Random Friday Questions

Why oh Why has Christopher not been sent back to his basement lair in Shakopee Minnesota? I mean, seriously, his designs are heinous, he is consistently in the bottom 2 and none of the judges ever like anything he does. I don't get it. Do the producers of Project Runway have some secret agenda that involves promoting young talentless designers with bad facial hair who live in their parents' basements?

Why do I always think carving a pumpkin for our office Pumpkin Carving Contest is going to be a fun, creative project that will be relatively effortless? You'd think by year #4, I'd have gotten a clue that coming up with an imaginative pumpkin design and actually executing that design with some degree of skill, takes more than 2 hours the night before the contest. But, no.

How did I completely luck out and find the best husband in the whole world who consistently affirms I am the most beautiful woman he's ever laid eyes on, even when I'm crusty and gross, and shows up at my office with a hot pumpkin spice latte when I'm having a bad morning? By no means am I complaining, but how the hell did that happen?!

I hereby request that everyone stop using the terms "prego" and "preggers" when refering to pregnancy or a pregnant woman. I'm sorry, I know these are widely used terms, but I just can't handle it. And with so many pregnant women in and around my life, it's becoming a bone of contention with me. So, could we all agree to just stop saying these words - at least in my presence?

What's the point of raking leaves? No. Seriously. Do the fallen leaves, like, kill the grass or something? What will happen if I refuse the rake up the blanket of leaves in my yard?

That is all. Happy Friday.


ATTENTION Animal Lovers

And if you don't love animals...then, really, what's WRONG with you!?

Anyway, my friend Kelly brought this to my attention, and I think it's definitely worth looking into. A law has been introduced to let pet expenses be tax deductible. The "Tax Relief to Keep Pets at Home" campaign is being sponsored by ASPCA. Basically, with this act, up to $3500 dollars of pet care expenses (including vet care) would be tax deductible.

The hope is that more people will be able to afford to keep their beloved pets in this tough economy rather than giving them to another home or (more likely) giving them to an already over-crowded animal shelter, or (sadly) abandoning them.

Even on my neighborhood listserv, I see more and more people pleading for homes for their animals which they can no longer afford due to hard financial circumstances. I don't know how much help this kind of legislation would be in allowing or encouraging people to keep their pets, but read about it HERE, give it some thought and decide for yourself.

If you do decide to sign the petition, please make sure to confirm your email address (they will send you a confirmation email), or your signature will not be counted.


Shit List

Here are the 30 pieces of shit who voted AGAINST Senator Al Franken's proposed amendment that would prohibit the Pentagon from doing business with any company that requires female employees to sign a waiver promising not to sue the company if she gets raped by her co-workers (Yes, this ACTUALLY happened. Read about it and watch Jon Stewart's reaction HERE)

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Christopher Bond (R-MO)
Sam Brownback (R-KS)
Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Jim DeMint (R-SC)
John Ensign (R-NV)
Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
James Inhofe (R-OK)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Mike Johanns (R-NE)
Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
John McCain (R-AZ)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
James Risch (R-ID)
Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Thune (R-SD)
David Vitter (R-LA)
Roger Wicker (R-MS)

What kind of company would require female employees to sign an agreement promising not to sue them if she is raped by her co-workers? And what kind of person votes to protect the almighty corporation at the expense of the rape victim who has no recourse? It's disgusting, and they should be deeply ashamed of themselves.


I Have No Friends!

Has anybody else found it difficult to cultivate new friends as an adult? No? Just me? Huh.

I'm more than willing to assume my inability to make friends stems from my own anti-social, neurotic shortcomings, but I'm curious to know how other people do it.

Obviously, school is a nearly perfect environment for cultivating close friendships. And I have. I did. But they all live far away now, and I'm lucky if I get to see them once a year. I've been done with school for 8 years and have no immediate plans to return, so the dew is off that lily.

Another obvious friend venue: church. While this seems to work out well for some, it will not work for me as I am not religious and do not go to, much less belong to, any kind of church. With no plans for conversion anytime in the foreseeable future, that option is grim.

Playing some kind of team sport or belonging to some kind of hobby group would, theoretically, be a way to make adult friends. I've actually tried this, and even may have possibly been successful, except that the one person I connected with recently moved several states away. And even then, I've played tennis with dozens of different women and only found friend potential with ONE person. Sad. See? This whole lack of friends thing could totally be my weird (off-putting?) personality.

Then there's work. Also, theoretically, a potential friend meeting place if you're not into that whole separation of work and personal life thing. I work with some really fantastic people and even enjoy hanging out with them, but the pickin's are slim in the close friend arena. I work mostly with males, and while I'm not opposed to male friendships, there are none who I connect with on a friendship level. The women I work with are either too young, or too involved with their young children, or already have full social circles of people with whom I have nothing in common. So while some of my co-workers are super-cool people to hang out with, close friendships have not really evolved via the office.

I've also heard that having children in school brings parents together and that's how many adults form close friendships - through their kids. No kids here, so that's out.

Further, my husband is no help. He doesn't have any friends here either, so I can't mooch off of his friendships. All of his close friends also live far, far away. And of course neither one of us has any kind of family here to assist in widening our social circles.

I was thinking maybe of getting involved in some kind of regular, local volunteer work (that is not in any way associated with my job) as a way of meeting people with whom I might connect. Anybody have any success with that angle?

We were also contemplating hosting a neighborhood get-together at some point to meet more of our neighbors and get to know them a bit. So far, our neighbor interactions have been mostly brief introductions, waves, and hellos-on-the-go.

Anybody have any good friend strategies for a non-religious, childless, somewhat anti-social, mildly-acerbic adult with a dry sense of humor, liberal leanings, and fairly high dork levels?

Sheesh. No wonder I have no friends!


Loose Ends

I'm sort of running out of steam in the whole recent travels arena, and really, how many photos of Roman ruins can you look at before you become bored to tears.

Those Romans, so prolific.

The only place left that I haven't told you about is the city of Jerash in Jordan where we spent a day wandering around, you guessed it, Roman ruins. Jerash is the largest and most well preserved site of Imperial Roman architecture in the world outside of Italy. It's nestled in a valley amongst the mountains of Gilead, and has been dubbed "The Pompeii of the East".

On our drive to Jerash, we noticed lots and lots of pomegranates being sold out of the backs of trucks along the side of the road. Groves of pomegranates patch the countryside, and apparently it was harvest season. That doesn't have anything directly to do with Jerash, I just thought it was neat. Anyway, after Jerash, we drove back to Amman where we then flew back to New York where I promptly got sick. And that is all.

Now, on to more important items. The house. If you're tired of reading about our trip, you're probably even more tired of reading about our damn house. Such is our life and the contents therein. Hey, no one's forcing you to read this thing!

The progress we make on the house seems to be excruciatingly slow. But, there HAS been progress. We finally had carpeting installed in the master bedroom and actually SLEPT there last night for the first time. Miraculous.

This weekend, we painted a second coat of Gobi Desert in the master bathroom and then cleaned, cleaned, cleaned the master bedroom, moved our bed upstairs (moving a king size bed upstairs is neither an easy nor enjoyable endeavor, but through much swearing, laughing, and sweating we got it up there), and moved our nightstand up stairs.

The weekend prior, we painted the master bedroom the same Gobi Desert color of the bathroom (I swear it looks just like the desert surrounding Giza). Our carpeting is a dark chocolate brown and our new bedding is a spicy paprika color. I think it looks cool. Daniel, I think, is unconvinced. Just give him time.

Besides the master bedroom/bathroom project, we are, little by little, picking up various furniture items to furnish our house. We do this mostly by scanning craigslist for screamin' deals. We'd been wanting to find some kind of large table/desk type of thing to put behind the couch in the living room to serve a number of purposes. 1.) A convenient place to set drinks while sitting on the couch, 2.) A place to put a couple of lamps to make reading on the couch possible, and 3.) A desk space where a person could work on a laptop while also being able to watch tv.

I found a desk that fit the bill at a store called Southeastern Salvage, but even at salvage prices, it was a tad pricey for my taste. Then, a week or so ago, lo and behold, I stumbled across a similar piece on craigslist for about a quarter of the salvage price. Sweet. Only problem - it had to be picked up in Santa Fe, Tennessee.

If you've never heard of Santa Fe (pronounced FEE, not FAY, as one might assume), Tennessee, don't worry, you are not alone. It is a minute town about 90 minutes south of Nashville consisting of one gas station and the famous (okay, maybe not) Santa Fe Diner which boasts a Friday Night Fish Fry. We're talking COUNTRY. Middle of NOWHERE. "Nowhere" in the south can go from picturesque to scary very quickly.

Not only was this desk/table in a town beyond civilization, it was also located on an obscure country road named...wait for it....

Pigg Schoolhouse Road

So not kidding.

Honestly, when we found out where we'd have to go for this piece of furniture, I was like, "oh hells no!" But, it looked perfect - perfect dimensions, unique style, pretty dark wood, sweet-ass price. And then Daniel convinced me it would be a lovely, leisurely Sunday drive out to the country. So we drove to Santa Fe and Pigg Schoolhouse Road.

Pigg Schoolhouse Road is essentially a one lane, gravelly, twisty, turny road through the forested hills of Santa Fe Tennessee. There are maybe 2 or 3 houses, a shack or two of unknown occupancy, various dead end dirt paths, a lone satellite dish half hidden in the trees, and a barn with an abandoned home which I am pretty sure is haunted.

But we found our perfect desk/table and it was indeed a lovely Sunday afternoon drive.

And now we know where to hide out if ever we are forced to go on the lam.


Madaba & Amman

Okay, where were we? Petra. Right.

So, after our day exploring Petra, we drove the 3.5 hours back to Amman, stopping briefly in a smallish town called Madaba.

Madaba is known as "The City of Mosaics". Intricate Byzantine mosaics lie underneath nearly every house, many of which have been excavated and put on display in museums. Madaba continues the mosaic tradition within the walls of the Mosaic School where they give tourists demonstrations of how the natural stone mosaics are made.

Compared to Cairo, Amman is a modern city. Compared to, say, Cleveland, it is not. We went to the Jordan archeological museum which has a wonderful, if small, collection of Jordanian artifacts from the ancient Nabateans to the Roman and Byzantine eras, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. It sits high above the city on The Citadel.

The Citadel is the ancient site of Rabbath-Ammon. Excavations have revealed Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic remains and artifacts. The al-Qasr ("The Palace") dates back to the Islamic Umayyad period with the ruins of Umayyad palace grounds surrounding the largely intact structure.

Also atop the Citadel is what is thought to be a Roman Temple of Hercules. The temple was built in the reign of emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 - 180 AD), and is currently under restoration.

From the pinnacle of The Citadel, our guide pointed out a part of the city which used to be a very large Palestinian refugee camp. The Palestinians who live in Jordan are no longer considered refugees and have been granted full Jordanian citizenship along with the all the rights and privileges to schooling and employment. Many Middle Eastern countries have not been as welcoming and continue to marginalize the Palestinian refugees living in their countries - some of who have been there for generations.

Down the hill from The Citadel is the Roman Theater built around 150 AD during the reign of Antonius Pius. The city actually still uses it periodically for sporting and cultural events. It seats about 6000 spectators.

Our visit to Amman wasn't all ancient Rome and Byzantium. We also saw the King Abdullah Mosque, a recent addition to the city of Amman, built in 1989. It is huge and blue, and quite a good example of modern Islamic architecture.


Fuck You, Columbus!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to give a collective "bird" to the asshole known as Christopher Columbus.

If you want to acknowledge Columbus Day, read this, and then observe a moment of silence for the horrific suffering, cruelty, and genocide inflicted upon indigenous peoples by Columbus and his cohorts.

Travel photos and accounts will resume shortly. Thank you for your understanding.


The City Half as Old as Time

T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) wrote: "...so you will never know what Petra is like, unless you come out here. Only be assured that till you have seen it you have not had the glimmering of an idea how beautiful a place can be."

We arrived at the Lost City of Petra early in the morning. And even at that hour it was already crawling with tourists from all over the world. Petra is Jordan's number one tourist attraction. In 1985 it was designated a World Heritage Site and in 2007 was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Petra is much more than just the site from an Indiana Jones film.

"The ancient city of Petra was built from 800 BC to 100 AD by the Nabetean Arabs. In this era Petra was a fortress, carved out of craggy rocks in an area which was virtually inaccessible. In the first and second century, after the Romans took over, the city reached the peak of its fame.

When caravan routes were slowly displaced by shipping, the city's importance gradually dwindled; it fell into disuse and was lost to the world until 1812, when it was re-discovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt."

It is an amazingly sophisticated city, literally carved out of a stone crack in the earth. The Nabateans cleverly engineered a system of dams, cisterns, and aqueducts to take advantage of the regular flash floods the area is prone to, which allowed the city to flourish even in the desert environment.

The entrance to Petra leads through the Siq ("the shaft"), a narrow gorge a little over a mile long. At some points the path is only about 15 feet wide with wall heights reaching 655 feet. At the end of your long dusty journey down the Siq, the spectacular sight of Al Khazneh ("The Treasury") awaits you.

The city of Petra covers an area of about 100 square kilometers with over 800 different monuments, temples, dwellings, steep staircases, and winding pathways. Needless to say, one afternoon is not nearly enough time to explore it all.

Up until 1985, the Bedul Bedouins were inhabiting the dwellings of Petra. Bedouin culture is the root and origin of all the countries of the Arabian peninsula and pre-dates Islam. In the mid-1980's, the Bedouin of Petra agreed to move out of the caves and into a small government subsidized village, Umm Sayhun, on the edge of what is now Petra National Park. Their traditional ways of life have eroded and have been replaced with a market-based economy based on tourism.

Vivien Ronay, a photographer who documented the Bedul Bedouin from 1988 - 2003, wrote, "Because of tourism, some of the people of Petra have gotten wealthy by tribal standards, and this has created economic disparity and a lack of trust. When I visited in 2001, everyone came to me to talk about these new troubles. Western anxiety just hadn't existed there before, and now it seems it has seeped into every nook and cranny."

Though the Bedouins do not live in the Lost City of Petra, they work there by day selling tourist trinkets, postcards, traditional textiles, soft drinks, and snacks.

This Bedouin girl, who was maybe four years old, was camped out with her mother and older brother in between the cliffs of the city, selling postcards to tourists.

Petra is beyond beautiful. Unfortunately, I think the unsustainable tourism heightened by the New Seven Wonders of the World designation is a real threat to the site. But I'm not sure what the Jordanian government can do to ensure that the beauty of Petra endures.


Zaman Means Old

While in Cairo we also went to a papyrus making demonstration at a local artist's studio, got a lesson in Egyptian essence, took a Vegas-style dinner cruise down the Nile, and sweated buckets in the hot, dusty Eqyptian museum. Eventually though, we had to leave the Cradle of Civilization and travel deeper into the Holy Land - namely, Jordan.

The flight from Cairo to Amman was 1.5 hours and then we immediately drove 3.5 hours from Amman to the small village of Petra in the mountains. When I've mentioned to people that we visited Petra, some light up with recognition and some have no idea what I'm talking about. If you've ever seen the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you know what I'm talking about. They filmed the last few scenes of the movie at Petra.

Look familiar?

But hold on a minute because now I'm getting ahead of myself.

We arrived in Petra rather late and immediately checked into our hotel. Our "hotel" was freaking awesome. It's called Taybet Zaman. It is a restored and converted 19th Century Ottoman village. Each stone house within the village has been converted into a guest room. It's built into the side of the mountain and has spectacular views of the Negev desert and mountains.

Here are some pictures of our hotel and our room. We had our very own enclosed courtyard complete with olive trees and water fountain. Our room was spacious and furnished with local Bedouin textiles and furniture.

Okay, so I got a little camera-happy upon arrival at our room. It was just so unique and so unlike anywhere I had ever stayed. After I recovered from falling in love with Taybet Zaman, we ate dinner in the village restaurant, and then spent the evening strolling through the old stone streets. The village contains a pool and a Turkish bath house, plenty of terraces and gardens, a nightclub, and one narrow street containing small shops of local handicrafts. At sundown the air was cooler and you could smell honeysuckle mingling with the smell of stones that had been baking in the sun all day. The distant, but distinct prayer call at the local mosque echoed throughout the valley, and the whole atmosphere gave me goosebumps.

I can't adequately explain it. Everything felt so rich, tactile, multi-dimensional...and OLD. What can I say? I like old.