Thursday, December 29, 2011

Update: And Then That Happened.

Hadi from Turkish Airlines finally called me around 12:45 this afternoon, just as I was beginning to tip into panic mode again.

They had my bag. Green-gray, not black. It had somehow appeared on the baggage carousel about ten minutes after we'd frantically run to catch our Delta flight. I have no idea why one piece of baggage would be pushed out of the aircraft a good hour and a half after everything else, and, quite frankly, I don't want to know.

Hadi was ready to ship my bag to Baltimore, but I explained that I was scheduled to leave early tomorrow morning to come back to New York. New Kid, who we are going to stay with this weekend, generously offered to act as guardian of my wandering suitcase, and Hadi said it was no problem to have the delivery service drop the bag off at her office in midtown Manhattan. At 2:30, I got a text from her saying that the delivery service had called to confirm the bag was on its way. Subsequently, I received an email from Hadi saying that the bag had been shipped out, and should be to New Kid before 6pm.

Relief doesn't even begin to describe it. To celebrate the fact that I would not have to purchase an entirely new wardrobe, at least at the moment, I went out and bought a pair of killer glitter stillettoes to wear with the little black dress I have for New Years. ON SALE. FROM MARSHALLS. LIVIN' THA LIFE, BITCHES. 

Around 7:30, I received a text from New Kid stating that she was still hanging around at work waiting for my bag, did I have any idea when it might be arriving, and that this hanging around was leading to unproductive behavior such as perusing oil tiki paintings online and should she buy one? I responded "No idea, and yes, of course you should."

A call to JFK's baggage claim delivery person (is there some sort of term for this area of work? Perhaps "Disorganizer?") revealed that there were 16 airlines with bags on board a van that was working its way through New York City, and if my bag hadn't arrived by 9pm to call them.

I felt guilty, as though I'd somehow foisted my bad Turkish Airlines juju off on my innocent, helpful friend. I also didn't want her waiting around at work until 9:30 for my bag, which by now should have its own hashtag. 




Pick whichever one you like. They're all up for grabs, I believe.

So I bit the bullet and called the baggage claim delivery person (hereinafter referred to as "The Disorganizer") and explained the situation, asking if the address for the destination of the bag could be changed to New Kid's home address. Realizing that this could be a completely disastrous error, given that they lost the bag between the belly of TK0001 and the baggage carousel. Giving them too many directives didn't seem a wise idea at this point, but I couldn't have New Kid sitting around her office until 9pm.

It's a good thing I chose this course of action, because when New Kid called the dispatcher to confirm the change of address from one area of Manhattan (mid) to another (lower), they informed her that it should arrive "sometime before midnight."

How many bags, I ask you, are on a van that results in a ten hour tour of New York City?

Nevermind, I don't want to know.

So it's 9:30pm, we are scheduled to leave here at 7am. I am hingeing all my bets and bringing with me only my new shooo-ess, my black New Years dress, and a few pairs of clean underwear and socks. If I err in the wrong and my bag does not make it to New Kid's tonight, and somehow disappears again, I will be spending the weekend in one pair of jeans and inappropriate shoes for daytime. 

My internal clock is all whack and thinks it's time to go to bed ("IT'S 4:30AM!" it says), but I am trying to coax it into staying awake until at least ten, so that I can sleep past 3am. So far, the jet lag actually hasn't been too bad. My formula for heading off severe jet lag shall be revealed later. In tableau form. Be excited.

When I get my camera cord, that is. Out of the suitcase that, by now, must smell like a high school locker room with all of my dirty, dusty, sweaty clothes lumped into it for going on four days. 

Fingers crossed that thing is circling lower Manhattan as we speak, and that it's safely in New Kid's hands before I arrive tomorrow morning....

9:42pm - text from New Kid
"I have the suitcase."

You can all breathe now.

And Then That Happened.

Glitteratis, I have so very much to share with you.

Our trip to the Middle East was, quite possibly, one of the best things I have ever done. I learned, saw, ate, imbibed, swam in, and rode (yes, rode - as in a camel AND a donkey) so many things that, sorry to be cliche here but I'm completely exhausted, blew my mind.

The trip itself was a gem, a high high, and complete magic. I can't wait to show you pictures. Which I would do now, except I don't have a cord for my camera. And I'm exhausted, and still sitting in the same clothes I've been wearing for the last three days.

I want to get this post out of the way first, mostly because I am still embroiled in it and also because after this, I will post pictures and tell you all of the amazing tales of the trip, and this post will get pushed to the bottom of the pile underneath all of the good. 

This post is not good. This post is about the hellish last 72 hours we've had to endure.

I also want to point out before I launch into this that I have never been to a friendlier country than Jordan. Everyone - from cab drivers to servers, pharmacy owners to hotel staff, even little children running around in the streets - called, "Welcome! Welcome!" and showered us with questions about what we liked most about Jordon. (The food. Islamic art. The food. The haunting calls to prayer five times a day. The food. The music. The food. The intelligence and worldliness of a deeply religious people. The food. The hospitality. The food.)

So please do not let this post lead you to believe that I am over-generalizing, or dousing the trip in negativity, or dwelling on the bad. It is only because I am sitting in dirty clothes and currently having a massive panic attack that I'm about to launch into a description of the worst travel experience I have ever had. After that, nothing but magic!

We were scheduled to leave Amman on Tuesday morning at 6:30am, fly to Istanbul, have a two hour layover, and then fly from Istanbul to New York, arriving in the states around 3pm EST. The last leg was a flight scheduled on Tuesday from New York to Baltimore at 6:30pm. 

And so, we were up at 3:15am on Tuesday to finish packing, and grab our scheduled car to the airport by 3:45 (they insist upon 2 hours prior to check-in, and cabs in Amman can take either five minutes or forty five minutes to get you somewhere depending on the driver, time of day, condition of car, and alignment of stars in the sky. We weren't taking any chances.)

I should have known that things were amiss during that cab ride. It is winter in Amman, meaning it actually gets pretty chilly (lower 40's), and actually rains. The combination of the altitude of the mountains and valleys plus moisture in the air leads to the worst fog I have ever seen. You can't see six feet in front of you while walking, let alone driving. Our driver expertly propelled us through the ground clouds (and then politely demanded a 4 dinar tip) and got us to the airport on time, but not after we witnessed a car wrapped around a light pole, and another car going the wrong way on the highway, so discombobulating was the fog.

We arrived at the airport and dutifully went through passport control and security (where they discovered our purchase of antique knives, which went through some scrutiny but were eventually passed through in checked luggage), and found our way to our gate. We got there by 5am for a delightful hour and a half wait until the flight. I curled up on the plastic chairs and dozed off while The Gentleman watched "Archer" on his laptop. 

I must have been more exhausted than I thought, because I woke up in a panic at 8am. Had we missed our flight? No. Delayed due to fog. I curled right back up on the most uncomfortable chairs, and fell right back asleep.

I woke up again at 9:30am to a coup. Everyone had been locked up in the gate area since before 6am with no food, no water, and no open cafes. The airline staff was trying to assure people that as soon as the fog lifted, the flight would be on its way. They passed out bottles of water, and brown paper bags with white bread cheese-and-mystery-meat sandwiches. People were enraged. It was a mad house.

At this point, we realized we were going to miss our connecting flight to JFK, which was leaving in two hours. It was easily a two hour flight from Amman to Istanbul. The math added up to nothing good.

I asked one of the airline staff about this situation, and was gruffly told, "Yes. You are being put on the flight to New York for tomorrow. When you get to the airport in Istanbul, they will take you to a hotel for the night."

At this point, I wasn't panicking. We had a couple of days before we needed to be anywhere, so being delayed a day wasn't so bad. And it could be much worse than having to spend a night in Istanbul. In fact, I was downright cheery about the extra day of vacation until I realized this meant that we would subsequently be missing our Delta flight from JFK to BWI, scheduled a mere 14 hours away. 

Suddenly, the fog lifted, and there was a mass stampede out of the gate onto the plane despite the pitiful efforts of airline staff to retain order. The Gentleman reasoned that we could call Delta once we got to Istanbul and figured out the plans.

The flight from Amman to Istanbul was calm, and everyone settled down once they had their requisite quiche and sweet bread. (The food on even the shortest of flights is just so much better around the world than in America.)

We arrived in Istanbul, and this was the end of the peace. The Gentleman and I were shoved, along with everyone else, into a highly disorganized line in front of a counter staffed by four or five completely overwhelmed airline staff who, it seemed, were all on their first day of the job.

The Germans and the Brits have queuing down to a science. They could form perfect lines in a hurricane. The Turks, Italians, French, and Jordanians thrust into close quarters after everyone has missed a connecting flight was utter chaos.

I now think that some of the lowest points of humanity can be glimpsed in a throng of stressed, hot, tired people forced to stand in a line for hours with no sign of relief. I saw a grown man push a little girl out of the way, and I saw an irate Italian mother scream what I can only assume are obscenities at airport security staff. The Gentleman and I stood there, overwhelmed and perplexed, and tried to queue like good little Americans as if that would earn us points. It wasn't long before we were throwing elbows too, after three or four families and individuals cut in front of us in line.

We finally reached the counter after about an hour and a half of queuing, and the staffer there seemed completely mystified as to why we were there, as if she hadn't just spent the better part of her morning dealing with the passengers of a very late flight. She finally checked our passports, issued us new boarding passes for tomorrow, and reminded us that we needed to purchase visas to leave the airport in Turkey. This point was the site of my first meltdown, and in retrospect, it was a teensy, tiny little blurp in the scheme of things. It happened because I was hot, hungry, exhausted from standing in line, tired of being shoved around by irate foreign men and women who acted as though I wasn't even there, and I happened to glance down at our new boarding passes to discover that the Gentleman and I were no longer sitting together. On an 11 hour flight, we would be on opposite ends of the cabin. A few tears leaked out, and I looked at him in panic.

"Is there any way you can change our seats? It's a long flight, and we are travelling together," he said, politely, to the woman behind the counter who looked as though she wanted to kill herself, all of us, or possibly both. I couldn't blame her for rolling her eyes, but to her credit, she started pressing things on her keyboard and, a few minutes later, ripped up our passes and printed us new ones with seats together.

We took our new boarding passes, went through passport control (we had purchased visiting visas the week prior, which are good for 90 days, so we didn't have to fork over $20 apiece again to enter the country), and wandered the terminal looking for a "hotel desk." But not before a pit stop at the ticket counter to inquire about our luggage. 

"It will go on tomorrow's flight to New York," the staffer assured us. "It is already checked, you do not need to do anything." Which also meant this: we were going to spend the night in Istanbul with only the clothes we were wearing, and our carry-ons filled with entertainment and Jordanian dates. Still, it was one less thing to worry about, and we reasoned we could find a pharmacy and purchase whatever toiletries we needed.

We pushed our way through the terminal to wait in another line at the hotel desk. At this point, it was 3pm, and we'd been up since 3:15am with only one meal in our systems. The airport was stiflingly hot, everyone was pushing one another again, and I was experiencing a newfound caffeine withdrawal, born of a week of thrice-daily Turkish and Arabic coffees. My level of frustration was peaking again, and I was not being my Best Self. At all.

After waiting another thirty minutes in line, we were told to step aside and wait (again) for the shuttle that would take us to the hotel for the night. We managed to scarf down some sort of vegetable sandwich from the Starbucks next to the hotel counter (IT WAS THE ONLY THING AROUND.)

I had always envisioned being laid-over in a foreign country and being put up in a hotel as a remarkably glamorous happy accident. A free night in Istanbul with the Gentleman! How perfect!

It's not.

At all.

For one thing, the shuttle will take you to a depressingly un-glamorous Turkish Marriott Courtyard located five minutes from the airport and an hour from anything in the city of Istanbul. You will be grouped with a family of six who is being forced to share a single hotel room, a man who has some family member ill in a hospital in London who has missed his flight and has decided to rail against anyone and everyone in his path, and a handful of perplexed Iraqis and Palestinians who have just gone through a passport control that would destroy any American. (The legality of Iraqis and Palestinian travel to be discussed in another post.)

By the time we had checked into our room, dealt with spotty wireless trying to contact Orbitz and Delta to change our flight, finally made a $25 call to America to Delta to be told that it would "only" cost $200 each to change our $160 flights, it was 5pm. We had eaten a meal and a half, had been awake and standing in line for 15 hours, and were so completely exhausted, frustrated, and stressed that all we could muster was to toddle downstairs for the free dinner provided by the airline (chicken breast, white rice, and french fries - OH MY.), and then back upstairs were I finally succumbed to exhaustion and the overpowering want for my own bed and clean clothes, and had myself a nice little fit.

The reactions of The Gentleman during this day and the following two days are a testament to his character in that he didn't leave me in another country, try to smother me with a pillow, or sell me. He was kind, patient, caring, and endlessly positive. Also during this time, we shared a tooth brush. Gross, but true and somehow oddly romantic. Sort of.

The Gentleman also had the good sense to purchase two bottles of duty free chianti before leaving the Istanbul airport, and he popped one open, turned on some German reality television (Anka's husband, Rolf, is cheating with 15-year-old Annika) and we debated what to do. We were in Istanbul for the night, we should go out. But we hadn't changed any money over, so had no cash for a cab, and both of us were wearing sweatpants which we'd thought would be so clever for the long flight home. It was only 7pm, and for the first time on the entire trip, we opted for conservatism. Even television in another language was failing to hold our attention, and so we made a nest of blankets on the floor, drank 15 Euro wine out of Marriott coffee cups, and watched "30 Rock" on his laptop. Not a bad night.

The next morning, we hit up the free breakfast buffet (which was magical - breakfast buffets having been a highlight of our trip - more on this later) and got to the airport early to check on two things: our luggage, and the possibility of upgrading to business class. The luggage, they assured us, was going to New York with us on the flight. All was ok. We didn't need to do anything. The upgrade was "only:" $2,500 apiece. We declined. We went shopping at a bookstore in the airport, where we happily stumbled upon British-released novels by authors we both liked that hadn't been released in the US, and where I stocked up on British Glamour and Cosmo (so much more entertaining than US smut). With a few hours still to go before the flight to New York, we settled at a cafe with coffee and tea, and read our newfound treasures.

After going through four passport checks and two more rounds of security (Turkey does not eff around with international travel), we finally boarded our flight to New York and discovered the only delightful silver lining of the situation: we couldn't buy our way into business class, but we had the next best thing, which was two seats in front of the emergency exit. If you have to be on an 11-hour flight, this is the place to be. You can stretch your legs out into oblivion, you're right next to the bathroom, and no one in front of you is adjusting his or her seat while you're trying to eat dinner off a tray attached to the back of it. Emergency exit seating is clutch. The Gentleman, who is a mere 6'4", was visibly relieved. Being folded into an airline seat for anything more than  a few hours requires him to pop ibuprofen like candy to keep from total pain. 

The flight from Istanbul to JFK was peaceful. I watched a few movies, drank a dew glasses of wine, ate the not-too-bad airline food, and dreamed about getting home, doing laundry, taking a shower, and curling up in my bed with the cats.

The glow of feeling better-rested and calm now that we were on our way was short-lived.

We got to JFK, pushed our way through customs again, and went to baggage claim. Everything was running on time, but it had taken longer than anticipated for us to get through passport control, and we had a mere hour and a half before our flight to Baltimore. We stood at the baggage carousel and waited. And waited. And waited.

The Gentleman and I checked three suitcases between us: his, mine, and one small one that we filled with all the stuff we bought. We reasoned that ours was probably first on the plane that morning, so would be last to come out. Sure enough, the last luggage to roll down the belt was The Gentleman's suitcase, our mini gift-suitcase, and someone's bright red Ferrari duffel bag. Not mine.

Panicked, we searched the belt again. Nothing. We were running out of time, and still needed to go through the second round of customs where they would search our checked luggage. We still needed to check in for our Delta flight, and check our bags. An attendant standing near the belt told us to go immediately to Lost and Found, located just on the other side of customs. We breezed through customs, and stood in another line of angry, irate people who have now been bumped, missed flights, and have lost luggage. It was not a good place for any human being to be. 

At this point, any shred of calm I had left in me completely and totally disappeared. We had an hour to get on our next flight, which included checking in and checking our bags. Finally, it was our turn. 

Here is what should have happened: the attendant would take down my contact information, fill out a reference report, copy my passport, and give me a reference number and tell us to be on our way, that they would track the bag and have it Fed Ex'd to us when it was found.

Here is what actually happened: the attendant looked quizzically at us and remarked that it seemed odd that two of the pieces of luggage would make it, but not the third. He asked us again and again if we had checked the tags of every piece of luggage on the belt. Of course we hadn't - I hadn't seen my suitcase, so it's not like I went through and looked at all of the serial numbers on all of the bags.

"Wait here, I will go look and see," he said. And here is where I made another crucial mistake:

"Your bag is black, correct?" he asked. "Black, upright, wheels, handle?"

"Yes," I said. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, I was stressed and anxious, and I was so far gone in my mind that I forgot that my bag, which my parents gave me right before I left, was not black. It's green-gray.

He returned ten minutes later. "We have your bag. But no ID tag on it. But we have it. It must go through customs and be checked by TSA before we can bring it to you. So please just wait over there. Ten minutes, please."

Relieved, we made our way over to the side. At this point, we had ten minutes left to check in for our Delta flight. By some act of God, the ticket counter was right next to the Turkish Airlines lost and found counter. I sent The Gentleman over with my passport to check us in, check the two bags we had, and explain the circumstances.

We waited for forty five minutes. The Lost and Found attendant went to check on our bag again.

"Sorry. TSA is on their allotted break. Your bag cannot be checked until they return."

I'm sorry, what? Are you fucking kidding me? TSA is on a BREAK? Yes, yes, union and all that or whatever, but COME THE HELL ON.

"You should go and catch your flight. I will have the bag Fed Ex'd to you tonight. Please call Turkish Airlines as soon as you get to Baltimore, and explain the situation."

At this point, I dissolved into a fresh round of exhausted, child-like crying. I did NOT want to leave JFK without a visual on my bag. Something in me knew that if I left the situation, I'd never see it again. I  should have paid attention to this instinct. Instead, I allowed the attendant to convince us that all was fine, I would get my bag, we should hurry to not miss our Delta flight.

The Gentleman bought me a turkey sandwich and a water, and hurried me to the Delta gate. I could not stop crying. He kept reassuring me, kept trying to tell me that everything was fine. I was at the end of my rope. It had been 48 hours of travel, I was exhausted and disgusting, and I had no luggage.

Compounding this: we are scheduled to take a train back to New York City tomorrow for a glamorous weekend of New Years Festivities with friends I cannot wait to see. Knowing that I was leaving my bag in the bowels of JFK meant I would have no clean clothes, no nice shoes, no party dresses, no accessories, nothing. I had overpacked for Jordan, filled my suitcase with brand new clothes I'd just bought, and I had almost nothing back in Baltimore suitable for a weekend in New York. Nothing.

I cried like someone had run over my cat. I cried as they checked my boarding pass and passport, I cried as I boarded the tiny commuter plane, I cried while we waited on the tarmac, and I cried during take-off. Less then three minutes in the air, I suddenly recalled why I felt so icky about the situation:

"My suitcase. It isn't black. It's GRAY," I wailed to The Gentleman, who is a total and complete saint exuding nothing but patience.

I cried for the next ten minutes, fell asleep in a headachey, stuffy position, and woke up just before landing to start crying again.

While The Gentleman waited for our two pieces of luggage at the carousel, I called Turkish Airlines.

"What is your reference number?" the employee asked me.

"I don't have one, I-"

"You did not file a reference report at JFK?"
"No, the attendant said that he would send us the bag-"

"Without a reference number, we have no tracking and no responsibility. You must go back to JFK with your passport and boarding pass and fill out a reference report."

"I have to get my bag?"

"Yes, we can do nothing over the phone."

At this point, it was 9pm EST, and so 4am to our bodies. And I did what any person who has been traveling for 48 hours, shoved and pushed, kept away from my home and my bed, my cats and clean clothes. I hung up on the attendant and sobbed.

The Gentleman's friend came to pick us up and take us home. I cried all the way. I cried until the  moment I laid down on my bed, passed out for five hours, and woke up dead awake at 5am and cried some more.

I fell back asleep and woke up around 8:30. I didn't have anything left in me to cry anymore. I walked to Whole Foods where The Gentleman bought me a coffee, some oatmeal, and some Calming Tea.

My morning has been spent calling every Turkish Airlines ticket counter, Lost and Found, and Cargo Service in JFK. No one apparently showed up to work today. I'm still wearing the same clothes I was wearing when I left the hotel in Amman at 3am Tuesday morning. 

We are due to leave for New York tomorrow on an Amtrack train at 8am. It seems now that we will not be meeting up with our friends as scheduled, but going straight to JFK to try and hunt down my luggage. I am not crying anymore, but that is only because I am so drained, I have no tears left.

As I said, this too shall pass. We got back safely, everything lost is just things. I am home, with my cats, and I am about to take an epic shower and put on clean clothes. I just had the best trip of my life. This lost baggage, even if it is permanently lost, is an inconvenience. The important things are this:

1. We are home safe.
2. I could not have gone through this experience with anyone but The Gentleman, further pointing me to believe that he is the best person on this earth.
3. I crossed about 17 things off of my bucket list in the last week.
4. The Gentleman has lost baggage protection on his credit card, which was used to book the flights. If my baggage is well and truly lost, I will take whatever money I can get and buy a whole new wardrobe.
5. I am from a country that is recognized around the world as an actual country, and have a valid passport. I will never take those two things for granted again.

Just breathe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


يسافر - travel

I'm sitting on my bed drinking my Whole Foods coffee, eating a bagel with lox, and watching Tori and Dean while totally judging them for having the most boring lives ever.

Even if this wasn't the day we leave for vacation, it would still be a pretty decent day off of work, so far.

Last night was the last trivia of 2011, which was fantastic. All of my regular teams showed up, prizes were given out, and a couple of the teams decided to send me off on vacation with shots of Jack Daniels Honey, which is equal parts kind of delicious yet totally disgusting. 

Everything has been moving so fast, I can't believe that we're leaving in just a few hours. I have packed and repacked my suitcase about seventeen times, each time forgetting/remembering something crucial. 

(Scarves! I need more scarves!)

(Layers! More layers!)

(Note to self: this is not a good time to flick through a news website and read the article on that plane crash in Texas.)

I digress.

Today is going to be an incredibly long day. We'll be landing in Istanbul at what will feel like 2:30am, and then tour the city until 10am (EST). Really, we are landing at 9:30am Eastern European Time, and heading back to Ataturk International around four in the afternoon tomorrow to fly to Amman. But unless I can get some sleep on the plane (which is unlikely as The Gentleman collected a list of movies I've been wanting to see on his tablet), it's gonna be 24 hours of exhausting travel.

Not that I am complaining. I have very little to complain about these days.

Part of what I'm most looking forward to on this trip is that mind-blowing experience of going somewhere totally and completely outside of your comfort zone. It happened to me when I went to New Orleans, it's happened every time I've been to another country, and it happens often with my job where I am exposed to inner-city Baltimore families and neighborhoods I'd never normally traverse on my own. 

Going to Jordan will be an experience in and of itself, but it's also a great opportunity to have exposure to things that sort of get drowned out in the American media. Jordan is the eye of a lot of hurricanes, and Amman supports a lot of different people in its borders. I will hear about Palestine and Syria without the lens of the American media. I will see divides of wealth that are virtually unheard of in the US. I will see a place where women have gained independence far more recently. And I will see women who adhere to more traditional values that might feel conflicting to me.

Stepping outside of your world offers new perspectives that you take home with you and turn over in your mind, and they change you, however subtly or overtly, forever. I value these experiences and consider them vital to my existence. I have always been curious about the world, always wanting to learn more, always wanted to sate my itching traveling foot.

And then there's the aesthetics. Beautiful ruins, breathtaking views. Tastes, smells, textures, stories, and all of the things that make travel amazing.

And I get to do all of this with The Gentleman. That's pretty freaking awesome, and possibly the best part. He is my most favorite travel partner.

I could not be more psyched for this trip.

I need to go repack my suitcase again.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

48 Hours to Jordan...

Well, really more like...72. 48 hours until we leave, and then a solid 24 hours of traveling from Tuesday to Wednesday.

The itinerary has us flying to New York on Tuesday afternoon, and then from New York to Istanbul. We have a decent layover in Istanbul that leaves us with about 5-6 hours free (after arrival/customs/re-check in) with which to explore the city. From there, we fly to Amman, arriving Wednesday night (Amman time - Wednesday afternoon EST).

I've dealt with jeg lag before, and the biggest time frame I've had to combat is +6 hours when I went to Italy. Turkey and Jordan are both only +7 hours, but the killer here is the travel times - leaving Tuesday afternoon and arriving in Istanbul at what will feel like about 2:30 in the morning, having to spend the next 7-8 hours awake as we tour Istanbul, check back into the airport, and then fly to Amman. The plus side is that we'll get to Amman in the evening on Wednesday and hopefully just want to pass out at the hotel, giving us a fresh start on Thursday.

The other clincher here is that we're only gone for a week, so I have a feeling that as soon as we adjust to the time change, it'll be time to come back.

And these are the biggest problems I have to ponder at this moment. That, and wondering what to wear. Currently my room looks as though there were forty people standing in it during a Rapture. There are full outfits draped over every available space, and mapped out on the floor. Because when you travel, you have to take the entire outfit into consideration.


I digress. The most important items, however are packed:

Passport? Check.

International Driver's license? Check.

Journal? Check.

Tina Fey? Check.

Good to go.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

First Little Italy Christmas

In all of the crazed preparation for spending Christmas in the Middle East, I managed to take some time out to decorate New House (which is less "New" now and more just "House," or even "Home") with the roommates.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Because We're Only In Jordan Until the 27th....

...have to have New Years plans!

We get back from Jordan on December 27th, have two days at home (which will probably be spent sleeping off some epic jet lag), and promptly leave at 8am on the 30th to head to NYC for the weekend to stay with New Kid, go back to the best steakhouse I've ever experienced, and meet up with The Gentleman's friends who are flying in from Cali for the weekend.

Naturally, because it's New Years, in New York, we made reservations. Tickets are booked for Ars Nova's New Years' Eve Spectacular. I am beyond psyched.

5th annual Book Club Christmas party tonight. Booze, potluck, White Elephant exchange that always turns more than a little bit competitive, and a discussion of "Matched." Why is Young Adult literature so awesome these days?

Other things I've read recently that I highly recommend (and all passed on to me courtesy of Stupid, who has great taste in literature):

One week from now, we'll be on a plane to Istanbul. Where did December go?

Friday, December 9, 2011


So, we are less than two weeks out from the Big Trip, and I'm starting to get that frazzled, frantic feeling that comes before any vacation. Especially one to, oh you know, the Middle East.

After having done some due diligence and asking around of friends who are well-traveled, I feel that I have a pretty good set of expectations for this trip. For one thing, we're going to Istanbul and Amman; not to, say, Saudi Arabia. I'm allowed to drive a car, walk around with my head uncovered, and exercise a host of other freedoms not available to women in certain countries of the world. Amman is pretty Westernized and full of expats. They are used to tourists and, should I choose, I could pretty much wear/do whatever I wanted.

That being said, I like to think of myself as a considerate traveler. I wouldn't dream of walking around baring cleavage in Amman any more than I would wear hot pants to church. No one's going to arrest me, but it's just common courtesy. And failure to comply with good manners earns you stares, whispers, and sometimes flat-out rudeness from the locals. All of which I'd like to avoid.

I'll also fully admit that I am glad to be traveling with The Gentleman. My first sojourn into the Middle East, and I would not like to be traveling as a solo female. Secondly, The Gentleman's brother speaks fluent Arabic, which is a major asset for us. I intend to coax him into going shopping with me so that I can have a third-party haggler for goods.

But all of this wanting to be polite and not stand out has led to a sartorial crisis for me. What the hell does one wear in Jordan? While I know it's not a fashion show, I'm a girl who likes Styles and Things, and it's just as important to me that I'm fashionable while remaining conservative.

I posed this question to one of my aunts, and she supplied this incredible helpful blog entry (ask Google and ye shall receive!), which has now become a sort of blueprint for the kinds of things I should pack.

Layers, layers, and more layers. The weather there looks to be fluctuating between 40F at night and upper 50s during the day, which is perfect layering weather. But then, you also have to be fashionable whilst dune buggying, ruins-climbing, Turkish coffee-sipping, market-browsing, and Christmas-dinner-in-Amman-eating. Good thing my parents gave me an absolutely gigantic suitcase to take with me, and good thing The Gentleman comes equipped with nice muscley arms. Because I certainly can't carry the thing myself. I'm busy being fashionable and aware of local customs.

Along with ripping apart my closet and probably making several emergency trips to TJ Maxx (Oh, how I love thee....), there's a bevy of other To Do items that need to be taken care of. But it will all get done. So I tell myself.

Side note: tonight is Lee and Hot Curry's Final Goodbye. They are climbing into the car tomorrow to head westward for Salt Lake City for the next 4 years. I won't cry. So I tell myself.

Mostly, though, I'm so incredibly excited. Two weeks from today, I'll be in Jordan! Oh wait...crap...TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY, I'LL BE IN JORDAN. I have things to do! Chop, chop!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Receipt

I think only when you truly respect and care about someone can you drive them to the utter edges of insanity...and find it entertaining.

The Gentleman and I were in CVS, waiting for our digital photos to be processed. We needed two of the standard-issue passport photos to obtain our international driving permits so that we can rent a car in Amman. It was a Saturday, and we'd just come from brunch where, naturally, there were...ahem...beverages consumed.

In that effortlessly-charming-and-endlessly-annoying way, he casually crumpled up the receipt for the photos and leaned forward, slyly stuffing the trash into my sweatshirt pocket. And thought himself a genius, no doubt, for not only depositing of this detritus but also now complicating my life. All while smiling so dazzlingly at me. What a nice thing to do.

I decided that throughout this day of running errands and completing chores, what might liven things up a bit is if I declared this receipt the thing that would ultimately send The Gentleman over the edge of sanity. And so I just smiled, removed the crumpled ball of paper from my pocket, and slipped it into the pocket of my jeans, unbeknownst to him.

A few minutes later, I made a very touching gesture of slipping my arm around his shoulders, my hand dangling right next to his ear. And I began squeezing and crumpling the receipt at a rapid pace. Which isn't, naturally, anything heart-stopping. Unless you're not expecting it. The grotesque facial expression that snapped out of his features was so satisfying, I was instantly both pleased and proud of myself for thinking of this game.

Later, we were in the car, heading to Triple A to pick up the licenses. I leaned over as if to whisper a secret and crumpled the receipt next to his ear, making sure to brush the paper just inside the ear so as to elicit the maximum response.




"Don't worry about it."

I did it again, and again, and again. Always when he had his guard down, when he was looking away. Over the course of the afternoon, the receipt lost its crinkly-ness and became worn. Instead of snapping and crackling in his ear, it began to whisper the sweet hush of demonic, tortured gargoyles crying up from the gates of hell. Each time, his face contorted a little further until I began to gleefully imagine it getting stuck that way.

Serve him right for putting trash in my pocket.

He cracked that night. After the millionth time of me crumpling the receipt in very close proximity to his ear, he turned on me, and I spied the green rubber band that had been residing on his wrist had now migrated to the cocked and loaded position between thumb and forefinger. The very stance that boys used to torture me in years past: the rubber band finger gun.

Paper might cover rock, but it's powerless against scissors and completely useless against the rubber band finger gun. That is the end-all to all annoying behavior conversations; the trump card of mischievous activity. One cannot compete.

Game over, I sadly tossed the now-shredded receipt into the trash and declared my surrender against the rubber band finger gun. I will admit when I'm beat.

However, I've been to Whole Foods twice since that day, and have started stockpiling those green rubber bands.

Because the only thing that beats the rubber band finger gun is dual draws on both hands.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Post-Crisis, Pre-Thirty

Dear Blogging Community Who Patiently Deals With My Oft-Sporadic Posts,

I'm giving you a fair warning.

December is going to be batsh*t crazy.

I looked at my calendar for the month of December, and there are TWO (yes, TWO) days where I have absolutely nothing planned.

And I already turned down a housewarming, a Christmas party, a baby shower, and plans with my own mother because I was starting to feel crazed.

I'm grateful for the busy-ness, of course, and most everything planned is fun. Some is not so much "not fun" as it is sort of "chore-like;" but awesome chores like, "Get international driver's license." That's a pretty sweet chore to have on your list, don'tcha think?

Last night, I had the opportunity to watch the "Monumental Occasion" 40th lighting of the Washington Monument in Mt. Vernon from the newly-erected roof balcony of the building where Donna's used to be before the terrible fire last year. A friend of mine from high school (who is basically awesome) scored invites for herself, The Gentleman, and me. Open bar, catering by Donna's, heaters keeping us all warm, and the best view of the monument in town. Not only that, it was fascinating to be inside the building where they are now renovating so Donna's can reopen post-fire. It's such an old, beautiful building and was thankfully saved from complete destruction. Because this friend is an architecture nerd, we got to learn a lot about the interior of the building and the plans for its future. Also awesome.

In catching up with this friend, she told me that she reads Ye Olde Blog religiously, and how the content change over the years has made her feel like there's a sense of watching transformation. That meant a lot to me.

Three years ago, I was lamenting boy drama and crying about my future onto this blog. Which made it highly readable (and now, highly embarrassing...kind of like having your high school diary published in the yearbook). Now, the high highs and low lows of life seem to have evened out a bit more into a general sense of happiness about life, my blogging gets kind of sporadic.

I once had a guy I dated ask me if I was ever happy (I guess he meant content), would I stop finding things to write about? I guess I like to think that in my happiness, it's not so much that I don't have anything to write about, it's just that I have different things to write about. It's not about failed relationships, career mishaps, and the rocky life of a twentysomething feeling like the victim all the time.

What is this about? Well, I'm still the same emotional, highly neurotic person I always was, my life is just ten times better now. I still cry senselessly in public, embarrassing The Gentleman, and I certainly still do stupid things, like getting a hot stone massage while hungover and sunburned in Vegas.

If there's one thing I could say to the earlier me, to the me that was in years past, it would be this: you will become exactly the person you want to be, for better or worse. You'll make decisions you never thought you'd make, you'll wind up living a life you thought you couldn't have here or now or in the here and now, and above all- you will reclaim that unquenchable thirst for life that drives you to rebuild houses in post-Katrina New Orleans and snorkel with sharks in the Keys. And run a half marathon. And sign up for another.

It's not really a blog about the quarter life crisis anymore (especially because I'm six months away from 30, so damn well better not be!), or about awkward dates and failed jobs, and started and stalled careers. There's nothing to say it won't revert back to any of these things at any time, because - let's face it - the economy means no one's job is safe and I still stare quizzically at The Gentleman trying to figure out where along the line I got so lucky as to land this guy. But it's more than that now. Somewhere in there, when the drama of things that seemed so huge at the time began to fade away and I made decisions that made me feel confident, my real life began. The one I thought I was meant to be living a long time ago. The one it took many twisted paths to find. I think that feeling is universal to anyone who's tripped and stumbled and somehow regained footing. I certainly don't feel like my experience was unique in any way. I'm just the one who wrote about it publicly.

And now my days are filled with running, with working my ass off at a non-profit where I hungrily devour new projects that require me to do things like learn web design and write grants, eating and drinking my way around Baltimore, watching American Horror Story (amazeballs!), planning our trip to Amman and Istanbul, laughing with Book Club and good friends, and spending time with the best guy I have ever been lucky enough to meet.

So yeah, a lot of things have changed. Damn well for the better.

And now, onto December. READYSETGO!

I Was Told There Would Be Nudity....

Um, of course my friends and I went to see "Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I". We've seen all of them.

We picked a random Tuesday night, which was perfect, because the sparse audience was entirely comprised of women far too old to be excited about a 'tween movie. Women drinking copiously. (Because we only frequent movie theaters that serve alcohol. Duh.)

It meant that our raucous laughter and running commentary wasn't ssssshhhhhh'd by legions of teen Twihards desperate for their first glimpse of a sexual act between the newly-married Bella and Edward. (What good kids they are - NO PREMARITAL SEX HERE!) It meant that we could snort with laughter every time the awkward-looking Jasper graced the scene. Seriously - casting fail. I truly believe that they originally cast him on a whim, realized far too late into it that he spends every scene looking as though someone inserted a broomstick up into his posterior, and then realized they were stuck with him for the entirety of the series, because while it seems you can swap out lesser actors at whim, the primary player should probably remain the same in a movie series. Harry Potter's Dumbledore notwithstanding, obvs. (Spell check just told me that I misspelled "Dumbledor." Congrats J.K. Rowling - your made-up names have infiltrated Microsoft spell check. You truly do own a good chunk of the world.)

The best part was, not only did we have a good, rowdy group of girls, but we brought along our friend, Joel, who had not seen any of the movies nor, to my knowledge, read the books. To come into the series at the fourth movie was brave of him, but he was helped along by the delicious Landmark rendition of a Dark 'n Stormy. And, of course, our witty commentary, which always includes a running debate on just how much Taylor Lautner resembles an alpaca. (Fact.)

Anyhoodle, it's nice to know that although my friends are all embarking on new milestones in their lives as we face the #dirtythirty, we can still rustle up some fun on a Tuesday night at the movies. But only theaters that serve alcohol. And only at movies aimed at the 13-21 demographic. Really, they're movies made for us.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tamales, Por Favor?

We had a very multicultural Thanksgiving this year.

My mom, as per us', made the stock favorites of the feast - turkey, stuffing, taters, roasted carrots, biscuits, and gravy. A family friend brought the green bean casserole and some incredibly delicious caramelized onions. I made my favorite Thanksgiving dish - scalloped oysters. The original recipe that we use every year comes from the New York Times cookbook, but this is an identical rendition.

My Polish roommate made pierogis. And I mean, she made the dough and filling from scratch, rolled and cut out a million circles, filled and carefully pressed each one closed. At 1pm yesterday, about an hour and a half before we were due to leave for Annapolis, she asked if 67 pierogis would be enough for the ten people coming to dinner. Um, yes.

Lemme tell you, those things were beyond delicious. She parboiled them at our house first, and then cooked them in oil with sauteed onion. For dough stuffed with potatoes and cheese and fried in oil, they were remarkably light and incredibly savory. I saw the recipe she was using, but I am going to have to get a translation as the whole thing was in Polish, and I couldn't even come close to approximating a translation on that.

My BF is from New Mexico, and last week when we'd been talking about what to bring to my parents' for dinner, he'd mentioned that tamales are a New Mexican staple for holiday feasts. I did a little online research and found that Michelle's Cafe on Eastern Avenue was voted one of the best places in Baltimore for tamales. So yesterday, before heading down to Annapolis for dinner, I surprised him by taking him to Michelle's to order a bunch of tamales. Unfortunately, what I did not count on was Michelle's being out of tamales at one in the afternoon. One of the servers there spoke a little bit of English, and we managed to communicate the question of where in the near vicinity might not be out of tamales at 1pm on Thanksgiving Day. They directed us to a place that was either a couple of blocks away, or possibly somewhere in Baltimore County; the instructions were a bit vague.

What wound up happening was that we tromped down Eastern Avenue until we found a place that was open, that had a Spanish name on the outside, and advertised tortillas, tamales, and some inexplicably well-endowed Latinas in thongs on the front door.

It was like one of those moments in movies when you see the bourgeois (read: boo-jhee) white couple walk into the bar full of hombres who all stop shooting pool and drinking cervezas to stare. Perhaps the music even scratched to a halt for a moment. Oh wait - it wasn't a movie - this is exactly what happened.

We struck out on any English speakers in this joint, but managed to point at the menu and make gestures indicating our wish to carry out the tamales. We ordered black bean, chicken, and some mystery tamale that involved cream. And then we sat at the bar and enjoyed the most surreal twenty five minute wait I've ever had on Thanksgiving.

The joint was complete with a mural of Mexican farm land on one side, and flashing neon lights framing a giant mirror behind the bar. Incredibly loud Spanish* renditions of pop songs blared on the sound system, and every TV was tuned to some sort of Telemundo-type channel that showed incredibly beautiful and heavily-made up women, and men so handsome they made your eyes ache to look at them. Gaudy Christmas decorations jauntily hung about the room, and I almost had to wonder if perhaps they were not so much for seasonal joy but permanent fixtures. The men drank Coronas with lime and salt, and the only two women in the bar were the bartenders.

My boyfriend pointed out the inexplicable array of liquor stock. Gallons of creme de cacao, handles of Malibu, Dekuyper in Technicolor blues and greens, brandy of every thinkable flavor, and not a pure vodka or gin in sight.

To say that we were out of place is a gross exaggeration. But after a few moments of questioning and blatant stares, everyone returned to their billiards, gossiping, and beer drinking.

It took almost half an hour, but we finally walked out with a steaming tray of the most delicious tamales I've ever had. Seasoned chicken tucked into sweet pillows of corn meal wrapped in husks, with a savory sweet cream dipping sauce on the side. I'm not gonna lie - I am half tempted to return to this restaurant. Preferably on Wednesday nights, when they apparently feature a DJ - karaoke - dance contest night. I wonder if this is when the advertised bethonged girls make their appearance?

I wish I could tell you the name of this restaurant on Eastern Avenue, but I can't for the life of me remember. It has a white, red, and green striped awning and is somewhere between Broadway and Ann. That's about all I know. It's possible the place didn't even have a name.

Boyfriend tells me that these tamales were not quite as good as the New Mexico favorites he grew up with, but perhaps we need to go back to Michelle's for a competitive taste test to discern if in fact they are deserving of a "Best of Baltimore" title.

Dinner was exquisite, the conversation lively, and everything delicious. Both of my new roommates seemed to have a good time, and my family was open and welcoming. Sharing traditions and heritages was a great experience, made all the more exciting by the fact that this was my Polish roommates first Thanksgiving feast ever. In her toast at the start of dinner, she thanked everyone for helping to make this memory so special for her, and she said that being with my family was the first time she'd felt at home since moving to the States in August. Living far away from home is challenging and exciting, but sometimes all you want is a dinner surrounded by friends and family, celebrating old traditions.

And, you know, hanging out on Thanksgiving in a Mexican bar on Eastern Avenue waiting for delicious tamales.

I consider this practice for spending Christmas in the Middle East.

*My apologies to the Español-speaking community - I have little frame of knowledge for Hispanic vs Latino/a vs Spanish vs Mexican, and so it's entirely possible I have falsely thrown around terms here. This is an error of ignorance. Correct away, por favor.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Isn't she beautiful?

Every year, my best buddy, The Canadian/Lebanese, has a Thanksgiving Feast to end all feasts.

(It should also be known that The Canadian/Lebanese presently kind of hates me with a sort of fiery passion for setting an embarrassing photo composition of him as the trivia's Facebook profile photo. But that's a story for another time.)

Anyhoodle, this year The Canadian/Lebanese had to top last year's feast which was constructed to top the feast from the year before. In 2009, he constructed a beautiful Turducken. In 2010, to raise the bar, he made a Turduckgoopheasantchicken thing that was a complicated and beautiful creation made of six (or was it seven?) different birds. For 2011, it seemed there was no way to top this culinary monstrosity, short of combining emperor penguin and the oft-thought extinct but terrifically delicious dodo inside of an albino unicorn.

Instead, he went whole hog.

See what I did there?

You're welcome.

I digress.

There was a turkey and a chicken inside of that beautiful pig, and just to make the atmosphere merry and bright, he played Babe and Charlotte's Web. It was a magical night.

On Sunday was the BF's annual Thanksgiving with his roommates/coworkers which involved turkey, ham, corn, green bean casserole, ahi tuna, yams, mashed potatoes, three different kinds of pie, a case of wine, and, of course, vodka. Once we'd all eaten to disgusting excess (the very day after eating turkey-chicken-pig, mind you), we sprawled out like beached whales to watch a seasonal MST3K favorite, Santa Claus.

A weekend just doesn't get more merry and bright than that, eh?

Tonight, we have a delicious and boozy night out on the town scheduled to celebrate the recent Doctoring of Hot Curry. This isn't some inference of Frankensteining; Hot Curry successfully defended her thesis this week and is now officially Smart. Dinner, I believe, will involve Peter's Inn followed by nightcaps at Birds of a Feather. Because obviously what you need the night before the biggest feast of the year is a delicious dinner.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving dinner with the BF at my parents, which I am hoping will involve oysters (more on that later), to be shared with some family friends and my two roommates who are Thanksgiving orphans this year.

And, of course, the obligatory gratitude spiel:

If there is anything I have learned in the past few years, it's that you cannot take anything for granted, that gratitude is a daily practice, and that you are owed nothing and but can find just about anything when circumstances are right. We are all born into ideas, plans, classes, and bodies that are riddled with limitations. Your fight is no different from anyone else's in the sense that we're all here to survive one way or another, but disparity is grossly huge and ignorance is soul-shattering. While every person may be born good, people have the potential to become grossly un-good; sometimes even evil. There are bad people in the world who want to do bad things, and there are good people who haven't a clue how to be good because they've never been given a chance. If you have a single moment to speak up, to right a wrong, to do something that makes someone else's life a little bit easier, there are no guarantees that an exact karmic scale will tip back in your favor, but it does create the hope that at a point in time when you need help, perhaps someone will be there. Good doesn't begat more good, it begats hope. Which might be the better.

Let's not discuss the poor, innocent pig pictured here. I may be struggling through my battle of trying to be a benign force in this world, but you dangle some delicious turkey-chicken-pork in front of me and all bets are off.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

That's a Man's Drink

Can I just say that I have had bison tartare twice in the last 48 hours, and that I am completely happy that this is fact?

This fall, I am all about old-school meals and men's drinks.

The BF and I hit up the bar at the spanking new Four Seasons Hotel on Thursday night (and wound up there last night as well, but who's counting?), and I am now a huge fan of Wit & Wisdom.

I'm loving this trend of what I call Woodsman's Drinks, which is any cocktail with a bourbon or scotch base and some sort of sweet-bitter component. Wit & Wisdom boasts a colorful drink menu with a bevy of such goods. My favorite, thus far, is their Corn Oil cocktail which consists of a rum so aged it drinks like a scotch, port, and bitters. Delish.

We tried the bison tartare, which is made with some sort of quinoa-type heirloom grain that they resurrected from near-extinction with the help of a local farm. They were quite proud of this fact, and it is undeniably delicious, but some part of me couldn't help but roll my eyes at the bourge-ness of it all. We have starving people all over the world, and this is the future of farming science - bringing defunct grains back from near-death to sprinkle in a tartare patty at a hotel restaurant and charge $19 for the appetizer. Every now and then, the guilt that accompanies my implicit lean towards crunchy rubs up against my insatiable penchant for adventurous (read: expensive) eating and drinking habits.

Last night, the BF and a group of friends went to B&O Brasserie for cocktails and dinner, and once again found ourselves enjoying some bison tartare, this time accompanied with a fried quail egg and some carpaccio. I tell you, if there's one food item in the world I might possibly love as much as sushi, it's tartare. Ahi tuna, bison, lamb....there's nothing better than a delicious and tender cut of meat eaten raw and accompanied with some good spices. Lebanese Taverna has one of my favorite treats - the lamb tartare - which they serve with top-quality olive oil, sweet onions, garlic, mint, and some sort of incredibly rich and sweet butter. Many's the time that I have gone there and just had that as my entree. With a spicy hummus dish too, of course.

So in addition to the bison tartare last night, I also enjoyed an incredible mushroom ravioli dish and a beet salad. Beets and goat cheese are a favored combo of mine, and this fall I've been hooked on the trend of seasonal veggies in ravioli. Salt had an incredible pumpkin ravioli when we were there a few weeks ago (and Shafly's pumpkin ale on tap, which is probably the only pumpkin ale I've tried that can compete with Dogfish Head's Punk'n), and B&O's mushroom version did not disappoint.

Before dinner last, night, I tried B&O's Manhattan, which is made with port and bitters as opposed to the usual vermouth sweet backing. It was incredible, and strong, which prompted one of my friends to comment, "Now that is a man's drink."

Mmmm. Men's drinks for ladies. I'm loving it.

Root vegetables, hearty cocktails served up, and bison tartare. Fall is awesome.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy Birthday

My mom's 60th birthday party was last night, and the affair was delicious, well-attended, and punch-y. Specifically, Fish House Punch-y. My aunt discovered that this Mad Men-era drink debuted in 1951, the year my mother was born. And, lemme tell you, while I am not a punch person per say; having abandoned all want for drinking large batches of sticky-sweet libations after an ill-fated jungle juice experience in college; this drink is nothing short of delicious. None too sweet, and lacking the cloying factor of most punches, this drink lives up to its name with the punch it packs.

The party was fantastic, and it was great to see so many people turn out to celebrate my mom's milestone birthday. Lots of family and old friends. A time for remembering the past and being thankful for birthdays; in her remarks right before she cut the cake, my mom said that while she can't believe she's turning 60, she's thankful for every birthday she's ever had because, hey, it beats the alternative.

Does it ever. My dad turned 60 two years ago in the midst of Snowmageddon, my mom is now entering this new decade, and I remember that I'm about six months away from leaving my twenties behind. I've had a number of friends already cross the threshold to the dirty thirty, and the process has seemed to afford mixed reviews. Some take it in stride, figuring nothing's really changed from 29 to 30 except what you punch into the treadmill at the gym. Some feel weighed down by the passing of time, perhaps even a few regrets about how that time might have been spent. But, for the most part, I think turning 30 is vastly different from turning 60, mostly because you're not yet realizing that the alternative becomes more and more apparent as you get older.

Turning 30 is fraught with social obligations and expectations, and a time to take stock of what your adult life is really going to look like. But turning 60 has afforded years of experience, and with that experience comes loss. Turning 60 is a time of gratitude and enjoyment, even if it's coupled with a little bit of disbelief. I think there's a learning experience in that.

I've never had any problems with my age, but I'll admit that I have some trepidation about 30. It just feels big. But my mom reminds me that it doesn't have to be - and isn't - bad. Change is good. And, quite frankly, there's a lot of things I'm not too upset to leave behind with my twenties.

Instead of focusing on what I don't have, or what hasn't happened, I think there's an opportunity here to celebrate, and to wish for the vain and spectacular hope that there will be many more big milestone birthdays to celebrate. Because how fantastic would it be to be 60, surrounded by family and friends who love you, who are present, who are celebrating your life with you?

Happy Birthday, Mom. Your grace in turning 60 is something to which I aspire. And when you turn 70, and 80, and 90, I only hope that we make bigger and bigger batches of Fish House Punch to celebrate.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


مغامرة - adventure (n.) an exciting or very unusual experience

In an exciting new twist, complete and total randomness has brought into my life yet another awesome adventure.

My boyfriend is not from Maryland, and with the holidays looming there was that awkward shuffle of trying to figure out what, exactly, was going to happen with everyone. His parents were hemming and hawing about what to do for Christmas, my parents haven't gotten beyond my mom's upcoming 60th birthday party to even think about the holidays yet, and so I really wasn't sure what all was going on.

When you've been dating someone for any length of time, the holidays are difficult to navigate. Too early in the relationship, and the expectations can feel like pressure. Far enough into the relationship, you begin the tricky calculations of how to spend time with both families. It gets further complicated if your significant other has family in another part of the country.

And then, just to throw a wrench in things, BF's parents decided to go to Amman, Jordan for Christmas to visit his brother, who is living there for a year on a post-college fellowship.

Because nothing says "holidays" like the Middle East.

What I didn't expect was this: BF asked me if I wanted to go.

My answer was immediate: HELL YES.

First off, I am a travelaholic. I love nothing more than planning a trip, packing, and going places I've never been before. The Middle East was definitely on my list of places I want to visit, and while I didn't know that much about Amman before a few weeks ago, the more I read, the more excited I get.

I was worried about breaking the news to my parents that not only would I not be home for Christmas, I'd be traveling abroad. But I needn't have stressed. They were absolutely supportive and excited. It will be strange not to spend Christmas with them this year, but we do at least get to see them for Thanksgiving.

It will be slightly awkward to meet BF's parents for the first time in another country after about 24 straight hours of travel and what is bound to be some severe jet lag. But, hey. It's the holidays!

Even more awesome - we scheduled a one day layover in Istanbul on the way there. So I can cross Turkey off my list of countries visited as well.

My Christmas wish this year is to ride a camel. And browse at Books@Cafe. And have a drink at any one (or all) of these fine establishments.

Not only that, but I get to do all of these things with the best travel partner I've ever had. We conquered Philadelphia, DC, New York, and Key West. Now it's time to take this show abroad.

40 days and counting. Expect some epic pictures.

The Dinner Party

First dinner party at New House last night. Bittersweet, though, as it's the last dinner party with Lee and Hot Curry before they move to FREAKING UTAH. Homemade black bean dip, Whole Foods-made guacamole and Mediterranean lentil soup, crab quesadillas, a salad from the Polish roommate, wine and beer courtesy Josh, and a freaking incredible cranberry pear crumble from Hot Curry. Great conversations about the biological necessity of nipples on men, Joe Paterno, Justin Bieber, European dialects, Indian phrases, small pox, and a bevy of other titillating subjects. I do so love me a good dinner party. Especially on a Wednesday night.

To say that I will miss Lee and Hot Curry is an understatement. Lee was one of the first friends I made here in Baltimore, he landed me my first freelancing gig, and he helped me navigate that terrible summer when we lost our jobs due to fire and my boyfriend of four years and I called it quits. (Subsequently, Lee's was the shoulder I cried on during the years of terrible break ups, where he had the grace and patience to say soothing things and not, "Good. That guy was a jerk anyway," which would have been well within the realm of fact.)

I brought Lee to a party a couple of years ago with the express purpose of aiding another friend in introducing him to her roommate, Hot Curry, who is now his fiance. And she is one of my favorite gossip girls, and the one who will drink Lee under the table with me.

Thankfully, we have a few weeks left before they depart. During which time we have to hit up the Explorer Bar and Birds of a Feather. More on those later. And then there's the wedding to look forward to, in April.

Still, I can't help but look around me and see how much has changed in the last four years. Friends moving away, getting engaged, getting married, having babies, getting promotions, new careers, new degrees.

It's pretty sweet to be able to watch someone about to head off on the expedition of a lifetime - primarily Salt Lake City, but also, oh you know, MARRIAGE - and say, "I remember when we drank a bottle of Malibu and you ran down the streets of Baltimore barefoot in your pajamas." Because that happened. And it was glorious.

The Last Dinner Party Menu:

Easiest Bean Dip
(This makes a hell of a lot of bean dip. For fewer than 8 people, I'd halve the recipe. Unless you want delicious leftovers - which I have, and am now overjoyed. So maybe be greedy and don't halve it.)

2 cans black beans
4 TBS chopped cilantro
2 cups hot salsa
cumin to taste
salt and pepper to taste
4 TBS lime juice

Throw it all in a blender or food processor. Transfer to bowl. Or don't and just eat it out of the blender. It's delicious either way.

Goodbye Maryland Crab Quesadillas (via Eating Well)
This feeds 4 people. I doubled it for 6, and all that was left at the end were two lonely tiny triangles that Lee and Hot Curry took home.
  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese (I used regular full-fat, because it melts better)
  • 2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos, (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 8 ounces pasteurized crabmeat, drained if necessary
  • 4 8-inch whole-wheat tortillas
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil, divided (I used olive oil)
Combine Cheddar, cream cheese, scallions, bell pepper, cilantro, jalapenos (if using), orange zest and juice in a medium bowl. Gently stir in crab. Lay tortillas out on a work surface. Spread one-fourth of the filling on half of each tortilla. Fold tortillas in half, pressing gently to flatten.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place 2 quesadillas in the pan and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and quesadillas. Cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges.

When Hot Curry sends me the recipe for her incredible cranberry pear crumble, I shall post.

Apologies for the lack of food pictures - I meant to photograph everything and the night got away with me. It could have been all the wine.