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Archive for July, 2011

Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken

July 30, 2011 5 comments

Original photo: AP (Sept 2008)

This is a picture of a photograph, one that I’ve kept since it appeared in my local newspaper in 2008. I often take it out and look at it. By the time I tuck it safely away again, I still don’t have answers to the many questions it provokes in my mind.

This girl is broken. What would cause a child so young to have such an expression of utter sorrow and despair? Did she lose something important? A favorite toy? A beloved pet? Her mother—or both parents? Consider that the photograph was taken in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

This is a child who is broken. A child. Even after almost 3 years, this photo still affects me, like the Afghan Girl photo by Steve McCurry. I know nothing else about her beyond the caption, Homecoming delayed: [Name withheld] comforts her granddaughters as they wait in their car to return to New Orleans in Slidell, Louisiana, yesterday. [She] and her family evacuated New Orleans to escape Hurricane Gustav earlier in the week.” What did the photographer see? What story did she tell? I wonder where she is now. After the dramatic events of Gustav, how have she and her family fared? Who is she now? Did she find a way to convert her brokenness into courage and strength? To use it as a stepping stone rather than allow it to become a roadblock?

Perhaps her brokenness is an expression of frustration in the moment. Having experienced many hurricanes and knowing the frightening havoc they are capable of wreaking, do I dare hope that her expression was replaced by a smile upon finally returning to their home and her own stuff and routine?

I put the photo away and pray for her. God feels the brokenness a little girl suffered when Hurricane Gustav interrupted her life. I keep this photograph to remind myself not to be a voyeur as life’s events unfold–barging into other’s intimate moments momentarily before flipping the page over to the next news item–but to have compassion and do what I can to relieve brokenness when I encounter it.

The View from the Cheap Seats (Part One)

Twelve days. Five flights. Three trains. Two countries. One coach bus, not counting all of the private car, taxi, local bus and tube rides. Welcome to travel a la Me. Usually my challenge is hotels. I have discovered that other travellers stick with hotel chains for good reason—they know what to expect at the end of the journey. Choosing an unknown hotel, motel, or other accommodation strictly from the virtues proclaimed on a website could land you in the room next to mine, not something for the spoiled or privileged traveller. Example one, the room in a boutique hotel, booked for triple occupancy but with barely enough room for one college student. Prepayment guarantees your reservation but allows precious little recourse if the room the hotel gives you is not satisfactory. Need another example? Consider the bed and breakfast in a great location, but the room was, well, how to describe it? Chock full of odds and ends from other rooms, making it look like a storage space rather than a room that people are actually paying for. My all-time favorite hotel debacle was arriving at a hotel and finding the front desk clerk sitting behind bars. Checking in? What kind of guests do you have anyway?The odd thing is that Hubby still allows me to make the travel arrangements as if I had any talent in this area, that and the fact that I’m not put off in the least. I boldly continue to fire up my computer and conduct multiple online comparisons to decide which hotel offers the best rate for my stay, airport shuttle (preferably free), on-site restaurant or close proximity to reasonable choices and a clean, comfortable room.

My hotel choices this year were uncharacteristically uneventful. Selections based on convenience of location led me to safe, hotel chain choices. Since I have an unconscious penchant toward the unknown, two wild cards dotted my otherwise predictable itinerary, The Chesterfield Hotel and the Holyrood ApartHotel.

Pleasant. Hospitable service. The Chesterfield Hotel

Stopping off in Chesterfield en route to Edinburgh (I’ll get back to this), The Chesterfield Hotel seemed to be the logical choice; it’s named after the town in which it’s situated and is close to the train station. Had we had more than an overnight stopover in Chesterfield, I would have been pleased to explore more of the town and enjoy the Chesterfield’s hospitality. Good choice, but we still have one other wildcard in the mix.

Convenient. Apartment away from home. Holyrood ApartHotel.

The Holyrood ApartHotel was recommended to me and became my one splurge on the trip; the rate was out of my usual price range. Just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the hotel provided a great base for exploring this beautiful city. Our apartment was bright, spacious and well equipped. Tourist attractions, transportation, and Tesco are all the proverbial stone’s-throw away. Again, we were loathe to leave, especially after surviving the Battle of the Cheap Seats to get to Edinburgh in the first place. No, the hotels weren’t the challenge on this trip; it was the train.

Train tickets

[stay tuned]

Weekly Photo Challenge: Colorful

July 28, 2011 1 comment

Fill any space with a troupe of gombeys and  that’s an instant burst of color. Each gombey’s handmade costume sparkles with mirrors and flows with fringes. I have transitioned from being afraid of them, to wanting to be one, to now just appreciating their cultural contribution.

It’s Just a Picture Perfect Veggie Meal

July 13, 2011 2 comments

The perfect meal satisfies three needs: appealing to the eye, tasteful to the palate and delightful to the senses. Seems a simple enough order, especially for the experienced chefs that work their magic in the restaurants in my corner of the world. I enjoy trying different cuisines—Egyptian, Moroccan, Italian, Asian. Eating out is a cheaper way to travel the world than battling the hassle of airport security checks and the occasional mad dash for a flight. Besides, isn’t it better when someone else does the cooking? Usually, yes.

If you’re a vegetarian like me, however, experiencing the perfect meal in a restaurant can be tricky and sometimes flatly disappointing. The prospect of eating yet another tossed salad while my dining companions oooh and aaah over their perfectly executed choices throws me into a Gordon Ramsey-style tantrum (sans dirty curse words). How hard is it to feed one 100-pound vegetarian (who’s not even vegan)? I mean, if I can stockpile a variety of vegetarian cookbooks and magazines in my kitchen for ideas to combat the common salad, why can’t you, Chef?

When I go out to dinner, I want to be delighted. Delight me, please, and I won’t feel so bad about paying the check—and I won’t be that “difficult” customer.

In my defense, I have been provoked on too many occasions:

• Fettuccine swimming in a milky cream sauce that looked more like soup than a pasta dish.

• The giant Portobello mushroom stuffed with—doesn’t matter. Send it back; I detest mushrooms!

• A plate—and entire plate—of partially steamed vegetables. Seriously?

Some servers have had limited exposure to vegetarians and it shows:

When I ask if he can suggest something suitable for vegetarians because I don’t see anything on the menu besides the obligatory penne pasta in tomato sauce. The response? “Of course, here (he points to it), we have a wonderful garden salad.” Um, I can make a salad at home.

• The server proudly suggests a soup that I can have as a starter—French onion soup. Oh, dear.

Then, one day, it happened. I was delighted in the middle of the afternoon. Hubby surprised me with a lunch invitation for no reason. I accept, but secretly I’m skeptical about what to eat, new restaurant and all. Still, it would be a waste of a day not to eat al fresco. Al fresco with the ocean in the background makes everything taste better. Opening the substantial menu, I’m shocked to find something few restaurants offer. Choices. Choices that don’t included salads. Choices that make pique my curiosity. I wonder what that would be like.I finally (the server had to pass twice and time was ticking) decide.

Can food be cool? Especially, lunch food? When my Iron Chef-worthy entrée was brought to the table, I admit, unabashedly, I stared at it. I smiled. I savored the dish with my eyes. I smelled it. And, okay, I took a picture—cheesy, I know. I described every (other) bite to Hubby, who just wanted to eat his fish and chips without all of the commentary. How does one transform miso, wild rice toast and seasonal vegetables into an edible work of art? Nestle it in what I can only describe as a bright, white dinosaur egg, garnish it and serve it with pride. Best of all, it’s not a giant, Portobello fungus stuffed with—who cares?

Beautiful day, great company, inspiring food. That’s a perfect meal.

Does Entertaining Count as Exercise?

Here’s the familiar anticlimactic descent into restlessness following an evening of entertaining. The recent weeks have been filled with activity–and lists. Shopping and to-do lists that lead to the final sticky note tagging–“this bowl for veggies”, “bread bowl”, “bowl for olives” (and the inevitable “get someone to take unused olives home”), and, in this heat, “buy ice”.

The night before the event is usually a late one–or early morning–depending on how I look at it. Long after Hubby retires for the night, I’m steadily engaged in a flurry of  frantic, but quiet, activity. Is everything in its place? Do I have enough [there’s always something]? Is there a contingency plan for X, Y or Z? There usually is; that’s why I’m up at 3 am on the night before.

Starting early on The Day enough allows wiggle room, a balm for my anxious nerves. Adrenaline versus the butterflies one experiences when face with public speaking (usually number one in top ten lists of common fears) or an appointment with the dentist when I know I’ve been “bad”.

Lights, camera, action! Guests begin to arrive and I’m on. Now the fun begins. All of the prep work, planning and anticipation is now worth the effort. This is fun. This is exciting. Hey, this is really taking over my kitchen. Hopefully, the dishwasher will be able to cut through these baked-on challenges like butter.

After the last guest has waved good bye, after the dishwasher has whirred into life, and I collapse in my favorite comfy chair, it hits. The anticlimactic buzz–I’m still on. Jazzed up at bedtime like a 5-year old on a sugar trip. How to “come down”, gently, please. I don’t want to crash. Unfortunately for Hubby “coming down” means talking his ear off, crunching over the night’s details ad nauseam, and, well, blogging it, until that first involuntary yawn.

Another yawn.

G’night, Hubby.

This has been a very good night . . .

Zzzzzzzzzzzz

Talking to Little Girls Should be More Than Fluff and Pretty Words

Just when I thought I could use some e-retail therapy, I realized, I’m too serious to buy anything on impulse—even a book.

Stimulate her mind

It began with an innocent moment of surfing to one of my ‘favorites’, a guilty-pleasure site, www.huffingtonpost.com. I like online newspapers, because I can see what’s going on in the world and be green about it. Although I find the main headline obnoxiously large—the fewer the words, the bigger and more obnoxious, some of the Huffington Post bloggers are knowledgeable, witty, or at any rate, able to make me stop and think about another point of view, whether I agree or not. Recently, I ran across Lisa Bloom’s article, How to Talk to Little Girls. Should be interesting, I thought. Occasionally, I fall victim to having a short attention span, which was triggered close to the beginning of the article. Ms. Bloom referred to her book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. Too intrigued by the title to resist, I admit it, I clicked onto the link.

The Amazon page showed the “Look Inside!” feature that I hoped to find. Of course, I had to look. If I were ever to write a book, it would have had a title very close to Ms. Bloom’s book, perched in the same section of the bookstore. I imagine it would be written as a response to the constant bombardment against intelligence, values and talents that women possess by those who would rather see a woman fantasize over the pages of a fashion magazine than read Outliers on her Kindle. Jumping to the table of contents I scan the chapter titles and pick one to get a feel for the book. I already think I’m going to order it. Ms. Bloom had me chuckling during my initial peek inside the pages—then I saw it.

“Sixty-eight percent of Republicans don’t believe in evolution, a scientific principle widely proven since the nineteenth century and replicated daily in the plant and animal kingdom.”

Ugh!

Widely proven principle?

Replicated daily?

Well, if you’re going to attempt to convince people that they evolved from apes or amoebas or whatever other lower-life form you choose, then don’t be surprised when they “dumb down” to eventually return to their roots. Stop fighting it and learn to like bananas. I might just be curious enough to buy the book to find out what she says in the chapter, Reclaiming the Brains God Gave Ya. So . . . what God are we talking about? Those of us in the percentages who don’t believe in evolution and who aren’t Republicans actually believe God created mankind. I’m starting to feel confused and woozy already. Hopefully, I won’t be stuck in the same category as, say, Dan Quayle, who is so openly taunted in the book for his political and general gaffes that will live in infamy.

The longer I spend on the planet, the more I am faced with defending my values and beliefs, either privately or publicly, now that I’m old enough not to be swayed what other people think about my lack of political correctness, my ‘old fashionedness’ or traditionalism. It is what it is.

Recently I was in the midst of women who assert the meaningfulness of astrology, that we’re all God, that our children chose us before they were born—times when I struggle to find commonalities with women who have opposing beliefs to mine. There’s so much of today’s world that I have to peel off and cast aside while I try to connect human to human. But then, I’m serious about everything, which is what makes me unique and somewhat difficult.

At the end of it all, however, it’s through the exchange of ideas that I learn where other people are “coming from”. The trick is not to dismiss the person with the idea or opinion. While creationists and evolutionists disagree on how we got here, we can agree that, since we are sharing Earth space, one priority must be to teach and emulate what a strong, confident woman looks like. When does that role modeling begin—in her teen years? No way. By that time, she’s already a fan of America’s Next Top Model. Even though it may be easier to chat about Banks over Keats, which pays the greater dividends?

Perhaps Lisa Bloom won’t “Friend” me on Facebook, but we can find congruities as women who believe we have much more to offer the world than our bodies. We’re all trying to navigate around this big, blue marble and how better to find our purpose than to lose ourselves in empowering girls to stay smart in a dumbed-down world.

The arrow is hovering over the one-click-ordering button . . .

Categories: Books Tags: , , , ,

Postaweek2011 – Sky

July 3, 2011 2 comments

I have probably have plenty of sky pictures at the beach, but I took this picture last week after I gazed up at it for quite a while during my lunch hour. This was a quick, (free) spiritual uplift. Who doesn’t like the feel of a perfectly blue sky?

Categories: Post A Week 2011 Tags: ,