17

Memories Down Field Trip Lane

Hmm…what to write about for today?

How about a story?

It’s the reason I started this blog anyway.

Oh, how about terrible school field trips? That’s a good one.

Let’s see.

::dig dig dig into the past::

One of the earliest ones I can remember was our sixth grade camping trip to Genessee Valley. Genessee Valley is a large park in rural Maryland, with a lot of things like ropes courses and zip lines. It was also my first time camping. It was a little scary, but my dad was one of the chaperones so that was comforting. Anyway, it was just one overnight, and for most of the time, we were split up into groups for things like trust exercises. (Crap, I realized I should probably change everyone’s names, so all names from now on are pseudonyms). I don’t remember anything too remarkable about my group, except that I stupidly dropped my cap in a rushing river, and in an astonishing display of friendship, two of the girls in my group, Natasha and Sally, fished it out with a stick. The group my dad chaperoned had a little more excitement; in the very first activity, which involved the whole group attempting to stand on a platform together by swinging on a rope and landing on it, they decided to do it from smallest to largest. The tiniest girl in our grade, Elizabeth, went first, and everything was going well until Michael, the biggest in our grade, swung, and like dominoes, knocked everyone over on the platform and poor Elizabeth ended up breaking a tendon in her foot – all this a few hours into the trip. She didn’t go home, but someone had to carry her around for the rest of the time there. Also, there was a tree-climbing activity, and one of the taller kids in the grade, Ivan, was unexpectedly nimble at tree-climbing. He was almost at the top, and couldn’t figure out how to get to the last rung, which no one else had been able to do. The instructor yelled up, “try to straddle it!” Of course, she didn’t know that Ivan had moved to America from Russia five years ago and had no idea what straddle meant.

Seventh grade was our class trip to Washington DC, and probably one of the worst field trips of all time. We were learning about the government, so we had plans to see the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the Senate. As a bonus, we were to visit the FBI Building if we had time. I can’t remember the exact order of the sites, but I think that was it. At our first stop, the Capitol, our tour guide had a bad head cold and almost no voice. With sixty-something middle schoolers, and several teachers/chaperones, not to mention other tourists, guides, and tour groups, it was pretty futile to try to hear what the guide was saying. I wandered off to get a closer look at some of the artwork/statuary, and got yelled at by several teachers. When we got to the Supreme Court, we all had to go through a metal detector, which took at least 45 minutes, mostly because 3/4 of the class set it off in some way, including Tyler, who wore a collared shirt with metal buttons, which it took the security guards fifteen minutes to figure out. By the time we all got in, we were pretty antsy – plus it was almost time for lunch, so we were hungry – so naturally we were on the talkative side. We got about ten minutes in, down a stairway…and promptly got kicked out for being too loud. We were supposed to eat our lunches in a room there, but of course that was a no-go, so we ate lunch on a moving bus on the way to our next stop, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. And another metal detector, so we had to go through that drama all over again. What I remember of that stop, I liked, but we were “running late,” so the teachers practically pushed us through with fly-swatters. Finally, we made it to the Senate, and it just so happened that we were…running early. One of the teachers asked the lady behind the desk what we should do, and she suggested watching the movie about Congress in the little room next door. So, we sat through this rather uninteresting movie, and when it was over, we came back out, to find that the lady who was sitting at the desk was gone, and in her place were two security guards. When the teachers told them who we were, they told us that the last tour for the day had left, and we’d missed it (thanks to “running early” lady). Of course, the FBI Building needed reservations for a tour, and nobody had thought we’d get that far, so we piled back on the bus and got home two hours early. Oh, and at some point, one of the girls got whacked in the head by an automatic parking gate.

Eighth grade was the big trip – the Big Apple, New York City. Like the camping trip, this was also an overnight, only this time we were in a decent hotel just across the water in New Jersey. It was mostly touristy things, but I remember really enjoying going to the Planetarium the first day. We also got to see Les Miserables on Broadway, which was really special, despite the fact that I saw it again on Broadway a few months later. Of course, it wasn’t fun being with a bunch of…people my own age who talked through most of the show. To make it even better, as we left the Imperial Theatre, I tripped and fell on a crack in the sidewalk, and it wasn’t until we got back to the hotel that I realized my sock was filling with blood. Luckily, it was just a bruise, and even more luckily, one of my hotel roommates, Sam, was an Eagle Scout, so he called room service for a First Aid kit and patched me up, which was super nice of him. With a bunch of rowdy eighth-graders spending a night in an out-of-state hotel, the teachers were probably as thrilled as the staff, but I don’t remember anything of that night – the room assignments were across three floors, with most of the boys on one floor, most of the girls on another, and the teachers and a few leftover rooms on another. Fortunately, my room ended up being one of the ones on the “leftover” floor, along with 1 room of girls, a room of teachers, and a bunch of regular hotel guests, so we tucked into bed right after the show and had a relaxing night’s sleep, unlike the other two floors full of kids. I must have been really tired, because apparently a lot of running and door-slamming occurred, all night long. Other highlights of the trip were shopping in Chinatown, where I bought the first of my wind chime collection, and for some reason, stopping at a pickle stand, where a bunch of kids with a video camera tried to sell us condoms.

And that’s what kind of field trips my school went on.

Ah, I miss the days when you could just get on a bus and have a bunch of grown-ups do all the planning for you.

6

Let’s Face Facts, People

Not The Facts of Life, but the facts of The Face.

Yes, Facebook.

I feel like Facebook has been getting a lot of flak lately. Yes, there are things about it which are terrible and awful, like the games, and News Feed, but I think that people are approaching Facebook with a completely wrong attitude.

Facebook is, first and foremost, a social media website. I don’t know if people don’t understand that, but the point is that if you have a Facebook, there is something about your life that you want to be made public, because in theory, anyone can see your profile; even people with whom you’re not connected in any way. If you’re on Facebook, you’re going to be found.

Which brings me to my second point. Lately, the big trend has been changing your name on Facebook to a completely different one so “employers” or “bad people” or whomever can’t find you. Such a load of crap. I have a friend who recently got a “real job” so he changed his name on Facebook from Mike Johnson (names made up for this post) to Jeremiah Maxwell. Yet, in the url for the “Jeremiah Maxwell” profile, it still says http://www.facebook.com/mike.johnson.1234! Seriously, that’s just dumb. It only confuses your actual friends, and people will still find you. If you don’t want to be found, then just don’t have a Facebook account at all. It’s that simple.

Here’s a true story that happened to a friend of mine in college. We’ll call her Lauren.

It was 2005, right around the time when Facebook really took off, and it was a very different site. People had more personal information up, such as their dorm, so you could find out who lived near you, and your class schedule, so you could connect with people you went to class for notes and such. It was also only open to students back then, and students at other schools could not see your profile, so it felt a little safer. Anyway, Lauren and I met freshman year through her roommate Meg, who was a good friend of mine. I didn’t know Lauren that well, but what happened to her quickly gained attention not only from the school but from the mainstream media. Basically, Lauren was friended by an older student, we’ll call him Seth. She felt like she’d seen him around campus, or maybe he was a friend of a friend, so she didn’t really give it much thought.

Then, strange things started happening.

She kept running into Seth all the time; outside her dorm, in the store where she worked, walking outside the buildings where she had class. For a while, they didn’t talk, but she noticed him more and more frequently. Then, one day, as she got off the bus, he was at the stop and asked her what her favorite Pink Floyd album was, since she’d listed it on her profile. The next day, he was waiting outside her dorm and he told her that he liked the new dress she was wearing in her new profile picture. When she told him that she wasn’t interested in him, he said something like “I know where you work.” That kind of did it; she got off Facebook and all social media, despite it being too late, because he already knew where she would be 95% of the time since he knew her class schedule, dorm room, and workplace. She reported it to the police, and then basically had to change her life around: she moved into a different dorm, changed her classes, changed her work schedule and then quit altogether. Pretty soon after, she gained a modicum of fame for going public with her story and being smart enough to potentially stop an incident with someone older than her who she did not want anything to do with, led talks on nearby college campuses about her experience, spoke to the media, and became a huge advocate for the anti-social media movement.

She had a legit reason for leaving social media, and she did, cold turkey. She was inconvenienced by it, but she learned and grew from the experience and a lot of other college students did too. Now that Facebook is a much bigger thing, it’s potentially more dangerous, but if you’re that concerned about someone seeing your pictures or finding you, do what Lauren did. And if you’re not being stalked, consider yourself lucky.

And that’s why you shouldn’t complain about Facebook.

18

Emily Pudding

That’s So Jacob Presents:

That’s So Nom: Treats and Eats from Jacob’s Completely Amateur Kitchen

Episode 6: Emily Pudding

You’re probably saying to yourself, “well that’s an unusual title for a post.” And I am here to say…that yes, it is. Lost night, a friend of mine on Facebook posted a meme game describing your burlesque name: the name of your first pet + the last thing you ate. I have never had any pets, other than a few fish whose names I’ve forgotten (I think at one point I had a Lars, an Abigail, and a Goldie, or something like that) but in seventh grade, I had a plant who I called Emily. I also had two cacti around the same time, called Lenny and Squiggy due to their resemblances to David Lander (Lenny was tall, spiky and skinny) and Michael McKean (Squiggy was a short, fuzzy, round one). I can’t remember what type of plant Emily was – she might have been a flower, or some ivy – but maybe this is a sign that I should go and buy another plant and name her Emily. And the pudding refers to an unusual pudding dessert/treat/thing I got from one of my favorite recipe sites, The Picky Eater Blog, run by Anjali.

The recipe is for Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries, but I couldn’t find any raspberries (not the season) and it ended up more like a pudding, so it shall hereby be known as Emily Pudding. Here’s how to make it.

  1. Toss a half cup of chia seeds, 1/4 cup of chocolate PROTEIN powder (fitness for the win), 1 cup of milk, and 1 squeeze of honey into your grandmother’s ancient blender.
  2. Blend a little, and when the machine starts to rattle because it forgot how to blender, turn it off, give it a stir, scrape the excess chia off the sides, and blend again.
  3. Chill for 15 minutes. In the fridge. The gloppy mixture, not you.
  4. Scrape it into a bowl, add in 1 cup of fat-free Greek yogurt, and mix it with a mixer.
  5. Notice that it’s a little more chewy than creamy, and tastes a bit off, so add some sprinkles of Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder.
  6. Finish most of it yourself while watching TV.

Serves 1 hungry Ph.D. and 2 girls across the hall who enjoy pudding.

This is Emily Blunt eating pudding.

10

Going to Pizza Hut in Israel

It’s been a while since I wrote an Israel post, and with the recent back-and-forth between me and Vanessa, here’s another story from Israel which I am surprised I had not yet posted.

Fast food restaurants in Israel are quite the experience. There’s basically two categories: the locals and the imports. Locals are places like Burger Ranch and Cafe Hillel; places that basically don’t exist outside the country. They’re sort of a mix of fast food and restaurant, and usually the fare is cheaper, more exciting, and better-tasting than the food from the second category, which would be the American imports, like McDonaldsBurger King, and Pizza Hut. It’s not a hard and fast rule – for example, I think Cafe Hillel’s coffee kinda sucks – but generally, employees at the latter restaurants are at the mercy of the internationally-focused franchisers rather than the local, so they have different standards for their employees. And, as we know here in America, the latter restaurants tend to pop up in the not-so-greatest parts of town, further weakening their reputations.

But anyway, the story.

One night I went to visit Ele in Rehovot. I got off the train and he and Janet were there to fetch me, with the task of going to the store to bring back dinner for all their housemates. After buying soda at a makolet, we stopped by the local Pizza Hut in crummy downtown Rehovot to get cheap and quick eats for the gang. We place our order, and I hand over my credit card to pay. She runs it and it doesn’t work. After trying it a few times, she says it’s not good. I say that it is, and she asks if she can see my teudat zehut (Israeli ID card) to punch in my ID number, and maybe that will push the transaction through. I tell her that I’m not an Israeli citizen, and neither are Ele and Janet, so we don’t have teudat zehut.

Then, the most redoinkulous and awkward situation commences (as if it could get weirder):

PIZZA HUT LADY: Do you have your American teudat zehut?

ME: Um, we don’t have those in America.

PIZZA HUT LADY: You don’t?

ME: Nope. It’s just an Israeli thing.

PIZZA HUT LADY: So what do you have?

ME: Well, I have my driver’s license on me ::innocently takes it out of my wallet::

PIZZA HUT LADY: Can I see it?

ME: Um, okay. ::hands it over:

PIZZA HUT LADY punches numbers into the machine. Nothing. She keeps trying.

ME: Um, ma’am…what are you doing?

PIZZA HUT LADY: I’m trying this number.

Yep, that’s right. The lady at the Pizza Hut kiosk on the main street in downtown Rehovot thought that my Soundex number would magically pay for a pizza. I guess worse assumptions have been made, but despite my insisting that it was just a license, and not connected to any sort of bank account (and it barely has a magnetic strip) she kept on trying, in vain, and even called over a manager to help her out, while we all looked on in wonderment.

Eventually, while looking around and noticing something across the street, I said “you know what, just wait a sec.” I gave Ele my license and wallet, took out my credit card, ran to the ATM across the way hoping it was functional (it was), withdrew money, and paid in cash.

And that’s what it’s like to get Pizza Hut in Israel.

12

Things I Learned About My First-Grade Self From My First-Grade Classmates

Today was the first day in a long, long time in which all four members of my family were at home, and since my parents have been on a major cleaning spree, one of today’s tasks for me and my sister was to clear out some of our old stuff from the basement and either decide to take it with us or throw it away. I remember most of the stuff I kept in those boxes, mostly old assignments and drawings from elementary school, but some of the items took me by surprise. One such item about which I’d completely forgotten, even upon seeing it again, was a book my classmates in first grade made about me.

I do remember that in first grade, we had a “star” of the week each week, and that my week was sometime in February, but I had forgotten what exactly that entailed. What I uncovered was my “Star Book;” nothing to do with astrology, but rather a collection of sentences my classmates wrote about me and the teacher stapled in a book. Needless to say, I learned a lot about myself from this very eye-opening book of six-year-old scratches.

On the front cover, it says my full name, and that I am Shy, Terrific, Amiable, and Respectful, spelling STAR. I remember all the adjectives that my teacher had and we could pick the ones which we thought best described ourselves. I have no clue why I picked those four words; I probably was terrific and usually respectful, and I had my shy moments, but I’m not sure what possessed me to pick amiable.

So, let’s take a look inside and see what we can learn, shall we?

1. My favorite food is spaghetti.

A number of my classmates mentioned it, but I remember growing up hating spaghetti. My mother always overcooked it and usually it ended up on my lap. I hated eating it and I hated marinara sauce. Nowadays, I don’t mind it, but what a weird answer for little me to divulge.

2. My favorite flag? Slovakia.

Another odd choice, but somehow serendipitous, given that twenty years later I would visit Slovakia for two weeks and write my 155-page Master’s thesis on it. My guess is because it had just become an independent country and I’d seen it on the news or something.

3. I like Bugs Bunny.

Really? Bugs Bunny? Not a clue on why I said that.

4. My favorite animals are horses and lambs.

I think it was because of some children’s books I’d read featuring those animals. Not that I have anything against them today, at all, but it’s written several times, including in my own handwriting in other places. I have no recollection, though, of liking horses and lambs, or why.

5. My favorite musical instrument is a guitar.

Again, no clue. I thought I liked pianos from an early age,

6. My favorite car? A van.

Apparently, I knew nothing about cars. Still true.

7. I am the best speller in the class.

Yep, true. I even have a story about it.

8. My favorite flower is a morning glory.

What the…? Of all the flowers, Jacob? Someone had probably been reading seed packets at the grocery store that day or something.

9. I am handsome, kind, and almost everyone listed me as “my friend.”

Not true. Out of the 18 people in said class, I am still friends with 6 of them on Facebook. I am still in contact with exactly 0 of these people, even though I know where many of them went after high school. Most of these people were either rotten to me at some point, or just indifferent towards me. I know that I definitely thought that more people in my class disliked me, when it was probably the case that people just didn’t care one way or the other, but didn’t go out of their way to talk to me or interact with me, which I guess meant to little me that we were not friends, and therefore, enemies. I didn’t really grasp the concept of friends back then, probably because I was a weird kid.

10. My birthday? October 21.

Yep, still true. Some things never change.

 

4

Two Random Childhood Memories

I haven’t told any good stories in a while, so here are two that I don’t want to forget. One silly one and one serious one. Tell me what you think.

1. All Combs Go To Heaven

One morning when I was about 6 or 7, I was getting ready for school. Ever the multitasker, I was peeing while combing my hair. As I reached to flush the toilet, the comb flew out of my hand and went straight down the hole. I tried to reach for it, but I didn’t manage to get it in time. I do not know why, but this caused me great distress. I think I even cried.

My first thought: oh God, I’ve destroyed the plumbing in my house. It’s going to get stuck in the pipes and everything’s going to be backed up. We’re going to have to replace all the sinks and toilets and pipes and it’s all my fault.

My second thought: where did it go? Where do things that get flushed down the toilet go? Do they disappear, or do they ever come back.

I ran to my parents, telling them what happened, and they didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. I even asked them how I could fit inside the toilet and get it. They tried to explain to me that it was gone, and it was an accident, but I wasn’t going to see it again. I asked them where it would end up, and they told me that it would probably end up in a sewage plant somewhere. I asked them where that was, and they shut me down pretty quickly. I guess that’s what you do when your six-year-old asks about visiting sewage plants.

It traumatized me for weeks, and every time I saw a hairbrush or comb, I got sad immediately and my parents had to console me. Looking back, it seems more funny than sad, but it’s interesting to see how small your world is as a child and how much insignificant things can affect you.

2. The Relative Truth

Growing up, I had a babysitter who was practically part of the family. She loved us, she took care of us when my parents were away, and she helped me learn so many things, from the basics of reading to how to fold towels so they looked neat on the shelf.

One time, also around that same age as the comb story, we were learning about families in school: parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. At a family event, I was sitting with my mom, when all of a sudden this conversation took place.

Me: “Mom, how is [babysitter] related to us?”

Mom: “She’s your babysitter.”

Me: “Yes, but is she my aunt, or my cousin?”

Mom: “She isn’t either.”

Me: “So is she related to us?”

Mom: “Well…yes. But not by blood.”

What a great response to young me.

And that was how I learned that friends can indeed be family, and that there’s a difference between being related and being blood-related.

Because my mommy said so and she’s never wrong.

Except for the time she yelled at me once for buying her a bag of lettuce at the store that listed ingredients on the front that included feta cheese, before realizing that it wasn’t a list of what was in the bag, but suggestions on what would taste good with said lettuce in a salad.

8

That’s SoMG: The Curmudgeon of Liechtenstein

Take two!

That’s So Jacob presents:

That’s SoMG: Scandals, Secrets, and Shockers That Will Make You Slap Your Hand Over Your Mouth

Episode 2: The Curmudgeon of Liechtenstein

Germany, 1930s.

This is the story of my great uncle, whom I’ll call Uncle Herschel. Born and raised in Germany, Herschel trained as a telegraph operator before meeting his wife, a lovely lady otherwise known as Aunt Greta. Before the war, they had two children, Bert, who passed away of meningitis at the age of 13, and Rosalind, whom they called Lindy. (All these names are fake, by the way).

Anyway, when the war came to Europe, they sent Lindy away to live with some uncles in Dijon, France, while they weathered the Nazi storm in one of the most unusual places.

locator map of LiechtensteinZámek Vaduz na pohlednici

Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a principality with only eleven towns. The entire country could fit inside the District of Columbia. It is so small that the Germans were not even interested in getting involved, which was lucky for Uncle Herschel and Aunt Greta.

Fortunately, as it happened, Uncle Herschel and Aunt Greta managed to secure visas for themselves to leave Liechtenstein and immigrate to America. They first tried to get Lindy to Liechtenstein, but apparently she was recognized on the train and had to return to Dijon. They then attempted to have a hearing for her to get an American visa, which did not happen. It is unclear why Lindy was sent to live in Dijon in the first place, but rumor has it she was messing around with a German soldier. Though Herschel and Greta immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland USA, they did not find out until the war was over that Lindy was among the Jews rounded up at the velodrome at Drancy and shipped to their deaths in Auschwitz. She was in her mid-20s.

Meanwhile, in America, Herschel got into business, and Greta was just…a stay-at-home wife. In no photo was Herschel ever smiling, and he treated Greta horribly. He refused to learn English, saying “let the Americans learn German and French.” Yes, he was that guy. They had no more children, mostly due to what happened one day in the 1960s, when my dad was still a kid.

Aunt Greta was found dead.

One day, she was found outside their home, and no one ever found out how she died. Though it is possible that she fell out of an open third-story window or was pushed, she most likely committed suicide by jumping. Nobody was close with her, not even my grandmother, who got along with pretty much everybody. My dad remembers very little of her, other than the fact that she was quiet and enjoyed knitting.

Uncle Herschel lived until the mid 1970s, and died at a ripe old age.

But mostly, he is remembered for always being grouchy.

The story was much better when my father told it, and we had photographs, postcards, letters from Lindy to her parents in Liechtenstein, including one where she describes wanting to go swimming in the river, but she knows that everyone will watch her and go “who’s that’s crazy person swimming in the river?” (Lindy’s words, not mine). The most unique object in this particular collection was Aunt Greta’s passport. Unlike everything else – the letters, the visas, the photos – for some reason, Aunt Greta’s passport was preserved remarkably well. We passed it around the seder table and marveled; it was as crisp and clean as the day she got it. It looked like it had just come out of the printer, aside from the outdated Nazi stamps and visas for Germany, Liechtenstein, and the USA.

And that’s my one connection to the nation of Liechtenstein.

In other news, the sign I have on my door saying “No Advertisements Please” worked for the first time today, as I came home to find pizza menus sticking out of every door but mine.

And although no Africans came to visit today, cheers to a five continent day: North America (Canada, USA, and Mexico), South America (Brazil), Europe (UK, Belgium, and Germany), Asia (Israel, India and Taiwan), and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).