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This town.

With its political satire, political thrillers, and partisan politics.

With its millennials changing the landscape, interns chasing the dream, and sometimes cynical “old timers” who’ve seen it all.

With its Natural History, American History, and soon – African American History.

This town.

With its beltways, highways, and parkways. Traffic reports, crazy commutes, and Dr. Gridlock.

With its slowdowns, shutdowns, and continuing resolutions. With a White House, Arlington House, and President Washington’s house.

With its monuments to presidents, war fighters, and drum majors for peace.

With its heat, humidity, and tourists in the summer; derechos and power outages in the spring; continuing resolutions and budget showdowns in the fall; and Snowmageddon.

This town.

With blue lines, silver lines, orange lines, and yellow, green and red. Maybe purple one day. With elevator outages, broken escalators, and weekend track work. And please stand on the right.

With Caps and Nats and Mystics and Kastles, the United and the Football Team That Shall Not Be Named – at least not here.

With U Street, H Street, 16th Street. Politics and Prose, AFI Silver Spring, the National Mall. With the Folklife Festival, National Book Festival, and Kite Festival.

With DCA, IAD, and even BWI. With security lines, Global Entry, and TSA PreCheck.

With federal agencies, and agency acronyms, and “the principals.”

This town. I’m going to miss it.

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We’re twelve days into 2014 and, as one might expect, there’s been a lot of reflection about 2013.  The top news stories.  The top political cartoons.  The top films (and just FYI, if you haven’t seen 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, or Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom, then you should stop reading this right now, go to Fandango.com, and purchase your tickets.  I’ll be here when you get back).  Anyway, you get the idea.  I thought about doing that this year – I’ve done it in the past – but decided to do something a little different this time.

2013 got off to a rough start for me, personally and professionally.  I was really struggling.  One of my Facebook friends had posted a story/article/blog piece about counting your blessings.  Every day, you write on a piece of paper one blessing in your life and then you put that piece of paper somewhere – a jar, a vase, a box – somewhere where you can see it.  It seemed like a good way for me to focus on the positives in my life, so I decided to give it a try.

Now, I have to confess:  I did not count my blessings for the entire year, but I did do a pretty good job.  I wrote my daily blessings on bits of colored paper and dropped them in the big glass vase that sat on my kitchen counter.  Yesterday, I finally got around to opening those bits of paper so that I could review my 2013 and the many things I have to be thankful for.

My 2013 Blessings

My 2013 Blessings

My blessings tended to fall into a few categories:  weather, pets, family, work.  I am pleased to note that “work” didn’t dominate.  What I mean is, I tend to be pretty career-focused and sometimes I forget to stop and smell the roses.  Turns out, I didn’t forget.  I won’t share every blessing with you, but I’d like to point out a few highlights (in no particular order):

  1. The honeybells arrived!  Last year, I got a six-month subscription to a “fruit of the month” club.  First up:  the honeybell.  Honeybells, in case you are wondering, are the most amazing fruit ever.  An orange/grapefruit hybrid.  Sweet.  Super juicy.  So juicy that a bib is included with the shipment.  If you’ve ever had one, you’ll understand why their arrival was such a wonderful blessing.  If you haven’t, stop reading right now and go out and get some.  They’re only available January through March!
  2. Cheerwine – another special treat.  This is North Carolina’s version of Dr. Pepper, but not quite the same.  I don’t think it’s sold anywhere else – at least I’ve never been able to find it.  So whenever I visit my parents in NC, I try to swing by the Food Lion to pick up a 12-pack or two.  Soooo good.
  3. Pushing my boundaries and getting outside my comfort zone.  Now, I have no idea what I did here.  I might have been referring to the Meetup group I joined, or maybe I went to a play by myself, or maybe I went skydiving.  (FYI – pretty sure I’d remember skydiving).  Whatever it was, it was something that I wasn’t used to and I did it anyway.  Go me!
  4. Arlington County firemen.  At some point in 2013, I got stuck in an elevator and I am totally not joking.  I was in the elevator of my parking garage to pick up my car and head home after work.  All of a sudden — BOOM!  Elevator stopped.  No power.  I was alone.  No a/c.  And most importantly, I.  Didn’t.  Have.  Anything.  To.  Read.  People who know me will understand how important that is.  Anyway, I managed to stave off panic by figuring that I probably wouldn’t die if the elevator fell – after all, I was stuck between basement levels 1 and 2, and the last basement level was 4, so it wouldn’t have been a huge drop.  Broken bones maybe, but I’d live.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to test my theory because the firemen from Arlington County saved me.  I was extremely thankful.
  5. This one’s a two-fer:  sleepover/afternoon tea with my sister and having the best sister in the world.  My sister is married with a toddler, so for her birthday last year, I thought it would be fun to have a girls’ night.  I booked us into the Willard Intercontinental, took her out for cocktails and dinner, and then the next day we shopped and returned to the Willard for afternoon tea.  It was fun, relaxing, and nice to have time for just the two of us.  We had so much fun we’re doing it again this year!  As for “the best sister in the world” – well, she’s been my number one cheerleader for a long time.  She tells me the truth when I need truth-telling, reassures me when I need reassurance, and makes me giggle when I need a good laugh.  She really is the best.
  6. Spending the day with my niece.  This is the best, especially now that she’s such a chatterbox.  She is a little person with her own tastes and opinions, and I enjoy hearing about them – even when she tells me she doesn’t like something I knitted for her.  Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

So that was just a little glimpse of my 2013.  I’m not doing this exercise for 2014 – not because I didn’t think it was worthwhile.  It definitely was for me.  I have a lot of wonderful blessings in my life and I hope that I will do a better job of remembering them because of this.  No, this year I’m focused on de-cluttering.  I’ll be headed overseas for my next assignment this summer, so I’ve got to clear out some of the junk.  Collecting bits of paper – even ones with my blessings written on them – is counter-productive at this stage.  That said, I’ll do my best to count my blessings every day.

There’s a man who stands outside the Foggy Bottom metro station almost every day, belting out gospel songs.  I kind of hate this guy.  He’s not a very good singer, but he has a powerful set of lungs.  Yet there he is almost every morning, rain or shine, his tip jar at his feet.  So I wondered:  what keeps him coming back, fighting for space at the top of the escalators, competing with all the other singers, musicians, and student groups selling Krispy Kreme donuts?  Is it the acoustics?  The tips?  Is this how he makes a living?  Does he earn enough to pay his rent or buy a meal?  How does he not get discouraged and throw in the towel?

I think I may have the answer:  faith.  He has faith that he’ll remember the words, that his voice won’t fail him, that the tips will come.

And it occurred to me that these days, I have to do the same.  The climate in Washington is cold – and I’m not talking about the weather.  Federal government employees have taken it on the chin:  three years with no pay raises, sequester, politicians and the public calling us lazy, incompetent, or worse.  And now the government is shut down.  Most feds have been forced to stay at home for the last two weeks; some are working without pay.  I am one of the lucky ones:  State Department management cobbled together no-year and multi-year funds to keep us open and operating – and collecting a paycheck.  But who knows how long that will last?

Let me tell you what I do know:  federal employees are hard working, bright, dedicated people who are proud to serve our country.  We smile and grit our teeth when people call us leeches or describe this shutdown as a “vacation.”  Guess what?  It’s not a vacation when you’re stressed out about how you’re going to pay your mortgage or your kid’s school fees.  We will keep working and waiting and hoping that our elected leaders will put an end to this madness.

And like that out of tune gospel singer at the top of the escalators, we will keep the faith.

I’m outta here today.  But before I go, I wanted to pass along a few random photos and thoughts about Colonial Williamsburg.  It’s definitely worth a visit.  The length of your stay will really depend on the depth of your curiosity about colonial times.  I’m sure some people go into every building, attend every special demonstration, and engage all of the “interpreters.”  (That’s right you guys.  These people in colonial garb are not mere actors.  They are INTERPRETERS).  Anyway, I am not one of those people.  I really loved the experience, but a weekend was all I needed.

I did make a point of visiting the African American Religion Exhibit.  A little disappointing – even when I put it in context.  The exhibit, located inside the former First Baptist Church, is on a side street on the edge of Williamsburg.  The building is small.  Okay, that’s realistic right?  I imagine that’s completely historically accurate.  The exhibit itself leaves something to be desired.  There’s a bible on display, and a few banners with quotations from historians.  And….scene.  I understand that recreating these communities depends largely on the historical records left behind, and given the status of African Americans in colonial times, it’s very unlikely that they left extensive written records.  Still, I wanted more.  Especially when you compare the little Baptist church with Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church.  Take a look:

 

First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church

Bruton Parish Church

Bruton Parish Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spinning, weaving, dying

Spinning, weaving, dying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the little spinning/weaving workshop.  Thank God it’s a lot simpler now.  It takes me forever to finish a sweater as it is.  Can you imagine if I had to spin and dye the wool first?

 

The Playbooth Theatre:  All Shows Weather Permitting.  Remember – there are no small stages, only small actors.  Or something.

photo 2 photo 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo 4

Adios Williamsburg

photo 5

And Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Town.  Where children go to be amazed and grown-ups go to be children.  And I mean that in the nicest way.

My Colonial Williamsburg package included free entry to Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town.  (Although let’s get real.  Entry is not “free.”  I paid for it in my Williamsburg package.  But, whatever.)  So I was exhausted last night after walking around Colonial W’burg, but I was determined to see Christmas Town.  I was on a mission to check it out as a future vacation destination for my niece and her parents.

I’ve never been to Busch Gardens, so I have no idea what the place looks like on a “regular” day, but I believe it must be completely transformed for Christmas Town.  If you don’t own stock in the local electric company, call your broker now.  Christmas Town is truly lit up like a Christmas tree.  Times a thousand.  So you’ll need shades.

In addition to your sunglasses (haha), bring your walking shoes.  There’s a lot of ground to cover.  Christmas Town consists of several international villages:  Italy, France, Ireland, Germany, England, and a few others that I’ve forgotten.  And I guess each village is supposed to be representative of that particular country’s culture – everything from the music to the cuisine to the gift shops.  There are also special shows and performances that you can go to…but don’t be surprised if a separate ticket is required. There’s also a funicular and a train – fun for kids of all ages!

Now, I just did a quick circuit of Christmas Town.  I passed through England, Ireland and France.  Christmas week is a challenging time to visit; the crowds are unreal.  My suggestion?  Go earlier in December and if you can manage it, go twice.  Your first trip should be during daylight hours.  Consider this your reconnaissance trip.  Figure out the lay of the land and identify places you’d like to spend more time when you return.  Maybe even purchase tickets for evening shows and performances.  After your recon trip, go back to the hotel and relax.  Once the sun goes down, head back to Christmas Town.  Did I mention that there’s a shuttle that takes you from W’burg to Busch Gardens?  It picks you up right outside the Williamsburg Lodge.  You definitely want to go back after dark, so that you can see all of the Christmas lights.  It’s actually really beautiful.  My photos below don’t do it justice.

My verdict?  Christmas Town is definitely worth a visit.  Take your time, wear comfy shoes, and treat yourself to a hot chocolate.

Christmas Town:  France

Christmas Town: France

Big Ben:  Christmas Town England

Big Ben: Christmas Town England

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1402

I am kickin’ it in Colonial Williamsburg for a few days.  Can you believe I’ve never been here before?  I’ve lived in the DC metro area on and off for the last 10 years and I’ve never been here.  I’ve got about 18 months left on my current Washington assignment – a long way to go – but I’m now at the point where the urgent need to “see everything” is ever-present.  You know how it is:  you live in a city for a few years, and you think “I’ve got plenty of time to visit the XYZ” or “I’ll go there when friends/family visit.”  Right.  And then – times up!  And you never made it to Placencia or that Mayan temple or Sicily or whatever.  (Full disclosure:  I did, in fact make it to Placencia, many Mayan temples, and Sicily).

So here I am in Colonial Williamsburg.  I’m staying in the Williamsburg Lodge.  I’m sure there are many fine hotels near Colonial Williamsburg, and there’s a shuttle from the Williamsburg Visitors’ Center that brings folks to/from Colonial Williamsburg on a regular schedule.  However, I highly recommend staying “on site.”  Yes, it may be more expensive, but the convenience makes it worth it.  My hotel, Williamsburg Lodge, is lovely and conveniently located just a block from the main drag – Duke of Gloucester Street.  This is perfect for me.  I can walk around for a while and when I get cold or tired or I need to use the bathroom, I can get back to my hotel in about 5 minutes.

Before I get to the Colonial Williamsburg experience, let’s talk for a minute about the accommodations. I’ve traveled around the country with my family since I was a little girl and we stayed in a variety of hotels – everything from Holiday Inns to nice resorts in Arizona.  Now, when budget is the driving force, the Holiday Inns of this world will do just fine.  However, I really love it when my hotel room can be part of the experience.  That’s what I’ve got here at the Williamsburg Lodge.  My room is furnished to the time period.  I’m no expert on colonial furnishings, so I have no idea how accurate it is.  But the point is, I stepped into this room and I got in the mood for colonial times.  And yes, I have the luxury of getting in the mood without the hardships:  I have hot and cold running water, electricity, central heating, and a free wifi connection – which allows me to draft this blog at Williamsburg rather than waiting until I get home.

Williamsburg Lodge

Williamsburg Lodge

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Williamsburg Lodge 2

You guys, I did a lot of walking yesterday.  Colonial times were rough!  Seriously though, if you miss one of the many orientation tours that the Williamsburg folks give to familiarize visitors with the layout (which I did), I recommend just getting out there and walking Duke of Gloucester Street.  I entered in the middle of the street and walked toward the Capitol.  (Truthfully, I had no destination in mind.  Whenever I’m lost or in unfamiliar surroundings, my general practice is to turn right…so I did).  What is the Capitol, you ask?  Exactly what it sounds like.  This is where the upper and lower houses of government met.  Court was also held here.  Can you believe that court sessions were held only four times per year?  For a population of about half a million?  Talk about your low crime rates.  Of course, if you committed a felony (theft, manslaughter, etc.), you would be branded (‘t” for theft, ‘m’ for manslaughter) for a first offense, so I guess that probably discouraged criminal activity.  Second offense?  Hanging.

The Capitol

The Capitol

Tour guide at the Capitol

Tour guide at the Capitol

From the Capitol, I walked back up Duke of Gloucester Street, stopping in the apothecary/doctor’s office.  The variety of plants and herbs with medicinal properties is really quite amazing.  Of course, I could do without the leeches for bloodletting and, speaking as someone who has had her fair share of serious illnesses, I’ll pass on the doctor’s office in colonial times.  Let’s just say it was primitive.  But let’s face it:  our colonial forebears managed to accomplish a lot with what they had.

After the apothecary, I stopped in the Raleigh Tavern Bakery.  Lines even in colonial times, y’all!  I don’t know if it was the hot apple cider, the gingerbread, or the Brunswick stew, but this place was insane!  Line out the door.  But the apple cider was delish.  From there, I strolled over to the market square, where vendors were selling everything from soaps to old coins to colonial children’s toys.  I was really, really tempted to buy something for my niece, but that girl has more stuff than she knows what to do with already!

At the other end of Duke of Gloucester Street – opposite the Capitol – you’ll find Merchants Square.  I was amazed to discover that Chico’s and Williams and Sonoma have been around since colonial times.  Just kidding!  Merchants Square has the facade of colonialism, but it’s modern all the way.  So yes – you will find Chico’s and Williams and Sonoma.  But for the most part, Merchants Square is made up of independent shops selling everything from cheese and olive oil, to pewter, jewelry, and coffee.  A few restaurants are thrown in there too.

The Kings Arms Tavern on Duke of Gloucester St.

The Kings Arms Tavern on Duke of Gloucester St.

Window display on Duke of Gloucester Street

Window display on Duke of Gloucester Street

By now, my feet are tired, I’m cold, and I have to pee, so I headed back to the hotel for quick pitstop.  I say “quick” because my day wasn’t over yet.  Christmas Town at Busch Gardens awaits…

Stay tuned for my thoughts on Christmas Town.

I know.  It’s been a while.  What can I say?  I’ve been busy.  And not with anything all that exciting.

I’m checking back in to do something I haven’t done in quite a while:  rave about some fabulous restaurants in Washington, DC.  I realize I’m probably way, way behind the curve – these restaurants aren’t new after all.  But they were phenomenal and I think worth a plug here.  So here we go.

I spent three wonderful years in Italy – soaking up the culture, speaking the language, and (most importantly) loving the amazing cuisine.  I don’t think I ever went to a bad restaurant anywhere in Italy.  Everything was always fresh and flavorful; pasta always al dente; fish always perfectly seasoned and flaky; and on and on an on.  So when I got back to the United States, I made a conscious decision not to eat in Italian restaurants.  I figured that would only lead to disappointment.  And over the last three years, I’ve stuck by that decision.  Until last week, when I went to Fiola in Penn Quarter.  I was dining with a group of friends from way back – my first tour in Albania – and one of them recommended this restaurant.  I’m so glad that she did.  It did not disappoint.  Appetizer:  prosciutto and foie-gras-stuffed dates.  Oh, prosciutto – how I’ve missed you.  A.  Ma.  Zing.  Next:  risotto with veal cheek.   As anyone who’s ever watched Hell’s Kitchen knows, risotto is a tricky business.  It’s not easy to prepare it correctly and it requires constant attention.  (I’ve tried to make it myself and failed miserably).  I’ve never had veal cheek – in fact, I steer clear of veal as a general rule – so I didn’t know what would be on my plate.  Turns out, an extremely tender and flavorful piece of meat.  Fiola’s Risotto Milanese was absolutely incredible.  I thought I was back in Milan (famous for saffron risotto) for a minute.  It was just that good.

Just a few days later, I found myself enjoying a completely different – but equally delicious – meal.  Do you ever have those days when you crave a really, really, really good steak?  I do.  And I loved the way the Italians prepared beef.  They kept it simple:  grill it, drop a pat of butter on it, and sprinkle it with sea salt.  Perfection.  I found the same perfection at BLT on I Street.  We started with an “amuse bouche” of foie gras on crusty baked bread.  I followed that up with a spinach salad, substantial enough to be a meal on its own.  Then came the tenderest filet mignon (topped with a pat of herbed butter of course) I’ve had in quite some time.  Paired with a fantastic glass of  red wine (an Argentinian malbec), my perfect meal was complete.  I almost never prepare steak at home and this is why – I simply cannot match that level of awesomeness.

So why are you still reading this?  You should be making your dinner reservations right now.  Go!

I was in New York City last weekend for work.  A couple of colleagues and I headed north for the New York Times Travel Show.  It’s an annual event, and the Bureau of Consular Affairs likes to participate to show the flag and encourage people to apply for or renew their passports.  We also try to make contacts with other companies and organizations that might be good partners, and we  try to generate media interest in our messages.

Our booth at the New York Times Travel Show

Anyway, one of my co-workers and I decided that we’d take advantage of our location and try to get on The Today Show – with one of us dressed as “Passport Pat” – a giant, smiling blue passport book.  It seemed like a great idea when we talked about it in DC.  But I have to admit, I was dreading the idea of getting up at 4AM to stand in line to wait for The Today Show cameras to capture us.  It started to rain Friday night; we agreed that if it was raining when we woke up at 3:30, we wouldn’t go.

Passport Pat at the travel show

Now, here’s where I have to tell you about my colleague.  She’s young, energetic, creative, bright, and a lot of fun.  She was also very willing to dress up as Passport Pat.  She’s just a fantastic person.  So, I woke up at 3AM, looked out of my hotel room window, and decided it was raining.  I think I was actually willing the skies to open up.  I go back to sleep.  3:30AM – my phone rings.  It’s my co-worker, who sounds like she’s been up for hours.  She says, “Hi!  It’s not raining!  Do you still want to go?”  “Great,” I think to myself, “a morning person.”  Sigh.

So yes, we go.  (As an aside, we reach the hotel lobby just in time to watch three drunk party girls attempt to find the exit – before they get thrown out – and hail a cab).  Anyway, we arrive at Rockefeller Plaza at around 4:45AM. There’s a line!  Good thing we got here early.  We join the queue and wait.  Eventually, some guy comes up behind us and asks, “Is this the line for Saturday Night Live tickets?”  Another guy ahead of us tells him it is.  Dammit!  We’re in the wrong line!  Okay, so where’s the line for The Today Show?

There.  Is.  No.  Line.  I repeat:  there is no line.  No one else is waiting to get on The Today Show plaza.  Contrary to all the information we found on the interwebs that said you should get there super early because the lines are long and crazy, we are the only ones standing around in the cold waiting to get on that damn show.  Fortunately, I am with one of the cheeriest people on earth, so we look on the bright side:  at least it’s not freezing cold; at least it’s not raining; at least we have fun stuff to talk about.

So we wait.

And wait.

Finally, at about 6:45AM, Security comes out and lets us in.  But first, we’re told that we can’t wear costumes.  Okay.  So we’ll just hold up Passport Pat like a sign.  Fine.  And, because we’re so early, we get a primo spot next to Lenny.  Guaranteed camera time.  We talk to the cameraman, build a rapport, tell him about Passport Day in the USA, etc.  Nice guy.  We got this.  Unfortunately (for us and for the people in the midwest), there were horrible storms and tornados the night before.  Many injuries and deaths.  Lester Holt is on scene in Indiana.  So of course, they’re not going to go from the devastating tornado stories to Rockefeller Plaza where a bunch of tourists are smiling and waving and holding up stupid signs.  Of course not!  The cameraman tells us that they’ll go to the Plaza after 8AM.  So we wait.  Have I mentioned that by now my feet hurt, my hands are cold, and I really just want to crawl back into bed? No?  Well, my feet hurt, my hands were cold, and I desperately wanted to go to sleep.

The cameraman pans half of the crowd.  He gets Lenny, my colleague, and Passport Pat – then cuts the feed before he gets to me.  Ugh!  Really dude!  Come on!  A little later, he does it again.  Should I be taking this personally?

Round about 8:25AM, we’re both ready to throw in the towel.  So many promises broken.  So much for national media for Passport Day.  So we pack it in.  By now there are crowds of people who are more than happy to take our prime location.  As we walk away from the plaza, the cameraman stops us.  “Where are you going?” he says.  “We’re just about to pan the crowd, the reporters are going to come out.”  We don’t believe him.  We’ve heard this line before.  We thank him, but tell him we’ve got to get going.  We get into a cab.

What do you think happened about two minutes later?  If you guessed that they panned the ENTIRE crowd on the plaza, you guessed right.  Dammit!!!!!

Me at Rock Plaza...before my feet hurt, my hands were cold, and I was too tired to stand up!

But hey – it’s not too late for the five or six of you who actually read my silly musings.  Passport Day in the USA is today, Saturday, March 10.  If you’d like to apply for a passport or if you need to renew yours, today is the one day of the year that you can visit one of our 25 domestic passport agencies without an appointment.  Or, you can go to one of the thousands of acceptance facilities (e.g., post offices, libraries) to apply.  Learn more about it here.

Happy New Year!  So, I’m a little late in getting my “year in review” post out there – as if you haven’t already read a zillion of them in  your local newspaper, weekly magazine, or favorite gossip website.  Whatever, I’ve been busy.  So sue me.

Anyway – fair warning:  this is not your standard “look at what all the celebrities did in 2011” year in review.  This is about my year in review.  Along with some topical, public domain, infotainment, real-deal history stuff because I need to snark a bit and I gotta do something to attract more readers.  Hee.

2011 was my “year of yes.”  It was my first full year back in Washington, DC after 7 years overseas and I really wanted to take advantage of my time here, to get out and explore the metropolitan DC area and to sink my teeth into the social life.  How’d I do?  Eh, there’s always room for improvement, but I think I did okay.  Let’s break it down:

January:  The Arab Spring begins in Tunisia.  Demonstrations – with varying levels of success – follow in Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, and Bahrain.  It’s an exciting time in the Middle East.  This translates into an exciting time for consular work, because you know Americans love to travel and we turn up in the most unlikely places.  I wasn’t on the ground in any of these countries helping to evacuate American citizens, but I did work on one of the many task forces set up here in Washington to monitor the situation on the ground.  Terrific learning experience for me.  January was also when I visited the National Archives with my colleagues and commented on my confusion about Trader Joe’s – which I have to formally retract.  I recently made a commitment to eat healthier – organic foods and whatnot – and I have to say, I get it now.  Although my local Trader Joe’s is a nightmare in terms of parking and the layout of the store, it is my go-to place for grocery shopping.  So, to all the Trader Joe’s fans out there:  I’m sorry.  Also, actor Pete Postlethwaite died on January 2.  I think I first saw Postlethwaite in “In the Name of the Father,” which is a terrific film.  He was also in “The Usual Suspects,” and more recently “Inception” and “The Town.”  If you are not familiar with him – shame on you.  Stop reading this article right now, get on Netflix or Hulu or whatever, and put one of his films in your queue.

February:  My introduction to punk.

March:  Japan was hit by a triple-whammy.  First, an earthquake.  Which triggered a tsunami.  Which led to a meltdown at a nuclear plant.  Yikes.  Tough times in Japan = another task force in Washington.  Another overnight shift for me.  I traveled to San Diego for a conference – I’d never been there before and thought it was a great city.  The zoo is pretty amazing, although I did experience a little bit of sticker shock.  It’s like $40 to get into that zoo!  I live in the DC area – our zoo is free!  Although, I suppose the National Zoo could look like the San Diego Zoo if we charged everyone $40 to get in.  Something to think about.  I also knitted my first hat.

April:  So, in my effort to “get out there,” I started looking for interesting stuff to do on the weekends.  In April, I went to the Kite Festival on the Mall.  Good times.  Took forever to get that kite in the air, but we finally succeeded.  Yay!  There were lots of kids and adults out there flying kites, but I gotta say:  I think the adults were having more fun.  Nothing like reverting to childhood, am I right?  In other news, those crazy “birthers” kept hammering away about President Obama’s birth certificate, so he released the long form this month.  Another royal wedding in the UK.  Which meant that this was the top news story on the networks for days.  Really?  Really?  Remind me:  why do we care about this again?  I mean, yeah – it’s great – Prince William got married.  All the best to you, sir.  But this is the United States.  I mean, we fought for our independence so that we wouldn’t have to care about this stuff.  And yet, apparently, we do.

May: Seal Team Six.  That is all.

June:  It’s June 2011 and the GOP debates begin.  God save us.  More than a year in advance of the 2012 elections.  It’s the height of the tourist season in DC.  This is a great city for tourists – everything is free!  And there’s so much to see.  My one wish is that the tourists could learn a little Metro etiquette.  Well, you know how I feel about that.  Hey, WMATA, would it kill you to put up a few signs to remind people to stand on the right on the escalators?  I also knitted a pair of socks.

July:  July 4.  Independence Day.  A terrific day for sleeping in, celebrating with friends and family, and watching fireworks.  This was the first July 4 in 7 years where I did not have to do one darn thing.  I didn’t have to attend an Embassy party.  I didn’t have to get dressed up.  I didn’t have to talk “shop” with representatives from the host country government.  It was nice to just be lazy at home.  I had the best burger of my life at Ray’s Hellburger.  Have you been yet?  If not, stop reading, bookmark this page, and get over there.  You can thank me later.  I knitted a kick-ass sweater.   I have to say, I really love it when I get crafty and the project actually turns out well.  Okay, it’s not perfect – it fits a little big – but it’s pretty darn good for a first attempt.  Amy Winehouse died.  Bummer.

August:  Hurricane Irene brought a lot of rain to the east coast.  But the big news was the earthquake.  What the…?  I remember it like it was yesterday:  I was sitting in my office talking to a colleague, when all of a sudden everything started to sway.  We looked at each other, looked out the big plate glass window next to us (yikes!), looked at each other again and wondered what the heck just happened.  After the building stopped swaying, we decided it might be a good idea to head outside.  We joined hundreds of others standing on the street with our cell phones, trying to text or email friends and family, or check to the internet to find out what had happened.  Of course, it was impossible to send or receive messages:  system overload.  We eventually learned we’d just experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.  Get out!  Kim Kardashian got married!!!!  Why do we care about this again?  Why are these people famous?  Seriously – I do not get this one.  I do not care about them, so I won’t even link to anything about them.  I’m not even going to use the name as a tag for this post!  Get a job, Kardashians.  Most importantly, the best, brightest, and prettiest niece in the world was born in August.

September:  My subscription to AFI Talk Cinema kicked in.  If you live in a city that offers this program, I highly recommend it.  Subscribers go to a not-yet-released film screening, watch it, then talk about it afterward in a moderator-led discussion.  I saw some really interesting movies that I probably never would have gone to see on my own:  “Hermano,” “Melancholia,” “The Artist.”  I also saw a few that I was kind of “meh” about (“Like Crazy” and “Carnage”), but I’m still glad I had the experience.  I may do it again next year.   People around the world started occupying various streets, parks, and other locales to protest stuff.  Ah yes, I (vaguely) remember when I was young and idealistic.  Now, I’m just a jaded crone.

October:  My birthday month!  Yay, for me still being alive!  Kim Kardashian files for divorce.  This is what you get for caring America.  And yet, there are some people out there who think that it’s same-sex marriages that will destroy us all.  Hmmmm.  And the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 7.  I haven’t watched baseball since I left Atlanta (I loved to go to Braves games), but I guess this was a big deal.

NovemberHoliday travel.  GAH!!!!!

December:  It’s Christmas.  Hope you spent time with friends and family, and remembered what the season is all about.  I did.

So, that’s my year in a nutshell.  Some things I got right:  exploring a little bit of the DC area, trying new things, and embracing my inner geek.  But there’s still room for improvement.  2012 will be “Year of Yes 2.0.”

How was your 2011?

It’s my birthday tomorrow, so you know what that means:  time to get reflective.  I’m sure you know the drill; this feeling seems to come around every decade or so, depending on what your personal “landmarks” are.  Like, “I’m 30 years old and why am I not a vice president at this bank?  Why don’t I own a house?”  Or, “I’m 35.  Where is my career going?  Why am I still single?” And then “Oh shit.  I’m 40.  How the f*!% did this happen?”

So here we go again.  🙂  I start to question everything:  my career, my marital status, my homeownership or lack thereof.  My social life, my interests, the books I’m reading (or not reading), the car I’m driving, my weight, and now something new:  my retirement account.  You know, I thought I had serious crises of confidence about my career, but nothing freaks me out more than thinking about my retirement account and how it is or is not growing.  That’s one of those things that will really keep you up at night.

What about my weight?  My face?  Is it time to start buying all of those nighttime creams and wrinkle removers and skin tighteners that people like Diane Keaton are trying to sell me?  Am I “worth it?”  And why is that doughnut I ate yesterday now permanently attached to my ass?  Gray hair?  Oh don’t even get me started!

And the market, and the politics!  Social Security?  Health care?  All those things that I don’t think about that I have to think about now that I’m in the U.S.  Like where’s the Health Unit?  Oh, right – I guess I have to find a primary care physician.  Where to begin?  And mortgages, appraisals, and interest rates.  Yikes!

So, I’m well on my way to a major freakout, when something suddenly occurs to me:  my life is pretty terrific.  I get to travel around the world doing something that I love doing.  I have a great family.  I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge.  I have wonderful friends and a sweet old cat.  I have my health.  I don’t have wrinkles and I have a fantastic stylist who covers the gray.  And I am really smart.

So, yeah:  I’m pretty awesome.   And for those of you who were wondering, I’ll be 41 tomorrow and I look incredible.  ;-P

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