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Giving Thanks – pt. 2

Seven years sounds like a long time. It’s nearly as long as anything I have ever done, and longer than many of the most important periods in my life so far… I was a graduate student for two years, have been married for two years and four months, spent four years on my undergraduate degree. I’ve lived in my current home for four and a half years. I held a single job for five years and nine months.

I knew my father-in-law for seven years.

I met my husband through a happy accident, a funny little twist of fate that relied heavily on the independent spirit that runs strong in his family. Father and son started a small computer business together and one ordinary day when the father was too busy to see every client himself, he sent his son in his stead. The rest, as they say, is history.

I “met the parents” a relatively short time later, but it took some time for me to get comfortable around my future in-laws. My father-in-law was a not a frightening or intimidating person by any means, but he was smart and decisive, never afraid to speak his mind. When he spoke to me, I always knew that he was listening intently and weighing my words, actually engaging me in discussion rather than idly asking how my day was. I never wanted to say the wrong thing! He loved his family fiercely, and I got the impression that he wanted to be quite sure I belonged with them before he welcomed me into their tight-knit group. For people used to residing thousands of miles away from the nearest relatives, going from a clan of four to a clan of five was a big deal, and he was the Chief.

When I was eventually invited to attend the most sacred of family traditions, the Christmas Eve karaoke extravaganza, I was both flattered and terrified. I don’t sing, and for good reason. It was my father-in-law, so fearless himself, who rescued me when, in spite of my repeated and desperate protests, I found myself in tears as several members of the assembled group tried to force me in front of the microphone. He might not have shared my embarrassment, but he empathized and helped me, and that’s when I knew he had decided I could stick around.

Four years into the relationship with his son and shortly after we bought a house together, my father-in-law got sick. He had been battling what everyone assumed was the flu for about a week when the situation became dire enough to require emergency assistance. At the hospital, a battery of tests revealed the impossible truth: he had leukemia. Our Chief, the strongest, smartest, bravest, most central member of the Gray family, faced an invisible enemy that had caught everyone unawares. We were floored.

For three years, there were endless medical treatments. Chemotherapy, followed by rest and pills, followed by testing, followed by more chemotherapy – the hospital became an unwelcome additional home for both of my in-laws. He was tired; I’m sure he was tired of it; and there were occasional setbacks in his treatment. But from the outside, as a spectator, it was rare to see that. My father-in-law soldiered on as convincingly as any Academy Award winner, still running his computer business and winning over new friends with his friendly, capable demeanor. When we visited, he was always ready to welcome us with some delicious meal he had spent hours preparing.

The doctors mentioned bone marrow transplants and a word we were all a bit afraid of speaking in case we jinxed it: a cure. When his children volunteered their marrow for testing, the incredible results showed that they were both good matches. Delay after delay set the process back and my in-laws spent a pricey, wasted few months in a rented apartment near the transplant hospital. Still, when my husband and I finally got married my father-in-law gave a cheery speech about how the best part of having children is the opportunity to use them for spare parts later, and had the crowd roaring with laughter. The Chief drove my bridal party to our hairstyling appointments on the morning of the wedding in his newest toy, a decked out RV in which he planned to travel the country after his treatment wrapped up.

A few months after that beautiful day, we got the green light on the bone marrow transplant again. We spent Christmas that year mentally preparing, with my sister-in-law making everyone matching tie-dyed “Team Gray” shirts that we wore joyfully out to dinner, smiling at the funny looks from the other patrons. My father-in-law gifted my husband and me Scottish titles and land (one square foot each), as a nod to our nerdy fascination with Renaissance festivals and fantasy stories, while we returned the favor with a Tolkien-esque map of the Gray Kingdom showing the Castle (house), Great Garage, Dread Swamp (a duck pond on the property), etc.

Finally, the big day arrived. My selfless, wonderful husband donated the marrow and my intrepid father-in-law, ever the overachiever, was up visiting at his son’s bedside before the afternoon was out. Invincible, I thought to myself. These men can right the world through sheer force of will.

We were well aware of the risks, but the first several weeks seemed to pass so quickly and smoothly. We soon found ourselves together at a car dealership, taking the Chief’s dream ride out for a test drive. He pretended he wanted to think about it for a few days, but we all knew that the car would be in his driveway soon. He was defeating leukemia, and he deserved a treat. The car arrived shortly and soon after, a custom license plate declaring it “JOHNSS.”

Three months after that, the doctors declared the cancer beaten. His bloodwork showed none remaining in his system. And then, two weeks later, my husband received an alarming phone call. His dad had been having trouble breathing and had been rushed to the emergency room. When another call came in the middle of the night that he’d been admitted to the ICU, we got out of bed and into the car. Team Gray was in trouble, and we were the reinforcements. For eleven days the five of us sat together, pooling our collective will into healing the Chief.

Chief, of course, thought the four of us were ridiculous for “wasting” so much time sitting in the hospital, and he let us know it. We told him, when he drifted back to consciousness after a couple of days asleep, that we got up each morning, came to be with him, went home to go to bed, and did it all over again the next day, and he scoffed, “That’s not much of a life, is it?” On days when he was having trouble speaking, he was always pointing to the phrase on his communication card that said, “Go home.”

Still, he hugged us all tightly when we had to leave to sleep or shower. Once, on our way out the door after the others had said goodnight, I thought he was drifting off to sleep and so I quietly collected my things without touching him, for fear of waking him. He noticed and called me back to complete the round of hugs. I’m not a religious person, but I have never prayed so much in my life for a higher power to intervene, to keep this family together.

And then, on the twelfth day, there was another early morning phone call. If it were her father, said the kindly nurse, she would want to be there. So we went, and we all held hands and we cried and, too soon, we had to say goodbye.

Time is a tricky and sometimes frustrating thing. When you want it to go by quickly, it can seem to slow beyond reason, leaving you to note every passing second as it ticks laboriously by. When you wish it would just stop, whether to prolong something good or prevent something bad, it seems to fly away before you can even get a solid grasp on it. Perhaps the most baffling of all is time played back in memory… when you want to remember, and sometimes when you want to forget, past times can seem to waver and twist, confusing the details and sometimes making you question what you saw.

I see Chief now in flickers… remember the joy he took in leading his family on adventures, catch glimpses of his mischievous grin in the face of his son, witness the astounding impact his life had on his friends and family alike. I mourn for the years we won’t get to share with him, the events he will only be present for “in spirit,” and I miss him. But I am grateful that I had the chance to join his family while he was here to lead it.

I knew my father-in-law for seven years. It was not nearly long enough.

Giving Thanks – pt. 1

Just a bit over eight years ago I was sitting in a nearly empty office in a quiet little real estate brokerage waiting for my life to change, though I didn’t know it yet.

That was my first real job, the first time someone had taken a look at my shiny new bachelor’s degree and agreed that I could spend eight hours a day helping them in exchange for paychecks and health insurance. What did I know about real estate? To be honest, not much, but I was eager to prove myself and I certainly knew my way around the internet, where the multiple listing service stored information about all the houses that people currently wanted to buy or sell. If only I had internet access, I could get started.

But the computer in my office was as new to the job as I was, barely out of the box and certainly not set up yet. No internet, no access to my email or the printers. I thought of firing it up myself, beginning the installs and registration and whatnot, but my coworkers told me to wait – to figure out my preferred arrangement of desk and bookshelf and filing cabinet – and let “the computer guy” take care of that part. “He’s done it all before,” they told me. “He’ll connect you to the network, and you’ll be off and running.”

So I waited. With my desk neatly tucked into a corner and an array of handbooks and manuals beginning to fill the shelves of the newly assembled bookcase, I wrinkled my nose at the hulking filing cabinet near the door. It arrived in one piece, but in a box that I couldn’t figure out how to remove without somehow levitating the cabinet with my imaginary magical powers. In my pencil skirt and heels, I had no intention of trying to tip it, lift it, or squat to examine it for other options. As I evaluated my options, I heard some quiet commotion in the hallway and realized the fabled computer guy must have arrived.

“Good,” I thought, “I am going crazy without access to email and instant messages.” I popped up to open my door, eager to join whatever work queue he had for the day. I found the office manager standing halfway inside the IT closet, talking to someone behind the tangle of wires and cables. “Hey Balaram, I have that new computer that needs to be set up,” I offered, and he nodded.

“No problem. Hey man, this is Tiffany. She’s new. Can you go get her set up when you’re done here?” He looked at me for verification. “You’re in which office… 12, right?”

“Yes,” I replied, “And… maybe someone could help me get that filing cabinet unpacked too?”

“Yep,” came the answer from within the IT closet. “Be right there.”

“Thanks,” I said, heading for the kitchen to make a cup of tea. When I returned to my office, steaming mug in hand, I found someone sitting on my floor, cutting the tape on the computer boxes with his keys. “Oh! Hi,” I said, slightly startled.

He looked up and smiled. “Hi, I’m Oliver. I’ll have this thing working for you in no time.”

“I… thanks.” I was confused. “They said your name was John.”

“John’s my dad,” he answered. “We run the company together.”

When everyone is special…

I guess this is nothing new, but it sure seems like it has been a wacky week on the internet. At least a few people have really been letting their crazy streaks show.

For instance, have you seen this?

Sleepless in Austin  <—- It’s a personal site created by a “gentleman” searching for his next girlfriend. His requirements for this special girl are pretty strict and his self description is… well… it’s detailed, at least. You really have to read it yourself to understand. The man in question has a unique sense of fashion:

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He calls himself Romeo Rose, but rumor has it his name is actually Larry. Nice ruffles, Larry.

Oh yeah. And he will fork over $1,500 to whoever it is that hooks him up with this fantastical lady love. Bonus of $1,000 more if they actually get married. Yikes.

Quite a few people have voiced their opinions about this, like the Austin Culture Map and even more scathingly, the Huffington Post. And really, what else could they say? The guy is blatantly racist, sexist, classist, “weightist,” and probably a bunch of other nasty -ists. He’s too old to actually be a Millennial, but he displays every ounce of self-absorption and ego that my generation is constantly accused of having. His level of delusion (in one section of his site, he describes himself as “part CEO, part Rockstar,”) is staggering. I’m equal parts fascinated and repulsed. Yes, it’s like a car accident… you totally want to look away, but somehow you just can’t.

Also high on the horrifically interesting list this week is one Quin Woodward Pu, who keeps a “blog” of upcoming events in DC (original content is pretty sparse on the site, though) and appears to have a much higher opinion of herself than the rest of the internet at large. Quin has recently found herself at the center of a firestorm because, basically, she was a huge bitch to some guy for no real reason, and decided to tell the world. See it here —-> Little Black Blog. (Read some of the comments at the bottom if you must, but don’t bother with all of them… they’re pretty much the same thing said a dozen ways. And some are pretty vile.)

Ms. Pu’s reference to “two published books” in the post in question makes it more or less obligatory to look up her work on the world’s greatest marketplace, Amazon. Oh. My. Gawsh. Y’all.  And we thought Romeo Rose was self absorbed.

First of all, both books are memoirs. Did I mention that she turned 26 a few days ago? What average American woman (and make no mistake, Quin is thoroughly average in spite of her many declarations to the contrary) has enough wisdom and experience to share that she needs a memoir at age 26, let alone TWO? And then there is this. Look at this cover art. Just look at it!

Quin Pu

“It’s all about MEEEE!” she seems to squeal. Yeah… you guessed it. These are self-published.

This time, definitely do read the comments/reviews. They are so worth it. Though it’s pretty obvious that most of the recent reviewers haven’t actually read the books, they have more or less accurately assessed the quality of the content. The average rating is sitting at just over one star. If you need convincing that these people are not being unfair, feel free to have a glance of a sample of one book here: Type A+, Chapter Three.

So… almost needless to say, Quin is getting her fifteen minutes of infamy. She’s been on Buzzfeed and Gawker and the Daily Mail and Huffington Post and even the International Business Times. Make no mistake – she’s loving it. Traffic to her blog has never been higher and she may even have sold a few extra copies of her memoirs. She’s probably angling for a reality show, or at least a few appearances on talk shows, as we speak.

And this is where I start to get really uncomfortable with the whole spectrum of wannabe celebrities that fill our public consciousness. Romeo Rose says black people physically disgust him. A spoiled DC yuppie threatens to trash someone’s career over an imagined slight. Yes, we react to these people with disdain. We are quick to denounce them, to assert that we, emphatically and universally, disagree. The problem is that we do these things by saying to our friends, “Wow, have you seen this trainwreck? Can you believe they did that? Click this link to see the whole story.” So in spite of ourselves, we fuel their fire and encourage other desperate or dim folk to follow in their footsteps, because Hey, it made someone else famous once! We are dictating that there will be more of the same.

As someone who has studied media relations and strategic communication, I feel obligated to state that I really dislike the phenomenon. I don’t believe the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

There is, and this is it.

No one wins. These stories lack substance and have no sustained momentum. They paint the people in them as selfish, unintelligent, and lacking in discretion. And because they took place in an age where everything we do lives in The Cloud in perpetuity, they have a diarrhea-like ability to crop up again and again, possibly at the most inconvenient of times.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that not only will Sleepless in Austin and Ms. Pu lose our interest in a few days, but they will suffer from some degree of attention withdrawal and find themselves looking for ways to recreate their attention-whoring “magic.” And someday, when it seems that the hullabaloo has truly died down and they have begun to move on, one of these people will do something normal like apply for a job, and this nonsense will rear its ugly head. Who wants to employ a man who has gone on the record stating that African Americans look like monkeys to him, or a woman who wrote entire books about her college days of binge drinking and sexcapades?

There are multitudes of ways to put your name (or that of a client, if you’re a PR person) in front of an audience, and maybe even to shock a few people, without destroying your credibility and reputation in the process. Really, success depends less on reaching tons of people and more on reaching the right people. And that is something that can only be done by getting to know your product, your aims, and your audience really well. It’s something that takes forethought and hard work. But the results are lasting and that’s worth the investment.

When you combine good research with creativity, you’re reaching for a real spark – genuine interest and loyal brand supporters. That’s so much better than car-accident spectators! Unlike these hams reveling in their short-lived fame, it’s actually special.

I didn’t.

Lots of girls aspire to be a princess on their wedding day. I didn’t.

Super fancy, we were not.

Super fancy, we were not.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. My wedding was something I looked forward to for ages, planned meticulously for nearly a year, and enjoyed every second of while it was happening. But was it a day fit for royalty? … No. But was it wonderful? Of course! Getting married was about more than me and my moment in the sun as “The Bride.”

It was about the journey from two single people to one family. It was about the whirlwind of preparation in the days leading up to the ceremony, the small army of people who brought my tumbling mass of ideas into reality, and the quirky touches and beautiful moments that made the whole crazy process special. And mostly, it was about the incredible feeling of love that infused every person and every thing that the wedding touched.

Seriously. The whole weekend felt kind of like this. Laughter, love, and a little loopiness.

The whole weekend felt kind of like this. Laughter, love, and a little loopiness. Perfect.

Because even though my fiance and I did spend close to a year  (okay, it was mostly me fussing for that year… though he was a very good sport and pretended to listen when I launched into yet another soliloquy about chair styles) choosing the photographer, the food, the venue, and a million other details… there were still so many little things to finish in the last week before the big day! It couldn’t have all come together without the generous souls who jumped right in to help.

First, my house became a little factory. Three days out, my father was in the backyard painting lawn games with my future husband

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D’oh, you waited HOW LONG to paint these things??

while my mom sat beside me sewing yards of silvery drapes and my stepmother folded and assembled scores of programs. My family rocks. And they have skillz.

At t-minus two days, my friend’s husband spent two hours punching out one hundred stiff paper leaves for the escort cards

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The silver leaves looked great thanks to Mark!

as my mother-in-law hauled vases into my bathtub so that the  flowers for the bouquets would stay hydrated. My friends are the best I could ever ask for.

When the time came to pack everything up and head for the hills (Yes, literally: we got married on a farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains) I could hardly believe we fit everything into just three cars and an RV.

I barely slept on my last night as an unmarried woman. I was too excited, and I still had too much to do, anyway.

I finished writing the escort cards by hand at four thirty a.m., and I hopped in the shower at six. The sun rose bright and perfect by the time I finished brushing my teeth, and I breathed a sigh of relief. We had a plan for inclement weather, but I regarded it primarily as an insurance policy to convince Mother Nature Herself that there was no need for rain. It was kind of how taking an umbrella to work on a cloudy day usually means blue skies by noon, you know?

I met my bridesmaids for breakfast at seven, and we were due at the hair salon by eight. We rode there in style, chauffeured by my father-in-law-to-be in his giant RV, and thank goodness for all that extra space. We were toting seven women, what felt like several miles of satin and tulle in the form of our dresses, shoes, makeup, a whole garden full of hydrangea bouquets, surprise bridesmaids’ gifts, and I can’t even remember what else. We’re talking a lot of stuff. The air was full of chatter and an almost audible buzz of pent-up energy.

When we arrived we took up half of the salon, and it was such fun when other customers noticed that we were a bridal party and waved or wished me good luck.  Around ten we emerged curled, braided, pinned, and spritzed. I had an elaborate peacock feather fascinator tucked above my right ear and a fine silvery web of veil covering the back of my head. I felt beautiful.

feathers

No rest for this bride yet, and no makeup either!

But, true to form, I was not about to spend the rest of the day sitting around waiting for the ceremony. There was work to be done!

Rolling up at the farm, we found setup already in full swing. Groomsmen carrying tables and chairs to the reception site looked a little like leafcutter ants hurrying home,

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Being the groom doesn’t get you out of hard labor either.

and the caterer’s staff were busy piling the tables with linens and dishes as soon as they were set up. Even the boyfriends of the bridesmaids pitched in after having flown in from Arizona and California for the weekend. Some vacation for them, eh?

I led a brigade of  helpers around the reception site, spreading satin overlays and tying on chair sashes. Then there were shepherd’s hooks, strung with dozens of paper lanterns, to stake in the ground.

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Did you know it’s difficult to hang lanterns when it’s windy outside?

When we finished in that area, we moved on to setting up a small pavilion in the ceremony area. At some point in all the chaos, the photographer arrived and then the baker, bringing one of the loveliest cakes I’ve ever seen.

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And it tasted as good at it looked.

We set up lanterns and the lawn games and hung dozens of tiny escort card leaves on a manzanita tree. I honestly don’t know how everything got finished except through sheer force of will. Or perhaps the Universe was smiling on us and slowed down time. Who knows?

What I do know is that I was so busy all day, but each time I paused to look around, I realized again how hard absolutely everyone was also working to make things beautiful. Every family member, bridal party member, and staff member from the farm and the caterer was amazing, managing to smile and have fun while they transformed an empty field into a glorious party.

Smiling faces make any day, even one that's already wonderful, better.

Smiling faces make any day, even one that’s already wonderful, better.

Before I knew it, time ran out and I only had an hour before I was due at the ceremony site to get safely hidden away before guests arrived. All the ladies hightailed it upstairs to the bridal suite, and mild chaos ensued as we steamed dresses, applied makeup, and fixed any curls that had started to droop. I live far from most of them, so those moments together were precious. We gave each other advice on eyeliner and undergarments like we’d never been apart. And finally, it was time to step into my gown and let everyone else deal with trying to lace up the corset back.

It was surreal seeing myself in the mirror when they were done. I had been running around all day just planning a party, but suddenly before me stood a bride. Not a princess, but a nervous, elated, slightly shaky young woman about to embark on a new and thrilling chapter of her life. It was time to go.

Stop to smell the flowers. It's worth it.

Stop to smell the flowers on your wedding day. You’re the bride; people will wait for you to be ready.

Hair and makeup? Check.

Veil, dress, and impractical silver shoes? Check.

Old trinket, new earrings, borrowed brooch, blue peacock feathers? Check.

Supporting cast of beloved friends, family, and the most incredible future husband all waiting for my entrance? Check.

I took one last look at the sun streaming through the window, falling on the comfy old clothes I’d been wearing all day, and walked out the door.

Lovely Brussels

This post is late. It was meant to go up last week… however, I found myself a tad distracted between the being in the Hague and the working until 3 or 4 each morning on a communications plan. Sorry about that!

So, a recap of my adventure in Brussels:

The train pulled into Brussels Centraal and I hefted my giant suitcase down to  the platform. I proceeded to spend the next fifteen minutes walking in circles around the various levels of the station trying to get my bearings. I like to be sure where I’m going when I can’t read any of the signs around me.

I figured out where the ticket counters were located, how to read the schedules, which staircases led to the platforms, and which doors led to outside, bathrooms, and nowhere at all. Then, finally convinced that I was in the right place, I shuffled over to the lockers and stowed my luggage for the next few hours. I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders as I headed out the door carrying only my little shoulder bag with my ID, cash and camera.

I had three main things on my list for Brussels: walk around the Grand Place, go see the Manneken Pis, and have an authentic Belgian waffle. It was about noon when I hit the streets. Since I had many hours free and no companions to worry about, I decided to just start walking and get a map/ask for directions later if I wasn’t finding what I wanted to see. It turned out to be a good decision.

The first thing I wandered into by mistake was a summer festival. There was music and a happy crowd eating “state fair food” like corn on the cob and funnel cake.

Brussels knows how to enjoy the summer!

It was fun. But I had other things to see, so I only stayed for a few minutes.

Next I headed out along a street and immediately found a string of beautiful buildings. I guess they’re not so uncommon here as they are in the states. There was this:

it’s just there… people are walking by nonchalantly. I wish I had been able to find out what it is.

And this:

This was outside one of the multitude of museums I walked past.

And many more, of course. Too many to post, or even really take, photos of. We’ll just say that it was a lovely and enjoyable walk.

So I wandered out of the summer festival and just strolled until I found that I had wandered in to an antiques market. It was charming — similar enough to the sort of thing I’d see in the states that I felt at home, but different enough to be endlessly entertaining.

Look at those awesome copper pots! Think they would fit in my luggage?

Eventually I wandered out of the market — empty handed, thank goodness — and went on my way again. I just loved the city! Everything was so bright and fun and relaxed.

Technicolor houses!

At some point along the way, I heard a tremendous amount of honking coming up the street, and realized that it was a wedding party. There were streamers and flowers all over the lead car, with a smiling bride waving from the passenger window and her obviously-very-proud papa driving along. It was so sweet.

Totally added to the fabulous happy atmosphere of the day.

Beautiful cathedral!

And suddenly, I looked up and realized I had found one of my list items.

It’s the Grand Place!

It’s a square, so you can basically turn in circles taking beautiful photos forever. =)

I love Gothic architecture! There’s just nothing like this in the States.

So, that was exciting. It really is grand. I strolled around snapping pictures and basking in all the wonderfulness of being there. Saw my third bride of the day, posing with her bridal party in the courtyard of what I can only assume was a church or palace of some kind. It was enormous.  =)

When I finally decided to look for the Manneken Pis in earnest, I followed a group of other tourists who seemed to be looking for him too, and appeared to know the way. I knew soon that we were on the right track, as things like this started appearing in the shop windows…

Technicolor peeing boy!

And not long after that, the little guy did actually appear.

Mildly indecent, but everyone seems to love him.

Once I had snapped the obligatory photo of him, I decided it was time to get down to business. I had been passing waffle shops right and left along the way, and those waffles smelled goooooooood. It was my turn.

I found a little place where two teenage girls were making them fresh and ordered what looked amazing in the window:

Delicious warm waffle with strawberries and dark chocolate. To. Die. For.

Then finally, contented, I spent the rest of my afternoon wandering little streets and snapping pictures that won’t mean anything to anyone but me. It was awesome.  =) When I got really tired, I climbed on a train and made my way to Den Haag at long last. It was the start of another awesome adventure, which will have to wait for another post.

I had a great day in Brussels and would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice day of strolling in a lovely European city.

Hoyas in The Hague

So… here I sit in my hotel room. In Den Haag. In the Netherlands. I guess that’s pretty cool.  =)

Stamped. Official.

Maybe I should back up a minute — explain how this came to be. Perhaps you’ve seen that I haven’t posted anything in four months, despite my promise to give more details about my fabulous wedding “tomorrow.” Oops. I’ve been a tad distracted.

As it turns out, I was incredibly fortunate this summer semester to enroll in a class at Georgetown called “Global Communication in the Age of Social Media.” The shortest explanation is that it’s a program in which we have practiced creating solutions to communications problems for clients from many different regions around the globe. We have been presenting the ideas we’ve generated, so far, just to my professors — after all, it’s a class and not a real PR firm. But the very last part of the class, the culmination, is this week. My entire class has flown across the ocean to be here, in the political capital of the Netherlands and the seat of the International Criminal Court, to work on a problem for one last client. And this time, we’re actually pitching the ideas to the client. At a REAL PR FIRM. FOR REALZ.

I know. It’s awesome.

So here I am in Den Haag, about fifty five hours after arriving at the airport in Baltimore for the first leg of my journey. So much has happened already! Rather than deluge you with an endless wall of text, I will try to break up my adventures into more manageable chunks. First up: the flights.

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It’s pretty safe to say that flying anywhere comes with snags and challenges. If you’re flying internationally, the challenges just multiply. Friday? No exception.

My first flight was delayed because the plane was sitting on the tarmac in North Carolina, unable to leave because of bad weather. The couple sitting next to me in the waiting area were having a conniption fit because their original flight out of Baltimore had been canceled and it was their second day of sitting at the airport hoping to get out. Their hotel reservations in Venice were soon expiring.

I had a relatively long layover between my first and second flights so I stayed pretty calm as everyone around me fumed and spluttered. I kept checking the Delta website for them to give them updates that were not, for whatever reason, coming from the gate agents.

Of course the plane finally made it to Baltimore and we winged our way to New York, where I got to wait a delightful four hours before boarding the next flight. I got quite a few pages of my book read, at least!

Once we boarded the plane, it was definitely at least another hour before we took off. We sat forever at the gate, and then taxied sooooooooo slowly around the runway before getting in a huge line of other planes waiting to take off. I got acquainted with my seatmate during the long interlude before departure.

At first I thought he was cute — he was on his way to visit his fiancee in France and meet her parents for the first time. He seemed to miss her a lot and had never been to Europe at all before, so he had lots of questions about the people and the food and getting around.

Then once we were in the air and the flight attendants brought dinner, I started getting annoyed with him. He was a crazy picky eater — he wouldn’t touch his salad (vegetables are gross unless they’re cooked, apparently), his bread or his dessert. He told me my dinner (tri-color tortellini with tomato cream sauce, which I thought was pretty dang good) looked awful. When the lights finally went out and everyone was trying to sleep, he kept rolling over and taking my blanket with him, leaving me freezing and annoyed. I was glad when we started seeing land below the plane again.

The Brussels airport, where we landed, was remarkably easy and simple to get through — the guy who stamped my passport called out “Hallo!” cheerfully as I walked up to him and only asked me three questions before letting me go on my way. My bag came on the carousel quickly, and I figured out the train system to get into the city proper pretty easily. There was a super helpful guy on the train who gave me useful information about which stop to choose and how to stow my luggage while I walked around. It was great.

Next stop: Brussels!

New Chapter

Hey, guess what!

I bet you can guess...

I got married over the weekend!

It was probably (okay, certainly) the best day ever.  =)

I will tell you more about it tomorrow. But first I had to post a couple of the gorgeous pictures (I will also share more of those tomorrow).  Enjoy!

Immediately following the ceremony.