Monday, January 30, 2012

Georgia On My Mind -- A Photographic Essay

Burnt Mountain is for sitting

While the excitement of places like New York city (here and here) shake up your expectations and overwhelm you, those smaller, out-of-the-way corners of this world attract me again and again.  One of my favorite places to wander either in a car or on foot is Pickens Country, GA.   My husband’s family has property on Burnt Mountain, just south of the Chattahoochee National Forest and the southern tip of the Appalachian Trail.  White pine trees, sharp-topped mountains, Georgia marble, and good barbeque define the region.  Some corners of the county have more chickens and cows than people.  There are bears, but we usually see the effects of their visits and rarely see them.

When visiting there, I feel enfolded in the arms of the mountains, especially when the fog snags on the sharp tips of those ancient hills and won’t clear until after lunch.  The family gathers every New Year’s holiday to spend a few days unplugged from the world and to down copious amounts of black-eyed peas and collard greens for the year’s good fortune.  We hike and read and eat cornbread.  Today I’m sharing with you the winter world of Burnt Mt., GA.
When the fog rolls in the world becomes an abstract study in black and white 

My brother-in-law said he couldn’t remember the last time he saw a kingfisher in the area.  It sat so still I thought it was just a decoration someone had added to the dock on one of the small lakes in the area.

This road to nowhere is really a levee that divides a lake (left) from the spring that feeds it at the bottom of the steep ravine on the right.  Only a couple hundred feet long, it’s still white-knuckle driving when you cross this stretch on a foggy night.

Somewhere just beyond the trees is a lake.
Pickens County is dotted with small churches, frequently Pentecostal.  I guess this makes the mountain a particularly blessed place.
What is your favorite small or out-of-the-way place to visit?  What do you find there; why do you go?  Please share in the comments box places that I need to add to my itinerary.  I promise not to tell anyone else about this secret destination (shhhh).

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's Not Exactly Up There With Climbing Mt. Everest -- My FiftyFifty Challenge


"If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes." -Andrew Carnegie

I’m going to come right out and say it: laziness is my standard operating mode.  That doesn’t mean you’ll find me sitting around all day watching Court TV.  Dog walking, traveling, and gardening are default activities  Over my 50+ years, though, the path of “good enough” seemed my favorite to travel.  I did just enough to be good at things but not enough to excel.  In music, I could play what was put in front of me, but I didn’t push myself to be at a professional level.  I could write and play softball, but since others were better at it I did it only for fun.  I exercise now just enough to be able to continue hiking and pick up my large dog, but not enough to actually get into great shape.  I did manage to finish my Ph.d dissertation.

However, the crave for a real challenge gurgles in my stomach.  Before I bow out of this life I want to grab hold of difficult goals and wrestle them to the ground.  I want to be Rocky running up the steps with his theme music swelling in the background.  Horrid visions of myself sitting in front of the television with a microwave dinner on a TV tray and watching Lawrence Welk reruns while my neighbors jog past on their way to salsa dancing lessons fill my waking hours (say, when sitting in front of the television watching Republican debate #632).

Some my age who wake up one morning with a sudden urge for challenges might run a marathon or eat bugs in Malaysia or something like that.  Extremes are not my thing, though.  Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up, or get that darn book written, or find myself published in something every month of the year would be great goals.  But, gee, they all require such long-term commitments.  They all demand so much of me.  Even that learning French aspiration has faded a bit (although it’s time to ratchet it up before traveling again this summer).

"There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, Yes, I've got dreams, of course I've got dreams. Then they put the box away and bring it out once in a while to look in it, and yep, they're still there." - Erma Bombeck
So I was glad to find a challenge right up my alley -- the FiftyFifty Challenge – 50 books and 50 movies in one year. My house is overflowing with books and movies, so you would think that this would be a cinch.  However, I have a tendency to read three books at once and not finish any.  And I frequently fall asleep while watching movies at home and never see the end.  Plus I’m so undisciplined about it all, tackling things broadly but never deeply.  I might read one Jane Austen, but I’ve never read all.  When teaching and researching at the university level, all of my reading was so targeted, such clear objectives.  I never had to ask myself what next.  Now I just dabble.

Easy-peasy, right?  Each week just skip a couple of Law and Order reruns to watch a movie.  And there are plenty of short Hemingway novels out there to breeze through.  It doesn’t all have to be Dostoevsky.  But where’s the challenge in that?  In fact, one definition of challenge is “to stimulate by making demands on the intellect.”  Ah, so there’s the catch. I have to make demands on myself.

And so I will.  I’m going to read and watch according to themes and report back to you on a separate page on this blog.
My movie goals:
- 10  foreign movies (I’m behind in my watching)
- 10 contemporary movies (whatever is in the theaters or came out in 2011)
- 10 documentaries (what can I learn?)
- 10 pre-1950 movies (I love old movies so an excuse to find some I haven’t seen)
- 10 Sundance award winners (find something I wouldn’t normally watch)

My book goals:
- 10 craft books on writing (I usually end up skimming them)
- 10 literary fiction or poetry (William Faulkner, here I come)
- 10 travel books (I’ll start with the large stack under my bedside table)
- 10 memoirs (if I want to write like that I need to read a variety)
- 10 by or about Edith Wharton (getting deeply into a writer I love)

 "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." 
-Calvin Coolidge
Join me in this undertaking (although let’s hope it doesn’t put me completely under).  You can sign on and see how others are approaching the challenge at the FiftyFifty website.  If 50/50 is too much, try your own half-marathon challenge and do 25/25.  Or if books and movies aren’t your thing find two other interests to do 50/50, e.g., 50 jigsaw puzzles and 50 bikes rides of at least five miles.

Something tells me that if I can discipline myself to do this one thing, at the end of the year several other goals that had been languishing in my dream box will be crossed off my to-do list.  Mais oui!  For now, though, it’s all about pressing on.

Do you have any long-term challenges for yourself this year?  What are they and why did you choose them If you tried the 50/50 what movie or book themes would you tackle?  For example, would you “major” in sci-fi films and minor in Martin Scorcese? ?  If you developed your own 50/50 challenge, what would you pair to accomplish it?  Share your thoughts in the comments box.

Maybe Skyler and I can make a dent in one of several bookcases in my house

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Signed, Underwood 565 CR

In my neighborhood there are still places that remember a less complicated technology

I miss her.  We were friends for so many years.  We sat up all night in college, pushing hard to be brilliant – or at least adequate.  I vowed to be there for her 100% and never fail her in her time of need.  For so long she remained faithful to me, too, even though her friends said it was time to look for something fresh.

I never asked for much.  Just a new ribbon once or twice a year.  A little correction tape.  The distinct and smooth tap-tap her fingers produced signaled all was well.  I never got sick on her, never caught a virus that would ruin her plans, and did my best to be a low-maintenance friend.

Together we made poetry.  And we made parodies of Manichean cults in iambic  pentameter.  We explored the history of Irish mythic heroes and produced outlines of all the books of the New Testament.  We expounded on Aristotle and Martin Luther and Hemingway.  We wrote letters and exegeses.  I knew her touch and I knew the pauses when she was thinking.
Forgotten but not gone

When her mom and dad brought us together I had never seen anyone so happy.  “Just what I’ve always wanted!” she exclaimed.  I thought we would be together forever. But one day a plastic box appeared on the desk next to me.  White instead of my sleek, black keys, it seemed rather nondescript except for the small rainbow-colored apple in the lower left corner.

While my three-pronged cord and a single on/off switch made me a breeze to handle, this new machine seemed overly complicated.  Wires out the back.  Wires to keyboards.  Wires to a device on the side she constantly slid across an 8x8 pad.  She always was sticking something in the front slot like bread in a toaster.

Oh, I stayed faithful, sitting on that desk waiting for some attention, eager to create beautiful thoughts together.  Occasionally I addressed an envelope for her.  But I felt her touch less and less.

One day she unplugged me and placed me back in my molded plastic home.  She closed it with a determined “click.”  I haven’t seen daylight since.  But I have hope.  She has carried me from apartment to apartment.  From house to house.  Now I wait, seemingly forgotten in a dusty basement.  I must still mean something to her, though, because I’m still here.  Waiting.
My old friend
If you had one object that could tell a story what would it be and what would the story be about?  Tell its story in the comments box.
Authors Note: This was written in response to the Write On Edge RemembeRED prompt:
Write on Edge: RemembeRED Do objects have a memory? Does a rocking chair hold the essence of the snuggles it has witnessed? Does a pottery mug remember the comforting warmth it offered a struggling soul?
The dictionary defines personification as “the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.”

Now it’s your turn to tell a piece of your story from the point of view of an object who bore witness in 400 words or less.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Treasures You Should Read and Watch Today

A glance at sweet Princess, the cat who couldn't sit still, grabbing at my camera strap
I wish I could say I didn’t have a fabulous and award-winning blog post today because I was traveling in exotic lands.  Or dancing in a salsa competition.  Or putting finishing touches on the next great book to hit all the best-seller lists.  But life is more mundane.

This weekend I gave most of my attention to friends and family in various degrees of need.  It started when my son called to say his landlord caught him with his girlfriend’s cat in his “no pets” apartment and he had to get rid of it (why Princess is not with the girlfriend/owner right now is another story).  So me, a dog person, had to deal with a hyperactive kitten all weekend until new arrangements could be made.  I also had a friend almost completely incapacitated in a leg cast because of her first major accident after almost 40 years of being a horse owner.  I took down her Christmas decorations.  Two of my sisters were sick (sinus infection and shingles – yikes!) so I provided homemade soup and what entertainment I could.

Instead of writing a blog, therefore, I caught up on reading some.  Here are a few that would be worth a few minutes of your time this week.


This is the week that I start back to the gym with my trainer since I’ve been officially declared “recovered” from my surgery.  So I’m looking at health-related posts a lot.

Debra tells us about the value of Silence and Centering.  One of the greatest challenges for me is turning off the noise in my head to concentrate on writing ideas.  She reminds us that even 5 minutes each day of dedicated silence can improve our lives.

Indy Quillen in Making a Date With Yourself – Fueling Your Energy and Creativity also reminds us of the importance of taking time for ourselves.  We all need to have multiple ways to recharge our batteries, whether it’s spending the day at the beach or the afternoon in a bookstore.  Perhaps if I made regular weekly dates with myself I wouldn’t waste time all the other days getting distracted with useless stuff (hello, online celebrity gossip) because my well is dry.

I also gave some time to the literary/writing blogs I follow.  These offer something interesting for everyone.

Debra Eve reminds all of us that it’s never too late to be great on her blog about Late Bloomers.  In Edith Wharton: Beyond Downton Abbey she honors a great American writer on her 150th birthday.  In her novels and short stories Wharton chronicled the complicated life of East Coast social climbers at the turn of the century.  You probably read Ethan Frome in high school or college.  If you’re unfamiliar with her work, start with the lavish film adaptation of her book The Age of Innocence starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Chuck Wendig writes about a lot of things, but has dead-on posts about writing.  In 25 Things Writers Should Start Doing (ASAFP) he tries to verbally kick butts to move some of us from the “want to be a writer” to the “be a writer, damn it!” category.  But you know what, his advice works for a lot of dreams, like #12 “Start Escaping the Gravity of that Insidious Black Hole Known as ‘The Internet’” or #1 “Start Taking Yourself Seriously.”

This last one is totally random.  While I’m no longer part of academia and mining the depths of the ancient art known as “rhetoric” (Aristotle and all that jazz), I still check in with my old community on occasion.  Anyone who has spent any time deep in an academic environment can appreciate this.  Those who haven’t can just feel superior for having their feelings about life in the ivory tower confirmed.

Julie Platt is currently a Ph.d student in Rhetoric and Writing at Michigan State University.  Her little video, Shit Rhetoricians Say, does such a fantastic job of capturing the conversation flow of my beloved field of study.  I see nothing’s changed in the years since I was a graduate student.  Just enjoy her performance.  And remember: Rhetoric – Don’t Leave Home Without It.

Be sure to visit these writers and leave them comments.  Meanwhile, what great posts did you read or write this week?  What was your favorite online video?  What do you do to regain energy each week or what is your favorite literary/writing tip?  Share it all in the comments box.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stand up to Culinary Authoritarianism and Get Closer to Your Food! It's All the Trend

They may go overboard on utensil obsession, but at least the French know dogs make the best dinner companions sometimes.

Wow.  I just realized we have wasted a lot of parenting time.  Apparently the countless dinners we spent teaching our kids to use knives and forks could have better been spent turning them into musical geniuses.  The latest food trend at fine restaurants, it seems, is eating with your hands.  Evidently, using your fingers instead of the fork passé allows you to “eat with conviction and passion.”  I thought it just made your hands dirty and dribbled food on the tablecloth.

Lest there is any doubt, this fine dining trend got its start in New York City and California eating establishments.

Egg rolls, fried chicken, a barbecued pork sandwich?  Sure I use my hands.  But what about a communal bowl of orange chicken with chow mein noodles?  Do I really want that mess all over me?  What technique do I use to dig in to my crème brulée?  Is that a one-finger or a two-finger scoop?

I’m not ignorant of the fact that other cultures eat with their fingers.  And if I were the guest in a Bedouin tent in the Sahara being served goat meat and couscous on pita bread, I’d follow custom, even if somewhat awkwardly, just like I follow the insane French custom of eating pizza with a knife and fork when in that country.  But if using silverware is, as one chef has said, like “fingernails on a chalkboard,” then exactly how do I attack my chicken vegetable soup?

“I hope that people let their guard down and throw out some of the rules we have regarding etiquette and connect like animals,” says chef Roy Choi.  I know exactly what he means.  Every day I encounter people who are just too controlled by etiquette, starting with the guy at the gym yesterday talking in triple-digit decibels about every career opportunity he was considering, right down to the salary and benefits package, and the woman who draped her sweat jacket on one machine, her towel on another, and a pair of free weights on the bench so she could flow unencumbered from one exercise to another in her sets without pause, leaving me to devise an exercise routine on her gym leftovers.

Yes, indeed, modern America needs someone to give them permission to throw the restrictions of etiquette out the window.

Something tells me that ancient cultures that ate all communal finger food (e.g., Ethiopian, Indian, Asian) did not do it because, as cookbook author Zakary Pelaccio claims for himself, utensils slowed them down.  It was not a metaphor for life for them.  They probably built the tradition around the high cost or lack of access to a full set of eating implements.  To be honest, last week in New York, my husband expressed regret/hesitation at our expensive steakhouse that it would be out of place to pick up the bone of his $48 mutton chop and suck out every last drop of flavor from the marrow.  On the other hand, I feel safe in assuming that tacos were not invented because someone wanted to reject culinary authoritarianism and get emotionally closer to his beans or meat.  However, some culinary traditions, like French food,  do treasure overkill and demand a full battalion of eating utensils that need a guidebook to go with them at each meal.
The French have their finger food moments, and do it with panache
I’m not a cultural luddite who thinks all trends are bogus.  That intense desire to experience the latest thing just doesn’t grab me.  I’ve yet to see a 3D movie (how do those cheap movie theater glasses actually stay on over the real glasses I must wear to see?).  I’m sure for some films it enhances the experience, although I can’t see why it’s necessary to film The Great Gatsby that way.  I can only think of one trend I was ahead of back in college.  I wore parachute pants – original olive green parachute pants bought at the Army Surplus store with work boots, not the disco ones.

No, I’m not against trends (although you can get whiplash from watching them speed by so quickly).  I guess I’m against the trendsetters pooh-poohing we who remain uninitiated or unenthusiastic.  But maybe I’m really ahead of the trend because I can see that for many of them (are you there, Jazzercise?), this too shall pass.  At least I’ll never be caught following a trend after it’s gone.

Oh, and as for that one hard and fast rule of communal platter eating – reaching in with only the first two joints of the thumb, pointer, and middle finger of the right hand?  One of the pieces of useless information I remember reading somewhere long ago was that certain cultures traditionally ate only with their right hand because they used the left hand to wipe their behinds.  It stands to reason – if they didn’t have silverware they probably didn’t have any Charmin.

Be first to the table!  Talk to me about trends in the comments box.  What trends did you throw yourself into that faded quickly?  What trends did you join only when they finally became mainstream (hello, e-reader).  Are you an early adopter or always late to the party?  What is your favorite finger food?  Have you had the opportunity to eat at an ethnic restaurant that uses this tradition?

Kebab and frites.  My favorite food to eat with my hands in France

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Children -- Living the Martin Luther King Dream

Nicholas and Tonya, my salt-and-pepper set, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris
(forgive my scowl - you have no idea how hot it was that day)

On Sunday and all day Monday I felt that I should be posting something to commemorate Martin Luther King Day.  I tried for something profound.  I tried to be deep.  I tried to be uplifting.  I tried to create the second “I Have a Dream” speech.  I tried to imagine a time when I had been discriminated against.  But it all sounded so inauthentic and pompous.  Who am I to make grand statements about discrimination and struggle after a week vacationing in New York City and then returning to my nice home in a lovely, tree-lined neighborhood where everyone walks their dogs to the local coffee shop?

And then I read a touching piece of writing by Bella on her blog One Sister’s Rant in response to a writing challenge on Beverly Diehl’s blog to talk racism.  She learned at a young age what it meant to accept herself when she and her sister doused themselves in powder to lighten their skin.  They got in trouble, but only to the extent that their mother was upset because they did not want to accept who they were.  Their childlike reasoning concluded if they looked different they would be seen as better people.

Her story reminded me of my own children when we brought them home from Russia in 1995.  I called them “my little salt and pepper set” because my son is as fair as the Scandinavians across the Bay of Finland near his home city of St. Petersburg and my daughter is as dark as those in the ethnic regions of the former Soviet Union around the Black Sea.  At 8 and 7 ½ years old, they had spent their entire lives in the narrow confines of the orphanage system in a very closed country.  I had such fear that they would not be easily accepted because of their language issues or because they knew nothing about American culture except Flintstones cartoons.  I worried that we would face a minefield of prejudices.

When my children arrived in their new home, they reacted badly toward the diverse ethnic groups in our corner of the city.  They had never seen a black person before, although they had internalized the Russian disdain for non-white ethnicities.  (You can read more about that country’s racism here and here.)  That first summer when my son saw them – on our street, at the grocery store, in the park – he would, with no subtlety, point at them and make comments in Russian about their presence or appearance.  Needless to say, I was mortified and made every effort to quiet him because I could tell by his tone if not his words that he was saying nothing good about them.  I said a small prayer of thanks that no one could understand what he said.

That fall he began school in a classroom full of students who were Jewish, Irish Catholic, Indian, African-American, Asian, mixed race, and everything in between.  Half of the students were children of university professors and the other half were on the free lunch program.  Once he was settled in amidst this American melting pot, I never heard those comments again.  Many of his friends have been and are the same African-Americans that repelled him at first.  They saw him for the joyful presence he was and he saw beyond color to their humanity.

Nicholas and his cross-country teammate, Larry, after a hard race
(women pay hundreds of dollars for that hair color)
 My daughter, on the other hand, directed her negative feelings only toward herself.  She has the most perfect dark brown, almost black hair.  Perfectly straight and thick.  Her eyes are deep coffee and her skin a light olive tone.  Yet when she was young all she wanted was blonde, wavy hair and fair skin like my sisters.  She wanted to look like all the girls with Irish Catholic and German backgrounds that filled her classroom, that fill our town.  As the mother, I was glad that her dark looks made it easy for us to distinguish her among all the blonde ponytails flying across the soccer field or basketball court.  It’s also what made my husband and me sit up like a rocket and zero in on her when we first saw the video of orphanage kids that our adoption agency had sent us.

Yet she wanted nothing more than not to stand out.  She knew her looks attracted attention – that she looked different – because people would stop me on the street and hand me their card just in case I ever wanted to start her on a modeling career.  But at the beauty salon she kept trying to get our stylist to put blonde streaks in her hair.  The stylist kept refusing, telling her she was not made to be blonde and she’d regret it later if she touched her perfect hair.  Blonde didn’t match her lovely olive skin, she added.

Eventually, her desire to look like something other than herself faded as her interest in sports grew.  Soon she was just another female high school athlete in soccer shorts and ponytail, with a headband made out of day-glo orange athletic tape.  Two years ago, though, she had a chance to experience what life would have been like if she and her olive skin had never been a part of our family.  She returned to her home city of St. Petersburg, Russia for a college semester abroad.

All around her she could see the treatment of non-whites in that country.  She told us how much they hated the African immigrants or the Kazakhs or Chechnyans.  Russia for Russians.  She told us about the skinheads roaming the streets.  And she told us that the Russians didn’t know what to do about her at first.  She had the olive skin of those they hated, plus she spoke almost perfect Russian, which she used to help all her fellow students navigate the intricacies of life in that difficult country.  Yet she had the visible confidence of an American, not a put-upon remnant of Soviet domination.  Was she an ethnic Russian or was she American?

Mostly, she’s a survivor.  She is fully herself.  She wants to travel the world and has made friends from more countries than I have.

 Tonya (#11), one dark ponytail amid a sea of blonde
Like any mother with children just slightly outside the norm, I fretted every day that they would face discrimination for being “different” or “other” because I ripped them from an insecure world and plopped them down into this comfortable, economically privileged, and, yes, rather closed culture of my own hometown (most important question – “Where’d you go to high school?”  Tell me that and I can tell your life story).  I’m blessed that they never needed a Martin Luther King to fight for their acceptance.

When we look at their experiences we see that hatred toward ourselves and hatred toward others can start at such a tender age.  Embracing differences not only in others but also in ourselves can just as easily be taught.  Although I’m sad my children had to feel what it was like to be an outsider in two countries, I’m proud that they never let that poison their spirits.  And I repeat, as a mother I’m grateful every day that they escaped so much of the potential hurt and prejudice that attacks so many innocent children.  Mine were lucky enough, as Dr. King had hoped, to be judged by the content of their character.  Let’s hope we will all always be given that chance.

Have you ever worried that your children would face discrimination?  Were you ever discriminated against as a child?  Share your experience in the comments box.  Then visit Beverly's blog to see links to the stories that others shared.

The garden at Château Chenoceau in the Loire Valley of France show us that
more colors make the garden a better place
1/17/12-MLK dream2

Friday, January 13, 2012

New York State of Mind -- Don't Forget to Pack . . .

One of the two lions, Patience and Fortitude, that welcome you to the NY Public Library

If you get the chance to spend some time in this city it’s vital that you come prepared.  Walking shoes, small umbrella, black wardrobe (yes, seriously – you have no idea what it’s like to stick out like a sore thumb in taupe).  But it never occurred to me that I would have to stuff in my quart baggy of 3 oz. liquids several pack of French’s mustard.

“Mustard?” you ask in astonishment.  That condiment is as American as, well, the ballpark hotdog.  You would think, I say.  But picture this scenario:  I got a late start on my Thursday with my plans to work half the day in the New York Public Library.  After spending much too much time oo-ing and ah-ing over the lions, the drinking fountains, and the ceilings, I read and write until I am starved.  I trudge down 5th Ave. toward my hotel, looking for quick and easy nourishment.  Spying a well-known fast food joint I think, while unimaginative, it would fill the bill.

I step up to the counter and place my usual order.  Hamburger with mustard only.  “Uh, we don’t have any mustard,” the pointy-headed teenage cashier mumbles.  What, I ask, thinking I misheard.  This is an American hamburger joint.  How can they run out of mustard?  He asks another cashier who shakes her head, saying they have no packets of mustard.  Never mind, I say and walk out, starved, tired, and dejected. 
Library drinking fountain
Next day, same scenario.  Again a late start on the day.  Add to that the idiocy of WALKING 20 NY BLOCKS PAST MY DESTINATION.  And that’s twenty more blocks back, in case you were wondering (maybe someday I’ll tell you about adding 40 blocks to my little stroll).  The Museum of Modern Art was wonderful, although I will never claim to understand the artistic meaning behind an old wooden bar stool with a bicycle wheel attached to the top of it.  But all that walking made me hungry.  So I try a different hamburger joint.  National chain.  Have it your way.  Hamburger with mustard only, please.  The cashier stares for a beat.  “We don’t have mustard here,” he informs me.  What?  No mustard?  “The hamburgers only come with catsup, pickles, onions.  We don’t have any mustard in back.”

I now have a mission for my next trip to New York.  I will stop at every fast food joint in Manhattan to see if any of them have the most American of condiments.  This ain’t France, after all.  While I found one lone restaurant in that country that served good ol’ French’s, I didn’t even expect that.  You can read about that wonderful discovery here.  But these are national chains.  Each restaurant in a chain cooks its fries the exact same number of seconds.  Each serves absolutely identical buns.  How can one group of franchises get away with deciding whether or not I can have mustard?

I ate too much good food on this trip to let this little mustard mishap cast a shadow on my trip.  It probably is a message from the heavens that I shouldn’t have been eating at a chain in NYC anyway.  If anyone out there has any explanation for this mustard mystery, however, please let me in on what makes New York think it’s so special.

But you can bet that next time I head east, I’ll come prepared.  And consider yourself warned.  Now is the time to start collecting for yourself.

This trip gave me some time to catch up on missed blogs.  Here are a few posts that will give you some food for thought.  No mustard needed.

Dream Catcher -- Blogger
Kristen Lamb shared this post from Ingrid Schaffenburg.  Most of us want to follow our dreams.  But what, exactly, does that mean?  Her connection between “dreaming” and “learning” is a fresh perspective on an age-old problem.

Beat the post holiday (and beyond) blues – With cold weather finally settling in, we will really need these suggestions by Scrollwork.  I especially like #1 because I think it gives me permission to eat ice cream.

Friday Inspiration – Get Uncomfortable – Amber West never fails to amuse.  Mexican roosters and weak thighs make for a great travel adventure.  A must-read.

Dr. Seuss’s Creative Process – Annette Gendler frequently finds off-beat exhibits and places and shares generously.  Since Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite authors, I was eager to learn what she had soaked in about how his mind worked.  His first rule of creation was “see.”  We all could apply this in whatever we do.

Have you ever encountered such idiosyncrasies in fast food chains yourself?  Please share them or any travel food stories in the comments box.  And leave some comment love for some of these other bloggers on their sites.

Perhaps if we all had a room like the NYPL reading room, books would take more attention than video screens


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New York State of Mind -- Scenes from the High Line

New York at its cheekiest

Thirty years ago I traveled to New York City for an academic conference as a graduate student.  I think I paid  $50 for the airfare (it was the beginning of discount prices when they were discounts).  We had to drive eight hours to get to the airport that had this cheap rate.  Our small troupe of graduate students flew into Newark, hopped a train across the state line, trudged through the darkened streets of Sheepshead Bay to the tiny rent-controlled apartment of a friend where we all crashed for the night.

The next day we boarded a subway car with instructions not to make eye-contact with anyone (we were all friendly, innocent Midwesterners), then when we alighted somewhere near Central Park we obeyed further instructions to walk with purpose until we reached our hotel and don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk to check a map.

For that trip I had no money.  I lived off of the free food at conference breakfast buffets and book publishers’ evening receptions, with a slice or two of New York pizza purchased for lunch.  Four of us grad students piled into a small, overpriced hotel room and endured the tone of disdain from a front desk who knew we didn’t belong in the Big Apple.  I saw nothing of the city but a corner of Central Park.  I wasn’t overly impressed with the place and left with no strong desire to return.

But now I’m back as a tagalong on one of my husband’s research trips.  I’ve traveled a lot more.  I have the money to eat pizza and then some.  I have time to explore.  But the hotel room is still tiny.  With this unseasonably mild winter weather most of the country is having, we had the opportunity to spend our first afternoon in the city strolling along The High Line, a remarkable park created on an abandoned stretch of an elevated train track.  It opened in 2009.  I can’t wait to return when the whole thing is in bloom, but it still offers a wealth of sights even on the grayest winter day.

Here is a bit of what I saw as I strolled the meandering path above the streets of New York.  Click here to see tons of photos more creative than mine posted by other users of the park in other seasons.

Brad and his colleague, Azita, miss the High Line scene as they are lost in mathematical discussion

Whimsical graffiti everywhere you turn
No, not a friendly native.  A cutout that many apartment dwellers next to the Line post in their windows
Nature loves the High Line
Somewhere in Chelsea
Lady Liberty
What is your favorite unexpected place to visit you've found at home or when traveling, and what did you like about it?  Tell us about it and provide a link (if possible) in the comments box.
Here's another story to read about one of my favorite street scenes in Dijon, France, where children are a local treasure.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

So You Say You Want a Resolution?

My thoughts exactly

Aaack!  It’s that time of the year again.  The time I always hate.  No, not the time to de-decorate the house after Christmas (which mysteriously always takes twice as long as getting all of the knick-knacks and doodads out in December).  No, it’s that time of year when everyone is talking about making resolutions.  Time to set goals and visions and commitments to make life better, richer, skinnier, more creative, and generally more awesome.

And I hate it.  I believe I fall into that group of people who never have succeeded in keeping a single one – unless it’s one like “I really resolve to return to that restaurant in Dijon that advertises French fries made in duck fat and eat a plate of those suckers” or “I resolve to branch out from my beloved French menthe chocolat ice cream and eat a different flavor every day in Dijon this summer.”  In that case I’m all over that resolution-making routine.

At the beginning of last year I vowed to embrace failure.  If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.  It was a bit of channeling Thomas Edison and his dedication to finding 10,000 ways that didn’t work.  I also made a resolution to stop wasting computer (and writing) time clicking on celebrity gossip.  That did last a full three weeks.  And I felt quite productive and virtuous.  I wrote a “Dear John” letter to fast food and vowed to exert more energy than my old, arthritic dog.  But I let my neck and arm pain and all the attendant side effects pull me down the paths of sloth and gluttony.

New Year’s weekend – the usual time for making those impossible public declarations – was spent peacefully at my in-laws’ Georgia mountain house reading Stephen King, walking the lake, taking pictures, and eating black-eyed peas and collard greens for luck.  With that annual luck feast fully digested, I’m now fully recharged.  Now I just need the resolve to follow through on my resolutions. 

Christmas lingered on Burnt Mountain

Fiery sunsets over the white pines, night skies crowded with stars and planets, and worry over whether or not the neighborhood bears had gone into hibernation yet (what with the radically warm December we experienced) distracted me from the job of reflecting on 2011 and setting a brand new path for 2012. So this year, instead of making new resolutions, I decided to just pull the old ones out of the plastic bin in the basement where I stored them.  They’ve hardly been worn.  I’m pretty sure they’d still fit me.  And they’re not the kind to go out of style that quickly.

That pretty much gives me a full pannier for the coming year.  However, I decided to add one more challenge to my basket and am also taking up writer/blogger guru Kristen Lamb’s cry to battle: “Don’t let the pixies win!”  This year I want to blog and write like a madwoman, so I’m taking her workshop to learn how to beat back the Procrastination Pixies that convince me on a regular basis that I have to check all the toilet paper rolls in the house when my rear should be glued to chair and fingers on keyboard.

Onward to the future!  I’m very much on the upswing in my surgical recovery and I’m eager to tackle everything that I should have mastered last year.  Let’s just look at it as being environmentally conscious.  I’m all about recycling.  Better late than never and all that.  And I’ll begin right after I put away all my Christmas doodads.

So how about you?  Are you pro or anti- resolution?  What energizes you to start a new year?  Give us your ideas, handy hints, or motivations to screw your resolution to the sticking place.  Share in the comments box.  And have a fruitful new year!

Photographing more sunsets on Burnt Mt. in Georgia might be a soul-satisfying resolution
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