Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 6

Just a quick update. Today we spent some time by the pool (which was awesome), and then walked about 2 miles (or more?) to several of the monuments and memorials. It was a great way to spend our last day in DC. Tomorrow morning we head back to Union Station to catch the train to Boston.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 5

Back to the hotel after more sight-seeing, heat, and crowds. Honestly, I'm about at my limit in terms of dealing with hoards of tourists. But still really enjoyed the day.

This morning, we had a staff-led tour of the Capitol. I had previously contacted Mark Souder's (our congressman's) office about tours of the White House. No tickets available, sadly. However, we had a scheduled tour of the Capitol building, which ended up being quite a treat this morning. Our two favorite stops on the tour: the rotunda and the House gallery (photo). The rotunda is impressive in size and, well, it's just plain cool. Weirdly, though, in the center of the rotunda is a tapestry of George Washington surrounded by angels, like he's some sort of deity. Still, though, very cool.

From the photo (I've included here--obviously not my own), and from all of the times I've seen the State of the Union address, I somehow thought the House Gallery would be larger. But the gallery itself is really not much wider than this photo shows. Congress is almost ready to adjourn for the August holiday, but they were not in session this morning (apparently, they were in committee meetings). We had to go through two levels of security, eventually leaving in the foyer all of our bags, phones, cameras, etc. But it was still a treat to see it.

After a brief respite, we headed out again to the International Spy Museum. Eh. It was cool, but I am kind of museumed out. We did the "Operation Spy" combo to the visit in which you get a secret op and have to figure out--with ten other strangers--how to use a spy's equipment and techniques to find a nuclear trigger device. That was fun.

Then we went to Jaleo for dinner. It was another awesome tip from Mollie (dang, that girl is spot-on with her restaurant advice!!). It is a traditional Spanish restaurant, which serves tapas--small portions of all sorts of different dishes. Delicious!

Tomorrow is a do-nothing day. We may swing back by the Lincoln Memorial (which is the one thing we couldn't really see from the tour bus) or just hang out by the pool. I had originally thought of going to Mt. Vernon (Washington's home), but 5 hours of a tour bus sounds, well, exhausting right now.

On Thursday (boy, the time is going fast!) we'll take the train to Boston, so that's going to be a big reading/writing day.

Oh--Mom just reminded me (thanks!) that I was in DC in 1976 the day the Air & Space Museum first opened. Cool! Yes, I remember being totally impressed by that museum--even more so than the White House.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 4

Tonight, we're all a little worn out after our sightseeing adventures today. We're really enjoying our trip though--don't get me wrong. It's been great so far. Wandering around in the heat, though, does tend to be a little tiring.

Yesterday, after a lovely church service and lovely brunch, we wandered around the Air & Space Museum where we saw the Wright Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis. We also saw the Apollo XI command module and touched a real moon rock! 

Mollie (thank you!) gave us a great tip about an Ethiopian restaurant, Etete, so we went there for dinner. It was delicious!! And a fun adventure.

Today, we played tourist again and went on a tour bus to the National Cathedral. There again, we saw a moon rock in the Space Window as well as the beautiful Rose Window. The cathedral is quite the impressive structure. I especially enjoyed seeing several of my books in the bookstore there. Yea! Jacob: "Are you seriously taking a picture of your books on display?" Of course.

Next, we went to the Holocaust Museum. What I found most moving were the poems and first-hand accounts on walls of the exhibits; one quote was from Elie Wiesel, an Auschwicz survivor. Here's the quote:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

The museum's website looks extensive. Check it out. 

On our tour bus today we also saw: Ford's Theater (with some weird happy music playing in the background--for some reason the tour bus company thought that was appropriate at the place where Lincoln was assassinated), the White House (from about a mile away), lots of security surrounding the White House, charming Georgetown, the many Memorials, the Potomac, Chinatown, Union Station, the Capitol--the whole kit and kaboodle. 

In our down time, I'm reading two books (well, okay, three): House of the Seven Gables (for this weekend's adventures in Salem, MA), the EQ Edge (super practical and interesting book on emotional intelligence), and Picture Writing (for children's writers). 

Tomorrow it's onto the Capitol tour and the Spy Museum! 

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 3

We made it to DC late yesterday afternoon. Now we're up and heading to church this morning. We walked around the National Mall a little bit last night to get the lay of the land. Even though I've seen images of the Washingon Monument and Capitol building thousands (?) of times, it's still exciting and impressive to see in person. A couple of funny notes:

• On our way to the Capitol building, a man and woman got out of their red pickup truck and asked us (in a Texas drawl), "Do you know where the White House is?" I didn't have my map along, so I couldn't help her. So she asked a follow up: "Is that," pointing to the Capitol, "our nation's Capitol?" I told her yes. She gave her husband/boyfriend a look and said, "See! I told you!!"

• We ordered some food from room service, and it was like pulling teeth trying to understand what the person on the other end of the phone was asking. I said we wanted some beer--a Molson (on the menu). I was told they didn't have that. So she listed off the other beers (pronounced like this): younglin, doshkeesh, kingsred. What???? I felt like going down and tutoring her in ESL right then and there. BTW we ended up getting Amstel.

•In the grassy area between the Capitol and Wash Mem, there were people playing soccer. Jacob thought they shoud be playing football or baseball--a more traditionally American sport. (he was kidding) But it was neat to see that area with those symbols of our great country to draw people from all over the world.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Day 2

Here we are in Cumberland MD, at a station stop. So far we've been on board the train for about 12 hours. After a fairly good night's sleep, we had French toast in the dining car.

At about 6:30 this morning we passed through Pittsburgh. The sun was just coming up and shining on the rivers and the buildings
downtown. We kept moving through the back streets of the city. It looked like home. Then we saw Kennywood! From the other side of the river! Awesome stuff.

After passing through Pittsburgh we went into the beautiful southeastern PA countryside.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Day One, American Heritage Tour

Well, here we are in our living room of Day One of our "American Heritage Tour." Why are we in our living room? Because our train doesn't leave until 11pm! We've got a sleeper car to ride out our 14 1/2 hour trip to Washington DC, where we'll arrive tomorrow afternoon. I just realized that I think our train might go through Pittsburgh. I wonder when?? Well, to our friends in the 'burgh, watch for us waving from the train! :) While in DC, I'm looking forward to seeing Arlington Nat'l Cemetery, the White House (but it'll probably just end up being the visitor's center...grrr), the Smithsonian museums, the memorials, and I want to go down to Mt. Vernon to see Washington's home. We'll also be at Immanuel, Alexandria! We've also got tickets to see the International Spy Museum. We might do some letterboxing along the way. We also have a tour of the Capitol, arranged by Mark Souder's office, so that should be interesting.

After the DC tour, we'll be onto Boston after another train ride. There we'll see Salem, the Boston sites, Fall River, and then out to Cape Cod.

More soon...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Death, Dying and Grief

Lately, because of different events, I have been thinking about death, dying, and grief. One of those events is the death of Vivian Gregory, the infant daughter of a seminary family. Vivian was born prematurely and died last week after being hospitalized for six months. My heart goes out to Vivian's parents and all who are grieving because of the loss of this tiny baby.

Second, I was given a manuscript to review that is about coping with grief during the first thirty days of a loss of a loved one. It is well-written, practical, and speaks to the emotions of everyone who has experienced loss.

Third, I have been toying with the idea of writing about grief for children for quite awhile now. And finally now, I think I can write something.

Funerals remind us of all of our losses. As we stand in the pews, we might remember other funerals we've attended. We remember the widow's bewilderment and tears. The widower's trembling hands. The children's faces full of confusion and fear. We know what grief looks like. We've felt it ourselves. And it all comes sweeping back over us when we attend a funeral.

At the funeral of a baby, the pain in the church is palpable. It is so wrong, so evil, so terrible that this baby with little fingers and toes, with the little smiles and the hopes and dreams of her parents is the one lying there in that tiny coffin. We feel the outrage of it all. We can't understand it.

On the afternoon of the funeral this week, Jane posted one of the hymns we sang. This hymn, "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It" is wonderfully comforting. It also brings back a lot of Pittsburgh memories for me. I taught the kids in our church to sing it, and for awhile, I had the kids sing it at most baptisms, so whenever I hear it or sing it myself, I imagine those little voices in the choir loft singing away. The hymn has a wonderful melody and even better text. And it spells out in poetic verse what we cling to at all times, but especially during times of loss: I am God's own child and because of the death and resurrection of Christ, I have no fear of death or loss or pain or grief. Yes, death and loss are painful; it should hurt. This is not the way God intended for our existence to be. Death is not a natural part of life. But God provided the way out of death, pain, loss, sin, and sorrow. He gave us Jesus. "I am baptized into Christ; I'm a child of paradise."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Reading Challenge

Thanks to Jane at Indiana Jane who is very diligent about her reading challenge list (and inspires me in the process), I am going to update mine and add a few more:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (finished 6/08) - This is the true story of a failed attempt to climb K-2 in Nepal. The co-author almost died on his way down the mountain and ended up in a village where the locals took him in and brought him back to health. Then he discovered that in this tiny village, they had no school. The dozen or so children of the village sat in the open air, sharing one slate with no books, desks, or teachers. The rest of the book is Mortenson figuring out how to fund and build schools for children all over the region (mainly the mountains of Pakistan). The book started out wonderfully. It sort of stagnated about half-way through, but I still really enjoyed it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - on my list to read this summer

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s over Germany by Stephen Ambrose - still on my list

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurston (finished 5/08). Great read! Fascinating nonfiction story about shipwreck divers who discovered a German WWII submarine - a U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. Not only is the story enthralling, but the writing is phenomenal.

Now reading:

(on audio) - Stop Whining, Start Living by Dr. Laura Schlessinger - great so far

EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success by Steven Stein and Howard Book - I'm reading this for a class I'm teaching this fall, but it's a great read so far (will write more about emotional intelligence in another post)

The House of the Seven Gables by Hawthorne - we're going there week after next, so I figured I'd better re-read it. What great characters and juxtaposition between Hepzibah, the old withered maid and Phoebe, her beautiful young cousin. Hawthorne's poetic turns of phrase are not only true, but a delight to read.

I'm also currently reading a biography of Charles Lindbergh with Jacob since we're going to see the Spirit of St. Louis in DC next week. What an incredible life Lindbergh led! From triumph to tragedy! We are currently reading about the surveillance he did for the US government as the world was headed to war in the late 30s. He had the credentials to view German aircraft as an observer, and then he reported back to the US what he found.

Monday, July 14, 2008

10 Years Ago

Jane tagged me for this one:

What was I doing ten years ago?
Ten years ago we Fort Wayne! Scott was two years into his admission counselor job, Jacob was three, and I was just getting into writing. I believe it was around ten years ago that my very first book, Things I See in Church was either accepted for publication or published. The next year in 1999, we moved to Pittsburgh.

What 5 things are on my to-do list for tomorrow?
1. Work on my Portals of Prayer outline.
2. Prepare to sub for literature classes on Wed. and Thurs.
3. Work on revising a picture book
4. Go to Blockbuster
5. Figure out the luggage we're going to use for our trip (leaving July 25!)

Snacks I enjoy:
Tootsie Pops
Granola bars
Mike & Ikes
donuts (of course)

Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Buy a house and cars
Give to charity
Save for Jacob's college

Places I've lived:
Lakewood, CO
Seattle, WA
Ann Arbor, MI
Fort Wayne, IN
Temple City, CA
Pittsburgh, PA

Jobs I have had:
Teacher - 6th, 7th grade, ESL, adults, children, college
Receptionist for lawyer's office
Receptionist for veterinarian's office (also cleaned the kennels!)
Custodian for Concordia College in Ann Arbor
Cared for a disabled woman
Probably more I'm not remembering

People I would like to know more about:

Friday, July 11, 2008

More fun cowboy stuff

I'm still working on my picture book text set in the Old West and found some fun quotes at this website. First, insults:

-He was mad enough to swallow a horn-toad backwards.

- He's so mean he'd steal a fly from a blind spider.

- He was so mean, he'd fight a rattler and give him the first bite.

- He was mean enough to steal a coin off a dead man's eyes.

Now from the Cowboy's "Code":

  • Don't inquire into a person's past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.

  • Never steal another man's horse. A horse thief pays with his life.

  • Defend yourself whenever necessary.

  • Look out for your own.

  • Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.

  • Never order anything weaker than whiskey.

  • Don't make a threat without expecting dire consequences.

  • Never pass anyone on the trail without saying "Howdy".

Also, here's a website where you can generate your own cowboy nickname. Mine's Julie "Rides-again" Stiegemeyer.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Random things I've learned lately:

1. The House of Seven Gables in Salem, MA is the oldest surviving wooden mansion in New England. I'm currently re-reading the book by Hawthorne. We plan on visiting the house when we're in Salem in about 3 weeks.

2. One of my students taught me a new word: "ghettofy," which I think is the modern version of "jerry-rig." It is used in a sentence like this: "Now we have our own ghettofied computer system!"

3. Plato's Closet, a re-sale clothing shop in Fort Wayne is awesome if you're looking for some stylish, more reasonably priced clothing.

4. Letterboxing is a fun hobby!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Some updates!

Phew! It's been a long time, it seems to me, since I've been able to regularly update my blog. Hopefully, today's update will be the start of many more posts on a much more regular basis.

First, you must look here to read about my dear friend's book, Mimi. How exciting that covered it! It's an adorable book. You simply MUST get it for any children in your life.

Second, on a personal note, I am so thankful to have a respite from teaching. I really enjoyed working with students in the past few months. Having the freedom to write whenever I feel like it, go on whatever errands need to be done, etc. is nice, but I also found myself getting a little stir crazy. Teaching has been a nice outlet, earned me some regular income, and reminded me how much I do love working with students.

I'm still trying to find that perfect balance between family, writing, teaching, volunteer work, etc. (and likely will never find it), but a new part-time teaching position this fall will hopefully help me balance the teaching/writing parts of my life a little better. So, now, I have some time to write. I am determined before vacation (we're leaving July 25) to finish two picture books, maybe more. We'll see how I do! I also am working on a couple of other projects.