Sunday, April 3, 2011

FINALLY, Spring!

Stacey was in for the weekend, so we braved the crowds and went to the Tidal Basin to enjoy the peak bloom time of the Cherry Blossoms. It was a little cool, but an enjoyable walk- especially with spring so apparent! And I finally got to the Jefferson Memorial- been here 4 years and had never been.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Christmas

I had the opportunity to go to see the Washington Chorus Candlelight Concert this past weekend at the Kennedy Center and I heard the most amazing song. A 10 piece brass section, an organ and two timpani drums joined over 200 voices singing "The Dream Isaiah Saw" by Glenn Rudolph, text by Thomas Troeger. Overwhelmed by the music, I didn't at first pay attention to the lyrics. But a quick search on google showed that I was not the only person struck by this beautiful piece. Here's what I found out about it online:

Commissioned by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh in memory of those who perished on September 11, 2001, The Dream Isaiah Saw refers to the 8th Century BC prophet Isaiah's vision of God's creation restored to peace and harmony through the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-5). It is the panoramic view of the future Messianic Kingdom. Thomas H. Troeger, professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver Colorado and director of its homiletics program, wrote the poem “Lion and Oxen Will Sleep in the Hay” in 1994. The composer Glenn L. Rudolph (composer, conductor, and tenor soloist with many choral organizations in Pittsburgh) began to set this poem to music toward the end of July, 2001. Nineteen days after September 11th, he completed this choral work.

I found the lyrics (below) and a very amatuer video of another group's performance. (best if you just listen!!)
Here's a link where you can preview a portion of the song from the Washington Chorus's performance. It is also downloadable from itunes.
I hope that you and the ones you love have a very Merry Christmas and peace and happiness in 2011!

Lions and oxen will sleep in the hay,
Leopards will join with the lambs as they play,
Wolves will be pastured with cows in the glade,
Blood will darken the Earth that God made.
Little child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Life redeemed from fang and claw
Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
Deep in the heart of systems gain,
Ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.
Little Child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Justice purifying law.
Nature reordered to match God’s intent,
Nations obeying the call to repent,
All of creation completely restored,
Filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.
Little child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Knowledge, wisdom, worship awe.

—Thomas Troeger

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and Santa Fe, New Mexico

I've never been in a hot air ballon and I honestly don't know if I'll ever get the guts to go up in one. But when I heard that the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was the most photographed annual event in the United States, I decided that it was something I couldn't miss!! My friends and I planned a long girls weekend to Albuquerque and Santa Fe to coincide with the Fiesta and we ended up having a great time!

My friends indulged me with a very early start to see the 'Mass Acension' at dawn on October 1, the first day of the Fiesta. One piece of advice for anyone who plans to do the park-n-ride is to go VERY early (people in the front of the line had to have been there by 5:00am because we got there at 6:30 and there were hundreds in line ahead of us...) We ended up getting turned away because the buses were stopping at a certain hour. And after seeing the lines of people waiting to get home from the event on the park-n-ride buses, I would tell anyone to just drive themselves. That's what we ended up doing and there was little traffic.

Once at the Fiesta, however, we found that the headache was well worth it. Hundreds of hot air balloons were in various stages of lifting off- from unpacking the balloon, to blowing up the balloon (it was all just air- no gas) and to lifting off. The public is welcome to mingle on the field with the balloon teams, ask questions, take photos, help set up, etc. I took over 350 photos in the 3 hours we were there. Here's just a sample...

After we were fiesta'd out, we hopped in the rental and started our drive up to Santa Fe, NM via the 'Turquoise Trail'. You can access this scenic by-way by driving I-40 East out of Albuquerque to Route 14 North. The trail cuts a rural path through the countryside, passing several tourist attractions, scenic stops and quirky small towns. One town we stopped in was Madrid, a mining town built in the 1800s. When the use of coal died down, the town died. But in the 1970s, it became a popular artist community. We parked our car on the side of the road and made our way to the various art galleries and craft shops. I would definitely recommend a stop here for lunch, although we continued on to Santa Fe for an early dinner.

Some highlights in Santa Fe include:
  • The Palace of Governors- Local Indians line up here in the mornings to sell their handicrafts- you'll have trouble choosing which piece of jewelry to buy! The museum inside is one of the best history museums I've been to- it told a very interesting story of New Mexico, Santa Fe and the building itself, which has changed over time.

  • Eating!!! Man, we ate a lot! Some of the restaurants we hit were: Cafe Pasqual's (pricey breakfast fare, but it was ok), Coyote Cafe (had a very good dinner on the rooftop cantina- and the watermelon mojito was good, too!), El Farol (great tapas restaurant with yummy sangria and has a bar attached that features live music nightly), The Shed (great tacos but get there early if you plan on lunch or you'll be stuck with an hour wait), and Il Piatto (good Italian). Wow- it's making me hungry again thinking of these places!!

  • Georgia O'Keefe Museum- located downtown, it's an easy place to visit. The $12 entry is pricey for the size of the collection, but if you're a fan, I would recommend it as it featured pieces I never knew she'd done.

  • The Plaza is great for people-watching!

  • Shopping. You can find everything from designer clothes to kitchy tourist items, but one thing Santa Fe does not skimp on is shopping!

We never made it over to Canyon Road to visit the art galleries but we did do a scenic side trip up Bishops Lodge Road into the mountains (we climbed over 2,000 feet). I would tell anyone that Santa Fe is worth a good long weekend- especially around Balloon Fiesta time!!! If you'd like to see more of my balloon photos, click here:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mbabane, Swaziland

"No- Swaziland!!"
"Where's That?"

Swaziland is a pea-size country in southeastern Africa- bordering South Africa and Mozambique. It was described to me by co-workers as 'Africa-lite'. And it is! There is sufficient infrastructure- roads, electricity, internet, etc around the cities. But even from the 'suburbs', you are able to see winding dirt roads leading to houses set up on the rocky mountain landscapes, so the infrastructure doesn't go far. The poverty isn't as striking as I've seen in other African countries. And because it doesn't have the violent past that the west coast has, there aren't the war injuries so commonly seen elsewhere. I observed that many of the people were friendly, active and very social. Since we arrived on Sunday, we also got to see them dressed in their Sunday best. Churches are very common- in every denomination.

The primary means of making a living is agriculture- sugar and corn. I asked one of our drivers if industry was the driving factor in the development of Mbabane and he said that it grew in size due to the fact that it was named the capital. Industry followed government. An interesting note- the photo above is of the mountain called 'Executioners Rock'- so called because in tribal times, they would march the offender up to the top and make him jump over the edge. (The photo was taken from our new property, so I'll make sure the views of this are featured in certain windows.....)

There are a few flights from Johannesburg per day- the flight is about 1 1/2 hours. That means the pilot gets a lot of practice landing the plane, which is great considering the 'airport' has one short runway in a small valley! I swear that the plane had already stopped in mid-air and the pilot just parked it on the runway. The airport has one gate in and out and the plane basically parks in a cul de sac so that it is turned around and ready to head out again.

The hotel we stayed at was in the Ezulwini Valley, about 20 minutes down the mountain from the city of Mbabane and because Swaziland is considered a mountain retreat for people in Maputo (Mozambique) and Johannesburg, it was complete with a golf course, casino and pool with a bar. Combined with the 80 degree sunny weather, it was hard to get any work done. During the trip to Mbabane, we climbed over 2,000 feet up a highway that I was told used to be the most treacherous road in southern Africa. I can believe it because even at the widened four lanes, the mountain dropped steeply away from the sides!

We managed to hire a cab for an afternoon visit to the Ngwenya Glass Factory, about 1/2 hour away in the country. A popular tourist spot, the glass works specializes in making figurines, drinking glasses, candle holders, and dinnerware completely from recycled glass. There is a platform where you can watch the workers create their items- I watched a beautiful elephant come to life from a blob of glowing gunk. Needless to say, there was plenty of money spent that day between my co-workers and me!!!

Also worth mentioning (to me, anyway) is the cafe on the top level of the factory where I happened to have the BEST quesadilla of my life. In Swazliand. Go figure. The cafe also had three peacocks strutting their stuff on the patio. I also have to mention the 'Appletiser' soft drink and my fervent wishes that it extends it's distribution into the U.S!! Other crafts we saw were woven baskets, beadwork and carved wood figurines. I picked up another nativity set for my rapidly expanding collection.

I don't know if I'll ever get a chance to return to this nice little country, but I hope so! And I will definitely plan a side trip to the Kruger National Park- one of the best game-viewing areas in Africa!!
To see all of my photos, click here:
I promise you don't have to have a facebook account to see these!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dublin and Malahide, Ireland

Early Fall weather is glorious in Ireland- at least this has been my experience. But the locals insist that it can change on a dime. I guess I tempted fate by forgetting my umbrella, but I got lucky. Four days of beautiful weather was exactly what I needed after a sweltering, oh-my-gosh-I'm-gonna-die-from-this-heat summer in DC!

I decided to start my week in Dublin with a visit to one of it's suburbs, Malahide. A 20 minute ride on the DART commuter train, Malahide might as well have been a village in the middle of the Dingle Peninsula. The train station is right next to the village, and signs tell you the way to both the village and Malahide Castle, which was my first destination. A 15 minute walk will get you to the castle itself, and the walk is enjoyable. Open to the public, the park consists of playing fields, picnic areas and a large playground. Because of the weather, families were out in droves and, though I had to dodge strollers and bikes, it was fun to watch them all enjoy themselves. I heard more than one parent say 'ok, then, we're walking can stay if you want, but we're leaving.....' Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.

I caught this family playing a game of 'Duck Duck Goose' in front of the castle and I couldn't resist taking a shot. I just love this photo! I wish I'd had the foresight to ask them for their email so I could send them the picture, but they packed up and left before I thought of it.

I made my way down to the village and to the harbor, stopping along the way at a Farmers Market to, of course, buy some jewelry. I thought about buying some soda bread, but I'm glad I didn't, as that was all the hotel served for their 'Continental Breakfast' for the next four days!

Another area I explored in the city itself was the Temple Bar District, which I didn't realize was NOT named because of it's numerous...well....bars! Sir William Temple built his house and gardens on the land in the 1600's and his son, Sir John (evidently an early land developer) built a new sea wall, acquired more land and developed the area into something similar to what is there now. 'Barr' back then meant a 'raised sandbank'- usually meant for walking on. (or so the nice plaque on the wall said...) Nevertheless, the area is lousy with pubs and late night clubs now. It's a little rough around the edges- not as polished or touristy as Grafton Street. But it was a great place to people watch and take photos! If I were 10 years younger, maybe it would have been a great place for some other activities, too....

I was also fortunate enough to get a chance to see the U.S. Ambassador's Residence, located in Phoenix Park. It is legendary in my office and I've heard so many things about it. I learned that Winston Churchill actually spent some childhood years there, too! The grounds are beautiful- and all the views include the park, which itself is quite impressive as the largest park in Europe.

A wonderful trip, indeed. For more photos, click here:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Coming Soon.....more Ireland, Mbabane, and Tegucigalpa!!!