Our New Orleans trip

At the end of the July I had a conference in New Orleans for work, and since it was so close to our two year anniversary, we took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the city together. I had been to New Orleans a few times for work but hadn’t really had a chance to explore. I am so glad we did!

I stayed at the Marriott in the French Quarter for my conference but then moved to the Garden District to stay with some friends who graciously opened their home to us for four days. I wanted to take notes on some of the places we went and food we ate, partially so that I wouldn’t forget, but also as a reference for others who might wish to replicate some of the things we did. I have to say that exploring New Orleans on foot (for the most part) in July heat was a little painful, but we made it through.

Meals during the conference
We don’t get to eat out much while we’re working a conference, but we took advantage of a few free evenings to enjoy some great places.

My top recommendation is Coop’s Place. The place is a tiny local’s bar on the edge of the French Quarter, and the Supreme Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya is the best dish in the place, and is gluten free. I ate there several times during my trip. Go there.

GW Fins was a great location for our staff dinner. Close to the hotel and with a large enough dining room to accommodate our group, the food and service were excellent. Nearly all of their food could be made gluten-free and there was no reduction in the quality of the food.

Luke New Orleans seems to be busy on all nights of the week. There were five of us and while the staff were very helpful and the food was delicious, I got pretty sick from a food mixup in the kitchen and the food took over an hour to get to our table. Apparently their kitchen gets overwhelmed when the dining room is full.

Palace Cafe was right next to my hotel and had a dedicated gluten free menu. I told my server I was in a bit of a rush and she brought my Shrimp Tchefuncte (Gulf shrimp, Creole meunière sauce, roasted mushrooms, green onions, popcorn rice) out in less than five minutes. It was very good.

Daisy Duke’s is a surprisingly delicious, low-cost diner that is open 24-7 with several locations. The staff gave it good ratings and I ate there several times (mostly just the breakfast is gluten free though).

Saturday:
Lunch at SoBu in the French Quarter with Shea, was fantastic. They had a separate gluten free menu and a dedicated fryer for their fries. I had the Churrasco Steak a la Plancha with fries and Shea had the two course lunch. The bartender made me a delicious mocktail a few nights earlier when the staff stopped by for drinks. We met up with our friends who would be hosting us the next few days and ended up at their friend’s farewell party for the evening.

Best breakfast. The Floridian omelette (stuffed with cream cheese and topped with crab meat) with potatoes and a side of gf pancakes. New Orleans is trying to kill me.Sunday: Our hosts recommended a place around the corner from their house in the Garden District called Another Broken Egg Cafe. And if it was located in Chicago I might eat there every day. I got The Floridian: Cream cheese filled omelette topped with garlic sautéed crabmeat, Monterey Jack & green onions. They came with breakfast potatoes and a side of gluten free pancakes. Incredible. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Got a tour from the cemetery custodian and learned about how they bury people.After breakfast, we walked down the street to Lafayette Cemetery #1 and were lucky to get a little impromptu tour from an older gentleman who explained various parts of the cemetery and how burials are carried out. Fascinating!

That afternoon we took a bus to catch the ferry across the river (a very short ride) to Algiers Point. There isn’t a whole lot to do per se (or even much open on a Sunday), but we found a great little cafe that was doing a brisk business, as well as a garage sale where we bought a hat for Shea. The houses there are just beautiful, though, so if you like wandering through lovely neighborhoods, it is nice. Just be sure to bring cash because the Algier’s Ferry only accepts cash. Touristing the French Quarter When we got back from Algiers Point we wandered the French Quarter and went to my favorite place for jambalaya (Coop’s Place) again, so that Shea could try it, as well as the Jean Lafitte Visitor Center, a lovely free resource if you want to learn a little about the history of New Orleans and the national park system. That night we went to Mais Arepas with our hosts. I had been wanting to go there since I first read about their gluten free options over a year ago. It turns out that they’re not always great about the gluten free things and had to bring my food out a second time because they put the fried plantains in my dish. It was tasty but I’m not sure I’d go back.    This is where we spent our day today. Worth it.

Monday:
We basically spent the day at the National World War II museum. Worth it. Spend the whole day there if you like history. Trust me, you will be glad you did. The museum is well organized with displays that tell the stories in engaging and respectful ways. I especially enjoyed the Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in World War II exhibit.

At lunchtime we decided that we were hungry and I found a place with good reviews just down the street called Cochon. Turns out that it has won a bunch of awards for being delicious. I got the Louisiana cochon with cabbage, cracklins & pickled peaches with a side of creamy grits, and Shea got the Rabbit & Dumplings. So, so good.

Almost 2 years. #vacationThat evening, our hosts took us to a park on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, where we had a BBQ picnic and watched the sun set over the lake.

Tuesday:

We wandered down Magazine Street to District Donuts to get coffee, and then to HiVolt for me to get a gluten free donut (it was pretty good). We spent time looking at various shops along Magazine Street (which is a must-see), and had lunch at Ignatius Eatery, where I had alligator sausage and Shea got an alligator po’boy. We waddled to the airport and got on a flight back to Chicago. I’m glad we saw most of the city on foot and am grateful to our friends for the time we spent together there.

One thing I would like to add. New Orleans still has the scars of Hurricane Katrina. 10 years later, the visible and not so visible scars of destruction, death, displacement, and gentrification are all there. It is a beautiful place with beautiful people, and I love every opportunity to visit…just know that it is a place beyond the tourist attractions and hotels, beyond the news stories that get so much wrong. Learn about this city because it has a rich culture and life to it, and recognize what was washed away in the storm. 

TSA pre-check

Time for a site visit to New Orleans! Anyone else hanging at O'Hare this morning? I have an hour to kill thanks to TSA pre-check. 😎I traveled for work via an airplane 7 times last year, which means 14 TSA lines. I traveled for fun too. And for the life of me, I don’t know why I didn’t apply for TSA pre-check earlier. It was only $85 and about 1 hour of my time, including filling out the application online and the office visit. For those of us in the US who travel by plane more than a few times per year, it is something that should just be done.

I have to say, there have been glitches here and there, like in New Orleans last week when we were told that since they didn’t have enough personnel working, we had to go through the line with the same restrictions, but overall it has saved me an average of 20-30 minutes on each trip.

2014’s Travel & Events

January 2014: Hosted Feast with Shea in Wilmette for the first time. Tried not to freeze to death in the coldest 4 months on record. Ever.

February 2014: Saw Queenie Pie at the Harris Theater in Chicago, had a wedding client, and got stuck on a CTA train when it derailed (with my husband, which made it much better).

Leaving New Orleans. Thanks for the delicious food and the painful blisters! #untilnextsummerMarch 2014: First visit to New Orleans, for a client conference. Ate amazing food at Tableau, realized what a bad idea it is to be in New Orleans during Spring Break season, got caught in a rainstorm, solved several minor crises for the client, walked at least 4-6 miles per day at the conference, and was the event lead for the first time by myself at SB, which felt amazing.

April 2014: Met my niece Faye for the first time, saw my first Bulls game in person at the United Center (from a suite), and saw Shen Yun at the Civic Opera House.
Even though entry is free, I wasn't going to stand in a long line to do the tour. It's too hot and I can appreciate the founding of our country from a nice bench in the shade. ;)
May 2014: Traveled to Philadelphia for a client conference. 5 days as the only event staff on site, saw my gorgeous cousin who announced her pregnancy, got caught in a rainstorm (again), saw the Liberty Bell, located several delicious restaurants, walked less than I did in New Orleans, and worked with some pretty great volunteers.

I passed my CMP test and became a certified meeting planner. whew.

After dinner, Mallory introduced me to Halo-Halo. "Halo-halo (Tagalog language for "mix-mix") is a popular Filipino dessert with mixtures of shaved ice and evaporated milk to which are added various boiled sweet beans, jello and fruits, and served in a taJune 2014: My second visit to Las Vegas in the span of 1 year for a client. Dealt with some drama, took a taxi to In-N-Out and then to try Halo-Halo for the first time, which is my new favorite dessert. I saw the Beatles LOVE show and tried to bake in the sun when I wasn’t walking 10 miles a day at the show.

We had a mini family reunion in Chicago with most of Shea’s family and I attended my first gala for work at Navy Pier.

July 2014: We spent the 4th of July at my parent’s house and watched the fireworks with Shea’s parents and mine. We visited Green Acre Baha’i School with the Munion family (and extended relatives) for nearly a week. Starved Rock Camping with Shea was an amazing experience, even though the thunderstorm in a tent was not something I ever thought I would experience.

I visited Las Vegas for the 3rd time in a year for a client, where I saw amazing sunrises and sunsets, found a pasta place that had delicious gluten-free bread and pasta, had a successful conference and probably only walked 8 miles per day, experienced bedbugs for the first time, saw Weezer in concert, and ate gelato as much as possible.

Vegas panorama

Las Vegas Panorama

August 2014: Celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary, spent a week in Minnesota for the Minnesota State Fair and family time, stopped by Persian Conference, and chopped off many inches of hair.

September 2014: Stepped firmly into my 30s (no going back now!) and visited Nashville for work.

Bear Lake

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountains

October 2014: Traveled to Denver, visited Rocky Mountain State Park and the top of Pike’s Peak, and then took a plane to Salt Lake City, where we hung out in some amazing cabins in the mountains and watched Shea’s sister get married.

View from my room this morning. Goodbye Pittsburgh!November 2014: I stopped for a few hours in Minneapolis for a client, and spent a few days in Pittsburgh for work, where I realized how very cool the city is and that everyone thinks that it is still covered in pollution, but it isn’t. Thanksgiving at my parents house, a Thanksgiving Interfaith event at the House of Worship, and Thanksgiving in Chinatown made it a very thankful November.

 

December 2014: Saw Justin Timberlake in concert, went to Second City for the first time, attended my work holiday party, Shea’s work party, saw Cinderella at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, and worked through most of the holidays. Oh and spent 3 weeks with a very bad cold.

And that, my friends, was my 2014.

I finally made it to the Minnesota State Fair!

Chocolate milk and hot fudge sundae.

Chocolate milk and hot fudge sundae.

I was born in Minnesota. I’ve been coming to the land of 10,000 lakes for my entire life but I have never made it to the Minnesota State Fair. This year I decided that it was our opportunity, since my in-laws now live in St. Paul (fairly close to the fairgrounds) and I managed to plan ahead enough to make it happen. It did mean that we missed Green Lake Baha’i Conference this year but there is always next year!

So…things I ate at the Fair: 1 hot coffee, a smoked turkey leg, chipotle risotto poppers, cotton candy, a hot fudge sundae, chocolate milk, mini taco salad, and nachos. I did not eat as much as I thought I would. Shea had most of the same stuff (often tasting my food), but he also tried some corn dogs and a deep fried monte cristo. I really do miss fried foods sometimes. Sigh.Such a great day.

As you can see, the crowds really weren’t too bad. It is a great experience for families, because they have things for even the littlest kid to enjoy. Since we were with my in-laws, my nieces and nephew, etc, we went along at a leisurely pace, but it was actually quite nice. I didn’t do any rides, though I would have liked to…it just wasn’t the experience I wanted this time.

One of my favorite parts of the fair was the horse barn (I mean, really, what girl didn’t have an obsession with horses at some point in her life??) It was almost unfair because you can’t ride them, and I miss riding horses. After about 6 hours we decided that we were done for the day and headed out. Amazingly, we all ate dinner that night.

Other highlights of our MN trip: going out to Shea’s uncle’s cabin for the day and kayaking for the first time (in a river), watching the kids fight over frogs (even the girls!), getting a ride in Uncle David’s boat, seeing dear friends (two brunches nearly did me in), and spending time with my family and Shea’s (so much amazing food and love). We are both “from” Minnesota in some ways, and it is always like coming home to spend time there. The last two years we went in winter, which is just flat-out crazy. Summer is the best in the Cities.

Travel

The last few weeks have been marked by suitcases, last minute travel, sunsets, children, friends, sleep-deprivation, laughter, learning, and family.

First ice cream cone I have had in 9 years. For the 4th of July weekend, I drove to Minnesota for 6 days to visit my mother’s family and some friends. It was extremely warm, so I spent as much time as possible out of the house. I went swimming once, in a small lake, which made me really appreciate the warmth, since Lake Michigan is almost never warm. I also ran into my cousin at the beach, who I thought wasn’t even living in MN anymore. Minnesota is my home state, as I was born there, and I love visiting when I have the opportunity.

 

perspective In June and July I went to Starved Rock State Park on two different occasions. There are “18 canyons formed by glacial meltwater and stream erosion. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles at Starved Rock State Park, which is located along the south side of the Illinois River.” Highly recommended day-trip activity for Chicagoans, since it is only 2 hours outside the city. We took picnic lunches and enjoyed the greenery and canyons.

 

Perfect day at Louhelen.

Louhelen

I was at Louhelen Baha’i School for 5 days, August 3-8. I have been going there for years, but it had been a long time since I had attended a session and it was wonderful to be back. It is incredibly peaceful there, and I needed a break. Mr. Nakhjavani and Kathy Jewett-Hogenson gave such great presentations, I’m still trying to process what I learned.

I also got eaten alive by mosquitoes, which hasn’t happened in years, and made for a very uncomfortable few days. But it was totally worth it.

 

Another view from the room.

The view from our hotel room!

I flew to Montreal on Wednesday, after the session at Louhelen, for the Association for Baha’i Studies Conference. I have never been to this particular conference, and enjoyed it thoroughly. On Wednesday night my sister and I went to the Baha’i Shrine, which is the only shrine in the Western Hemisphere. It was beautiful and peaceful. The conference was great and I saw a lot of wonderful people (and made some new friends). I’ll have more photos soon, I just haven’t had time to process them!

 

The next few weeks will be just as busy, and I’ll try to keep up with updates as much as I can.

My sad suitcase

I recently went to Florida for a work trip. At the end of a very long (and wonderful) week, we returned to Chicago tired and ready for home. My coworkers and I waited at the baggage carousel…and waited. Their luggage came, mine didn’t. My very heavy suitcase was checked, and since it is bright red, I rarely have trouble finding it.

One suitcase was going around and around, and it looked a little bit like mine, but it couldn’t be mine. My suitcase was shiny and pretty and did not have a scratch on it. Right?

Wrong. Apparently my suitcase got run over somehow. My nice suits, makeup, and everything else in my suitcase were perfectly ok, though my glasses case was dented. Delta Airlines replaced my suitcase on the spot with a similar suitcase, so I transferred all of my belongings and went home. Ah well!

The flight home

In my last post I told the story of my adventures in mud on the way to my grandfather’s funeral in March. Well, my grandmother gave my sister and I some of Granddaddy’s tennis racquets. The one I was given had a wood frame around it to keep it from twisting from the force of the strings, and it is probably around 40 or 50 years old.

Granddaddy's tennis racquetI arrived at the airport about an hour before my flight, but when I went to the counter to get my boarding pass I was informed that my flight is delayed. Also, since I only had a carry on, I couldn’t fit the racquet into the suitcase, so the racquet had to be my carry-on and I had to pay $25 to check my suitcase. The gate agent felt sorry for me and upgraded me to economy plus.

As I had several hours to kill, I wandered around the Atlanta airport with my gigantic purse slung over my shoulder and an odd-looking tennis racquet in my hand. Now, I find it a bit strange that I can’t take water or a miniature Swiss army knife on a plane, but a tennis racquet with a solid wood frame bolted onto it doesn’t get a second glance from security…

Anyway, I had so many random conversations with people because of that racquet. Most of them were older folks who remembered playing tennis with a racquet like that when they were kids. I know I must have looked rather strange with that thing, riding the transit system and placing it carefully on the seat next to me where ever I was.

I am lucky to have a lot of paintings that my grandparents created, but I don’t have a lot of personal items from them, and it felt nice to have that racquet with me, almost a companion in my travels.

Driving D.C.

I was in Washington, D.C. to attend a friend’s wedding last weekend. It was a beautiful, special time that I feel blessed to have participated in.

However. I have figured out why all of the politicians who are based in D.C. are so angry. It isn’t the divisive politics or the lobbying. It is the complete inability for anyone in that town or the surrounding area to drive.

I have never experienced anything like this before. Part of the problem, really, is that the city is laid out in such a way that there are stoplights on every block, no decent signage, and few left turn lanes. But whatever the issue, there is no excuse for the terrible decisions that I saw being made on a regular basis.

Now, Chicago can get a bit crazy sometimes. But it doesn’t hold a candle to D.C. These people seriously don’t know how to use turn signals, they cut across 3 lanes of traffic on a whim, and are just plain obnoxious. THEN add tourists and pedestrians on phones, and you’ve got a recipe for a nervous breakdown.

And by the way, it did not matter what state they were from. They’re ALL terrible and I literally shouted “I LOVE CHICAGO.” when I got behind the wheel of my car on Sunday night.

The things that I do

I realize, looking over recent posts, that I assume that the majority of my readers know what is going on in my life, or even what my day-to-day life looks like.  However, it is difficult for me to gauge my audience these days.  6 or 7 years ago, I knew pretty much everyone who read my blog.  I know that isn’t the case anymore.

My working life AND personal life revolve around the Baha’i Faith.  I work for the national governing body of the Baha’is in the United States, so I am constantly immersed in the Faith at work…and I LOVE my job.  Sometimes on lunch breaks I go to the House of Worship to pray and check out the restoration/construction work.

The House of Worship today

Once a week I try to attend a devotional (prayer) gathering at my friends’ house in Chicago.  We have a late potluck brunch, prayers, and often spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying everyone’s company.  There is usually some kind of music/singing, too!  I haven’t had a lot of time to attend over the summer, unfortunately.

During the summer a small group of friends gathered for a Baha’i study circle, book 6 in the Ruhi sequence, which is about refining our inner lives, learning, and teaching the Baha’i Faith.  The great thing about study circles in the Baha’i context is that the facilitator is not at a higher level than the rest of the group…we’re really all learning together!  We just finished it last week.

In August I hosted a 3 night study on the Ridvan Message from the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Baha’is of the world.  Baha’is from my local community came to my home to read and discuss.  It gave me an opportunity to get to know the people in my community, and we ate really well.

I also participate in Nineteen Months, which I post about on this blog occasionally, and it has been stretching my photographic skills.  On September 13 I modeled and shot photos as a last minute favor for some friends, which was super fun and I wish I had the opportunity to do it more often.

Black dress

I also went to a few Baha’i conferences in August and September, which were super fun but then laid me out sick because I didn’t rest or sleep for a couple weeks.  October was the month of weddings.  The first weekend was a wedding in NYC, the third weekend was a wedding in Peoria.  I still haven’t unpacked from either wedding.

Of course, mixed into all of this are friends visiting from out of town, friends moving in and out of Chicago, family gatherings, making plans, reading books, fixing my condo (yes I’m still working on that), baby showers, etc.  I miss writing about my life, and I’d like to do more of it here.  Twitter & Facebook are still there, and I utilize them for their purpose, but this is the place that is truly “me” on the internet.

News, updates, photos…

The trial of the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran has been postponed.  As this New York Times article so aptly put it: “The Bahais have long served as the proverbial canaries in the coal mine of Iran’s theocracy.” Injustice against one minority group does not bode well for the rest, which is why it is so important to fight against injustice of this nature.  Individuals should not be jailed because of their religious beliefs.  You would think that this is common sense, but unfortunately humanity still has a lot to learn.

My new camera is wonderful.  I’m still learning to use it, and am looking forward to investing in more lenses.  That will have to wait, however, as I’m considering the purchase of a laptop (I’ve not bought a new computer since 2001!).

I’ve been traveling for work, moving to a new apartment (my sublease is up at the end of the month, so I found another sublease until mid-October), trying to keep up with emails, photos, and other web-related things.  I have not had a chance to write much for Soulpancake, or for myself for that matter.  And, of course, spending time with my family and friends, who tend to get neglected when life gets busy.

If I haven’t told you lately that I love you, please know that I do!

The Cat

I have never been particularly fond of cats.  They are less predictable than dogs, more aloof, and I am slightly allergic to them.  But cats and I usually come to a sort of…understanding, and avoid each other whenever we must coexist.  I will even pet them if they’re nice.

My cousin is wonderful.  I was staying with her in NYC, and she is a perfect hostess and dear friend.  But her cat…oh my.  We just could not seem to agree.

1. The cat attempted to sit on my head while I was sleeping.  Several times.

2. I woke up at 3 am with two glowing eyes a few inches from my face.  Do you know how disconcerting this is?!

3. My foot was sticking out from under the blanket, and the cat bit my foot.  This was at around 5 am.

4. She knocked my glasses off of the ledge, and then looked at me like it was my fault.

5. I locked her out of the room, and she scratched at the door and mewed all night.

6. She climbed outside the window and stood on the ledge, several stories off the ground.  I was really hoping I wouldn’t watch this cat fall off of the ledge.

hahaha.  Regardless of all of this, it was pretty amusing. And my poor cousin kept trying to keep her cat off of me, with limited success.

(The criminal, looking guilty as usual.)

I like…#8

open faces that smile a lot

foggy days when the rain barely mists down

overhearing strange conversations

New York City

the way words can mean so many different things

dancing for hours

feeling like I am back in Haifa

patterns

(I Like: #1,#2,#3, #4, #5, #6, #7)

Here I go!

There is something about traveling…airports, the unknown, the things that my eyes see that are different from everyday life.  And for the life of me, I can’t seem to pack in advance…so I find myself trying to consolidate everything into a suitcase at midnight.  I might have managed, and will have to be content with what I’ve done.

I am going to attend a wedding that I am ecstatic about.  I am going to see friends, both from my service at the Baha’i World Centre and from closer to home.  I am going to stay with my cousin, who is eerily similar to me and who I am very excited to spend time with.  Most of all, I will get out of Chicago for a few days, which is exactly what I need.

I mean, really…

As a departure from the last few rather serious posts, I’m going to write a bit about my recent adventures.

I stopped in Madison, Wisconsin on my way home from Minnesota a few days ago to visit a childhood friend.  She was kind enough to let me stay at her apartment, and we had a lovely time exploring the town (I got to pretend like I was in college again!) and catching up on life.

We were preparing breakfast that morning, and I may have been a little bit sleep-deprived (and had not had caffeine yet).  As I reached for the eggs, I slammed my forehead directly onto the refrigerator handle.

At the same time, I was having an allergy attack and was sneezing uncontrollably.  Holding my aching head in my hands, I went to the living room to get a tissue…and walked right into the sharp edge of the coffee table, scratching and bruising my leg at the same time.

I sat quietly for a while after that.  🙂

Today, I spilled half a container of vanilla on the counter while making gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.  sigh.

Recent events

The weekend before last I drove to Kansas City with some friends for the wedding that we now call “Lovefest 2008”, otherwise known as Andrew & Erin’s wedding.  Here are some things that I learned:

– You can’t rent a car without a credit card, and the person with the credit card has to be the main driver.  This was discovered on the morning that we were to leave.  Luckily we were saved by a friend and made it to the wedding.

– It was confirmed that Iowa is still full of corn.  Hasn’t changed since the last time I drove through it.

– We got a lot of attention at a gas station in Missouri.  Apparently the attendents were extremely bored.  We also bought Amish-made goods from a very sweet Amish family.

– Cracker Barrel has nearly nothing for gluten-intolerant or vegetarian individuals.  You should have seen our faces when we looked at the menu.

– My friends are amazing, rare individuals and it is very sad that we all live so far away from each other. 🙁

– Even though I am allergic to cats, and don’t like them very much anyway (more of a dog person), cats LOVE me.  I’m like the cat whisperer.  It is really weird.

– I love, love, love weddings. Having the opportunity to read at this wedding was such a blessing, and I was honored to be a small part of it. They are such a beautiful couple and I’m so happy for them!

This past weekend I had a lot of family in town from my mother’s side, and it was also the Conference of the Association of Friends of Persian Culture. Here are a few tidbits from that time:

– My family is great, and every time I hang out with them I see more of where I come from. It is so strange and wonderful to find out things about myself and my history, and I know these opportunities are rare.

– I actually enjoyed going to most of the sessions, there were some highly academic talks and I really missed being in that atmosphere.

– I got very little sleep, as is normal for a conference, and stayed up late with friends, talking about the good old days and laughing. Much needed.

From Kansas, with love.

There are so many faces
In each room, I turn and my heart fills
with a million histories
(I remember it all)
There are two ways that I see:
I see your smile
and I feel your soul
there is that.

I felt myself laughing and I could not restrain myself from jumping up and down. In the darkness I saw at least 25 faces that I love, 25 souls that I could not believe I missed so much.

Joy, joy!

They are, dears, they are. They are laughing and crying and I can’t explain why my lips quiver and my heart aches and it is all because I am surrounded by such beautiful everyones.

(I make the English language mine.)

Write a few moments of every day on clean paper, or on the back of your hand. Make notes in the margins, and scratch out anything that makes you sad. Sadness has its place but you all have my heart.

I love you, I love you.

Much Ado

This weekend there shall be a convergence upon Kansas City, KS such as it has never seen.  We are flying, driving, busing, and perhaps even walking to THE wedding of the summer.

Too much?  🙂 Nah.

To say that we’re excited about the union of Andrew and Erin would be a bit of an understatement. They are quite loved, and lovely, and then there is the fact that it is also going to be an entire weekend of partying, hanging out with friends that have spread out across the continent over the last few years, and very little sleep.

A road trip with some of my closest friends to reach this wedding, traversing the cornfields of the American Midwest, should yield a number of interesting pictures, which I will post upon my return.

Constantinople and Adrianople

When I was booking my plane tickets from Haifa to Chicago, I decided that I wanted to stop for two days in Turkey for sightseeing and pilgrimage.  So…I did. Go here for the entire set of pictures.

I arrived in Istanbul at 1 pm on Monday afternoon, the 16th of June, checked into my hotel, and promptly set off in the direction of the old city, on foot, alone.  There were so many things to see, and although I was exhausted (having had very little sleep for the last 36 hours), I wanted to see as much as I could. I was hungry, but unwilling to stop at a restaurant, so I purchased a bag of Turkish delight (lokum) to eat as I walked.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque
(I had to walk around it before I went in, just to take in the sheer size of it)

I also saw the outside of the Hagia Sophia, a lot of random parks, and historic-looking buildings. I explored the Kapalıçarşı (“Covered Bazaar”), where a carpet seller tried to ask me on a date. After that experience, I switched my ring to my left ring finger and pretended like I didn’t hear guys when they would talk to me. Traveling alone can be difficult in that way. I bought a few things there, bargaining ferociously. 🙂 A taxi driver didn’t speak English, but he did point out some historic sites for me, and the Iranian embassy.

Whenever I wanted my picture taken, I would find the nearest American tourist.  They’re so accommodating.  😉

For dinner I found a kabob restaurant, took my food back to the hotel, and slept rather early. Tuesday morning I woke up at 7 am, walked to the train station, then took a bus from Istanbul to Edirne, about 3 hours away. When I arrived at the bus station in Edirne, I had to take a smaller, local bus into the city. The purpose of my visit to Edirne was to visit the House of Baha’u’llah as a pilgrim. Baha’u’llah, the most recent Manifestation of God, lived in Edirne for over four years.

House of Baha’u’llah in Edirne (Adrianople)

I had the opportunity to pray, meditate, and walk in the same streets and gardens that the Blessed Beauty and His followers lived. It was so peaceful there.

The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne was breathtaking, and literally down the street from the House of Baha’u’llah. I sat in the park nearby for a time, enjoying the sun and the view.

I then took a bus, another bus, and a train back to my hotel in Istanbul. The next morning, Thursday, I woke up in a panic, rather late for the airport, and got on my plane to Chicago.  It was the perfect way to end my service in the Holy Land.

home

Just a quick post to let everyone know I am home in Chicago.  Turkey was beautiful, and I will write more about it later.  I just walked in the door and I want to spend time with my family. 

Much love, and I miss all of you already.

My last post from Haifa

I am here, at 1:30 am, with so much in my heart and so few words. After 18 months in the Holy Land, I leave to go back to the United States in a few hours. Desperately finishing packing (a word of advice: definitely don’t leave this kind of thing to the last minute).

Serving in Haifa was a blessing, and I am overwhelmed by the love and friendship that I have experienced. You all know who you are. You have affected me in so many ways, and I treasure every moment we have had together, and look forward to seeing you again. I have no doubt that we will.

I will be home on Wednesday, after a brief stop in Turkey, which I will write more about after my travels. For now, I want to share an excerpt from something by Hand of the Cause William Sears, which I found while writing my farewell email to the staff at the Baha’i World Centre. It touched my heart in exactly the right way, and explained so well how I am feeling.

I can no longer wait,
The time grows short, the world moves on,
The sun goes down and the hour is late.

Far off I hear His onward marching legions
Drawing nearer
With me, unmoved,
Still standing here.
The trumpet sounds, the sweet beat
Of the distant drums
Rings clear.

I see them now.
With banners flying
And in my heart I fear
They’ll pass me by.
My torch unlit
This winter, spring
This fall, this year.

O God Forbid!

This crisis finds me
Still waiting here.

Some chances, we are told
Come once in life.
Some, every hundred years
And, some like this, of ours
Comes only once
Then never reappears.

Eilat, or “A musical journey”

This past weekend was a long one, as it was the Ascension of Baha’u’llah, and we had 3 days in a row off of work. A lucky group of 13 (5 guys and 8 girls) took a road trip down to Eilat, which is the southernmost city in Israel and a resort town.

We rode camels

 

Spent a lot of time at the beach/in the sun

 

And drove through the desert

There were 3 cars, and each had their own “style” when it came to music choices and driving. My car changed CDs between ABBA, Elvis, Chicago, Top 40 hits, Indie rock, and musicals. It was, quite frankly, hilarious. Also, my car was in the lead, and managed to get the entire caravan lost in Be’er Sheva for at least a 1/2 hour.  “Stay the course!” was the phrase of the day.  U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was playing while we wandered around the city.

We ate good food and walked up and down the boardwalk, stopping for various amusements.  We played volleyball in the pool at the hotel, slept in, and generally relaxed.  I must say, for such a large group, we were fairly well organized.

So, just a few weeks before I leave Israel, I finally went to Eilat.  🙂

The Sea of Galilee

I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.

How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.

For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.

But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.

And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.  And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.

 (King James Bible, John)

This weekend I took an impromptu trip to the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret.  It is fascinating to visit these places as a Baha’i…not only is there the wealth of Christian history in this area, but also Baha’i history.  I’ve posted some pictures of my visit to the area here.  I haven’t traveled a lot within Israel, especially since many of the historic places are not generally advisable to visit.  It is such a gift to be able to see these places with my own eyes.

Growing up in a Christian country as a member of the Baha’i Faith, I absorbed a lot of things, but seeing these physical locations made me really want to read the Bible all the way through.  I started in college, and even attended a Bible study (but was quickly written off as “unlikely to convert” haha), but now I want to gain a better understanding.  Especially considering the fact that Baha’is believe in the Divinity of Jesus and consider Him to be a Manifestation of God, just as Abraham, Zoroaster, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah.

It also brought home the point that the above passage from the Bible illustrates: that whenever a new Manifestation of God appears on the earth, we reject Him, we turn away and we subject Them to the worst kinds of degredation.  And yet God continues to send His Messengers to us.  The ultimate form of love.

In any case, it was wonderful to be able to spend the day with my relatives and get out of the city.  We were able to visit the resting place of Mirza Muhammad-Quli, a brother of Baha’u’llah.  “This great man was known even from his childhood for nobility of soul….he was detached from every selfish thought, averse to every mention except to whatever concerned the Holy Cause.” -Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 69

This weekend was also interesting because several religious holy days all happened within a few days of each other…and of course, living in Israel, I saw this happening in front of my eyes.   Naw-Ruz, of course, is the Baha’i New Year, and there was a celebration here that I attended…it was beautiful.  Purim, a Jewish holiday; Good Friday & Easter…suffice to say Haifa was a noisy city for the last few days.

It was so warm on Friday that I spent the morning out on my balcony in the sun. 

Spain

I came back to Israel from Spain nearly 2 weeks ago, and I simply haven’t had a moment to sit down and write about it. Suddenly a few moments came together (something about a tear in the space-time continuum), and this post magically happened. Don’t ask me how, I have no clue.  Anyway, you can find pictures here.

  • I have never traveled in Europe before, and don’t know Spanish. But it was all extremely easy, thanks to my friend Lorenia. She offered her home for me to stay and was constantly translating for me. We had a wonderful time…I am so glad I decided to go.
  • It was a lot colder in Gijón than in Haifa, which I was not prepared for at all.
  • I went to the 19 Day Feast, a Ruhi Book 1 study circle, the Celebration of the Birth of the Báb (which lasted for 8 hours, and I ate a ridiculous amount of good food), and the Unit Convention (which is where the members of the community elect delegates to the National Convention). It was wonderful to be in a Bahá’í community again. I mean, I’m surrounded by Bahá’ís here in Haifa, but to be in a community where people are teaching the Faith, where things feel like home…it is hard to explain. The Bahá’ís in Gijón were lovely, caring, and opened their homes to us unreservedly.
  • The mosquitos liked me a lot there. We became best friends, for reals. I got several large welts on my arms and face, I felt like one of the crew members in Alien.
  • I discovered that I am perfectly content drinking several cups of coffee each day, as long as it is at a picturesque cafe in a lovely European city. It is very easy to get used to. 😉
  • Shopping. Oh my my my. Now, before I go and sound all materialistic on you, please note the above paragraphs, and keep in mind that I have been in ISRAEL for the last year, where dresses like this are considered acceptable:
  • The older people in Gijón (and probably in the rest of Europe) dress up in suits, hats, and smart shoes to walk around the city.  They stroll up and down the boardwalk, down the streets, and sit at cafés. I love it.

  • Camping

    Before this past weekend, I had never been camping.  I’ve been to cabins, lots of road trips, and so many hotels I can’t even count anymore.  But somehow I missed out on the camping thing.  We had nine people and camped out on the shore of the Dead Sea.  Some highlights from the trip:

    • Circles around the roundabout in Arad…and other misadventures.  We had two cars, so were following each other…which sometimes caused hilarious situations when people were trying to figure out where to go.   Thank God for cell phones.
    • Setting up two tents in the dark.
    • A band of 60 people showing up at around 11 pm and setting up camp around us.  There were Arabs with kerosene lamps playing loud music, and Filipinos chattering away and singing along to the stereo system they brought.  None of us slept very well.  At one point, around 4 am, I ended up walking around because I couldn’t sleep.
    • 6:30 am wakeup call by some of my fellow campers who decided that they wanted breakfast.  I woke up to a cheerful voice saying “Time to wake up and start the day!”  My response was unintelligible.  🙂
    • Floating in the Dead Sea…I definitely need to go at least one more time before I leave Israel.
    • Hiking around Masada.  Wow.
    • Amazing dinner in Hertzliya at an Asian-style restaurant.

    Random pieces of life in Haifa

    I saw a man washing his dog with a garden hose on Hamegenim Street last night.  I wish I had gotten a picture, because he had put the dog in a shopping cart so that it would not run away.

    This country is a haven for those who love pickled veggies…cabbage, cucumbers, cauliflower, olives, beets…it really is done well here.  yum.

    My interaction with Israelis is usually limited to taxi/sherut drivers and wait staff at restaurants.  Between work, social activities, programs at the BWC, and friends/family visiting from all over the world, I rarely have time to do anything else. 

    Some of you who read my blog may not understand how it is that I can know people from all over the world, and why it is such a constant thing.  Every two weeks a new pilgrim group arrives in Haifa, and their pilgrimage lasts for 9 days.  Now, the “Baha’i world” is rather small, communicates openly, and moves around quite a lot.  So you end up seeing a lot of Baha’is, and 1 or 2 degrees of separation between people who know each other.

    I’ve gotten so used to the rather patchwork style of buildings and homes that it is strange to me when I see things that are newer/well maintained.  There are buildings here that haven’t been fixed since last summer’s war.

    Adventures in Tel Aviv

    My flatmates and I took a little train ride to Tel Aviv for the 12th Day of Ridvan. We went with no destination, no map, no plans. It was wonderful. And here is my story (with pictures) of our adventures. Click on the links.

    We arrived in the afternoon. We found the mall right next to the train station, but it felt like I was back in the USA. We soon left to go to a wonderful street market, where we shopped to our hearts’ content, and I drooled over spices & veggies that I couldn’t possibly carry back with me on the train.

    Proceeding down a back alley, I felt like I was in Europe, and we wandered about taking pictures and finding our way back to the main road. We spent a nice hour at a restaurant to rest our feet.

    I found a bag shop, where I purchased a messenger bag for a very good price, and chatted with the owner while he fixed the zipper on my other bag for free! The shop was his father’s since 1971, and he used to have a factory outside Tel Aviv, but imports from China forced him to shut it down, and now he just runs the shop. There was also the discovery of a store with shoes that were all 30 NIS, which is about 7 USD.

    And finally, we left on the 7:40 train to go back to Haifa.

    On the road again…

    This is great! I’m driving to Minnesota tomorrow morning (Thursday) to visit my extended family there. I’ll get back on Sunday, probably. Then next Wednesday night I fly to Los Angeles, will be there for 5 days.

    Friday, October 27th: Halloween Party at my house, 8 pm. Costumes required. You know the drill. 😀 Surprises in store. woohoo!

    I want to write more, wish I could just let myself write but I don’t have the time and I have not yet gotten back into the world of the living. I’ve kind of been on a hiatus in regards to people in general, and I’m just now slowly coming out of it. Forgive me if I’ve not been around much, I have been very busy.