Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Short Break

Well, I was going to show you the before and after photos of the room I painted, but almost immediately after I finished and before I got the room situated, we started our bathroom renovation and when they took out the toilet and needed a place to put it and the tools ... yeah.  Sigh.  Good news is that you'll get before/after photos of both projects!  The guys doing the bathroom are amazing.  The head guy goes to my church.  He escaped from Iran after hiding from the gov for 2 years for being involved in opposition activities. When he got here and needed some help he was afraid to go to the mosque.

Then one day he was at the local community center and a man started talking to him and asking him about his life.  Pretty soon he was telling the man his story and the man said, "why don't you come to my house for a meal and tell my family this story."  Turns out he had met our pastor.  Over time, their meals and fellowship became a solid foundation for a friendship and then ... one day ... he started asking about this "Jesus" the pastor kept talking about.

He became a Christian a few months later and was baptized.  His testimony was so AWESOME when he shared it at church.  He continues to walk with Jesus and grow in his faith.  Right now he is excited about the growth of Christianity in the underground churches in Iran.  He can't wait to go back as a missionary.

So ... on another note, I was in Baltimore this weekend.  My daughter and her friend attended Otakon 2012 dressed like this:

K & L dressed as characters from Portal.  End of the night waiting for the light rail.  They were tired pups!

K & L dressed as a character from Homestuck and Phineas & Ferb

While they played at the convention, I toured Balto (city of my birth) and geocached.  It was lovely having NO ONE demanding my attention!  Here are some photos of what I saw:

Bromoseltzer tower - now an artists' co-op.  Click on the photo to see the dial.

I just love tugboats.

Big Russian ships

Flag at Fort McHenry (you know -- Star Spangled Banner fame?)

Guns pointing out to where the British were anchored.

Oh say does that star spangled banner still wave
o'er the land of the free
and the home of the brave?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Collection from the Week

Just a few photos that capture one week in my life!

This is the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT.  When we dashed up to see my grandmother, we flew in and out of Hartford, so we seized the opportunity to see it.  No photos allowed inside, but suffice to say it was HIGHLY decorated in the style of its time.  Very few original Twain family pieces are there.  If you remember your Twain history, they had to leave Hartford because they were broke.  When people are broke, their belongings are sold off piecemeal, so most of the Twain stuff probably languishes in the homes of people who don't know the history of what they own!  Such is life.  The first of their 4 children was born here, and died at 18 months.  Later, their second child, Laura, died here at age 24 -- so they didn't really want to go back to the house anyway.

Sam (that's how they refer to him) did all of his writing in this house in the room on the upstairs left (obscured by trees, sorry).  There's a small desk in the billiard room that looks out upon where I was standing.  While in residence though, he was so disturbed by visitors, most of his writing of those years was done when they visited his wife's family in Elmira, NY.  There he had a studio where he could lock himself away and write.  

This photo is a reconstructed slave cabin on the property at Sully Plantation.  It's within a bike ride of my house, near Dulles Airport, so I went to it on Tuesday.  I don't think the slave cabin would have been this close to the main house, but it seems that all historic properties in Virginia have to display one in order to get school kids to visit.  I'm not sure why they saved this site.  There are so many in Virginia that are beautiful, specifically connected with someone famous (Geo Washington, Jefferson, Madison, etc.).  This one pales in significance and even looks.  Here's what our county parks & rec site says of it: 

  An oasis of the past, Sully reflects the history of Fairfax County. Completed in 1799 by Richard Bland Lee, the main house at Sully combines aspects of Georgian and Federal architecture. Richard Bland Lee was Northern Virginia's first Representative to Congress, as well as General Robert E. Lee's uncle.  It took an act of Congress and President Eisenhower's signature to save Sully Historic Site from the Dulles Airport project demolition in 1959. Today, the story of Sully, from its "new nation" roots to its permanent place in history is being preserved through a new, interactive exhibit that was three years in the making.

 I didn't take a photo of the main house because they're working on it right now and it looks pretty terrible.

And finally, at the end of Wednesday's ride, ten feet from the path where I was riding, the real movers and shakers behind the business that's done in our area.  They are responsible for helping the medical industry flourish as they carry the ticks that carry Lyme.

And I'm continuing my painting of our upstairs guest room today, so next time there will be some before and after photos.

That's all for now!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rethinking the Library

One of the venerable New York Public Library lions
A couple of years back our county was struggling (like all others) with trying to do the same number of things (or more) with less money.  Tax revenues were down, federal and state allocations were down, and the cost of services to the residents was up.  Despite the library representing less than 1% of the entire county budget (schools get 54%), the library and parks & recreation were hit disproportionately.  This led to some interesting conversations and interesting accommodations.

I was on the board of directors for the Friends of our local branch at the time and one of our main arguments in favor of fully funding the libraries (an argument led by the Library administration) was that libraries provide a great meeting place for people to read, visit, learn, etc.

Since that time I have finished my service to the board and started thinking about why the arguments in favor of saving libraries seem to go unheard.  It isn't simply a matter of priorities.  Everyone thinks literacy is a good idea and reading books is the way to gain a foothold in the American dream.

However, I think the libraries (across the country) have shot themselves in the bookshelf.  Instead of focusing on what the libraries provide -- that NO OTHER AGENCY provides -- the libraries tried to diversify.  As if the mission of providing reading materials for free to the community wasn't enough of a mission!  Libraries marketed themselves as meeting places, concert halls, art galleries and museums and minimized their main mission.  But there are many places in each community that can provide those other activities and venues.  ONLY the library provides access to books.  Even competing with the schools over early literacy access might have been a mistake.  In fact, in our county, the school libraries and county libraries only began to talk to each other about working together in the last couple of years.  And why?  Because there are limited available funds and they are both suffering the same problem -- what is the mission of the library and how can we make people care about it?  My kids report that at their high school, no one actually checks out books at the library -- they just use the area to study.  And by the way -- it isn't even CALLED a library anymore. It's a "media center."

Now we are moving away from bricks and mortar library buildings and into digital books.  The writing is on the (ahem) ether that physical library locations will be less and less important.  Our local branch is a regional library and thus has LOTS of room.  It is also next door to the mental health clinic/homeless shelter and across the street from the county municipal center for our area.  That means people with a LOT of time on their hands (i.e. homeless and mentally ill) spend the majority of their day inside the library building.  This has led to fewer and fewer people of means wanting to go into the building and stay for any length of time, much less take their children for programs.  Statistics show the libraries are busy, but very little of the business involves using books.  People come in for English classes, to use the public access computers, to use the meeting rooms, and to get cool/warm depending on the season.

As digital books flourish, publishers will find it less and less cost effective to print physical books.  I predict that in 20 years, the vast majority of libraries will no longer need all their space for physical books.  If I were in the administration end of the library business, I'd be crunching numbers to figure out how I could pour all my money into support of the digital media hunger that is out there.  I'd be taking a hard look at staff as well.  In our county a lot of jobs that we used to pay staff members for are now done by volunteers (shelving, processing books in and out, etc.)  The paid staff may end up coming down to just a few people who are trained to use the many databases for research.  And at some point, people will be able to access a "personal researcher" via the internet from home -- and will not have to go to the library at all.

It breaks my heart to say this out loud.  I grew up in libraries and raised my kids in them.  However, since we got Kindles, we only go there about once every couple of months.  My kids' kids probably won't even do that.  I don't see libraries disappearing entirely, but cutting way back on physical space and need for staff? Yep.

My friends who live outside the Washington DC area always tell me that we don't really understand what's going on in the rest of the country.  Is what we're experiencing here unique?  What do you think?  Is it twilight for our libraries?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

No Great Choices

Ha - you thought I was going to talk about the election, right?  Nope, I'm going to talk about what we did this weekend.

We flew up to Hartford, CT and then drove to a little town called Agawam (a suburb of Springfield, MA).  That's where my 96 year old grandmother lives.  Born in Iowa, spent most of her life in east Texas, she moved to Agawam to a very nice senior community about fifteen years ago.  Until last summer, she was doing fine living there but then she fell.  Climbing your way back to "good health" at her age is daunting and the senior community requires its residents to be very self-sufficient.  Because she requires "skilled care", she had to move to a different facility. Although she has recovered very well from the fall, can't go back there due to the "skilled care" designation (i.e. someone has to adjust her cervical collar and administer pain patches!).  In the old place, she had an apartment with her own things. Now she shares a room separated by a curtain. She is in remarkably good shape for her age, but she is bored, bored, bored. She still has her wit, and when I asked if she wanted to play bingo with the other residents she said, "there are worse things than being bored."  You can tell looking at her photo that she still takes great pride in her appearance!

So here's the lack of great choices.  She can't live in my uncle's home (he lives nearby) as she can't do stairs. The time to have made the adaptations was fifteen years ago but she refused to live with anyone.  Now she has outlived her money, which is another reason she can't go back.  Massachusetts is a socialized medicine state, so she had to spend all her money before she qualified for financial help, but now there are very few places for her to stay.  If my uncle and dad (or us) help her financially, she is no longer qualified to stay where she is, but there isn't any place nicer she can go due to her "needs:.  It really sucks.

We could tell she was depressed, but just making the best of a bad situation.  I'm hoping that when my dad comes through here on the way to visit I can give him an easy (big button) CD player so she can listen to books on CD.  Her eyes aren't good enough to read for any length of time anymore.  She's not interested in computers either.  Sigh.

Did I mention it sucks?

Lois with her great-grandchildren

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Old Dog Learning New Tricks

I know I said we wouldn't host an exchange student again any time soon, and I'm sticking with that.  However, I agreed to be a liaison for one of the girls who is coming to live with another family in my area.  They will be on vacation when she arrives, so she will stay with us for 10 days before they return.  Two days after that I'll take my daughter to college.  Now my dad wants to visit with some overlap of the Danish girl and him ... it's really not a great idea but how do I tell a 79 year old man who only comes to visit once a year that his timing really stinks?

(By the way, don't worry.  He totally rejects computers so he'll never see this!).  He will be 80 in August and he drives (yes in a small car) from El Paso, Texas to my house each August.  Did you realize I live outside Washington, DC?  Yes, he DRIVES the nearly 2000 miles!  Then he "relaxes" here before he drives up to Massachusetts to visit his 96 year old mother, and then retraces the route.  Not only does he reject the computer but airplanes, trains, and going over 55 mph.  I apologize in advance if during your vacation this August you get stuck behind him for any length of time.

At any rate, we can't teach that old dog new tricks, but I'm learning some.  As part of being certified as a liaison for the students, I've had to take some on-line training and it has been surprisingly good.  Despite being an attorney, I'm not very good at managing conflict, so the lessons in that section were really good.  One of the techniques they advocate is:

Invite -- invite the person to discuss the problem, assuring him or her that you will listen to their point of view
Listen -- listen to their point of view without comment
Share -- share how the situation makes you feel
Collaborate -- work together to find a solution

Now if I can only remember that the next time I'm irked with one of my family members.

How do you resolve conflict?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hot. Just Darn Hot.

I joined up with Map My Ride+ as they celebrate the Tour de France with their own Tour de Fat.  I committed to ride 100 miles during the days of the Tour de France.  The next break up was 500 and I knew that was a little bit unrealistic given our schedule and that it's JULY.

I rode this morning.  When I left it was 87 and when I returned an hour later, it was 91 and its been going up since then.  But of course, everyone tells me today is a "cool" day.  Everyone who's not riding a bike in it!  It took me a full hour to cool down before getting ready for church.  Fortunately, our church had power this week though.

We had an interesting testimony from a Pastor who serves in India.  He was born there into a Muslim family and rejected any notion of Jesus being the son of God.  But he had a dream one night about the clouds opening up and he saw Jesus with his angels ascending and descending around him.  The dream bothered him for days so in an unconscious state he searched out and opened a Bible that an evangelist had forced on him years before.  He'd just thrown it into a box in his house and ignored it.  He flipped it open, and in front of him was John 1:51:

And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,[a] you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

Once he knew that scripture backed up his dream, he was convinced that Jesus was indeed the son of God and he sought out a Christian church and pastor to help him understand what that meant.  Then, 6 months later he surrendered his life to Jesus.

The consequences were that his very devout Muslim family beat him and threw him out.  To them, he is dead.

Later he believed God was calling him to be a pastor, but because pastors in India don't have very nice lives (financially), he said, "No God, I don't want to do that."  He then became seriously ill, and was even wandering the streets, homeless.  Finally he went back to the pastor who had helped him understand Jesus, and said, "Okay, I give.  What do I do now?"

He was healed immediately of his illness, and God began blessing him with the resources to go to Bible college.

There have been other persecutions, but these were the high points.  He comes to the US every other year so he can ask for support for the mission he has in India to church plant.  He notes that he also has four daughters now and needs to either provide a good education for them, or a good dowry!

Have a great Sunday!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Got Power?

Our area was one of those hit by the "derecho" on Friday night.  It was completely unexpected.  We had gone to bed but were not asleep yet when the noise of the wind just freaked me out.  I got the kids and the bird and we went down one floor -- just in case.  Hubs was braver and stayed put.  Our power went out very quickly (as it does in every storm).  And we were powerless until about 4:20pm on Sunday.

Well, not exactly powerless.  Our church showed this sign on Sunday morning:

We worshiped "African Style" -- where there's no electricity, no running water (our church is on a well which requires electricity), and everyone sweats a lot.  The pastor reassured us that it would NOT be an African service in one aspect -- we wouldn't go 4 or 5 hours.  My husband went on a mission trip to Kenya years ago and the entire team was struck by a) how far the Kenyans walked to come to a service, b) how nicely they dressed in that murderous heat, and c) how long they stayed to fellowship together.

I confess that by Sunday afternoon I had lost my sense of humor about it and was just tired of being hot and inconvenienced.  What a first world problem though!  When we found a place that had wi-fi (the Starbucks and Paneras were P.A.C.K.E.D. and the library was closed due to lack of power) and a place to plug in (Thanks, Noodles Plus), we recharged our phones and computers and then ... checked the power company map to see who had power because we sure didn't.  What was that about?  Did it make any difference to speculate that the power company liked our neighbors down the road more than us?  Then we looked at the weather.  Du-uh.  It was already 97 degrees -- did we not FEEL that by stepping outside?  When I found myself moving to Facebook I realized I really did NOT need the computer. I did recharge my phone so I could download Kindle books, and then recharged my Kindle so I could read.

Then we went home to wait to see if the 48 hour (throw everything in the fridge/freezer away) point arrived before relief.  Glad to say we snuck in under 48 hours.  Still, everything in the fridge that had any kind of protein in it went out, and a couple of things in the freezer, but mostly, everything stayed cold/frozen.

What did we learn?  Something that applies to all of us -- be prepared.  Have several jugs of fresh water stored.  Stock up on batteries.  If anyone in your home needs a particular piece of medical equipment, get a small generator.  And keep your freezer full.  A full one is good for 48 hours -- less than full only gives you 24.  Weather patterns are changing and events are more dramatic -- we were lucky this weekend because we could still get out and about to recharge.  Two winters ago when we couldn't, the lack of power became a bigger issue.

Finally, I posted this on Facebook, but it bears repeating.  Two hundred and forty-five years ago, Philadelphia experienced one of the most severe scorchers in memory. Anyone who could, got out of town. Yet, without air conditioning, without indoor running water, and wearing many layers of 18th century clothes, 60 brave men negotiated, argued, threatened and cajoled, until 56 were willing to place their signatures on a document that changed history. If they could persevere in the face of the heat and real danger, I can go without Facebook and other conveniences. Happy 4th!