twenty-sixteen

In twenty-sixteen, I:  Gazed in WONDER at the Renwick.  Traipsed around the City of Brotherly Love, ate Philly cheese steaks, and admired the Mural Arts decorating the city’s walls and parking lots. Inspected the crack in the Liberty Bell and imagined our forefathers in Independence Hall.  Toasted to Mike’s 62nd birthday. Worried about our youngest son’s lack of direction.  Partially de-cluttered our house, using The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (the Kon-Mari method), successfully weeding out clothing, accessories, kitchen appliances and books.

Flew to Dallas, Texas and then drove to Oklahoma City to attend a friend’s second wedding.  Walked on the grassy knoll and along the route where JFK was assassinated.  Stood beside larger-than-life statues of George W. Bush and his dad at the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum.  Walked among tulips and sat with Benjamin Franklin at the Dallas Arboretum.  Stood under a rearing horse and saw a fake rodeo at the Cowboy Museum.  Grieved near a field of empty chairs for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Stood by as contractors demolished our deck, laundry room and kitchen and then slowly built them again, in much nicer form.

Attended my first husband’s book talk in April at Politics and Prose in D.C., where he discussed his newly published book, Mathews Men.  Celebrated our daughter Sarah’s graduation, with a B.A. in English, from Virginia Commonwealth University in May.  Enjoyed a spread of bagels at Sarah’s house, and later dinner and dirty martinis at Lucy’s, with both families in attendance. 🙂

Wandered through tulips and sunflowers at Burnside Gardens in Virginia.  Visited four gardens around Philadelphia for my second trip to that city this year.  Imbibed in Cabernets and Pinot Grigios at several Virginia wineries.  Let our son’s lease in Richmond expire and watched with trepidation to see what he’d do next; fretted because we didn’t know where he would go or what he’d do.  Felt relieved when we found he took off for a Tribal Design retreat in Vancouver and finally went Hawaii, where he is now leading tours for a hostel in Maui.

Drove around the Ring Road in Iceland over a breathtaking 11 days (in search of a thousand cafés).  Climbed around, behind, and to the tops of waterfalls. Admired sweeping vistas from our Polo VW rental.  Hiked to the edge of ashy glaciers.  Poked around inside turf-roofed houses. Ate cod, cod and more cod, as well as langoustine, lamb and gas-station hot dogs.  Drove over 2700 km and walked 166,100 steps, or 70.4 miles.  Returned home with walking pneumonia, from which it took three weeks to recover.

Laughed at the “Kurios” of Cirque de Soleil.  Had a family reunion at our renovated house for my dad’s 86th birthday in September, where everyone except Adam attended.  Enjoyed sushi and sake with my sister Stephanie, who came from California.  Drove along the Skyline Drive amidst flame-colored leaves to West Virginia in early November to celebrate my 61st birthday and our 28th anniversary.  Enjoyed delicious pizza and craft beer at Pies & Pints. Strolled through the eerie ghost towns of Thurmond and Nuttallburg.  Hiked along the Endless Wall.

Barely survived our contentious election and felt heartbroken over the results.  Boycotted Facebook for a month and a half.  Realized I have nothing in common with 62 million Americans.

Read/listened to 35 books/audiobooks (meeting my Goodreads goal!), my favorites being All the Light We Cannot See, State of Wonder, Circling the Sun, The Ambassador’s Wife, and The Glass Castle.  Saw 39 movies in the theater, especially loving Joy, Eye in the Sky, A Hologram for the King, The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Music of Strangers, Dheepan, Hell or High Water, The Light Between Oceans, Sully, Girl on the Train, A Man Called Ove, Manchester by the Sea, and Lion.  Dined on Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, French, Japanese and Italian food.

Weighed 5 pounds more at year-end than at the end of 2015, despite continual attempts to lose weight.  Took Pilates and dropped out because of utter boredom.  Walked nearly 251 hours during 276 @3-mile workouts, or about 813 miles of dedicated workouts.

Passed the Virginia Real Estate Licensing Exam but never signed with a broker. Sent my novel to 23 agents to no avail.  Applied for 32 jobs, 23 abroad and 9 stateside.  Came up empty-handed on the book publishing and the job front.  Got discouraged.  Completed a Memoir class and wrote seven chapters of a memoir.  Dreamed about how my future might look.

Celebrated Thanksgiving with Alex and Sarah, and Christmas with only Alex (Adam was in Hawaii through the holidays, jumping off waterfalls, body surfing and leading tours). Felt dismayed at our shrinking family gatherings.

Returned to Philadelphia (third time’s a charm!) to see “Paint the Revolution” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Admired the Gates of Hell and Crouching Woman at the Rodin Museum.  Wandered through the Magic Gardens of mirrors and mosaics and found objects.  Walked and walked through the outdoor gallery of Mural Arts to shake 2016 out of our psyches. Drove home through Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, amidst the clip-clop of horse-drawn buggies and faded laundry flapping on clotheslines.

Cleared our heads in preparation for 2017, when we are hoping for love, peace, healing, direction, confidence, boldness and endless adventure. 🙂

dallas, texas: arrival in plano & a visit to the george w. bush presidential library and museum

Sunday, March 20:  Today, I fly from Washington to Dallas, Texas, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon.  My friend Martha picks me up from the airport. We’ve been friends since 6th grade, when we used to ride pretend horses in her backyard, trotting, making clucking sounds and jumping obstacles that we erected.  We also held competitive Virginia Derbies on a marble racetrack with our extensive marble collections, all named after horses.  We fancied ourselves equestrians, riding a neighborhood pony named Maybe (maybe he’d buck us, maybe he wouldn’t…). We dreamed constantly of horses; I even wrote horse stories.  I guess it’s appropriate that, during my 11-day visit, we’ll find ourselves at The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

I have a lot of activities planned for my time out west, including a 2+day visit with Martha, who lives in Plano just outside of Dallas; a half-day driving to Oklahoma City where we have 4 days of pre-wedding activities and the wedding of our mutual friend Rosie (our friends Charlene and Louise join us here); a day driving back to Dallas; a 3-day visit to Early, TX to see my mom’s sister, Aunt Judy; and finally, my return to Dallas.  From there, I return home on March 31.

When I arrive in Dallas, Martha and I take a leisurely walk around her beautiful neighborhood in Plano.  She has a fabulous house with a special guest room and bathroom set off the center of the house.  Best of all she has a pool and spa in her backyard; we enjoy the spa this evening, accompanied by wine, before a delicious chicken salad for dinner.  It’s a wonderful treat. 🙂

Monday, March 21:  We have multiple choices of things we can do while in Dallas, but with only two full days to explore, we narrow our choices down to three.  Tomorrow, we want to visit Martha’s mom in a nursing home.  I haven’t seen her in years, so I look forward to the visit.

The first place we visit is the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Entrance to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
Entrance to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

In Freedom Hall, we watch a 20-foot-tall, 360-degree, high-definition video wall that orients visitors and depicts a montage of the 44 U.S. Presidents.  It’s dizzying and neck-craning, but very well done.

video montage in Freedom Hall
video montage in Freedom Hall
Video montage in Freedom Hall
Video montage in Freedom Hall

A special exhibit at the museum, “Path to the Presidency,” is a fun, interactive exhibit that brings historic campaigns to life with artifacts, documents, photos, videos, and many other interesting components.  We make campaign posters.  Martha chooses the slogan: “An American Dreamer.”

Martha: An American Dreamer
Martha: An American Dreamer

On my campaign poster is the slogan “The Leader America Needs.”

Me: the Leader America Needs
Me: the Leader America Needs
Past U.S. Presidents
Past U.S. President campaign posters
Presidents through the years
Presidents through the years

Another thing I do is deliver an acceptance speech, using John F. Kennedy’s words from a teleprompter.  I always enjoy the chance to be on stage! 🙂

George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

In one especially interesting interactive exhibit, we get to weigh in on key issues from past campaigns and then build a platform in which we discover which parties have most closely aligned with our views in the past.  We discover we are both mostly in the middle between the Republican and Democrat platforms.  We’re also able to sit in a living room from the 1960s and watch some iconic campaign TV ads and historic debate moments, mostly with John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Out in the courtyard, I stand with the giant statues of the two Bush presidents.

Me in the courtyard with the two Bush presidents
Me in the courtyard with the two Bush presidents

We then head into the regular exhibit about George W. Bush’s presidency.  In creating the museum, President Bush emphasized guiding principles that were important to him and that formed the basis for major decisions during his years in the White House (from the Gallery Map):

OpportunityEvery child can learn.  Free enterprise is the engine of prosperity.  You can spend your money better than the government can. 

Freedom: Freedom is universal.  Free people will set the course of history.  The best hope for peace is the expansion of freedom.

Responsibility: To whom much is given, much is required.  Results matter.  Serve a purpose larger than yourself.

Compassion: We have a moral obligation to relieve suffering.  Fighting disease abroad makes us safer at home.  Every life is precious.

Words from Bush's Inaugural address on January 20, 2001.
Words from Bush’s Inaugural address on January 20, 2001.
No Child Left Behind
No Child Left Behind
Strengthening America's Economy
Strengthening America’s Economy
the museum
the museum
National Book Festival
National Book Festival

The most moving display in the museum is the September 11 Remembrance Display. It’s quite powerful, with the 22-foot pulverized steel beam from the World Trade Center surrounded by multiple TV screens showing replays of each event that took place on that fateful day in 2001.  One screen shows the first plane hitting the first tower, the next one shows the second plane hitting, another shows the towers falling.  Still another shows the Pentagon after it was hit and the Pennsylvania plane debris.  You can walk around the perimeter and watch the events unfold just as they did on that horrible day in our history.

Of course most of us can remember vividly where we were on September 11, 2001.  I was in my car on my way to a book group at my church, Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church in Reston.  On the way there, driving down Reston Parkway, I heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  The newscaster seemed baffled and believed it had been a small plane.  As I continued driving, a second plane hit the second tower.  I suddenly felt panicked and sick; I knew something horrible was happening.  I had some time to spare before my book group, so I stopped at Starbucks for a coffee.  I looked around at the people around me and everyone seemed subdued and shocked; the atmosphere was surreal.  Dazed, I wandered absently into the adjoining Barnes and Noble.  While there, I called my Dad to see if he’d heard from my brother who lived in New York at that time.  I then called my brother.  Luckily he was nowhere near the tragedy.

Horribly shaken by that time, but still not sure what was going on, I went ahead to the church.  Our female priest told us of the plane hitting the Pentagon.  She was beyond distraught as her husband worked at the Pentagon and she was unable to reach him.  She decided she couldn’t lead the book group in the state she was in.  While I was there, both of the towers collapsed.  I drove back home and sat in front of the television the rest of the day, in tears.  When my sons, 10 and 8, came home from school, I told them what had happened and we sat in front of the TV, holding each other.  I reassured them everything would be all right when I wasn’t at all certain that was the case.

Building a Hopeful World
Building a Hopeful World

George W. Bush is much maligned for how he handled the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the following Global War on Terror, but I daresay that any president faced with consoling and uniting our nation and taking action against an unseen enemy would have met with criticism no matter what he did.  As Billy Wilder said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.”  Maybe people could have predicted that ISIS would rise up as a result of our failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it seemed hopeful at the time to try to get rid of failed regimes and install democracy in the Middle East (Granted, we supported these failed regimes in the earlier Cold War, from which we’ve experienced a huge amount of blowback).  Most people have come to realize that democracy cannot be imposed and must come from within.  In hindsight, our goals were too hopeful and unrealistic.  Mixed with the desire of big corporations to control oil in a limited resource world, the repercussions have been devastating.  It’s a complicated world, and actions often have complex and contradictory results.

News pundits latched on to our shared story of terrorism and, as Americans, we sat glued to our televisions, trying to make sense of it all.  As for me, I read every news article I could get my hands on.  I was so impacted by the events that I wrote a novel about fictional characters surviving in the aftermath a year later, when snipers were randomly shooting people in the Washington metro area and we were gearing up to go to war with Iraq.  Later, still impacted immeasurably by what had happened, I took course in international relations at Northern Virginia Community College. Eventually, I got my Master’s in International Commerce & Policy; I was idealistic in my hopes to do democracy-building in the Middle East.  That career path was not to be for me, but I still wanted it and still hope for it. Maybe it will happen after my lifetime.

The rest of the museum focuses on building a hopeful world, the search for liberty for all humanity, Hurricane Katrina, the Bush ranch and family life, Laura Bush’s initiatives.

Liberty is the Right and Hope of all Humanity
Liberty is the Right and Hope of all Humanity

The Oval Office at the museum is set up just as it was during the Bush presidency.

The Oval Office
The Oval Office
Still life
Still life
Laura Bush
Laura Bush
Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina
Immigration, Social Security and Medicare
Immigration, Social Security and Medicare
Immigration in the US
Immigration in the US
Father and son in the courtyard
Father and son in the courtyard

I enjoy the visit to the museum more than I thought I would, and actually I’m quite moved by it.  After our visit, Martha and I have a nice lunch in Cafe 43, attached to the museum.  I enjoy a delicious meal of chicken and ricotta dumplings with carrots, parsnip and parmesan.

After lunch, we head to the Dallas Arboretum.  It’s a beautiful day for a visit. 🙂