Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Adventures in Travel Expo invites you to attend the largest active and adventure travel marketplace showcasing hundreds of travel destinations and tour operators from around the world. Plus, try hands-on adventure activities, ride a camel and meet travel experts such as Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern, Legendary Wildlife Conservationist Jim Fowler, and National Geographic Adventure editors and contributors. To receive your FREE admission ticket, visit www.adventureexpo.com/consumer and enter promo code "ATS" for a free pass to the show.The 2009 dates/cities are:
Chicago, IL - January 10-11, 2009
Los Angeles, CA - February 14-15, 2009
Washington D.C. - February 21-22, 2009
New York, NY - October 10-11, 2009
Seattle, WA - December 5-6, 2009
Friday, December 19, 2008
I headed to Grant Park direct from work, some time around 8:45pm. It seemed like none of the newspaper or TV websites could agree - the more cautious ones like the New York Times were updating as votes trickled in; other sites like Yahoo and CNN were projecting winners ahead of the final winners. Lest you think your vote doesn't count, just look at the state-by-state tallies - some of the states were won by a fraction of a percentage - fifteen or twenty thousand votes. That's the size of a small town.
The Loop was nearly empty; the few pedestrians there were all hurrying towards the lakefront. Police officers and CTA workers stood in clusters; buses lined up to be ready for the post-rally surge of people. As I waited at one corner, the three Streets and Sanitation men clustered there told me they heard it was "over 200" for Obama so far.
As I turned the corner towards the park, I found here were all the people: a steady stream down both sides of Michigan Avenue, all heading for the few access points for the park. Hucksters hawked along the sidewalks, bikes were jammed along any surface where they could be locked, and everyone, it seemed, wore something showing their support for Obama.
I turned into Grant Park at the access point at Jackson, and joined the thick crowds aiming for the various large projection screens that had been scattered throughout the park. Forget the idea that the "smaller" event was going on at the Petrillo Bandshell; these crowds were like you see for the Taste. The ticketed event on the south side of the park was jam-packed and well-lit. People wandered around, talking and eating pizzas and checking their cell phones for updates. I was alternatively checking my own phone for election results and texts from my friend Vinnie, who I was trying to find amidst all these other supporters.
Every time a state win was announced, cheers would erupt from the crowds. People who had started the evening total strangers stood together, hands clutched or arms linked as they anxiously watched the screens, side by side - all colors, all religions, all ages, all united in one view, in a momentous moment in our country's history.
Then came the announcement - Virginia, I think it was, had gone to Barack Obama, and it was enough to give him the victory. Everybody was yelling, crying, hugging, waving flags; the park erupted in sound and flashbulbs and cheers.
I turned around and found myself facing a short, wiry old black man who was not even as tall as I am. His face was screwed up in emotion, tears spilling down his cheeks. The raw and naked emotion on his face said it all: this was a man who had seen much in his life, and now in the twilight of his years, we had finally elected a non-white President. He looked at once dazed and hopeful, standing there in his Bulls jacket and Sox cap and Obama shirt, hands moving unconsciously at his sides, his eyes continuing to water.
"A black man... our President. A black man... I never thought I would live to see this day." You could hear both the disbelief and the wonderment in his voice. His gaze fixed on mine, his dark eyes looking into my blue ones, and he held his arms open. "Would you please give me a hug?" he asked.
"Of course," I replied, smiling, and gave him a hug.
He hugged me fiercely, not letting go, and I could feel his body shaking as he sobbed against my shoulder. When he finally stepped back, he looked intently at me, tears still running from his eyes. "You know what this means, don't you? Anything is possible. Anything. Anybody can be anything they want."
"Yes, they can. This is a great day for our country."
"A great day." He looked away from me for a moment, towards the nearest projection screens and the jubilant crowds. "A great day. Yes, they can."
* * *
See also: blow.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/04/people-wept/
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
- Check in online if you can before you go, especially if you only use carry-on luggage. Most airlines now allow online check-in, and this is a convenient way to get your boarding passes printed before you leave for the airport. If you are checking a bag, you can even do that through the self-service kiosk areas, which generally have a far shorter wait time than the standard check-in lines. If you're only doing carry-on luggage, you can frequently go straight to Security, where they will check your ID.
- If you are parking off-site, call ahead and ask your parking service how much time they recommend between arriving at their location, checking in, and getting your shuttle to the airport. Allow yourself an extra 10-20 minutes on top of their recommendations based on how much baggage you are carrying or how many people you need to move from one location to the other.
- Give yourself extra time before arriving at the airport. This is the busiest time of year to travel, so plenty of other people are traveling too - most of them with family and/or lots of carry-on luggage. Allow yourself a minimum of 75 minutes if you are departing from a smaller airport; 2 hours if you are traveling from a major airport such as LAX, O'Hare, Atlanta, DFW, or JFK, from reaching the front door of the airport to takeoff.
- If you are planning to travel with your pet(s) by air, be aware that not all airlines allow pets to travel in the passenger cabin - or in some cases, not at all. (Southwest for one does not allow any pets on their aircraft at all.) Most airlines charge $75-125 each way for a pet, even though the pet does not take up a seat, and most have a maximum number amount of pets allowed in the passenger cabin (most restrict to 2 or 3 total).
- Further tips for traveling with your pets:
- If you have a small sized pet (cat, small dog), there are a variety of soft-sided, airline-approved carriers that fit under your seat in the cabin.
- If you absolutely must send your pet in the cargo hold, consider investing in a "climate-controlled" pet carrier which will help ensure your pet's safety.
- Make sure your pet carrier is clearly tagged with your contact information. Make sure it includes the cell phone you are carrying with you, the phone number of your destination accommodations, your home number, and your vet's phone number.
- Even if your pet never wears a collar at home (or even if they're microchipped), make sure they are wearing a collar with up-to-date information on their tags, including their most current rabies tag, and your name and cell phone number. Pets sometimes get out of their carrier while traveling, and an animal with a collar is a clear indication that it is someone's pet.
- Microchip your pet for extra safety. Due to changes in the microchipping industry, pets who were microchipped after 2003 may not be able to have their chip read by the universal scanner that was standard prior to 2003 - this is why your pet should wear a collar while traveling and that their carrier needs to be clearly marked with relevant contact information.
- Make sure that your pet has access to food and water.
- Include an absorbent liner in your pet carrier (and carry 2-3 extra in case of "accidents"). Puppy training pads work well for this, and are less expensive than say, bed pads designed for humans.
- If your pet gets very hyper/upset while traveling, you may wish to consider asking your vet to prescribe a very mild sedative - not enough to knock them out, simply enough to keep them calm. (Some pets may still "talk" excessively from fear, even when sedated.)
- Carry documentation from your vet that your pet(s) is up to date on their vaccinations and health records (it would be suggested to keep it inside the carrier in case you are separated from your pet), in case you need to have your pet treated for anything while you are away. Some airlines also require this documentation.
- Be prepared for long lines at Security. Do all you can to help speed yourself - and your fellow travelers - through the lane. Some suggestions:
- Wear slip-on/slip-off shoes if possible. If you travel frequently enough, you may want to consider buying an inexpensive pair of thin, easy-on slippers that you can keep in a side pocket of your carry-on bags (the kind that some better hotels provide for free). That way, you can put on your slippers before or once you are in line, and have your shoes ready to place in the bin when you get to the front, and you also won't have to worry about what kind of dirt/mess will be on the floor around Security.
- Make sure any fluids you are carrying are already placed in your 1 qt. Ziploc bag and in easy reach when you reach Security
- Get out - and keep out - your ID and ticket while standing in line, not when you reach the front of the line
- Take off your coat while standing in line, so you don't have to struggle with it when you reach the front of the line
- Clear your pockets of change and remove any metal before reaching the front of the line
- Be aware of restrictions related to gifts you may be carrying aboard - ship as much ahead of you as you can to help ease travel headaches and delays!
- Jams and jellies (and other canned/jar foods) are considered gels/liquids and are subject to the same scrutiny/limitations as other liquids. Ship then ahead of time, or wrap carefully and place in your check-through luggage, not your carry-on.
- Pies/cookies can be carried on, but be sure to pack them in a sturdy box (items in the overhead bin can and will shift during flight) and they will have to go through x-rays, of course. Wrap carefully and tightly; and ship ahead when/where you can.
- Do NOT gift-wrap carry-on items. Security will likely make you unwrap it if they need to examine your luggage. Again - ship ahead where you can!
- Do NOT carry remote-controlled items in your bags (ie. toy cars). Put them in your checked bags or ship ahead.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Journeys: Visions of American Travels, available through Zazzle.com, is designed as a smaller-size calendar (it's a good size for desks, 7"x11" when open). Although Zazzle.com's creation engine allows you to buy it at larger sizes as well, I recommend the smallest size for graphic quality.
Buy it before 11:59pm Pacific time tonight and save 40% with code "CALENDARSAVE".
Due to the popularity of this calendar last year, I have re-created Tibet as a 2009 calendar. (Unfortunately, due to computer issues, I didn't get new pictures up for this year's calendar.)
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The 33rd Lillstreet Holiday Show runs through December 31st has a variety of selections from Lillstreet artists in their gallery shop - they have lots of wonderful handmade items to choose from. Additionally, this Friday, from 5-8pm, they are hosting Empty Bowls 2008. Empty Bowls is a national effort by potters: you buy a ceramic bowl for $20, which includes a modest meal of soup and bread. The bowls are all individually designed/painted and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis - so go early for the best selection! All proceeds support local hunger-fighting programs. For more info call (773) 769-4226.
Lillstreet is also home to the First Slice Café.
"The forest of Skund was indeed enchanted, which was nothing unusual on the Disc, and was also the only forest in the whole universe to be called -- in the local language -- Your Finger You Fool, which was the literal meaning of the word Skund.
The reason for this is regrettably all too common. When the first explorers from the warm lands around the Circle Sea travelled into the chilly hinterland they filled in the blank spaces on their maps by grabbing the nearest native, pointing at some distant landmark, speaking very clearly in a loud voice, and writing down whatever the bemused man told them. Thus were immortalised in generations of atlases such geographical oddities as Just A Mountain, I Don't Know, What? and, of course, Your Finger You Fool."
- The Light Fantastic, Terry Pratchett
Fans of Pratchett - and of course, fans of maps and geography as well! - will particularly appreciate a new pair of maps called the Atlas of True Names, produced by Kalimedia. Just looking over the maps, I see such names as I Don't Understand You, We Stay Here, Go And Milk, Here Are People, and I Go To The Beach.
Of course, living in a city called Stink Onion, I shouldn't be quite so quick to snicker. ;)
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Some of the places I have on my "life list" of places to travel to:
Where I've been from my list:
- Tibet (but I want to go back!)
Where I still want to go (among others not listed here):
- Australia (beyond Sydney, where I've been)
- New Zealand - South Island
- South Pacific
I was a bit excited today to open up an email from GAP Adventures (the travel company I used for my China/Tibet tours - they were great!) and find out that GAP has created a new trip to the Azores! These tours are a bit unusual for GAP as they're much larger groups than you'd normally find with them, but each trip seems to be booked with about 10 guides, leaving the guide-to-guest ration around a dozen, which is about average for a GAP tour. Sounds like a great trip - and the Azores still seem to be very unspoiled and beautiful.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Chicago's holiday favorite, the beloved Christkindlmarket, is back at Daley Plaza through December 24th. This "Christmas market" specializes in German handicrafts and foods, although a few other vendors may be found among the festive red and white tents that dot the plaza. See Chicago's Christmas tree and other holiday symbols, catch one of the dance or singing troupes that will be performing, choose an ornament or nutcracker for your collection, indulge in German chocolates and treats. Don't forget the mulled cider!
For the best experience, I'd recommend going at sunset, when the plaza is lit up and it's at its busiest with after-work shoppers.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The difference? With the new database, it is now a "First-Person consent", which means that family consent is no longer required if you have already indicated through your driver's license and this database that you wish to be an organ donor when you die. From the website:
Now with the new First-Person Consent Organ/Tissue Donor Registry, a person’s indication that he or she wants to be an organ/tissue donor will be a legally binding decision, one that does not require family permission. It is estimated that many more lives will be saved with the new law.* * *
Not moved by the video? Perhaps you'll be moved by the story of Nicholas Green, whose story has truly inspired the organ donation movement around the globe. Here is a review I wrote about his memorial in California on IgoUgo.com:
The California coastline beyond San Francisco stretches for over 300 miles towards the Oregon coast, a land of rolling golden hills, heart-stopping drives, and stunning vistas. A few towns of a welcoming size are strung along the shore, tucked into fisherman-friendly bends among the hills - Stinson Beach, Gualala, Jenner, Ft. Bragg, Eureka. Most of these towns are small, perhaps a few hundred, or few thousand residents, with a lifestyle that blends mostly outdoors occupations (farming, logging, fishing, tourism, sports) with a strong sense of community.
One of the best-known of these sleepy towns is Bodega Bay, population 950, located 68 miles of San Francisco. Bodega Bay's claim to fame is it was the site of one of Alfred Hitchcock's most popular films, The Birds. Here you will find a moving tribute to a little boy who touched the world.
Nicholas Green, just seven years old, and his family were on vacation in Italy in September 1994 when they were stopped by highway robbers near Messina, Sicily. The robbers shot the boy, and he died two days later. His parents, Reg and Maggie Green, made the decision to donate his organs - not unheard of in their home country of the U.S., but which at the time, in Italy, was not very common. Nicholas' heart, liver, kidneys, pancreatic islet cells and corneas were transplanted into seven Italians - giving two of them the gift of sight and five of them the gift of life - four of those, teenagers.
The Italians were astounded. Here was a family that lost their son at the hands of bandits in their country, but in the face of their loss, they were generous enough to donate their son's organs so that others might live. Donations were gathered for the family; the nation opened up its hearts to the Greens.
In the wake of this event, the Greens have done a tremendous amount of work to raise awareness for organ donation. They wrote a book and articles, made a video, gave interviews, responded to letters, gave speeches, and started a group called the Nicholas Green Foundation. The Foundation today gives out their Nicholas Green Distinguished Student Award to one student in each state - and they also provide a grant for one Italian doctor per year to come to the United States to study the most advanced organ transplant techniques.
The ripples that spread out from the Greens' decision to donate their son's organs - often called "the Nicholas effect" - didn't stop there, however. Even today, the Green family receives thank you letters from around the world, from people who have received organ donations, and who want to thank them for raising awareness of organ donation. The donation rate in Italy alone has tripled. All over Italy, the little boy who never got a chance at life, but gave life to others, is remembered by so many places named for him: parks, squares, memorials, even the largest hospital in the country.
In Bodega Bay, California, stands a rather simple but very moving monument to Nicholas, called the Children's Bell Tower. It was built in 1995 by artist Bruce Hasson, and consists of three towers stacked upon one another, adorned with 140 bells.
But these are not just any bells: these bells were collected from all over Italy; some of them are hundreds of years old. They came from schools and from churches, ships and mines, family keepsakes and even a cow bell. Some were forged specially for this monument. The centerpiece is a 30 inch bell from the Marinelli Foundry - maker of Papal bells for nearly 1,000 years. Nicholas' name is on it, as are the names of his seven recipients, and Pope John Paul II blessed the bell before it was sent to California.
If you don't know this story, you will likely pass the spot by. There is almost nothing to mark the spot where to turn off; I only found it because I was looking for it, and the man at the Bodega Bay visitor center had told me what to look for. Heading north on Route 1 about 1.5 miles north of the town center, you will pass Bay Hill Road/Ranch Road, and just past that, on your left, is a small community center. Turn into their parking lot and park in the unpaved lot behind that one. From there, you will be able to see the monument.
The land here is open, ringed by tall Cyprus trees, and you walk down a short path towards the bell tower. On the day I visited - late afternoon on a Sunday - I was almost alone at the site. A couple was leaving just as I pulled into the lot; the woman was visibly crying. The young man looked at me, and said, "It's very powerful."
Autumn breezes gently blew across the land, bending the long golden grasses, making the trees murmur, carrying with it the scent of the sea, and bringing the faint tinkling sound of bells to my ears. I wandered down the path, past the shaded reflection bench, and noticed what I first mistook for trash. That's terrible, I thought, Why doesn't somebody clean that up?
It quickly became apparent why nobody did: what I took at initial glance to be garbage was nothing of the sort. By the memorial stone that tells the story of Nicholas Green, people have left mementos, some of them faded in the sun, some obviously new: a weathered yellow Tonka truck, a variety of stuffed animals, action figures, notes, letters, a toy plane, beads, flowers (some still fresh), a smiley pin, a letterbox.
As I approached the tower, I realized its scale, 18 feet tall. The wind caressing the bells sent a melody of chimes over me; some have described it akin to children's laughter. To me it felt like a ghostly reminder, like voices half-heard, making the hair on my neck stand up. It made me remember two friends who had passed away at a young age - one at 18, one at 35 - and I found myself weeping at the memories. This is a haunting place, at once very moving for all that it symbolizes, and sad, in that it remembers the tragedy of a young life cut senselessly short.
But the Bell Tower is a reminder to celebrate living, too, because for every youth or adult who dies and whose organs are given for transplant, other people get a chance at life.
* * *
Should you wish to pay more personal respects to young Nicholas Green, he is buried the churchyard at historic St. Teresa of Avila's in Bogeda. From the Children's Bell Tower, turn right (south) onto Route 1, follow it back through Bogeda Bay, and turn left onto Bodega Highway towards Occidental/Santa Rosa.
- Children's Bell Tower: Route 1, Bodega Bay, CA
- St. Teresa of Avila, 17242 Bodega Hwy, Bodega, CA