Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day & Billy

Friday Joe & I both got off work early, due to the upcoming holiday weekend. I got my hair cut at my new salon. (See my entry on Jan 26th entitled "Hair Salon".) When I came in I was surprised to see the wife of the former owner of my old salon. “Danny” had told me they had sold the salon to him and moved back to Puerto Rico. When I told the wife this story, she rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t understand why he makes up lies like that. I guess he doesn’t want our clients to find us.” Apparently “Danny” had also told another client that the owner had cancer! In reality, with their advancing age the owner and his wife simply didn’t want the responsibility of owning the salon anymore, so they sold it and both got jobs elsewhere as stylists. My new stylist is Michelle, and she gave me a great haircut! I think I may trust her to do my highlights one day.

Friday evening we met our friends Michael and Jamie at their new condo, which they’ve been busily painting and fixing up. It looks great! Then we went to CiCi’s pizza for dinner, and caught up with them on what’s going on in each other’s lives.

Then we came home, packed a bag and headed off to the beach at 9:15. We intentionally left late so as to miss the traffic congestion and miles of back-up getting to the Bay Bridge. It worked – we sailed right threw the toll plaza with no delay, and the traffic was great. We arrived in record time. Since we had no furniture or guests traveling with us, and since our Suburban uses so much gas, we went up in my convertible.

Saturday’s weather was quite “iffy”. It was warm enough for shorts and the top down, but the skies kept changing every 10 minutes it seemed. Bright and sunny, followed by dark and gray. Once or twice it sprinkled about 18 drops, but it never actually rained. We didn’t mind. We were happy to be away from the stress of our jobs and everyday lives.

After a late breakfast, we ran a few errands (Lowes, Wal-Mart, Food Lion, etc) and stopped by our old place to say hi to the new owners. Then we had lunch back at our house, Joe took a nap and I read. Then we headed out for a drive. The weather was more sunny than cloudy at that point, so we just enjoyed a drive through the Prime Hook wildlife refuge and seeing the diverse homes at Broadkill Beach. It’s so funny to me to see mobile homes with additions sitting on bay front lots next to multi-million dollar houses! It’s an interesting area, but not a place I’d want to own, since waterfront is the bay, not the ocean.

Then we came home and had a cook-in. That’s kinda like a cook-out (same food) but grilled indoors on our George Foreman mega grill. There is definitely something about grilled hamburgers and hotdogs that says “Summer”.

Sunday’s weather was a real treat! Bright and sunny, with not a cloud in sight. After a late breakfast we got our beach stuff together and drove into the Cape Henlopen State Park to the beach. It was simply delightful! After donning appropriate SPFs, we enjoyed looking out at the ocean, seeing dolphins, and people-watching. Joe listened to some music on the pocket CD player and I continued reading the ‘Letters from Camp Rehoboth’ magazine. After about 90 minutes I knew I needed some shade, so I put up the beach umbrella and continued reading. What a gorgeous day – a real departure from most Memorial Day weekends.

Most Memorial Day weekends in the DC area are like the one on which Joe and I met: unseasonably cool and rainy. In fact, on our first date (on Memorial Day) it was so cool that Joe had on a flannel shirt/jacket over his polo shirt. It was so rainy that we had both gotten soggy walking from our cars to the coffee shop in Dupont Circle. (You know Dupont Circle parking…)

We decided to come home Sunday night, rather than staying through Monday, partly because we didn’t want to get caught in the Monday beach exodus, but mostly because I wanted to meet a good friend of mine, visiting from California, for lunch.

Billy and I have an extensive history. In my former life as a straight (poser) Jehovah’s Witness, Billy and I had been very close friends. Although 8 years younger than me, we had lots in common, and he would always make me laugh with his celebrity and non-celebrity imitations as well as his unique outlook on many things. Billy’s sister Kim became my temporary girlfriend, and the three of us did everything together. We have so many great memories of hilarious times!

But when I parted ways with the JW religion, it is the custom of all JWs to shun the person who has left or has been kicked out, so Billy and my friendship was severed. I moved to a different town, and he got married a few years later. He and his wife even lived in the same town as me and one time I saw them in a restaurant. I wanted so badly to walk over to them and say “Billy – I’m still the same person!” but I didn’t. Years later they moved to Arizona due to his work.

Then, 3 years ago there was a familiar voice on my answering machine. “Hi, this is Billy. I’m calling for Mark. Please call me at…” I was shocked and elated at the same time, and called immediately.

Billy was back in town, visiting is parents, and had decided to try and make contact with me. He and his wife had stopped being JWs while in Arizona. She had had emotional problems for years and things had steadily gotten worse for them. When he came out to her she pretended to be okay at first, but one day she left Billy a note and drove all the way from Arizona back to Virginia where her mother and sister live. Billy was worried and relieved at the same time. They agreed to split up, and he began to move on with his life. This would be his first visit back to Virginia, to see his family.

After talking on the phone we knew we had to see each other. He came to our house and we talked and laughed and reminisced for several hours. I took him to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant and then he headed back to his folks’ house.

This visit was going to have to be shorter. Billy was trying to see several friends, as well as spend a good portion of time with his folks, who graciously paid for his plane ticket this time. We decided to meet at the Carlyle (his choice) for lunch today. It was really good to see him! Unlike last time where we caught up on many years of activities, this time we talked more about our lives now. I wanted to know how he lived and what he did with his time. I wanted to know if he was seeing anyone and if he was happy. We had a great visit and I felt like I was able to share with him a sage thought that likely applies to many of us:

What has happened to us in the past is now a part of our history, and it will never go away. We can read self-help books, go to therapy, enlighten ourselves, but it doesn’t change what’s already happened. It is a part of who we are now, like it or not. Now that doesn’t mean we’re sentenced to a life of darkness, doom, or unhappiness. Hopefully the books, therapy and enlightenment will help us to deal with this part of our past, but it will not take it away. No amount of therapy or enlightenment will take away the past. So we need to stop expecting that ‘some day everything will be fine’ or that some day we’ll finally forget about the unpleasantness of our past. Instead, we should learn to accept what is and move on to what we want our life to be.

I sure wish someone had told ME that years ago.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Congratulations to Carrie Underwood for winning American Idol on Wednesday! Regular readers of this blog (both of you) will recall that I selected Carrie from the top 12 finalists to win the competition. I wish her much success and happiness.

Congratulations to Joe and me for our 9th anniversary on Thursday. The florist screwed up and delivered the flowers to Joe on Wednesday, so we decided that since we were in the anniversary mood from the flowers, we’d go to dinner on Wednesday instead. We went to the Carlyle and had a very nice dinner.
Thursday night (our actual anniversary) we had dinner with Evelyn, and Kerry & Hugh and George came along too. We always have fun with them. More later…

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Sunday night

We just got back a little while ago from a lovely weekend at the beach with our friend Wendy.

Wendy and Joe used to work together at the same County mental health center. They became very good friends, and when Joe left the County 10 months ago, he and Wendy promised their friendship would outlive their work relationship. They meet for lunch every other week or so, and stay in touch through email too.

Two or three years ago when Wendy expressed an interested in going to grad school, Joe really encouraged her to do so. They both knew it would be hard, working full time and going to school, but Wendy decided it was what she wanted. So she enrolled in George Mason's Conflict Resolution masters program. Fast-forward to now, and Wendy has graduated. So we decided to go to the beach to celebrate her achievement.

Despite the fact that Wendy was 35 years old and had never been on an airplane, she has begun to make up for lost time. Her first 'adventure' was to go to the United Arab Emirates. She enjoyed this exotic travel so much she decided to go to Spain and Alaska. Her conflict resolution classes afforded her opportunities to visit other countries where conflict could be studied, such as Northern Ireland, Egypt, Cypress, and most recently Bosnia.

We left Fri night, shortly before 8pm and got up there just before 10:30. The traffic was good, even for this being the last weekend before the "season" starts. We had great weather on Sat, and enjoyed a nice walk on the beach, shopping in Rehoboth, and napping and reading. Rehoboth was having their sidewalk sale and Wendy found some bargains. Sunday the weather was a mixture of clouds and sun, but still very pleasant. We went for a walk on the boardwalk, and finished up the sidewalk sales in Rehoboth. Wendy took advantage of the 'down time' to go threw her photos and organize many of them into photo albumns.

During lunch on Sunday Joe asked Wendy about her pretty earrings. She said she'd gotten them on her trip to Bosnia, and that she always bought a pair of earrings on all of her trips. This gave me a thought: since Wendy loves to write about her travels, loves to take photos, and always buys earrings, I suggested she write a travelogue called "The Earring Diaries". The book would feature her photos and stories of the places she visits, along with a photo of the earrings she buys there. I think it would be a big hit!

We left at 5 and got home at 7:30. It was a fun weekend, and hopefully a good way to celebrate Wendy's graduation.

Tomorrow I have to go to Richmond for work. I have a meeting with some folks to hopefully talk them into doing some things the right way, which of course it my way. Since I drove 4 hours on Thursday, 2 1/2 hours on Fri night, and 2 1/2 hours tonight, I am sort of dreading the 2 hours down to Richmond and 2 hours back home tomorrow. But it can't be avoided. I hope the meeting goes well. While I'm there I'm supposed to meet some of the others I have worked with via email and phone but not met in person yet. That could be fun, only it probably won't be. These people live in Richmond. Need I say more?

I have nothing against Richmond in principle. It's just that they all live and work there, and I live and work here. Even though Richmond is only 2 hours from northern VA, it might as well be a different planet. They think differently, they talk differently, they have different expectations. They are used to dealing with other people from Richmond. I am used to dealing with people all over the US. Its just very.... different. But hopefully tomorrow I can 'build some bridges' that might help connect their planet with mine.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Traffic Court

Oh the fun of traffic court... in Essex County VA, near Tappahannock. (Insert sarcastic smile here.)

Okay, I know, nobody likes going to traffic court. But its not like I had a choice. The officer who pulled me over going 78 in a 55 mph zone explained to me not once but twice that this was not a ticket you could simply pay. "You must appear in court."

It was a Saturday morning, around 9am and I was on my way to the Northern Neck of VA, to help Hugh build that screened porch. It was bright and sunny, the roads were completely dry, and it was 9 o'clock on a frickin' Saturday morning in Essex County VA so there were no other cars on the road. Except officer Allen's. (Note to self: when tempted to speed again, only do so on the highway where there are other cars around in order to provide the officer with a selection.)

Traffic court starts at 10am, so I left at 8am and got there just 2 minutes before 10. As I filed into the little court room I thought "Don't tell me ALL THESE PEOPLE have court dates today... we'll never get through them all". I mean, there were at least 60 people sitting there nervously waiting their turn to ask the judge for leniency. They wound up needing to postpone the criminal court which usually starts at 11am until the afternoon. Unfortunately, I seemed to be like number 52 or of 60, so I was there for quite a while.

One thing traffic court will do for you is make you feel a lot LESS like a loser. At least it did for me. On my way down there I was thinking "Man, what a loser I am. Reckless driving. Damn." But that was before I heard why all the rest of those people were in traffic court. Probably the most common violation seemed to be speeding and driving on a suspended license.

The most extreme case was a 25 year old guy, dressed in a suit and tie, who was in court this day for driving away from the court house a month ago after his license had been suspended. He was trying to tell the judge that since he was acquitted of whatever the other charge was that day, he didn't think his license was suspended. The judge realized he was playing a game and ordered the transcript from his previous case to be read. The guy continued to play his game and the judge got fed up with him. Well, I suppose the 9 speeding tickets and 2 license suspensions in the last 2 years added to it. Long story short: he was found guilty of driving on a suspended license, for which he was fined $1500. AND he was found guilty of perjury, for which he was sentenced to 6 months in jail. The sheriff escorted him from the court room.

I didn't feel like such a loser at that point.

The cast of characters in that court room could be material for several days' worth of blogging, but I will simply summarize them all by sharing this take-away point with you: If you are ever stopped by a policeman, do not say anything other than to answer his questions because what you say CAN be used against you. Just keep your mouth shut and sign the ticket. It says right on the ticket that signing is not an admission of guilt, but rather, a promise to appear in court. Many in the court room that day had apparently never been given this gem of wisdom, which made it harder on them to appear worthy of leniency.

Oh, and did I mention my shock at how some of these people were dressed? Once girl had on very tight, faded hip-hugger jeans, flip flops, and a cropped top. She looked more like a hooker than a court room defendant. Some of the men had on jeans, tennis shoes, construction boots, wrinkled shirts, logo T-shirts, and sweat pants. At least the dress code monitors made them take their baseball hats off in the court room.

I was able to get my reckless driving reduced to speeding, which made it totally worth the 4 hour round trip and the 3 hours of sitting in the court room waiting for my case to be heard.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Idol recap

Last night there were just 3 contestants left: Carrie, Vonzell, and Bo. Since they had a full hour to fill, each contestant got to sing 3 songs. There was Clive Davis' choice, the contestant's choice, and the judge's choice.

First were Clive's choices. For Vonzell he chose the Dionne Warwick hit "I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again". Now that is a challenging song. It has a full octave jump, 3 times, back-to-back in the chorus. But Vonzell did it! However, Clive cautioned her about smiling too much during a song that is supposed to be somewhat reserved.

For Carrie Clive chose the Roy Orbison/KD Lang hit "Crying" - another really challenging song. This song has a very wide range, but Carrie did a beautiful job with it.

Clive chose Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" for Bo. I thought "WHAT???" That song is no where NEAR the difficulty of the songs he chose for the females. Any half-talent could sing that song. That just didn't seem fair.

Next was the contestant's choice, and Vonzell sang the Aretha hit "Chain of Fools". Carrie surprised me with an Air Supply hit "Out of Nothing at All". Bo sang his choice a cappella, but I had never heard the song before and can't tell you the name of it. I didn't like it.

Finally came the judge's choice. Randy chose Donna Summer's "On The Radio" for Vonzell. I'm guessing he picked that song because of it's boring, repetitiveness. He must have thought 'if she can make THIS song interesting, she's a star'.

Paula chose the Rolling Stones' hit "Satisfaction" for Bo. Once again I thought 'why in the world would you pick that song for a singing competition?' There's barely a melody line, and there aren't more than 4 or 5 different pitches to sing. Once again, it seemed to me that Bo was given an incredibly easy song to perform.

Simon chose the Shania Twain hit "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" for Carrie. As you'd expect, she did a good job and had fun with it.

At the end of the night Joe & I both said we hoped Bo would go home, and the finale would be between Vonzell and Carrie. If that were the case, I wouldn't mind who won. I think they are both great singers and performers. But we both knew that Bo was too popular, and that Vonzell would be the one to go home on Wednesday.

We were right. Poor Vonzell had to go home, so next week's finale will be between Carrie and Bo. I still think Carrie will win. She's definitely the better singer - hands down.

What am I going to watch on Tuesday nights when American Idol is over???

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What a week!

I wish that meant 'Wow, that week was so good I wished it wouldn't end'. Unfortunately the opposite was true.

Last week was so hectic at work I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. So much stress and pressure. I fought really hard not to stay at work for 9 and 10 hours a day as I have done in the past. Its just not good for you to do that.

Friday evening I was SO HAPPY to be going home from work! I knew I had done all I could do, and that would just have to be enough. Friday evening we met up with our friends Mike & Clark and Ron & James and we all piled into our Suburban (nick-named Subur-barn) and headed up to the beach!

We had a fantastic weekend! The weather was beautiful so we had a lovely time doing some outlet shopping, people-watching, and walking around in downtown Rehoboth. Saturday night we had a fabulous dinner at Fish On, a real quality restaurant in Lewes.

We did a lot of talking, a lot of joking, and a LOT of laughing! It was exactly what I needed after such a long, hard, stressful week at work. How fortunate we are to have such great friends with whom to relax and unwind!

Tonight is American Idol. There are only 3 contestants left now... speaking of pressure!

Monday, May 09, 2005

I'm tired

Wow, what a weekend. Unfortunately I don't mean 'Wow, how great'. I mean, it was okay. I'm just tired.

Saturday I went into work, which is something I am staunchly against. To me, if an employer knows you'll come in on weekends to keep from getting too far behind, they'll feel confident that you will get the job done even when the job is too much. But, this time I decided to do it because we are in a state of transition at work, and everybody knows I'm up to my eyeballs in work. So, I told my boss that I would come in on Sat and get a big chunk of work done, but that I wanted to take another day off in its place. He agreed. So I worked from 9-5 without a lunch break. It did feel good to get so much done. I never have 8 hours of uninterrupted work time.

When I got home, I was hungry and in the mood for pizza so Joe & I went to CiCi's pizza and pasta buffet. Pretty good food, cheap price. Afterwards we went for a little drive, since it was still light outside and the neighborhoods are beautiful this time of year. Azaleas, cherry trees, dogwoods - you name, its here. There's nothing like Spring in DC. Then we went home and I watched decorating shows and Joe watched some lame movie on HBO.

Sunday I was determined to finish the painting in our office/library. Embarrassingly enough, I started painting this room in October. Yes, you read correctly. October. I had to do a lot of wall and ceiling repair, as the previous owners of this house appeared to have played darts on the walls in this room. Either that or they tried to wallpaper using postcards and pushpins. Either way, there were a lot of holes to fill before I could even start painting.

I had painted the ceiling and all 4 walls, and had started priming the trim. All the baseboards, door jams, door molding, window sashes, and window moldings had been painted with oil-based paint. Since I don't use oil-based paint, I had to prime all that trim before I could paint it with latex, or it wouldn't stick. So, as of October, I'd gotten the baseboards primed. Then, it seemed we got a bit of Indian Summer, so instead of continuing with the painting, Joe & I ran around with the top down on our car on the nice weekends. Then came Thanksgiving, then came the purchase of the new place at the beach, then Christmas, then moving from the old beach place to the new beach place, then came cleaning the old beach place and having some repairs done, then came showing/selling the old beach place. All the sudden, it was May.

So yesterday I was determined not to let the pretty weather or anything else distract me. I primed the doors and windows, took a quick break for lunch, then painted all of the trim. It took me 6 hours. I would have finished the room except I absolutely had to stop painting to get showered and shaved for Mother's Day.

Joe & I took his mother and my aunt to McCormick & Schmick's for Mother's Day dinner. It is a fine restaurant, and they loved it. I had a fabulous seafood fettucini alfredo. Joe had blue fish, and Evelyn and Mary both had the broiled seafood platter. Then we all got dessert! Needless to say, I was absolutely stuffed, and in no condition to finish the last little bit of painting at 9pm last night. I was so tired I went to bed at 10.

So this evening, after working a full day, I painted the attic door and the door jam and molding. It took 2 coats since the color is rather dark. Tomorrow, when there's enough light for me to be confident I don't need to touch up anymore on the door, we'll be ready to fold up the drop clothes, pull up the tape from the wood floor, vacuum, and put the furniture back where it belongs. I can't wait to see the finished room.

"Hi, my name is Mark, and I'm a cable-TV-decorating-show-aholic."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Dinner Parties

This past weekend was our 'entertaining at home' weekend. (If you're new to this blog, check my post on Jan 31.)

Friday night Joe & I had dinner at Rocco's, an authentic family-style Italian restaurant in McLean. He had gnocchi with meatballs and I had the ravioli special. As usual, it was too much to finish, so we brought home left-overs.

After dinner we went to the grocery store. I really don't like grocery shopping, but I also don't think it fair to send Joe alone, especially since the purpose of going that night was to get food for our dinner parties - a task of my inventing.

As a treat to Joe for his recent promotion, on Sat morning we splashed into the city in the rain and bought him a used Tony Little Gazelle exercise machine from someone on Craigs List. It was what he wanted. Then we came home, had our Italian left-overs for lunch, and started cleaning the house.

Man, do I miss our cleaning lady. (Actually I prefer the term housekeeper over cleaning lady.) We used to have a housekeeper come every other week. Some may think of this as a luxury. I used to. But then I decided it was simply a decision based on how I want to spend my time. Do I want to spend every weekend doing some kind of housecleaning, and never having the entire house clean all at the same time? The answer was no. I preferred to part with some of my money and have the entire house spic-n-span on the same day so I could spend my weekends doing other things. So, for about 6 years now we have had the same housekeeper. But 6 months ago we got fed up with our housekeeper (long story) and informed her that her services were no longer required. We figured we'd go back to cleaning ourselves for a few weeks, and see how it went. Unfortunately, we have not yet returned to having a housekeeper. We kind of enjoyed having that extra money, and we just kind of accepted not having a clean house every two weeks. Anyway, back to my story...

After cleaning the house and starting the cooking, we both showered and got ready for our company. My cousin Nez (short for Inez) and her husband Steve came shortly before 6. We ate in the kitchen. We had chicken breasts stuffed with feta, ricotta and spinach, lightly breaded and fried. Dee-lish! We also had salad and almond rice. They brought a chocolate cake for dessert. We had a great time talking, laughing, and catching up. It had been over a year since we'd seen each other. She only lives 45 minutes away, but our lives are very different. They left shortly before midnight. Good times.

Sunday we went to George's house for his big yard sale. The weather was a thousand times better than the day before. On the way home we stopped by our friends Michael and Jamie's new condo. They were painting, but seemed to enjoy the interruption in order to show us around. It's on the top floor and has a huge, fabulous balcony. The decor was a bit dated, (the kitchen screams 'Golden Girls') but I know these guys, and this place will be FAB-U-LOUS when they're done. They're getting married in MA in Sept.

Then we came home and started getting ready for dinner party number two. Our friends Gene and Tracy were supposed to come, but on Sat we found out that Gene's dad had recently had bypass surgery, so he and Tracy were in PA with his family. So we invited Kerry, Hugh, Kelly, and George to dinner in place of them. Since there were 6 of us, we ate in the dining room. We had pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, peas, and biscuits. (Sound familiar? See our menu in my post dated Feb 13.) It was delicious - Joe is such a good cook - and everyone enjoyed it. For desert we had a fruit torte and coffee. They left at 8.

I may have trouble keeping my New Year's resolution to have a dinner party every month, because in May we are going to be out of town every weekend except the first weekend, which is Mother's Day. But I don't feel too badly about it since my original resolution was for one dinner party every month, and so far we have had 2 dinner parties each month. They really are fun, and we have gotten used to entertaining casually. And since we will likely be spending many weekends at the beach this Spring/Summer, its nice to have these dinner parties to stay in touch with our friends.

Bon appetit!

No more Idol predictions

What can I say? Apparently 'America' and I do not have the same taste in singers/performers. My predictions for last week's Idol elimination were totally off. I predicted Scott would go home, but he wasn't even in the bottom three. I predicted Constantine and Carrie would be the final two, but instead, Constantine went home.

So, no more predictions - only commentaries.

I thought Scott did an amazing job last night. He has not been one of my favorites, but I must give him credit for his performances last night. I wonder if Simons' (and my) predictions that he would get sent home last week scared him into pulling out all the stops this week. I was impressed.

Another singer that continues to surprise me is Bo. Honestly, I do not see what everyone else thinks is so great about him. Maybe they like that husky, smokey voice of his, but I don't. I am also annoyed by his frequent, jerking head motions when he sings. Why is that necessary? All the other performers manage to keep their heads from inappropriate movement. Its as if he has turettes or something. I want to put one of those foam collars that people wear after a car accident around his neck.

I thought Spencer's boy Anthony did a good job on his second song last night, but his first one was uninspiring. 'Poison Ivy' was not a good song choice. But he's awfully darn cute and sexy and I wonder how many 13 year old girls and 20 year old gay boys are voting for him for just that reason. :-)

Vonzell continues to do a good job every week. Consistency should be her middle name. Vonzell Consistency Solomon. She's very attractive, has a beautiful voice, and has very natural stage presence. She'll be a star one day.

That leaves Carrie, whom I predicted weeks ago would be the winner. Well, true to my decision tonight to stop predicting, I am not going to say anything else about her chances. Instead, I will say that I think she has the best vocals of them all. And since this IS a singing contest, she should do well.

Tonight is elimination night...