Tag Archives: Jill Travels

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 Portland

18 Nov

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If you’re flying to Portland, get the window seat that faces the mountains because if you’ve got decent weather, you’ll spend your descent looking at mountain majesty. In terms of going to Champs, it’s a pretty good way to start a weekend that’s all about majestic performances.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I’d be leading a non-skating officiating crew at WFTDA Champs, my third time in this role at the top tournament in the roller derby calendar. One of the fun things about being a crew head is that each crew you lead is completely different, and in my experience, the tone of the crew has been completely perfect for that particular tournament.

In 2013 I had a “yes, and” crew, which was fantastic for the pre-tourney exercises I wanted my guinea pigs them to do. I’d been reading up on coaching and talent development and wanted to to prepare more than I ever had as a Champs official. They did me proud all month leading up to the tourney–mention a concept, and within two hours of group messages, you suddenly have a mascot and a t-shirt and a crew head who wonders what the hell is this awesomeness that is happening before her eyes.

Last year, my initial reaction to my crew list was “Champs! Champs! Awesome! Awesome!” which  played out all weekend. Getting to Champs takes work. Staying alive in Champs takes work. Being the Champ takes work. We experienced all of that over the weekend. After Day One, the crew needed focus, and it took one very long shower to figure out a potential fix: hot potato. Luckily, I had packed way more pairs of socks than I needed, and those became our hot potatoes for pre-game warmups. But when the crew found their focus, they insisted on continuing hot potato play before every game.

This year, with an all-female crew, our crew circle felt very nuturing, very welcoming and very caring. We wanted crew time together and were lucky enough to have assignments that gave us the opportunity to do that. Side note: Should you find yourself in Portland, have breakfast at Cheryl’s on 12th. Two words: complimentary beignets.

This crew was amazingly talented and came together nicely, which is impressive, considering we came from Europe and all points of the US. The teamwork we had was inspiring. We brought their best every game and then performed even better, which made me proud and a little bit wistful. This was a last tournament of sorts because change is coming: New rules and standard practices are around the corner, so this may have been the last weekend I officiated this way. There’s always a little sadness on closing the door on a rule set–another chapter in the history of roller derby is closing, and even though the coming changes are exciting, this moment of change as they all are, needs its moment of acknowledgement.

Rules may not be the only change. I recently started reffing, which is a whole different skill set that’s put me at the bottom of the reffing mountain in the range of officiating. Depending on the path I choose to take–and there are many officiating paths, so I need to map them out and find my optimal route–this could have been my last Champs for a while. Hopefully not forever though. The top of the mountain does have a nice view.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Postcard from Cleveland

22 Sep

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Hello Readers!

Somehow summer has almost completely passed, and although I’ve thought about you a lot over the last few months, I really haven’t done my part to keep up. Time to get back on track though, so I’ll start with some of my summer travels that caused disruption in my routine.

In August I went to Cleveland to officiate the first WFTDA D2 Playoff of the season, but I’m writing to you not to talk about the tournament (fun) or the officiating (which I thought went really well), but to  mention how smitten I am with Cleveland.

I’ve visited a few Rust Belt cities over the last few years, and I’m thrilled that many of them are experiencing a renaissance, with downtowns going through revitalization, people moving back in and interesting places opening up. You can feel a buzz of optimism, and it’s catchy enough to make me want to move there (Buffalo, I’m looking at you too).

If I had to move to Cleveland, I’d like to be able to live where I could regularly shop at the store pictured here. Oh, you thought it was the interior dome of a museum or something? No. It’s a grocery store. All right, Heinen’s didn’t build it that way, but they did keep The Cleveland Trust Company  building that is their downtown location pretty much intact from its good old days as a bank.

Heinen’s is on the fancier side in terms of grocery stores. They stock a couple of flavors of Polar, which is nice because you don’t always see Polar outside the Seltzer Belt (New England). They also have Noosa yoghurt, which you know is fancy because “yogurt” is spelled with an “h” (you should look for it in your local stores though–it’s totally delicious). Other froo-froo items include the parmesan-stuffed dates and some fancy tortilla chips that probably didn’t contain a lick of corn that I bought to fulfill my snacking needs for the weekend.

The best part about Heinen’s is its prepared food section (well, maybe the upstairs beer and wine tasting is better, but since I can’t drink and officiate, I didn’t even go up there). And here’s a tip: If you want a salad, skip the pay-by-the-ounce salad bar, and go to the global grill counter. This is where you can get things like meat and rice in a bowl or a themed salad OR you can make your own bowl.

I was in the mood for a big salad and thought about the salad bar, but I knew that with what foods I wanted, I’d quickly have a $15 salad on my hands and would have to hold back my tears at the cash register while I forked over the money and told myself I’d better be licking the plastic container clean.

Then I saw the bowl station had prepared salads, so I sauntered over there to get a Mediterranean salad, which would have fit the bill. Then I noticed that you could build your own, and they had maybe 30 different toppings, which was pretty much like the salad bar, except minus the cottage cheese, which I don’t eat anyway.

So I ordered a build-your-own salad, and the employee asked me what I wanted on it. I said, “Everything.”

“Everything?”

I scanned the rows of ingredients. “Well, maybe just two of the three coleslaws…and we can skip the kimchi. And I guess I’ll do just one kind of cheese.”

Raised eyebrows. “All right.”

Best damn salad ever. You can totally mix salsa and two kinds of coleslaw with spinach and peppers and feta and have a delicious concoction called “lunch.”

I went back to Heinen’s the next day and had the same thing, different dressing. Again, fantastic and joy-inducing, and I’m not sure if that’s because the food was good, the employees were super friendly or if shopping in such a beautiful building made the difference. I just know that it’s making a difference in a city–that still has a long way to go to get back to its glory days but is definitely showing a lot of signs of life. I’ll take that and look forward to the next time I go to Cleveland.

Now, if we could all work to get Gary back on track….

Winning at Lammington Roulette

4 Jun

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Back to Australia, where we’re on our last day on the road, and I still haven’t found a proper cream-filled Lammington. After leaving Buchan, we stopped for an excellent breakfast in Bruthen. I had high hopes for the small town’s bakery, but it didn’t even have Lammingtons. Onward.

We kept driving toward Melbourne and while going through the much larger town of Sale, I saw a bakery and we stopped. You know how you go to Europe and try to pronounce the name of something, and they have that way of correcting you where their tone of voice implies, “You ugly American. Our vowel pronunciation is much more civilized than your nasally twang. Always, always are our ‘a’s’ pronounced ‘ah”? It now doesn’t really matter where I travel, I automatically assume that if I’m outside of the United States and Canada, an ‘a’ is always pronounced ‘ah.’ Hence in Sale, I called it “Sah-lay.” Susy immediately corrected me. “It’s Say-el.” Gah! I’m showing not just my ugly American, I’m pulling out my ugly, pretentious American!

Anyway, Sale is where we hit the jackpot. They had Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons! They had cream Lammingtons in both chocolate and strawberry coating! JACKPOT! I got one of each–even though they were huge, I couldn’t resist–and back into the car we went. I scarfed down one of them throughout the rest of the journey and saved the other for breakfast the next day.

Both were fantastic–and they had jam in them as well! Cream and jam Lammingtons? BONUS JACKPOT! While they were completely delicious, I almost had to agree with Kill C.’s sentiment that, “The best part about finding cream Lammingtons is that I don’t have to eat anymore Lammingtons.” Until one of our clinic students found out we liked them and made a batch for us that night. Homemade, they were even better because the frosting was spread really thickly. Man, I can still taste those now. It’s a good thing I don’t have a recipe (yet) or that America hasn’t heard about this treat–we’re hip to the cupcake, whoopie pie and donut now. Lammingtons could be just around the food trend corner!

Postcard from Buchan

2 Jun

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In blog time, I’m still in Australia, near the end of our road trip. We had one more night on the road, and Susy found us a place in a tiny town (population: 326) in the hills called Buchan (rhymes with “truckin'”). We had to drive along many winding roads in the dark, and we actually had to deal with wildlife crossing the road several times. Twice, wallabies decided it would be fun to hop right in front of the car. Another time we had to stop for a wombat who darted across the road. Then we had to sit and wait for another huge wombat who decided it would take its own sweet time getting out of our way. The look on its face as it stared us down said a little more, but I’m not sure that’s fit to blog.

Needless to say, we weren’t quite sure what we were in for by the time we reached Buchan, but we knew instantly that we were in a place where we’d missed the dinner hour (earlier in the day we’d pretty much missed lunch and settled for a fried seafood feast in Eden, and we were all still hurting from that). Luckily, the lovely owners of the property where we were staying had some frozen pizzas on hand and beer and wine, so we paired that with cheese from Boden and had ourselves a little feast.

When we got to our cabin, we were sorely sorry we couldn’t spend another night here. The place had a great setup with three bedrooms, a living room, a rather large kitchen and an enormous bathroom with a tub and a separate shower that had body jets. We were all excited about the shower, although we were told to watch our water usage because it came from a tank attached to the house (and you wouldn’t want to run out in the middle of someone’s shower). Said shower was great until you opened the shower doors at the end and discovered that water had sprayed out all over the floor. Slight detractor on an otherwise lovely place.

The next morning, I took a little walk around the town, such that it was. It had a general store, a cafe (temporarily closed), a bar. Buchan’s known for its caves (which we didn’t have the time to visit) and it used to have a decent butter factory. I also found out that John Flynn, the guy on the Australian $20 bill, was a Presbyterian missionary in Buchan from 1905 to 1907. He later went on to work in the inland and became known for his work in setting up hospitals in the outback and creating the Royal Doctor Flying Service.

Sadly, that’s pretty much all the time we had for Buchan. A short, but glorious evening and morning in some beautiful countryside with sunny fall weather, cockatiels flying in the trees and a little bit of relaxation before we hit the big city of Melbourne.

The Anzac Biscuit that Got Away

20 May

I’ve been home for a week now, and I’m still thinking about this one Anzac biscuit that I did not purchase and devour. Mistake?

Let me back up for a second and explain the Anzac biscuit (note to Americans: biscuit = cookie). This biscuit is in honor of Anzac Day, which is on April 25 and honors the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand’s first major military action on Gallipoli during World War I (Anzac = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). As time passed and the globe experienced another World War, the day’s come to be an honor and memorial to those who’ve served in the Anzac armed forces, To an American, Anzac Day is basically Memorial Day on steroids. It’s a big deal. BIG deal. Everywhere you go, you’ll see billboards and public transit ads promoting memorial services and marches. I think it’s pretty cool, and although I’ve never been able to be in Australia or New Zealand for Anzac Day proper, I can appreciate how they honor those who’ve sacrificed for their country.

One of the traditions that go along with Anzac Day is the Anzac biscuit. This is a treat I found out about on an earlier trip to Australia, and now I know that if I’m there in April or May, I can find them. I’m sure that food manufacturers and bakeries have found a way to offer them all year round, but I’d like to think of them as something special, like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg, that you only get once a year. The Anzac biscuit is a non-chocolate, non-egg cookie that was made for soldiers in the war. Eggs were in short supply, so they used a golden syrup to hold this rolled oat, flour, butter and coconut mixture together. The result is a golden cookie that I find to be pretty tasty.

Since I got to Australia after Anzac Day, I wasn’t sure I’d find them (my Qantas flight–sometimes a good source for them–didn’t come through, so on the flight over I thought I was too late); however, it didn’t take too long after we got off the plane to find a cafe that had a jar of them. After spotting a manufactured package of them at the grocery store, I have a feeling that they’ve turned into something similar to the Reese’s (insert holiday-shaped peanut butter cup) phenomenon, where you can buy them year-round. I kind of hope I’m wrong about that, but Aussie reader, you can clue me in. Of course, soon thereafter, I embarked on my lamington challenge, which pretty much took up the share of stomach I was allowing for sweets, so I eyed most Anzac biscuits from afar, including the one I saw at the Bodalla Dairy Shed.

Once we picked up our Bateman’s Bay cabin and packed up the car, we headed south. First stop: Cheese. The Bodalla Dairy Shed produces small-batch cheese and yogurt and milk (and delicious-looking milkshakes, which I also passed on). The cheese is delicious–and they have a bunch of interesting varieties. As we were checking out, I saw the Anzac biscuits. Big ones. Delicious-looking ones. However, I’d stuffed myself with kangaroo breakfast burrito and had just tried every kind of cheese they sold. In the back of my head, I thought about the amount of weight I’ve gained over the last few months and how I really should work on getting that back off at some point. I didn’t really need a giant Anzac biscuit. Even though I’m on vacation. Even though I don’t see them at home. Even though it looked absolutely fantastic. And in a major display of willpower, I passed.

At our next cheese stop in Bega, which was more of a commercial outfit than Bodalla, I caved and got a sugar cookie with Smarties in it. It tasted pretty bad, and I didn’t even eat it all. So much for will power. The bitter, crumbly disappointment of this disaster made me wish I’d just gotten the Anzac biscuit and somehow not gulped it all down right away. It was big. I could’ve portioned it out. So much for plans and futile attempts at personal improvement. So much for what may have been the best Anzac biscuit I’d ever tasted. Or maybe not. Maybe I took a tiny step in the right direction. Maybe that Anzac biscuit was just a concrete disk. Maybe it was the better choice after all.

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