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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Jessica's Year of Adventure, Wonder, and Learning: A Look Back at 2015

First off, here is a slide show of my year. I didn't include all pictures I took, as that would be too long, but the most important ones that I couldn't fit into my newsletter.



Hello and Happy Holidays!

It feels like yesterday that I was welcoming in 2015 by watching the Twilight Zone marathon and reading a book I checked out from the library: The Best of Travel Writing 2013. Reading the book gave me an idea that in 2015 I’d like to write about my travels. I began writing poetry about my trips in January, but Beth’s blog contest on Writing.com in February provided me with more ideas for my travel writing.
                National Poetry Month gave me the idea for my next book, which will be titled As Far As The Eyes Can See. It’ll be all travel poetry; not a combination of travel stories and poetry, but strictly poetry of places I’ve been to, personal journeys, and places I’d like to go. I’ve been working hard on compiling the book and hope to have it done, then published on CreateSpace and sold on Amazon in 2016.
                2015 has been a very busy year and not only because I’ve been working on As Far As The Eyes Can See, but with work, traveling, and the rollercoaster of emotions with disappointments and celebrations. I look forward to sharing my year with you through this newsletter. Here is a poem I wrote this year and I’m really proud of:
Cut the eggplant in half, let the loud
                laughter begin as your fingers turn
  a deep purple, shriveling with the water,
                                cold, a frigidness, sprinkling from the spigot.
"One time in a Turkish restaurant," you begin,
                "Imam Fainted sounded funny--"
                you begin to pause, thinking how ridiculous
                your fear was to try it, unsure of what to think.
  "why not try it? I thought. I'm glad I did!"
  Slowly removing the seeds, the motions mechanical,
  spooning them into a blue and green bowl for later.
" I'm glad my friend shared this recipe with me
  and translated it for me, since I could only find it
  in perplexing Turkish - a combination between German and Arabic”.
The chopped tomatoes leave a pink stain
                on the white counter top.
                A family favorite - dad is excited about cleaning.
                "How did the dish get its name?
                Imam Fainted is such an odd name. Did one faint?"
"In old Turkish tales,
a wife made this dish
and when the Imam asked for the recipe,
he fainted when she told him
how much Extra Virgin Olive Oil she used."

I stuff the eggplants;
the garlic, onion, tomatoes, seeds, cous cous.
I place them in the two cups of olive oil.
Dad might faint with the mess,
but the eggplant and saffron chicken are delicious!


Jessica’s 2015: Adventures, Growth, Disappointments, Celebrations, and Life In Between


Adventures


Winter

After we welcomed the new year in, mom and I decided to take a trip to the Academy of Natural Sciences to see the chocolate exhibit (no, not an exhibit made out of chocolate, but an exhibit about chocolate from the history to how it is made). I decided to become a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences. The line was long and as mom was checking out the prices, she said: "Hmmm... it looks like becoming a member would get us in at discounted prices." I replied, "You know, an individual membership is around $50. I come here often and at $15 for an entry fee, a membership is cheaper for me. I'll get one." 
I learned the history behind it: in ancient time, the Aztecs would drink the chocolate warm and frothy. They knew chocolate as a spicy drink. To ferment the drink took a couple of weeks and chocolate starts out as purple, and after fermentation it's brown.
It wasn't until after South America was invaded that chocolate made its way to Europe and Europeans had to HAVE chocolate. That's when chocolate became smoother and sweeter. Many plates and utensils were made to eat chocolate. Then it came to America and after World War I, it became even more popular. South America depends on chocolate sales and like oil, if chocolate doesn't sell or they overproduce and not enough chocolate is sold, they will go into a recession. Very interesting and well worth it. It took us about 45 minutes to go through. You could also smell chocolate wafting through the exhibit. 
I’m glad I became a member because I spent a few cold winter days inside the Academy to spend the snowy and icy days of February when I wasn’t scheduled at the library or going on job interviews.

Amphibian Exhibit at the Academy. I was as long as the smallest snake. It was pretty neat to learn about different amphibians—from deadly to harmless.




                Despite the weather, dad had his knee replacement surgery in January—he spent a majority of the icy winter inside and on the couch. His knee replacement surgery was successful and he loves his new knee. As he was recovering, he turned on Super Bowl 49 that was aired on February 1, 2015. I didn't really watch the Super Bowl this year. I know, GASP! I am a huge football fan, but I just didn't like the teams this year. I am not a fan of the Patriots, especially given the deflategate controversy. However, I really don't like the Seahawks either. No, not because I'm butt-hurt that they seem to always beat the Packers; those that know me well, know my reasons.
                Instead, I watched the Puppy and Kitty Bowls. I loved them and can see why people tune into those instead of football. These events are for adoption. The Puppy Bowl was puppies, of course, but the half time show was mostly comprised of cats. I LOVED Kitty Purry. Lil Bub hosted it as well. As a cat fan, I really loved the Kitty Bowl. I really loved the play on names such as "Stray Matthews" (instead of Clay Matthews), "Aaron Pawdgers" (instead of Aaron Rodgers), "Joe Furco" (instead of Joe Flacco), etc. I thought the kittens were more entertaining to watch than the puppies. I just love how playful they get, then they fall asleep, then get playful again. Just like a child. These shows put a big smile on my face.

However, March was pretty much the same weather-wise, except we experienced more ice than snow. This is when dad got off the couch—we slipped our way to celebrate the Chinese New Year (YAY! YEAR OF THE GOAT!) at the Lotus restaurant on the first Sunday of March. We were worried about dad falling as we walked to Aunt Kathy’s house. I almost wanted to invest in a pair of ice skates because at that moment it was so hard to walk on the grass with just regular shoes. However, the icy sheen was gorgeous, especially on the tree branches. Yes, it’s in typical Jessica fashion to find beauty in ice, snow, and winter when it bothers so many people.
                Fortunately dad didn’t fall and we arrived to the restaurant in one piece thanks to Uncle Dave’s Explorer. The Chinese New Year celebration was amazing! When we arrived at close to 5 PM, we were the only ones in the restaurant. Within 20 minutes, that changed and other people started pouring in. We all ordered the 12 course meal, with a seafood winter melon soup first. That soup was interesting - I liked the broth and I was surprised the winter melon wasn't sweet. Some of the pieces did have sweetness, but they mostly took on the flavor of the broth. We were served spring rolls, chicken on skewers and wontons next. The meal consisted of different dishes that symbolized something in Chinese culture. I loved the spring melon soup and chicken. I loved the lion dances and the men that marched around the restaurant the best, though!

When our main meal was served - vegetables, a bunch of chicken, beef, and shrimp - that's when the Dancing Lions came out. We were given red envelopes to fill with money to tease the Lions. We all lined up around the walls with our money envelopes in hand, and each time a lion passed we gave the lion an envelope. It was really fun to watch. The drums exploded as the drummers and lions entered through the doors. Dum, dum, duummm, the lions kept on beat with the drums as they danced around the restaurant. Most of us teased the lions with the red envelopes. As we danced and teased, the lions followed our movements. The show lasted for a half an hour. The ending was amazing; it's like the lions were bowing down to the drummers at the end. The lead drummer gave the one lion a huge red envelope.





Spring

                When the days finally grew longer and warmer, the Academy of Natural Sciences held a celebration day for the season premiere of Game of Thrones. Of Dire Wolves and Dragons, as the day was called, was celebrated on April 12, 2015. The day was spent learning about the pre-historic creatures of Game of Thrones, but there were also activities and games. Owning wolf-dog hybrids is illegal in Pennsylvania, but in New Jersey it isn’t. A sanctuary that rescues and houses wolf-dog hybrids brought a few of their pups to the Academy of Natural Sciences. We weren’t allowed to touch them—though Academy volunteers could (if we wanted to touch the dogs, we would have had to visit New Jersey to do that). The dogs were adorable and really cool to see, however!







                I remember falling in love with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Orchid Society’s (SEPOS) orchid show when it first came to the Academy of Natural Sciences in April 2013. That Friday I went in 2013, it rained. I’m happy to report that when mom and I went on Sunday, April 26, the day was beautifully clear and warm. We loved looking at the orchids, learning about the different breeds, orchid care, and of course the photography opportunities. Mom ended up buying an orchid (but by October, it lost its blossom). I loved seeing the orchids and butterflies. One of the glass winged butterflies was living in the enclosure; her beauty with her crystal wings outlined in gold brought a smile to my face. They’re apparently rare and it was nice to see a different kind of butterflies.
                When we finished at the Academy, mom and I enjoyed walking through Love Park. Mom wanted to rest in the park while I walked to FYE. I love record shops and walking through them. I probably have close to a thousand CDs, but I love adding to my collection. I was actually looking for a Şebnem Farah CD (Turkish singer I heard at Kabobeesh), but FYE didn’t have any of her CDs. My next choice was an Umm Kulthum CD. Umm Kulthum was an Egyptian singer from the 1940s and I loved listening to her when I studied Arabic through West Chester University. Unfortunately, FYE didn’t carry any of her albums either. I ended up buying a CD of Iraqi music instead along with a used copy of Gin Blossom’s New Miserable Experience.

               








May finally brought constant warm weather. It was the perfect month to meet up with Dave to see a Mets/Phillies game on May 8th. Dave is one of my friends I met in Wisconsin in 2012 and the last time I saw him was in 2013 for a Brewers/Phillies game. He lives in New York; traveling to Pennsylvania isn’t too bad for him. He’s a huge Mets fan and thought a game would be a great time to catch up. He knew I didn’t like either team, but it made for a fun night out. During the seventh inning stretch and when the Mets were doing meh, it was a chance to talk about what was going on in our lives.
                I met a few new people from New York that night. I was talking to the woman next to me towards the end of the game when the Mets were losing. We talked about photography and how the players looked like ants from where we were sitting. I was wearing my Acrassicauda shirt and the two times I was sent to get snacks, the Arabic written on the back sparked conversation. The one guy from New York City really loved the shirt since he was at the game with someone who was from Saudi Arabia—he responded to the shirt positively because he wanted to know about the band.




                Before I met up with Dave, I went to a new piercing shop and had another forward helix done. My piercer took a picture of my piercing for his Instagram (and one that I took before the game, after the Comcast woman gave me a rubber band to tie my hair back):





The remainder of May was extremely busy, not only with work (will be the next section), but some Saturday trips to Philadelphia to work on As Far As The Eyes Can See and photographing some locals (with their permission) hanging out at Rittenhouse Square. I also attended Mega Bad Movie Night at the Academy of Natural Sciences, which was really fun. The point of Mega Bad Movie Night is for adults to have a night of fun in the Academy without the presence of children. The B movie that night was the 1986 version of The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum. I’ve only had seen the Vincent Price version at that point and I was excited to see the new version. The style of Mega Bad Movie Night is like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I was looking forward to the commentary.
                 I arrived at 5:30. I checked in, then I saw a sand gecko from Saudi Arabia. I had a light snack and lemonade. The snacks were good, but I knew after Mega Bad Movie Night, I'd go to a restaurant nearby. After I ate, I walked around and looked at some more animals like the falcon. I posed as a fly trapped in fly paper, then as Jeff Goldblum's fly. I then played the "Would You Rather..." dice game. Two die and whichever statements the die land on, you have to choose one you would rather do. You then write your choice on the sticker. The one I chose was disgusting and totally not me, but we all need a laugh some time.
I then tried the relay race with fly goggles. Oh man, I don't know how flies can move; I couldn't see straight with those goggles and it seems like a miracle that I finished the course. I didn't "lay eggs" though, so I guess there's that. Before the movie started, I went near the Butterflies! and had my DNA collected in a vial for me to keep. That was neat, though the salt water I had to swish around in my mouth tasted horrible. Ick. I still have it and will keep it.
                When the movie started with the Tribbles, an all female cast, it was great. Their comments were awesome! This was my first time seeing the 1986 version of The Fly; I've always watched the Vincent Price one. It's different and both have a lot of farfetched science involved, but the Tribbles' comments really made the movie. It was definitely a good night out and I can't wait for the next one.







My 26th Birthday

                On July 4, 2015 I turned 26. I decided that on July 3rd I’d take a trip to New York City to celebrate turning the dreaded 2-6 and take my mind off of it. Fortunately, July 3rd arrived quickly and I was beyond excited…so much so, I didn’t realize SEPTA was running on a holiday schedule. I had planned to leave Pennsylvania at 5:30 AM and arrive in New York City by 9 AM. Dad dropped me off at the Paoli Regional Rail Station and when 5:30 rolled around without a train, I looked at the phone app. I was confused when it stated the next train would arrive at 6:30 AM, I was confused until an announcement was made that SEPTA was running on a holiday schedule. I felt annoyed because it did set back my plans. I arrived in New York City at 10:15 AM.
                When I exited the train, I followed the signs that led me to the Metro. I asked some people if there were any places where I could be a Metro card and they all pointed me in the right direction. The Hudson News shop would only take cash and I'm glad I had exactly $19.80 in cash to pay for the card. Once I bought my Metro card, I followed more signs to get to Central Park. I needed to go Uptown, the one information lady said I had to go to 59th Street for Strawberry Fields. I thought it was weird because the travel book said 72nd Street, but she maintained it was 59th Street. I walked to the C stop. I hopped onto the C and got off at 59th Street. I quickly found out that I did need to get off at 72nd Street for Strawberry Fields, so I waited for the next C. I liked looking (and apparently photographing the signs) as I waited for the next train to come.
                Once I arrived at the right place, I exited the subway station. When I was on the street, I asked a young couple for directions. I never printed directions from the subway to Strawberry Fields. They were friendly and were headed to Central Park; they showed me how to get to Strawberry Fields. It was only a five minute walk. A sign welcomed me and in 100 feet or so, I saw the Imagine tribute to John Lennon. It was very crowded with tourists from all over. There was a school group from Portugal and they were nice to talk to. I snapped my pictures. I then saw a musician playing Beatles songs on his guitar. I asked him if I could take his picture. He smiled and said, "Of course, you don't have to ask. You're an artist and artists shouldn't have to ask!" I smiled and said, "Well, I now ask because someone once got offended for me taking his picture in Philadelphia. He said I didn't know him and I had no right to a picture. He called me ignorant with bad manners." The musician extended his hand and said, "I'm John. Nice to meet you." I introduced myself and we talked for a bit. I took some pictures. He was really nice.



I sat down in front of the Alice In Wonderland sculpture and saw an older woman, I would assume a hippie at one time because she was a gray haired woman, but had pink dyed ends. I asked her about the alternate way to Brooklyn. She wasn't sure, but her friend Nancy would be here soon and she worked in Brooklyn. We talked for a bit and she asked where I was visiting from. I told her I was from Philadelphia and I was spending the day in New York City for my birthday that was tomorrow. We talked for a good 10 minutes and I told her I was going to Balade, a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant in East Village. She exclaimed and said, "Oh! That place is so good! How did you get into that type of food?" I told her I studied Arabic for two years and we visited these type of restaurants a few times, but I always liked that type of food. She smiled and said that was neat. She also introduced herself as Mary.
Nancy finally arrived. She gave me some directions, then Mary told her a bit about me. Mary said, "Jessica is going to Balade for lunch. She's studied Arabic!" Nancy exclaimed, "Oh! Balade is my favorite place! And Arabic is such a beautiful language!" Then someone walking by overheard me talking about the subway and also gave me directions. After that, Nancy, Mary and I discussed Alice In Wonderland for 20 minutes. I then had to leave for Balade.
I was sweating when I walked through the door of Balade. I was the first and only one there. A Middle Eastern guy greeted me and I said I had reservations, for one, at 2 PM. He welcomes me and sits me. We talk all throughout the meal. I explained that tomorrow (July 4) was my birthday and I was spending the day celebrating now. He smiled and wished me a happy birthday. He pours the water and I ask for the data juice, which is called اجوة (ajwa). The waiter, whose name is Hamza, was really friendly. Before guests arrived, Hamza and I had nice conversations. I also ordered the Baba Ghanouj was an appetizer. I knew what I wanted for a meal: quail with rice.
As soon as more people arrived, conversations ceased. Hamza brought out my Baba Ghanouj and ajwa; both were AWESOME. I loved the ajwa - it was very sweet. I could taste a hint of rose in it. Then Hamza brought out my quail and rice. The quail reminded me a bit of duck. It was dark. It had an orange zest taste to it. They are small and I scarf them down. Hamza brought out more Baba Ghanouj for me. He said, "Free of charge. Happy birthday!" I thanked him.






When I arrived at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, I was surprised to see a brand new building. It was $8 for admission and I couldn't take photos of the exhibit or in the library. The exhibit I saw was called Do Spirits Really Exist and Come Back? It was AMAZING! I would recommend going. They had old magicians and their ads, different contraptions magicians used to communicate with the dead, and old Arab/early Islamic sword contraptions. The sword contraption was neat. The artwork of the contraption was beautiful too. The whole exhibit was neat because I love old artwork and ads. It was also cool learning about how people in history thought about the dead, the spirits, etc.
I also looked around some more. I have never been to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia and I told the librarian this. He exclaimed, "Really?! You need to go!" We're based a bit off of that museum and we just love it. We hope to expand!" I also had some other conversations with him. He was really nice and friendly. I also told him just everything about this museum from double headed animals, freaky looking animals, freaky looking artwork, I didn't want to leave. I love those oddities.





                My final stop of the trip was to see the Brooklyn Bridge. When I took the F subway to my location, it was a few blocks worth of walking. Once I reached the park that was under construction, I asked the security guard directions for the Park that wasn't under construction. He pointed to the playground, then the beach, and said there was another park a few blocks away. He then added, "Ma'am. I see you have a camera. Usually photographers, especially for commercials, stand where that fence is and put their lenses through the little hole to get their pictures. That's the best view. Feel free to do the same!"So, I did, and he pointed out different angles to me. He wasn't kidding.
                The beach was just so peaceful and soaking my feet in the East River was just so peaceful. As the cold waters of the river soaked my feet, I sat looking at the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, the boats floating by, and the sun beginning to descend. I didn't want to leave. Although kids were running and screaming behind me, I sat comfortably on a rock and just soaked my feet for 20 minutes. It was a perfect end to the day.







    I came home around midnight. Luckily, we didn’t have anything planned for my actual birthday except dad having Krank over (he is dad’s co-worker from the sheriff’s department) and watching my aunt’s dog, Daphne, for a few hours. It was a nice relaxed birthday and a great day to recover from all the traveling I did the day before. Mom cooked a delicious dinner – steak with clams, and then I had vegetarian collard greens. I don’t eat pork anymore and I was happy to discover they sell collard greens in a can without the bacon or ham. The way they are prepared is pretty good, but I still prefer making my own with chicken broth.


Summer

                Despite having an incident with Daphne towards the end of July, the rest of the month was laid back. The week I had an incident with Daphne was the week my aunt, uncle, and cousins went to Avalon. Daphne is 13 years old and has some health issues. I had to pay a bill over the phone and I took my eyes off of Daphne for a moment. In the past year Daphne has been at the point if she thinks she’s been abandoned, she’ll break out of the yard. I went into panic attack mode and my aunt’s neighbors helped me look for her. Then my other relatives helped as well. My great aunt received a call that someone posted on Facebook that a dog was at her house. The house was on the way to my house. Ironically, I had thought about walking to my house because Daphne used to walk to my house. However, I thought with Daphne’s health conditions and walking over a busy road, she wouldn’t have done that. I stuck to the area near my aunt’s house—I canvassed all the yards and knocked on the neighbors’ doors. She did and I should have followed my gut instead of panicking. She was returned two hours later and the rest of the time I watched her, I didn’t take my eye off her. I didn’t want another panic attack. When my aunt returned home, we all relaxed.
                On August 1st I went back to Pennypacker Mills for the first time in three years. I went to their “In the Grand Old Summertime.” Once I made it past the car show and onto the Pennypacker property, I stepped onto the porch and had the opportunity to dress Victorian. One of the events was a Victorian photoshoot. I can't pass those up! The volunteers helped me pick out an outfit that would look best on me. One showed me a beautiful blue skirt and I exclaimed, "I want that one!" Another picked out a white blouse. I dressed as they picked out a broach, hat, and hair tie to hold my hair back. Quickly I was transformed into a Victorian woman. Ella, the head of Pennypacker Mills, handed me a parasol and took my photos.
                After the Victorian dress up and photo shoot, I went to the song tent. The theme was "Songs of the Flags." I hung out for an hour because the performer was amazing! I loved hearing the stories and histories of how the songs were written and the significance behind the songs. The singer always performs for Pennypacker Mills's Civil War reunion and always puts on a good show. I loved the games too. Croquet was a bit challenging. I loved playing with the Jacob's Ladder, and jump roping. I probably looked like a fool jump roping since it's been 15 years, but it was all in good fun. It was good exercise. Playing with vintage toys, especially the yo-yo was fun.




                The next day my parents and I traveled to Philadelphia to see the Mutter Museum. When I went to the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, the volunteers really suggested the Mutter Museum—in fact they were shocked I had never been there before, considering how close I lived to the museum. It is something my parents and I always wanted to do, but never really made the time for it until this year. That museum was truly amazing. I loved seeing all the medical oddities and I learned a lot about the history of medicine. I would recommend visiting the Mutter Museum. Even their gift shop was awesome—between shirts, conjoined twin cookie cutters, a poster about the menstrual cycle, and plushies of the organs (I want to get the Thundering Thyroid one at some point and I loved the tooth plushie with the tagline—“flossin’ ain’t just for gangstas.” You can visit the site: www.iheartguts.com), I couldn’t help but walk out of the gift shop laughing.





                The annual bug fest at the Academy of Natural Sciences was held on August 8th. As someone who has been in attendance since 2013, I didn’t want to miss out. They had a new bug chef this year and I volunteered to judge two contests. I judged when he made fried tarantula, and fried a scorpion (he removed the tail that holds the poisons). I also ate crickets and whatever else he prepared.
                After wandering around playing with bees (male honeybees don't sting), looking at Swallowtail caterpillars, looking at artwork, and learning about other insects, I finally made my way down to the Commons and finally had my fix of insects. I had cricket mixed in trail mix. I needed something to wash it down - crickets taste better mixed in cookies or apple chutney, it's hard to get down just as is. Sadly the Academy doesn't sell coconut milk and I had to buy soy milk - I can't really have soy, but I bought it anyway. I figured once wouldn't be bad. I then participated in Bug Yoga. That was my first time doing yoga and I really liked it. It felt really good, especially on my back. It felt peaceful.










                This summer was hot and humid, but towards the end of the summer it was even more unbearable. During one really hot day in September, I had the opportunity to go to the Dream Garden at the Curtis Center in Philadelphia. It’s free to the public and opened from Monday-Saturday. (History) It was truly peaceful.
                After my visit to the Curtis Center, I saw an ad for the American Jewish Museum while I was waiting for the el. The Lyle, Lyle Crocodile exhibit looked too cute to miss and I will admit, I do love old children’s literature. I thought it would be a great way to beat the heat as well. The Lyle, Lyle Crocodile exhibit was awesome! Bernard Waber was an interesting author; I loved learning about him and I loved reading the books with the museum volunteer in the reading area. It’s truly amazing how literature can bring people together.
                When I finished reading the Lyle Crocodile books, I was able to tour the rest of the museum. I love museums; I can spend hours inside a museum and I did just that with the tour I signed up for. Walking through the museum with the tour group was fascinating, but when we came to the timeline of Jewish history in the 20th Century, the Holocaust videos brought back memories to when I visited Dachau in 2007. It’s sad to see that in some ways currently history is repeating itself with bigotry and hatred towards some groups, but I hope these museums serve as a reminder of the horrors hate and bigotry can breed. I would definitely recommend visiting the American Jewish Museum, located around 5th and Market Streets (as I walked up the stairs from the el, the welcome signs they had hanging in Arabic, German, and a bunch of other languages caught my attention…just look for that hanging on the building).








Autumn

                When temperatures finally cooled and the leaves began to turn a gold and red in October, I saw my first symphony with Claire. On October 4th, we went to see the Sheherazade at the Kimmel Center. Claire is a musician and each year she buys tickets for the Philadelphia Orchestra season. She knows how much I love the Arab culture and she thought the Sheherazade would be perfect. I remember studying One Thousand Nights a bit in Arabic class—that was my first assignment I had to translate back in 2010 and 2011. Sherherazade is a musical to the story and it was truly amazing! The music really moved me and I ended up buying a CD as well. Some of the songs brought me to tears, others made me feel at peace. Seeing a symphony was an awesome experience.
                Before we arrived at the Kimmel Center, Claire and I met at Suburban Station at 11 AM. We wanted to hang out a little bit in the city and have lunch before the show. I really wanted to go to Cedars, a Lebanese restaurant I had discovered back in August when I went to the Arabic bookstore next to it. They were in the process of refurbishing the restaurant and it wasn’t opened, but the owner reassured me by September it would be. Claire and I took a cab down to South Street, but it wasn’t opened until 1 PM. We ate at Kabobeesh instead. The service was a bit slow, but Claire and I enjoyed it all the same. Claire ordered lamb and I ordered my favorite: Imam Fainted (stuffed eggplant). It was nice to catch up over lunch.










                The next week I went back into the city to see if Cedars was opened. Usually Cedars is opened in the evening, but on Sundays they are opened for lunch. It was! It was their first Sunday being opened and it was a beautiful place. Cedar’s atmosphere was ambient, the food was delicious, and the waiter was so sweet—so much so that he bought me coffee and dessert. After I paid my bill, I was surprised he agreed to a selfie as well. It was a total confidence booster moment, haha. He wasn’t bad looking, though. I appreciated the gesture.



                That was the day I forgot my digital camera and I bought a mini Polaroid camera at Urban Outfitters. I’m glad I did because I discovered the Magic Gardens on 10th and South Streets. Everything is made out of glass and junk! It was truly a magnificent work of art and it was fun walking through the narrow hallways to just look at all the details.
               









 On October 6th, dad turned 60. That night we had cake for him. However, on October 17th we had a surprise party for dad's 60th birthday. The party was held at Pizzeria Uno, then an after party was at The Water Tower to see Scattertrain. Scattertrain is a band we started following in 2011 after seeing posters around. They disbanded in May 2012, shockingly. Mom announced a few weeks before the party that they reformed, but with some new members, they would be playing again and we would see them after dad's surprise party. It was a fun night and it was nice seeing some of the family from dad's side. I haven't seen them since Nan's funeral.
                Our weather in November and currently in December has been like a rollercoaster ride. November was chilly, but December has been unseasonably warm. In November, I did go ice skating after I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and had lunch at the Old City Tavern. Let me tell you about the Philadelphia Museum of Art first. It has been two-and-a-half years since I've been to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I decided to check it out. I arrived at 9:45 and had to wait the 15 minutes until it opened. That's okay, I walked around and took some pictures. When the museum opened at 10 AM, I purchased a ticket for $25 - not bad considering how big that museum is.
I LOVE Alexander Calder's Ghost mobile. Every time I have to get a picture of it because for some odd reason it just makes me smile. I love the whiteness spinning, floating above my head and I love how the Archer just stares at the Ghost mobile. Where it is placed and how it greets visitors just fascinate me.
                I loved the still life exhibit. It's amazing all of the things I learned - still life portraits could be the selfies of their time period. One artist loved painting his family, but he had a signature style. After he finished painting his family, friends, or other people, he painted himself into the picture of himself painting that picture. I took the audio tour and it was described as analogous to how people take selfies today. I will admit I did laugh out loud, but I think people around me were engrossed in their audio tours and didn't hear me. I never laughed so hard in my life.
                Food still lives were also important. Peale had awesome still lives of food from vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. One of his fish portraits, no lie, looked like the image I took of one of my fish dinners. I said to one woman in between the audio tour, "Wow! This looks like the photograph I took last week of me preparing a fish dinner! I'm amazed! This is amazing because although our mediums have changed over the years, we still love expressing the same things!" She laughed and remembered me saying earlier that I thought his pictures of food were amazing, "you must be a foodie. It's good that you appreciate this though!"
              I have to say my favorite still lives involved flowers, nature, and music. I did like the few still lives of live fish swimming around, though. Those are my favorite subjects. I also really loved Audubon's still lives - I still love birds and nature. I loved seeing all of his drawings and his taxidermied animals. Even Warhol's work was amazing and Georgia O'Keefe. I would recommend seeing this exhibit, it's amazing and you can really learn a lot. It runs until January 10, 2016.







                Ice skating was even more interesting. Last year the Rothman Institute sponsored an ice skating rink at Dillworth Park in front of City Hall in Philadelphia. From November until the end of February, people can ice skate. I haven’t ice skated since I was a small little girl, but I thought I’d try it. It was $10 to rent the skates. I just held onto the sides and watched people glide by me. Even Jesus was ice skating! Some joked, “it must be a miracle! He is walking and gliding on water!” His friend, however, had to help me get off of the ice. Some other people helped me on. Although I was terrible at ice skating, I still had fun and I would like to do it again once it gets colder again. It feels odd to be ice skating when the weather is 66 degrees [Fahrenheit] (average in Pennsylvania for this time of year is in the low 30s [Fahrenheit]).





                Pennypacker Mills didn't start their holiday tours until November 24th, but they did have a clear toy candy demonstration on November 21st at 11 AM. Mom and dad dropped me off at 10:15, thinking it was actually at 10 AM, but when I arrived I saw the mansion decorated a little bit. Ella, the historic site manager, opened the door and greeted me for the tour. The mansion's inside was decorated for Christmas and it was beautiful. I couldn't take pictures. She explained that usually they have a German theme, but this year they were going with British. The Pennypacker Family was German and British. The British decorations were lively and bright - lots of silvers and whites. I loved seeing the real tree decorated with candles, garland, and simple Victorian ornaments with simply wrapped gifts underneath. I loved the simple red and white wrapping paper - some had Curier & Ives pictures attached. Even the way the fireplace was decorated with the evergreens was breathtaking. The children's room had gifts wrapped and huge stockings filled with gifts that they would open on Christmas morning. The parents would place the gifts and fill the stockings on the night of Christmas Eve.
                After a half an hour tour, I was led to the kitchen and watched the hobbyist prepare for her demonstration. She made it clear that she is an etymologist by day, historical candy maker by hobby. She was awesome, though, and really knew what she was doing. To make candy, you have to keep the water, sugar, and cream of tarter at 300 degrees, but you can't really put food colouring into it because it'll burn. She was saying for a red hue, she uses the scales of one insect that is safe to eat.  Just watching her prepare the molds, then pour the candy substance in, then watching her get the candy figures out with an oyster shucker was amazing.






NEW PHONE

On November 30, my cellphone of three years died on me. I couldn’t get it past the start up screen and I lost all of my contacts. Most of them weren’t saved to my Google account. I was pretty upset—actually, I was ridiculously upset because I had some important contacts that I lost. Not only that, but I never took Nan’s number out of my contacts after she died. I do remember her old home number; however, the phone was a bit sentimental. My phone was an Android made by LG in 2011. I have a Samsung now (still an Android.  A few friends did text and I reprogrammed the family numbers that I could memorize.
The camera on my new phone is awesome. It is not as good as my DSLR camera, but it’s still good. I walk to SEPTA in the morning and I captured this picture with my cell phone. I’m amazed at the job it did capturing the moon. On December 13th I took a little trip to deposit money and run some errands. That was my last trip to Philadelphia in 2015. Although it was 66 degrees [Fahrenheit] outside and I could get away with wearing my Acrassicauda shirt without a jacket, it did feel nice walking around the city. The Eagles played the Bills on December 13th and I met a Bills fan traveling from Seattle to see the game with his brother-in-law. He was wearing a Buffalo Bills “ugly sweater” and I just loved it. We chatted for a bit about football and traveling. Sadly, the Bills lost and I’m sure he was disappointed—however, my Packers won and I was happy! He agreed to a selfie, though, and I used my cellphone camera for the selfie. Isn’t it amazing?


                I tried a new place to eat as well. Sweetgreens, an organic restaurant with vegan options, is located in Rittenhouse Square. It was pretty good, I loved my butternut squash soup (though it didn’t really have salt in it) and the Caesar kale salad I had with sweet potatoes was good. However, it was a bit expensive and since they specialize in soups and salads, I didn’t feel satiated all day. I’d go back, but maybe in the summer when I don’t get as hungry and a salad with a slice of bread would be enough. The ambiance of the restaurant was really nice, though; I loved the way it was decorated. Again, another opportunity to use my cellphone camera instead of pulling out my DSLR to take photos of the food or have people struggle with it when they’re trying to take my picture. I feel bad for not using my DSLR since I lugged it around, but I didn’t want to pull out the DSLR for these moments. I guess it’s still good to have different camera options and impromptu moments like selfies are good cellphone camera moments or moments where I’m not the photographer.


I am happy to report that my phone did back up a lot of old pictures to my Google account. It was only the newer pictures it didn’t import (in the past two months, unless I e-mailed myself the photographs, my phone lost the ability to automatically save to Google—I probably should have upgraded before I lost things saved on the phone). I was happy to see that the last holidays with Nan and the phone pictures I took (I used my Nikon camera mostly that holiday season) were still saved to Google. I saved them. I was also happy to see that pictures with friends from college were also saved, as well as the photograph I saved on my phone from when I made it into the Daily News (Chester County) newspaper in April 2012 from Civil War Day at West Chester University.





WORK

                I welcomed in 2015 watching my aunt and uncle’s chickens while they were visiting my aunt’s family in Georgia. I loved watching the chickens and I loved cooking for them. Chicken are like pigs—they’ll eat anything, including scrambled eggs. I made a lot of elaborate dishes for them and they clucked happily each time they pecked away at the food. I also loved being happily cooed in the morning when I came to collect the eggs and feed them their breakfast of apples, clam shells (that makes the egg shells stronger), scrambled eggs, toast, and banana. Dinner was similar, except I added vegetables to their meals. I actually miss watching them; I enjoy caring for the chickens.




               
                At the end of February, the library and Friends of Black History held their 15th annual black history month celebration called Reaching Back, Moving Forward. Reaching Back, Moving Forward was held on February 21st and I brought my DSLR camera to take pictures for my blog—I was going to write about the library celebration to promote the library.
                It was a nice day despite the snow storm that came in at 12:30 PM. People stayed despite the snow—though I left at 1 PM (I heard from library co-workers that they had a lot of people stay). I learned a lot from different displays and met the nice people that were running the display tables. I loved the entertainment and the soul food of fried chicken, sweet potatoes, collards. I also made the newspaper—the paper took pictures of me taking pictures of the entertainment.
                Also in February one of the musicians I met when mom and I visited Memphis in September 2014 contacted me by e-mail to tell me he released his first CD. I bought a copy of the CD—Chris Gales: Live at Flynn’s and absolutely loved it. I love supporting local (as in not well known/too famous) artists and I asked the library if they would be interested in adding Chris’s CD to our collection. I explained he was a musician I met in Memphis, he plays the blues, and right now he plays a lot of cover songs. They agreed because they are always looking to add to our blues collection. Mrs. Miraglia also said she would make a display for the CD—I could write about meeting him, watching him live, and what the album means to me. Since Chris’s CD didn’t have cover art, I designed a CD jacket for the CD as well. It looked great. Here is the write-up:






Review of Chris Gales
I remember the night of September 20, 2014 like it was yesterday. It was my first time in Memphis, Tennessee, as it was mom’s first time here as well. We arrived on the 18th and quickly took a liking to the infamous Beale Street. Every night we would hang out in the music venues and listen to the many talented musicians Memphis had to offer. Our last night in Memphis—September 20—was no different. We were walking Beale and mom thought the menu to Flynn’s looked great. I remember drinking sweet tea, while carefully eating my catfish and collards; mom eating her brisket. As we were waiting for our food, we were mesmerized by Chris Gales. We just loved his charisma and performance. We were singing along to his songs, especially “Walking In Memphis.” It was a nice evening just listening to him before we headed back out onto Beale Street.

Chris Gales’s CD opens up with his introduction to the crowd dining at Flynn's, then it quickly goes to "Walking In Memphis." "Walking in Memphis" is his cover of Marc Cohen's 1991 hit, and I honestly like Chris's version a bit better (like I said, I like Chris's voice). Eight other songs are covers as well, which Chris's renditions are superb, giving the songs new life: "Stand By Me" (Ben E. King, 1961) and "Dock of the Bay" (Otis Redding, 1968), "Good Day" (Storyville), Shaky Ground (Temptations), Crossroad Blues (Robert Johnson), and three others. Chris penned "A Beautiful Thing" and in his performance, Chris's talented lyrics shows a unique side of him. When I e-mailed him about his CD, Chris mentioned he’s often shy about performing his own works—I reassured him that his unique style is amazing and his music is enjoyed by everyone. Chris is definitely a great writer and musician as I saw on that late summer/early fall evening back in September. The way he conducts his performances and his very outgoing nature, I can see why Flynn's always wants him performing. His charisma and showmanship definitely draws a crowd and a following.
And the CD art I designed. I captured these photographs as mom and I were watching Chris perform at Flynn’s:

               





                March was a snowy and icy month as I mentioned in the adventure section. The library closed a lot from snow and ice. I slipped and slid on the days the library was opened. Job interviews I went on for full-time work were often postponed as well. However, despite the slipping and sliding to the library or SEPTA for job interviews, the walks were gorgeous. I love walking in winter wonderlands.
                As the days grew longer at the beginning of April, I set up my scrapbooking and photography display I had signed up in December 2014 for in the library’s inside display case. I was excited to display my work—I’m very proud of my photography and scrapbooking. My co-workers and the public agreed—everyone complimented my talents. As I was setting up, an elderly woman approached me about having classes because she would love to learn how to scrapbook. I told her I would keep that in mind and work on getting classes approved. I asked Sangeetha, our activities director, if it’d be possible to have a class over the summer. Sangeetha was very excited with that idea and approved a class for July 15th.


                When the sun broke through the clouds and warmed everything up in mid-April, life seemed to bloom along with the flowers and trees. I became an independent contractor for the Upper Merion Senior Service Center. I had one Thursday off and I decided to take the day off looking for full time work as well. I visited the Senior Center to visit some of Nan’s friends. Everyone was surprised to see me, especially Harlyce and Mary. They both asked how the job search was going, I told them, and they offered me a contract position that I started on April 17th. They needed the help. It was an exciting time and it was nice to see a lot of Nan’s friends on a regular basis, like how it used to be when I was a little girl growing up. Spring was a busy time period for the Senior Center between planning for the first annual Wellness EXPO, our volunteer luncheon, and later the tea and picnic.
                May was extremely busy, especially with planning the Senior Center’s First Annual Wellness EXPO. When it was all said and done, May 19th went off without too many hitches—the EXPO was a success. My job was to help Shirley with the sign-in desk and photograph the event. I loved meeting JoAnn Bechtel, Ms. Senior Pennsylvania. What a beautiful woman! Her charisma and kindness shone through the way she presented herself. I loved chatting with her and talking about scrapbooking. I was thankful that she posed with me for a picture. I could see why she won Ms. Senior Pennsylvania.
    


Flowers I was given by the Center for Administrative Professionals Day.


In June I had the fun job of selling tickets for the Upper Merion Senior Service Center’s yearly tea party and picnic. I was super excited to sell close to 200 tickets combined for the events. I was also excited to make my lavender cookies for the Mad Hatter Tea Party, which was the theme for this year’s tea party. Since I was über excited about the tea party, I posted a picture of me wearing the hat I made for the contest on Instagram. One of Jason’s (cousin) friends saw the post and asked if he could attend with me. I said he could and asked him a few times if he was sure he wanted to go before I bought the ticket. He said he wanted to go, but still cancelled last minute on me.
                To put it nicely, I was angry. However, in the end I’m glad he didn’t attend. I had a great time without a guest. I used to attend tea party events with Nan and the last one I attended was in 2011—the last Friday before I started my internship with Software Application Training. The women I sat with were really funny, fun, and lively. One brought her sister from New York City and we talked about the trip I was taking for my birthday. She gave me some really great pointers and suggested some interesting places. Even the harpists we had for entertainment were beautiful.
That day taught me that if someone can’t keep commitments and isn’t reliable (my cousin told me after the fact that he is just that way—he does that to my cousin all of the time) isn’t worth getting upset about. It’s a reminder to never invite people like that again.





After the Old Fashioned Picnic that was held on June 26, 2015, summer was in full effect and things began to slow at the Senior Center. The Old Fashioned Picnic with fun games, delicious hot dogs, lemonade, and iced tea was a great way to kick off the summer. The rest of the summer was spent catching up on paperwork, calling members that forgot to renew their memberships. My contract with the Senior Center ended on August 24. I finished my assignments and did well on the job. Mary always informed me that I displayed patience and kindness to the members.
            I liked my job there because I met some great people over the spring and summer. I also liked seeing Nan’s and great grandma’s friends again—I liked seeing the seniors every day. Working at the Senior Center gave me some great experiences like customer service, assisting with setting up events, photographing events, and I learned how to make coffee with a percolator. The day I learned how to make coffee with a percolator was interesting because I didn’t realize coffee was already being made, put in more water, and the coffee ended up over flowing. The job also made me feel less depressed and that I was taking positive steps in my life.
            Summer was also a busy time for the library—it was also very hot. Our air conditioning units went sand we had temporary ones until September. While the temporary units made the library slightly cooler than having nothing at all, it was still very warm to work. Karl, the library’s director, commended everyone on their professionalism over the sweltering conditions with a letter he sent out in October.
            With beach and vacation season upon us, the library was constantly buzzing with everyone checking out books, music, and DVDs. We also had summer reading for the children and an abundance of activities for them as well. Our department did hold some adult classes, and I was one of the teachers. In July I taught my scrapbooking class.
The class started slow when only one student out of the thirteen that signed up, showed. She was 11 and a joy to work with. She loves the art of scrapbooking and wanted to learn more. I went over the basics and I did change my outline a bit. She is homeschooled, so instead of a yearbook, we made a memory board at her suggestion. That was really fun... especially since it was of a birthday.
Then three elementary school students walked in with their parents. They didn't have pictures, but I showed them my scrapbooks and walked them through the very basics as the older student worked on her different scrapbook pieces. The young kids just ended up drawing pictures and they wanted me to show them how to make cards. I taught card making somewhat to the younger ones. They enjoyed that and using the stickers. Their mothers loved learning about scrapbooking, though. I’m thankful Sangeetha let me teach a class.




   After the Senior Center ended I still had the library, but went on a lot more job interviews. I finally landed a fulltime position—to my complete and utter shock—as a financial technician for the Controller’s Office of Montgomery County. I was shocked because the interview didn’t go so well; 15 minutes and it was awkward not only because the controller wasn’t there, I was informed the controller would not be back in January and some of the office was leaving. HR called me out of the blue about this job because my resume was on file and I asked if the position I was interviewing for would be affected after the election. I was reassured it wouldn’t be. Then the very analytical interview asked me while scanning my resume, “Why do you know Arabic? It’s unusual to know.” The way he said it was rather nasty; I froze and stammered for a few seconds before I answered, “I was curious and the school offered it. I thought ‘why not learn it.’” I walked out of that interview with sour feelings.
            I needed a full time job, so I accepted it when they called the next day. I started on October 5th, six days after they called. I probably should have realized something was amiss when I walked in and my new manager exclaimed, “Oh! I’m glad you decided to join us!” I brushed it off and brushed off when HR didn’t e-mail me about the new hire orientation. My manager told me, but it was the wrong date, I went up to the training room and confused the secretaries. They had to call to find out the right information. I learned the next day that everyone else had received an e-mail. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when they canned me two and a half weeks later for being “too creative” and “too slow.”
            Despite the controller rarely being in, fielding angry calls about him never getting back to people, and minimal training—I thought I was doing well considering. I made a mistake, but I was new. I also got along with everyone; I was shocked and saddened when they let me go abruptly. However, I am not one to dwell and I look at this as a learning experience.
            I had three personal days to use before the end of the year or I’d lose them. I planned a weekend trip (Friday until Monday) to Toronto. I had to postpone it because I knew another job would see it as weird that I had a trip planned and I was looking for a job. While dad said I should use the time (no one in the county loses their time was his reasoning), I probably should have just lost it and waited until 2016. Everyone was sympathetic and I was issued a postponement from the airlines that I can use anytime in 2016. I’m glad about this because on November 11th, I was offered another fulltime job at Reimbursement Technologies, Inc.
 I started on November 30th. RTI is located in Conshohocken/White Marsh and is on the train line. I like it so far, I like the people I work with and my manager is really helpful. My co-workers are also really helpful because they’re always lending me a helping hand or showing me the ropes. RTI is a nationwide biller for emergency rooms. I’m a reimbursement recover representative and I make calls to insurance companies on behalf of emergency rooms. I also write and fax reconsideration letters, claim forms, and call to make appeals that our emergency rooms are non-participating or not in contract with insurance companies. So far I’m doing well—I’m a natural on the phone and I can’t wait to see results. It’s challenging some days, but I am learning a lot.




Arabic

                The last time I took Arabic in school was in 2012. I have been keeping up with it since then, but in 2014 I fell off the wagon. 2015 was when I hopped back on—mostly because the depression I felt in 2014 was lifting. I deactivated my Facebook in June 2014 and stopped talking to a lot of my Arabic speaking friends. Yes, I had their phone numbers and they were willing to help, but that depression blocked me off from a lot of people and I cut a lot of people out of my life.
                One day in April I reached out to one of my friends via Instagram and we reconnected. He rekindled my interest in Arabic. I also think working and surrounding myself with other people, then Dave texting me out of the blue began to open doors for me to feel better. After I met up with Dave, I decided to go through my phone and I see who I hadn’t talked to in a while. I saw Ziad’s name on my contact list. Ziad was my second ex-boyfriend’s father’s translator from when he was in the Army. I don’t keep in touch with the ex for obvious reasons, but I kept in touch with Ziad. I decided to text him and we spent the entire summer (and autumn) off and on texting in Arabic. I’m grateful for his patience and help.
                Of course, I did study on my own. I love looking at my old textbooks, but the trips to Barnes and Noble in the summer proved fruitful—I found many story books for beginner Arabic speakers. The books are in Arabic and English. I also bought some Rumi poetry books (I love his poetry). These purchases always fascinated the clerks and often the question was, “is it hard? It looks like it’d be so hard to learn.” I always replied with, “I don’t think so. It can be a challenge at times, but I love a challenge and I love learning.” And it has been somewhat—mostly a time challenge. When I get the time, I love translating and reading the stories.


                In August after Bug Fest, I went to South Street. On my adventures I found an Arabic bookstore on 2nd and South Streets. I went in and spent a good half an hour paging through the different books in Arabic. I love bookstores and the books in this store were fascinating. The store’s owner asked if I spoke the language, and I told him I was still learning. He suggested two children’s books as a guide for me. We talked for a good while; I mentioned I’m teaching myself and want to learn more. He mentioned he gives free classes on Saturdays, but I rather learn from someone I know. While Saturday mornings are bad for me, I could change my library schedule, but I rather work with someone I know really well (I also don’t want to start from scratch). This is a great place to buy books, however.




I wrote an Arabic book for babies. It’s a book about feelings and is very simple. It starts with
أشعر
I feel…
then an emotion like “happy.” Here is an example—this is the emotion of regretful.
نادم

                I am researching getting it published once I figure out illustrations. I used Paint, but I don’t feel they’re effective enough for learners. The goal is to be able to write Arabic books for all levels (just like I have a goal to write German books for all levels as well). I’m hoping to continue to teach myself and sign up for some classes with someone I know.
                I am really looking forward to learning more. Of course I’d like to write books, but I want to pair it with my English degree. I want to be fluent enough to translate and converse with others beyond basic conversation. I have always loved learning it, but I’ve always loved learning languages. I love how it can bring people together and how learning languages can teach us about cultures.

Friends

                In January, Marsha and I got together for a lunch and to catch up about the holidays. We were supposed to meet earlier in the week, but snow and ice changed those plans. We met up on a Saturday instead; shopped, went to Urban Outfitters for pictures, and then had lunch at Cantina Laredo. I wasn’t too crazy about the newly opened Mexican restaurant. I’m not a big fan of Mexican food usually because of the spice, but Cantina Laredo had the opposite effect—my chicken was bland and tough. I enjoyed my time with Marsha.
                In March, Liz visited from Alaska. It had been six years since I last saw her. We met in middle school, had off and on friendships through the years, but lost contact for a little while after she moved to Alaska in 2011. We caught up again via text in 2013 and became great friends again. It was nice to see her at the end of March. That day she picked me up from work at the library, we drove around King of Prussia a little bit reminiscing about the old days. During that time, we also debated where to go to lunch. Neither one of us are big fans of the places around here, but we didn’t want to drive aimlessly elsewhere. We settled on Rock Bottom at the mall, and then went shopping. I did buy some clothes, but I really liked spending time with Liz and seeing her again. Next time I want to travel to Alaska to see her!

                On June 13th, I caught the 7 AM bus to meet Claire for the day. Although I wasn't supposed to meet Claire until 10:30/11 AM at the Exton Square Mall, I had a hankering going to Everhart Park. Everhart Park is one of the couple of "safe" places for me in West Chester. Would I make a habit of going often? No. I avoid town, and minimal amount of time there is good for me. So, after I had coffee at Starbuck's, I took a walk to Everhart Park. It was 8:30 AM; I think with how early it was, that's why I felt at ease I guess (early and not many people in town).
I went swinging and as I went swinging, the breeze played with my hair. I had my iPod blasting as I was so high up in the air. Ironically, as I was high in the sky, "Let It Go" began playing. You know, from Frozen. After Let It Go, I leaped from the swing and noticed people setting things up. There was a race at 10:30 for a fund for a small girl that died in a car accident in 2007. They wanted me to run, but I told them I had a commitment. I donated money and they gave me a shirt. I figured doing something nice that contributes to a good cause could replace one really bad memory. Who knows if it makes sense, but I was thinking about that. I then went back to the bus stop and boarded the bus to the Exton Square Mall at 9:30 AM.
                Claire and I met up around 10:50 AM. We went shopping, to the Chester County Library, had lunch, and just talked. It was a nice day out. Although I live in Montgomery County and work for a Montgomery County branch library, I did get a Chester County Library card as well. I figured since I have been looking at full time library jobs at the Exton Library, it would look good. I also loved the selection of books, CDs, and DVDs they had, and well, I really wanted to check out the Arabic documentary! 







                On August 22nd, Marsha and I met up to go shopping in the King of Prussia Mall. It had been seven months since we last saw one another - the last time was in January after a blizzard. Marsha arrived at 11:15 AM and we headed to Nordstrom's so I can get a dress I ordered from Amazon hemmed.
As we trekked to Nordstrom we talked about different things. Once we made it our way into Nordstrom, we wandered the first floor and as we wandered, I saw a cat purse. It was purple with green eyes and whiskers. I wanted it, but was too afraid to look at the price. We finally asked where I could get my dress altered and we walked upstairs. After about 20 minutes of getting measured and getting the dress pinned, I was told I would be able to pick up my dress next week. The cashier, the tailor, and the other assistant all remarked how pretty I looked in that beautiful dress and it does look good on me. Marsha and I wandered around Nordstrom some more, but I didn't buy anything.
Marsha and I walked out and decided to go to lunch at Bonefish Grill. She had never eaten there before and that was one of my favorite places. One just opened at the mall and she wanted to try it. Lunch was so good! I ordered raw oysters (yes, I love raw seafood) and a Caesar Salad. She ordered a chicken Caesar Salad. We just sat and caught up. Did some laughing and reflecting. We both really enjoyed our meal. We were also the few people in the restaurant - it wasn't crowded and it was really nice to catch up when the atmosphere isn't noisy and busy. After lunch, we decided to fool around with the sign and made silly poses.





Entertainment

                In January, both Marilyn Manson and Twiztid released CDs. I love both groups and I was excited for the release of The Pale Emperor and The Darkness. Marilyn Manson released The Pale Emperor on Thursday, January 15 and I bought the CD two days later, right before a snowstorm. I was blown away and it reminded me of the old days of Marilyn Manson—The Pale Emperor is reminiscent to his style from 1996-1998. I listened to it nonstop until Twiztid’s The Darkness arrived in the mail. I can honestly say my favorites off of The Pale Emperor are “Day Three of a Seven Day Binge,” “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” and “The Devil Beneath My Feet.”


                Twiztid’s The Darkness, their first full length album under their new record label Majik Ninjas Entertainment, was released on Tuesday, January 27. I preordered the album and it arrived to me three days before the official release date. That was another awesome album. While Twiztid is a combination between horrorcore rap and horrorcore rock, I thought the album had more of a rock feel to it. A lot of fans complained about the sound, but I thought it was pretty good. I liked it and listened to it quite a bit as well. I can say the songs I liked the most are “Boogieman,” “F.T.S.,” “Breakdown,” and “Mind Goes Mad.”

                April seemed to be the beginning of a musical month. I rediscovered a band I started following randomly in 2010. I bought their book after I Google searched “Middle Eastern Heavy Metal bands,” found their book, bought it, and gave their EP a listen—wonderful band and ended up befriending most of the members of Acrassicauda on Facebook. Since disabling my Facebook account, I lost contact for almost a year. I noticed on Twitter at the beginning of April that they were having a live party that would be videotaped (live) for online viewers for their new album, Gilgamesh, which is also their first full length album (they had a Kickstarter fundraiser to make this possible). Some of the members now live in Brooklyn, others live in New Jersey, but the party was held in Harlem. While I was dogsitting for Daphne, I pulled up the party on my laptop. Daphne and I watched it and I loved what I heard (I think Daphne approved as well—at least she didn’t seem like she minded what she was hearing).
                When I went back home that night, I pre-ordered a copy of Gilgamesh and I ordered a shirt that is in Arabic. They signed Gilgamesh for the first hundred or so buyers; mine was autographed and it came with a little note thanking me for supporting the band. I loved Gilgamesh and would recommend the album. It was also nice reconnecting with the band members again via e-mail and on Instagram. I did write a poetry review about the album:


Review of Acrassicauda’s Gilgamesh

Forming fifteen years ago in Baghdad,
their love for heavy metal brought them together
in each other’s basements.
Guitar melodies, bass riffs, the beating of the drums,
their friendship grew as the War mounted,
quickly putting them at the odds of violence,
and endless travels to find acceptance for their art;
finding their new life in 2009—the journey just began.

Acrassicauda released an EP, a short length CD, in 2010—
Only The Dead See the End of the War—
I found it by chance, a search for heavy metal and the Middle East,
I found them on YouTube and quickly bought the EP
and gifted it to friends and my cousin for the holidays that year.
In heavy rotation on my iPod, the Arabic melodies,
the tales and lyrics sometimes haunt, but transform,
I love Tony’s voice, Marwan’s drum playing, Faisal’s guitar playing.
Their musicianship and artistry is unique; they are their own,
mixing Metallica with modern heavy metal, but with an Iraqi flare.

Yet the EP didn’t bring them heavy metal immortality,
their documentary, Heavy Metal in Baghdad, did—but broke,
they created a fundraiser on Kickstarter to kick start their dream;
$33,000 their goal: quickly raising $37,000 from diehard fans.
They spent some time in the studio, now Marwan, Faisal, Moe, and Firas;
and put together their full length album, Gilgamesh,
released on April 4 with much fan fare and a release party in Harlem.
Finally arriving to my house on Monday,
I rip open the package with excitement;
I put Gilgamesh on blast on my CD Walkman and I smile.
Forty minutes of pure genius;
Moe’s voice, with an Iraqi accent,
 is surprisingly soothing for heavy metal—
his voice sings of their journeys, pain, and hope.
Marwan definitely has a gift for songwriting,
the lyrics touch the heart and soul—as I sit on the bus
guitar riffs and Marwan’s drumming flows through my ear buds
and I’m transported from Pennsylvania to Baghdad and New York;
the heaviness of songs like Rise, an acoustic song, and one in Arabic—
I love it all and each listen draws me in; I can’t stop playing the CD.
Although it took five years for a full length album, Gilgamesh—
actually, Acrassicauda as a whole, doesn’t disappoint!
I have Gilgamesh on repeat and I can’t wait to upload the album on my iPod:
check out Acrassicauda; even if you’re not into heavy metal,
you would not be disappointed with their sound and talent.


                I thought about editing this poem to put in As Far As The Eyes Can See, but I decided against it. Marwan, the drummer and lyricist of Acrassicauda, gave me permission to use some of their song titles as inspiration. The six poems I wrote as inspiration really capture the travel vibe. While I do love listening to Gilgamesh and Only The Dead Can See The End of the War while I’m out and about, individual songs mark vivid memories much more so than albums (to me, songs make the album, so much so I can place a song to a life event rather than an album).
                 
    I have kept in touch with Marwan and Mo throughout the second half of the year and it has felt nice to reconnect. In November they sent me an autographed sweatshirt and I felt very thankful. In the New Year, I would like to buy a shadowbox (similar to the shadowbox I bought to put my autographed Twiztid things in) and frame it. Maybe in 2016 I will actually get to meet them face to face (hey, it could happen—in 2014 I met Twiztid face to face after wanting to do so for 11 years) and put a photograph in with the sweatshirt (like I did with the Twiztid shadowbox). One could always hope and dream. J



In May, I decided to rent Big Hero 6. As a page in a library, I always see what is popular among all age groups. Big Hero 6 was one of those movies that had been popular among adults and children alike. I thought, “why not give it a try?” I’m glad I did—it was a truly amazing movie that tugged at my heartstrings and also made me laugh at some points. Back in May I wrote a psychological analysis of the film and I would like to share it with you: The Psychological Implications of Big Hero 6. As I wrote in that blog, Big Hero 6 teaches us how to deal with grief in a health manner. It also depicts how anger is a normal stage of grief, but if it's not expressed properly, revenge and bitterness take hold and it's never pretty. I will also admit, I did cry throughout the film. It's still one of my favorites and I would definitely recommend Big Hero 6. I love Baymax and I love Baymax so much that I bought a talking plushie on Memorial Day weekend.
Baymax first accompanied me on adventures when I traveled to Philadelphia to see Third Eye Blind perform at FYE on June 20th. Although that performance was only twenty minutes, the band’s performance was mind blowing. I loved seeing them live, then meeting the band afterwards. Stephan Jenkins signed their new CD for me. He actually asked me if I was going to be seeing them that night at Penn’s Landing. I frowned and said, “No. Sadly, money is tight right now. Maybe next time you come back.” He understood, and I will be seeing them in King of Prussia on New Year’s Eve. I’m super excited as well.






Sadly, Baymax didn’t get the opportunity to see Rush with mom, my cousins Jason and Josh, and me on June 25th. That’s okay because the concert was very loud. However, the theatrics of the show and just seeing Rush was amazing! It was a three hour show and I enjoyed it—despite leaving almost deaf. It was a great show for their 40th anniversary/last tour (for now).




This summer I saw three wonderful movies. In July, mom and I went to see Inside Out, then the next week the three of us went to see Minions. I loved both movies and would recommend them both. I was amazed that Inside Out struck an emotional chord with me (much like Big Hero 6) and it actually had a good story line. I thought it was a really powerful movie and is great for people of all ages. Minions is another great movie for people of all ages, but it’s not as serious as Inside Out. Minions is comical and it’s a great comical relief from the seriousness of Inside Out. I have loved the Despicable Me movies and was so excited for the minions. I love the minions.


In August I went to see Straight Outta Compton. I went on opening night—August 14.I actually arrived a bit early (4 PM) because I was reading that there was going to be security checkpoints nationwide during the screenings. Why? They feared violence with some of the scenes that were portrayed in the movie and of course, the gang related fears. So here I was expecting to be patted down, that I packed light and took everything out of my purse before I left my house. I was also expecting the theater busting out of the seams with people. To surprise, there were no security checkpoints and at that point, I was one of the few people in attendance. I could sit anywhere and I did pick a good seat The theater did get pretty crowded, though.
Straight Outta Compton is a biopic or a biographical film about the start of N.W.A., how Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella expected to make all this money from their fame after Eazy-E signed with Jerry Heller, a manager that managed Elton John, ELO, REO Speedwagon, and a bunch of others; but they found out that they were screwed (to put it nicely) in the process and Heller wasn't much help (typical industry businessman). Heller essentially broke N.W.A. up because Ice Cube wouldn't sign the contract (which he was smart by not doing so - Heller would not let him speak to a lawyer, or so the film depicts, and that was the case for the other members), Ice Cube saw it was a bad deal and traveled to New York to work with Public Enemy's production team for his solo career. From there we see how gangsta rap became popular, the rise of Suge Knight, the rise of Death Row Records, Dr. Dre starting Aftermath Records (which is the record company I'm familiar with - when I was 11-13, I was a HUGE fan of Eminem and that's how I knew about Dr. Dre), and the increasing tensions of the War on Drugs in the early to mid-1990s.
I would recommend Straight Outta Compton, even to those who aren't fans of gangsta rap. I will admit I went to see it because after reading about Straight Outta Compton, Suge Knight killing someone over the film, which led to Knight's numerous legal issues, I wanted to see it. I was curious about why Suge Knight would run over someone and the movie answered it. All I can say is, "dang, he is one mean guy!"
Straight Outta Compton runs for a little over two and a half hours. It was 7:17 PM when I finally left the theater (the move started, after previews, at 4:40 PM), but the way F. Gary Gray directed the film was amazing. The director used actual news footage from news reports about the popularity of N.W.A., the Rodney King beating, as well as actual footage of the beating, news footage of the riots, and actual footage of the Los Angeles riots after the police officers were acquitted for beating Rodney King. You could see at that moment that things had come to a boiling point, more so than when N.W.A. played a certain in Detroit and caused a riot. With Rodney King, you could tell this was felt nationwide. F. Gary Gray did a great job of capturing it and comparing it to today's racial climate.


I bought Lana Del Rey's new album, Honeymoon, back in October - a few weeks after the release date of September 18, 2015. I actually really love Honeymoon and I can honestly say I can add it to the list of the best new releases I bought in 2015. I love Lana's style and she almost reminds me a bit like Alanis Morrisette. Some have criticized Lana’s angst, but I love it.
Despite all of her angst, Lana does have a beautiful voice and is an awesome writer. Honeymoon hits the mark and I can listen to it on repeat all day. Some of the songs can really bring me to tears, but sometimes that is a good release... which I think is Lana's point in some of the songs. My favorites are “Music To Watch Boys To,” “Terence Loves You,” “God Knows I Try,” “High By The Beach,” and “Freak.”

فراشة

                To go along with the Arabic, here is a title for you—farasha is the word for butterfly. This summer mom and I raised Monarch butterflies. Mom first discovered some Monarch eggs on our milkweed plants and spent the next two months raising about 15 butterflies. It was an amazing experience and eye opening. It’s amazing how life can be and watching them take off for their journey to Mexico.
                On November 5th, the final two Monarchs emerged from their chrysalises. That day was unseasonably warm - 70 degrees, but since the weather is getting cooler, we're not sure if they wentto Mexico. Still, I'm thankful for the experience over the past two and a half months, seeing the beauty of transformation, and just the lessons. I look forward to raising them again next year.




Reflections

Although 2015 has been a year of roller coaster rides, I am overall satisfied with how this year went. I began working on As Far As The Eyes Can See, and I self-published a photograph book on my New York City trip. The book is titled Photographs & Memories of New York City, which can be published through Lulu Publishing. I call this book my teaser for As Far As The Eyes Can See. I bought a copy for my aunt and I am very proud of how it turned out.
I held some very fun jobs this year and I’m thankful to have the library—I love the women I work with. This year gave me insight to the strengths I have and even some of the weaknesses. I am grateful to now be employed in a full time job that utilizes my strengths and I work with some great women there as well. I worked with some wonderful people at the Senior Center this year as well.
I also bought a web domain for my blog. It’s through Blogger still, but instead of the URL being clayxmatthewsxfan89.blogspot.com (since 2010) it is now www.musingsofacreativeyoungwoman.com. By buying a web domain, I have increased the traffic to my blog tenfold. I can’t wait to do more with my blog in 2016 and gain a new following. I am totally excited about that growth. Even my LinkedIn has grown and have been amazed at the response to one of the articles I posted titled “The Importance of Knowing Who You Are”. I’ve connected with a lot of great people this year whether from the senior center, library, Instagram, LinkedIn, or from my travels, and I am grateful for those opportunities. As the year closes, I found out my voice acting will be used in as an intro to a song by an independent musician I’ve followed since 2014.  I’m excited to hear the song when it is released.

In 2016 I plan on finished As Far As The Eyes Can See. I am also planning on adding more items to my photography and craft shop. I also hope to grow within my full time job and look forward to teaching more classes at the library. I am also planning on taking that trip to Toronto. I will also be creating a happiness jar. The purpose of a happiness jar is to write a positive event and/or what you are grateful for on a slip of paper each day and open the jar on December 31, 2016. The purpose is to see how amazing your life is—from the small and big events. I’m a pessimist and the activity is supposed to give people optimism about their life. I am looking forward to 2016.

My happiness jar.

2 comments:

  1. What a fabulous year-ender, Jessica Marie! I enjoyed watching the slide show and listening to the music you used behind it. I recognized many of those pictures and places, including Philly, NYC, the morbid museum and the place where you ate bugs. :) You packed a lot of living into 2015 and I trust that you will continue to put the pedal to the metal in 2016.

    Happy new year, dear friend JM!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Shady. Happy new year to you as well dear friend!

      If I sent you the Word document, this newsletter is 28 pages. Hahah. Yes, I did a lot this year and I was surprised it filled 28 pages. :D I have a lot planned for next year and look forward to it.

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