Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Catching Up

I haven't posted anything in months. The non-blogging started out because I had a huge thing I wanted to share with the world, but really wasn't ready to share it...so instead I said nothing at all. Then I got all anti-computer for a while and am still kind of on that kick - mostly because my day seems to fly by unnoticed whenever I get on the computer.


Since I'm at home and procrastinating on doing Thank You Cards for my baby shower gifts, I figured now was as good a time as any to do a goal update and maybe start blogging again.


2009 Goal Check Up


1. Start/write a blog: I was doing this pretty well until around June. I have four draft posts from June that I never got around to finishing, and then I just stopped altogether. With a baby on the way, we'll see how the whole blogging thing goes in the future.

2. Sing! Join a choir: I joined the Scott OSC choir but then quit. While I enjoyed singing, I didn't like the way they ran the choir. Mostly it was accepting money from the people in the nursing homes (and checks made out the the choir "leader" instead of to the OSC) and the fact that despite being affiliated with the military we didn't sing a single patriotic number. When I asked why we didn't sing the National Anthem at base functions, I was told they couldn't agree on an arrangement so they decided not to do it at all. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

3. Do yoga regularly either at home or in a studio (at least 2x week): Probably only did this 5-6 times and that was back in January.

4. Try three new activities: Once I got pregnant, a lot of the "new" things I wanted to try got pushed to the background...So maybe I didn't try three new activities but I did do some "new" things...Does the Wii Fit count? I also went for a weekend trip to see friends at the spur of the moment; got pregnant; got in a bathing suit for the first time in years and went swimming (more like floating considering the big belly); went to the Grand Canyon...stuff like that.

5. Go on minimum of four “day trips” to see Midwest: I'm not sure we've done four, but we have gone into St Louis a few times and we went to St Charles. We're also going to Branson soon. I keep thinking I've forgotten one of the trips we took

6. Pamper myself regularly: I've gotten haircuts, manicures and pedicures but not regularly...I was completely pampered while we were in Sedona - a prenatal massage, a facial (which pretty much tore up my face, but felt great at the time) and probably the best pedicure ever.

7. Read minimum of 18 books: My goal was either way too low or I read way too much...or somewhere in between...I have read 6 classics (my goal was four): Siddartha, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes (Vol 1), The Secret Garden, and Fahrenheit 451. I also wanted to read two biographies, which I did - one on Alice Roosevelt Longworth and another on the Andrews Sisters.

8. Publish a Poem/Send poem(s) to be published: Nope...the more I read of my own stuff, the less I think it's good enough to be published. I still enjoy reading it myself, I just don't think anyone else would get it. Plus, I haven't written anything for years, so what's the point of trying to get something published if I don't write poems anymore?

9. Make health/exercise a priority: Healthy eating has become a priority for sure - I'm eating much more fruit and vegetables, but I could still be better. I still love potatoes (in almost any shape or form) and have a sweet tooth like crazy. I'm happy to say the only "real" and constant craving I have had is for MILK! Crazy, I know...

10. Get “professional” photos taken: Hmm, the closest I will get to this are the pictures my friend Theresa has taken the two times I've gotten to see her this year. I would bet we're going to get pictures taken of some sort when the baby gets here, but that will be in January so doesn't count for this year's goals...

So, bottom line is I have met a few of my goals but not all of them. Though without having had goals to start with, who knows what I would have done with my time...? I still have a couple months left in the year, we'll see what I do with them.

Read More......

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Unsung Heroes

Right now, I'm watching C-SPAN and listening to Congressman Al Green (TX) comment on one of the "greatest stories never told..." He along with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL) are speaking today to convince the other Congressional Representatives to pass the bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP.

It's amazing to me that despite having been promised military status and taking the military oath, not to mention 38 of them giving their lives for our country, the WASP did not receive veteran status or any recognition for their wartime service until over 30 years after the WASP were disbanded. Now, over 60 years after their service, they are finally seen as deserving of recognition. They did not volunteer to serve their country looking for recognition and praise - but they surely deserve it.

Hmm, looks like they passed the Bill - just like that. Congressman Green closed by asking for the support of the House "if a vote is called for." The Speaker then said "The question is, will the House suspend the rules and pass S614. All those in favor say Aye (several ayes in background) all those opposed say no (crickets chirping...). In the opinion of the chair, two thirds being in the affirmative, the rules are suspended, the Bill is passed and without objection the motion to reconsider is laid on the table."

I wish I could have been there to see it in person (maybe along with some American Politics professor to explain everything...). Though at times it is quite boring - as evidenced by the fact that the Representatives themselves don't show up...It can actually be very interesting to visit and watch what goes on in the House of Representatives in person. I was lucky enough to get to see it a couple times while I was an Intern at the Pentagon. I actually got to see the Senate vote on increasing funding for the war. It was kind of crazy how at one point the room was pretty empty and then, within the last ten minutes, it seemed people came out of the woodwork to vote. They had cards they put into slots at their seats and then they voted. The vote is then shown on one of the walls. Once they voted some of them stayed for a few moments to talk with their colleagues and others left right away. It was a good feeling being in the room and actually watching history in the making.

So, now the bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASP will go before President Obama for final approval and his signature. Once signed it will become a law...Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has a press release regarding the bill on her website... Read More......

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Three Thursday Thoughts

1. My little sister had her baby yesterday. The baby was almost 8.5 pounds! Very exciting stuff...I can't wait to meet her but it looks like it will be July before I get back down to KY...We've got quite a lot of stuff going on the next few weeks...so a 10 hour round trip for a couple days isn't really in the cards. I'll be in KY for about a week in July anyway so it seems as if it'd be better to wait until then so I get some real quality time with my sister and her two daughters...

2. I've been reading Marion Chesney's Edwardian Murder Mystery series. It's pretty good though not as good as her Hamish Macbeth or Agatha Raisin series...I started with the Hamish Macbeth series after a friend recommended it and then moved on to Agatha Raisin for a while. I started the new series because I am missing two of the Hamish books (I got the rest really cheap on eBay) so am waiting to read the others until I get those two...In the meantime, I also finished reading a biography about Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Volume 1 of the Complete Sherlock Holmes, both of which I really enjoyed. I'm about a third of the way through Gulliver's Travels but I'm just not taking to it so I keep putting off picking it back up again...I already told my husband that I'd like Volume II of the Sherlock Holmes for my birthday or Christmas. I enjoyed Sherlock much more than I thought I would...though I've always loved mystery stories...even as a little girl some of my favorite books were Nancy Drew and those books where you could pick the outcome - I don't remember what they were called...

3. My husband handed me an article yesterday he thought I might enjoy and turned out I loved it. One of the magazines we receive is "Military Money Magazine" which we get because I'm a member of the National Military Family Association. The article was Sarah Smiley's "Shore Duty" column. I occasionally read her column because she has a lot to say about being a military spouse though I had missed this one. The article was essentially a review of a documentary called "The Way We Get By." It's mainly about three residents of Bangor, Maine who, along with many others, are unofficial greeters for American troops passing through the airport. What really struck me about this article was the fact that I myself have benefited from these greeters at Bangor. Back in 1998, I was headed out for my first deployment as a 2nd Lt. We went to Bangor because we were flying the rest of the way to the UAE with the "Mainiacs" and one of their KC-135s. We got there late and it was already dark. There were only about three or four of us and the airport seemed pretty dead. When we got off the plane, all I remember is being greeted by some very nice people who asked if we needed anything, told us where we could go to get a good lobster dinner and thanked us for our service. Now, I don't know if they were the same people covered in this documentary, but it's something I have never forgotten. The fact that people came out to meet us and see if we needed anything made an impression on me I'll never forget... Read More......

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Little Sister

My little sister is having a baby in just over a week. On Father's Day actually...they say the baby is too big to wait for the due date of 19 June so if she (the baby) doesn't come out herself by the 10th, they are scheduled to induce.

On a side note, while I think it's kind of cool to get a new baby for Father's Day, doesn't that mean that neither of them will have their own "special day" since they'll have to share it from here on out? You guys that are dads, let me know what you think.

So, I'm pretty excited to be an aunt again. Her first daughter is adorable. I only hope for the next one's sake that she is just as cute or wicked smart. My sister is going for her PhD so maybe the second one will be brilliant? Though baby #1 seems like she's pretty intelligent too. We may be a bit biased though when we say she is light years ahead of all the other kids her age...nah, I think she really is that smart, and cute, and sweet...I could go on and on...I can't wait to see the next one!

I've offered to come down and help out but can't get a straight answer from my sister. Does that mean she doesn't really want or need help or that she isn't sure I really want to do it despite having offered? There's a lot of family in the area so I would assume she has ample help available, but you never know. I would just like to know what I can do so I can figure out my game plan - I've got a lot of travel coming up in the next couple months and I need to plan. Despite my earlier post about learning how being spontaneous can be fun, I still need a plan!

I can't believe that they say the baby has to come out early because otherwise it will be too big. They are estimating about 7.5 pounds...how is that too big? That's tiny! Half the size of my cat! Though I guess when you are giving birth to it it probably feels like a giant pumpkin...but when it comes to holding it, changing diapers and dressing it? Tiny, tiny, tiny! I can't wait to see her, tiny fingers and toes and all... Read More......

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cool Winnings


I can't even count how many contests and sweepstakes I have entered in the last few years, but I never seem to win anything...

A few weeks ago, I entered a contest on the BlogHer website for Fage Yogurt. It's really good Greek yogurt that Tom and I discovered a few years ago. And I won! I finally won!

The Fage arrived today. Two each of: 2% and Fat free plain yogurt, cherry, strawberry, peach and honey. The cool thing about Fage yogurt is that the fruit (or honey) is in a small container on the side. So you can mix in as much or as little into the yogurt as you want.

We like using the plain yogurt to make Tzaziki, a Greek appetizer/dip. The following is an easy Tzaziki recipe:

Ingredients:
16 ounces (2 cups) of thick Greek yogurt (like Fage)
4 to 10 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated cucumber (Kirby or "English")
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons of lemon juice

Preparation:
Prepare all ingredients in advance. Dry the cucumber between sheets of paper towels.
Combine oil and lemon juice in a medium mixing bowl. Fold the yogurt in slowly, making sure it mixes completely with the oil. Add the garlic, according to taste, and the cucumber. Stir until evenly distributed.
Serve well chilled.
The garlic taste will become more pronounced the next day.
Good for about 3 days if kept refrigerated.
Yield: about 2 1/2 cups
Read More......

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Spontaneity

I'm not known for being spontaneous. I like to have a plan, to know what's coming up, to know what to expect...Every once in a while though I do something spontaneous and it usually turns out pretty good.

This past Friday afternoon I decided to call my best friend from school and ask what her weekend plans were. Turns out she didn't have a whole lot going on and agreed it would be great to have me come for a visit. So, Saturday morning I jumped in the car and drove four hours to Whiteman AFB, MO. We had a great visit. Sunday we went to her parents house for a barbecue. I hadn't seen her family (mother, father and brother) since we graduated - about 12 years ago! It was great to see them and get to spend some time with them. I never knew her father had been a maintainer for 20 years, so we had a couple nice conversations about "the good old days" in maintenance.

I also got to see another friend who's also at Whiteman. Before this I hadn't seen her since I left Ramstein AB 6 years ago! I only got to see her for a few hours Sunday morning because her husband was coming back from a deployment that afternoon. But we made the most of the three hours we had. I got lots of cool ideas from her to help support my husband's squadron. She's really creative so I just kind of picked her brain on things to do. She came up with an awesome idea that I am really excited about for the unit - I just hope my husband is as excited as we are. I've already created a whole power point presentation to win him over. Now I just have to wait another week for him to get back from his TDY. Did I mention his TDY? Among other places, they went to Oslo and he took the time to look up his ancestors. He found the town his maternal grandfather was from and loved it. I'm not sure I have ever heard him so excited. I can't wait to see the pictures...heck, I can't wait to go with him and see it myself sometime.

Back to my spontaneous weekend...That's one of the things I love about my military friends. Even if it has been years since the last time we've been together, we always seem to pick up right where we left off. It's as if military people realize more than others that life sometimes gets ahead of you and everyone makes the best of the time they are given. If there's only time for coffee or lunch, then you enjoy the time you have.

It was a great weekend and I'm really glad I picked up that phone and called on Friday. Maybe I'll remember that next time I think of something spontaneous... Read More......

Friday, May 22, 2009

Quiet Time

I haven't been posting very much lately...not much to say...or not much I want to put into words...or maybe just being lax and not wanting to take the time to come up with a topic and then discuss it.

A couple things have been keeping me quieter than normal...Tom has been gone a lot this month, more than usual. I'm not complaining, not really...how can I complain about a week here and there when other people are gone for 120/180/365 days at a time? So I'm not complaining just commenting on how schedules can get messed up with people coming and going all the time. Not just Tom...I've driven back and forth to KY quite a few times in the last couple months...I think it's taken it's toll.

While I would love to write something awe-inspiring and monumental, for now I'll just keep taking it easy - working on another afghan blanket, scrapbooking my years at USAFA, and reading a biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth...that's enough to keep me busy for a while... Read More......

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Supporting the WASPs

"I salute you...We of the Army Air Force are proud of you.
We will never forget our debt to you."
General "Hap" Arnold, 7 Dec. 1944

I am constantly amazed as I read the list of who is/isn't supporting the bills (S614/HR2014) to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII. How could anyone not want to support this? Why wouldn't they have signed on during the first week? How could we, even for a moment, forget what the women of the "Greatest Generation" did for this country?

This morning I was both excited and disappointed to read that Senators from 47 states have signed on to support S614. I was excited because having the support of that many Senators makes it more likely the bill will pass when it comes up for the vote. I was disappointed because Kentucky (my home state) is one of three states (the others are SC and WY) not yet supporting the bill.

I decided to call the offices of Senator Jim Bunning and Senator Mitch McConnell again to urge their support. This time I introduced myself and gave my home town. It's amazing what a difference that made. I talked to them a bit about why I thought this was an important bill, that after blogging about the bill (and writing about it on Facebook) I was actually embarrassed that my own Senators were not supporting it. That seemed to get their attention. They asked for my name and address and said they would pass on my message.

I also called Congressman Chandler's (D-KY 6th) office and urged him to support HR2014. I am happy to say (as previously posted) my representative from IL, Congressman Jerry Costello, has already signed on as co-sponsor, as has my representative from VA, Congressman James Moran (D-VA 8th).

If you would like to see if your representatives have signed on to support this important legislation, you can see who has not yet signed on as co-sponsor by clicking on "Not Yet Yes" which will get you to a database provided by the Wings Across America website. On the website you can also see different ways of getting in touch with your representatives to urge their support. If you don't want to call, you can use e-mail or Twitter. The website also has a really nice flyer and several different post cards you can print out and mail (you can also find your representatives district office address). It's easy - everything is done for you, it just takes a few moments of your time. Read More......

Friday, May 15, 2009

Making a Difference

As you know, I have been doing what I can to try to influence our Senators and members of Congress to support S614 and HR2014 to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASPs. For the first time in my life, I have called and e-mailed my representatives and I actually heard back from one of them.

The following is an e-mail I received from Congressman Costello. I'm sure it was actually written by some 22-year-old staffer, but it still felt good when I read it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dear [Sam]:

I wanted to drop you a note to let you know I received your message regarding H.R. 2014, legislation to award a congressional gold medal to the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP).

I appreciate you contacting my office and thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. As the first women in history to fly American military aircraft, WASP's were the catalyst for integration of women pilots into the Armed Services. H.R. 2014 has been referred to the House Financial Services and House Administration Committee for consideration. As a cosponsor of this legislation, be assured I will support H.R. 2014 should it come before the full House for a vote.

If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
Jerry F. Costello
Member of Congress Read More......

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Water Under the Bridge

This past weekend I was in Kentucky visiting family. One of my brothers received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Kentucky so we had an "open house" for friends and family. It was also Mother's Day so I was able to spend time with my mother, step-mother and step-grandmother.

One of the things I actually appreciated the most was spending some time with my younger brother. As I mentioned in a previous post, my brother and I had a "falling out" almost 16 months ago. He lived with my husband and I over the summer and again in the fall/winter for a total of about 4 months. He was in DC doing an internship with the Department of Homeland Security and we were happy to help out. Unfortunately, it did not end well. I won't go into the details but it has been over a year since the last time we actually spoke.

When I visited my family a few weeks ago, my brother called both my mother and step-father and seemed genuinely upset that no one had told him I was in town. Of course my first thought was "didn't know you cared." So for this visit, I asked everyone to make sure he knew I was coming and figured I'd see what happened.

I didn't talk much with him at the open house, but he did come over and give me a hug. After the open house, he and my younger sister joined me at my mother's house for dinner and cake. We spoke for a while, nothing of any consequence, but it was a start. He then asked if he could come over the next day after work. This time there was no sister or 2-year-old niece to provide a buffer. We didn't talk about much other than his new job at the vet center, his new apartment, his new car, etc. We didn't bring up the "fall out."

So, I'm hoping we can move past it and call it water under the bridge. As I was thinking of what that means to me, I decided to look it up. According to the Free Dictionary website "water under the bridge" means: "A past occurrence, especially something unfortunate, that cannot be undone or rectified." Well, the fall out was definitely "unfortunate" and cannot be undone. It also can't really be rectified since both sides believe they are in the right. Another website for quotations and idioms defined it as "Something that has happened in the past and is no longer worth agonizing over." While it was in the past, and I definitely do not want to keep agonizing over it, I don't know if I agree that it is "no longer worth agonizing over." There are serious issues that caused the argument and by sweeping them under the rug (another idiom?) they won't ever be dealt with.

Regardless of the actual meaning of "water under the bridge," I am glad I have my brother back. I would actually prefer not rehashing the past and just move forward from here. It's not as if I think we are about to become best-friends, but it's nice to be able to talk with him or think of family get togethers without worrying about how it will go... Read More......

Friday, May 8, 2009

Next Step for WASP Congressional Gold Medal

S614 - the bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the WASPs has received the 2/3 sponsorship it needs to leave the committee. Of the four Senators I called and sent an e-mail to, only Sen Warner (VA) signed on as co-sponsor (on 7 May). Despite that, I still feel as if, for the first time in my life, I might have actually contributed (in a small way) to the running of our government. And isn't that what a true democracy is all about?

The next step is HR2014. This Bill needs 92 more sponsors from the House of Representatives.

This morning I sent an e-mail to my Representatives (from KY, IL and VA). It's easy. Go to "Soap Box Alert," enter your zip code and type a short email. SAMPLE MESSAGE: "I would like to urge Representative ___ to support HR2014, awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII, known as the WASP. Please contact Rep Illeana Ros-Liethen or Rep Susan Davis's office ASAP to sign on as a co-sponsor to the bill." Take a moment and add whatever you think might help.

For more information, take a look at my post from 2 May 09 ("Delayed Recognition") and/or visit the Wings Across America website. Read More......

Thursday, May 7, 2009

SeaQuest Season 2

Lately, I've been watching the second season of SeaQuest and I think I can see why it lost a lot of its followers...

While season one was about discovering the secrets of the ocean, the second season seems to have much more of the typical sci-fi ideas: telepathy, aliens, time travel, life sucking plants, aliens, giant ice age crocodiles, aliens, 1200 year old "spirits", etc.

As I mentioned previously, one of the things I loved about SeaQuest was the idea of exploring the oceans. Now the crew of the SeaQuest seems to spend more time on shore leave than they do on the sub. Maybe the producers thought people wanted to see more of the characters out of uniform...maybe they thought there were only so many shows that could be done centered around the ocean...who knows?

One of the things they kept from the first season to the second was the "Sea Facts." During the credits, at the end of each episode, someone from the cast would do a short spot on some interesting sea fact: sharks, the difference between sea lions and seals, penguins, threat of pollution, etc. I still think its a pretty cool idea to use that time (the credits) to try and educate people (at least a little bit).

I hadn't realized the man who did the sea facts during the first season, Bob Ballard, is the same man who discovered the Titanic. He also found the Yorktown, Bismark and even JFK's PT-109 among many others. I thought he was just one of the scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I guess that goes to show what you can find out with a little digging... Read More......

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Calling

"...live a life worthy of the calling you have received." — Ephesians 4:1

Pioneer Woman recently posted about a friend of hers who went to India with Compassion International. It wasn't necessarily the post itself or even Compassion International that struck a chord, just the idea of doing something worthwhile to make the world a better place.

The Bible verse above was on the Compassion International website. Of course, I have read the verse before. Yet, today, as every other time I have read this verse, I wondered what if you don't know what your calling is?

At one point in my life, I was sure my calling was to serve my country in the AF. Now, when that is no longer available to me, I am left with wondering, again, what my calling is...

How can you live a life worthy of your calling, if you have no idea what that calling is? Read More......

Monday, May 4, 2009

Who Am I?

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you probably realize I have been trying to figure out who I am now that I’m no longer in the Air Force.

The other day, I stumbled upon something very exciting. At least I thought it was exciting. Have you ever heard of “idea mapping?” I hadn’t, but as I read about it, a huge light bulb lit up over my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about it - so I pulled out my sketch book and markers…In the past two days, I have done two different (but similar) “idea” maps.

What is my idea? Me. Who am I? What drives me? What makes me happy? How do I see myself? What do I want for my future?
As I said before, I am a work in progress. So are these “maps.” But I’m excited with what I’ve got so far…and excited to see where it goes from here. They were actually too big to scan completely, but the pictures show enough so you get the point.

Let me know what you think…Did I leave something out that you think of when you think of me? Is there something on my map you did not know about me? What would your idea map look like?
Read More......

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Delayed Recognition

As you may know, I served in the US Air Force for 10 years. You may or may not know that I went to the Air Force Academy and had dreams of being a pilot. I did get several opportunities to fly a glider and even got to “fly” an F-16 during a Cope Thunder exercise in Alaska, but I never became a pilot. Reading about the WASPs of WWII was one of the things that fueled (and still fuels) my dreams of flight. Now I have an opportunity, in a small way, to return the favor.

On 12 Mar 09, Sen Hutchison and Sen Mikulski introduced a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII. As I understand it, the bill must have the support (as co-sponsors of the bill) of 2/3 of the House and Senate before it leaves the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee. In order for the bill to pass, and for the WASPs to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, two thirds of both the Senate and the House must actually vote for the bill after it gets out of study by the Senate Banking Committee, where it stands at this moment. I may have majored in Poli Sci, but must admit I need a refresher course in how a bill gets passed (does anyone else hear School House Rock in the back ground? “I’m just a bill, Yes, I’m only a bill…”).

The vote is scheduled for 8 May 09 and as of today, 2 May 09, they still need the support of 10 Senators and 112 Congressmen. At the Wings Across America website you can see which Senators and/or Congressmen have signed on to support this bill. If your representatives have not signed on, please take a moment and let them know you support this bill. E-mailing them is easy.

Visit “Soap Box Alert” enter your zip code and type a short e-mail. A sample message is: "I would like to urge Senator ___ to support S 614, awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII, known as the WASP. Please urge him to contact Senator Hutchison's or Senator Mikulski's office ASAP to sign on as a co-sponsor to the bill." Add whatever else you think might help. I sent e-mails to representatives from KY (my home state), VA (state of residence) and IL (current residence) as well as to Sen John McCain. I tried to make each e-mail a little bit personal so they would understand this bill actually means something to me. [Update 4 May: I called the offices of Sen Warner, Sen Webb, Sen Bunning and Sen McConnell to ask them to support S 614. First time I have ever called a politician...I have the power!! :) ]

I can't say it any better than Senator Hutchison when she said: “More than fifty years have passed since the intrepid Women Airforce Service Pilots bravely served in World War II, but these women have yet to receive the recognition they deserve. Even without formal acknowledgement, their service paved the way for all women who serve valiantly in the military today,” said Sen. Hutchison. “Just as the Navajo Code Talkers and the Tuskegee Airmen served their country with distinction in World War II, and were subsequently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, it is appropriate for us to honor the service of the Women Airforce Service Pilots with Congress’ top award.”

Sen Hutchison’s media release also explained more about the Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Gold Medal is "awarded by Congress and, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is the highest and most distinguished honor a civilian may receive. The award is bestowed for exceptional acts of service to the United States or for lifetime achievement. Once approved by Congress, the U.S. Mint designs and creates each gold medal so that it uniquely represents the individual or event being honored. The original medal is then displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.”

There are only around 300 WASPs living today. When approved, the Congressional Gold Medals will be awarded to all 1,102 pilots and/or their surviving family members.

As one of our great presidents, Abraham Lincoln, once said: "Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure." Please join with me, take the time to look into this and then pass it on to friends and family, and help honor our heroes. Read More......

Friday, May 1, 2009

SeaQuest

During my sophomore year in high school I, like most others, took Biology. I can’t remember my teacher’s name, but I remember how much I liked her. One of the reasons I liked her so much is because I loved biology. She made it interesting and made me want to learn more about it.

I especially loved learning about the ocean. I remember learning about red tides and how many of the things found in the ocean are older than most things found on land. My favorite outing when I was younger was going to the Boston Aquarium and the Science Museum.

I recently rediscovered SeaQuest DSV. Just hearing the tagline “Beneath the surface lies the future” gives me chills because of the way it fuels my imagination.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved science fiction. Shows like Star Trek, Stargate and more recently BSG and Firefly. All of these series fuel the imagination and make one look further than our regular every day lives.

One of the great things about SeaQuest is that while it’s sci fi, it's premise seems possible and attainable. The world’s population is growing by leaps and bounds. At some point we are going to outgrow the available landmass. What will we do? Where will we live?

SeaQuest shows what might or could happen if we started to populate earth’s oceans. Oceans cover about 70% of the earth’s surface. If we could figure out a way to live down there, literally a whole new world would be open to us. Not only that, but if we can find out more about our present and our future by learning from our past, what more can we learn by studying our oceans?

There is so much out there…it makes me wonder what kind of research is currently being done concerning our oceans. How much money are we spending, and is it enough? I imagine it’s hard to find money for such research when most people probably think money should be spent on cancer research or ways to fuel the world or even in the competing arena of space…

As much as I probably sound like a geek going on about science fiction and how much I love science, I don’t really care. I think it’s good to have something out there that makes you think beyond the present. Something that makes you wonder if there is more to life than just what we know. Something that drives you to study the past, through studying the stars, the oceans, or the earth, in order to learn more about how to improve our present or to make life better in the future…As they say on SeaQuest, beneath the surface lies the future… Read More......

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who You Are vs What You Do

Quite a while ago one of my sisters introduced me to "Daily Om," a website dedicated to "nurturing mind, body and spirit." I get e-mails from them every day with thought provoking articles. Sometimes I read them right away, sometimes I put them in a folder to read/re-read later and sometimes I'm not interested so it gets deleted. that's the beauty of e-mail - I decide what I want to read and when...that's a discussion in itself for another time...

The article I read today was about realizing "You are who you are, not what you do." As usual, I didn't feel as if 100% of it applied to me, but that didn't matter since even the first couple sentences struck a cord: "Our perception of the traits and characteristics that make us who we are is often tightly intertwined with how we live our life. We define ourselves in terms of the roles we adopt, our actions and inactions, our triumphs, and what we think are failures. "

For the last couple years I have had a hard time adjusting to the fact I am no longer an officer in the United States Air Force. Ever since I was 16 years old, all I wanted was to be in the Air Force. Everything I did my last two years in High School was to get an ROTC scholarship or, preferably, to get into the Air Force Academy. Then I struggled, and I mean struggled, to graduate from USAFA, including two years of medical leave due to knee surgeries (and if I'm honest with myself, not as much training/physical therapy as should have been done). Graduating with the class of 1996 instead of 1994 was probably a good thing, for many reasons, but most of all because I felt as if I was starting over with a clean slate. No one in '96 knew how hard my freshman year had been...thus, I was given every opportunity to prove I could handle tough jobs. Whereas had I remained with '94, either I myself or others might have held me back from accomplishing as much as I was capable of - simply due to my less than stellar four degree year. (Another story for another time...)

As an aircraft maintenance officer, I felt as if I had to work harder than everyone else to prove that women could do the job just as well as men - despite the fact that I knew/know nothing about maintenance/mechanics other than what I continuously studied so as not to show my ignorance. I also kept myself apart from others so no one could accuse me of being "soft" or being too friendly with the guys. In other words, I wasn't able to be myself. For ten years, I put the AF and my career above my own needs and desires. I was so successful at putting everything else first, that I no longer knew or even recognized anything different. The way I saw it, what was good for the AF was, in fact, good for me.

Now, I don't have that anymore. I don't have the uniform to hide behind, I don't have the mission to focus on, I don't have the purpose in serving my country...So now, (and something I've been working on for the last two years) I have to figure out "who I am" separate from "what I do."

Sounds pretty easy but as I have found, it's not. At least not for me. I've gone from being a Major in the world's greatest AF to being a dependant spouse (have I mentioned how much I hate that word "dependant"...?) whose main contribution to the world is a blog and blankets (well, other crafts as well, but who besides me really cares about my scrapbooking, and family/friends can only stand so many crafts as gifts...). Doesn't do much for the whole sense of purpose and value thing...

What's my point? I'm not sure if I have one. It's just that the article made me realize, again, how much I have always defined myself by what I do/did. I was AF 24/7/365. And now, how do I define myself when I'm not really doing anything? Do I define myself as a woman who tries to do the right thing...? As someone who loves her friends and family and tries to be there for them, sometimes before they even realize they are in need...? As someone who loves creating "art" even if it's never seen outside my own home...? Yet, aren't all of those still defining myself by what I am doing..?

How do I define myself? As a work in progress... Read More......

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's Up With the PAG?

Just a short note because once again I am amazed at how self-centered the PAG is...

A couple days ago, the people of New York City were once again witness to low flying aircraft and memories of 9/11 ran swiftly through their minds. The aircraft in question was one of the 747s flown by the Presidential Airlift Group out of Andrews AFB. As a side note, the aircraft was not "Air Force One" since the President was not on board. Of course the people of New York City did not know that. What they did know was the President's aircraft was flying very low around the buildings of Manhattan and being "chased" by a fighter aircraft.

Whether or not the flight was cleared at the right levels and if mistakes were made in letting the right people know is something that will come out during the investigation. Because, of course, there is going to be an investigation.

What amazes me is the purpose for the flight. Souvenir photos for friends and family of the PAG. Souvenir photos. Though knowing the PAG, the plan was probably to sell them in their souvenir shop as well. So, in order to have "updated" or "current" photos of the 747 flying over national monuments, thousands of people were affected. And why did they really need updated photos? Has the 747, which has been in use as Air Force One since 1990, changed in the last few years? Have the monuments themselves changed?

Did no one stop to think about how a low-flying "passenger" aircraft being "chased" by fighters would affect New Yorkers? A second photo-op scheduled for Washington DC has been cancelled. Why not start in DC? After all, that's essentially the home of the PAG and the President. Plus, they could have seen how it was handled without freaking out New York's survivors of 9/11. Granted, there are survivors of 9/11 at the Pentagon and Washington DC as well, but it might not have been such a blatant reminder...who knows how it would have gone down had they done it in DC first. I just find it interesting that they chose NYC.

Bottom line, I think it was self-centered of the PAG to think only of themselves and not how a low-level flyover in close proximity to Ground Zero would possibly affect others. I know I shouldn't view the whole group based on my impressions of the PAG members I have known and worked with, but I also haven't seen anything to prove me wrong. This instance just re-enforced those impressions. Read More......

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Last day in Albania

After leaving Shkodra, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. A friend of V's husband had recommended it, though neither of our friends had ever been there. We were pleasantly surprised when the food came out. Salad and bread to begin with of course...then an amazing fish platter which looked way too big for four people. Amazingly enough, we finished just about everything on the platter - except the octopus and one lone fish no one could fit in. My favorite was the fried red fish. No idea what kind of fish it is, that's just what V called it - "red fish." I wasn't too sure about it since it looked like the whole fish was simply dropped in a pan and fried (head, eyes, tail and all), but it had a wonderful taste and consistency - just a bit crispy on the outside and tender on the inside...just thinking about it is making me hungry for it.

Following the fish platter, we had duck. The restaurant is supposedly well known for their duck. There were pictures of ducks on all the walls around us...so all I kept thinking while we were waiting was someone going outside to round up supper. When I say "duck plate" you may imagine slices of duck breast, pleasantly arranged on a platter...ah, nope. Try three little duck bodies, with the necks still attached, just siting on a white plate with a couple lettuce leaves around their little butts. Despite my hesitation based on the fact it looked like a tiny little duckling had been plucked and broiled just moments ago (which I guess it had been), I tried to eat it. I guess since it was a wild duck, it's supposed to have a special flavor but it tasted like liver to me. Since I'm not a fan of liver, V's husband ate mine. The meal ended, as usual, with a fruit plate.


On the way home I took several pictures of houses and scenery along the highway. As I had feared all week, my camera battery died so I didn't get very many. Next time, I'm bringing an extra battery or two as well as an extra memory card.

We had dinner with Valbona and her brother-in-law, packed and got up at 0400 on Saturday morning (4 Apr 09) to make our 0630 flight. It was sad to think of leaving, especially on such a historic day. Outside our hotel, everything was getting set up for a huge concert and celebration of Albania officially joining NATO. During our whole visit, throughout Tirana and in the smaller towns, there were flags and banners marking the occasion. We were amazed when we got to Frankfurt Germany that there was hardly anything on the news about Albania and Croatia joining NATO. Instead everything seemed to revolve around Pres. Obama and welcoming France back into NATO. Funny how different things seem important to different people at different times. If we had not been in Albania at the time they received their official invitation to join NATO and on the day they officially joined, we may not have even realized it happened. But one would think the major news stations would have at least mentioned it...Either way, I am glad we were there for it, even in such a small way. Read More......

Monday, April 27, 2009

Shkodra Albania

After visiting Lezhe, we drove to Shkodra. We didn't see much of the town other than driving through it. However, we drove up a mountain to Rozafa Castle and from there we could see all of Shkodra and the surrounding countryside. On one side you can see the Buna Rover and on the other side was the Drina River.

It was neat for me to see the Drina since on my 2003 Balkan trip I got to see the Drina in Bosnia-Herzogovina. I read Ivo Andric's book The Bridge on the Drina before going and actually got to have lunch next to, as well as walk on, the actual bridge from the book. As I said, it was kind of cool to see the river again in a different country. It also seemed to somehow join both trips...both were to visit with friends from the Marshall Center, both were to the Balkans and now both showed me different parts of the Drina...

Rozafa Castle seemed to take up the whole top of the mountain. The history has been traced back 4000 years to a Bronze Age settlement. Still standing are some Illyrian "Cyclopean Walls" from around 350BC. Because of its long history, the castle has had many additions over the centuries. Wandering through the different courtyards, you can see not only the Illyrian construction but Ottoman and Venetian as well. The main medieval building still standing is St Stephen's Church. At one point, after the Ottomans invaded, a minaret was added and the church was turned into a mosque.
Even though the museum inside the castle was closed, Igli had made some phone calls before we got there so we were allowed inside. Most of the items originally in the museum were plundered following the 1997 pyramid scheme collapse and resulting riots and chaos. There were however documents detailing Shkodra's history, a full-scale model of the castle and city, as well as many artifacts found in the castle and surrounding areas. On the main floor, just inside the doorway was a large sculpture of a woman feeding a child. the sculpture commemorates the Legend of Rosafa.

Rozafa Castle is "named" for the woman in the legend. The legend seems to be essentially an aid to show how important and worthy it is to put the needs of the many above the few (or in this case, above an individual).

The legend describes the initiative of three brothers who set about building the castle. They worked all day, but whatever they had built during the day, fell down at night. After this happened numerous times, they went to an oracle. The oracle advised them to make a sacrifice and then the walls would stand.

The three brothers couldn't decide whom to sacrifice. Finally, they agreed whichever wife brought them lunch the next day would be the one to be buried in the wall of the castle. They promised not to tell their wives. Yet, the two older brothers told their wives of the agreement while the youngest brother said nothing.

The next afternoon at lunch time, the brothers waited anxiously to see which wife was carrying the basket of food. It was Rosafa, the wife of the youngest brother. He explained to her what the brothers had agreed to - that she was to be sacrificed and buried in the wall of the castle so they could finish building it.

Rosafa had an infant son she would be leaving behind. In order to ensure her son's happiness, she agreed to be sacrificed on the condition they leave her right arm exposed so she could comfort her son, her right breast so she could feed him, and her right foot so she could rock his cradle.

V's parents have a painting representing the legend in the living room of their apartment, so it was nice to come full circle having seen the painting on our first night in Albania and seeing the castle on our last day. Read More......

Lezhe Albania

On our last full day in Albania, we visited Lezhe and Shkodra. Lezhe is about 77km north of Tirana. On the way there, we met up with a friend of Igli's for coffee. Then we went to see Skanderbeg's tomb.

Lezhe is important to Albania due in part to the League of Lezhe. In 1444, Skanderbeg brought the Albanian princes and mountain tribes together in Lezhe. They agreed to join forces to fight the Ottomans. Skanderbeg was elected commander of the joint forces. For the next 25 years or so Skanderbeg, and the Albanian forces under his command, managed to hold off the Ottoman empire essentially giving Europe time to prepare for the onslaught. Many historians credit Skanderbeg with saving Europe and Christianity from the Ottoman Empire.

After Skanderbeg's death in 1468, he was buried in St Nicholas Cathedral in Lezhe, where he had brought the tribes together for the League of Lezhe. When the Ottoman forces eventually occupied Lezhe, 12 years or so after Skanderbeg's death, they dug up Skanderbeg's bones and used them as talismans or good luck charms. In the early 1980s, what remained of the church was incorporated into a monument to Skanderbeg. The walls of the church remain, as well as one "painting" from the original church. The tomb of Skanderbeg is marked by a marble slab and replicas of his helmet and sword. There is also a bust of Skanderbeg with a large Albanian flag mosaic behind it. The symbol on the Albanian flag, the double eagle, was taken from Skanderbeg's family crest.

As mentioned in a previous post, I found it very interesting that the communists would make the effort to help preserve the memory of someone whose main goal in life was to create, and protect, a unified Albania. Yet, they seemed to realize that Skanderbeg was so important to Albanians that it would be better to help create monuments to remember him rather than to try to erase him from their memories. The latter would more likely have made him an even larger icon.
Read More......

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pasta Vongole

Vongole...Vongole...Vongole - this is a very cool word, exotic even. Especially when it's said in Albanian (or in Italian with an Albanian accent)...Who would ever think something that sounds so interesting would be so disastrous?

As I mentioned previously, the night we went to Durres and had dinner, V's husband talked me into trying the Pasta Vongole. Turns out "vongole" is Italian for clam...turns out clams and I don't agree too much...

So, starting at around 0230 while my darling husband was safe in snooze-land, I was at the beginning of a very long, arduous journey of "recovering" from food poisoning. Or at the very least a horrible collision between my delicate stomach and yucky, disgusting gray blobs that are loosely termed "clams."

While being sick is never fun, it's especially bad when you're stuck in a hotel room for one of only four days in a new country. Luckily, V had made sure we had reservations in a really nice hotel, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

I eventually realized that time wasn't on my side (as in, as the day was passing, I still wasn't getting any better) so the men went and got me some medicine. By early evening, I was able to go to the park for a short stroll with the others. We then went to their apartment for dinner. V made lasagna and her mother made another traditional Albanian dish (it looked good - yogurt, meat, cheese, etc...). Unfortunately, I could only pick at the lasagna and didn't even try anything else except for bread and water. Despite that, it was a nice dinner and we enjoyed spending more time with V's family. We had brought several small gifts for everyone so we presented them after dinner. It seemed as if everyone liked what we had chosen for them...

Most of the stuff we had planned to do on Thursday, the day I was sick, we moved to Friday in hopes I would be recovered enough to travel. Luckily, I was...I'll tell you all about it in the next post. Read More......

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Family Heirlooms (Part 2)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I received some "heirlooms" from my Aunt in Germany. Things that used to belong to my German grandmother and grandfather. Nothing very exciting, embroidered handkerchiefs, glasses and leather glass cases, wallets and change purses, bottles of my grandmother's perfume, stuff like that.

I decided to take all of it with me to KY and give it to my mother. I felt as if it should have been given to her and it wasn't really my place to keep it from her or make the decision of who gets what. Despite having thought about it and discussed it 9and knowing it was the right thing to do) I was nervous about how it would go. I didn't want to upset her, remind her of all the bad stuff surrounding why she didn't have anything in the first place, or find out that I had made things worse between her and my aunt by accepting these things.

It actually went very well. I decided to get it over with early, so I brought the two bags out the first night. I figured if she got mad, that would give me time to smooth things over. Instead, she looked at some of the things but actually didn't appear too interested. She said I should keep everything and share it with my siblings. She said if she kept it, it would only go in a box for us to go through when she died. Her one comment that showed it got to her a bit was stating that most of the stuff was essentially "junk" and didn't cost my aunt anything to share it with me. She rhetorically asked, "where's the jewelry? Where are the Krugerrands? Where are the things that might have lasted and/or been worth something?" Alas, I am quite sure those things were sold years ago...

I took everything over to my younger sister's house on my way out of KY. We spent some time going through it and she picked a couple things she wanted to keep. Since she has a 2-year old and another on the way, she didn't want to take anything that could be broken or destroyed by little hands. When I see my older sister, hopefully this summer, we'll go through it all again and see if she wants any of it. I'm not sure what I'll do about my brother. I have something from my grandfather that I really would like to keep, but I think it would be nice for my brother to have (most of the other stuff is kind of "girly"). I guess I'll hold onto it until he is ready for it, or at the very least we have enough of a relationship that we can see each other face to face and/or he won't return a letter/package I send him.

Speaking of relationships, in a previous post I discussed how neither my older sister nor younger brother were talking with me. While I was in KY, my sister called and we talked for two hours! She also called twice while I was driving home. Hopefully, this will keep up. We have tentatively planned for her to visit me here and for me to go to MN to help her pack up the house before she moves. I'm keeping my fingers crossed (makes typing difficult...) that one or both visits happen. In addition, since my brother is not talking with me, I didn't even think of letting him know I would be in town. When he spoke with my mother and step-father, he asked both of them how come they hadn't told him. I'm taking that as progress. Maybe when I go back for Mother's Day, I'll get to see him and we'll see if he is ready to bury the hatchet. Druck die Daumen! (crossing the fingers German style - which is actually, "press your thumbs"...) Read More......

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Marshall Center


Several years ago (2003), I was incredibly lucky to be selected to attend the Leaders for the 21st Century course at the George Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen Germany. The Leaders Course has been combined with another course now, but back then it was a 9 week course. Nine weeks in Garmisch, one of the most beautiful places in the world, doing what I had always dreamed of - working with people from different countries, getting to know them and their stories, learning about national security, peacekeeping, etc.

For those who don't know the Marshall Center, their mission (from their website) is: to create a more stable security environment by advancing democratic institutions and relationships, especially in the field of defense; promoting active, peaceful security cooperation; and enhancing enduring partnerships among the nations of North America, Europe and Eurasia.

I was one of four Americans (two AF and two Army) in a group of around 180 people from maybe 40 (?) countries. We were split up into seminars of about 15 people each. Each day we would have lessons in the seminar room as well as mass briefings in Plenary Hall. Both rooms were equipped with earphones and all lessons/briefings were interpreted real-time into English, German and Russian. In addition, there were readings (homework) for each day.

V was sent as a representative of Albania and was one of the women in my seminar. We hit it off right away and the friendship grew from there. V's sister was going to school in Munich at the time, so we visited her over a couple weekends. Those weekends were so much fun. Picture a group of 6 or 7 people, speaking English, German, Albanian and even Italian. Yet, we were able to understand each other and have a really good time. I also got to meet V's cousin, her (now) brother-in-law and other close friends. [On the recent trip to Albania, I got to meet the cousin's mother - pretty cool.]

We also did some field trips from the Marshall Center such as a visit to Dachau and then to Vienna for briefings at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Several of us also took weekend trips to see Europe. We went to Italy one weekend and saw Venice, Bologna, and Verona, and on another weekend went to Innsbruck.

In addition to V, I am still in touch with several others. I made some good friends during my time at the Marshall Center and hope we will continue to be friends for a very long time.

Remind me and sometime I'll post about my trip through the Balkans in 2003 to visit some of my Marshall Center friends...

I'll be in KY for the next 4-5 days so won't be posting again until I get back.
Read More......

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Durres Albania

After spending the morning in Kruja we went to Durres for a short tour and dinner. Durres is about 30 minutes from Tirana on the main (only) highway.

My friend V was born in Durres and spent the first six years of her life living there with her grandparents. Why she lived with her grandparents is actually a very interesting story. Her father started working as a translator when he was just 17. He was very good at his job speaking fluent German and Chinese among other languages. To stay on top of things (vocabulary, etc.) he read a lot. Since the communists limited the types of books available, he asked some friends to send him some books from Germany. They sent dictionaries and other books to help him with his work. One of those books was Freud. Somehow the Communists found out and he was punished. His punishment was being sent up into the mountains to live for 8 years. The mountains were not healthy for a young baby so V was sent to live with the grandparents in Durres and her parents visited every month. It's like something out of a book, yet the people who lived it are right in front of you. Amazing.

Durres is a very old city. As in ancient. As in founded in 627 BC! One of the amazing things about Durres is the history right in the middle of it. You can walk down the street and up a small hill and right in front of you is a 1st or 2nd Century Roman Amphitheater. It is supposed to be the largest in the Balkans and is thought to have seated 20,000 people. It wasn't discovered until the 1960s so there are houses all around it, and one or two decrepit looking houses are actually inside the fenced off area. There are some other Roman ruins in other parts of the city, one set we looked at was a ring of pillars. Or what used to be a ring. Now there are only 5 or 6 pillars still standing. Turns out they were planning on building in that area when they discovered the ruins. The contractors tried to hide it/cover it up (so they could keep building) and destroyed many of the pillars before they were stopped. The mayor supposedly gave them permission to continue but the Prime Minister over-ruled him.

This debate really got me to thinking about how to appreciate and save our past while still making room for our present and our future. My first thought was "how in the world can they destroy such a historical find?" My next few thoughts concerned how many similar finds must have been destroyed either unknowingly or because the builders didn't care. Then I realized that with such an old civilization, there must be things of historical significance everywhere. Centuries worth of people living in the same area must at some point have cleared away the old in order to build new and "better" living, working, farming areas. How in the world, especially in such a small country, do you decide what to keep and what to "throw away" in order to allow growth and expansion for the people living today?

We also drove up a small mountain to see the former home of King Zog. Ahmet Zogu was elected as Albania's first president in 1925 but then declared himself King Zog in 1928. King Zog had a palace in Durres which was supposedly very fine in its day, having been decorated and furnished by his aristocratic wife. Unfortunately, in 1997, following the collapse of the pyramid schemes, the palace, which had been turned into a national museum, was targeted by vandals and the many paintings, furnishings, etc. were stolen. Now it sits as a sad reminder of what used to be. V and her husband seemed genuinely distraught at the sight - sad their own countrymen are/were capable of such unnecessary damage and sad that part of their history is gone forever.

We had dinner at one of their favorite Italian restaurants along the beach. Salad, pizza and pasta. As we already had experience with the size of the pizza from our night in Milan, I planned on just having a couple slices of his. V's husband talked me into trying some of the pasta too. When the pasta arrived, there were nasty little gray clumps with stinger like things sticking out of one end. Turns out, they were little clams. Now I only like clams when they are the Howard Johnson's type of fried clams. As in, so much breading and dipping sauce that you can't really tell what it actually tastes like. These were not Ho-Jo's clams. I ate some of it to be polite and then handed it off to Tom in exchange for his pizza.

Following dinner, we walked along the beach for a bit. Not in the sand, they have a paved area similar to a boardwalk. We stopped for some gelato, walked a bit more and then headed back to Tirana, getting to bed around 2300.
Read More......

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kruja Albania

On 1 Apr 09, our second day in Tirana, we went to Kruja (pronounced Kru-yah).

The day started out with coffee, of course. My husband has really taken a liking to Espresso, though I hope he will never get to I's regular 10-12 Espressos a day.

The drive to Kruja was relatively quick. It's about 32 km from Tirana. That's not really what made the trip so short. Driving in Albania is an art form and requires courage, a lot of courage. As "I" said when we first got there, "the only rule is there are no rules." There is only one main road, the "highway." The other roads are a crapshoot, some are OK and some are downright terrible. Most of the cars seem to be four-wheel drive or off-road capable types of cars -with good reason. No matter the condition of the road, they go fast. Very fast. And they take the art of passing to the next level. It doesn't matter if you can see the expression on the face of the driver heading toward you, if you want to pass the car in front of you, just go for it. The car you are passing will slow down enough for you to get in front of them, and/or the car coming toward you will swerve a bit to allow room for three cars while you're passing. This gets a bit trickier when there isn't enough room for the other car to swerve or make way. Not that this stops people from passing...my husband says he's ready to try driving the next time we visit - I don't think I'll ever be ready to drive in Albania.

On the way into Kruja, we drove past the cafe/bar where Pres Bush had coffee during his visit to Albania in 2007. The changed to name of the cafe to the "George W. Bush Cafe." V's husband wanted to stop and have coffee which would have been cool, but we were on a timeline so V could teach at 1400.

Kruja is a very historical city for Albania. It's over 800 years old and is considered to be the center of Albanian resistance to the Turks. It was the site of a huge battle, in 1450, between the Albanians (joined together by Skanderbeg) and an Ottoman army that outnumbered them 5 to 1. Skanderbeg is considered to have saved Europe and Christianity by keeping the Ottomans from crossing into Europe.

They took us to the Citadel in Kruja and the Skanderbeg Museum which is located in the castle. On the way up to Kruja Castle, built between the 5th and 6th century, we walked through the old bazaar. I really wish we had had more time so we could stop to look at everything. It amazed me that there was so much in the bazaar, especially since it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere on the side of a huge mountain. I could have happily bought quite a few things to remember this trip, but we didn't have time (or the available weight in our suitcase).
The Skanderbeg museum was built in 1982. It struck me as out of character for the communists to build a museum in memory of the man who gave Albania it's nationalism.Wouldn't it make more sense if the communists had tried to erase Skanderbeg from the Albanian mindset? Instead, it seems they realized that Skanderbeg was such a huge national hero and would only grow more popular if they tried to erase the memory of him.

We received a private tour of the museum with an English speaking guide. In addition, quite a few things in the museum had descriptions/explanations in English. It was very well set up and showed a lot of the history for the area. I was a complete geek and took a picture of the bathroom in the museum. It's probably not very cool to talk about bathrooms and toilets but I'm going to. If you don't like it, skip ahead.... Everything I had read about Albania before our trip talked about how it was still a bit behind the rest of the world and not to be surprised by hole-in-the-floor toilets (and to bring your own TP). As I had seen/used these before (during my trip to Bosnia and Serbia) I was prepared. However, everything we had seen so far was pretty modern (at least compared to holes in the floor) so I was surprised when the museum had the old kind of toilets. Despite the hole in the floor thing, it was very clean and no big deal...

Next to the citadel was the Ethnographic Museum. It was essentially the home of "rich" people from the 14-15th century and set up to show the visitor traditional Albanian life. We got to see tools they used for grinding corn, weaving and pressing grapes as well as how the home would have been set up at that time - bedrooms, eating area, etc.

After the museums, we drove back so V could teach her marketing class at the University of New York in Tirana while her husband, Tom and I went to lunch. We went to the restaurant where V and her husband met. It was a very nice, small Italian restaurant. We started with salad and these incredible sauteed mushrooms. They actually tasted like some kind of meat - very, very tasty. The "first plate" was three types of pasta. The "second plate" was "shoulder of beef" and potatoes. We finished with a fruit plate of sliced apples, oranges and kiwi. As usual, there was wine and water with lunch and followed by espresso for the men. As we were leaving, we were told someone who worked for V's husband, when he was the Minister of the Interior, had paid for our lunch. I didn't think stuff like that really happened...it was almost like being a celebrity.

After all that walking and food, all I wanted was a nap. So V's husband went to get some work done and we collapsed for an hour at the hotel. We met up again at 1800 and drove to Durres. Durres will be the next post...
Read More......