Postcard from Dubai

24 Mar

Meet the abra. Riding one of these boats just might be the most fun thing you can do in Dubai–but take that with a grain of salt, as I haven’t spent more than 20 hours in a stretch in the city and am the farthest thing from an expert on the place. Still, for the short time I was there, this topped my list of things I did.

To be honest, Dubai wasn’t on my list of places to visit in 2017–or ever. I’d never really considered going to the Middle East, but when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t resist.

I was fortunate enough to be selected to teach at the WFTDA Officiating Clinics in Australia this year. With a non-profit, we need to be pretty conscious of the money we spend on travel. Usually, I’d be flying some form of American/Qantas, which is generally pretty reasonable, but then I saw what Emirates had to offer: A much cheaper flight with long layovers in Dubai on each end of the trip. How much cheaper? A good $500, and that’s with adding a one-way ticket for intra-Australia travel. And I had one fewer flight on each end. And I didn’t have to travel through LAX, one of my least favorite airports spawning one of my least favorite flight paths, the coast-to-coast trip.

On top of that, getting to and from Australia took only two legs each way–two very long legs, but if you’re traveling six hours, you might as well be traveling 12. Both are long, but at least with a 12-hour flight, you’re in a huge plane, you definitely get fed, and you have a really good entertainment system.

While I did have 12+ hour flights, they were broken up by getting a day on either end to explore Dubai. Win-win!

Granted, I just scratched the surface of what Dubai has to offer, but I was seriously enchanted with the place. It’s like a conservative Las Vegas–massive architecture, some of which is gaudy;  obviously a lot of money in some places, but the old section of the city was less-than-opulent; and conservative attire, but everyone thought to follow those guidelines (guidebooks advised women to cover their shoulders and knees. I saw one woman wearing a top with cut-out shoulders. Really?).

Anyway, one of the things I did do–and could’ve done for hours–was to take an abra across the creek. The creeks separates Deira and Bur Dubai, both of which are old parts of the city, with tiny roads and souks. The easiest way to get across the creek is to hop on an abra, a small boat that holds maybe 15-20 people. There’s no set schedule for when they go–once one is full (which generally takes a few minutes), the driver collects everyone’s 1 dirham (about US 30 cents) and hops into a small pit in the middle of the boat and takes off.

Chugging down the creek in a tiny boat that’s spewing diesel fumes and pretty much has no safety measures might not sound relaxing, but I loved it. I liked casually hopping on board, sliding down the bench to make room for as many people as possible, and then taking off randomly. No fixed boat schedule? No worries! You’ll get there! Need to feel free? We don’t need rails on this boat!

For a city that offers a lot of manufactured swank, riding an abra felt really authentic. What a way to connect with a culture I hadn’t really experienced before. It’s interesting how a short boat ride really gave Dubai a heart that I hope to continue to explore some day.

 

 

Postcard from Victor Harbor

10 Mar

Ladies,

Let’s have a talk about childbirth. I’ve never been pregnant, so I don’t know what it’s like to put your body through pregnancy and childbirth. Nor do I have 24/7 hands-on knowledge of what it’s like to rear multiple children. So maybe I’m a little more wowed about what our kangaroo counterparts manage to do when it comes to reproducing, but perhaps you might be impressed as well.

The above picture is adorable, right? The classic roo with a joey in her pouch. So cute! Baby with mama, hanging out until it becomes an adult. But that’s only one-third of the story, as I learned from one of the keepers at Urimbirra Wildlife Park. Here’s the rest of the story:

When a female kangaroo is able to have children, she gets pregnant. She has the baby, and the baby (called a joey) hangs out in her pouch. It may leave and explore the greater world, but it’ll hop back in head-first, giving mom this lovely look:

 

For which joey won’t apologize until two decades later when on Kangaroo Mother’s Day, it sheepishly gives mom a “sorry I made you look like an alien” card.

Anyway, after it dives into the pouch, it’ll turn around at some point to be able to stick its head out and look cute (and make it easier to get out), even if it’s getting bigger and is more to lug around. While mom is carrying around joey #1, she gets pregnant with #2.

Joey #2 is born. Joey #1 gets pushed out of the pouch, and joey #2 takes up residence there. Joey #1 is still kind of a child though, so it’s also still feeding on mom. Meanwhile, mom gets pregnant again, so she’s got a bun in the oven, a joey in the pouch, and another on the teat.

When joey #3 comes along, it’s time for joey #1 to make its own way in the world, so no more teat for it. Joey #2 moves to the teat. Joey #3 gets the pouch. And mom becomes pregnant again.

This cycle continues for all of mom’s childbearing years. Yes, for the entire time you can bear children, you’re running this cycle of three at pretty much any given point in the year. [To be fair, I was so blown away by this that I didn’t even think to ask whether or not kangaroos can miscarry or if some are infertile, and believe you me, those questions are definitely on my mind now that I’ve processed the basics. If you have answers, I am all ears.]

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

The female kangaroo also possesses some magical superpowers that can determine whether or not its joey-in-the-oven is getting enough nutrients, and if there isn’t enough food or water around to allow for proper incubating, pregnancy will halt and remain in suspended animation until there’s food and water again. At that point, pregnancy resumes like nothing ever happened.

Did you get that? The female can put its pregnancy on hold. On hold! What if you were 20 weeks along, and suddenly there was a drought and you couldn’t get enough food or water? Would your body just turn off the pregnancy until it rained again? Would you want to have some suspended animation action all up in your uterus for who knows how long?

You let me know because right now, the kangaroo has earned my mother-of-the-year award for life.

Your pal,

Jill

 

Postcard from the Future

3 Mar

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“Shit! What day is it?” I’m panicked, thinking that it’s Friday and that I haven’t posted my weekly blog.

My buddy Seer informs me that it is Friday–at least here in Australia. I check my phone, and it tells me that back home, it’s still Thursday, so I’m safe. For what it’s worth, I’ve really been trying to stay on schedule with this blog, so keeping this Friday deadline is really important to me.

But it’s also kind of a relief to know that my deadline is safe. So hello from the future, dear Readers! I’m here to teach a couple of officiating clinics, and my Friday is consisting of finishing up lesson plans. Sure, I’m happy to be out of Boston’s weird winter weather and lounging next to a solar-heated pool at the end of an Australian summer while I’m doing it, but all the same, there’s a lot of PowerPoint in my day today.

And that makes me wish it was tomorrow, because I’d be finished with my lesson plans by then.

 

Let’s Get Season 9 Started!

24 Feb

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Back in 2009, this Windy City Rollers fan got an e-mail saying that the league needed volunteer officials, offering free admission in exchange for helping out. At the time I was a very, very poor freelancer who couldn’t afford the ticket prices, but I was in love with roller derby and wanted a way to go to the games.

I’ve never really seen a game since then.

Just like many random choices one makes during one’s lifetime, the choice to become a roller derby official has been life-changing. To say that I’ve made a lot of interesting friends and been to places I never dreamed of going would be an understatement. I could joke and say Marion, IL, but my weekend in Marion was actually really fun–great officiating clinic, great hospitality, a pressed penny machine, and the opportunity to ride in the cockpit of a small plane.

Over the last season, I’ve had conversations with some officials about how to keep going and avoid burnout. It’s really easy to get sucked into a big derby vortex where your life is all derby, all the time. It can be a lot of travel and a lot of weekends in a warehouse/hangar/skating rink/arena/convention center. The time and money spent on that comes from your own personal account.

For years I’d thought about being involved with derby for the long haul. Decades. This past year was the first time I thought about quitting. I’d been spending way too many hours doing committee work to the detriment of my job. I’d had to deal with a lot of family things, which meant dropping out of tournaments and missing game opportunities. I was trying to balance being a high-level Non-Skating Official with trying to be more than a beginning Referee (I recently realized I’ve been skating for four years and have reffed a mere 17 games, compared to over 150 or so off-skates).

In short, I was tired. After Champs last year, I really wondered how I would come back for another season. A lot of great fellow officials retired from officiating. Maybe that would be the best option for me too.

Instead, I took time off.

A lot of time off.

Sure, I handled a couple of small obligations, but otherwise, I didn’t do any roller derby. I didn’t write the 13 evaluations I owed from Champs (to the extent that I missed a deadline and won’t be allowed to Crew Head or Tournament Head at Playoffs/Champs this year); didn’t read the new rules and casebook; didn’t go to any off-season scrimmages; didn’t go to any neighboring league events; didn’t apply to officiate at events/tournaments–even ones that have been on my list to do for a few years.

It went on like this for about three months.

When Boston’s season started up again, I reluctantly packed my bag and went to scrimmage. I wasn’t thrilled about going, but I wanted to see if I still enjoyed the activity itself…and guess what? I had a blast! Roller derby officiating is so much fun! Every week, I’ve enjoyed strapping on skates to work on my positioning and impact assessment. I’ve liked remembering the rituals I have for NSO positions. New rules? Bring ’em! It’s been really excited to see the league’s new skaters improve and learn strategy, and I’ve loved the challenges that officiating a highly-ranked travel team bring. It’s been really difficult for me to not blurt out, “This is so much fun!” in the middle of scrimmage (though I might have done that too). And I finally submitted those Champs evals.

This weekend is the home-opener, and I couldn’t be more excited about being an Inside Pack Ref for one game and managing the penalty box for another. I hope it’s a fun start to a season that’s likely going to be different than how I’ve managed my officiating in more recent years.

In a way, that might also be a good antidote to personal burnout. If there’s anything roller derby’s taught me, it’s that things don’t have to be status quo, so I’m looking forward to a ninth season that’s hopefully got some surprises in store and can help me set some new goals for this year and beyond.

 

Postcard from Indianapolis

17 Feb

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We were in Trader Joe’s, picking out some wine for the weekend, when it hit me: Indiana has blue laws. We need to buy more!

Recently I was in Indiana for College Girls’ Weekend. It’s me, my college roommate, and our across-the-dorm-hall neighbor. One weekend in winter, rotating cities. We hole up in comfortable clothes with plenty of wine and snacks and spend a few days catching up–or just hanging out in silence. For those of you who have this type of weekend in your life, you know it’s pretty sacred.

This year we’re in Indianapolis, and as usual, we were adhering to one of the early weekend rituals: The-stock-up-so-you-don’t-really-have-to-leave-the-house ritual. We opted for Trader Joe’s, which in my house is called “the snack store,” and we were stocking up. Everyone was having a good time, until we turned the corner into the wine aisle.

A panic set in. “Oh my gosh, there are still blue laws here, right?” I asked. I couldn’t even enjoy the fact that I was in a Trader Joe’s where you could get some Five Buck Chuck–many of them around me aren’t allowed to sell alcohol–I freaked out about having one day a week where buying alcohol was completely verboten.

My friend looked at me like that was a problem.

“No!” I continued, my words getting faster. “Do we have enough? What will we do if we run out and can’t buy any booze on Sunday?” Never mind that we were getting a box of white, a bottle of red and two bottles of bubbly. That could surely hold three people over for three days.

“Tomorrow’s Saturday, Jill,” my friend reminded me. “We can always go out and get more if we need it.”

That was enough to assuage me, but by Saturday night, when we’d gone through most of the box and one bottle of bubbly, I was panicking again. “We didn’t get the vodka and amaretto for that one drink you wanted to make!”

“You know, Jill, tomorrow we can go to a bar and drink if we need to.”

Also true.

But yet, the panic persisted.

The sad thing is I know that if I didn’t drink on Sunday, I would be OK. There are many days where I don’t drink at all. But take away the possibility…and I freak out and want to stock up like blue laws are suddenly going to seep beyond Sunday, and prohibition will reign again.

Therein lies the problem with blue laws. Restrict something, and people just want it more. I never feel this panic in Massachusetts, even though stores can close up early on Sunday. I don’t notice because I don’t usually feel compelled to buy liquor on Sunday. But with blue laws firmly in place, taking away the option to buy liquor for home consumption on a Sunday, makes me want to buy way more liquor than I really need. It’s the opposite intent of the law, really, and ends up putting so much more focus on this “bad” thing that the restriction ends up causing more harm than good. I wish our society could change that–maybe someday they will.

For the record, we never touched the bottle of red.

 

 

 

Postcard from Florida

10 Feb

Ever had one of those days where you just don’t want to face the world?

 

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Where you’d rather just hide your head?

 

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Or just swim away from it all?

 

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Because you’d really rather just hang out by yourself?

 

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We, the animals of Brevard Zoo, feel ya.

 

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Super Sunday? Scary Sunday!

3 Feb


It’s Super Bowl weekend in Boston. Let me say that again. It’s Super Bowl weekend. In Boston.

I’m going to admit this publicly–wait, let me pull the shades first so no one can see me typing this: I am not a Patriots fan.

I’m not a fan of most Boston teams, to be honest. Bruins excepted. I don’t really care about basketball, so I am neither here nor there on the Celtics. I’m not a Red Sox fan because I don’t believe in the American League, and I don’t like the Patriots, because–and let me completely date myself here–Super Bowl XX, da Bears 46, the Patriots 10. Never mind that the Bears today are playing more like the Chicago Chipmunks and that the Pats are clearly one of the best teams in the game.

But I just can’t like them. Much like my philosophy on baseball, I am not a fan of the AFC, although, unlike baseball, there’s no good reason except the fact that I grew up near an NFC team. Still, loyalty runs deep, and I’m not prone to root for

The other big reason I don’t like the Pats is because Boston fans can get violent really quickly, no matter what the sport. Last year, the Boy and I took his Pistons-loving mom to the Celtics-Pistons game and happened to be sitting in front of a bunch of Pistons fans (good deal for us). A couple of Celtics fans about seven rows down started getting into it with these Detroit fans, yelling back at us throughout the game. When the Pistons won, one of them actually wanted to fight these guys. Are you kidding me?! Fighting someone because “your” team lost?!

The Pats fans are even scarier because of the cult of personality surrounding Tom Brady, quarterback, ball deflator, Mr. Giselle Bundchen, nightshade avoider, or GOAT, depending on what you think. To fans, he’s “Tommy.”

The Boy and I went to our favorite bar for dinner one Sunday last year, and we stumbled into the end of the Pats-Giants game. The Patriots were still undefeated at this point, and New York was ahead. The bar was packed, and people were going crazy yelling for Brady. Think your classic blue-collar Boston accent begging, “C’mon Tommy!” One man in his twenties was close to tears at the concept of a loss. The Pats pulled it out at the end, and we avoided being stuck in a crowd of disappointed Pats fans. That experience was eye-opening to us, and one reason we don’t like being out when the Pats are playing.

It’s not just the guys though. Pats fans are equal-opportunity scary. I recently joined a curling club, and one of the other new members is a big Pats fan. When I wore a Pitt sweatshirt the week before the playoff game against the Steelers, she warily asked if I was a fan. I quickly realized my mistake in wardrobe choices.

As the Pats secured their place in the Super Bowl, we got to see her Pats designer purse, her special Patriots manicure–and the shirts that she wouldn’t wear when they were actually playing (no one in her family does) because if she did, they would lose.

Oh, I get it. Every team has crazy fans–I mean, even Chicago has funky super fans, and fans of every team have odd superstitions that they follow to a T so their team will win–but I’ve never felt the dangerous edge to that fandom that I feel here.

I finally realized my fear yesterday when I was on the phone with a client in Atlanta. When we started talking about the football game, I found myself hunching over my phone so no one would hear me talk. I work alone. In a home office. There’s likely no chance that even anyone walking by would hear me (notice how I say “likely no chance”).

But I can’t live my life in fear, so I’m speaking out now. I won’t cheer for the home team on Sunday. Instead, I’ll lock myself inside on Sunday with some good football snacks and silently root for Atlanta, because even if da Bears can’t be there, the NFC should win.

Postcard from Boston

27 Jan

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When, during the week, the email updates said the numbers of registered marchers grew from 44,000 to more than 90,000, it didn’t sink in. When the commuter rail train only stopped to let people off and not let anyone on because the train was so full that they had to add another train to come and get us, it didn’t sink in. When we were finally on the train, looking at the sister protest marches in Europe, it didn’t sink in. When we walked into Boston Common and couldn’t get close enough to the dais to even hear anything, it didn’t sink in (I couldn’t even tell you where in the park the speakers were, to be honest).

But when we walked up the hill and out of the park to line up on Beacon Street to march and got a clearer view across the Common, that’s when I saw just how massive the Boston Women’s March for America was, and I’ve got to be honest, I was a little overwhelmed at the outpouring of voices who are tired of being marginalized–and not just women. We were all tired–tired of being told that we’re not good enough, that human rights were not fit for us–and we’re done being tired and are ready to speak out and make change.

The march itself was a long day–as we stood around waiting to march, we’d heard that the Chicago protest was so large that they couldn’t march anymore. Looking around, we wondered if that would happen to us too, but it did happen. Two hours after the speeches ended, we stepped off, and it took us an hour to get through the one-mile march. We weren’t even anywhere near the end of the masses either–it just kept going.

As we marched, people chanted all around us. A brave female Trump supporter stood on a stoop and waved to the crowd. People stood on balconies and rooftops, posted signs in windows. Busloads of people who came in for the event were stuck parked there–high schoolers hung out the window of one bus to lead us in chants. A busload of women in their 70s lined up next to their bus, watching us with tears and gratitude in their eyes.

The best moment, however, may have been walking by the Arlington Street Church. ASC has a set of hand-rung steeple bells, and people were up in the steeple ringing them. We first noticed when we heard “Happy Birthday” peal out across the street (no fooling–we had no idea why they’d play “Happy Birthday”), but then they launched into “The Star Spangled Banner.” Those of us walking by the church sang along, cheering as it ended and we rounded the corner to the home stretch.

Overall, it was a good day, a peaceful day. An estimated 175,000 people showed up and created millions of moments that we’ll all remember, but those millions of moments need to come together to continue this work and bring about more equality in our nation. I hope we’re all ready for an interesting ride through history.

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Road Tripping: We Did It All Wrong

20 Jan

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For about five years or so, the Boy and I have pointed the car south to spend Christmas with the family in Florida. Sure, it’s a long trip–two days at least–but we like having access to a car, and it’s fun to experience little bits of the country along the way. Driving south reminds me of how vast and different our country is–how interesting it is–and how those differences weave together to become one.

Over the years, we got pretty good at making this trip, finding great stops that we looked forward to making every drive. This year? Not so much. It’s as if we had never taken the car out of state before. How bad was it? Well, it made me feel like I needed to turn in my frequent traveler card.

It was a learning experience though, and if you’re not experienced with road-tripping, here are some of our biggest blunders. Learn from them so you can have a better time in the car!

  • The night before you leave, don’t go to bed so late that you oversleep the next day and are forced to make a late start.
  • Don’t start late enough to avoid Boston rush hour traffic, and then wonder why you’re in New York/Philadelphia smack dab in the middle of evening rush hour.
  • Know where you’re going to spend the night more than an hour before you decide to stop so that you’re not driving from hotel to hotel looking for a room.
  • If you don’t want to deal with full-service gas stations, don’t calculate your gas tank refill to be smack dab in the middle of New Jersey.
  • Stop at Wawa. Don’t bypass Wawa.
  • Find decent restaurants for meals. We actually did better on Day 2, when we found Molly MacPherson’s in Richmond Hill, GA, and had decent food (including excellent salads) and great service).
  • If you want to stop and see something along the way, figure that out early on in the day, not when you’re driving by and realize it’s closed for the day.
  • Pack good snacks.

We did make our traditional stop at South of the Border, but having spent far too long on the road, we were in and out as fast as possible.

Needless to say, we got to Florida in a less than optimal mood, and that’s not a great way to start holiday vacation. It got better, for sure–because sun and warmth really do make a difference–and we had a really fun trip. However, we also pledged to make sure our drive home was something we actually wanted to remember.

 

Postcard from 29,000′

13 Jan

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Near the end of 2016, I started to get this email, which, as a frequent flier, sent me into a bit of a panic. See, I’d had Gold status on American for four years, and I rather liked it. Oh, I know what some of you might say–Gold doesn’t have a ton of perks and you can get most of those with a credit card that only has a $95/year annual fee–but why should I pay that if I’m doing the travel anyway? And if I’m traveling at least 25,000 miles a year, getting a free checked bag, early boarding, better seats and the possibility of upgrades is pretty nice (and I can usually snag an upgrade on a shuttle flight to or from Boston, which is sweet).

Extending my status wasn’t supposed to be a problem this year, but due to some family circumstances, I had to drop out of officiating a roller derby tournament in Vancouver–and that trip would have given me the mileage/segments to put me over the top for one more year.

Instead, I started getting the “extend your status now!” emails, and I did what anyone who has decent status in anything does: I worried. It’s not fun to lose perks, but it really wasn’t worth $399 to keep my status (nor was it worth opening up another credit card either).

However, with all problems, there is a solution, and for me, that was the mileage run. I quickly realized that I could fly to Dallas before the holiday travel season started, hang out in the airport for a couple of hours, and fly back to Boston for a fraction of the status renewal price.

This idea did not go over well at home. “You want to do what? Why?” asked the Boy. The Boy doesn’t like flying because he is very tall and doesn’t fit on airplanes very well. He doesn’t understand why people willingly fold themselves up into a tiny seat with Deep Vein Thrombosis-inducing amounts of legroom in the first place, let alone do it just to get miles.

I don’t bother to tell him that people will spend full weekends taking several segments through multiple countries in order to get Executive Platinum status. Even I think that’s a little extreme. I get it, but it’s extreme.

Needless to say, the Boy wasn’t thrilled about my plan, but I decided to spin it by calling it my very own writer-in-residence program. I’d have a quiet space and several hours for nothing but creative writing. It would be fine, great even!

And it was. I wrote about 3,500 words each way, banging out whatever came into my head. I have some short-short pieces and some beginnings to longer pieces–and likely a lot of garbage that was floating around my imagination. However, the goal was to write, and I did–I put my nose to the grindstone and cranked out some material, and that alone felt great.

I also wandered around DFW for a couple of hours–I actually had the faint idea that I could take the train downtown and get back in time, but I soon realized that where I needed to catch the train was too far away from my terminal to make that particular journey. Instead, I gave the Boy a status update while standing in the middle of a parking garage; I stumbled upon DFW’s chapel; and then went back through security. Then I decided it would be a good day for office holiday lunch, so I had a lovely sandwich and bubbly flight at Vino Volo before checking in with a client and getting back on the plane home.

Not that long after, I got this email:

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Achievement unlocked! But really, I had a fun, productive day that made me feel professional rejuvenated. Except now, I need to go back to that work, see what’s actually worth saving (Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” comes to mind when I think of what gems this file of random writing might contain). Hopefully there’s work that’s worth exploring and expanding. But then I’m going to need more time for editing and sending out pieces, which I could do at home, but obviously, as I proved with this experience, when it comes to creative writing, I get more done when I’m on the move. Maybe it’s time to schedule some more writer-in-residence days. More air travel? Or should I see how well I work on the train next time?

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