Sunday, December 31, 2006

Resolving the Resolutions

It's almost time to bid adieu to 2006. At the beginning of the year, I, like many, made a set of resolutions. It's time to look back and see how I did with those.

1. Exercise Regularly. I have to say I failed at this one. We did a lot of active things. I got a new bike for my birthday, which I rode fairly frequently, only falling off of it once. We hiked pretty often, including one heck of a hike out of the Grand Canyon. We swam and ran on occasion. But I don't think any of it qualifies as regular exercise. Maybe this year?

2. Figure out what I want to do about my job. I think I accomplished this one about as well as I could have. I switched jobs in July, and now I really like what I do. I don't have the rest of my life figured out, but that would make things pretty boring if I did. I do, however, have some good ideas about where I want to go from here. That's good enough for me.

3. Take advantage of living in DC. I think we did fairly well with this one, although there's still a lot that I haven't done. We hit a number of outdoor sites this year that I hadn't hit before--gardens and hiking trails. We also made it back to a few of our favorite spots. There are still many museums I haven't yet made it to, but this will be an ongoing goal until we move away from here.

4. Learn something new. I ended up taking two classes this year, and I think I learned something in both of them. Early in the year, I took a one-day travel writing class sponsored by National Geographic Traveler, and during the fall semester, I was chosen to be a part of a writing class at George Washington University taught by novelist Tayari Jones. It was nice being back in a class with the structure that motivates you to learn and complete assignments. I want to continue taking classes. Maybe a language class this year? And hopefully another writing class. And then there's also scuba diving, history, etc.

5. Donate/Volunteer. Well we did do some donating this past year, but it wasn't quite what I had in mind as it wasn't really well-planned and not necessarily to the places I cared about most. But we've sat down and made a plan for 2007, already deciding how much we're donating and who we're donating to, so that's nice. As far as volunteering goes, I have been doing volunteer work for the Holocaust Museum, providing editing assistance on the Concentration Camp Encyclopedia project. This year, however, I'd like to add something that will help people more in "need." I'm thinking maybe some kind of literacy/ESL thing. I have to look into it more.

6. Write More. Thanks to the class I took at GW, I wrote a bit more than I did the year before. I again entered the Bethesda Literary Festival essay contest, and this year placed first, winning $500, which I guess satisfies my goal of getting paid to write. I also had an essay published in the Washington Post. I submitted a few articles to a variety of publications, but without anything panning out. At the very end of the year, I did, however, submit an article to a small, local paper and got a positive response from them. I've worked out a contract with them and am hoping the article appears soon (and I get paid for it). But there are no guarantees on that. The goal this year is to improve on the publishing record.

So that's that. I accomplished some of what I set out to do. I fell short in some areas. But all in all, 2006 was a good year. We traveled a lot. We had fun with family and friends. We learned new things. We grew. So resolutions resolved or not, I'm declaring 2006 a success. Here's to a 2007 that's just as good if not better.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

He's Gone...But Nothing Has Changed

Is it just me or does the death of Saddam Hussein seem rather anti-climactic? I expected it to seem bigger, more monumental. For those of my generation, Saddam Hussein was the biggest, baddest man out there. Sure, there was also Slobodan Milosevec and Augusto Pinochet, who were pretty bad men, but they weren't, for those of us growing up in America, on the same-scale as Hussein. The US tacitly supported Pinochet, and we turned our back on Yugoslavia, so neither of these other two men played much into our collective conscious. But Hussein, he was the definition of bad, an awakening to those of us who were just children in the early 90s that there were people in the world capable of horrific things.

I remember writing in my journal during the first Gulf War about Saddam Hussein. I butchered the heck out of his name--I think it must have been the first Arabic name I'd ever come across--but I wrote about him. He was big enough to me at age nine that he made his way into my journal.

It's been over sixteen years since then. And Saddam has never really left our consciousness. The toppling of the statue of him in Iraq was momentous. The discovery of him hiding in a hole in Tikrit seemed huge. His death should have been big. But it just doesn't seem that way. He might be gone, yet nothing has really changed. Evil remains.

Friday, December 29, 2006

It's Okay to Be Jealous

As I am a federal employee, I will, on the order of President Bush, be off on Tuesday to mourn the passing of President Ford. And today, I was let off work at 2:30 p.m. in observation of the New Years holiday, for which I am off all day Monday. So what all of this means is that I have a 4.5 day weekend. Not too shabby.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's Cookie Time

Wow, Christmas is only a week away. It's snuck up on me this year. I think part of the blame must be placed on the weather; when it's 70 degrees, it's hard to believe that Christmas is just around the corner. But to get in the mood, I did a little holiday baking this weekend. I scaled back from last year, and I can't match my mom's prodigious output, but I think I ended up with a nice little sample.

Premium Macadamia Macaroons

These are made with coconut, macadamia nuts, and whipped egg whites. The taste reminds me of a cookie Grandma Z. used to have at her house, although these are chewy and those were pretty crunchy. Macadamia and coconut are two of Jeff's favorite flavors, so I mainly made these for him.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe was originally for a chocolate cookie with white chocolate chunks. I'm not a big fan of white chocolate, so I made them chocolate chocolate.

Peanut Butter Kisses

How can something so good only require three ingredients: sugar, eggs, and peanut butter? I think they came out really well this year. Perfectly sized with the right amount of cracking and just-right melted chocolate kisses.

Cookie Dough Truffles

Although the balls taste just like chocolate chip dough, which I love, the recipe doesn't call for eggs, which makes the dough safe for raw consumption. Dipped in chocolate, they're pretty decadent. I started out trying to make them look beautiful, but it takes forever to dip them properly, so I just dunked them. Tastes just as good.

And a week ago, I made Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. I don't have a picture of these, but they were really good. I've always been a somewhat odd kid in that I don't really love chocolate chip cookies. I like the chocolate chips, but the cooked dough doesn't do much for me. And I never really liked oatmeal cookies because they usually came with raisins, which I don't like. But this cookie is perfect. The interesting texture of oatmeal cookies, the deliciousness of chocolate chips, and the delightful hint of cinnamon. Mmmm.

Let me know if you want any of the recipes. None were too complicated and they all taste great. Jeff's still trying to decide which is his favorite...which means he has to have a tasting every night.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Incomplete Education, For Sure

Did you know that Greenland is not really a country? In nearly 26 years of life, no one ever told me that. It's been under homerule since 1979, but it belongs to Denmark, with the Danish Monarch as the official head of state. Who knew?


Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Trimmed Tree

There are so many things I love about Christmas that it's hard to chose a favorite thing. I love listening to Christmas music, driving around and looking at Christmas lights, watching Christmas movies, baking and eating Christmas cookies, exchanging gifts, and spending time with family. But I think my absolute favorite thing about Christmas is getting and decorating a Christmas tree. When the tree is lit and trimmed and the smell of pine wafts through the house, I feel as if Christmas has finally arrived.

On Saturday, Jeff and I went to get our tree. It wasn't quite the adventure that it was last year. And it's turned out better than the year before that when our first Christmas tree fell over a day after it was decorated. We managed to pick out a tree--a lovely Scotch pine between 7 and 8 feet--and then get it home and set up without any drama. And it's now glowing beautifully in the corner of our living room.

It's lit with multi-colored lights and it has absolutely no noticeable theme to it, which is what I love about it so much. I see trees with themes all the time--all gold ornaments, silver and red balls, purple everything(eek), etc. I hear people wonder whether their tree matches their decor. But I can't understand. It's a Christmas tree...not a new couch. What I love about our Christmas tree--and the Christmas tree my family decorates in Louisville--is that it tells a story. There are ornaments commemorating my very first Christmas and my first married Christmas. There are ornaments made of felt and glitter glue or tissue paper and school photos that I made when I was much younger. All of the places I've traveled are recalled as I deck the tree with ornaments I picked up in Paris and Prague, Athens and Amsterdam. And friends are remembered as I pick out a branch on which to hang an ornament they gave to me. There's an ornament celebrating Jeff's experience at the College World Series and there an ornament to commemorate my former lives as a cheerleader and a piano student. The tree reflects who we are. As we trimmed the tree, Christmas music playing in the background, we remembered Christmas's past, we reflected on friends and family, we reminisced about trips we had taken, and we shared stories. Our tree is beautiful, but not because it matches our decor. (Although I think Christmas trees match everything!)

Here's a virtual tour of some of the ornaments on our tree.

This ornament was handmade by me in 1989, as it so clearly states in glitter. I made it at a holiday party at my then best friend's house. It's beautiful isn't it?

This ornament is from my Aunt Patricia. She gave it to me a few years ago so that there'd be a bit of Kentucky on my tree regardless of where it is or I am.

Jeff and I got this ornament this past January when we went to Niagara Falls so it's making its debut on our tree. It's a Canadian Mountie with a Canada Goose. How could I have not bought it?

Another ornament making its Christmas tree debut. Jeff and I got this one just last month when we were in Berlin. It's supposed to be a reflector (for a bike or something), but it makes a great ornament and looks awesome reflecting the lights on the tree.

Every year my mom gives me and my brothers a new ornament. The year I got this ornament, the gifts had a nativity theme. I got Mary, since that's my first name. Mark got Joseph since that's his middle name. And Matthew and Gregory got to fight over a shepherd and an angel. Too bad there wasn't a separate Jesus because then Gregory "Jesus" Dowell could have gotten that one and neither one of them would have had to be the angel.

It's hard to take pictures of ornaments on the tree. I can't get the lighting right. But I might post more later, since I love my tree so much.

P.S. Jeff thinks our tree needs a topper. I don't really like toppers, or at least I haven't found many that I like. I told him he could make something out of a toilet paper roll and I'd stick it up there, but so far I haven't seen anything. Your thoughts on toppers?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jolly Old St. Nick

Yesterday was St. Nick's Day, which I have a special affection for. It's not Christmas, and it's not your birthday. It's not even Easter. It's a holiday that everyone forgets about, which is what makes it so great. Although it's the same date every year--December 6--I still somehow manage to forget it. Like a first winter snow that falls deep in the night, St. Nick's Day sneaks up on you. Thus there are no expectations. No lists of things you want. No anxiety over what you'll get. No expectations and thus no disappointments. Only the joy of finding, on what you believed to be an ordinary day, a sweet or some other small treat waiting just for you. A gift that is completely unexpected and thus all the sweeter. Hooray for St. Nick's Day.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

He's Back

In 2 hours and 15 minutes, Jeff gets home. Yay! Although that does mean I'll have to share the couch again. Oh well, I guess that's just one of those sacrifices I'll have to make. I can't wait to have him back.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Berlin: Days 3, 4, & 5

Day 3: Saturday, November 11
This was the worst day of the trip weather-wise with rain, wind, and pretty cold temperatures. It was pretty fitting, however, as we spent the day at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It just seems wrong to be at such a place on a bright, sunny day. I also think the weather helps put it in perspective. There we were in warm winter clothes, hats, gloves, scarves, coats; fully-fed; not doing anything strenuous; and we still felt a bit miserable. How on earth did people who wore only lightweight cotton clothes that didn't fit properly, who were extremely malnourished, who were forced to do backbreaking work, and who were tortured ever survive? It's truly unbelievable. You have to wonder exactly how they did it. I don't have any pictures to share as it seemed a bit gratuitous to take photos of such a place.

Since Sachsenhausen was a bit outside of town the trip there took most of our day. Once back in Berlin proper, we took off to find currywurst, a special kind of sausage popular in Berlin. We followed instructions in our Lonely Planet in search of a place that was supposed to be great, but when we got there, the only place we saw looked not-so-great. We looked all around but that's all we found, so we decided to give it a shot. Should have listened to our guts. It wasn't so great. But we'd eaten it. We just couldn't believe the book had recommended that place. (Flash forward to the next day...we're back at the same Metro stop and still marveling that we were sent to that place for currywurst when we realize that it wasn't the spot at all and hidden behind a kiosk was the actual place we were supposed to go. Duh!) Anyhow, after eating our not-so-good Currywurst, we hopped back on the Metro and headed to the East Side Gallery, which is a section of the Berlin Wall that still stands and has been decorated with artwork. Unfortunately much of the artwork has now been graffitied over, but it was still interesting to see a large stretch of the wall and try to imagine it cutting the city in two.

After checking it out, we headed back to Kreuzberg for dinner, this time eating at an Asian place called Sumo. We both had Udon, which was really good. I don't recall seeing a single Asian eatery last time I was in Berlin, but this time they were everywhere. Aside from the doner kebab stands, places selling Asian food were most ubiquitous. It was kind of odd, but then I began to notice that a lot of people doing service jobs were Asian. I guess there's been quite a migration. Anyhow, we called it a night shortly after dinner as it was already pretty late and we were tired.

Day 4: Sunday, November 12
We got up early on our last day in Berlin and first headed to Karl Marx street, because Jeff wanted to try to get a good look at Communist architecture. There were lots of large apartment buildings and some interesting wedding-cake architecture, but it was hard to really get a grasp of it since a lot of it had clearly been updated since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The McDonalds, for instance, was certainly a new edition. While strolling, we had a good opportunity to snap a picture of the East German Ampellmann, or cross walk figure. It's got a pretty interesting history, which you can read about by clicking on that link. I think he's pretty awesome.

From there, we took a train out to Potsdam to visit the San Souci palace of Frederick II. This palace served as his summer home, and the name means "Without Care" in French (he was obsessed with everything French). We were able to get tickets for a tour of the palace at noon, about 30 minutes later than we arrived, so we walked around the outside a bit.

The palace itself was pretty cool. Not too gigantic that we got bored and with lots of fancy and interesting embellishments. Tons of marble, gold, etc. Both Jeff and I enjoyed the intricate paintings on the ceiling the most. We also learned that Frederick really liked potatoes, and Jeff inferred that the younger Frederick was gay because he forbade all women from visiting the place, including the wife he wasn't fond of. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the palace, but I snuck one. It's not very good because I had to be sneaky and couldnt' use my flash, but I couldn't resist. In order to protect the floors, we had to wear these grey slippers over our shoes. They must have been a size 20 and you had to slide your way around to keep them on. We were amused.

After the tour, we took a brief stroll around the gardens, but shockingly not much was in bloom. We did get this nice picture of ourselves, however. Be sure to check out my sweet new orange shoes.

On our way back to the train, we rode past this flying rhino, which I just had to take a picture of.

Back in Berlin proper, we headed to KuDamm, which was pretty much the central part of Western Berlin. It has lots of stores to make sure everyone knew it was in the part of the city practicing capitalism. One of these store, KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens---Store of the West), is a humongous department store (the largest in Europe) that sells just about everything and was, during the years of the Cold War, a symbol of the economic power of the West. Another symbol in the area is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtnis Kirche, a church that was damaged extensively during World War II bombing and which was left in a state of ruins as a reminder of the cost of war.

In the late afternoon, we hit some markets in the area around our hotel, all of which sold the same kind of junk you find at markets everywhere. We then stopped for hot chocolate before heading out for a traditional German dinner of schnitzel and potatoes. And finally, because Jeff couldn't leave Berlin only having had a sad excuse for a currywurst, we went back to Kreuzberg and the recommened Curry 36, where we split a sausage. I have to say that it's still not my favorite thing, but this one was indeed much better, and we could now leave Berlin knowing we'd had an authentic experience. Pshew.

Day 5: Monday, Novemeber 13
Going home day. Sad. Jeff headed back to Sweden, and I headed back to the US. We'd had such a good time that we were both loathe to leave, but knowing Jeff was going to be home less than three weeks later made it a bit easier. All we did was get up, eat breakfast, and head to our respective airports, but I do have two more pictures to share.

First, on my flight from Paris to Berlin, there was a huge dog on my flight. I was all excited about this and told Jeff about it. And then, when I was waiting for my flight home, who would show up but the big dog! And he ended up on my flight again. It was crazy. I don't know what kind of dog he is, but he was very big and had a wrinkly face that made him look so sad. Anyhow who knows me knows I'm not really a dog fan, but I was fascinated by this dog. Again, I had to be sneaky so the photo's not so good, and he's laying down so you can't see his true size, but here he is.

And here, for those of you who have always wondered what Greenland looks like, here you go. We had an amazing view of the country from the window. The flight crew says it's really rare to see it because it's usually covered by clouds. It's definitely not green. I can't imagine who actually lives there. But I'm kind of interested in going, because it just has to be out of this world.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Berlin: Days 1 & 2

So this has been a long time coming, but Blogger hasn't been cooperative in regards to uploading my photos. We didn't take all that many, but I'm illustrating the account with some of the pics we do have.

Day 1: Thursday, November 9.
Original plans had both Jeff and I arriving in Berlin well before lunchtime, but with my flight issues, I didn't arrive until 3pm. Jeff was there on time, however, so once he figured out I wasn't arriving until later, he wandered around and say a few sites before meeting me at the airport. While I would have liked to have arrived earlier, it was kind of nice to have him meet me at the airport and to have him already know how the public transportation worked, where the hotel was located, etc.

Since I only traveled with carry-ons, we were off to the hotel as soon as I landed. It wasn't the best weather, and it actually started hailing while we were on the bus, but it cleared up as we arrived at the hotel. By then it was already almost dark, and we rested a bit after getting checked-in. Next came dinner, and luckily our hotel was in a cool neighborhood, Prenzlauer Berg, that was full of restaurants. We wandered around, checking out menus, before finally deciding (after one false start) on Gugelhof. This ended up being an excellent choice as I was able to get some flammkuchen, which is generally hard to find outside of southwestern Germany.

After dinner, we decided to take advantage of the state museum's staying open late on Thursday, and we headed to the Pergamon Museum, which houses huge ancient works. We didn't take any pictures there, but we did take a picture on the way there.

Both pooped by 10pm when the museum closed, we headed back to the hotel and a good night's sleep.

Day 2: Friday, November 10
This was our big site-seeing, walking all over town day, and luckily we had decent weather. It wasn't warm, but it wasn't raining or too windy, and the sun would peek out every once in a while, so it was definitely bearable.

We started out at the Reichstag, where we stood in line to go up to the dome. Luckily they had brochures and Jeff was able to read up all about the German Bundestag.

It took a while to get inside because they manage the crowd size quite closely, but we were happy we waited because the views from the top were pretty good.

We also had fun playing with our reflections in the mirrored center of the glass dome.

Can you see us smooching in the reflection?

After leaving the Reichstag, we headed down the street to the Brandenburg Gate. The last time I was in Berlin, they were doing restoration work on it, so I didn't actually see it, but just a painting of it that was covering it. Pretty much looked the same.

Just another few blocks away was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This was just completed in 2005, so it was new for both of us. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the design of the memorial, but I must say the the information center underneath it is exceptionally well done. It's small but intimate and provides a good combination of historical fact and personal story. My only real objection to the Memorial is that it only honors the Jews. What about the other persecuted groups such as the Gypsies?

We had a lot more on our schedule for the day, so we headed down to Potsdamer Platz. Potsdamer Platz used to lie in the no-mans-land created by the Berlin Wall. In 2002 when I visited it, it was a mess of construction with cranes everywhere. Now it's a bustling plaza full of very modern architecture that relies heavily on glass. One of the interesting things about Berlin is the way the city's history is revealed through its architecture. There are three very distinct styles: 1. Pre-World War II architecture. Most of this is pretty grandiose and typical of the 1800s. 2. Communist Era architecture. Very stark buildings or flowery wedding-cake style constructions. 3. Post-Reunification architecture. Very modern, as if it's making a statement that this is the new Berlin. It's pretty fascinating to see a city with so many faces.

From Potsdamer Platz, we began our search for lunch and ended up with our first doners of the trip. Mmm. Mmm.

Our next stop was Checkpoint Charlie. The building now standing is a reconstruction of the original, but it's still pretty interesting to think about what that building meant and what the wall meant and what it must have been to live in a divided city.

The sun was getting low by then, so we scurried off to the Topography of Terror, which is an outdoor display located on top of former Nazi Gestapo Headquarters...a pretty terrifying place. We took in as much as we could before it got too dark to read and we were kicked out.

Not yet done, we headed to the Jewish Museum, which offers a very interesting history of Jewish life in Germany. It's also a very well done museum, with a good mix of images and texts and plenty of hands-on activities to keep you interested. We made it through in two hours, but they were closing the doors as we headed out. Upon the recommendation of the coatcheck girl at the Museum (my German skills came in handy throughout the trip, and we were both glad to be in a country where we could communicate), we headed down to Kreuzberg for dinner. We ended up at an Italian restaurant named Primavera. It was a serious deal. We had bruschetta, two pasta dishes, a coke, a beer, and tiramisu for 20 euros.

And although we could have called it a night, we decided to take advantage of our all-day public transportation pass and take a double decker bus on a loop through town for a free bus tour. Eventually we ended up back at the hotel and asleep in bed.

(If I can get Blogger to upload the rest of my pictures, the rest of the trip will follow tomorrow.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What We Did In Berlin

From Jeff's To-Do List
1. Pergamon Museum
2. Reichstag
3. Holocaust Memorial
4. Potsdamer Platz
5. Checkpoint Charlie
6. Topography of Terror
7. Jewish Museum
8. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
9. East Side Gallery (Berlin Wall)
10. Karl-Marx Street
11. Potsdam--Sans Souci
12. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
13. Markets in Prenzlauer Berg

From Theresa's To-Do List
1. Doner Kebab (x2)
2. Schnitzel
3. Flammkuchen
4. Chocolate Croissants (x3)
5. Ritter Sport Bars (x3)
6. Currywurst (x1.5)
7. Hot Chocolate

We both ended up happy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Berlin Trip: Getting There

I was flying Delta to Berlin. I should have been wary. I've only flown Delta one other time internationally, and it was a bit of a fiasco. But the flight was cheap and the times were good. Of course, it was destined to not work out as well as it looked.

I got to the airport two plus hours ahead of time, so I felt on top of things. The line to check in was short, but the people in front of me were all military and all toting huge weapons that had to be unlocked, inspected, locked, certified...I don't know what else. Suffice it to say it took them a good while to get through the check-in process. But by 1:45, I was at the counter, and with a 3:15 departure, I was feeling good. Until the lady behind the counter started giving me funny looks. Uh-oh, I thought, can she not find my reservation? What's going on? Well what was going on was that the Delta flight I was booked on was delayed and would cause me to miss my connection in New York to Berlin. So she was switching me to an American Airline flight that would get me there in time. Fine...except that it left at 2:05 and it was now 1:50. Shit, I thought. Run, she said. So I did.

I begged my way to the front of security, fumbled with my shoes and luggage and hurried to the gate---only to find no one there. Crap, I figured, I missed it. So I head down to my original gate and talk to a not particularly friendly guy who told me the flight was just delayed but still ahead of my original flight so I should go wait for it. Fine. I go back, someone's there, she checks me in, and again I'm feeling good. I'm on my way. But, wait a second, what's that announcement. Oh yeah, the flight's now not just delayed, it's cancelled. Oh boy.

So it's back to Delta and my original flight. I only had an hour between the flights to begin with, so with the delay, making my connection is questionable. Trying to stay ahead of the game, I ask when the next flight out of JFK to Berlin is, and make them book me on it as a back-up. It's an hour later, connects through Paris (I was originally going direct), and gets me there four hours later than planned. Not the best, but so it goes, and I still have my fingers crossed that I'll make my original booking. I'm optimistic.

But optimism has never been my strong suit, and I remember why as the minutes tick by and no plane materializes. There's no no way I'm going to make the original connection. It's the later flight, I guess. I'm resigned. But then...what's that...worse news. JFK has grounded all incoming flights that have not yet taken off while they get caught up on other landings. The earliest the flight will leave DC is 5:35. There's no way I'll make either option now. So it's back in line and back to the desk to find out what the next option is.

Of course there's a next option right. It's still early. International flights leave all night long. But according to the guys behind the desk...rude, slow, and pretty much worthless...there is no other option. They swear they've searched everything. There's nothing they can do. I'll have to come back tomorrow and get on a flight that won't get me there until Friday. No way is my only thought. I'm mad. And I'm upset. I only have four days, I haven't seen Jeff in a month, and I just want to be there already. All optimism is gone. I don't know what to do, so I do what you do when you don't know what to do...I call home.

We set up a mom will look online while I call Delta. Of course, it takes forever to get through to a human, and with each moment I picture my last option flight taking off. I finally get through to a person, and he seems sympathetic and helpful. I beg him to get me out today and tell him that I will go anywhere, make as many connections as I have to, do whatever it takes to get to Berlin on Thursday as I was scheduled. Just please please please get me to Berlin. He looks and looks and then tells me he's found me an option...I'm thrilled. I want to hug the guy. Everything's going to work out. He puts me on hold to book it. I wait, and I wait, and I wait. It shouldn't take this long. And when he comes back, I know I'm right. I hear it in his voice when he says my name. He's sorry, but it won't work out. The flight's booked. Now I'm just pissed, but that doesn't get me anywhere either. He too says my only option is to go the next day.

No, no, no, no, no.

But there's a message from my mom, and I give her a call back. Online she's found a flight from BWI that goes to Atlanta, then to Paris, and then to Berlin. And according to her computer, there are still seats on these flights. Despite all the day's defeats, I'm still hopeful, for some reason. I just have to get there. So I go back to the desk and the unhelpful "customer service" people. I give him the flight numbers and he fiddles on his computer, the one that said there was no possible way for me to get to Berlin. "Oh yeah," he says after looking up the flights, "that should work." I just stare at him. It's now 5pm. I've been there all afternoon begging for a way to Berlin and he's been telling me there's nothing, but now, all casually, he's like "That will work." What? Are you kidding me? I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, but I didn't have time. The flight to Atlanta was leaving at 5:45 and I had to rush over to that desk to get booked. Fortunately, the woman at that desk is very kind and gets everything taken care of. My flight has an extra leg, is a good deal longer, and doesn't get me in to Berlin until 3pm (7 hours later than I was supposed to get there), but I will get there, and I'll get there on Thursday, as originally planned. I'm so relieved. It's been an emotional few hours, and I'm wiped out.

While the flight to Atlanta is fine, as is the one to Paris, the connection in Paris is a disaster. I'm supposed to have two hours between flights, but due to gross incompetence of the people unloading our plane, I end up having to run and make it onboard my flight to Berlin as the very last person. But I'm on it. And I make it to Berlin, and there's Jeff waiting for me. (Thanks to my amazing mom and her persistence in trying to get through to him and let him know that I'm not going to be there when he expects me.)

And I'm happy. The flights are behind me, Jeff's with me, and we have a few days together in front of us. Life is good, right?

(Pictures and more about what we did once I finally got there is forthcoming.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Off to Germany

Tomorrow I'm off to Berlin. Jeff has some time between his classes, and I have a long weekend thanks to the Veteran's Day holiday plus my Flex Day, so we're meeting up there. It was his choice--well I suggested three cities and he made the final decision. It's looking like it's going to be cold and rainy, but I don't think we expected it to be otherwise. It is November after all. And, of course, the main point of the trip is just to get to see each other. Although I must say that Jeff has a list a mile long of things he wants to do. I've been to Berlin once before, so my list is a bit shorter, but I'm happy to do a lot of the stuff again. It's such a fascinating city.

I'll be back Monday evening, so check back next week for an account of the trip and some pictures.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Tomorrow is Election Day. It's not a presidential election which means that turnout will probably be under 40%. Unfortunately, I bet that the over 60% of people who don't show up will still run their mouths about our government. Ugh. We might have more representative government if people would exercise their right and vote.

Anyhow, I strongly encourage you to go to the polls tomorrow and let your voice be heard. (Unless, of course, you plan to vote Republican!)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

This Is What My Family Photo Would Look Like

if I were an only child.

But I'm not. So this is just a picture of me, my mom, and my Dad in Shenandoah National Park.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween Treats

Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!

Doesn't my pumpkin look like it has ghoul eyes? It reminds me of the ghosts on Scooby Doo.

Remember Sixlets? Well, I've got 144 packs of them! Jeff and I were talking the other day about the Halloween candy we liked as kids. I couldn't find Sixlets in the stores anymore, but he found them online and had them sent to me. Apparently there was a two box minimum. Mmmm.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I Can Bake...Sometimes

If you've ever received a container of Christmas cookies from my mom or celebrated a holiday at my parents' house, you know that my mom is a great baker. She does excellent desserts--cookies, pies, cakes, breads, etc. While I think I'm a pretty decent cook, I'm not that much of a baker. I didn't really inherit my mom's talent. My brothers still like to remind me of the time I made chocolate chip cookies that tasted like nothing. I really have no idea how it happened--I couldn't think of anything I left out--but these cookies were awful. You'd be surprised how bad, as it seems pretty hard to mess up a simple chocolate chip cookie recipe. But I did. I've improved since then, but I don't get too adventurous with my baking. I think the exact nature of it is part of my problem. I like to estimate when I cook...that doesn't work so well with baking. But a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try out a recipe I found for a coffee cake, and it turned out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. The recipe's below if you want to try it out. It's a good fall treat, especially with the abundance of apples currently in the stores.

3 cups peeled, cored and coarsely chopped apples (3-4 hard, tart apples)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest or grated rind of 1 orange
4 large eggs
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

• Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan or 10-inch plain tube pan and set aside. In a small bowl, combine apples with brown sugar and cinnamon. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest.
• In a third bowl, beat eggs and oil until thick and creamy, about 2 minutes at high speed on electric mixer or with a balloon whisk. Incorporate egg and oil mixture into dry ingredients, then add orange juice and vanilla extract, if using, and beat just until moistened but blended. Do not overmix.
• Pour one third of the batter over bottom of prepared pan. (I thought it was more like dough than batter.) Cover evenly with half of apple mixture and then pour another one-third of the batter over apples. Use a spatula to smooth batter over the apples. Repeat if you have enough batter, but always end with a smooth layer of batter.
• Bake for about 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. (Mine only took 45 minutes, but I think my oven cooks hot. Just check on it so as not to burn it.) Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 1 hour. Invert onto a serving plate.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

My New Favorite Bookstore

Last weekend a friend of mine from work, introduced me to what may be the world's best bookstore. Books for America is a nonprofit organization that collects books and distributes them to disadvantaged people in the DC area with the goal of improving literacy. Recipients of the books include children from low-income families, schools that serve high-poverty populations, prisons, shelters, clinics, etc. The organization receives many, many donated books that are, however, not appropriate for these communities. So the organization has a store where the general public can purchase these books. The store is packed with books, and it's exceptionally well-organized (organization being the downfall of many used bookstores, in my opinion). Last weekend I picked up Bill Bryson's "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," Heinrich Boell's "Billiard um Halb Zehn" (In German! I haven't been able to find this book anywhere--libraries, major bookstores, etc!), and Franz Wisner's "Honeymoon with my Brother" for a grand total of $7. What a deal, especially considering the books are in great shape--I'm not even sure some of them have been read. Plus, the best part is that you feel good about buying these books because every dollar you spend goes directly towards buying the books needed by the disadvantaged populations served by Books for America. Everybody wins!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bike + Wet Leaves = No Good

Yesterday it rained. Overnight it poured. I woke up at 6am and heard it coming down hard. When I got out of bed around 9am, however, everything had cleared, and it was a beautiful day. Blue skies, puffy clouds, and decent temperatures. So I decided to pull my bike out of storage and take it for what might be a last ride before winter sets in. I decided to ride through Rock Creek Park for a number of reasons: it's nearby, it's always busy (when riding alone, I don't like to be in isolated places), and it's pretty. Today it was particularly pretty with the trees changing. A few times, red, yellow, and orange leaves showered down on me. A couple of big puddles got me wet, but for the most part it was a nice ride. Then I got back to the house and decided to ride my bike through the yard up to the front door, as I always do. Ooops. Bikes don't like to go uphill on a carpet of wet leaves topping wet grass. My bike completely flew out from under me, and I ended up laying in the wet yard with the bike on top of me. I've got some "carpet" burn and a few bruises as evidence. I'm fine though. And I'm sure it looked pretty funny.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What I've Noticed So Far

Things That Are Easier With Jeff Gone
1. Driving. I don't have to fix the seat and the mirrors every time I get in the car.
2. Getting up. There's no one keeping me in bed.
3. Brushing my teeth. It's a small bathroom.

Things That Are Harder With Jeff Gone
1. Cooking. Who wants to cook for one?
2. Going to bed. It's a big bed for just me.
3. Staying warm in bed. It's 98.6 degrees cooler than normal.
4. Remembering to get the mail. That was his job.
5. Cleaning the bathtub. He's got more elbow grease than I do.
6. Changing the light that's flickering in the kitchen. I'm not quite tall enough.
7. Bringing the groceries in. So many more trips now. Same with laundry.
8. Going out at night. I hate coming home in the dark.
9. Watching commercials. Why do they have to put commercials for scary things on during family programming?
10. Having fun. Everything's just more fun with Jeff.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Quiet House

Jeff left on Wednesday for Sweden, where he will be taking classes and working in the lab until December 2. The day after he left, however, my parents came for a visit. They just left this evening, and now the house seems really quiet.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My Favorite Benefit

Although it's only Tuesday evening, my work week is already halfway over. Last week I started a compressed schedule, which means I work nine hours Monday through Thursday and then eight hours on the first Friday of the pay period with the second Friday off. I'm very much looking forward to having long weekends every other week. And while there are some days when nine hours seems long, the extra hours never feel anywhere as long as a whole day. Once I'm at work, staying an extra hour isn't that big of a deal. But sleeping in an extra hour on Friday because I don't have to go to work is pretty sweet.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

An Essay for Thought

I found this editorial about religious tolerance and our relationship with the Muslim world to be well-written and to nicely express a view I've been trying to formulate into words. I suggest you read it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Rest of the Arizona Trip

We were still on Canyon time the day after the trip, so we were both awake at about 5:30am. Decided to go on out and catch the sunrise, which was nice. Most of the tourists were still asleep, so it was quiet. Once it was up, we had some hot chocolate before heading back to the room and deciding to go back to bed for a bit. The temperature difference between the bottom of the Canyon and the rim is astounding. It was always hot down below, but mornings and evenings at the rim were cold. Anyhow, in the early afternoon, our friends Megan and Bryan showed up at the Canyon. Clouds were moving in and about an hour after they arrived, it started to rain. It was kind of neat. We stayed at the Canyon till late afternoon catching out different vantage points and then started towards Flagstaff. In Flagstaff, we walked around a bit--cute, small town with tons of outdoors stores--and then went to dinner at Beaver Creek Brewery, which had excellent wood oven pizzas. We left as they were closing up shop and went to our hotel where we promptly hit the sack.

The next morning we met some friends of Megan's at La Bellavia--a small breakfast place popular with the locals. I had a standard eggs, potatoes, and toast, but Megan was adventurous and tried their speciality, a Swedish pancake, which was basically a pancake made out of oatmeal. It was ridiculously huge--two inches thick and the size of a dinner plate. And to think you can order a stack of three! After breakfast, we headed to the Lava River Cave on the outskirts of town. I was expecting it to be like the lava tubes we'd wandered through in Volcano but it wasn't nearly as smooth and was a bit longer at 3/4 mile. Luckily we had our headlamps and jackets as it was also pitchblack and cold (in the 30s). It was neat, but my favorite part of it all was the road that led back to it. It was a little gravel road bordered with Ponderosa pines and aspens under which a carpet of red, yellow, and purple wildflowers grew. It was gorgeous. And it smelled amazing.

By that afternoon, we were on the outskirts of Sedona at Slide Rock. Slide Rock is a natural waterpark, where you slide in rushes of water down natural rock slides. It was really fun. A stop at Dairy Queen and few more miles of driving later, and we were in Sedona, which was at once both strikingly beautiful and distressingly tacky. The red rocks were gorgeous and there were some great art galleries, but there were also terribly kitschy souvenir stores and such. The success of the town was spoiling it. But we headed up to the airport vortex (nom I didn't feel the supposed spiritual power of the place), where we were treated to a fabulous sunset. The sky was full of huge clouds which turned shades of orange and pink as the sun descended. Rain moved in as it got dark, and we set our sights on Phoenix. Around 9:00pm, we were pulling into Megan and Bryan's driveway.

We spent the next three days hanging out with Megan and Bryan as they showed us around their temporary hometown. We visited the gallery where Megan works along with a few of her other favorites. We met some of their friends at a cookout at their house. And we hiked South Mountain with Bryan so that I could see some big cacti.

On Monday, which was Jeff's 25th birthday, we went out to breakfast, where we were given a free dessert. (We just wanted a candle to stick in his breakfast, but we got a brownie too.) Then it was off to the airport and a flight back to DC. I don't think we could have had a better trip. We had quite the adventure in the Grand Canyon and then we got to spend a few fun days with friends. It was perfect.

And here are a few pictures from the post-Grand Canyon part of the trip. Enjoy!

Aug 31, 2006 - 49 Photos

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Grand Canyon Photos

Click on the image below to be taken to our online photo album. All of these photos are from the Grand Canyon. There are a lot of photos (but I actually cut about 100 from the album!) and some will certainly seem monotonous, but hopefully they'll be enjoyable.

Grand Canyon
Aug 25, 2006 - 217 Photos

Check back later for details on the rest of our trip and pictures from Flagstaff, Sedona, and Phoenix.

Grand Canyon Trip - Part Three

Day 5
It's our last day on the river, and it's full of big rapids. The walls are high now, and it will be late in the day until the sun makes it way onto us. I put on my rain gear in the hopes of staying at least a little dry and not too muddy. Right away we hit Tanner, which is only ranked a 4 on a scale of 10, but which does involve a drop of twenty feet. The rapids today are not only big, but also long. After making it through Tanner, we make a brief stop to check out some Anasazi ruins, which this time include pottery shards, some even painted. We also get a sneak peak at Unkar Rapid, which is just around the bend and is one of many rapids we'll face today with a rank of 7 or higher. The river runs quickly thanks to all the rapids and we move through the miles quickly. Right before Hance Rapid, an 8 that is considered technically very difficult because of the huge rocks scattered across it just far enough apart from each other for a well-guided boat to squeeze through, we pull up for the boatmen to get a look at it and make a plan. The roar of it is deafening, and my imagination goes wild. We haven't ever stopped to look at a rapid before. But there's no way to go but through it, so we're soon in the boat heading toward the madly churning water. We head in backwards and then twist and turn to avoid slamming into a rock. The water washes over us and fills the boat up to mid-shin. As soon as the water is calm enough, we begin to bail. I can't even count how many full buckets we tossed back into the river.

We have lunch shortly after we make it through Hance - everyone exhilarated by exhausted. Back in the boat, we get some of my favorite views of the entire trip. The canyon is very dramatic. It's fairly narrow with the rocks slamming straight into the river. No beaches or brush. And a black schist rock has now appeared, marbled with pink and white granite. It's gorgeous. In the afternoon, we encounter three more large rapids--Sockdolager, Grapevine, and 83 Mile--before we stop at Clear Creek for a hike. We first scramble off hot, sharp black rocks before scurrying down into the creek. We follow the bed, which takes tiny little drops and bubbles over smooth rocks, before reaching the goal of our trip: a horizontal waterfall. There's actually also a vertical waterfall, but the horizontal is more fun. Both flow out with the force of a firehose, and we take turns being blasted by the warm, clean water. It's a cleansing of sorts, and it feels good. Unfortunately back on the river, there's one more big rapid--Zoroaster--awaiting us, so we all end up dirty again. Oh well.

We set up camp at Cremation. It's named aptly as it's burning hot. We're only about a mile from Phantom Ranch, where many day hikers take refuge for the night, but we're far enough away that the solitude remains intact. For dinner, we stock up on carbs: spaghetti with a delicious meat and vegetable sauce, ravioli, salad, garlic bread, and strawberry shortcake. We watch the sun set over the river for the last time and then we lay in awe under the stars. It's been a perfect trip.

Day 6
We're up early. We take our tent down and squeeze all of our gear into our backpacks. They seem fuller and heavier than they did before. I'm sure it's just the reality of knowing we'll be carrying them out that makes it seem that way. They have breakfast--blueberry pancakes, bacon, and fruit--ready for those of us who are hiking out. We say our goodbyes to those staying on to raft the lower half of the river, and then Jeff and I load ourselves into the dory. The others are in another boat, as they are all using the mule duffel service instead of carrying their bags and must stop at Phantom Ranch. Jeff and I are taken past Phantom Ranch to the point where the Bright Angel Trail sweeps down to the river and then begins it long ascent to the rim. This cuts two miles off the hike, but we still face 8 miles of uphill climb. Right at 7:00 a.m. We take our first steps. Almost immediately, we go around a curve and lose sight of the river. The pack feels heavy at first, but I adjust quickly. I lead the way so that I can set the pace. The trail has no mile markers so we have no idea how far we've gone, but we stop after an hour for a short ten minute break for water and a snack. About 45 minutes after we restart, we hit Indian Gardens, which is 3.2 miles from the river, yet still 4.6 miles from the rim. There's a bathroom and water, so we stop for a bit longer here. As we exit the Gardens, we come across a huge snake draped across the trail. It was striped yellow and black and must have been 8 feet long. I was just glad it wasn't a rattlesnake. As we walk, we move through layer after layer of rock. The incline on the trail never seems to be too much, but there's no doubt that we're always moving up. Before Indian Gardens, we didn't see any mule trains, but we now begin to have them pass us as they make their way down to the bottom, laden down with tourists, most swaying back and forth like rag dolls. The mules kick up all kinds of dust and leave huge puddles of pee in the path along with a lot of crap. I come to hate them quickly.

After another hour, we're at the 3 mile rest stop and decide to have our lunch although it's only a little after 10am. We're making about 1.5 miles per hour, which seems pretty good to both us. Afterall, we're moving up hill, it's pretty darn hot, and I'm carrying the equivalent of 25% of my body weight on my back. Unfortunately just as we're about to leave the 3 mile rest stop a mule train on its way up passes us. We're stuck behind it--which as you can imagine isn't too pleasant--and the mules break frequently, messing with our pace. After about a mile, we're given the go-ahead to pass, but have to hightail it for a while to put some distance between us and the mules. We reach the 1.5 mile rest stop a little ahead of schedule, but then fall behind there. The mule train has passed once again, and instead of trailing it for the rest of the trip, we just extend our break to let it get far enough ahead that it's not an issue. At this point, we begin to see more casual hikers, most of whom I find irritating. A number of them are wearing flip-flops and carrying nothing but a camera. They clearly had no idea what they were doing, and I wondered if any of them had considered that once they got down, they then had to get back up. At least carry water for goodness sakes!

Overall the hike had gone well. We were both still smiling and laughing. We hadn't hurt anything. And the views were nice. The last 1.5 miles was hard, however. We were getting tired and we could see the end but we couldn't quite reach it. Long switchbacks kept sending us in the seemingly wrong direction. I just wanted a staircase to take me straight up. But we kept our sense of humor and kept putting one foot in front of the other. Fortunately that worked out, and at 12:30, 5.5 hours after we had begun, we reached the trailhead. We had made it.

Unfortunately, our speed meant that the room we had reserved at Bright Angel Lodge wasn't yet available for us. So we had some ice cream, checked out the views, and even walked about 2 more miles along the rim, checking out the different hotels, gift shops, artist studios, and viewpoints. At 4:00pm on the nose, we checked into our room and promptly hopped in the shower. Hot water. Soap. Shampoo. A flush toilet. It was heavenly. Clean (but in semi-dirty clothes), we went to dinner and then watched the sun set over the canyon. Still on canyon time, we were snoozing soundly by 9:00pm. The river, which couldn't even be seen from the South Rim, was nothing but a memory...and a dream as both Jeff and I woke up in the middle of the night thinking the sound of the fan was the sound of a rapid. It stays with you. And calls you back. I know that one day we'll be back, finishing up the trip with a run through the lower canyon.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Grand Canyon Trip - Part Two

Day 3
Wake up to pancakes, bacon, and fruit. It had been a cool night with camp set up close to the water, and we'd slept well. Good thing, as Jeff had plans to get me moving quickly. When we'd booked our trip, Jeff had seen on the Moki Mac Web site a picture of a duckie, or an inflatable kayak, that was sometimes brought on rafting trips. The night before we left, he'd made a special request that the boat come on our trip and they'd obliged. This morning, we found it inflated and ready to go. Jeff volunteered us for the first turn, and I gamely agreed. Clearly I wasn't yet thinking straight. First of all, the kayak is self-bilging, which is just a fancy way of saying it has holes in the bottom to let the water out (and thus in). So I started my day by sitting in a few inches of fifty-four degree water. About the time my butt lost feeling, my brain started coming to life, and I realized that we wouldn't see the sun for hours down where we were because of the steep walls. Nothing to dry me or warm me. But they said it was a smooth ride today, so really I shouldn't get too wet...oh except for that very first rapid we had to go through before we got to the smooth part. But there was no changing my mind. I was already wet, the other boats were loaded and pulling out, and I didn't want to look like a weenie. So off we went. The paddles were short and awkward, and we were just getting the hang of it when we were swept into the rapid. The guides had told us to hit the waves straight on or risk being flipped. So I paddled madly all the while yelling to Jeff, the steerer, "Straight. Straight. Straaiiight." We didn't exactly go straight through it all, but we must have gone straight enough because we didn't flip. We did, however, have a huge wave wash right over us. Luckily we were paddling too hard to be cold.

A few miles later we pulled over for a hike to see Devonian River Channels. I can't really explain the geology of it all, so don't ask me, but the rocks were pretty. When we returned to the boats, we gave up our spots in the duckie so that we could warm up while stretched out on a raft. All in all the river was smooth that day, but that wasn't enough to keep us dry. With no rapids to worry about, the guides pulled out huge water canyons and started a fight amongst boats. Soon the five-gallon bailing buckets were being filled and tossed. We all might as well have jumped in the river, although I'm not sure that would have been as fun.

We stopped early in the afternoon and set up camp on a beautiful open beach. The majority of us then went on a long hike (about 3 hours roundtrip). It was a great hike that involved wading through a creek, scaling up a small waterfall, and then playing under a 30 foot waterfall. Dinner was again delicious: pork chops, asparagus, yams, salad, applesauce, and spice cake. We were in camp early, so we had a lot of time to sit around and chat, and Jeff got into a few games of horse shoes. (Yes, I really think they carried everything on these boats.)

Day 4
Woke up this morning to a coyote's call--a few short barks followed by a long howl, all of which echoed back and forth across the canyon. We had French toast for breakfast, and they even had brown sugar to top it with, so I was happy. We decided to start this morning in the dory, a wooden boat reminiscent of the ones the early explorers took through the canyon. It rode higher in the water than the ferries, so was less susceptible to splashes, but it wasn't as stable, so was more prone to flipping over. Fortunately, there weren't any huge rapids in our immediate future. In the morning, we stopped at a site called Nankoweap, where graineries had been cut into the canyon walls for the storage of food by early Indians. The hike up to these graineries was pretty much straight up and absolutely shadeless. This was by far the hottest day of the trip with not a single cloud or wisp of cloud in the sky. We were told the temperature hovered near 107. Fortunately, the view from the top of the trail, supposedly the most photographed view within the canyon, was stunning. Looking down and out, we could see the Colorado winding back and forth like a snake in the sun. After the hike, we headed on down the river again for a few miles before stopping for lunch. At this point, I switched from the dory to the raft. I found the dory to be a bit stifling, as the higher sides limited the breeze and the ability to cool myself with a splash of water. Jeff switched to the duckie for a little more action than I was up for.

In the afternoon, we came to a rather large rapid at mile 60. We were making it through with the usual amount of bumping and splashing when a bunch of waves came together to make what seemed like a tsunami. The front of the boat hit it hard, getting soaked, while the back, where I was, was flung high into the air. I held on tightly and hoped to land back in the boat. I did, and oddly enough, I didn't even get wet. I have to admit I got a little nervous at this point about Jeff's odds of making it through the rapid still in the duckie, but they got lucky and didn't hit anything mean like we did. In fact, he said he didn't even get as wet as we had gotten in the early rapid yesterday. Strange how the river is so unpredictable. A few miles later, we arrived at the point where the Little Colorado joins with the Colorado. Sometimes this river is a perfectly clear blue ideally suited for floating down with your life jacket upside down like a diaper. Unfortunately, it wasn't that way when we arrived. In fact, recent rains had turned it into a torrent of mud as thick as chocolate pudding. Jeff got out to explore and almost lost his shoes as the mud tried to suck them off his feet.

A few miles later we stopped for the night and set up camp. It was still blazing, so we all pretty much settled into the shade and did a lot of nothing until the sun went behind the walls. The water, while not quite as muddy as it was back at the Little Colorado, was still thick. I was glad to have brought wet wipes because there certainly wasn't going to be any washing in the river. Dinner was catfish, portabello mushrooms, salad, and rice and beans with chocolate cake for dessert. After we got in our tent, I saw the most fantastic shooting star I've ever seen. It was magnificently bright with a trail that seemed to stretch all the way across the sky. I love the hour before we fall asleep. It's dark except for the shine of the stars. It's quiet except for the dull roar of upcoming rapids. I feel like a small speck in the world, but at the same time, I feel completely secure about where I am, who I am.

Tune in tomorrow for the last two days in the Grand Canyon. I also hope to have a link to pictures up.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Grand Canyon Trip - Part One

I first saw the Grand Canyon when I was twelve. It was a broad expanse of plateau and gorge painted in sunlight and shadow. It was breathtaking, beautiful, and beyond comprehension. And that was from the rim. Our stop at the Grand Canyon was part of a summer-long roadtrip around the country, and my youngest brother was only five, so we didn't venture down into the Canyon. But I knew then that I would one day be back.

Years later I saw a documentary that said there were three ways to get down into the Canyon: hike, ride a mule, or raft. The choice was obvious to me. I'd raft. It was clearly the best way to see the most and to have an adventure while doing it. So for years, rafting the Grand Canyon sat on my list of things I'd like to do. When my friends Megan and Bryan moved to Arizona last year, I started thinking about going to visit them at some point and then realized that this was my chance to get down into the Canyon. So after determining a general date range and type of trip, talking to the various outfitters that run trips, and scouring the Internet for reviews, I booked us on a 6-day oar powered rafting trip of the Upper Grand Canyon with Moki Mac. This was back in December, and the trip seemed to be a long way off. But as usual, time flew, and on Friday, August 25, Jeff and I found ourselves in an 18 foot raft floating down the mighty Colorado.

Day 1
Our group, fifteen people ranging in age from eighteen to mid-sixties with a skew toward the older side, met the night before we took off for an orientation session at Marble Canyon. We packed our gear into watertight bags, picked up last minute items, and spent out last night above the rim. We started day one at 8am with a trip down to Lee's Ferry, where the voyage was to begin. There were six boats total: four 18 foot rafts that could hold four passengers each, one baggage raft, and one dory (small wooden boat that could hold 3 passengers). By 9:30 we'd loaded all the rafts, filled up all our water bottles, used a flush toilet for the last time, gotten into our life jackets, picked a boat, and set off. For about a mile, the water was clear. Then a creek flowed in bringing the Colorado to its naturally muddy state. Jeff and I rode with Grant, the oldest of the boatman at mid-60. He'd run the whole length of the Colorado nearly sixty-five times, both on commercial and private trips, and he knew it like the back of his hand. We covered 19 miles that first day. Along the way we saw a couple of baby big horn sheep, rode through many small rapids, and went through one rapid big enough to elicit a wild "yahoo" from Grant. The water, in the mid-50s, was freezing. The sun, with temperatures near 100, was searing. It balanced out for a pleasant ride, although the cold of the water was always shocking. The amusing thing was that it seemed everyone's reaction to being completely washed over by freezing cold waves was to laugh. It was exhilirating.

By mid-afternoon, we'd stopped to set up camp. Night comes early down in the Canyon, so you don't want to be caught out on the water as the sun sneaks behind the canyon walls. Tents went up, sleeping bags were arranged, and we all gathered near the water as the crew prepared dinner. Hot soup and cheese and crackers first. Then a feast like nothing I expected: steak, corn on the cob, salad, potatoes, and brownies. By seven, it was dark enough that I couldn't see to write in my journal anymore. By eight, the sky was black velvet illuminated by billions of stars. Shooting stars came one after another. Satellites could easily be picked out. It was phenomenal. By nine, we were asleep, lulled by the gentle roar of the rapids that lay ahead.

Day 2
Like night, morning comes early. By five, first light was tickling our eyes. At six, the call for "hot coffee" echoed across the canyon. By seven, we were feasting on eggs, toast, and fruit. Eight o'clock, and we were on the river. Floated down just a few hundred yards before stopping in North Canyon, where we hiked to a beautiful rock formation with natural water slide and pool. The reflection of the striated walls in the perfectly flat water was mesmerizing. Back on the river, it was rapid after rapid as we moved through the "Roaring Twenties". Lunch break lasts about an hour, with sandwiches, fruit, and lots of salty snacks. We rode with Steiner today, a 43 year old who looks about 30. His boat is stocked with maps and books on geology and plant and animal life. There's not a question he can't answer. Made a couple of stops in the afternoon: once to see Anasazi ruins, once to gather cold, clear water from a spring, and once at Red Wall Cavern, which Powell claimed could seat 50,000 people although I think he must have been thinking of leprechauns as it was big but not stadium-sized. Night-time is the same. Set up camp, eat dinner (tonight stir fry, pot stickers, fortune cookies...), chat with fellow boaters and crew, marvel at the stars, sleep. Each day, new layers of rock have appeared and the walls push higher and higher. As the sun plays on them, they glow different shades of red, orange, and yellow. It's so quiet down in the canyon. So peaceful.

--I'll continue throughout the week, and I'll hopefully be able to get some pictures up soon, so check back for more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Exploring We Go

We're off to the Grand Canyon. My backpack is down to 18 lbs of essentials. Sleeping bag and pad, bathing suits, hiking shorts and pants, shoes and sandals, a few toiletries, binoculars, camera, etc. We'll spend five days rafting the upper part of the Canyon, from Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch. We'll then spend the better part of one day hiking out - nearly 10 miles, all uphill. The last few days we'll spend with friends in Phoenix. I'm so excited. I've wanted to do this forever. We'll be back on Labor Day (aka Jeff's birthday), and I'll hopefully have photos up soon after that. Have a great week and a half!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Just Our Luck

Of course this would be the weekend we're flying. Jeff and I were going to be in Louisville for all of 32 hours. All we needed was a change of clothes, a bathing suit, and toiletries. Perfect carry-on luggage. But not now. Now we're avoiding carrying on anything but our essentials in the hopes that we pass through security without too much issue. And I don't think our habit of showing up an hour to forty-five minutes before our flight is going to work this weekend. Guess it's a good thing that we didn't change our flight from the Sunday night flight to the Monday morning flight. That would have been really early. Oh well. So it goes. We'll just grin and bear it because there isn't a darn thing we can do about it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Thoughts in Print

I recommend you visit the Washington Post to read the essay I wrote which appeared in today's paper. There's even a photo of me accompanying it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Photos from the San Juan Islands

Hotel at Roche Harbor. Roche Harbor is on the opposite side of San Juan island from the ferry docks and is where many private boats dock. The hotel is historic and rather picturesque with beautiful gardens in front and a nice view of the water and the insane yachts harbored there.

Gardens at Roche Harbor

This is a small Catholic church perched up on a rocky crag next to the hotel. Very quaint.

Westcott Bay Sculpture Park. Jeff and I making silly faces into one of the sculptures. There were a lot of sculptures spread out over five acres, and it was really nice to wander around.

Lighthouse at Lime Kiln Park. The park is one of the best places for spotting Orcas from land. We didn't see any while we were at the park, but we did see a pod of porpoises and this lovely lighthouse.

Pelindaba Lavender Farms. The fields were just pure purple (and buzzing because of all the bees).

Jeff skipping rocks at South Beach. We were looking for whales again, but no luck.

But then later on while driving along the coast, we spotted a huge pod of orcas right off shore. We could hear them blow, and we spent about half an hour watching them jump and show off. (Yes, it would be nice if we had better zoom, but at full size, you can definitely see this whale jumping.)

In the evening, we went on a sunset kayak tour. We saw a seal, a bald eagle, and a large buck up on land. We also kayaked through a huge kelp garden and past some insane houses. The sunset was very nice. And as we were leaving, we saw two red foxes.

The San Juans are a beautiful place. This is the view from atop Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Is This The New American Dream?

In reference to my post of 7/14, a New York Times article about luxury bathrooms.

Does anyone else think eating in the bathroom is disgusting?

And I can't be the only one who thinks it is absurd that one of the bathrooms referenced in this article is more than 1/2 the size of my home.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Comment Policy

As sole author and editor of this blog, I establish the following policy regarding comments.

1. All comments must contain the author's name. If you have a blogger account, Choose the box tagged "Blogger," and then sign in with your username and password. If you do not have a blogger account and wish to leave a comment, choose the box tagged "Other," and then type your name. You must type your actual name. Any comments registered as Anonymous (whether comments are positive or negative in nature) will be deleted, as will any comments posted under a false name.

2. Comments are encouraged, and I completely respect anyone's right to disagree with anything I have written. I do require, however, that you make all comments (whether in agreement, disagreement, or whatever) in a respectful manner. I reserve the right to delete any comments that I consider to be vulgar or offensive.

3. Do not leave spam. And I mean this in the broadest sense.

I hate to have to establish a Comments policy, but a proliferation of Anonymous comments (of all nature - positive, negative, and completely inane spamlike comments) have left me frustrated. I implemented Comment Moderation briefly in order to delete them before they even appeared, but I don't like slowing the comment process by those who have interesting and relevant things to stay. Instead I am hoping that people respect the policy, and if not, I will delete any comments any offenders leave. (Why? Well, just like your mom once told you...Because I'm in charge and I said so!)

So family, friends, and others who have intelligent and interesting things to say, please continue leaving your thoughts. Those who are still trying to figure out what inane means...go away.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Culture of Want

Last Friday, Jeff, Gregory, and I went to the movies. Because the movie we wanted to see was popular, we were only able to get tickets for a show starting about an hour and a half after we arrived. Fortunately the theater was located in an area of "downtown revitalization" so we weren't forced to sit in the theater and stare at movie posters, but could walk through the area, which was filled with restaurants, bars, stores, and commercial enterprises of every sort. We wandered past most, but only ducked into two: Bombay, where we like to browse, and Borders, where we listened to music and perused books. There were other stores of interest - a DSW, for instance - but I refused to let myself go in. The reason: there was nothing I needed. Had I gone in, however, I very likely would have found something I wanted. And then I might have bought it...simply because I wanted it.

A few days after we went to the theater, I was reading the Washington Post and came across an article about the growing popularity of luxury items in homes. Marble countertops, walk-in closets the size of dorm rooms, showers with five showerheads, nine car garages, theater rooms, exotic woods floors, heated toilet seats. The list goes on. The owners of these luxuries were all quoted saying some variation of "I earned it" or "I deserve it." I have to wonder if they truly believe that. And if so, just what they have done to deserve these luxuries.

By American standards, by legal standards, these people have done nothing wrong. They do indeed have the right to build homes as large and as fancy as they want. If we so choose, we can fill walk-in closets with shoes or buy a new dress for every wedding we're invited to. If we can afford it (or are willing to take on the debt), we can have pretty much whatever we want, no questions asked. But perhaps there are some questions we should ask, questions like: Do I have the moral or ethical right to this? When there are people in the world without potable water, do I have the right to luxuriate for 30 minutes in my five showerhead shower? When century old forests are being destroyed and land is at a premium, do I have the right to a five thousand square foot home? When the world's gas supply is dwindling and pollution is rising, do I have the right to drive a car that gets 10 miles per gallon?

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I think the answer to these questions is "No." Yes, I know that you not buying a pair of shoes isn't directly going to feed a starving child in Africa (or America). And conserving energy in America isn't going to bring reliable electricity to Iraq. But what if we started spending our luxury money on making sure others have necessities? What if we realized that making more money doesn't entitle us to more natural resources? What if we started thinking about how the choices we make affect others? What if we learned to distinguish want from need?

I'll go ahead and be the first to admit that I am selfish, that I stand in the shower for too long, that I don't give enough to others, that I buy things I have no use for, that I lust after beautiful homes. I want. It's hard not to here in America, in a culture where most of our stores are here to fulfill desires, not needs. Where we all, admitted or not, have some desire to keep up with, if not get ahead of, the Joneses. We want people to admire our homes, our cars, our clothes. But we don't really need that, do we?

Aside from the adventure of travel and the wonder of seeing places I've only dreamed of, I think one of my motivations for wanting to do an around the world trip is to force myself to recognize how little I truly need and to acknowledge how much I've been given. Living out of one backpack, I'll hopefully recognize the frivolity of a pair of shoes for every outfit. Experiencing firsthand the poverty in which so much of the world lives, I hope to lose any desire for useless rooms and extravagant trappings. I want to learn to live simply. Not to deprive myself, but to be appreciative of my life and circumstances, of the fragility of fate that let me be born who I am, where I am. I long to be able to differentiate need from want and to choose my wants carefully. To ask only for shelter over my head, food on my table, health, good stories, and laughter...and friends and family with whom to share it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I have my own office with a door and a nameplate. I'm going to have to go in early when no one else is there and take a photo. I also have my own electric pencil sharpener. Life is good.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Three Years, Three Jobs...Time for Number Four

Friday July 7 was my last day at The Children's Partnership. If I mention that I first started there on June 20, 2005, perhaps you won't be surprised that I've left this job. That was after all, a span of one year and seventeen days between my first and last day, which is actually a record length of time spent at one job in my post-college life. In the three years since I graduated, I have had three jobs. This is the first job, however, that I have actually quit, since my first two jobs were offered and accepted with the understanding that they would only last for a year.

Quitting a job is awkward, especially when your office consists of only you and one other person at the time you give your resignation. But it was something I needed to do, and I survived even despite my abnormally strong dislike of any sort of confrontation. And no, it wasn't actually confrontational by normal standards, but considering I find returning unused items to a store to be a sort of confrontation, this was seriously confrontational for me. Ohh the discomfort. What exactly am I supposed to say to remarks like "I'm in shock" or "This is such a huge loss for us." I mean, I know it's a huge loss...I'm pretty irreplacable. But it's not like I can say that - I act humble, even if I'm not. (kidding, kidding)

I wonder what it says about me that I have had so many jobs in such a short span. Clearly, it hasn't hurt me as I've always had another job lined up to replace whatever job I'm leaving, but I haven't met too many other people who are on the same path as I am. I mean I know people who've worked at coffee shops longer than I've worked at professional jobs. I like to tell myself that I just haven't found the right job yet, and that when I do, I'll stay there. (I mean, I did stay at the Louisville Zoo for three years, so it's not like I have no sense of job commitment...) But part of me wonders if I just have unreasonable expectations and am too difficult to satisfy.

I have a hard time accepting the idea that work is just something I have to do, whether I like it or not. If I only get this one life, I don't want to spend most of it doing something I don't like. That can't be the point of life, can it? Working for a paycheck just doesn't cut it for me. I need stimulation and challenges. I want to think that what I am doing is important and is somehow leaving a positive mark on the world. I want to feel that although I may be able to think of other ways that I might want to spend my time, that just maybe I'd want to do what I'm doing at work even if it wasn't my job. I know that's probably not all that reasonable, but I don't think it should be entirely impossible. In fact, I'm hoping that my new job proves it even a teensy bit reasonable. I'll let you know. Tomorrow's my first day as Editor at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Monday, July 03, 2006

Weddings Galore

At the time Jeff and I got married last year, a number of my friends were already married or engaged while very few of Jeff's were. Jeff loved to exaggerate this, acting as if I were dragging him off to a wedding every weekend. Well the table's have now turned and Jeff's going to have to shut his mouth, because it now seems as if every single person Jeff knows is getting married. While the only wedding I have on my agenda for the next year is Despina's (yay!), Jeff's list is exceptionally long. It includes

1. Chris & Jackie - Summer 2006
2. Phil & Rian - Fall 2006
3. Jayanth & Fiona - Fall 2006
4. Tony & Katie - Winter 2006
5. Alison & Chris - Summer 2007

So really it looks like Jeff's friends are just latebloomers. Although he claims the resason that they're all getting married now is because he showed them how you can be married and still be cool. Um-hum. Riiiight.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Questioning Israel

I don't get Israel. And I don't get why the United States is such a strong ally of Israel. I sometimes feel as if we all let Israel get away with things that we would not stand from any other country because of guilt. The world (aside from the Muslim world which suffers from denial) suffers from collective guilt over the Holocaust. Of course, the Holocaust was one of the world's greatest tragedies and its perpetrators, in various forms, were numerous. But there are three important facts here that we seem to overlook:
1. The Holocaust happened over sixty years ago. The majority of victims and perpetrators are gone. We are not guilty of the sins of our fathers. It is an event to remember and learn from, but not an event whose shadow we should always live in.
2. It is impossible to make up for the Holocaust. Millions of people lost their lives in extremely savage ways. Millions of others suffered horribly. Entire families were lost. No land, no looking the other way, no monetary gifts can make up for that.
3. Being wronged does not give you the right to wrong others.

My first question: Why exactly is Israel entitled to the land that they have been given or have taken over? The Israeli argument is that their land is the land promised to them by God. That it is, was, and always will be the land of the Jewish people. I don't understand how that argument holds any legitimacy in today's world. Why do we all bend to their religious beliefs when we certainly don't bend to any other denominations? How can historical ownership be the criteria for present day ownership? Wouldn't that then give older countries or former colonizers the right to land that they once held? And if it always was intended to be their land, why did so many of them give it up and disperse throughout the world before later reclaiming it (and what rights should they have had to it at that point)? Before the Holocaust, the land was the Palestinian territory and was administered by Britain. While many Jews did live there, the prevailing thought of many was that the land, once relinquished by Britain, was to become Palestine. Instead, partially because of the Holocaust, the land became Israel, and the Palestinians are still without a homeland. How can any of this be considered legitimate?

My second question: Why does Israel believe in exchanging violence for violence? I understand that it must be difficult to live surrounded by people who hate you, who don't recognize your right to exist, and who would love to see your country annihilated. And while a number of the countries are openly hostile to Israel, some have made great strides towards, if not being friendly, at least coexisting despite the tensions. As a nation of people who have been the victims of some of the world's worst violence, it seems to me that there would be a general abhorrence of violence and a desire to avoid it at all costs. But perhaps a desire for vengeance is stronger, even if the revenge is carried out on those not responsible for the original act of violence? The fact is that violence does not end violence, but instead breeds it. Missile attacks, which kill civilians intentionally or accidentally, do not create friends. The cutting off of entire villages from supplies does not breed goodwill. As the movie "Munich" depicted, whenever an evil is destroyed, another, usually stronger and more radical, pops up to take its place. There has to be a point when you quit playing tit for tat. Military force and violence should be reserved for the most dire of situations, not every act perceived as malicious. As long as military force is the first, or only, option, there will be no peace in the Middle East.

Clearly, I am no expert on these issues. And I don't mean to imply that Israel alone is at fault for the current situation. There is obviously plenty of blame to go around. I am simply trying to understand why we tend to heap the blame on the Palestinians while turning a blind eye to the equivalent actions of Israel. I do think that Israel deserves to exist. But I also think that Palestine does too. And I can't understand why we can't make that happen.

(And you know what I hate most about this whole issue is that by even asking these questions, one sets themselves up to be considered anti-Semitic or at best anti-Israel. Anyone who knows me knows that I am neither. I am simply for a more balanced view of the situation and in favor of a homeless minority finally being granted the statehood that they've had coming to them for decades.)