Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mrs. Bradshaw Goes to Washington

The Capitol Building
Once a year, the company I work for sends a small contingent of employees to Washington D.C. The group visits our federal senators and representatives to advocate on behalf of our customers. Because we serve some of the states with the highest poverty rates in the nation, this trip is very important to our company and to the region we serve.

This year, the group decided to take along a communicator to document their efforts, and I found myself on my first-ever trip to the nation's capital. What an eye-opening experience! I got to visit many of the Congressional offices, photograph a small reception in the Capitol Building, and shoot some video in the halls where our laws are made.

The National World War II Memorial
I flew into Reagan on a Tuesday night and headed straight to our orientation dinner at The Portofino Restaurant. It's a lovely, unpretentious little Italian restaurant. We had a pre-set menu, so I enjoyed a lovely salad, then a gorgeous plate of scalloppine al marsala (veal in a creamy mushroom sauce), then a creamy chocolate dessert. The food was delicious, the prices were very reasonable, and service was prompt and polite.

We were briefed during dinner, and then we trundled back to the Hampton Inn at Crystal City to rest up for the next day. The following morning, we hit the ground running. All day long, we raced from one office to another, documenting meetings and collecting content.

Our whole group convened for a quick lunch at Tortilla Coast, a little Tex-Mex spot on Capitol Hill. We snacked on guacamole and pico de gallo before our entrees arrived. I had some soft chicken tacos and a nice, tall glass of WATER. (It was HOT!) Service was cheerful and speedy, and prices were easy on the wallet.

After lunch, we raced around some more before high-tailing it to a reception in the Capitol Building. By the end of the day, we were BEAT!

The Lincoln Memorial
However, it was my first trip to D.C. And my powers of persuasion are not insignificant. So, at about 7:30 p.m., I convinced some of the members of our group to walk the mall with me before enjoying a late dinner.

We started near the Washington Monument. It wasn't as impressive as it could've been, primarily due to the amount of scaffolding on the exterior. Some of the monument's stonework was damaged in a 2011 earthquake, and scaffolding was erected this spring so that work could begin on repairs. From there, we crossed to the World War II monument, lit dramatically at night. (This monument felt special to me, as my grandfather fought in the Pacific fleet during World War II.) After that, we took a leisurely stroll by the reflecting pool down to the Lincoln Memorial. It was absolutely breathtaking, as large and impressive as you imagine from all the photographs you've seen. There's a small exhibit in the base that features famous quotes from Lincoln and information about his life and service as president.

After this, my friend really wanted to check out the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, so we headed that way. I loved this memorial. The quotes are so powerful, and the design of the memorial is very engaging.

the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
By this time, we were getting very hungry. One of the members of our party had suggested The Chart House. We hopped a cab and were on our way. It was a little further out than we'd anticipated, in Alexandria. The restaurant is in a lovely area filled with little shops, restaurants, bars and coffee houses. It sits right on the water, offering lovely views.

We settled in, stretched our legs, and ordered mojitos. For dinner, I had the fried calamari and an order of clam chowder. My companion had a lovely plate of grilled fish. Though prices are spendy here, the food is divine. Service was impeccable. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and would recommend this restaurant to anyone. After a few more drinks in a nearby bar, it was off to bed for us!

In the morning, I had a couple of hours before my flight left. By some miracle, the cherry trees were blooming! They were supposed to have come and gone before our trip, but the crazy weather we're having this year put them right at peak bloom for our brief visit. I decided I couldn't leave D.C. without checking it out. I took a quick cab back to the mall. I started with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. We'd looked at this memorial the night before, but you really have to visit it in the daytime to get the full effect. It's overwhelming. I also stopped by the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which we'd missed entirely the night before.
Blooming cherry trees framing the Jefferson Memorial!
Then, I walked the opposite side of the mall, through Constitution Gardens, to get back to the tidal basin. All along the basin, the cherry trees were in riotous bloom. It was gorgeous. Even more thrilling, though, was watching the reactions of all those around to witness this natural wonder. People stopped, took tons of photos, twirled around, gasped. People smiled at each other more. It's just astonishing. I felt very special and fortunate to be there to witness it.

I spent a lot of time taking photos of other people with the blossoms in the background. A man was jogging by, and he stopped. He asked me if I'd like him to take MY photo in front of the scene. I, of course, obliged, mentioning that the blossoms were supposed to have come and gone before our trip, and that my being in town for such a spectacle was a complete fluke.

"I don't think so," he said. "I think you're right where God wants you to be today."

What a comforting affirmation!

I walked all the way down to the Jefferson Memorial to take full advantage of the views. Afterwards, it was back to hotel checkout and on to the airport. I loved my first visit to D.C., and I can't wait to go back!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sand and sun!

Pina colada martinis and the beach! We loved Shaggy's!
I spent last weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast   with a sweet friend from work. We drove in from our respective cities on Saturday morning and headed straight for the outlet mall in Gulfport. They were having a 65 percent off sale at the Coach outlet, so we stocked up on handbags and wallets. I have to admit, I've been coveting a Coach bag for a while. It's difficult for me to spend $100 on a handbag. (If I spend $60, I'm thinking that it's getting a bit rich for my blood.) But everything was soooo beautiful. And it was marked down so much from its original retail price. I couldn't resist!

I also picked up some short-sleeved shirts for Clay at The Children's Place. Because he wasn't with me, I used the store's sizing chart, based on his height and weight. I had a minor meltdown in the store because the shirts looked AWFULLY big. I kept telling the saleslady, "This can't be right. This shirt is way too big. Can we consult the chart again?" When it hit me that MY CHILD IS ACTUALLY THIS BIG, the poor saleslady had to talk me down off the ledge. And she was right. I mean, the kid is wearing the shirts now. They fit fine. It's just that in my head, he's a lot littler than he actually IS now. Yikes.

With stomach rumbling, we headed to Shaggy's for lunch. We chose the Biloxi location, because it's right on the beach. The interior of the restaurant was full, but we got a spot immediately at the bar. We sipped our pina colada martinis while we waiting on charbroiled oysters and fish sandwiches. The food was great, and afterwards we walked it off a bit by circling up and down the beach for a while, talking.

By this time, we figured we'd better be checking into our hotel. We'd reserved rooms at the IP Casino Resort and Spa. (The last time we made this trip, we stayed at The Palace. It had just been declared the first smoke-free casino/hotel on the coast! We definitely enjoyed our stay there, but we figured we'd try something different this time.) We chose the IP because it has a good selection of restaurants and evening entertainment. Though we didn't go to the spa, it's supposed to be fantastic as well.

The view from McElroy's
We checked in and decided to spend a few hours at the pool. We suited up and laid in the sun for a while, gabbing and people-watching. Afterwards, we decided to dress up for a nice dinner. We were a walk-in at the Half Shell. (We ate there the last time we were on the coast and loved it. Delicious food, and extremely reasonable prices. We'd thought about eating at 32, the top-rated restaurant at our hotel, but the price point was so much higher that we decided to look elsewhere.)

We ordered another half dozen charbroiled oysters and some wine to start. I followed it up with a delicious paneed flounder. We ate and talked and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves before heading to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to see if anything was jumping yet. We looked at all the memorabilia ("All of these rock stars were so skinny," said Charlotte. "Heroin will do that to you," I replied.) and walked the casino floor a bit before heading over to Beau Rivage. It had been a long time since I'd been there, and it's such a beautiful property.

We'd heard that Stalla was good, so we popped in there for dessert. We had delicious cream custards with berries and biscotti, washed down with strong coffees and punctuated with hilarious conversation. It was wonderful, and I'd love to return to Stalla sometime for dinner!

By this time, we knew that some of the live music acts were cranking up back at the IP. We ensconced ourselves in two comfy chairs at Chill, one of the on-site bars, and listened to Orphan Annie, a great four-piece band. (Though I did question whether the cage around the drummer was really necessary. It was a fairly tame crowd.) I loved how committed they were to the performance.

After an hour or two, we called it a night and hit the hay. In the morning, we were up and at 'em for brunch at one of my fave places on the coast - McElroy's. There are several locations, and my sister in law, who lives in Biloxi, has completely indoctrinated me about it all. We went to the one in Biloxi, right on the beach, and enjoyed breakfast on the balcony. I had beignets and bacon with a big cup of coffee, and I think Charlotte had something virtuous like an egg. The service was so friendly and prompt and the view was so gorgeous! We struck up a conversation with a neighboring table and left feeling that all was right with the world.

Beautiful Beauvoir
I'd been wanting to tour Beauvior, Jefferson Davis' historic home, for a while. I hadn't seen it since it was nearly demolished during Katrina, and I was anxious to take a look at how the landmark had been recovered. I'm happy to say that it's lovely. They've done a wonderful job restoring what was damaged in the storm, and the extensive renovation process has given them the opportunity to take some of the home's features, which had been diminished over years of use and foot traffic, back to their original splendor. Due to the loss of so many beautiful oaks on the property in the hurricane, they now have sufficient sun once again to plant Varina Davis' rose garden. They are using antique heirloom varieties, and I'm sure it will be gorgeous when complete.

It's a wonderful visit for the history buff, as so much of the original furnishings of the house remain intact. You can even walk the grounds and peruse the Confederate cemetery out back. (After Davis' death, the property was used as a home for Confederate soldiers.)

After our tour, it was time to go back to our real lives! I drove all the way up to Jackson with the top down, as it was a gorgeous day, and got a nice tan! What fun! I'm already looking forward to our next trip!!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Goings on.

Lawd, but have we been busy at the Bradshaw house!

Right after we returned from Disney World, I started rehearsals for an annual benefit performance at New Stage Theatre. It is sooooo much fun every year. We all do a couple of solos and some fun group numbers, we eat a delicious dinner at the Fairview Inn, and we raise some money for a good cause! I've done it the past three years, and I love it! I keep hoping that no one will notice that I haven't actually performed in a production there since I got pregnant with Clay. (So far, so good!)

Hubs, little man and I also got the chance to celebrate St. Patrick's Day! We dress up and go downtown for the children's festival each year. This year, there were fair rides, a fun pet parade (Some people really go all out when they dress their pet up!), a clown, and a children's parade. We usually attend this festival and then get out of downtown before the real parade starts. Maybe next year, we'll actually stay for the big parade!

We also hosted Easter brunch at our house at the end of March. I made slow-scrambled eggs, bacon, a big fruit platter, blueberry muffins, and mimosas with pink champagne. We also had good white bread with raspberry butter and a big pot of coffee! Mom, dad, Laura, Caleb, and Matthew all came over, and it was so nice to visit and relax! It was the perfect make-up to our traditional Chinese New Year dinner (which we missed while we were at Disney World).

I also persuaded Laura and Caleb to run the Color Me Rad race with me at the end of March. It's a quick 5K, but they toss colored cornstarch at you at certain points throughout the route. You wear white to the race, and by the end, you're tie-dyed! We had sooooo much fun doing this! There is a similar event, The Color Run, scheduled for Jackson in July. If you're thinking about signing up, I recommend it! It's a fun morning!

So. Many. Books!

I have been reading a lot lately. A few thoughts on the volumes I've perused:

1.) Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Ok, this book is not easy to read. At all. In fact, there were times I had to close it and take a break. But it is an amazing story and amazing writing. The book is about Esch, a young black girl in Louisiana, and her family. Her mother is dead, her father's a drunk, and she and her three brothers do what they can to survive. As reports of Hurricane Katrina come in from the Gulf, the children try to stock food and get ready, but they are wholly unprepared for the disaster that's about to strike.

This book teaches so much about poverty - the cycles that families get into and can't seem to break out of; the poor choices that have spiraling consequences, sometimes ruining lives forever; the hopelessness; the small and seemingly inconsequential things that become valued. I think the reason I found this book so difficult to read is because I know it's true. And these people are not in some far-off third-world country. They are right here, close, so close to me. This book is definitely worth reading.

2.) A Good American by Alex George. This was a loaner from a friend. The book tells the story of Meisenheimer family, German immigrants to America in the early 1900s. The novel traces the family's descendants to the present day, a headlong rush of sibling rivalries, music, and surprises. While I did think George exhibited a knack for characterization (He has strong descriptive talent.), I didn't find the story particularly engaging. And George has a habit of one-sentence foreshadowing that became tiresome by the book's end. It felt like a device, and a lazy/sloppy one at that. Skip this one.

3.) Bossypants by Tina Fey. Why, oh, WHY have I waited so long to read this book? Tina Fey is hilarious and sharp and my kindred spirit. I love her philosophies on women in the workplace, juggling the demands of everyday life, and parenthood. I love her funny stories about her father, her younger years, and her time at SNL. If you are one of the three people in America who haven't read this book, please do go out and get it. You won't regret spending a few hours with Fey, I promise!

4.) The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. This is a remarkable book. In it, young Julie, who lives in California, explains that as she is coming of age, a strange thing happens. The rotation of the Earth begins to slow. (Didn't expect THAT, did you?) At first, this phenomena just creates slightly longer days. But as the problem worsens, cataclysmic things begin to happen. Less daylight means that fewer crops grow, impacting food supply. The planet's gravitational force is impacted. Radiation from the sunlight becomes a more prevalent concern. What should be a sweet, tender novel about growing up becomes a sweet, tender novel about what happens when a young girl realizes she may never grow up at all.

I found this to be an innovative, creative novel that tells a very personal and fragile story against the backdrop of what could pass as a summer blockbuster disaster movie. Oddly enough, the juxtaposition works incredibly well. Recommended.

5.) Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. I've been wanting to see the movie based on this book, but I felt I couldn't do it before I read the novel. Now that I have read the book, I can't imagine the movie can be any better. This first-person novel is narrated by Pat Peoples. From the first page, we learn that Pat is in a mental institution, one that his mother is checking him out of. We know he's obsessed with getting back together with his estranged wife, Nikki, and that he's doing everything he can to convince her he's changed: he's working out, he's reading English lit, he's practicing "being kind instead of right."

Over the course of the novel, Pat meets Tiffany, a similarly disturbed woman who's lost her husband, Tommy (a cop), in a drunk driving accident. They both understand loss. Before he knows it, Pat is performing with Tiffany in a "Dance Away Depression" contest and remembering all the events he's blocked out for four years.

I loved this novel because it's hard not to fall in love with Pat. He is trying so hard, and he is so determined. He admits his faults. He wants to be a better man. He wants to make his mother happy. He wants some slice of normalcy back in his life. His persona really drives the entire novel. It was hard to put this book down, and I read it in about 2.5 hours. I loved it, and I think you will, too! (And now, I can watch the movie! Huzzah!)