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Postcard from New York City

27 Oct

Look up! It's the World Trade Center!

The Boy and I were in New York a few weeks ago for a long weekend. We had a lovely time–saw some lectures, ate some great food, stumbled onto a Korean parade….but there was one thing I noticed: People walk more slowly.

I first spent considerable time in New York in 2003, and even though I lived in Chicago, where people can move pretty fast, New York took that to another level. I had to step up my game, so to speak, just to get down the sidewalk without getting bounced around like I was in a pinball machine.

This year, even though I live in a suburb, I was the one trying to juke around other walkers in order to get where I was going in a reasonable amount of time. These people weren’t all tourists either–there were definitely a lot of native New Yorkers in the bunch.

I blame cell phones. A lot of people were sucked into their phones, trying to read or text or chat or do anything but walk at a reasonable pace. It made walking more than a block in a single stoplight cycle almost impossible.

But then when we did have to stop at a corner, they’d all do that typical New Yorker thing: If you weren’t right at the edge of the curb, they’d cut around you in order to take up that space and get ahead. I had to admire that tactic (and copy it).

Oh, New York, get back on your game–phones are making you lose that bustling vibrancy that makes you feel like such an otherworldly place. Normally, I’d applaud the slowing-down-and-enjoying-life pace, but having your nose stuck in a cell phone isn’t a great way to enjoy life either.

Postcard from New York City

13 Oct

MoMath exhibit on Moebius strips.

Have you ever been really disappointed in a museum? Not a, Man, the Louvre is a crowded place at the height of tourism, disappointed, but a, Oh, there’s a museum about X? That might be cool! Let’s go in!…..30 minutes later….Well, that was a waste of $20.

The Boy and I felt that way after a quick visit to the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City. Taking a cue from the Modern Museum of Art, it’s nicknamed itself MoMath, and I think our MoMath, MoProblems joke was just about the best thing we got out of the place.

We went because we happened to be walking by and thought that a museum about math had a lot of potential to be cool–and the Boy likes math. We had an hour to kill–why not?

When we walked in, we found out that it was just two small floors, which turned out to fit in nicely with the specs of my ideal museum (smallish, and just when you’re about to get museum fatigue, you’ve reached the exit/gift store). Every exhibit was interactive, so there were some kids running around playing with everything. That also was cool and gave the place a lot of energy.

The problem came in with the “so what?” factor. We’d go to an exhibit and try to figure out what we needed to do. Turned out you needed to go to a monitor to pull up information about it. I personally don’t do that well with screens in museums — I get bored with them really easily, and while just playing with the exhibit was fun, I got nothing out of them. The worst was when I rode the bike with square wheels and asked the exhibit minder what the point of it was. She said something about the fact that you can use square wheels if you have the right bumped surface, but there was nothing really mathy in her explanation. I definitely know that there’s math involved with that, but it can’t be math magic or the math fairy waving a wand around. What’s the principle? What’s important about it? What else does it apply to? How do I do that math?

OK, maybe that last one is a little too complicated to show in a museum, but still. Giving me different patterned disks and telling me to cover parts of them to get a pattern mesh just shows me that that can be done. There’s math behind that phenomenon too? Really?

The Boy was also pretty disappointed, so I was comforted in the fact that I wasn’t alone. But maybe the museum ultimately really wasn’t for us. Maybe it’s designed for kids to play around, and for their adults to watch and remember to look up the principles later, if they want to know more about the math involved. Or maybe it’s just really hard to communicate math principles while you’re engaging with them.

Sadly, our experience here also made us leery about going to the Museum of Sex, so we skipped it and just hung out instead. Good choice?

 

Postcard from Vermont

21 Jul

Green Mountain Adventure Challenge #vermonttime

Can you uncover a hidden treasure in the woods of Vermont? The Boy and I thought we could, so a couple of weekends ago we hightailed it up to Dover to participate in the Green Mountain Adventure Challenge.

The challenge runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day and is meant to be something you and another person (or group of people) do in a weekend, but if you don’t get it done in the weekend, you can keep coming back until you finish (or just simply quit).

We got one of the challenge’s travel packages, which included a couple of nights at a local inn–we highly recommend the Cooper Hill Inn–lovely proprietors, comfortable rooms, stunning view, and we were off. Checked in on Friday afternoon and then started the hunt.

The challenge is tough–let’s just get that out there. It’s mentally challenging (I might still be working on it today if it wasn’t for the Boy, since my brain didn’t really think a certain way for the last part of the puzzle). It’s physically challenging.

But it’s worth it.

Friday was a scramble in trying to figure out what we were looking for. We figured out the clue that would set us on the right path, but then we were stumped. Wandered around a field and found nothing. Made a short hike much longer. Went back to the field and paired up with a group that helped us realize just what we were supposed to find, which meant we had to redo that short hike–and the sun was going down.

We drove like crazy and ran through the woods. The Boy lost his glasses at one point, and luckily I found them before it got any darker–or he stepped on them. Found our clue, hightailed out of there. Drove to another part of the area and found some more in-town clues until we realized we’d better stop for dinner before all the restaurants closed.

Saturday was hiking day–we knew we’d have at least one “moderate” hike. Hiking levels always make me laugh–this was hilly, so it wasn’t moderate to me. It was also rainy, so all of the roots and rocks covering the path were pretty slippery. Still, the walk was fun, and the view at the top was foggy, but beautiful of what we could see.

Coming down, we were walking through clouds, which was cool until they opened up, and it started pouring. Tree cover kept us from being completely soaked, but we were definitely pretty wet.

We got to dry off when the weather moved out and we discovered that we had to do another, much steeper hike to reach another clue. Tough, but rewarding, both in the view (this post’s cover photo) and in the physical accomplishment.

Still, by the end of Saturday, we didn’t really know where we stood on actually completing the challenge, and it felt like we weren’t going to finish before we had to leave. Then we saw this on the way to dinner:

Double Rainbow during #vermontime

And knew that we would.

It took a couple more hours on Sunday–and we ended up collaborating with others who were in our same boat–but we finished. We solved it!

I believe that means we get a share in the final jackpot, but honestly, getting through it was reward enough. Plus, we got the reward of a weekend in a beautiful part of the country.

You should try it.

 

 

Postcard from Ohio

16 Jun
Pressed Penny machine in an Ohio rest stop along I-90. What a monstrosity! Click through to find out why!

What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, Ohio.

I used to look forward to finding a great pressed penny machine at your I-90 rest areas. But this? This newfangled “penny press” machine? No.

First off, it’s electric. What a waste of energy. Traditional pressed penny machines with a hand crank don’t need electricity–people make them work! Do these break down more (I’m sure there’s got to be some issue with active kids overturning a handle until it breaks, but still)?

Secondly, pressing a button and watching the machine do its thing is boring. Part of the fun of the machine is getting to make the penny yourself. Not that you have a ton of control over what it looks like, but it’s a lot of fun to crank that handle and see what comes out. Sometimes the penny comes out long, sometimes it’s fat. It’s always a surprise. Passively watching the machine work disconnects you from the process. The penny becomes something you gather, not something you’ve made.

Thirdly, it’s a buck. I realize that pressed penny prices for the most part haven’t changed much over the years — most machines are two quarters and one penny, except for those lame machines that are four quarters, or even worse, the machines at Lincoln Park Zoo that are five quarters, one of which is pressed. Why do I want a pressed quarter? It doesn’t fit into a pressed penny wallet! A quarter is actually useful to buy other things!

At any rate, it’s expensive for a tiny souvenir. I get that people might have a dollar in their wallet versus 51 cents, but still. If pressed pennies are going to cost a dollar, that’s something I might take a pass on–well, actually, I did. My philosophy has always been that whenever I see a pressed penny machine, I get one design. If I don’t like the design (“lucky penny” and “I love you” designs are lame in my book–a pressed penny should say something about a particular place), or by some fluke, have all of the designs, I skip the machine. Driving across Ohio, I should’ve picked up three or four pennies. Instead, I got one, because only saw one design I liked enough to spend a dollar on. Who’s losing here?

Let’s not make this a trend, Ohio. Modernity isn’t always progress. Other owners of these machines, you’re on notice.

Your pal,

Jill

Postcard from Niagara Falls

12 May

If you find yourself traveling in the Buffalo area, you might think, Hey, maybe I should duck over and see Niagara Falls while they’re so close. And that’s a good thought to have — they’re pretty spectacular. But if you’re not from around the area and trying to find parking, you’ll probably end up in the official State Park parking lot, which costs $10.

Seems like a decent chunk of change to go glance at some water, right?

Not to worry! The State Park parking lot gives you 20 minutes of free parking, which is plenty of time to get a Niagara Falls experience.

Take a parking ticket, and park in a spot that gives you easy exit access. This is important because if you’re running short on time, the last thing you want to do is coast through the parking lot and get stopped by tons of cars pulling in and out of parking spaces.

Now, you book it.

The main access to the Falls is through the visitor’s center. Walk in and go down the stairs that are either on your right or left. Avoid the store at the bottom and walk to the back and out the door. Viola! The falls are right there!

Head over to the railing and look to the left. There’s the falls! Marvel at them, wonder what they look like from the Canadian side (sorry, but they’re better), take some pictures and selfies. Head back quickly–your 20 minutes are almost up and you want to be able to walk like you’re a normal person and not on some non-existent Amazing Race.

That’s it. Head back in, avoid the crowds, head back up the stairs and out of the visitor’s center. What? You wanted a souvenir? Pull four quarters and a penny out of your pocket and make yourself a pressed penny (I know, pressed penny aficionados. Four quarters). The machine is downstairs, next to the door that goes out to the falls. You’ll have time for that.

Once you’re out of the visitor’s center, start walking quickly back to your car. Check your parking ticket–are you still in your 20 minute window? Good! Don’t even bother trying to pay for parking. Even if you’re under 20 minutes, the machine will try to tell you that you owe money. Don’t let it confuse you.

Get back to your car–even if you have to run at this point–and hightail it to the gate. Stick your ticket in the card reader, and congratulations, you’ve just gotten a free quick side trip to Niagara Falls.

 

Postcard from Argentina

28 Apr

A couple of weeks ago, I got to go to Argentina to teach an officiating clinic and officiate at a tournament. Argentina hadn’t been high on my list of places to visit, though the Boy and I often joke that we are Argentinian because we tend to eat dinner around 9 or 10PM. But I didn’t really know why else one should go to Argentina–and from what I read, there’s not much touristy about Buenos Aires. You really go there to live it.

This is also fine with me, as when I travel, the ratio of museum visits to everyday activities skews heavily toward the latter (if you pit a high quality museum against a trip to Carrefour, 9 times out of 10, I will pick Carrefour. That 10th time I’ll visit the museum out of guilt). But it did very much make for a lot of pre-trip confusion and concern about what it is that I’ll actually do with the couple of days I had off–and because my Duolingo lessons had focused heavily on horses and military titles, I wasn’t quite convinced that I’d be able to figure out much.

Needless, to say, I had a lovely time, although I just barely scratched the surface of a complicated part of the world. I stayed in Vicente Lopez, a nice suburb of Buenos Aires, but did spend a bit of time in the city too. But “nice” is relative, and Vicente Lopez–to me, at least–was a good example of the juxtaposition I felt was likely a characteristic of this area. Nice houses and apartment buildings lined dirty streets with randomly patterned cracked sidewalks. A fantastically huge park with a great walking/biking path and playgrounds and fitness stations and more butted up against a river full of trash.

But for all the layers of pollution and graffiti, there was also inventive, colorful art and architecture that I’d randomly come across, when I was not looking down trying to avoid the piles of dog crap dotting the sidewalks. This element of surprise and discovery (along with a late dinner hour) really made this place captivating–and one I’d like to revisit.

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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 Indianapolis

17 Feb

wp-1486872535303.jpg

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 29,000′

13 Jan

gold-status-expiring

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:

gold-status-achieved

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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