Always Have Stamps

It’s been a busy few days for me (when is it not busy? Oh yeah, like, never these days), but fortunately there is a way to slow things down and reexamine your life.

I was on Facebook, and Heloise (who I met this summer, in PEI) was online too. I realized that I’d kept in contact with some others (Jade, Yurie) by sending them postcards, but not with Heloise for some reason. So I messaged her out of the blue, asking her if she’d like one, and she was all “omgyay here’s my address I’m so happy!!!”

And that made me feel good.

For the next few minutes, I wrote a short note to her, not on Facebook but on a picture postcard of Trempealeau County that I picked up somewhere along the way and had laying around. It was just a moment of my day, but it reminded me that it’s good to do random acts of kindness for other humans, and that taking a step back to just write a message in your fanciest penmanship on a pretty postcard is good (not all steps back are good though, especially if you’re standing on the edge of a cliff. Don’t do that).

Then, I had to search for a stamp.

I had a book of Elvis stamps somewhere around the apartment, but in the most recent cleaning-and-moving-shit-around spree I had misplaced them, so after I tore up my apartment, again, I remembered that I had bought some backup stamps, Ingrid Bergman ones, expressly for this purpose and left them in my car. I went downstairs, got two stamps, came back up, and stamped the postcard. Good to go. In a week or so, I will hopefully get an excited message on Facebook or maybe even something in the mail in return.

And that’s why it’s always important to have at least two books of stamps in your possession.



Man, Utah really does a number on the nervous system.

Even though this post is going to technically be published on July 21st, my computer is on Central Time, and I’m currently sitting here and writing this at 11:24 PM Mountain Time here in Julie’s living room in Orem, Utah. This is also the middle of Phase One of my 2015 Summer Odyssey, and kicking it off in a new state – number 40 for me – has, so far, been great.

So, to recap:

Yesterday (July 19) = Day One. Awake at 6-something after being to excited/anxious/nervous to sleep. At least I didn’t have to move apartments this time around. Actually, that made last time somewhat easier, but this time, I could get lazy about cleaning/packing since I could pretty much leave my apartment as is. Basically, I cleaned the floor, washed the dishes, and took out the trash before I left, but I left with half a hamper full of laundry and a bathroom that hadn’t been scrubbed clean in a long time. Once in the cab, I had my first mini-heart-attack of the trip, when I realized my camera was missing before we turned off Conklin Avenue. It ended up stuck between the seats of the cab, for some reason.

Security at Dane County Airport was a breeze, and soon enough I was on my first flight, on United Airlines from Madison to Denver, Colorado. On the flight, I sat with a high school kid who was on his way to Orange County. The flight was two and a half hours, and even though I don’t normally sleep on planes, I think I nodded off for at least thirty minutes.

Arriving at Denver Airport, I had about a half hour to book it from Gate B20 to Gate B77, just barely enough time to get on the plane. This one was much smaller, with a very loud engine. I had to gate-check my bag as it wouldn’t fit in the compartment.

Then, finally, Salt Lake City. Julie and family timed it perfectly and we had a happy reunion at the airport, before heading out into the beautiful Utah sunshine.


Utah. Is. GORGEOUS. Everywhere you look, it’s a different color, from red rock to yellow sand to green and brown mountains. The sky isn’t as big as Texas but the blue is striking on a sunny day. They informed me that Salt Lake City, being a Mormon hot spot, shuts down on Sundays almost completely, which I found to be totally weird. Fortunately, we found a great little Italian place that seemed relatively new. It’s strange; a setting of ancient mountains, yet everything looks brand new.

Soon enough we arrived at their lovely apartment in downtown Orem, a suburb of Salt Lake City. After a short break to catch up and catch our breath, we headed on out to Bridal Veil Falls, and even though there were tons of people there, we still got a great little hike in to a beautiful waterfall. It was so refreshing to feel the cool mist on my face, while watching idiots ignore the “no climbing” signs and try not to die. It stays light until almost 10 PM here, so it was broad daylight when we went home for a light dinner. After the little girls went to bed, Julie and Nathan and I sat up with wine and chocolate until about midnight.

Bringing us to Day 2, which was today. A bit of a late start so I could sleep in from the trip and get adjusted to the time difference. We were going to take a long road trip today, but the forecast seemed a little uncertain so we went to Timpanogos Cave National Monument in American Fork, only 45 minutes or so away. Once there, I bought Iris a National Parks Passport and introduced her to the wonderful world of stamping. I love spoiling other peoples’ kids. We thought we could just go in, but it turns out you need to buy tickets for a guided tour, which is the only way you can see the caves! Fortunately, Nathan snapped up the last few tickets of the day, a 5:45 PM tour.

And the time? 11:45 AM.

Fortunately we had looked up some places to explore nearby in Salt Lake City, so after lunch at a Whole Foods cafe, we headed over to a spot I’d found, the Gilgal Sculpture Garden. It’s a “visionary art environment,” in every sense of the word, complete with a Sphinx with Joseph Smith’s head, stone books, and rocks with bible quotes. It was small, (about the size of an average home’s backyard), but perfect for Ramona, Julie’s littlest, to run around in and imagine and ask questions.

Then, Julie found info about a nearby International Peace Garden, so off we went. Now this place? Super cool. It was built in 2002 for the Olympics, and it’s a pretty large park with different pavilions and mini-gardens representing different countries. Right near the entrance is a Chinese hut with a little pond, then right after that, some Greek columns, and on it went from there. It was beautifully designed, even though it seemed kind of arbitrary since other than the architecture and flags, the flowers all seemed to be the same. Iris and I walked around and hit the highlights, including a Margaret Thatcher bust in the England Garden; a tiny house in Switzerland; a mini-maze in Korea; an Eiffel Tower sculpture in France; and a giant harp in Wales. We also saw gardens for Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Netherlands, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Lebanon, Germany, Ireland, Brazil, Philippines, Japan, India, a general idea of Africa, and oddly enough, the Pacific island nation of Tonga. Iris was disappointed that there was no Madagascar or Australia. The only ones we missed were Scotland and America, maybe we breezed by those too quickly.

Then, back to the main attraction of the day: Timpanogos Cave. I’m getting a little tired, so maybe I’ll add more description in a future post, but I can describe it in a few words: hot, cold, amazing, and cute. Hot: the hike up to the cave. Steep trail, blazing heat, but fantastic views. Cold: Once inside the caves, we all needed jackets and were shivering when we finally emerged at the end of the hour and a half long cave tour. Amazing: all the stuff we saw and learned in the caves. Beautiful, glowing calcite formations, majestic flow stone, stalactites and stalagmites, tiny underground pools, intricate patterns on the walls and ceiling, and trying not to get too wet from the drippy drippy drips. Going down was a breeze, all the way to the cute: Ramona and Iris doing the Junior Ranger program. Julie shot a video on her phone and took pictures, it was adorable. Then, back to civilization for Smashburger and Menchie’s (we deserved all those calories!) and back home for bed

My first impression of Utah (well, after beautiful): ah-choo. I’ve been sneezing and already had two nosebleeds, in addition to a scratchy throat and headaches, just from the altitude, it seems. I go to the gym nearly every day, yet I got winded really easily on the hikes, from easy Bridal Veil to tough Timpanogos. I am constantly thirsty, and my voice has cracked a few times. Also, it seems like people here can have some serious attitude; twice we almost got slammed into by other drivers, and there was a certain air of holier-than-thou-ness about a lot of the people we saw, save for the awesome and patient National Park rangers. Seriously. This older lady literally pushed past me at Menchie’s without so much as a “sorry,” and it just seemed like I kept getting in peoples’ way.

That’s all for today, I guess.

Stay tuned for more Utah adventures tomorrow, and any important details from today I may have forgot.


The Post About Stamps

This post originally appeared on 3/13/15, the day that the show opened, so I didn’t have time to finish it, but I went to the post office today to send some letters and restock on stamps, so I decided to revive this post.

I like stamps.

A lot.

Not enough to collect them like my dad used to do, but enough to wish that they didn’t have any monetary value so I could just keep them and look at them all day, like artwork.

My love began with the Celebrate The Century, or CTC stamps. They came out around the early 2000s and you could get comic books and vote on what appeared on each decade’s stamps. Right before my bar mitzvah, the 1980s set came out with a few particularly awesome stamps, like Cats, The Cosby Show, and hip-hop, and I cleaned the post office out. Seriously, they had a little sign saying they were out after I bought like two hundred to use for invitations.

All the decades in the series had some fun-looking stamps. My favorites were (in chronological order): From the 1900s, the teddy bear, Crayola, and the Gibson Girl; from the 1910s, toys, child labor reform, and crossword puzzles; from the 1920s, jazz and flappers; from the 1930s, Monopoly and Snow White; from the 1940s, big band, the jitterbug, and A Streetcar Named Desire; from the 1950s, I Love Lucy and The Cat in the Hat; from the 1960s, peace and Woodstock; from the 1970s, Sesame Street, disco, smiley faces, and All In the Familyand from the 1990s, computer art and the World Wide Web. There were many, many more but those were my favorites.

Ever since I became an adult and had to pay bills and stuff, I had to start investing in stamps. At first, I bought some flowers, and some American flags, but then one day, I saw these bright, colorful, awesome stamps and I had to have them. They featured Latin Music Legends. And I was hooked on them.

I should have bought more than one sheet; I could’ve flown out the door with a year’s supply, but I figured I could get more later. I went back to get more when I was done, but I couldn’t find them. But instead, I got these sweet Dancer Stamps.

Stamps Celebrate National Dance Day

When the dancers were all done, I headed back, prepared for disappointment, but behold, Vintage Circus Posters!

And today, I invested in my second set of these dope Harry Potter stamps, so if you live in the USA and want a postcard or a letter with a Harry Potter stamp, totally hit me up for one.

Here’s a list of things/people I’d like to see on postage stamps:

  • Shari Lewis/Lamb Chop.
  • Golden Age Nickelodeon TV Shows
  • Winnie-the-Pooh
  • Family Guy
  • Starbucks beverages
  • Joan Rivers

In other news, I got a book out of the library today and it had a coupon for BreatheRight Nasal Strips in it. Neat!

Oh, and welcome to two consecutive six-continent days (3/12-3/13): North America (Canada, USA, Panama, Jamaica, and Antigua and Barbuda), South America (Argentina and Chile), Europe (UK, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Romania, and Russia), Asia (Philippines, India and Indonesia), Africa (Nigeria and South Africa), and Oceania (Australia).

And today (5/11) is another six-continent day, the second in a row, so howdy to North America (Canada and USA), South America (Argentina and Colombia), Europe (UK, Estonia, Norway, Macedonia, and Spain), Asia (Philippines, Israel, India, and Malaysia), Africa (Ghana), and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).


Road Trip 1: New England, 1999

Our first official road trip started on June 13, 1999. With a tank full of gas and hearts full of hope, we headed to nab our first stamps of the day, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After driving through Maryland and Delaware, we arrived in Philly just in time for lunch.

Our first stop was the Gloria Dei Church. It wasn’t too interesting – just an old church with a graveyard. We didn’t see a visitor’s center, so we asked around inside, and the church workers had no clue what we were talking about. It was listed online, but not in the book, so I thought we had a chance of scoring one, but alas, we failed. (A few years later, they did indeed get an official visitor’s center with a stamp. I need to go back.)

The rest of the day went very smoothly. We picked up the first stamp of the trip at Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, home of a supporter of George Washington, then another at the Liberty Bell (Independence National Historical Park) and at the home of Edgar Allan Poe. There, one of the rooms had a rubber “telltale heart” hidden under a plank, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Later that day we hit Valley Forge before stopping for the night in Fort Washington, PA.

Day 2: More of the same. We hit three: Morristown NHP, Morristown, New Jersey; and my first brown stamps (as opposed to Mid-Atlantic light blue) were Ellis Island (new to my dad but old hat to me, having visited it with my 4th grade class), and the Statue of Liberty (which we climbed up to the base). But that didn’t matter because we got to spend the night in a state I’d never been to before: Bridgeport, Connecticut. I had finally visited a state that my sister hadn’t. Moving on to:

Day 3: Bright and early to capture Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Our first stop was the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, where we got to see the secret passageway beneath the bimah (another historical thing that BLEW MY MIND) and say hello to the oldest still-standing synagogue in the USA. It’s also the only Jewish-themed national park, so, bonus. Once we hit Massachusetts, we made an unplanned stop in New Bedford and got the stamp for the New Bedford Whaling NHP, which remains one of my favorite national parks to this day – the town was so cute and little and New England, and the huge whale skeleton suspended on the ceiling didn’t hurt either. We spent the night at the Suisse Chalet Inn in Cambridge – I didn’t mind it so much (probably too high on having fun) but my dad remembers it as being a roach motel.

Day 4: Boston Day. This was also no-car day, which was less expensive and easier on my dad. We walked the entire length of the Freedom Trail to get the Boston NHP stamp, as well as the Black History Trail to get the Boston African-American stamp. I wasn’t interested in anything other than the parks and the stamps, but upon my dad’s insisting, we strolled around Boston Common and made a stop in Harvard Yard. We took the T to Brookline to see John F. Kennedy’s home, and then headed to Dad’s favorite part of the trip, a Red Sox game at old Fenway Park. They played the Twins but I can’t remember who won.

Day 5: Boston Suburbs. We hit up the Salem (Salem Maritime NHS), Saugus (Saugus Iron Works NHS) and Lowell (Lowell NHP) AKA home of the cotton mills. This is the only time on any of the trips I remember having a serious breakdown (I was totally a crier as a kid) – I think it was because of traffic. I was surprised at how little we fought throughout the entire eight-day trip. We also veered up to New Hampshire, just so I could say I’d been there, even though the only stamp was much further up.

Day 6: Goodbye Roach Motel, hello central and western Mass. We excitedly hit up Minute Man NHP in Concord/Lexington and the Springfield Armory in Springfield, ending the day with Weir Farm in Wilton, CT, before stopping at my cousins’ place in the Bronx for Shabbat.

Day 7: Shabbat. No parks.

Day 8: Last day. We bid the cousins goodbye, visited old Great-Aunt Yetta (think Yetta from The Nanny, only in real life), who lived in Washington Heights squalor complete with faded photos on the walls, furniture held together by duct tape, and a funny old-lady smell in the whole apartment, and got two stamps (Grant’s Tomb and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace) before heading home. Where I proceeded to tell the whole story to my mom and sister, and anyone else who would listen, numerous times.

Overall, we had a great time. My dad is very much into history, and learning about American history with me was as much fun for him as it was for me. He viewed it as an “educational experience” for me, but I had my stamps and some other souvenirs so I was happy enough. He had been to NYC and Boston before, but hadn’t gone to any of the battlefields, presidents’ homes, or even Fenway Park before. He and I quarreled very little, and with my old-style, Pre-GPS maps from AAA, I managed to navigate us the whole way, even leading my dad on a shortcut once and redirecting him after he almost missed the exit off the New Jersey Turnpike going towards NYC. Even though I had such fun as the navigator, the driving did take its toll on my dad, who spent the next day or so sleeping it off.

We took a break in the summer of 2000, while I prepared for my Bar Mitzvah, but resumed our road trip with a Part II for four days in June 2001, heading toward the Midwest – the second of 5 official road trips we took together.


Road Trips

When I was about 11 years old, some friends bought me a pocket-sized blue book with “Passport to Your National Parks” written on the front in gold lettering, with a map and guide to all the National Park units in the country, including battlefield, historic homes, whatever – there are about 360 of them. It’s a little book with color-coded sections in it. For each national park you go to, you get a cancellation, or “stamp” stamped in your book. The same friends took me to Washington, DC to get my first stamp from Ford’s Theatre and Peterson House (The House Where Lincoln Died) on December 31, 1998. I remember that date not because it’s imprinted on my brain but because the passport stamp says so 🙂 each stamp is a circle with the name of the park up top, location on the bottom, and date in the middle. So, since it was something collectible, naturally I became obsessed.

It was also around this time that the movie Eurotrip came out – you know, the one with the horrible trailer with the guy eating the mouse. I wasn’t allowed to see it but I knew it was about a road trip. My eleven year old mind went, “I want to take a road trip!” And now that I had my National Parks Passport, I actually had places to visit!

So I went through the book, starting from the first section, the brown stamps labeled “North Atlantic Region,” comprised of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. I traced a trail along the little numbers of the map, looked up the distance online, and decided I wanted to go. One problem…I couldn’t drive.

It was summer, and I asked my dad, who was outside trimming the bushes, “Dad, can we go on a road trip next summer? To get the national park stamps from the North Atlantic Region?”

His response: “Sure, you plan it, and I’ll drive.”

So it was settled.

Over the course of the next school year, I lived by the National Parks website, painstaking printing out both at home and at my school library all the pages for all the places I wanted to go, and kept them in a big blue folder.

June 1999 came, and believe it or not, I got my dad to take a week off work to drive us (me) to New England to do some bonding and traveling (and get those stamps)! My mother was possibly the only one more thrilled than I, since it meant for her a summer week without husband or son to take care of, cook for, and clean up after, and was only too happy to show us the door.

So we headed off on our very first adventure: to conquer New England.