Sunday, February 28, 2010

Uh-Oh, SpaghettiO's!

I've tried to be a supportive partner during TJ's transition from grad student to Foreign Service Officer. I left my comfortable, routine life in Orlando. I made the transition from homeowner back to renter. I attended the new hire meet n' greet. I took a day off from work to attend the spouse/partner orientation. When we received the bid list containing over 100 possible job postings, one of which we will be assigned to for the next two years of our lives, I spent the weekend reviewing the list with TJ, evaluating the pros and cons. We even came to an easy agreement on some surprising locations that we would be excited to live in.

The only thing I did not do was take another day off of work last Thursday to attend a one hour interview that allowed TJ and me some face time with the people that will ultimately make the decision as to where we will be sent. It was no big deal, I thought. We had done our homework. I had work to do. Most places on the list were favorable. He could handle it.

TJ had some work to do yesterday for a team building event his job will be sponsoring this week. We had some errands to run beforehand, and a fast lunch was in order. TJ was nice enough to throw a can of SpaghettiO's in the microwave for me as I got dressed. When they were done, I looked at them and said "SpaghettiO's are supposed to have cheese on them." To him this was a ridiculous notion, but to me it was as normal as could be. No big deal. SpaghettiO's are yummy, cheese or no cheese.
The trouble is, by removing myself from the process, I lost out on cheesey goodness. And I may have inadvertently diminished my say in where the next two years of my life are spent.


Moving to, or visiting, a new place brings with it the responsibility of learning about the local culture, finding the things you like, and absorbing as much of it as possible before you leave. Add to that a recently discovered interest in Judaism, and you've got TJ the sailor and me dressed up like Super Mario at a Purim Party.

Purim celebrates Queen Esther, who hid her Judaism from her husband, King Ahasuerus. When the king's evil prime minister, Haman, asked the king to approve the execution of all Jews in the empire (to punish Esther's Uncle Mordecai, who refused to bow to the minister), Esther revealed her true nature and saved her people. Part of the Purim tradition is to get so drunk that you can't tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai. Sounds good to me!

The DC Jewish Community Center played host to GLOE's Third Annual Masquerade & Mischief Purim Party On Saturday, February 27. GLOE (The Kurlander Program for Gay & Lesbian Outreach and Engagement) did a marvelous job retelling the Purim story through a modern-day fairy tale featuring drag queens and kings lip syncing to the music of Glee and Lady GaGa. Drag is an important part of the Purim tradition, and even rabbis are known to participate. In fact, everyone is encouraged to wear a costume of some sort, giving Purim its reputation for being "The Jewish Halloween."

The event also featured a special appearance by the DC Cowboys, the nationally famous Broadway-style dance group.

Having grown up in a small, Christian-dominated conservative town in the Republican-dominated Texas, this was far from the type of event that I would have ever expected to find at a faith-based community center. Drag Queens? Gay Cowboys? Encouraged drunkenness? Did I mentiona Haman PALIN? Surely there was a mistake.

But, of course, there was not. The Jewish faith is all about respect for one's self and for one's community. It is an impressively tolerant faith that welcomes people from all walks of life, regardless of age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Why, they even believe that there is room in heaven for non-Jews, too. Acceptance abounds. Questions are encouraged. Fun is allowed.

Purim does not set the standard for Jewish holidays, of course. Most Jewish holidays are very personal, very spiritual affairs. The feasting and partying of Purim is designed to be the polar opposite of Yom Kippur, during which Jews fast and spend much of the day in synagogue seeking forgiveness for the year's transgressions.

Prior to leaving Orlando, we attended a few Shabbat services and are currently taking an Introduction to Judaism class at DC's Temple Micah. I'm not certain if religious conversion is in my future, but I am fascinated by the culture and quite eager to learn more.

What does it mean to be Jewish? What are the other holidays like? Why do so many people go to these parties dressed like Mario?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Requiem for a Snowman

Growing up in a rural area, my parents had the opportunity to flirt with the farmer's life a bit. From time to time we maintained a garden and owned the occasional goat or cow. An important lesson from that time period was not to name your livestock, because it creates an attachment that makes eating or selling said livestock harder at a later date.

Nobody ever told me that you shouldn't name a snowman. Poor Bernard. Silly to be so sad about losing him, but working from home gets lonely. It was nice to be able to open the blinds and see him staring at me from the balcony.

Working from home has its advantages. I get to keep my job, my insurance, and my tenure. I don't have to deal with the hassle of finding a new occupation in an unstable economy. I was able to move to DC without feeling like I had given up my entire existence.

There is another side to this coin, though. I am at home more often than not. When TJ wants to stay in and relax, I'm antsy and eager to get out of the house. By keeping my current job, I maintain contact with my old friends and coworkers but do not have the opportunity to find new ones that I can actually interact with socially. Not having to commute is preventing me from learning the lay of this new land.

And did I mention that the isolation is causing me to talk to snowmen?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Snow Buddies

Being in DC has been an...interesting experience so far. I spent the first 23 years of my life living in Central Texas, and during that time, I only saw a significant amount of snow once. I was five years old, and the snow fell overnight. I woke up and there was a thick layer of white on the ground. I remember a snowman, but don't recall whether or not I had a hand in his creation, or if it was just something my father made for me. I spent Thanksgiving 2002 in Boston, MA. There was a very light snow that preceded my arrival, and, prior to meeting up with a friend for a Blue Man Group show, I managed to cobble up a 12 inch snow/mud monster. Not very attractive, but there wasn't much snow to work with.

The last seven years of my life have been spent in Orlando, and again little-to-no snow. During a business trip to Mason, OH in late 2009, I did see the tiniest bit of snow, this time not even enough to make a snow/mud monster.

So, here I am. February 2010, and up to my knees (literally) in snow. On Day one, TJ and I took a leisurely stroll around the White House and Washington Monument. Beautiful structures in their own right, made even more beautiful by the white powder threatening to overtake them. After taking a few photos, I thought it might be fun to actually build a snowman. With knee-deep snow, I only managed a basketball-sized bottom layer before deciding to throw it at TJ instead. Thus a snowball fight ensued. It was not to last very long. TJ is brutal and apparently quite adept at the hit and run strategy.

Afterwards, we abandoned such frivolous pursuits in favor of some culture, and spent the afternoon at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Over the next several days, we were kept busy by the arts, catching a showing of "Disney On Ice" at DC's Verizon Center and "Sweeney Todd" at Arlington's Signature Theatre. Between these adventures, and settling in after the move, thoughts of snowmen soon disappeared. And yet...

Today, a little after 11am, Bernard the Snowman, who lives on my balcony, was born.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Doggone It!," or Preconceived Notions

Chloe, I owe you an apology. You came into our lives after Zelda. Zelda, the weak, frail beagle/jack russell mix who from day one was sick and wanted nothing more than to cuddle. Zelda, who, after months of illness was a healthy, smart, intelligent puppy who still wanted nothing more than to cuddle. Zelda, who can understand English. Let's never underestimate her ability to understand every word spoken to her. Zelda, who, even in this photograph, freezing cold on her first ever snow day, looks so smart and sophisticated. Zelda, the jealous, who from the moment she saw you decided to be even more adorable and lovable, just to spite you.

It would be hard for any dog, no matter how wonderful, to live up to those expectations. Even more so for you. Chloe, the Golden Retriever, destined by genetics to be a toddler for the first several years of your life. Chloe, the awkward, whose long legs and shaggy tail are more destructive than you realize. Chloe, the undisciplined. What Zelda knew instinctively, you could never learn by repetition or scolding. Chloe, the sad. Your destructive tendencies resulted in more crate time for you than was fair. But look at you now. On your first snow day, you look happier than at any other time in your life. You are now Chloe, the alert. Chloe, the stimulated. Chloe, the happy. You have taken so quickly to the cold weather. You were the first to overcome your fear of the snow. What took Zelda almost two days, you learned in one. How to do "your business" in the snow; how to walk in the snow; how to jump in a snowbank so that people can pass on crowded sidewalks. Where Zelda shivers and barks at strangers, you smile and frolick. We have always known that Zelda was a lapdog. We just didn't realize that you were a city dog. I apologize for this disservice. Sure, I just took a half-chewed bar of soap away from you. You will never be perfect. But I love you both, flaws and all.

My Bloody Valentine

One of the perks of moving to the Metro DC area for me was, of course, the close proximity (compared to Orlando) to New York City. I consider myself to be a theatre fan, and certainly go when I can...if not as often as I'd like. I saw this move as an excellent opportunity to make the occasional day-trip or weekend getaway to the Big Apple. I don't consider myself to be a theatre snob but will admit that prior experience has shown a tendency to enjoy Broadway productions more than their traveling counterparts or *gasp* local productions. So it was with great surprise and joy that I found myself completely enthralled by the Arlington, Virginia-based Signature Theatre troupe's presentation of "Sweeney Todd" last night.
Signature Theatre is a Tony Award-winning company, and that badge of honor was well deserved, a fact made evident by every aspect of their Valentine's Day showing of "Sweeney Todd." This troupe successfully accomplished what every live show should strive for: leaving the audience with the impression that the movie was substandard in comparison. Looking back on my past experiences with Broadway, I can hardly say that I thought "The Wedding Singer" was better than its movie predecessor. "Beauty and the Beast," though wonderful, may have been better off in the two dimensional world. Whether the same could be said of traveling versions of either show, I couldn't say. I insisted on seeing them on Broadway. I guess I AM a theatre snob after all. Or was. Todays lesson is to appreciate what is in front of you instead of longing for what can be found four hours down the highway. Washington DC and Northern Virginia both contain a rich layer of arts and entertainment that I have yet to explore. Do I plan to visit NYC? Absolutely. Should it be my primary focus? Absolutely not. I moved here thinking only of what it meant to me in relation to New York's theatre scene. Now, I think it may be wise to schedule the NY trips around what's happening locally.

"Sweeney Todd" is playing at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA from February 9 - April 4.

Home Sweet Home

After almost five years together, my partner TJ and I decided it was time to purchase a home. In February of 2008 we found this little beauty near downtown Orlando, FL. It was a small craftsman home: approximately 1,000 sq. ft. Despite its size, it had some remarkable features: beautiful landscaping, high ceilings with rafters in the living room, and a lakeside view from the backyard.

With its yellow exterior and wraparound porch, it later seemed to us to be the little brother of Carl Fredricksen's home in the Disney/Pixar film "Up." The similarities didn't end there: Like Carl and his wife Ellie, TJ and I are adventurers at heart. Unlike Carl and Ellie, we have been fortunate enough to live out our dreams. We travel as often as we can and fill our photo albums with both potential and realized dreams.

One of TJ's biggest dreams has recently come true. Since deciding to continue his education in 2004, TJ has dreamt of becoming a Foreign Service Officer. The process of becoming an FSO is a long and arduous one best left for a later discussion. What matters is that it is a much coveted position and, having earned his BA in Political Science and an MBA, TJ was primed and ready.

TJ reports for duty on Tuesday, February 16, 2010. What this means for us is that, only two years after purchasing our first home together, we have had to say goodbye to not only our house, but to Orlando, "The City Beautiful," my home since May 2003, and TJ's home since September 2001. This new experience is more than a training period in the Metro DC area. It is the opportunity to travel the world and live in exotic, sometimes dangerous locales. We will not be returning to the "Up" house anytime soon.

The circumstances that brought us individually to Orlando were very different, but the reason that we stayed was the same...for each other. We have decided to rent out our home and to hold on to it for now as a potential retirement property. Perhaps one day, if and when the attachment wears off, we will decide on an alternative course of action.

We have been in DC now since Thursday. On the drive up, we discussed where we would tell people we were from if asked. I spent the first 23 years of my life in Texas. TJ spent the first 17 years of his in Alabama, and the next 3 in Colorado. Four days ago, it was by those states that we chose to define ourselves. Now, if asked, we will quickly and proudly state that we are Floridians.