What’s the First Rule of Politics?

28 Oct

Because I’m working the polls on Election Day, I voted early this week. It should’ve been an exciting experience–this is the first time Massachusetts is doing early voting, and it’s a historical Presidential election–but instead, it made me so angry.

The only contested election on my ballot was the Presidential election.

That’s messed up.

What happened to the choice? I live in a democracy! We’re supposed to be about being able to decide who should be running the main offices in our government at all levels. Where’s the Green Party or the Libertarians who are making such a stink at the Presidential level? Why aren’t they running for state office or sheriff?

I truly don’t understand how alternative candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have deluded themselves into thinking that the American public would really pick one of them when they don’t bother to let the voters get to know their party on the local level. They have no chance, and even if they did, federal government would have serious issues because the legislature likely wouldn’t allow them to get anything done.

In my area, the Republicans just gave up (they gave up in the primary too). Why didn’t they throw some names on the ballot? They have to hold meetings. They couldn’t stand around in a circle and say, “OK. We have to have some people running. Larry, you good with running for sheriff? Great! DeShawn, how about you run for state representative in your district? All right, that’s two races accounted for. Let’s get some more candidates, people!”

Even if your party doesn’t put you up, you can go as an Independent. It’s not like you can’t get on the ballot. I had to look longingly at the other ballot in my city because they had a choice in one race, and that was between a Democrat and an Independent. I even decided to do a legit write-in candidate because I wanted to have options and didn’t like the one choice I had.

Maybe your part of the country is different. Maybe you do have choices in other races. But if you don’t, then let’s agree that we’re going to do something about it next election cycle. Let’s stop all the lip service. Let’s stop all of the focus on one race. Let’s give the talking heads something to really talk about and analyze besides the minute-by-minute movements of two people. Let’s choose to give our voters real choices.

Heck, you don’t even have to put a ton of money into those races if you don’t want to. Treat it like a hobby–spend a small amount of money and some time and see how you do. Even if you don’t win, get involved and make a difference at the local level, because that’s where the real races are. That’s where you’re really affecting people’s daily lives. Are there really only one-size-fits-all candidates? Surely not. So let’s have some real choices–at all levels of government.

 

 

 

Postcard from Winnipeg

21 Oct

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You know those cities that just make you feel happy and delighted whenever you think about them? Winnipeg filled one of those slots in my heart this year.

I was in the unofficial Gateway to Churchill this August to teach at a WFTDA Officiating Clinic (more on officiating in a future Friday diversion). Churchill’s the Polar Bear Capital of Canada, and to get there (from the US at least), you’re likely flying through Winnipeg. But Winnipeg isn’t just a fly-through or flyover city, even though that’s the mantle it seems to wear.

I learned this from the minute I walked over the Hug Rug at the airport and met the clinic hosts, who took me on a driving tour of the city. Along the way, they apologized for the state it was in. “The city doesn’t spend much money,” said one. “Our roads are just horrible.”

I peered out the window. “You’ve never been to Boston, have you?” I said, noting the pretty dreamy condition of the roads we were currently driving on. I honestly never really saw what they were talking about the entire weekend. Sure, the roads weren’t brand-spanking-new, but they weren’t chock full of potholes either.

Perhaps it was their modesty–and it turned out to be the modesty of the city–that I found so charming, but after exploring for a little while, I wanted to scream, “Listen to that message on the garbage cans, Winnipeg! This place is great!”

Why? Perhaps it’s the idea that it’s this sizeable city smack dab in the middle of of the prairie, rising up out of the flat earth. Perhaps it’s the bustling Forks area by the rivers–and the really nice riverfront path. Maybe it’s the beautiful Legislative Building. Or the French Quarter with that chocolate shop that sells delicious Manitobars. Or the amazing collection of native statuary at the WAG. Or the delicious meal at Peasant Cookery that put the cap on a lovely weekend.

I had a day of exploration before the clinic, and during it I made the mistake of going to the tourist office and getting some brochures. This made me a little depressed about all of the places I couldn’t fit in on this trip (new polar bear exhibit at the zoo! The Exchange District! Baseball game!), but the bright side is that Winnipeg will just go higher up on my list of places to revisit.

Postcard from Montreal

14 Oct

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Over Labor Day weekend I was in Montreal for a couple of reasons: to officiate at the WFTDA D1 Playoffs and to visit the Olympic sites for my Olympics blog, The Feverr.

I hadn’t been to Montreal in over ten years, so suffice it to say, I didn’t remember much, although a few places jogged my memory, which was nice. But even though Montreal’s surely changed in the last decade, I’m not sure it’s changed so much.

Montreal’s one of those cities that doesn’t have a je ne sais quoi; it has a je ne sais meh. There’s definitely something special about Montreal, and you can see that in the way design matters. So many times I turned a corner or walked out of a Metro station (like the one above) and saw something surprising, cool and unique. They make the city exciting, you want to be a part of that creativity.

On the other hand, while design matters, other things clearly do not. Like clean streets. Or urgency. At the tournament, one of the skaters had a bad accident and needed an ambulance. The ambulance was on its way, tournament staff was told, and they’d get there soon, unless, of course, there was a stabbing or something that they needed to go to first. Maybe translation and Franglish comprehension was bad, but it sounded like there was only one ambulance on the island on Sundays.

Twenty, thirty or so minutes later, one shows up. No rush, no big deal.  One of the women on ambulance watch thought maybe the delay was a Canadian healthcare thing, but one of the locals set her straight: No, no, no. It’s Montreal. Why the rush? Meh, you’re not dying.

And maybe that’s the reason I waited so long between visits. Why the rush, Montreal? You’re lovely, but eh, there’s the rest of the world too.

 

 

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.

****

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.

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