30 April, 2016

Z is for ZOOS!

ZOOS! Who doesn't enjoy visiting the zoo? Even though I basically grew up in places fraught with nature and wild animals everywhere, Zoos are still great.

When I was quite young, we visited the Minneapolis Zoological Gardens. I have vague memories of that... I think I - or maybe someone else in my family - took a ride on a camel? Was that a thing? I had to be just 6yo or younger.

I don't remember visiting a zoo in Sri Lanka, India or Taiwan. My dad swears by the Butterfly House in Taiwan - presumably part of a zoo? - but I was only there in the summers and I was a teenager so probably didn't leap at the chance to go. (Besides, Taiwan is NASTY in the summer! Temps in the mid-90s, and humidity equally as high. No exaggeration.) 
My 6th grade class at Kodai took a class trip to a safari park, but we didn't see anything cool. No big cats or anything. Advantage of a zoo - you WILL see the cool animals! 

When I lived in Chicago, we went to the Brookfield Zoo a couple times. That's a nice zoo. Even in the winter! I went to the Cleveland Zoo when I visited my brother's family. They had two young children at the time, and a season pass. That was also a good zoo.

The saddest "zoo" I've been to is in Salisbury, MD. It's in a park, and free admission, but the animals are in quite small enclosures, and there aren't a lot of animals anyway. Although they have some cute, tiny owls that I love! (Made me think of the hyper owl Ron Weasley got in the Harry Potter books.)

Zoomerica, attached to Hersheypark is better. Still some smallish enclosures, but not as bad, and they have a reptile house, and the most beautiful grounds you could hope for.

A couple years ago my sister and I took my brother and his two little girls to the Indianapolis Zoo. They loved it. It was nice, but I think Brookfield is better. They have a Butterfly House that Titania (7yo) loved. Brett immediately said St. Louis Zoo is better, but it took another couple years for us to get there.

Our first trip through St. Louis together, we didn't have time for the zoo, but we went to Grant's Farm, which is kind of like a zoo. It has animals from every continent (except Antarctica) - most in enclosures which enable you to pet them. It also has a beer garden, where all adults can have two free beers - Anheuser-Busch brands only. Lovely, short visit.
On a longer visit, we had the nieces along (from the Indy Zoo visit) and got to the St. Louis Zoo. It is free.
It is expansive.
It is crowded.
It was hot. 
Brett was right: It is an awesome zoo. I'd love to go sometime maybe in the fall when it's cooler.

Moral of the Story: Zoos are cool.   

29 April, 2016

Y is for York, Pennsylvania

After college, I floundered. I was living in the Chicago area, working at the same job I had during college – now full-time – which felt like a cop-out. My friends were moving away or settling into the suburbs, which I did not get. What’s the point of being a part of the big city community if you never go into the city?

I ventured into a grad school program, not into a field I was drawn to, but one that gained major points with my dad. Surprise! I never finished that program, but I did drift into a several-month-long depression.

I had been living with my parents for a couple months when an old college friend who had moved away called.

Friend: Hey! Hubs got a position in someplace called York, Pennsylvania, and we’re going to be in northern Indiana for the weekend to pack up all our storage stuff. We’re calling all of our friends who still live within a reasonable distance…Want to help?

Me: Well sure! I’d love a weekend away from the house!

I saw this as my way out of a dead-end life that was driving me insane. Not wanting to explain myself to anyone, I simply packed my backpack with enough for about a week, and headed out. My intention was to help them load up the rental truck, and when they hit the road, I’d hit the road, too, going wherever the road took me.

During a day-and-a-half of catching up with someone I hadn’t seen in about 3 years, somehow I ended up explaining my plan. She was mortified at the capriciousness of my decision, but soon realized she wasn’t talking me out of it.

Later that night she suggested that I follow them as far as York.

Friend: If you’re hitting the road anyway, why not come with us? We’d love to have help unpacking in York, and you can stay with us a week or so and see if you like it. If not, move on. If York suits you, we can help you get set up there, too! Neither of us know anyone there, so it’ll be nice to be able to support each other.

That actually sounded reasonable. It wasn’t like I was committing to anything. I agreed.

Within my “one week” in York, I found a full-time job in retail, and decided I might as well stick around a year and save up for the next leg of my life’s adventure.

I got stuck for three years.

All in all, York is not my favorite place on earth, but in those three years I made some solid friends I am still in contact with today, so it must have been alright!

Moral of the Story: You have the power to change your life!

28 April, 2016

X is for X-ray Lab

When I lined up my 26 topics for this challenge, I thought I was so very clever to think of this place!

But it’s really more about radiology labs.

"I’ve had precisely one x-ray in my life, after a car accident, and I don’t really remember it. There was nothing broken, so no follow up." End of post.

However, if I broaden the subject to radiology labs, I can offer a short PSA to all you ladies reading this:

Get your mammograms!

My eldest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s, so I started getting mammograms the following year, also in my 30s. It’s not painful, just a little uncomfortable because they have to squish you SO FLAT! But only for a few seconds. The peace of mind is worth the discomfort.

Truthfully, she felt a lump during a self-exam, and I believe that is fairly common. So even more than getting regular mammograms, be sure to give yourself regular self-exams.
(I’m bad at that, but remember occasionally. At least it's more frequent than the annual professional one.)

They keep changing the guidelines for how often a woman should receive these tests, so I’d suggest not trusting the medical community on this – do the self-exams, even if you won’t be getting a full mammogram for years!

End of PSA.

Moral of the Story: Know your body!

27 April, 2016

Whitewater rafting - or not?

…or so we were told.

I was a chaperone on a Servant Event trip to North Carolina, and we had scheduled a day-off fun trip including whitewater rafting on the French Broad River.

However, this was a year of drought. We baked in the sun all week, out in that Carolina heat – You know the “Carolina Blue” color? It’s the blue in the Carolina Panthers logo, and I believe the same blue for the Tarheels team. Well, that was honest-to-God the color of the sky that entire week.

Sweat bees were biting us out in the sun. I realized they’re nothing to be afraid of.

Anyway, Saturday we drove a couple hours to the Nantahala Outdoor Center to rent gear and take a guided whitewater raft journey down the French Broad River – woohoo! I’d never done this before! There were a couple larger rafts seating (I think) 6 each, and a few of us took single-seater “ducks”. Kind of like a kayak, but inflatable. I’ve kayaked several times, so I took one of the ducks.
Well, the water was low, so it really was like kayaking down a river. There were some slightly bumpier sections, and one place where we all got out of our rafts and swam in a deep pool before continuing downstream. It was the perfect refreshing end to a week of hard work. There were still a couple days of work and cleanup, but most of the hard labor was past.

I don’t know if it can truly count as whitewater rafting, but I’m counting it! …until I do it for real some other time.

Moral of the Story: Get out into the water when you can!

26 April, 2016

V for Violent Femmes!

I have been a fan of Violent Femmes since... high school? college? And I'm not an avid concert-goer, but I've seen these guys TWICE!

Since they are not exactly mainstream, maybe I should explain that Violent Femmes is a musical group. How do we classify them - alternative? I guess I'd say alternative. My general taste as far as rock music goes is alternative, so yeah. Not the typical 80s alternative - Depeche Mode, Cure, Smiths, etc. They are wackadoo hilarious fun alternative.

The first time I saw them live was in a college gymnasium, and I was there with my sister. It was a pretty lackluster crowd, but the music was good.

One of my favorites of theirs: 

(You may recognize it from the Gnarls Barkley remake.)
I knew a guy in college who could play that marimba part perfectly. 

Sometime before my second opportunity to see them - at this awesome beach-themed club in Ocean City, MD - my friend who was going with me gave me a copy of a different CD of theirs than I'd previously heard. That is the only place I've heard Country Death Song. 
I love it! 
It's so peppy!
It's so dark.
It's gruesome.
But hoe-down fun in sound. Check it out if you want to hear something weird.

They didn't play it at either concert. Probably for obvious reasons.

That second concert was awesome. It was crowded, it was all standing - no seats - so we worked our way up to the very front. And I was there with a good, fun friend

Moral of the Story: Listen to what makes you happy. 

U is for...

I'm trying to write a post about my experience with the London UNDERGROUND (aka The Tube) but on the off-chance that I'm called in to work over the weekend and can't finish it adequately, I'm scheduling this to go up.

U is also for...

The U.S.A.!

I've been to 47 of the US States - either visited directly, driven through en route to another destination, or (Alaska and Hawaii) touched down in a plane. I have yet to see Alabama, Louisiana, or Rhode Island. In several (3?)visits to New England, I have decided that one must make a specific trip into RI to see it. I've driven through Connecticut a couple times, although I've never truly visited.

So there you have it, my back up post - U is for U.S.A.

Moral of the Story: There's no excuse not to have a post, if you've planned your month adequately!

23 April, 2016

T is for Taipei

One summer, while my family was living in Taipei, Taiwan, a student in China brought western media attention to protests happening in Beijing, by standing still in front of tanks that were bearing down on the protestors.
image: money.cnn.com

I know you’ve heard of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. We all witnessed from a distance shocking truths happening in a foreign, still Communist, country. What you may not know is that the government of the People’s Republic of China (PROC) enforced a media blackout. No news. No TV, radio, or newspapers to any part of China. If you were in China, but not on-the-spot in Beijing you couldn’t know. If you had loved ones taking part in the protest, you wouldn't know what happened to them - where they arrested? killed?

Democracy in action - downtown Taipei

SIDEBAR: Taiwan, Republic of China, or Taiwan, ROC, my then-home is NOT China. I know, Americans who buy into what the media tells us may be unaware. Taiwan is a FULLY FUNCTIONING DEMOCRACY. They would not object to reunification if PROC made drastic policy changes, but they currently stand alone. (pardon my soap-box, but this must be said.) The fact that the US gives/gave Most Favored Nation Status to a Communist government while denying the sovereignty of a nearby democracy is an absolute travesty, and makes me honestly ashamed to call myself American. We are so materialistic that we are enabling a government to continue violating human rights so that we can buy their cheaply manufactured crap, while a tiny republic has to keep close eye on the narrow strait keeping that regime at bay!

It’s outrageous.

It should be un-American.

If we stand for democracy, we need to stand for democracy.

(putting my soap-box away.)


You still here? Thanks. Here's my real point:

One day during the media blackout I was in my dad’s office, and all the Taiwanese staff were heading out for the afternoon. Dad’s secretary invited me to join them and we took a city bus to a huge gathering at one of the memorials in downtown Taipei. People were cutting pertinent articles out of the Taiwan papers, to be air-lifted over the Straits of Taiwan.
This one: Sun Yat-sen Memorial in Taipei

Now, I can’t read Chinese, but I do know how to operate a pair of scissors. There were thousands of people spread around the grounds, and bundles of newspapers being dropped off and spread around to clusters of volunteers. Among the different papers, someone pointed out to me the particular Chinese headlines I was looking for, and I got to work. The thought that this might be the only news that reached people in the far south of China was humbling and motivating. It still brings tears to my eyes.

image: cnn.com
I might not have known how to read the language, but I could recognize what was pointed out to me. People seemed surprised and appreciative that this strange, white girl was helping them send news of Beijing to strangers across the sea. Personally, I was surprised not to see more Americans in the mix.

Moral of the Story: Don’t EVER think you can’t help.

22 April, 2016

S is for Stonehenge

Brief note/whine: I must admit, I'm struggling to keep up, this far into the alphabet. Oh, I will finish. I will post for every letter. But I feel my posts are getting a little weaker as I go. My best personal pictures have already been used, and let's face it: U-Z are pretty slim pickings for subject matter!

I could almost cry for running out of words to spend on Stonehenge, because this is one of my deepest obsessions, so being at a loss for words is (haha) unspeakable. Yet, read on for my attempt to describe...

The original layout (hover over image for credit)
I love visiting my obsessions. First, Loch Ness, when I was a teen. Then, in college, I finally got to Stonehenge - another nerd-like obsession of mine. At least this one's definitely real! 
This is LITERALLY the stuff legends are made of. Fiction writers use it as a basis for stories, National Geographic hosted a special where scientists attempted to rebuild the site (in a different location) with wooden structures of the same dimensions as the stones, and replicating the manner in which it was built!
At the time I visited, there was some kind of work being done, and the actual structure was inaccessible due to wire-fencing. You could see it, but not actually walk amongst the stones. I do hope that was temporary... maybe they were putting in a sidewalk around it.
If I could go there every day, I would. This would be my spot to pack a picnic and a book, or notebook to write. I'd photograph it in every light, in every season.
It's so...big.
So old.
So mysterious.
It's freakin' prehistoric! 

Image: sacred-destinations.com
As an American, let me tell you, we know NOTHING about age! While on that day-trip to the Salisbury Plain to look at Stonehenge, we went into Salisbury to visit Salisbury Cathedral, too (built in 1320).
I marveled at the old Tudor buildings, and my English hosts didn't seem to get my amazement.
image: photoready.co.uk

Me: How can that building even still be standing? (although, drooping slightly)
Host: What do you mean?
Me: It's so old!
Host: Meh. Not really.

Stonehenge was completed 3500 years ago. Let THAT sink in for a second. What is that Biblically, like, Abraham-era? Maybe more like Joseph? When were the pyramids?
Regardless. I was, and shall remain, in awe of this monument of ancient engineering.
...and I found my words by just gushing.

Moral of the Story: Age is relative.

21 April, 2016

R is for Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach was the main resort town near my home in (a smaller resort town) in Delaware. It’s where I worked, where I played, where I ate, where I went to the gym, where I did the Polar Bear Plunge…
image: tripadvisor.com
Rehoboth has a cute downtown - "The Avenue" which leads from Highway 1 to the boardwalk. No chain stores (or not big chains) and no chain restaurants along the Avenue. It's all cute, locally-owned, beachy and artsy shops and eclectic restaurants.

The Avenue is about 70% closed during the winter. The less-touristy places are open year-round, but that's about it. Window shopping.
That's the winter.
Unless there's a hurricane. When a hurricane is imminent, windows are boarded or steel hurricane shutters rolled down for protection from Mother Nature.

Geographically mid-Atlantic, hurricanes usually were downgraded to tropical storm status by the time they reached us.
But not always.
Irene was pretty wild.
Image: rehobothbeachfever.com
Hurricane Irene was headed right for us. As her arrival neared, the State issued a mandatory evacuation for anyone living within 0.75 miles of the shore. My tiny house was just one block from the beach.

Image: weatherimagery.com
I taped my windows – this doesn’t prevent damage, but makes it easier to clean up any broken glass.

I elevated books and electronics that were on the floor.

I unplugged everything.

Then I packed for two nights (just in case) and went to stay with a friend who lived in a town a few miles inland.
image: movieposters2038.net

She kept the door to her back deck open so we could hear the wind and watch the trees blow, and we watched The Shining.
(No correlation; I just hadn't seen it and it was on.)

The next morning I was able to get home with no problem. (No damage, either.)

Right around that time, a tornado touched down in my little coastal town. We never get tornados. Hurricanes, sure. Tornados? Not on this side of the Chesapeake!

AND...Not too long after that, we all experienced the earthquake that struck near Richmond, Virginia. Yeah.

Next time I was down at the boardwalk, I saw someone selling t-shirts boasting: “I survived Irene, the tornado, and the earthquake!” There’s one in every crowd.

Moral of the Story: Board your windows all you want, Jack Nicholson's breaking in the door!