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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A few of my favorite things

I share links here and there of things I like (mostly on Twitter), but I rarely put them in one place. I’ve collected a few favorite places on the internet recently, so I thought I would share them with you.

Things Could Be Worse – I love the sheer ridiculousness of this series of tragedies, mostly because they make me smile every time I see a new one. Also, it reminds me not to be boring or feel sorry for myself. Things could always be worse.

Colossal – This is an art and design blog that I enjoy because there is always stuff there that I haven’t seen elsewhere online. I’m trying to hone my artistic sensibilities, so I follow several different blogs that talk about these subjects.

F*** Yeah The Universe – Ok so the title is a bit off-putting for some, but the reason I love this blog is because seeing photos of the amazing universe that we live in (at least, our tiny corner of it) makes me really happy. It makes the existence of God more real, somehow.

Dear Photograph – This site can sometimes be a bit depressing, but it is also a good reminder to enjoy the moments that I live in.

The Monkeys You Ordered – Literal New Yorker captions. That is all you need to know.

Finally, I gave in to peer pressure and joined Pinterest. You can find me there, collecting the things that intrigue me.

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the hill

As we climbed the hill, golden leaves floated down and our footsteps scratched against the forest floor. Out of breath, we rested on a bench amongst the trees, and, looking up, saw two bald eagles circling around each other. There is no mistaking that silhouette, those forms. We stared out at the colors as the river flowed. The sun touched us with warm hands, made everything more perfect. This is what life feels like.

hilltop trees

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Pumpkin “Soufflé”

After making a pumpkin cake for work, I had about half a can of pumpkin puree left over. I wanted to make something with the ingredients in my kitchen, so I threw a bunch of things in a bowl to see what would happen. It turned out pretty well! I’m calling it a souffle, although I suppose technically I didn’t make it quite like a souffle should be made.

8 oz pumpkin puree
8 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves

Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Blend all of the ingredients in a large bowl. The mixture will be quite thin. Pour into small pyrex dishes or ramekins, then bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Check on it to make sure it has fully cooked, it may need a little while longer to finish. It made about 4 servings, so if you want more, double the recipe.

Pumpkin "Souffle"Top with fresh whipped cream if you like!

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autumn

This might be the last really warm weekend before autumn truly takes over. I have been reveling in these days of sunshine, crunching leaves as the colors change, walking under trees half-changed into their fall wardrobe…

Fall 3

I want to take pictures, fill my camera with a million moments with you, and write stories to go with it. I am afraid of losing the stories. The click of my keyboard replaced the scratching of the pen on paper, glow of my screen instead of candlelight.

I am turning my phone off this weekend. Need to escape from everything, take some real time to make my thoughts stop jumping around so much. Sometimes I forget how much poetry I found in the moments between, in the silence before the bombardment. I have forgotten how to write, how to be ok in stillness.

Find the bee!

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The month of Halloween

As much as I don’t like the weather getting colder, I must admit that I love October. Mainly because it contains all things Halloween. I love having an excuse to dress up. Some years I put my costume together at the last minute, but this year I decided to be ahead of the game. My living room is currently covered in scraps of muslin and batting:

Of course I won’t say what I’m making, the costume is a surprise, but it is going to be fun. I have just enough sewing skills to put together a pillow, hem pants, or alter an already existing dress. I was worried that I didn’t have a pattern, but then I realized I could project it up onto my tv screen and trace it onto the muslin. It was cheaper to buy 10 yards of batting (that giant roll in the photo), so now I have about 7 yards of the stuff. I’m going to have to take up quilting or something (riiight).

When I left work last night, the air smelled like leaves and rain. It was raining on one side of the building, but not on the other! And then there was a hailstorm as soon as I passed into Wilmette from Evanston, but luckily the hailstones were small. Oh, Chicago. You’re so strange. But the sunset was amazing! (Taken with a cameraphone, so this doesn’t adequately represent how beautiful it was.)

  

I bought a pumpkin last year for Halloween. Didn’t carve it, just put it in the corner of my dining room. I threw it out 6 months later, it looked as perfect as the day I bought it. I think it was possessed or something. Creepy pumpkin.

The other thing I can’t wait to do is take photos of the fall leaves. We’re still pretty green here, but southern Wisconsin has started changing and I hope to go there soon with my camera. Last year was lovely at Starved Rock, but it was raining so it was hard to get some of the shots I wanted. We’ll see how it goes this year!

Please excuse the randomness of my thought process in this post. I seem to have had too much coffee this morning and not balanced it with enough food. I shall remedy that problem now.

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My response to Ahmadinejad

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times interviewed the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and one of the questions he asked was about the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran (which I haven’t seen much from other recent interviews, so thank you, Nicholas). Ahmadinejad’s answer, as with most of his interviews, was to slide around the question by asking more questions and being very vague.

Ahmadinejad implied that Baha’is are possibly a political or intelligence security group, that they break the law, and then brought the American hikers into it at the end. The entire answer was ridiculous, and shows how little logic enters the equation when it comes to human rights in Iran.

Ahmadinejad: Do you even know the group that you name? Do you know their makeup? Are they a religious group? A truly faithful group? Or a political group? Or an intelligence security group? Let’s make sure they are all named? Let’s make sure they all come forward. Let’s see their true makeup.

Sir, the Baha’is of the world have never tried to hide. We have always been exactly what we claim to be: followers of a peaceful religion that abide by the laws of the countries in which we live, who are endeavoring to foster community life and bring about peace. In every part of the world, you will find Baha’is doing all of these things openly, with love for their fellow human beings.

Since the very beginning of our Faith, the Baha’is have been persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, killed, banned from education, removed from their homes, and had property confiscated and destroyed. Our holy places in Iran have been razed to the ground, and our graves desecrated.

My great-uncle and his son were put to death because of their faith. I have never been to the country of my mother’s birth, it is my lost home. I love Iran, and I have never been there. Think of how great Iran could be if you let all of these innocents live freely, if you let children be educated whose only aim in life is to serve humankind.

There are Baha’is in prison at this moment whose only transgression is to try to help their fellow human beings, for believing in the same God that you believe in. There are many minorities in Iran who suffer, for no purpose except fanatical hatred and fear on the part of the government and clerics.

This is the true crime.

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Current favorite smoothie

I feel like I got cheated out of my summer. I don’t know where it went. Today was an especially crazy Monday, and I needed something to unwind after a long day, but I really don’t need to eat more cupcakes (I’ve eaten at least 1 per day for the last week). So I’ve been making these smoothies that take about 1 minute to make, and all of the ingredients are things that I keep in my kitchen.

1/4 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup apple juice (or orange juice)
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 banana

Blend. Be happy.

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1 year ago

On September 14, 2010, I received a phone call in the middle of the night from a friend with a voice full of tears. She told me that our friend Gavin Welch had passed away in a car accident in Houston, Texas that afternoon. Gavin was the first friend in my life that died young. He was 32 years old. We were in college at the same time, and so many of my best memories of my Chicago years include him. His joy for life, honesty, and pure heart were powerful, and we all miss him very much.

Gavin: 1978-2010Tonight his friends and some family will gather at the Baha’i Home in Wilmette to remember him, laugh together, and pray for the progress of his soul in the next world. Bahhaj recorded his version of a song in Gavin’s memory. Below is a video that his friends put together for the first memorial last year.

Gavin Badi Welch Memorial Video from Jennifer Brandel on Vimeo.

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new path

Starting this, I am walking down a new path
we once dreamed of this freedom
this chance to begin again.
To step outside ourselves
look down to where our feet touch the ground
keep them moving and remember the stories.
We whispered in our blanket forts and beneath the trees,
ice cream Sundays (and Mondays and Tuesdays)
and childhood dreams
If the photographs captured perfectly
the sight would be of every day,
when you look at me in this perfect way.

I stopped writing because it is so difficult to describe happiness with words. It just is. I will wander through an entire forest and the memory I am left with is just a snapshot of when we ran from mosquitos. I will climb a sand dune and am remembering standing on top of the world with you as I gasp from a lack of exercise and oxygen. I will walk through a city and I see brick walls with numbers on them. I will hold onto every quiet moment because that is where the foundation lives. I can’t remember not knowing you.

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Civic duty and chicken nuggets

I had jury duty today. I’ve never been called for jury duty before. Instead of being called to the circuit court down the road from my house, I had to take the train to downtown Chicago. It actually all worked out well, as it was a civil case and only lasted 3 1/2 hours. The judge asked if we wanted to skip lunch, which everyone was happy about since it meant we finished earlier.

When I left, I ran into the Daley Plaza Farmers Market…fresh fruit and veggies abounded, though I had to restrain myself as I had to take the train north to get home.

Tonight I decided to make my favorite new dish: battered chicken. I cut chicken breast into long strips, dipped it in 1 beaten egg, then in a separate bowl that had half corn meal, half rice flour mixed together, then threw it in a pan with some olive oil. Fried up fresh zucchini with paprika, butter, salt, and pepper…yum.

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Eggplant is painful

Tonight I am making Persian food for the weekend, as I’ll be in a cabin & won’t have access to all of my nifty cooking supplies. A trick that my mom told me about was to cook a whole eggplant in the oven, then take off the skin and use the eggplant in bademjaan (eggplant, chicken, tomatoes, split yellow peas over rice). That way you don’t have to fry the eggplant!

I used a fork to see if it was done, but I had forgotten to cut a hole in the skin before I cooked it, so it exploded on me. I now have 3 burns on my hand and one on my leg. I’ve put medicine on them but it is really just classic “Sholeh”. *sigh*

My first thought was “I should blog about this.” Yeah…

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Venues and their lack of photos

As an event planner, I am constantly scouring websites, looking for information, photos, and contact details for venues all over the country. Whether it is a hotel, a theater, a banquet hall, or a loft space, they nearly all have one thing in common:

It is almost impossible to find a decent photo of what their space actually looks like. If they DO include a photo, it is 200 pixels square and was taken with a point-and-shoot from 1995.

Really? You charge $4,000 for 4 hours of room rental, but you can’t hire someone to build a decent website and take a few nice photos? You are trying to sell your space but you don’t want anyone to actually SEE it?

ugh.

And don’t even try to find room capacity information on the website. They want you to fill out a little form, wait a week for someone to contact you..by which point the date you wanted has been taken.

Sometimes they try to get fancy and have a video or some muzak start playing when you open their page, which makes you jump because you forgot to turn down the sound after watching Mad Men last night. If I want a soundtrack, I’ll turn on my own music.

So this is for all of the venues out there who can’t seem to get their act together: if you want me to use your space, build a decent website. 🙂

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The Interrupters

On Friday night I went to the Gene Siskel Film Center to see a documentary film that a friend (Aaron Wickenden) edited called The Interrupters. The cast and crew answered questions after the showing, which was a powerful experience after having just watched them on the screen.

From the website:

The Interrupters tells the moving and surprising stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed.

The Interrupters captures a period in Chicago when it became a national symbol for the violence in our cities.

…The Interrupters — who have credibility on the streets because of their own personal histories — intervene in conflicts before they explode into violence.

This film is incredible. See it. Talk about it. It will make you laugh, cry, and think. If you want to bring this film to your community, contact the filmmakers.

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Unfortunate excursion

I took a camp chair, some books, and a sandwich and carbonated doogh (yogurt drink) to the beach a few nights ago. The doogh fizzed a bit when I opened it, and I had nothing to clean up my hands, so I had to wipe my hands on my tank top, leaving yogurty white streaks.

I settled down to read, wincing every time the yuppie mom yelled at her daughter Ella to come back toward shore, and tried to enjoy the sunset and water.

sunset flight

At some point, a gaggle of teenagers were playing with a soccer ball in front of me and spraying me with sand until I gave them a bit of a glare, and they realized that there might be violence and quickly moved away.

THEN flies were biting my feet non-stop and the sun went away and I was cold, so I gave up on the sandy area and moved over to a grassy area in the park nearby.

My doogh didn’t have a cap anymore because I had dropped it in the sand. I set down my camp chair and placed the doogh in the cupholder. When I sat down and leaned into it, I nearly toppled backwards because I didn’t realize I was on a slight incline, and doogh sprayed ALL OVER ME.

Face, hands, legs, clothes, chair, sunglasses…covered in a salty yogurt drink.

so yeah.
I packed it in after that and called it a night.

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Surprise sunset

I was making spaghetti tonight and didn’t notice anything special outside through my kitchen windows. I left the kitchen for a bit to do some things in the living room, and when I went back to stir the sauce, I gasped out loud. This was the view from my window:

Sunset 1

I took a few quick shots, then went back to cooking. About 5 minutes later, I looked up again, and saw that the sky had turned more pink/purple.

Sunset 2

The view from my place at night is just stellar.

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warmth

beachtime

Unlike the vast majority of the people I know, I actually love hot weather. I would spend all day outside if I could, wearing a large floppy hat, giant sunglasses, and a killer swimsuit, reading a book by the Lake.

There is something drowsy and wonderful in the sunsets of summer, the golden light and iced coffee, toes in the sand…I am never more alive than right now.

The trunk of my car is always full in the summer. There are picnic blankets, a frisbee, a large hat, swimsuit, towel, and sandals. The necessary accoutrements for impromptu afternoons that bring a smile to my face and a cool breeze off the lake.

The simple things.

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Make of this mortal world…

nighttime tulips

“All humankind are as children in a school, and the Dawning-Points of Light, the Sources of divine revelation, are the teachers, wondrous and without peer. In the school of realities they educate these sons and daughters, according to teachings from God, and foster them in the bosom of grace, so that they may develop along every line, show forth the excellent gifts and blessings of the Lord, and combine human perfections; that they may advance in all aspects of human endeavour, whether outward or inward, hidden or visible, material or spiritual, until they make of this mortal world a wide-spread mirror, to reflect that other world which dieth not.

…Wherefore, O loved ones of God! Make ye a mighty effort till you yourselves betoken this advancement and all these confirmations, and become focal centres of God’s blessings, daysprings of the light of His unity, promoters of the gifts and graces of civilized life. Be ye in that land vanguards of the perfections of humankind; carry forward the various branches of knowledge, be active and progressive in the field of inventions and the arts.”

-‘Abdu’l-Bahá

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Lightroom

I finally bought a photo-editing program, Adobe Lightroom 3 (it was on sale). I’ve been using free programs for years now, but this is a lot more powerful, and also allows me to sort my photos and upload them easily.

This is kind of a big deal for me.

I’m the type of person that carries her DSLR camera in her purse on a regular basis. I’m more than happy to take a ton of photos and post them…I love it! But the strain of trying to find the few good shots out of hundreds, process them, and upload them was making photography no fun anymore. Since I try to shoot in RAW, I have process most of my photos.

Just in the last few days since I started using Lightroom, my workflow has changed, I am working quickly and efficiently, and I have more of the joy that I had when I first got my camera. Totally worth it.

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just.be.here.

there are a dozen things on the list that I carry in my head. technology tries to help me but in the end, I am left with this.
write it down, go from here to there to here, with these people and this event and and…
there is no sitting still.

I’ve been dreaming lately. I’ve always dreamed, sometimes I dream the future and it comes true, sometimes I dream the present and my fears. there have been dreams about every noun. I dream through the lens of my camera. I live in a place that is no longer new to me, I miss the warm sun and thousand year old streets and year-round flowers.

writing will begin again, with honesty, with the kind of raw power that I used to carry in every word. I forgot to hold onto that part of me when I started speaking more than I was writing. I want to write my book, the book of the things I learned. It is so difficult to be honest now when everything is analyzed to death. just be.

Here is the truth. Each day is wonderful, even in silence sitting side by side. The past has never been more distant.

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An Ode To Finals

I found this old post from December 10, 2003, and it made me smile, remembering the college days and how very horrible I was at test-taking (and apparently at writing odes). I don’t know why I put it in the drafts, because obviously it was published at some point, so I’m putting it back out there.

Accounting was atrocious
as it had the right to be
a horrible subject
it enjoyed torturing me
History was turned in
with absolutely no fuss
I quite enjoyed the class
I felt like such a genius
Management was tedious
but open-note tests do help
someone wanted me to sit with them
so they let out a yelp
All that is left is now Mathematics
statistics just kill me
probability gives me headaches
in this class there is no mercy
So wish me luck
my dear friends
as I study insanely
and pray for the end.

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The things I do

This is what has been happening…a glimpse into my (mostly) suburban life since we last spoke. I’m always busy, that is nothing new. And I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting a lot of things…

1. I took a flight around the city in a 4 seat Cessna. I have not had a chance to edit most of the 120 photos I took that day, but it was quite the experience. I hope to write a blog entry about it soon.

2. I hosted a bridal shower for a friend, during which we made fascinators and were really quite fancy. I will be attending her wedding this weekend, which I really am looking forward to.

the table

3. My little sister graduated from high school with honors. I am incredibly proud of her, she worked very hard. The graduation nearly got evacuated because of severe thunderstorms, but we made it through.

4. I attended the funeral of Gayle Woolson, a Knight of Baha’u’llah and wonderful person who lived in many countries in Latin and South America, on June 1st. She was nearly 98 years old when she passed away. I took public speaking classes with her when I was a child. The funeral was beautiful and such a testament to her nobility and sweet nature.

5. I threw a surprise party this past weekend which nearly got torpedoed at least 3 times, but in the end everything worked out.

6. An adventure in Chicago with some friends, which really does merit its own post.

7. Lots of new material over at Nineteen Months! A number of articles, and a bunch of photos.

Mixed in with all of this is my junior youth group, a Ruhi study group, and responsibilities with the Wilmette Local Spiritual Assembly. Plus all of the amazing visitors and dear friends who come through Chicago on a regular basis. Life is great here.

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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.

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