Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ms. B

Posted in Family, Friends & Other Travelers, Generalities, Home at 11:29 pm by graceandpoise

I was still in middle school when my older brother started coming home raving about all the great things he was learning in his new Humanities class from “Helen and Bob.”  My brother, an extraordinarily smart young man in whose mind very little was deemed comment-worthy, was thoroughly enamored.  I, looking up to him as I did (though I’d have denied it to my last breath back then), couldn’t wait until I got to high school and could take Helen and Bob’s Humanities class.  I had no idea what “Humanities” referred to, but I knew I wanted to take the class.

I was fortunate enough to have Helen – or Ms. B (I never was quite as forward as my brother) – as my English teacher in addition to taking the Humanities class she team-taught with Bob.  She was known for pushing her students hard, making them do a little more, a little faster, and a little better than they thought they could.  Her special mix of tough, comical, intense, wistful, wise, and hard-driving made her one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.  The addition of an undeniable and genuine enthrallment with the art, poetry, or literature she was teaching made her my favorite teacher ever.  And I’m definitely not alone.

I owe Ms. B a lot of things.  I am still known, on occasion, to tell people “you don’t need to have a point to have a point” (this befuddles them every time).  During my junior year of college, studying abroad in Paris and having gotten my hands on a year-long pass to the Louvre, I would sit at the feet of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, writing letters to my mom or my friends, looking up from time to time to study the statue, echoing Ms. B’s “ahhhh.”  She and Bob are the reasons the names Khufu, Khafre, and Menkure pop into my head every time I see a photo of Egypt’s pyramids.  Ditto with Ur, Uruk, and Lagash, whenever someone mentions certain parts of Iraq (happens more often than you might think).  Many a museum visit has been made exponentially more meaningful because of that Humanities class, from seeing the Stele of the Law Code of Hammurabi to gazing at the frescoes by Giotto in Florence’s Santa Croce, Vermeer‘s scenes of Dutch domesticity, Degas‘ dancers, or Georges de la Tour’s exquisitely wrought candlelight.  She’s the reason I know what a “Pre-Raphaelite” is, and why I have a special fondness for this painting.  Ms. B is the reason I have never, ever, written the word “alot” (until now, and she’d probably still try to have my head for calling it a word).  She’s also probably a large part of the reason that I have been so successful with my writing in my current job; her standards were high, and so mine are too.  She’s the reason I still tell myself and others, “Say it three times and it’s yours.”  And she’s the reason that, after all these years, I not only went out of my way last month to visit Canterbury Cathedral, but annoyed my companions by reciting the entire “General Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales, in the original Middle English.

Ms. B is retiring this year.  It’s a great loss to the students who haven’t had the chance to experience that special thing that is a class of Helen’s, but she has made a profound and positive difference in more people’s lives than most of us can hope to make in multiple lifetimes.  There is a retirement party this week, and you can bet if I weren’t three timezones away and not independently wealthy, I’d make darned sure I was there to show my appreciation.  As it is, I can only say from afar, “Happy retirement, Ms. B., and my door – wherever it may happen to be located – will always be open should you get bit by the travel bug.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

What I Neglected, Part I: Germany

Posted in Friends & Other Travelers, Travels at 5:42 pm by graceandpoise

So as I’ve alluded to before (and as two people have since asked me about – hi Mom and Hubby!), I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging while I was traveling from India to home and during my weeks of Home Leave.  So, to make up for it, I’m going back in time a little.  First up: Deutschland.

We stopped by Germany on our way back from India for two reasons: that’s a long fricking set of flights, and one of my best friends lives there.  She’s a psych nurse, and she’s been living near Ramstein Air Force Base since the end of 2008, helping to triage the guys coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  And she has a little daughter who I’d never met before.  We had a fabulous time…

. . . go-kart-ing . . .

. . . wandering . . .

. . . watching sunsets while eating . . .

. . . wandering . . .

. . . celebrating May Day . . .

. . . wandering . . .

. . . talking and playing . . .

. . . and wandering.

S. Rael:  Thank you.  So much.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year at Home, now Back in India

Posted in Family, Foreign Service Life, Friends & Other Travelers, Home at 8:14 pm by graceandpoise

I rang in the new year together with my wonderful momma, a bottle (and a half) of moscato d’asti, and a couple of sleeping animals.  It was a pretty quiet new year’s gathering, as you might imagine, but I had bags to pack and had been running all over until then trying to accomplish everything on my always-too-long list of things to do.  I had a great time at home, though, even if it was pretty busy, and I’m glad I took the time and spent the money to go (just wish I’d been able to spend just a little more time there).

I keep telling people about my great long list of things I want to do, people I want to see, places I want to go, foods I want to eat, etc, etc…  There’s always a long list every time I go home, and it only grows if I’m coming from someplace where I can’t get a lot of stuff.  Allow me to share a short sample of some of that list from this trip…

  • Hang out with the mom – check!
  • Get a few last-minute Christmas presents for family – check!
  • Eat steak – check!
  • Visit my brother and his girlfriend – check!
  • Eat Mexican food – check!
  • Shop for shoes – check (but still didn’t manage to finish the list of needed replacements for worn-out pairs)
  • Buy some additional Christmas presents for the hubby (his “big” gift this yr came from India) – check!
  • Visit with J & S (and F); R & J-P; E (and K and P); L & K & M – check (except for F, who I’ll have to make a point of visiting next time); not-check; check; check!
  • Eat some of my favorite homemade, mom-cooked meals – check (though the list on this one is virtually never-ending)
  • Spend some major snuggle-time with my cat – check!
  • Go to La Conner and spend some time exploring the shops, and maybe find that beautiful wooden box I’ve been looking for – not-check (next time I’m home, maybe)
  • Pick up some Beecher’s cheese to bring back with me – check!
  • Get my hair cut – check!
  • Eat some Ezell’s fried chicken and yummy rolls – check!
  • Clean out all the unnecessary stuff (old clothes I’d kept around for painting and such, old papers, mementos of this and that…) from my room chez mom – not-check (top of my list for next time, though)
  • Buy some beef jerky from B&E Meats to bring back with me – check!
  • Go to the Pike Place Market – check!
  • Go to the eye doctor – check!
  • Eat lots of crispy, crunchy, non-dangerous fresh vegetables – check (though I could always have done better on this)
  • Visit some of my favorite places in/around Seattle – check (mostly)
  • Drink some good wine – check, check, check!

So after the enjoyable low-key new year’s night, and long day-or-three of travel starting the next morning, I’m back in India.  Had one of those rather ridiculous “welcome to India” moments before even getting off the plane, when the cockpit was unable for the longest time to get any response from the airport authorities about where to park the plane, meaning we spent about 45 minutes on the tarmac just sitting there after landing.  Luggage was also slow in coming, so I didn’t get home until about 4-ish in the morning.  All this is to say, I’m now crazy-tired.  It’s only just 8 pm, and I’d like nothing more than to be snuggled into bed right now.  Mmmm, bed.  G’night, all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Still Alive…

Posted in Family, Foreign Service Life, Friends & Other Travelers, Home, India at 3:13 pm by graceandpoise

Yeah, I know, it’s been a very long time since I wrote anything here.  Been having a hard time with a couple of things, which I won’t go into here any more than to say that I’m pretty sure my toothpick was broken and/or faulty.  But there are some updates…

My husband’s parents have been here for the past 3 weeks, and we’ve been having a good time showing them just how different Mumbai is from what they thought they knew of India.  They came together with his sister and spent some time in Mumbai with us, we all had Thanksgiving together, then they headed off to Calcutta to visit some extended family.  After that, the sister flew back to the States and the parents came back to Mumbai for a few days, then we sent them off to the middle of the state of Maharashtra to see the Ajanta and Ellora caves (which they LOVED, as did we when we went).  They’ve been in Mumbai again for the past couple of days, and are taking off tonight.  It’s been fun having them around, going shopping and driving the guys crazy with it, and showing them some things about the country of their birth that they may not have seen before.  Also: my husband has been super-thrilled to see his parents after so long apart from them.  Thrilled husbands are a nice thing to have around.

On the horizon:  I’m going HOME for Christmas!  I’m really, really looking forward to it.  I’ve been needing a good dose of the Pacific Northwest for a while now.  I’ll get to hang out with some long-time friends, and even meet the 1-yr-old daughter of one of them for the very first time, see my cat and my mom’s neurotic-but-sweet dog, and generally relax.  I’ll also probably be wrapped in about six layers of fleece, heavy sweaters, blankets, comforters, and probably some hats – I’m afraid living so long in Bombay has made me weak and I’ll be one of “those” people who come from hot places and are constantly complaining they’re cold!  🙂  Should be a sight to see.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Weekend

Posted in Foreign Service Life, Friends & Other Travelers, India at 7:08 pm by graceandpoise

We had a couple of friends come down for a visit this past weekend, and we had a great time.  They’re living in New Delhi right now, one working at the embassy, and one telecommuting to a part-time version of an old job in DC (I’ve become a serious fan of telecommuting, by the way).  It was really good to get together with some friends we don’t get to see that often, but that we really care about and connect well with.  When they emailed to say they were coming to Mumbai and wanted a recommendation for a place to stay, we laughed and insisted they stay with us.  I mean, seriously, if we’re going to go to all the work of making a guest-room presentable, we may as well have guests every now and then, right?

The day they arrived (Good Friday), we wandered down through one of the areas of town that has historically been inhabited by Catholics.  Technically, all of Bandra falls into that category, but it’s in the southernmost part of the area that this is still noticeably true.  On top of a hill there is Mount Mary Church – we tried to go in and catch a bit of the Good Friday services, but the place was truly jam-packed, with people spilling out of every door.  I guess the super-populated aspect of India is not limited to certain groups.  We never even made it into the church, getting stuck about 10 layers of people back from the actual doorway.  Between the number of people and the oppressive heat, we ended up walking just a short while longer before catching a rickshaw and retreating to our apartment.

It turns out this was the theme of the weekend.  On Saturday, our friends had an event to go to that was being hosted by an acquaintance of theirs from Delhi, so the husband and I stayed behind. I didn’t leave the house at all until early evening, when we went down to south Bombay to meet up with our friends when their event was finished.  We hung out with them for a few hours, showed them the refurbished stairwell/dome area of the Taj Mahal Hotel, had a casual dinner at Leopold’s Cafe, and returned home to the air conditioning.

On Easter Sunday, our friends got an early start and headed south to Malabar Hill for a bit of sightseeing and then met up with us for an air-conditioned – and very yummy – brunch.  There was some talk early on about trying to go to a church, but after Friday’s experience, we admitted defeat.  The plan after brunch had been to go from there to wander around some of the old parts of South Bombay, but again the heat overcame all of us and we retreated to the apartment.  We did manage to brave the outdoors long enough to get us and them some boxes of mangoes, though.

Now we’re back to work, and waiting for those mangoes to ripen.  I wish I knew where to get some good sticky-rice so I could do the mango and sticky-rice and coconut milk thing.  While sitting somewhere air-conditioned, of course.  Mmmmm.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Yearly Update

Posted in Diversions, Family, Friends & Other Travelers at 2:30 pm by graceandpoise

Being where we are, with the mail system we have here, holiday cards have been coming late.  So January becomes the month of receiving cards from everyone.  I have to say, this is actually (unexpectedly) kind of nice, because that way the festive feeling gets extended a little while beyond when it usually ends.

Here’s the thing about Christmas/Holiday/Happy New Year cards. They’re not your grandmother’s Christmas cards.

Back in the day, it was a simple card that was bought at the store, and on the inside it said something like “best wishes” and was signed by the people who sent it. If you were lucky, it might have a 3-line personal note in it.

When everyone started having computers in their house that would print on normal, single-sheet paper, everyone started writing the “Christmas letter”, a lengthy, sometimes-boring discussion of what happened in that person’s life over the past year. They were usually printed on fancy paper with poinsettias or something, and were informative, but not something you really wanted to keep lying around.

Now, it’s the best of all worlds. People (so far mostly those with young kids, but I’m expecting this trend to expand) send a card that is a single piece of cardstock, with all kinds of photos on it. You get to see Friend A’s pregnant belly, and how tall Friend B’s 2-year-old has gotten, and what Friend C’s new house looks like. Also: because they’re just one flat piece and thus pretty easy-to-handle, you also have the option of posting them up on your fridge or your cubicle wall. This is what I’ve done for the past couple of years, and that way I get to have pictures of some of my best friends to look at all year long at work (or until the next pictures come).

Admittedly, my husband and I are a little behind the times, but then again, we don’t have an adorable infant to show off (and a photo of us outside our current home would be, um, not very pretty). This year, we sent cards with something that’s more in the “letter” format – but then again, lots has happened this year, and we did include a small picture of ourselves sitting on a cannon for everyone to laugh at.

Next year, though, maybe we’ll have to do the photo thing – it’s just too cool not to.  Maybe we’ll do a “year in review” photo-style — starting, perhaps, with a photo of me and my husband at an upcoming inaugural ball.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Posted in Family, Foreign Service Life, Friends & Other Travelers, Korea, Travels at 8:35 pm by graceandpoise

Today was my last day of work in Seoul. I leave behind some fabulous colleagues, surely some of the best in the world. Many of them have become close personal friends, and I will be sad to part company with them. At the same time, I am going on to a whole new place, with new adventures, and best of all I get to do it together with the man I love. And what could be better than that?

Farewell party - cake cutting

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Colleague’s Wedding

Posted in Friends & Other Travelers, Korea at 11:37 pm by graceandpoise

Last weekend I went to my first Korean wedding.  It’s a modern Korean wedding, so not nearly so much bowing and ceremonial stuff that I wouldn’t understand without a narrator.  Also no traditional clothing – at least not for the bride and groom.  Well, traditional clothing was involved, but not until after the ceremony and the photos.  The wedding was in a pretty large church, and she wore a beautiful white dress that had a long train and was all beaded and glittery, along with a veil that also followed the beaded and glittery theme.  She looked gorgeous, and both of them seemed so happy.  I felt so privileged to have been invited to be a part of her special day, and I wish them all the best.  A couple of photos for your enjoyment:

The couple with family

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Posted in Diversions, Foreign Service Life, Friends & Other Travelers, Travels at 10:14 pm by graceandpoise

Korea is kind enough to have a great big, 3-day holiday that abuts a weekend.  They call it Chusok, and it’s traditionally the time when Koreans get together with extended family, honor ancestors, play traditional games, etc.  These days, however, it’s the time when Seoul empties and (seemingly) the majority of the country leaves to travel elsewhere.  This year, I joined the travelers, heading down to Vietnam to visit my friend Barbara.

I had a great time.  I had been told to expect a “third world” sort of environment, but I found Ho Chi Minh City to be significantly more developed than that.  People there are excited about the future, and I was told many times that there have been projections from a variety of sources that Vietnam will become one of the top 15 or 20 tourist destinations in the world in the next 10 years or so.  Venturing outside of the big city, I’m not so sure about that, but it was definitely an enjoyable trip.  A few photos . . .

Inside the main HCMC post office

With Barbara on her rooftop

HCMC at Night

Wedding with propaganda backdrop

House along the Mekong

Mekong Commute

Thanks, Barbara, for being such a great hostess!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why I’ve been silent…

Posted in Family, Friends & Other Travelers, Generalities, Home tagged at 9:18 pm by graceandpoise

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve not written anything here for quite a while. Many of you probably know the reasons why, or you may have guessed by the change in my location for a few weeks as listed near the top of this page, but for those of you who’ve still been scratching your heads, here’s why (photos by April):

Wedding Photo 1

wedding photo 2

Wedding photo 3

September 1st was the big day, and we truly had a blast. My only regret: I really wish there had been more time to party at the reception, and to have some real, more in-depth conversations with some of the people who came.

If you happen to be reading this and were among those present that day, thank you so much for coming, and I know I speak for both of us (and surely our families as well) when I say we were incredibly happy to be able to see you and to have you share in our celebration that day. It really means a lot to us.

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