Saturday, May 4, 2013

Flying with a Wiggle Worm

You know those moments in life when everything slows down and it feels like you’re life is in a movie?  That’s how I felt when we took our almost two year old on a flight home from Hawaii recently.  She did really great on the way there—a six hour flight!  While she refused to nap, she remained pretty calm compared to the thirteen month old in the seat in front of us.  Maybe the key is having a view of a child that is more difficult than mine to deflect the internal struggle I have with surviving such cramped quarters for the sake of saving the cost of a ticket to Hawaii.  We wouldn’t have been able to swing it otherwise. 

On the way home, it was another story.  While E was a respectful neighbor for the most part, she was a wiggly and squirmy girl.  The flight was supposed to be quicker—an hour shorter—but it felt at least two hours longer.  An afternoon flight, I had hoped E would take her usual nap.  Flying is far too exciting for a toddler to miss anything.  She was excited the entire time to be on an airplane, even though she knew the drill.  She’s really a great flyer, but her much larger size and energy level was enough for me to swear that I’m buying her a seat the next time around, no matter what the cost. 

Here are the things we took with us to keep E happy and entertained.  Aside from her refusing to nap, they were a smashing success.  I brought a variety of snacks to break out throughout the flight—her familiar favorites and some new things I knew she would like.  I grabbed four new board books, which we read over and over and over and over again.  We had downloaded an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on our Ipad.  We don’t really let E watch TV—only on special occasions—so she was excited.  An arsenal of stickers at my disposal, we had fun putting them all over the place.  E has really been into the Little People lately, so I was able to grab a set at our local grocery store on clearance, as well as a Minnie Mouse & Daisy play set.  Both could have been easy to lose on the plane, but since I kept putting things away, it was easy to keep track of them.  We also colored in a new coloring book, and identified things in one of my magazines.  Finally, her “lovie” (an old sleep sack from her baby days), her stuffed bunny, and baby doll all kept her comfortable.

I can still relive those dreadful moments when time stood still, but I really can’t complain.  A toddler the same exact age as E screamed his head off for over an hour of the flight, so I really am grateful for our seemingly idyllic child.  We’ve flown with E since she was born, and each time there’s been a different set of challenges because she is growing up so fast.  So far, we have a little adventurer, and we hope to keep it that way!  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Seizing Cell Phones

“Bringing people into the here-and-now. The real universe. That's the present moment. The past is no good to us. The future is full of anxiety. Only the present is real--the here-and-now. Seize the day.”
Saul Bellow, Seize the Day

As a high school teacher, cell phones are the enemy.  I enjoy the hunt.  Seriously, though…I love my phone, but I put it away while I’m teaching.  As soon as class as over, I look forward to checking in to see if there’s anything new, just like my students. 

I warn students on the first day of school.  I don’t have very many rules, but keeping the cell phone put away from bell to bell is pretty much the one I enforce.  I warn them—it’s a power trip for me to take their phone away.  I go into the philosophy behind my rule—I want them to learn, and value the people around them.  There’s less and less face to face interaction, and my class is a place that I want to encourage social etiquette.  Still, it happens almost every day.  Sometimes I sneak up on my prey, and take the phone away, and other times I make a run for it, being loud and obnoxious but, almost every time, there’s a sense of surprise on the student’s face when I reach in for it.

Today was an interesting score.  It was a girl using the purse block technique.  Her purse was on top of the desk, as a shield, with the phone propped inside or behind it.  She willingly handed over the phone.  The school rule is that I turn it into the office.   If it’s the first time in my class, though, I ignore the school rule and keep it for the duration of the day.  It was her first offense all year, so I told her she could have it back at the end of the day.  Of course there was an excuse and a protest, but I ignored her.  At the end of each period we have a tutorial built in to help students who are not passing, or need help.  She stayed back and mumbled about why she needed her phone.  I took pity, and told her she could have the phone after the bell rang, briefly, to retrieve her mom’s cell phone number or shoot a quick text.  She stood, frozen, at my desk for the next ten minutes.  It was weird.  I told her to go sit down and relax, but she couldn’t.  The girl was having a melt down without her phone. 

There have been some studies done recently among college students.  They asked students to give up their cell phones for 24 hours and log their feelings.  Many students recorded feelings of panic and loss.  Many spoke of having anxiety and twitching, even, similar to a caffeine or drug addiction.  Today I saw this behavior in my student. 

I worry about this generation.  Their phones seem to hold the answers to almost everything they need.  The phone validates their existence, and Google seems to hold the answer to any question that comes up.  It’s pretty cool that we can find the answers to so many questions, but sometimes questions don’t have an answer, or there are several solutions aside from the one that comes up on the Internet.  My student couldn’t figure out what to do about not being able to contact her mom, or so she said.  I gave her a couple of suggestions—write the number down and use a friend’s phone, text from a friend’s phone, or go to the office and call her mom.  Nothing was acceptable except taking back her phone. 

I made her live without it for the rest of the day.  I’m sure there was something more to the freak out.  I’ve found some interesting things on my cell phone acquisitions; accidentally hitting buttons can expose things.  I do not search their phones for this reason.  I’m not out to get them.  I’d rather respect my student’s space.  Still, I’m concerned that kids are losing the ability to function face to face.  Almost everything can be done through planned communication.  What’s happening to organic, spontaneous conversation?  I’m sure that my parents were worried about what the computer could mean, and their parents worried about the television. 

Regardless, I’m still going to try to push my students to be present in the moment, rather than in two places at once. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bucket Lists

Recently I had dinner with a group of friends to celebrate a birthday, and on top of a delightful evening of Italian food and good company, I was inspired to dream of travel again.  Not that I don’t dream now, it’s just that a conversation triggered me to think about my next adventure.  I love it when conversations flip a switch in your brain that starts lighting up ideas that you know were there, but are suddenly creating new ones. 

At dinner, I reconnected with an ex-colleague who shares my love for going places.  The last we spoke, she was off to Vietnam and France for the summer.  It turns out that she spent her Christmas vacation dog sledding in Minnesota and absolutely loved it.  How random, right?  It was on her bucket list.  I have one, too, of course, but I’ve never written it down, so I thought I would make it official.

1.  Hike Machu Picchu, Peru
2.  Stay in multiple treehouses like this one in Scotland or Sweden (I can cross off northern lights, too!)
3.  Go on an African Safari
4.  See the northern lights from Iceland or Norway
5.  Ride on a boat down the Amazon like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but in South America please!
6.  Cruise the Nile like Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile
7.  Go to Everest Base Camp thanks to Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air
8.  Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway through part of Russia & visit the Kremlin
9.  Visit Petra in Jordan like Indiana Jones
10. Take a dip in the Ganges River, India
11. Go on a river cruise in Europe during the Christmas markets
12.  Hike through Denali National Park, Alaska
13.  Stay in an English cottage in the Lake District
14.  Explore the Silk Road east of China & spend the night in a yurt
15.  Visit the giant Buddha in Leshan, Sichuan, China

What I have crossed off:
1.  Rode a camel in the outback, Australia
2.  Bungee jumped off the original jump site in New Zealand
3.  Sailed on a junk off the coast of Northern Vietnam (Halong Bay)
4.  Climbed up and on the Great Wall & went to the Forbidden City
5.  Swam & went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef
6.  Ziplined and hiked through the Costa Rica rainforest
7.  Hiked the Cinque Terre, Italy
8.  Stuck a prayer in the Western Wall, Jerusalem
9.  Sailed over lost and sunken cities in the Mediterranean off the coast of Turkey
10. Explored castles throughout Scotland, like the one in Entrapment
11.  Bicycled through rice paddy fields through the Thai countryside
12.  Kayaked off the coast of Fiji
13.  Rode an elephant through the jungle in Thailand
14.  Bargained for a flying Turkish carpet in Cappadocia
15.  Hiked on a glacier in Norway & New Zealand
16.  Visited and photographed Angkor Wat, Cambodia
17.  Wandered Prague, Czech Republic with the love of my life
18.  Attended a World’s Fair (Expo) in Shanghai, China

All photographs taken by me. 1) Shanghai Expo, Czech Republic Exhibit 2) Hiking the Cinque Terre, Italy
3) Sailing on a junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam  4) Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Day at the Farm

We spent a weekend in October visiting Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen, California, just a little over an hour’s drive from Huntington Beach.  The weather was surprisingly fall like, a slight chill in the air, which was a nice respite from the unusually warm weather we have been having.  A family affair, my dad was visiting for the weekend.  Parking was a bit of a challenge, but we started a trend by parking along the highway, right in front of the entrance to the farm.  The place is a bit hilly, so next time we will ditch the stroller. 

The farm had far more than the apple picking we had set our hearts on.  Focused, I got in line and purchased our bag for picking and our entrance to the orchard.  Had I known a bit more, I would have added more.  There are a lot of options—berries, pears, apples, flowers, and pumpkins.  There were goats and cows, too, much to Ele’s delight.  It’s crazy that she is already fifteen months old.  She’s a pretty good walker, now, but she takes off, so we kept her contained as we traversed the farm.  Ele gladly explored the apple orchard, but after tumbling, literally, down a hill, she opted to take a seat and pick and sort the apples that were readily available at the foot of the trees. 

We made our way over to a pumpkin patch—there were more than one—where Ele wandered throughout, trying to pick up the big, heavy balls.  She really enjoyed mooing at the cows next to the patch, but the cows weren’t too impressed.  The area surrounding the farm is beautiful.  It was really nice to feel like we had taken an adventure.  Another area of the farm has a colonial theme, with workers dressed in costumes, and the buildings built in appropriate style.  We’ll definitely try to make our trip to Riley’s Farm a new family tradition.

We stopped at a hole in the wall café in Beaumont, just down the hill.  It was delicious!  I had turkey salad stuffed inside a tomato—not something I would expect from a small town diner-like atmosphere.  It was a fun day!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Escape to Puerto Rico...With a 1 Year Old

Our flight from Fort Lauderdale was only a little over two hours, but we spent the entire day traveling.  We got to the airport two hours before our flight was supposed to leave, to find out it had been delayed over three hours.  They gave us a voucher for $20, so we had lunch on JetBlue, but it really wasn’t enough, looking back at the disaster that ensued.  E was so excited about all the people coming and going, so she skipped her morning nap in lieu of checking it all out.  She fell asleep due to pure exhaustion right when we were going through security, and woke up right when we were finally boarding the plane, a mere 45 minutes. 
Uh-oh.  She was alright the entire flight, but the last twenty minutes was a disaster.  There were some nasty looks and glares, but there was nothing I could do to appease my girl.  Obviously these people don’t remember what it’s like, or don’t have kids.  During that twenty minutes I wanted to scream, run across the ceiling, and tear my hair out.  Luckily, none of that was possible.

It was an hour wait for our rental car, and then another two and a half hour drive.  Oops.  E did rather well, but both husband and E were a bit frustrated with me at the end of the day.  We pulled into our rental at almost ten at night.  What I thought was going to be a two hour flight and one hour drive turned out to be much, much more.  Thank goodness my people are loving when it comes down to the end of the day.

Our rental was great.  We were right on the beach, with views, and also had a pool to enjoy in the complex.  I explored the area all week with four different jogging routes, each of which were beautiful and included ocean front views.  We ate in for dinner most meals, but took lunch with us as we explored some of the western part of the island.  Our place was a fifteen minute walk to Jobos Beach, and a twenty minute walk the other direction to Shacks Beach.  Jobos Beach was perfect for a one year old.  We really liked the Isabela area, and enjoyed a few local restaurants like One-Ten Thai, Ola Lolas, and El Carey Café.  Oh, I miss those places, and look forward to going back some day.  We had delicious Thai food, amazing burgers at Ola Lolas, and mouth watering sandwiches and smoothies at El Carey Café.  Our rental was so relaxing, and E loved the views from the fourth floor balcony.  Our favorite excursions were to a little colonial town in the hills, San German, where we had lunch at a little Mexican restaurant, and wandering the coast around Rincon. 

Throughout our journey, there was a mix of American tourists and locals.  The locals were really sweet, especially to little E.  Ola Lolas was owned by American retirees from Michigan.  It’s located on the road down to Shacks Beach, and makes for a nice jogging path.  It’s possible to jog from Shacks Beach along the sand towards Jobos Beach, and it is a really beautiful run.  The week we spent in Isabela was filled with relaxation, while offering the charm of a small beach community, which we loved. 

Photos: 1) View of Jobos Beach from the beach in front of our rental  2) Ele splashing in Jobos Beach  
3) San German church  4) Ele on our rental's balcony (amazing view!)  5) Shacks Beach

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Train Wreck

At the end of our amazing adventure in Hue, we were to catch a night train to Hanoi.   A train had derailed, though, delaying the entire train line headed north.  As a result our train was delayed.  It wasn’t until 2:30 in the morning that our train finally arrived.  Vietnamese sleeper trains are very clean and pleasant—I have absolutely no complaints.  To this day the worst trains I’ve ridden on were in Italy.  We were supposed to arrive in Hanoi the next morning, but because of the delays it was going to be evening of the next day. 

After a long night and day, our train stopped about 15 minutes outside of Hanoi.  We were in the third car from the front.  Outside, we could see a car had been severely damaged by a collision, and we quickly discovered that it was from our train.  There were five people in the car, not including the driver.  They were in a taxi, a family returning home from a wedding.  The taxi driver decided to cut over the train tracks, and the car got stuck.  Seeing the train coming, the driver bailed from the car, but the family did not have time.  Three of them were instantly killed, one was severely injured, and an 11 year old boy was pinned in the car.  We could see some of this from our window.  Our guide, Phuong, and a former Australian military member of our group, Justin, jumped out to help.  People in nearby houses also rushed to help.  Train officials jotted down notes on their clipboards, and took photos, but did not get involved.  Phuong, Justin, and a few others worked tirelessly to free the boy.  They did, and it was another 45 minutes before a cab was flagged down and sent to the hospital.  He most likely lost his legs.  We were delayed for about two hours.  There was absolutely no damage to the train. 

It was heart wrenching, and we were all shaken from the experience.  It is hard to not feel responsible, in a way, for those deaths, even though it was far beyond my control.  It is frustrating to see no ambulance come in response to a huge tragedy like this.  It was inspiring to see a community jump in to help, immediately.  We were ending our vacation, and were looking forward to sailing in Halong Bay for a few days, before wrapping it up in Hanoi.  We did have an incredible time in Vietnam, but I will absolutely always remember that train wreck with sadness and grief. 

We are so lucky to have so much help at our disposal with a moment’s notice.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Adventures in Vietnam

We had been on the road for four weeks without a single incident.  China, Cambodia, and a week left to check out more of Vietnam.  We had visited Hue, a former capitol, complete with its own forbidden city-like complex and several tombs of former Vietnamese kings.  The highlight of our time in Hue was a day where we spent the first part of the morning on the water, as there is a river that flows through the city.  We traveled to an ancient Buddhist monastery.  It was serene.  Our guide, Phuong, dug in the ground and quickly found a shell from an American gun left from the war.  Hue is filled with scars from the American war. 

Going through the monastery, though, was peaceful.  It was a bit overcast, and Rick and I enjoyed wandering the grounds on a hill rising above the river.  There was a rusted car on display, the car that had been driven to Saigon in 1963 to protest the treatment of Buddhist monks by the Southern Vietnamese government.  The driver, a Buddhist monk, borrowed it from a college student, parked the car, doused himself with kerosene in the middle of the street, and lit himself on fire.  He committed suicide to send a message that the war was unjust.  His home was the monastery in Hue.  At least two Americans copied his act of protest—Norman Morrison, a 31 year old father, burned himself outside the Pentagon in 1965, and Alice Herz, an 82 year old woman, set herself on fire the week before Morrison on a Detroit, Michigan street corner. 

After the monastery, we got back on the boat, headed up the river a bit more, taking in several fishermen.  We got off the boat and got on the back of a motorcycle, each of us with our own Vietnamese driver.  It was awesome.  The rain started to let down.  It didn’t really stop the rest of the day, only occasionally giving us respite. We continued on, and I enjoyed the views of rice paddies, interrupted by narrow roads and alleyways in neighborhoods.  Our next stop was a coliseum like structure.  It was erected during the French occupation (starting in the 1850s) for their amusement.  They used it for animal fights, we were told.  As we peeked through the locked gate, a group of kids came running up to us to check us out.  Having spent some time in Cambodia, I assumed they were trying to get some money.  They didn’t, though.  They were just curious, and according to Phuong, they were on a school holiday, saw us, and just wanted to check us out.  In Cambodia, where poverty is really bad, many children do not attend school because it is much more lucrative for them to sell goods to foreigners.  I did not find that to be the case at all in Vietnam. 

Next, we were off to see some tombs of the Nguyen family, who had officially ruled Vietnam from the early 1800s, but had huge influence in the region for hundreds of years.  We stopped at one of the more impressive tombs, and it was in disrepair.  Having spent time in China, I saw many parallels, but this tomb looked neglected.  Hue is the major crossroads between North and South Vietnam.  Unlike Korea’s 38th Parallel, which is man-made, Vietnam’s division between the north and south had existed for centuries.  As a result, Hue became a crucial part of the war between the Viet Cong (Communist North) and the United States, who supported the South.  There were a lot of major battles fought throughout this region. 

For lunch, we continued to a Buddhist Nunnery, where we had an amazing vegetarian spread.  The rain got far worse, and so we stayed for awhile.  The nuns encouraged us to take a rest in their beds.  Their beds consisted of a bamboo mat—the kind you purchase to hang out on the beach in Hawaii—on the concrete floor.  This was typical throughout Asia—I saw this in several Chinese homes, Cambodian, and Vietnamese.  The rain wasn’t getting any better, so we jumped back on the motorcycles to take a look at an old covered bridge. 

There also happened to be a “history museum” next to the bridge, so of course I dragged Rick in to see it.  An old Vietnamese woman, probably in her 80s, took us around to each exhibit and showed us how traditional people in the region lived through pantomime.  She was wonderful, and when she smiled, her teeth were black.  At the end of her tour, she took some green leaves and chewed them, pointing at her teeth.  Then she offered them to me.  Usually not one to refuse, I did this time.  Thank goodness!  When I asked Phuong about her teeth, he shared that it is popular for older people to chew leaves that turn their teeth black.  It is considered a mark of honor for the elderly.  She was definitely proud of her teeth. 

After wandering through more beautiful countryside, we stopped at a shop selling all kinds of things, but most importantly, incense.  Here I received a lesson on rolling incense.  It’s difficult!  From there we went back to civilization.  We visited a friend of Phuong’s, a woman named Thuy. 

Thuy’s mom was pregnant during the war, and her mother was exposed to Agent Orange.  As a result, Thuy’s arm never fully developed, so Thuy functions with one arm.  Because she was exposed to Agent Orange, no one will marry her, as they fear her children could also have genetic issues.  Because she cannot marry, Thuy, a woman in her 30s, still lives with her parents.  For a living she makes beautiful hats.  Here we would call them rice paddy hats—the conical shaped hats that are stereotypical for those working in rice paddies to wear.  The beauty of her hats is when you hold them up to the light, there is a silhouette of a typical scene in Hue.  I bought a few different sizes.  Thuy was lovely, and spoke reasonable English.

I really enjoyed Hue. The Vietnamese people were so gracious and welcoming.  I think of Thuy often.  She was filled with love and joy, in spite of the life of restriction she leads.  She did not appear bitter, but accepting, and at peace.  I hope to be more like Thuy in my day to day life.

All photos taken by me or Rick McDonough 1) Perfume River, Hue 2) Thien Mu Pagoda  3) Car at Thien Mu Monastery  4) Tiger Arena or Ho Quyen Coliseum  5) Nguyen Tomb  6)  Buddhist Nunnery near Hue  7) History Museum near Hue  8) Thuy & our guide, Phuong  9) Countryside outside of Hue