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Christmas Casual

It’s been a busy month, but now that I have a moment to breathe, I would like to take this opportunity to record an observation. Not really a rant, if you will, but more of a “why?”

So, today, I flew from Baltimore (where I spent 6 days visiting my parents) to Dallas, TX and then on to Austin, TX for APO Nationals, which start in 2 days so I have no idea why I am here other than a cheap flight. Well, that is a pretty good reason. It’s also Christmas, as most of the world knows (and if you don’t believe me, just go to http://www.isitchristmas.com) and I feel like every year, it gets a little crazier.

I’ve flown on Christmas Day before, but let me tell you. Once I cleared security (wearing my brown coat, gray quarter-zip sweatshirt, and jeans) all of a sudden, everywhere, it was…

RED. GREEN. RED. GREEN. SHINY. SHINY. PLAID. FLANNEL. CANDY CANES. RED. GREEN. SHINY. GREEN. RED.

It was like stepping into a bizarre world where everyone wears one color and looks like idiots. I saw flight attendants with floppy Santa hats, parents and children in matching onesies, and other items of clothing that would look more appropriate in an L.L. Bean catalog than an airport. I mean, there’s festive, but then there’s ridiculous. Do you really need that shiny hat? When you are wearing red plaid pajamas in public, what are you really telling the world? Are you an adult, a child, or just trying to fit in? Children get a pass on this one; under a certain age, they don’t get to choose what they wear for the most part, but seeing entire families marching around the airport in matching flannel hoodies with reindeer antlers makes me wonder if any of these people looked in a mirror before entering the house.

When I got off the plane in Dallas, it was the same deal, but once I left the airport in partly cloudy and 71-degree Austin, it was back to summer winter and Christmas who. At least I got to meet up with Sarah for dinner at a vegan place, and took a walk down 6th Street in attempt to find an open store (which I did!) to purchase a Coke, a pastry, and a comb.

But for all of you out there who wear matching flannel plaid Christmas pajamas outside of your house…please, reconsider. Freedom of religion good, freedom of fashion choices even better.

And that’s why we should all go back to dressing up in formal attire for air travel.

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A Bicycle Trip For Two

Not so much about the song, but about a book I finished today. Maybe it’s all the stress, but I’m burning through books these days.

But I ain’t complaining.

Today’s adventure was Across America by Bicycle: Alice and Bobbi’s Summer on Wheels by Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery.

This book is one of my favorite types to read; travelogues, complete with maps (hand-drawn) and mileage counts. This book details Midwestern grandmothers Alice and Bobbi’s journey across the USA on their bicycles in just 13 weeks, from Astoria, Oregon, to Bar Harbor, Maine. In about 250 pages, the two travel through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, and have lots of fun adventures along the way. They (or I should say she, since the book is written from Bobbi’s point of view) focus on the hidden gems of America, from the cinnamon rolls they ate in Montana to the many “road angels” who stopped them and helped along the way.

But the trip isn’t all just a grand old time; they face a lot of serious issues, both on the road and at home. Each state brings its challenges, from closed campgrounds to aggressive drivers to unkempt roads (they do mention how nice the roads are in Wisconsin, but then again, Alice lives here in Madison, according to the book). Their bikes and bodies get worn down, but it strengthens them in the end. Though both of them contemplate quitting at different points – Alice due to family drama and her husband’s poor health, Bobbi due to an injury and other reasons – they stay steadfast and remain best friends. A lot of the book is repetitive, describing this little boy and that group of ladies asking them the same questions, over and over, but I guess that’s part of a trip across America, especially the more rural parts where it’s just hill after hill, tree after tree. And though they compliment most of the people they meet, there’s more than a fair share of complaining, mostly about dingy old hotels and bad food, but they paint an interesting picture of America on the whole, a mix of small towns and even smaller towns.

Overall, the story flows along really nicely without dwelling too much on insignificant or uninteresting details. And aside from their references to it, you wouldn’t be able to tell that the protagonists are two older ladies crossing America from coast to coast. Plus, they don’t make any Odyssey Expedition-esque attempts at purism, accepting rides when necessary or when they just don’t want to ride with all their gear anymore.

That is, though, quite the accomplishment in and of itself. If you’re thinking “hey, I could do that,” let me tell you about the last time I rode a bike.

On my second Summer Odyssey, when I was staying with Dan in Boston, we decided to spend a day on Martha’s Vineyard, a place I’ve always wanted to see. So, we drove to Woods Hole, left the car there, and took a ferry. One we landed in Oak Bluffs, and had lunch, Dan suggested we see the rest of the island, and rather than taking a bus or hitching rides, we could…rent bikes. Now, even though Dan bikes to work every day, I haven’t ridden a bike since elementary school. I don’t feel comfortable on a bike, and I don’t know what exactly got into me that it would be a good idea to try one out, and especially in a place I’d never been before.

Martha’s Vineyard is cut in half, with Oak Bluffs at the center, so we rode west along the southern edge of the island, stopping off for ice cream or window shopping in the island’s small towns. For the first hour or so, I was terrified, and by the end of the day, I was exhausted, but…slightly less terrified. It ended up being fun and I didn’t fall or die, but I’m not in a rush to get back on a bike anytime soon.

So the fact that these two ladies spent four months crossing unknown territory on bikes means that they’re probably more hardcore than I’ll ever be.

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Summer Odyssey 3.2 (Summer Od) – Northern California, Part 2!

I spent the last part of my Northern California trip in Berkeley at the LMDA (Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas) Conference. Even though I’ve been an LMDA member for quite some time, their conferences have always been either a) in an inconvenient location, or b) at an inconvenient time. However, I resolved to make it one year, and I guess this year was that year.

Day 3 of the trip, or Thursday, was Day 1 of the conference. I headed across the bay from San Francisco to Berkeley, bright and early. I couldn’t check into my Airbnb until 2 PM, so I had to spend the first few hours of the conference lugging around all of my stuff around the building in which the conference took place, the Ed Roberts building. A community center of sorts, we were sharing space with people of varying abilities going about their daily business, whether it was going to the employment office or a yoga class.

The elevators in the building were probably the most interesting ones I’ve ever seen. When the doors opened, a lady walked in and actually kicked the wall. I was thinking, well someone’s having a bad day, until I realized that there were floor buttons on the bottom of the elevator walls. Of course, they were in the normal place as well, but this way, someone with a cane or wheelchair could hit them easily. Pretty neat.

This conference was way smaller than ATHE. I’m talking 120 people, maximum. I actually counted, and I only saw 10 people I knew before. Fortunately, they were 10 people I adore and was excited to reconnect with, in passing. I got to talk with some of them at our regional lunch (Midwest/Metro Chicago/Great Plains), on the second floor terrace.

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Summer Odyssey 3.1 (or, Summer Od) – Northern California!

I know I’ve been missing for awhile, but fear not, I’m hanging in there. I’ve been on the go on my first trek of the summer. Currently, I’m in Towson, on the third leg of this go-round. The first two were last week: Tuesday-Thursday in San Francisco, California, and Thursday-Saturday in Berkeley before arriving in Washington on Sunday, and I’ll be here in Baltimore until Monday.

To recap:

I decided to bite the bullet this year and go to the theatre conference I usually don’t or can’t go to, LMDA. This year, it happened to be in Berkeley, and California seemed like an appealing change of scenery from Wisconsin, so off I went. The conference is only 2.5 days unlike the 4 days of ATHE (which is this August in Vegas!) so rather than fly to the West Coast and screw up my body clock for just a few days, I decided to add on two days at the beginning and play tourist in San Francisco, which I have not seen since I was about 7 or 8. Also, Ciara moved there last year to be a flight attendant on United, so I could spend some time catching up with her.

Day 1: Up at 7 AM to catch my super-early flight to Denver, with a 2-hour layover there before getting to San Francisco. The airport there is really confusing, and it took me about an hour to figure out how to get out of there and get to my Airbnb, which was in the Excelsior District. My hostess, Kate, was an absolute treasure, and the accommodations were spacious and comfortable; I’d absolutely stay there again.

My first goal of the trip was to get my National Park Passport stamped from any/all of the sites in San Francisco, and since it was 3:30 PM, I had to hustle in order to get to any of them, the closest of which was an hour away. So I made my first quasi-mistake of the trip, taking the bus there. I got there on time and in one piece, but I forgot that San Francisco has hills, so I spent most of that hour clutching my bag on my lap and keeping my eyes shut to keep myself from passing out/throwing up. Eventually, we made it to the Presidio, where I got stamps for Golden Gate NRA. The park rangers told me about a few more stamping stations around the Presidio, including one that was open until 6 PM (it was 4:50 when I got to the Presidio Visitors’ Center, and they closed at 5), so I caught the free shuttle to the bridge lookout at Crissy Field. Fort Point had a separate stamp, but alas, they were only open on weekends, so next time for me.

The Golden Gate Bridge is pretty, and I hummed the Full House theme song in my head as I took pictures and tried to sidestep the crowds of foreigners and the Jehovah’s Witnesses set up in English and Japanese (I swear, they’re everywhere these days). However, there’s not too much to do there other than photo ops and overpriced snacks (at least not at 5 PM, so I waited for the free shuttle back to the Presidio, since I didn’t have a car or another way back. Another mistake there; had I walked or taken a cab/Uber, I wouldn’t have had to wait the hour I waited for the free shuttle. And it wasn’t just an hour, it was an hour in chilly bay winds, and I was in short sleeves. Eventually I made it back to the Presidio, and a friendly lady on the bus told me to check out Chestnut Street for dinner.

I ended up spending the last hour of sunlight in a busy Starbucks, recharging my phone, which was almost dead at that point, and eating a late lunch. Dinner was Thai food at a place called Blackwood. I had some spicy ahi tuna while watching all the yuppies hop between wine bars before heading back to the Airbnb for the evening, during which I made my third mistake, leaving my phone in the Uber. Luckily, I managed to contact the guy, who brought it back to me at 11 the next morning. Still, it was strange and confusing being without my phone for 12 hours (mostly because I was staying in a stranger’s house, in a strange city, where I knew basically no one).

Day 2: Wednesday.

I stayed up worrying about my phone, but when I woke up, I realized that it probably wouldn’t look good for the Uber driver to steal my phone – I could go on the website and write a bad review, which would have been sad because he was really nice to me in the car – but after an hour of worrying (he promised to drop it by at 10), he came by with it at 11. Kate was really nice throughout the whole thing; she made me coffee and kept me company while I waited. It was sad to leave her the next day.

Next up was…lunch with Ciara! We had a happy reunion and caught up on our lives over fresh fish at Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf. Then, we walked to the San Francisco Maritime museum, which was really informative, plus I got some stamps. I bought her some chocolate at Ghirardelli Square, and after a quick Starbucks (where we made a birthday video for Alex), we walked to Chinatown, which was really fun. Even though I’m not the biggest shopper, I just couldn’t pass it up, and ended up spending about 15 dollars on a gift for Kate for helping me out (a calligraphy of her name in Chinese characters in a red cardboard frame), a bracelet, and 2 cute toy panda keychains, on sale for 99 cents. I wanted to get a rayon jacket to replace the one I lost, but they were pretty expensive, and Ciara said she’d get one for me for a quarter of the price the next time she had a layover in China or Taiwan.

We ended the day back at Ciara’s place, with Netflix and Middle Eastern food delivery, before I Ubered back to Kate’s place and packed up for the next leg of the trip – the conference itself, in Berkeley.

My fingers are getting tired, so stay tuned for a recap of parts 2 and 3 of the trip – part 2 is the conference in Berkeley, and part 3 is the part I’m currently on, which started on Sunday night at a banquet in my sister’s honor in DC, followed by a whole lot of sleeping, and will conclude next Sunday with my cousin’s wedding in Potomac.

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Nepalapalooza

A fun title for what might be a not-so-fun post, or at least not the most uplifting one, but it’s the second book in the recent past I’ve read about Nepal and incidentally also the second one I’ve read by Jon Krakauer, so I thought it appropriate. Here’s my take on his book Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.

Laconic recap: This book is not for the faint of heart. Granted, Krakauer’s books aren’t on the feel-good side in general, but this one was particularly striking. It was gripping, though, at the same time, and as I read more, I really felt like time slowed down to a stop, just like it must have been on that freezing, windy night up on Mount Everest in May 1996.

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Back on the Tack Jack

Just wanted to be random for today. It’s been a long one, 25 hours of it, since I flew from Baltimore to Atlanta to Madison, where I returned to a relatively clean apartment, and more junk mail and happy mail than bills.

And I’ve been making my way through this terribly informative video on Tomson Highway and Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout, which has been growing on me since I read it on Friday…so see for yourself. Warning, it is an hour long.

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Tomorrow, I’m Off…

This time tomorrow, I’ll be settling in for a good night’s sleep (or maybe staying up all night, either way) at the 44th Biennial Alpha Phi Omega National Convention in Pittsburgh, PA. I am also slated to give a workshop, which I have not quite figured out yet. Now might be the time to do that, as I pack. Then, on Friday, I’ll be driving back to Baltimore to spend 10 days with my family, who I have not seen since…well, Thanksgiving, so not too long ago, but still, I’m not sure when I’ll get to see them again after…but here’s to 2017, and even though I’ll definitely be blogging on the trip, here’s to a year with more blog entries and blog traffic.

And now, back to packing and cleaning and such.

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And I Have Emerged

…and I’m in Utah.

What?

Let me backtrack a little…

I haven’t posted much in the past few weeks because my life’s been a mess, and Tuesday night was a rock-bottom moment. I was really proud of myself for 14 straight days of exercise, and then on Wednesday and Thursday I could barely get out of bed. About all I did was teach, look at the news, and answer emails.

And then Thursday came, and I was finally off to Salt Lake City to see Julie and co. for the first time in over a year. I was nervous and excited at the same time; part of me felt like I needed a breath of fresh air and a change of scenery, but another part of me was scared of leaving all my commitments. But I got on the plane anyway, and I don’t regret it. Julie met me at the airport and as she drove me to their new house here in Herriman, I updated her on all my life and stuff, and slept well for the first time in days (except that I woke up with a sore back, probably from the six-hour flight).

This morning, I got to say hey to Julie and Nathan and hug Iris and Ramona before they went off to school, and for the rest of the day…I was pretty much on my own. I answered a ton of emails, talked on the phone, snacked on toast and Nutella, and then decided to take find a late lunch somewhere, only to discover that Herriman, while beautiful, is literally in the middle of nowhere. The closest place to eat is an hour away by foot, so I took an Uber to a Mexican place in nearby Riverton for a veggie taco plate thing and some coffee at the place next door, where I got 32 papers graded, so all of my Monday students. In fact, I was just writing the last word of the last comment on the last paper when Nathan pulled up by the coffee shop door to take me back to the house. We stayed in for dinner, and Julie made a delicious salmon with vegetables, and for dessert, we drove to Draper, another town (I’m seeing all these nice little towns!), and went to Leatherby’s – which is not a gay cowboy bar – for ice cream, I mean, ICE CREAM, and sitting amidst a bunch of nicely-dressed Mormons, tossed back and forth ideas for dirty ice cream shop names. My favorites were Sweet ‘n Creamy, Cherry Poppin’ Sally’s, and Chocolate Mudslide.

And even though I woke up in Utah, AKA Life Elevated, it was the first day since Tuesday I woke up headache-free, and the first day where I didn’t spend the majority of it thinking about the election, which is amazing.

I keep saying I’ll fix posts and put up quality content soon, and maybe I will and maybe I won’t, but for now, I’m hanging in there, getting better quickly, and hoping that I’ll feel refreshed and reborn by the time I get back to Madison on Sunday night.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: And Behind Door Number One…

And the travelogue is finally here!

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 11: And Behind Door Number One… (Door County, WI)

Door County.

The Holy Grail of Exploration.

Everyone’s favorite part of the state.

The Martha’s Vineyard/Berkshires/South Bass Island of Wisconsin.

And it lived up to its reputation.

Geographically, Door County is the thumb of Wisconsin, if Wisconsin were a hand. It detaches from the mainland at Sturgeon Bay, its county seat, and continues on as a small, thin island between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, with Gills Rock at its tip, and Washington Island just a short hop away by boat. We didn’t make it quite that far, but it’s definitely incentive to come back.

Day 1: Road trip up from Madison to Green Bay, WI, where we spent the night at an awesome Airbnb right on the bay. We only stopped once for a Chinese dinner in Appleton. Mostly an uneventful day, but we did enjoy watching The Age of Adaline before bed.

Day 2: Got up at 9, but took our time and didn’t leave the Airbnb until about 10:30. A half hour later, we crossed the old steel bridge in Sturgeon Bay and were in Door County. After a quick gas stop, we drove just over the border into Carlsville, where we had breakfast at Door County Coffee and Tea Co. We were just in time for the end of the breakfast menu. The place got amazing reviews on Yelp and it didn’t disappoint. The coffee was divine, and my meal of a croissant and Spanish-style eggs was warm, thick and flaky in all the wrong places. Dessert was bread pudding made with Door County cherry jam (the local delicacy) and it was sugary and delicious. Definitely worth driving a little out of the way.

Next up, we drove over to Jacksonport to check out Whitefish Dunes State Park. It was a small park, but you barely had to walk 200 feet down the trail to encounter a gorgeous, practically deserted beach with the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan lapping at its sandy shore. We basked in the warm sunshine and got just a little burnt, and I got a hundred pages or so read in an hour.

Driving up the coast, we then entered Baileys Harbor, and even though it was hard to find, we made it through the windy roads to the parking lot for the Cana Island Lighthouse. What we didn’t know was that to access the island, you needed to cross a causeway of dirt and rocks, with water gently lapping at your toes. Managed to make it across to the island pretty much unscathed. It cost us $7 per person to explore the tiny island, and $5 to climb the 97 steps inside the lighthouse.

But it was totally worth it. The lighthouse is remarkably well preserved, with a beautiful view from the top, impeccable masonry, and stone paths down to the lake outside it. Plus, there were two geocaches hidden on the island. It was just so much fun to explore. Inside the lighthouse, we learned about how the Fresnel worked, as well as the history and lifestyle of the lighthouse keepers. They saved several ships from being wrecked, but not others. They also kept a logbook. Curiously enough, it was recorded that a female with a power canoe stopped off at Cana Island on her way from New York to Chicago.

Walking back across the causeway was not as easy of a feat. I sort of gave up halfway through when I began to sink into the muck. I waddled back to the car in wet shoes. Gross.

The day was winding down, so we decided to go as far up as Sister Bay, where we saw Al Johnson’s, the famous Swedish restaurant with goats grazing on the roof. It’s true! After a quick browse in the gift shop and a walk along the waterfront, it was time to turn the car around and head home. On the way out of Door County, we went down the bay side, stopping off at a few farm stands, sampling butters, jams, fudges, and salsas. I added to a jar of cherry salsa to my souvenir bag of food (coffee from the place we ate breakfast) and we were off home. We made one more stop for gas in Allouez, and had pho in De Pere, at a place which took way too long, and got back to Madison close to midnight.

Overall, I would highly recommend Door County. Hopefully I can go back soon.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: A Park and a Half

Summertime is prime time for exploring Wisconsin, and with tomorrow being July 4th and therefore prime time for all the Wisconsin spots worthy of exploring to be full of people, we decided to spend today exploring one of our great State Parks.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 10: A Park and a Half (Roche-A-Cri State Park, Friendship, WI)

I wanted to spend the day, or at least part of it, doing something fun out of Madison. Unfortunately, I woke up with a splitting headache that had me on the couch until mid-afternoon, Fortunately, I was feeling well enough to rally by around 4 PM, and we were on the road to Roche-A-Cri State Park, a place I’d seen on the map and randomly picked to visit.

Roche-A-Cri (French for “crevice in the rock”) State Park is in the tiny town of Friendship (population: 725) in Adams County, about an hour and a half north of Madison. Fortunately, the park is open until 11 PM due to the campgrounds being so popular, so we had plenty of daylight and sunshine to explore.

Getting there was a little difficult at first. We took a back road through the Dells, and didn’t see any signs for the park until about one mile away. Once we got in and parked, though, it was a pleasant surprise at how peaceful this little park was. We paid the $5 admission fee and left it in an envelope at the park’s entrance (all WI state parks cost money to enter – if you park on the grounds) and set off on the shady trail.

Being a rather small park, we weren’t expecting too much. The longest trail, the Acorn Trail, is only about 3.5 miles long. But it was perfect for an hour and a half walk-around. We walked about half of the trail, only seeing a handful of other people, and then made our way to the observation point at the Indian mounds. The signs warned us of a strenuous climb – 303 steps, on an elevated staircase. The sign wasn’t kidding! Once at the top, though, we were treated to incredible views, and actually had the viewing platform all to ourselves – just as we left, a big family was coming up the stairs, so we crossed paths but otherwise it was quiet and serene.

We headed back along the trail to the car, stopping off at the petroglyphs for which this park is known. There is a huge rock, several stories high, with petroglyphs carved both by Native Americans and travelers from the 19th century (and probably some modern vandals, I’d suspect) and some fading red pictographs. We read the plaques about them, and were able to make out some of them, including a signature left by a traveler in October of 1845. It really was impressive and I’ll get the pictures up soon.

Upon leaving the park, I wanted to go a different way, so we could include more highway driving especially as it got later, but I ended up missing a turn. We were about 4 miles down the wrong road when we decided to turn around. To do that, we turned into a parking lot…and what do you know, it was Rabbit Rock – not exactly a state park, but one of the rock formations visible from the top of Roche-A-Cri, one that looked really interesting. Since we happened to be there, we poked around for a few minutes before getting back in the car. Apparently, visitors are allowed to climb this rock, and while it would have been fun, it was getting close to 8 and we needed to hit the road in order to be in Madison before dark. We backtracked, turned onto Route 21, and headed for the highway. About halfway there, Ship Rock appeared on our left; we didn’t stop, but it was really impressive and colorful, both with rock strata and graffiti. It took us about the same amount of time to get back to Madison, with a quick stop at the Starbucks on E. Washington for an iced coffee because I was fading (even though it was 9 PM and we only had like 15 minutes to go; wonder how I’ll sleep tonight). All in all, it was worth the 3 hours round trip to get out of town and walk around for an hour and a half, in a quiet park with beautiful views and ancient petroglyphs.

Oh, and in other exciting news…my third 2016 pen pal response showed up, all the way from Baby Ruth in the Philippines! Thanks for the fun letter; I got it out of the mailbox last night along with my other mail as I was flying out the door for Salsa Saturday, stuffed it in my bag, and ended up opening and reading it at the club during the break between the two sets. I thoroughly enjoyed the fan mail (which is what I’ve decided to call the response letters, heh) and I will write back soon! 13 other pen pals, take note.