Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wild for Wild

I would much rather read a good book than do my homework.  I'd rather travel than do my homework, too.  And even though I can tailor my grad school projects to relate somehow to my love of travel (i.e. creating an interactive map of Shenandoah National Park, writing an article for Women's Adventure magazine, teaching a travel-themed section of first-year writing, etc.), I prefer not to do homework.  Ever.  It's stupid, especially at the graduate level.

After I publish this post, Productive Me knows that I should start this essay that's kinda due tomorrow night.  But I won't. Instead, I'm going to vicariously hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  Cheryl Strayed has got me absolutely wild about her recently published memoir, Wild.

Despite the fact that I'm only on page 43, I highly encourage everyone to run to their nearest e-Reader or Barnes & Noble and purchase this gem of a book. Here's an excerpt from the prologue:

The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California. Moments before, I'd removed my hiking boots and the left one had fallen into those trees, first catapulting into the air when my enormous backpack toppled onto it, then skittering across the gravelly trail and flying over the edge. It bounced off a rocky outcropping several feet beneath me before disappearing into the forest canopy below, impossible to retrieve. I let out a stunned gasp, though I'd been in the wilderness thirty-eight days and by then I'd come to know that anything could happen and that everything would. But that doesn't mean I wasn't shocked when it did.

My boot was gone. Actually gone.

I clutched its mate to my chest like a baby, though of course it was futile. What is one boot without the other boot? It is nothing. It is useless, an orphan forevermore, and I could take no mercy on it. It was a big lug of a thing, of genuine heft, a brown leather Raichle boot with a red lace and silver metal fasts. I lifted it high and threw it with all my might and watched it fall into the lush trees and out of my life.

I was alone. I was barefoot. I was twenty-six years old and an orphan too. An actual stray, a stranger had observed a couple of weeks before, when I'd told him my name and explained how very loose I was in the world. My father left my life when I was six. My mother died when I was twenty-two. In the wake of her death, my stepfather morphed from the person I considered my dad into a man I only occasionally recognized. My two siblings scattered in their grief, in spite of my efforts to hold us together, until I gave up and scattered as well.

In the years before I pitched my boot over the edge of that mountain, I'd been pitching myself over the edge too. I'd ranged and roamed and railed -- from Minnesota to New York to Oregon and all across the West -- until at last I found myself, bootless, in the summer of 1995, not so much loose in the world as bound to it.

It was a world I'd never been to and yet had known was there all along, one I'd staggered to in sorrow and confusion and fear and hope. A world I thought would both make me into the woman I knew I could become and turn me back into the girl I'd once been. A world that measured two feet wide and 2,663 miles long.

A world called the Pacific Crest Trail.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Not All Women Who Wander Are Lost

Below is an article that I wrote for my professional editing class. I'm also submitting it for publication in Women's Adventure magazine.  Cross your fingers they (professor and WAm editorial board) likes it!


Not All Women Who Wander Are Lost

“You can’t get lost in the Shenandoah National Park.”  At least that’s what my partner, Brad, told me, but I knew different.  More than enough testosterone, six years in the military, and a familiarity with this park, and he thinks he’s a wayfinding expert.  Give me break! 
“Vicki and her friend got lost,” I proclaimed, proud that I could refute his sweeping generalization.  He shot me a confused look as he stopped in the middle of the trail.  Vicki is one of my closest friends, and about three or four years ago, she and her hiking partner lost sight of the blue blazes on the trees while trekking to a popular waterfall in the Central District.  Three different colored blazes mark trails in the Shenandoah National Park: blue for park hikes, white for the Appalachian Trail, and yellow for horse trails.
 Brad started walking again.  “Male friend?” he asked, a white blaze on the tree in front of him.  Tufts of green grass were popping up on the path, but the trees were still naked.  Minus the 65-degree temperature, the trail still had a winter feel.
 “Yes, they blazed a trail up to the road and hitchhiked back to the trailhead with some tourists.”
“I get how she got lost,” he said with a smirk, “but how did he get lost?”
I smacked him on the arm.  Hard.  But that got me thinking, is there truth to this stereotype?  Well, yes, according to outdoor enthusiast and wayfinding expert, Bree Kessler.  In “Go Your Own Way,” from the Spring 2011 issue of Women’s Adventure magazine, Kessler discussed some theories as to why women may have a less-than-adequate internal GPS.  Whether it’s fluctuating estrogen levels during our menstrual cycles or our love of step-by-step instructions with concrete reference points, the studies that Kessler examined illustrated that, in general, a woman’s spatial awareness is inferior to a man’s.  Kessler assured us ladies, though, that hope does exist.  As women, our inner GPS can do something besides “recalculating.”  We just have to update our software with new knowledge, like learning to read the sun or spending a few hours playing a spatial awareness arcade game like the 80’s cult classic Tetris.

I set my pride aside, knowing I couldn’t let it hinder my awareness growth.  “What are some wayfinding clues?” I asked Brad.  I figured that the year he spent patrolling the mountains of Afghanistan would have provided us with a rich discussion that would have lasted for miles.  Instead, I got a two-word answer.
“The trail.”
“No,” I said, “Like clues in nature.”
“The blazes on the trees,” he replied.
“No, I mean things like the sun and north-facing slopes.  Help me read those clues.” These were clues Kessler alluded to in her article as ways women could beef-up their possible awareness deficiencies. 
 “You don’t have to know those clues,” Brad assured me. “You just follow the path and the paint on the trees.  We’re not blazing trails up here.”
“Well, what if we were?” I thought to myself.  Let’s say, for some reason, Brad and I got separated.  What would I do then?  The compass in my pack would be worthless.  I don’t know how to read it.  The whistle I bought would be helpful, but say it fell down a cliff.  What if Brad and I got separated, my whistle fell down a cliff, and all of the blazed trees were ripped out of the ground by a freak tornado?  How would I find my way then? 
I’d ask Mother Nature. 

I knew Brad could read the sun.  I wanted to learn to read it, too.  “What’s the sun tell you?” I said to him eagerly.   
“Where you’re going,” he replied, without even looking back at me.  He was still marching forward with our other hiking partner, Rex, the mutt we rescued.  Rex is a male, and he, too, knows how to follow the trail. 
“I get that, but how does the sun tell you that?” I asked.
“What do you mean how?”
“I mean, how does the sun tell me where I’m going?”
We stopped again.  Downed trees and crunchy leaves scattered across the forest floor.  “Where does the sun rise?”
“East?” I answered in the form of a question.  I thought I was right.  It was like being asked the capital of Oklahoma.  If I was back in fifth grade, I’d be the first to raise my hand, but at that moment my usual confidence evaded me.    
 “Where does the sun set?”
“So there,” he said, “The sun is to the east in the morning and to the west in the afternoon.”
I started spinning in circles pointing in what I assumed was the correct cardinal direction.  “Then, that way’s North.  No that way.” Dizzy and frustrated, I took a short water break.
I needed something more concrete.  I don’t know why, but reading the sun just seemed too abstract.  Maybe I would have had better luck with a shadow stick.  At least, that would have given me an actual line to work with.       

As soon I got home from the hike, I whipped out one of my favorite reference books, The Essential Wilderness Navigator by outdoorsmen David Seidman and Paul Cleveland.  In their book, I was relieved to find step-by-step instructions for using a shadow stick.  Below is my interpretation of Seidman and Cleveland’s directions:
1.      Find a stick that’s at least 3-feet long.
2.      Put it in the ground—vertically—on a flat surface.
3.      Mark the end of the shadow.  If you can’t see a shadow, find a place to put the stick where you can.  Otherwise, this exercise won’t work. 
Note: This exercise doesn’t work as well in the early morning or late afternoon unless it’s the time of the equinoxes.
4.      Wait 15 minutes.  Hopefully, you have a watch.  If you don’t, count 900 “Mississippis.”
5.      Mark the end of the shadow again. 
6.      Connect the dots.
7.      This line runs east to west, but it’s not a terribly accurate reference guide.  However, when lost, it can provide you with some comfort. 
8.      Remember, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  If east is on your left, south is clockwise and north is counterclockwise.  If west is on your left, north is clockwise and south is counterclockwise. 

Thanks to books and my instincts, this navigational newbie has got potential.  I thought back to my hike with Brad.  About two miles in, two roads diverged in a wood.  Brad and Rex marched straight on, but I had a funny feeling. Something didn’t make sense.
“I don’t think we’re supposed to go that way,” I said.  “Look at the cement post. It says we’re supposed to turn right.” I then pointed to the other road—the one less traveled by—at least for that moment.
After hiking back to me, Brad carefully studied the cement post. A smile crept across his face as he tried to explain away his wayfinding boo-boo.  “Oh yeah.  I was just trying to test you,” he said. 
            Triumphantly, I took point.  Team Female: 1, Team Male: -2.
your fingers they like it!


Hope you had fun reading!

Last but not least, here are some pictures that I'm considering submitting along with my article.  By the way, the "W" points to water not west.  I thought it pointed west.  Silly me. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm Only Happy When It Rains

“It always rains on tents.  Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.” –Dave Barry
Or a motorcycle or on unsuspecting travelers wandering the streets of colonial Williamsburg.  Thus, the highlight purchase of the trip: Felicia’s pink pop-up umbrella with the purple William & Mary logo. 

Me?  I did remember to bring an umbrella, but here are some things I forgot:
  • Rain jacket
  • Rain boots
  • Extra clothes
  • A back-up umbrella (I lost mine, go figure)
On Saturday, March 24th, 2012, Williamsburg only received .61 inches (I looked it up), but when you’re wearing soggy sandals, and the wind is blowing the rain underneath your umbrella onto your multi-tote Coach bag, one tends to exaggerate the amount of participation.  If you would have asked us on Saturday, our guess would have been at least two inches of rain.  Of that I am sure. 

The rain wasn’t a total buzzkill, for me at least.  Less-mature-Aimee reverted back to childhood and stomped through the puddles.  My feet were already wet, so I figured why avoid it?  To me, puddles are just as special as sunshine.  To Felicia, who has lived in Las Vegas for the majority of her life, puddles are the anti-Christ.  Love you, Felicia. 

Glass is half-full, though, right?  It’s always best to have that attitude on a vacation.  After all, you’re taking time out of your schedule with the sole purpose of having fun.  So, make your vacation fun despite Mother Nature’s disregard for your well-laid plans.    Glass half-full, always glass half-full.

Thanks to our positive attitudes, Felicia and I had plenty of glass-half full moments on our trip:

Glass half-full moment #1.  The rain made for some neat pictures when I purposefully disregarded the iPhone + rain = disaster equation.  If only I had brought my indestructible camera, but, alas, I only had my iPhone, which takes great pictures, by the way.  Quick story about my new camera: It’s waterproof, and I got it because I may or may not have dropped my old camera at the bottom of a waterfall.  Whoops. 

Glass half-full moment #2.  During a particularly intense bout of rain, a sympathetic Colonial Williamsburg employee took pity on Felicia and me and gave us a tour of the colonial Capitol building for free.  During the tour, I learned that for misdemeanors (i.e. sheep stealing), I'd be put in the stacks and have my ears nailed to the wood.  One ear would be nailed for the first hour, the next ear would be nailed for the second.  Ouch.

Glass half-full moment #3.  Seeking shelter from the rain in a vintage bookstore that had a collection of postcards (some of which were written on) from all over the world.  I nabbed several for my travel writing class next semester.  I figured that I could have students read the postcard and expand on the narrative with the constraint that their additions to the story are historically accurate.  Don’t worry.  Thanks to the date stamp, students will be able to tell when the postcard was sent.

As you can tell from our experience, rainy day vacation days aren’t the end of the world.  Here are some tips on how to spend your time if, like Felicia, and me you find yourself in the midst of a monsoon:
  • Go on a tour of a museum or historic building
  • Find a vintage bookstore or even a Barnes & Noble
  • See a movie
  • Spend some time in a bar or a coffee shop talking to locals
  • Visit a cemetery (how cool yet creepy would that be), tip
I’ll leave you, my beloved readers, with this piece of advice: “If the rain spoils our picnic, but saves a farmer’s crop, who are we to say it shouldn’t rain?” –Tom Barrett

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Ever since my trip to Williamsburg/VA Beach, I’ve been hooked on the Into the Wild soundtrack and especially hooked on the song I shared with you all on Monday, “Society.”  The song comes from the soundtrack of a top-notch movie (Into the Wild), which is based on a classic wilderness book.  

Click play to see the movie trailer.  Warning: you'll probably have to go to Best Buy, or some other store, to purchase the movie after watching this:

For those of you who are unfamiliar with John Krakauer’s Into the Wild, here’s a short summary, which I found on

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.  How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir.  In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash.  He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and, unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented.  Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away.  Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

A lot of people in the hiking community don’t sympathize with McCandless because of his reckless abandonment and the level to which he underestimated the power of Mother Nature.  I purposefully avoided the term wrath, has too many negative connotations.  Power sounds much better.

Though I would never throw away my map, I can sympathize with McCandless’s desire to find a blank spot.  Sometimes, I will take drives by myself into the countryside with the sole purpose of getting lost.  It’s an adrenaline rush.  Hiking is an adrenaline rush, too.  I am never happier than when I am out in the middle of nowhere with Brad and Rex.  It makes me feel so alive.  Makes me want to live off the grid, too—grow a garden, filter water from a lake or river close-by.  Be a more reserved supertramp with a small family and a mountain chalet.  As you may already know, I don't give a shit about keeping up with the Joneses, but I have respect for those that do.  To each their own, right?  I'm sure there's plenty of people who'll think I'm absolutely nuts after reading this, and I'm okay with that.

I guess it makes me anti-social because it’s still a mystery to me.  We have a greed with which we have agreed.  You think you have to want more than you need.  Until you have it all, you won’t be free.  And to people like McCandless (I am one of those people), our goal isn’t to have the nicest car or the biggest house.  At least, that’s not freedom to people like us--nature hippies as some may say.  Freedom, instead, is sleeping under the stars, celebrating the rain, and basking in the big, hard sun.

McCandless hiked Old Rag, and I did, too.  Here's a pic of the big, hard sun taken on the trek down after reaching the beautiful but cold and windy summit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Surf's Up

I have a love affair with the water (pools, waterfalls, rivers, oceans, lakes, etc.), so even when it’s 50-something degrees outside, I still want to put my feet in.  If only I had had a wet suit.  And a surfboard. 

Several years ago, my dad taught me how to surf.  I wasn’t a natural, but I did manage to catch a few waves after ingesting a gallon or so of salt water.  I forget how old I was when I learned, though, maybe middle school.  So, here’s to hoping surfing is like riding a bike.  I already know from experience that it’s like getting back in the saddle after you’ve fallen off a horse.

On the right side of the screen, there’s an “Aim’s Bucket List” tab.  To continue this surfing theme, one of the items on my bucket list is to surf a wave in the Pacific.  I’m hoping that I get to cross that item off soon; Brad and I are currently planning a cross-country road trip (via car) to either Cali or Oregon.  It’ll be our first vacation in the seven years that we’ve been together. 

I’m sure Brad will be a great travel partner, but please keep your fingers crossed that he’s not a baby and actually surfs with me.  I don’t know what the odds are, though.  Let’s be realistic here.  He prefers scenic trains to rollercoasters and freaks out when he can’t see his feet.  I just need him to catch one wave.  Then, I know he’ll be hooked.

I was reading a magazine last night, and this guy said that surfing is like meditating.  From what I remember, I agree.  Your mind, your body, and this inanimate object are working in harmony with Mother Nature.  There’s something euphoric about it.

American pro surfer Kelly Slater agrees.  He once said, "Not to sound too deep or weird, but I think that the times when you really appreciate surfing are the times you're really sort of becoming one with nature. Surfing's as raw of a sport as it gets."

Surfing's about synergy with nature and not about a shaggy-haired early-20s-something who says words like "righteous." The stereotype doesn't do the sport justice. 

Alright, so it's official.  I've got the itch.  Riding waves vicariously through the surfers I could see from the Schooner Inn balcony just doesn't cut it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Crushin' on the Orange Crush

After spending a rainy day in Colonial Williamsburg, Felicia and I ended up at Waterman's Surfside Grille in Virginia Beach.

During our 35-minute wait, as we knocked back a couple of cocktails at an overcrowded bar, we chatted with a mom who was out to dinner with her two adult daughters.

Our small talk started thanks in part to my decision to forcefully maneuver a rude dude (I rhymed that on purpose) out of my way to grab a stack of cocktail napkins for the oldest daughter, the one from San Diego.  San Diego was at the beach visiting her family before heading to Texas for a panel interview with nine different lawyers.  If she got the job, she would be recruiting young lawyers to join the firm in Texas.  I only talked to her for 20 minutes, but I really hope she got the job.  She's been out of work for 14 months and counting.

Other random fact about San Diego: She spent some time at JMU.  During high school, she had a shaving cream fight during a field hockey camp.  Apparently, she and her teammates had kickass post-fight hair, but cleaning up the mess after the fight that resulted in kickass hair was not so kickass.

Another cool fact, San Diego and her sister lived in Korea as kids, and their mom finally helped me to remember the base Brad was at during his time in Korea.  I could remember Dongduchon, but I couldn't remember Camp Casey. Go figure.  Bar talk topics are often very random, but writer Aimee thrives during this kind of stuff.  It's great material for travel narratives.

I wonder if the same conversation would have happened over milk. I highly doubt it, even if the milk was chocolate.  Or the less popular strawberry.  There's just something special about alcohol, seriously.  Also, there's something especially special about the Fisherman's Orange Crush.  It's my new drink of choice minus the always delicious fresh fruit mojitos lovingly made by my family on the Delaware:
  • the juice of one whole orange
  • 1 oz orange vodka
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • splash of sprite
  • a glass full of crushed ice
Pour all of the ingredients over the crushed ice, insert straw, and enjoy!  Even looks delicious, doesn't it?

It seems to me that three orange crushes was the charm, for me at least.  Within fifteen minutes of returning to our dated-but-clean hotel room, I was out like a light.  According to Felicia, I managed to sleep through a pretty epic thunderstorm.  But I woke up to a hazy sun, crashing waves, surfers, and a dolphin pod.  And despite the chilly temperature outside, the scene screamed summer. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Road Tunes 1

I'm going to regularly post even when I'm not traveling, so please stay tuned.  No pun intended.

My idea for this entry: I figured I could periodically update you guys with some potential tuneage for when you're off the rails. 

I feel I must give you some background.  Here goes:  I didn't get the opportunity to update my iPod before I left for Williamsburg and VA Beach.  Even I'm getting tired of some of the songs.  This is a well-known fact among my favorite people, and at work the other day, Megan offered to let me borrow her iPod for the trip.  What a friend, but I said no.  I felt bad.  Don't know why.  I was being stupid.  It happens.  Needless to say, I kicked myself in the ass for that decision all the way down I-81.  Not literally, though.  I was buckled in and wearing a dress.  More towards the beginning of my trip, I debated calling XM to renew my subscription, even made the decision to call.  But they were closed at 7:33AM, and I took it as a sign.  No XM; I wouldn't abandon my iPod.

Here's some songs I like to listen to over and over again.  Brad's a little tired of them, but I'm not tired of them...yet.  Note, I'm sure you'll be able to tell who I was thinking about on my ride home:

"Goin' Home" by Dan Auerbach

Figured this was an appropriate song to showcase today.  Sometimes, I get sad when my journey comes to an end (Felicia and I had a blast despite the rain), but I do miss my boys (Rex and Brad) whenever I'm away.  Please take note of the order I listed them. Love you, Brad. ;)

"Society" by Eddie Vedder

Christopher McCandless movie version reminds me a lot of my wonderful partner, Bradley.  Anyone get the Wheel of Fortune reference?  Hopefully, someone did.  I know Megan Reichart will.  Anywho, the Into the Wild soundtrack is great to listen to on the road, especially on the way to the mountains. I think I've listened to it a little too much with B-Rob, though.  He's Eddie Veddered out. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lost: The Prequel

Once upon a time, when Megan and I came home from DC, we ended up in Maryland.   Maybe I have a problem. First step to recovery is admitting it, right? But awful spatial awareness isn't an addiction, or is it?  It, too, could all boil down to me just having the wrong parts.

Can I blame it on OnStar? Hell yes, I can blame it on OnStar.  Hopefully, karma doesn't bite me in the ass, but I honestly think they had us get off at the wrong ramp.  But before that even happened Megan and I were driving through the DC ghetto at like 2 o'clock in the morning.  For some weird reason, the directions wouldn't download. Trying to quell our anxieties, the OnStar representative asked if we wanted her to stay on the line.  We didn't.  We just wanted to get on the right effing road.  I never said that, though.  I just thought it. I bet Megan did, too. After all, they call us the twins for a reason and anyone who knows us realizes it's not because we look alike. I must also mention that Megan seemed to have a good time verbally abusing my inanimate car. Pretty entertaining stuff.  I should have recorded it for future entertainment or a friendly game of blackmail.

I was on "E" and couldn't find any gas stations during this whole diabolical. Did I spell that right? Anyways, thanks to Siri we eventually found Virginia and a gas station, but Megan wasn't allowed inside said gas station because the door was locked and there were bars on the only window.  Concession food style, an Indian man in a uniform slipped Megan a bottle of Aquafina through a small slot. A full tank of gas and $65 later, we drove off in a hurry hoping we wouldn't get shot.

The End.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost...Unless You're Legit Lost

Brad calls me on it all the time.  I pretend to understand people when I only vaguely understand them.  Okay, I get it: turn left, walk past this building, go right, stay straight, turn left again, turn left again, go around the bend, go over that bridge, and then you'll be there after turning right.  I'm saying "sure" and "mhmm" the whole time, often I'm nodding, but I lost them at the first turn right.

I got lost many times today.
1) OnStar can't find specific buildings on a campus (i.e. Parking Services office), so I call the William and Mary operator.  I'm driving.  It's not like I'm able to write down directions. I have to remember this shit, but sometimes I feel people are so tired of giving the same directions that I want to end the call for them. 

2) Once I found the Parking Services office, I have to find parking.  I circled the campus 4-5 times looking for a Visitor Lot, all I saw were Faculty and Staff lots.  After much internal debate, I ended up back at the Parking Services office again.  The guy at the front desk seemed frustrated when I asked him to help me locate a visitor lot.  He pointed to the part of the pass that said I can park in Faculty and Staff lots.  Oops.  Maybe I shouldn't assume that the Parking Services people here at W&M are as nutty as JMU Parking Services people.  I think that I have parking authority issues, or possibly authority issues, in general.

3) As I spoke to Siri for the seventeenth time while at William and Mary, an Australian woman who looked like she was a coach of some sort asked if I was lost.  I said, "Yes" and listened to the inner Brad in my head as I repeated back the directions to her until I actually understood them.  Getting around after engaging in this active listening method actually made more sense.  But I'd rather not tell Brad he's right.  His always updated and always accurate inner GPS makes him a little cocky, and who needs to add to that ego? Not me.

4) My last lost adventure or so I thought..........After spending a good portion of the afternoon at a coffee shop on campus soaking up the sun, I was "it."   I had listened to the live rock band and watched the break dancers long enough.  It was my turn to seek, and my car was hiding.  An hour and fifteen minutes and 4-5 miles later I found it.  I got some pretty cool pictures along the way, though.  While wandering, you can see some pretty kick-ass things like sunlit cobwebs and split trees. top it all off, I researched restaurants in Williamsburg, NY not Williamsburg, VA.  Needless to say Bozu, the cool Japanese place with garden seating and strawberry-infused vodka cocktails, was too far to drive for dinner.  We (Felicia and me) settled for a place called Trellis, which wasn't settling at all:
  • A beautiful pink bottle of pinot grigio rose and lots of water
  • Virginia oysters on the half shell
  • Pretzel bread with homemade spicy mustard and cornbread with almond butter
  • Cheddar grits and jumbo shrimp in a white wine sauce with chunks of bacon and some sort of wilted leafy green that was perfectly sauteed before accenting this delicious and complex dish
  • Two-layer chocolate cake with chocolate fudge icing topped with a white chocolate truffle and served a la mode with white chocolate ice cream
On the way to dinner and on the way home, Felicia made sure we didn't get lost.
Wayfinding 5, Aimee 0, Felicia 2

I need to up my game.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ground Zero Memorial

I didn't cry.  I thought I would cry, but I didn't.

I just stared at the waterfall with dry eyes.  I ran my fingers over the names and admired the petals on the red roses standing erect in their slots on the memorial.  Some had fallen down, and some of the roses had started to wilt.  And still not a tear.

The engraved names struck me, but what struck me the most was the unborn children that died in the twin towers.  I forgot about pregnant women, women like Deanna.  The woman's partner not only lost his or her significant other but also the baby that they made together.  The man or woman went from a growing family to planning two funerals.  I guess I shouldn't assume. That might be Deanna's story, but there is a chance her situation was completely different.

I feel so guilty for not crying.  Maybe it was the construction, maybe it was the airport-like security screening before entering the memorial, or maybe 11 years is enough time to heal.  Or maybe I just wasn't close enough to the tragedy.  I was closer than some, but maybe that wasn't close enough.

Why can I cry, though, when I watch, say, Private Practice, but not when I'm face-to-face with the deep holes where two buildings and close to 3,000 people once stood?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Taste of New York City: The Elizabeth Baugh and Rachel Dozier Edition

Alright, let’s go with the first line from the U2 song: “In New York, freedom looks like too many choices,” and when it comes to food in the Big Apple, that’s definitely the case.  Luckily, Megan and I had help navigating through the many restaurant choices.  Elizabeth and Rachel (Megan’s friends) have lived in the city for about three months now, and during our adventure to NYC, our incredible hosts offered to take us around to all of their favorite places.  We had the New York City staples: bagels, pizza, and hot dogs…plus many calories more.  I have pictures of some of the meals, but not all. Sorry, guys!  Consider it a'll want it all. 

Day 1

Breakfast: A freshly baked cinnamon raisin bagel toasted and topped with a mound of delicious cream cheese from Bagels.  Yes, Bagels.  Because the waiting area in the bagel place is about the same width of a bathroom stall, we took our bagels to the eighth floor of the Marriot to sit in some comfy chairs next to a futuristic elevator, quite reminiscent of Charlie’s glass elevator.

Lunch: A juicy cheeseburger topped with special Shake Shack sauce, lettuce, tomato, mayo and served with crunchy golden brown fries.  This place is so popular that you literally have to elbow your way into a seat.  If you go to JMU, think D-Hall on Grilled Cheese Thursdays. 

Snack: At Serendipity 3, an oversized goblet filled with peanut butter frozen hot chocolate with a heaping spoonful of homemade whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top.  During our hour-and-a-half wait to get in, we explored a street-side bookshop and Central Park.

Dinner: After seeing Nick Jonas, we enjoyed yummy appetizers and a fair share of Blue Moon at Southern Hospitality, Justin Timberlake’s Restaurant.  Megan and I split tender chicken fingers with a delectable honey mustard and a pulled pork quesadilla topped with jalapenos, tangy sour cream, and homemade guacamole.

Day 2 

Breakfast: Sliced apple dipped in peanut butter from Elizabeth and Rachel’s kitchen.

Lunch: A fluffy omelet stuffed with grilled shrimp, tomatoes, and feta served on top of bacon and topped with a spicy tomato salsa accompanied by a crisp spring mix and spinach salad tossed in a slightly-sweet vinaigrette…served with endless mimosas at a trendy brunch bar called Bondi Road in the Lower Eastside, my favorite locale in the city. <3

Dinner: Cheesy New York Style Pizza loaded with pepperoni on a soft and delicious crust from Brooklyn Pizzeria.  Luckily, the man with the tattoo on his face quit following us when we reached the restaurant.

Day 3

Breakfast: A Dunkin' Donuts donut topped with vanilla icing and rainbow jimmies, which we picked up the previous day on our way to the corner of Gramercy and Irving, the location of my dad’s former apartment building.

Lunch: Delicious Thai from Spice, a NYC Thai chain: Ginger pineapple chicken in a light brown sauce accompanied by the freshest red peppers, green peppers, and mushrooms with a side of rice and a Thai Iced Tea.

Dinner: The Recession Special at Gray’s Papaya: for $4.95 two hot dogs topped with spicy brown mustard and orange drink.  I don't have a picture of my hot dogs, but here's a picture from the restaurant.  Talk about colorful.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Travel Writing Experiment

Thanks to our awesome tour guides, I have plenty of New York City stories to tell.  Wanted to take a little break, though, to try something out.  I recently found out that next semester I will be teaching an introductory writing course at JMU, and I have decided to teach it through a travel writing lens.  My dad and I have often discussed how inspirational music can be on the road.  And I'm toying with somehow incorporating music into my writing classroom, but I still need to figure out if and how this might benefit my future students.  With that being said, I wanted to try out a little travel writing experiment.

Wikipedia has a list of hundreds of songs about NYC.  I'm going to choose a random song from the list.  I pick the letter "N", and according to this website that I found, 36% of the population in NYC was born outside of the United States.  So, I'm going to choose the 36th song that starts with "N."  And if I can get my loser boyfriend to stop attacking my keyboard, I will post the lyrics tonight and somehow relate the song to my trip tomorrow.  Getting lost in the DC ghetto last night wore me out and so did waitressing.

Here goes nothing.................

"New York" by U2

In New York freedom looks like too many choices
In New York I found a friend to drown out the other voices
Voices on the cell phone
Voices from home
Voices of the hard sell
Voices down the stairwell
In New York, just got a place in New York

In New York summers get hot well into the hundreds
You can walk around the block without a change of clothing
Hot as a hair dryer in your face
Hot as handbag and a can of mace
New York, I just got a place in New York
New York, New York

In New York you can forget, forget how to sit still
Tell yourself you will stay in
But it's down to Alphaville

New York, New York, New York
New York, New York, New York

The Irish have been coming here for years
Feel like they own the place
They got the airport, city hall, concrete, asphalt, they even got the police
Irish, Italians, Jews and Hispanics
Religious nuts, political fanatics in the stew
Living happily not like me and you
That's where I lost you...New York

New York, New York
New York, New York

In New York I lost it all to you and your vices
Still I'm staying on to figure out my mid life crisis
I hit an iceberg in my life
But you know I'm still afloat
You lose your balance, lose your wife
In the queue for the lifeboat

You got to put the women and children first
But you've got an unquenchable thirst for New York

New York, New York
New York, New York

In the stillness of the evening
When the sun has had its day
I heard your voice a-whispering
Come away child

New York, New York

Monday, March 5, 2012

Courtesy of Buzzed Photography

After indulging in endless mimosas and a shrimp, tomato, and feta omelette, Elizabeth navigated us to the apartment complex where my dad lived after 9/11. As we walked through the streets of the Lower Eastside, the five of us sang songs. And it made lots of people smile, mostly men. Probably because of my buzz, I contemplated doing a cartwheel at one of the many crosswalks we walked, but I was afraid that I would split my skinny jeans, so decided against it. If only I was wearing yoga pants. I also contemplated stopping to get my tattoo but a) it would have taken hours to complete and b) I'm going swimming at the end of March.

My buzz inspired some classic photos, though. Don't worry, I'll put my portfolio together soon. I snapped pictures of American flags swaying in the wind, a dad at the park with his two boys, buildings, graffiti, business signs, and a man in a NY hat standing on the subway. Once I get home, I'll download some of them so you can see.

I also discretely took a picture of the homeless man that I gave money to. He was young, about my age, wearing a John Deere hat and a ratty old coat. He had a plastic cup with nothing but coins inside. Embraced in his arms was a black lab, gray hair peppering his snout. The dog was quiet, but his eyes were so expressive. Just like Rex's eyes. A cardboard sign in front of the pair read, "I've lost everything but my best friend."

Elizabeth and I have talked several times this trip about the homeless and their dogs. We have come to the general consensus that despite their circumstances, we're happy for the companionship a dog brings. It gives a man or woman someone to talk to, to live for, to provide for.  If Brad and I were ever to become homeless, I'd want Rex in our cardboard corner.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Megan, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Lawler, were several strides ahead of me when I reached into my purse to grab my wallet. I debated whether to put some money in the man's clear solo cup and eventually decided to go for it. I dropped a five on top of the small layer of change he had collected. And after I gave him some money, several others followed suit.

For the rest of the night, I missed Rex and Brad. I missed watching how the two of them often cuddled similarly to this man and his dog. As I thought about the warmth Rex provides me, I smiled. This man has it bad, but it could be worse. He could have lost his best friend when he lost everything else.

I wonder what the two of them were doing as I knocked back mimosa after mimosa at the trendy brunch bar earlier that day. Maybe they were sleeping in Central Park, maybe they were at a soup kitchen, maybe they were hiding from the cops, or maybe they were still sitting next to the mailbox and large pile of trash bags in front of the Pizza Hut Express that sits just a block away from the National Debt Clock. 17,515,789,486,297.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bravo! This deserves a Standing-O.

I almost fell asleep on the way to the play. I could barely keep my eyes open on the subway. Apparently, I was dozing off a little bit, too. Needless to say, I needed to get a second wind and stat. Luckily, there was lots of yelling in the play. And that woke me up.

Philip Seymour Hoffman starred as Willie. Andrew Garfield starred as Biff. And we rushed the play and managed to get thirty dollar tickets. Yay to being under 30. Some people in the audience paid up to 130 dollars per ticket. I wonder what Woody Allen paid for his seat. We saw him in the audience in like the second row. Then again, maybe he didn't even have to pay at all. Tom Hanks doesn't get special treatment, though. Apparently, he showed up to last night's show three minutes late and wasn't allowed in. I probably would have peed my pants if I saw Tom Hanks, love me some Tom Hanks. Woody Allen is cool, too minus the whole marrying his stepdaughter thing. 

I must say Hoffman was an excellent Willie. Compelling, sad, a little pathetic. He performed the hallucination scenes very well. Garfield did well has Biff. His stature was a little small, which threw me off, but he played the character with such passion. For example during the intense anger-infused scenes, snot was coming out of his nose and spit was coming out of his mouth. Also, the elaborate yet simple set looked beautiful. They even projected leaves on the back curtain at certain points in the production. The other neat thing was the hidden elevator that took Happy and Biff to and from their bed during the flashback scenes.

The cast received a standing ovation when the curtain came up. Some dude behind me kept chanting bravo, bravo. The characters moved me to tears several times, but the clapping at the end moved me to tears as well. It was a superb first Broadway experience, slightly surreal.

And then we got some autographs in the freezing cold including Andrew Garfield's excluding Philip Seymour Hoffman's, and that was before seeing Nick Jonas on our way to Justin Timberlake's restaurant, Southern Hospitality.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Me Not Being Stupid

Cool sign, huh?

So...I'm a modern woman. I'm updating this blog on my iPhone. Thanks, Brad Roberts for bring me into the 21st century.

Megan and I made it into DC just fine. It was rainy and foggy, but good coffee, a great friend, and a kickass new school/old school playlist made the drive not bearable but fun. Think O-Town meets Phantom Planet meets Lady Gaga meets Little Big Town. Epic. Along our 2-hour drive, we witnessed the aftermath of three separate accidents. Three was a bit of a theme tonight. It took us three tries around the Massachusetts Avenue roundabout to find the parking garage, but neither of us freaked out. Maybe it's a female thing because at that point there's several certain someones that I know who would have been less than pleased-all of who are men. * know who you are...cough, cough.*

So, let's discuss the first character I encountered. Unfortunately, Megan missed it because she was standing guard with our stuff. Of course, I was off by myself. May have done that in the parking garage, too. But that's neither here nor there. So, anyways, this lady calls me over to her, 30-something with a low stubby ponytail. She's wearing a long black coat, and she is swimming in a sea of luggage in a dark corner near a neglected baggage claim.

Stranger: Are you spending the night here?
Me: No.
Stranger: Are you meeting a friend?
Me: No.
Stranger: Where are you going?
Stranger: Is that going through Philly?
Me: I believe so, yes.
Stranger: I have a weird question for you.

[Note to self: Scowl more, smile less.]

Me: Silence.
Stranger: You see, I was supposed to check this bag, but now they won't let me. Would you carry it on the train with you and drop it off at the Philly station. You see, I'm disabled and can't carry it.

[It was a black duffel bag...big enough to fit a body chopped into a bunch of small pieces or a shitton of coke, and I don't mean the cola kind.]

Me: I'm sorry. I don't feel comfortable doing that. Maybe you should talk to the Amtrak Police.
Stranger: They said they can't help me.
Me: I'm sorry. I just don't feel comfortable carrying your luggage.
Stranger: Fine.

The only thing she was missing was candy, a van, and some chest hair.

Hopefully, she wasn't the second coming of Christ. With this cold, rainy weather, I might enjoy some warm weather. Haha. Get it?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Concrete Jungle

The last time I was in New York City, I rode in a van with some my basketball teammates to see the New York Liberty play at Madison Square Garden.  I don’t remember much from that night.  I do remember, though, after the game my hands were shaking because I was so excited to get the autographs of these athletic women that I admired so much at the time.  Needless to say, I no longer play basketball, but I will be forever grateful to Mrs. Shannon for allowing me to have such a neat experience.

I feel I should note that this trip was pre-9/11.  And even though I should, I don’t really consider the basketball game my first trip to NYC.  We drove to Madison Square Garden from the Poconos and immediately drove back after the game—no exploring the concrete jungle.  No pitstop for New York Style pizza, no subway.

But now, I’m heading back to the place where dreams are made of with my dear friend, Megan. 
We won’t be going to see the New York Liberty play (Megan would rather watch the Oscars); instead, play, like, the noun  is on our hitlist—Death of a Salesman with Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Also on the list: a piano bar, one of the dives from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, the Ground Zero memorial, and a Monday morning taping of The Today Show

Let’s hear it for New York and also Megan’s friends who are letting us stay with them in Brooklyn.  By the way, this is a picture at the stop where the J train and Z train meet.  Bet you can't guess who named himself after this place.  Elizabeth, who you will hear more about later, pointed out this pop culture fact during our short stay at the Marcy Avenue stop--Shawn Carter's old stomping grounds.  That's a hint......if you didn't guess correctly already.