Friday, June 27, 2014

Wedding Attire

Funny how blogs you read can impact your life.

I'm planning a post about my new tattooed life thanks to Running Bear.

Another change is that I'm actually thinking more about clothing thanks to another new blog I'm enjoying, Running on Lentils (go figure, another vegetarian runner, living in Pittsburgh where I'm visiting my in-laws this week no less?, it was a given I'd enjoy it).  One different aspect about her blog from others I read is that she does lots of clothing reviews, mostly workout wear. 

Anyway, in some ways it sometimes just makes me think more about what I'm wearing.  One of her recent posts focused on how a new top's fabric "pilled" a bit after wearing.  That's exactly the kind of thing I'd usually be oblivious to.  But now, I just find myself thinking about what I'm wearing more now (to run and in the real world).

One good thing about traveling for a wedding (and being totally averse to checking luggage) is that I have to actually decide on one outfit to wear in advance and then I'm fully committed.

This is what I've chosen for tomorrow night's wedding.  I've worn it once before (Easter 2012), but the material has a lot of stretch so it still fits well.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reading selections

You can tell a lot about someone from the books they keep, right?

Well, here in Pittsburgh, we are staying with one of my husband's brothers and his wife and their bookcase is interesting and quite different from ours.  

Haha, yeah, so different.  Oh well, as long as we don't talk about politics or killing animals (well, I don't think he really kills most of them, but actually, isn't it worse to hurt them by hooking their mouths, depriving them of water, and then throwing them back?), it's all good!
Actually, we're having tons of fun here.  There is an amazing running trail (Montour Trail) that goes right near their house, so all 4 of us went this morning for about an hour.  The weather was insanely perfect -- humid, but cool (low 60s?), overcast but not raining, and the scenery was lovely -- so green and lush.  It was a slight incline on the way out, and downhill on the way back.  One of the best parts was watching my heartrate on the way back -- sailing slightly downhill going faster than marathon pace and seeing my heartrate significantly lower than it is when it's 15 degrees warmer at home. 
Also, I think we want to live in a retirement community.  Now if possible, but apparently they don't take you unless one spouse is over 65.  Thank goodness my husband is older than me.  Not even 20 years to wait now.  So many lectures, puzzles, movies, discussion groups, etc.  It's a shame that only one of my in-laws seems to be taking advantage of it, but to each his/her own I suppose. 
Tonight after dinner in the dining hall, we are all going to a lecture on the causes of WWII! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Seeing the World

After lots of hemming and hawing, we had a big weekend on the "travel" front.

We had originally narrowed down the options for our fall 2014 trip to the following:
  • India (definite)
  • Nepal
  • Sri Lanka
  • Maldives
  • Dubai
  • Qatar

And the Dubai/Qatar choice was largely going to be shaped by airline.  We had two basic options:
  • Fly through Qatar and earn miles, or
  • Fly through Dubai and get to visit it (somewhere we really wanted to see, Qatar less so).

Well, it's all done and decided now, and plane tickets are purchased!

We ended up with 3 one-way tickets for now:
  • Dallas to Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Mumbai, India to Dubai, UAE.
  • Dubai to Dallas. 


We will definitely buy plane tickets to go from Kathmandu to New Delhi or Agra (since that is international travel), but we'll wait until next credit card cycle to do that.

And we'll probably buy plane tickets from somewhere in northern India to Mumbai (but that journey could also be done overland, depending on where all we visit within India). 

We also made one more big step in the last week in terms of our trip.  We had our global entry interviews (including fingerprinting) and got approved, which was nice.

I'm so excited -- and a little nervous.  Going unfamiliar places is always so exciting to me, but there's always a little bit of nervousness too. 

We've got a lot of travel coming up on the immediate horizon too, but not quite as exciting and definitely more domestic.

Tomorrow, we're flying to Pittsburgh for 5 days for my husband's step-niece's (?) (brother's wife's daughter) wedding.  That will be lots of time with my parents-in-law, and we'll be staying with my brother-in-law and his wife.  Another brother-in-law and his wife are staying there too, and we'll actually have the house to ourselves for two nights, since the brother-in-law and wife who own the house are going to be staying at the wedding hotel Fri and Sat nights.

Excited about the wedding.  It's going to be at the Pittsburgh Opera and I'm sure it will be a lot of fun.

The happy couple.  They are both self-described foodies, dieticians by trade, and love working out.  Their first date was at a great restaurant they love, and their second date was the Pittsburgh Marathon.  So cute! 

Then next week, a trip home to see my family over the Fourth, including lots of good time with my nephew and nieces I hope, as well as some time with my grandpa (who is doing exactly the same, which is to say, not great, but not worsening at all). 

I got a message from my sister-in-law saying that they were registering me with them for a 4 mile race on the Fourth, which will be fun -- and I think my nephew and nieces are doing it too (though I'd guess the youngest certainly couldn't be, right?  she'll be 5 in August).  Buuuuuut, part of me wants to try to PR.  I ran a 4 mile at the beginning of this month and finished about 50 seconds off a PR.  And on top of that, my 4 mile PR isn't great.  On the pace predictors, my current 4 mile time predicts me at a marathon time I've accomplished several times.  I much prefer short-distance PRs that predict me at my dream marathon time, but the bottom line is that my 4 mile PR is old and should be beatable.  Unfortunately, the 4 mile race I do most often is in June, which isn't exactly PR weather in Dallas.  But a 4 mile race in July in Milwaukee certainly could be!  But it might be nice to run with my niece who is my goddaughter, that whole thing of getting her into running, family time, etc.  Guess I'll wait and see what the course looks like, how I feel, what the vibe is, etc. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Houseguest week

I think my alcohol consumption in the last week was roughly equal to my alcohol consumption in the first five months of this year.  Yikes!

We had a friend visiting for the week and we had so much fun with her, but yow, I definitely drank a lot more than usual.  We went out to eat every night except one (Tuesday night she did the track meet with us, and then we had leftovers at home afterward).

She and I went to law school together (she was a year ahead of me, but we knew each other through a mutual good friend).  After graduation, we each went to work in separate cities, but within a year or two of when I graduated, she and her then-husband moved to Dallas and she came to work at the same firm where I worked. 

We lived near each other and we spent tons of time together, much of it at work, doing the typical big firm thing, we both pulled tons of all-nighters, or past-midnighters.  One particular routine (sad in retrospect) was that if it looked like we both had a late night ahead, we'd sometimes order dinner together from the same place and make plans to meet in the restroom on our floor at 10:00.  And without fail, as crazy busy as we were, we'd meet at 10, change into yoga clothes for working late, and brush our teeth and wash our faces before going back to our desks.  Having just a tiny little break and a chance to commiserate made it feel so much better that oddly, neither of us complained and in fact continued to work like that for years.  And go figure, I stayed single and she got divorced.  I could write an entire book on how big firm life can warp you and how unhealthy it is. 

Now, she lives in DC and works for the government and was able to manage a work-related trip here.  She came on Monday and stayed until Saturday night.  I was so happy to get the time together.  After spending so much time together for so long, it was hard for me when she moved so far away.  And it's worse because I suck at calling people or sending personal "catch up" emails, so while we were never fully out of touch, I felt like we were missing out on parts of each other's lives.  A week together was such a gift. 

We spent much of the week hitting up old favorite places and showing her a few of our new favorites. 

Monday night, we walked to a Mexican restaurant that is I think becoming a chain outside of Texas now (Chuy's, anyone have it not in Texas?). 

Tuesday night was the track meet, which was lots of fun.  I always think of her as being faster than me, mostly because she has been running longer than me and qualified for Boston years before I did, back when it still seemed thoroughly outside the realm of possibility.  She's taken some time off lately for a variety of reasons, but yeah, she's still an amazing runner.  She ran cautiously at the track meet and completely smoked me in the 100 and 200, and we ran pretty close together for the 800 and the 1500. 

Wednesday night was a girls night with another friend of ours from the firm where we all worked.  She used to live here in Dallas and we were really close (her son is my godson), but they've moved out to a very, very, very distant suburb so I don't get to see her anywhere near as much as I'd like anymore.  So it was a fun night of catching up. 

Back when all three of us were working at the firm (they were both married), my favorite place to get a drink and feel like I was being social (since unlike them, I was going home to an empty house) was to go to a lovely restaurant right by my house.  Many times I'd get friends to meet me there, and I actually had my 30th birthday at the chef's table there, so of course we were back when she was visiting this past week.

It was funny, I went running as usual Thursday morning and I told my running buddy, CW, that my friend had plans with her old boss to meet for dinner that night and I was kind of glad I was off the hook.  I love spending every minute with her, but I was kind of ready for a meal at home and an alcohol-free night.  I came home from my run and my friend gave me the news -- she'd rescheduled with her old boss for lunch since her old boss was heading out of town that afternoon, so we were on for dinner again.  (Nervous smile.)  We ended up at my favorite restaurant that night, a tapas place we can walk to.  Tapas is particularly nice with a fellow vegetarian.  And on the walk home, we stopped at the restaurant where I used to drink. 

I have always gotten the same cocktail there.  So I started with one of them.  And somehow seemlessly transitioned to something else.  When I crawled into bed after midnight, where hubby was sleeping soundly, I woke him up to tell him I had a new favorite drink.  "It's called 'vodka... on the rocks'!"  Is it possible for him to roll his eyes without opening them?  Haha.  Yikes. 

My usual cocktail:

The vodka:

But I managed to get up and go to boot camp a few hours later nonetheless, but there was a lot of time leaning over a railing and contemplating whether I'd feel better if I just got sick.

Friday night was a walk through the park, another restaurant (a fun purple cocktail), our local art museum, and then back to the same bar, this time with hubby joining us for the whole night.

Walking through Klyde Warren Park: 

My prinkly in pink cocktail at Stephen Pyles (didn't photograph the second one since, second verse, same as the first!): 

At the art museum, something interesting: 

And the description:

The main reason we went to the art museum was a special exhibit they had on Nur, light in Islamic art:

Then we just decided to wander the rest of the art museum: 

Something else interesting:

A description of what you're seeing:

And back at Abacus, this was a mojito, not sure where in the order it fit: 

And a big glass of "vodka... on the rocks": 

Saturday was sweating out a lot of the alcohol at a 90 minute Bikram class, then breakfast with another firm from the firm. I was wondering how that breakfast would go since they both came to our wedding in Italy separately and left as a couple for a year or two. It seemed like very shortly after they stopped dating, he got back together with an ex and within about two minutes got married and had a baby. Anyway, I should have guessed since they both wanted to see each other that it would be great and easy and fun all catching up together. I think it helps that they're both in good places now.

Not sure how any of them would feel about having their faces on a blog...: 

Saturday afternoon's highlights were shopping for cowboy boots and coffee with another friend we'd worked with, before we took her to the airport.

The house has felt really empty since she left, kind of a bummer.

But exciting travels in store for us this week, have to write about that later. Off to work now...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Forward Progress

One of my professional goals is to be "on top of things" at work.  For me, that boils down to the following:

  • Doing reports on time (managed on a white board in my office; as soon as I started using the whiteboard to manage the 10 or so rolling 3 month deadlines, I locked this down)

  • Listening promptly to voicemails (I've posted before about how much I hate doing this)

  • Keeping my inbox at under 40 unread/need attention messages (usually this means it's an email containing records and it's going to take me some time to review)

  • Promptly reviewing defense counsel invoices (90% of the invoices are easy and painless, the other 10% usually require sending a nasty-gram email about excessive time spent on a motion or some other reason I am going to reduce the amount I approve).

  • Managing new cases as they come in (an average of maybe 1.5 per week, but it never works out that way, instead I get 4 one day and then none for 2 weeks or something). 

  • Monthly reviewing all my active cases (I have a good handle on this, setting about 1/4 of my cases for review on each Friday, and rolling each one forward one month when I check it). 

And in general, the part that causes me the most stress about getting backed up is the email inbox.  So pretty much every day, I can look back at the day as being one of three things:

Treading water.
Getting sucked down deeper.
Making forward progress.

Back in mid-April, I jinxed myself.  I was totally on top of everything and it was crazy and made me a little nervous.  I actually told the VP to whom I report that I was worried about running out of work.  He never did anything about that comment because the gods of litigation heard me and sent out a curse. 

My inbox flowed over, my voicemail light was constantly on, I felt totally buried.

I've generally been treading water since that happened.  Getting things done without getting much further behind, but also not making a real dent in my workload. 

Usually, a work trip will help me to dig out a little.  I never use internet on the plane, but I am able to load up my last synched email, and I start plowing through messages.  Writing out lengthy notes to put in the file, reviewing voluminous records, preparing detailed responses, etc.

But last week's trip ended up so delayed on the flight home that we took off past my usual bedtime and landed in the early morning hours, so instead of working, I slept (since the 70 kids were doing the same).

So I was thrilled yesterday to actually be in the office and feel like I made net progress.  Actual forward motion!  Woo-hoo! 

My unread emails needing attention went from somewhere in the mid-60s to the low 50s.  Ahh.  No contended sigh, but progress is progress, and at this point, I'll take it! 

Monday, June 16, 2014

PHL in photos

Well, I was nervous about the bleachers workout for nothing.

I got up Friday morning and left the hotel at 5:45, which should have given me ample time to run the few miles to meet the November Project group to run the bleachers. 

This map shows where my hotel was:

I basically had to run west to a river, across the bridge and then I'd be really close.  I got across the green space on the map and I turned around and went back to the hotel.  It was pouring outside.  I was fine with running a few miles in the rain, even though I didn't have a hat, but then I thought about the bleachers. 
I had texted two people about my plan to meet up with the group to run bleachers:  my husband, and one of my running buddies.  My running buddy's response was that it sounded awesome and tough and I needed to go for it.  My husband's response was to be careful. 
A couple minutes of running in the rain made me think that running wet bleachers had a high likelihood of a broken nose, a sprained ankle, massive bruising, or who knows what else.  I decided it wasn't worth it.  I wasn't sure if the group would meet in the rain anyway, so I headed back inside to the hotel gym.  I used the rowing machine to row 5k, then I hit the treadmill for a little while, then I did some random strength machines.  Overall, a disappointing morning workout, but in the end, if I'd fallen on the bleachers and gone to the settlement conference with a busted upper lip or something, I might have made the right decision. 
I have a feeling I'll be back in Philly before long (though fortunately not this week, as was on my calendar until Friday), and I'll have to commit to doing the bleachers then. 
My walk to the federal courthouse: 

In the courthouse where our (successful) settlement conference was held: 

After resolving our case, I went with defense counsel for lunch (long walk in heels, blisters, sweating in my suit, ugh, but good lunch).  Then back to the hotel to change into jeans, work a little, then head to the airport to see if I could get on an earlier flight. 
No luck, and then the night started its downhill slide. 
I had an awesome tofu burrito for dinner.  There's a new burrito place right by the gate where I fly out and I love it.  I got a tofu teriyaki burrito -- broccoli, carrots, brown rice, tofu.  Delicious. 

My gate area was fairly full -- with 8th graders.  70 of them.  School trip.  Shoot me now? 

Then, to make it more fun, this happened: 

I figured between the shrieking giggling and horseplay of the 8th graders, and the two-plus hour delay, it was worth a six minute walk to terminal C to get a double -- a double of pinkberry. 

In the end, the kids weren't really that bad.  They were very loud and crazy in the gate area, some playing cards, some running around pushing each other in airport wheelchairs, some playing on their phones.  I was thinking the entire evening would be miserable.  We were close to boarding time and the gate was completely trashed, but one of the teachers yelled at all of them to pick up the trash, even if it wasn't theirs, and they all did.  They actually seemed to be pretty good kids.  Even the bad ones that I encountered on my way to pinkberry, who were horsing around on the moving walkways and generally being fairly rude and obnoxious, weren't really that bad. 
I sat next to one of the kids on the plane.  He said about a third of their class had gone, including his identical twin brother, sitting right behind us, which was kind of funny.  There were 70 of them, plus teachers.  They went to DC first for a few days (where his favorite things were the Lincoln Memorial and the museums), and then took a bus to Philly (where he was burnt out on memorials so he opted to go to Eastern State Penitentiary instead of to the Liberty Bell).  They didn't have to fundraise, but their parents paid about $1,000 per kid for the trip, which he assessed to be completely worth it.  It was fun to talk to him.  I don't hang out with kids that much, so it was an interesting conversation.  Hearing about what he wants to do when he grows up (originally, helicopter pilot, then he decided veterinarian, now he thinks surgeon), what he plans to do for the summer (work on marching band stuff, something about a snare drum, and working out), etc. 
I was worried they'd be as chaotic on the plane as they were in the terminal (nightmare visions of those youtube clips where they all break out in song on the plane), but they were amazingly quiet.  Most listened to music or slept, so I was happy to sleep most of the way home.
I was glad in a way that traffic on the way to the airport had been insanely miserable and I'd been forced to valet my car.  It meant it was right there waiting for me when I landed!  I got home well after midnight, so I ended up blowing off the 5k I had registered to do Saturday morning, but the sleep was worth it. 
Did I mention I don't have to work in Philly today and tomorrow this week?  That's extra awesome because one of my favorite people in the world is coming to visit today and staying with us for the week.  Happy! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

November Nerves

Short post, have to get to bed.  I'm in Philly and had a tough day today work-wise, but I got the job done.  That was good. 

I also got in a long-midweek-for-me run this morning.  I found a running group here last year or the year before that was listed as having one of the area's only morning group runs.  The run I remember best from last year was challenging -- I ran with a guy who pushed the pace, but it was awesome. 

Since my schedule lined up well again, I figured I'd join them again.  But I have a new favorite hotel here, and to get to the Thursday morning run spot, I had to go just over 2.5 miles each way.  Plus 5 miles with the group.  A month from now, two months from now, 10+ miles on a weekday won't be crazy.  But right now, I've been hovering around 7 or so miles. 

I figured it would be fine if I ran the solo miles really slowly.  But then I started remembering how that run last year went, and I was pretty worried I wouldn't be able to hang with the group this year, being slower and more out of shape.

I set out at 5:30 to meet them at 6, just to be safe.  It was slow-going to get there, lots of red lights and big puddles, not always entirely sure which way was best to go, but I got there in plenty of time and met up with the group.  Unfortunately, the guy I spent so much time talking to last summer wasn't there -- they said he still runs with the group all the time, but he almost always skips the morning runs (did I mention most Philly groups run in the evening?).

So I talked to new people over the course of 5 miles -- and I was pleasantly surprised to realize I could hang (though I think it was actually slower than last year).  About 1.5 miles from the end, a few guys really hit the gas and we spread out a bit.  I picked up the pace as well and felt pretty good, running with one guy and talking the whole way.  Amazing what temps in the 60s will do for me! 

I spent most of the 5 miles talking to the woman who organizes the run (I remembered her from last year) about her travel plans, a guy named Eric about his plans for the day, a first-timer who was talked into coming by a friend named Sara who had the career day of a lifetime today (responsible for opening a new Lulu store here aimed at a younger tween set, first store she's ever opened, super exciting), and a guy whose name I forgot who is opening a new diner/restaurant soon.  He has been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, so we talked a lot about vegan v. vegetarian, cooking, races (he likes ultras on trails), injuries, and life in general. 

It was a nice morning -- and at the end of the run, Sara and her friend Phil (who I also remembered from last time) said that they met through a free workout thing called the November Project, and they said I should meet them tomorrow.  Half a stadium's worth of bleachers.  Yikes.

I hate stairs/bleachers, but mostly because it's hard and good for me.  So I guess I'm setting my alarm and heading out to meet them!  Very nervous.  What if I bring shame to all Dallas runners with my wussiness on bleachers?  Haha.  When I actually realized that was my concern, I knew I had to go.  So what if I don't finish?!  Not a big deal.  As long as I don't fall down and get hurt, it should be a worthwhile experience! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

D-Day Dinner

There hasn't been much to report this week.  Another glorious trip to Philadelphia for work in a few hours.  So I figured I'd share a few photos from our dinner party Friday night.

It was a combination of a D-Day 70th Anniversary theme and a Blueberry Festival theme

I was very concerned about how it would all come together.  The total menu was a signature cocktail, 3 appetizers (plus baguette slices I toasted and pita chips we bought already-made), a salad, a risotto, a marinated protein (chicken for 3, tofu for 3), and a guacamole-type sauce to put over the protein, and for dessert, a three-layered cake, along with yogurt covered frozen blueberries.

As of Friday morning, all I'd done was set the table, grate the cheese for one appetizer, stick the blueberry vodka in the freezer, and make and put the yogurt-covered berries in the freezer.  As of 9:00 a.m. on Friday, my husband hadn't even left to begin the shopping for the party (which he was doing with our weekly shopping, so I knew it would take a few hours). 

Ugh.  I was worried about disaster. 

Anyway, one thing done was the tablecloth.  That was my husband's job.  I texted him this photo to show what I envisioned:

But I mentioned it had to integrate blueberries as well.  This was the finished product:

An upside-down shot to show the blueberry integration by each person's name. 

And the set table (appetizer plates were on the bar, and we individually plated salads, so those are missing too): 

My husband got home from the grocery store just after noon, and I began cooking in earnest.  I had spent some time during a boring morning conference call envisioning a plan of attack, so within 10 minutes of groceries hitting the kitchen counter, I had sweet potatoes roasting in the oven, the marinade ingredients going into the food processor, the dried mushrooms soaking, and I was starting on the cake from scratch. 

A total of 9 recipes (not counting the yogurt-covered blueberries).  By 2:00, with guests set to arrive at 6:45, I was pretty sure that I was in over my head, even with husband acting as sous-chef. 

Cake baked, I used this awesome cake slicer thing to make the layers myself!:

Beginning to frost after it had finally cooled:

Frosted cake (untoasted baguette slices in the background there): 

And then, I left the actual blueberry cake decoration to my husband.  I gave no direction other than to say it should relate to D-Day or blueberries, and this is what I got:

Unfortunately, it appears that I took no other photos of the meal, but it came together perhaps better than any other dinner party we've hosted! 
I had to have one guest (my bestie, so I didn't mind asking and she seemed happy to help) take the second round of appetizers out of the oven and put them on a platter, and she also made the salads, and she assisted hubby with cocktail preparation, but overall, it went really well.  
My husband was in charge of grilling the protein and for a while, I was worried that would be a mess.  He said the marinade didn't seem to have worked well, and he was worried about the cooking time (cue about 15 jokes about "enormous [chicken] breasts") and his lack of experience grilling tofu to know when it was done.  But they both turned out perfectly!  Everyone enjoyed the meal a lot.  After dinner, while we were getting espresso and limoncello ready to go with dessert, I loaded the dinner dishes and ran the dishwasher again (I emptied it right before everyone arrived, so most all my prep stuff was clean and put away).  That was totally awesome.  By the time everyone left around 11:30 (late night considering we were doing a race the next morning!), we just unloaded again and loaded up the dessert stuff and the glasses, and the clean-up was basically done.  That's my kind of dinner party! 
As far as leftovers, there was no risotto, no salad, some appetizers (including a ton of the sweet potato dip), one piece of chicken (we made 4) and one piece of tofu (we made 4 again, in case a single person wanted seconds or someone wanted to have some of each), and tons of the blueberry guacamole (this recipe also made a large quantity).  And of course about half the cake, which unfortunately I've been enjoying pretty much every day since the party!  I finished off the guacamole with some beans on tacos I made for dinner last night, so now all we're left with is the sweet potato dip! 
So I'd rate my stress level for this dinner party as off the charts high (11/10), but execution at 8/10.  Very nice!  Usually stress is more like 8 and execution is more like 7! 

Friday, June 6, 2014

70 years

Two anniversary posts in two days.  Hmm, this was never intended to become a history blog. 

Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which marked the landing of Allied forces in western Europe, aka Hitler's Europe. 

It's an occasion I feel I can't let pass without putting something out there in my little corner of the worldwide web. 

A year of planning went into Operation Overlord and D-Day's manoeuvres, originally set for more than a month earlier than today (-70 years).  On that fateful day, June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied forces landed along 50 miles of coastline at Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold and Sword Beaches.  Over one million troops, a total of 39 Allied divisions, were committed to the Battle of Normandy, including 22 American divisions.  Coastal bombing and minesweeping got underway early on June 6, 1944, and as the over 4,000 landing craft boats approached, Allied troops were under heavy fire, and as the ramps dropped for men to storm ashore, casualties skyrocketed.  Soldiers, many not even 20 years old, jumped from the ramps of the boats and then swam and ran 50-100 yards to shore and then crawled on the beaches toward the cliffs, many while carrying 80 pounds of equipment.  When troops made it to shore, they faced over 200 yards of exposed beach, where, in addition to gunfire, there were obstacles at the high-tide mark:  mines, barbed wire, booby-traps, metal tripods, wooden stakes and anti-tank obstacles.  As landing troops will readily tell you, they were in hell.  Absolute hell.  The experiences of the thousands of scattered paratroopers dropped that morning weren't much better.  More than 4,000 Allied forces died in the fighting, and another 6,000 were wounded, but it's nearly certain that had the landing been postponed 2 more weeks, to the next dates with appropriate tides, given the storms that occurred then, the numbers would have been far worse for the Allies, if they'd been able to land at all.  But the foothold in Europe gained 70 years ago today when Allied troops overcame the German defenses in Normandy changed the face of history.  It was when the scales tipped and the at times long and painful Allied drive into Germany began, inch by inch, sometimes house by house, unending until May 7, 1945. 

Eisenhower's message to the troops just before the invasion: 

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. 
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely. 
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory! 
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory! 
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

There aren't many chances these days to talk to someone who was there, but if there is any way you can make that happen, even if you've done it before, this is a wonderful time to do it again.  I can guarantee your eyes will not stay dry.  Hearing someone talk about seeing their brothers in arms fall next to them, the reality of front-line combat in that time, how the fighting progressed for those who made it off the beaches, what the fighting meant to them and their families at home, irreplaceable information that will touch your heart and stay with you forever. 

If you don't have a chance to talk to someone who was there and you can find 5-10 minutes of time, read a bit about it.  Here are some online suggestions (if you want books, let me know, I have about a half-dozen very good recommendations!):

If you want to read accounts of the landings by men who were there, some options:

If you just want to look at pictures, some good options:

If nothing else, just give a moment of your time to let the sacrifices and horrors endured sink in, and image where we could be without those brave souls.  4,000 of them gone 70 years ago today working to fight evil.  FOUR THOUSAND.  Wow. 

(photo credit)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

25 years

Wow, can you believe the Tian'anmen Square standoff was 25 years ago yesterday?  I heard that on the news and it was surprising.  I wasn't exactly politically aware at the time, but it was maybe the start?  It's definitely one of the first events on the news that I remember. 

Other memories of significant news events before I really started paying attention:  Oliver North's testimony (my parents watched a lot of it), the Challenger explosion (I watched live in elementary school), the Berlin Wall coming down (I was babysitting and it was on the front page of the paper sitting on their coffee table, and it was on the news when I turned on their TV), and obviously OJ. 

I paid some attention to the news in junior high since my history teacher gave us quizzes about current events, but not much of it stuck with me.  Regardless, I remember that on June 4, 1989, I was slowly starting to understand more about the broader world. 

This is what the Today Show said about it on Wednesday morning to mark the anniversary:
"Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Tian'anmen Square massacre and there is heavy security in central Beijing.  As tanks rolled in on June 4, 1989, Chinese troops opened fire on student protesters.  More than a million demonstrators had gathered in central Beijing in the lead-up to the incident.  Video of a lone protestor standing in front of a line of moving tanks became one of the 20th century's most powerful symbols.  The exact death toll is unknown but is widely believed to be in the hundreds."

Per The Atlantic:
Twenty-five years ago today, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) violently cleared Beijing's Tiananmen Square of protesters, ending a six-week demonstration that had called for democracy and widespread political reform. The protests began in April of 1989, gaining support as initial government reactions included concessions. Martial law was declared on May 20, troops were mobilized, and from the night of June 3 through the early morning of June 4, the PLA pushed into Tiananmen Square, crushing some protesters and firing on many others. The exact number killed may never be known, but estimates range from several hundred to several thousand. China's censors are blocking Internet access to the terms "six four," "candle," and "never forget," broadening extensive efforts to silence talk about the 25th anniversary of China's bloody June 4 crackdown.

And that Atlantic article I linked actually has some really amazing photos if you have a moment to check them out.

Two sides to every story?  I don't know.  I have very complicated feelings about China now, more complicated actually since we visited.  Things seemed much more straight-forward sitting in the US and thinking about theories. 

But one thing that remains crystal clear to me is that the remarkability of the fact that apparently most people in China today do not know what the image of the man standing before the tank signifies when shown photos.   Students in the universities today and young adults particularly have no knowledge of these events.  It's amazing how much a free press and free speech can do in terms of preserving a national recollection of significant events.  The concept of having those search terms blocked really boggles my mind in ways.  Given the new EU laws about "erasing" parts of the internet for individuals, coupled with our reliance on the internet, makes me wonder how easily we could go down this path of altered history ourselves, particularly as Holocaust survivors and now their children pass away.  That's another tangent completely. 

Any memories of June 4, 1989?  Other big news events memorable from your youth?  (I'm usually not one to pose questions directly as those who comment generally have something interesting to say without a prompt, but I'm particularly interested in this!)

In honor of the anniversary, some of our photos of Tian'anmen Square from our trip there in 2012, to date, one of the most interesting trips of my life, fully recapped on the blog in the fall of 2013 I think. 

The entire square is surrounded by massive buildings like these two below.  The square was build in the 1600s, but enlarged to its current size in the 1950s. The "Ten Great Buildings" along the square were also built then.  It reminded very much of the National Mall in DC, with the massive Smithsonian museums set off along the boundary roads.  It also reminded me a lot of Red Square, but bigger.  I believe Tiananmen Square is designed to accommodate more than 500,000 people at once.  Can't remember what the first building I photographed around the square is, but the second is the National Museum of China: 

There was a heavy uniformed police presence standing guard, marching about, and mingling with the visitors.  And I got the sense there were plenty of official personnel not in uniform as well.  Of course I took pictures of the guards, which are perfect to show today (well, technically the anniversary was yesterday, but it's my recap post):  
There were also these huge floral displays in the square.  Huge.  You can kind of see a little head down in the corner (if we'd walked directly into a cutout of the display, I'm guessing my head would have been somewhere in the red swirl of flowers on the base), and I'm bad at guessing size, but I'd guess this one was at least two stories tall: 
I didn't get to take any pictures inside Mao's tomb, which is also there at the square.  Here is a shot of Mao's mausoleum.  Hard to see among the crowds and from this distance, but there is an hours-long line all the way around the perimeter (some scamster who wanted (and got) money from us after helping us get to bag drop and through security, snuck us in toward the front of the line, so we only had to wait about half an hour to see Mao's preserved body, but we bypassed at least 75% of the line): 

Plenty of pictures/busts of Mao in the immediate area however: 


And a couple pictures just to show the scale of the flowers, buildings, length, towering floral columns: 

Apparently (according to Wiki), only 5 photographers were able to have their photos smuggled out of China and published in the aftermath of the protests and the standoff with the tanks.  One photographer had a French student smuggle the film in a cannister of tea.  One hid his in the toilet and sacrificed two rolls of film showing wounded protesters when the police searched his hotel room.  Crazy stuff I tell you.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Blueberry Plans

I had a big first this morning -- first time I've met someone in person that I previously knew only virtually!  Megan came with me and my husband to boot camp today!  It was fun, though she definitely got to hear a big rant when the instructor got frustrated that people weren't following directions.  Sigh.  And she got more leg exercises than expected.  But Megan, hope you had fun and hope you'll try a few more!  One of my favorite things about working out in general, boot camp, running, whatever, is liking the people doing it with me.  Even during something like a track workout where you're not really talking, feeling like there's someone there who feels your pain, or to give you a little boost of encouragement, makes it all somehow seem easier, less painful, and more fun.  I once answered a very challenging question on this blog about the number one reason that I run.  I struggled a lot to choose one reason, but I ended up picking the social aspect.  And it's not just running, I prefer doing any kind of workout with a friend. 

Anyway, I've been meaning to post about our big Friday plans for this weekend, so here goes. 

Several years ago, my local bestie invited us to join in her family's tradition of going to a nearby city's blueberry festival for the weekend.  This is rare for lazy me, and probably pointless since I doubt I'd click on a link to read about it myself, so why would you, but here's a post about it.  Basically, we end up having a ton of fun.  My bestie's brother-in-law has a craft project at his house -- usually making t-shirts or bags featuring blueberries or something similar.  Dinner in this town (most restaurants have a special blueberry-focused menu), and then out for blueberry cocktails.  A blueberry 5k race (that we've skipped).  Blueberry pancakes served in the town square.  And then attending the blueberry festival -- free popsicles, free water, tons of crafts, groups performing, shopping, etc. 

Then last year, it didn't look like we'd be able to go out of town that weekend, so we decided to plan our own "uptown blueberry festival."  And now it's become this thing that we do with my bestie, her husband, and her sister (and her sister's boyfriend last year), and maybe this year, her niece. 

The main events:
A dinner Friday night featuring blueberries.
A run or race Saturday morning.  If it's not an organized race, my bestie maps a route that looks a little like a blueberry.  This year it will be an organized 4 mile race. 
Breakfast post-run featuring blueberries. 
A craft project.
Hanging out to eat popsicles. 

Last year was pretty awesome.  So it's a high bar this year.  Plus of course, Friday is a very special anniversary.  Trying to see if I can come up with some way to integrate that into the party -- printing out little bios of some soldiers' stories?  Doing little menu cards and naming foods after the beaches?  Take a crack at drawing out a map on our chalkboard tablecloth?  I was actually thinking about playing hooky from work for the first time ever since I figured the History Channel would be doing nonstop features, but it looks like a few hours in the morning, then some non-war stuff, then some non-D-Day stuff, then one show I really want to see in the evening that I'll record.  Hard to believe it's been 70 years! 

The blueberry dinner Friday night is at our house again, so I spent a bunch of time this weekend on Pinterest and elsewhere trying to come up with a great blueberry themed menu.  This is what I came up with:

Blueberry-brie bites (the recipe is for black raspberry-brie bites, but I figure I can modify it)
Hot blueberry cheddar dip with toasts
Blueberry goat cheese salad
Blueberry mushroom risotto
Grilled chicken/tofu with blueberry guacamole
Lemon blueberry layer cake
Yogurt blueberries as a little side dessert snack

I'm still torn on the signature cocktail.  Either a "blueberry basil" cocktail (vodka, seltzer, basil, lemon, blueberries), or a "cranberry blue" (blueberry vodka, cranberry juice, lime juice), or a "blueberry muffin" (which my bestie and I would love, and my husband would probably hate) (blueberry vodka and Irish cream).  Decisions, decisions! 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dumpling Fest

In addition to all the trip planning we did this past weekend, I spent Sunday in a bit of Chinese immersion.

First, I had lunch at a neighbor's house.  She and her husband were performers with us at our other neighbor's church's Chinese New Year's celebration.  She travels to China very frequently for work.  Her husband is ... eccentric.  He's really nice and he plays bongos, but he's just so unlike many of my other friends.  Let's just say I could never imagine him going to law school.  I think that's a good thing.  Well, she decided to host us all in honor of the Dragon Boat Festival.  Our neighbor who is actually Taiwanese had her cousin visiting, so the cousin and our China-traveler neighbor went shopping at a Chinese market, and bought the fixings for dumplings.  They also bought these little packages of stuffing (red bean paste in some, seaweed in others, mushrooms in others) wrapped in sticky rice, wrapped in bamboo.  The dumplings were homemade and delicious.  They made a bunch of vegetarian ones just for me. 

Fruit skewers that I made to contribute (and the crystal bowl I left at my neighbor's, ugh, it was my grandma's and I hope she's careful with it):

I learned a little about the Dragon Boat Festival, which is actually celebrated today.  Our neighbor said it's one of three main festivals (New Year's, Dragon Boat, and Mid-Autumn or Half-Moon in October).  端午节 is how it's called in Chinese.  Next year it will be on June 20.  The holiday's backstory is that a cadet was banished for opposing a new alliance.  While banished, Qu Yuan wrote lots of poetry, and many years later, he was captured and committed suicide by drowning in a river.  The local people admired him for his poetry so they raced their dragon boats into the river to try to save him or to save his body.  They couldn't find him or his body, so they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so the fish would eat them instead of the body.  I must say, if the drops of sticky rice were filled with red bean paste and tasted like the one I had for dessert on Sunday, lucky fish.

You can see the bamboo rice packages of sticky rice as the top dish in this picture: 

From the dumpling lunch, I went straight to Chinese class. My second class.

Chinese class was different -- I was the only student to show up, so I got a private lesson! When I showed up for the first class, it turned out they were on lesson 10. Ugh. Fortunately, I remembered a fair amount from my studies before our trip there in 2012, so I was able to limp along. But this past weekend, since it was just me, we did lesson 1. Basic introductions, etc., which was great.

The instructor spends part of class going over a lesson in the book, which is usually about 10 lines of dialogue on a given subject. We spend time doing pronounciation, vocabulary, and a bit of the roots in some of the written characters. That seems to take 60-90 minutes. And then for the rest of class, another 60 or so minutes, we learn about something more conversational -- sometimes with writing. For example, we learned how to say i-phone. Since it is a loan word, it sounds pretty much like i-phone (a bit more like i-fung). But we got to learn about the written characters, which I loved. I-phone is comprised of two characters, one for each sound. I, or ai, which means love. I knew that one since I often say that to my husband as "I love you" (wo ai ni) was one of my first Chinese phrases, though it did not prove useful in China country. Anyway, the second part of i-phone is fung, which means crazy or insane. And when we learned about the written character for fung, it has two parts -- one that means disease or illness, and inside of that, wind (the blowing weather kind, not like winding a watch). And then the lightbulb went off for me (about a millisecond before he espressly explained it) -- a crazy or insane person is like someone with a disease of having wind in their heads. Oh I love it!

Among the words I was happy to learn:
husband (3 forms: my mister, my old man, and my husband)
younger brother
left, right (and how to march, left, left, left, right, left, which I loved and practiced with my old man!)
to want
to like
help/rescue in urgent life-threatening sense
help in a non-urgent, I dropped a box or this is heavy sense