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Hello, LJ. I had forgotten all about you. Life got busy.  2011 was a year of healthy living. I'm 50 pounds lighter, and I feel good. But in doing it, I put a lot of things aside to make time for it.

Is it possible to balance it all? I dunno. But I've missed keeping up with friends here.

Memories of Anna

19 years ago today, I stood next to Anna, an 8th grader, at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Princeton, NJ, to be her confirmation sponsor. I remember the day so clearly.

I was working at McGraw-Hill, in midtown Manhattan, at the time. It took me 2 hours to travel from my office at Rockefeller Center to our tiny apartment on campus at Princeton Univ. This included a mile walk at the beginning and end of the commute, so I always wore athletic shoes for the commute and carried my dress shoes in my satchel. Except I was so worried about missing my commuter train that evening that I forgot my dress shoes at the office. I was picked up at the PU train station (the Dinky, a one-car train that connected the university with the main Amtrak line that runs from NYC to Washington, DC, and beyond) and driven directly to the church, but I didn't realize I didn't have my shoes until I was seated in the church. Uh-oh!

This was a big day for Anna, and there was no way I was going to stand up with her in front of the bishop in my navy blue suit and sneakers. I just couldn't do it. My former husband ran home to get shoes for me and arrived just moments before we had to process up. Whew!

I wish I could say that I'm less forgetful or less of a ditz now, but I can't.

I can say that Anna has grown up into a beautiful young woman who continues to inspire me. She joined the Servant Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (after getting her pre-vet biology degree from Tufts). Now she is mother to 120 orphan girls in the convent's Bolivian orphanage. She hasn't a penny to her name, but she is living a life filled with meaning and she couldn't be happier. Her latest adventure there is getting help for a burn victim from Shriners Hospital in Boston--God bless those wonderful doctors and nurses who are volunteering their time to help with this and to all the Shriners who are making it possible. She's blogging about her adventures, and it's pretty interesting:

It's been a few years since Anna's had time to come to St. Louis, but here's a memorable afternoon in our back yard. Anna came with Madre Rosario, and we threw them ...well... I guess you could call it a kegger. David put several kegs on tap and we invited friends over for a meet and greet (and open your wallets for the orphans) party. They were raising money for a new roof for one of the dorms, which was about to collapse. (The children would include in their bedtime prayers a prayer for their safety and that the roof wouldn't collapse on them during the night. Sorta puts things in perspective for me.)

Madre Rosario at the taps.

Anna's next to David here. Yep, as the Jersey girl, she's taller than the Bolivianos she lives and works with.

And just to show that it's not all keggers, her she is praying her hours in our back yard:



Today I stayed away from The Tudors (wise move, I think) and instead got caught up on my quilting. It was a cozy, happy way to spend a morning.

David and I have been doing a block-of-the-month club through an adorable shop on Main Street (www.patches3.com). We've never quilted before, but we thought--why not? How hard can it be to make one block a month?

Pretty hard, as it turns out. It wasn't really designed for newbies, although they all encouraged us to give it a try. Why not learn by the trial-by-fire method?

Each month, we show up at the store on the first Saturday of the month during a small (1.4-hr) window of time to pick up the supplies for that month's block. The first month, we paid $5 for the kit (pattern, directions, and all the fabric needed). Each subsequent month, as long as we show up with our finished block from the previous month, the new month's kit is free. So yep, theoretically we could make an entire quilt top for $5.

If we don't complete the month's block, we can always pay $5 for the current month's block, which is what I had to do when I was traveling. Still a bargain, I think. Today I got caught up with the blocks I had missed.

Each year, the store has a different theme for their quilt. This year, it's On the Road. Each month, we visit a different state. In addition to the pieced block, we have the option of purchasing a kit for an applique block; each block is an embroidered state's outline with applique embellishment. I'm just beginning on those blocks. I'm doing ok on the outlines, but I need help learning how to applique. I'm getting there.

June's block was probably one of the hardest we had to do, and so naturally it was first. Looking at it now, I can see that it's an absolute wreck. I'll probably buy extra fabric and redo it. It's pretty bad! But at the time, I was very pleased with myself. My first quilt block, Missouri Puzzle:

July is Illinois Hearth & Home:

August is Indiana Puzzle:

September is the Ohio Star:

October is Kentucky Crossroads:

November is Virginia Reel:

December is Tennessee Grandma's Star:

And, to start off 2011, January's block is Georgia Hearth & Hand:

I'm ready for February!  (Actually, I'm ready for spring, after all the snow we've had. Really wanted to go to Maidens today, but we've got more snow predicted.)


Tudors and saints

My beloved fixed me up with Nexflix. That combined with winter makes for a cozy but sluglike existence.

I'm working my way through the Showtime tv show The Tudors. (Only the first two seasons are available for instant download.)

Did anyone else cry when Sir Thomas More was beheaded???  Please let me know I'm not alone here, I beg of you.

Henry VIII is a touchy subject, since he was such a destructive force in the world--both physical and spiritual worlds. I knew he stole all of the Church's property; I get that. He was a greedy peacock. But why in the world were so many beautiful places destroyed by his orders? Our trip to Canterbury Cathedral was an eye-opening experience for me. I thought he was way too fond of bright and shiny to have destroyed beautiful shrines. Apparently I had that all wrong.

The tour guides at Canterbury are pretty straightforward about it all. Their solitary candle in the middle of a huge expanse of cathedral speaks volumes for the evil he unleashed in the world. So sad.

It's a shame that St. Thomas More's feast day lands in the week after Lilies; if it were during Lilies, I'd have a big party!

I can't say much about the series except that it's pure chocolate indulgence; probably bad for me in the long run, but it's fun while it lasts. Very little truth to it. But I found their portraits of Thomas More and John Fisher very moving.


Crystal (Light) Ball is over, and I'm nearly recovered. I have to say it really was a marvelous feeling to be able to see it from the back row of the pit. Ct. Anton surprised me by coming to the event; usually we're up against a fighting event, so he's never been to the ball. He's a terrific ME drummer, and I'm happy to say he's at home in a Western pit, too. Very good drummer! Plus a nice guy. Great addition, and great company for me in the pit.

None of the usual suspects were there this year, so that was sort of odd for me. But it was also sort of refreshing. Lots of new faces. Two of the musicians had been in for under a year, and two more were at their first event. Out of 14, that's pretty high. And yep, the pit was about half the size as in recent past years, and that was ok, too. It was all pretty high quality. Everyone behaved. Very different! :)

This year's leader did a terrific job, and she was happy doing it. I talked to her afterward, and she seemed to be walking on clouds. She was so excited, she said something about how she couldn't wait until next year...then caught herself and mumbled something about perhaps I wanted to lead next year. HAHA! It was so hard not to bust up laughing in her face. My relief and her joy make a great combination.

I received a marvelous hand/arm/shoulder/head massage from a grateful dancer. It was awesome! Really helped melt away some of my tension from the previous week.

The drive home was unreal. Horrible visibility. I'm a tense driver under the best of circumstances. The drive was terrifying for me. Poor akitrom  had car trouble on the way from Iowa. Long story short, I took him to his mom's house in Chesterfield after the ball, then drove myself back to St. Charles. I was content doing 30 mph, and he was quite kind about it, not trying in the least to speed up. Driving alone, after dropping him off, was very scary for me, but I just kept chugging away, slowly but safely. About 3 miles from home, I'm making the approach to the Blanchette Bridge (I-70 across the MO River), but I can't see the bridge--that's how bad visibility was. All of a sudden, a car shows up from nowhere and seems to be pacing me. Maybe he wants in front of me, to get off on 5th Street, so I slow down even more. He slows down. OK, maybe he wants the 5th Street exit, but doesn't want to be rude and get in front of me, so I get my nerve up and bring my speed up to 40. Nope, he's still pacing me, freaking me out. Maybe he's signaling to me that I have a flat tire or something's wrong with my car--but I'm too terrified to remove my eyes from the whiteness directly in front of me; I can't see the bridge, I don't know where the lanes of traffic are, and I don't want to go off the shoulder of the road or hit the upcoming bridge.

After more pacing and more freaking out (on my part), I finally look over. A carload of high school kids, window open, cell phone out (maybe taking a photo?). I guess that's all they wanted, because after some hollering and hooting, they drove off. I can only say that if anything happened to them, it's Darwin at work. I'm just sorry I was in their neighborhood. But maybe going to balls when there's a winter weather advisory is also Darwin at work. ;)  In any event, I made it home, and my relief was enormous. Wish I could have had the massage AFTER the drive home. :)

Crystal Light

Tomorrow is the modified version of Crystal Ball. For the first time in I think 12 years (maybe only 11?), I'm not in charge of the pit. I'm pretty darn happy about it. A small part of me wondered if I'd be sort of sad about it. The honest truth is that I'm very relieved. I'm no shrinking violet, to be sure, but I'm much happier as the follower, not the leader. I do tend to try to take charge if something's screwed up and I think I can do something about it, but that's not very often.

It will be an unusual year. So many of my friends won't be there. People I've relied on for years to "have my back" and help pull off the night. (You know who you are...) I'm so very grateful for the support and kindness they've shown me over the years. It has meant a great deal to me.

I called a buddy tonight, trying to convince him to come play with me tomorrow night. He turned me down, and he instead suggested that I skip the event to hang out together in the comfort of his home. There's nothing I'd rather do than stay home and not have to worry about forecasts of snow and my fear of driving home in snow and ice. In the dark. When I'm really tired. Alone. But I'll take necessary precautions about the driving. And I'll choose to pay it forward. It'll never be enough to pay my debt accrued from all the support others have given to me over my years. But it'll be nice to try. And to do it from the back row of the pit, where I won't worry about missed cues, bad tempos, or losing track of how many repeats of Female Sailor we're on. Life is good. :)


Today at work, we had an all hands meeting of my entire department (maybe150 to 175 people), where we got to hear inspiring words by the head of global production, Ian (my boss's boss's boss's boss), who was in town for the occasion of awarding our Excellence awards (called Star awards), to reward those workers who have somehow distinguished themselves above and beyond the rest. He gave out 8 of them. I was certainly surprised when I received one. I've only been at my new job for 7 months. Why in the world would I receive one?

It's a bit tough, listening to a gushing little background story of the person about to be announced, but knowing it's me. Ian didn't say any names of the recipients until the end of the rationalization of why that particular person was receiving the award. But each of us received an award for specific reasons. (Mine was listed as working on the new edition of the 3-volume Merrill's Atlas and for traveling to Chennai for training the workers there. Gee--I wonder who that could be?...) I received a star-shaped trophy and a very generous gift certificate.

I'm a good worker, and I understand why I received the award, but I feel very bad for co-workers, who are also working very hard but who maybe aren't as visible about it. How much of this is hard work, and how much is personality? I hate those sorts of questions, but I can't help but think it. Again. And again. Tomorrow is the department's Christmas party (luncheon at Dave & Busters, including a game tokens, so we can stick around and play games together). I suspect some co-workers are genuinely happy for me, and others are very hurt at being overlooked. That's hard for me to take; I'm happy about the award, but I'm sad that they're sad. I'm hoping they won't be sad during the party. I know that's out of my control. I hate that part, too. It must be time to go snuggle with my kitty. ("Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur...")

Madrigal dinners 2010

Wow...a madrigal dinner just kicked my ass...

I used to play them regularly, and they're usually fun. This time, I didn't have time to practice with the group because they did all their practicing while I was in Chennai. No problem, they said. Just come and play. You've done it for so many years, you'll have no problem...


Apparently, while I was in India, I completely forgot how to be a musician.

Especially embarrassing, since two of my work colleagues were there--a surprise. One was an actor in the production, and one was a ticket-taker at the door.

We got lots of compliments, and they even called us out for a bow. Sheesh! I STUNK, I can't take a bow. But of course I did, and of course the applause was loud and warm.

The best part is that I sat next to one of the meanest recorder players I know. She made me cry many years back, and I've never forgotten it. She sure had a reason to make me cry tonight, and she didn't. She was as pleasant as could be, even complimenting me on the few songs that I managed to play well--Susato, of course.

What this evening taught me is that I can sight-read Susato and Morley and music of that type. But I'm definitely only good at a certain type of music. To be honest, I have no interest in getting better at other areas, and I'm happy with the music that I like to play. I'm content. But I can't walk into another madrigal dinner after not playing a single note for two months. Humbling moments can be useful.

St. Thomas Mount and Cyclone Jal

Today we ventured out in the rain and wind to visit St. Thomas Mount, a large hill that overlooks the city of Chennai, where St. Thomas the Apostle who came to evangelize in India was martyred. The view was amazing, even though we got pretty soaked out there. We retreated to the Eucharistic Adoration chapel, which was a lovely little chapel. We had to take our shoes off before entering any of the buildings on the Mount. It's definitely a cultural thing; I've never been in a Catholic church that asked for that until India. We also went to the main church, which probably could hold 50 people if some of them stood in the back--positively tiny, but lovely. Constructed in 1523, it holds the spot where St. Thomas was martyred. It also holds a painting of Mary that tradition holds was painted by St. Luke and a stone cross that was carved by St. Thomas.

I expected to attend Mass there at noon, but at 11:55, we (actually, only my driver understood) were told that Mass was canceled because of the sever weather. Power was out, but the power goes out all the time here, so I figured they'd just plug away with Mass anyway. Guess not. It did seem awfully dangerous up there on top of the Mount during the storm, so it was nice to get back to thehotel. When we went inside the main (tiny) church, the locals were saying a Rosary together in Tamil (the local language). I joined it (silently, in English); better than nothing. Actually, it was lovely to be there. Between the Rosary, some time in the Adoration chapel, and walking around outside in the storm looking at the various statues (including Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta), I had a lovely, spiritual morning. We also popped into the orphanage on the side of the Mount, where I bought stuff; money going to help the convent-run orphanage.

The roads here aren't designed or built to have drainage. No sewers, no sloping, nothing. So during monsoon season, highways that are usually 3-lane roads (but are usually 5-lane, because no one pays attention to the stripes) often go down to 1-lane roads because the rest is under water. No traffic for us today because it's Sunday and because our hotel is very close to the Mount. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow's commute. Cyclone Jal is scheduled to hit Chennai later this evening.

I'm expecting more power outtages here at the hotel. Earlier today, we had a bunch, but the generator kicked on after only a few minutes in the dark. Tonight, if it's an extended period, I feel prepared. My iPad is charged up, and my beloved husband put several nice, comforting movies on it for me, including Sense & Sensibility (the Emma Thompson version, of course), which has the lovely line spoken by Alan Rickman's character that  I've been using as a mantra here when thing get rough. (In response to the youngest sister's question, "What's it like?") "The air is filled with spices..."



Chennai, India, travel saga

I still don’t have internet at the hotel, but I’m typing this up before I head to bed. I can’t believe tomorrow’s Friday. I have not yet written to any of my friends, haven’t checked Facebook, nothing. That’s how busy we’ve been. I thought we’d have at least a little downtime, but not really. Tonight we skipped dinner, so I’ve got enough time to prepare this note. J  (We had a large lunch with the PSMs here, so I’m not hurting for food…)


I sure thought the trip was cursed. Our plane in Chicago was loaded and ready to fly to Brussels, but then we sat at the gate for 45 minutes before they announced that the plane failed its safety inspection. We had to get off the plane and go to a different gate, where we watched the posted departure time creep up and up. By the time we got to Brussels, we had 15 minutes to run through a security check point (with a very long line) and get to our gate—in a different concourse than where we landed. We threaded our way through the long security line. I like to travel, and I’m prepared for tricky spots like security, so my stuff was organized and I was wearing the all-important slip-on shoes. Linda unfortunately was wearing sneakers with double-tied laces. I told her I would make a run for it and throw myself across the door threshold until she got there. I ran like a madwoman to our gate (at the very end of the concourse, of course). When I had the gate in sight, I started waving my arms and yelling “Chennai, Chennai!” Honestly, I can’t believe they didn’t lock me up for insanity. But the door was locked and they refused to open it. I could see the plane still at the gate, then I watched it roll away. Unreal…


It was 10:30 am Brussels’ time, but it was the latest flight leaving for Chennai. We begged for some other sort of flight. The only thing they had was a flight to London to Dubai to Chennai—and it would arrive in Chennai later than if we simply waited for the next day’s direct flight to Chennai. It took us a couple hours and many lines to get our paperwork straightened out, and we had to go through a passport point, then American Airlines put us up at a hotel at the airport. It was raining in Brussels, and by this point we were so exhausted we didn’t even try to go to the city. We just went right to the hotel. But we didn’t have our suitcases; they weren’t sure if they had made the original Chennai flight (although I don’t see how it could), but it would have taken even longer at the airport to track them down. So we told AA to do the tracking and, if they were still in Brussels, to get them onto our new flight. Yeah, right… But this meant that we didn’t have anything at the hotel.


The next day, we got up early to get to the airport (wearing the same clothes as yesterday, of course). We got there an hour earlier than AA told us to be there. Good thing! With all the lines, we almost were late for the new flight! We were so mad!!! But we made it with 15 minutes to spare for our 10:30 am flight, so maybe it was as desperate a situation as it felt like. I was freaking pretty bad. But we got on the flight. Our seats were in the very last row, right next to the lavatory. But we were on our way!


We arrived in Chennai around midnight. The airport is one of the saddest places I’ve ever seen; nothing like an airport. It’s definitely a 3rd-world place. So we’re standing at the luggage carousel, and standing and standing… Nothing. Eventually, an “official” came over and said that was all the luggage. Not what we wanted to hear, standing there exhausted and very pungent in our 2-day-old travel clothes. We had to fill out a bunch of forms that looked very weird. The official spoke some English, so we got through the paperwork, but it was all very overwhelming and confusing. Linda freaked and insisted on searching the lost luggage room, where there were stacks of luggage and boxes. I freaked, but just stood there, trying to decide if I should just collapse in tears onto the floor and get it over with. I bucked up, but by this time, we were really concerned that we would not be able to find our driver, since all the other passengers had already left, so there was no crowd to follow out to where everyone leaves. It’s hard to describe, but it’s not easy to find the correct way out of the airport. Luckily, the official took pity on us and walked us through customs (fast, since we had no luggage) and took us out toward the place where cars were waiting for people. He even called the cell phone number we had for the driver (but we couldn’t call ourselves because we didn’t have a cell phone and there were no pay phones—we didn’t have rupees yet anyway). So we walk outside (I guess it’s around 2 am by now), and our glasses immediately steam over, it’s still that hot and humid.


We get to the hotel pretty quickly. They held a mirror on a stick under the front of the car before letting us into the gate (looking for explosives). Then we had to walk through a metal detector and put our purses and bags through an x-ray screener. We’re so tired and overwhelmed, this was just the last thing we wanted. Anyway, we got inside and tried to sign in. I didn’t have my hotel confirmation number with me, and they could find no record of my reservation in their system. Kind of the last straw. (Turns out I did have a reservation, and their system messed up, but at the time, we had no idea.) I figured they would be booked and have no room for me, the way the rest of the trip had gone. Amazingly, they did have a room. It smelled very funny, but it was a room. We explained that our luggage was lost, and the front desk agreed to try to follow up with the airport. In the meantime, the porter taking us to our rooms (on different floors, of course, because Linda needs a king-sized bed for her length, and there were no open rooms by her for me) said (in fairly broken English) that he could arrange for our clothes to be cleaned in the laundry service overnight and our clean clothes could be waiting for us in the morning if we wanted to immediately undress and put our clothes outside our doors. The hotel has bathrobes. Something told me to say NO—I trust no one, and I’m not handing over my only clothing, no matter how bad I smelled! But we were so desperately at the end of our ropes, the thought of clean clothes intoxicated us into following his instructions. First, Linda and I had to swap robes, because the robe in my room was so tiny it wouldn’t even come near to going around me. It barely closed in front for her, but I think she was trying to keep me from throwing myself off the hotel lobby balcony or something, so she agreed to switch with me.


We fell into our beds around 3 am. When we looked for our clean clothes outside our doors at 9:30 the next morning…nothing. Linda and I took turns calling the front desk, pleading for our clothes. We were told, “right away,” “five minutes,” and similar answers. Still nothing. We then just started begging for them to return the clothes to us dirty, we didn’t care. Still nothing but “five minutes.” We felt like we were all speaking English, but somehow it was like we were on Mars. More freaking out. I’m trapped in a smelly, dark (not many lamps) room in a very small robe. No way I’m calling for room service; I don’t want any man in my room at this point. I can’t get my electric kettle to work, so I can’t make tea or coffee. We were expected at the office, but we didn’t have any phone numbers for the office. It really was a horrible situation.


Then a miracle occurred. Around 2:30 pm, our clothes finally arrived. We were able to go down and get food. By 3 pm, we were with our driver, who took us to a store where we bought a clean outfit that was more suitable for the office than our sweatpants travel outfits. (See the attached photo for us on our way to the office. We’re standing in the lobby of our hotel.)


I was still not feeling quite right. Three days of washing my face with bath soap and using body lotion on my face didn’t help my beauty any, that’s for sure. But we went to the office anyway. We were already a day late, and didn’t feel like we could wait any longer. Our driver told us it would take about 20 minutes to get to the office; it took 45, so we’re late on our first day. We’re greeted by the PSMs (managers), who took us on a little tour of the building and then sat us down for a cup of tea/coffee in their lunchroom. Finally, we get to go to the production dept., where we met a bunch of people. We ask when we can do our first session, thinking it would be in the afternoon or something. Nope—the conference room was scheduled for when we were having our cup of tea with the PSMs. Really? Huh. Woulda been nice to have skipped the tea. Ah well. At this point, we don’t really expect anything to go as planned.


OK, I’ve written a book, and it’s way past my bedtime, but I have to say that for all the horrible things that happened at the beginning, it’s been really wonderful ever since. Everything is wonderful. I love the food! I love the beautiful saris and salwar kameez (the tunic/pants/scarf outfits that most women wear here). I love how colorful everything is. I love how friendly everyone is. I love having my luggage and my own shampoo, face wash, and face lotion. It’s as if I’ve gone from the depths of despair to the heights of heaven, all in a couple of days.


People at the office are very attentive to us. I have to tell you that most of them are extremely sharp and some are flat-out brilliant. Their English skills are very good here in person. And they’re waaaay better at PPM (the technical computer paperwork stuff) than I am. Frankly, all the problems we thought we’d find, we can’t find at all. So we can’t figure out what the real problem is. I know there are problems, but I think most of it is simply inexperience. It’s a big puzzle for me and Linda. We’ve still got two weeks, so I hope we can make a dent. But they’re doing well on everything we’re throwing at them so far. I don’t understand it a bit. Doesn’t make sense. But I think I better keep on my toes if I want to keep my job!