Sunday, August 25, 2013

Julie's Victory Lap

Part 5:  Graduation!

     As with most of the Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Washington, AHC's commencement takes place at the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America, The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  A beautiful and appropriate place to celebrate the 145th class of LOTAs, this Basilica is built on the
grounds of the Catholic University of America.

  The evening before graduation, Holy Cross families gathered for the Baccalaureate Mass held at Holy Redeemer Church in Kensington.  It was a beautiful celebration of faith and included a presentation of symbolic gifts by members of the class. From a class portrait to sports equipment, the foot of the altar was covered.  Julie presented a candle alongside two other LOTAs, symbolizing the light of knowledge.  Why knowledge?

   It had been revealed to us a few days prior to graduation that Julie had been selected with two other students, to be Salutatorian.  An honor and a privilege,
Julie enjoyed graduation even differently than expected.  Along with this title, Julie was able to take part by beginning the commencement with the opening prayer.  She was later honored at the altar with a commemorative glass plaque!

     The graduation ceremony itself was one for our record books.  It featured the emotional procession of the ladies in white caps and gowns.  There were several musical pieces performed and the class of 1963, within which is a graduate whom we all know and love, Sister Sharon Ann Mihm CSC - the Catholic School Principal who gave me my start teaching Kindergarten at Immaculata Catholic School in Durham North Carolina many years ago.  Sister Sharon is a Holy Cross Sister and has been a Principal for a number of
years in Montgomery County.  This was a wonderful surprise for all of us, on a day that was full of surprises!

   In the proud presence of Julie's Grandparents, Parents, and Lisa and Peter, Julie received an award that for us was the true capstone of her time at Holy Cross:  The Cardinal James Hickey Award. It's description and the reason she received it is stated as follows:

     The Cardinal Hickey Award is given in recognition of one’s
personal efforts to live the Catholic faith through its teachings and principles.
     The 2013 Cardinal Hickey Award recipient, Juliana Desiree Balla, has an impressive record of dedication to volunteer service, having used her time and talents to serve many different constituencies. Juliana has maintained an impressive academic record for the past four years and is an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme candidate. She is a member of both the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. Most notably, she has also been a four-year member of the Academy’s Honor Board including serving as President. Juliana also shares her talents with the school community through her involvement with the Performing Arts Department and she has served as Treasurer of the International Thespian Society.
     However, it is her dedication to community services that makes Juliana extraordinary. She recently received the Sancta Crux Award for Christian Service Commitment by performing over 350 hours of community service. Much of this work has taken place in China where she has traveled with her family every summer since eighth grade.
     She lives true to the mission of The Academy of the Holy Cross as a woman of courage, compassion and scholarship. Undoubtedly, she will bring her kindness and determination as she joins the Class of 2017 at the University of Southern California where she has received the University Scholarship.

     There are really no words, except, "Congratulations, Julie, we are so proud of you!


Julie's Victory Lap                        

Part 4: Honors and Awards

     As the AHC seniors' final year was drawing to a close, it was time to take a look at all of the LOTA's accomplishments.  Holy Cross does a great job in honoring the work of its graduates through ceremonies that take the time to look back.
    The first of these was the IB Diploma pinning ceremony.  Julie was fortunate to enter Holy Cross as they became involved in the International Baccalaureate Program.  Having already participated In IB during eighth grade at BISS, she was very interested in becoming a diploma candidate.  The philosophy of IB is different than the mainstream program in that it is project-focused and reflective. 
The testing that occurs takes place after two years of intense study. 
An outside group evaluates the assessments to ultimately decide if a candidate has earned an IB diploma.  The IB pin indicates that the candidate has completed all of the requirements.

   Next was Senior Awards' Night. Celebrating the accomplishments of the AHC seniors at their own special gathering, Julie's list of honors outlasted her walk across the stage, eliciting a chuckle from the audience. The highlights included "The State of Maryland Merit
Scholastic Award," "The Awards of Academic Excellence in IB Theater HL2 and IB Environmental Systems SL,"  "High Academic Excellence," the Theology Department Award, and the Sancta Crux award for Christian Service Commitment, logging over 350 hours of Community Service.  Her memberships in the National Honor Society, International Thespian Society and Spanish Honor Society were also mentioned. 

   The grand finale' of the ceremony troika was the Fine Arts Award Gala.  Always a night to remember, this year's theme was reminiscent of the Academy Awards.  There was even a welcome
 surprise as the former Fine Arts Department Chair, Mr. Chanselle-Hary made an appearance with his family, fresh off the plane from their new home state of Nevada. Another great night, as Julie brought home the Senior Award for Theater!


Julie's Victory Lap
Part 3:  The Decision

While we knew that selecting a college could be tough for Julie (a bit tougher than a prom gown!), we had no idea that it would come down to four schools.  With May 1st fast approaching, it became evident that she was really struggling. Each option had huge benefits, and each was unique in its offerings.  In the end, though, the best choice for Julie was the University of Southern California!  In the fall she will start a new West Coast adventure as a Trojan!  With a beautiful campus, fantastic programs, and opportunities galore,  there is no doubt that her college years will be everything she is looking for at USC.

Fight on, Julie!


Julie's Victory Lap
Part 2:  Prom

    When Julie looks for a dress for a special occasion, it usually takes about ten minutes.  I have long given up planning major outings for this purpose.  Starting with her First Communion dress, which I thought would take the day and include lunch, the time spent was so short that it was still time for breakfast when we walked out of the shop.
     Last year was no different as Julie tried on two dresses and decided on the first selection.
    Since this year would be special because it was the Senior Prom, we decided that it would be fun to shop in Montreal for her gown.  We were going to be there anyway for our biennial trip to Marillion Weekend, so with a little research we found an entire shopping district that specialized in formal attire.
    So how many dresses did Julie try on that day?  Two.  The first one she picked out and tried on was the one she decided on.  She only tried on the second one because it seemed like she should.  After thumbing through the racks a bit more, it was a clear choice.  "Try it on once more to make sure," I suggested.  Ten minutes later we were outta' there and onto our next adventure.

     It was beautiful April evening and the "before Prom," Prom, and "after Prom" were all reportedly a "blast" so Julie and all of her friends had a great time.  Even Z made an appearance, enjoying time with his friends as well!


Julie's Victory Lap 
Part 1:  The Best Commute Ever

     For the last two years we have had a commute to school and work that has been second to none.  Because of the locations of Julie and Z's schools, Metro, and Blair High School, the four of us have developed a routine that starts each work day with family fun.
     Beginning with a usual stop at our neighborhood Dunkin Donuts (where they practically know our order), we next head down Beach Drive, one of the DC area's premiere thoroughfares.  Watching the seasons change and the ebb and flow of early daylight is always a highlight, as is the occasional appearance of wildlife.  Deer are an ever-present inhabitant and are both beautiful and dangerous at the same time.
     Commuting together has also given us a chance for Chinese Prayer Practice!  Working on the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet in Mandarin is a wonderful way to start the day. The family that prays together...
     Upon our arrival at the Academy, both Julie and Steve get out of the car.  This has often been a strange sight for people who don't know us well, especially when I drive away and leave Steve behind!  The Metro is just a short distance from AHC so he walks directly from there.  Next is Georgetown Prep, just two minutes away, and Z's point of departure.  Finally, off to the Beltway for me, which, at that time of day is more like a race than a traffic jam with everyone in a hurry to get to their destinations...including me!
     Oh, was that the warning bell? Two minutes to spare.



Friday, March 01, 2013

Happy Birthday, Z!



Friday, November 30, 2012

Kerry: In The Shadow of Rice's Firestorm

I was quoted today in an NPR report on the the politics of President Obama's possible choice of either UN Ambassador Susan Rice or Senator John Kerry as the next Secretary of State.

Going out on a limb, saying that it will be tough for a Republican to win a Senate seat in Massachusetts.  Master of the obvious!

Here's the original text, by Scott Neuman...

President Obama has yet to make known his choice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but plenty of Republicans have made theirs: John Kerry.

And that puts the Massachusetts senator and former Democratic presidential nominee in a bit of a bind. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he'd normally be one of the loudest voices defending U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice against GOP attacks that she mishandled her role in explaining an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. But she's the other top contender for the Cabinet post.

In September, as Republicans homed in on Rice for what she said in television interviews about the consulate attack, Kerry came to her defense, rebuffing calls that she resign and describing her as "a remarkable public servant."

But, two months is a long time in politics, and Kerry seems to be following the approved principle of parsimony for potential nominees — to say no more than is necessary.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Maine Sen. Susan Collins joined the chorus of Republicans supporting Kerry, whose selling point seems to be not only his impressive credentials, but also his likely ease of confirmation by the Senate.

"I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues," Collins said.

It is worth noting amid this developing love fest that having been the Democratic Party's presidential nominee also means that not so many years ago Kerry was the singular foe of the Republican Party. In a demonstration of how tight the collegiality of the Senate can be, Kerry's long and high-profile past is more easily forgiven than is the brief, disputed history of Rice.

Some commentators see an ulterior motive in the GOP support for Kerry: a vacant U.S. Senate seat with Scott Brown's name on it. The Republican was ousted in this month's election by Democrat Elizabeth Warren. But others are quick to point out that if Kerry doesn't get the secretary of state's job, he'll be a top contender for Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's job when he departs.

Either way, Kerry would leave that Senate seat wide open. Still, that might not be as dangerous a prospect as it sounds for Democrats, says Steven Balla, a political science professor at George Washington University.

"I don't know in this environment whether Republicans could win it," he says. "It was an interesting set of circumstances that led Scott Brown to be elected a few years back, but it strikes me that it would be a long shot for that to happen again."

Kerry may be keeping quiet in public, but behind closed doors is another matter, says James D. King, a professor of political science at the University of Wyoming.

The senator and his staff "are going to be letting the president's key advisers know of their interest and perhaps the president's advisers will be secretly trying out other options," King says.

"No president wants to come out and say, 'This is the person I want' and have that be declined," he says.

Rewind to 1993, when newly elected President Bill Clinton's nomination of Zoe Baird for attorney general went down in flames. Baird's chances were scuttled when it was learned that she'd hired illegal immigrants to work as a nanny and chauffeur.

While the White House has taken pains to defend Rice in what some interpret as a sign she's the one, there's been no official announcement to that effect. In contrast, Baird's nomination was "out there and it was clear that it was the president's choice," says King.

"In this case, we have controversy swirling around a potential nominee in which speculation is coming from everywhere but the White House," he says.

And that creates a problem of its own for President Obama, he says.

"If he delays, it just feeds the speculation about the appointment and whether she's going to get it and what this all might mean," King says. "It's a very odd situation and one that you don't see very often in presidential appointments."


Devastation Down The Jersey Bayshore

Over Thanksgiving, we made our first trek back up to Jersey since Superstorm Sandy.  While pictures of destroyed oceanfront boardwalks have made the rounds on the national news, we also came across lots of heartbreaking scenes while driving through some of the bayshore areas, places like Keyport.  These are places where we grew up eating and hanging out.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Growing Rhone

You might recall that, earlier this year, Z became the proud master of a bearded dragon.

Well, that little lizard fits in the palm of his hands no longer!  There he/she is (Still not clear on gender issues), providing Julie and Z some accompaniment as they work on their studies.

If only the folks at PetSmart didn't tell Desi that it is not a good idea to let Rhone eat the camelback crickets that populate our basement by the hundreds (thousands?)!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Over Thanksgiving, my family went to see the new movie, Lincoln, a movie which provoked a lot more thought about acting than I could have imagined. These are just some thoughts I had about the movie.

When I stepped out of the movie theater, I was in awe, but I wasn't sure exactly why. Immediately, I thought that it must have just been a stunning movie, like The King's Speech had made me react two years ago. But after a bit of reflecting, I found that what had truly impressed me wasn't the movie itself but different elements of it. In fact, I wasn't too crazy about the plot. While I learned a lot about Lincoln's final months and about the dynamics of government in the 1800s, I thought the focus on the Thirteenth Amendment was slightly too narrow for the complexity of the period. Also, several of the characters and side plots seemed underdeveloped, such as that of the Mary Todd Lincoln's chambermaid and Robert Lincoln.

That said, something still stuck with me. While I was watching the movie, I found that every other scene I was thinking I know that guy! Later I kept thinking about all of the famous actors who had crossed the screen and realized that this was what had stood out. Most movies contain one or two high-quality performances from dedicated and talented actors, but Lincoln had many more. I thought Sally Fields, David Strathairn, and especially Tommy Lee Jones were outstanding in each of their roles. And, of course, Daniel Day-Lewis' performance was legendary. From his voice to his mannerisms to his very distinctive walk, he was so deep in character that I could barely recognize the actor buried beneath. This is what I think makes him such an incredibly captivating actor. He leaves no traces of himself on the screen even when delivering long monologues or simply sitting in silence for long periods of time. He believes he is Abraham Lincoln and the audience does too.

Another element that impressed me was the cinematography of the movie. It's hard to create a look-alike for President Lincoln, a man whose face is well known and extremely distinguished. Day-Lewis did his part, but the camera work was essential to making the transformation occur. While making Lincoln seem taller than everyone else might not be too big a challenge, making Day-Lewis' face look exactly like Lincoln took much more. One of the main way this was done was through profile shots of Lincoln. In the dim light with exaggerated shadows falling on his face, Day-Lewis couldn't have looked more like Lincoln. While I might not understand all of the technical elements that went into making this possible, I do know that they were pulled off nearly flawlessly.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Endangered Species

The other day was a bad day to find out that Z has never had a Twinkie.  What kind of mother must I be to have never offered one of these beauties in his lunch box?  Due to Hostess' announcement of immediate closure, I knew that by early evening, it might be difficult to find a box. (Maybe in a few weeks on eBay!)  After mentioning this to Julie, her response was, as expected, "Let's go...I'll drive."

Julie, Z, and I loaded into the minivan and headed out on our quest.  As I thought, the first store was cleared out.  Despite choosing what I thought might be the most obscure grocery store in our area, the shelves were stripped, with only a lonely box or two of Ding Dongs which, given the name, were to stay right there on the shelf.

So what now?  With time running out (because of other evening commitments) we sped to CVS.  I waited outside as the kids ran in.  Success.  Not a full box, however, but a couple of packs, which will do just fine.

I'm guessing we'll eat a few and save the rest...forever.  Because everyone knows that Twinkies never decompose.  As a scientist, this may be my last opportunity to test this one out.

I hope they're as good as I remember. Hey Z, whatdaya think?


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Desi In The Backseat

With Julie driving now, this is a recurring visual in the Balla minivans.  This past weekend, Julie drove from her grandparents' home down to the Delaware rest stop, leaving me with the rest of the way back to Silver Spring.  It sure is nice having a third driver in the car!

Notice, by the way, Desi holding on with her left hand...


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Canal Quarters

For us, one of the more offbeat discoveries of the past several months has been the Canal Quarters program.

For years, we have been aficionados of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, biking and hiking its nearly two hundred miles, one section at a time.  In all this time, though, we never knew that there are several lock houses along the way, including the one in the attached photograph, that you can rent and stay in.

We gotta figure out a way to do this!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Academy Of The Holy Cross Homecoming 

Here was Julie and her date Greg Goulding before the Holy Cross homecoming this past weekend.


Shanshui In Our Home

One of our good friends in Beijing painted this piece for us, and we managed to get it home unscathed.  It is a traditional Chinese landscape (shanshui) that she copied from a classic painting (a retiree, she is now studying art).

It now occupies a place of honor at Casa Balla.


Monday, November 12, 2012


This was Z this past weekend as Sodapop in Georgetown Prep's production of The Outsiders.


White's Ferry

A really cool, really funky place, isn't it?

According to Wikipedia...

White's Ferry is a cable ferry service operating across the Potomac River. It is located six miles west of Poolesville, Maryland, and north of Leesburg, Virginia. It is the only ferry still operating on the Potomac River. The General Jubal A. Early carries cars, bicycles, and pedestrians between Maryland and Virginia.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Scenes Of The Beijing We Love

Until next time...


Friday, November 09, 2012

Check Out These Wheels

As seen winging around the streets in our little corner of Beijing...


Thursday, November 08, 2012

When We're Out On The Street

We just talk the way we wanna talk!

By her own admission, one of Desi's favorite little moments of the summer revolved around a standard-issue office chair.

For some weird reason, there was this rolly-chair, just sitting there in the middle of Zhongguancun Lu, the street where our apartment was located.  Now, mind you, Zhongguancun Lu is like the Rockville Pike of Beijing, a major thoroughfare with lots of shopping.  (It's known as the Silicon Valley of China for all of its electronics markets.)

This situation struck both Z and I as the perfect opportunity to kick back, chill out, and shoot the breeze for a few minutes.  Z manned the chair, while I leaned against the railing that separated the bike lane from the cars and buses.

All we needed was a Coke and a big bottle of Yanjing Pijiu!


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Does This Remind You Of Any Famous International Brand?

As snapped in the neighborhood where we have lived for the past two summers.  Refer back to my snarky rule of law comment from yesterday...