Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Consulting Oracle 32

Photo Credit: *Zephyrance - don't wake me up.
The eve of my 32 birthday. I don't really know what to make of it. I am happy to report that I am not having a mini life crisis like I did last year. This year, I am a lot more at peace with my stage in life. I even started rounding up my age again, so I take that as a good sign of my mentality stability. And like I mentioned in my New Year's ruminations, my 31st year was pretty good over all.

Still I have to say that on some level, I am no more advanced in discovering the meaning of being 32... of being any age for that matter or in understanding how life works in general. So I turned to the Internet, our modern day oracle. When you type in 32, here are some of the things you get:

  • A huge close up of someone's face apparently selling outwear: 
  • A cool looking lounge in Philadelphia and Atlantic City:
  • A poetry blog (Neat!):
  • A colt .32 pistol from Guns America (Not Neat)
  • 32 inch TVs, 32 GB memory cards, Channel 32, other general measurements
  • Online games:

So generally, typing 32 into Google did not provide any great enlightenment or philosophical discoveries... until I came across 32 Keys: About Life. A little skeptical of what is actually on the other side of a www, I ventured anyway and came across a listing of different topics. Seeing as my post last year on my birthday had a lot to do with fear, that is the first topic I clicked.

The advice comes from Grandpa Ken (I already liked the idea of grandfatherly advice, having lost my last living grandparent almost 9 years ago... and our modern society severely underestimates the wisdom of elders). Within the post, there is a quote: "For it is not death or hardship that is a fearful thing, but the fear of death or hardship." - Epictetus (55-135)  followed by this advice:

Try to free yourself from guilt or shame. If you have erred badly correct it or forget it. Talk it over with a friend. Look for good in yourself and in others. Avoid large doses of hyped bad news reporting and look for some good stories... There is only one you, unique and deserving of a good life, so feel good about yourself just the way you are.

Pretty fantastic advice if I do say so myself. And if that isn't enough, in Grandpa Ken's bio, his 2010 entry reads:

Aging has its special problems, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have a lot of enjoyment. The October - December years can be a time when you are able to say "I don't care" about certain problems. So many of life's anxieties and troubles lessen or fade away in the later years. Serenity should prevail. And there are still new things to try. Like some of this new technology, seeing new areas, meeting new people, taking more time to appreciate what is free and naturally all around us.

Exactly the attitude I want to have as I get older, and though 32 is nowhere near old, now is a good time to start the habit. So on the last day of being 31, I want the title of Grandpa Ken's post to be my theme for 32 (and onwards): "Be happy while you're living." How do we so often overlook this in daily life?

I set out looking for wisdom and meaning today, and I don't think I could have asked for more than that. Thanks Grandpa Ken. 

It turns out that, in leading people to greater wisdom, perhaps Google isn't such a bad oracle.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Postcard from Zimbabwe!

About Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe: perhaps another country that is not generally on your top 10 places to visit, particularly in recent years. However, this landlocked country in the south east part of Africa is home to Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

Zimbabwe's economy still heavily relies on agriculture and as you can see from the postcard above, that is why Mercy Corps and other humanitarian organizations are helping ensure that farmers have a sustainable and productive livelihood. Food security is another challenge in this country dealing with inflation, rising costs of fuel and food, and a high unemployment rate.The photo you see above is one of the programs helping to ensure greater food security for Zimbabweans by improving irrigation and farming techniques. 

With the Victoria Falls, Zambezi river, balancing rock formations and abundant wildlife (like antelopes, zebras, buffalo, black rhinos, leopards and lions), the natural beauty of Zimbabwe makes it an appealing tourist destination. The economic crisis that has hit the country has, however, hurt both the wildlife, resources and tourism of Zimbabwe. The will of the Zimbabwean people combined with the work of great organizations will hopefully, one day soon, turn this situation around.

Where are you?
Send me a postcard! Just take a digital photo, write a 2-3 line message and send it to touristliving(at)gmail(dot)com! I'll turn your photo into a postcard and post it on my blog to share your experience of living like a tourist in your own city. (Remember: whether you are living in Duluth or Dubai- I want to hear about the interesting or unique aspects of your city!)

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21: Today is Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Photo Credit: LondonLunatic flickr squirrel -  Gobbling Nuts
When I was little, my first "pet" was a squirrel named noiseau, who subsequently found a girlfriend named noisette. They would skitter around our backyard, race up trees, and then come to our glass back door and patiently wait for us to appear with peanuts, which we always happily did.

Of course, these weren't real pets. And of course, that wasn't his real girlfriend. I can't even verify that those were their real genders... or that they were the same squirrels. But to a 8 and 6 year old, they were the same, they were a couple and they were ours.

Photo Credit: I don't know. But awesome job whoever it was!
Since that time, I (like many of my out-of-town guests) have had a fascination with squirrels, except that unlike them, I did grow up in areas were they are plentiful and run rampant.

Despite their abundance, I commend Christy Hargrove, wildlife rehabilitator and creator of Squirrel Appreciation Day. For all the amusement they have afforded us, these little ones deserve a day of praise. I also thank the National Wildlife Federation for these fun squirrel facts:

  • There are more than 300 species of squirrel.
  • Different types of squirrels range in size from five inches (the African pygmy squirrel) to three feet (Indian giant squirrel).
  • The word "squirrel" comes from the Greek word skiouros, which means shadow-tailed.
  • Squirrels have brought down the NASDAQ stock market twice, once in 1987 and once in 1994. (That alone is worthy of praise).

Those not so fond of the squirrel-variety of critters often refer to them as rats with bigger tails or as faster pigeons... However, to those of you who think that they are "unclean" one more fact from squirrels.orgThey are the cleanest animal in the rodent family. After having seen Metro B in Rome, I would dare say that they perhaps hold a candle to human cleanliness as well.

And one last fact to hopefully help your endearment of these little creatures, squirrels could potentially be credited with starting the of "metrosexual": The male tree squirrel takes twice as long, as the female, to groom itself. 

So let's give credit where it is due, and today let us celebrate the squirrel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The History of Stories

I have a few postcards to share, but first, I thought it would be fitting to write about my random trip through time to a museum that could have been called Nostalgia, and it was likely that exact emotion that drew me to step inside its doors: The National Postal Museum.

Now why, you might ask, would you want to visit a museum about mail when so many other world-renowned, Hollywood-featured, historically-important ones are within the same two mile radius and equally offer free admission? And this question was the reason for which I was one of perhaps 6 visitors on this Sunday afternoon in January.

Yet, my overly flooded brain, swirling about with memories, perhaps still saying goodbye to 2010 and contemplating more life changes in 2011, made the idea of visiting a small, focused museum, dedicated to the act of writing and its products (letters, stamps, stationary, delivery systems, mailboxes etc) feel reassuring. A simpler time, certainly not easier, but a time when letters and the emotions that arrived with them were perhaps the top form of excitement even entertainment for that village.

Sign reads: "In Colonial America, mail was often brought to local taverns and inns which doubled as post offices. Local residents would gather to socialize and collect their mail- if there was any!"
As one who is and has often been in long distance relationship, I will sing the praises of Skype, chatting, webcams and other technological advances that make a hard situation that much easier, but I suppose I missed the idea of letter writing. I admit that it is a faux nostalgia, a longing for an era that I didn't quite experience, when penmanship was a great art, when handwriting and letterhead and wax seals and royal stamps were not only an expression of beauty, but also one of utmost importance, perhaps the only information of the outside world. Letters brought news from a lover at war or family in far-off lands. Forgive if I am wrong, but opening an email just doesn't produce the same effect as opening a sealed envelope...

As one who had a handwriting class in school and who had pen pals throughout my adolescence, I am still fond of the handwritten word. Despite my general sense of inertia when it comes to change, I have adapted modern communications (blogging being a proof of that). However, I have not wanted some traditions to perish (refer to my postcard idea.)

So I suppose the mission of this museum spoke to me. I wandered this small but impressive gallery, taking in the history of mail, but really the history of people's stories reaching their intended audiences. Starting from Colonial times and couriers through the time of the Pony Express and the revolution of mail being delivered to homes as a free service, the museum displayed real letters from these time periods, even some from the 1800s and the era of the Homestead Act, describing the challenges and dangers of inhabiting new land.

To me, it wasn't so much the history of the postal service or how it was developed and streamlined, it was the history of who our storytelling and our communications as they condensed from a tale every 6 months, to one every month, to one every week, to modern days where we can tell stories so quickly that we have almost run out of things to say, and so we post other people's stories, the world news, our fleeting emotions and temperaments, giving each whim that much more importance. Would a separated family write from Ireland to her sister in the New World to say that the shower was particularly cold that day or that the rooster was acting up? Receiving it six months later, the sister would no doubt be puzzled as to the importance of this news, and the sender would hardly remember the related story.

I like status updates. I like portraying the small things as significant. I am grateful for an outlet to express silly things. Yet, every now and again, it is good to remember that our stories, our realities, are the larger ones, not the ones at 4pm on a Friday when we are tired of work, longing to go out and hungry after a caffeine crash. How often do we define, describe or even reevaluate our lives by those moments? It might be worth thinking, if I won't remember this in six months, is it worth worrying about it now?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Awesome Battle: Nature vs. Man

If you have ever seen the show How I Met Your Mother, then you know that there are many forms of awesome and many scenarios where its declaration is appropriate. Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, my New Year's destinations, are two of those situations, though quite possibly, polar opposites.

Disney World has a Castle, Vegas has a Castle
There is no other way to describe Vegas than as an adult Disney World, essentially a place that allows for everything that you could not do as a child. Over-indulgence is another appropriate term: not just of its visitors, but of its creators. Everything is vast, grand, enormous, never-ending, over-the-top or sometimes outright ridiculous. Even if you are not there to gamble, drink or see nakedness (which in fact were none of the reasons I went), you can still marvel at the gluttony of Vegas's creators.Sin city indeed.

To the many devoted fans of this city, I tell you that the above is a reflection and not a judgement. I did indeed enjoy my time there. I found it fascinating to see what people would do with a blank slate (in this case, a desert) when money and power are of no consequence and all logistics can be overcome by the former two. Las Vegas is a social experiment of sorts.

Trevi Fountain in Vegas
It seems that in Vegas, you either pretend to be somewhere else (Paris, NY, Venice, Egypt, Rome etc) or to be someone else (a richer, sexier, wilder version of yourself). An escape from your own reality (and thus, their key phrase, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.") But then again, isn't all travel in part an escape?

But enough with sociologically analyzing the city (which I really enjoyed doing), now about my time there:

We started our day by driving up the Strip, admiring the incredibly large hotels and credible replicas of their themes (Venetian, Circus Circus, Treasure Island).

The Venetian
We observed the incredibly numerous chapels, i.e. the infamous scenes of renegade and/or impromptu weddings (my favorite was the Graceland Chapel complete with an Elvis officiant).
Graceland Chapel to get married by the King

We spent exactly $.99 on gambling between the two of us, keeping the 1 cent voucher as a humorous souvenir. We went up the Eiffel tower, had espresso by the Gran Canale, ate sushi in Caesar's Palace and generally enjoyed a lot of seafood (odd if you think about it being in the middle of the desert).

Vegas's Eiffel Tower
From the outdoor terrace of the little Parisian bistro across the street, we also watched nine of the Bellaggio's varied fountain shows (music ranging from Pink Panther to Andrea Bocelli). I cried in the Venetian because I miss Italy/home.

I got a weird water massage from one of those capsule-like machines, and we contemplated going to an Oxygen bar, but never did. We saw a Cirque du Soleil-type show, Le Reve, which took place on a stage-turned-pool-turned-fountain while actor/acrobats came out of water, the ceiling and the aisles of the theater. And we attended mass at a church on the Strip (yup, there is one!) that was full of people and with a choir leader that I guessed to be Christine from Phantom of the Opera in her day job. And that was just the Vegas portion of the trip.

The second and third of our four day trip were spent getting to and staying at the Grand Canyon. The 5 hour drive, a visit to Hoover Dam, stops to photograph cacti and a lunch at a innocuous but sketchy road-side diner (complete with smelly mugs, a "leave your gun at the door" sign, a backroom bar with a banjo player) meant that we got to the Grand Canyon later than we intended, late enough that the sun had set for the day and our introduction to Grand Canyon National Park was of darkness, snow and the occasional tree.

Rosie's Den: Our skecthy but welcoming diner experience
Thanks to the cunning mind of my travel companion, we stayed in a little cabin about 50 feet away from the Canyon's edge. (Their motto: "You're not just near the Grand Canyon, you're there!") And indeed we were, which also granted us the opportunity to get up early enough to see the sun rise over the vast abyss. Finger-numbingly cold as it was, it was undoubtedly worth the exposure to the elements (it also snowed) in order to see the bright orange sun peek out of dark gray snow clouds and cast its web of pinkish light on the red rocks of the Canyon.  Amazing.

Grand Canyon at Sunrise
This and the mule deer made my morning. Seeing Smoky the Bear as we left the park made his.

Mule Deer

In the end, whether it was bowing down to the shear power of water and nature's creation or gawking at man's willpower to create something out of nothing, a city out of desert, both sights were awesome. I leave you to determine which is more impressive.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

No TKOs in 2011!

Happy New Year everyone!

I'd like to say that my silence has been due to holiday busyness: the travels, parties and other festivities. And yes, this is partly true. I went from Washington D.C. to Baltimore to Toronto to Baltimore to Washington D.C. to Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon back to Las Vegas and back to D.C. in planes, trains and automobiles all in the span of 13 days. 

However, in the spirit of honesty, the real reason for my silence is that frankly, I am intimidated by 2011. And in my introspective and psychoanalytic nature, I have been stepping back to figure out why that is. I didn't have to dig too hard for the answers though. You see the last couple years have gotten off to a rough start. 

In January 2008, my landlady became a full-blown psycho and things came to a show-down between her and my roommates where she threatened to call the cops (because we wouldn't let her, her family, friends and random dogs come in and take over the apartment on weekends like she had in past months). In turn, we all gave our notice and moved out the following month. My cat contracted a urinary tract infection, didn't respond to medicine and had to have emergency life-saving surgery that almost didn't save his life and led to 4 weeks of intensively taking care of him complete with a cone, pills, a special diet and cleaning up after him because his bladder was weak after surgery. And finally, I rounded off the month by getting a vicious stomach flu exactly on the day of my birthday that was just cause for cancelling all planned festivities and instead laying in bed or the bathroom too weak and tired to care. 

The beginning of 2009 handed to me the surprise that after two years of work and promises, I was not awarded the job that was once called "mine," which, though  a huge disappointment in it of itself, also led to a series of goodbyes to close friends and another move.

2010 kicked off with a break up and yes, yet another move. 

So you don't have to be Freud to figure out why I am feeling a bit of trepidation at the start of this new year. 

Of course, 2010 turned around magnificently with a new job, new friends, a new city and a new relationship. And 2011 had quite a kick off with New Year's Eve on the Vegas strip followed by three spectacular days visiting the elaborate and/or ostentatious Vegas hotels, seeing a mind-boggling acrobatic show, visiting the Nevada and Arizona country sides and taking in the sunrise over an awe-inspiring Grand Canyon. So perhaps this is indeed a new start.

However, in the end, who knows what 2011 brings? All anyone can do is to go about your days, do the best you can, enjoy all the positives things and just roll with the punches. I hope, however, that this year, my opponent is in the light-weight instead of the heavy weight category. Or better yet, that perhaps I am out of the rink altogether, at least for a little while. 


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