Category Archives: Travel

New York State of Mind

“Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood.  Hop a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood.  But I’m taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line. I’m in a New York state of mind.”

~Billy Joel~

ESB NYC

They say it’s a city of lights, a city that doesn’t sleep. It’s true what they say. There is an energy that fills the air and warms my spirit. Of the many places I have been in my life, none affects me moreso than my favorite place on Earth, New York City.

Eldest is visiting her boyfriend up in the Big Apple this weekend. It’s the first vacation she’s taken on her own and it’s over 1,700 miles from “home.” But she loves the place as much as I do, there’s family there and if all else fails, I will hunt down anyone that hurts my baby and they will meet the Hudson face to face.  Can you tell I worry?

I’m trying to get my stuff together for a weekend in my hometown about 6 hours away. Yoda and I have had a really sick dog so this should make the trip that much more exciting. 2 people. 2 dogs. 1 Vehicle. Joy. But I get to see family and the new grandbaby so that’s okay, I think.

Enough for now… just thought I would ramble for a little bit.

Sweetest of dreams…

 

 

 

 

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What Inspires You?

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.”
~Edgar Allen Poe~

ImageWhat inspires you?

Such an innocent looking question, isn’t it?

Does inspiration come from something our soul touches? Does it come from a place of understanding and acceptance or maybe the search thereof? Is inspiration born of emotion or found in the depths of apathy? Is it divine intervention? The reason we are inspired to do the things we do, to write the things we write or to be who we are is unique to each of us. What illuminates my universe and prods me forward may give you hesitation.

I was reading a news article this morning about a woman in Chicago who was charged $787.33 for two-mile cab ride. I love stories like this for a couple of reasons.

  1. Stories like this I tuck away in case I need a character whether it be a cab driver, a college student or even a worker at a credit card company. The truth in a story like this gives better depth to a character, even if a minor one.
  2. The comments in the story from others who were overcharged were sometimes ridiculously funny. Some offered helpful hints as to how to avoid overpaying for cabbie services. Others made me cringe. All spoke of the universality of human nature.

I’ve taken my fair share of taxi’s, though not in Chicago. Almost all of them have been in New York City. Only once have I gotten into it with the driver, who claimed the credit card machine didn’t work. As I didn’t want to be late for my flight home, I just shelled out cash and got on with it. Yes. I’m an idiot. But we learn from our mistakes, eh? Will I use that experience at some point in my writing? Probably so.

You see, the piece I’m working on has much of it taking place in the Big Apple and it would be easy enough to wind in a scene with a NY cabbie and a main character. If done right, it would provide quite a comedic moment as I wasn’t familiar at the time with how hacks operate and this individual would be just as clueless.

So back to the original question. What inspires you?

My inspiration is drawn from everything around me, but mostly things I have experienced. From the experience I ask the question “what if…?” and see where it takes me. (I’m hoping it takes me back to New York. I love that town.)

(Photo courtsey WFLD)

The Superbowl, Halftime and Advertising

“The reason women don’t play football is because 11 of them would never wear the same outfit in public.”
Phyllis Diller 

It’s almost time for the Battle of the Titans… figuratively, not literally. In February the Superbowl will again be played.  It will be the first time the game will be played in a non-domed stadium as it will be in the Meadowlands (MetLife Stadium) in New Jersey. This also means that there will be two “host teams” (the Giants and the Jets) as they both play in the same stadium. As this is the first time the game will be held in a non-domed stadium, there is speculations there will be a winter storm / blizzard. Personally, I say, “Bring it on.” Come on folks. Wouldn’t that be just awesome – to have a Snow Bowl?  


And for those who watch the game for the Halftime Show… It’s Bruno Mars. 

I like Bruno, but logistically if it is snowing, it will be more interesting to see technically how that will go down.  I mean Bruno plays guitar and sings. It’s got to be harder to play a guitar with gloved/mittened hands and the cold definitely affects one’s vocal chords. But he has two platinum albums so I think he will be okay. 

And speaking of halftime shows. It’s been 10 years since Janet Jackson’s performance with Justin Timberlake and the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” took hold in pop culture. Her exposed breast during the half-time show almost caused the internet to explode. That bit was better than her actual performance. I believe she meant for it to boost her career, but ten years later, her brother still has more success and she is but a pale reflection with a Jackson name. Timberlake; however, walked away from the incident pretty much unscathed and has had a successful career. Ahhh… Nipplegate. Who will ever forget? 

Finally, let’s talk dough. Commercials for the SuperBowl are $4.0 million each for a mere :30 seconds nationally. That’s some serious moolah. I know a lot of folks watch the game for the ads rather than the game. I go back and forth from year to year – it depends on who is playing and if the ads are any good. This year (2013), in my opinion, the ads weren’t really worth the money. They kind of sucked.  

However, at this time there are some companies already announcing their plans to air ads in the SuperBowl:

Announced Super Bowl Advertisers for 2014:
Anheuser-Busch InBev
Dannon
Doritos
General Motors (Chevrolet)
GoDaddy
Hyundai
Intuit
Jaguar
Mars
Nestlé (Butterfinger)
Soda Stream
Wonderful Pistachios

Anheuser-Busch, Doritos and GoDaddy will probably have some of the best commercials during the game as they usually do. I’ll expect to see some Clydesdales, excessive cheese and Danica Patrick muscled up for starters. 

Rumor has it at least one of the car manufacturers has purchased a two minute commercial time slot. It should be interesting. I believe it will be Chrysler, who is not on the list above, but they have been making heavy national ad purchases lately and if I were to make a guess – it’s them. 

Dannon, Soda stream and Pistachios had better be new and creative otherwise that’s going to be some serious bank that’s just tossed out the window and could have been spent during the Olympics instead.  Now THAT is truly a marketing dream. 

Ridin’ the Storm Out

“Ridin’ the storm out, waitin’ for the thaw out…” 
– REO Speedwagon – 
It’s a beautiful, bright and sunny day in the Texas Panhandle. Not a cloud in the sky dampens the horizon. Yet, here I sit procrastinating. The storm of change is coming and I should be preparing for its onslaught, but I’m not. I’m in a state of fear and denial. I’m like the proverbial ostrich sticking its head in the sand. However, like the bird, my butt is sticking up in the air and I’m sure I’m about to take one for the team with no lube, if you know what I mean.  

My spousal unit tells me I don’t have to carry the burden alone for what’s going on at home. I’m cynical and jaded right now. I feel like I do.  I have to-do list after to-do list made up.  They grow longer by the day and there’s not enough hours to tackle even a portion of them. So I suppose that’s why it’s easier to sit and do nothing than to get off my ass and do “something.” But as the deadline for having all this stuff done grows near, the self-loathing for not having anything done sooner will grow to biblical proportions and I’ll be kicking myself in the hind-end that already took one. Double-whammy.

How does one prep for change when one doesn’t want things to change in many regards, but does in others? How does one know if they are doing the right thing or the wrong thing? How does one make decisions that alters their life, but also the lives of so many people around them for good, bad or indifferent and those people don’t have much say? It frustrates me on a level that’s almost unbearable. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing and there’s at least one person I need help from that’s is unwilling to do so. It’s frustrating beyond the tolerable and I try to shove that fed-up part of me in the back of my mind, but it niggles at me from time to time and I just want to break like a squall line dumping rain across the plains.  (Long run-on sentence. Sorry.)

I wish I could say more as to what’s going on, but I’m not at liberty right now. Just know that my life is upside down and I don’t like the view. I’ve lost my rose-colored glasses. If I can just ride this storm of change out and wait for the thaw out, things will be okay. But right now, I’m feeling the outflow boundary, the winds kicking up and the rush of air blowing across my face. I see the lightning on the horizon and hear the distant rumbles of thunder. The storm is coming and as it hits I will just pray for the best. 

Okay… going to suck it up and get to work. Tally-Ho!

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.” 



It’s been a long weekend at the OK Corral.  I’m still battling this plague that has taken root and refuses to subside.  And with the assistance of the chilluns and my sweet hubby, I have achieved a long awaited goal: shaving down all four fur babies for the summer. Oy! With all of the fur, I’m pretty certain Cruella De Ville would have been pleased with the new coat. 

And speaking of getting the animals ready for another hot, dry summer here in the Panhandle.  I was watching part of a series tonight that intrigues the daylights out of me.  It’s “North America” on the Discovery Channel.  Tonight one of the sequences included the wild mustangs in the southwest US.  Amazing creatures running with their manes flowing behind them across the open land – wild and free.  

http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/north-america

Occasionally I sit and think what the US used to be like. Yes, we have all of the modern “conveniences and luxuries.” However, imagine what it was like for the settlers in their wagons or on horseback.  And before the dawn on email, was snail mail.  We joke about it today, but once upon a time it was the only way to communicate long conversations long distance. 

Pony Express stations were placed at intervals of about 10 miles (16 km) along the route [1], roughly the maximum distance a horse can travel at full gallop. The rider changed to a fresh horse at each station, taking only the mail pouch (called a mochila) with him. The mochila was thrown over the saddle and held in place by the weight of the rider sitting on it. Each corner had a cantina, or pocket. Bundles of mail were placed in these cantinas, which were padlocked for safety. The mochila could hold 20 pounds (10 kg) of mail along with the 20 pounds of material carried on the horse, allowing for a total of 165 pounds (75 kg) on the horse’s back. Riders, who could not weigh over 125 pounds, were changed about every 75–100 miles (120-160 km).

This makes me want to ask really important questions.  125 lbs? How many grown men weigh 125 lbs? Were these adults that ran the pony express? I don’t believe so. I found some information on the internet that indicates boys as young as 11 rode the Express.  Picture it… an 11 year old averaging 10 days on horseback through some of the roughest terrain on earth (From St. Louis to California.)  This totally dispels the notion I had in my head of a big rugged cowboy riding through the open range to get the mail to where it needed to go.  

I believe in many ways the Express was actually the precursor to horse racing.  Today’s jockeys weigh between 115 and 125 lbs, but many try to keep their weight about 110 lbs for the big races (the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes.) They also have to be at least 16 years old. 


One of these days I’m going to go to the Pony Express Museum and check out the exhibits and maybe learn a little more about our history. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.  The museum is located at 914 Penn Street, St. Joseph, MO 64503 and also on the web at www.ponyexpress.org

St. Louis Adventures

“Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third. “
~ Bud Abbott ~ 
(Of Abbott & Costello) 

This week, I had the privilege of going to St. Louis, MO on business and stayed in a hotel downtown.  Props to the Embassy Suites. I will stay there again. However, I wanted to also take some time to reflect on what was a really good trip. 

First, when you go to st. Louis, you have to see the Arch. Most people go up to the top of it and look down over the city.  Frankly, I have been to the top of many tall buildings and looked down over many cities. I’m sure it’s a cool view, but unless I’m in NYC or Paris, this really isn’t going to WOW me, if you know what I mean. There were some other things that did. The park surrounding the Arch was beautiful… the spring green was amazing.

St. Louis – Gateway Arch

Within walking distance to the Arch is the Old Courthouse. I am a sucker for really pretty buildings, old architecture and history. If you put them together, it’s irresistible.  I took the following picture at sunset. 

St. Louis Gateway Arch & Old Courthouse 

The next morning, when there were a couple of sessions that had nothing whatsoever to do with my job, T and I skipped out and went for a walk through downtown and we went inside. 

Inside the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott Case was tried and decided

Dred Scott, a slave who had lived with his owner in a free state before returning to the slave state of Missouri. Scott argued that his time spent in these locations entitled him to emancipation. In his decision, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a staunch supporter of slavery, disagreed: The court found that no black, free or slave, could claim U.S. citizenship, and therefore blacks were unable to petition the court for their freedom. The Dred Scott decision incensed abolitionists and heightened North-South tensions, which would erupt in war just three years later.  (Thank you History Channel for succinctly saying what I wanted to. )

I sat in the judges chair, the defense attorney’s spot and prosecutor’s seat.  I cannot imagine any of those individuals would hazard to know just what this case would mean. 

 
Inside of the Old Courthouse to the top of the rotunda

Looking out the “back door” of the courthouse to the Gateway Arch


While I was in St. Louis with T, there was “Food.” I mean food in the mouth-watering, non-McDonald’s-style-restaurant, yummy-deliciousness that can be found many other places than where I live.  I was in hog-heaven. 
Tigin’s Irish Pub at 333 Washington Avenue was outstanding.  http://www.tiginirishpub.com/stl/

I ended up having the Pulled Lamb French Dip. $12.95 
T had the Chicken Boxty Quesadilla $9.95  
For the amount of food. The price was well worth it. 
Atmosphere and service were really good. 
I also had a mixed drink – a kamikaze – which I’m pretty certain the waitress / bartender didn’t really know how to make.  It was heavy on the sweet/sour.  At the end of a long day though, the food more than made up for it. 
Empire Deli and Pizza Company at 1131 Washington Ave was excellent
We didn’t stray from downtown during the trip, but really wanted something simple for lunch. This hit the spot.   This was a huge slice of Veggie Pizza (baby spinach, tomato, squash, zucchini, and no tomato sauce, but cheese and an alfredo type sauce. Delish!) Yes, I even had to take a picture of the food. 

Hard Rock Cafe, St. Louis at 1820 Market St.  was really, really good. 
After walking for what seemed like forever  (it wasn’t) and passing our 100th park (it wasn’t), we ended up at Union Station, which we really wanted to see.  Inside the old terminal, it’s now a lounge for the hotel and a sort of shopping complex and other things.  One of my favorite places is the top of the “whispering arch.”  At the bottom of the arch (as I’m standing on the second floor) you quietly say whatever it is you want the person at the other end of the arch to hear and say it. Poof, the sound travels the arch and they hear it.  
Be advised: best not to be talking behind someone’s back… 
After traveling through Union Station… the Hard Rock.  Again, for me and whether business or pleasure, trips out of town are almost always about the food.  I had the:  

It was one of the best salads I have eaten in a long time.  And of course, I wouldn’t be me unless I included a shot of the food, eh?

Let’s see, what else can I tell you about St. Louis?  

The Metro is clean, air-conditioned and fast.  We got to Union Station, once we got on the train, in about 5 minutes. If we had walked it the second time (because we had to go back for swag at the Hard Rock) then it would have been about 25 minutes on foot.  The train swings by about every 12 minutes so that’s not too shabby.  Round trip cost us $4.50 each – much better than the taxi that starts off at $3.50 for the first 1\10th mile and $.22 for each mile after that. 

The Dubliner – ate there one night and literally our dinner starts off with “Five drunk women walk into an Irish Pub…” and we weren’t the women!  It got really loud, really fast and I was NOT in the mood for listening to a group of drunks.  T and I were concerned the bartender kept serving the obviously intoxicated.  Food was “so-so.” We both had burgers and on a scale of 1-10, I would give mine a 6. It might actually only have a 5, but because it has Gouda cheese it gets a bonus point.  The mixed drink / shot “Applesauce” was FAB. (Goldschlager, Apple Pucker and Pineapple juice.) 

Game night for the St. Louis Cardinals… park downtown early. There are many garages within walking distance and they are reasonable.  Also, unless you are a die hard Cards fan, leave a little early. Getting out of the garages can be a nightmare.  Downtown St. Louis is a grid of one-way streets and I saw more than a few people cursing up a blue streak. (Of course, that night the Cardinals also lost…) 

The Mississippi River was above flood stage of 30.0 feet at 32.2 feet.  It was supposed to go back down in a couple of days; however, I also wonder if they factored in the rain / snow that was supposed to hit the day we left town.  We  get tornados – they deal with moisture control issues. Interesting. 

The PEOPLE were awesome.  They were some of the friendliest folks I have met in a long time. From the folks at the airport, to the hotel employees to people we just met while walking around town, I was somewhat surprised and amazed at how friendly everyone really was. 

There were a lot of other things I really wanted to do, but didn’t get to do because of time constraints. However, I can definitely say there WILL be a next time.

Thank you St. Louis for a wonderful time. 

About The American Dream

“Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth…
– James Truslow Adams 1931 –
(Photo of million dollar property in Malibu.)

When we think of achieving the American Dream, we often think of those who have accumulated material goods – as the dream is often embodied by home ownership or fancy cars or fashion. We might think of those who have risen the career ladder to prominence in a company or business. The American Dream is that of freedom of choice and abundance regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or class. It often challenges the “aristocratic norms” of the rest of the world whereby only the rich or well-connected are granted access to luxury.

I did a search and approximately 77,000 euros is the same as $100,000 US dollars. I wanted to use this figure to see if the American Dream of home ownership is attainable in other parts of the world. Are we as spoiled as I think we are? Or should I say, am I as spoiled as I think I am? Could I buy a house roughly the same as mine elsewhere?
My ancestry is French / Belgian and Slavic. So I wanted to see if I could buy a home today for about 77,000 euros that would compare to my home here in the states.  I started off in Kosovo and Montenegro. Kosovo was a bust. Montenegro netted some interesting sites. And just for the record – renting had a lot more options. However, back to the search.
There was one place that sort of intrigued me. It was right on the water and had a view of the Adriatic sea. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? Located in Risan, it has one floor with two bedrooms, bathroom and open plan living room/kitchen leading on to large terrace with storage room. The ad says “good opportunity to enhance with a second level and enough space to accommodate a swimming pool on 500 m2 of land.” But there are no interior pictures. However… it was interesting to look at.
It’s not the 3 bedroom 2 bath I have now. It’s also missing a 2 car garage. And… the square footage is 85 square meters. In short… it’s about 914 square feet – about the size of the first house we lived in when we got married. I’m not a fan of that small of space. However, the land around it more than makes up for that. Not enough to buy it.
Then I made the trip, as it were, to France, the options were more abundant thoughout the French countryside. Prices ranged from 55,000 euros on up to whatever your heart would want to pay. However, it was very difficult to find a detached residence with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms that didn’t require a serious amount of renovations (at least on the website I was looking at) to bring them up to the standards of which I have been accustomed.  (And now I’m sounding snooty, snobby or American?)
All things considered, America is a newer, more modern country.  Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world have a deep rich history dating back thousands of years.  We have the Native Americans, whose history we have pretty much obliterated, and that’s about it. The reason I bring this up is when I look at other countries and their homes, they take pride in the fact that a residence may be a couple of hundred years old.  Our entire country is only a few hundred years old. Their idea of a fixer-upper is definitely not what Americans would equate with a fixer-upper. 

The oldest house I could find for sale (at this time) is a 1720 Cape Cod style home for $1.25 mil. (Gasp!) And then again, it’s been refurbished through the years to add a second bathroom, central heat and air conditioning, etc. So… it’s not “original” though it’s apparently kept much of it’s original “charm” and character.

In looking at this house, I have to ask… why do we modernize and aim for “luxury?”  Why do we keep upgrading and changing things? I’m sure part of it is “comfort.” We want to be warm. We want to have indoor plumbing, electricity and all those things that make the universe in which we live a better place to be. But when I compare this little house Cape Cod style house to the truly historic homes in foreign lands that don’t have the central heat and air, have one bathroom and have kitchens that make my counter space look like it’s enough room to cook for a squadron of soldiers, I have to wonder why things are the way they are both for myself and for others.

The American Dream… a quest for growth, prosperity and freedom… and in ways that are really hard to define – definitively American.