Monday, December 29, 2008

Museum Tours, Stupid American, Pirates, Bleeding Money, Sleep Deprivation and Elliptical

Over the holiday weekend, I volunteered two days, the day after Christmas and this past Sunday. The day after a holiday is always a crap shoot. It could be completely dead or insanely busy. It was a good busy the day after Christmas. Lots of families and we were steady all day long. Sunday, it seemed more like fathers and sons, but was much busier than a normal Sunday.
With temperatures in the 70s here in DC, it seemed more like Easter weekend than Christmas weekend. Ironically, Easter weekend will probably be much colder than this Christmas weekend was.

I gave the morning and afternoon tours at the Museum on Sunday. Ack! The morning tour was a complete surprise. A lady walked up to me at 10 a.m. and asked if I was giving the tour. Huh? I don't know, no one told me I was. I knew one of the guys who was back at Iwo usually gave tours so I went back to ask him if he wanted to do the 10 a.m. "No, I'm getting over a cold, why don't you go ahead and do it."

I'll admit, that morning tour was shaky. If I know I'm going to give a tour, I kind of walk through the museum and quickly, in my head gather what I am going to say. I was so nervous on the morning tour. I always sweat when I speak in front of people, but I was sweating more than normal. The afternoon tour was much better. I had 'calmed' down. Relaxed. I've incorporated a story of two Marines, who in 2007 stood their ground at their guard post Ramadi and prevented a suicide truck bomber from making it to the security post building. General Kelly was asked by an Iraqi general why the Marines didn't run, his men ran and were alive. Gen. Kelly responded that his Marines couldn't run, that there were 30 other Marines at the security post building that were counting on them. I told that story after talking about the panel display on Beirut and use it to transition to another Marine who single handily stood his post - - Dan Dailey. Then I brought these stories up and added them to other stories about other Marines at Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Toktong Pass, Vietnam. The tours all end at the Medal of Honor Wall and in both tours, I had several people wiping tears from their eyes as I talked about Jason Dunham and how he didn't hesitate to cover the live grenade with his body - - because like all the other Marines that came before him, his Marines were counting on him.

I can't believe I talked for four hours! Holy cow!

Now for my Stupid American Award - - it goes to me. I mentioned in my last post about it being Hezbollah in Gaza - - its not - - its Hamas in the Gaza strip that have been firing rockets and mortars into Israel for the past week. Israel, as you know has responded with air strikes against Hamas related targets. Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qada, the Taliban - - they are all the same in my book. Maybe I should just call them "The Bad Guys". By they way, how the heck to you spell Al Qada - - I see it spelled about 10 different ways. Is it like Shakespeare's rose, by any other spelling its still a terrorist organization?

O.k. now for the runner up Stupid American Award. Drum role please.... it goes to Senator John Kerry who said US forces should practice caution in following Somali pirates into Somalia. Why would we do that? I'm thinking our Navy vessels - - even little ole patrol boats could sink those Somali Pirates' arces. What do you think? Why pursue them? Just take them out.

Bleeding Money - - that would be me. The last month has been Aweful. Not only is it Christmas, thankfully all my shopping was done before Thanksgiving, but I have been hit with one thing after another and none of it has been under $200 dollars. All the electrical outlets going dead in my kitchen -- $250. Repairing a strip of siding that blew off in a windstorm - - $1300. A new catalytic converter and rear brakes for my car - - $750. New front tires - - $350 and now, new front brakes $350. I'm not going to say, "What next" because I don't want to get hit with "what next".

Needless to say, this has been causing some sleep issues. Oh for one solid night of 8 hours of sleep!

Maybe tonight. I spent an hour on the elliptical at the gym today. An attempt re-start my workout routine. I have crashed and burned on this over and over for the past 3 years now. I think it is contributing to my sleeplessness and lack of energy. I'm also having issues fitting into clothes - - some of them I just purchased a month ago. So this week, I'm going to make my attempt to get back into things and I'm going to try and find some online forums or websites that I can join so I can hold myself accountable. I just feel like garbage and lately, I look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day and I think, "Oh my gosh, I'm dying."

Now, I know we are all dying. But I have dark circles under my eyes, my eyes are sunken, my skin is pale, my hair is just limp and won't do anything.

So, yes, I'll probably be putting "get in better shape" and "eat healthier" on my list of New Year's resolutions.

Why is it SOOOOO hard to do things that are good for you?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

If a Dining Room Table Could Talk...

If a dining room table could talk, what tales would it tell? Tales of triumph, disappointments, fears, dreams, happiness, sorrow? DSCN8112

The table above belonged to my mom's grandmother. It was a wedding gift to her mother upon her marriage to my great grandfather. Bertha (my great-grandmother, and her real name) met my great-grandfather Ernest on the steam ship coming from Europe to the United States in 1911. This is the picture they had taken en route. Bertha is in the white coat on the left, her chaperon, Miss Brehren, is on the right.

Bertha Hoffman Ernest Hench w Miss Brehren 1911

Bertha, was leaving her home and family in Switzerland to be a governess for a wealthy Chicago family. Ernest was leaving his home and family in Germany to work as a baker at a Chicago Hotel. His older brother had already established himself as a Grocer in Defiance, Ohio. Ernest was coming to make his way in the world. I remember my grandmother telling a story that Bertha worked with her sister in their family's shop. They were seamstresses/tailors. Her younger sister had been spotted through the window by an handsome young man who entered the store, professed his love for her on the spot and they eventually married. Bertha on the other had, had no suitors. In fact she was in her 20s - - I'm recalling she was around 24 or so when she left for the United States, an old maid by the standards of the day.

Back to the dining room table and why I am blogging about it. It was a wedding gift to Bertha. It was a wedding gift to my sister. Our grandmother died the summer before my sister was married. When the estate was finally settled, all of the furniture was auctioned as a way to keep my mother and her brothers from fighting over everything. If they wanted it, they could buy it all the money would then be split among all six of them. My future brother-in-law won the bidding war with one of my uncles and gave it to my sister as a wedding gift.


Why did my brother-in-law buy this table for her (it also came with the buffet and china cabinet)? Because she had told him the special place this table had in her heart.

You see, we grew-up living next door to our grandparents, which was a wonderful thing. My grandmother was the only child so they acquired all of her parent's belongings when they passed away. You could see into my grandparents' home from our kitchen window. Every night, they had dinner at the table. Grandpa at the head, grandma next to him. The table was huge - - apparently, they always had it extended to its full capacity. It was only when my sister set it up in her home did I see it at its normal size. But any way, there was always comfort seeing my grandparents eating their dinner at that table in the warm glow of the chandliers.

My sisters and I and on occasion, our friends often feasted on ice cream at that table. My grandparents had a cavernous freezer in the basement that was always stocked with ice cream and popsicles. They always had a slab of real butter in the butter dish, which my sisters and I would slather thickly on Ritz crackers.

Under the table, it was a magical world. My sister K and I would cut apart old Sears or JcPenney catalogs to make paper dolls and we'd play for hours under the table. Other times, the table served as a space ship or a covered wagon - - it was whatever our imaginations imagined it to be.

We celebrated birthdays, my aunts and uncles' visits, Easter and Christmas Eve around the table.

Christmas Eve was magical at my grandparents. All the antique ornaments on the tree and the goodies that lined the table on these beautiful serving trays. I was curious what the traditional German name was for the Christmas Eve feast - - my Polish family called Christmas Eve, Wigilia (the W is pronounced like a V), my Italian friends called the feast the Jospeph's Table. Just discovered, like two minutes ago, that the German Christmas Eve feast is called Dickbauch - - or fat stomach. Hmm, now I know why my family just called it "Christmas Eve" - - for some reason, I'm thinking we'd have slaughtered the German and called it something like "Dickballs" as children.

Yes, I digress and I'm getting silly because I was getting to sentimental and it was making me get all weepy - - so I had to lighten it up a little. But anyway - - I'm thinking now, why does German sound so ugly? I mean Christmas Eve is Froehliche Weihnacten - - which I'm sure my sisters and I would have, at four years old be calling it Fro lick weiner bottom - - or something like that. Wigilia is so much prettier.

O.k. back to the dining room table. What made me think about a piece of furniture that doesn't even sit in my house?

I read a blog today from A Soldier's Mother, called simply, The Table. Her son is in the Israeli Army and as you know, this past week, Israel has executed a series of air strikes against Hezbollah and Palestinian militant positions in the Gaza strip. They have called up all Reservists, military analysts with the news outlets think this is preparation for a ground attack into Gaza to route out the Palestinian fighters. Soldier's Mother writes about how the seating arrangements and size of the table changed as their family grew and how this year, her son could not be with them to celebrate the final night of Hanukkah.

It just made me think and reflect. What universal experiences we all have around the dining room table, no matter what country we live in. The visible emptiness that is left at the family table when one of the members can not be there, yet despite the empty space, new memories are being formed by those who are present.

Not all memories from around the table are happy memories. The table that now sits in my sister's home shared bits of sorrow with my great-grandparents when they learned of Ernest's brother's death in World War I. It shared hard times and fear during the great depression and then World War 2. It was were decisions were made regarding Ernest's care when he began suffering from dementia. It was were wedding announcements, births and baptisms were shared. It is where my family gathered after my grandfather's death. Where we all gathered again after my grandmother's death.

I'll never forget looking through the kitchen window into the dark dining room and empty table, knowing I would never again see my grandparents sharing their day with each other as they shared a meal together in the warm glow of the chandelier.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Singleton's Christmas

First of all, let me just say that several of my wonderful friends from church invited me to their homes for Christmas dinner. I declined because I just wanted to chill out; sleep really late; open my presents at a leisurely pace and time; hang out in PJs all day and watch movies. Their invitations were appreciated!

Christmas Eve - - I got stuck at work. We were trying to set up the training region for an interface partner who will be using our training region. So I was there on my scheduled vacation day. Don't worry, I won't lose the day - - I'll just take it some other time. So, I didn't have time to do my hair for church - - considered not putting make-up on but didn't want to look like I was depressed to be spending Christmas alone - - I wasn't depressed at all. Was looking forward to the peace and solitude.

As I was heading out the door for church, my mom calls. They were all opening presents at their house. That has been the tradition in my family, presents and dinner at Grandma and Grandpa's - - so mom and dad are now Grandma and Grandpa. Mom puts the big guilt trip on me...

"Oh, you should have been here the kids really liked your gifts. They were big hits and they are so into unwrapping everything. You are really missing out not being here."

Hmm, I seem to recall her telling me three days before that they had been dumped on by about 3 inches of freezing rain which was slush on the roads which then froze and was covered by about 4 inches of snow. Oh, and their street has not been cleared. Ya, I'm tired of driving home in yuck - - 9 hours of driving isn't bad enough -- adding the yuck to it is over the top for me. Now, if they lived 9 hours south of me that would be a different story.

But anyway, Nephew loved his Lego set.


I've been getting him the Secret Agent series this past year. For Christmas, I got him mission #8. Its really cool, this big volcano secret lab that belongs to the bad guys -- I think. Well, when he opened it he kept saying, "There isn't a mission 8, it only goes up to mission 6." His mom and dad kept telling him there must be a mission #7 and #8 because he clearly has mission #8 in his hands. When it finally sunk in that he had mission #8, he was so excited because that mission hasn't come out in the stores yet Ohio - - yay! for the Lego outlet at Potomac Mills!!! So he has a Lego set that none of his friends have or have seen.

I have been on a princess theme for Niece for the past couple of years. Last year I sent her a box of princess dress-up clothes. This year for her birthday, I found this pretty Sleeping Beauty dress and matching doll. (Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney Fairytale). I sent her the dress for her birthday - - she's very petite so its still a bit large on her. I sent the doll for Christmas.

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My mom wasn't sure if Niece would like the doll as she is really into playing with trucks and cars and all the stuff her brother plays with. My mom said she wasn't too interested in playing with any dolls. Well, she was really excited about Sleeping Beauty. She kept walking around with the box saying "Look!"

When I talked to my sister on the phone, she grudgingly told me that she was undoing the 50 twisty ties that held Sleeping Beauty in place in her packaging because Niece wanted to play with her.

My sister and brother-in-law were happy about the Wii controllers and games that I got them. Dad liked his wallet and the book, History of Ohio State Football. My mom hadn't even gotten to unwrapping the gifts I got her, so I'm not sure.

I heard from Major A the week before Christmas.


The package I sent him had arrived and he really appreciated it. He said he distributed the coffee to his teams (after I bought the coffee, I realized in the last three packages I've sent him three bags of coffee each) Either way, I hope the coffee brightens up someone's day, warms it up any way since it is getting cold where he is. He said he'd probably spend Christmas day smoking one of the cigars and chilling out.

Here, Stryker considers sending himself.

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Above, my packing job.

So - - what did my Christmas look like?

Here is my tree.


Wish I could say I trained Ranger on how to take photos - - but I'm not that good with cats. I took these with my timer.

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I don't know why Ranger never wants to take a picture with me. I even tried to bribe him with catnip and toys. All that got me was a clawed up hand. Note to self: Never dangle catnip drenched cat toys in front of Ranger. This picture was pre-clawing.


I got a great pair of fleece pajamas - - I got a pair for my birthday. They are so warm and soft! If I didn't have to get new tires on my car two weeks ago, I'd go back to Kohls and buy about 5 more pairs. These are the best PJs ever!


I also got the boxed set of Indiana Jones movies. One of these weekends I'll have an Indy marathon - - I just need to get a larger TV. Maybe after I pay my credit card off.


My sister also sent me a winter Apron. Its very festive and maybe in the future when I have a family and cook a holiday dinner, I will wear it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rats! Christmas in DC


I braved the cold last night and headed down to DC to catch the lights at the National Botanical Garden. I felt a bit rushed. I got stuck at work an hour later than I had planned (had to go back to work today even though it was suppose to be a vacation day - - 6 hours more than I expected....grrr). By the time I got down to DC I had an hour before the gardens closed. So I rushed around to take pictures of what I wanted to take - - note to self: bring a different tripod next year.

I may head down again over the weekend to photograph some of this with more natural light. It was so dark and people would walk in front of the spot lights and it was in a cramped room so I didn't even feel comfortable putting my camera on a tripod. I liked it better outside.

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Below is Caterpillar garden.


Can you see the tree people?


Look! Its a book worm!


It was called Caterpillar garden because the train was painted to look like a caterpillar.


The next portion was the Fairy Tale Express. Below is Cinderella's castle. It kind of looks like one of the castles along the Rhine in Germany, doesn't it?


This is Santa's village. I like how they used plants with white leaves to give the effect of snow.


Town houses in the German village along the mountainside of the Cinderella castle.

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Out in the main area, they have the miniatures of the landmark government buildings. Can you guess which one this is?


This should help you out (oh by the way, I was not in the reflecting pool - - very close but not in it). The building below is the Capital Building. These miniatures are up all year long and they surround the structures with seasonal flowering plants. Its always so beautiful.

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The Garden's Christmas tree. I think this tree is so beautiful. It is just dripping in lights and ornaments. Someday, my tree will look like this -- with Christmas village and train running around the base.

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Now, on to the capital. Below is a historically significant picture. Why? Read the sign:



All of the scaffolding that you see are being put up for the Obama inauguration. Yes, they are starting that early.

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On the way back to the metro, I encountered one of DC's most prolific residents. A black rat. I took two pictures of this guy as he tried to scurry away from me. I'm not sure but after the second picture, I may have blinded him or something because....

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He stopped stood on his hind legs, sniffed the air and started trotting up to me. Yes, he stopped running away from me and came scurrying at me. YIKES! I didn't know if I should try and take a picture or not. I chose not to because he was moving really fast and I haven't had a rabies vaccination. So, I took a step back and that startled him. He jumped and did a back flip kind of thing (funny, actually) and then scurried away from me. I'm not sure what he was doing. Maybe he thought I had food for him. Who the heck feeds the rats?

Any way, that was the closest I have ever been to a rat - - he came within a foot of my feet. So does this mean I lost a game of "Chicken" to a rat?

I ran into three additional buddies of his on the path back to the metro. GROSSS!

I didn't venture over to the White House because, did I mention, it was cold. The walk to the metro made me feel like my legs were going to freeze off. I think it was 20 degrees. I don't do well with cold weather.

Have a wonderful Christmas Eve and Day with your family and friends!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Montford Point Marines' Tree


The Christmas tree overlooking the Leatherneck Gallery and the Harrier is dedicated to the Montford Point Marines. The Montford Point Marines were the first African American Marines since the Revolution. I do not know why African Americans did not join the Marine Corps or why the Marine Corps would not allow them to join until World War II.


Mumford Point (later renamed Montford Point) was the location for Basic Training for all African American Marines to serve in World War 2. At this time, units in the military, all branches, were segregated. It wasn't until the Korean War that units were de-segregated.

You can find out more information on the Montford Point Marine Association, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of that first group of black Marines.

There are some special ornaments on this tree, besides the names of ALL of the Montford Point Marines, there are ornaments dedicated to those Montford Point Marines who received the Medal of Honor.

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On the back of each ornament was the story of their actions that earned them this honor.

I recommend a visit to the link I provided above to the Montford Point Marine Association web page, lots of good information and pictures.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Magical Christmas Plans


Last year, I happened upon Christmas at the National Botanical Garden (above) and just fell in love. Oh my gosh! This is the best Christmas display in the Nation's Capital.

It catapulted me back to being 6 years old when Christmas was a magical holiday. Christmas was a holiday where angels sang, we waited excitedly for baby Jesus to be put in the manger at church. Rudolf, Santa, the elves and all the magical creatures of the holiday stepped out.

I imagined the Christmas lights on the trees as tiny fairies dancing to the Christmas music. I imagined talking mice families stocking up on the good cookie crumbs my sisters and I would drop (granted the thought of little mice families doing that now really grosses me out). I love Lionel trains. Believe it or not I once had one.

I love the little Christmas villages and was well on my way to collecting and building a magical one myself. I would imagine myself miniaturizing so I could fit in that perfect Christmas village, where you always got home on time to enjoy a nice cozy dinner with the family, sing carols, head to the high school for a basketball game, then to the diner for hot chocolate followed by a late night ice skating in the town square. A place where Christmas was always a sparkling snow covered paradise that never felt cold.

I think this is why I love Christmas and decorating. However, I don't like how early everyone is decorating now. When you have two months of Christmas decorations and songs, it all kind of loses its 'specialness'.

The National Botanical Garden is open until 8 p.m. tomorrow and I am going to try to make it down there to experience the magic and take pictures with my "good" digital SLR. I debate going in the evening because it will be very dark and I won't be able to photograph the details of the Christmas villages they will have set up - - but I can always go back on Christmas Eve during the day, right?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Princess Party Lots of Fun Despite Freezing Rain


The weather couldn't put the kibosh on the 5th Annual Princess Party. These are the ladies in my small group doing their best Charlie's Angels pose in front of my tree. Gosh everyone was SOOOOOO pretty.

Providence was upon me this day. About a month ago part of the siding on my house blew off and I needed to get it fixed. I was able to schedule that fixing on the day of the Princess party so I had to take the day off. I used it to clean like a mad woman and get everything set up.

Here is the spread. Cheese, crackers, chocolate, spinach dip, fruit and veggies.


This is my buffet table in the kitchen where I made Bride's Punch and we had sparkling cider.


I was bopping around taking pictures of everyone but eventually handed the camera off to one of my friends and she took pictures of me with the different groups of my friends. This is my favorite picture of me - - mainly because I don't look fat in this picture.


So anyway, what is the jist of the Princess Party?

"In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." Ephesians 1: 5, 7-8

This is the "theme" verse. God is the King - - the BIG KING, the ALMIGHTY KING and in this verse it says that we have been adopted as his daughters. Well, if we are daughters of The King, what does that make us?


We get dressed up in formal gowns, eat and socialize then we have the 'crowning' ceremony. Everyone selects a gift box or bag along with tiara from under the tree. Every year, I've been able to find some poem or reading that is specific for this event and I read that. Then one by one everyone opens their gift box and pulls out the Bible verse and reads it to the group. (also in the box/bag are some really good chocolates).


The neat thing is, it seems like the verses people get in their boxes always mean something or really touch a cord with them. That in itself is pretty amazing because I randomly select a bunch of verses (more than I need) then randomly put the verses in the boxes and everyone randomly picks a box. The Holy Spirit is pretty awesome. Its kind of like a Biblical fortune cookie. After everyone has read their verse we go around and we share what the verse meant to us. For some people, this is too personal- - you only have to share if you want to.

My verse last year was about finding rest in the Lord - - I have horrible sleep issues so I did cry when I read that verse. This year my verse was Matthew 25:40 "The King will reply, "I'll tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

This year our verses also contained a small verse from a poem - - mine was George Eliot, "Every soul that touches yours - - be it the slightest contact - - gets there from some good."

Last week in Bible study I had talked to the girls in my group about this. How I wondered why God was putting certain people in my life. Guess this was a reminder that there is a reason and its either that I am to get some good from them or they from me - - and whatever I do for anyone I meet - - however I treat someone or act - - I should do it as if doing it for the Lord.


Above, my friend K, who had been the leader of the first Bible study I had ever been a part of, with the ladies in her current small group. Five years ago, these ladies were in High School, now they are in college -- I feel so old!

And I just saw on facebook that the other ladies that had been part of our first small group, had their own Princess Party. They formed a "Young Married Women's" group - - so they all wore their wedding dresses to the party. How cool is that? One of the girls commented that her husband thought they were crazy - - but she figured they all spent a lot of money on their dresses so why not wear them again. I think that is so awesome!

I had to include a shot of Ranger. Silly boy. He looks really annoyed, doesn't he? He realized I was having people over so he was positioning himself to sneak out the door should someone take a little too long to come inside. He realizes I'm on to his little plan. But who knows, maybe he is annoyed because I tried to put a girlie tiara on his head for a picture.