Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pay It Forward

Julie is one of my favorite people. You'll like her too.

  • speaks Spanish.
  • is originally from South Carolina.
  • loves to travel and does it often.
  • is a fantastic writer and editor.
  • puts others before herself, as you will gather from the following news...

Months ago, Julie and her husband started a project with some teens in Colombia. They've been slowly teaching the students about writing and videography for the Internet. These kids are putting together some terrific stories about their home and posting them on the web so others can learn about life in Mompox, Colombia.

A project like this requires equipment and some supervision. Julie's been collecting donations on her website, but it's slow-going. Recently she came up with a brilliant idea that will hopefully earn a bit more money for the Voices in Mompox operation.

In return for your small donation to the project, Julie and Francisco will let you stay in their awesome Mexico City apartment --rent-free! Give just a little money to the kids of Colombia, and you can be chilling in some swanky digs in Mexico, walking the same streets as Che Guevara and Frida Kahlo, and munching on tortillas you could never find this side of the border.

Go learn more about Julie and the kids. You will be impressed.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Amazing Race 13, Week 1

I know some people complain about The Amazing Race because it shows us as “ugly Americans.” I disagree. We’re not all “ugly Americans,” and some of the contestants on the show are considerate, kind, and thoughtful to the people they encounter. Then there are some that show the ugly side, and admittedly, I find those raw, hideous behaviors very entertaining.

I also love watching the teams either bond or break during the stresses of The Race. I’m a big believer in traveling with a partner—when I know that partner and his or her travel style. Each season, some of the Amazing Race teams are made of either people who haven’t traveled together much, or worse, people who haven’t know each other very long. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a cab with them, but it makes for excellent televiewing. I think a couple that recently started dating might benefit from a trip together, but maybe they should start with a 4-day weekend in Maine rather than a nationally televised trip around the world. And the estranged couple from Tampa (I promise we’re not all like this!) should be working their issues out with a marriage counselor, not an American Airlines ticket agent.

Nevertheless, you can bet I’ll be watching.

Some random thoughts:
*Most girls from South Carolina can be classy without wearing pearls everyday. They are insane. I don’t own pearls, and I even know about Beethoven and shit. I got yer classy right here.
*I’m surprised to see the beekeepers on this show. I wonder if they even own a TV.
*How will the Tampa lady keep her hair bleached throughout the month-long trip?
*If I could ever convince my sister to do this, I can assure you we would not be wearing matching outfits.

Favorite quotes:
*The Tampa women to her sorta husband, in Brazil: “You were supposed to know how to do the Spanish.”
*Terence, the running coach to his new girlfriend Sarah: “Can you not outrun me? I appreciate your speed, but you have lapped me every time.”
*Terence, again, tearing the girlfriend down: “You can’t climb and talk.”
*Beekeeper lady: “Bees are much calmer than all of this!”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Slippery Customer

I am generally not a wimp. I have a high pain threshold, I am independent and have no trouble doing things alone, and I will ride the most ferocious roller coaster out there and most likely laugh through the whole trip.

But I do have one pretty significant fear--things that creep and crawl, specifically in my house.

I will go way beyond the call of duty to move a snail to a safer place or put a Daddy Longlegs spider where no one will step on him. If he's outside. But when creatures start embarking on my territory without paying rent, well, I get pretty upset.

With stints in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, I understand that the occasional roach will probably sneak inside. Don't get me wrong: I HATE them, but you learn to accept them as a part of life when you live in a hot and humid region. (The more genteel southerners call them "Palmetto bugs." They are in denial, and these are usually the same people who refer to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression.")

What I never expected to face are the small lizards that continually appear in our Florida house. I see lizards everywhere; some are a dull brown, blending in with the sand, while others are a bit more colorful and much more animated, flaunting their throat flaps and doing push-ups to impress the ladies. Outside they're cute; I get a kick out of watching them scurry, convinced that I don't see them. But when they're scurrying up my bathroom wall or doing those push-ups on the bedroom carpet? I'm not amused.

Together, Marc and I have rescued at least three lizards this summer, usually by cornering them with Rubbermaid containers and then quickly ushering them out the front door. (It's great family fun, almost as much fun as pulling the sand spurs out of the yard!) Last night, however, as I reached for a measuring cup, my life flashed before my eyes as a two-inch-long critter leapt from my spice rack and raced away. I don't know where he is now, but I can tell you I probably won't sleep much until I find him.

So. Who wants to come over for dinner?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Feel The Heat!

I know all about being a loser.

I have always been a sports fan, and although I’ve moved around a bit, I’ve always tried to embrace my home team. Even when they stink.

And they usually do. I loved my time at The University of South Carolina, but the Brad Scott years were painful to watch. Later I moved to Cincinnati and was cursed with all kinds of bad teams: the Bearcats (they’re good now, but back then…), the Bengals, and the Reds were just terrible. Nevertheless, they were my new “home” teams, so I cheered with gusto, to no avail.

After living in South Carolina for four years, I moved down to St. Petersburg, Florida last summer. I was delighted to once again be living in a major league baseball city. I was less delighted to discover that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays truly sucked. I sat through some horrendous baseball, each night hoping to see some progress, some glimmer of hope. It never came.

But then the 2008 season began. What seemed impossible last summer began to happen—the Rays started to win some games. A new team name, a couple of important trades, and some critical calls to the minors, and the Tampa Bay Rays gradually earned everyone’s attention.

It’s been a treat to watch this team succeed. They’re an unusual story, from the wine-drinking articulate manager to the quirky catwalk-filled dome, to the players themselves and their consistently laid-back “one day at a time” attitude. Although they’re a young bunch, the chemistry is there, and they’re getting it done. I sat in a sold-out crowd Wednesday night, watching as angry Red Sox fans scratched their heads, wondering how this happened.

I don’t have an answer. But I’m very happy for them, and I’m excited that when they most likely clinch their first-ever playoff spot tonight, I’ll be rooting for my home team.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Recently I've found myself going through travel withdrawal. I'm back in the full-time teacher groove now, which makes it even more evident that it will be a while before I take a "real" trip again. The past two weekends I've noticed myself growing more and more twitchy, so yesterday I decided I'd better get a fix.

I headed up Hwy 19 to a small town called Tarpon Springs. I have wanted to visit this little fishing village for quite a while, but never carved out the time for it. I'm glad I finally had a lazy afternoon that allowed me to browse the shops and eat a wonderful dinner.

Tarpon Springs lies on the Gulf Coast just north of Clearwater. Although there is a small beach at Howard Park, the town doesn't feel much like a beach community. You don't see the high rises and surf shops; instead, the streets are lined with beautiful stucco homes and small neighborhood churches.

While I enjoyed strolling through the residential area, I was most interested in the Greek village. In the late 1800s, settlers discovered that money could be made by harvesting live sponges. Greek divers were hired to capture the sponges, and over time the town was influenced heavily by the Mediterranean immigrants. Today, the docks are lined with shops selling sponges, loofahs, olive oil, and shells. A number of Greek restaurants and bakeries also fill the air with fragrant lamb and baklava.

Not in the mood to be a tourist, I passed on the aquarium and the free movie at "Sponge-o-Rama." I had a great time watching the boats, though, and my gyro platter was delicious. I'm looking forward to visiting again in the colder months when the manatees make the Springs their winter home.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Shameful Self-Promotion

Many of you know that my parents brew their own beer, thanks to a very lame kit my siblings and I bought them for Christmas about ten years ago. My husband and I also caught the brewing bug, and we love it, although we're still new at this.

We are not, however, new at sampling the malty nectar of the gods. We love beer, and more importantly, we love good beer. The kind you can't see through.

Any aspiring travel writer has heard the advice: when you're starting out, write what you know. So most of my newbie stuff has been about Florida (my current home), South Carolina (my original home), and food (who doesn't love food?).

Now I bring you Beer. Please read it, and if you have anything to say, please do that, too! If your city isn't on the list, lemme know and perhaps I'll do a feature next time.

I'm very excited. This is my first real by-line. My husband is a professional sportswriter and has long numbed at the sensation at seeing his name in print; I on the other hand have butterflies and I'm tickled pink to know that, with this tiny step in the right direction, there are possibilities.

Thanks for your support.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Leaving My Footprint

I'm not a very good friend to the environment.

I try, but I could try much harder. Sure, I recycle, and I try not to leave lights on, and I do all my laundry on the cold setting. But there's so much more I could probably doing. And I feel incredibly guilty about my hour-long commute to work each day.

Today I did something. In the grand scheme of things, it was tiny, but it was at least an effort. I had some work done on my car, and the shop called to tell me my vehicle was ready. Rather than hitch a ride from a friend, bus, or cab (my husband is out of town this week), I decided to travel to the mechanic the old-fashioned way: I ran. Those 2 1/2 miles gave me a chance to explore a couple of side streets, I got a good workout, and hopefully I gave a little hand to Mother Nature.

Beet red and sweating profusely, I also scared the heck out of the cashier at the auto shop, who thought I was about to keel over. But I'd like to think I inspired him a little, too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Making Lemonade

Hurricane Gustav ruined quite a few Labor Day weekends on the Gulf Coast, but here in St. Petersburg we only had a few hours of pounding rain and wind Sunday afternoon.

By Monday morning only the wind remained. It made it a fairly challenging day to go sea kayaking--the minute we left the sheltered bayou and went out into open water, it was like paddling through tar. It really wasn't all that windy, but when the gusts combined with choppy seas, it took some real elbow grease to get back to our little inlet.

On our way out of Fort DeSoto County Park, we saw some kites off in the distance. We were about five miles away at the time, and without my glasses I thought they were just ordinary kites. I haven't flown a kite in many years and was excited about seeing some families spending their Labor Day together flying kites at the beach.

When we got closer we realized it was a makeshift kite surfing convention. At one time I counted 18 boards skimming across the surf. I overheard a couple of guys complaining that the wind had died down since earlier in the morning, but they seemed to be cruising along just fine to me.

Walking among the kites and watching guys fight with their equipment, I briefly saw the frustrations associated with surfing. But all the cables and nylon disappeared when I looked out and saw the rainbow of sails reflected in the blue water with the Sunshine Skyway as their backdrop. It was a colorful surprise on an otherwise cloudy day.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

This is going to be a long year.

I love teaching. I love the students, I love my subject area, and I have pretty good schools (because I teach orchestra, I travel between 4 schools).

But despite all that, I'm finally ready to try something new. And now that I've made that decision, it makes going to work very difficult. I just want to write, and travel, and take pictures, and explore new options, and see the world, and spend time with my husband, and live with a different schedule for a while. Maybe for a long while, maybe for just a few months, I really don't know. I just know that getting up at 5 every morning in order to go stand under fluorescent lights and fight with administrators who don't think the arts are a beneficial part of the schoolday? That is no longer appealing.

I'm not going to throw in the towel. I will work as hard this year as I have in years past; I owe that to my students. But it's very hard in the meantime to try to do my job and at the same time start laying the groundwork for this next stage. I know people have done it--they're out there now, living that dream they worked so hard to achieve. I just don't know how they found the time to work a regular 8-10 hour day and then research and write and plan on top of it all. School has only been in session since August 8, and already I feel overwhelmed trying to find that balance between the present and the future. I guess if you want it badly enough, you find a way to make it happen.