2015 in Review (and Favorite Books)

It's time to sum up the year on Packing Lust! This is my fourth year doing this, and it's one of my favorite ways to get the big picture and remember the year as a whole. In 2015, we didn't travel outside of the U.S., however we certainly did some significant traveling and moving within the states. It was a family-focused year as we learned to parent and watch Bump thrive over the course of his first year of life. Our doggie, Jelly Bean, spent a few months living with my parents and then reunited with us in Washington, D.C. in October. At the end of the year we moved again (yes, just a couple days ago) and we're having fun in our new city.

Favorite Books

Of the dozens of books I read this year, my top three favorites were:

      1. Dying to Be Me -- A kind of spiritual-health memoir by Anita Moorjani about her near death experience and subsequent speedy healing from cancer. She shares her unusual experience in vivid and convincing detail and what she learned about the importance of living fearlessly and as true to her self as possible.

2. Me Before You: a Novel -- I've read two Jojo Moyes books and both placed one of their main characters in the type of ethical quandary that most of us will never have to experience. This one is about the relationship between a paralyzed man with a death wish and one of his caretakers. I loved the masterful storytelling and the way it helped me see the central question from several perspectives.

3. Life in Motion: an Unlikely Ballerina -- Misty Copeland's memoir reveals her journey to become the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre.  I loved the window into the life of an elite dancer driven by the pursuit of excellence. Most of us will never experience being a prodigy in anything; this books lets you share the excitement of being 14 and discovering that you are one of the world's most naturally talented ballerinas. I was also impressed with the storytelling; it manages to be a page-turner even though we already know the happy ending to the story. I laughed; I cried. At one point I had to put the book down and dance alone in the room just to express the triumph I shared with her. This book is for anyone who ever worked hard on a dream and had to overcome unexpected obstacles to achieve excellence.

By Month

January

Having had baby boy Bump in late November 2014, I was two things: A) tired and B) excited to maintain my writing habit and keep the creative juices flowing.

To help out with A) I featured a guest post on creating a digital vision board to inspire your travel dreams and B) I did a 7-day blogging challenge.

February

My only post for February was a 2014 year in review piece. I guess I was still sleep-deprived from those early months as a new parent.

March

This month I launched SimpleLivingToolkit.com where I help people to declutter and join the simple living movement. I kept getting advice to narrow down/focus what I do to help people with my business (it's so hard when I do a variety of things, both to help people and just to express my creativity) so this new website was my answer. Join other simple living enthusiasts by signing up here.

April

This month I felt that it was time to share what I'd learned about about two things. One: self-publishing. Two: keeping things simple (stuff-wise) when you have a baby. Check out the very shareable "Minimalist Baby" list.

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May

This month we took a romantic-foodie trip to Myrtle Beach while my parents took care of Bump. Fun and yummy. 2015-05-22 10.44.53Another fun outing was the Dance of the Spring Moon powwow.

Also this month I launched my "Start a Daily Writing Habit" email coaching series. It's awesome and a great way to kick start yourself if you want to write more in 2016.

June

I posted my first and only packing related piece this year in June. It's about how you pack differently when you become a mommy and how certain things are less glamorous than... I thought they would be. I also blogged about a couple trips I took to Charleston, South Carolina.

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July

We moved from Lumberton, NC, to Arlington, VA and I wrote about the ups and downs of big city life with a baby.

I reflected on how simple living lets me enjoy textures and details.

August

Though my book on habits to help you make money from your creativity is very behind schedule, I did work on it this year with additional research. I posted this month and later in the year when I found articles about creativity and about the changing landscape of making money as a creative.

Don't worry ; I didn't let the year go by without publishing. Prince Charming and I co-wrote a book called Simple Kitchen and published it this month to Amazon Kindle and Audible. It's a quick read you'll want to check out if you like keeping things simple in the kitchen without sacrificing the cooking experience.

After moving to the Washington, D.C. area last month, we enjoyed exploring our new city including a trip to Teddy Island.

At the end of the month, Bump (his nickname on the blog) turned 9 months old and we took photos in a park in our Rosslyn neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. I shot more people too.

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September

We explored the Washington, D.C. area. You know us; it was all about the food.

pickles Creative types may enjoy my notes on an interview that Elizabeth Gilbert gave in which she talked about fear and creativity and being a grown-up.

October

We moved within the D.C. metro area from Arlington, Virginia to the Columbia Heights area of Washington.

I traveled to Black Mountain, North Carolina, reuniting with a bunch of family on my mom's side to celebrate my grandmother's 80th's birthday.

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November

We enjoyed exploring our neighborhood of Washington (Columbia Heights) on foot and living car-free. On the blog, I wrote about a memory of a snow ball fight I had back in Palestine in 2013. Bump turned one this month and started walking just before he hit that milestone birthday.

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December

We moved to Los Angeles on the eve of Christmas Eve. Now, rather unexpectedly, but very happily, we're back in the city where Prince Charming and I met over five and a half years ago. I'm looking forward to what life in this city over the next year brings.

Union Market DC, a Foodie Oasis in a Forlorn Area

pickles Obviously, someone has a plan.

The renewed Union Market in DC is the beginning of a plan to revitalize the surrounding historic area, a thriving market for most of the 1900's, fallen since the 1980's into a state of sad dilapidation.

It's the sparkling, almost-trying-too-hard-to be-cool center of an area filled with falling down warehouses, their alleys perfumed with urine. The site, UnionMarketDC.com says the plan is that the area "surrounding the market will be a vibrant mix of retail, restaurants, hotel, entertainment, incubator space for new food concepts as well as retail and wholesale space."

It hasn't happened yet, though that didn't stop us from pushing the baby stroller through rather pedestrian-unfriendly streets to enjoy the delicious offerings of the restaurants and shops inside on two occasions  - once in August and once in September.

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All the beautiful food inspired a brief but shining period that had me baking bread daily for almost a week and enjoying it like this:

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That looks good. Maybe I'll bake bread today. It's been a while.

 

Teddy Island

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I love that we can be in a city that feels so urban with high rise buildings and a constant hum of activity, and then just a few minutes down the road feel like we are deep in the forest, complete with swamp bugs and a green canopy high above.  The green space I'm thinking of is Theodore Roosevelt Island, or Teddy Island as I now think of it, a memorial to our 26th president.

We visited on Saturday. A kind stranger took the top shot of our family gathered at the feet of the impressive statue of Teddy in an energetic pose, almost like he's dunking a basketball. Or preparing to kick a tourist.

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4 on the shoulders of giants

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The memorial area around the statue has these stone structures with quotes from Teddy on topics like MANHOOD, NATURE, and YOUTH.

 

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Crossing the Potomac via a pedestrian bridge on the way off the island, we paused to take more family photos.

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Two Charleston Trips

Charleston (37) There was a little flurry of road trips about 7-8 months ago, before Bump arrived, and one of them was to Charleston, SC.  It was a quick trip. We saw my sister-in-law and niece, and we took one of the carriage tours that the city is famous for. We admired the old fancy homes, took a quick water-view selfie, and ate a beautiful meal.2014-11-08 16.59.09

Having been raised mostly in the South, I am used to the strong connection to Civil War history places like Charleston have, including the display of the Confederate flag and monuments to fallen Confederate soldiers. However, Charming, a California boy at heart, found it strange to be surrounded by what he was educated to view as "symbols of slavery and prejudice."   I tried to explain to him that most Southerners feel a deep connection to a complex and painful history, including the Civil War, but it doesn't mean they don't condemn slavery and racism.

Seven months later, I found myself back in Charleston. This was last weekend and the city was reeling in shock and grief from the murder of nine of its African-American citizens who were killed in cold blood by a maniac who explained his actions by saying he wanted to start a race war.

In the aftermath three days ago, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the State House building in Columbia, South Carolina, saying it was a "deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past." Hopefully this act will help create a more inclusive, unified state that can heal from the racially motivated act of violence that rocked the state and the country.

During this recent weekend trip, signs hung all around the city, declaring unity and thoughts of sympathy to the families of the slain and the church they belonged to. The photo at the top of this post shows one of those signs, displayed in the city market and signed by passersby.

I was there with three college friends to celebrate our 30th birthdays, which we did mostly by talking, relaxing by pool and beach, and by going out for fish tacos.

June 19 weekend in Charleston 30ish Bdays (2)

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After tacos Saturday night, we walked next door to an outdoor art showing we'd passed by earlier in the day. The large, graffitti-inspired murals had been a backdrop for an inclusive community event earlier that was open to the public. We arrived after the event closed, but walked around the outdoor area to one of the murals that was lit with votive candles lined up under it.

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We held hands and said a prayer for Charleston as dusk deepened. A fellow latecomer arrived to the art event on a bicycle and offered to take a group photo for us.

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This second Charleston trip was just as beautiful as the first, but marked by a turning point that will hopefully bring good out of evil for the city.

 

30 Hours in Myrtle Beach

Sunrise in Myrtle Beach Prince Charming and I picked a weeknight earlier this month and went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for two days and a night.

We said goodbye to Bump...

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... who was in good hands with my mom caring for him, then escaped for some much needed couple time.

In Lumberton, NC (where we are now),  if you say "I'm going to the beach" without further elaboration its assumed you are going to Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach is about a two hour drive (or less if you have a lead foot) from Lumberton. It's a kind of Atlantic City of the South without the gambling. The family-friendly getaway is populated with an abundance of mini golf courses, water parks,  and theaters.  Everything is given a fun theme, including most restaurants, all mini golf, and most theater productions (Medieval Times, pirates, etc). And then of course, there's the beach where you can relax between thematic experiences.

It was a fun little romantic getaway. We stayed in an AirBnB condo on the 11th floor of an oceanfront building and woke up to the beautiful sunrise in the top photo. We took sleepy selfies:

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The night before we'd gone to see the The Carolina Opry, a musical variety show at the Calvin Gilmore Theater. A lot of the music was country-western type stuff I wasn't familiar with, but there were also some great covers, including a thrilling rendition of Dolly Parton's made-famous-by-Whitney-Houston I Will Always Love You. We also laughed that the ubiquitous "Let it Go" from Frozen somehow made it into the show as well.

Hungry after sitting in the theater for a couple hours, we made a pit stop at a hole-in-the wall pizza joint. A total gamble that paid off with some of the best pizza I've ever had. Check it out if you're craving pizza in Myrtle Beach. It's in this strip mall:2015-05-21 22.25.46

It's called New York Pizza. Trip Advisor displays love-it-or-hate-it reviews. Maybe they have off-nights. The couple that owns it is Lebanese, so Prince Charming chatted with them about his visit to Lebanon when we lived in the Middle East. I begged for the secret to the pizza, but they wouldn't reveal it, although there were some hints about fresh garlic, thyme, oregano, and how it's all in the crust.

Charming's favorite food experience during the trip was a fried oyster sandwich he had at Noizy Oyster. I was raving equally about my dish of raw oysters there.

For a delicious brunch the next morning we went to Johnny D's Waffles and Bakery where we had eggs Benedict, a large fruit plate, and some sort of banana coconut waffle the server described as "so heavy it kind of condenses on itself." Yeah.

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I don't usually care what a restaurant looks like as long as the food is good and it's not too loud to have a conversation, but Johnny D's interior added icing on the waffle with charming hand-painted seascape murals on each wall.

I ate a lot since that morning we'd woken up early with the aforementioned sunrise and I'd gone for a run on the beach. Charming got a picture of the end of my run as I'm looking for him on our 11th floor balcony.

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It was fun to show Charming around Myrtle Beach, a place I've visited many times growing up Lumberton, but that he'd never been to.

Dance of the Spring Moon

1dance Prince Charming, Bump and I visited our first powwow as a family on May 3, which, not coincidentally, was a full moon.

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The Dance of the Spring Moon is a well-known event hosted by the Lumbee Tribe here in the Robeson County, NC area. In an article about the powwow in the local paper, The Robesonian, an attendee said that he heard that this event was well known in the Native American community for having the best drummers.

The annual Spring event would be a great one for visitors to the area to attend any year. The environment is friendly and educational and all are welcome to enjoy the atmosphere and learn about the various ceremonial dances and traditions of the Native American Tribes who attend.

Here you can see the Jingle Dress worn for the Women's Jingle, a dance originating among the tribes of Canada, according to the program.

Where We Are Now and The Birth of Our Son

A road race in downtown Lumberton, NC.

Where In the World Are We?

We are currently staying in Lumberton, a small town in southeast North Carolina where my family lives, and where we chose to have our first baby.

The Ecstatic Birth of Our Son

The birth of our son was an incredible experience at the local hospital. We had competent and caring healthcare providers, including a nurse who told us she was leaving her job soon and wished our birth could've been her last because it was so touching.

Prince Charming held me in his arms for the ecstatic final moments (or was it hours?) of my 15 hour overnight labor. He skipped the lavish Thanksgiving feast (that he helped cook) to be there for every moment. I rewarded him by hitting him (apparently, although I have no recollection of that) when he came too close to me with breath smelling of powder-cheese snack crackers.

Magic and Romance

Parenthood has been magical. Our little boy is so deliciously perfect he's almost edible. We delight in snuggling with him and kissing his chubby cheeks. I give him new nicknames every hour. Charming likes to discuss solutions to world hunger and poverty with him.
New parenthood has also been hard. Hard, as in, sleepless and grumpy. The romance has taken a predictable hit. You know things are bad when, asked what he would like for his birthday, your husband says "just be nice to me."
Please keep in mind my sleep-deprived and cranky state as I describe our current location.

Lumberton, The Ugly

Located in Robeson County, NC, Lumberton is known for its violence, drug-trafficking, and obesity.
Parts of the county are considered a food desert. It's franchise fast-food for as far a the eye can see. And the eye can see far, as the land is flat here in this part of the state. My high school cross-country team would go to the man-made byway overpasses to do hill training.
There are no independent coffee shops or bookstores. Two recently opened businesses include a drive-through Starbucks and a large, almost warehouse-sized sex shop.

Lumberton, The Love

There are some things to love about Lumberton. Most importantly, my family is here, and they are immensely loveable.
It's got that slow-paced, small-town friendliness. We were standing in line at the post office, asking the attendant a question about the location of some government offices she didn't know the answer to. Three people in line behind us volunteered answers and other helpful tidbits.
People here are kind, friendly, hospitable, and truly caring. They have time for each other. There isn't much elitism, and, with a population evenly divided into four main ethnicities, the racism is, at least, a fair fight.
The town is also known for its extensive healthcare facilities. It's marketed to retired couples who make use of the healthcare facilities and enjoy relatively low-cost housing.
The landscape can be beautiful, especially if you enjoy lush fields of soft white cotton buds, lanky pines, and tastefully dilapidated tobacco barns. The Lumber River hides secrets in tea-colored water that languidly flows around knobby Cyprus knees.
The weather is mild in the winter. Air conditioning is plentiful in the summer.
The Lumbee Indian tribe here has a compelling history worth reading up on. The local, incomprehensible, deep-country dialect of English has a lilting musicality.
Lumberton isn't a place I would likely choose to spend much time in if my family wasn't here.  Sometimes it feels like I have a love-hate relationship with Lumberton. But the truth is, a place is really all about its people. And if that's the true, then Lumberton is a place to love.

My Brother's Wedding & Back to Palestine

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It's always a challenge getting back to our little slice of heaven in Palestine. Last time my taxi home from the airport broke down, forcing me to hang out on the side of the highway for an hour while a replacement came.

This time, our first flight was late, meaning our entire trip became delayed by almost 24 hours. Then upon our arrival in Tel Aviv, we discovered that the airline lost all three of our checked bags (one was filled with books donated to a local library, but yes, we still traveled with a rather un-minimalist amount of stuff).  After filing an incident baggage, we jumped in the special cab reserved for us (not one in the regular queue, which can only travel within Israel) . After a trip free of engine problems, we finally arrived home.

Home to our garden gate, that is. Morgan, our neighbor, rushed out to meet us at the entrance, explaining that we couldn't go into our house yet and it would be best to wait in the cafe for ten minutes or so.

Apparently, the bees, who live in a hive on the roof, had escaped. A swarm of them was filling the hallway

entrance to our apartment, thereby blocking our entry.  Exhausted from our voyage, we just had to laugh. We waited ten minutes, and then gingerly stepped our way through the remaining cloud of confused, tired bees to our apartment. It was wonderful to be home and great to see Jelly Bean.

The last leg of our USA trip included my brother's beautiful wedding and then a trip to the family cottage at Holden Beach.

I practiced my photography a lot at the wedding, snapping some portraits with Prince Charming's 50mm lens.

NOTE: These photos are in a very small size because the internet is very, very slow right now, which means each photo is taking several minutes to upload. I will wait as long as it takes to upload my favorite photo from the wedding in a larger size, so when you see the bigger photo, you know that's my favorite.

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I also handed over the camera for this shot.
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Then I stepped back to get the bigger picture, ending with the late, late Chinese lantern send-off attended by partygoers who had more stamina than I.
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I took these from the balcony of the B&B on the farm where the wedding and festivities were held.
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East Coast USA Travels

I'm traveling with a newly purchased MacBook Air, and bloggish things are taking me twice as long to figure out as I learn how to use this little shiny new machine. Though I almost threw this computer out the window last night, today I managed to upload some photos of our East Coast extravaganza. I'll put them in rough chronological order here.We landed in Raleigh, and started off with a quick visit with former roomie Julie, husband Brandon, and their already-a-heartbreaker handsome little guy, Ezra.

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This trip is bookended by two family weddings. One has already happened, and the second happens this weekend. Here's the first happy, glowing couple.
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Next was a jaunt to DC where we got to hang with Natalie, whose peaceful spirit could singlehandedly keep rockets from firing all over the globe.
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Prince Charming got to live the dream of being an astronaut at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, if living the dream means standing in front of a mural.
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Natalie and her partner showed us lots of...
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In the form of hospitality and grass-fed half and half  (and other goodies).
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Then it was on to Maine, where we are now. Currently feeling very happy in the care of Charming's charming parents.
And getting lots of love in the form of food, like this fresh baked artisanal bread.
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Finally I know what a lobster roll is.
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And a Maine sunset.
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I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that I failed in the packing light department for this trip. My goal was to bring the things I needed to feel stylish at two weddings and tromping through Maine and partying in D.C. Well, I brought too much. Learn from what I say, not what I do! I don't have a picture of it, but my bag is so heavy I almost fell over when I last wore it as a back pack. If you go to my Pinterest packingboard, you can see the packing goal for this trip, as well as a pin for what I packed. I went one dress and two shirts over that goal, and then I bought several clothing items. I have been jettisoning a few things along the way, but I could have thrived with far less. However, I'm enjoying having the variety on this rather long trip, so it's not all bad.  Hopefully my back will survive the heavy bag.

Racing Across America

The sun was high in the sky yet, and a beautiful Arizona afternoon blazed around us. The Tuuvi Travel Center in Tuba City was a large, clean, busy gas station, café, and convenience store emblazoned with various Native American themed posters. I had just stocked up on peach rings, peppermint M&M's and lethally spicy Corn Nuts. And some Pepto Bismol for my stomach, which was starting to hurt after a few days of road food. The Race Across America (RAAM) had been everything I expected - challenging, fun, and emotional. And for the racer I was crewing for, my mom, it had been those things to a degree I probably couldn't quite comprehend. She'd had a hard couple of days in the desert, and now had gotten her nutrition right, and was feeling good.
1372749148The media team and I set off, feeling like we were getting good at the pattern of what the race held for us: sleep, wake, catch up with Maria, take videos, photos and get interviews, then race ahead and find a motel with WiFi so we could update Facebook, write press releases, and send out emails about the race.

But we immediately got stopped in traffic behind an RV outside of Tuba City. I could see that the RV was a support vehicle for  a fellow RAAM racer, and when I saw some of the  crew for that racer get out of the vehicle, I decided to go investigate. There had been an accident, the crew told me in their German accents.

They asked me to call 911, so I did. They said "one injured." I glanced up the road and saw a Native American woman sitting in the middle of the road with glass all around her. The German crew members were trying to attend to her as best they could.

I ran back to the media car to give the 911 operator directions about where we were, and then I ran back to the scene of the accident. It was only then that I saw, up ahead on the road, our team's follow vehicle, with the bicycles on the rear smashed in, and our crew sitting on the side of the road.

We'd been hit.

5259289_origI ran up to our follow van, and immediately saw that my mom was safe, and our crew was okay. My brother Will had blood running down his arm and leg, and had a swelling spot on his head, but he was smiling and joking.

My heart soared with gratitude.  My family and team was okay.

The driver who'd hit us was okay too.  Onlookers speculated that she was in shock from the inflation of the airbag, but that other than that, there were no major injuries. I speculate that she may have been drunk or high, because the driving conditions that day were nearly perfect. The sun was behind her, still high in the sky, the road clear and straight. The follow vehicle was plastered at every angle with  warning signs and flashing lights. She told the police she'd been texting right before hitting the van.

Our crew chief immediately called RAAM officials to pull us out of the race, despite my mom's desire to keep racing, and over my protests to wait until morning to make a decision. I knew it was a long race. I knew we had many supporters willing to meet us anywhere, and send us anything. I knew that the middle of the road, with glass and bike parts scattered all around, and three crew members with bleeding wounds, was not a good place to make a clear-headed decision. But our crew chief made the decision, and we gathered as a team, supporting this decision.

Still, as we all sat, dazed, in a hotel lobby discussing where we would sleep and what the next steps were, my heart was heavy. I felt alone in my optimism that we could continue the race.  Everything I believed about rising above obstacles, about continuing despite setbacks, about persistence and heart and fighting it out, Rocky style, was failing. One distracted driver, and the race was already over.  I couldn't believe everyone was willing to give up so easily.  Maria would later say, "What message would we be sending to cancer patients if we quit? What would we be saying to cancer researchers?" I couldn't believe we were letting down brain cancer patients in hospitals all over the world.

During the 90-minute car ride back to Flagstaff with some crew members, I tried discussing the possibility of continuing the race. Each team member in turn stated the reasons they thought it was impossible or ill-advised to continue.

Little did I know that in less than 24 hours, those same team members would be rallying around Maria as she got back on the race course and began to outpace all the competition. They'd figure out creative solutions to all the problems that had loomed so large the night before.

In the morning, Maria hosted a listening session, where each crew member got up and spoke about their ideas for what the cause, 3000 Miles to a Cure, would now look like and their part in it.

Earlier that morning, Maria had been brainstorming with various team members at home and on the road. She wanted to keep going, somehow, even though she knew she was out of the race. She decided that somehow, she'd cycle 3000 miles, even if it took longer than the allotted race time.

After the morning session, several of the most traumatized crew members, including our crew chief, decided to go home. Everyone else said "I'm in," and we talked about what Maria's ride would look like now that it wasn't a race.

Meanwhile, mom, my dad, Jim, and our new crew chief Ted took mom to the junk lot where they tried to salvage tools and equipment from the totaled follow van.  The plan was to drive Maria up the road, past the dangerous stretch where we'd been in the accident. She'd make up the distance later.

But then Maria said "I want to start where we stopped."

And she did. One quick call to race officials, and she was suddenly back in the race.

The media team and took on additional crew duties, so that we were not only documenting what happened, but we were helping Maria race.  The remaining days of the race blur together in a haze of anxiety, adrenaline, and fast food. At night, I awoke to the sound of her keen moans as the pain shooting through her body briefly interrupted her alotted three hours of sleep.

There was also the extreme joy of seeing supporters, many of whom had driven and waited for hours, cheer for her from the side of the road. There were so many kind strangers on the route. My heart overflows thinking about all the people who lost sleep, who baked on the side of a hot road, who gave money to the cause and food and shelter to us.

In the year that this blog has been in existence, I have never skipped a scheduled publishing day.  That is until two weeks ago, when, in the above-mentioned blur, I forgot to post. I hope this heavy-duty post makes up for it.

The sweetest moment  during RAAM was when mom came into the Shell Gas station that marked the end of the her official race. She had almost given up, but that didn't matter. What mattered was she kept going, pushing one pedal down, and then the other. Until she made it.

238454_origMy sister and I got her ready for her parade finish - the last four miles of easy riding to the FINISH canopy by the dock in Annapolis, Maryland. Oh the joy.
494645_origUnbelievably, despite a 24-hour setback, she won overall Women's Champion. She also won Rookie of the Year, the Trane Unstoppable Award, and Queen of the Prairies.
1810021_origI'm so proud of her, and proud of the money we raised for brain cancer research. If you've been following this blog for a while, you know where you can donate and learn more.

I'm so grateful to every member of the team. Each person added something important. Those cheering from home added more than they know. Facebook comments got my mom up those last few big hills in West Virginia and Maryland. I talked to her and read to her through her headset system, so I know that she almost gave up many times. Hearing from the people cheering for her all over the world is what kept her going.

To my mom:  I'm so proud of you for choosing to do something so challenging, for continuing despite setbacks, and for winning the race even when there were people who thought you couldn't do it. You showed the world what heart looks like. I know you didn't do it for the glory; you did it for your sister Jenny, and for cancer patients all over the world. RAAM official media commentators said you had the "heart of a lion" and that yours was a "Cinderella story." It's not always easy being a lion-hearted Cinderella, but you pull it off beautifully. I love you Mom. 

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Seriously, Why Isn't This a Bigger Deal?

I want to know: why is the Tour de France such a big deal in the cycling community and among sports fans all over the world, but the Race Across America is relatively unknown to the general global public?

Named by more than one media outlet as the the toughest sporting event in the world, Race Across America (RAAM) is one thousand miles longer than the Tour de France.

It's completed non-stop, with minimum breaks. It's generally completed in half the time.

Just like the in Tour de France, racers push themselves to their limits, but unlike the Tour, they aren't allowed to draft (ride behind each other) and there are no regulations on when they must stop and sleep.

It's an event that can savage an athlete like no other.

And my mommy is competing this year. Tomorrow I'll be flying from Tel Aviv to Fayetteville, NC, and from Fayetteville to Oceanside, CA after that.

There's bound to be drama, emotion, exhaustion, elation, and instagram photos of the three thousand mile bicycle ride across the country. I'll be there, crewing as part of the 3000 miles to a cure team for my mom, Maria Parker.

Part of my role is to help update the race fans all over the world, so I will make sure you get updates. However, I won't be updating Packing Lust for another two weeks (Charming might, but we aren't sure yet).

Therefore, please SIGN UP for race updates here if you want to hear about the highs and lows of the race. It's going to be the experience of a lifetime for Maria and the crew.

Here's Maria talking about her secret weapon - her Vendetta Cruzbike.

Along with crewing for the race, a small documentary film team and I will be shooting footage to continue the documentary begun by DAAM (Drive Across America) which you can see here:

In the above DAAM video, you'll meet Charlie and Tim, my wonderful cousins whose mom, my Aunt Jenny, was diagnosed with brain cancer.  I think they did an incredible job with the DAAM footage. They created amazingly clever, funny, and musical videos on their trip all across the country, which they recently completed to raise awareness for 3000 Miles to a Cure.

Sun and Snow

I'll be flying back to Israel tomorrow, so I'm posting a day early and with a short and sweet self-congratulatory weather post.I returned from visiting family in Florida on Saturday. Florida (the Melbourne area) was warm, sunny, and beautiful. My aunt treated me to a massage and a trip to a hair salon. Thanks Aunt Kelly! Mostly, I just had a wonderful time visiting with my grandparents and aunt and uncle, walking on the beach, and sipping green smoothies poolside on the lanai.
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Meanwhile, back in Ramallah, poor Prince Charming was stuck at home while it looked like this outside.
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Before we moved to the area, we heard that it almost never snows there. Well, apparently this is one of the worst winters to hit in a long time. There was also a windstorm so strong it blew out windows in Charming's office building.  That's what I'm headed back to tomorrow.  It's going to be a lot different than:
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But of course it's all worth it to be reunited with my man. By the time most of you read this, I'll be in the air, so send some good thoughts my way for smooth and worry-free travels. The trip will involve: 1 rental car,  three airplanes, a bus or two, and either a taxi or company car depending on what's available for Charming to pick me up in.Drop a line in the comments below to tell me about the weather in your part of the world. It seems like it's unusual in a lot of places right now.

How I Spent My Holidays

And, we're back. Welcome to a new year! I hope you all had a great holiday season. Truth be told, I'm still on my vacation and spending time with family in North Carolina. I guess it's really time to get back into the swing of things, and there's a lot to blog about after a two week hiatus. I'll keep it light, sharing a few photographed high points with y'all, babydolls. (I'm in North Carolina visiting Aunt Jenny and family, and loving how Aunt Jenny calls everybody babydoll.)The story starts back in the Holy Land, where we made a jaunt out to Bethlehem to soak up the atmosphere of Manger Square on Christmas Eve. (I drove and we got into two collisions, both of which may have been my fault, but I was saved by a refugee camp tribal elder who witnessed what happened and kept me and Charming from being word-lashed or chain-whipped by an angry cab driver. Later I accidentally pinched a child's finger in my window as I was rolling it up while he was trying to beg for money from us. Parentheses mean I'm keeping it light, right?)Once we finally made it to Manger Square, I enjoyed strolling around, smelling the corn and candy vendors and sipping hot chocolate with our young friends (the kids of one Charming's co-workers that we are friends with).

Manger Square, Christmas Eve 2012

Especially delightful were the row of large Nativity displays, all in unique styles. This one had a glowing, realistic-looking "fire-pit" lightbulb. It was quite large - the whole display was as tall as me.
6772491_orig And it wouldn't be the Middle East without a Santa playing soccer.
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Back in the summer when I first visited Bethlehem, I was struck by the carved olive-wood Nativity scenes that included a modern piece in addition to the standard holy family, shepherds,  angels, and wise men: a security wall.
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The wall is still being built around Bethlehem, slowing cutting them off from the tourist trade that keeps the economy alive.Charming's birthday was just a couple days later. We went to Tel Aviv, which is always a haven of sane driving, good food, and often, good weather compared to the West Bank. We drank beer at a bar that was practically on the beach.We found a cafe we went to lunch to, and then later for dessert. They sang Happy Birthday to Charming in English.This cafe served me one of the most beautiful Chai Lattes I've ever seen, and a tofu sandwich that was stunningly delicious and filling.

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Later, I climbed a modern, artistic rope jungle gym that gave me a great view of the sea at sunset.
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Then I got on an airplane, leaving Charming behind (he had work to do) and went to North Carolina for a  friends and family visit and to enjoy the ease of life in America.  I started off meeting my friend Julie's firstborn.  It's so crazy when a human being goes from being in someone's body...
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...to outside and interacting with this crazy world. It was so fun to see their perfect baby look around and smile. It gives me such a great hope to know that his parents will love him with everything they've got as he grows up and experiences more of the world. Charming and I see a lot of kids who from a young age work between the tires, darting in and out of moving traffic as they hope to beg a few shekels from each car. Julie's baby will never have to do that, and that makes me so glad.
After a few days with the old college friends, it was down to Lumberton, where family members looked rather smashing in the Kafiyas I bought them at the factory in Hebron.
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Lots of cuddly time with Binks the family dog, who my sister calls a "living teddy bear."
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My wonderful cousin got engaged to his beautiful girlfriend back in November, so they let me take a quick engagement photo session. It was rainy and I didn't adjust the camera settings correctly, but a few of the shots turned out. This one's my favorite:
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And that about brings us up to the present. Lots of good family time, and right now that means lots of time thinking about 3000 Miles to the Cure, which is my mom's main focus right now. Today we are in Charlotte visiting the Mulligans and were just brainstorming to help mom write a speech she'll be making in the near future about her bicycle race across the U.S.

My beautiful momma

In case you missed what my beautiful mom is doing, you can read this post, or just go straight to theFacebook page or the donate page if you've been meaning to donate five dollars for brain cancer research.Next stop, sunny Florida for a few days with Aunt Kelly and Uncle Mark and my grandparents, then back to Lumberton quickly and finally back to my Charming who I already miss too much.Happy 2013!

There is No Cure

At my pre-wedding ladies brunch back in May in North Carolina, I was surrounded by loving family, friends, and neighbors. I was touched at how many people came to Lumberton for the wedding - even most of my mom's big family, including her best-friend-sister, my beautiful Aunt Jenny. Aunt Jenny came to the brunch with all the other women, but she looked like she was in pain.She wrinkled her brow as she looked at me and said "you look beautiful, honey." I could see that her eyes were a combination of glassy and glossy from pain and perhaps tears. I asked her if she was okay and she said she wasn't feeling good, that she had a terrible headache.The headaches she experienced that wedding weekend were the first of a series of telling headaches that eventually led to a diagnosis of  stage IV Glioblastoma Multiforme, the most aggressive and malignant type of brain tumor. Currently, there is no cure. Mom and Aunt Jenny (in pink).

This is a "worst nightmare" sort of situation for Aunt Jenny, her husband Ray, her children Charlie, Ethan, Timothy, Grace, and Joe, and all of those who love her.  Yet she and her family are handling it with the knowledge of being loved that is the only way they can find grace for each moment.My mom, Maria Parker, happens to be a world record holding cyclist, and she has a HUGE new goal.She's going to raise one million dollars for brain cancer research. Before you balk, I should tell you that my mom's world records are in ultra-distance cycling. She holds the women's world record for biking the most miles in 24 hours. She does not give up and she has stamina and persistence.
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I love my mom so much, and she inspires me with her passion, her warmth, her loud laugh, and her kindness. In addition to being an endurance athlete, she is a counselor and Life Coach.  If you met her, you'd probably tell her all of your problems, she'd give you some down-to-earth advice, and you'd feel totally loved.  She seems to radiate pure love, and as someone who knows her very well, I can tell you that's the real her. It's authentic love all the way down. She's a leader worth following on this long path to raise a million dollars for brain cancer research.

Me and my mom before my wedding.

She's going to raise this money via a very Packing Lust worthy event: a Race Across America. Yes, she's going to cycle across the entire U.S.A. in June 2013. I'm going to crew, so I'll make sure you know all about it as we travel from state to state, following my mom on her bicycle.Remember how I said there's no cure? It's true. Aunt Jenny will leave this life and go on to the next unless God steps in. Another word for God? The best part of you. The Love part. God is Love, and with the love in each of us, we can do this. We can change the outcome for future brain cancer victims by sharing the story of Jenny and Maria, and funding brain cancer research.  If 200,000 people give only $5 each, we'll meet our goal.Would you be willing to give $5 to brain cancer research today?And if you like this challenge, "like" it on Facebook.

With huge warm thanks,

Genevieve