church. It’s always amazing to touch base with younger adults, now in their 20s that I have known since they were in my Sunday school classes when they were 5 or 6. I also got a chance to sit down and have lunch with my flower girl (also all grown up now and married) and catch up with her. So many wonderful memories and friends still in Las Cruces. I think we may make an annual chile run every autumn as the freshness of the chile flown home (versus shipped to us whole and then roasted here in VA) is unsurpassed.

The next week (first week in October) Jon and I piled a bunch of our friends into our cars and headed for upstate NY to enjoy the autumn leaves. We made it up to CT by Friday evening and crashed for the night at a Hilton.

Saturday morning we were up and exploring New England, spending the afternoon at the Yankee Candle Factory before winding our way to Troy, NY via VT. There was a mandatory stop at Stewart’s to take Jonathan back down memory lane (and to give everyone a chance to try their famous ice cream). We escorted everyone to one of our old favorites- Latham 76 diner- for vittles on Sat night before checking in to another Hilton (this time in Albany, NY) for the evening.

Next morning we made more memories together as we attended church services out at Brunswick Presbyterian (the church we attended while we lived in NY). It was a joy to see all our old friends in the congregation and the pastor. That afternoon we had pizza in downtown Troy at our favorite joint, I got to see my friend Kerry, and we all went apple picking at Indian ladder farms. Our last stop before heading home was Napoli’s bakery. YUM! 

Our group shared a lot of laughter and stories over the weekend and I really enjoyed getting to know everyone better. It was fun to find out that Ryan had a place in his heart for hip hop and that Chris collected old signs. I also was thrilled to have a chance to show our friends what we love about and what is so special about New England.

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Jon, Dani, Tanja, Lauren, Chris, Ryan

Another weekend in October I took a friend from the NoVA Travelers group up to NYC for my annual culinary tour. Changed things up a bit this year, dropping lunch at the dim sum hall and replacing it with a meal at Momufuku, which worked out fabulously. We also actually had time to stop at the East Village Cheese shop this year, and I could kick myself for not doing it on previous tours. Brie for 99 cents a pounds and other steals were to be had in every corner of the shop. They buy wholesale cheese overruns (top quality) and so are able to offer rock bottom pricing. We even had time on Sunday to make our way out to Coney Island. It was a great trip and I love traveling with this particular friend as she always puts me at ease and is a joy to be around.

I’d almost forgotten that I also escorted Literary Elly May on a surprise trip to Assateague Island recently to see the wild ponies. She was very happy to take it all in and the whole day worked out beautifully (except the part where I left my purse hanging on a chair back in McDonald’s in Manassas and only realized it a half hour later on the road and had to call Dani’s husband to go get it for me but that’s another story).

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Wild Pony of Assateage Island

We just returned from our most recent trip yesterday. We spent the week of Thanksgiving in Austria and Germany at the Christmas Markets and I’ve got so much to tell you about it all, but you’ll have to wait to read most of it until it’s published in early December for a travel company site. 

Fitness

I’m in the last week of Couch to 5k, which is where I was before we left for Europe. I just didn’t run at all in Europe; I knew the miles and miles of walking each day and sightseeing would be enough to tire me out and I didn’t want to pile more effort on top of it. I’m hoping to get my last 3 sessions in this week and be a graduate by this time next week. A long hard road, but it has been great. I ran my second 5k race in mid October and did alright, considering the hills (ugh: hills).

I’ve also been swimming and participating in fitness classes at our gym each week, but I need to be more self-disciplined about keeping to my routine and classes even when I don’t feel like going. Consistency is key!

Up and Coming

I will spend this quarter attempting to relearn how to balance work and home life now that I will no longer be working from home where I could easily co-mingle the two when it suited me. I’ve been hatching plans and strategies to keep myself on schedule and focused on what matters. I’m trying to incorporate regular routines into my life for stability and discipline.

The new job offers three weeks of vacation each year, but I’ve got to accumulate it before I can use it so other than Thailand in March I don’t see any major trips in my immediate future. Maybe a few weekend jaunts here and there. Plus of course being out of work for a month and a half hit our savings pretty hard and now we’ve got to put our extra money into building the emergency savings back up instead of gallivanting around the globe every other weekend. I do have two upcoming flights in December but they are straight mile runs (flights to earn miles with no other purpose) and have no sightseeing built into them at all. For example, one of them involves an out and back flight from PIT-ATL-SEA on a Saturday. My total time in SEA will be 40 minutes on layover at the airport. And flying out of PIT of course b/c Delta is still offering the double MQM promo for all flights out of PIT (a 4.5 hour drive from here).  

Tuesday is the Michael Buble concert in D.C. and I’m pretty excited about that. Jon picked us up tickets and we’ve got decent seats.

The rest of our time for 2010 will be filled with the Christmas holiday- shopping, baking, parties, gift wrapping, standing in line at the post office to ship, etc. And all done to the soundtrack of our favorite Christmas carols of course. One of the best times of the year and I’m feeling really festive after attending the holiday markets in Europe and prancing in the snow in Bavaria. This is going to be a great Christmas!

Today is All Saints Day

All Saints Day is a rather nuanced holiday for Christians, depending on your global location and denomination. Eastern Christians celebrate the holiday during an entirely different season of the year so we will leave them to that. Western Christians join together to celebrate it on or near today but each denomination has a different understanding of just what “it” is.

Traditionally, most Catholics hold up the day in honor of dead saints who have achieved beautification (completed the process of becoming a saint by the church’s definition, which includes performing miracles from beyond the grave, etc. Incidentally they hold up tomorrow as All Soul’s Day to celebrate dead saints who have not achieved beautification yet). Some Catholics hold up the day to honor all dead Catholics who are in heaven (and reserve tomorrow for the dead in purgatory).

Because the definition of ‘saint’ in the Protestant denominations is generally widened to all Christians, the only variations between protestant congregations in the celebration is (1) whether the celebration is held in honor of dead and living saints or reserved for just our departed brethren and (2) whether the honor is observed strictly on Nov 1 or on a Sunday and if so which Sunday near Nov 1 (some celebrate the Sunday before; some the Sunday after).

Presbyterians celebrate the holiday the Sunday before Nov 1 (unless Nov1 falls on a Sunday) and is celebrated concurrently with Reformation Day (a day set aside to honor the leaders of the reformation).

Methodists celebrate the holiday the Sunday after Nov 1 and reserve celebration specifically for the saints that were in Jesus time (such as his mother or the disciples) or are mentioned in the bible (such as Paul) and also give prayers of remembrance for saints in their own congregation that have recently died.

As one who was raised Catholic, became a disciple in the Presbyterian Church and is now living out that discipleship in in Methodism you can imagine I’m a bit confused with regard to my observance of the holiday. Therefore, I’ve decided to mark today in honor of all our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ; especially those who are diligently laboring for Christ. I will take time to pray for our missionaries, our pastors and lay leaders and my fellow congregants. I will also respectfully observe moments of quiet reflection on those that were martyred for Christ in ages past or otherwise contributed greatly to the kingdom of God. I am not iconifying people per se, but celebrating their acts of faith (just as we all celebrate Abraham’s) for the glorious effects those acts had on the whole body of Christ. Whereas at Pentacost we celebrate the church as a body, today I am focused on individual acts of faith and the holy act of giving of oneself to God; that is the essence of sainthood. I celebrate that God calls us into relationship with him in this way and I celebrate (for the sake of God’s kingdom and the sake of their souls) all of the individuals that have stepped out in faith to enter into that relationship and go where God leads them.

For All the Saints
Earl Nelson
1864
 
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!