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