Sunday, December 30, 2012

2013: The State of the Bucket List

As 2013 approaches many people are starting to formulate new year's resolutions.  I suppose I'm not immune to the idea that it's a good time to start over and learn some new habits.  Still, I'd rather not dwell too much on self-improvement projects.  Self-improvement should be a lifetime endeavor, not a once-a-year goal.

What I'd rather do is start focusing on what I haven't done with my life and what I'd like to do.  It's 2013.  I've been on this earth almost 43 years.  There is much of the world I still haven't seen yet.  What are my priorities?  What do I still want to do?

The top item on my Bucket List is simply to travel more.  I can't think of a time in my life when I didn't want to go out and explore the world. 

Growing up I did very little traveling.  Going on vacation meant packing a bag on a summer weekend and getting into the car with my grandparents to either go visit my uncle in Vermont or perhaps take a trip to Cape Cod with a side trip to visit my grandfather's family in the Boston area.  Some summers we made both trips and some summers we did only one.  It also meant Mom taking my brother and me to some resort or inn in the off season with a large group of her friends.  For a few years my father had a girlfriend whose family had a house in the Poconos and we sometimes went there.  I had the privilege of going to a sleepaway riding camp in New Hampshire one summer, but my regular "big vacation"  all throughout my teens was a week at Bible camp.  It doesn't sound too thrilling, but it was an entire week away and it was a week without the rather stifling influence of my family. (You know you're being suffocated by your family when Bible camp feels like a break.)  I had my big break in high school when I boarded a plane for the first time and took my first trip abroad for a tour of Italy. 

I don't mean to disparage any of the trips I took.  I enjoyed my trips.  I have all kinds of good memories from many of them.  I just realized by the time I was in junior high that the world was full of interesting sites and I wanted to see all of them and was frustrated that I wasn't seeing any of them.

Since I met Kevin I have definitely been more places than I ever expected. We have taken two Caribbean cruises.  We have spent a Christmas or two in Florida. We have been to five national parks and three foreign countries together.  I watched Old Faithful erupt and kissed my husband at the top of the Eiffel Tower all in one year.  I fulfilled a lifelong dream of galloping across the Irish countryside and also satisfied my burning desire to return to Italy (and doing it even better than the first time by seeing it on horseback as well). 

I find the more I travel, the more it feeds my desire to keep traveling.  The more I see of the world, the more I want to see.  When I was younger traveling did intimidate me a bit.  I had a fear of navigating airports and losing luggage.  I have done it enough times that I am far more confident.  It helps that I did a fair amount of business travel in my old job and had to make my way through various transportation systems alone. 

One of the major reasons why I made the decision to be child-free was that I knew children would impede my goal of seeing the world.  They eat up resources.  They require time.  Children tend to not appreciate museums, historical sites and natural beauty until their ages are in double digits (and how far into double digits can vary wildly).  Vacation destinations need to be kid-friendly and on a budget.  Traveling is limited to when they are off from school, which means peak travel times, which makes them more expensive.  When I think of the trip Kevin and I took in the spring of 2012 to the Canyonlands, I know it was something we never could have done with kids.  The cost of the trip would have been prohibitive for more than just the two of us.  Only fit teens would have been able to deal with some of the hikes Kevin and I did in places like Bryce and Zion.  It would not have been wise to have children along on our wine-swilling Italy trip (and what if the children were not good enough riders to handle the sometimes difficult horses we rode?) 

Many of my friends and acquaintances with kids will point out that you are supposed to do those things before you have kids.  Well, I was pretty broke in my twenties and didn't have the money to take exotic vacations.  Throughout my twenties the only place I went all year was Chincoteague (which is ironically a very kid-friendly destination) and that was just once a year.  I didn't have the vacation time or the money to see the world before settling down and having kids.

I suppose I have a little mid-life crisis going on.  My life is roughly half over and there wasn't much happening in the first half.  I need to make up for lost time.  I also need to prioritize.  What places are most important to me?  Here is the list.

United States

I will start my US wish list by saying that this list is going to focus mainly on cities.  I do want to see the many many natural wonders of the US.  However, my husband has a wish list of his own, and that consists of seeing every national park in the US. I am just as eager to see these places, but I'll just tag along on his bucket list with those. 

San Francisco - I definitely want to check out the food and the sights here.  This one has a high likelihood of happening since Yosemite is next on the list for national parks visits.  Kevin promised me some time in San Francisco when we go to Yosemite.

New Orleans - I want to indulge in restaurants and see the historical sites and the architecture.  I want to get a taste of the voodoo culture, which I find fascinating.  I would probably rather not do Mardi Gras though. 

Salem, MA - This is a fascinating historical city due to both its seafaring past and its more infamous history.  It's close enough for a long weekend sometime.  Kevin and I really need to make plans to go here.

Hawaii - I dreamed of going to Hawaii ever since I was a little kid.  It always seemed like the most beautiful, glamorous paradise in the world.  Kevin would never go to Hawaii without seeing Pearl Harbor, which would be the first priority when we get there.  Once we have seen the major sites of Oahu, I want to move on to Kauai.  The natural beauty there looks spectacular from what I've seen in the media, and it looks like the perfect place for outdoor activities like hiking, riding, and kayaking.  Maybe it's the place where I'll finally learn to surf.

Charleston/Savannah - I would like to get a feel for southern hospitality and good southern food in these charming-looking cities.  Thesre are cities with great historical and architectural sights. 

Florida Keys - My ultimate trip here would start with Key West where I can take in the galleries, shops, and restaurants.  Then I'd like to do as I would do in Hawaii and head to one of the less busy islands like Key Largo and enjoy the nature side.  I'd do some snorkeling and beachcombing and kayaking/paddleboarding. 

There are nice places to go without even leaving my home state.  I would love to take a weekend here.  Unlike other vacations that would take us away from the horses for the weekend, we can drive to the barn in reasonable time from here. We can just take a ride down Route 94. It would give me a feel for how the 1% lives.

I think I might like to take a road trip all over my home state.  New York is a big state and I have seen so little of it.   I'd visit the Adirondacks, the Finger Lakes, Niagra Falls,  Lake George, and Seneca Falls.   I need to make a road trip just to the Hunter Dinerant!


BeNeLux Region - Well, really more BeNe than Lux.  I really want to go to Amsterdam.  It looks like a fun city with lots to see and do.  I would rent a bike and ride through the park.  I would take a boat ride through the canals. This is the homeland of Rembrandt and it provides ample musuems and artsy opportunities.  I would see the Anne Frank house. I would take a tour of the countryside to see the windmills.  Brussels and Bruges look equally charming (and let's not forget the chocolate).  I have been told the city of Luxembourg is filled with many historical treasures that would likely be worth seeing, but it's just not as big a priority.  If I can make it there, I'll go, but I won't cry over the loss.

I have tried to get Kevin to agree to a BeNeLux trip for our 15th anniversary, but he won't commit.

Copenhagen - I know Kevin would love to aim his camera lens at the fjords of Norway and the hydrothermic wonders of Iceland, and those are worthy destinations, but when it comes to Scandinavia, my first priority is Copenhagen.  Why?  Well, when I was a kid I had this book called, Leisie, a Danish Girl from Dragor.  It was some hand-me-down book that a relative gave me.  It was a photo essay type of book showing pictures of a real girl from a little town in Denmark and what her life was like.  She would go to Copenhagen with her friends and family for outings.  It looked like such a charming city, like one of those places that could exist in a fairytale.  Yes, I know Stockholm, Oslo, and Bergen have charms of their own and I would like to experience the midnight sun sometime, but not until I see Copenhagen.

Vienna - Do I need to say anything beyond The Spanish Riding School?  Well, yes.  I do want to see the historical sites and architecture as well as the parks - and of course indulge the desserts.

Greek Islands - The only reason I watch the Mamma Mia movie is to take in the scenery of that gorgeous Mediterranean paradise. I want to explore those whitewashed buildings and blue water beaches.

Horseback Riding Trips I Want To Take

I rode a horse through County Clare in Ireland and through the vineyards of Tuscany.  A horse is the best way to see the countryside.  A horse can go where cars and bicycles can't, but can cover more ground than you can on foot.  Best of all, your horse becomes an extra, and very special, traveling companion throughout the journey.

California Wine Country - I did some rides to wineries in Italy, but there are trips in California that focus solely on riding to wineries.  I can't imagine how great the food would be on trips like this in addition to the beautiful countryside.

I do have some reservations about trips like this.  All of the trips offered of this type are strictly Western saddle.  I learned a rather painful lesson after a four-hour trail ride in Arizona that Western saddles and I don't get along for long periods of time.  The long-held belief by many is that Western saddles are more comfortable on long rides than English saddles.  I find the opposite to be true. 

However, a trip like this might not be too bad if we're frequently dismounting for the winery visits.  If we're drinking wine along the stops, the discomfort might be eased even more. ;-)

Kevin has suggested doing a trip up the west coast by train instead.  I'll certainly consider it.

Scotland - When I first learned about Irish riding holidays as a kid I knew I had to take one.   At the same time, I also learned of similar trips in Scotland.  I would love to ride across windswept highlands and along the shores of lochs, staying in old castles.  I'll just have to accept that I won't always love the weather conditions.

France - Provence/Mediterranean Coast - Imagine galloping through the picturesque lavender fields or down a beach with blue water.  If lavender makes you sleepy, will riding through the fields make your horse lazy?  I'm willing to find out.  I'd love to ride through Carmauge and also visit the rustic French farms and tiny villages.

France - Loire Valley - I imagine this as the opposite of the farmlands of Provence.  The rides offered in the Loire Valley consist of stately mansions and castles with fine food and fine wine.  It would be a different ride, with a different type of charm. I'm all about woodlands and castles.

Germany - Rhine River Valley - I don't have the same burning desire to see the cities of Germany but I would love to see the castles on the Rhine.  Riding a horse along a castle-dotted river valley would make me feel as if I'm living in a fairytale. 

Places I have been that I would like to return to

Memphis - Was here just one night for Kevin's cousin's wedding. We liked it and now want to see more.  We would explore Graceland, the duck round up at the Peabody, and Beale Street.  Some good Memphis barbecue would be a must for dinner.

London - I have been here three times, but only on business. I did manage to see many sights while I was there, but  I would like to go with Kevin and be able to spend all of my time touring rather than just some of it.  Ideally we would start our trip in London and then head to the southwest of England to visit the area where Kevin went to school. 

Come to think of it, there is much more of England I'd like to see in general.  I haven't seen other cities or the countryside.  That all has to be rather high on the bucket list.

Paris - You can never get enough of this place.

Costa Rica - I was here just for a few hours via cruise ship.  I rode a horse through a beautiful rain forest and saw some interesting fauna.  I know there is so much more to see.  I want to see the volcano and the cloud forest.  I want to relax on the gorgeous beaches.

Grand Cayman - Out of all of the Caribbean islands Kevin and I saw via cruise ship, I think we liked this one the best.  Granted, I really haven't spent nearly as much time in the Caribbean as I would like, and I am very open to trying other islands as well.  I really just crave the same thing in any Caribbean destination: warm weather, clear blue water for swimming and water sports, white sand beaches for relaxing, horseback riding in beaches and rain forests, and general tropical outdoorsy-ness.

Italy - Doesn't matter where. I just love Italy.  I think my next priority there would be the Amalfi coast though.  I would also like to return to Venice.

Chincoteague - And so I return there every summer.  I hope to do so for the rest of my life.

Second Tier Destinations

If I manage to do all of the above.  Where would I go next?

Barcelona - I'm not sure how I would survive in Spain.  Everyone is a "night person" there and people stay up all night and sleep in.  That is so not me.
Croatia - How do you spell the name of that city where everyone goes these days?
The Rest of Scandinavia that Isn't Copenhagen - See above - midnight sun, fjords, hydrothermic wonders, and interesting cities
Bavaria - Munich and some of the other cities of that region look like fun spots.
Switzerland - I know it's my ancestral homeland, so I should want to go there more, even if it's just to be in a place where there are lots of other people named Zenhausern.  I'm just not all that clear as to where I would want to go in Switzerland.  If I were a skier, it would be easier, but I'm not a skier.
Quebec and Montreal
Lake Louise

The "Dream On" Destinations

Will I ever be able to afford to go to these places?  Would I be able to sit through the long plane rides?  Time will tell.

Bora Bora - I want to stay in those huts on stilts in the water where someone brings you your breakfast by boat.
African Safari - Botswana, Namibia, or Tanzania.  I'll figure out where if the time ever comes.
Australia and New Zealand - Haven't figured out the specifics of exactly where yet.  Again, it's so unlikely that I'll go that I don't have to worry exactly where.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Refuse...

I refuse to buy into the paranoia that I am likely to be killed by some random psycho at any given moment.  Yes, it can happen.  Yes, it does happen.  No, it's not likely to happen.  Incidents of mass shootings receive large amounts of media attention that feeds our fear.  We remember them because they happen infrequently relative to everything that happens in our everyday lives.  The person statistically most likely to kill me sleeps in my bed at night.  Every single one of us is more likely to be killed by someone we know than by a random stranger.  Our children are more likely to die in our cars than be killed by random gunfire, but we still insist on driving them to school because if they walk, they might be killed by random gunfire.

I refuse to believe that the only answer to random gun violence is more guns.  An eye for an eye only leads to more blindness.  Starting a micro-level arms race is only going to feed the paranoia and mistrust that this country already suffers from already and to far too much of an extent.

I refuse to believe that this is a "Christian Nation" when Christianity was founded by a man who encouraged non-violence, declared "turn the other cheek", and encouraged His followers during His life to love one another.  It seems the folks who claim to be His followers now seem so enamored of weapons of violence and death.  How does that work?

If you don't like this mini-rant, tough.  Go rebut it in your own blog.  I am on Facebook every day.  You're not going to change my mind by posting your random stories from Fox News/National Review/Washington Times/World Net Daily/Free Republic;  your outdated/exaggerated facts about other countries whose gun laws seem more permissive than ours; your one-in-a-million stories about the one heroic shooter who managed to stop a mass killing with his own gun.  Yes, I see all of your posts, all of your rebuttals.  I see your point.  I accept that you have it.  I accept that it's different from mine.  Now please go away and let me feel the way I do, and express it as I see fit, with no harm done to anyone. I will happily show you the same courtesy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Irksome Facebook Post of the Week

In the midst of tragedy, comes lots and lots of stupidity.  I should probably just stay off Facebook so I can avoid being so thoroughly irked by the Gods 'n' Guns folks, but it's like a train wreck. I can't look away.

What post gets under my skin the most?

So what exactly do you mean that God isn't "allowed" in schools?  Last time I checked, there were no signs outside schools that say "No gods allowed."  I have seen signs that say "No dogs allowed."  Is this supposedly omnipotent God dyslexic?

The law states that a school, which is a public institution, can't sponsor any particular religion itself.  Schools can't tell a student what to believe, or when to pray, or state implicitly or explicitly that one particular belief system is the truth.  Children are free to believe what they wish to believe and act on those beliefs accordingly as long as they are not disruptive to the school activities or infringe upon the rights of other students.

So your omnipotent God doesn't get this? Is God that stupid?

Let's assume God does get this.  What God is saying here is that He/She doesn't like this rule.  It makes sense.  God said so in the Bible that He is jealous.  You're supposed to have no other gods before Him, right?  That means the beliefs of kids who aren't Christian shouldn't be respected in His eyes.  We're all supposed to worship one God and schools should encourage this, just as the Constitution says (wait a minute...)

What this is essentially saying is that God doesn't like the rules made by adults, so He refuses to do anything to prevent the slaughter of innocents who are simply living within the rules laid out for them.  God is just being a huge diva.

God is a real jerk if this statement is true.

Also, what's God's excuse for shootings in churches?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dear NYSC: Do You Realize How Sexist You Are?

Recently my gym went through some minor renovations.  Mostly it was just a redecoration.  The walls got some new paint and wallpaper.  I think they did some stuff to the floors as well.  Let's hope working out amongst the fumes didn't do my health a disservice (as if I, or any of my fellow gym rats could part with our workouts due to fumes).

Not only were the walls covered with new paint and wallpaper, but there are some new wall decorations as well (and fewer clocks, which really irks me).  Once you pass through the reception desk and head to the main floor, you will see on your right side two mural-sized photos.

The first photo depicts a group of men playing a friendly game of touch football.  The men are all adults who could be anywhere from their twenties to their forties. They look like ordinary guys.  Their bodies are mostly obscured by jerseys and sweatshirts.  Some of them look a little thick, but it's hard to tell if they're overweight or just very muscular.  They don't look like fitness models.  They look like guys you might know.  They seem to send a message that as long as one stays in shape, an adult can still have fun.

The next photo is for the women.  It depicts a lone woman running.  She is pushing a jogging stroller with one hand.  She is dressed in a sports bra and bike shorts.  Although the photo is in soft focus, it is clear the woman is quite lean.  Unlike the men in the other photos whose faces are in sharp focus, but whose bodies are hidden under clothing, you really can't see this woman's face.  All you notice is that she has thin thighs, defined arms, and a flat stomach.  What message is this sending to the viewers, especially in contrast to the men's photo?

The men in the first photo look old enough to be fathers, but are not pictured with their children.  They're enjoying their "guy time".  They're not dressed to show off their bodies.  Men, it seems, are allowed to look sloppy, have less-than-ideal bodies, and be away from their kids.

If the photos were meant to show how working out is supposed to enable one's real world activities, it seems  New York Sports Club assumes taking care of kids is the only real world activity women are involved in.  What's worse is the assumption that she must look good doing it.  The woman in the photo does not even have a face.  She's just a hot body running with a stroller.  She is almost inhuman.  How many mothers with babies do you know who look like that (and have the energy to run)?  How many women realistically run dressed like that?  (I suppose if I had that body I'd run dressed like that if the weather were warm enough.) 

Why not show a woman playing a sport and show it in a realistic way?  How about a woman in uniform in a martial arts studio?  How about her playing tennis?  How about her riding a horse?  Maybe you could depict a woman surfing or paddelboarding (and then you can somewhat realistically put her in a bikini if sexing it up means that much to you).  Grown women with children participate in any number of physical activities every day and often without their children.  I don't like this depiction showing that the only way a woman can be active outside the gym is to jog with the kid while her husband plays football (and she has too look impossibly good while doing it).

Family time should be encouraged by the gym for both genders.  Active children should be a priority for parents, so I think we need some photos showing active childcare.  Why aren't the kids playing football with the men in the first picture?  How about showing the whole family biking or hiking or kayaking together?  I would love to see photos of women with more diverse body shapes while we're at it.  What's good for the gander is excellent for the goose.

I guess that's not what sells gym memberships.  Although that's what you might think on the surface, NYSC isn't about trying to showcase the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in a realistic fashion.  It's selling a fantasy.  The first photo is really saying, "Work out at our gym and you will be able to best your friends in physical competition."  The second photo is really saying, "Work out at our gym and you will have a hot body even if you have children."  Those are the true assumptions they are making with those photos, and I guess it works.

So I guess they do know how sexist they are.  Unfortunately, they feel it sells and retains members, so I doubt anything will change.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Welcome to Christmas in Hell

Ah Christmas!  Could there be anything more heartwarming than a beautiful tree festooned with festive light and decorations gracing your living room?  I tell you it just makes me feel like Marie Stahlbaum peeking through the keyhole on Christmas Eve.

Screw that!  Christmas is now torture.

No, this is not another "War on Christmas" rant.  This is a rant about how Christmas has suddenly declared war on me.

For the first few years were were together, Kevin and I often traveled at Christmas time, so we weren't home to decorate.  Once we started staying home for the holidays,  I was determined to start decorating our place. 

I always insist on a real tree.  I have several reasons for that.  When I buy a real tree I am harvesting a sustainable crop, supporting a local farmer, and eventually discarding a tree I know is compostable.  I prefer that to a tree made of petrochemicals in a Chinese sweatshop by some big corporation that will sit in a landfill if I ever decide I don't want it anymore.  It's also not practical for me to have a fake tree.  I live in an apartment and have no place to store one in the off season. 

This weekend  I went to my favorite nursery, selected my tree, and brought it home.  At first all I did was bring it in and set it up in the stand.  I didn't decorate it right away and I didn't even remove the constraining twine used to make transporting it easier.

Saturday night, struck with one of my usual bouts of insomnia (serves me right for drinking two lychee martinis at Red plum - once the alcohol wears off my brain rebounds with a vengeance), I found myself awake with a book in the living room.  My nose started running.  At first I thought nothing of it.  I just grabbed a tissue and carried on.  Then it kept running.  The problem didn't disappear in the bedroom, but it was worse in the living room.

I left the house early to go to the gym and then spent the rest of the day at the barn.  I can be rather sneezy and sniffly at the barn as horses and hay dust really irritate me on dry winter days, but surprisingly, I felt much better away from home.

We came back home in the evening. As soon as we arrived home, my eyes started itching and I began sneezing in earnest.  What I had suspected at 4AM that morning was become more evident to me that evening.  I was allergic to my Christmas tree.  I told Kevin this. He seemed surprised.  I said maybe we should dispose of the tree before we start decorating it.  He would not hear of it.  The Jewish guy insists on keeping the Christmas tree.  Okay.  I'd deal with it. 

We unbound the branches and started decorating.  The sneezing was not unbearable.  Sure enough when I was awake at 4AM again (this time a rebound from the glass of chianti I had at dinner - serves me right for drinking on a "school night") I lay there in bed for a while trying to sleep again, and soon the runny nose began to creep up on me. Next thing I knew I was running for tissues every few minutes until I finally fell asleep again.  Once I was up, I was sneezing all morning.

So is this my fate for the rest of the month?  Am I going to suffer sleepless, sneezy, nights?  Will I spend the holiday season stoned on Benadryl?  I can't take the tree down now.  It's all decorated.  I bought a Christmas tree to brighten my home and now I want to spend as little time at home as possible. 

I have never been prone to seasonal allergies.  In the spring I can tiptoe through the tulips with a clear eyes and clear sinuses.  If you cut the grass, I'll stand in your yard and enjoy the smell. I have had real Christmas trees at home for most of my life and they never bothered me.   I laugh in the face of flora. 

There seems to be more about this tree than meets my itchy, watery, eyes.  I noticed when I handled it that it's very sticky and sappy.  It's also sort of dirty.  My hands were gray after decorating it.  I checked out some health websites about what to do for tree allergies and they suggest hosing down the tree before taking it inside.  It's too late for me to do that now, but I couldn't have done it anway as I have no garden hose or yard.  All I have now is drugs and hope.  Maybe I will eventually get used to whatever is on that tree that is bothering me and build up an immunity.

I have serious doubts about buying a tree next year. All I know is it's going to be a long December.

UPDATE:  I started this blog 3 days ago. Since then symptoms have abated somewhat.  The endless sniffles have gone.  I do still suffer from itchy eyes.  Last night I went to add some water to the beast's stand and had to move some branches out of the way to do so.  I didn't feel too great after that.  I definitely feel a change in the atmosphere when I come home.  The tree isn't trying to kill me - at least not for now.  I still think it's lying in wait, hoping to make its move as soon as I get too comfortable.