Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A date in New York City

Me, my son Jake, Libbie, and daughter Melissa
I wanted to take my kids on a "date" this summer, and my daughter chose a Broadway play for hers.  I love it that she thinks BIG!  The day after she mentioned this, my friend Libbie (who lives in Idaho) called to say she had a conference there.  It had to be fate!!!  I had just enough frequent flier miles for 3 tickets, so we made a date to meet in New York City for a weekend!!!  I had never been there before so it made it even more exciting!  We packed a lot of fun into just a couple of days and tried to get everyone's wish list checked off.  The first activity was a Manhattan skyline cruise on an old sailing ship called the Clipper City, where you got to be the crew, if you chose.  It had 4 sails!  It has an interesting story as it was modeled after a ship that had originally been made in Manitowoc, WI, and was meant to carry lumber.  You can see how the ship was made at a model in Manitowoc at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.
Here I am 'sailing' the ship

Libbie and I helped to raise the sails- hard work!

Manhattan skyline
Look at the new buildings going up to replace the
Twin towers
Statue of Liberty
Try a horse ride in Central Park

We had fun in Chinatown, Little Italy, and ended up in Times Square the first day.  What a place to people watch!  The next day we did a nice walk through Central Park where we even saw superstar Gwen Stefani out for a walk with her 2 kids and nanny.  That park is huge!  There were bikes and boats for rent.  You could enjoy amusement rides or ice skate in winter.  There is a castle, ball fields, and even a tribute to John Lennon, who was shot in his NY home just a few blocks from the park.  We spent a couple of hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where you can see paintings I had only seen in books.  WOW!  They were up close and so beautiful!  I talked everyone into trying a brutal Chinese massage.  If you have never tried this, you are in for a ..... well, I don't know if it's a treat.  It hurts.  Like when you feel you have to cry or scream kind of hurt.  But it does work.  We survived 30 minutes of this and the only one who had no problems with it was Jake.  He's very fit, so maybe that's the secret.
Throngs of people both day and night in Times Square

Strawberry Fields Forever- tribute to John Lennon in Central Park
Couldn't resist a photo of this cutie!

at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

We saw a Broadway play called "One Man Two Guvnors" that was so incredibly funny that we laughed the whole way through.  Afterwards we found the best banana cream pudding at a place called, Magnolia Bakery.   They also have cupcakes which are ultra tasty. I loved the German chocolate!  I might add, we also found the best coffee in New York city the next day at a place called Abraco.  Holy cow!  If you are ever in NYC, you need to try this hole in the wall place.   Think of it as a magical closet with the tastiest coffee ever.  There is no seating, and the locals show up in their pajamas!

Abraco Coffee

cupcakes and pudding from Magnolia Bakery
We did lots of window shopping both on Fifth Avenue and in Soho.  Fun to see the styles that are in vogue and watch the tourists spending huge $$$$$$ on American brands that are made in China.  There was a door around the corner of the building just to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch!  The windows were so artfully decorated to entice you to come on in.  It was really fun to see the creativity.  Melissa wanted to see the Kardashian's shop, called DASH.  Everything was very expensive but not very special, in my humble opinion.  The stores are open until midnight in some areas of the city.  This is a city that doesn't sleep!  It was a great weekend full of fun.  It will likely take us a week to recuperate!
At Louis Vuitton

Ramadan feasting

Ramadan comes once a year and the date moves back 10 days every year.  It lasts for one month and is a time for all practicing Muslims to fast from the break of dawn to sunset. That means they don't eat or drink from about 3:30 am to 8:30 pm during July/August this year.  Not an easy thing to do for anyone, especially when you're still working, taking care of children, and trying to keep up with the duties of life.

Breaking the fast (Iftar) is usually done in the company of friends on weekends.  In our home, Abdul eats dates, drinks water, and then prays.  Afterwards, we have a large meal because he's making up for a lost lunch and dinner at night.  I love hosting a house full of people during Ramadan.  The discussions that arise when you combine people born into different countries, religions, and traditions are interesting and enlightening to all who gather.  We always try to invite people who are non-Muslim so they can share in the experience.
Sample of Somali dishes served during Ramadan
The local newspaper did a story on cooking for Ramadan and here's the link.  http://www.jsonline.com/features/food/ramadan-is-just-part-of-familys-entertainment-schedule-gp65l15-163619256.html

And here is a youtube video the paper made that describes a bit about dinner.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEBjo0AkfEY

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Meeting Hillary Clinton...well, sort of

Yesterday I was in Washington DC and attended a conference with my husband at the State Department where Secretary Hillary Clinton gave the keynote address.  WOW!  It has been a dream of mine to meet her one day, but I never put it on my official bucket list because it seemed so out of reach. What I have learned from my husband is that nothing is out of reach.  If you make your wishes known, sometimes it just happens.  So let that be a lesson to any of you reading this that have some BIG wishes.  It can happen to you!
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 

Sec. Clinton and Mr. Kris Balderston, Special Rep. for Global Partnerships, US Dept. of State
The conference was the 2012 Global Diaspora Forum, and the theme was "Going Forward by Giving Back".  You can learn more about the conference and the sponsoring agencies at http://diasporaalliance.org/featured/global-diaspora-forum/#overview

I had to look up the definition of diaspora, as it was a new term for me.  diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, "scattering, dispersion")[1] is "the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland"[2] or "people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location",[3] or "people settled far from their ancestral homelands".[2]

Basically it was a great opportunity for people who had been born outside the USA and were doing great things in the USA and abroad to share their stories.  It never really occurred to me that there were so many people from other places working here in the US until I visited Washington DC several years ago.  It's the one place where you will hear dozens of languages in a single day.  I had always had an interest in working at the United Nations or the state department when I was much younger, but then the Air Force took me to foreign places and I ended up staying there for an entire military career.  At this conference, I was the minority.  We had been invited by Mr. Romi Bhatia from the US Agency for International Development.  Abdulhamid met him when we were in Washington DC in Spring and they discussed ways Somalis living in the USA might be able to help Somalia become a place where people could earn a living and raise children peacefully.  Abdul's idea had been to create civil engineering jobs by rebuilding infrastructure and bring irrigation to the land outside Mogadishu so women could grow crops and sell them at the marketplace in the cities.  Much of the infrastructure was destroyed during the war that started in 1991, which was basically a genocide against the well educated, well to do tribe that his family was a member of.  Now peace is beginning to occur and naturally many Somalis want to be part of the revitalization because they have either family members there or a real desire to help their homeland.

So Secy. Clinton kicked off the conference with the most passionate speech about how it bothered her, as she traveled around the globe over the past decades, to see so much fighting in places where people should just get along.  They chose instead to see their differences based on color, religion, tribe, etc. and made battle.  She mentioned how she loved walking through New York city and saw people from different cultures all living peacefully side by side, while their families back where they came from were at war with each other.  She painted a picture of America as a place where possibilities are endless and that's what attracts so many people to come here.  Of course, there's no way to possibly deliver a speech as eloquently as she did.  She rarely used notes.  She never paused to find her place.  She never once said 'Um".  She is an incredible woman and has seen so many things in her life.  It would be a treat to hear her stories all day.

Our trip was a very short one.  We arrived late Tuesday night and left again wednesday evening.  If we had more time, the conference was 2 days.  The first at the State department and the second at the US AID building.  The networking sessions they set up sounded amazing.  They were giving tours of buildings and focusing on the people who were making things happen in the science and technology field. I only wish we'd had more time, but Abdulhamid was fasting due to Ramadan and the timing wasn't good.  Maybe next time, the date will be better for Muslims who want to attend.  It seemed like every taxi driver in Washington DC was Muslim.  Just know that there are many people working this time of year who are not eating or drinking for 16 hours of the day.
Here's the international group of people at our lunch table

There were break out sessions in the afternoon.  Abdul attended one about banking and met a former state department worker who became so frustrated with the way funds were being distributed abroad, that he started his own cell phone money transfer service and is now a multimillionaire.  I attended a session with some amazing women who had started technology companies and done work to administer funds to wishful entrepreneurs.  One of them, Anousheh Ansari, was the first Muslim woman in space!  I was so humbled.  I've learned that when you see a "foreigner" in the USA, you shouldn't assume they are not well educated.  I was the one without a PhD!
Look closely at the 2nd from the left and that's what a space traveler looks like!!!
We also stayed at the historic Willard Hotel- lovely!  Had dinner out on the patio and watched people go by.  Had a nice view of the Washington Monument and we were just a block from the white house.  The Capitol was in view from the front door of the hotel.  And if you saw my facebook story, we were checking in and the desk clerk said to me, "you look familiar.  Have you stayed with us before?"  I was about to say no when my husband quickly said, "she's famous.  She was on TV last night" and he was joking about a 40 second piece on our local Milwaukee news where I was interviewed about the weather this summer and how it was affecting electricity and water usage.  I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow after that we were upgraded to a 'king suite' and it was lovely.  Overall this was an amazing experience that I cherish.
You can see the Washington momument behind this building, and the guard shack to the Whitehouse in the far right

The Capitol at the end of the street
Nice in room coffee bar with my husband's favorite brand of Italian coffee

our living room in the suite
Willard Intercontinental Hotel lobby

Friday, July 20, 2012

Somali Wedding

My husband was in Toronto over the weekend for his cousin's daughter's wedding.  I was sorry to have missed it as it is always an extraordinary event.  If you've read the story about my own Somali wedding, you know that they are very different from an American or European traditional wedding.  Because I have never been to the men's portion of the wedding, he was kind enough to pass the camera to a friend and we have some photos for your viewing!

Every wedding has slight variations, but this one was more like those I have heard about before.  The men met in the early afternoon and words of encouragement (about how to be a good husband and act Islamically, according to the Koran) were given to the groom.  The dowry or tribal gift was passed.  Abdul represented his tribe because he is a prince.  He doesn't get to go to every wedding, but when he can go, he is very happy to do this.  This cousin is very close to him, so there's no way he was going to miss it and his entire family of siblings were in Toronto for the event too.

The typical ceremony is quite short and afterwards, there is a lunch for all the men.  Sometimes the bridal couple's family women prepare and serve, but more often it's just a catered affair.
Here he is looking like a prince with a special hat for the occasion
Here he is accepting the gifts from the representative of the groom's tribe (dowry)

The VIP table which includes the groom 

The women's party was later at night.  The bride would have attended that with lots of music, dancing, and fancy dress.  Many of the women get henna on their hands, arms, and feet for the special occasion.  I heard it was wonderful and lasted until 3 am!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Renaissance Faire

Last weekend I met my sister-in-law for an event I've wanted to attend ever since I moved to Wisconsin, the Bristol Renaissance Faire near Kenosha, WI.  What a hoot!  I had been to something similar many years ago when we lived in England while I was in the Air Force.  Lots of costumes, medieval jousting, turkey legs...so much to enjoy.  http://www.renfair.com/bristol/  We bought tickets in advance and saved a couple of bucks.

Here are some photos from our wonderful day.  Omar most enjoyed the rides and games.  Everything is people powered, as would be in the days of the renaissance.  There is a queen who oversees the festivities.  There are some parades and shows.  We saw the falconer, some juggling on a rooftop, plenty of faeries, etc.  Would highly recommend if you're in the area.

Tour de Fat Milwaukee

I didn't really know what I had in mind when I said I wanted to do a bike trip this summer.  I've dreamed about biking across the USA a few times when I was younger.  And then when I worked in the Dept. of Transportation, I talked about joining in on a state crossing ride.  But it seems I always have Omar to worry about and although he's an adventurer, he probably couldn't do a long ride.

My daughter proposed that we do the Tour de Fat on Saturday and it sure sounded like fun, so that's what I'll count as my bike trip. These links give you more information from both the brewery and the bicycle federation.  https://www.facebook.com/TourDeFat  http://bfw.org/events/tour-de-fat-milwaukee/

This is a roving circus sponsored by a Colorado brewery that goes to cities all over the USA and raises money for non-profit organizations.  Here in Wisconsin, they raised money for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation which has plans to start a free bike program in the city.  I love this program and have seen it in so many places we visit.  It works by placing bikes in racks at various spots in the city and you can borrow and return a bike for the day.  Great idea!  The event is free, but they ask for donations and you can buy beer, food, t-shirts, etc.

Melissa on a borrowed bike with her cool Mouse ears
The part we most enjoyed was a bike parade.  I don't know how many attended but I'd guess about 1000.  There were kids, adults, and even dogs!  Many people dress in costumes.  The route is only 4.1 miles and it's very slow as you are in a large group and because most of the route is on city streets, you have to stop at traffic lights, etc.  You are sharing the road with cars the entire way.  We biked from home too so our total route was about 8 miles.  That is the longest that Omar and Melissa have biked in a day.  It was hot and humid, but the major complaint from Omar was that his butt hurt.  He was on a tagalong behind me and if I stopped at a traffic light, he'd often hop off, so I had to always be looking to be sure he was still with me!  Great fun- enjoy the pictures!
Spiderman!  AKA Omar

a sea of people ahead of us at the parade start
Look at these fat tires!

Lots of entertainment related to wheels and gears

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sleepover at a Lighthouse Cottage

My son Omar was in summer camp for 4 nights, so I planned this getaway at Rawley Point Lighthouse cottage that is run by the coast guard and is used for "morale" purposes.  Anyone who has a military ID card can call and if you're lucky someone will answer and make a reservation for you.  I say that in jest because I have heard of many who tried and were never lucky enough to get through to a person to make a reservation.    There are 3 apartments in this big old house but we were the only tenants the week we were there.  The lighthouse is still in use.  The cottage was used by the keeper of the lighthouse but has not been used for that purpose in many years.  It was kind of like staying at a grandma's house.  Everything you really needed was there but it was a bit older, quite used, and cozy.  There was no air conditioning, but it really wasn't bad in spite of temps in the high 80s.  There was a breeze off the lake at night that helped make it comfy.  You could hear the surf and the birds with the windows open, and if you were awake before 5, the sunrise was spectacular!  For more history on the lighthouse, go to this link: http://www.us-lighthouses.com/displaypage.php?LightID=332

wow!  what a sunrise!

The first 2 nights I stayed with my husband and we did a lot of hiking around the state park.  The beach is really nice and miles long at low tide.  There are several trails that run through the park, and one of them is the Ice Age Trail- a national park trail that runs 1000 miles through the state of Wisconsin.  It's a remnant from the glacier age.  I hope to hike a few more pieces of the trail during this summer because each area is so unique, but this was a good start.
Smiling at the beginning of our bug biting hike

Nice paths mark the way but the mosquitoes are BITING!!!

wildflowers and plenty of poison ivy are just off the path
The next 2 nights my cousin Jeannie joined me.  We had planned to gather several other female cousins and my sister, but it just couldn't work out for everyone.  It was a good opportunity to catch up on family news and have a little fun at the beach together.  The water was COLD, but we got wet anyway.  We also did some tourist stuff and took a trip to nearby Algoma for lunch and to check out a very fun garden store called "THE FLYING PIG" http://www.theflyingpig.biz/  What a fun place to view plants and art while enjoying a refreshing drink.  Overall it was a great getaway!
What a fish!
loved this pond!

so many cool pieces for a garden
Me and Jeannie having a drink at the cafe/gift shop