Thursday, April 30, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Z is for Zed

**This is the final entry in the challenge! It has been fun!

In 1995, I was twenty-three years old and a recent college graduate. I was fortunate enough to obtain a six month work visa through a student work exchange in the United Kingdom. After that six month visa expired, I returned to the U.S., worked nine months to save up money, and returned for another six month stint with a different exchange program. A year or two later I went back again for a two week visit, and then another year or so later I visited again, and so on and so on. I’ve had a love affair with England for over twenty years.
London Houses And Underground Station

When I arrived in 1995, the first thing my exchange program gave me was a book of street maps called the London A-Z Street Map. Here in America, we would call it A to Zee; in England they pronounce it as Zed. In the same way, they call the number 0 "naught", and two numbers or letters together are always “double L” or “double three.” Fascinating word play we have amongst the English-speaking countries.

The main thing I learned about the London A to Zed map was that it was invaluable. I’d never been a great map reader before, but I learned in a hurry. I was a suburban girl from Northern Virginia; at home I was car-bound with no need for maps. As a sudden city-girl walking everywhere and using public transportation, I found that the book of street maps was my lifeline. I never went anywhere without it, and I got pretty good at using it.
London Sign
One day while walking around Oxford Circus, a woman with a distinctly British accent stopped me and asked if I knew a particular street. As I opened up my A-Zed and began pointing out our current location as opposed to where she wanted to be, she started laughing.  “This is quite humorous, isn’t it? An English person asking an American for directions in London!”

London Street View

I still have my London street maps from 1995, and when my husband and I returned to London for a visit two summers ago, we were as dependent upon it as ever. While trying to use the GPS on my phone, we ended up frustrated and nowhere near our destination. The good ole London A-Zed has yet to let me down!

Do you still use street maps?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A-Z Blog Challenge: Y is for Yelp!

A year or so ago, my husband and I joined some friends at a very expensive and ritzy restaurant in the city of Fairfax. My husband and I haunt the same restaurants and eateries in our community, and we rarely frequent fine dining establishments, but this was a special occasion, and we went in knowing we'd probably drop some cash at this place.

Table Setting

We'd made reservations a week or two in advance, but when we got there, the host was rude and appeared bothered by our presence. Nevertheless, dinner was delicous and our waiter was attentive and very polite. Plates of appetizers, expensive entrees, drinks, and dessert crossed our table, and the bill for the four of us came to around $250! 

Our entire dinner probably took around one hour and twenty minutes from appetizer to dessert, so imagine our surprise and dismay when the manager came over and bluntly told us that she needed our table for "other guests." I was horrified, my husband was furious, and our friends seemed embarrassed they'd brought us there.

The more I thought about it, the more incensed I became. We'd just paid for a very expensive dinner for which we'd procured advance reservations, and it wasn't as though we'd overstayed! I couldn't believe the nerve of that woman!

I'm not one of those people who sends food back to the kitchen or complains about table locations or slow service, but I was mad! As soon as I got home, I signed onto Yelp! and excoriated the restaurant for its rude staff in my scathing online review. That is the first and last time I've ever written a nasty review, but I found the experience rather gratifying. It gave me an outlet to vent my anger, and allowed a fair amount of other people to hear about my experience with that restaurant.

Red Lady

Have you ever written a review for a merchant on Yelp!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A-Z Blog Challenge: X is for Xerox Machines

At the school where I work, we have five of these (and they are not necessarily of the Xerox brand).

Copy Lady

On any given day, one, two, or zero of photocopiers may be working. It is rare for all to work at once.
Every morning I join lines of frustrated teachers, waiting for their turn at a copy machine that jams, runs out of toner, or breaks down all together. I've witnessed teachers nearly coming to blows over people making too many copies, taking too long, or hogging the machine.

The school recently bought a photocopier worth thousands and thousands of dollars, and that's the very machine always out of service.

But I guess there's a machine of frustration in every place of business.

Have you ever been frustrated by business equipment--namely, copy machines?

Monday, April 27, 2015

A to Z Blog Challenge: W is for Winding Down

I don't know about you guys, but I'm exhausted! I'm not used to blogging every day (I usually only do it on Friday for Favorite Things Friday), and between dealing with my full time job, coming up with alphabet-related topics, and trying to finish a manuscript to take with me to a writer's conference next month, I'm spent. W could also stand for worn out.

I've really enjoyed reading everyone's posts, meeting new bloggers, and revisiting my old friends from last year. I feel like I've learned some new things, visited some interesting and beautiful places, and collected some new recipes for my repertoire (thank you, Jerralea!).

There were several days in there when I thought...hmmm...I may not be able to finish this challenge, or maybe I'll just wait and post today's letter tomorrow. But somehow I've managed to keep on track.

How about you? How have you found this year's blog challenge? Did you find it challenging to keep up?

I'll leave off today with a "W" song. The lyrics aren't that nice, but I do love the song...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A to Z Challenge: V is for Vampires!

This was kind of an obvious one, as anyone who knows me knows my past with these creatures of the night.

I was a vampire freak well before Twilight and all of the spin-offs that followed. As a young kid (around the age of 6), I watched a halloween special on television, and fell in love with the vampire character. I don't remember the show's name, what it was about or anything else, all I remember was the vampire was  attractive to me.

We had HBO by the time the movie, Love at First Bite, came out for home viewing, and I was once again swept away by George Hamilton's portrayal of the romantic Count Dracula. That same year Frank Langella's version of the sexy undead came out and furthered my obsession. I only caught snippets of these two movies, as I wasn't allowed to watch either of them all the way through.

When I was in the fourth grade, ABC began re-running the 1966 series of Dark Shadows right after General Hospital, and I was throughly besotted by the character of Barnabas Collins, played by the unparallelled Jonathan Frid. Frid's vampire was tormented and human, and although he was still evil and draining women's blood in the night, he was also gentlemanly and polite, a proper English gentleman.

Gary Oldman's version was probably my favorite in Francis Ford Coppolla's 1992 version of Bram Stoker's original novel. Gary Oldman is an amazingly talented actor, and he manages to make the vampire sexier than ever. I didn't read Interview with the Vampire until 1994 when the movie came out, but once more I was drawn in by the tortured Louis, a vampire who hates what he is and does everything he can to avoid killing humans.

So what is the deal with these guys? They are the undead for heaven's sake! They kill people and drink their blood. They're really just a few steps above being a zombie, so what is it that makes them so alluring and sexually attractive? I believe it's a strange, twisted desire in the hearts of women for bad boys. The vampire (as depicted in these films) is dark, seductive, romantic. He's charming, says all of the right things, and makes women swoon as he commands them body and soul. He's mysterious and they've never met anyone like him. He deceives them in his "desire" for them, which is really a desire to kill them and master their soul.

Isn't the vampire, Dracula, actually just a stand-in for the devil or Satan, the Great Deceiver? He makes us believe he's something attractive and appealing--the dark, the mystery, the seduction is all just a cover-up for the ultimate destruction.

Bram Stoker's Count Dracula was a beast. Yes, he had power over women, and to the Victorian reader, the overtly sexual overtones of the novel were shocking and symbolic. The character of Dracula is actually downplayed in the novel; Mina, Jonathan, Lucy, and Van Helsing are the highlights. Even so, Count Dracula is not described as a soave romancer, but as a deadly creature--one who looks, smells, and acts like something vile.

Are you, or were you ever, a fan of vampires?

Friday, April 24, 2015

A to Z Blog Challenge: U is for Unlikely Pairings

It's hard to imagine some things paired together.

Like this....

Or this....

BACON shaped themed Adhesive Bandages, 15 Die-Cut Sterile Strips 

Or this....

It's just God's way of telling us that we should never say never.

What unlikely pairings can you think of?

The Best Book I Read in April: Runaway Girl

It's time again for The Cephalopod Coffeehouse--a blog hop for book lovers who gather to discuss the best book they've read each month.

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse - April 24th

This month, the best book I read was Runaway Girl, a memoir by Carissa Phelps.
I heard about this book while reading Walking Prey: How America's Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery, another memoir by Holly Austin Smith. Both of these books deal with the aftermath of sex trafficking and life on the streets, and both are formidable in their retelling of their troubled childhoods and the events that lead to the chronic desire to run away and join life on the streets. But Phelps's memoir takes that extra step and really delves deep into the emotion and the pain leading up to her decision to run...again and again and again.
Raised within a sort of dysfunctional Brady Bunch, Phelps grows up as one of thirteen kids--the product of a blended family. Suffering from neglect and abuse, she makes the decision that living from day to day, floor to floor, couch to couch, is preferable to fending for herself emotionally and physically in her own house. Soon she's within the clutches of a pimp, and even when she escapes that terrible situation and is returned home, she's off and running again.
When you've grown up in an average household with an average upbringing, it's hard to imagine why living on the streets at the age of eleven or twelve is preferable to living in a family, even if that family isn't as loving as one would like. But Phelps describes her need to run as nearly physical--she describes it as an impulse, uncontrollable and necessary. 
Runaway Girl is a riveting book. I couldn't put it down, and it's important from the perspective of America's youth and their need to feel safe, protected, and loved. The frightening part is when a teenager's need is so great, their view so twisted, that they see validity in the "protection and love" of a pimp rather than their own family.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A to Z Challenge: T is for Throwback Thursday

Okay, so I've never participated in a "Throw-back Thursday" and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Otherwise, I was going to post a T for Tired blog today, as I'm running out of steam this week.

So here it is!

How old was I? Around eleven. Yes, I was completely obsessed with the movie, Annie, which had just come out, and I was even more obsessed with getting the part in our local production of the musical. I got the part of an orphan, Duffy, but my good friend got the part of Annie. She was much better than I would have been in the role.

My grandmother made the dress for me. I wish I still had either the dress or the genuine, trade-marked heart-shaped Annie locket I was wearing (complete with missing half). Alas, they are probably in a vintage clothing store or a relic museum somewhere. Ha!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A to Z Blog Challenge: S is for The Slap and Secrets and Lies

Any watchers out of these two shows out there?
The Slap and Secrets and Lies started up a few weeks ago (The Slap on NBC and Secrets and Lies on ABC). The Slap has finished now, and Secrets and Lies has one more episode to go. Both of these shows are Australian copies, which I think is interesting anyway. I’ve actually been watching both of the original Australian shows on Netflix, and in some ways, enjoying them even more than the American versions.
The Slap is a mini-series of sorts based on Christos Tsiolkas‘s novel by the same title. The story is told through different points-of-view, each week a different characters gives his or her take on what happened THAT afternoon at the party when a child was slapped by an adult in attendance that was not one of the child’s parents. High drama breaks loose as a result, and it’s strangely intriguing to watch all of these characters unravel and divulge their secrets and character flaws.

Secrets and Lies is a suburban mystery starring Ryan Phillipe and Juliet Lewis. In the first episode a young boy’s body is found in the woods by a neighbor who later becomes the prime suspect in the murder. He can’t remember where he was that night or what he did, but he knows he didn’t kill this boy. The more he resists the accusations, the more ferociously the lead detective comes after him. Again, fascinating stuff.

What shows are you watching these days?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A to Z Challenge: R is for Relocation

I've lived in the Northern Virginia area since I was thirteen. (Thirty years!) Before that, we lived in small-town Tennessee--quite happily, I might add. It was really hard for me to adjust to this area when we first moved. I was used to having the same circle of friends since I was a tot; I'd never spent a second worrying about what kind of clothes I wore; and I'd certainly never thought about how I talked. When we arrived in the D.C. Metro area, I was thrust into a huge middle school (double the population of my school in Tennessee) with kids who were unfriendly and snooty with a tight-knit group of friends from their elementary school. Suddenly, I didn't have the right clothes, and I was keenly aware of it. I had a weird accent, and the kids made fun of me for it.

Railroad Sunset

In my hometown, everyone was friendly; people smiled and talked to each other on the street--even people they didn't know. In Northern Virginia, it seemed like no one talked to anyone. We lived for six years on a highly populated street, and we only knew one neighbor.

Sunset Over Suburbia

Sadly, things haven't changed much in this area. I'm the one that's changed and adapted. I know better than to make eye contact with people when I pass them on the street, and I no longer have expectations of friendship from people at work or church. I've learned the rules of engagement.

This regional aloofness coupled with rising housing costs, increasing traffic (and it's always been bad), and soaring overpopulation, prompted me and my husband to seek a life down south. We'd like to be closer to our families, and we're at an age where we'd like to have a simpler (and cheaper) way of life.

At our age, it's not easy. We have to think about getting jobs and selling houses and finding new friends. But we pray that the outcome is worth it.

Sunset Run

Have you relocated?

Monday, April 20, 2015

A to Z Blog Challenge: Q is for Quinoa

In the trendy superfood category, quinoa is all-the-go these days.
The first time I ever cooked quinoa, I actually thought something was wrong with it. It looked kind of like there were little worms mixed in amongst the grains. I quickly looked up a picture of cooked quinoa online and was greatly relieved that, in fact, the grain does take on a worm-like appearance when cooked.
If you haven’t tried quinoa, I recommend trying it with liberal seasoning and combined with other vegetables (for instance onion and green or red pepper). It makes a lovely side dish for most meats, poultry, or fish and comes in three colors--red, black, and white. The best part about quinoa is the health benefit. It’s high in fiber and minerals and offers metabolic support.  It's also gluten-free for those trying to avoid wheat.
I'm just holding my breath that next month the researchers don't come out and say that quinoa causes some horrible disease.

Have you tried quinoa, and if so, how do you like to eat it?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A to Z Challenge: P is for Potty Mouths

My husband and I don't go to the movies a lot these days. Every so often if one is playing in the theatre that we're dying to see, we'll go, but it's become so expensive it's like going to see something on stage at the Kennedy Center; therefore, we only do it once or year or so. Most of what we watch is on television or through Netflix.

Art Deco Theatre

We started watching a new series on Netflix this week called Bloodlines. Not subject to the same FCC rules as mainstream television, the shows can have as much profanity in them as they want. And to be honest, this week I have been shocked and appalled at how often the f-bomb is used in this show. It's a shame because it's a great story with an engaging plot and terrific actors (Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, Kyle Chandler), but I find it almost unwatchable due to the ridiculous amount of obscenities used.

And it's not just this show. I've noticed recently that this kind of language is spoken everywhere, and people think nothing of it. I hear the teenagers in the hall talking like a bunch of sailors--so much so that they have trouble remembering not to use these words when they're in the classroom. It's completely normal for them to speak that way, no doubt due to a culture that simply doesn't care if it's young people are crass and rude with no access to vocabulary beyond a bunch of expletives.

In David O. Selznick's 1939 film Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable's use of the word "damn" shocked the nation--a word prohibited by the Motion Picture Association's Production Code of 1934 addressing movie's use of profanity. The MPA had to quickly pass an amendment to their code to allow words such as "damn" and "hell" a month before the movie's release. The verbage of that amendment reads that these kind of words may be used if they are "...essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore...or a quotation from a literary work, provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste."*  That makes sense to me. 

I'm not saying we not use any profanity ever in a film, but it seems absolutely preposterous to me that movie critics should have to count how many times the f-bomb is dropped in a film (such as Scorcese's Wolf of Wall Street--a movie I found equally unwatchable and ridiculous) and that's it's somehow used as part of the film's promotion. Are we making films for the sake of art and entertainment or just to see how foul, offensive, and shocking they can be?

 That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. What is your opinion about the profanity used in films these days?

*"Frankly my dear I don't give a damn." Wikipedia. 15 April 2015. Retrieved 18 April 2015.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A to Z Challenge: O is for Orphan Train for Dogs

Orphan Train, a best-selling novel by Christina Baker Kline tells the story of orphans of chance, brought from cities on the East Coast to Midwest homes between 1854 and 1929—their fate dependent on their adopters.

A similar, modern sort of “orphan train” does the same for orphaned dogs. The Sighthound Underground (SHUG), a rescue group dedicated to all sighthounds (greyhounds, galgos, Borzoi, Ibizan hounds, Italian Greyhounds, Salukis) regularly flies to Spain, Qatar, Korea, and brings back dogs whose pasts are often turbulent and terrible. Once on U.S. soil, the “train” transports anywhere in the United States or Canada. "The train" is actually hordes of volunteers willing to give a little of their heart, soul, and time to drive these dogs hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles to their new homes.

All of the dogs come with stories. Natty a 20-month old galgo and a recent transport from Spain, was slated for euthanasia. Luckily, the veterinarian burdened with this task called a galgo rescue in Murcia, and Natty's life was spared. Many of the galgos in Spain are used only for a season of hunting; afterwards, they are promptly killed, euthanized, or abandoned.
 . Natty .

Jojo, a two year-old Saluki from Kuwait, was rescued from the streets. Although she has all four legs, she is unable to use her front right one. The doctors don’t know if this is congenital or from an injury, but she gets around just fine and she’s as sweet as she can be (and so cute).
 . Jojo .

I’ve featured Reyna several times before. She’s a sweet, sweet four year-old girl who arrived in the U.S. terrified of men (another Spanish transport); she's probably endured some cruelty in her time. Now doing extremely well with her foster mother while waiting for her forever home, she loves other dogs, and is less terrified of men than when she first arrived, but she'll probably still need an all-female household.
 . Reyna .

Trinity, my Italian Greyhound, was adopted through this wonderful organization, and I cannot say enough about their dedication and commitment to helping these sighthounds (who cannot help themselves).

You can learn more about the organization and all of their adoptable dogs at the following link:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A to Z Challenge: N is for Nests

Whether they belong to birds, squirrels, or bees, I am awed by nests and all types of creatures' instinctive ability and desire to build these elaborate, intricate, and sturdy structures.

Egg In A Nest

During one especially cold and windy winter a few years ago, I thought our back yard squirrels were goners. The snow was too deep, the temperatures too low, the winds too high. Nevertheless, a few days after the storm abated, our furry friends scaled down the tree to retrieve apples and bread crumbs we'd thrown out for them. We decided their nest must have been very efficient and well-insulated, indeed.

Hidy Ho, Neighbor! 2

I'm terrified of bees, but I'm fascinated by the complicated nature of their hives--the honey-comb architecture and functionality of the structures is inspiring and worthy of admiration.


It amazes me that wildlife needs no instruction in how to build these things. The behaviors are God-given and hard-wired into their natures.

If someone asked me to build a house I'd be in BIG trouble.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. -- Luke 12:6

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A to Z: M is for Madmen

It’s the last season, and I’m really sad about it.
I started watching the show late—it was already a couple of seasons in by that time. During the big snow storm of 2010, my husband and I binge-watched episode after episode. We were both thoroughly hooked. There was just something so original, creative, and intriguing about the set, the characters, the dialogue, and the story.
Although I'm a child of a later decade, I’ve become a little obsessed with the 60’s (especially the early years of that decade). I love the clothes, the décor, the seeming “innocence” of that time (although Madmen suggests things weren’t quite so innocent as one would think).

I also connect the show with my grandfather. A dedicated businessman, he wore a hat to and from work every day, he had a wet bar in his office, and he was the king of the mid-day cocktail. He wouldn’t have approved of the show, but there are elements of the business end of things that undoubtedly and fondly remind me of him.

It’s been so much fun watching the ten-year development and progression of Betty, Peggy, Joan, and Megan as they come into their own and learn to navigate the man’s world (sometimes not so successfully). It’s also been fascinating to observe and analyze the static, unchanging Don Draper.
 All around him the world is changing and sideburns are growing, but he remains exactly the same. All the while his fall from grace continues. Where is the bottom? How will it all end? That’s all up to the creator, Matthew Weiner and his vision for these wild and wonderful characters.
Do you watch Madmen? And if so, what do you think is so appealing about it?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A to Z Blog Challenge: L is for Living with Infertility


“Do you have children?”
I get this question all the time. Often I’m tempted to answer, “Not on earth,” but I know this would just make people feel uncomfortable, so I always answer with “No,” or “we have furbabies.” The truth is, although it has become easier over the years, it’s never completely pain-free to hear this question.
No one asks with the intention of hurting me or anyone else who is child-free, and there is an expectation that most married people have children. The fact that we don’t have children is not by choice; we wanted children, but God had other plans. "This isn't forever. It's just for a season," a friend once said to me who was struggling with infertility herself. She went on to have children; we didn't.
I used to cringe at the sight of a pregnant woman or a mother and baby. Even going to church was hard. On the way into the sanctuary I’d have to see all of the mothers and their children lined up like ducklings--three, four, five deep. Now, those things don’t bother me as much.
My husband and I are in a good place these days. We’re relatively happy most of the time that we don’t have children. I watch the news and balk at the horrors happening in the world, knowing that raising kids in the midst of it all would be so difficult. I'm not sure we're equipped for that. I see my friends enduring unimaginable heartache from the pain of a wayward or prodigal child, and I breathe a little “thank you” that we’re not dealing with that kind of agony.

Still, there are always the questions. What if I'd married sooner? What if we'd tried for kids sooner? What if I didn't eat this? What if I didn't drink that? What if...Ultimately, I feel that God knows always what He’s doing, and there are very good reasons why the answer to our fervently prayed prayers was no.

I’m around kids (high-school aged) all day (and most of the time they drive me crazy), but I also care about them. That, and the daily care of our dogs fulfills a maternal instinct in me on some level.  That will have to do until I see my heavenly children face to face.

April is Infertility Awareness month. 
Pregnancy Test
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. --Proverbs 3:5

Monday, April 13, 2015

A to Z Challenge: K is for Kale

Is it good for you or bad for you?
Organic Cabbage Plant
Kale is one of those super-foods, right? Eat tons of it, the experts tell us.  

A few years ago, my husband and I bought a juicer, and despite the ridiculous amount of money and time involved, we jumped on the juicing bandwagon. About once a week we juiced kale, beets, carrots, apples, cucumbers, berries, spinach and the final product resembled a water glass used for rinsing dirty paint brushes. Sometimes it tasted pretty good; sometimes it tasted more like kale than anything else, but at least we felt we were doing something good for our bodies.

 :: Kale

But now it comes out that kale has a “dark” side. Apparently, according to some medical research reported by Oregon State University, kale can cause hypothyroidism in women over 40. It has something to do with something called goitrin and its interference with how the thyroid operates (you can tell how medically eloquent I am). Now, I would imagine large amounts of the leaf would have to be eaten in order to induce this, but still…it made me sigh with resignation.  It just seems like we find out something is good for us, we're told we should eat tons of it (soy, for example), only to find that it causes this health or hormone disorder or another (elevated estrogen levels, etc.).

In my mind, it’s like this: food for the stomach, the stomach for food. Something’s going to get you one way or the other, so we might as well enjoy what we eat.

What foods have you been disappointed to learn were bad for you?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A to Z Challenge: J is for Junk


Recently I’ve been thinking that we have a lot of this around our house.

Old Things
Ever since my husband and I started talking about moving, I’ve been looking around and noticing how much junk we have. Books, clothing, CDs, boxes and boxes of I-don’t-even-know-what in the garage. (What IS in those boxes anyway?) The contents of one our guest rooms alone could probably stock a thrift shop.

 Keep It Clean

In my twenties and thirties I was much more sentimental about my junk. Oh, I can’t get rid of that. Some guy who was a friend of my grandparents handmade that for me. No, no—not that toy horse. That was the one my best friend gave me when we were in elementary school. No you can't throw THAT away. That was a note my friend passed to me during class in high school! Now I just think--let's get rid of it!
Throw Sth Out
All of the books and trinkets are just dust collectors. I’m tempted to call 1 800 Got-JUNK when we move.
Litter Container

Are you sentimental or practical about your junk?