Election Day 2012!

My freshman year of college was spent in DC during the infamous 2000 election between Bush and Gore. With its location inside the city limits of DC, my university attracts large numbers of politically-savvy/-interested/-involved students every year. Brand-new friends were signing up immediately to assist on whichever campaign they could, skipping class for the possibility to meet former, current, and hopeful future politicians. One good friend racked up so many pictures with famous people in that one semester, it was mind-boggling.

Except yours truly. As a politically unsavvy person, I quickly learned the term “independent” as the appropriate response to questions inquiring after my party affiliation and/or choice of candidate. And that is how I prefer to classify myself to this day.

That said, I am not undecided. The first time I heard a pundit declare my current home state, the grand state of Virginia, was considered a battleground this election year, I moaned. I groaned. Visions of annoying political ads overwhelming the airwaves, the streets, the newspapers, our mail, our caller ID – everything essentially – danced through my head. Perhaps I was too young or naive to accurately remember their abundance in Texas but all I can say is the broadcast stations for Northern Virginia, both radio and TV, must be experiencing record-breaking quarterly results this year. (My sympathies to those in DC and Maryland for having to endure the barrage along with us.)

Then last week I saw how tight the race actually is between Obama and Romney in the state of Virginia. IT’S A DEAD HEAT. Not a 3 to 4 percentage point margin of error dead heat. A less than 1% difference dead heat. The impact of my one vote has grown exponentially. I was never not going to vote. It is my civic duty to vote.  But this time, this election cycle, I am excited to vote! Excited to live in such a landmark state. Who knows, perhaps Virginia will be the Florida of 2012 and my vote will be counted by hand. Oooh, the possibilities!

So to all, especially my fellow Virginians, I say – get out and vote on Tuesday!

Tess, the Lioness

Lioness Pride Guide to Hurricane Preparation

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As a Houston native, hurricanes and tropical storms are not uncommon natural occurrences. Perhaps fewer than you might expect but I doubt there was a school year that went by where we did not have at least one flood day. As a family or individually, the Lioness clan has lived through some notable storms: 1983’s Hurricane Alicia (I lost my hurricane virginity at the wee age of 1!); 2001’s Tropical Storm Allison (which saw the first ever mobile army surgical hospital, or MASH, set up in non-war conditions due to its devastating impact on the world-class Texas Medical Center); 2005’s Hurricane Rita (and heavily impacted by the infamous Hurricane Katrina); and 2008’s Hurricane Ike (first time the Lioness Clan had to evacuate Houston temporarily because of sustained power outages). Suffice it to say, we have some massive storm experience under our belt and below is how we chose to prepare for the latest storm to enter the history books, Sandy.

Go Shopping & Buy Bran Flakes, Lots & Lots of Bran Flakes: The news and government agencies will advise to make sure you have an ample supply of bottled water, batteries, flashlights, and nonperishable food. People like to add toilet paper to that mix. For Sandy, jars of nuts, apple sauce, and canned tomato soup were very popular. We went with bran flakes. And milk. But mostly bran flakes. Why you might ask. No real reason except it’s the cereal we can all agree upon. However the bran flakes were in my sister’s shopping cart. Here is what was in mine – clearly my priorities were in better order, no?:

Staples for any major storm: Wine, pie, Chex Mix, & a puzzle book

Take a Road Trip!: The last full day before the storm hits is the perfect day to take a day trip to a popular tourist location.  In our case, we chose to visit the Eisenhower farm in Gettysburg, PA to celebrate Mumsy’s birthday the following day. The farm is run by the National Park Service and with no parking lot at the site, we had to take a shuttle from the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center – all of this is to say that while you may think that the Eisenhower farm would be quiet on any day you visit, both the Gettysburg Visitor Center and farm were ghost towns (rimshot?). Perfect for getting one-on-one attention from the rangers and thus the chance to ask the really obscure questions. In summary, while everyone else finishes their last-minute preparations, get out and enjoy yourself!

Ike would drive around visiting dignitaries in a surrey with a fringe on the top!

Use Your Cat as the Family Barometer: Animals are known to have a sixth sense about the weather. Change in barometric pressure means change in the weather and thus change in Mopsy’s behavior. Usually it means she goes into deep, deep hiding. Except when of course the storm with the lowest barometric pressure ever happens to roll through town. Then Mopsy will simply curl up on the bed and sleep the day away. “Oh! Was that a massive wind gust? No biggie – I’ll simply return to my daily nap.”

Why did you wake me?

Not sure what all the fuss is. . . zzzzzzzzzz. . .

Plan for the Appropriate Activities During the Storm: You could watch TV. But if it’s a network station, every spare moment will be devoted to either the storm’s approach, the storm’s arrival, and the storm’s departure/damage. You only take the newscasters, meteorologists, and on-the-scene reporters saying pretty much the same thing over and over so many times. The rest of daytime TV is not that great. You might catch a well-remembered episode of 90210 or Dawson’s Creek but chances are slim. Plus if the storm is that bad, continuous TV watching is far from guaranteed. With hours of unscheduled time looming, the Lioness Clan will take to bed and begin the following cycle: read, sleep, read, venture out for food and drink, read, sleep. So on and so forth. (For this storm, we never lost power so I worked during all daylight hours. Not as fun.)

That about wraps up how the Lioness Clan prepared and tackled Hurricane Sandy. We are quite thankful that we never lost power (thank you buried power lines), experienced no flooding (thank you well-developed drainage system & location on a hill), and never saw a leak (thank you well-built newer house).

We did our best to look after the Peaceful Kingdom (including the raccoons – do not get me started!) and they all made it through in one piece.

Watching the images from the aftermath in NYC and NJ today took my breath away. From the mini-Niagara Falls at the World Trade Center, to the 30+ ambulances lined up around the block at NYU Hospital, to the images of a dark lower Manhattan, water gushing in the NJ and NYC subway systems, historic piers being blown to bits… Yowza.

Thoughts to all affected by Sandy!

Tess, the Lioness

A Spontaneous Photowalk – Arlington National Cemetery

Saturday morning did not start off well. I was late to bed on Friday night (but it was well worth staying out for the full Honor by August concert) and for a couple of different reasons, late getting on the road for that morning’s 3-hour Segway tour around DC with some friends from the Junior League. With two instances of traffic delays (one due to a broken-down car and another because of lane closures), I drove with the constant fear I would miss the tour and from there, frustration at the living in the ‘burbs.

But the joy of whipping around on a Segway on a fantastic fall morning overrode any personality issues that might pop up from the combination of lack of sleep, no coffee, and no breakfast – usually the mood-killing trifecta. And thanks to rock star parking, my slightly late arrival allowed the tour manager to grant us a “private” tour. Score!

Besides a bottle of water and some dried green beans from TJ’s at the MLK Memorial, food & coffee didn’t hit my system until almost 2 pm. Eggs benedict and coffee never tasted so good. Afterwards I touched base with Mumsy & my sister who declared they were off to a movie and as I crossed the Memorial Bridge to head home, the afternoon sun glinted off the golden statues of the bridge and shone down on General Lee’s former home in Arlington National Cemetery. Visions of colorful fall foliage combined with the serene beauty of the cemetery came to mind and knowing no one would be home for a couple of hours, I drove straight over the bridge, through the traffic circle, and to the cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery did not disappoint. I had grabbed a proper camera for the Segway tour that morning but failed to make sure the battery was charged the night before. So equipped with just the camera on my phone (almost published this with “the phone on my camera” – haha! – it feels that way sometimes!), I present you to my spontaneous, first-ever photowalk:

View from the top of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial with the memorial’s 15th anniversary ceremony concluding below

“From the storm-lashed decks of the Mayflower… to the present hour, woman has stood like a rock for the welfare & the glory of the history of the country, and one might well add… unwritten, unrewarded, and almost unrecognized.” Clara Barton, 1911

The red tree in the distance

Carpet of red leaves

View out to the Capitol (with phone’s vignette effect)

View of the bastions of the Mall (and that morning’s Segway tour) from the cemetery – Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Capitol

General Robert E. Lee’s former home in the late afternoon sun

McClellan Avenue in Section 9

Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers – Moments before the final wreath-laying of the day

Memorial Amphitheater

Inner dome of Memorial Amphitheater

Memorial Amphitheater

Roosevelt Avenue in Section 9 (and with this photo, my phone’s battery called it quits)

Nothing extraordinary I know (perhaps a photography class is in my near future?!) but a photowalk was a great way to wander the cemetery as a lone lioness. And for the ladies who thought they had to wear heeled boots to look good for their male companions, oh honeys. I hope those men rewarded you well afterwards for trekking up and down those hills. My feet ached for yours.

Tess, the Lioness

Helloooo Fall

The challenge each fall (and spring) is to craft a weekend full of quintessential seasonally-appropriate activities on days with the most beautiful weather possible – a way to celebrate the departure of the burdensome season past and to stock up goodwill for the one to come. Shake off the oppression of the heat & humidity filled summer and bask in the sunlight before the grey doldrums of winter. Capital Weather Gang declared last weekend would be that weekend for fall 2012 weather-wise and for fall foliage viewing but I formally disagree as this weekend has been ideal.

A quick rundown: Unexpected three-day weekend – Friday morning movie matinee with Mumsy – finding the perfect pair of tan suede boots 50% off on an already marked down price – Friday night concert of a fantastic local band with friends – 3-hr “private” Segway tour (for once a slightly late arrival worked to our advantage!) on a crisp fall Saturday morning (yes, we were those people and we loved every minute!) – a late and lazy outdoor brunch – beautiful last-minute photowalk through Arlington National Cemetery – college football team wins by 1 point, overcoming a 12-point deficit going into the 4th quarter – cozying up in bed with a great book – smell of freshly baked pumpkin cinnamon rolls on Sunday morning.

Seriously y’all. I could not have planned a better fall weekend if I had the chance to plan this out weeks in advance (all in the city at least, thus ruling out the chance for apple/pumpkin picking or haunted houses/tours) – perfect balance between scheduled & free time, time with friends and with oneself, embracing the great outdoors and enjoying indoor creature comforts. And I took photos galore! Let’s start the show with the shots from my Instagram account…

Honor by August rockin’ out at Jammin Java

Year of the Pink! (Sorry – had to go there…)

Crazy Eddie, my Segway alter-ego

A busy World War II Memorial looking out to the Lincoln Memorial

Hi Abe!

Amy & Alicia – Segway rockstars in action

A red tree at Arlington National Cemetery near President Taft’s grave

A carpet of red leaves at Arlington National Cemetery

Fall Vista near Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery

Now serene and content, itching to get outside and do more exploring. Phooey to the laptop-based research and tasks that need to get done on this lazy Sunday. Sigh.

Till the next beautiful fall weekend,

Tess, the Lioness

Housekeeping Items

When I started this blog, I had visions of one day building steady audience. Which led to me checking the stats each day during the first month I blogged to see how many people visited. A part of me desperately needed to know how many people visited and read what I wrote as if that somehow validated what I was doing. Then the stress of work and the book festival took over and my 30 days of continuous blogging fell to the wayside. And thus probably anyone who checked in from time to time to see if I posted something new. Thank you to all who have kept up!

The good news with the hiatus is my focus on the stats has fallen to the wayside and instead, I have gained the realization in knowing that the greater joy is in the actual writing. Everyday I have conversations with myself and I find I re-engineer them into possible posts for the blog. Of course very few actually make it onto the blog but I love knowing that the option and capabilities are there.

So I have every intention of keeping this up. To help keep me accountable and to stretch my skills as a writer, I decided to join WordPress’s weekly blog challenge. My fervent hope is to write one to two blog posts a week depending on the amount of inspiration and ideas in my idea that are worthy for putting pen (or fingers) to paper (or keyboard).

My focus continues to be on finding my voice and if I happen to find a niche in the vast blogging world, even better. Thanks again for sticking with me and I’ll do my best to not you (or more importantly, me!) down!

Tess, the Lioness

P.S. CHANGE is going well. Guilt and second-guessing have popped up from time to time. Both I assume stem from the nerves on its eventual success and long-term prospects. Deep breaths and reminders to self that this is a great path to go down keep me focused and calm.

CHANGE might also lead to a new haircut and wait for it…. HAIR COLOR in the near future. But I’ll save that discussion for another day. All hail the year of the mighty 3-0!

B-A-C, K-O-N

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When I started this blog, Mumsy urged more posts that reflected my ‘lioness’ rants. Ones that are typically reserved for the confines within the four walls of my home. Not because they are so radical and off the beaten path that I fear no one will ever talk to me again but more from my desire not to rock the boat and in the case of this upcoming rant, have people assume I am judging them. (And boy is it fun sometimes to come up with backstories on random people on the street and judge them. Wrong, but FUN.)

Anyway – today’s RANT. I present to you TURKEY BACON. Or as “someone” spelled out to me on Sunday, b-a-c, k-o-n. (The look of sheer terror and horror as she realized her mistake was classic and had me laughing for much longer than was called for. Great moment.)

Mumsy and my sister have finally succumbed to the Charlotte’s Web/Babe syndrome – the sudden desire to NOT eat pork bacon because of a cute pig. Or in this case, piglet. I present to you their trigger – the YouTube video of a piglet rescuing a goat from a creek: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXzHIzZBLlo

Thanks to the invention of turkey bacon, Mumsy and my sister have a ready alternative to the family favorite bacon and are gung-ho on the switch. Me? I have high esteem for the intelligence and cleanliness of pigs. I also have an even higher esteem for the delicious meat products they produce – bacon, pork chops, sausage of all sorts to name just a few.

Then there’s turkey. My least favorite non-game meat. Unless it has been roasted in the oven and served with gravy, mashed potatoes, and some sort of cranberry side, turkey, in my mind, is frequently a bland white meat to be avoided as much as possible. The one sandwich I like with turkey also has bacon. And gouda, yummy sundried tomato bread with caramelized brown sugar on top of the loaf, and a mystery dressing that brings it all together. With so many other flavors, the turkey meat’s sole purpose in the sandwich is to contribute protein. What joy is there in eating turkey? Turkey needs a strong cast of supporting flavors & textures to succeed; whereas bacon can stand all on its own, no additions needed.

Plus turkey bacon does not exist in nature. There is no cut of turkey that results in the beautiful straiation of meat & fat that is bacon. The turkey industry realized there was a market for a “healthier” product and figured out a way to put together different pieces of turkey to look like bacon. When it comes to meat, I would prefer to real in my mouth than something fake. (I will save my rant against anything with aspartame or any other fake sugars for another day.)

For now, real bacon is still in the house and there have been no attempts to purchase turkey bacon. On Sunday, I was threatened with tofu as the bacon replacement. For those of you who like to eat tofu, bravo! Me? The visual texture throws me off and the thought of eating tofu sends shivers down my spine. Anywho… I will keep the faith that Mumsy and my sister’s love of bacon will win the day and all will once again be well. Or perhaps I should rejoice in knowing that this means there is just more bacon for me!

Tess, the Lioness

Hear, hear!

Gen Y Girl

My senior year of high school, I had the genius idea of taking AP Physics, AP Calculus, and AP Statistics, all at the same time.

I pushed myself so hard that year all because I wanted to earn college credits and therefore graduate from college in less than four years.

I did that.

I started working a full-time job at the age of 19 and earned my bachelor’s degree in two and a half years.

I figured that if I got my degree early and had some experience under my belt, I’d be ahead of the game career-wise and would be taking steps towards my journey up the quote-on-quote career ladder. If I did this, I would be a few steps closer to becoming the VP of some great company where my work would consume all of my energy every day.

That’s what success looked like most of my life.

I was…

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My Modern American Heritage

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The initial draft of this blog post was to discuss the final return of my spirit and consciousness to its pre-book festival state. About the unexpected doldrums onset by the aftershocks of the physical and psychological stress from the festival and then immediately thereafter at work.

But today, something clicked. Today I feel the compulsion to once again connect the world properly and step out of the shadows from my books and TV shows. That first step was to finally email my uncle about my grandmother’s family tree.

On an afternoon drive into DC shortly after Mumsy moved up from Texas, Mumsy was her curious self in a new city and asked about different buildings as we passed. After pointing out the DAR Constitution Hall on 17th St NW, Mumsy immediately replied, “Oh you know you could join the DAR if you wanted.” [For those who are not aware, DAR stands for the Daughters of the American Revolution Society. Membership requires substantiation of an ancestor who participated in a specific capacity on the American side during the Revolutionary War.]

Oh how to describe my reaction. Does “wide-eyed, jaw on the floor, my own version of ‘SAY WHA???’ coming out of my mouth” convey the image nicely enough? All my life I knew of my strong English heritage (citizen of the Commonwealth right here!) from my father’s side. We have a framed family tree for my paternal grandmother that is about 3 x 4 ft completely filled with handwritten names that are less than half a centimeter tall. About a fifth of the tree is clearly marked as the Irish branch. Otherwise ALL ENGLISH. No chance of finding an American patriot there! I would have much better luck finding a Red Coat (and probably could)!

For my mother’s side, my sister and I got the ‘we stepped off the boat’ story with my grandfather’s parents passing through Ellis Island – Americanized last name and all. Strike two for a familial tie to the American Revolution.

Which leaves my maternal grandmother. Only option left. Each year on St. Patrick’s Day, I would do my best to wear something green to avoid getting pinched and my mother would make sure I was wearing orange to show my family pride for being Irish Protestant thanks to my grandmother. (Harder to pull off that you might imagine!) Besides knowing she grew up on a farm just outside an Indian reservation in South Dakota and taught school until my grandfather rolled into town, that was all I knew. It appears good ol’ Grandma’s obstinate nature might come from her deep, deep American roots.

Three years I’ve sat on this knowledge and since then, I’ve had the chance to talk to my uncle, the keeper of the family trees, on multiple occasions about this topic. But I was always too nervous. Both because of him a bit (doesn’t help I could probably count on my fingers how many times I’ve seen him in my 30 years of life) and of finding out it’s not true and squashing another source of Mumsy’s pride.

Today though, today I took a chance on fate and wrote that email. And today I learned Mumsy was right all along. An ancestor came to the colonies from Germany as an indentured servant when he was 14 years old and fought in the war in Pennsylvania. Amazing. God bless family for giving me such a diverse and multi-faceted heritage.

To quote my uncle, “I also found out that when [my cousin] got [our great-grandfather’s] Italian birth certificate, your mother and I can apply for Italian citizenship! So that means you can have US citizenship, British citizenship and Italian citizenship, AND be a member of the DAR! That, and $2.50, will get you a small cup of coffee at Starbucks!”

Oh to be an American.

Tess, the Lioness

A Change Will Do You Good – I Hope?!

For the last six months, CHANGE has been whispering its seductive mantra in my ear. With the time commitment necessary to pull off a successful book festival, I knew CHANGE with its inherent risks would have to wait. Now the whisperings have morphed to insistent prods from all around. I dipped my toes slowly into the water since the festival finished and today I entered the shallow end of the pool thinking my progress to the deep end would be just as gradual.

NOPE!

CHANGE had other ideas and I am about to climb the ladder to the 3m springboard. Excited nerves abound mixed in with hesitant gung-ho. I cannot help but think at this point though, I should allow whatever happens next up to God, fate, destiny, the powers that be. I took CHANGE up on its offer so let’s see what it has lurking in its back pocket.

I usually scan straight through the quotations listed on the celebrity magazine spreads chosen for Tom + Lorenzo’s blog but one by America Ferrera for Cosmpolitan for Latinas magazine from a post today sums up wonderfully my adopted mantra going forward:

“Anytime I walk into something apologetic or wondering if I’m good enough, I
never get it. There’s a certain lack of ownership that people can detect. When I
walk in and own it, that’s when I usually get it.”

Here’s to hoping CHANGE know what it’s doing!

Tess, the Lioness

Cloud Atlas

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A friend gifted two books for my birthday this year – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and Mao II by Don DeLillo. Mumsy is always in search of new reading material and had Mao II in her hot little hands before I could even read the back cover of either book. Later that day, I found her in the early pages of the book, right at the point where a book begins to reveal its true nature. She lifted her head at my entrance with the look of dread and panic written across her face and said simply, “It’s intellectual.”

Let me interject here to say until this point, Mumsy and I had subsisted on a reading diet of what can only be described as “candy books” for far too long. Books that have no sustenance for the brain or soul except for a catchy storyline or characters that take you temporarily away from your everyday world. We all read, and sometimes need to read, such books and in our cases, we had begun to feel unsatisfied with our choices. Picking up Mao II for Mumsy could be best equated to a surprise visit to the Biggest Loser ranch for a diet of turkey bacon, whole grain pasta, and salads galore and an intense four-hour workout in the gym.  While Mumsy moaned and groaned through the first 20 pages, like the Biggest Loser contestants, she began to crave, then extol, the virtues of the nutrient-rich literature.

I too needed a “candy book” detox and picked up Cloud Atlas ready for whatever may come, promising myself to persevere even if it involved slogging through dense passages, arcane vocabulary, or rampant symbolism. Because I had no clue what I was getting myself into based on this description on the back cover:

A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles and genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

I consider myself a voracious reader but my recent lack of breadth of styles and authors became quite evident when none of the above made any sense to me. Challenge: accepted.

The first 20+ pages of the book delivered arcane vocabulary by the bucket-load and my brain ate up the whole-grain richness of language with glee. Then everything changed and continued evolving as the story unfolded. Mitchell’s mastery of language from the arcane to the futuristic blew my mind away. I am hesitant to go any farther with my review for fear of taking away the surprises and puzzles, and thus the joys of their discovery and resolution. But let’s just say that while reading the first half of the book, the words “I have no idea what this book is about.” have never been said with such happiness and awe.

Happy reading!

Tess, the Lioness

P.S. Said friend from the beginning of this tale is an avid reader and movie watcher so it should have come as no surprise to me when Mumsy forwarded an article about the premiere of Cloud Atlas, the movie, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) a few weeks ago. Being 75% through the book at the time, the reviews of the movie were also quite expected. Translating any book with an unusual, and perhaps a tad complex, structure and language to the silver screen had to be quite the challenge to the screenwriter and director. Will I see the movie when released in theaters? I am leaning towards no as I doubt the visions created on the screen will live up to the ones created in my mind.

UPDATE: A friend who writes a movie review blog was able to see an advanced preview of Cloud Atlas and has written up his thoughts and critique here.