Monday, July 11, 2016

I'd Actually Rather Get Zika

In the months leading up to our family's departure for Brazil, I can't count how many people expressed their concern about our safety and the fear of our potentially contracting Zika.  And in recent weeks, the world's top professional golfers have dropped out of the Rio Olympics in droves, citing fear of Zika virus as their reason.  Well, let me tell you what.  If I'm going to have to get a mosquito-borne illness while I'm here doing mission work in Brazil, give me Zika over the other options any day.

Since I'm a 44 year old married to a man who's ... *ahem* ... fixed, I'm not the least bit worried about contracting this virus since I'm not going to be getting pregnant any time soon.  The symptoms of Zika are not much worse than the influenza - achy joints, fever, headache - and the recovery time is relatively brief.  So if I get bitten by a mosquito carrying this virus, I'll just suck it up and convalesce.  And since the missionary I'm working with here, Cris Carpenter Gomes, is pregnant with her first baby and managing to not live her life clothed in mosquito netting from head to toe and floating in a cloud of Off!, I think I can deal.

Don't get me wrong. Cris takes reasonable precautions to keep her unborn baby safe.  But she's just not obsessing about it the way that Americans and the American media have been.  (If you're interested in reading about her and her perspective on being a pregnant American in a Zika hotbed, read here.)

My second choice if I have to contract a mosquito-borne illness would be dengue (pronounced /ding'-ee/) fever.  Symptoms of this disease include high fever, joint pain, severe headache, and mild bleeding.  The thing about dengue is that getting it once isn't worse than any other unpleasant illness but getting it a second time can be much more catastrophic.  A missionary friend of ours in Malaysia died of dengue last year, so it's a much bigger deal than Zika.  Incidentally, the same type of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) carries both dengue and Zika.

But still, I'd much rather get dengue once than the third disease these same mosquitoes carry - chikungunya.  Chikungunya (pronounced /shee-koon-goon-yuh/) has longer-lasting symptoms, though they are similar to the symptoms for Zika and dengue.  The difference is that the joint pain can last for months and be debilitating.  One of our readers here had chikungunya three months ago, and she is still walking with a severe limp.  Everyone here knows someone who's gotten it, and they all have horror stories to tell of the long-lasting nature of the symptoms.

That said, I don't spend much time at all worrying about getting sick in a foreign country.  I've been to six continents, and I've taken one or both of my children with me almost every time I've traveled.  We've received excellent  health care in Thailand (when Kinley was 16 months old and somehow cut her cornea) and in Italy (when Knox was 7 months old and had a severe respiratory infection).  I managed to get regular OBGYN checkups in Fiji when I was 8 months pregnant with Knox, and Kinley even went to the orthodontist a couple of times here in Brazil a few years back.  God has been faithful to send health care professionals and even interpreters to meet our needs all over the world.

As a precaution, we have little plug-in pots of mosquito repellent in our bedrooms here, and we brought plenty of bug spray containing at least 25% DEET.  Kelsey is much better about remembering to slather her kids in the spray than Josh and I are, but so far, our kids haven't been eaten alive.

So if you're worrying about our health and praying for us to remain disease-free, we are certainly grateful. Maybe your prayers are the reason we're healthy! And while you're at it, pray for the Brazilians who have contracted these diseases.  They don't have the option of returning to the relatively-disease-free confines of the US at the end of the summer like we do.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Rocks/Stinks: Brazil Edition

Let me just start by saying that I have a relatively limited perspective on Brazil.  While I've been to Rio for a few days, I've spent most of my time in Brazil in the Northeastern town of Natal.  And Brazilians will tell you that the Northeast part of Brazil is a culture all its own, much like the American South has a completely different feel than, say, Minnesota.

I don't presume to know everything there is to know about even the Northeast of Brazil, much less the whole country, but that doesn't stop me from having strong opinions about what I like and don't like here.  So here's my Rocks/Stinks list for Brazil.

Rocks:  Passionfruit, Lots and Lots of Passionfruit

Oh my goodness.  I love this stuff so much.  And Brazilians share my love of this completely-underappreciated-in-America fruit.  I first ate it fresh in Thailand where the fruits are smaller and darker on the outside.  Here the fruits are bigger, more of a yellow color, and much more tart.  You have to add a lot of sugar to the pulp, but Brazilians use passionfruit (or maracuja in Portuguese - one of the few words I know!) for juices, ice cream, puddings, and lots of other desserts.
Boxed passionfruit jiuce is a staple in our apartment here.
This fabulous coconut cake with tapioca ice cream had a passionfruit pulp garnish.
Kinley learned to make this passionfruit mousse here.
The bottom flavor is passionfruit.
We enjoyed some passionfruit pudding at a buffet last week.     The one passionfruit item I couldn't bring myself to try was                                                                                              passionfruit-flavored soy milk.  Ew.

American foodie friends, this needs to be our next big food trend.  I've found ONE Mexican grocery store in Indianapolis that sells the frozen pulp, but that's it.  Let's start a movement!

Stinks:  Late-night Cherry Bombs During the Month of June (And the Lack of Enforcement of City Ordinances)

Natal celebrates several saints during the month of June, including Peter and Antonio.  But none gets more attention than John the Baptist.  And, apparently, from the way they choose to celebrate, Saint John the Baptist really likes cherry bombs.  And he likes it best when you set them off at about 11 pm.  Every night.  I've read several posts from Facebook friends recently about how their neighbors are incessantly setting off fireworks in the days leading up to Independence Day, but to them I say, "I'll see your Founding Fathers fest and raise you one Brazilian John the Baptist celebration."  Seriously.  Without windows, closed doors, and insulation in the walls to block out the sound, it sounds as if someone is setting them off on our front porch.  Every night.

Rocks:  Havaianas

I don't think Brazil invented the flip-flop (after all, Havaiana is just Portuguese for Hawaiian so maybe Hawaii invented them), but they have certainly perfected it in the creation of the Havaiana. Lest you think these are just ordinary, Old-Navy-variety flip-flops, let me explain.  These are thicker, spongier, bouncier, and more comfortable than any other flip-flop in the history of ever.  And the choices!  I know you can buy Havaianas at Nordstrom and other places in the US, but the selection here is beyond compare and so are the prices.  A pair that would cost me $30 at Nordy's costs me about $10 here.  And you can find them everywhere.  Even the grocery store.  (Which is one reason we'll probably come home with another suitcase full this year.)
The variety of styles is staggering.
Shopping for Havaianas at the grocery store is oh so convenient!

Josh really likes this mens' line.

Pretty much every mall has its own Havaianas store, aka Flip-flop Heaven.

Stinks: Remembering to Be Vigilant About Security

American friends, we live in a relatively safe place.  In my 44 years of American life, I have never lived in a home with bars on the windows or electric fencing that wasn't for keeping the cattle in the pasture.  But here, everyone has security measures like these and is stunned that we don't have them. When they see pictures of my house, they are surprised at the lack of fencing, and they can't believe we don't have a security system.  One reader even once told me that she thought she would be scared to stay at my house because it didn't look safe enough.  I decided not to tell her that growing up we didn't ever lock our house - even when we went on vacation - or that my dad always left his car unlocked with the keys inside no matter where he was parked. I was afraid she'd think I was completely insane.

Since I am generally not that worried about security even when I'm traveling, it's hard for me to remember that security here is perceived as a serious issue.  I have to remind myself to keep the front doors of the church locked, even when people are coming and going frequently. In order for us to leave the church building, we have to unlock and relock one door lock and three padlocks in addition to setting the alarm.  The church has bars on the windows, a sliding iron gate, razor wire, electric fencing on top of iron fencing with spikes at the top, and shards of rusty metal sticking up out of the tops of the concrete fence to discourage would-be intruders.  We never leave the church on foot without a buddy, and we don't walk around our neighborhood at all after dark.
The razor wire, security sensors, and rusty metal shards
 look more like prison security than a church perimeter.

More than once the missionary has had to sit us all down for a come-to-Jesus because we've forgotten to lock the front door while stepped out of the room to meet with a reader, and we are constantly asked by our readers if we're scared to live here.  But the fact is, I'm not.  I am accustomed to feeling safe, and so I just do.  I've even tried to talk myself into feeling scared, just to give myself a healthy sense of reality, but it doesn't really help.  I'm sure that a huge reason for this is that I haven't yet experienced a reason to be worried.  And I'm sure that a large part of that is the way that the church here doesn't leave safety to chance.  But it's still really hard for me to believe it when my readers get nervous about our kids being outside in broad daylight behind a fence with spikes and electric fencing.

Rocks:  Fresh Juices From Fruits You've Probably Never Heard Of

Acerola.  Caja.  Cajuina.  These are all names of fruits grown in Brazil, and I can be relatively sure you've never heard of them since these fruits don't even have an English name.  And, boy, do Brazilians love their fresh juices.  They drink more fresh juices and juices from frozen pulp than any other culture I've ever experienced.   For Americans. juices are primarily breakfast drinks or Happy Meal additions, but Brazilians - adults and kids alike - drink them with every meal.  Of the three I mentioned, acerola is my fave followed by caja.  I'm not a fan of cajuina which is made from the fruit that a cashew nut comes from.  (Bet you didn't know that cashew nuts grew out of the bottom of a fruit either, did you?)
Josh's reader, Ulisses, brought us fresh acerola.
We washed the fruit before removing the seeds - a difficult process since every piece of fruit has three seeds.

Marisa helped us turn the pulp into juice.
Copious amounts of sugar make for delicious acerola juice!
Stinks:  The Frustration of the People About the Government

All of the Brazilians I talk to are fed up with the government.  They are frustrated with the spending on the Olympics, they are angry at their impeached President and her supporters, and they are dismayed at the current financial crisis here.  While America certainly isn't exempt from citizens disgruntled by governmental decision-making, the people here seem to feel more helpless.  They frequently express their frustration that corruption is everywhere, in every level of government, and I really feel for them.  In my country, I still cling to the ideal that every citizen has a voice.  Here, most people have let go of that vision.  And that makes me sad.

Rocks:  Hammocks

This country loves hammocks, and they have just about convinced me that we need to adopt this part of Brazilian culture in the US.  Whereas hammocks are a summertime/beach/lake kind of thing for Americans, they are a way of life for Brazilians.  I mean, the hooks to hold them up are built into the interior walls of pretty much every room in a standard Brazilian home!
Hooks like this one are in everywhere in Brazilian homes so that hammocks can be easily hung.

Landry naps in a hammock at a restaurant.
                                          Finn and Knox like to hang out in the hammock in our apartment.

Stinks:  12 Hour Days

This one really stinks, but, to be fair, it's not just Brazil that has this problem.  Any equatorial country is going to have basically 12 hour days and 12 hours nights all year long.  The sun pretty much rises at 5 am and sets at 5 pm every single day.  The problem with this is that I usually travel to equatorial places in the summer.  And, at home in Indiana in the summertime, I would usually get a good 15 hours of daylight each day during the summer.  The kids would play outside well past 9:00 pm, and Josh and I would sit on the porch enjoying the evening twilight.  But here, once the suns sets (well before 6:00 pm), all I want to do is go to bed.  The darkness makes me tired, much as it does during the winter in Indiana.  And somehow on top of that I feel like I'm being robbed of my summer hours. *sigh*

Rocks:  The Beaches

While we're doing mission work, we get three off days for every nine work days.  We work hard on those nine days, so we really enjoy the beaches here on our off days.  These beaches actually rock so hard that they're going to get their very own post later, but I'll give you a few preview pictures.   Below are pictures of Kinley and Knox at Love Beach and Josh and Kinley at Elbow Beach.

Stinks:  Flimsy Paper Products

I don't what the deal is with companies who make paper products here, but they are universally inadequate.  Napkins are completely non-absorbent, paper towels fall apart at the first drop of liquid, disposable cups hold about three sips and collapse if you grip them with more than two fingers, and tissues don't even hold up to dabbing at watery eyes, not to mention full-on, kid-with-allergies snot. If you look back at the picture of the cup of acerola above, you'll notice that I doubled up on the cups before I poured it.  This helps a bit, but there's nothing you can do to fix a country full of napkins that are only good for wrapping around ice cream cones.

Rocks:  The Southern Cross

Again, this one isn't just a Brazil thing; it's a Southern Hemisphere thing.  But it's super cool to get to see this constellation in the night sky here.  The Southern Cross is only visible south of the equator, and Australia and New Zealand both think it's awe-inspiring enough that they put it on their flags.  Josh is completely obsessed with it and looks for it pretty much every night from our little balcony.  I'm not that enamored of it, but I do like to see stars that I can't see when I'm in the US.  If you'd like to learn more about constellations that you can't see from the Northern Hemisphere, click here.

The Jury Is Still Out:  Mandatory Voting

So here's one where I can't decide what I think.  Does it rock or stink that every single citizen in this country is required by law to cast a vote in an election?  I'm not sure.  On one hand, this eliminates the marginalization of those who typically wouldn't vote because of socio-economic status or racial inequality.  But on the other hand, even those who know nothing about the candidates other than their names are forced to cast an uneducated vote.  And on top of that, bribing people for their votes is a real and rampant part of the process.  Of course, low voter turnout is never an issue here, and even local elections result in every citizen's voice being heard, whether they really have anything to say or not.

Is this a good thing or a terrible thing?  Is it better to have a choice whether or not to participate in the election of our governing individuals or to be sure that everyone has a say in choosing them?  I just can't decide.  But, ultimately, I guess I don't really have to.  I can just appreciate that there are different ways to do things than the ways that my country does them.  And, really, that's one of the best things that travel teaches you, isn't it?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Rocks/Stinks: London Edition

I'm a total Anglo-phile.  I love London.  I love the history and the heritage.  I love the accents.  I love the pomp and the Queen and especially the cute little way that Britain can't quite believe that they're not in charge of the whole world anymore.  If I could afford it, I'd spend every summer in London, popping in and out of our little Airbnb flat, riding double decker buses, practicing using words like whilst and fortnight and copse (Go ahead.  Look it up like I had to when someone used it to give me directions), stopping every afternoon for tea, and pretending that I TOTALLY live this way all the time.

And while there are some things that Britain rocks harder than Mick Jagger at a free summer concert in Hyde Park, there are some things that dear Mother England just hasn't quite mastered.  This, my friends, is my Rocks/Stinks list.  London style.

Rocks: Window Boxes

Seriously.  You could sling one of the Queen's beloved Corgis in any direction and hit at least one stunningly beautiful window box.  I mean, these things are EPIC.  Some explode in color as they cascade down off the sill.  Some are simple, relying on symmetry and shades of green and white to create a visual effect.  Whatever the colors and arrangements, they are stop-you-in-your-tracks-and-make-you-not-even-care-that-you-look-like-a-tourist-with-your-camera-out gorgeous.  Or at least that's what they did to me.



Stinks:  Bathtub Heights

You read that right.  Bathtub heights.  I don't know what it is about flats and hotels in London, but every single one I have encountered has a bathtub that is too high to climb into comfortably.  It's like the tubs are sitting on a platform or something!  And it's not just that the sides are too high.  The floor of the tub isn't flush with the floor of the bathroom; it's higher by several inches.  So you are stepping over the sides but then kind of up.  I don't get it!  

And I imagine that the number of bathroom falls in this city is staggering.  I mean, my legs aren't short; I'm an average height.  But climbing into the tub in London always brings flashbacks of my younger self on the farm, hauling myself over a fence and into a pasture, except without the planks to put your feet on and the soft grassy landing.  Instead it's just me shimmying in my birthday suit over a solid wall of porcelain that would be a more appropriate height for someone in the NBA and then landing on the bathroom equivalent of an ice rink.  

And getting out is just as bad!  There's a huge drop from the tub to the floor as you try to repeat the process in reverse, only this time you're in the buff and dripping wet.  Quite a mental picture, isn't it? 

You can't really tell in this picture how the floor of the tub is a different height than the floor of the  bathroom, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.  The smile on Knox's face clearly indicates that he hasn't yet tried to keep his balance while dripping wet and straddling a porcelain fence.

Rocks:  High Fat Dairy Products

People, let me tell you about the wonders of double cream. This. Stuff. Is. Awesome.  It is spreadable like whipped butter, but it tastes like a delicious, fluffy, rich whipped cream.  

(Momentary aside here: Cool-Whip is not whipped cream.  There is no place for non-dairy whipped topping in my life.  In fact, it shouldn't even be a food.  So if you're trying to think of double cream as some sort of British cousin to Cool-Whip, well, I can't even start to explain to you how un-Cool-Whip-ish double cream is.  In fact, if you think Cool-Whip is food, just skip this part.). 

Double cream is actually 48-60% milk fat as opposed to American heavy whipping cream which is only 36% milk fat.  I know.  It's an obscene amount of fat.  But it's so. Very. Yummy.  And then there's table cream (18%, so not actually a terribly high fat dairy product).  And clotted cream (55%).  There are all these delicious high fat dairy products in London that don't even exist here!  What is up with that?!

Stinks:  The Way the Spellings of Proper Nouns Don't Relate in ANY Way to Their Pronunciations

The Brits have this thing with dropping syllables.  Actually, it's not just syllables.  Sometimes it's entire strings of letters.  Let me show you.  I'm going to give you some names, and I want you to pronounce them.  Like, just go ahead and say them out loud.  Then below, I'll show you how they're really pronounced.  Here we go.  No cheating!





St. John




And, of course, Thames.

Now, here's how you really pronounce them.







/Cock'-fost-ers/  Yeah, I know.  This one is pronounced just like it looks.  I just think it's funny.


But, lest we Americans think we're above pronunciation reproach, remember Brett Favre.  Just sayin'.

Rocks:  Fish and Chips

I don't know how they do it, but the Brits manage to take what could be considered a children's menu item and elevate it to something other-worldly.  I love the crunchy coating enveloping the delicate whitefish.  I love the never-greasy fries (known as chips, of course).  I love the squeeze of lemon and the tartar sauce.  And I even love the mushy peas.  I know, I know.  You've probably never heard of that part, but I assure you it's a thing.  It's basically green peas smushed up with some lemon juice and salt.  Simple and delicious.  And they don't give you a heaping serving.  It's more like a little edible wasabi-sized garnish. 
It may be basic pub fare, but fish and chips is still a yummy choice.

Enjoying fish and chips with one of my former students, Michael, who was in London at the same time.
Stinks:  Washcloths

Hand towels are not reasonable substitutes.  They just aren't.  Trust me.  If you're going to London, bring your own washcloths.  Actually, if you're going pretty much anywhere outside the US, bring your own washcloths.  This seems like such a simple little piece of fabric, but, evidently, it's pretty much an American thing to need a six-inch-square piece of terry cloth to wash your face with.

Rocks:  Roundabouts, And A Whole Country Full of People Who Know How to Drive in Them.

'Nuff said.

Stinks:  Doorknobs on Exterior Doors

I'm actually not even sure why the British have doorknobs on outside doors.  They certainly don't perform the same function that I'm used to here in the US.  I mean, they're these giant knobby-shaped things located in the middle of the door that don't even turn!  They're strictly for pushing and pulling, I guess. What's up with that?  It's like they're put there for looks, just to see how many Americans will try to turn them.  Maybe there's a hidden camera set up near each one so that groups of British people in pubs can have a pint and watch a live feed of some Yankee grabbing a doorknob, trying to turn it first one way and then the other, then letting go and staring at it curiously while glancing up and down the street to see if anyone noticed, then trying it again just in case they didn't quite try hard enough the first time, only to give up and give the door a little frustrated kick before walking away in disgust. I can just see them there in the pub, laughing and shouting, "Look! She's bloody well gonna try to turn it again!"
If you look at the front door to our flat, just above the brass mail slot, you'll see the doorknob.  Trust me when I tell you that it doesn't turn.  And whoever heard of putting a knob in the middle of a door, anyway?

Rocks:  Tea

Well, duh.  Stopping every afternoon for a cup of tea with a little nibble of something sweet is a marvelous habit.  And, unless you're at the Orangerie at Kensington Palace or The Ritz or something, it's really surprisingly unpretentious.  I highly recommend it, no matter on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be. 

Completely, unabashedly pretentious tea at The Ritz.  (Notice that the picture isn't mine...because I've never had tea at The Ritz.)

Somewhat-pretentious tea with Amanda and Elizabeth at the Orangerie at Kensington Palace in 2011.

Completely unpretentious afternoon tea at Kew Gardens, near the home of King George III.

That's it!  And in case you didn't notice, there are more Rocks than Stinks.  And I didn't even mention some of my other things that rock like charity shops, cute little towns, and British brands like Ted Baker and Cath Kidston that probably merit posts all of their own.  But I'll get to that as soon as I finish my tea. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Some Things Are Just Hard to Talk About in Any Language

After twelve hours of travel, the Boyds and Byerses arrived in Rio de Janiero.  And so did all of our luggage!

Our family's eleventh Let's Start Talking mission project is underway!  We have safely arrived in Natal, Brazil where we will spend the next six weeks offering free English conversation practice using the book of Luke from the Bible as our text.  We arrived Tuesday afternoon in time to do some grocery shopping and unpacking before meeting with our first readers Wednesday afternoon.  

Josh, Kinley, Knox, and I make up half of our eight-person team with Josh's sister, Kelsey, and her family making up the rest.  The four adults will have up to fifteen readers each, and we'll meet with each of them for one-on-one English conversation practice.  Kinley will have seven or eight readers of her, and she'll spend the rest of her time helping with childcare since Knox, Finn, and Landry will need some supervision while the adults are with readers.  

And for the first time this year, Knox will get to have readers!  When Kinley was nine years old, we went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a Let's Start Talking mission project.  She had her first readers that year, and since Knox is now nine, he gets to begin sharing Jesus with others this year.

In Malasia in 2010, Kinley met with her very first readers.

Knox met with his first reader, Lucia, yesterday.

I'm so proud of Knox and Kinley for wanting to share Jesus's love with others, and I'm grateful to the very patient Malaysians and Brazilians who have been willing to let my children practice on them.  Studying English with an American can be intimidating, and it takes extra humility to be willing to learn from a nine-year-old!

I;m excited to start sharing my faith as well, and yesterday I met with three readers.  One of them had been my reader in 2014 while the other two were men I hadn't met before.  As Let's Start Talking workers, we come to each mission site ready to have deep conversations with people we've never met before.  We know that our new friends will only share their true feelings and thoughts with us if we're willing to be open and honest as well.  We are prepared to talk about specific ways that we have seen Christ at work in our lives, but we're also ready to acknowledge personal doubts and struggles.  I've prepared to myself to talk about difficult times in my life like my parents' divorce, my miscarriage, and my daddy's death to illustrate the ways God had cared for me even then.  I've even prepared myself to have to talk about the incredibly uncomfortable topic of American politics and the 2016 election.  But I still wan't prepared for the conversations I had with two of my readers yesterday.

My first session of the day was with a returning reader who had already completed the Luke book and is now studying in the book of John.  We read a lesson together which tells about the woman that was caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Jesus.  Her accusers reminded Jesus that the law said this woman was to be stoned to death for her sins, and then they asked Jesus what should be done.  They were intentionally trying to trick him, but Jesus was wiser than they expected.  He famously replied, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."  Since no one on the planet is sinless, all of the accusers left.  Jesus showed mercy to the woman and forgave her sins.

At the end of the lesson, I asked my reader to rethink this story with a present-day setting.  I asked him who would be dragged before Jesus today if the story were re-imagined.  I don't know what I expected him to say - a lying politician?  A greedy billionaire?  An unscrupulous policeman?  But I certainly didn't expect him to say the mass murderer responsible for the recent shooting at an Orlando nightclub.

Wow.  As you can imagine, I was a little stunned.  The horror in Orlando occurred just before we left the US.  I was in complete it's-time-to-pack-for-six-weeks-and-prepare-our-house-to-be-unoccupied-for-the-summer mode, and so I hadn't watched the news a single time in more than a week.  Beyond reading a few posts on Facebook, I knew precious few details.  I only knew the basics of the terrible crime, but that was enough to know that the shooter was not the person I'd imagine receiving forgiveness from Jesus without even asking for it.  So it took me a moment to process what my reader was implying.  My reader was suggesting that our precious Savior would show mercy to this monster.  Whoa.  That gave me food for thought.

And that wasn't the only time yesterday that I was asked about Orlando.  As soon as I sat down with my second reader of the day, even before the typical pleasantries, he said, "First let me ask you this.  I think many Christians and churches in the US don't like gay people.  How do you feel about what happened in Orlando?"

I sat there knowing that I needed to respond quickly but not sure how to express my true feelings in the basic English that my new friend was sure to understand.  My feelings are so complex!  They're a mix of disbelief and helplessness and grief and shock and confusion and discouragement and paralysis and worry and embarrassment and so many other feelings that to try to reduce them to the basic English that my reader could understand seemed impossible!  So, after a brief pause, I simply said, "Sad.  Really, really sad."

I don't know what he expected me to say, but evidently, I had passed his test.  We continued with our session and even found common ground in our love of Madonna.  (He squealed with delight at all of my pictures from her concert in January!  Who says the Material Girl can't be a pathway to the love and mercy of Jesus??!!)

All of my training, years of experience with Let's Start Talking, and preparedness didn't prepare me for talking about Orlando.  Thankfully, God gave me the words to say to respond to my readers in a way that seemed reasonable, if simplistic, to them.  

And, I guess I should just be happy that at least they didn't ask me about the election.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A First-Timer's View of Sin City (Part 2: Do Your Homework Ahead)

Before heading off for five days of fun, I did a little research to try to get some sense of what Las Vegas would be like.  I talked to friends and colleagues, bought a guide book, and read a few blogs in an attempt to try to wrap my mind around what to expect and decide what to do and see.

Having never seen a Cirque du Soleil show before, I wasn't sure which of the eight shows that are available in Las Vegas would be the best.  So I did some searching and found a USA Today article from 2014 that was very helpful.  It listed summaries of all eight shows, ranked them, and even advised  first-time-Cirque-goers about which show to choose.  We took their advice and went to Mystere at Treasure Island.  There were some amazing performers, but this girl had a hard time staying awake during some parts.  Having to lean my head back against my comfy seat to see the trapeze artists coupled with a starting time of 9:30 pm didn't help.  9:30 PM??!!  Haven't these people heard of matinees?  We did get a buy-one-get-one-for-$15 discount deal about a month ahead of time from , so at least I didn't pay full price to take a nap.  Don't judge.

For more tips, I also read this  not-very-pretty-but-very-informative post about 25 things women should know before visiting Vegas.  It gave some good tips, though many of them weren't just for women.  The best advice I received about what to pack, however, came from my colleague, Kelly, who told me I'd need comfortable shoes.  I didn't realize that walking from hotel to hotel exploring the different themes would be such a "thing," so I'm glad she warned me about footwear.  This post gave some good tips, too, though I DID still wear some sequins and DID NOT take any athletic shoes, in spite of their advice. (Puh-lease.  No sequins?  In Vegas?  Why have sequins if you don't wear them in Vegas?)

Fodor's is my go-to travel guide publisher, and their Las Vegas one didn't disappoint.  We bought it for a buck at the library book sale, and it didn't matter that it was from 2014 since little has changed since then.  It even had a whole chapter on gambling including a cheat sheet for blackjack.  Had I decided that $10 a hand was something I was willing to lose, I totally would have sat there at the blackjack table, unembarrassed, with my cheat sheet open.  Fodor's assured me that this was perfectly acceptable, and that, in fact, the dealer would even be willing to tell you what your best odds are as you play if you tell them you're a newbie.  Aren't they thoughtful?!

Another valuable tip came from my colleague, Holly, who had been to Las Vegas just a couple of weeks before our trip.  She encouraged me to get tickets to see Showstoppers at the Wynn.  And oh.  My.  Goodness.  Not only was it just my style (a string of awesome Broadway numbers with amazing dancers and fabulous costumes), but it was at one of the most beautifully decorated hotels in Vegas.  The chandeliers made of glass bubbles made me swoon, and the theater perfectly channeled the glamour of the Art Deco period.  That my in-laws sprung for 3rd row seats was the icing on the cake.  

Even though I had seen live stagings of several of the shows represented before (Chicago, A Chorus Line, Guys and Dolls), I hadn't seen them from the 3rd row!  I had serious leg envy, people.  I'm not gonna lie.  I mean, check out this chick in the picture below doing the splits while in a handstand.  that alone should motivate me to get my rear end to the gym.
And the clever staging of "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" from Guys and Dolls with vintage Vegas signs had me slack-jawed.  Loved it.
In spite of my best efforts at preparing myself for what to expect during my first trip to Las Vegas, nothing can really prepare you for the spectacle that is Sin City.  So read the blogs, pore over the travel guides, and poll your friends for their best tips.  But in the end, just go and see it for yourself.  And maybe write a comment or two here about your best advice!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gina's Derby Don'ts: 20 Things NOT to Do When You Go to the KentuckyDerby

In honor of Derby Day today, I decided to turn a Facebook post I created while attending the 2014 Kentucky Derby into a blog post.  All of the Don'ts represent actual people I saw at the Derby that year, though I wasn't quick enough with my phone to snap a pic of every Don't.

Which leads me to this:  sorry for the crappy photo quality on some of these.  Glamour magazine clearly hires better photographers than I for their iconic "Glamour Dos and Don'ts" column each month.  That said, some of these photos are so bad that they're epic.


Number 1:  Do not wear a felt hat to the Derby.  It's chilly, yes, but it's not December.  Straw or Sinamay are far more appropriate for Spring.

Number 2:  Don't wear black panties with your white linen dress, even if your hat is black and white striped.

Number 3:  Don't wear shoes that are going to fall apart on you (even if they are a luscious turquoise snakeskin that are the perfect height and match your dress exactly) UNLESS you happen to have your shoes fall apart right beside the AWESOME guy in charge of the whole venue who can lickety-split send his minions to get you some Super Glue and then help your husband fix said shoes. 

Number 4:  Don't wear a dress that is only 3 inches longer than your underwear.  It's the Derby not a NASCAR race, honey.

Number 5:  Don't wear athletic shoes with your dress.  Even the horses don't wear running shoes, and they have to speed around that track while you just sit there nursing your mint julep.  On second thought, this girl's probably drinking a beer.

Number 6:  Don't.  Just don't.

Number 7:  Don't get your hat embellished by the floral department at Michael's.  Fake feathers, fake roses, fake hibiscus, oh my!  Less is more, dear.  Less is more.

Number 7:  Don't carry your hat.  Either come prepared to rock that bad boy all day or don't wear one at all.

Number 8:  Don't dress as an alcoholic beverage, even if it is the official beverage of the Derby.

Number 9:  Don't walk around in your sock feet.  It's a HORSE track.  Like, with real horses.  And poop.  Ew.  Keep your shoes on.

Number 10:  Don't wear flip flops beyond your box seat.  I get it that your heels hurt your feet.  I get it that you came prepared with emergency flip flops.  But wear them only while wandering around the confined luxury of your Daddy's box.  And while you're at it, have another mint julep.  You'll forget about your aching feet in no time.

Number 11:  Don't wear the same hat as your BFF unless you're Stella Artois or Dodge Ram girls and you're getting paid to do it.  You look like you're in junior high.

Number 12:  Don't wear cowboy boots with your Derby dress.  While there are occasions where a dress paired with cowboy boots is a total Do, the Derby isn't it.

Number 13:  Don't wear sequins.  It's a horse race not a cocktail party.  (Too slow with my iPhone to get a pic of this one.  You'll just have to trust me.)

Number 14:  Don't store your phone in your bra.  This is not a bar.  And besides, you paid hundreds of dollars to be here.  The least you can do is invest in a little clutch purse.

Number 15:  Don't leave after the running of the Derby.  Again, you paid big bucks to be here.  Stay and watch the last two races.  It's going to be an hour's wait for taxis or the shuttle bus anyway.  You might as well take advantage of the cleared-out betting lines and hang around.

Number 16:  Don't wear a statement necklace to the Derby.  Your hat is your statement.  Go with simple pearls.

Okay.  My last three might be controversial, but, hey.  It's my blog.  Deal with it.

Number 17:  Do not wear Vineyard Vines to the Derby if you're a girl.  Don't get me wrong, I live V V and their little whale, but I saw five girls in the same V V dress and many other duplicates.  For guys, there's a lot of V V duplication, too, but it's not as big a deal to them.

Number 18:  Ditto for Lilly Pulitzer.

Number 19:  Don't wear wedges.  I love them, too, but I spent a lot of time people watching and the legs in pumps just looked better.  And, admittedly, less comfortable.  But still.  Pumps look prettier.

And Number 20 is just for the guys from my uber fashionable hubby, Josh:  Don't wear a business suit and power tie to the Derby.  Spring colors for your jacket?  Khaki linen pants?  Bright bow ties?  Even some Madras in moderation?  All acceptable.  But a gray suit and a conservative tie?  Come on.  Have a little pride.

There you go!  My 20 Derby Don'ts.  I'd love you to add your own in comments!  And before I sign off, I'd like to share one Derby Do.  Here it is.

If your Daddy ever calls you up and says, "Hey honey, how about you get us tickets for the Derby this year," DO.  Just do.