Monday, November 28, 2005

chocolate chip cookie + 10 seconds in microwave = heaven

This has been a fantastic long weekend: Thursday, Thanksgiving. Friday, my day off (though I did have to drive to D.C.). Saturday, two hours of soccer (actually played, not watched). Sunday, two services to sing but no youth group. Monday, office closed post-Thanksgiving. Beautiful. Coming off of three short work days which followed a week in Mexico, I feel as if November has treated me pretty graciously.

Highlights of the weekend were many...some big, some small. Winning all five games of soccer on Saturday was pretty nice. Sunday night I agreed to cook dinner for my friend Nancy (and let's just say that Nancy has a very discerning palate when it comes to many foods), and she not only ate the peanut stir fry without gagging, she actually liked it. Or so she claims - and I don't think she's a very effective liar. I spent most of the day today cleaning the house and just generally getting my act together, happy that I finally had a day get nagging little chores done. And all the while, I kept stealing the chocolate chip cookies that Colin's mom had made and microwaving them for 10 seconds to make the chocolate melt. Amazing. FYI, this same principle can (and should) be applied to day-old Krispy Kreme donuts.

And the greatest thing about having Monday off is that the week is just that much shorter - starting on Tuesday means I have another 3-day work week to look forward to. No complaints here.

Friday, November 25, 2005

counting my blessings...a little too late

OK, technically it's the day after Thanksgiving and I have yet to write the promised "what I'm thankful for" post. But I had an amazing Thanksgiving with one of my favorite surrogate families in Richmond, and I didn't get home until late last night. Besides, I'm still thankful for all of these things today as much as I was yesterday. Here is an insanely incomplete list:

1. My family. All of them. Even the crazy ones.
2. My house (my own house), modest by U.S. standards but a castle by world standards.
3. The fact that I have food in my refrigerator and pantry.
4. My dog Scout - what would I do without her?
5. My job(s) at the church. It has its trying moments, but on the whole it's pretty amazing. And so are the people I work with.
6. All of my friends, new and old, near and far. Trying to name them or categorize them would be a fruitless endeavor, as I would have far too much to say about each one.
7. The gift of music. Where would the world be without music??
8. The change in seasons, year after year.
9. Most importantly, the fact that my heart is beating and my lungs are taking in air (and that my brain is aware of these two facts). Both hands and feet work, as do my eyes and ears. Sure, I could be in a little bit (OK, a lot) better shape, but I'm here and I'm healthy, and that's the most important thing of all.
10. Oh yeah...I almost forgot to be thankful for college football, especially for Auburn beating Georgia and Alabama in two consecutive weeks. War Eagle!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

at least we have the memories...and an extra bottle of tequila

Back to real life this week. Mexico was unspeakably great. There are those vacations (like the ones you take to Europe) that require a great deal of lengthy travel to somewhat exotic and hard to get places...places where you feel as if you have to see and do everything to make getting there worthwhile. And there are vacations that require very little - perhaps nothing more than lying on a beach, or reading a book....and while they are pleasant and relaxing, they can get boring quickly. Mexico was a perfect balance of the two. There was lots to see and do, lots of things to experiences - new places, new language, new food and drink. But it wasn't so hard to get to Mexico that I felt compelled to "go, go, go" all the time to make sure I did and saw everything. In the mornings, we had big, leisurely breakfasts, followed by some site-seeing, shopping, more eating and perhaps a beer or two. In the afternoon, there was plenty of time to relax, read, nap, read some more, nap some more, etc., before having cocktails pre-dinner. I loved the pace of life, and if it weren't for the fact that (1) the water from the tap is unclean, or (2) I don't have a job in San Miguel, or (3) I don't speak Spanish (yet), I think I could live in Mexico.

I'll try to keep brief the litany of cool stuff that we saw, did, tasted, and bought. But a few things should be mentioned. Like the fireworks at 5:00 AM the first night we were there. Or the mariachi funeral procession that passed in front of the B&B wall one afternoon. Or the masked fiesta that took place one evening in the church square down the street for no apparent reason. I ate huitlacoche (I think that's how you spell it), a black corn fungus that's a delicacy. I tried fish tacos, and variations on an egg/refried bean/bread/salsa breakfast. I saw the artwork of Diego Rivera in Guanajuato, and a Mexican market (that happens every Tuesday) with everything from remote controls to shoes to religious icons to live chickens to bicycle parts. I ate ice cream almost every day. I learned the different kinds of tequila and drank the Don Julio reposado straight with a chaser of sangrita, a combination of bloody mary mix and orange juice. I had an hour long full body massage for less than $30 US. And I got to spend a great 7 days with my family - sometimes a blast, sometimes an uphill battle, but never a dull moment.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. So many things to be thankful for...but that's another post altogether. For now, it's bedtime - gotta get up early to sing for the Thanksgiving service tomorrow morning.

Monday, November 14, 2005

gringos in paradise

I've changed my mind about heaven. No mansions, no white robes, no fluffy clouds and stuff. I'm pretty sure it looks more like a small Mexican town, where tequila and beer are plentiful, people smile a lot, there are fireworks on any given day, and there are costumed fiestas full of dancing and music for no real reason at all.

There are moments when visiting here in San Miguel de Allende is a bit like being a member of the Griswald family in European Vacation: a family stroll through the market yesterday found all of us wearing near-matching straw cowboy hats that smacked of the embroidered matching berets worn by America's favorite vacationing family from the movies. Cheesy (and unavoidable) gringo moments aside, this place is pretty near heaven.

Things are cheap. A black leather belt for less than $9. Cowboy hat for about $12. A leather/metal cross for wall decoration $5. Beer and ice cream each about $1. More than anything, it's near perfect just strolling around town. Steep up-and-down roads, narrow and cobblestoned. Brightly painted walls and buildings. A general sense of stillness. Comfortably warm during the day, comfortably cool at night - so much so that the weather is almost unnoticeable. Never too hot or too cold.

I have to admit, we are completely dependent on my dear sister. Her fluent Spanish is a Godsend. My parents and I are like three old, crippled people in wheelchairs relying on Leslie to push us around - we can't express anything without her help. It is so frustrating being unable to speak the language, and I am becoming more and more certain that I will make a concerted effort to learn Spanish in earnest when I get back to the States. In the meantime, I remain in awe of and dependent upon Leslie's language capability. (She has also been really helpful telling me about photography stuff, but more on that in a later post.)

There have been a number of fun (and funny) moments so far, but too many to recount now. The margarita sitting next to the keyboard is getting warm, and we leave for dinner in about 10 minutes. I miss home a little bit, but I'm pretty sure I could stay here for a long, long time and not be unhappy.

Friday, November 11, 2005

running to stand still

I feel as if I've been running around all day without really accomplishing much of anything. My morning was shot because I slept late after staying up until 1:30 (again) watching Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. Such a great film. Fantastic, controlled acting by the inimitable King of Badass Westerns. I hadn't seen the movie in years, and it turned out to be well worth the delayed bedtime.

So tomorrow I leave for my Mexico vaction - heading to San Miguel de Allende with my family. We're staying at Casa Orquidea, a bed and breakfast owned by a friend of ours. It looks like a pretty great place...and of course my mind is already halfway there. I did my usual Friday volunteering at the Soup Kitchen this morning, then had a nice lunch with a W&L friend of mine who moved to town recently. Stopped by work for a while (mostly just to play foosball one last time before I head out of town). Suddenly I realized it was 3:30 and I really hadn't done a thing. Haven't packed. Haven't finished the work I need to do before leaving. Haven't even finished doing laundry. I'm also heading out of here in about an hour to go see the St. Christopher's/St. Catherine's production of "Into the Woods" tonight. My plane leaves at 7:45 tomorrow morning. I'm doing the math and figuring out that time is very, very short. Looks like it will be another late night.

I'm hoping to be able to post at least once or twice while I'm away, though pictures will probably have to wait until I get back.

Hasta! (I say that as if I have any clue about speaking Spanish. Which I don't.)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

my cup runneth over

I just spent the past hour trying to fix the damn downstairs toilet, which runs incessantly these days. This attempt at home improvement was made slightly more challenging by the couple of post-choir-rehearsal glasses (or I should say "plastic cups") of wine I enjoyed. Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful. I did manage to replace the piece that I was working on, but apparently it wasn't the root of the problem. Water is still leaking around the little flap, taunting me with every gurgle and drip. Damn you, toilet leak!! By the way, you know when you open up the tank on the back of the toilet and there's that verticle piece in the tank that makes all the magic happen? Yeah, did you know that's called a "ballcock"? BALLCOCK?!?!? Hello? Does anyone else find that funny, or is just because I'm, like, 12?

Anyway, I have somehow managed to stay up until almost 1:00 AM again tonight. Not sure how I've gotten on this terrible sleep cycle lately. But the good news is that I only have one more day of work before my day off Friday, then I'm headed to Mexico Saturday for a week of vacation with my family. First time I will have seen my parents since last Thanksgiving. Sweet, sweet vacation. There will be much resting. And lounging. And reading. And tequila. Oh, yes, tequila.

I'll leave you with this random thought. If you belong to any of the major world religions - be you Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or Jew - and you haven't watched Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" lately and thought about the theological implications (trust me, it works on multiple level for any and all of the aforementioned dogmas), I exhort you to do so sooner rather than later. Just ignore the fact that Andie McDowell is a terrible actress.

That is all. Class dismissed.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

everything in its right place

Wow. I have been a total slacker about posting this week. I've sat down to write on two or three occasions but seem to have gotten sidetracked each time.

In all truth, it was not a terribly eventful week. We've hit a little lull in the calendar at the church, that small period of quiet between the whirlwind first two months of the program year and the start of the Advent season. Wednesday and Thursday passed as usual, and both found me reluctant to work and not terribly excited about choir rehearsals.

Friday, on the other hand, was one of those rare days in which things just seemed to fall in the right place, as if I had to work at making things go wrong. As easy as it is to bitch about the times when everything seems to fall apart, it's nice to recognize that there are days when the karmic pendulum swings decidedly the other way and manages to maintain some sort of cosmic balance. No need for extensive details, but the weather was stunning, the house was clean, and we had a fantastic group of people over in the evening (including a few I hadn't seen in quite a while). There were Jell-O shots of Colin's making - four flavors of varying consistency - and a beer pong set-up featuring the Champagne of Beers on the island in the kitchen. It warmed my heart to see the other two W&L folks in attendance reach for the cans of High Life over the bottles of Saranac, Yuengling, Bud Light, and Miller Lite saying, "I prefer it!" I, of course, managed to uphold absolute decorum as the model church employee, pausing mid-Jell-O shot to answer a question from across the room as to my specific job title: "Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries," I gurgled before slurping down the remainder of the lemon Jell-O in my plastic Dixie Cup. The irony was completely lost on me for at least five minutes.

Back to the grind tomorrow, but with a pretty great weekend behind me...and more to look forward to in a few days, as I leave for a week-long trip to Mexico with my family on Saturday.

If you haven't heard it: Give a listen to Ben Folds' newest album, Songs for Silverman. Especially "Landed" - ridiculously catchy.

Humor for the day: Hip-Hop Yoda. Is there anything he can't do?? What a Jedi!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

all saints' day

Today is All Saints' Day. For my those of my faith, it is a day of remembrance.

2,040 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003. 247 soldiers have died in Afghanistan. Today, after a noon Healing Eucharist, we at St. James's stood on the steps of the church and read aloud the names and ages of every one of those 2,287 soldiers. It is almost impossible to imagine how large a number that actually is until it has been broken down one by one, life by life. While one of the steeple bells tolled a single note over and over, we began reading in turns at 12:45 P.M. The bell stopped as we finished reading the list at five minutes to 3:00. The sound of names and ages tumbled into the air like dead leaves kicked up by the wind.
A few passersby stopped and stood for the better part of an hour - some even longer - listening and absorbing. Others avoided passing directly in front of the church. Still others walked by with eyes on the ground and hands dug into pockets, kicking through the leaves that had begun to pile up without so much as a hint of acknowledgment. The effect of this ceaseless barrage of names was an alternating current of numbness and overwhelming sadness. Some moments so real and immediate, even urgent...other moments sounding like a freight train rushing past, unable to slow or stop.
I don't know how else to describe the afternoon other than to say it was one of the most authentic experiences in which I've ever taken part.