"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Sunday, April 2, 2017

On Gracie, Friendship, and Tiny Pink Flowers


This post starts out fairly light-hearted but it gets pretty deep at the end. That's the effect these flowers have on me though. #notsorry.

Long live the cherry blossoms. <3

So a few weeks ago, the in-laws made plans to come visit us when the online D.C. cherry blossom trackers were saying the blooms this year were going to be epic. The in-laws had never seen the flowers and we always sent them pictures when we go because there is nothing quite like this sight...

The first time we saw the cherry blossoms, during our first spring in the region in 2013.
2013. I took this photo with a cell phone. Incredible, no?


2014. Also taken with a cell phone.
2014. We made the mistake of going on a weekend. It was so jam-packed at the festival that we decided to skip 2015 altogether; I was overwhelmed by the crowds.
Also: Carlos was not sober in this photo...lol. Perks of living within walking distance from one of the Metro stations at the time! I took complete advantage of him and asked him if we could buy Gracie. He said yes. The rest is history. So there is a very strong association between these flowers and G-Mare!
Also 2014. It gives you an idea of the crowds. This is the third of a grand total of 6 photos we took the entire trip. The crowds were too heavy to be able to get any good pictures. 
2016. We went on a weekday, driving into D.C., and were even able to park within walking distance of the Tidal Basin.
2016. Sooooo windy! And we got to enjoy the blooms without the massive weekend crowds. It was awesome.
They bought plane tickets and arranged the trip for 6 people (Carlos's brother, brother's wife and their two girls also) with only two weeks to spare before peak bloom was predicted. It was perfect because Carlos and I had been thinking of going to see the blossoms on the Sunday his family would be here anyway. The problem: Carlos's dad asked, "So what are the chances that we'll see snow? The grandkids have never seen it."

"The chances of that are about shit to none," Carlos said. "It's been over 70 degrees this week."

Famous last words.

Two days before the in-laws were scheduled to arrive, we had the one snowstorm of the entire winter and Frederick, MD got a full 12" of the white stuff.

Okay. So I love snow. I do. I just don't love it the week after it's been a consistent 75 degrees in mid-March and it falls on a workday when I have to drive in rush hour traffic in it (among Marylanders and Virginians that believe snow is fire. This is a FANTASTIC article on how our region's people drive in snow...it's also pretty damn funny) and I can't ride in it, and it's going to melt away before I can return to the barn. Snow is useless to me if I can't ride my horses in it. Phooey. Also, this bipolar winter we've had had really been getting to me this year and I had been really happy about all the early green and warmth. I've had really, really bad S.A.D. this year, which has not been helped by work circumstances, not being able to ride due to said work circumstances, Carlos's work situation, financial stresses, politics, a trip we've been wanting to do with the horses that got cancelled twice due to stupid cold fronts (it still hasn't happened), some possibly major health concerns for both of us humans in our small family of mostly 4-legged beings, in addition to a combination of other Life and First World type of problems. There isn't enough vitamin D in the world to battle the combination of factors leading to me feeling down in the dumps.

Even Aengus was like, "It's cold. WTF."
With this snowstorm, I felt like someone had poured ice water over my head, quite literally and I wondered if I would ever feel again as empowered and Zen as I did at the end of 2016. I've felt pretty powerless this year so far. Or like kicking a few people in the teeth. I can't make up my mind.

SERIOUSLY
Taken on the way to work. Go away Winter.
The in-laws arrived on a Thursday and of course work ran super late on both Thursday and Friday and I was majorly stressed out because I should be out on time so I could spend time with family and then I was also stressed out because I asked to leave at a reasonable time so I could meet up with said family when everyone else had to stay at work late.

UGH

#typeAproblems #overachieverissues #empathproblems #empathysucksmostofthetime

Welcome to my brain for the last 4 months.

Anywho. Friday night finally came around and I ran out of work two hours after my shift was supposed to be over so I could meet up with Carlos and the rest of the family.

They had spent the entire day up at Roundtop Mountain in PA playing in the snow. The girls, ages 6 and 5, had had an absolute blast in the white stuff.

Carlos's brother Xavier and the eldest niece. He sent me this one while I was in the OR. I might have been a little bit jealous. Just a little bit.
We met up at our favorite Cuban place in downtown Frederick (it's our favorite because it's the only one but at least we have access to real Cuban fare in our hometown!) which we hadn't been to in...a long time. We've been on a Brewer's Alley and Cafe Nola bender and had completely forgotten about Sabor de Cuba. It was good to go back. And stuff my face with ropa vieja and flan.

I love Carlos's dad like he's my own father (in front of me at the table.) He has a knack for looking like he is part of the Cuban mafia in photos. Believe me, he isn't. Carlos gets his sarcasm and messed-up sense of humor straight from his dad!
We went our separate ways after dinner: we live in a tiny one-bedroom and Carlos's dad is deathly allergic to cats, so they were staying at a nearby hotel in town. We agreed to meet up the next morning for...

...HORSES!

The eldest niece, Kaylin, apparently wants to be just like me when she grows up. :) Like, she is seriously my #1 groupie. Her plans for this trip were to see snow and ride my horses. I said she could ride Gracie. Lily is the sweetest, but she is also so sensitive that I wasn't sure how she would feel about a small child on her back. Kaylin was fine with this plan. 

Gracie might have rolled her eyes at me when she realized what was up, "Seriously? Is there anyone you won't put on my back? Next thing you're going to want me to give the barn cat a ride."

"It's because I trust you, Gracie," I said to her.

"Hmf. As you wish," she said.


And so she tolerated Kaylin just like I knew she would, obediently following me around the arena as we gave the little one a pony ride. 

In fact, Gracie was handling all of these shenanigans so well that I decided to literally let Kaylin take the reins.


Gracie still followed me, but Kaylin was able to turn the mare on her own. She is a natural and after a few times around the arena, I really wanted her to get a taste for G-Mare's gait. Kaylin was born in Florida but her blood is Puerto Rican and Cuban: Paso Finos are an intrinsic part of that heritage. Gracie is not a Paso Fino, but her gait is close enough. 

So I decided to do something I have never attempted before, neither on Gracie nor on any other horse: to give Kaylin a ride on Gracie at her faster gaits. 

Carlos and Xavier helped Kaylin dismount, I got on, and they helped slide her on in front of me, where I could ensure she would stay in place in the saddle. Grace gave me an initial, "Well, this feels unusual..."

And then, "Okay, let's do this." As she always does.

She has a heart of gold, I tell you.

We started out walking and once she seemed comfortable about the weirdly balanced additional weight on her back, I asked G-Mare to pick up her singlefoot gait, which she obliged me with. Kaylin was laughing the entire time.

The photo where I'm laughing is the one where Kaylin said she didn't want to stop just yet. :D
I'm not sure for how long we rode around like this. But my heart was full to bursting with love for this spectacularly awesome mare. And I think Kaylin might be the next horsewoman in the family. ;) She was hooked, hooked, hooked!

After that, Gracie was untacked and released in her field and on a whim, we decided to head down to the National Zoo so the girls could see the pandas, with a stop in Rockville MD at Coastal Flats for lunch. (I failed at food pictures this time.)

We arrived about an hour before the zoo closed and got to see both the pandas and the elephants.


Then Carlos's face sort of exploded, which warranted a rushed visit to Urgent Care where he was diagnosed with a tooth abscess so bad, the next morning he had red streaks running down his neck. Looking at his face alone on Monday, you would have thought he had suddenly gained 50 lbs: that's how bad the swelling was. I was worried he might end up with a major blood infection (sepsis) or endocarditis (infection of the inner lining of the heart): both of these things are a very real possibility with tooth infections as serious as this one was. And if you think I'm overreacting: I have 3 close family members that are dentists/oral surgeons who randomly like to send me articles like this one (because apparently I need more things to worry about...) and I received dental training for animals in veterinary technology school. The #1 reason why dentals in animals are recommended is because tooth infections can and do increase the likelihood of an animal developing heart disease at an earlier age. It does apply to people too: I have to take a course of antibiotics prior to any dental work because of a congenital heart defect I have that increases the likelihood of me developing heart disease from dental work that might push bacteria into my heart.

So I was stressing about Carlos's tooth infection for the next three days...that's how long it took for the oral antibiotics to start to make a difference. I thought he was going to need to be hospitalized on IV antibiotics. He finally saw an endodontist (that involved a lot of shouting on my part because he didn't want to go because it required missing work hours but in my book, being alive is more important than any job) and the abscess got lanced and he had his long overdue root canal. Thank you Not-so-New Job's amazing dental insurance. Also: welcome to just a sliver of what my life has been like the last four months.

The next morning, Sunday, we got up relatively early and headed for D.C.: Carlos's brother's family had never seen the White House. The cherry blossoms were a fail: the sudden cold snap and snow had stopped the early blooming in its tracks and killed a lot of the flowers that were already opening, so we didn't really even bother swinging by the Tidal Basin. We just took a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and around the White House.

There were a few things silently happening around the White House. I thought it interesting that most of the people gathered around were, in fact, not white. Most of them were not speaking in English either.
Except for the guy with the sign in this photo. :D Also standing silent.
Featured here is a family that started with immigrants that came to the US: both of Carlos's parents and my dad (my dad is obviously not pictured here) all came to the US legally as political refugees from Cuba when they were children themselves. They went through the entire legal process of achieving residency and later obtaining citizenship. Fun fact: it is a pain in the ass if you do it right like they did, and even when you do it right, you can still get deported depending on the rules of the administration running the country and how anti-immigrant they decide to be. Both Carlos's parents and my dad later ended up in Puerto Rico because the threat of deportation while achieving citizenship was almost nonexistent there.
The rest of us in this photo were born on American land, either here on the mainland or in Puerto Rico, which is a US territory and hence Puerto Ricans are US citizens by birthright. (In case I haven't said that one enough...)
This was on a light post directly in front of the White House. It made me smile.
There were other things quietly happening that also made our group smile, but I'm not posting the photos.
All you need to know is that my faith in humanity was restored with this visit, simply because I turned around to look at my surroundings. It was like someone had shared the best secret with me.
There is a reason why Carlos is considered the Crazy Uncle. ;)
Walking back towards the area where we had parked.
After that, we grabbed lunch at Cosi  because the in-laws had tried it previously and loved it, and I had forgotten they even existed...we hadn't been to Cosi in forever! I LOVE their adobo chicken bowl!

Here, have some food porn. Photo not by me, but this is Cosi's Adobo Chicken and Avocado Bowl. And yes, this is what I had for lunch. It is amazing. If you ever fly through Ronald Reagan airport in D.C. there's one near the American Airlines terminal. Easy. ;)
And then we headed for National Harbor on the other side of the Potomac River from D.C.

I always love this view.
The swelling on the left side of Carlos's face was just starting when these photos were taken. I'm grinning but I was worried sick about him.

National Harbor turned into a mini adventure with Carlos's parents because his brother and Co. had fallen asleep in the van during the short drive over from D.C. So they slept in the van in the parking lot while the four of us walked around. The forecast had said upper 50s but the wind blowing off the water was icy: it was chilly. Even then, Carlos and I decided we really wanted ice cream so we stopped at Ben & Jerry's. Carlos's dad took a nap in the sun outside, shown here. You can tell he's not from this area. ;)
Carlos's brother and family finally woke up and joined us, and we took them to a small children's park by the bay. Us adults froze while the girls played. 
Carlos's dad mastering the art of the selfie. Lol!
Eventually it was time for them to head back to the airport. Carlos and I had come in our own car, so we said good-bye and headed our separate ways.

-----------------------------------

Towards the end of the following week, we got wind that the cherry blossoms might have decent blooms after all, and were scheduled to peak the following weekend. On Friday night Carlos and I decided spur-of-the-moment to drive back down to D.C. to see them the next morning since Carlos was working my one other day off (Tuesday) and the flowers only bloom for 5-7 days! (Dom, I want to plan this with you for next year when the weather is less schizo and it can be truly worth braving the crowds for!)

Shanna was flying back into Maryland on Saturday morning from a business trip out of state and wanted to hang out, and Meggan and Jess were also looking to do something since we hadn't all been able to get together for a while. So I invited all of them.

And that is how we found ourselves back in D.C. in separate vehicles (Jess and Meggan drove down in Jess's car because Jess was on call. Shanna rode with Carlos and me because we live so close to one another it was not a problem to just pick her up en route.)

D.C. traffic was more than a little bit crazy: not only was this the official weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival (they have live music, food stands, etc for the occasion) but it was also the first warm day in over two weeks so the city was PACKED with being just wanting to be outside for the day. Neither Waze nor Google Maps wanted to cooperate with directions. We got re-routed twice and couldn't find a public parking lot in the near vicinity of the Tidal Basin and didn't want to do street parking (if we had been able to find it...) because who wants to hike 3 miles back to feed the meter? (We later learned there is an app for D.C. parking meters that allows you to pay for parking online without having to physically go back to insert coins in it. How cool is that???!)

It took us 45 minutes to park. Thank God we had been in the city the weekend prior and paid attention: there was a public parking garage right on Pennsylvania Ave, about 3 blocks from the Tidal Basin. It only took us two more attempts to get there. :) I texted Jess and Meggan the address and we stopped at the Starbucks next door to grab coffee, use the restroom, and wait for them to arrive. But 40 minutes later, they were still stuck in traffic, so Shanna, Carlos and I headed down to the Tidal Basin on our own. Jess and Meggan would let us know when they parked and we would play it by ear from there.

Shanna was alternately in a zombie-like vs slap-happy state because she had only slept three hours the night before; her flight left so early. It became a theme for the day, "Shanna don't care" as we posed in front of places that most non-D.C. locals would have been excited about.


At the National Monument.
(Also #biceps. There is a post on that coming up. You have an idea if you're following me on IG.)
The full "Shanna Don't Care" series. *insert laughing emoji here*
We made it to the Tidal Basin right around the time Meggan texted that they had found a place to park. It was kind of hard to explain where we were. So we sent them this photo:

"We will meet you here! Right here."
Jess responded, "But what if my GPS is 2 cm to the right of that spot?!"
Me: "I think you might be able to see us. Maybe. Possibly."
They were going to stop by the same Starbucks we had gone to to use the restroom. So we decided to take a walk while waiting for them, because I know Jess and Meggan: they are Starbucks addicts. They were going to get coffee too. So they were going to be a minute.

We wandered off in the general direction of the Jefferson Memorial.

It was a gorgeous day to be outside.
So. In the past when we've gone to the cherry blossoms, we've been really good about taking pics that make it seem like there were no other people around. This time, we documented the crowd. This is how many attempts were needed in order to get ONE good picture of Shanna with the blooms. (Center photo.) I told her that should be her dating profile pic. ;)
Shanna giggling in the sunlight. I love this girl.
There were several artists doing their thing. I don't remember seeing this many of them in the past. But then again, this is the first year where we were also paying attention to the people. 

People and flowers and art and water, all wrapped up into one.
So beautiful.
I later told Carlos, "Tomorrow they would have been at peak." There were a lot of buds that hadn't opened yet.
But that's okay. 
Me: "I love these flowers so much I could eat them!"
And next to me, 'Shanna don't care.' ;)
I was punch drunk with the environment around us: there was so much happiness and wonder from all the people walking through the cherry blossom trees, it made me giddy.
Seriously though: I want a cherry blossom tattoo.

I finally got simultaneous texts and Snaps from both Meggan and Jess: they were at the WWII Memorial. We decided we would meet them there and walk back to the Tidal Basin together. I wish I had saved their Snaps...my favorite was the one Meggan sent me of a mounted police officer with the caption, "Tu estas aqui" ("You are here") in Spanish! I laughed and laughed. 

I Snapped them pictures of us as we were getting closer. 

Carlos and Shanna totally worked it for the Snaps...
Jess called me, "Let's meet in Puerto Rico!"

So that's what we did. 

And that's the story of how me and my girls hung out in Puerto Rico for an hour without ever getting on a plane.


While in Puerto Rico, we also saw this T-Rex.
Tyrannosaurids are not a native Puerto Rican species: the island erupted out of the ocean after the dinosaurs were extinct.
But here you go. ;) Anything is possible!


Inside the T-Rex suit was a little girl, probably around 7-8 years old. It was the randomest thing we saw all day. She literally was there to make other people smile. She playfully chased after the other kids in the WWII Memorial plaza and allowed people to have their picture taken with her. She was working it. She made the day of so many, many people. I sent these pics to my mom the next day, and this little girl made my entire family's day too. It was awesome. We stayed at the WWII Memorial for a good half hour, just watching this little one's antics and laughing. 
We eventually left Puerto Rico to return to the Tidal Basin. We went the long way around, avoiding the Cherry Blossom Festival itself so we could go around the prettier, quieter sections of the trees.

See that camera on the tripod? We think it was a time-lapse camera. It had multiple lenses facing every direction. Shanna started dancing to music only she could hear in her head and Carlos started imitating the beat of electronic music, which matched the imaginary beat Shanna was moving to. In this manner, Shanna slowly approached the camera and danced her way around it. While the rest of us laughed. The best part was seeing the expressions of passers-by!
I would love to know where that time-lapse camera's photos were posted...because I'm willing to bet there were people far more creative than us in their behavior around it!
There is something truly magical about the capacity these tiny pink flowers have for bringing together people from all over the world. 
I love this region. Love. I don't care about the big city craziness. I adore our little town in the outskirts of it all, and I love the Montgomery County area of Gaithersburg/Rockville in Maryland where we used to live, and I love the historical propriety of D.C. Shanna pointed out that it is one of the few great cities of the US that has made an effort to protect and maintain its green areas. That made something click for me. Yes, that is part of it. When we first moved to the region from Florida, we lived in Alexandria, less than 3 miles from the heart of D.C. itself. I took the George Washington Parkway every day to work...it is a linear park that takes you through the wealthy city of Georgetown and drops you off on 495. I loved the GW Parkway because it was all trees and deer and natural gorgeousness. You can see the Potomac River from certain sections of it, and it would be shrouded in fog on November mornings. I never ceased to be fascinated by the fact that there could be so much that was untamed in the heart of the nation's capital.

And then there are the people: it is such an amazing, fascinating international community here. As we walked through the cherry blossoms, we were surrounded by accents and languages and every skin color humanity comes in. These trees were a gift symbolizing friendship from Japan, and so many decades later they continue to bring peace to those that visit them.

These two ladies in their pedal boat with their cherry blossom tiaras made my day almost more than the T-Rex girl.
I can't explain to you why. But I stopped dead in my tracks when I caught sight of them out on the Tidal Basin's water, and took this photo. I stood there for a while, until I realized the rest of the group had stopped to wait for me.
I think the reason why they made me so happy is because yes, our bodies grow up and age, but our soul is only as old as we allow ourselves to feel. We can all be Peter Pan if we want to be.
There was so much childish wonder and abandon in these two, and I felt it across the water as I observed them.
It was beautiful. 

And we all revelled in it. 

Meggan and Jess
Shanna


It's hard not to laugh when the person taking your photos is doing this. <3
It's also hard to keep a straight face around this guy...
Some very mature people pictured here... ;)
The cherry blossoms take you past the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
We stopped here for a bit. Everything written on the walls of this memorial was more relevant than ever.
Shanna and I stood in awe for a while. "This...this is now. This all applies to everything happening now."
Carlos eventually had to grab us by the arms or we would have stayed there for hours.
If you live in the region, I encourage you to go visit this memorial now.
This. Just this.
It was a beautiful day. We ended it with dinner at Paladar, a Latin fusion restaurant in Rockville that we all love, over Brazilian cheese bread, wine, and an assortment of gorgeous and delicious Latin American food. There are no photos because we were too busy living in the moment. 

Life is messy and unpredictable and you can plan every single moment or not plan anything at all, and it makes no difference whatsoever: sometimes it does what you want and sometimes it does what it wants, like the tides in the ocean. You can ride the wave or you can let it drown you, and sometimes you catch that wave the best you can and you still get somersaulted head over heels no matter how good your surfing skills are. And so sometimes life is beautiful and smooth and sometimes it is ugly and rough; sometimes it is glorious and sometimes it is absolutely awful and you just want it to end because you are tired of slogging through the Swamps of Sadness. That is Reality. That is part of being human. You can't just pick and choose the pretty parts and ignore the ugly parts. If you're living a perfect picture now, enjoy it while you can. Sometimes things go splat, and sometimes when things to splat, it seems like it will never get better. 

How you choose to pick yourself up from that is what will make or break you. Life is not about how well you are able to pretend that everything is perfect; we don't get an award for that at the end. Life isn't an art competition. You have to embrace the ugly too because without it, you would never be able to appreciate the beautiful. Without the rough and the ugly, life would actually be pretty boring. 

But while you're at it, don't turn your back on people that might need you. The worst thing you can do to someone is ignore them, push them away, when they need you the most. The wheel turns and one day it will be you needing that shoulder to cry on. 

You too can be the girl in the T-Rex suit that made everyone happy for a day. You too can be the tiny pink flowers that bring everyone together in peace and happiness. That is how you leave your mark in this life. 


Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial


9 comments:

  1. This made me miss DC so so much. I attended the festival almost every year while I was in MD for college and it was always super fun, though always way too crowded for my comfort- Good friends and family (when they came to visit) made the insanity worth it though! Glad to see everyone out and about with big matching smiles (:

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    1. The crowds make it hard. It's so much better when one can go on a weekday for the blossoms, but work didn't make it possible this year...last year was awesome though. :) Agreed re: good friends and family very much make the insanity worthwhile!

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  2. "yes, our bodies grow up and age, but our soul is only as old as we allow ourselves to feel. We can all be Peter Pan if we want to be."
    This is beautiful. And it sums up how I feel. I will be 53 soon but often in my heart I still am 12 swinging on a rope and letting go to splash into the lake.

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  3. I already gave you some of my thoughts on this, but I had to stop and comment on the tooth infection by itself. That is SO SCARY. My brother had his wisdom teeth out at a certain dentist's office. A few weeks later, the dentist was in a major lawsuit because his sanitary standards weren't up to par and several of his patients DIED from endocarditis shortly after their procedures at that office!!!

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    1. Oh God. That is absolutely *terrifying*!!!

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  4. WOW, I've been there! All those places! It was 4th of July and we were celebrating our honeymoon. I remember the fireworks over the pond but I kept turning around cuz there were FIREFLIES! I had no idea the trees were a gift from Japan.

    Your friend has an enormous coffee! I miss them.

    You seem to have 4 seasons where you live now. I miss having fewer than 4. *lol*

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