Monday, March 31, 2008

Frequent Flier?

Frequent Flier Miles are not as cool as they're cracked up to be. At least, not if you're trying to fly from the east coast to Europe on a couple very specific dates three months from now on a partner airline of the one you actually have miles for. 65,000 miles, $300 and 17 hours on planes/hanging out in the London Heathrow airport. Is it worth just buying a ticket? Absolutely. Too bad this one isn't my call.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Travelogue #1: Spring Break in DC

First of all, I love spring break. For those of us who went to BYU-related schools, spring break is something we have not been associated with for a long time. I think they missed the boat on this one: there is nothing more welcome (or necessary) in the middle of a long winter semester than a nice break from it all.

If spring break had worked out as I originally planned, I would be flying home from Italy on Monday with a suitcase full of Nutella, an extra few pounds (mmm...gelato!) and a dozen stories of crazy Italian casanovas. Or if my second idea had panned out, a Caribbean cruise, I would be getting home from a week of reading, swimming and eating with a nice golden tan (ok, that last part was a lie. i don't tan.). Option #3 (ultimately the chosen destination) was a week in our nation's capital. Now, that may sound a little funny, seeing as I live in Arlington and work in Washington D.C., but I got to spend a fabulous week with my mom and brother Michael seeing the sights and playing the tour guide. And they even followed me around to places I had never been!
Day 1: The Udvar-Hazy Center & Old Town Alexandria

Mom and Michael got here late Sunday evening, and after a longer-than-anticipated stop at my house to pack and chat with my roommates, we made it to the hotel and crashed. Their day of traveling meant that Monday morning (mercifully) was not an early morning. Unfortunately, I'm still programmed to wake up early and was out of bed by 7 am. In an attempt to make a very historical city more interesting for my 15-year-old brother, I had scouted out some things for us to do that weren't so history-related. Or at least more hands-on history. Our first stop was the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. The museum is housed in a hangar built especially for the Smithsonian, and anything smaller just wouldn't work.

My favorite exhibits:

  • the space shuttle Enterprise
  • the Enola Gay
  • the SR-71 Blackbird

And yes, this may just be a picture of Michael and I pretending to be airplanes.

That evening, I took them down to Old Town Alexandria. For anyone that hasn't been there, it's a quaint section of Alexandria full of antique stores, restaurants, used bookstores and the like, situated on the Potomac River. Our first stop was Banana Republic. It was love at first sight. This was Michael's first experience in BR and it turns out that he's the one in the family who actually has style. I promised him a trip later in the week to the BR Outlet at Potomac Mills. We wandered from shop to shop and from restaurant to restaurant, looking for nothing in particular, but enjoying ourselves immensely, and ended up with a fabulous dinner at the Charthouse (See previous post).

Day 2: Gettysburg & Lancaster County

Last year when Mom and Paul came to visit me for Spring Break, we were completely confined to the city because I was still an intern and hadn't yet bought my car. This year, we were free to explore a little more, so we took off Tuesday morning and drove to Gettysburg. We hired a guide to drive my car around the park and give us the tour. Gettysburg always gets to me. 3 days. 51,000 casualties. Unfathomable. I'm also lucky that someone much more eloquent than myself already eulogized the Gettysburg dead. My favorite passage from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
refocuses the attention of the nation:

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. "

Sadly, there are no pictures to document the second half of the day. From Gettysburg, we drove to Lancaster County, PA, famous for and dotted with small communities of Amish, places with names like Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse. Gotta love it. I think we must have gone into a dozen gift shops and roadside stands selling everything from hand-sewn quilts, pottery and woven rugs to trinkets and mugs making snide remarks about the name "Intercourse".

Day 3: Washington DC

Spy Museum and DC. I've been saying for about a year that I wanted to check out the International Spy Museum, so I used my family's visit as an excuse. There was far more information than any of us could take in, but it was fascinating! The upper floor displayed the art of spying - gadgets straight out of 007 movie. I half expected Mr. Bond himself to sneak out from behind the curtain! The second half of the museum was straight spy history - i was in heaven! (Yes, I am a history teacher)

We checked another item off my "To Do in DC" list that afternoon - paddleboating in the Tidal Basin! After about 30 seconds, Michael tried to plead exhaustion, but we kept at it for most of the hour. Sadly, at this point I had to ditch them and head back to my house. I'm moving to a new place next week and I had to clean/show my current room to a potential renter. Still hoping that everything works out for the best!

Day 4: Washington DC

This was our early day. We left the hotel at 6:20 so we could be in line to get tickets to go up the Washington Monument. After braving commuter traffic into the city, I dropped Mom and Michael off in line, then went home to drop off my car and sneak a power-nap before metro-ing back into the city to meet them. At some point during my napping, it had started raining, and everyone in line was soaked by the time I got there. *Note to self: buy an umbrella! Our Monument tickets were for later in the day, so we headed back to Virginia for some hot chocolate, and then to the Pentagon, where my wonderful friend Melissa showed us around. (thanks Melissa! we loved it!) I must say that I'm extremely impressed by anyone who knows their way around that place.

The afternoon included the view from the top (the Washington Monument tour), and the National Zoo (we had to see the pandas). And of course the promised trip to the Banana Republic outlet. Altogether a fabulous week. Unfortunately, their departure also marked my return to reality. School starts again on Monday...

p.s. Congrats to anyone who made it through all that. I didn't mean for it to get so long-winded.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Compassionate Carnivore?

I would be a vegetarian ... but meat just tastes so good!

My mom and little brother have been in DC this week visiting (our Spring Breaks actually matched up this year), and we were eating Monday night at the Charthouse, on the banks of the Potomac in Old Town Alexandria. Nearing the end of our very non-vegetarian meal, we were discussing the merits of Maryland Blue Crabs - is it really worth all the work it takes to eat them? As my brother saw it, the idea of eating a half a dozen blue crabs in one sitting was quite disturbing. It was ok to eat shrimp because they were small and didn't really have much personality, but he had much more compassion for the smaller blue crabs, relatives of which we have seen on numerous occasions clambering over rocks (and each other) at the Oregon and Washington coasts. He hated the thought of killing those little crabs. I, of course, noted with irony the hypocrisy of it all. He (and I) were both a little bothered by the killing of animals, but neither of us have the self-restraint to turn that distaste into vegetarianism. As Michael stated, meat just tastes so good!

I do relate to his sentiments. My grandfather used to take us to the fish farm near his house when we were children. Each of us would grab a handful of fish food and toss it into the pond that was overstocked with fish. **Translation: there were nearly more fish than water.** I probably could have reached in and grabbed one if the thought hadn't disgusted me. Literally dozens of fish would swarm to the spot where the food pellets had been dropped and one of us kids (with Grandpa's assistance) would toss our fishing line into the thick of it. There was no question of whether or not you would catch a fish; within seconds, the line was wriggling and a fish pulling hard on the other end. A quick jerk of the line secured the catch and the unlucky trout would be reeled in and removed from the hook. We would pause for the obligatory "fish face" picture (no, you don't get to see one), and someone would kill the fish. It was this last part that caused me serious anguish. As a young child who would soon be expected to eat the fish, I could not bear to watch it being killed. I had no problem with it once it was filleted and no longer looked like a living creature, but I could not handle the actual death.

I am not a vegetarian, nor do I consider it likely that I ever will be. I do, however, understand the idea behind it all.

Or the haunting question of the opposition: If animals weren't meant to be eaten, why were they made of meat?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Buona Pasqua!

Happy Easter!

After a very thoughtful lesson last Sunday by our fabulous home teachers, I've taken some time this week to contemplate the significance of Holy Week and Easter. The first thing that came to mind was one Easter season about 13 years ago, coming home from Merry Miss with what I considered to be the perfect Easter lesson to present at Family Home Evening. I had a basket of plastic Easter eggs, boldly numbered from #1-12 with a thick black Sharpie. Instead of robin eggs or Cadbury mini-eggs (my aforementioned favorite), each egg was filled with the following:

  1. Three dimes - Judas received 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16)

  2. Cracker - last supper (Matthew 26:17-29)

  3. Chocolate kiss - Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss (Matthew 26:47-49)

  4. Feather - Peter denied Christ three times before the cock crew (Matthew 26:69-75)

  5. Soap - Pilate washed his hands of the blood of Christ (Matthew 27:24)

  6. Purple cloth - they put a purple robe on Jesus (Matthew 27:28)

  7. Thorn - a crown of thorns was placed upon Christ's head (Matthew 27:29)

  8. Nail - they nailed him to the cross (John 19:18-19)

  9. Piece of sponge soaked in vinegar - when Christ asked for a drink he was given a sponge with vinegar (John 19:28-30)

  10. Rock - Jesus' body was laid in a tomb (Matthew 27:57-60)

  11. Piece of tape - after Christ's death the tomb was sealed (Matthew 27:65-66)

  12. Empty egg - this represents the empty tomb after Christ had risen (Matthew 28:1-9)

As a teacher, I can really appreciate the value of tangible symbols in teaching a concept, especially to adolescents. Producing a nail or a vinegar-drenched sponge from a traditionally sugar-filled plastic egg will forcibly turn thoughts to the scourging and crucifixion of our Savior. However, it is the twelfth egg which strikes me as profoundly significant. After the deep, infinite suffering in the Garden; after the scourging and public humiliation inflicted; after feeling the Spirit withdrawn and the full weight of the world resting upon his weary shoulders, the Savior of the world died. It was not, however, the final death that many in the world fear. Instead, after three days, the Savior rose from the tomb and again walked and talked with his disciples.

But why? As hard as it is to comprehend the basic plot line of the Passion, it is harder still to comprehend the immense love that Christ had for each one of us, and the plan that would require his great suffering. For now, let it suffice to say that I am overcome with gratitude when I think of this sacrifice. It is only through His sacrifice that I may be saved from my sins and ultimately perfected and sanctified. It is for this, today, that I am most humbly grateful.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

OCD? Maybe just a little...

I discovered something about myself this morning. I suffer from OCD. Not the full-on, wash-your-hands-obsessively-and-make-your-bed-with-a-ruler-edge-type, but OCD nonetheless.

Case Study #1
Tomorrow is Easter, and I was preparing for it in the best way I know how - eating a handful of Cadbury Mini-Eggs. Only one problem. As I poured the candies into my hand, there were five: one pink, one white, one yellow and TWO blue. This was not going to work. The leftover blue had to be eaten, and quickly.

Case Study #2
I can't grade papers if they are not alphabetized by the students' names.

A little ridiculous? Perhaps.