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.

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Alive

Tonight I felt alive for a moment, a rush of adrenaline as one of my closest friends and I drove down 94 with the windows down, singing along to the radio at the top of our lungs. It is a warm, sticky summer, a thunderstorm loomed overhead tonight, and everything is going to be ok.

As I neared home, this song by Real McCoy came on the radio. It reminded me of awkward school dances, of the 90s, and of things that are good. I remember when Chicago had a techno station, and my friend and I would crank it up in the summer and sit in her front yard. I remember driving hours to see friends, listening to music and dancing just because we could.

August is going to be a very busy, intense month for me, both for work and travel. I can’t wait.

Take joy in the small things, in the biggest thing of all…that we are here and full of life.

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Emerging

After nearly a week of illness, I am trying to emerge from being a hermit. If you have spent any amount of time with me, you know that for me, being cooped up and non-productive is one of the most difficult things. I had to force myself to rest for the last 6 days, which has made me a little loopy.

This is the fourth time that I’ve gotten a serious cold this year, which is incredibly frustrating, especially during the summer.

My blog was down for a few weeks, so now I am trying to get back into things as I’m recovering, catch up on everything. Here we go! Right now, it is time for laundry and getting everything in order for this coming week.

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The value of these days

Hydrangeas at the House of Worship“The doors of the Kingdom are opened. The lights of the Sun of Truth are shining. The clouds of divine mercy are raining down their priceless jewels. The zephyrs of a new and divine springtime are wafting their fragrant breaths from the invisible world. Know ye then the value of these days.

Awake ye to the realization of this heavenly opportunity. Strive with all the power of your souls, your deeds, actions and words to assist the spread of these glad tidings and the descent of this merciful bounty. You are the reality and expression of your deeds and actions. If you abide by the precepts and teachings of the Blessed Perfection, the heavenly world and ancient Kingdom will be yours—eternal happiness, love and everlasting life.”
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

I have been reading Rob Stockman’s new book on my lunch break, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America, and this talk was quoted in the book. I have become more and more conscious in recent weeks of the precious value of these days, trying not to waste any moments, trying to take action and move forward with my life. The distractions are many, and sometimes it is hard to focus.

One day at a time, trying to be inspired.

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Happy Father’s Day!

Dad and I caught a toad each!Dad, you always taught me to be independent, to do all the things guys are expected to do, but to do them in my own way. You encouraged me to climb trees, taught me how to paint and which kinds of tools to use, patiently waited when I couldn’t decide which outfit to wear, and signed me up for business classes in high school…which sent me on a path that I couldn’t even forsee then.

You still catch frogs with me, you still listen when I’m having a bad day, and you still tell me what kinds of trees we are passing when we take a walk. You’re the only father I know that dares his kids to jump into a freezing river in the Appalachians, or who knows how to explain a complex scientific paper in terms that his 12 year old daughter will understand.

me and dad

Thank you for letting me be your little girl but helping me to grow up, for being an example of what good men should be like. Thank you for working so hard to make sure I got an education, for putting food on the table and for taking care of our family. I know that I am lucky to have you as a father.

 

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Is it time to be personal?

Untitled I don’t pour my heart out on my blog, and if I do, it usually comes out in some kind of creative writing exercise. I am unlikely to write in any sort of detail about my everyday activities…that is what my Twitter account is for, and Facebook provides a measure of connection with the thousand or so “friends” that wish to know the happenings in my life.

I have several drafts of posts that I keep meaning to get to. Things that I keep meaning to share here. And while I have had time here and there to write, I honestly have either been uninspired, exhausted, or not inclined. I try to respect my need to wallow once in a while, but right now it might be time to force some writing.

Another problem has been that Google Reader wasn’t picking up my blog posts until I updated WordPress, so you’ll see a flood of posts if you read my blog through Reader. 😛

My recent acquisition of an iPhone (and with it, Instagram & a whole lot of other apps that have changed my life) means that while I continue taking photos with my Canon DSLR, I’ve added more phone pics to my Flickr page, and am happy to have something with me in my purse all the time. I carry the Canon a lot, but there are some times when it just isn’t practical.

So…here I go.

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Too quiet

These days, sunset is the best and worst time. The way the light wraps around everything, creating the best moments to capture photos…this is the most wonderful thing, the only redeeming time. But the gloam can hold onto me if there is silence and I am alone, the almost-dark suffocating me with reminders and memories. I fill the space with music, with television, with cooking or baking or making…

I’m waiting, slightly paralyzed, but moving in some kind of direction. Making decisions.

I would like my sunsets back.

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the imaginary conversation

You’re right. None of us are meant to be alone. It gets us into trouble in so many ways. I mean, if you choose it, that is one thing. But to choose solitude, or at least be content with it…well.

-I imagine that this process is a lot easier when we’re honest about what we’re looking for.

Would you have been this honest 10 years ago? Or even 5?

-No, but we delude ourselves into this journey that has taken years, and now we find ourselves successful in some ways, but all seeking this connection that we still haven’t found. Finding the connection doesn’t fix everything, but then we can focus on other things.

So I guess it comes to the fact that we are here, in this time and place, and we have a choice to make. We never found our way before this, and we’re surprised to find ourselves in the dark, holding on.

-It really is a choice. We choose our life, our love, in the infinite confusion that is now. We can’t stop running from things that make sense. We have been doing it too long, it is almost an addiction. We are afraid to make mistakes, to make the wrong choice. But we’re running from what could be the easiest choice.

I am not going to get an answer to this, am I?

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New things

We have some new articles and photos up over at Nineteen Months, so check it out! Dar is writing a series on Abdu’l-Baha’s journey in the West, and we are looking forward to more contributions soon.

Photos are starting to come in from the Chicago and Wilmette Centenary events! Go to the links to see slideshows. I’ll post more about the whole thing at some point, but I’m still recovering from it all.

“…the world of existence may be likened to this temple and place of worship. For just as the external world is the place where the people of all races and colors, varying faiths, denominations and conditions come together, just as they are submerged in the same sea of divine favors, so likewise, all may meet under the dome of The Mashriqu’l-Adkar  and adore the one God in the same spirit of truth. For the ages of darkness have passed away and the century of light has come. Ignorant prejudices are being dispelled and the light of unity is shining.” -‘Abdu’l-Bahá

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the storms

alone
the windows are open
i can taste the rain and the heavy air is weighing on me
so close to everything and yet…
everything is a dream now.

i am not sure if i welcome the rain or not. the pressure sinks into my slowly beating heart, my tired eyes and soul. i embrace the clean mist that sweeps away this dust that is holding me back, and the thunderstorms that i can scream into. there are the empty moments that we filled and now my hands try to stay busy alone. there are miles and oceans to come, but nothing is real.

the storm has stopped now, the raging into the night leaves me drained.

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The death of a fish

RIP VincentI am sad to report the death of my betta fish, Vincent van Fish. He jumped out of his bowl sometime today, and I discovered his cold, lifeless body on the floor of my living room tonight when I got home from work.

I tried to buy a fish for Naw-Ruz that would last longer than a few weeks, but apparently Vincent decided that it was all too much. I am very disappointed, as I was growing quite fond of the little guy and even remembered to feed him every day.

Part of the reason I’m upset is because I now have food and other supplies for a fish that I just flushed down the toilet, and it feels like the whole experience was a waste of money. I know, I’m strange. But really, fish are the most useless pets. And I’m not convinced I would do much better with a different kind of animal.

RIP, Vincent.

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My Nineteen Days post – Baha’i Fast, Day 8

I had a hard time taking my photos for Nineteen Days today. I struggled to find a Dawn subject, and I was at a training for the volunteers for the Centenary events at the House of Worship at sunset. But I managed to figure it out.

As I went outside to take the photo at dusk, the resident hawk of the House of Worship flew overhead into the sunset. Unfortunately I was too slow to capture it, but it was a perfect way to end the day.

Go on over to Nineteen Days and check out the rest of the photos. I am so glad I got to participate this year.

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Nineteen Days

Have you checked out the first four days of photos and quotations over at Nineteen Days? You really should. The stories being told are beautiful, and it is a way to enjoy the Baha’i Fast with people from all over the world. I’ll be participating in a few days, and I’m really looking forward to it!

It also has a special place in my heart, because this project, which was started by dear Amy and Leila, helped inspire Nineteen Months. And Nineteen Days always uplifts my heart and makes me smile during the Fast.

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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!

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Wo(men)

I don’t involve myself in internet debates/comment discussions on websites. There is absolutely no point. However, in some of the discussions I’ve seen recently over at The Good Men Project (one of the few sites of this kind that I frequent), there seems to be the idea that the issues that relate to men should be dealt with by men, and issues that relate to women should be handled by women.

This makes me so mad. The stupidity inherent in this kind of belief structure, where we think we can advance humanity by the genders working in their own silos, where they bring the other gender down and dehumanize them in order to raise themselves up, is just plain crazy.

Winter gulls

I have been lucky enough to grow up in a family and faith that encouraged a beautiful balance of ideas, practices, and tools that enable men and women to grow together, to build each other up. The world is still largely imbalanced, favoring men, but to reject men and all the wonderful things that make them men would be to reject half of humanity, would leave me feeling imbalanced.

That men and women differ from one another in certain characteristics and functions is an inescapable fact of nature and makes possible their complementary roles in certain areas of the life of society; but it is significant that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stated that in this Dispensation “Equality of men and women, except in some negligible instances, has been fully and categorically announced.”-The Kitáb-i-Aqdas

I don’t have a long, thought-out post about this, but I had to write something. I wish we could have more productive conversations about this subject, instead of fighting who should be in charge.

 

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Winter

This winter has been a strange mix of busy/quiet. I haven’t traveled, though I wish I could get out of Chicago. Every event that is completed at work is a victory, but then it seems like no matter how many I finish, I still have the same amount of work on my to-do list.

And then, because I had way too much going on with no time to take a break, my body said “enough!” and I got a bad cold. I’ve missed 3 days of work and have watched all the television. Yes, all of it. And for me to stay inside and do nothing is nearly impossible. I have my little “recuperation station” set up in the living room, with my laptop open to my work email and buckets of tea, vitamins, and tissues surrounding me. I am surprised the tv and laptop haven’t burned out by now.

bridge pattern

So there isn’t much going on, really, just a mix of unusually warm weather mixed with painfully cold weather, a little snow, ice, and fog, and my dreams of summer and a vacation by the ocean. I am learning to bake more things (painfully failed at making soft pretzels). I am trying not to waste my evenings, and was on a decent workout routine before I got sick. I miss my friends as I always do, and love morning brunches and quiet afternoons. I wait not-so-patiently each week for a new episode of Downton Abbey, and am horrified that I can’t watch Sherlock until May. Sometimes I meet new people and it makes me happy.

This is winter in Chicago.

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Perfect weekends

We fill the house with smoke and the smell of thick-sliced bacon, and the snow is turning to slush outside but blankets wrapped tight surround us. We will put on a good movie, or a really terrible one, or both in one day. We will eat breakfast for lunch and a banana split for dinner. We will rush out of the house on a Sunday morning to make it to noon prayers at the House of Worship, pinch the cheeks of some beautiful infants, stomp our feet in the cold of Chicago snowy winters, and listen to the choir.

We will smile at each other as our noses freeze and we curse the cold, but it is just an excuse to be closer to everyone we love.

These are the weekends that fade, but the moments are just perfect.

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the stranger

When we met, she was sitting on the curb in a parking lot, surrounded by bags of groceries. Her lined face was a story of decades, her hands curled up. The unrelieved black of her dress framed eyes that had stories in them, and the barrier between us of few common words prevents me from saying too much more about her.

She made the noises of machine guns to indicate her home country, and said that she cleaned homes, that her sister was trying to teach her to speak English but it was hard. She laughed a lot, and so did I. She reminded me of the women I would see sitting on park benches in Israel, staring into the past or talking to each other.

The Mississippi

I don’t know her name. But I think about her several months later, after I delivered her and her groceries to a small apartment where she invited me in for tea but I couldn’t stay. I think about how we don’t interact in any meaningful way with strangers, that I have begun craving that connection with people I barely know, if only for a few moments.

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Currently obsessed with…

* Learning how to use my new KitchenAid mixer. I’m giddy with excitement.

* Cooking and baking gluten-free items in a more deliberate way, including using my baking scale.

* Using Pinterest to find DIY projects and recipes that I can do around the house during quiet evenings.

* Trying to get back to the gym. Mostly because I can’t sleep at night and need to work through all of my stress. I’ve started going once a week and I’ll work up to more.

* Getting back into sewing. I have a sewing machine, and it silly not to use it.

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Home Improvement

I’ve lived in my condo for nearly 2 years, and have slowly been making changes. Limitations of time and money have prevented me from doing some of the major things I would like to do, but I have started with little projects. My most recent project was the cabinets in the kitchen. This is what they looked like when I bought my condo:

They were the original cabinets from 1968. I had to take the cabinet doors off to paint behind them and to paint each side. It took me about 2 weekends to finish everything. I used paint deglosser, then one coat of primer, and then semi-gloss paint to finish.

 

Finally, this weekend, Brendan helped me to do the final installation of the doors!

The kitchen is so much more cheerful now. I spend a lot of time in my kitchen, cooking and baking, so it feels good to have a space that I want to be in.

Brendan also installed new blinds that I bought a few months ago, cut to measurements of the bay windows in my kitchen and bedroom. Having blinds that work is fantastic.

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Baked pears

The simplest thing when you need a quick dessert that looks fancy, or when the pears on your table are starting to go a little brown.

Ingredients:
1 pear
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Pre-heat oven to 350 F (or 176 C). Slice up the pear and arrange in an oven-safe dish. Melt the butter, then mix in the honey, vanilla, and lemon juice. Pour mixture over the pears. Bake for about 20 minutes in uncovered dish, then serve. You can put vanilla ice cream on top, or eat them plain. This is one of my winter dessert obsessions.

Baked pears

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Five years

5 years At the airport in Tel Avivago today at 1:00 pm, my plane landed in Haifa, Israel. I was starting 18 months of service at the Baha’i World Center. I waited for 2 hours at the airport because the person who was picking me up got a flat tire. I had some time to kill, so I took a photo of the screen that showed my flight.

It was December but it was warm, and I slept in the car, but when we came around the side of the mountain, the city was spread out in front of me, and it felt like coming home. View from the living roomOverwhelmed, everything felt a little bit surreal. My aunt and uncle were in the same apartment building, a childhood friend turned out to be one of my roommates, and I had the best views from my apartment: the Shrine of the Bab, the city of Haifa, and the Mediterranean.

Everything seems better in hindsight, of course. I remember being incredibly lonely, but also really happy. Very few of us had internet at home, and every day things felt a little more distant everywhere else. One of the advantages of not having internet or tv for the first 10 months was the sheer amount of books that I read. I was 23 years old, in a new life.

Even 3 1/2 years after returning to the United States, I still miss it. I miss the Shrines, the year-round flowers, the history and age of Israel, exploring (wish I had done more of that!), the people, the warmth…(I may have been one of the few people that LOVE hot weather). Everything.

I miss it every day.

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Behind the Scenes

Because I work at the Baha’i National Center, there have been times that I’ve been asked to participate in short videos produced by our Media Services team. Actually, since I grew up in the area, there is probably a great deal of embarassing footage out there, especially from my middle school and high school years.

I shot my particular part of the video on a very cold, blustery day in March. I only had to do a few takes, but I loved the idea and the end result turned out even better than I thought, and a lot of my friends ended up in it too. This is my favorite introductory video of the Baha’i Faith so far (and not because I’m in it!). Good job, team! I kept forgetting to post it here, but finally got around to it.

Baha’i Basics: Principles & Practices from Bahai.us on Vimeo.

And I’m sharing this video because it has two of my coworkers/friends and it makes me laugh when I watch it. The purpose of the video is to encourage Baha’is to give to the Baha’i Funds, and I love that it was done with humor. And awkwardness. Lots of awkwardness.

Don’t Miss Out! from FUNDamentals on Vimeo.

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Letting it go

I have had a couple of weeks of difficulty.

Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Nothing major, just little things, like the phone that I just had replaced a few months ago getting a cracked screen and needing to buy a replacement on eBay.

And interesting times at work, getting busier (which is great!).

And all sorts of things that surround life, missing some friends, dealing with sadness and figuring out plans on a very busy calendar.

By the time the weekend came, I needed a break. I needed a lot of food, friends, love, and sleep. I had run out of these amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookies:

It was a sad situation. Luckily I had arranged to spend time with some wonderful loved ones, all of whom lifted my spirits and helped me a great deal. Sometimes we need to know when to throw our hands in the air and ask for some assistance.

So as I look forward to Thanksgiving and all of the good things that go along with that, I am looking forward to starting a better week.

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