Friday, December 30, 2011

Thank God for Texas: Lamesa


A special shout out tonight to the good people of Lamesa, TX. I made chicken fried steak for the first time ever tonight and I did it using Ree’s Drummond’s recipe. She is better know as the Pioneer Woman and if you’re not familiar with her blog including her beautiful love story detailing her courtship and marriage to a rancher (High Heels to Tractor Wheels) and her recipes and photography you are missing out. Anyway, the meal was fantastic and so I set about researching the origins of chicken fried steak. Turns out it was created by none other than the early residents of Lamesa who had immigrated from Germany/Austria (Weiner schnitzel anyone?) and adapted their recipes to the abundant supply of beef in Texas.

I am especially enamored with this history because one of my very special friends and blog reader hails from Lamesa (shout out to Sunny!).

You can read all about the history of CFS yourself on Wikipedia:

Winding down 2011


Today is the next to last day in December. The month has just flown by. I wrote about our trip to Turkey in my last entry (by the way the kabob restaurant we visited the last night with the gracious hospitality is called Cigeristan) but I actually took two additional weekend trips to Europe after we returned from Turkey and a weekend trip to NM as well.

The first weekend in December I flew to Krakow for a “mile run” to log more Delta miles for the year in order to re-qualify for Diamond status. Jonathan has already crossed the status threshold so he opted to stay home. I flew via NYC, Montreal, Paris and Warsaw for maximum miles and via Warsaw, Paris, Amsterdam and Detroit on the return for even more miles. If there was a way to squeeze out any additional miles on one trip to Poland I’m really not aware of it. A bit exhausting to be honest but a lot of fun. As a bonus, I met a group of older travelers (55 years+) from Italy on the flight from Warsaw to Krakow and we hit it off very well. They gave me a free ride into downtown Krakow and invited me to dinner. Their tour leader was excited that I spoke a teensy bit of Italian and was very demonstrative in his appreciation with cheek kisses and asked his friends to take several pictures of him and I. Once in the city, I spent a lot of time walking around old town Krakow by myself, feeling the icy wind on my face and thinking about everything I’ve been through this year. The Christmas markets were open and I did a bit of shopping and sampled Polish cuisine. I also went to a Polish mass in a beautiful old cathedral.

I carved out one morning to visit the Auschwitz concentration camps.  It was emotionally overwhelming to walk through the camps and stand face to face with the history of horrors that took place within them. I didn’t understand how everyone else on the tour seemed to hold it together when I could not stop crying. One room is filled with human hair that was cut from the victims and found in a warehouse when the Allies freed the camps. Another room is filled with shoes- thousands and thousands of pairs- each representing the person they belonged to who was forced into the camps. Walking alongside the long railroad tracks that lead into Auschwitz Birkenau was the most somber experience of the day. I wish I could take you there with my words, to that feeling that welled up inside of me when I was there. To stand on the very same sorting platform where others stood while uniformed men decided if they were to live or die that day. To look down at the far end of the tracks where the gas chambers stood and then to walk the dusty path toward the chambers as thousands had walked toward them before. It was agonizing to be there but I thought it important to go and honor those whose agonies in their victimization put mine in pale comparison.

The next day I had a more lighthearted tour of the salt mine outside Krakow. It was my first visit to a salt mine and it was really neat. The guide took us down into the mine via an old metal elevator and then walked us through a large part of the mine over an hour or so. The miners built beautiful chapels underground and they are really peaceful and ornate. We were encourage to lick the walls- any wall, anytime during the tour – and so of course I did. Very salty. Germs are not an issue because the salt mine is a sterile environment (salt prevents bacteria from flourishing). In fact part of the mine is designated as a recovery spa for victims of respiratory diseases and ailments. The air is fresh and clean smelling; it’s very nice.

The second weekend in December I did another mile run to Poland by myself. This time I was to have one day in Warsaw and one day in Amsterdam before flying home. I think the stress over my sister’s death, the heavy workload at my job and the physical exhaustion from traveling for so many consecutive weeks (I didn’t blog about it but I went to LA in August with my best friend and then Jon and I went to Italy, Seattle and New Mexico in September followed by a trip to Hawaii in October and San Francisco in early November) caught up to me. When I landed in Warsaw I just wanted to shut the world out and rest. So I checked into the hotel and took a short nap. I woke up in the late evening having missed the whole day of potential sightseeing. I’m ok with that though- sometimes the body just needs to stop and rest. I hadn’t really taken a Sabbath in a long time. The next day I was much more energetic and walked around downtown Amsterdam a great deal. I visited the Anne Frank hiding house. I had just read her diary in preparation for the trip and between the diary reading and the previous week’s visit to Auschwitz (where she was taken) it really afforded a clear perspective on her situation and how everything unfolded. I was haunted by the vision of her stepping off that train and walking through the same pathways I had walked the week before.

Over the Christmas holiday weekend Jonathan and I flew to New Mexico to visit with family and friends. Spending time with people who love us was medicine for the soul and it really helped to lift me out of this persistent grief more than anything else has in months. I have friends strewn all across the country and here and there around the world, but there is a core group of people in Las Cruces who were formative in my Christian walk and seeing them is always a joy.

As 2011 winds down I am finding the optimist inside of me peeking out again. She came through the year battered and bruised (and for awhile I thought she was lost to grief forever) but it looks like she is going to face the new year ready for adventure. Meanwhile the rude, short tempered, flip-out-over-totally-inconsequential-annoyances (like a restaurant running out of my favorite salad dressing) girl that rose up out of the stress and trauma is fading. I did a little cheerleading kick inside my head when I realized after something didn’t go my way last week that I hadn’t cried, screamed or otherwise freaked out as a first response. Progress! My pastor suggested that once I’ve reached a place where the grief is further behind me I might be in a place to help others who are grieving in the church in a way that “the innocents” (that’s my new nickname for people who haven’t felt the sting of death yet) cannot. I will pray about it and see where God leads me as far as that’s concerned.


2011 Travel Milestones

According to I spent 248 hours in the air this year between 30 different airports on 72 different flights on 6 different airlines. I visited 10 different countries (Canada, Netherlands, Poland, France, Thailand, Iceland, Japan, Turkey, Laos and Italy) and flew the equivalent of five times around the earth. I also visited the continent of Asia for the first time ever this year (and went there three separate times).

2011 Events of Note

Earthquakes I experienced:3 (Chaing Mai, Thailand, Tokyo,Japan,  Washington, DC)

Family Deaths: 3 (Daddy, Jenna, Suzie)

35th Birthday

15th Wedding Anniversary

One year with CSC

Trip Report: Turkey


Each Thanksgiving, Jonathan and I like to travel somewhere new over the holiday. Turkey seemed like a logical place to visit as of course everyone associates Turkey and Thanksgiving. Brilliant! We gathered up a few friends from the Beautiful Life meetup group and made our way to Istanbul to get things rolling.

Our first day of the trip was consumed with just getting to Turkey (via Paris on Air France for maximum miles of course) so we had time only for dinner before we called it a day. I chose Mezze based on its stellar reputation on Trip Advisor and the restaurant did not disappoint. Lovely little small plates was the name of the game for everyone and the lamb was tender and juicy. The establishment has a featured dessert that is unique: Ballý Bademli Cevizli Kaymaklý Muz (Geleneksel veya Acýlý) . Oh sorry, did you want that in English? Bananas Topped with Honey, Almonds, Pistachios and Clotted Cream with Chili Sauce. Read that again out loud and think about it. Cream. Hot Chili. Honey. Bananas. MMMMMM. If you were thinking that sounds fabulous, you were right!

My second day in Turkey started off on a note of terror - not the criminal mastermind variety but the good old fashioned zombie movie style terror. Our hotel was just down the street from the famous Blue Mosque and near 5:30am a slow and terrifying series of moans began to drift into our bedroom. The same sort of moans that emanate from the undead in horror flicks as they shuffle toward you. Creepy and like nothing else I’ve ever heard- this was my thought upon first exposure. (Did you think this was a politically correct blog? Yeah, its not. I report things as I experience them, even if it makes me look naïve or reveals some ignorance about other cultural practices. But that’s the beauty of travel- your veil of ignorance is lifted as you come into contact with different people and cultures.)

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel I led our little group on a tour of the old town in Istanbul which is on the southern European side of the city. We visited the Blue Mosque (named for the Turkish tile within), the Aya Sofya, and the Basilica Cistern. Of these three, the Aya Sofya is the oldest. It was dedicated in the 4th century as a Christian Basilica under Byzantine rule. For more than eleven hundred years it stood in magnificent glory testifying to the triune nature of God until Constantinople was conquered in the 15th century by the Turks and the church rededicated as a Mosque to Allah. I know that God does not live in a building (he lives within our hearts), but the Aya Sofya feels cold and spiritually empty and I could not get ahold of the peace and presence of God while standing within it.

Aya Sofya – If you look close you can make out the Madonna and Child above what used to be the Christian altarIMAG0166

The Basilica Cistern is an amazing sight to behold. It was built in the 6th century as an underground labyrinth adorned with columns and filled with water for the city’s ordinary use. It was later abandoned and then “rediscovered” by historians and now it has been drained of all but an ankle-deep level of water and opened for tours. Previously visitors had to move through the cistern in boats, but tourism revenues allowed for the building of a raised platform within the cistern for more orderly touring.

Basilica CisternIMAG0139

I think the Blue Mosque is a beautiful space but the interior architecture is very different from western churches. It’s an open floor plan - very light and airy. There is a separate section in the rear of the mosque for women to pray when men are present.

Blue Mosque (no pictures allowed inside)IMAG0132

We had a nondescript lunch at a nondescript restaurant near our hotel before heading off to the Grand Bazaar for some afternoon shopping. The Bazaar is billed as an amazing indoor shopping experience (and one of the oldest) but in practice it’s a lot like wandering the path between overpriced tourist booths in Mexico. After awhile bargaining gets exhausting but the booths seemingly go on forever into the distance. Power nap needed straightaway!

A bit of rest back at the hotel and we were off to Taksim Square and the Istiklal Caddesi for some sightseeing on our way to dinner. Istiklal Caddesi is a long, meandering, pedestrian way in the northern European section of Istanbul. Flanked by high end department stores and boutiques it’s the Champs Elysees of the city sans traffic. We enjoyed dinner at Antiochia where we ordered small plates again to share. The restaurant was good, but not as good as Mezze the night before.

Istiklal Caddesi                P1040697

After dinner Jonathan and I treated ourselves lavishly to the Turkish bath experience in one of the oldest continuously operated bathhouses (Cemberlitas Hamami) in Instanbul.


Why did I not turn over my bathing responsibilities to someone else years ago?

I thought I’d previously found the pinnacle spa experience when I was first introduced to Roman baths a few years ago, but this puts Rome to shame!  I was provided a locker and standard issue panties and then (after stripping down and putting on just the panties) escorted into the massage room for a hot oil massage. Next, I was led into a hot round room with a heated marble slab in the middle. I was directed to lay down on the slab where other women were already arranged while a hefty woman with endearing motherly qualities (soothing voice, etc) scrubbed me down with a hot wet loofah and lots of soap. Heavenly! She did one side, then had me turn over for her to do the other. If I told you that you had to get naked in a foreign country with a bunch of people looking on while a stranger rubbed down every part of your body you might hesitate but I’m telling you after the first few minutes the western puritanism angst goes away and you just lie there willing it to go on forever. Once the scrubbing was over, the attendant filled up buckets with hot water and doused me repeatedly (as if I was a circus elephant) until I was squeaky clean. Then she guided me over to a nook in the room to wash my hair for me. I was free to relax back on the slab or use the hot tubs after that. It was a great experience and I would fly back to Turkey on a moment’s notice JUST TO HAVE A TURKISH BATH. Jon’s experience went much the same way (except of course his attendant was male) and he seemed to enjoy himself as well.

Friday was our third day in Instanbul and we spent most of the morning at the Topkapi Palace, which was the Sultan’s residence during the age of the Sultans in Turkey. The sultans made use of a whole wing onto the palace just for their harams! The grounds are very nice with a pretty view of the Bosphorus river on the far end. I was disappointed to find that the palace kitchens were closed to tours for the day and also a bit frustrated at the unruly mobs of elementary school children visiting the palace on school tours. They were loud and troublesome. Oh, that brings me to a very bizarre happening on our trip, which repeated itself daily. One of the friends we traveled with is of African descent and the school kids were mesmerized by her. There was pointing and and excited expressions and running over to us to beg for pictures with her. At one point she was even signing autographs for the children. Even some adults smiled at her and called her chocolate and wanted to take a picture. I don’t understand how in the 21st century a dark skinned woman can be such an exotic experience for anyone, anywhere in the modern world. Are there not *any* other black people in Turkey? Do they not watch international TV? I just don’t get it. Credit must be given to our friend, who took it all in stride and never found offense in the children’s curiosity.

An unexpected twist to our palace tour was that I ran into one of my friends from in the Palace Armory. He and his wife and new baby girl live in Austin, TX. I met them (pre-baby) at a Flyertalk party in Andorra a couple years ago. What are the chances we’d run into each other in Turkey of all places? Life is funny sometimes.

Palace Gate and Interior                                P1040702   P1040748

Standing at the rear of the palace overlooking the BosphorusP1040730

Palace InteriorP1040749

We dropped in on the Spice Bazaar after our palace tour and I really enjoyed those markets. It is the non-tourist version of the Grand Bazaar and all the local people shop there, which is reflected in the prices – a huge discount compared to the GB. I picked up a Turkish tea set (Turks drink tea in small vessels the size of a shot glass) and a few other items. And Jonathan and I enjoyed sampling Turkish Delight. It’s quite good – I’m not sure I’d trade my soul for it (see The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for details) – but it was good. Lunch was in a little restaurant above the Spice Bazaar that I refuse to name or recommend (despite that it was tasty) because the waiter’s poor English pronunciation led us all to believe the buffet price was almost TWENTY dollars cheaper than it was in actuality. Gah.

Spice Bazaar – where authoritarian parents and sadomasochists come to shopP1040768

The wind blew in and the weather turned cold during our afternoon cruise on the Bosphorus. We opted for one of the cheap 90 minute tours on the ferry and the sights along the river were impressive. We sailed under several beautiful bridges as we passed near the Asian side of Istanbul (Istanbul straddles two continents).

Views from the riverboat


Having had enough wind, cold, and excitement for one day, half of our group wandered back to the hotel for the evening while the rest of us headed back to Istiklal Caddesi for shopping, sightseeing, and dinner at another well recommended restaurant. We stopped at Karakoy Gulluoglu on the way for its world famous Turkish Baklava (dessert for appetizer course always works for me). Highly recommend you stop by should you find yourself in Istanbul. Dinner was at a pub type establishment named Sofyali 9. We fell in right away with the gentlemen at the next table who prodded us to try their hot roasted chilies (yum- very similar to NM green chile). We struck up quite the conversation with them and before the night was over we’d all shared our food (delicious) and liquor and traded business cards. One of the gentleman owns a hotel down the coast of Turkey in one of the little resort towns and they both race sailboats for fun. My kind of friends!

Saturday morning I woke with the morning prayers (which, after hearing them many times a day had ceased to be creepy and started to sound beautiful. I especially like the prayer as heard in this clip). We left Istanbul early and flew to Cappadocia to experience the Turkish countryside and remnants of its (now banished) Greek culture. Come to the rural regions of Turkey and you will hear the bitter stories of what the Turks did to the Greeks and the Armenians in the name of unifying their Turkish countrymen. We spent the afternoon walking among the open air ruins of Goreme – cave dwellings with Eastern Roman religious motifs painted within. Then we traveled to Uchisar to climb the “Castle” ruins here and we watched the sunset from atop it.

Goreme Open Air Museum of ruins                P1040830P1040843

Local transportation for tourists P1040838

Views from the castle


We did dinner at a place that was such a hole in the wall that the proprietors are willing to come pick you up for the meal just to ensure they can get customers coming in. Unfortunately the food was dull and entirely forgettable.

I like to squeeze every drop of sightseeing out of my holidays so despite being a bit sleepy we set off late after dinner to see the much lauded Whirling Dervish Ceremony at Sarihan. In summary, a gaggle of men dressed in religious skirts that flare when twirled pray, perform on instruments, sing, and spin themselves round and round in circles till they get so dizzy they achieve union with God. I’m not making that up; that’s the theological drive behind the spinning/whirling-till-you-get-dizzy maneuvers. It was very beautiful to watch and a bit hypnotic. After the performance, the crowd was treated to hot apple tea in the fr-fr-fr-freezing open air courtyard before we were taken back to the hotel.

Sunday morning was our last full day in Turkey and we started it off right: with a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. I was pretty nervous because it was my first time in a balloon and I don’t “do” heights well. The idea of floating high above the earth in a wicker basket seemed risky to me. I am really glad I pushed through my fears though because it’s so beautiful and amazing to be drifting in the wind overlooking the landscape. We were in the air for a couple of hours and then our pilots treated us to champagne and took us to the hotel where our next tour guide was waiting for us.

View from the balloonIMAG0236

Valley of the balloonsIMAG0261

Love Valley- oh those Turks have a sense of humor (look closely)IMAG0269

We had booked the Cappadocia Undiscovered tour through our hotel. The tour is run by the same local group – Heritage travel- that organized our balloon ride. On the CU tour we visited more cave dwellings including an entire monastery built inside caverns; we hiked a scenic mile in the Soganli Valley;  we toured the Sobessos Excavation site where a farmer unearthed a Byzantine Empire complex while digging in his field one afternoon; and we wound our way through the passages of the Derinkuyu Underground City where more than thirty thousand Phrygians spent months living underground with their families and livestock across 11 stories of manually dug caverns 80 meters deep during times of war in the 6th century BC. I hit my head no less than seven times on the low ceilings in Derinkuyu and came through the experience with a bump on my head.

Cave Fresco                          P1040940

Tile detail from Byzantine ruins at Sobessos P1040957

We flew back to Istanbul late Sunday evening and Jon and I had our best dining experience yet. We stumbled across a whole row of cafes organized in mini-mall fashion near our hotel and decided to pick one at random for dinner. Each café had the word ‘ciger’ in its name, so we assumed they were the sort of pubs where smoking might be allowed. Err, turns out the word mean liver in Turkish and these café’s are known for their liver kebabs. Hmmm. They’ve also got lamb kebabs on the menu so we went that (we just happy to find out no one was smoking cigars!). So the kebabs at these cafes are not like any other kebabs you’ve ever had. Think of them as Turkish fajitas. They are served on long long skewers with flatbread very similar to tortillas, a tomato relish very similar to salsa, grilled onions and peppers, and some other accompaniments like fresh herbs. They are assembled and eaten much like fajitas as well. SO GOOD. Despite the fact that the window advertised ‘credit cards accepted’, the café’s credit card machine was on the fritz and so the owner informed us our meal would need to be paid in cash. When we asked him to direct us to the nearest ATM (b/c we had no cash left since we were leaving in the morning) he changed course and insisted that our meal was free, “to show how very grateful Turkey is to host you”. We protested but it fell on deaf ears. Not only did he comp our meal but he insisted in sending out tea and dessert before we were allowed to leave. What an amazing man and what a spirit of hospitality!

I started to miss Turkey even before our plane took off at the airport in Instanbul. The sightseeing…the lamb…the hospitality….the having-other-people-bathe-me…….just an amazing trip and I can’t wait to go back. We are thinking next time we will visit Ephesus and Troy and drop in to see one of our new sailboat racing friends at his seaside resort hotel.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Butterfly Angel


My parents (and their previous spouses) wrestled strenuously with their personal demons and so my siblings and I grew up in the midst of constant drama and angst. Each of us has our own story of what we endured, with varying degrees of abuse and crazy aimed in our direction.

I was the younger half-sister that my parents attempted to anchor their “new” life around while they put their existing children on the backburner and this led to a lot of resentment building up against me from my sisters and brothers. With some siblings this resentment expressed itself with blunt aggression and rage while with others it was released with subtle slights and cold comments. And for a couple of my siblings there was no marked signs of resentment but there was always the emotional distance of being strangers, raised decades and geographical regions apart.

With my sister Suzie everything was different. Every interaction with her during my childhood was positive and love seemed to just pour out of her.

Suzie was a beautiful butterfly that floated into and out of my life on the wind with little or no notice. The first time she drifted into my life after I reached adulthood was just a few months after I turned 21. Our father suffered a heart attack in NM, where my husband and I also lived at the time, and Suzie raced into town with most of my other siblings to be by his side. We were sitting on my parents’ porch and Suzie leaned into me as we talked and she giggled over some coming of age story I was relating to her. “You are just like us. You are one of us.”, she said to me, and then repeated it for emphasis. Inside my heart did flip-flops because all I ever wanted my whole life was to be loved and to belong. Suzie and the others stayed in town for a few days and in my desperation for a connection with them I didn’t hesitate for a moment to accept the invitation to follow them back to upstate NY where Jonathan and I could put down roots.

Unfortunately the situation deteriorated quickly between my older sister A* (who had invited me to stay with her) and I and so I found myself and my faithful puppy Jenna on the other side of the country from my husband (who stayed behind to work and make car payments for a few months) and parents with no place to go, no money, no job, and nowhere to turn for help. In steps Suzie to rescue me and Jenna. Despite the fact that she had little money herself, four children to care for (with one under a year old), ongoing strife with her romantic partner, and often wrestled herself with the poor decisions she made, she took us in without question. She sent my brother to pick me up and bring me to her flat where she was already hosting another family member with nowhere else to go. That was Suzie- she would help anyone; take in anyone who needed her. I spent two and a half months living with Suzie, sharing a room and bed with my niece Genevieve. I learned the ins and outs of living on a budget and a colorful education on a lot of other items I’d never been exposed to in my sheltered childhood. Jenna adopted my nephew Henri as her own and slept in his room each night.

Those two and a half months were a crucial period in my life as I struggled with finding a job all the while missing my husband and reading weekly letters from my father within which he assured me of my failure. I was depressed and scared and Suzie held me up through it all. She encouraged me, told me how much she believed in me, and challenged me not to give up. I had a sister! I had a sister and we loved each other and I belonged. I belonged.

After I got on my feet and saved enough for my own apartment I moved out. A few months later Jonathan joined me in NY and as we lived a few towns over from Suzie and became involved in the busy routines of our own lives, we saw Suzie less and less. Regardless, she was always there for me when I needed her and I never forgot her advice, which she dispensed readily on a multitude of topics. One that sticks with me: “Never leave the house looking like a mess. Never. Put your best foot forward, even when you’re just going to the mailbox. You never know who is out there and first impressions are everything.”

A few years later Suzie moved to Michigan with her children and my heart sank. I didn’t want to lose the connection we had built, but I didn’t know how to save it. In retrospect, I realize this was simply my beautiful butterfly floating away on the breeze.

A couple summers ago, after many years of intermittent contact Suzie fluttered back into my life suddenly and unexpectedly. She called me, depressed, with nowhere else to turn. It was my turn to rescue her. I flew out to meet her in Michigan (shocked at how thin and sickly looking she had become) and flew her here to Virginia to spend time with us and get her back on her feet. It was a roaring success. Her tears gave way to her beautiful laugh and we had had so many wonderful days together, one after another. We talked about everything. We bared our souls and bonded even closer. Instant sister, just add water. I felt such joy and Suzie helped me work through some of my own childhood demons and burdens. She knew my crazy past from the inside out and could provide healthy, healing perspective in a way no one else outside the family could. She believed in me and she loved me unconditionally as her sister and I felt the same way toward her. She held nothing our father did against me and had nothing but happiness and pride for my success. I tried so hard to impress upon her that she was no different than I; that she could do anything she set her mind to, but after years of struggles and setbacks she doubted herself. Still, I think we helped each other learn to love ourselves better.

And then, just like that, Suzie drifted out of my life again. I had tried so hard to hold onto her- I begged her to stay in this area where she was blooming and plant roots. But you can’t nail a butterfly to board. She left for Michigan and I cried everyday for two weeks.

I tried to keep in weekly contact but Suzie couldn’t be corralled. We spoke every few months, on Suzie’s whim, and every conversation was a comfort to me.

A year passed and a random phone call from Suzie surprised me in the middle of my workday- she was in DC and needed a place to stay. Rescue 2.0. It was another fabulous summer with Suzie. She taught me gardening and how to negotiate with the home depot manager. Did you know you can talk the manager down 75% on plants past their bloom? Me neither. She listened eagerly to every detail of my travel tales and she introduced me to all of our neighbors whom I had never gotten to know in the 6 years we’ve lived here but who were sending constant invitations her way for BBQs, parties, and the like. She also spent a lot of time with our father who was frail and ailing and I think they were able to resolve some of their longstanding conflicts. As the summer wore on a panic welled up within me as I feared Suzie would leave me again. And of course, she did. This time she left with a strong sense of purpose- to organize her life, do some traveling, and then find a way to reconnect with her youngest daughter and be the best mother that she could be. I believed in her and wished her well. This time I only cried for three days because I knew that eventually Suzie would float back into my life on the breeze and everything would be just as it was.

But it never happened. Although she made good on her plans to travel and work on building a new relationship with her children, I never saw Suzie again. Our father died in March and she couldn’t bear the agony of coming to the memorial. I missed her so much and wished she could have been there, but I understand how painful it was for her. Over the summer she moved to Georgia to be closer to her daughters and help plan for the arrival of my grandnephew into the world. She will never see him because she died unexpectedly in a car accident on November 16th.

The news hit me so hard that I experienced a deep emotional shock and was absolutely taken to the bottom of despair. First my father, then my beloved Jenna and now my Suzie all in the same year. My Suzie! What cruelty to lose the only sister who unabashedly loved and accepted me!  What cruelty for her to lose her life when she was just starting to put it back together! What cruelty for my nieces to lose her when they are most in need (one with a baby on the way and one working her way through being a teenager)!

I am starting to come out from under this storm cloud of grief but I will hold a place for Suzie in my heart forever. Forever. And I will be there for her children and her grandchildren and their children in anyway that I can, anytime I can, for the rest of my life. Their mother was a butterfly angel who walked beside me and showed me the love of God.

RIP Suzanne Sylvain Davies 04/04/63 - 11/16/11.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Supper

Tonight marked the first evening in over a month that my husband and I were both in town for Sunday dinner. We held our usual open house dinner party and I decided to take a culinary risk betting on recipes out of a cookbook I’d not used before. It’s a minor gamble to rely on a recipe you’ve never made out of a cookbook you are well familiar with and have used for other recipes to success. It’s a major gamble to source recipes from a book you’ve never worked with before. Luckily the risk resulted in reward as each of the dishes were met with enthusiasm and praise after tasting. We had three guests join us for dinner so with Jonathan and I that made five around the table.

All recipes excluding dessert are from Holiday Fare : Favorite Williamsburg Recipes. This is the souvenir cookbook Jonathan chose for me from our visit to Colonial Williamsburg – he presented it to me as a Christmas gift a few years back. 

We opened dinner with Candied Pecans and Leek-y Brie. I am not a leek fan (neither cleaning the sand laden vegetable nor eating it appeal it me much) so I substituted scallions for the leeks. We used St. Andre triple crème brie as our cheese of choice (thank you Costco sale) and it was fabulously creamy. I was worried that the abrupt sharpness of scallions would not harmonize well with the caramelized pecans but it all works together beautifully.

Our main course was a composed trio: Sugar and Spice Pork Tenderloin with Cabbage Pear Compote; Black-Eyed Peas (smoked ham hock stewed with 2 cans black-eyed peas, 1 onion diced, 2 cloves garlic minced, 1 can diced tomatoes, handful of fresh rosemary, handful of fresh thyme, 1 T butter, and enough water to cover the ham hock – cook until most of the water evaporates (about 35-40 minutes); and Skillet-Baked Cornbread. I was really leery of the whole presentation as I’m not a mustard fan (the pork is slathered with mustard before the crusting and baking), I don’t typically enjoy cabbage and I’ve never been a fan of black-eyed peas. So glad I was open minded enough to give it a try because every element of the composition was delicious.

We rounded out the meal with a Streusel Topped Pumpkin Pie that Jonathan made and chocolate cake brought by one of our guests, Natalie.

Next time I chronicle a meal I’ll employ the good sense to take pictures so that you don’t just have to imagine what everything looked like (you’ll still have to imagine what everything tastes like unless you take the time to download the recipes and try them for yourself, which of course, I recommend highly).

I’d love to read about what you’ve been cooking up in your kitchens this week.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Weekly Menu: Winter

I’ve heard from several readers that would like me to share the weekly menus I put together for our family. So the weekly menu feature is henceforth rolled into publication. Expect periodic posts under this category as some weeks we are out of town and other weeks life can be so hectic that every night is takeout, leftovers, or cheerios. Also expect that some weeks the menu will be published as a partial week menu due to travel. Finally, please note that while I strive to incorporate a healthy selection of vegetables, fruit, and fish every week, the menus are not set to a specific caloric intake or diet plan. They’re just set to yummy.

This week’s menu is below. Cookbooks you’ll need to have on hand include Southwestern Vegetarian by Stephan Pyles, Plenty by Yotam Otto Lenghi, and The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas. These cookbooks are all sound investments that we will be coming back to throughout the year for recipes. I’ve also included hyperlinks to the recipes online whenever they were available .

Snacks are meant to be spread throughout the day.

  Mon Tues
breakfast cheerios topped with milk, cinnamon and 
oatmeal topped with craisins, nuts, and warm milk
lunch leftovers leftovers
dinner pasta with tomato sauce*  and veggies or meat; salad wild rice and corn fritters (p.75 Southwest Veggie) w/honey butter; broiled tilapia**; steamed broccoli
snacks crackers and cheese apple, 12 almonds, 6 crackers, 1 yogurt
  Wed Thurs
breakfast egg burrito (egg, green pepper or chile, cheese); smoothie*** toast with peanut butter and bananas; orange juice
lunch tuna salad (canned tuna, dill, mayo/miracle whip) sandwich; 1 fruit fresh hummus with carrots, pita bread and red pepper slices
dinner celeriac and lentils (p. 216 Plenty); dilled cucumbers dressed with oil and vinegar Asian chicken wings****; kraft/velveeta mac & cheese; salad
snacks orange, string cheese, crackers, yogurt+granola 1 fruit, crackers, smoothie
  Fri Sat
breakfast cheerios topped with milk, cinnamon and
oatmeal topped with craisins, nuts, and warm milk
lunch salad; leftover wings cocktail shrimp, mango, avocado salad (mix all, chill and serve)
dinner burger night w/all the fixins (cheese, mushrooms, green chile, avocado, etc); eggplant fries Tortilla Soup*****; chips and salsa
snacks protein bar, watermelon, cashews fruit, yogurt, crackers
breakfast Eggs, grits (w/butter and salt/pepper), breakfast meat, toast  
lunch cottage cheese and fruit (ripe pears/peaches)  
dinner Grandma’s chicken casserole (p. 155 Casserole cookbook); steamed baby potatoes, green beans, salad  
snacks apple, string cheese, crackers  


* For quick weeknight pasta, start with bottled pasta sauce (I like Prego) and jazz it up with either fresh veggies (sauteed carrots, onions, mushrooms or zucchini work well) and/or ground beef or shrimp. Top with shredded parmesan (buy the block @Costco and shred yourself as needed).

**For the broiled tilapia, simply place the fish filets (1 per person) in an ovenproof casserole dish and provide a bit of liquid to keep the fish moist (I usually use a bit of white wine) and sprinkle with salt, pepper and your favorite seasonings for fish. Lemon pepper is good and the McCormick’s Citrus Grill spice is lovely too.

***For smoothie, blend 1 c ice, 1 cup frozen fruit of your choice(berries, peaches bananas, just to name a few), 1 cup OJ, and 6 oz of yogurt. You can also add a 1/3 cup protein powder if you workout regularly.

****For Asian wings, drizzle 24 wings generously with Ken’s Asian salad dressing, 3 T of chives and 1 to 2 T of any brand of onion jam you can find. Roast at 425 until juices run clear then sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. SO GOOD and easy.

*****For tortilla soup, saute 1 onion (diced) and 2 cloves garlic (minced) until translucent, add 2 green chiles (diced), 1 can diced tomatoes w/ green chile, 1 cup shredded or diced cooked chicken (leftover rotisserie chicken is great for this), and enough chicken broth to fill the 5qt pot 3/4 full. Bring to a boil then add 1/2 to 1 cup diced zucchini and simmer until zucchini is done. Serve with fresh diced avocado, salsa, shredded Monterey jack cheese as garnishes.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Creativity and Optimism: Practical Applications (part 1)


I read once that optimistic people who believe that good things are coming their way appear to be lucky because good things repeatedly do indeed happen to/for them. Turns out just as many good things come down the pike for all people on average but only the optimistic people are looking for them and notice them and are therefore able to pounce on such opportunities more frequently.

Can you teach people how to approach life with optimism and creativity? I’d like to think so but studies are inconclusive. Well actually that’s a lie- the studies *were* inconclusive when I last reviewed the matter for a term paper as an undergrad in the 1990s. It’s entirely possible that science has come to a firm conclusion on the matter by now but I can’t be bothered to look it up.

In any case, I wanted to provide you two case studies in optimism and creativity, drawn from my personal experience to illustrate their practical applications.

The first case shall be documented by way of a thread of email correspondence that I was involved in about five years ago while job hunting. The end result was a job interview offer which I turned down because I accepted a position elsewhere and didn’t want to string anyone else along. Watch how this unfolds and see if you can identify where optimism, creativity and dare I say a bit of boldness opened up an avenue of opportunity.


From: Susan xxx
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 2:00 PM
To: jenni

Cc: (lots and lots of other people)
Subject: Robertson
Since Mr. Robertson did not complete his SF-85P Security questionnaire, he was asked to go home to complete it.
Mr Robertson promised to complete and fax you today the completed SF-85P and will bring in a hard copy with him tomorrow.
Mr. Robertson will show up at our office tomorrow at 8:00am.
Thank you.
From: xxx, James
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 2:13 PM
To: Susan xxx; jenni; xxx, Scott
Cc: lots of other people
Subject: RE: Robertson
Maybe Mr Robertson is not the right candidate after all for our office! Jeanne has had several conversations with this guy--if he doesn't get it right today then I say let's not waste our valuable time with him! By all indications and his inactions I question his reliability and dependability.
From: Jenni

Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 2:14 PM
To: James xxx

Subject: RE: Robertson

Hello this is Jennifer’s automated spamfilter. Only messages from recipients on the whitelist are delivered to Jennifer. Please take a moment to add yourself to the whitelist by replying to this email with ‘whitelist’ in the subject field.


From: xxx, James
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 2:130 PM
To: jenni

Subject: RE: Robertson

You need to read my email but I don't have time to register with your whitelist. This is important to our office!!!
JAMES xxx, Director
From: Jenni M. Parks

Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 2:58 PM
To: xxx, James; 'Susan xxx; xxx, Scott
Cc: lots of other people
Subject: RE: Robertson

Just a note to let you know that you’ve somehow pulled me into your chain of emails. I’m not sure how that happened. I only know Susan because she contacted me about a job opportunity last week to inquire whether I was interested [I am currently job hunting]. It looks as though she may have inadvertently added me to an outgoing email and then you all hit “reply all” when responding.
My comments:
I am glad I am not Mr. Robertson :)
I am still job hunting, should you have any opportunities available for a seasoned Windows/AD IT Director with government experience.
Have a great day!
Best Regards,
Jenni Parks
From: xx, James
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 3:09 PM
To: jenni.parks
Subject: RE: Robertson
Hi Jenni,
I apologize for the tone of my earlier email.
Please send me your resume and salary requirements. I am also the xxx for the CIO. We are rapidly expanding our project nation-wide and experienced AD folks are hard to find. I'll get your resume to our IT Director for review.
Give me a buzz if you have questions.
From: Jenni M. Parks
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 3:15 PM
To: xxx, James
Subject: RE: Robertson
Resume, project accomplishments and references attached. Thank you. Salary is negotiable with a floor of $xxx for consideration.
Best Regards,
Jenni M. Parks
From: xxx, James
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 3:29 PM
To: jenni.parks
Subject: RE: Robertson
Are you looking for a contractor or a permanent government position; or, a contractor-to-maybe government position?
From: Jenni M. Parks
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 3:43 PM
To: xxx, James
Subject: RE: Robertson

I’m looking for permanent employment, whether it is with a federal agency, a federal contractor or even with a private firm that has nothing to do with the federal government.
I love the job I hold currently and what I do, but I am a political appointee and after the November elections should the chairmanship of this office change my job will likely be filled by a new appointee of the new chairman.
From: xxx, James
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 3:47 PM
To: jenni.parks
Subject: RE: Robertson

Understand Jenni. I have passed your resume to our IT Director, and with your permission, will share it with my extensive network of government and private sector contacts. There should be something good around here for someone with your background, experience, and abilities. :-)
From: Jenni M. Parks
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 4:03 PM
To: xxx, James
Subject: RE: Robertson

Excellent. You have my permission to share my resume with anyone you deem fit. I look forward to hearing from your colleagues and contacts regarding any opportunities that may be a good match for my skill set.
Poor Mr. Robertson!
Best Regards,
Jenni Parks
From: xxx, James
Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 4:16 PM
To: jenni.parks
Subject: RE: Robertson
Good Luck and stay in contact. Look for Robertson in line at a food bank near you soon. :-)

From: Jenni M. Parks

To: xxx, James

Sent: Mon Jun 05 16:58:44 2006

Subject: RE: Robertson

Sounds like a plan. Have a great afternoon Jimmy. Pleasure meeting you through this very bizarre chain of events.

Best Regards,

Jenni M. Parks


From: xxx, James

Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 5:01 PM

To: jenni.parks

Subject: Re: Robertson


The pleasure is all mine and I'll try to help you as much as I can. Smile



Saturday, November 19, 2011

Avoiding Conflict

It’s very hard to separate rational truth from what we were taught as children.

For as far back as I can recall I have strived to avoid conflict. With everyone, in every circumstance, regardless the consequences. Not only do I stifle eruptions of anger that well up within myself (even if justified) I do everything to avoid others becoming angry with me, especially in public. As would be expected this has exacted quite a cost emotionally and at times financially and professionally.

My husband challenged me recently to consider this pattern of behavior; to study it deeply and identify why I often sacrifice everything at the altar of ‘keeping the peace’. So I did. I took time away from distractions and set myself down to pray and pursue and unravel this compulsion that often costs me so dearly.

Here is what I discovered.

From the time I was a very small child my mother would frequently yell at me. It was terrifying, loud, sometimes accompanied by physical violence (throwing things). I never had to ask ‘why’  she was angry; she always volunteered the reasons:

~if only I was a good girl she wouldn’t be angry all the time

~I *made* her yell at me because I am  terrible daughter/person

Paired with my Mom’s behavior was my father’s frequent derogatory comments and put-downs regarding my appearance, my personality and my behavior. He was on the same page as my mother in explaining why he treated me this way:

~I tell you this terrible truths because I love you and want you to become a good person

From both sides it was clear: I was a bad person. I could be a good person. If I could figure out HOW to be a good person, the yelling and the derogatory comments would stop. From this I could also extrapolate that if someone expressed anger with me in public everyone within sight/earshot of the scene would find out that I am a bad person (b/c why else would someone be angry with me?).

This may seems ridiculous, shocking, or unbelievable but I held onto this thinking  well into adulthood. That is why others expressing anger has always been interpreted as terrifying reinforcement that I AM TERRIBLE. And since I don’t want anyone else to every hear “YOU ARE TERRIBLE”, likewise I rarely express anger toward others.

Jon’s prompting to *really* think about these issues lead me down a fruitful road. Not only did I honestly analyze the beginnings of these ideas and feelings but I was ready to evaluate them objectively. And that’s when, at age 35 (approximately 2 months ago) I realized my concept of anger is completely flawed.

Truth is, there are many reasons why someone might express anger toward me:

~ they are angry at something/someone else and taking it out on me instead

~I did something and it upset them and I need to evaluate whether their upset is reasonable (and take action to amend) or unreasonable (and let it roll off or explain to them why I’m not amending behavior). This doesn’t mean I am terrible, just means I might have some behavior changes to make.

~they are mentally ill

~they are sadistic

~they are jealous and want to hurt me

~they are proud and their ego is feeling threatened

~other (I am sure there are more reasons)

When I first came up with my list I sat down, stupefied, in the realization that I was able to rationally make sense of it all on paper. But would you believe readers that just because it makes sense on paper I still struggle with letting go of the old way of thinking? I’m working on frequent self-talk and corrective thinking:

“Anger != I am terrible. Anger != I am terrible.”

I repeat this mantra in my thoughts frequently, especially when others are clearly on the verge of expressing anger toward me. It’s very difficult in the moment of an angry scene to remember this truth, but I am working on it. And working on it allows me to stay emotionally reasonable and open to hearing what the angry person is attempting to communicate instead of curling up into a self-hatred ball inside myself. A long and slow road ahead but I have a map now. I have a map now!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


My sister Suzie died unexpectedly yesterday in a most horrific way (she was 48).

My college classmate Tondra died last week, also unexpectedly and horribly (she was 35).  I lost Jenna at the end of September (she was 14). I lost Daddy in March (he was 82).

I am having a hard time keeping sane at this particular moment in time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ode to My Beloved Jenna

RIP Jenna "Piranha Mama" Parks
December 1996 - September 2011

Jenna. My beloved Jenna.

You have been a part of my life since I was 20. Since Jon and were in our first year of marriage. Nearly every meaningful memory of the past 15 years is intertwined with your presence.

When I broke my leg that cold Valentine’s day (a month and a day before my 21st birthday) as I raced up to my parents home barefoot with you in my arms (which you went sailing out of when I slipped on the ice and the audible crack of my bone could be heard) it was you, first on the scene, to lick my tears away and bring me comfort.

When I packed everything I owned into my car, said goodbye to my husband and set off for a new life in New York, it was you by my side in the car as my companion in adventure.

When we reached NY and were forced out of the only place we had to live, it was you and I against the big cruel world and I remember the promise I made to you through tears: I would never let anyone take you away from me. If that meant living out of my car b/c the homeless shelters didn’t take animals so be it.

When I drove excitedly to pick up Jonathan from the airport after 4 months of living across the country from each other you sat beside me and waited to greet him anxiously.

You’ve been through poverty with us in our early adulthood and the secure financial years since. When our financial outlook improved and we had the funds to take road trips, you went everywhere with us. Camping, long drives in the country, and more.

When we lived in the apartments next to the cemetery you made a game of running and jumping through the forks in the trees. A whole row of trees and you jumped them- at least 3 feet off the ground- one by one over and over again tirelessly. You were a star athlete, even if your gait did run a little crooked.

You ran into the cemetery once late at night and I was terrified! But I had to let my responsibility for you win over my fear of cemetery ghosts so I sheepishly closed my eyes and went in after you calling your name (and banging my arms and legs against several tombstones in the process). I finally found you after I tripped on one and hurt myself so badly I sobbed- you ran over quick as lightning to give me kisses and make it all better.

Funny stuff: you discovered early in life you could lick your girly-bits to feel good and work yourself into a passionate frenzy. You did so whenever you wanted -always ending with heavy panting and thrusting in front of your audience till you were spent. We just laughed it off every time (what can you do?) except that one time you staged your performance during the group prayer time in the middle of a bible study we were hosting. Talk about embarrassing! And then there was that time we were learning how to send voicemail over email and were preparing a greeting for our family and you tooted loudly on mic which sent me into hysterical laughter (also caught on mic).

You loved the water. You were like a duck in the water- always wanting to swim out a little further, stay a little longer. Every stream we crossed came with a look from you – “Please Mommy can’t I just go in for a moment?” And I always gave in.

You loved the snow. Tromping in it with your woofy boots to keep the ice and cold out. Chewing icicles. Running and catching snowballs.

You loved to run. In wide outdoor spaces (look! there’s a squirrel!) or our tiny cramped apartments (you’d chase me round and round the coffee table till I collapsed in giggles under your kisses when you finally caught me).

You barked on command. You fetched on command. I could throw one stick laden with your doggie drool into a pile of 100 and you knew just which one was yours to bring back. Sometimes you were overly ambitious in your fetching- trying to pull an entire fallen tree by its branches over to Jon or I to play with!

You taught yourself tricks to compensate for my weaknesses. After getting frustrated waiting for me to take you for a walk sat muttering “Let me just find my gloves and your leash, where did they go?”, for the umpteenth time, you brought me my gloves and your leash! Such a smart doggie.

You weathered through seizures as a young adult and tumors and surgeries as an older dog. So brave and always so excited to see me after waking up from one of your ordeals.

You took the addition of Julia to our family 5 years ago pretty well, showing patience and kindness to your new doggie sister. You got a good bit of fun out of playing tug of war with her and wrestling.

I think you beamed proudly along with me when the vet told you (at 12) that you were in great health with the body of a 9 year old! Perfect teeth!

When your health finally started to slip away from you, you took it in stride. You couldn’t walk as far as you used to, you couldn’t run as far (and then eventually not at all) and you lost interest in most games most days. But you still never wanted to be separated from us- so you slowly and painfully worked your way up the stairs to sleep with us each night. It had been many years since you were able to jump up on the bed to sleep beside us, so you slept at the foot of the bed on the floor and let Julia take over in-bed duty.

Jenna we loved you so much and we miss you! Thanks for bringing us such joy moment after moment, day after day, year after year. You were a great dog and a best friend. Three-way kisses forever Jenna!!

My Protest against the 1% (God) Who Has 100% Power Over Death

It’s been a little over eight months since my father died. It’s been a difficult eight months. Sometimes my grief wells up and spills over into tears when I’m not expecting it but for the most part I find that the wound heals a little more each day.

While I am still healing emotionally and have healed physically (the human stress response of cortisol elevation causes multiple problems for our health), the death of my father has led to significant and permanent changes in my relationship with God and my understanding of the world. As I posted in a previous entry, during his health crisis in his final weeks I researched tirelessly to try to find a way to prevent my father from dying, all to no avail. This failure to control the situation burdened me with immense guilt (what if I had just could have done something different to stop this?) and stirred up irrational anger in me against the doctors (why couldn’t they save him?).

After a time, with the help of others I was able to see reality as it stands: death is real, death is terrifying and death cannot always be stopped. This acceptance allowed me to let go of my anger against the doctors and much of my guilt but fueled an immediate and intense anger against God because it is he who ‘let’ this happen. I don’t think I’ve ever been as angry as in those months following Daddy’s death. Now you have to understand that I have heard stories of parents who turn away from God b/c their child dies and I always shook my head in disapproval sadly at their idolatry because I understood on a rational level that our loved ones do not belong to us and we must let them go and give them up to God when required without a grudge against God, lest we idolize another human over God. That all went out the window though when it happened to *me*. Now it was personal! Besides, I rationalized, this was totally different. I wasn’t mad at God over my father in a fit of idolatry, I was mad at God over the ENTIRE concept of death (which I never bothered to really think through before I was touched by it). To be touched by death is to have some of our childlike innocence and naivety brutally stripped away that we can never restore. We see the reality and the pain of what it means to die and what a horrific consequence it was that God dished out to our sinning humanity. To feel the sting of death and know it’s going to happen again when other loved ones die and even ourselves one day is a crushing blow to the spirit!

So I threw a temper tantrum. Literally. And when I was done crying I took God aside and let him know that death changes everything between us. I explained that when I gave him my life all those years ago that was *before* I understood how horrible death was and now that I really know the power of death and to know that he lets it happen left and right every day it is just too much. So I told God the deal was off, I was taking my life back! And just like that I stopped praying and stopped treating my life and my body and all that I have as if it were his. I didn’t even want to go to church anymore, but I kept up just so as not to make waves.

During the whole time I turned my back on God he was still there, patiently waiting for me to return. He worked diligently to engineer circumstances in a way to steer me away from real trouble over and over again while I was off trying to run my own life without him. I’m grateful for that, even though I did manage to still affect some minor damage to my life and loved ones while trying to pilot my own ship.

At some point in late summer it just sort of occurred to me one morning that by staging my little pretentious protest and abandoning God I was not going to get my way and that I was making life even more miserable. God is not going to dismantle death b/c I staged a protest. Death is still a reality as is God and all the railing against God and his ways that I don’t understand doesn’t change this reality. So I put away my protest signs and turned back to God and made an active decision to stop being angry.

Now, without the anger, I’m just left with a tiny little emotional scar that signifies my brush with death and as I’ve already alluded to, I’ve lost a good bit of innocence that has been replaced with a *personal* and painful knowledge of the consequences of evil in the world. While I am still by no means a true cynic, this newfound knowledge does weigh on my soul and chips a bit away from the unbounded optimism and love of this world that I previously displayed. Of course, the cynics among you will note that I’ve been very privileged in my first world upbringing to be able to hold onto that optimism unfettered for so long into adulthood – free until now from death, other violence, or general hardship that hardens hearts.

To Mom

I sent this letter to my mother today...

 I have been thinking a lot about Dad lately and our family. Mostly lately b/c I have noticed how much happier, calmer, peaceful and kinder you have become since Dad has died. At first I was really angry that you seemed to be doing so well without him and not very sad all the time in tears missing him. You seemed to be even better than when he was still here. :/ But I talked about it a lot with Jonathan and I think I see really for the first time that maybe Daddy was not always kind to you and maybe that the way Daddy treated you and talked about you in front of me was part of the reason you struggled so much. I mean you made your own mistakes and I'm not saying that it was all Dad's fault or that I can pretend you did everything right as a mom but maybe I see that Dad didn't really help you when you were struggling with problems and depression when I was growing up or even when I was an adult- instead he used them against you to make you feel bad. He would say bad things about you and from a young age he really turned me against you, making me think that everything was your fault and that he was the innocent party. But that isn't really true and I guess b/c I was always Daddy's little girl I never saw that. I practically worshiped Dad and believed everything he said.

So I wanted to say really I am sorry that I was unfair to you and always took Dad's side of things and made you out to be the bad guy. It must have hurt a lot to feel like we were ganging up against you. I love you and I'm sorry if I made you feel bad.

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Running and Fitness


Several of you have emailed me to ask how my running regime has been going. I started c25k in June 2010. Way back in 2010! I made it to one week shy of graduation (I chose the distance goal versus time so for me graduation= running a 5k) and it took me something like 12 weeks to get there. I felt so good about my progress and about myself. And then...when I was so close...I let life get in the way. I lost my job (govt contract rebid lost by my employer), got depressed/anxious about that and stopped running consistently which kept setting back my progress. THEN I landed a  job and was super busy learning the paces of  the new environment and used that as an excuse to not run consistently. THEN in the winter my elderly parents fell ill, Dad came to live with us, was very sick and eventually died in March of 2011. Between the stress and grief my running was sporadic at best.

I was determined to start running again in March after his death but something just wouldn't snap into place- I was in a really sad place over my Dad's death. I signed up for a half marathon to force myself to train (I needed a goal!) but it didn't motivate me much. I made it back to only w5 by the time of the half marathon. I didn't back out of the race - noooo I stuck with it and ran/walked the whole 13.1 miles. I felt great! Crossing that finish line with the support of family (my husband and brother-in-law both ran in the race) was amazing! I wished I had trained more and  in the moment of the finish line I was so excited that I committed to disciplined training once I finished the race so that I could run- and i mean fully run- the next half marathon that comes my way one day (Disney princess?).   Sadly, a few hours after the race my body began to scream in pain - turns out I ended up with peroneal tendonitis from pushing my body beyond what it had trained to do. Ugh. It meant no running (not even a lot of walking) for SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS.

So October rolls around and I finally was able to start running again. And now I am once again making progress with couch to 5k(Dr said after I was allowed to start back running I must start all over from w1d1).  I just finished w3d3. My husband who started C25k around the time i did in 2010 is now regularly running half marathons and logging over 41 miles a week. So I know it's possible if i just keep at it!!

I really wanted to post here for 2 reasons:

1. to encourage myself to keep going
2. to encourage you to keep going no matter how many stops and starts you've had

TL;DR: running is hard, but even with a ton of stops and starts and seemingly failures DON'T GIVE UP, YOU CAN (we can!!!) DO IT!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Trip Report: A Weekend in Tokyo


My favorite airline (Delta) had a fantastic ‘oopsie’ mistake fare to Tokyo over the summer and so my friends and I jumped at the chance to take a 3 day weekend in Asia. After a Labor Day weekend mile run to Sydney, AU last year I swore off economy cabin flights longer than 13 hours but at less than $500 round trip it was just too good to pass up this economy fare to Asia (typical summer fares are $1400).

So off we went!  A warm Thursday evening in July five of us departed the DC metro area bound for Tokyo. With the time zone changes we touched down at Haneda airport Friday evening just after ten o’clock. I’m going to be honest and share with you that it’s a bit unnerving- after growing up in the melting pot of the United States – to find yourself surrounded by a lack of ethnic diversity. The ‘sameness’ was especially highlighted as international tourism to Tokyo has dropped sharply after the tsunami. It wasn’t until two days into the weekend that I was able to stop seeing how similar everyone appeared to each other (as compared to typical Americans) and started seeing the real differences between individuals.

We were all a bit tired after the long flights in economy (at least it was economy comfort with a bit more legroom) and so that first evening we made a beeline for our hotel. Took a few subway transfers to get there, but it wasn’t difficult. The nice thing about metro subways is that from country to country they follow the same sort of implementation and mapping: color coded lines nicely displayed on a large map.

We stayed at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu which is a beautiful modern hotel in downtown Tokyo. In many ways the stay was similar in experience to an upscale Hilton or W in the States.

Then you use the toilet and you realize what you’ve been missing all your life.

The Japanese have a penchant for luxury toileting. These porcelain gods warm your bum, auto clean your bum with perfectly angled nozzles, dry your bum with bursts of air and fans, and even powder buff your bum on some models. Bum extravaganza! Oddly enough we were often limited to a  choice of luxury toilets along these lines or ancient squat toilets one step up from a hole in the ground during our Tokyo sightseeing. There were few if any standard toilets as we’ve been raised on in the States.

Our first morning (Saturday) in Tokyo we stormed the famous fish market – Tokyo Wholesale (Tsukiji Fish). This is the largest fish market in the world. It’s quite impressive and a bit nauseating all at once what with the blood and dismembered fish bodies at every turn.


Fish butchery. Oh the humanity!

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Sea Urchins

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Fishheads fishheads roly poly fishheads!

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Tuna= massive fish

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We sampled a bit of sushi at one of the neighborhood sushi stalls just outside the market before heading to the Ginza neighborhood.


The boys sample sushi while Jenni poses outside the sushi stall 

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Ginza is the “5th avenue” of Tokyo, with multi-story luxury department stores and fashionably clad ladies strolling the sidewalk as if it was their own personal runway. We spent time leisurely exploring the Mitsukoshi department store. An entire floor devoted to French pastries and other such treats! A Laduree French Macaroon café onsite! A kimono department! The place is absolutely fabulous and not to be missed. NOT TO BE MISSED! We also browsed the Sony store which is set up a lot like IKEA stores in the States- with the various products staged artfully from room to room. Pretty cool.


Some of our group caught on camera at the Sony store and put on sales display

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We had lunch at Ippudo – a famous ramen noodle shop. What an experience! We were presented a choice between the ‘standard’ broth, the ‘flavorful’ broth or the ‘spicy’ broth (which could be upgraded to ‘extra spicy’ upon request). Three of us opted for the ‘flavorful’ broth while two chose the ‘spicy’ broth and asked for the upgrade to ‘extra spicy’ - alpha males they wanted to be. Now what you need to know is that Japanese manners preclude blowing your nose in public (sniffling is fine but bodily secretions are a no-no). So you can imagine my laughter as I watched these two sniffling and literally crying their way through their bowls of ramen wishing desperately they could blow their runny noses. Quite entertaining. For the record, they weren’t able to finish the bowls due to the spice and *both* of them are used to hot and spicy foods, so diners beware.

It was a quick hop on the JR train next to visit Ice Cream World. Japanese folks love unusual (read: freaky) ice cream flavors. I’m talking about eel. I’m talking about beef stew. I’m talking about ginger wasabi. Any food item you may have eaten previously in any context has probably also made its way into Japanese ice cream. Despite all my bravado and previous dining adventures (field rat in Thailand!) I opted for something safe: vanilla. I think my stomach was still feeling a bit shaky from witnessing the fish bloodbath earlier in the morning and the rich ramen broth. Oh and they also have shaved ice SERVED BY ROBOTS.


Tokyo streets are crowded

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Power Rangers for the win

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Ice Cream World Flavors

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Jon chose squid to try

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Jenni makes friends with the local celebrities

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Robert serves up shaved ice

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For our final activity of the day before dinner we descended on Shinjuku – a famous neighborhood of Tokyo known for its vibrant personality, shopping and nightlife. We wandered around Isetan (another mega department store); specifically we headed up to the rooftop where there is a lush green park with happy families dotting the lawn enjoying picnics. 


Park atop a skyscraper….crazy…

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And then it was off to dinner at Shinjuku Tsunahachi for tempura. Oh reader I just wasn’t feeling it. I watched the artful chefs quickly stab and gut a helpless eel and prep it for the fryer. It was too much, especially given the mass slaughter we witnessed at the morning fish market. I’ve no problem with eating animals or slaughter but apparently my stomach won’t easily fall in line after I’ve witnessed such events.  I nibbled at the food on my plate, which is in no way should be taken as a sign of its quality as the rest of our group chowed down with enthusiasm.

A long happy day for all and a good night’s sleep lay ahead of us.

Sunday morning we were up early to visit the Meiji shrine. The grounds were beautiful and we stumbled across a wedding in progress. We felt so honored to be witness to the couple’s happy day and I was thrilled to get another bride for my ‘Brides and Pigeons of the World’ facebook photo album.


Jon and I stand as tiny figures before the entrance to Meiji

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Bird in flight

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Bride and Groom

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Wedding processional

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We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon at Ueno Park and the Tokyo National Museum where we were immersed in Japanese history as told by the Japanese (hint: they’re not yet acknowledging that they are descended from Chinese settlers which modern research now shows to be the case).


Beautiful art

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From there it was a quick trip to the Senso-ji Temple for sightseeing and pictures before we toured the Ameyoko bazaar.


Senso-Ji Temple views…

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The bazaar is a series of streets that parallel a train station. Shops run the gamut but there is a lot of flea-market type outfits selling t-shirts with American advertising from the 70s and 80s. There are also a lot of kink shops with shoppers free from any sort of humility or shame regarding their purchases. They approach the store clerks with giant lifelike silicone penises and sex tapes with the same nonchalance you’d approach a clerk to ask for a price check on avocados.  

Dinner our second evening in Tokyo was at Maru. I did a lot of research on Kaiseki dining (traditional Japanese multi-course meal) before selecting Maru for my friends and I to dine at. Kaiseki dining is usually very expensive  and difficult to access for western tourists. Maru was reported to be an excellent choice for Kaiseki dining at a more reasonable price point.

When we found Maru (and I write 'found' because it took us forever to locate the restaurant as it has no English signage and the entrance is on the side of the bldg and halfway down a flight of stairs) we were excited to order Kaiseki only to be told it is not possible without reservations in advance. However our waiter was very helpful to guide us in selecting al la carte all the items off the menu that are typically served in the Kaiseki meal progression. This was even better in my opinion that being boxed into the formal Kaiseki menu as we had some leeway for substitutions to accommodate our groups' palette.

Course after course of delicious cuisine was paraded before us. SO GOOD. We started with figs topped with tofu cream. Followed by a delightful green salad with tender asparagus and cucumbers. Followed by a soup with duck dumplings. The main courses were roasted chicken (the best i've ever had) and grilled beef (fantastic). The restaurant's proudest creation is their signature house rice- which takes 40 minutes to cook and is rolled out with oohs and ahhs from the waiter as if it's sacred. Guess what, it's just rice. We couldn't figure out why there was such mystique surrounding ordinary white rice, but we let it slide considering everything else was just absolutely fabulous. Oh and for dessert- a caramel custard, similar to flan. I highly highly recommend you make time for Maru and either call ahead to reserve for the Kaiseki menu, or piecemeal it together as we did. I also highly recommend Maru get a traditional rice steamer or microwave and stop parading their rice as a sacred creation that is worth 40 minutes of waiting.

After dinner we checked out of our upscale fancy toileted hotel and shuttled over to a budget hotel close to the airport to make it easier to catch our early morning flight the next day. Our flight left Tokyo the following morning at a quarter to seven and brought us back to the metro DC area in time to head right to work, albeit a bit late. And the best part was the flight was oversold and so, as elites, we were upgraded to business class (lie flat seats!) gratis for the ride home. Fantastic and yet a bit unnerving to leave Asia in the morning and roll into work in the States THE SAME MORNING. Ahhh the magic of time zones…..