Postcard from Woodbine

7 Oct

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Recently, the Boy and I were driving back to Massachusetts from Florida, and we needed to stop for lunch. We mostly take the I-95 corridor when we drive, which means you have ranges of advertising for your roadside stops. There’s a Wawa range, a Cracker Barrel range, a Bojangles range, and your BBQ joint range. Not to mention South of the Border.

When you’re in Georgia, you’re definitely in BBQ joint range. Along the highway there are some chain-type places and not-so-bad buffets, but if you’re willing to take a slight detour, I’d recommend going to Woodbine and stepping behind the magic fence at Captain Stan’s Smokehouse.

Since the Boy was driving, I was in charge of finding the place. Anyplace with a magic fence certainly intrigues me, so I directed him off the highway through about four miles of nothingness until we got to Woodbine. The town isn’t that large, and Captain Stan’s is on the main drag. You’ll probably smell the smoked meat before you see the place though.

The magic fence surrounds a really funky outdoor patio and creates a cool hangout place. The yard has an enormous tree in one corner that provides shade for a lot of the area. Some of the tables are covered with porch-like structures; some are out in the open. There’s a fire pit for when it’s cold and fans for when it’s hot. Posters and random paintings that one could stretch and say are folk art adorn the wooden walls. Stan’s has a regular roster of musicians that play Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, Coke products (if you’re a loyalist, this will be a thing as you get into the Carolinas, which is Pepsi country), and meat. Oh, the meat!

When hitting up a BBQ place for the first time, I like to go with pork. It’s a basic. If you’re any kind of smokehouse (especially one with a magic fence), you know how to make a good pork sandwich. Boy, did Captain Stan’s deliver–and not just on the meat, but on the sauces too.

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The Boston Butt sandwich was smoky, rich in flavor and tender. I had a hard time choosing among the three sauces–there was a mild that was slightly sweet and tangy; a mustard-based one that wasn’t overly sweet; and a hot BBQ sauce that was spicy without being cruel. Even though I spread the sauce wealth around, I kind of wished I could eat three sandwiches so I could have a full sandwich with each kind of sauce.

Unfortunately, we could only make this a lunch stop, but it’s the kind of place where you could spend hours eating, drinking, listening to music and making new friends. It’s definitely on the list for a return visit. Put it on your list too.

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Pro tip: Don’t eat too many of the in shell peanuts before your meal comes. You’ll need all that room in your stomach for the main course.

Latest Travel Feature: Midwestern Fun in Valpo

6 Sep

I grew up about 45 minutes away from Valparaiso, so it was a real treat to get this assignment from AAA Midwest Traveler to write about the town and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore during fall. It’s a great time of year to visit and see a beautiful part of the country–then get a great meal from one of the many choices in Valpo.

We Dig These Dunes

Summer might be over, but it’s still beach time in northern Indiana.

Summer doesn’t have to end when the sun sets on Labor Day. September is a great time to hit the beach and enjoy the last warm days of the year — without the crowds. Lake Michigan offers some of the country’s finest dune areas, including Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. Between the two protected areas, beachgoers can enjoy 15 miles of beach nestled between Gary and Michigan City, Ind.

Preservationists fought for decades to protect the area, succeeding with the development of the state park in 1925. In 1966, Congress created the national lakeshore along with the Port of Indiana. The two parks today have more than 15,000 acres of protected lands covering a variety of habitats, including marshes, prairies, bogs, and beaches.

Read more here.

Jazzing You Up

13 Apr

Freelancing is always interesting because you don’t know who you’ll end up working for and what you’ll end up writing. That’s the fun of the game though. When people ask me what I write about, I start going through a laundry list: credit cards, bridal, home, travel, corporate writing, etc.

Now I’m adding LinkedIn profiles to that list.

One of my roller derby officiating colleagues told me about an opportunity to write profiles for LinkedIn Makeover, so I went through a trial. I liked the work; they liked my work, and now I’m working with people from around the world who are trying to make better use of their space on this professional networking tool.

There are companies who do this? Well, sure. Just like there are companies that will help you write a good resume, there are companies who can help you maximize your professional presence online tool. LinkedIn Makeover’s founder Donna Serdula is really on to something, I think, as she recently described in Money Magazine’s online 30-Day Challenge: LinkedIn isn’t just a regurgitation of your resume, it’s a place where recruiters and other professionals can get to know you and hear about your expertise and accomplishments in a conversational way, much like an initial interview.

So far, it’s been really interesting work. I’ve met people from around the world who have some pretty amazing professional accomplishments under their belts. Seriously–I’m not one for cruises, but I worked with a cruise director who knew the clientele and planned such interesting events that I kind of wanted to book a cruise right then and there.

I’m also learning how to improve my own LinkedIn skills–it’s gotten me freelance work before, and I’m hoping that with a beefed up profile and more involvement on the site, it’ll help me get more work down the road.

At the very least, I’m being exposed to all sorts of careers, companies, industries and leadership levels. I’ve always been fascinated by how people do their jobs, and this gig helps me satisfy that itch, and I can help them show off their best side to help them network or find the next step in their career.

If you’re thinking, LinkedIn. Huh, I hear you. But the way business and social media work together today is really interesting, and if it’s important to you, it’s worth having a good LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn Makeover has a lot of good free tips and powerful profile examples to get you started on optimizing your own profile. Of course, we can help you do it faster for a price, but if you don’t have time or writing isn’t necessarily your strong suit, it might be worth it to pay a professional.

 

 

A Little Buble Goes a Long Way

1 Apr

Over the last couple of weeks my laptop’s power cord has been on the fritz. Getting the connection between the wall socket and the computer to flip on took a lot of bending, finessing and cajoling the wires inside to please do their thing. They were compliant for a little while, but yesterday, it had had enough. No matter where I plugged in, no matter how I bent the cord, it wasn’t going to charge my laptop. And then like any person who has to get some work done right away, I drained the battery.

This meant I had to go to the Apple store to get a new cord. I live outside of Boston, just on the edge of convenient public transportation, so getting to an Apple store, my options of which were Cambridge or downtown Boston–and more importantly, home again–involves planning around train and bus schedules.

So I took the train downtown and got my errand done in all of a half hour. Since I had time to kill before my train home and I rarely have a weekday afternoon where I can hang around the city, I thought it was as good a time as any to play hooky and do something fun. Like see the ladies short program at the World Figure Skating Championships.

One balcony ticket later and I was sitting pretty, catching the last couple of skaters in Group 2. The afternoon session consisted of seven groups of five to six skaters each. Each skater has up to 2:50 to complete her short program, and it has to contain certain technical elements. Go over that time limit, and you get a deduction for up to every five seconds you’re over. Figure skating don’t play–it’s got a schedule to keep!

In Group 3, Aleksandra Golovkina from Lithuania kicked things off with a short program set to Michael Buble’s version of “Feeling Good.” Aleksandra didn’t have a great outing–she ended up in 33rd place, which put her well out of qualifying for the long program (the top 24 skaters get to skate in the finals, which, for the rest of the group, makes it an awfully long journey for two minutes and 50 seconds of competition).

Three skaters later, Germany’s Nathalie Weinzierl took the ice. The music started, and I heard an oddly familiar “Sun in the skyyyyy.” I’d been focused on keeping track of score (like you do) and was starting to track season best times as well, so I was kind of engrossed in my paperwork. Still, I thought, Didn’t I just hear this?

Then I heard someone groan behind me, “This is the third time we’ve heard this song.”

I instantly thought, Man, am I glad I missed the first group. Turns out that not only did France’s Mae Berenice Meite use it, but Great Britain’s Kristen Spours kicked off the competition with a different singer’s version of the same song. [Note: None of these skaters qualified for the long program. Guess the judges weren’t feeling good about their performances–Ba dump bump – ching!]

Luckily for us and the judges (as a fellow sports official, I generally have some sympathy for what officials in any sport have to go through, and repeatedly listening to the skating hit of the moment has to be one of the tougher aspects of judging ice skating), no one else Bubled it up the rest of the afternoon. I kept track of that too.

The rest of the afternoon was hits and misses when it came to music. When you’re watching about three dozen skaters, music becomes an important element–at least for the skater to differentiate and endear herself to the crowd. All the classical music I heard was lovely, but I don’t necessarily remember it. In looking at skaters who qualified, there were many who I thought did very well at the time, but I don’t remember them. Zijun Li from China smashed her season best score by five points and is sitting in 11th place, but I can’t place her and perhaps that’s because her music, while fitting, was some classical music that sounded a lot like some of the other classical music that other skaters used.

Who stood out to me? Those who used something different, preferably upbeat, that wasn’t the same style that we heard all afternoon long. Hearing Michael Buble-esque stuff gets old. I also don’t mean making you remember it because you’ve tied it in to who you are. How many Anastasias get conned into skating to music from the cartoon “Anastasia” (much like poor Anastasia Galustyan)?

No. The skaters I got jazzed about had interesting, generally uptempo music–or partway through, their music changed and picked up (I kind of love good music shifts in ice skating music. When you’re around fans who really know a skater’s routine and start to cheer when they get to a particular music, it’s exciting). Amy Lin‘s “Slumdog Millionaire” routine was one of my favorites because it picked up tempo at the right spot. Elizabet Tursynbaeva’s “I Got Rhythm” routine used a fun version of the song, and she interpreted it fantastically (I’d say watch for these two to get even better in the coming years–they killed it yesterday).

The most memorable performance for me though wasn’t Gracie Gold’s winning short program. Maybe my endurance was flagging by the time she came on. She was great, yes, but I don’t really remember how well she did. Instead, I’m stuck on Ashley Wagner’s performance, set to “Hip Hip Chin Chin.” Not only did she nail it, topping her season best by nearly three points, she had such great choreography and had so much fun skating and interpreting that music, and that was completely infectious–even up in the balcony. It’s a song that I currently have on repeat–and for the introduction to that song and group, I’m feeling good right now.

It’s certainly better than feeling Bubled.

 

Color in the Stress

18 Mar

Don’t those “anti-stress” adult coloring books sometimes make you want to do this?

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Little tiny shapes, sometimes you stress me out, man.

Postcard from Ketchikan

26 Feb

img_20160219_113526708.jpgI made it out of Alaska alive. Not even one attempted murder….I mean, as far as I know. Nobody attempted to murder me at least, so I’ll chalk that up to a successful trip. But really, would a murderer have this kind of interior design sense?

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As for not knowing who I was staying with, all I have to say is that people everywhere can be amazing and interesting. I first stayed with a woman who counts fish, as in, will go out into the woods and count fish to make sure the population stays within a healthy range. Her dog? Adorable. Her girlfriend builds ships. Just to make you drool, she has an 11′ level at work. That’s eleven feet. Of level. My second hosts were a public defender, who’s had a case of assault with a bear skull, and an engineer who tests submarines. Dude.

I’m glad I got to experience Ketchikan during the off-season and as someone who wasn’t quite a tourist. We tried to do tourist-y things during my free day, but most of them were shut down, which was fine because I got to go to my favorite tourist trap: the grocery store.

Each of my hosts took me to a different one. I went to A&P — that’s Alaska & Proud for those of you who immediately thought of Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company — and also Safeway (open late!). Sadly, I did not also go into Tatsuda’s IGA, which has been around a long time, but I’ll save that for the next trip. Oh, and I went to Wal-Mart, which was an experience too, since I couldn’t tell you the last time I stepped into a Wal-Mart.

I’ve got to give my hosts credit here–they let me wander the aisles as long as I wanted. I told one I’d be in there a good hour, so she left to run errands and came back later. I saw lots of West Coast brands I was unfamiliar with, as well as some other random brands from around the country. Several different types of Louisiana-based hot sauce, Russian-style mustard, evidence of a Filipino community due to the prominence of (and what I thought was cheap at $1.69/pound ) frozen banana leaves and sweet corn ice cream–at Wal-Mart they also have Filipino-style spaghetti sauce. I also saw two kinds of buttermilk: regular and Bulgarian style. Where did the demand for Bulgarian-style buttermilk come from? My host didn’t know and said that a lot of products are in stores based on requests, so somebody knows some secrets about buttermilk!

You could also get massive quantities of onions and potatoes (think 25 lb. sacks) and meat. You want roughly 14 lbs. of NY Strip? That’ll be $111. 48. Beef brisket? I can get you a 18.27 lb. hunk or $91.17. If you’d rather have pork, how about a nice 23 lb. untrimmed pork butt for $80.55?

But beyond grocery shopping, some amazing scenery and eating fresh fish and chips, there was a fair amount of “let me blow your mind with this factoid.” I was amazed that Alaska Airlines lets Alaska residents check two bags for free (three if you’re flying within Alaska), which means that Alaskans will fly down south with two large plastic bins and go grocery shopping. My one host grew up in a smaller Alaskan town (Ketchikan’s about 12,000 for the town and surrounding borough) and said it was normal to fly somewhere once a month for groceries because that’s more economical.

Meanwhile, I blew their minds by telling them I had to have a permit to own a gun, not just for concealed carry–and that I don’t yet have a concealed carry license due to my town’s restrictions. We won’t even get into the reaction about how up until recently you needed a license to carry pepper spray in the Commonwealth. For them, it’s assumed that you own guns. Plural. Period. Of course you do. It’s Alaska.

But let’s not forget that I was there for roller derby, which was a really great time. I met some passionate and dedicated people who are working really hard to have this sport take off in their little portion of the world–which is an uphill battle when you’re competing with a pretty big basketball scene during the few months where people aren’t swamped with seasonal-based work and tourists. I’m always so amazed at how I’ve been able to go all over the world and basically walk into the same scene–and even though this group was mostly learning from books, manuals, videos and the occasional person who’s been able to travel outside of Alaska, they’ve been doing pretty well for themselves. I hope they can continue to grow the sport because you can see how much of a difference it makes in people’s lives, and Alaskans are no different.

This weekend, though, has put Alaska higher on my list. I’d love to go back and experience more of our country’s last frontier–there’s so much to learn from there.

This Is Roller Derby Travel

18 Feb

“Where are you staying?” The Boy asks. It’s 11:00 at night, and in approximately twelve hours I’ll be heading to Alaska for the weekend to teach an officiating clinic.

“I don’t know. Someone’s house, I guess.”

Why would I know? I’m traveling for roller derby–it’ll be fine.

This pretty much sums up my attitude toward derby travel. I don’t act this way when I travel for any other reason–I’ll spend time figuring out airport transportation, my lodging situation, where I need to go, how I’ll get around. When I travel for derby, I generally will look to see how far the hotel is from the venue, and that’s just about it. For tournaments, I have gotten smart enough to get a hotel room and roommates as soon as possible–the scramble to fill a room with officials isn’t fun–but even then I’m sometimes a little slow to make plans.

While I wouldn’t completely recommend showing up at an airport and getting in a car full of strangers, with derby people there’s a certain level of comfort. The first rule of roller derby is, “Don’t be a douche,” and that rule extends past the track. Anywhere you go, you’re an ambassador for your league and the sport, so acquiring a reputation for being a jerk isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do.

This is all part of the adventure of derby. Traveling to New Zealand for the first time and don’t know where you’re going when you get off the plane? Eh, look: Someone you’re traveling with is on your flight, and you can bum a ride and afternoon entertainment with them. Heading to Richmond and don’t know how to get to your hotel? Eh, look: It’s a tournament, so there are a hoard of people going your way. Even better, there’s a random person in the airport who says she’s with the host league, so just hop in her car. It’ll be fine!

And thus is my approach to this weekend–though I did ask about housing once the Boy asked, “You’re not staying in a hotel?” For a league-funded clinic? Are you kidding? Derby housing, all the way. And I’ve learned that some of it will come with a dog, which will be awesome.

This, of course, would not please Ma Jaracz in the least. A couple of months ago, when I told her I was going to Alaska, her immediate response was–and I am not making this up–“Just be careful up there. They don’t solve their murders.”

And with that sage advice, I’m going to go hang out with strangers. Well, not strangers. Just derby buddies I haven’t yet met in the flesh.

Just in case though, I’ll be in Ketchikan. If you don’t hear from me next week, send a murder-solving crew to find me.

Postcard from the Suburbs

15 Feb

“Are you sure you don’t want a ride?”

The Doctor and I are at our childhood church. She’s in town to visit her mom; I’m here to take care of Ma Jaracz post-knee replacement surgery. We decided to walk to church because it would be good for us. A dumbfounded mother of a guy who was in our class keeps offering to drive us home because it wouldn’t be that much trouble, and it was a pretty far walk for us.

Before my arrival I’d been recruited to take my mom’s place serving coffee on the first Sunday I was here. Within 48 hours of my arrival, I was recruited to fill her spot in the handbell choir on the second Sunday. It’s been nice to be helpful.

The problem now though is that I haven’t been very helpful to myself–surgery means a lot of people bring food over. A lot of food. And desserts. For the first few weeks of recovery, I’ve had to stay close to home to be at the ready when needed, so my exercising quickly became limited to two main activities: Walking the dog and lifting the fork (or beer) to my mouth.

By my second Sunday in the ‘burbs, I’d noticed just how much I wasn’t moving. Everything’s by car here because why would you want to walk when you can drive? And if you’re driving, I certainly hope you didn’t have to park too far from the entrance of wherever you’re going. And heaven forbid you walk the half-mile (if that) to church. Life in a Midwest American suburb is hard–take it easy when you get the chance.

My waistline has really taken that advice to heart, and I can’t help but notice just how much I have been eating this past month. Stress eating. Feeling guilty about having all of this food on hand from people who so want to help and bring us meals that each feed a half-dozen people so that we don’t have to worry about cooking or eating take out. Problem is that each meal is approximately 4 1/2 more servings than we need per meal, since Ma J isn’t eating a ton. Even though they’re meant to cover multiple meals, when multiple people bring a multi-meal dish, well, that’s a multiplication problem.

We can’t freeze all of the overflow because she prepared for this event by filling her freezers (that’s freezers, plural) with meals and ingredients. That means a good chunk of this food has gone into my belly. My ever-expanding belly that doesn’t get a chance to digest it because I’m also not sleeping much. By the way, did you know that cooked carrots are delicious with dill–and brown sugar and butter?

At any rate, it’s all added up and shown me that life in these Midwestern suburbs has been kind of hard this month. But that doesn’t mean I should take the best parking spot and make that the easy factor in my life. It’s really time to change up some eating habits, some ways of thinking, and a lot of ways of eating–though that’s a lot easier to say than it is to flip on the switch that gets it done. But I think I can make that change, and I suppose that’s the first step to a better reality. If I’m wrong, just lie to me and tell me that it’s so. I’ve got a really long way to climb, and right now I need to believe that I can do it because the new additional poundage on me is saying I can’t.

Postcard from Chicago

23 Jan

Oh yeah, that’s how this works.

I’m on the Dan Ryan, driving Ma Jaracz to Rush Hospital, and we’re in morning rush hour. Traffic’s pretty heavy, but still moving, and that’s when I see him: The Weaver.

Probably every area of the country can complain about its drivers because no one ever drives perfectly enough for someone else. [Cue the Boy’s latest lecture: When We Have Self-Driving Cars, None of This Will Happen]

I’ve apparently gotten very used to Massholes, because I complained like an old person when I saw The Weaver doing his thing, which, for those of you not from Chicago is someone who goes at least 15-20 miles over the speed limit and changes lanes like crazy just to get ahead of you–just in traffic, all of that weaving rarely really gets you ahead. And that’s the fun of dealing with Weavers — they try so hard to get around everyone, yet in traffic, that effort is pretty much for naught because they never have enough space to really floor it and speed off into the sunrise.

This is much different than the Masshole, who tends to drive the speed limit–or slower, if possible. They just do stupid stuff everywhere, which on the highway means driving 40 mph on empty roads, and on regular roads means running traffic lights 15 seconds after they’ve turned red, making left turns from the far right lane or making U turns anywhere and everywhere.

The Masshole is the type of driver I brought to Chicago on this trip. In trying to navigate to the proper hospital building, I took a wrong turn [par for the course in Boston]. The building we needed was right there, except a median was blocking our path.

Never fear! Take a right and at the stop light, make a U turn. Oh, I can’t make a tight enough turn? No big deal–just make it a three-point turn, because that’s what everyone does, right? [Note: Fifteen years in Chicago, and the only people who would’ve ever done those moves were cabbies.] Someone wants to drive around you? They can wait because…..fuck them (Unofficial slogan of Boston is “Boston. Because…..fuck you”).

As I made my Masshole move on Harrison Street, I felt embarrassed. This is no way to drive. It’s really no way to drive. It may invoke pride in Boston, but here, where people know how to make right turns at speed? It’s a little sad.

That changed on my way home. Even though I was driving an old-person Buick, I did at least 15 miles over the speed limit as well as a fair amount of weaving myself–since Chicagoans also have a problem staying out of the passing lane.

Man, did it feel good.

 

Little House of Green Gables?

13 Jan

Yesterday the CBC announced that it’s reviving one of the most beloved characters in young adult lit and will be making a new series out of Anne of Green Gables.

Are you excited, fans of the Megan Follows version? Or are you scared? I’m a little bit of both.

Anne is one of my favorite literary heroines. She made me wish I’d had red hair growing up. For high school German, I chose the name “Anne” (AH-ne) because of her. If I’d ever had a daughter, Anne would’ve been my top pick for a name. And when the Megan Follows miniseries came out in 1985, I was the prime age to fall in love with it.

And I did–eventually. It took me a good episode to get used to the fact that the producers of the miniseries had not tapped my imagination for how everything should look (nor had I ever been to Prince Edward Island, so my imagination had been filling in some gaps), but eventually I was hooked and became a big fan. For me this version seems most true.

So of course I’m a little worried about the new ones. It’s not that I don’t think anyone else shouldn’t be allowed to revisit and reinterpret Anne–there have been several other miniseries and shows and cartoons and musicals and plays depicting or based on the books, so I’m not against a new generation having their own version. Plus, this one’s being helmed by one of the writers from Breaking Bad, which is pretty exciting, given how good that show was.

However, it’s this phrase describing the show that worries me: chart new territory.

This phrase was used in a couple different reports of the news, and that’s what has me worried. I don’t know about TV shows that end up being more “inspiration” and less “true to book.”

But Jill, you also were the prime age when Little House on the Prairie came out? Don’t you have experience with TV shows that chart new territory around beloved book series?

No, I don’t. Ma Jaracz wouldn’t allow me to watch Little House on the Prairie precisely because it wasn’t like the book.

But Jill, you did watch The Dukes of Hazzard, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island when you were a kid, did you not?

Yes, Ma Jaracz would let me watch those fairly regularly. I won’t question my mother’s thought pattern here, as everyone has their moments. I’m guessing she thought Mr. Roarke was  a better role model than the beloved Pa Ingalls. And Mary Ingalls had nothing on Julie McCoy, of course — a girl could learn a lot of organizational skills from a Cruise Director. Let’s start career planning when we’re young!

But the fact is, I’ve never watched Little House–not even when I could. It’s not all like the books, so why bother?

I’m sure all of us fans have some apprehension about what could possibly happen–I mean, look at Game of Thrones. They’re out of books, so what’s going to happen? Perhaps a white wedding with Billy Idol as the officiant? And then it goes south really quickly and HBO pulls the plug so they end it with dragons flame broiling everyone (except Hodor — he magically lives to have his own spin-off)? Isn’t that the kind of fear we all  have when something we love gets translated so wonderfully to the screen and then a re-translation threatens to ruin both versions for everyone?

I hope that’s not the case for Anne fans, and we’ll have to see how it turns out. I know I won’t be re-reading the books ahead of time so that when I watch, my memory will be a little foggy of what actually happened in the books. That doesn’t mean that if Anne suddenly organizes a blood drive and saves Prince Edward Island or if Diana Barry goes blind, I’ll stick with it, but I’ll certainly give the new version a shot.

 

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