Independence Day

As I said in yesterday’s blog post, I recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. with my family.  It was an amazing trip that left me filled with a sense of patriotism and pride.  I thought today, our nation’s celebrated day of independence, was a fitting time to post of few of my photographs.

Friendship Arch, ChinatownIMG_3254

A view of the Capitol taken as I crossed the streetIMG_3285

The Washington MonumentIMG_3398

The World War II MemorialIMG_3465

A funny fish water feature at the base of a statue.IMG_3575

The Jefferson Memorial IMG_3647

A woman working in the lab at the Smithsonian’s Natural History MuseumIMG_3794

The Capital dome.IMG_4024

The front steps of the Capitol.IMG_4179

The Capitol dome and the Stars and StripesIMG_4226

The Lincoln MemorialIMG_4363

Big crowdsIMG_4415

Lincoln’s statue.IMG_4450

Arlington National CemeteryIMG_4619

The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  This picture is flawed but I was struck by the expression on this young Marine’s face.IMG_4626

Changing of the guard.IMG_4638

The Eternal Flame.IMG_4608

Things I learned on vacation…

…and beyond.

You might have noticed that, with the exception of a few photographs, I’ve been largely absent from the blog in recent weeks.

Or then again, maybe you haven’t. 

That’s okay.  Sometimes, I don’t even notice when I’m missing. 

June turned out to be busier than I anticipated.  I had an impromptu week-long visit from two of my nephews, participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, turned forty, traveled to our nation’s capital on vacation with the family, and had an unexpected sharp increase in caseload at the office.  This inability to adequately judge my level of anticipated activity seems to be a recurring theme in my life.  You would think by now I’d have worked out the kinks.

As you can imagine, all of this activity came with a laundry list of new things learned.  Over the last month, I learned…

…that no matter how you try to spin it, turning forty sucks.  And, please, spare me the “forty is the new thirty” bullshit.  Turning thirty sent me into a depression so deep it took four years to recover.

…that my nephews think that I may not be completely human.  Here’s how that conversation went:

Nephew #1:  Aunt Peggy, don’t you ever get tired of typing (I was working on my NaNoWriMo word count).

Me:   No.

Nephew #2 (in a hushed voice):   Aunt Peggy is a cyborg.

This revelation was followed by a fit of giggles.   Of course, in response, I gave them my best stink eye.  I have a reputation to uphold, after all.  This earned me a fresh round of giggles.  It seems my stink eye needs an upgrade.  I’ll have to work on that.

…that as humans, we have been conditioned to stand in line, to patiently wait our turn. It is ingrained in our psyche even as we whine and cry and complain about it.  If you have ever had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. or any tourist hot spot, for that matter, you know that a great deal of time is spent standing in line.  There are lines for transportation, lines for security, lines for admittance, lines for viewing.  It is the way the world works, and something that we’ve come to accept as the natural order of our day-to-day lives.  It brings us comfort, gives us a sense of organization, and takes the thought process out of our hands.

At the National Archives, they like to mix it up a bit.    Sure, they shuffle you in like herds of cattle.  Force you through a line for the metal detector, another to search your bag, then corral you into a long snake-like line at the base of the steps into “the vault.”   However, once you cross the threshold into the room that holds our nation’s most revered documents, the rules of the game suddenly shift.   You will be instructed to go against your intrinsic nature.  Lines are not permitted.  You must move freely about the room and view the displays at your leisure.  Such a radical departure from the norm will cause you to cast a panicked look at the person standing behind you.  They will appear as shell-shocked as you feel.  No lines?  Crazy talk.  That’s simply not the way these things are supposed to work.  Of course, in reality such instructions are futile.  Humans behave invariably in the manner in which they are most accustom.  On my visit to the National Archives, that’s exactly what the masses did – they filed into the room, walked directly to the exhibit at the far left, and worked steadily to the right, in a nice neat single file line.  Myself included.

No line?

That’s the most barbaric thing I’ve ever heard.

…that in large metropolitan areas where public transportation is consistently utilized, there are rules of etiquette that must be followed when riding the escalators that lead to and from the underground metro system.  Stand to the right, or get your ass run over.  Lesson learned.

…that my family doesn’t understand or share my love for history.  This week I learned that some of the Dead Sea scroll fragments, along with other artifacts from the time period, are on exhibit just up the road in Ft. Worth.   So thrilling!  After a little digging, I discovered that in addition to the exhibit, there will be a series of lectures offered on varying subjects related to the scrolls and their impact on the history of Judaism and beyond.   I enthusiastically shared this news with my husband, my mother, my best friend, and my daughter.  All of them metaphorically patted me on the head and said “you have fun with that.”  I guess that means I shouldn’t buy them a ticket.

…that taking 5 days off in the middle of Camp NaNoWriMo is detrimental to the success of the project.  I did manage to rack up 30,000 words in the first 20 days.  That’s pretty darn good for me so I’m going to take a page out of the Book of Sheen and declare myself a winner.

…that the path that hugs the Tidal Basin and offers up a view of the Jefferson Memorial across the water, looks better in my head than it does in person. I will now have to adapt a scene I’ve already written to accommodate the lack of suitable spots for a clandestine meeting.  Bummer.

…that my daughter thinks my detailed character profiles complete with photographs are “cute.”   I’m not really sure, but I think she is mocking me.

…that last, but not least, this week’s (month’s) awww moment is brought to you by a duck I encountered while visiting the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.  I had the distinct impression that he was a waterfowl on a mission.  His waddle was very determined.

IMG_3693

Journey of Self-discovery: Conquering my fear of boats

Boats scare the shit out of me.

I apologize if such language may seem unnecessary to you, but it is an apt description of the paralyzing fear I experience just before crossing a gangplank.  As I’ve said before in a blog entry on my irrational phobias, it has less to do with the physical vessel and everything to do with its function.  Boats “float” in bodies of water;  bodies of water –  and the things that live in them – are deadly.  I don’t do deadly.

As a general rule, I avoid boat travel like the plague.  As was the case four years ago, when I was traveling with my family in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  I took one look at the ferry to Cozumel, turned around and walked away.  I was not going to get on that boat.  Period.  End of discussion.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico 2008

In recent years, however, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot live my life in absolutes.  Inflexibility stunts personal growth, and frankly, makes for a very boring life.  When it comes right down to it, who aspires to have a boring life?  No one, that’s who.  We all want to look back on the past with some measure of accomplishment – that we didn’t squander a lifetime away doing nothing but shaking in our boots, scared of our own shadow.  It took me a long time to figure that out.

Bearing this new discovery in mind, I jumped at the chance to meet up with one of my oldest friends in New York City in September 2009.  Okay.  Perhaps “jumped at” is a bit of an overstatement.  There were many things about that trip that caused the little anxiety troll inside my head to scream out in panic.  The trip would coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 and would entail leaving Megan behind for more than a day or two.  I am not a spiritual person but I am prone to superstition.  For me, the whole set up seemed to tempt fate.  Seriously bad mojo in the making; and I just knew that if I went, I was doomed to perish.  But this time I didn’t listen to my nagging fear monster.  I spit in the eye of fate and went with my husband to New York City, had a fabulous time, and even rode the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands – in a rainstorm with choppy seas; on September 11th.

Ferry to Liberty and Ellis Island, New York 2009

And survived.

Take that bad mojo.

(Good thing I didn’t learn about this until I was home safe and sound.)

In January, my husband and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary.  A milestone, to be sure, in this day and age of rampant divorce.  Our special day falls very close to Christmas, so it is not unusual for us to forego gifts, opting instead for a simple dinner out alone.  This year, however, given the significance of the anniversary, we decided to take the honeymoon we weren’t able to afford when we first married.  We looked at a lot of places and agreed that Cabo San Lucas, Mexico was where we wanted to spend five days playing the part of newlyweds.

Cabo is a beautiful place, romantic and serene – almost magical.  Perhaps it was this bit of magic that possessed me to agree to go on a whale watching expedition.  The conditions were perfect for sighting one or two and, for us, it was something new – uncharted.  That was what this trip was all about, after all.  Trying something new.  We booked it.

Then I saw the boat.

Inflatable raft would be a more adequate description.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 2011

To say I was scared to death would be an understatement and to be honest, most of the two and a half hour boat ride is one big blur.  I spent a good deal of the time clinging to the side rope, praying to a God I haven’t spoken to in years, and trying not think about how very deep the guide said the water was beneath our feet – or what may be lurking there.  The point at which the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean is rough, dark and cold.  Terrifying – made even worse by the boat’s Captain who at the barest hint of a “blow” on the horizon was off like a shot, bearing down on the unsuspecting whales at speeds that where not conducive to safe boating under any conditions.  I was seriously reconsidering the status of my own sanity at this point.  I wanted the hell off this “boat” in the worst way.

Then I saw my first whale.

They are a sight to behold.  Like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I almost forgot where I was – almost.  Whales move quickly, so you only have a minute – sometimes mere seconds, to take in the their majestic beauty.  The experience left me in total awe.   As did the incredible sunset.

Sunset - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 2011

When I stepped off the boat at the end of the tour, I was relieved. I really had my doubts that I would make it back to shore in one piece.  I was also overwhelmed with the sense of accomplishment I felt at facing down my fear.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still scared shitless, but I hadn’t allowed it to control me.

Will I ever do that again?

Absolutely not.  But now I can say that I did it once and that’s enough for me.

Things I learned while on vacation

So, I’ve been away from the blog for a few days.  Maybe you’ve notice; maybe you didn’t.  If not, I’m crushed.  I thought you loved me and hung on my every word.

No?  Your unwavering devotion is all in my head?

Hmmm.

My little vacation was a six-day trip to Key West via Orlando, Tampa and Miami with my girlfriends.  It was wonderful and exhausting all at the same time.  I guess that’s how you know the vacation was a roaring success – you need a vacation from the vacation when you get  home.  That’s how I feel today.   I’m beat.

In the spirit of my new regular Friday entries (Things I Learned This Week), I’ve decided to share with you some of the things I learned during my stay in the great state of Florida (no sarcasm intended.  I was born there and have a great affection for the state and its quirky inhabitants).

Things I learned while on vacation in Florida with my girls…

…that World of Beer is a fun little pub with waitresses that will go above and beyond to find a beer in their massive collection that will satisfy even the pickiest of non-beer drinkers.  Kudos to them!

…that Miami International Airport was designed by the same crazy monkeys that designed Orlando International Airport – only on crack.  Can you say cluster-fuck?

…that at the Mall of America in Miami you can get your hooker shoes, hoochie-mama dress and a shot of penicillin all under the same roof.  One stop shopping at its finest.  (Stole this little bit of genius from my BFF, Amy).

…that the Olive Garden’s unlimited soup, salad, and bread sticks is always a good idea.

…that true to form, Amy nearly killed us all with her driving.  To be fair, it was only once this trip.  Of course, it was on a bridge over shark infested waters, going 90 mph – about 35 mph OVER the posted speed limit.  Her consistency is admirable.  She never fails to disappoint.  Love that girl!

…that there are 42 bridges between mainland Florida and Key West.  No I didn’t count them.  The very informative trolley driver was kind enough to share that bit of useless trivia along with an unending supply of not so witty conch jokes.

…that there is in fact no beach in or around Mallory Square.

…that actually reading the map and literature provided by trolley booking lady instead of stuffing them into my bag would have alleviated any such confusion.  Note to self…

…that misjudging your trolley stop will result in an extensive tour of the island – the opposite side of the island from your intended destination.  However, this little jaunt did afford some very nice views and quite a bit more useless trivia to be stowed away for later use.

…that Willy T’s on Duval does indeed make a superior mojito.  Yum-o.

…that the Hemingway House cats actually do have more toes than nature intended.  Freaky.

…that I have “itty-bitty titties”.  Or so the drag queen at Aqua so kindly pointed out.

…that it is useless to wage a battle against curly, frizzy hair in a climate with oppressive humidity.  It is a fight you can’t win.  Embrace the frizz.

Wing and Wieners –  funny.  Misreading it as Wigs and Wieners – priceless.  Thank you, Shelley.

Key West, Florida