What a Difference Two Years, Some Cash, and A Lot of Hard Work Makes

Since we’ve had a bit of a rough week here in Charm City (kind of an understatement), the weather today (70s and sunny) inspired us to do some planting and yard clean up.  As I was working in the back yard, I thought about how far it has come since the Spy House Big Dig 2 springs ago.  So I thought I’d put up some comparison pictures for you.

...& left us with this.

The backyard from the back gate alley Winter 2013

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And the same view today!  The biggest difference is obviously the tree.  But also notice the new laundry room window (a window post to come soon).

A few extras..

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I think we’re coming along with our peaceful city backyard/garden!

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Guatemala Day 3- Guatemala City

 **Sorry this next installment of our trip has been so long in coming!  With the holidays, etc…even being unemployed (job search/resume & cover letter writing takes valuable time – says J) I still found it difficult to find time to blog!  Now that things have slowed down on the holiday front (but hopefully will pick up on the job hunt front!), I’m hoping to have time to finish chronicling our trip.**

After a long day and late-ish evening on Sunday, we decided that Monday morning required some sleep in time.  Without Felina waking us up at 5:30 AM (or an earthquake at 6 AM!), we were able to sleep in until around 9 AM.  That felt luxurious, and we wandered down to breakfast and met up with the rest of our group.

We decided to, as a group, check out the Museum of Modern Art that had been recommended as a place to go.  I assumed we would catch a cab or walk, but when we walked out of the hotel at 11:30 AM to meet up with the group, on the curb was our trusty driver, Arturo, with the van.  Apparently, some years Arturo is on-call for the soloistas…some years not.  This year, he was.  Awesome! [Side note: Arturo speaks only Spanish. At least that is what we believe to be the case. – J]

When we arrived at the museum complex, it looked deserted.  For good, reason…just like here in the US, most Guatemalan museums are closed on Mondays.  After some confabbing with the group, we all decided we’d like to do some shopping.  The only problem…communicating that to Arturo with no Spanish speakers and no internet (previously, we had simply shown him on our phones where we wanted to go, but none of us had mobile service in Guatemala).  After thinking for a moment, and remembering there was a market nearby, JJ (our soprano soloist), told Arturo we wanted to go to “Quanta Questa” (essentially how you ask “how much” in Spanish…a required phrase for purchasing and bargaining in a market).  Arturo looked confused for a moment and then stated, “Ah, mercado!”.  Si si, the mercado. 🙂

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Closed Museum Complex

So, off we went to the Artisan’s market where we browsed and relaxed for awhile, getting an idea of what types of goods the markets typically offer and ideas of good prices.  J and I didn’t purchase anything, but we did get some ideas of what we might purchase later.  By the time everyone finished shopping, we were hungry!  Time to head back to the hotel to find some lunch.
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Artisans’ Market

After arriving back at the hotel, we walked a few blocks to a restaurant a number of the singers had frequented in the past.  J and I ordered a cheesy mushroom dip with tortillas as an app, and I had a pork dish as my main course (we opted for a late lunch knowing that a rehearsal was in the works for that evening with dinner to be eaten LATE at a sushi restaurant get-together) and J had a traditional pork stew (which was delish!).  The cheesy dip was delicious, but I regretted eating it later (I’m starting to learn that I’m a bit lactose-sensitive…the horror!).

We relaxed for an hour or so after lunch before hopping on the van to go across town to the theater for the evening’s “dress rehearsal” at the Teatro Nacional.  I knew this would be a bit of a long evening for me since I would basically be just listening to the rehearsal.  Thankfully, I had my iPad with magazines and books to keep me occupied.   We arrived around 5:45 for a 6 PM rehearsal.  The conductor had stressed to the chorus that they needed to be on the stage, ready to go at 6 PM.  This was my first reminder of what I call “Latin American Time” (so named during my summer in Mexico).  At 6:30 PM, the conductor still had not arrived, and most of the orchestra was nowhere to be found.  The conductor arrived around 6:45, and the orchestra began to trickle onto the stage.  At 7, the conductor started some warm-ups with the chorus, ran a few runs from the Messiah choruses, and then began the Messiah Overture at 7:15 PM.  My poor J had to get up and sing the tenor solos completely cold!  Even if he had warmed up in our hotel room at 5:00…this was more than 2 hours later! [I was not happy with how I sounded at all. And agreed with Page, I had to find a place to warmup closer to my performance time. It’s my rookie year, and I needed to make sure I nailed each performance. – J] Even though I had my book, I found the rehearsal rather interesting.  In some ways it was more strict than a rehearsal in the US, in others it was more lax. [For instance, while I was relaxing listening to the remainder of the Christmas portion of the Messiah and one of the soloists motioned to me and said, “Come on. We have to sing the Hallelujah chorus.” Me, “We do?” Yep. We did. On mic. This was the first I had heard about this, but why not? At least I was very familiar with it. – J] At 9:00, the theater staff began shutting off the lights (apparently they are unionized and can’t work past their hours..even if the organization paid them more).  There had been some miscommunication about how late the rehearsal was scheduled to run, and after some back-and-forth between the theater manager and our ‘producer’, the son of the organizer (Betty) we were allowed to continue on, but skipped over several pieces that had been performed by the ‘veteran’ soloists in years past. So, the rehearsal ended somewhat raggedly and more abruptly than was desired and then we hopped in the van to head over to the sushi restaurant.

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Teatro Nacional

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Beginning of Rehearsal

By this point, the cheesy dip I had eaten earlier in the day was not agreeing with me.  Which was incredibly disappointing because the sushi was delicious!  I couldn’t eat very much due to the late hour and my tummy discomfort, but what I had was superb.  [I took full advantage to eat whatever Page wasn’t able to handle. The dishes were a mix of sushi and Peruvian inspired cuisine. It was really a fun time, and already I was wishing for a lighter schedule so I could eat, drink, and be merry more. Instead I was continuing to operate in ‘party lite’ mode. – J] We got to know some of the Rotarians a bit better, and had a lovely evening talking with the organizer, Betty, and her son Harris.  Eventually, it was nearing midnight and time for everyone to head on since some of the performers had an early morning for TV interviews (quite the story to come later!).

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 Scenes from the sushi restaurant (Nokiate..should you ever go to Guatemala City!)

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From Baltimore to Dulles to Guatemala City- Guatemala Days 1 and 2

After an early start Saturday morning, we arrived at Dulles with plenty of time to spare (I’m an early airport arriver!).  While we boarded our plane on time, it still departed a bit late.  J and I knew this would make our connection in San Salvador a bit tight.  Of course, once we landed, we discovered that our flight to Guatemala City left from a gate at the absolute other end of the airport! Joy.  We walked quickly over and arrived at the gate just as boarding was beginning.  Whew.  I was not looking forward to trying to get on another flight in El Salvador (or spending the night as some of our fellow singers had to do!).

Upon arrival in Guatemala City, we were met by the wonderful woman who has organized these Messiah concerts for the past 11 years, as well as some other helpers who drove us into the city to our hotel.  After a brief room snafu (apparently our assigned room had not yet been checked out of…oops!), we ended up in a lovely corner suite with a view of the city and the mountains in the distance.

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View from the room at sunset

That evening, we were picked up by our trusty van driver, Arturo, and driven to the lovely apartment of the organizer’s son.  That evening, we met so many wonderfully warm and gracious people, both Americans and Guatemalans.  To me (Page) it felt like one of those surreal evenings that belong in a movie.  The conversations, laughs, and varied topics of interest very much endeared me to the country of Guatemala.  Since J had a long day of rehearsing and performing the next day, we left the party a bit early to get some rest.

On Sunday, we started the day with delicious Guatemalan coffee and a Guatemalan/American fusion breakfast (the hotel catered to English-speaking business professionals so there was a lot of standard American fare on the menus).  J was being picked up for rehearsal at 11 AM, so I decided to spend the day at the hotel…resting, reading and watching the Ravens at Miami.  I must admit, it was a bit surreal to be watching the NFL while in Guatemala (the hotel had a Miami CBS feed as one of the channels).  When J got back from rehearsal, we got all dressed up and hopped in the van with the other performers and their guests to head over to the Ambassador’s home for the gala performance.

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In front of the hotel Christmas Tree in our fancy clothes

I wish I could have explored/snooped around the residence a bit more, but what I saw of it was lovely.  The performance that evening was a mish-mash of opera arias and musical theater pieces that were well-sung and well-received by the audience.  Afterwards, we met a number of US expats living in Guatemala (I met a number of American women who had married Guatemalan men) and did a bit of schmoozing at the reception in the Ambassador’s home.

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Musicians and the Ambassador

Since Sunday was another long day for J, we turned in relatively early when we got back to the hotel.

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Earthquakes, Layoffs, Volcanoes…Oh My!

J and I have been back from Guatemala since Saturday, but it wasn’t until today that I felt up to writing about the trip.  This is due to a number of reasons including physical health, emotional health, and just trying to process how incredible this trip really was!

First, as the title of this blog suggests, I should mention that I found out during the trip that I was laid off from my job of almost 8 years.  It wasn’t a shock, but was a surprise.  I’m very good at what I do, so even though I knew that layoffs were imminent, I didn’t think they would affect me.  So, if anyone is looking for a corporate trainer (either for software, or classroom training), shoot me a message!

Since I now have some “forced” time off, I plan to recap our trip here on the blog.  J took over 2600 photos, so I’ll go through those and add them as well.  Some of them are pretty amazing.

Overall, the trip was a beautiful combination of meeting fascinating people, hearing wonderful music, seeing iconic landmarks and stunning scenery, eating delicious food…and in general, just having an awesome time with awesome people!  And, as the title also suggests, we experienced a few earthquakes and an active volcano as well.  So, hang on to your hats…I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you more about the first few days of our trip!

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On Being from South Carolina, Living in Baltimore, and Entertaining

As I plan my Thanksgiving tablescape (I finally am hosting again this year!), I’ve been ruminating on where my affinity for lovely tables and entertaining originates.  As a native South Carolinian transplanted in Baltimore, Maryland, I see a lot of similarities and differences in the concept of entertaining.  Let’s face it, while Baltimore is geographically south of the Mason-Dixon line, it is far from being a part of the South culturally.  As I’ve grown older, my ideas about how to entertain have made 180 degree shifts, 360 shifts, and really are just on a winding path that snakes from side to side.

My mother is from a long-time (200 years or so) South Carolina family.  Not an “old” South Carolina family (like the FFV’s in Virginia), but a well-respected and well-thought of group.  The ladies of the family know how to entertain, and have passed down their southern belle traditions from generation to generation.  Therefore, my Mama is definitely one of the consummate southern belle hostesses I’ve run across.  She has more fine china than any other person I know, and she uses it regularly.  Her statement is, “Why have nice things if you never use them?”  If you visit, you might have a luncheon or dinner on the porch with the Blue Danube china, or a more formal affair with the Wedgewood Potpourri in the dining room under the Waterford chandelier.  (See, I told you.  Consummate hostess).  Regardless of the china, there WILL be silver flatware.

Truly, no formal Southern table is complete without sterling flatware.  A proper southern belle chooses her silver pattern at the age of 13 so she can start to receive pieces as gifts for holidays, graduations, and other momentous occasions.  I was a rebel, and waited until the age of 24 (this should have clued me in that I wasn’t a belle who would stay in the South).  I chose Kirk Repoussé…a somewhat ornate, but not heavy pattern.  No Old Master for this modern belle.  I was still living in Spartanburg, SC at the time, and had no idea that I would be moving to Maryland.  An interesting fact…Repoussé is the official silver pattern of Baltimore.  I think it was meant to be.

In the book A Southern Belle Primer: Or Why Princess Margaret will Never be a Kappa Kappa Gamma, the author states that a belle should never marry a man whose mother has plated silver.  It means she is cheap and doesn’t understand the need for nice things.  She also goes on to describe which belles will get along with mother-in-laws with various silver patten combinations.  My Daddy’s mother had plated silver, but my Mama married him anyway.  40 something years later, I’d say it worked out just fine.  Yet, when I was visiting J’s family for the first time after we began dating, I was a bit nervous (I met all 5 siblings and his parents all at the same time!).  I shared my nervousness with my Mama, and she asked me to text during the first evening to let her know how things were going.  J’s parents live in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, which is a 12 hour drive from Maryland.  We arrived just in time for cocktail hour.  My mother-in-law is excellent at delegating tasks to help people feel a part of things, so she asked me to go to the china cabinet and set the table for dinner.  I opened up the flatware drawer, and to my astonishment, saw that her sterling pattern is Stieff Rose (a pattern that is almost identical to and the sister pattern of my own Repoussé).  I instantly relaxed, and sent my Mama a text saying “Everything is fine, J’s mother has Stieff Rose.”  Of course, my mother-in-law is from a southern family, so it all makes sense.

When I was 22 and many of my friends were getting married, I bemoaned to my Mama that it wasn’t fair that you had to get married to have nice things.  She agreed, and spent 6 months collecting china, crystal, and sterling to give me for Christmas that year.  These days, especially outside of the South, many couples getting married don’t register for china, crystal, or sterling.  When we got married, J brought his grandfather’s blue and gold china to the marriage, and I brought 2 sets of my own.  Yet, we still registered for “our” wedding china that we picked out together.  He was disappointed that we couldn’t pick out a silver pattern together (he is not really a Southern man!), but he seems to like my pattern just fine.  I loved opening wedding gifts and finding sterling flatware…I felt like a southern belle bride of old!  We still get pieces of crystal, china and silver handed down to us from both sides of the family, and I cherish them all.  My Godmother is even giving us her Christmas china this year, so that will be exciting to use in the years to come.

A few summers ago, I was having a rough time mentally; I was dealing with crippling anxiety.  Some days, I even had a tough time getting out of bed.  However, we had committed to hosting a number of dinner parties that summer.  Even though I didn’t feel like doing anything, part of me still enjoyed setting a lovely table.  One evening, I texted a picture of my table setting to my Mama and she texted back “Do you realize there are 4 generations of tableware and centerpieces on your table?  I guess that is why we pass things down, it’s nice to know that future generations will use these things, too.”  She was right, and I started thinking about each of the women who had owned the items on my table.  They were mostly southern, and very strong ladies who endured much hardship.  Wars, mental health issues, the Depression, births, deaths, and other losses…I told myself that if those women could endure hardship, so could I.  And I did.

I definitely don’t entertain just like my Mama (when I was younger I always thought she went way overboard! :)), but I like to incorporate a lot of southern tradition into my entertaining.  For awhile, I thought that paper plates and everyday china is always fine, but then, after attending dinner parties with good china, I realized how special you feel when someone pulls out the good stuff.  Up here, I’ve lived with and visited many hostesses who entertain in a lovely, modern way (think House Beautiful, Real Simple, etc).  I like to think that I combine the best of both southern and modern.  Think of my entertaining style as “modern southern belle”, a combination of Southern Living and House Beautiful, if you will.  As a younger woman, I thought entertaining was all about impressing your friends and guests.  However, as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’m understanding that entertaining is more about making friends and family feel special and cared for.  And that transcends any style…modern, traditional, southern, or casual.  So this Thanksgiving, I’ll pull out the good stuff, mix and match old and new, and hopefully my friends and family will know that while setting a lovely table brings me joy and I’m thankful that I have beautiful things, being able to care for them in such a way is what is truly most important to me.

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Spy House Master Bath Repair and Remodel- It’s Finished!

Yes indeed, dear readers, as of yesterday, the Spy House master bath has a working (non-leaking) shower!  I’m so pleased, and no longer stressed about it!  Our contractor and the plumber put our new fixture in yesterday, and voila!  Beautiful new shower.  With the most important feature…a shower head not pointed towards the door!

We still have to do some dusting, cleaning, and re-organizing of the space, but I wanted to show you the finished shower.  Once we finish cleaning and sprucing up the bathroom (likely next weekend), I’ll try to shoot a video so you can see the updates in real time.  For now, enjoy these finished shower photos!

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Finished shower and fixture (and we re-installed J’s bluetooth shower radio!)

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View from the hallway door (the paper is still on the door so I read how to clean the glass..it has a special coating).

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Shower and our new purple bathmat.

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View from the pass-thru door

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Eventually, the shower enclosure wall will have a mirror.  We just need to hang it.

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Running water.  Awesome!

I took my first shower in the new shower this morning.  It was great!

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Spy House Bathroom Repair- Days 8-10

After the floor tile was put in the shower, the progress has appeared to go a bit slower.  Only because there were not any “dramatic” changes like the floor tile or the framing/building of the shower.  So I decided to wait until there were some marked changes to post another blog.  That, and it’s been a bit busy around here lately.

At this point, the shower is almost completely tiled, a soap dish has been installed, and the shower enclosure itself has been painted.

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I think it all looks great! We’ve really been pleased with the work they have done so far.  Now that the tile is grouted, the only difference I can tell is that the old tile grout is dirty!  I’m really starting to get excited about our “new” bathroom.

Today, I saw a big cardboard box come in with what I think is the shower door, so we should have some updated pictures to share tomorrow!

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